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The First World War Diary of Alexander Henry McIntosh

As part of the First World War Centenary, Fife Archives has been highlighting different aspects of their collection related to the experience of Fifers during the War.  Letters, maps, diaries and other documents in the Archives provide unique insight into the War and life on the Home Front.  One such resource is the diary of Alexander Henry McIntosh, a soldier from Fife who joined the London Scottish in 1914.  Two copies of Henry’s original diary are kept in the Archives. The copies were found with legal and family papers belonging to Patrick G Fergusson (Henry’s cousin). The entries were transcribed by Archives volunteer Neil Haldane. Carolyn Johnston has checked the entries against the War Unit Diary from the National Archives UK.

Alexander Henry McIntosh was born in London on the 26th of June 1893; the eldest of seven children.  He was the grandson of A.H. McIntosh, Cabinetmaker, who was the founder of what became one of Kirkcaldy’s longest surviving industries. 

At the beginning of the First World War, many men working at McIntosh’s Victoria Cabinet Works would have joined up to fight in the conflict.  The furniture company was also involved in the war effort making aeroplane wings and other aeroplane parts – at this time wings would have been made from thin plywood frames with fabric stretched across them.

Henry’s father, Thomas Wishart McIntosh (1861–1933), was responsible for overseeing the McIntosh office in London. Henry was working there when the war started.

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Henry was educated at Dollar Academy. He joined the Officer Training Corps. When he left school he worked at McIntosh’s in Kirkcaldy before moving to London.

According to the Fifeshire Advertiser, Henry joined the London Scottish in 1912. They were a territorial unit made up of Scots living in London. The 14th London Scottish Battalion were mobilised on 4th August 1914. Henry served as a Private. From the clues in his diary we think that Henry was in F Company.  

Henry sailed from Southampton to France on 15th September. He spent most of October guarding and unloading ammunition trains. At the end of October his unit saw action in the First Battle of Ypres.

Henry died in Boulogne on the 22nd of November 1914 as a result of wounds received at Ypres.  The extract we have from his diary is short but illustrates clearly both his travels and travails as he journeys from Britain to France; eventually receiving his fatal wound on November the 12th

Over the next few weeks we’ll share some of Henry’s diary entries as his unit readies for battle via Twitter at @onfifemuseums and the Fife’s Great War website.  Below are entries made from 3 August to 26 October 1914, which provide little insights into his life as a soldier.  As the anniversary of the First Battle of Ypres approaches, look for more information about the overall battle and additional information from the War Unit Diary.

Aug 3rd

Left for camp 5 A.M. from [Headquarters]

Aug 4th

Orders to return to [Headquarters] at 10:30 P.M.

Aug 6th

Territorials mobilised

Aug 16th

Battalion left for St Albans marched to Edgeware

Aug 17th

Arrived at Garston Watford stationed at Rifle Range

Aug 23rd

Jean, May, Jim & John Collyer called; had a good time

Sept 1st

Vida and William Guthrie called on us but only had a few minutes as we had a night attack on

Sept 6th

Grand day went into Watford, met May & Vida. Had tea in the garden of Hotel Claridon, father joined us later

Sept 11th

Battalion manoeuvres day

Sept 12th

F Company attacked D Company started out 9 AM returned victorious at 4:30 PM. All wet

Father & mother called

Sept 13th

Very cloudy. Vida & May came up had tea in a field in front

Sept 14th

Showery day – got our new rifles – inspection by Gen. Franklin.

Father & Sandy called in the evening

Sept 15th

Left Garston for France at 9 A.M. arrived Southampton 1:30

Left Southampton 6:30 PM splendid send off had a most glorious voyage

Slept in a coal bunk

Sept 16th

Boat arrived at Havre 5 A.M. started to unload transport & horses, had breakfast on board, disembarked at 10:30 AM.

Did one or two fatigues left for Le Mans at 5 PM in cattle trucks.

People fed us with fruit when the train stopped.

Sept 17th

Arrived at Le Mans at 8:20 a.m.

Marched to our billets at the top of a hill, it is an old church & theatre, very dirty & cold place, very heavy rain after dinner

Sept 18th

Had to do 24 hours guard. Sun warm greater part of the day.

