Dunville VC, John Spencer

Dunville, John Spencer (Johnnie)

Victoria Cross

Second Lieutenant

1st (Royal) Dragoons

Died of wounds on Tuesday 26 June 1917 (aged 21)


Villers-Faucon Communal Cemetery, France (Grave A. 21)


Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Holywood and District War Memorial

Family grave headstone in Holywood Cemetery

Holywood Parish Church of Ireland Church (St Philip & St James)


Second Lieutenant John Spencer Dunville Royal Dragoons was born on 7 May 1896 and he was the second son of John Dunville Dunville and Violet Anne Blanche Dunville (nee Lambart) of Redburn, Holywood.  He was a grandson of Robert Grimshaw Dunville DL and Jeannie Dunville (nee Chaine), also of Redburn.  Robert Grimshaw Dunville died on 17 August 1910 (aged 72).

John Dunville Dunville was a skilled balloonist and he became the fourth Chairman of Dunville’s Whisky Distillery.

John Dunville Dunville and Violet Anne Blanche Lambart were married on 7 January 1892 and they had four children:

Robert Lambart (18 February born 1893 at 6 Green Street, Park Lane, London)

John Spencer (born 7 May 1896 at 46 Portland Place, London)

William Gustavus (born 12 June 1900 at 46 Portland Place, London)

Una (born 22 February 1903 at 46 Portland Place, London)

John Spencer Dunville was educated at Ludgrove School and Eton.  He had just left Eton when war broke out.  At Eton he was a member of the Officers’ Training Corps OTC).

John Spencer Dunville obtained a commission in the cavalry and after a period of service with the Inniskilling Dragoons he was gazetted to the Royal Dragoons.  It was noted that he was 6 feet 1 inch tall.

Second Lieutenant John Spencer Dunville served with the expeditionary force in France from July 1915.  During the Great War his father, John Dunville, served as a Flight Commander in the Naval Wing of the Royal Naval Air Service.

John Spencer Dunville’s elder brother, Robert Lambart Dunville, served with the Grenadier Guards and in the 28 April 1916 edition of the County Down Spectator under the headline Local Man Shot by the Sinn Feiners there was a report that Second Lieutenant Robert Lambart Dunville had been shot through the chest while motoring through County Louth.

Second Lieutenant Robert Lambart Dunville never fully recovered and he died at Johannesburg on 10 January 1931 (aged 38).  It was reported that the wild animals from his private zoo at Redburn were given to Belfast Zoological Gardens which opened to the public in 1934.

Second Lieutenant John Spencer Dunville fought in the Battles of Loos and Arras and he was 21 when he died of wounds at 5 Cavalry Field Ambulance, on 26 June 1917.  For his gallantry he was awarded the Victoria Cross and details were published in the London Gazette:

‘For most conspicuous bravery.  When in charge of a party consisting of Scouts and Royal Engineers engaged in the demolition of the enemy’s wire, this officer displayed great gallantry and disregard of all personal danger.  In order to ensure the absolute success of the work entrusted to him, Second Lieutenant Dunville placed himself between the NCO of the Royal Engineers and the enemy’s fire, and thus protected, this NCO was enabled to complete a work of great importance.  Second Lieutenant Dunville, although severely wounded (jaw, shoulder, neck, and chest), continued to direct his men in the wire-cutting and general operations until the raid was successfully completed, thereby setting a magnificent example of courage, determination and devotion to duty, to all ranks under his command.’

Second Lieutenant John Spencer Dunville was buried in Villers-Faucon Communal Cemetery, France and there is an inscription on his CWGC headstone:


Second Lieutenant John Spencer Dunville VC is commemorated on Holywood and District War Memorial (located in Redburn Square, so named in his honour); on the family-grave headstone in Holywood Cemetery and on the Memorial Plaque in Holywood Parish Church of Ireland Church (St Philip & St James).  In the Church there is a memorial tablet dedicated specifically to him and it describes in more detail the circumstances of his death:

A raid was ordered to be undertaken on the German lines at 1.00 am.  There were two parties each consisting of 50 Royals and 3 Sappers carrying torpedo bombs for destroying the enemy’s wire.  When they reached the wire they found that one of the joints of a torpedo bomb had got bent and needed to be repaired.  Because of this delay the raiding party was spotted and the enemy opened fire with rifles and hand grenades.  Johnnie deliberately interposed his body between the enemy and the Sapper Corporal to enable the repair to be completed and the bomb deployed.  During this operation Johnnie’s left arm was shattered and he sustained a severe chest wound.  Afterwards he walked all the way back to the outpost where he died at 3.00 am.

John Dunville Dunville died on 29 June 1929 (aged 62); Violet Dunville died on 7 March 1940 (aged 78). and in her will she left a sum of money for a fund to be known as the John Spencer Dunville VC Trust.  This money was to be invested and the income used to make a gift each Armistice Day to ex-servicemen, their dependants and the poor of the parish.  The Rector and Church Wardens of Holywood Parish Church of Ireland were requested to place a wreath in the shape of a VC on Holywood and District War Memorial on Armistice Day in memory of her son.