Wednesday 14 December 2022

Imperial Yeomanry - Natal clasp

The Natal clasp to the Imperial Yeomanry (IY) is the seventh scarcest clasp issued to the IY with 59 men marked on the medal rolls as entitled. See my blog post on the clasps issued to the IY

The IY never fought as a unit in Natal so how did it's members come to be entitled to the clasp?

The Natal clasp was issued for service in Natal between 11th October, 1899 and 11th June, 1900, both dates inclusive who had not received a clasp for a specific action in Natal. It could not be issued with the Cape Colony clasp, see QSA Clasps.

The majority (49) of the IY Natal clasps were issued to the 20th (Fife and Forfar) Company, IY.

Of the the others, two awards can be understood even if the circumstances are not clear from available sources:

Squadron Sgt-Mjr 4617 MHF Harrison, 41st (Hampshire) Company earned two rare battle clasps for the IY, one of two Relief of Mafeking clasps and Natal. He was a veteran of the 16th Lancers and men of his cavalry experience were attached to the relief force, but not usually from the IY. How he earned his Natal clasp is a not known. But is possibly related to the Relief of Mafeking, a good portion of the relief force came from Natal.

Pte 10269 HJ Pedley 56th (Buckinghamshire) Company, his service papers and medal rolls show entitlement to Cape Colony, Orange Free State and Transvaal. However, one roll, WO100-126p105 (56th company) shows the award of Wittebergen, Transvaal, and Natal referencing a letter that would show the reason why but, unfortunately this letter is lost.

The other eight awards are debatable with the available evidence:

Lt-Col RGW Chaloner, OC 1st bn Imperial Yeomany who sailed in March 1900 apparently earned the Belmont clasp (action of November 1899) and the Cape Colony and Natal clasps (mutually exclusive). He is also credited with Wittebergen which could be correct.

Seven members of the 47th (Duke of Cambridge's Own) Company who had been captured at Lindley and later released (one escaped) finding their way to Ladysmith in Natal by July 1900. Did they enter Natal before the cut-off date of 11th June, it seems unlikely and in any case were they "on the strength of a unit" to qualify, if so which unit? They all earned the Cape Colony clasp which is mutually exclusive with the Natal clasp.

So, what about the men of the 20th company? They were part of the Second Contingent IY raised early in 1901. A newspaper report in February 1901 reported, "According to present arrangements the drafts will not go to Cape Town, but to Durban [Natal]. From thence they will be sent to Germanstown, which lies between Johannesburg and Pretoria." (The Courier 05-02-1901) The organisation and despatch of the Second Contingent was chaotic as well described by Will Bennett in his history of the IY, Absent-Minded Beggars (Leo Cooper 1999). Will does not mention this plan to land in Durban and proceed inland from there, so perhaps it was not put into practice.

The Shipping Lists are annoyingly vague in 1901 on the composition of the IY embarking for South Africa. A reason for this is that Second Contingent men were shipped in penny packets of about 50, so men from a number of companies embarked together. We know from IY service papers these men embarked about February 25th, this coincides with the sailing of the Orotava from Southampton. The Orotava docked at Cape Town, did it go on to Durban or did the men change ships?

A letter (St Andrews Citizen 11-05-1901) from an unnamed Fife & Forfar trooper confirms they landed in Durban and details their journey to join the 20th company resting at Bloemfontein. It is not explained why they didn't travel from Cape Town to Bloemfontein, a more direct route. Other Second Contingent men for the 20th company landed at Cape Town. The men landing at Durban took the rail route north through the recent Natal battlefields. At Newcastle, "we got the order to load our magazines and get ready - we got 100 rounds - for any emergency that might arise". Did this duty in anticipation of an attack satisfy the requirement of "on the strength of a unit" in Natal? The Boers did not attack and their train journey continued. They reached Bloemfontein on April 4th. Unfortunately their date of arrival in Durban is not mentioned. Two days later they began their work joining a column, their first night on the veldt was "spent on the wet ground. All the time the rain was pelting like mad, for a South African thunderstorm is a terrible thing." Welcome to the war.

