Officers and Gentlemen



Bourne Hall Museum mounted a display entitled 'Officers and Gentlemen' and they have very kindly let us use their text.

For additional background reading about the various conflicts please click on the links which will open the relevant entries in Wikipedia the free online encyclopedia. External links open in a new window.

Defense Of Rorkes Drift by Alphonse-Marie-Adolphe de Neuville
Defense Of Rorkes Drift by Alphonse-Marie-Adolphe de Neuville


Members of several well known families of Epsom and Ewell have served as officers in British military history.

Col. Thomas Glyn of the 1st Regiment of Foot Guards, who is buried in St. Mary's Ewell, began his service in the American War of Independence in 1776. This was a time when the British Army was doing well with victories at the battles of Brooklyn and White Plains. By 1793 he had returned to Europe to take part in the Flanders campaign. The French revolutionary government was short of money and so attacked the Netherlands with an eye on Amsterdam's banks. Col. Glyn and his foot guards fought what has been described as a brilliant engagement against a superior enemy at Lincelles. His relative, Major Richard Lewen Glyn of 81st Regiment of Foot Guards, died at St. Domingo in 1795, now the island of Haiti. He was in an engagement against a French force as part of a long running battle for (French) West Indian colonies.

Life in the armed forces could be exciting but short. George Bond, who lies buried at St. Martin's in Epsom, died as a Midshipman on board the man of war Minorcan on 7 October 1783. He was returning from Madras after being in five engagements and two sieges - and he was only 16 years of age. George Bond had taken part in what was known as the 2nd Mysore War and was at the siege of Mangalore, which was taken by the Black Watch.

Wellington at Waterloo by Robert Alexander Hillingford.
Wellington at Waterloo by Robert Alexander Hillingford.

The Northey family, whose family seat was at Woodcote House, Epsom, has a long and distinguished military history. Edward Richard Northey obtained a commission in the crack 52nd light infantry and served throughout the Peninsular War. He was wounded at Vittoria when the British Army finally drove the French from Spain. The French were so sure of success that they had put up a grandstand to allow local people to watch their forthcoming victory. Edward recovered from his wound and took part in the battle of Waterloo where he was again wounded, this time in the head. He was not the only local man at Waterloo. Captain James Gubbins of 13th Dragoons, who was killed in the battle on 18 June 1815, is buried in St. Martin's churchyard. His brother, Lieutenant Col. Richard Gubbins CB, is recorded on the same headstone but is interred at Kensal Green.

In 1854 the British Army landed in the Crimea, now part of Ukraine, some way north of Sevastopol. The Russian commander, seeing the risk of being cut off, marched north and took up a strong position overlooking the river Alma. Here he was attacked by British and French forces in what was probably the last battle fought in full dress uniform. The Russians fled back towards Sevastopol; the British wanted to attack but the French held back and the Russians retreated under heavy bombardment from the artillery. It became possible to attack the fortress but again the French did not engage and the chance of an early end to the war was lost. Fighting would continue at Sevastopol till September 1855. Two local men served at Sevastopol; one of them was John Stokes, later to become Lt. Gen. Sir John Stokes KCB, and the other was Joseph Adcock. He had enlisted with the Royal Military Train (which became the Army Service Corps and the Royal Army Service Corps in 1919) and volunteered for active service in the Crimea. He suffered a bayonet wound to the knee and returned to the base hospital at Scutari, where he was nursed by Florence Nightingale. Unlike many in the disease-ridden war, he made a full recovery and died in 1910 at the age of 78 after living 49 years in Worcester Park.

Lieutenant Sir John Stokes had already seen service in the Kaffir wars in South Africa, fought between the native population and European settlers, before he was sent to the Crimea, he led an Engineers Corps of Anglo-Turkish soldiers. He was present when Sevastopol eventually fell. Returning to Ewell, he lived at Spring House. He was later consulted by Disraeli on the Suez Canal, and represented the British Government on the board of the Suez Canal Company. His concerned about the military implications of its use as an invasion route was instrumental in preventing a channel tunnel from being built in the 19th century.

