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 £1,200

Estimate: £700 - £900

A Great War 1915 ‘Battle of Neuve Chappelle’ D.C.M. awarded to Lance-Corporal P. McNee, 2nd Battalion, Royal Highlanders, who was mortally wounded during the attack on Hanna, Mesopotamia, 21 January 1916, and died from his wounds two days later

Distinguished Conduct Medal, G.V.R. (941 L. Cpl. P. McNee. 2/R. Hdrs) polished, nearly very fine £700-900

Footnote

Provenance: DNW, September 2010.

D.C.M. London Gazette 3 June 1915:

‘For gallant conduct at Neuve Chapelle on 12th March, 1915, in working a trench mortar gun in the Crescent with great effect on the enemy, whilst exposed to heavy fire from them.’

Peter McNee was born in Auchterarder, Perthshire, in 1889. He attested for the Royal Highlanders at Crieff, in 1907, and served with the 2nd Battalion in India (entitled to Delhi Durbar 1911). He served during the Great War with the Battalion in the French theatre of war from 12 October 1914.

The Battalion were particularly engaged during the Battle of Neuve Chappelle, 10 -13 March 1915. McNee distinguished himself on the 12th, and the Battalion’s actions for that date are described in the Regimental History thus:

‘On the early morning of the 12th a German counter-attack was made, the left of which came up against the position held by the Battalion. The Battalion was forewarned owing to the good work of the scouts under Sergeant Fenton, who had reported considerable movement in the German trenches during the night of the 11/12th, suggesting the possibility of a counter-attack.

Captain J. Inglis held the Crescent with his own (No. 2) Company and a platoon of the 1/4th Black Watch. He had with him two of the Battalion machine guns and two of the 4th Cavalry (Indian Army), also a trench mortar manned by men of the Battalion. The Crescent was a breastwork, and twenty or thirty yards in front ran the old Crescent trench, which had become water-logged and had been abandoned in favour of the breastwork. There was a thick fog on this morning, and the Germans were close up to the old trench before they were seen. They were at once stopped by our rifle and machine-gun fire, but a number of them took cover in the old trench. Captain Inglis sent out a bombing party under Lance Corporal J. Gordon, to work down an old communication trench towards the enemy, and covered their advance by rifle and machine-gun fire. Finding this communication trench blocked by water they had to get out and crawl across the open. After about five bombs had been thrown, the Germans, to the number of 71, surrendered - 22 dead were also found in the trench. Another party of the German attacking line, which had gone to ground a little further back, was dislodged by a bomb gun, and nearly all shot down as they tried to regain their lines.’

On 25 September 1915, during the battle of Loos, McNee was gassed. After a period of recuperation he rejoined the Battalion in time to leave France with them in November 1915. McNee served with the Battalion in the Mesopotamian theatre of war from January 1916, and took part in the action at Shaikh Saad, before being mortally wounded during the first attack on Hanna, 21 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. 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.’

Lance-Corporal McNee died of his wounds, 23 January 1916, and is buried in the Amara War Cemetery, Iraq.

Sold with copied research (including photographic images of recipient in uniform) which refers to him as a Corporal Piper. In The Piper in Peace and War, it states, ‘The Admirable Crighton of the battalion was Piper Peter McNee, a very handsome man who, besides being a splendid shot was an excellent bomber. When placed on trench mortar work he was equally distinguished’. and “Let me have McNee and the goods” remarked a certain stalwart Irish officer, “and I’ll keep back a whole German Corps.”