Sergeant Murdo Murray
Murchadh Moireach, Luach na Saorsa (Glasgow: Gairm, 1970)
Murchadh Moireach (in his native Scottish Gaelic: Murdo Murray in English), was born in the village of Back in the Island of Lewis in 1890. He graduated M.A. from the University of Aberdeen, and served as a Private with the 4thGordon
Highlanders, later he was promoted to Sergeant and was commissioned on 18th December 1915, Lieutenant Murdo Murray served with the 4th Seaforth Highlanders. After the war he resumed his teaching career, before becoming an inspector of schools. He died at his home in Strathpeffer in 1964. Moireach was a Gaelic poet and essayist, and his collected work, together with his bilingual war diary, was published as Luach na Saorsa (The Value of Freedom) in 1970.
The following bilingual diary entries [Moireach, Luach na Saorsa, 26–9] relate to the action at Bellewaarde, 15–20 June 1915. Italics: English translation of Gaelic passages, by Domhnall Uilleam Stiùbhart.
’S e latha màireach ceud co-latha Quatre Bras. Tha sinn a’ dèanamh deiseiil an diugh airson blàr iomraideach air co-ainm an latha. Tha h-uile duine deònach air slàraich eagallach a thoirt dhaibh. Latha math. Dèanamh deiseil gu ar n-àite a ghabhail.
Tomorrow is the hundredth anniversary of Quatre Bras. We’re making ready today for a famous battle on the anniversary. Everyone is wanting to give them a fearful mauling. A fine day. Getting ready to take our place.
Blàr Ypres/The Battle of Ypres, 16th June 1915
Thàinig sinn an seo – an trainns a rinn sinn o chionn ceithir latha deug – tràth air an oidhche raoir. Dhaingnich sinn mar a b’ fheàrr a b’ urrainn dhuinn e.
We came here – the trench we made a fortnight ago – early last night. We strengthened it as well as we could.
Thòisich an othail eagallach aig 2.50am. Tha e dol eagallach: Éisd. A’ bhratach gheal shuas. Hurrah! O siud aghaidh na talmhainn ’na smùid! What a mixture of everything in Hell. Yellow and sulphurous gases, black, grey, all combining to make the scene awful – machine gun firing taking the poor – white flag again. Hurrah! – devils.
The fearful din started at 2.50am.It’s going fearfully: listen. The white flag up. Hurrah! O that’s the ground going up in smoke! …
I never saw a more beautiful sun – yellowish orange.
Shaded by trees and murderous smoke – white flag again. Noise. Utter hell. Machine guns. Germans replying. Machine guns between the whistles, noise and creak, crac, slac of the gunnachan móra taomadh bàis [the crack and the blow of the great guns pouring out death]. They are east of us – 4 a.m. I did not feel it passing. Guns going yet. Machine guns all out. Oh – our own men attacking. They go like the devils. Is that a man falling? They straggle – a walk over, I think! I hope so.
Can’t see any now. Bullets flying over the place. Going for the second line of trenches. Go at them, boys. There through the sulphurous clouds our undaunted heroes go.
The sun has risen above the trees. Sealladh àillidh [a beautiful sight]. Red flags. Our brave men quite open to enemy fire. Moving quite freely digging out Germans or reversing the trenches. They are running back and fore – something in view. A whole line on horizon taking cover and running like blazes.
They are mar dhamh ann an ceò [like a stag in mist]. The sun has risen now and beams with a calm propitious gaze. A shell has burst and intercepts the view. See them on the horizon running like blazes. A shell burst quite close. Undaunted heroes. On! On! On!
A gap in the horizon. Our heroes are going at it like blazes. Running along communication trenches. Swallows mad with fright still hovering over the line. Rifle fire hot. Shelling not so hot. They are shelling now. Would give anything for the sight – almost life. Oh that I could jump out of the trench and join these.
Our boys took the hill. They are entrenching themselves on the summit. German prisoners passing on the other side of the communication trench. Hurrah! I can’t see them for the crush at the hole. Machine guns going strong. Shells again. Pure seething hills.
In spite of the fire our own boys still unconcerned. Still digging on the summit. Pluck! Three lines of trenches taken. Very few casualties. Hurrah! I hope they can keep the trench. Machine guns still going. Rapid fire on the left. Hope it is ours. Action on the right. Mines bursting in the same direction. Another mine on the right.
Thought – one little life, what is it worth? Our own wounded running back across our own lines. A man of our own Coy Pl 13 killed – Neill. Other German prisoners – whole thing over – shelling. A wounded sergeant says he had to retire from the third line owing to our own fire. Some of the wounded who were lying out in the open were killed by our own shrapnel which swept the ground on all sides. Saw some German prisoners, some quite handsome looking. Still some passing. One poor fellow shot through the side.
