21 June 2024
  • 21 June 2024

The Renfrewshire Victoria Crosses by Graham Fulton

on 20 April 2023 0

Brian Hannan from Abbey Books in Paisley takes a look at a new book, The Renfrewshire Victoria Crosses by Graham Fulton

Paisley poet Graham Fulton has commemorated the actions of the five Paisley men awarded the country’s highest wartime honour – the Victoria Cross – in battles from the Crimean War to World Two. These include John Hannah, the youngest person ever to receive the honour.

The Victoria Cross was initiated in 1856 by the Queen as a means of recognising acts of extreme courage during the Crimean War. The first Paisley soldier to receive the medal was James McKechnie, aged 19 when he joined the Army, promoted to sergeant by the time the Crimean War broke out in 1853. In one intense period of battle, Sgt McKechnie retrieved the company’s flag and despite being wounded waved it aloft, rallying the troops and restoring order to the regiment.

Weaver’s son Samuel Evens also won his Victoria Cross in the Crimean War. It was his bravery at the Siege of Sevastopol that brought his name to the attention of the Queen. Under fire from the enemy, Evens volunteered to repair a breach in the trenches. He received the medal from the Queen at Hyde Park on 26 June, 1957.

The son of a building contractor – and later magistrate – and a domestic maid, Arthur Henderson was born in Greenhills Road in Paisley in 1893. An accountant and stockbroker to trade, Arthur enlisted when the First World War broke out and by 1916 was Acting Captain. By that point he had already won a Military Cross during the Battle of the Somme.

During the Second Battle of the Scarpe in 1917, although wounded, he led his Company through the German front lines to reach his objective. The men came under severe attack and Henderson led a bayonet charge against the enemy to consolidate the position and through his leadership maintained the spirit of his men under intense fire. Unfortunately, his VC was awarded posthumously because he died of his wounds. If you ever wonder why there’s a street in Hawkhead named Arthur Henderson Avenue, it’s in memory of him. And he also made the cover of an edition of The Victor comic.

The Renfrewshire Victoria Crosses

Hugh McIver was born in 1890 in Napier St in Linwood – then separate from Paisley but now of course incorporated into the larger town. He followed his father down the mines, in Lanarkshire. He was awarded the Military Medal in 1916, with a bar to it two years later. During the Hundred Days Offensive of 1918, he single-handedly attacked a German machine gun post, killing six of the enemy and taking 20 prisoners. Nine days later he was killed in action, but his valour was rewarded with the Victoria Cross. There’s an avenue named after him the same Hawkhead estate as Arthur Henderson.

The youngest winner of the Victoria Cross, John Hannah, was born in Paisley in 1921. Initially a shoe salesman, he enlisted in the RAF in August 1939. By 1940 he was a wireless operator and gunner in a Handley Page Hampden bomber. During an attack on German barges in Antwerp, his plane was badly hit. While the rear gunner and navigator bailed out when fire destroyed the floor, Hannah fought the flames with fire extinguishers. Although badly burned he remained in position and put out the fire. It was only when he landed that the true scale of his injuries were known.

It’s very easy these to forget about the men who fought for their country when called to arms and responded with courage above and beyond the call of duty. Graham Fulton, whose previous book explored Paisley’s connection to the American Civil War, has done a superb job of bringing these brave men to life as well as explaining the various actions in which they were involved through his clear and concise style and his use of maps and photographs.

The Renfrewshire Victoria Crosses, priced £5, is available from Abbey Books in Wellmeadow Street, Paisley and online.

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