A group was set up in 2014 to create the activities and programme that would successfully delivery the ceremonies to mark the laying of Robert Anderson Dunsire’s VC Commemorative Paving Stone. From the outset, the group was to include the local community group, CLEAR, Friends of Methil Heritage Centre, Fife Council’s Armed Forces Champion, an RSM stationed at Leuchars Base, a local member of the Black Watch Association with invaluable experience in Remembrance Day Services, a retired colonel from the Royal Scots, Fife Council’s Levenmouth Area Services Manager, who was a guide and a window into local Council Resources, Lindsay Roy MP as Chair and Bert Hannah as the lead researcher.
Lindsay Roy CBE FRSA was a secondary school headmaster before he went to Westminster and continued his work as an MP in the lead-up to 26 September 2015, when the VC Paving Stone for Robert Anderson Dunsire VC of the 13th Battalion of the Royal Scots was unveiled. Lindsay was an invaluable asset , guiding hand, leader and supported our publicity through his constituency communications’ capability.
The group gelled from Day 1. The focus was on making our local community and Robert’s family proud of how and why we were honouring our Buckhaven-born VC. Lindsay was also insistent that we involve young people in every way possible. He saw it as an opportunity to show off many of our local young people and their variety of skills and talents, as well as the significant number of youth organisations active in our community. It was also an opportunity to grow awareness among young people of the significant contribution made by some of our men and women to our efforts at home and around the world during World War I.
A very valuable and link had been initially established with Gérard Delporte of the Mazingarbe Historical Society and the local mairie (town hall) on a visit to Robert’s grave in November 2013. On that visit, the Society and local elected officials came to Robert’s grave to lay a floral tribute. At a later reception, I was presented with a Plaque in honour of Robert Dunsire VC; the plaque was be presented to the local Buckhaven & Methil Community and is now on display at Methil Heritage Centre.
The Historical Society, Comité Historique Mazingarbe, had already published a feature about Robert Dunsire VC in their 2012, Number 39, publication. Their interest in Robert is particularly gratifying and, I find, very stimulating. Today, they will still say that they are grateful that British soldiers came to France to give them their freedom.
This contact is still maintained today, with Gérard being a constant contributor to relationships with key resources in Loos and the surrounding area. He also helped form a working relationship with staff and pupils at Collège Fréderic Joliot Curie at Calonne Ricouart with annual projects about World War I soldiers from our local area in Fife.
An important contribution was made by the Royal Scots Museum at Edinburgh Castle (www.theroyalscots.co.uk/museum), whose curator gave help, photographs and supporting information and documents for the ceremonies of 26 September 2015, and a concurrent exhibition about Robert. This was created and hosted by the excellent Friends of Methil Heritage at the Methil Heritage Centre at the Old Post Office on Methil High Street, helped by the Exhibitions Team at Fife Cultural Trust (OnFife). The museum and centre are worth a visit and support.
Every person in the working group made significant contributions and made things happen without fuss, but delivered great outcomes. Their commitment was unstinting and focused, using all resources and more, to create a day worthy of that very fine young Fifer, Robert Anderson Dunsire VC.
The person who was Robert Dunsire VC was to be front, back and centre for all the content of the day, to reflect his 24 years, not just his act of valour on 26 September 1915. It was readily agreed that a church service was appropriate, given what was known about Robert. The family connections with St David’s church, which became Buckhaven and Wemyss Parish church in 2008, made it a perfect location for the service. With the assistance of the then minister, Wilma Cairns, it was rapidly agreed that the church would welcome a large congregation. Music was an important part of the day. Buckhaven and Methil Miners’ Brass Band eagerly agreed to be part of the day and we were extremely fortunate that Buckhaven Primary School ran an Afterschool Club choir. There were a number of avenues to find a young violinist to play on the day, as well as involving young local uniform organisations like the Sea Cadets and Army Cadet Force.
We were guided by protocols about attendees such as the Lord Lieutenant of Fife, the Provost of Fife and representatives of Robert’s regiment, the Royal Scots. It was a very special day for Buckhaven & Methil, Kirkcaldy and Fife. Robert’s Commemoration followed that for David Finlay VC at Guardbridge.
