A SPECIAL WILKINSON SWORD FOR AN OFFICER OF THE GURKHA
By Matt Easton
seems fitting on this, Armistice Day 11th November 2018,
the 100th anniversary of the end of WW1, to honour a
This sword recently came into my
possession and even without the provenance would have
attracted my attention, as fitting exactly into the kind
of swords I specialise in: non-regulation, or rather
special order, officers’ fighting swords. It was made in
1897 by Wilkinson for an officer of the 4th Gurkha
Rifles who served in war and peace for over two decades,
ultimately giving his life.
The sword itself is
non-regulation in 3 basic features:
1) The blade is not the regulation 1892 pattern
thrusting blade designed by Colonel Fox, nor the earlier
type of fullered cut and thrust sabre blade designed by
Henry Wilkinson. It is instead a type of blade which
Wilkinson had been producing to special order since the
1840s and which they called the ‘flat solid’. This is
similar in outline to the 1845 pattern blade, but with a
totally different cross-section, having no fuller and
being a shallow triangle or wedge-section. This gives
better cutting performance, with edge geometry improved
by the more narrow angle and consequently less friction
passing through a target. It comes, arguably, at the
expense of rigidity and durability.
2) The almost-straight blade is 1 1/4 inches
wide, as opposed to the then-regulation 1 inch, or the
earlier infantry regulation of 1 1/8 inches (which after
about 1870 it became increasingly popular to reduce to 1
inch). The blade is also 33 inches long, which is very
slightly longer than the usual 32.5 inches.
3) The grip features the full-width tang
construction invented by Charles Reeves at the beginning
of the 1850s, patented in 1853 and subsequently marketed
by Wilkinson as the ‘Patent Solid Hilt’ (Wilkinson
bought the rights to the patent and eventually bought
Reeves’ entire business).
The resulting sword, with its regulation 1827
pattern Rifles guard and 1895 pattern fully chequered
backstrap and domed pommel, is a wonderful fighting
weapon. It is, in my view, the culmination of many
improvements made in British officers’ swords during the
second half of the 19th century and conforms well with
the sort of weapon that fencing authors like Captain
Alfred Hutton and Captain Cyril Matthey would have
Whereas Colonel Fox had overseen
the development of the almost purely thrusting blade of
1892 (as featured on the 1895 and 1897 pattern infantry
officers’ swords), accompanied by Ferdinand Masiello’s
Infantry Sword Exercise of 1895, Fox’s opponents Hutton
and Matthey argued for a robust cut and thrust blade,
together with a more rough and tumble style of fighting
training, which foreshadowed some of the combative
training methods of the Edwardian and WW1 era.
Fox and Hutton’s conflict would later culminate in their
failed attempts at collaboration to design the next
British cavalry sword. Fox eventually won, with his 1908
pattern design, but earlier prototypes show that Hutton
had preferred to retain a compromise cut and thrust
design. This particular sword is a big and beefy cut and
thrust blade, with an extra strong hilt construction,
which makes sense when we consider the identity of the
officer and his regiment. The Ghurkhas were often on the
frontline of keeping the Northern borders of the Empire
secure and the officer himself was a product of India.
MAJOR BERNARD MAYNARD LUCAS BRODHURST
Photo courtesy of the Imperial War Museum.
Bernard Maynard Lucas Brodhurst was born on 6
August 1873 in Benares, Uttar Pradesh (India), the
younger son of Mr. Justice Maynard Brodhurst of the
Indian Civil Service and judge of the High Court, in the
United Provinces of India, and Mrs. Mary Brodhurst.
He went to school at Clifton College and graduated
as an Army officer through the Royal Military College,
Sandhurst. He was in the cricket 11 at both these
establishments and was also in the MCC. He played
cricket for Hampshire on one occasion and was a
The 4th Gurkha Rifles at Fort
White in 1890.
commissioned in 1892 and gazetted to the unattached list
in September of that year. He was attached to the Border
Regiment for a year in India and thereafter gazetted to
the 4th Gurkha Rifles in September 1894, becoming a
Lieutenant in December 1894.
with the 4th Gurkhas in the Waziristan Expedition of
1894-95, receiving the associated medal and clasp, then
with the China Expeditionary Force (Boxer Rebellion) in
1900-1901, again receiving the campaign medal. It was
between these two campaigns that he purchased this
sword, which must have been at least his second one. It
is service sharpened and presumably accompanied him to
In 1900, Brodhurst was made Adjutant of
the Battalion and he was promoted to Captain in
September 1901. From 1903-06 he was the first Inspector
of Signalling to the Imperial Service Troops. He was
promoted to Major in September 1910.
When WW1 was declared, Brodhurst was
on leave in Chesterfield (where his brother M. S.
Brodhurst lived and worked as a solicitor). He
immediately redeployed and travelled to Cairo in Egypt
to meet up with his regiment, the 4th Gurkha Rifles, who
had travelled there from India to oppose the Ottoman
Brodhurst was stationed with the
various other regiments of Gurkha Rifles for some time
at the Suez Canal, which was a critical tactical
objective during WW1 for Britain to maintain contact and
supply with India. It was later to come under large
scale attack by German and Turkish forces and in
preparation for that, Brodhurst and his men were
involved in supervised the digging of trenches and other
fortifications along the Canal.
regiment was soon ordered to the Western Front, as part
of the Indian Expeditionary Force A, arriving in
Marseillies on 30 November 1914.
