Sergeant Bernard McCabe
(later Captain McCabe)
Bernard McCabe occupies a special place in the history of the Regiment. As a Sergeant in the 31st Foot he displayed outstanding bravery at the Battle of Sobraon on 10th February 1846. When both officers carrying the Colours had been shot down he carried the Regimental Colour to the top of the Sikhs Army ramparts, and by this action the Regiment was inspired to go over and through the defences, leading on to the final defeat of the Sikhs in the short, but very intense 1st Sikh War. Sergeant McCabe's action was subsequently recorded in the official painting portraying the Battle, while his gallantry is remembered each year on 'Sobraon Day' by the Battalions of the present Regiment. On this day each Battalion's Regimental Colour is formally handed over to a selected Sergeant, the Sobraon Sergeant, to be held in the Warrant Officers' and Sergeants' Mess for the day.
(Click to enlarge)A water colour of Sgt McCabe with the Regimental Colour on the Sikh ramparts. The water colour was painted by the late Charles Stadden.
As his name implies McCabe was an Irish man, probably the son of Irish immigrants. He enlisted at Huddersfield in December 1839 joining the 31st Regiment's Depot at Canterbury at the beginning of January. After training McCabe embarked for India in June 1840 and joined the Battalion at Agra. In January 1842 the Battalion marched 700 miles to join in the defence of Jellalabad, and then played a full part in the defeat of the Afghan forces and the subsequent reoccupation of Kabul, gaining the honour 'Cabool 1842'. Then in 1845 the Sikhs, then an independent nation, invaded British controlled India across the River Sutlej. The Sikhs had a large army trained to European standards by French officers and formed a formidable foe. The 31st Regiment were immediately deployed marching 150 miles in seven days to defend the Frontier. There followed four major battles in seven weeks, MOODKEE, FEROZESHUR, ALIWAL and then SOBRAON.
After his gallantry at Sobraon Sergeant McCabe was awarded a commission in the 18th Royal Irish Regiment, and with them went to Hong Kong taking part in April 1847 in a short campaign to protect the British 'factories' at Canton. After returning to India, in April 1849 McCabe transferred on promotion to Lieutenant to the 32nd Regiment, now remembered as the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry.
When the Indian Army Mutiny started in the summer of 1857 the 32nd were at Lucknow and Cawnpore, some 50 miles away. After the destruction and massacre of the force at Cawnpore, those at Lucknow came under close siege, the Garrison being confined to a small area centred on the Residency. Throughout the siege Bernard McCabe, now promoted Captain, was a tower of strength. He was assigned to defend the key south-east sector of the perimeter, and distinguished himself continually, firstly especially in repelling, the second main assault of the Mutineer forces, and then in a series of sorties to disrupt them by blowing up positions and spiking their guns. Sadly on the last of these sorties Captain McCabe was seriously wounded and died three days later on 1st October 1857. He has no known grave, but his then Regiment placed a special Memorial tablet in the Lucknow Church extolling his conspicuous gallantry during the siege and recalling his bravery at Sobraon.
His medals, for the Afghan War, the 1st Sikh War and the Mutiny, together with his swords are held at the Regimental Museum of the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry at Bodmin.
Captain Bernard McCabe is mortally wounded as he leads a successful sortie against rebels guns bombarding the Residency. He died three days later. His gallantry during the siege was conspicuous and his loss a sad blow to the defenders.
He had been commissioned from the ranks in 1846 for outstanding heroism in planting the Regimental Colour on the enemy ramparts at the Battle of Sobraon, 10th February 1846, whilst serving with the 31st Regiment. He was commissioned and then served with the 32nd Foot (later the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry).