AN ILLUSTRATION IDENTIFIED?

 

Richard J. Stacpoole-Ryding

 

 

 

66th at Maiwand - The Penny Illustrated

 

 

 

 

 

In this modern age we take for granted the extensive and technical media coverage of conflicts around the world. We are either shown live what is happening at the scene or what has happened in edited news clips.

 

This was not so during the Afghanistan 1878-80 War and the general public had to rely upon detailed accounts and artists impressions of what may have been witnessed if the reader happened to be at the scene. But just how accurate were these artist’s illustrations? The following discussion attempts to answer this question by examining one particular illustration of the time.

 

The above illustration was published in The Penny Illustrated Paper and Illustrated Times of 14 August, 1880[1] entitled The Battle of Khushk-I-Nakhud: In Memoriam: The 66th “Die But Never Surrender.” It depicts the firing line of the 66th (Berkshire) Regiment engaged in close contact with the Afghan cavalry. The following text accompanied the centre page spread:

 

No Englishman can read the account of General Burrows’s stand against Ayoub Khan, and particularly the passage referring to the devotion of Her Majesty’s Sixty-Sixth Regiment, without agreeing that the phrase applied to the French Imperial Guard at Waterloo is especially applicable to the Royal Berkshire Regiment of Foot. To the memory of the 66th we have devoted the large Illustration which fills our centre pages.

 

The remainder of the text consisted of an account of the battle and retreat to Kandahar and reference to the British involvement in the First Afghan War in 1842.

 

To the right of the sketch a group of Ghurkhas can be seen fleeing from the oncoming enemy. In the foreground there appears to be an officer laying either dead or dying with the Regimental Colour over him with a Sergeant taking possession. To the left of the firing line another officer, with a sword in his right hand, appears to be giving firing orders. On first glance a detailed, exciting and action packed illustration taking the reader close to the battle. A closer inspection, however, reveals a different story and from what is perhaps a sketch of nameless men, becomes a human interest picture.

 

It is fairly safe to say that artists and illustrators of the time were prone to extensive poetic licence especially with regimental uniforms, but this is for discussion at another time. The most glaring mistake in this illustration concerns the fleeing group of Ghurkhas that can be seen in line with the Berkshires. There can be no mistake from the uniforms that it is Ghurkhas that are depicted. The fact is, there were no Ghurkha regiments at the Battle of Maiwand. The two Indian regiments present were the 1st Bombay Native Infantry (Grenadiers) and the 30 Bombay Native Infantry (Jacob’s Rifles).  One can not say how the illustrator managed to get Ghurkhas in the sketch. It seems a common mistake as it has been recorded before in various sources about the Ghurkhas being present. Only in February this year an article appeared in The Independent newspaper about the current action in the Helmand area of Afghanistan. The writer alluded to the fact that the Ghurkhas were fighting on the same ground today that they had done at Maiwand over 100 years ago.

 

 

Image of Helmet [Click here to view detailed record]A smaller detail that needs correction is the helmet that the officer on the far left of the sketch is wearing. The helmet has a spike on the top of the headgear. The Berkshires certainly did wear tropical helmets but none, including the officer’s had any adornments on them other than the Regimental badge. The officers wore a white tropical helmet while those of the ranks were in khaki. The picture (left) shows the tropical helmet worn by Major J. Ready of the 66th (Berkshire) Regiment at Maiwand.

 

It is possible that the artist had available certain details of the battle and from these he was able to portray the actions of the Sergeant in the foreground.  I believe that it is possible from this sketch to actually identify both the officer and Sergeant and the location on the battlefield and so bring this illustration to life.

 

There were two Colours present with the Berkshires at Maiwand. The Queen’s Colour under the protection of Second Lieutenant Olivey and the Regimental Colour under the protection of Second Lieutenant Honywood.

 

The illustration clearly shows the Colour involved is the Regimental Colour. The Colour was of the 1868 pattern and measured 3ft 9in. by 3 feet. The background was coloured grass-green, matching the Regiment’s collar facings, and the fringe was gold and white while the cords, or tassels, were a mixture of gold and crimson. In the centre was ‘LXV1’ within a circle that was inscribed ‘BERKSHIRE REGIMENT’ in gold on red below a crown, all within a Union wreath; the Union being in the upper canton. The honours displayed were PENINSULA, DOURO, ALBUHERA, PYRENEES, NIVE, TALAVERA, VITTORIA, NIVELLE and ORTHES. 

 

 

The Regimental Colour has quite a history attached to it during the battle. At the commencement of the action the Colour was in the care of Second Lieutenant Arthur Honywood (left), who was located at the Regiment’s HQ position behind the firing line. At some stage during the battle Honywood was to be found in the forward firing line of D Company minus his Colour. He was wounded in both legs and rescued by Private 676 Richard Lodge. There are no references to why or how Honywood was where he was and who had ‘temporary’ custody of the Regimental Colour.

