In late January 1885 the relief column sent to relieve General Gordon at Khartoum arrived to find that two days earlier the city had fallen and Gordon was dead. At a memorial service held for him four army chaplains officiated, one of them being the Roman Catholic Robert Brindle. The future Field Marshal Sir Evelyn Wood was a member of the relief column and he said of Brindle he “was doubtless the most popular man in the Expedition”. The leader of the Expedition, Lord Wolseley, kept a picture of Brindle on his mantlepiece and described him as “one of the finest soldiers in the British Army”. Lord Kitchener would remain a close friend until the two men died within weeks of each other in 1916. At the time of his death Brindle was the most decorated Roman Catholic chaplain ever to have served in the British Army. And he was a son of Liverpool.
Robert Brindle was born in Toxteth, Liverpool on 4th November 1837, the son of William and Elizabeth (nee Harrison) who had been married a year earlier at St Patrick’s RC Church in Park Place. I have unearthed little information about his early life the only other record being the 1851 census which shows him as a 13 year-old ‘stepson’ of the head of the household Ann Brindle, living at 68 Blundell Street L8 (now demolished). In the 1853 Gore’s Directory of Liverpool Ann Brindle of this address is shown as running a “milk house”. It seems likely that his mother had died and his father had re-married as there is a marriage of a William Brindle to and Ann Morris in 1842 at St Peter’s RC Church.
Robert Brindle was ordained at the English College, Lisbon in 1862. After serving as a priest in Plymouth he was commissioned as a military chaplain in 1874 and would serve for 25 years. After service at the Woolwich Garrison and 5 years in Canada in 1882 he accompanied the expeditionary force against Arabi Pasha in Egypt. It was his exceptional behaviour on the expedition to relieve Gordon that his reputation was made. Choosing to march with the men, and on one occasion rowing with them up the Nile, he had an exceptional influence upon the troops, ever ready “to carry a man’s rifle or give away drink from his water bottle”. He never shirked the responsibility to be with them on the front line.
After spell back in England in 1896 he was back in Egypt, attached to Kitchener’s Expedition to reconquer the Sudan. Brindle once again stood out for his utter devotion to duty and his men. When cholera broke out he worked tirelessly and fearlessly to tend the victims. On 2nd September 1898 he was involved in the Battle of Omdurman near Khartoum, it being recorded that in each of the three main attacks of the engagement “the heroic priest was in the fighting line”. In November of that year he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order.
After he left the army he was appointed Roman Catholic Bishop of Nottingham. He died on 17 June 1916 and was buried with full military honours in the crypt of St Barnabus Cathedral, Nottingham.
There is a useful short paper published by the Journal of the Society for Army History Research (2009) entitled The Military Career of Bishop Robert Brindle by James Hagerty. This can be viewed on the JSTOR website.
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