BY Ryan McDougall | December 14 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


School pupils champion the cause of Glasgow’s ‘forgotten’ World War I hero

A Glasgow high school is in talks with a local MP in hopes of having a memorial placed in Springburn for a Catholic First World War hero.

On October 23 1916, Sergeant Robert Downie (right) fought in Lesboeufs, France, against German forces.

Despite his regiment having sustained heavy casualties, he and the remainder of the men rushed forward and managed to capture a machine gun nest, defeating enemy troops.

When he returned home to Springburn he was welcomed as a hero and was subsequently awarded a Victoria Cross (VC) for his valour, the highest and most prestigious honour which can be awarded to members of the British Armed Forces.


New memorial

Now, students at Turnbull High School in Bishopbriggs, Glasgow, are campaigning to have a memorial of some form placed in his home town.

In 2016, a paving stone dedicated to Sergeant Downie was placed outside the People’s Palace in Glasgow, but the school feel that he deserves something bigger to help those in his home community remember him.

While the idea is still in its infancy, the school has contacted local MP and former pupil Paul Sweeney to see if he can help them in leading the campaign.

Mr Sweeney is the MP for Glasgow North East which covers the Springburn district, and has shown his support for the pupil-led endeavour.


Forgotten legacy

John McKenna, the Turnbull High teacher who has guided the pupils in their cause, said the school feels Sergeant Downie’s life ‘has largely been forgotten.’

“We’ve been trying to get his story off the ground for a wee while now,” he added.

“I had never heard of it until his great-great-granddaughter, a student of mine, told me.

“So we only found out from her, and because she was a student of mine it blew me away. It’s such a rare thing. It’s like something out of a comic book story.”


Parliamentary support

Paul Sweeney responded to the school, stating that he is ‘extremely eager’ to support the idea, and expressed his pride in the pupils of his own former high school for taking an initiative in establishing the project.

He also suggested that he could write to the chief executive of Glasgow City Council, and ask if they would consider either moving the People’s Palace memorial to Springburn where it might be more suited, or for a second stone to be commissioned somewhere in the Springburn area.


A humble man

Sergeant Downie was a member of St Aloysius Church in Springburn throughout his life, and later went on to work for Celtic Football Club.

Upon receiving his Victoria Cross, he had told local press that ‘every man in the regiment won the VC that day.’

“He was such a humble man,” Mr McKenna said. “My uncle knew him—he was just a wee boy at the time, and he always spoke of how great a guy and how reserved he was.

“We felt that by reaching out to the press and council we’d be resurrecting his story, as we feel it’s been forgotten a wee bit over the years.”

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