Baillie Chisholm MUNRO came from humble beginnings. He was the grandson of carpenter William MUNRO and Margaret CHISHOLM, who moved to Bettyhill, Sutherland in Scotland shortly after marrying at Kilmuir-Easter, Ross and Cromarty in 1830. William was innkeeper at Bettyhill where he and Margaret had four children, with son William following in his father’s footsteps as the local innkeeper. He married Annie Gordon MacLeod, and they had six children including Baillie Chisholm MUNRO who was born at Bettyhill about 1884.
Baillie and his brother Donald MacLeod MUNRO emigrated to Rhodesia, and another brother John, emigrated to Canada, becoming a barrister at Saskatoon prior to the outbreak of war. Donald MacLeod Munro died on the battlefields of Southern Rhodesia on 14th November 1910, but it is not known if Baillie was involved in that conflict. Baillie travelled on the ‘Norman” from Durban to London, arriving on 4 November 1914, three months after Britain declared war on Germany. He travelled as 30 year old engineer Baillie C Munro, whose country of last permanent residence was Rhodesia, and country of intended future residence was Scotland. He enlisted with the Kings Royal Rifle Corps at London on 18th November 1914 with the rank of Private, and after just one month of training boarded a troopship to France on 21 December 1914.
IMAGE LEFT: Hat badge of The Kings Royal Rifle Corps. Enlisting and embarking for active service in 1914, Baillie was one of the original Battalion members who would answer the call for Britain. As can be seen by the inscriptions emblazoned on their hat badge, the K.R.R.C. already had a very proud and distinguished battle record.
According to one report Baillie was wounded in action during March of 1915, but his injuries couldn’t have been too serious as the “Supplement to the London Gazette” dated 27 July 1916 awards him the Military Cross, and a later edition, reproduced below details the specific acts for which the award was granted. The Gazette doesn’t give a location, but the award may have related to an earlier incident at High Wood or Wood Lane at the Somme, as the major offensive commenced there on 14 July 1916, with Baillie being mentioned in dispatches on 9 September 1916 after the award was granted.
IMAGE RIGHT: Supplement to the London Gazette for the 19th of August, 1916 showing the citation for Baillie’s Military Cross.
The following is an extract from the account by Major-General Sir Steuart HARE titled “The Annals of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps, Vol. V, The Great War”, and details the 9th September 1916 attack on Wood Lane: “On the XV Corps front the 1st Division attacked in High Wood and Wood Lane, a trench running south-east from the edge of the wood. The 2nd Brigade attacked this trench and a part of the wood. Our 2nd Battalion, in the command of which Major R.N. Abadie had succeeded Major Atkinson, attacked on the right, with the 2nd Royal Sussex on their left, and the 1st Northamptonshire beyond them in the wood. The attack was a brilliant success, and casualties were moderate as things went on the Somme. To quote the ‘War Diary’: ‘At 4:45 p.m. our artillery opened an intense barrage on Wood Lane, and at the same time our men went over the parapet. The assault, which was delivered with much dash, was quite successful on the left. Here C Company carried their objective without any great effort or much loss. On the right D Company was held up by machine-gun fire, and the two platoons of B Company who were to support the attack on this flank were also stopped. Sergeant-Major Hyde was killed while endeavoring to lead forward the men of B Company. A fresh attack was organized on this flank. Stokes mortars and Lewis-gun fire subdued the enemy’s resistance, and on the threat of assault the remainder of the Germans surrendered. Their machine guns and the teams that had fought them had been put out of action by our Stokes mortars, and by 2nd Lieutenant Munro’s fire from a Lewis gun. The remains of D Company (every officer of whom had been hit), supported by B Company, then carried their objective. Connection was established with the 5th King’s Liverpool Regiment on the right, and with C Company on the left. C Company at the same time was in touch with the 2nd Royal Sussex, so that the whole line was firmly established in Wood Lane. The remainder of the day and the whole night were occupied in consolidating these positions.’ “Next day the captured line having been turned, and being lightly held by posts and Lewis guns, the enemy began to shell it heavily, and parties of them were continually seen crossing the front into High Wood, in which, evidently a counter-attack was being prepared. Our artillery put down a heavy barrage on the wood, and the attack never developed. On the night of the 10th/11th the Battalion was relieved by the New Zealanders. The Battalion lost 2nd Lieutenants A.E.M.A. Hawke and A.H.B. Langton, both of whom died of wounds, and Captains F.G. Fison, L.A. Blackett, 2nd Lieutenants J.W.D. Sneddon, B.C. Munro, J.H. Lee, C.W. Beadel, wounded. The casualties among other ranks were 24 killed, 82 wounded, 36 missing. The Battalion took 59 prisoners and two machine guns.”
