The only serviceman to win the VC during the First World War in January 1915 was Captain Eustace Jotham. A centenary commemorative paving stone iss due to be unveiled one hundred years later on 7 January 2015 in Kiddermnster where he was born in 1883. The stone is to be placed close to the foot of the Angel of Peace outside St Mary's And All Saints Church, Kidderminster. The unveiling ceremony will be carried out by the Chairman of the Wye Forest District Council. On the same day Captain Jotham's posthumous VC will be on display at the Corn Exchange of the Town Hall. The paving stone itself had been on display in the foyer of the headquarters of the Wye Forest District Council for two days in December 2014. In September 2018 a stone to the memory of Private John Young will also be laid in the town as he too was born in Kidderminster.
Nearly a hundred years ago stationed on the North-West Frontier and acting as 'Scouts', the 51st Sikhs' main duties were to guard against sporadic raiding parties made up from Pathan tribesmen. As part of this defence a chain of outposts with telegraphic links was established along the 300-mile frontier which was 100 miles deep. One of the provinces on the Punjab Frontier was Waziristan which had been the scene of much fighting in the early part of the war.
The North-West Frontier had a history of conflict, although the responsibility for any fighting in the years of the war could hardly be laid at the British or even Turkish doors, but was still nevertheless serious enough to need the involvement of at least 20 British or Indian regiments for the duration of the war. The main tribes involved in attacks against the British included the Tochi, Mohmand, Bunerwal, Swat and Mahsuds.
Despite Afghanistan having been twice at war with the British, the Amir of Afghanistan indicated in 1914 that the country would not make trouble for the British during the war. However, the subsequent entry of Turkey into the conflict on the side of Germany made the likelihood of disturbance on the frontier much greater. Although the 51st Sikhs had been initially ordered to guard the Suez Canal from November 1914, several officers had been left behind in charge of the remainder of Scout forces. Capt Eustace Jotham, who returned from leave in England in September 1913, was one of them and he was ordered to join the North Waziristan Militia.
Each British officer in this militia was responsible for about 200 troops, drawn from the Pathan and Mahsud tribes, who were known for their fiery tempers and so required diplomatic handling. The North Waziristan Militia HQ was at Miranshah and was responsible for 18 posts in the upper and lower Tochi Valley on the Bannu–Datta road of about 60 miles. Each post had about 70 to 80 men.
In November 1914 Jotham was involved in an operation which successfully dealt with a native attack against Miranshah.
Two months later on 6 January 1915, Afghan tribesmen, supporters of Turkey, encircled one of the posts at Boya and then cut one of the telegraph lines to HQ 15 miles away. To deal with this threat Capt Jotham headed a column of 37 mounted troopers early the following day, arriving at Boya at 9 am. They then moved on to Spina Khaisora where hostile tribesmen were ready to attack. Reaching a post in a deep nullah (ravine), Jotham realised that his column was up against a much bigger force than was first thought. Quickly giving orders to turn round, the small group became encircled by a possible 1,500 tribesmen firing from both sides of the nullah. Desperate to escape from the trap, Jotham ordered the column to break into three sections, and two of these managed to get away. Jotham, in the last section, saw that one of his Indian troopers had been knocked off his horse and he was determined to save his colleague from being left behind in enemy hands.
Jotham allowed the rescued Indian sowar to jump on his own pony, and the two men then struggled to escape, but with the extra weight on the pony's back a tragic end was inevitable and they were gunned down by rifle fire and finished off by knife wounds and sword cuts; their bodies were severely mutilated.
Capt Jotham was to be awarded the VC for this extreme bravery and self sacrifice and his remains were buried in Miranshah Cemetery, North Waziristan, North-West Frontier, Plot 4, Grave 45.
After Capt Jotham's death his father received letters from several of his son's fellow officers, including one dated 20 March 1915 from Maj Walter St Hill of the Royal Fusiliers, who had become acquainted with Jotham when the latter was on leave. In this letter he described what happened during a train crash, when Jotham 'played a notable part' in rescuing trapped passengers in a railway coach following a crash of the Edinburgh and Glasgow expresses at Aisgill Junction. The rear coach of the Glasgow express was telescoped by the Edinburgh express and the coach caught fire; Jotham rescued four passengers. Sixteen people died in the crash. Hill was in the same coach and took part in the rescue where he
noticed a man working with ceaseless energy and pluck and always in the right directions. He was on the top of the compartment, already a mass of flames, handing out the poor people as we could extricate them. The while talking to them as if nothing was at stake and cheering them with kind words. He actually, to my certain knowledge, handed out four himself, his hair singed, his coat and cap on fire, working quite unconcernedly. . . . We travelled together to Leeds, and during this journey I took to him in a way that I think I have never done to any man before. We wrote to each other at Christmas, 1913, and on 12th Dec. . I received a regimental card from him, on which he wrote that 'it was hard to be shut up in a mud [?] sun-baked fort when he longed to be in France, where he hoped I now was.' I at once replied, and to my sincere regret the letter was returned to me marked, Deceased, killed in action.
