Today’s hero, James Douglas, was submitted by his grandson, David Douglas.
James was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal during World War I for conspicuous gallantry as a driver in the Tartar Country. Under heavy fire James drove to the rescue of Allied Counsels, who were trapped amidst fighting on the Kazbek Mountain.
James was born in 1878. He was mobilised to begin training with the ASC in July 1916, and as he’d previously been a chauffeur, he was assigned to mechanised transport as Private M2/194380. He became driver to Captain George Marie Goldsmith, Army Intelligence.
In October 1916 James travelled with Captain Goldsmith to Basra and subsequently Baku, where Goldsmith was to gather intelligence for Major General Lionel C Dunsterville. The Major had been charged with assisting the Tsarist Russian armies to prevent Baku falling into the hands of the Turks. James and Goldsmith then proceeded to Tiflis to work with the Caucasian Military Agency. When they arrived, they became part of a team of 8 Specialist officers and three drivers.
The area was volatile and the Turks had begun the Armenian genocide. The agency, working at Erzurum, were able to organise the running of 20 trains a day and managed to evacuate 4,000 Armenian women and children to safety from Sarikamish to Erzurum. For this, and work with the Armenian Army against the Turks, the agency staff were all awarded Russian gallantry awards. James was awarded the Russian St Georges Medal 1st class for bravery in action. The agency then moved to Vladikavkaz.
The onset of the Russian revolution made the region still more hazardous. The Allied Consuls attempted to flee to safety, but became caught in heavy fighting on the Georgian Military Road at the Kazbek Mountain. The American Consul Willoughby-Smith approached the agency for help, and on the 12th May Captain Goldsmith and James, who was now promoted to the rank of Corporal, left at 5am with an Ingush tribesman as guide to rescue the Consuls. For his subsequent action James was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal. His exploits were described in the London Gazette as follows:
“For conspicuous gallantry in action in the Tartar country, south of Erivan while with a Ford car he proceeded to the rescue of the Allied Consuls who had been held up on the top of the Kasbek Mountain. He came under heavy fire on the Georgian Road and the guide accompanying him was killed”
Following the Russian revolution, the Bolsheviks became suspicious of the agency and arrested them in November 1917. They were marched over the Steppes in winter and imprisoned in Moscow. After negotiation and in an exchange for a Russian White Admiral all 11 agency staff were returned to Britain via Finland in May 1919.