b. 20/01/1893 Guardbridge, Scotland. d. 21/01/1916 Iraq.
David Finlay (1893-1916) was born in Guardbridge, Leuchars, Fife on 29th January 1893. His father was George Finlay, a shepherd who worked for George Dun at Woodmill, Falkland, Fife. His mother was Susan nee Small, a paper mill worker. George and Susan married on 25th November 1892 in Guardbridge, and went on to have a large family of ten children with David as the eldest. As a shepherd, his father moved frequently and consequently David attended a number of schools. It is known he attended Forgan, Gauldry and Balmullo Schools and possibly Glenfarg as well before he left education at the age of 14. He then gained employment as a ploughman.
On 5th February 1910, David enlisted in the Black Watch giving his age as 18. He served in Britain for two years and then went to India with the 2nd Battalion. The Battalion departed Karachi and arrived at Marseilles, France on 12th October 1914 in the early months of the war.
On 9th May 1915 near Rue du Bois, France, Lance-Corporal Finlay led a bombing party of 12 men in the attack until 10 of them had fallen. He then ordered the two survivors to crawl back and he himself went to the assistance of a wounded man and carried him over a distance of 100 yards of fire-swept ground into cover, quite regardless of his own safety.
David was promoted to corporal less than a month after his actions at Rue du Bois, and after his VC being gazetted in June 1915, he was promoted to sergeant on 27th June. David married Christina Cunningham on 27th July 1915 at 34 Crossgate, Cupar, Fife by declaration. They had no children. He was presented with the VC three days after his wedding at Windsor Castle by King George V. Later that year, on 31st December, David was back with the 2nd Battalion and posted to Basra, Mesopotamia. It was involved in the first attack on Hanna during the fighting to relieve Kut.
On 20th January 1916, Sergeants Mitchell and Finlay found good positions and dug in about 300m from the Turkish line at Hanna. On the morning of the 21st, the Battalion launched a bayonet charge on the enemy after an artillery bombardment. David Finlay was killed during the attack, one of 163 casualties suffered by the 2nd Battalion. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Basra Memorial, Iraq.
In addition to the VC, he was awarded the 1914 Star with “Mons” clasp, British War Medal 1914-20 and Victory Medal 1914-19. His family presented the medals to the Black Watch Museum on 17th May 1967. They are now displayed at the Black Watch Regimental Museum, Perth. His wife remarried in 1920 and went on to have six children. David Finlay was impersonated for 44 years by a man who claimed he was awarded the VC in 1915, rose to the rank of colonel, served in the occupation of Germany and in India for 17 years, and served in France until Dunkirk, after which he went to Australia in 1942 to set up a business. It was only when obituary notices appeared in newspapers that the VC & GC Association investigated and discovered the imposter, albeit too late for any action against him.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: BLACK WATCH MUSEUM, PERTH, SCOTLAND.
BURIAL PLACE: BODY LOST - NAME ON BASRA MEMORIAL, IRAQ. PANEL 25 AND 63
David Finlay's medals on display at the Black Watch Museum, Perth, Scotland.
(Picture courtesy of Thomas Stewart).
Moonzie War Memorial
Guardbridge, Fife (Thomas Stewart)
Leuchars War Memorial (Thomas Stewart)
Basra Memorial (courtesy of TWGPP)