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Great War seen as ‘adventure’ for Falkirk men

Regimental Sergeant Major William Neilson, pictured with wife Bridget, lied about his age to get enlisted with the Gordon Highlanders when he was too young to join up

Regimental Sergeant Major William Neilson, pictured with wife Bridget, lied about his age to get enlisted with the Gordon Highlanders when he was too young to join up

 

In search of adventure, thousands of young local men signed up for war in 1914.

Times were extremely tough back in the early part of the 20th century. Falkirk historian and Herald columnist Ian Scott said that for many of the men from this area conscription was “an escape from tough and often poorly rewarded lives at home and a chance for adventure”.

While young men queued to join up to go to the frontline once war had broken out on August 4, 1914 – some even lying about their age – others from the district were already enlisted and had years of service behind them.

Among them was the grandfather of Gordon Bain and Dorè O’Donnell, William Neilson, who fought with the 1st Battalion Gordon Highlanders and is thought to have lost his life in the Battle of Verdun – the longest battle of the war which raged from February 21 to December 16, 1916.

Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM) Neilson died on March 2, 1916, aged 36 after being shot by a German sniper.

As a youngster, he tried to join the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. But they wouldn’t take him because he was too young. So he lied, said he was older and joined the Gordon Highlanders.

By the time WW1 had begun RSM Neilson had served in South Africa, where he was awarded the Queen’s S.A. medal, and Ireland where he met his wife Bridget. The couple had five children – Bill, Aileen, Kathleen, Leonie and Gordon and Dorè’s mum Jessie. The family lived at 97A Wallace Street in Falkirk.

Gordon (67), from Hallglen, said: “My mum used to tell me he tried to join the local regiments of the Argylls and Black Watch.

“They wouldn’t take him as he was too young so he ran off, fibbed about his age and got enlisted in the Gordon Highlanders.”

Dorè (77) said: “My mum remembered the day the family got the telegram saying he had died. She was immensely proud of her father, as we all are.”

 

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