|Above: Still hale in spite of his advancing years, former No. 1499 Sergeant Charles Williams of the 2nd Battalion, the Rifle Brigade posed for the photographer probably sometime
during World War One. Proudly wearing his campaign medal for service in India and Africa he was probably photographed in the yard of his home in the vicinity of Birmingham.
Real Photo Postcard
Williams transferred to the 3rd battalion of the Rifle Brigade on 4 July 1857 and was promoted corporal on 14 December 1859. He received his first and only good conduct pay on 1
March 1860 prior to being promoted sergeant on 1 April 1861. Promoted colour sergeant on 1 May 1864 he re-engaged at Murree, India on 5 September 1865. He transferred to the
2nd Battalion, the Rifle Brigade on 1 September 1867. Between 1867 and 1871 he would have been entitled to tree additional good conduct pays if he had not previously been
promoted to sergeant. On 21 September 1874, he temporarily transferred administrative battalion of the Derbyshire Rifles before rejoining the 2nd Battalion on 6 May 1875. He took
his final discharge on 8 June 1875 being declared medically unfit for further military service.
Sergeant William’s active service is reflected by the medals seen in his photograph as well as entries in medal rolls and note in his discharge papers – none of which match up 100%.
In the photograph, Williams’ wears the 1854 India General Service Medal with a single clasp. The Indian Mutiny Medal with the single clasp “Lucknow", the 1874 Ashantee Medal
with the clasp “Coomassie” and the Long Service & Good Conduct Medal (LS&GC). His discharge papers confirm the entitlement to Indian Mutiny Medal, the Ashantee War Medal,
and the LS&GC Medal but makes no mention of the India General Service Medal nor any clasps. The medal roll for the Ashantee War Medal confirms Sergeant Williams’
entitlement to the “Coomassie” clasp since his name is included in the list of those of the 2nd Battalion who were “...north of the Prah on the 4th Feby 1874.” While no medal roll
entries for either of Williams’ Indian medals have been found up until now, I do not suspect his entitlement to those medals.
When Williams celebrated his 95th birthday in 1932 an article appeared in the 19 January edition of the Birmingham Mail. He is mentioned as being one of the very last surviving
veterans of the mutiny and states that while he related as bad as the fighting was during the siege of Lucknow it was in fact much worse in the jungle afterward. The article also lists all
of Williams’ awards and mentions the “North-West Frontier Indian Medal (1863-64)” which probably means the 1854 India General Service Medal with the “North West Frontier”
In 1877 Charles Williams married Miss Sarah Innes at Newent, Gloucestershire and the couple would raise at least four children – Elizabeth (b. 1878), Charles (b. 1880), Walter (b.
1882) and Mary Ann (b. 1885). It was with his first son Charles that the naming became interesting. Sergeant Williams gave his namesake son the unusual middle name of Coomassie
– obviously after his West African campaign. One naturally wonders why he chose the middle name of his eldest son from one of the clasps on his campaign medals. Naturally, North
West Frontier may have been really odd not to mention verbose middle name. At the same time, he chose not to name his second son Lucknow. In any event, Coomassie does have a
certain ring to it and the name helped keep a bit of family history alive for another generation until 1965 when Charles Coomassie Williams passed away.
The old sergeant himself soldiered on until 1933 when he passed away on 7 October at Putley Green, Herefordshire at the ripe old age of 97 and at the time one of the last British
survivors of the Indian Mutiny.
|Above: The reverse side of Sergeant Charles Williams portrait photo postcard showing it having been sent to his son Charles Coomassie Williams on 19 April 1917.
The sender signed the card only with the initial "E" and inscribed a somewhat cryptic poem that reads:
Many happy returns of the day.
Only and old soldier,
pass him by,
Soon it will be,
Only a young wounded soldier,
pass him by.
The poem seems to relate to the unnamed senders experiences during the Great War.