Keeping alive memories of our fallen heroes

Joe O'Raw
Joe O'Raw

The lifelong mission which led to local historian Joe O’Raw being awarded the MBE began at New Stevenston War Memorial.

As a boy he would pass it every day and reflect on the deaths of men whose surnames matched those of his classmates at the village primary school.

He said: “As I grew older I became more and more determined to find out about as many of the Lanarkshire war dead as possible.”

His quest was unrelenting, and, besides other research, he has bought almost 400 books about the First World War over the past 30 years.

The stories of roughly 3,000 war dead, many of whom may ultimately have been forgotten, are now - thanks to him - a matter of accessible record.

He has published numerous local guides and booklets devoted to the men who died in Flanders or at Gallipoli, in the mud of Passchendaele or at sea.

The fact that his MBE honour comes in the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War is not lost on the sprightly 82-year-old whose own family’s Great War history includes not only his dad but also four uncles .

A fifth uncle was unfit for service because of chronic respiratory problems.

His father, also Joseph, was serving with the Royal Engineers when he was captured by the Turkish army at the Battle of Oghritina in Palestine on Easter Sunday, 1916.

The story of how he was taken to Turkey is an adventure in its own right.

Chronically under-nourished and often at risk of attack by bandits, he was finally able to make his laborious way home at the end of the war.

Of the four brothers who served, one was wounded and captured and another discharged from the army with severe shell shock - the only survivor of a shell burst which killed several men in his section of trench.

Joe said: “I amassed a lot of knowledge of the Great War through knowing the many veterans I met in my lifetime and they were a breed of men I don’t think we will ever see again.

“They saw terrible sights and experienced hardship and death that we couldn’t imagine.

“As my uncle Hughie and other veterans used to say: ‘Son, you need to have been there to understand what we went through, and thank God you were not there.’

“Is it any wonder I don’t want to forget them?”