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First World War » Timeline

An idea under construction .... a timeline of the First World War
including incidents from the life and times of Robert Robertson.


Name: Robert Spiers Robertson
Born: 17th September 1894
Address: 41 Bardowie Street, Glasgow, Scotland


June 28 - Archduke Ferdinand Francis assassinated
July 28 - Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia
August 1 - Germany declares war on Russia
August 3 - Germany declares war on France
August 3 - Belgium invaded by Germany
August 3 - Great Britain declares war on Germany

1914 - Enlisted - 13th September 1914

There were formed in Glasgow three of Kitchener's battalions known as the 1st Highland Light Infantry formed from tramway men, the 2nd H.L.I. formed from ex-members of the Boys Brigade and the 3rd H.L.I. formed from business men and the white collared classes generally which to some extent was a special mob in as much as the standard for acceptance was higher.

I went to enlist at the Glasgow Technical College in the 3rd H.L.I.

The three battalions commenced training at Barassie in Ayrshire under canvas but after three weeks mine was installed in private billets at nearby Troon and because of this preferential treatment nick names were improvised and we became known as Boozy First, the Holy Second and the Feather Bed Third.

From there we went to Preesheath camp in Shropshire.

Later we had spells at Totley near Sheffield for firing practice, Wensley Dale in Yorkshire then Salisbury Plain where we were joined by two other Brigades and now formed the 32nd Division.

It should be mentioned that the names of the three Glasgow battalions had been altered to the 15th, 16th and 17th Highland Light Infantry.


17th Highland Light Infantry

32nd Division


1915 - 22nd November - To France

After intensive training we sailed from Southampton at dead of night, in a crowded ship, each man equipped with a lifebelt and after a voyage of about nine hours arrived at Le Havre in France.

From there we proceeded North East on the long, tiresome railway journey in cattle trucks, sometimes stopping in open country for half an hour for no apparent reason, at other times moving at about 10 m.p.h. until eventually we arrived at the railhead some miles from Amiens, the sound of artillery fire gradually becoming louder.

From here we had to march along the straight roads lined with tall trees jammed with heavy traffic of transport of every description and every man had to carry everything that he possessed, including rifle, ammunition, blankets, spare boots, socks, holdall, canteen, waterproof sheet, bayonet, cutlery, etc., which was a terrific weight.

We covered probably 30 Kilometres per day and came to a village some ten miles behind the front line, the name of which I have forgotten, where we remained a week.

From there we moved to the small village of Bouzincourt, a few miles behind the trenches, and from here we could clearly see the cathedral at Albert with its high spire from which, in some miraculous manner, hung the statue of the Virgin Mary in a horizontal position.


Company of The Black Watch in the famed 51st Division

A few nights later our company went up to the front line for a space of 24 hours to join a company of the Black Watch in the famed 51st Division for instruction in trench duties and when going there passed through the ruined village of Aveluy, entering the leading up trenches at Crucifix Corner, all of which had British names such as Euston Road, Piccadilly, etc.

At this time I was a Private

A few days later my battalion went into our alloted sector of the Front Line.

There were the usual night patrols in No Mans Land and often raiding parties, and our battalion was moved to various parts of the line such as the Brickfields, Beaumont Hamel, to the right of Thiepval, Bapaume also in front of Albert where one part, known as La Boiselle, the lines were only a few yards apart and there was constant bombing by patrols for it was impossible to have fixed posts there.


1916 - June/July - Battle Of The Somme

Towards the end of June 1916 we were taken out of the line to a village ten miles behind where we underwent intensive training for the forthcoming Battle of the Somme, whilst for a whole week our guns thundered and roared.

On the evening of 30th June we proceeded up the front line trenches.

During our march we passed guns of every calibre standing almost wheel to wheel, and here it should be mentioned that i had been a member of a Lewis Machine Gun Team for several months.

Having taken up our positions in the front line, we stood shoulder to shoulder and the hours of darkness passed on so slowly, but we now knew that we were expected to capture the deserted Moquet Farm about a mile beyond the German lines in one hour. Actually it took several weeks to do so.

Exactly at 7.30 a.m. on 1st July, 1916, the order to advance was given and by means of short ladders provided we climbed over the parapet of the trenches into No Mans Land across which we strolled, for there was to be no running, (this would have been impossible in any case owing to the numerous shell craters) and to our far right could be seen the men of a Scottish Division kicking a football whilst on our flanks were the 15th and 16th H.L.I.

Soon we captured the first two German lines close to the Hindenberg Line where we were held up by the extensive fire, where, what had been deep trenches was then a shambles of a line about 2 feet deep with our men taking cover as best they could.

We were more fortunate then the 15th H.L.I. on our left, for despite all our heavy shelling the German barb wire had not been properly out and few, if any, of them reached the enemy front line, whilst the 16th H.L.I. on our right met with tremendous fire and only a few of them reached the second line.

