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 (
The more famous of the two dogs was a
little white dog named Bobbie
(left). His wonderfully preserved body can be viewed in The Rifles (
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
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
for the 66th entitlement for the
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, 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.
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
as being wounded in hospital at
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
Bobbie returned with his
owner and the regiment to
Following the presentation,
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
There is a story that Queen Victoria
awarded Bobbie the
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
So we have two possibilities
as to the identity of the recipient of the medal that hangs from Bobbie’s neck
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
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
Bobbie can be seen today at
The Rifles (
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
Bobbie, with his handler on 17 August 1881 at Osborne House, Isle of Wight,
his audience with Queen
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
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.
Maxwell, Leigh: My God – Maiwand, Leo Cooper 1979.
Richard: Maiwand – The Last Stand of the
Regimental Pay List
The following images are reproduced by kind permission of
The Curator, The Rifle (Berkshire & Wiltshire) Museum,
Picture of Bobbie taken from a postcard.
Photograph of Queen
Photograph of Bobbie wearing his regimental coat and possible French Legion d’Honneur.
Photographs of the
Photograph of Bobbie with
his handler on
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 Sometimes spelt Bobby in press reports of the time and other sources. The correct spelling is Bobbie.
 WO 100/52
to Colour Sergeant on
 Afghan Hounds: www.angloafghanwar.info
Peter Kelly was tried and confined and reduced to the rank of Private on
 WO 100/52.
plaque in The Rifles (
plaque in The Rifles (