Tuesday 2 December 2014

Blue Bonnets, Boers and Biscuits : Boer War Diary of Private William Fessey DCM of the King's Own Scottish Borderers

Blue Bonnets, Boers and Biscuits : Boer War Diary of Private William Fessey DCM of the King's Own Scottish Borderers(click to buy from Amazon)
William Fessey, Heather Wilson, Paperback (October 1998) H Wilson; ISBN: 0953336905

When Pte Fessey sailed for south Africa in January 1900 he had already served seven years with the colours and spent some time as a police officer in Rugby. He had missed the regiment so much that he re-joined in 1898, and was to do again in 1914.

This diary accurately reflects his character as a steady, reliable man who had seen action before and  nothing in his subsequent service on the veldt would surprise him. Fessey's brief and factual style conveys well the tedium of the soldier's life in this campaign. The KOSB were part of Lord Roberts' army who  marched from the Orange River to Pretoria and then into the eastern Transvaal. There are few events to lighten the marching, outpost duty and digging trenches which seemed to occupy most of his waking hours. He  appears to be well informed on what other battles and actions had occurred, frequently giving numbers of casualties and naming the opposing Boer leaders.

Fessey's role in the battalion was to fire the Maxim gun, a role he obviously enjoyed; his last entry  reads, 'The amount of ammunition I used while I was with the Machine Gun - 8,235 rounds". During the battle of Karree Siding (29-03-1900) the gun section was ordered forward to help suppress strong Boer fire holding  up the advance. This they did successfully from an exposed position, the Boers eventually being driven off the ridge. For this battle the Regiment won a number of awards and Fessey was one of 10 awarded the  Distinguished Conduct Medal (London Gazette 29-09-1901).

When the opportunity arose in August 1900 for a spot of relaxation in Pretoria, he looked forward to a good  dinner and a drink. Dinner cost him 9 shillings which he resolved not to pay again and the bars were only open to officers. Acting with initiative he acquired the uniform of a captain in "Robert's Light Horse" to enjoy a few whiskies and sodas and even a game of cards with 'fellow' officers. Not forgetting his mates he bought them a bottle of rum.

Fessey's honest account is unfettered by editorial comment, sensibly illustrated and complemented by an  excellent modern map and an index. This is an interesting story of a soldier unencumbered by the jingoism that affected so many.

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