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
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
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