Sir Baker Creed Russell
13th Hussars

B-P’s first Commanding Officer,
Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Baker Creed Russell,
13th Hussars.

C. R. B. Barrett, History of the XIII Hussars, 1911

Baden-Powell writes about Sir Baker Russell:

"Sir Baker Russell used to say that the duty of cavalry
was to look smart in time of peace and to get killed in war."

Sir Baker Russell, who was a Major in the 13th Hussars soon after I joined, and later became our Colonel, had made a great name for himself as a fighting man, both in the Mutiny, where he began as a Cornet of the Carabineers, and afterwards in Canada, in Ashanti, and in the Egyptian Campaign. Of a very striking and commanding figure, with a strong, determined face and a tremendous voice, he was the beau ideal of a fighting leader. Personally I know that if he had ordered me to walk over a cliff or into a fire I would have done so without hesitation, and I believe that officers and men would have followed him anywhere. He had a magnetic attraction which would have led men to do anything that he commanded. He had a fierce exterior, but a warm and kindly heart beneath it, and I never knew a better friend. He used to say of himself that up till twelve in the morning he was a devil, after which he was an angel. This was very true, except that the temper of the devil was short and quick and not malignant.

On one occasion we arrived wet and weary at a camp-ground where the commissariat officer of the district was supposed to have arranged to have a camp all ready pitched for us, with rations and forage prepared also. But when we got there we found no preparation of any kind for our arrival, and we had to make the best of it under the circumstances. Next day, when we were trying dry our clothes in the wind, and were making some sort of arrangements for feeding the men and grazing the horses pending the arrival of supplies, one of our men fell dead in a fit. The Colonel was not slow to make capital of this, and he telegraphed to the General of the district expressing his opinion of the want of organization in the place, and in alluding to the hardships which men and horses were suffering he pointed out that already one man was dead of exposure.

Within a few hours a young gentleman in plain clothes strolled into our camp and went jauntily up to the Colonel, asked him how he was, and then said that he was a commissariat officer and had come to see how we were getting on. The Colonel replied he was getting on very nicely, thank you, and so was the regiment and were grateful for his kind enquiries. "You, sir, are only a civilian, that is evident by your dress, but by G–! if the commissariat officer should ever dare to show his d—- nose within a mile of my camp, I should have him in arrest and shoved in the guard-room, not only as incompetent and unfit to be an officer, but as little better than a murderer. If, as you say, you are a commissariat officer, go back to your quarters, put on your uniform at once, consider yourself under arrest, and come back here and tell me why the h— , etc., etc."

On parade, if his feelings got the better of him, over some error or stupidity on the part of an officer, he would look at him for a moment with withering glance, then invariably he would jam his helmet down on his head and ride for that officer as hard as he could go. If he had collided the results would have been disastrous to the man charged. It was therefore usual either to meet him or to evade him. On one occasion I remember well his suddenly going for my comrade, "Ding" MacDougal, at full gallop. When he was within a yard of that unfortunate officer, MacDougal jammed one spur into his horse and made it leap to one side, which resulted in the Colonel missing him completely and charging into the ranks behind him. Here he knocked over a man, Corporal Bower, and his horse, heavily shaking up the poor unfortunate rider. In a moment the Colonel was off his horse, supporting the Corporal across his knee and saying: "My poor, dear man, I am sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you." Feeling rather pleased that his charge had not been altogether without success, he had lost his rage and, turning round (I can see him now), he shook his fist good humouredly at MacDougal, saying: "Ding, you devil, why did you get out of the way?"

Riding down a delinquent.

Ding explained to him later, during lunch, that he had become so accustomed to seeing a boar coming at him in just the same way (and Sir Baker, with his huge moustache and eager rush, was not altogether unlike the vision of a boar with his tushes charging towards one) that he had merely dodged him from sheer force of habit, to save himself and horse.

Sir Baker Russell was not an orthodox colonel. He was in no way guided by the drill book, and knew little and cared less for the prescribed words of command; but he had a soldier’s eye for the country and for where his men ought to be in a fight, and he led them there by his own direction rather than by formal formations as laid down in the book.

