THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Untold lives blog

112 posts categorized "War"

29 November 2018

Cadet William Lambert writes from Bombay in 1780

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In April 1780, East India Company military cadet William Lambert wrote from Bombay to his friend Jonathan Oldman in England.  He reported on the long voyage from England, his first impressions of India, his hopes of advancement, and a longing for female company.

Tom RawTom Raw gets introduced to his Colonel from Tom Raw, The Griffin (London, 1828)

The letter is addressed to Mr Jonathan Oldman, Bannest Hill, Caldbeck, Cumberland.

Bombay April the 30th 1780

Mr Oldman

Sir
I set me down with a great deal of pleasure to scrawl two or three lines to you.  I hope these lines will find you perfectly Happy in the Arms of your Dear ------ as I hope to be in a short time with one of the Beauties of the East.  I have arrived at the (long looked for) place, at last, after a passage of about Nine Months, which was very tedious time on Board a Ship, but knowing it was only for a time, and not for ever we spent our time agreeably as we could.  I have the pleasure of informing you that India is much pleasanter than I Expected, only the Middle of the day is rather to hold.  I thought when I left England, that I left all the Wars behind me, but have had the pleasure to find it to the Contrary, as the more danger more Honour, for the War is much hotter here than Europe, I have not yet got a Commission but expecting one every day.  I arrived on the Island on the 23rd of February 1780, this part of the World produces every thing one could wish for, the Pay of a Cadet is a Rupee per day, that is equall to half a Crown in England, and as soon as Commissioned more than double the sum; how happy I should be to be with you in Cumberland was it only for one day. 

We should have a pleasant [w]alk and an evening retreat, one might have a walk on a grass pland, but grass I have not seen in India the Sun burns all that away, so that we always walk on a Sand Bank, as on the Sea shore, which is very disagreeable for the dust.  If you will take upon you to Freight a Ship for the East Indies I will take upon me to tell what her Cargo must consist of; and that must be Ladies, for they fetch the highest prizes of any one articule.  I think some of your North Country Ladies will do very well, the Ladies here have Money plenty, we dont want you to bring any Fortunes only Beauties so if you think any thing about this affair I shall wait to purchase a part of your Cargo which I hope you’ll let me know in your first Letter which you’ll send by the First Ship that Sails for India, the News of India I have not Collected yet but by the next Ship you may Expect another line which is all at present from your ever loving and nevr failing Friend and Wellwisher

W Lambert
Cadet

NB direct to me at Bombay East Indies Ensign

PS I hope by the time you receive this to have a good step towards a Lieutenant Commission

Lambert MSS Eur C917India Office Private Papers MSS Eur C917

In our next post, I shall tell you more about William Lambert and how his life in India turned out.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
India Office Private Papers MSS Eur C917 Letter from William Lambert, Bombay Army Cadet, to Jonathan Oldman in Cumberland, 30 April 1780

 

18 October 2018

Propaganda Portraits of Muslim Rulers during WW2

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The Ministry of Information was the British Government department responsible for publicity and propaganda during the Second World War. On 22 August 1940, Arthur John Arberry at the Ministry of Information wrote to Roland Tennyson Peel at the India Office, enclosing colour portraits of Emir Abdullah of Transjordan (ʿAbdullāh bin Ḥusayn al-Hāshimī), the Sultan of Muscat and Oman (Sa‘īd bin Taymūr Āl Bū Sa‘īd), and the Shaikh of Bahrain (Shaikh Ḥamad bin ‘Īsá Āl Khalīfah, erroneously referred to as the Shaikh of Kuwait in the letter).

Arberry wrote that the Ministry’s Far Eastern Section had ordered a large quantity of these portraits for distribution in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), and that a caption would be added ‘indicating that these Muslim rulers support Britain in the present war’, in an attempt to foster support for the Allies amongst the predominantly Muslim population. He went on to request Peel’s advice ‘as to whether these portraits could appropriately be used for distribution on a large scale in the Middle East, especially in Hadhramaut and the Persian Gulf’, as propaganda.

