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

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Date of Auction: 30th March 2011

Sold for £5,200

Estimate: £4,000 - £5,000

An important Knight Bachelor, Boer War C.B., C.V.O., Great War C.B.E. group of eleven awarded to Colonel Sir St. John Gore, Lieutenant of H.M. Bodyguard, late 5th Dragoon Guards, who commanded the cavalry engaged at Elandslaagte in October 1899 - an action that prompted General French to tell him: “You have had the honour of commanding the first real cavalry charge since the Crimea”

Knight Bachelor’s Badge, 1st type breast badge, silver-gilt and enamel, hallmarks for London 1929 in its case of issue; The Most Honourable Order of the Bath, C.B. (Military) Companion’s breast badge, silver-gilt and enamel, with replacement swivel-ring suspension and riband buckle; The Royal Victorian Order, C.V.O. Commander’s neck badge, silver-gilt and enamel, the reverse numbered ‘C740’, in its Collingwood Ltd. case of issue; The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, C.B.E. (Military) 1st type neck badge, silver-gilt and enamel, in its Garrard & Co. case of issue; Egypt and Sudan 1882-89, 1 clasp, The Nile 1884-85 (Lieut. St. J. C. Gore, 5th Dr[gn. Gds.]), latter part of regimental title lost to bruising; Queen’s South Africa 1899-1902, 4 clasps, Elandslaagte, Defence of Ladysmith, Orange Free State, Transvaal (Lt. Colonel St. J. C. Gore, C.B., 5th Drgn. Gds.); King’s South Africa 1901-02, 2 clasps, South Africa 1901, South Africa 1902 (Lt. Col. St. J. C. Gore, C.B., 5th Dgn. Gds.); Coronation 1911; Jubilee 1935; Coronation 1937; Khedive’s Star 1884-6, the Egypt Medal pitted and bruised, fine, the remainder somewhat polished but generally very fine or better (11) £4000-5000

Footnote

C.B. London Gazette 29 November 1900.

C.V.O. London Gazette 3 June 1925.

C.B.E. London Gazette 7 January 1918.

St. John Corbet Gore was born in January 1859 and was educated at Elizabeth College, Guernsey, Winchester and the Royal Military College Sandhurst. Commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 19th Hussars in January 1879, he exchanged into the 5th Dragoon Guards later in the same year and first saw active service in the Nile Expedition 1884-85, when he served in the Heavy Camel Regiment (Medal & clasp; Khedive’s Star).

Steady advancement ensued and, after serving as Military Secretary to both Sir Baker Russell and Sir George Luck in Bengal, 1897-99, he was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel. And it was in this latter rank that he commanded the 5th Dragoon Guards out in South Africa, and indeed all the cavalry engaged at Elandslaagte on 21 October 1899.

Gore’s role in the battle is described at length by David Biggins in Elandslaagte, Account and Medal Roll, from which the following extracts have been taken:

Early skirmishing:

‘As the enemy retired, Major Gore pressed forward on the west of the railway with his own regiment, the 5th Dragoon Guards, and one squadron of the 5th Lancers. Gore’s objective was to turn the right flank of the position on which the Boers had posted their guns. The Boer gunners on the ridge saw them, and for a short period they were exposed to well-directed fire from a distance of around 1,800 yards (1,650 m). To escape this fire, the ten wire fences that enclosed the railway were cut by Captain Mappin and Sergeant Instructor Read and the two squadrons crossed over the railway line to the east and to a location not far from the Elandslaagte station from where they could see the reverse slope of the Boer position and thus any possible Boer retreat ... ’

Keeping an eye on the enemy:

‘Over to the left, near the station, Gore’s cavalry continued to watch and wait. The station building was searched and found to be empty except for some Boer hospital orderlies and a few prisoners who were quickly liberated. At one point, Gore and his staff, who had crept forward for a better view, were fired on by a group of 50 Boers and had to run back to their horses. Receiving no orders at all during the afternoon, Gore’s men had an anxious wait as they could hear the infantry engagement but see nothing of it ... ’

The charge:

‘A number of Boers had already surrendered when the crest had first been rushed. Others surrendered now, but the majority mounted their ponies and rode northwards across the veldt in the direction of Newcastle to escape. It was against the retreating Boers that the cavalry now charged. White’s despatch understates the part played by the cavalry, saying simply:

“The cavalry squadrons on our left who had been closely watching the progress of events now charged through and through the retreating enemy inflicting much loss and capturing many prisoners.”

From within a fold of the veldt, Major Gore, with his two squadrons, C Squadron of the 5th Lancers and D Squadron of the 5th Dragoon Guards, was able to observe the whole of the rear of the enemy’s position. With what little light remained, Gore observed the retreat of the Boers. He had received from Haig the order to ‘pursue with vigour when you see Boers beginning to fall back… press the enemy with the lance if you can.’ Gore ordered his two squadrons to advance in extended line. The squadron of the 5th Lancers, under Captain Oakes, was on the left, the squadron of the 5th Dragoon Guards, under Captain Darbyshire, on the right. The ground to be crossed was broken and stony, and a ravine impeded the left of the line. As the extended men topped the rise, which had hitherto concealed them, they found themselves across the Boers’ line of retreat. About 300 yards (275 m) in front of them was a group of mounted Boers, moving at a leisurely trot from the field of battle.

