Craufurd (Crawfurd/Crawford) House, No 19 Burton Street was named after Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander Charles Craufurd.
Before becoming a private house, the property was the “Three Horse Shoes” public house kept by Mr J Adcock.
Alex was born on 30 Jun 1794 and was the 2nd eldest of 4 children for Sir James Gregan-Craufurd (2nd Baronet of Kilburney) and his wife Maria Theresa. Maria was the daughter of General Thomas Gage, Commander in Chief of the British Forces in North America.
Alex’s elder brother was Thomas, and the younger siblings were Jane and George.
Alex was educated at Eton and then went to Trinity College, Cambridge on 19th Mar 1810. Whilst at Eton, he became known as “Tea Pot Craufurd” through his tendency for brewing tea in a black teapot. He kept and cherished this tea pot whilst he was a soldier in the Peninsular War.
In his spare time he enjoyed riding with the hounds at Melton Mowbray and Belvoir Castle where he was described as “Plucky in the extreme”.
After leaving Trinity College, he joined the Army and on the 3rd Jun 1811 he became an Ensign in the 1st Battalion 3rd Regiment of Foot Guards. He was assigned as a replacement for Ensign George Parker Cookson who was killed in action at the Battle of Fuentes de Onora on the 5th May 1811.
After Fuentes de Onora, the Regiment moved onto Celerico; Pinhel. In January 1812, the Regiment took part in the Siege of Ciudad Rodrigo in Spain from the 7th –20th January.
The casualties were heavy for the British, with over 500 being killed, wounded or missing during the assault and over 1,000 casualties in total for the siege, though despite this, the British took Ciudad Rodrigo. It was during this Siege that Alex’s uncle, Major General Robert Craufurd, who Commanded the Light Division, was mortally wounded on the 19th January 1812 whilst directing the stormers of the Light Division.
Robert, who was known as ‘Black Bob’ due to his habit of heavily cursing when losing his temper, his nature as a strict disciplinarian and even to his noticeably dark and heavy facial stubble was carried out of action by his staff officer, Lieutenant Shaw of the 43rd. After lingering four days, he died on 23rd January 1812 and was buried in the breach of the fortress where he had met his death.
The next major engagement for Alex and the 1st Battalion was the Battle of Salamanca or as the French & Spanish called it the Battle of Arapiles which took place on the 22nd July 1812.
Salamanca was another victory for Wellington, although the Allied losses numbered 3,129 British and 2,038 Portuguese dead or wounded. The Spanish troops took no part in the battle as they were positioned to block French escape routes and suffered just six casualties. The French suffered about 13,000 dead, wounded and captured.
As a consequence of Wellington’s victory at Salamanca, his army was able to advance to Madrid and liberate the city for two months, before
Engaging the French again at the Siege of Burgos.
During 1813, Alex’s Regiment took part in the Battle of Vittoria; the Siege of San Sebastian, the Battle of Bidassoa and the Battle of Nive.
Alex was promoted from Ensign to Lieutenant (by purchase) and transferred from 3rd Regiment of Foot Guards to the 10th Light Dragoons.
In 1806 the 10th Light Dragoons became the first hussar regiment in the British Army, in imitation of the famous Hungarian light cavalry.
The 10th (Prince of Wales’s Own) Regiment of (Light) Dragoons (Hussars), had been based in England since 1809 and were returning to Spain in the Summer of 1813.
Lieut-Col Alex Craufurd was a friend of the Prince Regent and when the 10th Hussars paraded before him before their departure for Spain, the Prince said to him “Go, my boy, and show the world what stuff you are made of. You possess strength, youth, and courage, go, and conquer”.
After arriving in Spain, the 10th Hussars fought in the Battle of Morales on the 2nd June 1814, followed by the Battle 0f Vitoria on the 21st June. After Vitioria, the Regiment advanced into France and fought in the Battle of Orthez on the 27th February 1814, where he was first in the charge and by all accounts, behaved splendidly.
Another Meltonian who served with the 10th Hussars during the Peninsular Wars was Colonel Charles Wyndham, of Wyndham Lodge, Melton Mowbray. You can read more about him in one of my earlier blogs here. Colonel Charles Wyndham.
On the 9th June 1814, Alex was promoted to Captain and transferred from the 10th Light Dragoons to the 2nd Ceylon Regiment. The 2nd Ceylon Regiment, also known as the Sepoy Corps, was first raised in 1802, the British became the first foreign power to raise a regular unit of Sinhalese with British officers. (Sinhalese people are an Indo-Aryan ethnolinguistic group native to the island of Ceylon or as we call it today, Sri Lanka).
In 1815 at the Battle of Waterloo, Alex volunteered to take part in the Battle and was transferred from the 2nd Ceylon Regiment and joined the 12th Lancers (or the Prince of Wales’s Regiment of Light Dragoons) as a Captain.
During the Battle of Waterloo, Alex’s eldest brother, Thomas Crauford was killed whilst serving with the Scots Guards at Hougemont. He is commemorated with a memorial tablet on the garden wall at Hougemont.
Alex & Thomas’s sister, Jane, was present at the Duchess of Richmond’s Ball at Brussels, where she witnessed the departure of the troops and the return of the wounded.
Alex married his wife, The Honorable Lady Barbara Coventry at St George’s Church, Hanover Square in Lndon on the 23rd July 1818. Barbara was the daughter of George William (7th Earl)(Viscount Deerhurst) COVENTRY.
At some point after Waterloo, Alex was transferred to the 60th Regiment of Foot as on the 26th Oct 1820 he was officially transferred from them back to the 12th Light Dragoons.
Just less than a year later, he was promoted to Major (Brevet) on the 30th Aug 1821 staying with the 12th Light Dragoons an in August 1824, he was promoted to Major (by purchase) and transferred from 12th Light Dragoons to the Cape Corps (Cavalry).
The Cape Corps consisted of two small units of about 200 men for the defence of the Cape Colony’s eastern frontier. The two units were named the Cape Cavalry (consisting of one troop of dragoons) and the Cape Light Infantry.
On the 24thJun 1825, Alex was transferred with the rank of Major from Cape Corps (Cavalry) to the 8th King’s Royal Irish Hussar (Light Dragoons). Almost a year later, he purchased his promotion to Lieutenant-Colonel and transferred to 94th Regiment of Foot.
On the 6th Aug 1829, he came off the half pay list on exchange with Henry Salway to be Captain and Lieutenant-Colonel in the Coldstream Regiment of Foot Guards.
Alex died on the 12th March 1838 aged 43 and was buried at Gresley Parish Church near Swadlincote Derbyshire on 17th March 1838.
Mowbray Lodge which used to be on Dalby Road opposite Warwick Lodge was built to the same design as Wicklow Lodge on Burton Road. The Mowbray Lodge was a hunting box for several seasons until 1898 when it was purchased by the Vicar of Melton, Reverend Richard Blakeney M.A. and his wife.
