Saturday, 6 June 2015

A DSO “for most conspicuous gallantry” at Gallipoli on 4 June, 1915: Major General Manners Ralph Willmott Nightingale CB CMG CEI DSO

The 4th Gurkha Rifles moving through Gully Ravine, 8 June 1915.  Image credit: Imperial War Museum Q 69514

A veteran of the Gallipoli Campaign, Major General Manners Ralph Willmott Nightingale (1871–1956)  was severely wounded during the Third Battle of Krithia in June 1915. However he survived long enough to enjoy living in Budleigh Salterton, at Reed Thatch on Vales Road.

Born in Sidmouth in 1871, he came of a family who had been resident in South Africa since the 1830s and was the first South African to serve in a Gurkha regiment.

Manners Nightingale was educated at the Diocesan College,in Rondebosch, Cape Town, known as ‘Bishop’s’. He was subsequently nominated by the University of the Cape of Good Hope to a military cadetship at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst.  He passed out of the RMC Sandhurst in 1889, and the following year was commissioned a second-lieutenant in the Cheshire Regiment in 1890.

In 1891 he transferred to the Indian Army, being appointed to the 5th Gurkha Rifles, and began an affiliation with the Regiment that would span over fifty-years and culminate in his being appointed Colonel of the Regiment.

He initially served in Burma, taking part in the Tirah campaign (1897-1898), and in 1900 accompanying the Allied Expeditionary Force to China where he took part in the relief of Peking.

Promoted Major in 1908, Nightingale continued to serve with the 5th Gurkha Rifles during the early stages of the Great War. He was with the regiment during the Turkish attack on the vitally important Suez Canal, which took place on the 3-4 February 1915.

During the Gallipoli campaign in 1915, several battles were fought near the village of Krithia, which had been an objective of the first day of Allied landings on 25 April 1915. Over the following months, invading British Empire and French troops, who had landed near Cape Helles at the end of the peninsula, made several attempts to capture the village. It was never reached; the Turkish defenders successfully repulsed every assault.

It was during the Second Battle of Krithia on 4 June that Lieutenant Rafe Beddy of the 5th Gurkha Rifles was killed in action as described elsewhere in this blog. 

Major Nightingale had a narrow escape during the fierce resistance that the regiment encountered. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order “for most conspicuous gallantry” as the London Gazette citation put it, “in heading an attack up a difficult spur after he had been wounded.”
The citation went on to describe how, “he reached the crest and was again wounded, but coming back a few yards he rallied his men, and again led them on. He was then wounded a third time, but still endeavoured to advance until he fainted.”  He also received a mentioned in despatches.

The General Officer Commanding, in referring to the award of the DSO to Nightingale, added that had it not been for the unprecedented crop of gallant deeds produced during the battle for the Dardanelles, he would have put forward the Major’s name for the award of the Victoria Cross itself.  

Following his convalescence, Nightingale rejoined the regiment in India, the 5th Gurkhas having suffered heavily at Gallipoli. Nightingale was subsequently given command of the 1st battalion, 5th Gurkha Regiment, going on to fight in the Mesopotamia Campaign.  He was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel in 1916, and then Brigadier-General, being given command of the 54th Indian Infantry Brigade from 1917 to 1922. Awarded the CMG for his part in the Mesopotamia Campaign, he was also mentioned in despatches on no fewer than six occasions.

In the post-war period he continued to serve with the Indian Army after almost forty years of distinguished military service. In 1937 he was appointed Colonel-in-Chief of the 5th Royal Gurkhas. He died in the military hospital at Gibraltar in April 1956 while visiting his son, a regular officer in the British Army, and was buried in the military cemetery there.

 With acknowledgement to Ross Dix-Peek’s work on  South Africans in the Gurkha Regiment  (1891-2008) at

‘The Great War at Fairlynch’ 2015 exhibition at Budleigh Salterton’s very special museum! Reviews included: “Wonderful display on WW1, informative, bright and relevant. Well done!! 


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