Andrew Findlay Nisbet
26 Aug 1891 - 23 Mar 1967
My paternal grandfather, Andrew Findlay Nisbet Sr., was born 26 August 1891 at 17 South St. James Street, Edinburgh, Scotland. He was the fifth of six children born to John Reid Nisbet, Housepainter, and Mary Muirhead Findlay, Stationer's Overlooker. Two of their children, Jane Findlay Nisbet and Margaret Reid Nisbet, had passed away before Andrew was born. Andrew grew up with his elder brother Robert, eight years his senior, his elder sister Mary, and a younger sister, Margaret or "Peggy".
Andrew Nisbet & Isabella McKay on their Wedding Day, 31 Dec 1914
Andrew Nisbet & Isabella McKay
on their Wedding Day
31 December 1914
Andrew was a bookbinder by trade when, on 4 August 1914, Great Britain declared war on Germany. He enlisted on 9 September 1914, at the age of 23, and joined the 9th Royal Highlanders regiment, The Black Watch, as a Private. Shortly after enlisting, on 31 December 1914, Andrew married Isabella Taylor McKay, the eldest child of Samuel McKay, Housepainter, and Agnes Fairley Dallas.

My grandfather was soon promoted to Lance Corporal, but eventually rose to the rank of Second Lieutenant, and was wounded twice during the war, once as a non-com and once as an officer.

As a Corporal he appears to have been charged with attending to the water supply required by the horses and the soldiers in the trenches, and in his notebook he recorded the various methods of purifying the water supplies that were available to him.
My grandfather started his diary shortly before his regiment joined the expeditionary force in France, and it ends just after he was wounded by enemy machine gun fire. This wartime diary, which spans a short three months, encapsulates the thoughts and emotions of a soldier and depicts the frame of mind that many young men of the time and situation surely experienced - the sometimes stoic, often understated impressions made by the extraordinary circumstances, the sense of restlessness and apprehension in times of inactivity, and the feeling that, no matter how ordinary or mundane their personal duties may at times appear, that by attending to them dutifully they were contributing to something extremely important and, at times, overwhelming.

Diary of Lance Corporal A.F. Nisbet
A Company, 9th Black Watch
Service Battalion

Tuesday 6th July 1915

Landed back at Tidworth (i.e. Parkhouse Camp) 11:45 and after reporting myself had to draw my rifle & equipment from the stores. Also Respirator, Identity Disc, new Water Bottles, First Field dressing & small tin of rifle oil. In the afternoon I had to pass the Doctor who pronounced me fit for Active Service.

Wednesday 7th July 1915

Packed up all my spare kit and handed them in to be sent back to Perth. I don't suppose we will see them again. The rest of the day we lounged about, our advance party left for France 3 a.m. in the morning.

Thursday 8th July 1915

We were paraded & told that half the Batt was leaving camp to proceed on Active Service. At 1 o'clock in the afternoon we got issued out with 120 rds of ammunition and at 1:10 p.m. we left for the Station. As we left camp C & D Companies, who were to follow 1/2 an hour later, gave us a good send off, so also did the other Regiments in Tidworth & the population. We left Tidworth Station about 1:30 p.m. and landed at Folkestone at 9 p.m. the same night, where we embarked & landed at Boulonge 1 about midnight. We were put up for the night in a camp just outside of the Town (Marlborough Camp).

Friday 9th July 1915

We were dished out with Iron Rations and Jack Knives and left at the back of 4 o'clock in the afternoon to march to Pont Des Briques Station. We left this place about 6 at night and arrived at Watten about 4 hours later, passing by Calais on our journey. After arriving at Watten we marched to Moule 2 where we were billeted in stables and barns, with only your Great Coat for a blanket.

Saturday 10 July 1915

Nothing out of the common. Still at Moulle.

Sunday 11 July 1915

Church parade.

Monday 12 July 1915

(heading but no entry)

Tuesday 13 July

Still at Moulle. Got paid 5 francs but had some difficulty in getting them changed as there were too many of us.

Wednesday 14th

We had a Route March to a Castle which had been shelled by the Germans. Result - 1 tree broken. Nothing more of interest only the march was a pure piece of Tomfoolery.

Thursday 15th

Left Moulle and marched to a place name Hazbrouck 3, where we billeted for the night.

Friday 16th

Left Hazbrouck and marched to St. Leraix where we billeted for the night - just the same as Moulle, stables and barns.

Saturday 17th

About 6:30 left St. Leraix and marched to Houchain 4 where we billeted in old houses, stables and barns.

