The Veterinary Record published on the February 6th 1909, No 1074.
Pages 530 to 532.
Hicks Withers, M.R.C.V.S, Worthing. Late V.S. (first-class) 10th Hussars.
Graduated, London; April, 1851.
One of the few remaining links connecting the past with the present, was snapped on the 31st January when Mr Hicks Withers, or as he was named recently Withers-Lancashire, passed away at the ripe old age of 80 years and a few months.
The son of the late Mr Withers, of Bristol, who was also a member of the profession, he graduated in London on the 30th April, 1851, and joined the Army in March, 1854. His Army career lasted 15 years, and into it was crowded the campaign experience of a lifetime. It has fallen to the lot of few men to have had such a wonderful record of active service, exciting experiences, and hair-breadth escapes.
Immediately after joining the Army, he proceeded to Bulgaria, being posted to E Battery of the Light Division. In the Bulgaria he was employed by General Sir George Brown in purchasing baggage animals. He then proceeded to the Crimea and served in the Artillery of the Light Division in the campaign 1854-5. He was present at the affairs of the "Bulganak" and "McKenzie's Farm", the battles of "Alma", "Balaclava", and "Inkerman". Repulse of the sortie of the 25th October, and the "Siege and Fall of Sebastopol".
At the "Alma" a shell burst close to his horse, Mr Withers was in the act of mounting, and the horse was being held by a shoeing-smith, who was killed, the horse being wounded; Mr Withers was also hit by a fragment of the shell, thrown to the ground, and stunned, yet he made so light of it that he never reported sick, having, as he expressed it "a great deal to do for the wounded of the battery". Fifty years later he obtained a wound pension. For this campaign he received the Crimean medal with four clasps and the Turkish medal.
After the campaign he proceeded to China, and the Indian mutiny having broken out he was sent with Captain Middleton's battery to India, serving throughout the campaign 1857-59. He was present at the "Relief of the Residency" under Lord Clyde, and the affairs of "Secunderagh Bagh" and "Shaj Nujeef", the "Battle of Cawnpore" Dec 6th, 1857, and defeat and pursuit of the "Gwalior contingent". Actions of "Subahdar's Tauk" and "Serai Ghat", "Chanda", "Badshaw Gunze", Sultanpore", "Umeerpore", "Siege and capture of Lucknow", Action of "Baree", attack on the "Moulvie's Mosque" and "Moosa Bagh" and the affairs of "Rampore Kussia" and "Futteghur" etc.
During all of these engagements, when not employed on professional duty, he served as orderly officer to the Artillery Commander, and finally, when through sickness there was a dearth of officers, as in the pursuit of Tantia Topee, he volunteered for subaltern's duty, and took command of two guns.
At the conclusion of the mutiny he was invalided from India with abscess of the liver, and if he had not already gone through a sufficient number of exciting experiences, he was wrecked in the Red Sea on his way home in the "Alma". After his return to England he joined the 10th Hussars, and in January 1869, retired from the Army on account of ill health.
Such, in brief, is the record of this old soldier, who had lived long enough to see forgotten the memories of that official and political muddle, the Crimean Campaign, with all its horrors of starvation, disease, and that bitter winter on the heights above Balaclava. He lived, unfortunately, to bear testimony to the short memory of a grateful nation, whose outpourings during that Titanic convulsion in Asia rapidly vaporised when services were no longer needed. It has always been so. There is no such thing as national gratitude. Services are soon forgotten; it is depressing, it may perhaps be necessary, but it is nonetheless bitter.
To those who have lived longer have to remember those campaigns, the above record of Hicks Withers fills a space in history. But it is only those few still left to took part in the struggle, who can fully appreciate what this gallant spirit went through during that disgracefully conducted campaign in the Black Sea, in the historic relief that small British garrison of Lucknow, in the heat and deadly climate, as India then was, avenging the Cawnpore massacre, and the long chase after its perpetrator. Modern campaigns are child's play compared with these, and our heart's sympathy goes out to this fine old campaigner (who we believe to be nearly the last veterinary survivor of the double event of the Crimea and Mutiny) who at the end of a long life felt he had been officially forgotten.
