Thursday 7 December 2017

Thomas Bracken, a soldier in the midst of history

Thomas Bracken was born in Kilcock, County Kildare, Ireland, and was baptised in May 1878. In November 1896 he enlisted for the militia, 3rd bn Dublin Fusiliers, at Naas, he was an 18 year old labourer. Eighteen days later he joined the regular Army at Naas, enlisting for the Dublin Fusiliers number 5931.

In 1898 he was sent to South Africa to join the 2nd battalion at Pietermaritzburg, Natal. In September 1899 the Dublins were part of a small force, under the command of Major-General Sir W Penn-Symons, sent to Dundee in northern Natal to counter any Boer invasion. At the first pitched battle of the war on 20th October, 1899 at Talana the Dublins were in the van storming the hill. The battle was not a great success for the British, the infantry were subject to heavy artillery and rifle fire as they advanced and stormed the hill. Additionally they were enfiladed, casualties were high. With true British infantry grit bayonets were fixed and the hill carried. As the Boers fled northwards the 18th Hussars and Mounted Infantry set off in pursuit splitting into two, a portion of the regiment became stranded on a farm and forced to surrender. Despite winning the battlefield the British were forced to retreat to Ladysmith to avoid being caught by the invading Boers.

Thomas is not listed in the published casualty rolls (Natal Field Force and Palmer’s) but is shown in the regimental history as missing since 20th October, 1899 at Talana. Quite how he came to be captured is not clear, the wounded were left behind with medical personnel. Was Thomas wounded and left behind (there is no evidence), was he captured on the battlefield? This seems most likely, which means he would have part of the Mounted Infantry captured at Talana. Very few of the MI captured at Talana are recorded in the official casualty rolls, yet I have found many in The Times lists of released POWS. Bracken is shown in The Times as being released 6th June 1900 at Waterval. His clasp entitlement on the QSA of Orange Free State, Transvaal and Talana is typical of a POW. Those Dublins who survived Talana would be eligible for the Relief of Ladysmith and Tugela Heights clasps. A handful of the 2nd bn remained in Ladysmith during the siege. Following his release in June 1900, Thomas rejoined the 2nd bn. In January 1902 he was transferred to the 1st battalion in South Africa. The 2nd bn headed for Aden, Thomas was probably transferred as he was eligible for transfer to the Reserves after six years Colour service and would be heading towards the UK.

In November 1902 the 1st battalion left South Africa for Malta. Thomas was stationed here for eight years. In 1903 Thomas transferred to the Military Foot Police, number 762 and was immediately advanced to Lance-Corporal. He married a Maltese lady, Evelyn Sultana, in May 1905 at Sliema Parish Church. Thomas, with his wife and two sons, arrived in Southampton in November 1910, a third son was born at Aldershot in October 1911. They moved to Dublin in 1913, Thomas passed his second class Certificate of Education at Portobello Barracks and shortly after was promoted to Corporal.

The outbreak of WWI did not impact Thomas like many other soldiers, he did not serve overseas and remaining in Dublin. Thomas was awarded his LSGC in April 1915, appointed acting-Sergeant with pay in November. A fourth child, a daughter, was born in January 1916 in Dublin. At this time Bracken had transferred to the Military Foot Police based at Ship Street Barracks, Dublin.

On April 22, 1916 he was sent to Military Detention Barracks to collect a prisoner, one Sir Roger Casement. Casement was a former British diplomat, who during the Anglo-Boer War was British Consul in Lourenco Marques - a hot bed of spies and intrigue. Casement was at the heart of British efforts to disrupt supplies to the Boer Republics and gain information. After the war he had turned to Irish Nationalism and was involved in supplying arms to the nationalists. During WW1 he tried to get the Germans to support an armed uprising, in April 1916 a German submarine put him ashore, but he was soon captured and taken to Dublin. Bracken's job was to escort Casement to London which he did via Holyhead. Arriving at Euston Station on the 23rd Bracken handed his prisoner over to the Metropolitan Police. Casement was tried in June, convicted of treason and sentenced to death, Bracken giving evidence. Casement was hanged on August 3, 1916 at Pentonville prison. There is a splendid picture of Bracken and his fellow police colleagues called to give evidence:

Bracken probably returned to Dublin straightaway. On April 24th the Easter Rising broke out in Dublin, Bracken's usual station at Ship Street Barracks was in the middle of the fighting. The insurrection ended five days later after much bloody fighting. Many captured rebels were held at Ship Street Barracks.

