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Regiments of the Malta Garrison
52nd (Oxfordshire Light Infantry)

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The 52nd (Oxfordshire Light Infantry) Regiment

The 52nd Foot was raised in 1755 as the 54th Foot, but was renumbered 52nd in 1757 after two intervening regiments were disbanded.

In 1782, the regiment gained the county affiliation of Oxfordshire. It became a Light Infantry Corps in 1803 when it was designated the 52nd (Oxfordshire Light Infantry) Regiment.

In January 1837, the 52nd was granted permission to bear on its Colours the word "Hindostan" in commemoration of its services while in India between 1782 to 1798.

On 1 July 1881, the 52nd merged with the 43rd (Monmouthshire Light Infantry), to become the Oxfordshire Light Infantry. The title Buckinghamshire was added to the regimental name in 1908.

The 52nd (Oxfordshire Light Infantry) Regiment

52nd
TNA:WO 379/11 Movements of 52nd Regt. (Courtesy R Sellstrom BEM)

1868 52nd (Oxfordshire Light Infantry)

3 Oct 1868 The 52nd Foot embarked at Queenstown from Limerick on 23 Sept 1868. It disembarked at Malta on 3 October.

The average annual strength in 1868 was 180 men. There were 283 admissions into hospital (1724/1000 mean strength); 4 died in hospital (22.22 deaths/1000 mean strength).

1869 52nd (Oxfordshire Light Infantry)

Barracks Occupied by the 52nd Regiment in 1869
Barracks Average Strength Fever
Admissions
Percentage
Sick Soldiers
Remarks
Table 1: Barracks occupied by the 52nd showing the average strength, number of hospital admissions from fever, and the percentage of sick soldiers during the period each barrack was occupied.
Fort Ricasoli 411 192 46.71 Head Quarters from 1 Jan to 22 Sept
Zabbar Gate 117 87 74.35 Detachment from 1 Jan to 22 Sept
San Salvatore 58 26 44.82 Detachment from 1 Jan to 22 Sept
Fort Verdala 389 24 6.16 Head Quarters from 22 Sept to 31 Dec
St Clements Bastion 51 4 7.84 One company

Overcrowding was common at Verdala Barracks and St Clement's Bastion Barracks. The troops at Fort Ricasoli, Zabbar Gate Barracks, and San Salvatore Barracks were provided with tents for a proportion of the men to sleep under at night.

Map Verdala
Plan showing Fort Verdala Barracks dated 22 April 1854. (MPH 1/912)
Polverista Gate Barracks
Polverista Gate and St Nicholas curtain in the Cottonera Lines.
Fort Verdala
St Clement's Bastion and retrenchment opposite Fort Verdala dated 22 April 1851. (TNA:MPH 1/912)

Fort Verdala Barracks was an enclosed fortified barracks built in 1853 in the fortifications of the Margherita (Firenzuola) Lines, which protected the land front of Bormla (Cospicua). The barracks were built in two parallel lines terminating at one end in a quadrilateral space, around which was one of the officer's quarters, and the other ended in a triangular space around which were the men's quarters. Soldiers were accommodated in a number of equal sized casemated rooms, arranged in two storeys, opening inwards from a verandah. The rooms were low and narrow. They were ventilated by a door with an opening above it, and with either one or two windows.

The majority of the families were placed in a large three storied building at Polverista Gate. The 52nd Regiment was composed mainly of very young soldiers under three years service. They were enlisted from the large English towns and were considered by their regimental surgeon as being unable to withstand the semi-tropical climate of Malta. The high incidence of fever in the regiment during the summer months was attributed to exposure to the sun while the men were on sentry duties.

Admissions to hospital for mild febrile attacks were common among the young soldiers. Out of 344 admissions for fever, 264 cases were in men under 24 years of age. There were 35 men invalided during the year. One old soldier attempted suicide in his barracks by discharging his rifle towards his abdomen. The ball missed his bowel and peritoneum. He recovered from his injury, but developed a discharging sinus from which pieces of bone extruded.

The following soldiers died during 1869:

  • No 577 Bugler H Frost, aged 30 years died at the regimental hospital from Pericarditis. He had served for ten years, of which 6 were abroad. He was admitted to the regimental hospital on 9 June with dyspepsia. He gradually developed increasing shortness of breath and died on 4 July 1869.
  • No 1642 Pte P Mulvehille, aged 19 years died at the regimental hospital on 12 July 1869 from Bronchitis. He had completed one year service. He was described by the regimental surgeon as a thin, sickly lad, of scrofulous appearance. He was admitted to the regimental hospital on 4 July with Continued Fever and bronchitis and died following a convulsion.
  • No 1171 Pte J Kempton, aged 23 years died at the Forrest Hospital on 26 Nov 1869 from a self inflicted wound to the throat while on musketry practice at Pembroke Camp.
Sick Returns 52nd Regiment — 1 January to 31 December 1869
Month Strength 1st day of the month Hospital
Admissions
Total
Deaths
Table 1: Regimental strength on the first day of the month, showing number of admissions to hospital per month, and the number of deaths recorded. (TNA:WO 334/62)
January 744 49 0
February 741 31 0
March 740 38 0
April 742 51 0
May 740 43 0
June 741 77 0
July 723 183 2
August 720 98 0
September 718 80 0
October 718 43 0
November 710 35 1
December 709 23 0

The average annual strength in 1869 was 729 men. There were 751 admissions into hospital; 3 died in hospital. The ratio per 1000 strength of those admitted was 1006.7 and for deaths 4.11. During the year the average daily sick was 42.52 men. In 1869, the regiment had received an influx of very young recruits, a large number of which fell ill.

