Bravery Victoria Crosses
There were many instances of bravery with the highest British honour, the Victoria Cross, being awarded to no less than twenty-two people in the Natal Campaign. There were other acts of bravery that went unrewarded but are worthy of note.
Quartermaster Tom Lyle of the Dundee Squadron had an amazing escape on 18th December 1899 when a shell landed among the Natal Carbineer lines, killing four men and wounding six others. Lyle was sitting on a box of candles, reading, when the shell detonated. A fragment passed between his legs, shattered the box and deposited him on the ground unhurt.
At the battle of Nicholson’s Nek Sergeant Major T.J. Byrne of the 1st Battalion Gloucester Regiment, showed remarkable courage by re-assembling the men and equipment after the mules had stampeded. The following morning, although wounded, he retrieved two boxes of ammunition. Later, with another sergeant and five men, he was sent to hold a position that he did successfully for most of the day until being overcome by the enemy. He was the only survivor lying out in the field for two days awaiting an ambulance. He was to subsequently be tried for being “absent without leave” and allowing himself to be captured. He was later honourably acquitted, remarking that “the law is an ass”.
As a result of their gallantry in South Africa, Queen Victoria ordered that all ranks in Her Majesty’s Irish Regiments, wear a sprig of shamrock in their head-dress on St Patrick’s Day.
At the Battle of Colenso Captain Radcliffe and Lieutenant Meiklejohn carried a board from a farmhouse under heavy fire to bring in a wounded man. Captain Radcliffe was shot whereupon Meiklejohn dragged him and the man to safety. At the same battle a Major Hickman RAMC was seen to bring in wounded from the fire swept ground, at least six times and on one occasion the stretcher was shot out of his hands
THE VICTORIA CROSS
The Victoria Cross was founded on 29th January 1856 and awarded solely to the British Army and Royal navy serving in the presence of the enemy, who had performed some single act of valour or devotion to their country and had survived. The overriding requirement being bravery. The cross is cast from guns captured during the Crimea War. When Edward 7th succeeded Queen Victoria he amended the rules to include those who had died in achieving the Cross and several were awarded Posthumously. Privates’ Coghill and Melville were the first recipients at Fugitives Trail on the banks of the Buffalo River near Isandlewana. Twenty two were awarded for the siege and relief of Ladysmith and the town cemetery has the morbid distinction of being the only one containing three crosses, Lieutenant. Colonel Dick-Cunyngham, Trooper Albrecht and Lieytenant Digby-Jones.
The following were recipients of the Victoria Cross during the Siege and Relief of Ladysmith:
Herman Albrecht was born in 1880 and served as a Trooper in the Imperial Light Horse. He formed part of the Besieged Forces in Ladysmith, taking an active part in the Battle of Platrand where he was killed. His Victoria Cross was awarded posthumously.
Lieutenant General Sir William Babtie was born in Dumbarton, Scotland on 7th May 1859 and served with the Royal Army Medical Corps. As a Major at the Battle of Colenso, he rode up to attend to the wounded who were situated close to the guns of the 66thBattery Royal Field Artillery. He also assisted in getting Lieutenant Roberts back to the British lines.
Sir Walter Norris Congreve was born in Staffordshire, England on 20th November 1862. As a Captain in the Rifle Brigade at the Battle of Colenso he attempted along with others, to save the guns of the 66th Battery Royal Field Artillery. He helped to carry the mortally wounded Lieutenant Freddie Roberts back to the British Lines. He died in Malta on 26th February 1927.
Private Alfred Edward Curtis was born in Guildford, Surrey, England on 6th January 1866 and served with 2nd Battalion East Surrey Regiment. He was with the “breakthrough” and earned his award at Onderbroek Spruit on 23rd February 1900 for saving an officer. He died on 28th March 1940 in Barnett, England.
Lieutenant Robert James Thomas Digby-Jones of the Royal Engineers was born in Edinburg, on 27th September 1876. On 6th January 1900 during the battle on Platrand, Wagon Hill, Digby-Jones and Trooper Albrecht led a force which re-occupied Wagon Point just as three Boers reached it. His award was posthumous.
Colonel Edgar Thomas Inkson was born in India on 5th April 1872. Whilst a Lieutenant in the Royal Army Medical Corps, attached to the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers at the Breakthroughon 24th February 1900, he carried a severely wounded officer to safety over a distance of 400 hundred yards. He died in Chichester, Sussex, England on 19th February 1947.
Major Robert Johnston was born in Ireland on 13th August 1872. He served with the 5th Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers between 1890 -1894. He played in the Irish Rugby XV in 1893 and in the English Rugby XV on a tour to South Africa in 1897. As a Captain in the Imperial Light Horse, on 21st October 1899 at Elandslaagte, he, along with Captain Mullins, rushed forward under heavy fire and rallied the men which enabled a successful flanking movement to take place. He died in Ireland on the 25th March 1950.
