Glasgow's Great War Battalion of Businessmen

CITY businessmen were keen to play their part in the Great War, and the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce even decided to form their own troop of fighting men.

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  • The farewell meeting in the Technical College
    The farewell meeting in the Technical College
  • The farewell meeting in the Technical College

Following a unanimous decision by the Chamber leadership, the 17th Highland Light Infantry (Glasgow Chamber of Commerce Battalion) came into being on September 3, 1914.

Recruitment for the battalion took place in Merchants' House and there was no shortage of volunteers.

From the end of 1914 to the summer of 1915 the battalion trained at both Gailes and Troon in Ayrshire before embarking on further training in England.

On November 22, 1915, training was completed and the battalion departed for the port of Le Havre in France.

The men quickly settled into the routine of the trenches where they endured a "hard and monotonous" winter.

The regiment spent from December 23, 1915, until February 17, 1916, in the trenches.

The record says: "It will be noted this spell of trench warfare activities brackets in both Christmas and New Year - both of which were accordingly spent in the front line trenches.

"As far as possible Christmas fare was provided in the line and strict orders were issued that if the enemy made any friendly offer, they were to be rejected strenuously.

"The only exchange of greetings notified for Christmas and New Year in the official war diary of the battalion is a brief record of shelling and machine gunning.

"But during this period the battalion had nevertheless very few casualties - only seven killed, including two died of wounds."

As the war drew on, the battalion, like many others, was present at the disastrous Battle of the Somme in July 1916.

The record says: "Signs of the coming conflict were everywhere. The tremendous accumulation of men and materials had been going on unceasingly for weeks and during the long June days, clouds of dust hung in the hot, still air above the road.

"The roads all led towards the line and the tramp of men and the rumble of wheels were unending.

"To everyone it was the Big Push - the mighty Armageddon - of which all had thought and spoken during the winter of waiting.

"For every man it was the first experience of "over the top.

"In sun-baked trenches, everyone longed for the zero hour, while the guns rolled and shells crashed with ever-increasing intensity.

"Nothing was real. Men stood and waited as if in a dream. They felt as if they were listening to an overture - that soon the curtain would rise.

"When the guns ceased their roar for a few moments towards the end and in the death like stillness was heard the warbling of birds in no man's land. The grim reality of it all was felt.

"With the lifting of the mist in the morning, the curtain rose."

More than half of the battalion's men were killed or wounded. At the roll call on July 4, casualties totalled 22 officers and 447 other ranks.

The battalion was disbanded in early 1918 after a decision by the War Office and its colours were laid in Glasgow Cathedral.

A memorial service was held at the Cathedral on July 8, 1917 in honour of those who fell in the battle of the Somme and elsewhere. Around 1200 people were present and many soldiers of all ranks were among the congregation.

A book compiling the history of the Chamber Battalion was written by John W. Arthur and Ion S. Munro in 1920 and provides fascinating details into its life and times.

Featuring the images shown here, it can be found for free online - just search for Seventeenth Highland Light Infantry (Glasgow Chamber of Commerce Battalion): Record of War Service 1914-1918.


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