The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging

Military History Journal
Vol 5 No 5 - June 1982

Positive and Negative: The Awards of the First South African War of Independence, 1880 - 1881

by S. Monick

The reader will at once be struck by the curious title of the following article. The terms 'positive' and negative' are applied to the information available with regard to the awards issued to the participants who served the British in the First South African War of Independence of 1880-1881. It is negative in two major respects. First, and obviously, there was no campaign medal issued by the British. Second, there is a dearth of documentation relating to the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) and the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal (CGM) awarded for service in this War, two of the five awards issued by Britain (the other three being the Victoria Cross, Royal Red Cross, and Order of the Bath).

The positive aspects relate to the fact that, commencing from a position of total ignorance, it is a comparatively simple matter to isolate the awards which could have been made, and then to examine the potential awards within the context of the campaign; in so far as the War of 1880-1881 precedes the majority of awards which one associates with the two World Wars with regard to military personnel (i.e., Military Medal (MM) for non commissioned officers and other ranks, Military Cross (MC) for Warrant Officers and junior commissioned officers, Distinguished Service Order (DSO) for more senior commissioned ranks). It is, incidentally, of interest to note that, in the journals commemorating the centenary of this War, no mention is made of the medals awarded (unlike the centennial journals commemorating the Zulu War of 1879). When one refers to the awards issued for service in the First South African War one is, of course, referring to British awards only. The Boer Republics looked upon the granting of such awards with disdain. Indeed, those awards issued to burghers who served with the Republican forces during the Second South African War of 1899-1902 (The Dekoratie voor Trouwe Dienst/Decoration for Devoted Service, Anglo-Boere Oorlog Medalje/Anglo-Boer War Medal and Lint voor Wonden/Wound Ribbon) were instituted as late as 1920 by the Union of South Africa Government.

What light do these awards throw upon the South African War of 1880-1881? The answer lies in the fact that, through researching the awards made in the War by the British (the Distinguished Conduct Medal, Victoria Cross, Conspicuous Gallantry Medal and Royal Red Cross), interesting perspectives are cast upon both the British military forces which served in the campaign and also upon the nature of the medals themselves.

At the outset of the discussion, one is confronted with a major negative aspect. This is, to reiterate, that there was no campaign medal issued for the War. The fact is, within itself, highly significant. The First South African War presents a marked contrast in this respect to all preceding (and indeed succeeding) campaigns fought by Great Britain. In the period between Waterloo and the end of the South African War the following campaigns were fought in various parts of the British Empire by the units of the Imperial Army.
(This list excludes campaigns in which Colonial units or units of the Indian army only were engaged):-

It will be seen from the above that Colonial campaigns were extremely prolific in the 19th Century (and, indeed, were the sole form of service afforded to the Britsh Army in this century; with the notable exception of the Crimean War of 1854-1856). However, of the above campaigns, the First South African War was the only one in which a campaign medal was not awarded. It is extremely significant that, of all the Colonial wars, this campaign, and the succeeding Second South African War, were the only ones not waged against an unsophisticated enemy possessing primitive weapons. The absence of a campaign medal for the South African War of 1880-1881 points to the central fact that it was undoubtedly one of the British Army's efforts which Her Majesty's Government preferred to forget; in sharp contrast to the previous experiences in the sphere of Colonial wars.

With regard to the actual decorations issued by the British, a sum total of 20 Distinguished Conduct Medals, one Conspicuous Gallantry Medal, six Victoria Crosses, four Royal Red Cross Decorations and one Companion of the Bath were awarded. To reiterate the point made in the introduction, at the time of the First War of Independence there was no Military Medal (instituted in 1916), Military Cross (instituted on 31 December 1914) and no Distinguished Service Order (instituted in 1886). Indeed, with regard to the specific reward for gallantry, the Victoria Cross, the Distinguished Conduct Medal and the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal were the sole awards available at this time.


The origins of this award are somewhat complex. The award evolved from the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal instituted in 1854. A Royal Warrant of 4 December 1854 stipulated a scale of annuities to be awarded to 'Serjeants' (a term which then encompassed all Warrant Officers and Staff Sergeants in the modern sense) serving with Raglan's army in the Crimea. The Warrant of 1854 simultaneously instituted a scale of gratuities (dependent upon rank) for those of the rank of 'Serjeant' and below to accompany the award of the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal (LS & GC, instituted in 1830). This gratuity was in adcordance with the instituting Royal Warrant of 1830, and the subsequent Royal Warrant of 1833 consolidating the provisions regarding the award of the LS & GC Medal and attendant gratuities. Those Serjeants who received the annuity were, presumably, to receive the Meritorious Service Medal (instituted by the Meritorious Service Medal (MSM) Warrant of 19 December 1845); as the Warrant of 4 December 1854 stated that the grant of the annuity was in accordance with the provisions for annuities accompanying the award of the MSM (the overall sum available for annuities being originally fixed at 2 000 in 1845, and increased to 4 000 in 1853). No individual could hold both the MSM and LS and GC Medal; and a Serjeant who had been awarded the former was required to relinquish the latter, if he already held it together with its attendant gratuity. These adaptations - in the form of increased annuities accompanying the MSM and increased gratuities accompying the LS and GC Medal for distinguished service with Raglan's army - sought to overcome the problem at the outset of the Crimean War whereby there was no award for Corporals and Privates that could be made exclusively for gallantry in action, whereas for Serjeants the MSM was of indeterminate status.

It would appear, however, that these special adaptations of awards previously existing in response to the exigencies of the Crimean War did not find favour, for in the 'Military Gazette' of 9 December 1854 appeared a vigorous article which, in pressing for a special medal for bravery, doubtless illustrated the Army opinion prevalent at the time; viz., that 'the man who was foremost in the charge and he who kept guard over the baggage, are decorated alike.' Possibly in response to such pressures, on 21 December 1854 the Commander-in-Chief wrote to the Secretary at War asking whether the medal with gratuity awarded under the Warrant of 1854 should be the LS and GC Medal or '... whether Mr Sydney Herbert proposes to cause a different medal to be struck, illustrative of the Gallantry exhibited.'

