Redvers Buller

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Sir Redvers Henry Buller VC GCB GCMG
VCRedversHenryBuller.jpg
Born (1839-12-07)7 December 1839
Crediton, Devon, England
Died 2 June 1908(1908-06-02) (aged 68)
Crediton, Devon, England
Buried at Holy Cross Churchyard, Crediton
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch British Army
Years of service 1858–1901
Rank General
Unit King's Royal Rifle Corps
Commands held Quartermaster-General to the Forces
Adjutant-General to the Forces
Aldershot Command
Battles/wars Second Anglo-Chinese War
Ashanti Campaign
Xhosa Wars
Anglo-Zulu War
First Boer War
Egypt campaign
Mahdist War
Second Boer War
Awards Victoria Cross
Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath
Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George

General Sir Redvers Henry Buller VC GCB GCMG (7 December 1839 – 2 June 1908) (pronounced "Reevers") was an English recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces. He served as Commander in Chief of British forces in South Africa during the early months of the Second Boer War and subsequently commanded the army in Natal until his return to England in November 1900.

Origins[edit]

Arms of Buller: Sable, on a cross argent quarter pierced of the field four eagles displayed of the first[1]

Redvers Buller was born at the family estate of Downes, near Crediton in Devon, inherited by his great-grandfather James Buller (1740–1772) from his mother Elizabeth Gould, the wife of James Buller (1717–1765), MP.[1] Redvers was the son of James Wentworth Buller (1798–1865), MP for Exeter. The Bullers were an old Cornish family, seated at Morval in Cornwall until their removal to Downes. The family estates inherited by Buller included 2,942 acres of Devon and 2,147 acres of Cornwall, which in 1876 produced an income of £14,137 a year.[2]

Early career[edit]

After completing his schooling at Eton he was commissioned into the 60th Rifles (King's Royal Rifle Corps) in May 1858. He took part in the Second Opium War and was promoted to captain before taking part in the Canadian Red River Expedition of 1870. In 1873–1874 he was the intelligence officer under Lord Wolseley during the Ashanti campaign, during which he was slightly wounded at the Battle of Ordabai. He was promoted to major and appointed CB.

Zulu War and Victoria Cross[edit]

He then served in South Africa during the 9th Cape Frontier War in 1878 and the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879. In the Zulu war he commanded the mounted infantry of the northern British column under Sir Evelyn Wood. He fought at the British defeat at the battle of Hlobane, where he was awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery under fire. The following day he fought in the British victory at the battle of Kambula. After the Zulu attacks on the British position were beaten off, he led a ruthless pursuit by the mounted troops of the fleeing Zulus. In June 1879, he again commanded mounted troops at the battle of Ulundi, a decisive British victory which effectively ended the war.

Buller's VC action

His VC citation reads:

For his gallant conduct at the retreat at Inhlobana, on the 28th March, 1879, in having assisted, whilst hotly pursued by Zulus, in rescuing Captain C. D'Arcy, of the Frontier Light Horse, who was retiring on foot, and carrying him on his horse until he overtook the rear guard. Also for having on the same date and under the same circumstances, conveyed Lieutenant C. Everitt, of the Frontier Light Horse, whose horse had been killed under him, to a place of safely. Later on, Colonel Buller, in the same manner, saved a trooper of the Frontier Light Horse, whose horse was completely exhausted, and who otherwise would have been killed by the Zulus, who were within 80 yards of him.[3]

