by Michael Kirkby
Nottinghamshire, one of England’s oldest counties, home to the folk myth of Robin Hood and the literary genius of D.H. Lawrence has always housed strong military relations with the rest of the country since the Norman Conquest in 1066.
The place where King Charles I raised his standard representing the start of the English Civil War has also produced many individuals who have swelled the ranks of the British army during Britain’s growth in 200 years from a trading island to an Imperial force pioneering global relations. Men from the city, it’s suburbs and it’s surrounding towns and villages have fought across all arms and units travelling to the furthest corners of the globe helping to establish relationships and trade routes throughout the world. They have also fought in some of the most prolific battles recorded in British military history, some even attaining the highest military award, the Victoria Cross, for valour on the battlefield.
Home to also two local regiments, the 45th and 59th, these have also recruited local men into their ranks as they fought across the global battlefields. Though both regiments have played their part, the 45th (1st Nottinghamshire Regt.) was established in 1782, the year following the loss of the American colonies when all regiments were awarded a county title pertaining to their main recruiting base. Previously founded as Houghton’s Regiment, named after their Colonel, Daniel Houghton who created them in 1741, they were renamed Warburton’s Regiment in 1745 and renumbered the 45th in the same year.
The 45th enjoyed a varied military life, fighting in the West Indies and becoming one of the Duke of Wellington’s most reliable veteran regiments, fighting in nearly all his Peninsula campaigns and earning his respect as well as their nickname ‘the old stubborns.’ Following the Napoleonic wars they further served in the Cape, New Zealand, Burma and North Africa.
The 59th also served with their sister regiment in the Peninsula and later in Afghanistan between 1878-80 making them one of the first regiments to switch from wearing the traditional red jacket in battle to wearing the first form of khaki uniforms that were experimented with by the army during the ‘small wars’ fought in Africa and Asia. A visitor to Nottingham Castle today can find a wonderful monument to the men of the 59th who fought in the Afghan Campaign.
But local men did not just stick to their local regiments. Many also ended up in cavalry, specialist and other infantry regiments and marched across the world in famous battles and campaigns.
Waterloo, one of the bloodiest engagements recorded in history and a turning point in European warfare also witnessed Nottinghamshire men see its horrors despite neither the 45th or the 59th being present. The heavy cavalry made many gallant charges across the field that day on the French artillery positions to prevent them from annihilating the British infantry positions the Duke was dependent on. Within the ranks of the Life Guards, regarded as the cream of British cavalry, were John Shaw and Richard Waplington. Both hailing from Cossall and known as the ‘Cossall Giants’ for their height and strength they both perished on the field that day, Shaw took six of the enemy cavalry with him, using his helmet as a club when his sword snapped and Waplington surrounded by enemy cavalry as he clung onto an enemy standard. Both were buried new the British stronghold of La Hay Saint after the battle. Another Cossall man, again serving in the cavalry at Waterloo was Thomas Wheatley, a light dragoon who survived the battle and returned to England later to serve in the local militia. He was later buried in Cossall Churchyard and today a monument stands to all three Cossall Men. Another Nottinghamshire man who saw heated action on the field of Waterloo was Matthew Clay from Blidworth, Mansfield who fought with the 3rd Regiment of Foot Guards (Scots Fusiliers). He fought at Quatre Bras on the 16th June 1815 and later his regiment moved to Hugoumont- the fortified chateau where he took part in the desperate fight for the grounds when the French broke in and kept up a fast rate of fire all day. Following Waterloo he returned home with the regiment and promoted Corporal in 1818 and sergeant in 1822. He later fought again in Spain during their Carlist Wars and upon leaving the army he joined the Bedfordshire Militia. Matthew died in Bedfordshire in 1873.
