62nd Regiment of Foot

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Also known as The Wiltshire Regiment.

Chronology

  • 1756 raised as 2nd Battalion 4th Regiment of Foot
  • 1758 became the 62nd Regiment of Foot
  • 1782 became the 62nd (Wiltshire) Regiment
  • 1881 amalgamated with the 99th Duke of Edinburgh's (Lanarkshire) Regiment of Foot to become the 1st Battalion of the Duke of Edinburgh’s (Wiltshire) Regiment
  • 1921 became The Wiltshire Regiment (Duke of Edinburgh’s).
  • 1959 amalgamated into The Duke of Edinburgh's Royal Regiment (Berkshire and Wiltshire)

History

This history of the Wiltshire Regiment (62nd Foot) is largely extracted from 'The Story of The Wiltshire Regiment ' by Colonel N.C.E. Kenrick, D.S.O. (1963). It has for the most part been extracted verbatim, with some sections taken out for the sake of brevity. It focuses only on that period when the regiment was in India.

1830-1832

See also Bangalore Mutiny

In June 1830, the 62nd sailed to India. Lieutenant-Colonel John Reed disembarked at Madras in September with three Companies, and camped at Marmalong Bridge outside the City, before marching to Bangalore, where the rest of the Regiment joined them in November.

The following year, in May, the Flank Companies marched to join a Force at Shimoga, 150 miles away, to quell Mahratta disturbances in the Nugger Province in North-west Mysore. Their presence restored order and the 62nd's Companies returned to Bangalore. All was quiet in Bangalore till October 1832, when a native conspiracy might well have resulted in the death of all the Europeans. An insurrection had been planned whereby the native troops and population, assisted by the Pindaris, who were roving freebooter terrorists, mostly outlaws from various tribes, were to rise on the night of 28th October. Five hundred conspirators would be admitted through the gates of Bangalore Fort by native soldiers. They were to kill General Hawker in his quarters instantly, cut down the 62nd's sentries on the magazine and seize it. The code word for the gate to be opened was "Tipoo Sahib," the name of an Indian adventurer and usurper killed in Mysore by the British some thirty years before. Once the fort was captured, the Indian cavalry and artillerymen were to cut loose all the horses of the British 13th Light Dragoons, and kill the white gunners. The Pindaris would then be called in to carry out the general slaughter. Fortunately the plot was discovered by a Eurasian Drummer in the 48th Native Infantry; faithful to the European side of his ancestry, he revealed it. Guards were strengthened, the Indian ringleaders seized, and the 39th Foot and other reinforcements brought in from Poonamallee. Punishment was condign, four of the conspirators were blown from cannon, two were shot, and the remainder transported for life.

The March to Masulipatam

Early in 1833, after an influenza epidemic, the Regiment received orders to march from Bangalore to relieve the 45th Foot at Masulipatam. This lay 400 miles to the North-east on the coast, and was the most unhealthy station in the Madras Command, if not in the whole of India. Lieutenant-Colonel John Reed made strenuous efforts for the Regiment to be allowed to make the second half of the journey by sea from Madras. His reasons were that to go by land would entail a two months' march through districts infested with cholera and famine. All entreaties were in vain, and the 62nd set out on the 18th February about 500 strong, at the start of a most disastrous period lasting for two years. The route lay due east through Kolar towards Madras, and on 1st March a halt was made at Chittoor, where cholera was raging and claimed its first victim. This was the wife of a Private Soldier, Mrs Steven Shipway, who died at Kolcherry, nine miles on, when the march was resumed northwards two days later. Some of the men fell sick at Kolcherry, and five were buried there that morning. together with a child belonging to the Regimental Surgeon, Doctor Radford. Twelve days later the Regiment reached Nellore, cholera casualties having occurred all the way, both among the soldiers and the inhabitants living along the route. Large numbers of half-starved natives had been procured to carry the sick in blankets slung on sticks. Daily this had become more difficult, and the cattle drawing the baggage carts died from fatigue and want of forage, the countryside being scorched and bare from the long drought. Nellore lay to the northeast near the sea, and here the 62nd camped for five days in a large Tamarind plantation on the bank of the Pennair River. Additional medical aid was received from Madras, the cholera abated, and was thought to have ceased when the march northwards was resumed. It soon returned. Five days later the Regiment reached the sea at Ramapatam, camping almost on the beach for a night before marching on along the shore to Cavador. On 9th April they reached Vellasor on the estuary of the Kistna. The cholera epidemic had lessened, and, crossing the river next day, they arrived at Masulipatam. The Regiment camped on a salt water marsh until the 45th Foot marched out on 16th April en route for Secunderabad, when they occupied Masulipatam Fort. The 62nd had buried nearly a quarter of their number on the journey, and of those remaining, only 100 were fit for duty. On 21st May the usual hot and violent winds set in, and fifty men a day for three days were admitted to hospital, principally with apoplexy and sunstroke. Many more deaths occurred, only forty-four men being fit for duty, Garrison Guards were discontinued and Regimental Guards decreased. Shortly afterwards, when the Regiment had to parade for the reading of a Government Proclamation, only four weak Divisions could be mustered. The three Officers on parade were the Commanding Officer, his acting Adjutant, and a Subaltern who carried one of the Colours, the other being borne by a Sergeant. An immediate report was made, and the General Commanding in Madras ordered the Regiment to move to Vizagapatam, 200 miles northeast along the coast. This was countermanded by the Commander-in-Chief in India, who ordered a Medical Committee of Investigation. Besides cholera, the 62nd were then afflicted with dysentery in a malignant form which killed within twelve hours. In August, when the Medical Committee assembled, the only men fit for duty in the whole Regiment were two Subalterns. The Committee recommended a sea trip for over 200 of the 62nd, and all those sufficiently recovered embarked in the 'Abberton', a chartered transport of 600 tons. The Commanding Officer and 154 others sailed on 27th August for a six weeks' cruise in the Bay of Bengal, visiting the Nicobar and Andaman islands. A large number of men convalescing from cholera and dysentery, and crowded on board a small ship with rudimentary sanitation, were not likely to regain their health by sailing through tropical seas in light marching order. Eleven men died at sea, and most of the remainder were readmitted to hospital on their return with dropsy and scurvy, from which many more died.

