In 1908, Robert Haldane, Secretary for War in the Asquith government, instigated a series of sweeping reforms of the British Army. Among them, was the introduction of a territorial force (the forerunner of today’s Territorial Army) which replaced the many civilian volunteer forces in towns and villages across the country.
The intention was that the territorials would be trained to form a home guard to defend the country while the Regular Army would fight abroad in time of war and police what was then the British Empire.
The territorials were formed on a regional basis, and attached to the various army regiments. Many from the volunteer forces were amongst the first to sign up. Men joined because their friends joined and a true spirit of comradeship and fellowship was rapidly established in and between the ranks. Hawick and the Border towns were quick to play their part in serving King and Country – thus was born the 1/4th Battalion of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers.
While the intention was that the territorials would remain stationed in Britain, the outbreak of World War I and the casualties suffered by the British Expeditionary Force during the initial months brought about change. The Expeditionary Force was severely depleted and replacements had to be found. The territorials would be the answer.
Being voluntary, there was no obligation on the territorials to serve abroad, but when asked, few, if any, refused and so the Battalion set off for Cambusbarron near Stirling where almost a year was spent in training and preparation for full time soldiery and foreign posting.
When the call came, fate decreed that the Battalion would be sent to Turkey to take part in the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign, a campaign which had begun in April 1915 but had made little progress due to the fierce resistance and organisational capabilities of the Turkish army.
The Battalion landed on the shores of the inhospitable peninsula on 14th June, 1915 and was met immediately by enemy fire, the first fatality occurring only four days later as they were preparing to move up to the firing line to join the other troops already stationed there.
However, a plan was put in place whereby an assault by combined British and French forces would be made on three lines of Turkish trenches with the Battalion leading one section of the line. The assault would take place Monday 12th July 1915.
At 7.35am on the appointed morning, the attack commenced with the Battalion leading the charge. The first trench was taken and secured, the second trench was taken and secured, and the attack on the third trench began – but there was no third trench.
Reaching the supposed location, confusion reigned. Some troops thinking they had not reached the trench walked straight on into enemy fire, some troops, thinking they had overshot the mark, turned to retreat and being mistaken for advancing Turks were cut down by friendly fire, while other troops trying to dig themselves in at the supposed location also succumbed to enemy fire. The confusion which reigned became carnage as the Battalion tried to regroup. It was to the Battalion’s everlasting credit that the two trenches were held secure in such dire circumstances.
The attack cost the Battalion over 300 lives, the cost to Hawick and the surrounding district (in all regiments) was 84. Yet again, the flooers o’ the forest were a’ wede away and the pride of our land lay cauld in the clay.
Although the fighting continued, the hopelessness of the situation was eventually realised by commanders and evacuation was ordered, the last troops leaving the peninsula in December 1915. The overall cost to the Battalion was 362 lives, the overall cost to Hawick and District being 117. Very few families in the town remained untouched by the tragedy.
Although never again at full strength, the Battalion went on to serve with distinction in Egypt, Palestine, and the Western Front, but the tragedy that was Gallipoli would never be forgotten.
On 29th June 1916, the Council of Hawick Callants Club, a club still in its infancy, met, and on a motion from the President, Ex-Bailie Francis Scott, unanimously agreed that a wreath dedicated to the memory of the 1/4th KOSB at Gallipoli be placed on the 1514 Memorial on Wednesday 12th July, the first anniversary of the tragedy.
Arrangements were duly put in place and at 11.00am on the day a large turnout of Club members and the general public, many of whom had suffered bereavement as a result of the campaign, gathered to witness the ceremony. Prayers were offered, and a lament played, before the wreath was laid by President Scott, and addresses given by Club member John Winning, Colonel Sir Richard Waldie Griffith of the Regiment, and Provost James Melrose, after which the ceremony concluded with the playing of the Last Post.
Particularly apposite was the address of John Winning who said “We should ever keep in mind that when the call to arms came there was found among the manhood of this town the same martial spirit, the same disregard of personal danger, the same patriotism, and the same love for the safety of all those dear to them, which animated their ancestors in troublesome times of bygone centuries. 1514 looked down approvingly to 1914, and if the spirit of the past can animate and stir the spirit of the present, there will never be wanting in the town of Hawick heroic souls eager to carry on the heritage.”
The memorial card on the wreath read “In remembrance of the Hawick Territorials of the 1/4th Kings Own Scottish Borderers who fell bravely charging the Turkish trenches, Gallipoli, 12th July 1915. The ancient spirit of our fathers hath not gone.”
That same afternoon a divine service, organised by the 4th Reserve Battalion KOSB, was held in a packed Hawick Parish Church in memory of the officers and men of the Kings Own Scottish Borderers and the Royal Scots Fusiliers who fell at Gallipoli on 12th July 1915. A fitting remembrance had been conducted.
Intended as a single act of remembrance by the Callants Club, the wreath laying was taken up by Hawick Town Council, some of whose members were also Club members, and on 12th July 1917 a Council wreath was laid at the 1514 Memorial, although the remembrance was for “all Hawick men who had fallen in the war”, and not specifically Gallipoli.
