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Medals to the Hampshire Regiment 2 weeks 2 days ago #89857

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Picture courtesy of Noonan's

DSO VR., silver-gilt and enamel, with integral top riband bar;
IGS 1895 (2) Punjab Frontier 1897-98, Tirah 1897-98 (Lieut. W. de L. Williams 1st Hamp: Regt.);
E&W Africa 1887 (1) 1898 (Capt. W. de L. Williams DSO Royal Niger Constably) renamed;
QSA (2) Cape Colony, Paardeberg (Capt. W. de. Le. Williams DSO Hamps Rgt.) official corrections to post-nominal letters and unit;
1914-15 Star (Lt. Col. W. De L. Williams, DSO Hamps R.);
BWM and VM with MID oak leaves (Maj. Gen. W. De L. Williams);
Delhi Durbar 1903, silver;
Delhi Durbar 1911, silver;
France, Third Republic, Croix de Guerre 1914-15, with palm;
Belgium, Kingdom, Croix de Guerre.

Together with a contemporary duplicate IGS 1895 (2) this with officially re-engraved naming (Lieut. W. de L. Williams, 1st Bn. Hampshire Regt.)

CB (Military) LG 1 January 1921.

CMG LG 1 January 1917: ‘For services rendered in connection with Military Operations in the Field’

DSO LG 30 June 1899:
‘In recognition of services with the Royal Niger Constabulary during the recent operations in the Benin Hinterland, Siama, &c.’

French Legion of Honour LG 21 August 1919.

French Croix de Guerre LG 24 February 1916.

Romanian Order of the Crown, Grand Officer LG 20 September 1919.

Belgian Order of the Crown and Croix de Guerre LG 24 October 1919.

MID LGs 30 May 1899; 10 September 1901; 5 August 1915; 4 January 1917; 15 May 1917; 11 December 1917; 20 December 1918; and 5 July 1919.

Weir de Lancey Williams was born at St Peter Port, Guernsey, on 2 March 1872, son of Lieutenant-General Sir William “Devil” Williams, K.C.B., Royal Artillery. He was educated at Elizabeth College, Guernsey and the United Services College, from which he entered the Royal Military College in 1889 as a Queen’s Cadet. He was commissioned into the Hampshire Regiment in 1891 and was sent to India to join the 1st Battalion. His first opportunity for active service presented itself in 1897, when he obtained an appointment as Assistant Transport Officer to the Second Division of the Tirah Field Force, formed to quell a series of tribal uprisings on the North West Frontier. One of only a handful of members of his Regiment to participate in these operations, during which he was shot through the foot on 11 December 1897, when Afridi tribesmen attempted to overwhelm the baggage train during a march down the Bara Valley. Shipped back to England to recuperate, he lost little time in arranging his next adventure, and in August 1898 headed to West Africa, on attachment to the forces of the Royal Niger Company.

The appointment provided plenty of opportunities for action. As part of its efforts to establish control over the lower Niger, the Company conducted numerous expeditions – 63 in all between 1886 and 1899, when its charter was revoked on establishment of the Northern and Southern Nigerian Colonial Protectorates. Few of them involved more than three or four officers and 200 Royal Niger Constabulary troops, but the casualty returns show the risks to have been real, quite apart from the challenges presented by terrain and climate. In October 1898, quite soon after Captain Williams’ arrival, a particularly serious outbreak of fighting flared up around Asaba, a principal station of the Company, 150 miles up the Niger river. Fugitive chiefs fostered a revolt in opposition to the interference of the Company’s officers with sacrificial customs; the mission at Illah was ransacked and an attack made on the Company’s station. The disaffected district was extensive, requiring the despatch of a column of 400 Company troops, with three Maxims and two seven-pounder field pieces. Several fierce engagements were fought, resulting in casualties of eight killed and 34 wounded on the Company’s side. Williams was among the wounded, having commanded a force of 120 men which left Asaba on 2 November to deliver food and ammunition to the garrison at Isele, about 15 miles away. The narrow paths allowed single file as the only formation in which to move, and led through the thickest of forest, drastically reducing the field of view and rendering superior weapons such as the Maxims of little use. En route they met with some resistance but fought their way through and achieved their objective, with the loss of one man. However, by the time they started their return the following day the enemy had concentrated from surrounding districts and they faced some quite desperate fighting. Three miles from a town named Uburu Kiti they found the path blocked and were compelled to cut their way through the bush, under continuous attack. By the time they reached the town eight men had been wounded and ammunition was running short; here they met a strong party of the enemy defending a row of houses. The more open ground allowed the Maxim to be brought into action, but two gunners were killed in doing so, and the gun jammed after half a dozen shots. So, with 50 men, Williams charged the houses and cleared the enemy out. By the end of the day four men had been killed and 29 wounded, Captain Williams being shot in the side. Out of ammunition, and with the prospect of further fighting before reaching Asaba, the column made camp and a runner was sent ahead to ask for assistance. The relief found them after a four-hour march, very ragged, tired and blood-stained from their five-day ordeal.