 

The next we hear of the Regimental Colour is at The First Stand. Here the commanding officer of the 66th Regiment, Lieutenant Colonel James Galbraith (left) was urging his retreating men to rally around him and hold the enemy back across the Mundabad Ravine. Galbraith, kneeling on one knee was seen holding the unfurled Regimental Colour. Any man holding a Colour was to be a marked man and soon he was killed and the Colour fell to the ground. Who was nearby Gailbraith but Honywood, who immediately picked up the Colour and became its custodian. The Regimental Colour of the Berkshires and the wounded Honywood became a focal point for the enemy and during the withdrawal through the village. Unable to go on any further he held the Colour up high urging the men to rally round it, shouting, ‘Men, what shall we do to save this?’ He was then struck by a bullet and died instantly.

 

Lieutenant Maurice Edward Rayner, the Regiment’s Adjutant (left), took up the Colour and made his way through the village. He was hit by a bullet and fell dying to the ground just before the safety of the walled garden. Drummer 1497 Michael Darby, the Bass Drummer in the Regimental band, who had enlisted in 1869, remained by Rayner’s side, ignoring the pleas of the dying officer to go and save himself. Darby remained by Rayner’s side until he was killed himself.

 

 

The Colour was taken up by Second Lieutenant Walter Rice Olivey (left) who, despite being badly wounded during the retreat, successfully made his way into the walled garden where The Last Stand was to be made. The fighting was intense and the Berkshires were facing overwhelming odds. The Regimental Colour was held aloft by Olivey who, although already badly wounded, refused to relinquish the Colour, even though he was urged to do so. He was soon killed and almost immediately Sergeant-Major 1171Alexander Cuppage took up the Colour, holding it high, but he was in turn killed while leaving the garden in an attempt to stop the enemy capturing the Colour.

 

In a letter to his mother, Captain Slade of the Royal Horse Artillery wrote of Olivey:

 

Poor young Olivey, 66th, who was carrying one of the colours was asked by a sergeant to let him carry it as he (young Olivey) was wounded…He threatened to shoot the sergt with this revolver and said he would rather die by the colour than relinquish it in defeat. He was shot dead 5 minutes after.

 

From the facts and evidence presented there appears to be enough to come to some conclusion as to who is portrayed in the illustration.

 

There is no doubt that the Colour in the drawing is the Regimental Colour and we know that only Honywood, Galbraith, Rayner and Olivey had possession of it at any one time during the battle. Galbraith, Honywood and Rayner all died holding the  Colour prior to the Last Stand. Rayner is known to have been in the company of Private Darby before he died. This only leaves Olivey unaccounted for.

 It is known that he was in the company of Sergeant-Major Cuppage who had been urging him to relinquish the colour. The letter written from Slade identifies Olivey and a Sergeant who was threatened to be shot by Olivey if he took the Colour. The illustration shows a Sergeant taking possession of the Regimental Colour from an officer who appears either dead or mortally wounded. The rank insignia on the Sergeant’s left sleeve is three chevrons and a crown. This is the insignia of a Colour-Sergeant.

Historically, Colour Sergeants of British line regiments were tasked with protecting Ensigns, the most junior officers who were responsible for carrying the Queen’s Colours and their Regimental Colours to rally troops in battles. For this reason the Colour Sergeant rank was considered a prestigious one given normally to courageous Sergeants who had attained accomplishments in battles. This tradition continues today as Colour Sergeants form part of a Colour Party in military parades.

Could it have been Sergeant Major Cuppage who was threatened by Olivey? We know it was he who took up the Colour following Olivey’s death.  He would have been close to Olivey as both were on Galbraith’s staff, and part of Cuppage’s duties would have been to look out for the Colours.

With this evidence and examination of the facts as known and compared with the illustration published in The Penny Illustrated Paper and Illustrated Times it must be reasonably safe to state that the two men in the drawing are Second Lieutenant Walter rice Olivey and Sergeant Major Alexander Cuppage.

 

Both men were awarded the Afghanistan 1878-80 medal without a clasp. Olivey’s medal is in the The Rifles (Berkshire & Wiltshire) Museum, Salisbury. Cuppage’s medal is in a private collection but at some point during it’s history it was converted into a widow’s brooch.

 

 

Acknowledgments:

 

Garen Ewing: Image and texts from The Penny Illustrated and Illustrated Times

 

The following images are reproduced by kind permission of The Curator, The Rifles (Berkshire & Wiltshire) Museum, Salisbury:

 

Photograph of Major John Quarry’s Tropical Helmet (on display in museum)

Photograph of Lieutenant Colonel James Galbraith

Photograph of Lieutenant Edward Maurice Rayner

Photograph of Second Lieutenant Arthur Honywood

Photograph of Second Lieutenant Walter Rice Olivey

 

 

 

| BACK TO CONTENTS |

 



[1] No. 995 Volume 39