For several years, prior to the Vicar taking ownership, it was home to Captain Gordon Wilson and his wife Lady Sarah, whilst they were hunting with the Quorn Hounds. Lady Sarah was the youngest daughter of the 7th Duke of Marlborough, John Spencer-Churchill. As a member of the Churchill family, she was aunt to Winston Churchill.
Their son, Randolph Gordon Wilson was born at Mowbray Lodge and was baptised by the Reverend Blakeney at St Mary’s Church on Sunday 26th February 1893. He later went on to serve in the Royal Naval Air Service during WW1 and later the Royal Air Force following the merge of the RNAS and Royal Flying Corps.
Following the sale of Mowbray Lodge, the Wilsons moved into Brooksby Hall in 1897 where they stayed until 1904.
Gordon Wilson joined the Royal Horse Guards from the Militia in May 1887, becoming a Lieutenant in December 1888 and a Captain in 1894.
He took part in the Boer War serving as Aide-de Camp to Colonel Robert Baden-Powell who was the Commanding Officer of the Frontier Forces at Mafeking from August 1899 to May 1900 and after appointment as Major General South Africa from May 1900 to July 1900.
He was present at the defence of Mafeking, taking part in the actions of 26th December 1899 and 12th May 1900. He was twice Mentioned in Despatches in the London Gazette on the 8th February 1901 and the 10th September 1901.
Lady Sarah went out to South Africa to join him and in 1899 was recruited by Alfred Harmsworth to cover the Siege of Mafeking for the Daily Mail after one of the Mail correspondents, Ralph Hellawell, was arrested by the Boers as he tried to get out of the besieged town of Mafeking to send his dispatch. Having thus become the first woman war correspondent, Baden-Powell asked her to leave Mafeking for her own safety after the Boers threatened to storm the British garrison.
This she duly did, and set off on a madcap adventure in the company of her maid, travelling through the South African countryside. when she was about 15 miles from Mafeking, she attempted to send back a message by carrier pigeon. The pigeon was not very well trained, and instead of flying back to Mafeking, it went and landed on the rooff of the Boer Commanders house who duly acertained who she was and where she was. She was captured by the enemy and taken prisoner before being returned to the town in exchange for a horse thief.
When she re-entered Mafeking she found it had not been attacked as predicted. Over four miles of trenches had been dug and 800 bomb shelters built to protect the residents from the constant shelling of the town.
On 26 March 1900, she wrote: “The Boers have been extremely active during the last few days. Yesterday we were heavily shelled and suffered eight casualties … Corporal Ironside had his thigh smashed the day before, and Private Webbe, of the Cape Police, had his head blown off in the brickfields trenches.”
Although death and destruction surrounded her, she preferred not to dwell too much on the horrors of the siege. She described cycling events held on Sundays and the town’s celebration of Colonel Baden-Powell’s birthday which was declared a holiday. Despite these cheery events, dwindling food supplies became a constant theme in the stories which she sent back to the Mail and the situation seemed hopeless when the garrison was hit by an outbreak of malarial typhoid. In this weakened state the Boers managed to penetrate the outskirts of the town, but the British stood firm and repelled the assault. The siege finally ended after 217 days when the Royal Horse and Canadian Artillery galloped into Mafeking on 17 May 1900.
He was promoted to Major in January 1903, Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel in October 1907 and took command of his regiment in October 1911 as Lieutenant-Colonel.
On the outbreak of World War One, Gordon left for France as Lt. Colonel in the Royal Horse Guards.
Lady Sarah also went to France and was running a hospital for injured soldiers in Boulogne. It was at this hospital that Major Tony Markham who lived at The House, Melton Mowbray died after being wounded in action.
It was whilst she was at Bolougne that she heard that her husband Gordon had died from wounds received in action, on 6 November 1914. Gordon is buried in a CWGC grave at Zillebeke Churchyard in Belgium. See his CWGC recordfor more details.
During my RAF career, I had the pleasure of being posted to RAF Cottesmore twice, once in the 90’s on the Tri-National Tornado Training Establishment, and 10 years later as part of the Joint Force Harrier. On both occasions, I worked in offices adjoined to ‘C’ Hangar, and as usual with RAF folklore, I heard the story relating to the bravery of a former Station Commander on several occasions.
Located north of Cottesmore village, with Market Overton to the North West and Thistleton to the North East, the airfield was planned during the 1930’s expansion period and was originally known as the ‘Thistleton site’.
On the 1st May 1936, the Air Ministry announced their intentions to start building an airfield on the site and work started in July clearing the hedgerows and levelling the ground ready for the grass runways. The other main task was the construction of four large ‘C’ Type hangars, typical of pre-war construction being 150ft wide and approx 300ft in length, designed to take several bombers.
In March 1938, the Air Ministry declared that RAF Cottesmore would operate under No 2 (Bomber) group and the site opened as an airfield on the 11th March 1938.
On the 8th April 1940, No 14 Operational Training Unit (OTU) was formed from No 185 Squadron at Cottesmore and its role was to train aircrew to an acceptable standard before they joined an operational Squadron. The OTU was initially equipped with Hampdens, Herefords and Avro Ansons.
The crest of No 14 OTU shows its links to Cottesmore and its location being in some of the best hunting country. It features the head of a hunting hound, hunting horn and the hunting whip. The motto “Keep With The Pack” was selected because the Units role is to train airmen whose duties are to hunt and destroy the enemy and concentration has long been a principle in Bomber Command.
Mid-September 42 saw the OTU re-equip with the Wellington bomber and the early ones to arrive were all tired MkIc’s which had been withdrawn from front line operational service and transferred to the OTU to take up the training role.
31st March 1943 was a quiet day for the Royal Air Force Bomber Command with no raids planned. The Force had been active on the night of the 29th/30th with two ‘Ops’ planned with the first to Berlin involving 329 aircraft comprising of 162 Lancasters, 103 Halifaxes and 64 Stirlings. The second Op was to Bochum comprising of a main force of 149 Wellingtons supported by 8 Oboe Mosquitos.
A much smaller third raid was also carried out on the 30th by 10 Mosquitos who bombed the Philips works at Eindhoven.
On the 31st, it was just a normal, albeit a bit misty, day for No 14 OTU at RAF Cottesmore with crews undertaking routine training sorties.
One of those training that day was Australian Flight Sergeant R W Humphrey of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) who was the pilot of a Wellington MkIc serial number AD628 ‘M’ of No 14 OTU. His crew that day also comprised another 3 Australians, Pilot Officer M A Crombie, Sergeant W T Cuthbertson (Air Bomber) and Sergeant T McDaniel along with RAF Airman Sgt E A Robinson (Wireless Operator/Air Gunner) of Runwell in Essex.
The crew had been tasked with a practice bombing sortie and all had gone well until an incident on landing back at Cottesmore. At 17:30Hrs, Flt Sgt Humphrey had brought his aircraft safely back to base at Cottesmore when he landed his Wellington AD628.
Unfortunately, he landed it too far down one of the short runways and was heading straight for the control tower. Luckily, he managed to swing the aircraft away and miss the tower, but in doing so, he crashed into another Wellington serial number X9944 that was parked in front of ‘C’ Hangar.
