In 1917, King George V visited Glasgow to honour heroes of the Great War, both military and civilian, at a massive outdoor investiture ceremony at Ibrox. It was appropriate that Rangers’ home should have been chosen as the venue for the investiture. The working class industrial districts which surrounded the arena were key to the war effort. The Empire owed a huge debt to those who lived in the area’s tenements and who worked close-by. As the Scotsman pointed out, ‘Within easy hail are the great docks and the yards, where the busy hammers are clanging the death-knell of enemy hopes, and shell factories, where night and day many toilers are aiding the defeat of the German military machine.’ Several thousand women workers from local munitions factories were packed into the north stand and a choir made up of factory workers from Cardonald provided musical entertainment to the crowd.
After a morning touring the city, the King travelled to Ibrox from the city chambers in his royal car, along streets lined by crowds. By the time he arrived, at least three-quarters of the vast bowl was filled. In size, it was the sort of crowd normally only seen at football matches but it differed greatly in make-up. With thousands of men still serving in combat, many of those attending were women, and they dressed for the occasion. Rather than the usual row after row of drab flat caps, the steep Ibrox slopes were filled with colour from brightly-hued hats and dresses. Entrance to the stadium was first come first served and there were huge queues outside Ibrox when the gates were opened two hours before the ceremony was due to start.
It wasn’t just the crowds who brought colour to the scene. The ground was festooned with a multitude of flags from all the Allied countries. Notably, the US Stars and Stripes flew alongside the Union Jack on the roof of the north stand and a long line of small flags hung above the terracings. The royal platform, which had a prominent position on the playing field, was covered with crimson cloth and was surrounded by brightly coloured flower arrangements. The Glasgow Herald wrote, ‘The famous enclosure has housed many crowds, but seldom has it presented such a scene as today, when the sombre monotony of the football spectators’ bonnets gave way to the blaze of colour provided by the military display.’
To the sound of a bugle, the King entered the arena at 3.30pm and was greeted by deafening cheers from the crowd. The Herald described the scene in glowing terms. ‘They waved tiny flags and handkerchiefs and cheered as though they would never cease. The demonstration was as a whole of the most superb character’ while the Scotsman said the welcome ‘reinforced the spirit of loyalty and personal regard’ for the monarch.
A company of wounded soldiers from local hospitals faced the King as he took to the dais on the Royal platform while to his right the recipients of the day’s honours were seated. The greatest ovations were reserved for the three soldiers who were presented with the Victoria Cross, particularly Private Harry Christian of the Royal Lancaster Regiment. He had been brought north from a hospital in the north of England but was so ill that he had to be carried to the stage on a chair by members of the St Andrew’s Ambulance Association. The official description of his deeds read as follows:
He was holding a crater with five or six men in front of our trenches. The enemy commenced a very heavy bombardment of the positions with heavy ‘minenwerfer’ bombs, forcing a temporary withdrawal. When he found that three men were missing Private Christian at once returned alone to the crater, and although bombs were continually bursting actually on the crater, he found, dug out and carried one by one into safety all three men, thereby undoubtedly saving their lives. Later he placed himself where he could see the bombs coming and directed his comrades when and where to seek cover.
Private Christian was followed onto the stage by a cheerful Highlander, Private George Mackintosh of the Gordon Highlanders. His commendation read:
During the consolidation of a position , his company came under machine gun fire at close range. Private Mackintosh immediately rushed forward under heavy fire, and, reaching the emplacement, he threw a Mill’s grenade into it, killing two of the enemy and wounding a third. Subsequently, entering the dug-out, he found two light machine guns, which he carried back with him. His quick grasp of the situation and the utter fearlessness and rapidity with which he acted undoubtedly saved many of his comrades, and enabled the consolidation to proceed unhindered by machine gun fire.
The third and final VC was received by ANZAC Lance Corporal Sam Frickleton, of the New Zealand rifle brigade As well as the injuries he suffered carrying out his act of bravery, it also transpired that he had been gassed. The official description of his actions read:
With attacking troops which came under heavy fire and were checked. Although slightly wounded, Corporal Frickleton dashed forward at the head of his section and pushed into the barrage and personally destroyed with bombs an enemy machine gun and crew which was causing heavy casualties. He then attacked a second gun, killing the whole of the crew of twelve. By the destruction of these two guns he undoubtedly saved his own and other units from very severe casualties and his magnificent courage and gallantry ensured the capture of the objective. During the consolidation of the position he received a second severe wound. He set throughout a great example of heroism.
EDIT: August 7th 2014: Cpl Frickleton originally came from Slamannan in Stirlingshire
The most poignant moments of the investiture came when the mourning widows of fallen soldiers stepped forward to receive posthumous awards on behalf of their late husbands. Among them was the widow of Lieutenant J. Giffen of the Cameron Highlanders, who collected her husband’s Military Cross amid sympathetic applause from the crowd. Their two young sons and daughter watched the ceremony from the grandstand.
William Wilton and Rangers president Sir John Ure Primrose were introduced to the King as the day’s events drew to a close. By all accounts it was a good humoured exchange, with the monarch laughingly suggesting that most of the crowd at Ibrox that day would rather have been watching a football match. After the playing of the National Anthem, the royal party left the ground to yet more cheers from the crowd and a chorus of Rule Britannia from the munitions girls. For the Ibrox men it was the perfect end to what had been a historic day – and a hugely successful one for the club, which cemented its reputation as one of Scotland’s greatest sporting and social institutions.