The eventful life and death of
Major Herbert Augustine Carter VC
British East Africa in January 1916
On 9th January 1916 the 40th Pathans
(Indian Army) disembarked at Mombasa, British East Africa (now Kenya). The Regiment had started the Great War as part
of the Hong Kong garrison and then had served in France from April to December
1915. Immediately upon landing at
Mombasa No 1 Double Company under Major H.A. Carter VC, 101st
Grenadiers attached to 40th Pathans, marched to the relief of a post
to the south named Mwele Mdogo. The
British unit The Arab Rifles had just been badly ambushed in the vicinity by
enemy troops who had crossed the border from German East Africa (now Tanzania).
On the 13th January Major Carter was found dead
and was first buried at Mwele Mdogo.
Subsequently his remains were exhumed, placed in a coffin and shipped to
England, arriving at the Great Western Docks, Plymouth on 5th May 1916. The coffin was escorted to the Military
Hospital at Stoke Damerel by a guard of 250 all ranks found by one of the
Plymouth Garrison battalions. It was
subsequently conveyed by train to St Erth, Cornwall where it was
re-buried. A memorial, donated by his
widow, was unveiled on 2nd August 1916. The choice of the 14th Century Parish
Church of St. Erth was made because Herbert Carter had spent most of his
childhood in that Parish, his father having been vicar for many years.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission records state that
the body is located in the graveyard of Saint Erth Church and offers the
Died from the effects of exhaustion after effecting the relief of
Mwele Mdogo, Kenya; while suffering from fever he made a forced march of two
days under intense heat to reach the fort in time. Son of the late Rev. Conway
R. D. Carter and Mrs. Conway Carter, of St. Erth; husband of Helen Lilian
Wilmot Carter, of Mena House, St. Erth. Born at Exeter. Right: Herbert Augustine Carter VC.
In the North Aisle of Saint Petroc’s Church, Bodmin,
Cornwall, a memorial is inscribed:
In memory of Major H A Carter VC of 101st Grenadiers, Indian Army, and
in honour of
the comrades of the DCLI with whom he first saw service, this memorial is dedicated by his
wife, Helen Carter. He successfully led
a column of Koth Pathans in a forced march of two days in great heat to the relief of
Mwele Nogo in British
East Africa, sacrificing his life in his devotion to duty, Jan 13 1916.
A bronze memorial to Herbert Carter by the Australian
sculptor Sir Bertram Mackennal RA was commissioned by Mrs Helen Carter and is
displayed in York Minster. Mrs Carter
was a daughter of a former Canon of York Minster. This memorial depicts the figure of a soldier
in tropical uniform being led forward on his
march by an angel, which given the perceived circumstances of the death implies
the power of spiritual will over a physically exhausted body.
Above: Carter miniature medals image from DCLI Museum
The military career of Herbert Carter
Herbert was commissioned into the Duke of Cornwall’s Light
Infantry on 15th May 1897 and posted to the 1st Battalion in
Rawalpindi, India. He earned the clasps PUNJAB FRONTIER 1997-98 and TIRAH 1897-98 to the India
Medal. During the Tirah Campaign he had a horse shot
under him at Barkai in March 1898. He transferred
to the Indian Army that year and was gazetted to the 101st Grenadiers.
In 1903 Herbert was serving in Somaliland as an officer in
No 6 Company Indian Mounted Infantry during the Fourth Expedition against the
“Mad Mullah”, Muhammed bin Abdullah, and his Dervish insurgents. On 19th December 1903 a British
mounted force commanded by Lieutenant Colonel P.A. Kenna VC DSO, 21st
Lancers, advanced to Jidballi. The force
British Mounted Infantry – 93 men ·
Indian Mounted Infantry – 97 men. ·
Bikaner Camel Corps – 50 men ·
Somali Tribal Horse – 200 men
and in support were:
1st Bn The Hampshire Regiment
– 100 men ·
27th Punjabis – 150 men ·
1 Maxim gun.
At Jidballi Kenna came up against en encampment of around
2,000 Dervishes, mostly armed with rifles and including 200 horsemen. After three hours of desultory fighting Kenna
withdrew his men, but then a dramatic incident occurred when Herbert Carter
rode back to rescue an Indian soldier.
