William Clayton Browne-Clayton.
Saturday, October 9th, 1897.
Lieutenant William Clayton Browne-Clayton Killed In Action.
On Saturday last a feeling of profound
sorrow was caused not only in this town and county but throughout every
portion of her Majesty's wide dominions by the sad intelligence that
some British officers had been killed in action at the North-Western
frontier in India, including a gallant young Carlowman, Lieutenant
William Clayton Browne-Clayton, second son of William Clayton
Browne-Clayton, Esquire, D.L., of Browne's Hill, Carlow.
Very meagre particulars of the engagement
have as yet been received, but it is probable that it was a hand-to-hand
encounter, and it is certain that our young county man was in the
forefront of the fight when cut down in the prime of youth, and when
apparently a brilliant career was before him.
By early post on Saturday a letter was
received from him from the seat of war, written in excellent spirits,
and it was not until some members of the family reached the Carlow
railway station, with the intention of proceeding to Dublin by early
train, that they learned the sad news through the morning papers.
By every section of the community sorrow
and sympathy find deep expression, and during the day the Church bell
was tolled in honour of the dead.
The gallant young officer, whose death is
everywhere mourned, had only been in the army a little over two years,
having entered the Royal West Kent Regiment on May 29th, 1895.
[note added 2010 by Michael Purcell].
The following account of the battle
during which William Browne-Clayton was killed was compiled by Philip
Wilson, transcribed by Grace Bunbury.
In September 1897 Lieutenant Colonel J.L.
O' Bryen commanded the 31st Punjabis in the Expedition to
Bajour and took part in various operations until he fell whilst
gallantly leading it in the storming of the heights were the villages of
Agrah and Gat are situated in the Mamund Valley on the 30th September
Winston Churchill in his book The
Malakand Field Force invites the reader to examine the legitimacy of
village-burning. A camp of a British Brigade, moving at the order of the
Indian Government and under the acquiescence of the people of the United
Kingdom, is attacked at night.
Several valuable and expensive officers,
soldiers and transport animals are killed and wounded. The assailants
retire to the hills. Thither it is impossible to follow them. They
cannot be caught. They cannot be punished.
Only one remedy remains; their property
must be destroyed. Their villages are made hostages for their good
On the 29th September over a dozen
villages in the plains of the Mamund Valley were destroyed, without a
single loss of life. However on the 30th September events
took a totally different course Brigadier General Jeffrey's 2nd Brigade
attacked the fortified villages of Agrah and Gat.
These two villages occupied the strongest
strategical position of any yet seen, perched on the lower slope of a
steep and rugged hill, and mutually supporting each other they were
protected on either side by high rocky boulders, great rocks lay tossed
about, interspersed with these were huts or narrow cultivated terraces,
covered with crops, and rising one above the other by great steps of ten
to twelve feet.
Both villages had to be occupied at the
same time and this compelled the Brigade to attack on a broader front in
full view of the enemy, whose drums could be heard as they manned the
rocky heights, their red flags plainly visible to the advancing army.
The Guides Cavalry on the left advanced
as far as the scrub would allow them drawing fire from isolated
skirmishers. The Guides Infantry was ordered to clear the spur to the
left; the 31st Punjab Infantry supported by the 38th Dogras,
the centre ridge between the two villages, while the Royal West Kent
Regiment was meant to advance straight up the hill on the right of the
The fighting was at very close quarters
and it soon became apparent that there were insufficient troops to
undertake the task. A gap opened in consequence, between the Guides and
Royal West Kents and this enabled the enemy to get round the left flank
of the Royal West Kents, while the 31st Punjab Infantry was
also turned by the enveloping enemy on the right.
The Royal West Kents eventually forced
their way into the village of Agrah and encountered stiff enemy
resistance in strongly occupied sangers. Under heavy enemy fire the
Bengal Sappers and Miners commenced to destroy the village with
Meanwhile on the right flank the 31st
Punjab Infantry commanded by Lieut. Colonel O’Bryen were exposed to
severe fire from a rocky ridge on their flank. Their attack was directed
against a great mass of boulders tenaciously held by the enemy. The two
advance companies being hotly engaged at less than 100 yards,
experiencing cross fire from their right flank.
Lieut Colonel O’Bryen moved swiftly from
point to point directing the fire and animating his men who were devoted
to him. As the enemy marksmen’s bullets struck the ground everywhere
around his prominent figure he continued to live a charmed life.