6.30 a.m. Must rest if I can. Heard we have to go up to reinforce the front line – Mr Lake. I have no idea of him. We are retiring back to first line again. There is a battalion charging. They are under cover on the crest of the hill. The sun is pretty high – hot work. D. Coy have gone. We are in from firing line. I was with the bombers here. The rest have gone forward to dig at the edge of the woods. I am writing this in a hurry. A stream of our own Coy came back wounded after 15 mins. in the open. We are here waiting to attack the Germans with bombs. Major Smith wounded. 11.25 a.m. We are being shelled to blazes. Sergt. Mackay hit in the stomach – his brother killed some time ago.
Heard Murdie and George were killed – hope to God not. D. Coy. went out to dig themselves in and to hold the wood to the left of Menin Road. It was here they got cut up – in the communication trench. It was here, mo léireadh [my destruction], Murdie and George fell, I know, bravely. Fate in the case of George. He was wounded two nights ago and got the offer of going down the line. Though his arm was swollen he would not go. He would go into battle and die at his post. Fate – cruel fate – mo chrìdh’ [my heart].
I wrote this on the 17th.
Roy Topping was wounded beside me and we carried him on our backs across communication trench to headquarters. As early as 10 a. m. our men, the Lincolns, began to retire. The Wilts were bombed out of the 3rd and 4th line. The German counter attack was awful. Shell after shell came pouring in death all round. The atmosphere was thick with smoke of all colours. Earth thrown up, the world dark. Behind, the sun serene and calm but red in sympathy. Our trench was enveloped in sulphur smoke and gas and stink from shells. The K.R.R. regiment and Shropshire came up but the others retired in panic. The second felt inclined to do the same.
A shell landed in the trench, blew it in and exploded our grenades killing two K.R.R.s. High explosive shrapnel flew all round. More gas. The wounded came streaming across the road, some with smashed minds, arms, legs, crawling along. Piteous scenes – brave, plucky fellows. What blood.
I saw a captain (I think it must have been a captain) standing up on the road, shells falling thick all around, hazy in the smoke, heedless of fire, still giving commands. The whole place was an inferno. Dark. Still giving commands. The Coy still holding out pluckily. Well done. Stretcher bearers at work. Some of them funks. Calum Macleod and J. A. Macleod, Leodhas [Lewis], did well. Stuck it in spite of fire and smoke. Lt. Clarke wounded. Met my platoon but alas! that George and Murdie should be silent forever on the field of the battle – Murdo, the gentle and generous idealist, George the dreamy, fine, sensitive and noble spirit. Tears – tribute to their memory.
Returned to the supports today in the early morning – the 17th.
Fine Day. Gloom over the company but still philosophically cheery. Shelling us. J. C. Forbes killed and A. Duncan wounded. We had 22 casualties. We have only 65 left of the double company. The Shropshires turned coward yesterday – flew all over the place shouting gas. Our Colonel held them with a revolver. We still hold the German trench line at least. We hold the hill – good.
Our own 1st Battalion is in the firing line. No-one knows when we are to be relieved. Our 24th day in the trenches.
I have just come up from the support trenches – ag iarraidh pac Mhurdie agus Sheòrais. Bha iad air an sgaoileadh air feadh na trainns. Chuir litrichean Mhurdie cianalas orm – mhaothaich mo chridhe. Dealbh a bha aig Seòras – mo chridhe.
… going for the packs of Murdie and George. They were scattered all over the trench. Murdie’s letters made me terribly homesick – my heart softened. A picture George had – my heart.
Feasgar fann. A’ dol a-mach a dh’ obair. Diary Mhurdie. An fhealla-dhà a bha againn. Cho sona, cho deagh rianail. A chaoidh gu bràth cha till a leithid. John A. has it.
A short evening. Going out to work. Murdie’s diary. The fun we had. So light-hearted, so orderly (or agreeable). Never again will their like return. …
Beautiful day. Tha na balaich uile sòlasach. Chaill na 1st Gordons grunnan mór dhaoine. Chuir iad na Gearmailtich as an trìtheamh sreath thrainns. Tha sinn a’ dol a dh’fhaighinn as a-màireach. Tha thìde againn ach b’ àill leam buille eile fhaighinn air na Gearmailtich. Ach thig an t-àm. Tha an artillery air tòiseachadh a-rithist. Sin sibh, a bhalachaibh.
Something in the air. Tha na balaich uile sunndach suigeartach a’ glanadh na trainns. Chan eil fios nach fhaigh sinn as a nochd.
The boys are all cheerful. The 1st Gordons lost a good number of men. They drove the Germans out of the third row of trenches. We’re going to get out tomorrow. It’s high time, but I’d like to get another shot at the Germans. But that time will come. The artillery has begun again. That’s the spirit, boys.
Something in the air. The boys are all lively, in good spirits, cleaning the trench. We might well get out tonight.
