Zigmas Vilkaitis killed in action 1918
Zigmas Vilkaitis,not a name you hear every day, or one that trips off the tongue.So where does the name hail from?
The answer is Lithuania, Zigmas was one of many thousands of Lithuanians who immigrated to Scotland
at the turn of the 20th Century, a number settled in Newbattle Parish,mostly in Newtongrange (Nitten), but many more had already settled in the coalfields and steel mills of Lanarkshire.
Zigmas was one such man,in common with a number of his countrymen he came from Suwalki an area that sit in SW Lithuania and NE Poland with the current borders. He lived in the village of Glenboig near Bellshill and stayed with his brother Baltrus and his sister-in-law Jeova, and worked in the local fireclay industry.
In 1917 life would change for most Lithuanians, they were required by law to enlist in either the Russian Army ,or more favourable to the British Government, serve with the British Army.
A great number chose to serve in the Russian Army, their families suffered great hardship in the absence of their men, they were not supported and indeed a number had to attempt to return to the homeland,many were never seen or heard of again.
Zigmas chose however to serve the British and was conscripted into the 1/4th Royal Scots Fusiliers, he was given the army number 52018. His name was recorded incorrectly as Zigmar Velkitus.
In 1918 he joined his regiment in France, they had not long arrived from service in Gallipoli in 1915/16 and then Egypt.
On the 19th September,1918 the 4th RSF took part in a heroic attack on the village of Moeuvres near to the Canal du Nord, it was heavily held by the Germans and formed part of the might Hindenburg Line. Despite this the village was wrestled from the Germans,however Zigmas was wounded in the fighting and died during the night.
He was buried and lies at rest in Aubigny where he died in a casualty clearing station.
His death was recorded in the local paper at the time.
And that for 90 odd years was the only tangible record of his death back in Scotland, when the Glenboig War Memorial was erected, Zigmas was left out, whether by accident or intention, I suspect we will never know.
In May 2011 I was approached by Geraldine Bruin (ms Wolfe) the great niece of Zigmas, she was upset and looking for advice on how to get Zigmas commemorated, it was doubly upsetting for her,as her Great Uncle of Irish stock was on the memorial.
Sadly the local MSP was of little to no help, I adviced Geraldine to approach North Lanarkshire Council directly and I am pleased to say that they were first class,in particular Mr Frank McCool,the cemeteries manager, in a time when public servants come in for much criticism, he is to be congratulated and applauded.
True to their word, and much to Geraldine's pride, Zigmas was added to the memorial early in July 2011. I am proud to have played a very small part, and delighted that he is remembered for all time - We will remember them.
If you are the relative of a Lithuanian who served in the British Army in WW1, I would be delighted to hear from you , your countrymen have long gone unremembered.