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The rescue of Captain Palmer and Lieutenant Robert Thurston Greaves

Robert Thurston Greaves
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2 JUN 1870 Derker Hall, Oldham
Hilton Greaves
M Hall
17 AUG 1897 Landikai, North West Frontier India aged 27
Robert Thurston Greaves was a Lieutenant in the Lancashire Fusiliers.

He passed out from the Royal Military College in 1890 and was at home from 15th May 1891 to 25th Feb 1894, and was abroad in the East Indies from 26th Feb 1894 to 11th Aug 1895. He was back at home from 12th August 1895 to 10th August 1896 and then back in the East Indies from 16th May 1896.

He then served as a war correspondent for the Times of India, and was killed whilst charging the Ghazis with one other man near the Afghan border during the Malakand campaign in August 1897.

Below letter kindly sent to me by Gordon Briggs:

Malakand Field Force
Sept 1st

Dear Badcock,

Many thanks for your letter and congratulations. I will tell you all I know about poor Greaves, whose death we were all most sorry for.

His horse did not run away. The accounts in the papers have been rather slurred over, I think, by the correspondents, as of course the fact was that Greaves and Palmer had no business to charge the hill alone - a hill covered with hundreds of Ghazis, but an enquiry has since been held by the General in which it seems that Palmer only wanted to cut down a Standard bearer at the foot of the hill and get back to the tope of trees to which the cavalry were making their way. This was a most rash performance but an extremely plucky one - and as for Greaves, as correspondent, he had no business to go for the enemy at all, but no one can blame him. The first time on service, he naturally went for them.

The Cavalry were nearly 1/4 mile behind, making for a tope of trees which they eventually reached and held. Colonel Adams and I were about 30 yards behind Greaves and Palmer and we of course were making for the tope, but on seeing the two sheering off to the right, heading for the enemy's position, Adams shouted all he knew, but with the noise of the firing they couldn't hear. Palmer was the first to have his horse killed, some 20 yards from the foot of the hill. He was at once attacked by one or two Ghazis, and the Ghazis nearest him on the hill began swarming down to cut him up. But meanwhile poor Greaves had fallen some 20 yards to his left, right among the Ghazis.

He was shot in the shoulder first and fell off, and was immediately hacked by their swords. He held his arms up to protect himself and had one hand nearly cut off. Adams and I went in to help him and one sowar who followed us went to Palmer, and the latter got back, wounded, to the tope. My horse fell just before I reached Greaves, and when I ran up Adams had already arrived and dismounted. The Ghazis stood round firing at us, but strangely enough did not close at once with us. Adams mounted at once and I lifted Greaves up, but could not get him into the saddle. He was then almost dead, I think, and anyhow was shot in my arms through the stomach about then.

The sowar who helped Palmer out next came out with another to us just as the beggars nearest us were going to reach us - but on the two sowars arriving, they retreated a few yards up the hill again, but the whole lot, from both sides of us, kept up a hot fire, and the sowars had their horses killed, and Adams was wounded.

We dragged Greaves then a little way back - until Maclean arrived with three more sowars and helped us to lift Greaves on to his (Maclean's) horse. Maclean was shot immediately while doing this, and just got back on foot to the tope, and died.

It was an unlucky business, but an uncommonly plucky one on the part of Palmer and Greaves and, although the latter, as correspondent had really no business to go trying to cut down Ghazis on his own account, no one who is a soldier will have anything but the warmest admiration for him.

It was a sight worth seeing, to see those two fellows galloping straight towards the enemy's position with about 3 or 400 rifles directed at them at close quarters.

Please excuse a long account, I have written what I saw of it and I honestly don't think that his horse ran away. He was a plucky fellow, and after all he died in the best way. We are all very sorry for him, but, in action, these things are bound to happen.

Yours sincerely

(Copy of letter written by Viscount Fincastle describing Bob Greaves' death).

For this incident Adams and Fincastle received the VC and Jemadar Bahadur Singh and 4 men of the Guides Cavalry received the Indian Order of Merit. Lieutenant Maclean was awarded a posthumous VC. British casualties in the day were the 2 British officers killed and 2 officers and 7 men wounded. The losses of the tribesmen were estimated at in excess of 300.

Winston Churchill's account in his first book 'The Story of the Malakand Field Force':

An incident now ensued, which, though it afforded an opportunity for a splendid act of courage, yet involved an unnecessary loss of life, and must be called disastrous. As the cavalry got clear of the broken ground, the leading horsemen saw the tribesmen swiftly running towards the hills, about a mile distant. Carried away by the excitement of the pursuit, and despising the enemy for their slight resistance, they dashed impetuously forward in the hope of catching them before they could reach the hills.

