b. 06/02/1826 Cupar, Scotland. d. 18/09/1887 St Andrews, Scotland.
Robert Hope Moncrieff Aitken (1826-1887) was born on the 14th April 1826, the son of J. Aitken from Cupar, Fife, Scotland. He went to India in 1847, and entered the Honourable Company’s 13th Regiment of the Bengal Native Infantry as an Ensign. He then served in the Punjab Campaign of 1848-1849. He was present at the action of Ramnugger, at the passage of the Chenab, the Battle of Goojerat, and with the column which, under Major General Sir Walter Gilbert, pursued the Sikh and Afghan Army, earning the campaign medal and clasp.
He served with the 13th Regiment in the Santhal Rebellion of 1855, and, assisted by Lieutenant Loughnan, personally took prisoner Koulea, a Santhal chief for whose capture a reward of 5,000 was offered. The reward was not paid to the captors on the grounds that the soldiers were not entitled to it however. Lieutenant Aitken served throughout the Indian Mutiny in 1857-58. He was heavily involved in the defence of the Residency of Lucknow between 30th June and 22nd November 1857. During this period, Aitken performed not one, but five separate acts of gallantry that were included in his citation for the Victoria Cross (London Gazette, 17th April 1863).
Firstly, on three separate occasions, he entered the gardens under the enemy’s loopholes in the Captain’s Bazaar. On two of these occasions, he brought out a number of bullocks which had been left in the garden. Subsequently, on the 3rd July 1857, the enemy had set fire to the Bhoosa Stock in the garden, and the fire was rapidly approaching the powder magazine. Aitken went into the garden and cut down all the tents, which may have helped the fire. This was all done close to the enemy’s loopholes, under a bright light of the flames. Secondly, on the night of 20th August 1857, the enemy had set fire to the Baillie Guard Gate. Aitken was first on the scene, and assisted by some Sepoys and a water carrier of his Regiment, he partially opened the gate under a heavy fire of musketry, and removed the burning wood and straw, and saved the gate.
Thirdly, on the evening of the 25th September 1857, Aitken led a group of 12 sepoys of his regiment for the purpose of attacking two enemy guns opposite the Baillie Guard Gate, to help stop these guns being used against Major General Havelock’s 2nd Column. Having captured the guns, Aitken led his small group and took Teree Kotee. Fourthly, on the morning of 26th September 1857, he assaulted and captured the barricaded gateway of the Fureed Buksh Palace and the Palace itself. On this occasion, he sprang up against a small wicket-gate on the right, and prevented the enemy from shutting it, until, with help, it was forced open and the assaulting party were thus able to rush in. Finally, in a sortie on 29th September 1857, he volunteered to take a gun which still continued firing, taking with him four men through the houses and lanes to the gun. The enemy fired upon Aitken’s group from the houses, but they held their ground until, a stronger party arrived, and the gun was upset from its carriage and taken into the Residency. Another gun was later taken.
Aitken was presented with his VC in the ruins of the Lucknow Residency in May 1865 by the Commander-in-Chief of India, Sir Hugh Rose. In 1871, the now Colonel Aitken was recommended for the Companion of Bath by Lord Napier, GCB, Commander in Chief of the Indian Army, and by Lord Mayo, GCB, Governor-General of India. Colonel Aitken retired from the Indian Army and retired to Scotland.
He settled in St Andrews where he died on 18th September 1887 aged 61. Aitken was buried in St Andrews Cathedral and Priory Cemetery. His original VC sent to India for presentation was lost, a replacement was sent. Then , in 1900, the original VC turned up at auction, having been bought in Simla, India in 1874. The War Office intervened and the medal was surrendered as property of the Crown. Aitken’s medals are now held by the National Army Museum, Chelsea.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: NATIONAL ARMY MUSEUM, CHELSEA, LONDON.
BURIAL PLACE: EASTERN CEMETERY, ST ANDREWS, FIFE, SCOTLAND.
Aitken VC memorial in Lucknow