Thomas William Thrale's military service

Thanks to Mark Wood, whose kind assistance and contribution helped to bring this information to you.

  • Posted on: 20 September 2009
  • By: David Thrale

This page sets out what I know of the military career of my grand uncle Thomas William Thrale of The Village, Wheathampstead (1874-1928). Thomas's place in the Thrale family tree is here So far what I know comes courtesy of Mark Andrew Wood who bought Thomas's China War Medal in March 2004.

Thomas William THRALE
62nd Company, Royal Garrison Artillery

China War Medal

Thomas William Thrale China War Medal obverse view

Thomas William Thrale China War Medal reverse view

10 June - 31 December 1900 62nd Company RGA entitled to 194 medals (clasp entitlement unknown).1

The China War of 1900-01 is more commonly referred to as the Boxer Rebellion. The Boxers formed a Chinese secret society known as the I-ho-ch'uan - the Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists (hence 'Boxers'). The aim of the Boxers and other similar societies was to eradicate all foreigners and Christians from China; the government under Dowager Empress Tzu His secretly supported these fanatical organisations.

Royal Garrison Artillery 1900 At the end of the 19th century the Royal Garrison Artillery, which was part of the Royal Artillery, was divided into 3 Divisions:

  1. The Eastern Division, HQ at Dover. Depot companies at Dover and Great Yarmouth.
  2. The Southern Division, HQ at Portsmouth. Depot companies at Gosport and Seaforth (near Liverpool).
  3. The Western Division, HQ at Devonport. Depot companies at Plymouth and Scarborough.

The Garrison Artillery was composed of 104 service companies in 1900, forty of them in the UK , 37 in various colonies of the Empire and 27 in India. A company was commanded by a major with 6 or so officers, around 10 NCOs and 100 to 200 men.

The uniform of Garrison Artillery was the same as Field Artillery except that they were more likely to wear trousers instead of boots and breeches. On their shoulder streps were the initials of the name of their Division and the number of their company.

On 1 January 1902, the Divisional system was abolished and all companies RGA were re-numbered sequentially from 1 to 105. 2nd Company Southern Division became 62nd Company RGA and 15th Company Southern Division became 91st Company RGA. The China 1900 Medal is normally named to one of these two companies.

The combination of QSA and China was awarded to nearly 500 soldiers of the Royal Garrison Artillery. Two companies were formed in South Africa for service in China. The Gunners came from 15 Company Western Division RGA, 15 Company Southern Division RGA and 2 Company Southern Division RGA. The men all earned the QSA, with up to four clasps, and the China medal, without clasp. The combination is certainly unusual, but it was 43 RGA reservists who earned themselves a rare combination - QSA, China and KSA, having been sent back to South Africa following service in China.

Much more can be learnt from the article written by Lt. Col. McaFarlane in the OMRS Journal Autumn 1993 - 'A slow boat to China - and back again' (Lt.Col.(Retd) A.M.Macfarlane), OMRS Journal, Autumn 1993, Volume 32, Number 3, pages 198-200 [an article regarding QSA/China combinations to the RGA]:

In May 1900, 15 W.D. received four 9.45in. B.L. howitzers, manufactured at the Skoda Works in Austria. Although the lastword in heavy artillery, they were never actually fired in anger in South Africa. However, early in July 1900 it was decided to send a siege train armed with these howitzers, under the command of Colonel T. Perrott, from South Africa to join the China Expeditionary Force in the defeat of the Boxer Rebellion. The siege train was to consist of:

  • Right Half 15 Company Southern Division RGA - two 9.45in B.L. howitzers
  • Right Half 15 Company Western Division RGA - two 9.45in B.L. howitzers
  • 2 Company Southern Division RGA - four 4.7in Q.F. guns

2 SD had eight officers and 184 men. The siege train assembled at Cape Town where it embarked in S.S. Antillian on 18 th July 1900 and sailed on 23 July. The ship arrived at Singapore on 13 August, left there on 15 August, docked at Hong Kong on 22 August and eventually reached Wei-hai-wei, the base for the Expeditionary Force, on 30 August.

Of course, by that time, Pekin had been relieved and, apart from the odd raid, the Boxer Rebellion was as good as over. After two weeks spent on board ship, the siege train disembarked at Wei-hai-wei but, on 26 October, the two half companies [of the 15 SD and 15 WD] re-embarked on the S.S. Antillian and returned to Hong Kong for the winter, whilst 2 SD remained in garrison at Wei-hai-wei. None of the siege guns fired in anger in China.

Commanding RA in China 1900-01

PIPON, Henry (1843-1924), Major General , service biography: Joined Royal Artillery 1861; Fenian raid, Canada 1866; Afghanistan 1879-1880; battle of Kandahar, Afghanistan 1880; Brig Gen Commander, Royal Artillery, India 1896-1900; Commander, Royal Artillery, China Field Force 1900-1901; retired 1901.

  • 1. (Spink, 1988), pages 208-209


I am writing a biography - for family consumption - of my Great Grandfather. He served in the same RGA unit as your great uncle William Thrale. I would be 
grateful for a copy of the above article if you have access to it. Hope you can help.

David Thrale's picture

Mel sorry, I do not have a copy. Can anyone else help? owner: David Thrale | My blog | Family motto: In cruce confido