Private Thomas Turrall VC- 3rd July 1916

Thomas Turrall VC (440x640)

Pte. Thomas Turrall VC. Turrrall was awarded his VC for gallantry at La Boisselle 3rd July

Born on 5th July 1885 in Birmingham, Thomas George Turrall was educated at the Dixon Road School in Small Heath, Birmingham. He trained to be a painter and decorator but in 1915 he joined the 10th Battalion, The Worcestershire Regiment.

Thomas Turrall was a powerfully built man who was known throughout the Battalion as being a character. In fact prior to the battle where he won his Victoria Cross, his platoon commander, Lieutenant Richard William Jennings, decided to release him earlier from the Battalion Guardroom were he was serving a short sentence. The two men were known to have a mutual respect for one another.

In early July 1916, the Battalion were part of the 19th (Western) Division on the Somme. During the night of the 2nd/3rd July, 57 Brigade which included the 10th Battalion were ordered to continue an attack started that afternoon by 58 Brigade. At 0300 hrs the Battalion crossed no-man’s land taking many casualties and then became involved in heavy hand to hand fighting which lasted until dawn. Lieutenant Jennings then led a small party of men, which included Private Turrall to attack a position to the flank. It was during this action that Private Thomas Turrall won his Victoria Cross.

His Citation reads:

“For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty. During a bombing attack by a small party against the enemy the officer in charge was badly wounded, and the party having penetrated the position to a great depth was compelled eventually to retire.
Private Turrall remained with the wounded officer for three hours under continuous and very heavy fire from machine guns and bombs, and, not withstanding that both himself and the officer were at one time completely cut off from our troops, he held to his ground with determination, and finally carried the officer to our lines after our counter attacks had made this possible.”
London Gazette, September 9th 1916

Lieutenant Jennings was able to recount Private Turrall’s action but then died of his wounds a few hours later.

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Turrall rescuing Lt . Jennings at La Boisselle. Drawing by Holiday

Private Turrall, the third person from Birmingham to receive the Victoria Cross was congratulated by the then Lord Mayor, Neville Chamberlain. The people of Small Heath where he lived presented him with a gold watch and £250. He collected his Victoria Cross with his young daughter from Buckingham Palace. He kept in close contact with the Regiment after the war, attending many Regimental functions as the guest of honour. He died on 21st February 1964 in Selly Oak Hospital, Birmingham, at the age of 78.

The Worcestershire Regiment at the Battle of the Somme

The Battle of the Somme (1 July – 18 November 1916) was a joint operation between the British and French armies, intended to deliver a decisive victory over the Germans on the Western Front. For many in Britain, the resulting battle remains the most painful and infamous episode of the First World War.

In December 1915, Allied commanders had agreed to launch a joint attack in the region of the River Somme in the summer of 1916. Intense German pressure on the French at Verdun throughout 1916 made action on the Somme increasingly urgent and meant the British would take on the main role in the offensive.

They were faced with German defences that had been carefully prepared over many months. Despite a seven-day bombardment prior to the attack on 1 July, the British did not achieve the quick breakthrough that had been anticipated and the Somme became a deadlocked battle of attrition along a 15 mile front

 British casualties on the first day – numbering over 57,000, of which 19,240 were killed – making it the bloodiest day in British military history. Over the next 141 days, the British advanced a maximum of only seven miles. More than one million men from all sides were killed, wounded or captured.

From the outset The Worcestershire Regiment experienced heavy fighting.  Six Battalions were in action on the fateful 1st July 1916, these were:  1st; 3rd; 4th; 1/7th; 1/8th and 10th.  They were later joined by the 2nd and the 14th Battalions.

