Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Comforts For Dundee's Battalion

From the Dundee Courier, 25th May 1915



Sir,— The time has come when I feel I must again seek the hospitality of your columns focus attention upon the needs of the fighting line of the 4th Black Watch.  The public of Dundee is, I know, intensely proud of their prowess and achievements in the field, and anxious, as far as it lies in their power, to assist in promoting their comfort and in mitigating the hardships inseparable from the present conditions of warfare. 

It is abundantly clear from correspondence received from the front that the most clamant and the most persistent wants of the battalion are: — (1) Socks, (2) shirts, and (3) tobacco and cigarettes.  As regards socks, little need be said, as the supply from private donors has hitherto been most wonderfully regular and nearly equal to the demand. 

A considerable difficulty, however, lies in the provision of shirts, chiefly because of their somewhat serious cost, and also the skill required in making them.  It takes well over £150 to supply a battalion with shirts of suitable quality and sufficient warmth to prevent chill by night.  Many people, too, although otherwise generously inclined, raise the objection that a fatherly Government should meet this want, and it is true that free issues of shirts are made officially from time to time.  

When, however, it is realised that the nature of trench fighting necessitates these garments being completely discarded at frequent intervals, and also when the vast number of troops requiring similar attention is kept in view, it cannot be wondered at if Government issues do not always ensure such a degree of comfort as I know Dundonians would like to feel our men enjoyed.  The public will therefore see that private effort is necessary, or is at least eminently desirable, in order to supplement the Government clothing allowance.  I have thus no compunction, despite the varied claims at this time upon the generosity of the citizens, in appealing for a steady supply of garments or of funds wherewith to supply them. 

With regard to the question of tobacco and cigarettes, which appeals to the whole community of smokers, I am already despatching weekly enough to supply each man with fifteen cigarettes or two ounces of tobacco, but this can hardly be said to be sufficient for their needs.  By buying in quantity, and sending out duty free, a very great saving is effected, as tobacco is obtained at less than a third of the usual prices.  I would therefore respectfully suggest to those friends of the battalion who would like to see the weekly supply increased that they should either send donations to Mrs Harry Walker or myself.  Should any-one care to earmark his or her contribution for either shirts or tobacco, such wishes will be given effect to.  Might I further suggest that those who are specially interested in the battalion should proceed to collect periodical contributions, however small, from their friends, and remit me from time to time the result of their labours. 

While I have thus ventured again, as representing the corps in Dundee, to set forth the present and future needs of the men, I am none the less conscious of past favours towards the battalion since they left for the front.  Colonel Walker and other officers have repeatedly expressed to me their gratitude for these tokens of goodwill.  My only excuse for so conspicuously placing the wants of the "Fourth" before the public of Dundee is the knowledge of their peculiar pride and interest in those who are, by general consent, their special representatives in the fighting field.—I am, &c.. 

J. O. DUNCAN, Captain, 
O.C. Administrative Centre. 4th Black Watch, May 24, 1915. 

[The 4th Black Watch was the territorial battalion raised from the Dundee area, and had been in action in France since March.

Although there were many appeals in 1914 for shirts for serving soldiers, along with many other things, (e.g. here), they had disappeared as the War Office supplies got better organised.  By April 1915, the War Office claimed that providing extra clothing for soldiers, including flannel shirts, was unnecessary (here).  This is the only appeal I have seen from 1915 for extra shirts.  Although I'm sure that a clean shirt would have been very welcome and necessary, the claim that shirts had to be discarded after a short period of wear seems a bit odd.  Shirts would get filthy and lice-ridden in the trenches, as the rest of the uniform would, but there were arrangements for cleaning them.  Surely shirts could be used for longer than Captain Duncan implies?  I am sure, for  instance,  that the men did not get issued with new kilts when the old ones were filthy.]

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