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LIVES OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE
The E.J. Boys Archive

Added 29.4.11. Minor edits 18.2.2014.

1226, Private John O'KEEFE - 13th Light Dragoons

Birth & early life

Born at Shanranhan, Clogeen, Co. Tipperary, Ireland.

Enlistment

Enlisted at Cahir, Co. Tipperary, on the 3rd of January 1846.

Age: 19.

Height: 5' 8".

Trade: Shoe-maker.

Appearance: Sallow complexion. Grey eyes. Lt. brown hair.

Service

Sent to Scutari on the 1st of September 1854 and rejoined the regiment on the 11th of May 1855.

From Private to Corporal: 31st of March 1856.

Transferred to the 2nd Battalion of the Military Train on the 1st of November 1856. Regimental No. 1001.

Served with the force under the command of H.E. the Commander-in-Chief at Lucknow and also with the force under Sir James Outram at Alum Bagh.

Died, "of cholera", in Calcutta, India, on the 29th of April 1859.



EJB: The 2nd Battalion of the Military Train were used as cavalry during the Mutiny. On its formation on the 14th of August 1856, the Regimental Depot of the Corps was at Horfield, Bristol, although the 2nd Battalion in particular was formed at the Curragh by a Major Robertson, who had transferred from the Land Transport Corps. Robertson accepted only the best soldiers, usually ex-cavalrymen, and his unit was chosen in 1856 as being the most efficient for service in China and duly embarked at Woolwich.

During the voyage round the Cape, news of the outbreak of the Mutiny was received and the 2nd Battalion diverted to Calcutta. Conditions in that theatre of war required a force of disciplined European soldiers, so the arrival of the Military Train provided immediate and urgently needed re-inforcements. When the O.C. was asked what his troops could do Robertson is said to have replied, "Anything: cavalry, infantry, gun-teams or what you will."

Some 500 horses of a native regiment recently disbanded because of doubtful loyalty were allocated, and within days of landing the 2nd Battalion were equipped as Light Cavalry and went on the march to Allahabad under Sir James Outram, whose aim was to relieve Lucknow.

The regiment was involved in a number of actions, two other ranks being awarded the Victoria Cross in April of 1858 and Major Robertson being created a C.B.E. When the regiment finally left India the Governor-General issued a special congratulatory order and a salute of guns was fired.

From The Calcutta Gazette Extraordinary, Saturday, 23rd April 1859:

"Notification, Fort William Military Department - the 22nd April 1859: The Second Battalion of the Military Train is under orders for immediate embarkation for England. The career in India of this Corps has been short, but brilliant and eminently serviceable to its country. Upon arrival in the Presidency it was at once converted into a Cavalry Force and sent into the field under the late Sir Henry Havelock.

Throughout the glorious and most trying Summer Campaign of which the first Relief of Lucknow was the fruit, the Military Train bore a part which would have reflected credit upon the oldest and most experienced cavalry soldiers.

It has since served with distinction in various affairs under Lieutenant-General Sir James Outram at the Siege of Lucknow, in the operations about Azimaghur, and lastly in the harassing campaign of Shahabad."

Medals & commemorations

Entitled to the Crimean medal with clasp for Sebastopol and the Turkish medal.

Mutiny medal with clasps for Lucknow and the Relief of Lucknow.

His name is commemorated on the memorial tablet erected to the 2nd Battalion of the Military Train in Bristol Cathedral.

The tablet has the following main inscription:

"To the memory of the Officers, Non-Commissioned Officers and Soldiers of the Second Battalion of the Military Train who fell during the rebellion during the years 1857-1858-1859 whilst serving as Light Cavalry, on the field of battle, died of their wounds or sickness consequent thereon. This tablet is erected by their comrades of all ranks serving in the Military Train."

See also e.g. the records of 1754 [1704?] James Gobby, who died in 1858, and 1373 Henry Land, 13th Light Dragoons, died 1857, with reference to the services of the 2nd Battalion of the Military Train during the Mutiny. Land, O'Keefe and Gobby are all named on the memorial in Bristol Cathedral.

Death & burial

Died "of cholera", in Calcutta, India, on the 29th of April 1859.


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