b. 05/08/1840 Quebec City, Canada. d. 31/12/1909 Wells, Somerset.
Campbell Mellis Douglas (1840-1909) was born on 5th August 1840 on Grosse Island, Quebec, Canada, the son of Dr. George Mellis Douglas and his wife Charlotte Saxton Campbell, (1820-1852). He was educated at St. John’s Canada, and Laval’s University, Edinburgh. Following his education, he joined the 24th Regiment of Foot (later South Wales Borderers) and became an Assistant Surgeon in the 2nd Battalion.
The majority of his early Army career was spent serving in India, and in May 1867, he and his regiment were in the Bay of Bengal when the incident occurred which would lead to Douglas and four of his comrades being awarded the Victoria Cross.
Shortly before the 7th May 1867, at the island of Little Andaman, in the Bay of Bengal, a ship called the “Assam Valley” had anchored, and some of the crew went ashore. Shortly afterwards, news came that the crew had been set upon and murdered by some of the natives, as none of them had returned. In order to ascertain the crew’s fate, a second steamer was sent from Rangoon and landed near the island on the 7th. Some of their crew was attacked by the natives and with a huge storm raging, a rescue mission was organised to try and reach them. With the soldiers in peril on shore, Dr Douglas and four fellow members of the 24th, manned a gig and attempted to reach them.
They very nearly succeeded in their endeavours, but, the boat beginning to fill rapidly, they were forced to retire. They then made a second attempt and were successful in reaching the shore, taking off five men. On these being placed safely on board, the doctor and his four brave men turned once more to the rescue of the rest of the soldiers, and by their strenuous efforts the entire party was eventually taken off the island.
All five men including Douglas were awarded the Victoria Cross (London Gazette, 17th December 1867) and he was presented with his medal on 16th April 1868 by the GOC Pegu, Major-General A Faunce in Rangoon, Burma. Shortly after his award of the VC, Douglas married the young widow of Surgeon Valentine Munbee McMaster, 78th Highlanders, also a V.C., earned at Lucknow in the Sepoy Mutiny, who died leaving a one-year old son Bryce McMaster. Douglas and his new wife would have two children of their own, George Mellis, who would become an explorer of the Canadian Northwest by canoe, and Lionel, who became a ship’s captain.
Dr. Douglas retired in 1882. Early in 1883, Brigade Surgeon Douglas gave the very first First Aid training course of St. John Ambulance in Canada. The course was given in Quebec City. His class raised £3 3s 0d for the charity. He was also Medical Officer in charge of Field Hospital during the 2nd Riel Expedition 1885.
Douglas died aged 69 on New Year’s Eve, 1909 at the home of one of his children, “Birdwood”, at Horrington, near Wells, Somerset. He was laid to rest on 4th January 1910 in Wells Cemetery. His medals including his VC and the Silver Medal from the Royal Humane Society (also awarded for his VC action) are held by the Canadian War Museum, Ottawa.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: CANADIAN WAR MUSEUM, OTTAWA, CANADA.
BURIAL PLACE: WELLS CEMETERY, WELLS, SOMERSET. GRAVE M
Kevin Brazier – Douglas Grave in Wells Cemetery
Thomas Stewart – Image of the RMA Sandhurst VC Board
Canadian War Museum – images of Douglas’ VC Medal Group and reverse of his VC medal.