6th Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders, 9th April 1917
Morayshire Roll of Honour
Extract from the above 1921 publication :- BURGESS, Alexander, No.266150, Private, 1/6th Seaforth Highlanders, born at Bogmoor, Spey Bay, Morayshire, March 13th, 1894; joined at Elgin, May 8th, 1915; served in France; killed at Vimy Ridge, 9th April, 1917, buried at Roclincourt. Son of Barbara Burgess (deceased). Occupation – Farm Servant.
Diary of the 6th Seaforths Highlanders – 9th April 1917
The Diary of the 6th Seaforth Highlanders for the 9th April 1917 reads:- The Battalion attacked three lines of enemy’s trenches East of Roclincourt at 5.30 a.m. and succeeded in capturing its objective known as the BLACK LINE.
Abridged Account of the Battle – 9th April 1917
The Attack on the First German Line
Five minutes before Zero Hour (5.30 a.m.) word was passed down the lines to fix bayonets and get ready. At 5.30 a.m. exactly, the barrage commenced and without a moment’s hesitation the first line of the Double Wave leapt from the Assembly Trench. No difficulty was experienced in getting through our own wire as it had been carefully cut beforehand. The Second Line follow on and joined up with the First Line under the barrage. The double waves advanced just as in practice. There can be no doubt that this was the result of the thorough and expert training experienced at the hands of the Brigadier General. The barrage was most accurate but the common remark of the men was that it was not so heavy as at BEAUMONT HAMEL and therefore lighter than they expected. Some men even expressed disappointment with the barrage. On the right and centre, the First Wave was able to get as close as 10 yards, while on the left, the men were within 15 to 20 yards. Not a single complaint had been heard of any of our shells bursting short. Immediately on the barrage lifting off the First German Line at Zero plus four minutes, the First Wave rushed forward and commenced shooting from the parapet without getting into the trench. This was found to be a most effective means of gaining the mastery over the enemy in occupation of the trench. It has been found that the enemy was accustomed to shooting from his dug-out along the trench and thereby causing heavy casualties among our assaulting troops. By adopting this new system, the recommendation of the Brigadier General, our men had all the advantage and shot down into the trench and dug-outs and they gained the complete upper hand of the enemy. It was very noticeable how effective this method was for the most of the enemy shot were found to be shot through the head. On the left and in the centre all the men got up to the trench without any opposition. Very few Germans were found in the trench and therefore, on this Front very few casualties were sustained by us. On the right however a different state of matters prevailed. Several of the enemy, had with remarkable alacrity, got out of the trench and into shell holes between the first and second lines from which they started to snipe at our advancing Second Wave, and the men of the First Wave at work on the parapet and parados of the First Trench. Several casualties were thus caused before the snipers were located and dealt with. A few men will, in future attacks, have to be detailed to deal with this menace. More of the enemy were found on the right but little difficulty was experienced in overcoming them and several prisoners were captured. A good many of the enemy were killed, especially on the right. One German Officer, who killed two of our own men after putting his hands up, was quickly despatched. Here a tunnel was found running from the First to the Second German Lines. The tunnel was splendidly built and was quite untouched by our heavy shelling. Touch on both flanks was soon gained and the Dug-Outs thoroughly cleared. The work of reorganisation went on speedily. The wire in front of the First German Line was well cut and at no point did it form an obstacle to the men. At one point on the right there was some bunched wire but the practice of doubling round and extending on the other side was well learnt and well carried out. No P. Bombs were used.
The Capture of the Second German Line
Immediately after the First Double Wave had moved forward, the Second Double Wave prepared to advance, when the Second Ripple of the First Wave had got away 50 yards the second double wave, in two distinct ripples jumped out of the trench, and got off. This Double Wave kept good distance and excellent direction. There was difficulty in keeping direction on the left but on account of careful rehearsing any likely trouble was avoided. This Double Wave, tried to cross the First German Line but this was impossible owing to the damaged condition of the trench. The men had to get into the trench before getting over and thus some valuable seconds were lost. Only 3 minutes barrage was on the Second Line and this in the circumstances was found to be too short. The Wave was excellently kept and although they had not sufficient time to amalgamate, the First Line of the Double Wave got rapidly up behind the Barrage. All along the line we suffered a good many casualties from machine gun and rifle fire. On reaching the trench on the left, little resistance was encountered and very soon touch was found with the 9th Royal Scots and splendid work was done in working up Communication Trenches. In the centre very little opposition was encountered and the wave got in with very few casualties. On the right however, the wave was met with heavy machine-gun and rifle fire. This fire came from a Communication Trench and from the open. With great skill and daring the parties took off to deal with these, and soon captured the machine-gun and killed all the team. The snipers were also killed. The Second Line was completely in our hands and touch gained on both flanks by Zero plus 20 minutes. Many Germans were killed in this line but very few taken prisoners. No P. Bombs were used in this line either. The wire here had also been excellently dealt with by the Artillery and formed no obstacle to our advance.
