In 1878 the Afghan war broke out, and the 4th Battalion was at the capture of Ali Masjid and, four years later in the Waziri Expedition.
In 1885 the 1st Battalion served in the war in Burma, as did the 4th Battalion in 1888. In 1897 the 3rd Battalion served in the Tochi Valley Expedition. In addition to these services of battalions, the Regiment sent several detachments of picked men formed into "Rifle Companies" to various expeditions. Thus, in 1884-85 the 2nd and 3rd Battalions sent a rifle company on the Nile Expedition in the attempt to save Gordon, which crossed the Bayuda Desert and fought at Abu Klea. In 1896 the 2nd and 4th Battalions sent a similar company on the Mashonaland Expedition
The Ashantee Expedition of 1895-6.
Extracts from an article by Captain Arthur Hood, The Rifle Brigade Chronicle 1895.
In the autumn of 1895, Prempeh, King of the Ashantees, had become a thorn in the side of the Governor of Cape Coast Castle, and, as he refused to do what our Government required of him, it was decided to send a small expedition to Coomassie, to bring him to his senses, establish a British Resident at Coomassie, and endeavour to stop, once and for all, their practice of human sacrifices and fanatical fetishism, and, if possible, open up the country to British trade and mining enterprise.
Accordingly, a small mixed force was organised under Sir Francis Scott, head of the West Coast Police, consisting of 400 of the 2nd Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment, on their way home from Aden; 250 men of a Special Service Corps; 800 Houssas, and a small gun and rocket detachment under R.A. officers; also a considerable force of friendly natives under British officers, with a body of scouts, under Captain Baden- Powell, of the 13th Hussars.
The Special Service Corps was formed at Aldershot, on November 27th, under the command of Lent-Col. Hon. Stopford, late Grenadier Guards, Major Hamilton Yorkshire Regiment, being the Adjutant. The Regiment consisted of ten sections, of twenty-five men each of the following Regiments, with their respective officers, two sections forming one company:
R.D.C. notes the Green Jacket Company’s were commanded by,
60th Rifles, Capt. Kays
Rifle Brigade, Capt. Hood
The men were all picked; the qualifications being that they were at least twenty-four years of age and over four years' service, good shots, and could pass a pretty stiff medical examination. They were armed, like all the rest of the regular troops which took part in the expedition, with the Martini carbine and Elcho sword bayonet. After a week to shake together at Aldershot, we went by train to the Albert Docks on December 7th, and embarked on board the P and O Coromandel, which was going out as an hospital ship.
Arrived at Sierra Leone on 19th December; it looked lovely in the early morning, with the woods running right down to the shore, and the mists rising slowly with the sun up the hill sides. It is c ertainly a beautiful place to look upon from a ship, but a desperately dull and sickly place to live in. All the white people who came to see us looked a very unhealthy colour.
Next morning we landed for a route march at 4 a.m. The men were glad to stretch their legs. The Governor gave a garden party in the afternoon. Left for Cape Coast on Saturday, the 21st and very glad to get away, as the enervating climate was beginning to tell on all of us. The doctors—we had a good many of them on board —now began to tell us of the many horrors and dangers of the climate we were going to, and they fairly made one's hair stand on end. After several lectures, I came to the conclusion that we must on no account wash, except in water that had been boiled and filtered, for fear of chawchaws and grunia worms; never walk about without shoes on for fear of jiggers, which burrow under the toe nails and lay their eggs there; never drink water for fear of dysentery, or eat fruit for same cause; never drink spirits for fear of heat apoplexy and other ailments ; only eat meat once a day; never go out in the sun for fear of sunstroke; and put on everything you could lay your hands on at night for fear of getting a chill.
As a matter of fact, by taking quinine each day, being careful about getting a good rub down at the end of a march, and only drinking boiled water, we found that one could stand the climate pretty well for the short time we were there.
Arrived at Cape Coast Castle on Christmas Day. Three surf boats took each company ashore; these boats were each manned by about twelve fine Fanti boatmen, who used a three-pronged paddle, kept excellent time, and sang a sort of wild chant all the way.
As each company landed, it drew 70 rounds per man and an emergency ration, and marched off to Jaykuma-a 7 miles very hot and trying march; dense scrub on each side of the road and no shade, the road good. A very powerful smell of the worst description permeated everything.
The water at the camp was very dark in colour and smelt horribly, as the filters would not act. That night a Sergeant of the Scots Guards, who, poor fellow, had had an attack of heat apoplexy, died. We left early next morning for Akroful, 6 miles, Dunkwa, 7 miles; the following day, Mansu, 15 miles, Suta, 10 miles, Assin Yankumassi,12 miles, and Prahsu, 15 miles, where we arrived on January 3rd..
