This Day In History

  • 1775 In the early hours a small British force, including the Grenadier and Light Companies of the 47th (later 1st Loyals) and 59th (later 2nd East Lancashires), sets out from Boston, Massachusetts for Concord, some 20 miles away, to destroy a colonial munitions depot. At dawn at Lexington they are confronted by the local militia and the first shots of the American Revolution are fired. A further engagement follows at Concord where about 500 Militiamen defeat three British companies and force the British column to begin its return march to Boston. Reinforced at Lexington by a relief force including the rest of the 47th, the march is carried out under sustained fire from concealed insurgents, and the American War of Independence has begun.
  • 1854 47th Regiment (later the 1st Loyals) disembark at Scutari, opposite Constantinople, to join the 2nd Division, part of the British Army concentrating in preparation for the Crimean War. They are quartered in the huge Turkish barracks there, later to become famous as the British base hospital where Florence Nightingale effected her nursing reforms.
  • 1880 2nd Afghan War. Battle of Ahmed Kel. 59th Regiment (soon to 2nd East Lancashires) is hard-pressed on the right of the British line.  The Regiment forms square around its colours. It is the last occasion on which colours are carried by a British regiment on a victorious field. Afterwards 1,000 dead lie in front of the British line, with 600 around the 59th's position. The shell-torn colours are now displayed in the Sergeant's Mess of the 1st Battalion, Duke of Lancaster's Regiment.
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Captain Euston Henry Sartorius VC

Captain Euston Henry Sartorius VC

Captain Euston Henry Sartorius VC

Euston Henry Sartorius was born on 6 June 1844 in Cintra, Portugal, where his father, later to become Admiral of the Fleet Sir George Sartorius, was commander of the Portuguese Fleet. He was one of three brothers, all of whom joined the Army, and three sisters. His brother Reginald was also to win the VC, making them one of four pairs of blood brothers to be awarded Britain’s highest honour.

In 1879 he was 35 years old and serving with his Regiment, the 59th, (soon to become the 2nd Battalion of the East Lancashire Regiment) in Afghanistan during the 2nd Afghan War. On 24 October they were in action at a place called Shahjui. Captain Sartorius led a party to storm a rocky and almost inaccessible hill, which could be approached only in single file up a zig-zag path. Lieutenant Irwin of the 59th, who was Sartorius’s Lieutenant, later wrote an account of the incident:

‘Captain Sartorius ordered his men to fix bayonets, and to clamber up. The hill was very steep, and when they got to within a few feet of the top the Afghans sprang up with a yell, and, sword in hand, slashing right and left, simply jumped down upon our fellows. For a few moments all was confusion, friend and foe falling down together, but it was speedily all over. We had gained the hill, and the standards on it, not one of the enemy having escaped. We lost one man, and Captain Sartorius was wounded in both hands. The fanatics were splendid, though ferocious-looking scoundrels, and fought like fiends, having evidently made up their minds to die, and to do as much damage as possible before doing so.’

The desperate little fight earned Euston Sartorius the Victoria Cross, the citation for which reads:

‘For conspicuous bravery during the action at Shiah-jui, on the 24th October, 1879, in leading a party of five or six men of the 59th Regiment against a body of the enemy, of unknown strength, occupying an almost inaccessible position on the top of a precipitous hill. The nature of the ground made any sort of regular formation impossible, and Captain Sartorius had to bear the first brunt of the attack from the whole body of the enemy, who fell upon him and his men as they gained the top of the precipitous pathway; but the gallant and determined bearing of this Officer, emulated as it was by his men, led to the most perfect success, and the surviving occupants of the hill top, seven in number, were all killed. In this encounter Captain Sartorius was wounded by sword cuts in both hands, and one of his men was killed.’

He was presented with his Victoria Cross by Queen Victoria personally, in a ceremony at Windsor Castle on 1 July 1881.

Euston Sartorius also served in the 1882 Anglo-Egyptian War where he was Mentioned In Dispatches. He was later appointed as Military Attaché to Japan.

He retired from the Army as a Major General in 1905. In 1909 he was appointed Colonel of the South Lancashire Regiment (Prince of Wales’ Volunteers), a post he held until his death in 1921

He died at his home in Chelsea, London, and is buried in Ewhurst, Surrey.

His Victoria Cross is on display at the National Army Museum, Chelsea, London