This letter and the portraits, below, are included in the file IOR/L/PS/12/3942, which has been digitised and will soon be available to view on the Qatar Digital Library

Iorlps123942f19

Letter from Arthur John Arberry of the Ministry of Information, to Roland Tennyson Peel of the India Office, 22 August 1940. Reference: IOR/L/PS/12/3942, f 19. 

Ogl-symbol-41px-retina-black

EmirAbdullahPortrait of Emir Abdullah of Transjordan (ʿAbdullāh bin Ḥusayn al-Hāshimī), c 22 Aug 1940. Reference: IOR/L/PS/12/3942, f 21.

The copyright status is unknown. Please contact copyright@bl.uk with any information you have regarding this item.

SultanMuscat&OmanPortrait of the Sultan of Muscat and Oman (Sa‘īd bin Taymūr Āl Bū Sa‘īd), c. 22 August 1940. Reference: IOR/L/PS/12/3942, f 22.

The copyright status is unknown. Please contact copyright@bl.uk with any information you have regarding this item.

  HakimBahrain
Portrait of the Hakim of Bahrain (Shaikh Ḥamad bin ‘Īsá Āl Khalīfah), c. 22 August 1940 . Reference: IOR/L/PS/12/3942, f 23.

The copyright status is unknown. Please contact copyright@bl.uk with any information you have regarding this item.

Arberry was sent a reply from John Percival Gibson of the India Office, advising him that ‘we think it undesirable to make any use for publicity purposes of the Sultan of Muscat’s portrait, chiefly for the reason given in Peel’s letter to Rushbrook Williams of the 23rd January [1940]’. The letter referred to is not included in this file, however a draft copy of it can be found in file IOR/L/PS/12/2995, f 9. In this letter, Peel informs Laurence Frederic Rushbrook Williams of the Ministry of Information that ‘the Sultan of Muscat has asked that steps might be taken to prevent publicity being given…to Muscat. Apparently the Sultan is apprehensive that such publicity might draw unwanted attention to his country in German & Italian quarters’, and ‘We have promised to respect his wishes’. 

In Gibson’s reply to Arberry, he also stated that provided the Sultan of Muscat’s portrait was omitted, he did not think there would be any objection to distribution of the other portraits in the Middle East generally, but that this was more a matter for the Colonial Office and the Foreign Office. However, he added that ‘I doubt it would be worth the expense to make any distribution in the Persian Gulf, where the attitude of the Sheikhs is well enough known’.

Arberry further consulted the India Office about whether it would be politically acceptable to include a portrait of the Shaikh of Kuwait (Shaikh Aḥmad al-Jābir Āl Ṣabāḥ), to which Peel responded that there was no objection.

Before the portraits were finally approved, Sir Hassan Suhrawardy, Adviser to the Secretary of State for India, was asked for his opinion on them. Suhrawardy approved the green border of the portraits, but thought that it should be an olive shade instead. He also advised the Ministry of Information that the star and crescent symbol should be omitted from the border, for the reasons stated in the letter below.

Iorlps123942_f11

Copy of a letter from Sir Hassan Suhrawardy to E J Embleton, Studio Manger at the Ministry of Information, 5 November 1940. Reference: IOR/L/PS/12/3942, f 11.

Ogl-symbol-41px-retina-black

 

Susannah Gillard,

Content Specialist, Archivist

British Library / Qatar Foundation Partnership

 

Further reading

British Library, Coll 30/202 ‘Persian Gulf. Photographs of Notabilities (Sheikhs &c) (used for propaganda purposes)’ IOR/L/PS/12/3942

British Library, Coll 20/35 'Sultan of Muscat's desire to avoid wireless and press publicity during wartime' IOR/L/PS/12/2995

03 October 2018

‘Lads of true spirit’ – recruiting for the East India Company in Ireland

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Before Robert Brooke of the Bengal Army became Governor of St Helena in 1787, he spent time in his native country of Ireland.  He volunteered to recruit soldiers for the East India Company armies, and then devoted his time to establishing a cotton mill at Prosperous in County Kildare. 