1870 52nd (Oxfordshire Light Infantry)

Barracks Occupied by 52nd Regiment in 1870
Barracks Average Strength Fever
Admissions
Percentage
Sick Soldiers
Remarks
Table 2: Barracks occupied by the 52nd showing the average strength, number of hospital admissions from fever, and the percentage of sick soldiers during the period each barrack was occupied. Tents were provided for the men to sleep under at Fort Verdala, and St Clements Bastion Barracks.
Fort Verdala 487 120 24.64 Head Quarters from 1 Jan to 3 Oct
St Clements Bastion 45 15 33.33 One Company from 1 Jan to 3 Oct
Fort Manoel 282 9 3.19 HQ and one wing from 3 Oct to 31 Dec
Pembroke Camp 262 10 3.81 Second wing from 3 Oct to 31 Dec

Malta Oct 1870 The 52nd Foot moved to Fort Manoel. One wing, (half a regiment), went to Pembroke Camp for musketry practice.

Fort Manoel
Map of Quarantine Harbour dated 29 March 1856 showing Bishop's Island with Fort Manoel (TNA MFQ 1/220).
Fort Manoel
Fort Manoel.

Fort Manoel is situated in the Quarantine Harbour. It was built on a square, the western side of which was formed by a range of buildings containing officer's quarters, a ball alley, and a chapel, (St Anthony of Padua), which was also used as a school room. Two detached blocks with rooms for the troops were at right angles to the chapel, and bound the other two sides of the square.

The rooms in the blocks were on two floors. The upper quarters were reached by stairs from the rooms below. There were neither fire places nor stoves to keep the rooms dry and warm. There was no gas lighting; the men had to make do with oil lamps. Behind the officer's quarters were a row of casemates constructed against the works and occupied as quarters by the soldiers. These rooms allowed light only through their doors and windows placed at the further end. They were rather dark and gloomy. An ablution room was fitted out as a temporary arrangement in one of the casemates which was previously an arched passage leading out of the fort.

Fort Manoel had very limited accommodation for married soldiers. The men received lodging money, which was inadequate to procure good quarters. Many of the married men were quartered in wooden huts on one of the outworks, at a considerable distance from the fort. As Fort Manoel had no baths, bathing parades were held twice weekly during the summer months to keep the men clean.

Sick Returns 52nd Regiment – 1 January to 31 December 1870
Month Strength 1st day of the month Hospital
Admissions
Total
Deaths
Table 3: Regimental strength on the first day of the month, showing number of admissions to hospital per month, and the number of deaths recorded. (TNA:WO 334/77)
January 704 40 0
February 685 50 0
March 685 50 0
April 685 65 1
May 678 63 1
June 669 61 1
July 669 62 0
August 669 68 0
September 669 54 0
October 669 50 0
November 655 35 0
December 654 39 2

In 1870 there were on average 674 NCOs and men, with 637 admissions (945/1000 mean strength) and five deaths in hospital and 1 among the invalids (8.9/1000 mean strength). The average daily sick was 37.98 men. The decrease in the number of sick, as compared to 1869, was due to 36 invalids returning to England, and to a degree of immunity acquired after a first infection on the island. Sick and weak men who had swelled the numbers in hospital the previous year were invalided home and no longer appeared in the local statistics. A certain degree of immunity was acquired after an attack of Sandfly Fever; only 20 per cent of cases relapsed after a second year of residence in an endemic area.

Fort Ricasoli
Fort Ricasoli
Fort Ricasoli
Plan of Fort Ricasoli (TNA:MPH 1/889).

The men were engaged in monotonous routine garrison duties. They alleviated their boredom by drinking to excess. Soldiers went down with fever, predominantly of the simple uncomplicated type known as Maltese Fever or Febricula. This was later thought to be Sandfly fever. There were 108 cases of Febricula during 1870.

Brucellosis was also common, though not diagnosed as such. Most soldiers presented with the rheumatic sequelae of Brucellosis. The regimental surgeon noted that there were a large number of cases of rheumatism, that so commonly followed an attack of fever. Pure acute rheumatism without a previous febrile attack being almost unknown.

Tape worm was common and was successfully treated with a dose of castor oil at night, and a dose of oil of Male Fern in the morning.

