15 February 2010

On Friday, 26th June 2009, a prestigious artefact was displayed at the Quarter Guard of the headquarters of the 2nd Battalion, Rajputana Rifles in New Delhi, India.

The item in question was the Victoria Cross awarded to Colonel John Augustus Wood of the Grenadier Company of the 20th Bombay Native Infantry, who was awarded his Cross for gallant action during the conflict in Persia in 1856.

Commanding Officer of 2 Rajputana Rifles, Colonel Akash Kaushik said "the Victoria Cross is an honour bestowed for any military officer and the regiment is proud to have received the medal. The medal holds a historical value and adds to the glory of the regiment. The Rajputana Rifles is the first army regiment to have won a Victoria Cross".

The 20th Bombay N.I. was also known as the 120th Rajputana Infantry and after Army reorganisation in 1921 became the 2nd Rajputana Rifles the senior regiment in the Indian Army.

Although serious efforts have been made to ascertain if the 2 Rajputana Rifles does hold the Victoria Cross awarded to Colonel John Wood, which was last seen when sold at a Sotheby's auction in 1910, no confirmation has been received.

Numerous emails and letters have been sent to several addresses in India with no response. The latest avenue to attempt to elicite a reply to queries over the existence of the Victoria Cross has been for the Indian High Commission in London to forward a letter to the 2 Rajputana Rifles in India asking for proof of existence of the VC. Any positive reply received by the Indian High Commission will be passed on to this website.

The cause of the Persian War was the breakdown of Anglo-Persian relations after the outbreak of the Crimean War and the consequent British anxiety over the Persian occupation of the Afghan city of Herat - 'The gate of India'. The increasingly close co-operation between Russia and Persia also re-raised fears of a possible Russian invasion of India.

A Force of 5,600 was assembled at Bombay and by 9th November 1856 had sailed for Bushire landing there on 7th December. After the capture of Reshire fort and the city of Bushire on the 9th & 10th December 1856 the force consolidated its base but reports of large increases in the Persian opposition caused reinforcements to be requested from India. A peace treaty was agreed in Paris on 4th March 1857 but news of this did not reach Persia until 4th April. The war secured Herat from further Persian agression and gave campaign experience to a number of units and senior officers shortly to be heavily involved in the Indian Mutiny.

For the award of the Victoria Cross:

[ London Gazette, 3 August 1860 ], Bushire, Persia, 9 December 1856, Captain John Augustus Wood, 20th Bombay Native Infantry ( 2 Rajputana Rifles ).

On the 9th December 1856, Captain Wood led the Grenadier Company, which formed the head of the assaulting column sent against Bushire.

He was the first man on the parapet of the fort, where he was instantly attacked by a large number of the garrison, who suddenly sprang on him from a trench cut in the parapet itself. These men fired a volley at Captain Wood and the head of the storming party, when only a yard or two distant from that Officer; but although Captain Wood was struck by no less than seven musket balls, he at once threw himself upon the enemy, passed his sword through the body of their leader, and, being closely followed by the men of his company, speedily overcame all opposition, and established himself in the place.

Captain Wood’s decision, energy, and determined valour, undoubtedly contributed in a high degree to the success of the attack. His wounds compelled him to leave the force for a time; but, with the true spirit of a good soldier, he rejoined his regiment, and returned to his duty at Bushire before the wounds were properly healed.

Owing to an error in General Outram's despatch the London Gazette citation quotes 'Bushire' when in fact the action took place at 'Reshire' five miles away.

John Wood was invested with his Victoria Cross in Dacca, India, in January 1861.

Captain Wood's wounds, although not life-threatening, were nevertheless painful and debilitating, which compelled him to leave the expedition for a short period and sail to Bombay to recuperate. He returned to Bushire in February 1857 and spent eight uncomfortable months in the city with his regiment. John Wood finally left Bushire on 28th September embarking on the 'Melbourne' and landing at Bombay on 20th October 1857.

John Wood left the Indian Army as a Brevet Colonel on 12th February 1870 and died on 23rd January 1878 at Poona from "concussion of the brain". He was buried in St Mary's Churchyard, Poona, with a headstone.

Although no positive confirmation of the medal entitlement of Colonel John Wood has been made, it is thought to include:

  • Victoria Cross
  • India General Service Medal ( 1854-95 )
    • 1 clasp: "Persia"


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Iain Stewart, 15 February 2010