Scot who led troops into Battle of Loos remembered

The bloody aftermath of the battle. Picture: Hulton Archive/Getty Images
The bloody aftermath of the battle. Picture: Hulton Archive/Getty Images
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AS commemorative events begin this Friday to mark the centenary of the Battle of Loos, a family has shared letters and photographs of a Scottish commander who led his men into battle but died of his injuries.

Lieutenant Colonel John Stansfeld, of the 2nd Battalion Gordon Highlanders, was injured within minutes of the battle which started on 25 September 1915 in Northern France.

Lt Col Stansfeld died of his wounds aged just 35

Lt Col Stansfeld died of his wounds aged just 35

But he was able to observe the fighting from a foxhole for the next hour or so before being carried out on a trench ladder. He died three days later, aged 35, in a field dressing station at Choques.

Half the 72 battalions taking part in the three-month battle belonged to Scottish regiments. Of the 30,000 Scots who fought, 7,000 were killed.

Almost 60,000 British soldiers lost their lives.

Among Lt Col Stansfeld’s family’s mementoes are hand-written minute-by-minute battle orders, which include a codeword for poison gas - this was the first battle in which the British Army had deployed chlorine gas.

There is also an account from Lance Corporal John Burgan, a runner for Lt Col Stansfeld, who spoke to him on the evening before the battle.

Edward Stansfeld, 49, from Montrose, Angus, the great grandson of Lt Col Stansfeld, who was from Inverugie near Peterhead, Aberdeenshire, and was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his bravery in the Boer War aged 19, said: “It’s all very moving in some ways.

“He was clearly somebody his colleagues regarded very highly. Thousands of people were killed and we are lucky to have all these nice words about him.” The timetable for artillery begins: “0.38 (referring to 38 minutes after the start of bombardment) - At the moment the accessory (codeword for poison gas) ceases, wire-cutters and scouts, if required, will at once advance. Companies will get out of trench and prepare to 

L Cpl Burgan, who communicated with Lt Col Stansfeld’s widow, told her “he (Burgan) had a strong feeling that Johnnie felt he would be hit the evening before”.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who along with the Duke and Duchess of Rothesay will attend Scotland’s national commemorative events in Dundee on Saturday, said: “With around 30,000 Scots serving at Loos, its effect was felt throughout every village and town in Scotland.

“The weekend of national commemorations will be a fitting tribute to those that fought, those that died and those that were left at home.”

Over 1,000 people are expected to attend the service in Dundee City Square at 12 noon after a parade by the armed services and veterans.

The square will become a “cathedral” with clerics representing the Church of Scotland, the Scottish Episcopal Church and the Roman Catholic Church of Scotland.

The Chaplain General to the Armed Forces will conduct the service, part of a weekend of Loos events in Dundee.