Auction: 1005 - Orders, Decorations, Campaign Medals & Militaria
The Scarce and Most Interesting Crimean War ´Double Action´ Victoria Cross Group of Four to Major J.S. Knox, Firstly For Gallantry as a Sergeant in the Scots Fusilier Guards at the Battle of the Alma, 20.9.1854- the Army´s First V.C. Action; Rewarded with a Commission for His Conduct at the Battle of Inkermann, 5.11.1854, Where He Took Part in the Storming and Capture of the Sandbag Battery, and Single-Handedly Faced a Party of Enemy Skirmishers; He Was Honoured Again For His Bravery When, as a Lieutenant in the Rifle Brigade, He Volunteered as Part of the Ladder-Party for the First Assault on the Heavily Defended Grand Redan, 18.6.1855, Where His Left Arm was Blown Away by Cannon Fire a) Victoria Cross, reverse of suspension bar engraved ´Lieutenant. John. Knox. 2nd. Bat, Rifle Brigade´, reverse of Cross engraved ´20 Sept 1854 18 June 1855´, with contemporary bronze top riband suspension buckle b) Crimea 1854-56, four clasps, Alma, Balaklava, Inkermann, Sebastopol (Colr. Sert. John S. Knox. Scots Fusr. Gds.), contemporarily engraved in large serif capitals c) France, Second Empire, Legion of Honour, Chevalier´s breast Badge, 63mm including crown suspension x 40mm, silver, gold, and enamel, some significant enamel damage, with contemporary gilt top riband suspension buckle d) Turkish Crimea, British die, with contemporary silver loop and ring suspension, unnamed as issued, with original narrow riband and contemporary silver top riband suspension buckle, minor contact marks, generally nearly very fine or better, the V.C. good very fine, together with the following related items: - A Russian Cannon-Ball, reputedly the one that smashed the recipient´s left arm at the assault on the Redan, 53mm in diameter, mounted on a marble plinth, the plinth engraved ´Crimea, Sebastopol, Redan, June 18 1855´ - Two glazed and framed photograph portraits, one of the recipient in uniform, wearing his miniature medals, and one of the recipient´s wife - The recipient´s Rifle Brigade cap badge - The recipient´s Rifle Brigade Officer´s large cross belt plate with Battle Honours up to Waterloo, together with the whistle holder and chain, silver (Hallmarks for London 1855) - The recipient´s father´s silver-topped cane, the top engraved ´John Knox. Born 17th. Nov: 1772. Died 8th. Feb: 1842. Glasgow.´ (4) Estimate £ 100,000-120,000 V.C. London Gazette 24.2.1857 Lieutenant John Knox, 2nd Bat. Rifle Brigade ´When serving as a Serjeant in the Scots Fusilier Guards, Lieutenant Knox was conspicuous for his exertions in reforming the ranks of the Guards at the Battle of the Alma. Subsequently, when in the Rifle Brigade, he volunteered for the ladder-party in the attack on the Redan, on the 18th of June, and (in the words of Captain Blackett, under whose command he was) behaved admirably, remaining on the field until twice wounded.´ Major John Simpson Knox, V.C., was born at Calton, Glasgow on the 30th September 1828, the son of Sergeant John Knox, late Perthshire Volunteers Light Infantry. His childhood was not a happy one, and at the age of 14 he ran away from home, and, being tall for his age, enlisted in the Scots Fusilier Guards in May 1843. Promoted Corporal in June 1846 (whilst still under-age), Sergeant in July 1851, and Acting Sergeant-Major and Drill Sergeant, July 1853, Knox was still an exceptionally young, but senior N.C.O. at the time of the Crimean War. Preparation for War On the 27th February 1854 the British and French Governments sent Russia a joint ultimatum to evacuate the Danubian principalities or face war. The next morning at 7:00am the men of the Scots Fusilier Guards, resplendent in their bearskins, and with the Regimental Band at their head, marched out of their barracks on Birdcage Walk and made their way through cheering crowds lining the Mall to the forecourt of Buckingham Palace. ´The Regiment halted in line, the officers came to the front, the colours were lowered, and the whole presented arms. Her Majesty, the Prince, and the Royal children appeared on the balcony and acknowledged the salute, then the Colonel turned to the men, waved his sword, and a thousand voices gave three hearty hurrahs for Her Majesty, waving their bearskin caps in the air and by every gesture manifesting the most intense enthusiasm and loyalty. Her Majesty appeared much affected, and bowed and smiled most graciously on her third Regiment of Guards.´ (Recollections of Lieutenant the Hon. Hugh Annesley refers). With the band playing ´O Where, and O Where is my Highland Laddie Gone?