In the ensuing correspondence it was agreed that the reverse inscription should read 'For Distinguished Conduct in the Field' rather than 'For Gallant Conduct in Action' since as, the Secretary at War pointed out, the medal might be awarded for some distinguished service not strictly in action. Moreover, the existing LS and GC Medal obverse (i.e., the trophy and shield type then in use) was thought to be more suitable than the single word 'Crimea' which had been proposed; the reason being that the word would 'probably' appear on the campaign medal about to be issued. A specimen of the new medal was submitted to the Queen on 25 January 1855 and, on 2 February following, the War Office placed an order with the Royal Mint for approximately 1 000. By the end of 1855 some 747 had been issued. The Royal Warrant instituting the DCM in its new form (i.e., as an award distinct from the MSM with increased annuity and LS and GC Medal with increased gratuity) was dated 13 September 1862. Part of this Warrant reads: 'It is our Royal Will and Pleasure that a Silver Medal, bearing on it the words "For Distinguished Conduct in the Field," shall, in certain cases where specially recommended, be issued to Serjeants in Annuity, in lieu of the before-mentioned Medal for "Meritorious Service" with Annuity... And further, that a like Medal be granted without Annuity or Gratuity to Serjeants, Corporals and Privates of our Army, where specially recommended by the General Commanding in Chief and approved by the Secretary of State for War, for individual acts of Distinguished Conduct in the Field in any parts of the World.'

The recipients of the DCM for service in the First South African War of Independence, together with their units and area of operations, are comparatively simple matters to establish, as the table at the end of this article makes apparent.
However, although the list of recipients has been well documented (1), the actual details appertaining to each named recipient (i.e., the specific service for which the DCM was awarded) are extremely difficult to unearth. This is due to the dearth of information within South Africa relating to such details. It should be borne in mind that the DCMs did not appear in the 'London Gazette' until 15 November 1898. (Moreover had they appeared at the time of the First War of Independence in this source, South African researchers would find the documentation to be scanty; in so far as only the Cape Town Library contains a complete record of holdings of the 'London Gazette'. The Johannesburg Public Library holds a series commencing in 1914, and the State Archives in Pretoria a series commencing in 1916). There is an official register of awards made before 1909, various copies being in circulation among collectors. Recipients of the DCM who were serving members of the Royal Artillery were published in the Regimental Orders (RARO). Lists of recipients of county regiments, together with some citations, are provided by Rudolph (2) to 1904, but details are not always accurate; some known recipients being omitted and questionable ones added. The first awards published which provided overall information appeared in Army General Order No. 61 of June 1885; this practice continued thereafter, 'General Orders' becoming 'Army Orders.' Thus, in order to ascertain details of the services which were rewarded with the DCM in the War of 1880-1881, one must utilize regimental histories and general campaign histories. The former method has yielded details relating to William Bridgstock, C. Godfrey, Henry Maistre, James Pearce and Charles Murray; general campaign histories have yielded details relating to Joseph Bradley, James Wilkins, Conductor Jurgenson, Morris Whalen, Thomas Day, Henry Hampton, and John Murray. A private source, acknowledged below, has kindly provided details of a 13th recipient of the DCM (L/Sgt Patrick Sharkey).

Sgt William Bridgstock: In his history of the Northamptonshire Regiment, Michael Barthorp (3) relates the dire situation in which the 2 Northamptonshire Regiment (then known as the 58th Regiment of Foot) found itself during the battle of Laing's Nek. The 58th were to launch the main attack on the Boer left centre, with the 3/60th Rifles in reserve. From the outset the assault was ill-fated. The artillery support, which had been having good practice on the Boer positions, stopped too soon. The mounted attack failed, exposing the right flank of the infantry. Command of the 58th's attack had been assumed by Col Deane of the Staff who, being mounted, forced a gruelling pace up the steep slopes. As a result by the time the 58th had reached an area of dead ground, where they were expected to deploy for the assault, the men were exhausted. They were given no respite. The fire was murderous from front and flank. Col Deane was soon killed. Maj Hingeston, the Commanding Officer, was mortally wounded as he encouraged his men; and most of the officers became casualties. Lt Baillie fell with the Regimental Colour, saying to Peel, his fellow Ensign, 'Never mind me, save the Colours.' As Peel tried to comply he fell into an ant bear hole and Sgt Bridgstock, thinking that Peel had been killed, seized both Colours and carried them out of action. For this he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

Pte C. Godfrey: At the same action, Pte Godfrey stayed to protect the dying Maj Hingeston during the retreat. This was the service which was rewarded with the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

SM Charles Murray: It was in the course of this retreat that SM Murray also earned his Distinguished Conduct Medal. Although badly wounded, he directed fire to cover the withdrawal, and was the last to retire.

C/Sgt Henry Maistre and Sgt James Pearce: These two members of the 94th Regt (2 Bn Connaught Rangers) were each awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for carrying the Colours at Bronkhorstspruit and having fallen wounded whilst doing so. Seeing their danger from capture they had subsequently concealed the Colours in the bed of Mrs Fox, then lying dangerously wounded in a hospital wagon (although she subsequently recovered, to receive the Royal Red Cross Decoration; cf below). In their history of the Connaught Rangers, H.F.N. Jourdain and Edward Fraser (4) state that the medals were presented to the two NCO's by Lt Col Browne on 6 November 1881.

