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: £800 - £1,200

A fine Great War 1915 ‘V.C. action’ D.C.M. awarded to Private J. McGregor, 1st Battalion, Royal Highlanders, for gallantry at Aubers Ridge, 9 May 1915. He was killed in action whilst serving with the 6th Battalion, 21 March 1918 - the first day of the German Spring Offensive

Distinguished Conduct Medal, G.V.R. (2186 Pte. J. McGregor. 1/R.Hdrs) minor edge bruising, very fine £800-1200

Footnote

D.C.M. London Gazette 5 August 1915:

‘For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty on the 9th May, 1915, at Rue du Bois. While lying on the German parapet firing, Private McGregor saw a bomb thrown into a shell hole some distance behind him, and knowing that an Officer and two men were lying wounded in this hole, he ran back, picked up the bomb, and hurled it away before it exploded, thereby undoubtedly saving their lives.’

James McGregor was born in Dundee, Scotland, and served during the Great War with the 1st Battalion, Royal Highlanders in the French theatre of war from 26 September 1914. McGregor distinguished himself whilst serving with the Battalion during the secondary attack on 9 May 1915, at the Battle of Aubers Ridge. The Regimental History gives the following:

‘After an artillery bombardment of twenty minutes the Battalion advanced to the attack, and made one of the finest assaults it delivered during the war, distinguished by skilful leadership of officers and section commanders under the most adverse conditions, and great gallantry on the part of the men.... As in the original assault, the wire had not been sufficiently cut, nor had the German breastworks and machine guns been much damaged. Against them, A and B companies advanced over the open, followed by two platoons each from C and D companies...

The companies advanced to the sound of the pipes - for the last time - since gas helmets were shortly to muffle the pipers. It was not possible to recognise “Highland Laddie” in the noise of gunfire, but the pipes themselves could not be silenced, and there is no doubt that they raised the spirit of the attackers. As soon as our men topped the breastworks, they were met by a terrific rifle and machine gun fire, which seemed to come from every direction; machine guns were not only firing from the breastworks, but from tunnels cut underneath them.

The distance between the lines was about 300 yards, so that it did not take more than two minutes for the leading troops to reach the enemy wire. A few gaps existed, and into these the attacking platoons converged; then, forcing their way into the German line, they began to clear the trenches by hand-to-hand fighting. The advantage lay with the enemy from the first, since the platoons could only enter the breastworks on narrow fronts where the gaps existed; and though the Battalion established itself at various points, it was attacked from three sides, being bombed from both flanks, and fired into from the enemy’s rear line.’

A number of D.C.M.s were awarded to members of the 1st Battalion for the action, and Corporal John Ripley was awarded the Victoria Cross. Lance Corporal David Findlay of the 2nd Battalion was also awarded the Victoria Cross for the Battle of Aubers Ridge. The 1st Battalion suffered casualties of 14 officers and 461 other ranks killed, wounded or missing. Only ‘8 officers and 354 other ranks could be assembled to march back on the 9th of May, and the next two days were needed for the reorganisation of the Battalion, which was carried out in Divisional Reserve at Beuvry and Béthune. On both these days H.R.H. the Prince of Wales paid a visit to the Battalion, and interviewed several non-commissioned officers and men who had actually been in the German trenches on the 9th.’ (Ibid)

McGregor transferred to the 6th (Perthshire) Battalion, Royal Highlanders, and was killed in action on the first day of the German Spring Offensive, 21 March 1918. The 6th Battalion were entrenched in the Flesquières area at the start of the German Offensive, and suffered heavily over the following five days and nights - ‘the cost to the Battalion during these five days was 20 officers and 620 other ranks. The greater number of these were lost during the first day’s fighting when, owing to the retirement of the Divisions on the right and left, practically the whole of the front line garrison was either killed or captured. For services on this occasion the Battalion received three Military Crosses, one Bar and 14 Military Medals’ (Ibid).

Private McGregor is commemorated on the Arras Memorial.