The Mortuary Cross

Along with my great friend David, as part of the Tunbridge Wells Project, we were privileged enough to be allowed to see inside, and photograph, the Mortuary Chapel underneath St. Barnabas Church. Whilst under there we were both drawn to the simple wooden cross hanging on the wall, upon further investigation there seems to be more to it than we first thought.

St. Barnabas Mortuary Chapel

The cross on the wall of the Mortuary Chapel. Click to go to the Project Gallery.

St. Barnabas was built in one of the poorer parts of town but it still attracted a few of the wealthier families to its services. One of these was the Ranking family, they were a medical family and many of them served in the Indian Army.

Captain James Ranking was serving in India with the East Lancashire Regiment and the 26th Punjab Infantry. His language skills whilst there enabled him to work with the Foreign Office in Bushire on the Persian Gulf. Persia wasn't offically involved in the First World War but had a lot of secret agents from both sides stationed there. One such agent was the German, Wilhelm Wassmuss. Wassmuss was attempting to provoke the British Army by stirring up anti-British feeling and laying the foundations of a revolt by forming an army of Tangistani warriors to fight against them.

Wassmuss's intention was to attack the vulnerable British Residency at Bushire which was only lightly defended by inexperienced Indian troops. The Tangistanis, several hundred strong, planned to attack from the East and South, taking the residency by surprise. However, on the morning of July 12th 1915, a Tangistani scouting party was seen advancing across the desert and a small British patrol was sent out to investigate, led by Major Oliphant and Captain Ranking.

St. Barnabas Mortuary Chapel

The crucifix watches over the Mortuary Chapel and Captain Ranking's cross. Click to go to the Project Gallery.

The patrol unfortunately ran into a far larger enemy force than they could cope with. In the ensuing battle Captain Ranking was mortally wounded and the major died in an attempt to save him. A few of their Indian colleagues survived to get back home to raise the alarm.

The Tangistani raid on Bushire lasted until September 1915 and ended in defeat, and Captain Ranking was buried in the Tehran War Cemetery in Iran.

What is rather special though is that the temporary wooden cross placed over his original burial plot was not destroyed when the permanent stone was erected. Instead, on the 25th May 1928, there was a citation to bring the cross back to England and place it in the Mortuary Chapel of St. Barnabas in his memory. And there it has remained ever since.

You can go and see it for yourself during Heritage Open Weekend this year from the 8th to the 11th of September, and I highly recommend you do, or you can click to see all 450+ photographs in the St. Barnabas Church gallery on the Project website.

4 Comments so far. Why not leave yours?

Fascinating


Thank you!

Can't expand the pic at present or access the gallery, but the cross looks like the original Imperial War Graves commission cross, which next of kin were entitled to have sent to them once it had been replaced by the permanent headstone. A pity Capt Ranking was unable to count on the help of the local Gendarmerie, but they were composed of pro-German Swedes (honestly).

Should remind us of the links between the current instability of that region and the Great War - the creation of Iraq being the major error in hindsight. The Germans (with Turkey as an ally) were keen to raise Jihad against the British Empire. Even sent a team of advisers to Afghanistan, disguised as a circus troupe!

Thanks for the comment, Paul, links are fixed now. Thanks for the interesting comment too. Much appreciated.

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  • I am a spritely 30-something living with my beautiful wife in the most fabulous town in the entire world, Royal Tunbridge Wells.

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