Both aircraft were set alight as a result of the crash and Humphrey’s aircraft AD628 careered into the corner of ‘C’ Hangar setting alight the offices that ran along the front of the hangar and also putting at risk another four Wellingtons that were inside the hangar undergoing maintenance.
Cottesmore’s Station Commander, Group Captain Strang Graham MC was quickly on the scene and disregarding the danger from exploding ammunition, petrol tanks and oxygen bottles, and although he was aware that one of the aircraft carried a 250lb. bomb, he led the rescue party in extricating three members of the crew from Humphreys blazing aircraft.
Group Captain Graham then led the firefighting party in an endeavour to save the burning hangar. He was attacking the fire, which had spread to the offices of the hangar, when the 250lb. bomb on the aircraft, less than eight feet away exploded.
The CO’s face was badly cut by splintered glass and flying debris, and bleeding profusely he was persuaded to go to the station sick quarters. Once at the sick quarters, he ignored his own injuries, making light of them and inspired others who had been injured by the explosion.
After receiving first aid treatment he returned to the scene of the accident and directed the firefighting operations until the fire had been subdued.
The accident was handled with professionalism and bravery by many airmen and local firefighters who managed to save the hangar and the four aircraft within it. The two Wellingtons AD628 and X9944 were destroyed in the incident, and tragically, two of Humphrey’s crew were killed.
Sgt William Tait Cuthbertson, 415310, Royal Australian Air Force was born 20th May 1921 in Kalgoorlie and was the son of Douglas and Mary Lorna Cuthbertson of Leonora Western Australia. He enlisted into the RAAF on 14th September 1941 aged 20 is buried in Cottesmore (St Nicholas) Churchyard Extension with a CWGC headstone.
Sgt Eric Arthur Robinson, 1330303, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, was the son of Harry Algernon Robinson and his wife Doris Emily. He was laid to rest on the 7th April 1943 at Runwell (St Mary) Churchyard, Essex and his grave is marked with a CWGC headstone.
The three Australian crewmen that survived the crash with injuries, survived the war:
Plt Off Mervyn Andrew Crombie, discharged from the RAAF: 14 Mar 1946 Flt Sgt Robert Wallace Humphrey (Pilot), discharged from the RAAF: 24 Sept 1945 Sgt Terence McDaniel, discharged from the RAAF: 9 Jan 1945
Group Captain Strang Graham MC was later awarded the George Medal for his gallantry and inspiring leadership under difficult circumstances.
Graham was a veteran of World War One, initially serving a Private with the 5th Cameron Highlanders, then transferred to the Machine Gun Corps where he was promoted to the rank of Corporal. On 27th Sept 1916, he was discharged from the MGC on Temporary Commission to 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Highlanders (Black Watch).
It was while serving with the Black Watch that he was Mentioned in Dispatches and awarded the Military Cross “For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty during a night attack. When the advance was held up by a strong point, he halted his men under cover, and himself led a party round to outflank it. Although wounded in the knee, he remained to consolidate the ground won.” His award was published in the London Gazette on the 7th March 1918.
Shortly after this, he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps serving at RAF Cattewater/Mount Batten. He transferred to the RAF on its formation on 1st April 1918 and was promoted to the rank of Flying Officer on 24th October 1919.
On the 1st Jan 1920, he was on the staff of No 2 (Northern) Aircraft repair Deport where he stayed until September when he joined No 2 Flying Training School (FTS), being awarded his pilots wings in Feb 1921.
His postings in the UK saw him undertake the roles of Flight Commander on No’s 7 & 27 Sqn’s as well as a tour at No 5 FTS and overseas tours in India and Iraq.
He was promoted to Group Captain on 1st June 1940 and became the Commanding Officer of RAF Cottesmore/No 14 OTU on 8th Jane 1943, the sixth Station Commander the base had had since it opened in 1938.
Behind every gravestone there is a story to be told
The Victoria Cross (VC) is one of the highest awards a British soldier can receive. It requires an act of extreme bravery in the presence of the enemy, and has achieved almost mythical status, with recipients often revered as heroes.
The VC is Britain’s joint-highest award for gallantry. It was only equalled in status in 1940, when the George Cross (GC) was instituted for acts of conspicuous bravery not in the enemy’s presence.
The prototype Victoria Cross was made by the London jewellers Hancocks & Co, who still make VCs for the British Army today. According to legend, the prototype, along with the first 111 crosses awarded, were cast from the bronze of guns captured from the Russians in the Crimea. There is, however, a possibility that the bronze cannon used was in fact Chinese, having been captured during the First China War (1839-42) and then stored at the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich.
When you talk about VC Heroes and Melton Mowbray, the majority of people recall Richard ‘Dick’ Burton. It is true to say that Dick Burton is the only Meltonian to be awarded a Victoria Cross, but as the word ‘heroes’ suggests there are actually more than one VC recipients commemorated in the town, but who are they and why were they awarded their VCs?
If you take a close look at the Corn Cross in Melton Mowbray at the junction of High Street and Nottingham Street, you will see two small plaques, one commemorating Dick Burton and the other commemorating another Meltonian who was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and Distinguished Flying Cross during World War Two; Air Vice Marshal James Edgar ‘Johnnie’ Johnson, CB, CBE, DSO and Two Bars, DFC and One Bar, DL.
These same two individuals are also commemorated in the Royal British Legion Field of Remembrance at the entrance of the Egerton Lodge Memorial Gardens with the placement of two small black crosses with plaques inscribed with their names. The Gardens were bought in 1929 by Melton Mowbray Town Estate and developed into a permanent memorial of those who fought in both World Wars.
Private Richard Burton
Richard Henry Burton, known as ‘Dick’, was born in Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire on 29th January 1923, the son of George Henry Burton and his wife, Muriel. He grew up in the market town, living on Egerton Road, and went to school in the town until he was 14. One of the schools he attended was the Brownlow School on Limes Avenue where you will find a wooden memorial plaque commemorating him.
After leaving school, Dick became a bricklayer and followed his father into the building trade until the age of 19. Still a teenager, he enlisted into the Northamptonshire Regiment in 1942, before he joined the Duke of Wellington’s (Dukes) to go to French North Africa, where he fought in the Tunisian campaign.
With his regiment, Private Burton went onto capture the Island of Pantellaria in the Mediterranean Sea between Tunisia and Sicily in 1943. Afterwards he took part in the famous Anzio beach landings in January 1944, fought his way up through Italy. Anzio cost the Dukes 11 officers and 250 other ranks wiped out. Burton’s CO was wounded.
The northward slog was a costly affair for the Dukes. The atrocious weather conditions reduced the battalion to mule transport, laden mules becoming ‘bellied’ in the mud under the weight of ammunition or stores. Thus the Dukes confronted Monte Ceco, a crucial 2,000ft feature, on the Gothic Line in October 1944, a six-day battle ensued in rain. The initial attack from the south failed, one of the causes of the failure being the mud in places was knee-deep. On the evening of the 8th October, a silent second attack from the west was launched in a downpour whilst under heavy German mortar fire.
