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 An Interview with George Toplis, 1929

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Posts : 14
Join date : 2013-02-12
Age : 36
Location : Wakefield

PostSubject: An Interview with George Toplis, 1929   Tue Feb 12, 2013 11:19 pm

Hi all.

Thought I'd create a new topic for this.

Not sure which newspaper it was, potentially the Sheffield Star?


A South Elmsall Man's Reflections, 1929

Facing The Spear

Joined the army fifty years ago. Served in four campaigns. Saw the French Prince Imperial shortly before he was speared to death by the Zulus. Has five sons who saw service in the European War and is still working though seventy years of age as a miner.

That remarkable record belongs to George Toplis of 100 Carlton Road, South Elmsall.

A native of Clay Cross, Derbyshire, Mr Toplis started work down a mine when only nine years old, working twelve hours daily for a shilling a day. When he was twenty years of age he joined the army and was immediately sent to South Africa to take part in the Zulu uprising in 1879.

Having landed at Durban the brigade had to march 170 miles to Ulundi, the capital of Cerewayo. So hot was the sun that the men could only march in the morning and after heavy rain were delayed for days at a time with the result that it took three months to complete the journey.

The Prince Imperial

With regard to the Prince Imperial, Mr Toplis who, although he did not see him slain, was with the brigade near the scene.

He says that on June 1st 1879, despite a warning from the officers not to leave the British lines, the Prince accompanied by Lieutenant Carey and eight other soldiers went to reconnoitre and approached too close to the Zulus who set up a yell that frightened the horses of the party causing them to bolt in terror. The Prince's girth slipped, and his feet being fast in the stirrups, his horse dragged him along the ground towards the Zulus who killed him with their spears. Two of the other soldiers were also carried into the enemy ranks and slain.

Mr Toplis was in camp when a party of Lancers carried in the body of the Prince in ambulance waggons. He had been completely stripped, only a crucifix on a chain around his neck having been left, and his body had seventeen spear wounds.

'Lieutenant Carey' could not be blamed, he remarked to a Star representative, 'for refusing to go to the rescue for they would have little chance against the Zulu host. It would have meant certain death for himself and the six remaining men.'

Battle at Ulundi

A vivid account of the Battle of Ulundi a month after the death of the Prince, which resulted in the downfall of Cetewayo and his power was given by Mr Toplis who took part in the fray.

'Lord Chelmsford advanced to Ulundi' he recalled 'and formed us into a square in open grassland before the town. The Zulus were four to one, and they charged time after time with spear. When they got to within thirty yards of us I thought my time was come, but they got no further. Our rifles played havoc with them, and they fell back a rabble. Then the lancers rode them down and put them to rout.'

For his services in that campaign, he received the South African medal and clasp.

The First Boer War was declared in 1880, and Mr Toplis, who was ready to leave Africa was again called into action. For the last three months of the war he had experience of living on nothing but crushed Indian corn.

'We were surrounded by the Boers at Marbasted in the Transvaal' he decalred, 'and could not get any supplies though. You can imagine the relief with which we heard that peace was declared in 1882 for we could not have lasted much longer.'

At the end of that campaign Mr Toplis was demobilised and returned to England. Upon the outbreak of the Second Boer War in 1899 he again joined the forces but after five months service he was invalided from Pietermaritzburg and returned to England.

Five Sons who Served

Mr Toplis again enlisted on August 4th 1914 at the age of 56. He was not allowed to go abroad and was stationed at Huddersfield until August 16th 1916 when he was recalled for work at Frickley Colliery, where he is still employed. Altogether Mr Toplis has served 23 and a half years with the army, and upon his discharge each time he was given an exemplary character.

Mr Toplis's five sons, the youngest of whom was only 16, joined up in the last war. Two were prisoners in Germany for the last few months and one received the Military Medal for rescuing a comrade and saving a Maxim gun while exposed to heavy fire.


As I have mentioned in the other post, I am researching George's son's WWI war services - I believe all were in the 5th Batallion King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry.

The son who won the MM, Philip Toplis, was my great grandfather - his father nicknamed him 'Buller' after, you guessed it, General Redvers Buller.

Philip's son, my great uncle, Philip served in India, Burma and Malaya during WW2.

If anyone has any questions, fire away.

Conversely, if you can help with any more specific information on any of the above, thanks in advance!


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PostSubject: Re: An Interview with George Toplis, 1929   Thu Feb 14, 2013 12:30 am

interesting read sir. thanks for posting. have you tried looking for info on your ancestors over on this board? [You must be registered and logged in to see this link.]
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PostSubject: Re: An Interview with George Toplis, 1929   Thu Feb 14, 2013 10:14 pm

Free1954. Thanks for the link. Looks a very interesting site.
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Join date : 2012-02-16
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PostSubject: Re: An Interview with George Toplis, 1929   Sun Feb 17, 2013 12:28 pm

John wrote:
Free1954. Thanks for the link. Looks a very interesting site.

you are welcome sir. i'm glad to contribute something to this fine forum.
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Posts : 2547
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PostSubject: Re: An Interview with George Toplis, 1929   Sun Feb 17, 2013 12:54 pm

Everything addds to the knowledge of the forum. For instance a Zulu War veterant leading on to WW1. Don't you just love Military History. Salute
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An Interview with George Toplis, 1929
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