A question was posted on the Great War Forum about whether a soldier of No. 2 Mountain Battery was one of Lord Roberts' pall-bearers at his funeral. The following piece is a slightly edited version of my answer and research into the funeral, and answering the question about whether this family story was true or not. It is also the story of the final journey home of the General who had led his men, British and Indian, across the mountains and deserts of distant Afghanistan over 30 years previously in another age.

The Funeral of Lord Roberts of Kandahar
By Garen Ewing

Age 82, Sep 30 1914
Through the long years of peril and of strife,
He faced Death oft, and Death forbore to slay,
Reserving for its sacraficial Day,
The garnered treasure of his-crowned life,
So saved him till the furrowed soil was rife'
With the rich tillage of our noblest dead;
Then reaped the offering of his honoured head,
In that red field of harvest, where he died,
With the embattled legions at his side.
- Roberts of Kandahar by Sidney Low, Nov. 1914

General Frederick Sleigh Roberts actually had three services after his death on 14 November 1914; one at HQ in France where he died (he was visiting Indian and British troops on the front line), one at his home church in Ascot, and then the big one at St. Paul's Cathedral. No. 2 Mountain Battery were involved in the procession on its way to St. Paul's, and may have been the unit just in front of the coffin. The actual pall-bearers on this journey were high-ranking Generals, including Kitchener. There follows a little summary of who was involved, where, and the final journey of this much-loved public figure.

We start in France, at General H.Q...

"At 9.30 am the coffin, draped in the Union Jack, with the dead Field-Marshal's sword and cap on top of it, was borne from the house and placed on a gun-carriage by a carrying party of eight branches of the Royal Artillery, of which Royal Regiment Lord Roberts' was Colonel-Commandent, and two from the Irish Guards, of which he was Colonel. Within the courtyard of the house was a guard of honour composed of representatives from different Indian regiments, who afterwards took their places in the procession. Outside, drawn up in line in the street, was a guard of honour of British Infantry."
"... The procession was marshalled in the following order: British cavalry, French cavalry, detachments from territorial battalions and Indian troops, regimental officers, the Maire of the town, the Président du Tribunal and the Sous Préfat, Indian officers, officers of the French Mission with the British Army, officers of the General Headquarters Staff and French General officers, the personal Staff of the Commander-in-Chief, the gun carriage escorted by eight General officers acting as pall-bearers, representatives of Earl Roberts' family, H.R.H the Prince of Wales, representing his Majesty the King, Field-Marshal Sir J. D. P. French, G.C.B., G.C.V.O., K.C.M.G., representative of his Majesty the King of the Belgians, Major H. R. H. Prince Arthur of Connaught, K.G., K.T., G.C.V.O., A.D.C., Colonel V. Huguet, C.V.O., representing the president of the French Republic, a detachment of French cavalry, a detachment of Royal Horse Artillery."

After a small church service, the coffin was placed in a 'motor-ambulance' which was to convey it to Boulogne.

"It was an impressive scene in the bright sunlight. In front of the Mairie stood the ambulance ready to start on its journey to the coast; behind it were the lines of khaki soldiers, and behind them again the blue cloaks and the silver helmets of the French cavalry flashing in the sun, and right across the sky in front of a dark mass of clouds to the north-west gleamed a double rainbow. At this moment a fresh sound was heard above the roar of the artillery, and the brassy music of the trumpets as a British aeroplane, one of the aerial guard that had been watching and protecting the procession, swooped up into sight, circled the square, and dipped in salute. The last wreath was put in, the door was closed, and the ambulance moved off on its road to Boulogne."

The gun carriage carries Lord Roberts' coffin through the square in this rare photograph taken in France, November 1914.

At Boulogne the coffin was 'borne on the shoulders of British soldiers, British Staff officers, with General Henry Wilson at their head, and French and Indian general officers were the pall-bearers' with a guard of honour formed by the Royal Welsh Regiment, before it was put on board the 'Onward' bound for Folkstone.

From Folkstone the coffin went to his home at Ascot, where a more private ceremony for the family was held, and then the coffin proceeded (on the gun carriage that Roberts' own son had died trying to save in South Africa at Colenso) to Ascot Station:

"Behind the coffin came Lady Aileen Roberts, and among others who followed were Lord Roberts' son-in-law, Major Lewin, Colonel M. W. Sherston, Colonel Sir Neville Chamberlain, and Lord Roberts' private secretary, Mr. Fergusson. Members of the local detachment of the Red Cross, Boy Scouts, boys from the Gordon Boys' Home, and the Church Lad's Brigade also formed part of the procession... ...The coffin was lifted to the shoulders of the eight tall bearers from the Irish Guards, under command of Captain Lord de Vesci, and by them laid in the saloon carriage in the special train."

This train took Roberts' body to Charing Cross Station.

"Very reverently the coffin was carried to a gun carriage of P Battery of the Royal Horse Artillery while the guard of honour presented arms and the distinguished chiefs of Great Britain's Army and Navy saluted their dead leader... ... the procession from the station was headed by the pall-bearers who were: Field Marshal Lord Kitchener, Admiral of the Fleet, Sir Evelyn Wood V.C, Field Marshal Lord Grenfell, Field Marshal Lord Methuen, Field Marshal Lord Nicholson, General Sir J. Hills-Johnes V.C., General Sir R. Biddulph, General Sir A. Hunter, General Sir A. Gaslee, General Sir C. Egerton, Admiral Lord Charles Beresford."

The procession to St. Paul's Cathedral consisted of the 14th County of London Battalion of the London Scottish (its pipers playing), the 5th Battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment, the 4th Battalion of the Grenadier Guards, 2nd Battalion Irish Guards, a detachment of the Royal Naval Brigade, some boys from the Eton Officers Training Corps, "one of the Indian Mountain Batteries" (certainly No. 2 Mountain Battery - "the mules with the little guns on their backs, each mule led by his Indian driver, the men all in khaki with just one splash of dull red in their turbans"), 'P' Battery of the Royal Horse Artillery with gun carriage bearing the coffin, then several distinguished officers, then at the end came some cavalry - 1st Life Guards, Royal Horse Guards and finally King Edward's Horse.

The following piece from The Times does not mention the strong connection No. 2 Mountain Battery had with Lord Roberts, in that it was one of the artillery units to accompany him on the march from Kabul to Kandahar in August 1880 during the Second Afghan War. Roberts took no wheeled transport on the march, including artillery, so only the more manouverable mountain batteries were taken, in the form of light 'screw-guns' that could be dismantled and carried on the back of a mule.

"No. 2 Mountain Battery, which took part in the funeral procession, was raised in 1746 under the name of the 1st Company Bengal Artillery. It lost all but one officer and six men in the Black Hole of Calcutta. The company was re-raised the following year. Its records include Plassy, where it was the only artillery unit, Lake's campaigns of 1800-1, and the first and second Sikh Wars, including Chillianwalla. After the Indian Mutiny - the battery had two officers killed at Lucknow, and took part in the siege of Delhi - the designation of the battery was changed to that it has ever since borne, and its comparatively recent work includes participation in the Hazara Campaign in 1886 and Burmah in 1891-2."

The 2nd Mountain Battery escort Roberts' coffin on its gun carriage in London. Picture courtesy the late Mr. Stewart Bird, whose grandfather appears in the front row of officers leading the Indian drivers. Daily Mirror Nov 20 1914.

Lord Roberts autobiography, 'Forty-one Years in India', is available in the bookshop.


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