ARMY OF INDIA 1799-1826, 3 CLASPS, GAWILGHUR, ARGAUM, ASSYE, ‘SERJT A. MCRAE, 78TH FOOT’, SHORT HYPHEN REVERSE. OFFICIALLY IMPRESSED
Alexander McRae was born in the Parish of Kintail, Rosshire circa 1772 and attested for the 78th (Highlanders) Regiment of Foot on 7 April 1793. This was just as the Regiment being raised at the time by Francis Humberston Mackenzie, Chief of the Clan MacKenzie.
McRae’s first overseas service was during the Duke of York’s disastrous campaign in the Low Countries, 1794-5, during which he was severely wounded. According to his service papers, he was wounded “through the left leg and likewise severely bruised by a dead ball in the right ankle in the month of January 1795. Bears the mark on his leg”
The following from the Regimental history may well be exactly when McRae was wounded, not only in date but because it mentions Lieutenant Forbes, later Lieutenant Colonel Forbes, who claims to have known McRae for 22 years (McRae’s entire service).
“On the 3rd of January 1795 the French repossessed themselves of Tuil, and on the 5th they drove in the British outposts at Meteren, capturing two three-pounders, which were, however, recovered later in the day. They then attacked Geldermalsen. The 78th were in advance, supported by the 42nd, when they were charged by a Republican cavalry corps, dressed in the same uniform as the French Emigrant Regiment of Choiseul. They advanced towards the Highlanders with loud cries of "Choiseul ! Choiseul !" and the 78th, believing them to be that regiment, forbore to fire upon them until they were quite close, when, discovering the mistake, they gave them a warm reception, and those of the enemy who had penetrated beyond their line were destroyed by the 42nd. The infantry then came up, the officers shouting "Avan ez, Carmagnoles !" but the 78th, reserving their fire till the foe had almost closed with them, poured in such a withering volley, that they were completely demoralised and retreated in great confusion. It was remarked that in this action the French were all half drunk, and one officer, who was wounded and taken, was completely tipsy. The loss of the 78th was four men killed, and Captain Duncan Munro and seven men wounded. It was on this occasion that a company of the 78th, commanded by Lieutenant Forbes, showed an example of steadiness that would have done honour to the oldest soldiers, presenting and recovering arms without firing a shot upon the cavalry as they were coming down. The whole behaved with great coolness, and fired nearly 60 rounds per man.”
Retreating towards the Rhine in February, The remains of the Duke of York’s Army suffered terribly in the snow blizzard conditions and from lack of supplies. When the 78th finally embarked for Britain in April 1795, they had lost 350 killed or died of disease. See the following for more info on 78th service during this campaign:
Embarking for South Africa in June 1796 where it joined the 2nd Battalion (formed in 1795), both battalions amalgamating before sailing for India at the close of the year. Whilst in India, McRae was promoted Corporal in early 1800 and Sergeant in late 1802. In 1803, the 78th formed part of General Arthur Wellesley’s (later the Duke of Wellington) army that took part in the Second Anglo-Maratha War of 1803-5.
On the outbreak of the Second Anglo-Maratha War, the 78th Hoghlanders were heavily involved at the storming of Ahmednugger on 8th of August 1803. On September 23rd 1803, at Assaye, General Wellesley, with approximately 4,500 men was heavily outnumbered by a Mahratta army of 40,000, including 8,000 European trained infantry. In the contest that followed British discipline just told against the overwhelming numbers, though it was a close run thing. The 78th was the first infantry to reach the Maharatta and was instrumental in capturing the enemy guns and routing their infantry. The battle itself was a bloodbath; casualties on both sides were horrendous, with Wellesley’s Army suffering casualties of nearly 1600, or a third of his force. The Mahratta Army lost in the region of 6,000 men. After the battle it was said that Wellesley sat on the battlefield, head in hands for hours, avoiding conversation. Wellesley’s tactics and intelligence had been far perfect and the battle was marked with confusion and disarray. However Wellesley would learn from mistakes made and it would make him a better commander in the peninsular. Indeed in later years, Wellesley would say that Assaye was his greatest victory and the bloodiest battle he took part in; more so than any in the peninsular or Waterloo! Shortly after the Battle of Assaye, the 78th were sent in pursuit of fleeing Mahrattas at Argam. Later in the year, they besieged the supposedly impregnable Fortress of Gawilghur, although casualties here were light.
