21 – Victoria Cross Heroes Commemorated in Melton Mowbray

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.

Corn Cross Melton Mowbray
Memorial plaques for Dick Burton VC and Johnnie Johnson

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.

RBL Garden of Remembrance with Burton & Johnson crosses

Private Richard Burton

Private Richard Burton VC

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.”

Burtons VC Citation – London Gazette

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.

Dick Burtons medals in the Lord Ashcroft collection

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.

Egerton Lodge & VC flower bed
Egerton Lodge Memorial Gardens Information Board

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.

Battle of Omdurman

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.

The Charge of the 21st Lancers at Omdurman by Richard C. Woodville

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.

21st (Empress of India’s) Lancers

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

Captain Paul Kenna VC

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.

Kenna VC Citation London Gazette 15 Nov 1898

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.

Lala Baba Cemetery

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

Lieutenant (TheHon.) Raymond Harvey Lodge Joseph De Montmorency VC

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.

Montmorency VC Citation London Gazette 15 Nov 1898
Wills’s “Scissors” Cigarettes, “Heroic Deeds” (issued in India in 1913) #25 Lieutenant the Honourable R.H.L.J. De Montmorency of the 21st Lancers winning the Victoria Cross at the Battle of Omdurman, 1898

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

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.”

Byrne VC Citation London Gazette 15 Nov 1898

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.

18 – ANZAC Gt Uncle George – Defending the Suez

In this blog, I continue the story of my Gt Uncle Georges’ journey.  As mentioned in my earlier blog 11 – ANZAC Gt Uncle George – A Lancashire ‘Digger’ George was part of the rear party that was the last to be withdrawn from Gallipoli on the 19th December 1915.

The rear parties embarked on “SS Heroic” and landed back on the Greek island of Lemnos shortly after day break. 

SS Heroic

When George first went to Gallipoli back in September 1915 he and the 24th Bn departed from the Greek island of Lemnos.  The island was in fact only 50 miles from the Dardanelles and due to its close proximity, and its sheltered harbour at Mudros bay, it was chosen to be the supply point as well as the main embarkation and dis-embarkation point.

Map of the Aegean showing Lemnos, Imbros and Gallipoli

The troops that had been withdrawn from the Gallipoli peninsular were in a shabby condition and many of them were lean and worn.  High numbers were in bad health and all had lost weight and strength. Some of the earlier parties of the 24th Battalion to leave Gallipoli were conveyed on warships to Imbros with the remainder being sent to Lemnos.

In early December 1915, the Australian brigades moved into camps in the western hills of Lemnos. Between 4th and 20th of December, the 1st and 2nd Australian Division’s (comprising 5,965 and 7,209 men respectively) were based at camps at Sarpi.  George, as one of the last to leave Gallipoli went to Mudros and it is thought he and his comrades from the 24th Bn were camped at Sarpi.

Sarpi camp, Lemnos

With the irony of war, the men who were the last to leave the battlefield, men who had volunteered for what had been deemed as the forlorn hope, appeared to have been forgotten.  There packs had been left for them at Mudros harbour and after disembarking, they had to carry their packs, marching five or six miles and crawled into camp as if they had done nothing worthy of commendation.  Bully beef, bread, jam and a few questions from their pals who arrived earlier were all that greeting George and his party on their arrival.

Conditions in the troop camps were often inadequate, with General Monash actively seeking to improve the situation, in terms of the lack of tents and field kitchens.  However, mail from Australia had been held up at Mudros due to the evacuation and the abundance of parcels and letters from home provided the troops with a moral boost.

During rest periods troops would leave the camp to buy eggs, grapes and figs from the local Greek villagers. The YMCA provided entertainment facilities for the troops during their rest periods on Lemnos, including concerts attended by the Australian nurses.

ANZAC battalions are reported as having played cricket matches on the island, with nurses joining the spectators. A few miles from the camps, many troops visited the local natural hot spring bath-house at Therma. It became one of the most frequented “resorts” on the island.

