1. Family background


2. Boer War


3. From VC to Prison Cell


4. Death and Funeral, 1921





George Albert Ravenhill was born on February 23rd 1872 in Thimble Mill Lane in the Nechells district of Birmingham, He was the son of
Thomas and Mary Anne Ravenhill and his father followed the trade of wood turner. 
On the 1881 census nine year old George was living in Church Road, Aston, with his father, five brothers and three sisters. Thomas, his father, was then a spade tree maker, aged 41. His siblings were Mary Jane (aged 17), Thomas (16), Walter (12), Laura (10), Alfred (7), Albert 5, Ernest (3) and Annie (1). Of the nine children five were recorded with Aston as the place of birth and four Nechells. His mother was not recorded on the census for an
unknown reason.
His father had been born at Whaddon, three miles south-west of Gloucester and on the main road to Stroud. It is probable that Thomas Ravenhill had come to Birmingham with his brother for there was a George Ravenhill living in Wharf Street, Aston, in 1881 who was also born at Waddon. This George was 52 years old, a publican, married to Mary with one domestic servant.

In 1891 Thomas and Mary were living in Long Acre, Nechells, Thomas was still described as a spade tree maker. Thomas junior was still living at home and was in the same trade as his father along with Albert, who was a brass caster, and eleven year old Annie. Louis (9), Charles (7), Arthur (3) and Edith (3) had been born since the 1881 census. Mary Jane, Walter, Laura, Alfred and Ernest were not listed with the rest of the family. Unfortunately George himself cannot be found anywhere on the 1891 census. 


George’s father, Thomas, was still alive at the time of the 1901 Census. Now 61 he was living in Cheatham Street, Nechells in the parish of St Clements. He was now a wood turner. We learn that his wife, Mary Jane, was aged 57 and Birmingham born. Some of George’s brothers and sisters were still living in the family home; Mary Jane, now a housemaid, Thomas, also a wood turner, Ernest, a tube drawer, Annie, a lacquerer.  Charles, aged 17, was now a house painter, Edith, aged 12, a draper’s cashier and there was also Arthur,
also aged 12. . Walter, Laura, Alfred, Albert and Louis were not listed. Mary Jane, their mother, had the maiden name of Baradine as her mother, Sarah, aged 81, was also living in the house. Like her son-in-law she had also been born in Whaddon, Gloucestershire. 
Whilst George was serving in South Africa his wife Florence was living at Long Acre, Aston, in the parish of St Clements. In 1901 she was aged 24 and Birmingham born. There were later to be four more children but only Lily, aged 1, had been born by the turn of the century.



2. BOER WAR 1899


For reasons we do not know George Ravenhill joined the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers and saw active service in the Boer War (1899-1902) fought in South Africa between the Boers of Dutch descent and the British, who had imperialist ambitions in that part of the world.  The war broke out on October 12 1899 when Boers invaded Cape Colony and Natal. On December 15 1899 General Sir Redvers Buller , British Commander-in-Chief in South Africa, led an advance on the Boer defence line along the Tugela River established by General Botha. Buller commanded five infantry brigades and had artillery support from the Royal Artillery and the Royal Navy. The whole force numbered about 21000. This was a step towards the relief of the besieged town of Ladysmith which had been cut off since November. George Ravenhill was serving in 6th Brigade commanded by Barton.


The British attack was to be three pronged and frontal. Both flanks were repulsed. On the left flank men commanded by Major General Hart were ambushed in a blind loop (the open end of a loop like a salient) in the river 7 km upstream from Colenso. This was a mistake caused by inaccurate British maps. They could not cross and were fired upon from three sides. In the centre of this loop was Colonel C.J.Long, who commanded two batteries of twelve 15 pounder field guns and six naval 12 pounders and had advanced these heavy guns
into the bend in the river. The guns had been escorted forward by A and B companies of the Royal Scots Fusiliers,including Private George Ravenhill. It appears that Long had exceeded his orders and pushed his guns further forward than Buller had instructed. The gunners came under very heavy rifle fire from trenches on the opposite river bank and the guns were abandoned as the teams of
horses could not be brought up to the guns.


