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William Angus VC

  • Name  : Angus VC
  • Born  : 1888
  • Died  : 1959
  • Category  : Other
  • Finest Moment : Being awarded the VC for his outstanding bravery in saving the life of a British officer in 1915 during the First World War.
  • website:

Born in Carluke in Lanarkshire in 1888 William Angus may not be the best known Scot in history but he is certainly one of the bravest.

His rescue of a badly wounded senior officer from under the noses of the enemy during The Great War is a story of remarkable courage and selflessness. His actions saved the life of the officer and won Angus the Victoria Cross.

When war broke out Angus was playing professional football for Celtic but gave it up to volunteer for the front line. (This is not accepted by all commentators who point out that he was playing for a junior team called Wishaw Thistle as team captain)

He joined the Highland Light Infantry the same day as James Martin, the young officer and fellow Carlukian, whose life he was later to save.

On June 11th 1915, British soldiers including Lance Corporal William Angus and Lt James Martin were fighting at the front line on the outskirts of Givenchy La Basse in northern France just 70 yards away from the German trenches. That evening a party of soldiers led by Martin had embarked on a covert bombing raid to displace German troops from a strategic position on an embankment overlooking No Man's Land.

Anticipating the raid the Germans detonated a large mine which destroyed much of the embankment and forced the bombing party to retreat. It was then that Lt Martin was noted as one of those missing. The following day, June 12th 1915, his fellow soldiers saw him lying wounded on the embankment and right under the parapet housing the German machine guns.

They watched in horror as the German soldiers threw a bomb at the wounded officer when he begged for a drink of water. William Angus volunteered to rescue him but was told no by senior officers concerned that such a mission was so dangerous as to be almost suicidal. L/Cpr Angus persisted explaining he was from the same town as Martin and could not leave him to die.

Eventually he was granted permission to attempt the rescue and he set off with a rope tied round his waist so that in the event of his death or serious injury he could be pulled back in to British lines. L/Cpr Angus believed his wounded colleague's need to be greater than his own, however, and as soon as he made it to Lt Martin's side he took off the rope and tied it round the injured officer.

He then picked him up and began carrying him back towards the British trenches. The Germans spotted the pair and bombarded them with bombs and bullets. L/Cpr Angus was hit a number of times but each time he fell he managed to stand back up again and continue his treacherous journey across No Man's Land carrying Lt Martin with him to safety. He also suffered serious shrapnel injuries as he attempted to shield Lt Martin's body from the bombardment. Once he was close enough to the British trenches for Lt Martin, with the rope around him, to be dragged to safety, L/Cpr Angus set off in an audacious attempt to draw enemy fire away from Martin. Inevitably he became the target for German guns and he was hit again and again, sustaining injuries which were to cost him his left eye and part of his right foot.

Eventually he reached his own trenches where he collapsed having been hit around 40 times. He was evacuated from the front where word soon spread about his incredible bravery and his success in saving Martin's life. The officer commanding at Givenchy, a Lt Colonel Gemmill, was in no doubt as to the valour demonstrated by L/Cpr Angus. "No braver deed was ever done in the history of the British Army," he wrote.

On 30 August 1915 the young Carluke soldier was presented with the Victoria Cross at a ceremony at Buckingham Palace by the King. The medal can be seen today in the National War Museum of Scotland. A Military Cross awarded to Lt Martin for an act of gallantry before he was wounded at Givenchy is also on display.

As a website dedicated to Lance Corporal Angus ( eloquently puts it, "In these days where the term 'hero' is recklessly applied to sportsmen and politicians, William Angus VC illustrates the real meaning of the word."

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