The Bute Mountain Battery

The 25th of April 2005 marked the 90th anniversary of the landing of a large force of British, Australian, New Zealand, Indian, Gurkha and French soldiers on the Gallipoli Peninsula. This massive and groundbreaking effort to defeat Turkish and German forces and open the Dardanelles Straits to Allied shipping was undertaken in the hopes that it would end the participation of the Turks as allies of the Germans, expose the southern front of the Central Powers, open up the water route through Constantinople to Russia, still an active ally in the war, and bring a swift end to the war. Men of the Bute Mountain Battery were there.

Within the new Territorial Force created in 1908 to protect the British homelands, a Highland Division was created made up of the Scottish Highland Regiments. As in all Army divisions, the new Highland Division had Divisional Artillery to coordinate Artillery support and provide an organisation to command all of the Territorial units of the Royal Regiment of Artillery assigned to the division. Due to the mountainous nature of the Scottish Highlands, the decision was made to make one of the four divisional artillery brigades a Mountain Brigade. This designation meant a unique and more difficult mission for the gunners of this brigade, so the selection of officers and men to man this brigade was very important. The 4th Brigade, 51st Divisional Artillery became the 4th Highland Mountain Brigade and it was to be manned by the proven gunners of the old Argyll, Ross & Cromarty and Bute Volunteer Artillery. This brigade was to be the only Mountain Artillery in the Territorial Force or, for that matter, in all of the British Isles.

So, in 1908, the Argyll & Bute Volunteer Artillery and the Ross & Cromarty Volunteer Artillery became the 4th Highland Mountain Brigade with firing batteries to be known as The Buteshire Mountain Battery, The Argyllshire Mountain Battery and The Ross & Cromarty Mountain Battery. Over time, these names, in usage at least, were shortened to the Bute, the Argyll and the Ross Batteries.

The Brigade headquarters was in Rothesay (on Russell Street) as was the Headquarters and one section of the Buteshire Mountain Battery (with their drill hall located nearby, off of High Street), the other section being split between Largs and Millport. The Argyll Battery had one section in Oban and another in Campbeltown. The Ross Battery had elements in Stornoway, Lochcarron and Dingwall, while the Ammunition Column was headquartered in Tarbert, Loch Fyne. These men worked hard to become qualified Mountain Gunners, imbued in the unique mountain mission. This mission, although originally assigned to them because of the defence needs of the Highlands, would cause them to be used in a very special way in the upcoming World War.

At that time in its history, The Royal Regiment of Artillery was made up of three components. The bulk of it was in the Royal Field Artillery (RFA), with the rest allotted to either the Royal Horse Artillery (RHA) or the Royal Garrison Artillery (RGA). The RHA existed to provide fire support for the Cavalry units, so it was light and fast. The RGA was made up of the specialists, who fired th heavy artillery of the Siege and Heavy Batteries (and later the Trench Mortar Batteries and the Anti Aircraft Batteries) and had the heavy job of the light artillery of the Mountain Batteries.

Gunners of the RGA were required to be bigger, stronger and, some say, smarter than the rest of the Royal Regiment of Artillery as they had the heavier and more complex jobs to perform. Even amongst the RGA gunners of the Territorial Force, Mountain Gunners had the highest minimum height requirements. Mountain Gunners were required to be at least 5'7" tall (this in 1908). Although the 4th Highland Mountain Brigade was the only such unit in the Territorial Force, this special requirement was spelled out for in the Regulations for the Territorial Force, 1908. In comparison, the minimum height for infantrymen was 5'2". Why such stringent physical requirements for our Mountain Gunners?

Conventional Artillery in the RFA and RHA used horses and limbers (specialised wagons) to move their cannons in a ready to fire configuration. This required passable terrain, preferably roads, to move their cannons and supplies. The Mountain Artillery mission required Mountain Gunners to break their cannons down into smaller components, lift these smaller components onto the pack saddles of their highland ponies or mules and move them into difficult, often mountainous terrain. These were the famous screw guns immortalized in poem by Rudyard Kipling. Upon arrival at their positions, they deployed rapidly, reassembling their cannons to provide timely, accurate fire support in places where conventional Field Artillery couldn't go. In a few short years, even our Mountain Gunners would be surprised at where and how they would emplace their cannons.

At that time, the only other Mountain Artillery in the British Army was in the Indian Army and used mules to transport their guns. Our Highland Gunners used locally bred and grown Highland Garron Ponies. Although they took these ponies overseas and deployed them in Gallipoli, Egypt and Greece, when the inevitable attrition occurred and ponies were lost, to their chagrin, the mule was the standard replacement for the much beloved Highland Ponies.

In addition to their tasks on the cannons, the Mountain Gunners had to handle and care for large numbers of animals, used not just to move the cannons, but also to move everything they owned and needed in the field. These, for the most part, weren't riding animals, so our mountain gunners walked wherever the animals carried their burdens. Sometimes the demands for Artillery support were from terrain not suitable for animals carrying heavy loads. In these situations, such as they were to find right away in the Gallipoli campaign, the Mountain Gunners had to manhandle their guns up into precarious positions on hill and cliff tops as well as into and behind the front line trenches, where their animals couldn't go, to provide their very effective fires.

Just as the Mountain Gunners were suited for their tasks, the Highland Garron Pony was perfect for its task. These animals had been bred to carry heavy loads on the highland crofts and were not so tall that loading the cannons and equipment required giants. (Presumably, the task of lifting heavy loads onto the pony's back is why Mountain Gunners were required to be at least 5'7" tall). The temperament and abilities of these animals were well suited to the task and they were much loved by the men of the 4th Highland Mountain Brigade.

On July 13, 1908, the first of their four 10 pounder, breech loading cannons arrived in Rothesay. The next gun wasn't to arrive until mid-August, but the training had begun in earnest and the men of the Bute Battery were to learn their jobs well. World War One commenced in 1914, and, although not of their making, was a war that belonged to the people. For the first time this conflict was much too large for the Regular Army and the British Empire was relying on its full military and civilian resources to fight a protracted and widely dispersed global war with terrible levels of human and material loss. And the people of the Empire came through in splendid fashion.