  Recruits BM J 6 47Recruits (1780) - image courtesy of British Museum

The legality of Brooke recruiting men in Ireland on behalf of the East India Company was questioned in the House of Commons by Sir Lucius O’Brien in February 1778.  By way of reply Brooke wrote a paper justifying his activities. Brooke stated that the Company’s charter allowed it to raise men for the defence of their settlements abroad.  The war against America had forced the government to increase the bounty offered to recruits for the King’s Army, causing a sharp fall in the numbers of men volunteering to serve the Company in India.  Therefore the Company had turned to Ireland for manpower to defend its interests in India ‘which may hereafter prove to be the richest Jewell in the British Crown’.

Brooke countered arguments that Company recruitment would thin the population of Ireland with reasons for allowing the ‘temporary Emigration of the Natives’.  He claimed that ‘Idle and dissolute Mechanics will find that Employment of which they were deprived at Home… the Kingdom will no longer wear a face of poverty.. and Ireland will be purged of a riotous Peasantry, that often pass their Lives in beggary, and generally conclude them in Jail’.  The Irish would fight for the British Crown rather than join French or Spanish forces.

He also defended his methods – he did not send out recruiting parties; he did not beat a drum or give arms to any man; he did not lure men with false representations or ply them with liquor; and he did not rob masters of their apprentices.  Instead he placed a series of advertisements in the Irish press aimed at attracting young men ‘desirous of pushing their fortunes abroad’. 

  EIC recruitment Ireland 1779Dublin Evening Press 16 December 1779 British Newspaper Archive

Brooke said that many ‘spirited Lads’ had gone to India as soldiers and returned home with ‘ample Fortunes’.  He claimed that war with France and Spain now gave the prospect of speedy success through prize money.  Boys under eighteen had to have their parents’ permission to enlist. The East India Company ships taking the recruits from Dublin were searched for deserters.

The  registers of East India Company recruits embarking for India give a description of those who enlisted in Dublin during Brooke’s campaign.  The vast majority were recorded as being labourers under twenty years of age.  Very young boys joined as drummers: in 1779 John Hewitson aged 11 and Christopher Hewitson aged 12 sailed together for Bengal on the ship Neptune.

Given the very high risk of death from disease or in military action, many of Brooke’s lads would never have made the return journey from India to Ireland.  But perhaps some did find ‘not only a Road to Station and Honour, but to Wealth also’.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive
IOR/H/139 Papers on the recruitment of soldiers for the East India Company in Ireland 1778
IOR/L/MIL/9/90 East India Company embarkation list 1775-1784

 

18 September 2018

‘Pierce your heart’: Letters from Europe and North Africa by Indian prisoners in the Second World War

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Indian prisoner-of-war (PoW) experiences during the Second World War varied sharply, depending on where soldiers were taken captive and who their captor was.  Letters archived at the British Library, documented in military censorship reports, reveal how such experiences are inflected by differences in war fronts, military rank, individual agency – and sheer luck.

Pic 1Men of the 4th Indian Division with a captured German flag at Sidi Omar, North Africa. © IWM (E 6940)

The top priorities for one incarcerated Jemadar are toothpaste and shoes.  Writing to his friend in August 1942, he describes being imprisoned in Libya and then Germany, where has ‘a comfortable time'.  However, ‘we need some other things of daily use such as toothpaste and stockings.  If it is no trouble to you please send me a pair of shoes of No. 9 size’.  The Jemadar also reflects on the emotional charge of receiving letters from home: ‘The whole of that day the memory of India was fresh in our minds'.

Imprisoned in Germany, Sepoy Ajmer Singh, one of the few named soldiers in the censorship reports, writes rather accusingly in July 1943 to Sepoy Jahar Singh in Cairo: ‘I don’t know whether you are getting my mail, but I’ve sent you a lot of letters and had no reply. As prisoners of war we have nothing to take up our minds and we look forward to getting letters, so you must write to me once a month, or better still, once a week'.  Ajmer Singh’s prescriptiveness about epistolary regularity highlights an acute sense of boredom and loneliness.  How is one to pass the time in prison?

