Sunday 31 December 2023

The Gurkhas and the War

The Second Anglo-Boer War involved every arm of the British Army except one: the Gurkhas. 

Gurkha regiments were first raised as part of the Honourable East India Company army in 1816 following the Anglo-Nepali war (1814-1816). They grew to become the Brigade of Gurkhas, a part of the (British) Indian Army, but maintained their distinct identity as they do today. The Indian Army was well represented in the war although employed in non-combatant roles. The West India Regiment guarded Boer POWs on St Helena.

However, six ghurka regiment officers and one ghurka NCO did serve in the war on attachment to other units. 

  • Cpt William Cotton French, 3rd Queen Alexandra's Own Gurkha Rifles, served with the Refugee Camps Department.
  • Cpt Harry Townsend Fulton, 2nd (Prince of Wales Own) Gurkha Rifles (Sirmoor Rifles) attached 4th contingent New Zealand Mounted Rifles. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order, his entry (with additional information) in The VC and DSO (O'Creagh and Humphris, The Standard Art Book Co, Ltd) reads:

Born 15 August 1869, sixth son of Lieutenant General John Fulton, Royal Artillery. He entered the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, from the Local Military Forces in New Zealand, 9 April 1892, becoming Lieutenant, Indian Staff Corps, 24 July 1894. He served on the North-West Frontier of India, 1897-98; Malakand; operations in Bajaur (Medal and clasp); in the Tirah Campaign, 1897-98 (clasp). He served in South Africa, 1899-1901, employed with the New Zealand Mounted Rifles, taking part in operations in Rhodesia in May 1900; operations in the Transvaal, west of Pretoria, 1900; operations in Cape Colony, north of Orange River, 1900. He was severely wounded at Otto's Hoop 16th August, 1900; mentioned in Despatches [London Gazette, 10 September 1901]; received the Queen's Medal with three clasps, and was created a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order [London Gazette, 27 September 1901]: "Harry Townsend Fulton, Lieutenant, Indian Staff Corps. In recognition of services during the operations in South Africa". The Insignia, Warrant, etc, were sent to the Commander-in-Chief in India, and presented by the OC in Chitral 22 March, 1902. Attended the Delhi Durbar in 1903. He was promoted to Captain 10 July 1901. He married in 1905, Ada Hermina, second daughter of John James Dixon.

Served WW1 as Brigadier-General 3rd New Zealand Rifle Brigade. Died of wounds 29-03-1918, buried Doullens Communal Cemetery Extension No. 1, Doullens, France. Awarded CMG, 1914-15 Star trio, Croix de Guerre.

  • Havildar Bahadur Gurung, 2nd (PoW Own) Gurkha Rifles (Sirmoor Rifles), "arrived in Natal too late for clasps, i.e after June 1900. Awarded silver QSA and KSA medals. No indication what function he served in South Africa.
  • Brevet Major C de M Norie, 2nd (PoW Own) Gurkha Rifles (Sirmoor Rifles), lines of communications Cape Colony.
  • Ridgeway, Edward William Craufurd, 2nd (PoW Own) Gurkha Rifles (Sirmoor Rifles, attached 12th and 29th (Burma) Mounted Infantry. Son of Col EK Ridgeway VC, CB late 8th Gurkhas. Killed 1917 in Mesopotamia.
  • Brevet Major WI Ryder, 1st Gurkha Rifles, supply and transport officer northern districts, Cape Colony.
  • Cpt Gonville Warneford, 44th Gurkha Rifles attached 14th Mounted Infantry . From my own research Cpt Warneford did not have a decorated military career like Cpt Fulton but he had interesting, if short, life.

Gonville Warneford (his medal left) was born in 1871 in Limerick, Ireland to Cpt WJJ Warneford and his wife Mary. His father served in the Commissariat & Transport Corps, they had been stationed in Canada where their first child was born in 1864. It seems Gonville had one aim, to become an officer. In 1890 he qualified for the Royal Military College (RMC) coming third in examinations at a crammer school in Dublin. He spoke French and German. He attended RMC in 1891 gaining a commission in the Wiltshire Regiment. In December 1891 he was on his way to join the 2nd battalion based at Jhansi in India where he applied himself to his career. In 1892 he passed a Mounted Infantry course. In 1893 he was promoted to Lieutenant, the following year he passed a course in Hindustani in Mandalay, Burma. He returned to England in 1895, but returned to India in 1896 having transferred to the 44th Gurkha Rifles. In 1898 he was transferred to the Civil Department.

In December 1900 he arrived in Durban and was attached to the Johannesburg Mounted Rifles operating in the eastern Transvaal. He only spent a few weeks before transferring to the 14th Mounted Infantry who served in the Transvaal, Natal and the Orange Free State. He was promoted Captain in July 1901 just before leaving for England. His QSA is named to the "I.S.C." - Indian Staff Corps, as is correct for most Indian Army officers serving on attachment in South Africa.

Gonville returned to India having secured a position as Assistant Political Agent, assistant to the Political Resident in Aden. Gonville was a true polymath adding Arabic (fluent - higher standard), Khasia (spoken in north-east India), Parvatia (colloquial, an Indian language, possibly from the north-west), Chinese (preliminary), Russian (preliminary) to his linguistic skills. In Aden he worked on the Boundary Delimitation Commission of England and Turkey defining the boundary between Aden (Yemen) and what is now Saudi Arabia. In Aden he indulged in his interest in antiquities and there are two items in the British Museum that he had “collected”.

In early 1904 he was in the border area when he was murdered by a local policeman at Am Rija on March 3rd. His body was bought down and he is buried in Ma’alla (Maala) Cemetery, Aden City. This cemetery also contains 307 CWGC graves. His family erected a brass plaque in St Michael's and All Angels Church, Westrop, Highworth, Wiltshire where the family originated.

His father did not stop travelling with the Army. In 1878 he was in the eastern Cape Colony responsible for the Army’s supplies. He was involved in the action at Komhga. He remained for the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 and appears to have stayed on into the 1890s as “Captain, Colonial Office, Cape Town”. Gonville’s uncle is the Rev TLJ Warneford who served in the second Afghan War earning a medal and a mention in dispatches. Gonville’s cousin, via his uncle Rev TLJW, is Sub-Lieutenant RAJ Warneford VC who was the first to shoot down a zeppelin in aerial combat in 1915 over Belgium.

Googling “Gonville Warneford” brings up a connection to the battle of Rorke’s Drift in 1879. His younger sister
Winifred compiled a “unique album of ephemera” which was sold in January 2014. Highlighted by the auctioneer was a letter from Assistant Commissary WA Dunne to “My Dear Warneford” dated 24th January 1879 from Rorke’s Drift. This is a first-hand account of the battle. Unfortunately, the auctioneer states the recipient, “My Dear Warneford” was Gonville, then 8 years old. This is an error, the letter is too factual for an eight-year old, a number of casualties are mentioned by name; did the eight year old Gonville know these men? Given that Gonville’s father was a Commissariat officer in Natal at the time it is certain he was the recipient. No doubt the two Commissariat officers knew each other professionally.

In June 2014 the letter on its own was offered for sale. It appears not to have sold as the whole collection was offered for sale again in November 2014. Some more research was done and Winifred, Gonville’s sister, is now the wife of Cpt WJJ Warneford. Oh dear.