12 December 2015

William Rich, Crimean War Veteran

My great great grandfather William Rich was, according to his funeral notice, a Crimean War veteran.

Sydney Morning Herald, 27 April 1927, p11.

And according to the funeral notice under the one his family placed in the paper, he was also a member of the United Imperial Navy and Army Veterans' Association of NSW. What was that? I've never heard of it!

I did some research on Trove, and also in the Sydney Morning Herald archives (1955-1995). The first mention in the Sydney Morning Herald of the the United Imperial Navy and Army Veterans' Association of NSW was in 1908, and the last was in 1960.

From the research I have done, it appears that the organisation pre-dates today's Returned Services League (RSL), which was formed in 1917. The RSL is for those who served or are serving in the Australian Defence Forces, whereas The United Imperial Navy and Army Veterans' Association of NSW appears to have been for any British veteran who had seen service up to and including 1885. Members of the latter organisation had served in many different conflicts including in the Crimea, the Sudan, and India. I contacted the RSL and they confirmed that they are unrelated to the United Imperial Navy and Army Veterans' Association of NSW. It seems to me that the United Imperial Navy and Army Veterans' Association of NSW possibly just died out once all the old veterans had died.

A write-up of the Veterans Christmas Dinner of 1923 mentions William Rich; "Nine of those present were over 80 years of age, two of the oldest being Mr. William Rich, 89, who fought at the Crimea in 1854, and Mr. Charles Kidd, 80, who fought in the Indian mutiny three years later." (Sydney Morning Herald, 24 December 1923, p10). At a veterans gathering for Empire Day in 1926 "The Governor General was the principal speaker... [and] hailed as "comrade" the hardy old soldier, William Rich, who served in the Crimea, and is marching - if more feebly than of old - towards his centenary." (The Telegraph, 29 May 1926, p12.) At the Christmas dinner after William Rich died he was mentioned: "Since the last dinner their oldest member, William Rich, who had served in the Crimea, and almost reached 100 years, had died" (Sydney Morning Herald, 19 December 1927, p10).

From these articles we learn that William Rich was in the Army, not the Navy, as he is referred to as a soldier, not a sailor, and that he fought in the Crimea in 1854. One wonders why it was only 1854, as the British were still in the Crimea in 1855 - was he invalided out?

I also learnt in my research that William Rich lived at the Veterans' Home at La Perouse, on Bare Island. This explains why he did not live with his wife towards the end of his life - a question that I have wondered about for some time. 

The gravestone of William Rich, at Waverley Cemetery, Sydney.

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