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LIVES OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE
The E.J. Boys Archive

New material added 28.7.2013. Minor edits 19.2.2014. New info added 15.12.18.

IN PROGRESS - NOT FOR PUBLICATION



Photograph of Sergeant-Major Joseph Francis [Lane] taken in Fort Walsh 1879. Click to enlarge.

1502, Private Joseph LANE - 13th Light Dragoons

Also recorded as "Joseph Francis", e.g. in later life.

Birth & early life

Born at Heston [Hounslow district], Middlesex c.1834.

Enlistment

Enlisted at Heston, Middlesex, on the 4th of November 1852.

Age: 18.

Height: 5' 10".

Trade: Butcher.

Features: Fresh complexion. Grey eyes. Dk. brown hair.

Service

Sick at Scutari from the 10th of May - 14th of June 1855.

From Private to Corporal: 7th of February 1856.

Corporal to Sergeant: 1st of May 1858.

Discharge & pension

Discharged from Chatham Invalid Depot on the 2nd of December 1862, as:

"Unfit for further service - Labours under lameness - result of a serious sprain of right foot. The injuries were received on the 2nd of December 1861, he at the time being sober, and in the execution of his military duties on a Marching Order parade. It is likely to interfere with his earning a livelihood under his previous trade of a butcher."

Served 9 years 351 days. In Turkey and the Crimea, 2 years.

Conduct: "good". In possession of one Good Conduct badge when promoted to Sgt. and would now have had two.

Never entered in the Regimental Defaulters' book. Never tried by Court-martial.

Aged 28 years on discharge.

Awarded a pension of 10d. per day for one year "conditional" and again for a further year. He however, kept applying for a further pension, but without success. The final letter in reply, dated the 15th of December 1877, states, "May apply again when 50".

He sent money from the Crimea to a Mrs. Lane, probably his mother, living at 4, Wellington Place, Wellington Road, Hampton, Middlesex.

Medals

Entitled to the Crimean medal with clasps for Alma, Balaclava, Inkerman, Sebastopol and the Turkish medal. Documents confirm the awards.

A supplementary roll (undated) signed by Major Henry Holden shows him as being issued with the Crimean medal (with clasps for Alma, Balaclava and Inkerman) on the 7th of October 1855.

Commemorations

Life after service

At some time after his discharge it is believed he went to Canada, where he became one of the earliest members of the North-West Mounted Police. He enlisted under the name of "Joseph Francis", and his enlistment details show the following:

Engaged at Fort Worth on the 4th of July 1874.

Regtl No. 7.

Age: 41 years.

Civilian occupation: Butcher.

Religion: Protestant.

Next-of-kin: Thomas A. Lane, living in Isleworth, Middlesex.

After being re-engaged on the 4th of April 1877, he was finally discharged at Wood Mountain on the 3rd of April 1880. His rank was shown as Staff Sergeant and his character as "very good". He gave his intended place of residence as Winnipeg, Manitoba, but the receipt for his discharge certificate and grant of 100 acres of land from the Dept. of the Interior are dated from Waterlooville Province, 24th of July 1880.

Death & burial

Joseph Lane / Francis, "Soldier 13th Hussars", died 23rd of April 1881 aged 45 years of "Congestion of lungs and [illeg?] 10 days".



Death certificate, 1881.

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Further information



Sergeant-Major Joseph Francis [Lane], circled, with a group of NCOs, Fort Walsh 1879. Click to enlarge.

Sergeant-Major Joseph Francis [Lane], circled, with a group of NCOs, Fort Walsh 1879.

Photographs of the Sergeants of the NWMP 1878 taken at Fort Walsh (RCMP Museum, Regina). He is described as Serjt Major Joseph Francis. A note (perhaps by Douglas A. Light) indicated he died 1881. The two medals on long ribbons are visible. [Source: RCMP Historical Collections Unit, Depot Division.]

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Photograph of Sergeant-Major Joseph Francis [Lane] taken in Fort Walsh 1879. Click to enlarge.

Photograph showing Sergeant-Major Joseph Francis [Lane], Fort Walsh 1879. [Source: RCMP Historical Collections Unit, Depot Division.]