Pic 2Soldiers of the 4th Indian Division decorate the side of their lorry 'Khyber Pass to Hellfire Pass'.  'Hellfire Pass' was the nickname for the strategically important Halfaya Pass in Egypt, fortified by the Germans and which the British attacked, unsuccessfully, during Operation Battleaxe. © IWM (E 3660)

This significance of emotional connections established by textual exchanges is emphasised by an Indian sepoy in December 1942: ‘We were prisoners of Germany when our British forces reached Benghazi.  Germans left all prisoners and ran away. Now we are quite well and safe.  We suffered a lot for five months and did not receive any letter from home’.  He also reveals the physical and psychological cost of incarceration: ‘Our work was very hard starting at 5 am and finished at 7 pm…We were loading and unloading ammunition and petrol from the ships, for their advance line.  Once we refused to do that kind of work saying that it was against our King and country.  They said that if we disobey their orders, we will be shot down’.

Such terrible conditions of imprisonment continue to be detailed in a letter by a ‘Hindu bearer’ to his mother: ‘Dear mother, I was taken prisoner … in the month of June… I cannot describe how atrociously we prisoners were treated by the Germans.  We were given half a pint of water and one 8oz biscuit.  This was all our daily meal.  We were employed on odd jobs, fatigues from early morning till it was dark.  We were beaten and kicked by the Germans…We have suffered such a lot which, if I write down will pierce your heart’.

It is from such PoWs that Indian revolutionary Subhas Chandra Bose started recruitment in Germany in 1941 and Southeast Asia in 1943 for the Azad Hind Fauj, which offered armed resistance to British colonial rule in undivided India.

Diya Gupta
PhD researcher, Department of English, King’s College London
Find out more in this short film

Further reading:
Middle East Military Censorship Reports: Fortnightly Summaries Covering Indian Troops -
August 1942-April 1943, IOR/L/PJ/12/654
April 1943-October 1943, IOR/L/PJ/12/655
November 1943-January 1944, IOR/L/PJ/12/578

‘We become crazy as lunatics’: Responding to the Bengal famine in Indian letters from the Second World War 

The ‘Kashmir of Europe’ and other exoticisms: Indian soldiers’ tales of travel in the Second World War 

Exploring emotional worlds: Indian soldiers’ letters from the Second World War

 

11 September 2018

‘Baghdad in British Occupation’: the Story of Overprinted Stamps

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In March 1917, British forces captured the Vilayet [province] of Baghdad and took over the city from the Ottomans. Soon many administrative changes took place in the city, among which was the administration of the civil post office. One particular issue raised during the process was a supply of Ottoman stamps that was found in Baghdad. Before leaving Basra and other towns, the Ottoman forces either removed or burned their stamp supplies; however, they did not manage to do the same in Baghdad. The British forces decided to make use of these spoils of war instead of simply trashing them.

  Image001IOR/L/PS/10/670, f 272

They proposed issuing the stamps with an overprint ‘Baghdad under/in British Occupation’. Bradbury, Wilkinson & Co. Ltd of London, the firm that once printed the Ottoman stamps, was asked to provide lists of the stamps and their values before reissuing them.

Seeing that the stamps were of various designs and values, questions were raised about where exactly to place the overprint, and whether to overprint all the stamps or only a selection of them. A certain stamp that caught the attention was a two hundred piastres stamp which bore the portrait of Sultan Beşinci Mehmet Reşat (Muhammad Rashad V, reigned 1909-1918). There were concerns about overprinting his portrait.

Sultan Mehmed VStamp of the Ottoman Empire, 1914- Sultan Mehmed V - Wikimedia Commons

  Image002IOR/L/PS/10/670, f 153

Instructions came from the Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour that the stamp was not essential for revenue purposes and, that it ‘would appear politically desirable to omit it from the series’. It was therefore excluded from the overprinted reissue.

