Corporal Frank Howard Kirby VC

For Valour.

Corporal Frank Howard Kirby (12 November 1871 – 8 July 1956) Royal Engineers holds not only the Victoria Cross, but also the medal for distinguished Conduct in the field.

He was awarded the Cross for actions on the 2nd June 1900, when he was one of a party  sent to try to cut the Delagoa Bay Railway were retiring, hotly pressed by very superior numbers. During one of the successive retirements of the rearguard, a man, whose horse had been shot, was seen running after his comrades. He was a long way behind the rest of his troop and was under a brisk fire. From among the retiring troop Corporal Kirby turned and rode back to the man’s assistance.

Although by the time he reached him they were under a heavy fire at close range, Corporal Kirby managed to get the dismounted man up behind him and to take him clear off over the next rise held by our rearguard. This is the third occasion on which Corporal Kirby has displayed gallantry in the face of the enemy.

Kirby

Frank Howard Kirby VC

Kirby was appointed a regimental sergeant major at Chatham in 1906. Five years later, in April 1911, he was gazetted with an honorary commission as a lieutenant, appointed a quartermaster,and posted to the newly formed Air Battalion of the Royal Engineers. He attended the first course at the Central Flying School in 1912.

Kirby subsequently transferred to the Royal Flying Corps (which had absorbed the Air Battalion) and he was commissioned as an Equipment Officer. Kirby was appointed the Stores Officer at the Central Flying School. Kirby served at No 1 Aircraft Depot at Saint-Omer in early 1916, and with No 3 Army Aircraft Park in July 1916. In December 1916 he became commanding officer of No 1 Stores Depot at Kidbroke.

He went on to achieve the rank of lieutenant-colonel. Kirby remained in the Royal Air Force after the end of the First World War and was granted a permanent commission as a wing commander in 1920. Kirby was appointed a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in July 1926. He eventually retired, with permission to retain the rank of group captain, in December 1926.

The Sphere 30 March 1900 Page 319

Wikipedia

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Corporal Frank Howard Kirby VC

For Valour

Corporal Frank Howard Kirby (1871-1956) of the Royal Engineers was awarded his Victoria Cross for an action that took place on the 2nd of June 1900.

His citation reads:

On the morning of the 2nd June, 1900, a party sent to try to cut the Delagoa Bay Railway were retiring, hotly pressed by very superior numbers. During one of the successive retirements of the rearguard, a man, whose horse had been shot, was seen running after his comrades. He was a long way behind the rest of his troop and was under a brisk fire. From among the retiring troop Corporal Kirby turned and rode back to the man’s assistance. Although by the time he reached him they were under a heavy fire at close range, Corporal Kirby managed to get the dismounted man up behind him and to take him clear off over the next rise held by our rearguard. This is the third occasion on which Corporal Kirby has displayed gallantry in the face of the enemy.

Howard

Corporal (Later Group Captain) Frank Howard Kirby VC

He was presented with the medal by the Duke of York (later George V) in Cape town in August 1901. Hew was later awarded Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) for his service in South Africa. The medal was presented to him in March 1902 after his return to the United Kingdom, in the presence of 1 000 Royal Engineers on parade.

Kirby was appointed a regimental sergeant major at Chatham in 1906. Five years later, in April 1911, he was gazetted with an honorary commission as a lieutenant, appointed a quartermaster, and posted to the newly formed Air Battalion of the Royal Engineers. He attended the first course at the Central Flying School in 1912.

Kirby subsequently transferred to the Royal Flying Corps (which had absorbed the Air Battalion) and he was commissioned as an Equipment Officer. Kirby was appointed the Stores Officer at the Central Flying School. Kirby served at No 1 Aircraft Depot at Saint-Omer in early 1916, and with No 3 Army Aircraft Park in July 1916. In December 1916 he became commanding officer of No 1 Stores Depot at Kidbroke.

He went on to achieve the rank of lieutenant-colonel. Kirby remained in the Royal Air Force after the end of the First World War and was granted a permanent commission as a wing commander in 1920. Kirby was appointed a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in July 1926. He eventually retired, with permission to retain the rank of group captain, in December 1926.

 

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.

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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

 

 

 

The Life of Colour Sergeant Knight.

This is an extended article from what I posted on Facebook earlier this week.

In July 1856 at the end of the Crimean War the returning troop gathered at the Military camp at Aldershot for a Victory parade through the streets of London.  Early photography pioneers Robert Howlett and Joseph Cundall were also at the camp and in a series called “Crimean Heroes 1856” captured in this new medium some of these conquering heroes.

The picture below is of Colour-Sergeants J Stanton, Kester Knight and W Bruce, of the Royal Sappers and Miners freshly returned from Turkey, all three were grizzled veterans and had served in the Crimea for the duration of the War.

Colour-Sergeants J Stanton, Kester Knight and W Bruce, Royal Sappers and Miners, 1856

Colour-Sergeants J Stanton, Kester Knight and W Bruce, Royal Sappers and Miners, 1856

Kester Knight was born 1827 in Haslemere Surrey and was apprenticed as a carpenter. On the 12th May 1846 aged 19 he joined The Royal Sappers and Miners at Woolwich and listed carpenter as his profession.