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[PB: It would be good to add some context for what follows. In 1876, Sitting Bull fled from the United States and crossed the 49th parallel into Canada to seek refuge after his resounding defeat of General Custer and the 7th Cavalry at the Little Big Horn. North West Mounted Police (NWMP) Inspector, James Walsh, courageously rode into Sitting Bull's camp of 5,000 Sioux to tell him that he must obey Canada's law.

What was Finerty doing there?

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the "Mounties", was formed in 1920 by a merger of the North-West Mounted Police (founded 1873 - renamed Royal North-West Mounted Police in 1904) and the Dominion Police (founded 1868).]

Extract from John F. Finerty, War-Path and Bivouac - or - The conquest of the Sioux, a Narrative of Stirring Personal Experiences and Adventures in the Big Horn and Yellowstone Expedition of 1876, and in the Campaign on the British Border, in 1879 (Chapter 9, pp 383-387). Finerty was the War Correspondent for the Chicago Times.

Then Sergeant-Major Francis and one man returned to the post ... to see me through the Sioux country. This was eminently necessary, as my horse was badly foundered and I was compelled to ride homeward some of the way in the major's private "gig."

The red-coats, quite intelligent and respectable men, treated me well. I confess I felt a little odd at being escorted by them, because, for certain political reasons, I thought there was only one kind of place to which men in scarlet uniforms could possibly escort me, namely, the historical "British Dungeon." I could not get rid of this idea for some time, and imagined I was being conveyed through some of the green vales of Ireland on my way to Clonmel jail or Mountjoy prison.

Truly, a traveling correspondent sees queer sights in the course of six months. In February of that year I was en route from Vera Cruz to the Mexican capital, escorted by the soldiers of Diaz. In August I was en route from Sitting Bull to the American camp, escorted by Queen Victoria's red-coats. I hope that, on the latter account, none of my "green, immortal friends" in Chicago or elsewhere will imagine that I had all of a sudden become "trooly loil" to the British crown.

Truth compels me to admit, however, that said crown occasionally has for defenders men whom I should feel sorry to have to shoot at. After all, as I am but an indifferent marksman, I think they could stand the ordeal without much risk. If ever I am correspondent for the Irish or American army, which may lay siege to London some of these days, and this small part of the British Lion's forces should fall into our hands, I'll do my best to have them well treated.

In looking at the sergeant-major's uniform before he left us, I observed the Crimean and Turkish medals on his breast. He rode with the seat of the old British dragoon. until it was deemed necessary that every soldier should "bump the saddle" - the top of his big toe alone in the stirrup - at the risk of rupture.

"What," said I, "a Crimean veteran?"

"Yes," he answered.

I read on the clasps,"Alma", "Balaklava", "Inkermann", "Sebastopol."

"You have been a hussar?" I inquired.

"Precisely," responded the gallant veteran, whose hair and mustache were then almost snowy in their whiteness. "One of the 13th Light Dragoons, now 13th Hussars."

"What," I exclaimed,"one of the regiment that charged with the six hundred?"

"Right into the Valley of Death," said the old man, kindling up.

"Into the mouth of hell," I followed on.

"By gad, you know it all!" cried he. "I was a young fellow then - enlisted in '52 - an English lad, wild as the devil. We were all wild in the noble 13th. How we longed for a war! We got enough of it afterward! "

"I wish you'd tell me all about it - I mean that glorious charge," said I.

"Then I will, although I have told it a thousand times to the young fellows," said he, proudly.

"Go ahead - you are about the first genuine Six-Hundred man I have met since I was a boy."

"Can I ever forget it? " he said. "Can I ever forget Balaklava? Its rush and clash and thunder are still in my ears, as that bracing 25th of October, 1854, comes swiftly back the tide of memory.

"We bad been skirmishing all the morning - my regiment, the 8th Royal Irish, the 4th Light Dragoons, and the rest - when all at once I found myself riding right behind the Earl of Cardigan. Captain Nolan dashed down, and, as near as I can remember, and as I heard afterward, which may have fixed it in my mind, in a ringing voice cried out, ' My Lord, the Light Brigade goes forward. Yonder are the Russian guns, and you are to take them."

