Over the next few years ‘Memory Lane’ will be crowded with shadowy images of young soldiers going “over the top” at Ypres or the Somme and the faces of the fallen staring from newspapers under stark headlines like ‘Missing in Action’.
The Great War was one of those events that brought major national and international affairs to the doorsteps of every home.
Falkirk district has 17 public memorials erected in the aftermath of the conflict as our community mourned its lost generation of nearly 3000 who left foundries and mines, farms and factories, shops and schools to do what they saw as their duty to ‘God and the King’. Nobody is alive today who took part in the conflict but when I was a child in the 1950s many of the ‘old men’ in and around the town had survived the horrors, though few would talk about what they had seen.
Now they are gone and with them our link to those who didn’t return. The memorials, often showing only name, rank and regiment, were all we had. But, as the centenary approaches, people have been giving life to those names using military records and local newspapers to find personal information on each of the fallen.
Over in Stenhousemuir, Russell McGillivray has traced the backgrounds of many names on the Dobbie Hall memorial. In Callendar House the heritage and archive staff are helping to co-ordinate the efforts and want to hear from anybody who can help fill in missing parts of these harrowing but often uplifting stories.
Many local churches also have their own plaques. In the new Falkirk Trinity Church the two Bills, Mitchell and Laurie, have done a great job searching out hidden accounts of the 93 men on the Falkirk Parish Church memorial, while Winnie McPherson and Ellen Hamilton have had similar success finding out about the 26 from what was then the Erskine United Free Church. They have, for example, been able to locate a great-grandson of Mrs Marion Mungall, the lady who unveiled the Erskine Memorial in May 1921. She was the oldest member of the congregation and had herself lost two grandsons and her son-in-law.
The family has been able to provide valuable information including photographs. But it is not an easy job and even painstaking research sometimes comes up with little or nothing. That’s why they are looking for your help. If you think you may have some information on the Parish Church or Erskine memorials then please drop me an email or give me a ring on (01324) 627692.
I can let you know the names on the plaques if you are unsure. Anything you have I’ll pass it on and with luck the picture will be complete by the time the anniversary comes round.
When General Sir Francis Davis unveiled the Parish Church memorial in April 1923 he said: “Would it not be a terrible thing if in a hundred years’ time a stranger entering the church asked what were these bronze tablets and was met by the answer – I really don’t know. It has always been there. I never thought to enquire.”
It is up to all of us to ensure that what happened in 1914-18 is never forgotten. National politicians seldom seem to learn the lessons of history but that doesn’t mean we should give up reminding them.