WWI ‘an escape from poorly rewarded lives’ for many Falkirk men

The memorial board at Falkirk High School. Picture: Michael Gillen (140722a)
The memorial board at Falkirk High School. Picture: Michael Gillen (140722a)

The special anniversary we have been anticipating for several years now is nearly upon us. Monday, August 4, will mark the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War as it was later known in which millions lost their lives, including over 3000 young men from Falkirk district.

On that day in 1914 and in the weeks that followed, men by the hundreds queued down West Bridge Street to sign on in a rush to the colours that was repeated all over the country.

Bonnybridge war memorial where a service marking the 100th anniversary will take place on Monday

Bonnybridge war memorial where a service marking the 100th anniversary will take place on Monday

For many it was an escape from tough and often poorly rewarded lives at home and a chance for adventure. For most it was a matter of doing your duty. When it all began to go sour in the mud of Flanders the leaders of the land said it was the “war to end wars”. Sadly we know better now.

The terrible events of 1914-18 still evoke a mixture of emotions: admiration for the sheer courage and unwavering determination of ordinary young men doing extraordinary things; incredulity that the conflict was allowed to drag on for so long with such terrible consequences; deep sadness at the suffering of the soldiers and their stricken families; and the dignity with which they faced the devastation in every small village and town.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning. We will remember them.

There are many ways to remember. In the aftermath 17 public memorials were raised by shocked communities in our area while church congregations put up memorial plaques naming the dead from Ypres and Mons, Gallipoli and the Somme.

Today we look back at these lists and try to find out a little more about their lives and families. Several projects are underway and the results of one were published this week in a book called ‘They Shall Grow Not Old’. It tells of the men from the Parish Church and Erskine Church who left with high expectations and did not return.

The book is available from Trinity Church or from Waterstones. I expect that the excellent work done by my friends ‘the two Ronnies’ at Larbert Old, and Russell McGillivray on the Larbert and Stenhousemuir memorial will also be available and I’d be happy to help them or anybody else to publicise their results. The public war memorials will also be the focus of commemoration.

I will be attending the event on Monday organised in Bonnybridge by Councillor Billy Buchanan when we will walk from the community centre the short distance to the memorial, leaving around 6.50 p.m. for a short service of remembrance. Everybody is very welcome.

Billy has asked that all the church bells in Falkirk district ring for two minutes at 7 p.m. It is a great idea and one which will help remind the whole population that this is not just any other day. Billy also has an exhibition planned for the village and a free memorial concert in Falkirk Town Hall on August 16 for music, drama and remembrance.

Tickets should be reserved by contacting Bonnybridge Library (503295) or the community centre.

The Great War changed our world, not least because a whole generation of innocent men laid down their lives.

We will remember them.