b. 20/05/1834 Maybole, Scotland. d. 11/11/1897 Gunton, Suffolk.
Sir William James Montgomery Cuninghame (1834-1897) was born on 20th May 1834 in the parish of Maybole, Ayrshire, Scotland, the only surviving son of the 8th Baronet, Sir Thomas Montgomery Cuninghame, of Corse Hill, Ayrshire. His mother was Charlotte Niven Hutcheson. William was educated at Harrow, and just prior to the his 20th birthday he enlisted on 11th March 1853 as a Lieutenant in the 1st Battalion, The Rifle Brigade.
He would serve with this Regiment throughout the Crimean War, seeing action at the Battles of Alma, Balaklava, Inkerman and at the Siege and Fall of Sebastopol. On 20th November 1854, at Sebastopol, he and Lieutenant Claud Bourchier (later VC) alongside 200 men under the leadership of Lieutenant Henry Tryon was ordered to attack several Russian rifle pits on rising ground. The capture of these rifle pits was essential to British troops and Tryon and his men attacked them under the cover of darkness. Tryon was killed in the bitter hand to hand combat that ensued. During the night and throughout the following day, the Russians made several attempts to re-take the pits, but under the leadership of Cuninghame and Bourchier they held out against superior numbers of enemy until they were relieved.
Alongside the award of the Crimean Medal with four clasps, 5th Class of the Order of the Medjidie and the Turkish Medal, he was one of the first men to be gazetted for the Victoria Cross on 24th February 1857. He was present at the first investiture at Hyde Park on 26th June 1857 and received his medal from Queen Victoria.
Captain Cuninghame was then promoted to Major and was transferred to the 4th Battalion, Royal Scots Fusiliers, in which he became Honorary Lieutenant Colonel. In 1869, he married Elizabeth Hartopp, daughter of Edward Hartopp of Dalby Hall, Leicestershire. They would have eight children, though sadly two died in infancy. Their surviving children were Thomas Andrew Alexander, Edward, Edith Honoria, Marjory Eva Charlotte, Violet Jessie, and Bridget Ann. In 1870, William’s father died and he succeeded him as the 9th Baronet. He was elected to Parliament in 1874 as Conservative MP for Ayr Burghs, a seat he held until 1880, when he was defeated in the election. He then tried to become MP for College Division of Glasgow in 1885, but was unsuccessful.
After his retirement from the Army, he took an interest in the Volunteer Movement, and commanded the Inns of Court Rifles from 1868 to 1870. He also commanded the Glasgow Infantry Volunteer Brigade from 1888 until not long before his death. He died on 11th November 1897 at Gunton Old Hall, Lowestoft, Suffolk, and was buried in the family plot in Kirkmichael Churchyard, Ayr. His two sons went into the military, Thomas being awarded the DSO for action in the Boer War, and Edward served in the Royal Artillery in the Great War. Cuninghame’s medals are held by the Royal Green Jackets Museum, Winchester, Hampshire.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: ROYAL GREEN JACKETS MUSEUM, WINCHESTER.
BURIAL PLACE: KIRKMICHAEL CHURCHYARD, AYR, SCOTLAND.
Alex Hall – Close up image of Cuninghame VC’s grave
Steve Hoar – Blue Plaque at Kirkmichael Church, Ayr, Scotland.