Monday, 1 April 2019

Lord Roberts' Bodyguard

The military response to the ultimatum issued by the South African Republic lay squarely with Britain. In their wisdom, the War Office, and Britain's generals believed they knew best how to prosecute the war. The local knowledge and military experience, albeit limited but critical, present amongst the residents of the Cape Colony and Natal was largely ignored. Not surprisingly this upset "the colonials" and by then end of 1899, after "Black Week", three towns besieged the New Year looked bleak. The arrogance of the British military establishment was a source of embarrassment.

The War Office realised new blood was needed and they appointed Field Marshal Lord Roberts to replace Major-General Sir R Buller, VC, as Commander-in-Chief. Lord Roberts and his energetic deputy, Lord Kitchener, arrived in Cape Town on January 10th, 1900. They had much work to re-organise and re-energise the battered British forces. Crucially, they realised the contribution "the colonials" could make to future military success.  Roberts authorised further mounted units be raised; Roberts' Horse and Kitchener's Horse. A Colonial Division was formed, commanded by the newly promoted Major-General EY Brabant, a veteran of the Cape's earlier wars. They were to do sterling service, not least in the successful defence of Wepener in April 1900.

Roberts' public relation offensive included a public face, about five days after arriving he asked Major DT Laing to raise a bodyguard composed of selected men from colonial units. Major Laing was a veteran of the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders who had settled in southern Africa. he had fought in the conquest of Matabeleland in 1893 and commanded the Belingwe Field Force. Laing understood both the British Army and the colonial fighter.

The initial strength of the Bodyguard was 40 men, enrollments began on January 23rd, by February 1st 40 men had been signed up.

Unit 1st 40 Replacements
Brabant's Horse 5
Canadian Dragoons 0 2
Canadian Mounted Rifles 1 1
Cape Garrison Artillery 1
Cape Town Highlanders 2
District Mounted Rifles 2
Duke Of Edinburgh's Volunteer Rifles 2 2
Imperial Light Horse 1 2
Kaffrarian Rifles 2
Marshall's Horse 2 1
Nesbitt's Horse 1 1
New Zealand Mounted Infantry 0 1
Prince Alfred's Volunteer Guard 3 1
Queensland Mounted Infantry 2
Queenstown Rifle Volunteers 4
Rimington's Guides 3
Robert's Horse 2
No parent unit traced 7 1
Totals 40 12

Those men whose parent unit has not been traced must have had previous military service in southern Africa and be known to Major Laing or recommended by men he trusted. There is very little written about the recruitment of the Bodyguard, what we know has been derived from the medal rolls (WO100) and nominal rolls (WO127).

The Bodyguard obviously accompanied Lord Roberts' on his great march from Orange River Camp to Belfast via Paardeberg, Bloemfontein, Johannesburg and Diamond Hill. Seventeen also earned the Relief of Kimberley clasp, why they were separated is not known.

On 25th October, 1900 Britain marked the annexation of the South African Republic with a large parade in Pretoria. The Bodyguard were one of four units representing "the colonies". [Dundee Courier 29-10-1900] The St James' Gazette reported on 28th November, 1900 the "Kimberley contingent" left that town by train following an address from the mayor. Their destination was not shown.

In late 1900 Lord Roberts handed over command to Lord Kitchener and left in December. Before he left Roberts asked Major Laing to raise a regiment known as "Commander-in-Chief's Bodyguard". The Bodyguard was dissolved, a few men stayed with the new regiment, the majority returned to their parent units. Over the time the Bodyguard existed a total of 52 men served in the unit, one just for 3 days. Most served into October 1900 when most transfers out began, the last man transferred out was on December 11th. The last man transferred in was on June 14th and he served for six months.

These 52 men earned 25 clasp combinations; the most common clasps are Paardeberg, Driefontein, Johannesburg, Diamond Hill, Belfast and Cape Colony - the clasps awarded Lord Roberts himself. Others to be found are Belmont, Modder River, Relief of Kimberley, Elandslaagte, Relief of Mafeking and Defence of Ladysmith and Wittebergen. These men truly represented the breadth of Colonial service in the war.

