Browsing in the church of St Mary, Northiam, I came across a stained glass window.
The first question was why was it there. Captain (John) Hallibuton Laurie died fighting for a Canadian Regiment – The King’s Own Rifles of Canada – and both he and Lt-Col George (Brenton) Laurie had no known association with Northiam. No information concerning the church could shed light. The answer comes from the stained glass window that was the Laurie inscription window’s twin. This celebrated Lt-Col Charles Bradford-Brown, died 1909. He, it transpires, had married Helen Laurie, the daughter of John Laurie (1797-1864), a saddler and sometime MP for Barnstaple. Helen’s brother was John Wimburn Laurie, the father of the men in the window. Helen was thus honouring her nephews.
Investigating the Lauries throws up the issue of military families in the British Army. George Brenton Laurie rose to be CO 1st Royal Irish Rifles, and 23% of colonels during this period came from a military background. George’s father, John Wimburn (1835-1912), served in the King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment, seeing action in the Crimea, the Indian Mutiny, the First Boer War (1881) the North West Frontier Campaign of 1885. In 1861 he was one of 5000 troops posted to Canada, Nova Scotia in his case, to protect Canada in event of war with America. He saw service in the Fenian raids of 1866 and 1870. He became Inspecting Field Officer of the Nova Scotia Militia and a member of the Canadian and British Parliaments (the latter on return to the UK for Pembroke & Haverfordwest). He became a Lieutenant-General in 1887, being the highest-ranking officer in Canada.
John Wimburn Laurie is seen here with his three military sons. John Halliburton Laurie (standing centre) was killed in action at Philippolis, South Africa on 12 April 1901, aged 38, rescuing a wounded patrol. The son standing right is currently unidentified. George Brenton Laurie is seen standing left. He graduated from RMC, Kingston, Canada, and was commissioned in the 2nd Royal Irish Rifles, then stationed in Halifax. He went with them to Gibraltar in 1886, and on to Egypt in 1888. He took part in the Nile Campaign in 1889, but, contracting smallpox at Assouan, he was sent home to recover, and spent two years at the Depot at Belfast,
rejoining his battalion in Malta. He was promoted Captain in 1893, and when the Rifles came back to home service he obtained an Adjutancy of Volunteers in Devonshire in October 1896 until March, 1901 when he was appointed a special service officer, including the command of a mounted infantry battalion for the South African War. He was present at operations in the Transvaal, Orange River
Colony, and Cape Colony, between April, 1901, and May, 1902, having been Mentioned in Despatches for his services (London Gazette, July 29th, 1902). He then served in Ireland, and in October, 1904, obtained his majority. Afterwards he served in England till, becoming Lt-Colonel in 1912, he went out to India to take command of the 1st Battalion Royal Irish Rifles. He wrote the History of his Regiment, having previously written a history of ” The French in Morocco,” compiled from many sources during his years in the Mediterranean. His battalion was in Aden in August 1914, arriving in France in November.
On March 10th, 1915, his unit took part in the attack on Neuve Chapelle. A sergeant-major wrote : " Our Colonel was every where, encouraging his men, and seeming to bear a charmed life. He knew no fear, and walked quietly in front of us as if no bombardment were going on." On Friday evening, March 12th, a fresh assault was ordered. Laurie rallied his exhausted men, and, calling out "Follow me! I will lead you!" he sprang over the parapet, revolver in hand. A moment later he fell shot through the head. It is difficult to imagine that George Laurie would not have progressed to brigade command if he had not been one of the 40 out of 157 regular infantry COs of August 1914 killed in action or died of wounds.