Saturday, 30 May 2015

More "secrets" from the Casualty Rolls

The casualty rolls for the Anglo-Boer War do not tell the whole story, a big problem is that the location given is often the place the casualty return was created. This can be many miles from the actual location and, of course, when trying to research what happened leads you down a false trail. This point was observed when The Gazetteer was published in 1999. The published Gazetteer with its 2400 entries resolved many of these problems allowing researchers to quickly learn the exact location and importantly what occurred leading to the death, wounding or capture of soldiers. This process is on-going.

Two recent findings have led to updates to the gazetteer and casualty details in The Register. In the South African Field Casualty Roll for 11-03-1901 there are casualties for "Balmoral", "nr Balmoral" and "nr Wilge River". Are these incidents connected? The casualty roll gives no clues. Using a fabulous resource "Surrenders" (WO108/372 The National Archives, London) we can find out these casualties are connected and exactly what happened.

On 11 March 1903 a train left Pretoria heading north to Middelburg, a line frequently targeted by Boers. The escort composed of men from a variety of regiments was commanded by a young officer recently arrived in South Africa, 2nd-Lt JP Wilson, Army Service Corps. The train was derailed by an explosion, 2nd-Lt Wilson turned out the escort who lined a ditch and began to return fire on the attacking Boers. 2nd-Lt Wilson spotted a group of Boers advancing up a donga, as he organised a counter-attack he was hit in the thigh losing consciousness immediately. Another part of the defence became disorganised and surrendered forcing the remaining defenders to surrender too. Three men had been killed, three wounded and 38 men surrendered. There is no evidence these men were actually detained and removed from the battlefield, reinforcements from Balmoral arrived. There is no record in the casualty roll nor are any listed in The Times.

Because British soldiers surrendered a court of inquiry was held. 2nd-Lt Wilson and a "Colour-Sgt Butler" (senior NCO) were "honourably acquitted". However, Lord Kitchener in his review, did not feel that Butler's conduct was honourable as he surrendered unwounded. Unfortunately there is no positive identification for "Colour-Sgt Butler".

By checking The Times a casualty was revealed not shown in the Official Casualty roll, Pte 6174 J Scott ("Acott" in The Times), King's Own Scottish Borderers. In the medal rolls Scott is shown simply as "deceased". Nor is Scott shown in Watt's In Memoriam indicating he has no known grave and is not listed on a memorial in South Africa.

Additionally, all the casualties for the Berkshire Regiment at Zilikat's Nek (02-08-1900) are recorded in the Official Casualty rolls are recorded as "Rietfontein". There are 15 Rietfonteins in The Gazetteer in all corners of South Africa. Correcting the casualties to Zilikat's Nek helps researchers, and crucially for collectors and dealers focused on "associations" reveals that these casualties occurred in a Victoria Cross action for the Berkshires. L-Cpl WJ House was awarded the VC for rescuing a wounded sergeant from under a heavy fire when warned not to do so.

Only one sergeant of the Berkshires is recorded as wounded at Zilikat's Nek, presumably this the man rescued by L-Cpl House: Sgt 3744 A Gibbs, Berkshire Rgt. Unfortunately Gibbs died of his wounds the same day.

The Register has been updated with these details for all these men.

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