For this action Herbert received a Distinguished Service Order, but
subsequently this was cancelled and a Victoria Cross was awarded with the
During a reconnaissance near Jidballi, on the 19th December 1903, when
two Sections of the Poona Mounted Infantry and the Tribal Horse were retiring
before a force of Dervishes which outnumbered them by thirty to one, Lieutenant
Carter rode back alone, a distance of four hundred yards, to the assistance of
Private Jai Singh, who had lost his horse, and was closely pursued by a large number
of the enemy, and, taking the Sepoy up behind him, brought him safely away.
When Lieutenant Carter reached Private Jai Singh, the Sections were several
hundred yards off.
Lieutenant Colonel Kenna later described this incident as
“the finest and most brilliant individual act of valour performed in the Somali
campaign”. (Subadar Bhairo Gujar was
also awarded the Indian Order of Merit on this occasion.)
Herbert obviously had Africa in his blood as he returned
to Somaliland for the 1908-10 campaign where he served with the Indian Army
contingent attached to the 6th King’s African Rifles, receiving a
Mention in Despatches. He gained the clasp SOMALILAND 1908-10 to add to the clasps SOMALILAND 1902-04 and JIDBALLI that he already
possessed on his Africa General Service Medal. Right: The grave of Herbert Augustine Carter VC
In 1911 Herbert was in Sudan serving as a Bimbashi (Major)
in the Egyptian Army but unfortunately no records survive to elaborate on this
attachment. It appears that he was
posted back to the 101st Grenadiers during 1913 and in May 1914 he
was promoted to Major.
On the outbreak of the Great War Herbert was in England on
leave and he was attached to the British Army, serving first in the 10th
(Service) Battalion the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry and then in the 16th
(Service) Battalion The Durham Light Infantry.
He obviously obtained his release from the Durham Light Infantry and an
attachment to the 40th Pathans.
Above: Looking from the west at the inner defence line of Mwele Mdogo today
We must return to Mwele Mdogo to conclude the story of
this gallant and perhaps disturbed officer.
Major R.S. Waters OBE wrote in his regimental history of the 40th
At Mwele Mdogo,
shortly after arrival there, a tragedy took place. Major H.A. Carter, V.C. (101st
Grenadiers attached to the Regiment), was found shot through the head outside
his tent at dawn, clad in pyjamas and gumboots, by 2nd Lieut.
Thornton, who, though he had heard some slight noise during the night, had
sleepily put it down to some routine cause.
No further details were recorded, nor have the results of
an enquiry ever been published.
Above: The view from Mwele Mdogo looking south to the German East African border
A sad footnote Trooper Noel Conway Carter DCM, South African Horse
The names of a few close relatives are inscribed on
Herbert Carter’s granite cross headstone in Saint Erth Church graveyard. One of them is of another soldier, No. 1549
Trooper Noel Conway Carter DCM, who also died in Africa during the Great
War. Noel served in the 2nd
South African Horse in German East Africa and the citation for his
Distinguished Conduct Medal reads: For conspicuous gallantry. He went out twice
under heavy fire to take water to a wounded scout, and to try to remove him
into safety from his exposed position. The
cause of Noel’s death on 21st February 1917 is not known but he is
buried in Johannesburg (Brixton) Cemetery, South Africa.
Left: The Herbert Augustine Carter VC memorial York
Right: This was recovered from Mwele Mdogo and was probably a Carrier Corps wallet with bead chain
War Graves Commission records. Ø
Pathans in the Great War (an anonymous compilation). Ø
History of the 5th Battalion
(Pathans) 14th Punjab Regiment, formerly 40th Pathans by Major R.S. Waters OBE. Ø
Official History. Military Operations
East Africa August 1914 – September 1916 compiled by Lieutenant Colonel Charles Hordern. Ø
Official History of the Operations in
Somaliland 1901-04 published
by the General Staff, War Office. Ø
Soldiers of the Nile. A Biographical History of the British
Officers of the Egyptian Army 1882-1925 by Henry Keown-Boyd. Ø
The King’s African Rifles by Lieutenant Colonel H.
Archives of the Duke of Cornwall’s
Light Infantry Museum. Ø
London Gazette dated 9th
An edited version of this article has
appeared in a recent edition of Durbar,
the journal of the Indian Military Historical Society (http://www.imhs.org.uk/ ).
(Herbert Carter’s medals are held in
the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry Museum, Bodmin, England. Gratitude is expressed to Museum Researcher
Hugo White for the information that he contributed towards this article, and to
the Curator, Major Trevor Stipling, for permitting a photograph of the
miniature medals to be displayed.)