In an interview to The Register newspaper of Adelaide, South Australia, dated 2 June 1917, Trooper George Ashby of the Frontier Light Horse (also referred to as "Pullein's Pets") attached to the 24th Regiment gave an account of his rescue by Col. Buller: "...it was discovered that the mountain was surrounded by a vast horde of Zulus. An attempt was made to descend on the side opposite to the pass. Cpl. Ashby and his little party endeavoured to fight their way down, and at last he and a man named Andrew Gemmell, now living in New Zealand, were the only ones left. With their faces to the foe, firing as they retired, they kept the Zulus at bay. Then an unfortunate thing happened, Cpl. Ashby's rifle burst, but, fortunately for him, Col. Buller, afterwards Sir Redvers Buller, who was one of the, party, came galloping by, and offered to take him up behind him. Col. Buller was a heavy man, and his horse was a light one, and realizing this, Cpl. Ashby declined his generous offer. But the Colonel stayed with him, and, Cpl. Ashby having picked up a rifle and ammunition from a fallen comrade, the two men retired, firing whenever a foeman showed himself. They eventually reached the main camp, and for this service, as well as for saving the lives of two fellow-officers on the same occasion, Col. Buller received the Victoria Cross. Out of 500 men who made the attack on the Zjilobane Mountain, more than 300 met their death."[4]

First Boer War, Sudan and Ireland[edit]

In the First Boer War of 1881 he was Sir Evelyn Wood's chief of staff and the following year was again head of intelligence, this time in the Egypt campaign, and was knighted.

He had married Audrey, the daughter of the 4th Marquess Townshend, in 1882 and in the same year was sent to the Sudan in command of an infantry brigade and fought at the battles of El Teb and Tamai, and the expedition to relieve General Gordon in 1885. He was promoted to major-general.

He was sent to Ireland in 1886, to head an inquiry into moonlighting by police personnel. He returned to the Army as Quartermaster-General to the Forces the following year and in 1890 promoted to Adjutant-General to the Forces, becoming a Lieutenant general on 1 April 1891.[5] Although expected to be made Commander-in-Chief of the Army of the British Army by Lord Rosebery's government on the retirement of the Duke of Cambridge in 1895 this did not happen because the government was replaced and Lord Wolseley appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Army instead. On 24 June 1896 Buller was promoted to full General.[6]

Second Boer War and sacking[edit]

Buller became head of the troops stationed at Aldershot in 1898 and was sent as commander of the Natal Field Force in 1899 on the outbreak of the Second Boer War, arriving at the end of October. He was defeated at the Battle of Colenso.

Defeats at the Battle of Magersfontein and Battle of Stormberg also involved forces under his command. Because of concerns about his performance and negative reports from the field he was replaced in January 1900 as overall commander in South Africa by Lord Roberts. Defeats and questionable ability as commander soon earned him the nickname "Reverse Buller" among troops. He remained as second-in-command and suffered two more setbacks in his attempts to relieve Ladysmith at the battles of Spion Kop and Vaal Krantz. On his fourth attempt, Buller was victorious in the Battle of the Tugela Heights, lifting the siege on 28 February 1900. Later he was successful in flanking Boer armies out of positions at Biggarsberg, Laing's Nek and Lydenburg. It was Buller's veterans who won the Battle of Bergendal in the war's last set-piece action.

Buller was also popular as a military leader amongst the public in England, and he had a triumphal return from South Africa with many public celebrations, including those on 10 November 1900 when he went to Aldershot to resume his role as GOC Aldershot District,[7] later to be remembered as "a Buller day". He spent the following months giving lectures and speeches on the war, was promoted to a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George (GCMG) in Nov 1900,[8] and received the Honorary Freedom of the Borough of Plymouth in April 1901.[9] However, his reputation had been damaged by his early reverses in South Africa, especially within the Unionist government. When public disquiet emerged over the continuing guerrilla activities by the defeated Boers, the Minister for War, St. John Brodrick and Lord Roberts sought a scapegoat.[10] The opportunity was provided by the numerous attacks in the newspapers on the performance of the British Army. The matter came to a head when a virulent piece written by The Times journalist, Leo Amery was publicly answered by Buller in a speech on 10 October 1901. Brodrick and Roberts saw their opportunity to pounce, and summoning Buller to an interview on 17 October, Brodrick, with Roberts in support, demanded his resignation on the grounds of breaching military discipline. Buller refused and was summarily dismissed on half pay 22 October.[11] His request for a court martial was refused, as was his request to appeal to the King.

Later life[edit]

The statue of Buller in Exeter.