Sept 19th

Route march 9 miles

Apples given us by French peasants

Sept 20th

Church parade in morning

No kitchen as yet, still bully beef & biscuits

Sept 21st

Glorious day route march 12 miles feet very sore blisters on heel

Sept 22nd

Grand day – sick with sore feet, under the doctor light duty

Sept 23rd

Grand day. Still under the doctor light duty

Preparing to leave at 6:30 PM came back at 8:30

Sept 24th

Left Le Mans for Villeneuve St George travelled in a third class carriage, very enjoyable journey, arrived at Villeneuve at 12:30 PM

Load food supplies for G and H company going to Rouen.

Sept 25th

Grand day.

Fatigue loading & sorting an ammunition train light shells weighed 126 lbs heavy 142 lbs.

Alistair & Co. arrived from Havre & Rouen

Sept 26th

Beautiful day another fatigue day shell loading

Sept 27th

Grand day. Fatigue loading train with shells. Evening went to Villeneuve met 1st Lieutenant in Camerons.

Sept 28th

Grand day. Unloading train full of artillery sighting poles & barrels

Sept 29th

Grand day. Slack day Villeneuve in the evening

Sept 30th

Glorious day. Fatigue making tent for R.Q. instruments under L. C. Latham

Oct 1st

Grand day. Sorting the mail bags. Walked to Choisy Le Roi took train within 1 mile of Paris

Oct 2nd

Grand day. Fatigue unloading wagons of barrels & poles.

Villeneuve in the evening.

Oct 3rd

Grand day. Company on duty mounted guard at 6 PM over provision train dismissed at 6 AM

Oct 4th

Grand day. Fatigue petrol train unloading ammunition. Fatigue in the afternoon saw first lot of Indian troops officers orderlies.

Oct 5th

Grand day slightly dull. F Company on duty – quarter guard 24 hours. G & H Company arrived at 4:30 AM from Rouen

A & D left 5 AM for advanced base

Oct 6th

Grand day.

Very slack, went to Choisy Le Roi in the evening

Oct 7th

Grand day – very slack

Post bag fatigue in the afternoon

Went to Villeneuve in the evening

Oct 8th

Grand warm day

Fatigue loading bundles of daily mails for the front.

Villeneuve in the evening all the lights went off & left the town in darkness

Oct 9th

Grand day

F Company on duty. Quartermasters fatigue 10 AM – 12:30. Slack afternoon

Mounted guard over supply train at 6 PM until 6 AM

Stragglers of all regiments slept in billet

Oct 10th

Grand day

Fatigue carried in daily mails for loading on train for the front

Villeneuve in the evening

Oct 11th

Glorious day

Carried in the wounded from a hospital train

Church parade

Choisy Le Roi in the evening met a very nice lady spoke English

Oct 12th

Very warm

Fatigue letter bags

Musketry parade 11 o’clock

Route march round the back of Villeneuve – saw large fort & some houses knocked away for a field of fire

Villeneuve in the evening

Oct 13th

Dull & slight rain

F Company on duty

Musketry parade 10:30 AM

6 men of Rouen prisoners guard

Oct 14th

Very wet

F Company on duty

Cooks fatigue all day

Left Villie 10:30 PM train left 3 AM in cattle trucks

Oct 15th

Dull day

Passed Versailles, Mantes,Vernon; arrived Rouen

G Company left started for Boulogne 4:30 PM F & C Company

Rained the greater part of the night

Oct 16th

Arrived Abbeville at 4 PM the new HQ of the 1.9 C, Rue Staples, Hesdynent, Boulogne

4 PM slept in station all night

Oct 17th

Marched to our billet 15 minutes from station

Funeral parade to docks for Major Hamilton – L. C. Latham & 4 men over to England

