IT’S A DOGS LIFE IN THE ARMY

 

Richard J Stacpoole-Ryding

___________________________________________________

 

It was common practice for officers and other ranks in the Victorian army to take their dogs, and other pets, along with them wherever they went – including the battlefield. The officers and men of the 66th (Berkshire) Regiment were no exception and there are two dogs that are known to have accompanied their masters onto the battlefield at Maiwand.

 

 

The more famous of the two dogs was a little white dog named Bobbie[1] (left). His wonderfully preserved body can be viewed in The Rifles (Berkshire and Wiltshire) Museum at Salisbury. The plaque that accompanies Bobbie reads:

 

Bobbie: (Owned by Sgt. P. Kelly) Pet of the 66th. Survived the Afghan campaign 1878 & 1880. Was wounded at Maiwand 27th July 1880. Came home with the Battalion Feb 1881, & was decorated with the Afghan Medal by Her Majesty Queen Victoria, at Osborne, June 1881. Was accidently killed at Gosport, Oct 13th 1882.

 

 

On first sight one would accept a statement inscribed such a plaque as correct. However, in this case the plaque contains some inaccuracies that require further investigation.

 

The medal roll[2] for the 66th entitlement for the Afghanistan 1878-80 medal shows no reference to a Sergeant P. Kelly. There is a Sergeant 1336 William Kelly[3] and a Corporal 1386 Peter Kelly and three privates with the name Kelly. Assuming that the plaque in the museum, referring to an NCO owning Bobbie, is correct then the privates must be eliminated. That leaves us with two NCOs. It was common for serving men to be referred to by their present rank when medal rolls etc. were compiled recording their actual rank at the time when they earned the medal. This rank was then engraved or impressed on the medal. In both cases the men concerned were the same rank on the medal roll as they were at Maiwand.

 

Here then is the problem. Does one agree with the rank shown on the plaque (Sergeant) or does one side with the correct initial but with a different rank. Garen Ewing on his excellent website, The Anglo-Afghan War 1878-1880[4], states that Bobbie belonged to a Lance-Sergeant Peter Kelly. This throws yet another twist in the mystery of who owned Bobbie. So who was Bobbie’s owner?

It has been established that the medal roll shows the rank at time of publication and the rank the recipient held at the time of the campaign which may have been different.  If one takes this precedent then it is quite conceivable that the museum information is correct. At this point one can reasonably dismiss Sergeant William Kelly as the owner on the grounds that his Christian name does not match that of the name on the plaque.

That leaves us Corporal Peter Kelly. Kelly has the correct initial to that on the museum plaque, but not the correct rank. The disaster at Maiwand left the 66th depleted of many officers and NCOs and promotions were made frequently and quickly. Following the normal path of promotion it is more than likely that Corporal Kelly was later promoted to Lance-Sergeant, as Garen Ewing states, and then onto Sergeant. Therefore, it is reasonably safe to conclude that the owner of Bobbie, at least at Maiwand, was one Corporal 1386 Peter Kelly[5].

 

Having established, with some certainty, who was Bobbie’s owner we should now turn our attention to Bobbie, the small white dog with light brown ears and patches around both eyes and his nose.

 

There is a regimental legend that Bobbie was present at the famous stand of the last eleven at Khig. It is unknown if Corporal Kelly was present at the last stand preceding this event and escaped before the last eleven gallantly remained so their colleagues could make good their escape, leaving or being separated from Bobbie in the chaos. Corporal Kelly is recorded in the medal roll[6] as being wounded in hospital at Kandahar on 1 September 1880 and therefore can be reasonably assumed to have been wounded at Maiwand and was recovering from his wounds. So, was Bobbie at the final stand or not? There is no evidence to support this either way; if he was then Bobbie must have been the only British witness of the famous stand. Some contemporary paintings of the ‘Last Stand’ show Bobbie being present, and in keeping with the regiment’s legend.