´, the Guardsmen left Buckingham Palace and marched to Waterloo Station, from thence to Portsmouth. One month later, with no reply to its ultimatum, Britain and France declared war on Russia. After a lengthy stay at Varna, the combined Allied Army finally got under way for the Crimea on the 7th September 1854, with 52,000 men crammed aboard ´six hundred sails of all kind´. Knox recorded his service and experiences in the Crimea in a number of letters, copies of which he pasted into a scrap-book (The V.C. and D.S.O., Volume 1 refers), from which the following accounts are taken: The Battle of Alma, 20.9.1854 ´After landing in the Crimea on the 14th September we had a short march from the beach to the ground where we remained for the night and in camp until the 19th. The first night we were visited by heavy rain, fortunately I had collected a quantity of branches from trees and covered them thickly with weeds making myself a fairly good bed so thick as to keep me dry. Early the next day I started with two or three kindred spirits to visit a Tartar Village about 2 miles to the left rear of the army. By barter and money we got some poultry and returned to camp to enjoy it. Shortly after my return I was sent for by the Commanding Officer and appointed Colour Sergeant. On the 18th we started for the Alma passing over large tracts of open ground- my water supply failed and I all but done up and going to lie down when Colonel Ridley gave me a spoonful of brandy. This kept me going till we reached the ground where we had to pass the night. Several of our men died of cholera during the night, and were buried before continuing our march. The night passed quietly. Early next morning we stood to our arms, and after much delay the Army moved on and came within sight of the enemy´s forces, posted on the high ground beyond the Alma. Our division formed here and we were ordered to lie down. After some delay the division was ordered to advance to support the Light Division. We had to cross a number of cultivated gardens, enclosed in stone walls from three to four feet high. The walls, being of loose stones, were easily pushed down. The Russians fired heavily, but did little execution. At last we reached the river, and on my part got over without any difficulty and with very little wetting. On reaching the path on the opposite side, running parallel with the river, the battalion, still in line, began to reform their ranks. My chief exertions at the time were exercised in getting our men together. Repeated and pressing requests came several times from the Light Division, asking us to hurry on to their support. Before the ranks were properly reformed, Sir Charles Hamilton ordered the battalion to advance, and away they went, leaving, to my surprise, many of our men under the shelter of the bank. I did all I could to clear them out and send them on to glory. I then passed over myself, and to my surprise found our battalion retiring, mixed up with the men of the Light Division. Captain Scarlett was frantic, flourishing his sword and violently exerting himself to stop the retreat. He asked me to help him. By good fortune, at that moment old Bill Douglas was near us. I called upon him to standstill, face the enemy and fire. Without any hesitation the old soldier obeyed my order. I got others to join him, and, about the same time, order was restored in the ranks, line reformed, and file-firing opened on the enemy. The fire, combined with cross-fire from the left company of the Grenadier Guards, quickly settled the enemy and enabled us without any loss to capture the battery. During the time our men were firing an order was passed down the line for us to retire, and some of the companies had actually faced about, when I persuaded Colonel Dalrymple that we were making a blunder, our interest urgently requiring an advance and not a retreat. The Colonel took the same view and stopped it. After capturing the battery there was no more fighting; we remained in possession of the field, the enemy´s troops retiring. At the close of the battle I was sent with a party of men to move in our wounded to the field hospitals. I recollect seeing Sergeant Robbie lying on his back with a bullet through head near the redoubt. On finishing with the wounded it was dark; the army had moved on and in what direction I did not know. Fortunately we hit off our army on the heights, and the party rejoined the battalion at about eleven o´clock at night. With my usual good fortune I procured some straw to sleep on, and felt none the worse the next day for the fatigue and want of food of the day of battle.´ (recipient´s own account refers). Upon arriving in Sebastopol, Knox served at the Battle of Balaklava, 25th October, and was actively involved in the repulse of the Russian sortie on the 26th October, when the enemy overcame the British piquets, but were eventually stopped and driven back by concentrated artillery fire from the Home Ridge. The Battle of Inkermann, 5.11.1854 ´On that memorable morning (Guy Fawkes´ Day), about six o´clock, a sharp fire of musketry commenced on the right of the army. In a moment we formed, and soon were in motion to support our second division, who were on the right of the army. By the time we arrived the enemy had gained possession of a two-gun redoubt [the Sandbag Battery], and nearly overpowered the Second Division. We (the Guards) immediately formed line and advanced, meeting a warm reception as we closed, in the form of shot, shell, and bullets. Ah, my boy! Alma was child´s play to this. On forming line I drew my sword, but when the line halted at