Hugh Gillen, from the James Street area of Harryville, may well have been the Mid-Antrim district's youngest recipient of the Military Medal, and there is reasonable cause to believe that he would have been amongst the youngest Irishmen to receive a gallantry award in World War One.
We are indebted to his grandson, Eugene Gillen of Antrim for further information on his ancestor. Eugene got in contact after a relative in the USA spotted Hugh's face in our site.
Eugene holds Hugh's MM, Silver War Badge, Victory Medal and British War Medal along with various items of documentation. Thanks to his interest in Hugh's wartime career, we are able to add to the story.
Family tradition tells of Hugh attempting to enlist with a local battalion in the early stages of the war but, like many, he was rejected on the grounds of age. Unperturbed by this initial setback, Hugh set his sights on a regiment where he might well slip into the ranks undetected. To that end he volunteered for the 6th Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders.
David Watson (who was then living in Dunstable, Bedfordshire) writing to the Ballymena Observer in the mid 1960s stated:
'I was 15 and a half years of age when I was serving with the 7th Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles at Sunnylands Camp, Carrickfergus in June 1915. I was in a draft for France when my age was discovered and Lt. Col. McFerran sent me home. Eventually I reached France at 16 and a half years of age with the 51st Highland Division. There were many very young soldiers from mid-Antrim in the HD - some much younger than myself. One of these was Hugh Gillen of Larne Road, Ballymena. Hugh must be one of Ulster's youngest decorated soldiers. He was around 17 when he won the MM (at Arras, August 22, 1918) for carrying in wounded under heavy fire.'
Having served post-war in the 'A' Special Constabulary, Hugh worked in the Post Office Engineering Dept until ill health forced him to retire.
In a very short interview I've been given, he stated: "I felt that I was doing what anyone else would have done in the cirumstances."
Hugh Gillan as he appeared in the local press when his MM was announced