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The bravery of two local men who were awarded the Victoria Cross for gallantry were commemorated today (23rd March) in a civic ceremony.
The special event, which saw the unveiling of two commemorative paving stones at the Boer War Memorial in Alloa, honoured John Crawford Buchan VC and John McDermond VC who were both born in Clackmannanshire. John Buchan was awarded the VC in 1918 for his actions during the Spring Offensive. John McDermond was awarded the VC in 1857 for his actions in the Crimean War. The Victoria Cross is the highest award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.
John Crawford Buchan was the final Clackmannanshire man to receive the Victoria Cross during World War One.
John Buchan was born in King Street, Alloa on 10th October 1892, the third son of David Buchan who was the owner and editor of the Alloa Advertiser and his wife Margaret. John had three brothers and two sisters when he moved to 5 Kellie Place, Alloa.
John Buchan was educated in Alloa Academy. He left school in 1910 and was an apprentice to the Town Clerk, Charles Thomson, with a view to entering the legal profession. In 1912 he moved to work at the Alloa Advertiser. He was a keen sportsman playing rugby and ski-ing. He also had a gift for languages. He was a resident in the Alpine resort of Leysin when war broke out in 1914. He worked as an interpreter in a local hotel for a year before receiving his papers to go home.
When reaching London from France he volunteered for the Army and was assigned after basic training to the Royal Army Medical Corps to prepare hospitals in order that they would be ready to receive the expected flood of casualties. After working at this for two months, he was commissioned with the rank of 2nd Lieutenant in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, the 7th Battalion of which drew its recruits mainly from Clackmannanshire. By September 1917, he embarked for France.
On 21st March, 1918, John Buchan found himself on the outskirts of the village of Marteville on the Upper Somme where he and his men bore the brunt of the Kaiserschlacht also known as Operation Michael or the Spring Offensive. This Kaiser's Battle was the brutal blitzkrieg launched by the Germans in a last attempt to defeat the Allies before the Americans arrived. Lieutenant Buchan, aged 25 was about to have his name entered into the book of heroes.
The London Gazette reported on 21st May 1918 a full account of the last hours of John Buchan:
For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty. When fighting with his platoon in the forward position of the battle zone, 2nd Lieutenant Buchan, although wounded earlier in the day, insisted on remaining with his men and continually visited all his posts, encouraging and cheering his men in spite of more severe shell fire from which his platoon was suffering heavy casualties. Later, when the enemy were creeping closer and heavy machine gun fire was raking his position, 2nd Lieutenant Buchan, with utter disregard of his personal safety, continued to visit his posts. Eventually, when he saw the enemy had practically surrounded his command, he collected his platoon and prepared to fight his way back to the supporting line.
At this point, the enemy who had crept round his right flank, rushed towards him, shouting out "Surrender".
"To hell with surrender" he replied and shooting the foremost of the enemy, he finally repelled this advance with his platoon. He then fought his way back to the supporting line of the forward position where he held out until dusk. At dusk he fell back as ordered but, in spite of his injuries, again refused to go to the aid post, saying his place was with his men. Owing to the unexpected withdrawal of troops on the left flank it was impossible to send orders to 2nd Lieutenant Buchan to withdraw as he was already cut off and he was last seen holding out against overwhelming odds. The gallantry and self-sacrifice and utter disregard to personal safety by this officer during these two days of most severe fighting is in keeping with the highest traditions of the British Army".
He now rests in the cemetery at Roisel, not far from Marteville, along with 734 British and Commonwealth dead and 514 Germans.
John Buchan's VC can be seen by visitors to Stirling Castle where it is displayed in the Regimental Museum of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.
A total of 628 Victoria Crosses were awarded during the First World War.
John McDermond was born in Clackmannanshire in 1828. John joined, at the age of 18, the 47th Regiment of Foot, a Lancashire Regiment who recruited in Glasgow. He was posted to the Ionian Islands (Greece), Malta and Canada as well as the UK. Whilst the Regiment was in Malta, in 1854, Britain became involved in the Crimean War and the Regiment was sent to the Crimea. Within weeks of arriving John took part in the Battle of Sebastopol and the Battle of Alma (where he was wounded) and finally the Battle of Inkerman where he fought valiantly and saved the life of Colonel Haly who was wounded and under attack from Russian troops. For this act of valour he was awarded the Victoria Cross. He was presented with his VC in 1857 at Southsea near Portsmouth. This was the 43rd Victoria Cross awarded.
Provost Tina Murphy, the Council's Champion for Veterans said: "It is a great honour to be here today representing the Council to pay tribute to both of our VCs who hailed from Clackmannanshire. When you read their citations it clear that they shouwed incredibly bravery risking their lives for their country. This ceremony if a fitting tribute to honour their memory.”
The stone commemorating John Buchan was unveiled as part of the nationwide Victoria Cross commemorative paving stones programme that will see every recipient of the Victoria Cross in World War 1 commemorated. Two paving stones were unveiled in Tillicoultry in 2015 commemorating James Pollock VC and James Dawson VC, marking 100 years since they were awarded the VC.