'Two companies of the 38th Dogras' came up
to clear their right. The gunfire, though accurate, could not shift the
tribesmen from their cover. So Lieut Colonel O'Bryen of the Punjabis
ordered a charge.
As O'Bryen rose to lead the 31st Punjabis
in the charge towards their objective he was mortally wounded and was
then carried to the rear. The casualty roll for the 31st (Punjab)
Regiment of Bengal Infantry confirms he died of gun shot wounds to the
Brigadier Jeffreys ordered the 7th
Battery to engage the enemy from 600 yards to cover the withdrawal of
the 2nd Brigade. The shells screamed over the heads of the Royal West
Kents who were now clear of the hills retiring towards the guns. As the
guns of the 7th Battery continued to fire, white puffs could be seen as
the shells burst along the crest of the ridge, tearing up the ground
adding great clouds of dust, whilst flames and smoke continued to rise
from the burning village.
At length the withdrawal was complete and
the 2nd Brigade returned to its camp five miles down the valley ..?..
job almost done. The Village of Agrah was well and truly destroyed
whilst the village of Ghat had been severely shelled.
On hearing the news General Sir Bindon
Blood proceeded to Inyat Kila with sizeable reinforcements. He arrived
on the 2nd October giving orders for fourteen 12 pounder guns to arrive
in time for a determined two Brigade strong attack on Agrah and Gat
which was scheduled for the 5th October. As the British Army poured into
the Mamund Valley, the tribesmen sued for peace on the 4th October.
After the action on the 30th September
Lieut Colonel McCrae 45th Sikhs was sent up to command the 31st Punjab
Infantry and Winston Churchill was attached as a temporary measure to
the 31st Punjab Infantry to fill the vacancy arising from Lieut. E.B.
Peacock receiving gun shots wounds to the thigh in the action on the
30th September. The total casualties for the day being 61 of which 8
being officer casualties: Lieut Colonel O’Bryen (killed) 2nd Lieut W.C.
Browne-Clayton of the Royal West Kents (killed ) with a further six
Officers of the Royal West Kents being wounded that day at Agrah.
Source: Michael Purcell & Turtle Bunbury website
Prayers for Lieutenant William Browne-Clayton.
[Sermon preached in St. Mary's Church,
Carlow, on Sunday, 3rd October 1897, extracted from Dean John Finlay's
notes 24 years later, in 1921, at the age of 80 years, Dean Finlay, one
time Dean of Leighlin, was himself murdered by the Irish Republican Army
following a raid on his home. G.B.]
Rev. Dean John Finlay delivered the
following address on the death of 24 year old Lieutenant William Clayton
Browne-Clayton, who was born at Browne's Hill House in 1873 and was
killed in Afghanistan in September 1897.
A feeling of sorrow I know pervades this
congregation to-day for the Browne-Clayton family - which has been
plunged into grief by the loss of one of its members.
Oh! -- how hard it is for a father and a
mother, how hard it is for the brothers and sisters to think of a young
life full of health and strength and hope being taken so suddenly.
The anxious watching, day by day, for
news, and then when it comes with its burden of sorrow, the hearts of
the waiting ones are wrung with grief --such grief as only those who
suffer can know its depth.
He fell doing his duty.
You, my brethren, I know do sorrow this
day with those that sorrow - you give them your heartful sympathy ; but,
brethren, stop not here.
Give them also your prayers that God may
comfort and strengthen them; and when we kneel and use the words:
"We humbly beseech Thee of Thy goodness,
O Lord, to comfort and succour all them who in this transitory life are
in trouble, sorrow, need, sickness, or any other adversity": and we also
bless The Holy name for all Thy servants departed this life in Thy
Faith, and fear.
When we use these words , I say, let us
think of those who sorrow to-day, and let us commit them to God's care.
We are all one in Christ.
We are all bound to feel for one another,
and to pray for one another.
May a feeling of closer union take
possession of our hearts to-day, that Christ may dwell in our hearts by
faith, that we being rooted and grounded in love may be able to
comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and depth
and height, and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge,
that ye may be filled with all the fullness of God.
And then out of that fullness may we give
the sympathy that softens sorrow, and the prayer which will comfort
those who mourn, with the comfort which comes from the Father of us all.
Source: Michael Purcell & PPP