Sunday, July 20, 2014

52 Ancestors #29 -- He Died on a Flanders Field

Ancestor Name: Oswald Dykes Riddell DICK

Sometime after the start of the First World War, Oswald was called up for military duty and served as a Lance Corporal with the 5th Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders. He was killed in action on 21 July 1918. His battalion was attached to the 152nd Brigade, 51st (Highland) Division, which at the time of his death, was under the command of French general Foch, as the Allies counter attacked to repel the advances made by the German during their summer offensive. The Allied victory during the Second Battle of the Marne was considered the turning point of the war on the western front.

I have no photograph of Oswald, but do have a description from his 1906-1908 military service record when he was 18 years old. He was 5' 3" tall, weighed 101 pounds, with a fresh complexion, hazel eyes, and brown hair.

I downloaded a book on Internet Archive, The History of the 51st (Highland) Division, 1914-1918, by Major F. W. Bewsher, DSO, MC, which described the action that took place the day Oswald was killed.

"It was arranged that the 152nd Infantry Brigade should take over the 153rd Brigade front and carry out a second attack. The general plan was that the brigade should advance on a one-battalion front, the 5th Seaforth Highlanders leading, the 6th Gordon Highlanders next, and the 6th Seaforth Highlanders in the rear. Three objectives were selected for the attack, the first being the northwest edge of the Bois de Coutron, the second the southern slopes of the Bois des Eclisses, and third the northern slopes. 

The 153rd brigade were to form such defensive flanks as became necessary during the progress of the attack, the 7th Gordon Highlanders on the right and the 7th Black Watch on the left. On the right of the Highland division the 62nd division were to attack with a view to encircling the Marfaux locality from the north while the 9th French Division were attacking on the left, the village of Paradis being the particular stumbling block in their path which they hoped to remove.

The artillery barrage fell, as had been planned, south of the Les Haies-La Neuville road; but as the enemy had closely followed our troops during their last withdrawal, he had been able to establish many machine gun posts close to the jumping off line. The result was that the barrage fell behind the enemy's foremost troops, and the machine gun outposts were untouched.

In consequence the 6th Gordon Highlanders met with the stoutest opposition from the outset of the attack, a storm of bullets greeting them as soon as their advance began. Nevertheless, the troops on the right, with fine determination, brushed back all resistance until they had reached a point which was estimated to be about 200 yards from the northwest edge of the Bois de Crouton. Here the enemy were found to be holding a carefully prepared line of resistance supported by numerous and well sited machine guns and trench mortars.


German dead during the Second Battle of the Marne; photograph courtesy of
Doughboy Center

In spite of the gallant attempts made by the battalion to carry this line, it held firm, the Germans defending themselves skillfully and courageously with rifles and hand grenades. For an hour the 6th Gordon Highlanders tried to come to close grips with them, and drive them from their position, but without results. 

Meanwhile the enemy displayed on his part the greatest initiative, making repeated attempts to filter through gaps in our front line and on the right flank, and ultimately became so threatening on the right rear of the 6th Gordon Highlanders that they were compelled to fall back on that flank to a position some 200 yards in advance of their jumping off line.

On the left the advance was held up after the wood had been cleared for some 500 yards. Paradis had successfully withstood the repeated attempts of the French to storm it, so that the left flank of the Division's attack was again in the air. In consequence, the leading troops in this part of the battlefield also fell back onto the same line as the right flank had done, the 7th Black Watch forming a defensive flank to connect the left of the 6th Gordon Highlanders with the right of the French.

A company of 5th Seaforth Highlanders was also sent forward to fill gaps which had occurred in the center of the 6th Gordon Highlanders' line.

As had been the case on the previous day, the difficulties of the operation where greatly increased by the blindness of the country, it being almost impossible to locate exactly the positions and flanks of advance parties in the wood.

However, by noon, a continuous line had been formed joining the left of the 154th Brigade to the right of the French.

The troops closely engaged throughout the day, and it became necessary to move forward companies from all three battalions of the 152nd Brigade to strengthen the line in places where it was becoming weakened. On the left the successful resistance of the Germans in Paradis had made it necessary to occupy a line which curved around the eastern side of that village some 300 yards from it, while on the right flank the 6th Seaforth Highlanders, after some fighting with enemy machine guns, established themselves on a line facing north some 700 yards south of Espilly.

On the 154th Brigade front no particular incidents occurred. Strong patrols attempted to advance and make ground towards the enemy, but they found him everywhere in strength, and were unable to get forward. For a time the high ground on the extreme right was harassed by machine guns. However, a Stokes mortar from the 154th Trench Mortar Battery was brought into action against them, and after firing forty rounds silenced them. A patrol subsequently found twelve dead Germans in one machine gun nest that had thus been dealt with.

So ended another day of severe fighting."

A postcard showing the school and Belleau Woods after the Second Battle of the Marne;
image courtesy of the George Eastman House Collection

Oswald Dick was 29 years old and was buried at the Terlincthun British Cemetery in Wimville, France.

Terlincthun British Cemetery, photograph courtesy of the Commonwealth
War Graves Commission

This is my entry for Amy Johnson Crow's 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge.

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Oswald Dykes Riddell Dick was born on 7 October 1888 in Maryhill, Glasgow, to James Dick and Helen Cowie. His parents were not married at the time of his birth. He was named for his uncle, Oswald Dykes Riddell, Helen's Cowie's sister's husband. On 26 Feb 1906 he joined the Royal Army Medical Corps, Glasgow Battalion, for a period of 6 years. He attended annual training in 1906, 1907, and 1908. On 27 Jun 1908 he was granted a free discharge. On 31 August 1906 he married Elizabeth Scott in Glasgow. They had four children before Elizabeth's death in 1914: Janet Wilson Dick (born 1906), James Dick (born 1908),  John Scott Dick (born 1910), and Oswald Dick (born 1912). On 17 February 1917 he married Henrietta Riddell, in Glasgow. She was his first cousin and a daughter of his namesake, Oswald Dykes Riddell. Sometime during World War One, Oswald was called up to serve his country and served with the 5th Seaforth Highlanders. The unit was attached to the 152nd Brigade, 51st (Highland) Division. Oswald was killed in action on 21 July 1918 during the Second Battle of the Marne, considering the turning point of the war in the western front. His wife, Henrietta (Riddell) Dick married John Rennie in 1919. They adopted a son, Samuel Dunn (born about 1921) and immigrated to Montreal, Canada in 1927, joining Henrietta's mother and several siblings and their families. I have been unable to find any trace of Oswald's children by his first marriage to date.

I have begun adding to Oswald's profile on the Lives of the First World War website, which, though still in its infancy, should be a site anyone researching soldiers in World War I, should add to their toolbox.

My previous posts about World War I may be found on the World War I Challenge page.

2 comments:

  1. Very interesting. Great to have all that history. I saw your story come through on that new paper site. How did you submit it there? I couldn't find a way to submit it

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    Replies
    1. Thank you, Gabby! I usually look for old books or newspaper articles to flesh out the lives of my ancestor. I thought I was out of luck this time because his death date was actually between a German offensive and the Allied counterattack, but then I found a history of his unit that described fighting the day he was killed.

      I wish I knew to which paper site you were referring. I set up a paper.li site once, but it didn't really do what I wanted so I abandoned it. Frequently one of my Twitter tweets gets picked up by someone else's paper.li and it goes out that way. But that's all I can think of.

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