HMT Minnewaska

On the 6th January 1916, the Bn left their camp at Sarpi and boarded HMT Minnewaska, departing Mudros harbour on Lemnos on the 8th and arriving at Alexandria on the 10th January 1916 where they were immediately entrained for the new Australian base at Tel El Kabir where the Battalion received considerable reinforcements and undertook further refitting and training.

Tel El Kabir camp

The troops had to undertake various training courses such as learning about artillery and the transport, setting up and firing of such guns. Other training courses covered subjects such as map reading, meteorology, and interpreting reconnaissance photos taken from aircraft.

The defence of the Suez Canal was vital to Allied shipping.  The canal was the quickest route between Britain and countries around the Indian and western Pacific oceans. Since its opening in 1869 the Suez Canal had featured prominently in British policy and concerns. The Convention of Constantinople of 1888 by the European Powers guaranteed freedom of navigation of the Suez Canal.

ANZAC training camps in Egypt

Among its great advantages were as a line of communication and also the site for a military base as the well equipped ports at Alexandria and Port Said made the region particularly useful.

The beginning of 1915 saw the action of World War One extend to Egypt and Palestine.  Between 26th January and 4th February 1915 a German-led Ottoman Army force advanced from Southern Palestine to attack the Suez Canal, marking the beginning of what became known as the Sinai and Palestine Campaign.

The 100 mile stretch of the Canal was divided into three sections for defence.

Suez to the Bitter Lakes,

Deversoir to El Ferdan,

El Ferdan to Port Said,

Plus a HQ and genera reserves at Ismalia.

These defences were augmented by the presence in the Suez Canal of HMS Swiftsure, HMS Clio, HMS Minerva, the armed merchant cruiser Himalaya and HMS Ocean near Qantara, Ballah, Sallufa, Gurka Post and Esh Shatt respectively, with the French protected cruiser D’Entrecasteaux just north of the Great Bitter Lake, HMS Proserpine at Port Said, the Royal Indian Marine Ship Hardinge south of Lake Timsah and north of Tussum, with the French coastal defence ship Requin in Lake Timsah. The canal was closed each night during the threat.

British Headquarters estimated German and Ottoman casualties at more than 2,000, while British losses amounted to 32 killed and 130 wounded. The Ottoman Suez Expeditionary Force suffered the loss of some 1,500 men including 716 prisoners.

In another of my earlier blogs I looked at the story of Seaman Gunner George Edward Flint a sailor from Melton Mowbray who was involved in the Defence of the Suez Canal whilst serving aboard HMS Swiftsure when he assisted in the burial of over three hundred Turks following their failed attempt to take control of the canal.

Seaman Gunner George Edward Flint

The British subsequently allocated a large defence to protect the canal against future attacks.

The beginning of February 1916 brought orders for a move to the desert East of the Suez Canal, which was again threatened by the Turks and on the 2nd February, the Battalion left their base at Tel El Kabir and entrained for Ismailia to take up a section of the Canal Zone Defences. 

On arrival at Ismailia, the Battalion detrained at Moascar and marched on the night 2nd/3rd February to “Ismailia Ferry Post” where it bivouacked before moving on the next day, crossing the Canal on ferries and pontoon bridges and marching across the desert in a heat of 120˚ to a spot near the hill Kataib el Kheil about 10 miles East of Ismailia where a prominent sandhill lies called the “Sphinx”.

Location of Australian trench positions in relation to Ismalia

On arrival at the “Sphinx”, the Battalion immediately took on entrenching work for its defence and the whole Battalion was engaged preparing the position which consisted of 1780 yards of trench with machine gun emplacements and wire entanglements along the whole front.  The trenches were usually in soft drift sand and had to be shoveled out by hand.  All food and water had to be carried on camels, and at times the water ration was down to ½ gallon per day.