Sgt Joseph Taylor Bradley: In his work, 'The First Boer War' (5) Joseph Lehmann relates how, after the engagement at Bronkhorstspruit, Joubert. the Boer Commandant, was persuaded to permit two volunteers, Conductor Egerton and Sgt Bradley, to walk to Pretoria for medical assistance. They used the errand of mercy as a pretext for smuggling out the Regimental Colours. As has been commented above, C/Sgt Maistre and Sgt Pearce were initially responsible for this concealment. When the Boers searched and inquired after the trophies, they were given a couple of banners that were used for decorative purposes in connection with garrison balls and theatricals. The Boers were delighted. Meanwhile, Egerton managed to wind the sacred prize around his body under his clothes. In Pretoria the Colours were maintained by the 21st Royal Scots Fusiliers until the Regiment was re-organized. Egerton was subsequently rewarded with a Commission in the 94th Regiment. Lehmann does not specify any award for Taylor. However, in so far as the Submission to the Queen on 26 March 1882 cites the battle of Bronkhorstspruit in connection with Taylor's award, and in so far also as the service performed was associated with the saving of the Regimental Colours (as is the case with Bridgstock) it is reasonable to assume that the Taylor mentioned by Lehmann is the same as the recipient of the DCM.

Pte John Murray: His is one of the two DCM's awarded for services at Majuba. Pte Murray was engaged on the south face of the mountain at mid-afternoon when he earned his DCM. Scores of men had jumped or fallen down the almost perpendicular 10 metres precipice near the top. Some had been killed by leaping headlong on to the rocks below. Tumbling and bleeding, the fugitives continued their descent. Pte Murray paused at the brow when a burgher called out to him to surrender. 'I'll see you damned first,' he replied. (Lehmann states that it was these words which earned him, quote, 'The Distinguished Service Medal'). Jumping off the brow Murray was shot in the arm and, halfway down, he twisted his knee out of joint.

It is curious that in his report of the Majuba battle dated 9 March 1881, Maj Gen Sir Evelyn Wood, Officer Commanding the forces in Natal and the Transvaal, recommended Cpl Farmer for the Victoria Cross (cf below) and Pte Murray for the 'Distinguished Service Medal.' No mention is made, however, of Pte Hemsley, and his name is omitted from both the regimental history of the Gordon Highlanders and general campaign histories. A further curious feature is Maj Gen Wood's reference to the Distinguished Service Medal; suggesting that this was the common manner of referring to the DCM (probably the source of subsequent errors in referring, to the award; cf above with regard to Pte John Murray and below, with regard to SM James Wilkins)

SM James Wilkins: Sergeant Major Wilkins earned his DCM at the Ingogo River. During the battle the shouting Boers prompted Wilkins, a veteran of fifteen years' service, to ask Colley if he could lead a bayonet charge. The request was refused. Whilst Wilkins was making his request to the General in the centre of the plateau, a single intrepid Boer on a large white horse galloped up the slope on the left, then stopped, dismounted, and fired. Seeing that the range was too far, the Boer remounted and boldly rode in closer for a better shot. As the Boer was in full view of Colley and his staff, the General inquired 'Hasn't anyone here got a rifle?' The Sergeant Major saluted and, replying 'Yes, Sir,' dropped to one knee. With a single shot he despatched the burgher and his horse. Wilkins, said to be the best shot in the battalion, added to his reputation that day by 'potting' several other burghers. Lehmann once again incorrectly cites the 'Distinguished Service Medal' as being his reward for conspicuous courage. (Three years later Wilkins was killed at the battle of El Teb).

Pte Maurice Whalen, Conductor Jurgenson and CSM Thomas Day: During the siege of Lydenburg Sgt Cowdy, who was in command of a covering party of the 94th Regiment, was shot through the head and body. The dying man was brought in by Pte Whalen and Conductor Charles Jurgenson (a Dane), together with Sergeants Day of the Royal Engineers and Allen of the Army Hospital orps. For their parts in this gallant action Whalen, Jurgenson and Day were awarded the DCM.

L/Cpl Henry Hampton: In the course of the defence of Pretoria, an action occurred on 6 January 1881 at Zwart Kopje, approximately 19 kilometres from Pretoria. During this engagement Capt Sampson was seriously wounded in the neck and shoulder. L/Cpl Hampton, who had, immediately prior to this, been conspicuous for the manner in which he had led his small party of Fusiliers, carried Capt Sampson out of action and across the river, under heavy fire.

L/Sgt Patrick Sharkey: The service which gained L/Sgt Sharkey his DCM is detailed in a report of Maj Montague, dated Fort Alice, Standerton, 29 March 1881. An extract from this report reads as follows: 'I would especially mention Sgt Sharkey who with a party of 5 men held an exposed position on the roof during the whole of the siege keeping the look-out, informing me of every movement of the rebels and putting down fire from their position on the stony kopje with excellent effect, to judge from the number of men seen to fall'. Sharkey had served in the Zulu War and held the South Africa Medal for the Zulu and Basuto Wars with the 1879 Clasp. He subsequently served in the Scottish Horse during the Second South African War of 1899-1902. (The writer is indebted to Mr Brian Thomas of Durban, who so kindly provided details of the service which gained for L/Sgt Sharkey the DCM, as well as his service background).

It should be borne in mind that the DCM worn by these recipients would not be the same - with regard to obverse - as those worn by recipients during the reigns of Edward VII, George V, George VI, and Elizabeth II. Until 1901, when a new obverse with the King's effigy was adopted the obverse of the DCM bore the trophy and shield associated with the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal from which it evolved. Nor, indeed, were recipients entitled to add the post-nominal letters 'DCM' after their names. This was only authorized in Army Order No 13 of January 1918 (which extended the same privileges to holders of the MM).


It was stated above that the Distinguished Conduct Medal, Victoria Cross and Conspicuous Gallantry Medal were the sole awards available in 1881 for gallantry. However, it should be borne in mind that the South African War of 1880-1881 provides a most interesting example of the retrospective grant of an award instituted two years later. This award was the Royal Red Cross Decoration, instituted by Queen Victoria on 27 April 1883, solely for women who had shown special devotion and competency in their nursing duties with the Army in the field, or in Naval and Military Hospitals and hospital. (It may also be awarded for services with the Red Cross or kindred societies and nursing generally). Indeed, this Decoration would appear to be the only one for which women alone were eligible, and the South African War of Independence provided its earliest recipients.
Four ladies received the award: Mrs Fox, Mrs Smith, Mrs Maistre (for their services at Bronkhorstspruit) and Mrs Gildea, the wife of Lt Col Gildea (for her services at Pretoria). The awards were authorized in 1884 for Mrs Fox, Mrs Maistre and Mrs Gildea (these being the earliest recipients of the Decoration, apart from members of the Royal Family) and in 1905 for Mrs Smith (who subsequently became Mrs Jeffreys). The late award of Mrs Smith's Decoration was, perhaps, compensated for by her award of the Silver Medal for deeds of gallantry of the Order of St John of Jerusalem, upon her return to England.

