James Craig VC

b. 10/09/1824 Perth, Scotland. d. 18/03/1861 Grahamstown, South Africa.

James Craig (1824-1861) was born on 10 September 1824, the son of James Craig and Ann (nee Guthrie), at Balbeggie in the Parish of St Martin’s, Kinnoul, Perthshire, Scotland. He was baptised two days later at the Kirk of Collace by the Rev Rogers of Perth. Craig enlisted on 25 August 1843 with the Scots Fusilier Regiment of Foot Guards (now the Scots Guards) and attested to the same regiment at Perth the next day. On the attestation form, Craig’s trade is given as ‘Labourer’ and his age as eighteen years and three months, which does not quite agree with his stated date of birth. On this form, Craig is described as 5 feet 8.25 inches (1 ,73 metres) in height, with a fresh complexion, blue eyes, fair hair and no ‘distinctive Mark’. He was given a clean bill of health by the Surgeon in London on 26 September and his application was finally approved by his commanding officer on 6 November 1843 (Articles of War form), so the preliminaries took two and a half months to complete.

No image of James Craig VC

Craig served as a private (No 3075) until he was promoted to the rank of corporal on 11 June 1846. After only five years in this rank, he was made a ‘Sergeant’ on 22 July 1851 and gained the rank of ‘Color Sergeant’ on 27 June 1855. James Craig married Elizabeth Ann Scruse (or Scruze) at St Dunstan’s Church, Stepney, London, on 17 March 1849 and a daughter, Annie, was born of this union, on 13 May 1850. Craig’s papers record that he served abroad ‘in the east’ from 28 February 1854 to 15 January 1855 and that he re-embarked on 13 April 1855. The 1st Battalion was posted to Malta early in 1854 and it is likely that he proceeded with them from there to Bulgaria before the campaign moved to the Crimean Peninsula.

James Craig was present at the battles of the Alma, Balaklava and Inkerman (in September, October and November 1854 respectively), at the last of which he received ‘severe gunshots through both legs’. His period of absence between 15 January and 13 April 1855, shown in his service record, was probably sick leave to recover from his leg wounds. Ten months after Inkerman, he was sufficiently fit to serve in the line at the siege of Sebastopol. His service record states that he received a medal and clasps for his Crimean service.

On the night of 6th/7th September 1855, Craig’s battalion were the last in line at the Redan, when Captain D F Buckley had gone out in front of the advanced right sap to check on the sentries, when it was reported he had fallen. Two sentries, Privates Allen and Sankey, were wounded at the same time. Craig and Drummer Thomas Smith volunteered to go out under heavy fire and bring in the wounded officer. They were assisted by Sergeant Donald McBeath. McBeath found Sankey and brought him in on his back. He was awarded the DCM. Craig and Smith managed to bring in the body of Captain Buckley, who had sadly died.

On 26 January 1856 James Craig was appointed Cornet & Adjutant in the Land Transport Corps (subsequently the Royal Army Service Corps and now the Royal Logistical Corps). The reason for this move could have been a desire for a less exciting lifestyle, but it is most likely that he decided to transfer because prospects of promotion were better in another unit, and many men moved for this reason. He was probably still suffering the after-effects of his wounds and the extreme trauma incurred during his brave sortie, so this intervening period could also have been spent in hospital or on sick leave. However the transfer appears to have been made while Craig was still in the Crimea, as his service record with the Scots Fusilier Guards states that he finally left the Crimea on 20 July 1856.

Craig was awarded the VC on the 20th November 1857 and The Queen presented the medal to Craig and several other men at Windsor Castle on 21 November 1857. In January 1858 Craig was promoted to Lieutenant in the Land Transport Corps and, on 12 February 1858, we find him transferring to the 2nd Battalion 10th Regiment of Foot (North Lincolnshire Regiment). By this time he may have recovered sufficiently that he could no longer resist the temptation to re-enlist with an infantry regiment.

In February 1860, Craig embarked with his Regiment to head for South Africa. n 1861 Craig took passage in the coaster Sir George Grey from East London, so he is likely to have been serving at one of the outposts well to the east of Grahamstown. He arrived in Table Bay on 16 January, and was married at the Presbyterian (Scottish) Church of St Andrew, Cape Town, close to the docks, on 15 February, as a Widower, to Harriet Mary Rowley (Spinster). His bride was the eldest daughter of the late Captain Rowley, RN, and she had arrived at Table Bay in the passenger vessel Dane, which had sailed from Southampton on 6 January. The couple must have met in Ireland during the Regiment’s service there. After the wedding, the couple sailed again in the Sir George Grey from Table Bay on 2 March, arriving in Algoa Bay on 8 March, 1861.

It was just ten days later that Craig met his death, as detailed in the Eastern Province Herald of 19 March 1861, which describes the tragedy of the previous day under the heading ‘Melancholy Suicide’:

“We regret to have to chronicle the death of Lieut James Craig, adjutant of the 10th regiment, under very painful circumstances. The unfortunate gentleman was on his way to Grahamstown with his wife yesterday afternoon, and when near the Creek, in a fit of temporary insanity, he suddenly started from the wagon, plunged into the water, and attempted to put an end to his life by cutting his throat. He then fell forward into the water and was drowned.”

Craig was buried in the old St Mary’s (Baaken’s River) cemetery in South End, Port Elizabeth. His Victoria Cross was sold at Christie’s in London, on 25 January 1956, for £480 and is now deposited at the Scots Guards Regimental HQ Museum in London.





Steve Lee www.memorialstovalour.co.uk – Image of Craig VC’s grave in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

Thomas Stewart – Image of Craig VC’s medal group in the Guards Museum, London.