Importance of remembering those killed on Western Front

Monday marked the centenary of the start of the Battle of Passchendaele – a First World War battle which saw around 12 Shetlanders die on 31st July 1917.

The fighting, officially called the Third Battle of Ypres, is best remembered for the high number of casualties and the fields of liquid mud which often swallowed the bodies of the fallen.

Lieutenant John (Jack) Henry Clifford Grierson and Private Peter Hunter Johnston, both from Lerwick, were among the Shetlanders killed on the first day of the three-month battle.

They were serving in the 8/10 Battalion Gordon Highlanders as part of the 15th Division when the British objective was to wear out the Germans and push them from the Belgian coast.

In the early hours of 31st July, Lieutenant Grierson and Private Johnston took part in an advance on an enemy front one mile away, east of Ypres.

As the soldiers made their way across the fields in the dark, they came under heavy machine gun fire before hand-to-hand combat broke out too.

It is rare for there to be a record of how an individual soldier came to die but in the case of Lieutenant Grierson, such a record exists in the The Gordon Highlanders in The First World War, 1914-1919.

The book says Lieutenant Grierson killed a German with his bayonet only to be brought down himself soon afterwards by a shell.

News of his death was carried in The Shetland News on 16th August 1917. The article stated: “Lieut. Grierson was a sturdily built, manly young officer, and there can be little doubt that he acquitted himself worthily in the great battles in which he gave his life.”

His name is on Panel 38 of the Menin Gate, Ypres, while Private Johnston is buried at Tyne Cot Cemetery, near Ypres.

In total, more than half a million soldiers died in The Third Battle of Ypres, with over 70 thought to be Shetlanders.

Jon Sandison, a history teacher at Anderson High School, runs a Facebook page dedicated to the stories of the Shetland men who fought in the Third Battle of Ypres and other battles.

He said: “It important to remember that this battle is a continual reflection of the massive Shetland involvement – and loss – on the Western Front, during the Great War.

“The Shetland loss at the preliminary battle to Third Ypres (Messines) was also considerable. It is worth reflecting too that for all of those lost, many more did come home, living out their lives, scarred forever by their experiences, mentally or physically.”


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