First photo

The Royal Red Cross Decoration (RRC). This illustration is of the reign of George V. The lower limb bears the date '1883', the year of institution of the award.

The Regimental History of the Connaught Rangers (6) enlarges upon the services of Mrs Fox, Mrs Maistre and Mrs Smith. The work states that the Decoration was conferred on the three for their courageous conduct and devotion in their attendance on the wounded during the action at Bronkhorstspruit, and for three months afterwards, during which time the wounded were held prisoners of war. The following District Order was published by Col Bellairs, Officer Commanding at Pretoria: 'Pretoria, April 5th 1881. The Officer Commanding desires to thank Mrs Smith, widow of Bandmaster Benjamin Smith, of the 94th, for the good services she rendered at Bronkhorst Spruit (sic) fight in assisting the wounded. Mrs Smith was herself present in the midst of the action, but though surrounded by the dead and dying, she in a courageous way set about alleviating the sufferings of the wounded, and for upwards of three months has continued to be unremitting in her attention to them under very trying circumstances. Such true heroism and devotion merit recognition and high praise. Colonel Bellairs, therefore, takes the opportunity of Mrs Smith returning to England, publicly to refer to the good acts she has performed.'

The service referred to in this acknowledgement may be regarded as archetypal of the dedication displayed by all three. No specific details of Mrs Gildea's service at Pretoria have emerged.

There are several interesting aspects attached to the service of the ladies referred to in the Regimental History of the Connaught Rangers. First, one's attention is drawn to the fact that one of the recipients of the DCM was Colour Sergeant Henry Maistre of the 2 Connaught Rangers, who also served at Bronkhorstspruit. It is reasonable to assume that this was the husband of Mrs Maistre. If this assumption is correct this, together with the service of Mrs Smith (as she was then) points to the active participation of service wives in the combat zone. Second, it will be recalled that Mrs Fox had been severely wounded at Bronkhorstspruit (a fact which renders her subsequent service all the more creditable); and it was in her bed that the Regimental Colours had been concealed by C/Sgt Maistre and Sgt Pearce. Both Mrs Smith and Mrs Fox were accorded military funerals.


The origins of this award have been so extensively and thoroughly documented that discussion of the subject is not merited in this article. To reiterate, there were six awards for service in this campaign:-

L/Cpl James Murray: At the battle of Elandsfontein, Murray and his comrade, John Danaher, advanced for 50 metres into the open, under heavy fire, to rescue two men of the 2 Royal Scots Fusiliers - Byrne and Davis - who had been severely wounded. No sooner had they started forward than Murray's horse was shot from under him. Notwithstanding, without hesitation, he proceeded on foot. In the following extract from a letter from Dublin, dated 25 March 1891, Murray expands upon the circumstances:- 'We both reached them together, and, on stopping to raise Byrne's head, I was shot through the body, the ball entering my right side and passing out near the spine. Seeing how useless it was for Danaher to remain, I ordered him to secure my carbine and escape. Byrne breathed his last, by my side, soon after. Davis and I were taken prisoners, and, together with Byrne's body, carried in a bullock hide to the Boer camp on the mountain top, where we were well treated. They kept us there twenty-six hours. By courtesy of the Boer commandant, we were then permitted to return to Pretoria, under a flag of truce, bringing with us the body of our poor comrade. Davis died five days afterwards.

Pte John Danaher: The details of Pte Danaher's service are contained in the discussion of L/Cpl Murray's courageous act above.

Pte James Osborne: During the action at Wesselstroom, Pte Osborne rode towards a party of 42 Boers, and, under heavy fire, picked up Pte Mayes, who was lying wounded, and carried him back to camp.

Lt Alan Richard Hill: During the action at Laing's Nek, Lt Hill remained behind after the retreat had been ordered, and attempted to carry Lt Baillie, who had been severely wounded. Being unsuccessful in conveying the injured officer on to a horse, he was forced to carry him in his arms; in the course of which service Lt Baillie was again hit, and this time mortally wounded. After this, despite heavy fire from the enemy, Lt Hill twice returned to the open ground, each time rescuing a wounded man. (Lt Hill died as Maj Alan Hill-Walker in 1944, and was for many years the senior holder of the VC in the Army. Lt Hill performed a service for posterity, as well as that for humanity, by his courageous actions on that day. For one of the men he rescued, Bandsman Tuck, kept a journal of the campaign, now in the National Army Museum, England).

Second photo

Alan Richard Hill-Walker
With acknowledgement to 'The History of the Victoria Cross", by Philip A.Wilkins (London, Archibald Constable, 1904.)

Pte John Doogan: At the action at Laing's Nek, Maj Brownlow was dismounted during a charge owing to his horse having been shot. Doogan, the Major's servant, seeing the precarious position of his master, rode to his assistance and, although himself severely wounded, sprang from his horse and offered it to Maj Brownlow, in the course of which action he received another wound.

Cpl Joseph John Farmer: At Majuba Cpl Farmer was attending to the wounded, who were drawn into the line of fire. Farmer held up a white handkerchief in order to draw attention to the plight of the wounded but was immediately shot through the right wrist. Undaunted, and determined to do his best for his charges, he seized the handkerchief again in his unwounded hand, but instantly a bullet passed through his left elbow, rendering him powerless to continue.

Third photo

Joseph John Farmer
With acknowledgement to 'The History of the Victoria Cross", by Philip A.Wilkins (London, Archibald Constable, 1904.)


