Afghanistam Medal (3) Charasia, Kabul, Kandahar (2087. Pte. J. Mc.Arthur. 92nd. Highrs), nearly extremely fine
James McArthur, a native of Lanarkshire, served with the 92nd Highlanders throughout the Second Afghan War and was present at their main engagements between 1878-80. Upon leaving Afghanistan the 92nd Highlanders proceeded to South Africa to take part in the First Boer War. It was here on 27 February 1881 that the regiment suffered one of the 'most humiliating defeats of British arms in history' (The Anglo-Dutch Wars of the 17th Century, refers), recording 33 men killed in action and 63 wounded, of whom, a further 11 later died from their injuries.
The Battle of Majuba Hill
From daybreak, three Boer storming groups of 100-200 men apiece began a slow advance up Majuba Hill led by Field Cornet Stephanus Roos, Commandant D. J. K. Malan and Commandant Joachim Ferreira. In response 'the 92nd Gordon Highlanders began to yell and shake their fists' (Diamonds, Gold and War, refers), but the Boers, being better marksmen, kept their enemy on the slopes at bay whilst groups separated off to attack Gordon's Knoll.
At 12.45hrs, Ferreira's men opened up a tremendous fire upon the exposed knoll and captured it. Over the next hour, the enemy 'poured over the top of the British line and engaged the enemy at long range, refusing close combat action, and picking off the British soldiers one-by-one' (Victorian Colonial Warfare- Africa, refers). Taking advantage of the scrub and high grass covering the hill - something the British were not trained to do - the Boers unleashed volley upon volley into the 141 men of the 92nd Highlanders, 171 men of the 58th Regiment and the small band of Bluejackets fromDido. Without Artillery with which to respond, British discipline began to wane, and panicking troops began to desert their posts, unable to see their opponents and being given very little in the way of direction from officers (ibid). As further Boer reinforcements were seen from above circling the hill, the British line collapsed and many attempted to flee pell-mell from the battlefield:
'The Gordons held their ground the longest, but once they were broken the battle was over.'
Despite an attempted fighting retreat and an abortive rearguard action staged by the 15th Hussars and 60th Rifles who had marched in support from Mount Prospect, the final states proved little short of a rout, resulting in the death of Major General Sir George Pomeroy Colley, in command:
'Several wounded soldiers soon found themselves surrounded by Boer soldiers and gave their accounts of what they saw; many Boers were young farm boys armed with rifles. This revelation proved to be a major blow to British prestige and Britain's negotiating position, for professionally trained soldiers to have been defeated by young farmboys led by a smattering of old soldiers' (Queen Victoria's Little Wars, refers).
I think, to be quite honest, that a medal or medals to any individual who actually saw service in the Transvaal War are worth having even if the recipient was not a casualty, normally, a glance at the statement of service is all that is needed to determine if a man was present.
According to my records I bought this Afghanistan medal and Kabul to Kandahar Star in 1993. As you can see ,half of the the top bar of the crown is missing. I was a bit two minded about buying it, but it was a good unit and maybe some research would uncover a story.
I asked a researcher in the UK to draw the service papers of 899 L/cpl J McKenzie of the 92nd Regiment. The papers duly arrived and I found that John McKenzie had attested into the 92nd Regiment as a boy of 14 years in 1862. He was 4ft 6inches tall on enlistment. Although he originally came from Tipperary , he joined up in Calcutta on 29 September 1862 and served with the regiment , which then returned to the UK in May 1963 . The regiment saw home service until January 1868, when it again went to India and McKenzie now served in India until March 1879 at which point he went to Afghanistan with the regiment. He was awarded the Afghanistan medal and 3 clasps as well as the Kabul to Kandahar Star. After this campaign the regiment went back to India for a few months. In January 1881, he is recorded as being in the Cape Colony, the regiment having been ordered across to fight the Boers. His service records show South Africa 1881 ( along with Afghanistan) under Campaigns. There it would have ended if I didnt get hold of a copy of a research document by Lovell and Prior ( signatures not very clear, so I may have misread them ) This publication researched the casualties of the 1st Boer War in detail and showed that 899 L/Cpl J McKenzie had been taken prisoner on Majuba mountain. The roll makes the following observation , "The presence at Camp Bronkhorst Spruit of those so noted is recorded in the Camp State of 27/3/1881 signed by Surgeon E C R Ward, AMD, attached 94th REgt. i/c Camp " A Summary of Casualties by unit showed that the 92nd Regt. had 25 men taken prisoner.
McKenzie was discharged in September 1883 as he was medically unfit for further service.