Orders, Decorations and Medals (7 April 1994)

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Date of Auction: 7th April 1994

Sold for £1,200

Estimate: £1,400 - £1,600

A C.B., G.M.G. group of eight awarded to Brigadier General F.B. Elmslie, Royal Artillery, in command of a Battery in the Soudan

ORDER OF THE BATH, C.B. (Military) neck badge in silver-gilt and enamels; ORDER OF ST. MICHAEL AND ST. GEORGE, C.M.G., neck badge in silver-gilt and enamels; AFGHANISTAN 1878-80, no clasp (Lieut. R.A.); QUEEN'S SUDAN 1896 (Major, R.A.); BRITISH WAR AND VICTORY MEDALS, M.I.D. (Brig. Gen.); CORONATION 1902, silver; KHEDIVE'S SUDAN 1896-1908, 1 clasp, Khartoum (Major, 37th Fd. Bty. R.A.) together with Royal Artillery Institution silver medal (Major, R.A. 1898) generally very fine or better (9)


Brigadier-General Frederick Baumgardt Elmslie was the son of A.F. Elmslie and was born on 18 July 1855. He entered the Army in 1875 and was promoted Lieutenant on the 19th of August the same year. Between 1878 and 1879, he saw active service in the Afghan War. He was gazetted Captain on 27 August 1884, and advanced to Major on 1 October 1892, whilst serving as Assistant Superintendent of Experiments at the Gunnery School, Shoeburyness. Being of a technical bent, Elmslie, the next year, submitted a prize essay to the Royal Artillery Institution on the given subject of 'The Attack of a Coast Fortress' and won the Duncan Gold Medal. Likewise, he carried off the Royal United Services Institute's Gold Medal in 1894. In 1898, Elmslie became a Silver Medallist at the R.A Institution with his essay on 'The Advantages and Disadvantages of QF (Quick Firing) Guns for Artillery in the Field', but was unable to attend a subsequent discussion held at the RUSI in Whitehall in early July having been ordered to proceed on active service to the Sudan in command of the 37th Field Battery, Royal Artillery, equipped with 5-inch Howitzers.

On 28 July, the 37th Battery started out from Cairo in stifling heat on the arduous 1200 mile journey up the Nile to Omdurman. The first stage, however, was carried out in relative comfort. Having reached Khazim by rail, the Battery and its animals were put aboard a Thomas Cook's steamer and conveyed up river to Assouan, where they disembarked, in order to circumvent the 1st Cataract. At Shelall, one of the more southerly towns in Upper Egypt, the Battery was reunited with its Howitzers which had been sent all the way up from Cairo by rail. On the line of march, Elmslie became acquainted with the idiosyncrasies of the Egyptian solders that had been taken on in place of the R.A. drivers who had been left in England. 'They were a very nice lot indeed, real good fellows, willing but very stupid and exceedingly noisy. They were simply peasants - the Egyptian fellaheen - nominally soldiers because they wore uniform, but that was all. We did not get the drilled soldier, as of course he was wanted up at the front, so we got the last bunch of recruits.' Nevertheless he confessed, 'After a bit they got into good order and turned out a very serviceable set of men. I was exceedingly pleased with them, in the end, when they got well disciplined.' The next leg of the journey to the frontier town of Wadi Half ('a dump both literally and metaphorically') was carried out by barges lashed to stern-wheelers. Here the recently constructed Sudan Military Railway was met and the Battery was transported down to its terminus at Fort Atbara - Elmslie and his officers in a luggage van; the men and animals in trucks of the roughest description.'

From Atbara the Battery marched along the Nile's west bank to Wad Hamed, the base for the forthcoming operations, covering one hundred and sixty miles in eight days. The Howitzers and stores, however were towed up river by Gun Boats of Commander Colin Keppel's famous Nile Flotilla. It was now late August and the height of the rainy season in Central Sudan. In the next section of the journey lay the treacherous waters of Shabluka Gorge. Although fortunately undefended, the Gorge in its natural hazards presented a formidable obstacle for those obliged to tackle its rapids in steamers and barges. Elmshie's Battery soon found themselves in difficulties, having 'a very nasty time indeed with water all over the barge.' However, 'the expedient of lowering waterproof sheets over the bows and holding them there, proved effective, and averted the danger of being swamped.' Only a couple of days before the Gun Boat Zafir had sunk forcing the crew which included Keppel himself and His Serene Highness Major Prince Christian Victor of Schleswig-Holstein to swim for their lives. At 5:00am on 1 September the 37th Battery started up river in barges on the final stage of their journey.

