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Major-General Dev Datt OBE

Updated: Jul 29, 2023


Entrance of the old Medical School building where Dev Datt studied


On 15th July 1926 The Courier and Advertiser, reporting on the Blebo Cup tennis tournament in Cupar, stated that “Mr D. Datt, an Indian student at University College Dundee, made his debut in tournament play, and served up some hot stuff to Mr T. A. Heron in the finals of the singles handicap, and won comfortably." The student in question was Dev Datt, a remarkable figure whose name has now been forgotten in Dundee, but who achieved success across several fields. This outstanding alumnus of University College is a prime example of an international student whose links to Dundee need be explored further.


While what we know about Dev Datt is limited, there is enough to paint a picture of an exceptionally gifted student and athlete. He seems to have first matriculated at University College, Dundee (then a part of the University of St Andrews) in 1925 studying at the Dental School and the Conjoint Medical School on the College’s Campus. By the mid-1920s, University College had a not insignificant cohort of students from the Indian subcontinent, with several giving their home address as Lahore. This was also the case with Datt who had previously studied at King Edward Medical College, Lahore. His studies at Dundee were successful and he was awarded a diploma in dental surgery in June 1927 and graduated with an MB ChB in June 1928.


While his time must have been heavily focused on his studies, he still managed to make the sporting pages. In addition to his success in Cupar, 1927 also saw him win in the final of the handicap singles against a local player in a big tennis tournament in Stonehaven. Later he would play tennis for the Army in England and win the Army in India singles title among other achievements. He would also win the prestigious Inter-Regimental doubles championship with Joseph Clynton Reed in 1934. It is possible that he may have been the D Datt who the ATP records as having played in the first round of the French Championships (now French Open) in 1932, but this is not certain.


It was not just tennis he excelled at. He played hockey for the University of St Andrews, scoring in a notable win over Durham in 1928. Athletics too proved a strength and he won third places in the high jump, half mile race and 120 yard hurdles events at the 1928 University of St Andrews Sports Day.

However his sporting achievements would be eclipsed by his medical and military career. In 1929 he joined the Indian Medical Service, serving on the North West Frontier. During World War Two he served in Africa and Italy becoming Assistant Director Medical Services for the 10th Indian Division and was twice mentioned in dispatches. He then served in the occupation forces in Japan. In 1961 he became Director of Medical Services in the Army in India, retiring two years later with the rank of Major-General. He and his family then settled in England, where, after a refresher course in dental surgery, he worked for the Community Dental Service. After this he retired to Oxfordshire, where he enjoyed beekeeping. He died in 1984 and was survived by his wife Kamla, who was a GP, and three children.


It would be fascinating to learn more about this remarkable man’s time in Dundee and for him to gain recognition in the city where he spent three years of his life. Hopefully the Woven Together project will be able to shed more light on his story.


By Kenneth Baxter, University of Dundee Archives


Sources:


University of Dundee Archive Services (Recs A/162 University College, Dundee matriculation register 1917- 1935)

The Graduates of University College 1897-1947(Dundee: University College, Dundee, 1949)

The Times, 26 July 1984

Aberdeen Press and Journal (Various issues)

The Courier and Advertiser (Various issues)

St Andrews Citizen (Various issues)

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