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Tochi Valley Casualty - A Dubious Honour


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I have also posted this on the BMF, so apologies, but thought I would share here too. For me, this was a case of one thing leads to another, with a welcome surprise at the end. As mentioned before, my main interest is Napoleonic wars and Waterloo campaign medals, but I am increasingly being drawn into the mid Victorian Indian/Afghan wars. Anyway, the more I look into that period, the more I am drawn into the later Indian/Afghan exploits (and medals)...after all, it is a continuum (even to today).

I realise that most of you will know a lot more about this period and Tochi than I do - I am very much a beginner, so happy to be corrected.

Recently, on impulse, I bought an India Medal with clasp 'Punjab Frontier 1897-98', to a 8870 Private G. Francis of the 3rd Rifle Brigade. I had no research or history to go on.

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Initial results have been pleasantly surprising, sad and disappointing with equal measure.

Turns out that this medal belonged to 8870 Private George Francis and that he was with 3 Rifles during their ill-fated (certainly for 3 Rifles) expedition with the Tochi Field Force. The medal roll confirms his medal and clasp...also that he was "deceased".

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His service papers were located and they showed that he attested on a 'Short Service' engagement, into the Rifle Brigade, at Winchester, on 25 March 1887. Born Takely, Bishops Stortford in Essex, aged 18 years and seven months. Trade given as Groom. Father given as Samuel Francis.

At his attestation medical, he was described as being 5 feet 5 1/4 inches. 134lbs in weight and a chest measurement of 33inches. Fresh complexion, blue eyes and brown hair. Wesleyan by religion.

Following training (home), he served in Egypt from 19 October 1887, then South Africa on 2 August 1888 and then finally to India on 21 April 1894 (where he served for 8 years and 140 days up to his death in the Tochi Valley).

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He was granted 1 GC badge on 3 August 1889 and a further 2 GC badges on 23 February 1893.

He extended his service (in order to to complete 12 years) on 31 March 1894.

He died at Datta Khel, in the Tochi Valley, on 21 July 1897, after 10 years and 121 days service:

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The Rifle Brigade Chronicle for 1897 describes, at Pages 123/4, how Private Francis was the first man of the Bn to die in the Tochi Valley Expedition (as Batman to the CO), on 21st July 1897, and describes: "On the 21st (July 1897) occurred the first death in the Battalion, during the expedition (Tochi), Private Francis, the Colonel's batman, dying that evening of dysentry. How little did any of us then anticipate the terrible numbers we were to lose later on in that real Valley of Death, the Tochi, which at the date of writing, the 8th December (1897), stand at 3 officers, and 98 rank and file."

I believe that the Private Francis referred to in the Chronicle is 'my Francis' as the only other Pte Francis listed on the medal roll for 3 Rifles at the time is an 'A. Francis'. This Francis does not show in any casualty lists. Also, the date of death fits with his service records and the 1897 Chronicle (at Page 229) lists Rifleman Francis G (8870) having died at Datta Khel on 21st July (1897).

Following is a brief resume of the fearsome trials and tribulations that George Francis would have been exposed to during his part of the Tochi expedition:

Tochi Field Force was formed in June 1897, with aim to exact retribution on the tribes (around the village of Maizar) who (a month earlier) had ambushed the Political Officer for Tochi, and his army escort. The Force included 6 Indian battalions and 2 British battalions (2nd Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders and the 3rd Rifle Brigade). The 3rd Rifles were stationed at Rawalpindi and the assembly point for the force was Datta Khel (some 15 miles to the north east of Maizar). 3 Rifles travelled to Khushulgarh by train arriving on 30 June and, that same day (evening) they began an 8 day march to Bannu (averaged 14 miles per day). With daytime temperatures in excess of 100 degrees F, marching was done at night, when it was a slightly more bearable 98 degrees! Despite many severe heat cases there were no fatalities for 3 Rifles (although the Argyll's lost 3 men). At Bannu they rested for 3 days, then marched west, through the Tochi valley, to Miranshah (approx 3,000 feet above sea level) and then, after a rest, onto Datta Khel where they arrived on 18 July. Of the 801 Riflemen who had begun the 170-mile march, only 726 completed it, the rest having left at various stages of sickness along the route.

With all the battalions present at Datta Khel, the Tochi Field Force was complete and ready for operations (39 days after the Maizar ambush).

Unfortunately, as we now know, George Francis did not make it to the 27th of July, when his Batallion marched out to join the 1st Brigade in the systematic destruction of all the houses there and around Maizar, as punishment for the ambush of 10th. June. As we said, George had the dubious honour of being recorded as the first in his Battalion to die from dysentry.