Thomas Pakenham in ‘The Boer War’, Futura, 1982, sets the scene as follows…


“The advance of Long’s twelve field-guns and six naval guns, which had so astounded Louis Botha half an hour earlier that morning, seen form the other side of the Tugela, indeed followed one of the great traditions of the British army; courage matched only by stupidity. To see those eighteen gun
teams, riding out far ahead of the infantry battalions supposed to screen them, was to return to some scene from Balaclava: Long…believed in the old virtues of close order and ‘keeping the men in hand’. Despite the protests of Lieutenant Ogilvy, the CO of the 12-pounder naval guns, Long…..had brought the 15-pounders to within a thousand yards of the river bank before he allowed a halt. Fortunately for Ogilvy and his men, they had lagged nearly six hundred yards behind the 15-pounders., and, when Botha had given the signal for that fusillade of shrapnel and Mauser fire, the naval guns were still comparatively safe. True, the African drivers, who drove the improvised naval gun teams, immediately bolted….But it was possible to cut the oxen free from the naval guns, and bring all six guns into action against the kopjes a mile away across the river, from which most of the rifle fire appeared to be coming. …..The naval gun detachment suffered next to no casualties. By contrast, the two 15-pounder batteries found themselves in the centre of something to which military textbooks had yet to give a name: in this zone of fire, the air crackled like fat in a frying-pan….It was the sheer volume of (Boer) rifle fire - the emptying of a thousand Mauser magazines  - that had the force of machine guns and gave the British the impression they were facing twenty thousand Boers.


One of the first to be knocked down was Long himself, critically wounded in the liver; Lieutenant-Colonel Hunt, the second-in-command, was also wounded, as were officers from both batteries..The 15-pounders continued firing – slowly and methodically, the gunners counting out the intervals
between shots,as they had been taught. The second line of ammunition wagons was brought up, and the first line of empty wagons calmly removed. The story was to be told of how the gunners now fought on till the last round of ammunition. In fact the gunners were brave, but human. When a third of their number had been killed or wounded, flash and blood could stand no more. The acting commander ordered the men to take shelter in a small donga –  a stony hollow nearby. The second-line ammunition wagons, nearly full, were left with the twelve guns, abandoned in the open plain. Two of the officers then rode back out of the drumming Mauser fire to try to get help”.


These two officers, Captains Fitzgerald and Herbert, met Buller as he rode towards the firing line. Buller rode on to meet Hildyard and told him to call off the main attack on Colenso. He said “I’m afraid Long’s guns have got us into a terrible mess”. It would be reckless to
proceed.  With his personal doctor at his side, Buller rode on towards the small donga where Long’s men were sheltering. He now attempted to rescue Long and his twelve guns.
Buller’s problem was to to cross the last eight hundred yards of open plain to the guns. When he arrived on the scene he was pleased to find the naval guns still firing though immobilized by the stampede of all but two of the ox teams. He arranged for artillery horses to drag those naval guns back to a safe position. Buller had plenty of infantry available but the problem was how to get them far enough forward to extricate Long. Buller made a good enemy target and was severely bruised in the ribs by a shell fragment but did not admit this till later. His personal doctor, Captain Hughes, was less lucky and was killed at
his side.


“Buller now rode back a second time to the large donga. Out on the plain Long’s twelve field guns still lay abandoned, alone except for a circle of panic-stricken horses, tied by the traces to their dead team mates. By the donga bullets drummed on the ground, making the drivers duck back under shelter. Buller stood out in the open and shouted, ‘Now, my lads, this is your last chance to save the guns; will any of you volunteer to fetch them”? After a
minute one of the corporals got up, and six men joined him.To make up two teams needed more volunteers. Buller turned to his own staff….’Some of you go and help’. Three officers stepped forward: Captain H.N.Schofield…,Captain Walter Congreve…and Lieutenant Freddy Roberts. Congreve was never to forget that ride. He was a personal friend of Freddy’s – they had served as brother officers in the Rifle Brigade in India. ….First they had to hook the two teams into the limbers. Freddy Roberts held the head of Corporal Nurse’s horse, while the corporal hooked in. They set off at a canter towards the guns, half a mile away. (Congreve was unseated and Freddy vanished) But somehow the two teams with the limbers reached the guns. After a struggle. Schofield and the corporal hooked in, and away they galloped back to safety, with two 15-pounders. By now Botha’s men…..had redoubled their fire. The next team with a limber sent forward by Buller was brought to a standstill. Further volunteers rode out. It was hopeless. A final attempt was made by Captain H.L.Reed of the 7th Battery….He hooked in three teams and they rode forward. Twelve of the horses were shot, one man killed, five wounded. No one reached the guns. Buller now refused to sanction any further rescue attempts. He then gave the order:retire……


