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Amended 9.5.2011. Minor edits & further info. added 9.1.2015.

1516, Private John BROOKS — 13th Light Dragoons

Real name "John Withers".

Birth & early life

Born in Ratcliff, London on the 28th of February 1823. His real name was John Withers. Ratcliff, one of the poorest areas of East London's docklands, was formerly a parish in the Borough of Stepney, but is now in Limehouse.


Enlisted into the 3rd Light Dragoons at London on the 24th of June 1842.

Age: 19 years 3 months.

Height: 5' 6".

Trade: Labourer.

Appearance: Sallow complexion. Hazel eyes. Dk. brown hair.


Embarked for India on the 16th of June 1843. Shown as "proceeding to join" in the January-February musters and "in Hospital" for April 1844, so he must have joined the regiment sometime in March.

Transferred to the 13th Light Dragoons on the 1st of July 1853.

Wounded in action at Balaclava, his horse being blown to pieces by a shell.

Sent to Scutari on the 26th of October and rejoined the regiment on the 14th of December 1854.

From Private to Corporal: 21st of July 1855.

At Scutari General Hospital again from the 26th of July and invalided to England on the 21of August 1855.

Discharge and pension

Discharged from Cahir on the 6th of November 1856, at "Own request after 14 years' service, and being eligible for a deferred pension of 4d. per day upon reaching the age of 50 years".

Served 14 years 5 months.

In Turkey and the Crimea: 2 years.

India: 9 years 11 months.

Conduct and character: "have been very good". In possession of two Good Conduct badges.


Entitled to the Sutlej medal with clasps for Ferozeshuhur, Moodkee and Sobraon. Was wounded at Ferozeshuhur on the 21st of December 1845.

His documents show: entitled to the Sutlej for Moodkee medal with clasps for Ferozeshuhur and Sobraon, Crimean medal with clasps for Alma, Balaclava, and Sebastopol, and the Turkish medal. Written in pencil: "Says he also has the Punjab medal with clasps for Chilianwala and Goojerat".

No trace on the Punjab medal roll but he is shown on the muster rolls as being with the Regiment during the period of the Punjab campaign (September 1848-February 1849) but at the Landour Depot in March of 1849.

"Deferred pension" granted from the 24th of March 1873. He was then living at 36, Effra Parade, Water Lane, Brixton, London. (His documents state: "Man attended and identified. Small book and Discharge Certificate returned to man. 3/3/73.")


Attended the first Balaclava Banquet in 1875.

Member of the Balaclava Commemoration Society in 1879.

Attended the Annual Dinners in 1890, 1892, 1895, 1897, 1906 and 1908.

He appeared with other Crimean War veterans as a "Battle of Balaklava Hero" in the Lord Mayor's Show, 1890. A programme for this event lists all these men and Brooks is shown as travelling in the 18th carriage in the procession. [RM]

He appears in a photograph taken especially for the fifty-second anniversary of the Charge. (See copy in the 13th Hussar file.) In this he is wearing four medals, one of which could be that for the Punjab, of which no record can be found.

Life after service

Marriage registered

John Withers and Emma Dunn, registered March Quarter 1858, Lambeth.

1861 Census

5, Station Road, West Ham.

John Withers, 38, Greengrocer, born London, Middlesex.

Emma Withers, 23, born Clapham, Surrey.

One child shown: William, 1.

1871 Census

35, Albans Street, Lambeth.

John Withers, 48, Coal [?], born Limehouse.

Emma, [age?], born Clapham.

Five children shown, from 2 to 11 years.

One boarder also shown.

1881 Census

[?], Braileford Road, Lambeth.

The 1881 Census Return shows him as John Withers, a Foreman to a Coal Merchant, aged 57, born in Stepney, London, with his wife, Emma, aged 43, born in Lambeth, Surrey, and six children, three boys and threee girls, the eldest son, 21, a Baker, born Islington, Middlesex, and the others of school age, the youngest, aged two, born in Lambeth.

1891 Census

195, Railton Road, Lambeth.

John Withers, 68, widower, Wharf Foreman, born Ratcliffe.

Ada Withers, 12, daughter, born Brixton.

In 1895, a Canon Radford, a clergyman from South London, wrote to the Daily Telegraph appealing for financial aid for Brooks, who was then a member of his congregation.

"Until a short time ago he had employment with a firm of coal merchants, but being now in his seventy-fourth year, unable to work, he has to support a sick wife and himself on a sum of nine shillings per week, being the utmost that could be obtained from all sources of funds and pensions. The response was a good one, and 500 guineas were subscribed. Part of this was used to buy an annuity, which, with the pension he received from Greenwich Hospital [sic] kept him in comfort until his end."

(There is a copy of the letter which was written to the newspaper and the news-item regarding the success of the fund raised in answer to the appeal made in the letter, in the 13th Hussar file.)

(Click on image to enlarge)


The Thirty-nine Articles lay it down distinctly that "Christian men may lawfully carry arms"; and, since that is universally recognised in this belligerent age, well-nigh two thousand years after the promulgation of the Gospel of Peace and Good-will, there is nothing more to be said against the red-coat bravely and honestly worn. It seems that in all England it would be difficult to find an individual more typically representative of the good and faithful soldier than John Brooks, of the 3rd Light Dragoons, about whom the Vicar of St. Paul's, Upper Norwood, writes to the "Daily Telegraph."

This worthy fellow enlisted — as will be seen — for the 3rd Light Dragoons on June 23rd, 1842, and served in that distinguished regiment for nine years and four months. He was present at the memorable battles in the first Sikh war of Moodkee, Ferozeshah, and Sobraon, and in the second Sikh war at Sudolapore, Chilianwallah, and Goojerat.

