Major E R (Roddy) Owen DSO
The XXth The Lancashire Fusiliers.

The Regiment and the county of Lancashire got to know each other particularly well in the winter of 1798-99, when the Twentieth had great success in raising recruits in Preston. (Recruits had been raised there before, and the Regiment had marched through the county on its way to Culloden.) Although it was known at this time as the East Devonshire Regiment, it began to rely more and more on getting its ranks filled from Lancashire, so that when, in 1881, the Report of the Ellice Committee on Formation of Territorial Regiments recommended the extensive re-allocation of Line regiments to counties, a long established connection was openly recognised in naming the Regiment the Lancashire Fusiliers.(Editors note:- it should be pointed out here that the story of the Regiment not being granted the "Royal" in their official title due to some misdemeanor is a myth!-Joe.)
Another firm connection with Lancashire was already in being, for the Regimental Depot had been moved from Exeter to Wellington Barracks, Bury, in 1873, and those familiar buildings, which dated originally from 1845, with many later additions, were to become well known indeed to all the succeeding generations of Fusiliers. It remained the Regimental Depot until 1961, when the final parade was held there on March 17: it is still the Regimental Headquarters(Lancashire), and houses the Regimental Museum.
Apart from the changes affecting the Regiment, there had been many important innovations in the Army as a whole since the mismanagement of the Crimean War had revealed the faults of the old system, and the growing military power of Prussia began to alter the military balance of Europe. Cardwell's reforms were carried out between 1868 and 1873, and included the abolition of purchase by officers of commissions and steps in rank.(Not before time !! But it would still be many many years before "working class" applicants would be able to gain commissions-Joe-Editor)
Among the other changes was the introduction of a trained reserve, which had to depend on a short-service army. Cardwell introduced enlistment for six years with the colours, followed by six years in the
reserve, and he also assisted recruiting by abolishing flogging in peace time. Another equally important step was to develop recruiting grounds and to connect the regular Army with the militia by making it territorial in its regimental title, assigning to each historic numbered infantry regiment a local depot and a county name. The Twentieth already had its second battalion, but it was made the rule that all regiments should have two linked battalions-one of which would be on foreign service-associated with its county militia and volunteers.
Although the name of the Regiment changed, a link with the West Country still remained. A handsome memorial in Exeter Cathedral recalls those members of the Regiment who fell in the Crimea. The old Twentieth had to a large extent been officered by men from West Country families and this link remained for some time. (Other ranks had long been recruited mainly in Lancashire.)
The abolition of purchase did not show its full effects for some time and as the pay of an officer was not very great, it was still necessary for an officer to have some private means especially if he was to get married. It was unusual for an officer to marry young and, therefore, he was able to devote more of his time to regimental activities and to becoming imbued with the regimental spirit. For a young officer fond of sport and with the gift of friendship, life could be very pleasant in an infantry regiment in the second half of the last century. Whether his battalion was stationed in India, Ireland or at home, there was always plenty of racing, shooting and dancing. The Regiment had a reputation for its excellent cellars: s of Professor Saintsbury's scholarly wine-bibbing was done with an officer of The Twentieth.*
Ilow one could make the most of this kind of life is exemplified in the short, brilliant career of Roddy Owen, one of the 'characters' that the British regimental system used to be able to accommodate and even encourage-to the advantage of the system, and the Army as a whole. A brilliant horseman and a good shot, Roddy Owen's courage went without saying, but at the time of his death the quality of leadership that went with it was also being revealed; his high sense of honour and duty found its expression through a most original turn of mind. He was a man of whom the Lancashire Fusiliers have always been proud.

* The late Maurice Healy, in his Stay Me Wit! Flagon (1941), recalled a 1923 Les Musigny he had drunk in the 1st Battalion mess that was, 'all that good burgundy should be; and it lost nothing by being drunk in such excellent and hospitable company'. He also wondered, in a later chapter on beer, whether Lancashire ales had helped 'to make the Lancashire Fusiliers what they arc: and what highs, praise could be given?'

