1901, Ruiterskraal

YOUNG, ALEXANDER, Sergeant-Major, was born on 27 January 1873, at Ballinana, Clarinbridge, County Galway, son of William and Annie Young, and younger brother of Joseph Young, JP, of Corrib House, Galway. He was educated at the Model School Galway. On 22 May, 1890, he joined the Queen's Bays at Renmore, where his superior horsemanship quickly brought him to notice. He served for a time in India, and became a Riding Instructor. In the Sudanese Campaign, under Kitchener, he first saw active service. He was for a time at Shorncliffe, and was transferred to the Cape Police as Instructor. Two other soldiers from Galway have described him in these days: Private James O'Heir, late of the 2nd Connaught Rangers, said of Lieutenant A Young, VC, who fell fighting in France, "God bless his memory; he was a gallant hero, and may he and every brave soldier who fought for his King and country, and to whom the men who loved him have said their last 'Good-night', rest in peace! I knew him as a boy in Galway; I knew his father and mother, and all his relatives. I first saw him abroad in Egypt. He was a Rough-Riding Sergeant-Major of the 2nd Dragoon Guards, and the battalion in which I served was placed under him for a course of mounted infantry drill. He was a wonderful horseman, and had the reputation of being the best rough-rider in the British Army, and also in Egypt; and he was a brave and high-minded man, distinguished by the natural traits of generous, open-hearted good nature, which popularized him with everyone, of every station in life, and endeared him especially to the Irish people then in Egypt ... All the Irish soldiers in Egypt were very proud that one of their countrymen should hold the high position of first horseman, and at the same time maintain in so high and unblemished a manner the national reputation for bravery, generosity and the manly virtues which often distinguish the Irish character under the stress and trial of the soldier's life. Mr Young was a central figure in all Egyptian tournaments and public amusements, in which exhibitions of horsemanship took a foremost place. In every tournament in Cairo in which he competed Mr Young was the victor, and ringing Irish cheers always welcomed him to the arena, and enthusiastic outbursts cheered his prowess, and inspired his genius for daring feats of horsemanship to wonderful achieve­ments which excelled anything ever beheld there on these great public occasions. He never knew defeat in any contests of horsemanship! ... Not only every Irishman, but every Britisher was proud of Mr Young on these occasions. To the Irish private soldier he was always very friendly, and particularly so to a Galwayman, who could always reckon on his kind-hearted friendship; and, with the generosity which was characteristic of him on every occasion, he contributed the money prizes won by him to the Soldiers' Mess. At Aldershot, in 1897, Mr Young performed wonderful feats of horsemanship before Queen Victoria, and later before King Edward. Mr Young's control over a horse was supreme. The wild horses lassoed in the Arabian desert he broke in and trained to become the most manageable of animals, in his own way. It was usual with the rough-rider of the period to train the wild horses with sand-bags and dummy men on their backs, but Mr Young would not use these things, mounting the horse's back and remaining there, despite every effort of the animal to throw him, or even to roll over or dislodge him. On such an occasion Mr Young declared his maxim: 'I will either break him in, or he will break my neck'. Mr Young left the 2nd Dragoon Guards in Egypt for the Headquarters in Canterbury, and from there to India, to teach horse-riding; and, after completing his period there, he returned to Canterbury in charge of the Riding School. There he got a severe kick from a horse, and shortly after he retired from the Army. He then came back to Galway, and resided here with his sister; but again, after about six months, he went out and joined the Cape Mounted Police, with the rank of Sergeant-Major. That was about two months before the outbreak of the South African War, when the authorities, knowing his extensive experience of the country, and of the Boers, put him in charge of a force over a large district. It was while in Basutoland he won the VC, by his gallantry in a skirmish in which he risked his life under very dangerous circumstances. He was the only Galwayman who won the VC in the South African War". Also Private O'Heir said: "Mr Young held the highest record as a rough-rider in the British Army: he competed for this honour with many men, including the best riders of the 17th and 21st Lancers and the 18th Hussars, and with Sergeant Bishop, a notorious rough-rider of the Egyptian Cavalry; but he beat all these very easily, and in no one did he