All five companies in our battalion had made it ashore relatively intact along a half mile stretch at the eastern end of the wharf. The marines had secured the eastern end all to way to the affluent of the Pazundaung Creek. On the 7th’s left the 23rd Royal Irish Guards had secured the rest of the port. Casualties, on the side of Her Majesty’s forces were heavy, as can be expected when storming a well defended position over open ground, but the Burmese defenders had been ravaged torn apart by shot and shell, all but the most callous were visibly moved by their suffering.
Lieutenant Marshall was kept quite busy organizing the completion of defensive works along the perimeter held by the company. Lieutenant Brooks, commander of first platoon, had to be relieved and taken to the hospital do to a nasty bayonet wound to his shoulder, and MacKenzie of 3rd platoon never made it ashore. Harris and James of 4th and 5th platoon were as inexperienced as he was, so there was no clear chain of command as the captain too was out of action and had been transferred to the steamer H.M.S. Bengal where it was rumored his leg was to be amputated.
A triumvirate of boys barely out of school and still white hot from the crucible of battle were left in charge of a 400 hundred yard link in a chain 4 miles long. A runner approached, stopped in front of Marshall and saluted him.
“A message fo’ ya’ frem ‘eadquaters, sir”, said the runner, who was slightly older than Marshall. Marshall saluted in return.
“At ease corporal”. Marshall took the message handed to him by the corporal.
“Thank you corporal, you are dismissed.” They exchanged salutations and the runner rushed off to another section of the perimeter. Master Sergeant Finney approached Marshall.
“What is it sir? Marshall read the message which instructed him to report immediately to regimental headquarter; it was signed by Colonel Lambert. Marshall took out a small notebook and his steel pen, quickly jotted down a note, signed it, tore it out, and presented it to Finney.
“I have orders to report to Colonel Lambert at regimental HQ. You’re in charge of the company. This note explains everything to Harris and James.” Marshall rushed off to headquarters, sure his company was in able hands, but unsure of why the colonel ordered him to headquarters. Likely it was to acquaint him with the company’s new commanding officer.
Though there was calm within the captured perimeter, there was a great deal of turbulence amongst the senior officers at the customs house at which they made headquarters. As he approached the lieutenant was stopped in his tracks, standing awe struck. I the midst of what had been the market square lay a gargantuan balloon. Calling it merely a balloon hardly did it justice. It was massive air bag atop an iron plated cylinder taller and wider than a sloop, but somewhat shorter. It perched on four massively thick iron claws. The entirety of the monstrous apparatus was awesome and peculiar in every aspect, but what he found most curious were two gigantic propellers protruding from the stern. He watched as provisions, crates of rifles and ammunition, and even heavy artillery were offloaded, placed on wagons and hitched to caissons. Forgetting himself for a minute he stood and stared, until he remembered his orders and sprinted to headquarters, where he was met by Lieutenant Harley, Colonel Lambert’s aid.
“Forgive my tardiness, I’ve no excuse, but I was a bit astounded by the transport in the square; I’ve never seen anything like it.
“No bother Jon, the Colonel is enjoying a brandy with Major Donaldson, brought in by that transport nonetheless. Follow me, and for God’s sake stop acting like such a quavering jelly.”
Harley led him up an ornate marble stair case to the second floor. The hall which led to the Colonel’s office was quite opulent covered in hanging silk tapestries and bamboo scrolls covered in Chinese calligraphy. The rugs covering the floorboards were of very skilled Persian make and depicted landscapes, mosques with tall minarets, and the formidable horsemen of Cyrus the Great. Harley knocked at the heavy oaken door and Major Donaldson, snifter in hand, showed them in. The colonel was casually seated in a large rattan chair; he straightened up out of respect for convention.
“Lieutenant Marshall as you ordered sir”
“Thank you Harley; you are dismissed.” The colonel was a tall, strong, blonde haired, clean shaven man in his mid thirties, with an aristocratic pointed and cleft chin.
