A POIGNANT ceremony in Helensburgh this Sunday will mark the supreme bravery of a Helensburgh hero of the First World War.

George Findlay – or George de Cardonnel Elmsall Findlay – was given the Victoria Cross, Britain's highest military award for gallantry, in recognition of his exceptional leadership in the fields of France on November 4, 1918, just a week before the end of the war.

And 100 years to the day since that act of bravery, a memorial will be unveiled at the gates of Drumfork House in Colgrain – where Colonel Findlay lived for more than 40 years until his death in 1967 – at 12.30pm on Sunday, November 4.

Family members from all over the world are expected to attend the ceremony, which will mark the completion of four years of work behind the scenes by Argyll and Bute Council, Norman Muir of Helensburgh Community Council and Drumfork House’s present owner, Kevan O’Neill, to have Colonel Findlay’s bravery honoured with a permanent, physical memorial in his home town.

His great-nephew, Charlie Findlay, told the Advertiser: “I think it’s great that we are remembering these individuals, although I’m sure they would be telling us about all the others who did not win medals and who did not come home.

“The family are really grateful for all the efforts of Argyll and Bute Council, Norman Muir and, especially. the owners of Drumfork.”

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AS dawn broke on Sunday, November 4, 1918, Allied forces launched their final offensive against the Germans in northern France.

Having taken unprecedented numbers of prisoners at the Battle of the Selle a few days previously, British, American and French commanders sensed that this was their chance to mount a final, crucial offensive to break the last of the German resistance in Europe.

But while the end of the war may have been in sight, what became known as the second Battle of the Sambre was no stroll in the park for the Allies. And one particular incident that morning led to George Findlay receiving the Victoria Cross.

Kevan O’Neill, who has built a new wall at the gates to provide a home for the memorial, said: “I knew of Colonel Findlay and the fact he used to live at Drumfork House, because I’d read a few articles about him in the past.

“I read a newspaper article about plans for commemorative stones for all Britain’s Victoria Cross winners, and it said a great many of them had no known relatives.

“I knew he’d been commissioned into the Royal Engineers, and I’m an engineer myself. That’s what made me interested in his story and made me think it was worth remembering him.

“I’ve been able to dig out quite a bit of information on him over the years, and it turns out he was quite a character.

“In 1928 it seems he was charged with riding through Richmond Park, in London, in a motorised vehicle while the gates were locked.

“The case went to court, and the judge fined him five pounds – but not before the colonel gave the judge a lecture!”

Colonel Findlay, like many ex-soldiers, didn’t talk much about his wartime experiences. But he did describe the incident which earned him his VC in an interview with the Advertiser in 1964, three years before his death.

In that interview, reproduced in our ‘Eye on Millig’ column earlier this year, he told our reporter: “I was acting Major commanding the 409 (Lowland) Company at the time.

“Many of the company were miners, and I have kept in touch with them ever since,” he said.

“Our division had to force two crossings and by dawn both were successful. I led one crossing. But the French did not get over until seven that night, and there were a lot of casualties.”

The announcement of his award was published in the London Gazette in May of the following year, and the then Captain (Acting Major) Findlay received his VC from King George V at Buckingham Palace on November 27, 1919.

The citation read: “For conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty during the forcing of the Sambre-Oise canal at the Lock, two miles from Catillon, on November 4, 1918, when in charge of the bridging operations at this crossing.

“Major Findlay was with the leading bridging and assaulting parties which came under heavy fire while trying to cross the dyke between the forming-up line and the Lock.

“The casualties were severe and the advance was stopped.

“Nevertheless, under heavy and incessant fire, he collected what men he could and repaired the bridges, in spite of heavy casualties in officers and other ranks.

“Although wounded, Major Findlay continued his task and after two unsuccessful efforts, owing to his men being swept down, he eventually placed the bridge in position across the Lock, and was the first man across, subsequently remaining at this post of danger till further work was completed.

“His cool and gallant behaviour inspired volunteers from different units at a critical time when men became casualties almost as soon as they joined him in the fire-swept zone, and it was due to Major Findlay’s gallantry and devotion to duty that this most important crossing was effected.”

The battle was very brief in First World War terms – the British forces had achieved their objectives by the following day – and has been largely forgotten by many historians.

But it was significant in many ways – on a similar scale to the first day of the Battle of the Somme, in terms of soldiers involved, and in terms of casualties. Among those who lost their lives was the celebrated war poet Wilfred Owen.

And, as the last large-scale set-piece battle of the war, the Allies’ victory, in the words of one of the few historians to have studied the battle in depth, “irrevocably and finally crushed the will of the German defenders, leading to a pursuit of a demoralised, broken and beaten army, whose means of continued resistance had been destroyed”.

Within four days, negotiations between the two sides to end the war had begun; on November 9 Kaiser Wilhelm abdicated and a new German republic was declared; and on the morning of November 11, following more than four years of bloody and horrific fighting, the guns finally fell silent.

And while, with every passing year, the horrors of “the war to end all wars” fade a little further into history, acts such as this Sunday’s unveiling and the observance of two minutes’ silence on Remembrance Sunday will ensure that the remarkable bravery shown by George Findlay, and the 313 men – and one woman – who did not return to Helensburgh and whose names feature on the town’s war memorial, will not be forgotten.