The defeat of the Sikhs at the Battle of Sobraon on the 10th February 1846 marked the end of the 1st Sikh War. The British assaulted the enemy positions, but received heavy casualties and at one point it was thought that the battle was lost. Both officers carrying the Colours of the 31st were killed, and at that moment when defeat seemed inevitable, Sergeant Bernard McCabe of the 31st picked up the Regimental Colour, dashed forward under heavy fire and planted it on the highest point of the Sikh entrenchment. This put new life into the 31st, 50th and the other regiments, which then took their objectives in desperate, hand-to-hand fighting. When the Sikhs at last turned and fled they left 10,000 casualties and sixty-seven guns behind them. Sergeant McCabe was commissioned and proved to be a hero again at The Siege of Lucknow with the 32nd Foot (a Forebear Regiment of today’s Rifles). The 50th emerged from the battle commanded by a subaltern, having lost half their rank and file.
The painting depicts a critical moment during the Battle of Sobraon in the 1st Sikh War the two officers carrying the colours, Lieutenant Tritton and Ensign Jones, were cut down. The royal colour was immediately raised again by Lieutenant Noel. Sergeant Bernard McCabe grasped the Regimental Colour. He gallantly rushed forward and planted it on the ramparts of the Sikh position and the day was won.
The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment continues to remember the action of Sergeant McCabe in all battalions. Each battalion appoints a Sobraon Sergeant for the year and on the anniversary of the battle he has the honour of carrying the Regimental Colour from the Officers’ Mess to the Warrant Officers’ and Sergeants’ Mess usually through the ranks of the Battalion, who line the route. With the Commanding Officer’s permission, all of the Colours are displayed in their respective Warrant Officers’ and Sergeants’ Mess for the Day. This is the only time when the Colours are housed outside of the Officers’ Mess. A fragment of the Colour carried by Sergeant McCabe is enclosed in a unique piece of silver, which is known as The Huntingdonshire Salt and is held by the 2nd Battalion. This is used for the ‘salt ceremony’, when newly joined members of the Battalion are invited ‘to take salt with the Regiment’.