"What did you think then?" I asked.

"I didn't think at all. There were the Russian guns extending clear across the valley far in our front and flanking us on both sides from the hills, so that when we rode on a short distance we were exposed to a cross fire. After a few seconds we recovered from the shock of the order - the humblest soldier could see something was wrong. Tennyson struck it about right when he said 'someone had blundered.' But what could we do?

"Cardigan wheeled his horse, his drawn sabre flashed for a moment, and he gave the word. Closing up, our men, stirred by the splendid peril of the situation, uttered a shrill cheer. Our walk became a trot - our trot a canter - our canter a gallop - at last a mad race right on the Russian cannon! The astonished enemy did not seem to understand for a little time. At last they did understand, and, with an appalling peal, their batteries opened full upon us. I saw, even in the excitement of that moment, Nolan reel from his saddle and fall to the ground. Everything swam around me, for Nolan was a favorite with the cavalry.

"I felt a mad impulse to kill, and could see nothing but the smoke of the Russian batteries. And through the smoke dimly the tall figure of gallant Cardigan at the head of his thinned brigade. Right and left my comrades, horse and man, went down, but I had little time to note such things, for suddenly it seemed we were among the Russian artillery, cutting them down from helmet to collar.

"They fought furiously but died all the same. We had nothing with which to spike the captured cannon. Their cavalry came on like a storm-cloud, but we cut through them as if they had been mist, rode around and reformed again. Above all the noise we could hear the orders of Cardigan, which were repeated by his officers.

"The Russian infantry, massed behind the batteries, were afraid to fire, because we were mingled with their horsemen. Three or four times we broke through the cavalry forming and reforming. At last it seemed as if the whole Russian army was coming down upon us. Then Cardigan, seeing further slaughter useless, gave the order to retire, himself being the last. Not one of us would have found his way back but for the courage of the French Chasseurs d'Afrique who silenced one of the Russian flanking batteries.

"The whole thing was a dream to me. The world knows how few of us returned. As one of the 8th Royal Irish said in the hearing of most of us when we got in : ' Faith, I'm more astonished at escaping than if I had been killed!" The sergeant-major laughed at this bit of Celtic lightness amid the superb tragedy of Balaklava. "That," he said," is my remembrance of the charge of the Light Brigade. Scores have told it before me, and every man has his own version. In material facts we all agree. After nearly twenty-five years, it is pretty difficult to be entirely correct."

The story of the old dragoon interested me greatly, and, as I wrung his hand at parting, I felt that his uniform covered a man who deserved better of his country than to be arresting Indian blackguards among the wilds of British Columbia. It is not unlikely that this Balaklava hero may have had his head mashed by the stone hatchet of some blanketed savage. I know that he disliked "Lo" intensely, and resentment always begets a return in good time."

Sgt Major Joseph Francis April 3 1874 - April 3 1880.

This question of him being in the 13th at the Charge was thoroughly investigated by the RCMP [Royal Canadian Mounted Police] in the 1950s - the then-Leader of the Official Opposition, George Drew, was interested in the story and the RCMP "made some enquiries" with London.



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Letter from Canon Lummis:



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Harwood Steele p.38 found notes taken by his father that indicated that Francis's real name was Joseph LANE and he was with the 13th Hussars. Steele indicated he would advise the people who thought it was Francis to look for a Lane. See No. 1502 of Lummis. The RCMP notes indicate that he keep the reasons for the use of Francis to himself. It was felt by Col. Steele at the time that Francis's story of being in the charge was true as Steele was being very careful in putting information together about the force.

As noted Francis/Lane was no.7, so an early and original member of the NWMP [New-West Mounted Police].



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The RCMP went back to Lummis, who only had a small bit about Lane. The RCMP initially believed that Lane re-enlisted with the 13th Hussars as Joseph Francis in 1858, deserted and then came to Canada where he enlisted with the NWMP. However, further investigation lead them to conclude that there was a Lane as well as a Francis and they were different men. They tried to find documented evidence that Lane rode in the charge but were not able (p.48).