The men of the Bute Mountain Battery, by now qualified mountain gunners, along with the entire Territorial Force, was embodied into Active Service with this full mobilization. The battery mobilized in Rothesay, squared away their guns, animals and kit and, under the command of noted Rothesay architect, Major A.M.McKinlay, left for Greenock, then Inverness, then Bedford, England, where they joined the rest of the 51st Highland Division and encamped for final training.

This made the war very personal as all areas of the Empire were affected in very personal ways. Scotland The Isle of Bute came through for King and Country as did the rest of the Empire. Although the Isle of Bute contributed greatly to the war effort in many ways, its major contribution came in the form of the 4th Highland Mountain Brigade Headquarters, RGA (TF) and the Bute Mountain Battery, RGA (TF).

The task of the Mountain Gunners took quite a crew. Listed in Appendix I to the January 1917 War Diary of the Bute Mountain Battery (in Salonika, another mountainous battleground, at the time) was the War Office Authorisation for personnel assigned to a Mountain Battery and their attending Ammunition Column, as of 19th August 1916. This provided 7 Officers (not counting the Officer Commanding) and 253 Non Commissioned Officers and Other Ranks. These 260 men manned the four guns, and all of its animals, all of the Battery's attendant command affairs, administration and support (food, clothing, shelter, ammunition and artillery supplies and maintenance, mail, etc), and provided for its ammunition column! The Bute Battery, on entering the Salonika Front in October 1916, drew from the local Remount Depot 205 animals, a mix of horses, ponies and mules. They entered active service in August 1914 with 130 horses. Each gun section, which accounted for two of the battery's four guns, was allotted 68 horses, while its ammunition column required an additional 19. The Battery also assumed feeding and cleaning responsibilities and veterinary care as well as shoeing and blacksmith responsibilities for all of these animals.

When they arrived to join the rest of the Highland Division, they were in better shape than most as noted by a Division history here describing the state of the Division's animals. In few cases was any knowledge of horse-management evident. There were two notable exceptions. One was the Highland Mountain Brigade, which came down with a splendid lot of pack ponies and made a very creditable turn-out right from the start.

When a man joined a Territorial Force unit, that commitment did not automatically assume duties beyond the shores of Great Britain. There was, however, an Imperial Service agreement soldiers could sign, at their discretion, which allowed them to be used, as Territorials or Terriers on foreign soil, which most members willingly signed. My grandfather, Daniel Morrison, and his uncle James Morrison, were among those who wore the small white metal tab above their right breast tunic pocket that identified them as volunteers for Imperial Duty. The vast majority of Terriers who thus volunteered made it possible for the Crown to send entire Divisions of Terriers overseas in short order to distinguish themselves in this difficult was.

The training in Bedford was tough, with frequent route marches and constant work details to keep the animals and the men healthy and in good shape. When it rained, they had to deal with the rivers of mud which created quagmires in the horse lines. This required great and constant effort, day and night, to remediate.

The guns they had been given were old even then. They had no recoil system as the more modern guns of the RFA and RHA had, (and which they would finally acquire in 1916 in Greece!) so that each round fired caused the cannon to roll backwards on its wheels. The gunners then had to return the gun as closely as possible to its old position after each round was fired so as to maintain an accurate and effective rate of fire.

The metal wear on the interior of the gun tubes created by firing them posed additional problems with accuracy that would become more problematic as time went on. Ever adaptable to necessary change, the Highland Gunners developed the skills needed to modify their aiming data in order to account for this feature. This became a particular problem in Gallipoli when the infantry came to rely on the mountain gunners to provide very close supporting fires. Typically, the Highland Gunners became masters at their task.

Now training as a Brigade, the batteries started to level out their personnel in preparation for combat deployment. Overage, underage, those unfit and those who hadn't signed the Imperial Agreement were identified. Batteries began to gel as somewhat competitive rival sections began to work together as batteries (although they still had to be able to work as independent sections) and men were transferred between sections and Batteries as they reached wartime establishment. Although the Batteries retained their distinctive names throughout the war (unlike most Artillery units which assumed numbers and letters to identify themselves) there were many Bute Battery men in the Argyll and the Ross Batteries as well as in the Brigade HQ and the Ammunition Columns. As an example, an officer from a well-known Bute Family, Major George Hicks, MC, commanded the Argyll Mountain Battery in Egypt and Salonika from July 1916 until he was taken ill on 29 May 1918 and, eventually shipped home on 28 July 1918 to recuperate in the UK. Another Brandane, Malcolm Buchanan, MC, took over temporary command of the Argyll Battery after which Thomas Hall Smith, MC, from the Bute Battery assumed permanent command. Lt. Buchanan was then transferred to the Ross & Cromarty Battery. My own grandfather, although held back to train other soldiers until late 1916, was assigned to the Argyll Battery through the end of the war outside a short, temporary assignment back to the Bute Battery for a particular mission in Salonika.

Early experience with Mountain Guns in France led the British Command to remove them from that theatre and move them to the more mountainous regions off the shores of the Mediterranean, in India, Mesopotamia and Africa.

In 1915, in a bid to seize Constantinople, the Allies decided to seize first the Dardanelle Straits, sail into the Sea of Murmansk and force the capitulation of the Turkish capital, thereby removing Turkey from the War and closing off Germany from the south. This would also have opened up a southern sea-lane to Russia, our ally at the time.

It was decided to do this by Naval action alone, however the Navy failed to force the straits of the Dardanelles in a series of Naval battles with a small landing of Royal Marines on the tip of the Gallipoli Peninsula. Now realising that the straits could not be forced without seizing either the peninsula of Gallipoli, or the Asiatic shore on the eastern side of the straits, or both, the decision was made to send an expeditionary force to attempt to seize the peninsula.

Leading the invasion force on the southern tip of the peninsula, Cape Helles, was the incomparable 29th Division, a Regular Army Division. In preparation for this adventure, the 4th Highland Mountain Brigade had been relieved from the 51st Division and assigned to the 29th Divisional Artillery. Only two of the three batteries and the brigade headquarters of the 4th HMB were required so, to the chagrin of the men of the Bute Mountain Battery, the Ross and the Argyll Batteries, strengthened by 80 men from the Bute Battery, would be the only Territorial Force Artillery assigned to the 29th Divisional Artillery for this invasion.