In 1918, the Council wreath laying was replaced by a Church service, but in the immediate years thereafter, and perhaps not unnaturally, attention was centred on homecoming ceremonies, war memorials, and peace celebrations, the Town Council declaring their public holiday to celebrate “the conclusion of the peace” as Saturday 19th July 1919.
Also in 1919, the St Barnabas Society was formed with the purpose of allowing bereaved families to visit the graves of loved ones lost in the fighting. Their organised trips allowed costs to be kept to a minimum, thus allowing less well-off families to visit the battlefields. In the late summer of 1926 a visit to Gallipoli took place, the 260 travellers including the families of Lieutenants James Innes and John Patrick, both of whom had died in the action of 12th July 1915.
In a letter to the local press, Mr Innes offered to take family mementos to the graves of those who had lost their lives and many were given. The Town Council as “representing all those who lost lives there” presented a heather wreath and a marble plaque bearing the inscription “From the Town of Hawick, Scotland. In grateful memory of the officers and men belonging to that town who fell in Gallipoli in the Great War 1915.” Both were laid at the Helles Memorial on the peninsula, where the plaque still remains. Individual mementos were laid at the scene of the fighting with photographs and sketches of the area brought back for public display.
Writing of the visit to the battle scene in the Hawick Express and Advertiser of 24th September 1926, James Dryden Smith said “In sunshine and solitude, on the slopes ‘twixt Helles promontory and the warden Achi-Baba, we leave all that is mortal of the Borderers whose souls took their upward flight eleven years ago” while Lt. Patrick’s mother, Margaret, wrote poignantly “and so in the afternoon, we bade our dear ones a sad farewell, feeling perfectly satisfied and comfortable that we had followed our heroes as far as humanely speaking, it was possible, and had been as near to them as ever we can hope to be till we meet them again, never to be parted from them.”
A Gallipoli specific commemoration was raised again at the 1929 AGM of the Callants Club when it was agreed that the Club should on the 12th July annually place a wreath on the 1514 Memorial in memory of those Hawick men who fell at Gallipoli in 1915, an act of remembrance which has continued uninterrupted to the present day.
Although the national Gallipoli Association was not formed until 1969, individual groups throughout the country met occasionally to remember comrades and share experiences. One such group started in Hawick in 1925 but met informally. However in 1933, a formal Association, the 1/4th KOSB Gallipoli Comrades Association was constituted with the aims “to pay annual tribute at the local war memorial to the Comrades who made the supreme sacrifice” and “to foster the old-time comradeship by such means as the committee may decide.” The Association was based in Hawick, and held its remembrance parades and annual dinners in Hawick, but like the Battalion, its membership came from across the Borders.
Membership criteria was strictly monitored, guest speakers at annual dinners having connections with either the Regiment or the Gallipoli campaign, the only other guests invited being the Provost, Town Clerk, and in acknowledgement of its remembrance commitment, the President of the Callants Club. Dinners followed a set format and always ended with the singing of the 23rd Psalm, the psalm which had been sung as the Battalion regrouped after the carnage on the evening of 12th July 1915.
In 1965, to mark the 50th anniversary of the battle, a service of remembrance was organised by the Battalion in Trinity Church on Sunday 11th July, with the Comrades parading from the Drill Hall to the Church, and afterwards joining the main parade from the Church to the War Memorial at the entrance to Wilton Lodge Park.
After the wreath laying, two cypress trees which had been nurtured at Forbes’ Buccleuch Nurseries from seeds brought back from Gallipoli, were planted adjacent to the war memorial with a penny coin being laid under each. The hope was expressed that the trees would have a long life, but unfortunately neither was able to withstand the rigours of a Scottish winter and both had to be removed. This situation was remedied by the Callants Club in 1974 with the planting of a more durable Red Oak tree to the rear of the war memorial by Club Vice-President Tom Crosby, a tree which still survives.
A reception for the Comrades Association was held by the Provost, James Henderson, who along with their President Joseph Murray, paid tribute to those who had returned and those who had lost their lives.
Foreign travel to isolated regions was both difficult and costly in 1965, but when alerted to a proposed National reunion visit to the peninsula in May, Hawick Callants Club determined that Hawick Comrades should take their rightful place on the trip. In conjunction with the Town Council, a fund-raising campaign was initiated with donations coming from local manufacturers and businesses, service organisations, clubs, and individuals, and sufficient was raised to permit six veterans to travel.
While some declined the opportunity, there were ten applications for the six places, those successful being Joseph Murray, Adam Buckham, John Ballantyne, Charles Spalding, William Robson, and Thomas Jackson. Arrangements for the trip were made by the Club, and the six were joined by another Hawick Comrade, Robert Deans, who paid his own fare.
On their departure, and in keeping with the Regimental tradition, the seven Comrades were piped on to the train by Piper James Coltman from 4th (Border) Battalion Kings Own Scottish Borderers, Territorial Army.