The letter shows the men did indeed go to Natal and we know the purpose was simply to join their company in Bloemfontein. But, why Durban and not Cape Town is not at all clear.

Is the award of the Natal clasp understandable or debatable? Neither, the award must fall into the "not justified" category as their arrival was clearly after the cut off date for the clasp of 11 June, 1900. I was recently able to inspect one of the medals, that awarded to Trpr 25542 P Grant. The medal is clearly as issued, all the rivets are as perfect as one could hope for. 

From this it is clear there was no doubt when the medal was issued that the medal roll entitlement was correct. Other clasp entitlements, notably for Wepener, were challenged and one can see this clearly on the medal rolls. There was no attempt to recall these clasps as was seen with other issuing errors.

Of the 59 awards just six have been recorded on the market, four of the 20th company and SSM MHF Harrison's DCM group.

Wednesday 9 November 2022

A Russian on Commando. The Boer War Experiences of Yevgeny Avgustus.

Edited by Boris Gorelik

Jonathan Ball Publishers, Jeppestown, South Africa 2022


ISBN 978-1-7761-9136-9

ebook ISBN 978-1-7761-9137-6

‘I will have to kill these people, even though they did not cause me the slightest harm!’

Not the best thought with which to enter a war perhaps, but that was the reaction of a Russian as he encountered a friendly Englishman who had just rescued his pith helmet from the waters of the harbour at Lourenco Marques, Portuguese East Africa in January 1900.

The Russian was Yevgeny Augustus, a proud officer of the Imperial Russian Army. Yevgeny was one of a few thousand volunteers who travelled thousands of miles to southern Africa to join the two Boer republics in their war against the Imperial British Empire.

Yevgeny wrote about his experiences and these have been translated into English (done well by Lucas Venter) and expertly edited by Boris Gorelik. Yevgeny’s memoirs were spread across a book and newspaper and magazine articles that have been expertly combined into one. A portion of Yevgeny’s memoirs were published by Boris in 2016.

Yevgeny writes well and honestly providing an insight into his motives, the effort of getting to southern Africa and then his war experiences; no one escapes criticism. One is left with a question; “Why did he go to war for countries and a people he had no stake in, no future with, nothing to gain and everything to lose?”

Yevgeny’s honestly consider his motives; the Boer fight for “freedom and very existence” appealed (although he was not a republican and remained committed to Imperial Russia until his death in battle, Boris concludes he was “a staunch monarchist”) and “there is an opportunity to smell gunpowder not on the training mortal combat”. He was bored of peace time soldiering. The war in southern Africa was a convenient opportunity for Yevgeny “to go off in search of another field of activity if the close confines of everyday life oppress him”. It is easy to reach the conclusion that if there had a been a war in Europe, closer to home, he would have fought there. The Balkan Wars of the 1870s attracted about 4,000 Russian volunteers, 10 times more than travelled to southern Africa.

From the moment Yevgeny left Russia in December 1899 the journey to South African Republic (SAR) presented moments of reflection, insight and new information as to what lay ahead. With fellow volunteers they travelled to Brussels to SAR’s representative in Europe, Dr WJ Leyds, to get papers that would allow him to cross into the SAR. Dr Leyds explained, he himself felt unable to directly recruit volunteers in Europe out of respect for Belgium’s official position of neutrality over the war. One theme sustaining the Boer fight was the false hope Europe (including Russia) would intervene on their side tipping the military balance in their favour. Clearly, this was always a slim prospect.

From Brussels they travelled to Marseilles to board a ship for Lourenco Marques via Madagascar and Beira. In Beira he met many Englishmen, “who had abandoned their affairs in Rhodesia… They all struck me as prime candidates for the gallows.. After I got to know them more closely, I spent several pleasant moments in the company of these gentlemen, who had lived through all manner of trials and tribulations.” The power of honest conversation. There were many Europeans there, like the English, seeking a fortune one way or another from gold mining in Rhodesia and the SAR.