Another major objective was to make it a day for members of Robert’s family. A successful UK wide appeal was made through the press by Lindsay Roy’s Office. Word spread and by the time invitations were sent out over sixty contacts had been established, which was energising for everyone involved.
The siting and unveiling of the commemorative stone exercised everyone’s mind. Toll Park was agreed as an appropriate location. The content of the day was discussed and agreed. We called on Sea Cadets and the Army Cadet Force from our local area to escort and lead the parade to the unveiling ceremony. Kirkland High School was very supportive and nominated an excellent young speaker for the day. A lone piper was also agreed and volunteered by 1 Scots, the Royal Regiment of Scotland
We decided that it would be ideal if we could find a relative of Robert who was a current or former member of our armed forces to perform the unveiling ceremony and were successful. Through our RSM from Leuchars we were able to get agreement for Robert’s great-nephew, Jonathan, who was serving as a Lance Corporal of Horse with the Life Guards, to be released to perform the unveiling, which was a great bonus. We now had a family member who was a serving soldier in our armed forces, and also worked with horses on a daily basis. World War I was the last war in which horses played a major role. By 1917, the National Army Museum states that over 368,000 horses had been deployed to the Western Front. There is no more compelling story about horses in World War I than Michael Morpurgo’s book War Horse.
However, the contribution of the Dunsire family on the day was to have another very special addition. Though this was too late to be included in the church service programme, Lorna Desire, from south of the border, was invited to recite her own tribute in a verse entitled ‘Family Tribute – Ode to a Hero’. It was certainly a moving and lovely tribute that was delivered in a calm and assured performance by Lorna. The last verse sums up the day very eloquently.
A century later, we all meet to applaud
His achievements in battle and justly reward
Though lacking a tartan,
The proud Dunsire clan
Can boast better treasure;
The courage of man.
The format of the day was complete and we were all set to go: the VC paving stone had been placed on its plinth; the badge of the Royal Scots had been carved in stone, to Commonwealth Graves Commission specification, by J.Y. Thomson Sculptors of Leven; the plinth built; and the area around the plinth immaculately readied by Fife Council.
Physically, we were ready for Saturday, 26 September 2015 – 100 years after Robert Anderson Dunsire’s act of valour on Hill 70, at Loos-en-Gohelle, after which he became Private Robert Anderson Dunsire VC.
The choice of hymns that were to be sung was made easy when research in newspapers revealed soldiers’ favourite hymns of the time. Such an account was featured on Page 8 of The Scotsman of 19 August 1915, with the headline ‘Soldiers’ Favourite Hymn’. The Rev. Stephen of Dumbarton spent three months in France in charge of the Gordon Memorial YMCA hut, which hosted evening sing songs, and he remarked that, ‘There was extraordinary talent in Kitchener’s Army and there was no difficulty in getting a pianist’.
At the Sunday evening services the soldiers’ favourite hymns were: ‘Eternal Father strong to save’, ‘O God, our Help in Ages Past’, and ‘The Old Hundredth’. We chose the second as the most appropriate for Robert’s service, as it followed several aspects of Robert’s life and experiences.
Many War Diaries record soldiers attending services at the front and many reports tell of Church ministers leaving Scotland to become chaplains, working with bodies like the YMCA to support soldiers in the field.
When Robert played in the Dunnikier Colliery Band one tune featured on many occasions. ‘See the Conquering Hero comes’ was composed by the great baroque composer George Friedrich Handel and is a chorus from his popular oratorio, Judas Maccabaeus, composed in 1746 and first performed in Covent Garden, London, in 1747. Dunnikier Colliery Band had played this music when Robert attended an event at the Corn Exchange Pavilion on 26 November 1915. The tune has a hollow ring for Scots as it was originally written to mark the Duke of Cumberland’s return from the Battle of Culloden. In 1884, Edmund Louis Budry wrote new words to this chorus to create the stirring and well-known hymn ‘Thine Be the Glory’. Most fittingly this was the second hymn chosen for the service in Buckhaven.