In the final stages of the assault on Monte Ceco, Captain A. Burns took Burton, the runner, with his platoon through to assault the crest which was held by five Spandau machine-gun teams. Despite withering German fire, Burton managed to kill the first team with his tommy-gun; and similarly the next until his ammunition ran out. He then picked up a Bren light machine gun and firing from the hip, neutralised two further German machine-gun teams, allowing his company to consolidate on the forward slope of Monte Ceco.
The Germans counter-attacked fiercely. Burton, with his companions lying dead or wounded around him, beat off that attack with accurate Bren fire. A second German counter-attack was mounted on Burton’s flank and, firing in enfilade, he again broke up the impetus of this attack, saving his company’s position.
In a letter to his parents in Melton Mowbray Private Burton wrote: “I think I am in for some sort of medal. The sergeant with me received the DCM, and three Military Medal’s were distributed at the same time. They told me mine ought to be a VC, but I don’t know about that. Anyway, I have paid the Boche back for my wounds. I must have gone bomb-happy or mad.”
The announcement of his award of the Victoria Cross in the Lancashire Evening Post stated that it was the 124th VC of the war and the 85th to go to the Army. His award was published in The London Gazette 4th January 1945 and he received his award from King George VI at Buckingham Palace the same month.
Burton’s VC citation ends with: ‘Private Burton’s magnificent gallantry and total disregard for his own safety during many hours of fierce fighting in mud and continuous rain were an inspiration to all his comrades.’
Dick Burton was barely a man at the time, a quiet boy who knew his duty. His medal embarrassed him, not only then but in the years that followed. To the end he remained modest, disliking fuss. He was a man tall and well set up, with nothing abrasive in him. There are essentially two sorts of VC courage: the calculating and cold, calling on intellect (such as the pilots showed); and the fiercely physical, which is ‘hands-on’ and calling on reserves of will. Dick Burton had that will, that conviction, from boyhood.
When station in Scotland, Dick met a young Scottish lady called Dorothy Robertson Leggat in the foyer of the Pavilion Cinema at Forfar. During his time in Scotland, their relationship bloomed rapidly, and he used to go and visit her family in Kirriemuir regularly.
After the war, Dick and Dorothy were married in 1945 and they went to live in Kirriemuir, where they brought up three boys and a girl. The Leicestershire lad became a convert Scot, even to the accent. After the war, Richard had returned to the building trade, and stayed in the business until retirement. He passed away on 11th July 1993 in Kirriemuir, aged 70, and was laid to rest in Kirriemuir Cemetery in the same grave as his son.
In 1998, at an auction at Spink’s, London, Burton’s medals including his VC were purchased by Michael Ashcroft and are now part of the Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum.
Victoria Cross Flower Beds
As you enter the Egerton Lodge Memorial Gardens, you will pass the Royal British Legion Field of Remembrance on your right hand side with the two black crosses for Dick Burton and Johnnie Johnson as mentioned previously. Follow the path around and you will notice two large flower beds. There is one bed either side of the central path leading up to Egerton Lodge and the War Memorial, both set out in the shape of a Victoria Cross.
The information board (above) at the entrance of the Egerton Lodge Memorial Gardens states that the flower beds were designed to honour two more recipients of the Victoria Cross who have connections to Melton Mowbray. Captain Paul Kenna and Lieutenant the Hon. Raymond Harvey Lodge Joseph De Montmorency who were both members of the 21st Lancers and visited Melton as part of the hunting society.
The two officers are known to have stayed in Melton Mowbray during the late 1890’s and are reputed to have been guests staying at the Bell Hotel in 1899. Their friend, Lieutenant the Hon. Richard Frederick Molyneux of the Royal Horse Guards was also present in Melton at the same time, staying at the Blakeney Institute.
The three Officers were veterans of the Battle of Omdurman that took place in 1898 where all three were involved in the famous Lancer Charge during the battle. According to the book “Melton Mowbray Queen of the Shires” by Jack Brownlow, they all carried marks of the fight.
Battle of Omdurman
The Battle of Omdurman took place on 2nd September 1898 at a place called Kerreri, 6.8 miles north of Omdurman. Omdurman today is a suburb of Khartoum in central Sudan and sometimes the battle is referred to as the Battle of Khartoum.
British General Sir Herbert Kitchener commanded a mixed force of 8,000 British regular soldiers plus a further 17,000 troops from Sudan and Egypt. Kitchener’s enemy, led by Abdullah al-Taashi, consisted of some 50,000 soldiers including 3,000 cavalry. They called themselves the Ansar, but were known to the British as the Dervishes.
Directly opposite the British force was a force of 8,000 men spread out in a shallow arc about a mile in length along a low ridge leading to the plain. The battle began at around 6:00 a.m. in the early morning of the 2nd September when Osman Azrak and his 8,000 strong mixed force of riflemen and spearmen advanced straight at the British.
The British artillery opened fire inflicting sever casualties on the attacking force resulting in the frontal attack ending quickly after the attackers had received about 4,000 casualties.
General Kitchener was keen on occupying Omdurman before the remaining Mahdist forces withdrew there so he advanced his army on the city, arranging them in separate columns for the attack. The 21st Lancers from the British Cavalry were sent ahead to clear the plain to Omdurman.
The 21st Lancers were made up of 400 cavalrymen and thought they were attacking a few hundred Dervishes, but little did they know that there were 2,500 infantry hidden in a depression. Consequently, the Lancers fought a harder battle than they expected losing twenty-one men killed and fifty wounded. After a fierce clash, the Dervishes were driven back.
One of the participants of this battle was a young Lieutenant by the name of Winston Churchill who was attached to the regiment from the 4th Hussars, commanded a troop in the charge. It was during this same battle that four Victoria Crosses were awarded, three of which went to the 21st Lancers for helping rescue wounded comrades. Churchill’s book “The River War: an Account of the Reconquest of the Sudan” provides a good account of the Battle of Omdurman.
As a result of the charge at Omdurman, the 21st Lancers was awarded the title ‘Empress of India’s’ by Queen Victoria, becoming the only regiment entitled to wear her Royal Cypher, and was allowed to return its french-grey facings, which had previously been replaced by scarlet. To this day men of The Queen’s Royal Lancers still wear a form of Queen Victoria’s Royal Cypher on their uniform.
Two of the Lancers VC awards that day went to Captain Paul Kenna and Lieutenant the Hon. Raymond Harvey Lodge Joseph De Montmorency who as mentioned previously are commemorated in the Egerton Park War Memorial Gardens with the VC shaped flower beds designed in their honour.
Captain Paul Aloysius Kenna
Kenna was 36 years old and serving as a Captain with the 21st Lancers (Empress of India’s) during the Sudan Campaign when he undertook the deed for what he was to be awarded the Victoria Cross.
On the 2nd September 1898, during the Battle of Omdurman, a Major of the 21st Lancers was in danger as his horse had been shot during the charge. Captain Kenna took the Major up on his own horse and back to a place of safety. After the charge, Kenna returned to help Lieutenant De Montmorency who was trying to recover the body of a fellow officer who had been killed.