Oct 18th

Church parade English Church

Mounted guard at 10:30 PM on ammunition train

Oct 19th

Wet day

Still on guard saw several train loads of India troops

Oct 20th

Relief guard came at 10 AM

F Company under Lt. Allsop returned from Bremen

Oct 21st

M.P.on the Bires Bridge under Sgt. Field

Came off P. duty at 11 PM

Oct 22nd

Fatigue transport; innoculated second time

Funeral for 3 British soldiers

Received father’s parcel

Oct 23rd

Escort German prisoners train did not arrive

Had the rest of the day easy, bad arm

Oct 24th

Guard on ammunition train also supply train

Oct 25th

Guard on supply train

Oct 26th

Funeral party

Oct 27th

Up at 2:30 ready to move for Bethune left 6 PM

Arrived at St Omer 10:30 PM march to trench barracks

Oct 28th

Whole Battalion here, made barracks clean.

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Model of AEC London Bus © IWM (MOD 354)

Oct 29th

Musketry in morning

Orders to move at 3 PM, travelled by bus through Cassil to Ypres

Billeted in town hall

Oct 30th

Stand too

Ready 10 AM moved off to the firing line, too late to go into action

Came back to Ypres, motored to St Eglise, billeted in barn

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Crown Copyright – From London Scottish War Unit Diary in National Archives UK -their ref WO/95/1266/2

Oct 31st

Left at 6:30 AM, marched through rough ground all morning under shell fire

Arrived in Coulon field after being shelled out of town

First Company went with the French, badly cut up

F Company retired, entrenched for the night

Advance again went into the trenches, firing all night

Farm house on fire, villages all on fire round about

## Carbineers [6.P.G ?] entrenched with us

Bayonet charge that night

Nov 1st

Shell fire started at dawn

F Company retired into wood

20 under Lt. Allsop & Sgt. Purvis charged after 7 AM, badly cut up, Lt. Allsop killed & Sgt. Purvis killed, many wounded

Nov 2nd

Retired to a small town, spent the remainder of the day then billeted at night

Breakfast in a field, took it easy all day, billeted again at night

Nov 3rd

Left St Clytte, marched till 2:30 PM

Had dinner in field, marched again, billeted in farm for the night

Nov 4th

Inspection by Brig. Gen. Sir Smith Dorien & Sir Francis Morland

Went into Balliene spent evening

Nov 5th

Easy day, went into town.

H. A.C & Artisan Corps came into Balliene

Nov 6th

Marched into town for equipment, spent the afternoon in the town

Very cold night

Nov 7th

Cleaned rifles for Sgt. Major in the morning

Stand too afternoon

Left Balliene 4:30 PM, marched all night to Ypres, all flames, still further to an old church, slept there until 4:30 AM

Nov 8th

Left billet, went into wood adjoining & got into holes in the ground

Grand cover from aeroplanes

Left wood, marched to another to join 1st Division, left there to join 3rd Division

Nov 9th

Marched all night, arrived at wood where 3rd Division were entrenched, took up our positions

Nov 10th

Heavy fighting all night & day, farm in front shelled by our artillery

Attacked at night, retired from road to wood, now entrenched on the front right.

Nov 11th

Heavy shelling on us

Heavy firing all day

Great thunder storm

Nov 12th

Grand day

Went for water to farm, returned

Alaister & I fell asleep & got shelled by J. J.* smashed both our legs

6 boys did their best to carry me to dressing station

I don’t know what became of Alaister

* Jack Johnson: A German shell which explodes with black smoke.

Nov 13th

## Both legs dressed, carried to village on [?] intended for officers

Motored to Ypres, stayed at Poperinghe for night, been dressed again

Nov 14th

Left Poperinghe for the train for Bologne

Arrived at Bologne, taken to Casino Hospital, now having a very comfortable time

Nov 15th

Dr Martin dressed my legs, a very nice man

Getting on grand, we had a little service this evening

Then his father wrote:

Rev. George Thomson officiating read the first 13 verses of 11th chapter of St Luke

On Nov 21st his father wrote:

Read for me the first eleven verses of the 12th chapter of Hebrews (this at Henry’s request)

Nov 22nd

Died at 1:30 in the morning

Nov 24th

Remains left Boulogne

Nov 26th

Arrived at Kirkcaldy

Nov 28th

Buried in Kirkcaldy Cemetery

And so finished this gentle young life.