Portrait of Lt Col A E Ponsonby
Lt Col A E Ponsonby, who died of cholera at Jubbulpore, India, while commanding the 2nd Battalion. A popular innovator, Ponsonby had organised a Soldiers’ Industrial Exhibition in Dublin in 1864 ‘to show the public that the soldier was not a useless member of society’.
Arthur Edward Valette Ponsonby was born on 4 December 1827 in Malta, the son of Major-General Frederick Ponsonby and a nephew of the 4th Earl of Bessborough. In 1850 he was commissioned into the Grenadier Guards and stayed with them until 21 April 1863 when he transferred to the Suffolk Regiment to take command of their 2nd Battalion, then serving in Dublin. He was an unconventional soldier, full of enterprise and ideas. One of his first innovations was a battalion journal, the East Suffolk Gazette, believed to be the first such publication in the Army.
Later in the year he came up with the idea of a Soldiers’ Industrial Exhibition. He explained the purpose of the project as being
- to give soldiers who were willing to work for it something to amuse and instruct them during their leisure hours;
- to sell such articles as were contributed at a little above their actual cost, as the object of the exhibition was employment not profit;
- to show the public generally that the soldier was not a useless member of society.
The following examples give an idea of the range of items produced and displayed:
- Pte Harrison: proposed improved ammunition pouch
- Capt Bolton: proposed improved reversible gaiters
- Cpl Bowes: pair of fancy slippers
- Pte Thomas: patchwork table cloth
- Sgt Flowers: model of a coach, Elizabethan period
- Schoolboys of the Regiment: 6 maps
- Pte Bishop: sundial
There were 150 exhibits in all. ‘The Times’ commented favourably on the exhibition, pointing out how interests of this sort removed ‘men from the sphere of temptation and tends to their moral and social improvement’.
The exhibition was held in January 1864; in the following July Ponsonby took the Battalion to India. There he introduced a range of activities to keep the soldiers active and entertained: athletics meetings, theatricals, horse racing, rifle competitions, cricket, a Photographic Institution, a soda water establishment and a total abstinence society.
Ponsonby died of cholera at Jubbulpore on 16 June 1868, mourned throughout the Battalion.
His nephew, Major-General Sir John Ponsonby, KCB, CMG, DSO, was Colonel of the Regiment from 1925 to 1939.