Forgotten Voices of Empire: A letter from Burma 1887

In 1885 The British Empire invaded Burma, starting the third Anglo-Burmese War. The British claimed that King Thibaw Min (ruled 1878–1885) was a tyrant intending to side with the French, that he had lost control of the country, thus allowing for disorder at the frontiers, and that he was reneging on a treaty signed by his father.

The war lasted a little over two weeks with only sporadic resistance by the Royal army after intrigue at the Burmese court lead to conflicting orders being issued. The War ended with the British marching into Mandalay and the capture of King Thibaw Min.

The British immediately organised the looting of the palace and city of Mandalay. The proceeds were sold off at a profit of 900,000 of rupees.

King Thibaw being escorted to captivity by British soldiers, Burma, 1885

King Thibaw being escorted to captivity by British soldiers, Burma, 1885 NAM. 1974-03-148-5

Burma was annexed by the British on 1 January 1886 but an ongoing insurgency carried on until 1896. With the end of the war came the men of the Royal Engineers whose job it was to build roads, bridges and fortified posts to help pacify the country and allow easy transport not only of troops but also the vast resources so converted by the British merchants.

An officer with the Royal Engineers wrote on the 29th December 1886:

To say that I am worked off my legs is putting it mildly. I have just completed this post, and have three more to make at the same time, and about twenty miles of hill roads, with bridges innumerable, and I find no work goes on without my personal superintendence. I have occasionally to do twenty miles in a day and then work at the other end – and this in a country where roads are not even decent bridle-paths over rocks.

This morning I was up at dawn and out in the road superintending coolies, then  up the hill about 900ft higher than this to see arrangements for clearing jungle and preparing a site for a post; then down again for breakfast, after which I had to pay some men, and then went out to experiment with some dynamite upon rocks – work I did not much like as I had never touched the infernal stuff before. 

Minhla, after its capture by the British, mid-November 1885, showing death and devastation

Minhla, after its capture by the British, mid-November 1885, showing death and devastation. Hooper, Willoughby Wallace (1837–1912).

Then I had to wander about looking for timber for a bridge. After this I wrote some officials, had a bath, and out open the road again some two miles out to see how the work was getting on, and explore a stream for a suitable place for a bridge. Then I came in and handed over some money and orders to an overseer, who had come out to assist me and make arrangements for marching out tomorrow morning for a six days trip (Not a pleasure one) to posts further out and arrange for carpenters and tools to come out with me. By that time dinner was ready, and I had a cheroot before a jolly log before sitting down to write. This is much the way I spend my days. Tomorrow I’m off to a post twelve miles further in the hills, about 1,200ft higher than this; and then on next day, or as soon as I can get the work into order, to a post further on at the end of the line.

792px-British_soldiers_dismantling_cannons_ava1885

British soldiers dismantling cannons 1885 Hooper, Willoughby Wallace (1837-1912)

I got into Mandalay on Christmas day by riding six marches in three days to bring in a report on a position, and had a good dinner at the mess, which was a relief after living on compressed beef and tinned things for a fortnight. Sometimes we can get beef out here- i.e, a calf, costing about 6s. English Money; but often, as is the case now, we can’t get fresh meat for love or money. However, I like the place, and plenty of work suits me. Of course I have had my goes of fever; but then I have seen two doctors carried out of the post in doolies quite unable to stand. About 300 men have gone down sick (since I have been here) into Mandalay- some to die, others to be invalided to India. We have only buried about six of them here. Many a day I have dined alone, the doctor and officer commanding both down with this blessed fever. However, the bad times are over, the weather is jolly and cool and thanks to five grains of quinine a day, I keep the fever off, and feel up to any amount of work. It is a lovely view from from here over Mandalay and the valley of the Irrawaddy, and the jungles are pretty in their way,

St James Gazette February 2nd 1887

 

 

 

Forgotten Voices of Empire:The Battle of Belmont 1899

The Battle of Belmont is the name of an engagement of the Second Boer War on 23 November 1899, where the British under Lord Methuen assaulted a Boer position on Belmont kopje.

Methuen’s three brigades were on their way to raise the Boer siege of Kimberley. A Boer force of about 2,000 men had entrenched on the range of Belmont kopje to delay their advance. Methuen sent the Guards Brigade on a night march to outflank the Boers, but due to faulty maps the Grenadier Guards found themselves in front of the Boer position instead.

