Soldier and insurance company manager;

Born: December 6,1921; Died: October 20, 2011.


David Coutts, who has died aged 89, was a bold young soldier whose decisive actions at the age of just 21 earned him the Military Cross.

He was fighting his way up through Italy with the Royal Fusiliers in the autumn of 1943 when he led his patrol on the assault that resulted in the honour.

But he had no idea that his conduct in the battlefield incident, in which he killed three of a heavily armed enemy party, was so highly regarded until he was summoned to the orderly room two months later.

Then a lieutenant and the official diarist to the 2nd Battalion, confessed he was "shaken to the core" when he was informed he had been awarded the gallantry cross.

The incident is one of the episodes he documented in his log which is now part of the National Archives at Kew.

Like his father before him, a captain in the Gordon Highlanders who was wounded at The Somme, he had gone to war when he was 20. Ironically, young Coutts, born in Monifeith and educated at Edinburgh's Daniel Stewart's College, left school at 16 because he wanted "to grow up".

He became a junior clerk for Norwich Union and joined the Officer Training Corps as a cadet in 1938. Growing up didn't take long: after the Second World War began he was just 18 when he was promoted to sergeant, tasked with training other teenage soldiers.

He joined the Royal Fusiliers in 1941 and was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant in the 2nd Battalion. The following year, after taking part in the invasion of Madagascar, he recorded in his diary the "horrid moments" in rough sea when they were machine gunned by French planes and "had to swim for it" as they landed on the island.

From there he went by ship to India. Like many of the troops he made the journey while suffering malaria. They then moved to Burma, Persia and Palestine before landing in Sicily in July 1943.

Three months later he took command of a newly formed fighting patrol on mainland Italy. They were at Spinete, near Campobasso, when, during a daytime recce on October 29, 1943, he pinpointed the position and strength of an enemy party. After a short hand-to-hand fight that day he led his patrol back to the area that same night.

The enemy were alert and armed with three machine guns but after another bout of close fighting, he wiped out three of the enemy fighters before pulling his patrol away whilst covering its withdrawal himself.

He was north of Naples, at Sorbello, in January the following year when he learned that he had been recognised for exemplary gallantry.

"His resolute bold and clear headed action produced the information which enabled the Arty to neutralise the locality the next morning thereby greatly assisting the operations of the leading unit of the Brigade," read his citation.

Most of his platoon was killed or wounded that month – by the end of the war their numbers were down form 1000 to 200 – and he suffered a mine wound to the forehead. He convalesced on Capri before take over the battalion less than a month later.

He married Marion during leave in September 1945 and was demobbed with the rank of captain in August 1946, following peacekeeping duties in Germany. He turned down the offer of a regular commission, joined the Territorial Army soon after the war and rose to the rank of major, receiving the Territorial Decoration for long service in 1962.

Meanwhile he had resumed work at Norwich Union in Edinburgh and later moved, through promotions, to Kent and Leicester. He returned to Edinburgh again in 1974, a few months after his wife died of leukaemia. He married his second wife, Alison, in 1975.

After retiring as manager of Norwich Union in Edinburgh in 1981, he moved to Gatehouse of Fleet, Kirkcudbrightshire, where he enjoyed golf and snooker and the company of his family. He also supported lonely or unwell friends and acquaintances and, as an enthusiastic letter writer, maintained contact with those he had forged friendships with during the war, including the author Angus McVicar.

He corresponded with people around the world and travelled, somewhat unconventionally, making visits to friends in America and South Africa by sea. Means of transport included the mail boat to St Helena via Ascension and a container ship.

He once said that, as a result of his father's reluctance to discuss much of the Great War, he had been unable to conjure up an image of it all. While cataloguing his own experiences of global conflict he produced a crisp, graphic and permanent reminder of the full reality of his own war and emerged as a man who knew not only the value of life but how to appreciate it daily.

His family and friends said a final farewell at his funeral which coincided with the 68th anniversary of the day he won the Military Cross.

He was widowed for a second time in 1989, and is survived by his daughter Joan, stepsons David and Alan, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.