War casualties and medallists

During and after the war, medals were issued to mark periods of active service or specific acts of gallantry. A member of the public has kindly allowed us to photograph medals awarded to men from Barrhead.

Private Archibald Stevenson's medals shown here (top right) are the British War Medal (blue and orange ribbon) and the Victory Medal (rainbow ribbon). The British War Medal was awarded to all members of the British Empire who had served in the forces during World War 1. The Victory Medal was given to everyone who received a 1914 or 1914-1915 Star and to most of those who received a British War Medal.

The medals shown second right are 1914-15 Stars. These were issued to members of the forces who had seen active service between 5th August 1914 and 31st December 1915 (except for those who had received the previously issued 1914 Star).

These particular medals belonged to Private J. Miller, 17th Battalion, Highland Light Infantry, of Barrhead, and Private Thomas Smith, 1st/6th Battalion, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, of 23 Carlibar Road, Barrhead.

Although the nearest Victoria Cross recipient was from Nitshill, there were many local winners of the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM), which was awarded for gallantry and 'distinguished conduct in the field'. The Military Cross (MC) was also awarded to men from the district for 'an act or acts of exemplary gallantry during active operations against the enemy on land.' At least one Distinguished Service Medal (DSM) was awarded for bravery and resourcefulness on active service at sea. (The MC was only awarded to officers while the DCM was awarded to men of other ranks)

In Barrhead, a Distinguished Service Fund was established with the aim of presenting each decorated man with an inscribed gold watch. Public presentations often took place the Pavilion Picture House, which was owned by Mr. George Urie Scott. Neilston honoured its heroes in similar ceremonies at the Glen Halls.

At first donations flowed into the fund, but as the war went on, they began to decrease. The more affluent members in the area had to donate the shortfall but the fund achieved its aim of honouring all those decorated.

On the right are pictures from the Barrhead News, 18th February 1916, showing two local soldiers.  On the left is one of the local DCM medallists, Corporal Christie. It was rare at this time for photographs to be printed in the paper. In the accompanying report of his presentation speech, the corporal said that, from his experience, 'every man out there [in France] deserved the DCM.'

On the same page, the paper reported the sad death of a previous DCM medallist, Sergeant Alex Martin of Springhill (shown right). He had been killed leaving the trenches after a spell of duty.

Sergeant Martin had gained his award for: 'conspicuous gallantry and resource throughout the campaign when in charge of the stretcher bearers. He has on many occasions picked up wounded men and carried messages under heavy fire, and has shown the greatest devotion to duty.' A soldier for over 20 years in the Scots Guards, and who had seen action in South Africa before going to France, Sergeant Martin had never before been wounded in battle, up until his death.

(Barrhead News images (c) British Library Board. All rights reserved. Shelfmark: 1916 SCT 3200 [1916])

The Barrhead News also reported medallist recipients from all around the district and many more from East Renfrewshire were honoured. Busby man Sgt. J. Lang of 108 Battery Royal Field Artillery was awarded the DCM in January 1915.

Of course, not all acts of bravery or courageous men were given official recognition. For example, the man in the photograph to the right is Private James Stott of Busby, who was sent to France in November 1914 and did not return until the war ended. During this period he refused any type of promotion, preferring to remain with the regular troops on the frontline.

By Autumn 1914, news of the first deaths began to filter through, and as the war went on more and more casualties were reported.

The local newspaper printed news of those killed, wounded or missing every week. Coverage stretched to other areas now in East Renfrewshire including Giffnock, Thornliebank, Mearns, and Clarkston, as well as areas now in Glasgow, including Pollokshaws and Cathcart. Complete lists were published from time to time, making grim reading.

(Barrhead News image (c) British Library Board. All rights reserved. Shelfmark: 1915 SCT 3194 [1915])

'The War: Our District Losses', Barrhead News, 29th October 1915

'Our columns of the past few weeks show how steadily the list of killed belonging to the district is mounting up. When we last presented a complete list of names the total of killed for Barrhead, Neilston and Nitshill stood at 39. Since then the number of the killed had grown to 65, to which must be added 2 who lost their lives whilst in training - a total of 67 - whilst 3 have long been on the missing section. Of the recent additions to the total no fewer than 23 were killed on Sept. 25th or died of wounds received during the operations of that date.'

All three of the men whose medals are shown at the top of the page were killed in action or died of their wounds. The text on the scrolls that commemorate their deaths reads as follows:

'He whom this scroll commemorates was numbered among those who, at the call of King and Country, left all that was dear to them, endured hardness, faced danger, and finally passed out of the sight of men by the path of duty and self-sacrifice, giving up their own lives that others might live in freedom. Let those who come after see to it that his name be not forgotten.'

There has been no definitive total of the number of deaths caused by the war but some estimate the allied forces total of deaths to be over 8 million, with millions more wounded and missing. Altogether, in Britain there were over 3.1 million dead, wounded and missing men, which amounted to a third of all those mobilised.