36 – “The balloon’s going up!”

No doubt you’ve all heard of the phrase “The balloon’s going up!”, but did you know it was an expression for an impending battle?

The phrase is derived from the fact that an observation balloon’s ascent likely signalled the beginning of an artillery barrage, guided by information provided by the observer in the balloon.

Balloons were used by the military for aerial observation and provided their operators with a great view of the battlefield and the first military use of observation balloons was by the French Aerostatic Corps during the French Revolutionary Wars and the first recorded use was during the Battle of Fleurus in 1794.  They were also used by both sides during the American Civil War of 1861–65 and continued in use during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71.  The British Army also used them during the Boer Wars in South Africa in the 1880s/90s.

The First World War was the high point for the military use of observation balloons.  Despite it’s experience in operating balloons in South Africa, the British Army were behind in developments and were still using spherical shaped balloons.

A school in the sky over London town – how officers are trained in the Royal Flying Corps. Balloons flying over the capital, training RFC officers in observation and navigation skills in preparation for their role as pilots and navigators. The balloons were often mistaken to be for defence purposes but were used purely for training. Date: 1917

These were quickly replaced by more advanced types, known as kite balloons, which were more aerodynamically shaped to be stable and could operate in more extreme weather conditions.  Kite balloons were used for observation over their sector of the Western front, gathering intelligence and artillery spotting.

The First World War kite balloons were fabric envelopes filled with hydrogen gas.  Kite balloons, were controlled by a cable attached to the ground, were often known as ‘sausages’ and first used on the Western Front on 8 May 1915 in the Aubers Ridge area.

Each balloon was maintained and tethered by a team of 48 highly-trained men, carried two passengers, known light-heartedly as ‘balloonatics’ – a commander and an observer, who, via a telegraph wire down to the ground would send back information on troop formations and artillery locations.

Two observer officers in the basket of a kite balloon. Note the telephones, map rest, parachute and parachute harness. Photograph taken in Gosnay, 2 May 1918

Each basket was equipped with telecommunication equipment, binoculars, a long range camera, maps, sandbags, pressure gauge, code book, a barometer, an air speed indicator and, more ominously, two sheath knives, two life savers and two parachutes.

Kite balloon observer testing his telephone before ascending, Sep 1916.

Due to the flammability of the gas it unfortunately led to the destruction of hundreds of balloons on both sides with the loss of the ‘Balloonatics’ commanders, observers and also the pilots of the attacking aircraft.

The ‘Balloonatics’ who manned these observation balloons frequently had to use a parachute to escape when their balloons were attacked by enemy aircraft whose pilots earned themselves the name of ‘Balloon Busters’.

German Balloon Buster by Larry Selman

The parachutes were nicknamed ‘Acorns’ and were fitted to the outside of the basket. The idea was to grab the end of a static line as you leapt over the edge of the basket if the balloon came under attack, hoping very much it would open and you would manage to jump free of any potential entanglement.

One of these ‘Balloonatics’ was a young Canadian Officer named Elfric Ashby Twidale.  Elfric was the grandson of the late Reverend Joseph Twidale, the long standing rector of over 50 years at the Melton Mowbray Congregational Baptist Church.

Elfrics father, Ashby Pearson Twidale was born in Melton Mowbray as the 5th child of the Rev Joseph and his wife Catherine and was a timber merchant by trade.  In the late 1880s, Ashby emigrated to Canada where on the 3rd June 1891 he married a Canadian lady named Clara Wilhelmena Heinrichs whose father, Peter was a native of Germany.

For the last 6 years, since his 18th birthday, Elfric had been part of the 44th Lincoln and Welland Regiment in the Militia.

Just as the First World War was erupting around the globe, Elfrics German grandfather Peter died on the 15th July 1914.  I wonder if the events around the globe caused any unrest in the family due to the German patronage?

On the 6th August 1914, Elfric was a Sergeant with the 44th when they were placed on active service for local protection duties as part of the Welland Canal Force.  The Welland Canal is a ship canal in Ontario, Canada, connecting Lake Ontario and Lake Erie that enables ships to ascend and descend the Niagara Escarpment and bypass Niagara Falls. 