There were many public expressions of sympathy for Buller, especially in the West Country, where in 1905 by public subscription a notable statue by Adrian Jones of Buller astride his war horse was erected in Exeter on the road from his home town of Crediton (facing away from Crediton to the annoyance of the inhabitants of Crediton.)

Buller described himself as a Whig and a Liberal Unionist, but declined a number of offers, from both sides, to stand for parliament at the 1906 election.[12] Buller continued his quiet retirement, until on 29 May 1907 he accepted the post of Principal Warden of the Goldsmiths' Company which he held until his death in 1908.

Death and burial[edit]

Buller died on 2 June 1908, at the family seat, Downes House, Crediton, Devon, and is buried in the churchyard of Holy Cross Church in Crediton. The entire western side of the chancel arch inside the church forms an elaborate monument to Sir Redvers.

Legacy[edit]

Detail of Buller statue in Exeter.

At least one recent historian has been kinder to Buller's reputation:

"Buller's achievements have been obscured by his mistakes. In 1909, a French military critic, General Langlois, pointed out that it was Buller, not Roberts, who had the toughest job of the war — and it was Buller who was the innovator in countering Boer tactics. The proper use of cover, of infantry advancing in rushes, co-ordinated in turn with creeping barrages of artillery: these were the tactics of truly modern war, first evolved by Buller in Natal."[13]

The town of Redvers, in Canada is named after him, as is the Royal Logistic Corps barracks at Aldershot.

Two adjacent roads, Redvers Road and Buller Road in Wood Green and Buller Road adjacent to Mafeking Road Tottenham, London, England and likewise in Brighton are named after him. Also Redvers Buller Road in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, adjacent to Baden Powell Road and Lord Roberts Road (after Lord Roberts of Kandahar) and Buller Street in Derby, Derbyshire are named after him. Also Buller Street in Ladysmith BC is named after him, near Roberts street and Kitchener Street.

His Victoria Cross is displayed at the Royal Green Jackets Museum, Winchester, England.

There is a memorial to Buller, in the form of his recumbent effigy, in the north transept of Winchester Cathedral, England.[14] The inscription reads:

"A great leader — Beloved of his men".[15]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ a b Burke's Landed Gentry, 1937, p. 279, Buller of Downes.
  2. ^ John Bateman: 'The Great Landowners of Great Britain and Ireland', p. 66.
  3. ^ The London Gazette: no. 24734. p. 3966. 17 June 1879. Retrieved 24 December 2009.
  4. ^ The Register Adelaide, 2 June 1917.
  5. ^ The London Gazette: no. 26152. p. 2061. 14 April 1891. Retrieved 11 March 2013.
  6. ^ The London Gazette: no. 26759. p. 4095. 17 July 1896. Retrieved 11 March 2013.
  7. ^ Redvers Buller at Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  8. ^ The London Gazette: no. 27306. p. 2698. 19 April 1901.
  9. ^ "General Buller at Plymouth" The Times (London). Friday, 12 April 1901. (36427), p. 8.
  10. ^ Buller: A Scapegoat? A life of General Sir Redvers Buller, V.C. (Geoffrey Powell, 1994)
  11. ^ "Sir Redvers Buller relieved of his command" The Times (London). Wednesday, 23 October 1901. (36593), p. 3.
  12. ^ Powell 1994, p. 203.
  13. ^ Pakenham, p. 485.
  14. ^ Find-a-grave
  15. ^ King's Royal Rifle Corps Association

References[edit]

External links[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by
Sir Arthur Herbert
Quartermaster-General to the Forces
1887–1890
Succeeded by
Sir Thomas Baker
Preceded by
Lord Wolseley
Adjutant General
1890–1897
Succeeded by
Sir Evelyn Wood
Preceded by
The Duke of Connaught
GOC-in-C Aldershot Command
1898–1899
Succeeded by
Sir William Butler
(acting)
New title
Commander-in-Chief of British Forces in South Africa
1899–1900
Succeeded by
Lord Roberts
Preceded by
Sir William Butler
(acting)
GOC-in-C Aldershot Command
1901–1902
Succeeded by
Sir John French