Sunday, 23 June 2019

A failed escape attempt? - Sgt Delaney, Royal Irish Fusiliers

Eighty British soldiers are recorded as having escaped from captivity, from about 10,000 soldiers captured. But, only 6,000 POWs were kept for any length of time. After September 1900, most British POWs were kept for a short period of time, some only long enough to be stripped of useful arms, ammunition, clothing, food and valuables before being set free to hobble barefoot and nearly naked back to camp.

A post on angloboerwar.com featured the exploits of two escapers of the New South Wales Lancers, Troopers Ford and Whittington. The text and images come from "the first 150 pages of Volume 62 of The Graphic, July to December 1900." A report was carried in the newspapers in June from which the account in The Graphic relies on heavily.

Trooper Milverton Ford had his account published in The Sydney Mail Saturday 30 June 1900 which is transcribed here. He notes they were joined by: "a sergeant of the Royal Irish Fusiliers, who had seen service in India and Omdurman". The report in The Graphic names him as "Sgt Delaney".

Whittington and Ford arrived safely in Delagoa Bay, Portuguese East Africa, but what happened to Sgt Delaney and who was he?

In the report published by the Sydney Mail Ford says that Delaney split from them after four days, "Parting as friends", heading south towards the railway at Bronkhorst Spruit. No further mention is made of him. However, the report published in the Daily Mail (Perth, Western Australia) two weeks earlier on 16th June, states that "Near Middelburg they missed Sergeant Delaney". Middelburg and Bronkhorstspruit are nearly 100km apart in a rough east-west line; Bronkhorstspruit is not south from Middelburg. There is definitely some confusion in Ford's account or the re-telling by the journalist who recorded it.

There was only one Sergeant Delaney of the Royal Irish Fusiliers captured in the war, 4245 C Delaney. The published Natal Field Force simply shows him as dying in Pretoria on 21st May, 1900, no record of him being captured. However, he must have been a POW to have died in Pretoria before the city was captured on 6th June, 1900. Delaney was most likely a POW at Nicholson's Nek on 30th October, 1899, although he was also present at Talana ten days prior.

Contemporary newspapers published confusing information about Delaney's exact date of death. The Army & Navy Gazette, 16th June, and The Times, 11th June, both state the date as 21st May,  but in the Army & Navy Gazette edition published 14th July it states "30-04". Only the latter publication shows the cause of death as peritonitis.

If this is the same Sgt Delaney as escaped with Ford and Whittington then he must have been re-captured by the Boers and returned to the POW camp. Ford recounts that "some of these who had attempted to escape before us contracted fever, and gave themselves up soon afterwards, returning to camp only to die". Delaney became ill and died a prisoner, one of 76 British soldiers to die as a POW, he is buried in Petronella. Sgt 4245 Delaney served in the 1898 Sudan campaign. Unfortunately no service papers have been traced.