The Argyll and the Ross & Cromarty Batteries had completed one more training camp than the Bute Battery, (which had their annual camp scheduled for September 1914, one month after they were mobilized) so it was to be that the Argyll and the Ross Batteries, bolstered by those 80 men of the Bute Battery, were chosen to proceed to Gallipoli. The (51st) Highland Division, which was soon to go to France, took with it the former 4th Highland Mountain Brigade Ammunition Column as its Divisional Ammunition Column. The Bute Battery, less the 80 men just mentioned, was to stay in the UK to train the next Mountain Brigade and replacements for the Argyll and Ross batteries.

The Scottish cannoneers were to travel by ship, with their guns, wagons and ponies, through Gibraltar, past Malta to Egypt and from there to a small island off the coast of Turkey for quick training in amphibious landing ö something new in warfare ö and on to Gallipoli. As the highly mobile, light artillery that they were, the 4th Highland Mountain Brigade was to provide the first cannons on the ground immediately after the infantry had secured the beaches in the south of the peninsula at Helles Point on that 25th of April 1915.

On the morning of the 25th of April, a date now known as Gallipoli Day, the two batteries embarked with the men of the 1st Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers on the HMS Euryalus for Cape Helles - W Beach. One two-gun section from each of the Argyll and the Ross Batteries, each with men from the Bute Battery, prepared to follow the Lanc's onto W Beach on the south edge of Cape Helles. The plan called for them to land around 8:00am, but the plan hadn't counted on severe obstacles and ferocious machine gun fire covering these obstacles. Many of the Lancashires were decimated before they even hit the land; in their boats, in the water and, for those who could make it, on the beach. The extraordinary actions of the Lanc's earned them 6 Victoria Crosses for their heroic action that eventually secured a beach head for follow on troops, including the first artillery to land, the mountain gunners. There is no reliable record, but diaries and letters show that the battery sections landed that afternoon or evening and that they were in action that evening and all that night. The situation on the beach was so desperate that, while the gunners were required to go into action with their guns, others from the batteries used their ponies to haul critical small arms ammunition and water to the infantrymen who were desperately struggling to hold onto their precarious positions and push forward up the cliffs.

Our mountain gunners were to be in continuous action from that day until August. Even then, they were withdrawn to an island off the coast, refitted and pressed into action as the first artillery ashore (again) in the landings at Suvla Bay to the north.

The action on the Gallipoli peninsula was arduous and losses mounted. Their Brigade Commander, Lt. Col. Wynters was pressed into service to command an Artillery Group consisting of several distinct Brigades and Batteries in the southern sector. They lost men, ponies and guns. The infantry soon found that the mountain gunners possessed the only weapons able to effectively and quickly suppress enemy machine gun nests, which were decimating the frontal assaults necessary to take enemy trenches. This required the gunners to move their guns by manpower alone up onto precipitous cliffs to provide enfilading fire and to move their guns, by manpower again, into the front line trenches right alongside the infantry.

The gun crews were rotated through this duty. Each time the Turks realised that our Highland gunners were present they called in all the artillery salvoes they could to attempt to silence them. This was a tribute to the effectiveness of the mountain gunners, but it also caused wounds and death to crewmen (who nevertheless continued with their missions) as well as loss of cannons, animals and wagons. The old mountain guns they were issued had no shields to protect the crews, so many of them who walked away from these counter battery fires wondered how they did so.

The batteries, sometime in two gun sections and sometimes as lone guns, were rushed back and forth across the front for mission after mission. There was no day when the guns were not in action until they were withdrawn off the peninsula to prepare for the landings at Suvla Bay. Although there was no place on that tiny peninsula where anyone was safe to rest peacefully, all other units were allowed down time at the rear. This allowed them, at least, to remove to the beaches for a swim (the only bathing available) and time to repair clothing and equipment, relax with their comrades-in-arms away from the persistent snipers and the threat of charging attacks. The effect of the little mountain guns was so vital that they were in constant demand.

By June 1915, the Argyll and the Ross Batteries became one battery (known as The Highland Mountain Battery) as men were killed, wounded or succumbed to disease and guns were worn out beyond repair. The guns were so worn out that, when they were sent to the Navy ordnance shop that was supposed to repair them, they were deemed unrepairable.

A snapshot of the effect of the Gallipoli operations on the 4th Highland Mountain Brigade, even before the Suvla Bay landings, is contained in the citation describing the award of the Military Cross to Captain A.E.C. Burney, a man who was the Ross Mountain Battery Adjutant until he was pressed into action as the Commander of the amalgamated Highland Mountain Battery.

ãBurney, A.E.C., Adjt. 1/4th Highland Mountain Brigade, RGA, (T.F.).Gallipoli,l 1915. This officer was in command of the Highland Mountain Battery (organised from the Ross and Argyll Mountain Batteries) in the Gallipoli Operations. He was indefatigable in reconnoitring (sic) forward positions for his guns, close to the front line trenches, placing his guns in them and superintending their fire. It is due to his initiative, resource and personal example that this Territorial batter has done such excellent work. During the first two months this battery had 3 officers killed and 5 wounded, and 54 N.C.O.s and men killed and wounded. It never had a days rest and yet its Morale remained as good as ever, greatly due to captain Burney's example. (M.C. 8/11/15, Mentioned in Despatches 5/11/15)

It was here that the Bute Mountain Battery experienced its first combat losses, even as the Battery itself was still in the U.K. Gunner Alan McKeith was transferred to Argyll Mountain Battery in Mar 1915. He landed with the Argyll Battery at Gallipoli and was wounded on 8th May, ãstruck by a stray bullet from the Turkish Trenches and died soon afterwardsä on 9th May 1915. This death was reported in the Campbeltown Courier of 5th Jun 1915. Gunner McKeith was ãan apprentice plumber from Bute, son of James McKeith, Barone Roadä. (Ibid) He is buried at Pink Farm Cemetery, Gallipoli and remembered on the monument there. Gunner McKeith's death occurred during the 2nd Battle of Krithia, the second of three battles for this little village that controlled the access to Achi Baba, the prize. As the history of the Royal Regiment of Artillery says, ãThere can be few battles in history which began with such an impossible task, with so little artillery and men so worn out by continuous fightingä . At the end of this battle, there was no ammunition left in reserve on the beaches for the Batteries and only 1400 rounds on board ships. Although ammunition supply was always a problem, this shows how much firing was done in this battle, which gained Allied forces a mere 400 yards.

