The Canadian Black Watch

This article is a labor of love for my father and all the members of the MacIntyre Family. My Grandfather, David MacIntyre was a member of the Canadian Black Watch, after he had moved from Scotland to Canada. Through my own interest and interest from a picture that was posted by my father, I decided to look into the Canadian Black Watch history in World War I

The Photo that began my research, My Grandfather David MacIntyre is on the motorcycle.

The Canadian Black Watch was formed in Montreal in early 1862 as a response by the Canadian and British governments to the American Civil War. The unit was raised to protect Canada’s Southern border from incursions by potentially hostile American forces. The Canadian Black Watch started as the 5th Battalion- Volunteer Militia Rifles of Canada. The unit eventually became the Royal Highland Regiment of Canada. Britain would merge The Canadian Black Watch as well as other Canadian units into British service in the South African War from 1899 – 1902.

In World War I, the Canadian Black Watch consisted of nearly 12,000 men in Three Battalions. The Battalions of the Canadian Black Watch received twenty-six battle commendations, six of the members of the regiment received the Victoria Cross, the highest award for “Gallantry in the face of the enemy.” Of all those who served in the Canadian Black Watch in World War I; 2,163 would die, 6,104 would be injured and 821 would be decorated for their conduct in the war.

On August 1, 1914, Canada’s Prime Minister offered the services of Canadian forces to Britain, The first 300 soldiers to volunteer for service were members of the Black Watch. Britain formally entered the war when Belgium was invaded by German forces on August 4, 1914. By the end of August 1914, the Number of Canadian Black Watch Volunteers was over 1,000. The first Black Watch unit to deploy to Britain to be attached to British units was the 13th Battalion which consisted of those 1,000 volunteers. The Unit departed for Britain in October 1914 where they remained and received additional training until they were deployed to France in February 1915. The unit was used to reinforce and replace British units at Ypres, Belgium. where they became involved in the Second Battle of Ypres From April 22, 1915, to May 25, 1915.

The 13th Battalion – prior to leaving for WWI- Oct. 1914 ( Canadaatwarblog.wordpress.com )

The Battle of Ypres marked the first time a “Colonial” force beat a European force in battle. This would be the first battle in World War I that the Germans deployed chemical weapons, in the case of Ypres, it was Chlorine Gas. The release of the gas broke the French lines and caused a significant number of injuries and deaths to the 13th Batallion and other Canadian Expeditionary Forces. During its first actions of the war, the 13th Battalion lost 120 officers and 454 other ranks.  The unit was awarded its first Victorian Cross. In his reports on the action, Sir John French was recorded as saying, “the bearing and conduct of the splendid Canadian troops averted a serious disaster.” Despite the surprise of the German attack and their use of gas, the Canadian forces were able to stabilize their lines and fall back in good order to more defensible positions. The next day at Kitchener’s Wood, the Calgary Highlanders, and the Canadian Scottish Regiment pushed through the German lines without prior reconnaissance, The Highlanders killing 75% of the German forces that confronted them and disabled some of the German mechanisms to deliver chemical weapons.

Canadian Black Watch Soldiers in the Trench – July 1916 – (CanadaAtWarBlog.WP.com)

In May 1915, The Canadian Black Watch joined other Canadian forces, Indian forces, and British forces to attack the German lines. The attack began with a four-day bombardment of artillery on the German lines included 400 artillery guns and over 100,000 shells. The ground attack began in the overnight hours, though the forces did not make it to the German lines. The forces took advantage of their advances and entrenched closer to the German lines. The total work of the allied forces retook the village of Festubert, Belgium, overall gaining less than a kilometer of ground.

On Christmas eve 1916, Members of the Canadian Black Watch ventured out on a patrol of enemy positions at the front. while checking the hedge and fence lines on the German side. They could hear the German soldiers talking as they discretely walked the fence line to gain some reconnaissance of the German positions. They could also hear the distant sounds of Christmas concert for the German soldiers and were even able to recognize the songs being played. The soldiers did not come in contact with any German sentries and returned to the Allied side with no issues. Another party made their way out around midnight where they encountered a German Sentry who began firing upon the soldiers. The men of the black watch opened fire upon the area of the sentry and also threw grenades over the hedgeline. The men then took cover in a nearby ditch as the Germans began to fire upon them from the ruins of a nearby farmhouse. Once the gunfire died down the men of the Black Watch were able to make their way back to the Allied side with no losses or injuries.

A Canadian Black Watch Soldier cleans his rifle at Mount Sorrel. Photo from the Royal Canadian Highlanders Regiment.

On the morning of June 2nd, 1916, the men of the Black Watch awoke to a bright and clear day, the brightness of the day was soon shattered by a storm of German artillery raining down upon the trenches of the allied side at Mount Sorrel. The plan was to mount a counter-attack in the early hours of June 3rd, however, the reinforcement units were not in position so the Canadian Black Watch and other British units remained under heavy British artillery attack. The 14th and 15th Battalion made their way forward only to be pushed back with heavy casualties after only gaining about 500 yards. Over the next several days of continuous bombardment, no fires could be lit in the trenches for On the 12th of June a large counter-attack began, at 10.30 p.m., the 13th Battalion began their forward movement. The assault was timed to begin at 1.30 a.m., and the dispositions were completed by midnight. The rain fell non-stop and the battalion started to move forward in successive waves just after 1:30 a.m. The Black Watch moved forward softening the trenches with carries bombs and grenades, the men plunged down into the trenches capturing them and moving the front forward nearly a mile. Engineers were then sent forward to dig new trenches and support the army’s position.

The 13th Battalion in the trenches. (Canada at War Blog)

On July 1, 1916 the Black Watch was one of several Canadian units aligned with British and French units in the First Battle of the Somme. The First Battle of the Somme was a three and a half month battle that permanently scarred miles of land and wiped entire towns from the map. Hundreds of Thousands of men died on both sides in this prolonged battle that lasted from July 1 to November 18, 1916, 420,000 troops from the British Empire. Again the Canadian Black Watch would withstand the battle and their works were recognized by the Allied Command and the British Crown.

After Somme, The Canadian Black Watch would continue on through many battles. In early 1917, the Black Watch would be part of the Arras offensive at Arras, Vimy, and “Hill 70.” They would then take part in the Flanders offensive, returning to Ypres and then to Passchendale. In 1918, the Black Watch would help break the Hindenburg Line. On November 11th, 1918 at 11:00 a.m. the guns would fall silent, the war was over, Men who crossed the ocean to fight a war that they could have let pass by, would now return to Canada and return to their lives and families.

My grandfather would return, eventually moving to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, He and my Grandmother would have six children, three of whom served in the United States Navy, they had many grandchildren who would spread about all walks of life.

Sources:

The Black Watch – Royal Highland Regiment of Canada https://www.blackwatchcanada.com

Canadian Great War Project http://www.canadiangreatwarproject.com

The Regimental Rouge http://regimentalrogue.com

Canada at War Blog https://canadaatwarblog.wordpress.com/

Author:

Greetings! I am Shawn MacIntyre, and I grew up with a love of history. When most kids were watching cartoons I was watching documentaries. After a long career in public safety, I chose to return to college and get my education and make learning history fun and exciting. I invite you to join me on my journeys to historic destinations, learn interesting facts about the past, and spark a love for history!

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