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William Raynor VC

Plumtree History  » William Raynor VC


 

William Raynor was born in Plumtree in 1795, joined the Honourable East India Company (HEIC) and had a distinguished military career which culminated in his heroic defence of the Magazine at Delhi during the Indian Mutiny, an act for which he was awarded the Victoria Cross.

This page summarises the life of Captain Raynor, how he won his VC, how it was sold and bought back again, and how he is commemorated in Plumtree, the village of his birth.

Early Life

July 1795

William Raynor was born in the village of Plumtree, Nottinghamshire. His parents were John and Elizabeth Raynor (neé Tongue) who were married on 22nd January 1793 in St. Mary's Church, Plumtree.

William had an older sister, Mary, who was baptised in St. Mary’s Church, Plumtree on 18th January 1794 but died in infancy (buried 22nd June 1795).

William's parents, Elizabeth (who died in July 1819, aged 63) and John (who died in October 1819, aged 57) are both buried in Plumtree churchyard.

10th August 1796

William was baptised in St. Mary's Church, Plumtree.

William's Army Service

1812

Enlisted in the Service of the the Honourable East India Company.

February 1813

Arrived in India in the HEIC's ship "Hugh Inglis" having been allotted to the Bengal European Regiment.

8th October 1819

William Raynor married Mary Wilkinson, a widow (who, sadly, died in 1819).

6th November
1820

Appointed a Sub-Conductor in the Ordnance Commissariat Dept. and was soon afterwards posted to the arsenal in Fort William.

14th January
1823

Promoted to the rank of Conductor and posted to the Magazine at Cawnpore (at which station he served uninterruptedly for more than twenty years).

27th August
1823

William Raynor married Mary Anne Werril at Cawnpore, India. They went on to have five children:

  • William Joseph Raynor, born 26th Oct 1826, Cawnpore, India
  • Adelaide Louisa Raynor; born 14th July 1834, Cawnpore, India
  • Richard John Raynor; born 8th October 1836, Cawnpore, India
  • Thomas Samuel Raynor; born 14th July 1839, Cawnpore, India
  • Albert Charles Raynor; born 18th September 1844, Delhi, India

6th October
1843

Promoted to the rank of Deputy Assistant Commissary of Ordnance and posted to the Delhi Magazine (in which he served for nearly fourteen years).

17th April
1845

Promoted to the rank of Assistant Commissary of Ordnance.

17th August
1852

Advanced to commissioned rank (Commissary of Ordnance) and appointed a Lieutenant of the Veteran Establishment. This type of promotion was almost unheard of within the East India Company's army, a substantial achievement.

10th July
1855

Posted to the Magazine at Ferozepore, but was directed to continue doing duty as a temporary arrangement at Delhi. He was in Delhi at the outbreak of the Indian Mutiny in 1857.

Indian Mutiny

1857 to 1859

Causes
The 1850s saw a deterioration in relations between the British officers and the Indian other ranks in the East India Company's Bengal Army. Many Indians believed that the British were seeking to destroy traditional Indian social, religious and cultural customs, a view shared by the sepoys of the Bengal Army, a substantial number of whom were high-caste Brahmins. Discipline, administration and command in the Bengal Army had for some time been inferior to that in the East India Company's other two armies and matters were brought to a head by the introduction of the Pattern 1853 Enfield Rifle. The rumour spread that its cartridges were greased with pig and cow fat, thus offending both Moslems and Hindus. In February 1857 the 19th (Bengal Native) Infantry refused to use the cartridges. They were quickly disbanded but their actions were to spark a chain of similar events through central and northern India.

Outbreak
The Mutiny - more commonly known in India as 'The Uprising' - began in earnest at Meerut on 10th May 1857 when 85 members of the 3rd (Bengal) Light Cavalry who had been imprisoned for refusing to use the cartridges were rescued by Indian comrades. The following day Delhi fell to the mutineers. News of these events spread rapidly, leading to further mutinies elsewhere. Eventually all ten Bengal Light Cavalry Regiments and most of the 74 Bengal Native Infantry Regiments were affected. Some regiments were disarmed before they had the chance to mutiny while in other cases British officers simply refused to doubt the loyalty of their men until it was too late. Many local rulers supported the mutineers, having been alienated by the East India Company's annexation of native states. There were only 35,000 British soldiers in the whole sub-continent and these were widely scattered. Furthermore, reinforcements took months to arrive. Fortunately for the British the Mutiny was almost exclusively confined to the Bengal Army. The Company's Madras and Bombay Armies were relatively unaffected and other units, including Sikhs, Punjabi Moslems and Gurkhas, remained loyal.