Major Gore gave the order to “Gallop!”

With lances levelled and sabres bared the two squadrons galloped forward across the stony ground and rode over and through the Boers. As soon as the Boers heard the sound of approaching horses and the cries of the troopers, they opened out and tried to save themselves by flight. But with so small a start their little ponies were no match for the big cavalry horses, and the cavalry reached them almost before they realised that they were being pursued.

Some tried to open fire with their Mausers, some threw themselves on the ground, others knelt down and asked for mercy. For a mile and a half the Dragoons and Lancers over-rode the fleeing Boers. Gore, who had led the charge, found himself some 400 yards (365 m) in front of his troops as he was able to pick his way through the stones. Then they rallied, wheeled and galloped back to complete the havoc and to meet some of the Boers who had escaped the first pass.

In the second gallop more prisoners were taken. The scattered troopers were again rallied. They fell in. Major Gore gave a short address and called upon the ‘two fifths’ for three cheers.

Lance-Corporal Kelly of the Lancers, seeing two Boers riding away on one horse, killed them both with one thrust of his lance. Kelly was later to be killed himself. Trumpeter Shurlock, aged 14, and armed with a revolver and not a lance as he was a bugler, shot three Boers during the charge.

After the battle, General French said to Major Gore “You have had the honour of commanding the first real cavalry charge since the Crimea.” French must have been carried away by the moment for this was not the last charge since the Crimea. It was however one of the last ever set piece charges by the Army.

To the credit of the British troopers, although they had carried out the duties required of them, they did show some charity to their foe. Quite how much charity was a matter of no small debate in the press around the world for weeks after the event. The savagery and barbarism of the action was the focus of this discussion. British M.P. Michael Davitt resigned from Parliament in protest at the British conduct of the war, travelled to South Africa and wrote a detailed book on the subject. Davitt described the charge as “this disgusting spirit of British civilised savagery.” Such was the enmity engendered by the charge that the Boers swore to kill any Dragoon or Lancer they subsequently captured.

On the night of the battle, Gore wrote his official report. He said:

“At 5.20 p.m. the enemy were seen coming out of their positions into the open plain, and taking a line of retreat in the direction of Glencoe. I then gave the order to advance. My two squadrons were formed in line at extended files, and charged right across the line of retreat which the enemy were taking. The latter were going away quietly at a trot, till our men’s heads appeared over the crest of the hill; they then changed their direction and galloped straight away in front of us and in all directions. Their ponies, however, were no match for our horses, and we rapidly overhauled them. Those men who still tried to escape were attacked with the lance or pistol and those who jumped off their horses and threw down their arms were made prisoners of. Unfortunately, it was now quite dusk, and it was extremely difficult to see where the enemy were. The first charge was from a mile and a half to two miles in length. The two squadrons were then halted, faced about and reformed. They then charged back again over almost the same ground, and encountered a good many more of the flying enemy.”

The small amount of remaining light saved many of the Boers that night. They were able to ride away and evade the cavalry who would have charged again had they been able to see. The darkness was also potentially treacherous for the cavalry as this account by Captain Watson of the 5th Dragoon Guards relates:

“A man with a lance – evidently after some one whom he had lost - saw me, thought I was his man, or would do just as well. I saw his lance come down, and it suddenly dawned on me that he was riding at me! It all happened so quickly that I had no time to think. I just managed to blurt out that ‘I was all right.’ I couldn’t think of anything else to say. He called out cheerfully ‘Oh, beg pardon, Sir!’ As well he might!”

The darkness ended the charge and, with it, the battle of Elandslaagte. As Steevens then concluded:

“It was over – twelve hours of march, of reconnaissance, of waiting, or preparation, and half an hour of attack. But half an hour crammed with the life of half a lifetime.” ’

Following Elandslaagte, Gore and his men were present at Lombard’s Kop, in which action one of their number, Lieutenant Norwood, won the V.C., and shortly thereafter in the defence of Ladysmith, in which they were actively engaged on several occasions, most notably on 3 November 1899 and 6 January 1900. Gore remained in command of the 5th Dragoon Guards until March 1902, seeing further action in operations in the Transvaal and Orange Free State, and on Zululand frontier of Natal (Queen’s Medal & 4 clasps; King’s Medal & 2 clasps). He was awarded the C.B. and twice mentioned in despatches (
London Gazettes 23 March and 9 November 1900 refer).

Placed on half-pay and given the Brevet of Colonel in July 1903, Gore was enrolled in the Honorary Corps of Gentlemen-at-Arms in 1909, in which capacity he remained employed until 1938, the intervening period seeing him appointed Adjutant in 1920, Standard Bearer in 1922 and a Lieutenant, H.M. Bodyguard in 1926, in addition to being awarded the C.V.O. in 1925 and knighted in 1930.

During the Great War, and having earlier commanded 2nd South Midlands Brigade, Territorial Force, 1908-12, he served as Assistant Military Secretary at Aldershot Command and was awarded the C.B.E.

Gore, the author of Letter to Myself, A Tour to the Pindari Glacier, and The Green Horse in Ladysmith, died at Hemingford Grey House, Huntingdon, in November 1949; sold with a file of research.