Charles Herbert Mullins VC CMG

b. 28/06/1869 Grahamstown, South Africa. d. 24/05/1916 Johannesburg, South Africa.

Charles Herbert Mullins (1869-1916) was born on 28th June 1869 in Grahamstown, Cape Colony, South Africa, the son of the Reverend Canon Mullins. He was educated at St Andrew’s College, Grahamstown, and at Keble College, Oxford, and was called to the Bar at the Inner Temple in 1893. Prior to the outbreak of the Second Boer War in 1899, Charles had joined the Imperial Light Horse, part of the South African Forces. He had risen to the rank of Captain by the time of the Battle of Elandslaagte, the action for which he would be awarded the Victoria Cross.

Charles H Mullins

On the 19th October 1899 Boer forward patrols seized the Elandslaagte railway station and mine village and cut rail and telegraph communication between British forces in Ladysmith and Dundee. A British reconnaisance party was sent to check the Elandslaagte area on the 20th October where it was discovered the station and area were held by Boer forces.

Major-General Sir John French made a reconnaisance on Elandslaagte but owing to prompt and startling return Boer fire was forced to withdraw with his small force of Natal Mounted Rifles, Natal Field Artillery and Imperial Light Horse. French called for considerable reinforcements and these were swiftly mustered – 2 batteries of Royal Field Artillery, followed by armoured trains carrying the 1st Manchesters, 1st Devons and 2nd Gordon Highlanders, escorted by the 5th Lancers and 5th Dragoon Guards.

The British attack on Elandslaagte began at 15:30 on 21st October 1899 with a brisk and accurate artillery barriage. The Boers, hidden away behind the huge rocks or in the rough schantzes replied with withering rifle fire, yet the British forces advanced to take cover behind anthills, rocks and in a shallow donga to await the flank attack.

Away on the far right, amongst the dismounted Imperial Light Horse, Captains Johnston and Mullins carried out their gallant action which resulted in their award of the Victoria Cross.  At 16:30 a terrific thunderstorm burst over the area adding the pounding of hail and the crack of thunder to the battle. As the British forces pressed forward the Boers retreated across the plain towards Biggarsberg, but General Kock, the Boer commander, turned his forces and led a heroic and desperate counter-attack, which failed.

Mullins was gazetted for the Victoria Cross alongside Robert Johnston on 12th February 1901. He was invested with his medal at St James’ Palace on 25th July that year from King Edward VII. Mullins had been wounded during his VC action at Elandslaagte in October 1899 and was seriously wounded again later in the war on 13 May 1900 at Maritsani, taking no further part in the war. He was medically discharged from the Imperial Light Horse as a Major.

Mullins married in 1902 to Norah Gertrude, third daughter of S. Haslam Esq of Uppingham, Kent, and they went on to have two sons. Sadly, Mullins’ wounds from the Boer War left him crippled and handicapped by several illnesses. He did resume his law career, and was a very religious man. Sadly, he never recovered fully from his wounds, and died aged just 46, on 24th May 1916 in Johannesburg. He was buried in Grahamstown Old Cemetery, Eastern Cape, South Africa.

Charles Mullins’ Victoria Cross group, comprising Companion to the Order of St Michael & St George (CMG ), Queen’s South Africa Medal and King’s South Africa Medal, were left to St Andrew’s College, Grahamstown, upon the death in 1963 of Charles Mullins’ eldest son, who had inherited the group. Much later a family member travelled to South Africa to visit the Mullins clan in Grahamstown and took time out to view the medals in St Andrew’s College. To his consternation they were not on display and were found to be missing. A search of the college discovered the Victoria Cross, which fortunately had not been with the original display, but not the CMG, QSA and KSA, which are still missing.

As a consequence, in 1998, the original Victoria Cross was purchased from St Andrew’s College by Mrs Mary Mullins, the daughter-in-law of Charles Mullins VC, and was placed into the guardianship of Charles Mullins’ only grandson. At the same time a perpetual trust to support the curator of medals at the Albany Museum in Grahamstown was set up so that the Victoria Cross might be displayed. This arrangement continued until the death of Mary Mullins, at the grand old age of 98, in December 2004. In January 2005 a decision was made by Charles Mullins’ grandson to loan the Victoria Cross to the Imperial War Museum in London, where it will be on display with the museum’s other VC collection.