27 December 1915

HELLES - On December 27, Alex Barclay along with two companies of the 1/1st Ayrshire Yeomanry were sent into the firing line to reinforce the Lanarkshire Yeomanry, who had been under a heavy bombardment since the previous day.

"... the enemy shellfire intensified and started much earlier in the day. From 10 am onwards the shellfire was very heavy indeed and more accurate than previously; more shells were dropping in, or near to, the front line and by mid-afternoon we were suffering the most intense bombardment that any part of the peninsula ever had to endure. It was estimated that over 1000 'coalboxes' (10-inch howitzer shells) exploded in the area of the Horseshoe during the day, in addition to other high explosive and shrapnel shells which came along with them. The trenches were being very badly wrecked but, surprisingly, we did not have a large number of casualties. At one stage a pair of trousers was seen to be blown high into the air - it transpired later that they belonged to one of our officers whose dug-out had been hit - Luckily this officer was not wearing them at the time.

At about mid-afternoon, when the bombardment was at its heaviest, I received a message to report to Regimental Headquarters where I found the Colonel and Adjutant, who informed me that Mr Montgomery (my bombing officer) had been wounded and they wanted me to take-over all the regimental bombers and asked if I would do it. This seemed to me to be rather a large job as it was usually carried out by an officer and a sergeant. However, I said that I would do it but pointed out that the NCOs in charge of bomb squads of the other two squadrons were both full corporals and that they were therefore both senior to me. I was then told that, owing to my greater experience as a bomber, (I was the only one left of the original NCOs and indeed had seen 19 come and go) they thought that I was best fitted for the job. I was made an acting sergeant immediately and found myself with a new responsibility.

A few minutes later I was informed that 'B' troop had been wiped out by the salvo that had buried me. In a short time, just as darkness was falling, the bombardment suddenly slackened to about normal and a Corporal and two privates of the Argyl and Sutherland Highlanders arrived in the bomb sap with a supply of empty sandbags. They were part of a party who had volunteered, during the bombardment, to carry these much needed sandbags to us. I signed for delivery of them and the party went off down the line again; within a few minutes the Corporal came running back and said, 'There are some of your men buried back behind the firing line.' I said, ‘Yes. I heard that eight of them got it about an hour ago.' He then said, 'But, some are alive. I heard voices.' I immediately went with him, over the top (it was now grey dark), and after much searching through the wrecked trenches he stopped and said, 'I think that this is the place. Before I could answer, I heard a shout from just under where I stood. I said, 'Who is there?' A voice said, 'Is that you Sanny?’, and I recognised the voice as that of Corporal Watson, my closest chum. The Argyl Corporal went off and I immediately started to remove the earth from Watson with my hands, but had quickly to get down on my knees and take as much cover as possible as there was just enough light to allow enemy snipers to operate and I was within 80 to 100 yards of their firing line.

After digging. with my hands for some time, I was able to free Corporal Watson's head and shoulders, which had been buried by about 3-4 feet of earth when the trench again came in on him, covering him once more. I again uncovered his head and shoulders, which had only been covered lightly, and after making sure that no more earth would fall on him I contacted Corporal Chapman in the firing line; Corporal Chapman called a stretcher party and brought along a couple of shovels to where I had returned to keep Watson company. It was now quite dark and we soon were able to get him out and onto the stretcher, on which he was carried down the line for evacuation. He was severely shocked and bruised and eventually was sent home to Britain and discharged. During the remainder of the night we were busy repairing and improving the trenches, most of which had been severely damaged by the bombardment. (Sergeant Alex Barclay DCM, Ayrshire Yeomanry)

Note: The 1/1st Ayrshire Yeomanry were attached to the 52nd (Lowland) Division.

A. Barclay, ‘PROUD TROOPER CONVERTED TO ‘PBI’’, published in the The Gallipolian, the journal of the Gallipoli Association, No. 32 Spring 1980, P.13 and continued in No. 33 Autumn 1980, p.17.