Alnwick to Dorset via China and PoW camp

The records of James Munro in the church in Dorset.
The records of James Munro in the church in Dorset.

Research into family history has led to the interesting tale of how an Alnwick man ended up in Dorset after many years in the Orient.

While David Kemp was researching his family tree, which has many Alnwick links, he came across a forgotten relative with a rather fascinating story.

His name was James Munro and his father William worked on the Duke of Northumberland’s estate.

He was born in 1900 and went to the Duke’s School, then Durham University before being ordained at Lincoln Cathedral and spending 22 years as a missionary in northern China.

Imprisoned by the Japanese, he spent most of the Second World War in a PoW camp.

After the war, his health was so poor that he could no longer work on the mission field and he became rector of a small country parish in deepest Dorset – Hazelbury Bryan.

In 1959, he died of a heart attack and was found by his bike in a county lane where he had been on his way to visit a sick parishioner.

David said: “I had been puzzled as to why he had gone to Dorset rather than come home to Northumberland, but last week when I visited the church, I discovered why.

“The Patron of the Living – the person with the right to choose the rector – was the Duke of Northumberland and the then Duke had obviously exercised his right in favour of a local man born on his estate.

“He never married so there are no direct descendants, but his mother was a Mulvany born in Alnwick and he was related through his mother’s side of the family to James Byrnes, for many years piper to the Duke between the wars.”