Captain Paul Kenna received his Victoria Medal from Queen Victoria at Osborne House, Isle of Wight on 6th January 1899.
Following the Sudan campaign, Kenna later served in South Africa during the Second Boer War (1899-1902) and was promoted to Brevet-Major on 29th November 1900. For his service in the war, he was appointed a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) on 26th June 1902.
Following the end of the South Africa War, Kenna returned to England in July 1902. He was promoted to Major on the 7th September 1902 and appointed to command a Mounted flying column in Somaliland.
He retired from the regular Army in September 1910 with the rank of Colonel. However, in April 1912 he was appointed to command the Notts and Derby (Yeomanry) Mounted Brigade.
In 1912, he competed for Great Britain in the Summer Olympics as a horse rider in the individual eventing (military) competition. He did not finish the individual event nor did the British team finish in the team event. He also competed in the individual jumping event where he finished 27th.
At the outbreak of World War One he was appointed Brigadier-General. In the spring of 1915, he took the 3rd Mounted Brigade to Egypt and later to Gallipoli. On 30th August 1915, he was hit by a Turkish sniper’s bullet whilst inspecting the frontline trenches and died of his wounds.
He is buried in the Lala Baba (CWGC) Cemetery, Suvla Bay, Gallipoli, Turkey. For more details, see his CWGC Casualty Record.
He left a widow, Angela Mary (his second wife), and two daughters. His medals are held by the Queen’s Royal Lancers Museum, Thoresby Park, Nottinghamshire.
Lieutenant the Hon. Raymond Harvey Lodge Joseph De Montmorency
De Montmorency was born on 5th February 1897 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada and was the eldest son of Major General Reymond de Montmorency, 3rd Viscount Frankfort de Montmorency and his wife Rachel Mary Lumley Godolphin Michel.
He joined the Army on 14th September 1887 when he took out a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the Lincolnshire Regiment. He was promoted to Lieutenant on 6th November 1889 and transferred to the 21st Lancers (Empress of India’s).
After the charge of the 21st Lancers during the Battle of Omdurman on the 2nd September 1898, Lieutenant de Montmorency returned to help an officer, 2nd Lt R G Grenfell, who was lying surrounded by the Dervishes. Montmorency drove the Dervishes away only to find the 2nd Lt Grenfell was dead. He put the body on his horse which then broke away. Captain Kenna and Corporal Swarbrick came to his assistance, thus allowing Montmorency to rejoin his cavalry regiment.
After Sudan, like his colleague Paul Kenna, Montmorency served in South Africa during the Second Boer War (1899-1902). In October 1898 he had been despatched to South Africa on special service. He was promoted to Captain on the 2nd August 1899 following which he raised and commanded a special body of Scouts known as Montmorency’s Scouts.
The Victorian illustrated weekly publication Black and White Budget provided its readers with coverage of the 2nd Boer War and in their issue on 13th January 1900 commented “Captain de Montmorency, who is the commander of some mounted scouts with General Gatacre’s force, is showing the great value of horsemen in fighting the Boers. As soon as the enemy find themselves out-flanked by Montmorency’s men, they make a very hurried movement to the rear, and the fight is over so far as they are concerned. Captain Montmorency is the hero of the 21st Lancers, and won the Victoria Cross at Omdurman in 1898 by returning, after the charge, for the dead body of Lieutenant Grenfell, and carrying it off from among the enemy. He is the eldest son and heir of Major-General Viscount Frankfort de Montmorency, while his mother is the daughter of a Field-Marshal.”
Another article published by the Black and White Budget the day after his death reported the following: ”While the Colonial division was thus employed on the right front of the Illrd division, which on the 11th February numbered approximately 5,300 officers and men, Lieut.-General Gatacre ordered a reconnaissance on the 23rd February, to ascertain the truth of rumours that, in consequence of Lord Roberts’ invasion of the Free State, the Boers were falling back from Stormberg. Five companies of the Derbyshire with one machine gun, and the 74th and 77th batteries, Royal Field artillery (four guns each), were posted north of Pienaar’s Farm, while the mounted troops, numbering about 450, and consisting of De Montmorency’s Scouts, four companies mounted infantry, and a party of Cape Mounted Rifles, were ordered to scout to the front as far as the height overlooking Van Goosen’s Farm, and to try to lure the enemy towards the position occupied by the guns and the infantry. The scouts were fired on from a ridge held by the burghers; their advance was checked, and General Gatacre, finding that the Boers were not to be tempted forward, ordered a general withdrawal. The reconnaissance was not effected without loss. About 10.30 a.m. Captain the Hon. R. H. L. J. De Montmorency, V.C., 21st Lancers, had mounted a small kopje, accompanied by Lieut. -Colonel F. H. Hoskier, 3rd Middlesex Volunteer artillery, Mr. Vice, a civilian, and a corporal, when sudden fire at short range was poured into the little party, and De Montmorency, Hoskier and Vice were killed. This was not at once known to those behind, who for a time were left without orders. The enemy’s fire was so heavy that until 3.30 p.m. it was impossible to extricate the remainder of the scouts. The losses in De Montmorency’s small corps were two officers and four rank and file killed, two rank and file wounded, one officer and five other ranks missing, of whom two were known to have been wounded. The result of the day’s operations, in Lieut.-General Gatacre’s opinion, tended to show that the enemy’s force at Stormberg had diminished”
The units strength was about 100 and over the next three months they constantly received praise from Major Pollock and others writing about the operations in the central Cape Colony. In a skirmish near Stormberg at Dordrecht in the Cape Colony on 23rd February 1900, Montmorency was killed in action. It is said that he fired 11 shots after being mortally wounded.
Montmorency is buried in the Molteno Cemetery in the Chris Hani District Municipality, Eastern Cape, South Africa. For more details see Find a Grave.
Lieutenant the Hon. Richard Frederick Molyneux
As mentioned previously, both Kenna and Montmorency were friends of Lieutenant the Hon. Richard Frederick Molyneux of the Royal Horse Guards, and it was himself that was involved in the action for which the Lancers 3rd Victoria Cross was awarded to Private Thomas Byrne during the Battle of Omdurman.
During the charge of the 21st Lancers, Byrne turned back to go to the assistance of Lieutenant the Hon.R F Molyneux of the Royal Horse Guards who had been dismounted from his horse, wounded and was being attacked by several Dervishes.