Major W.E. Montague of the 94th Regiment was made a Companion of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath (CB), in recognition of his services during the siege of Standerton.


The development and description of the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal (CGM) falls conveniently into two phases; viz., the Medal granted in 1855 and, secondly, that instituted in 1874. The Medal of 1855 was instituted by Order in Council of 13 September 1855, which sanctioned rewards for distinguished conduct in terms of annuities and gratuities accompanying the award of a specific medal. The origins of the CGM are, therefore, similar to those of the DCM (cf above); with the notable difference, however, that the medal to accompany the annuity/gratuity in the case of the CGM had no prior existence (unlike the MSM and LS and GC Medal, from the latter of which the DCM evolved). The Order in Council of 1855 was prompted by the fact that the Royal Warrant of 4 December 1854, in which the origins of the DCM may be traced, did not apply to the Royal Navy and Royal Marines. This was a serious deficiency, in view of the heavy involvement of the Navy in the Crimean War. The new award, together with its attendant monetary emoluments, was therefore, considered to be the counterpart of the DCM for Naval and Royal Marine personnel. Although the reverse of the 1855 award bore the words 'CONSPICUOUS GALLANTRY', there is no official record that it was ever termed the Conspicuous Gallantry Medal. (The obverse of the MSM was used for this award).

Following the institution of the VC by Royal Warrant of 29 January 1856, no further awards of the CGM were made until its re-institution in 1874. The award, with its own distinct designation, was re-introduced by an Order in Council dated 7 July 1874. The re-institution of the award retained the grant of annuities/gratuities to accompany the Medal. Once again, there is a strong similarity to the development of the DCM; in so far as the former award only received its official designation some years after it had first been instituted. There is a further similarity with the DCM in so far as documentation concerning details of the awards is extremely scanty. The 'London Gazette' contains no details of the awards between 1874 and 1894, although in some cases the recipients are mentioned in despatches of the admirals commanding the naval forces engaged in certain operations. The names of the recipients do appear in the Navy List of the period. All awards from 1901 onwards were gazetted.

It is not commonly realized how rare an award the CGM is. Of the 1855 award, 11 awards were made to ten recipients. Between 1874 and 1946 (when the last award was made) a total of only 234 awards (with one Bar) have been made. When one compares this figure with the 1 352 VCS awarded to all servicemen to date, the rarity of the CGM clearly emerges.

Despite the dearth of records commented upon above, it is nevertheless possible to ascertain that a CGM was awarded to a member of the Naval Brigade. This was William H. Bevis, a member of the crew of HMS Boadicea, and an Assistant Sick Berth Attendant. At Majuba, together with Surgeon Mahon, he tended the mortally wounded Commanding Officer (i.e. of the Naval Brigade), Cdr Romilly. They remained with him after the plateau was totally devoid of their fleeing comrades, and until the enemy was within a few paces. When they arose, they were permitted to carry Romilly away from the action. Bevis, like his military counterparts at Majuba who were awarded the DCM, was not permitted to use post-nominal letters after his name. This privilege with regard to the CGM, was only granted on 5 November 1917.

What light do the ahove awards throw upon the campaign? They undoubtedly underline important aspects of the character and organization of the British Army during this war. These aspects may be summarized as:-
The role of the Colours in the traditions of the British Army.
The role of women in these traditions.
The regimental re-organization of the Victoria Army.
The role of non-combatants other than women.
The role of Colonial Volunteer units.
The role of Naval Brigades.


It is highly significant that, of the 13 awards of the DCM for which the specific service has been established in this paper, four were associated with the Regimental Colours (i.e., C/Sgt Henry Maistre, Sgt James Pearce, Sgt William Bridgstock, and Sgt Joseph Taylor Bradley). Indeed the two awards for actually carrying the Colours (to C/Sgt Maistre and Sgt Pearce) were the first to be submitted to the Queen; both on 8 July 1881.

This clearly illustrates the vital role that the Regimental Colours played in the battle traditions of the Victorian Army. The First South African War of Independence was the last occasion on which the Regimental Colours were carried into battle. To be more precise, they were last carried at Laing's Nek. Thus Sgt Bridgstock, in assuming the role of carrying the Colours, was the final personification of a tradition which can be traced back to the English Civil War (1641-1649). The reason why the Colours were deeply venerated by the Victorian regiments is suggested in the following extract (7): 'Colours are the symbol of the spirit of the regiment, for on them are borne the battle honours and badges granted to the regiment in commemoration of some of the gallant deeds performed by members of the regiment from the time it was raised. This association of Colours with heroic deeds has caused them to be regarded with veneration. In a sense they are the epitome of the history of the regiment. The full history of the regiment is contained in written records, but as these are not portable in convenient form, the Colours, emblazoned with distinctions for long and honourable service, are something in the nature of a silken history...'

However, it was the Victorian Army above all, in comparison with the British Army of earlier decades, which responded to the sensations evoked by the Colours. Indeed, this reverence for the Colours was a Victorian phenomenon. In earlier ages regiments had been very far from reverent. The guidon of the 19th Light Dragoons (guidons being the Cavalry counterpart of regimental Colours) was lost for a hundred years. The Colours of the 71st Foot (1st Seaforth Highlanders) were left behind and apparently forgotten when the battalion moved from one station to another in Ireland in 1788. (They eventually surfaced in 1921 in a Limerick pawnshop). Such an attitude contrasts most markedly with the situation of the Zulu War of 1879; when Lt Teignmouth Melvill, of the 24th Regt, died in an endeavour to rescue the Regimental Colours after Isandlwana (and was posthumously awarded the VC). It is difficult to ascertain precisely why respect for the Colours was a peculiarly Victorian veneration. One possible reason is that regimental pride - with which the Colours were so obviously associated - reached its climax during the Victorian era.

