Major-General John Vaughan’s Medals
The Most Honourable Order of the Bath, C.B. (Military) Companion’s neck badge, silver-gilt and enamel; The Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St. George, C.M.G., Companion’s neck badge, silver-gilt and enamel; Distinguished Service Order, V.R., silver-gilt and enamel; Order of St. John, Officer’s breast badge, plain silver; Queen’s Sudan 1896-98 (Lieut. J. Vaughan, 7/Huss.), officially re-engraved naming and erasure before rank; Queen’s South Africa 1899-1902, 6 clasps, Relief of Kimberley, Paardeberg, Driefontein, Johannesburg, Diamond Hill, Belfast (Major J. Vaughan, 7/Hussars); King’s South Africa 1901-02, 2 clasps, South Africa 1901, South Africa 1902 (Maj. J. Vaughan, D.S.O., 7/Hrs.); 1914 Star, with clasp (Col. J. Vaughan, D.S.O.); British War and Victory Medals, M.I.D. oak leaf (Maj. Gen. J. Vaughan); Defence Medal 1939-45; Khedive’s Sudan 1896-1908, 1 clasp, Khartoum (Lieut. J. Vaughan, 7th Hussars); France, Legion of Honour, Commander’s neck badge, gold and enamel, mounted court-style as worn where applicable, enamel work slightly chipped in places, contact marks overall, otherwise generally very fine.
The medals were sold in 2016 for £10,000 (with an estimate of £6,000-£8,000).
‘He was as hard as nails. Spartan in his disregard of luxury, danger and death. The flesh-pots could never tempt him any more than wild horses, black fences or German bullets could daunt him. He was a man absolutely without fear and he accepted that state of mind as a matter of course. He was completely honest in his outlook on life, punctilious in his code of ethics and scrupulous in his sense of honour. It would have been impossible, unthinkable for him to lie. From his boyhood, he had exercised a self-control which made him utterly indifferent to pleasure, hardship or danger.’
Major-General John Vaughan’s obituary in the 10th Royal Hussars Gazette, refers. The outstanding Great War C.B., C.M.G., Boer War D.S.O., K. St. J. group of thirteen awarded to Major-General J. Vaughan, late 7th and 10th Hussars, onetime attached 21st Lancers: having emerged unscathed from famous charge at Omdurman, he was wounded in the course of winning his D.S.O. in South Africa, a notable action in which, according to Conan Doyle’s history, his men galloped with such dash that some of them got among the Boers with their swords
He subsequently rose to senior command as G.O.C. 3rd Cavalry Division on the Western Front 1915-18 and – in his 70s – commanded the Home Guard in Merioneth and Montgomeryshire: ‘Woe betide the Germans if they had thought of landing on our back door by the shores of Harlech’
Fortunately for posterity’s sake, the General’s remarkable career is described in vivid detail in his entertaining autobiography – Cavalry & Sporting Memories.
- C.B. London Gazette 18 February 1915.
- C.M.G. London Gazette 1 January 1919.
- D.S.O. London Gazette 31 October 1902.
The original recommendation for an immediate award states:
‘On 1 April 1902, near Springs, South Africa, when acting as Intelligence Officer to a column, he led the Queen’s Bays to capture some Boers in a deserted farm. After capturing some prisoners, this regiment was attacked at dawn by superior numbers, and fought a rear-guard action until the 7th Hussars came up and counter-attacked the enemy. Major Vaughan commanded one wing of the bays during the retirement, after having been wounded before daylight, and subsequently advanced with a squadron of the 7th Hussars to assist them by his knowledge of the country. he continued fighting until he fainted.’
John Vaughan was born at Nannau, Dolgelly, North Wales in July 1871, ‘where his family, descendants and the ancient princes of Wales, have been since the dawn of time’.
Educated at Eton and the R.M.C. Sandhurst, young John was commissioned 2nd Lieutenant in the 7th Hussars in March 1891.
Advanced to Lieutenant in September 1894, he served with his regiment in Matabeleland and Mashonaland 1896-97 (Medal & clasp), prior to being embarked for Egypt & The Sudan.
Egypt & The Sudan – Troop Commander, ‘C’ Squadron, Omdurman
Attached to the 21st Lancers as a Troop Commander in ‘C’ Troop, he subsequently participated in the Nile Expedition of 1898 (Queen’s Medal; Khedive’s Medal & clasp). Moreover, he participated in the famous charge at Omdurman, of which action he later wrote in his autobiography, Cavalry and Sporting Memories:
‘I have seen other battles since then but never anything so spectacular. The Dervishes came over the sky line and down the slope towards us at a jog’s trot of five or six miles an hour chanting little songs about Allah. They were clad in dirty white jibbahs with square coloured patches on them. They were very conspicuous, the light was good, and they were at an easy Field Artillery range.
