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 When it was realised naval guns were needed one garrison was withdrawn and equipped with guns to join General Lord Methuen’s Kimberley Relief Force.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.

[HC Deb 07 March 1901 vol 90 cc794-5 https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/commons/1901/mar/07/west-indian-troops-at-st-helena#S4V0090P0_19010307_HOC_89]

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, 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).

Sunday, 28 October 2018

George Ives, the last veteran.

Trooper 21198 George Ives, 1st (Wiltshire) Company, 1st Battalion Imperial Yeomanry is believed to be the last surviving veteran of the Second Anglo-Boer War. Born in Brighton on November 17, 1881 he died on April 12, 1993 aged 111. Although one obituary states he was born in France but his birth was registered in England to avoid being called for French military service.

He enlisted for the Imperial Yeomanry at Cheltenham, Gloucestershire on January 30, 1901, aged 20 years old, a grocer by trade. He served in South Africa from March 1901 to August 1902, he was grazed by a bullet across his cheek which left a scar. This wound was so slight it did not merit a mention in the official casualty rolls. He was discharged in England in September 1902 after serving for one year and 216 days.

For his service he was awarded the Queen's South Africa medal with the clasps, Cape Colony, Orange Free State, Transvaal, South Africa 1901, South Africa 1902.

After the war he decided to settle abroad and a toss of the coin sent him to Canada in 1903 where he set up a famr with his father. He married in 1910, retired from farming in 1941 aged 60 but continued to work in various jobs until a final retirement aged 75.

In 1992 he was bought over to attend the Remembrance Day parade in London.

In the attached PDF are two obituaries and a short article on his visit to the UK in 1992.

Monday, 8 October 2018

That Armoured Train Incident: 15 November, 1899: An analysis of casualties

Before we dive into the casualties the location of the incident needs to accurately stated. The incident is popularily known as "Estcourt" and less so "Chieveley", both in Natal south of Colenso and Ladysmith. The train left Estcourt towards Chieveley, on its return journey it was derailed and ambushed on the farm "Blaauwkrantz", here is the entry form the Gazetteer:

a farm in Natal Colony (Estcourt district; KwaZulu-Natal) on which the village of Chieveley is situated.  Variant: Bloukrans (Afrikaans spelling as used on the 1: 250,000 map).  The armoured train derailment and the capture of 80 prisoners by the Wakkerstroom and Heidelberg commandos, including Mr. W.L.S. Churchill, on 15 November 1899 took place on the farm Blaauwkrantz.  The train was manned by A company 2nd bn Royal Dublin Fusiliers, C company Durban Light Infantry and sailors from HMS Tartar. The area had particular significance for the Boers since the Blaauwkrantz Monument commemorating the voortrekkers killed during the Weenen massacres had been dedicated here only on 16 December 1895.  The incident is referred to by British historians as taking place at Chieveley and Estcourt. 
A Gazetteer of the Second Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902, Jones HM & MGM (Military Press, Milton Keynes 1999)

The composition of the force on the train is generally stated to be a company (or half company) from the 2nd battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers (A company) and the Durban Light Infantry (C company) and sailors from HMS Tartar manning a 7pdr gun. Although the chief eyewitness, war correspondent Winston Churchill states the sailors were from HMS Terrible (My Early Life, 1930). The train was run by civilian crew and a number of gangers and platelayers accompanied the train. At the time British newspapers reported the force to number between 180-190 men (The Times 18-11-1899).

However, the war correspondent, Bennet Burleigh, gives a detailed account in his book The Natal Campaign (Chapman & Hall, 1900). He gives these figures, but did not include the surgeon Francis Napier:

Cpt JAL Haldane, Gordon Highlanders in command
73 - Royal Dublin Fusiliers
47 - Durban Light Infantry (Our Colonials, Stirling, 1907, states 60)
 6 - HMS Tartar
 7 - Platelayers
 1 - Telegraphist
 3 - Engine crew (not given by Burleigh, my estimate: driver, fireman and guard?)
 1 - War correspondent - Winston Churchill
 1 - civilian surgeon - Francis Napier

Total: 140

The train was ambushed and partially derailed. The Boers shelled the train and poured in a heavy rifle fire. A stout defense was made but the 7pdr was soon disabled by Boer artillery. The engine and tender remainded on the rails and smashed through boulders placed across the line. The engine and tender returned to Estcourt with a number of men and some wounded.

