Lieutenant Colonel Arnold Henry Grant Kemball was born on January 4th 1861 in Belgaum, India, the son of Major General John Shaw and Dora Kemball. After completing his formal education at Sandhurst in 1880, he was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in 1st Battalion Royal Scots Regiment. Joining the 5th Gurkha Rifles of the Indian Army he rose to the rank of Captain. During his early service in India, Lieutenant Colonel Kemball saw action in the Black Mountain Expedition in 1888, Hazara 1891, North West Frontier 1897-98 and Tirah Expeditionary Force 1897-98. He was mentioned in despatches for his service on the North West Frontier and Tirah. After being promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in 1905 he was selected to command a battalion of the 5th Gurkha Rifles. In 1907 he was promoted Colonel and commanded the 5th Gurkha Rifle Regiment until his retirement in 1910.
Upon his retirement, Lieutenant Colonel Kemball with his wife Alvilda, daughters Dorothy and Gerda, moved to Kaslo, British Columbia to begin a fruit orchard. In 1912, he was made a Companion of the Bath for his service in India.
At the outbreak of World War One, Lieutenant Colonel Kemball volunteered for service in the Canadian Army, initially on the rolls of the 107th Regiment in Fernie B.C., and was soon appointed Major and Deputy Commanding Officer of the newly formed 54th Kootenay Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force. During initial training of the battalion in Vernon in July 1915 he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and given command of the 54th. Leading the battalion through training in Canada and later England, he arrived in France on August 14th, 1916 where the battalion joined the newly formed 11th Canadian Infantry Brigade of the 4th Canadian Division. After familiarization training in the relatively quiet sector of the Ypres Salient in southern Belgium, he led the battalion to the Somme, a sector of very heavy fighting since July 1, 1916. The period spent here was marked by extremely harsh weather conditions which put the men of the 54th under great stress. In an action on November 18th 1916, Lieutenant Colonel Kemball led the 54th Kootenay Battalion in the highly successful attack on Desire Trench. For his gallant leadership, Lieutenant Colonel Kemball was awarded the Distinguished Service Order.
After the success at Desire Trench, the 54th Kootenay Battalion marched north to the Vimy Front to join the rest of the Canadian Corps. In late February 1917, the 54th Kootenay Battalion was ordered to carry out a large trench raid in conjunction with other battalions of the 4th Canadian Division. This raid was to be carried out with gas instead of the customary artillery barrage. On March 1st, 1917 Lieutenant Colonel Kemball, foreseeing that the raid had little chance of success, defied orders and personally led two companies engaged in the raid. The companies lost direction in the poor visibility and he moved to lead the left-hand company on the proper bearing. While trying to find a gap in the wire, he was killed by German fire. Of the 405 soldiers participating in the raid, over 200 were casualties. On March 3rd, a temporary truce to recover the fallen was arranged. Recognizing Lieutenant Colonel Kemballs devotion to duty, the Germans returned his body with great respect. He is buried at Villers Station Cemetery within sight of the Vimy Memorial. Lieutenant Colonel Kemball is memorialized on a plaque commissioned by his men in Kaslo, British Columbia and in the books Vimy by Pierre Berton, the official Canadian History of WW1 published in 1963, and most recently in the books on gas warfare on the Canadian Front “No Where to Run” by Tim Cook (1999) and “Surviving Trench Warfare” by Bill Rawling.
Kemball came from a family with long ties to the British Military and government –
KEMBALL, GEORGE VERO, Lieut.-Colonel, was born in Oct. 1859, son of the late Major-General John Shaw Kemball, of Fairseat, Wrotham. He was educated at Harrow, and entered the Royal Artillery, as Lieutenant, 18 Dec. 1878. He served in Afghanistan, 1878-79 (Medal); became Captain 7 Sept. 1886 ; took part in the operations in Chitral, 1895, serving on the Staff, with the Relief Force. He was mentioned in Despatches [London Gazette, 15 Nov. 1895]; was given the Brevet of Major 22 Jan. 1896, and received the Medal with clasp. He was promoted to Major 10 Sept. 1896, and served on he North-West Frontier of India in 1897, in the Tochi Expedition, on the Staff; was mentioned in Despatches [London Gazette, 11 Feb. 18981, and received a clasp, In 1900 he served in West Africa, in Northern Nigeria, with the Kaduna Expedition (Medal and clasp). He was in command of the operations against the Forces of Bida and Kontagora; was mentioned n Despatches [London Gazette, 18 April, 1902]; received the Medal and clasp, and was created a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order [London Gazette, 25 April, 1902]: ” George Vero Kemball, Lieut.-Colonel (Brigadier-General), Inspector General, West African Field Force. In recognition of services during the operations in West Africa (Kontagora and Bida Expeditions).” He was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel 23 July, 1901. He commanded the Kano-Sokoto Expedition, 1903 (C.B. and clasp) ; was Director at the War Office, 1909-13, and commanded a brigade in India, 1914; was promoted to MajorGeneral 8 April, 1914. Major-General Sir G. V. Kemball served in the Great War, 1915-16, in Mesopotamia, as Major-General, General Staff of the Expeditionary Force, and in command of the 28th Frontier Force Brigade. He was present at the actions and capture of Kurna, Battles of Kut and Ctesiphon, 1915, Battles of Sheik-Saad, the Wadi, Um-el-Hannah (2), Dujailah and Sannaiyat, 1916.
The following is an extract from a letter: “As regards
Mesopotamia, it may be of interest to add : The 28th Frontier Force Brigade,
consisting of the 2nd Leicestershire Regt. and 51st Sikhs, 53rd Sikhs and 56th
Rifles (Frontier Force), lost, in the three months’ fighting on the Tigris in
the vain attempt to relieve Kut, well over 100 per cent. in killed and wounded.