IMAGE LEFT: A Military Cross, as awarded to 2nd Lieutenant Baillie Chisholm MUNRO.
Major-General Sir Steuart Hare may have been quoting from this War Diary extract for the same day: “9th September 1916 – Orders arrived that the attack would take place at 4.45 pm. During the morning ‘A’ Coy. was relieved by ‘D’ Coy. and ‘B’ Coy. moved up into close support in SEAFORTH TRENCH some 50 yards away from out front line. ‘A’ Coy. went into RIFLES TRENCH in the 3rd line, while ‘C’ Coy. remained in its original position. Lt. [temp. Capt.] L. A. BLACKETT was unfortunately hit by fragments from a bomb, which had been exploded by a shell, while waiting in the front line to lead his company in the attack. The command of ‘C’ Coy was taken over by 2nd Lt. LEE. At 4.45 pm. the guns opened with an intense barrage and at the same moment our men went over the parapet. The assault delivered with much dash, was entirely successful on the left. Here ‘C’ Coy. carried their objective without any great effort or much loss. On the right ‘D’ Coy was held up by MG fire and the two platoons of ‘B’ Coy. who were to support them on the right were also stopped – Lt. MUNRO, commanding ‘B’ Coy. organized a fresh attack by orders of the Commanding Officer – Stokes Mortars and Lewis gun fire subdued the enemy’s resistance and on the threat of assault he surrendered. The remains of ‘D’ Coy. and half ‘B’ Coy. then carried their objective and joined touch with the 5th Kings Liverpool Regiment on their right, and with ‘C’ Coy. on their left. ‘C’ Company, at the same time was in touch with the 2nd Royal Sussex so that the whole line then stood firmly in WOOD LANE.”
Recuperating from his injuries incurred on the 9th September and whilst on leave, Baillie returned to Inverness in Scotland where his mother now resided at Naverton, Drummond Road. On Boxing Day of 1916, he married his mother’s neighbour – Isabella Mary Fraser at her Moorlands, Drummond Road residence. A witness to the marriage was Baillie’s barrister brother John, who was now a Lieutenant with the 44th New Brunswick Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force. Sadly John was killed in action at Vimy Ridge, France on 10th April, 1917. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission records indicate that John was buried at La Chaudiere Military Cemetery, Vimy.
IMAGE RIGHT: Extract from the Record of Marriages for 1916 in the County of Inverness, showing the marriage of Baillie Chisholm MUNRO to Isabella “Ella” Mary FRASER. Of note is the fact that Baillie actually records the initials ‘M.C.’ after his title. This would end up another of those tragic ‘wartime’ romances which brings to mind the lyrics from the Eric Bogle song –Green Fields Of France …….”Did you leave there a wife, or a sweetheart behind – in some faithful heart – is your memory enshrined. Although you died back, in 1916 – in that faithful heart – are you forever 19? …….”
IMAGE RIGHT: The Campaign card for Baillie Chisholm MUNRO showing the award of the 1914-1915 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal. Strangely there is no mention of Baillie being awarded the Military Cross on this document.
IMAGE ABOVE: Record card, indicating that Baillie was awarded the Military Cross and ‘Mentioned In Dispatches’.
That Baillie should play such an active role at the Somme and survive was no mean feat. However his good fortune on the battlefields finally deserted him at the Battle of Nieuport Bains in Flanders on 10 July, 1917. The Germans referred to the battle as Operation Strandfest, which translates to “beach party”, but it was no party for the Kings Royal Rifle Corps and the 1st Northamptonshire Regiment. The following article from “The Long. Long Trail” web site gives an excellent account of the battle, and is reproduced here with the kind permission of it’s author, Robert DUNLOP:
“On the 20 June, the British XV Corps took over the French sector on the Belgian coast. The Marines Korps Flandern patrols detected the changeover on the 21st. Korps commander von Schroeder correctly interpreted this report as the prelude to a British attack along the coast. He began planning Operation Strandfest, a pre-emptive strike to eliminate the Yser bridgehead. Meanwhile, the British set about improving the defences in the bridgehead. Tunnellers were used, including the 257th and the 2nd Australian Tunnelling Companies, but their work was not complete when Operation Strandfest began. Nor was all the British artillery in place; only 176 of the planned 583 guns and howitzers were available to defend the bridgehead. On the 6 July 1917, the MarinesKorps Flandern began a desultory artillery bombardment, which continued for the next three days. Fog and low cloud prevented detection of the German build-up. Then, at 5.30am on the the 10 July the massed German artillery, including three 24cm naval guns in shore batteries and 58 artillery batteries (planned naval gunfire support from destroyers and torpedo-boats was cancelled), opened up on the British positions in the bridgehead. Mustard gas (Yellow Cross) was used for the first time in the barrage. All but one of the bridges over the Yser River were demolished, isolating the 1/Northamptonshire and 2/KRRC of 2nd Brigade, 1st Division on the extreme left flank. Telephone communication was also cut. The German bombardment continued throughout the day. The British artillery attempted a counter-barrage but several guns were knocked out and the German infantry were well protected. At 8pm, the Marines Korps launched the infantry assault, by which time the two British battalions had suffered 70-80% casualties. The German stormtroopers attacked down the coast, outflanking the British. Their attack was then followed by waves of German Marines, supported by flamethrower teams to mop up dugouts. After a gallant defence, the British battalions were overwhelmed. Only 4 officers and 64 other ranks managed to reach the west bank of the Yser”.