During the five months of fighting on the Somme, the Regiment took part in the following actions:

The Worcesters at High Wood

The Worcesters at High Wood

Beaumont Hamel, 4th Battalion, 1st – 3rd July
Leipzig Salient (1st Phase), 3rd Battalion, 3rd – 8th July
La Boisselle, 10th Battalion, 3rd July
Contalmaison, 1st, 1/7th, 1/8th, 4th Battalions, 6th – 10th July
Ovillers, 3rd, 1/8th, 1/7th Battalions, 10th -17th July
Bazetin Ridge, 2nd, 1/7th, 1/8th, 4th Battalions, 15th – 21st July
High Wood, 2nd, 10th Battalions, 15th – 23rd July
Pozières Ridge, 1/7th, 10th, 3rd Battalions, 20th July – 23rd August
Leipzig Salient (2nd Phase), 3rd , 2nd Battalions, 23rd – 26th August
Delville Wood, 2nd Battalion, 24th August
Leipzig Salient (3rd Phase), 3rd, 1/7th, 1/8th, Battalions, 2nd – 3rd September
Ancre Heights, 3rd, 10th Battalions, 2nd – 24th October
Transloy Ridges, 10th, 4th, 1st, 2nd, 1/8th, 14th Battalions, 12th October – 5th November
Ancre, 10th, 14th, 2/7th Battalions, 13th – 21st November

Turrall rescuing Lt . Jennings at La Boisselle.  Drawing by Holiday

Turrall rescuing Lt . Jennings at La Boisselle. Drawing by Holiday

As a result of the courage and resolve of the Regiment, its officers and men were accorded a total of 50 Honours and Gallantry awards.  These included:  two Victoria Crosses; awarded to Pte T.G. Turrall of 10th Battalion at La Boisselle on 3rd July 1916 and Lt. E.P. Bennett of 2nd Battalion at Transloy Ridge on 5th November 1916, and 7 Distinguished Service Orders; 17 Military Crosses; 20 Distinguished Conduct Medals; and 4 Military Medals.

Lt. Bennett wininghis Vc at Transloy Ridge

Lt. Bennett wining his VC at Transloy Ridge

Regimental casualties on 1st July 1916 were recorded as 102.  A further 613 were killed in action during the period to November, with other casualties recorded as an additional 3090 wounded and 519 men missing.

The Regiment was subsequently awarded the following battle honours:

The Somme (1st July – 18th Nov)                    Pozieres (23rd July – 3rd Sept)

Albert (1st July – 13th July)                              Le Transloy (1st Oct – 18th Oct)

Bazentin (14th July – 17th July)                        Ancre Heights (1st Oct – 11th Nov)

Delville Wood (15th July – 3rd Sept)               Ancre (13th Nov – 18th Nov)

Captain E.P. Bennett VC

Captain E.P. Bennett VC

 

The Glorious First of June 1794

In June 1794 Britain had been at War with Revolutionary France for 14 months.  France was on the verge of starvation due to a bad harvest and political upheaval. As a result, the French had assembled a convoy of some 117 merchant ships, filled with grain and other stores, in Chesapeake Bay, in America.

The French strategy to ensure the safety of these ships was, an immediate escort of 4 ships of the line, commanded by Admiral Vanstabel, to accompany the convoy – a second squadron, commanded by Rear Admiral Neilly, to sail to meet the convoy and escort it back to France while the main French Fleet, commanded by Admiral Villaret-Joyeuse, was to sail from Brest to provide any necessary cover should the convoy be threatened by the Royal Navy.

In April 1794, Admiral Richard Howe had assembled the British Fleet, consisting of 32 ships of the line with attendant frigates, off the Isle of Wight. Owing to a shortage of Marines the 29th Regiment of Foot, along with a number of other line regiments, had to provide drafts for sea-service.

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Men of the 29th Regiment on board the Brunswick

Over four hundred officers and men of the regiment were distributed among five ships; “Brunswick”, “Ramillies”, “Glory”, “Thunderer” and “Alfred”.

MONTHLY RETURNS—1st JUNE, 1794.

SHIPS.

Captains Subalterns Serjeants Drummers Rank & File

NAMES OF OFFICERS.

“Brunswick” 1 1 2 1 76 Captain A. Saunders, Ensign Harcourt Vernon.
“Ramillies” 2 2 1 73 Lieut. Jas. Monsell, Ensign George Dalmer.
“Alfred” 3 2 1 75 Lieuts. R. Harrison and John Tucker, Ensign L. A. Northey.
“Glory” 1 2 2 1 98 Captain Wm. Jaques, Lieut. W. T. Bertrand, Ensign Patk. Henderson.
“Thunderer” 2 2 1 73 Lieut. Josh. Clavey  and C. Bulkeley Egerton.