With a nominal establishment of some 3,100 of all ranks, the casualties from the
enemy’s fire, between 6 Jan. and 22 April, 1916, were over 3,800. The
establishment of British officers was 75, and the casualties 121, of whom 39
were killed. At one time during that period less than half a dozen of the
Regimental Staff and medical officers who had served in the Brigade remained
He was mentioned twice in Despatches; was wounded at Sannaiyat, and created a K.C..M.G., June, 1916 ; commanded a division, India, 1917-19.
Ref: THE VC and DSO, the Standard Art Book, Co., Ltd., London, 1924, p. 258
Kemball’s uncle –
KEMBALL, Sir ARNOLD BURROWES (1830 – 1908), general, colonel commandant, royal artillery, born in Bombay on 18 Nov. 1830 of of five sons of Surgeon-general Vero Shaw Kemball, of the Bombay medical staff, by his wife Marianne, daughter of Major-General Shaw, formerly of the Black Watch. Kemball’s brothers did good service in the Bombay presidency; George and Alick in the Bombay cavalry, Vero Seymour in the Bombay Artillery, Charles Gordon in the civil service, rising to be a judge of the supreme court, and John in the 26th Bombay infantry. Passing through the Military College at Addiscombe, Arnold received his commission as a second lieutenant in the Bombay artillery on 11 Dec.1837. He served in the first Afghan war with a troop of Bombay horse artillery, and was present at the storming and capture of Ghazni on 28 July 1839 and at the subsequent occupation of Kabul. On the march back to Bombay he took part in the capture of the fortress of Khelat. For this campaign he received the modal. After his return to the Bombay presidency he passed in the native languages, and was appointed assistant political agent in the Persian Gulf, in the neighbourhood of which he remained from 1842 until the close of his military career in 1878. Kemball, who was promoted captain in 1851, took part in the Persian war of 1856-7, and was specially mentioned in the despatches of Sir James Outram (q. v.], who had applied for his services. Lord Canning, the governor-general of India, in general orders of 18 June 1857 especially commended his share in the brilliant expedition against Ahwaz. For the Persian campaign Kemball received a brevet majority, the C.B., and the Indian general service medal, with clasp for Persia. At the close of the war Kemball resumed his political duties in the Persian Gulf, and two years later was appointed consul general at Baghdad. In 1860 he became lieut.-colonel, and in 1863 attained the rank of colonel in the royal artillery. In 1866, on the ex!
tension of the order of the Star of India, he became one of the first knights commander, and in 1873 he was attached to the suite of the Shah of Persia during that monarch’s visit to England.
In 1875 Kemball was nominated British delegate on the international commission for delimiting the Turco-Persian frontier, and on the outbreak of the war between Turkey and Servia, he was appointed military commissioner with the Turkish army in the field. He was present at all the operations in the vicinity of Nisch and Alexinatz, and at the close of the campaign was nominated president of the international commission to delimit the frontiers between Turkey and Servia. His intimate knowledge of the Turkish language, added to his imperturbable calmness under fire, endeared him to the Turkish soldiery. In the spring of the following year, on the outbreak of the war with Russia, he was transferred in his former capacity to the Turkish army in Asia. The Turkish troops continued to show the fullest confidence in his judgement and gallantry, and fully appreciated his kindness to the wounded. Wherever the fight was hottest he was on observation (The Times, 20 July 1878). The Russians !
were well aware of the veneration in which Kemball was held by the Turks, and like the Servians in the preceding campaign were under the mistaken impression, that he was in command of the Turkish forces. After the battle of Zewin Duz on 16 June 1877 a determined effort was made to capture him. Cossack pursuers were only thrown off after an exciting chase of more than twenty miles, and Kemball by a daring swim across the Araxes river found shelter in a Turkish camp. He firmly protested against Kurdish atrocities, and at his insistence the Ottoman commander-in-chief took steps to suppress them.
At the close of the Russo-Turkish war Kemball was made K.C.B. and was promoted lieut-general. The Sultan also bestowed on him the medal for the campaign. Recalled to England, Kemball. was designated to be military adviser to Lord Beaconsfield’s special mission to the Berlin congress, but his uncompromising objection to the cession of Batum to Russia led to the withdrawal of this offer, and he was not afterwards employed. At the close of the Russo-Turkish war he was entertained by the officers of the royal artillery at Woolwich.
Kemball took a keen interest in the construction of the then projected railway from Constantinople to the Persian Gulf, and was more or less intimately bound up with the Euphrates Valley railway scheme (see Journal of the Royal United Service Institution, June 1878). After his retirement from active service he was prominently associated with Sir William Mackinnon (q. v. Suppl. ] and others in the development of East Africa, and was one of the founders in 1888 and first chairman of the Imperial East African Company. To his prescience is mainly due the construction of the Uganda railway and the sovereignty of Great Britain over the East African Protectorate (see The Times, 20 Sept. 1892).
Kemball, who attained the rank of full general in Feb. 1880, died at his London residence, 62 Lowndes Square, Knightsbridge, on 21 Sept. 1908, and was buried in Kensal Green cemetery. He married in 1868 his cousin, Anna Frances, third daughter of Alexander Nesbitt Shaw of the Bombay civil service. His only daughter, Wynford Rose, married in 1902 Bentley Lyonel, third Baron Tollemache. A tablet to his memory has been erected in St. George’s garrison church, Woolwich, by his widow. A cartoon by ” Ape ‘ was reproduced in ‘Vanity Fair in 1878.
Dictionary of National Biography
Supplement Jan 1901 – Dec 1911
Oxford University press, London 1912