The graves of over 1000 soldiers from 2 World Wars
The story of 3 VC recipients from WW1, Zulu Wars and the Indian Mutiny
by Evelyn McKechnie
In the north suburbs of Glasgow in Scotland, lies a vast green space, full of nature – sparrow hawks, trees, deer, flowers, and shrubs.
This vast area is the final resting place of 1027 souls who fought in two world wars. Four servicemen are buried in the Hebrew Burial Ground. One soldier from WW2 and three from the Great War. Throughout the cemeteries, there are three Victoria Cross recipients.
One soldier from the Zulu Wars, one from the Indian Mutiny and one recipient who fought in the Great War. Only one (WW1) was marked with a headstone, until very recently when in 2014 a headstone was placed over the unmarked grave of Private Fitzpatrick VC who fought in South Africa.
Three adjoining places of burial and remembrance – Glasgow Western Necropolis established in 1882 and Glasgow (St Kentigern’s) Roman Catholic Cemetery also established in 1882. The latter was named after the founder of Glasgow, St Kentigern, also known as St Mungo. Lambhill Cemetery was opened in 1881 for burials and the Glasgow Garnet Hill Hebrew Burial Ground was established in 1895.
During both world wars the United Kingdom became a fortress island, many soldiers were trained in land, sea and air operations. Glasgow was one of the most important ports for soldiers leaving for all fronts during the Great War and World War Two.
Many soldiers and servicemen and women died on active service, many were wounded and later succumbed to their wounds when returned to hospitals in the UK.
During the Great War, Stobhill hospital was converted into two military hospitals known as the third and fourth Scottish General hospitals with 1200 beds each. A railway platform was built at the hospital to receive these patients directly.
Glasgow also had many battalion HQs during both wars, most particularly famous was the Highland Light Infantry. The 10th HLI based at Maryhill Barracks, the 9th (Glasgow Highlanders) was a Territorial unit with its HQ at Greendyke Street in Glasgow.
While numerous cemeteries around Glasgow contain CWGC graves, this complex in the north of Glasgow includes a large number of the fallen.
Glasgow Western Necropolis contains 359 WW1 burials and 124 Second World War burials and two German war graves. The WW2 graves are scattered throughout the cemetery.
St Kentigern’s Cemetery contains 134 Great War graves and 187 WW2 graves, and Lambhill Cemetery contains 114 Great War graves and 123 WW2 graves. Garnet Hill Hebrew Cemetery contains four graves.
THE STORY OF THE THREE VICTORIA CROSS RECIPIENTS
The Victoria Cross is the highest British award,
which is given for gallantry in the face of the enemy
The medal was instituted by Queen Victoria on 29th January 1956. It ranks above all other medals and decorations. It is a cross of bronze, made from metal from one of the Russian guns captured at Sebastopol. The Royal Crest is in the centre, over a scroll bearing the words ‘For Valour’.
When Queen Victoria was sent the design for the Victoria Cross 150 years ago, she replied that the motto should be “For Valour”, not “For the Brave” as all her soldiers were ‘brave’.
The date of the action is given on the reverse and the recipient’s name is engraved on the back of the bar. The holders receive a tax-free annuity and are entitled to add the letters VC after their name.
Sgt Robert Downie VC, Royal Dublin Fusiliers
Sergeant Robert Downie, of the 2nd Battalion, The Royal Dublin Fusiliers, was born in Springburn,
Glasgow in 1894, one of thirteen (out of 15) surviving children of an Irish father and Dundee-born
mother. Like two brothers and his father, he worked in Hydepark Locomotive Works, Springburn.
Possibly inspired by his eldest brother, a sergeant in The Royal Scots Fusiliers, Downie joined the
army in 1912, aged 18.
He married Ivy Sparkes early in 1914 before he was sent with his regiment to France when war broke out in August 1914. He fought at Messines, the Aisne and Ypres and Downie suffered the effects of a gas-attack.
