Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria (30 March 2011)

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Date of Auction: 30th March 2011

Sold for £4,200

Estimate: £3,000 - £4,000

A fine Great War K.B.E., Boer War C.B. group of nine awarded to Brigadier-General Sir Robert Bewicke-Copley, King’s Royal Rifle Corps, who commanded the 3rd Battalion in the desperate action at Spion Kop

The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, K.B.E. (Military) Knight Commander’s 1st type set of insignia, comprising neck badge, silver-gilt and enamel, and breast star, silver, with gilt and enamel centre; The Most Honourable Order of the Bath, C.B. (Military) breast badge, with swivel-ring suspension and riband buckle; Egypt and Sudan 1882-89, 1 clasp, The Nile 1884-85 (Lieut. R. C. A. B. Bewicke, 1/K.R. Rif. C.); India General Service 1895-1902, 4 clasps, Relief of Chitral 1895, Samana 1897, Punjab Frontier 1897-98, Tirah 1897-98 (Major R. C. A. B. Bewicke-Copley, 1st Bn. K.R. Rifle Corps); Queen’s South Africa 1899-1902, 6 clasps, Cape Colony, Tugela Heights, Orange Free State, Relief of Ladysmith, Transvaal, Laing’s Nek (Lt. Colonel R. C. A. B. Bewicke-Copley, K.R.R.C.); King’s South Africa 1901-02, 2 clasps, South Africa 1901, South Africa 1902 (Lt. Col. R. C. A. B. Bewicke-Copley, C.B., K.R.R.C.); Coronation 1911; Khedive’s Star 1884-6, initials officially corrected on the Q.S.A., the K.S.A. with edge bruising and pitted, thus nearly very fine, the remainder generally very fine or better (9) £3000-4000


K.B.E. London Gazette 9 June 1919.

C.B. London Gazette 19 April 1901.

Robert Calverley Alington Bewicke-Copley, who was born in April 1855, the son of Robert Calverley Bewicke of Coulby Manor, near Middlesborough, was educated at Rugby and Merton College, Oxford. Originally commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 1st Foot in February 1876, he transferred to the King’s Royal Rifle Corps in the following year, and first witnessed active service with the 1st Battalion in the Nile Expedition of 1884-85 in the rank of Captain (Medal & clasp; Khedive’s Star).

In 1886, he married Selina Frances, eldest surviving daughter of Sir Charles Watson Copley, Bt., of Sprotborough Hall and in 1892, on succeeding to Sprotborough jure uxoris, he assumed the additional surname and arms of Copley. Lady Bewicke-Copley petitioned that the abeyance since 1497 of the ancient barony of Cromwell, created by writ of summons 49, Edward III, should be terminated in her favour (but it was not until March 1922 that the Committee of Privileges finally reported in accordance with her petition).

Advanced to Major in January 1894, Bewicke-Copley again saw action with the 1st Battalion in the relief of Chitral operations (Medal & clasp), and was appointed A.D.C. and Assistant Military Secretary to the G.O.C. Bengal in the following year. And he witnessed further action on the North West Frontier 1897-98, when he was present in the action in the Ublan Pass on 27 August 1897, in the operations on the Samana and in the Kurram Valley during August-September 1897, in addition to the relief of Gulistan and operations in the Kurram Valley in Colonel Richardson’s flying column (2 clasps). He was mentioned in despatches (
London Gazette 11 February 1898 refers).

During the subsequent Tirah operations, he was present in the actions of Chagru, Kotal and Dargai, the capture of the Sampagha and Arhanga Passes, the reconnaissance of the Saran Sar and the action of 9 November 1897; so, too, in the operations in the Waran Valley and the action of 16 November 1897, in the operations in the Bara Valley in December and, finally, in the action at Shinkamar on 29 January 1898 (clasp). He was again mentioned in despatches (London Gazette 5 April 1900 refers).

But in terms of regimental employ, it is for his command of the 3rd Battalion in the Boer War that he will best be remembered, not least for his leadership during the desperate action at Spion Kop. British Regiments in South Africa, by J. Stirling, takes up the story:

‘In the Natal Army despatches there is an admirably clear report by Major Bewick-Copley of what the Battalion did. Leaving Spearman's Hill at 10 a.m., they crossed the Tugela and advanced in widely extended order against the Twin Peaks north-east of Spion Kop, the right-half Battalion attacking the right hill, called Sugar-Loaf Hill, and the left-half Battalion the other hill. Both hills and the nek between them were strongly held. At 4.45 p.m. the Sugar-Loaf Hill was carried, ‘the Boers only leaving as the men's swords came over the crest-line.’ Lieutenant-Colonel Buchanan-Riddell was killed as he cheered his men in the final rush. Shortly afterwards the left hill was carried by Major Bewicke-Copley's command. ‘Though still under a galling fire from both flanks, we were able to stop the fire of the machine guns 150 yards to our front, and also to keep down the fire of the Boers, which was being directed on to the right flank of Sir Charles Warren's troops, holding the main ridge of Spion Kop.’ About 6.30 the Battalion received General Lyttelton's order to retire, and ‘by midnight had re-crossed the Tugela practically unmolested.’ The fact that the hills were so very steep, and that the operation was very skilfully carried out, rendered the casualty list less heavy than was to have been expected. The Battalion's losses were approximately 17 killed and 61 wounded, almost precisely the same as that of the Cameronians: another very good account of this engagement is to be found in the King's Royal Rifle Corps Chronicle for 1901.’

In addition to Spion Kop, Bewicke-Copley was present in the actions at Colenso, Vaal Krantz, Pieter’s Hill and Laiong’s Nek, and he commanded the 1st Battalion from March 1900 until being appointed C.O. of mobile columns in the periods November 1900 to January 1902, and April to May 1902. During these latter periods of command he achieved several notable successes, including engagements fought near Greylingstad in November 1900 and at Haverklip in August 1901. He was awarded a further two “mentions” (London Gazettes 8 February 1901 and 29 July 1902 refer), and the C.B.

In July 1905, he was appointed Assistant Adjutant-General, Northern Command, and in May 1909, he was given the command of the 17th Infantry Brigade at Cork. He retired in 1912, but when the War broke out he took the command of the West Riding Volunteers, was advanced to Brigadier-General in April 1916, and was created K.B.E. in 1919. The General died at Sprotborough Hall in June 1923, aged 68 years; sold with a file of research, including a copy of the recipient’s report of operations undertaken by his column 11-19 November 1900.