Following the outbreak of World War I in late July 1914, a relatively unsuccessful recruitment drive was held in Tillicoultry that November.

One man who did enlist was James Lennox Dawson, a cousin to James Dalgleish Pollock. Born in Tillicoultry in 1891, Dawson had signed up to the 5th Cameronians. By March 1915, he was in France and that summer joined the Royal Engineers.

At the Hohenzollern Redoubt, where the Battle of Loos had begun on 25th September, the British had managed to gain access to the fortification but were forced back under heavy bombardment.

On 13th October an assault began and at midday an artillery bombardment commenced. Two hours later a gas attack was launched by the German forces. James Dawson was caught up in that attack.

The trench was full of soldiers as the gas began to escape. Dawson, in the face of enemy fire, directed his men away from the gas and gave them orders to clear the infantry out of the areas worst affected. During this time, he found three leaking cylinders of gas. With no regard for his own safety, he began to roll them away from the trench. The Germans continued to fire at him but he was determined to get the cylinders as far away from the trench as he could. He succeeded. When he deemed it safe, Dawson fired bullets into them and the gas was released. This act undeniably saved many lives that day.

This incident was regarded as one of the most courageous acts of the Redoubt. Dawson received the Victoria Cross which was introduced by Queen Victoria in January 1856 and is only given for ‘most conspicuous bravery, or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice, or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy.’

Dawson was given a reception in Alloa, as his family had moved there when he was eight years old. He returned to the army and joined the Royal Engineers in December 1916 then demobilized in 1919, having achieved the rank of major. In 1920, he joined the Army Education Corps and later transferred to the Indian Army Ordnance Corps. He died on 15th February 1967. He was one of only a handful of sappers to be given the Victoria Cross between 1914 and 1918.

On 27th September 2015 Tillicoultry honoured him with the unveiling of a plaque.

To date only 1400 Victoria Crosses have been awarded.