For the full list of men who served check this PDF.


The group to MJ Paxton, Kaffrarian Rifles, Cape Colony Cycle Corps and in WW1 3rd SAMR and 8th SA Horse.

The 40th (North Somerset) Company IY also acted as a bodyguard to Lord Roberts and Lord Kitchener. They were commanded by a nephew of Lord Roberts, Cpt WM Sherston, DSO. [Banffshire Journal and General Advertiser 04-06-1901, Central Somerset Gazette 27-05-1905]


Saturday, 2 February 2019

Finding "new" casualties

With the digitisation of records from archives ...

Soldier's Effects on Ancestry is very useful aas it often gives the soldier's first name, place and date of enlistment and names of his next of kin which makes genealogical research possible in the absence of service papers. As a rule, service papers for deceased soldiers were destroyed.

I have used Soldier's Effects to find the names of soldiers who died at the Royal Victoria Hospital, Netley, Hampshire in the UK after they had served at the war in South Africa. I extracted a list of names with death dates between 10 October 1899 and 31 December 1902. Then, cross referencing this list with The Register and medals rolls I was able to update existing casualty records; where men had been wounded but not recorded in the casualty rolls as dying, and add new records for men invalided from the war who died at Netley.

Existing casualty records updated - 48
New casualties identified              - 44

These men are included as casualties.

I cross referenced these men against Steve Watt's "In Memoriam" as he lists Netley deaths and there are five net "new" casualties, and seven updates to dates and units compared to that information in Watt .

There was a third category of men who died after the end of the war 31 May 1902 - these are not included as casualties unless they had been wounded or invalided with an illness during the war. Their deaths are recorded in the Biographical Notes section, there are 44 men in this category.

The vast majority of the men identified served in the British Army, however individuals from "colonial" units also found themselves at Netley and some unfortunately died there: British South Africa Police, Cape Medical Staff Corps, Canadian Artillery, Imperial Yeomanry Scouts, Prince of Wales Light Horse, Rand Rifles and Rhodesian Regiment.

Saturday, 22 December 2018

Pause for thought: PTSD - then and now

This blog was sparked by a report on the UK ITV news relating that in 2018 71 UK veterans of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan had committed suicide as they struggled with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  The next day a post on The Anglo-Boer War Facebook page showed a letter home written by a British soldier days after he had been in intense combat against the Boers. He related to his mother, "had it not been for my horse...I would certainly have been killed or badly wounded", "an officer close by me had his left eye clean shot out", and then "My chum who was with me was shot and it upset me very much".  His reaction was stoic, "never mind Mother, I shall have to make the best of it".

It seems that in 2018 military veterans are still having "to make the best of it". PTSD did not exist in 1900, it was first termed as shell-shock during WW1 but not understood as a mental health issue that required treatment (apart from crude attempts with electric shock therapy). It was not until the 1970's and 1980's in the wake of the Vietnam war that PTSD was recognised as a mental ill health issue that required proper treatment and support. Thirty years on it appears our veterans are still not receiving the support they need, and deserve.

PTSD is as old as combat, and we who research and collect medals and ephemera to the men and women of campaigns in centuries gone by should spare a thought for what happened to them when the guns fell silent and peace was declared.

A researcher on the AngloBoerWar.com site frequently posts newspaper reports, a number of these relate to suicides of British Boer War veterans. What caused them to commit suicide? We shall never know, enteric is frequently mentioned, could that disease drive someone to suicide or had they witnessed scenes like our correspondent did? This is an area worthy of sustained research.

We, who research and collect, get immense enjoyment from the tales we uncover, and some even make money through buying and selling.

We cannot do anything for those men and women of past conflicts whose history we enjoy so much, perhaps then we should do something for today's veterans so they don't become a tragic suicide story.

