THEY were the heroes of the First World War, men who were awarded the highest military accolade for valour “in the face of the enemy”.
Now the stories of each of the 627 soldiers – including 72 Scots – who won the Victoria Cross (VC) while fighting on the front lines, will be told in a new illustrated book.
Victoria Cross Heroes of World War One, by Robert Hamilton, features 1,500 rare and unseen photographs which vividly portray each VC recipient and the bleak conditions they fought and lived in during the 1914 to 1918 conflict.
Stories told in the book include that of Edinburgh-born Henry Peel Ritchie, who in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, was put in charge of a seaborne assault on the port. Despite enduring eight wounds, and eventually losing consciousness due to lack of blood, Ritchie steered his boat to safety before collapsing. He lived until he was in his 80s.
One-time Celtic FC player William Angus, from Carluke, was awarded the VC after he shielded an injured comrade with his own body, sustaining injuries which resulted in him losing an eye and part of a foot.
Roofer John Ripley, the oldest Scottish recipient of the VC in the Great War and a member of the Black Watch, was 47 when he became the first man of his battalion to climb an enemy parapet and find a way into enemy trenches, holding his position until all of his men had fallen and he was badly wounded.
David Finlay, also of the Black Watch, carried a wounded comrade over 100 yards of fire-swept ground to safety. He was later killed in action in Mesopotamia.
In an introduction to the book, Hamilton said: “Heroism comes in many flavours. The image of a gung-ho individual assault on an enemy position readily springs to mind and indeed numerous instances of such odds-defying solo raids are recounted.
“This book is an exhaustive record of the feats and lives of 627 extraordinary men. Whether in detailed accounts or brief sketches, the coverage is comprehensive.”
The Scots awarded the medal included 17 men from Edinburgh and the surrounding area; 22 who were from Glasgow; five from near Dundee; 18 from the Highlands, Lowlands and Islands and 10 from towns and villages in and around Aberdeen.
Although the medal was first awarded in 1857, the number of VC winners more than doubled between 1914 and 1918. One in four of the men featured in the book did not survive to have the medal pinned on their uniform.
The VC medal takes precedence over all other decorations, medals and orders, including the Order of the Garter, and may be awarded to a person of any military rank in any service and to civilians under military command.
The stories also include that of a British soldier who threw himself onto an exploding grenade, saving the lives of those around him at the cost of his own; a fearless doctor who ferried injured men lying next to German lines back to safety; stretcher-bearers, chaplains, pipers, and the 16-year-old who died at the Battle of Jutland.
The book, produced by Atlantic Publishing, will be published next week to mark Armistice Day, on 11 November.