Advancement to Sergeant came in 1918, Thomas was discharged in 1920 after 24 years’ service his address was 19 D Block, Iveagh Buildings, Patrick Street, Dublin. He was awarded a pension with an extra sum for 30% disablement due to myalgia. What happens to Thomas after the war is not clear, in 1919 his wife, who could not sign her name, applied to be repatriated to Malta. This appears to have been unsuccessful. One son has been traced, Thomas George Bracken, who died in 1997 in Roanoke, Virginia after a long career with the US Army. His obituary states he grew up in Dublin and joined the US Army in England in 1941.

At some stage after 1949 Thomas (senior) was awarded a Meritorious Service Medal. Amongst his service papers is a letter from the War Office dated 1920 referring to an application made for an MSM with annuity for Thomas, the letter states that his “name has been placed on the register..the list is a long one..only the few strongest claims can be eventually rewarded”. It took at least 29 years for the award to be made.

Bracken's medals are interesting, they all come in “modern” boxes of issue with handwritten labels except for the MSM which is typed and stamped. The QSA and KSA have swivel suspenders and are impressed in small capitals of the post WW1 era. They are not marked as replacements. The LSGC is not one would expect to be issued in 1915 but one from 1930 onwards – crowned bust and coronation robes, with the fixed bar “Regular Army”. The MSM dates from 1949, coinage profile “FID DEF. All medals are in mint condition. There are, unfortunately, no remarks on the QSA and KSA rolls or in his service papers regarding the issue of any of these medals.

Thanks to members of the British Medal Forum for their help. Bracken's picture is taken from an image on The Royal Irish Constabulary Forum.

Sunday 19 November 2017

The Stebbing Brothers - a military family

I came across this article while researching another man, published in the Birmingham Daily Gazette, November 19th, 1915.

What caught my eye was the five words "nineteen clasps for South Africa" - who were the Stebbings?

"Mr E. R. Stebbing of Rugby" was Edwin Robert (1847-1933) a soldier, in the 1891 census he listed as Bandmaster 1st Royal Warwickshire Regiment. The census lists five sons, three of whom served in the Anglo-Boer War:

Edwin Armstrong - born Poona, East Indies 1878. Served Devonshire Rgt. DCM, QSA (5) KSA (2)
Benjamin Charles - born Aden 1879/1881. Served Devonshire Rgt 1894-1906. QSA (6)
William Samuel - born Twickenham, Mssx 1878/1879. Served Devonshire Rgt 1892-1912 (transferred to Rifle Brigade, 1912-1913) QSA (5) KSA (2)

Papers exist for Benjamin and William which confirm the family connection. No papers exist for Edwin. These boys provide the tally of medals and clasps (20 actually), except the Long Service & Good Conduct which could belong to the father or Edwin, no papers exist for either.

All three boys served together in the 2nd battalion Devonshire Rgt in the Relief of Ladysmith campaign earning the clasps: Orange Free State, Transvaal, Tugela Heights, Relief of Ladysmith and Laing's Nek. Benjamin was invalided in 1901 earning the "South Africa 1901" clasp - perhaps this clasp was not counted by the newspaper.

Edwin was awarded the DCM for the action on Tugela Heights February 23rd, 1900.

Saturday 30 September 2017

British Empire Casualties of the Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902 exhibit, OMRS 2017 Gold Medal winner

At the 2017 OMRS Convention I presented an exhibit:

"British Empire Casualties of the Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902" 


I was fortunate to be awarded a Gold Medal in the Research Class and also the "Henry Pownall Trophy for the Best First Time Exhibit.

The contents of the exhibit are in the following three pdfs:

1. The Main Display
2. Additional Notes & Sources
3. Blog Articles on casualties

Monday 19 June 2017

Royal East Kent Mounted Rifles and the South African Light Horse.

One feature of the Second Anglo-Boer War was the fervor among civilians (men and women) to volunteer for the forces of the British Empire. Many civilian units are well known that were raised in South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, Sri Lanka and Canada . Volunteers from the UK arrived in 1900 with the Imperial Yeomanry, but a small number were determined to join the fray before then.