The following March Lieutenant-Colonel John Reed returned to England on two years' sick leave, but died early in 1836 from fever contracted at Masulipatam. Back in Masulipatam the depleted Regiment enjoyed better health in the early part of 1834, but the June rains brought on violent attacks of fever, ague and dysentery. The hospital was crowded, part of the barracks had to be turned into wards and deaths averaged seven a day. Another report was sent to the Commander-in-Chief in India, who was up in the Nilghiri Hills in Mysore. He at once ordered the 62nd to move to Moulmein in Burma, and Masulipatam ceased to be a European military station.

Moulmein

On 8th September the Regiment embarked for Burma. Only fifteen men appeared on parade, the remainder being hospital cases. In sixteen months at Masulipatam the total number of deaths came to 3 Officers, 187 Rank and File, and 115 women and children. During the ten-day voyage across the Bay of Bengal, a further twenty-four men, women and children died, and there were none strong enough to act as Pall Bearers. In October a welcome Draft arrived from England, nearly 300 strong, but by the end of the year a further fifty-eight deaths had occurred from diseases caught in India. Since leaving Bangalore the Regiment had lost about three-quarters of its men and many of their families, and all to no purpose. The recent Draft far outnumbered the remainder. With the New Year, health rapidly improved in Moulmein and the surrounding Tennaserim Provinces. Another large draft from England arrived later in 1835, and early the following year further reinforcements brought the rank and file up to 700. The 62nd began to revive, and spent four more years in Burma.

In 1837 the old King of Burma was dethroned by his brother Tharawaddy who ignored both the British Resident and the treaty with the East India Company. War threatened but a show of strength by British warships and troops calmed things down. In 1838 the situation was permanently improved by the arrival of a sloop of war and a new British Resident at Rangoon. The following year a Burmese plot came to light for the burning of the town and magazine at Moulmein, prompt action by the 62nd preventing this. In 1840 further substantial Drafts arrived from England, and Brigadier George Hillier again went to Calcutta because of ill-health, only to die there of apoplexy. No ships arrived from Calcutta for two months, which upset both communications and supplies. Affairs had assumed a threatening aspect in India by the middle of the year, and the 62nd were ordered there.

Return to India

In September and October the 62nd sailed from Burma to Calcutta. A Draft of 100 men from England awaited them in Fort William. Their records stated, "By November the temptations which Calcutta presented had tended much to injure the morale and regularity of the Corps." On 5th November they started on a month's march to Hazaribagh, 2,000 feet up in the hills of Bihar. On the very first day the old scourge of cholera broke out again. Twenty-two men died on the way, making fifty-six deaths in all since leaving Burma. The families and the sick went up the Ganges by boat to Dinapore, and were then faced with thirteen days' march South to Hazaribagh. This station had been chosen for European troops as having one of the coolest and most temperate climates in India, but the barracks, though large, were badly built, and the water was impure. Early in 1841, a Draft of fifty recruits brought cholera with them from Calcutta. The Regiment's Assistant Surgeon committed suicide, and the Chaplain died of the disease. The June rains set in and there were 150 men in hospital, 38 of whom had died by September. The following month the 62nd relieved the 50th Foot in Calcutta. Sickness again increased with the advent of the hot weather, there being over 200 of the rank and file in hospital in April and May, with much cholera and many deaths. This was attributed in the main to the climate, "but was no doubt augmented . . . by the great extent of intemperance which prevailed in the Regiment to an amount unparalleled in its records."

