Ian Scott: A final tribute to those who failed to return

Unveiling of Falkirk's war memorial in June 1926.
Unveiling of Falkirk's war memorial in June 1926.

In the aftermath of the First World War the towns and villages of Falkirk district raised 17 memorials to the 3000 or more soldiers lost in that most terrible of conflicts.

The Falkirk Burgh War Memorial in Dollar Park was different from the others in several ways. Most obviously it marked the deaths of more than any of the others: as the inscription tells us “Over Eleven Hundred Falkirk Bairns Died for their King and Country and in the Cause of Freedom, 1914-19”.

It was also the last one to be dedicated and, finally, it is the only one that does not carry the names of the fallen.

By 1919, most parishes had formed committees to oversee the process of gathering the names of those who died in action. Individual families, churches and other organisations were invited to submit names and these were sifted to ensure they did not appear on more than one memorial and that all who were entitled to a place were included. It was no easy task. As Russell Macgillivray’s recent research proves, many men from Larbert and Stenhousemuir didn’t make it on to the Dobbie Hall memorial for a variety of reasons.

The first in our area to unveil their memorial were the villagers of Avonbridge whose granite cross was dedicated in October, 1920. Over the next two years the others followed and by July, 1924 it was complete. Except that is for Falkirk. The Parish Council was slow off the mark, possibly because there was a strong feeling that a memorial should take the form of a veterans’ home. By the early 1920s there was talk of a small plain memorial in the cemetery, but that brought objections from those who thought the burgh was letting itself down.

Meantime several organisations like schools and churches had unveiled their own plaques and it was not until 1923 that a proper fund-raising committee was formed and two years more before there was a design and a location. At first the idea was that it should be in Newmarket Street, but eventually the Dollar Park site was chosen, despite the disapproval of many who thought it should be in the town centre.

The final design was by local architect Leonard Blakey and the completed memorial was unveiled by the Duke of Montrose on June 13, 1926. The names of those who died in both wars were not included and one man for whom this omission has rankled for many years is former Provost Pat Reid who laid the wreath at the Memorial for each of the 10 years of his distinguished service.

Every year the people joined in the words of the promise: ‘‘We will remember them...’’ but the lack of names seemed to contradict the sentiment. Pat thinks that we should put this right ... and he is not alone.

A number of like-minded people in the community, including those from business, the political parties and others with experience of such projects, have come together to establish the Friends of Falkirk War Memorial.

Over recent years, such Friends groups have been able to mobilise public support and raise the funds necessary to do great things for our community. But it will be no easy task.

The physical challenge of finding space for over 1100 names from World War 1 as well as 450 plus from World War II is considerable, and the cost will no doubt be significant.

But the battle to honour the fallen will be as nothing compared to the sacrifice made by the men and women who left their families and never returned.