Louis McGuffie was born on 15th February 1893, the first-born son of Edward McGuffie and Catherine (Gilmour) McGuffie. Edward was a general labourer and, at the time of Louis’ birth, the family lived at 23 High Street and included children from Edward’s earlier marriage to Elizabeth McCallum. As the family grew with the birth of twins in 1895 and Louis’ brother, Robert, they moved from home to home in Wigtown (in 1901 at 20 Low Vennel, 1905 at 19 Low Vennel, 1915 at 21 Low Vennel). Before the war Louis played football for Wigtown Utd.
Although his military record does not survive, we know that Louis was a member of the 1st/5th Battalion of the Kings Own Scottish Borderers, a Territorial Battalion of part-time soldiers and that his service number was 2255 (later 240693). At the outbreak of war in August 1914 the 1st/5th were mobilised and made ready for service. On 11th May 1915 the Battalion sailed from Liverpool for service at Gallipoli in Turkey, landing there on 6th June 1915. Casualties at Gallipoli were high, with some of Louis’ fellow Wigtown men losing their lives. It was at Gallipoli that Louis McGuffie’s mettle was tested, being wounded twice. The Battalion War Diary on 29th December 1915 reported a skirmish with the Turks: “… and on the counter-attack by the Turks we manned the parapets and assisted in repelling the attack. Near us our bombing detachment, also attached to the Fusiliers, did magnificent service. Lance-Corporal McMurray was shot through the head by a sniper whilst throwing a continuous series of bombs during a strong Turkish counter-attack. He was ably seconded by Pte McGuffie, who later won the VC in France.”
In January 1916 the Battalion moved to Egypt for service in Palestine and Gaza before transferring to France in April 1918. By this time Louis had been promoted to the rank of Corporal and was soon to be further promoted to Sergeant. In September Louis’ brother, Robert, was severely wounded and had his left arm amputated. Barely three weeks later Louis was killed. The Galloway Gazette reported: “Mrs E McGuffie, Low Vennel, Wigtown, has received official intimation of the death in action on 4th inst of her son, Sergt L McGuffie, KOSB. The Chaplain in writing to his mother says that the Commanding Officer told him that in her son he had lost his best and bravest man. During the fighting recently Sergeant McGuffie took 40 prisoners single-handed, and released ten men of a British regiment that had been taken prisoners by disarming the enemy escort that was leading them off. He was killed instantaneously by shell fire.”
Just before Christmas 1918, the Galloway Gazette carried the news that he had been awarded the Victoria Cross: The Victoria Cross has been awarded to the late Louis McGuffie, 1/5thBattalion, KOSB (TF), Wigtown
For most conspicuous bravery and resourceful leadership under heavy fire near Wytschaete on September 18th 1918. During the advance on Piccadilly Farm, he single-handed, entered several dug-outs and took many prisoners, and during subsequent operations dealt similarly with dug-out after dug-out, forcing one officer and twenty-five other ranks to surrender. During consolidation of the first objective he pursued and brought back several of the enemy who were slipping away, and he was instrumental in releasing some British soldiers who were being led off as prisoners. Later in the day, when in command of a platoon, he led it with the utmost dash and resource, capturing many prisoners. This very gallant soldier was subsequently killed by a shell.
— The London Gazette, 13 December 1918
In January 1919 Catherine McGuffie, then living at 1 North Main Street, received a letter from the King inviting her to London to be presented with Louis’ Victoria Cross. As her husband had died in 1917 and with an invalided son at home, she did not have the money to afford a trip to London. When they heard of this the people of Wigtown banded together to fund her trip. Upon her return the whole town met her at the railway station and paraded up to the County Buildings, led by the Town Band. Later a brass plaque, which can still be seen in the County Buildings, was provided by public subscription.
McGuffie is buried in Zantvoorde British Cemetery, near Ieper, in Belgium. King George V presented McGuffie’s VC to his mother in a ceremony at Buckingham Palace on 17 May 1919. In his memory, a tablet was laid into the wall of the Wigtown County building in late 1919. His name is also listed on the Wigtown War Memorial.
In 1971, a family member donated Louis McGuffie’s VC and other campaign medals, which included the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal, and the Victory Medal, to the Regimental Museum of The Kings Own Scottish Borderers, Berwick upon Tweed in Northumberland.
On Friday 28th September 2018 – to mark the Centenary of the award of the VC – a commemorative paving stone was unveiled and wreaths laid at Wigtown County Buildings. The Louis McGuffie VC Memorial Gardens archway were also unveiled.
The commemorative event was be attended by relatives of Sergeant McGuffie; the Lord Lieutenant for Wigtown [John Ross]; Sergeant Archie Knox and an Honour Guard, 6 SCOTS; representatives of 1 SCOTS; members of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers Association; Loch Ryan Pipe Band; representatives of Legion Scotland; MPs; MSPs; and representatives of Dumfries and Galloway Council, Wigtown and District Community Council, Wigtown Festival Company, and the Louis McGuffie VC Centenary Committee.
Councillor Archie Dryburgh, Armed Forces Champion, Dumfries and Galloway Council, said:
“As an ex-serviceman, it has been a privilege and an honour to have the opportunity to be involved with the planning of events to commemorate the centenary of Sergeant Louis McGuffie being awarded the Victoria Cross for his gallant act of bravery during World War 1. The VC is very poignant here in Wigtown, as McGuffie was in the local regiment, The King’s Own Scottish Borderers. When McGuffie was awarded the VC posthumously, the local community funded his mother’s journey to London to receive the VC from the King.”
Councillor Jim McColm, who will lay a wreath at the ceremony on behalf of Wigtown Area Committee, said:
“This event is a fitting tribute to the memory of a very gallant soldier who gave his life in the service of his country. His actions on 28 September 1918 were above and beyond the call of duty and fully merited the award of the Victoria Cross. Sadly, like so many others, Louis didn’t return from the battlefields and it’s important that the enormity of the losses remains in our memory.
“Great credit is due to the Royal Burgh of Wigtown and District Community Council and to Archie Dryburgh, Dumfries and Galloway Council’s Armed Forces Champion, for organising this commemoration. Thanks are also due to local authors Mike Morley and Jack Hunter who wrote the commemorative book about Louis McGuffie, and to Jack Sloan and Paul Siddle, who were largely responsible for the commemorative archway.”
The commemorative event, archway and book has been funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Dumfries & Galloway Council, Galloway Preservation Society, KOSB Association Stranraer, Wigtown Community Shop, Royal Burgh of Wigtown and District Community Council, Wigtown Common Good Fund, Galloway Association of Glasgow, and Stranraer and District Local History Trust. Support in kind has been provided by the KOSB Association Dumfries, and Wigtown Festival Company.