On the outbreak of the First World War William Angus joined the 8th Battalion, Highland Light Infantry. He served on the Western Front and in the summer of 1915 he was at Givenchy.
On 11th June, Lieutenant James Martin was leading a mission to mine an embankment in front of the German trenches, when they were spotted and when an enemy mine exploded, Martin was one of the causalities, believed to be killed, however later he was seen to move, then suffered further injuries when a German grenade was hurled at him over the parapet.
Angus arrived from a nearby trench and heard that Martin, also from Carluke, lay injured in no-mans-land. He volunteered to rescue the fellow Carlukian but was forbidden by officers until eventually, Brigadier General Lawford gave permission for Angus to try and save Martin.
A rope was tied around Angus so that he could be dragged back if killed or seriously wounded. Angus reached Lt. Martin by crawling through no-mans-land, gave him a drink of alcohol spirits and then tied the rope to Martin. Angus then tried to carry him back but they came under fire and Angus was hit. Angus then called to the British trench to pull Martin to safety, before attempting to reach his lines by a different route. Despite being hit several times, he managed to reach the trenches, having been hit by bullets and grenades injuring his foot and losing his left eye.
Commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Gemmill wrote in dispatches, "No braver deed was ever done in the history of the British Army." For this act of bravery Angus was awarded the Victoria Cross. Angus’s citation read: “For most conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty at Givenchy, on 12th June 1915, in voluntarily leaving his trench under very heavy fire and rescuing an officer who was lying within a few yards of the enemy position. Lance Corporal Angus had no chance of escaping the enemy’s fire when undertaking this very gallant action, and in effecting the rescue he sustained about forty wounds from bombs, some of them being very serious.”
James Martin recovered from his wounds and sent home ro Carluke. The two men became good friends and every year Martin sent Angus a telegram on the anniversary of his heroic deed. When he died in 1956 his brother continued this tradition.
William Angus served as a Justice of the Peace and President of the Carluke Rovers football club until his death in Carluke on 14th June, 1959, two days after receiving his final telegram.
courtesy of "VCs of the First World War 1915 The Western Front" : 1915 The Western Front By Peter F Batchelor, Christopher Matson
..Less than three weeks after Cpl Keyworth (see page 161) won his VC on 25 May a similar award was made to Cpl Angus of the 8th Highland Light Infantry (HLI), this time for a rescue within yards of the spot where Keyworth's action had taken place.
Angus, attached to 8th Royal Scots, 22nd Bde, 7th Div., who first saw action at Neuve Chapelle in March, had been wounded at the Battle of Festubert and had only just returned from hospital when his battalion took over the trenches at Givenchy. The German front line at Givenchy took advantage of an area of raised ground; an embankment along which they ran their front line with its excellent view over no-mans-land. This embankment was allocated the reference point I4. A mine was exploded under a German salient near Point I4 on 3 June and although the crater was rushed by British troops it was retaken by the enemy (see map on page 164).
A few days later twenty men of A Coy, the Royal Scots, together with fifteen bombers under Lt J. Martin, made an unsuccessful attempt to retake the now-fortified mine crater. At 21.00 hours on 10 June a similar attempt was made during which the Germans fired a mine and reduced the embankment to ground level on one edge- This explosion forced the bombing party to retreat to the British trenches where Lt Martin was later reported missing. (The embankment and the gap created is clearly visible to this day). Early in the moming his body was seen lying on loose earth close to the German parapet some 50 yards away. Initially he was thought to be dead but some time later movement was detected in one of his limbs through binoculars.
Martin had been blown several feet into the air by the mine explosion and his left arm was trapped by debris from which he slowly managed to free himself by strenuous efforts before attempting to crawl towards his own line. He was seen by the Gemians who fired at him and he was soon hit twice, in his right arm and side, after which Martin stopped moving and the enemy stopped firing. Martin later crawled nearer to the German parapet where he was less likely to be seen. Meanwhile various rescue methods were discussed until a decision was made for one man, with a length of rope attached to him, to attempt the crossing to the enemy parapet.
UCpl Angus, whose post was some 400 yards away, had come to the point opposite where the injured man lay, and immediately volunteered for the task. With a rope fastened around him Angus slowly crawled towards Lt Martin, clearing a path through the shell-tom ground as he did so, and eventually reached the wounded officer. He produced a flask of brandy to revive Martin and it was then they were seen by the Germans, who threw a bomb, badly injuring Angus in the left eye. Nevertheless Angus tied the rope around Martin’s waist, and helped him to his feet and the two men began the return joumey, now under covering rifle fire from their own men. Several bombs were thrown by the Germans and although they wounded Angus they also created lots of smoke and dust which in tum gave some cover. Martin collapsed in a shell hole about 20 yards from the British line but managed to crawl the remaining distance. Angus took longer to reach the line as he went a different way to create a diversion so that Martin could crawl on unmolested; Angus was again hit by bomb fragments.
Major Sneyd MC, Bth Siege Bty, RGA, witnessed the rescue and in a letter to his sister in July, wrote, " one of the finest VC efforts l have ever heard of for it all had to be done in cold blood ". The official account of the rescue and the medal recommendation were sent in by Lt-Col. Gemmill, CO of the battalion. Doctors discovered no fewer than forty shrapnel and bullet wounds when Angus was later examined, and he lost the sight of his left eye.
The citation for the VC was published on 29 June 1915 in the London Gazette and Angus was decorated by the King at Buckingham Palace on 30 August 1915.
At Buckingham Palace for his investiture, Angus was dressed in the blue uniform of a wounded soldier and needed the support of two sticks to walk. On hearing that Angus’ father was outside the Palace gates the King insisted he was brought in and congratulated him on having such a brave son.
Angus, the first Scottish Territorial to win the VC, returned to Carluke from Chatham Hospital, where he received a tremendous reception. He was met at the railway station by his five younger sisters and brother. At a public reception Lord Newlands presented him with a clock and a public gift of £1,000 in War Stock, which included £100 from Glasgow Celtic. This money had been raised with the active support of a local newspaper. Lt Martin was also at the reception and presented Angus with a gold watch and chain.
Angus was invalided out of the Army later in the year with the rank of acting sergeant. He married Mary Nugent at Carluke Roman Catholic Church in January 1917 and was photographed outside the church with his new wife together with Lt Martin. Angus went to London in 1920 and was present at the garden party for VC winners in June and at the Cenotaph on 11 November.
He emigrated to Australia in November 1927, leaving his wife and five children in Carluke until he was settled, but returned to Scotland in 1928.