After some 36 hours we were relieved by a Manchester battalion and returned to our own lines via an underground tunnel which had been dug by the Royal Engineers in preparation for our attack to within a few yards of German trenches, and when we had captured their front line an entrance was made from there to the tunnel by explosives and was used by stretcher bearers, etc. thus saving many lives.

We had gone into battle 1,000 strong and only about 130 returned excluding the wounded.


Promoted to Corporal of our Lewis Gun Team

After a period of rest, during which I was promoted to Corporal of our Lewis Gun team, we got our first small draft of about 20 men who were said to have come from a prison in Scotland, and we took up positions for a week in the front line which, owing to our small numbers, was scantily held, then after another week in the support trenches we returned to Bouzincourt where letters and parcels from home were handed to us.

We now got a large draft of men from the Highland Cycling Battalion who had been patrolling roads in Scotland, who received instruction in trench warfare, but this apparently had little effect on them for when next we went up the line they talked loudly, smoked, even showed flash lights, the result being that within half an hour we were shelled and suffered many casualties.



In mid-November 1916 Robert Robertson was in action at Beaumont-Hamel.

According to the 17th HLI Record of War Service 1914-1918:

"The attack which commenced at ten minutes past six on the morning on November 18th -- a day of ice-covered slushiness -- was held up owing to the insufficiency of the artillery barrage and the heavy enemy machine gun fire."
"On the 19th the Battalion was relieved and returned to Mailly-Maillet where billets were taken over...."
"During December the unit carried on training at Franqueville and Rubempré...."
"On Christmas Day, 1916, the officers beat the sergeants at Rugby by 11 points to 0; in the afternoon "B" Company beat Headquarters at Association by 4 goals to 0; and in the evening the Battalion held a cheery concert. The Christmas Dinners were reserved for the 30th, and on Hogmanay the New Year was welcomed with a concert."

During this period are the 'French' Letters ....

-- 27th November\December(?) 1916
-- 28th December 1916
-- 19th February 1917
-- 20th February 1917

After 14 months service in France I became due for leave

Shortly after my return from leave I was interviewed by our Brigadier General and sent back to England for training at the Machine Gun Corps Officers Cadet training camp at Bisley.

With about a 100 new officers I was sent to Clapstone camp near Mansfield for training.


26th September 1917 --- Promoted to 2nd Lieutenant


10th October 1917 --- 4th Battalion MGTC Officer's Pass


Machine Gun Corps Company attached to the 16th Irish Division

I returned to France where I was posted to the Machine Gun Corps company attached to the 16th Irish Division where we had spells in and out of the trenches and at one period the snow was so heavy and the cold so intense that our Vickers gunners had to keep the gun locks in their pockets to prevent them from being frozen.

(Mentions snow so I guess it's now the winter of 1917/1918)


31st March, 1918

On the morning of 31st March, 1918, in thick mist, the Germans attacked with the results that most of our company were killed, wounded or missing.

I took command of two reserve teams which were forced gradually to retreat until at one time we arrived at a newly dug trench about 3 feet deep stocked with provisions and manned by cooks, clerks, batmen, etc., for we were terribly short of men.

As we retreated we were in constant touch with the enemy and indeed, at one point where our artillery had been unable to get away in time, they were firing point blank at the advancing Germans.

My men were cold, tired and hungry, but we had to keep on retreating, passing through deserted villages at one of which, Villers Bretlanaux I think, I was followed by a little calf mooing for its mother.

Eventually we came to Peronne and crossing the bridge I posted one team on the river bank but finding that the other team was missing I borrowed a horse from a Quarter Sergeant and was about to re-cross the bridge into Peronne to look for it when I was warned by a Canadian major there I had only five minutes in which to return as he intended to blow up the bridge then.

I galloped through the deserted streets where all was quiet, but nobody could be seen, so I quickly returned to my No.1 team where we all lay down close to the bridge without any shelter whatever. I believe I was the last man to cross the bridge for suddenly with loud detonations it was blown up and large pieces of metal, etc., came hurtling down all around us, but fortunately no one was hurt.

We remained at our post all night and could hear the Germans making merry in the British canteen across the river, but to my pleasure we were rejoined by No.2 team which had been lost in the general mix up.

Next day the retreat was again carried out under orders, for many miles, until we arrived at a line decided upon for the final stand, where we found that many reinforcements had arrived and here the German advance was stopped.


16th Irish Division disbanded

I understand that the 16th Irish Division had to be disbanded owing to the heavy losses (though I cannot vouch for this) so with other officers I was sent south to a regrouping camp.


M.G.C. Company of the 50th Division

I was then sent up the line and joined the M.G.C. company of the 50th Division and after several spells in the trenches we were sent to a new sector which had always been held by the French and we were the only British Division there.

After several spells in the line we were sent out one night to take up position on the high ground of the Chemin des Dames not many miles from the city of Rheims, overlooking a large valley probably 500 feet below.


27th May, 1918

In the early hours of 27th May, 1918, the Germans commenced a massive attack on the far flanks of the French Divisions - not ours - and though we did not know it we were soon completely surrounded, thousands of French soldiers were captured six miles behind us and it was several hours later before the Germans pounced on us from all sides when we had no chance whatever of resisting. The whole of our company were captured and it was whilst here that I was slightly gassed.

