Robert’s ultimate sacrifice on the French battlefield

A German Pillbox on the Frezenberg Ridge, which was armed with several deadly machine guns
A German Pillbox on the Frezenberg Ridge, which was armed with several deadly machine guns

On the outskirts of Newtongrange there once stood a large house, Masteron House, and it was here that a young lad called Robert Beveridge was born, followed later by a younger brother Charles and sister, Agnes, writes John Duncan (Newbattle at War).

As a youth Robert moved with his mother and father to work at Paraffin Young’s oil works in Uphall but Charles and Agnes went to stay with relatives in Duke Street, Rosewell. Before the Great War Robert’s parents passed away and he moved into lodgings. It was whilst here that Robert enlisted with the local Territorial battalion of the Royal Scots, the 10th.

In 1914 when war was declared, the 10th Royal Scots were assigned coastal patrol duties along the Forth of Forth. In 1916 he asked to be sent overseas and in the summer of 1916 he was sent to France where he joined the 12th Royal Scots, seeing action in the latter stages of the Battle of the Somme.

He settled in well and was a good soldier. In the spring of 1917 he was promoted to Lance Corporal, then just before the Battle of Arras he was promoted again to full Corporal. Robert was involved in the suicidal and disastrous attack on the Chemical Works at Roeux on April 12, 1917. He was a very fortunate man not to be one of the hundreds killed from his Battalion.

On June 5, 1917 the Germans launched a counter attack which landed squarely on the Royal Scots. In blistering heat they held on in a precarious forward position. Their water ran out and by nightfall they were low on ammunition and in danger of being surrounded. Fighting continued through the short summer night, often hand to hand and at the point of the bayonet. As morning arrived on the second day so did reinforcements. The Germans were repulsed and for his heroism, Robert was awarded the Military Medal.

From Arras the 12th Royal Scots moved on into Flanders and the 3rd Battle of Ypres or Passchendaele as it more commonly known as. After nearly three months of solid fighting, sometimes in appalling rainy, muddy conditions, the 9th Scottish Division lined up on September 20, 1917 for the Battle of Menin Ridge. Their objective was one of great importance – the Frezenberg Ridge. Facing them was a labyrinth of barbed wire and shell holes, guarded by a series of deadly pillboxes, manned by machine gunners. They commanded the area in front of them, and it was obvious that any attack going in would be costly.

A plan was drawn up. High Explosive and smoke shells would replace shrapnel in the creeping barrage and the attackers would divide into section columns enveloping individual blockhouses, while others pressed on. C Company, including Robert Beveridge on the right, was to clear the line of blockhouses from R1 to R5 on their map. The task of seizing A1 and Potsdam fell to A Company, commanded by Captain Harry Reynolds. At 3am the two companies were formed up, ready to move off at 5.40am. Steady rain had fallen overnight. Lt Col J A S Ritson, the CO of the 12th, said the ground was “frightfully cut up, very wet and the going very bad”.

This was an understatement. It was like a moonscape. The attack suffered badly in front of Pillbox R1 meeting fierce resistance. C Coy was sprayed with heavy MG fire as they struggled forward south of the railway. At this point they were reinforced by two platoons of D Company. C Company charged forward and took the pillbox. Resistance at R2 was overcome followed by the capture of R5. The Pillbox at R3 was completely overwhelmed by shells and R4 was upside down and under water.

Seeing the attack faltering Captain Reynolds seized a bag of phosphorus grenades and rushed forward towards the pillboxes. He was spotted and immediately several machine guns opened up on him. Miraculously although his equipment was hit and holed by bullets, he maked it to the pillbox. Steeling himself he threw many the grenades inside, setting it on fire. Seeing this Robert Beveridge and his men rose up and charged their objectives.

The pillboxes were taken, but C Coy was effectively ‘spent’. Capt Reynolds was recommended for the Victoria Cross which he received. For the Beveridges back in Rosewell, however, it was bad news. Robert’s brother received the dreaded letter saying Robert had died in the final attack on the pillboxes. He was buried nearby, but his grave was subsequently lost.

He is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial.