Friday, 7th November 2008

On Friday, 7th November 2008, a ceremony was held in Colchester to witness the unveiling of two plaques at the houses lived in before their death of Colonel James Colvin VC, Bengal Sappers & Miners, and Sergeant Edmund Fowler VC, Cameronians ( Scottish Rifles ). The ceremony was the successful conclusion of a project instigated by Joan Soole to recognise the two Victoria Cross holders associated with Colchester.

The Colchester Garrison under the guidance of Colonel Tony Phillips provided funding for the plaques which were unveiled by the Deputy Mayor of Colchester, Councillor Henry Spyvee. Also attending the ceremony were members of the Fowler and Colvin families.

An exhibition has been arranged in Colchester Castle to celebrate the two VC holders which includes the Victoria Cross and campaign medals of Colonel James Colvin, and a replica Victoria Cross representing Sergeant Edmund Fowler, whose VC group is held by the Cameronians Museum, Hamilton. The exhibition is due to last until February 2009.

Subsequent to the move by the Malakand Field Force into Bajaur the 2nd Brigade was detached and ordered to mount a punitive attack up the Mohmand Valley. A number of villages were destroyed but the Mohmands put up considerable resistance and a detached company of the 35th Sikhs became cut off during the withdrawl from the valley and had to be rescued by the Guides Infantry. General Jeffreys with a party of 4 guns, 35 Sappers & Miners and 12 Buffs then remained behind to cover the rear of the brigade and in the darkness became completely cut off from the main body.

The General decided to hold a defensive position overnight in the nearby village of Bilot. However, the Mohmands had anticipated such a move and the British were not strong enough to clear themm out despite the gallant attempts by the Sappers & Miners and Buffs. The action continued until about midnight when four companies of the 35th Sikhs, who had also been cut off, arrived and the tribesmen fled. The rest of the night was undisturbed and the General and his party were able to rejoin the main body the next morning.

For the award of the Victoria Cross.

[ London Gazette, 20 May 1898 ], Mohmand Valley, Mohmand Campaign, India, 16 - 17 September 1897, Lieutenant Thomas Colclough Watson, Bengal Sappers & Miners.

This Officer, on the 16th September 1897, at the village of Bilot, in the Mamund Valley, collected a few men of the Buffs ( East Kent Regiment ) and of No. 4 Company, Bengal Sappers and Miners, and led them into the dark and burning village to dislodge some of the enemy who were inflicting loss on our troops. After being wounded and driven back, he made a second attempt to clear the village, and only desisted after a second repulse and being again hit and severely wounded.

For the award of the Victoria Cross.

[ London Gazette, 20 May 1898 ], Mohmand Valley, Mohmand Campaign, India, 16 - 17 September 1897, Lieutenant James Morris Colquhoun Colvin, 4th Company, Bengal Sappers & Miners.

On the same occasion, after Lieutenant Watson had been incapacitated by his wounds from further effort, Lieutenant Colvin continued the fight and persisted in two more attempts to clear the enemy out of the dark and still burning village. He was conspicuous during the whole night for his devotion to his men in the most exposed positions under a heavy fire from the enemy.

For the award of the Victoria Cross.

[ London Gazette, 21 April 1899 ], Mohmand Valley, Mohmand Campaign, India, 16 - 17 September 1897, Corporal James Smith, The Buffs ( East Kent Regiment ).

On the night of the 16th-17th September 1897, Corporal Smith, with a party of the Buffs, responded to Lieutenant Watson’s call for volunteers, and followed that Officer into the burning village of Bilot, driving off the enemy with the bayonet. Afterwards, although wounded, he continued firing steadily and coolly, and also helped to carry the wounded to the place prepared for them. When Lieutenant Watson left, in order to fetch assistance for the wounded, Corporal Smith held the position till that Officer’s return, exposing his life freely in watching the enemy and directing the fire of his men.

James Colvin was invested with his Victoria Cross by Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle on the 19th July 1898.

James Colvin died at Stanway, near Colchester on 7th December 1945, aged 75. He was cremated at Ipswich Crematorium on the 11th December, and his ashes scattered in the Old Garden of Rest.

Medal entitlement of Colonel James Morris Colvin - Bengal Sappers & Miners ( Royal Engineers )

  • Victoria Cross
  • India Medal ( 1895-1902 )
    • 2 clasps:
    • "Relief of Chitral 189" - "Punjab Frontier 1897-98"
  • Queen's South Africa Medal ( 1899-1902 )
    • 3 clasps:
    • "Transvaal" - "South Africa 1901" - "South Africa 1902"
  • British War Medal ( 1914-20 )
  • King George VI Coronation Medal ( 1937 )


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Iain Stewart, 02 December 2008