b. 15/09/1833 York, Ontario, Canada. d. 25/01/1868 Senafe, Abyssinia (now Ethiopia).
Alexander Roberts Dunn (1833-1868) was born on September 15th, 1833 in York (now Toronto), Ontario, Canada. He was the second son of the Honorable John Henry Dunn, who was a former Receiver-General of Upper Canada. He first attended Upper Canada College in Ontario, before the early death of his mother meant that his father moved the family to England, where Alexander was sent to Harrow.
After finishing his schooling, Alexander joined the 11th Hussars in March 1852 as a junior officer. At the outbreak of the Crimean War, the 11th Hussars were sent to Russia, to join other elements of the British Army and an Allied force made up from elements from France, the Kingdom of Sardinia and the Ottoman Empire.
Dunn, now a Lieutenant, was in action on the 25th October 1854, the day of the Battle of Balaclava and he took part in the infamous “Charge of the Light Brigade”. During the Charge, the 11th Hussars were returning at speed under heavy fire from the Fedioukine Hills on their right, when Sergeant Bentley’s horse refused to keep up with the rest. Dunn, seeing Bentley in trouble, turned his own horse and rode back to the Sergeant, who was by now trying to defend himself against three Russian dragoons. Dunn sabred the first Russian out of his saddle, giving Bentley time to get up. Dunn then managed to kill the other two Russians who continued to hack at them both. Dunn later killed another Russian Hussar who was attacking a Private Levett who had lost his horse, and escaped on foot back to Allied lines.
Dunn is considered the first Canadian to be awarded the Victoria Cross. He was also the only officer to be awarded the VC for bravery during the Charge of the Light Brigade. Dunn was elected unanimously by his fellow soldiers for the medal. Dunn was gazetted for the VC on 24th February 1857. Dunn received his medal from Queen Victoria at the first investiture in Hyde Park on 26th June 1857.
Dunn sold out his commission after the War, and returned to Toronto, and began managing a large estate north of the city. However, the Indian Mutiny broke out later in the year, and Dunn helped organise the 100th (Prince of Wales’ Royal Canadian) Regiment, and served as a Major.
In 1864, Dunn transferred to the 33rd Regiment of Foot, and was promoted to Colonel. He became the first Canadian to command a British Regiment and the youngest Colonel, at the time, in the British Army. In 1868, Dunn and his Regiment were sent to the Horn of Africa to take part in the Expedition to Abyssinia, more commonly known as Ethiopia.
On 25th January 1868, Dunn was tragically killed in a hunting accident. He had gone out hunting with his rifle when it seems he was stooping forward over a ditch to get some water, when both barrels went off, and he was hit in the right side. Dunn died almost instantaneously. He was buried in the nearby Military Cemetery in Senafe, Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) and the grave is now maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. His medals were donated to his old school, Upper Canada College, and they display a replica and keep the originals in a bank vault.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: UPPER CANADA COLLEGE, TORONTO, CANADA.
BURIAL PLACE: MILITARY CEMETERY, SENAFE, ERITREA.
Alexander Dunn's VC courtesy of the Upper Canada College Archive.
Wellington Street, Toronto, Canada.
York Minster (Thomas Stewart)