Real Lives: Soldier was awarded military cross for valour in battle

The young David Coutts, proud in his uniform
The young David Coutts, proud in his uniform
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David Coutts MC TD, a soldier and insurance company manager who was awarded the Military Cross, has died, aged 89.

Born in Monifieth, he was the elder of two boys whose father, a captain in the Gordon Highlanders, had gone to fight in the First World War, aged 20, and been wounded at the Somme. After being educated at Daniel Stewart’s College in Edinburgh, he too ended up going to war aged 20. He left school at 16, with no qualifications, because he wanted “to grow up”. He worked as a junior clerk for Norwich Union, studying English, maths, French and history at night school.

He joined the Officer Training Corps as a cadet in 1938 and, after the Second World War broke out, was promoted to sergeant at the age of 18, responsible for training other teenage soldiers. Mr Coutts became an official battalion diarist and his fascinating handwritten log can still be seen in London, at the National Archives at Kew.

In 1941 he joined the Royal Fusiliers and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the 2nd Battalion. He landed in Sicily in July 1943, then fought his way up through mainland Italy. He took command of a newly formed fighting patrol and began training them less than three weeks before the action for which he was awarded the Military Cross.

On 29 October, 1943, in Spinete, near Campobasso, southern Italy, he led his fighting patrol in a bid to “clean up” the enemy. Despite the area being strongly held and the foe armed with machine guns, he killed three of the enemy fighters before pulling his patrol away, covering its withdrawal himself.

It was not until two months later, when he had reached Sorbello, north of Naples, that a modest Coutts realised the significance of the incident and allowed his feelings to escape, writing: “Shaken to the core when I was called to the orderly room and told I had been awarded the Military Cross.”

He married Marion during leave in September 1945 and finished his service on peacekeeping duties in Germany, being demobbed with the rank of captain in August 1946.

He resumed work at Norwich Union in Edinburgh, having turned a regular commission, and in 1959 promotion took him to Kent, then Leicester in 1965. He returned to Edinburgh in 1974, a few months after his wife died of leukaemia, and married his second wife, Alison, the following year.

Mr Coutts retired as manager of Norwich Union in the Capital in 1981 and moved to Gatehouse of Fleet, Kirkcudbrightshire, where he enjoyed golf, snooker, family and friends.

Aptly, his funeral service was held 68 years to the day since his bravery in battle won him the Military Cross.

He is survived by his daughter Joan, stepsons David and Alan, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.