Maduinn àillidh. Eirigh gréine cho briagha ’s a chunnaic mi riamh. Or-dhearg ag éirigh eadar dà chraoibh a bha mar chéis di. Air dhi éirigh suas gus an duilleach bha blàth-dhath òir timchioll oirre uile ’s soillse dol ’na sradan am barraibh nan craobh, sealladh àillidh da-rìribh.
A beautiful morning. As lovely a sunrise as ever I saw: red-gold rising between two trees, as if they were a frame for it. When [the sun] rose up to the leaves there was a warm golden colour about all of it, and a light sparkling at the tops of the trees: a beautiful sight indeed.
Gach duine ach an luchd faire ’nan cadal air làr an trainns. Feasgar. Bha grunnan dhaoine a’ dol seachad aig crois an rathaid. Fhuair iad am mi-shealbh le seiligeadh. Chualas eubhachd chràiteach. Bròinean air choireigin buailt.
Everyone but the guards asleep on the floor of the trench. Evening. Some men were going past the crossroads. They had a bad time of it with shelling. A shout of agony heard. Some poor boy hit.
Thàinig tì chun an trainns againn an dràsda. Chaidh marbhadh R. P. Gordon agus leònadh Knox, Donald Rogers agus Maclean. Chaidh tiodhlaigeadh Forrest bochd. Bha e air call a nerve buileach glan. Bha a h-uile duine aca air tighinn a raoir ’s am blàr air dol seachad. Rud a bha ’n dàn. Chaidh marbhadh bràthair R. P. Gordon an t-seachduin a chaidh as na 6th Gordons. Tha còrr is mìos o’n dh’fhàg sinn iad gus an tàinig iad a raoir.
Just now tea came to our trench. R. P. Gordon was killed and Knox, Donald Rogers, and Maclean were wounded. Poor Forrest was buried. He had quite lost his nerve. Every one of them arrived last night, when the battle was over. It was fate. R. P. Gordon’s brother was killed last week in the 6th Gordons. It’s been more than a month since we left them, until they arrived last night.
Dh’fhàg sinn na trainnsichean a raoir. Direach nuair a rinn sinn airson fàgail shoillsich an raon uile leis na deàlraichean. Chaidh i am prioba na sùla ’na h-aon fhuaim le bragail ghunnachan caola is mhéinichean. Bha dùil gun tigeadh oirnn tilleadh ach shìolaidh i an ùine bhig sìos an sàmhchar. Dh’fhalbh sinn, ’s ann an dol á faire thug mi sùil – an t-sùil mu dheireadh – air an raon ’s a bheil Murchadh is Seòras trom ’nan cadal – ’s a’ chadal bhuan. Bha ar ceum sunndach gu leòr suas ceum-cùil taobh rathad Mhenin. Mus tàinig sinn chun an rathaid thàinig sinn gu sràid bhig a bha uamhasach bòidheach – eaglais mhór is cuid dith briste – caolais eadar shreath chraobh àillidh. Ràinig sinn Menin Road, is rinn sinn air Ypres. Chaidh sinn a steach air Menin Gate. B’e sin an sealladh – tighean móra gun dad air fhàgail dhiubh ach stuib bheaga. Làrach uinneagan le stiallan caola de’n bhalla timcheall orra – taobhan ’nam mìltean crochte ri ballaichean briste. Nas fhaide stigh am baile bha na tighean na bu shlàine. Thàinig sinn a mach as a’ bhaile is choisinn sinn taobh Vlamertingke – 3 mìle a mach ás.
We left the trenches last night. Just when we were about to get going the whole battlefield lit up with searchlights. In the blink of an eye it was all the same sound, a rattle of light artillery and mines. We thought we’d have to go back, but after a little while it calmed down to silence. We left, and as it went out of sight I took a look – the last look – on the field where Murdo and George are sound asleep – in an eternal sleep. Our pace was cheerful enough up the back route by the Menin Road. Before we reached the road we came to a little street that was very beautiful – a great church and part of it destroyed – avenues between rows of lovely trees. We reached the Menin Road, and we made for Ypres. We went in by the Menin Gate. That was a sight to behold – great houses with nothing left of them but little stumps. Window frames with little strips of wall about them – beams in their thousands hanging from broken walls. Further into the town the houses were more intact. We came out of the town and walked by Vlamertingke – 3 miles out.
Bha mhaduinn ann mus do ràinig sinn. Cadal math. Latha math. Fhuair mi litir bho Sh… Fhuair mi litir bho’n tigh a’ cantainn gun deachaidh Rodaidh Lidy a mharbhadh. Bha mi anabarrach duilich. Smuaineachadh air Murchadh agus Seòras. Feasgar math.
It was morning before we arrived. A good sleep. A fine day. I got a letter from S… I got a letter from home saying that Roddy Lidy had been killed. I was terribly sad. Thinking of Murdo and George. A fine evening.