In February 1900, prior to his departure aged 26 to South Africa, the Sergeants and the 1st Cinque Ports Rifle Volunteers presented him with a watch. The presentation speech included : "there is no smarter volunteer in the Battalion than Sergeant Ross. (cheers). Sergeant Ross is always the same - he knows his duty, he knows how to enforce his position as a Sergeant, and knows the exact place he ought to take. If I were a Boer at 500 or 600 yards behind a rock, I should pray God I did not get Sergeant Ross in front of me (cheers) because I am quite certain that when I peeped from behind the rock he would very quickly take advantage of it." "At the end of the speech, the audience caught the infection of appreciation and spontaneously sang “For he’s a jolly good fellow” and the band played the music of the “Absent Minded Beggar” - of which, I am not familiar so don't know if this was complimentary or not !
"In local aquatic circles there is no more popular man to be found than Mr Percy Ross. As Vice-Captain of his rowing club and a senior oarsman, "P. T. R." has distinguished himself. Six feet high, broad and muscular, he should make an ideal soldier. Mr Ross was educated at the University School, and afterwards in Germany. As a black and white artist, he shows great talent, whilst as a versatile and accomplished writer he is locally renowned. Mr Ross served for some time the Isle of Wight Volunteers. Mr Ross has joined Mr T. Brassey's Sussex Troop" - the 69 Company (Sussex) 14th Battalion Imperial Yeomanry.
The blood of soldier runs in his veins. There are some few still living who have a personal recollection of his great grandfather the master gunner (week 28). Nor do his inherited patriotism and soldier like instincts end here. Mr Ross is an only son, and by his departure his widowed mother (Hannah W26) — whose uncle and brother were Army men (not researched) — will be left alone. But it is only a week or two since that, on my asking this estimable lady, who is known for her generous gifts to the local Museum, and her presentation to the town of a costly granite horse trough, whether she was not averse to her son's going, her reply was: " No; he is merely doing his duty, and if I were a young man I would do the same." While this spirit lives in old England, the Empire has nothing to fear."
At the departure from Hastings, "Mr Bill Brazier, the genial waterman, and father confessor of the Rowing Club, was very much in evidence to see the last of the “boys", as he termed it. Time after time he grasped the hand of Lance Corporal Percy Ross, and impressed upon him the necessity of getting back in time for the South Coast Regattas."
He reached the rank of Corporal although he was temporarily demoted for "shooting his horse without orders". His rank was reinstated after he tried to rescue, under fire, Lieutenant Stanley, an officer, who had been mortally wounded. It may have been for this action that he received the Distinguished Conduct Medal, but I haven't been able to find the citation. Another article subsequently explained what happened during the battle in September 1900:
"Mr P. T. Ross was the recipient last Saturday of a handsome oak chest, containing valuable silver articles, presented by Mr Edwin J. Stanley, M.P., as a token of appreciation of the ex-Corporal's services rendered at his gallant son's death a year ago next Sunday. Readers of “A Yeoman's Letters” will remember that Corporal Ross, with five others and their Officer, Lieutenant Stanley, were attacked unexpectedly by the Boers, through the Devons and Dorsets having retired unknown to them.
The story of Lieutenant Stanley's death is simply and feelingly told :
“Our bandoliers were nearly empty, and the Boers were creeping round to our right, which would enable them to enfilade our position. The first three retired, and we were blazing away to cover them, with our heads just showing as we fired over the top of the donga, when the man on my right said : 'Mr Stanley is hit’, and looking at him, for he was close to me on my left, I saw he was shot through the head, the blood pouring down his face. Sir Elliot Lees, the other man, and myself were the only ones left in the donga then, so the Captain taking hold of poor Stanley by his shoulders, and I his legs, we started to carry him off.
Apart from the DCM, Percy also held the Queen's South Africa Medal with various clasps denoting the campaigns he had been involved in. Throughout the South Africa campaign he wrote and illustrated a book called "A Yeoman's Letters", which was favourably reviewed by the critics. This is still available on Amazon !
"More than once he had displayed conspicuous bravery under fire and he withstood the hardships of a particularly trying campaign without a murmur and was never indisposed until a bullet in his hand and a wound in one leg incapacitated him. To look at his tall, manly form, one is impressed that he is as hard as nails and much of his athletic bearing is doubtless due to the prominent part he has taken in sports more especially rowing. That he has stamina he has many times proved in the Galley Races and the way in which he and a fellow oarsman swept the Coast in the pair oared races of 1899 is still fresh in the minds of local sportsman. That he is a jolly good fellow goes without saying.
The Chairman proposed a toast to Corporal Ross which was enthusiastically received. He spoke in high terms of what Mr Ross had done at the War and felt sure he had done his best to get on a level with "Brother Boer". In further remarks the speaker made graceful reference to Mrs Ross (week 26), the proud mother of a gallant son, who had also gone to South Africa and made a name for herself that any lady might envy. She had gone over 7,000 miles to help nurse the sick soldiers in hospital and many a wounded warrior would remember all his life the gentle and loving attention received at the hands of Mrs Ross although they would never know her name or who she was. The speaker also said that Corporal Ross had shown something of what he was composed when he bravely and under a heavy fire of the enemy carried the body of Leiutenant Stanley to a place of safety but unfortunately the gallant officer did not live, he having been mortally wounded. Such unflinching courage was surely worthy of decoration with The Distinguished Service Order (loud applause).
Corporal Ross replied to the toast and said he gratefully appreciated the mention made of his mother more than anything else. He was very grateful what had been said about him but said he had been painted in far too glowing colours. One thing he could not do, he said, was make a speech. He thanked everybody for all the kind things they had said and the interest taken in his wanderings in South Africa."
Following British successes that March, the Germans greatly strengthened their defences, reinforcing their positions with thick barbed wire entanglements, concrete blockhouses and machine gun emplacements. These extra defences frustrated British attempts to break through enemy lines and led to very heavy casualties at the battles of Aubers Ridge and Festubert in May 1915.
The British lost 16,648 casualties during the 11 days of the Battle of Festubert (15 - 25 May 1915) and it was on the last day of the battle that Percy was killed, just two months after arriving in France. It is impossible to imagine the terror he must have experienced or the bravery needed as he went, probably knowingly, to his inevitable death. He is remembered on Le Touret Memorial maintained by the CWGC and on a family grave.
Acknowledgment : An article written on the Friends of Hastings Cemetery website where some of the data has been taken from.