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The 8th (Territorial) Battalion the Royal Scots in World War One

Administrative changes mean that East Lothian, once home to the 8th Royal Scots, now includes Musselburgh, which was then in the catchment for the 7th Royal Scots.

Training at AmisfieldThe part-time 8th Battalion could trace its history back to Napoleonic Volunteers raised in the burghs of the county but it faced the onset of war in 1914 with a structure created in the Territorial Force reforms of 1908. The reforms gave it a change of title and a firm place in the Army’s regimental structure as the 8th battalion, The Royal Scots (The Lothian Regiment).

East Lothian provided 4 of the 8 companies of the battalion, the remainder coming from Midlothian and Peebleshire. Its headquarters were at Haddington. The companies were based in the larger towns and the component parts of each company trained in community drill halls under professional drill NCOs, usually seconded from the regular army. The battalion met each summer for two weeks of intensive training. The territorials were only expected to serve within the UK but in 1914 many volunteered for overseas service. This prompted a neccessary period of reorganisation.

After the battalion mobilised it began to gear up onto a war footing – combing out the unfit and elderly from the volunteers. The eight peacetime companies were reorganised to the four required by the table of organisation of service infantry battalions. The battalion spent the first days of the war at Haddington while necessary changes were instituted. As this was going on, it had to keep up coast defence duties and a host of other tasks generated by the needs of the military authorities. Spare hands identified during this period went to the newly formed second line battalion (below) or other units; men of the 6th Battalion Royal Scots and the 8th Highland Light Infantry arrived to fill out the wartime table of organisation.

The 1/8th became the first Scottish Territorial battalion to make it overseas, crossing to France early in November 1914. They were in the firing line on the 15th and spent the winter on duty near Flembaix. They were withdrawn in March 1915 to prepare for a major set-piece battle and were committed at Neuve-Chapelle, losing many men. In a battle at Festubert in May they lost more, including commanding officer Lieutenant-colonel Alexander Brook. This pattern of repeated deployment, action and rest took a severe toll on the battalion and on 27th July it was designated a pioneer battalion, first to the 7th Division and then to the 51st Highland Division of the 3rd Army. In less than a year the battalion lost 17 officers and 350 men killed or wounded.

Pioneer battalions dug roads, trenches and shelters – but were also infantrymen, working at the Front, often under appalling conditions. The battalion’s strong connection with East Lothian’s mining communities was presented as the main reason for their outstanding reputation in the new role. But their reputation was hard-won.  In the Somme battle of July 1916 the 1/8th incurred over 100 casualties in one 24 hour period from shellfire as they dug trenches and consolidated other forces’ gains. Of necessity this had to be done in the open and in full view of the Germans. The battalion faced these most dangerous tasks time and time again. So proficient was the battalion in the pioneer role that it often had under command detachments of other new designated pioneers for training.

The 1/8th spent 1916 in support of their division. Often they could see the work of a week destroyed in just a few minutes of shelling. Despite the setbacks, they honed their efficiency such that a team of 9 could erect 50 yards of barbed wire barrier in just 9 minutes and the 1/8th trained their division to match this standard. In 1917 it had spells with the 12th and 4th divisions and then had a particularly trying spell at Ypres: roads, railways, trenches, and dug-outs were built under shelling and the new peril of gas attacks.

In March of 1918 the battalion was in line standing off the advancing Germans. Their ability to entrench and wire as well as fight was all that saved them several times: over 200 casualties were recorded in the space of five days. In April they lost another 174 in similar fluid fighting. A month later they recorded 12000 yards of 8×6 foot trenching and 23000 yards of wire constructed – on top of their normal duties. The last months of the war were spent on the offensive, often in open countryside, celebrating the Armistice in quarters near Cambrai. Early in 1919 they were in Belgium with demobilisation underway and the cadre of the battalion was welcomed home to Haddington on 30th April 1919.

During its service the 1/8th battalion recorded 1669 casualties, including 309 fatalities or missing.

The 2/8th (Territorial) Battalion was raised in the autumn of 1914 to serve as a draft and training battalion for the 1/8th overseas. It mustered at Haddington in the autumn of 1914, where its role included the old Territorial duty of coast defence. It moved several times before in February 1916 coming under the command of the 65th Division in Essex. In January 1917 it went to Dublin where it was disbanded later that summer. Its men were redeployed to battalions in France.

The 3/8th was the third battalion to be raised from the peacetime 8th. It was embodied in December 1914 at Peebles, was at Prestonpans in late 1915, but returned to Peebles and then Stobs where its independent existence ceased in July 1916. A reorganisation brought all the 3rd line Royal Scots Territorial battalions into a new formation, the 4th (Reserve) Battalion, which for the rest of the war provided training and drafts to the active service Territorial battalions.

