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Battle of Loos

Battle of Loos – 25 September 1915

By the time the 1915 Battle for Loos commenced, it is estimated only 300 or so of the original population of Loos-en-Gohelle were left. Many had spread out across France, although the heads of families stayed on in the local mining area.

The story of the Battle of Loos is well documented, with many opinions expressed on the successes or failures of this battle to support France’s General Joffre’s wish to launch a major offensive in the Champagne region and maintain pressure on the Artois front, that included Vimy Ridge to the south of Lens. However, the debate on tactics or outcomes is beyond the scope of this website.

What happened to Robert Dunsire, D Company, and the 13th Battalion of the Royal Scots during these next few days? The 13th Battalion of the Royal Scots, the 7th Battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers, the 6th Battalion of the Cameron Highlanders and the 8th and 11th Battalions of the Argyll and Southern Highlanders were all part of 15 Division of 45 Brigade within IV Corps of The British Army. It was indeed a Scottish Battle force.

The initial plan for Day 1 was that Robert and 45 Brigade would remain in reserve, with 44 and 46 Brigades making the initial assault following four days of heavy bombardment. An important aim of the bombardment was to break the heavy wiring before the German frontline trenches. There was then to be a 40 minutes discharge of gas and smoke. The front allocated to 15th Division extended for 1,500 yards

The 45 Brigade was in the rear in a line between Fosse 3 at Le Philosophe and Mazingarbe. Once the 44 Brigade were able to move out of their frontline trenches, the 7th Royal Scots Fusiliers of 45 Brigade would replace them with the 13th Royal Scots, commanded by Lt. Col. Maclear, behind the 7th RSF.

Final orders were received at 04.35 on 25 September 1915: ‘Infantry assault takes place at 05.50’.

By 11.30 that morning, the 13th Royal Scots and the 11th Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders moved forward to take over defences of Loos. Before long, questions were asked about the absence of XI Corps, which included the 21st Division and the 8th Battalion of the East Yorkshire Regiment, who were supposed to be in reserve to support the now forward divisions. By 14.00 two battalions of 44 Brigade had pushed forward to Hill 70, and were looking for reinforcements.

By 16.00, Robert Dunsire, along with Company D and the machine-gun sections, was in the German trenches, in case they had to move to the left flank to support the 1st Division, whose progress was not as rapid as expected. By 17.00 the 8th Battalion of the East Yorkshire Regiment, with Lt Col Way in command, reached Loos. This was the early group of 21st Division that had arrived in France less than two weeks earlier. This battalion played a very significant role in the life of Robert Dunsire in the following 24 hours.

Private Robert Dunsire of D Company, the 13th Battalion, the Royal Scots, was about to embark on action facing the enemy that would receive nationwide coverage and acclaim in the months ahead. At the time, Robert and his colleagues were only intent on following orders and gaining valuable territory to move the German enemy into retreat and regain valuable high ground for the months and forays ahead.

At dusk, Hill 70 and the redoubt (a temporary or supplementary fortification, typically square or polygonal and without flanking defences) were still in the hands of the Germans and a mixture of troops from 44, 45 and 46 Brigades had entrenched just below the crest.

The decision was taken to relieve and rest the exhausted frontline troops, who had already been reduced by a heavy toll of casualties, including many officers.

An order issued to Colonel Maclear of the 13th Royal Scots at 20.45 on 25 September, directed D Company to move tools, ammunition, and so on, to Loos. 45 Brigade HQ was in a cellar at Loos, then occupied by 44 Brigade. German troops shelled Hill 70, its western slopes on the side of Loos and Loos village itself until midnight. It was a typical night in Pas-de-Calais, as rain fell throughout. Telephone equipment got soaked and failed, adding to a sense of isolation.

Meanwhile, Lt Col Way of the 8th Battalion of the East Yorks Regiment prepared for an attack with a party from 10th Yorkshires and a few from the London Regiment. This was planned for 10.00, but made little progress as they had to retire under machine-gun and shell fire.

Simultaneously, D Company of the 13th Battalion of the Royal Scots was sent across to 15th Division’s right flank to support troops of the 21st Division. The 8th Battalion of the East Yorks Regiment received heavy casualties from snipers and machine guns.

Was this the situation that triggered the event that Private Robert Dunsire recorded in a letter written home to Kate on the last day of September? The contents of the letter were only revealed in a report in The Leven Advertiser & Wemyss Gazette on 25 November from a discussion with Kate when she explained that Robert had written;


I was sitting on the parapet of the trench looking over the battlefield of Hill 70 when I noticed a man crawling over the parapet of the ridge which separated our parapet from theirs. With the glasses I made out he was one of our lads, so I made a dive out of our trench, got him on my back, and brought him back in. I had not been back a quarter of an hour when I noticed another lad. This time was worse than the first, as the shells were bursting all around, and, when the snipers saw me, they kept up a continuous fire. I can’t tell you how I escaped being hit, as I was a good target, running about 100 yards with a man on my back. I was still in the firing line when the Colonel of an East Yorkshire Regiment shook hands with me and told me I was a brave lad. I told him anyone could have done the same.


The 8th Battalion of the East Yorks Regiment Diary showed this amazing bravery having taken place before 11.00, as Colonel Way was wounded and ordered a ‘slight’ retirement to the village of Loos with notes of ‘heavy casualties from snipers & machine guns’.

The Scotsman of 6 October 1915 carried the headline: ‘Denbeath Man Recommended for the DCM’ (Distinguished Conduct Medal). This report married up with the letter that Robert Dunsire had sent to Kate a few days earlier. It also refers to Robert having gone forward with a comrade with their machine gun to reinforce the Regiment’s position.

Robert and D Company remained in Loos in support of the 3rd Cavalry Division until about 23.00 on 26 September. The cavalry had come up to hold Loos and relieve Robert’s 45 Brigade. Robert remained in Loos till midnight before he joined the rest of the battalion to assemble and bivouac in the Grenay-Vermelles trench, to the east of Mazingarbe.

At 05.00 on 27 September, the battalion, less casualties, marched to another bivouac at the south-west corner of Mazingarbe. On the following day they marched 5 miles further west and bivouacked at Hallicourt, south-west of Béthune. They were to experience no further action at Loos. Their casualties were severe with 30% of the original force killed (46), Wounded (229) and Missing (46) in only 2 days of action.

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