Knight proved to be a model solider and steadily moved up the ranks, While posted in Gibraltar he was promoted to 2nd Corporal on the 9th July 1851 and then full Corporal on the 23rd February 1854.

During the spring and summer of 1854 the clouds of war were gathering across Europe as the empires of Britain, France and Russia fought over the dying carcass of the Ottoman Empire. With public opinion across Britain demanding war the British Government dispatched its biggest Army overseas since the Napoleonic Wars.


 

The Crimean War (October 1853 – February 1856), also known in Russian historiography as the Eastern War of 1853–1856 (Russian: Восточная война, Vostochnaya Voina), was a conflict in which Russia lost to an alliance of France, the United Kingdom, the Ottoman Empire, and Sardinia. The immediate cause involved the rights of Christian minorities in the Holy Land, which was controlled by the Ottoman Empire. The French promoted the rights of Catholics, while Russia promoted those of the Orthodox Christians. The longer-term causes involved the decline of the Ottoman Empire and the unwillingness of the United Kingdom and France to allow Russia to gain territory and power at Ottoman expense. It has widely been noted that the causes, in one case involving an argument over a key, have never revealed a “greater confusion of purpose”, yet led to a war noted for its “notoriously incompetent international butchery.


 

Part of this force included Engineers and men of the Miners and Sappers who had been stationed at Gibraltar since 1849, Corporal Knight landed on the Crimean peninsular with the rest of his regiment on 14th September 1854. They immediately set about getting the stores ashore and setting up a camp for the army.

The British and French Armies marched in land and fought the first major battle of the campaign on the banks of the Alma  and repulsed the Russian defenders but failing to follow up the beaten and retreating Russians gave them the chance to retreat to the safety of Sebastopol and its large Star Fort.

Believing that the Northern approaches to the city were too well defended the British and French Commanders agreed to attack the city from the south. As the army settled down for the siege of the city the men of the Royal Engineers and Miners and Sappers came into their own.

Trenches, gun emplacements and the army encampment were all built and by the 26th of October the British had 73 guns ready for the bombardment of the city walls. Corporal Knight would’ve lead work parties of infantrymen who would dig trenches and build gun embrasures under the direction of a Royal engineer officer (one who would later be Lord Wolseley).

He would also have fought of Russian raiding parties who would sortie out from the city to try and destroy trenches, guns or capture the tools carried by the men.


As a further consequence, the front was not protected by sentries, so that a sortie or surprise of some sort was just might have been anticipated. As we have seen there was a sortie and the surprise was complete, but Wolseley was equal to the occasion.

The working-party, finding themselves surrounded, cast down their tools or arms and bolted to a man. In vain the officers did all the could to stop the stampede. Wolseley seized by the belt one man who was in the act of flying, but was instantly knocked down by another fellow who took this irregular method of releasing his comrade, Wolseley found there was nothing between himself and the Russians but the gabions which they were pulling down with celerity.

Looking about him with the intent of rallying his men, he found that he was alone; all had fled, the officers, recognising the futility of resistance without their men, being the last to retire.

Lord Wolseley, A memoir.


On the 1st of April 1855 Knight was promoted to Sergeant and 4 months before peace was declared he was promoted to Colour-Sergeant.

For his service in the Crimea, Knight was awarded the Queen’s Crimea (Inkermann and Sebastopol clasps), the Turkish Crimea Medal and the French awarded him the French Médaille Militaire his citation reading

Joined the Army at Scutari in May, 1854. Present at every bombardment. Specially selected by Colonel Tylden for important daily duties in the trenches of the right attack, and was subsequently strongly recommended by him for promotion which he received”. 

He sailed for home on the 19th January 1856.

He was home for less than a year before sailing for China in time for the start of the Second Opium War.


The Second Opium War, the Second Anglo-Chinese War, the Second China War, the Arrow War, or the Franco-British expedition to China, was a war pitting the British Empire and the Second French Empire against the Qing dynasty (present day China), lasting from 1856 to 1860.


 

Little is known of Knight’s service in China but he served a total of three years in china and was awarded The China Medal 1857-1860 with clasps for Taku Forts 1860 and Pekin 1860.

After returning to Britain in the Autumn of 1861 he was posted to the Royal Engineers depot at Chatham and on the 6th May 1862 received his final promotion to Sergeant Major.

His army service was exemplary and on his regimental record a note was added which stated:

Conduct has been very good and he was in the possession of one good conduct badge when promoted and would had he not been promoted have now been in possession of five good conduct badges. 

After serving for 22 years 295 days and being awarded the Meritorious Service Medal in 1869 Sergeant-Major Kester Knight retired.

Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle January 20th 1869

Hampshire Telegraph and Sussex Chronicle January 20th 1869

In 14th July, 1878 Knight he was rewarded for his service with a post of Yeoman of the Guard at the Tower of London. He lived at the tower with his wife and was one of 39 Yeomans on duty when a Fenian terrorist attacked the Tower with dynamite.