BATTLE OF GIVENCHY
The first major engagement on
the Western Front that we have Brodhurst recorded as
taking part in was the Battle of Givenchy. He is
recorded as being seriously ill, but demanding and being
allowed to take part in the attack anyway. This began on
19 December 1914 at 3.10am, in freezing rain between La
Bombe Crossroads, near Neuve-Chapelle, and La Bassée
The Lahore Division set out from the
village of Givenchy-lès-la-Bassée and took the first two
German lines while coming under heavy machine gun fire.
The Garhwal Brigade and the Gurkhas captured 300 metres
of enemy lines at Festubert.
The enemy regrouped
and countered quickly, making extensive use of hand
grenades and with heavy artillery support bombarding the
Indian troops. The Germans also succeeded in detonating
mines under the British and Indian lines. German
infantry advanced on Festubert, surrounded Givenchy and
captured over 800 British troops in the process.
British and Indian losses in this engagement were very
high, with the British force losing around 4000 men
compared to the German Army’s 2000. The weather
conditions contributed to a lot of casualties, with many
troops suffering trench foot and frostbite. The Indian
troops were particularly hard hit by both the weather
and the German Army.
On Christmas Day 1914
Brodhurst is recorded as returning to England for
treatment of frostbitten feet, a stark reminder of the
grim conditions that soldiers were facing. Brodhurst
remained in London, being treated in a private nursing
home, until in March 1915 he returned to active duty on
the Western Front.
Various sources record that Major
Brodhurst fought with the 4th Gurkha Rifles at the
Battle of Neuve Chapelle between 10-13 March 1915, as
part of the Sirhind Brigade.
During this battle,
British and Commonwealth, particularly Indian, troops
managed to smash through German lines, taking ground and
prisoners. This was partly achieved thanks to the
efforts of the Royal Flying Corps, who had for weeks
previously gained air superiority over the area and this
in turn led to greater mapping and reconnaisance of the
However, the attack was not exploited
effectively and casualties were high. It proved to be a
useful lesson for future operations at least, though it
has been noted that the heavy artillery barrage that the
Germans came under from British forces in particular,
led them to create more effective fortifications soon
after as a result.
SECOND BATTLE OF YPRES
British and native officers of the 1/4th Gurka Rifles in
At the Second Battle of Ypres, where
my own great-grandfather as a Colonel of the RAMC
suffered poisoned gas, Major Brodhurst found himself
commanding the 4th Gurkhas and second in command of the
The Second Battle of Ypres
involved a series of engagements from 22 April to 25 May
1915, as both sides vied for control of this strategic
I will defer at this point to the
text from the excellent book The Indian Corps in France,
by Lieutenant Colonel John Walter Beresford Merewether
and Frederick Edwin Smith, Earl of Birkenhead,
recounting the events of 27 April 1915:
Sirhind Brigade advanced on a two-battalion front, the
1/4th Gurkhas under Major Brodhurst on the right, and
the 1/1st Gurkhas commanded by Lt-Colonel W. C. Anderson
on the left, with the 4th Liverpools and the remainder
of the 1st Highland Light Infantry and the 15th Sikhs in
In passing the ridge, the attack came
under severe frontal cross fire from rifles and machine
guns, as well as from several other directions. The
enemy had registered the range of every likely spot with
great accuracy; hedges and ditches which would give any
sort of cover had all been marked down, and casualties
were heaviest in their vicinity.
Brodhurst, commanding the 1/4th Gurkhas, was killed
early in the attack, the Adjutant, Captain Hartwell,
being wounded by his side at the same moment.
Three British officers and about thirty men succeeded in
reaching a large farm at the bottom of the slope, which
had apparently been used as a Canadian R.E. depot. Here
they held under a shattering fire, but the remainder of
the battalion could not join them until about 4 p.m.,
when Lt-Colonel Allen, commanding the 4th King’s, seeing
that the 1/4th Gurkhas were held up, determined to
Thus tragically, like so many
men of his generation, ended the career and life of
Major Brodhurst, aged 41. He is buried at La Brique
Military Cemetary No. 2 (Plot I, Row G, Grave 21) in
Researching this sword and the officer who ordered it
reminds us that only 100 years ago people were fighting
and dying with these things that we collect.
Whatever our modern view of the politics of those times,
these were people who believed in duty and their cause,
and they committed their lives to that belief. Their
bravery to me is awe-inspiring and moving.
most areas under Western-control saw mechanised and
long-range warfare by 1897, the areas where the Gurkha
Rifles were campaigning and policing in India and the
North-West Frontier still saw close combat at this time,
where the kukri and sword were still important weapons
of attack and defence. This is the historical context in
which this sword sits, if not really in the poisoned gas
and machinegun bullet-filled air of Ypres.
This sword is an extraordinary piece for an
extraordinary man, who presumable expected to need a
reliable and effective sidearm in Afghanistan or China.
He obviously had strong views about sword design and
committed those to manufacture. It seems fitting to me
that such a sword belonged to an officer born in India,
who served in India and who fought and died alongside
Indian and Nepalese comrades, who sadly have not
received the same recognition that their European
comrades have in subsequent years.
are rightly famous and their fighting spirit now near
legendary. Major Brodhurst of the Gurkha Rifles died
aged 41 without wife or children, alongside his
Nepalese, Indian and British Commonwealth comrades, but
he will be remembered.
| Copyright Matt
Easton, Easton Antique Arms, 2018.