“Mud as thick as treacle” – that’s how an official report described the conditions World War 1 Gordon Highlanders slugged through to reach enemy lines at Beaumont-Hamel.
Two brothers, Peter and William Watt of Peterculter, were both at the 1916 battle in the same 7th battalion. But their fates were entirely different.
William and Peter had been involved with fighting at the Battle of the Somme since July and the Battle of Ancre at Beaumont-Hamel was to be its final chapter.
The oldest of the two brothers William was a piper – and a talented one at that. His role would be motivating the troops with rousing marches and other tunes.
But during the 141 days of horror at the Somme he would not have had much time to pick up his pipes.
It was as much a waiting game as a fighting one. His younger brother Peter fought alongside hundreds of other soldiers in his rank as Private.
In October 1916, the brothers began training for an upcoming attack.
Six weeks of trench holding, village assault training and street fighting followed. The date was fixed for Monday, November 13.
Curator of the Gordon Highlanders Museum Ruth Duncan said: “The march to Beaumont-Hamel was abominable.
“They had to cover two-and-a-half miles and the mud was said to be as thick as treacle.
“It took them three hours.
“The trench was in such a state when they arrived that they slept on a small hill as far from the front as they could. It was either that or lie down in a trench of mud.”
Towards the end of the battle Germans began to surrender in large numbers, with 600 said to be captured and in four days Beaumont-Hamel was won. But with victory came a cost and regimental casualties are noted as being high.
In the midst of the fog and fighting, Peter was one who perished.
His fate was met on the first day of battle, though the museum could not say how he had been killed, he was just 18 years old.
Ruth said: “In the chaos of battle it could have been days until William found out his brother had died at all.
“To not know if he had been wounded or lying dead in trench somewhere must’ve been horrendous.”
William saw the rest of the war out.
There is no record of him being injured so it’s believed he fought in the 7th Gordon’s six battles which followed. Once the war was won, William began searching for a new life.
In 1922 he moved to Canada and took up a job on the railroads.
Ruth added: “Maybe he just found it hard being at home without his brother. There would have been quite a few who emigrated somewhere after the war, looking for something else and to start a new chapter.”
William took his love of piping with him and had a reputation as a master of the instrument. He wrote scores of compositions, with some published in Gordon Highlander collections.
At his new home in Winnipeg he kept his Scottish piping roots running through his family and his grandson Kris plays them.
One of William’s more famous tunes is Lament for John F. Kennedy, which was penned in honour of the late USA president after his assassination in 1963.
The Gordon Highlanders museum’s current exhibition Sacrifice at the Somme tells the story of the North-east regiments time at the bloody battle. The brothers’ stories are just one which the Evening Express is working to tell alongside the museum, as not all could fit in the exhibition and be given the justice they deserve.