Elfric enlisted into the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force on the 8th April 1915 aged 24 years.  He was allocated service number 651 when he joined the Canadian Machine Gun Brigade, serving with the No 2 Eaton Motor Machine Gun Battery. 

The Eatons were formed in January 1915 under the Command of Major W J Morrison.  They were named after Sir John Eaton who had given $100,000 for the purchase of “quick-firing machine guns mounted on armoured trucks” This paid for fifteen guns and the government supplied twenty-five.

An example of an Eaton armoured truck

Prior to joining the Army, Elfrics trade according to his attestation papers was a chemical engineer and whilst he was at Toronto University, he was a member of their Track Team who were the Inter-Collegiate Champions in 1913. 

UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO TRACK TEAM, INTER-COLLEGIATE CHAMPIONS, 1912.

The Eatons unit recruited mainly from Toronto and appealed to motor mechanics, drivers and athletes so it could be this that attracted him to join this unit.

On the 4th June 1915, Elfric along with 263 other ranks and 24 officers embarked for England on the RMS Metagama.  The ship was operated as part of the Canadian Pacific North Atlantic Service and remained in Canadian Pacific service throughout the FWW.  She however, carried Canadian troops in her third-class accommodation on East bound crossings.

RMS Metagama

It seems that not only was the Metagama a new and capable ship, she was a lucky ship as only a month before, the Lusitania was sunk by a German U-Boat U-20 off the coast of Ireland with the loss of 571 lives. Throughout the war the Metagama continued to transport troops across the North Atlantic without incident.

The Eatons arrived at Devonport in Plymouth on the 13th June 1915. From Devonport, the Brigade proceeded to the Shorncliffe Military Base known as “Caesers Camp” near to Folkstone, Kent.  Shorncliffe had been set up in April 1915 as a Canadian Training Division for the Second Canadian Contingent to overcome difficulties such as excessive rain, mud and exposure experienced by the First Contingent troops at the initial Canadian camp located on the Salisbury Plain.  Shorncliffe was also used as a staging post for troops destined for the Western Front due to its location. As the crow flies, it is only 90 miles from Ypres in Belgium.

Whilst at Shorncliffe, Elfric was promoted and became a Signalling Sergeant and at some point later he became a Sergenat Major with he unit.  Whilst in England, he applied to his Commanding Officer Captain E.L. Knight for a commission in the New Army, Imperial Forces – that is the British Army.

This request was granted and he was Struck Off Strength from the Eatons on the 19th November 1915 due to being granted a Commission with the Royal Field Artillery in the New Army.

Elfrics promotion to 2nd Lieutenant (2nd Lt) with the Royal Field artillery was ‘gazetted’ on the 25th November 1915 “The undermentioned to be Second Lieutenants  (on probation) Dated 20th November 1915 Elfric Ashby Twidale”.

He was appointed as a 2nd Lt with ‘C’ Battery 64th Brigade and went to France in April 1916 serving on the Western Front from Wailly to Hohenzollern Redoubt and at the Somme in the Montauban-Longueval and Auchonvillers-Ovillers areas

The London Gazette published on the 25th November 1916 recorded his promotion to Acting Captain “Whilst commanding a Trench Mortar Battalion.”  He held this rank until 26th January 1917 when he relinquished the rank of Captain and reverted back to 2nd Lt due to no longer commanding a Trench Mortar Battalion.

It would have been after this that he was attached to the Royal Flying Corps taking on the role of an Observer becoming one of the ‘Balloonatics’ with No 16 Kite Balloon Section based in the area around the town Arras at map reference 51c.K.18.a supporting the VII Corps.

Kite balloon view of the trench lines around Arras, Nov 1917.

From the 9th April to 16th May 1917, the British were involved in a major offensive on the Western Front in what was known as the Battle of Arras, or the 2nd Battle of Arras.  The Battle of Arras was the British Empire’s part of a larger offensive planned by the French. Arras would both divert German attention from the French attack, to be launched further south along the Aisne, and allow the British to test newly developed offensive tactics.

Battle of Arras 1917

Aircraft of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC), along with their observation balloons were used in conjunction with rifle fire and trench mortars from infantry and artillery units to attack the German trenches, supply lines and observation posts.