Delhi
The walled city of Delhi became the focal point of the Mutiny. It was the seat of Bahadur Shah, the aged Mughal Emperor, and it occupied a key strategic position between Calcutta and the new territories of the Punjab. The Delhi Magazine was a prime target for the mutineers and the story of how the British soldiers tried (and failed) to defend it is described below:

The recapture of Delhi became a priority for the British. On 7 June 1857 a hastily-raised force of 4,000 men succeeded in occupying a ridge overlooking Delhi but was far too weak to attempt to retake the city itself. Faced by over 30,000 mutineers they came under increasing pressure themselves and began to suffer losses through cholera. However reinforcements gradually arrived from the Punjab, including a siege train of 32 guns and 2,000 men under Brigadier-General John Nicholson. By 14 September the British had about 9,000 men before Delhi. A third were British while the rest were Sikhs, Punjabis and Gurkhas. Breaches were made in the city walls, a gate was blown and after a week's vicious street fighting, Delhi was back under British control. Although operations continued until 1859, notably in central India, the recapture of Delhi proved a decisive factor in the suppression of the Mutiny.

Defending the Delhi Magazine

11th May
1857

In his book 'The History of the Victoria Cross' , Philip A Wilkins described the action as follows...

The troublous times of the Indian Mutiny brought to light many examples of bravery, devotion and self-sacrifice, but it was left to a little band of nine resolute men to perform the act which, of all the heroic ones of those days, will be the last to be obliterated by the hand of time. On May 11, 1857, the great Delhi Magazine, full of enormous stores of warlike material, was in charge of Lieutenant George Willoughby, Bengal Artillery, and with him were Lieutenants Forrest and Raynor, and six European soldiers.

 

In the early hours of that day Willoughby was in the magazine when Forrest arrived with the Magistrate, Sir Theophilus Metcalfe, and informed him that the mutineers had crossed the river and entered the palace gates. Knowing well the value of the Magazine to the enemy should they contrive to storm and take it, and how much to our cause could he but hold it, Willoughby resolved to defend it to the last, always with the hope that our troops at Meerut would soon arrive to his relief.

There were many natives on the establishment of the Magazine, but the officer saw they were not to be trusted, and he formed the heroic resolution with his eight British comrades to defend the Magazine as long as possible against the enormous odds and then at last, when overpowered, to blow the building into the air with all its inflammable contents and themselves to die at their posts.

The gates were closed and barricaded, and guns were brought out, loaded with grape shot and placed so as to command the entrances. Should the enemy force their way in through these channels, their ranks would be torn to pieces by the point blank fire of the six pounders, and then if the little band should be overpowered, at a signal – pre-concerted by Willoughby – the entire place was to be blown up and any within its walls would perish. To this end a train of powder was lain from the outside to the Magazine, Scully, with heroic resolution, undertaking the firing of the train, this duty making death a certainty should the signal be given.

Shortly afterwards a summons was brought from the King of Delhi, ordering the surrender of the Magazine. Contemptuous silence was the only reply given, upon which the enemy, bringing ladders, commenced to scale the walls, the natives in the establishment promptly joining their friends the attackers.

Thus the resolute nine, left alone, faced Death with fearless hearts, and soon the guns sent volleys of grape into the midst of the storming parties. Gun after gun fired its rounds, served coolly and steadily, the heroic gunners under a hail of bullets from those of the enemy who had now scaled the walls. After a while the supply of ammunition brought up from the Magazine began to give out, and it was impossible for more to be fetched, no one being able to leave the guns for that purpose.

Two of the gallant nine were wounded and the rebels were forcing their way in now on every side, and to his country's cause, Willoughby raised his hat – the signal arranged – John Scully applied the port-fire to the train and with an appalling explosion, the Magazine was blown into the air, more than one thousand mutineers being killed.

Of the nine heroic men, only four escaped; Willoughby and Forrest joined a party of Europeans at the Main Guard in Delhi, so blackened as to be almost unrecognizable; the former being shortly afterwards killed in an encounter with the mutineers. Raynor and Buckley, taking different directions, eventually reached Meerut in safety.