Sunday 18th

The Billets not being very good we shifted out to a wood just outside the village, another reason for doing so was that enemy aircraft were flying over us and we could see the shots from our Anti-Aircraft Guns bursting all round them until some of our own aeroplanes came & chased them off.

Monday 19th

Still lying in the woods at Houchain where we have made little huts of branches. The people of the village not very obliging. They won't allow us to use their wells or give us a loan of their water Buckets to draw water from the wells.

Tuesday 20th

Received a Brigade order to draw water from a place named Barlin 5. I wish it was only Berlin then we would know this war was finished.

Wednesday 21st

Had to get a pass to allow us to pass the French Sentries who were posted at a Level crossing just outside Barlin. People very interested in our kilts and very obliging. Very heavy bombardment all night - couldn't get to sleep.

Thursday 22nd, Friday 23rd

Nothing very particular.

Saturday 24th

Our Glengarries have been taken from us & khaki Barmoral Bonnets handed out instead. Received our second pay in France - 5 francs (4/2)

Sunday 25th

Nothing of importance.

Monday 26th until Tuesday 27th

Nothing of Importance

Wednesday 28th

Very easy all day but at 8 o'clock at night we left Houchain to go up into the trenches for two days (48 hrs) for instruction. A & B Coys only with Field Cookers and one Water Cart. We arrived at a place named Bully Grenay 6 where we were attached to two London Territorial Regts, A going with the 24th Batt London Regt (TF) and B going with the 23rd Batt to which I was also attached. As we were on our road up the Artillery of both sides were fairly going at it. Arrived at 12 midnight and were billeted in houses which the people had left in a hurry. Very tired so slept very sound.

Thursday 29th

Companies went into the trenches after breakfast. I had a look round to see where I was and what a sight. I saw there wasn't a house standing but was either without a roof or had big holes in the walls from shell fire - the whole place is wrecked. All day long the Germans shelled us but we got off scot-free.

Friday 30th

Same as Thursday but were relieved at night by C & D companies & we arrived back in Houchain about 3:30 in the morning.

Saturday 31st & Sunday 1st Aug

Resting at Houchain.

Monday 2nd Aug 1915

Left Houchain at 8:45 at night to go back to the trenches for 11 days, where we arrived about 12 midnight & the Coys went into billets for the night. Passed the London chaps on our road up to the trenches - they seemed very pleased at getting away for a good rest and a short holiday at home. They have been out for 4 months.

Tuesday 3rd until Tuesday 10th

Nothing of importance. Shelled occasionally. Had to fill my water carts at night as it was very dangerous to do so during the daytime. But at night the German Snipers are very busy and we are in danger of beeing sniped at from three sides. Never in bed before 1 o'clock in the morning. Left Bully Grenay for Roeux Les Mines 7 for a few days rest. Landed at Roeux Les Mines about 1:30 in the morning - were billeted in barns and stopped until:

Tuesday 17th Aug

when we left for Mazengarbe 8 where our Brigade were to be stationed as reserve in case of attack. Our 1st Batt are lying just in front of our Billets.

Wednesday 18th

Very quiet but at night German Aeroplanes came across our lines armed with machine guns but were driven off by our Anti-Aircraft Guns. Our Artillery opened fire at night but that didn't keep me from having a good sleep.

Thursday 19th

Nothing doing.

Friday 20th until Thursday 26th " " (ditto)

My Birthday; left for the trenches and arrived at a place named Philosophe where we had our first man wounded. We stayed here four days and had in all 1 killed and three wounded. It was Capt Gilchrist who was killed.

Monday 30th

Landed back in Mazingarbe for another rest about 12 midnight. Nothing doing until:

Friday 3rd

Two chaps wounded by Accident, Machine Gun, and at night 1 was killed and two wounded while out as working Parties by a trench Mortal Shell. From then until:

5th Sept

Nothing of importance.

6th Sept

Digging Dugouts getting ready for the big Bombardment and advance. Also received instruction in how to use large water tanks in the trenches as I have to go into the trenches along with the Batt next time they go in to look after the water tanks inside the trenches (which is a new idea.)

7th until 23rd Sept

Nothing of importance. Getting ready for the big advance. Got orders that I had also to man the trenches so I went back to my Company on:

Friday 24th and

left for the trenches at about 6 o'clock at night and arrived at the back of 10 o'clock where we found the REs fixing up Gas cylinders and pipes.

