Tragic tale of three Bonnyrigg Guardsmen

2nd Scots Guards in the trenches in 1914
2nd Scots Guards in the trenches in 1914

On the 25th of January, 1915 the 1st Scots Guards are in their trenches in the almost destroyed village of Cuinchy, at 6.30am there’s a commotion, a sentry brings a frightened and bedraggled German deserter into the duty officer’s dug out.

In broken English he explains that in an hours’ time his regiment will make an assault on the Scots. A heavy bombardment will be followed by the exploding of mines under their trenches. After that they will pour over no-mans-land to storm their position.

The man seems plausible. The men are stood to and for the next hour you can cut the tension with a knife. Only half the battalion is in the trenches, the other half in billets to the rear, because of the bitterly cold weather. At 7.30 am, just as day is dawning, with Teutonic precision the German artillery opens up fire.

Amongst the ranks are four lads from Bonnyrigg - Guardsmen Robert Tait (40), James McChesnie McIlwraith (23), Peter Keegan Archibald (18) and George Davidson. They are steeled for what is to follow. For McIlwrath it’s even more nerve wracking. This is only his fourth day at the front.

Just as the German prisoner stated, a series of mines are triggered and many men simply disappear. The German ‘bombers’, or assault troops, follow hard on the heels of the explosions throwing grenades at close range into the trenches. Despite being shocked and confused the Scots Guards rally and fight back.

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