Obituary: Joe McGoran, Cameron Highlander

Share this article

WHEN Joe McGoran was sent with the Cameron Highlanders to the Caribbean during the Second World War, he felt a combination of guilt and relief. Guilt that he was not fighting with his comrades against the Nazis in the trenches of Europe, relief that he might survive the war and return to his native Scotland in one piece.

Joe McGoran, Ministry of Labour telephonist.

Born: 26 December, 1916, in Glasgow.

Died: 10 August, 2010, in Erskine, aged 93.

His Caribbean "holiday" - defending American oil fields on the Dutch colonial island of Aruba which were vital to the allied war effort - lasted a year and a half, until March 1942, but by then McGoran was itching to be backing up his comrades on the frontlines.

By late 1943, he had his wish, taking part in the landings in Italy and by January 1944 he was part of the multinational allied force attempting to take the key German position on Monte Cassino.

On 6 March, during the second assault on the mountain, McGoran's war ended when he lost his right arm and leg to a German grenade. But he went on to lead a full life in his native Glasgow for another 66 years, building a loving family, working as a civil servant and supporting his beloved Celtic FC.

He also devoted his peacetime life to fundraising for other disabled ex-servicemen and women, including at the Erskine Home in Bishopton, Renfrewshire, where he himself had been cared for upon his return from the war.

As fate would have it, he also died in the Erskine Home, albeit the newer one built nearby, in the shadow of the Erskine Bridge.

For many years, he and his late wife Isa (Isabella) were driving forces within Blesma, the British Limbless Ex-Service Men's Association, started in Glasgow by wounded soldiers after the Great War.

Joseph McGoran was born in Bridgeton, Glasgow on Boxing Day, 1916, but, after his family moved to Ayrshire, he spent most of his schooldays at St Palladius school in Dalry.

He was back in Glasgow when he was called up in early 1940 and, after marrying his sweetheart Isabella McLeod McLeish, joined the 4th Battalion, Queens Own Cameron Highlanders for basic training in Inverness.

Shipped to north-west France with the 51st Highland Division, McGoran and his battalion found themselves tasked with holding back the Germans as most British troops withdrew from Dunkirk in June, 1940.

In the darkest chapter of its history, the 51st Highland Division, surrounded and outnumbered, was forced to surrender en masse at St Valry-en-Caux and most of its men spent the rest of the war in POW camps. Only McGoran's brigade evaded capture, making it home via Le Havre.

After only a few weeks, McGoran was shipped out again, this time to Aruba. With Holland having fallen to the Germans, and the US still neutral in the war, the Cameron Highlanders were assigned to defending the island, notably the US-owned refineries important to the British war effort.

They sailed from Gourock on the troopship Empress of Australia on 9 August, 1940.

McGoran remained in the Caribbean from September 1940 until March 1942, when the Americans, by then in the war, took over Aruba's defence. He spent the next 18 months "defending Scotland", as he liked to put it, based in the Shetlands.

In December, 1943, his battalion, now renumbered 2nd Battalion, Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders, embarked at Liverpool for Egypt.

They then sailed to Italy as part of the 11th Indian Brigade, where McGoran found himself fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with Raj Putana riflemen, Gurkhas and Kiwis - New Zealanders including the Haka-performing 28th Maori Battalion.

On 6 March, 1944, during the second battle to take the strategic Monte Cassino, McGoran was with a Cameron Highlander comrade in a sangar - a makeshift fortification made from stones they'd scraped together - with the German defenders only 30 feet away.

A German Schiessbecher grenade, fired from a rifle, killed his comrade instantly and blew off the Glaswegian's right arm and right leg.

He lay there bleeding for most of the day until his platoon commander, 2nd Lt (later Major) Peter Laughton managed to get a stretcher party to him.

It was the end of the war for Joe McGoran.

He was treated first at a military hospital in Birmingham, which called his wife Isa in Glasgow and warned her he might have to walk with a slight limp. "When she got there, she found a man with one arm and one leg," his son Bob recounted with the same humour that kept his dad going.

He was then moved to the Princess Louise Hospital, which would later become the Erskine Home and which is now the Mar Hall hotel.

Once rehabilitated, he and Isa lived in Pollok, where they were active in their local church, St Conval's, and Joe became the church hall's popular bingo caller.

He worked as a telephonist for the Ministry of Labour in Waterloo Street, Glasgow, until he retired in 1980 and concentrated on Celtic, his model car collection and the train set which snaked around his dining room.

After Isa died, he moved to Paisley Road West in Bellahouston, where his late sister Jean looked after him.

He died in the present Erskine Home, close to the original, which he had supported as a fundraiser for most of his life, and which he actually considered his second home.

Joe McGoran is survived by his children Joseph, Ellen, Bobby, John, Margaret and Wilma, his brother Tommy and his sisters May and Lily.