Please consider donating to a charity that supports PTSD sufferers. There are many in the UK, here is a simple Google search. For those that live outside the UK, please search in your country.

Thank you.

Monday, 10 December 2018

Naval Service of Canada - a founder sailor

For medal collectors the Second Anglo-Boer War One offers a very rich field of choice. The Naval Brigades – the sailors of the Royal Navy who served ashore in support of the Army are one such example. The Navy provided long range 12pdr and 4.7 inch guns to counter the Boer’s own artillery that out-ranged anything the British Army had. The exploits of the Naval Brigade is the stuff of legend, the Victorians loved their “handy man ashore”. The famous Naval Gun Race of the now defunct Royal Tournament originated from the Navy’s handiwork of turning ship’s guns into movable land based guns.

The joy of collecting medals and researching them is that they often provide unexpected information and knowledge. The War was in many ways the centre of a transitional period and the men and women who served were either veterans or would go on to be part of more history. One such example is Able Seaman 156753 FR Clark HMS Doris, was later in his career was one of the first seaman of the Naval Service of Canada in 1910, retitled Royal Canadian Navy in 1911.

Frederick Robert Clark was born in Stonehouse, Devon in 1875. He worked as a “printer’s boy”, but obviously this was not enough. In August 1890, aged 15 he enlisted for the Royal Navy. He and the Navy liked each other, on his 18th birthday he was made Ordinary Seaman and a year later he was promoted Able Seaman. In late 1897 he married Emily Bellamy in East Stonehouse. Soon after Clark joined HMS Doris in November 1897 on the ship’s first commission which was to be on the Cape Station, i.e. based in Simonstown, Cape Colony. Doris was a 2nd class cruiser of 5,600 tons, amongst her armament were 8 12pdr and 6 4.7inch guns that would prove so useful in 1899. Up to the outbreak of war HMS Doris cruised the west and east coasts of Africa.

On the outbreak of war in October 1899 HMS Doris provided men for the first Naval Brigade (initially without guns) to provide two garrisons in the central Cape. When it was realised naval guns were needed one garrison was withdrawn and equipped with guns to join General Lord Methuen’s Kimberley Relief Force. However Clark did not join a Naval Brigade until January 29, 1900. The first clasp he received for his medal is Paardeberg (February 1900). Clark probably served in “Grant’s Guns” (named after Commander WL Grant, HMS Doris), of which there were two 4.7 inch guns. One gun manned by HMS Doris sailors known as “Little Bobs” (after the army commander Field Marshall Lord Roberts, nicknamed “Bobs”). The other gun was served by sailors from HMS Barrosa.  Grant’s Guns served with Lord Roberts’ army at Paardeberg, Driefontein (March, 1900), the capture of Bloemfontein, Johannesburg, Pretoria (June 1900) and the advance to the Portuguese East Africa border (September 1900).  In October the Naval Brigade returned to their ships. In January 1901 a large party was landed ashore to counter a Boer attack on Port Elizabeth, the attack never developed and the men returned to ship. HMS Doris returned to England in April 1901. Clark was awarded the QSA with four clasps; Paardeberg, Driefontein,Cape Colony and Transvaal.

In March 1905 Clark’s 12 year service commitment ended and he transferred to the Royal Fleet Reserve (RFR). In 1910 plans were laid to create a Canadian navy. A college was set up in Halifax, Nova Scotia and two ships purchased from Britain; HMCS Rainbow (Apollo class cruiser 3,600 tons) based at Esquimalt British Columbia and HMS Niobe (1st class cruiser 11,000 tons) based at Halifax. Niobe had also served in the Anglo-Boer War. Meanwhile, back in England, Clark signed up under the “Canadian Naval Service Agreement” in September 1910 for five years. HMCS Rainbow had been commissioned in August and Doris in September, so Clark came across in Doris and arrived in Halifax on Trafalgar Day, 21 October 1910. In March 1911 he re-qualified as a Torpedo Man.

