from 'the War Illustrated Deluxe', vol. V page 1608
'Major-General Townshend, C.B.'

Personalia of the Great War

a drawing and a photo of General Townshend


Townshend is the name of an old Norfolk family tracing its descent from Sir Roger Townshend, Bart., of Raynham, a Justice of the Common Pleas, who was legal adviser to the Pastons in the fifteenth century. Members of this family have won distinction in most of the higher branches of public life—law, politics, diplomacy, Army, Navy and Church. One, the third baronet, was a prominent Royalist of the Civil War period. Another, the first marquess, fought at Dettingen and Fontenoy, was brigadier to Wolfe at Quebec, and died a field-marshal. Charles Vere Ferrers Townshend, cousin and heir-presumptive to the sixth marquess, was born on February 21st, 1861, son of Charles Thornton Townshend, and grandson of the Rev. Lord George Osborne Townshend, brother of the fourth marquess. His paternal grandmother was a daughter of Admiral John Mackellar.

The Man Who Defended Chitral

Entering the Royal Marines in 1881, he first saw active service as a lieutenant with the Soudan Expedition of 1884-5. He took part in the operations at Suakin, and was with the Guards Camel Corps at Abu Klea, El Gubat and Metemneh, gaining mention in despatches, and being awarded the medal with two clasps and the bronze star.

Having exchanged into the Central India Horse, he went farther east, and saw some hard fighting with the expedition under Colonel Durand, which asserted British authority over Hunza and Nagar, on the north-west frontier of India, taking part in the storming of the fort at Nilt, again winning a place in despatches, and being awarded the medal with clasp. This was in 1891, and in 1892 he got his captaincy.

A little later, in the spring of 1895, he escorted Dr. (afterwards Sir) George Scott Robertson on that memorable political mission which made the name of the small mountain valley town of Chitral, on the borders of the Hindu Rush, familiar to all the world.

High Courage under Adversity

The native ruler had been killed, and the succession was in dispute. The Indian Government had to put matters right; but there was much to-do ere the affair was settled satisfactorily. Dr. Robertson suddenly found himself and his little force of five hundred men, of whom a third were non-combatants, surrounded by overwhelming numbers of fanatical tribesmen, and shut up in a rude "fort" made of wood, stones and dried mud.

The siege lasted from March 4th to April 20th, when it was raised by Colonel Kelley's relief column. Dr. Robertson was severely wounded, as was Captain Campbell, the commandant. There was a shortage of food, water and ammunition. Captain Townshend took over the command, and his resourcefulness, imperturbable good humour and splendid courage won for him the special thanks of the Indian Government, the C.B., the medal with clasp, and the brevet rank of major.

Distinguished Service in the Soudan

A year afterwards Major Townshend was once more in Egypt, with the Dongola Expedition, at the head of the 12th Soudanese. He was present at the Battle of Ferket and the occupation of Dongola. His services brought him prominently under the notice of Lord Kitchener, and were rewarded by mention in despatches, the medal with two clasps, and a brevet lieutenant-colonelcy. In 1898 he accompanied Lord Kitchener up the Nile, and shared in the victory at the Atbara (being specially mentioned in despatches and awarded the clasp), and in the final overthrow of the Khalifa at Khartoum, which brought him further special mention and the D.S.O.

In 1900, Lieut.-Colonel Townshend joined the Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment), and he was in South Africa as A.A.G. Headquarters Staff, and Assistant Military Governor of the Orange Free State. In 1904 he was promoted brevet colonel; in 1905 he was military attaché in Paris; in 1906 he transferred to the King's Shropshire Light Infantry; in 1907, as A.A.G. 9th Division of the Army in India, his rank was raised to that of full colonel; and

in 1909-11 he commanded the Orange Free State District, first with the rank of brigadier, and then as major-general. There followed a brief interval of home service. In April, 1912, Major-General Townshend was G.O.C. of the Home Counties Division, Territorial Force. He took over the command of the East Anglian Division in the following September.

With the Sixth Division in Mesopotamia

Back again in India in 1913, he was given the command of the troops at Jhansi, and was holding this appointment when Turkey threw down the gage of battle and the Persian Gulf Expedition was decided upon. He sailed with this, as commander of the 6th (Poona) Division, in November, 1914. After the occupation of Basra, on the 23rd of that month, Major-General Townshend set out on that wonderful march over the desert sand and through the riverside jungles of the Tigris Valley, with its memories of Xenophon and the lost army of the Greeks in the brave days of old.

The strength of his amphibious force is not accurately known. What is known is that it was far too small for the task it was called upon to perform, and that it had to face more than five divisions of the Turks, equipped and officered by Germans, and entrenched in advantageous positions. Its composition was two-thirds native; but British and Indian covered themselves with glory, and its commander must have remembered, with something of a thrill, that at least one section of it—the 1st Battalion Oxfordshire Light Infantry—which was with him, had won laurels as the old 43rd under his ancestor's command on the Heights of Abraham in 1759.

Hero of the Siege of Kut

The heroic 6th Division took Amara in June, Kut-el-Amara in September, and in November fought and won that tremendous two days' battle at Ctesiphon. Then, faced with odds of five to one against him, apart from the lack of water, Major- General Townshend withdrew his little army for ninety miles back to the river bend at Kut, fighting, meanwhile, a rearguard battle at Azizie, which smashed and utterly misled the van of his pursuers. Arriving at Kut on December 5th, he characteristically sent off his one brigade of cavalry and his horse artillery to the assistance of the force under General Aylmer that was marching over highly difficult country to his aid.

Three months passed, and found the enemy still kept at bay, and Townshend still sending out cheery messages to the outside world. From other sources came evidence of the superb confidence with which he had imbued the force under his command. He himself believed in his star. He had borne a charmed life. Despite their sufferings from the elements and from disease, as well as from the Turks, his men believed he could never be beaten. They "banked" on him, even during the arduous forced retreat across the arid surface of that dead world between Ctesiphon and Kut, which was once so fertile and so flourishing. He had proved beyond cavil, in offence and defence, that his favourite study of Napoleon had not been in vain. But beyond his professional abilities, his personality stood out in strong relief. A disciplinarian, he never believed that discipline was inseparable from sour faces; and in intervals of leisure would personally take part, vocally and instrumentally, in the lighter, amenities of life in camp. One of his requests during the siege of Kut was for gramophone needles, and these reached him by aeroplane.

The Vigil at South Raynham

In 1898 General Townshend married Alice, daughter of the Comte Louis Cahen d'Anvers. To her and to their fifteen-year-old daughter Audrey, how long and painful must have been those weary months of waiting at Vere Lodge, South Raynham, for the long-deferred news of General Aylmer's successful advance to the relief of the hard-tried 6th Division at Kut, where her husband was holding out with all the vigour and address he had shown twenty-one years before in his historic defence of the beleaguered Mission at Chitral.


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