5th Royal Scots Fusiliers attached to 1st Battalion, 3rd May 1917
Aberdeen University Roll of Service
An extract from Aberdeen University Roll of Service states:- MERSON, REV. MARSHALL: Lieutenant, 5th Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers; son of George Merson, fishcurer; born Buckie, 3 August 1889; educated there and at Abedeen University, where he graduated M.A. in 1912. Thereafter he took a highly creditable place in the classes of the Divinity Hall of the University. During his Divinity course he gave much valued assistance to the ministers of Buckie and of Holburn Church, Aberdeen; and his summer vacations were occupied with work as student missionary in the island of Swona.
At the close of his last session of Divinity in the spring of 1915, he enlisted promptly as a Private in the 4th Battalion Gordon Highlanders, and in the following August received a commission as Lieutenant in the Royal Scots. Alike on garrison duty at home and on active service in France, Merson showed much ability and devotion and received from his C.O. the testimony that he had “proved himself to be an extraordinarily good officer”. He was killed in action in France, 3 May 1917.
Further Military Research
It has further been established that Marshall Merson was promoted from being a Private, number – 3705 in the 2nd/4th Gordon Highlanders to a 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Scots Fusiliers, effective from 18 August 1915. He was at a later date promoted to Lieutenant before being killed in action in a failed attack on the German trenches near Monchy-le-Preux, Pas-de-Calais, France. He is remembered at Jerusalem Memorial, Palestine as either his body was not identified or he was never found.
In the Register of Soldiers Effects, dated 19 October 1917, his earnings were given to his father, his brother William James who was shown as a Captain, brother Captain A.J. Merson 4th Royal Scots Fusiliers and Captain R.J. Merson R.A.M.C., 26 Heavy Artillery Group.
Diary of 1st Royal Scots Fusiliers – 3 May 1917
HILL TRENCH – Munchy – 3rd May 1917
At 3.34 a.m. in conjunction with Divisions on either side, the 3rd Division attacked. Attack unsuccessful. Operation Orders and Report on Attack attached. Casualties:-
Officers – Killed – Lt Merson (O.C. A Company), Lt. E.P. Oatts, Lt. Kincaid (O.C. C Company), Wounded – 2nd Lt’s Fairlie, H. Brown and Tattersal, Missing – Lt’s Newbigging, Robertson, Petter, Davidson, Henderson.
Other Ranks – Killed – 27, Wounded – 212, Missing – 57
Report on the Operations of May 3rd 1917
By 3.40 a.m. the Battalion was formed up as follows:-
- ‘A’ Company (with Lieutenant Merson) on the right in HILL TRENCH.
- ‘B’ Company on the left in HILL TRENCH.
- ‘D’ Company on the right behind parados of HILL TRENCH.
- ‘C’ Company on the left behind parados of HILL TRENCH.
In this position ‘A’ and ‘D’ Companies were not square to the line of advance, and orders had been issued to them to bring up their right about 30 yards just before ZERO. It appears that this movement was observed by the enemy, who opened a heavy rifle fire and machine gun fire. Immediately the barrage opened the front line advanced closely followed by the rear lines. It is probable that the rear Companies in their anxiety to keep touch with their front companies in the dark kept somewhat too close. From the moment of advance our lines were kept continuously under heavy machine gun fire from both BOIS du VERT and top of INFANTRY HILL.
The leading companies were checked in front of the first German Line, which was strongly manned and which appears from all available evidence to be continuous. It is probable that a proportion of men got into this trench, but I can trace none who returned. The subsequent waves now merged into the front line but could not effect a further advance and the men took up positions in shell holes in front of German lines. From this position no movement was possible by day except by a small party in our extreme rear, who managed to get back to our front line early in the day. This party numbered 1 Officer and about 50 men whom I ordered to garrison the front line in case of a German counter attack. During the night 3rd/4th, the remainder of the Battalion numbering about 120 fell back in twos and threes on our front line. The Germans exposed themselves freely in their trenches and must have suffered considerable loss from two or three Lewis Guns which were maintained in action during the early part of the fight.
I attributed the failure of the attack to the following causes:-
- The darkness with the attending difficulty of keeping the line of direction and touch with forward troops. This resulted in the rear waves being precipitated into the fight before they could ascertain the position of affairs in front.
- To the barrage which appears to hang very thin and to have done little damage.
- To the misfortune of losing all the Officers but one in the very earliest stages of the advance.
The moral of the men who returned was good, there was no attempt by them to retire further than our front line. The re-organisation was thus enabled to be speedily and easily carried out. Signed – N.M. Teacher Lt-Col Commanding 1st Royal Scots Fusiliers.
Marshall Merson was born on the 3 August 1889 at Buckie, Banffshire.
In the 1891 and 1901 Census’s his family is shown as living in the town of Buckie, Banffshire and his family consisted of the following:-
- Father – George born c.1856 at Grange – Occupation – Fish Salesman
- Mother – Betsy born c.1862 at Buckie, Banffshire
- Brother – William James. born c.1879 at Buckie – Occupation – Fish Salesman’s Clerk
- Brother – James born c.1879 at Buckie
- Brother – Douglas Marshall born c.1884 at Buckie
- Brother – Alick (Alexander?) James born c.1885 at Buckie
- Brother – Robert John born c.1888 at Buckie
- Brother – James G. born c.1898 at Buckie
- Brother – Stephen born c.1900 at Buckie
On the 1891 Census the wife of his father is shown as Betsy as above, however, in the 1901 Census, the wife of his father is shown as Jane born c.1860 at Lumsden, Aberdeenshire, it is assumed that his first wife may have died or they divorced.
- In the 1891 Census, Marshall is shown as being at 9 Marine Place, Buckie.
- n the 1901 Census, he as shown as being at 16 Marine Place, Buckie.
Michael Merson is honoured and remembered on the following memorials:-
- The Scottish Ministers, Probationers and Divinity Students Memorial, St. Giles Cathedral, Royal Mile, Edinburgh.
- A stained glass window in Kings College Chapel, University of Aberdeen. It’s the small window above the Quadrangle entrance to the chapel i.e. the window above the side entrance.
Links to Additional Information
- A Street Near You Website – Marshall Merson
- Commonwealth War Graves Commission – Marshall Merson
- Find a Grave – Marshall Merson
- Lives of the First World War – Marshall Merson
- Imperial War Museum – Scottish Ministers, Probationers and Divinity Students
- Edinburgh University Roll of Honour – Marshall Merson
- Commonwealth War Graves Commission
- Medal Index Card
- 1891 Census
- 1901 Census
- Register of Soldiers Effects
- U.K. Soldiers Died in the Great War
- Aberdeen University Roll of Service
- Medal Roll Royal Scots Fusiliers – Victory and British War Medals
- Moray, Scotland, Local Heritage Index 1632-2014
- London Gazette dated 17 August 1915
- Vincent Stuart
- Alison T McCall (Information on Aberdeen University Memorial.)