Colonel Edmund Pipon Onmanny, who lived at York House in Worcester Park for over 20 years, joined the army in 1859. He served in the China War of 1860 and was in the action at Sinho, the capture of Tangku and the Taku Forts, and the occupation of Peking, in which he was mentioned in despatches. In 1864 he took part in the Bhutan Expedition, an invasion which set out to put down an uprising in this small and mountainous country, but after 16 months was added to the British Empire. After taking part in the Afghan War of 1878-9, he found himself in Burma in 1885. King Thibau, came to the throne as a young man, and killed off his rivals in the royal family. He introduced a foreign policy which favoured French trading interests over those of the British. After a short war, the Burmese were defeated and the British annexed the upper part of Burma to the Empire. In 1888 there were outbreaks of resistance to British rule on India's North West Frontier, and Onmanny served in the punitive expedition which suppressed fighting in Hazara and subdued Sikkim. Fighting on the Indian frontiers was made difficult by rough and broken country which was well suited to ambushes and the concealment of snipers. The British imposed their peace on these territories for two years before renewed revolts led to a second expedition to Hazara and Samana. This was Col. Onmanny's last campaign, and on it he was joined by a young member of the Northey familey, later to become Major General Sir Edward Northey. Sir Edward was the grandson of that Edward Richard Northey who had been wounded at Waterloo.

Edward Northey
Edward Northey
Image courtesy of Jeremy Harte, Curator, Bourne Hall Museum

While Onmanny was serving in Burma, another Ewell man was there - Major Perkins. Originally campaigning in India with the 62nd Wiltshire Regiment, by the 1885 Burma campaign he had transferred to the India Staff Corps. Later he took part in the suppression of the Dacoits, and served on the Burma Commission. In his retirement he lived at the Grange in Ewell, and did what he could for other old soldiers. Each year he opened his gardens for fund-raising fêtes held by the Lest We Forgot Association. He is buried in Ewell Churchyard.

The South African or Boer War was the first overseas war to have a measurable impact on life in Epsom and Ewell. Many men had gone as volunteers - the 2nd Volunteer Battalion, East Surrey Regiment, had a section drawn from the Epsom district. The sons of local gentry were officers in the army. On 17 June 1900, the annual church parade of the Epsom Friendly Societies took on a patriotic element: a collection was made en route for the Surrey Soldiers and Sailors Families Association to lend colour to the idea that the turnout would be in keeping with the times. In the end, the church parade was some 800 people strong. The Union flag was everywhere, streets were lined with people, and the collecting boxes had "Pay Pay Pay" written on them. Other boxes were fixed onto long poles to collect the contributions of those watching from the windows of their houses.

Thirteen volunteers left Epsom for South Africa. There was George Holdsworth, the builder and decorator of 22 East Street, and William Rose, the tobacconist in the High Street. James Weaver of Kingston Lane and W. Skelton of East Street enlisted, as did the brothers W.E. Williams and E.T. Williams. W. Skelton did not return as he died on service in South Africa. Another volunteer was Sergeant W. J. G. Dumbrill, who had been in the army serving in India, took part in the failed rescue of General Gordon at Khartoum, after which he served for eight years on the North West Frontier. He volunteered for South Africa with the other local men. The 2nd Battalion of the East Surreys took part in the relief of Ladysmith, Tugela Heights, Alemans Nok and the famous Spion Kop engagement.

Local volunteers were held in high regard. The three members of the Epsom Foresters Society had their subscriptions paid while they were away, and the society undertook to supply their sick payment, should they come back wounded. They were presented with special certificates. Major Coates of Tayles Hill in Ewell had offered to pay the men's subscription but the society declined, as they thought they themselves should cover the men who were away. Their names were read out in church every Sunday and prayers were said for them.

