Sunday, 11 March 2018

British Cavalry: Clasp Rarity

A recent advert on eBay for a QSA to the 6th Dragoon Guards screamed:


Is this true?

Here is a table of clasps awarded to the British cavalry:

Defence of Kimberley 3 0.004%
Defence of Mafeking 11 0.014%
Wepener 11 0.014%
Relief of Mafeking 46 0.059%
Rhodesia 52 0.067%
Modder River 499 0.643%
Belmont 506 0.652%
Talana 536 0.690%
Elandslaagte 604 0.778%
Natal 978 1.260%
Tugela Heights 1629 2.098%
Laings Nek 1702 2.192%
Relief of Ladysmith 1734 2.233%
Wittebergen 1940 2.499%
Defence of Ladysmith 2066 2.661%
Dreifontein 2249 2.897%
Paardeberg 3045 3.922%
Relief of Kimberley 3087 3.976%
Diamond Hill 3565 4.592%
Belfast 3851 4.960%
Johannesburg 4418 5.691%
Transvaal 13212 17.017%
Cape Colony 14468 18.635%
Orange Free State 17426 22.445%
Total Clasps 77638

The most common battle clasp is............."Johannesburg"! The other two clasps on the medal being sold are "Paardeberg" and "Relief of Kimberley" - both scarcer than "Johannesburg", but to which the recipient is not entitled.

The counts for "Cape Colony", "Orange Free State" and "Transvaal" do not include all the men from the cavalry attached to Remount Depots. Not all these men are included in the main roll for their regiments, you could a few hundred for each of these clasps.

From the table overall I excluded a handful of men - usually officers, attached to the cavalry or Staff from British volunteer cavalry units such as the Queen's Own Worcestershire Yeomanry and The Loyal Suffolk Hussars.

Friday, 2 March 2018

A Bogus Claim for the Elandslaagte Clasp?

Amongst the Royal Horse Artillery rolls in WO100/139 is a page for the Riding Establishment, Royal Artillery (page 257) with just 10 names. One line stands out:

Driver 7115 H Langley with clasps Transvaal, Elandslaagte, Laing's Nek

Elandslaagte is one the scarcest clasps for the second pitched battle of the war that took place on October 21st, 1899. Langley's combination is interesting, Elandslaagte is most often combined with Defence of Ladysmith or Relief of Ladysmith and not just with Laing's Nek. Langley is not listed in Biggins' Elandslaagte roll (Token Publishing 2004). Is this a "new" Elandslaagte clasp?

Looking for validation Langley is on the roll for the 86th Battery Royal Field Artillery - a unit not present at Elandslaagte. His clasps on this roll are Cape Colony Transvaal and Laing's Nek, clasps consistent for this battery. Fortunately service papers exist (WO364 WW1 Series) - but not complete, unfortunately his clasp entitlement is not mentioned nor the dates he served in South Africa. However, his papers reveal much that may indicate why the Elandslaagte clasp appears on the Riding Establishment roll.

Henry enlisted in The Buffs (East Kent Rgt) in 1891 as Henry Huggins. In 1894 he transferred to the Royal Artillery, possibly in India. In 1898 he was transferred to the 86th Battery and then in August 1900 moved to the Riding Establishment after being invalided from South Africa. Henry's conduct was consistently bad, his offences included; "absent from 6:30 a.m. roll call", "improperly dressed in Wellington Street", insubordination, "being in bed after reveille", "found asleep on his post" and others.

The Riding Establishment did not serve in South Africa, and the roll was prepared to enable those veterans to claim their medals. Langley may well have told the clerk preparing the roll he was entitled to the Elandslaagte clasp.

What clasps was Langley issued with: The roll for the 86th Battery states his medal was issued from the Riding Establishment roll, with the Elandslaagte clasp?

Sunday, 25 February 2018

British cavalry and the Relief of Kimberley

The relief of Kimberley was a cavalry operation. After the success of Paardeberg, Lord Roberts unleashed his cavalry commanded by General JDP French on a dash to relieve Kimberley.

French took nine regiments and a squadron of the 6th Dragoons - over 3,000 men. A further 17 cavalry regiments were represented by 22 officers and 51 men.

Regiment RoK   Officers      ORs   
3rd Hussars 10 2 8
11th Hussars 4 1 3
15th Hussars 5 2 3
17th Lancers 5 3 2
18th Hussars 8 0 8
19th Hussars 1 0 1
1st Dragoon Guards 3 0 3
1st Dragoons 2 1 1
20th Hussars 2 2 0
21st Lancers 7 2 5
2nd Dragoon Guards 2 0 2
3rd Dragoon Guards 3 2 1
4th Dragoon Guards 2 2 0
5th Lancers 4 0 4
7th Dragoon Guards 1 1 0
7th Hussars 10 4 6
8th Hussars 4 0 4
73 22 51

Three members of the Imperial Yeomanry were also present, one officer and two men who were servants to General French.

British Cavalry and the Relief of Mafeking

No British cavalry regiments were present for the relief of Mafeking - it was a "colonial" affair - Rhodesians, Canadians and south Africans. The formal British mainland representation was just a company of infantry drawn from Barton's Fusilier Brigade - Royal Fusiliers, Royal Welsh Fusiliers, Scots Fusiliers and Royal Irish Fusiliers.

Nonetheless 19 British cavalry regiments were represented at the relief of Mafeking, 11 officers and 48 men.

