William Napier VC

b. 20/08/1828 Keighley, Yorkshire. d. 02/06/1908 Rochester, Australia.

William Napier (1824-1908) was born at Keighley in Yorkshire, England on 20 August 1828, the son of Samuel Napier of the Scottish Napiers and his wife Mary (née Horsfall). William was educated at a private school and grew up in a military family. His uncle William Napier was a Grenadier Guard (2nd Battalion), who fought at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 and was awarded the Waterloo Medal which he gave to William.

William Napier VC

By the time William had left school he had the urge to join the army. On 10 December 1846 he enlisted at Leeds, Yorkshire with the 13th Light Infantry. In 1855 William Napier left the England with the 1st Battalion, 13th (1st Somersetshire) (Prince Albert’s Light Infantry) Regiment of Foot under General Lord Mark Kerr, G.C.B., and arrived at Balaklava, Crimea, by sea on 29 June 1855.

Following the end of the Crimean War, his Regiment sailed for South Africa, where they remained for a few months, when news of the outbreak of the Indian Mutiny was received. The regiment sailed for Calcutta, where following disembarkation, they were moved up country to relieve Colonel Milman’s small force at Azamgarh.

On 6th April 1858, during the fighting at Azamgarh, Sergeant Napier observed Private Benjamin Milnes lying severely wounded and went to his rescue. Binding his comrade’s wounds, despite being surrounded by the rebels, he was hit by a bullet which left a gaping wound over his left eye. Blinded by the blood, Napier continued to fight back and finally picked Milnes up and carried him to safety.

Afterwards, Lord Mark Kerr asked Napier whether he would like a commission, but the sergeant declined. Instead he was recommended for the Victoria Cross and promoted to sergeant major. His VC citation appeared in the London Gazette on 24th December 1858, though he didn’t receive his medal until sometime in 1862. It was later that year that he was discharged from the Army. Two weeks after this, he caught a steamer and sailed for Australia where he settled in Melbourne. He married and raised a family. He died in Rochester on 2nd June 1908, and was buried in Bendigo Cemetery. His VC is held by the Somerset Light Infantry Museum, Taunton Castle.