about 100 yards´ distance, I found my excitement too great to permit my standing still sword in hand, so I returned the sword and took a rifle from a wounded man and used it during the day. The force opposed to us were five to one, and from the redoubt were disabling numbers of our men, and so the gallant Percy [Colonel the Hon. H.H.M. Percy, Grenadier Guards, who was awarded the V.C. for the Battle of Inkermann] rushed to the front, sword in hand, and called on us to charge. There was no resisting the appeal; the bayonet was levelled, and on we rushed, but no stand was made by the enemy, so that the redoubt was won without a struggle. We were now in a fix, being too weak to advance and too strong to be driven back, and knew that the position must be held for some time before any reinforcements could come to our assistance. However, at it we went, loading and firing as quick as possible, endeavouring to make every bullet tell, and the foe were in such numbers that one could not miss very easily. About the same time our men advanced out of the redoubt, although no one ordered it- it was done entirely by the men. On emerging from the redoubt the scene that met my gaze was the most awful description it made me shudder. The bodies of our opponents were so thick on the ground that for some distance I had to go on tiptoe to pass without touching the bodies. The redoubt is situated on the top and right of the hill. On leaving it the enemy cheered, and endeavoured to drive us back; however, we stuck to them until we were masters, but found it difficult to overcome them. The ground was mostly covered with short bushes, affording excellent cover; on this both parties availed themselves. At last the enemy reached the side of the hill, down which they went rather sharp, and we foolishly followed, killing numbers. The reserves of the enemy were formed in the valley. The beaten force rallied on them. We slowly ascended the hill, and in going along I saw a wounded man, and assisted him with water; he so earnestly requested me to remove him to a surgeon that I could not refuse. I called a man, and with his assistance got our unfortunate comrade about halfway up the hill, when all at once a tremendous fire of musketry commenced at the top. I knew something was wrong, so we laid the wounded man in a hollow and hid him from view as much as possible; this finished, I went up the hill quickly. On arriving at the top I found myself close to and in front of the Russian line. I immediately turned to fly, but in turning I observed the enemy´s skirmishers close to me, hid among the bushes, and at about the distance of twenty yards saw a man coming cautiously towards me, firelock in hand. My fate appeared so certain, but I determined to have a trial for it. When he had closed to about ten yards´ distance I cocked and pulled, when lo! I snapped- my opponent fired, I bobbed my head, the bullet passed, and I was well. Others were nearing me by this time, so I beat a retreat down hill, as if I was going to join the enemy´s forces in the valley. Before getting within range I turned along the side of the hill (at full speed, and without my bearskin cap), and so reached the camp in time to advance a second time as a covering force to our guns. On nearing them we were ordered to lie down, and this I was glad to do. I felt quite fatigued from all that I had done; my shoulder was sore from the rebound of the firelock. I fired upwards of one hundred rounds. During the time we were lying on the ground the battle was purely one of artillery, and the shot and shell came over our heads rather thick. One shell burst over our heads, and killed and wounded several men. Others passed too close to make us comfortable. I was eating cheese and biscuit, with my body a little raised from the ground, when I noticed a large shot strike the ground about one hundred yards in front of me. In an instant I was flat on the ground- the shot cleared me, but, I am sorry to say, killed the man at my feet. Such are the chances of war. We remained passive spectators of the close of the Battle. The French and part of the Fourth Division finished it. The loss on both sides was severe.´ (account in the recipient´s scrap-book refers) Commission into the Rifle Brigade The Bravery of the three Battalions of Foot Guards, and in particular the valour displayed by them at Inkermann, so delighted the Prince Consort, that he offered a Commission in his own Regiment, the Rifle Brigade, to the most deserving N.C.O. Knox was recommended for the Commission by Colonel E.W.J. Walker, Colonel in Charge Commanding 1st Battalion Scots Fusilier Guards, who wrote on the 26th February, 1856: ´Sir, In obedience to the command of His Royal Highness Prince Albert, I have now the honour to lay before you for his Royal Highness´s approval the name of Sergeant John Knox, Scots Fusilier Guards, who has been for some time Assistant Drill-Sergeant, and has given me great satisfaction. I therefore wish to recommend him to His Royal Highness for the commission in the Rifles to which you allude in your letter of the 8th inst. A proud position I think him well qualified to fill.