|Sutlej Medal with clasp for Sobraon
Alfred Gasson was born in London and worked as a porter until enlisting in the 16th Lancers on the 19th February 1840. He
joined his regiment at their depot at Maidstone, Kent. Here, life was an unending progression of foot drill, dismounted sword
exercises and fatigue parades. On the 3rd July, a draft of men including 1464 Alfred Gasson, were sent to embark on a
troopship to reinforce the regiment, which had been stationed in India since 1825. The voyage took 6 weeks to reach the
Cape Verde Islands and then rounded the Cape of Good Hope. The ship then passed into the Indian Ocean, passing close to
Troopships docked at Calcutta, which was a 5 month journey from England. The men disembarked and then had to journey up
country to Meerut, where their regiment was currently stationed, having just returned from Afghanistan and the Ghuznee
In the Punjab, the Sikh army was threatening to cross the Sutlej River. This act would result in certain war but in late 1843,
the Sikhs did cross the river. The 16th Lancers were ordered to join the army assembling at Agra, forming part of the
Meerut division. They were ordered to march on the 20th November and arrived at the river Chumla on the 24th December.
Having crossed this river, they were ordered forward to reconnoitre. They advanced 5 miles and discovered the enemy camp.
As the British regiments had not yet assembled, it was decided that no action should be taken and the Lancers fell back to
the main body of the Army.
On the 28th December the 16th Lancers were ordered to turn out at 4 a.m. on the 29th December. They formed part of the
Light division, commanded by Sir Joseph Thackwell. The enemy were positioned between 3 villages, with Maharajpoor in the
centre. The Lancers advanced until 7 o/clock when they were halted. The enemy guns at once opened fire on them. They
advanced at trot in close column, to ascertain the enemy’s position and nature of the ground. Nearing the enemy they came
under fire from a 6 gun battery. The Lancers quickly formed into line but came under fire from enemy sharpshooters. Enemy
cavalry began an advanced on the British artillery and the 16th Lancers were ordered to charge, but on seeing this movement
the Sikh cavalry turned and ran. The Sikhs were estimated as being 24,000 strong while the British troops numbered about
10,000. Losses to the 16th Lancers were 2 men and 21 horses killed, 1 sergeant and 6 other ranks wounded. 9 horses were
The British army advanced to Gwalior and were joined there by General Grey on the 3rd January 1844. They were
addressed by the Governor-General and he promised them a medal in the shape of a star for the capture of the city. It is
assumed that Alfred Gasson qualified for this medal, of which more follows later.
The 16th Lancers had now been completed 20 years service in India and they hoped for home leave. On the 3rd of February
they broke camp and returned to their Cantonments. Meerut was reached on the 4th march having lost 50 men from the
regiment in a 5 month campaign.
On the 13th November 1845 word was received that war had again broken out with the Sikhs and the Meerut division were
to make forced marches to join General Gough. They arrived at Muddkee on the 1st January 1846. On the 5th January they
reached Lord Gough at Hureka Gaut. Here they remained until the 15th January. They were ordered forward and made
forced marches and joined Sir Harry Smith at Jugram. On the evening of the 20th they were ordered to march at 3 a.m. and
by 8 a.m. encountered Sikh cavalry. As the enemy were too strong it was decided not to fight them that day. They advanced
to Ludianna and remained there until the 23rd January.
By the 26th the army numbered 12,000 men with 32 guns and it was decided to meet the enemy. On the 28th January 1846,
they were sighted at 8 a.m. The enemy’s position was based on the villages of Aliwal and Bhundri, their line stretching for 3
miles. The 16th Lancers, numbering about 550 men, were ordered out to the left.
The Sikhs numbered about 15,000 men and 67 guns. Sikh cavalry advanced and a left flank squadron of the 16th Lancers
were ordered to charge them. They drove them from the field and then came under artillery fire. In front of the16th was a
battalion of the Raja’s Guards drawn up in square. The men cheered and rode straight through the square and after
reforming, continued to the battery of guns, sabering the gunners and capturing the guns. It was a feat rarely accomplished,
although they lost 42 men during this action.
“At one time, 200 of us were in the midst of 10,000 of their choicest troops... the Sikhs are worthy of our arms”.
The 4th squadron, commanded by Captain Beer, charged and broke a further square of Sikh infantry. The two squadrons then
reformed and rallied together. Captain Fyler was struck by a cannon ball on the thigh and fell from his saddle. Captain Beer,
although wounded himself, became commander of the two right wing squadrons.
Finally, the right wing of the regiment was ordered to charge the Sikh infantry and guns. Their pace was tightly restrained
by Major R. Smyth, who was determined that the regiment should advance with precision. Major Smythe shouted “Three
cheers for the Queen – Lancers charge”. Some Sikh infantry formed squares while others lay on the ground so that the
Lancers could not reach them. In desperation, the 16th Lancers shifted their lances from their right to left hands on order to
confuse the Sikhs.
