The family of a daring Scottish pilot who rescued missionaries and civilians during a conflict in East Africa have finally been reunited with a medal he won in 1960 – but never collected.
The Belgian ambassador to Tanzania discovered the embassy still had a medal belonging to Glasgow-born James Dodds, awarded for heroic rescue trips he carried out during the Congo Uprising.
After realising they held no information about the pilot except his name, staff turned to the internet in a bid to trace him and came across an obituary published in The Scotsman after he passed away five years ago aged 92.
Dodds, who also flew for the RAF during the Second World War, was never able to collect the medal and it has remained at the embassy in Dar-es-Salaam ever since.
Scotland on Sunday has now tracked down Hamish Dodds – the eldest son of James’s three children – and the medal is to be presented to the pilot’s widow, Robin, at a ceremony in the Belgian embassy in London. Peter Van Acker, Ambassador of Belgium to Tanzania, said: “It must have been here for a very long time. We could only see the name on the medal as James Dodds, so we did a search and came across the obituary. We were delighted to be able to be in contact with Mr Dodds’s son and wife and reunite them with this medal.”
James’s widow, Robin, who now lives in Coldingham in the Borders, said that a friend had been tasked with picking up the medal for her husband but had never managed to do so.
She said: “We always wondered what had happened to it, but we thought it was too late. It will be lovely just to have it on his behalf, even though it is too late for my husband.”
The uprising in the Congo, then a Belgian colony – and the subsequent airlift, which saw missionaries, civilians and nuns evacuated from the country – was not the first dangerous situation James Dodds found himself in. He flew fighter aircraft in the Second World War, becoming the top-scoring Allied Hurricane Ace in the Second World War desert campaign in North Africa, before crash landing in the garden of a palace in Egypt in 1943. He later took part in the V-Day flypast.
Robin, who met her husband in her home country of New Zealand, when he worked “top dressing” – spraying fertiliser from a plane – on sheep farms, said: “He never held back from doing anything dangerous. I remember him disappearing for over three weeks over the time he was involved in the Congo airlift. I was left in Nairobi with no telephone and just lots of babies.” She added: “Hamish’s son is another James and he is our only grandson, so eventually he will be able to have the medal.”
Hamish said: “We were all aware that my dad had won this medal, what he did to get it and that he hadn’t been able to pick it up and it’s nice that it has been reunited with the family.”
The medal is one of a pair from the Belgian Embassy in Tanzania. The second, nearly identical, is believed to belong to an Indian pilot, who the embassy has not yet been able to trace.