One such entrepreneur, a German from Alsace, gave Yevgeny the benefit of his experiences through his brother who, “was also stupid enough to go fighting for the Boers as a volunteer, and now I got his last letter in which he says that the Boers give the foreigners the cold shoulder, look down upon them, that’s how dizzy their recent victories have made them. You have to pay out of your own pocket for your kit, shoes, clothes and provisions, and I doubt if you have a lot of money left after your partie de plaisir’ [pleasure cruise].”

He also freely offered his opinion and advice, “Remember never to believe the newspapers when they accuse the British of everything and depict the Boers as some Old Testament patriarchs. Once you get there, you’ll understand things better and change your convictions. You’ll realise that this war was caused by the Boers’ hatred of all other nations and their fear of losing their oligarchic form of government in their struggle against new and alien elements. On both sides you’ll see the most unbridled greed and narrow-minded egoism conceivable. But in any case, my sympathies are with the English, because they and they alone brought the light of culture and civilisation to these shepherds, who spend all their time singing psalms and reading the Bible…I feel sorry for you, young man, so take my sincere advice: go home before it’s too late”.

Yevgeny ignored this man’s advice and travelled on, crossing the border at Komatipoort. The Boers he encountered there were “very unkindly, to tell the truth”. At Lourenco Marques there was confusion whether they would need to pay their train fare to Pretoria. Yevgeny decided not to trust the rumour and bought a second-class ticket. At Komatipoort, some French volunteers claimed a free ticket. Yevgeny complained to the station master and was offered a free upgrade to first-class. Further down the line at Waterval Boven the station master there refused to recognise the upgrade and demanded eight shillings from a frustrated Yevgeny promising him the fare would be refunded at Pretoria by the director of the railway. At Pretoria the director explained there was no such refund policy.

Finally, Yevgeny arrives at the Natal front in late January and attaches himself to the Krugersdorp Commando. His first battle experience is that of Vaalkrans in early February.  Travelling through northern Natal he notes the destruction wrought by the Boer invaders in Newcastle, which had not been defended by the British; the town “seemed completely lifeless. Everything around us bore the signs of ruthless, senseless destruction: ruins, the heaps of rubbish and bricks, the oppressive silence of the deserted streets and squares, recalled the darkness of the Middle Ages, when wars were characterised by savage hostility between peoples, when it was considered inadequate merely to rout the enemy in an open field and every victory was accompanied by looting, destruction and the wreaking of violence upon peaceful, unarmed civilian”. Betraying a naivety born out of an idealistic view of the war fostered in European coffee houses and bars, also surprising for a professional soldier, he pondered how such a state of affairs could exist “in our age of civilisation and progress”.

Now Yevgeny’s narrative turns to warfare and it is apparent the foreign volunteers, like Yevgeny, who thought their professional training would be of use, begin to question what they can contribute beyond simply adding an extra rifle to the firing line. Not the role for a European trained officer. The Boers needed no lessons in military engineering, especially their ability to dig concealed trenches “as though guided by some deeper instinct”.

However, he had reason to doubt the commitment of Boers and foreign volunteers to a fight to the finish. In the desperate battles on the Tugela Heights he felt many Boers “had probably dispersed, believing that the cause was lost”. On the final day, February 27th, he counted seventeen of the Krugersdorp Commando still present. The retreat north was dispiriting, Yevgeny found some Hungarians who had fled the Tugela Heights before the final battles, nicely set up “the owners of a squat little tent and a wagon with all sorts of goods – canned food, saddles, blankets and the like.”

Amidst the chaotic retreat of the Boer forces in Natal, the foreign volunteers began to think of forming their own units to conduct guerrilla operations at which they felt they could excel. Once again lofty ideals did not materialise, the “Russian Corps” failed due to a lack of Russians, so they became 36 Europeans. For some ego was primary, of the two Germans, a Prussian officer was given command of a German Baron on the promise that German and Dutch recruits would be placed under his command. It was not the foreign volunteers who would shine but the Boers, “the flawless guerrilla operations of De Wet, De la Rey and Botha will make their way into tactical handbooks.”

