Archway fit for a hero

The winning design of Louis McGuffie VC Memorial
The winning design of Louis McGuffie VC Memorial

After consutation with the people of the Wigtown have chosen this stunning archway design by Jack Sloan to commemorate the town’s World War One Victoria Cross winner Louis McGuffie.

The arch will be put in place opposite the front of the County Buildings, and in 2018, the 100th anniversary of McGuffie’s death, the gardens will be renamed the Louis McGuffie VC Momorial Gardens and a paving stone with his name and regimental badge will be layed.

In 2013, the UK Government and the Ministry of Defence announced a plan to commemorate all WW1 recipients of the Victoria Cross. They provide a paving stone to be placed near where the soldier came from, and to be inaugurated at the centenary of the award. Associated with the paving stone is a plaque with a little more detail including a link to further information on line.

In Wigtown, a committee was established in 2014, including Cllr Dryburgh ( the local authority’s armed forces champion), local Councillors Alistair Geddes, Jim McColm and Graham Nicol, Community Council delegates Robin Richmond, Jock McDowall, Willie McCartney and Nick Walker, and local resident and historian Mike Morley who has been researching the area’s contribution to World War One. Dumfries and Galloway Council provides administrative support. Funding will be from a range of sources, many dedicated to WW1 commemoration.

Committee meetings are minuted and reported to the Community Council, so information about them and progress is available to the public.

Committee member Nick Wakler said: “The Committee considered the MOD’s parameters and various site options around Wigtown. Louis McGuffie lived in various places in the Royal Burgh until he went to war, including Low Vennel, and his mother lived at 1 North Main Street, on the corner of Low Vennel, next to the butcher’s shop, in 1919 when she travelled to London to collect his postumous award. Several potential sites for the paving stone were considered, and consulted on with the community, other interested parties and McGuffie’s extended family. This consultation was in winter 2014-15 and decided on the site of the paving stone, laying it flat into the pavement, and agreed to rename the town gardens in McGuffie’s honour including a commemorative archway. Voting at this first consultation was limited but the gateways to the town gardens near the bus shelter and opposite the County Buildings were front runners. The bus shelter changes and the way the Book Festival marquée fits into the gardens made that location impracticable once designers were looking at how the memorial could be arranged.

“This year’s consultation, from mid August until the Book Festival in late September, confirmed the location details and asked the public to indicate their preference from three possible archway designs, one each drawing inspiration from the County Buildings, the War Memorial, and a garden theme. The Planning Department was asked for informal views first to ensure that the designs were unlikely to prove unacceptable when it comes to finishing the project. There was information about this consultation on noticeboards, at the Community Council, on the CC website, and in local newspapers. Voting was much greater than in the first round, and the County Buildings inspired design attracted 50% of the votes, so was a clear winner. A lot of comments were received within this consultation, with mixed views. A few people were concerned about the proposals being too grand and about appearing almost to glorify war; on the other hand, some felt that the proposals were entirely appropriate. The Committee’s intention is to enable an enduring, formal civic recognition of McGuffie’s huge contribution and sacrifice within the setting of a truly terrible conflict, in his home town. We must let such memories flourish, and learn from our shared history.”

The winning design will now be developed into more detailed plans, for a formal Planning Application and for funding applications. The inauguration will take place in late September 2018, 100 years after McGuffie was awarded the Victoria Cross. More detail of those arrangements will be available nearer the time.

Mike Morley is working on a booklet based on Jack Hunter’s talk at Wigtown Book Festival last year (2015) about the Wigtown of McGuffie’s day, war records, the VC commendation, etc. and his own research. Information is sought from the family too. The Galloway Gazette printed this account just before Christmas 1918:

“The Victoria Cross has been awarded to the late Louis McGuffie, 1st/5th Battalion, KOSB (TF), Wigtown “for most conspicuous bravery and resourceful leadership under heavy fire near Wytschaete on September 18th 1918. During the advance on Piccadilly Farm, he, single-handed, entered several dug-outs and took many prisoners, and during subsequent operations dealt similarly with dug-out after dug-out, forcing one officer and twenty- five other ranks to surrender. During consolidation of the first objective, he pursued and brought back several of the enemy, who were slipping away, and he was instrumental in releasing some British soldiers, who were being led off as prisoners. Later in the day, when in command of a platoon, he led it with the utmost dash and resource, capturing many prisoners. This very gallant soldier was subsequently killed by a shell.”