Medal given to Alan Cumming’s grandfather on sale

A WAR medal, awarded posthumously to the heroic grandfather of Hollywood star Alan Cumming after he was killed in a game of Russian Roulette, has gone up for sale.

The medal, along with the condolence letter, awarded to the grandfather of Hollywood star Alan Cumming. Picture: HeMedia

The General Service Medal was awarded to Thomas “Big Tam” Darling after he tragically died while serving as a police officer in Malaya, six years after the Second World War had ended.

He had previously been awarded the Military Medal for his heroism in France in 1940 while serving as a motorbike despatch rider during the chaotic retreat of the British Expeditionary Force. A member of the Cameron Highlanders, he used his bike to carry messages, guns and ammunition across no- man’s land as the Camerons attempted to fend off an attack from a German tank division.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The truth behind “Big Tam’s” tragic death was only revealed in public for the first time four years ago when Aberfeldy-born Cumming took part in BBC’s popular genealogy series “Who Do Your Think You Are.”

Picture: HeMedia

His wife Margaret had been told at the time that “Big Tam” had died as the result of a shooting accident while “cleaning a gun”. But the programme revealed that the war hero had been killed in 1951 at the age of 35 from a gunshot wound to the head during a game of Russian Roulette.

During his research Cumming learned his grandfather had joined the Army when he was 17 and was 24 when he served as a despatch rider in France, acting as a crucial line of communication between battalion headquarters and the front line.

He was awarded the Military Medal in 1940 for his courage in making repeated journeys on his motorbike along a fire-swept road, getting weapons and ammunition to his comrades in the Battle of La Bassee,

Cumming’s grandfather was evacuated from Dunkirk, and two years after returning from France, he was sent to India in 1944 where he fought against the Japanese army in both India and Burma. In March, 1944, he was wounded at the brutal Battle of Kohima.

Alan Cumming

Mr Darling left the Army in 1949 then joined the Malayan Police force as a Police Lieutenant. Seven months after arriving in Malaya he was killed.


His General Service Medal, with a “Malaya” clasp, has now gone up for sale with a guide price of £1,250 on the website of Aberdeen medals, a company which specialities in the sale military medals.

The website entry states: “Lieutenant Thomas Darling, M.M., a Second World War hero of the Cameron Highlanders, is recorded as having died under tragic circumstances in Malaya on 21 June 1951, at which time he had been playing - and lost - a game of ‘Russian Roulette’, receiving gunshot wounds to his head

“Thomas ‘Big Tam’ Darling was a pre war regular soldier with the Cameron Highlanders. He won a superb Military Medal for repeated deeds of heroism in France in 1940, when as a Despatch Rider he made numerous runs over no-mans land to bring up supplies of light machine guns and ammunition to his cut off comrades by riding in full view over fire-swept fields under the range of German Tanks and snipers, truly amazing feats, as he did this not once, but on repeated occasions during a bitter rearguard action. He avoided capture, and later was posted with his battalion to India and service in the Burma campaign, taking part in the hard fighting around Kohima where he was wounded not only in body but also in mind.”

The entry continues: “His comrades reported that he appeared to have no fear. However the years of hard fighting, not least, against the troops of the Imperial Japanese Army, left deep psychological scars on ‘Big Tam’, from which he never really recovered, ultimately resulting in the tragic circumstances of his death in Malaya.”

The entry adds that the medal was awarded to “an unusually well-researched recipient in the public domain, for which an entire television programme exists.”

Mark Sellar of Aberdeen Medals said he would be “delighted” if the medal found its way back to the Cumming family and confirmed that he had made efforts to contact the Hollywood star.