The Capture of the Third Trench
On the first two double waves advancing, the third double wave moved up the saps into the Old French Trench and at a distance of 50 yards from the second double wave moved forward in two single waves. Good progress was made on the left but on the right an enemy shell burst among our men shortly after leaving the Assembly Trench causing 15 casualties. On passing over the second line the left and centre platoons received a severe check and found it quite impossible to advance owing to the heavy machine gun fire and sniping enfilading them from half right. This fire seemed to come from the direction of the ‘NEW BLACK LINE’. In the centre, 2nd Lieutenant J.Spence with about 40 men kept in close touch with the barrage which however seemed to be very variable in length. Following up the SWITCH TRENCH, this party got along with little resistance. Two Dug-Outs were bombed in the SWITCH TRENCH by a party detailed to deal with this trench. Two prisoners were also captured in the SWITCH TRENCH. The party pushed forward under 2nd Lieutenant J.Spence and reached their objective the ‘BLACK LINE’ at Zero plus 34 minutes. On the right all the officers had been knocked out but led by N.C.O.’s the men pressed forward dealing summarily with all snipers encountered until 7am, they obtained a firm footing in the Third Line. On the right party reaching their objective, the enemy blew up a small mine behind the BLACK LINE but this had the result of causing several enemy casualties, and none to ourselves. Touch was obtained with the unit on the right by 7.30 a.m. but owing to enfilading machine gun fire and considerable sniping from half right it was 9 a.m. before all the enemy in the centre were either killed or taken prisoners. On the extreme left owing to the machine gun fire, one gun playing on the left and another from the extreme right in front of the Third Line, and sniping, the men were forced to proceed very slowly. The casualties were very sever here. 2nd Lieutenant C.L. Read however, collected some men of the 7th Argylls whom he met and thus reinforced by a flanking movement succeeding in capturing one Machine Gun and killing all the team. This gave us possession of the left portion of the trench at 7.50 a.m.. Severe fighting took place in the ‘Black Line’ and before it was gained we suffered heavy casualties. These three parties immediately commenced to work towards each other and touch was found with each other and with the units on the flank. Small parties were pushed forward along the Communication Trenches towards the ‘NEW BLACK LINE’. Only one officer of the double wave responsible for capturing the ‘BLACK LINE’ reached it. All the other officers were killed or wounded. Great credit is due to 2nd Lieutenant C.L. Read and the N.C.O.’s of ‘B’ and ‘D’ companies who fought so gallantly and finally reached their objective. About 7 o’clock the Contact Aeroplane passed overhead and sounded the Klaxon Horn. In response to this, flares were lit on the left. No lights were seen to be fired from the Contact Aeroplane. Unless one was specially listening for the Klaxon Horn, it would not be heard owing to the artillery fire and general confusion and din. The firing of a rocket from the aeroplane would be much more satisfactory. No P. Bombs were used in this trench. The wire was all cut and formed no obstacle.
Our own casualties were:-
- Officers – Killed – 4, Wounded – 5.
- Other Ranks – Killed – 142, Wounded – 176, Missing – 2
Further Military and Civilian Research
- Alexander Burgess when he joined the Seaforth Highlanders on 8th May 1915 had been given the service number 3083. As the numbers joining the army increased, his number was changed to S/266150.
- He was killed in action while his battalion was attacking the German trenches on 9th April 1917. He was buried at Highland Cemetery, Roclincourt, Pas de Calais, France.
- His aunt Jessie was Sole Legate to his belongings and pension following his death.
Alexander Burgess was born at Bellie, Banffshire, on 13 March 1894. The following family information is taken from the 1901 Census. At the time, the family were residing at Bellie, Banffshire.
His family is shown in the 1901 Census as follows :-
- Grandmother – Ann Burgess, born c.1831 at Bellie, Banffshire.
- Uncle – John Burgess, born c.1872 at Bellie, Banffshire. – Salmon Fisher.
- Aunt – Jessie, born c.1875 at Bellie, Banffshire. – General Servant.
- The 1901 Census gives the family address as Bellie, Banffshire, the exact location of the house is unspecified.
- Alexander Burgess is honoured and remembered on the Fochabers and Bellie War Memorial, Fochabers, Morayshire along with his cousin William Burgess.
- His name also appears on the family grave at Bellie Cemetery, near Fochabers, Banffshire.
- Although he is not mentioned specifically on the memorial, he is honoured on the Seaforth Highlanders Memorial, Cooper Park, Elgin, Morayshire.
Links to Additional Information
- Commonwealth War Graves Commission – Alexander Burgess
- Lives of the First World War – Alexander Burgess
- A Street Near You website – Alexander Burgess
- Find a Grave – Highland Cemetery, Roclincourt – Alexander Burgess
- Find a Grave – Bellie Cemetery, Banffshire – Alexander Burgess
- Morayshire Roll of Honour – Alexander Burgess
- Imperial War Museum – Fochabers and Bellie War Memorial
- Morayshire Roll of Honour.
- 1901 Census.
- Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
- Medal Index Card.
- Medal Roll – Seaforth Highlanders – Victory and British War Medal.
- Soldiers Died in the Great War.
- Register of Soldiers Effects.
- The National Archive – 6th Seaforth Highlanders War Diary.
- Family Headstone at Bellie Cemetery, Morayshire.
- Vincent Stuart