Dysentery and fever were rife and by August/early September the number of men reporting sick daily was in three figures. and the force HQ decided that the battalion had to return to India to recover its health. It left Bannu on 30th October and there ended the the Rifle Brigade's Tochi expedition. They had marched through the Derejat and Tochi valley in midsummer amid duststorms and plagues of flies without ever seeing the enemy, until by the end, "we had now only a mere handful of sound men with us; the others pale, feeble and worn out, were either hospital patients or too weak to get along without assistance and had to be carried in bullock carts". Not a single man had been lost in action but over 120 died from Fever and Dysentery.

So, in conclusion, I was pleased that the medal belonged to a soldier who had a story to tell (and I know that there is more to discover about his service), but sad and disappointed that it ended the way it did.

I still consider myself to be a complete novice at research and this is very much outside my knowledge base, so, as always, I would be very grateful for anything that anyone may have to add or wishes to comment on -including the medal itself (and the edge naming). I have to assume that this is his only medal entitlement. However, when I next have time, I will visit Kew and see what more I can find in the Muster records about his service.

Sources:

Rifle Brigade Chronicle for 1997 (http://www.archive.org/stream/riflebrigadechr02owngoog#page/n130/mode/2up)

WO 363 Series, for his Service Papers (Ancestry)

WO 100/89, for India Medal Roll

The London Gazette, 7 September 1897, Issue 26889, Page 4989 (https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/26889/page/4989

As a footnote, I have come across an interesting picture of the CO who Pte Francis served, as his batman, at the time of his death in the Tochi Valley:

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Lt. Col. Curzon was CO of 3 RB during the Tochi expedition - some brief biographical details follow, including a note about how badly the Tochi experience affected his health in later years:

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Owen

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In answer to your question about Private Francis and other possible medal entitlements, I suspect the answer is 'no'. Single campaign medals are not rare, even for 12 year men and the 3rd Battalion seems to have had a fairly peaceful last quarter of the century. Some men were with the Camel Corps in the Egypt campaign and qualified for the medal with 'The Nile 1884-85' and 'Abu Klea' bars. They seem then to have gone to India and were there through to the end of 1902 at least.

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Hello Peter, many thanks. His record shows that he was in Egypt between October 87 and August 88....I know that I will need to check the muster rolls for more on this period, but is it likely that he was with the Camel Corps then?

Regards, Owen

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Owen

While the 3rd Battalion was present and must have qualified for the Egypt Medal in 1882, the period Francis was in country is not covered by any of the bars to the Egypt Medal, so he likely did not qualify. The Camel Corps, to the best of my limited knowledge, was an ad hoc unit made up of volunteers [or 'voluntold'] from various units. A prime target for faked multi-bar medals, its not clear to me that there was ever a permanent roll of serving members, but on balance its very unlikely that he served with it, as the 3rd must have been garrison troops by then.

The Naval and Military Press has a selection of books on the various campaigns 1882-1885 in Egypt, but not likely anything as detailed as to mention replacement troops as late as 1887. I feel afe in saying, however, that its pretty unlikely Francis had a gong for that bit of his service.

Peter

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Owen

Turned up my 4th edition British Battles and Medals [by Major L.L.Gordon] which has a little more info. on the Camel Corps. There were, apparently, a Heavy Camel Reg't, drawn from the Life Guards and other Dragoon regt's; the Light Camel Reg't drawn from the Hussar reg'ts, a Guards Camel Reg't which drew on the Foot Guards and RMLI and the Mounted Infantry Camel Reg't, which included men from the Rifle Brigade.

The standard levy appears to have been 2 officers and 45 ORs from each unit, so again, very unlikely that Francis was involved. I'm quite surprised how hard it has been to get information on the Camel Corps, but that seems to confirm my suspicion that it was a very impromptu organization and that, likely, records were minimal to begin with.

Still, as Irish points out, an IGS for the Tochi expedition is nothing to sneer at - all the excitement I'd need if I'd done 12 years service, thank you very much!

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Hello both of you, thanks so much for your inputs. Dubious was probably the wrong word/sense...I simply meant for Private Fancis to have been noted/recorded, for posterity, in the chronicles of the Rifle Brigade would normally be a bit of an honour...but to be noted as the first person to die of dysentery in the battalion on the Tochi expedition, was a bit tragic....I.e. A bit of a dubious honour...oh well, the fact I need to explain, means I probably got it wrong!

Maybe the muster rolls will tell me more about his time in Egypt and South Africa, although I suspect not much more. Sadly it will have to wait until I am next in UK, which is some time away. Thanks for looking though, it all helps.

Kind regards....Owen

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I have been looking through various contemporary news articles on the Tochi Valley expedition, courtesy of the British Newspaper Archives, and found this article, from the Edinburgh Evening News of March 16th 1898:

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Always reluctant to consider one article in isolation, but it is fairly explicit in suggesting that the deaths and incapacitation incurred by 3rd Bn Rifle Brigade were avoidable, had lessons of recent precedence and on the spot medical advice been acted upon....

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