The BOOK


The book is written by Kevin Dunion who lived in Cellardyke and studied history at St Andrews University. Publication was supported by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. All profits from the sale of the book go to the Kilrenny and Anstruther Burgh Collection, a charity which preserves and promotes local history. A synopsis of each chapter is on this page



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Chapter 1 - Anstruther and Cellardyke on the eve of the First World War -


Prior to the First World War the Fife coastal communities of Anstruther Wester and Easter (separated by the Dreel Burn) and Cellardyke still maintained their separate identities, with their own town councils, provosts, baillies, town halls and parish churches. However some pragmatic cooperation and mergers had taken place. The Union harbour built by Robert Louis Stevenson’s father had seen all three burghs join force in 1868; and the separate school boards of the two Anstruthers were amalgamated in 1913.

In 1914 there was no local foreboding about war. The local Territorials of the Black Watch practised and went on annual camp without expecting to be called into action. When they gathered in church for their annual service the Rev Ray was concerned that so few young men were prepared to join their ranks but reassuringly said that  “the lust for war was dying out in the civilised world and our statesmen shrank as never before from doing anything that would break the peace.”

Less than later 10 weeks Britain would be embroiled in a war, which would shatter his family and the lives of many in his congregation.

Chapter 2 - Answering the call to arms


War had an immediate effect upon Anstruther and Cellardyke. In the first week of August 1914 the banks did not open, staple goods doubled in price in local shops and worse was expected with prohibitions on fishing and the closure of the cooper yards.

Whilst the Territorials went off to Kinghorn for more training, local men joined Kitchener's New Army - predominantly choosing the Black Watch but also signing up for the Royal Scots, the Fife and Forfar Yeomanry, the Highland Cyclists Battalion and the Royal Field Artillery, in whose ranks they would fall.

In Cellardyke many of the young fishermen went into the Navy. A Martin Gardner was one of the first to go - a name that could trace its presence in the local fishing records back to the 16th century.

The first casualties were reported amongst the Regulars already in uniform: one as a result of a submarine hitting a mine off the English coast; another thousands of miles away when the HMS Monmouth was sunk off the coast of Chile.

Back home restricted fishing was allowed with heavy penalties for those flouting the rules - which meant that many local skippers ended up in court fined £3 or 15 days imprisonment. However by May 1915 nearly all the local drifters had been requisitioned by the Admiralty to be converted into anti submarine or minesweeping duties.

Chapter 3 - ‘Anstruther Heavily Hit’


The first of the local Territorials were killed only 48 hours after going into the front line. Local men were also reported as being killed in Gallipoli and Loos. Some of those mentioned in the local paper had in fact emigrated previously and were serving in Canadian and Australian ranks, but the news came to their parents still living in the East Neuk. Loos was particularly bad for the 8th Black Watch which had been created from the Fife farms and collieries as part of the New Army. The battalion lost 19 officers and 492 other ranks in 3 days fighting including several from Anstruther. So bad were the casualties it was said that next of kin were not informed immediately for fear of the effect on civilian morale of whole communities getting such news all at the same time.

Chapter 4 - 1916 - No choice but to fight


Until 1916 the war had been fought by what was, effectively, a volunteer army. However the attrition rate and the scale of conflict were such that this was not enough to meet the military commanders demands. So in January 1916 the Military Act was passed. The Military Act provided grounds for exemptions to conscription. Those who suffered ill health, were engaged in work which was judged to be of national importance or were the sole breadwinner with dependants could apply for exemption.

Some of those called up locally qualified for exemption such as married men working for the oilskin factory supplying the Navy. Others were turned down however such as single men working in the blacksmiths which made not horseshoes but golf clubs.

The stream of bad news from the trenches continued but the naval ranks remained relatively unscathed until May 1916 when at the Battle of Jutland 6000 British sailors were killed or drowned. Over 1000 were lost when the battle cruiser HMS Invincible blew up - one of them a stoker from Cellardyke.

