Recent Acquisition

With the generous assistance of the The ACE/V&A Purchase Grant Fund and the Friends of the Mercian Regiment Museum we have recently acquired the medals of Captain (Quartermaster) A. H. Cooper, Worcestershire Regiment, who during the course of the War was wounded besides earning a brace of ‘mentions in despatches’ and his decoration, the only Regimental appointment to the Order of the British Empire for the Middle East.

Arthur Harry Cooper, a native of Smethwick, Staffordshire, was born on 9 September 1901 and enlisted in the Worcestershire Regiment in 1920. Commissioned Lieutenant (Quartermaster) on 1 September 1938, he served with the 1st Battalion in Palestine and played key role in preparing the unit for the Second World War, as recalled in Birdwood’s The Worcestershire Regiment, 1922-50:

Wadi Halfa was reached at 0100hrs on 3 September [1939]. Once again a long-suffering Quartermaster [Cooper] was called on to cope with a sudden situation, for information was received that two companies were to be dropped at Atbara and this entailed re-sorting out all the barrack equipment and furniture. Accordingly, on 4th September ‘B’ and ‘C’ Companies remained at Atbara under the command of Major Knight. This officer had stayed on to bring on the heavy baggage, which was three days behind; for in the peculiar conditions at the time the Battalion was still in a hybrid state of war preparation on a peace-time scale.’

Serving with acclaim throughout the campaign, Cooper finished it with a wound suffered on 16 March 1941 to go with a brace of ‘mentions’ (London Gazette 15 September 1939 & 1 April 1941, refers) and his M.B.E. – one of only 19 such awards to the Regiment for the Second World War.

Captain Cooper’s medals comprising :  The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, M.B.E. (Military); General Service 1918-62, 1 clasp, Palestine; 1939-45 Star; Africa Star; Defence and War Medals 1939-45, with M.I.D. oak leaf.

M.B.E. London Gazette 14 April 1942. The original recommendation – for an O.B.E. – states:

‘This Officer has been Quartermaster, 1st Bn. The Worcestershire Regiment almost continuously since his force commission as a Quartermaster in August 1938, after 19 years’ service in the ranks. He accompanied the Battalion to Palestine in September 1938, served in that campaign untill the outbreak of the present war, and was Mentioned in Despatches for his valuable services. After the outbreak of war, in addition to his duties as Battalion Quartermaster, he performed the duties of a Camp Adjutant and Quartermaster for over a year at Gebeit (Sudan) and was again Mentioned in Despatches for exceptional zeal and ability. For a short time, he was Staff Captain to the 9th Indian Infantry Brigade at Gallabat (Sudan), but rejoined the Battalion as Quartermaster at Gedarf before it took the field in January 1941.

He served throughout the campaign in East Africa, being present at the actions at Gogni, Tauda, Barentu and Keren, where he was wounded, but rejoined in time for the final battle at Amba Alagi. He has since accompanied the Battalion to Egypt and is serving as Quartermaster at the present time.

Throughout these three years of active service, 2. Lieut. Cooper’s efficiency and devotion to duty have been of the highest order. His knowledge and capability under difficult conditions of supply and replacement of stores has been outstanding, and it is due to his care and qualities that the administration of this Unit has been maintained at the best possible standard at all times.’

Cooper was posted ‘dangerously ill’ on 24 August 1942 whilst in South Africa, but died on 31 August, being buried in the Johannesburg (West Park) Cemetery, South Africa, aged 40.

The Battle of Slingersfontein 12th February 1900

The 2nd Battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment left Bermuda on 25 November 1899 under the command of Lt. Col. C. Coningham. They landed at Southampton and spent ten days at Aldershot in freezing winter weather, before leaving for South Africa from Southampton on 17 December 1899 aboard SS Tintagel Castle.

The Battalion arrived at Cape Town on 12 January 1900 where the Boer War had been in progress for three months.  They travelled by train to Rensburg and then marched 18 miles to take over the outpost at Slingersfontein from the cavalry. Slingersfontein was a farm on the extreme right flank of the British line.

