“But to stand an’ be still to the Birken’ead drill is a damn tough bullet to chew,”
Kipling’s poem, “Soldier an’ Sailor too” commemorates the sinking of HMS Birkenhead on 28 February 1852; and the courage of the men who were perished so that the women and children might be saved. It was the first recorded incidence of “Women & Children First” or The Birkenhead Drill.
On 5 March 2014, a memorial was unveiled to the memory of those who gave their lives aboard HMS Birkenhead at Woodside promenade, Birkenhead, by the Lord Lieutenant of Merseyside and the Mayor of the Wirral.
The memorial consists of three steel panels and is surrounded by pebbles from Gansbaai beach where the few survivors managed to swim ashore. Jemma Twigg, 18 years old, of Birkenhead Sixth Form College, planned the winning design from a competition among local art colleges; and the memorial was created by Cammell Laird apprentices paid for by the company, which is the successor the original troopship’s builder, John Laird.
Among the representatives from the Armed Forces who laid wreaths, were members of The Highland Light Infantry Association, the successor regiment of The 74th Highlanders.
HMS Birkenhead, carrying reinforcements for the Kaffir War in South Africa, struck rocks off the coast of Simonstown and sank 25 minutes later. Colonel Seton, ordered his men of The 74th Highlanders and other regiments to stand fast so that the women & children could use the available boats – out of a company of 631 on board the ship, only 193 (including all the women & children) were saved.
The full story of HMS Birkenhead and the courage of Colonel Seton and his men can be found below in Our Story.