Another of the many letters sent to Jotham's father was one dated 1 August 1915 from Lt Col G. Roos-Keppel writing from the Chief Commissioner's Camp, N.W. Frontier Provinces.
I hope you will excuse my writing to tell you how glad I am that your son's services have been recognized by the grant of the V.C. No V.C. can have been more nobly won. Your son having miraculously cut his way through hundreds of fanatical tribesmen, deliberately turned back and went in again to save one of his sowars who was down in the melee, although he knew that he was practically certainly sacrificing his life. He killed seven of the enemy before his death, and his gallantry has made a deep impression, not only on the men of the North Waziristan Militia, but even on the enemy. We were all proud of him, and grateful to him for setting such a magnificent example, which is specially valuable in a critical time like the present one.
For this gallant deed in the Tochi Valley. India, later to become part of Pakistan, Capt Jotham was awarded a posthumous VC which was gazetted on 24 July 1915 as follows:
Eustace Jotham, Capt., 51st Sikhs, Frontier Force. For most conspicuous bravery on 7 Jan. 1915, at Spina Khaisora (Tochi Valley). During operations against the Khostwal tribesmen, Capt. Jotham, who was commanding a party of about a dozen of the North Waziristan Militia, was attacked in a nullah, and almost surrounded by an overwhelming force of some 1,500 tribesmen. He gave the order to retire, and could have himself escaped, but most gallantly sacrificed his own life by attempting to effect the rescue of one of his men who had lost his horse.
Jotham's name is included on Face 2 of the Delhi Memorial (India Gate), at the eastern end of the Rajpath or Kingsway. The memorial, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, commemorates 13,300 Commonwealth servicemen and 70,000 soldiers of 'undivided India' who served and died during the First World War. His posthumous VC was presented to his father at Buckingham Palace on 29 November 1916 and later passed to Margaret, Jotham's sister, whose son presented it to Bromsgrove School where it remains together with his BWM.
Jotham is also commemorated at Lichfield, Whittington Barracks, together with several other VCs. A memorial plaque was erected in the Sanctum Crypt at St Luke's Church, Chelsea and lastly he is also commemorated at Bromsgrove School.
Eustace Jotham, second son of Frederick Charles and Mary C A Jotham (née Laxton) was born in Linden House, Chester Road, Kidderminster, on 28 November 1883. Having links with the wine trade and being a director of Charles Harvey & Co, Frederick Jotham had become a wealthy man. Linden House later became known as Stanmore House. At the time of their son's death the Jothams lived in Cambridge at 12 Millington Road.
Eustace initially attended Lucton School, a boarding school near Leominster in Herefordshire, as a day-boy and was living in Kingsland nearby, possibly with relatives. He later went to Bromsgrove School, 1899–1901, where he became a member of the Cricket First XI and more importantly was groomed for entry into RMC Sandhurst, which he joined in 1902. He was commissioned into the 1st Battalion, the Prince of Wales's (North Staffordshire) Regiment on 22 April 1903 with which he 'acclimatised' before sailing with the 2nd Battalion to India in September 1903 where he was seconded to the Indian Army on 23 June 1905, whose officers were mainly British in command of Indian soldiers. Eustace was promoted to Lieutenant on 2 July 1905. He then became a member of the 102nd King Edward's Own Grenadiers. In 1908 he transferred to the 51st Sikhs (Frontier Force), who had been formed in the nineteenth century as the 1st Regiment of Infantry of the Frontier Brigade. In addition to guarding the 300-mile stretch of the North-West Frontier they had fought in the Punjab campaign 1848–9; the Afghan War and the Boxer Rebellion in China, and the role of his new regiment was to guard and patrol the Indian North-West Frontier on its border with Afghanistan. By 1911 Jotham had been attached to the North Waziristan Militia based at Miranshah and on 22 April 1912 had become a captain. In 1913 he returned to England on leave.
© Gerald Gliddon December 2014.
This account of Jotham's career is based on the published version in VCs of the First World War: The Sideshows (The History Press 2014)
Image of Captain Eustace Jotham VC courtesy the BBC (Hereford and Worcester).