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SHAUL, Sergeant J. D. F. (Highland Light Infantry)
DescriptionThe important ‘Magersfontein’ Victoria Cross group of nine awarded to Sergeant J. D. F. Shaul, Highland Light Infantry, one of three such awards for this desperate action in which the Highland Brigade suffered immense casualties
(a) Victoria Cross, the reverse of the suspension bar engraved ‘Corporal J. Shaul, Highland Lt. Infty.’, the reverse centre engraved ‘11th Decr. 1899’
(b) Queen’s South Africa 1899-1902, 3 clasps, Cape Colony, Wittebergen, Transvaal (..3 Cpl. J. F. D. Shaul, High. Lt. Infy.) impressed naming, regimental number weak through contact wear
(c) King’s South Africa 1901-02, 2 clasps, South Africa 1901, South Africa 1902 (3113 Serjt. J. D. Shaul, V.C. Highland L.I.) impressed naming but ‘V.C.’ correctly engraved in gothic letters as usual
(d) 1914-15 Star (7407 Sgt. Major J. F. D. Shaul, V.C., 5th S.A.I.) contemporary engraved naming (see footnote)
(e) British War and bi-lingual Victory Medals (S/S.M. J. F. D. Shaul, 5th S.A.I.) impressed naming
(f) Coronation 1937, privately named (J. F. D. Shaul, V.C.)
(g) Army L.S. & G.C., E.VII.R. (3113 Bnd. Sjt. J. F. D. Shaul, V.C. Highland L.I.) impressed naming
(h) Meritorious Service Medal, G.VI.R., 1st issue (3113 Sjt. J. F. D. Shaul, (V.C.) H.L.I.) the earlier medals with contact wear, good fine or better, otherwise generally very fine or better, the group mounted as worn and sold together with the campaign medals awarded to his father and to one of his sons, these comprising:
(i) Crimea 1854-55, 1 clasp, Sebastopol (1595 John Shaul, 2 Battn. 1st Royals) regimentally impressed naming
(j) China 1857-60, 2 clasps, Taku Forts 1860, Pekin 1860 (Corpl. John Shaul, 2nd Bn. 1st The Rl. Regt.) officially impressed naming
(k) Turkish Crimea, Sardinian issue (1595 Corp. J. Shaul, 2 Battn. 1st Royals) regimentally impressed naming, these three with edge bruising and contact wear, therefore good fine
(l) Africa Service Medal and War Medal 1939-45 (32473 F. D. Shaul) these both officially impressed, unless otherwise described, very fine (14) £100000-120000
FootnoteVictoria Cross London Gazette 28 September 1900:
‘On 11th December 1899, during the Battle of Magersfontein, Corporal Shaul was observed, not only by the officers of his own battalion, but by several officers of other regiments, to perform several specific acts of bravery. Corporal Shaul was in charge of stretcher-bearers; but at one period of the battle he was seen encouraging his men to advance across the open.
He was most conspicuous during the day in dressing men’s wounds, and in one case he came, under a heavy fire, to a man who was lying wounded in the back, and, with the utmost coolness and deliberation, sat down beside the wounded man and proceeded to dress the wound. Having done this, he got up and went quietly to another part of the field. This act of gallantry was performed under a continuous and heavy fire, as cooly and quietly as if there had been no enemy near.’
In addition to Shaul, the Victoria Cross was awarded to Captain E. B. B. Towse, of the Gordon Highlanders, and to Lieutenant H. E. M. Douglas, R.A.M.C., medical officer of the Black Watch. The medals of these two officers are held by their respective regimental museums. Corporal Shaul was presented with his Victoria Cross at Pietermaritzburg on 11 August 1901 by H.R.H. the Duke of Cornwall, the future King George V.
At about three in the afternoon of Sunday, December 10th, the force which was intended to clear a path for the army through the lines of Magersfontein moved out upon what proved to be its desperate enterprise. The 3rd or Highland Brigade included the Black Watch, the Seaforth Highlanders, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, and the Highland Light Infantry. The Gordons had only arrived in camp that day, and did not advance until next morning. Besides the infantry, the 9th Lancers, the mounted infantry, and all the artillery moved to the front. It was raining hard, and the men with one blanket between two soldiers bivouacked upon the cold damp ground, about three miles from the enemy's position. At one o'clock, without food, and drenched, they moved forwards through the drizzle and the darkness to attack those terrible lines. Major Benson, R.A., with two of Rimington's scouts, led them on their difficult way.