The splendour of this achievement, the nobility of heart of those who deliberately offered their lives in the furtherance of their country's cause, makes the Victoria Cross almost an insufficient reward. But, added to that decoration, and to perpetuate the memory of the heroic lives given for such a cause, a memorial tablet was placed over the gate of the old Magazine.

the delhi magazine

The memorial tablet bears the following inscription:

On May 11th 1857
Nine Resolute Englishmen,
Lt. Geo. Dorbree Willoughby, Bengal Artillery, In Command

Lieutenant William Raynor. Lieutenant Geo. Forrest,
Conductor G. William Shaw, Conductor John Buckley,
Conductor John Scully, Sub-Conductor William Crow,
Sergeant Bryan Edwards, Sergeant Peter Stewart

Defended the Magazine of Delhi for more than four hours against large numbers of the rebels and mutineers, until the walls being scaled, and all hope of succour gone, these brave men fired the Magazine. Five of the gallant band perished in the explosion, which at the same time destroyed many of the enemy.

This Tablet
Marking the former entrance gate to the Magazine, is placed here by the Government of India.

 

A second tablet, obviously added later, points out that the 'enemy' described in the first tablet were in fact freedom fighters trying to rid the country of its foreign rulers. Unfortunately it's difficult to read these inscriptions without taking the suicidal step of standing in the middle of chaotic Lothian Road.

Victoria Cross

June 1858

For his bravery defending the Delhi Magazine during the Indian Mutiny, Lieutenant William Raynor was awarded the Victoria Cross.

His citation in The London Gazette was:

'For gallant conduct in defence of the Magazine at Delhi, on the 11th May 1857. Of the gallant nine only four escaped. When the Magazine was blown into the air, five of them died with it – and with them died also a thousand Mutineers. Willoughby and Forrest joined a party of Europeans at the Main Guard at Delhi, so blackened as to be almost unrecognizable. Willoughby was shortly afterwards killed in an encounter with the Mutineers in a village on the way to Kutrnaul. At the attack on the fort at Rootya, Lieutenant Edward Willoughby (brother of the Willoughby of the Powder Magazine), though on the sick-list, left his dhooly to join in the fight, and was killed in a daring attempt to scale the parapet. Captain Cafe and Private Thomson brought in his body, and won the Victoria Cross. The two other men of the nine who escaped were Raynor and Buckley, who, taking different directions, eventually reached Meerut in safety.'

The VC citation was:

'On the 11th May 1857 at Delhi, India, Lieutenant Raynor and nine other soldiers defended the Magazine of the fort for more than five hours against a large vastly superior number of rebels and mutineers. When the enemy had finally scaled the wall and with no relief in sight, Lieutenant Raynor ordered the contents of the Magazine to be detonated. Only Lieutenant Raynor and two other soldiers survived, but many of the enemy were killed. At the age of 61 Lieutenant William Raynor is the oldest person to receive the Victoria Cross.'

example victoria crossThe engraving on the reverse of the Victoria Cross reads:

 

 

CAPTN. WM. RAYNOR
BENGAL VETERAN ESTABT.
11TH MAY
1857

 

 

It was about this time that William Raynor was promoted to Captain, a rank he held until his death.

William Raynor was aged 61 years and 10 months when he was awarded his Victoria Cross – the oldest recipient ever (a record which is unlikely to be broken since these days Army officers tend to retire at when they are fifty-five).

William Raynor's Death

13th December 1860

William Raynor died of natural causes at Ferozepore in North India on the Indo-Pakistan border.

14th December 1860

William Raynor was buried at the Ferozepore Civil Cemetery; the site of his grave is shown below.

william raynor's graveHis tombstone reads:

"Beneath this stone lie the mortal remains of Captain William Raynor, Dy Commissary of Ordnance, who died at Ferozepore on the 13th December 1860 aged 64 years 5 months. Honoured and beloved he lived and honoured and lamented he died."

August 1865

By a sunnud, or imperial warrant, of August 1865, William Raynor's widow, Mary, was granted 2,500 acres of forest at Dehra Dun, 100 miles north of Delhi, close to the foothills of the Himalayas.

Some of this land was turned by her and his children into a tea plantation, but probably most into a leper colony, which became known as 'Raynorpore'.

Unfortunately, the family papers relating to it have long since disappeared, but the name may have survived in that of the town of Ranipur, near which there is still a large school for the children of lepers.