 

What is known of Bobbie is that he got separated from his owner and the Berkshires at Maiwand and found himself among the Afghan infantry on the battlefield. He was wounded and managed to catch up with the retiring column making their way towards Kandahar and reunited with his master. The story states that his master was wounded; again there is no evidence to support this unless one takes the entry in the medal roll to mean that Corporal Kelly was wounded at Maiwand and was in hospital because of the wound.

 

Bobbie returned with his owner and the regiment to England on H.M Troopship Malabar docking at Portsmouth in February 1881. The regiment was stationed at Parkhurst on the Isle of Wight. On 17 August 1881[7] the men of the regiment who had been awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal were presented to Queen Victoria and Bobbie went along to have an audience with the Queen at Osborne House. The officer who presented Bobbie to Her Majesty was Lieutenant Hyacinth Lynch who had been severely wounded at Maiwand.

 

 

Following the presentation, Queen Victoria wrote in her diary:

 

 

At 11, I gave 6 good conduct medals to Sergeants and Corporals, who had, all but one, been in the 66th Regt, in the dreadful retreat after Maiwand and had shown great gallantry…They had their little dog, a sort of Pomeranian, with them, which had been with them, throughout the campaign and is quite devoted to the men. It disappeared after Maiwand, but came back with Lord Roberts, when he entered Kandahar, and instantly recognised the remaining men of the Regiment. “Bobby” as he is called, is a great pet and had a velvet coat on, embroidered with pearls and two good conduct stripes, and other devices and orders, tied round its neck. It was wounded in the back, but had quite recovered…”

 

There is a story that Queen Victoria awarded Bobbie the Afghanistan 1878-80 medal at this audience[8]. However this could not have happened. The medal was not struck in 1881 and not presented to men of the Berkshires until April 1883 at a formal presentation parade at Portsmouth Garrison. A photograph of Bobbie, taken at the time of his presentation to Queen Victoria, shows him resplendent in his ‘regimental coat’ and wearing a ‘medallion’ round his neck. On closer inspection this ‘medallion’ would appear to be the French Legion d’Honneur. Why and who put it around Bobbie’s neck is unknown.

 

The medal that Bobbie wears around his neck in the museum today has always thought to have belonged to an unknown officer or soldier of the regiment who for reasons best known to him presented it the museum to be placed around Bobbie’s neck.  Could it have been Corporal or, by then, Sergeant Peter Kelly and one would like to feel this was the case. However, on closer inspection of the medal this possibility does not stand up.

 

The medal has been damaged in as much as the naming on the rim has been erased so as to make its owners identity difficult to ascertain. But there are some clues that may make this possible.

 

This first image (left) shows that the regimental number, rank and initial of the recipient has been erased very effectively leaving only a partial surname. This image therefore although of some assistance does not help us much.

 

 Much the same could be said for this second image other than the partial surname is clearer (AWSON) but unfortunately the regimental identification number has been erased.

 

As already mentioned it must be more than possible that an ex-member of The Berkshires presented his medal to the museum. We now have a lead that this man had the surname which ended in AWSON. An examination of the medal roll shows that there are no officers, NCOs or drummers whose surnames end in AWSON. There are two possibilities in the list of privates who received the medal. These two men are Private B/1531 Frederick Dawson and Private 1229 John Dawson.

Private B/1531 Frederick Dawson enlisted in 1879 and was probably one of new drafts that were sent out to India just before the 66th were ordered to Afghanistan. Private 1229 John Dawson was a more seasoned soldier having enlisted on 19 January 1870 at Uxbridge aged 19 years. Both were killed in action at the Battle of Maiwand on 27 July 1880. Frederick Dawson left an unclaimed estate of £4.9s.2p. According to further records, both medals were claimed or issued to next of kin. Both men are commemorated on the Maiwand Lion Memorial, Forbury Park, Reading, Berkshire.