Yeoman Warder Kester C. Knight http://www.soldiersofthequeen.com/

Yeoman Warder Kester C. Knight  Water Lane not far from the Traitor’s Gate in the Tower of London.

 

The Cornishman Thursday 29th January 1885

The Cornishman Thursday 29th January 1885

Knight was a Yeoman for 16 years before dying on the 11th June, 1894 at the Tower. So ended the life of this remarkable Victorian solider.

Sgt Major James Wise RE

First up is an apology for the lack of posts recently. Unfortunately real life has conspired to keep me from writing and even researching has been tough. I now have plenty of time on my hands so hopefully you should see an increase in posts which I hope you enjoy.

Recently I have been researching the British armies Balloon Corps which was sent to South Africa at the start of the 2nd Boer War. Originally the preserve of amateur aeronauts the first British Army balloon was built in Woolwich Arsenal by Captain J.L.B. Templer.

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Balloon pioneer, Captain J.L.B. Templer.

He built the balloon, Pioneer which was made of specially treated and varnished cambric, and cost £71. It was the first balloon built by the RE at Woolwich. Therefore it was the first British Built Military Aircraft. The first flight was on the 23rd August 1878.

The Army began military balloon training in 1880 and moved the unit to Chatham, Kent.

Balloons were first deployed by the British Army’s Royal Engineers during the expeditions to Bechuanaland and Suakin in 1885.

By 1890 the British government has recognised  the importance of the Balloon Corp and had moved it to larger quarters in Aldershot and brought the unit into the British Army establishment.

The first unit in action was the 2nd Balloon Section under the command of Major GM Heath, which arrived at Ladysmith on 27th October only to remain within the besieged town for the next four months. At first they continued to observe the enemy’s movements until the supply of gas ran out.

A small contingent of the 2nd Section which had remained outside of the town and with reserve equipment and gas, saw action at Potgieters Drift and Spion Kop.

The 1st Balloon Section joined Lord Methuen’s advance on the Modder River and at the battle of Magersfontein, observing the enemy and directing the artillery with great effect.

Soldiers of the Royal Engineers (balloon section) stood in front of the basket of a fully inflated observation balloon, some men in kilts are stood at the edge of the photograph. Image slightly overexposed.  © IWM (RAE-O 677

Soldiers of the Royal Engineers (balloon section) stood in front of the basket of a fully inflated observation balloon, some men in kilts are stood at the edge of the photograph. Image slightly overexposed. © IWM (RAE-O 677

In 1900 the balloonists provided vital information on the Boer’s positions at Paardeborg, even though the 12,000 cub foot Duchess of Connaught was holed and leaking badly.

The gas was transferred to the Bristol which flew at the Battle of Poplar Grove, and in the advance from Blomfontein, it was kept inflated for twenty two days on the 165 mile march.

It then took part in the engagements at Vet River and Zand River.

(Text taken from
Balloons at War’ by John Christopher. Tempus Publishing)

While researching the Balloon Corp, I came across this great picture of the NCO’s of the Balloon Section RE.

L-R Sgt-Champion, Sgt Jolly, Sgt-Maj Greener, Sgt-Maj Wise, Sgt Ewen.

L-R Sgt-Champion, Sgt Jolly, Sgt-Maj Greener, Sgt-Maj Wise, Sgt Ewen. IWM (RAE-O 6)

As you can see the men are named so I set about to see what I could find out about them. Using http://www.findmypast.co.uk/ I first tried to find their service records, for Sgt Maj Champion, Sgt Jolly, Sgt Maj Greener and Sgt Ewen as expected this drew a blank.

When I added Sgt Wise into the search engine amazingly I got a hit. It is quite rare to have a picture and a complete service record for any solider, especially from pre WW1 so this got me quite excited.

Using his service record I could then find his birth index, census records, Marriage and finally death index. This is what I found out.

James Wise was born in Dartford, Kent 1864 to Charles and Jane Wise. His father was a gardener and he was the youngest of 4 children. When he finished his schooling he became a General labourer until on the 23rd June 1883 he joined the Royal Engineers as a Sapper.

James Wise's original sign up paper.

James Wise’s original sign up paper.

He seems to have taken to soldiering and was steadily promoted up the ranks:

2nd Corporal 1/9/93

Corporal 1/9/95

Sergeant 1/1/1900. (even though he is listed as Sgt Major on the picture it isn’t listed on his service record).

On the 19/5/91 he was listed as skilled Ballooning which earned him extra pay.

He spent the first 15 months of his service at depot but in September 1884 he was posted to Egypt. He served for just over 2 years in Egypt for which he earned  the Egyptian medal.

He also saw service thought out the 2nd Boer war in South Africa and was awarded the King’s SA medal and also a Good Conduct award.

Image 9

He married with permission, Lizzie Ackrill Brown on the 23rd May1893 in Aldershot and went on to have 4 children with Lizzie.

He retired from the Royal Engineers on the 22nd of June 1904 after 21 years exemplary service. He originally retired to Chatham Kent but by 1911 was living in Channing town with Lizzie and the children.

Sergeant-Major James Wise (retired) died in Channing Town in 1926.