Ernest Kirkland-Laman

2nd Battalion, South Wales Borderers (SWB)
Ernest Kirkland-Laman (M.B.E., M.C.) was a career soldier of the South Wales Borderers, having already seen some 20 years of military service by the outbreak of World War One (WW1). Born in 1875/6, he attended the Duke of York's Royal Military School (then the Royal Military Asylum). Becoming a Sergeant-Major in 1906, he served in India for a time, and became a Quartermaster and (honorary) lieutenant shortly before the outbreak of war. During WWI his war service initially took him to Tsingtao in China, where the 2nd Battalion were part of the 1914 expeditionary force that captured the German colony.
Kirkland-Laman went to Gallipoli in 1915 and was attached to the newly formed 29th Division which embarked at Avonmouth in late March. The Division landed at S Beach, Cape Helles, Gallipoli on 25th April 1915. His diary description starts in a light manner:

Rose at 4am had breakfast meanwhile getting underweigh[sic]. The bombardment started at 5am and we were to disembark at 5.30 ….. Several shells struck very close to the trawlers which caused some amusement.

However, things soon became much more serious as they were struck

in the steam pipe, which nearly caused a panic for a moment as someone called out that the boiler was going to bust.

Once on land, the Division was under constant fire both from artillery and snipers. Some of the snipers caused severe problems

We soon had evidence of the sniping qualities of the Turk, for every head above the parapet became a target …. One sniper however we could not get, nor find out where he was and he caused us a lot of annoyance.….There was so much potting going on that it was hard to tell how many snipers there were. Certainly four shots came down in rapid succession …Sgt Fairbrass was hit in the head. .. but luckily he was only scalped.

Surprisingly, sometimes there were peaceful interludes in the mayhem

Went up early from X Beach with more rations and was surprised to find nothing doing. Everyone was walking about outside the trenches although no armistice has been declared.

But the peace didn’t last long and the remainder of the year is a litany of casualties, bombing, trenches and very little to show for it

Xmas Day! Who would have thought when we landed eight months ago today that we should be here at Christmas and not more than a mile beyond our line of the 28th April?

Kirkland-Laman was evacuated from Gallipoli on 8th January 1916. He returned home via Suez and Marseilles and had several weeks leave. Evidently he was anxious to get back to the front line...

should have returned on the 28th but the Depot doctor decide on keeping me till the 3rd April owing to a slightly poisoned arm. Very annoying!

In April 1916, Kirkland-Laman arrived at the Western Front near Albert and was in the midst of very heavy fighting. He describes one German raid

This was our first experience of raids ….They opened our wire with Minenwerfers [short range mortars]& guns of all description. The former blew in our fire trenches & dugouts, and forced what men were left into support trenches. During the heavy bombardment the Bosch raiding party rushed into “C” Coys [Company’s] trench bombed the dug outs and captured some men – about 13 as far as we know. ..The whole thing was well organised. All our wires were cut within the first few minutes and so Bn. [Battalion] H.Q. knew nothing of the raid till afterwards. We lost 84 altogether – 30 killed 36 wounded and 18 missing.

On 26th April 1916, the anniversary of the Gallipoli landing was remembered

Gen Hunter Weston had all the officers N.C.O.s & men of the battalion paraded at the officers mess courtyard who had been at the original landing. …. Quite a respectable crowd nearly all however were men who had returned from sick or wounded. The General have a very stirring speech & afterwards shook hands with the officers having a few words with each. He gave a dinner same night, to which we were all to have been invited but space was insufficient. Somerville went.

Kirkland-Laman received the Military Cross in January 1918, and an M.B.E. shortly after the war. In 1920, the Mayor of Brecon presented him with a certificate congratulating and thanking him for his war service on behalf of the people of Brecon. During the inter-war period he was promoted, first to Captain in 1927, and to Major c.1930. He was also appointed as a SWB recruiting officer for the Pontypridd region, and was active in this role during the Second World War. He died in 1961. More of Kirkland-Laman’s diaries for 1916-18 will follow throughout this year.