Although the RFC entered the battle with inferior aircraft to the ‘Luftstreitkräfte’, this did not deter their commander, General Trenchard, from adopting an offensive posture. Dominance of the air over Arras was essential for reconnaissance and the British carried out many aerial patrols.

The RFC carried out artillery spotting and photography of trench systems using both fixed wing aircraft and balloons. The aircraft were also involved in bombing enemy positions as well as patrolling their own front lines.

Aerial observation was hazardous work.  For best results, aircraft had to fly at slow speeds and low altitude over the German defences whilst kite balloons were essentially sitting ducks.  It became even more dangerous with the arrival of the Red Baron, Manfred von Richthofen in March 1917 and the presence of ‘Jasta 11’.

It was during the Arras campaign that 2nd Lt Elfric Twidale lost his life.  From 16th April, it was apparent that the French part of the Nivelle Offensive further South on the Aisne had not achieved a breakthrough. Field Marshall Haig continued to attack at Arras, to continue to divert troops from the French on the Aisne.

On the 22nd April, the day before the Second Battle of the Scarpe which took place on the 23rd & 24th, Elfric was performing his duties as a ‘Balloonatic’. He would have been observing and recording enemy positions from his balloon basket, most probably observing actions on the front-line and behind it, spotting enemy troop movements or unusual activity of any sort, and to call down artillery fire onto any worthwhile targets.

Due to their importance, kite balloons were usually given heavy defences in the form of machine gun positions on the ground, anti-aircraft artillery, and standing fighter patrols stationed overhead. Other defences included surrounding the main balloon with barrage balloons; stringing cables in the air in the vicinity of the balloons; equipping observers with machine guns; and flying balloons booby-trapped with explosives that could be remotely detonated from the ground. These measures made balloons very dangerous targets to approach.

In the early days of the war, balloons were occasionally shot down by small-arms fire but generally it was difficult to shoot down a balloon with solid bullets, particularly at the distances and altitude involved. Ordinary bullets would pass relatively harmlessly through the hydrogen gas bag, merely holing the fabric. Hits on the wicker car could however kill the observer. It was not until special Pomeroy incendiary bullets and Buckingham flat-nosed incendiary bullets became available on the Western Front in 1917 that any consistent degree of success was achieved,

A British Caquot kite balloon falling down in flames after having been attacked by an enemy aircraft. Boyelles, France, 3 February 1918.

Unfortunately for Elfric, his kite balloon came under attack from a German ‘balloon buster’ aircraft and in an attempt to save his own life, he leapt over the side of the balloon basket.  Tragically, his parachute didn’t open properly and he plummeted to his death.

Bucquoy Road Cemetery

His body was recovered and buried in the Bucquoy Road Cemetery at Ficheux approx. 9km from Arras.  In November 1916, the village of Ficheux was behind the German front line, but by April 1917, the German withdrawal had taken the line considerably east of the village and in April and May, the VII Corps Main Dressing Station was posted there, near for the Battles of Arras. 

For British soldiers the average daily loss rate at Arras was the highest of the war at 4,076. Total casualties amounted to 158,000, with the Germans losing around the same number.

The increased losses of RFC personnel providing British air support during the Battle of Arras in April 1917 resulted in it becoming known as ‘Bloody April’ for the RFC.

During April 1917, the British lost 245 aircraft, 211 aircrew killed or missing and 108 as prisoners of war. The German Air Services recorded the loss of 66 aircraft during the same period. As a comparison, in the five months of the Battle of the Somme of 1916 the RFC had suffered 576 casualties. Under Richthofen’s leadership, ‘Jasta 11’ scored 89 victories during April, over a third of the British losses.

However, the figure of 211 only relets to aircrew.  The CWGC Casualty database actually records 258 casualties serving with the RFC who died during April 1917 across all theatres of war, not just on the Western Front.

13 – Going Doolally

In todays current climate when people are struggling with mental health issues due to the lockdown initiated as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, I take a look at the slang phrase “Going Doolally” and its origins.

Traditionally when British soldiers struggle to pronounce foreign place names, they anglicise them or call them something simple and easy to remember, Ypres on the Western Front during WW1 was known as “Wipers” and Ploegsteert became Plugstreet.  Doolally is no exception as this was the soldiers’ name for the Deolali transit camp.