On one occasion we were inspected by a General whose life had been passed at infantry work. Sir Baker hoped, in making the regiment march past, to impress him by its steadiness. Therefore when it came to our galloping by in a succession of squadrons he meant us to go at a steady canter, each squadron in rigid formation. So he turned to his trumpeter and cried: "Sound the canter." Well, there is no trumpet call laid down for the canter, and the trumpeter therefore sounded the next best to it, which was the gallop. We in the regiment, anxious to make a good show, pressed forward at once at a sharp gallop. The Colonel, seeing this from his post alongside the General, shouted to his trumpeter, " Sound the canter ! " The trumpeter again sounded the gallop. Hearing the gallop repeated we imagined that it meant we were not going fast enough, and therefore we just let ourselves go, and by the time we reached the saluting point opposite the General and Sir Baker, the whole regiment was a rushing tornado of men and horses in a whirl of dust, and we dashed past in a dense, confused mob. The Colonel, however, was not at a loss, and turned to the General with a well-assumed smile, and puffing out his chest, said: "There, sir! You never saw a regiment gallop past like that before. That is something like." The General, being completely ignorant on the subject, took his cue from the Colonel and said: "No, that is splendid; I never saw anything so good in my life," and reported upon it accordingly.

Sir Baker was beloved of the men. The regiment, being the 13th Hussars, was nicknamed "The Baker’s Dozen." He practiced many things which in those days were looked upon as heresy, but are recognized to-day as producing the highest efficiency, that is, regard for and development of the human side and the individuality of the men themselves. Thus when we paraded for a field-day we generally did so at a rendezvous some two or three miles from barracks, and each man made his own way to the spot individually, instead of being marched there, and one of the standing orders in the regiment was this: "It is as great a crime for a hussar to be before his time as after it." This entailed strict punctuality on the part of the men in being at the appointed place at the appointed time. They had to judge for themselves how long it would take them to get there without hustling their horses, and they took their own line of country and used their own senses in arriving at the place properly and up to time.

On one occasion the Colonel had to lecture one of his men for some minor misbehaviour. The man was a splendid type of old soldier, a wonderful boxer, swordsman, rider, and marksman, but he was very fond of his mug of ale. When he was brought up for having had a drop too much, the Colonel remarked to him: "My good man, I only wish I could drink as much as you do and keep as good a nerve. Tell me how you manage it and I will let you off." Ben Hagan, for that was the fellow’s name, explained his secret. It was to fill a hand-basin with beer every night before turning in and to pace it underneath his bed. Then his first act on waking in the morning was to pour it down his throat. He believed that the only way to preserve health and nerve was to take big doses of really stale beer the first thing in the morning.

That idea of Sir Baker Russell’s of letting men make their own way to parade, etc., was acted upon by me in after years by making it imperative for every man to go a ride by himself of about one hundred and twenty miles, and to take a week in doing it. This tended to make men self-reliant, reliable, intelligent, and smart. At first it was feared that many of them, finding themselves away from all regimental restraint, would break out and make an orgy of it; but I have never heard a single complaint of the men on this head. They knew they were trusted to carry out this duty of riding off to report on some distant object, whether a railway station, a bridge, or a piece of country, and they took a pride in themselves and their horses while away, because they knew that the good name of the regiment was in their hands. We found it in practice the very best reformer for a stupid man that could be devised. He had no one to lean upon for advice or direction, he merely had his plain, simple orders, which he had to exercise his intelligence in carrying out.

Joseph Chamberlain and the policeman.

This same practice I carried out also with the South African Constabulary after the Boer War. The men were generally sent out in pairs on long patrols of two to three hundred miles: but if a man were really a stupid fellow he was sent out alone. I remember well, when conducting Mr. Joseph Chamberlain on trek through the Transvaal, that we saw a solitary constable riding across the veldt. Mr. Chamberlain asked me what might be the duty of such a man, and I replied that he was probably a stupid man sent out to develop his own intelligence. We signaled the man to us and on enquiry we found that it was so. He had been ordered on a three hundred miles ride to pick up information at various spots, but with strict orders that he was not to have the help of any other constable.

From Baden-Powell, Indian Memories, 1915

"… Sir Baker Russell gave responsibility and trusted his officers. Also gifted with quick intuition he made quick decisions and, whether right or wrong, carried them through with a bang…."

From: Baden-Powell, Lessons from the Varsity of Life, 1933


  Baden-Powell with Major Baker Russell and officers of the his regiment, the 13th Hussars, on post in India after a day of pigsticking.

