Group of 5: Distinguished Conduct Medal, Victoria Issue, officially engraved; “Corpl. C. Gray. North’n R.”
India General Service Medal 1895, 2 bars, Punjab Frontier 1897-98, Tirah 1897-98, officially engraved; “2934 Corpl. C. Gray. 1st Bn. North’n Regt.”
Queen’s South Africa, 3 bars, Belmont, Modder River, Orange Free State, officially impressed; “2934 Sgt C. Gray. 2nd Northampton. Regt”
King’s South Africa Medal, 2 bars, SA 1901, SA 1902, officially impressed; “2934 Sgt. C. Gray. 2nd Northampton. Regt”
Imperial Service Medal, George V Issue, in case of issue, “Charles Gray”
The Medal Grouping of Sergeant Charles “Joe” Gray DCM, 1st Battalion Northampton Regiment.
Medals are beautifully mounted on a 4 slot silver riband bar for wear, with, 3 original parchment discharge documents, the ribbons are very delicate the D.C.M. has frayed away and is loose.
“The Zakka Khels, the worst of all the Afridis – they boasted that they never were beaten – were believed to be occupying Saran Sar, with a view to attacking our camp.”
“I picked him up. I remember one of their slugs hit the ground in front of us, and flung a big handful of sand up in our faces. The fellows above fired as hard as they could to hold the Afridis off, and we got my man behind some boulders and on to a dooley. What was the scene like? Well, the Zakkas simply came tearing along behind us, waving their knives and guns, in the sun. With flags, screeching like mad men, and firing hotly.”
“The scene comes back now like an awful dream, but the worst of the march came after dark. We were absolutely helpless, and could only struggle on, while the enemy harries us from every possible position”
“An hour before they had sent off my name as among the missing. I Shall never forget the scene when we got back, with the other men crowding round us, and each asking where missing friends and acquaintances were.”
– Sergeant Charles Gray, recalling the Black Tragedy of the Sarran Sar.
Charles Gray was born during 1872, in the village of Titchmarch, Thrapston, Northamptonshire.
As a young 18 year old man, who had worked as a Groom, he attested for the Northamptonshire Regiment on 11th December 1890.
2 Years later he is off to India with the 1st Battalion, arriving on 4th October 1892. He swiftly qualified for promotion to corporal on 15th March 1893, being appointed provisional Lance Corporal on 13th April 1892, followed by paid L/Cpl on 1st October 1894, reaching the full rank of Corporal on 1st October 1896. Following his gallant conduct he was promoted to Lance Sergeant on 1st October 1898.
Once he returned from India he was discharged to the reserves, but less than a year later he was recalled under Special Army Order for service in the Boer War, as a Corporal on 9th October 1899.
He arrived in South Africa with the 2nd Battalion, spending the war there until 12th September 1902, returning home to be discharged on 8th December 1902.
The 2nd Battalion, who were one of the first units to go out to war and saw action at Belmont on 23rd November 1899, they were in the first line and were lucky to only suffered 3 officers and 15 men wounded.
Two days later they were engaged at Enslin, on the 25th and alongside the Northumberland Fus were tasked with taking the left hand Kopjes, as the Naval Brigade formed a storming party for the Boer position on the extreme right.
After his discharge he became a Northampton Prison Officer, where he earned the Imperial Service Medal
The story of his DCM is best told in his own words, he gives an illuminating yet terrifying account of Tirah, written by a curious journalist upon asking Sgt Gray about his ribbons in the Northampton Courthouse and featured in the Northampton Mercury on 21st February 1898.
“THE LAST STAND – A THRILLING STORY OF THE NORTHAMPTONS IN THE TIRAH CAMPAIGN.
It is not always the gorgeous ribbons which hold the best tales. A plain red ribbon generally contains the best, but just for that reason it is the most difficult bit of silk to unfold. A plain red ribbon., set nearer the buttons than any other on the breast, indicates that the owner has another tunic, with a similar ribbon, from which hangs the Victoria Cross. Now as you know, the Victoria Cross is a precious decoration jealously given, and many a man earns it who never gets it. Sometimes, instead, he is granted a Distinguished Service Order – if he be an officer, or if not, a Distinguished Conduct Medal – decorations of equal value and second only to the V.C. The ribbon is Maroon and blue.
One day I sat in the Assize Court at Northampton and, looking across at the dock, I observed that the Gaoler sitting there had a thin line of colour across his tunic. There were two sections which I knew spelt “South Africa” one I could not interpret, and nearest the brass button was a blob of maroon and blue. There was no difficulty in finding out that the unknown colours stood for the Tirah Campaign of Ten years ago, in which the Northamptonshire Regiment had it’s terrible experience against the very tribe of Afridis we are fighting today. Last night I managed to unfold that ribbon, along with the maroon and blue.