British encampment at Slingersfontein

 Patrols were in action every day and captured several Boers from whom they learned that an attack was imminent. The attack came before dawn on 12 February 1900, exactly a month after the Battalion had arrived in South Africa. They were attacked by 300 of the South Africans Republic (Transvaal) Police, known as the “Zarps”, the storm troops of the Boer Forces.

The weight of the attack was at the extreme right held by A, C and E Companies under Battalion Major Stubbs. The forward picquets were overrun, but no ground was lost. The landscape was hilly scrub land and the battle was centred around Pinnacle Hill, Burnt Hill and Signal Hill.

Lt. Col. Coningham went to take command, but was shot in the head by a sniper as he directed operations from the top of Pinnacle Hill. Major Stubbs and Captain Thomas were also killed. Captain Hovell assumed command of the three companies.

A sentry on Pinnacle hill

Pinnacle Hill was held throughout the day. E Company led by Major Stubbs held onto the lower slopes assisted by C Company and well directed fire from A Company. In spite of heavy attacks during the day, they held fast and did not give ground. They made several counter attacks, but were unable to drive the Boers from the crests of Signal Hill and Burnt Hill.

The defence was helped by fire from four guns of J Battery, RHA and one lowitzer, which kept all lost ground under heavy bombardment and eventually setting fire to the scrub on Burnt Hill, enveloping the position in clouds of smoke.

After the all day fight, with great casualties inflicted on the enemy, the Boers retired. Three officers had been lost, 22 men killed and three officers and 47 men wounded.

The Worcesters burials at Slingersfontein, note Lt.Col Coningham and Major Stubbs crosses in the foreground

The successful defence was largely due to the high standard of musketry in the Battalion. Boers taken prisoner were reputed to have said that they had never met such accurate and well directed fire.

The Worcestershire Regiment Monument below Pinnacle Hill, Slingersfontein, South Africa

 A memorial was erected below Pinnacle Hill over the graves of the fallen. It occupies a prominent spot some 200 feet above the surrounding country. It is a granite cross, and at its foot, a plaque is inset into the mound naming Lt. Col. Coningham, the Officers, N.C.O.s and men who died. The foundation of the memorial contains the empty rifle cartridges from the battle.

The Battle of Sobraon 10th February 1846

Battle of Sobraon was fought on the 10th February 1846. It was the fourth, last, and decisive battle of the First Sikh War (1845–46). The Sikh army was entrenched at Sobraon on the eastern British-held bank of the Sutlej River, their retreat secured by a bridge of boats. 

General Sir Hugh Gough having decided to attack the Sikh positions, his troops marched out from their encampment just before dawn with that object. Brigadier Taylor ‘s Brigade including the HM 29th Regiment moved to its position at Chota Sobraon. A thick haze covered the initial British deployment, but as day dawned the Sikhs opened a sharp cannonade.

General Gilbert’s 2nd Division which contained the 3rd Brigade composed of the 41st and 68th Bengal Native infantry and HM 29th Regiment, took up its position at the centre of the British line.

At 0.700 hrs an artillery duel, which lasted for about two hours began on both sides. At approximately 09.00 hrs, General Dick’s division on the British left was ordered to attack the Sikh right flank. This made little headway and General Gough ordered a general assault. At about 10.00 hrs the 1st and 2nd Divisions received their orders to storm the works to their front. Moving out of a ravine Taylors’s brigade advanced in line a distance of three-quarters of a mile exposed to heavy fire from a battery of 13 guns the whole time.

In the charge the 29th outstripped the native infantry and as a result fought alone for some considerable time and were forced to retire to the ravine. The Regiment made a second assault which was again repulsed. Finally charging a third time it entered the entrenchments and captured the battery.

The Battle of Sobraon. From a print in the Museum Collection.

The defences being breached in all directions the Sikh forces retired towards a bridge of boats and the ford across the Sutlej River. In the retreat the bridge collapsed and the remnants of the Sikh army fled across the ford, where they were subjected to fire by all three divisions and the British artillery.