The Natal Field Force roll lists 47 casualties:

HMS Tartar Dublin Fusiliers Durban LI Gordon H Train Crew War Corres Total
Killed 0 3 0 0 0 0 3
DoW 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Wounded 0 5 12 0 3 0 20
POW 0 22 0 0 0 0 22
POW & Wo 0 1 0 0 0 0 1
Missing & Wo 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Missing 0 1 0 0 0 0 1
Total 0 32 12 0 3 0 47

I have traced a further 49 from the following sources; The Times 18, 19 & 20-11-1899, Army & Navy Gazette 18-11-1899, Sunderland Daily Echo 17 & 18-11-1899, Penrith Observer 21-11-1899The Second Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers in the South African War (Romer & Mainwaring, 1908). The complete casualty breakdown is now:

HMS Tartar Dublin Fusiliers Durban LI  Gordon   H Colonial Scts Train Crew War Corres Total
Killed 0 3 1 0 0 0 0 4
DoW 0 1 2 0 0 0 0 3
Wounded 0 3 14 0 1 4 0 21
POW 4 33 10 1 0 0 1 50
POW & Wo 0 2 3 0 0 0 0 5
Missing & Wo 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 1
Missing 0 4 6 0 0 3 0 13
Total 4 46 37 1 1 7 1 96

The Boers claimed British casulties were four killed, 14 wounded and 56 POWs. The wounded were retained as POWs, an ambulance train sent out by the British to recover the wounded was not allowed to recover any men. Some of the wounded had returned on the engine and tender, and some made their way back on foot.

Interestingly only five men are listed as wounded and POW, there must be some imprecise reporting of casualties amongst the wounded and POW group, not all the wounded would have got away.

Having advanced the known casualties to 96, the question researchers and medal collectors want to know, "who else was there?". The sources I used to get the extra casualties have revealed another thirteen names*. Disappointingly, Romer's history for the Royal Dublin Fusiliers only mentions Pte 5256 M Kavanagh who was awarded the DCM.

There are though some discrepancies when looking at the medal rolls. According to the medal rolls four men earned the Defence of Ladysmith clasp and yet were named as missing. The siege of Ladysmith began 2 November, 1899, no British troops entered the the town until it's relief on 28 February, 1900. The four are:

Cpl 576 D Brown Durban Light Infantry - The Times, 20 November, 1899 (crushed under a truck 15-11-1899, died 23-12-1899 buried Intombi Camp, Ladysmith)
Pte 689 GB Humphreys Durban Light Infantry -  The Times, 20 November, 1899
Pte 4685 G Reynolds Dublin Fusiliers - Romer & Army & Navy Gazette, 18 November, 1899
Pte 540 AG Woodward Durban Light Infantry - The Times, 20 November, 1899

There is an error somewhere, either the medal roll or the printed casualty list.

* Napier's name comes from a letter he wrote printed in the The Southern Reporter ,21-12-1899. I am indebted to Berenice for this information.

Saturday, 9 June 2018

The Royal Patriotic Fund - a rare document

Thanks to lovely exchange off the The Register's Facebook page ("like" us if you haven't, thanks!) I was shown something I've not seen before. A donation slip from the "Patriotic Fund" in remembrance of a soldier who lost his life in the war, very many thanks for permission to publish this image of the donation slip:


Thanks to the National Archives for this information on the "Royal Patriotic Fund". The Fund was set up in 1854 during the Crimean War, Queen Victoria was concerned for the welfare of widows and orphans of deceased serviceman for which niether the Army or government made provision. The Fund was administered by commissioners and financed by public donations. So successful was the Fund it was maintained throughout Queen Victoria's reign. The Commissioners made many grants and even had enough money to create a school for boys and one for girls. After nearly 50 years of work the Commissioners realised that it was not appropriate for the public to fully support widows and orphans. They petitioned parliament to grant pensions to widows, the first pensions to war widows were paid in 1901. 

