14th October marks the anniversary of the first of three actions in 1899 for which Old Wellingtonian Charles FitzClarence was awarded the Victoria Cross.
As his surname suggests, Charles was a descendant of the Duke of Clarence, later King William IV, through the Duke’s illegitimate son George, 1st Earl of Munster. Charles was born in County Kildare and attended Wellington from 1879 to 1881 before transferring to Eton. He joined the Royal Fusiliers in 1886, but his early career was blighted by illness and he spent much of his time in administrative roles.
In 1899 he volunteered to serve in the Second Boer War, and performed various acts for which he was awarded the VC, as recorded in his citation:
On the 14th October, 1899, Captain FitzClarence went with his squadron of the Protectorate Regiment, consisting of only partially trained men, who had never been in action, to the assistance of an armoured train which had gone out from Mafeking. The enemy were in greatly superior numbers, and the squadron was for a time surrounded, and it looked as if nothing could save them from being shot down. Captain FitzClarence, however, by his personal coolness and courage inspired the greatest confidence in his men, and, by his bold and efficient handling of them, not only succeeded in relieving the armoured train, but inflicted a heavy defeat on the Boers, who lost 50 killed and a large number wounded, his own losses being 2 killed and 15 wounded. The moral effect of this blow had a very important bearing on subsequent encounters with the Boers.
On the 27th October, 1899, Captain FitzClarence led his squadron from Mafeking across the open, and made a night attack with the bayonet on one of the enemy’s trenches. A hand-to-hand fight took place in the trench, while a heavy fire was concentrated on it from the rear. The enemy was driven out with heavy loss. Captain FitzClarence was the first man into the position and accounted for four of the enemy with his sword. The British lost 6 killed and 9 wounded. Captain FitzClarence was himself slightly wounded. With reference to these two actions, Major-General Baden-Powell states that had this Officer not shown an extraordinary spirit and fearlessness the attacks would have been failures, and we should have suffered heavy loss both in men and prestige.
On the 26th December, 1899, during the action at Game Tree, near Mafeking, Captain FitzClarence again distinguished himself by his coolness and courage, and was again wounded (severely through both legs).
In 1904, Charles succeeded to the command of the 1st Bn Irish Guards. At the outbreak of the First World War he was promoted to Brigadier General, and in September 1914 took command of the 1st Guards’ Brigade with the British Expeditionary Force. In this role, he played an important role in the First Battle of Ypres, choosing to engage on 31 October 1914 in an action which a contemporary considered ‘saved the day.’ The fighting continued, however, and Charles was killed while leading a night attach on 11-12 November.