Campbeltown World War One Hero

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Campbeltown World War One Hero

Postby Willianways » Fri Nov 07, 2008 10:47 pm

At this Armistice weekend I felt this would touch the hearts of many in the Wee Toon. Fiona at Willianways.

AFTER THE BATTLE IS OVER
(A Tribute written by Ron Thomson the Dundee Courier and Advertiser) November 10th, 1999.


Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.

These lines from one of Wilfred Owen’s first world war poems could have been written about a company of Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders as they limped back to their trenches after engaging the enemy at St. Quentin in Northern France in 1917. Later that evening, Sergeant Donald McKinven returned across no man’s land to carry out a surprise attack on a German position. What happened as a result of that raid is a story still told in Campbeltown, down in Kintyre, where Donald belonged, a tale which will recalled yet again on Remembrance Sunday this weekend.

As the Argylls were cutting their way through a wire fence, one of them was unable to stifle a cough. Seconds later a grenade came hurtling out of the darkness to land at Donald’s feet and before the sergeant could throw it back the missile had shattered both his legs. At first light he was taken by stretcher party to a field hospital where a double amputation was carried out below the knees. Back in England he spent the next two years in various hospitals fighting the effects of gangrene before finally being transferred to Erskine Hospital near Glasgow.

Now, until this point there is nothing terribly unusual about these events. After all, limbless ex-servicemen are, sadly, not a rare sight after any war. But what happened later on, on the day Donald McKinven returned to Campbeltown in 1920 for the first time since marching off to war, is a scene which has haunted me since first being told about it by his son, Hamish, a journalist now retired in Edinburgh.

Donald and his family were well known in the Argyllshire town and a huge crowd turned out at the harbour to welcome their wounded hero home off the steamer which had set sail earlier that day from the Broomielaw in Glasgow. When the ship docked, Donald’s father James went aboard to escort his son ashore. Five minutes later he reappeared on deck, alone and grim faced. Without a word he pushed through the crowd until finding a porter’s flat, two-wheeled barrow which he proceeded to park at the edge of the wharf before re-boarding the vessel.

Shortly after, as father and son were spotted leaving the ship’s saloon, a loud cheer rose from the crowd…then quickly tailed off until a great hush fell across the shore. Donald, without his legs, was being carried down the gangway on his father’s back. There had been a last minute hitch in fitting his artificial limbs at Erskine but the young, disabled soldier had insisted on returning that day to Kintyre.

Seating him lovingly on the barrow and with head held high, James McKinven proceeded to push his laddie through the town and up the hill beyond to the family cottage. And there he carried him into the house and lowered him gently into the armchair by the fireplace. The mile-long journey, past silent onlookers, had taken on the atmosphere of a funeral. But Donald McKinven was far from finished. Marrying his sweetheart from before the war (what an act of courage that was by Margaret Taylor), he went on to enjoy a full life, working as a tinsmith and bringing up his own family.

He also became a one man citizen’s advice bureau long before such places were officially launched, filling in forms, writing letters, and offering guidance to local folk, some of them illiterate, who sought his help in solving their various problems. Such a person in Scotland at that time was given the honorary title of “Provost”.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, Donald became a pacifist. When his own two sons went off to the second world war it so distressed him to see them in their RAF and naval uniforms that whenever they returned on leave Margaret McKinven would usher her boys into the bedroom to change into civvies before allowing them through to meet their father. And so, at this time of remembering, we should also cast a thought for those who survived both world wars – but in the peace that followed, still had a battle to fight for the rest of their lives.
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Re: Campbeltown World War One Hero

Postby Govangirl » Sun Nov 09, 2008 12:22 am

Thank you so much for sharing that. It was very powerful yet humbling.
Blow away the dreams that tear you apart
Blow away the dreams that break your heart
Blow away the lies that leave you nothing but lost and brokenhearted
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Re: Campbeltown World War One Hero

Postby Verona » Sun Nov 09, 2008 9:27 am

Thanks for sharing a wonderful tribute with us, Willianways.
It was really thought provoking on a wet Remembrance Day morning, and will give me
something to think about today , when most other tributes seem rather false.
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