Bill and Elsie continued to correspond after his embarkation for France on 6 December 1916. On 16 May 1917 he was very seriously wounded at Roeux. The following story describes how close he came to death. It appeared in the Evening News, 2 December 1930, in an article about ‘Queer Stories of the War’ and under the headline, ‘The Foot That Moved’:
The Foot That Moved
No doubt this story also appears in Letters from the Front; Being a Record of the Part Played by Officers of the Bank in the Great War 1914-1919 [2 Volumes], edited by Charles Lyons Foster (Contributor William Smith Duthie) which was published by the Canadian Bank of Commerce in 1920.
Immediately after the capture of Vimy Ridge in April, 1917, the chemical works at Roeux became a second Verdun; The works, or what remained of them, changed hands eight times in six weeks.
The 51st Highland Division was heavily engaged in this area, and on May 16 my battalion, the 5th Gordon Highlanders was rushed up before dawn to counter-attack, as the works had again fallen into German hands during the night.
We engaged the enemy all day, making three attacks. Our first recaptured the works; our second drove the Germans out of the trench system behind the ruins; and our third had as its objective the capture of Greenland Hill – an eminence of immense strategic importance. (It was finally captured by a Canadian Corps a year later.)
Our assault on Greenland Hill was timed to start at 7 p.m. Our artillery opened to the minute, and over the top we went, but we never reached our objective. We were caught up in the hellish barrage the Germans put down on us the moment we kicked off.
The men of the Border Regiment which relieved the remnants of the 5th Gordons in the trench from which our attack had started were ordered to keep a special look-out for possible survivors in front.
At twilight on May 18 a lance-corporal of the Border Regiment saw a foot move some forty yards out in front. He carefully noted the position and went out a little later and found that the foot was that of a subaltern of the Gordon Highlanders who was lying under two shattered bodies which for two days had given him cover.
He brought him in. His steel helmet was split nearly in two, his head gashed, he was unconscious, and appeared to be beyond human aid, but he was alive.
I recovered partial consciousness in hospital on June 3. I had a fractured skull, was blind, and paralysed from the waist down; and here is the queer part - neither of my feet moved again for several weeks, until my paralysis began to ebb away and my sight to return.
It was more than strange that my foot should have moved at that particular moment when my rescuer was looking my way, and when there was just sufficient light for him to note any movement. Another night out and I should have joined the others. – W.S. Duthie, late lieutenant, Gordon Highlanders (51st Highland Division), Greylands, Ifield, near Crawley, Sussex.