‘The bravest deed ever seen in the British Army’ were the words uttered by William Angus’s commanding officer following his actions at Givenchy-les-la-Bassee on 12th June 1915.
World War 1 was only weeks old when William Angus voluntarily enlisted in the 8th HLI, the local territorial battalion. Having completed his training and volunteered for active service, William, now a lance-corporal and attached to the 1/8th Royal Scots, was posted to France, arriving there on 17th February 1915. Just under four months later, his actions earned him the V.C.
On 11th June 1915, at Givenchy-les-la-Bassee in France, Lieutenant James Martin, another Carluke man, attached to the 8th Royal Scots, had been leading a night patrol which had come under fire leaving him seemingly dead just under the German parapet. The following morning, however, Martin was spotted moving. He was alive. On learning that, Lance Corporal Angus, volunteered to bring him in despite being told that he was going to certain death.
Getting to Lieutenant Martin was certainly no easy feat. To do so, Angus had to make his way across the shell-torn terrain of no-man’s land. Then, on reaching him, the brandy with which he was trying to revive Lieutenant Martin was shot from his hand. Prepared as well as they could be for the dangerous return journey, Angus guided Martin from behind and, when close enough to the British trenches, he took a different path in an effort to draw the enemy’s fire from Lieutenant Martin.
In an interview with ‘The Daily Sketch’ at the end of 1929, Lieutenant Martin described his rescue as follows:
“In the course of the afternoon I again woke up, and it was observed by my men that I was moving. It was then that L/Cpl. Angus urgently sought permission to go out for me. In full view of the enemy and no heed to his danger he came across ‘No Man’s Land’, and when he got to me he said ‘Get up’. The extraordinary thing is that although I felt, indeed I knew myself, unable to rise, I got to my feet. At that moment, a bomb was fired at my rescuer, and it cost him the sight of an eye. L/Cpl. Angus told me to run, and by some miraculous power I was able to take to my heels until I was caught by one of our men who came out to help me, and by him I was dragged to safety. The enemy were firing all the time, and I was hit in several places. But L/Cpl. Angus received 40 wounds, and it took him in his disabled condition ten minutes to crawl back to the shelter of the British trenches.”
As Martin described, William Angus was seriously injured during the rescue. On reaching the relative safety of the British trenches again, he was sent to Casualty Clearing Station No 10 and, from there, on to Boulogne Hospital where his left eye was extracted. He was then evacuated back to Britain where he spent July and August at the Central Military Hospital, Fort Pitt, Chatham in Kent.
On 4th September 1915, less than three months after being wounded, Angus arrived home in Carluke to a hero’s welcome. Only a day or so before, he had received his Victoria Cross from King George V in a ceremony at Buckingham Palace. Apparently, when the King commented on the number of wounds Angus had received, William replied ‘Aye but only 13 were serious.’.
Arriving at Carluke station, Angus was able to have a brief but private reunion with his family before Lord Newlands and Lieutenant Martin helped him across the railway bridge and on to the waiting cars. The procession, led by the Boy Scouts, the band of the 8th HLI as well as men from both the 8th HLI and the 8th Royal Scots, headed up Station Road then wound its way around the town until it reached the Market Square where it is estimated that almost 10,000 people waited to welcome the hero home.
During the welcome home ceremony, William received many gifts. He was presented with an inscribed clock along with the sum of £1000 invested in the New War Loan. This money had been raised from contributions both local and national. There was also an illuminated address from the Lanarkshire Territorial Association and a gold badge subscribed for by Angus’s comrades still fighting France. Last but not least, Lieutenant Martin presented his rescuer with a personal gift of a gold watch and chain.
In the weeks that followed, Angus was honoured at several events, many of which were football-related. Wishaw Thistle, whom William had captained in the 1913-14 season, organised a Grand Concert Party at their pavilion on 8th September. Then, on 25th September, Angus was guest of honour when Celtic played Third Lanark. Although he had never played for the first team, William had been on Celtic’s books between 1911 and 1913. Another football match where he was the guest of honour was that between Rangers and Glasgow Highlanders at Ibrox on 27th September.
Under normal circumstances, the class barriers of the time would normally have precluded any kind of friendship between James Martin and William Angus but the special bond created on 12th June 1915 endured for the remainder of Martin’s life. While their lives followed separate paths especially after the war was over, each year on 12th June, Lieutenant Martin sent Angus a telegram saying,
”Best Wishes, grateful memories and many happy returns of the twelfth.”
In 1953 after Jim Martin died, his brother, Tom, carried on the tradition and the last telegram arrived two days before William Angus died on 14th June 1959.
( More detail on William Angus’s life can be found in our book ‘Carluke Parish and the Great War : 1914-1916’ )