Lieutenant Colonel Conwyn Mansell-Jones was born in Beddington, Surrey, England on 14th June 1871. He served with the West Yorkshire Regiment. On 27th February 1900 at the breakthrough and as a Captain, he inspired his men to take Terrace Hill. He was seriously wounded during this action. He survived the War and died in Brockenhurst, Hampshire on 29th May 1942.
Major James Edward Ignatius Masterson was born in England on 20th June 1862. On 6th January 1900 at the Battle of Platrand, with the 1st Battalion Devonshires, Lieutenant Masterson crossed a distance of some 100 yards in order to summon reinforcements and although wounded in both thighs, he delivered his message. He died in Waterlooville, Hampshire, England on 24 December 1935.
Captain Mathew Fontaine Maury Meiklejohn was born on 27th November 1870, the son of Professor Meiklejohn of St. Andrew’s University. He joined the Gordon Highlanders in India on 17th June 1891 and saw his first active service 4 years later with Sir Robert Low’s advance to relieve Chitral. He was wounded at Dargai two years later and served during the campaign in Tirah. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for conspicuous bravery at the battle of Elandslaagte on 21st October 1899. He sustained three bullet wounds to his upper right arm, another to his right forearm. A finger was also blown away and a bullet through the left thigh. Two bullets through the helmet and also sustained a “snick” to his neck. His sword and scabbard were literally “shot to pieces”. His right arm had to be amputated. Having survived such horrific wounds, he died on 4th July 1913 as a result of an accident in Hyde Park on 28th June 1913. While exercising his horse, it bolted and Major Meiklejohn, unable to properly control it with one arm, deliberately turned it into the railings opposite Knightsbridge Barracks to avoid injuring some children and their nurse, who were in his way.
Captain, later Major, Charles Herbert Mullins was born in Grahamstown, South Africa on 28th June 1869. He joined the Imperial Light Horse and on 21st October 1899 and at Elandslaagte he, along with Captain Johnston and Lieutenant Brabant succeeded in making a successful flanking movement. He died in Johannesburg on 24th May 1916.
Captain John Norwood was born in Beckenham, Kent, England on 8th September 1876. He served as a Lieutenant in the 5th Dragoon Guards and on the 30th October 1899 he galloped through the enemy lines under heavy fire and picked up a fallen trooper. Putting the trooper on his back and leading his own horse he made his way back to the British lines. He died in France on 8th September 1914.
See family website for Norwood
Private Ravenhill of the 2nd Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers was born in Birmingham, England, on 21st February 1872 and along with others helped to retrieve two guns and Lieutenant Freddie Roberts at Colenso.
Major-General Hamilton Lyster Reed was born on 23rd May 1869 in Dublin. As a Captain of the 7thBattery Royal Field Artillery he was wounded trying to retrieve the guns at Colenso along with others. He died in London on 7th March 1931.
The Honerable Frederick Hugh Sherston Roberts a Lieutenant in the Kings Royal Rifles, was the son of Lord Roberts. He was born in India on 8th January 1872. He was morftally wounded at the battle of Colenso attempting to save the guns of the 66th Battery Royal Field Artillery.
Lieutenant Colonel William Robertson was born on 27th February 1865 in Dumfries, Scotland. As a Sergeant Major in the 2nd Battalion Gordon Highlanders, he led successive rushes against the enemy, at Elandslaagte, in order to encourage his men and secure a position. He continued to encourage his men. He died in Edinburgh on 8th December 1949.
Robert Scott was born in Kilkeel Northern Ireland and was a mill worker living in Haslingden, Lancashire England when he joined the Manchester Regiment in 1895. Corporal Scott was sent to South Africa and on 6th January 1900 at the famous battle of Caesars Camp he, along with his colleague Private Pitts played a decisive role in the defence of Ladysmith. They held an outpost on the southern ridge of the Camp against far superior odds for 15 hours when all the comrades had been either killed or wounded. During their ordeal the two men had neither food nor water. Both men were later each awarded the “Victoria Cross”. Robert Scott died in 1961 and is buried in his hometown of Kilkeel.
Corporal James Pitts was born in Blackburn, Lancashire, England on 26th February 1877 and served with the 1st Battalion Manchester Regiment. During the battle of Platrand he along with sixteen other men, defended a part of Caesar’s Camp against deadly enemy fire. With fourteen soldiers dead, he and Sergeant Scott held their post for 15 hours until relief came. He died in Blackburn, England, on 18th February 1955.
Private Pitts & Scott on Caesars Camp 6th january 1900