Wednesday 24 February 2021

The Composition of the British Army's regular infantry regiments in 1899

It appears to be a popular misconception amongst many interested in the war that the regular British Army infantry regiments were as their geographical titles suggest populated by men from that area; Highland regiments were full of Scotsmen, Irish regiment for Irishmen and so on. For some on-lookers they have a false narrative that the war was prosecuted by Irishmen, Scotsmen, and then Welshmen, while the English looked on. Such a view fulfills the simplistic notion that the British Empire simply coerced non-English peoples to do their dirty work leaving drunken aristocrats to enjoy the fruits of war. Of course, the truth is far more complex and, for some, painful if such people took the time to reflect on their own ancestors.

The Victorian Britons were highly mobile, the Empire would not have been formed otherwise. Just as they ventured across the globe so they travelled the length and breadth of the British Isles, some didn't move far at all, but enough did to create cosmopolitan cities and towns. Most travelled for work and a better life, agricultural slumps in the late 1800s sent many men from the south-west of England to the coal fields and steel factories in South Wales. A number of these men enlisted into the Army joining "Welsh" regiments such as the South Wales Borderers. English industrial centres drew men from Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

The 1881 Cardwell Reforms gave the Infantry its distinctive geographical connections, the regiments converting from numbers to territorial titles. For instance, the 41st Foot became The Welc(/s)h Regiment. While contributing to the famous regimental esprit d'corps the territorial connection did not necessarily increase recruiting in many areas, especially rural areas. This gave the Army a problem, regiments covering rural areas were typically under-recruited and those regiments centred on large and towns and cities were over-recruited. To solve this recruits were sent to under-strength regiments. This means a native of London or Birmingham could and did, get sent to join a "Scottish" regiment. Regiments by their uniforms, mottoes and music gave the impression of being Scottish, Irish or Welsh. But you would as likely find an Englishman in the kilt and feather bonnet of the Seaforth Highlanders as you would a native of Inverness. Anyone who collects campaign medals will know from reading service papers how cosmopolitan the rural regiments can be.

Dr Edward Spiers in his useful book The Late Victorian Army 1868-1902 (Manchester University Press, Manchester 1992 (Sandpiper Books 1999)) illustrates this with figures collected in the General Annual Returns of the British Army (infantry, cavalry, artillery etc.) showing the nationalities of men serving in 1899:

England & Wales 76.60%
Ireland 13.20%
Scotland 8.00%
Other and Not Reported 2.20% 

The Army is overwhelmingly English, the Welsh would have made up a small percentage had they been separated out. It would be good to see this data just for the Infantry.

To provide further evidence directly related to the Anglo-Boer War I used a dataset at my disposal; war memorials. The Victorian and Edwardians were great war memorial builders, a legacy inherited by the Georgians of the First World War. 

The table below shows the number of fatalities for the war for the regiments designated as English, Irish, Scots and Welsh and their "nationality" derived from the location (England, Scotland etc.) of the "geographic war memorial" that they are named on. A "geographic war memorial" is one that links a man to a specific location such as a grave marker, a town memorial, a county memorial and in the case of Wales, the national memorial in Cardiff. I have excluded non-geographic memorials such as regimental and school war memorials. 

War memorials are far from perfect records, some men appear on different geographic memorials; this is a minority though. A man commemorated on a memorial in England may have been born in Scotland. There are less geographic memorials in Ireland than other parts. Not every memorial has been recorded, but over 2,100 have. No one knows how many war memorials were ever put up. The data for Irish memorials is slim. This data is not perfect, but it is the best I know of for this type of study.

Country Total Fatalities Total Commemorated England Ireland Scotland Wales % “foreign” % Fatalities Commemorated
England     9157      3757 3641 8   1 107
      3          41
Ireland     1154          37     28 4   0     5     89
Scotland     1752        235   175 0 52     8     78          13
Wales       609        602     71 0   0 531     12          99

This table tells us that for Welsh regiments, they lost 609 men, 602 or 99% are on a geographic memorial (for many this will be the Welsh National Memorial, Cardiff). Of the 602 men only 12% are not apparently Welsh, they appear on town or county memorials in England. There were only three Welsh regiments less than half the number of Scottish and Irish regiments. This could well explain the large percentage of Welshmen in the three regiments, or the Welsh National Memorial incorrectly claims men as "Welsh".

For the Scots regiments only 13% of fatalities are on a geographic memorial but 78% are apparently not Scottish as they appear on geographic memorials in England and Wales.

Overall I believe this data correlates with that presented by Dr Speirs, only 8% of the Army in 1899 was from Scotland, war memorials tell us that 78% of men in Scottish regiments who died were not from Scotland. And the overwhelming number of fatalities in English regiments were Englishmen. If you know of a dataset to advance this research I would be pleased to learn of it.

But, perhaps the real message is that it is folly to ascribe labels based on assumptions and pre-conceptions and without any real evidence.

Saturday 20 February 2021

Imperial Yeomanry - Table of Clasps

This table only counts clasps to men who first served in the IY before serving in other units. This excludes men who served in other units first earning a clasp, such as Elandslaagte, and then transferring to the IY.

This blogs updates the information in British Battles & Medals (Hayward, Birch & Bishop, Spink 2006 7th edition) which states the IY only qualified for the Wittebergen  battle clasp and, "other 'battle' clasps, [were] granted whilst attached to other units". This is clearly not quite accurate.