The French convoy sailed from America on 11th April and on 2nd May Howe sailed from Spithead with 26 ships of the line. After a reconnaissance of the port of Brest to confirm that the French Fleet had not sailed, Howe placed himself between the convoy and their covering force. On 19th May, Howe’s frigates report that the French Fleet had sailed out of Brest and he immediately set off in pursuit.

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The Glorious First of June

On 28th May, at about 8:10 am a frigate made the signal for “a fleet bearing South West” directly to windward. It was not until 6 pm that action commenced and lasted until 10 pm. British casualties were only twenty-two killed and wounded. On next the morning it was hazy and the action continued from 9 am until nearly 4 pm when the French bore away to support their disabled ships. The 30th was very foggy and there was no action that day. However on the 31st, the fog cleared about 2 pm and the French were sighted far to leeward.

On the 1st of June, at 5:45 am Howe counted 34 sail of the enemy and gave chase.  The general action commenced at 9:15 am.

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The Brunswick  and Le Vengeur from a print in the Museum Collections

The “Brunswick”, with 81 men of the 29th aboard was played into battle by the ship’s band and a drummer from the 29th to the tune of ‘Hearts of Oak’. “Brunswick” was in the thick of the fighting and endured a tremendous onslaught, being engaged for a considerable time with three French seventy-fours. One of these “Le Vengeur” she sank. At one stage of the battle another of the seventy-fours seeing that “Brunswick” was much weakened, determined to board and manned her yards and shrouds with a view to running alongside and flinging in all her crew at once. “Brunswick” with great intrepidity and coolness reserved a whole broadside and waited her approach; then in one discharge the “Brunswick” dis-masted her and “scattered her crew like so many mice on the ocean“.

During the fierce fighting, the 29th detachment Commander, a Captain  Saunders was killed and the Ensign Vernon and 20 others were wounded.

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Naval General Service medal bearing a clasp for the 1st of June issued to a soldier of the 29th Regiment.

This Battle was fought far out in the Atlantic and so it has always been known by its date “The Glorious First of June”.  For its share in the engagement, the 29th Regiment was awarded a Naval crown to be borne with its Battle Honours.

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Naval Crown awarded to the 29th Regiment

 

 

 

 

The Battle of Ramilles 23rd May 1706

In 1706 King Louis XIV of France wanted to avenge the defeats inflicted on him at the Battle of Blenheim in 1704 by the Grand Alliance during the War of the Spanish Succession (1702-1713).  In 1706 Marshal Villeroy was therefore pushed into leaving the safety of the lines of Brabant and crossed the River Dyle with 60,000 men.

It being ascertained that Villeroy, “having received reinforcements, and depending on his superiority of numbers,” had crossed the great Gheete and was advancing on Judoigne, the Duke of Marlborough resolved to attack him in this position.

Early in the morning of the 23rd of May, the army of the allies was put in motion, and on approaching Mierdorp, the enemy was discovered moving towards Mont St. Andre, between the two Gheets and the Mehaigne, and taking up the very ground which the confederates hoped to occupy.

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Contemporary print of the Battle of Ramilles from the museum collection (M5)

As the heads of the eight columns of the allies cleared the village of Mierdorp, they diverged into an open plain, and the 5th and 6th, in one of which was Meredith’s brigade, were ordered to march on the steeple of Offuz.

In the approaching battle Meredith’s brigade was composed of Orkney’s, Ingoldsby’s, Farrington’s, Meredith’s, and Lord North and Grey’s regiments. It formed the right of the 2nd line of infantry, and subsequently took part in the attack on Ramillies.

The enemy’s left and centre, stretching from Autreglise to Ramillies, whilst protected from attack in front, by marshy ground, was for the same reason unable to act on the offensive. Their right occupied the open space between Ramillies and the Mehaigne, and their position being concave in shape, afforded great advantages to the assailants.

By one o’clock, the allies were drawn up in two lines, in order of battle the infantry in the centre, the cavalry on either flank.

