A riveting account of the Royal Naval Brigade in Action
Most accounts of the Boxer rebellion in China during 1900 inevitably focus upon the siege of the diplomatic legations in Peking and their subsequent relief by a coalition of international military expeditionary forces. While this book, of course, concerns this campaign, it is specifically a personal account written by a British midshipman of his own experiences as part of the Royal Naval Brigade engaged in the fighting in and around Tientsin. This aspect of Dix’s book forms the majority of the text, with the exception of passages concerning events outside his view which were written based upon anecdotal reports provided by other officers. This Leonaur edition was previously published under the title ‘The World’s Navies in the Boxer Rebellion, China 1900’, which might lead the reader to imagine that Dix’s book offered something of broader scope. In fact, this is an account of close encounters, which not only covers allied fleet actions against Chinese craft, forts and artillery, but also offers detailed insights into the sharp end of Naval Brigade action when the Bluejackets left their ships to serve as infantry ashore—this includes descriptions of assaults of defensive positions under fire and of street fighting. This highly readable book is thoroughly recommended to all students of the subject.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket; our hardbacks are cloth bound and feature gold foil lettering on their spines and fabric head and tail bands.
Half a minute passed, and we were still waiting for the twelfth, when our 12-pr., a mile and a quarter away, woke up, and caused the retirement of the tormenter. But for this relief at the eleventh hour, there can be no doubt that our position would have shortly become untenable. For the next few hours we laboured to put the position in a state of defence, but the fire became so hot, if even as much as an arm were shown, that it was impracticable to get much done. A Frenchman and a marine who were, contrary to orders, sniping from an improvised loophole, both got hit, the former fatally.
A very plucky exhibition of despatch-carrying was shown by three Japanese mounted orderlies, who were trying to reach the officer in command of the small Japanese detachment who shared our quarters, or to be more accurate, whose quarters we shared. They had come from the arsenal, and had reached the halfway hut safely. Here they dismounted, and one remounting, galloped towards us lying low in his saddle. He had barely got 50 yards when horse and man were rolled over lifeless. The second also rode to his death, but without a moment’s hesitation the third took his horse by the bridle, and leading it, managed to reach us safely amidst great excitement, only to lose his horse, which took fright at some bullet graze and galloped back whence they had come, pursued by a shower of bullets.
About the same time as this, another incident occurred with even more fatal results to the parties concerned. Lieutenant Oliphant, with two of the Chinese regiment and two mules, had already twice taken ammunition to the hard-pressed Americans, and he once more essayed the same task. In less than half-a-minute from the time of his leaving cover, men, mules, and ammunition lay in a heap on the ground, inert and lifeless. There is an adage which has it that “it The third time does.” It did!
The Americans for their part had suffered heavily, and for some reason, perhaps the comparative laxity of discipline which obtains in their service, they were beginning to show loss of morale, an adjunct of vital importance to troops in adverse circumstances. One man was heard to say “Guess I don’t mind scrapping of a kind, but may I go back and scrap in the Philippines for the rest of my mortal life, rather than any more of this.” He was so evidently in earnest that it was rather laughable, and one of the petty officers belonging to the company of bluejackets who had been sent to their support, took occasion to assure him that he would get used to it like himself, who had had that sort of amusement nearly every meal-time for four weeks!
Undoubtedly their share of the fight had been an arduous one. They had to advance over difficult open ground, they had lost five officers, and though it appeared that they might have cleared the villages in their front with a little dash, it would perhaps have been a hazardous operation to undertake, considering their loss in men and morale. Failing an advance, there was nothing for them to do but hang on to their position until darkness, in order to prevent our centre from being enveloped by troops from the enemy’s left; to retire by daylight was, besides being bad strategy, demoralising and extremely dangerous. Thus this weary day dragged on, until at four o’clock in the afternoon, there seemed to be even less chance of getting into the city than had been the case at ten o’clock in the morning.
At four o’clock, as no communication or further orders had been received either from General Dorward or Captain Burke, I was sent back with a note to each of them, asking for instructions in the one, and for a doctor—whom I met on the way—and food, water, stretchers, etc., in the other. My appearance was of course the signal for a furious but badly aimed fusillade, which continued until I had reached the arsenal, which I did after a most exciting run. I had only left our position about five yards when a bullet grazed my hand and took the skin off two of my knuckles, and I’ll bet I beat all records for the 100 yards. On my way, after this, a Frenchman passed me, bent on a similar errand in the opposite direction. He, poor fellow, when within 5 yards of me, fell with a splash into one of the canals.
There was just time to glance at him before hurrying onwards, the result of the investigation being more flattering to Chinese marksmanship than one would have imagined, his wounds numbering two, either of which would have been sufficient to kill him. I had reason to feel sorry for the poor chap, because perhaps one had been meant for me!