The Loss of the Colours

At the end of July, the 10th Foot arrived from England, and the young Springers relieved the old Springers in Fort William. On 11th August the first Division of the 62nd set off in boats up the River Ganges for Dinapore, near Patna. All went well till 6th September, when a violent storm arose at two o'clock in the morning. The flotilla was moored to the bank opposite a place called Sickree Gully, near Bhagalpur. Many of the boats were blown from the shore and swamped, two lieutenants, forty-three of the rank and file and eighteen women and children were drowned. Colonel and Mrs Reed had the narrowest escape, their pinnace being blown loose and on to her beam-ends. The occupants managed to scramble out and cling to the sides, the Colonel and his wife doing so through the window of the after-cabin. In this position they drifted down with the current for three hours, the boat rolling from side to side but fortunately never righting, in which case she would have sunk. There were people on the banks and plenty of boats there, but their cries for help were ignored. At daybreak the dinghy was discovered, still attached to the stern by a rope. Scrambling into this they gradually righted the pinnace and half baled her out, and all were safely landed at Rajmahal. About fifty of the rank and file, who had also drifted downstream in their boats, collected here. A steamer was sent from Bhagalpur in which, with the Colonel, they overtook the Regiment. The Colours and the regimental records had been in the pinnace, and all went to the bottom of the river. All of the Officers' Mess silver was lost for good, except for a silver snuff box which was being used at the time by the Adjutant. The Regiment reached Dinapore on 1st October 1842.

The Punjab and the 1st Sikh War

See also 1st Sikh War

In December, 1844 the 62nd were relieved by the 39th Foot, and started their march to the Punjab. In February 1845 they reached Delhi, and they arrived at Ferozepore, in March. The 62nd's barracks were still in the process of building, as a British Regiment was not normally stationed there; the aggressive attitude of the Sikhs beyond the River Sutlej determining the change in policy. For two months the Regiment camped out, and when they moved into ten barrack blocks in May, there were still no doors to the buildings and no officers' quarters. By now the hot weather had come, and once again cholera struck the Regiment. They always seem fated to be in a part of India rife with the disease, and there was much of it in the Punjab during that month of June. In this Asiatic variety the victims turned black and suffered cramp in the limbs, but stood every chance of recovery if they survived the first forty-eight hours. The Regimental hospital was not ready till July, and the sick had to be accommodated in one belonging to the Native Infantry. In September there were 170 men in hospital, and, by the outbreak of the 1st Sikh War in December, 126 men had died from cholera and apoplexy. Ferozepore was just South-East of the River Sutlej, which formed the boundary between that part of the Punjab ruled by the Sikhs and the territory governed by the British. The 62nd's barracks lay in a great sandy plain without a tree or a blade of grass. A mile away was the old city, with the Frontier Treasury and Military Headquarters.

The Sikh religion had much in common with that of the Hindus, but with no caste system. The Sikhs never cut their black hair or beards, wore a comb in their hair, a short sword or dagger, a steel bracelet and a pair of short drawers. Tall and strong, they had an intensive military enthusiasm, and called themselves the Khalsa, the chosen brotherhood of the elect. For the past six years the "Sikh" Punjab had seen a ceaseless struggle for power between the Army and the Government with much intrigue and strife. All Sikhs were, however, united in the expectation of a British attack. Late in 1845 they moved to invade British India from a variety of motives; forestalment and self-preservation were two of them, but the thirst of the soldiers for power, natural pugnacity, and a desire on the part of the Government to involve their own Army in something other than internal strife, were greater influences. On 21st November the Sikh Army, in great numbers and with a large train of artillery, left their capital of Lahore and marched South-East towards the Sutlej, fifty miles away. Their progress was marked by the firing of guns at each daily halt. Foreseeing trouble, the British Governor-General in India, Sir Henry Hardinge, had taken certain steps. At Ferozepore, Major-General Littler now commanded a Division, though it was only 6,000 strong. Farther East, 11,000 more troops had been assembled at Ludhiana and Ambala under the Commander-in-Chief in India, General Sir Hugh Gough, and the Governor-General himself. From now on, Light Cavalry Patrols were very active from Ferozepore, and, in early December, the 62nd started sleeping fully dressed with laced boots, and muskets by their cots. On 11th December the Sikhs commenced crossing the Sutlej about fourteen miles above Ferozepore to the North-east, and had some 12,000 men on the near bank by the next day. At midday on 12th December, the 62nd was ordered to occupy a position on the left bank facing North-east covering the cantonment and the city. Next day the Sikhs moved nearer with more and more men crossing the river, constant artillery salutes marking the arrival of each contingent. The 27th Native Infantry occupied the city, and the 63rd Native Infantry guarded the families and the sick in entrenchments in the cantonment.

