memories of the famous GLASGOW
William Angus, the son of a coalminer, was born
in Linlithgow on 28 February. 1888. He left school at the age of 14 to
work in a coal mine in Lanarkshire. While playing amateur football for
Carluke Rovers, in 1911 he signed professional terms with Glasgow Celtic
but failed to become a regular member of the first team. He played with
Celtic FC during seasons 1912-13 and 1913-14, then in 1914 he signed for
On the outbreak of War William joined the 8th Battalion, Highland
Light Infantry. He was sent to the Western Front and was on the
at Givenchy in the summer of 1915.
After his return from the war, he was often invited to major football
matches as guest of honour.
He became President of Carluke Rovers FC, and retained that position
until his death.
~ ~ ~
12th June 1915, 'D' Company 8th Royal Scots were in a front line
trench on the outskirts of Givenchy La Bassť, in northern France. Just
70 yards lay between them and the German trenches. For many weeks the
German front line had held a strategic point on top of a small
embankment. In trench map notation, it was known as Point I4. The
British had pushed back the German front line on both sides of this
point, but the embankment afforded the enemy an elevated view over 'No
Man's Land', and had proved insurmountable.
During the night of 11 June, it was decided to launch a covert bombing
raid on the embankment, in the hope of displacing the enemy and allowing
the storming of their trench. A party of bombers led by Lt James Martin
was chosen to carry out this task. The Germans had long anticipated such
a move, and as soon as the bombers began their work, the enemy detonated
a large mine secreted in the earth. This blew a vast hole in the
embankment, creating a gap 15 feet wide, and reducing the embankment to
ground level at it's northern edge. It forced the bombing party to
retreat to the British trenches.
As they regrouped, they found that Lt Martin was among those missing.
Always a popular officer with the troops, his loss was a major blow to
them. As 12th June dawned, they could see Lt Martin lying on the
embankment, close to the parapet that housed the enemy machine guns. As
they watched, they saw him stir, barely conscious, but obviously alive.
So close was he to the German parapet that the enemy could not bring
their guns to bear on him.
As the hot day wore on, Martin recovered sufficiently to plead with the
Germans for a drink of water. They responded by throwing a bomb over the
parapet. The British troops were outraged and talk soon spread along the
trench about the officer's predicament.
L/Cpl Angus, on hearing of the situation, immediately volunteered to
attempt a rescue. This was vetoed by senior officers, but Angus was
adamant that he be allowed to make the attempt. Explaining that he and
Martin belonged to the same small town in Scotland, he felt that he
could not return there having left him to die. His pleas were rejected
until the arrival of Brigadier General Lawford, who eventually agreed to
allow Angus to make the attempt. Counselled that he was facing certain
death, Angus replied that it did not matter much whether death came now
A rope was tied around the L/Cpl, so that he could be dragged back if
killed or seriously injured, and he set off on his mission. He used
ground cover so effectively that he managed to reach Martin without
being detected. His first unselfish act was to remove his rope lifeline
and tie it instead around Lt Martin. He raised him up and fed him some
brandy, preparing for the dangerous return. At some point the enemy
became aware of his presence and began to throw bombs over the parapet.
Angus raised Martin to his feet and began to carry him back across No
Mans Land towards the safety of the trench 70 yards away. A hail of
bombs and bullets followed, and on several occasions he fell to the
ground wounded, only to rise again and continue carrying the officer
The throwing of bombs caused a great deal of dust, which spoiled the aim
of the snipers. Shrapnel from the bombs was considerable, and Angus
suffered several serious injuries as he sheltered Lt Martin with his
body. Eventually, Martin recovered sufficiently for Angus to signal the
troops to pull the officer in unaided.
At that point Angus set off at
right angles to the trench, drawing the enemy fire with him, and
allowing others to haul Lt Martin into the trench. Mown down on several
occasions, the injuries were to cost William Angus his left eye and part
of his right foot. He eventually reached the safety of a British trench,
where he collapsed and was rushed to a medical station and evacuated.
Medway Archives and Local Studies Centre website CityArk
Word of his action passed quickly around the front, and
back home to Britain. Lt.Colonel Gemmill, Officer Commanding at
Givenchy, wrote that, 'No braver deed was ever done in the history of
the British Army'.
L/Cpl Angus was recommended for the Victoria Cross, and no-one who
had witnessed the incident was in any doubt that he would receive it.
unsuccessful attempts to save his eye, Lance Corporal Angus returned to
Britain, and on 30 August 1915 he was presented with the
Victoria Cross at Buckingham Palace. The King was particularly
impressed by the incident and on hearing that Willie's father was in the
adjoining room, insisted that he be brought to join his son for the
occasion. The King spoke with both men for a time far in excess of that
allocated, and repeatedly expressed his admiration and appreciation of
L/Cpl Angus's story lives on in the annals of the British Army.
One of the great heroes of the war, he remained a very unassuming man,
never speaking of his actions unless pressed hard to do so, with his
account always falling short of the facts. Both he and James Martin
returned to Carluke, where they became firm friends. Every year Martin
sent him a telegram on the anniversary of the incident. 'Congratulations
on the 12th', it always read. On Martin's death in 1956, his brother
continued the tradition.
His Victoria Cross is displayed in the
new Scottish War Museum in Edinburgh Castle, where the display
tells the story of two men who grew up together, who joined the army
together, went to war together, and thanks to this incredible display of
courage and humanity, returned home together. Continuing this theme, the
medals of Lt Martin are displayed there alongside William Angus's VC.
In these days where the term 'hero' is recklessly applied to sportsmen
and politicians, William Angus VC illustrates the real meaning of
the word. We shall seldom see his like again.
William Angus VC
'D' Company 8th Royal Scots
William Angus VC, aged 68, pictured on 5th July 1956.
This photograph was taken in Carluke during a civic reception for him,
Sgt Caldwell VC and Cdr Cameron VC. The occasion was the 100th
anniversary of the Victoria Cross.
Sgt Caldwell returned from Australia, and Cdr Cameron from Hampshire.
All three attended the 100th celebrations in London, before returning to
Carluke where their bravery was again acknowledged by the town.
The headstone at the grave of William Angus VC,
in Wilton Cemetery, Wilton Road, Carluke.
The replica of the Victoria Cross was designed and manufactured by Mr
Angus's engineer son, the late Nugent Angus. Nugent made the replica and
fixed it to the headstone in 1975, covering an original carving of the
medal into the granite of the stone. The original had weathered and was
William Angus VC died just two days after the 44th anniversary of
his brave deed. His last annual telegram of thanks from the Martin
family was delivered to him in hospital.
"The bravest deed done in the history of the British Army."
Lt Col Gemmill, Givenchy 1915
A true hero.
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