It’s a Falkirk home for a hero

The homecoming
The homecoming

A mother and daughter travelled thousands of mile to solve a family mystery.

Jan Hendry grew up in Canada hearing stories of her uncle who was awarded the George Cross for his heroic actions during World War II when he helped save fellow soldiers and villagers following an explosion.

With the help of Bantaskine couple Anna and Donnie MacAngus, Jan and her daughter Emily were able to track down the cottage in Falkirk where James Hendry was born in 1911.

Jan (65) said: “My uncle was an almost mythical figure. No-one ever had a bad word to say about him. Voices would change when they talked about him and he was a very well-respected man.”

Her daughter Emily Graham (29) is the third generation of the family to learn of the brave relative and she encouraged her mum to make the 3300 miles journey from her home in Sudbury, Ontario. The pair visited Speyside where four years ago a memorial cairn was erected to James Hendry and another Canadian soldier who was killed.

Jan said: “It was very touching that the people in that community went to the trouble of putting up the cairn at such a beautiful spot.”

In 2008, her uncle Bill was in Kinlochlaggan on the Ardverikie Estate for its unveiling.

Jan and Emily, who is a lawyer in Toronto, then travelled to Falkirk to search for Hawthorn Cottage, which James and his parents, John and Janet, left when he was a toddler to make a new life across the Atlantic.

They were assisted by Donnie and wife Anna, and all were amazed how many people were keen to help track down James’ birthplace.

Donnie said: “We knew Hawthorn Cottage was in Lime Road but were told it became part of what is now Tamfourhill Road. We walked along and there it was.”

They were thrilled when the present owner of the cottage came out to talk to them and on hearing the story, invited them in to see around.

Jan added: “I was expecting something very small and humble, but it is a very beautiful house. We were very grateful for the hospitality.”

James had followed his father into the mines and when war broke out joined the 1st Tunnelling Company, Royal Canadian Engineers.

In 1941 he was one of those sent to Speyside to help construct a hydro-electric tunnel to increase the water supply for the British Aluminium works at Kinlochleven which was important to the war effort.

But on Friday, June 13 an explosion killed two and injured eight.

James (29) had come out to read his mail from home, most likely from his fiancée Mary McKeown, but when he saw smoke coming from a shed storing explosive close to the tunnel, he raised the alarm before rushing in with water in an attempt to put out the flames.

Although he was a serviceman, because his actions were not in the face of the enemy, in 1943 Corporal Hendry was posthumously awarded the George Cross.

He is buried in Brookwood Military Cemetery, Surrey.

Jan added: “Mary McKeown never married, but was always treated like a daughter-in-law by my grandmother.”