Returning to England, he volunteered into the 13th Light Dragoons for service in Turkey and the Crimea, and was present at the Alma and in the never-to-be-forgotten charge of the Light Brigade.

Wounded on the famous day of Balaclava, he was patched up by the doctors and nurses at Scutari and sent home to be discharged at Cahir in 1856 with "a very good character," two distinguished marks for good-conduct pay, and a deferred pension of fourpence per diem.

Since his discharge John Brooks has by hard daily work and the help of his "deferred pension of fourpence per day" supported his wife and family in respectability until, in his seventieth year, he found himself unable to work any longer.

The well-known clergyman who appeals or him to the British public speaks of him as a credit to his parish in every wav. He has been, in fact, the very type and example of "a Christian man carrying arms," but now, notwithstanding the slight increase of his pension, and a special allowance from the Cambridge Fund of five pounds per annum, "the fact stares him in the face that at 73 he has to struggle to make both ends meet on less than nine shillings per week. His wife has lately undergone a serious operation and is also past work."

So writes the Vicar of St. Paul's, Upper Norwood, who adds "I cannot speak too highly of both man and wife. They are without reproach, and worthy of the highest regard."

[Source: The South Wales Daily Post,10th September 1896.]

Marriage registered

John Withers and Sarah Ashkettle, March Quarter 1898, Croydon.

1901 Census

51, Shakespeare Road, Lambeth.

John Withers, 77, visitor, born Stepney.

Sarah Withers, 46, visitor, born Boyton, Suffolk.

1911 Census

Sarah Withers, 56, widow, Dressmaker at home, born Boyton, nr Woodbridge.

Death & burial

Died on the 2nd of March 1911. (Reported death.)

Obituary notice in the Daily Telegraph, 3rd of March 1911.

(See also copy of his obituary taken from an unknown newspaper in the 13th Hussar file.)

His gravestone in the South Metropolitan Cemetery at West Norwood, London, bears the inscription:

"In loving memory of Emma, the beloved wife of John Withers, who died June 21st 1897, aged 57 years. "Thy soul at Rest." Also of John Withers. (John Brooks of the Light Brigade.) Sutlej, Punjab, and the Crimea. Born Feb. 28th 1823 — Died Feb. 28th 1911. "In Christ."

(There is a photograph of this stone in the 13th Hussar file.)


(In a copy of the Balaclava Commemoration Society Rules that once belonged to 1529 John Keen was found an entry by his name: "Private John Brooks, Married, January 1898, aged 74 years."

Extract from the United Services Gazette, 11th of March 1911:

"The death has occurred recently at 20, Palace Road, Norwood, of John Withers, aged 86 years, who was thought locally to have been the last survivor of the battles of Moodkee and Sobraon.

John Withers was born on the 28th of February 1823, and enlisted at Westminster, London, on the 23rd of June 1842 under the name of John Brooks, into the 3rd Light Dragoons and was present with his regiment at the battles of Moodkee, Ferozeshuhur and Sobraon, Ramnugger, Suldapore, Chilianwala and Goojerat.

In 1854 he exchanged into the 13th Light Dragoons for service in Turkey and the Crimea. He was present at the Alma, and was very severely wounded in the famous charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava. He was the recipient of four medals, Sutlej, with clasps for Moodkee, Ferozeshuhur and Sobraon, Punjab, clasps for Chilianwala and Goojerat, Crimean, Alma, Balaclava and Sebastopol, and also the Turkish Crimean medal.

It was always a great delight for him to tell of the Charge of the Light Brigade, how his charger was shot under him and he himself being wounded in the head, and carried off the field by a surgeon and a farrier."

References & acknowledgements

Registration of marriages, and Census information for 1861, 1871, 1891, 1901 & 1911, kindly provided by Chris Poole.

Further information to integrate into account

"A Balaclava Bridegroom", Inverness Courier, Jan. 11, 1898, p. 3e.

"In the pretty church of St. Paul's, Upper Norwood, [Sgt. John Brooks, formerly of the 13th Light Dragoons] one of Britain's veteran heroes, entered upon his second term of married happiness on Thursday. The gallant groom was [Sgt. Brooks] and the blushing bride was Miss Sahah [probably Sarah] Askettle. Their ages were entered in the register as 74 and 43 respectively. Although the parties are well known and highly respected in the neighbourhood, the wedding was of the quietest description.

The 14 years and 137 days which John Brooks devoted to the services of his country were full of excitement and danger. On June 23, 1842, he enlisted in the 3rd Light Dragoons, in which regiment he saw service in India for nine years and four months, being present at the battles of Moodkee, Ferozeshah, Sobraon, Ramnugger, Sodolapore, Chillianwallah, and Goojerat. His Crimean experiences included Alma, and in the famous charge of the Light Brigade he was severely wounded in the head by a bursting shell."

"I find this article in the Inverness Courier very interesting... his real name was JOHN WITHERS and he lived his life under the name of John Brooks. His first wife, Emma, died on the 21st June 1897, aged 59 years, after a very long illness and was buried in the South Metropolitan Cemetery at West Norwood. So he married again in less than six months!

John survived and died on 28th February 1911 which was his 88th birthday. He died at an address in Penge. The entry in Lummis & Wynn's Honour the Light Brigade is wrong to say he died on the 2nd March 1911 — that was the day of his burial under his real name. David Harvey and I visited his grave 22 years ago and the inscription states that JOHN WITHERS was the John Brooks of the Light Brigade. He was buried with his first wife — there are no other inscriptions.

John Withers (aka John Brooks) is shown in a photograph of a group of the survivors of the Balaklava Charge taken in 1890."

[Source: http://cwrs.russianwar.co.uk/cwrs-R-Scots-obits.html (accessed 9.1.2015).]

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