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Oxford War Memorials: Tirah Campaign, Bonn Square

Tirah Memorial

The 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 Oxfordshire Light Infantry who died during the Tirah Campaign and the North West Frontier Campaign in India in 1897–8. The twenty-five-foot high obelisk (made of stone from Monk’s Park Quarry, Bath) stands on a base of Doulting stone, and has foundations 20 feet deep.

It is the first war memorial ever erected in Oxford, and was designated a listed structure (List Entry No. 1338518) in 1972. It was erected in a public garden 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 are buried at the Landi Kotal Cemetery, Khyber Pass. Four of the men below have been linked to a page about their gravestone there.

South side (shown in above photograph)

This has a carved wreath, in the centre of which is a bugle surmounted by the figure “52”
(the old number of the Battalion as a Regiment of the Line) and the text:


East side

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:
Surgeon-Major H. H. Dempsey

Killed in Action:
Sergeant J. S. Hopkins
Lance-Corporal W. Bell
W. Butler

Died of Disease:
Lance-Corporal W. Martin

A. J. Betts
T. Bull
C. Cox

North side

W. Addaway
J. H. Beer
Private A.E. Bissoni
G. Bond
G. Baynes
A. Cross
H.E. Cook
F. Callis
G. Comley
W. Dormer
W.J. De’ath
C. Dix
G. Day
F. Everett
E. Ferris
W. Fortnam
H. Gardner
W. J. Godliman
S. Green
G. Hicks
J. Hoare
J. Hull
G. Hughes
F. S. Knibbs

West side

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
J. Pickup
G. Pickett
E. Ridgley
G. Radbourn
W. Robinson
G. Selwood
W. Shepherd
G. Wells
T. Wiltshire
T. Wiggins

* Major A.B.Thruston, whose name appears first, patently did not die in India, but was none the less added to this memorial. He was killed in Uganda by mutinous native officers on the MacDonald Expedition in October 1897. He spoke fluent Arabic and was in charge of a garrison of Sudanese troops who shot him in cold blood together with two other British officers.

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

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, the Hon. & Revd W. Talbot Rice (Rector of St Peter-le-Bailey), Colonel Strachan 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.

See also inscribed stone in Bonn Square

Tirah Memorial
Above: Illustration of Tirah Memorial in Jackson’s Oxford Journal of 7 July 1900

Wikipedia: The Tirah Campaign

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

Tirah medal front

Tirah medal back




India Medal of 1895
with Tirah campaign bar

The reverse ( left) shows a veiled and crowned bust of Queen Victoria with the text “VICTORIA REGINA ET IMPERATRIX” around the edge. The two bars above read “TIRAH 1897–8” and “PUNJAB FRONTIER 1897–8”

The obverse ( right) shows a British and Indian solder supporting a flag, and has the words “INDIA 1895” on the edge.

Private J. Walker




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




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


A photograph of this memorial on the Plain taken by Henry Taunt in 1907 can be seen in the Oxfordshire History Centre (ref. HT10288)


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


© Stephanie Jenkins

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