McCulloch Clan: Soldier from WW1

#52 Ancestors 52 Weeks: Week 7 Outcast or Cast out!

Grandfather: Alexander McCulloch Service Number: 279215

World War 1

The daily life of soldiers in the trenches during the Battles of the Hindenburg Line in World War I was characterized by extreme physical and mental hardship. Conditions in the trenches were often miserable, with soldiers facing exposure to the elements, disease, and constant danger from enemy fire. Alex McCulloch was there with other soldiers of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders during 1917-1918.

A typical day in the trenches might start before dawn with “stand-to,” when soldiers would take their positions in readiness for a potential enemy attack. The day would then be spent performing various duties such as digging, repairing trenches, and carrying supplies. Meals were usually basic and unappetizing, consisting of canned food and biscuits.

At night, soldiers would attempt to get some sleep, often in cramped and uncomfortable conditions. They would also be on the lookout for enemy infiltrators and would engage in trench raids when opportunities arose.

The constant threat of enemy attack and the stressful, monotonous nature of trench warfare took a heavy toll on the mental health of soldiers. Many suffered from anxiety, depression, and shell shock, a condition now known as a post-traumatic stress disorder.

In addition to the physical and mental hardships, soldiers also faced the constant danger of disease, such as trench foot, caused by exposure to wet and unsanitary conditions, and lice, which were rampant in the trenches.

Despite the difficult conditions, soldiers were often buoyed by a sense of camaraderie and a shared purpose, and they remained committed to the fight. However, the experience of trench warfare was brutal and had a lasting impact on the men who lived through it.

Not so for our brave soldier Private: Alex McCulloch of the 8th Battalion.

WAR DIARY extract

The Argylls had come to know WW1 well (his deadly activities on the front were recorded in the war diary written by the commander of the 2nd Battalion, Major D. M. Murray Lyon M.C.), but they believed themselves to be worthy adversaries. They had their orders ready to go and were strong and determined to succeed; however, WW1 was ready too and threw everything it had against the allied troops.

The Argylls, along with the allied troops, continued to survive in the foul, lice and mice-infested trenches, during the Third Battle of Ypres (31 July – 6 November 1917). WW1 had begun to weaken and retreat, or so the Arylls thought. The British Commander-in-Chief, General Haig, was of the belief that the German Army was weak and would not withstand an attempted breakthrough in the northeast of the Ypres Salient. He was wrong!

WW1 divided, maneuvered, and persisted throughout 8 phases in the fateful year of 1917:

  • Battle of Pilckem Ridge (31 July – 2 August 1917)
  • Battle of Langemarck, 1917 (16 – 18 August 1917)
  • Battle of the Menin Road Ridge (20 – 25 September 1917)
  • Battle of Polygon Wood (26 September – 3 October 1917)
  • Battle of Broodseinde (4 October 1917)
  • Battle of Poelcapelle (9 October 1917)
  • First Battle of Passchendaele (12 October 1917)
  • Second Battle of Passchendaele (26 October – 10 November 1917)

WW1 was developing clever strategies to overcome his enemies and he was buoyed by his small victories during 1917 and the loss of thousands of Allied troops in the trenches. He was relentless – his goal was set on winning.

The Argylls had suffered many losses, but Alexander was still standing, still fighting right up to October 3 in 1918. WW1 had engaged with the allied troops in the 100 Days Offensive and was staunchly defending his Hindenberg Line.

12 September – 12 October 1918, the Battles of the Hindenburg Line. A series of very large-scale offensive operations advanced to break the Hindenburg Line system.


Burying the War Dead

In October 1918, as the war was drawing to a close, there were still many casualties being incurred, and the process of burying the war dead was often hurried and disorganized. Bodies were sometimes buried in makeshift graves close to the battlefield, or in mass graves, without proper identification or record-keeping. In some cases, bodies were left unburied for long periods of time due to the difficulties of recovering them from the battlefield.

After the war, efforts were made to locate and identify the remains of soldiers who had been buried in temporary or unmarked graves. This was done through a process of exhumation and reburial, which was carried out by specially trained units, often composed of soldiers from the Graves Registration Commission.

The process of exhumation involved locating graves and carefully removing the bodies, along with any personal effects or identification tags. The remains were then taken to a centralized collection point, where they were cleaned, identified, and recorded before being reburied in military cemeteries. This process was often complicated by a large number of remains, and the difficulties of identifying bodies that had been buried without proper documentation.