Gunner 62478 George Read, O battery, Royal Horse Artillery died of dysentery on October 23rd, 1900 at Pretoria. Unusually his service papers survive on FindmyPast, most service papers for soldiers were destroyed. George, born in Lichfield, Staffordshire, first enlisted for the South Staffordshire Rgt in April 1887 but transferred to the Royal Artillery in September.

In  December1893 he married Mary Bayne in Aldershot, just after he had transferred to the Reserve. They had daughters, Hilda and Nellie and a son, Richard George, who was born in April 1899. Richard received a sovereign from the Patriotic Fund. It is not known if every child in the family received a sovereign. Re-called for war service in October 1899 George was not sent overseas until April 1900 when he was posted to O btty RHA. O btty had been involved in the 'Relief of Kimberley' campaign, then onto Johannesburg and Pretoria, and then following the Boer army eastward towards Portuguese East Africa. 

The sovereign the young Richard George would receive was worth £1, today (June 2018) that equals £117, although now Sovereigns are priced on their gold weight so they are worth about £221. George is commemorated on the Royal Artillery Memorial, London, and the memorial for the men of Birmingham in Canon Hill Park. George probably lived there while on the reserves as his wife's address is noted as 27 Flack Terrace, Park Rd, Soho, Birmingham. His widow, Mary, would remarry in 1905, to a Cpl Shipp, from U Btty RHA.

Richard George followed his father's footsteps and joined the RHA age 14, he served in WW2 rising to the rank of Lt Quartermaster. He was captured by the Japanese in Singapore in 1942 and detained in Changi POW Camp. He died in Plumstead, south London in 1946 barely a year after his release from captivity. Richard's emotive Japanese POW Record card is reproduced on FindmyPast (you will need to pay to view it).

Updated 10-06 with more family details.

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Hill of Squandered Valour. The Battle of Spion Kop, 1900


Hill of Squandered Valour. The Battle of Spion Kop, 1900
Ron Lock
Casemate Publishers, Newbury & Philadelphia 2011

Spion Kop is a well known battle of the Second Anglo-Boer War because of its intense and bloody nature – over 1300 British casualties in a day on “an acre of massacre”.  The battle was one of Buller's attempt to relieve the besieged town of Ladysmith. Spion Kop has been the subject of numerous books and battle field guides – as recently in 2010 and two titles in 2011 alone.

Ron Lock is well known for his work on the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 and this is his first foray into the Second Anglo-Boer War. The catchy title and cover art work (collecting the wounded after the battle) are reminiscent of his AZW work. The similarities do not end there; in 1996 two reviewers of Lock's Blood on the Painted Mountain about the battles of Hlobane and Khambula criticised Lock for an over long preamble and a lack of research, (see SOTQ March 1996 Issue 84, review article by Huw M Jones and book review by Ian Knight).

In Squandered Valour the Table of Contents reveal an inconsistency with the outward appearance and sales blurb on the book. Of the 13 chapters just one is about Spion Kop - 44 pages. Exactly why 11 chapters are required to get the reader to Spion Kop is a mystery. It would appear Lock had not enough material on Spion Kop itself. The other chapters cover the invasion of Natal and Buller's battles to relieve Ladysmith. However, this book is not the complete story of the Relief of Ladysmith, the key battles of Tugela Heights which were fought over a period of a fortnight are covered in just a couple of pages as the reader is rushed to the final page.

What of the chapter on Spion Kop? This, unfortunately is no tour de force, no concise elucidation of the facts, Lock brings nothing new in research, sources, facts or argument to the story of Spion Kop. His bibliography is painfully thin on Spion Kop sources. Strangely the official British Government record, the Spion Kop Despatches, which has been published numerous times since 1902  is listed under “Unpublished Sources and Private Information”. Lock has has not sought out a history for each unit involved; for instance the South Lancashire Regiment was covered in the excellent Red Roses on the Veldt Lancashire Regiments in the Boer War 1899-1902 (J Downham, Carnegie Publishing, Lancaster 2000). Nothing for the King's Own (Royal Lancaster), Middlesex Regiment or Scottish Rifles. The history of the Imperial Light Infantry (ILI) is admittedly very scarce, but the National Library of South Africa has a copy – Lock lives in Kwazulu-Natal. Even closer to home The Natal Archives contain a number of accounts from survivors of Spion Kop. The personal papers of Colonel A Thorneycroft, one of the key commanders at Spion Kop, have not been consulted, his surname is misspelt throughout as well.