Including the rail journey to board the ship in Venice and cruise to Istanbul, the visit lasted 19 days and took in all the theatres of war on the Gallipoli peninsula, including Cape Helles, where the Hawick party laid wreaths on behalf of the Town, the Battalion, the Comrades Association, and the Callants Club.
Writing of their trip in the Hawick News of 28th May 1965 following their return, Joseph Murray remarked “One of the remarkable facts which made an impression on all of us was that in all the cemeteries visited, so few of our comrades killed were known to have had proper burial – some of whom were known personally by our members present.”
Originally, the laying of the wreaths in Hawick each 12th July were separate events. Attended by only the President, Vice-President and Secretary accompanied by the President of the Comrades Association, the Callants Club wreath was laid at the 1514 memorial at 9.00am, while the Association, many of whose members returned from great distances, paraded and laid their wreath at the war memorial at 8.00pm, supported by the Provost.
As the years passed, membership of the Comrades Association declined, and in 1974, the Callants Club took on the administration, principally financial, of their affairs. In so doing the Club became the proud possessors of a decorative shell case brought back from Gallipoli and sculpted by one of the Comrades. The shell case is displayed every year at the Club’s Annual Dinner.
In 1976, as a gesture of friendship from the Regiment and reminder of the link the Comrades Association, a plaque was presented to the Club along with the campaign medals of the late Mr Willie White (Royal Engineers, attached 1/4th KOSB).
As membership of the Comrades Association continued to decline, following discussion between the parties it was agreed that the 1977 remembrance would be a single event with the added participation of Callants Club members, the British Legion, KOSB Association, and Ex-Servicemen’s Club. The wreath at the 1514 Memorial was laid at 7.00pm, with the company proceeding to Wilton Lodge Park for the laying of the Comrades wreath at the War Memorial thereafter. Following the ceremonies, the Club hosted a reception for the Comrades in the Tower Hotel.
Although the venue for the reception changed over the years, the ceremonies remained intact until the passing of the last Comrade, Mr John Murray, in 1992. Thereafter the Callants Club undertook to continue both ceremonies, the laying of both wreaths being carried out by the Club President.
As the Remembrance has continued, there have been occasional additions. In 1984 and 1986, video recordings of the commemoration were made and shown to the Comrades, and in 1985 all Hawick World War I veterans were invited to parade.
In 1988, the Club in conjunction with Roxburgh District Council, unveiled a plaque on the property of Messrs T & D Winter, adjacent to the 1514 Memorial, commemorating the loyalty and service of those who had served in the Gallipoli campaign. Among the guests attending was Colonel of the KOSB, Brigadier R W Riddle OBE.
In 1994, Mr Tom Milne, an Ex-Serviceman from Surrey who had visited Gallipoli and photographed the Hawick plaque a year earlier, presented the Club with a framed poppy from Twelve Tree Copse on the peninsula, in recognition of its commitment to the Comrades Association.
One year later, Gallipoli Historian Gavin Richardson, an attender at the ceremony, presented a slide show for the comrades, and in 2009, following the amalgamation of the Scottish regiments, Hon Provost Zandra Elliot and KOSB Regimental Secretary Lt. Col. George Wood unveiled a commemorative plaque at Hawick Town Hall “In Memory of all ranks of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers 1689-2006.”
Hawick Callants Club remains committed to the remembrance of the tragic events on Gallipoli in 1915 and, as the centenary date approaches, is making arrangements for a Service of Remembrance to be held on Sunday 12th July. Further, a group of 20 Club members and friends will visit the peninsula to pay tribute to the many from the district who lost their lives.
Like Flodden, 400 years before, Gallipoli ripped the heart out of Hawick and many other Border towns. Young able-bodied men had paid the price for a campaign doomed to failure. The tragedy inspired Borders poet and essayist George Hope Tait to write –
Gallipoli - 12th July 1915
Dawns the day of Border sorrow,
Hallowed shades of heroes rise –
They who fought for Britain’s glory
Crowned it with their sacrifice.
Shall it be with tears we ponder,
Or with racial pride recall
How they charged and fell out yonder
In the blood-red battle thrall.
Ask not how they died! Nor wonder
Which the trench or where the clod –
Down the four winds ‘mid the thunder
Went our warriors home to God.
War-torn crests of Achi-Baba
Sentinel their nameless grave;
Every Border Heart’s an abbey
Consecrated to our brave
Tweed goes smiling down the valley,
Eildon peaks are flaming red –
They who slumber in Valhalla
Are today our glorious dead!
As the next 100 years approaches, Hawick Callants Club will continue to honour the town’s glorious dead.
Meanwhile, for those who would wish to read further about the Battalion and its connections with Gallipoli and beyond, copies of two books by historian Gavin Richardson (For King and Country and the Scottish Borderers, and After Gallipoli) can be obtained from the KOSB Regimental Museum in Berwick-upon-Tweed.
I watched the place where they had scaled the height
The height whereon they bled so bitterly
Throughout each day and through each blistered night
I sat there long, and listened - all things listened too
I heard the epics of a thousand trees