 

So we have two possibilities as to the identity of the recipient of the medal that hangs from Bobbie’s neck today. Which Dawson’s medal is a matter of conjecture and why the family gave it to the museum, if that is the case, are questions that will probably remain unanswered.  The other side of the argument must be borne in mind that the medal may have been obtained from a non-regimental connection and deliberately defaced so as to hide the fact. One would like to think that this of course did not happen and should be dismissed immediately!

 

The presentation of the medal would have to been done when the recipient had left the army. If he was still serving he could not, or would not have, been allowed to ‘give away’ his medal under Queen’s Regulations. The inscription on the rim has been damaged and is unreadable. When the medal was given to Bobbie is unknown.

 

Bobbie remained with the regiment and became a well known figure around the barracks. However, in 1882 Bobbie was accidently run over by a hansom cab that was carrying a wedding party in Gosport whilst accompanying the 66th on a route march. It was reported that a soldier of the regiment tried to club the cab driver with his rifle butt, but was stopped by the commanding officer who happened to be present.

 

Such was the affection for Bobbie that he was given to a taxidermist to be made presentable for eternal display. He has been known to take the occasional ‘walkies’. In 2008 Bobbie went to London and was on view at the Imperial War Museum as part of an exhibition on animals in war and returned to Salisbury later that year.

 

Bobbie can be seen today at The Rifles (Berkshire and Wiltshire) Museum Salisbury proudly wearing the medal that had been presented to him possibly by one of the two Dawson’s next of kin.

 

Mention has been made of another dog being present at Maiwand. Captain William McMath of the Berkshires owned a little fox terrier named Nellie. McMath commanded D Company at Maiwand and was killed in action. Some weeks later the body of McMath and that of his faithful doge Nellie were found by the detailed burial party that had come out from Kandahar. They were buried together.

 

 

 

Bobbie, with his handler on 17 August 1881 at Osborne House, Isle of Wight,

following his audience with  Queen Victoria.

 

 

It is interesting to note that Bobbie’s handler is a private. Corporal Peter Kelly, the assumed owner of Bobbie, was reduced in the ranks to Private on 22 February 1881 and not reinstated to his former rank until 17 December 1881. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that the handler in this photograph is Peter Kelly.

 

By the date of this presentation the 66th had become the 2nd Battalion Berkshire Regiment. The soldier’s tunic has the new white facings, but his 1878 pattern blue helmet, only received when the Regiment returned from India, has a 66th plate from the 1869 shako, the new plate having not been issued.

 

 

 

References:

Maxwell, Leigh: My God – Maiwand, Leo Cooper 1979.

Stacpoole-Ryding, Richard: Maiwand – The Last Stand of the 66th (Berkshire) Regiment, Afghanistan 1880, The History Press 2008.

Regimental Pay List 19 February 1881 to 31 March 1881. (The National Archive)

 

Acknowledgments:

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

Picture of Bobbie taken from a postcard.

Photograph of Queen Victoria presenting men of the 66th with their DCMs at Osborne House.

Photograph of Bobbie wearing his regimental coat and possible French Legion d’Honneur.

Photographs of the Afghanistan 1878-80 Medal currently worn round Bobbie’s neck.

Photograph of Bobbie with his handler on 17 August 1881.

 

 

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[1] Sometimes spelt Bobby in press reports of the time and other sources. The correct spelling is Bobbie.

[2] WO 100/52

[3] Promoted to Colour Sergeant on 27 February 1881.

[4] Afghan Hounds:  www.angloafghanwar.info

[5] Corporal Peter Kelly was tried and confined and reduced to the rank of Private on 22 February 1881. The reason for this punishment is unknown.  He was reinstated to the rank of Corporal on 17 December 1881.

[6] WO 100/52.

[7] The plaque in The Rifles (Berkshire and Wiltshire) Museum incorrectly dates the presentation as June 1881.

[8] The plaque in The Rifles (Berkshire and Wiltshire) Musuem also supports this story.