b. 12/09/1842 Edinburgh, Scotland. d. 23/12/1879 Sherpur, Afghanistan.
James Dundas (1842-1879) was the eldest son of the late George Dundas, one of the Judges of the Court of Session in Scotland, and Elizabeth, daughter of Colin MacKenzie, of Portmore, Peebleshire, being born on 12th September 1842 in Edinburgh. He was educated at Edinburgh Academy, Trinity College Glenalmond, and Addiscombe College, from which he was appointed Lieutenant in the Royal (late Bengal) Engineers on 8th June 1860.
After studying at Chatham, he sailed for India in March 1862, and on arrival, was posted to the Sappers and Miners at Rurki. He was then appointed to the Public Works Department in Bengal, and was soon promoted to be Executive Engineer of one of the most responsible Divisions in that Presidency. In 1865, he was appointed to the right brigade of the Force employed in Bhutan, and distinguished himself enough to be recommended for, and awarded, the Victoria Cross.
On the 2nd April 1865, the Field Force were involved in an assault on a blockhouse at Dewan-Giri. A party of the enemy, numbering 180-200, had barricaded themselves in the blockhouse and continued to defend it despite the fact the main body of the enemy was retreating. The commanding officer, Major-General Tombs VC, ordered two officers (William Trevor and James Dundas) to lead the assault on the blockhouse. They had to climb over a 14 foot wall and enter the house through an opening which was just two feet wide. Tombs had ordered the Sikh soldiers around him to swarm up the wall, but they were reluctant as they could not see the way forward until shown by Trevor and Dundas. Both men were wounded in the assault which ultimately was successful.
He was gazetted for the Victoria Cross on 31st December 1867, and was presented with his medal alongside William Trevor at Calcutta on 23rd March 1868, by Major-General C F Fordyce. At the end of his attachment to the Bhutan Field Force, he rejoined the Public Works Department, returning to England twice on leave, in 1870 and 1877. On the second occasion, the leave was compassionate as the death of his uncle, Sir David Dundas, saw him inherit the estates of Ochtertyre, Stirlingshire. He returned to India in early 1878, and in the summer of that year, bravely rescued a native from a burning house in Simla.
In the summer of the following year, he found himself involved in the outbreak of war in Afghanistan. When General Roberts advanced on Kabul in the autumn of 1879, he selected Dundas to accompany the Field Force as Commanding Royal Engineer. On 23rd December 1879, Captain Dundas was ordered to join General Macpherson’s Force to aid in the destruction of the line of forts held by the enemy on the south side of Sherpur. It was while carrying out this duty, that a premature mine explosion killed Dundas. He was buried in Seah Sang Cemetery in Sherpur. His medals are held by the Ashcroft Trust and displayed in the Imperial War Museum.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: LORD ASHCROFT GALLERY, IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM, LONDON.
BURIAL PLACE: SEAN SANG CEMETERY, SHERPUR, AFGHANISTAN.
James Dundas' medals including VC at Lord Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum, London (August 2014)
St Mary's Episcopal Cathedral, Edinburgh
Royal Engineers Roll of Honour Board, Chatham
Glenalmond School Memorial (Thomas Stewart)