In the book “The River War: an Account of the Reconquest of the Sudan”, Churchill describes the incident as follows: Major Crole Wyndham had his horse shot under him by a Dervish who pressed the muzzle of his rifle into its hide before firing. From out of the middle of that savage crowd the officer fought his way on foot and escaped in safety. (Note this was the incident in which Captain Paul Kenna received his VC for rescuing Wyndham) Lieutenant Molyneux fell in the Khor into the midst of the enemy. In the confusion he disentangled himself from his horse, drew his revolver, and jumped out of the hollow before the Dervishes recovered from the impact of the charge. Then they attacked him. He fired at the nearest, and at the moment of firing was slashed across the right wrist by another. The pistol fell from his nerveless hand, and, being wounded, dismounted, and disarmed, he turned in the hopes of regaining, by following the line of the charge, his squadron, which was just getting clear. Hard upon his track came the enemy, eager to make an end. Best on all sides, and thus hotly pursued, the wounded officer perceived a single Lancer riding across his path. He called on him for help. Whereupon the trooper, Private Byrne, although already severely wounded by a bullet which had penetrated his right arm, replied without a moment’s hesitation and in a cheery voice, ‘All right Sir!’ and turning, rode at four Dervishes who were about to kill his Officer. His wound, which had partly paralysed his arm, prevented him from grasping his sword and at the first ineffectual blow it fell from his hand, and he received another wound from a spear in the chest. But his solitary charge had checked the pursuing Dervishes. Lieutenant Molyneux regained his squadron alive, and the trooper, seeing that his object was attained, galloped away, reeling in his saddle. Arrived at his troop, his desperate condition noticed and was told to fall out. But this he refused to do, urging he was entitled to remain on duty and have ‘another go at them’. At length, he was compelled to leave the field, fainting from loss of blood.”
It was for this action that Private Byrne was awarded the Lancers third Victoria Cross of the day. Again, like both Kenna and Montmorency, Private Byrne served in the Second Boer War and returned to England afterwards. He died on 5th March 1944 and is buried in Canterbury City Cemetery in Kent.
Molyneux also served in South Africa and was A.D.C. to Lord Errol. He went on the officers’ Reserve list in 1904 but at the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 he was re-employed on active service with his regiment and fought in France and Belgium in 1914 and 1915.
After the war he finally retired from the army in 1919 with the rank of Major upon which he was appointed groom in ordinary to King George V and began his long and happy connection with the Royal Family which ripened as the years went by into close friendship. He was the groom in waiting to King George from 1933 to 1936 and in 1935 was created K.C.V.O. (Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order).
After the death of King George V in 1936 he became, until her own death, extra equerry to Queen Mary, whose interests “he shared to the full.
Sir Richard Molyneux was unmarried and lived in Berkeley Square, London. He died 20th January 1954 at the age of eighty. His funeral took place at Kirkby on 23rd January.
Melton Mowbray had become a ‘mecca’ for the aristocracy and sporting gentlemen taking part in foxhunting. At the time, it was just as important to be seen hunting at Melton Mowbray as it was to appear at the best Society Balls in London.
Kenna and Montmorency, along with Molyneux were just three of the many dozens of military officers that frequented Melton during the hunting seasons. Kenna and Montmorency must have made an impact on the town for them to be recognised with the VC flower beds being designed in their honour.
Colonel Charles Wyndham was born in 1796, the 5th child and 3rd son of George O’Brien Wyndham, 3rd Earl of Egremont and Elizabeth Ilive. The first four children were born illegitimately, before the Earl married Miss Ilive in 1801, so Charles and his brothers Henry and George were illegitimate.
He married Hon.Elizabeth Anne Hepburne-Scott, daughter of Hugh Hepburne-Scott, 6th Lord Polwarth and Harriet Brühl, on 3 October 1835.
Charles Wyndham joined the Army by purchasing his commission as a Cornet in the 10th (Prince of Wales’s Own) Regiment of (Light) Dragoons (Hussars) on the 13th May 1813. A Cornet was originally the lowest grade of commissioned officer in a British cavalry troop. The rank was abolished along with the purchase of commissions in the Army Reform Act of 1871 when it was replaced by Second Lieutenant.
The painting of the three brothers is by Sir William Beechey. Henry Wyndham is depicted standing on the left wearing the uniform of Aide de Campe to the Commander in Chief. The central figure is George Wyndham wearing a blue light dragoon uniform and the figure on the right is Charles Wyndham wearing a hussars uniform .
In 1813, having landed once more in Spain, the 10th Hussars fought at the Battle of Morales in June 1813. During the battle, the regiment destroyed the 16th French Dragoons between Toro and Zamora, taking around 260 prisoners. Later in the month, the Regiment also fought at the Battle of Vitoria while still in Spain and then, having advanced into France, fought at the Battle of Orthez in February 1814 and the Battle of Toulouse in April 1814.
As a Cornet, he saw action in the Peninsular War with the army in Portugal, Spain, and France, being present at the battles of Vitoria, Orthez and Toulouse.
The Battle of Vitoria took place on 21st Jun 1813 where a combined British, Portuguese and Spanish army under General the Marquess of Wellington broke the French army under King Joseph Bonaparte and Marshal Jean-Baptiste Jourdan near Vitoria in Spain, eventually leading to victory in the Peninsular War.
The Battle of Orthez was on the 27th Feb 1814 and saw the Anglo-Portuguese Army under Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, Marquess of Wellington attack an Imperial French army led by Marshal Nicolas Soult in southern France. The outnumbered French repelled several Allied assaults on their right flank, but their center and left flank were overcome, and Soult was compelled to retreat. At first the withdrawal was conducted in good order, but it eventually ended in a scramble for safety and many French soldiers became prisoners. The engagement occurred near the end of the Peninsular War.
Another Officer from the 10th Hussars who made Melton his home was Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander Charles Craufurd, better kniown as Tea Pot Craufurd. You can read more about him in my blog here. Tea Pot Craufurd.
The Battle of Toulouse was one of the final battles of the Napoleonic Wars and took place on 10th Apr 1814, four days after Napoleon’s surrender of the French Empire to the nations of the Sixth Coalition. Having pushed the demoralised and disintegrating French Imperial armies out of Spain in a difficult campaign the previous autumn, the Allied British-Portuguese and Spanish army under the Duke of Wellington pursued the war into southern France in the spring of 1814.
In a skirmish near Toulouse in April 1814, Charles and one trooper were wounded. The regimental history says, ‘A story was told of him, that he was a very good-looking young boy, and in one of the cavalry engagements he was at the mercy of the colonel of a French cavalry regiment, who, instead of cutting him down, lowered his sword, saying, “Allez, petit diable d’Anglais.”’
Following his service in the Peninsular War he was promoted to Lieutenant on the 4th May 1815 and served in the Battle of Waterloo as part of the 2nd (Royal North British) Regiment of Dragoons (Scots Greys) No 2 Troop, commanded by Captain Edward Payne. During this conflict he was injured, being shot twice, once in the foot, but refused to be returned on the list of wounded. It was during this battle that Sergeant Charles Ewart captured the Eagle and Standard of the 45th French Infantry Regiment on the 18th Jun 1815.
During the Battle of Waterloo, the Greys lost 102 men killed and 97 wounded. No.2 Troop had a nominal strength of 77 but perhaps 15 or more of these would have been at the rear with baggage etc. with the Troop losing 22 men in the battle.
Following Waterloo, The Greys marched to Harfleur in October 1815 and remained there until the Treaty of Paris had been signed on 20 November. They embarked at Calais and left France on 10 January 1816.