As well as local volunteers many local gentry went, including Captain Reginald White, later to become a local historian. His father George - 'Lawyer White' - had been clerk to the old Board of Health and first clerk to Epsom Urban Council. Captain White's mother was sister to Henry Mayson Dorling, Clerk of the Course. There were two members of the Dorling family who served in the South African War, Lionel and Walter: both of them rose to the rank of Colonel. Lionel joined the Yorkshire Light Infantry and was mentioned in dispatches and won the DSO. Another local officer was Lieutenant Colonel Henry John Archibald Banks DSO, of the Hampshire Regiment. He was a Captain at that time, serving as a signaling officer in the 7th Division, where he too was mentioned in dispatches and awarded the DSO. Major K.F. Davey, the Conservative agent to Epsom's MP, served in the Intelligence Department in the Eastern Transvaal. The conflict involved all ranks of society, up to the highest. Sir Charles Grant, who had married Lady Sybil the elder daughter of Lord Rosebery, was wounded during his time in South Africa.

The Relief of Ladysmith by John Henry Frederick Bacon
The Relief of Ladysmith by John Henry Frederick Bacon

The Northey family lived up to their military reputation during the Boer War. Major General Sir Edward Northey, who had served in India, served in South Africa as a Captain, at the defence of Ladysmith and the battle of Talana. From 1900 he was in the eastern Transvaal, where he was wounded twice and mentioned in dispatches. When he returned to Epsom the town turned out in force and a carriage procession took place to his home.

Sergeant Robert George SCOTT VC, DSO
Sergeant Robert George SCOTT VC, DSO
Image source Epsom College who also own the copyright.

Many old boys of Epsom College fell in the South African war. There is a war memorial window to their memory, unveiled on Founder's Day in 1903 by Winston Churchill. Robert George Scott, who had been a pupil of the College, served as a sergeant in the Cape Mounted Riflemen during the Basuto War of 1879. When an attack was made on Morosis Mountain, a stone wall was used by the enemy as a barricade. From behind this they were able to fire heavily on the British riflemen. There were no hand grenades available, but Scott volunteered to throw time fuse shells over the wall instead. He made his men take cover, in case the shells burst prematurely. At the second attempt a shell exploded almost as he was holding it, blowing his right hand to pieces and he was wounded severely in the leg. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for making this attack. In spite of his wounds he continued to serve in South Africa with the Kimberley Light Horse, Scotts Railway Guard and the Cape Railway Sharpshooters. He won a further decoration, the DSO, and reached the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

Colonel Richard Glyn
Colonel Richard Glyn

Early on the morning of 11 January 1879, Lord Chelmsford entered Zululand. Crossing the Mzinathi River, he paused at Rorkes Drift. Chelmsford's No.3 or center column was both his strongest and his most experienced; normally it was under the command of one of the Glyn family, Colonel Richard Glyn of the 24th Regiment. But the presence of Chelmsford in effect took away Glyn's command. Chelmsford halted approximately four miles from Isandlwana. He had issued detailed regulations for the defence of all camps, calling for wagon laagers or earth entrenchments at every stop. Colonel Glyn suggested protecting the camp at Isandlwana. Chelmsford decided against it, although after the event he tried to blame Colonel Glyn. Chelmsford, with Colonel Glyn, left Isandlwana with six companies of the 2/24th, setting off in pursuit of what they believed to be the main Zulu army. While they were gone the Zulu attacked. No one member of the remaining six companies of the 24th survived and the the casualties among the defenders left in camp were the largest ever inflicted on the British army by a native army. Of the 1,700 men, only 460 survived.

Battle of Isandlwana from the Illustrated London News
Battle of Isandlwana
from the Illustrated London News

When Lieutenant Colonel Francis Vernon Northey arrived in Zululand, he had already seen war in the Red River campaign in Canada. During the American Civil War, Britain had sympathized with the Confederate States and after it was over the American Government was prepared to allow, if not actively to encourage, raids over the border into Canada. From 1866 onwards these were made by Irish soldiers, who had formed a large part of the now disbanded Northern Army. Britain sent troops to stop their so-called Fenian raids. In 1869 Louis Riel, a trapper, organised a revolt at Fort Carry, the modern Winnipeg. His men imprisoned settlers and murdered those who had opposed them. Lieutenant Colonel Northey joined a tiny force of three regiments, one British and two Canadian, who struggled through the wilderness under almost impossible circumstances. After months of travelling the force arrived at Fort Carry and dispersed the rebels. Riel fled to the United States.