Marshall saluted his superiors and stood stiff and straight. “Lieutenant Marshall reporting, sir.”
“At ease Marshall, and please have a seat.” He waved his hand and pointed to a comfortable looking, cushioned wooden chair, and the lieutenant sat down waiting for the Colonel to speak.
“Care for a brandy Marshall? It’s Louis XIII, flown in from Champagne”, the lieutenant nodded. An Indian orderly produced a crystal decanter and a snifter from the sideboard, poured a modest amount of the expensive liquor into a snifter and handed it to Marshall.
“Thank you sir, I haven’t had a drink other than rum punch in quite some time.” He became a bit sheepish. “I don’t mean to be impertinent sir, but why, out of all the officers in the company, have I been called for a meeting?”
. “I’m not a Bengal Tiger Marshall; I’m not going to leap over this desk and maul you young man.” The colonel and the major had a good laugh at this. “Relax. How do you like the cognac?”
“Best I’ve ever had sir, quite smooth and refined.”, he raised his class. “Cheers, sirs.”
“Cheers. I feel I must report that Captain Macallan of the Royal Marines was very impressed with your conduct during the landing. He said it was you and 2nd platoon who first engaged the enemy, and you personally were first into the fray. It was also you who held the line when the enemy reinforcement, outnumbering your men three to one, tried their best to hurl our men back into the bay.”
“Thank you sir, but my men fought bravely, and had the other platoon leaders not acted decisively, in all likelihood I wouldn’t be having this conversation with you. To be fair, Captain Cox and Lieutenant Brooks were wounded, I’m sure they would have done the same as me, just as well.”
“Don’t be so damn modest. I find modesty rather irritating truthfully. Lieutenant, a seasoned captain in one of the fiercest battalions in all Her Majesty’s army singled you out among all the others. It is I who sit before you to humbly relay my admiration of your courage and leadership. I’ve recommended you for a distinguished service medal.”
He smiled. “Thank you sir, I’m honored”
The colonel emptied his glass and sat straight up with a more serious expression on his face. “As you yourself have noted, Captain Cox and Lieutenant Brooks have been put out of action, at least temporarily. Though it seems Captain Cox will have to have his leg amputated just above the thigh and will be taken out of the field permanently. That is why I’ve called you here Marshall, based on the reports of your courage and the Commandant at the Royal Academy’s high opinion of you, I’m giving you a field commission to Captain, 2rd company is yours. Congratulations Captain Marshall”. The colonel produced captains’ chevrons from his desk drawer and the major pinned them on to his shoulder boards. The colonel and the major saluted, and Marshall, quite disbelieving what just occurred, saluted in return.
“Now captain, here are your orders”, the orderly unfurled a map of the city on the desk. “You are to order 4th and 5th platoons to move just west of the city proper, Harris will take command. They will cover the flank of most of the brigade which has the dangerous task of taking the western half of the city street by street. Make it clear to Harris and James that they are to engage any troops advancing to flank the regulars, especially any Burmese horse. You, leading 1st, 2nd and 3rd platoons will advance up the bank of the Pazundaung Creek. As you can see the creek is defended by a great number of batteries; your orders are, as I’m sure you’ve suspected to take out those batteries and allow the marines to advance up the creek in longboats. Once you’ve cleared the batteries your men will cross the Madrazee Creek and cut off the enemies retreat; you must hold at that point until the marines join you. I’m sure this is all clear to you Captain.”
“Yes, sir Colonel Lambert”
“Good man, report back to your company and advise Harris, James, Hawkins and Lieutenant’s Finney and Harborough of the task at hand.”, he smiled. “As company commander it is your privilege to pin bars newly appointed Lieutenants. You are dismissed. But, before you go, report to Harley, he will show you how to use the hand bombs.” Marshall left Colonel Lambert’s office feeling elated, but a bit queasy at the same time. He descended the stairs and found Lieutenant Harley at a desk, once belonging to the chief customs clerk, writing memorandum to one of a number of regiments he’d conveyed orders to that day. When Harley looked up and saw him in front of his desk he stood at attention and saluted the newly minted captain.