Calls in the UK in 1899 to raise a civilian volunteer force were rejected by the War Office. One of those calling for this force was Sir George Canning, Lord Harris, a man with interests in South African mining businesses. Lord Harris was also Honorary Colonel of the Royal East Kent Mounted Rifles, rebuffed by the War Office he encouraged his own men to go to South Africa and join one of the many units being raised there. Eleven men came forward and traveled in November 1899 to enlist in the Imperial Light Horse. They, or Lord Harris, paid their passage and they took out their own kit. Lord Harris was a noted cricket player and this group were soon nicknamed "Harris' Eleven", their departure did not go unnoticed by the newspapers:

"It is impossible to estimate the far-reaching effects of the patriotism of the dozen (sic) men of the East Kent Yeomanry.." [The Globe 21-12-1899]

When they arrived in Cape Town they learned that the ILH had been besieged in Ladysmith, so they decided to join the South African Light Horse being raised in Cape Town.

The 11 men are:

822 Sergeant-Major Charles Tilleard Mudford
823 Trooper A Monckton
824 Sergeant HH Clarke
825 Trooper AD Butcher
826 Trooper A Goodhew
827 Trooper George Percy Tice
828 Lance-Sergeant H Foster
829 Trooper Ernest Albert Sole
830 Trooper Thomas Owen Robinson
831 Trooper Thomas Morgan Deveson
832 Trooper Thomas Banbury Palmer

They served through the Relief of Ladysmith campaign and the clearance of Natal. It did not take long for them to draw praise from their Army commander, Maj-Gen Sir Redvers Buller, VC, himself a noted leader of irregular cavalry: 

"Among the best irregulars I have here are a party of the East Kent Yeomanry Cavalry" [The Globe 21-12-1899] 

Buller was an advocate of raising a large force of irregular cavalry and was undoubtedly using these 11 men as an example to further his agenda. One newspaper report labels these men as "pioneers of the Imperial Yeomanry". [London Evening Standard 27-07-1901]

This group suffered just one casualty, Ernest Sole died of enteric fever at Standerton on July 21st, 1900. He is remembered with a memorial in St Mary's Church, Stodmarsh, Kent and the Kent units memorial in Dane John Park, Canterbury, Kent. 

Sgt-Major Mudford was MID and awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (London Gazette 08-02, 27-09-1901). Sgt HH Clarke was MID (London Gazette 08-02-1901).

Of the remaining 10 they all returned home in 1900 apart from GP Tice who was commissioned into Robert's Horse and later served with the Prince of Wales Light Horse, South African Mounted Irregular Forces and finally 9th bn Imperial Yeomanry. Tice remained in South Africa taking part in the 1906 Natal Rebellion (L-Cpl Transvaal Mounted Rifles). He fought in World War I as a Major in the Lancashire Fusiliers. 

The 10 received their medals from King Edward VII on July 26th, 1901 in a large parade. The weather was foul, rain delaying the start. When the men received their medals, they were without clasps, these were issued later. I have recorded six of the eleven QSAs: Clarke, Butcher, Deveson, Mudford, Robinson and Tice. The medals to Clarke, Butcher and Deveson are named to the "RL: E. KENT M.R.".

Tice's QSA, because he was commissioned, is named to the SAMIF, not the unit he first served as when he was an other rank.

Main image is from The Transvaal in War and Peace, N Edwards, H Virtue & Co, 1900 page 201. The picture was taken before they left for South Africa. Sgt-Major Carlisle did not go to South Africa.

Wednesday 7 June 2017

Tribute Medals - Norton

Tribute Medals are a particular feature of the Second Anglo-Boer War, not being a common item for previous or subsequent wars. They are well documented in MG "Bill" Hibbard's excellent Boer War Tribute Medals (Constantia Classics, Sandton, 1982), and Canadian Welcome Home Medals 1899-1945 (George A Brown, Douglas Ferguson Historical Research Foundation, BC 1991). Tribute medals for the Second Anglo-Boer are uncommon at best and some are simply unique. The medals are often made from gold or silver and were expensive in their day. Not surprisingly, they are highly collected today.

More common examples include Birmingham (left) and the Montgomeryshire Imperial Yeomanry (right).

The medal I want show today is one rated by Bill Hibbard as R3 (two to four known) and second only to R4 "only example known" - the tribute medal issued by Norton (or Norton Malton) in North Yorkshire.

This medal was issued named which makes it great for research. The decision to issue a tribute medal was made at a town meeting on 16th October 1903. Local resident Colonel Sir James Legard and his wife of Welham Hall had placed a window in St Peter's Church in memory "of those who fell in war and those who returned in peace". Their son, Captain AD Legard, 1st bn King's Royal Rifle Corps, was one who returned safely. Additionally a dinner was to be held for the veterans when the window was unveiled on 12th November 1903. At the meeting Col Legard said that 43 men from the village served in the war representing 13% of the population. Memorials were also erected for five men who died and 40 who survived (it is not known the reason for the discrepancy between Col Legard's 43 men and the 40 named on the memorial). When these memorials were erected is not known, but must coincide with the award of the tribute medal. There is a further memorial to 2nd Lt FH Raikes 2nd bn KRRC who was killed 6th January, 1900 at Wagon Hill defending Ladysmith. Cpt Legard was at the siege of Ladysmith.

