HOW WAS THE 66th (Berkshire) REGIMENT DEPLOYED?

 

Lieutenant-Colonel Mike Snook MBE

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This article was originally published in Maiwand Despatches July 2007. It has been edited and updated for The Last Stand. The results of Mike Snook’s research was included in his book ‘Into the Jaws of Death: Epic Fights of Queen Victoria’s Army’ and in ‘Maiwand – The Last Stand of the 66th (Berkshire) Regiment, Afghanistan 1880’ written by Richard Stacpoole-Ryding.

 

 

It took me about ten years to identify all the elements in the ‘accepted’ history of the Battle of Isandlwana which in my eyes did not hold water, and about another ten years of serious research and field work to pin down some satisfactory answers. I am pleased (and not a little relieved) to say that my findings, hypotheses and theories, published in late-2005, have, thus far at least, stood up well to rigorous examination by a sometimes merciless cabal of Anglo-Zulu War enthusiasts! Now, however, I’m about to put my head in the noose once again, by holding forth on a subject just as dear to just as expert a group of enthusiasts – the readership of Maiwand Despatches. Worse, I am about to do it without the benefit of a 20 year build-up to publication. Quite how your esteemed editor talked me into this act of madness, I cannot now remember, except to reflect that he is evidently a real charmer. So with a cautionary ‘I’m no expert’ caveat safely in place, I’ll move on to describe what I’ve been up to for the past 18 months, in the hope that it will make some sense and be of passing interest to you.

 

Having done Isandlwana (How Can Man Die Better) and Rorke’s Drift (Like Wolves on the Fold) to death, it was time to move on to pastures new. ‘Afghanistan!’ I suggested to my publisher - naively as it turned out. ‘It’s really interesting and it’s in the newspapers all the time - bound to go down well,’ said I. Au contraire Blackadder, quoth he. Minority sport, old chum. Think again. So to cut a long story sideways, the best I could do was talk him into a more broad-brush look at Victorian colonial warfare. Keen to learn more about Maiwand, perhaps because of the obvious resonance with Isandlwana, I had to settle not for the full length treatment, but for a single chapter in a wider survey of the Victorian Army in defeat. That meant that I would have to research the battle in parallel with a dozen or more competing themes. The end result is a chapter of about 25,000 words, (a good size admittedly), in a book called Into the Jaws of Death: Epic Fights of Queen Victoria’s Army, published in October 2007. Previously I wrote a short but comfortably ‘safe’ Maiwand piece for BBC History a few months previous to the book publication.

 

You will know, better than I, that a literature search quickly comes up with Leigh Maxwell and Brian Robson, but not very much else of substance. From these late 20th Century accounts, one is quickly thrown back in time to the Official History, Hanna, and Hensman. Roberts’s biography and Haines’s autobiography, which one might reasonably expect to be more useful, throw little light on the battle itself. Next step – pick the brain of a real expert. So it was, through the good offices of The Wardrobe, that I made contact with the supremely helpful Richard Stacpoole-Ryding, who put me on to the all-important Intelligence Branch ‘narrative accounts’ and Lieutenant Manus L. O’Donel’s letter of 13 September 1880.[1] I must in passing also express my thanks to Mr. David Gore, who has an excellent web-site on Maiwand, and who was also kind enough to put me on to an important primary source.

 

As a man with an eye for detail, the one thing that struck me immediately from reading the secondary accounts of the battle was that the authors did not seem to know very much close detail about the 66th. I confirmed with Richard that nobody seemed quite sure which officers were in which companies, or how the regiment formed up on the firing line. Irritatingly no one participant account seemed to pin these matters down definitively, essentially I suppose, because, writing through official channels at the time, they must have taken a good deal of background knowledge on the part of the reader as read. I concluded that if there was one thing I could usefully bring to the Maiwand party it would be to come up with an answer to these apparently neglected but important conundrums. Quite a lot of cross referencing of primary sources and deductive reasoning is required to arrive at an answer, so please bear with me as we go.

 

 

What We Already Know – The Commonly Accepted Facts

 