There were on average about 68 women in the regiment. Twenty-nine women were admitted to hospital during the year. There were 82 children with the regiment. Fifty-five children were admitted to hospital. Of these 16 died from: Simple Continued Fever (1†), Scrofula (1†), Convulsions (2†), Laryngitis (1†), Bronchitis (1†), Diarrhoea (3†), Teething (5†), Stillbirth (1†), Premature birth (1†).

There was a great deal of sickness among officers, who were generally nursed in their own quarters by their soldier servant. Three officers were invalided back to England. Two very sick officers from Fort Verdala were admitted to the Naval Hospital through the generosity of the naval Deputy Inspector General, as there were no suitable sick quarters for them.

When the 52nd Foot occupied Fort Verdala, it opened its regimental hospital at The Upper Vittoriosa Hospital, (the former Armeria). On moving to Fort Manoel, the sick were conveyed by boat and by a spring wagon ambulance to the Long Ward in the General Hospital Valletta.

The following soldiers died in 1870:

  • Pte J. Bedenham, aged 20 years died on 29 April 1870 from Simple Continued Fever. He had served for only two years and had been employed as a hospital orderly. He was admitted with diarrhoea and pneumonia, became delirious 16 days after falling ill, and died on the 20th day of his illness. A postmortem examination showed normal lungs and normal bowels but a large spleen.
  • CSgt F. N. Madden, aged 35 years died on 31 May 1870 from hepatitis. He had served for 16 years, eleven of which were in India. He was admitted to hospital in May with acute hepatitis, jaundice, vomiting and diarrhoea.
  • Pte N. Nelson, aged 20 years died on 5 June 1870 from Simple Continued Fever. He had served for just two years. He was admitted in May with severe headaches, nasal bleeding, and delirium. He died 22 days after admission. A postmortem examination revealed tuberculosis of his lungs.
  • Pte T. Fishenden, aged 24 years died on 28 December 1870 from concussion of the brain (suicide). He had served for six years. He was employed as a signal man at a small station some distance from Valletta. He complained that he was being persecuted and jumped out of a small window in the signal station, a height of 40 feet. He died seven hours later without ever regaining consciousness. A postmortem examination showed a brain haemorrhage and a fractured pelvis.
  • Pte J. Bonnen, aged 23 years died on 28 December 1870 from Simple Continued Fever. He had served for four years. In November he was admitted to the regimental hospital with fever complicated by bronchitis and pneumonia. He developed acute pericarditis and never recovered from his illness. A postmortem examination revealed an enlarged liver, fluid in the pericardial cavity with pneumonia and left apical lung tuberculosis.

1871 52nd (Oxfordshire Light Infantry)

The 52nd Regiment had an average strength of 654 men. There were 537 admissions into hospital (821/1000 mean strength), with 4 deaths in hospital, 2 out of hospital and 1 among the invalids (10.70/1000 mean strength).

The 52nd Foot was quartered at Manoel Island and Pembroke Camp.

1872 52nd (Oxfordshire Light Infantry)

In 1872, the 52nd had an average strength of 670 men. It had 565 admissions (843/1000 mean strength) into hospital with 3 deaths in hospital and 1 out of hospital and 1 among the invalids (7.46/1000 mean strength).

Its average strength from 30 June to 30 September was 692 men. During this third quarter of the year when fevers were prevalent, the regiment had a total of 115 hospital admissions with 2 deaths. It had: 1 case of cerebro-spinal fever, 2 of enteric fever, 60 of simple continued fevers with 2 deaths and 52 of febricula. Taenia solium was also common, accounting for 28 admissions to hospital.

The 52nd Foot was at Fort Manoel and Pembroke Barracks until 16 May, afterwards at Lower St Elmo Barracks.

1873 52nd (Oxfordshire Light Infantry)

In 1873, the 52nd had an average strength of 229 men. It had 146 admissions (637.5/1000 mean strength) into hospital with 1 death (4.37/1000 mean strength).

Malta 3 May 1873 The 52nd Foot was at Lower St Elmo Barracks. It embarked for Gibraltar where it arrived on 9 May 1873. It was replaced by the 71st Regiment from Gibraltar.

References

  1. Farmer, J. S., 1984. The regimental records of the British Army Reprint Edition, Trowbridge, Wiltshire: Crecy Books.
  2. Edwards, T. J., 1980. Regimental Badges First Edition, Tonbridge, Kent: Ernest Benn Ltd.
  3. Wickes, H. L, 1974. Regiments of Foot Southampton Osprey Ltd, 14.
  4. TNA:WO 379/11. Stations of Regiments 1859–1900.
  5. TNA:WO 334/62, Army Medical Department Sick Returns and Reports, Infantry Regiments and Hospitals abroad (1 Jan 1869 – 31 July 1870).
  6. TNA:WO 334/77, Army Medical Department Sick Returns and Reports, Infantry Regiments and Hospitals abroad (1 Jan 1870 – 31 Dec 1870).