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Oxford War Memorials: Tirah Campaign, Bonn Square

Tirah Memorial

This so-called Tirah Memorial was designed by Francis Inigo Thomas  (1865–1950) and built by Messrs Franklin of Deddington in 1900. It commemorates the soldiers of the 2nd Battalion of the Oxfordshire Light Infantry who died between 15 August 1897 and 4 November 1898. Almost all of them were taking part in the Tirah Campaign and the Mohmand Campaign on the North West Frontier of India.

The first man named is an anomaly: he was murdered in Uganda. Then come the officers: four died of disease when on active service, and one died of wounds. Only three men altogether were killed in action: a sergeant, a lance-corporal, and a private. Then comes a list of all the others who died of disease: a lance-corporal, three buglers, and 49 privates.

The twenty-five-foot high obelisk is made of stone from Monk’s Park Quarry, Bath and stands on a base of Doulting stone. It has foundations 20 feet deep. It is the first war memorial ever erected in Oxford, and in 1972 it was designated a listed structure (List Entry No. 1338518).

It was erected in a public garden that had been formed in 1874 from a redundant churchyard. (The first Church of St Peter-le-Bailey used to stand on the corner of Queen Street and New Inn Hall Street, but was demolished in 1874 as part of a road-widening scheme.) This public garden was named Bonn Square after Oxford’s first twin-town in 1974, and in 2007/8 the old trees were removed and the garden paved over.

The men who died in the Tirah Campaign are buried at the Landi Kotal Cemetery, Khyber Pass.

The Oxfordshire Light Infantry was a regiment formed during the Army reforms of 1881 by merging the 43rd (Monmouthshire Light Infantry) Regiment of Foot and the 52nd (Oxfordshire) Regiment of Foot (Light Infantry). These became the new unit's 1st and 2nd Battalions respectively.

Tirah south

South side (front)

At the top is a carved wreath surrounding
a bugle surmounted by the figure “52”
(the old number of the Battalion as a Regiment of the Line)

 

THIS MONUMENT WAS ERECTED
BY THE OFFICERS NON-COM-
MISSIONED OFFICERS & MEN
OF THE SECOND BATTALION
OXFORDSHIRE LIGHT INFANTRY
IN MEMORY OF THEIR COM-
RADES WHO DIED BETWEEN
THE 15TH OF AUGUST 1897 AND
THE 4TH OF NOVEMBER 1898

 

[The inscription then continues on the other
three sides in an anti-clockwise direction]

KILLED BY MUTINEERS IN UGANDA
BREVET-MAJOR A. B. THRUSTON

DIED OF DISEASE ON ACTIVE SERVICE
LIEUT. J. L. POWYS
LIEUT. D. R. NAPIER
LIEUT. H. W. B. TRENCH
2ND LIEUT. J. G. FITZGERALD

DIED OF WOUNDS
SERGEANT-MAJOR H. H. DEMPSEY

KILLED IN ACTION
SERGEANT J. S. HOPKINS
LANCE CORPORAL W. BELL
PRIVATE W. BUTLER

DIED OF DISEASE
LANCE-CORPORAL W. MARTIN
BUGLERS
A. J. BETTS
T. BULL
C. COX

 

East side of Tirah Memorial

 

Back of Tirah Memorial

(“Died of disease” continued)

PRIVATES
W. ADAWAY
J. H. BEER
A. E. BISSONI
G. BOND
G. BAYNES
A. CROSS
H. E. COOK [see grave]
F. CALLIS
G. COMLEY
W. DORMER
W. J. DEATH
C. DIX
G. DAY
F. EVERETT
E. FERRIS
W. FORTNAM
H. GARDNER
W. J. GODLIMAN
S. GREEN
G. HICKS [see grave]
J. HOARE [see grave]
J. HULL
G. HUGHES
F. S. KNIBBS

(“Died of disease” continued)