  • The companies at issue are B, C, D, F, G and H Companies. Of these, G Coy is definitely detached to the baggage guard, and is definitely commanded by Captain John Quarry with 2nd Lieutenant Reginald Bray to assist him.[2]
  • D Coy is definitely the centre company of a firing line of five and is definitely commanded by Captain William McMath, assisted by Lieutenant Hyacinth Lynch.[3]
  • B, C, F and H Companies are commanded by some combination of Captains William Beresford-Pierse, Ernest Garratt, Francis Cullen, and Walter Roberts.
  • In all there are 21 regimental officers, counting the RMO, in the field. The following officers were not serving as company officers, but were assigned to regimental or detached duties as shown: Lieutenant-Colonel James Galbraith (Officer Commanding); Majors Charles Oliver and John Ready (wing commanders, but Ready is Field Officer of the Day and detached to command the baggage guard); Captain Thomas Harris (DAAG on the staff); Lieutenant Maurice Rayner (Adjt); Surgeon-Major Alexander Preston (RMO); Lieutenant Granville de la Motte Faunce (detached to the Smoothbore Battery); Lieutenant Richard Chute (Acting QM); 2nd Lieutenant George Melliss (Transport Officer – but will join Quarry and G Coy during the course of the battle)[4] and 2nd Lieutenants Walter Olivey and Arthur Honywood (Colour Party).[5]
  • Every company commander should in theory have had two subalterns to assist him, but at Maiwand they are in distinctly short supply. Only Lieutenant William Alfred Ernest Lonergan and 2nd Lieutenant Harry Barr remain unassigned at this point.
  • Beresford-Pierse commands the left flank company.[6] On a drill square the standing practice in line formation was (and still is) to fall in with the senior company on the right and for the remainder to cover off in their sequenced order to the left. Hence ‘A’ or ‘No.1’ Coy (the old ‘grenadier’ company) is on the right and ‘H’ or ‘No. 8’ Coy on the left. In column of companies A Coy will be at the front and H Coy at the rear. Note the potential significance therefore of D Coy being in the centre – precisely where it should be in a five-company linear scenario in which A coy is detached. This does not in itself constitute proof of the battalion’s formation, because all sorts of funny things can happen in the approach to battle. We need collateral. Let certainty in the case of three companies out of five serve as a reasonable benchmark.

 

 

What we can deduce from the Narrative Accounts

 

  • Let’s begin with Lonergan’s narrative account. ‘I was right guide of C Coy which was the second on the right of the infantry line…[and further on]…There were two guns on our right and B Coy which was the flank company…’ Annoyingly Lonergan does not tell us who his company commander is, nor does he tell us who commands B Coy.
  • Deduction: From the right, we now have B, C, and D companies - exactly as it should be to support a scenario in which the companies have fallen in, in their lettered sequence from the right.
  • Deduction: With B, C and D on the right, F and H Coys are definitely on the left of the regiment. At this point I take a lettered sequence as a reasonably safe assumption. Hence B (Capt.?), C (Capt.? & Lonergan, D (McMath & Lynch), F (Capt.?) and H (Beresford-Pierse).
  • Now let’s look at Lt. O’Donel’s letter. He wasn’t present, being detached with A & E companies at Kelat-i-Ghilzai), but his account is detailed, was compiled not long after the battle, and smacks of being carefully reconstructed from conversations with the surviving officers. Although it is a secondary source, I accept it as substantially authoritative in all but a few points of minor detail. At one point he says ‘…B and C Companies, which under Cullen and Roberts…. Later in his account he writes ‘…they came full against the rear of Cullen’s company, which was thrown back firing to the right…
  • Deduction: If Cullen is firing to the right, then logically he commands the right flank company, which we know from other sources was ‘refused’ at a right angle to cover the threat from the Mahmudabad Ravine. Therefore Cullen is OC B Coy, and Roberts is on his   left as OC C Coy. This makes Roberts, Lonergan’s company commander.
  • Deduction: The only unassigned company commander, Capt. Ernest Garratt, must command the only company still remaining – F Coy.

 

 

The Answer

 

It seems to me then that at the great and terrible Battle of Maiwand, the 66th Regiment took post with B Coy on the right and the other companies arrayed to the left in their lettered sequence - thus from right to left: B Coy (Captain Francis Cullen), C Coy (Captain Walter Roberts and Lieutenant W.A.E. Lonergan), D Coy (Captain William McMath and Lieutenant Hyacinth Lynch), F Coy (Capt. Ernest Garratt), H Coy (Capt. William Beresford-Pierse and 2nd Lieutenant Harry Barr). It is of note that Cullen and Garratt were the only officers in their respective companies. 

 

 

Conclusion

 

As I have indicated above, my full length account of the battle runs to 25,000 words and attempts to place every deployment and movement on the battlefield in the correct sequence - in other words to get ‘time and space’ right. Almost anybody can trot out a bit of this primary source, followed by an episode from that primary source. Fitting the pieces of the jigsaw together in precisely the right order, however, is an altogether different proposition and, done well, is one of the most important elements in a decent battle narrative. I hope that subject matter experts, such as the readership of this journal will come to think of my account as making a worthwhile contribution to the history of the battle.

 

I dare say that not everybody will agree with everything I’ve said, and it is distinctly possible that I will have missed something, as the Maiwand research has had to compete with many other subjects in a relatively short period of time. In any event reconstructing an engagement in which many of the most important participants lost their lives is never an easy task.

 

 I would be delighted to hear from anybody who wishes to demur or to suggest alternative interpretations. I am particularly intrigued by Leigh Maxwell’s account of a solo battalion attack by the Bombay Grenadiers, as I have been unable to trace such an event in the primary sources or early histories.

 

 

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[1] Donated to The Rifles (Berkshire and Wiltshire) Museum by Mrs J.E.J. Blateway, Captain John Quarry’s granddaughter.

[2] Major Ready’s Narrative Account

[3] Lieutenant Lynch’s Narrative Account and  Second Lieutenant O’Donel’s letter of 13 September 1880.

[4] Major Ready’s Narrative Account

[5] Second Lieutenant O’Donel’s letter of 13 September 1880.

[6] Second Lieutenant O’Donel’s letter of 13 September 1880.