Neil Munro was born in Tongue, son of Donald and Williamina Munro of Morvich in Sutherlandshire. At the outbreak of the First World War, Donald was the tenant at Borgie farm and employed his son as a farm worker.
Neil enlisted into the Army on his nineteenth birthday at Fort George near Inverness, once he had completed his military he was sent to the 4 (Ross-shire) Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders near Arras France. The 4 Seaforth were serving with 154 Brigade, 51 (Highland) Division and were resting at La Rasset on the 12 of April 1917, following the opening days of the Battle of Arras and the attack at Roclincourt.
Neil Munro was one of 172 other ranks to join the 4 Seaforths between the 13 and 19 of April 1917, as the battalion prepared to move back to the front. The Commanding Officer inspected the battalion on the 14, before the move forward to prepare for a fresh attack.
On April the 15,the Seaforths marched in the pouring rain to St Laurent-Blangy to relieve units from the 15 (Scottish) Division in reserve trenches. The battalion remained in reserve for the next six days improving trenches, supplying working parties for road repairs and preparing for the attack on the 23.
During the night of the 22 April, the battalion moved forward and was located in a railway cutting near Fampoux; they were now the Brigade Reserve. The Seaforths were behind the frontlines in support of the 9 Royal Scots, 7 Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and 4 Gordon Highlanders, who were to attack Rouex and the heavily defended Chemical Factory the next day. At 4:45am on the 23 of April 1917 the British VII Corps resumed the attack on the German lines East of Arras, extremely heavy fighting took place. The 4 Seaforths Commanding Officer received verbal orders from his Brigadier, to move up in support of the 4 Gordons and take command of the left sector from Colonel McClintock, who had been wounded.
The battalion moved off by platoons at 8:15am, crossing over the River Scarpe by a small wooden bridge under heavy 5.9-inch shellfire. The Companies began to arrive in the forward trenches at 8:55am, where the Seaforths C.O. was informed by Colonel McClintock that his right hand units had moved on but the left hand “ was completely demolished”.
An enemy machine-gun post on the Arras-Douai railway junction, manned by over fifty German soldiers had caused heavy casualties on the left and had to be dealt with. The C.O. was being shown where the enemy strong point was by Lt Anderson from the 4 Gordon Highlanders, when one of the twenty tanks involved in the attack arrived. The tank was then asked for its assistance in dealing with the Germans holding up the advance near the railway junction.
The tank commander informed the Seaforths that the 51st Division now surrounded the village of Rouex from both sides, the Germans were holding out inside the houses. The tank commander then agreed to give assistance in attacking the enemy strong point, the tank moved off towards the Germans with the Highlanders following behind.
At 9:56am the tank bogged down in the thick mud, the attacking infantry moved passed the tank and began to assault the enemy positions. By 11:05am the enemy post was taken, twenty Germans were killed and the rest were prisoners, however the machine-gun that had decimated the 4 Gordons was gone, removed from the trench before it was overrun.
The Seaforths Commanding Officer ordered two Companies to move up into the German frontline and push on towards the Chemical Factory, one Company stayed in support with one in reserve. The left hand Company advanced without opposition to establish themselves in a line of shell holes east of Chemical Factory; to advance on the right near the Chateau was impossible, owing to heavy machine gun fire from Rouex cemetery. The Seaforths formed a defensive flank on the railway line near the railway station with a disorganised and worn out party of men from 153 Brigade on their left. (See map William Mackay, Tongue.) In the afternoon a British tank managed to get into the centre of Rouex and began to blast the German defenders out of the houses with its six pounder guns, the village was then cleared by the Argylls. Another tank supported by the remaining Gordon Highlanders entered the heavily defended Chemical factory but heavy machine-gun fire and a determined German counter-attack drove them back. (The Chemical Factory was not taken until the 14 of May, see also William Mackay, Tongue and the story of a Tongue soldier).
At 5:25pm the 4 Seaforths sent back runners to ask for an intense bombardment to be made on enemy troops, reported to be concentrating at the North end of the Rouex cemetery. This report proved correct when at 5:30pm an enemy counter attack hit the Seaforth line, from the north and Greenland Hill. The attacking waves of German infantry from Greenland Hill were cut up by rifle men and Lewis gunners, the attacking developing from Rouex cemetery was destroyed by British artillery fire with the survivors dispersed by machine-guns.
German troops were again seen advancing at 8:20pm and two platoons were sent up to reinforce the line. At 8:45pm the situation became desperate when the SOS flares were fired for British artillery to fire a barrage on the Seaforth lines, the battalion was then forced to fall back at 9pm to the old German line.
British and German artillery now began to shell the whole of the Chemical factory, the flank platoon suffered 15 casualties and was forced to pull back. The party from 153 Brigade on the flank also pulled back suffering grievous losses, enemy troops began to advance working their way around the Seaforths.
The Seaforth Highlanders now began to run out of ammunition, as resupply could not get up to them and the battalion had to reluctantly withdraw to consolidate the line. The Germans however did not push on with their counter-attack but instead began to establish machine-gun posts. Two enemy gun teams set themselves up on the road from the Station to the Chateau, about fifty enemy soldiers occupied a house to the South of the railway.
Seaforth Highlander patrols tried to push their way forward during the night but before they could move 50yards, they came under heavy machine-gun fire. The Highlanders now began to dig in and prepare for the counter-attack they knew would come at dawn.
At 4:30am on the morning of the 24 of April 1917, German gunners began to bombard the area around the Chemical Factory, before enemy infantry advanced from behind Greenland Hill at 4:45am. The Seaforth Highlanders opened fire at 5am with rifles and Lewis guns, killing many of the enemy soldiers advancing towards them. All the SOS rockets were used up so artillery support was sent for using Morse code from power buzzers and lamps; the enemy attack broke up under heavy artillery fire not many Germans survived to return to their lines.
The Seaforths were relieved by the 11 Battalion Suffolk Regiment later that day and returned to billets in Arras. The roll was taken in Arras and the battalion reported casualties of one officer and fifteen other ranks killed four officers and eighty other ranks were wounded. On the 25 of April the battalion was moved by train to Ligny-St Flochel and marched to rest billets at Maizieres.
Private Neil Munro was one of those killed in action by shellfire on the 23 and 24 of April 1917, he was nineteen years of age and had only been in France for a few weeks it had been his first battle. He had a brother John who also served in the Seaforth Highlanders; he survived and returned home after the war. The Roll of Honour in Tongue church says that John was awarded the Military Medal during his service in World War One. However there is no official notice of this award.