  Image003IOR/L/PS/10/670, f 141

The rest of the stamps were reissued with the overprint on their frames, thereby preserving the image and the writing that appear in the centre of each stamp. Examples of these are as follows:

A green and cream stamp portraying a lighthouse, an Ottoman tuğrâ (tughra) in the left top corner, and the value of 10 paras (1/2 anna) in the three other corners.

  Image004The British Library, Philatelic Collections, The Imperial War Museum's Stamp Collection

 

A blue and white stamp, portraying the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Camii), an Ottoman tuğrâ in the top, and the value of 1 qurush (2.5 ana) in the bottom corners.

Image005The British Library, Philatelic Collections, The Imperial War Museum's Stamp Collection

The collection also included postal stationery, for example:   

A reply postcard with a circular green stamp/watermark portraying the star and crescent emblem of the Ottoman Empire, and the Sultan’s tuğrâ within the star. The phrase ‘Ottoman Postage’ appears on the stamp both in Ottoman Turkish and in French. The stamp’s value is ten paras (1/2 anna).
 
  Image006IOR/L/PS/10/670, f 58Image007

 

A reply postcard with a circular red stamp/watermark, with exactly the same features of the green stamp, and the value of twenty paras (1 anna).

  Image008 Image009IOR/L/PS/10/670, f 60

News of the overprinted stamps soon reached Buckingham Palace and the newly established Imperial/National War Museum. King George V asked for a set of four of each variety for his personal collection.

  Image010IOR/L/PS/10/670, f 271

 

The Museum displayed its acquired set at the Imperial War Exhibition, held at Burlington House in 1918.

  Image011IOR/L/PS/10/670, f 78

Truly, the ‘Baghdad in British Occupation’ overprinted stamps are but a representation of a crucial episode of Baghdad’s history. These stamps tell the story of Baghdad, as control of the city passed from the Ottoman to the British Empire.

Ula Zeir
Content Specialist/ Arabic Language
British Library Qatar Foundation Partnership Programme

Further reading:
IOR/L/PS/10/670 File 1323/1917 Pt 1 'Mesopotamia: Postage Stamps'
1918 Imperial War Exhibition
The British Library, Philatelic Collections, The Imperial War Museum's Stamp Collection

 

28 August 2018

Hazards when crossing the Atlantic in the early 19th Century

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Charles Kingsley’s maternal grandfather, Nathan Lucas FLS, owned plantations in Barbados and Demerara.  Lucas left Liverpool in the Barton (Captain George Chalmers) on 4 January 1803.  She had two decks, three masts and displaced 212 tons.

Liverpool c13872-60The Port of Liverpool taken from the opposite side of the River Mersey. Drawn and engraved by William Daniell. G.7043 plate 39 Images Online

On 19 January, off the coast of Spain, he wrote in his journal: ‘At 5am a mountainous sea broke upon the Ship from head to stern, carried away our booms – one of our boats – stowed the other – all our stock washed overboard.  The ship was thrown on her beam ends, & did not right again! … she was entirely unmanageable, & could not wear round – but cut away the Mizen Mast, without any effect … we then cut away the main mast; & thanks to God she righted a little & we got her before the wind – immediately she was pooped, the windows all broken in, & the Cabin a sea of water.  As we had no masts, sails or boats, we did not think proper to put to Lisbon, fearful of being wrecked on a lee shore.  Madeira was out of the question & we kept on to Barbados … Got in a Jury Main Mast, made from the Derrick – we have no more spars, except foretop gallant mast & foretopsail yard – we are busy in making some from planks sawn and nailed together – busily employed in making sails, rope &c’.  The voyage to Barbados lasted 51 days. 