Distributed among their infantry there were a few smallish guns, nine pounders probably, and every now and then they would turn one of these round and fire in our direction but I never saw or heard a shell arrive. l expect their home made powder was bad.
We had the artillery of three Divisions plus four or five gun-boats enfilading their right flank. Sometimes I could see shrapnel bursting exactly right, low in front of them. When the dust cleared there were a few little white patches on the ground but the line came on at the same pace. In fact the Artillery fire could do nothing to stop them. About 700 or 800 yards in front of my position there was a dip in the ground across our front into which they more or less disappeared. When we saw them again they were in easy rifle and machine-gun range. This was the first time that I had seen massed rifle and machine gun fire and it was most impressive. It just swept the Dervishes off the face of the desert in a few minutes.
I returned to my troop and presently the order arrived from ‘K’; ‘The 21st Lancers will clear the road into Omdurman’. We moved out in column of troops with my troop disposed as Advanced Guard. We were soon held up however by Dervishes holding the lower Eastern ridges of Surgham towards the Nile. Of course there was no road in a European sense, merely a lot of more or less parallel camel tracks.
We engaged these Dervishes with rifle fire and got a little way up the hill but could make no progress. Presently an infantry brigade arrived and cleared Surgham with the bayonet.
We then mounted and trotted to the South. I felt annoyed because although I still had the leading troop I was not ordered to send out any patrols. Presently I became aware of some snipers lining a ridge at an angle of about 280 degrees with our line of advance. They were firing into the right flank of our column of troops but not doing much harm. I then heard the joggle of troops wheeling and looking back saw the regiment wheeled into line and immediately conformed. I heard no order or trumpet to wheel into line or charge. We galloped over the snipers and then discovered a crowd of Dervishes in the wadi behind them.
The regiment presented a wonderful sight with lances down and with a better line than you could obtain in a practice charge nine times out of ten. I was lucky in that my troop on the extreme left of the line hit the wadi on the straight where the water had not scooped out any steep banks.
An instant before I glanced to the right and saw some brave little men on foot draw swords from their left armpits and rush to certain deaths on the oncoming lances.
Personally I don’t remember much about it except that I snatched out my .450 Webley and cleared a way for my Arab pony through the crowd.
When I pulled up on the far bank of the Wadi, there was my dear old Troop Sergeant at my elbow, but the men were pig-sticking after the enemy all over the plain and it was the devils own job to collect them again.
However, I was the first to rally a troop and moved to the left, C Squadron and eventually the Regiment rallying on us. We dismounted some troops and opened rapid fire into the crowd in the Wadi which soon began to disperse to the S.W.
We then continued to a pool outside Omdurman where we watered the horses. There were several badly wounded Dervishes in the water but I foolishly refilled my water bottle to which I ascribe my subsequent dysentery.
We had had a pretty tiring day, starting with morning reconnaissance, two dismounted actions and a full blown cavalry charge thrown in.
I then got an order to take a patrol and locate the direction and numbers of the retreating enemy. I took six of the men with the best horses and rode South West. The desert was covered with individuals making off as fast as they could on foot. It was alright so long as I was in sight of the regiment, the enemy threw down their weapons and threw up their hands. But when I made the second ridge, perhaps two miles on, it was not at all so alright. There was a bit of mirage, but not very bad and I was guessing the length of the dust column of the enemy through my glasses when one of my men shouted: ‘Look out, Sir, there is a bloke shooting at you!’
With that he dropped his lance and galloped at a bush in which the sniper was seated and ran him through. Of course the enemy’s firearms were very varied and not very accurate but I thought that if I made another bound to the next ridge it might be more awkward and ‘K’ might get no report at all, so I wrote them down as 20,000 marching S.S.W. and returned to the Regiment.’
The Boer War – wounded – immediate D.S.O.
Advanced to Captain in October 1899, Vaughan served on the Staff during the Boer War, acting as A.D.C. to the G.O.C., Cavalry Division and as D.A.A.G., Intelligence, Cavalry Division. Thus his part in the operations leading to the relief of Kimberley and beyond (Queen’s Medal & 6 clasps; King’s Medal & 2 clasps), services that resulted in him being given the Brevet of Major in November 1900 and being twice mentioned in despatches (London Gazettes 4 May 1900 and 18 July 1902, refer).
