Thursday 7 November 2019

Bakenlaagte - After the battle

On 30th October, 1901 Boer commandos comprehensively defeated the rearguard of a British column, killing its commander, Colonel Benson RA, and effectively putting the column out of action. This battle, at Bakenlaagte, Eastern Transvaal, is well known and well studied.

On this day (7th November), Major NE Young, RFA, a British Staff officer in Pretoria sent off a report to Lord Kitchener, the British Commander-in-Chief in South Africa. Kitchener forwarded it to the War Office, London who later released it to the newspapers.

Kitchener had asked Major Young to report on the:

 "the conduct of the Boers to the officers and men wounded in the action with Colonel Benson’s column at Bakenlaagte".

This is copied from the Morning Post, 13th December 1901, from FindmyPast. The report is worth careful reading and some research to consider the claims made by the British soldiers.

"Bakenlaagte Wounded

Ill-Treatment by Boers

The War Office has issued the following letters and reports relating to the ill-treatment of the British wounded at Bakenlaagte by the Boers.

From Lord Kitchener to the Under Secretary of State for War
Pretoria, Nov. 9.

Sir – I have the honour to enclose a report by Major Young, DSO, Royal Field Artillery, respecting the conduct of the Boers to the officers and men wounded in the action with Colonel Benson’s column at Bakenlaagte. – I have, &c.,

From Major NE Young, DSO, Royal Field Artillery, to the Military Secretary, Army Headquarters.
Pretoria, 7th November, 1901.

Sir, - I have the honour to report that, in accordance with your instructions, I have seen the wounded officers and men of Colonel Benson’s column now at Elandsfontein.

Out of a total of 147 wounded non-commissioned officers and men seen by me 54 had not been in the hands of the Boers. Of the remaining 93 men, 18 informed they had nothing to complain of, and in some cases they had met with kind treatment of an active nature. All represented that the commandant and those in subordinate command had protected the wounded in their immediate neighbourhood.

Seventy-five non-commissioned officers and men made complaint of ill-treatment of a more or less serious nature; nearly all of these had been robbed of whatever money they possessed, also of their watches and private papers. A very large proportion stated that their boots had been removed, and in those cases where the leg had been broken this caused intense agony. One man, Trooper Jamieson, of the Scottish Horse, whose arm was shattered, suffered terrible pain from the way in which his bandolier was removed; his arm has since been amputated. Many had been deprived of other articles of clothing, hats, jackets, and socks, in some cases being left with an old shirt and a pair of drawers only.

One man, Gunner Masham, 84th battery Royal Field Artillery, was deprived of £3, a watch and chain, and his warm jacket and shirt; the process of removing the latter was very painful, as he was shot in the chest. Sergeant Ketley, of the 7th Hussars, attached to the Scottish Horse, states that after having been wounded in the head and hip was shot with his own carbine in the arm by a Boer who was kneeling over him because he was unable to raise his arms when ordered to do so.

There are two evidences, Private Prickett, King’s Royal Rifle Corps, and Corporal Gower, 4th battalion King’s Royal Rifle Corps, 25th Mounted Infantry, to the fact that a man named Private Foster of their corps was killed at five yards’ range, though he had put up his hands in token of surrender and was unarmed.

There is a consensus of evidence that the wounded lying around the guns were fired on by Boers, who had already disarmed them, for a long period after all firing in their neighbourhood from our side had ceased. This was done whenever a wounded man moved, and in this way Captain Lloyd, a Staff Officer, who had been wounded in the leg, met his death. Corporal Atkins, whose fingers had been shot away, states that he was ordered to show how to work the gun, but got off on representing that he could not stand.

Such of the officers as fell into the hands of the Boers met with similar treatment to the men. Lieutenant Bircham, King’s Royal Rifle Corps, informed me that while he was travelling in the same ambulance as Lieutenant Martin, King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, since deceased, the latter told him that while he was lying on the ground with a shattered thigh his leg was twisted completely round so that the spur could be more easily taken off.

Even the late Colonel Benson was not respected. Though he was protected for some time by a man in authority, eventually his spurs, gaiters, and private papers were removed.

I forward herewith two specimen rounds of ammunition taken from the bandolier of a wounded Boer by Private Robinson, 2nd Scottish Horse. They are Mauser cartridges.

I attach statements taken down by me from the officers and men in relation to the most serious cases. I was impressed with the idea that the statements made to me were true and not wilfully exaggerated, so simply were they made. There seems no doubt that, though the Boer commandants have the will, they no longer have the power to repress outrage and murder on the part of their subordinates. – I have, &c.,
NE Young, Major, Royal Field Artillery.