Brigadier Taylor was mortally wounded in the final assault. The 29th Regiment had started the day with 23 officers and 513 Rank and File. It suffered the following casualties one officer and 36 Rank and file killed. 14, Officers and 136 Rank and File wounded.

The Sutlej Memorial in Worcester Cathedral

A monument in the memory of the officers and men of the 29th Regiment who fell in the Sutlej campaign was afterwards placed by their surviving comrades in Worcester Cathedral.

Battle of Ferozeshah 21st December 1845

The 1845-46 Sikh War (The First Sikh War) was a difficult one, as the Sikh army was well-trained and well-armed. As a result, British Casualties were heavy. The campaign was short and concentrated, lasting only three months and was restricted to the Punjab in the North West of India. The Battle of Ferozeshah  was the second battle of the campaign and is characterised by General Gough’s rash and disorganised assault on the entrenched Sikh camp at Ferozeshah.

Following the Battle of Moodkee on 18th December 1845, Lal Singh’s force of Sikhs withdrew to Ferozeshah, eight miles to the North-West of the Moodkee battlefield, occupying strong fortified positions around the village.

While his British and Bengali troops dealt with the casualties of Moodkee, General Gough sent instructions to General Littler, commanding the garrison in Ferozepore, to march out of the town, evading the blockading force of Tej Singh, and join him before Ferozeshah on 21st December 1845 for the second battle with Lal Singh’s force.

On the day after Moodkee, reinforcements marched in from Ludhiana: HM 29th Foot, 1st Bengal Europeans and two regiments of Bengal Native Infantry with two howitzers.  The 29th were assigned to the Second Division: under Major General Sir Walter Gilbert and placed in the Third Brigade under Brigadier Taylor (their former Commanding Officer along with the HM 80th Foot and 41st Bengal Native Infantry (BNI).  The Fourth Brigade commanded by Brigadier McClaren consisting of the 1st Bengal Europeans, 16th BNI and 45th BNI.

Gough’s army was in place in the morning of the 21st waiting for Littler. Gough decided to launch his attack without Littler’s men, but General Sir Henry Hardinge used his authority as Governor General to veto an attack until the Ferozepore garrison arrived.

It was early afternoon when Littler arrived with 2 Bengal Light Cavalry regiments, HM 62nd Foot, 5 Bengal Native Infantry battalions, 2 troops of horse artillery and 2 field batteries at 1.30pm, increasing Gough’s army to 18,000 troops and 65 guns. Littler’s division took up position on the extreme left of the line with his cavalry regiments in support.

At 3 pm, with only two hours of daylight left, Gough opened the battle with an artillery bombardment, which the Sikh answered vigorously. As in most of the early battles of the war the Sikh artillery had the best of the exchange.

 The fortifications around Ferozeshah comprised a series of trenches on a line of hillocks surrounding the village in a rectangle. The Sikh gunners manned some 100 good quality guns that they served with skill and devotion. It is not known how many Sikhs were present in Ferozeshah, but they appear to have constituted a powerful force.

At around 3.30pm Littler began an assault well in advance of the rest of the army, moving his guns forward to engage the Sikhs at closer range, his infantry regiments following in support. The infantry emerged into the open plain 300 metres from the Sikh line and were met with a heavy fire of grapeshot from the guns (fragmented shot used on troops at close range to cause maximum casualties). HM 62nd Foot led the assault, losing 160 casualties in ten minutes. The regiment faltered and fell back, taking the native infantry regiments with them. Littler’s attack had failed.

As Littler began his attack Gough ordered the rest of the British and Bengali line to assault the Sikh lines. The regiments pushed through the jungle under heavy artillery fire, emerging into the dense smoke and dust of the open plain, lit by the flashes of the Sikh gunfire.
Part of the left of the line faltered under the heavy fire, but HM 9th Foot and the right hand (Gibert’s)division pressed on with the attack, while a brigade from the reserve commanded by General Smith moved forward to cover the gap left by the retreat of Littler’s brigade.

