Fettes College WW1 Centenaries II

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Fettes WW1 centenary: Casualties of the German Spring Offensive, March 1918

At 4.40 on the foggy morning of Thursday 21 March, Operation Michael began. For five hours, the Germans hit the British positions on the Somme with a million shells and, just after daybreak, unleashed the stormtroopers. The Germans found their advance easier thanks to thinly-spread British troops, and by the end of the day, had captured 21,000 British soldiers and retaken much of the territory at the Somme they had lost in 1916.

Two OFs were lost on the first day of the offensive:
• Capt. Ian Mackenzie MC S1905, 5th Seaforths, former head of school and ‘one of the most promising classical scholars the School has ever produced’, was killed instantly on the morning of the attack by a single machine-gun bullet during ‘a heroic but terribly costly resistance against vastly outnumbering hordes of the enemy.’
• Lt. Joseph MacLellan G1910, of the Machine Gun Corps had been invalided home with severe shell-shock in 1916 but subsequently returned to the front where he was killed as the Germans swept through the British lines at St. Quentin.
• It was also on 21 March that Lt. James Mudie Couper G1911, a former school prefect and first team rugby player, was badly injured and captured whilst conducting a fighting retreat with his battery of 256 Brigade, Royal Field Artillery; he died of his wounds in the German military hospital at Denain on 4 April.

On Saturday 23 March more German troops were brought forward unseen thanks to the persistent fog, which, it was said, combined with smoke from the guns and the billowing clouds of gas, meant that there was no daylight for two days.

Two more former pupils were lost:
• 2/Lt. Aveling John Wing Baker M1912 of the 7th Bn., Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, a member of a Bedfordshire family who had lost a brother and cousins earlier in the war, was killed near Arras.
• His contemporary Lt. John Oswald Farquhar G1912 had joined the Glasgow Yeomanry but was attached to the 10th Bn., Essex Regiment, fighting alongside the French on the southern edge of the British lines, when he was killed at Rouez Wood whilst taking part in a desperate counter attack.
• Also killed in a counter-attack was Sgt. Peter Grant of 9th Royal Scots, the school instructor in the workshop where boys learned woodwork and other practical skills. He was killed on 23 or 24 March near Mesnil-Saint-Nicaise – his brother Duncan died at the same time.

Following the death of Teddy on 17 March, there was now only one Anderson brother left, the oldest, Lt.-Col. William Herbert ‘Bertie’ Anderson M1894.On 25 March, Bertie Anderson’s 12th HLI were holding, after two nights’ rail journey and a seventeen-mile route march, a defensive line between Hardecourt and the Somme. The 36-year-old last of the Andersons rounded up whatever troops he could – ‘clerks, cooks, servants and signallers’ and counter-attacked, swagger-stick in one hand, revolver in the other, and was last seen fighting in the midst of the Germans.

Bertie won a posthumous VC, his citation reading:
His conduct in leading the charge was quite fearless and his most splendid example was the means of rallying and inspiring the men during the most critical hour… He died fighting within the enemy's lines, setting a magnificent example to all who were privileged to serve under him.

In 2017 Fettes was privileged to host the actual VC won by Bertie Anderson, on loan from Lord Ashcroft’s collection in the Imperial War Museum. living-with-heroes
Fettes’ last casualty that March was a Sopwith Camel pilot, Lt. Josef Kormendy von Ikreny Peden G1905, son of a Scottish doctor and an Austro-Hungarian aristocrat, killed on the 28th.

Pictures: JO Farquhar, WH Anderson VC, AJW Baker

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