Sunday, 12 June 2011

William Angus wins the Victoria Cross - On This Day in Scottish Military History, 1915

Today's event is of particular interest to me. William Angus lived in Carluke, the village I currently reside in, and there are many references to him throughout the town: I'll come to them later on.

The events of the 12th June 1915 are fairly well know, but it's worthwhile mentioning the citation for his Victoria Cross again:

"For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty at Givenchy on 12 June 1915, in voluntarily leaving his trench under very heavy bomb and rifle fire and rescuing a wounded officer who was lying within a few yards of the enemy's position. Lance-Corporal Angus had no chance whatsoever in escaping the enemy's fire when undertaking this very gallant action, and in effecting the rescue he sustained about 40 wounds from bombs, some of them being very serious"

There are many aspects of the Angus VC story that make it particularly interesting. Some of them are true, some of them have become a little "twisted" after time, and some of them seem so unlikely that you are left wondering if they could be true or not.

I thought that rather than go over old ground, describing in detail the actions of that day, I would instead look at a couple of aspects of the story that have perhaps become muddled over time or are thought of a part of the "myths" of the tale.

One of the main things you are often told is that Angus is the "Celtic VC". The Celtic aspect is a little unclear. It's often described that he struggled to break into the team, and that his appearances were restricted to a mere handful. Other reports state that it was only one game played for them. Contemporary reports, however, state that although he was employed by Celtic Football Club at one time, he never played a game for them.

There is certainly some evidence to back this up. In the Mitchell Library is a book published a few years ago, which lists all the players who appeared for Celtic. It seems fairly comprehensive, even mentioning Allan Lynch, who only ever appeared for Celtic as a trialist - William Angus is not listed in this book. That would seem to suggest he did not play for them.

However, I do not blame Celtic or their fans from "claiming" him as one of their own. He was employed by them - if it was my club I would claim him too.

We are on firmer ground when we discuss the "40 wounds" aspect of the story. Forty wounds seems ridiculous. Surely it was made up?

Well...perhaps not. Take a look at this:

that is a section from the service record of William Angus, available to download on Ancestry. As you can see, that's a fairly serious list of wounds. From what I can read (and deciphering some of the jargon) here's what he received:

  • Gun shot wounds to his right leg
  • Bomb wounds to his head, shoulders and foot
  • Grenade wounds to his left eye socket, leg and arm
  • Bomb wounds to his right eye socket and eye, left side of his body, right thigh and foot
and as you can clearly see, they removed his eye the following month. Notice how all of these entries are plural: "wounds", not wound. Forty wounds? Seems like it's not such a myth.

It was pleasing to me to read that entry from his service record. I've always had an interest in the Angus story. It's a story of one incredible action by a man who by all rights shouldn't have survived.

Like I said above, I live in Carluke, and there are references to Angus all over. Carluke is a very small village (albeit larger now than in Angus's time) so it's incredible that it can lay claim to being the home of not one or even two, but three winners of the Victoria Cross. All three are fondly remembered - they all have streets named after them, and there is a stone in the market place where they are all listed.

In addition to this I remember seeing one of the local football teams (it may have been a school team, or a junior side. I'm afraid I didn't make a note at the time) who use an image of the Victoria Cross as their badge, and the recently opened community centre has a focal display of stained glass with images of local landmarks and items of note. One of the panes of glass features three VCs.

Travel slightly farther afield and you can view his medals in the National War Museum at Edinburgh Castle. fittingly they are displayed next to those of Lieutenant James Martin, the man from the same village whose life he saved 96 years ago today.

All this fuss may have embarrassed Angus had he known of it. By all reports he was a modest man and would only tell his story if prompted. Whatever his feelings about it, he was a remarkably brave man, and he deserves to be remembered as an inspiration and example to all.

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