Lieutenant-Colonel Adams, on entering the plain, saw at once that if he could seize a small clump of trees near a cemetery, he would be able to bring effective dismounted fire to bear on the retreating tribesmen. He therefore collected as many men as possible, and with Lieutenant Maclean, and Lord Fincastle, the Times correspondent, rode in the direction of these points. Meanwhile Captain Palmer, who commanded the leading squadron, and Lieutenant Greaves of the Lancashire Fusiliers, who was acting war correspondent of the Times of India, galloped across the rice fields after the enemy. The squadron, unable to keep up, straggled out in a long string, in the swampy ground.

At the foot of the hills the ground was firmer, and reaching this, the two officers recklessly dashed in among the enemy. It is the spirit that loses the Empire many lives, but has gained it many battles. But the tribesmen, who had been outmanoeuvred rather than outfought, turned savagely on their pursuers. The whole scene was witnessed by the troops on the ridge. Captain Palmer cut down a standard-bearer. Another man attacked him. Raising his arm for a fresh stroke, his wrist was smashed by a bullet. Another killed his horse. Lieutenant Greaves, shot through the body, fell at the same moment to the ground. The enemy closed around and began hacking him, as he lay, with their swords. Captain Palmer tried to draw his revolver. At this moment two sowars got clear of the swampy rice fields, and at once galloped, shouting, to the rescue, cutting and slashing at the tribesmen. All would have been cut to pieces or shot down. The hillside was covered with the enemy. The wounded officers lay at the foot. They were surrounded. Seeing this Lieutenant-Colonel Adams and Lord Fincastle, with Lieutenant Maclean and two or three sowars, dashed to their assistance. At their charge the tribesmen fell back a little way and opened a heavy fire. Lord Fincastle's horse was immediately shot and he fell to the ground. Rising, he endeavoured to lift the wounded Greaves on to Colonel Adams' saddle, but at this instant a second bullet struck that unfortunate officer, killing him instantly. Colonel Adams was slightly, and Lieutenant Maclean mortally, wounded while giving assistance, and all the horses but two were shot. In spite of the terrible fire, the body of Lieutenant Greaves and the other two wounded officers were rescued and carried to the little clump of trees.

For this gallant feat of arms both the surviving officers, Colonel Adams and Lord Fincastle, were recommended for, and have since received, the Victoria Cross. It was also officially announced, that Lieutenant Maclean would have received it, had he not been killed. There are many, especially on the frontier, where he was known as a fine soldier and a good sportsman, who think that the accident of death should not have been allowed to interfere with the reward of valour.

The extremes of fortune, which befell Lord Fincastle and Lieutenant Greaves, may well claim a moment's consideration. Neither officer was employed officially with the force. Both had travelled up at their own expense, evading and overcoming all obstacles in an endeavour to see something of war. Knights of the sword and pen, they had nothing to offer but their lives, no troops to lead, no duties to perform, no watchful commanding officer to report their conduct. They played for high stakes, and Fortune never so capricious as on the field of battle, dealt to the one the greatest honour that a soldier can hope for, as some think, the greatest in the gift of the Crown, and to the other Death.

Message which led to VC for Viscount Fincastle:
During the fighting at Nawa Bali, in Upper Swat, on the 17th August, 1897, Lieutenant-Colonel R. B. Adams proceeded with Lieutenants H. L. S. MacLean and Viscount Fincastle, and five men of the Guides, under a very heavy and close fire, to the rescue of Lieutenant R. T. Greaves, Lancashire Fusiliers, who was lying disabled by a bullet wound and surrounded by the enemy's swordsmen. In bringing him under cover he (Lieutenant Greaves) was struck by a bullet and killed — Lieutenant MacLean was mortally wounded — whilst the horses of Lieutenant-Colonel Adams and Lieutenant Viscount Fincastle were shot, as well as two troop horses.[7]

Murray received the Victoria Cross for his actions, becoming the only journalist to be so honoured


Malakand rising:

Winston Churchill, Malakand Field Force:

Memorial at Bury Parish Church:

Memorial at Malakand Cemetery:

'Sacred to the memory of Robert Thurston Greaves Lieutenant the Lancashire Fusiliers, killed in action at Landakai August 18th 1897, aged 27 years, erected by his brother officers.' (This is the same inscription as at Bury Parish Church).

Satelite map:'23.9%22N+69%C2%B028'17.0%22E/@32.7184399,69.4308826,40919m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m5!3m4!1s0x0:0x227fff163bc3a9a4!8m2!3d32.7733!4d69.4714

Service record, National Archives: WO-76-148

Viscount Fincastle Wikipedia entry:,_8th_Earl_of_Dunmore

VC Citation in London Gazette:

Message via Ancestry in Feb 2022 from Gordon Briggs.
Baptism at Werneth

1871 location showing father Hilton and address

1871 census living in Oldham

1881 census

Service Record, National Archives WO-76-148

Memorial Plaque at Bury Parish Church

Database: stanwardine   Bridge Family Tree
Contact: William Bridge