Lieutenant Robert James Thomas Digby Jones

Royal Engineers

6th January 1900
Robert James Thomas Digby Jones VC

    Lieutenant James Thomas Digby Jones was killed in action during the great assault on Ladysmith, on January 6, 1900, after successfully defending Waggon Hill West with a few men for twelve hours under desperate conditions, displaying conspicuous bravery and Gallant conduct throughout.
    Sir George White, in his despatch (London Gazette, February 8, 1901), stated he " would have had great pleasure in recommending Lieutenant Digby Jones and Trooper Albrecht for the distinction of the Victoria Cross had they survived."
     In the London Gazette of August 8, 1902, it was announced that the King was graciously pleased to direct that the Victoria Cross earned by Lieutenant Digby Jones, Trooper Albrecht, and four others should be sent to their representatives.
      Lieutenant Digby Jones accompanied the 23rd Field Company R.E. (under the command of Major S. R. Rice, R.E.) to Natal in June, 1899, proceeding straight to Ladysmith, where he was employed in the construction of a Hospital in the camp (afterwards abandoned when the siege commenced) and afterwards on the defences of the town.

      He was mentioned in Sir George White's despatch (December 11, 1899) for having successfully destroyed the 4.7 Boer gun on Surprise Hill, during the sortie from Ladysmith on December 10, 1899, under the command of Colonel Metcalfe, with some 500 men of the Rifle Brigade. Newspaper correspondents afterwards mentioned that the first fuse inserted was defective, and that " Lieutenant Digby Jones went back at the risk of death or mutilation and inserted another," which successfully destroyed the gun, which had been causing much annoyance to the garrison.

    He was again mentioned in despatches (Sir George White, February 8, 1901) in connexion with the " Assault on Ladysmith, January 6, 1900."

    On the evening of the 5th January, Lieutenant Digby Jones had been sent to Waggon Hill West in command of a working-party, consisting of thirty Sappers, some bluejackets, Gordon Highlanders and Imperial Light Horse, to make an emplacement for a 4.7 gun. At about 2.45 a.m. on the 6th, they were surprised by the Boers, and, after ordering the men to stand to arms, Digby Jones, at once, himself extinguished the lanterns which were giving a line for the enemy's fire. There they made a most gallant stand till about 5.30 a.m., when reinforcements arrived.
    Later on, when all the officers of the Gordons and Imperial Light Horse had either been killed or wounded, he took command, and, rallying the hard pressed men again and again, kept the crest of the hill.
    Space does not allow of mention of all that is recorded, but a brief summary of an incident mentioned by Major Rice (C.R.E., Ladysmith) may be given.
    The sudden appearance of a party of Boers on that part of the hill had caused its worn-out defenders to retire in disorder, when Digby Jones got his first intimation of the presence of the enemy, under De Villiers, on the crest, in the shape of a shot over the parapet at a distance of only a few feet, which killed 2nd Corporal Hunts, R.E. In a moment Digby Jones picked up a rifle, and, dashing round the end of the emplacement, shot De Villiers, Lance-Corporal Hockaday at the same time shooting De Jaegers. Digby Jones was then heard to say, " What's up ? The Infantry have gone." A man replied, " There is an order to retire, sir." Digby Jones said, " I have no order to retire," and at once ordered bayonets to be fixed, and, calling his men to follow him, led them (with 2nd Lieutenant Denniss, R.E.) to the charge, reoccupying the firing line in front of the emplacement. Later on, while leading his men forward, he was struck in the throat by a bullet and was instantly killed.
     A study of the position shows of what vital importance the tenure of Waggon Hill West was to the safety of Ladysmith ; so much so that the South African Review (February 24, 1900), in a paragraph on Lieutenant Digby Jones, says, " So far as can be humanly judged it was this officer who saved Ladysmith and the British arms from the mortification of a defeat and its incalculable consequences." And the Army and Navy Gazette (July 5, 1902), from which portions of the preceding account are borrowed, says, " General Jan Hamilton, who had witnessed his intrepid and resourceful conduct through the day, had decided to recommend him for the Victoria Cross, which was fully approved by Sir George White, and, subsequently, brought forward in his despatch." This fine young soldier was only twenty-three years of age.
    His brother officer, 2nd Lieutenant G. B. Denniss, hearing Digby Jones was down, went out on the ridge, which was swept by the enemy's fire, to search for him, and was, unfortunately, shot while performing this deed of mercy.
      Quoting from a correspondent, the Army and Navy Gazette (January 27, 1900), says, " Lieutenant Digby Jones' name will stand out in the history of the siege of Ladysmith as one who set a brilliant example to all about him, and brought no little credit on the corps of Royal Engineers. He did his duty nobly to the end ! "

Lieutenant Digby Jones was the second son of Charles Digby Jones, of Chester Street, Edinburgh. He was Born September 27, 1876, educated first at Alnmouth, Northumberland, and afterwards at Sedbergh School, Yorkshire (going there in May, 1890, and leaving in December, 1893), where he won the Sedgwick Mathematical prize in 1893, and was in the 1st XV. for football, and the 2nd XI. at cricket.
     He passed into Woolwich in 1894, thirty-fourth in order of merit, when bifurcating for Royal Engineers was fifth, and passed out sixth in the Royal Engineer Division, obtaining his commission on August 5, 1896. After completing his course of instruction at the S.M.E., Chatham, he was posted to the 23rd Field Company R.E.
    He was a good all-round athlete, being especially prominent in his golf and skating. At the former he won the Boys' Scratch Medal at North Berwick two years in succession, and while at Chatham was secretary of the R.E. Golf Club, forming one of the team in the annual inter-regimental matches with the Royal Artillery in the years '98, and '99, doing the best round for the Sappers in the latter year. He was also secretary of the R.E. Rugby Football Club while at Chatham, and was one of its foremost players.
     He is buried in Ladysmith Cemetery, and a cairn was erected by the 23rd Field Company R.E. on the spot where he fell, as a memorial to him and to those Sappers who fell near him on Waggon Hill. In addition to a brass tablet put up. in St. Mary's Cathedral, Edinburgh, by his parents and brothers, his old Scottish schoolfellows erected one in the Parish Church at Alnmouth.
    In the History of the Royal Military Academy (written by Captain Guggisberg, R.E.) it states :—" In the Spring term, 1901, the octagon of the west library was turned into a kind of Sapper Valhalla. The walls were covered with handsome oak panels, on which were inscribed, in gold letters, the names of dead and gone engineers who had distinguished themselves in the service of their country, ranging from Waldivus, Ingeniator (1086) to a brave young subaltern, Digby Jones, V.C. (Ladysmith, 1900)." There are only 120 names on these panels.
    By a strange coincidence his younger brother, Lieutenant Owen G. Digby Jones, was commissioned to the Royal Engineers on the very day his brother was killed (January 6, 1900). He had many relatives who served in the Army with distinction, amongst whom may be mentioned-

(i.) His Grand-Uncle—Major-General John Christie, C.B., A.D.C. to Queen Victoria, who raised the 1st Bengal. Cavalry, better known as " Christie's Horse," in 1838, which he commanded to the end of the Afghan War. Seven medals.

(ii.) His Cousin—Major-General John Moore Graham, who served through the Indian Mutiny and received through the Secretary of State for India, the " most gracious approbation of Her Majesty " for services performed during that period.

(iii.) His Cousin—Lieut.-Colonel Robert Hope Moncreiff Aitken, V.C., who earned the Victoria Cross on six different occasions during the siege of Lucknow, and vv as ten times mentioned in despatches.




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