b. 11/09/1873 Kings Lynn, Norfolk. d. 14/09/1953 Boksburg, South Africa.
John David Francis Shaul (1873-1953) was born on 11th September 1873 in King’s Lynn, Norfolk, the son of Sergeant John Shaul, a veteran of the 2nd Battalion, Royal Scots who served in the Crimea and China. He was educated at the Duke of York’s School, Chelsea. At the age of 15, he joined the 1st Battalion, Highland Light Infantry, and served in Crete during the fighting in 1898.
He served throughout the Second Boer War, receiving the Queen’s South Africa and King’s South Africa medals with five clasps, besides the award of the Victoria Cross. At about three in the afernoon of Sunday, 10th December 1899, the British force which was intended to clear a path for the army through the lines of Magersfontein moved out upon what proved to be its desperate enterprise. The Highland Brigade included the Black Watch, Seaforth Highlanders, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and the Highland Light Infantry. The Gordons had only arrived in camp that day and did not advance until the next morning.
The Highland Brigade was formed into a column and to prevent the men from straggling in the night the four regiments were packed into a mass of quarter column as densely as was possible with the left guides holding a rope in order to preserve the formation. The order to extend had just been given, but the men had not had time to act upon it before a storm of lead burst upon the head and right flank of the column, which broke under the murderous fire from the Boer Mauser rifles. By the hundred they dropped – some dead, some wounded, some knocked down by the rush and sway of the broken ranks. The battle raged throughout the night and the next day with reinforcements being brought up consisting of, the Gordons, Coldstream Guards and the artillery, at the same time the Granadier Guards and the Yorkshire Light Infantry attacked the right flank.
All this was to no avail as about half past five the next day the Boer artillery, which had for some unexplained reason been silent, opened fire on the British cavalry. Their appearance was a signal for the general falling back of the centre and the last attempt to retrieve the day was abandoned. The Highlanders were dead-beat; the Coldstreams had had enough; the mounted infantry were badly mauled. The British were withdrawn outside the range of the Boer guns, and next morning saw the whole force with bitter and humiliated hearts on their way back to their camp at Modder River.
The repulse of Magersfontein cost the British nearly a thousand men, killed, wounded or missing, of which of over seven hundred belonged to the Highland Brigade. It was under these circumstances that Corporal John Shaul magnificently earned his Victoria Cross. He was most conspicuous during the day in dressing men’s wounds, and in one case he came, under a heavy fire, to a man who was lying wounded in the back, and, with the utmost coolness and deliberation, sat down beside the wounded man and proceeded to dress his wound. Having done this, he got up and went quietly to another part of the field. This act of gallantry was performed under a continuous and heavy fire as coolly and quietly as if there had been no enemy near.
John Shaul was invested with his Victoria Cross by H.R.H. The Duke of Cornwall ( the future King George V ) at Pietermaritzburg on the 11th August 1901. In 1910 John Shaul emigrated to South Africa where he worked at the East Rand Propriety Goldmine in Boksburg. Shortly afterwards he joined the Imperial Light Horse and became their Bandmaster. During the First World War he enlisted, on 20th December 1915, into the 5th South African Infantry and served with the regiment in East Africa throughout 1916 until invalided home with dysentry later in the year. He was discharged medically unfit on 8th November 1916. John Shaul died on 14th September 1953, aged 80, and is buried in the Old Cemetery, Boksburg.
His medals were auctioned at Dix, Noonan and Webb on 5th April 2006, and were purchased for a hammer price of £140,000. They were purchased by the Ashcroft Trust and displayed in the Imperial War Museum.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: LORD ASHCROFT GALLERY, IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM, LONDON.
BURIAL PLACE: OLD CEMETERY, BOKSBURG, SOUTH AFRICA.
Steve Davies – Image of the Shaul VC Medal Group at the Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum, London.