BridgetownBridgetown – engraving by Samuel Cope reproduced in West India Committee Circular Vol.XXVIII no.38, 6 May 1913

England and France were at war when Lucas returned on the Ash (master James Reed).  ‘A convoy for England being appointed, I determined to take the advantage of it, for safety of convoy, not expedition; for who has sufficient patience for the delays of a convoy! I have not, I candidly confess; but it is the lesser of two evils; & a prison would detain longer than a fleet.’  Twenty ships sailed from Barbados on 21 July, and eventually there were 176 ships escorted by HMS Courageous and HMS Venus. Lucas recorded six ships sinking:  “September 17th: We hear that the Betsey of Dublin foundered in the late gale, & all hands lost.  The unexpected & unfortunate War in which we are engaged, by keeping many tender vessels abroad, to wait convoy, instead of getting home as fast as loaden, & of course getting a winter’s passage, has been the cause of all the disasters in the fleet.”  The voyage to Bristol lasted 70 days.

On 18 August 1811 Lucas left Falmouth for Barbados on the Swallow (Captain Morphew). On 4 September they were boarded by the French frigate La Clorinde sailing from Madagascar to France. ‘It was soon rumoured that the Vessel would be given up to us, & the men &c exchanged on Cartel … They were in the greatest distress for provisions & water, though they had removed all from the Prizes they had made, but were now so low, they could not detain us.  Our private property was secured to us, tho’ they took away my Petite Neptune Francais.  Everything else was carried off, stores, rigging, sails, provisions &c … we really thought there were no provisions & water left; but we afterwards found some Pork & Potatoes.” They returned to Falmouth, where Lucas joined ‘the Express, Capt. Bullock, with Mails for the Windward Islands’, arriving in Barbados on 10 November. 

Peter Covey-Crump
Independent researcher

Further reading:
British Newspaper Archive 

 

22 August 2018

Emergency Rations in the India Office during the Second World War

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In February 1939, tensions in Europe were running high, and in the offices of British Government departments thoughts were turning to the possibility of war with Germany.  One issue raised was what provisions existed for the staff working in Government buildings in Central London in the event of air raids.  A file in the India Office Records at the British Library contains interesting correspondence on the subject.

Essential Staff - TelephonistsIOR/L/SG/8/524 Noc

A sub-committee set up to enquire into the matter decided that it was not necessary for large stocks of food to be held by Government Departments, but that the Luncheon Clubs in the various Government offices should arrange to increase their stocks sufficient to provide meals for 50% of their regular customers for a 48 hour period.  The response of the India Office was put in a secret letter of the 15 May 1939 to the Treasury.  This states that the India Office Luncheon Club was a small business run a by a caterer named Miss Lane, who served about 230 lunches a day to staff from the India Office, Foreign Office and Colonial Office.  She had made assurances that she had a stock of supplies sufficient to meet the sub-committee’s requirements, and that she was alive to the necessity for keeping fresh supplies.   

India Office Luncheon ClubIOR/L/SG/8/524 Noc

A year later, in June 1940, the Treasury informed the India Office that this arrangement had been reviewed in light of the new situation, and that Departments would be issued with a number of “Voyage and Landing Rations” by the Army Authorities.  The aim was to provide an emergency ration for essential staff who may have been required to remain at their offices or who were unable to obtain meals in the normal way.  The allotment to the India Office was 100 such rations for one day.  The following order was shortly received from the Army Supply Reserve Depot at Deptford, and carefully stored in the basement: 36lb preserved meat, 75lb M&V (meat and veg) rations, 75lb biscuits (Spratt’s), 6lb tea in tins (Brooke Bond), 14lb sugar (Tate & Lyle), 8lb margarine, 13½lb cheese in tins, 14lb of jam (Tickler), 12½lb chocolate (Cadbury, Fry), plus 20 tommy cookers (a small portable stove issued to British troops).