Australian trenches along the Suez

Camels brought rations and water to them over the sand.  The troops went unwashed but lived well and healthy in the dry atmosphere of the desert.  Sports were carried out under extreme difficulties and sandstorms buried their equipment and filled in their recently dug trenches.

Camels being loaded with supplies for the 24th Bn

The health of the men remained good and Company’s not on actual digging duties were on outpost duties of 48 hours shifts so that each platoon had its turn in the advanced firing line.  The position was of great importance as it stretched across the main caravan route from El Tassa, the point from which the Turks made their attack in 1915 on Ismailia.

The work carried out the Battalion was spoken of in the highest terms by the G.O.C. who visited the position on several occasions as it was the extreme RH Flank of the 2nd Division.

When March arrived, the Battalion were told they were going to France and a new outlook filled the troops with great expectations.

On the 5th March, the Battalion handed over the Canal defences to the New Zealand Mounted Rifles which was completed by 12.00Hrs.  During their time in Egypt defending the Canal Zone, the 24th never actually came into contact with any Turkish attacking forces.

The Battalion marched or dragged their burdened frames back over the sand to the Canal.  Carrying full kits and blankets, men began to drop out before two miles had been covered.  Water bottles were emptied in the first half-hour and with no means of replenishing the supplies, the troops tramped on till the column became a line of stragglers. 

Half way on the journey, they stumbled on some horse troughs, and men stuck their heads down and drank like beasts, defying the Officers who forbade them to touch this polluted water.

When Ferry Post was reached on the night of the 5th/6th where they bivouacked, the water tanks of the other units there were besieged and emptied in defiance of all attempts to check the thirsty men. Weaker men cam drifting into camp until daylight the following morning.

Map of Egypt showing location of Moascar camp

It was reported that of all the strenuous marches accomplished by the Battalion whilst on active service, this journey over the heavy sand, on a day marked by the heat of a most oppressive nature, must have pride of place.

The next day the Battalion crossed the Canal and pushed on through Ismalia to Moascar.  On passing the ordnance store, all ‘old’ rifles were exchanged for the newer Mk VII version. 

On arrival at Moascar, they pitched camp and remained there until the evening of the 19th/20th during which preparations began for their departure for the Western Front and they carried out marching and field work.

On the afternoon of the 18th, the Battalion was inspected by His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales who inspected the Brigade and the Battalion.  The Battalion, after hearing an address by Sir William Birdwood, marched passed HRH in Columns of four, afterwards, the camplines were inspected.

New orders were received on the 19th for the Battalion to entrain for Alexandria and the Battalion spent the rest of the day cleaning up and preparing for entrainment.  At 08:00 on the 20th, the Battalion embarked aboard 3 troopers and sailed from Alexandria at 16:30.

HMT Lake Michigan – 14 x Officers and 636 Other Ranks,

HMT Magdalena – 10 x Officers and 306 Other Ranks,

HMT City of Edinburgh – 1 x Officer and 50 Other Ranks

In the hold of the Magdalena was the Battalion band under the command of the bandmaster, R L Pogson practised diligently throughout the voyage.

At 09:30 on the 23rd, the Battalion received a message that the HMT Minneapolis had been torpedoed and was sinking.  Her position was reported as 12 miles due North of their current position.  The speed of their vessel was increased and course changed.  At 12:30, they received a further message that the Minneapolis was still sinking.  A further message was received at 17:00 that the submarine had been sighted 62 miles NE of Valetta this morning resulting in the convoy changing course again.

Orders were received on the 24th March from Admiral Malta that they were to proceed direct to Marseilles, where they arrived on the 26th at 15:30, disembarking at 19:00.

On arrival at Marseilles, the 24th Battalion formed up on the wharf and marched with the band playing military music to the railway station where they entrained at 23:45Hrs for the journey from Marseilles to Flanders.

24th Bn War Diary entry for 26 March 1916

According to the war diary, the Battalion numbers were made up of 14 Officers, 603 Other ranks and 9 prisoners!