“Sir, might I convey my sincerest congratulations on your promotion to company commander”
“At ease Harley, the colonel asked me to stop by to receive information on a new type of ordinance called a hand bomb.”
Harley smiled. “Yes sir, quite and ingenious and nasty little device, sir.” He produced a box from his desk drawer and unlocked it, revealing a spherical, metallic device about the size of a croquet ball with a key protruding from it. “It’s quite simple really sir, you simply turn the key 180 degrees and then you have fifteen seconds to hurl it at your target. Be very mindful that it is filled with shotgun pellets and has a blast radius of about ten meters; don't worry it's quite light" He handed it to Marshall who lobbed it lightly into the air and caught it in his other hand. "Each of you men will be issued 5 of them in a bandolier strap, don’t worry, a musket ball has very little chance of setting off the charge inside, unless it ignites the fuse. They will be delivered to your company at 15:00; I’ll have a runner take a box of them back to 2rd Company sir, so you can advise your lieutenants and sergeants how to use them.’ Harley saluted and ordered a young private with a box of hand bombs to accompany the captain back to his company.
At 17:30, as the sun hung, pink, and purple, and gold just above the steep tropical peaks to the west he called a council of war. He had previously told each of his platoon commanders his objective, but now was the time to bring together all aspects of this coordinated assault. He told them all that the attack was planned for 18:30 and he filled them in on the details. Soon after the council Harris and James led 4th and 5th platoons on horseback the four miles to the left flank.
“Finney, Harborough, Hawkins, prepare the platoons make sure each man has a full complement of musket balls and that their hand bombs are secured. Have them saddle their horses as discreetly as possible under cover of those ruined market stalls. I’m riding over to the right to coordinate with Captain Macallan.”
His subordinates dispersed to go about their duties, and he mounted his charger and rode with his aid to meet Macallan. He rode over to the ruined shack where the marines had set up their headquarters, and was led inside by a burly sergeant with a thick salt and pepper beard.
“Ah, Marshall, may I first extend my congratulations. The boats are outfitted and my men are in readiness.” He led Marshall to the map on a rickety table. “The vanguard of our boats will sail upstream and draw the attention of the shore batteries; the sound of the first volley will be your queue to charge the batteries; it goes without saying that the speed and ferocity of your hussars is the key to the whole thing. If all goes as planned their gunners won’t have the chance to turn their guns on you.”
“Don’t worry Captain Macallan, my boys will get the job done.”
“Please, call me William; I’m no longer your superior so we can dispense with certain formalities”
“Then feel free to call me Jon”
“Well Jon, care to join me for a scotch, it’s my family label, 20 years old. Steels one’s nerves just a bit”
“Of course William, thank you.”
William produced two glasses and a bottle and poured the drinks. He raised his glass and Jon followed suit. “Here’s to Her Majesty, sturdy boats, fast horses and sure musket balls. Cheers!”
“Cheers! Keep your head down William and I’ll see you at the Madrazee.” Jon rode back across the lines and Sergeant Major Jennings and Lieutenants Finney, Hawkins and Harborough were quick to meet him.
“All the men of 1st Platoon are ready sir.
“Second platoon stands ready sir.”
“Third platoon is ready to go sir.”
“Excellent gentlemen, I’ll ride at the head of 1st platoon and take out the first battery. Jennings, your orders are to take out the second battery as quickly as you can. Finney, the third battery is yours. The marines coming up the creek should keep their attention and retain the element of surprise. Once you take a battery advance on the next one as fast as you can. Keep your eyes on where the other platoons are and the state of affairs. If we leapfrog over one another taking one battery out at a time, we’ll get through this okay. Remember your hand bombs, toss one or two at each battery when you get within 25 yards or so; don’t follow them in too fast. Now, move your platoons into position and follow me in, the first volley of their guns will signal our advance.”
