The Last Month of the War
The last weeks of the war would be no less hard for the Division than the previous years. In early October 1918 the Division was placed under the command of the Canadian Corps. Major F W Bewsher records in "The History of the 51st Highland Division" -
"The operations on which the Division was now to embark constituted a complete change from any in which it had previously taken part. Trench warfare, in which the enemy's defences can be largely definitely located, now belonged to the past. The scene of the fighting was for the future to be laid amidst large uplands, checkered with undestroyed villages, many of them still occupied by their civilian inhabitants, and with occasional woods and spinneys with living trees in full leaf. Continuous trenches no longer stretched across the battle front.
The country was, however, well adapted for the rear-guard action which the enemy was fighting. On the western edge of the uplands he could adequately cover the eastern slopes of those facing him with comparatively few machine-guns, skillfully hidden in spinneys and sunken roads, in positions' which dominated the open country over which the attacking troops must advance."
Bewsher also comments on the state of the Division.
"In appreciating the true value of the success of the Highland Division in this, its last engagement, it must not be forgotten that since 21st March it had lost in major operations, apart from sickness and trench warfare, over a thousand officers and many thousands of men. Thus it was embarking on a form of warfare of which the bulk of its commanders had had no experience, and with its infantry composed for the most part of immature youths or men who had only recently joined the ranks of the infantry, Taking these facts into consideration, the repeated incidents of unusual daring and gallantry displayed in these operations will give clear proof of the great vitality of the Division. This was largely due to the manner in which its reinforcements, earnestly applying themselves to the upholding of its traditions, supported the commanders and more experienced comrades."
A full accounts of the actions in that last months, culminating with the battle for Valenciennes, can be found in Bewsher's book. The Division was relieved on 29 October. It is fitting to leave the last words to Bewsher -
"Though the enemy's military power was fast crumpling, the armistice occurring twelve days after the relief of the Division, the resistance encountered, particularly as regards artillery, was at times very formidable. On four occasions attacks were delivered on a two-brigade front, and twice on a one-brigade front, a heavy burden of fighting to be borne in nineteen days by nine battalions of infantry. The casualties were not light, amounting as they did to 112 officers and 2723 other ranks, some battalions suffering particularly heavily, such as the 5th Seaforth Highlanders (14 officers and 409 other ranks), the 6th Seaforth Highlanders (13 officers and 283 other ranks), 6/7 Gordon Highlanders (16 officers and 425 other ranks), the 7th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders (8 officers and 294 other ranks), while the 4th Seaforth Highlanders and the 4th Gordon Highlanders lost 13 and 14 officers respectively. Fortunately the numbers of killed and missing - 21 officers and 292 men killed, and 6 officers and 184 men missing - were not so proportionately high as had been the case in some of the previous operations."
And he concludes -
"In short, probably no previous operation had demanded a greater or more prolonged effort on the part of all arm and branches of the service than this, the last fight of the Highland Division."