Personal info

  • Name: James COOPER
  • D.O.B: 1st Jan, 1841
  • D.O.A: 7th May, 1867
  • D.O.D: 9th Oct, 1882
  • Award: Victoria Cross
  • Occupation at time of action: Private, 2nd Battalion 24th (2nd Warwickshire) Regiment of Foot
  • Book: The Complete History - Volume 1
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Sources & Acknowledgements

Little Andaman Island, Bay of Bengal 7 May 1867

7 May 1867

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INDIA and SOUTH-EAST ASIA 1863-79 

In late April 1867 the Captain and seven men of the Assam Valley went ashore on Little Andaman, the furthest south of the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal, to gather wood. The native islanders, the Onge, had a reputation for hostility to intruders and were believed, incorrectly, to be cannibals. When after two days the men did not return, the ship sailed to Port Akyab (now Sittwe) in Burma to report their disappearance. A coral reef round the island made it almost inaccessible and kept HMS Sylvia, which was dispatched to investigate, far out to sea. Next, the Kwang Tung managed to land a handful of men on the island but two were quickly wounded by native arrows. A P Phayre, Chief Commissioner of British Burma, then sent the steamer Arracan with a detachment of men from the 2nd Battalion 24th Regiment. Arracan reached the island on 7 May 1867 and the troops set out for the shore in two cutters with their supplies in a gig. This, which was to act as a standby ambulance, was manned by four volunteers commanded by Assistant Surgeon Douglas. A party of men was able to reach the shore and after driving off an attack by the natives, made its way inland only to discover the bodies of the eight missing sailors. While they were burying them, the wind rose and twentyfoot waves began breaking over the reef, compelling the cutters to row out to sea to avoid being swamped. Seeing that the British were stranded, the natives launched another attack. One of the cutters and the gig tried to row to the rescue but unfortunately the gig was swamped in the surf and the cutter overturned. After the gig was bailed out and headed back again through the breakers, Dr C M Douglas, who was standing at the bow, dived into the sea and saved Mr Dunn the Coxswain of the Arracan. However, as he swam on towards Lieutenant Glassford, a wave dashed him against a rock and he himself had to be pulled aboard. Despite this he made another attempt to save Glassford but the Lieutenant was carried out to sea by a large wave and drowned before Douglas could reach him. After the gig had transferred five rescued men to the other cutter, Douglas and the four men of the 24th Regiment made for the shore a third time. Here the troops had run out of ammunition and there was hand-to-hand fighting. Douglas encouraged the troops to run into the sea towards him. Finally he rescued Lieutenant W T Much, commander of the shore party, who was washed off the raft which had been assembled from the debris of the overturned cutter. It is sometimes argued that the recipients of the Little Andaman VCs did not display bravery in the face of the enemy. However the engagement with the natives, even if omitted from the Citation, was clearly central to their action.

Citation

 For the very gallant and daring manner in which, on the 7th of May, 1867, they risked their lives in manning a boat and proceeding through a dangerous surf to the rescue of some of their comrades, who formed part of an expedition which had been sent to the Island of Little Andaman, by order of the Chief Commissioner of British Burmah, with the view of ascertaining the fate of the Commander and seven of the crew of the ship “Assam Valley,” who had landed there, and were supposed to have been murdered by the natives. The officer who commanded the troops on the occasion reports: “About an hour later in the day, Dr. Douglas, 2nd Battalion, 24th Regiment, and the four Privates referred to, gallantly manning the second gig, made their way through the surf almost to the shore, but finding their boat was half filled with water, they retired. A second attempt made by Dr. Douglas and party proved successful, five of us being safely passed through the surf to the boats outside. A third and last trip got the whole of the party left on shore safe to the boats.” It is stated that Dr. Douglas accomplished these trips through the surf to the shore by no ordinary exertion. He stood in the bows of the boat, and worked her in an intrepid and seamanlike manner, cool to a degree, as if what he was then doing was an ordinary act of every-day life. The four Privates behaved in an equally cool and collected manner, rowing through the roughest surf when the slightest hesitation or want of pluck on the part of any one of them would have been attended by the gravest results. It is reported that seventeen officers and men were thus saved from what must otherwise have been a fearful risk, if not certainty of death. 

The London Gazette of 17 December 1867, Numb. 23333, p. 6878

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