In my next blog about Uncle George I will take a look at his journey after arriving at Marseilles in France.

Private George Badger

11 – ANZAC Gt Uncle George – A Lancashire ‘Digger’

Lt George Hamer Badger

In this first blog about my Gt Uncle, George Hamer Badger (the brother of my Nanna, my Dads mum), I take a look at how a Lancashire lad ended up fighting at Gallipoli with the Australian Imperial Force ANZACs.

He was born on the 20th April 1897 and he was the second child from a total of 11 for Richard and Ellen Badger.

The family lived at Worston, a peaceful little village nestled at the foot of Pendle Hill in Lancashire with one street, a welcoming hostelry, run by the Badger family. Unspoilt, this was one of the locations used in ‘Whistle Down the Wind’ and today it is still a quiet one-street village.

Ellen Hamer who was originally from Stokesay in Shropshire, was working as a Nurse at the Lancaster Lunatic Asylum when she met Richard. They were married at Christ Church, Lancaster on 30 Oct 1895.

The Badger family were still at the Calf’s Head when the 1901 Census was carried out. However, at some time during 1901/1902 the family moved from the Calf’s Head in Worston to take over the Saddle Inn at Lea near Preston where they remained throughout World War 1. 

It would appear that the advertising campaign by the Australians proved to tempting for the Badgers and in 1912, George and his father Richard emigrated to Australia with the rest of the family planning to follow later on. The motivation was, as is so often the case with emigrants, simply the hope to find a better life for their children somewhere other than in their home country.  

As part of the “Grand Plan” of moving the Badger family to Australia, Richard packed all his woodworking and carpentry tools along with many others and a vast selection of guns.

According to the PRO archives in Victoria, the immigration index lists Richard’s age as 51 and George’s age as 26.  I don’t know whether this is a transcript error with the application or whether the age annotated on the application form was incorrect.  George was born in 1897, so in 1912 when he emigrated, he would only be 15 and not 26 as listed in the index. 

The index also shows that Richard and George achieved unassisted immigration to Melbourne, Victoria, Australia and they sailed from Liverpool travelling on the SS IRISHMAN ship operated by the White Star Line.   

SS Irishman

They set sail from Liverpool on March 15th 1912 and were due to arrive at Melbourne on May 14th 1912. On Wednesday 17th April, they heard by “Wireless” that the “Titanic” had gone down on her maiden trip, with 1500 lost. 

In early May, there was an outbreak of measles on the ship and on 4th May, George had to go into the isolation hospital aboard the ship. On the 5th May, land was in sight and about 70 miles offshore, the ship took a pilot onboard.  The ship got into Melbourne early on the 6th but was not allowed to dock and unload and the passengers were put into quarantine.  They eventually disembarked on the 14th/15th May.

Richard and George had made an impression with the number of guns and tools they had brought with them.  They initially stayed with William Angliss’s family in Toorak, then they went to the wool growing Geelong/Western District Area.  Shortly after his arrival in Australia, George became a Jackaroo. 

A Jackaroo is a young man working on a sheep or cattle station, to gain practical experience in the skills needed to become an owner, overseer, manager, etc.  The skills required to be were to be an excellent horseman, skilled as a stockman with sheep, whip and droving, and learned about sheep and wool.   

George became interested in becoming a wool classer responsible for the production of uniform, predictable, low-risk lines of wool, carried out by examining the characteristics of the wool in its raw state and classing it accordingly. After a year as a Jackaroo, George became an apprentice Wool Classer in 1914 and was working with a shearing gang contracted to a sheep station near Ivanhoe in Western New South Wales. 

Following the outbreak of World War 1, recruiting committees were formed in nearly every town throughout Australia during 1915. At the outbreak of the War, there had been a great outpouring of Australian support for the ‘mother country’ England, and the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) was formed from men who volunteered. 