At the Somme less than 2 months later losses were on unimaginable scale, with 20000 killed and 35000 wounded on the first day alone.  Two brothers commemorated on the Anstruther memorials died within minutes of each other as the famous McRae's battalion of Royal Scots, which included many professional footballers from Heart of Midlothian, went over the top.

Chapter 5 - Home Front


How did more than two years of war affect daily life in Anstruther and Cellardyke? The harbour was emptied of many boats and those that remained fished under restrictions.  But this alleviated the chronic summer water shortage and British Summer Time made things even more pleasant. The absence of men was noticeable and was blamed for the rise in juvenile crime

It was a widely held view that war was providing an opportunity for some to profit at others misery. Anstruther had no munitions or military ancillary functions. The cost of basic necessities placed a strain on household budgets with a loaf of bread increasing by 40% between 1914 - 1916, meat, milk and butter doubling in price and sugar more than trebling.

It was all the more commendable, then, that one of the constant features of wartime local life was the willingness of townsfolk to dip into their purses to support fund-raising initiatives to assist the war effort. There were constant concerts, fetes and operettas to raise money. The funds were divided between international relief for Belgian refugees and the work of the Red Cross on the one hand and benefits for local soldiers and sailors on the other.

1916 ended functionally. Christmas Day was not celebrated, with shops remaining open and no services in the local churches,


Chapter 6  - 1917 - No End in Sight


By the beginning of 1917 the war, was beginning to take on an air of permanence. At sea, German submarines were sinking merchant vessels. The  converted fishing boats boats sent to stop them often were sunk by mines, with many local men lost to them. However the biggest local tragedy caused by mines came well away from the naval front line however. Fishing was still taking place and in August the motor yawl Jane left Anstruther to join the herring boats off Eyemouth. A mine entangled in the nets exploded. The officer in charge of the patrol boat escorting them wrote to relatives that “When the smoke and spray cleared away nothing whatever was to be seen except broken pieces of wood.” The skipper, Andrew Henderson, his two sons and two other local men all died.

On the Western front the battles of Arras and Ypres consumed thousands of lives including local men floundering in the mud of the trenches.

In the sky above the Royal Flying Corps were losing aircraft to the superior German planes and pilots. Richthofen's circus claimed the life of the son of Anstruther minister Rev.Ray.

Chapter 7 – The Turning Tide


The casualties of assaults along the Western front were not just the dead and wounded but also the missing. Relatives were left with no news - was their son dead, lost on the battlefield? Was he in hospital but unable to get word home?  Or had he been taken prisoner? By 1918 the local paper was beginning to fill up with reports filtering back from men who were prisoners of war.

Amongst them were men on local drifters as far away as the Adriatic, captured when the Austrian navy broke through a blockade, sinking 14 boats including the Craignoon from Anstruther.

In France the war had spilled out of the trenches and as a result more men were being taken captive then ever before. Fundraising efforts back home switched to sending parcels of food, cigarettes, clothing and books to POWs.

But the end was in sight with the arrival of the US troops to finally overwhelm German resources.

Chapter 8   - Beyond the end.


In November 1918 all schools were closed for an indefinite period as the effects of the flu swept through Anstruther and Cellardyke. Fishermen were falling ill and dying in the nearest port. It was to this prostrate community, its people ill in bed, its harbour emptied of boats, its business and farms denuded of young men, that news of the Armistice came. Flags fluttered in the bright November sunshine from the Town Hall, from Waid Academy and were draped from shops and houses. The church bells, silenced for almost all of the war, rang out.

Deaths  which occurred after the Armistice were still counted amongst the war dead.The only women on the memorial , Elizabeth Johnston, died at this time – not of flu but falling to her death from the tower of a church in Rouen. She served as a telegraphist in the Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps.

POWs began to trickle back home and they were quizzed by anxious parents waiting to hear news of missing sons, often only to be told that they had died.

Chapter 9 - A Time of Reckoning


The immediate focus was on celebrating the end of the war and the return of the survivors. A ceremony was held in which many belatedly received their medals. As well as Military Medals and DCMs for the soldiers , the sailors often  were decorated by the  Serbian, Italian and French authorities for exploits in the Adriatic and Mediterranean.

