With thanks to Gordon Highlanders Museum and local lady Ann Crossar for this article in its entirety.
Pte Andrew Sim (S/8661) 2nd Battalion Gordon Highlanders
Pte Andrew Sim (S/8661) was one of almost 50,000 men who served with the Gordon Highlanders during WW1.
More than half of the service records for WW1 soldiers were destroyed in September 1940 when a German bombing raid struck the War Office repository in Arnside Street, London. However, an estimated 2.8 million service records survived the bombing or were reconstructed from the records of the Ministry of Pensions. This means that there is a roughly 40% chance of finding the service record of a WW1 soldier. The service records that survived the Arnside Street fire in September 1940 are referred to as the ‘Burnt Documents’. Unfortunately none of Andrew’s records have survived.
Andrew joined the 2nd Battalion in January 1915 and following basic training in Aberdeen, he landed in France on 6 April 1915. He was one of a draft of 77 men who then joined the Battalion at Estaires on Saturday 10 April. The following brief history of the 2nd Battalion describes where the 2nd Battalion was and the battles they were involved in during the course of WW1 until February 1917 when Andrew was returned to civilian life.
2nd Battalion, The Gordon Highlanders 1914-1918
The 2nd Battalion’s origins sprung from the 92nd Highlanders formed in 1797 and which in 1881 became the 2nd Battalion of the Gordon Highlanders, being one of the two regular battalions of the regiment.
At the time when war was declared on 5th August 1914 the battalion was stationed at the Nile Palace Barracks in Cairo as part of the British garrison of Egypt. However it had to wait replacement by a Territorial battalion before being was able to return to the UK, landing at Portsmouth on 1st October and moving to the Lyndhurst area for refitting and being brought up to war strength of just over a thousand all ranks by receiving approximately sixty reservists. On 7th October it landed at Zeebrugge, Belgium, as part of 20th Brigade, 7th Division, which was largely composed of units returning from various overseas garrisons, particularly India.
The first contact with the Germans occurred in the vicinity of Ypres on 20th October and for the next fortnight the battalion was engaged in extremely heavy fighting as evidenced by its strength being recorded on 1st November as 3 officers and 200 other ranks. Fatalities totalled about 180 with most of the remainder being wounded and/or taken prisoner. The severity of the fighting can also be gauged from an entry in the battalion War Diary of 29th October “…240 dead Germans being counted in front of one platoon alone”. By the 5th November the battalion had been reorganised as a single company under a Lieutenant! During this period of very fluid and confused fighting and before trench warfare as we understand it set in, two of the four Victoria Crosses awarded to members of the regiment during the war were won by Captain James Otho Brooke and Drummer William Kenny, the former award being made posthumously.
On 5th November, the battalion was relieved and moved to Mettern where it was gradually brought up to strength by absorbing several drafts of reinforcements. By the middle of the month the front had stabilised and large scale operations had largely ended with the onset of winter and extremely harsh weather conditions. The battalion rotated in and out of the trenches in the vicinity of Fromelles during the next four months.
In March and May 1915 the battalion participated in the battles at Neuve Chapelle and Festubert respectively as part of the British offensive to capture the Aubers Ridge which overlooked Ypres. These were ultimately unsuccessful and resulted in heavy casualties which amounted to 535 all ranks including the original commanding officer Lt Col. H P Uniake (killed in action) and his successor, Lt Col A F Gordon (wounded). A further effort in June against nearby Givenchy produced similar results incurring a further 188 losses to the unit. Curiously, the next two months being the height of the summer and normally a period when most fighting could be expected were almost uneventful.
The battalion’s next test came in on 25th September with the Battle of Loos which was another British offensive fought over a three day period and which directly or indirectly involved no less than seven battalions of the Gordon Highlanders. The fighting took place in a coal-mining area amidst miners settlements and slag heaps. As before, despite early successes the action bogged down largely through the British failing to utilise its reserves quickly enough. The unit’s part although in itself successful was marred by many casualties suffered as a result of the British gas which was meant to aid the attackers being blown back in their faces. In addition prompt German counter attacks negated the earlier gains. Loos was most disastrous battle of the war for the regiment having suffered about 2500 casualties for no gain. The 2nd Battalion suffered about 180 fatalities with many of the 310 wounded suffering from the effects of gas poisoning, and again lost it‘s Commanding Officer, Lt Col Stansfeld, who died of his wounds.
After the battle, the battalion stayed in the area of Loos through the start of another severe winter but in December 1915 it moved south to La Chausee in the valley of the River Somme. There it spent the next two months behind the front lines mainly involved in training and absorbing replacements for its losses at Loos. During this time it is recorded that the troops were “comfortably housed and time was found for sport”. Between February and June, the battalion rotated in and out of the front-line trenches and although no large scale actions took place nevertheless there was a constant loss of casualties on a small scale from shelling, snipers, and trench raids. During this time, steel helmets were issued to the troops for the first time.
The Battle of the Somme was in reality a series of battles fought between 1st July and the middle of November 1916 and constituted the main British offensive effort of that year. The 2nd Battalion participated in three distinct phases of the overall battle. Firstly, on the 1st July the battalion assaulted the village of Mametz and achieved its objectives being relieved on 3rd July having lost 461 all ranks out of the 807 which had gone into action. Secondly, on 20th July an attack on the fringes of Delville Wood was beaten back by enfilading fire from machine guns hidden in a cornfield resulted in a further 262 casualties including the death of Lt Col B G R Gordon who had commanded the battalion since Loos. Thirdly and finally, on 6th September the battalion returned to the front-line and took part in the attack of the hamlet of Ginchy on the eastern side of Delville Wood. However, an enemy bombardment caused numerous casualties prior to the assault and afterwards added to which there was an element of “friendly fire” from their own artillery as well as an enemy counter-attack which led to the abandonment of Ginchy. Of the casualties there is only a note of 5 officers killed and 15 wounded although another source shows that about 80 other ranks were killed which indicates that total losses probably totalled around 400 all ranks including its temporary commander, Major R D Oxley, killed in action.
After a ten day rest period behind the lines, the battalion returned to Flanders and the region near the River Lys where it was involved in large working- parties, training, and general re-fitting and re-organisation absorbing the large number of replacements to make good the losses of the Somme. The rest of the third winter of the war saw the battalion in and out of the trenches with little of consequence to remark upon apart from the bad weather and the inevitable casualties.
In early 1917 as a consequence of the heavy casualties suffered during the Somme battles, the German forces withdrew to a new defensive position named by the British as the Hindenburg Line in the vicinity of which a further British offensive commenced at Arras on 9th April 1917.
Our records show that on 17 February 1917, Andrew was transferred to Class W reserve which was a designation for men who were considered able to contribute more to the war effort by returning to their civilian occupation. Andrew’s pre-war occupation as a Coal Pit Fire Inspector was deemed of national importance and although he technically remained a soldier until the end of the war he returned to his job at the mine.
For his service, Andrew was awarded the 1914/15 Star, the War Medal and the Victory medal, examples of which are shown here:
Featuring Blantyre Project Social Media with permission. Strictly not for use by others on or offline, our visitors said:
Eva Brown Andrew Sim was my grandfather
Archie Peat At Neuve Chappelle and Festuburt , Andrew would have fought alongside plenty of Blantyre men in the 6th Cameronians
Jessie Caldow This is a great reminder of the sacrifices and suffering of these men, to keep us safe and free. It’s a wonderful post, thank you.