Established in 1861, the Deolali transit camp was a British Army transit camp in Maharashtra, India. It was in use throughout the time of the British Raj, the rule by the British Crown on the Indian subcontinent until they gained Independence from Britain in 1947.

The camp was located near Deolali, Maharashtra, around 100 miles North East of Bombay (or Mumbai as it is known today). The camp is situated near a prominent conical hill and the Bahula Fort. 

Map of India showing locations of WW1 military hospitals

The camp housed soldiers that were newly arrived in the country and those awaiting ships to take them back home to Britain.

For those awaiting to be shipped back home, they were disarmed and allocated light duties with little else to occupy the men.

It was said that soldiers who were waiting to be shipped back home, often had a long wait for a troop ship to take them back home. 

The camp was often full by the end of summer with soldiers awaiting troop ships. New arrivals in this period often had to sleep on the floor owing to a lack of beds and suffered from sand flea bites.

Conditions in the camp were said to be poor especially for those stationed there for long periods. As a side effect of having little to do at the camp, combined with the heat of the long Indian summers drove many a soldier a little crazy and hence the phrase “Going Doolally” was coined and the term “doolally” became a slang term associated with mental illness. It is a contraction of the original form “Doolally tap”, where the latter part is derived from “tapa”, meaning fever” in Hindustani and “heat” or “torment” in Sanskrit.

The whole phrase is perhaps best translated as “camp fever”.  The term was in use from the late 19th century and the contracted form was dominant by the First World War.

Soldiers could spend time in the nearby city of Nasik which offered numerous gin bars and brothels and consequently diseases such as venereal disease was common amongst the troops.

Also common in the Deolali area was Malaria, which can affect the brain.  This remained a major issue for the British Army right through the Second World War despite the development of anti-malarial drugs.

Suicides in the camp were not uncommon. Despite its reputation the Deolali area actually has a milder climate than nearby Mumbai (Bombay) or Pune, though it was known to be incredibly dusty in the period leading up to the monsoon.

The camp had a sanatorium (military hospital) but, despite its reputation, there was never a dedicated psychiatric hospital there. Cases of mental illness were instead confined to the military prison or sent to dedicated hospitals elsewhere in the country.

The camp was also used for training and acclimatisation for soldiers newly arrived in British India. New drafts would stay at the camp for up to several weeks carrying out route marches and close order drill to get used to the hotter climate. 

During the First World War it was used as a hospital for prisoners of war held in other camps in India, including Turks taken prisoner on the Mesopotamian campaign and German soldiers. 

Turkish PoW graves
Turkish PoW graves

The hospital complex consisted of old barracks, stone bungalows and galvanised iron huts spread over a large area nearly two and a half kilometres long by one kilometre wide. Housing over 2000 beds, the nurses cared for patients with diseases such as malaria, smallpox, Spanish influenza and cholera, in trying climatic conditions. Such conditions were too much for some nurses, such as Staff Nurse Emily Clare, who succumbed to Spanish Influenza on 17 October 1918.

Margaret Walker Bevan was born in Swansea on 22 October 1883, the elder of two daughters to John and Harriet Bevan. In May 1902 she became a trainee nurse in Coventry City Hospital. On completion of her basic training, she joined the Becket Hospital in Barnsley, rising to the position of Matron by the time she resigned in 1915.

She joined the Welsh Military Hospital, Netley (near Southampton) in July 1915, volunteering for overseas service. The hospital, maintained by voluntary contributions from Wales, had 399 beds and was treating casualties of the Great War within weeks of the British Expeditionary Force crossing the channel in 1914.

In May 1915 the Commanding Officer received orders to take the Welsh Hospital overseas to India as a complete unit with staff and equipment for 3000 beds. It was known as the 34th Welsh General Hospital, Deolali, India, and the nursing staff had to join The Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service (QAIMNS).

34th Welsh General Hospital

En route to India the personnel had three weeks stay at Alexandria where most of the nursing staff did temporary duties at various Military Hospitals. Around 20 June they landed at Bombay and were sent up in small numbers to Deolali as hospital wards were prepared. Margaret was put in charge of a ward of 70 beds, treating troops who had served in Basra.

34th Welsh General Hospital Ward

Later wounded Turkish prisoners of war were sent to that section. This photograph was taken in May 1917 and shows Ward 11 in the hospital in Deolali, with Margaret standing on the left hand side.