Other battalions of the Royal Scots spent periods based in East Lothian during the First World War. After training, some went overseas, others performed Home Service duties and yet others managed the logistics of providing drafts, or replacements, for the fighting battalions in the same manner as the expanded 8th, outlined above. Recuperating men could then find themselves serving in a sequence of battalions. Some idea of the complexity of the situation is outlined here.

If your relatives served in the Royal Scots during World War One it’s possible to attempt to reconstruct their experiences from surviving photographs or newspaper accounts. Many of the resources at the John Gray Centre can help.

Keywords: World War One, First World War, WWI, WW1, World War Two, Second World War, WWII, WW2

22 thoughts on “The 8th (Territorial) Battalion the Royal Scots in World War One”

  1. Ed Hutchings says:

    Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Brook was my first cousin three times removed. Do any of your resources include surviving photographs or newspaper accounts of him?

    1. FrancesW says:

      Hi Ed,
      There is a link here which provides information on Alexander. We will also have some information regarding his life in Haddington in the records but are unable to access them until lockdown is relaxed.
      best wishes,

  2. Dawn Hamilton says:

    I am try to research how many men lost their life in ww1 in the From The 1 to 8 battion royal scots has i doing a Scottish project on the royal scots has may late Grandad Erest Prince and my dad Ronald Hamilton both service in the regiment has i am trying to find the number of brave men lost the life
    Yours faithfully
    Miss D Hamilton

    1. HanitaR says:

      Miss Hamilton,
      Thank you for your enquiry.
      You might like to contact or visit the Royal Scots Museum at Edinburgh Castle. The link to their website is as follows:
      All the best with your research.

  3. William Duncan says:

    HI there, I attempting to gain further information on my great grandfather who was initially was in the 3/8th Royal Scots and went on to serveat the Somme. I can remember playing with the 3 medals he received for his service, but looking to see where i could obtain further information regarding his time in the army

    1. HanitaR says:

      Hi William,
      Thank you for your enquiry. You may be able to locate info by contacting the Royal Scots Museum at Edinburgh Castle. Their website link is as follows:
      You could also contact the National Archives at Kew. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission, however, only deals with service personnel who fell in the war.
      Hope the above info helps. All the best.

  4. Robert Rae says:

    Maree, an old relative of mine from Innerleithen was trained by 8th RS but was with 13th RS when he was wounded on August 22nd 1917, same day your Great Uncle was killed. The Battalion lost almost 300 killed or wounded that day at a village called Frezenberg, just outside of Ypres. It was part of the Passchendaele offensive. There are detailed reports of what happened that day in the Battalion war diaries. I also know a little bit about my old uncle’s personal experience that day because he lived with us when I was a boy. I still have a few of his things, including the bullet that wounded him. You can get the war diary from Amazon – 16th Division, 45th Brigade, 13th Royal Scots. The Scottish Memorial at Frezenberg (Ypres) is pretty well on the spot where they began their attack on August 22nd.

    1. Maree Notman says:

      Hi Robert – thanks so much for this information, that is very useful indeed. The information that I have on him would suggest that he was invalidated in 1916 and then must have been redeployed. I will definitely look for more information on Frezenberg. Through the Forces War Records I am hoping to get a track of his movements.

      I had contacted the Royal Scots at Abercrombie Place to see if they had any information but haven’t heard anything to do.

      You are very lucky to have heard some of his experiences first hand. I have his beautifully embroidered cards that were sent home to his Mum and I am planning to visit his only living Nephew in the next few weeks as I believe he was a well celebrated piper.

      The more you delve into this history the more interested I become!

      Thank again.

  5. Maree Notman says:

    Hi there

    I am undertaking research on my Great Uncle, Private Adam Notman who served in the 8th Battalion of the Royal Scots. He was originally a Piper. I am also getting information on various sites that he was part of the 13th Battalion of the Royal Scots and wondering if he was moved from the territorial army (8th Battalion) to the 13th to serve as a full time soldier? He was killed in action on 22 August 2017. I would be grateful for any information you can provide on him. I have all 4 of his medals and thanks to your site I have managed to confirm that the badge with the Green and Yellow ribbon was because he was part of the 8th Battalion – so many thanks for all the hard work that you do in bringing all this information together. Trying to do research is very overwhelming!

    Many thanks in advance.

    Maree Notman

    1. HanitaR says:

      Hi Maree,
      Thanks for your comments. I’m afraid we only deal with research relating directly to East Lothian. According to the Scottish War Memorial website, Private Adam Notman was born in Lasswade, Midlothian. Therefore, I suggest that you contact Midlothian Local Studies/Archives. You could also check the UK National Archives website and see if they have any info. Additionally, you could contact the Royal Scot Museum at Edinburgh Castle in case they have any diary entries, etc. It was quite common for service personnel to be moved between regiments or battalions during WW1.
      I wish you all the best with the rest of your research.

