WWI centenary: A Windygates man’s world war

Michael Burns.
Michael Burns.

In the lead up to the centenary of the end of World War I, the East Fife Mail has asked its readers to share the stories of their own WWI heroes.

While those who fought in the war between 1914-18 are all gone, we want local families to tell their stories and ensure they are not forgotten.

Michael Burns was just a teenager when war broke out – but over the next four years he experienced some of the most traumatic and horrific moments of the conflict, serving at both the Somme and Ypres.

Born in Windygates in 1895, Michael spent much of his upbringing in East Wemyss, after his parents moved there following the opening of the new Rosie Pit.

Michael, 19 when the war began, volunteered, but was reluctant to take up arms.

He joined the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) as a stretcher bearer, and was sent down to Sheffield, where he was attached to the 1/6th West Yorkshire regiment.

Michael would serve at Albert during the Battle of the Somme, and at the Third Battle of Ypres, also known as the Battle of Passchendaele.

As well as being a stretcher bearer, Michael was also a member of the army band, playing a flute.

Michael survived the war and went on to marry Daisy McCathy in 1931. They had three children – Patrick, David and John.

Tragedy struck the family when Daisy died in 1938.

Michael remarried in 1941 to Margaret Tracy, whose own father John Tracy had fought in the war. They added a son Francis and a daughter Elizabeth to family life.

Michael remained in East Wemyss, forming a popular local band with his brother Patrick, and working as the store manager at the Co-op.

He was even pictured with the Scottish Cup following East Fife’s win in 1938.

Michael died in 1964, but that commitment to helping the injured and sick remains in the family – his great granddaughter Sarah is currently studying medicine.

Grandson Mike Burns said: “We remain proud of Michael’s service and sacrifice. We cannot know or appreciate what he went through but fortunately he survived and his legacy and contribution lives on through all his great grandchildren scattered throughout the world.”