Saturday 25th Sept

The Royal Engineers started to put the Gas across to the German lines at 6:10 in the morning and burnt Smoke Candles which gave out a dense cloud of Smoke. The Engineers finished at 6:38 and we jumped the parapet at 6:40 and made for the German lines but we found they had no heart for a fight, prefering to be made prisoners, then we went right on to Loos 9 and captured the place taking a lot more prisoners. Finally landed on a small hill about a 1/2 mile or so at the back of Loos named Hill 70 where we received a check. After lying for about two hours the left flank retired for want of ammunition and also the want of Officers. This left our left flank exposed and we were being enfiladed and in the face of a very heavy fire we had to retire back to where our left flank had taken up their new position. It was while doing so I got wounded in the legs so I just made my way back to our dressing Stations but before I got there a Sgt & a Corporal of the R.A.M.C. dressed my wounds. Then I made my way to where the Motor Ambulance Wagons were and got taken to a clearing Station, where I lay until:

Tuesday 28th

when I was taken by Motor to Lilliers 10 and lay in the 9th Casualty-Clearing Station until one o'clock on Wednesday (29th) morning when we were put on a train for an unknown place, but at last after 36 hours journey we landed at Rouen, arriving 2 o'clock on:

Thursday afternoon the 30th

where I lay until Saturday morning (6 o'clock) when I was taken and laid in a stretcher (being told I was going home) and put into a Motor which took me to the Hospital Ship named "St. George" and we left for England about 9:30 a.m. and arrived at Southhampton about 11:30. We were carried right from the boat to the train which was going to Scotland.

Sunday the 3rd Oct

Left Southhampton at 12:15 a.m. Landed in Edinburgh at one o'clock in the Afternoon & was taken to Craigleith Hosp.

Monday 4th Oct

Was under Xrays to see if I had any bullets in my legs which I haven't been told yet.

Finished for the Present


My grandfather appears to not have maintained a diary following his transfer to Craigleith Hospital, or if he did its whereabouts are unkown. He spent the next 4 1/2 months recuperating at the 2nd Scottish General Hospital, after which he returned to active duty and served again from 8 March 1916 until 24 October 1917 in the expeditionary force in France with the 1st Black Watch. He was then sent to the 8th O.C.B. for officer training until 29 May 1918. Following his training he was stationed with the 4th (Res) Black Watch until 12 August 1918, when he again returned to the expeditionary force in France, now as a Second Lieutenant with the 6th Black Watch.

On the 25th of August he was walking up the trenches with his batman and a Sergeant when the whine of an approaching artillery shell caused him to jump to the side of the trench. He suffered a concussion wound that blew the cartilage out of his knee. Had he jumped to the opposite side of the trench his wounds would have no doubt been much more severe - the base plate of the shell was embedded in the trench wall at mid-chest level!

My grandfather was subsequently sent to the 3rd London General Hospital to recuperate, and stayed there from 28 Aug until 19 September 1918, when he was then transferred to the Military Hospital at Moffat.

Andrew's elder brother, Robert, did not survive the war. He served as a Gunner in A Battery, 108th Brigade, Lowland Royal Field Artillery and, after his gun emplacement was struck by a direct hit, he died from his wounds on 23 March 1918. The war was over less than eight months later. Robert is buried at St. Sever Cemetery, Rouen, Seine-Maritime, France.

Following the war Andrew returned to the bookbinding trade, and emmigrated to Canada in 1920, leaving his wife and one son in Edinburgh until he was in a position to bring them over the Altantic. Unable to find continued employment as a bookbinder, he travelled to Saskatchewan where he worked harvesting wheat, and then returned to Ontario to dig ditches for the York Township sewer system, which certainly must have been a mixed blessing for a soldier who had served in the trenches. He ultimately did find work again as a bookbinder with the Kodak company in Mount Dennis, a suburb of Toronto, Ontario. He raised two sons and two foster sons, and died at the age of 75 in 1967.

 

I was 13 years old when my grandfather died, and I fondly remember his cigars and wonderful Scots accent. My father tells me of the time when, my grandfather having retired, he walked me several miles to Tommy Marshall's store which was located next to the Kodak building where he had worked. Having been admonished by my father not to ask my grandfather to buy me anything, I innocently asked upon arriving at the store, "Grandad, if you buy me something on your own, that wouldn't be asking for it, would it?"

As a young child I lived just around the corner from my grandfather's house, and I remember exploring the basement and recreation room which seemed to be of another world, decorated with items from the Old Country. Just prior to my beginning kindergarten my parents had bought a new house in Etobicoke, a suburb of Toronto, and for the week or two before we moved my Grandfather drove me to and from school. I can still recall sitting in the back of his green Plymouth, perched on the tartan car rug with the fringe, breathing in that delicious cigar smoke, waiting for the proffered handful of peppermint candies!