3rd Rifles 1st Bn Death - Tochi Expedition

For all discussions regarding military actions short of war and the Great Game on the North West frontier of India, 1837-1901.

3rd Rifles 1st Bn Death - Tochi Expedition

Postby Owen » 28 Sep 2014 19:40

i have also posted this on the BMF, so apologies to members of both. However, I see that there is a keen interest here in the Punjab actions of this period. 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 more about this period and Tochi than I do - I am very much a beginner, so very 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, mostly for the research that would need to follow. Working here in Palestine, evening/weekend reasearch on the world-wide-wonderweb is what keeps me both sane and out of mischief!

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

Turns out that we are talking about 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', 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 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 (I think Egypt, but hard to read from the entry on his papers), 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 is 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. George had the dubious honour of being recorded as the fisrt 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)
Last edited by Owen on 28 Sep 2014 20:49, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: 3rd Rifles 1st Bn Death - Tochi Expedition

Postby Mark » 28 Sep 2014 20:46

Thank you for posting, Owen! As someone who has recently written about the Maizar incident and the subsequent Tochi Valley Expedition, I find your post fascinating.

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Re: 3rd Rifles 1st Bn Death - Tochi Expedition

Postby Owen » 28 Sep 2014 20:52

Thanks Mark, kind of you to say so and am pleased that it is of interest. It's a fascinating episode and I will certainly be reading more into it and the episode at Maizar. Anything of interest, I will post here.

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Re: 3rd Rifles 1st Bn Death - Tochi Expedition

Postby Owen » 01 Oct 2014 15:12

Ojd wrote: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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Re: 3rd Rifles 1st Bn Death - Tochi Expedition

Postby Frogsmile » 03 Oct 2014 22:16

A very interesting story Owen, thank you for posting it. For what it's worth I too think that the annotation before India on Francis's military record is 'Egypt'.
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