The company moved into their designated positions, adequately screened by burnt out buildings, and waited. They were a sight to see rifles lying perpendicular to their saddles, sabers drawn, horses chomping at the bit. Jon checked and rechecked everything, bombs secured, revolvers oiled and ready firmly in their holsters, shining saber drawn. The wait, though a mere 15 minutes, seemed interminable, and the anxiety showed clearly on the faces of every man in every squadron of every platoon, officers and enlisted men alike. Suddenly the thunder of the cannons erupted in a disciplined cadence. Boom! Boom! Boom!
“Now at full gallop, Charge!” he shouted, and took off every man and steed as if in unison, the earth shaking rumble of a hundred and eighty horse stormed forward. One hundred and fifty yards away the enemy gunners turned and froze, eyes widened at the coming assault. The bugler beside Jon blew a signal as the hussars came within 50 yards and first platoon’s charge slowed ever so slightly. Second and third platoons raced past them toward their first objectives. Corporal Channing of first platoon, an avid cricket player back home, hurled a hand bomb at 35 yards, the explosion tore apart the cohesiveness of the riflemen preparing to stunt the onslaught. Men scampered to reform a firing line, but the first platoon was on them, within 90 seconds the battery was put out of action and all its defenders slaughtered.
Jon raised his bloodied saber and the bugler let out another call. Jon led first platoon hard to the left and surveyed the battle in front of him. At the second battery he saw that they had finished off the defenders; as he rode past the third battery he saw Harborough sweep aside a defenders bayoneted rifle and shoot the fellow dead with his revolver. The attack was going as planned, but the enemy’s shore defenses extended nearly one and a half miles.
Channing tossed his second bomb at the fourth Burmese battery and killed the eight men attempting to turn one gun to face them. The battery commander had already formed two small firing lines and the other four man crews strained to turn their loaded cannon toward the horseman. Three, then four, then five bombs flew over Jon’s head, but not before the firing lines could get off their first volley of musket fire. There were shouts of wounded men and the braying of wounded horses, and then two then, three, then four and five bombs exploded tearing up the enemy ranks. Jon led his men forward, three squads of hussars returned fire throwing the defenders into more confusion. Then with the flashing of sabers, and the thrusting of bayonets, and the blast of revolvers, first platoon made quick work of all that were left.
He could see second platoon, Finney with pistol in one hand and saber in the other leading the charge, cutting through the defenders’ ranks. The bugle called and another deft move to the left, then he heard the blast of a cannon shot. The shot had torn into third platoon, which continued to charge forward, first taking the gun at the ready and racing toward the others, cutting down riflemen as they roared forward. Harborough was stalwart and in charge of the situation.
Turning and facing the next shore battery, he saw that three of the five guns had been turned to fire at his advancing platoon. “Full gallop, Charge!” he cried and the bugler sounded full gallop. To his right came the sound of musket fire and the boom of a small cannon. Members of each of the gun crews fell dead or wounded and the small cannon ball had upset one of the cannons, smashing its wheel. The stout defenders unleashed a hail of musket fire and two cannonballs which tore into them. The muscular cricketer Channing had taken a direct hit from a cannon ball which tore both he and his horse in half, going straight through and killing a half dozen others. First platoon, which had just suffered its first severe casualties, fell on the defenders like an avalanche slashing and goring them without mercy. Another hard turn to his left flank, and Jon led the platoon forward again. In front of him he could see Second and third platoons engaged in hard fought skirmishes. Far to his right he could the continuous popping of musket fire from the marines who were firing at the forward batteries to keep the defenders occupied. To his left and behind he heard the explosions of hand bombs and the furious roar of hundreds of rifles as the Irish Guards advanced through the streets of the city.