His immediate D.S.O. was won for a gallant cavalry action near Boschmanskop in April 1902, when, owing to casualties, he took command of a squadron of the Queen’s Bays, prior to leading a charge of the 7th Hussars. Cavalry & Sporting Memories takes up the story:
‘The last of my night adventures contradicted all my previous ideas on Intelligence, because I saw with my own eyes, reported in person to my C.O. and yet was absolutely wrong.
I went out one evening with Corporal Gloy, Tom Schmidt and a couple of natives about 10 miles N.E. of our bivouac to a ridge I knew, to see if anything was going on beyond it. We were lying in an old kaffir kraal, with our horses concealed behind the ridge, when I saw twenty-five Boers ride in from the East and off-saddle in a broken-down farm with a lot of loose corrugated iron lying about.
This was Tom Schmidt’s own farm and he said there was a good stream there, so I assumed they would stay the night. I left the two Kaffirs in observation behind the wall to give me a line on my return journey. I galloped the whole way home on ‘Kimberley’ who never put a foot wrong night or day and reported my twenty-five Boers to Dick Lawley, who said it was the Bays’ turn for a round-up.
I changed saddles on to a nice little mare we had recently got from the enemy and rode back with the Bays.
The Bays were a fine regiment, well commanded by a sound and thoughtful officer, Colonel Fanshawe. They had a good drill for night marching. Instead of one troop as advanced guard they had two troops each in single file marching parallel. If they struck any enemy each troop would gallop from the rear to the outward flank thus automatically out-flanking and surrounding any enemy party.
I picked up my two Kaffirs about 1 a.m. who had heard nothing. We trekked on down a cart road towards the farm but which by-passed it on the right. I had all my ‘tame Boers’ with me as I did not know where the night might lead us and was riding with Corporal Gloy perhaps 100 yards in front of the Bays.
There was some moon but it was intermittent and in the bottom of the valley it was misty and drizzling. Suddenly the moon cleared and we found ourselves against a mass of horses, saddled up but halted. They seemed to me more than a cavalry regiment in mass. Then one of the horse guards let off his rifle and the Bays galloped forward on each flank. This stampeded the whole of the Boer horses and a brisk fire broke out from the direction of the farm on our left doing us very little harm. I think about a quarter of an hour of this only resulted in one officer and one man being wounded. The Bays did not return the fire, but whilst I was conferring with Fanshawe I heard the rattle of a Cape cart further down the track. I galloped after it and soon overtook it. I put my Colt pistol in the driver’s face and said in my best Africaans, ‘Ik sal ye dood schiet’. He stopped and I turned him round and took the Cape Cart back to Fanshawe. The passenger in the Cart was Commandant Pretorious, a somewhat aged Burgher, who it was important to capture.
As it was policy not to get the ‘tame Boers’ involved in fighting, for the wild ones would certainly murder them if caught, I told Gloy to take all his men, except Schmidt, with Pretorious back to Boschmanskop as quickly as possible.
Then Schmidt told us where was the ‘Mooi Positie’ or good kopje, which we would hold till and after daylight, when we could better guess what numbers we had bumped into and see what action we should take.
Fanshawe asked me to distribute the Regiment on this kopje and I got half a dozen pickets of a troop each on foot with their rifles as well as I could in the dark. As dawn began to show I rode back and found five pickets well placed but could not find the sixth or left hand one.
I therefore rode down the forward slope to look for it. I saw a dozen or so men in British cloaks and felt hats, which we had then adopted, and rifles at the trail, walking up the hill towards me. Suddenly they started shooting at me in the half light. I felt a very heavy and violent bang on my left foot as I turned my mare round and galloped over the sky line where l found the missing troop. I warned them that Boers on foot were trying to take the hill and they got to work with their rifles. Further to our right there was heavy rifle fire at very close ranges, the Boers not being able to turn our men off the ridge. I sent Tom Schmidt and a Bay N.C.O. on with a message to Lawley asking him to reinforce us.
The three Bays Squadron Leaders had been killed or wounded so Fanshawe asked me to take charge of one and a half Squadrons on the left, while he commanded the right half of the Regiment in our retirement.
When I got over the ridge and found this troop of Bays I dismounted. My left leg let me down and I found that I had been hit in the knee and not the foot as I imagined. My poor little mare then flopped to the ground and died. She had been shot through the lungs as we turned round. The Bays gave me a spare horse as they had had no horse casualties to date.