The Guards, the 9th Brigade and the Naval Brigade assaulted the Boers over open ground, suffering about 200 casualties. Before the British came to use their bayonets, the Boers retreated by pony and re-formed in another entrenched position at Graspan, where the pattern was repeated with the British suffering another 197 casualties: one sailor reporting that “at 200 yards we fixed bayonets, and we just saw their heels; they didn’t wait when they heard the rattle”.

On the 25th of November 1899, a Corporal Res of the 3rd Battalion Grenadier Guards wrote a letter home to his parents detailing the events of the battle and his resulting wounds.

Field Hospital, Orange River

Saturday November 25th 1899

My Dear Mother – I thought I should have had a letter from home by this time, but I suppose you are all too busy, or you may have written and it has not reached here yet. No doubt you will be looking at the address of this letter. well to make a long story short, I have been rather seriously wounded in three places. I will tell you how I got these.

On the day of the 22nd we were encamped at Chalk Farm, which we reached on the 21st. Our scouts went out to reconnoitre and found the enemy had taken up a very good position about 8 miles away.

We got this news about two O’clock in the afternoon. At five O’clock we were ready to go. We marched as close to the position as we dared (Which I suppose was about 4 miles) reaching the camping ground shortly after dusk. We had tea there and waited in silence and darkness until 1.30 in the morning, when we got the order to advance.

Everything was as silent as death as we crept along. Bye and bye we came to Belmont Station. We could then see in the distance the long range of low hills where the enemy were supposed to be.Map of Belmont

We crept closer and closer in the dark, still silence. We were getting very close now to the hills, and my company, No 1 (right half company) got the order to open out and advance. We got closer and closer on hands and knees: still the enemy never saw us until we got within 200 yards from the bottom of the hill and then one single shot rang out. 

Our chaps (there were half of No 1 Company about 60) dropped on their stomachs and fixed bayonets, then advanced without a waver up the hill. The bullets were flying round us like hail and the carnage was awful. It was a fearful position for any troops to take or attempt to take without first being shelled by artillery, No 1 was simply wiped out. 

We had to advance across the open fully 300 yards , and then climb the hill, while the Boers were on the top keeping up a galling fire all the time. Of course the remainder of the Brigade came up and drove the Boers away; still the loss everywhere was very heavy. No 1 Company lost 10 killed and about 20 wounded  out of 120, while the total for the battalion was 26 killed and 80 wounded.

Such was the battle, which I suppose will be called Belmont as it was quite close to Belmont Railway Station. Our general complimented us the next day. He said there never had been anything like it fought since Inkerman. I had just got to the top of the hill when I first shot through the left wrist. I managed to stop it bleeding, and ran on and was just going across an open place when I got shot through the shoulder blade and in a second got another right across the forehead, it was a near shave I tell you, however I shall be all right shortly and hope to be at the last fight, which I think will be Pretoria. 

3rd Batt Grenidier Guards 1899

3rd Battalion Grenadier Guards 1899

At any rate I have won a medal and one bar already. Charlie will no doubt remember Corporal Pattison, whom he met at Pirbright, he was shot dead through the brain. Then our adjutant came in front of No 1 and shouted ‘ Come on lads, let them have it’. Just then we saw a Boer with a white flag. The adjutant went to see what was the matter, and he was immediately shot the adjutant dead. We captured the Boer and brought him to camp where he was bayoneted at “Retreat” same day. 

They are the roughest and most cowardly set of ruffians you would wish to see anywhere. I don’t feel like writing anymore just now, but I don’t wish you to think I am dangerously wounded because the doctor thinks I shall be all right in a week or so. If this is the case I shall have to fight another battle or two.

We are advancing on Kimberley. We expect another big fight at the Modder River today and one or two more before we reach Kimberley. Then we go to Pretoria. Must close now, love to all at home. Don’t fret about my wounds, as the doctors have extracted the bullets- Your affectionate Son

Bob. 

Write by return and address to 3rd Grenadier Guards, 1st Brigade South African Field Force. Excuse this awful scrawl, but a wounded man can’t do much, can he? and the right arm is my only whole part. 

 Belfast Evening Telegraph 20th December 1899 Page 3.

Sir John Peniston Milbanke VC

For Valour

Lieutenant (Later Lieutenant-Colonel) Sir John Peniston Milbanke, 10th Baronet, VC (9 October 1872 – 21 August 1915)

Milbanke was born the son of Sir Peniston Milbanke, 9th Baronet, in London. In 1886, he began attendance at Harrow School, where he became a close friend of Winston Churchill. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the 10th Hussars on 23 November 1892, and promoted to lieutenant on 18 April 1894. Following the outbreak of the Second Boer War, Milbank was posted to South Africa as Aide-de-camp to Lieutenant-General Sir John French.