Another Nurse serving at the 34th Welsh Genera Hospital was Australian Vera Agnes Margaret Paisley was born in Bunbury, Western Australia in December 1892.  She was a certified nurse on enlistment in the Australian Army Nursing Service on 8 May 1917, serving until 12 November 1919.

She had previously worked for three years at the Perth Public Hospital. Embarking for service in India from Fremantle on 5 June, with the rank of staff nurse, Paisley reached Bombay on 18 June. On arrival she was posted to 34th Welsh General Hospital at Deolali, almost 260 kilometres from Bombay.

As well as the 34th Welsh, there was also the 44th British General Hospital and there was also a RAMC depot there.

The camp had a military prison that was used for soldiers of the British Army and, during the Second World War, for captured Indian nationalists who had served in the Japanese-founded Indian National Army.

During the Second World War the camp also boasted cinemas, swimming pools, amusement parks and restaurants for the troops.

Deolali Camp billiard room

No 159 Squadron with their Liberator Mk I bombers were based at RAF Deolali from 24th May 1942 to 1st June before moving onto RAF Chakrata.

No 656 Air Observation Post (AOP) Squadron was also at Deolali the OC Denis Coyle was told he would have to find and train all his own replacement pilots, which required his setting up an AOP Training School in Deolali, India, staffed and run by his own Squadron personnel, spreading his already limited resources ever more thinly.  This school was only partially successful, providing only eight pilots from two AOP courses, before he changed tack and formed 1587 (Refresher) Flight, which instead provided jungle training and theatre familiarisation for newly-qualified pilots sent out from the AOP School in the UK. 

After the Indian Independence in 1947, the camp was transferred to the Indian Army and was used as an artillery school and depot for at least 10 artillery and service corps units. It also hosted an army records office and an aerial observation squadron.

During the period leading up to independence the camp was known as the “Homeward Bound Trooping Depot” and was used to return large numbers of British troops and their families back home as British forces withdrew from the country under the scheme known as PYTHON

In the 1970s, the BBC sitcom series It Ain’t Half Hot Mum was produced about a Royal Artillery concert party based at Deolali Camp.

It Aint Half Hot Mum

09 – Captain Horatio Ross

Captain Horatio Ross

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.

Rossie Castle

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.

The Thistle – No 10 High Street Melton Mowbray

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.

Clinker with Captain Horatio Ross up, Radical with Captain Douglas up beyond, by John Ferneley

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. 

The Finish Of The Match Race Between Holyoakes Clinker with Horatio Ross Up and Lord Kennedys Radical, Ridden by Captain Douglas

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.

Indian watercolour sketches

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.

06 – Major Ronald Anthony Markham

In this blog, we move away from the Royal Air Force and take a look at the Major Ronald Anthony Markham, one of Meltons best known soldiers who served with the Coldstream Guards. He was killed in France shortly after the outbreak of WW1 and his body was one of the few repatriated back to the UK for burial.

Ronald Anthony was born in on the 15th October 1870 in West Cowes, Isle of Wight, Hampshire and baptised on the 24th November 1870 in St. Mary’s Church, Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire.  Born and officially registered at birth with the Christian name of Ronald, at his baptism he was given the second Christian name of Anthony, and latterly he was also referred to as Roderick Anthony Markham.

Major Tony Markham

He was the son of Colonel William Thomas Markham who had served in the Crimean War in the Rifle Brigade and Coldstream Guards and his wife Anne Emily Sophia Grant (also known as Daisy Grant or Mrs Colonel William Thomas Markham). Anne’s father was the famous Scottish painter Sir Francis Grant. Her portrait, painted by her father, hangs in the National Gallery of Scotland, and has been noted for its depiction of Victorian womanhood.  Another of his famous paintings, The Melton Hunt, which he completed in 1839 was purchased by the Duke of Wellington.

