Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Joseph Hyde


There has just passed away in peaceful Hataitai an old soldier who, at Inkerman in 1854, was one of those who served the two historic field guns that turned tho tide of that sanguinary battle. The episode is an outstanding one in the records of human valour, also in the astonishing progress of modern artillery. Born at Woolwich on 23rd June, 1831, nearly a decade before New Zealand became a colony, Captain Joseph Hyde, an artilleryman and the son of an "artilleryman, served in the Crimean War (1854-56), and when his term of service as a non-commissioned officer in the Royal Artillery expired, came to New Zealand as a Field Artillery Instructor (with the rank of sergeantmajor) in 1876; superannuated from that service, he went to live in Nelson, and became Captain of "H" Battery, N.Z.F.A.; then, his volunteer service being ended by age, he retired to Wellington, where he has resided for some fifteen years. Few perhaps realised that he was a link not only with the reign of William IV, and with the Crimean War, but also an actor in one of the most notable artillery feats of last century. A life that reaches back to pre-Victorian times has indeed spanned some history.

Seventy-two years ago, on the night of 4th November, 1854, the outlying pickets of the British investing forces could hear the rumble of wheels and other sounds caused by the beleaguered Inkerman garrison preparing for what was to prove an historic sortie.

A thick mist following heavy rain made ideal conditions for a surprise attack, and Brigadier-General Codrington had just voiced that anticipation when the Russian lines in front of him broke into fire. "The Russian generals had harangued their troops, whom the priests had blessed and the quartermasters had filled with vodka, and, fifty thousand strong, and supported by forty guns, they were on the march to break the British line, on the extreme right of the Allies' entrenched front."

For these beginnings, and the desperate melee that ensued in the darkness, "The Post" is indebted to articles by Colonel A. A. Grace, N.Z.F.A., in New Zealand papers, and to British authorities quoted by him. To meet the 50,000 Russians there were but 8000 British troops available, and they had to withstand the shock concentrated on a three-quarter-mile front, supported by Russian batteries on what was called Shell Hill. Rarely in military history, to that date, had such artillery fire been concentrated, and for so long, on an equally confined space. In the darkness, colonels fought like subalterns, captains like privates. In the bombarded British ranks there arose — as sixty years later — a cry for guns and shells to answer back.

Then it was that the British Commander, Lord Raglan, remembered the existence of two long 18-pounders that had lately arrived from England, but had not been brought into the firing line. They were cast-iron smooth-bore guns of great length, (over 20 calibres) and fired solid shot and shell. They were brought into action, and "from the beginning of their practice it was evident that at last the British had brought into the firing line weapons with which they could deal effectively with the Russian artillery. The 18 pounders' projectiles burst squarely in the middle of the Russian gun-position; their shells wiped out whole gun detachments, smashed the enemy's guns, and silenced complete batteries. From the moment they found the range of the Russian position, these astonishing 18-pounders completely outclassed the enemy's artillery. Neither did they cease fire while a single Russian gun remained in action. Then it was that the French reinforcements arrived, and with them the weary and depleted British regiments advanced, and the Russian infantry was driven from the field."

Half a century or more later, Colonel Grace, proposing the health of Captain Hyde at a gathering of 5th of November (the Inkerman date), quoted from Major May's "Achievements of Field Artillery" the story of "those two incomparable guns, and the marvellous fire-discipline of their detachments, whose gun-laying and valour contributed so markedly to the British victory." He invited Captain Hyde to speak of them. "What you have heard of those two guns is quite true," said the veteran. "I was one of those who served them. I cannot describe what happened any better, though I was present. All I can say is that we blew the Russian guns and gunners to pieces. No doubt it was terrible for them, but of signal service to the British Army."

Of the 8000 British soldiers engaged at Inkerman, possibly a few score remain. That they have survived the rigours of war and of the Crimea, and particularly of that battle in which the British were outnumbered six to one, speaks to their vitality. Their memory is precious. "That," writes Colonel Grace, "is why I have set down a few of the things I recollect of Captain Joseph Hyde. A better soldier never served his Sovereign. It is a pleasure to know [this was written some six weeks ago] that he is remembered and respected by his many friends in this his adopted country, where, surrounded by his family and his many descendants, he lives honoured and beloved 'length of days in his right hand, and in his left glory.' "

The descendants of this remarkable nonagenarian are indeed many. Captain Hyde leaves a widow and eight surviving daughters, also five stepchildren; in the third generation there are 23 grandchildren; in the fourth, 40 great-grandchildren. All live in New Zealand, which has been Captain Hyde's country since 1876. Lacking the century by less than five years, Captain Hyde passed away at his home at Hataitai on Tuesday. The interment will take place to-morrow at 11 a.m. at Karori, with military and Masonic honours. Will many of the old soldier's Crimean War comrades be unseen witnesses at the Last Post?
Evening Post, Volume CXII, Issue 61, 9 September 1926

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