MilBanke

Lieutenant-Colonel Sir John Peniston Milbanke, 10th Baronet, VC

Milbanke was 27 years old, serving as a lieutenant in the 10th Hussars during the Second Boer War, when the following deed took place near Colesberg for which he was awarded the Victoria Cross:

On the 5th January, 1900, during a reconnaissance near Colesberg, Sir John Miibanke, when retiring under fire with a small patrol of the 10th Hussars, notwithstanding the fact that he had just been severely wounded in the thigh, rode back to the assistance of one of the men whose pony was exhausted, and who was under fire from some Boers who had dismounted. Sir John Miibanke took the man up on his own horse under a most galling fire and brought him safely back to camp.

Promoted to captain on 17 April 1900, he served in South Africa until the end of hostilities when peace was declared in May 1902. He left Cape Town on board the SS Walmer Castle in late June 1902, and arrived at Southampton the following month.

In 1914, having retired from the regular army, he became lieutenant-colonel of the Sherwood Rangers. He was killed in action at Suvla, Gallipoli, Turkey, on 21 August 1915 and is commemorated on the Helles Memorial.

 

The Sphere 13th April 1901

Wikipedia

Indian Pipers

Native troops.

Many Indian Regiments adopted the Bagpipes after coming into contact with Highland Regiments.
The regiments from the North West Frontier of India especially had an close relationship with the Highlanders and eagerly adopted the Pipes and some regiments even had their own ‘Clan’ Tartan.

 

Sikh Pipers

Sikh Pipers from the Punjab

Punjabi Pipers

Punjabi Pipers (Mohammedans)

Hazara

Chacha Hazara Pipers

Sikh Pipe Major

Sikh Pipe-Major

The Graphic 6th November 1915.

Empire Day (24th May) Parade, Shanghai

Sunday Matinee…

Empire Day (24th May) Parade Shanghai 1920’s.

This great video (no Sound) shows British Officials and Military officers enjoying Empire Day (24th May). The Video shows British Sailors, British Army units, including a Scottish Highland regiment and Indian Army Regiments parading and then marching past. A fascinating glimpse into the Empire at its highest extent.

Pathe News

Forgotten Voices of Empire: Black Mountain Expedition 1891

The Hazara Expedition of 1888, also known as the Black Mountain Expedition or the First Hazara Expedition, was a military campaign by the British against the tribes of Kala Dhaka (then known as the Black Mountains of Hazara) in the Hazara region of what is now Pakistan.

On June 18, 1888 two British officers and four Gurkha soldiers were killed in an altercation between British reconnaissance patrols and antagonistic tribes. As a response, the Hazara Field Force was assembled and began its march on October 4, 1888, after an ultimatum had not been satisfied by the tribes by October 2, 1888. The first phase of the campaign ended with the Hassanzai and Akazai tribes requesting an armistice on October 19, 1888. The second phase of the campaign targeted the tribes that lived north of Black Mountain such as the Allaiwals. The campaign ended when the Allaiwal village of Pokal was occupied and destroyed by the British on November 2 and 3, 1888.

British and Indian Army forces who took part in the expedition received the India General Service Medal with the clasp Hazara 1888.

Concerns that the tribes were not honouring the agreements that ended the 1888 campaign led to a further two-month expedition by a Hazara Field Force in 1891.

In 1891 an officer serving with the Hazara Field Force under the command of General Ellis wrote a letter home detailing the fighting:

We are still moving on towards Thakot, which is the main village among the hills at which the different columns are expected to meet.

We have lately been coming into the country of some fellows called the Bunners; they seem to be a numerous and warlike tribe, and have been making things lively for us. Our guns were left behind at Ogi at first, but now have rejoined the force, just in time to see a little of the fun.

We encamped the other night at Bela Piazada on the way to Palosi, and had a rough time of it. There was a good deal of what our fellows call ‘Sniping’ going on which is the name for the practice these hill tribes have of stealing round us at night and firing into the camp.

At Bela Piazada they came half way down the hills after dark and fired across the river into our camp pretty freely, and also at such of our men as they could see by the light of their bivouac fires on the other side of the water. Through their shooting is vile, it is a most annoying business, as we had two men wounded and it keeps everyone awake, for we all have to sleep with our clothes on in case they try a rush on the camp.

Next day we were all moved on to Palosi as Bela Paizada was not considered safe. On the way of battery was ordered to shell the village of Bakrai; so we dropped two shells in front of the the chief house in the place, which caused the entire population to bolt like rabbits out on to the hill.