The question of Colours had been raised in Parliament in August 1880, and in February of the following year all Commanding Officers were asked their views upon it. The consensus of opinion favoured the retention of the Colours for use in peacetime, but that they should not be taken on active service. An Order was accordingly published in January 1882 giving effect to this, on the grounds of the altered form of attack and of the increased range of musketry. The original functional purpose of the Colours had been to serve as a rallying point by advertising the Commander's presence. Their use therefore implied a mode of warfare in which concentration was a desirable factor in tactical formation. Such a concept had obviously been rendered totally obsolete by the necessity of extended order generated by the advent of breech-loading weapons with far longer ranges than muskets (and of which the Boer tactics of fire with movement took full advantage). It is, perhaps, a comment upon the innate conservatism of the British Army in 1880-1881 that several recipients of the DCM received their award for service symptomatic of obsolescent tactics.


The four retrospective awards of the Royal Red Cross Decoration point to the (often unrecorded) role which women played in Victorian campaigns. The gallant actions of Mrs Fox, Mrs Smith and Mrs Maistre were fully in accordance with the tradition by which wives accompanied their husbands to the combat zone. The First South African War is thus remarkable in so far as it furnishes the first example of this role receiving recognition, it being the first occasion on which Decorations specifically designed for women were awarded. There is a most interesting comment on this tradition by Byron Farwell, in his work, 'For Queen and Country: a Social History of the Victorian and Edwardian Army' (8): 'Margaret Kewin, wife of a soldier in the Green Howards, striding along the dusty road to Sevastopol with her regiment, carrying a haversack and a water bottle, on her head a small wash tub filled with cooking utensils; the unknown woman, a babe in her arms, who found her husband dead on the field of Badajos; the wife of the 91st Highlander who gave birth beside the road on the retreat from Corunna; Mrs Langley, wife of a sergeant in the 17th Lancers, who went into the Valley of Death at Balaclava to retrieve her husband's corpse and was herself wounded; Nell Butler, age twenty-two and married to a soldier in the Rifle Brigade, who in the Crimea tore her petticoat to make bandages, collected biscuit bags to make poultices, and scarcely raised her head when a shell burst only ten yards from her. Elizabeth Evans, whose husband was in the 4th Foot (King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment) was at the Alma ... she was the first woman on the battlefield after the engagement, tending the wounded. She later accompanied the regiment to India, and during the mutiny was besieged at Lucknow.


When one studies the awards of the First South African War of Independence, one encounters the fact that the unit to which a recipient belongs at the time of being awarded the Decoration differs in designation from the manner in which the unit is described when the service meriting the award was performed. To take several cases in point, Abbott (9) cites the 2 Connaught Rangers and 2 Northamptonshire Regiment as regiments of which the recipients of the DCM were members. However, when one consults the Regimental Histories detailing the services which merited the awards, the 2 Connaught Rangers is referred to as the 94th Regt and the 2 Northamptonshire Regiment as the 58th Regt. Similarly, the Regimental History of the Gordon Highlanders refers to the 92nd Regt at the time of the South African War of 1880-1881. The reason for this discrepancy resides in the drastic regimental re-organization which occurred in 1881, and which has been the subject of an earlier article in this Journal (10). This re-organization was characterized by three central features: viz., each regiment was to have at least two service battalions; the majority of regiments were to be identified with a county or city: and militia battalions were tied to regular regiments.

With regard to the first feature, since 1857 the Guards Infantry, the Royal Scots, the King's Royal Rifle Corps, the Rifle Brigade and the 25 regiments of the line had all possessed more than one (usually two) battalions; regiments of the line whose numbers were higher than 25 had only one battalion. It was Cardwell's opinion that two-battalion regiments were to be preferred, as one full battalion could be sent on foreign service, whilst the other remained at home to recruit and train them; every few years the order being reversed. Cardwell therefore 'linked' all the one-battalion regiments, although, whereas the linked regiments were to act as though they were two battalions of the same regiment, they retained their individual numbers and traditions. In 1881, however, Hugh Childers, the succeeding Secretary of State for War, developed Cardwell's ideas to their logical conclusion by amalgamating the former numbered regiments of foot with a two-battalion organization but separate identities. Thus, the 94th Regiment of Foot became 2 Bn Connaught Rangers (the former 88th forming 1 Bn); the 58th (Rutlandshire) Regiment of Foot amalgamated with the 48th to form 2 Bn North Hamptonshire Regiment (the former 48th forming 1 Bn). The 92nd Regiment of Foot emerged from the 1881 reorganization as 2 Bn Gordon Highlanders (the former 75th forming 1 Bn). The tampering with regimental identities was, predictably, to be bitterly resented. A Sgt Sharp of the 75th carved an epitaph on a stone at Floriana barracks that read:

'EPITAPH ON THE 75th, 30 JUNE 1881.
Here lies the poor old Seventy-Fifth,
But under God's protection,
They'll rise again in kilt and hose
A glorious resurrection!
For by the transformation power
Of Parliamentary laws,
We go to bed the Seventy-Fifth
And rise the Ninety-Twas.'

The replacement of numbered designations for line infantry regiments with territorial designations ended a tradition extending back to 1751 (although, in actual fact, there had been a grant of territorial designations to accompany numbered designations in 1782). This manifestation of attack upon regimental traditions was equally resented. Col Charles Poole, who had spent years of service in the 67th Foot (merged after his retirement with the 37th Foot to form 2 Bn Hampshire Regiment) spoke for many a choleric old soldier when he replied to an invitation to a dinner given by the Hampshire Regiment: 'Damn names mean nothing. Since time immemorial regiments have been numbered according to their precedence in the Line. Nothing can alter the rightness of such a plan, and interfering boobies in the War office can have no effect on my determination to ignore their damned machinery at all costs to myself. I will not come to anything called a Hampshire Regimental Dinner. My compliments, Sir, and be damned.'


