A Collection of Medals to the 42nd Highlanders and 73rd Foot (Black Watch)

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Date of Auction: 28th February 2018

Sold for £700

Estimate: £600 - £800

A Great War 1915 ‘Battle of Neuve Chappelle’ D.C.M. awarded to Private D. G. Cuthbert, 2nd Battalion, Royal Highlanders, who was later killed in action during the first attack on Hanna, Mesopotamia, 21 January 1916 - when the Battalion suffered casualties of approximately 60% of its’ fighting strength

Distinguished Conduct Medal, G.V.R. (3-4222 Pte. D. G. Cuthbert. 2/R. Hdrs) remnants of lacquer, very fine £600-800

Footnote

D.C.M. London Gazette 15 April 1915:

‘For conspicuous gallantry in taking up an advanced position in a traverse whence he held up the enemy advance with rifle fire until our bombs could be brought up.’

Donald Gunn Cuthbert was born in Kildonnan, Sutherland, Scotland. He served during the Great War with the 2nd Battalion, Royal Highlanders in the French theatre of war from 4 August 1914. The Battalion were particularly engaged during the Battle of Neuve Chappelle, 10-13 March 1915.

Cuthbert left France with the Battalion in November 1915, and served with them in the Mesopotamian theatre of war from January 1916. The 2nd Battalion served with the 41st Dogras and 6th Jats as part of the 35th Brigade for the first attack on the Turks at Hanna, 21 January 1916. Cuthbert was killed in action during the attack, and the Regimental History gives the following:

‘At seven minutes past eight on the morning of the 21st, as the bombardment lifted, The Black Watch advanced at a slow double, and were at once greeted by a storm of bullets. Despite the heavy mud, despite the losses, perfect order was kept, and after a momentary halt at the irrigation channel every man rose up simultaneously and swept forward into the Turkish trench. There for a few moments the Turks met them hand to hand. Lieutenant Thorburn, who was among the first in, was bayoneted and clubbed to the ground, but recovered consciousness to hear the welcome sound of Piper Crichton playing along the captured trench.

On the right, the Dogras suffered heavily, lost all their British officers, and were unable to make good the right of the objective. But a few small parties of them and of the 6th Jats gallantly pressed forward and joined the Regiment after the trench was captured.... the flanks were exposed, and the Battalion was cut off from all support.

Immediately after the assault the Turks had fled across the open to their second line, losing heavily as they ran, for in spite of the exertions of the assault our men fired steadily and with good effect. Before long, however, the enemy was strongly reinforced, and soon discovered how few in numbers were the British who had penetrated his position. Two main counter-attacks now developed... These attacks were checked for some time with the aid of one or two machine guns captured by the two flank companies.... But force of numbers was bound to tell in time. Many of our men fell, and step by step the remainder were forced to give ground until they were gradually squeezed into the corner of the trenches nearest to the river bank... bravery and discipline can make good lack of numbers in an assault, but it is impossible for a hundred men to hold a position indefinitely when attacked on three sides and with no supports forthcoming....

For two hours a desperate resistance was put up against hopeless odds. Sergeant Finlay died fighting with the same cool courage that had won him his V.C. on the 9th May in France. At last, about 10.15am, when almost surrounded, the remnants of the shattered platoons, half of whom were wounded, fell back on the British lines, bringing with them one officer and about a dozen Turks as prisoner....

The losses reported on the 21st were 6 officers (2 killed, 1 wounded and missing) and 175 other ranks (21 killed, 79 wounded and missing). Of those reported missing all were subsequently ascertained to have been killed, and at least one officer and many man who were wounded refused to report or go to hospital while the need of the Battalion was so great. The casualties in this action were approximately 60 per cent of the fighting strength of the Battalion. Exclusive of the transport, 29 officers and nearly 900 men had landed at Basrah three weeks earlier. There now remained to report themselves fit for duty two combatant officers and 130 men, and of these not all were unwounded.’

Private Cuthbert is commemorated on the Basra Memorial, Iraq.