Easton Antique Arms

www.antique-swords.co.uk

HOME FOR SALE BUYING AND POSTAGE ANTIQUE SWORD RESEARCH
 
A SPECIAL WILKINSON SWORD FOR AN OFFICER OF THE GURKHA RIFLES
By Matt Easton


It seems fitting on this, Armistice Day 11th November 2018, the 100th anniversary of the end of WW1, to honour a fallen soldier.

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 approved of.

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 right-handed bowler.


The 4th Gurkha Rifles at Fort White in 1890.

Brodhurst was 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.

Brodhurst served 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 China.

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.

WW1

 

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 Turkish Army.

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.

However, the 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 Canal.

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.

BATTLE OF NEUVE CHAPELLE

 

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 front.

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 1915.

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 Sirhind Brigade.

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 Belgian town.

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:

“The 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 support.

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.

Major 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 reinforce.”


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 West-Vlaanderen, Belgium.
 

CONCLUSION

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.

While 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.

The Gurkhas 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.