Finally, in August 1915, exhausted, they were evacuated from the peninsula to an island nearby for they knew what not. There was some thought and many wishes that they were to be sent home. They were just glad to be able to sleep a night's sleep, eat a meal in peace and, occasionally, when fatigue duties were done and the animals, carriages, limbers and guns were cared for, take a peaceful walk on this beautiful Greek island.

While resting and refitting on this island, the Navy found another set of 10 pounder mountain guns on board a ship and issued them to the two reconstituted batteries, now also receiving drafts of men to replace their manpower losses, many from the Bute Battery training program in the UK. The upcoming operation, a landing at Suvla Bay in the north of the peninsula, was so secret that commanders on the ground did not know where they were going or what the plan for battle and manoeuvre was until the landing itself (which proved to add to the innate problems of an amphibious landing conducted at night as the exploitation phase presented itself and faded without accomplishing what was needed to advance).

On August 6, 1915, late at night, the replenished but still worn out mountain gunners set out for the peninsula. The mission of this landing force was to invade this new sector and open up a new front to cut off reinforcements and resupply to the enemy established on the peninsula. Most of the men were still wearing the uniforms, boots and kit they were wearing when they landed back in April. This landing was different from the April landings in that complete surprise was achieved and they wee able to land unmolested. Lethargy on the part of some senior commanders and the effects of the very effective secrecy, which denied information about the intent and plan for execution of the mission to almost everyone involved caused this marvellous opportunity to be squandered. Troops sat near the shore and failed to move into the surrounding hillsides until the Turks, who had been given enough time to raise the alarm and force march thousands of troops to the area, took up the positions that these troops should have occupied and now had the advantage.

There were many new troops in this landing and to these untried men of Kitchener's Army, the mountain gunners were old sweats. They knew what to do and did it, at one point taking positions up where they had been told to, unaware that the infantry they were supposed to be supporting hadn't made it to their starting positions. This was a moment when the mountain gunners were the front line. Unaware of the changes, they were in the front line position until an agitated officer from another unit charged up on his horse and informed them that they were ahead of the front line. Once again, their skill and speed served them well as they limbered up their guns and led their ponies back to the real lines. Fortunately they had prepared good positions, because the battle plan was back on shortly and they had to move their guns and equipment back into the same position.

This endeavour at Suvla Bay, too , was doomed, although the sections from the Ross Battery and the Argyll Battery fought in what had become a typically efficient and effective manner. Here, as in the south, they suffered indescribable deprivation, were constantly in jeopardy of snipers bullets, artillery shells, or the new menace, aerial bombs, and suffered from extremes of heat and cold, rain and frost, shortages of food and water and disease. In spite of all this from all reports they carried on well and didn't let the situation ruin their morale or efficiency. They moved all over the combat area in response to calls for their services as the combat veterans they had become.

The decision was made by higher commands to withdrawal of all Allied troops from Gallipoli. This evacuation occurred in December 1915 and was, by all accounts, the most successful part of the whole Gallipoli campaign. The Turks were completely surprised when they discovered that the Allies had left. As usual, the mountain gunners were tasked with providing fires for the last line of defence and were the last guns off at Suvla Bay.

In the meantime, back in Blighty (as the troops called home), the remnants of the Brigade left behind, now called the 2/4th Highland Mountain Brigade, moved from Bedford back to Rothesay on the Isle of Bute to perform their assigned mission. The Royal Regiment of Artillery knew that most of the overage soldiers left behind had skills acquired over a long period of time in a highly competitive, skilled unit. Newly recruited men from all over were sent to these men to be trained. Wounded who were sent home to convalesce were, upon certification as fit to return to duty by local doctors, to report to the Brigade at Rothesay prior to shipment back to the combat area, reassignment or discharge.

Lt. William Hogarth, wounded during operations at Suvla Bay, was one of these. His son, David Hogarth of Fife, was kind enough to send me an image of the dinner menu saved from a Complementary Dinner to Colonel Colin McLeod Robertson, TD given at the Bute Arms Hotel on 21 January 1916. Many of the officers present signed the menu, which now reads like a Who's Who of the 4th Highland Mountain Brigade. There are signatures of:
  • Captain George Hicks, MC, before he took command of the Argyll Battery
  • Lt. William Hogarth, MC, during his convalescence and before he was transferred to another RGA unit in France
  • Major T. Nicolson (Ross Battery, wounded)
  • Lt. Arthur Hardie Hill, MC, who served in all three batteries of the brigade from Ross to Argyll to Bute, and commanded the Bute Battery during its most arduous and dangerous missions, from 30 Jan 1917 to November 1918
  • Captain Angus Hugh MacDonald, MC, Mentioned in Despatches, wounded at Gallipoli
  • Lieutenant James S. Smith, Argyll Battery, who was to leave the 4th HMB in a couple of months to join a Royal Engineers unit
  • Lieutenant T. Duncan Wallace of Oban, Mentioned in Despatches, who developed jaundice during his service at Gallipoli with the Argyll Battery, participated in both landings there and was invalided home
  • J.A. Laing
  • Major Bryce Allan, commanded the Ross Mountain Battery (after transferring from the Bute Battery shortly after mobilization) at the Gallipoli landings and was wounded there, later to leave the 4th HMB and go to France as a Colonel
  • Major A. Campbell, Commanded Ross Battery before and at mobilization, overage for overseas service remained to train the second line unit
  • Major John McIntyre McDougall, returned from retired list in September 1914 to command the Argyll Battery, overage for overseas service, indeed retired as overage near the end of the war.
Lieutenant Colonel Colin McLeod Robertson, DSO, CG, TD, commanded the 1st Bute Mountain Battery (1908) and the 4th Highland Mountain Brigade at mobilization. The General Officer Commanding the 51st Division felt that Lt. Col Robertson was not healthy enough to deploy to Gallipoli, so command of the Brigade was handed over to Lt. Col. Francis A. Wynters, and Lt. Col. Robertson stayed with the 51st Division as commander of its Ammunition Column when it deployed to France in 1915. It seems the General misjudged Col. Robertson's health, as he was deployed to France in command of the 51st Highland Division's Ammunition Column and remained in that position until the end of the war.