In August 1911 Niobe ran aground on Pinnacle Rock, off Cape Sable NS, HMS Cornwall came to assist but also ran aground. Clark’s service in the new navy did not last five years, his Canadian service papers note “SNLR” – services no longer required, he received a gratuity of what looks like $24.00. In November 1911 he was sent home on HMS Cornwall. Clark re-joined the RFR back in Devonport in December 1911.

At the outbreak of World War I Clark, still serving in the reserve, was sent to HMS Isis, an aged cruiser. Clark was posted ashore in June 1917. His next ship was the newly commissioned HMS Pegasus, a new-fangled sea plane carrier. Clark was demobbed in April 1919, a month before Pegasus sailed to support British forces in North Russia. It is not known what occupation Clark had after he left the Navy. He died in 1926 in Devonport, Devon.

Friday, 30 November 2018

The grave under a railway station

CWGC records the location of a British soldier's grave under a railway station with the marker on the platform. This odd location is in Ogies,  Mpumalanga - to the east of Johannesburg. CWGC gives no further details on the identity of the dead soldier.

The grave marker and its location are photographed on BoerenBrit.com, they relate a story behind the grave taken from Anecdotes of the Anglo Boer War by Rob Milne (Helion 2000). In February 1902 this area was open veld and in a clash between the Bethal Commando and Colonel E.C. Knox’s column a Trooper Bryant, 26th Mounted Infantry was killed on February 1st and buried where he fell. The metal cross came after the war. Later, after the war had ended a coal mine was started and the area developed. The new railway and railway station was built over Bryant's grave. Currently the grave is covered by the men's toilets and the grave marker moved to a platform sitting in false grave plot.

The problem with this story is identifying the soldier in the grave. Using the Advanced Search function on The Register you can easily see the number of men with the surname Bryant who were casualties in 1902; there are just three:

Looking at each; G Bryant was killed in April, J Bryant, Connaught Rangers was captured. The only candidate is Pte 5241 J Bryant, Somerset Light Infantry and 26th Mounted Infantry. But, he died of enteric on February 3rd at Sturman's Ranges some 200km to the south-east near Wakkerstroom. He now lies buried in a concentration cemetery at Wakkerstroom. And, the grave marker shows "Pte J Bryant 26th Mounted Infantry", the service number appears to be '3524'.

No Bryant with this number or a variation on can be traced on the medal rolls, service papers, Soldier's Effects and newspapers.

The other problem with this anecdote is that Colonel E.C. Knox died of pneumonia in London on February 18th, 1902. He could not have been in South Africa on the day this mysterious soldier was killed.

Something is wrong.

Friday, 9 November 2018

A burial in Table Bay, Cape Town

This remarkable story came from a thread on the Anglo Boer War forum discussing deaths at sea. The story is from Captain JC Robinson, master of the troopship Kildonan Castle, whose articles have been published in To the Sea in Ships, Royd Press 2013.

Captain Robinson describes how an unnamed soldier who died while the ship was anchored in Table Bay. The descision was taken to bury him at sea rather rather onshore. Using the The Register, I have identified the most likely soldier as Pte 4020 J Taylor 4th bn West Yorkshire Rgt. His entry in Deaths At Sea on FindmyPast shows he died at 6:30am in Cape Town from the effects of pneumonia. There is no latitude and longitude recorded which is normal for deaths truly occuring "at sea".

"I was in the Kildonan Castle, H.M. Transport No. 44. We arrived in Table Bay one morning about six o’clock, with 2600 troops on board, the weather being very hazy, and the Bay crowded with vessels of all descriptions. I counted 70 myself, but there were more. We anchored off Moulle Point and signalled our arrival. One poor fellow, a soldier, died after we brought up — the only one we lost during the voyage. The Port boat came off after breakfast, blowing his fog-horn, because it was getting very thick. Having received pratique, I reported the death, and requested that arrangements should at once be made to land the body for burial. This was agreed to as necessary, and the launch returned to attend to the business.

