31ST JULY 1917 AGE 20


War Diary 6th Battalion Seaforth Highlanders
31 July 1917
Trenches: map reference St Julien 28. N.W.2.
The Fifth Army attacked the German lines North of Ypres this morning at dawn and the Battalion took part in the attack, jumping off at 3.50 am. The objective - Mon du Basta and Mon Bulgare - were reached but the fighting still continues.

The 6th Battalion Seaforth Highlanders were part of the 51st Highland Division whose divisional history summed up the battle over the two days 31 July and 1 August as:

"the neatest and cleanest performance which the Division had carried out. It was delivered against the Germans while their fighting efficiency was still unimpaired, and while their numbers were still unappreciably diminished. Moreover, it was delivered against a position hidden from view, which had been deliberately fortified during the preceding years with every artifice the ingenuity of the Boche could devise, and contained the concrete barrage-proof farms and the entirely unexpected concrete blockhouses.
The success, indeed, was so complete that, even after the battle was over, nothing which could have been an improvement in the plan of attack suggested itself."

The action was considered to have been a success. However, over those two days the Division suffered 1,515 other-rank casualties - killed, wounded and missing. Private Sandilands was one of them. It's a figure that is incomprehensible to us in 2017; fifteen would be too many let alone ten times that. But as the eminent historian, Jay Winter, comments in his most recent book, War Beyond Words, this was an era when people considered war to be a legitimate tool of political life. It's not how people see it in Western Europe today, in part as a consequence of the First World War's gigantic casualties. We can hope that in another hundred years perhaps the whole world will see it this way

Private Sandiland's father, Robert Sandiland, chose his inscription. It comes from The Hour of Death by the early Victorian poet, Felicia Hemans. Everything in the world has a time - for sleeping, eating, sun rise, sun set, autumn, spring, summer, but death can come at any time:

Leaves have their time to fall,
And flowers to wither at the north-wind's breath,
And stars to set - but all,
Thou hast all seasons for thine own, oh! death