I am not sure why his documented stories at the time to men does not put Lane in the same group as a number of men in similar circumstances and he obviously was not around to attend dinners in the UK. So, I would vote him onto to the list as being 99%. What do you think?



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The RCMP went to considerable effort - even trying to analyse the hand writing when Lane was with the 13th and looking at Francis's signature on his discharge document, but as they were copies and not originals and due to the gap in time and as one was signed Lane and the other Francis they could not say they were the same person but could not say there were not.

They also noted that as Francis in all of his stories about the charge did not mention being wounded or having his horse injured that he could have been one of the 8 mounted riders from the 13th that made it back.

But at the end of the day, they could not find the proof they were looking for to absolutely confirm he was a charger. One of the comments about Lane/Francis came from Harwood Steele, who was the son of Sir Sam Steele (Major General Sir Samuel Benfield Steele, CB, KCMG, MVO).

His father was with Francis when the force was formed and if I recall correctly Sam Steele believed that Lane/Francis was a charger. The son felt that if Francis was a deserter/liar he would have been found out given the men he was around on a regular basis. Also, you have a man who was a Sergeant with the 13th and later a Staff Serjeant with the North West Mounted Police, which might suggest a certain degree of reliability and character.

The RCMP did a very extensive investigation (from the family history to hand writing analysis) and as I understand their conclusion, it was merely that they could not find anything concrete to show he was a charger. It would have been a simple matter for some authority to have sat down with the survivors in the 1860s or 1870s and asked them who they recalled being in the charge. Take the roll and go man to man. It seems to me that Lane/Francis is several steps above the other fellows like my man John Levick who puts on a 4-clasp medal and tells a story.

There are well over a 100 missing chargers. I have proceeded on the basis that a Balaklava man who died in the Crimea is a strong candidate for being a missing charger. Men who were not in the UK and, therefore, unable to attend the dinners would have that as plus as well. Here, his account of the charge is documented and the RCMP at the highest level looked at everything they could (they initially thought he was not, then a deserter) but I don't see anything where they indicated his story was fabricated. It is a shame that he seems to have disappeared in the 1880s and nothing further is known.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police Veterans Association: S/Major Joseph Francis (4 Jan 2012)



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S/Major Joseph Francis

JANUARY 4, 2012

One of the earliest symbols of bravery and inspiration to the early NWMP members was that of a 5'10" tall older man named Joseph Francis.

For reasons only known to himself, his actual name was Joseph Lane. He emigrated from England to Canada under the fictitious name of Joseph Francis (Canadian Passenger Lists, 1865-1935 about Jos Francis, 2010).

In a letter to Commissioner Leonard Nicholson, Howard Steele (son of Sam Steele) stated "I have found the following respecting Sergeant Major in the original manuscript of my father's book 'Forty Years in Canada' which unfortunately omits the following passage:

"Having arrived at Fort Walsh in early 1877, 'I got quarters in one of the rooms and took over the duties of R.S.M. from Joseph Francis, a veteran of the charge of the six hundred, who had done the work there for a few months past. Joe, as he was known by his men, when his back was turned." (Steele, 1954)

In the same letter, Howard Steele further stated:

"My father had been RSM since the middle of 1876 but had been away from headquarters for a considerable time, hence Francis doing the duties in Steele's absence. As my father took pains to be meticulously accurate in his book, it may safely be assumed, therefore, that Francis did ride in the charge as (under the surname of) LANE. His right name was Lane, which for domestic reasons he kept to himself."

In the Book No. 2 Descriptive Roll - Fort MacLeod (NWMP) - 1877 - 1878, Joseph Francis lists his Next of Kin as Thos. A. Lane of Isleworth (the London Borough of Hounslow).

Joseph Lane (FRANCIS) was born June 16, 1835 in Hounslow England (noted on his death record). At the age of 18 (1852), he joined up with the 13th Light Dragoons and was assigned the regimental #1502. Two years later, he departed England with his regiment to participate in the Crimea War. After the War, he returned to England where he was quickly promoted to the rank of Corporal in 1856 and to Sergeant in 1858. On December 4, 1862, he was discharged from the British Military because of a leg injury and received a two year pension. He remained in west London until 1871 at which time he emigrated to Canada.

