Wednesday 26 August 2020

Who Was There? The Siege of Wepener April 1900

The clasp qualification states:

“All troops engaged in the defence of Wepener between 9th April, 1900 and 25th April, 1900, both dates inclusive.”

The troops involved were from the Colonial Division with a small number of British regulars. The siege actually occurred a few miles west of the town in a specially chosen site bordering the Jammersberg Drift on the Caledon River. Wepener is in the Orange Free State, so this clasp is cannot be awarded with the Orange Free State clasp.

The clasp is sought after for the action it represents and the fact it was the second smallest issue of a clasp behind Relief of Mafeking. However, that does not make it rare in the market, medals with the clasps are frequently traded. The clasp also appears incorrectly on medals so it is essential to verify the entitlement before paying the premium this clasp attracts.

In November 2012 I completed a new Wepener roll published on The Register. This was the first digital roll ever published. A hardcopy roll was created by Stanley M Kaplan of Johannesburg which he privately printed undated. The Acknowledgements reads like a "Who's Who" in the history of QSA research; MG Hibbard, DR Forsyth and Diana Birch. The roll was assembled before the internet and databases existed for the masses. The approach was to read the medal roll for each unit known to be involved and pick out the entitled men, then follow leads from history books and sales catalogues for 'odd men'. Because the vast majority of clasps were awarded to men in colonial units creating the roll was more difficult. Very many colonials served in more than one unit and some medals correctly carrying the Wepener clasp are named to units that did not serve in Wepener. It can get confusing trying to cross reference medal rolls. Many served in units both of which were present at Wepener, such as 1st & 2nd Brabant's Horse. This raises the question; "With which unit did they serve at Wepener?", to resolve this you need access to the casualty rolls, enlistment dates in attestation papers (WO126 The National Archives) and discharge books (WO127 The National Archives). The Register has resolved a number of these discrepancies.

In 2012 I had the advantage of computers and of course Kaplan's roll, which unwittingly contains some duplicates, I have removed these from the figures presented here for his roll. 

The figures presented below represent updated knowledge on the Wepener clasp.

British Empire Units at Wepener

Unit HMG The Register Kaplan
Brabant's Horse, 1 345 364 371
Brabant's Horse, 2 459 469 470
Brabant's Horse (1st Life Guards)   3  
Brabant's Horse (19th Bengal Lancers)   1  
Brabant's Horse (21st Lancers)   1  
Brabant's Horse (7th Hussars)   1  
Brabant's Horse (8th Hussars)   2  
Brabant's Horse (Bedfordshire Regiment)   1  
Brabant's Horse (Cape Garrison Artillery)   3  
Brabant's Horse (Colonial Scouts)   3  
Brabant's Horse (Liverpool Regiment)   1  
Brabant's Horse (Loch's Horse)   1  
Brabant's Horse (Oxfordshire Light Infantry)   2  
Brabant’s Horse – sub-total 804 852 841
Cape Mounted Rifles 520 521 517
Cape Mounted Rifles (Cape Medical Staff Corps)   1  
Cape Mounted Rifles (Garrison Artillery Royal)   4  
Cape Mounted Rifles (Staff)   1  
Cape Mounted Rifles (Kitchener's Galloping Maxims (Field Artillery Royal))   1  
Cape Mounted Rifles – sub-total 520 528 517
Colonial Defence Force Staff   1  
Driscoll's Scouts 56 47 78
Driscoll's Scouts (Frontier Mounted Rifles)   9  
Driscolls Scouts (Queenstown Rifle Volunteers)   3  
Driscoll's Scouts (Xalanga Border Mounted Rifles)   1  
Driscoll’s Scouts – sub-total 56 60 78
Kaffrarian Rifles 393 418 423
Kaffrarian Rifles (Cape Garrison Artillery)   1  
Kaffrarian Rifles (Queenstown Rifle Volunteers)   3  
Kaffrarian Rifles – sub-total 393 422 423
Royal Scots 81 82 83
Royal Scots (Berkshire Regiment)   1  
Royal Scots – sub-total 81 83 83
Royal Army Medical Corps 6    
Royal Engineers 11 11 11
Total Present at the Defence of Wepener 1898 1957 1953

HMG - for reference the numbers published in an authorative history in 1907; History of the War in South Africa 1899-1902, vol II. Mjr-Genl Sir F Maurice KCB, Hurst & Blackett, 1907 - p315

MG Hibbard ( "The Single Bar" (Cape Town 1964)) gives a total of 1900 Wepener clasps awarded, 1806 to colonial units.