The jacket blurb promises “vivid and complete detail...valuable to both historians and strategists”,  errors and omissions seriously undermine this claim. The “several companies” of the South Lancashire Regiment that attacked Spion Kop were in fact just two ('C' and 'D' companies). Their regimental commander Lt-Colonel MacCarthy O'Leary “survived the battle”, there is no evidence he was present on Spion Kop at all. A new regiment, “the Royal South Lancs” appears on Spion Kop, it may be a confusion between the South Lancashire and King's Own (Royal Lancaster) Regiments. Thorneycrofts MI had 18 officers not “eight” on Spion Kop, in fact the TMI suffered 10 officer casualties on Spion Kop. The complete story of the ILI is missing; two companies were told off to provide an escort to a howitzer that arrived too late, they were sent up Spion Kop ahead of the rest of the regiment). In the confusion on to whether to retreat or reinforce the Somerset Light Infantry were readied to go up and build gun emplacements.

The supplied casualty figures are woefully inadequate and they cover the period 17-24 January, no figures are given for the day of the battle, or even a breakdown by unit. There is no mention at all of any gallantry decorations or Mentions in Despatches for the officers and soldiers who fought on Spion Kop.  This book is intensely disappointing.



Saturday, 19 May 2018

Saved from death by a prayer book - but who?

I recently purchased this postcard because it shows a book and prayer book carried in the "left breast pocket of a Corporal of the R.S.G.....which was the means of saving his life when shot at Greonfontein [sic], Bowkers Spruit, on Dec. 30th, 1901."



Who was this soldier?

In the action at Goenfontein 5 men of the 2nd Dragoons (Royal Scots Greys) were killed and 13 wounded. No other units suffered casualties, it is possible only the 2nd Dragoons were involved.

Amongst the wounded were a Corporal and a Saddler Corporal. Cpl 4726 WG Griffiths, his service papers survive and record he was wounded in the abdomen. Service papers have not been found for Saddler Cpl 3922 R Scott. However, using the newspaper archive on FindmyPast, a casualty list indicating where each man was wounded was found in the Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer (4th January 1902).

The newspaper confirms the book and prayer book beloinged to Saddler Corporal Scott, he was wounded in the chest:


I have no record of Saddler Corporal Scott's medal on the market.

For all the men wounded I have added the location of their wound in The Register.

Sunday, 29 April 2018

"...while asleep in the trenches."

Reading through newspapers I found a short story picked off the news wires by many newspapers in Britain filed by the Pretoria correspondent of The Standard in early November 1900:

""Last week a party of fifty Boers surprised the volunteer company of the Berkshire Regiment while asleep in the trenches. The first intimation of the presence of the enemy was when the Boers woke them up and demanded their arms which were surrendered." The officers have been placed under arrest, pending a court martial."

This was a unique event in the war, and very shameful for the British Army. Looking into the casualty rolls the names of these men are not recorded. Fortunately, the Army kept a record of every surrender that occurred as each was inspected to ensure officers and men made every effort to resist the enemy. These records are published as South African Surrenders, War Office 1905, a copy is available at the National Archives under WO108-372.

The incident occurred on October 28, 1900 at Holfontein Siding in the Orange Free State. Such was the scale of the surrender and the circumstances it merited a special account. Holfontein Siding is 30 km south-west of Kroonstad on the line to Bloemfontein.

The volunteer service company commanded by Cpt AF Ewen entrained at Kroonstad with orders to go to Holfontein. On arriving there they were informed by the Commandant, Cpt RE Watt, 1st bn Oxfordshire Light Infantry, to proceed to Holfontein Siding 4 miles further and dig in. Their departed and on arrival his men began digging trenches. The ground was very hard and progress was slow. Patrols were sent out and sentries. In the evening a big storm erupted which did not end until the early hours of the 28th. At 4am a patrol was sent out which shortly returned the news that cavalry were approaching the camp. Cpt Ewen saw the approaching horsemen were dressed in kakhi and wearing slouch hats, when they were about 100 yds they shouted "Hands Up". Ewen could see there were just a handful of his men in the entrenchments and only two had rifles in hand, everyone else was asleep, rifles piled in neat stacks. Faced with an estimated 300-400 Boers he had no choice but to surrender. The volunteers were rounded and marched off to be stripped while others looted the camp removing arms, ammunition, food and anything else they fancied.

