100 years ago today Robert Downie was awarded the Victoria Cross for gallantry "in the face of the enemy"
Stories of Victoria Cross-worthy acts of bravery rarely fail to amaze. With so many men giving their all for Britain in the course of the Great War, only the most daring of acts could qualify a serviceman to receive the very highest award for gallantry in the presence of the enemy.
Take Robert Downie (12 January 1894 – 18 April 1968) who was born in Glasgow, Scotland and a Sergent in the 2nd Battalion, The Royal Dublin Fusiliers during the First World War, when on this day a century ago the following deed took place for which he was awarded the Victoria Cross.
On 23rd October, 1916 east of Lesboeufs, France, Robert Downie reorganised an attack when most of his officers had become casualties, and at the critical moment he rushed forward alone, shouting, “Come On the Dubs!” so stirring the men that the line leaped forward after him. He personally accounted for several of the enemy, and in addition captured a machine gun and killed the team.
His citation was printed in the supplement to the London Gazette, 25th November, 1916:
His Majesty the KING has been graciously pleased to confer the Victoria Cross on the undermentioned:- No. 11213 Serjeant Robert Downie, Royal Dublin Fusiliers. For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty in attack. On 23rd October 1916 east of Lesboeufs, France, when most of the officers had become casualties, this Non-commissioned Officer, utterly regardless of personal danger, moved about under heavy fire and reorganised the attack, which had been temporarily checked. At the critical moment he rushed forward alone, shouting “Come on the Dubs.” This stirring appeal met with immediate response, and the line rushed forward at his call. Serjeant Downie accounted for several of the enemy, and in addition captured a machine-gun, killing the team. Though wounded early in the fight, he remained with his company, and gave valuable assistance whilst the position was being consolidated. It was owing to Serjeant Downie's courage and initiative that this important position, which had resisted four or five previous attacks, was won.
Robert Downie was one of 16 children born to an Irish father and Dundee- born mother and worked alongside his father and two brothers in the Hydepark Locomotive Works in Springburn until he joined the Irish Regiment in 1912. When War broke out Robert was sent to France with his regiment and it wasn’t long before he showed outstanding courage that saw him awarded the Military Medal.
On Robert Downie’s homecoming, he arrived at Glasgow Central Station to be met by hundreds of people who carried him shoulder-high to a taxi. His home street in Springburn Road was decorated with flags and bunting and lined with hundreds of people, he told the press “Every man in the regiment won the V.C. that day”. It was a day so bloody that Robert Downie never spoke of it to anyone again, not even his close friends or relatives.
Downie was presented with his Victoria Cross by the King at York Cottage, Sandringham, Norfolk on the 8th Jan, 1917. Several days prior to his medal presentation Robert was to be given a public reception at Springburn Town Hall.
After the war Robert lived quietly in Carleston Street, Springburn and worked as a Groundsman and cashier at his beloved Celtic Football Club. He died on 18th April, 1968 and is buried at St. Ketigern’s Cemetery, Glasgow, Scotland. Section 21. Lair 506
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