12 September 2006

Following Henry May's death in July 1941 a headstone was placed over his grave in Riddrie Cemetery, Glasgow, which didn't contain his name, but did commemorated his two children. Over the past few years Henry May's headstone had deteriorated, suffered badly from vandalisism, and had been knocked over. Therefore, it was decided to erect a new headstone over Henry May's burial plot recognising him as one of Glasgow's Victoria Cross holders.

The ceremony to unveil the new headstone took place on the 12th September 2006 where members of the May family gathered in Riddrie Cemetery, accompanied by representatives of Henry May's old regiment, the Cameronians ( Scottish Rifles ), the regimental museum, the Thistle & Poppy Society, and the Royal British Legion.

At daybreak on 22nd October 1914 Private Henry May, 1st Bn, Cameronians, was in a platoon under the command of Lieutenant D. Graham. This platoon was acting as a covering party in a ditch to hold the enemy in check while the main part of the Cameronians entrenched positions about 700 yards to the rear. This took place on the eastern side of the village of La Boutillerie. During this time the enemy, who were only 50 yards to the front of the platoon, attacked them in force which resulted in them falling back, but not before the trench-digging to the rear was completed.

During the fighting Lance Corporal Lawton had been wounded, about a hundred yards to the right of May who quickly ran across the firing line through a hail of bullets. Lance Corporal McCall and Private Bell went with Henry May to assist. Bell took off Lawton's equipment but he was shot dead as May and McCall tried to lift him to his feet. McCall too was knocked unconscious and May then flattened himself on the ground determined to fight to the last.

At that moment he saw his platoon commander Lieutenant Graham fall to the gound with a bullet in his leg. May called to Bell to follow and ran over to their officer, the two men carried him step by step, zig-zagging as they stumbled on. When they had covered about 300 yards they reached a ditch where Bell was shot in the hand and foot but they managed eventually to reach comparative safety. May was exhausted but struggled to drag Lieutenant Graham a little nearer safety when Corporal Taylor came to his assistance lifting Lieutenant Graham onto his shoulder but was then shot dead. Henry May, by some supreme effort, then dragged the wounded officer to the British trenches and to complete safety.

Private Henry May's heroism and utter disregard for the safety of his own life was in the true tradition of the holders of the Victoria Cross. Eleven days after his VC action May was wounded by shrapnel during the attacks on the town of Ypres and was invalided home, returning to France in mid-January 1915.

For the award of the Victoria Cross.

[ London Gazette, 19 April 1915 ], La Boutillerie, France, 22 October 1914, Private Henry May, 1st Bn, Cameronians ( Scottish Rifles )

For most conspicuous bravery near La Boutillerie, on 22nd October, 1914, in voluntarily endeavouring to rescue, under very heavy fire, a wounded man, who was killed before he could save him, and subsequently, on the same day, in carrying a wounded Officer a distance of 300 yards into safety whilst exposed to very severe fire.

Private Henry May was invested with his Victoria Cross by King George V at Buckingham Palace on the 12th August 1915.

Henry May was discharged from the Army on 28th August 1915 when his regular engagement of thirteen years expired. He rejoined in 1918 and in March obtained a commission with the Motor Transport Corps and was demobilized with the rank of temporary Lieutenant in 1919.

After the war May joined a hosiery firm the Glasgow Manufacturing Company in which he became a partner. He was taken ill at his home and died in the Glasgow Infirmary on 26th July 1942, just before his fifty-sixth birthday. His funeral took place at Riddrie Park Cemetery, Glasgow, and was the largest seen in the East End for a long time. It was attended by four holders of the Victoria Cross: John McAulay, Robert Downie, David Lauder and Walter Ritchie.

Medal entitlement of Private Henry May - 1st Bn, Cameronians ( Scottish Rifles )

  • Victoria Cross
  • 1914 Star + clasp "5th Aug - 22nd Nov 1914"
  • British War Medal ( 1914-20 )
  • Victory Medal ( 1914-19 )
  • King George VI Coronation Medal ( 1937 )


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Iain Stewart, 22 September 2006