Taken from: Jackets of Green by Sir Arthur Bryant.



We Riflemen obey orders and do not start difficulties.
GEN. SIR HARRY SMITH

In the four decades which followed the Crimea and Mutiny, Great Britain engaged in no major war. Nor was she in any European one for nearly half a century—a longer peace even than that which divided Waterloo from the Alma. Yet during this period the Rifle Brigade was serving—and, at times, fighting— all over the world. In 1861 the 1st Battalion, after a short spell in Ireland, was sent post-haste to Canada to defend that country against a possible invasion from the U.S.A., one of whose warships had forcibly taken off a British packet-boat in mid-Atlantic two diplomats from its seceding Southern States.

No invasion took place, but during the American Civil War repeated efforts were made by Federal agents to induce British soldiers in Canada to desert and enlist in the North's armies. As a private soldier's pay, after deduction for supplementary food, washing, soap and cleaning materials, was only about 6d a da y, it was not surprising that some succumbed to such bribery. The only Regiment which never lost a man to it was the Rifle Brigade.

While the 1st Battalion was quartered at Quebec a Rifleman named Timothy O'Hea won the V.C. by boarding a run-away railway-van loaded with ammunition and extinguishing a fire which threatened to blow up the entire neighbourhood. Another, William Berry, was recommended for the same decoration for rescuing a child under circumstances of extreme gallantry in the great Quebec fire of 1866.

The Rifle Brigade at this time enjoyed immense social prestige. On the death of its Colonel-in-Chief, Prince Albert, the Queen had conferred on it the title of the Prince Consort's Own. When, in 1868, its Colonelcy-in-Chief again became vacant, it was given to the Prince of Wales. A year later, the Sovereign's soldier son, the 19-year-old Prince Arthur and future Duke of Connaught, joined the 1st Battalion at Montreal, seeing service with it during the 1870 Fenian raid. Its Commanding Officer was Lord Alexander Russell, a son of the Duke of Bedford and brother to the then Prime Minister. He had a lordly way of dealing with administrative superiors, writing to them on blotting-paper until they complied with his request for a free issue of official stationery.

A writer in the Rifle Brigade Chronicle has reconstructed the scene when this tremendous swell and his fellow officers arrived at Hamilton in February 1861—" the Dundreary whiskers and the smart Astrakhan roll collars of the officers' greatcoats, . . . the pouter pigeon chests set off by the black cross belts on which gleamed the large silver badge of the Rifles. The sartorial splendour of the unit was matched by its great fighting record. Emblazoned on the drums was the long roll of Peninsula battle-honours, each name displayed on a scroll.

The honour, Waterloo, had pride of place; ... Alma, Inkerman and Sebastopol proclaimed desperate actions in the late war with Russia. A high proportion of soldiers in the ranks wore the medal for the Crimea. Here and there a white and red ribbon marked a man who had marched to the relief of Luck-now. It was a veteran battalion.

So tough was it that when it landed at St. John's, New Brunswick, in January, 1862, this crack English Regiment travelled 300 miles by sleigh in the depth of the Canadian winter, its men clad in greatcoats, fur caps and moccasins, with blankets as ponchos with holes cut for their heads. Except for one or two cases of frost-bite, they did not lose a man.

For all the harsh life of the rank and file immense and the divisions of class of the time, the distinguishing feature of the Regiment was the spirit of respect and comradeship between officers and men. A gentleman ranker, known in the 1st Battalion as "Long" Thompson, who enlisted at Quebec in 1866 after being set on by a crowd of Irish Fenians in New York, recalled that he had never met anywhere officers or men to equal in good fellowship those of the Battalion. In his book, Life is a Jest: the Testimony of a Wanderer, he wrote: "All my life I have pondered over the remarkable feature of the Rifle Brigade. The Battalion being on foreign service, there were about thirty officers with whom we were brought in contact and, with only two exceptions, they were regarded by us as being honourable, considerate, soldierly gentlemen. Many possessed the real affection—there is no other name for it—of the men of their respective companies.

One of them, who had been given the barrack-room sobriquet, `Played-Out', was especially idolized by us all; we would not have followed him into a hail of bullets, we would have got in front to shelter him—at least, that's how we youngsters felt about it. There seemed to be a feeling in the ranks that the officers, too, looked on us more or less as comrades-in arms . . . In the Standing Orders of the Battalion the following was one of the items: `The salute is a mark of goodwill and respect between two members of the same honourable profession; it shall be offered first by the junior in rank and returned by the senior'."

When, after two years' service, Prince Arthur was temporarily posted away from the Regiment, he told the Orderly Room Sergeant —a friend of Thomson's—to let him know if he ever needed help. Some years later, when serving in India where the climate did not agree with him, this man, writing to the Duke of Connaught—as he then was—received by return a posting to the regimental depot at Winchester, where he was allowed to complete his twenty-one years' service and retire on a pension with a civil appointment in the Isle of Wight. Is it any wonder, Thomson asked, “that we `Boys of the old Brigade' held our officers in such high esteem?"

R.D.C writes that throughout his time with The Rifle Brigade and The Royal Green Jackets the statement earlier in the above article “the distinguishing feature of the Regiment was the spirit of respect and comradeship between officers and men.” is something that has always been there.

Citation taken from: FOCUS ON COURAGE, The 59 Victoria Crosses of The Royal Green Jackets by Lieutenant- General Sir Christopher Wallace and Major Ron Cassidy.

RIFLEMAN T O'HEA VC
THE RIFLE BRIGADE - 1866 CANADA
Date of Act of Gallantry: 9 June 1866 Place: Danville Station, Canada

Citation: "On June 9th 1866, a railway van containing 2,000 pounds of ammunition on its way from Quebec to Kingston (Canada) under charge of a Sergeant and a guard of the Battalion, was discovered to be on fire on reaching Danville Station. It had been ignited by a spark from the engine. The van was immediately shoved down the line away from the station and the alarm given. Private Timothy O'Hea of this guard ran down to the van, removed the covering from the ammunition, discovered the source of the fire, ran for water, and extinguished it. A braver or more daring act it is impossible to imagine." (London Gazette, 1 January 1867)