(From the information in Robert's "My Memories of the First World War" and in the first letter written home from the Stralsund-Dänholm POW Camp (to his father David) it is thought that the battle at which Robert was captured was the Third Battle of the Aisne)

The officers including our own O.C. were segregated and marched to a barbed wire enclosure. After a few days all officers, most of whom were French and appeared to be about 1,000 in number, were paraded in ranks of four and the long march northwards was commenced in sunny, very hot, weather. It was exhausting and as we passed through villages which were occupied by the Germans, many French women came running out to us with jugs of water but they were flung aside or threatened with bayonets by our German guards.

We stopped at various prison camps by night eventually arriving at Karlserve where we were separated from the French officers and from here we were taken by train, passing through Berlin, until we ultimately arrived at Stralsund on the Baltic Sea from which we were taken by ferry boat to the island of Danholm.


28th June 1918

Offizier-Gefangenenlager (document)


11th November 1918

We were informed when the Armistice was signed.


17th December 1918

We were released on the 17th December when we sailed to Copenhagen and spent nine pleasant days in Denmark where the people were most kind to us.


24th December 1918

Christmas Eve (newspaper front cover)
Helsingør (translates to "Elsinore") is north-east of Copenhagen.
Robert must have spent Christmas here, and bought the newspaper.

Sometime after Christmas embarked for England and arrived in Scotland on the 31st December, 1918 - just in time to begin 'a Guid New Year'.


3rd January 1919

Victory Dinner Menu, The Grand Hotel, Charing Cross, Glasgow


11th June 1919

Statement from the War Office



Germany invades Belgium.
Britain declares war on Germany.
Japan joins the Allied forces: Ottoman Empire soon joins the Central Powers.
War spreads to the seas.

June 28            Archduke Ferdinand Francis assassinated
July 28            Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia
Aug 1              Germany declared war on Russia
Aug 3              Germany declared war on France
Aug 3              Belgium was invaded by Germany
Aug 3              Great Britain declared war on Germany
Sep 1 - Oct 3      Austrians lost in the Battle of Lemburg
Oct 30             Turkey joined the Central Powers


Women take up men's jobs.
Stalemate continues on the Western Front.
The Lusitania passenger liner is sunk, with 1,200 lives lost.
London attacked from the air by German Zeppelins.

Feb 18             Germany attempted to blockade Great Britain
Apr 22             Germans first used chloride poisonous gas
May 7              German submarine sank the British ship Lusitania
May 23             Italy declared war on Austria-Hungary


Conscription for men aged between 18 and 41.
A million casualties in ten months: Germany aims to 'bleed France white'.
At sea the Battle of Jutland takes place.
Armed uprisings in Dublin: the Irish Republic is proclaimed.

Jan 9              British troops withdraw from Gallipoli
Feb 21 - Dec 15    The Allies stop Germans in the Battle of Verdun
April 29           10,000 British troops surrender to the Turks
June 4             Russian began an offensive in eastern Galicia
July 1 - Nov 18    The Allies progress in the Battles of the Somme
Sep 15             British Army first used tanks



German Army retreats to the Hindenburg Line.
United States joins the war and assists the Allies.
Tank, submarine and gas warfare intensifies.
Royal family change their surname to Windsor to appear more British.

Feb 1              Germany first used submarine warfare
Apr 6              The USA declared war on Germany
June 26            First American troops land in France
July 31 - Aug 9    Germans break Russia's last offensive
July 31 - Nov 10   Germans stop Allies in the Third Battle of Ypres
Nov 7              Bolsheviks take over Russia
Nov 20 - Dec 3     Allies made first tank attack in the Battle of Cambrai
Dec 9              Jerusalem fell to the Allies
Dec 15             Russia signs armistice with Germany


Germany launches major offensive on the Western Front.
Allies launch successful counter-offensives at the Marne and Amiens.
Armistice signed on November 11, ending the war at 11am.
In Britain, a coalition government is elected and women over 30 succeed
 in gaining the vote.

Jan 8              US President Wilson reveals "Fourteen Points" for peace
Mar 3              Russian signs Treaty of Brest-Litovsk
Mar 3              Allied forces reduced
Mar 21 - Jun 15    Germany and Austria-Hungary fight the last great offensive
Sep 26             Allies begin their last attach on the western front
Sep 29             Bulgaria sign an armistice
Oct 30             The Ottoman Empires signs an armistice
Nov 3              Austria-Hungary signs an armistice
Nov 11             Germany signs an armistic
Nov 11             Fighting finally ended

Related Features

  • My Memories of WWI, by Robertson S Robertson
    In 1967 Robert Robertson entered a Lincolnshire essay competition with his story "My Memories of WWI".
  • Timeline 1914-1919
    A timeline of the First World War including incidents from the life and times of Robert Spiers Robertson.
  • Image Gallery
    Photos used throughout the WW1 section plus various other documents & images from this WWI period.