Corporal James Marks of Kinturk and the Crimea

The Mid-Ulster Mail of Saturday 10 June 1916 carried the following report –  

 MR JAMES MARKS, KINTURK

It is with feelings of profound regret that we have to announce this week the death of the above-named gentleman, which took place on 31 May at his nephew’s residence, Kinturk. Deceased had been in failing health for some time, during which he was attended by Dr Burgess JP, Coagh, but his end came rather unexpectedly. The funeral took place on Friday to Ardboe Churchyard, and the very large concourse which followed his remains to their last resting place bore ample testimony to the esteem in which he was held in the neighbourhood.

Deceased was an old Crimea veteran. He first enlisted in the year 1851, in London, in the 51st (King’s Own Light Infantry), and got his training in Chatham. Embarking at Gravesend, he joined his regiment, then at Madras in the East of India, and two years later, the Burmese war breaking out, he took an active part in several engagements, winning a medal and clasp for that expedition. After the regiment’s station was completed he was sent home to Manchester; but the following year, 1854, the Crimean War broke out and he was amongst the first to see the battlefield. He transferred his services from the 51st (King’s Own Light Infantry) to the 18th Royal Irish, and with them he fought and did duty under Lord Raglan and General Simpson, till 18 June 1855 when, at the taking of Sebastopol he was badly wounded, losing his left foot. Lord Raglan died four days after he (Raglan) was wounded, and General Simpson took command until the finish of the campaign.

The siege of Sebastopol

After lying four months in a field hospital Corporal Marks was sent home to St Mary’s, Chatham, where later on he got his final discharge with fourteen pence per day of a pension for life. At the time of his discharge he was in possession of the Crimea medal and clasp. Also the Turkish medal and Burmese medals, having been in seven engagements during his six years of service.

Deceased was a staunch Conservative and Orangeman all his life. When very young he became a member of LOL No 395, Ballymena District, being then resident there; and when the Ballyronan Orangemen were attacked at Ballinderry Bridge on 12 July 1879, returning from the demonstration at Coagh, the deceased did yeoman service on the occasion. After his strenuous life he breathed his last in the same house in which he was born, having attained the ripe old age of 82 years.   

 

Further details

Little more is known of the life of James Marks. The 1901 census shows James Marks living in Aughtercloney, a townland between Toome and Ahoghill in Co Antrim. He was a lodger in the farmhouse of Charles Donnelly, and he was described as an Army Pensioner, aged 67 years, married. Ten years later, the 1911 census finds him living in Kinturk with the family of his nephew, Robert Marks. He is described as a widower, aged 80 years, and his occupation is listed as “Army Pensioner From 18th Foot”.

The regimental colours of the 18th Foot

 Soldiering

The 18th Foot mentioned by James in his 1911 census return was the 18th (The Royal Irish) Regiment of Foot. Its home base was in Clonmel, County Tipperary, but it would appear that James was never stationed there. The 18th returned to England from Calcutta in June 1854. It is not known when James transferred from the King’s Own Light Infantry to the 18th but a few months later the 18th was on the move again, sailing for Crimea, where England and France were at war with Russia. The regimental history states –

So with a strength of 848 commanded by Colonel Thomas Reinolds they sailed from Portsmouth on 8th Dec 1854 on the SS Magdelene, arriving at Balaclava on 30th Dec.’

Regimental histories rarely mention the names of ‘other ranks’ and the history of the 18th Foot does not mention James Marks, but his name is to be found in Casualty Rolls of the Crimean War of 1854-56, published on the internet by Asplin Military History Resources. Asplin’s editor cautions – ‘Extracted from the London Gazettes of the period and first published in book by Cook & Cook. These are mostly second-hand details of battle casualties (not disease) and are not renowned for accuracy, however they are a good starting point. I have added in a few details taken from musters and Depot books and changed the rolls from Regimental order to Surname order.’

In the list of surnames beginning with M the following entries appear –

Mark (Marks?). James. Corporal. 3610. 18th Foot (Royal Irish). Danger Wound. Minor actions at Sebastopol. 18 June 1855.

Mark (Marks?). James. Private. 3610. 18th Foot (Royal Irish). Severe Wound. 1st Attack on Redan. 18 June 1855.       

