Larne Air Cadets inspired by WWI hero’s courage

Cadet Jayden Martlew (14), Cadet Sergeant Catherine Hill (16) and Cadet Aaron Thompson (15), Larne Squadron Air Training Corps, show off their certificates marking participation in the research challenge.
Cadet Jayden Martlew (14), Cadet Sergeant Catherine Hill (16) and Cadet Aaron Thompson (15), Larne Squadron Air Training Corps, show off their certificates marking participation in the research challenge.

An old, blurred snapshot of a World War I soldier was the starting point of a story of courage and service for local cadets.

As part of a province-wide history project, members of the Larne Squadron Air Cadet Corps were challenged to find out more about the history of the Great War by researching stories of local heroes.

Private Hugh Gillen.

Private Hugh Gillen.

To give them some inspiration, their detachment staff sergeant came up with a photo of his great great grandfather, Private Hugh Gillen, in his WWI uniform.

Larne Air Cadets Jayden Martlew, Catherine Hill and Aaron Thompson became involved in a journey into the past.

In 1916, Hugh joined the 6th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Corps and was called to serve on the frontline, taking part in the 1917 Battle of Arras at which a total of 160,000 British soldiers died in action.

Hugh was severely injured after risking his own life to save wounded comrades.

His immense courage by going over the top whilst under heavy fire from the Germans earned him the Military Medal.

He was discharged from the army in 1919. He died in his home town, Ballymena, in 1970.

Jayden said: “Although he was exceptionally courageous, Hugh apparently used to dismiss praise by telling people he had only done what others would have done in the same circumstances. We felt that Hugh’s humility is as much to be admired as his bravery. He must have been an amazing man.”

Catherine added: “Looking at the personal history of an individual reminds you that, behind the statistics, were ordinary people whose lives were torn apart by war. Hugh was lucky to make it home alive, but his reticence about his experiences speaks volumes about the awful things he must have witnessed.”

Aaron commented: “When he went to war, Hugh was just a few years older than we are, which made his story very powerful and relevant to us. I, for one, can’t imagine having to serve in such a terrible conflict at a time when your adult life is only just beginning.

“This project gave a whole new dimension to history lessons and it has been an interesting challenge for us – a bit less adventurous than the majority of cadet exercises, but one that we will always value and remember.”