In June 1899 Captain Williams succeeded as commandant of the Royal Niger Company’s troops, in place of Captain H. W. E. Parker, South Wales Borderers, recently killed attempting to impose order in another remote and troublesome part of the territory. It fell to Williams to avenge his brother officer’s death, in leading a punitive expedition of 150 Hausa troops against the Suntai. This band were based about 50 miles south-east of Ibi, on the upper part of the Benue River (a tributary of the Niger), and had for some time been raiding their neighbours, who had appealed to the Company for protection. Marching from Ibi, Williams’ force attacked the town of Suntai, which put up a most determined fight. The town wall was found to be quite unclimbable, and where it was breached the defenders attempted repairs under fire in a very daring manner. The final assault through this breach cost the Company troops five men killed and 25 wounded; when the town fell and the captured chief was brought before him, Williams is said to have expressed his admiration of the plucky defence.

Williams’ time with the Royal Niger Constabulary ended in September 1899 on his return to regimental duty, taking with him a D.S.O. in recognition of his services (presented to him by the Queen at Windsor, on 30th November 1899). He was less fortunate in the matter of a campaign medal for, while it seems possible he could have had a claim to the East and West Africa Medal with clasp ‘1898’, his name does not appear on the roll, nor is any mention of a medal made in his Army List war services summaries. Whether this was an oversight, or whether he fell victim to some quirk of the qualification criteria is unclear; in any event, Williams seems to have remedied the omission to his own satisfaction by obtaining an approximate example to wear. He was similarly unlucky with regard to the Royal Niger Company’s own campaign medal, qualification for which had ceased the year before his arrival on the scene (ref article and roll in OMRS Miscellany of Honours, No. 2, 1980).

Captain Williams was soon back on active service again, this time in South Africa with 2nd Battalion Hampshire Regiment. Commanding a company, he took part in the operations leading to the Boer defeat at Paardeberg, and also the action at Karee Siding on 29 March 1900, which saw him leading his company in an advance across open ground against 4,000 well-concealed Boer troops with a well-deserved reputation for marksmanship. Fortunate to escape unscathed on this occasion, he was less fortunate a month later, being seriously wounded in a running fight at Brandfort on 3 May.

Williams returned to India in 1901 to take up the first of a series of staff appointments in that country which would continue for the next twelve years, and included graduation from the Indian Staff College in 1908. This period also saw him as the only representative of the Hampshire Regiment present at the Delhi Durbar celebrations in either 1903 or 1911 – at the former in the capacity of Assistant Director for Transport, and on the staff of the Burma Division at the latter event. Promotion to Major came in 1909, and in 1913 he was finally posted back to England to take up a position on the staff of the Welsh Division, which continued for the first seven months of the Great War.

Williams’ more active involvement in the war began with his abrupt appointment as Lieutenant-Colonel (GSO1, Operations) on the staff of Sir Ian Hamilton's newly-forming Mediterranean Expeditionary Force. Informed of his new job by telegram, Williams was given only two hours’ notice of his departure from London and found himself included in the advance party of a dozen officers which left with Hamilton on 13 March. After crossing the Channel by destroyer, the party travelled by special train to Marseilles and there embarked in another destroyer, H.M.S. Phaeton, which delivered them in rapid time to the island of Tenedos (off the coast of Turkey) on the 17th, to confer with Rear-Admiral de Robeck (Naval C-in-C) and his French counterparts. The following day, still aboard Phaeton, Williams had his first sight of the Gallipoli Peninsula as they conducted a reconnaissance of possible landing places, then witnessed the failure of the last of the Royal Navy’s attempts to force the Straits of Constantinople by sea power alone. The requirement to use land forces to capture such Turkish defences as was necessary to open the way for the ships had been placed beyond doubt, and it was to this object that Hamilton and his staff turned their attention in the following month.