With an intellect unclouded to the last, he delighted in recounting his experiences, and recalling those days when British prestige hung by a slender thread. Only as recently as last November he placed on record in the Bristol Times what, as an eyewitness, he saw of the Balaclava charge and the part played by Nolan, a point which has been greatly in dispute. This is what he says:
"In my article, re the Battle of Balaclava, which you were so good as to publish, very little mention is made of Captain Nolan's part in it, and as I am sure it is not clearly understood by many, I now relate it.
In the interval between the repulse of the Russian cavalry by the 'thin red line' and their subsequent utter defeat and rout by the magnificent charges of the heavy cavalry, Captain Nolan was sent with an order to Lord Lucan, which he delivered just after the routed enemy had passed our front. The order most undoubtedly was, 'take up a position with your brigade nearer the enemy, and endeavour to prevent him from carrying off the captured guns. When the brigade had moved off, Captain Nolan fell in with the leaders, but seeing directly afterwards that, instead of inclining to the right in the direction of the captured guns and redoubt, they were taking a straight line to the entire Russian army, he rushed his horse forward to the front of the column, crossing it waving his sword, and pointing the proper direction to take. At this moment he was hit apparently badly, and, swaying in his saddle, fell to the ground; his foot caught in the stirrup iron, and the frightened horse, turning round kicking, galloped back to the rear, dragging with it the unfortunate officer, who if not killed by the shot, undoubtedly was by the kicking animal. Captain Nolan was a very enthusiastic cavalry officer, and it is said and believed by many that he urged on the action taken by Lord Lucan; but his movements, as related above, quite contradict this, and it is safe to infer that he had no hand in glorious but fatal charge, of which the French General Canrobert said truly enough , 'C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre !' "
Mr Withers Lancashire was sliding build, with a key in penetrating glance, his constitution must be wonderful, his memory was excellent, and he was a first rate raconteur. Crippled for the remaining years of his life through the injury sustained by the fragment of shell at the Alma, he nevertheless took an active interest in matters, especially in horse breeding and the supply of remounts for the Army. In his earlier days he was enthusiastic horseman and keen sportsman. He invented a safety stirrup, and to the last his mind was actively employed, buoyed up by that cheerful optimism which throughout life had been one of his strongest features, and is the basis of a truly philosophical spirit.
He is now gone, in the fullness of years, and after a life of dangerous public service denied to many. No volleys are fired over his ashes, no solemn strains of music and muffle role of drums is caught the old warrior to his last resting-place, but his gallant spirit can never die. It was of such men as this that England was made, and when we and others to follow read of the horrors of the Crimean campaign, and of the savage butchery of the Indian mutiny, we may well perhaps recall Hicks Withers' record of service, and as a profession feel proud that through him and others we have borne part in supporting the supremacy of the Empire.
A Veteran Veterinary Surgeon
We are indebted to another correspondent for the following,
"Mr Hicks Withers has been long retired from the Army in which he served through some of the most eventful years of our national history. After leaving college he joined the R.H.A. and went through the Crimean and Indian Mutiny Campaigns. In the former he witnessed the immortal Charge of the Light Brigade and was only a few yards away from Captain Nolan when that officer received his death wound. Only last year he contributed his personal impressions of the affair to the Bristol Times and Mirror.
He was in the 10th Hussars when his Majesty the King was an officer in the regiment. He was a regular attendant at the annual dinner is the Crimea and Mutiny heroes.
He was born at Bristol where his father Samuel Hicks Withers was a veterinary surgeon. The farther afterwards came to London where he founded the well-known firm of jobmasters which holds such a prominent position in the Metropolis."
By one who saw it.