At some point, the Brigade moved from Rothesay to Scotton, and trained as the Number 5 Reserve Brigade, girding up for the deployment of the Bute Mountain Battery, RGA, TF, to Salonika in September 1916.

Meantime, the Argyll and Ross Batteries and the 4th Highland Mountain Brigade HQ took what was left of their Highland Ponies and their guns and deployed to Egypt to prepare for the expected invasion of the Sinai by Turkey.

Here they reinstituted rigorous training, going for long route marches in the desert, rationing and restricting water intake (having learned the valuable lesson of water discipline in this hot, arid area of the world) and engaging in some small actions in Egypt. They weren't there long, however, when the order came to consolidate in Alexandria and move to Salonika to join the British Forces in the Salonika Army.

This area, called The Macedonian Theater, the Balkans, or the Salonika Front at various times by various people, had been tenuously held by Allied forces since the start of the war, but the time had come to push the Bulgarians and their German allies back out of Greece, Serbia and Albania and into Bulgaria. The Serbs, the Italians, the French and the British provided the bulk of the Allied forces with Greece sitting on the fence until the very end of the conflict when they joined the Allied side (and fought very well with the Bute Battery supporting them).

It was then that the decision was made to reunify the 4th HMB by adding the Bute Mountain Battery back into the command, so they left the No. 5 Reserve Brigade R.F.A. Camp at Scotton on 5th September 1916 and sailed to Greece via Gibraltar and Malta. They arrived in Salonika on 19 September 1916 and, a week later were placed under the command of Major E.G.W. Carter, a rigid and demanding Regular Army RGA Officer who had commanded the Ross Battery in Egypt. The whole brigade was then equipped with new 2.75-inch mountain guns. The Bute Battery received these guns and their new, animals and trained with them until 20 November 1916 when they marched out of camp to go up country. The Bute Mountain Battery was now officially in the war and would stay in the thick of it until after the armistice.

The Bute Mountain Battery left their training camp at Karaissi and marched from 20 November 1916 to Gumus Dere arriving on 23 November where they were met by the 4th HMB Adjutant, effected some transfers and received fresh orders. They found out there that they were to proceed to the 10th Division area to be attached to the 54th Field Artillery Brigade. On the 26th they marched to Mekes and from there, received orders to proceed to Kopriva and await the Argyll Mountain Battery. They then marched via Kopriva and Calimah, to Bashanli where on the 28th November 1916, the 4th Highland Mountain Brigade, RGA, TF was together again for the first time since March of 1915. They were to operate alternately as a part of the Brigade and as a separate Battery for the rest of the war.

The Bute Battery left Bashanli on the 1st of December for Todorovo, where, on the 9th of December, they engaged their first enemy targets. To quote from their War Diary, Opened fire on trucks at POROJ STATION and fired 6 H.E. and 3 Shrapnel. Weather very wet and misty. Could not observe bursts.ä This was the beginning of their war and, in what would follow, the men of the Bute Mountain Battery would carry on in the newly created tradition of the 4th Highland Mountain Brigade and the long established tradition of the Scottish soldier; doing the impossible in fine fashion.

On 31 January 1917, Major Carter handed over command of the Bute Battery to Lt. Arthur Hardie Hill. Lt. Hill came to the Bute Battery from the Ross Battery via the Argyll Battery.

The strategic value of keeping German, Turkish and Bulgarian troops in this region and away from the Western Front was well understood in London. The Russian front, which had occupied a large part of German and Austrian assets, was collapsing as internal affairs in Russia came unglued. With the revolution of 1917 and the resultant pact between Russia and Germany-Austria, a tremendous number of troops and guns were freed for service in the west. Keeping an active front in Salonika was critical. Keeping British troops here proved problematic for many reasons.

The mosquito in the swampy lowlands of the region had been identified as the carrier of the Malaria that had so decimated the ranks. The men of the Bute Battery, being fresh from the UK, were susceptible to the many diseases that lurked in this area. Recurrent Malarial attacks hospitalized most of the members of the Brigade at one time or another. A pattern of occupation and movement now emerged where the Allied troops and the enemy troops established Winter Lines, which were closer to one another down on the various swampy plains near the Vardar and the Struma Rivers, and Summer Lines, which were considerably higher and away from the swampland that bred the mosquitoes.

This gave the 4th Highland Mountain Brigade many opportunities to demonstrate their unique value as they were conceived with that terrain in mind. Once up in Summer Lines, the gunners would gird up for stunts, where they would leave their perches way up in the mountains and join their infantry in raids that were well planned and executed in a manner that showed that the Army was beginning to work together well in combined arms teams. These raids would last only a day or two and subjected the gunners and drivers to the hazards of these lowlands, including the jeopardy of operating in lands subject to mosquito infestation. The mountain gunners performed their artillery mission in close support of the infantry and cavalry. Then, exhausted, they guided their ponies and mules with their cargo of guns, equipment, supplies and any unused ammunition back up the steep and often narrow trails to the relative safety of their Summer Lines redoubts. There, they dug into the hillsides in what had become by now the familiar dugouts, which were home, to the lads far from their own homes.

Although the mosquito didn't follow them up into the hills, enemy artillery sought them out when within range and the new threat, the aeroplane, would provide anxious moments. One gun was routinely detached to perform anti-aircraft, duties. The gun crew camouflaged their guns as best they could, using foliage from the area to help it blend into the surroundings. They would then engage any enemy aircraft they saw.

As they were Scottish Artillery units, they wore the balmoral with the Royal Regiment of Artillery hat piece pinned thereon in place of the standard round service dress hat. One can see this in most of the photos of the time, starting with photos taken at Gallipoli. Photographs from their training period in Bedford show the traditional round service dress cap. Starting in 1916, they were also authorised to wear a square patch of the distinctive tartan representing their home county's infantry regiment behind the hat piece of the Royal Regiment of Artillery on their balmorals. The Bute Battery wore the Stewart Hunting Tartan, while the Argyll Battery wore the Campbell of Argyll tartan and the Ross Battery wore the Mackenzie of Seaforth tartan. Those assigned to the Headquarters of the 4th Highland Mountain Brigade wore the Royal Stewart tartan. This added a touch of distinction to the batteries and brought a touch of (and a reminder of) home to the men.