The defenders were running about with controlled haste, unbroken and determined to beat back the hussar’s assault. They were turning some of their guns to meet the charge, while others fired upon the marines. Jon holstered his half loaded pistol and hurled a hand bomb has far as he could. He knocked out an entire gun crew preparing to fire. Others followed suit and a volley of seven or eight hand bombs flew through the air, some fell short kicking dust into the air, but four of five were true enough to stop the gunners from getting off their shots. Through a light, but deadly, hail of musket fire the first platoon took the battery. When Jon turned his platoon he saw that third platoon had knocked out the last battery and he could see the Mandrazee Creek, but their path was blocked by at least two platoons of Burmese riflemen and a few of the survivors from the gun crews. They were poised and formed perfectly disciplined firing lines, they even had two small infantry cannons aimed directly at them. Their officers held their swords aloft.
Jon signaled to the bugler, who blew a new command; the three platoons rapidly formed up in one line, and charged, determined to ride right over the enemy. The two small cannon fired a volley which failed to slow the hussars’ advance. The riflemen held their fire until the hussars were within a hundred yard; they were smart, unafraid, disciplined. A few seconds later a volley of musketry flew from the horsemen and the infantry in front, and from the marines on the boats to their right, men on both sides fell. The Burmese were taking the worst of it but they stood fast, getting of one last round of fire before they retreated into the cover of nearby buildings. The three platoons raced passed them, over the creek and to their left; there they held fast.
Jon ordered three-fourths of his platoon to unhorse and take up positions behind large piles of stones on the north bank of the creek while the rest of the platoon secured their horses.. The bugler relayed the order to the other platoons and with precise military efficiency set up a strong defensive position with nearly one hundred men behind the natural works of river boulders. Within twenty minutes their line was bolstered by two-hundred and fifty marines who took up positions on their left. A half hour later Harris and James along with fourth and fifth platoons extended the line with another eighty men. To the far right of the line a battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers took up positions, closing off any escape route from the city.
Ten minutes later , the throaty sound of a Burmese officer could be heard and then they saw the routed, but undaunted, maroon clad rifleman of the Burmese army appear from the streets and alleyways, advancing toward their position, nearly half a battalion strong. They did not notice the hussars and marines in front of them, their attention turned to their rear, until the Brits fired their first volley. Their officers shouted frantically and their depleted battalion broke up into squads to form lines and return fire. By that time the men behind the rocks fired off another volley and more Burmese fell. But, as they had proved time and again, the Burmese maintained their composure and returned fire. Their shots mostly hit the rocks and wounded only a few. Meanwhile the five hundred Englishmen unleashed another, devastating volley, tearing up squads and leaving others barely effective.
The exchange of fire went on for a mere fifteen minutes when from out of the streets of the city came the earsplitting howl of the Irish Guards advancing on the Burmese rear. That was it. The brave native army dropped their rifles, grabbed any piece of cloth they could find and waved it in the air; pleading for surrender. The Irish guards rounded up the prisoners and put them under guard.
Jon and Macallen, strode out to meet the officers of the Irish Guards, the lieutenants and the enlisted men stood at attention and saluted them as they passed. Finally they vigorously shook hands with two captains in celebration of a fortuitous meeting and a victory well earned. Soon the commanding officer of the Irish Guards came over accompanied by his staff. All the junior officers came to attention.
“At ease, gentlemen. I’m Colonel Kevin O’Leary commander of the 23 Irish Guards. A fine job clearing out the batteries on the Pazundaung, you’re a credit to Colonel Lambert and Colonel Macdonald’s fine judgment.”
“Thank you Colonel”, said Jon and his sentiments were repeated by William.
“I’ll be sure to tell them of your conduct when they arrive which should be presently. General Crawford and Admiral Leopold are en route and should arrive within the next half hour.” Within a few minutes Colonel Lambert and Colonel Macdonald joined the meeting of the senior officers on the field. They walked to a position just forward of the English lines and each man took out his spyglass. One and a half miles in the distance stood the imposing, well fortified, red brick palace known as the Shive Dagon Pagoda, bristling with scores of heavy guns. It was the seat of the provincial governor and he intended to make the British Empire pay dearly for taking the city. The approach was dismal for an attacker, a mile and a half stretch of open ground under which explosive shells would devastate the British ranks; and on the right the fortress was protected by a vast lake and marshy ground along its perimeter. It looked daunting to say the least.
