Sergeant William Napier VC

On 6 April 1858, during the Indian Mutiny, Sergeant Napier took part in a fight at Azimgurh in which he came to the defence of a severely wounded private of his regiment, the Somerset Light Infantry. At great risk to his own life he defended the soldier from the sepoys who surrounded them and managed to bandage the wounds and carry him to safety. He was gazetted for the award of the VC on 24 Dec 1858. William Napier was born at Bingley, Yorkshire in 1828. He was later promoted to sergeant major and after leaving the army emigrated to Australia. He died at Rochester, Victoria on 2 June 1908, and is buried there.

The photo shows him as Regimental Sergeant-Major in the tunic worn between 1856 and 1868 when the cuffs had the slash flap with three buttons and gold lace loops. His rank is displayed on both sleeves as was the custom in light infantry, rifle regiments and fusiliers. He has four gold chevrons and an embroidered crown above. His tunic has gold braid and lace because of his senior rank, although the front edge has white piping. The crimson sash was normally worn on the left shoulder as a regimental distinction but the photographer must have insisted that he change it to the right shoulder so that his medals could be seen more easily. This accounts for the silver whistle being horizontal. Apart from his Victoria Cross, he has medals for the Crimea and, with a red and white stripped ribbon, the Indian Mutiny.

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by Stephen Luscombe