 By the time he reached the dock the fog had closed down dense and white as milk, so that we could not see our own funnels 50 ft. away. The chorus of ship’s bells near and far in the calm, fog-bound bay was quite remarkable, and continued for three days and three nights without intermission!

We waited patiently for the return of the launch, keeping our ears open for any indication, but all in vain. The third morning the surgeon and commanding officer came to me and asked what was to be done? After anxious consultation it was decided that we must bury at sea.

It goes without saying that I dare not move the ship, so the “office” must be performed by means of a lifeboat. Let it be understood, first of all, that no “committal” must take place inside of 15 fathoms, and we were anchored in 8. A chart of the bay and approaches was laid out, and a position marked upon it with a cross upon it for the “launch.” The course from ship to the cross was laid off, and the distance measured. The lifeboat was fitted with a compass, and a patent log, as well as the chart, and a lead line. A special signal by foghorn was fixed upon, which was to be sounded every half minute exactly from the start until the return of the party. The second officer and boat’s crew who were to go, accompanied by t wo military officers, were put through a rehearsal of the programme.

The body was duly placed in the boat, and the funeral service was conducted on board immediately above; and as the firing party and the buglers made their “salute,” and sounded the “Last Post” on the forecastle head, the ambassadors of death departed on their mournful mission. They were immediately lost to sight; even alongside the ship they had been but dimly visible from the deck, but the regular splash of the oars continued audible for a long time in the breathless calm that prevailed, and gradually died away into silence.

Our prearranged signal was religiously observed, and a tense and dramatic quietness pervaded the whole ship during the interval of sound. I confess that I was extremely anxious myself. The conditions were so unprecedented. I knew that every human precaution had been taken, and that we had only done what was right and necessary; but the minutes dragged along with leaden measure — five, ten, twenty, forty! Hearts were thumping painfully; every ear was strained to the uttermost. A solitary boat, with nine men and a corpse, shut out from all audible or visible connection with a living world, upon a formless waste of secret waters! The mind conjured up all kinds of horrible possibilities.

Whispers here and there - listen - I think - I think - I’m sure - hush - it’s fancy - no - don’t you hear? I do - Yes! - and at last! After forty-five long-drawn minutes we did faintly hear that welcome rhythm as it gradually became audible to all — and a spontaneous cheer went up from 2000 throats that must have encouraged the still invisible members of that devoted band to a realisation of safety and renewed effort. What a great relief it was to us all when we received them safely on board!

On questioning the second officer (whose name I cannot recall, I am sorry to say, though himself I remember perfectly) it would appear that we were not alone in conjuring up weird fancies. When they had reverently committed the body to its watery grave, it seemed for a moment to stand up in the fog and look at them; and though they pulled away manfully,-the impression remained that they were glued to the spot unable to get clear of the dread vision, until they picked up the sound of our special signal, and heard the cheers of the soldiers on board. “Pray never send me away on such a duty again,” he added; “I would almost rather Ire buried myself!”

Saturday, 3 November 2018

Trouble on St Helena: 1st bn West India Regiment

Two companies of the 1st bn West India Regiment arrived on St Helena on September 4, 1900 to be part of the garrison. Britain maintained a small garrison on the island but during the war the garrison was increased to guard the Boer POWs sent there. The 3rd bn West India Rgt was previously on the island. Their drum and fife band played the Boer General P Cronje and his fellow POWs into their prison camp. [https://www.napoleon.org/en/history-of-the-two-empires/articles/saint-helena-prison-island/]

Trouble broke out in the evening of New Year’s Day with fighting between sailors from HMS Thetis and West Indian Rgt soldiers. One of the West Indians was badly injured and sent to hospital. The following evening sailors from HMS Thetis gave a concert in aid of a local charity. A party of West Indian soldiers armed with “clubs and razors tied to sticks….raided the town”. Civilians, including women and children were injured, a man had his skull broken. Twelve sailors were injured “more or less seriously”. The West Indians were joined by more of their comrades who broke out of barracks. There ensued a chaotic night with their officers failing to get the men back to barracks as they rampaged around. The Soldiers and Sailors Rest Home was attacked “and broke the doors and windows to atoms”.