Perceiving that the “Tomb of Ottomond,” between Ramillies and the Mehaigne, was the key of the enemy’s position, the Duke of Marlborough ordered the British, Dutch, and German infantry composing the right, supported by the cavalry, to make a demonstration against the enemy’s left. This feint had the desired effect, for Villeroy hurried up reinforcements from his centre. Marlborough at once ordered the infantry on the right, to retire a short distance, and the 2nd line marching rapidly to its former left, formed in rear of the centre, and joined in the attack on Ramillies, which was surrounded by a ditch, and in which village twenty battalions had been posted. The enemy’s right, having, after a stubborn resistance, been turned, and their troops driven out of Ramillies, the battalions, which had made or sustained the attack on that village,” supported by the British horse, were ordered to penetrate through the swamp towards Offuz.

The enemy however, gave way without waiting their approach, and were pursued by the cavalry from 4.30 to 10.00 p.m.

This battle cost the French 13,000 in killed and wounded, whilst eighty colours and standards, together with almost the whole of the their artillery, and baggage were captured.  The allied losses were—killed 1066 (of which 82 were officers), wounded 2567 (of which 283 were officers).

The immediate result of this victory was the acquisition of nearly all Austrian Flanders ; Brussels, Louvain, Alost, Luise, and nearly all the great towns of Brabant opened their gates on the approach of the allies. Bruges and Ghent speedily followed their example. Daum and Oudenarde soon declared for the Austrian cause. Antwerp capitulated on the 6th of June.

 

The Storming of Bangalore 21st March 1791

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The death of Colonel Moorhouse at Bangalore.  Moorhouse is surrounded by men of the grenadier and light companies of the 36th Foot

In spring 1791 Lord Cornwallis with a mixed force of British and native troops attempted to capture the fortress of Bangalore from Tippoo Sultan the ruler of Mysore.   Arriving before the town on 5 February, Cornwallis found he had insufficient troops to invest the fortress and town so he encamped on the north-eastern side.  Bangalore consisted of a fort proper and a pettah, or fortified town, adjoining to it. It possessed two gates, the Mysore or southern and the Delhi or northern gate. Tippoo had thrown eight thousand men into the fort, nine thousand into the town, and then had retired with the remainder of his force to a position some six miles to westward. Cornwallis decided that the town should first be carried, in the hope that its position and the supplies hoarded within it would facilitate the siege of the fortress.

Accordingly at dawn of the 7th March, the Thirty-sixth Foot and a battalion of Bengal Sepoys moved off to the attack of a gateway on the northern face of the town, four heavy guns following them in support. A flèche which covered the gate was speedily carried with the bayonet.  The storming party then pushed on across the ditch and through the belt of thorn to the inner gate. Here the advance was checked, for the gateway had been built up with masonry upon which field-guns could make no impression; and the party perforce remained halted for some time under a galling fire until the heavy guns could be brought forward. A small breech was made at length; and Lieutenant Ayre being hoisted up by the grenadiers, contrived to creep through it. General Medows, then turned to the grenadiers of the Thirty-sixth with the words, “Well done. Now, whiskers ! Support the little gentleman.” A few more men managed to crawl after Ayre, and opened a sally-port for the entry of the rest. The garrison was then quickly beaten back under the guns of the fort, and within two hours two-thirds of the town were in possession of the British.

Meanwhile, Tippoo set his whole army in motion as if to turn Cornwallis’s left, at the same detaching six thousand men to reinforce the garrison, which had rallied under the cannon of the fort, and with them to re-take the town. Cornwallis, divining his intention, manoeuvred to foil the turning movement, but lost no time in strengthening his force within the walls. The attack of the Mysoreans upon the town was delivered with unusual spirit and resolution; but after a short exchange of volleys the Thirty-sixth and Seventy-sixth, with two Sepoy battalions, cut matters short by clearing the streets with the bayonet. Gathering impetus from success, they swept the enemy out of the town, with a loss of over two thousand killed and wounded. The casualties on the British side amounted to one hundred and thirty, of which no fewer than one hundred occurred among the Europeans. Among the fallen was Lieutenant-Colonel Moorhouse, who was killed while bringing up the heavy guns to the first attack on the gate.