Meanwhile a highly freakish force of some 3,000 tribal irregulars, or 'Friendlies' as they were known, under the command of the eccentric Arabist, Major Eddy Montagu Stuart-Wortley, attacked and captured a suitable position for the Howitzers on the east bank opposite Omdurman. As Wortley’s Friendlies ran amok slaughtering Mahdist prisoners at the waters' edge in settlement of long standing tribal feuds, the Gun Boats towing Elmslie's Battery in barges hoved into view on the river. Philip Ziegler takes up the story in his book Omdurman,. 'Resistance had hardly ended before the boats were alongside with the howitzers on board. Major F.E.B. Elmslie was in command of the 37th Battery of the Royal Field Artillery. He was aghast when he saw the state of the bank, deep soft mud in which the men floundered and which was soon smeared over the ropes, making them almost too slippery to pull on. Somehow the guns were hauled ashore and set up. The Battery had been training for months for this operation, hurling their missiles at a replica of the walls of Omdurman. It was the first time that high explosive shells had ever been used by troops in the field but there was not one premature explosion or accident. Each shell weighed fifty pounds, with a bursting charge of five pounds of Lyddite. They roared through the air with the ferocity of an express train going under a bridge and had shown in practice that they could blast holes a foot deep in the stoutest stone and pile up a mountain of rubble for the attacking infantry to scale. Their role today, however, was not only to breach the wall but to make the centre of the city so hot that the Khalifa would not dare to choose it as the site for his final stand. As Colonel a Court, Brigade Major to Lyttelton with the 2nd British Brigade and later to win fame as a war correspondent under the name of Repington, put it in another of those sporting metaphors so dear to the British officer, the howitzers 'played the part of the terrier and induced Reynard to come out of his earth.’

At 1:30pm, Elmslie turned his attention to the Mahdi's tomb. Not only was it the most prominent building in Omdurman but also the most potent symbol of the Mahdiya. Indeed it was felt that nothing would demoralise the Khalifa and his ansar more than its destruction. The first three shells burst close by; then with the range found, the next two enveloped the whole tomb in an impenetrable cloud of dust, 'when this cleared away; wrote young Winston Churchill, who was with the cavalry, 'instead of being pointed it was now flat topped,' Captain Sir Henry Rawlinson, Bart., of the Coldstream, observing the spectacle from the vantage point of Jebel Surgham, noted 'they were banging away hard.' Another admirer of Elmslie's handiwork was Colin Keppel who later said 'I do not know the exact range, but I am sure it must have been somewhere between 3,000 and 4,000 yards... and we naturally watched with great interest the howitzer battery. We could not see the gun firing because of the smokeless powder used, but we saw the enormous explosion just over the tomb and the very next shot went right into the middle of the tomb. I think that will explain what the accuracy must have been.’

Having sufficiently punctured the divinity of the Mahdi, Elmslie directed the fire on to other targets. These included the barracks on the edge of the river. Ziegler continues with a quote from Elmslie, 'Inside that barrack must have been the most awful place in the world with the shells bursting there,' he later told an audience of his fellow gunners at Woolwich. 'I saw beams and all sorts of things flying in the air and these fearful explosions were going on. We were firing battery fire at the rate of at least three shots a minute. The great gate of the barrack was facing us on the river bank, and I saw this gate open a bit and men begin to bolt in one's, two's and three's... When one man was bolting a shell happened to burst close to him, and he disappeared altogether; there was nobody that I could see.' The fearful results the shells were producing were amply proved when Elmshie sent his second-in-command to inspect the building the following day. 'You could see there had been a great deal of effect because there was a lot of dried blood about, and a lot of pieces of men which they had neglected to clean up.' He judged the operation an entire success and the faith put in Lyddite more than justified: 'The man-killing effects were very good; and I am told the moral effect also was very great.’

Next day, 2 September, the day of the Battle of Omdurman, the 37th Battery was involved in a 'friendly fire' incident with potentially momentous consequences. Unsurprisingly Elmslie chose not to mention this in his lecture back at Woolwich. Following the rout of the Dervishes, the Sirdar, accompanied by his staff and a handful of war correspondents, victoriously entered the enclosure surrounding the Mahdi's tomb. The Khalifa's personal standard, however, still fluttered overhead,leading many to believe that the Khalifa had not yet taken flight. Suddenly a shell screamed a few feet over Kitchener's head and burst among a group of Sudanese troops killing and maiming a number of them. For an instant everyone was dumbfounded, then another shell screeched into the enclosure, followed rapidly by a third. General Sir Archibald Hunter, riding close to his chief, dismounted and examining a shell fragment informed Kitchener that the shells were British. Kitchener pondered for a moment and then announced 'Well, gentlemen, I don't see how we can stop it, and it would be a pity to lose our ticket when the day is won. I am afraid we must give them the honour.' He then rode off hastily followed by his staff and the journalists. Unfortunately before all were clear a fourth shell exploded tearing the ear off the pony belonging to Frank Scudamore of the Daily News, and killing the Hon Hubert Howard, of the Times and New York Herald, instantly. Henry Keown-Boyd in his book A Good Dusting, The Sudan Campaigns 1883-1899 ascribes the fire to Elmslie's Battery still posted on the east bank with Stuart-Wortley's Friendlies and carrying out their orders to bombard the tomb.

On his return to England, Elmslie drew on his experiences to give the lecture on 10 November at Woolwich, that won him the R.A. Institution Silver Medal of 1898 which is sold in this lot. Later the same month he was promoted Lieutenant-Colonel, and in 1900 was appointed Assistant Director-General Ordnance at the War Office, a post which he held until 1903, when he was created a Companion of the Bath. He retired from the Army in 1907, but on the outbreak of war in 1914 rejoined and was appointed C.R.A., 23rd Division in November. From 1916 to the cessation of hostilities he was employed in France, and in 1918 was also made a Companion of St. Michael and St. George.