The award of the DCM to Conductor C. Jurgenson points to the fact that non-military personnel were frequently heavily engaged in combat zones. A Conductor was a senior civilian official responsible for several drivers and their wagons. It should be noted that the unit referred to as the Commissariat and Transport Corps was not known by this designation at the point in time in which Jurgenson performed the actual service which was rewarded with the DCM. At the time of the First South African War the unit was known as the Army Service Corps, controlled, since 1875, by the Commissariat and Transport Department. It should be emphasized that both the Army Service Corps and its successor in 1881 (the Commissariat and Transport Corps) were not regular army units but, rather, controlled by non-military government departments. [Only in 1888, when the designation Army Service Corps was revived, did the unit fall directly under the control of the Army Staff, thereby forming the foundation of the Royal Army Service Corps). There was no provision in the rank structure of either the ASC or its successor in 1881 tor 'Conductor,' Conductors and Drivers thus corresponding to contracted personnel. It will be recalled that another member of this unit - Conductor Egerton - had played a major role in rescuing the Colours after Bronkhorstspruit. In this context it is germane to note that Conductor F.L. Cassells distinguished himself whilst in charge of the transport wagons at Bronkhorstspruit and afterwards in the siege of Standerton. Conductor Bancroft was killed at Bronkhorstspruit. The award of the DCM to Conductor Jurgenson further points to the fact that the Distinguished Conduct Medal could be awarded to civilians.


It is significant that one of the Victoria Crosses gained in the Campaign was awarded to a member of Nourse's Horse. The unit was raised by Capt Nourse, the Commanding Officer, and Capt A. Woolls Sampson as part of the British garrison of Pretoria in 1881, with a strength of 60. The Corps was disbanded at the close of hostilities. It had its own distinctive uniform (dark blue jackets and light cord breeches with a blue pagri on the slouch hat; officers wearing helmets).*[* Editors' Note: There is a detailed description of this unit in an article by H. W. Kinsey. Nourse's Horse at Elandsfontein Ridge, 16 January 1881. Military History Journal, Vol 5 No 2 (First War of Independence 1880-1881 Centenary Issue), December 1980, pp 88-89.] Nourse's Horse was not the only Colonial unit to serve during the siege of Pretoria. There were also the Pretoria Rifles and Pretoria Carbineers; whilst, at Standerton, one had the Standerton Mounted Volunteers. Indeed, the Pretoria Carbineers sustained eight killed, Nourse's Horse one killed, and the Standerton Mounted Rifles two killed. The role of the Colonial Volunteer units in the military traditions of South Africa has been discussed in an earlier issue of this Journal (11). Hence, the award of the VC of Pte John Danaher draws our attention to the role played by these Volunteer units in a context in which it is the British Regular Army units which invariably receive the preponderance of attention.


Naval Brigades were a consistent feature of British military operations during the course of the 19th Century. Indeed, the concept underlying the Naval Brigade - that of a unit of seamen fighting on land - can be traced to the 16th Century. The Naval Brigade comprised either an individual unit from a single ship or, in a fleet of considerable size, detachments from a number of ships. It is of interest to note that Brigades from individual ships acquired a reputation in much the same manner as that of a regiment. An outstanding example of this is the Brigade from HMS Shannon, commanded by Capt Peel, VC, which rendered outstanding service during the Indian Mutiny of 1857-1858, and in which several VCs were gained. Subsequently, such Brigades had served in the China War of 1860, the Abyssinian expedition of 1868 and the Ashanti War of 1873-1874.

Naval Brigades were certainly no stranger to South Africa. During the Zulu War of 1879 detachments from HMS Active, Shah, Tenedos, and Boadicea had assisted the land forces at the battles of Inyezane, Kambula and Gingindlovu. It is interesting, therefore, to note the re-appearance of the Boadicea detachment in 1881. At Majuba, the Naval Brigade comprised detachments from both Boadicea and Dido. The casualties incurred at Majuba by the Naval Brigade were severe. The Boadicea lost one officer and ten men killed, and one officer (Cdr Romilly) and five men mortally wounded. In addition, ten members of Boadicea's detachment and three of Dido's were wounded. Thus, of the total naval force engaged, 33 (in effect almost 50%) were put out of action.

Naval Brigades played a prominent role subsequent to the War of 1880-1881; in Egypt (1882), the Sudan (1884-1885 and 1896-1898) and the Second South African War of 1899-1902. In actual fact, this extensive use of floating mobile reserves is symptomatic of a profound weakness within British strategic thought in the 19th Century. The Royal Marines were never expanded sufficiently to form an elite expeditionary force, to cope with the recurrent crises within the Empire necessitating the despatch of a few battalions to distant theatres of war.


A study of the awards of the First South African War of Independence teaches us a great deal about the nature of the medals themselves in general terms.
First, such a study points to the fact that one must always view military awards in a multi-dimensional light. In other words, awards can assume several different forms, campaign medals, Orders, Decorations, commemorative medals, long service and good conduct medals, etc. The fact that no campaign medal was issued for the War does not diminish its interest for us from the viewpoint of medals.. Indeed, the campaign was rich in awards for individual acts of gallantry and devotion to duty. Almost as many DCM's were awarded as in the New Zealand Campaign of 1863-1865 (in which 22 were gained) and more than in the 1878-1879 Campaigns in South Africa (in which 16 were awarded). With regard to the Victoria Crosses, more were gained in the First South African War of Independence than in the Abyssinian War of 1867-1868 (in which two were gained), the Ashanti War of 1873-1874 (in which four were gained) and as many as in the Basuto War and the operations against Sekukuni in 1878-1879. It would thus appear that, although the generalship displayed by the British in the 1880-1881 campaign in South Africa was questionable, to say the least, the moral fibre of the troops, as manifested in acts meriting gallantry awards, compares most favourably with contemporaneous l9th Century campaigns.
Secondly, the Campaign points to the need to view medals as having a retrospective significance. For example, it was stated at the outset that, at the time of the campaign, the only awards available for gallantry and outstanding devotion to duty were the Victoria Cross, Distinguished Conduct Medal, and Conspicuous Gallantry Medal. However, the Royal Red Cross Decoration, instituted two years after the close of the War, was awarded retrospectively and, to reiterate, three of its female participants furnished examples of its earliest recipients.
Thirdly, the fact that one of the VC's awarded (to Pte John Danaher) points to the role of Colonial Volunteer regiments (in this case Nourse's Horse) is indicative of the fact that medals are not only significant from the viewpoint of personality (i.e., in recording the service of the individual recipient), but also in detailing the service of particular units within a particular campaign. If one had no prior knowledge of the regiments involved in the First South African War of Independence, a study of the Decorations awarded would yield this information; serving as an invaluable basis for further researches into regimental histories, with a view to ascertaining the approach of regimental historians to the conflict, within the narrow context of their specific unit's activities.
Fourthly, the fact is clearly illustrated that even the negative aspects of medal research are extremely significant. Even if one knows little or nothing concerning the course of the 1880-1881 Canipaign in South Africa, the very fact that this War is the only 19th Century colonial war for which a campaign medal was not awarded points to a sudden and painful interruption in the series of unbroken (if not always easy) victories.