´ (Letter contained in the recipient´s scrap-book refers) Knox was duly selected by General Lord Rokeby, and commissioned Ensign in the Rifle Brigade, in March 1855, backdated to the Battle of Inkermann, 5th November 1854, and was promoted Lieutenant the following month. The Attack on the Redan, 18.6.1855 Having taken part in the Capture of the Quarries, on the 6th and 7th June 1855, the next major action was the attack on the Grand Redan: ´All my actions come clearly before me as I write: my volunteering for the ladder-party, Sir William Codrington thanking me for undertaking so dangerous duty, then making my will, marching off to the trenches on a nice summer Sunday night, helping Captain Blackett arrange our men, with the ladders in the advance trench. His sending me back to Colonel Yea to await final orders- then squatting on the ground near the 21st Gun Battery, and listening to him giving his instructions to the different officers on their arrival. Colonel Yea was killed leading the attack- a most promising commander. About midnight I received his finishing instructions, and rejoined Blackett as soon as possible. At daybreak the French began the attack, the English waiting for the signal to advance. The Russians were all the time preparing to receive us warmly. At last, about five o´clock, the flag was hoisted, and away we went, meeting a powerful fire, sweeping us down in all directions. At starting we were only a short two hundred yards from the Redan; on leaving the trench, I met Blackett with a smashed leg moving back on his hips and hands. The command then fell to me, but not a dozen men were left to lead. These I led up the Abattis; then taking a rifle from a dead Rifleman, I fired several shots at the enemy, all the time talking to Captain Foreman, in command of the sharpshooters, about what ought to be done, both deciding that there was nothing for it but to remain until shot over. My rifle was aimed at a Russian when I was struck in the left arm, the weapon falling to the ground, upon which poor Foreman remarked: "You are wounded." I replied: "I fancy I am." He offered me some brandy; this I declined. Having a stout handkerchief ready for the work, he took it, and by chance placed himself in front of me and bound up the wound. At that instance a shower of grape-shot passed; he was struck dead, falling at my feet speechless, the spirit gone. I remained standing, strange to say. Having had enough I retired. A short distance off a grape-shot caught the broken arm and lodged in the arm. Still I kept my feet and walked on into our trenches, there tumbling over through loss of blood. Four soldiers of the 23rd placed me on a stretcher and bore me along, until Lord Raglan stopped them, inquiring in a most kind manner if I was hurt. At the same time one of his Staff offered me brandy, which I declined. The men then moved onto the mule ambulance, and I was placed in a litter, but from the mules´ motion causing the bone to grit, the pain became so great I made them let me down. Nature, however, was not equal to the wish. I had to return to the stretcher, and so reached my tent. Walking out of the battle got me back before the doctors had any of them work to do. They were waiting for a job, soon removed the arm from the socket under chloroform, without any pain or trial to me. Seven days after I was out of bed, walking about none the worse man, although only one arm left. Poor Foreman, who lost his life trying to help me, only married a few days before leaving home. Had he lived, he would have been owner of Hensal Castle and a large estate near Cardiff.´ (part of a letter to H. Gale, written 17.6.1895, recipient´s scrap-book refers). For his gallantry in the unsuccessful assault on the Redan, Knox was Mentioned in Lord Raglan´s Despatch (London Gazette, 3.7.1855), as well as being appointed a Chevalier of the French Legion of Honour for his service in the Crimea on the 21st June 1856. The Victoria Cross The Victoria Cross was instituted by Royal Warrant on the 29th January 1856, with the first awards to be backdated for service in the Baltic and the Crimea. Knox was recommended for the V.C. by both Captain Scarlett, for his gallantry at the Alma, who wrote to Knox on the 4th October 1856: ´Dear Mr. Knox, I have written to Colonel Walker stating that you were with my company when our ranks were broken by a brigade of the Light Division; that I desired you to assist me in reforming the ranks, which I consider you did in a very cool, gallant, and admirable manner, and that I was much indebted to you for your assistance- I only hope you will obtain your Cross, and I am sure if you do, very few will wear it who can say they have done more to deserve it´; and by Captain Blackett, for his bravery at Sebastopol, who wrote to Knox on the 10th October 1856: ´My dear Knox, I wrote immediately to Colonel Hill stating what I consider to be your claims to the decoration; Hill writes to say that he will not fail to bring your name to notice, so that I hope we may consider