Getting away from that first ridge was a bit tricky as we were at such close quarters but our men put in some rapid fire before bolting for their horses. We had a few casualties amongst the horses, mine being one of them, but he carried me to the next ridge, where the Bays supplied me with yet another.
After that things were comparatively easy as there were not many Boers mounted and able to pursue. In the distance, however, I could see about 150 galloping to try and get round Fanshawe’s right flank and his men galloping obliquely to prevent them. l did not think that the Boers would try to push in between and so continued on the shortest route home. This lead us through a ‘poort’ or pass in a ridge where we held a position for a while. After that, on leaving our next position the Boers got bolder and galloped on the top of a grassy hill.
I said to the Bays Sergeant: ‘Come on, let’s charge them’. To which I got the reply : ‘We’ve got no swords’. Fatal mistake, in the craze for mounted rifles, the Bays had handed in their swords.
Shortly afterwards, blessed sight, I saw the advanced guard of the 7th Hussars cantering over the open Veld. So I told the Bays’ Sergeant he could keep the enemy off with his rifles but that I should join the Seventh for a counter-attack.
‘Titch’ Leyland, a junior subaltern, drew swords and his patrols did likewise. What a transformation! All the Boers within sight turned as one man and galloped back.
Now I thought if the Seventh with fresh horses can reach that ‘poort’ before the Boers on tired horses, they will murder the lot. So I galloped to try to reach their C.O., but some stray bullet hit my second bay horse in the hip and I only got within shouting distance of the rear troop of the regiment. There I saw one of my old Matabele pals, who dropped out of the ranks and gave me his horse. Presently the regiment halted in a fire position and I found the C.O. and Adjutant.
‘Don’t stop here,’ I begged, ‘gallop to the next ridge and you will bag the lot ‘.
‘Oh,’ he said ‘You are excited! The Bays are alright now and we have done our job’.
Then I fainted into the arms of Sergeant Major Wetherall, a grand soldier who had once been my troop Sergeant at Mhow. I can see him smile now as he put his arms round me. The next thing I remember was lying on my bedding roll at Boschmanskop and Dick Lawley talking to me.’
Following his gallant part in the “Guerilla War” in South Africa, Vaughan exchanged to the 10th Hussars and excelled on the polo fields of India, following which he returned home to take up appointment as Brigade Major of the 1st Cavalry Division at Aldershot. He was advanced to Lieutenant-Colonel in May 1908 and to Colonel in December 1911.
The Great War – Divisional Command – C.B. and C.M.G.
By the outbreak of hostilities in August 1914, Vaughan was serving as Colonel Commandant of the Cavalry School at Netheravon, but quickly went to France as G.S.O. 1, 1st Cavalry Division, B.E.F. Towards the end of the year, he took command of the 3rd Cavalry Brigade under Gough, a period of command described in detail in Cavalry & Sporting Memories, including an incident in May 1915:
‘In May, after a couple of days in rest billets, the 3rd Cavalry Brigade were sent to take over a line near Hooge on the Ypres-Menin road, where there had been another gas attack the day before which had made a hole near Bellevarde Lake. Taking over at night I had strengthened our left with machine-guns and was busy with Charles Rankin and my field glasses when we saw about a half company of Huns with entrenching tools march into the stables. They walked across the open and we did not shoot at them when they bolted.
But the ferret had to be a heavy shell. We were down to some absurd allowance of ten rounds a day for field guns and no one less than an army commander could order a heavy gun to fire. Fortunately the Army Commander was Allenby.
So telling Charles what I was going to do, De Burgh, my Brigade Major and I went the shortest cut back to Brigade H.Q. This took us past the flank of a newly dug Hun trench and there were those wretched Huns, having dug in, calmly putting their blankets to dry in the morning sun. They began sniping at De Burgh and me at short range, so we threw ourselves into the long grass and wriggled on our tummies over the skyline.
We then met an advanced party of Highlanders coming up to dig round the apex of the salient the Germans had made. I talked to a burly but battle weary N.C.O. who gave me much confidence.
I had to motor right back to Abeele to see the Army Commander. He at once said that he would order five rounds from a Heavy Gun on to the stables. Fortunately two were enough, as they hit the stables with the second round and out ran the Huns, an easy target for the machine-guns and the 4th Hussars.
Of course we – De Burgh and I – didn’t get back to our H.Q. in time for anything but the reported event. Our H.Q. were in a delightful spot called ‘Hell Fire Corner.’
