Charles Fitzclarence VC

b. 08/05/1865 Bishopscourt, County Kildare, Ireland. d. 02/11/1914 Zonnebeke, Belgium.

Charles Fitzclarence (1865-1914) was born in Bishopscourt, County Kildare, Ireland on 8th May 1865, the son of Captain George FitzClarence, Royal Navy (15 April 1836 – 24 March 1894) and Maria Henrietta Scott (d. 27 July 1912). His mother was the eldest daughter of the 4th Earl of Clonmel. His father was one of four brothers who served in either the Army or Navy. The youngest brother was killed in action during the Crimean War, during the assault on the Redan. He had a twin brother named Edward, who was killed in action at Abu Hamed, Egypt in 1897. His paternal grandfather was George Augustus Frederick FitzClarence, 1st Earl of Munster, an illegitimate son of William, Duke of Clarence (later King William IV of the United Kingdom).

Charles Fitzclarence VC

He was educated at Eton College and Wellington College. He was gazetted as a Lieutenant from the Militia into the Royal Fusiliers on 10th November 1886. During Kitchener’s Khartoum Campaign, he was Adjutant of the Mounted Infantry in Egypt. When the troops moved up the Nile to support, the Mounted Infantry were left behind to Charles’ disappointment. He was then promoted to Captain in April 1898. He married on 20th April 1898 in Cairo, Egypt to Violet, the youngest daughter of Lord Alfred Spencer Churchill, MP and granddaughter of John, 6th Duke of Marlborough, and they had two children, Edward Charles (born October 1899) and Joan Harriet.

He had been sent to South Africa in 1899 on special service and was present at the siege of Mafeking, when his gallantry and daring gained him the nickname, “The Demon”. For three separate acts of gallantry during the siege, he was recommended for, and awarded the Victoria Cross (London Gazette, 6th July 1900).

On the 14th October, 1899, Captain FitzClarence went with his squadron of the Protectorate Regiment, consisting of only partially trained men, who had never been in action, to the assistance of an armoured train which had gone out from Mafeking. The enemy were in greatly superior numbers, and the squadron was for a time surrounded, and it looked as if nothing could save them from being shot down. Captain FitzClarence, however, by his personal coolness and courage inspired the greatest confidence in his men, and, by his bold and efficient handling of them, not only succeeded in relieving the armoured train, but inflicted a heavy defeat on the Boers, who lost 50 killed and a large number wounded, his own losses being 2 killed and 15 wounded. The moral effect of this blow had a very important bearing on subsequent encounters with the Boers.

On the 27th October, 1899, Captain FitzClarence led his squadron from Mafeking across the open, and made a night attack with the bayonet on one of the enemy’s trenches. A hand-to-hand fight took place in the trench, while a heavy fire was concentrated on it from the rear. The enemy was driven out with heavy loss. Captain FitzClarence was the first man into the position and accounted for four of the enemy with his sword. The British lost 6 killed and 9 wounded. Captain FitzClarence was himself slightly wounded. With reference to these two actions, Major-General Baden-Powell states that had this Officer not shown an extraordinary spirit and fearlessness the attacks would have been failures, and we should have suffered heavy loss both in men and prestige.

On the 26th December, 1899, during the action at Game Tree, near Mafeking, Captain FitzClarence again distinguished himself by his coolness and courage, and was again wounded (severely through both legs).

He was presented with his VC on 25th October 1900 by the Commander in Chief, South Africa, Lord Roberts VC at Pretoria. Soon afterwards, the Irish Guards were formed and Captain Fitzclarence transferred into the new regiment. He was then promoted to Brigade Major. For his services in South Africa, he was also mentioned in despatches, given the Brevet of Major, and received the Queen’s South Africa Medal with three clasps.

From April 1903 to March 1905, he was Brigade Major of the 5th Brigade at Aldershot. In July 1909, he was given command of the 1st Battalion, Irish Guards. In 1913, he was appointed to the command of the regiment and regimental district, and held this position until the outbreak of the Great War. He then took over command of the 29th Brigade, 10th Division, at the Curragh until 22nd September 1914. On the 27th September, he took over the 1st Guards Brigade with the Expeditionary Force in France.

Fitzclarence was killed in action on 12th November 1914, leading his men at Polygon Wood, near Zonnebeke, Belgium. His body was not recovered, and he is named on the Menin Gate Memorial, Ypres, Belgium. His medals are held by the Ashcroft Trust and displayed in the Imperial War Museum.