Bearing in mind what Asplin’s editor said about accuracy, it is still reasonable to deduce that both entries refer to the same man, and that he is James Marks of Kinturk, a corporal in the 18th Foot at Crimea. The Redan was one of two fortresses held by the Russians at Sebastopol, and the unsuccessful attack of 18 June became known as the First Attack on the Redan. The following is the account of the attack, as given in the official history of the 18th


 The Redan, 18th June 1855

The Russian defences included two fortresses, the Malakoff and the Redan which were the focus of attack after the capture of the Quarries. The French were to concentrate on the Malakoff and the British were to attack the Redan. On the 17th a heavy bombardment reduced the defences of the fort. After dark the guns fell silent and the Russians hastily repaired the damage throughout the night. It was intended that another two hour bombardment would take place at dawn but the French commander Pelissier changed the order so that the infantry attack went ahead without any further cannonade. General Eyre’s brigade, consisting of the 18th, 9th, 28th, 38th and 44th regiments (1,000 men in all) made their way through the ravine to Dockyard Creek.

The uniform of the 18th Foot (The Royal Irish) which was worn in the Crimean War by Corporal James Marks of Kinturk (1834-1916)

At this time the infantry was still organised so that one grenadier company (right of the line) was made up of tall strong men and a light company (left of the line) was made up of more intelligent men who could operate as skirmishers. Colonel Edwards decided that it would be better to put his light company men to the front during the night march to the Redan. This was contrary to the long established practice of marching off ‘Right in Front’ with the grenadiers in the lead. When it was realised that the companies of the Royal Irish were not correctly positioned the brigade was halted while they had to counter-march so that the light company were in the rear. When they reached an area where they could form up General Eyre addressed the Royal Irish and finished by stressing the need for silence to maximise the element of surprise. But one man heard him wrong and raised three cheers for the General. The regiment broke out into a noisy cheer and Eyre dejectedly told Colonel Edwards to send them into action straight away.

The 18th managed to occupy a cemetery and had to advance over stone walls to an area of houses and gardens near the Redan. On reaching one of the stone walls, instead of breaking it down, two officers decided to jump over. Whilst in the process of jumping, one of the officers, Lieutenant Meurant, was shot dead by a Russian marksman.

Overall the British effort was unsuccessful but Eyre’s brigade did better than most. They managed to reach the ruined houses under the walls of the Redan and although covered by fire from the cemetery were unable to make any progress from there. There were many acts of bravery during this battle including Sergeant John Grant who delivered messages although badly wounded, and refusing to retire for treatment. Captain Dillon ( later CO from 1873-78) rescued 7 men under fire, and Captain Thomas Esmonde was awarded a VC for his bravery. The Russians were able to fire incendiary bombs at the houses and the attack was called off at 3pm. But because they had about 20 wounded men it was not until 9pm that the Royal Irish were able to bring their last men out of that difficult situation.

The casualties for 18th June were 1,500 British, 3,500 French (at Malakoff) and 5,400 Russians. Eyre’s brigade suffered 562 killed and wounded, of which the Royal Irish casualties amounted to 259: One officer killed (Lt Meurant) and 10 wounded, 57 other ranks killed, 16 dangerously wounded, 87 severely wounded and 88 not-so-severely wounded.

We may assume that it was in this bloody action that Corporal Marks was wounded and lost his foot. He was lucky to survive the war, his wound, and the terrible conditions in which the soldiers lived: the majority of the 900,000 who died at Crimea succumbed to disease.

The Redan photographed after the battle
Photo by Roger Fenton

Nothing more is known of Corporal James Marks’ experiences, but it is worth quoting again from the 18th Foot’s official history, to gain an insight on this famous regiment, known around the world as “Paddy’s Blackguards”, a name in which they revelled –  

 The regiment did not take part in any more major actions. There was another attack on the Redan and Malakoff in September after a three day continuous bombardment. The Malakoff attack was successful and this was the beginning of the end of the war. The Royal Irish were sent to the docks to carry out the heavy work of demolishing the Russian Naval Dockyard. This job was performed during the winter of 1855/6 and was not without danger as the Russians were still able to use their artillery. They were supervised by the Royal Engineers, of which one officer, Charles Gordon, who later achieved fame at Khartoum, wrote in 1882:

“…. they were a favourite regiment with the RE for work, both in the trenches and in the destruction of the docks, from the energy and pluck of the officers and men, and it was then that I formed my opinion of Irishmen being of a different nature than other Britishers inasmuch as they required a certain management and consideration, which if given them would enable you, so to speak, to hold their lives in your hand. The officers liked the men and the men liked the officers; they were a jovial lot altogether, but they would do anything if you spoke and treated them as if you liked them, which I certainly did. You know what great hardships they went through in the docks in working at the shafts which, 30 ft deep, were full of water if left unpumped out for 12 hours. Poor devils! Wet, bedraggled, in their low ammunition boots, I used to feel much for them, for the Generals used to be down on them because they were troublesome, which they were when people did not know how to manage them.”

A painting by Robert Hill depicting the attack on the Redan
Corporal James Marks was severely wounded in the first attack on the Redan on 18 June 1854


Florence Nightingale (kneeling centre) attending wounded soldiers at Scutari
Painting by Barrett

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