Monday, August 04, 2008

Major General Sir Gerald Graham VC

This is the commanding officer of my Sudan Expeditionary Force, Major General Sir Gerald Graham VC.

Graham was the only son of a Northumbrian doctor and was born on June 27 1831 in Acton, Middlesex. He was educated in Wimbledon and Dresden (he spoke and wrote fluent German and even translated some German technical texts relating to the Franco Prussian War).

Graham was a huge man, six foot six inches tall and broad shouldered and the ultimate fighting Victorian soldier.

The RMA at Woolwich in the mid-nineteenth century

He attended the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich from 1847 and then went on to the School of Military Engineering at Chatham. The Royal Military Academy at Woolwich trained officers for the Royal Artillery and Royal Engineers from 1741 until 1939. In 1947 it was amalgamated with Sandhurst (which had trained infantry and cavalry officers).

The buildings at Woolwich today. It is currently being turned into luxury apartments.

Graham was commisioned as a Lieutenant into the Royal Engineers in 1850 and found himself in action in the Crimea; taking part in the battles of Alma, Inkerman and Sebastopol. It was at Sebastopol that he won his Victoria Cross, leading a ladder party during the assault on the Redan on June 18th 1855.

Graham as a new VC holder

A very brave man (Wolsey called him "the bravest man I have ever met") he was also made a Knight of the French Legion d’Honneur, received the Crimea medal with three clasps, the Turkish Crimea medal and the 5th Class of the Order of the Medjidie.

The Taku forts. Graham was hit by a ball from a jingal fired from the ramparts.

In the Second (or third, depending on how you classify it) China War he was seriously wounded in 1860 during the taking of the Taku forts but recovered to enter Peking with the victorious British Army. As a result of his services in this campaign he was made a Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel and a Commander of the Bath and received the China medal with two clasps.

He returned to England in 1861 and for the next 16 years he was Commanding Engineer successively at Brighton, Aldershot, Montreal, Chatham, Manchester, and York. In 1877 he was appointed Assistant Director of Works for Barracks at the War Office.

In 1882 he was, to all intents and purposes, unemployed when the call came to accompany his old friend Sir Garnet Wolseley to Egypt as a Brigadier General commanding the 2nd Brigade of the 1st Division thoughout the campaign. He was present at El Magfar, Kassassin and Tel-el-Kebir where he was in the thick of the action as usual. He was made a K.C.B. and received the thanks of both houses of Parliament, the Egypt medal with clasp, the 2nd Class Order of the Medjidie and the Khedive’s Star.

Graham and his staff at Suakin.

Following the Sudan campaign he was again officially thanked by both Houses of Parliament, promoted to Lieutenant-General for services in the field, granted the 1st Class Order of the Medjidie and awarded two clasps to the Egypt medal. He commanded the Suakin Field Force in 1885 for which he was thanked by both houses of Parliament for the third time, made a G.C.B. and received another clasp to the Egypt medal.

General Graham was placed on the retired list in 1890. He was made a G.C.M.G. in 1896 and awarded the ceremonial post of Colonel Commandant of the Corps of Royal Engineers in 1899. Lieutenant-General Sir Gerald Graham, V.C., G.C.B., G.C.M.G., died of pneumonia at Bideford on the 17th of December, 1899, and is buried at East-the-Water Cemetery, Bideford, Devon.

Graham's grave in Bideford

His Victoria Cross is currently owned by his Great, Great, Great Grandson, Oliver Brooks, and is on display at the Royal Engineers Museum at Gillingham, England.


Steve-the-Wargamer said...

Brilliant post - love digging into the history behind my little metal men too.. :o)

Thinking on it, it's hard to believe that Graham didn't meet Gordon when in China....???





Eileen Welsh said...

My grandmother's brother served under him in the Sudan Campaign - he was in the 1st Battalion of the Black Watch. He wrote many letters home to his parents and his descriptions of the battles of El-Teb and Tamaii make amazing reading. Here is an extract of his letter describing the Battle of Tamaii - I think it illustrates just how much the soldiers respected General Graham - in fact my great uncle described him "Gen. Graham is as fine a fellow as there is in the British army".

About 7am on the 13th we advanced towards the enemy’s position and about 7:30 the firing commenced; we were within 100 yards of them and we kept advancing, but we could not get the square formed, as the Marines kept going to the left and then to the right, and that put us out of order. Then we were ordered to charge, a great mistake I think; the enemy were just wanting us to do that, but we charged, ours the 65th and the Marines and we were just rushing to our death, for the smoke from our big guns and the firing on our right completely blinded us and we could not see more than three yards in front of us and the enemy were advancing on their hands and knees and cutting our men down like rabbits. Then the Marines began to retire, and they got inside the square and we were all forced to retire and leave the guns and I thought that it was going to be another Hicks Pasha affair, but General Graham came riding right up to the front of the square and shouted “Men of the Black Watch who will rally around me” and we were all shouting “I will”. He got about 200 around him and then the other regiments came rushing up and were determined to do or die. Then we began to advance again and the blacks came rushing up in hundreds but we kept up a steady fire and we could seen them falling as thick as snow, then we made a rush and once more got our guns. Then you should have heard the cheer, it struck terror into the blacks and as they were retiring down the ravine we were shooting them down like rabbits, but when we came to know the truth we were overjoyed to see that the square had retired, for if we had gone ten yards further there would not have been one dozen of the Black Watch left to tell the tale, as there was a deep ravine (just like those at Swallowship*) and at the bottom there was thousands of them and if we had gone ten yards further we would have rushed right over and those that did not get killed by the fall would have been cut to pieces.