The landings at Cape Helles took place on 25 April, on which day General Hamilton and most of his staff observed operations from the battleship H.M.S Queen Elizabeth. Lieutenant-Colonel William,s however, was assigned to represent Hamilton’s headquarters onshore, to which end he embarked in the converted collier S.S. River Clyde, the iconic ‘Trojan horse’ which would carry a little over 2,000 troops of the Dublin Fusiliers, Munster Fusiliers and Hampshires and land them on ‘V’ Beach, under the old fortress of Sedd el Bahr. Accompanying Williams was Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Doughty-Wylie of G.H.Q.’s Intelligence Staff; standing together on River Clyde’s bridge as she ran herself ashore that quiet, beautiful morning, Williams remarked optimistically to his colleague “I believe we are to land unopposed”. Moments later the Turks opened up with a perfect hurricane of fire and the operation rapidly descended into chaos, six Victoria Crosses being earned by the naval personnel who attempted to maintain the pontoon bridge necessary to cover the distance between ship and shore. Among the mounting casualties were the commander of 88th Brigade, along with his Brigade Major; Lieutenant-Colonel Carrington Smith of the Hampshires stepped up to replace him, but was himself killed by a sniper, and Lieutenant-Colonel Rooth of the Dublin Fusiliers fell too, leaving Williams to take over. Seeing the impossibility of further troops disembarking from River Clyde without being slaughtered, around noon he postponed the landing of the 700 or so still aboard until advantage could be taken of the cover of night. Having seen the men safely ashore, the next day he organised the troops on the beach and directed a two-pronged attack on the deeply entrenched Turkish positions. The two advances were led by Lieutenant-Colonel Doughty-Wylie and Captain Garth Walford, Brigade Major R.A., while Williams brought on the reserve. Both officers were killed in the moment of victory, and each received the posthumous award of the Victoria Cross. Williams found Doughty-Wylie shortly after he had been shot, as he recorded in his diary: “I found him lying dead inside the castle on top of the hill. As soon as I realised he was dead I took his watch, money and a few things I could find and had him buried where he fell. I had this done at once, having seen such disgusting sights of unburied dead in the village that I could not bear to leave him lying there. This was all done hurriedly as I had to reorganise the line and think of further advances and digging in; we just buried him as he lay and I said the Lord’s Prayer over his grave and bid him goodbye.” The grave remains in the same spot to this day, the only solitary grave maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission on Gallipoli.

Williams’ own part in the episode was widely recognised as being worthy of the highest praise: the next day he received a signal from G.H.Q. – “Sir Ian Hamilton congratulates you on your gallant conduct of yesterday” – while Captain Edward Unwin, River Clyde’s commander, also rewarded with the VC, later expressed his admiration: “I have always thought that Colonel Williams was very much overlooked at the time… whatever Colonel Doughty-Wylie did, Williams did.”

When he eventually found a moment to record events in his diary, Williams summed up the episode as “as rough a time as I have ever had in my life”, but nevertheless the professional soldier in him relished the experience. He was greatly pleased to be allowed the temporary command of 88th Infantry Brigade throughout May, despite still only holding the substantive rank of Major: “I’ve recommended people for V.C.s and all sorts of things and altogether if it were not for the daily shower of lead, lack of sleep and animal life I really should be thoroughly enjoying myself, as it is I do very much wish the ‘Cease Fire’ would sound.” The Brigade performed well under his command, repelling a major counter-attack by the Turks, before participating in the costly attack at Krithia. At the end of the month Williams was equally delighted to stand down in order to take command of his beloved Hampshires, an appointment that was unfortunately short-lived, as within days he received a bullet wound to the arm that fractured the bone and required his evacuation to England.

Having been rewarded with a Brevet Colonelcy, Williams returned to the Gallipoli Peninsula in October 1915 to take up command of 86th Infantry Brigade, which he retained when 29th Division transferred to France the following year, and through to April 1917. He saw service on the Somme and in the Arras offensive, and after promotion to temporary Major-General led 30th Division through its battles at Ypres, the Somme and the final advance in Flanders at the end of the war. Confirmed in his rank in 1919, Major-General Williams’ final appointment was Commander, Southern District in Ireland, before retirement in 1922. Latterly he returned to live in Guernsey, where he was president of the British Legion and took a keen interest in local affairs.

He died there in 1961.

Dr David Biggins

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Medals to the Hampshire Regiment 2 weeks 2 days ago #89864

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Thank you for this story and all the other postings you make about people’s lives before, during and after their military service and actions which adds so much to their medals. I hope that their descendants knew about their achievements.
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Medals to the Hampshire Regiment 1 week 2 days ago #89935

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The DSO group to Colonel Williams sold for a hammer price of GBP 11,000. Totals: GBP 14,168. R 325,100. AUD 25,800. NZD 27,680. CAD 22,910. USD 16,830. EUR 15,680
Dr David Biggins

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