The IY only qualified for three battle clasps in unit strength; Diamond Hill, Wittebergen and Johannesburg. The other battle clasps; Belfast, Dreifontein and Relief of Mafeking were earned by "odd men" and further work is required to understand exactly how these men came to earn the clasp.

Cape Colony 28,447
Orange Free State 21,373
Transvaal 20,606
Wittebergen 2,302
Rhodesia 1,025
Johannesburg 575
Diamond Hill 539
Natal 59
Belfast 23
Dreifontein 8
Wepener 3  Relief Force, issued in error
Relief of Mafeking 2
Paardeberg 1
 GW Tindall, servant to the Earl of Errol, specially enlisted in the Imperial Yeomanry
Relief of Kimberley 1  GW Tindall
Belmont 0
Defence of Kimberley 0
Defence of Ladysmith 0
Defence of Mafeking 0
Elandslaagte 0
Laings Nek 0
Modder River 0
Relief of Ladysmith 0
Talana 0
Tugela Heights 0


Wednesday 10 February 2021

The Caroline brothers from Derbyshire

John and Tom Caroline of the 1st bn Derbyshire Rgt (The Sherwood Foresters) both served during the war. They were half-brothers, the sons of Jane Caroline who married in 1877 and is named on their service papers as next-of-kin “Mother Jane Heptinstall, 48 Pitt Street, Eckington, Derbyshire”. The census and family trees available on-line are confused, the clincher are the baptismal records which in both cases name Jane Caroline as an unwed mother. The boys lived with different branches of the family at various times.

John was born in 1874 in Mosbro, Eckington and Tom (shown left) was born in 3rd February, 1877 in Rotherham, south Yorkshire. They enlisted within a week of each other in August, 1894 at Chesterfield, Derbyshire. John was 20 and Tom 17 (he claimed to be 18 on enlistment), they were both colliers. John was given number 4773 and Tom 4793. They were both posted to the 1st battalion in Dublin. John was posted the 2nd battalion in 1895 and went off to India and served on the North-West Frontier in the Tirah and Punjab Frontier campaigns of 1897-98. In October 1899 the 1st battalion was stationed in Malta, they received orders to embark for South Africa which were cancelled but then re-instated on October 31st. In the meantime the 2nd battalion had arrived from Aden and were in quarantine. On the 10th November John was posted to the 1st battalion joining his brother. The 1st battalion sailed from Malta on the 21st November.

In South Africa they would part company. Tom was selected to act as servant to Major-General Sir HL Smith-Dorrien, an officer of the regiment, now commanding the 19th Infantry Brigade (later promoted to command the 8th Division). Tom was with Smith-Dorrien throughout the campaign, serving at Paardeberg, Driefontein and Johannesburg.

The 1st bn had a fairly quiet war serving at Johannesburg and Diamond Hill. All would change in 1901 when they went on column in search of the Boers. Two companies of the regiment were part of Colonel T Dixon’s column when on 29th May they were attacked. The Boers set the veldt on fire and used the smokescreen to capture two guns, a bayonet charge by the Derbyshires and Kings Own Scottish Borderers recovered the guns but at a high cost, the Derbyshires lost 19 killed and 59 wounded. John was amongst the wounded, recorded as severely, fortunately he was able to return to duty.

Four months later the same column, now commanded by Colonel RG Kekewich (the defender of Kimberley), was in camp at Moedwil, western Transvaal. On the morning of 30th September they were attacked by about 1,000 Boers. The fighting was very severe, outlying picquets were quickly overwhelmed. Of one picquet of 12 men from the Derbyshires eight were killed and four wounded. Six men from the nine gun Maxim gun team were hit, one of the unwounded, Private W Bees, ran the gauntlet of Boer fire to get water for the wounded. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for his gallantry. Col Kekewich was wounded and command fell to the Derbyshire’s commander Col HC Wylly. After about two hours of intense fighting the Boers retired. The Derbyshires’ lost 17 killed and 44 wounded. Amongst the wounded the regimental history records “Pte 4793 T Caroline”, he is not listed in the Official Casualty rolls. Tom, though, was apparently elsewhere as Major-General Smith-Dorrien’s servant. Tom’s service papers do not record his wound. However, on John’s service papers he is recorded as wounded at Moedwil, so he was wounded for a second time in the war. John was invalided to England on the 8th October, 1901. He recovered quickly and was back in South Africa in early May 1902.

In September 1902 both were transferred to the Reserve to complete their 12 year enlistment. Tom stayed in South Africa, he took his transfer in the Marico district of the western Transvaal. John returned home to England in April 1902.

John returned to the mines, on the 1911 census he is recorded as a “coal hewer” boarding in Eckington. He may well have served in WW1 as Pte 3144 and 240917 1/6th bn Notts &Derbyshire Rgt, earning the 1914-15 Star trio. He died in 1929.

According to the Ancestry Family Tree Tom became a policeman in Bulwayo, Rhodesia. He married an English born lady in southern Africa before they returned to the UK in 1904. On the 1911 census he is a “colliery deputy (below ground)” living at Killamarsh, Derbyshire with a wife and adopted son. They went on to have four children, including a son called Horace Lockwood Smith Dorrien after his boss in the war. Tom died in 1949. 

The splendid picture of Tom is reproduced here courtesy of Cyril Michael Knight.