2nd Royal Marine Battalion
Date of Birth: 14 Nov 1887
Date of Death: 26 Oct 1917
Killed in action
Peter Ligertwood became the crack shot of the Corps and in January 1916 received a commissioning as Lieutenant. He was to get one more promotion. But still it was other men who were called to France, other companies who served their country. Peter spent most of 1916 writing a training manual which survived the war and may have been used for many years after. In May 1917 he joined the 1st Royal Marine Battalion and the next day transferred to the 2nd Battalion only to become sick and be laid up in hospital for the rest of the summer. He must have wondered if he would see anything of the war, but in mid-September, 1917, he rejoined his Battalion, and, as it happened, just in time to be finally shipped to France.
Instructions came that 2nd Battalion were to pass through the 1st Battalion and attempt to reach targets across the Paddebeek stream, some 800 yards further on. Peter Ligertwood gathered his Marines and informed them that in a few days they would go ‘over the top’. Knowing that they would quickly become disorientated in the mud and the dark he devised a plan. In each company a Marine would carry a wooden banner with red stripes, like in days of old, as a rallying point. The Chaplain, Father Davey, blessed the wooden banners and the men soon considered them to be sacred.
When dark came on the night of the 24th of October the Naval men relieved the Royal Scots. It was evident even then that troubles lay ahead. There was no real front, just mud scrapings with some machine guns and riflemen. When shells came over and a soldier was walking the duckboards there was no alternative than to go on. Richard Tobin remarked, unhappily, “there is no hope of food or ammunition and the Germans will rain down a storm of steel.”
On Thursday, for a change, the weather was bright and the clear autumnal sunlight lifted their spirits a little, although nothing could take away the knowledge of what was to come. It’s hard to imagine what someone will think about in that situation, knowing that in a few days they must face a very high chance of death. Did they wonder why they were there at all?
The forecast for the morning of Friday the 26th of October was for more fine weather but in the early hours the rain returned. For two days they had shelled the Germans, caving in the trenches, making massive mud holes in the desolate landscape that now became black ponds in a black land.
The Battalion was directed to assemble on a line 150 yards east of Burns House, Vacher Farm Road. At 6:30 am they were to form for attack behind the stationary barrage at the limit of the first objective, and move forward with the barrage at 7:36 am. German shells were already throwing up clouds of mud but the red banners were held aloft for all to see on the howling battlefield.
The Battalion duly set off but it was only on the flanks that they were able to make any headway. Acting Captain Peter Ligertwood led A Company. He'd found a length of spun yarn and connected his men together to prevent them leaving the narrow tracks through the mud. When a man fell he was quickly hauled back to his feet and with Ligertwood leading from the front the whole company crossed the Paddebeek and soon made good their position.
Ligertwood’s plan was working as the men rallied to the banners, but the other companies were struggling to make the same level of progress in the dim, early morning light. Ligertwood set his sights on the final objective and once more roused his men. On they went, step after muddy step, while the German resistance mounted. Gunfire burst out on every side and the other companies, now lost in sprays of mud and water were completely bogged down.
Peter marched on but his luck would not hold and he was hit. He paused, winded but ok. The adrenaline masked the pain. He carried on, but being at the front is a dangerous position and he was struck again, twice, in quick succession. The blows were nasty but he was still alive and determined to reach the target. He was compelled to drop back in the line, but forced himself to continue only to be hit a fourth time and to lie in the mud. Still Peter tried to rise as the machine guns raked the ground, but he could not do so. He croaked instructions to one of his sergeants and then pointed to the German line saying, “There’s your objective lads; get it.”
Three of the sacred banners also survived the attack and the war, and one may still exist at the Royal Marine museum. Afterwards it was said they inspired the men of Flanders and filled future generations with pride for their Corps who's traditions cannot be touched any other regiment.
|Officers of the 2nd Royal Marine Battalion, mid-October, 1917. Lt. Peter Ligertwood circled.|