By the summer of 1916, the British and French troops in Salonika were joined by Russian, Serbian and Italian troops and the line was drawn. The Bulgarians tried an invasion of Greece, which was repelled at Lake Doiran and the lines were set.

Starting in October 1916, the British troops commenced a series of raids and small attacks with the intent of capturing the town of Serres. These were somewhat successful in that they captured the Ruppell Pass just shy of Serres.

1917 was a fairly quieter time in Salonika as the British emphasis was placed on France and Flanders and the Greek government tried to sort itself out. The Bulgars and the Germans held a line at the crest of the huge mountains that defined the battle area. The mountains around Lake Doiran had been assaulted at great cost and both sides had settled down into a war of limited actions, the raids described above, with the intent of improving positions and chances for success when the time came for the big push. That time came in July of 1918, when it was decided that the central Powers needed to be tied down and defeated in this arena. Russia, beset with its own internal problems that would endure for the next 70 years, had withdrawn from the war, which eliminated the need for Germany to fight an Eastern Front. Masses of Central Powers men, artillery and stores were freed up for efforts in France, the Middle East and in Africa. Greece had come to a conclusion as to what side of the war they were to join, reorganised its Army and prepared to do battle against the Central Powers.

The Battle of Doiran commenced. The Bute Mountain Battery was ordered from the 16th Corps area to the 12th Corps area, leaving the positions, lines of fire and ammunition surplus to establishment, to be taken over by the Argyll Mountain Battery. At that point, their Marching out state, was: 5 Officers, 188 Other Ranks, 13 horses, 152 mules, 4 2.75ä Breech Loading Mountain Guns, 112 rounds of High Explosive Ammunition, 504 rounds of Shrapnel and 200 reduced charges. Thus arrayed and equipped, they moved from Usemli to Snevce where they picked up C, sub section of the Brigade ammunition Column, which added 47 other ranks, 2 horses, 45 mules, 87 additional high explosive (HE) rounds and 305 additional Shrapnel rounds. They were prepared for combat.

The recurring problem of Malaria became even more of a problem when the Battery was under great stress. As the most mobile of the Army's Artillery, they were tasked with difficult and lengthy movements that they just had to make. This movement cost them 8 men evacuated due to Malaria and they lost an additional 12 on the 22nd of July. Captain Hill, in the War Diary, stated, This camp was very trying for Malarial subjects, there being no shade for the men during the day and to this is attributed the reason for so many going sick.

The Battery moved again on the 22nd of July, moving to Dreveno in a night march. During their stay, they reported to the Chief of Royal Artillery for the 27th Division and received orders to proceed to the Chief of Royal Artillery for the 27th Division and received orders to proceed to and take up positions formerly occupied by a French howitzer battery. They moved on the night of the 25th-26th July and were in action by midnight.

These marches took their toll. To quote from Captain Hill's entry into the War Diary, The Battery is now 49 other ranks under strength and the Ammunition Column is 1 Officer and 3 other ranks under strength. There is at present an average sick parade of 30 men per day. The cases are nearly all Malarial, and it is considered to be due to the extra strain upon the men during the march, and especially to the lack of shelter from the sun during the day. This didn't stop the Bute Battery from carrying out its duty nor did it stop their controlling headquarters from ordering vast moves at a quick pace.

The following is an example of one such movement quoted from XII Corps order No.28 dated 19th June 1918. This movement took them from the extreme right of the British line to the extreme left of the line, a move necessitating crossing mountainous terrain and rivers.

(1) The Bute Mountain Battery, RGA, (T) from the VVI Corps Area will proceed to the 27th Divisional Area for use on that front in accordance with the following movement table and will come under the XII Corps on entering the XII Corps area:-
  Halt at SNEVCE (Snevche)----18th/18th July 1918
  Halt at HIRSOVA (Khirsova)----19th/20th July 1918
  Halt at PYRAMIDE----20th/21st July 1918
    (about 800 yards west of CAUSICA (Chaushitsa) Station)
  Halt at San Michel----21st/22nd July 1918
    (about 3000 yards North of KARASOULI (Karasuli))
(2) Moves from SAL MICHEL will be ordered by 27th Division.
(3) One day's rations and forage will be available at each of the halts mentioned in PARA 1. The remainder of the current day's rations will be carried by the Battery on the move.
Ration strength for men and animals will be wire dd by O.C. Battery to XII Corps Q, on receipt of these orders.
(4) All moves by road on the XII Corps Area will be made before dawn or after dusk (2030 hours).
This movement took them away from the proposed battle area to the south, as they had to cross the Vardar River at a Ferry at Karasuli. I can only measure distances on these old maps as the crow flies, which, of course, is now how our Mountain Gunners got to their destination. This is mountainous country, sparsely populated with little mountain villages spaced about. Tracks are unpaved and, in many instances, nothing more than narrow mountain paths on which ponies and mules and the men driving them struggled to carry their loads. As the crow flies, they travelled at night to a destination that was over 35 miles away from their starting point to get to their new positions.

It was during this activity, on 26 August, that Gunner James Buchanan Cunningham of the Bute Mountain Battery, son of Alexander and Mary Cunningham of Glasgow died of Dysentery, a malady that plagued many of the Mountain Gunners.

Under orders of the 27th Division now, the Bute Mountain Battery prepared for the big battle upcoming. On 2nd August, they repulsed an enemy attack, responding to an emergency call from their infantry. This is one of many instances where constant fire planning paid off in rapidly available artillery support to beleaguered infantry troops. The Battery routinely planned fires on several targets in support of infantry at various places throughout the battlefield. Some of their planned barrages (S.O.S. barrages) were intended to fend off enemy attacks when the infantry was in trouble. At 9.45pm they received just such an S.O.S. call at the Turban Salient and the gun section on call (of which there was always at least one) fired 82 Shrapnel rounds to support the Infantry in their successful effort to repulse this attack. The Battery wasn't finished until the battle was over.

For the rest of the month, the Battery prepared for battle as all Artillerymen do; they selected likely targets and registered their guns on these so that, when the time came, they could fire accurate and timely fires.