Out in the shimmering plain, the guns lay abandoned, encircled by the dead horses. And in the small donga, thirty yards behind, Colonel Long, wounded gunners, staff and some infantrymen still lay under the midsummer sun….(Congreve) had been wounded in the leg. Then he had found Freddy Roberts.
He was lying out on the veld, shot in the stomach and two other places. When the fire slackened, Congreve dragged him under shelter. He was unconscious, and there seemed little hope for him from the first. They shaded his head with a coat and waited”.


(The Boers now took the position and took prisoners). Congreve, Freddy Roberts, Long and the other wounded were sent back in the care of the ‘bodysnatchers’, the Indian and British ambulance men, who now reached the donga.  Lieutenant Freddy Roberts, son of Field Marshal Lord Roberts, was awarded a posthumous V.C. The original VC warrant made no mention of posthumous awards and it had been decided that the VC would not be given for an act in which the intended recipient had been killed or where he had died shortly
afterwards. Freddy Roberts created a new precedent, having died a day later. Buller lost 1127 men at Colenso while only 8 Boers lost their lives with 30 wounded. He was now replaced by Lord Roberts as Commander-in-Chief. So ended ‘Black Week’ when the British forces had suffered defeats at Stormberg (December 10), Magersfontein (December 11) and now Colenso. On 28 Feb 1900 Ladysmith was relieved and on 17 May Mafeking as well.


George Ravenhill is not mentioned in these accounts but his contribution as a volunteer was recognised by the award of a
Victoria Cross for bravery. Six other VCs were awarded for the same event. Major William Babtie, Royal Army Medical Corps, for attending the wounded under fire; Captain Walter Norris Congreve of the Rifle Brigade had also tried to save the guns as well as bringing in a wounded officer with Babtie; Lieutenant Frederick Hugh Sherston Roberts had helped to hook a team into a limber and
then to limber up a gun. While doing so, he fell badly wounded and later died of his wounds. Captain Harry Norton Taylor was Aide-de-Camp to General Buller. He helped Roberts limber up the guns sustained six bullet wounds in the process. 
Corporal George Nurse of the 66th Battery, RFA, was one of Buller’s volunteers who helped to bring in a gun. Captain Hamilton Lyster Reed led his men from the 7th Battery in an attempt to rescue the guns.  









The ‘London Gazette’ of last night notifies that the King has conferred the Victoria Cross upon Captain N.R.House, New South Wales Medical
Staff Corps; Lieutenant (now Captain and Brevet-Major) J.E.J.Masterson, 1st Devonshire Regiment; Corporal J.J.Clements, Rimington’s Guides; and Private G.Ravenhill, 2nd Royal Scots Fusiliers, for conspicuous gallantry in South Africa.


(the actions of the other three were also Boer War but unrelated to the Battle of Colenso)


At Colenso on the 15th December, 1899, Private Ravenhill went several times under a heavy fire from his sheltered position as one of the escort to the guns to assist the officers and drivers who were trying to withdraw the guns of the 14th and 66th Field Batteries, when the detachments serving them had all been killed, wounded or driven from them by infantry fire at close range, and helped to limber up one of the guns that were saved.


(Note: the newspaper did not realise at this stage that Ravenhill was a Birmingham man)


78 VCs were awarded during the war in South Africa; seven at Colenso in December 1899.






At Aston Police Court yesterday George Ravenhill, labourer, no fixed residence; Lot Galeford, labourer, Park Street, Aston; and John Toye, labourer, 84, Clifton Road, were charged with stealing at Bromford, on the 21st inst. 3 ¾ cwt of iron, valued at 6s, the property of James Rollasson, manufacturer of Bromford Mills. Ravenhill is a Victoria Cross hero, having gained the distinction at at Colenso. He was before the court some months ago on a charge of refusing to perform his allotted task at Erdington Workhouse.