Regiment RoM Officers ORs
10th Hussars 2 0 2
11th Hussars 10 1 9
13th Hussars 2 1 1
18th Hussars 1 0 1
19th Hussars 2 0 2
1st Dragoons 1 1 0
1st Dragoon Guards 3 2 1
2nd Dragoon Guards 1 1 0
3rd Dragoon Guards 4 0 4
4th Hussars 1 1 0
5th Dragoon Guards 3 0 3
5th Lancers 2 0 2
6th Dragoon Guards 1 1 0
7th Dragoon Guards 1 0 1
7th Hussars 4 2 2
8th Hussars 3 0 3
Imperial Yeomanry 2 1 1
Royal Horse Guards (The Blues) 5 0 5
48 11 37

British Cavalry and the Relief of Ladysmith

Out of the 18-20,000 men under General Sir Redvers Buller's command in the campaign to relieve Ladysmith there were only two and a half regiments of regular British cavalry; 13th Hussars, 14th Hussars and the 1st Dragoons. Additionally there were very small drafts (less than 30 men each) from the cavalry regiments trapped in Ladysmith; 5th Lancers, 5th Dragoon Guards, 18th Hussars and 19th Hussars.

Yet a total of 16 other regular cavalry regiments were represented in the campaign, all very small detachments numbering from 1 up to 8. Their participation was rewarded with two possible clasps; Relief of Ladysmith and Tugela Heights. The Tugela Heights clasp is less common, men could have been sick or found other duties as the campaign wore on.

Regiment RoL Officers    ORs     
      TH    Officers     ORs    
10th Hussars 4 1 3 4 1 3
11th Hussars 2 1 1 2 1 1
12th Lancers 4 1 3 4 1 3
16th Lancers 4 2 2 4 2 2
1st Dragoon Guards 8 4 4 7 3 4
1st Life Guards 8 2 6 2 1 1
21st Lancers 3 2 1 3 2 1
2nd Dragoons 3 0 3 2 0 2
2nd Life Guards 7 1 6 4 1 3
3rd Dragoon Guards 1 1 0 1 1 0
4th Hussars 2 2 0 2 2 0
6th Dragoon Guards 1 1 0 1 1 0
7th Dragoon Guards 7 3 4 4 22
7th Hussars 4 2 2 3 2 1
8th Hussars 2 1 1 3 1 2
Royal Horse Guards (The Blues) 8 2 6 5 2 3
68            26             42             51             23             28

Most of the officers would have been on Buller's Staff, the other ranks would have been signallers, servants or attached to colonial units. See this blog for a detailed analysis of the 1st Life Guards detachment.

Additionally two volunteer cavalry units were represented. Colonel Baron Gerard along with two privates from the Lancashire Hussars served on Buller's Staff and Lt FW Jarvis of the Loyal Suffolk Hussars was attached to the 13th Hussars.

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Sheltered by the Zulus

A post today on the excellent Facebook group The Anglo-Boer War (The South African War) - 1899 - 1902 revealed a really interesting story:

After the battle of Nicholson's Neck, two men from the Mountain Battery were apparently found by local zulus and sent to Chief Khumalo at Driefontein. They were cared for and hidden there from the Boers until March 1900 when they were taken back into Ladysmith, after it was relieved. Does anyone have any further information on this fascinating story?

From:  The Natal Campaign. "A sacrifice betrayed" by Hugh Rethman. August 2017 page 160.

The battle of Nicholson's Nek was fought on October 30th, 1899 outside Ladysmith and just before the town was besieged. The unit is 10th Mountain Battery Royal Garrison Artillery. Ladysmith was relieved on February 28th, 1900.

Can the casualty rolls help identify these two men would have spent five months living with Zulus and being kept away from the Boers. No, the casualty rolls on their own are not sufficient, but with the extra casualty and medal roll information in The Register we can identify two likely candidates from the 10th Mountain Battery Royal Garrison Artillery:

Gunner 3684 W Bradley
Gunner 13714 W Adams

Both men are recorded as "missing - released" at Nicholson's Nek. Crucially they are not listed amongst the prisoners released by British forces in June-September 1900 from POW in the Transvaal. Their names could have been missed off or maybe they got back to Ladysmith after the battle, but in The Times for April 21st, 1900, Gunner Bradley is reported "alive and well in Ladysmith":

No similar mention for Gnr Adams has been traced.

Using the medal rolls, a crucial resource in determining what happened to casualties, neither man earned the Defence of Ladysmith clasp. So, if they weren't in Ladysmith why weren't they in a POW camp in the Transvaal?

Back to the medal rolls, Adams earned the clasp for Laings' Nek, the qualifying period being June 2nd-9th, 1900. The first POWs were not released until June 6th. It is highly unlikely for Adams to have been released on the 6th and sent back to his unit in the front line before the 9th. Most prisoners were not fit for service. As POWs they lived on short rations, in tin huts with limited medical care. Bradley earned the single clasp Natal, he did not earn a clasp for the Transvaal like many of his comrades who were POWs did. Adams did earn the Transvaal and Orange Free State clasps, but his presence at Laing's Nek proves beyond doubt he was not a POW in the Transvaal.

So, where these men guests of the Zulu for five months?

Service papers exist for both men but agonisingly they make no mention of such an episode. More work is required, but it is certain they were not POWs in the Transvaal and Bradley was certainly not with the Army until he turned up in Ladysmith in April 1900.

Image reproduced from The Times Digital Archive.

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.