July 1st is a date that not only marks the first day of a battle which, on that day 100 years ago, took 19,000 of our own and was drawn out to last 141 days with the final casualty count exceeding a million. During these 141 days, many were awarded the UKs highest and most prestigious award – The Victoria Cross – for bravery and devotion to duty. Among the gallant heroes who were honoured with this award is our very own Sergeant James Youll Turnbull of the 17th HLI (Commercials) – who was not only awarded a VC, but was awarded it on the first day of The Somme. The Victoria Cross is only awarded for extreme gallantry, bravery and devotion to duty and it is not surprising that during its entire history, it has only been awarded to 1,355 individuals. Amazingly, some 633 VCs, nearly half of the total, were awarded during the First World War, of which 187 were awarded posthumously. A combined 20 of these were awarded to antecedent regiments of the RHF.
Turnbull’s citation reads:
“For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty, when having captured with his party a post of great importance to the enemy, he was subjected to severe and continuous counter-attacks. Although his party was wiped out and replaced several times, Sergeant Turnbull never wavered in his determination to hold the post, the loss of which would have been very serious. Almost single-handed he maintained his position, and displayed the highest degree of valour and skill. Later in the day this very gallant soldier was killed while bombing a counter-attack from the parados of our trench.”
Drummer Walter Ritchie – of the 2nd Seaforth Highlanders – was awarded the VC when he, under heavy machine gun fire and bomb attacks, stood on the parapet of the enemy trench and repeatedly sounded the charge, rallying the previously breaking line full of men who had lost their leaders and were wavering.
Now, 100 years from the day they were awarded this honour, special paving stones have been laid to commemorate Sergeant James Youll Turnbull’s and Drummer Walter Ritchie’s actions that day. These stones are not only laid in commemoration, but also to raise local awareness of what their ancestors did in The First World War. Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said:
“It is our duty to remember the British and Commonwealth troops who lost their lives fighting in the Great War and we are determined to make sure their bravery for King and Country is not forgotten.”
These events will be taking place all over the UK for the next four years, commemorating some of Britain’s greatest heroes and their gallant actions.
The paving stone ceremony for Sergeant James Youll Turnbull and Drummer Walter Ritchie took place in Glasgow at the People’s Palace – dedicated to the chronicle of the lives of Glasgow residents – and begun at 12:30pm. Lord Provost of Glasgow, Sadie Docherty, said:
“The heroism of both men was very well documented 100 years ago by the media in our city and beyond. Today, we hope that by unveiling these commemorative paving stones we will ensure their story isn’t forgotten for this generation and generations to come.”
The grandson of Drummer Ritchie, Walter Ritchie said:
“It is nice that my grandfather is being remembered with this paving stone all these years later.”
It is not only the hopes of the paving stone ceremonies that will take place throughout the UK that these heroes are remembered forever, but also our own hope. We salute Sergeant James Youll Turnbull, Drummer Walter Ritchie and every other brave soldier who took part in The Somme, The First World War and protected our country and its future.