Thomas Hale 'Cheshire's hero surgeon' (with audio)

PUBLISHED: 15:06 21 May 2010 | UPDATED: 17:14 20 February 2013

Thomas Egerton Hale VC

Thomas Egerton Hale VC

At a time when, sadly, heroic acts on the battlefield are a regular news item, historian <br/>James W Bancroft recalls the bravery of Thomas Hale 'Cheshire's hero surgeon' <br/>from Nantwich

Last Christmas marked the centenary of the death of Thomas Hale, a Cheshire military hero who was awarded the Victoria Cross for valour in the trenches before Sebastopol in the Crimean War.

Thomas Egerton Hale was born on September 24th 1832, at Cooks Pit Farm, Faddiley, near Nantwich, the son of George P Hale and his wife, Sarah, who came from Hatherton near Nantwich. He was educated at St Andrews University and at the Royal College of Surgeons. He joined the army on December 14th 1854 and was appointed assistant-surgeon with the 1st Battalion, 7th Royal Fusiliers, with whom he received orders for active service in the Crimea. On his arrival he was posted to the front line trenches before Sebastopol.

Conditions in field hospitals near the front line were atrocious, and extremely frustrating for the surgeons, one of whom stated: Things are in an awful state up here now and the patients, poor fellows, suffer dreadfully. I have just been round my wards for the night and have two men which I don't expect to find alive in the morning, they are literally dying from exhaustion and we have nothing to give them.

They are suffering from fever alike many more, and we have not got a drop of wine to give them although there is lots at Balaclava we have no means of getting it up. I managed to get some tea, and it was delightful to me how grateful the poor fellows were for it. But I am sorry to say it is nearly all gone and I can get no more till I go down to Balaclava again, which I hope to do on the first fine day.

During the attack on the 5th Parallel, at the Great Redan, Sebastopol, on September 8th 1855, Surgeon Hale remained with Captain H M Jones, who was dangerously wounded, when everyone except Lieutenant William Hope retreated, and for endeavouring to rally the men with Lieutenant Hope. Again, on the same day, after the regiment had retired to the trenches, he cleared the most advanced sap of the wounded and then carried into the sap, under heavy fire, several wounded men from the open ground, being assisted by Sergeant Charles Fisher.His award of Victoria Cross was announced in the London Gazette on May 5th 1857.

He was again on active service during the Indian Mutiny, being in medical charge of a field force under Colonel Blunt, detached from Lahore to the Trans-Indus Frontier during the hot season of 1857. It was an extremely difficult campaign as the troops embarked on long forced marches under the constant threat of rebel attack and the ravages of disease, after which they assaulted large heavily-manned masonry fortresses.

Hundreds of men had to be treated for the effects of sunstroke. But they overcame these hardships and most of the rebel leaders were captured and dealt with. Surgeon Hale remained in India, becoming medical officer in charge at Chirat in 1860, and he was medical officer in charge of the 2nd Punjab Infantry and European detachments on the Punjab Frontier, 1864-66, serving with distinction in the Peshawar Hills.

He married his wife, Emily, whom he had met while serving at Gibraltar. He became surgeon lieutenant-colonel, and retired in 1876. He was a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and the Royal Horticultural Society, and he was awarded a CB in 1906.

He lived in the family home of Faddiley Lodge, Acton, near Nantwich, where he died on Christmas Day 1909, aged 77. He was buried in St Marys Churchyard at Acton. His wife died on April 7th 1921, and his name appears on her memorial stone at Bath Cemetery. His medals are with the Army Medical Services Museum at Aldershot.

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