find a close competitor, except in Mr Michael Kelly, a native of the town of Kilkenny. At Aldershot Mr Young won the Army Championship in a contest in which it was necessary to ride with a threepenny-piece on each stirrup-iron under the ball of the foot. Lieutenant Colonel Lambert, of Castle Lambert, was in command of the 2nd Dragoon Guard (Queen's Bays) while Mr Young was in the regiment in Egypt; and everyone there knew that he greatly regretted the loss of so gallant a soldier when Mr Young retired from that corps". Stephen O'Heir, late of the Connaught Rangers, brother of the above, Said: "I went through a course of Mounted Infantry Drill in 1896, as a Private in the Connaught Rangers, attached to Mr Young's regiment at Cairo. When I was put under him in the school he told me that I should very soon be nearly as good a rider as himself if I could claim to be a Galwayman ... I always admired his easy and graceful seat on horseback. No man seemed to be able to handle a horse like him. A dozen Arab ponies were brought in wild from the desert, and I watched him breaking them in. One threw itself on the ground, and Mr Young still sat on him till he sprang to his feet, the rider on his back ... I last saw him in South Africa 1901, at a place called Burgess Dorp, and then he went down to Capetown, and I saw him no more until one day I beheld him in Galway ... It was a great pleasure to Galwaymen in the Army to see him the victor. No matter who contested them with him, the laurels still remained on the brow of Mr Young ... In the Bengal Presidency it has always been a pleasure to Galwaymen to read of his daring feats of horsemanship, which were always so excellent of achievement. His name was famous, and he was spoken of as ' The Terror'. Alexander Young was at Williamstown when the South African War broke out, and he "was with Gatacre on that tragic night when, against the advice of his staff, he tried to outflank the Boers by a movement between the hills. Young was wounded in the leg, but he managed to ride back to hospital. He was within a few yards of Captain Montmorency, VC, when that gallant officer fell mortally wounded in the attack on Schooman's Copje". For his services in this campaign he received the Queen's Medal with clasps; the King's Medal with clasps, and was awarded the Victoria Cross [London Gazette, 18 November 1901]: "Alexander Young, Sergeant-Major, Cape Police. Towards the close of the action at Ruiter's Kraal on the 13th August 1901, Sergeant-Major Young, with a handful of men, rushed some kopjes which were being held by Commandant Erasmus and about twenty Boers. On reaching these kopjes, the enemy were seen galloping back to another kopje held by the Boers. Sergeant-Major Young then galloped on some 50 yards ahead of his party, and, closing with the enemy, shot one of them and captured Commandant Erasmus, the latter firing at him three times at point-blank range before being taken prisoner". After the war Sergeant Major Young returned to his position with the Cape Mounted Police, and left them once more in 1906, for service in the native rebellion, when he was wounded for the second time, and received a medal. A soldier's letter says: "Lieutenant Young did for the Germans in a week what they had failed to do for themselves in three years. The Herero Rebellion broke out in German territory, and Lieutenant Young was serving in the Cape Police on the border, and although the Germans quelled the rebellion they could not capture its leader. But Young did so, and was specially decorated by the Kaiser. This decoration he publicly burned at Capetown during the war with Germany". Later he served in the Zululand Rebellion, when he was once more wounded. For four years after this he farmed in Natal. The 'Connacht Tribune' thus writes about the fair-haired, blue-eyed, fresh-complexioned Irishman: "There is always a breezy manliness about the man who has lived a strenuous, open-air life. Vast fields and plains, the freedom of the high­road, an occasional brush with danger, create a breadth of outlook and a natural zest for life as it used to be lived before civilization imposed its restrictions and its duties. Since 1890, when Alexander Young took the Queen's shilling at Renmore, and entered upon a new life as a Trooper in the Queen's Bays, he has lived after the manner of a soldier and a sportsman ... For four years . . . he 'ran' a farm in Natal. ' After such a life as I hare led,' said he, with a smile, 'a man is only good for farming or soldiering'. The present war once more found him joining the colours, when De Wet's Rebellion broke out, this time as Regimental Sergeant-Major of the Cape Mounted Police. He served under Commandant Britz, who is to-day (27 November 1915) taking the new column to German East Africa with Colonel Royston. The story of that march across the