On July 20, 1871, Joseph arrived in Montreal on the ship called "Lake Superior." However, his activities in Canada between 1871 and 1974 remain a mystery. In all likelihood, he probably migrated to Toronto to be near his old colleagues of the 13th Hussars (formerly 13th Light Dragoon) as they were stationed in the Toronto area at the time. It is also interesting to note that in 1866 Sam Steele received cavalry training from members of the 13th Hussars in Toronto.

On June 3, 1874, Joseph Francis engaged in the Northwest Mounted Police and was promoted to the rank of Chief Constable (Sergeant Major). Consequently, Sam Steele would probably have exchanged stories about his 13th Hussars riding instructors with Joseph Francis. In the book entitled "Maintain the Right" by Ronald Atkin (page 50) states:

"Sergeant-Major Joseph Francis, a much-decorated veteran of the Crimean War, added badly need experience" to the newly formed police force.

During March West, Joseph Francis was the Sergeant Major for "B" Troop and served under Sub-Insp. E.A. Brisebois and Sub-Insp. Edwin Allen.

Many books on the early Force contain references to Sergeant Major Joseph Francis. In the "Red Coats on the Prairies: The North-west Mounted Police 1886-1900" by William Beahen and Stan Horrall (past Force Historian) - stated on page 221:

"In the early years of the Force, Sgt. Maj. Joe Francis had been singled out because he wore the Crimean War Medal. Every school boy in Britain and every English-speaking one in Canada knew about the Charge of the Light Brigade. Most of them had been forced to learn Tennyson's immortal lines (Tennyson, 1854):

All in the valley of death

Rode the six hundred.

Some one had blundered:

Theirs not to make reply,

Theirs not to reason why,

Theirs but to do and die."

In August 1879, John Finerty (reporter for the Chicago Times) came to the Canadian Northwest Territories to report on Sitting Bull. Upon his departure back to the United States, Superintendent Walsh arranged to have four NWMP members escort him back to the United States border. One of these members was Sergeant Major "Joe" Francis. In John Finerty's book entitled "War-Path and Bivouac: or, The Conquest of the Sioux"", he outlined his conversations with Sergeant Major Francis.

The following is an extract from this book (Finerty, 1980):

It was arranged that Francis would turn back at Medicine Lodge Creek and the others, who carried dispatches to General Miles, would see me (Finerty) safely to his destination, I was greatly impressed by Francis, who wore the Crimean and Turkish Medals and who, under prompting, asked about his life in the 13th Light Dragoons (later Hussars) and of the charge of the "Six Hundred" at Balaclava 25 years earlier."

In looking at the sergeant major's uniform before he left us, I observed the Crimean and Turkish medals on his breast. I read on the clasps, "Alma," "Balaklava," Inkermann," Sebastopol."

"You have been a hussar?" I inquired.

"Precisely," responded the gallant veteran, whose hair and mustache were then almost white. "One of the 13th Light Dragoons, now 13th Husssars."

"What," I exclaimed, "one of the regiment that charged with the six hundred?"

"Right into the Valley of Death," said the old man, kindling up.

"Into the mouth of hell," I followed on.

"By god, you know it all!" cried he. "I was a young fellow then - enlisted in '52 - an English lad, wild as the devil. We were all wild in the noble 13th! How we longed for war! We go enough of it afterwards!"

"I wish you'd tell me all about it - I mean that glorious charge," said I.

"Then I will, although I have told it a thousand times to the young fellows," said he, proudly.

"Go ahead - you are about the first genuine Six Hundred men I have met since I was a boy."

"Can I ever forget it?" he said. "Can I ever forget Balaklava? Its rush and clash and thunder are still in my ears, as that bracing 25th of October 1854, comes swiftly back on the tide of memory!

We had been skirmishing all the morning - my regiment (13th Light Dragoons), the 8th Royal Irish, the 4th Light Dragoons, and the rest - when all at once I found myself riding right behind the Earl of Cardigan. Captain Nolan dashed down, and, as near as I can remember, and as I heard afterward, which may have fixed it in my mind, in a ringing voice cried out, 'My Lord, the Light Brigade goes forward! Yonder are the Russian guns, and you are to take them!'