As explained previously, the song ‘Private Dunsire VC’ had been published in January 1916 and Robert had had the opportunity to play the chorus to fellow soldiers in the trenches in early January 1916. The singing of the song by the choir from Buckhaven Primary School was probably one of the few times the song had been sung in public in the past 100 years. An entertaining selection of Scottish music was played by a young violinist, Mathew from Cupar, in celebration of Robert’s own young years learning to play and enjoy the violin.
The poem ‘K1’ was written by Ian Hay, the pen name of John Hay Beith CBE MC, as his introduction to his book The First Hundred Thousand: Being the Unofficial Chronicle of a Unit of ‘K (1)’ (William Blackwood, 1915). K1’ was the name given to the first 100,000 men enlisted by Kitchener. Hay’s book ends at the Battle of Loos with the fitting phrase: ‘They will always be First; but alas! they are no longer the hundred thousand’.
Following the Church Service, we processed behind the Black Watch Army Cadet Force Pipes and Drums to Toll Park for the VC Commemoration Paving Stone Unveiling Ceremony. Amongst the distinguished guests were the Provost of Fife, Jim Leishman MBE, Lord-Lieutenant of Fife, Mr Robert W Balfour and Robert Dunsire’s great nephew, Johnny, who was to perform the unveiling of the Commemorative Paving Stone.
The Unveiling Ceremony was again built around the theme of youth involvement, Robert’s Christian beliefs, his musical talent and experiences and Robert’s family descendants. The contribution by each and every person was delivered with clarity, dignity and respect; characteristics that Robert Dunsire VC maintained throughout his life. It was a fitting tribute in tone and content.
Prior to Robert’s VC paving stone being unveiled, it was covered by a print of Robert’s VC citation, alongside the Royal Scots Badge and the logo for Buckhaven, Methil and Innerleven burgh, based on a photograph taken at the entrance at Haig House. The background cloth was the Royal Scots Tartan.
Gemma calmly and authoritatively presented the reading of ‘Robert’s Deed in his own Words’. This extract of Robert’s own description of the Act of Valour, that led to his being awarded the Victoria Cross, was first published in The Fifeshire Advertiser on 11 December, 1915.
Johnny would have made his Great Uncle Robert very proud when, in his immaculate regimental uniform, he marched forward to perform the Unveiling Ceremony. He was another representative member of the Dunsire family who performed his duty with distinction while serving his Country with dignity and assurance.
‘Flowers of the Forest’ was played by the Gordon Highlanders at Robert’s original funeral service in Mazingarbe in February 1916. It was repeated again on 26 September 2015 by Lance Corporal Jardine of 1 SCOTS, The Royal Scots Borderers, 1st Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland. It was another fitting tribute to the short but full life of Robert Anderson Dunsire VC.
It was appropriate that The Buckhaven & Methil Miners’ Brass Band should help close the Ceremony and lead the procession to a well-earned cup of tea. The Band continues to work with young musicians, Robert would certainly have approved. Its continued association in name with Miners’ Brass Bands would have warmed the cockles of Robert’s heart. The Band’s work to support Community causes is very much appreciated and draws on the roots of the formation of the Band.
Everyone who contributed to or participated in this wonderful day should be very proud of their part. It was a day that was more than fit and appropriate for our Fife VC. ‘We did our duty’.
Family Tributes Laid on 26 September 2015
Dunsire Corner is maintained by Fife Council and the local community group, CLEAR, and is a living tribute to Robert Anderson Dunsire VC. Wreaths are laid there each Remembrance Sunday and on the anniversary of Robert’s birth to continue the commemoration of Robert’s act of valour and his life, work and service in and on behalf of our community in Fife. Using a service offered by Lady Haig’s Poppy Factory, wreaths are also laid at Robert’s grave in Mazingarbe Communal Cemetery.
The name of Robert Anderson Dunsire VC will never be forgotten in the town of his birth as happened in the later decades of the 20th Century. As drivers enter Buckhaven from the Kirkcaldy direction there is a permanent reminder that he was born in Buckhaven. The agreement and decision by Fife Council to create and instal this sign is very significant and to be greatly welcomed. This installation at Buckhaven was a trailblazer for the home towns of the other four Fife-born World War I VCs whose acts of valour were commemorated in Fife.