They hung about the crest for sometime in a threatening manner, but another shell broke up the meeting and they skedaddled in all directions. Our mounted guns were then sent off to take possession of a deserted fort on a tremendously steep hill, commanding the village of Bakrai and the the Thal Nullah, the pass leading to Darbundrai. 

It was an awful business getting the guns up. I believe it is officially known as Pichet Hill, but we christened it Fort Juggins as we didn’t like the situation because it put us out of the fighting as usual. However, we got a fine view of the surrounding hills with the passes and villages, and couldn’t have had a better position for seeing the fight next day.

It was a pretty sight in its way, though with the exception of a few long shots, we felt as if we were in reserved seats with nothing to do. It began early next day by the 4th Sikhs being ordered to take the village of Deliari; and we could watch them creeping up the opposite hill. 

It took them nearly all day to get there, and when they did they apparently found the place deserted. However, as they were coming down again to take up their quarters for the night at Palosi, we suddenly saw the enemy come swarming back into the village like ants.

As usual they seemed to spring out of the ground and the top of the hill was soon covered with clusters of natives and waving banners. Each banner represents 50 men, so they gave us an idea of the force against us, and this time must have been in considerable strength. They came down after the retreating Sikhs, and we soon heard the rattle of our volleys, while the hill was covered with puffs of smoke from the scattered shots of the enemy.

Cease Firing', No. 1 British Mountain Battery, Black Mountain Expedition, 1891.

Cease Firing’, No. 1 British Mountain Battery, Black Mountain Expedition, 1891.                           NAM. 1993-08-106-100

About 200 of the enemy came down a spur to get a flanking fire on the Sikhs; so at 6.30 we opened on them from Fort Juggins at 2300 yards, and rather took that lot by surprise as they didn’t understand our range, and couldn’t make out where the ‘fire devils’ were coming from.

It was getting late by them, and it was almost a battle in the dark, as we could see little except the long flashes of our men’s volleys, and a glimpse of the clumps of the enemy as our shrapnel burst among them. However, we broke them up pretty considerably, through we heard next day some of our shots were dangerously near our own men; and about midnight, long after we had ceased firing, the Sikhs flashed down to us by heliograph that they had retaken the village at the point of the bayonet, with the loss of one officer and three men wounded. Next day we were ordered up with our guns to join the Sikhs and now have our mess with them on top of some of the best houses in the village.

We are now on the left flank of General Hammond’s column and from this elevated position watched them advancing up the Thal Nullah to Darbundrai. Here we saw our men being fired at by the enemy, but as the main column moved up, the village was taken by assault.

Bhiao, another village further on, is strongly held, and the hills all round are getting thick with banners, so if we hang about much longer they will get confidence for a great attack. This expedition has been out for some time now, and we seem to do nothing but potter about and take a few villages. With the force we have and our superiority in arms, we ought to have swept these tribesmen away long ago, if we were allowed to do more than march a few miles and then halt for days. 

The general no doubt, has instructions from headquarters for this delay, but it is trying for the troops, as the hot weather is coming on now, and the sun will soon be doing more damage then the enemy. 

The Globe. Thursday 7th May 1891.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lieutenant Francis Newton Parsons VC

For Valour.

Lieutenant Francis Newton Parsons VC Essex Regiment.

Lieutenant Parsonwon his Victoria Cross on the 18th February 1900 at Paardeberg by going to the assistance of a private of his regiment who was badly wounded.

He dressed his wound under heavy fire, went down twice to the bank of the river to get water, and then carried him to a place of safety.

Lieutenant Parsons was unfortunately killed a few weeks later on the 10th March during the engagement at Driefontein, where he again showed great gallantry.

He was born in 1873 and joined his regiment in 1898.

Parson

Lieutenant Francis Newton Parsons VC Essex Regiment.

 

He was recommended by Lieutenant-General Kelly-Kenny, C.B.. for the award and the citation was published in the London Gazette of 20 November 1900

On the morning of the 15th February, 1900, at Paardeberg, on the south bank of the River Modder, Private Ferguson, 1st Battalion Essex Regiment, was wounded and fell in a place devoid of cover. While trying to crawl under cover, he was again wounded, in the stomach, Lieutenant Parsons at once went to his assistance, dressed his wound under heavy fire, went down twice (still under heavy fire) to the bank of the river to get water for Private Ferguson, and subsequently carried him to a place of safety.

Parsons also received a posthumous Mention in Despatches on 8 February 1901.