Ceremony to honour Fife’s first Great War VC recipient

Sergeant David Finlay VC.
Sergeant David Finlay VC.

Fife’s first recipient of the Victoria Cross in the Great War is to be honoured at a ceremony in Guardbridge in May.

David Finlay, who was born in the village and was married in Cupar, was awarded the country’s highest military decoration for his actions in France in 1915.

The Fife Council organised ceremony, on May 9, will mark the actual centenary of the Black Watch sergeant’s bravery, when he led a bombing party of 12 men.

The 2nd Battalion of the Black Watch had moved into a forward position and, as well as facing enemy fire, had to overcome a wide, water-filled ditch.

The ditch had hindered earlier advances and although bridges had been placed over the waterway in the morning, most had disappeared later in the day.

When 10 of the group were injured - two fatally - the then Lance Corporal Finlay ordered the two survivors to crawl back while he went to the assistance of one of the wounded. Finlay carried the soldier for 100 yards to safety while under heavy enemy fire.

Born in 1893, David was a ploughman before enlisting in 1910 - a month after his 18th birthday.

Promoted to Corporal with the 2nd Battalion shortly after his act of bravery on the Western Front, a month later he rose further through the ranks, becoming a Sergeant.

The citation for his award was published in the London Gazette, with the VC presented by the King.

It was while he was on leave in July 1915 that he married Christina Cunningham in a civil ceremony in Cupar.

After a week’s leave, he rejoined his battalion in France, before being posted to Iraq at the end of 1915.

He was killed in action in January 1916 at Hannahwhat is now Iraq.

The sergeant had been one of two sent out to find good positions. When a bayonet attack was launched on the enemy line the following day, Sergeant Finlay was one of more than 160 casualties.

He is commemorated on the war memorial at Moonzie and on Leuchars War Memorial, while his Victoria Cross and service medals are on display in the Black Watch Museum’s First World War gallery at Balhousie Castle, Perth.

He is also mentioned in the Rolls of Honour in the museum Remembrance Room.

In addition, his name is recorded on the Basra Memorial in Iraq.

A large stone, with a plaque, outlining Sergeant Finlay’s bravery, will be unveiled at May’s ceremony which will take place near the play park at Guardbridge.

The arrangements are being made by the Council’s locality support team leader for north east Fife, Fiona Mitchell, and local community planning support officer, Heather Gibson. Fiona said: “We have enjoyed carrying out our research into Sergeant Finlay, who will be the first Fife-born VC from World War One to have a centenary commemoration in the Kingdom.

“His bravery is very humbling and it was so sad he was killed eight months later.

“We have had exceptional help from the Black Watch Museum in our research.”