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The bass drum of the 13th Light Infantry

The photograph accompanying this article shows the bass drum of the 13th Light Infantry (later to become the Somerset Light Infantry), as carried and played during four campaigns: namely the Afghan Campaign of 1839-1842,the Crimean War of 1855-1856, the Indian Mutiny of 1857-1858 and the South African Wars of 1878-1879

The flags or standards behind the drum are of Afghan origin. Two were taken at the Siege of Ghuznee, on 23 July, 1839 and the third and larger standard, at Jellalabad on 7 April, 1842. The three standards were presented to Her Majesty Queen Victoria, who required them to be retained at Chelsea Hospital. In 1890 they were returned to the Regiment and for many years were kept at the Depot in Taunton, Somerset. As for the drum itself, it was eventually retired and may still be seen on display at the Somerset Military Museum, at The Castle, Taunton

Afghanistan, 1839-1842

The Regiment, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel W.H. Dennie and under the leadership of Brigadier, later Major-General Sir Robert Sale, distinguished itself throughout the campaign. By and large, elements of the 1/13th Light Infantry were engaged in most of the actions against the Afghans. On 23rd July, 1839, the Regiment took part in the storming of Ghuznee and played a leading role in the capture of the fortress.

By the winter of 1839-40 the Regiment, together with its comrades-in-arms in Afghanistan and India, the 35th Native Infantry, were in Kabul and suffered through an unusually severe winter. Towards the end of 1840 the 1/13th Regiment as engaged in a variety of actions and skirmishes in and around Kabul. By the autumn of 1841 the country between Kabul and Jellalabad was in a state of insurrection and the 1/13th Regiment made up part of the force under Major-General Sir Robert Sale, who fought their way from Kabul to Jellalabad and became besieged there. The fate of the Kabul garrison is well documented. Jellalabad remained under siege until 7th April, 1842, when the defencers, comprising 1/13th Light Infantry and the 35th Native Infantry, supported by No.6 Light Field Battery, some cavalry and sappers and miners, sallied forth from the fortress and attacked Mohamed Khan's camp and put his army to flight. Regrettably Colonel Dennie was killed in action. The Regiment was also to lose Major-General Sir Robert Sale three years later, when he was severely wounded at the Battle of Moodkee, on 18th December, 1845 and died on 21st December, 1845.

On 26th August, 1842, the following announcement appeared in the 'London Gazette': “In consideration of the distinguished gallantry displayed by the 13th Light Infantry during the campaigns in the Burmese Empire and in Afghanistan, Her Majesty has been graciously pleased to the Regiment assuming the title of the 13th or Prince Albert's Regiment of Light Infantry and its facing changed from yellow to blue.”

Her Majesty has also been pleased to authorise the 13th Regiment of Light Infantry to bear on its Colours and appointments, a Mural Crown superimposed Jellalabad, as a memorial of the fortitude, perseverance and enterprise evinced by that Regiment and the several Corps which served during the blockade of Jellalabad.

The Crimea War, 1855-1856

The 1/13th Regiment, now under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Lord Mark Kerr, left Gibraltar on 7th June, 1855 and disembarked at Balaclava on 30th June, 1855, in time for the final stages of the Siege of Sebastopol, which was captured on 9th September, 1855. The Regiment returned to Gibraltar, arriving there on 7th June, 1856, exactly one year after departure for the Crimea.

The Indian Mutiny, 1857-1858

The 1/13th Light Infantry, still under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Lord Mark Kerr embarked in South Africa by two wings at the end of August, 1857 and the beginning of November, 1857, arriving in India at the beginning of October 1857 and mid-January, 1858, respectively. On 6th April, 1858, the right wing of the Regiment successfully raised the siege of the garrison at Azimghur in the Oude, whilst the left wing, under the command of Major J.W. Cox was detached and operated with the Sarun Field Force. Other than pacification operations in the Azimghur and Gorakhpore Districts of the Oude, the Regiment was not involved in any major event during the Mutiny and went on to serve in India, until return to England in early 1864.

South Africa, 1878-1879

The 1/13th Regiment first arrived in South Africa in January, 1875, and were again split into two wings, taking up garrison duties in Natal and Eastern Privince of Cape Colony. By early 1876, the Regiment had been reformed at Fort Napier, Pietermaritzburg, Natal, In May, 1877 it was ordered to Transvaal, in support of the annexation of the former Boer state. Between April and December 1878, the Regiment, now under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel P.E.V. Gilbert was engaged in the abortive Sekhukhune Campaign of 1878,in north-east Transvaal. By December, 1878 the Regiment had regrouped at Utrecht, Transvaal, to form part of No. 4 Column, under the command of Brevet Colonel Evelyn Wood VC, in readiness for the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879.

The Regiment was not involved in the disaster at Isandlwana on 22nd January, 1879, nor the successful defence at Rorke's Drift, on 22nd/23rd January, 1879. However, it fought with distinction at the Battle of Khambula on 29th March, 1879, when a large force of Zulus was defeated with heavy losses. The Regiment went on to form part of Brigadier-General Wood's Flying Column and was engaged in the final defeat of King Cetshwayo's Zulu warriors, at the Battle of Ulundi, on 4th July 1879.

The Regiment returned to England on 19th September, 1879 and commenced an extended stay in the United Kingdom and experienced the introduction of the Cardwell army reforms. Part of the reforms brought about the adoption of the territorial system for naming regiments, including the new title of the 1/13th Regiment of Prince Albert's Somersetshire Light Infantry, later to be reduced to The Somerset Light Infantry.

Conclusion

It was during the course of these many years of home duties, overseas service, campaigns and battles that the drum saw distinguished service and has now secured a safe resting place amongst the memorabilia of the Regimental history, with Somerset Military Museum, in Taunton.

I am particularly indebted to the Trustees of the Military Museum Trust for their kind permission to reproduce the photograph of the drum and standards and for all their assistance and help towards the development of this article.

I also wish to acknowledge reference to the following publications and historical documents, without which, my task in preparing this article would have been insurmountable:

'History of the Somerset Light Infantry (Prince Albert's), 1685-1914, by Major-General Sir Henry Everett, KCMG, CB, London 1934

'Regimental Records of Prince Albert's Somerset Light Infantry, by Arthur Close Borton, Kuldana, India, 1898

'The 13th Light Infantry Digest of Services, 1842-1914'

'British Battles and Medals' by E.C. Joslin, A.R. Litherland and B.T. Simpkin, London, 1988

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