The Gordons

Captain M F M Meiklejohn VC

Captain Matthew Meiklejohn was an officer who had transferred from the 1st Battalion to the 2nd just prior to the Boer War. The 2nd Battalion were part of Sir George White's Natal Field Force that came under siege at Ladysmith, but before that they fought the battle of Elandslaagte on 21st October 1899. In this battle the Gordons suffered heavily in casualties; their CO Dick-Cunyngham was put out of action as were many other officers. Captain Meiklejohn, seeing that the men hesitated through loss of leadership, went forward and exhorted the Gordons to advance on the enemy. Whilst leading them in a very exposed position he was shot several times and badly wounded. For his extreme bravery and fine example he was given the VC. In his history of the South African and Transvaal War, Louis Creswicke tells the story of Matthew Meiklejohn:

'Among other heroes of Elandslaagte was Lieutenant Meiklejohn of the Gordon Highlanders. This young officer, one of the "Dargai boys" helped the charge in an endeavor to embarrass the Boer flank. Supported by a party of Gordons, so runs the narrative, Meiklejohn waved his sword and cried out to his party hastily gathered around him. But the Boer ranks were alert, and poured in a deadly fire on the gallant band. Lieutenant Meiklejohn received 3 bullet wounds through his upper right arm, one through the right forearm, a finger blown away, a bullet through the left thigh, two bullets through the helmet, a snick in the neck, while his sword and scabbard were literally shot to pieces. He has by now lost his right arm but, happily, being left-handed it is hoped he may remain in the profession he is so well calculated to adorn.'

Matthew Fontaine Maury Meiklejohn was born in Clapham on 27th Nov 1870, the son of a professor at St Andrews University. He was educated at Fettes in Edinburgh and joined the 1st Battalion the Gordons in India on 17th June 1891. He served in the Relief of Chitral and was wounded in the storming of Dargai. He exchanged to the 2nd Battalion for the Boer War and fought at Elandslaagte, where he had his right arm shattered, and was hospitalised at Ladysmith during the siege.

He continued his army career without his right arm. In 1901 he was garrison adjutant at St Helena, then returned to the UK to enter Staff College. He married Vera Marshall in 1904 and lived in Richmond. They had a son and two daughters. He was promoted to major and served on the General Staff of Army HQ.

On 28th June 1913 he was riding in Hyde Park when his horse bolted. Having only one hand he could not control it. Meiklejohn was heading for a group of children which he managed to avoid by pulling the horse over to the railings of Rotten Row. Witnesses say that it was an act of selflessness that was sure to end in disaster for the Major. He was impaled on the railings and died of his injuries on the 4th July in Middlesex Hospital. He was buried in Brookwood Cemetery, Woking in Surrey.

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by Stephen Luscombe