Robert Golightly – 2nd Afghan War To The First World War

Robert Golightly – 2nd Afghan War To The First World War

Robert Edmund Golightly was one of the twelve children of Cannon Golightly, who was our Rector for 54 years from 1856. The Rector came from a rich family, but felt guilty about his wealth as his family’s fortune had come in part from slave-owning. Happily, he used some of his money to rebuild the Rectory which we are lucky enough to live in.

Robert was born in 1854, the year of the Charge of the Light Brigade. He grew up here when this was a tiny village. Almost everyone worked on the land, using carts and ploughs pulled by horses and oxen. Shipton Moyne was later described as being “lost in a sea of elms”. The pub was then called the Estcourt Arms.

He was educated at Eton and Sandhurst, then joined the elite Kings Royal Rifles. Aged 22 he was posted to Afghanistan and served in the second Afghan war which followed the murder of the British Envoy. He was with the Army when it occupied Kandahar. He then marched 300 miles from Kandahar to Kabul under General Sir Donald Stewart and took part in the now forgotten battle of Abmed Kheyl. At this battle, 12-15,000 Afghan tribesmen rushed from the hills to attack the flank of 7,300 British and Indian troops who had difficulty holding their line. The Afghans were eventually driven back and, after fierce fighting had suffered over 2,000 killed whilst British and Indian losses were 17 dead and 124 wounded. For his part in the battle, Robert was mentioned in dispatches, which is just short of a medal.

The Army then marched back to Kandahar in scorching summer heat over rough terrain with full battle kit.  More than 500 men fell ill each day, and their commander, Lieutenant General Sir Frederick Roberts VC, had to be dragged on a litter for the final days. By the time they reached Kandahar they had marched over 300 miles in three weeks, over 14 miles a day, in some of the harshest conditions imaginable. There was no respite because the Afghans attacked the next morning, but the outcome was a British victory which brought peace to Afghanistan (for a time!). Robert was again mentioned in dispatches as well as winning a medal with two clasps and the bronze star which was awarded to those who had been on the march.  General Roberts later became Field Marshal Lord Roberts of Kandahar.

Robert then sailed to New Zealand and took part in the Maori Campaign as Superintendent of Army Signalling. Then he was back on a boat to South Africa for the first Boer War.

When he became a Captain in 1885 his travels were far from over. He was posted to the Upper Burma Field Force to command the Mounted Infantry. Here he distinguished himself again and was awarded the Distinguished Service Order – one down from the VC - and was mentioned in dispatches, twice.

Then to India to a staff job in Mererut before going back to South Africa to command the 1st Battalion of the Imperial Yeomanry in the second Boer War. He was there from 1900 to 1901 and was mentioned in dispatches, yet again, and awarded the Queen’s Medal with four clasps.

Next, he was promoted Colonel in the Reserve and became commanding officer of a Battalion in England. When the First World War began in 1914, he was 60, but he was appointed Commandant of Lines of Communication in France. This was very different to brutal marches in the Afghan wars, derring-do with the mounted infantry, or staff work in India. Communications, which were vital for the command of our then vast Army, were mainly by telephone, runner, and even carrier pigeon. By the end of the war, he had a senior job in the Territorial Army.  He was awarded a CBE for his war service.

He managed to find the time to marry Agnes Dowell Aiken who died in 1947 aged 93. He listed his recreations as shooting, hunting, motoring, cricket and golf. There is an almost illegible inscription on his gravestone to John Peter Roderick Golightly who died in 1967 and was probably his son.

We think we experience great changes.  But Robert Golightly was born during the Crimean War. He went to war with a sword, when the Army fought in red and ended his career in the First World War; he saw the RAF formed and he almost saw the Second World War. He died in 1935 aged 81 and is buried here, where he grew up, under a prominent cross, south of the church.