“At length we received orders to charge: we gave three hearty cheers and went on at a steady trot, till we had arrived
within 40 yards of the enemy, who were in a square. We gave a loud British Hurrah, which was answered by a tremendous
volley and in a few moments we were in their squares, which being broken the work of death commenced. We gave no
quarter, nor was it asked by us; in vain the trumpet sounded the recall. The infantry came to our relief and from this time
we made a complete victory, took their guns and slew their soldiers”.
After being ridden over for the third time, the infantry began to break. A retreat of the whole Sikh army followed.
As the depleted squadrons returned, Major General Sir Harry Smith shouted out to them :-
“Well done the 16th! You have covered yourself with glory today”
The men had not eaten or drunk since 6 o/clock in the morning and it was now evening. They still had 5 miles to go over to
collect the wounded and bury the dead. The regiment had lost 76 officers and men killed, 77 wounded and 160 horses lost,
nearly a quarter of its strength. When the survivors paraded the next day, their lance pennons were so encrusted with blood
that they appeared to be starched and crimped. A Regimental tradition started from then on, that the 16th Lancers would
always have crimped lance pennons.
On the 30th, the wounded and captured guns were sent to Ludianna. The Governor General came to meet the division, giving
the 16th Lancers great praise for their victory at Aliwal.
They waited for 5 days at Hureka Gaut, where they learnt that the Sikhs were in a strong position on the river Sutlej, with a
bridge of boats across the river in their rear. They mustered about 20,000 men with 70 guns.
On the 10th April, about 440 16th lancers formed an hour before daybreak and as dawn broke, mortars sent shells into the
enemy positions at Sobraon. At 9 a.m. the infantry began to fire all along the line. The 16th Lancers and a battery of
Artillery were ordered up to command the bridge. The battery, firing red hot shot, managed to destroy the bridge. The
lancers then performed the astonishing feat of breaking through field works, passing singly through an opening made by the
pioneers, to reform inside and then charge over trenches and batteries, cutting down the Sikhs as they served their guns.
After fighting until 2 p.m. the Sikhs abandoned the field and the whole campaign was over.
On the 12th February the Lancers and infantry crossed the Sutlej and marched to the Sikh capital of Lahore. On the 5th
march, the regiment were told that they were to return home. Volunteers from the 16th Lancers could remain with two other
cavalry regiments. One man went to the 9th Lancers and 90 went to the 3rd Light Dragoons. Alfred Gasson left with the
remainder on the 8th March for Calcutta. They arrived at Meerut on the 2nd May where they gave up their horses. They
reached Dum Dum on the 29th July 1846 and took up quarters in the artillery barracks there. They then marched to
Calcutta on the 14th August, to embark just 287 men, being the remnant of 800 who had marched to the Punjab in 1845. On
the 19th the ship was clear in the Bay of Bengal but the monsoons set in and the ship had to suffer a succession of storms for
three weeks. They rounded the Cape of Good Hope in the beginning of October and eventually arrived in the English Channel
on the 23rd December 1846. They finally arrived at Gravesend on the 28th December. From here they were taken to Herne
Bay by two steamers to save them the march to their barracks at Canterbury. The fame of their actions had preceded them,
as the Mayor of Canterbury, two bands and numerous citizens came out to meet them.
They were stationed next at Deal, and then in May 1847 moved to Brighton. On the 26th May the regiment paraded in front
of the Queen, Prince Albert, the Duke of Wellington and numerous dignitaries. During the course of the field day, they
charged just like they had at Aliwal. The Queen was then supposed to have pinned their Sutlej medals to their uniforms,
although the medal was actually issued in November 1846.
Then the regiment moved to London on the 10th April 1848, prepared to disperse possible Chartist rioters. Following that, 3
troops then went to Ipswich and 5 troops to Norwich.
In between the period of April to June 1851, the regiment was stationed in Staffordshire. Alfred Gasson spent at least 30
days at the hospital in Stone, but the reason why is not known.
The regiment was then garrisoned at Dundalk in Ireland. It was here that Alfred Gasson decided that after 13 years, he had
served with the 16th Lancers for long enough. On the 8th January 1853 he bought his discharge for a payment of £5, and
left the regiment.
Alfred Gasson’s Sutlej medal is very badly pitted by continued contact from another medal. This has to be the Maharajpoor
star which would have been awarded for the Punniar campaign of 1843. There is no medal roll for this particular campaign
but Alfred Gasson was certainly with the regiment at this time and it is most likely that he did receive this medal. The pair
would have been worn together from 1846 until 1853 which would have resulted in the marks on the Sutlej medal.
There is a death reported in the December quarter of 1862 of an Alfred Gasson at Lewisham – No further records after
|Above: 16th Lancers uniforms worn |
at the time of the battle
Right: Aliwal memorial to the 16th
Lancers at Canterbury cathedral