Oswald Werge




It is one of life's ironies that real-life heroes rarely have 'tough' names like their fictional counterparts (James Bond, Jack Ryan etc.) One of the heroes of the 17th Light Dragoons was an officer called Oswald Werge. He entered the 17th as a Cornet in1793, the year that the regiment sailed to the West Indies. One troop, which included Werge, was posted in Jamaica where a well-organised band of mixed-race people descended from slaves called Maroons, were causing trouble for the British authorities. All attempts to fight them by conventional means had failed, so the Commanding Officer for the Island, Colonel Walpole, decided to train the 17th troop in the art of geurilla warfare. Initially they were successful, but the retreating Maroons took up a position on a high peak. The soldiers could not find a way up the mountain until Werge spotted a Maroon woman collecting water lower down. He followed her and discovered the path to the enemy position. The 17th attacked and drove them out. Three days later, after another skirmish, the Maroons indicated their willingness to parley but were reluctant to trust the British enough to stand up and approach. For a long time a stalemate existed until Oswald Werge put down his weapons and climbed down into the valley between them, inviting them to shake hands with him. One of the Maroons came out. They shook hands and exchanged hats as a sign of friendship. This ended hostilities and a treaty was signed which allowed the Maroons to stay in Jamaica, but the Government failed to keep their promise, and Col. Walpole resigned in disgust.
Oswald Werge came through that war unscathed but five years later he recieved a slight wound to the head when encountering a little local difficulty in Bagshot. 30,000 soldiers were encamped on Bagshot Heath in September 1800 and a riot broke out over the high price of provisions, The 17th were detailed to suppress the revolt. Werge, who was a captain by this time, had his helmet shot off. He remained in the regiment for another 20 years, attaining the rank of Lieutenant Colonel but not becoming the Commanding Officer.


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by Stephen Luscombe