Reading in an article on the Panmure papers are saying that "the history of warfare is a history of blunders", reminded me that yesterday (Sunday) was the 54th anniversary of the colossal blunder, the Battle of Balaclava, otherwise the slaughter of the heroic Light Brigade, for it was nothing else. The incompetency and rashness of the commanding officers; the curious reading of a plainly given order from a clearheaded commander-in-chief who, common sense ought to have told them, would never have given such an insane order knowing the positions of things; how they could have interpreted it as they did is a wonder, remembering the axiom of war that cavalry should never act without support, and an infantry should always be close to them when they carry guns; there was neither of these requirements, and yet they dared to send their devoted troops from the best cavalry in World to attack a large body of Russian cavalry, several battalions of infantry, and 40 guns in a strong position, with batteries of artillery ready to play on each flank-what folly! What utter madness !
I had galloped up to a point on the heights above Sebastopol, in the rear of Bosquet's camp, which gave a panoramic view of the Balaclava Valley. The light cavalry were just on the move, where little French sentry, who had been watching the happenings, turned round to me with horror stricken face, exclaiming "O ! monsieur, monsieur; qu'est qu'on va faire; on va-t-a mort ! on va-t-a mort ! on va-t-a mort ! " What a simple French soldier could see in a minute, our General could not.
Hardly had our cavalry moved off, when a body of Chasseurs d'Afrique, gay in their light blue and silver uniform, red overalls, with pennons flying, riding grey Arabs, came galloping past, about 200 in number. They went up on the rising ground to our left, and made straight at the battery, which was dealing death to a poor men in the left flank in silenced them; but, being without support, they were obliged to retire the colossal 50 men and horses and two officers. Still, it was a gallant little affair. In the meantime, Captain Nolan, who had been badly hit, fell from his saddle. Our heroes galloped on, losing many men as they went, and dashed at the guns, 30 in number, sabring the gunners and falling on a body of cavalry who opened out, showing a large mass of infantry. The enemies cavalry closing in on our men, Colonel Shewell, of the 8th Hussars, with great presence of mind, got his main in some sort of line, so that the men of the different regiments might form up on them, and so retire in something like order. This they did, but with great loss until they came to where the heroic cavalry and came to their assistance, they also losing many men in so doing.
This terrible catastrophe was preceded by a couple of magnificent charges made by the heavy cavalry, and the General Scarlett. When the Russian cavalry, retiring from their unceremonious treatment by the 93rd (service Colin Campbell's thin red line), came in view of our men, the trumpet sounded, and off went the Greys and Inniskillens, our first line, full charge into the middle of the Russians first line, three times our strength. Down they went, our fellows cutting right through them, appearing in their rear, and darting straight at the second line, the wings of the first line closing in on their centre; but before this was completed a second line, the Royals and 4th and 5th Dragoon Guards, shot out like a bolt from the blue, and knocked them over like 9 pins, and went on to the second line, completing the Greys and Inniskillens had begun. The enemy in a quarter of an hour were beaten, and turned and fled in great disorder and confusion back towards the camp.
"Well done!" was the message sent down to General Scarlett. The light cavalry were about a quarter mile up the valley, concealed by the undulating irregularity of the ground. The head of the defeated troops passed within 200 yards of them, and Lord Lucan was begged to fall upon and complete the ruin began by the heavy cavalry; but, although repeatedly urged to so, and by many Indian officers attached to his command, men of great experience, he would not take the risk for all that they knew what a state the enemies cavalry were in. Beaten and demoralised, they would have been easy prey; their cavalry would have been annihilated; they could not have removed the guns they had captured, and the Balaclava charge would not have been needed.
Our loss were 13 officers killed or m issing,160 men killed or missing, 21 officers wounded, 197 men wounded; horses killed or missing, 394; horses wounded, 126. "The awful waste of human life, the glory and the guilt of war"
Then shook the hills with cannon riven;
Then rushed the steed to battle driven;
And, volleying like the bolts of heaven,
Far flashed the red artillery.
H.W-L. late 10th Hussars. (Bristol Times and Mirror, October 26th 1908)