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Cannock, Northampton, Newport Pagnall, William Mundy.
Not many of the rank and file soldiers put down their war memories on paper, and there's a good reason for this, not that many could actually write. Some talked about it with their family, others were lucky to have it recorded for them at odd moments in their lives, this is one ot those moments.
During the Miners Strike, in 1912, many areas had military units sent to them, in order to help keep law and order. Cannock, Staffordshire, being a mining area, were posted a unit of the West Yorkshire Regiment, ( The Prince of Wales Own ) who were billited around the town and frequented the local Pubs. Word reached them, that an old soldier, who had served with the predessors of the regiment, The Buckinghamshire Regiment, lived locally, and they extended the generousity of the Regiment, to a man who had fought at Savastopol, during the Crimean War of 1854 - 1855. News of this reached the ears of the Editor of the Lichfield Mercury, who sent out a reporter to interview the old soldier. The old soldier, now 77 years old was Sgt William Mundy, who proceeded to give the young reporter, a brief history of his military career.
He said his Army life began in 1853, when he joined the Northamptonshire Militia, and then found himself, in June 1854, enlisted in the Buckinghamshire Regiment, whence he was promptly sent off to Ireland. A few weeks later, he related he and the Regiment were put aboard HMS Princess Royal, a battleship, and sent via, Gibralta, and Constantiople, across the Black Sea, to the Crimea. He then related how the Regiment, fighting at the fore of the front line, battled their way to Sevastopol, Losing a great many men in the process. They lost even more, so he recalled, to the Russian Cannon and Rifle fire, while in the trenches. He remembers nearly being killed by his own comrades, after one of them picked up an old rifle barrel to poke the fire they had lit in a ravine, on the Warrendorf Road, on the way to Savastopol. It still contained a charge he said, and the heat made the barrel explode. The war itself finished in 1855, and it was while his unit was gaurding the military hospital, that he had an encounter with a name made famous by the war, Florence Nightingale. He was on guard duty, on the varandah as it happens, when she came out, and spotting a pair of Frenchman, she approach him and asked him to " send them away ". He had, so he said, learnt some words of french, and drawing his trusty bayonet, duly sent them scurrying away. She rewarded him with 2 shillings. He next recalls being sent to Greece, Corfu, and Gibralter, on garrison duty, and then on to the West Indies, where the Regiment spent the next 4 years, he being called on, several times to guard the " Prince of Wales ". Returning back to the Regimants base in Ireland, in 1866, he took his discharge, having served continuously for 12 years. Once back in England, he found it hard to secure work, so he approached Lord Carrington, whose family seat was in Buckinghamshire, for work as a Gamekeeper or a Policeman with the County. This was unsuccessful until the good Lord noticed his Crimean Medals, when he at once sent Sgt Mundy to the Barracks at High Wycombe, as a 15 shillings a week Drill Instructor. This apparently wasn't enough money, so he soon left and sought better opportunities in Birmingham, where, so he said, some light fingered harry stole his Discharge Papers, Pay Book, Character Reference, and worst of all, his Medals. Undetered, in 1868, he moved on the Cannock, got a job as a miner, served 2 or 3 years in the Wolverhampton Police Force, got married, and had 8 children. Having some energy left over, he even managed, he told the reporter, to serve as a volunteer with the South Staffordshire Regiment at Hednesford. He told the reporter, that he had served, in total, over 21 years, all under the reign of good Queen Victoria, and, he added, " the best Queen this country ever had ".
In a strange way, its a sad reminder of modern times, that the erstwhile young reporter, following his editors order to get a story, failed to check even the basic details of William Mundy's military career. You may have all heard the old saying " don't come the old soldier with me mate ", meaning that someone has slightly exagerated a tale, or attempted to gain favourable service with a little fib. Well this is one of those tales, for the truth is somewhat different.
William Mundy, or Monday, ( depending on the level of education of whoever wrote records ) was born in January 1838, in Haversham, a little hamlet, midway between Stoney Stratford and Newport Pagnell, in Buckinghamshire. His parents, Thomas and Abigail Mundy, worked the land as Agricutural Labourers when conditions allowed, neither could read or write, as indeed was the case with William, who also became a Labourer. Now its entirely possible, that he may well have joined the Northamptonshire Militia, but it would be unusual, when his own county had its own Regiment, and that recruitment of locals was prefered. In fact, the Northamptonshire Militia, were sent to the Crimea almost as soon as war broke out, as the Buckingham Regiment were based in Ireland, on garrison duty. They were merged with the Buckinghamshire Regiment at the end of the war. " Sgt Mundy ", given his age at the time of the interview, may have been a bit muddled. The Battleship " Princess Royal ", was bulit in 1853 as a wooden hulled two decker, but was converted, while still on the stocks, to a steam powered propeller driven 2nd rate, carrying 91 guns. Launched in June 1853, her first commission sent her to the Baltic Sea, in 1854, as the nation was a bit short of available ships. She did not go the Crimea until 1855, where she took part in the bombardment of Sevastopol, and was badly damaged. ( Not bad shots with a Cannon were those pesky Russians ) She was not, as far as the records go, ever used to carry troops. Sgt Mundy claimed he was with the Ist Battalion, 14th Buckinghamshire Regiment during the war, but it was the 2nd Battalion that saw action at Sevastopol, and it was this unit, combined with the old Northamptonshire Militia, that took on Garrisom duties around the Mediterranean until late1861. As this unit was later called The Prince of Wales Own, and there is no evidence that said Prince ever visited them during the years in the West Indies, it must be that Sgt Mundy's memory was playing up again. The tale of the exploding rifle barrel is as old as the hills, and can be found in recollections and stories from the Battle of Waterloo, 40 years earlier. For a man who couldn't read or write, and had been in the Crimea only a few short months, if at all, his grasp of French is phonominal where he relates actually meeting Florence Nightingale, especially as she had already left the war zone, and was back in England raising funds. A remarkable man the Lichfield Mercury called him, and indeed he was, able to be in two places at once. In 1861, he was still in Haversham with a wife and son, according to the Census, and still toiling away at his labouring job. There's no trace of his wife and son though in 1871, when he was lodging at Poolside, Hednesford, because he had long abandoned them back in Buckinghamshire. Theres no trace either, of him marrying a local girl and fathering 8 children, and he seems to have gone missing from the area in the 1881 Census. He must have been asked about his Medals in 1912, hence the standard reply of them being stolen, but he must have come across, at some stage, a proper Crimean Veteran. His reason for befriending the men of the West Yorkshire Regiment, is clear from the papers report, he was fated like a hero, bought food and drinks, and may even had money pressed into his grimy little hands. He wouldn't be the first to pretend to be something he wasn't, and he most certainly will not be the last.
A wonderful thing is work, I could watch it all day. ( See my Blog entry )
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