There is no evidence the Royal Army Medical Corps had any representatives at Wepener. Where HMG got this information is not known. Interestingly Hibbard states 6 men of the Cape Medical Staff Corps were awarded the Wepener clasp. Kaplan lists one but he is on the strength of Brabant's Horse.

From the table you will notice the number of other units represented from officers and men attached, and others who served in units prior to transferring to a unit that served at Wepener. This means you may find medals named to units not present at Wepener, many are genuine, but some are bogus and need checking carefully. There are also medals named to units that men served in after Wepener, the South African Light Horse are an example, see here.

Trying to resolve entitlement through Ancestry is not easy as you are completely reliant on the skill of their indexing, which is not great, and having to create and follow a trail from one unit to another. The Register removes this by presenting one record per man with all their units shown as well as clasp entitlement, and other infromation such as awards, casualty and perhaps service in other wars.

Clasps that "got away"

A feature of the Wepener clasp is the confusion when the medal rolls were compiled over who was eligible, many thought the relief force was eligible and you will find on the medal rolls incorrect allocation of the clasp to relief force units. In many cases the entitlement was corrected before medals were issued. The Border Horse roll is a good example of this. 

The table below shows units known to have Wepener clasps issued incorrectly and not re-claimed, some are shown on the roll as eligible but why is not clear. Some of these are known on the market.

Unit The Register Kaplan Notes
10th Hussars 2   Relief Force
9th Lancers 1   Relief Force
Grenadier Guards 1   Relief Force
HMS Doris 1   Odd man
Imperial Yeomanry (Staff) 3   Relief Force
Imperial Yeomanry 1   Odd man
Johannesburg MR/Prince Alfred’s Volunteer Guard 1 1 Odd man
Lancashire Fusiliers 1   Odd man
Royal Irish Rifles 1   Odd man
Total Odd men 12 1  

The "odd men" are simply that, the medal roll indicates entitlement to the clasp but, why needs to be investigated. The Relief Force medals are more straight forward - simple clerical error. 

Eighteen sailors from HMS Doris were incorrectly allocated the Wepener clasp, 17 were re-claimed, one made it to the market and sold for £2800 in 2007. See Barrett J. Carr’s related article published in the O.M.R.S. Journal (Summer 1977).

Right, the QSA awarded to Pte 2675 A Swales, 10th Hussars. He was servant to Mjr-Genl JP Brabazon who was in command on the IY in South Africa and commanded the relief force. Brabazon's entitlement to Wepener was cancelled and his clasp re-claimed. Somehow Swales' clasp was not reclaimed. His medal was considerably cheaper than the HMS Doris medal.

MG Hibbard in his great paper, "The Single Bar" (Cape Town 1964) cites four examples of a QSA with the the single clasp Wepener, all have proved to be multi-clasp entitlements and not all entitled to Wepener anyway.  

  • 829 Trpr GJ Ovens, Brabant's Horse
  • Trpr W Pritchard, Border Horse
  • 1176 Pte CE Jarvis, Steinaecker's Horse
  • 3864 Pte G King, Royal Scots

  • Casualties during the siege

    Unit Total % All Casualties Killed Wounds - Died Total Fatalities % All Fatalities Missing - Released Wounded
    Brabant's Horse 39 23.21 6 2 8 23.53 1 30
    Cape Mounted Rifles 99 58.93 17 5 22 64.71   77
    Driscoll's Scouts 9 5.36 1   1 2.94   8
    Kaffrarian Rifles 11 6.55 1   1 2.94   10
    Scots, Royal 10 5.95 2   2 5.88   8
    Total 168 100 27 7 34 100 1 133

    Buying a Wepener clasp medal

    The Register has logged 551 sales of 303 Wepener clasp medals, The "survival rate" is 15%. This statistic shows they are well traded, this year alone eleven have been recorded for sale. As The Register logs more sales data these numbers will rise. This includes medals named to a unit served in subsequent to the siege.

    Unit Sold Survival Rate % Issued
    10th Hussars 1 50.00 2
    7th Hussars 1 100.00 1
    Brabant's Horse 104 12.48 833
    Cape Garrison Artillery 1 25.00 4
    Cape Mounted Rifles 91 17.47 521
    Colonial Defence Force 1 100.00 1
    Driscoll's Scouts 6 12.77 47
    Engineers, Royal 3 27.27 11
    Field Artillery, Royal 1 100.00 1
    Frontier Mounted Rifles 1 11.11 9
    Garrison Artillery, Royal 2 50.00 4
    Irish Rifles, Royal 1 100.00 1
    Kaffrarian Rifles 73 17.46 418
    Kitchener's Horse 1 100.00 1
    Lancashire Fusiliers 1 100.00 1
    Scots, Royal 15 18.29 82