IMAGE RIGHT: Map of Operation Strandfest, dated the 10th of July, 1917. (Image courtesy of members of The Great War Forum)
Robert DUNLOP continues:- “The German attack on the 32nd Division, further to the east, was less successful. Only the 97th Brigade was attacked and although there was some penetration into the line, a counterattack that night by the 11/Border Regiment, supported by two companies of the 17/Highland Light Infantry, restored all but 500 yards of the front line. A general counterattack was ordered for the 11 July by General RAWLINSON. Wisely, he later rescinded his decision at the request of XV Corps Commander, Lt. General John Du CANE. The total British casualties amounted to approximately 3,126 of all ranks, killed, wounded and missing. Of these, fifty officers and 1,253 other ranks belonged to the two battalions of 1st Division. Lieutenant Colonel Richard ABADIE DSO, Officer Commanding 2/KRRC, has no known grave and is commemorated on the Nieuport Memorial to the Missing.”
British troops held the territory west of the Yser, and on the eastern bank occupied a front line of some 1400 yards stretching from the North Sea towards Nieuport, that was approximately 600 yards wide at the river mouth. The British Army had taken this Nieuport Bains east bank sector over from the French in June 1917, and had access to it via four temporary bridges. The 2nd Battalion of the Kings Royal Rifle Corps, and the 1st Battalion, the Northamptonshire Regiment, defended the front line equally, or 700 yards each in round figures, with the Kings Royal Rifle Corps holding the dune sector against the North Sea, and the 1st Northamptonshire Regiment controlling the adjoining sector towards Nieuport. The following War Diary extracts detail the exact positions of the Kings Royal Rifle Corps Companies on 10 July, 1917. Note that these extracts and others that follow are protected by Crown Copyright, and as such may not be reproduced for profit without permission. For those interested, complete War Diaries can be downloaded from the National Archives for very reasonable prices by clicking here.
IMAGE LEFT: Captain Humphrey BUTLER’s official report has been re-written and edited by his superior officers and part of the final version is reproduced here. In this report, Captain BUTLER describes the positions of the companies attached to the King’s Royal Rifles on the 10th of July, 1917. Handwritten notes on the report are those of Lt. Gen. Sir Henry RAWLINSON and it is interesting to note his comment that the K.R.R.C had already been four times decimated since the beginning of the war.
Lieutenant MUNRO and “B” Company were stationed furthest to the right of the three Kings Royal Rifle Corps Companies, so that would locate them roughly 600 yards from the North Sea but still on the dunes, and 600 yards east of the Yser River. Using the above map as a reference, they would be on the British front line as indicated in red, and towards the right hand extremity of the dunes. The British, as did the French before them, found the dunes to be extremely difficult to defend – in the words of Captain Humphrey BUTLER, Adjutant, 2nd. Bn. K.R.R.C.:
“The trenches taken over from the French were of a somewhat sketchy nature, and indeed in the absence of concrete it was difficult for them to be anything else. As a protection they were most imperfect. It was obvious to the veriest tyro that the most unremitting vigilance, the support of the most powerful artillery fire, the closest co-operation between the naval and military forces were essential if the position were to be tenable even for only a few hours. The orders, given to the Battalion Commanders were to hold on to the last; a strong support being thus virtually promised. The French, and before them the Belgians, aware of the weakness of the post, had been most careful to do nothing that could attract attention or raise an alarm on the part of the enemy. Our Battalion Commanders were given to understand that for similar reasons and in view of impending operations they were to keep equally quiet. But in direct contradiction of these general instructions, they were ordered to make raids upon the enemy’s entrenchments, and to these contradictory orders the subsequent tragedy may probably be traced.”