Lieutenant Colonel Northey
Lieutenant Colonel Northey
from the Illustrated London News
Image courtesy of Jeremy Harte, Curator, Bourne Hall Museum

From early March in 1879, reinforcements of British regulars began to arrive in Zululand and by the end of the month Chelmsford felt strong enough to undertake the relief of Eshowe. He took with him a powerful force of 3,390 Europeans and 2,280 Africans. Chelmsford was determined that nothing should go wrong this time: baggage was kept to a minimum. Campsites were to be fortified every night, boxes of spare ammunition their lids already unscrewed, were to be ready at all times. By the 1 April the column had reached a place called Gingindlovu, which the troops rapidly turned the name into 'Gin, gin, I love you'. They encamped without incident, though increasing numbers of Zulus were being sighted. Chelmsford decided to stay in camp on 2 April, partly hoping that the Zulus would attack his strongly fortified position, and also to rest his men and animals.

The Battle of Isandlwana
The Battle of Isandlwana
from the Illustrated London News

As dawn broke, the enemy did exactly what Chelmsford had hoped for. An impi (an armed body) of 10,000 warriors, all veterans of Isandlwana, came storming across the Inyezane River in their classic fighting formation. 'It must', wrote a contemporary observer, 'have been about 6.20 am when the Zulus made their first great effort to storm the front, right and rear faces of our defences. Their advance was indeed a splendid sight, as just at that moment the sun came out and shone full on the lines of plumed warriors, who, with their arms and legs adorned with streaming cow-tails and each brandishing his coloured ox-hide shield and flashing assegais, rushed forward with a dash and elan that no civilised troops could have exceeded'. In the laager at Gingindlovu all was ready; a few orders were given: - 'no independent firing - volleys by companies when they are within three hundred yards'. The Gatling gun was allowed a short burst at 800 yards, and cut a swathe through the Zulu ranks which was a foretaste of what was to come. The Zulus closed in on all sides of the laager, coming under increasingly heavy fire from the regulars and an assortment of others perched in the waggons. Again and again the Zulus stormed up the laager, taking terrible losses. Only one got inside, a young boy who was captured and ended up a mascot on a ship of the Royal Navy. After about an hour and a half, the Zulus began to fall back in a retreat, which became a rout when Chelmsford unleashed the colonial mounted infantry and local soldiers in pursuit. The Zulus lost over 1,000 men, Chelmsford 13.

Lieutenant Colonel Northey was serving with the 3rd battalion of the 60th Rifles. He commanded six companies of the 3/60th as part of the Rear Division of Chelmsford's column. The Zulus could not breach the British defences at Gingindlovu, but they were able to use captured rifles to open fire on Chelmsford's men. Lt Col Northey was hit deeply in the right shoulder by a Zulu bullet. He turned his command over and went to the surgeon who removed the bullet. As he cheered his men on, shouting to be heard above the din, he suffered a sudden haemorrhage and collapsed, bleeding heavily from his brachial artery. He died four days later, on the 6 April. Initially he was buried with the other casualties of the conflict (another officer, and eleven privates, had died) but later his body was exhumed and brought to England.

The fighting had long finished when a war correspondent wrote that 'a sharp canter of ten minutes brought us to the laager, which is still covered with debris. A great many Zulu shields are scattered about the field; any heap which gives the slightest covering is a sure find. The tombstones of Lieutenant Johnstone and some men of the 99th, and that of Colonel Northey, which lies close to them, were rapidly sketched. These were in a good state of preservation; the wooden fencing around Colonel Northey's tomb has a rustic aspect, and the gravestone looks solemn and impressive, standing alone in the centre of this dreary plain. No dead bodies were to be seen, but I was told that they were lying in the surrounding bush'. Lt Col Northey was interred in the Northey family plot near the chapel in Epsom Cemetery. His original wooden grave marker, made from a packing case lid, was brought back from Zululand and mounted behind glass on the gravestone.

This article is based on an account by Jeremy Harte, Curator of Bourne Hall Museum


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