F. T. KING
C. LAMBOURNE
A. LYONS
J. F. LEE
A. LANGSTON
A. G. LANE
E. MARSH
R. MILLS
A. MORRIS
D. NEWPORT
M. O’BRIEN
J. OWEN
A. PERRY
J. POINTER
F. PITTAWAY [see grave]
J. PICKUP
G. PICKETT
E. RIDGLEY
G. RADBOURN
W. ROBINSON
G. SELWOOD
W. SHEPHERD
G. WELLS
T. WILTSHIRE
T. WIGGINS

West side of Tirah Memorial

Jackson’s Oxford Journal for 7 July 1900 (p. 8) has a large drawing of the memorial (shown below), followed by a very full report of the unveiling ceremony of which the text on the right below is just a small part:

Tirah Memorial

The unveiling ceremony

The monument to the memory of the officers and men of the 2nd Battalion Oxfordshire Light Infantry who died or were killed in action on the north-western frontier of India, and elsewhere, in the period from August, 1897, to November, 1898, and which has been erected by their comrades in the regiment on a site given by the Corporation, on which formerly stood the church of St-Peter-le-Bailey, and is now a public garden, at the junction of New-road with Queen-street, was unveiled on Friday afternoon, in the presence of a large assemblage of the general public, by Miss Morrell, daughter of the Mayor, who performed the ceremony in the unavoidable absence of her mother. The 2nd Battalion is now serving in India, and application for the granting of a site having been made by the Commanding Officer, Colonel Plowden, the Corporation fixed upon this position of ground as occupying one of the most convenient positions in the city, and very readily granted it for so appropriate a purpose. In digging for the foundations it was found necessary to go to a depth of 20 feet, the excavations having to be carried through the soil which had been used as a graveyard into the ground below, where a great many bones of animals were found. The human remains were carefully collected and taken away for re-burial at Osney Cemetery. At the bottom of the trench concrete was laid, and the foundation has been formed of this material for the ground level. The base of the monument consists of three steps of Doulting stone, and the erection then takes a square form to a height of about 14 feet, where there is a cornice, and about two feet above that a moulded string course, and from thence to the top the stonework is pyramidal in shape, the total height being 25 feet. The stone of which the monument consists from the base came from Monk’s Park Quarry, Bath.

The newspaper then lists all the men whose names are recorded on the monument, and goes on to describe how a guard of honour and fifty men from the Barracks, some of whom were wearing the Tirah Medal, stood with fixed bayonets during the proceedings, which included long speeches by the Mayor (Frederick Parker Morrell), the Hon. & Revd William Talbot Rice (Rector of St Peter-le-Bailey Church), Colonel James Arthur Strachan from Cowley Barracks on behalf of the 2nd Battalion Oxfordshire Light Infantry, and Alderman Buckell. The Revd Talbot Rice said:

This monument, placed as it was in a very prominent position in the city, would help to remind all passers-by at what a great cost the Empire that they boasted and were proud of had been won and was being held.

Tirah Memorial
Above: the Tirah Memorial before Bonn Square was redeveloped in 2008

Tirah medal front

Tirah medal back

 

Tirah Campaign and North-West Frontier Campaign bars
on India Medal of 1895

The obverse of the original India Medal of 1895 (left) shows a British and an Indian soldier supporting a flag, and has the words “INDIA 1895” on the edge.

 

The reverse of the original medal (right) shows a veiled and crowned bust of Queen Victoria with the text “VICTORIA REGINA ET IMPERATRIX” (“Victoria Queen and Empress”) around the edge.

The two bars added above the medal read
TIRAH 1897–8” and
PUNJAB FRONTIER 1897–98

 

Private J. Walker

 

 

 

Left Private J. Walker of the Oxfordshire Light Infantry wearing the above medal

 

 

 

This memorial on the Database
of the Imperial War Museums
:
2nd Battalion Oxfordshire Light Infantry (Tirah Memorial)

 

 

War Memorials online:
Oxford (Tirah Campaign/ Oxfordshire Light Infantry)

 

 

Other (unrelated) inscribed stones in Bonn Square

© Stephanie Jenkins

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