Ration Voucher (1)IOR/L/SG/8/524 Noc

Ration Voucher (2) IOR/L/SG/8/524 Noc

As London and other British cities were battered during the Blitz, the arrangements were adjusted accordingly to provide sleeping accommodation and food in the event that essential staff could not return to their homes. In July 1941, it was decided to store enough rations for three days.  Under the new arrangements the scale of rations for one person for one day was 6ozs preserved meat or 12ozs meat & vegetables, 8ozs biscuits, ½oz tea, 2ozs sugar, 2ozs condensed unsweetened milk, 2ozs cheese, 2ozs jam and 2ozs chocolate.

Daily Scale of RationsIOR/L/SG/8/524 Noc

The rest of the file is mostly taken up with correspondence on the regular return and replacement of expired rations.  However, it also contains a fascinating War Office booklet from 1943 on the use of special ration packs, and a press cutting from the Daily Express on self-heating soup!

   War Office booklet croppedIOR/L/SG/8/524 Noc



John O’Brien
India Office Records

Further Reading:
File E/1022 Provision of emergency rations for India Office, 1939-1945 [Reference IOR/L/SG/8/524]

 

26 July 2018

A soldier’s wife in the Crimea

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On a recent visit to the Green Howards Museum in Richmond Yorkshire, I was particularly taken with an article on display from the regimental magazine for 1895.  It was a first-hand account of the Crimean War by a soldier’s wife.  I found a copy in the British Library and it makes fascinating reading.

Crimean War c13775-75'A hot night in the Batteries'. Soldiers loading and firing cannons, during the Crimean War – from William Simpson and E Walker, The Seat of War in the East (London, 1855-1856) Images Online

Margaret Kerwin’s story was published in “Ours” – The Green Howards’ Gazette in 1895.  Margaret was the wife of Private John Kerwin of the 19th Regiment of Foot.  John was born in Carlow Ireland and he had enlisted in the British Army in February 1843 at the age of 20.  His first overseas posting was to North America where he served for nearly three years.

On 28 March 1854 Britain and France declared war on Russia. In April, the soldiers of the 19th Regiment who were stationed at the Tower of London were ordered to the Crimea.  People waved their handkerchiefs and threw oranges at the cheering soldiers as they left the Tower.  Margaret and fourteen other women went with the men on their journey.

Having sailed to Scutari, the regiment moved to Varna and then marched on foot to Devna.  Margaret bought a washing tub and carried it on her head with her cooking equipment inside.  She also carried a water bottle and a haversack with biscuits.  As they marched, men were overcome by the heat, and Margaret was kept busy providing them with drink.  In camp she was given the job of washing the clothes of 101 men, standing in a stream for twelve hours a day for very little payment.

Cholera and ‘black fever’ struck, killing large numbers of men.  Margaret fell seriously ill but her husband John had to leave her to fight in the Battle of Alma.  She was taken to the hospital at Varna where she received word that John had survived with just a slight wound.  Margaret refused to be sent back to England, and when she eventually recovered she was appointed as nurse at the hospital.

When the hospital was disbanded, Margaret sailed to Balaclava where she was reunited with John.  Shortly afterwards, the couple were ordered up to the front.  Margaret had a narrow escape when four shells exploded in her tent as she was on her knees ironing, her pet goat lying beside her.  A dozen shirts she was washing for Mr Beans were riddled with holes.

In November 1854, Margaret saw the Battle of Inkerman from Cathcart’s Hill.  She then had another brush with death when a Russian pistol held by a British sergeant went off unexpectedly and knocked the bonnet off her head.  Margaret was stunned but unharmed.

Having survived the Crimean campaign, John Kerwin went on to serve for seven years in India.  He was discharged from the Army in 1864 on a pension of 1s ½d, suffering from rheumatism.  John and Margaret returned to Carlow and lived to old age.  Her account of her experiences given in the 1890s ends: ‘If I was young to-morrow, I would take the same travels, but I would be a little wiser’.

Margaret Makepeace
Lead Curator, East India Company Records

Further reading:
“Ours” – The Green Howards’ Gazette Vol. III No. 25 (April 1895,) pp. 94-96.
Army discharge papers for Private John Kerwin (or Kirwin) No. 1737 can be accessed through findmypast.

 Green Howards Museum