From the south an armoured train could be heard which opened fire on the Boers who rode off. Shortly afterwards General TC Porter rode up with his staff, the 3rd Cavalry Brigade were in the neighbourhood.

Ewen was bought before a court-martial on November 20 at Bloemfontein charged with; "that he shamefully delivered up a post to the enemy" and "he was taken prisoner by want of due precaution". The court asked why the men were not stood to at daybreak, Ewen replied he did not think it was necessary. The court found Ewen guilty of the second charge but not the first, the sentence was a severe reprimand and forfeiture of any campaign medal. Lord Roberts approved the court's decision. When the War Office reviewed the case it confirmed the sentence and added that Ewen forfeits his war gratuity. The medal roll shows Ewen was awarded a QSA medal, whether it was recovered is not known.

The names are not probably recorded in the casualty rolls because they were only prisoners for a short period, even though they lost their arms and ammunition. I have added their names to The Register, the medal roll clearly shows the volunteer service company headed by Cpt Ewen's name. There are 130 names (excluding those who died before this incident and Lt WP Alleyne who served as a Railway Staff Officer, Bloemfontein).

Ewen's military career was not unduly upset, he continued to serve in the volunteers and then the Territorial Force before he resigned in 1911. He re-joined for WW1 serving at home as a Major (temporary).









Sunday, 8 April 2018

How Research has advanced - as revealed by one medal

I recently purchased a QSA medal single clasp for "Relief of Ladysmith" to Trooper 1786 FD Hester Natal Police. The dealer supplied verification from the medal roll confirming the single clasp. A nice medal with an unusual single clasp.

Job done?

Of course not. Research is never absolutely, completely done.

Using The Register I looked the recipient up - before purchase of course and discovered that the man was entitled to two further clasps, but more excitingly he served in three other, rather special, units and was captured in a very nasty ambush late in 1902.

When the medal arrived I was surprised and amused to see the medal roll verification came from myself in 2008 that I did for a different dealer. Back in 2008 the medal rolls were not on Ancestry, I was using my own micro-film copy; old fashioned page by page research. The details on the medal led me to page roll 261 page 130 for the Natal Police which confirmed the single clasp and the remark "discharged 26-01-1901". I could not find Hester on an Extra Clasp roll for the Natal Police. To all intents and purposes Trooper Hester's role in the war had ended. Clasp confirmed, research completed.

The Register is a fantastic resource making the most of modern technology - namely the database. Whereas Ancestry's medal roll index is simply a list of names from the rolls, The Register connects all the references to a single recipient in one place. Looking up Trooper 1786 FD Hester Natal Police shows you the gold dust hidden in the rolls and information from casualty rolls and other sources that turns a "nice medal" into a sensational QSA.

Following discharge from the Natal Police in 1901 Hester served as Sgt 6 Utrecht-Vryheid Mounted Police and in Loxton's Horse. In 1902 he enlisted for the Special Squadron, Steinaecker's Horse. All three units were composed of hard men who were intensely disliked by the Boers. Loxton's Horse was a shadowy "loot corps" formed in secret by Lord Kitchener to wage economic warfare on the Boers. Very little is known about Loxton's Horse, only two men appear on the medal rolls under that unit name. I have constructed a history and nominal roll.

Serving with Steinaecker's, on April 16, 1902, Hester was part of a large patrol sent to raid a Boer laager. The laager was empty but Boers were spotted near by, giving chase the patrol followed the Boers into a narrow defile where others Boers poured a heavy fire into them. Six men were killed, 16 wounded and 31 captured. Hester was posted as "missing, rejoined", he may have been captured and released or simply escaped the carnage and made his own back to base.

A terrific story, enough to grace any medal. But, research on his full name, Francis Danby Hester, reveals a Sergeant 4908 Francis Danby Hester 3rd SA Infantry, 1st SA Brigade - missing presumed killed between the 15th-20th July 1916 at Delville Wood on the Somme, France.