Edward Roderic Owen was born in 1856, the younger son of a Welsh country gentleman. Adept in the saddle from his earliest days, he grew up to be the outstanding gentleman-rider of his sports-loving generation, bringing his Turf career to a splendid conclusion by winning the 1892 Grand National on `Father O'Flynn'. He left Eton in 1873, and entered the Militia in 1875, a very common way into the Army in those days. The next year he was commissioned into the Regiment. He joined the 1st Battalion, then stationed in Canada, and almost at once began to make his mark, both inside the Regiment, where he was a most popular young officer, and outside it. After tours of duty in Cyprus and Malta, in 1884 he became successively A.D.C. to the Viceroy of India and the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. Between 1885 and 1891 in that country (then even more of a horseman's paradise than it is today) and elsewhere, he raced and rode his name into a legend. Innumerable stories are told of his prowess on the Turf, his cavalier performances off it, and his never-failing wit. Major-General G. Surtees, a former Colonel of the Regiment, has given instances of all these in an article in the Army Quarterly:*
While out on training as A.D.C. to General Sir Evelyn Wood** at Aldershot, Roddy's horse ran away with him, or so he said on return in apologetic explanation to the general: `Would you believe it, sir, I never got a pull at him for miles l' He omitted to mention having picked up racing-kit from his servant at the station, taken a train to a nearby meeting, and ridden a race. When this account was given to me by an old member of my regiment and a contemporary of Roddy's, I had asked if he got away with it.
'Oh, yes', was the reply. `He could talk his way in or out of anything.' My informant went on with a story of Roddy at Quetta: `The whole garrison was away on a field day, Roddy being stuck in barracks as Captain of the Week. Bored with nothing to do, he rode out to us. Seeing the troops lying down in position ready for the final assault, he galloped up waving his sword and yelling, " Charge! "-which we all promptly did, delighted to get the whole thing over so quickly.'
Roddy, of course, didn't wait for the trouble to come, and you can imagine how damned angry the general was. Major Owen would get no leave for a very long time and so on. Now comes the surprising bit. Roddy, on being told of this while dressing for dinner, immediately ordered his horse, saying, `We'll see about that', and went off to the general. On return he announced his departure on leave. We never heard what transpired. Roddy wouldn't say a word about anything like that.
* April 1961,
**Later Field-Marshal.


