“C” Company of 4/5th Black Watch overwhelmed near Longavesnes, 22 March 1918

The 4/5th Battalion of the Black Watch was created by the merger of the regiment’s 1/4th and 1/5th Battalions in March 1916. Both were units of the Territorial Force, and originated in Dundee. At the time of the action described below, the battalion was under command of 118th Infantry Brigade of 39th Division.

A present day map of the area of relevance to the action. On 21 March 1918 the Germans launched an immense offensive, attacking the British Fifth and Third Armies on a 70 mile-wide front. They called it Operation “Michael” or the “Kaiserschlacht” (Kaiser’s Battle); the formal British name is the First Battles of the Somme 1918, with the first days being the Battle of St Quentin. The area shown was within Fifth Army’s sector. The 4/5th Battalion came into action in the top left corner.
Part of a map from the British Official History illustrating the events of 21 March 1918 in this sector. The thick black line is the British front line before the attack commenced; by day’s end it had been forced back to the thick dashed line. When the attack began, the 4/5th Battalion was several miles to the west of the area shown, resting at Moislains. During the day it was rushed into the area by bus, going to Longavesnes (circled), and then marched to dig a defensive trench at Tincourt Wood, which is between Longavesnes and Tincourt (on the left hand edge of this image). It will be appreciated that this trench was still some way in the rear of where the fighting was taking place.
During the night a more or less continuous reserve line (the black dotted line) had been created, and the 4/5th Black Watch can be seen in that line, just outside Longavesnes where it had dug in. During 22 March, the Germans made good progress south of Tincourt, pushing the British back to the black dashed line shown near Brusle. The 4/5th Black Watch was relieved during the day and moved to the west of Longavesnes, ready to act as a reserve – except for “C” Company which failed to receive the order. It had a “rough time” during the fighting, in which the Germans captured Longavesnes, acording to the battalion’s war diary.
The map shows the position at dawn on 23 March 1918. Late on 22 March the 4/5th Black Watch (except for “C” Company) had been moved to hold the trench known as the “Green Line” and were now positioned south of Tincourt Wood as shown above. One officer and 40 men of “C” Company rejoined the battalion there. With the enemy threatening a breakthrough to the south of Tincourt, the battalion was ordered to withdraw through Bussu (seen left). This was achieved in good order – but most of the men of “C” Company had been killed or captured before this withdrawal took place.


It proved difficult to determine the battalion’s full list of casualties. In the case of those who lost their lives due to the administrative way in which the men’s dates of death were recorded.

Killed, date of death given as 22 or 23 March 1918

Private S/23076 Charles Bradley was found buried with two others who proved to be unidentifiable except that one was noted as being of a Scottish regiment. They were reinterred at Heath Cemetery at Harbonnieres.

Three men have never been found or identified and are listed at the Pozieres Memorial; two may be those found with Bradley. They were Sgt 201149 Harold McLevy, Cpl 240094 Albert Crichton (his name is given as Crighton in some records), and Pte 200635 George Taylor.

Casualty list printed in “The Scotsman” of 7 July 1918. This is a list of men who had been declared as missing. It includes Albert Crichton (British Newspaper Archive)
Red Cross enquiry card, raised when a man was reported missing. Nothing was ever found to confirm Harold McLevy’s death in action.
“Dundee Courier” 26 May 1919 (British Newspaper Archive)

Killed or died of wounds, date of death given as 1 April 1918

Digital records of the CWGC list more than 30 men of the battalion who are given as having died on 1 April 1918. On closer examination, it appears that the dates of death are uncertain and could only be said to be between 21 March and 1 April. At least some of these men are likely to be of “C” Company.

In one case there is a more gross error, for Pte James Milne died on or after 24 April 1918 and in Belgium.


Royal Highlanders (Black Watch)

39th Division


This page is in memory of S/40551 Robert Cairns, who I researched for a private client in 2014. Serving with “C” Company, he was taken prisoner. He was a veteran of the Somme and had been wounded at “Snag Trench” on 18-19 October 1916. Sadly, he died of pneumonia on 25 July 1918 and is buried in Poznan Old Garrison Cemetery in Poland.