They contain as thrilling a story as it has ever been my lot to put into a note-book – The story of the North West Frontier experiences of Mr. Charles Gray, formerly Lance-Sergeant in the 1st Battalion of the Northamptonshire Regiment, now a prison officer at Northampton.
People will remember that the campaign began under the usual newspaper heading of “Another little war,” towards the end of 1897, after the Afridis had rebelled against the Salt Tax, and had commenced to make raids
The Northamptons were part of the force despatched to punish them.
At that time the Northamptons were nearly all new to active service, only a few of the older hands remaining from the Majuba Hill period; so that they had the full benefit of a first experience of the Afridis’ sniping tactics. The companies used to get it on their daily march to and from Fort Gulistan.
On some hill-top near enough as the crow flies, but distant because of the ravines in between, there would rise a ball of smoke; and a big lead slug would come whirring like a bee between the ranks. It would rarely strike its mark, but often enough the missile would smash on a rock and cut faces open with its splinters. Some Sikhs who were left in charge of the village containing the camp’s best water supply were rushed one night by the Afridis, and such as were not shot or butchered were burnt to death.
Their first battle, however, was the ascent of the Dargai Heights, when the Gordon Highlanders distinguished themselves, on October 20. Being reserves, the Northamptons never got into the thick of things. Not long afterwards, news came into the camp that the Afridis were going to make a desperate attempt to rush the camp at night. To realise the cheery effect this must have had, it is not a bad idea to take hold of the bloody native knife which ex-Sergeant Gray picked up after Saran Sar. It has just the curve of a cruel mouth, and the edge of a razor. The Afridis use it wildly, but with horrible ferocity, slashing and thrusting in mad abandon, like wild animals.
Luckily for the camp, its members were ready before the rush came. Imagine men on their stomachs in half-moon formation, waiting for the mad charge, but hearing not a sound and peering into a velvety blackness. Their orders were to fire as they liked when they could see anything. Imagine the stillness – the fingering of rifle-locks – the gentle raising and lowering of weapons. Suddenly two mountain batteries belched rockets into the air, and a flaring radiance pierced the night. Dazed eyes could see, half a mile in front, a host of startled Afridis – for one second an army of tiny statues in the scrub: then a running mob of men, fleeing hither and thither like frightened sheep. In the same moment, almost, the waiting lines of rifles broke into a riotous chorus. Under a storm of lead the Afridi army crumpled and squealed and ran.
It is all very horrible, but an Afridi is a man whom you must take as you can, if you are fighting him. On November 1, some of the Northamptons were in the death-struggle of the Aranga Pass. They had gone out to strengthen the escort of a big convoy, which arrived late. It was winter time, and the darkness fell quickly. In the dusk the Afridis rose up before the convoy, and a fight began. The convoy closed in, and a way was forced to the end of the pass. So far, so good. But the way out was so narrow that only one laden mule could pass through at a time, and while this frightfully slow process was going on. The Afridis gathered strength swiftly and blazed from the hillsides into the helpless soldiery below.
The darkness made the position worse. In the confusion the Afridis raided the convoy and cleared off with mules bearing ammunition and ammunition boxes in which the treasury department had hidden money. The British Force simply blazed away at random, unable to see or know what was going on, save that bullets were raining in upon them from above. Eventually the soldiers got through, with heavy losses, and made their way to their camp. Sergeant Gray had one of his best friends shot almost by his side in this affair.
The next episode in this “little war”, as far as the Northamptons were concerned, was the black tragedy at Saran Sar, which took place on Lord Mayor’s Day. I think the maroon and blue ribbon might tell its own story here.
“The Zakka Khels, the worst of all the Afridis – they boasted that they never were beaten – were believed to be occupying Saran Sar, with a view to attacking our camp. Brigadier General Westmacott was in charge of our brigade, and we Northamptons were detailed off, with support from Sikhs, Ghurkhas, and the Dorsets, to take the pass. Well we led the way, and we had to stand a fair amount of sniping, but I don’t remember one casualty. The Zakkas retired in front of us, and at last disappeared entirely. When the place appeared quite clear, we had our rations and started back to camp about two o’clock. The right half of the battalion retired, leaving the left half to act as rearguard and find its own supports. Of course it was not known that we were likely to be attacked , but the other half of the battalion went right away from us. We made for a short cut down the pass to get into the river-bed, and found the cliffs steeper than those we had ascended. F & G Companies were left to themselves to some extent, in the passage along a ridge from one hill to another.