The 29th advanced in quick time, file firing as it approached the entrenched positions, all the while suffering from well-directed discharges of shell, grape shot and musketry.  The attacking troops reached the Sikh entrenchments and pressed through, although suffering heavy casualties, and captured and spiked numbers of guns, before pushing on into the Sikh camp.

Here a large magazine exploded causing considerable confusion and casualties. All over the Sikh camp tents were ablaze; stores of gunpowder exploding in the gathering dusk.

On the right of the British line Gough committed Brigadier White’s cavalry brigade; HM 3rd King’s Own Light Dragoons, 4th Bengal Light Cavalry (Lancers) and the 9th Bengal Irregular Cavalry, to an attack on the corner of the fortifications. Considerably reduced by their casualties at Moodkee, the 3rd charged through a battery and the infantry positioned behind it, before breaking into the Sikh camp and engaging in ferocious hand to hand combat with crowds of swordsmen and matchlock men.

General Smith, after fighting through the Sikh camp, found himself with a party of soldiers from his division on the far side of Ferozeshah, where he was attacked throughout the night by the Sikhs. He finally fought his way around the outside of the village to the south side where he rejoined Gough and Hardinge as dawn broke.

The fall of night forced the British and Bengali regiments to withdraw from Ferozeshah, abandoning the Sikh camp and fortifications, to pass the night as best they could among the casualties of the day’s fighting, under the renewed fire of the Sikh guns.

The Battle of Ferozeshah , the night of the 21st December 1845. Print in the the museum collection.

Gough and Hardinge spent the night in considerable anxiety, Hardinge making hasty arrangements to destroy the state papers to prevent them from falling into Sikh hands in the event of a British defeat.

With dawn the drums and trumpets signaled a renewed attack on the fortifications, but the Sikhs were falling back and Gough’s army quickly re-took Ferozeshah.

Battered and exhausted the British and Bengali regiments ceased fighting, cheering Gough and Hardinge as they rode down the ranks, troopers carrying captured Khalsa flags.

But the battle was not finished. To the stupefaction of Gough’s men, onto the field marched the army of Tej Singh, the force that Littler had evaded in the previous days to escape from Ferozepore. The British and Bengali troops were exhausted, their ammunition almost entirely expended. Gough occupied the Sikh fortifications, while a horse artillery battery engaged the Sikhs to keep them away for as long as possible. Then the line stood waiting for the Sikh attack, hardly expecting to be able to resist a determined assault.

Tej Singh’s artillery conducted a long and galling bombardment of Gough’s line, followed by an advance by his cavalry against Gough’s right. Gough ordered Brigadier White to attack the Sikhs and in one last effort HM 3rd Light Dragoons, 4th Bengal Light Cavalry and 9th Bengal Irregular Cavalry urged their blown horses into the charge, causing Tej Singh to abandon his assault and withdraw from the battle field.

A curious incident had occurred at the beginning of the day’s crisis, when the assistant adjutant-general, Captain Lumley, suffering it is thought from the sun and the stress of battle, approached various regiments in turn and ordered them to march to Ferozepore, with the result that at the worst moment of the hard fought two day battle a significant portion of Gough’s army left the field. It may be that the sight of those forces marching away towards Ferozepore contributed to Tej Singh abandoning his attack and leaving the field.

The battle ended at around 4pm on 22nd December 1845, Gough and his army, now virtually without ammunition, reprieved from an attack that would have been hard to resist.

Casualties: The casualties in the British and Bengali regiments were some 700 dead and 1,700 wounded, of which 1,207 were European, including 115 officers. Among the dead were several staff officers, including Major Broadfoot and Brigadier Taylor (Lt. Col. HM 29th Regiment)

Before the action at Ferozeshah on the 21st December 1845, the effective strength of the 29th Foot (Worcestershire Regiment) was 28 Officers and 765 other ranks. After the first battle at Ferozeshah the battalion suffered 2 officers and 52 other ranks killed in action and 196 wounded,  a further 38 men died of their wounds.