b. 21/06/1890 Killbracken, Scotland. d. 02/09/1918 Courcelles, France.
Hugh McIver (1890-1918) was born on 21st July 1890 in Linwood, Renfrewshire to Hugh and Mary McIver a Scottish Roman Catholic couple who were descended from Irish immigrants. Hugh was the second oldest of Hugh and Mary McIver’s seven surviving children, and like his father before him Hugh would become a coal miner. The census records, and his sister Mary’s birth register, indicate that the family are already living at 34 Dunlop Street in Newton, Lanarkshire by 1894. And despite his birth in Linwood it is fair to consider Hugh’s ‘hometown’ as Newton, Lanarkshire, part of the parish of Cambuslang, as he spent the majority of his life living and working in Newton.
It almost goes without saying that life in Scotland for a coal miner from a large family was one that was inevitably hard, dangerous and not a little monotonous. With this in mind we can only speculate whether it was out of a sense of adventure or a sense of patriotic duty that 23-year-old Hugh McIver joined the special reserve of the Highland Light Infantry (HLI) on 26th March 1914, less than five months before the outbreak of the First World War, pledging to remain in the reserve for six years’ service. Having attested into the reserve of the HLI, however, he was discharged 55 days later on 19th May 1914. Private McIver’s character is stated quite simply as ‘BAD’. He was formally discharged as he was deemed ‘not likely to become an efficient Special Reservist’. To those of us who know how this story ends, it is impossible not to possess a wry smile as we think of the decorated soldier Hugh would so soon become.
On the outbreak of war less than six months later, Hugh enlisted on 18th August 1914, however despite Newton most certainly falling in the Greater Glasgow area, rather than joining a Glasgow regiment (such as the Highland Light Infantry) Hugh travelled east to Glencorse Barracks and enlisted in the Royal Scots, the oldest infantry regiment of the line in the British Army. Of interest is a section on the front of the attestation papers where Hugh is asked if he had ever served in the various bodies that comprise the British military and her reserve, the document intriguingly states ‘Yes, HLI discharged on conviction’. The exact nature of this ‘conviction’ is not revealed, yet we can speculate that Hugh’s decision to venture east to join Kitchener’s Army may have been linked to his brief time in the HLI ending with some ignominy.
Hugh’s service record notes that his first posting was into 12th Battalion of the Royal Scots on 18th August 1914 and following service at home from 18th August 1914 to 10th May 1915, he was first posted abroad as part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) on 11th May 1915. Hugh would serve two years and 162 days in the BEF before being sent back home between 20th October 1917 and 11th February 1918. Fatefully, Private McIver would return to service abroad with 2nd Battalion Royal Scots from the 12th February 1918 until his death in action on 2nd September that year.
Private McIver’s service record states that on 20th October 1914 he was cited at Aldershot and confined to barracks for seven days for ‘making an improper reply to a Non-commissioned Officer’. Two months later Private McIver was deprived of seven days’ pay for being absent from tattoo until 10:30pm the following day. I believe that these citations for bad behaviour, and his discharge from the HLI, help create the image of Hugh as a man who knew his own mind, was not particularly fearful of authority and was in essence the embodiment of the hard and steely Lanarkshire pit-worker I wanted him to be. Private McIver’s ‘Admissions to Hospital’ form in his service record confirmed that whilst in France with 12th Battalion he suffered shrapnel wounds to his leg/buttock on 12th October 1917 and was sent back to Britain to recover.
By this point, the 5ft 4½ inch 9½ stone Private McIver had spent over two years on the Western Front and had been wounded having previously received treatment for myalgia and rheumatism. He had also appeared in the London Gazette on 21st September 1916 to note the award of his first Military Medal, the second highest award for bravery in the ranks.
Unfortunately, there is no exact citation for this medal. Yet, it is following his recovery from his shrapnel wound and his posting back to France on 12th February 1918, with the 2nd Battalion Royal Scots, that Private Hugh McIver’s story becomes more extraordinary.
On 15th July 1918 an entry in the War Diary states that ‘daylight patrols were successful in capturing four of the enemy. This patrol consisted of 4 other ranks under 2/Lieut HM Somerville’. Just 12 days later, an entry in the battalion War Diary informs us that ‘the following awards were granted for “daring” and initiative during daylight patrols in the enemy lines on 15th July…’. One of the awards was a ‘Bar to Military Medal…[for]Private H McIver (12311) MM of “C” Coy 2nd Battalion Royal Scots’.
One month later the 2nd Battalion Royal Scots were involved in a significant attack at Courcelles-le-Comte that started on 21st August 1918, and severe fighting with the enemy continued until 25th August when the men are recorded as ‘resting and clearing up’. On 23rd August 1918 east of Courcelle-le Compte, France, Private McIver was employed as a company-runner and under heavy artillery and machine-gun fire carried messages regardless of his own safety. Single-handed he pursued an enemy scout into a machine-gun post and having killed six of the garrison, captured 20 prisoners and two machine-guns. Later he succeeded, at great personal risk, in stopping the fire of a British tank which was directed in error against our own troops.
Nine days after Hugh was involved in the above act of gallantry he was killed in action on 2nd September 1918 during an attack near the village of Noreuil. The War Diary indicates that Private McIver’s company were further advancing up a trench when they were ‘held up by m[achine] g[un] fire’. Iit is at this time that it appears Hugh was killed. The document further notes that two Lieutenants and 24 other ranks of the Royal Scots were also killed on 2 September, while a further six men were recorded as missing.
Hugh was buried in Vraucourt Copse Cemetery with full military honours. On 13th February 1919, his parents travelled from Scotland to Buckingham Palace to receive his VC from King George V. Tragically, less than a month later, Hugh’s father would be killed in an accident in the pits. His medals including the VC, MM and Bar, 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20 and Victory Medal 1914-19 are now held by the Royal Scots Greys Museum in Edinburgh Castle.
LOCATION OF MEDAL:ROYAL SCOTS MUSEUM, EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND.
BURIAL PLACE: VRAUCOURT COPSE CEMETERY, VRAUCOURT, FRANCE.
Hugh McIver's medals at the Royal Scots Museum (Picture - Thomas Stewart).
PLOT 1, ROW A, GRAVE 19
PLAN COURTESY OF KEVIN BRAZIER
Hawkhead Cemetery, Paisley, Scotland
Cambuslang Remembrance Garden (Heather Ducie)
Tweedie Hall, Linwood (Stephen Wagstaff)
Royal Scots Club, Edinburgh (Thomas Stewart)