"What did you think then? I asked.

"I didn't think at all. There were the Russian guns extended clear across the valley far in our front and flanking us on both sides from the hills, so that when we rode on a short distance we were exposed to a cross fire. After a few seconds we recovered from the shock of the order - the humblest soldier could see something was wrong. Tennyson struck it about right when he said 'someone had blundered.' But what could we do? Cardigan wheeled his horse, his drawn sabre flashed for a moment, and he gave the word. Closing up, our men, stirred by the splendid peril of the situation, uttered a shrill cheer. Our walk became a trot - our trot a canter - our canter a gallop - at last a mad race right on the Russian cannon! The astonishing enemy did not seem to understand, and, with an appalling peal, their batteries opened full upon us.

I saw, even in the excitement of that moment, Nolan reel from his saddle and fell to the ground. Everything swam around me, for Nolan was a favorite with the cavalry. I felt a mad impulse to kill, and could see nothing but the smoke of the Russian batteries, and through the smoke dimly the tall figure of gallant Cardigan at the head of his thinned brigade.

Right and left my comrades, horse and man, went down, but I had little time to note such things, for suddenly it seemed we were among the Russian artillery, cutting them down from helmet to collar.

They fought furiously but died all the same. We had nothing with which to spike the captured cannon. Their cavalry came on like a storm-cloud, but we cut through them as if they had been mists, rode around and reformed again. Above all the noise we could hear the orders of Cardigan, which were repeated by his officers.

The Russian infantry, massed behind the batteries, were afraid to fire, because we were mingled with their horsemen. Three or four times we broke through the cavalry, forming and reforming. At last it seemed as if the whole Russian army was coming down upon us. Then Cardigan, seeing further slaughter useless, gave the order to retire, himself being the last. Not one of us would have found his way back but for the courage of the French Chasseurs d'Afrique, who silenced one of the Russian flanking batteries. The whole thing was a dream to me. The world knows how few of us returned.

As one of the 8th Royal Irish said in the hearing of most of us when we got in: 'Faith, I'm more astonished at escaping than if I had been killed."

The sergeant major laughed at this bit of Celtic lightness amid the superb tragedy of Balaklava. "That," he said, "is my remembrance of the charge of the Light Brigade. Scores have told it before me, and every man has his own version. After nearly twenty-five years, it is pretty difficult to be entirely correct.

The story of the old dragoon interested me greatly, and, as I wrung his hand at parting, I felt that his uniform covered a man who deserved better of his country than to be arresting Indian blackguards among the wilds" of the Canadian Northwest.

On April 3, 1880, Joseph Francis was discharged from the NWMP at Wood Mountain and applied for his Land Grant of 160 acres in the Northwest Territories. The Land Grant was awarded on June 24, 1880 in lieu of his dedication service in the NWMP.

The 1881 Census recorded him as living in St. Patrick's Ward in Toronto and residing in a Rooming House as of April 5, 1881. It was reported that there was a fire in the Rooming House and Joseph Francis risks his life to save people in the burning building. As a result of the fire and smoke, Joseph suffered from congestion of lungs for 10 days and eventually died on April 23, 1881. On his death certificate, his occupation was listed as 'Soldier - 13th Hussars" and marital status as "widower." His body was laid to rest at the St. James Cemetery 635 Parliament Street in Toronto, Ontario.

One amazing fact discovered in researching this intriguing individual is that both his 13th Light Dragoon Personal File and that of the NWMP Personal File contained no defaulters for mis-behaviour. His Discharge Certificate below lists his conduct as "Very Good." Clearly, he was a role model for other young members of the Force.

Photograph of the gravemarker for Sergeant Major Joseph Francis of the North West Mounted Police (Source of photo - RCMP National Gravesite Database)

References & acknowledgements

The editors would like to thank Jack O'Reilly, RCMP Veterans' Assoctn, Toronto, Ontario, for contacting the EJBA in December 2018. He has provided information and a number of images and very useful additional information.]


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