The bleak February of 1952 was a sad time for the whole nation but for one Lanark family it was probably the worst month of their entire lives.
On February 17 the country was still reeling from the sudden death 11 days earlier of King George VI when a 20-year-old Lanark lad also met his end, his in a far-flung corner of the late monarch’s dwindling empire.
Like so many young men of that era, Kenneth Wright had been called up for his two years’ National Service and, cruelly, was only 24 hours away from completing that stint of ‘‘doing his bit’’ when he was killed in action by Communist guerillas in Malaya.
With perhaps even crueller timing, the official War Office message telling his family of his death came through the letterbox of the Wrights’ Woodstock Drive home in the same post as Kenneth’s last letter home to his mum.
We can only imagine her feelings as she held that official telegram in one hand while reading her son’s joyful letter in the other, saying he’d be back in Lanark in a fortnight and would be bringing her “a very special homecoming present”.
Just a few doors away, the Wrights’ close neighbours and friends the Sinclairs were enduring their own nightmare come true that winter morning 64 years ago.
They too, had just received one of those dreaded War Office telegrams, theirs informing them that their 19-year-old son Alistair – a Lanark Grammar School classmate of Kenneth’s – was fighting for his life after having being seriously wounded by an enemy shell in Korea. It is understood that Alistair survived but was left crippled for life, his foot having to be amputated.
Although, of course, Kenneth Wright’s sacrifice will never be forgotten by his family and surviving friends, it was only in the recent past that official homage was paid to his memory.
He, like thousands of other service personnel, gave their lives for their country outwith the years of the two World Wars and so their names did not appear on their town or village’s war memorials.
It’s only recently that Gordon Highlander Kenny’s name and those of other post-war fallen comrades were added to the commemoration plaques in Lanark’s Memorial Hall.
His name is shortly to appear on another memorial, this a purpose-built one for those so-called ‘‘peacetime’’ casualties, being created by South Lanarkshire Council in Hamilton.
The initial 27 names to go on that memorial will include those of another three Clydesdale men; 19-year-old Robert Tennant of Law, who fell in Malaya serving with the Cameronians eight months after Kenneth; another Malayan casualty from Lanark, James Leiper (32), who fell serving with the King’s Dragoon Guards in June 1956 and, last but not least, Lanark’s William Miller, killed during the Northern Ireland ‘‘Troubles’’ in July 1976. Families wishing to nominate lost loved ones for inclusion on the new memorial should contact South Lanarkshire Council bereavement services on 0303 123 1016 for advice with the application process.
At last, there is to be proper recognition of Kenneth and his fallen comrades who proved the sacrifice of our soldiers, sailors and airmen didn’t end with the ‘‘peace’’ of 1945.