James Osborne VC

b. 13/04/1857 Wigginton, Hertfordshire. d. 01/02/1928 Tring, Hertfordshire.

James Osborne (1857-1928) was born on 13th April 1857 in Wigginton, near Tring, Hertfordshire. Little is known of his early life before he enlisted with the Northamptonshire Regiment in circa 1878. Shortly after his enlistment, events in South Africa would see him become involved in a war which ultimately would lead to the award of the Victoria Cross to Private James Osborne.

James Osborne VC

At the end of the Zulu War of 1879, Britain’s High Commissioner had failed to deliver the desired federal dominion of British colonies and Boer republics. Tension between the British and Boer farmers was mounting after the British government was not prepared to give back the Boer territory of the Transvaal which Britain had annexed, and Boer resentment was escalated further by the revenue-collecting activities of the Administrator of the Transvaal.

This, and allegations of undisciplined behaviour by British troops in the Transvaal garrisons, drove the Boers to boiling point, and on the 16th December 1880 they declared a republic. This led to war between Britain and the Boers, and the Northamptonshire Regiment were part of the force sent to quell them.

On 22nd February 1881 at Wesselstroom, during a skirmish with the Boers, Private Mayes was wounded and lying in the open under threat from the fire of the enemy. Private Osborne of the 2nd Battalion without hesitation, rode into the midst of the party of 42 Boers, and picked up Mayes and carried him back to camp and safety, under heavy fire.

Osborne was recommended for, and awarded the VC on 14th March 1882. There is no records of an investiture, so it is assumed it was sent by registered post to him. When James Osborne returned to Wigginton at the end of the war he took a job on the vast Rothschild Estate as a labourer. Unable to read or write, he worked there for 26 years. In 1913 a stroke left him partially paralysed and he died on 1st February 1928, aged 71. He was buried in St Bartholomew’s Churchyard, Wigginton, but over the years the headstone became badly weathered and damaged. Berkhampsted Royal British Legion began a fundraising campaign and by March 2008, there was enough money to erect a new headstone.

His medals following his death were placed in the care of the Northamptonshire Regiment but were lost during an air raid on Belfast on 4th-5th May 1941. They were lodged in Ulster Bank for safe keeping along with the regimental silver to be returned after the War. In 1964, James’ daughter, Mrs Poulter asked about its location and was told about the air raid. No official replacement was ever requested by either the regiment or the family. In 2008, at the time of his new headstone, an application was made on behalf of his grand-daughter, Rhoda Whitehouse for a replacement VC. The reply from the Military Secretary stated “I have consulted, among others, the Ministry of Defence Medal Office and the Victoria Cross & George Cross Association. In terms of official replacements the former is mandated to conform to a very strict code of practice regarding the issued of such medals. The rules, that have only recently been reviewed, preclude the issue of replacements to the family lineage beyond the direct Next of Kin. As a granddaughter, I’m afraid you fall outside this criterion.” With no prospect of a replacement VC, a replica set was made and presented to Mrs Whitehouse.