One camp was much like another and one march very much like another, so I will just describe one complete day, which will give you a pretty accurate idea of the rest. January 31st.—Reveille at 12.45 p.m., cocoa at 1.15 a. m., paraded at 1.45, and marched off at 2 a.m. A good moon, which enabled us to see our way more or less, but it was impossible to see the roots and rocks which one kept stumbling over. After marching about four hours, we halted and had some tea and biscuits, and half an hour's rest, during which our carriers (about 600 in number) passed through.
They are splendid fellows at carrying—the Fantis; men and women stride along at 4 miles an hour with from 30 to 60 lbs. on their heads, and the ladies often have a little baby carried in a fold of their only garment riding on their back. So long as there was no chance of an Ashantee they are real good carriers, but when we crossed the Prah and got near Coomassie they were one and all in a blue funk the whole time; the men have not got a spark of pluck, and one white man could clear a whole village of them.
Another hour's march and we arrived at our camp. The sun generally rose about six, a.m., and for an hour before sunrise and two hours after, there were dense mists; the air was close, about 82 to 84 degrees of heat; a strong smell of decayed vegetation prevailed everywhere, and all the time we were in the country. The road was fairly good, sometimes rocky and at others sandy, bordered on each side with dense scrub, a few flowers with red spikes here and there, and in the damper spots, beautiful white lilies.
Above the lower scrub (which was so thick it was impossible to see ten yards through it) rose palms-- cocoa- nut palms—and small trees, and above them again rose giant cotton trees, a sort of maple, mahogany, bamboo, and many other kinds of gigantic trees, all more or less covered with creepers, and on their highest branches one could see a great number of orchids.
There was very little bird or animal life to be seen or heard; a sort of small blackbird with a very pretty note, a crow with red wings, and a bird whose note sounded like a stone thrown on a frozen lake, called the hour-bird, and a few jungle fowl, were all I saw or heard.We heard one or two baboons, and the native carriers caught two monkeys, and a very small gazelle, which died unfortunately. Lizards with splendid red and orange heads abounded in the villages, also rats, and any amount of crickets of sorts, whose continual chirruping became very monotonous.There were any number of beautiful butterflies of every kind, size and colour, and also any quantity of ants large and small—in fact, everything was alive with them.
Besides these, there was an irritating animal something like a squirrel, that ran up to the top of the trees, and proceeded to give vent to most heartrending squeals; they began with a short squeak, and gradually after about 24 to 28 efforts, got up to their high note, which was a very ear-piercing one. On getting into camp, the men all stripped and had a good rub down, and changed their shirts, &c. Then we went into the huts—which for the first ten marches were provided for us—and had breakfast, a sleep, and dinner. At 3.30, when the sun had lost some of his power, everyone turned out to wash their clothes, and if possible, bathe.
The huts were made of split bamboos, with steep palm-leaf roofs, and bed places made of bamboos raised about three feet above the ground—and those bamboo beds just about do make one stiff in the morning, there is no give in them. Rum and quinine were served out in the evening. The sun was very powerful after nine o'clock, which accounted for our early starts. Arrived at Prahsu on January 3rd; Sir F. Scott looked at us. The Rifle Company was all present, the rest of the Corps had 15 sick, and the West Yorks about 50, we heard. We rested here one day, and were glad of it, as it is trying work marching in the hot damp climate after three weeks on board ship.
Left Prahsu January 5th for Esiamam Kuma, 11 miles. Then to Fumsu, 7 miles; halted one day, then 15 miles to Brafu Edru at foot of Adansi hills. Halted one day.
Then a steep pull of 5 miles to Kwisa, then 10 miles to Essian Quanta, where King Bekwai came in to swear allegiance; halted one day, and heard many rumours of large bodies of Ashantis in front. Marched to Amoaful next day, 8 miles; Esumeja, 8 miles; then to the Adra river, 12 miles, where we hoped to have a fight for certain, but alas they wouldn't come up to the scratch.
Halted one day, and marched into Coomassie, about 10 miles, where we found Prempeh and all his chiefs drawn up waiting for us, each under his State umbrella, surrounded by their various officers, carrying gold- hilted swords, &c., &c. Prempeh had on a beautiful crown and some capital gold ornaments, which we all longed to go for.
Shortly after our arrival we were met with the very sad news of the death of Prince Henry of Battenburg. He came out on the Coromandel with us, and we all liked him very much indeed; he was so keen about everything, and took the greatest interest in all our pursuits, and also in the comfort of the men. He walked out from Prahsu to meet us on our arrival there, and the next time we saw him was at Kwisa. camp, where he was taken with the fever; but we had heard that he was much better on arrival at the coast, so that it was a great shock to hear of the fatal termination of his illness.
