Wednesday, September 15, 2010
John Thomson Allan - Wounded at Houdge
Private John Thomson Allan was a patient at Hickwells in 1915 and 1916 having arrived there after being wounded at The Battle of Loos in September 1915. His entry in Nurse Oliver’s album reads:
Chailey 23rd Oct 1915
[Line drawing of Gordon Highlanders' cap badge]
J T Allan
4th Gordon Hrs
Wounded at Houdge
25th Sept 1915
The National Archives reveals that he was 3246 Private John Thomson Allan, a Territorial Force soldier who arrived in France on 26th March 1915. The 1/4th Gordons was an Aberdeen-based battalion which had disembarked at Havre in February 1915. Looking at my army service numbers database I see that John's number would have been issued either in late November 1914 (3243 was issued on the 28th), or early December 1914 (3250 was issued on the 3rd). The majority of enlistments into the 4th Gordon Highlanders at this time were in the reserve battalion, the 2/4th, so it seems a strong possibility that John Allan was posted to the 2/4th and then subsequently to the 1/4th where he was later wounded at Loos.
On 27th February, the 1/4th Gordons transferred to the 8th Brigade in the 3rd Division (a regular division).
The following extract is taken from Part 11 of The Hospital Way and deals with the action at Hooge in which Private Allan was wounded:
"On 16th June 1915, the 3rd Division had taken part in a disastrous diversionary attack on Bellewaarde Ridge, which aimed to deprive the enemy of observation and at the same time straighten out the British line between Hooge and Railway Wood. Although some ground had been won, and quickly held by battalions of the 8th Brigade following up behind, the cost had been high. Heavy and concentrated German artillery fire, well directed onto lines until recently held by their own troops, cut swathes through the attacking British forces and by the end of the operation the 3rd Division had lost 140 officers and 3,391 men. The 9th Brigade suffered particularly heavily, losing 73 officers out of 96 and 2,012 men out of 3,663. On that occasion the 1/4th Gordons had been spared the brunt of the attack but here they were, just three months later, staring at the same ridge and this time preparing to take part in the main assault of another diversionary attack.
"The British bombardment began at 3.30am on the morning of 25th September and fifty minutes later two mines were exploded under the German trenches facing the 2nd Royal Scots. Two further explosions followed almost immediately and as the debris settled, the attacking troops moved forward. At first, the going was good. The War Diary for the 1/4th Gordons reports that the men reached the German front line trench and met with little loss, finding “many Germans in it, many of whom bolted.” Their success though was to be short-lived. Between 4.50 and 11am the German artillery responded with whizz bangs before collecting north of the Menin Road and launching a counter attack. Their bombs expended, the Gordons were forced to retire to the trenches held by The Royal Scots line, the diary reporting that, “The men of C and D companies who were in the German 3rd line are cut off and missing."
1/4th Gordon Highlander casualties for the 25th September are noted as:
NCOs and ORs
Died of Wounds: 1
Wounded & Missing: 6
Wounded & Missing: 1
John Allan’s path back to Britain would have been first to the 2nd Eastern General Hospital at Brighton and then, almost immediately to Hickwells. His wound was severe enough to keep him at Chailey certainly until the beginning of 1916, but not severe enough to prevent him from taking part in various “entertainments” which were reported by the local press.
He gets his first mention in the press however, in The Scotsman. On 15th October 1915 he is one of 169 1/4th Gordon Highlander men mentioned, who have been wounded in action.
On 5th November 1915 he is recorded in The Sussex Express (SE) as having dueted with Corporal Wood in a concert. On the 26th of that month he gets another mention in both the SE and The Sussex Daily News (SDN) as a performer in a concert at the Parish Room. His name appears as Private Allen but I think that this is a mis-spelling of his surname.
On 3rd December he is again noted as a performer by the same publications at a concert at Hickwells and on 7th January SDN mentions him as having proposed three cheers to Mrs Bessemer for arranging concert at The Parish Room.
John Allan recovered sufficiently from his wounds to be posted back to the Gordon Highlanders’ Depot and from there to another battalion. When the territorials were re-numbered in March 1917, he was given the number 292611. This falls within the block allocated to the 1/7th (Deeside Highland) Gordon Highlanders; another territorial battalion which would finish the war as part of the 51st (Highland) Division.
John Allan was disembodied on 8th April 1919 and was entitled to the 1914/15 Star and The British War and Victory Medals which were sent to him in December 1923 and January 1924 respectively.
Sources and Acknowledgements
The National Archives
The Sussex Express
The East Sussex News
The Long, Long Trail
The photo is of Hickwells on Cinder Hill, Chailey circa 1899.