Many similar stories of this part of Roddy Owen's life are told; his sister, Mrs. Bovill, and G. R. Askwith, published the one that follows in a memoir after his death:
He rode almost entirely across country and over hurdles, and would travel from one end of the kingdom to another for a good meeting. Many were the expedients necessary for working in leave, riding and military duties. Dressing in the railway-carriage or waiting-rooms and galloping across country to catch a train at branch stations were but ordinary incidents of the racing season. He would arrive at Manchester, for instance, in the early morning after a night in the train, get into uniform, do his day's work, and be off again. There is a tale that, just catching a train as it was leaving the station, Roddy found himself in a carriage with one elderly lady, and due to ride immediately on arrival. He slowly fitted up a railway rug from rack to rack, saying, 'Don't be alarmed, madam, at hearing a noise. I am subject to fits of illness which soon, however, pass away. I always do this on such occasions.' After some minutes of scrambling, the lady was frightened out of her senses by seeing a brilliant yellow silk arm stretched out behind the rug, but was reassured by the appearance of Roddy, in a greatcoat, with his riding boots showing beneath, calmly remarking that he was now quite in normal health.
Naturally, such a way of life required a considerable flair for handling superior officers; at a regimental inspection, 'the General remarked that he had not seen him before at previous inspections. Roddy had been running all over the country to race meetings, but he only replied with a deep bow, "Sir, the loss is mine".'
Many of Roddy Owen's close friends were aware of his wide reading and his acute intelligence; many had noticed that under the gay and handsome exterior lay the makings of a fine soldier. They, at any rate, may not have been as surprised as the rest of the racing world when it was learned that, four days after he had won the Grand National in 1892 by twenty lengths, he was on his way out to the Jebu War in West Africa. During the ten preceding years, The Sportsman records 812 mounts with 254 wins; in 1891 his percentage of wins was 46.6. Now he was to make his name in other fields.
Africa, West and East, was to be the scene of his next exploits. Although he distinguished himself and was wounded in the Jebu War, this did not detain him long. The following year found him, now a brevet-major, serving as a member of Sir Gerald Portal's commission to Uganda. The rise of Mahdism in the Sudan after Gordon's death at Khartoum in 1885, with the collapse of Egyptian power and the defeat of Abyssinia, had thrown the whole of north-eastern Africa into ferment. Uganda was an area of vital strategic importance, containing the head waters of the Nile. During a period when Government policy was highly equivocal and uncertain, the duty of securing British interests fell largely upon relatively junior officers, carrying great responsibility in outlying, isolated commands. Owen was such a one, working to procure the allegiance of the agitated tribes of the interior, where the slave trade was once again making destructive headway. He had to act as a diplomat, an adviser, and at times as an arbiter between them.
Dogged by ill-health in that fever-stricken region, he nevertheless succeeded in asserting British authority. It was as a result of his efforts, and those of other men like him, in similar thankless situations, that Uganda became a British Protectorate, and now forms part of the British Commonwealth. Uganda's Owen Falls were named in his
his honour, close to the point where he first raised the Union Jack.
After a year and a half in East Africa, Owen was due for leave. Characteristically, almost his last act before leaving Cairo was to wire home for tickets to the Ascot enclosure. On January 5, 1895, he was gazetted D.S.O., and on the same day departed for Dublin to join a draft of the Lancashire Fusiliers on their way to Bombay. Garrison duty held out little appeal for him. For those who were lucky enough, there was action in plenty on the North-West Frontier of India at this time, and Roddy Owen was not the man to be left out of it. Intrigue and assassination in the frontier state of Chitral had produced an anti-British movement, as a result of which the British Agent found himself besieged with a small and barely trustworthy garrison in Chitral Fort. A relief force was assembled in March, and Owen obtained permission to accompany it as the correspondent of the journal The Pioneer. (It was in a similar capacity that Lieutenant Winston Churchill, 4th
Hussars) shortly afterwards attached himself to the Malakand Field Force.) The expedition was soon on the move, forcing the Malakand Pass in April, and pressing on to the Swat River. He joined in a charge by the Cavalry of the Guides on April 4, and three days later charged again with the Bengal Lancers. On May 14 Chitral Fort was relieved,
after tremendous marches through the snow of the high mountains, and the immediate purpose of the expedition was at an end.
It was typical of Roddy Owen that he did not consider his labours finished. He determined to visit all the localities connected with the campaign, and to obtain first-hand accounts of them. He spent twelve days riding over the mountains (sometimes with nothing to feed on but tea and mulberries), was entertained by the local Rajahs (one of whom believed himself to be descended from Alexander the Great), and even entered Russian territory, returning finally to Quetta just as his leave expired. During all this time, his interest in natural history, geography, local customs, as well as grand strategy, received full expression in his writing.
In camp at night the moon shone over the mountains, and I gazed on the vast grandeur of the Himalayas. I have seen, and felt too, the smallness of all one's interests, pleasures, and above all oneself, as night draws near, seated round the camp fire in the great pine forests of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia; have felt a void in one's own soul in
contemplating the monotonous prairie of North America and plains of Africa; but I know no spot where surroundings, though silent, are so awe-inspiring as these mountain ranges, torn by the weather into a thousand fantastic designs, of every colour, of every shape-some a succession of spiral towers windowed by snow, others vast and solid, rude in
their colossal stolidity, arrogant in their remorseless stare and unquestioned individuality-unless where crowned by masses of snow giving an air of lightness and life to their structure.
From the North-West Frontier, Owen returned to Egypt, where Sir Herbert Kitchener was preparing the last stages of the advance which, two years later, brought him and the Regiment to Khartoum. At Cairo, on the anniversary of his Grand National win on `Father O'Flynn', Roddy Owen won his last race. Then Kitchener wired for him to come to the front; this meant a change of mount-to two camels which he bought at Aswan, writing:
Goodness knows how I'm going to ride them, uncomfortable brutes, but nevertheless, if all goes well, I could after this campaign leave the service before my forty-first birthday, having accomplished the dream of my life, to take an active part in securing the Nile for
England. But it was not to be.
In June, Owen was present at the Battle of Firkeh, where, after a daring night march, Kitchener's Egyptian and Sudanese regiments won a complete victory over the Dervishes-an omen of things to come. But then all progress was temporarily stopped by a series of misfortunes. Violent storms swept the desert, turning every gully into a torrent, and tearing away miles of the precious railway. Worse still, cholera struck the army, and the death rate began to rise steadily.
Roddy Owen, on detached duty, wrote
I am seated on a rock surrounded with desert, the only European
here, with seven cases of cholera on the 5th, 6th and 7th inst., but I think we've tackled it. The quarantine has so upset arrangements that it is within the bounds that we do not prosecute our journey to Dongola as yet. But we must stick to Khartoum as an objective, and, bar Euro pean complications, the dream of Cecil Rhodes looks likely of accomplishment.
Shortly after writing this, Owen was himself smitten by cholera; he died on July 11th, 1896, and his Arab followers buried him that night in a desert grave beside the River Nile.
His memory is still cherished in the Regiment. He was not a typical regimental officer-heaven knows what the Army would be like if all officers were Roddy Owens !-but he was typical of generations of high-spirited, audacious individualists whose contribution to the Army, and the nation, has been invaluable.