On 12th December, the Governor-General and the Commander-in Chief set out from Ludhiana with 11,000 to 12,000 men. On the 14th the Sikh's main camp was at Attaree only seven miles from Ferozepore, with outposts close up to it. This portion of the Sikh Army was commanded by Sirdar Tej Singh, and made frequent demonstrations for the next three days. The 62nd made night sorties, but the Sikhs always retreated towards their heavy guns whereupon the British withdrew, being under orders not to stage a main attack. During this period Rajah Lal Singh, with 14,000 Regular Cavalry and masses of Irregulars, joined Tej Singh to the accompaniment of an eighty-gun salute. The combined Force numbered 60,000 men. The two Sikh Commanders by no means saw eye to eye. On the evening of the 16th, Lal Singh sent a message to Captain Peter Nicolson of the 28th Native Infantry, who was the British Political Agent in Ferozepore, saying that he was a friend of the British, and wished to prevent an attack to prove it. Nicolson replied that he should withdraw with his cavalry towards Moodkee, to show his sincerity, knowing that the Commander-in-Chief's Forces were approaching that place. Lal Singh did so, but attacked the British at Moodkee on 18th December. On 17th and 18th, Tej Singh's troops did little except loot villages and fire salutes from Zamburaks, light guns discharged from the backs of camels. On the 17th Littler received news of General Gough's approach. The following evening the weather was cold, and Ashburnham was sitting with Nicolson in his tent, smoking a cheroot and sipping a night-cap of grog. A wounded Sikh was brought in by a vidette of the 3rd Light Dragoons, and a threat of hanging brought the first news of Lal Singh's repulse by the British that day at Moodkee.

The Battle of Ferozeshah

See also Battle of Ferozeshah

At eight o'clock on the morning of 21st December Littler's Division marched. The 62nd, in full kit, red coats and stocks, numbered just under 600, including many convalescents from cholera and fever just out of hospital. By 12.30 p.m. they had covered the twelve miles without incident, and joined the other British force about five miles South-west of Ferozeshah. General Gough's total force was now about 18,000 with sixty-three guns, mostly of small calibre, and a preponderance of native troops. The exact position of the enemy was not discovered until three in the afternoon, when they were found strongly entrenched around Ferozeshah village. This Sikh force was the one commanded by Lal Singh; reinforced since fighting at Moodkee, it now totalled over 30,000 men with more than 100 guns, many of large calibre. Tej Singh, with at least an equivalent force, was still encamped some ten miles away near the Sutlej. The village of Ferozeshah lay behind a high embankment, along which the Sikhs were positioned. In front of them the ground was flat and completely open for 300 yards, then came brushwood and jungle through which the British advanced to the attack at four in the afternoon.

Later events

The regiment was probably in transit in the Punjab in July 1879[1].

Books

  • The Springers. The First Battalion Duke of Edinburgh's Wiltshire Regiment, illustrated with a short extract from the records of the Regiment, Quetta, Baluchistan, 1899. Photographs by Fred Bremner Published by Fred Bremner, 1899
Available at the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre / Wiltshire Studies Library
This is a photographic album produced by the photographer Fred Bremner, one of four known photographic albums of British Army Regiments in the North-West of India which he published in Quetta and Lahore in the early 1900s. As an indication, that for the 1st Battalion Cheshire Regiment consists of a brief History of 20 pages followed by 38 full page printed photographs.[2]

Regimental Journal

The Journal of the Wiltshire Regiment, vol. 1. no. 1-vol. 6. no. 3. June 1928-June 1939. Not published between June 1939 and June 1949 New series. vol. 1. no. 1-vol. 5. no. 21. June 1949-July 1959. Available at the British Library

Notes

  1. See India List for July 1879, s.v. Surg P J O'Sullivan.
  2. www.iberlibro.com

External Links

Historical books online