For his service at the Peninsular war and Waterloo he was awarded the Army Gold Medal / Military General Service Medal, 1793-1814 with three clasps for Vittoria, Orthez, and Toulouse and the Waterloo medal 1815.
Apparently, Charles Wyndham was nicknamed – “the handsomest man in the Army” by King George IV.
After The Greys returned home to England, they spent 18 months in Canterbury. In 1817 they went to Edinburgh, then Ireland in July 1818.
On 24th June 1819, Charles was promoted to the rank of Captain and after spending 3 years in Ireland, the Regiment moved back to England in 1821, where, after a spell in the Midlands they attended the coronation of George IV.
Next they returned to Scotland where they were on hand when King George IV visited in 1822. The Regiment moved south by stages in 1823 with various postings from Carlisle to Ipswich. Charles Wyndham was promoted to Major on 12th Dec 1826.
There was another tour of duty in Ireland from 1827 to 1830, then back to southern England. When the Reform Bill was passed by the Commons and the Lords in April 1832, it was scuppered at the committee stage.
This triggered civil unrest and the Greys who were in Birmingham at the time found themselves caught up in the turmoil. Five thousand people had forced their way into the barracks as a prelude to demonstrations and unrest. The cavalry would be needed to tackle the unruly mobs but soldiers began to write letters to the authorities stating that they would not hurt peaceful citizens.
When the politicians lost confidence in the army to keep the peace, the Bill was passed. The Duke of Wellington had a letter published in the Weekly Dispatch denying the army’s reluctance to fight the population but this was refuted by a trooper in the Scots Greys, Alexander Somerville, an articulate private soldier who also had his letter published.
Although the letter was anonymous the officers of the Greys knew who the author was. Somerville was court-martialled and sentenced by the acting CO, Major Charles Wyndham, to 200 lashes of the cat o’nine tails. Somerville’s fame spread and he became a symbol of martyrdom for the rebellious working class.
From the Midlands the Greys were posted to York, and from 1834 -35 were in Scotland. In 1836 they went to Ireland where Charles Wyndham was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel on 30th Dec 1837 when he took over command of the Scots Greys.
On Friday 29 May 1840, the Dublin Morning Register reported the following “ THE ARMY The head of the Royal Scots Greys, under the Command of Lieutenant Colonel Charles Wyndham, embarked the North Wall, yesterday, for Liverpool, and were relieved by the 6th Dragoon Guards, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Jackson. They will be quartered in Portobello Barracks.
Colonel Charles Wyndham resigned his commission on 1st April 1841 with the Sussex Advertiser reporting on Monday 12 April 1841 “Lieut.-Colonel Charles Wyndham has retired from the 2d Regt. of Dragoons, and has been succeeded by Major Clarke, whose majority has been purchased by Captain Hobart.”
In 1840, due to his passion in fox hunting, Colonel Charles Wyndham bought Hill House and renamed it Wyndham Lodge.
Hill House, situated on Ankle Hill was the first house built in Melton that was South of the river. The former owner of Hill House was a retired leather dealer, Mr Hind, who leased the property out in 1928 to the Earl and Countess of Chesterfield.
In 1852, the Colonel left Melton due to being appointed as the Master of the Jewel Office at the Tower of London, taking over from the previous incumbent Edmund Lewis Lenthal Swifte who had been in post since 1814.
The Cork Examiner reported on Monday 02 August 1852 “Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Wyndham, formerly of the Scots Greys, has been appointed Keeper of the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London, vice Mr. E. Swift, who retires on full pay.”
The Stamford Mercury published the following article on Friday 09 July 1852 “Colonel Charles Wyndham, of Melton, has just been appointed to lucrative office the Tower of London. The Gallant Colonel has not been a feather-bed soldier, but was present through the Peninsular War, and received severe wound while acting Major in his regiment the Scotch Greys. He has resided at Melton for the last 12 years, and highly respected amongst the gentlemen of the hunt and the inhabitants generally”.
The office holder was responsible for running the Jewel House, which houses the Crown Jewels. This role has, at various points in history, been called Master or Treasurer of the Jewel House, Master or Keeper of the Crown Jewels, Master or Keeper of the Regalia, and Keeper of the Jewel House.
The following article published by the Berkshire Chronicle on Saturday 01 April 1854 makes mention of Colonel Wyndham as Keeper of the Jewels. “A Ghost in the Tower. The Tower of London was thrown into some confusion on Saturday night, owing to the nervousness of a young recruit. About 12 o’clock the sentry posted at the back of the Jewel house was heard screaming in a frightful manner. Colonel Wyndham, the Keeper of the Jewels, jumped out of bed. Other sentries of the guard ran immediately to the assistance of the man, whom they found nearly paralysed with fear and his firelock on the ground. He was immediately relieved and taken to the guard-house, where he gave the following story:—‘That as St. Paul’s clock was striking 12, a figure approached him, whom he instantly challenged, but receiving no answer he challenged a second time, and so it approached nearer and nearer towards him. It grew in size, until he thought it reached the moon.’ The poor fellow got into such a nervous state the sight of the monster, that it was some time before he recovered.”
In September 1852 he was appointed to the position of Deputy Lieutenant for Sussex.
Wyndham retained his position at the Tower until his death on 18th Feb 1866.
The Dublin Evening Mail published the following on Friday 23rd Feb 1866 “Death Colonel Charles Wyndham.—We regret to learn the death of Colonel Charles Wyndham, at his seat Lodge, Sussex. Colonel Wyndham, who had attained his 69th year, was the only surviving brother of Lord Leconfield, and was for a considerable time M.P. for West Sussex. He was well known many years ago in Dublin as officer in the Scots Greys, when that corps was stationed here. He is succeeded in his estates his eldest son Hugh, born in 1836.”
His funeral was held at Petworth Friday 2nd Mar 1866.
Today, the Wyndham name lives on in Melton with a street off Craven Street being named after him – Wyndham Avenue. A new housing estate built on the land of the former lodge is now known as Wyndham Grange.
Horatio Ross was born at Rossie Castle, Forfarshire (near Montrose) about 35 miles northeast of Dundee, Scotland, on 5th September 1801. He was the only son of Hercules Ross, a rich landowner and his wife Henrietta (nee Parish) Ross and baptised on the 27th day of October.
His Godfathers were The Right Honourable Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson (Lord Nelson), after whom he was named, and John Parish Senior, Merchant in Hamburg. His Godmothers were The Right Honourable Lady Jane Stewart and The Right Honourable Countess of North Esk.
His father Hercules Ross and Lord Horatio Nelson corresponded over the period 1780 to 1802 and their letters are in the Archives of the Royal Naval Museum.
A story developed that when Horatio was six, his father got him to present Colours to the Rossie Regiment of Yeomanry, but that when they fired a volley the boy fled in terror. Horatio’s enraged father ordered a servant to fire a musket several times over his head daily which unsurprisingly made him even more frightened. The story goes that one day, the servant made him fire the gun at a sparrow, which he hit and killed.
Following his father’s death in 1817, he inherited the large Rossie Castle estate.
