Print

1899, Mafeking

FITZCLARENCE, CHARLES, Captain, was the grandson of George, 1st Earl of Munster, eldest son of King William IV. His father was the Honourable George Fitzclarence, Captain, Royal Navy, and his mother was Lady Maria Henrietta, nee Scott, eldest daughter of the 4th Earl of Clonrnel. Captain George Fitzclarence was one of four brothers who served either in the Navy or Army, the youngest dying of wounds received in the attack on the Redan in the Crimean \Var. A twin brother of Brigadier-General Charles Fitzclarence's, Edward, served in the Egyptian Army, and was killed at Abu Hamed in 1897. Charles Fitzclarence was born on 8 May, 1865, at Bishopscourt, County Kildare, and was educated at Eton and Wellington. He was gazetted Lieutenant from the Militia into the Royal Fusiliers 10 November 1886. During Kitchener's Khartoum Campaign he was Adjutant of the Mounted Infantry in Egypt. But to his grievous disappointment, when the other troops went up the Nile, the Mounted Infantry was left behind. He was promoted to Captain in the Royal Fusiliers 6 April, 1898, and, on the formation of the Irish Guards, was transferred to that regiment 6 October 1900. Captain Fitzclarence went to South Africa on special service in July, 1899, and was present throughout the siege of Mafeking, when his gallantry and daring gained for him the sobriquet of 'The Demon'. He was awarded the Victoria Cross [London Gazette, 6 July, 1900, having been recommended three times for it: "Charles Fitzclarence, Captain, The Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment). Dates for Acts of Bravery: 14 October 1899, and 27 October 1899. On the 14th October 1899, Captain Fitzclarence went with his squadron of the Protectorate Regiment , consisting of only partially trained men, who had never been in action, to the assistance of an armoured train which had gone out from Mafeking. The enemy were in greatly superior numbers, and the squadron was for a time surrounded, and it looked as if nothing could save them from being shot down. Captain Fitzclarence, however, by his personal coolness and courage, inspired the greatest confidence in his men, and by his bold and efficient handling of them, not only succeeded in relieving the armoured train, but inflicted a heavy defeat on the Boers, who lost fifty killed and a large number of wounded; his own losses being two killed and fifteen wounded. The moral effect of this blow had a very important bearing on subsequent encounters with the Boers. On the 27th October 1899, Captain Fitzclarence led his squadron from Mafeking across the open, and made a night attack with the bayonet on one of the enemy's trenches. A hand-to-hand fight took place in the trench, while a heavy fire was concentrated on it from the rear. The enemy was driven out with heavy loss. Captain Fitzclarence was the first man into the position, and accounted for four of the enemy with his sword. The British lost six killed and nine wounded. Captain Fitzclarence was himself slightly wounded. With reference to these two actions Major-General Baden-Powell states that had this officer not shown an extraordinary spirit and fearlessness, the attacks would have been failures, and we should have suffered heavy loss both in men and prestige. On the 26th December 1899, during the action of Game Tree, near Mafeking, Capt, Fitzclarence again distinguished himself by his coolness and courage, and was again wounded severely through the leg". From August 1900, to February 1901, Captain Fitzclarence was Brigade Major in South Africa. He was mentioned in Despatches [London Gazette, 8 February 1901], for his services in the South African Campaign, and besides the Victoria Cross, with the dates 14 and 27 October 1899, was given the Brevet of Major 29 November 1900, and received the Queen's Medal with three clasps. From April, 1903, to March, 1906, he was Brigade Major of the 5th Brigade at Aldershot. He became Major in May, 1904, and succeeded to the command of the 1st Battalion Irish Guards in July, 1909. In 1913 he was appointed to the command of the regiment and regimental district, and this post he held until the outbreak of the European War, when he took over command of the 29th Brigade, 10th Division, at the Curragh, until 22 September. On the 27th September he took command of the 1st Guards' Brigade with the Expeditionary Force in France, and he held this command until his death on 11 November, when he was killed in action leading the 1st Guards' Brigade against the Prussian Guard. The 1st Guards' Brigade consisted of the 1st Battalion of the Coldstream Guards, the 1st Battalion Scots Guards, a battalion of the Black Watch, and a battalion of Cameron Highlanders. "Not long after Fitzclarence's arrival in France"" says Captain Valentine Williams, MC, writing under the pseudonym of 'X' in 'Blackwood's Magazine', the British Expeditionary Force did its great swing round to the north, the 1st Corps detraining at St Omer, and on 20 October raking over the line north of Ypres from Bixschoote to Zonnebeke to support the weakened Belgian Army against the great northern attack which was known to be impending. Two days later the enemy attacked heavily at Pilkem, where the 1st Guards' Brigade was in position, and drove in the front of the Camerons; but a brilliant counter-attack by the 2nd Brigade the next day restored the line. On the night of the 23rd the French relieved the 1st Division, which went back to Ypres in reserve, but on the 25th was sent up again to take over a line from Reutel to the Menin Road. The Coldstream and Scots Guards' battalions of Fitzclarence's brigade, in trenches north of Gheluvelt, suffered terribly in a German attack, delivered in a dense mist on the morning of the 27th along the Menin road. The odds against the British were crushing, for on that day some 24,000 Germans were arrayed against about 5,000 exhausted British troops. In two days the Scots Guards lost 10 officers and 370 men killed and wounded. But the result of the day's fighting was that the British line stood firm and unbroken, while the Germans had sustained enormous losses". On the 31st October 1914, the Germans had broken the line of the 1st Division and taken the village of Gheluvelt. Sir John French, in his Despatch published on the 30th November 1914, described the fighting at this time: "Perhaps",he said, "the most important and decisive attack (except that of the Prussian Guard on the 10th November) made against the 1st Corps during the whole of its arduous experiences in the