the thing as done- I am much pleased to think that my recommendation may have been of service to you´ (letters contained in the recipient´s scrap-book refer). The first awards of the new decoration were gazetted in the London Gazette on the 24th February, 1857. The first Victoria Cross to be actually won was that to Lieutenant Charles Lucas, Royal Navy, for throwing a live shell overboard on the 21st June 1854 whilst serving in the Baltic; the first awards for the Crimea, and the first to the Army, were the six Victoria Crosses given for the Battle of the Alma: four to the Scots Fusilier Guards (including Knox), and two to the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. The Investiture took place amid great fanfare in Hyde Park on the 26th June 1857, when 62 of the 93 recipients to date received their awards; the remaining 31 recipients were all currently serving overseas. Colonel Percy, Grenadier Guards (Later General Lord Henry Percy, V.C., K.C.B., who won his V.C. at Inkermann) was in command of the men who received the Cross, with Knox serving as his Adjutant. The actual ceremony of presentation lasted 10 minutes, with Queen Victoria on horseback, dressed in a Field-Marshal´s uniform, remaining seated on her horse ´Sunset´ throughout whilst pinning the Cross on each man´s tunic. The popular hero of the day undoubtedly was John Knox with his empty sleeve- the only officer to be so wounded before Sebastopol. Of the 111 Victoria Crosses eventually given for the Crimean War, 22 of them were for two or more actions. Later Life After the Crimean War Knox obtained a First Class Certificate in Musketry, and was appointed Instructor of Musketry, 4th Battalion, Rifle Brigade on the 7th January 1858. Promoted Captain on the 30th April 1858, he married Miss Louisa Harriet Gale in 1862, with whom he had seven children, and served as Instructor of Musketry at Gibraltar from April 1862 until December 1865, and as Instructor of Musketry at Portsmouth from December 1865 until June 1872, when he retired from the Army. In a subsequent letter to his friend, Captain Chalmers, he describes the circumstances thus: ´They gave me the full market value of my commission, £2,500. The Duke [of Cambridge] stood my friend, I attended his Levee to say good-bye and asked for the rank of Major. He told me that I was a badly-treated officer; that 11 years ago he had recommended me for a Majority and he could not understand how it was refused, but he would try again, and so I got it. On my leaving his room he said: "The Queen is losing a devilish fine soldier, sir". I replied it was the highest compliment I ever had paid to me.´ The result of the interview was a letter Knox received on the 5th June: ´Sir, with reference to the interview which you had with the Field Marshal Commanding-in-Chief on the 29th April last, as well as your memorial of the same date, I have the satisfaction to acquaint you that in consideration of your Service, particularly in the Field, His Royal Highness will recommend to Her Majesty that you be granted a step of Brevet Rank on your retirement from the Service.´ (letter to the recipient included in the recipient´s scrap-book refers). The promotion was confirmed on the 7th June, and Major Knox relinquished his Commission the following day. It would appear that Knox had few regrets at leaving the Army- in the same letter to Captain Chalmers he wrote: ´The army is going to the dogs, all the old soldiers are out, and there is no one to keep the young ones together and as for the N.C.O.s they are worse than useless and command the respect of no one. The officers are also changing. The English Gentleman is now to be found in few corps- in my time the position gave one a passport into society, but such is not now the case.´ Twenty years later he wrote again: ´I hear there has been another Crimean Dinner- time the things ended. I have managed always to keep clear of them. My presence would make some of our own friends uncomfortable: you must have spotted many of them, as I did, skulking under the banks of the Alma´ (letter to Captain Chalmers, 22.8.1894, refers). Having left the Army Knox served as Governor of Cardiff Gaol from 1872 until 1886, when he transferred as Governor to Kirkdale Gaol, Liverpool. In October 1891 he was appointed to the Governorship of Hull Gaol, an appointment he never took up, owing to ill-health caused by his wife´s recent death, and he retired from the Prison Service in April 1892. Throughout this second career he was noted as a model prisons´ official- a stern disciplinarian, he maintained perfect order, but at the same time showed the utmost kindness to the prisoners. Major Knox died at home in Cheltenham on the 8th January 1897, and was buried in the Cheltenham Cemetery on the 12th January. The following poem was read out at the graveside: His Star of glory rose o´er Alma´s height; Blazed ´mid "The Soldier´s Battle", and when Gaul And Briton sought to teach the Muscovite To venerate the Day of Waterloo. His deeds Fame knows: the spirit serene we knew That Darkness and Disease could not enthral.