South African Military History Society


Past Meeting - Johannesburg - 10th February 1983

The members and guests in attendance on this evening had the pleasure of being addressed by Dr. Stanley Monick, Senior Professional Officer at the SA National Museum of Military History and present Museum representative on the Executive Committee of the Society. Dr. Monick has a wealth of experience in libraries and museum work and is an experienced author and educator. He holds a BA(Hons) in English and Modern History, a PhD in Education and English Literature and is a Chartered Librarian. He has been with the Westminster City Library Service, National Free Library of Rhodesia, Transvaal Provincial Library and Museum Servie, "The Star" and, of course, the Museum. From 1975 - 1977, Dr. Monick served with the BSAP in the Thrasher, Hurricane and Tangent operational areas. Many of us are already familiar with his name from his articles in Militaria, Armed Forces Journal and our own Military History Journal. His subject for the evening was "The Role of Naval Brigades in War, 1854 to 1918".

Stan Monick began by pointing out that, as naval brigades had served in almost every campaign in the l9th century, it would be impossible to provide a comprehensive history of their activities. Instead, he chose four campaigns to illustrate the sort of roles played by the seaman on land in this period. His examples were the Crimea, the Mutiny, the Boxer Rebellion in China and WW I.

Naval brigades were used extensively in the Crimea, particularly in the siege of Sevastopol. Their primary purpose was, naturally enough to provide and serve the gun batteries. At Inkermann, of 5 seaman serving the Lancaster battery, 2 were killed and the others won the VC. A Capt. William Peel could have had the VC and 3 bars had the regulations permitted. While unloading powder and ammunition at Sevastapol, a Russian shell landed among the powder kegs. Peel grabbed up the shell and carried it, with the fuse still burning, to the parapet and threw it over the edge, at which point it promptly exploded. At Inkermann, Peel noticed that the Duke of Cambridge and his staff were about to be cut off in the Sandbag Battery and dashed through the smoke, flame and mist in time to warn them to make their escape. In the assault on the Redan, the British and French attacks were not co-ordinated so the naval brigades had to advance over open ground, under heavy fire and carrying assault ladders. Casualties were very severe and, though hit while leading the first party forward, Peel saw his men to the foot of the wall before being carried to the rear. (Capt. Peel was the 3rd son of the famous Sir Robert Peel and was awarded the CB for his services in the Crimea as well as his VC.)

The Indian Mutiny saw William Peel, now Commander, in action once again with the naval brigades. During the second relief of Luknow, 2 2-inch, 6 24-lbs. guns and 600 men under Peel were caught in the very narrow streets while advancing to take the fortress. Retreat was impossible because of the width of the alleyways in which they were fighting. With great dash and courage, they wheeled two guns to within a few feet of the wall and proceded to pound a breach through which the 93rd Highlanders were able to enter and take the fort. For the action, Peel was made KCB and 4 members of his party were given the VC. (The man was obviousLy fertile ground for VCs) His guns were also of great use during the retreat from the Residency and kept the enemy at bay sufficiently to allow the British to retire in good order. The sailors were also instrumental in the defence of the bridge of boats at Camnpore which was Gen.Campbell's principal line of communication. They also participatad in the attack on the Begum's palace at Cawnpore, firing 2 guns at a range of 150 yds. and breaching 3 walls of the palace. Unfortunately, our heroic Cmdr. Peel was wounded in the thigh and later died of smallpox in Cawnpore.

In a separate theatre of operations in the Ganges valley, AB William Hall won the VC. Once again firing on fortifications at point blank range, the men of the naval brigades ran their guns forward until they were in danger from the splinters caused by their own shot. AR Hall was the lone survivor of the gun crew and was helped to man the gun by an officer in the final stages of the action. Hall's father was a freed slave making this sailor the first "man of colour" to win the VC. Another peculiar incident of the naval brigades' involvement in the mutiny was when a Geonge Bell Chicken joined the Indian Naval Brigade in a charge on horseback. He was in the forefront of the charge and found himself confronted by 20 mutineers. He killed 5 but was himself badly wounded and only saved by the arrival of some troopers. For this exploit he became Chicken VC and the only sailor to win the VC from the deck of a horse. Alas, he died before he could be informed of the award.

The China campaign involved a number of officers who were later to become more well known. There was a Capt. Jellicoe commanding the British naval brigade, a Cmdr. David Beatty and a Lt. Roger Keyes serving in it. At the battle of Tientsin the alled troops (British, German, Russian, French, Japanese, Italian and American) attacked the thick fortified walls in extended order as though it were a trench. During the assault, the Americans swerved away to avoid heavy fire and were badly enfiladed by a Chinese battery. The British naval brigades went to their aid and the English officer in change of the party got the DSO for extricating the Americans successfully. In the same action, Mid-Shipman Basil John Guy won the VC for his attempts to bring off a badly wounded AB under fire. Finding that he could not move the man, Guy stayed with him until help arrived. Beatty was one of the group which rescued the wounded man. The naval brigades of all the allied forces participated in the capture of the Taku Forts. This operation also involved a landing at the dockyards to capture two German-built destroyers of the Chinese navy. Lt. Keyes was in command of HMS Whiting which landed the naval parties that took the docks and destroyers.

In WW II, the naval brigades were no longer seamen on land exclusively but also included a number of civilian volunteers with no sea time. They took part in the defense of Antwerp where one battallion of 1st Bgde. was captured but the rest were evacuated via Ostend. The major action of the naval brigades was at Gallipoli. The 1st and 2nd Royal Naval Brigades and the Royal Naval Division were part of the initial landing forces and continued to serve on the front until the final evacuation. The carnage and heroism at Gallipoli is too well known to need any expansion here. Later, the RND served on the Western Front where VCs were won at Arras and Paschendale. The last action with naval landing parties took place at Zeebruge which may have been launched as a result of Keyes' experiences in China when the docks at Taku were taken.

After several questions put by a fascinated audience, Capt. Ivor Little thanked Dr. Monick on behalf of the Society for his most excellent talk.

Prior to the main speaker, Darrell Hall did his usual show: "Military Magazine". This presentation detailed some of the twists and turns in his research of his "At the Call of King and Country" program. Another success by M-G-H!

The Old Kit Bag - Various Items

The Kimbely (sic) trip is on! It will take place 12 - 15 May. Funther details from or R70 deposit to the SA National Museum of Military History.

The scribe is away to the US. In his absence Mr. Bill Garr will be acting (unpaid) scribe. I hope you enjoy the change of authorship of the newsletter.

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Rod Murchison (726-3111(B))
(Scribe - on leave of absence)

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