Events of 1960 to 1990

1960/1961

William Raynor's VC had remained in the Raynor family since it was awarded in 1858. However in 1960/1961, Raynor's great grandson (who was a retired Indian Army colonel) reluctantly had to sell the medal when a combination of factors put the family in financial straits.

The medal was sold by Spink Dealers and Auctioneers to an anonymous American collector.

21st September
1963

Issue No 2 of 'The Hornet' features the attack on the Delhi Magazine in its 'Deeds of Glory' feature under the title 'THE OLDEST VC'. Click on the images below to read the story (opens a pdf icon PDF document).

  

© DC Thomson 1963.
Thanks to the following for supplying a scanned version of this item:
Vic Whittle (http://www.britishcomics.20m.com/)
Adrian Banfield (http://www.victorhornetcomics.co.uk/)

November 1987

The William Raynor VC came up for auction. William's great-great grandson (also called William) and great-great granddaughter (Shirley) were determined to buy it back and, via a benefactor, they successfully raised the £11,000 needed to secure its purchase.

The medal was again sold by Spink Dealers and Auctioneers.

17th December 1987

The new owners presented the medal to the Royal Army Ordnance Corps (RAOC) Museum at Blackdown Barracks, Deepcut in Surrey

13th October 1988

The medal was displayed in the RAOC Museum alongside the Victoria Cross awarded to Raynor's colleague, William Buckley.

Note that the RAOC Museum is now part of Royal Logistic Corps and is based in The Princess Royal Barracks, Deepcut.

The Raynor family is very happy now that the medal is in hte safe hands of the RAOC. Sadly, it is not currently on display but stored in the bank; it can be viewed, if requested.

Raynor's Cottages

April 1993

As part of preparations for National Housing week (7th to 13th June) during which two semi-detached bungalows were to be built on Church Hill, Plumtree Parish Council decided that they would like to name the bungalows 'Raynor Cottages' in honour of William Raynor.

They wrote to the curator of the RAOC in an attempt to trace any surviving relatives of Captain Raynor.

His relatives (William and Shirley, see details of the sale and recovery of the medal above) were duly traced and were invited to the "handing over of the keys" ceremony to be held on June 14th.

8th June
1993

Work starts on constructing Raynor's Cottages.

Photographs of the cottages being built.

14th June
1993

opening ceremony for raynor's cottages

Raynor's Cottages opened by Rt Hon Kenneth Clarke QC MP, Chancellor of the Exchequer in celebration of National Housing Week 1993.

 

william raynor's decendants at the opening ceremony

William Raynor's great-great-grandchildren Mr William Raynor and Mrs Shirley Trollope.

Nottinghamshire Victoria Cross Memorial Project

7th May
2010

The Nottingham and Nottinghamshire Victoria Cross Memorial Project's Memorial to Nottinghamshire's Twenty Recipients of the Victoria Cross is officially unveiled in the grounds of Nottingham Castle.

dedication of nottinghamshire's victoria cross memorial

Photo courtesy of the Castle Rock brewery

For more information visit the Nottinghamshire Victoria Cross website.

Commemorative Plaque

17th July 2011

On the morning of July 17th 2011 following a service of dedication at St Mary’s Church, Plumtree, a brass plaque commemorating Captain William Raynor VC was unveiled.

william raynor's memorial plaque

The plaque is attached to the apex of the oak notice board outside the west gate of the churchyard.

The unveiling took place during a fine break on a showery day and was attended by several civic dignitaries:

dedication of william raynor's memorial plaque

From left to right: Nigel Cutts (Chairman of the Trustees of Burnside Hall, Plumtree); Gordon Moore (Mayor of Rushcliffe Borough Council); Kay Cutts (Leader of Nottinghamshire County Council); Mike Clark (Chair of Plumtree Parish Council); Mrs Georgina Moore (wife of the Mayor); Reg Adair (Nottinghamshire County Councillor); Ged Fletcher (representing Normanton on the Wolds Parish Council) and Revd Trevor Kirkman (Rector of Plumtree).

Photo courtesy of Dave Voce.
 

We were also delighted that four of William Raynor’s direct descendants were able to attend:

william raynor's decendants at the dedication ceremony

Photo courtesy of Dave Voce.

The church service and the unveiling of the plaque were both well attended and were a fitting tribute to one of Plumtree’s most gallant men.