On Monday, January 20th, the Governor having arrived, Prempeh and his principal chiefs were summoned to attend a sort of Durbar, at which the terms of our treaty were explained to him, and as he declined to pay up the sum of money demanded, he and his mother and brother and two war chiefs and four other kings were taken as hostages till the sum should be paid. Some people may think this rather a high-handed proceeding, and not quite playing the game fair with him, and I was of that opinion until I had been round Coomassie and the neighbourhood, and heard from the Ashantees of the customs of Prempeh; after that we were all agreed that the only thing to do was to break down his rule altogether.
I will try and give a short account of Coomassie and its customs. The town covers a great deal of ground, it is divided into four large villages; the part nearest the road to the Prah was the "West End," in which most of the Chiefs' houses and the Palace are situated. In the Palace grounds there is a small grove in which almost daily human sacrifices were held. At the top of this part of the town is the great Fetish Tree and sacred grove; this is where the large wholesale human sacrifices were held. The grove was paved with human skulls and remains.
No man's life was safe; but as a rule the slaves were the sufferers, as many as four hundred being tortured to death at a time. The modus operandi was for the executioner to come behind the intended victim and thrust a skewer through his cheeks and tongue to prevent him crying out, then slash him with knives so that he should die about sunset, or if it was a very great occasion, they were dragged to a large bowl and their heads were cut off into it, their blood being allowed to cover the king's stool and four other stools which stood round; part of the intestines were then drawn out and smeared over the stools. I saw three of these stools bathed in blood, and the seat covered with the entrails, so that the story must be true. (See picture below)
About a mile and a half off are the tombs of the deceased kings; these the reigning King used to visit once a quarter, and on these occasions 20 heads were cut off into a huge bronze bowl, which we saw, and I think Baden Powell has brought home. This bowl stood under a big tree, under which were some stones, and any stranger or person who sat down and rested on those stones was immediately seized by the Fetishmen, and either slaughtered on the spot, or reserved for the King's next state visit.
It was reported, but not proved, that four people were sacrificed privately the day we arrived, and one each night of our stay, but whether this is true or not I cannot tell for certain. I think it is a pity we did not bring away the head Fetishman.
They had two rather useful customs; one was if any one was detected in telling a lie, his or her mouth was slit; and if a breach of the Seventh Commandment were proved, both parties were executed. If these customs were introduced into England, I fancy there would be a good many large mouths, and perhaps the population would decrease for a time.
Directly our native allies and carriers heard that Prempeh was made prisoner, they started looting and burning the town and beating any Ashantees they could find; it was a disgraceful scene, as we had told the people they were British subjects that morning; they had not fired a shot against us, and it must have given them a poor idea of the English for a start.
There is no doubt that the country is very rich in gold; there is a fine reef running right across the town, and the whole place is pitted with old gold pits. If it were not for the climate, it would become a second West Australia or South Africa. Every native had gold dust on him, and one man told me that they had hidden nearly all they had before our arrival, but that it was very easy to obtain in any of the streams, and also in many parts of the soil; they had never worked the reefs, nor even the alluvial mining in any but the roughest way.
It was a very great disappointment to the men, having no fighting; they had stuck it real well all through, and were all present at the critical time—i.e., when we crossed the Adra River. Only two men of my lot were sick on the way up, and they rejoined by forced march. Coming home, we were all present till the last two marches, when one man had to go sick, but he was all right when we left. The 60th detachment were just about the same—they were all present at Coomassie and had a couple of sick coming down, so that Kays and myself were very pleased with our little lot.
We left Coomassie on January 22nd, and arrived at Cape Coast Castle on February 6th without adventure. The climate was beginning to tell on all of us. There were about twenty-five sick in the Special Service Corps, but only two or three were bad cases. Owing to the number of sick—200 on board the Coromandel—there was no room for three of our Companies, so Major Barter's, Sitwell's, Marshall's, Reed's, Kays' and my section came home on board the Manila with the remainder of the West Yorkshire, who, owing to having been in Burma and Aden, had suffered very greatly from the climate. Out of 400 men they had only 68 men fit for duty, not counting servants and orderlies. There was also a good deal of sickness amongst the other troops who had come out. It is a bad climate, and not a particularly lively country to go to.
Yours ever, Arthur Hood
R.D.C. writes: The chairs and stools can be seen in the Royal Green Jackets (Rifles) Museum, Winchester.
1898. "Khartoum." In 1898 the 2nd Battalion served in the second Nile Expedition and took part in the action of Khartoum.