The Scottish Horse Brigade in Northumberland

Private James McConnachie Moir, 1913. Picture by Ian Wells.
Private James McConnachie Moir, 1913. Picture by Ian Wells.

In summer 1915 a short letter of thanks, dated August 17, appeared in the Morpeth Herald. It was written by Lord Tuillibardine, commander of the Scottish Horse Brigade. His words simply thanked the people of Northumberland for the kindness shown the Scottish Horse during the months they had been quartered in the county. He made no explanation of why they had been there, or where they were moving on to.

The Scottish Horse were Yeomanry and part of the Territorial Army, part-timers who spent their weekends and holidays training to take the place of the regular army if it was ever sent abroad. The Scottish Horse had drill halls in many parts of the Highlands and Islands, and a headquarters in Dunkeld, near Perth.

The Scottish Horse at Blagdon stables, 1914. Pictures by Ian Wells.

The Scottish Horse at Blagdon stables, 1914. Pictures by Ian Wells.

The First World War was declared on the fourth day of August 1914 and virtually all the territorials signed up on that day. The Scottish Horse concentrated at Dunkeld and moved to Doncaster for their training. The east coast of Britain was considered vulnerable to invasion and following the initial training, the Brigade was sent to the North East.

At Blagdon in Northumberland, Viscount Ridley recorded the Scottish Horse Brigade’s arrival in his diary. Blagdon became Lord Tullibardine’s headquarters and the 1/3rd regiment were based around there. 1/1st were located at Sunderland and Roker.

The Morpeth Herald reported the 1/2nd riding into the town on November 20. The squadrons of the regiments were then sent to strategic farms and country houses along the coast.

The 1/2nd regiment were stationed along the length of Druridge Bay between Amble and Newbiggin-by-the-Sea. This long sandy beach was seen as being vulnerable to invasion as it was so close to the Tyne and its armaments’ industries. The ordinary ranks and their junior officers and their horses were housed in farm steadings, senior officers in grander establishments, such as Cresswell Hall and possibly public houses.

E ‘Elgin’ squadron, with men from the Speyside villages, are recorded as being stationed at Blackamoor Farm in letters written by a young officer. The Morpeth Herald recorded a splendid Christmas dinner for 70 men provided by the local families and served by a ‘bevy of ladies’ in the Granary at Low Hall. The regiment’s Christmas card for 1914 has a cartoon of soldiers in a dugout at Druridge Bay.

Invasion was seen as a very serious threat after the bombardment of Hartlepool from the sea and the Zeppelin raids. The lookouts along the beach took their role seriously and they had to be issued with motorcycle googles after windblown sand injured some men’s eyes. The horses were ready to move men around quickly if an incident happened. The railways constantly had trains ready to move the coast-based regiments long distances.

The men continued training. They were sent to Whitley Bay for musketry practice and Chester-le-Street for machine gun training.

They did complain that the horses were getting fat because there was not enough training that included the horses. They also complained of the tedious, locally-sourced diet of lobster and pheasant.

In May 1915 they were sent to Gosforth Park and then on to the Newcastle Town Moor to parade in front of the King and Lord Kitchener, together with several thousand other soldiers of the North East region. This was all preparation for the real war, which Lord Tullibardine did not elude to in his letter of thanks. In mid-August the Brigade disappeared from the North East coast as quickly as it has arrived. The men marched to Morpeth Station and the horses and equipment were loaded onto a train at Killingworth. The trains went on to Seaham to collect the 1/1st Regiment and then on to Devonport. The men got the horses onto a cargo boat and then boarded a liner. As ‘mounted troops’ they believed they were going to Egypt, but after they had left Malta they were told they were now ‘dismounted infantry’ and they were going to Gallipoli. They beached at Sulva Bay on the night of August 31/September 1, and the reality of war was immediate. They were straight into the frontline trenches and within a few weeks the casualty list was considerable. Second-Lieut. G.K.M Butler, the young officer who wrote very detailed letters form Druridge Bay, received a “lucky bullet wound”, which was dealt with at a Malta Hospital. My grandfather, Private James McConnachie Moir, was wounded, but it was the dysentery he contracted that threatened his life. Major Aitchison, who led E squadron, also had to be evacuated home due to dysentery. The Scottish Horse was one of the last brigades to leave Gallipoli. It went on to serve in Eygpt and Salonika. It became the 13th Battalion of the Black Watch and served in France in 1918, proudly keeping the Scottish Horse uniform of trousers rather than the usual kilts. The men took part in the advance to victory, constantly fighting across open ground. This was the period after August 8, 1918, when the Germans were pushed out of the trenches.

Many of the men of the Scottish Horse, who had started their war four years before in Druridge Bay, fell in the early days of November, only days before the war ended on the 11th day of November, 1918. Any further information about the Scottish Horse in the North East would be very gratefully received. Please contact me, Ian Wells, via the Herald.