Ross Anderson Tollerton was born on 6 May 1890 in the Constabulary Office in Hurlford, the son of James Tollerton, Police Constable and Jane (nee Anderson). The family moved from Hurlford to Irvine and in 1901 were living at 61 East Road, Irvine. Ross attended Bank Street School and in 1905, aged 15, he joined the 1st Cameron Highlanders. He served in South Africa, Hong Kong, China and in 1911 was stationed in India. On leaving the army in 1912 he went to work in Irvine Shipyard and became a reservist.
When war was declared Ross immediately re-enlisted. He was sent to France with the first British Expeditionary Force. His company first came under fire on 6 September 1914 a day's march from Melun and from there it was skirmishing all the way to the Aisne. On 13 September a fierce battle raged to stop the German rush on Paris and it was on 14 September that Ross heroically saved an officer for which act of bravery he was awarded the Victoria Cross. The supplement to the London Gazette, 19 April 1915, announcing the awarding of the V.C. describes the event as follows:
"For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty on September 14, 1914 at the battle of the Aisne. He carried a wounded officer under heavy fire as far as he was able into a place of greater safety, then, although himself wounded in the head and hand, he struggled back to the firing line, where he remained till his battalion retired, when he returned to the wounded officer and lay beside him for three days, until they were both rescued".
The V.C. was presented to Ross by King George on Glasgow Green on 18 May 1915 before a crowd of 50,000. Large crowds greeted him on his return to Irvine that same evening. A presentation was arranged for 21 May and the local schoolchildren were given a holiday in honor of both Irvine V.C. winners - the other being the late Captain Harry Sherwood Ranken, who also earned his V.C. at the Aisne. Ross visited all the classes in his old school Bank Street. He returned to the Western Front, reaching the rank of sergeant, and was demobilised in 1919.
Ross became janitor at Bank Street School and when the Irvine War memorial was unveiled in March 1921 Ross laid the first wreath. He never fully recovered from the wounds and died on 1 May 1931, aged 41. Lieutenant Mathieson, the officer Ross rescued, sent a wreath. Ross was buried with full military honours at Knadgerhill Cemetery, where a memorial was erected to him and is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Ross's heroic act was famous in his lifetime - the event was depicted in a painting by Allan Stewart and playing and cigarette cards bore his image and description of his deed. A street in Irvine is named after him - Tollerton Drive. His V.C. is on display in the Highlanders Museum, Fort George, Inverness-shire.
Back to the Irvine Trail