arid desert to Windhoek reads like a romance. The desert, with its poisoned wells (the Germans there, as elsewhere, outraged the rules of warfare), presented greater terrors than any brush with the enemy. After serving under Botha until the outbreak was successfully accounted for, Lieutenant Young for the first time took on the responsibilities of commissioned rank. He was transferred and promoted into the 4th South African Mounted Rifles as 1st Lieutenant, and once more crossed the Veldt and fought under General Smuts in German East Africa until the Hun outpost in that part of the world was demolished and their flag hauled down. The Germans blew up every rail, and forced marches across the desert were resorted to. Nevertheless, he (Lieutenant Young) said, the men were cheerful—as fine a lot of soldiers as one ever served with. The younger men found it hard to stand up against the conditions imposed. After Gibeon, where the desert ends, had been passed, however, there was plenty of sport and wild game, and, moreover, victory was near, so that life took on brighter tints". Alexander Young told the writer of this most interesting article that: "The men got demobilized at Durban, after a march that ranks as one of the finest in history. We had occasional scraps with the enemy, but the long marches were the worst part of it all, and it was this that brought about such speedy victory. The Dutch South Africans are loyal. The rebellion was got up by a few agitators such as one will find in every country. When those men they led learned the real acts, they surrendered at every opportunity they could get". After demobilization, when General Smuts called for 10,000 volunteers for the British Forces in France, he was one of the first to come forward, and was accepted by Colonel Jones for a commission in the South African Scottish, and came to England with them. It was at this time that Lieutenant Young revisited his old home. The South African Scottish were then camped near Aldershot, "whose bivouac", said the 'Connacht Tribune' of 27 November 1915, "very soon will be in the lines where danger lies, and where the battle for freedom and civilization is being waged. The South African Scottish will very likely eat their plum puddings (if they are lucky enough to get any) in the trenches. What has touched Lieutenant Young most during his visit to Galway is the numerous friendly handshakes from the mothers of men at the front. 'You meet them everywhere", he said, 'and there is no doubting their sincerity'. The manly heart of the man who won the soldier's blue riband has its human side". The 'Galway Express' then takes up its parable and describes how Lieutenant Young paid a visit to its office while he was staying with his brother in his native town. "He was full of hope, and spoke to us of some of his extraordinary experiences during the South African War". Although Lieutenant Young had been in the Colonies for many years, he had many friends in Galway, and during his visit to Galway a few weeks before he left for the front he gained popularity among all classes. "Shortly afterwards", says the 'Galway Express' of 28 October 1916, "the young Galway hero was with his regiment on board a transport for the land of the Pharaohs, under Sir John Maxwell. He fought in Egypt against the Soudanese and Turks, who were quickly accounted for, their last lap in this campaign taking them among the ferocious Senussi tribe, who captured the crew of the SS Tara a year ago, after the vessel was sunk by a German submarine; the recapture of the crew by motor transports being one of the epic incidents of the war. Lieutenant Young then returned to England again, but once more found himself sailing for the sunny coast of France in time to participate in the 'Big Push' on 1 July last. He was but fifteen days in the Somme fight, when he received a wound at what Tommy calls 'The Devil's Wood,' and he was invalided home to England". A Press Association War Special runs as follows: "A special correspondent of Reuter's Agency, who has visited one of the South African hospitals, and conversed with a number of wounded men who have just returned from France, writes: 'Now that the fact that the South African Brigade has been engaged in the British offensive has been published in the Press and passed by the Censor, and that the South African Casualties have appeared in the list, there can be no harm in dwelling on some of the deeds of gallantry performed by men from the Union. The first batch of South African wounded have reached London. All were in the cheeriest mood. About 60 per cent, had been through the South-West African Campaign. Many had served in Egypt, while a number of veterans had fought also in the Matabele, Bechuana and Boer Wars. They declare that the South-West African Campaign was a thirsty jaunt, while the