20 November 2008

Medal entitlement of Private James Osborne,
2nd Bn, Northamptonshire Regiment

  • Victoria Cross
  • South Africa Medal ( 1877 - 79 )
    • 1 clasp:
    • "1879"

James Osborne was serving with the 2nd Battalion, the Northamptonshire Regiment, in South Africa during the period of the Zulu War of 1877-79. Following on from this conflict James Osborne found himself involved in the 1st Boer War fighting against the newly declared Boer Republic, where he won his Victoria Cross at Wesselstroom on the 22 February 1881.

James Osborne returned to Wigginton, Hertfordshire, at the end of the war and took a job on the vast Rothschild Estate as a labourer. Unable to read or write, he worked there for 26 years. In 1913 a stroke left him partially paralysed and he died on 1st February 1928, aged 71. Following Osborne's funeral and burial in St Bartholomew's Cemetery, Wigginton, his daughter and son-in-law handed his Victoria Cross into the care of the Northamptonshire Regiment, receiving a handwritten receipt in return.

From 1936 to 1939 the 2nd Bn, Northamptonshire Regiment were stationed at Ballykinler, about thirty miles from Belfast and after mobilization, following the outbreak of the Second World War, the regiment moved back to England in the middle of October 1939. It is assumed that because there were no suitable local facilities at Ballykinler the regimental silver and Osborne's Victoria Cross were sent to Belfast and were lodged in the Ulster Bank in York Street for safe keeping.

Over the period 7 / 8 April 1941 Belfast suffered a bombing attack on the city's shipyards by a squadron of German bombers and after returning home reported Belfast's defences as 'inferior in quality, scanty and insufficient'. As a result, on Easter Tuesday, 15 April 1941, 180 German bombers attacked Belfast and bombed the city's industrial heartland. A further raid by two hundred German bombers took place on the 4 / 5 May 1941, described as a 'Fire Raid', which targeted the city's commercial and housing sector.

The city sustained extensive damage, including the Ulster Bank. The bank was severely damaged by fire and its contents, the Northamptonshire Regiment's silver and James Osborne's Victoria Cross and South Africa campaign medal were lost.

In 1964 the widow of James Osborne had become worried about her husband's Victoria Cross and received a letter in reply from the 2nd East Anglian Regiment informing her of its loss. The letter went on to explain that the VC had been packed with the mess silverware in order to move it from the regimental headquarters in Ballykinler to safe keeping in Belfast where a direct hit destroyed the valuable artefacts during an air raid in 1941.

It would appear that no replacement Victoria Cross was applied for by the Northamptonshire Regiment, probably owing to their involvement in the war, nor by the daughter of James Osborne who only learned of the demise of the VC in 1964.

For the award of the Victoria Cross

[ London Gazette, 14 March 1882 ], Wesselstroom, 1st Boer War, South Africa, 22 February 1881, Private James Osborne, 2nd Bn, Northamptonshire Regiment.

For his gallant conduct at Wesselstroom, on the 22nd February 1881, in riding, under a heavy fire, towards a party of 42 Boers, picking up Private Mayes, who was lying wounded, and carrying him safely into camp.

James Osborne was invested with his Victoria Cross at Fort Napia, Natal, on the 26th April 1882. It is not known who made the presentation.


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Iain Stewart, 20 November 2008