Delville Wood is the iconic battle for South African forces in WW1 - huge casualties were suffered as they hung to a chunk of earth defying German efforts to capture the ground. When relieved on July 20 the 1st SA Brigade mustered just 750 out 3153 men - a 76% casualty rate.

Never stop researching.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

British Cavalry: Clasp Rarity

A recent advert on eBay for a QSA to the 6th Dragoon Guards screamed:

RARE CLASP JOHANNESBURG AND 2 BATTLE BARS

Is this true?

Here is a table of clasps awarded to the British cavalry:

Defence of Kimberley 3 0.004%
Defence of Mafeking 11 0.014%
Wepener 11 0.014%
Relief of Mafeking 46 0.059%
Rhodesia 52 0.067%
Modder River 499 0.643%
Belmont 506 0.652%
Talana 536 0.690%
Elandslaagte 604 0.778%
Natal 978 1.260%
Tugela Heights 1629 2.098%
Laings Nek 1702 2.192%
Relief of Ladysmith 1734 2.233%
Wittebergen 1940 2.499%
Defence of Ladysmith 2066 2.661%
Dreifontein 2249 2.897%
Paardeberg 3045 3.922%
Relief of Kimberley 3087 3.976%
Diamond Hill 3565 4.592%
Belfast 3851 4.960%
Johannesburg 4418 5.691%
Transvaal 13212 17.017%
Cape Colony 14468 18.635%
Orange Free State 17426 22.445%
Total Clasps 77638

The most common battle clasp is............."Johannesburg"! The other two clasps on the medal being sold are "Paardeberg" and "Relief of Kimberley" - both scarcer than "Johannesburg", but to which the recipient is not entitled.

The counts for "Cape Colony", "Orange Free State" and "Transvaal" do not include all the men from the cavalry attached to Remount Depots. Not all these men are included in the main roll for their regiments, you could a few hundred for each of these clasps.

From the table overall I excluded a handful of men - usually officers, attached to the cavalry or Staff from British volunteer cavalry units such as the Queen's Own Worcestershire Yeomanry and The Loyal Suffolk Hussars.

Friday, 2 March 2018

A Bogus Claim for the Elandslaagte Clasp?

Amongst the Royal Horse Artillery rolls in WO100/139 is a page for the Riding Establishment, Royal Artillery (page 257) with just 10 names. One line stands out:

Driver 7115 H Langley with clasps Transvaal, Elandslaagte, Laing's Nek

Elandslaagte is one the scarcest clasps for the second pitched battle of the war that took place on October 21st, 1899. Langley's combination is interesting, Elandslaagte is most often combined with Defence of Ladysmith or Relief of Ladysmith and not just with Laing's Nek. Langley is not listed in Biggins' Elandslaagte roll (Token Publishing 2004). Is this a "new" Elandslaagte clasp?



Looking for validation Langley is on the roll for the 86th Battery Royal Field Artillery - a unit not present at Elandslaagte. His clasps on this roll are Cape Colony Transvaal and Laing's Nek, clasps consistent for this battery. Fortunately service papers exist (WO364 WW1 Series) - but not complete, unfortunately his clasp entitlement is not mentioned nor the dates he served in South Africa. However, his papers reveal much that may indicate why the Elandslaagte clasp appears on the Riding Establishment roll.

Henry enlisted in The Buffs (East Kent Rgt) in 1891 as Henry Huggins. In 1894 he transferred to the Royal Artillery, possibly in India. In 1898 he was transferred to the 86th Battery and then in August 1900 moved to the Riding Establishment after being invalided from South Africa. Henry's conduct was consistently bad, his offences included; "absent from 6:30 a.m. roll call", "improperly dressed in Wellington Street", insubordination, "being in bed after reveille", "found asleep on his post" and others.

The Riding Establishment did not serve in South Africa, and the roll was prepared to enable those veterans to claim their medals. Langley may well have told the clerk preparing the roll he was entitled to the Elandslaagte clasp.

What clasps was Langley issued with: The roll for the 86th Battery states his medal was issued from the Riding Establishment roll, with the Elandslaagte clasp?


Sunday, 25 February 2018

British cavalry and the Relief of Kimberley

The relief of Kimberley was a cavalry operation. After the success of Paardeberg, Lord Roberts unleashed his cavalry commanded by General JDP French on a dash to relieve Kimberley.