And so the nation and the regiment lost a unique and supremely different soldier.
He was proud to be in the XXth and the XXth were proud of having him amongst them.

Joe Eastwood.
Omnia Audax XXth

Brevet-Major Edward Roderic OWEN, DSO - Lancashire Fusiliers (Attached Egyptian Army) - died at Ambigol, 11th July 1896, commanding a Sudanese Irregular corps. Born 4th May 1856 at Prestbury, Gloucestershire. Son of Hugh Owen. A talented jockey, he rode 'Father O'Flynn' to victory in the 1892 Liverpool Grand National horse race. Served in West Africa 1892 (wounded, DSO, MID, medal & clasp, Brilliant Star of Zanzibar). Commandant Equatorial Provinces of Torn and Unyoro 1893-4. As Commandant of Ambigol Wells he died of cholera.

Michael Murray

Roddy Owen
Major General G Surtees CB, CBE, MC,

NOT so long ago a distinguished retired general, who in his own words
"loved a horse as Roddy Owen did," wrote to me saying: "I have
found among my friends an extraordinary ignorance of that great sportsman
and gallant soldier." He took it amiss that some of them, infantrymen
like himself of fifty years standing and more, should have only
then discovered that Roddy Owen was a foot soldier.
He certainly was, and in my regiment the xx: The Lancashire Fusiliers
all his service, except for eighteen months in the Militia. In OUr annals
he has an honoured and affectionate place of his own. We couldn't be
more proud of him. We are proud too of the similar place he continues
to hold among so many both in and outside the Army. Why do they
feel like this, even those who may know little about him?
His achievements merit admiration enough. The Sportsman 1882-92
records 812 mounts, mostly in hurdle-races and steeplechases, with 254
wins. In 1891 the percentage of wins was 46.6. In 1S92 he won the Grand
National on Fath~ O'Flynn, having lagged only half a length hehind
the winner the year before.
At once, his ambition achieved, racing and the social round that went
with it were abandoned. From then on he threw everything he had into
serious soldiering. For him that meant active service. Any fighting anywhere
would do. Volunteering and sheer persistence gained him what
he wanted. Four days after the National he sailed for West Africa. Under
fire for the titst time in the brief operations against the Jehus, he proved
himself a daring and resourceful soldier. earning a brevet-majority.
Eighteen months in Uganda followed, 1893-94, when his outstanding
part in continuous action against the tribes brought him the D.S.O. and
Brilliant Star of Zanzibar. The Owen Falls were named after him. The
next year saw.him in the Chitral Campaign as special correspondent of
the Indian newspaper Pioneer, his only way of getting there. While
serving with the Dongola Expedition in the Sudan, he died of cholera
on Hth July. 18¢. aged forty.
So much for the record, in briefest form, of Major Edward Rodcric
Owen, D.S.O. But there is more to it than that; much more. Others have
excelled as horsemen; others proved fearless, successful soldiers; some
have been both. It was Roddy Owen the man who became a "hero" in his
lifetime. It is the man who still inspires. Let us turn to his contemporaries
for the reason why.
His was a magnetic personality. A great friend in the regiment wrote:"Roddy had all the qualities that attract soldiers. His qualities went
further even than that. They attracted all with whom he was brought in
contact. I never came across anyone who did not like him .... " The
quotation is from Roddy Owen-A Memoir, by his sister Mai Bovill and
G. R. Askwith, M.A., F.R.G.S., published in 1897. Therein are related
many endearing incidents which added to the universal popularity, and
bring out the lighter side of his character-all that was, and still is,
known to many.
A favourite story bears repeating here. While out on training as
A.D.C. to General Sir Evelyn Wood at Aldcrshot, Roddy's horse ran
away with him, or so he said on return in apologetic explanation to the
general: "Would you believe it, sir, I never got a pull at him for miles."
He omitted to mention having picked up racing kit from his servant at
the station, taken train to a nearby meeting, and ridden a race. When
this account was given me by an old member of my regiment and a
contemporary of Roddy's, I had asked if he got away with it.
"Oh, yes," was the reply. "He could talk his way in or out of anything."
My informant laughed, and went on to tell me of a curious
incident, not, as far as I know, recorded elsewhere. "This happened at
Quetta. The whole garrison was away on a field day, Roddy being stuck.
in barracks as Captain of the Week. Bored with nothing to do, he rode
out to us. Seeing the troops lying down in position ready for the final
assault, he galloped up waving his sword and yelling, "Charge! "-
which we all promptly did, delighted to get the thing over so qUickly.
"Roddy, of course, didn't wait for the trouble to come, and you can
imagine how damned angry the general was. Major Owen would get
no leave for a very long time and so on. Now comes the surprising bit.
Roddy, on being told of this while dressing for dinner, immediately
ordered his horse saying, 'We'll see about that,' and went off to the
g-eneral. On return he announced his departure on leave. We never
heard what transpired. Roddy wouldn't say a word about anything like
that. "
These two anecdotes do more than amuse. They point to something
else. The generals may have been na"ive; more likely they had seen
beneath the surface, as did Colonel Hutton, who knew Roddy well, and
wrote in the Memoir:

" ... there were few, even among those who knew Roddy Owen best, who
recognized the real value of the man .... It required a careful insight into
character and a sympathetic spirit to see that beneath the veneer of his racing
proclivities and surroundings there lay those sterling qualities, begotten of a
loyal nature and of a noble mind, which make great and distinguished
men .•. :'
appreciation and knowledge of literature, past and present, but an insight
into political and economical questions unusual in a soldier .... "
Such attributes may surprise many, but are amply illustrated by the
extremely well-written despatches to the Pion~~r, with their searching
comments on the political implications, and by the clear grasp of larger
issues governing his actions in Uganda. His diary leaves no doubt on the
latter score.
The basis is not far to seek, The biography tells us:
" ... he read greedily a large number of out-of.the-way books... , "-
", "Seriousness, steadiness, and perseverance were among his distinguishing
characteristics as a schoolboy."-" ... a friend described Roddy as one of t~
least 'horsey' men he had ever met. It was curious to see how earnest he was,
and how eagerly he would take pan in and listen to any conversation or di••
cussion on subjects of political, diplomatic, or social interest .... "
These brief extracts explain much. The racing years were not all carefree
gaiety and riding winners. That alone would not have left such a
mark. But influencing his actions and the impact of his personality on
others was the deeper side of his make·up. Only a few saw this at the
time, but it was there, and it is perhaps the complete man, not just one
parr of him, which made the strong, lasting appeal.
In his last four years the serious side came uppermost, especially in
Uganda, but not many were there to see. The results were conspicuous
enough, and support the widely held view that Roddy Owen would have
gone far but for his untimely end. What might have been was expressed
by the Prime Minister of the day,
"I was very well aware-no one perhaps better-of the admirable service:
which he performed under circumstanc;es the most trying. No more gallant
fellow ever left these shores. The diffic;ulty was to restrain him. And yet with
all his daring qualities he showed others of administration, of thoughtful cue··
and tenderness Ear others, which would have made him, I think, had he beeO>
spared, a public servant of rare excellence from all points of view.... "

In May 1891 the British Acting Governor, Captain C.M. Denton C.M.G., left Lagos with an escort of Hausa constables (Hausas are from the Islamic north of Nigeria) to visit Jebu Ode to make agreements allowing the free passage of trade goods through Ijebu territory. However the Awujale refused to agree to the British requests and he also rejected the British presents given to him by Denton, doubtless fearing that to accept them would obligate him in some way.

London then instructed Lagos to obtain an apology from the Awujale for the perceived "insult" to Denton, and to insist on free right of way through the Awujale's territory. In January 1892 a representative of the Awujale went to Lagos to agree to the British demands, and in return the British granted the Ijebu 500 pounds annually to compensate for the loss of customs revenue. However the tribe was unhappy with this outcome as it did not wish to change its traditional methods and practices, particularly when threatened by foreigners.

A white missionary was allowed through Jebu territory but the second one who tried received a rough time and was sent back, as was a party of Ibadan porters attempting to come south through Jebu Ode. London now authorized the use of force, quickly sending out some special service officers from England to act as a military staff. One of these was Captain Edward Roderick ("Roddy") Owen of the Lancashire Fusiliers, a famous jockey at British race meetings.