Captain JT Blount-Dinwiddie, Man of Empire

When James Travers Blount-Dinwiddie was born in Dumfries on 25th April 1891, he appeared the typical middle class boy. His father, also James, was a writer to Her Majesty's Signet, as a Scottish solicitor. Despite his death when his son was just a few years old, the family remained comfortable. Mother Agnes moved the family - James, his elder brother John, and sisters Marjory and Agnes - to Guernsey where she was recorded on the census as 'living on her own means'.

While they were in Guernsey James attended Elizabeth College in St. Peter Port. A good student, he earned three scholarships to Pembroke College, Oxford where he followed in his father's footsteps by taking law honours in 1912. While there, he was a member of the Officer Training Corps and was highly active in college sports, representing Pembroke at football and cricket, as well as being captain of the Boat Club.

When he left university, he didn't go into the law but instead moved to South Africa, joining the Transvaal Scottish Regiment of the army. Drawing on his education and experience in the OTC, he was commissioned as Lieutenant in July 1913. It was with this unit that he began the First World War, landing at Luderitzbucht in German South West Africa (now Namibia) in September 1914. This was one of the three targets for a British invasion of GSWA, notable for its wireless station which could protect shipping once in British hands.

Blount-Dinwiddie didn't spend long in Africa, however, before he came back to England in December 1914 to be transferred to the Border Regiment. The 1st battalion landed at Avonmouth from Burma on 18th January 1915 and underwent retraining before sailing again from Avonmouth on on 17th March, this time bound for the Gallipoli offensive. After stops in Malta and Alexandria, they spent 10 days at Mudros on the Greek island of Imbros before taking part in the Gallipoli landings on 25th April.

Image result for james blount-dinwiddie ww1"For Blount-Dinwiddie this was not just any day, but was also his 24th birthday. There would be no celebrations though as they landed at X Beach on Cape Helles alongside the Royal Irish Fusiliers, his A Company fighting their way 1000 yards onto the ridge to the north east of the beach. He was young, yet his had been a life which had prepared him for this moment, training him throughout his public school and Oxford education for national duty.

After consolidating their position, the 1st Borders attacked again on 28th April as part of the First Battle of Kritihia. Although they were supported by naval bombardment, Blount-Dinwiddie's A Company came under heavy fire and he was injured, being evacuated off of the peninsula.

In many ways the two months recovery were probably a lucky early escape from the fighting, although he returned again to Gallipoli at the end of June. In August he was promoted to the rank of Captain, but soon after he was once again injured on 21st August, while leading his company up Hill 70. Although no records of his wounds survive, they were certainly very serious as he was evacuated to the Empire Hospital in London, where he died on 13th September.

As he died in England, his body was transported for burial to Amberley in Gloucestershire. The family connection with Gloucestershire is not clear, although his younger sister Agnes was also buried here in 1974. His headstone carries two epitaphs, both typical of First World War graves. The first is biblical, the famous John 15:13 quote 'Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends' and the other patriotic, being the iconic 'Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori'.

In many ways, James Blount-Dinwiddie was an archetype of his generation. His epitaphs demonstrate this, at least perceived, commitment to both faith and nation, typical for a man raised in the muscular Christianity of the British public school system. He went from school, to university, to the army, barely ever removed from British institutions and their focus on fulfilling duty and serving the empire. His was a life of service, like so many other middle class men, who were raised in the late-Victorian and Edwardian periods.

Like many others, it was also - and unfortunately - only through conflict that he saw the fabled empire. The stories of exotic lands were brought to life through war, from his initial service in South Africa, to journeys by ship through Malta and Egypt to fight on behalf of the British Empire. James Blount-Dinwiddie lived the whole of his short life in the shadow of an empire whose value was impressed on him since childhood.

It is impossible to know what he thought, or if he believed such a life of service to be worthwhile, yet he is indicative of a generation's experience for whom the empire was a priority and commitment to it was a responsibility.



  1. Hi Kathryn - James Travers Blount Dinwiddie was my great uncle so fascinating to read your research. His sister (my grandmother) got an MBE at the age of 28 for working for what is now MI6, married George Frederick Walpole in 1928 and moved to Egypt. George Walpole was a cartographer who mapped the Western Desert (his maps were used by Montgomery) and Sinai before moving to Jordan until the later 1950's. He awarded a KBE and the Royal Society Gold medal so Agnes (James Traver's sister) was a woman of the empire! Francis.

  2. Hi Kathryn, James was my great uncle and to answer one of your questions, I believe he was buried in Amberley Gloucestershire because he had close family living there, possibly his sister Marjorie. Both my grandmother (his sister Agnes) and my parents are also buried there. Quite a few of my relatives and his lived here or close by in the last century and t
    Thank you for posting James Travers story- we will be honouring him and all the others that died at Gallipoli tomorrow as part of Australia’s Anzac Day commemorations.
    Jane Denning, Sydney Australia

  3. Hi Kathryn, thank you for this interesting history. I am researching the possibility that James’s father (also called James) -died 1897) was my Great Great grandfather. I was wondering if you could tell me anymore about his father as it appears he had two children out of wedlock before marriage to Agnes. The mother was Mary Macourtie and it is likely that the union was unsuitable as the boys Earnest and Fred Douglas (given name) were sent off to Aberdeen in secret. Earnest is my Great grandfather. Would love to find out more if you know anything. Thank you

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