The Orders issued by Lord Cornwallis on the day after the fall of the fortress are preserved in the records of the 36th Foot, and are as follows:

“LORD CORNWALLIS feels the most sensible gratification in congratulating, the officers and soldiers of the army on the honour able issue of the fatigues and dangers they have undergone during the late arduous siege. Their alacrity and firmness in the execution of their various duties, has, perhaps, never been exceeded, and he shall not only think it incumbent on him to represent their “meritorious conduct in the strongest colours, but he shall ever remember it with the sincerest esteem and admiration.”

“The conduct of all the regiments which happened, in their tour, to be on duty that evening, did credit in every respect to their spirit and discipline; but his Lordship desires to offer the tribute of his particular and warmest praise to the European grenadiers and light infantry of the army, and to the THIRTY-SIXTH, Seventy-second, and Seventy-sixth regiments, who led the attack and carried the fortress, and who, by their behaviour on that occasion, furnished a conspicuous proof, that discipline and valour in soldiers, when directed by zeal and capacity in officers, are irresistible.”

The fortress was to fall three weeks later on the 21st March.

 

 

5 March 1770: 29th of Foot caught up in the Boston Massacre

A contemporary engraving depicting the 29th firing upon the crowd during the Boston Massacre

A contemporary engraving depicting the 29th firing upon the crowd during the Boston Massacre

In 1770 the 29th Foot were stationed in Boston at a time when the discontent and hatred felt by the American colonists towards the Mother country, England, was extended to the British Troops stationed in the Colony. Boston was a particular centre of discord and on several occasions there had been free fights between the townsfolk and members of the Regiment.

On 5th March, it being their turn for garrison duties, the 29th provided a guard for the Customs House, where a certain amount of cash was kept. A mob of 100 rioters tried to rush the post shouting, ‘Kill the soldier, kill the damned coward, kill him, knock him down!’ and the lone sentry called out the guard who came to his assistance. The guard, consisting of Captain Thomas Preston, a corporal and six men, fixed bayonets and kept the crowd at bay, taking no more violent action, although being subjected to a barrage of abuse.

However, words led to blows, and Captain Preston and Private Montgomery were struck down by one of the mob leaders. On regaining his feet, Montgomery heard someone shout ‘Why don’t you fire?’ and, thinking that this was an order to fire, did so. Five or six more shots were fired in quick succession: three of the rioters were killed and five wounded. The rest of the mob ran away.

The Old State House, Boston MA, site of the Boston Massacre

The Old State House, Boston MA: site of the Boston Massacre

In memory of the incident which the Bostonians called the Boston Massacre, the Regiment, being the first to shed the blood of the colonists, was given the nickname ‘The Blood Suckers’ or the ‘Vein Openers’.

The Incident led to the arrest and trial of Capt Preston, Pte Montgomery, 7 other soldiers and 4 civilians on a charge of murder.  However, with the aid of John Adams (later to become the 2nd President of the United States) as counsel for Capt Preston, six were acquitted, while two were convicted of manslaughter and given reduced sentences; they received a branding on the hand.

Extracted from ‘The Worcestershire Regiment: A Brief History’

The Battle of Sobraon 10th February 1846

The Battle of Sobraon was fought on 10 February 1846, between the forces of the East India Company and the Sikh Khalsa Army, the army of the Sikh Empire of the Punjab. The Sikhs were utterly defeated, making this the decisive battle of the First Anglo-Sikh War.

The First Anglo-Sikh war began in late 1845, after a combination of increasing disorder in the Sikh empire following the death of Ranjit Singh in 1839 and provocations by the British East India Company led to the Khalsa invading British territory. The British had won the first two major battles of the war through a combination of luck, the steadfastness of British and Bengal units.

The Sikhs had been temporarily dismayed by their defeat at the Battle of Ferozeshah, and had withdrawn most of their forces across the Sutlej River. The Khalsa had been reinforced from districts west of Lahore, and now moved in strength into a bridgehead across the Sutlej at Sobraon, entrenching and fortifying their encampment. Any wavering after their earlier defeats was dispelled by the presence of the respected veteran leader, Sham Singh Attariwala. Unfortunately for the Khalsa, Tej Singh and Lal Singh retained the overall direction of the Sikh armies. Also, their position at Sobraon was linked to the west, Punjabi, bank of the river by a single vulnerable pontoon bridge. Three days’ continuous rain before the battle had swollen the river and threatened to carry away this bridge.