>From the 20th of August on, the men of Bute Battery increased their fires on enemy targets in an effort to soften up, the battlefield for the infantry in the upcoming battle. This meant harassing fires to hamper or prevent enemy work parties from building or reinforcing their defensive measures such as trench lines, observation posts, mortar and artillery positions and the wire. By this time it was well known that well placed artillery fires could break the barbed wire used to slow down the infantry advance.

It also meant responding to tasks assigned by their (temporary) bosses of the 27th Divisional Artillery. Between 25-28 August the Bute Battery fired in accordance with TASK E, 27th Divisional R.A. Scheme and 20th Field Artillery Brigade's Instructions. This was a series of pre-arranged fires on specific targets. The Bute Battery fired these missions, expending 1,783 rounds in the doing. How did they do? This letter was received from Lieut. Col. O.T. Cameron, Assistant Chief of Royal Artillery, 27th Division, and posted to the War Diary as an appendix:
Royal Artillery 27th Division A3878/23878.31/8/18 The Bute Mountain Battery,

The Divisional Commander witnessed the Barrage under your Command on the Yatagan and Tr. Des Loups on the 27th inst. He desires me to congratulate on the shooting and to inform you that the barrage was an excellent example of what it should be. (sgd.) O.T. Cameron Lt. Col. A/C.R.A. 27th Divn.
On the 30th of August 1918 and again on 1st September, Bute Battery, along with 67th Battery, RFA, fired continuously from 3:00am until 5:00am, keeping the wire open in front of trenches C89 and C90.

When the 4th Highland Mountain Brigade mobilized in August 1914, the Argyll Mountain Battery consisted mainly of men from Argyllshire, the Bute Mountain Battery consisted mainly of men from Buteshire etc. That scheme didn't last very long, however, as the batteries transferred men between batteries for various reasons. The biggest transfers occurred in March 1915 when the decision was made to detach the Argyll and the Ross Batteries from the Highland Division to fight in Gallipoli with the 29th Division. Then, when replacements were needed in Gallipoli, men trained by the Bute Mountain Battery in Britain, both of the Bute Battery originally and new recruits in from various parts of Great Britain joined the Argyll and the Ross Batteries. The hometown flavour of the batteries was diluted even further. As Mountain Gunners were a rare and special breed, and the Bute Battery represented all that was left in Britain of this specialty, they were still being trained by the Brigade (2/4th Highland Mountain Brigade).

The wee Scottish Batteries were taking on a more international flavour, albeit a small one as non-Scots (and even Lowlanders!) were trained and brought in, both from Britain and as transfers form the Indian Mountain Batteries, alongside which our boys fought. The Scots of the Territorial Force routinely called Englishmen Londoners.

The Bute Mountain Battery lost its first Londoner, on 25 September 1918 as Gunner Tom Ponting, son of Lewis and Annie Maria Ponting, of 41 Bremhill, Calne, Wilts, died in the 28th Casualty Clearing Station as a result of a fractured skull injured in an accident. His service number, 238453 (or 194969 according to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission entry) indicates he transferred into the Battery from another organisation within the Royal Artillery. He is buried at Karasouli Military Cemetery near the town of Salonika (Thessaloniki today).

Also lost that month, to Pneumonia in 28th General Hospital, was Corporal Francis Tarbert Donaldson, one of the original members of the Bute Mountain Battery. Corporal Donaldson died on 28 September and is buried at Mikra British Cemetery. He was the son of John and Mary Baillie Donaldson, of Athol Cottage, West Kilbride, Ayrshire.

September 1st was the date selected for the attack on the Roche Noir Salient. To quote from the Official History, ãThe Roche Noir Salient formed, roughly, a square of 1,000 yards on the right bank of the Ljumnica (river). It jutted out far in advance of the main Bulgarian line and was not connected with it by communication trenches, though three ravines of which the bottom were screened from view served the same purpose. One of these ravines ran through the salient from north to south, dividing it approximately in half. The position was strongly fortified, with a continuous trench containing machine-gun emplacements and covered on its southern face by a double or triple belt of (barbed) wire. In the eastern half, on a dominating hummock called the Mamelon aux Buissons, was a closed work.

According to the Royal Regiment of Artillery's history, the artillery available for this battle consisted of the 19th Brigade (3 x 4-gun 18 pounder batteries), 20th Brigade (2 x 6-gun 18-pounder batteries), D/1st and D/129th batteries (both 4 x 4.5 in. howitzers) and the Bute Mountain Battery (4 x 2.75-inch guns). The artillery and infantry was going to be combined in this operation to take advantage of observations made of this area and of the Bulgarians standard method of operation.

It had been realised that the enemy was very alert at night, but that the front line of trenches didn't appear to even be occupied during the daylight hours. Battle planners had also observed that the enemy artillery barrages didn't hit the ground until four minutes after they were called for. An attack was planned to commence late in the day where the infantry, in this case the 2/Gloucestershire and the 10/Hampshire of the 82nd Brigade, would rush across no-man's land with no prior artillery preparation; usually a warning that the enemy was on the attack. The advance was to start at 5.30pm, but the artillery barrage wasn't to commence until 5:36pm.

To quote from the Bute Mountain Battery War Diary, The task allotted to the Battery was to bombard the trenches and machine gun emplacements on the Yatagan· The bombardment lasted from Z (Z, or Zero Hour, being the time when their barrage was to commence or 5:36pm) until Z, + 30 and the rate of fire maintained was four rounds per gun per minute. At Z, + 30 the 2nd Camerons advanced and captured these works.

The Battery lifted its barrage on to Tr. Des Loups and fire was maintained at the rate of four rounds per gun per minute, from Z, + 30 till Z, + 70 {6:06pm until 6:46 pm}. During this period, the guns were rested in rotation and sponged out. From Z, + 70 to Z, + 90, the rate of fire was gradually decreased. The order to cease firing was received at 20:00 hours, the Infantry having successfully captured the positions.

The Infantry succeeded brilliantly in its attack but the men of the Bute Battery were not yet finished for the day. Again from the War Diary, At 20.44 hours, the Battery fired a protective barrage in support of a raid upon the Enemy Post of Eperon Sud by troops of the 80th Inf. Bde. Fire was maintained until 21:19 hours, guns being retained on these barrage lines until the return of the raiding party was notified, and were then switched to their normal barrage lines.

Our boys were indeed far from home and their peaceful occupations in the isles and shores of Buteshire.