The next day the West Indians were ordered away from the town to Broad Bottom camp which wasn’t at this time occupied by POWs, they refused threatening to blow up houses in the town. Detachments from the Royal Engineers, Royal Artillery and HMS Thetis patrolled the town. On January 3rd a company of the Gloucester Rgt was bought up from Broad Bottom. Once more the West Indians were ordered out of the town, backed up by the threat they would be fired on if they didn’t. The West Indians relented and marched at once to Broad Bottom, “The whole place is in a state of alarm lest they carry out their threats to make a raid, and precautionary steps are being taken.”  Conductor FJ White, Army Service Corps, wrote:

“..it is no joke to feel that you are likely to be struck across the face with a razor tied to a stick, or knocked on the head by a big stick..it was hardly safe to be out unless [you] were armed.. ” [Surrey Mirror 05 March 1901]

The West Indians remained at Broad Bottom until transport to take them off the island could be arranged. The two companies left the island on January 13, 1901 for Sierra Leone. [East Anglian Daily Times 31 January 1901, Surrey Mirror 05 March 1901]

The issue was raised in Parliament in March 1901 by Mr J Dillon (Mayo East). In reply, the Secretary of State for War, W Brodrick, stated that no women or children were injured and five not 12 sailors were injured, “Nothing is known of any threat to blow up the town”. The numbers involved was not stated but it appears to have been a minority rather the whole detachment involved in the disorder. When the companies arrived on St Helena 15 men were tried by court martial; six convicted and sentenced to imprisonment from six weeks to six months, seven were acquitted and two were still in hospital too ill to stand trial. Mr Dillon then asked:

“With this experience will the right hon. Gentleman give an undertaking that these regiments of coloured troops will not be moved into the more civilised portions of the Empire?

Mr Brodrick refused, and in April two companies from the 3rd bn returned to the island.


Following the trouble there was correspondence between the War Office and Lord Kitchener, C in C South African Field Force under whose command came the troops on St Helena.  Replying to the War Office on December 10, 1901 Lord Kitchener wrote:

“I do not recommend the 2 companies of the 1st battalion, West India Regiment, for the Medal, in view of the circumstances of the removal of these 2 companies from St. Helena.” (WO100/287p381)

The War Office informed the 1st bn that the detachment would not receive the QSA medal. (WO100/287p383) In March 1902 Lieutenant-Colonel AL Bayley, commanding the 1st bn sent a nominal roll (in triplicate) to the War Office of the men of the 1st bn stationed on St Helena between September 4, 1900 and January 13, 1901.  (WO100/287p382) This roll is preserved in the medal rolls WO100/287 pp387-388. There are 183 names on the roll, ordered by rank and surname. The final name on the roll is Private 309 A Ricketts, the list could be incomplete, it seems odd no other surnames are recorded beyond the letter “R”.

A question for medal collectors is, can one get a medal to any of these men? The answer is “Yes”, of the 183 men listed, 124 earned an East & West Africa 1887-1900 medal:

Clasp
Number
Sierra Leone 1898-99
116
Sierra Leone 1898-99 & 1892
3
Sierra Leone 1898-99 & 1897-98
5
Total
124

Additionally, Corporal 859 T Padmore earned the Ashanti Star 1896.

No officers are recorded in the medal rolls for the 1st bn on St Helena, they didn’t get their medals but remain anonymous. Three officers of the 1st bn received QSAs for service in South Africa: Major HA Hill (attached Royal Scots Fusiliers), 2nd LT JH Forshaw (attached 3rd bn East Lancashire Rgt), Lt A Peel (previously Cpl 5423 2nd bn King’s Shropshire LI).