fighting in France was hell. All the wounded were enthusiastic about the magnificent progress of our troops. One stalwart South African engineer, with shattered hand, who got his VC in the Boer War, was engaged in repairing signalling apparatus, when he saw lying under the enemy fire a French officer with a shattered leg. In spite of the terrific fire he picked up the officer and carried hin out of the danger-zone, whereupon the officer took the Legion of Honour from his tunic, and pinned it on his gallant rescuer, who himself had his right hand shattered by a 'whiz-bang'". After being wounded this time Lieutenant Young was in hospital at Brighton for some time, and returned to the firing-line in September, and", says the 'Galway Express', with the hardy boys from the veldt, now well inured to war, he kept the Hun on the move until the 19th of this month" (September), "when he was killed. But he and his men had fought the stern and noble fight of men fighting for an ideal, with Private Lynch, Loughrea, who fought under Lieutenant Young in two continents and was wounded on the same day as he, and he spoke in the most enthusiastic and eulogistic terms of the gallant officer who now lies beneath the cold soil of an alien clime. "As a soldier and a man, too much cannot be said of Lieutenant Young; gallant to rashness, sincere to a fault, honourable in all his dealings, imbued with a fraternal spirit which makes man and officer one, he has sealed with his life's blood a career that all may envy and few rival. On Saturday, October 28, 1916, the Galway Urban Council adjourned their weekly meeting in sympathy with "their valued brother member, a distinguished Galwayman and an esteemed member of their Council" (Mr Joseph S Young, JP), on the death of his brother, Lieutenant A Young, VC. The 'Connacht Tribune' of Saturday, 28 October 1916, said: "There has been but one Galway VC, and, in the free, colonial parlance that he loved, he has 'gone West'. He has died as he has lived — on the battlefield, facing the foe. What more fitting grave than on the rolling plains of Flanders, where he has gone to rest amongst so many of the manly, fearless souls? No flower of the forest that has been 'wide awae' had in its fulness attained more manly, robust bloom than poor Sandy Young. His was a different outlook on life to that of most of us. It was not circumscribed by narrow boundaries or hemmed in by local institutions. Begot of the plains, it was wide and spacious and natural and free as they. No alloy of cheap conventionalism, no tinsel of empty form, held it to the things that do not matter. It brushed all these tilings aside and looked out on life as it is. Neither alloy of pettiness nor self-created idealism hindered its gaze. So much of the man, whose grave a little flower-woven cross marks in Flanders to-day. Of his life? His manly character, his great good nature were evolved from his life. Know these, and you perceive that he had communed with nature and faced danger without flinching. The great test of a man is that he lives in a town amongst minor interests, and yet preserves a bigness of outlook, and does not lose touch with the essentials. A greater test is that a man wins through hard experience in the battle of life, and does not achieve the crabbed soul of the cynic. Young stood this test mentally, as he stood every physical test that duty put on him. At home he learned horsemanship; abroad he excelled in it. From the Queen's Bays to the Cape Mounted Police; from that to the South African Scottish. And in between, he ran a bachelor's bungalow and a farm in Natal. When the war trumpets called, he obeyed, for he had learned to obey and to be obeyed. I can imagine the kilted the platoon trudging back to duty over the mud-flats, having paid the tribute of brave men's tears to the robust manliness that had ceased to lead them to action ... He was of striking contrast to his brother, and of a different school—the school that far-flung freedom and rude and natural conditions beget. His faith in humanity remained undimmed by the flight of time and soul-revealing experience; his own humanity was held in the secure chalice of that faith. He was not of those who achieve greatness by scholarly gifts, or by stolid steadfastness. He won his qualities from the free kingdoms of far-flung plains; he wore them without consciousness. It is good in these days to see the candour of a manly heart revealed. It is thrice sad to think that now that heart is stilled. Such hearts are needed amongst the pioneers that will rebuild the shattered fabric of the kingdoms of this world after the war. But now this noble spirit roams in other king­doms; the body that bore it has for its kingdom a little, little grave. 'May the flowers of the forest press lightly o'er!'".

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