Sgt James Fraser
‘ D’ Coy. 4th Gordon Highlanders
Sgt James Fraser enlisted in to the Aberdeen University T.A. in 1911 and graduated in 1914 and had embarked on a medical course when the war started. The Aberdeen University Company ('D' Company) served King and Country in Belgium and on 16th June 1915 the 4th Gordons fought at the Battle of Bellewaarde.
James kept a diary and wrote down his experiences of the Great War, below is the relevant section regarding the days before and after the battle which clearly describes two very narrow escapes. James would be regarded as lucky or one who had a Guardian Angel as even at the Battle of Loos in September the same year he received a ‘Blighty’ wound (one which would send one home for recuperation) which ensured he would be away from front line duties indefinitely.
The diary gives an interesting account from 5th through to 21st June 1915:
5th Digging till 3a.m., back to our trench, stood to, not much doing, very hot day. In the evening back to digging till well into morning.
6th Similar day to yesterday, very hot. Were allowed to take of our boots in relays as we had not had clothes off for over ten days, we were very lousy.
7th Digging ad nauseam, hot. Got back to our own line about dawn.
8th Back to familiar country, thunder and heavy rain. Used the cart for several journeys to front line, mud awful.
9th Still raining, carried up knife rests of barbed wire and set them out in front of the trenches, rather trying as there was nothing between you and the Germans.
10th Rain in morning. J.K. Forbes and I lost our breakfast. Just behind our trench there was a big heap of ‘slack’, had been used for steam engines, I was frying our bacon in my mess tin lid when a shell fell right in the slack and exploded. We disappeared in a cloud of black dust but there eventually emerged two dirty black figures. I still held on to my mess tin lid but as well as bacon it was full of coal dust.
Note: J.K. Forbes was a noted character and his life was written by Peter Diack and the above mentioned incident is recorded. The Forbes students’ residence is named in memory of J.K. Diack's book is called ‘J.K. student and sniper sergeant’. I knew no one who had such a thirst for killing Germans.
11th Recalled to see Brigadier, saw Col. Ogilvie at 9a.m. Brigadier at 10a.m. got all papers signed, so set for cadet school in about a month.
12th Back to ordinary duties, digging etc. shelled a bit.
13th New horror. Minenwerfer. This lady threw large bombs (about fifty pounds). One could see them coming and had sentries calling, bomb right, bomb left as the case may be, thank goodness they were very accurate but they made a mess of a strong point we had made of a farmhouse just ahead of our front line, several men were killed there from 13 platoon.
14th Rumours of an attack, did some hard work on the support trench, as it was to be our starting point. Germans broke the rule tonight, after 10 minutes hate at nine o’clock, they proceeded to shell up and down the Menin road from our front line to the Menin gate. Caught two battalion transports and we had frightened mules and horses all over the back area. Two mules tore up the Menin road, cleared our barricade and possibly became P.O.W.s we never saw them again.
15th Orders for attack tomorrow were issued; we were to start with the second wave from the support trenches. We went up to support trench and made it more habitable. Germans shelled the Menin road again, but this time it was deserted.
16th Beautiful sunny morning. Our bombardment started at 2.50a.m. and continued until 4.15. German trenches fairly flying. British attack began at 4.15 and we watched the first wave go over and saw troops dancing round each other with their bayonets. Some German prisoners came along; they looked quite human, but about eight o’clock the German guns began to hit back. We led on from the support trench at 10a.m. and filed up a communication trench which had been dug this morning. It was only about three feet deep and not much protection. Just before we reached the German line a shrapnel shell burst about twenty feet in the air and sprayed us. A lump about the size of a fist hit me on the left of my chest, but I had my Sergeant’s whistle in my breast pocket and it deflected the missile, I was knocked down entirely unhurt. Poor Cpls. McIver and McSween both got it in the head and one or two others were wounded. All I had to show was a blue mark on the left side of my chest. I went on to the German trench where a Staff major was directing the traffic. He asked who I was, I replied '4th Gordons', and he said 'GO there'! and I went there. I saw my platoon commander and went to him. We got into a small wood between the first and second German lines. We lined up along the wood parallel to the German line and proceeded to make some defence. No one knew we were there and we stayed put. The German artillery made excellent shooting on their captured line and the Honourable Artillery Company were having a bad time. All the shells passed over our heads and apart from knocking branches off trees, did us no harm. A Royal Artillery Forward Observation officer joined us and when he saw the Germans were showing signs of coming out of their trench, by good fortune his telephone wire was not cut, he got on to his battery and they soon stopped any aggressive ideas. Three of us had an extraordinary escape. Sgt. Major Low, Sgt. McKenzie and myself were having some food when suddenly a small field gun shell dropped between McKenzie’s knees. I’ll never forget the look of horror on our faces and after a few seconds of paralysis we scrambled away. It never went off, but we did not touch it. Stayed in the wood for the rest of the day.
17th Got out of the wood at 2a.m. and got back to the support trench, everyone had thought we were all scuppered as no one had heard of us since 11 o’clock.
18th Back to old line by Hell Fire Corner, everything quiet.
19th Quiet day, had one blast of shelling which killed three of us. Gordon, McLean and Donald. Relieved that night.
20th In bivouacs at Ouderdohm, slept most of the day.
21st Battalion parade, Col. Ogilvie had tears in his eyes as he looked at his battalion now about half strength. In afternoon went Poperinghe for baths and delousing, our shirts and kilts were put through some sort of oven, but when we looked at our shirts again the lice seemed a bit stunned. Back we went to bivvies.
Other interesting images of James:
Kind permission of John Blomfield