In October 1915, Vaughan was appointed G.O.C., 3rd Cavalry Division, in which role he served until early 1918, when he was appointed Inspector of Q.M.G’s Services in the British Armies in France.
Awarded the C.B. and C.M.G., in addition to being appointed a Commander of the French Legion of Honour (London Gazette 1 May 1917), he was five times mentioned in despatches (London Gazettes 19 October 1914; 1 January 1916; 11 December 1917; 20 December 1918 and 5 July 1919).
Between the Wars – encounter with Himmler – ‘Quite the most revolting and shifty-looking man I have ever seen’
Placed on the Retired List as a Major-General in 1920, Vaughan returned to his family seat in Wales, where he pursued his interests in hunting and riding, in addition to taking over the running of the Melton Club at Craven Lodge in Leiciestershire:
‘Three times when he was well into his fifties he won the Open Army Point-to-Point on “Merrie England”, a great, strong striding thoroughbred brown horse that was anything but an easy ride’.
He also served as President of the Welsh Legion, in which capacity he ‘took an interesting trip to Germany’ with the Swansea branch of the British Legion’ in 1936. He continues:
‘The Kiffhauser parade at Cassel was most impressive. They looked very solid, formed up in mass with their blue uniforms and middle-aged spreads. The mists were lifting as they marched on to the parade ground with numerous large swastikas, over 100,000 of them.
Finally, came a company of Infantry and another of Hitler Youth, who took post in front of the veterans.
The Hitler Youth presented arms with their polished spades more smartly than the Infantry with their rifles and bayonets.
Then the talking began with Himmler, quite the most revolting and shifty-looking man I have ever seen. He was followed by some smart looking German Generals and high-ups in the ‘Kiff’ organisation. A march past through the town then took place, the Swansea delegation leading.
We had a very smart looking Legion Standard-bearer in Major John Nicholas of Carmarthenshire and were greeted by the populace, especially the women in the windows, with cries of ‘Heil der Englander.’ I think these salutations were spontaneous and expressed a general wish for no more wars.
On our last night in Hamburg we had a terrific dinner at the Yacht Club, at which a very charming German officer named Kellerman got thoroughly well ‘oiled,’ though how he did it on laagers and bocks, I don’t quite know.
He said to me: ‘I like the British Navy so much. In the Far East we served together and used to toast the two white nations. Why cannot we get together and dominate the world?’
‘We don’t want to dominate anybody,’ I replied.
‘Then how do you run the British Empire?’ he said.
‘We don’t, it runs itself,’ was my answer.
I think that idea of domination is what has ruined the Germans and I hope that in time it will also ruin the Russians.’
Return to uniform: ‘Woe betide the Germans if they had thought of landing on our back door by the shores of Harlech’
Swiftly returning to uniform on the renewal of hostilities in September 1939 – in his 68th year – Vaughan was appointed to the command of the Merioneth and Montgomeryshire Home Guard, in which capacity he swept aside much vexing ‘red-tape’ and set about a warm welcome for the enemy:
‘The whole countryside was aroused and alerted, with every contraption of war, ancient and modern, every booby trap, every military menace that had been imagined in the course of military history from Hannibal to Haig, and not excepting General Baden-Powell’ (his obituary in the 10th Royal Hussars Gazette refers).
Vaughan concluded his autobiography thus:
‘Today, except for my uniform as Hon. Colonel of the 10th Merioneth Cadet Battalion R.W.F., I have shed my khaki and returned to my extremely comfortable, but somewhat over-large, ancestral home at Nannau, there to live in the midst of my Welsh tenants of whom I can truly say that they are the most neighbourly of people in the world.
I have much to be thankful for in a long life; good regiments, good friends, good luck, good sport, good horses and a good wife and home.’
The General died in January 1956, following a riding accident: ‘It was the end he would have chosen. He was carried home, shaken, bleeding, and put to bed, conscious but in no pain. Within a week he died peacefully.’
On the day following his death, his long-served butler, Sylvanus Owen was heard to comment that the General “was a very plain man, without adornment of any kind. He wore an old leather watch strap and his clothes were never new.” It was the highest compliment he could pay his master, for in common with many others, he worshipped him.
Sold with an extensive file of copied research, which also includes an original portrait photograph, taken in India in 1888.
See Lot 528 for his 1887 pattern heavy cavalry officer’s patent-tang sword.
Image and text courtesy of Dix Noonan Webb (DNW) Auctioneers and Valuers.