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Small town that bore Great War losses to finally have memorial

IT has taken more than a year of fundraising to achieve - one man even walked all the way to northern France to attract funds - but a Renfrewshire village may finally be ready to honour its war dead.

Sponsorship, fetes, donations and coffee mornings have all gone into the raising of some £60,000 for the project in Neilston.

The plan now is for a memorial in the shape of a Celtic Cross to be unveiled in time for August, and the nationwide centenary of the outbreak of the First World War. It will honour service personnel from Neilston and surrounding areas who were killed or suffered some form of trauma while serving their country.

Four bronze wall-plaques will feature the names of 208 men who were killed in the two World Wars as well as a soldier who died in Northern Ireland in 1972.

It is expected that landscaping works will follow, including replicas of the distinctive gate-posts at the local Cowden Hall, a rehabilitation centre for large numbers of British and Belgian soldiers in the Great War.

Jimmy Higgins, a locally-born author and former teacher whose grandfather was gassed in France in 1917 while part of the Canadian Light Infantry, said: "A unique aspect of the memorial is that it will be dedicated to the community which suffered throughout the two World Wars.

"Neilston suffered terribly, particularly in 1914-1918.

"Latest research suggests that no fewer than 164 Neilston men died during those years, out of 700 men who would have been available to enlist.

"Losses on such a scale would have been extremely difficult for a village of that size then. The population would only have been between 3000 and 4000.

According to Jeremy Paxman in his Britain's Great War TV series, more than 5000 memorials were built across Britain in the two years following the Armistice of 1918.

But Neilston has remained one of the few Scottish villages without one.

Mr Higgins, who walked with his cousin, John McGuire, to Vimy Ridge in northern France last summer to help raise funds for the project, said: "Mr Paxman has said that nine in 10 British soldiers survived. In Neilston, only six out of 10 did so.

"There has been an increasingly strong feeling over the years in Neilston that the losses suffered during war-time should finally be acknowledged."

The idea for the Celtic Cross and the plaques emerged from a design competition aimed at local primary school pupils.

The proposed memorial, designed by the artist Tom McKendrick, will take the form of a Spinner's Cross, combining the Celtic Cross with elements of Neilston's long history as a mill village.

"We are thrilled with what Mr McKendrick has come up with by incorporating elements of Neilston's past as a mill town," Mr Higgins added.

The cover of Mr McKendrick's design proposal bears a photograph of 11 Neilston recruits to the 1st Bn, Cameron Highlanders. Five of the group were killed in action.

The artist said it was important that the memorial reflected the community.

"With this in mind I took the Celtic Cross and the components of the old Crofthead Mill and merged them to create a unique symbol for Neilston, the Spinner's Cross," he said.

The knotwork of the traditional cross has been replaced by knotwork representing the mill.

"I wanted the concept of the memorial to be simple and dignified. What matters are the names on the plaques."

A local consultation exercise has now been launched, and planning permission will be sought.

A measure of Neilston's contribution to the national war effort in the years between 1914 and 1918 is that there was hardly a Scottish regiment that did not have a Neilston villager listed.

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