A campaign has been launched to fund a memorial for a police officer killed by an unexploded mine on Broughty Ferry beach 80 years ago. Gayle Ritchie speaks to the man at the helm.
He was just a young lad. A courageous police officer doing the best he could for the people he served.
A loving husband with a kind heart.
Originally from Ayrshire, Robert Stirrat joined the police in 1937, securing a position as a constable in Broughty Ferry.
Known to his pals as Bob, he was a popular character and said to have been a fine athlete.
On May 5 1941, PC Stirrat’s life would, tragically, be cut short.
He was on duty in Broughty Ferry when he was called to investigate a report of an “unfamiliar object” on the beach close to Fisher Street and Dundas Street.
He realised it was a mine, which exploded as he tried to secure it to prevent it drifting back to sea. The blast was said to have been so powerful that it blew out the windows of nearby buildings.
PC Stirrat died, aged just 24, in Dundee Royal Infirmary at 3.16pm that afternoon, leaving behind a young widow.
It was only 55 years later, in 1996, that his name was added to the Dundee Police War Memorial.
However, all other officers on it were those who had died having joined up and fought during the First and Second World Wars.
Died a hero
PC Stirrat had died while serving his community as a civilian – a hero who had kept the peace in his home city while war raged.
“He was the only Dundee police officer to lose his life on home duty during the Second World War,” says Alastair Derrick, a local historian who runs guided history and heritage walks through Dundee and the Ferry.
“I read of the incident years ago, and had it tucked away in the back of my mind without having the time to really look into it.
“I started to research it in February last year as I was writing a fairly specialised tour – for those with an interest in military history rather than general history – on the theme of Dundee in war and peace.”
Alastair accessed old newspaper cuttings via the British Newspaper Archive and sourced information from the Scottish Military Research Group Facebook page.
“According to the Dundee Courier of May 9 1941, Constable Stirrat had a wife, Kathleen, brother and uncle,” says Alastair.
“He was accorded police honours and piped to his grave at Barnhill Cemetery. Both the British Army and the Polish Army sent representing military police officers out of respect to him.
“I read elsewhere that his mother was alive, too, and I know he had a sister, Jessie Low. There were no children at the time of his death. It would seem that his father had died of wounds from the First World War in 1919, a real tragedy.
“The Imperial War Museum website relates a Courier article from November 11 1996 – when his name was put on the police memorial – stating that his 82-year-old sister attended, and she advised that his widow had passed away.”
When the Dundee Police War Memorial was rededicated in 2018, no family members could be traced.
The memorial, located at the junction of West Marketgait and West Bell Street, between the city’s police HQ and sheriff court buildings, commemorates dozens of soldiers who died in conflict – as well as PC Stirrat, deemed a casualty of the war despite never having joined the military or leaving Dundee.
It was originally unveiled in October 1922 and had names added following the end of the Second World War.
To mark the 80th anniversary of PC Stirrat’s death, Alastair wrote an article about him.
“I explained that his story was already part of the Broughty Ferry Tour, but that with the 80th anniversary coming up (at the time) I wanted to make it more known to folks.
“I posted it on the Dundee Waterfront Walks Facebook page, but also to a few other Facebook pages including Dundonian History for All, Meh Dundee and Old and New Broughty Ferry.
“I got a very high engagement with the article and realised many people were wondering why they had never heard of this and also a fair number felt he should be commemorated down at the Ferry waterfront.
“I fully agree. I always did feel that.”
Alastair’s hope is that PC Stirrat can indeed be remembered by some kind of memorial plaque – and it seems to be that many members of the community are in favour.
On the evening of May 5, he went down to the bottom of Dundas Street, at the beach, and laid down some flowers when it was quiet. It was his own special way of paying his respects to Constable Stirrat.
“There’s a view held by some people that those on the war memorial at Bell Street were police officers who had ‘joined up’ in the forces during the two wars, but PC Stirrat was a civilian when he died.
“However, some people feel that he died in wartime, doing his duty for his community, and it would be fitting to include him. That is my own feeling.
In 1996 the chief constable approved his inclusion and his name is the last one on the memorial.
“It seems right, especially given all of the work going on at the waterfront, to commemorate him there in this 80th anniversary year – if his community are minded to do so.”
Alastair, who says he’s in the very early stages of a campaign to get local people behind the memorial plaque concept, awaits a response from Police Scotland.
He also intends chatting to the Broughty Ferry Facebook group and local councillors.
“If there’s a will to do this, I will assist. If not, I will continue to honour Constable Stirrat just as I have been doing!”
Retired solicitor Alastair started running Dundee Waterfront Walks at the tail end of 2019.
He had been a volunteer in Dundee Museums for around 10 years, particularly on board RRS Discovery.
“I would see visitors having a good time at the V&A and on Discovery but then have a few hours to pass.
“It gave me the idea to tell them about our fantastic city history on Discovery Quay. People show a great interest in the Tay Bridge Disaster which I cover.
“I added the Dundee in War and Peace tour due to the fact that I have a fascination in military history and there are some great stories to tell and things to see, if you know where to look.
“I am constantly asked, ‘how come I’ve not heard of this?’
“During lockdown this year I wrote a third tour, on historic Broughty Ferry. There’s great interest in it.”
- See dundeewaterfrontwalks.scot or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more details of Alastair’s walks and to find out more about the PC Stirrat memorial campaign.