10 November 2010

The Victoria Cross and campaign medals awarded to Surgeon Major Harry Whitchurch, Bengal Medical Service, have been acquired by the Michael Ashcroft Trust, the holding institution for Lord Ashcroft's VC Collection.

( select to enlarge )
Medal entitlement of Surgeon Major Harry Whitchurch,
Bengal Medical Service

  • Victoria Cross
  • India General Service Medal ( 1854-95 )
    • 1 clasp:
    • "Looshai 1889-90"
  • India Medal ( 1895-1902 )
    • 3 clasps:
    • "Defence of Chitral 1895"
    • "Punjab Frontier 1897-98" - "Malakand 1897"
  • China War Medal ( 1900 )
    • 1 clasp:
    • "Relief of Pekin"

Image courtesy of the Lord Ashcroft Collection / © IWM

The first British contact with the State of Chitral was in 1877, but serious negotiations did not start until 1885, when Colonel Lockhart established official relations with the Mehtar, Aman-ul-Mulk. An amicable relationship was maintained until August 1892 when the Mehtar died, plunging the state into a murderous succession battle between his eligible sons and brothers.

The elder brother, Nizam-ul-Mulk, became the eventual 'winner' in December 1892 and held the position with the help of a British deputation, consisting of Surgeon Major Robertson and an escort of fifty 14th Bengal Infantry ( Ferozepore Sikhs ), which arrived in January 1893 and remained until September, when it withdrew to Mastuj.

All remained quiet until the 1st January 1895 when Nizam-ul-Mulk was murdered by one of his half-brothers, Amir-ul-Mulk, whereupon the state fell into complete chaos. The ruler of the neighbouring Pathan state of Jandola, taking advantage of the situation and with the connivance of some leading Chitralis, invaded Chitral and demanded the withdrawal of the British, who had returned on the 31st January 1895 as a force of 400 led by Surgeon Major Robertson, now Political Agent at Gilgit.

After the ruler of Jandola's demands had been refused the British force occupied the Fort at Chitral, deposed Amir-ul-Mulk and appointed Shuja-ul-Mulk, aged ten, as the Mehtar.

For the award of the Victoria Cross

[ London Gazette, 16 July 1895 ], Chitral Fort, North West Frontier, India, 3 March 1895, Surgeon Captain Harry Frederick Whitchurch, Bengal Medical Service, Indian Army.

During the sortie from Chitral Fort of the 3rd March last, at the commencement of the siege, Surgeon-Captain Whitchurch went to the assistance of Captain Baird, 24th Bengal Infantry, who was mortally wounded, and brought him back to the fort under a heavy fire from the enemy.

Captain Baird was on the right of the firing line, and had only a small party of Gurkhas(*) and men of the 4th Kashmir Rifles. He was wounded on the heights at a distance of a mile and a half from the fort. When Surgeon-Captain Whitchurch proceeded to his rescue, the enemy, in great strength, had broken through the fighting line; darkness had set in and Captain Baird, Surgeon-Captain Whitchurch, and the sepoys were completely isolated from assistance.

Captain Baird was placed in a dooly by Surgeon-Captain Whitchurch, and the party then attempted to return to the fort. The Gurkhas bravely clung to the dooly until three were killed and a fourth was severely wounded. Surgeon-Captain Whitchurch then put Captain Baird upon his back and carried him some distance with heroic courage and resolution.

The little party kept diminishing in numbers, being fired at the whole way. On one or two occasions Surgeon-Captain Whitchurch was obliged to charge walls, from behind which the enemy kept up an incessant fire. At one place particularly the whole party was in imminent danger of being cut up, having been surrounded by the enemy. Surgeon-Captain Whitchurch gallantly rushed the position, and eventually succeeded in getting Captain Baird and the sepoys into the fort. Nearly all the party were wounded, Captain Baird receiving two additional wounds before reaching the fort.

(*) The reference to Gurkhas is confusing as there were no Gurkha regiments involved. Three companies of the 4th Kashmir Rifles were of Gurkha composition and it is to these to which the citation refers.

Harry Whitchurch was invested with his Victoria Cross by Queen Victoria at Osborne House, Isle of Wight, on the 27th July 1895.

Harry Whitchurch died on the 16th August 1907 at Dharmsala, Punjab, from enteric fever, aged 40. He was buried in St John in the Wilderness Churchyard, Dharmsala, India, a day later and there is a headstone.


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Iain Stewart, 10 November 2010