IMAGE RIGHT: Photographic image of the improvised British shelters on the Yser east bank, 1917.
Captain BUTLER was understandably upset, as casualties included 17 out of 20 officers and 481 out of 520 other ranks. Communication was a contentious issue, as was lack of support, with promised air support being absent for the entire day, and of the 176 guns and howitzers in place none were registered on the German front line. Captain Butler was advised that winds off the coast were light, and felt that their Naval Commanders should have taken the initiative rather than wait for explicit orders, but according to comments made by Lieutenant-General Sir Henry RAWLINSON, they were not in a position to act as winds were in fact strong, and ships would have been lost to superior German vessels and long range artillery on the shore line. The Germans also reported high winds, and were unable to use their Naval artillery against the British.
The following War Diary extract from correspondence between Captain Humphrey BUTLER and his father, Lt.-Col. Lewis BUTLER, tells us how Lt. Baillee Chisholm MUNRO met his fate.:
IMAGE LEFT: Extract from a private report of Captain Humphrey BUTLER (Adjutant 2nd Battalion K.R.R.C) to his father, Lt. Col. Lewis BUTLER.
IMAGE RIGHT: This report is confirmed by the official report that has 2nd Lt. Taylor relating basically the same news shortly after mid-day on 10 July.
Captain BUTLER laid blame for the defeat squarely on the shoulders of his Corps Commander saying “The whole episode demands a most searching enquiry. It is difficult to avoid the inference that the Corps Commander, failing to appreciate the importance of the position and it’s imminent peril, neglected the measures essential for co-operation and support.” The Captain’s “official” report is not the original version, and some apparent inconsistencies may have resulted from editing that took place in attempts to soften criticism of his superiors. One such inconsistency lies in determining the approximate time at which the Battalion Commander had knowledge of the loss of “B” Company H.Q. The “official” report above, times 2nd Lieut.Taylor’s arrival at Battalion H.Q. as shortly after Lieut. Gott had left on his noon mission and returned, leaving the impression that this was the first information they had received on the fate of “B” Company and Lieutenant MUNRO, as there was no prior mention in the report, but the 1st Northamptonshire war diaries place a different time frame on events:
IMAGE LEFT: Officer commanding, Lt. Col. Richard ABADIE of the K.R.R.C reporting to the commander of the 1st Northamptonshire Regiment that right company H.Q, being ‘B’ Company, was blown in at 11.07am. This information is inconsistent with the K.R.R.C official report.
Officer Commanding, Lieutenant Colonel ABADIE, who died valiantly later that same day, informed the 1st Northamptonshire Regiment that Kings Royal Rifle Corps Right Company H.Q. had been blown in, and sent the message by pigeon at 11.07 a.m. Lieut.-Col.Abadie had eight pigeons, and found it necessary to use them as the Fuller ‘phone wires had been cut at 9.50 a.m., and no-one was responding to a buried telephone wire extending to the west bank. Lieut.-Gen.Sir Henry Rawlinson commented that all pigeons “seemed” to have reached their destinations. It was inconceivable that Lieutenant Colonel ABADIE would not have dispatched one or more birds to his own Corps Commander at that time. The Corps Commander, given better communications may have made different decisions, but ordering the Kings Royal Rifle Corps to conduct raids against a superior force from trenches that offered no protection, and with no support from air, land or sea, was folly. Many good men were lost that day, with one being Lieutenant Baillie Chisholm MUNRO M.C.
IMAGE RIGHT: A graphic photo of British casualties on the dunes, circa 10th of July, 1917. Could Baillie Chisholm MUNRO be amongst the dead, pictured here? (Image courtesy of members of The Great War Forum).
Captain Humphrey Butler’s report was most damning of Corps Commander du Cane, the very person with whom he would have discussed the contents before it reached the desk of Lieutenant General Sir Henry RAWLINSON, so one wonders what editing may have been done at this stage. John Philip du CANE was commissioned into the Royal Artillery in 1884 and served in the Second Boer War before becoming Commander of the 15th Corps in 1916. He rose to become General Officer Commanding-in-Chief for the British Army of the Rhine, and finally Governor and Commander-in-Chief of Malta, so Captain Butler’s report certainly did him no harm. The last four pages of Captain Butler’s report have been reproduced here, and once again the hand-written comments are those of Lieut.-Gen.Sir Henry RAWLINSON:
IMAGE LEFT: Page 16 of Captain BUTLER’s official 19 page report. The handwritten notes are those of Lieutenant General Sir Henry RAWLINSON.