His siblings were, Mabel Wilhelmine Frances, born 5th April 1858, William Hope, born 13th December 1859 , Cecile Mary Isabella, born 6th February 1861, twins Claron Henry and Cyril Faulke, born 21st July 1866 , Hermione Violet Cyril, born 9th September 1867 and Rupert Evelyn, born 13th December 1868, Ethel Winifred Victoria, born 21st November 1871, Nigel Ivan, born 10th November 1872, Averil Constance Antoinette Janetta, born 1873, Gwendoline Beatrice Sanchia May, born 1876, and Sibyl Annesley Giana, born 1877

In April 1881, Ronald was a school boarder, and was residing at Palmer Flatt Boarding School, Aysgarth, Yorkshire and latterly he was educated at Charterhouse (Daviesites 1884-1887).

He initially joined the 3rd Battalion Prince of Wales’s Volunteers, South Lancashire Regiment and according to the Army and Navy Gazette published 20th April 1889 he was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant on April 13th.

He joined the Coldstream Guards from the Militia in December 1890, becoming a Lieutenant in August 1896, and Captain in December 1899.

He served with the first advance against the Khalifa in the Nile Expedition of 1899, for which he received the Egyptian Medal and Clasp.  An important and largely unsung figure in the early exploration of the Bahr-el-Ghazal region, he is a rare and officially confirmed officer recipient of the Bahr-el-Ghazal clasp.

From August 1899, to August 1903, he was employed with the Egyptian Army, serving as the Aide De Camp to the Sirdar Sir Reginald Wingate from April 1900 to December 1902, for which he received the Insignia of the 4th Class of the Imperial Order of the Medjidieh.

He travelled up the White Nile from Khartoum on 3 July 1901 with Pasha Von Slatin in the gunboat ‘Sheikh’ to deliver important communications from the Sirdar to local commandants in the region, and to seek news from the Austin-Bright Survey Expedition in July 1901. In the course of this journey he travelled inland, meeting and negotiating with local Sheikhs and tribal leaders.

Nile Gunboat “Sheikh”

After the murder of Bimbashi Scott Barbour on 10 January 1902 and the subsequent punitive expedition, there was much tension and potential danger in the region. A few months later, Bimbashi Markham was sent on an expedition up the White Nile from Khartoum (with Pasha Von Slatin) in the gunboat ‘Sheikh’ with several private communications from the Sirdar to the local commandants. Leaving on 3 July 1902, his expedition took several weeks.

binbashi, alternatively bimbashi, (from Turkish: Binbaşı, “chief of a thousand”, “chiliarch”) is a Major in the Turkish army, of which term originated in the Ottoman army. The title was also used for a Major in the Khedivial Egyptian army as Bimbashi (1805–1953).

As recorded in The Sudan Intelligence Report No.84 (1st to 31st July 1901): ‘Bimbashi Markham left Khartoum on the 3rd instant in the gunboat “Sheikh” for Sobat, Baro, and Pibor rivers to endeavour to open up communication with the Austin-Bright Survey Expedition, about which no news is as yet forthcoming. He carried letters from the Sirdar to the commandants of the Abyssinian posts at Gore and in the neighbourhood of Lake Rudolf, as well as one for Major Austin himself.

Markham was also with Miralai Sparkes Bey, Commandant of the Bahr-El-Ghazal Expedition, when they arrived at Khartoum from Wau on 28 September 1901. Markham had joined him from Meshra er Rek, as mentioned in Sudan Intelligence Report No.86 (1st to 30th September 1901).

On April 19th 1901, the London Gazette published the following notice “Whitehall, April 18, 1901, THE King has been pleased to give and grant unto each ot the undermentioned Officers His Majesty’s Royal licence and authority that he may accept and wear the Insignia of the Imperial Ottoman Order appearing against his name, the Decorations in question having been conferred by His Highness the Khedive of Egypt, authorised by His Imperial Majesty the Sultan of Turkey, in recognition of the services of these Officers while employed in His Highness’s Army. Medjidieh, Fourth Class, Captain Ronald Anthony Markham, Coldstream Guards.”

Major Markhams medals

His medals were sold by the Auctioneers Bonhams in November 2014 for £360 incl premium.

He was promoted to Major in 1907 and was serving with the 2nd Battalion Coldstream Guards.  At the time of the 1911 Census, Tony was stationed at Malplaquet Barracks, Marlborough Lines, Aldershot, Hampshire.

