Edinburgh war hero honoured 100 years after death
AN EDINBURGH war hero has been honoured 100 years after his death at a memorial ceremony held in the French town where he died.
Corporal James McPhie was awarded a Victoria Cross – the highest award in the country for gallantry in the face of the enemy – for extreme acts of bravery in the First World War.
Residents of Aubencheul-au-Bac, near to where Cpl McPhie died, organised a commemoration event for all of the fallen which took place on Sunday.
Captain Alan Hume responded to a call-out from the town asking for someone to represent Edinburgh at the ceremony. The former Leith Academy pupil is part of the same regiment that Cpl McPhie had been in, the Royal Engineers, and was moved to attend with a contingent of veterans and serving soldiers to pay their respects on the anniversary of his death.
He said: “I saw this as an opportunity to pay homage to someone who had earned it.
“I was proud to take part. To be from Edinburgh, and as a Royal Engineer, to celebrate another Edinburgh man was humbling.”
Around 80 people gathered to honour the fallen in Aubencheul-au-Bac at 10am on Sunday morning. The servicemen were joined by the mayor and a band as they marched through the town to lay wreaths at a German memorial and at the site where Cpl McPhie fell.
Cpl McPhie joined the Territorials in 1912 when he was just 17, and was said to utter the words “it is death or glory work which must be done for the sake of our patrol” as he urged his fellow sappers (engineers) to save a floating bridge at the Canal de la Sensee not far from Aubencheul-au-Bac in 1918.
After the bridge broke, leaving troops stranded under enemy fire, Cpl McPhie and his comrades repaired it by night but it broke again and he and another sapper leapt into the water to hold the broken sections together helping men escape but as the sun rose, he led the way onto the bridge.
He was shot in the face and fell into the canal. Sapper CA Cox was hit in the leg and arm but managed to drag McPhie back onto the bridge but he was killed by machine gun fire.
Cpl McPhie’s body was rescued and laid to rest by his brother John, a Lance Corporal in the same unit, four miles away.
A posthumous VC for “most conspicuous bravery” was presented to his widowed mother Elizabeth by King George V in the ballroom of Buckingham Palace on April 3, 1919.
John McPhie’s daughter, Sheila Grove from Bonnyrigg travelled to France with her son and grandson to honour her uncle.
Capt Hume said: “It was quite an emotional day for the family. It was really quite touching to see the thread of lineage.”
He added: “It is immensely important to remember the fallen. He who ignores history is condemned to repeat it.
“Cpl McPhie knew that if he didn’t risk death it would cost the lives of others. His actions were game-changing. He had great courage and he paid the ultimate price.”