Captain BUTLER is critical of the orders to commence raids, to which Lt. Gen. RAWLINSON has replied “the position was taken up at a time when the corps artillery most wanted direction, could not be used in support”. RAWLINSON’s notation in pencil at the bottom of page 16 confirms the number killed as 7 with 10 prisoners of whom 5 were wounded.
IMAGE RIGHT: Page 17 of Captain BUTLER’s official report.
Lieutenant General RAWLINSON agrees that support and communication were impossible after the bridges were gone, but contradicts himself on the same page where he says that a buried telephone line was constantly in use as far as the left bank. Why did Lieutenant Colonel ABADIE need to resort to the use of carrier pigeons if this line was intact? Strangely RAWLINSON does not respond to BUTLER’s claim that the Corps Commander may have been absent on duty.
IMAGE LEFT: Page 18 of Captain BUTLER’s official report.
Captain BUTLER was disgusted by the insensitivity displayed by Corps Commander du CANE when addressing the surviving officers of his King’s Royal Rifle Corps. BUTLER blamed du CANE for the disastrous consequences, yet du CANE had the nerve to attribute ‘no blame’ to his officers on account of the ground lost when he should have been praising their efforts. Captain BUTLER was also speaking on behalf of the Northamptonshire Regiment, of whom no officers survived and accordingly, no member of this regiment was present for this insulting address.
IMAGE RIGHT: Page 19 and final page of Captain BUTLER’s offical report.
Lieutenant General RAWLINSON comments here that Captain BUTLER had been “unreasonably venomous” in respect of du CANE’s behaviour and the lack of naval support. The wind was in fact off the shore, as RAWLINSON notes here, and he comments further “you forget that there are between 20 & 30 German quick firing coast defense guns that command any position from which the ships can fire”.
Right or wrong Captain Butler should be applauded for stating the facts as he saw them in what could not be considered a good career move. Corps Commander du CANE was experienced and should have known better. From a military point of view it would have been advantageous to control the Yser river mouth, but the topography was such that the position could never be suitably fortified or defended. The French and the Belgians knew that, as did the Germans, who rather than place themselves in harm’s way were able to control the dunes from the air, sea and with their artillery. Little wonder that Captain Butler took issue with Corps Commander du Cane for conducting raids from the dunes and costing so many men their lives.
Baillie Chisholm Munro’s name appears on the Nieuport Memorial as one of 548 officers and men of United Kingdom forces who died during the First World War in operations on the Belgian Coast, and whose graves are not known.
The war service medals awarded to Baillie include the Military Cross which was awarded in 1916. The 1914-1915 Star and Clasp, the British War and the Victory medal – were all awarded posthumously in 1920 following applications by his widow Isabella. Her daughter, Minna Baillie Chisholm Munro, who was born in 1917 after her father had perished, became Dr Minna Baillie Chisholm MUNRO M.B., Ch.B. She would marry Mr. Alexander Henderson at Edinburgh in 1942; and according to the 1959 United Kingdom Medical Register, was living at North Park Road, Bradford. Minna of course never met her father, but must have been immensely proud of him.
IMAGE LEFT: The Military Cross, 1914-1915 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal as awarded to Baillie Chisholm MUNRO.
This story was composed by Mr. Paul MUNRO who states that he is a distant cousin of Baillie Chisholm MUNRO. He would like to thank the National Archives, Ancestry.com, the website ‘The Long Long Trail’ and ‘The Great War Forum’. Paul MUNRO from Australia is researching Baillie Chisholm MUNRO’s family tree and would keenly like to make contact with other relatives of Baillie. Paul can be contacted on email:- firstname.lastname@example.org
ADMINISTRATOR’S NOTE: A British War Medal sold on the open market on the 12th of April, 2008. The identity of the seller and the purchaser are not known. This medal was inscribed on the rim with the recipient’s name; however it is evident that the medal was well ‘worn’ and as a result, the inscription is not clear. The war medal may have borne the name “B.C. MUNRO” or “R.G. MUNRO”. As can be seen, if the first two initials were subject to wear, it would be difficult to distinguish between the two. Mr. Paul Munro has asked that if the current owner of the British War Medal reads this story, could he please contact him through the Medals Gone Missing website. Alternatively, if you know of the whereabouts of Baillie’s other war service medals ….. or you are a relative of Baillie Chisholm MUNRO, could you also please make contact.