In August 1914, the 2nd Battalion were based at Windsor.  Eight days after the declaration of war, on August 12th 1914, Major Markham and the 2nd Battalion Coldstream Guards entrained at Windsor on two trains at 3:10am and 5:15am bound for Southampton.  On arrival at Southampton, the right half of the Battalion embarked on SS Olympia and the left half on SS Novia and sailed for Le Havre at 8pm and 7pm respectively.

The Battalion arrived at le Havre around noon on the 13th and disembarkation was completed by 2:30pm after which they marched in hot weather to rest camp, arriving at 4:30pm.

The 2nd Bn was with the BEF during the historic retreat from Mons.

On the 21st the Battalion was ordered to advance at 8.00am and to gain the Zonnebeke – Langemarck road, from which point it was to conform with converging attacks by the Irish Guards and the 3rd Battalion Coldstream Guards, on the right and left flanks respectively.

The Battalion entrenched a strong position which they held throughout the 22nd and 23rd, under an exceedingly heavy fire (principally high explosive) from the enemy’s artillery. Considerable opposition was found and the whole of the battalion was absorbed into he firing line, but by 3pm, the line of the road had been gained.

The Battalion was ordered to fall back during the night to conform with the line held by the remainder of the Brigade.  This operation as successfully carried out under the cover of darkness and the Battalion entrenched a strong position which they held throughout he 22nd and 23rd under exceedingly heavy fire, principally high explosive from the enemy’s artillery.

Tony was Mentioned in Dispatches twice by Field Marshal Sir John French, 1st Earl of Ypres who commanded the British Army on the Western Front.

The casualties of the 2nd Battalion from the 1st Battle of Ypres were Major Markham (killed), 2nd Lieutenant R. L. C. Bewicke – Copley (wounded), 15 Other Ranks killed, 34 wounded, and 4 missing.

Major R. A. Markham (Second in Command) who fell mortally wounded and whose loss was much regretted; was struck by a spent bullet and died without recovering consciousness two days later in hospital at Boulogne.

On Friday October 30th 1914 The Melton Mowbray Times & Vale of Belvoir Gazette published the following article under the heading. “MELTON’S ROLL OF HONOUR” – SIX LOCAL OFFICERS KILLED – MAJOR MARKHAM TO BE BURIED IN SYSONBY. A deep gloom has been cast over Melton Mowbray by the fact that four of its prominent foxhunting citizens, and other officers from Eaton and Kirby Bellars, have lost their lives whilst serving their country. A week ago we recorded with great pleasure and pride that Major R. A. Markham, of the 2nd Battalion Coldstream Guards, had been mentioned in Field Marshall Sir John French’s latest despatches for special gallantry in the field. It is now our painful duty to announce that he was fatally wounded at the beginning of the week.

On Monday evening a cable was received from Lady Sarah Wilson stating that he had died in her hospital at Boulogne without regaining consciousness, having been shot in the head.

Corporal Handley, who served in Major Markham’s Battalion of the Coldstream Guards up to the time he was wounded on the 15th September, speaks in the most glowing terms of many excellent qualities which the deceased possessed both as a soldier and a gentleman. To quote his words, “He was a gentleman to the officers and the rank and file. He was a soldier who was wonderfully liked by every man in the battalion, and the 2nd Coldstream Guards will mourn his loss for many years to come. Several times when we were without food he ran down the lines giving us a cheery word, and said he had tried his best to get some for us, but was sorry he had failed. He always did the best he possibly could for us, and never omitted to look after our comforts. In my opinion there was no better officer in the British Army, both for the way he looked after his men, and as a soldier.

Major Markham was our senior Major, and would have been Colonel after the war had he lived through it. He never knew what it was to be afraid, and whenever the Coldstream’s were called upon to do any desperate fighting he was always in the thick of it. When he got into the firing line he would take his place in the trench, borrow the rifle from the man who happened to be next to him, and do his share just the same as an ordinary Private. He has performed numerous personal acts of gallantry. On one occasion he was instrumental in saving the No.2 Company from total destruction. We were posted on the summit of a hill, with instructions to hold the position at all costs. Soon we came under an exceptionally heavy artillery fire which in a very short time would have wiped us all out. Major Markham suddenly dashed up to us in the face of the fiercest fighting, and led us back to a place of safety. We all retired in good order, and have only Major Markham to thank that any of us escaped alive. It was Major Markham who brought to the notice of the General a gallant deed performed by Corpl. Brown and Pte. Dobson who have been recommended for the V.C. He asked for volunteers to fetch in a wounded soldier, and these two went out in the face of a heavy fire.

