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Return to France of Private Dunsire VC

france map

On his return to France, Robert was just in time for the regiment moving into the Hohenzollern Redoubt Sector. On 10 December 1915, the 13th Battalion War Diary noted that the German artillery was more active than usual. Two days later the battalion moved into Brigade support in the Vermelles trenches. A familiar note reappeared in the War Diary about ‘raining hard’, ‘trenches wet’, so a day with just ‘mist’ was worthy of note.

trench map

Trench Map with Hulluch Alley Communications Trench highlighted

Soon the battalion was to return to Corps IV Reserve to an area of Lillers, some 20 miles to the NW of Vermelles. They were to remain there for a month.

The first few days in Reserve were spent cleaning up and reorganising. Intensive trained started immediately. This ended with a major 15th Division exercise, west of Lillers, that lasted for three days between 3-5 of January 1916. This got a big ‘thumbs-up’ from senior officers. Training and instruction were carried out at all levels and included courses such as Signalling by lecturers from other schools in IV Corps and other support sections.

New Year 1916 was recorded by one battalion as: ‘The Officers saw The New Year in, but as a whole the battalion slept it in.’

Robert had his own unique experience at this time. He had received the sheet music for a song, ‘Private Dunsire VC’, written in his honour. The words had been written by Felix Slevin, who was well known in brass-band circles in the south-west of Scotland, and had been the conductor of the Creetown and Darvel Bands. The music was written by Gordon Mackenzie, whose compositions were very popular in Scotland at that time.

Robert had had sufficient free time when demonstrating his customary courtesy to write a letter dated 8 January 1916 which was reprinted in The Leven Advertiser & Wemyss Gazette of Thursday 20 January 1916. He has also had the opportunity to try out the song with his colleagues.

newspaper extract

Attr: Leven Advertiser & Wemyss Gazette - Thursday 20 January 1916Newspaper image © The British Library Board. All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk).

The sheet music of Private Dunsire VC containing the chorus is printed below.

The recording by Graeme Wilson of Kirkcaldy was made on Robert’s own violin that was kindly loaned by David Rattray. David had restored the violin 100 years after it had been originally presented to Robert when he was home on leave.

sheet music

However, new orders were issued on 10 January 1916. They were on the move again having benefitted from rest periods and a thorough opportunity to finish training and integrating the new drafts of soldiers, who had been arriving in numbers since the Battle of Loos. The battalion transferred by train to Noeux-les-Mines, only 3 or 4 miles from the Front. They remained in 15 Division Reserve from 15–19 January, then in 45 Brigade Reserve at Philosophe, till 23 January 1916.

During December and January one aspect of the conduct of the war started to change. Evidence emerged that some of the battle activity was beginning to move underground, though it was some time before tunnelling with men and equipment became a feature on the front around Hulluch and Hohenzolleren Redoubts.

Both sides were busily engaged in mining operations; each trying to tunnel under the galleries of the other. During December 1915, the Germans had got the upper hand with this activity. British troops had to halt their activity and destroy new galleries. 15 Division, including Robert and the Royal Scots, had no lack of skilled miners in its ranks who were called in to help the Royal Engineers to construct counter galleries beneath the German galleries. Many who helped were from the mining areas of Fife and Lanark. They were more than willing to help with this work, even if just to break the monotony of that time.

The divisional area was still chalky and water lay 10 to 12 feet under the surface, so was unsuitable for mining operations. However, a little to the north, towards Hohenzollern Redoubt, daily discharges of underground mines was a daily occurrence that was followed by fierce fighting to take over the craters created by these explosions.

Robert was now in the Hulluch Sector, where the enemy’s artillery was much more active than usual. There was more evidence of more German troops moving into the area. The use of grenades and trench mortars increased on both sides of the line. Bombing attacks occurred nightly. The 13th Battalion Diary ‘complains’ that their own heavy artillery is not replying as effectively.

The battalion was then back into Brigade reserve again on 26 January after 3 days in 45 Brigade Reserve. They now took up position in the reserve British trenches and the old German front line that had been captured, then held, during and after the Battle of Loos.

They returned to the trenches in the Hulluch Area.

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