French took nine regiments and a squadron of the 6th Dragoons - over 3,000 men. A further 17 cavalry regiments were represented by 22 officers and 51 men.

Regiment RoK   Officers      ORs   
3rd Hussars 10 2 8
11th Hussars 4 1 3
15th Hussars 5 2 3
17th Lancers 5 3 2
18th Hussars 8 0 8
19th Hussars 1 0 1
1st Dragoon Guards 3 0 3
1st Dragoons 2 1 1
20th Hussars 2 2 0
21st Lancers 7 2 5
2nd Dragoon Guards 2 0 2
3rd Dragoon Guards 3 2 1
4th Dragoon Guards 2 2 0
5th Lancers 4 0 4
7th Dragoon Guards 1 1 0
7th Hussars 10 4 6
8th Hussars 4 0 4
73 22 51

Three members of the Imperial Yeomanry were also present, one officer and two men who were servants to General French.

British Cavalry and the Relief of Mafeking

No British cavalry regiments were present for the relief of Mafeking - it was a "colonial" affair - Rhodesians, Canadians and south Africans. The formal British mainland representation was just a company of infantry drawn from Barton's Fusilier Brigade - Royal Fusiliers, Royal Welsh Fusiliers, Scots Fusiliers and Royal Irish Fusiliers.

Nonetheless 19 British cavalry regiments were represented at the relief of Mafeking, 11 officers and 48 men.

Regiment RoM Officers ORs
10th Hussars 2 0 2
11th Hussars 10 1 9
13th Hussars 2 1 1
18th Hussars 1 0 1
19th Hussars 2 0 2
1st Dragoons 1 1 0
1st Dragoon Guards 3 2 1
2nd Dragoon Guards 1 1 0
3rd Dragoon Guards 4 0 4
4th Hussars 1 1 0
5th Dragoon Guards 3 0 3
5th Lancers 2 0 2
6th Dragoon Guards 1 1 0
7th Dragoon Guards 1 0 1
7th Hussars 4 2 2
8th Hussars 3 0 3
Imperial Yeomanry 2 1 1
Royal Horse Guards (The Blues) 5 0 5
48 11 37

British Cavalry and the Relief of Ladysmith

Out of the 18-20,000 men under General Sir Redvers Buller's command in the campaign to relieve Ladysmith there were only two and a half regiments of regular British cavalry; 13th Hussars, 14th Hussars and the 1st Dragoons. Additionally there were very small drafts (less than 30 men each) from the cavalry regiments trapped in Ladysmith; 5th Lancers, 5th Dragoon Guards, 18th Hussars and 19th Hussars.

Yet a total of 16 other regular cavalry regiments were represented in the campaign, all very small detachments numbering from 1 up to 8. Their participation was rewarded with two possible clasps; Relief of Ladysmith and Tugela Heights. The Tugela Heights clasp is less common, men could have been sick or found other duties as the campaign wore on.

Regiment RoL Officers    ORs     
      TH    Officers     ORs    
10th Hussars 4 1 3 4 1 3
11th Hussars 2 1 1 2 1 1
12th Lancers 4 1 3 4 1 3
16th Lancers 4 2 2 4 2 2
1st Dragoon Guards 8 4 4 7 3 4
1st Life Guards 8 2 6 2 1 1
21st Lancers 3 2 1 3 2 1
2nd Dragoons 3 0 3 2 0 2
2nd Life Guards 7 1 6 4 1 3
3rd Dragoon Guards 1 1 0 1 1 0
4th Hussars 2 2 0 2 2 0
6th Dragoon Guards 1 1 0 1 1 0
7th Dragoon Guards 7 3 4 4 22
7th Hussars 4 2 2 3 2 1
8th Hussars 2 1 1 3 1 2
Royal Horse Guards (The Blues) 8 2 6 5 2 3
68            26             42             51             23             28

Most of the officers would have been on Buller's Staff, the other ranks would have been signallers, servants or attached to colonial units. See this blog for a detailed analysis of the 1st Life Guards detachment.

Additionally two volunteer cavalry units were represented. Colonel Baron Gerard along with two privates from the Lancashire Hussars served on Buller's Staff and Lt FW Jarvis of the Loyal Suffolk Hussars was attached to the 13th Hussars.