Remembering Muiravonside’s fallen heroes of the Great War

Fallen soldiers -from top Neil Thomson, Peter Forsyth and Peter Johnston.  Bottom David Rodger, Peter Wilson, Charles Main
Fallen soldiers -from top Neil Thomson, Peter Forsyth and Peter Johnston. Bottom David Rodger, Peter Wilson, Charles Main

Last Saturday I was in Maddiston at the launch of an excellent new book by local historian David Leask called No More Forgotten Heroes.

As the title implies David has investigated the backgrounds of the men from Muiravonside who fell in the Great War and whose only commemoration is a name on one of the local war memorials.

The main one, in the graveyard of Muiravonside Parish Church, was unveiled on May 14, 1921 and has the names of 103 men who died. The book also identifies the men of ‘Muiravonside and Redford Collieries’ who are remembered on the memorial in Standburn. In all David has been able to discover important family and military information about over 100 of the ‘forgotten heroes’ using a variety of sources but especially the contemporary reports in the Falkirk Herald.

Looking back through the old newspapers is a sobering experience. Most weeks the Herald carried an item called For King and Country with images of the latest casualties. Young faces smiling out under tin helmets, Glengarries, berets or peaked caps taken when the thought of ‘doing your duty’ or escaping the drudgery of the pits seemed like a great adventure.

Elsewhere formal reports tell us that “ Mr Charles Wilson, Rainhill Cottage, Maddiston has been officially notified that his son Private Peter Wilson, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, posted as missing on April 15, 1916, is now reported to have been killed on that date. Private Wilson who enlisted at the outbreak of the war was, prior to joining the colours, employed as a miner in Craigend Colliery”.

Like Peter Wilson a large proportion of the men were former miners. Although exempt from military service because of the need to maintain coal supplies many rushed to the recruiting office in 1914 which tells us a bit about the harsh conditions below ground in the local pits in the days before health and safety!

Sometimes the newspapers included testimonials from officers telling parents of their son’s devotion to duty, popularity in the platoon or heroism in action. Occasionally they refer to other brothers serving at the front or who have fallen already. Seven pairs of brothers died: Meeks, Reids, Lithgows, Kelsos, Lonies, Robertsons and McCartneys.

I was amazed at the number of different regiments represented among the fallen. According to the book there were 25 different corps or regiments ranging from the locally popular like the Royal Scots and the Argylls to the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, the Army Cyclist Corps and even the Otago Mounted Rifles with whom Trooper Robert Thomson fought having emigrated to New Zealand in 1913.

Another thing I hadn’t realised was that the tower of the old Catholic Church in Rumford which is still standing was erected as a memorial to the men of St Anthony’s who died on active service.

As well as the individual reports David has included a section on all the military cemeteries where the Muiravonside men are buried. There are 50 of them and the photographs show how beautifully designed and maintained they are. What a contrast with the grim reality that they commemorate.

David’s book is an excellent addition to those already published with more in preparation covering different parts of the district. Along with the huge database compiled by Falkirk Community Trust’s Heritage team they offer us a picture of the local response to the great and tragic events of 1914-18 which shaped much of the history of the 20th century.

David’s book, which was financed by the Heritage Lottery Fund, is available from Maddiston and Rumford Local History Group and Falkirk Local History Society.