Downie already had received the Military Medal for bravery, when he showed further courage on 23 October 1916 during the Battle of the Somme in France. General Haig’s report on advances round Les Boeufs and Morval: ‘Constant rain turned a mass of hastily dug trenches … into channels of deep mud … roads broken by countless shell-craters … became almost impassable’.
The Dublin Fusiliers were in action around the area of Combles that day and were frequently being counter attacked by the Germans. What happened affected Downie so that he never spoke again of that day to anyone, including his own family.
Lesboeufs – Hand to hand fighting
The objective was one of the strategically-important and heavily fortified machine gun position which was east of Lesboeufs called the ‘Gun Pits’. Despite fierce fighting this gun position resisted all capture. Sgt Downie and the 2nd Battalion went over the top at 2.30 pm but were severely cut down by being machine-gunned at close range. Only some managed to crawl back to safety.
An officer of the Royal Dublins, Lt Col R G B Jeffreys, described the fighting of the 23rd October: ‘We had one big battle … and simply went for the Hun … the [Fusiliers] saw ‘red’ all the time and got at him with the bayonet. The German fought like a beast at bay … actual hand to hand fighting …
Considering the carnage that ensued, we got … light casualties.’ In this tactical emergency, Jeffreys
explained ‘The dead Hun was appalling. I gave orders that no prisoners were to be taken … in case of
a counter attack and it takes too many men away to send escorts to the rear with them … so you can
imagine what happened with the bayonet’. [Source: ‘Lt Col R G B Jeffreys: Letters’, Online Museum,
Royal Dublin Fusiliers Website, at http://www.royaldublinfusiliers.com].
Sgt Downie’s Victoria Cross Citation
Downie’s Victoria Cross citation reads: “On 23 October 1916 east of Lesboeufs, France, when most of the officers had become casualties, Sergeant Downie, utterly regardless of personal danger and under very heavy fire, organised the attack which had been temporarily checked. At the critical moment he rushed forward shouting “Come on the Dubs!” which had an immediate response and the line rushed forward at this call. Sergeant Downie accounted for several of the enemy and in addition captured a machine-gun, killing the team. Although wounded early in the fight, he remained with his company, giving valuable assistance while the position was being consolidated.”
His actions were widely reported in the press and when Downie arrived at Glasgow Central Station, he was met by hundreds of people who carried him shoulder-high to a taxi. His street was decorated with flags and bunting, lined with hundreds more people.
He was a Celtic supporter and fans would see him work on a Saturday at the turnstiles as a cashier. He lived quietly in Springburn until his death in 1968. Being modest about his achievements, he would often be heard saying he got his medals ‘having shot the cook’.
Sgt Downie died on 18th April 1968 and was buried in St Kentigern’s Cemetery, Glasgow. His gravestone reads:
In loving memory of
My beloved husband
And our dear father
ROBERT DOWNIE V.C. M.M.
Died 18th April, 1968
Aged 74 years.
His dearly loved wife
And our dear mother
IVY LOUISE SPARKES
Died 10th Aug, 1970
Aged 74 years
Also their only daughter
Died 25th May, 1978
Aged 34 years,
Private Francis Fitzpatrick VC, 94th Regiment of Foot
Francis Fitzpatrick was born at Clontibret in Ireland in 1859. He joined the army in Newry as a 17 years old becoming Private Fitzpatrick of the 94th Regiment of Foot (later known as the Connaught Raiders) of the British Army. He was posted to South Africa and it was his actions on November 28, 1879 that merited the award of the Victoria Cross.
His Victoria Cross citation reads: “On 28 November 1879 during an attack on Sekukuni’s Town, South Africa, Private Fitzpatrick and another private (Thomas Flawn) with six men of the Native Contingent, were with a lieutenant of the 1st Dragoon Guards when he was badly wounded. The natives carried the wounded officer at first, but when the party was pursued by about 30 of the enemy they deserted and the lieutenant would have been killed but for the gallantry of the two privates – one carrying him and the other covering the retreat and firing on the enemy.”
