Every Name A Story Content

Duns, J., Lieut., M.M., 1914-18 (1939)


72nd Battalion, CEF cap badge

Mentioned on the Roll of Honour in Ouseburn School, Newcastle is Lieutenant John Duns, M.M. who served with the 72nd Battalion Canadian Infantry.

Jean Longstaff has submitted the following:-

John was the third of the seven sons of fruit merchant John Duns and his Scottish born wife Ann (nee Stewart), and was born on 21st February 1891 whilst the family were living in Westoe, South Shields. His older brother William was born in 1883 in Newcastle and Robert in 1885 in Gateshead, and over the next ten years another four brothers, Ralph, Norman, George and David were born, whilst the family were living in Elswick. His mother had also given birth to two daughters, but both died in infancy. John went on became a teacher at a local council school and with the rest of the family moved to a house in Heaton Road.

In May 1911 father John and his son Ralph arrived in Montreal making for Vancouver on the west coast of Canada to become fruit farmers, and they were joined fifteen months later by John, his mother and four more of his brothers, Robert remaining in England until the mid 1920s. John found work as a book keeper and lived with his family in the Collingwood area of the city attending St. Andrew’s Church, where he played in goal for the football team.

In September 1915 John enlisted with the 67th (Western Scots) Battalion as Private 102415 of “C” Company, but a month later transferred to the 72nd (Seaforth Highlanders) Battalion where he was assigned to “B” Company with the regimental number 129857. The Battalion went through intensive training at Hastings Park in a very severe winter, placing emphasis on marksmanship.

Leaving Vancouver on 16th April 1916, just after John had been promoted to Lance Corporal, the Battalion travelled to Halifax where they boarded the troop ship Empress of Britain which arrived in Liverpool on 4th May. Further training followed at Bramshott Camp, Hampshire before travelling to France on 12th August as part of the 12th Infantry Brigade, 4H Canadian Division. Two weeks later the Battalion entered the front lines trenches for the first time near Kemmel. John rose rapidly through the ranks, and two days before the start of the assault at Vimy Ridge was appointed Company Sergeant Major.

It was for fighting at Vimy Ridge that CSM Duns was awarded the Military Medal. His citation reads “For conspicuous gallantry during the operations against the enemy’s trenches south east of Souchez from 9th to 13th April 1917. This NCO showed exceptional gallantry and initiative. When his Platoon Commander was wounded he took command, led his platoon to its objective and consolidated the Eastern Lip of the new crater which was blown at zero hour. He then went in search of his Company Commander Captain Birds, under terrific fire, found him and accompanied him on a tour of the captured position. He later acted as a guide to reinforcements. His fine example and courage under fire had a tremendous steadying effect on his men. All but one officer and twelve other ranks of his Company had become casualties. It is considered that he is fully deserving of an immediate reward”. For his actions he was also nominated to take officer training and returned to England, where he was immediately admitted to hospital in Eastbourne suffering from influenza, where he was also awarded his medal.

Attached to the Canadian Training School in Bexhill John was awarded 100% in his officer training examinations and in September was promoted to Lieutenant. After being commissioned he served as the assistant adjutant for the 1st Reserve Battalion, and later the Young Soldiers Battalion at Bramshott, he did not return to the front line.

On 4th December 1918 he married Edith Bromilow in York, and in January he sailed without his wife back to Canada for demobilisation in Vancouver on 29th February 1919. Edith arrived in Canada at the end of July to join John in Vancouver, and they went on to have a daughter, Margaret, and son, Jack.

John stayed with the Seaforth Highlanders militia after the war, eventually rising to the rank of Major in 1928. He was reported missing from his home on 18th August 1939, his last communication was a telephone call to his son to say goodbye. He is buried at Mountain View Cemetery, Vancouver.

John Duns is remembered in Byker on B95.26

Is he the Jack Duns on B95.10?

If you know more about this person, please send the details to janet@newmp.org.uk