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Lest We Forget
British Legion
The Royal British Legion



Roberts, Frederick Sleigh, 1st Earl Roberts of Kandahar, Pretoria, and Waterford

British soldier, second son of General Sir Abraham Roberts, G.C.B., was born at Cawnpore, India, on the 30th September 1832. Educated at Eton, Sandhurst and Addiscombe, he obtained a commission in the Bengal Artillery on 12th December 1851. In the following year he was posted to a field battery at Peshawar, where he also acted as aide-decamp to his father, who commanded the Peshawar division. In 1856 Roberts was appointed to the quartermaster-generals department of the staff, in which he remained for twenty-two years, passing from one grade to another until he became quartermaster-general in India. On the outbreak of the Mutiny in 1857, Roberts, at first, was staff officer to the movable column operating against the mutineerS in the Punjab, successively commanded by Colonels Neville Chamberlain and John Nicholson, but, towards the end of June, he joined the Delhi Field Force, and was deputy assistant quartermastergeneral with the artillery during the operations against Delhi. He was wounded in the fight of the 14th July, but was sufficiently recovered in September to take command as a Regimental officer of the left half of No. 2 Siege Battery during the siege. He rejoined the headquarters staff for the assault, and took part in the storm and subsequent seven days fighting in the city. He then. accompanied Colonel Greatheds column to Cawnpore, and during September and October was present at the actions of Bulandshahr, Aligarh, Agra, Bithur and Kanauj. He served under Sir Cohn Campbell at the second relief of Lucknow in November, at the battle of Cawnpore on the 6th December, and the subsequent pursuit and defeat of the Gwalior contingent near Shinrajpur. Roberts distinguished himself at the engagement of Khudaganj, on the 2nd January 1858, by capturing, in single-handed combat, a standard from two sepoys, and also by cutting down a sepoy about to kill a sowar. For these acts of gallantry he was recommended for the Victoria Cross. He was present at the reoccupation. of Fatehgarh on the 6th January, the storm of Mianganj in February, the siege and capture of Lucknow in March, and the action at Kursi on the 22nd of that month, after which he went home on sick leave. For his services in the Mutiny he was seven times mentioned in despatches, received the medal with three clasps, the Victoria Cross, and on his promotion to captain, in October 186o, a brevet majority. On the 17th of May 1859 he married, at Waterford, Miss Nora Bews, and on his return to India was entrusted with the organization of the viceroys camps during the progresses through Oudh, the North-West Provinces, the Punjab and Central India in 1860 and 1861. In December 1863 he took part, under Major-General Garvock, in the Umbeyla campaign among the mountains to the north of Peshawar, and was present at the storm of Lalu, the capture of Umbeyla, and the destruction of Mulka, receiving for his services the medal and clasp.

In 1867 Roberts was appointed assistant quartermaster general to Sir Donald Stewarts Bengal Brigade for Abyssinia. He showed judgment in embarking each unit complete in every detail, instead of despatching camp equipage in one ship, transport in another, and so on, as was customary. He arrived at Zula, Annesley Bay, in the Red Sea, the base of the expedition, on the 3rd February 1868, and remained there as senior base staff officer during the four months campaign. At its close he superintended the re-embarkation. of the whole army. His duties were so well performed that Sir Robert Napier sent him home with his final despatches. He was three times mentioned, and received a brevet lieutenant-colonelcy and the war medal. He returned to India the following year as first assistant quartermaster-general. In the autumn of 1871 he made the arrangements for the expedition into Lushai, between south-east Bengal and Burma, fitted out two columns under Brigadiers-General Bourchier and Brownlow, and himself accompanied the first. A road, over 100 metres long, was cut through dense gloomy forests in stifling heat, and the column was attacked by cholera; but the object of the expedition was successfully accomplished, and Roberts, who was present at the capture of the Kholel villages and the action in the Northlang range, and commanded the troops at the burning of Taikum, was mentioned in despatches and made a Companion of the Bath. On his return in March 1872, he became deputy quartermaster-general in Bengal, and in 1875 quartermaster general and colonel. He settled the details of the great camp of exercise at Delhi on the occasion of the visit of the prince of Wales in January 1876, and attended H.R.H. at the manoeuvres. He also superintended the arrangements for the great durbar at Delhi on the 1st January 1877, when Queen Victoria was proclaimed empress of India.