    2. Robert Rae says:

      Maree, my last post has a typo. Should say 15th Division

  6. Ian Rickwood says:

    I have just recently been given my Great-Grandfathers Efficiency Medal. He served in the 8th Royal Scots. Unfortunately the Green/Yellow ribbon is missing, how can I get a replacement ribbon so that I can proudly wear his medal in my local ANZAC day veterans march..??
    I am based in Australia but am happy to pay for postage/freight to get it here.
    Appreciate any help possible.

    1. FrancesW says:

      Hi Ian,

      I’m afraid the replacement of medal ribbons is not something we can help with. There is a number of companies online that will be able to help if you search for ‘military medal replacement ribbon’ you should be able to find one that can sell you a replacement.

      best wishes,

  7. Do you have any information on Private 2173 Frank WATTAN 2/8 Royal Scots.
    He is buried in Dublin and remembered on his grandparents headstone in Weaste Cemetery, Salford.
    Thats all I can find

    1. KateM says:

      Reply from Bill Wilson, Local History Officer: I’m sorry to say that I haven’t found any additional information for you. Perhaps if there had been an East Lothian connection we may have had a bit more luck. I tried looking on Ancestry in the hope of getting a medal card but drew a blank. One source that you could try is getting in touch with The Royal Scots museum which is based in Edinburgh castle. I’ve inserted the link to their contact page. I wish you luck in your search.

    2. Brenda K says:

      Hi Gerald

      I’ve located the following

      Acting Lance Corporal Frank Wattam is buried at Grangegorman Military Cemetery. Plot: CE. 660. Death date 16/02/1917. there is a photo of his headstone on findagrave.

      He was born in 1890 in Salford and originally was Formerly 36233, Notts and Derby Regt.

      I hope this is of some help. he was a distant cousin of my husband on his mothers side of the family.

  8. David says:

    Hello Steve

    Deciphering regimental numbers is an arcane art but there are some researchers who have worked at it. You’ll find some information on the website The Long, Long Trail but more particularly on its associated forum: try posting there.
    The original regimental numbers were a straightforward sequence, so if some are known, others can be interpolated; the renumbered 6 figure string is explained on the website itself.


    1. Steve Moffatt says:

      Thanks very much David.

  9. Steve Moffatt says:

    My error…..not my Great Uncle but my Great Great Uncle Alfred. Sorry.

  10. Steve Moffatt says:

    Hi David, by pure chance I found out this week that my Great Uncle Alfred Moffatt was a Private in the 1/8th Royal Scots. He enlisted in Consett, County Durham but I cannot find an enlistment date. He was a coal miner in Burnhope in the same county prior to enlistment. His Service Number was 335617 and Regimental Number was 8301. He went missing, aged 34, on 12th April 1918 presumed killed and is commemorated on the Ploegsteert Memorial for the Missing in Belgium. Can you advise how I might find out his date of enlistment so that apart from being killed at the 4th Battle of Ypres I could research his service history with the Pioneer battalion prior to his death. Many thanks in advance. Steve Moffatt (Ex R.A.V.C.)

  11. David says:

    Hello Yolanda

    John’s date of birth will be obtainable from Scotlandspeople, the online site of the national registers; you’ll also be able to track the family pre-war in the 1911, 1901 and earlier censuses – there is a small cost.

    The information recorded on the service records that survive is only as good as that tendered by the recruit and/or the care of the clerk taking down the info – plenty of scope for missing out key numbers – a case in point being your Robert Purves, where he and the clerk might have colluded to ensure that his correct DoB was NOT entered!

    It strikes me that John may not have reached 18 when he enlisted either.


  12. Yolanda Robertson says:

    I am researching a great uncle who was killed at the battle of the Somme, High Wood or Andre on 22/07/1916. He was a Royal Scot private, service no. 5137, 1/8th Devision. John Robert Crookston recorded as J. R. Crookston.
    I am looking for his date of birth as it does not appear on his service record. Could it be suggested how I acquire this and why it would not have been added in the first place?
    I have full information on another great uncle, Robert Purves, also a Royal Scot. His age when he died in action in 1918 is recorded as 19, he was only 15 when he enlisted with his mother’s consent. She, my great grandmother, never forgave herself. My mother had a memory as a 5 year old of standing with her grandmother at Leith Docks watching troop carriers come home at the end of the war. Her grandmother was inconsolable and could only repeat the word Robert over and over again.

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