John Small, foreman at Bromford Mills, spoke to missing the iron from near the entrance gates of the works, and George Ward, marine store dealer,
of Bright Street, Aston, said he bought the iron from Ravenhill and Galeford on the 24th of August for 5s.7  ½d which was the market price. Toye, giving evidence of his own behalf, said he had no idea the iron was stolen. The other prisoners merely asked him to give them a lift with the iron, which they said they had found in the brook. Toye was discharged and Galeford, who had been in trouble before, was sentenced to three months hard abour.


In the case of Ravenhill, Detective Inspector Jackson stated that he could not say much in the man’s favour. He had been keeping company with
Galeford for the past month. One day he told witness that he was still lookingfor work and asked him to help him. Witness said he would if he would keep away from bad companions, otherwise he could not recommend him. Ravenhill told the Bench he believed he was entitled to a pension of £50 per annum. If he had had that he should not have been mixed up with this affair, but he had heard nothing from the authorities regarding his claim.


The Bench said they had no other course but to send Ravenhill to gaol for a month, They had tried to help him but he would not help himself.







Messrs Sotheby’s sale yesterday included two Victoria Crosses, one of which was awarded to Lieutenant George Symons, June 6 1855….£31; and a group
of three medals awarded to Private George Ravenhill, the Victoria Cross, December 15 1899, and two Africa medals - £42. Private Ravenhill was one of the
band of who went out to save the guns at Colenso under the concentrated fire of the Boers, and he was one of the few who returned. Both lots were purchased by Messrs.Spink.


(Note: George Ravenhill’s V.C. is now in the Royal Highland Fusiliers Museum, Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow. It is possible that the sale was on behalf of the War Office who had retrieved the medal)


Page 164…


“His name was removed from the VC Roll in 1908 after he was convicted of theft…Shortly before Ravenhill’s death, King George V declared that the VC should never be forfeited. ‘Even were a VC to be sentenced to be hanged for murder’, wrote the King, ‘he should be allowed to wear the VC on the scaffold’. His name was returned to the Register”.

 (The King’s words were in a letter to the widow of James Collis, who had won the VC at Kandahar, Afghanistan in 1880. He was convicted of bigamy in 1895 and his name erased from the VC Roll. After he died his widow wrote to King George V asking that his name should be restored)


Page xiii….


“Until 1920 the award could be forfeited for discreditable acts; the VC holder also lost his pension. In the history of the award this occurred eight times., for desertion, assault, theft and bigamy. The eight men who lost the award were Edward Daniel, James McGuire, Valentine Bambrick, Michael Murphy, Thomas Lane, Frederick Corbett, James Collis and George Ravenhill”.









The death has taken place suddenly at his home 12, back 120, Long Acre, Nechells, of a Birmingham V.C., Private George Ravenhill. He leaves a
wife and five children in needy circumstances. Ravenhill, who was 49 years of age, won the Victoria Cross in the South African war. The ‘London Gazette’ of June 4 1901 thus describes the deed for which he was given this coveted award:-


“The Royal Scots Fusiliers (21st Foot). At Colenso on March 15 1899, Private Ravenhill went several times, under heavy fire, from his sheltered position as one of the escort to the guns, to assist the officers and drivers who were trying to withdraw the guns of the 14th and 66th Batteries, Royal Field Artillery, when detachments serving them had all been killed, wounded or driven from them by infantry fire. At close range he helped to limber up one of the guns that was saved”.










(front page story below a photograph of the family)


A gallant V.C., who gained the highest military award at the time of the Boer War, has just died in a one-roomed tenement which he shared with his
wife and five children in a house built in a squalid court in Long Acre, Nechells, Birmingham.


Private George Ravenhill, of the 2nd Battalion, Royal Scots Fusiliers, was drafted to Natal when the Boer War broke out. He was then 26 years of age, and had been married the previous year. At that time his home was in the same court in Nechells in which his family are living now and where he has spent his last years.




In Natal, when the Scots Fusiliers went to his assistance, General Buller was being sorely pressed by the Republican forces from both the Transvaal and the Orange Free State. On 15 December 1899, the historic date of the tragedy of the guns at Colenso, Ravenhill went several times, under heavy fire, from his sheltered position, as one of the escort of the guns to assist officers and drivers who were trying to withdraw the 14th and 16th Batteries R.F.A., when detachments of serving them had all been killed, wounded or driven from them by the Boer sharpshooters at close range, and helped to limber up one of the guns that were saved. For this deed of gallantry he was awarded the Victoria Cross.