The Highland Brigade was formed into a column - the Black Watch in front, then the Seaforths, and the other two behind. To prevent the men from straggling in the night the four regiments were packed into a mass of quarter column as densely as was possible, and the left guides held a rope in order to preserve the formation. With many a trip and stumble the ill-fated detachment wandered on, uncertain where they were going and what it was that they were meant to do. With the dull murmur of many feet, the dense column, nearly four thousand strong, wandered onwards through the rain and the darkness, death and mutilation crouching upon their path.
The order to extend had just been given, but the men had not had time to act upon it. The storm of lead burst upon the head and right flank of the column, which broke to pieces under the murderous volley. Wauchope was shot, struggled up, and fell once more for ever. Men went down in swathes, and a howl of rage and agony, heard afar over the veld, swelled up from the frantic and struggling crowd. By the hundred they dropped - some dead, some wounded, some knocked down by the rush and sway of the broken ranks. It was a horrible business. At such a range and in such a formation a single Mauser bullet may well pass through many men. A few dashed forwards, and were found dead at the very edges of the trench. The few survivors of companies A, B, and C of the Black Watch appear to have never actually retired, but to have clung on to the immediate front of the Boer trenches, while the remains of the other five companies tried to turn the Boer flank. Of the former body only six got away unhurt in the evening after lying all day within two hundred yards of the enemy. The rest of the brigade broke and, disentangling themselves with difficulty from the dead and the dying, fled back out of that accursed place. Some, the most unfortunate of all, became caught in the darkness in the wire defences, and were found in the morning hung up like crows and riddled with bullets.
Dashed into chaos, separated from their officers, with no one who knew what was to be done, the first necessity was to gain shelter from this deadly fire, which had already stretched six hundred of their number upon the ground. The danger was that men so shaken would be stricken with panic, scatter in the darkness over the face of the country, and cease to exist as a military unit. But the Highlanders were true to their character and their traditions. There was shouting in the darkness, hoarse voices calling for the Seaforths, for the Argylls, for Company C, for Company H, and everywhere in the gloom there came the answer of the clansmen. Within half an hour with the break of day the Highland regiments had re-formed, and, shattered and weakened, but undaunted, prepared to renew the contest. Some attempt at an advance was made upon the right, ebbing and flowing, one little band even reaching the trenches and coming back with prisoners and reddened bayonets. For the most part the men lay upon their faces, and fired when they could at the enemy; but the cover which the latter kept was so excellent that an officer who expended 120 rounds has left it upon record that he never once had seen anything positive at which to aim.
Fortunately the guns were at hand, and they were quick to come to the aid of the distressed. The sun was hardly up before the howitzers were throwing lyddite at 4000 yards, the three field batteries (18th, 62nd, 75th) were working with shrapnel at a mile, and the troop of Horse Artillery was up at the right front trying to enfilade the trenches. The guns kept down the rifle-fire, and gave the wearied Highlanders some respite from their troubles. The infantry, under a fire at from six hundred to eight hundred paces, could not advance and would not retire. The artillery only kept the battle going, and the huge naval gun from behind was joining with its deep bark in the deafening uproar. But the Boers had already learned - and it is one of their most valuable military qualities that they assimilate their experience so quickly - that shell fire is less dangerous in a trench than among rocks. These trenches, very elaborate in character, had been dug some hundreds of yards from the foot of the hills, so that there was hardly any guide to British artillery fire. Yet it is to the artillery fire that all the losses of the Boers that day were due. The cleverness of Cronje's disposition of his trenches some hundred yards ahead of the kopjes is accentuated by the fascination which any rising object has for a gunner.
As the day wore on reinforcements of infantry came up from the force which had been left to guard the camp. The Gordons arrived with the first and second battalions of the Coldstream Guards, and all the artillery was moved nearer to the enemy's position. At the same time, as there were some indications of an attack upon the right flank, the Grenadier Guards with five companies of the Yorkshire Light Infantry were moved up in that direction, while the three remaining companies of Barter's Yorkshiremen secured a drift over which the enemy might cross the Modder. The Coldstreamers and Grenadiers relieved the pressure upon this side, and the Lancers retired to their horses, having shown, not for the first time that the cavalryman with a modern carbine can at a pinch very quickly turn himself into a useful infantry soldier.
