Victorian and Colonial Anecdotes




Stanley Baker and Lieutenant John Chard VC

A very interesting story from Adrian Greaves in his excellent book 'Rorke's Drift'...

"Stanley Baker, who played Chard in the celebrated film 'Zulu' acquired Chard's pair of medals in auction in 1972. Although the campaign medal was genuine, the Victoria Cross was catalogued as a copy and, as a consequence, Baker paid the comparatively modest sum of £2,700 for the pair. On Stanley Baker's death, the Cross changed hands three times until it ended up, lodged for safety, with Spinks medal dealers who decided to check the nature of Chard's 'copy' medal; its metallic characteristics were tested by the Royal Armouries. The test results were compared with those of the bronze ingot, kept at the Central Ordnance depot, from which all Victoria Crosses are cast. The tests revealed that the 'copy' had come from this same block and there was no doubt that it was the genuine article. No price can be put on this authenticated VC awarded to such a famous recipient."


Two incidents from the Sudan

from Trevor at Waterloo Battlefield Tours

Deviating from my usual Napoleonic theme try this one. If you post this up it will be the first time this story has been published in any shape or form, I believe. About ten years ago I stumbled across a dusty typewritten manuscript in the reading room of the National Army Museum - it was a short account written by an officer of the Warwickshire Regt of the part he played in the Sudan War of 1898. I curse myself for not recording his name. Anyway here it is...

A musical interlude during the Battle of the Atbara (1898) described by an officer of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment.

"The 13th Sudanese advanced on the zariba with their band playing the regimental march ("Scotland for ever"). On nearing the enemy they all got wildly excited and wandered off in different directions, each man playing his own instrument and tune. The big drummer and his assistant went on together, the latter seizing one of the sticks and hitting wildly at the drum while the big drummer himself did a sort of war dance. After crossing the zariba both fell headlong into the first ditch and the latter got wedged in with his drum and was, I believe, speared. His assistant ran amok amongst the Dervishes with his drum stick."

An amusing incident during the Battle of the Atbara (1898) described by an officer of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment.

"My company was now under heavy fire as we were now in front of the rest of the force...Private Southall got a large bullet in the shoulder which knocked him over backwards. After one or two attempts he got up, came to me and saluted with his left hand and asked if he might fall out. A fine example of discipline."


The Boxer Rebellion of 1900

from Trevor at Waterloo Battlefield Tours

An amusing piece describing the farcical performance of General Frey’s French contingent forming part of the multi-national force sent to relieve Peking during the Boxer Rebellion of 1900.

“The troops were in wretched physical condition. Their blue uniforms, which were described by General Frey as ‘lamentable rags’, were indistinguishable at a distance from the clothes of Chinese peasants. The French transport consisted largely of rickshaws and wheelbarrows. They had only one map. It was obsolete. The officers’ Shetland pony sized chargers were on their last legs. They found themselves on the wrong side of the canal, bumped into the Americans in the dark and had to be restrained from firing at a contingent of Bengal Lancers. Eventually entering the city of Peking they advanced cautiously through the deserted streets. On reaching the Legation, they were determined to enter in a blaze of glory. Colours were unfurled, orders shouted, bugles played and the soldiers stepped off. They had to cross barricades and other obstacles and became strung out and disorganised. They were the last contingent to arrive. On the following day the French set out to take the Cathedral. This was their chance of glory. Once again they advanced cautiously through the abandoned streets and “captured” a gate in the Imperial City. Then to their horror they encountered a force of some 250 Japanese soldiers of the multi-national force ahead of them. The Cathedral had already been relieved.”


Captain Colville and Chinese Pirates

In 1859 the South China Sea was plagued by pirates. Captain Colville describes his attack at Tsu-chung (extract from Bryan Perrett's book Gunboat!):

'However, it soon became evident that the enemy were prepared for a determined resistance; the crews of the junks joined the villagers, who with violent ejaculations and waving white flags on which the character 'Hoong-Kin-Wong (a triad king) was prominent, invited us on, at the same time a heavy fire of round and grape opened on our advance. Forming behind a knoll of land, insulated by 500 yards of shallow water from the extreme left of the stockade, leaving the pinnace to cover the landing, and much assisted by the very excellent shell practice of the gunboats, the storming party dashed waist deep at the stockade and receiving a fire of grape entered the embrasures of an eight-gun battery, bayoneting the defenders who crowded the inner ditch and appeared paralysed by the vigour of the proceedings! After a short hand-to-hand encounter they retired precipitately, and now was seen the extraordinary sight of sixty bluejackets and Marines chasing 500 armed men through brakes and narrow acclivities for nearly two miles in the rear of the works!'


Boatswain Richard Trigger and Slavers off Zanzibar

Boatswain Richard Trigger was serving on the guard-ship London, based at Zanzibar (October 1874-April1876). Another extract from Bryan Perrett's book Gunboat!

One of the more interesting captures was made by three members of the London's crew, Boatswain Richard Trigger and Gunners Stephen Quint and Stephen Hopes, while sailing in the guard-ships yacht Victoria during their spare time. Spotting a dhow becalmed some seven miles distant, they pulled towards it for two hours in the yacht's dinghy. The dhow's crew were hostile but, cutlass in teeth, Trigger boarded the vessel over the bows and cowed the opposition. Quint and Hopes, finding the hold full of slaves, knocked down the Arab master, tied him up and dumped him in the dinghy. At the first breath of wind, the seamen made sail on the dhow and, with the dinghy in tow, picked up the Victoria and rejoined their parent ship.


Captain Battreau

George MacDonald Fraser recounts an astonishing coincidence.

Captain Battreau who, as a young private soldier in the French Army, carried a Chassepot rifle, serial number 187017, in the Franco-German War of 1870; in 1891, during a skirmish in the Dahomey jungle (Benin, Africa), Battreau, now an officer in the French Foreign Legion, disarmed an enemy and discovered that the weapon he had captured was the same Chassepot he had handed in at the end of the 1870 campaign. The story was verified by P. C. Wren, himself an ex-Legionnaire, who included it in his book 'Flawed Blades' (1932).


The Martini-Henry Rifle by W.W Kimball, 1889

The .45 inch calibre Martini-Henry rifles had a tremendous recoil.

England's soldiers have gallantly fired on the enemy when they knew full well what a horrible punishment they were to receive from the brutal recoil of their weapons, and have borne their torture with true English grit.  An English officer informed the writer that the practice was a great aid to gallantry in battle in South Africa, for "when a fellow has been so brutally pounded by his own rifle half a hundred times, he doesn't so much mind having an assegai as big as a shovel stuck through him; it's rather a relief, don't you know."


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