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PROJECT ONE - Orders, Decorations and Medals relating to Sri Lanka (Ceylon)
from 1795 to the present.

A sample biography from the Miscellaneous Medals section

John Fraser, 24th Foot and the 1st Ceylon Regt.

Lt., Royal East Middlesex Militia under the command of Lt.Col. Wood, 1807-1809; Ensign, 24th Foot 19.4.1809; Lt. 12.9.1811; Capt., 1st Ceylon Regt, 28.1.1813; Brevet-Major 31.10.1818; Major 21.6.1821, Bt.Lt.Col. 24.5.1827; Col. 23.11.1841; Maj.Gen. 20.6.1854; Col., 37th Foot 11.1.1858; Lt.Gen. 17.10.1859.

Served in the Peninsula with the 24th Foot from June 1809 to June 1813, including the action of Foz d'Arouce, Battle of Busaco, Battle of Fuentes d'Onor on the 3rd and 5th May 1811, the siege of Cuidad Rodrigo, covering the siege of Badajos, Battle of Salamanca, capture of Madrid, and the siege of Burgos.

The first assault of Burgos took place at nightfall on the 19th Sept 1812 and Lt Fraser was employed with the Light Company of the 24th Foot, under the command of Major the Hon'ble. E. C. Cocks of the 79th Regiment, they were directed to attack the rear of the Horn work. The assault on the Horn work was unsuccessful and the 24th lost in this affair, five rank and file killed and sixteen wounded. On the afternoon of the 4th Oct, the 2nd Battalion 24th Foot were marched into the trenches, where they were organized into two storming parties, one hundred & forty men were detailed for the assault on the main breach led by Lt. Stephen Holmes and 58 men for the breach expected to be made by the mine, Lt. John Fraser volunteered to lead this party. The attack was to be delivered in daylight and many officers of other regiments managed to find their way to the hill to witness the assault, Wellington himself being one of those present. At 5 p.m. the signal for the explosion was given by Col. Jones, the engineer in charge, the mine exploded and simultaneously the 24th Foot dashed forward.

The party who made for the new breach made by the mine, led by Lt. John Fraser, were there so soon that many were hit by the falling stones and all were covered with dust and fragments. This did not stop them, and before the surprised enemy could offer much resistance they were up and over the breach. Many of the French defenders had been killed and directly Captain Lepper and the supports joined Lt Fraser's stormers the breach was secured and the attackers started to consolidate. The main body had a harder task, they had farther to go and here the defenders had not been shaken by the explosion from the mine. But, headed by Lt. Holmes they swarmed up the breach where a savage struggle followed. The 2nd Battalion 24th Foot maintained themselves in the captured position until nightfall and were then relieved.

On reaching their camp they found it thronged with officers who had come to offer their congratulations. The storm had cost the 24th Foot twelve men killed, two officers, Captain Coote and Lt. Stack, and 56 men wounded.

On the recommendation of Lord Wellington, Lt. John Fraser was promoted to captain in the 1st Ceylon Light Infantry, as a result of his gallant services at Burgos.

At the end of June 1813 Capt. Fraser returned from Spain to England and was admitted on the 9th Oct 1813 to the Senior Department of the Royal Military College at Farnham, where he studied for two years and passed his examination on the 27th Nov 1815 obtaining a First Certificate of Qualification. This Certificate procured for him on arrival in Ceylon in 1816 of being placed on the General Staff by Sir Robert Brownrigg as his A.D.C and subsequently served on the Staff as a Deputy Assistant Quarter Master General and he was employed in this position throughout the whole of the Kandyan war in 1817 and 1818, for his services in the latter war he was rewarded with a Brevet Majority on the 31.10.1818 (details of his services during the Kandyan Wars can be found in the book "The Great Rebellion of 1818" by T. Vimalananda, 1970). For his ferocity in during the rebellion, he earned the nickname 'Cheetah' (or 'Kotiya' in Sinhalese) from the natives. Loss of health from exposure to the climate of Ceylon compelled him to visit the Cape of Good Hope in the spring of 1821 to recuperate and later on that year on 21st June, he purchased a Regimental Majority in the 1st Ceylon Regiment for 1100.00 Pounds.

By 1825 he found himself financially embarrassed and was grateful to accept the post with an increased income in charge of the Commissariat Department offered to him by Sir Robert Brownrigg, as Commissary General, although he states in a letter written at Colombo on 13th Nov 1826 "Knowing however that this is not a department to promote my professional vigors, under the increasing anxiety of that reflection which I have not failed to express to Sir Edward Barnes." However in a letter written by Lt.Col. Henry Hardy (WO31 604) on the 7th May 1827 the then Deputy Quarter Master General in Ceylon, stated the he was desirous of resigning his Staff appointment and resuming Regimental life.

On 24th May 1827 Major Fraser was appointed Dep.Quar-Mast.-General and rewarded with a Brevet Lieutenant Colonelcy.

Major John Skinner CMG wrote in his Autobiography published in 1891 entitled "Fifty Years in Ceylon", "When visiting the Batticaloa district in May 1862, 1 received an express, informing me that my old friend and chief, General Fraser, was very seriously ill at Kandy, and of his urgent request that I should return immediately. I lost no time in obeying his summons; but my progress was limited by the inability of my travelling establishment to advance quickly.Day after day, fresh expresses reached me with bulletins of my friend's state. Before I reached Newera Eliya, however, to my great grief I received the sad tidings of his death, which occurred much sooner than was expected, and I had the mortification of hearing that during the last few days of his life he constantly inquired when I might be expected. He must have had a presentiment of his death, for during several previous months he always begged me not to go away, if I could avoid it, to any great distance from him. He was a splendid soldier, and probably one of the most accomplished general officers in the service. He had fought with the late Sir Charles Napier, was a great friend and correspondent of his, and not very unlike him in character. Instead of identifying himself so completely with Ceylon, had he returned to England after the completion of his famous satin-wood bridge at Peradeniya, his great abilities and soldier like qualities were such that they must have placed him in a position in his profession which, we all thought, would have led to a peerage. It is a drawback in the Colonial Service that an officer is tempted and beguiled to remain on, from year to year, until his interest in a new country, in which he is made useful, overcomes the ardour of his zeal for his profession, which he is thus often induced to leave."

He died a Lieutenant General and Colonel of the 37th Regiment, on 29th May 1862, at Kandy, where he had large estates.

Below is a photo of Fraser's Military General Service Medal with four clasps, Busaco, Fuentes D'Onor, Cuidad Rodrigo and Salamanca, awarded for his service in the Peninsular War, and the original box of issue. These items are in a Private Collection in UK.

1996 -2002, Charles Ameresekere. Content may not be copied by any form without the prior consent of the Author.