Sir Baker Russell’s military career is summarized in the History of The XIII. Hussars:

Cornet, 6th Dragoon Guards, 2nd 1855;
Lieutenant, do., 1st August 1856;
Captain, unattached, 18th February 1859;
do., 7th Foot, 25th March 1859;
do., 13th Hussars, 3rd October 1862
Brevet Major, 24th January 1865;
Major, 13th Hussars, 15th July 1878;
Brevet Lieut.-Colonel, 13th Hussars, 1st April 1874;
Lieut.-Colonel, 13th Hussars, 29th September 1880;
Brevet Colonel (army), 18th February 1880;
Major General, 1st April 1889;
Lieut.-General, 20th January 1897;
General, 19th December 1903;
Colonel, 13th Hussars, 20th January 1894.

INDIAN MUTINY. On the outbreak of the mutiny, Sir Baker Creed Russell was at Meerut with the 6th Dragoon Guards. He was at Kurnaul when Colonel Gerrard was killed. Was with Seaton’s Movable Column at the battle of Gungaree, where on the death of his three senior officers he commanded the squadron and a detachment of the 8th Lancers. On December 17, 1857, he commanded the cavalry at Putteali (mentioned in dispatches) Commanded the cavalry at Mynpooree, and was present at the capture of Bareilly; present at relief of Bareilly; relief of Shahjehanpore; capture of the Fort of Remai and pursuit with destruction of the Fort of Mabundee, the action of Bunkagaon, the operations in Oude, actions of Mohudepore and Russoolpore, attack and capture of Fort Mitoulee, actions of Alligunge and Biswa, and served with the Agra Field Force in Central India in pursuit of Tantia Topee (medal with clasp).

FIRST ASHANTI WAR. At the Gold Coast with Sir Garnet Wolseley in September 1873 on special service. Organised the native " Russell’s Regiment," and commanded it throughout the Ashanti War of 1873-74. Commanded the defending forces during the repulse of the Ashanti army at Absakampra on November 5 and 6. His regiment, with Lord Gifford’s Scouts, formed the advance-guard of the army from the river Prah to the north-side of the Adansi Hills. Commanded the regiment now forming part of the advance-guard (augmented) under Colonel McLeod at the attack and capture of Adubrassie, the battle of Amoaful, the attack and capture of Becquah, the advance-guard engagement of Jarbinbah, and the skirmishes and ambuscade affairs between Adwabin and the river Ordah, the battle of Ordahsu and capture of Coomassie (mentioned in dispatches several times, Brevet of Lieut-Colonel, Companion of the Bath, medal with clasp).

ZULU WAR. In 1879 accompanied Sir Garnet Wolseley to South Africa and commanded the forces in the operations against Sekukuni, the storming of the stronghold and subjugation of the tribe (mentioned in dispatches K.C.M.G., A.D.C. to the Queen, medal with clasp).

EGYPTIAN WAR. Served in the Egyptian War of 1882, first as A.A.G. for Cavalry and afterwards in command of a Brigade of Cavalry; present at El Magfar and Tel-el-Mahuta, the two actions at Kassassin, the battle of Tel-el-Kebir and the capture of Cairo (mentioned in dispatches K.C.B., medal with clasp, 2nd class of Medjidie, and Khedive’s star).

C. R. B. Barrett, History of The XIII. Hussars, William Blackwood and Sons, Edinburgh and London, 1911

SUBSEQUENT CAREER. Appointed Colonel of the 13th Hussars on 20th January 1894 with the rank of Major-General. Promoted to General in 1903.

From: Stephen Luscombe, Sir Baker Creed Russell. British Empire Website

B-P’s first Commanding Officer, Sir Baker Creed Russell, 13th Hussars. He had a distinguished career, serving in the Indian Mutiny, the 1st Ashanti War, the Zulu War, the Egyptian War, and the South African War. Stephen Luscombe’s "The British Empire" provides a short biography of Russell including details of his miltary service.
Sir Baker Russell was Commanding Officer of the 13th Hussars when B-P was posted to the regiment in India. The 13th were a cavalry regiment with a long tradition, perhaps best known for their part in the Charge of the Light Brigade before the guns at Balaclava in the Crimean War. The regiment continues today as part of The Light Dragoons, an armored regiment of the British Army that saw service in Desert Storm.
It was at the Siege and Defense of Mafeking during the South African (Anglo-Boer) War that Baden-Powell made his name and first gained public recognition. 1999-1902 marks the Centennial of the War. Developed as part of that observance, Perspectives on the South African War provides a collection of links to original and contemporary sources on the South African War.
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