Waterloo was not the only famous battle Nottinghamshire men have also fought in. Almost 65 years later at a company of British soldiers held out at an arid South African supply depot called Rorke’s Drift, made famous by the epic Michael Caine film, ZULU. After their regiment were decimated on the mountainside of Isandhlwana by a superior force of Zulus, a smaller number of 4,000 broke off to attack the supply depot used as a river point. The defence was quickly formed by two officers, Lt. John Chard of the Royal Engineers, and Lt. Gonville Bromhead of B’ Company 24th Regiment who set about forming barricades out of biscuit boxes and ‘mealie’ bags joining up the flimsy farm buildings that served as their only form of defence. Within the ranks of B’ Coy hurriedly manning the defences were Caleb Wood and Robert Tongue, two Ruddington born teenagers who had joined the year before. Despite the Zulu onslaught and the burning down of the farm buildings the post held out and eventually reinforcements arrived. For the action at Rorke’s Drift eleven Victoria Crosses were awarded to the officers and defenders, the highest number awarded to date for a single action and to this day the defence strategy is used to train serving soldiers. Wood and Tongue later returned to Nottinghamshire, Wood became a curtain maker in Ilkeston and Tongue a frame work knitter in his native Ruddington. Amongst their number at Rorke’s Drift was also James Marshall, although born in Hertfordshire he later moved to Nottinghamshire and ran a general store. Wood, Tongue and Marshall are all buried together in Ruddington general Cemetery. Though the defenders fought bravely the leadership of their officers also helped them to remain at their posts in such a frail situation. Lt. Bromhead, although born in France hailed from the family home at Thurlby Hall, Newark. Born into a notable military family, his great-grandfather fought under Wolfe at Quebec, his grandfather fought the Americans during the War or Independence and his father had fought at Waterloo. Along with Wood, Tongue and Marshall he was sent out with 24th in 1878 to fight in Ninth Kaffir War. Second in Command under Chard at Rorke’s Drift, Bromhead commanded the B Company defenders where he was awarded the VC and made in brevet Major for his actions during the defence. Later actions saw him fight during Third Anglo-Burmese War. Bromhead later shipped out to India but contracted typhoid and died at Allahbad in February 1891.
Bromhead was by no means the only Nottinghamshire recipient of the Victoria Cross. Quartermaster Sergeant William Thomas Marshall of Newark was awarded the distinction in 1884 at the battle of El Teb for rescuing a wounded officer. A similar act by Private Samuel Morley from Radcliffe on Trent also saw him awarded the VC in 1860 for his actions with the Bengal Military Train in 1858 when he and another protected a wounded officer from marauding enemy troops. Another Nottinghamshire man, Captain William Raynor from Plumtree blew up a powder magazine during the Siege of Delhi with him and eight others inside to prevent it from falling into enemy hands. Only Raynor and two others survived but their quick thinking and sacrifice meant the enemy were deprived of a vast amount of powder and ammunition.
A few years earlier, Private Francis Wheatley from Ruddington saved his mates lives in the frozen landscape of the Crimea when a Russian shell landed amongst them. Wheatley coolly reached down and heaved the shell over the trench they were sheltering in, saving all their lives. In the same year Sergeant Robert Humpston of the Rifle Brigade, and one other man, cleared a Russian rifle pit that was being prepared to fire on the British positions.
Back in South Africa, following the actions at Rorke’s Drift, Colour-Sergeant Anthony Clark Booth of Carrington rallied his small band of men to cover the retreat of British soldiers against an overwhelming number of Zulus. Abandoned by their officer Booth held the Zulus off and gave the fleeing troops a greater chance of escape.
Finally, Harry Churchill Beet, a Nottinghamshire born man serving with the Sherwood Foresters during the Second Boer War was awarded the VC for remaining with a wounded soldier whilst his regiment fell back, bandaging his wounds and firing at any enemy patrols that came too close until after dark when help finally arrived.
The men named here are just a few of many who have hailed from the county of Nottinghamshire, many more have gone on to do great deeds, and without a doubt many more still to come. But those named above, whether awarded the highest distinction for bravery in battle or not, all fought at a time when the army was still coming into itself and was slowly becoming a dominant power as they vanquished both European foe and native warrior alike. All of them strove to do their duty against overwhelming odds in the name of the King / Queen of England and they all fought in a style of warfare that became obsolete come the turn of the twentieth century and mechanized armaments ruled the battlefield. They were, the redcoats of Nottinghamshire.
Michael Kirkby is a Nottinghamshire based military historian with a special focus on the British army between 1700-1900. Author and owner of Redcoats & Muskets: Military Historic Learning he has also written other works on the local military heritage of Nottinghamshire including The Redcoats of Ilkeston and The 45th versus Napoleon. He hopes to have The Redcoats of Nottinghamshire published by the end of 2013. For more information please visit his website at:
or for further information on his research please email him directly at: