Wednesday, 15 August 2012

The Buffs at Kota Lama, 1876

In the previous blog I describe an interview with Robert Whiting, a veteren of the 3rd (East Kent) Regiment, the "Buffs". Talking in 1940 he describes his soldiering days in the 1870s & 1880s. One of his campaigns was in the Malay state of Perak in 1876 - a typical action involving the Buffs is here described in the London Gazette. It is strangelly reminiscent of actions in South East Asia 100 years later.

The London Gazette 18 February 1876 Issue number 24296
Camp, Qualla Kangsa, January 5, 1876.


I have the honour to report that yesterday morning the force was taken by me for the purpose pf disarming the village of Kota Lama 1 1/2 miles distant, on ihe opposite side of the Perak River. This village, in July last, was visited by Mr. Birch, when the inhabitants came down in considerable numbers, loading their arms, and warning him not to come near. Having no force with him, he was obliged to withdraw. For long this village has been the haunt of all the worst disposed and turbulent Malays. The Queen's Commissioner, deeming it necessary to disarm the inhabitants and to destroy the houses of certain known leaders, I made the following arrangements.

The village of Kota Lama is on the left bank of the river. Lieutenant Colonel Cox crossed with his party (Royal Artillery, 12 men and 1 gun; the Buffs, 10 men; 1st Goorkhas, 25 men) in boats, and moved up the bank a little more than a mile, when he extended the men, the left of the line keeping close to the river, and skirmished through the village.Mr. Maxwell, Deputy Commissioner, accompanied Lieutenant Colonel Cox.

Captain Young moved his party (The Buffs, 50 men, 1st Goorkhas, 20 men) in a similar manner up the right bank, to a village of the same name; his orders were to collect any arms, but not to destroy or injure houses or property, as the inhabitants have been well disposed. Captain Speedy, Assistant Commissioner, accompanied Captain Young,

Major McNair, I, and my staff went with Captain Garforth's party of the Naval Brigade (32 men) in three boats . We landed on the left bank just above the village, and, leaving a few blue jackets in charge of the boats, we moved in the direction of the village, expecting there to find Lieutenant Colonel Cox's party. Twenty bluejackets landed with us, and we were joined by Lieutenant Hare, R.E., with 4 Goorkhas, who had been assisting him to measure the distance along the bank.

We proceeded some distance before we came to some houses which I desired should be searched for arms, they were, with few exceptions, deserted ;after about an hour and a half we came upon several houses close to each other, the largest being occupied by women and children. It being necessary to ascertain whether any men also were in it, Major McNair sent in two of his Malay followers, and himself looked in. After satisfying himself that there were only women and children, he had just got down from the steps, telling those inside not to be alarmed as they would not be harmed, when we heard several shots, and from a jungle close by some 50 Malays rushed out upon us, a few with fire-arms and the rest with spears.

 Naval Brigade sailors taking on Malays during the Perak campaign (Illustrated London News)

The attack was so sudden that we were almost surrounded and had to retire. The conduct of the marines and sailors was deserving of all praise. If it had not been for their steadiness few if any of us would have escaped. As it was I reget to say that our loss was heavy in proportion to the numbers engaged.
Just before this attack was made several officers moved away in the direction of the river, a hundred yards distant Major Hawkins was, it was supposed, following them  when he was fatally wounded with a spear. No one seems to have seen him fall, but Captain Garforth reports that William Sloper, A.B., came up to him on the ground, shot two Malays who were coming towards him, and stopped with him until Major Hawkins said "Save yourself ; you can do me no good now."

Major Heathcoate, who with Captain Badcock, Lieutenant Preston, and Major Twigge, had gone on in front of Major Hawkins towards the river, turned back with these officers and tried to move them, but they had to fall back to the river, before the superior numbers who were getting round them.

Surgeon Townsend was the first to be assailed, he being a little advanced ; three Malays assailed him with spears, the centre one he shot with his pistol, and the man falling forward upon him knocked him down. The other two Malays were driving at him when Harry Bennett, A.B., and William Thompson, A.B., rushed forward and killed them both. The conduct of the three blue jackets abovenamed has been specially brought to my notice, but all behaved admirably in a very difficult position, and very great credit is due to the three officers, Captain Garforth, Lieutenant Wood, and Sub-Lieutenant Poar, who directed and led them.

Lieutenant-Colonel Cox's party had gone all over the ground on which this occurred, and it is supposed that our opponents must have made for the jungle on the approach of the skirmishers, and returned after they had passed. Lieutenant- Colonel Cox returned through the village in the same order, and having destroyed every house that he passed, arrived here about half-past two o'clock, without firing a shot.

Captain Young's party returned about the same time without having met with any opposition. The bodies of five Malays were found, and I have reason to believe that their loss must have been greater. The close and hand-to-hand nature of the engagement is shown by all the casualties having been caused by spear wounds.

I have, &c.
(Signed) J. ROSS,Brigadier-General, &c.
P.S.—A large quantity of arms, spears, muskets, and small wall-pieces were taken, and a large iron 12-pounder gun was spiked and thrown into the river. A list of arms taken shall be forwarded.

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