Contemporary sketch map of the Battle of Sobraon from the Collection of the Mercian Regiment Museum (Worcestershire)

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Contemporary sketch map of the Battle of Sobraon from the Collection of the Mercian Regiment Museum (Worcestershire)

On 7th February 1846 Sir Hugh Gough received reinforcements.   Moving out before dawn on 10th February with Taylor’s brigade (including the 29th Regiment) leading, Chota Sobraon was occupied and from here at 10.00 hours the attack was launched. The 29th supported by two native battalions dashed towards the ramparts of clay and wood (in some places ten feet high), which the enemy had erected. The attackers could see nothing but the muzzles of the guns behind which the enemy infantry were posted in entrenchments four deep. After two unsuccessful charges, the 29th succeeded in reaching the first Sikh trenches. The enemy suffered terrible casualties and by the end of the battle had lost some 10,000 men and 67 guns. The British losses, too, were heavy suffering 2,383 killed or wounded, out of which the 29th’s casualties numbered 186 out of a total strength of 552.

The first British units began to cross the river on the evening of the day of battle, and on 13 February, Gough’s army was only 30 miles (48 km) from Lahore, the capital. The remaining Sikh troops could not be concentrated quickly enough to defend Lahore.  As a result the Sikhs were forced to come to terms.

By the Treaty of Lahore, the Sikhs ceded the lands between the Sutlej and Chenab Rivers to the East India Company, and allowed a British Resident at Lahore. In addition, the Sikhs were to pay an indemnity of 1.2 million pounds.

The Boer War – The Battle at Slingersfontein 1900

 

The 2nd Battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment left Bermuda on 25 November 1899 under the command of Lt. Col. C. Coningham. They landed at Southampton and spent ten days at Aldershot in freezing winter weather, before leaving for South Africa from Southampton on 17 December 1899 aboard SS Tintagel Castle.

The Battalion arrived at Cape Town on 12 January 1900 where the Boer War had been in progress for three months.  They travelled by train to Rensburg and then marched 18 miles to take over the outpost at Slingersfontein from the cavalry. Slingersfontein was a farm on the extreme right flank of the British line.

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A British sentry keeps watch at Slingersfontein

The 2nd Battalion Worcesters now joined General Clements Brigade together with the 1st Royal Irish and the 2nd Battalion Wiltshires. The British line still laid in a semicircle extending from Slingersfontein upon the right to Kloof Camp upon the left, and the general scheme of operations continued to be an enveloping movement upon the right. General Clements commanded this section of the forces on the right. The British lines had gradually stretched until they were now nearly fifty miles in length.

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Members of the 2nd Battalion manning a “saggar”

Patrols were in action every day and captured several Boers from whom they learned that an attack was imminent. The attack came before dawn on 12 February 1900, exactly a month after the Battalion had arrived in South Africa. They were attacked by 300 of the South African Republic (Transvaal) Police, known as the “Zarps”, the storm troops of the Boer Forces.

The weight of the attack was at the extreme right held by A, C and E Companies under  Major Stubbs. The forward picquets were overrun, but no ground was lost. The landscape was hilly scrub land and the battle was centred around Pinnacle Hill, Burnt Hill and Signal Hill.

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Lt. Colonel C. Coningham

Lt. Col. Coningham went to take command, but was shot in the head by a sniper as he directed operations from the top of Pinnacle Hill. Major Stubbs and Captain Thomas were also killed. Captain Hovell assumed command of the three companies.

Pinnacle Hill was held throughout the day. E Company led initially by Major Stubbs held onto the lower slopes assisted by C Company and well directed fire from A Company. In spite of heavy attacks during the day, they held fast and did not give ground. They made several counter attacks, but were unable to drive the Boers from the crests of Signal Hill and Burnt Hill.

The defence was helped by fire from four guns of J Battery, RHA and one howitzer, which kept all lost ground under heavy bombardment and eventually set fire to the scrub on Burnt Hill, enveloping the position in clouds of smoke.

