On Tuesday of this week I was in the fabulous Hippodrome Cinema in Bo’ness but not this time to watch the stars of the silver screen.
Instead I, and the many other guests, gathered to remember the men of the town who gave their lives in the Great War of 1914-18 and who are honoured on the town’s war memorial.
The occasion was the launch of a new book on the subject entitled ‘‘Without Fear’’ which tells the stories of the men, all 398 of them, who died answering the call in that most brutal of conflicts on land and sea, in Europe and beyond.
The book is the work of three local men, Alan Gow, Robert Jardine and Richard Hannah, who came together several years ago through a shared interest in the war as well as family connections to several of the fallen.
In the intervening years they have used a whole variety of sources available these days on the internet as well as hundreds of newspaper reports, diaries, family papers, military records and gravestones to tell the individual stories and set them in the context of the battles and campaigns in France and Belgium, Salonika, Mesopotamia, Italy, Turkey and, of course, at sea.
The long list of acknowledgements is testimony to the large number of Bo’ness folk who came forward with their family stories and precious photographs.
A generous grant from the Heritage Fund financed the publication of the book which is about Bo’ness by the people of Bo’ness as well as a compelling account of the war itself.
The first Bo’ness man to fall in battle was Private William Hunter who died at Mons on August 23, 1914, just 19 days after Britain declared war on Germany. The last to die on active service, Private William Youngston, a gardener in the town before he enlisted, was killed on November 1, 1918, just ten days before the armistice that brought the conflict to an end.
William had been part of a platoon of Cameronians helping to liberate a town in Belgium as part of the final advance in Flanders.
Inevitably the port town contributed a significant number of men to the Royal Navy and Merchant Navy and a large number of those who died were lost at sea often in terrible circumstances.
Many fought in the one great naval encounter, the Battle of Jutland, in the summer of 1916 including seven former Bo’ness coal miners who had joined the Royal Naval Reserve in the early years of the war.
Ironically they died while shovelling coal as stokers in the bowels of HMS Black Prince which sank with the loss of all 857 crew members.
There are additional sections on local prisoners of war, on men honoured for valour and about the war memorial itself which was unveiled on July 12, 1924. As well as the stories of the men and the battles there are over 1000 photographs which add so much to the book.
Not surprisingly then, the result is a very big volume.
I think it must be the biggest local history book I have ever seen at over 550 A4 pages in hardback form.
For those who share a love of history, the Great War or Bo’ness it is a must have!
The authors set out in 2016 to create a detailed record which would serve future generations and they have certainly succeeded.
A gift from the present to the future about their shared past.