At various times over the last century, the extreme courage of one Levenmouth soldier in battle has been celebrated and also faded from the public memory.
Robert Dunsire, from Buckhaven, is the only serviceman from this area to receive the Victoria Cross – the highest honour for gallantry awarded by the British and Commonwealth armed forces.
He came from a family that served the community.Bert Hannah
And, following a ceremony at the weekend, Dunsire’s valour and his legacy are rightly set to be remembered for generations to come.
A special memorial to the former miner was unveiled at Toll Park in Buckhaven, exactly 100 years to the day after the heroic deeds during the Battle of Loos, which earned him the illustrious commendation, from King George V at Buckingham Palace.
Members of Dunsire’s family from all over the UK travelled to Levenmouth for the ceremony, with the memorial stone itself revealed by his great-great nephew, Johnny Miller.
Dunsire lived for a time in Kirkcaldy and then Denbeath but his family later moved away from Levenmouth and, as the years slipped by, his story became largely forgotten.
Relatively few people around Buckhaven knew that a war hero in the true sense of the word had come from their community.
But his valour, and his sacrifice, were com-memorated in worthy style, thanks to the efforts of a dedicated group of researchers and support from Fife Council and other organisations.
There is now an interpretation panel at Toll Park telling Dunsire’s story, a sign on the western gateway to Buckhaven declaring it as his birthplace, and a memorial bench.
Dunsire, then a private aged 23, ventured out into the battlefield not once, but twice, to rescue two comrades while under heavy enemy fire during the Battle of Loos on September 26, 1915.
He received his Victoria Cross medal two months later and was made a Freeman of the Royal Burgh of Kirkcaldy – but on January 30, 1916 the newly-promoted Lance Corporal was fatally wounded by a German trench mortar.
Saturday’s ceremony – preceded by a service at Buckhaven and Wemyss Parish Church – was an occasion of great pride for Dunsire’s family, members of whom placed remembrance poppy crosses at the memorial, while many members of the public turned out to pay their respects.
It also marked the culmination of local efforts to bring the story of Dunsire’s heroism to present-day generations and help them understand how the 1914-18 conflict influenced the direction of the modern world.
Housheold Cavalry recruit Johnny Miller (29), who unveiled the memorial, said it was a proud day, as not many families had a VC recipient among them.
It was special to know there was a permanent memorial to their relative, he said, adding: “I think for my parents – my mum anyway – it’s the last living memory from this side of Scotland, as we moved away to Glasgow.’’
Later, he told the Mail: “I hope it will kick-start some remembrance of him from today forwards. This was definitely worth doing, because I don’t think the First World War gets as much credit as the Second World War. It’s usually the one that is always spoken about.”
Bert Hannah, of Frieds of Methil Heritage, one of the major players in the research project, said he was grateful on such a rewarding day to everyone who had fulfilled their roles and made contributions, including many young people.
It was perhaps understandable that Dunsire’s story was less well known than it should have been, but there was an opportunity now to appreciate just what a signficant figure he was – for various reasons.
“Dunsire was born in Buckhaven, moved to Kirkcaldy with his famliy, then came back to Denbeath when he got married. His story wasn’t that well established and the family all moved away from the area as well,” said Mr Hannah.
“What I found quite important was the inter-dependability we have among miners. They understood danger, while Dunsire was a musician and he played football in Buckhaven for a local team, so he was a man of many parts before he went away.
“This is very typical of what happens in mining communities. The miners were always supportive. His two uncles had become councillors locally – he came from a family that served the community as well and I think that is one of the things I want people to remember – the pride he had in the community.
“If we can take that forward, it would be fantastic.”
Johnny’s mother, Elizabeth Miller, of Kirkintilloch, whose grandmother Grace was Dunsire’s sister, said the family was really proud
“It’s something my father always told me about – he was always very proud and he would have loved to have been witness to this,” she added.
“It’s just so nice because you never really hear about at the Battle of Loos in school - you heard about the Somme and you heard about Ypres.”
Johnny’s dad, Iain Miller, said he was pleased Dunsire was being recognised, adding: “It’s great for the people that have VCs but I feel there are a lot that didn’t get the recognition for what happened.
“It’s very important that they are recognised.” added Mr Roy.
Dunsire’s story is also celebrated in a current exhibition at Methil Heritage Centre, which runs until mid-February 2016.
Roll of honour
Together with Robert Dunsire, the valour of four other Victoria Cross recipients from Fife is due to be observed on the 100th anniversaries of their respective heroic acts. They were:
David Finlay (1893-1916), born in Guardbridge, who was 22 years of age and a lance-corporal in the 2nd battalion, The Black Watch (Royal Highlanders).
John McAulay (1888-1956). born in Kinghorn, was 28 years old and a sergeant in the 1st Battalion, Scots Guards.
David Hunter (1891-1965), born in Dunfermline, was 26 years old and a corporal in the 1/5th Battalion, the Light Highland Infantry.
John Erskine (1894-1917), born in Dunfermline, who was 22 years old and a sergeant in the 5th Battalion, The Cameronians (Scottish Rifles).