19 July 1919 was offiicially designated as the day for the Celebration of Peace but local events did not quite go to plan. The services in the school were cancelled (due to cleaning!). The events in the park did get underway although children could get free cups of tea only if they brought their own cups. However each would be delighted to be presented with a brand new 1918 penny - little realising however that these were a substitute for intended medals which had not been obtained on time. The expected firework display had to be abandoned as owing to the railway strike the fireworks were not delivered, although a few desultory rockets were set off. To cap it all when town folk wandered out to Billowness for the bonfire at the allotted time they found only charred remains  -“the beacon had already been set ablaze by some over impatient youths."


Chapter 10 - Together we stand, divided we recall.


The national peace celebrations did not bring an end to local hostilities as a furore raged between the Anstruther and Cellardyke communities over where the war memorials should be sited. First one side would withdraw saying that the plan for a joint memorial was dead whilst another came forward with new proposals.

The famous architect Sir Robert Lorimer was asked to come forward with plans but these were rejected. By 1920 it was clear there would have to be two separate memorials.

No list of those who had died had been kept locally, so adverts were placed in the press for families to come forward with names to be included. As a result men you might expect to find on the town memorials are not there (even though they may be recorded on local church memorials). And names are added at the last minute.

On Christmas Day 1921 the Anstruther memorial was unveiled at Billowness, occupying a site on the golf course overlooking the town. The Cellardyke memorial came later, being dedicated on 12 March 1922

Chapter 10 - The Democracy of War


War was not uniformly experienced in Anstruther and Cellardyke. For some parts of the community it meant complete dislocation of normal life. The fishing community operated under draconian restrictions which saw skippers criminalised at an unprecedented rate by being convicted and fined for transgressions. The only civilian deaths locally from military action were in the fishing community, from a mine .

For other parts of the community the war was one of increasing aggravation which required adjustment but a normality could be maintained. Farming continued, shops opened, the golf club was popular, the cinema was packed. As the war progressed of course the aggravation and intrusion grew greater - shortages of food, the closure of banks and post office, civic efforts to recover waste materials, and restrictions on lighting drove the effects of war deeper into daily life.

The biggest impact of course was through the loss of local men in the fighting. There was no catastrophic wipe out - the worst single days of the war were when 3 men were lost. Certainly there were weeks when the whole district would have significantly elevated casualties but the general pattern was of isolated deaths from snipers, shellfire, and mines. This steady attrition was punctuated by violent clashes which allow the course of events to be charted through the loss of local men at key episodes in the war from Gallipoli to the Somme from Coronel to Jutland.

The war did not snatch over 100 people from the streets of Anstruther leaving a void in the small community. Some of those who were lost were rarely ever seen in town - the Regular soldiers and sailors for example will have been only infrequently home on leave. Others on the memorial had once been familiar faces but were no longer vital members of the community although again leaving family connections behind. Emigration had been enthusiastically embraced and many of the names on the memorial are of men who had enlisted abroad in Canada and Australia

War memorials honour the dead. They express a community gratitude for their sacrifice. But the acknowledgement is not made just to the memory of the men. It is also made to those relatives who remain behind - who are the ones experiencing loss. The memorials are not then about victory or simply historical acknowledgement but also, at the time of dedication, a sharing of grief. They provide a sense of belonging for the men and their families.

Whether this was a real comfort we do not really know. For many of the relatives no matter how solemn the ceremony, no matter how heartfelt the gratitude, no matter the knowledge that others have suffered similarly the wonder of ‘why’ must have been overwhelming.

The Reverend Ray who lost his son in the skies over Arras wondered this too saying “ Every soldier we meet in the streets reminds us of them. In our dreams they rise up before us. Life can never be what it once was. But some had to fall, my friends. That was inevitable. And why not ours.”

Why not indeed? There is the sorrowful answer to every parents cry of ‘why mine’? It is the democracy of war.