Lieutenant Alexander Roberts Dunn

Alexander Roberts Dunn was born in what was then York, now Toronto, Ontario, on September 15, 1833, the first son of John Henry Dunn, Receiver-General of Upper Canada. He first attended Upper Canada College, in Ontario. Following the death of his mother, and after his father moved the family to England, he attended Harrow School.

In March 1852, Dunn joined the British Army's 11th (Prince Albert's Own) Hussars as a junior officer. At the outbreak of the Crimean War in 1854, the 11th Hussars were sent to Russia, to join other elements of the British Army and an allied force made up elements from France, the Kingdom of Sardinia and the Ottoman Empire.

Dunn, now a lieutenant, was in action on October 25, 1854, the day of the Battle of Balaclava, and took part in the infamous "Charge of The Light Brigade".

“For having in the Light Cavalry charge on the 25th October, 1854, saved the life of Serjeant Bentley, 11th Hussars, by cutting down two or three Russian Lancers who were attacking him from the rear, and afterwards cutting down a Russian Hussar, who was attacking Private Levett, 11th Hussars.”

- Victoria Cross citation, The London Gazette, February 24, 1857.

Lieutenant Alexander Roberts Dunn

Lieutenant Alexander Roberts Dunn

Dunn is considered the first Canadian to have been awarded the Victoria Cross. In fact, not only was he Canada’s first recipient, he was also the only officer to earn a Victoria Cross for bravery during the “Charge of The Light Brigade,” and among the very first group of recipients to be awarded the newly created medal, generally believed to be made from Russian cannons captured during the Crimean War.

Dunn sold out his commission at the end of the Crimean War, returned to Toronto in 1856, and began managing his family’s estate north of the city. However, the Indian Mutiny began in 1857, and Dunn helped organize the 100th (Prince of Wales’ Royal Canadian) Regiment of Foot, a British unit raised in Canada, and served as major.

In 1864, Dunn transferred to the 33rd Regiment of Foot and was promoted to the rank of colonel, becoming 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.

Alexander Robert Dunn was killed on January 25, 1868, during a hunting expedition near Senafe, in present day Eritrea, in unusual circumstances, before the military part of the war had even begun. His grave site went largely forgotten until the last days of the Second World War, when it was found by a British officer. Apparently, the Italians, who were allied with Germany during the war and therefore fighting against the Canadian and British armies, had cared for Dunn's grave during the war years.

Dunn's burial site has been cared for since 1982 by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, but need repairs, carried out in 2001 by a group of Canadian Forces engineers from CFB Gagetown.

For nearly half a century, his medals were on display in the main hall of his old school, Upper Canada College, until 1977, when the school replaced the Victoria Cross with a copy and moved the original to a safety deposit box. Dunn's sword and field-chair are on display at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa.

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