In 1878 Roberts was appointed to the command of the Frontier Field Force at Abbottabad, in Hazara; but in the autumn, on the repulse of the Chamberlain Mission by the Afghans, and the formation of three columns to advance into Afghanistan by the Khyher, the Bolan and the Kurram passes, he was given the command of the Kurram Field Force, with the rank of major-general. Concentrating his column at Thai, he advanced to Kurram towards the end of November, and having formed an advanced, base there, moved on to Habib Lila. Under cover of preparations for a front attack on the Peiwar Kotal, he reconnoitred that formidable position, and on the night of the 1st December moved part of his force to attack the Spingawi Kotal, in order to turn the Afghan left flank, leaving the remainder of the force tofeign a front attack on the Peiwar, and to guard the camp. After a very difficult night march the Spingawi Kotal was carried at daybreak on the 2nd, and, later, the Afghans on the Peiwar Kotal, threatened in rear, abandoned the position. The next morning Roberts occupied the Peiwar, and on the 6th advanced to Au Khel. He reconnoitred the Shutargardan and the Sapari passes, and made a strong reconnaissance through Khost, in which some fighting took place, and at the end of January returned to Hagir Pb, in Kurram, where his, force remained in occupation. In July Major Cavagnari, the British envoy to the new~ amir, Yakub Khan., passed through Kurram on his way to Kabul, and, shortly afterwards, Roberts left his Kurram command and went to Simla to take his seat on the army commission, where he strongly advocated the abolition of the three Presidency armies, and the substitution for them of four army corps, a measure which was carried out sixteen years later. While he was at Simla, news arrived on the 5th of September of the murder of Cavagnari and his companions at Kabul. The Peshawar Valley Force had been broken up; Sir Donald Stewart was still at Kandahar, but most of his troops had started for India; Roberts, therefore, had the only force ready to strike rapidly at Kabul. It was hastily reinforced, and he hurried back to Kurram to take command, as a lieutenantgeneral, of the Kabul Field Force (7,500 men and 22 guns). By the 19th September a brigade was entrenched on the Shutargardan, and as Roberts advanced, the Amir Yakub Khan came into his camp. An Afghan force of 8,000 men blocked the way in a strong position on the heights beyond Charasia, and on the 6th October Roberts repeated the tactics that had done him such good service at the Peiwar in the previous year, and sending Brigadier-General T. D. Baker with the greater part of his force to turn the Afghan. right flank, threatened the pass in front with the remainder. By the afternoon Baker had seized the position, and the enemy, severely defeated, were in full retreat Kabul was occupied without further opposition.

The city was spared, but punishment was meted out to those convicted of complicity in the murder of the British Mission. Yakub Khan abdicated on the 12th October, and was eventually deported to India. The troops occupied the Sherpur cantonments; but in November a religious war was proclaimed by the Mullahs, and early in December, in order to prevent a threatening combination of Afghan tribes against him, Roberts moved out two columns to attack them in detnil. After considerable fighting around Kabul, the numbers of the enemy were so great that he was forced to concentrate his troops again at Sherpur, the defences of which had been greatly improved and strengthened. Sherpur was invested by the enemy, and early on the 23rd December was attacked by over 100,000 Afghans. They were driven off with great loss; and on making a second attempt to storm the place, were met by Roberts, who moved out, attacked them in flank, and defeated them, when they broke and dispersed. Roberts now recommended the political dismemberment of Afghanistan, and negotiations were carried on with the northern tribes for the appointmnt of an emir for the Kabul district only. On the 5th May Sir Donald Stewart arrived with his Column from Kndahar and assumed the supreme command in Afghanistan, Roberts retaining, under Stewart, the command of the two Kabul divisions, and organizing an efficient transport corps under Colonel R. Low, which was soon to be of inestimable value. On the 22nd July Abdur Rahman was proclaimed Amir of Kabul; and Roberts was preparing to withdraw his troops to India by the Kurram route, when news arrived that a British brigade had been totally defeated at Maiwand on the 27th July, and that Lieutenant-General Primrose was besieged in Kandahar. Roberts was ordered to proceed thither at once with a specially selected column of 10,000 troops and his new transport corps. He started on his famous march on the 9th August and arrived at Kandahar on the morning of the 31st, having covered 313 miles in twenty-two days. On the following day he fought the battle of Kandahar and gained a complete victory. His services in the Afghan campaigns of 1878 to 1880 are recorded in eight Gazettes, and were recognized by the thanks of both Houses of Parliament, of the Government of India, and of the Governor-General in Council. He was created K.C.B., G.C.B. and a baronet, received the medal with four clasps and the bronze star, and was given the command of the Madras army.

