“If there are honours to be won, I will win them!”
This remark was made by a young John Manson Craig to his friends; closely followed by an assertion that he was going “to rough it with the rest of the boys” as a private soldier and that is exactly what he did!
Hailing from Comrie in Perthshire, John’s background would have ensured that he would have been able to secure a commission; but, true to his word, he went off to France early in WWI as a private soldier and suffered the privations and horrors of the trenches. His mother reported that Jack (as he was known) had at least one lucky escape during the Battle of Loos (September 1915) when his kit-bag was shot off his back, missing him by inches!
Following his long experience in the trenches, Jack returned home and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in The Royal Scots Fusiliers (RSF). So it was, that at the age of 21 years, Second Lieutenant Jack Craig joined the men of the 5th Battalion and sailed for Egypt. The voyage was not without incident, as their ship was torpedoed and, although, Jack was once again unscathed, several of his men were sadly killed.
On 5 June 1917, an advanced post having been rushed by the enemy, Jack immediately organised a rescue party and after tracking the enemy back to his trenches, set his party to work removing the dead and wounded under heavy rifle and machine-gun fire. An NCO was wounded and a medical officer who went to his aid was also wounded. Jack went out at once and got the NCO under cover, but while taking the medical officer to shelter was himself wounded. Nevertheless, the rescue was effected under heavy fire, shrapnel and high explosives – he then scooped cover for the wounded, thus saving their lives.
Although wounded, Jack survived and was awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest award for gallantry “in the face of the enemy” to members of the British armed forces.
Jack graduated from Edinburgh University in 1922 with a Bachelor of Science in the Department of Agriculture and married Miss Elizabeth Henderson of Dundee in 1931, finally dying in 1970.
On Saturday 3 June 2017, descendants of Jack gathered in Comrie to remember Jack’s amazing bravery by the unveiling of a paving stone by the Lord Lieutenant, Brigadier Mel Jamieson, and the Provost of Perth, Councillor Dennis Melloy. Jack’s citation was read by a young subaltern from The Royal Highland Fusiliers, 2nd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland (2 SCOTS) and Pipe Major Gillies of 2 SCOTS played while wreaths were laid at the stone, including one from The Royal Highland Fusiliers by Brigadier John Drummond. The local Pipe Band and Morrisons Academy joined forces to march through Comrie to herald the short, but poignant ceremony.
The sun shone on Comrie and this ceremony to honour her gallant son – a fitting tribute to the selfless bravery of Second Lieutenant John Manson Craig VC.
Perhaps, the last word should go to one of the men that Jack saved on that fateful day:
“I have never seen a braver officer than Lieutenant Craig!”