Fitzpatrick and Flawn were both awarded the VC. The pair received their crosses from Lieutenant-Colonel Philip Anstruther, commanding officer of the 94th, on 17 September 1880.
He came to Scotland serving with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders during the Boer Wars. He lost his Victoria Cross and South Africa Medal for Zulu and Basuto Wars 1877-79 in 1881 during the Transvaal War. He had been wounded and taken prisoner. It is thought another soldier took his medals while he was unconscious, either to sell (apparently there was a good market for VCs) or return to the family. This soldier was later killed so we will never know the intention.
He received replacements for these medals which he wore with his original Queen’s South Africa Medal. Later, his original VC and South Africa Medal were found and returned to him.
After his military service, he worked as a doorman at the Maryhill Post Office in Glasgow, Scotland. He died around the age of 74. His Victoria Cross is on display at the British National Army Museum in Chelsea, London, England.
When he died in 1933 his family received the medals and also the replacements that were never returned by Fitzpatrick. They were later sold and turned up in a Belfast shop in 1950 priced at £100 (around £3,500 today).
‘The Belfast Telegraph’ placed an article about Fitzpatrick and his medals were bought by a collector. He believing them to be original presented them to the Ulster Museum, so that Fitzpatrick could be remembered in his homeland.
However, Fitzpatrick’s original VC and South Africa Medal had in fact been sold in 1906 to Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Jourdain of the Connaught Rangers £42 (just over £5,000 today). He saw the medal group in the Ulster Museum and informed them that he owned the originals.
There were later identified as the two Victorian replicas (the VC and the South Africa medal) and the original Queen’s South Africa Medal. The collector got a refund from the museum.
In 1906, Fitzpatrick’s original VC and South Africa Medal had in fact been sold to Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Jourdain of The Connaught Rangers (the successor unit to the 94th) – for £42 (just over £5,000 today). Jourdain spotted the medal group in the Ulster Museum shortly after it had gone on display and made it very clear that he owned the originals.
The medal group was removed from display so that it could be authenticated by Hancocks, the jewellers who make VCs. It was identified as having two Victorian replicas (the VC and South Africa Medal) and one original Queen’s South Africa Medal. The Ulster collector got a refund from the museum.
Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Jourdain’s collection of medals relating to The Connaught Rangers were later donated to the National Army Museum.
Private Fitzpatrick had lain in an unmarked grave after his death in 1933. After 40 years of research by his family, he now has a headstone in St Kentigern’s Cemetery. Family travelled from County Monaghan, Belfast and Glasgow for the dedication ceremony in 2014.
Duncan Millar VC, 42nd (The Royal Highland) Regiment of Foot
Duncan Millar was born on 19th June 1824 in Kilmarnock in Scotland. He joined the 42nd Highlanders (later The Black Watch (Royal Highlanders)) during the Crimean War. The regiment was part of the Highland Brigade at the Battle of Alma in September 1854 and the siege of Sevastopol in the winter 1854.
Later his regiment was sent to India to deal with the Indian Mutiny in 1857. He was 32 years old when he saw action that merited the award of the Victoria Cross.
His Victoria Cross citation reads: ‘In the action at Maylah Ghaut, on the 15th January, 1859, Brigadier-General Walpole reports that the conduct of Privates Cook and Millar deserves to be particularly pointed out. At the time the fight was the severest, and the few men of the 42nd Regiment were skirmishing so close to the enemy (who were in great numbers), that some of the men were wounded by sword cuts, and the only officer with the 42nd was carried to the rear, severely wounded, and the Color-Serjeant was killed, these soldiers went to the front, took a prominent part in directing the Company, and displayed a courage, coolness, and discipline, which was the admiration of all who witnessed it’
The London Gazette of 21 June 1859
His Victoria Cross is displayed at the National War Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh, Scotland.
He died on 7th July 1881 and lies buried in an unmarked grave in St Kentigern’s cemetery in Glasgow.
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