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Burying in the dead at Slingersfontein. In the foreground are the grave markers of Col. Conningham and Major Stubbs

After the all day fight, with heavy casualties inflicted  on the enemy the Boers retired. Three officers had been lost, 22 men killed and three officers and 47 men wounded.

The successful defence was largely due to the high standard of musketry in the Battalion. Boers taken prisoner were reputed to have said that they had never met such accurate and well directed fire.

A memorial was erected below Pinnacle Hill over the graves of the fallen. It occupies a prominent spot some 200 feet above the surrounding country. It is a granite cross, and at its foot, a plaque is inset into the mound naming Lt. Col. Coningham, the Officers, N.C.O.s and men who died. The foundation of the memorial contains the empty rifle cartridges from the battle.

Battle of Chillianwallah 13th January 1849

Fought during the Second Anglo-Sikh War, in the region of Punjab, now part of Pakistan. Although the battle may be considered a draw, it was a strategic check to Britain, and damaged British prestige in India.

When war broke out in the Punjab, which had recently lost much of its independence to the British East India Company following the First Anglo-Sikh War, in April 1848, the East India Company’s Commissioner for the Punjab, Frederick Currie, sent several forces of locally raised troops to help quell the revolt. The force led by Sher Singh Attariwalla also revolted and moved north to join his father, Chattar Singh Attariwalla in Hazara.

The East India Company ordered the formation of an Army of the Punjab under the veteran Commander in Chief, Sir Hugh Gough. On 18th November news arrived of the crossing of the Chenab by an army under Shere Singh. Gough dispatched a column up stream, which crossed, and marched down the enemy flank. The 29th Foot, having taken up a position with a battery on the British right, opened fire on the Sikhs to distract their attention from the outflanking troops, but the Sikh general was too wise to be caught and, breaking camp, retired to the north.

Shere Singh was now joined by Chattar Singh’s army bringing his strength to 30,000 against Gough’s 13,000. When the British closed Gough was, therefore, fairly cautious. The enemy were in positions at Chillianwallah stretching some six miles from the low hill at Rasul to Mung on the right. The country in front was mostly thick scrub and movement was difficult, but on the Sikh left in front of Rasul the approaches were fairly open. At 0700 hours on 13th January 1849 Gough advanced with the intention of forcing the enemy left flank, which task was given to Gilbert’s division. Mountain’s brigade with the 29th of Foot was on the right and on their left was Pennycuick’s brigade. Shere Singh, perceiving the British intention, seized a small mound near Chillianwallah causing Gough to alter the line of advance to the village. Nevertheless, he did not intend to assault until the next day.

Shere Singh was now joined by Chattar Singh’s army bringing his strength to 30,000 against Gough’s 13,000. When the British closed Gough was, therefore, fairly cautious. The enemy were in positions at Chillianwallah stretching some six miles from the low hill at Rasul to Mung on the right. The country in front was mostly thick scrub and movement was difficult, but on the Sikh left in front of Rasul the approaches were fairly open. At 0700 hours on 13th January 1849 Gough advanced with the intention of forcing the enemy left flank, which task was given to Gilbert’s division. Mountain’s brigade with the 29th of Foot was on the right and on their left was Pennycuick’s brigade. Shere Singh, perceiving the British intention, seized a small mound near Chillianwallah causing Gough to alter the line of advance to the village. Nevertheless, he did not intend to assault until the next day.

While the troops were piling their arms and unsaddling the horses Lieutenant MacPherson, of the 24th of Foot, climbed a tree and was appalled to see masses of turbans moving through the undergrowth. Bugles were sounded and the British took up their positions for attack. Moving up the guns Gough ordered the advance to commence at 0300 hours. As the advance passed through the thick undergrowth, it was subjected to heavy fire from the Sikh sharpshooters. This caused the orderly line to disintegrate into a series of small groups that, when they debouched into the open, came under the enemy artillery which poured grape into their ranks. The situation on the right was retrieved by the action of General Colin Campbell with the 61st and in the centre by Congreve who, seeing that the 29th were suffering from the fire of a particularly dangerous Sikh gun, charged it himself. Then commenced a struggle of the utmost ferocity. The Sikhs cast aside their matchlocks, and sword in hand fought desperately until overwhelmed.chillianwallah

The battle was by no means over. Pennycuick’s brigade had suffered heavily and the 29th were ordered to change front to cover the gap that had occurred. Congreve, noticing that the enemy was attempting to withdraw its guns, turned the 29th about and charged. Sikh cavalry were now seen moving up but checked their pace within 200 yards of the 29th. Every British firelock was brought up to the present and as they fired Sikhs dropped from their saddles and horses rolled over. Another volley completed the confusion and the survivors galloped away.