The medal is silver, 36mm in diameter and made by JR Gaunt & Sons, Birmingham. The medal contain hallmarks for 1903. Hibbard indicates 2-4 were issued - on what basis is not known. Judging from the memorial to the survivors there must be 40 medals, which on Hibbard's scale rates as common - survival of the medals today is another matter. Hibbard only identifies one recipient: Trooper 12309 CP Benson (Yorkshire) Imperial Yeomanry. From my searches only two are known to exist.

The medal illustrated was given to Gunner 51107 H Kilvington 82nd btty Royal Field Artillery. Herbert Kilvington was born in "Malton" in 1868, he enlisted into the RFA at "New Malton" in 1885. Herbert served in Burma (IGS medal and clasp Burma 1889-92). In South Africa he served from January 1900 to August 1902. In 1901 he transferred from the 82nd btty to LL section pom-poms. For his service he was awarded the QSA with clasps for Cape Colony Orange Free State, Transvaal and Laing's Nek and the KSA with two date clasps. After the war he worked at the North-Eastern Railway dockyard as a labourer. In 1896 he married Elizabeth, they had no children on the 1911 census. In 1914 on the outbreak of World War 1 he re-enlisted for the Military Police but only served 27 days. Herbert died in Hull in 1942, aged 74.

Thursday 23 February 2017

Ward, William - Army Form B2077 Discharge Parchment

This is a parchment certificate issued to each soldier on discharge from the Army or on transfer to the Reserves. The parchment was a form of identity and could be used to show employers proof identity, character and why they had not been civilian employ. These are not common at all.

This certificate was issued to William Ward who had served with the 8th Hussars and was discharged at Leeds on 8th October 1896 to the Reserves. While on the Reserves Ward was liable for call up for the period remaining of his 12 year enlistment.

Ward's service papers exist on FindmyPast. They show he was born in Banbury, Oxfordshire and enlisted age 18 in 1889, he was a servant.

He was recalled for active service in the Anglo-Boer War on 28th December, 1899. He served twice in South Africa, probably being invalided due to illness. He earned the QSA with clasps, Cape Colony, Orange Free State and King's South Africa with two date clasps. He was finally discharged in August 1902.

Wednesday 8 February 2017

Boer POW Handicraft: medal box

Handicrafts made by Boer prisoners of war are well known and well collected. Less well known examples are boxes made for the medals of British soldiers guarding the Boer POWs.

The example shown here was made in Trinchinopoly (now Tiruchirappalli),  Tamil Nadu, southern India. This was the location of the largest POW camp in India (and Pakistan). The box was made for Pte 4307 JH Stocks, 1st bn Lincolnshire Rgt. The 1st bn had fought in the 1898 Sudan campaign at The Atbara and Khartoum. After the successful conclusion of the campaign the battalion was sent to India, when the Boer POWs arrived they became the camp guards. The 1st bn did not fight in South Africa but became intimately involved in one of the most unusual aspects of the war; guarding POWS in areas on the British Empire remote from the scene of fighting.

Inside the box are Stocks' two Sudan Campaign medals.

The box maker's name is 'J Viviers'. The only ‘J Viviers’ I have traced at Trichinopoly is a JPW Viviers who was wounded and POW at Dewetsdorp (December 15th, 1900), he died of his wounds in India on April 2nd, 1902. A similar box to a Pte 4349 W Breeze Lincolnshire Rgt was sold at auction in the UK in November 2011.

John Stocks was discharged from the Army in 1903 when he returned to the UK. He married in 1904 and settled in Hemsworth, Yorkshire where he became a postman. There is splendid picture of John (Jack) with his wife, Myra, and young niece on an Ancestry family tree.

John re-enlisted in September 1914 into the Lincolnshire Rgt. He served with the 6th bn at Gallipoli, Somme in July 1916 (but not the first day), Flers-Courcelette and Thiepval. John was transferred to the 8th bn and took part in the battle of Arras 9-12 April 1917. He was presumed dead on April 20th. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Arras Memorial and the Dewsbury Memorial in Yorkshire.