In the inside breast pocket of Alex’s tunic were his wallet and pay book and several photos, each damaged by the bullet that killed him. These items belonging to Private: Alex McCulloch, were retrieved and sent home. A stark and confronting memory for his family, especially his young wife Helen and their three young children.

The reburial of the war dead in military cemeteries in France was a significant undertaking, and it was carried out over many years after the end of the war. The cemeteries were carefully designed and laid out, with standardized headstones and other markers to identify the graves. The graves were also carefully tended and maintained, with ongoing efforts to locate and identify missing soldiers.

Today, many of these military cemeteries in France are important sites of remembrance and commemoration for those who lost their lives in the war, and they are visited by people from around the world who come to pay their respects to the fallen.

One such cemetery is Philosophe British Cemetery at Mazingarbe at Pas de Calais in France where Private: Alex McCulloch of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders is buried.

Brief History of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders in WW1 Battles

1/8th (The Argyllshire) Battalion Territorial Force
04.08.1914 Stationed at Dunoon, Argyll as part of the s part of the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders Brigade of the Highland Division and then moved to Bedford.
15.04.1915 Transferred to the 1st Highland Brigade.
May 1915 Mobilised for war and landed in France.
12.05.1915 The formation became the 152nd Brigade of the 51st Division and engaged in various actions on the Western front including;
The Battle of Festubert, The Second Action of Givenchy.
The attacks on High Wood, The Battle of the Ancre.
The First Battle of the Scarpe, The Second Battle of the Scarpe, The capture and defense of Roeux, The Battle of Pilkem Ridge, The Battle of Menin Road Ridge, The tank attack, The capture of Bourlon Wood, The German counterattacks,.
07.02.1918 Transferred to the 183rd Brigade of the 61st Division.
The Battle of St Quentin, The Actions at the Somme Crossings, The Battle of Estaires, The Battle of Hazebrouck, and The Battle of Bethune.
01.06.1918 Transferred to the 45th Brigade of the 15th Division absorbing surplus personnel from the 11th Battalion.
The First Battle of Arras, The Battle of the Soissonais, The attack on Buzancy, and The Final Advance in Artois.
11.11.1918 Ended that war south of Leuze, Belgium.

Private: Alex McCulloch Letter home

Dear Helen,

I hope this letter finds you and our dear children in good health. As for myself, I am safe and well, but as you can imagine, these are dark times for all of us. I am writing this letter from the trenches in the week leading up to the Battle of the Hindenburg Line. It is hard to express the feelings that are stirring within me as we prepare for what could be the most important battle of the war. I do know that this has been the second most important thing to have happened to me in my life, the first being my marriage to you.

The enemy is close, and the tension in the air is palpable. We can hear their artillery pounding in the distance, and the air is thick with the smell of cordite and mud. The rain is constant, and the mud is so deep it sucks at our boots with each step. But despite all this, I have never felt closer to my comrades. We are all in this together, and we will fight until the end to protect our country and our loved ones.

As I write this letter, my thoughts turn to you and our beautiful children. I think of Mary’s infectious laughter, Alexander’s cheeky smile, and little Jane’s bright eyes. The photo of you all, that we had done before I left home, is with me at all times. I miss you all so much, and I can’t wait to come home to you. But for now, I must focus on the task at hand.

Please know that you are always in my thoughts and in my heart. I love you more than words could ever express, and I long for the day when we can be together again. Until then, please take care of yourselves, and know that I am doing everything in my power to keep you safe.

Yours always,


An imagined letter home from the front.

Memorial to the Falkirk Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders

There is a memorial to the Falkirk Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. The memorial is located in Callendar Park in Falkirk, Scotland. The park is open to the public and can be accessed free of charge.

The memorial is a stone obelisk that was erected in 1903 to honor the soldiers of the 1st Battalion of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders who fought in the Boer War. The memorial was later updated to include the names of soldiers who died in World War I and World War II.

Since then many memorials have been built in the towns and villages of those countries from which our brave soldiers were born but sadly were not able to return home.

This post is a tribute to the men of the 1st/8th Battalion Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, and in particular to the memory of Grandfather Alex McCulloch, son of Alexander McCulloch and Jane Hodge Laird, born in 1892 in Skinflats, Bothkennar, Scotland. Married Helen Wright Fish in 1912. You’ll find her story in a previous post.

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