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Death or Glory

January 12, 2008
Death or Glory

Gate of All NationsThe Past Horizon’s Header at the moment is a photograph we took while visiting Persepolis in Southern Iran.  On the Gate of All Nations was this intriguing grafitti.  It was done by a certain Willock of the 17th Light Dragoons (who were known as the ‘Death or Glory Boys’ ) in 1810. 

Finding this photo again made me wonder what it was about, so I have been searching the Internet and found that the television series Sharpe was based on the 17th Light Dragoons Sharpe(but mostly based in the 18th century). 

17th Dragoons: Sharpe facts
Sean Bean sampled 18th century warfare as fictional military hero Sharpe. But what was it actually like for the ‘Death or Glory’ boys? Here’s a (very) brief history of the the 17th Light Dragoons regiment…

The 17th Light Dragoons date back to General Wolfe’s victory at Quebec in 1759. Wolfe died in battle and one of his officers, Colonel John Hale, informed the King of the sad news. Hale was given 10,000 acres in Canada, £500 and a budget to raise a new fighting unit in preparation for the Seven Years War.

New methods
Officially formed in 1763, the 17th were a unique regiment. They preferred to use smaller, leaner horses to previous regiments, prizing speed and agility over strength and sturdiness. Swords were rejected in favour of a carbine – a short rifle – and soldiers carried a bayonet, pistols and an axe.

American duty
A decade after formation, the Light Dragoons were in action in British-ruled America. Their best achievement was routing a large militia force of 450 men in Philadelphia, losing just nine out of their 300 soldiers. But they were also at the heart of Britain’s ultimate surrender to America as political tides turned in 1781. Captain Stapleton of the 17th handed over the copy of British capitulation to George Washington.

Dragoons marooned
Supposedly fighting France in the Caribbean in 1795, the 17th found an unlikely enemy in the Maroons – local descendants of escaped slaves – whose battle methods confused British forces. The 17th had to retrain in guerrilla warfare to gain some control. Conflict with the Maroons ended when one Dragoon, Oswald Werge, entered the valleys, dropped his weapons and offered peace to the locals. One emerged, and he and Werge swapped hats as a sign of friendship.

Indian mutiny
Light DragoonsThe regiment landed at Calcutta in August 1808 and were to remain there for a year before being transferred to Surat 200 miles north of Bombay. Here they were more than pleased with the high quality mounts that they were provided with. In 1810 the unit was to see it’s first action in the sub-continent when it was sent to Mandavi to put down a religious insurrection. There was one serious battle where the unit was forced to engage the locals armed with 14 foot spears.

 The lancers opted for the more traditional hand to hand attack rather than employ their more than adequate firepower. This decision cost three lives and countless wounds to the unit, although they did triumph over the enemy who had lost some 200 men on the battlefield.

The legend lives on
Despite a long and active service with the regiment he created, John Hale also found time to father 21 children. All but four survived, and when Hale died aged 78, his epitaph read: ‘Leaving behind 17 children and the 17th Light Dragoons’.

One Comment leave one →
  1. pasthorizons permalink*
    January 12, 2008 9:32 pm

    I have done a bit more research on the internet and found this article which
    pretty much solves the mystery.

    St John Simpson of the British Museum in his 2005 article Making their Mark:
    Foreign Travellers at Persepolis recounts in detail the graffiti left by
    travellers at the site and the various accounts of graffiti from 1707 to the
    early 20th century. Interestingly, many travellers such as George Curzon
    (1892) not only record the fact that the graffiti had been written in the
    interior of the Palace of Darius, but also add their own.

    Excluding the Persian, Hebrew and Armenian graffiti, Simpson accounts for
    220 names of which 158 are on the Gate of All Nations.

    The 17th Light Dragoons were serving as part of the body guard of the Sir
    Harford Jones’s mission. This was his second journey through the area and
    his travels are recounted in Morier’s book – A Second Journey Through
    Persia, Armenia and Asia Minor to Constantinople Between the Years 1810 –
    1816. Interestingly, Harford Jones’s independent mission as a diplomatic
    envoy sent by London to the Qajar Court created tensions with the government
    of India as this mission coincided with that of Sir John Malcolm’s
    (Government of India’s envoy) who also visited Persepolis in 1810.

    It seems to be no coincidence that the graffiti is mainly the work of men in
    the service of the British Government in India. A captain Moritz von
    Kotzebue recounts in 1819 the following description after meeting two
    English officers.

    “…English who wish to proceed overland to England from the East Indies,
    come by sea into the Persian Gulf… …Proceed to Shiraz … and take
    pleasure in visiting the ruins of Persepolis… Colonel Johnson sent to the
    Ambassador a piece which had been broken off the wing of a sphinx.

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