neighbourhood of Ypres took place on the 31st October. After several attacks and counter­attacks during the course of the morning along the Menin-Ypres Road, south-east of Gheluvelt, an attack against that place developed in great force, and the line of the 1st Division was broken. Meantime, on the Menin Road, a counter-attack delivered by the left of the 1st Division against the right flank of the German line was completely successful, and the 2nd Worcester Regiment was to the fore in this. I was present with Sir Douglas Haig, at Hooge, between two and three o'clock on this day, when the 1st Division was retiring. I regard it as the most critical moment in the whole of this great battle. The rally of the 1st Division and the recapture of the village of Gheluvelt at such a time was fraught with momentous consequences. If any one unit can be singled out for special praise it is the Worcesters". Sir John French made a speech to the Worcesters on the 26th November 1914, which appeared in the 'Times' of the 14th December 1914. In it he praised the Worcesters for what they had done on the 31st October, and he further said: "I have made repeated inquiries as to what officer was responsible for the conduct of this counter-attack on the 31st October, but have never so far been able to find out". It has since been made known and officially confirmed that it was Brigadier-General C Fitzclarence who gave the order for the counter-attack. Later on, in a letter, Sir John French said: "During the first battle of Ypres, at the crisis of the fight on the 31st October, the situation was saved by the Worcesters. For many weeks and months afterwards I tried to ascertain who was responsible for this attack upon which so much depended. It was only late in 1915 that I obtained absolute proof that it was Brigadier-General C Fitzclarence, VC, who rallied the troops and directed the successful onslaught". In General Fitzclarence's diary, under the date of 31 October 1914, he wrote: "Enemy shelled the 'Welsh' and the Queen's out of their trenches. I sent Worcesters with Thorne, ordering them to counter-attack and retake village and trenches. Worcesters did very well. Situation critical, and our fine brought back to Veldhoek". It is all described in an admirable article by 'X'(Captain Valentine Williams) in 'Blackwood's Magazine' for August 1917, how Captain Andrew Thorne (then Staff Captain to the 1st Guards' Brigade, later Lieutenant Colonel A Thorne, DSO, commanding a battalion of Grenadier Guards) was sent to guide Major Hankey with the 2nd Battalion Worcestershire Regiment, who had been ordered by General Fitzclarence to put his battalion in to counter-attack against Gheluvelt. Statements by various officers are given in 'Blackwood's', ending by one from Major (now Lieutenant Colonel E B Hankey himself: "We were in Corps Reserve on the 31st October, and about 1.30 pm I was ordered to General Fitzclarence's Headquarters, which were about 300 yards from the corner of Polygon Wood, whereabout we were waiting. He personally gave me orders to counter-attack and try and retake the village of Gheluvelt and mend the line, and he pointed me out the church in the distance to give me the line. The General gave me a Staff officer (I forget his name), who went some distance to give me the direction of the right flank of the South Wales Borderers. I should like to add that I feel perfectly certain that by shoving us in at the time and place he did, the General saved the day. If he had waited any longer, I don't think I could have got the battalion up in time to save the South Wales Borderers and fill up the gap". On 2 November the enemy attacked again along the Menin Road, and the 1st Guards' Brigade lost some ground, but held a line of trenches to the rear until it grew dark. The Germans gained about 300 yards, with casualties out of all proportion to their success. On 8 November the Germans again attacked along the Menin Road, and again Fitzclarence's Brigade suffered heavily. The Scots Guards had their flank exposed and suffered accordingly. On the morning of 11 November the Prussian Guard— a division strong—hurled themselves against the centre of the British troops along the Menin Road. Thirteen battalions of them came on, contemptuous equally of death and of the little Army in their way. The British machine-guns and the deadly fire of our infantry strewed the fields round Ypres with the flower of the Kaiser's hosts, and only in three places did the Prussian Guard break through. The 1st Guards' Brigade was forced out of its trenches and fell back. On the following morning it was ordered to counter-attack, with a view to recovering the lost ground. It had by this time suffered so severely that General Fitzclarence was lent several battalions, including the 1st Battalion Irish Guards, which he himself had once commanded, and the 2nd Battalion Grenadier Guards. The counter­attack had for its objective the recovery of some trenches taken by the enemy in Polygon Wood, and the operation was to be carried out by the Grenadier Guards, who were already in position, and by the Irish Guards, who were unacquainted with the ground. The General himself decided to show his old regiment the way, and paid for the decision with his life. It was an awful night, and in the pitchy darkness the Irish Guards moved out along a country road and then struck across the open country. Suddenly the moon emerged from drifting clouds, and in the momentary brightness the Germans fired from the trenches a little way ahead. General Fitzclarence flung up his hands and fell dead, and Captain Harding, an Irish Guards' officer behind him, was wounded. Neither Fitzclarence himself, nor Sir John French, nor the British nation then knew how well he had served his country at Gheluvelt. In his Despatch of the 20th November 1914, Sir John French said of General Fitzclarence: "Another officer whose name was particularly mentioned to me was Brigadier-General Fitzclarence, VC, commanding the 1st Guards' Brigade. He was unfortunately killed in the night attack of the 11th November. His loss will be severely felt". He married, 20 April, 1898, at the Ciddidal Church, Cairo, Violet, youngest daughter of Lord Alfred Spencer Churchill, MP, and granddaughter of John, 6th Duke of Marlborough, and they had two children: Edward Charles, born 3 October 1899, and Joan Harriet.

VC, QSA (3) DofM, Tr, OFS), 1914 Star, BWM, VM + MID, 1911 Coronation Medal. Sotheby (1990) £38,000.

Parent Category: Medals and awards
Category: Victoria Cross
Hits: 10625