Before proceeding to Madras, Roberts went home on furlough, and when the news of the disaster at Majuba Hill in South Africa arrived in London at the end of February 1881, he was appointed governor of Natal and commander-in-chief in South Africa. He arrived at Cape Town to find that peace had been made with the Boers, and that instructions were awaiting him to return home. The same year he attended the autumn man ceuvres in Hanover as the guest of the German emperor. He declined the post of quartermaster-general to the forces in succession to Sir Garnet Wolseley, and returned to India, arriving at Madras in November. The following year he visited Burma with the viceroy, and in 1885 attended the meeting between Abdur Rahrnan and Lord Dufferin at Rawalpindi at the time of the Panjdeh incident, in connection with which he had been nominated to the command of an army corps in case of hostilities. In July he succeeded Sir Donald Stewart as commander-in-chief in India, and during his seven years tenure of this high position instituted many measures for the benefit of the army, and greatly assisted the development of frontier communications and defence. At the end of 1886, at the, request of the viceroy, he took personal command for a time of the forces in Burma, and organized measures for the suppression of dacoity. For his services he received the medal, was created G.C.I.E., and promoted supernumerary general. In 1890 he did the honors of the army to Prince Albert Victor at a standing camp at Muridki, and in 1891 his attention was occupied with the Zhob and Hunza Nagar frontier campaigns. On the 1st January 1892 he was raised to the peerage as Baron Roberts of Kandahar and Waterford. In 1893 he left India for good, and the G.C.S.I. was bestowed upon him. He was promoted to be field-marshal in 1895, and in the autumn of that year succeeded Lord Wolseley in the Irish command and was sworn a privy councillor. At Queen Victoria's diamond jubilee in 1897 he was created K.P.

After the disastrous actions in the Boer war in South Africa in December 1899 at Magersfontein, Stormberg and Colenso, where his only son was killed, Lord Roberts was sent out as commander-in-chief. He arrived at Cape Town on the 10th January 1900, and after organising his force, advanced with sound strategy on Bloemfontein, the capital of the Orange Free State, and soon changed the aspect of affairs. The sieges of Kimberley and Ladysmith were raised, and the Boer general, Cronje, flying towards the capital, was overtaken at Paardeberg and, after a fine defence, compelled to surrender, with 5,000 men, on the anniversary of Majuba Day, the 27th February 1900. Roberts entered Bloemfontein on the 13th March, and after six weeks preparation, advanced on Pretoria, the capital of the Transvaal. Mafeking was relieved on the 17th May, and Pretoria occupied on the 5th June. The two Boer states were annexed, and the war gradually assuming a guerilla character, Roberts handed over the command to Lord Kitchener and returned to England to fill the office of commander-in-chief of the army in succession to Lord Wolseley.

He arrived in the Solent on the 2nd January 1901, and the same day, at Osborne, had an audience of Queen Victoria, who handed him the insignia of the Order of the Garter. The next day he was received at Paddington by the prince and princess of Wales, and drove in procession to Buckingham Palace, where he was entertained as the guest of the queen. He again had an audience of the queen at Osborne on the 14th January on his elevation to an earldom, the last audience given by her majesty before her death, which took place eight days later. When the, German emperor came to London for the queens funeral, he decorated Lord Roberts with the Order of the Black Eagle. Earl Roberts received the thanks of both Houses of Parliament and a grant of £I00,000 for his services in South Africa. In 1905 he resigned his post on the Committee of National Defence, and devoted himself to attempting to rouse his countrymen to the necessity of cultivating rifleshooting and of adopting systematic general military training and service.



24 May 2004

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