Ravenhill, although his death was sudden, had been far from well for some time. He was a well-built man, and stood six feet high. When the present
war broke out he again offered his services, and was discharged with a disability pension after being in the army about three years. He leaves eight children. Of the five living in Nechells the eldest is 14 and the youngest 2½ and they are stated to be practically destitute. They are certainly living under deplorable housing conditions, which must be detrimental to their health.


It is hoped that a military funeral may be arranged for next Saturday. The local branch of the Discharged and Demobilised Sailors and Soldiers, Comrades of the Great War and Officers’ Association is making every effort to ensure the gallant V.C. receiving such a funeral, with honours, as well as torelieve, as far as practicable, the present great distress of the family.




With regard to the interment of Private Ravenhill V.C., whose death was announced on Monday, we are informed by the N.F.D.D.S and S that a message
has been received from the Secretary for War stating that arrangements are being made by the General Officer-in-Chief, Southern Command, Salisbury, for a military funeral and that the question of pension for the dependents has been referred to the appropriate departments. The General Officer Commanding, Southern Command, has been notified this morning of the local arrangements for a military funeral with honours on Saturday which are being made by Colonel Mudge, C.M.G., O.C. Troops, Birmingham Area.


Owing to the present industrial trouble Ravenhill’s old Regiment, the Royal Scots Fusiliers, which is at present quartered at Ayr, Scotland, will not be represented at the funeral, and the adjutant, in making announcement to this effect, regrets that the Regiment will not have the opportunity of this
paying tribute to its gallant comrade. The regiment, however, is sending a wreath. It is also stated that the regimental headquarters has under consideration the question of financial assistance. Mr Evelyn Cecil M.P. has written expressing his sympathy with Mrs Ravenhill and her family.








A military funeral with honours for the late Private Ravenhill V.C., who died on Thursday at his home at Long Acre, Nechells, has been arranged for
Saturday morning. The funeral will take place at Witton Cemetery at 11 o’clock. It is asked that all members of the N.F.D.D.S and S., the Comrades
of the Great War and the Officers’ Association who wish to be present will be at Long Acre no later than 9.30.


The entire funeral expenses are being paid for by the Lord Mayor of Birmingham, and the Government grant of £7.10s has therefore been handed to the
widow to help to purchase clothing for herself and her five children. The adjutant of the Royal Scots Fusiliers, of which Regiment Private Ravenhill was a member, when he won the V.C. at Colenso, regrets that owing to the present industrial crisis the regiment cannot be represented at the funeral. A wreath is being sent as a tribute from the R.S.F.








With the object of rendering assistance to the widow and children of the late Private G.Ravenhill V.C., whose funeral will take place tomorrow, a concert is being arranged by Councillor Norman Dean, to take place at the George Hotel, Saltley Road, Birmingham, on 6 May. Mr Dean states that the family are in urgent need.


Mr John Davison, Labour (Smethwick), asked the Lord Privy Seal, in the Commons yesterday, whether his attention had been called to the case of Private George Ravenhill V.C., 2nd Battalion, Royal Scots Fusiliers, who had just died under distressing circumstances in Long Acre, Nechells, Birmingham; whether he is aware that this soldier occupied a one-room tenement, with his wife and five children, whose ages ranged from 2½ to 14 years; that they were practically destitute, and living under conditions detrimental to their health; and whether her would take steps to provide adequate maintenance
and decent housing accommodation for the family.


Lieutenant-Colonel, the Hon.E.F.Stanley, who replied, said while it was true that this soldier was awarded the V.C. in 1901, there were special features connected with this case as to which he was communicating with the hon.member.




Text under photograph of coffin on a horse-drawn gun carriage.




Large crowds assembled near the house in Long Acre and at Witton Cemetery this morning, when Private Ravenhill V.C., formerly of the Royal Scots
Fusiliers, was buried with military honours. The band of the National Federation of Discharged and Demobilised Sailors and Soldiers, under the direction of Mr F.Hinken, accompanied the procession, and rendered the Dead March from ‘Saul’ and Chopin’s Funeral March as they passed through crowded streets in Aston and Nechells to the cemetery. The coffin, covered with floral tributes, was borne on a gun carriage, and a contingent of the Royal Warwickshire
Regiment from Great Brook Street Barracks formed the firing party. At the cemetery the service was conducted by the Rev. W.Grome Merrilees, the ‘Last
Post’ being sounded and a salute fired over the grave.


