27 April 2007

One of Scotland's forgotten war heroes was finally given permanent recognition more than 120 years after being buried in a '2nd class grave' in Brookwood Cemetery, Surrey.

A memorial commemorating the life of Private William Reynolds VC was placed over Plot 119 by the Scots Guards Association Club in Brookwood Cemetery on Friday, 27 April 2007. The costs of the memorial were covered by donations received by the Association at their offices in Clifton Terrace, Edinburgh. A brief service was held over the memorial followed by refreshments in the Garrison Church, Pirbright Camp.

The first major battle that took place during the Crimean War ( 1854-56 ) was the Battle of the Alma on 20th September 1854. The Allies decided to launch a pincer movement against the Russians. The French were to advance along the sea shore on the right flank before scaling the cliffs and capturing the heights. The British were to advance on the centre and left flank. The British troops were deployed into a long line, two deep across a two-mile front, and crossed the river Alma under heavy fire, encountering on the far side, steep rocky ground leading up to the Heights occupied by the Russians.

During the battle two of the strangest incidents took place. After the British had attained the Great Redoubt, suffering appalling casualties, the Russians counter attacked. At this point a wild-eyed staff officer galloped along the line shouting 'Don't fire! For God's sake, The column's French!' The officer was not recognised nor has he been substaniated since. He then rode up to the bugler of the 19th Regiment and ordered him to sound the Cease Fire, and then ordered another bugler to sound Retire, which was taken up by other buglers.

Later, after the Russians had recaptured the Great Redoubt, the Russians advanced down the slope encountering a thin line containing the remnants of the 23rd Royal Welch Fusiliers and 7th Royal Fusiliers, and men from other regiments who had taken part in the initial assault. The Grenadier and Coldstream Guards were emerging from the river along with the Scots Fusilier Guards who moved forward up the slope first.

At his point the mysterious galloping staff officer put in a second appearance. There was a shout of 'Retire! Fusiliers, retire!' This could have applied to the 23rd, or the 7th or the Scots Fusilier Guards. The 23rd took it to apply to themselves and hurridly withdrew through the ranks of the Scots Fusilier Guards, knocking over several men in the process. The latter were also suffering their first casualties and during the confusion the Queen's Colour went down, its pole smashed and the silk shot through.

It had now been accepted by the Scots Fusilier Guards' senior officers that the command to retire applied to them, too, and the order was given. The retirement was rapid, untidy and pressed so hard by the Russians that several casualties were subsequently found to have been stabbed in the back. Captain Robert Lindsay, Sergeant John Knox and Private William Reynolds all led parties in desperate but successful attempts to extricate the Colours which had been some way ahead of the battalion's main body, and thereby provided a rallying point upon which the ranks eventually reformed.

Following the successful conclusion of the battle William Reynolds, Robert Lindsay and John Knox all received the award of the Victoria Cross, as was Sergeant James McKechnie who was seriously wounded whilst rescuing the regimental Colour.

For the award of the Victoria Cross.

[ London Gazette, 24 February 1857 ], River Alma, Crimea, 20 September 1854, Private William Reynolds, Scots ( Fusilier ) Guards.

When the formation of the line was disordered at Alma, for having behaved in a conspicuous manner, in rallying men around the Colours

William Reynolds was invested with his Victoria Cross by Queen Victoria in Hyde Park on 26 June 1857.

William Reynolds was a stonemason by trade and came from the Stockbridge district of Edinburgh. After leaving the Army he settled in London, obtaining a job as a bank messenger. Reynolds died on the 20th October 1869, aged 42, in the workhouse dispensary of the Strand Union, Central London. He was buried in a '2nd class grave' in Brookwood Cemetery, Surrey.

Medal entitlement of Private William Reynolds - Scots ( Fusilier ) Guards

  • Victoria Cross
  • Crimea Medal ( 1854-56 )
    • 4 clasps:
    • "Alma" - "Balaclava" - "Inkermann" - "Sebastopol"
  • Turkish Crimea Medal ( 1855-56 )


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Iain Stewart, 27 April 2007