Officer’s Report

Captain CW Collins, Cheshire Regiment:
“I was signalling officer to Colonel Benson on the 30th October. I was wounded, and lying near the guns about a hundred yards in rear of them. A Field Cornet came up, and went away without molesting me. AT about 5:30pm, or a little later the ambulance came and picked me up; my ambulance went some distance further, and Colonel Benson and some men were put in it. There seemed a lot of delay, which annoyed the colonel, and he asked to be allowed to get away. The delay, however, continued till a Boer came and took away Colonel Benson’s documents from his pocket, notwithstanding his protest they were all private papers, and that they had been seen by a commandant earlier in the day, who said they were not required. This man said it was all right; if they were private they would be returned.
CW Collins Captain
2nd Batt. Cheshire Regiment”

Lieutenant Bircham, 4th Battalion King’s Royal Rifle Corps, states:
“That he was in the same ambulance wagon as Lieutenant Martin, King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (since deceased) and that the latter told him that when he (Lieutenant Martin) was lying on the ground wounded the Boers took off his spurs and gaiters. In taking off his spurs they wrenched his leg, the bone of which was shattered, completely round, so as to be able to get at the spurs more easily, though Lieutenant Martin told them where he was hit.
HM Bircham
Lieutenant King’s Royal Rifle Corps”

Lieutenant G Acland Troyte, King’s Royal Rifle Corps, 25th Mounted Infantry, states:
“I was wounded on October 25 in a rearguard action with Colonel Benson’s force, near Kaffirstad. The Boers came up and stripped me of everything except my drawers, shirt, and socks; they gave me an old pair of trousers, and later a coat. They left me some time to see if our ambulance would; as it did not they took me into a farmhouse, used as a temporary hospital, and there treated me as well as they could. Commandant Grobelaar’s family were there. There were also a sergeant and two privates in the same room. They had also been stripped, but were well treated in the house. They took a silver watch and gold ring. I was removed in the ambulance two days after.
G Acland Troyte

Lieutenant Reginald Seymour, 1st Batt. King’s Royal Rifle Corps, 25th Mounted Infantry, states:
“On 30th October my company was sent back to the support of Colonel Benson’s rearguard. We occupied a hill on the right of the guns. I was wounded early in the day. In the evening, the company being ordered to retire, I was left behind with three others, two non-commissioned officers and one private; this was about 6pm. The Boers came up immediately. They took my greatcoat, gaiters, spurs, and helmet; they took the money and watches from the other wounded, but left them their clothes except the coat of one man. They then left us without assistance. Two Boers afterwards returned and took away a greatcoat belonging to one of our men which had been left over me. We were removed a few hours later in the ambulances. One of the party who stripped us was addressed by the remainder as commandant, but I did not know his name.”

Men’s Statements

Private E Rigby, 4th Batt. King’s Royal Rifle Corps, states the Boers took all his clothes except his shirt. This man is not quite able to speak yet.

No. 33262 Trooper Hood 2nd Scottish Horse, states:
“I was wounded on 30th October with Colonel Benson’s rearguard.. While I was lying on the ground the Boers came up and stripped me of my hat and coat, boots, 15s., and a metal watch. I saw them fire at another wounded man as he was coming to me for a drink. The guns were not removed until the ambulances cam up; as I was siting in the ambulance, it then being dusk, I saw them take off the guns. The ambulances were detained till twelve o’clock at night before returning to camp.”

No. 33345 Trooper Alexander Main, 2nd Scottish Horse, states:
I was wounded on the 30th October with Colonel Benson’s reargaurd. While lying on the ground the Boers came close up and stood about fifteen to twenty yards from where we were lying wounded round the guns. All were wounded at this time, and no one was firing. I saw the Boers there fire at the wounded. Captain Lloyd, a Staff Officer, was lying beside me wounded in the leg at this time; he received one or two more shots in the body, and shortly afterwards he died. I myself received three more wounds. I got into camp by myself.”

Trooper No. 33265 Jamieson, Scottish Horse says:
“The Boers took his boots and they hurt his shattered arm in a terrible manner while getting off his bandolier. His arm has been removed.”

No. 6127 Private Parrish, 1st battalion King’s Royal Rifle Corps, states:
“On 30th October, while I was lying wounded, the Boers came and took my boots off. An officer of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps, who was a prisoner, remonstrated, and they threatened to shoot him. Our ridge was not firing any more, but whenever a wounded man showed himself they fired at him. In this way several were killed; one man who was waving a bit of blue stuff with the idea of getting an ambulance received about 20 shots.”

