A History Lesson: Family Legend

Week 2: #52Ancestors52Weeks – Family Legend

I am researching deeper into the life of Charles Harry Cutting, my maternal great grandfather, as part of the 52 ancestors in 52 weeks project, guided by Amy Johnson Crow.

My great grandfather Charles Harry Cutting was granted the Freedom of the City of London in 1900 for his contributions to the London Imperial Volunteers. We are immensely proud of him and consider him to be our Family Legend.

Historically, Freedom papers go back to royal charters granted for the privilege to market, trade, or conduct business. Livery Companies (which originated in guilds) are associations of craftsmen whose members can earn Freemen status and who regulated their trade by controlling wages, labor conditions, and admission by apprenticeship. When an individual is granted Freedom papers they are made “Free of the City of London.”

Freedom admissions papers, 1681 – 1925. London, England: London Metropolitan Archives. COL/CHD/FR/02.
Framed Copy of Original Freedom of the City of London 1900

My question was ‘What did Charles do to earn him this prestigious award?

The answer was in the wording of the certificate itself; on closer inspection and after transcribing the written text I had my answer; he was one of the Imperial Volunteers.

The City of London Imperial Volunteers (CIV) was a British corps of volunteers during the Second Boer War. Wikipedia.

Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/City_of_London_Imperial_Volunteers

I needed to understand more about the Boer Wars and did further research to find out what battles happened in December 1899. The reason for the significance of that date was the date displayed in the left hand column, just above the Royal Isignia – 20th December 1899. Something must have initiated the call to arms for further volunteers. When I read about the battles I was reminded of the bravery of those men who served under their commanding officers – often blindly and unquestioningly – and their sacrifices for their Queen and England.

Charles enlisted in the 3rd Battalion East Surrey Regiment and was among the many patriots who were transported to South Africa aboard the ship Idaho on 5th June 1901. He would have needed training and much of that would have taken place at the Kingston-on-Thames Barracks.

Charles was one of a tight-knit band of brothers who had close connections with the towns and villages of their county. According to reports at the Queens Royal Surrey Regiment site, there were horrendous casualties from the Second Boer War. “The Queen’s lost 7399 officers, NCOs and men killed.” My great grandfather was one of the lucky ones who survived and returned to his home town in Kingston-on-Thames, Surrey. He was aged 66 at the time of his service as an Imperial Volunteer.

Charles Harry Cutting of “The City of London Volunteers” was admitted into the Freedom aforesaid and made the Declaration required by Law in the Mayoraty of Alfred James Newton Esquire Mayor and Sir William James Richmond Cotton Knt. Chamberlain and is entered in the book signed with Letter M1 relating to the Purchasing of Freedoms and the Admissions of Freemen (to wit) the 17th day of January in the 63rd year of the reign of Queen Victoria. And in the year of our Lord 1900 In Witness whereof the seal of the Office of Chamberlain of the said City is hereunto affixed Dated in the Chamber of the Guildhall of the same City the day and Year abovesaid.


Charles would have been involved in the battles as one of the ‘imperial volunteers’ and it was for his contribution to the success of the British in overcoming the Boers with superior weaponry and military tactics, that he earns his place in history as a hero.

In a disastrous week during the second Boer War, dubbed Black Week, from 10–17 December 1899, the British Army suffered three devastating defeats by the Boer Republics at the battles of StormbergMagersfontein and Colenso, with a total of 2,776 men killed, wounded and captured. …


With new, modernized troops came new tactics; only a few months after Black Week, one of the main British cavalry divisions led a flanking march that ended with a victory.[3] Besides equipping the cavalry with rapid-firing rifles instead of lances, the new British military doctrine also started using artillery as a defensive unit of the army, and saw innovation in the use of machine guns.[4]

These new volunteers served as a “new face, untainted by defeat and accusations of defeatism…to breathe life back into the campaigns and restore hope at home.”[5] Other changes enacted by the British immediately following the Black Week disaster were the mobilization of two more divisions, the calling up of the army reserves, raising a force of mounted infantry for better mobility, and most importantly by sending volunteers from home overseas which added more than one hundred thousand additional troops by the end of the war


The second strand of public reaction was enthusiasm for the war. Tens of thousands of men tried to volunteer, and on 18 December the government relented, allowing twelve battalions of militia and 20,000 members of the yeomanry to go to South Africa. Amongst the units formed at this time was the City of London Imperial Volunteers, a unit of 1,550 men raised in under two months. A similar wave of enthusiasm swept Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

Rickard, J (20 February 2007), Black Week, 10-17 December 1899, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/concepts_black_week.html

Charles Harry Cutting was one of those 1550 men in the London Imperial Volunteers. I began a search for him for the investure of the Freedom of the City of London, in the London Gazette, to no avail. However, it was of interest to read through the reports from Sir Redvers Bullers, and to note the details of the daily activities on the battle front – especially in the siege of Ladysmith (a town in Natal, South Africa) in the 26 January edition of the London Gazette.

Buller’s decisions at Ladysmith caused him to be sacked and replaced with Lord Roberts. It was the end of a career for the man the press dubbed “Sir Reverse” Buller.


My thoughts were, ‘okay I cannot find him mentioned in the Gazette, what about the Times’! And with a little bit of creative research I found him listed in the Times article of 18 January 1900.

C. Cutting – middle column half way down.

Whilst searching further for information about his time with the East Surrey Regiment, my google image searches were fruitful.

City Imperial Volunteers on Parade
Theuniform of the Imperial Volunteers 1900

Charles Harry Cutting was born in Thuxton, Hampshire in 1835 and lived to the age of 87. His voluntary military service, in his later years, makes him a hero in my eyes. He is worthy of his title of Family Legend.

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