September 1918 marked the beginning of the end for German and Bulgarian forces on the Salonika Front. The strongest held point of the stronghold that had held up the Allies through the last several years and three major attacks was a mountainous region west of a mountain called Grand Couronne. On the night of the 13-14 September, the Bute Battery was detached from the 27th Division and attached to the 26th Division for operations against Grand Couronne. The Battery set out for a place called Elbow Ravine.

The Battery was in position by 23.55 hours on the night of the 14th. Sandbag emplace3ments were built and gun pits dug in to the sides of the ravine. Owing to the line of fire being directly up the ravine the zone of fire was very limited and the flash cover not too good.

They prepared for the battle on the 18th bringing up 300 rounds per gun and preparing to move at a moments notice by bringing their wagon lines up to the front. They were to operate as a detached battery responding directly to orders of the General Officer Commanding the Left Brigade attack. Firing was to commence at 0508 hours. This battle went on for two days with little success and a withdrawal was ordered on the 20th. During this battle, the Battery was under machine gun, rifle and shell fire, with no casualties from this fire, although a few men suffered slightly from the results of gas shelling.

With a flanking movement on the right, and a successful Serbian-French attack on the left, the line was broken and the enemy began a retreat north toward Bulgaria. What followed was a hot pursuit during which the enemy suffered grievous losses.

The Battery suffered as well. The march that followed was arduous. By the end of the month, they had struck 55 other ranks, from the rolls on admission to hospital. This was also the time when a worldwide Influenza epidemic hit and the combatants were not immune from that peril either. As they marched up to Bulgaria and entered it in pursuit of the enemy, engaging enemy targets along the way, this battery that had so many men attacked by Malaria, Dysentery and now Influenza was stretched thin. But, typically, they did their duty in exemplary fashion as witnessed by this letter from the General Office Commanding 27th Division, a former gunner himself, as forwarded by the Asst. Chief of Royal Artillery 17th Division (they moved so quickly and so far that it didn't get to them for many weeks after it was written). As the Bute Battery was attached to the 27th Division at the time and not a part of the Divisional Artillery, the GOC appended a special note just for them at the end of his message:

"Although I have already expressed verbally to you my thanks for the good work done by the Divl. Artillery since the commencement of active operations, I feel that perhaps something written might have a more permanent value. The Divisional Artillery were splendid without exception, and in gallantry, endurance and accuracy of shooting, fully sustained the highest traditions of our Regiment. My thanks and congratulations are due to every Officer and every man under your Command. These are not formal thanks, for as a gunner, I know what they all had to do, and (as you know) my standard is a high one. Will you please them this, and say how proud I am to command them. Will you please tell the Mountain Battery that I include them absolutely in all that I have said of the Divisional Artillery, and add that I should esteem myself lucky to have them in the Division for keeps."
On 30 September 1918, as the Battery prepared for another operation in support of the 9th Greek Regiment (another night move), they received orders that operations were cancelled as hostilities were to cease. With that simple statement, the war that had uprooted the men of Bute from their homes way back in August of 1914 and taken them far, far from home, some never to return, was over.

This capitulation by Germany's strongest ally that led to the exposure of their southern flank combined with setbacks in France and Flanders to convince Germany that she should sue for peace which she did on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, just a few weeks after termination of hostilities in Salonika. What some considered a sideshow had started the ball rolling toward the demise of the Central Powers and the end of World War One.

What followed was the lengthy and often frustrating process of consolidating, turning in ammunition, guns, saddles, saddlery cradles and carriages, the animals themselves and preparing for a return home.

Over the next few weeks, the Battery consolidated with the 4th Highland Mountain Brigade again to begin this process. Many were still suffering from the effects of the arduous pursuit and the sickness that had plagued these soldiers from the beginning.

The last soldier to die from the Bute Mountain Battery during hostilities occurred two days before the general armistice. On 9 November 1918, Corporal Thomas Brown, originally of the Argyll Mountain Battery, of 4 Longsdale Cottages, Oban, brother of Saddler George Brown of the Argyll Mountain Battery, died of a revolver wound. He was buried at Mikra British Cemetery, Kalamaria.

The Battery set up for the upcoming winter, not knowing when they would be ordered home. With an eye toward keeping the troops busy and preparing this vast army of men for return to civilian life, educational classes were begun for any who wished to participate.

In November 26 men were admitted to hospital. In December, it was 23 men. Also in December, the first to be sent home for demobilization, four miners, proceeded to No. 8 Embarkation Camp for demobilization.

In January 1919, Major Hill, the Bute Battery Commander for most of their time in Salonika, assumed command of the 4th Highland Mountain Brigade as Lt. Col. Kirby proceeded to the U.K. on leave. Capt. John Maclachlan assumed command of the Battery.

A great deal of shuffling of personnel commenced with some men being transferred to No. 2 Mountain Battery for duty in the Caucasus. In all, they were gradually reducing the strength of the Battery until it reached cadre strength of 1 officer and 20 other ranks per battery and ammunition column and one officer and 10 other ranks in the Brigade HQ.

It was at this strength that the 4th Highland Mountain Brigade, RGA, TF, embarked on 11 April 1919 at Salonika aboard HMS Danube for home. But even that wouldn't be easy as they only sailed as far as Taranto, Italy, where they landed three days later. They cooled their heels in Taranto for 2 more days before embarking on a six and a half day train trip through Italy and France to Le Havre. On 25 April, four years to the day after the landings at Gallipoli, the Brigade cadre embarked for Southampton, where they then took a train for Glasgow, arriving at Maryhill Barracks on the 27th April. An overnight stay in Glasgow and they proceeded to its final destination of Rothesay, Bute, arriving on the 28th April.

The Territorial Force became the Territorial Army and the 4th Highland Mountain Brigade went through many changes in the coming years. The Mountain mission was phased out and the RGA, RFA and RHA became the Royal Artillery (RA). The three wee batteries of brave and determined mountain gunners have not been forgotten in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland.

There have been some small pieces written about them and one large, very comprehensive work recently published about the Ross & Cromarty Mountain Battery called The Last Warrior Band. What's been missing is a history of the Brigade in The Great War, which I intend to remedy in the near future.

Mike Morrison
Oceanside, California
16 June 2005


 
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