While the Coldstreamers, the Grenadiers, and the Yorkshire Light Infantry were holding back the Boer attack upon the right flank the indomitable Gordons, the men of Dargai, furious with the desire to avenge their comrades of the Highland Brigade, had advanced straight against the trenches and succeeded without any very great loss in getting within four hundred yards of them. They fell back rapidly for a mile, and the guns were for a time left partially exposed. The Gordons and the Scots Guards were still in attendance upon the guns, but they had been advanced very close to the enemy's trenches, and there were no other troops in support. Under these circumstances it was imperative that the Highlanders should rally, and Major Ewart with other surviving officers rushed among the scattered ranks and strove hard to gather and to stiffen them. The men were dazed by what they had undergone, and Nature shrank back from that deadly zone where the bullets fell so thickly. But the pipes blew, and the bugles sang, and the poor tired fellows, the backs of their legs so flayed and blistered by lying in the sun that they could hardly bend them, hobbled back to their duty. They worked up to the guns once more, and the moment of danger passed.
About half-past five on the next day the Boer guns, which had for some unexplained reason been silent all day, opened upon the cavalry. Their appearance was a signal for the general falling back of the centre, and the last attempt to retrieve the day was abandoned. The Highlanders were dead-beat; the Coldstreams had had enough; the mounted infantry was badly mauled. There remained the Grenadiers, the Scots Guards, and two or three line regiments who were available for a new attack. Lord Methuen determined that it was no occasion for counsels of desperation. His men were withdrawn outside the range of the Boer guns, and next morning saw the whole force with bitter and humiliated hearts on their way back to their camp at Modder River.
The repulse of Magersfontein cost the British nearly a thousand men, killed, wounded, and missing, of which over seven hundred belonged to the Highlanders. Fifty-seven officers had fallen in that brigade alone, including their Brigadier and Colonel Downman of the Gordons. The Black Watch had lost nineteen officers and over three hundred men killed and wounded.
The Highland Light Infantry had played a full part in this desperate action, as evidenced by the following extract from Lord Methuen’s subsequent despatch: ‘Highland L.I. - Majors Garland and Hon. H. Anson performed good service throughout the day. Capts. Richardson and Wolfe Murray were wounded, but remained in the front with their companies. Capt. and Adjt. Cowan, D.S.O., gallantly led and rallied his men, and was killed at close quarters. Sgt-Major Stevens rallied men. Sgt. McDonald’s gallant behaviour specially brought to notice for carrying messages to guns and to medical officer under heavy fire. Lance-Cpl. Fraser, Sgt.-Piper Ross, and Piper McLellan specially brought to notice for their cheery conduct under fire and helping to rally men. Cpl. Shaul brought to notice for several specific cases of bravery when in charge of stretcher bearers of battalion. Ptes. Peat, Richmond, and Stewart did excellent service and set a good example to their comrades.’
John Francis David Shaul was born at King’s Lynn, Norfolk, on 11 September 1873, son of Sergeant John Shaul, 2nd Battalion, Royal Scots, and his wife Hannah Matilda. He attended at the Duke of York’s School at Chelsea and joined the 1st Battalion, Highland Light Infantry in 1888, aged 15. He served in Crete in 1898 and went with his regiment the following year to South Africa. He was by this time a Corporal Bandsman and thus was in charge of the stretcher bearers when in action, as at Magersfontein, where his selfless attention to the wounded won him the Victoria Cross. He was later promoted to Band Sergeant. His regiment was next posted to Egypt and the Soudan, where he served during 1903 and 1904. He was awarded his L.S. & G.C. medal in April 1907, whilst stationed in India, and left the regiment in October 1909, having served for 21 years.
In 1910, John Shaul emigrated to South Africa, where he worked at the East Rand Proprietry Goldmine in Boksburg. Shortly afterwards he joined the Imperial Light Horse and became their Bandmaster. During the Great War he enlisted on 20 December 1915, and served with the 5th South African Infantry in East Africa in 1916 until invalided home with dysentery later in the year. He was discharged medically unfit on 8 November 1916, and is entitled to the British War and Victory Medals only for his war services. He is not entitled to the 1914-15 Star which he has clearly added to his group of medals for personal reasons. For 27 years he served as Bandmaster with the Boksburg Military Band which was founded in 1912 and had the honour to entertain the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) and Prince George (later Duke of Kent) during their visits to Boksburg.
John Shaul received his Meritorious Service Medal in 1946, and retired from the East Rand Proprietry Goldmine in 1948. He married Ester Maria McNally at Aliwal North on 14 July 1902, and had three sons, John Richard, Francis David, and Thomas James, the last of whom died as a Lieutenant in the South African Medical Corps in September 1940. John Shaul died at Boksburg, South Africa, on 14 September 1953, just 3 days after celebrating his 80th birthday.