Major Ronald Anthony ‘Tony’ Markham was wounded in action on 23rd October 1914 and died 2 days later on the 25th.  An early casualty of the Great War, during which the repatriation of the bodies of officers and soldiers was still possible, his body was repatriated back to the UK.

On Thursday 5th November 1914, the Melton Mowbray Mercury and Oakham and Uppingham news reported the following:

MELTON OFFICER’S FUNERAL. MAJOR MARKHAM INTERRED AT SYSONBY. The esteem and respect enjoyed by the late Major R. A. Markham and Coldstream Guards, who died earlier in the week at a hospital in Boulogne from the effects of wounds in the head sustained whilst fighting for his country’s honour, was demonstrated by the large number of persons who attended the funeral at Melton Mowbray on Saturday afternoon , the body having arrived just previously.

It was in a polished oak coffin, with brass furniture, covered with the Union Jack, and was conveyed straight to the Parish Church. The chief mourners were Mr. Archibald Smith (brother-in-law), Mr. Guy Markham, Mr. Frederick Markham, Mr. Richard Pearson, Mr. Davidson, Corporal Handley, and Coldstream Guards (who has returned home from hospital after being wounded in France), and Mr. H. Wood.

Those present included many of the deceased officer’s hunting comrades, amongst those noticed in the church being the Countess of Kesteven, the Countess of March, Sir G. S. Hanson, Captain Sir P. T .Fowke, Colonel Bouverie, Lieutenant-Colonel R. B. Muir, Mr. A. V. Pryor, Mr. and Mrs. R. E. Strawbridge, the Hon. Gerald Walsh, Captain and Mrs. F. Forester, Mr. C. J. Phillips, Colonel C. E. Fate, M.P.. Mr. F. B. Mildmay, M.P., Mrs. Cecil Chaplin, Miss Chaplin, Miss C. T Muir, the Misses Brocklehurst, Mr. Bernard Wilson, Mr. J. Montagu, Mr. Hare, Major T. B. Atkinson, Mrs. R. Blakeney, Captain H. Allfrey, Captain H. T. Barclay. Captain R. B. Sheriffe, Lieutenant Stewart Muir, Lieutenant Reynolds, the Rev. F. W. Knox (representing the Duke of Rutland), the Rev. R. C. Dashwood, the Rev. P. F. Gorst, Mr. E W. J. Oakley, J.P., Dr. H. C. Roberta, Dr. M. Dixon. Dr. Furness, Mr. G. W. Brewitt, MT. J. Gill, J.P., Mr. E sleeves. Mr A. H. Marsh, Mr. S. Fletcher, Dr. G. T. Wiliam, Mr. S. H. Garner, Mr. J. Atteriburrow, Mr. W. F. Hill, CC., Mr. F. Wright, Mr. G. Dickinson, and many others.

The whole of the men who have enlisted in the Reserve A Squadron of the Leicestershire Regiment were present under Major Wardsworth Ritchie, 116 were also the Reserve C Company 5th Battalion Leicestershire Regiment under Corporal Harker. and a detachment of non-commissioned officers and men from the Melton Army Remount Depot. under Captain Saunders, formed a guard of honour in the churchyard.

The Rev. Caron Blakeney read the service, the Rev. Canon Markham taking the lesson. Suitable voluntaries were played on the organ by Mr. M. Sargent, Mus. Bac and the choir rendered the hymns, “My God, my Father, while I stray” and “Peace, perfect peace.” At the conclusion of the service the mournful procession wended its way to the hamlet church Cemetery at Sysonby, where the interment took place, the Rev. Canon Blakeney officiating at the graveside.’ A very large number of handsome wreaths were sent.

Headstone of Major Tony Markham

He was a member of the Guards’ Nulli Secundus, and the Turf Clubs; also of the M.C.C. and I Zingari. He was fond of cricket and shooting, and was a very keen and hard rider to hounds. He grew up in Melton Mowbray, from which place he had hunted all his life, and is buried in Sysonby Churchyard.