First World War Poetry Digital Archive

William Binning's Military Life

William applied for a commission in the army in December 1914. He had been eighteen in September. He was appointed as a Second Lieutenant to the 11th Battalion The Cameronians (Scottish Rifles). He spent most of January 1915 training in Stirling. He graduated third out of twenty nine fellow officers and at the beginning of February went down to the Bristol area to join the 11thBattalion. He spent the next nine months training at Sutton Venny. He turned nineteen in September and on the 3rd of October he crossed to France to join the 9th Battalion which had suffered serious losses during the Battle of Loos. His telegram to his parents, sent from Folkestone, reads ‘Crossing
tonight. Cheer oh’.

The 9th Battalion, part of the 28th Brigade of the 9th(Scottish) Division, was based at this time at Dikkebus and went into the Front line in Armagh Wood to the south east of Ypres. William did not keep up his diary writing during this period so all we have to connect him with this time is a letter he wrote to his father in November when he talks about though does not name the Cloth Hall in ruins which he had seen on his way up to the front. In December he fell ill with an abscess in his mouth which was serious enough to have him hospitalised for two weeks at Etaples.

When he rejoined his battalion he found he had been transferred to the newly created Machine Gun Corps. He spent the whole of January 1916 retraining and recorded in his diary that there was plenty of time for pleasure. He rejoined the 9th Division as an officer in the 28th Machine Corps Company. He also knew by this time that his second star had been agreed by Division but the War Office seems to have taken its time to ratify his promotion to Lieutenant. The 9th Division was now based at Le Bizet between Plugsteert and Armentieres and William’s battalion went into the Front line at the village of Le Touquet which straddles the Belgian- French border.

From his diary we find out that his unit spent six days in the trenches and then six days out usually staying at a farm called Grand Rabeque which was still within range of the German guns. Most of his work in this area was concerned with improving the emplacements for the machine guns. Apart from this his main concerns were that of any soldiers – letters and parcels from home. In particular, he looked forward to letters from Jane (Jean) Kelso whom he had fallen in love with though he still wrote letters to his old girlfriend Margaret and she to him. Jean was also a pupil at William’s old school and she had been Dux of the school in 1914. It is not known when they first got to know each other – presumably when William was on leave from training during 1915. It is claimed by William’s family that they became engaged on William’s last leave home when Jean was still several days short of her sixteenth birthday. William records in his diary somewhat enigmatically ‘Our Happy Day’ two days before his return to France. Throughout March and April William records his constant back and forth to the trenches, the regular afternoon strafe, the artillery bombardments and trench mortar fire which he particularly hates. Every week too there is a mention of a fellow officer or member of his unit being wounded or killed. He seems, however, to hate the bad weather almost as much as the enemy guns. But if he was becoming increasingly fatalistic about his future this not conveyed in the diary but may well have been sensed in his many letters at this time which sadly no longer exist. His last entry in his diary is for the 22 April ‘Relief to Trenches.’

From an account given later to his father he was wounded in the abdomen by machine gun fire when he was supervising his machine guns going into their emplacements on the night of 22/23 April. He was removed to Casualty Clearing station No 2 in Bailleul where he was operated on. But he died at 3.05pm on the 24April having lost consciousness only 30 minutes before. He must have been aware that he was going to die. He was buried next day in Bailleul Communal Cemetery. He was nineteen and a half year old.

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