No. 31362 Private Robertson, 2nd Battalion Scottish Horse, states:
“He has no complaints except the loss of 30s., he took two rounds with split bullets handed to me from a wounded Boer’s bandolier who was lying beside him.”

No. 2563 Private Prickett, 4th Battalion King’s Royal Rifle Corps, states:
“On the 30th October I was lying wounded with Colonel Benson’s rearguard. I saw the Boers come up, and an old Boer with black beard and whiskers, and wearing leggings, whom I should be able to recognise again, shot my friend, Private F. Foster, 4th Batt. King’s Royal Rifle Corps, by putting the muzzle of his rifle to his side. Private Foster had been firing under cover of an ant heap till the Boers took the position; he then threw away his rifle to put his hands up, but was shot all the same. When any of the wounded moved on the field after we had stopped firing they kept sniping at them.”

No. 33360 Private N.H. Grierson, Scottish Horse states:
“On 30th October I was wounded and lying by the side of Colonel Benson. When the Boers came up they wanted to begin to loot; Colonel Benson stopped them, telling he had received a letter from Commandant Grobelaar, saying the wounded would be respected. Colonel Benson asked if he could see Grobelaar; they said they would fetch him, and bought up someone who was in authority, but I did not think it was Grobelaar. Colonel Benson told him the wounded were not to be touched, and he said he would do his best; he himself protected Colonel Benson for about an hour, but he was still there when a Boer took off Colonel Benson’s spurs and gaiters; then the ambulance came and we were removed. I did not see the gun removed. I was with Colonel Benson’s rearguard on 30th October, 1901 just as I had mounted to change position I was hit in the right arm. I then dropped my rifle, being unbale to hold it, and turned towards the ambulance. I had to pass some Boers as I was galloping, and two or three of them shot me at about seven yards range, hitting my horse. These men must have seen I was wounded already.”

No. 4398 Sergeant Ketley, 7th Hussars, states:
“On 30th October I was attached to the 2nd Scottish Horse with Colonel Benson’s rearguard. I was wouned in the head and hip just before the Boers rushed the guns. I was covered with blood. A Boer came up, took away my carbine and revolver and asked me put to put up my hands. I could not do this, being too weak with the loss of blood. He loaded my own carbine and aimed from his breast while kneeling and pointing at my breast, he fired and hit me in the right arm just below the shoulder. Nothing was taken, and I was not touched anymore.”

No. 2439 Private Bell, 4th Battalion King’s Royal Rifle Corps, 25th Mounted Infantry states:
“I was wounded through the hip with Colonel Benson’s rearguard on the 30th October; when the Boers came up they took my boots off very roughly, hurting my wounded leg very much. I saw them taking watches and money off other men.”

No. 4153 Private C. Connor, Royal Dublin Fusiliers, states:
“I was attached to the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, I was lying beside the guns among a lot of our wounded who were not firing. Every time one of our wounded attempted to move the Boers fired at them; several men (about ten or eleven) were killed in this way. The Boers took boots and jacket. I was wounded in the hip.”

9564 Corporal P. Gower, 4th Battalion King’s Royal Rifle Corps, 25th Mounted Infantry states:
“I was on 30tjh October with Colonel Benson’s rearguard; I was wounded and unconscious, when I came to the Boers were stripping the men round me; a man, Private Foster, who was not five yards from me, put up his hands in token of surrender but was shot at about five yards’ range by a tall man with a black beard; he was killed. They also fired on the wounded after the latter had ceased firing.”

No. 6153 Corporal Atkins, 84th Battery Royal Field Artillery, states:
“I was with Colonel Benson’s rearguard on 30th October, when the Boers came up to me and said, “Can you work this gun?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Get up and show me.” I said, “How can I, I have on ehand taken away and I am wounded in both legs.” – this last was not true. He then said, “Give us your boots.”: he took them and my mackintosh. He took what money was in my belt. One of our men, Bombardier Collins, got up to try and put up a white flag as we were being fired at from the camp and by the Boers; as soon as he got up they began shooting at him. I saw a Kaffir fire three shots from about thirty yards off. ”

No. 15771 Bombardier Collins, 84th Battery Royal Field Artillery, states:
“When lying wounded near the guns after the Boers had been up to them I tried to raise a white flag as our own people were dropping their bullets close to us. When I did this they fired at me.”"