The 14th Light Dragoons Regiment arrived back in England in mid-May 1815 following the previous two years fighting at the Battle of New Orleans in America. They were too late to join the army that went to face Napoleon’s return from Elba and thus missed the battle of Waterloo.
In 1816 the 14th consisted of 530 all ranks, and were posted to Ireland for 3 years. In 1819 they returned to England and sailed to Liverpool and marched to Canterbury. Their duty in England was as police to apprehend smugglers on the coast from Yarmouth to Deal. They were especially busy in Romney Marsh in 1820 but it was an unhealthy area and they suffered greatly from ‘ague and similar complaints’.
Horatio Ross joined the 14th Light Dragoons in October 1820 and in 1821 they were relieved to be posted to Brighton with detachments at Hastings, Arundel and Eastbourne. During this period a school was set up for the 110 children of the married men in the regiment. This was not officially sanctioned but paid for by the regiment.
This posting lasted a year and they were then moved to Coventry, Dorchester and Exeter. Ross had no taste for barracks life and went on half-pay as an Infantry Ensign in November 1823. In 1825, the 14th Light Dragoons were back in Ireland and Ross retired from the Army in 1826.
Between 1825 and 1830 he became a notable figure in the world of sport, making and usually winning matches for large sums in steeple chasing, rowing and shooting. He excelled in the last, with both pistol and rifle. He won large sums in prizes for shooting and steeple chasing.
In the late 1820’s Horatio Ross took ownership of the hunting lodge at No 10 High Street, Melton Mowbray. It was owned by Melton Solicitor Samuel Caldecott, known as Count Faddle, and the property had huge garden that stretched all the way back to Park Road. The property was known known as “The Thistle” due to the large number of “huntsmen” from Scotland that stayed there.
In 1826 Horatio Ross bought Clinker, described as ‘the largest thoroughbred ever known’, for 1200 guineas. In 1826, on Clinker, a direct descendant of Flying Childers, he won the famous steeplechase against Captain Douglas, on Radical, a horse owned by Lord Kennedy.
The painting by local famous artist John Fernley shows ‘Clinker’ with Horatio Ross up, before the start of his victory over Captain Douglas riding ‘Radical’ for a wager of £525 from Barkby Holt to Billesdon Coplow.
This is the earliest recorded steeplechase and is listed as such in the first ‘Steeplechase Calendar’ published in 1845 recording a consecutive chronicle of the sport from 1826 to 1844.
From 1832 to 1834 Horatio served as Member of Parliament for Aberdeen, Montrose and Arbroath having ousted Sir James Carnegie. During this time he presented and cordially supported a petition from Aberdeen woollen manufacturers against the extension of the bill to restrict the hours worked by children in cotton factories in Scotland. If it was, it would have facilitated the introduction of Poor laws into Scotland, which were considered a curse. He did concede that some Glasgow cotton factories might need regulation. He was also involved in the Ministerial majority against the Irish union of Parishes bill.
On 26 December 1833 Ross married Justine Henrietta Macrae, the daughter of Colin Macrae of Inverinate. They had five sons, who inherited a fair share of their father’s sporting prowess. Three of whom shot with their father as four of the Scotch eight competing with the English for the international trophy, the Elcho Shield.
Ross’s way of life, though in many ways enviable and not conventionally extravagant, was not profitable and, as time went on, he found himself obliged to retrench.
Horatio Ross was so often successful and so highly regarded that the British NRA honored him with some long-range shoots at the Bisley Ranges. The firm of Holland & Holland also named a model of rook rifle for him.
In the mid-1840s Ross took up early photography. He was a Daguerrotypist from 1847 and a Calotypist from 1849. In 1856 he was a founding member of the Photographic Society of Scotland, of which he later became the President. He took numerous photographs, in particular, of Highland scenery, stalking and fishing. His work is now much sought after by collectors.
However, Ross’s greatest feats were as a marksman. He took part in many matches with the leading shots of the day, such as General Anson, and was much assisted by his extraordinary fitness and stamina, which lasted into his old age. On his 82nd birthday, he killed 82 grouse with 82 shots. On one occasion he challenged the Honourable George Vernon to a shooting match at 100 yards, which he won, despite using a pistol while Vernon used a rifle. On the same day, he won £100 from Henry Baring by hitting a hat with his pistol at one hundred yards’ distance.
Horatio Ross sold Rossie Estate in 1856 as it was rumoured there were no game left and purchased Netherley Estate near Stonehaven for £33,000, where he had a 1400 yard rifle range installed on his estate.
Col William Macdonald Farquharson Colquhoun Macdonald, of St. Martin’s Abbey at Burrelton near Perth, bought the Rossie Estate in 1856 for £64,000. He was Lieutenant-Colonel of the Perthshire Highland Rifle Volunteers, and Archer of Her Majesty’s Scottish Body Guard.
He and his sons regularly carried all before them at the most prestigious annual rifle competitions at Wimbledon, London. Perhaps his most remarkable feat with the rifle was performed in 1867. In that year he won the cup of the Cambridge Long Range Rifle Club against nearly all the best shots of the three kingdoms. The competition extended up to eleven hundred yards, a test of nerve, judgment, and, most of all, of eyesight, which it would seem wholly impossible for any man in his sixty-sixth year to stand successfully.
Between 1858 and 1862, Horatio Ross undertook a number of hunting trips to the Bengal region of India where he went on bear, wild boar and tiger hunting expeditions. His ‘Journal of Sporting Adventures in India from 1858 to 1862,” featuring his own charming, but naive, sketches and watercolours of colonial life in India was sold by auctioneers Christie’s back in September 2000 for £4,700.00.
After living a quiet laird’s life with his family for about 18 years he came again to public notice in 1862 as the captain of the Scottish rifle-shooting team which competed against England for the Elcho shield; he continued to shoot with great skill well into his old age.
It is noteworthy that Ross was in his 80th year, and the iron sights on the rifle were not user friendly to such chronologically enhanced eyes.
However, Ross had exceptionally good vision as demonstrated in his ability as a pistol shot. He killed 20 swallows one morning before breakfast, most of them on the wing. He was, in fact, known to be the best pistol shot in all of Europe.
So great was he with the use of a pistol that a Spaniard came over specially to study his methods, querying whether Ross was as proficient with the weapon as avowed. A match was arranged between the two men with dueling pistols- the distance being twenty yards, and the target a bull’s-eye, the size of a sixpence (.764 inch diameter). The Spaniard hurried off home after seeing Ross hit the bull’s-eye with twenty consecutive shots.
Ross was chosen to act as Second in 16 duels and was always successful in dissuading the combatants from carrying them out.
He ended his days in the Scottish Highlands to which he had devoted so much of his life. He died at Rossie Lodge in Inverness on 6 December 1886 and was succeeded by his eldest son, Horatio Seftenberg John Ross.
In 1899, The English Illustrated Magazine described him as “undoubtedly the deer stalker of the expiring century.”
It is believed that there were two streets named after Captain Horatio Ross in Melton Mowbray, but both were demolished in the 1980’s. As yet I’ve not manged to identify their names or locations so if anyone can provide further information, please do let me know.