From Tyrone to death in the trenches

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A young County Tyrone soldier died in a French hospital 100 years ago this week - four days after being gassed in a German attack on British trenches during World War One.

Private William V. McGaw was taken to hospital at Le Treport, a small seaport north east of Dieppe, France, but the doctors could not save him and he sadly died on July 25.

Born on the shores of Lough Neagh at Ballymoyle, near Coagh, to William and Mary Keightley McGaw, he was just 21 years old.

The family later moved to Ballylifford, Ballinderry Bridge, before moving to Scotland where at the outbreak of war, William enlisted joining the Highland Light Infantry and later transferred to the Seaforth Highlanders.

Former Ballinderry man Philip Stuart, now living in Belfast, who researched William’s journey to war, remembers as a young boy looking up at his uncle’s bronze war medallion sitting above the fireplace of his great aunt’s farmhouse in Druminard south Derry.

The four-inch medallion bore the inscription: ‘He died for Freedom and Honour.’ One day he questioned his aunt Annie Keightley about it. “That’s your uncle Willie’s war medal, she replied, he was killed in the Great War. I wanted to know more about how he died. He was gassed in the trenches, was her immediate reply,” said Mr Stuart.

“It was an answer I would never forget. But nobody wanted to talk about the matter anymore, Aunt Annie died, the farm was sold and time passed on.

“The story waned until later when we went to visit our daughter in university in Edinburgh in 1989. While on a tour of the Castle, we were in the Chapel of Remembrance when I noticed two altars with a large book on each with a queue of people lining up at each to view the books.

“When I asked an attendant about this activity, he informed me that the books contained lists of the Scottish dead of the two World Wars. I began to tell him about my uncle Willie, who was killed in World War 1.”

Mr Stuart was pointed to a book listing most of the Glasgow dead, and found William V. McGaw, Ballymoyle, who “died of wounds” the official classification used to describe death after a gas attack.

Later, in the 1990’s, with the details he had, Mr Stuart was able to do an online search on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission site to find additional information.

Field diaries he discovered showed William was one of 41 casualties admitted to the hospital after a mustard gas attack while repairing trenches.

Unlike thousands of others who had no known grave, William was buried in Mont Huon Cemetery, Le Treport.