Reforming line the regiment continued to advance; meeting some Sikh infantry who were engaging Pennycuick’s men they charged. Six of the guns that had been supporting the Sikhs limbered up and got away, but the seventh turned round and, taking a shot at the colours, succeeded in clearing away every man around them. The gun was captured, however, and the gunners bayoneted; the gallant 24th who had taken the brunt of this action was saved further loss.

In this battle the centre of the Queen’s Colour was shot out and its bearer, Ensign Smith, was twice hit by bullets. This battle was the last occasion on which the colours of any battalion of the regiment were carried in action.

An obelisk was subsequently erected in memory of the British who lost their lives at Chillianwallah. Locally the battle goes by the name of ‘Katalgarh’, the House of Slaughter.

 

The Battles of Nives 9th to 13th December 1813

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Soldiers from the Grenadiers and Light Companies of the 29th Regiment in 1813

After his defeat at Nivelle, Marshal Soult fell back to a defensive line south of the town of Bayonne along the Adour and Nive rivers.  Despite poor weather, Hill led five Anglo-Portuguese divisions (2nd (including the 29th Regiment), 3rd, 6th (including the 36th Regiment), Portuguese and Pablo Morillo’s Spanish Divisions) across to the east bank of the Nive near Ustaritz on 9 December.

Meanwhile, the remainder of the British force under Hope launched diversionary attacks towards Bayonne on the west bank of the Nive.

Soult launched a counter-attack with eight divisions against Hope the following day, and despite several fierce actions the British line held until reinforced.

The right flank of Hope’s line was held by the 7th Division at the bridge of Urdains.  The Light Division defended the centre near Bassussary. The left was held by Bradford and Campbell’s independent Portuguese brigades north of Barroilhet. The terrain forced the French into these three corridors of attack. The 5th Division lay three miles to the rear while the 1st Division were ten miles away.

Soult committed five divisions against Bassussary and three divisions against Barroilhet. The four divisions leading the attack were fresh while the supporting troops were tired from skirmishing with Hill’s troops.

The French advance soon came upon the ridge of Arcangues, topped by a chateau and a church. After one attack was beaten off with ease by the Light Division, the French settled down to a futile artillery bombardment and probing attacks against the very strongly built structures.

The picket line on Hope’s left flank was overrun by the French attack and 200 men captured. The Portuguese held onto Barroilhet and awaited reinforcements. The 5th Division arrived, but due to a staff blunder, was low on ammunition.

Soult sent two divisions to assist this attack. After hours of heavy fighting, he ordered one last charge. This attack drove to the mayor’s house of Barroilhet, the French skirmishers wounding and nearly capturing Hope.  At this point, the 1st Division came up and Soult called off his attacks. Both sides had lost around 1,600 troops.

Battle of St. Pierre

On the night of 12 December, a temporary pontoon bridge over the Nive at Villefranque was washed away. This isolated Hill’s 14,000 men and 10 guns on the east bank of the river, just as the French were reorganizing for an assault.

Seizing his opportunity, Soult rapidly switched six divisions and 22 guns to the east bank of the Nive and attacked Hill. Soult outnumbered Hill’s corps by three-to-one. Defending a line between Petit Mougerre and the Nive, the Allied corps held on for hours in a bitter fight. The capable Hill performed superbly, feeding in his few reserves with skill and exhorting his troops.

However, after the arrival of reinforcements under Wellington, the French troops refused to continue the attack. Soult reluctantly retreated into Bayonne, having lost 3,000 men against Anglo-Portuguese losses of 1,750. The Allied army commander rode up to his subordinate and congratulated him, “Hill, the day’s your own.”

As a result of their courage on this day both the 29th and 36th Regiments were accorded the battle Honour NIVE.