Typical Australian Recruitment Drive

The requirements in August 1914 to join the AIF were that the volunteer had to be aged between 18–35 years, height of 5ft 6in and chest measurement of 34 inches.  During the first year of the war approximately 33 percent of all volunteers were rejected. 

On his attestation papers, George’s height was recorded as 5ft 7 in, his weight 140 lbs, chest measurement 34 1/2 – 37 inches, fair complexion, brown eyes and brown hair.   

So far so good, George met the majority of the recruitment restrictions except probably the most important one – the minimum age!  To join the AIF you had to be at least 18 years of age but George was only 17 years and 10 months!  To get around this, George lied about his age and recorded it as 21. 

Private George Badger

George Hamer Badger ‘signed on the dotted line’ on 9th March 1915 and was enlisted into the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) and assigned to Broadmeadows Camp. Whilst at Broadmeadows, George celebrated his 18th birthday and following his initial training,   

George was assigned to ‘A Company’ 24th Battalion “Red and White Diamonds” of the Australian Imperial Force at Broadmeadows, Victoria with the rank of Private and the Service No of 154. 

The 24th was part of the 6th Infantry Brigade, 2nd Division along with the 21st, 22nd and 23rd Battalions.

As a result of the hasty decision to raise the battalion very little training was carried out before the battalion sailed from Melbourne. A week after being formed, the 24th Battalion, including George and his shearer mates, departed Melbourne on 8th May 1915 aboard HMAT Euripides (A14) destined for Alexandria in Egypt where the Australians had several training camps. 

HMAT A14 Euripides at Melbourne

When they arrived at Cairo, the Australians were told they were to go to a big camp at Mena, ten miles south of Cairo, close to the wonderful Pyramids and the Sphinx.  Mena was an enormous camp built to hold around 20,000 troops and had been made ready for them just a mile from the Pyramids.

Mena Camp

Following their training in Egypt, the 24th Battalion were assigned to the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and 28th August 1915 they received orders from 6th Bde to entrain at Helwich on the night of 29-30 Aug to proceed to Alexandria and embark on transport “Nile”.  At 9.45pm on the 29th, George and his colleagues from A Coy, along with B Coy,Signallers and Machine Gunners entrained for Alexandria and at 5:30am on the 30th, were embarked aboard transport ship HMT Nile. 

The “Nile” set sail at 4:30pm on 30th August, with 32 Officers and 233 Other details from the 24th Battalion.  Local Routine Orders were issued to the troops along with Special Instructions to protect vessel against submarine attack. 

The “Nile”, carrying George and his shearer pals along with the 24th Battalion and well ahead, had spotted the sub and managed to outrun it.  The “Scotian” with the 22nd Battalion on board also managed to dodge it, but the first the “Southland” knew of her predicament was the approaching torpedo. 

“My God – a torpedo!” was the shout from a sentry. “We watched the line of death getting nearer until it crashed, and the whole ship reeled. Then the order was given, ‘The ship is sinking – abandon ship.’” A subaltern on board the Southland went on to say, “Without a cry or sign of fear, or more hurrying than on a brisk march, and singing ‘Australia Will Be There,’ the order was carried out.” 

The “Nile” received a further signal confirming that help had been sent and that “Southland” was making port under easy steam. 

Colonel Richard Linton, OC 6th Brigade, was in one of the first boats lowered.  Unfortunately it was soon overturned, and being a strong swimmer, Linton decided to remain in the water, allowing others to take his place in the boats. However, many hours later when he was finally taken on board the French destroyer Massuo, the shock and exposure had proved too much and his heart gave out. Surviving him was his son Richard who was rescued by the Neuralia. 

Colonel Linton was buried at East Mudros at 7am on the 3rd September.  Following his death, OC 24th Bn AIF, Lt Col William Walker Russell Watson, took over command of 6th Brigade.  His first job as OC 6th Bde, was to concentrate all of “Southland’s” surviving troops aboard transport “Transylvania”. In all, 1324 all ranks was collected from 8 different vessels in port. 