Among those present in a representative capacity were Mr F.J.Passmore, of the Comrades of the Great War; Mr G.A.Sutton, of the N.F.D.D.S and S. There attended on behalf of the Joint Committee of the Birmingham ex-soldiers’ organizations Messrs W.Yates and E.W.Plumstead, H.R.Barker and A.E.Walker. Captain H.Witts represented the Aston branch of the N.F.D.D.S and S, and Quartermaster-sergt Lucas and Sergt.J.Chamberlain, Legion of Frontiersmen.


The floral tributes included an emblem in the form of a Victoria Cross in red, white and blue flowers from the depot of the Royal Scots Fusiliers. “In memory of a very gallant ‘Scots Fusilier’ “ and there were wreaths from the Birmingham Division of the Corps of Commissionaires, the Birmingham Ex-Serviceman’s Joint Committee, the neighbours and the Unemployed ex-Service men in Birmingham.


On the return journey the band played “Sword and Lance” and “Belphegor”. The police arrangements were in the hands of Inspector Baker.








The funeral in Birmingham on Saturday of Private Ravenhill who, hile serving with the 2nd Battalion, Royal Scots Fusiliers in the outh African campaign won the Victoria Cross at Colenso, was witnessed by several hundred people. en belonging to the Warwickshire Regiment carried the coffin to the waiting gun carriage. Headed by soldiers, with arms reversed, the cortege proceeded slowly to Witton Cemetery. The coffin, placed on a gun carriage, was draped with the Union Jack.


The Dead March’ and Chopin’s ‘Funeral March’ played by the band of the National Federation of Discharged and Demobilised Soldiers and Sailors added to the impressiveness of the scene. At  the graveside the last rites were performed by the Rev. W.Grome-Merrilees. Three volleys fired over the grave were followed by the sounding of the ‘Last Post’.


Private G.Ravenhill had lived with his wife and five children in a small tenement and they were left in such abject poverty that the various
ex-Servicemen’s organizations came to the rescue. The Lord Mayor (Alderman William A.Cadbury) defrayed the expenses of the funeral.






Mrs F.Ravenhill of 13, back 120, Long Acre, Nechells, whose husband , a V.C., was buried on Saturday last with full military honours, writes on behalf of herself and five children, expressing heartfelt thanks for the many expressions of sympathy. It will be remembered that the relatives of the dead hero were in straightened circumstances, and the widow adds: ‘Mr F.Bradford persevered to make my sad case known, and I thank him from the bottom of my heart’.




Records date of death in 1921 and gives regiment as ‘Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry’ with a service number of 28287. Cemetery given as Birmingham (Witton) Cemetery, Screen Wall. 47. 08654’. The cemetery contains 459 First World War burials, more than 200 of which form three denominational war plots marked by Screen Walls bearing the names of those buried there and in graves elsewhere in the cemetery which could not be individually marked. The number of those buried reflects the four important War hospitals in Birmingham.


In addition his Medal Index Card shows service in the 2nd Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment (17136) before transfer to the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry. It is likely that whilst with the Hampshires he was part of a draft of 300 other ranks who landed at Lemnos as reinforcements on July 17 1915. Many died in an attack on Turkish trenches at Cape Helles on August 6th. His 1915 service entitled him to the 1915 Star. His medal card gives the Balkans as a theatre of war in which he served. 




In April 2005 two British Army teams were based at Mambasa Camp on the banks of the Tugela River near Winterton for the annual challenge which duplicates the feat of arms in 1900 when 14 guns were mounted on the summit of Swartkop for the Battle of Vaalkranz. This involved pulling a replica 12-pounder gun to the summit. Whilst the Royal Artillery were taking part a group from the
Royal Highland Fusiliers were also in South Africa on an Adventure Training expedition. They found the time to lay a wreath at their Regimental Memorial at Colenso in honour of the valour of the VC awarded to George Ravenhill of their Regiment in recovering the guns.   


Image description

Private George Ravenhill VC