A Period postcard

The Fife and Forfar Yeomanry in WW1

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Training in Britain

At the out break of War the Fife and Forfar Yeomanry joined the other regiments of the Highland Mounted Brigade at Blairgowrie, the whole brigade was then moved to Huntingdon. There wasn't enough room for a whole Brigade so the Fifes were quickly moved to St.Ives where they trained for the next two months. Expecting at any moment to be sent to France the Regiment was disappointed instead to be posted to the Lincolnshire coast around Skegness. In the spring and summer of 1915 training continued further south in Norfolk at Fakenham.

Fife & Forfar Yeomanry near Skegness

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Gallipoli

In September the brigade embarked for Gallipoli all freshly kitted out with Sun Helmets and new saddlery, however when they reached Alexandria instead of horses to meet them they had stacks of infantry webbing. The second major offensive at Gallipoli had stalled while they were on route and there would be no need of a Cavalry dash to Constantinople. Although probably not realizing it at the time their days as cavalrymen were over.

On the 26th September the Regiment arrived at Suvla Bay, Gallipoli. By this stage of the Campaign it was trench stalemate and the Regiment went into the line as dismounted infantry. This was a difficult task when the average infantry regiment had 4 companies of 150-180 men (total 6-700) was replaced by 3 squadrons of 100 yeomen (total 300). Luckily extensive machine gun training in England and extra machine gun teams helped to make up for the lack of numbers. There were sporadic raids and bombings over the next few weeks in the trenches and the Regiment had its share of casualties.

By the end of November the decision had been taken to abandon the Gallipoli front, Churchill's gamble to knock the Ottoman Empire out of the War had failed. On the night of the 26th the Regiments surplus stores and officers valises were packed ready to be taken back to the ships by Sikh Muleteers. But a different enemy was about to strike, something that no amount of training could have prepared them for.

At 5 o'clock that night the heavens opened in a torrential storm with thunder and lightning and water cascaded down the trench lines. Where the trenches crossed a dry river bed the water poured down from the hills washing away barricades and carrying horses, mules and men along with it. The Regiment had been in reserve but the next morning had to wade up the flooded trenches to the front line. They could only man the fire bays lightly as there simply wasn't enough men, indeed there was a 120 yard gap between them and 159th Brigade on their left. Things got worse as well as a heavy shelling of Turkish shrapnel, the weather turned bitterly cold with sleeting rain followed by snow. All the men were soaked in water and mud, their equipment frozen stiff in the extreme cold, most of the rifles were put out of action and the water cooled machine guns froze solid.

After a couple of miserable days of intense cold the weather gradually improved but it was too late for many, a terrible trench fever had set in and 142 men were invalided out of the regiment in just two days. In the week following the storm 7 officers and 221 men were admitted to hospital through sickness, it became so bad that the Regiment was eventually amalgamated into just one squadron. From the beginning of December the evacuation began and on the 19th remains of the Regiment sailed for Imbros.

A group of Officers pose for the photographer, Lieutenant David Peebles on the right
Map of the Regiment's movements in Egypt

Egypt

The Yeomanry spent a quiet year in Egypt in 1916, the main British objective in the area being to protect the Suez Canal and the other British interests in Egypt.

The Regiment managed to combine both its past and future with a mounted troop under Lt. W. Gray (albeit on mules for long patrols) and a Light Car Patrol under Lt. A.S. Lindsay (7 Ford Cars fitted with Lewis machine guns & 1 armoured car that went out with the Camel Corps)

With the Egyptian Desert Heat reaching 120 degrees in the shade, the men worked between reveille (5.30am) to breakfast and in the afternoon from 4.30 to 6.

As well as the threat of Ottoman attacks on Egypt, there was local danger from the Senussi tribe of the Western Deserts who had risen in opposition to the Anglo-Egyptian forces. The Fife & Forfar Yeomanry's brief campaign against them ended with the capture of Dakhla Oasis in October.

After which time the Regiment began infantry training in ernest in preparation for their new role.

An end and a new beginning.

On new year's day 1917 the 14th Battalion Royal Highlanders was the new designation of the Regiment, like a lot of the Yeomanry regiments the FFY were converted into a battalion of infantry. The other familiar Scottish Yeomanry Regiments that the Regiment had trained with in pre war days also converted, most of the Scottish Horse became the 13th Battalion Royal Highlanders and 1 company from the 1/3rd Scottish Horse joined with the Lovat Scouts to become 10th (Lovat Scouts) Battalion, Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders.

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Palestine and the Holy Land

With the conversion to a larger infantry battalion, new drafts of men were needed and the first batch of 11 officers arrived while the Regiment was in training at El Ferdan. In March it moved to El Arish in the Sinai in preparation for General Allenby's offensive in Palestine, a further officer and 373 other ranks joined the Battalion and had to be acclimatized to the heat and desert conditions.

Later in March the 74th Yeomanry Division (of which the Regiment was part) pushed north towards Gaza, the Division was not engaged in the first or second battles of Gaza being behind the lines or in reserve.

After the failure of the first 2 attempts to take Gaza the British line dug in and the Fifes spent most of the summer in trench works at various positions around Gaza. In October however a new objective was in their sights Beersheba.

The 60th and 74th Divisions were to attack Beersheba from the South and the Cavalry, Camel Corps and Australian Light Horse of the Desert Mounted Corps were to make a wide detour through the desert and attack from the East. At dawn after an initial bombardment, the assault began. Infantry from the 60th Division overran the advanced Turkish Positions and the British pushed further on towards their goal, the main attack was launched by both Infantry Divisions at 12.15 and by 2pm they had advanced and taken many of the southern outlying enemy trenches. The officers requested permission to push forward to Beersheba but General Allenby ordered them to wait for the planned attack by the Desert Mounted Corps. The Corps however were held up and it was not until evening that they managed to assault and capture Beersheba with the famous charge by the Australian Light Horse.

This battle is well known in Australia, and is well studied from the Australian perspective. There is a lot of information available online and I've included links at the bottom of this page.

Although the 74th Division had taken it's part in the battle of Beersheeba the 14th Royal Highlanders played only a minor role. A few days later however they would be in the thick of the fighting to take one of the main Turkish bases at the Railway Station of Tel El Sheria.

Turkish troops at Tel El Sheria - from the library of congress website

The Battle of Sheria

Coming Soon

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France and Flanders

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Further sources

Books

for further reading see "THE FIFE AND FORFAR YEOMANRY" BY MAJOR D. D. OGILVIE available as a free pdf from Project Guttenburg on the web or as a print on demand from various booksellers

also The 74th Yeomanry Division in Syria and France by C.H. Dudley Ward available from Naval & Military Press

A HISTORY OF THE BLACK WATCH IN THE GREAT WAR 1914-1918 edited by Maj-Gen A.G.Wauchope available from The Naval & Military Press

Pictures and Links

Some of my pictures and postcards of soldiers in the UK are viewable in the gallery

A collection of photographs taken by private James W Mooney in Egypt are displayed on this website http://web.mac.com/braeside/World_War_1/Egypt_1917.html

Details of Mena camp near Cairo are available on the excellent Australian site www.diggerhistory.info

Wikipedia entry for the battle of Beersheba (has links to a lot of sites)