For their conduct at Assye the corps engaged were honoured to bear upon their colours and appointments an elephant, superscribed "Assaye," in commemoration of the victory; and honorary colours were granted to the 19th Light Dragoons, and the 74th and 78th Highlanders, by the government of India in a general order. These were the only British Regiments that served at Assaye.
The 78th remained in India until 1811 when it embarked for Java, taking part in the subsequent invasion, including the storming and capture of Fort Cornelis in August 1811. Sergeant McRae finally reached the rank of Quarter-Master Sergeant in 1814, before being discharged (the 78th still stationed in Java), unfit for further service, on 5 October 1815. He was 45 years of age and had served in the Regiment for 22 and a half years, which included the Regiments entire service in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.
On leaving the service, his commanding Officer, Lieuteuant-Colonel D. Forbes, would write; “I do certify I have known the bearer Qr Mr Serjeant McRae for nearly twenty two years in this Regiment during the above period. His conduct has been that of a Steady zealous gallant and good soldier”.
From the ‘The History of the Clan Macrae’:
“Alexander, who was Quarter-Master Sergeant in the Seventy-Eighth Highlanders. He served with his regiment in India, and took part in the Battle of Assaye on the 23rd of September, 1803, and several other engagements. He was also present at the capture of Java in 1811,and retired from active service in 1815, "after twenty-five years of faithful, zealous, and gallant good conduct," (Letter from Lieuteuant-Colonel D. Forbes, Commanding 1st Battalion 78th Highlanders, dated Java, 1st March, 1815.). On the occasion of his retirement he was presented by his regiment with a valuable gold watch, in recognition "of his long and faithful services to his good King an country." Sergeant Macrae afterwards lived at Kirkton, Lochalsh, where he died at the age of eighty-four, on the 16th of June, 1855, and was buried in Kirkton Churchyard. He married Elizabeth, daughter of Alexander Mackenzie, fifth laird of Cleanwaters.” by whom he had 6 children.
Cleanwaters was formerly the name of a small estate on the south side of Dingwall. The abovementioned Alexander was a son of Alexander, fourth of Cleanwaters, son of Charles, son of John, son of Colin, second laird of Kilcoy, son of Alexander, first laird of Kilcoy, younger son of Colin, eleventh baron of Kintail, son of Kenneth, tenth baron of Kintail, by his wife the Lady Elizabeth Stewart of Athole, for whose descent from the Royal families of England and Scotland.”
Just 37 Army of India medals issued to the 78th. 22 men received the 3 clasps Assye (23rd Sept 1803) Argaum (29th Nov 1803) Gawilghur (15th Dec 1803). Of the 22 medals 3 are non unique names to John Cameron, so 19 to unique names. No Officers were awarded/claimed the medal, the highest rank being to 3 Sergeants, including McRae. Of these, the only Army of India with 3 clasps to the 78th to come up for sale in the last 15 plus years is to one of the John Cameron’s (with his MGS). During that period, only a handful of medals to the 78th with any combination of clasps have come up for sale full stop. Only 87 Assye, 122 to Argaum and 110 Gawilghur clasps to Europeans.
McRae received his Army of India medal shortly before he died. His Military General Service medal with the clasp Java, was sold at Spink, 27 April 2000 for 1955.
Condition EF, beautifully toned medal, with original ribbon. Sold with copy service, original medal rolls and research on CD. A very rare and desirable medal on its own right, the biographical information on this soldier really makes this an outstanding piece.