George Buchanan and the Battle of Loos

The anniversary of the Battle of Loos takes place this week, marking 100 years  since the costly battle in which Scottish infantry battalions made up half of the British assault force.

One of the key personal stories featured in the Next of Kin touring exhibition is that of George Buchanan, who was killed on the first day of the battle, 25 September 1915, aged 27. He was born in Bathgate, West Lothian, and was a railway platelayer by trade. He enlisted as a volunteer in 1914 and served with 8th Battalion Seaforth Highlanders.

Photograph of Buchanan in uniform. This image was enlarged and framed later to hang in the family home. © National Museums Scotland

He kept in touch with his sister and mother in Portobello, Midlothian. On display is an embroidered postcard and letter sent to his sister concerning family news and the cold weather. Written on 11 September 1915, this was to be his last letter home.

'Hope and Love' embroidered postcard sent by Buchanan to his sister. © National Museums Scotland

‘Hope and Love’ embroidered postcard sent on 11 September 1915 by Buchanan to his sister. © National Museums Scotland

The Battle of Loos was planned as a major attack on German positions around the town of Loos in a mining region of northern France. There was a heavy concentration of Scottish troops in the assault force and for many it was their first experience of battle. 37 Scottish infantry battalions were involved in the first stages.

The attack was poorly planned and organised and the German defences were strong. Significant advances were made on the first day but these successes were achieved at a great cost. The gains of the first day could not be followed up and casualties mounted.

Letter from the battalion chaplain to his mother. He offers his sympathies, saying "You must have spent weeks in suspense not hearing from him. And he was killed and you did not know."

Letter from the battalion chaplain to his mother. He offers his sympathies, saying “You must have spent weeks in suspense not hearing from him.” © National Museums Scotland

A letter from the battalion chaplain sent to Buchanan’s mother confirmed her son’s death after weeks in which he had been posted missing in action. She also received a memorial plaque and scroll, along with service medals and ribbon earned by Buchanan.

Memorial plaque sent to Buchanan's next of kin by the British Government on behalf of the King

Memorial plaque sent to Buchanan’s next of kin by the British Government on behalf of the King. © National Museums Scotland

The Buchanan family was one of thousands right across Scotland who received tragic news. In George Buchanan’s battalion alone, more than 500 men were killed or wounded.

 

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