Sporting achievements in 1895, included the invention of volleyball in Massachusetts and the first Rugby League game in England; however, in India, the Durand Cup football competition had been around for seven years. And, it was in 1895 that The Highland Light Infantry (HLI) won the tournament for the fifth time – three times in succession – so retaining the trophy, currently on loan to the FIFA World Football Museum in Zurich.
In the back row of the photograph of the victorious team is one Private Charles Thomas Kennedy, born in Edinburgh, who had enlisted in the HLI in 1891 and was sent to India in 1894. After completing seven years’ service, Charles returned to Scotland and civilian life – and, his prowess as a half-back might well have remained his only claim to fame – had he not been recalled to active service a year later to fight with the 1st Battalion in the Second Boer War in South Africa.
On 22 November 1900, his company was guarding the town of Dewetsodorp, when Charles, aged 27 years, carried a comrade, who had been seriously wounded and was bleeding to death from Gibraltar Hill to the hospital (about three-quarters of a mile) under “a very hot fire”. The following day, having carried several messages through heavy enemy fire, Charles volunteered for another mission, but was shot and so severely wounded that when the garrison surrendered, he was not captured but left for dead.
For his courageous actions, Charles was awarded the Victoria Cross by King Edward VII at St James’s Palace in December 1901. Sadly, his wounds were such that he had to retire once more from active service and returned to his native Edinburgh.
However, in April 1907, Charles’s fame was further enhanced when he died trying to stop a runaway horse and carriage in the streets of Edinburgh. It was reported that his hero’s funeral at Murchiston Cemetery was attended by thousands of people.
Interestingly, this is not the end of the story: Charles’s grave was unmarked and forgotten until the late 1970s, when it was located through the dedicated research of his great-nephew. Kenneth Davy. With the help of the Regiment, Charles’s grave is now marked with a suitable gravestone and the Museum is proud to have custody of his Victoria Cross – the enduring reminder of the tremendous courage of Private Charles Thomas Kennedy VC – hero and footballer of The Highland Light Infantry!