Then a runner approached them. “Sirs, General Crawford and Admiral Leopold request the presence of all of you at their temporary headquarters back at the Mandrazee; please follow me if you will. The officers followed the sergeant back through the center of the lines to a twenty foot square canopy where the general and the admiral, glittering in their finery, stood at a table surrounded by a coterie of staff officers majors, captains, and lieutenants. Jon and all the other field officers stood at attention and saluted the two commanders of the expeditionary forces until they were told to dispense with the formalities.
“I congratulate you Captain Macallan. Your entire company ran the gauntlet of the Pazundaung, well done”, said the admiral.
“Thank you admiral, but most of the credit goes to the 7th hussars and Captain Marshall. If his men had not cleared the batteries so effectively, we’d have been torn up pretty badly.”
“Yes, fine work, great courage and tenacity Captain Marshall; Colonel Lambert was right about you”, said General Crawford.
“Thank you General Crawford, sir. I believe it was a team effort all around. Captain Macallan’s quick thinking saved a lot of my boys, and if it had not been for the Irish Guards we’d have surely been outflanked.”
“Are we awaiting reinforcements to storm the pagoda General Crawford?”
“No Colonel Lambert, Admiral Leopold has devised a plan the like of which I’ve never thought possible in all my thirty years of service. You are to report to your commands, deploy along the southern end of the creek, and await my signal to advance.”
On a collection of large stones along the creek, Jon sat drinking a tin cup of mediocre coffee with Finney, Harborough, and Harris; Lieutenant James was at the medical tent having a very minor wound patched up and having a poultice applied. It was 21:00 hours, darkness had swallowed the sun, and a soft breeze felt restorative in the sticky clime. The officers were enjoying themselves talking about beautiful girls in Delhi, intestinally jarring sea voyages, and pranks played on the headmaster back at school.
At once there came a buzzing sound like a monstrous swarm of bees. Soon, overhead Jon could see two vast bulbous shapes hundreds of feet in the air, heading straight for the governor’s fortress. The laughter stopped. Without awaiting orders he sent his lieutenants back to their platoons with two specific orders “Have the men ready, but don’t move forward until your receive further orders.” Jon mounted his horse and rode over to the canopy that served as Colonel Lambert’s headquarters.
“Welcome Jon, no need for formalities. I think we’re in for a show. Go back to your company and remain vigilant.”
When he got half way back to his company, he witnessed the most extraordinary thing he’d ever seen. The two great airships, for that was that only proper way to describe them, hovered directly over the pagoda and opened the three cargo holds on the underside of their hulls dropping a score of tremendous flaming barrels and massive bombs. The series of explosions nearly burst his eardrums and as the barrels burst into flame and spread quickly, engulfing the fortress, he swore he could feel the heat from over a mile away. With his eyes fixed on the inferno he rode back to his company, all the while watching as men scurried from the pagoda, many rolling in the grass or diving into the lake to douse the flames that adhered to their clothing.
Very soon afterwards a small group of envoys emerged from the pagoda bearing a half scorched white flag as large as a bed sheet. They stopped two hundred yards from the British lines. A captain from the Irish Guards, accompanied by a dozen or so riflemen approached the envoys, and after a brief conversation escorted them to within seventy-five yards of the British lines. Colonel Lambert along with Major Donaldson and Lieutenant Harley; Colonel Macdonald and his aids, and Colonel O’Leary and his aids went out to meet the governor’s envoys. Their meeting bore all the trappings of an official, unconditional surrender, and it too was brief. Colonel Lambert accepted the governor’s sword, which he along with the officers and envoys brought back and presented to General Crawford and Admiral Leopold.
Southern Burma belonged to the Queen’s Empire.