William George Hawtry Bankes VC

b. 11/09/1836 Kingston Lacy, Dorset. d. 06/04/1858 Lucknow, India

William George Hawtry Bankes (1836-1858) was born in Kingston Lacy, Dorset on 11th September 1836, the fifth child of the Right Honourable George Bankes MP and Georgina Charlotte (nee Nugent). The family lived in both Kingston Lacy and in Corfe Castle. He was educated at Temple Grove and Westminster School, before a commission was purchased for him in the cavalry (an expensive outlay), and he joined the 7th Hussars as a cornet in the spring of 1857.

William G H Bankes VC

They set sail for the Indian Mutiny on board “Lightning” on 27th August 1857 and after 88 days at sea, arrived in Calcutta. The regiment disembarked on 1st December 1857 and marched to Fort William. The regiment were involved in several skirmishes in the early months of 1858, before joining the operation to relieve Lucknow under the command of Sir Colin Campbell.

On 18th March, it was learnt that a strong force of rebels was in the Musabagh, a large palace and grounds about four miles NW of Lucknow. On the 19th, a force of cavalry and horse artillery, including the 7th Hussars, was sent to prevent these rebels escaping while the main force attacked the palace.

Cornet Bankes was attached to “H” Troop, which was escorting the artillery. When they stopped for a rest and food, a small mud fort or rezai in the distance was approached by a vidette. It appeared to be deserted until its occupants opened fire. The Royal Horse Artillery, along with its cavalry escort, was immediately sent forward to return fire. To the astonishment of the soldiers, about 50 villagers rushed out and charged the guns armed with swords. The 7th was ordered to charge these men and was immediately involved in a vicious melee. Captain Slade and Lieutenant Wilkin were both severely wounded, leaving young Bankes as the only officer. He charged into the crowd, shooting three rebels. In the swirl of the bitter fighting, a rebel slashed at Bankes’ horse and he was unseated. With his gun empty, Bankes was powerless to defend himself and was set upon by the rebels armed with tulwars.

When the rebels were dispersed, Bankes was found barely alive. He had been hacked so badly that he was not expected to live. He was taken to hospital, where his right arm and leg were amputated and the other wounds treated. He received the best treatment available from the Surgeon General appointed by Sir Colin Campbell. The latter, impressed by Bankes’ gallantry, recommended him for the VC. Despite his terrible wounds, he seemed to be recovering. Sadly, on 6th April 1858, he succumbed to blood poisoning due to infection in his wounds. He was buried in an unknown location in Lucknow. He was gazetted on 24th December 1858 though it stated that he would have received the VC had he lived. His award was eventually granted following an amendment to the Royal Warrant. Bankes’ medals are now owned by the Ashcroft Trust.