Sir Fenton John Aylmer VC

b. 05/04/1862 Hastings, Sussex. d. 03/09/1935 Wimbledon, Surrey.

Sir Fenton Aylmer (1862-1935) was born in Hastings, Sussex on 5th April 1862, the second son of Captain Fenton John Aylmer (1835-1862) of the 97th Regiment of Foot who was killed soon after his child’s birth. His mother was Isabella Eleanor Darling. He was educated privately, and joined the Royal Engineers as a Gentleman Cadet in 1880. He served in the Burma Expedition of 1885-1887, being mentioned in despatches, and earning the Medal with clasp. He was also mentioned in despatches during the Hazara Expedition of 1891, and in the following Hunza Expedition of 1891-1892, he was awarded the Victoria Cross.

Sir Fenton J Aylmer VC

On 2nd December 1891 during the assault on Nilt Fort, British India, Captain Aylmer, with the storming party, forced open the inner gate with gun-cotton which he had placed and ignited, and although severely wounded, fired 19 shots with his revolver, killing several of the enemy, and remained fighting until, fainting from loss of blood, he was carried out of action.

He was gazetted for the VC on 12th July 1892, and presented with his medal on 28th October that year by the GOC Rawalpindi in Rawalpindi. Following promotion to Major, he served in the Isazai Expedition and in the Chitral Expedition of 1895, being mentioned in despatches and a brevet colonecy. He was created a Companion of Bath in 1907, and was promoted to Lieutenant-General just prior to the outbreak of World War One.

He was put in charge of the first effort to end the siege of Kut, Mesopotamia. General Aylmer was in command of the Tigris Corps, consisting of the 7th (Meerut) Division, the 12th Indian Division, and a number of other smaller military units. All told he had more than 20,000 men. They left Basra in late December 1915 and arrived at Sheikh Sa’ad in 3 January 1916. While the 12th Indian Division (under command of General George Gorringe) made a diversionary move near Nasiriyeh, the 7th (under the command of General Younghusband) staged a direct assault on the Ottoman positions on 6 January (the Battle of Sheikh Sa’ad). After two days of fighting, the Ottoman army withdrew. The British sustained approximately 4,000 casualties – much more than the medical units could cope with. The Ottoman troops, under the generalship of Baron von der Goltz only withdrew some six miles up river and occupied another defensive position near the edge of the Suwaikiya Marshes. A British assault on this position on 13 January was partially successful, the position was carried but again with significant losses (some 1,600 casualties) (the Battle of Wadi).

By now, a third division had been added to Aylmer’s Tigris Corps, the 3rd (Lahore) Division. This new division, along with the weakened 7th Division, attacked Ottoman defensive works at Hanna on 21 January (the Battle of Hanna). This assault was a complete failure. The Ottoman troops held their trench lines while some 2,700 British soldiers were killed or wounded.

General Aylmer was reinforced with another division, the 13th (Western) Division. The next month was spent resting the troops and probing the Ottoman defensive positions. With time running out on General Townshend’s garrison in Kut, Aylmer finally launched a two pronged attack on the Ottoman positions, one attack at the Sinn Abtar Redoubt, the other attack at the Dujaila Redoubt. The attacks were launched on 7 March 1916. Both attacks failed due to lack of initiative and an inability to coordinate the timing of the assaults (they ended up being sequential, not simultaneous). The British lost some 4,000 casualties.

Fenton Aylmer was replaced by the former commander of the 12th Indian division, General George Gorringe. He did not command in battle again, retiring from the army in 1919. However, from 1922 till his death he was the Commandant of the Royal Engineers. He died on 3rd September 1935 in Wimbledon, Surrey, and was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium. His medals are held by the Royal Engineers Museum, Chatham, Kent.





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