25 September 2017

Casualties of Passchendaele: Lieutenant Colonel Alan Humphrey Scott and Lieutenant Colonel Dudley Ralph Turnbull

The bodies of Lieutenant Colonel Alan Humphrey Scott and Lieutenant Colonel Dudley Ralph Turnbull were discovered together in 1919 by Grave Registration Units, after they were killed by the same sniper’s bullet during the Battle of Polygon Wood.

 CWGC Buttes New British Cemetery (left), Lieutenant Colonel Alan Humphrey Scott (top right) and Lieutenant Colonel Dudley Ralph Turnbull (bottom right)

Alan Humphrey Scott was born in 1891, to Donald Allan Hyde Scott and Maria Caroline Scott, of New South Wales, Australia. After attending Sydney Grammar School, he joined Dalgety & Co. as a clerk. He was a member of East Sydney Amateur Athletic Club, and in 1913 was New South Wales high-jump champion. Before the outbreak of the First World War, he served with the New South Wales Scottish Rifles from 1909 to 1913.

He joined the Australian Imperial Force as a lieutenant in August 1914, and was a captain by October. He fought at Gallipoli and won the Distinguished Service Order for leading a successful bayonet charge against Ottoman position during the Battle of Lone Pine and was mentioned in divisional orders for gallantry and valuable services.

In early 1916, the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) was greatly expanded and Alan was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and given command of the newly formed 56th Battalion AIF. The 56th AIF was part of the 5th Australian Division which was sent to France in mid-1916. In July 1916, Alan and the 56th AIF took part in the disastrous attack at Fromelles and then in September they fought at Flers on the Somme.

After spending the freezing winter of 1916/17 holding the line on the Somme Battlefields, Alan and the 56th AIF fought in May 1917 at Arras during the Battle of Bullecourt. On 31 July the British Army launched the Third Ypres offensive. In late September the 5th Australian Division arrived at Ypres and Alan and his men fought in the Battle of the Menin Road Ridge.

On 26 September 1917, Alan and his battle hardened troops of the 56th AIF prepared to attack yet again. This time their objective was the shattered remains of Polygon Wood which they successfully took despite strong German defences. Having taken their objectives, the men dug in to defend their hard won gains. Within the wood the Germans had built numerous concrete block houses and one was quickly named Scott’s Post by the men of the 56th AIF, in honour of their popular and well-liked commanding officer. 

In the early hours of 1 October, the 56th AIF was relieved in Polygon Wood by a battalion of the Manchester Regiment. Alan remained behind to brief the Manchester’s commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Dudley Ralph Turnbull, on the defences of the wood and the German positions nearby.

While standing together both Alan and Dudley were killed by the same sniper’s bullet. Their bodies were buried near where they fell. In 1919, Grave Registration Units searching Polygon Wood discovered the bodies and both men were buried in the CWGC’s Buttes New British Cemetery.

Lt Col Alan Scott is buried in Plot II, Row A, Grave 12.

Lt Col Dudley Turnbull is buried in Plot I, Row C, Grave 9. Born in 1891, he was the son of Col. C. F. A. Turnbull (retired) and Evelyn S. Turnbull. He completed three years of active service including Mons. Lt Col Turnbull’s headstone bears the inscription: “STILL WITH US BEYOND THE VEIL”. There is a plaque in his memory at St Laurence Church in Surrey.