From the viewpoint of the relationship between the awards and the nature of the War itself, in certain respects these awards crystallize the peculiar finality attached to the First South African War of Independence with regard to British military traditions. The DCM was never again to be awarded for the carriage and escort of the Regimental Colours in combat, whereas the regiments in which the recipients served were to have their independent traditions and identities irrevocably altered in the year of Majuba. In other respects, however, these awards point to the future; in respect of the recognition afforded to the role of women in war. The succeeding century was to witness the remarkable expansion of this role, as the scale of warfare - in terms of technological and human resources - grew to gargantuan proportions.

Bibliography: works referred to in the text:-

  1. Abbott, P.E. Recipients of the Distinguished Conduct Medal 1855-1909. London, J.B. Hayward, 1975, p36.
  2. Rudolph, R. de M. Short Histories of the Territorial Regiments of the British Army, c. 1905.
  3. Barthorp, Michael. The Northamptonshire Regiment (the 48th,58th Regt of Foot). London, Leo Cooper, 1974, p 48. (Famous Regiments; edited by Brian Horrocks.)
  4. Jourdain, H.F.N. and Fraser, Edward. The Connaught Rangers, 2nd Bn, formerly 94th Foot. Vol 2: 1572-1922. London, Royal United Service Institution, 1926, p 371.
  5. Lehmann; Joseph. The First Boer War. London, Jonathan Cape, 1972, p 117.
  6. Ibid item (4) above, p 361.
  7. Edwards, T.J. Military Customs. 3rd rev. ed. Aldershot, Gale and Polden, 1952, p 64.
  8. Farwell, Byron. Queen and Country; a Social History of the Victorian and Edwardian Army. London, Allen Lane, Penguin Books, 1981, p 230.
  9. Ibid item (1) above.
  10. Monick, S. An Army in Transition. Military History Journal, Vol.4 No.6, December 1979, pp 221-225.
  11. Monick, S. Profile of an Army: the Colonial and Imperial Forces of the Zulu War of 1879. Military History Journal, Vol.4 No. 5, June 1979, pp 172-177. Other works referred to:-
  12. Brown, George & Penhall, Ronald. The Conspicuous Gallantry Medal. Vancouver, Pacific Pub. Co., 1977, p 3.
  13. Clowes, Wm. The Royal Navy : a history from the earliest times to the death of Queen Victoria. 7 Vols. London, Sampson Low, Marston & Co., 1903. Vol VII, p 319.

Rank Name Regiment Action Date
Sgt Bradley, Joseph Taylor 2 Connaught Rangers Bronkhorstspruit 20.12.1880
Sgt Bridgstock, William 2 Northamptonshire Regiment Laing's Nek 28.01.1881
Pte Bush, Henry 2 Royal Scots Fusiliers Siege of Potchefstroom 22.01.1881
L/Cpl Cunnief, Patrick 2 Royal Scots Fusiliers Siege of Potchefstroom 22.01.1881
CSM Day, Thomas RE Siege of Lydenburg 22.01.1881
Dvr Gibson, Robert N/5th Bde, RA Siege of Potchefstroom 22.01.1881
Pte Godfrey, C 2 Northamptonshire Regiment Laing's Nek 28.01.1881
L/Cpl Hampton, Henry 2 Royal Scots Fusiliers Siege of Pretoria 06.01.1881
Pte Hemsley, Christopher 92nd Foot Majuba 27.02.1881
Sgt Hyde, Richard John N/5th Bde RA Schuinshoogte 08.01.1881
Cndr Jurgenson, C Commissariat and Transport Corps (A Station) Siege of Lydenburg 22.01.1881
C/Sgt Maistre, Henry 2 Connaught Rangers Bronkhorstspruit 20.12.1880
Tpr Martin, Nicholas Henry N/5th Bde RA Siege of Potchefstroom 22.01.1881
SM Murray, Charles 2 Northamptonshire Regiment Laing's Nek 28.01.1881
Pte Murray, John 92nd Foot Majuba 27.02.1881
Dvr Pead, Alfred N/5th Bde RA Siege of Potchefstroom 22.01.1881
Sgt Pearce, James 2 Connaught Rangers Bronkhorstspruit 20.12.1880
L/Sgt Sharkey, Patrick 2 Connaught Rangers Siege of Standerton -
Pte Whalen, Morris 2 Connaught Rangers Siege of Lydenburg 22.01.1881
SM Wilkins, James 3 KRRC Ingogo River 08.01.1881

Rank Name Regiment Action Date Gazetted
L/Cpl Murray, James 2 Connaught Rangers Elandsfontein 16.01.1881 14.03.1882
Pte Danaher, John Nourse's Horse Elandsfontein 16.01.1881 14.03.1882
Pte Osborne, James 2 Northamptonshire Reg Wesselstroom 22.02.1881 14.03.1882
Lt Hill, Alan Richard 2 Northamptonshire Reg Laing's Nek 28.01.1881 14.03.1882
Pte Doogan, John 1st Dragoon Guards Laing's Nek 28.01.1881 14.03.1882
Cpl Farmer, Joseph John Army Hospital Corps Majuba 27.02.1881 17.05.1881

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