Whilst at Lemnos, George and his mates from the 24th Bn, had developed an admiration for the poetry of Rupert Brooke. One of Brooke’s famous poems was “The Soldier”.

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
 
And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

Brooke was a Sub-Lieutenant serving with the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve when he died a few months previously after developing sepsis after an infected mosquito bite. He is buried on the island of Skyros.

At 9:30pm on the 3rd September, Lt Col William Walker Russell Watson received orders to transfer troops from the “Nile” and “Scotania” to “HMT Abbasieh” for transfer to ANZAC Cove on the 4th. 

HMT Abbassieh

George Badger and his mates from the 24th Battalion served in the Lone Pine sector, taking over responsibility for the front line the on 12th September. The position was very close to the Turkish trenches and was hotly contested. The position was so tenuous, that the troops holding it had to be rotated regularly, and as a result the 24th spent the remainder of the campaign rotating with the 23rd Battalion to hold the position against determined Turkish mining operations.  

All through September, the 24th were either in Lone Pine experiencing constant sniping and bombing throughout day and night or resting in White Valley after being relieved by the 23rd Bn.  The battalion remained at Gallipoli for three months until the evacuation of Allied troops took place in December 1915. 

The 24th Bn were mainly involved in the fighting at Lone Pine. All the ground that was won by the Australians during the main battle at Lone Pine during August was actually reached within a couple of hours of the start of the attack. However, the fighting at Lone Pine continued for several weeks as the Turks counterattacked incessantly and at great cost. The 2nd and 3rd Infantry Brigades were poured in to reinforce the Australian gains.  

Family folklore has it that George was offered a King’s Commission and a promotion to 2nd Lieutenant or a MID Mentioned In Dispatches.  As George had previously agreed with the AIF to have most of his pay sent back to his Mother, Ellen, back in England, he refused the MID and accepted the Commission as it would mean he could send her more money.  There is nothing documented in his service records to show this filed promotion, but the War Diaries for the 24th Bn records on the 14th October that “6 Officers have been promoted from the ranks”. 

Another family rumour is that towards the end of the campaign, George served under the Command of Captain Stan Savige.  Savige enlisted alongside George back Melbourne on 9th March 1915.  His service number was VX13 and George’s was VX154.   

Savige was passed over for a commission due to his lack of education, but was promoted to corporal on 30 April and lance sergeant on 8 May. The 24th Infantry Battalion landed at Gallipoli on 5 September 1915 and took over part of the line at Lone Pine. Savige became company sergeant major on 20 September. There, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant on 9 November 1915. Savige was one of three officers chosen to serve with the battalion rearguard unit C3 along with Lt McIlroy and lt Brinsmead who was appointed OC C3, of which George was part of.  Rear party C3 consisting of 1 Officer and 6 Other Ranks from the 21st Bn, 2 Officers and 18 Other Ranks from the 22nd and 3 Officers and 34 Other Ranks (including George and Savige) from the 24th  left Lone Pine at 2.40am and embarked at the pier at 3.30am.

To reduce noise whilst walking down to the beach, George and his colleagues placed woolen socks over their boots in order to reduce the noise. 

The rear parties embarked on “Heroic” and landed back at Mudros shortly after day break. 

SS Heroic

Whilst at Gallipoli, George became acquainted with Phillip Schuler, a newspaper correspondent for the AGE newspaper based in Melbourne.  Schuler, covered the Gallipoli campaign alongside Charles Bean. His bravery was legendary. His dispatches were evocative and compassionate. He captured the heroism and horror for Australian newspaper readers in ways the meticulous yet dry prose of Bean never could.

After Schuler’s classic account of the campaign, Australia in Arms, was completed in early 1916, Schuler abandoned the relative safety of a correspondent’s job and joined the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) as a humble soldier. In June 1917, he was killed in Flanders. He was 27 years old. 

ANZAC Poster

In my next blog about Uncle George I will take a look at what happened to him after leaving Gallipoli.