Yevgeny was wounded and captured in the defence of Pretoria in June 1900. Spared from being sent to a POW camp in Ceylon by the intervention of the Russian military attaché with the British forces he was back on duty with the Russian Army in August 1900.

These memoirs are an invaluable addition to the literature on the war. Yevgeny provides many insights on the complete journey, physical and mental, of a foreign volunteer. His honest assessment and opinions shine a light and make obvious the complexities of a war keenly debated today.

Monday 26 September 2022

"Odd Men" British Cavalry in South Africa 1899-1902 exhibit, OMRS 2022 Gold Medal winner

For the first physical convention since the Pandemic I was pleased to present an exhibit using more data compiled from The Register.

"Odd Men" focuses on officers and soldiers from the regular British cavalry who served in the war but not with their parent regiment. Very often they earned different clasps making those medals prized by collectors. I analysed the clasp entitlements for the regiments, those that deployed and those that didn't to produce a spreadsheet allowing "odd men" to be easily spotted.

Odd Men display
The pdf of the panels in the display is here.

The "Odd Men" Identifier - a spreadsheet of regiments, clasp entitlements and more is here.Odd Men Gold Medal

Tuesday 19 July 2022

X-Ray Expert

 In the QSA rolls for the medical services, roll WO100-227 page 134 is simply titled "X Ray Expert".

There is just one name on the page: Eachus, Thomas Eedis.

The X-ray was a very recent discovery made by Conrad Rontgen in 1895. He immediately realised the X-ray could be useful in medicine. From 1896 medical doctors and scientists began developing the X-ray for doctors to use. 

During the war both sides used x-ray machines. There are many hits on-line for "x-ray in the boer war", you can see a picture of an xX-ray machine in use here. Professor JC de Villiers wrote an overview article "The origins and early use of radiology in South Africa" which can be downloaded. However, TE Eachus' name does not figure in these sources or on-line searches connected with the war.

There is indeed a Thomas Eedis Eachus (1878-1931) who was not a doctor but an electrical engineer and I believe is the "X Ray Expert" although no direct evidence has been found to substantiate this. Known as Eedis, he was born in Sydenham, Kent in 1878, his father George Eedes was a civil engineer. Eedes was just 21 when war broke out in 1899. I have not traced his education, the last census before the war in 1891 he is a 13 year old scholar living in Forest Hill, south London. He does not appear to have gained any professional qualifications, nonetheless appears to have been a very competent and successful electrical engineer.

Eedis sailed for the war on 10 March, 1900 aboard SS Avoca with 10 General Hospital, he is described again as "X-ray Expert". He was perhaps working for a company that supplied X-ray machines and was sent out to maintain the machine. He worked in the Cape Colony, Orange Free State and Transvaal. The QSA roll is signed at 9 General Hospital, Bloemfontein in September, 1901. Eedis stayed on into 1902 as he earned a King's South Africa medal, his rank on this roll is "X-ray expert". How wonderful if that was inscribed on the medal.

Back in the UK, in December 1903 at the Enfield Church Day Schools Grand Bazaar he gave a "most attractive as well as instructive" presentation on the use of X-ray "in surgical operations, especially in relation to bullet wounds received in war"; something of which he had first hand knowledge. In 1905 he was granted a patent with a George Howard Nash for  "Improvements in Cut-outs for Overhead Electrical Conductors." to make overhead trolley wires safer when they break. Eedes enjoyed sports, he played cricket for Enfield and was a member of the Bush Hill Park Golf Club, Winchmore Hill, London.

By 1911 Eedis is living in St Albans, Hertfordshire working for the Western Power Company. He later worked for the North Metropolitan Electric Power Supply Company. 

In February 1917 Eedes was commissioned Temporary Lieutenant in the Royal Naval Reserve for his electrical skills. In April 1918 he was put to work on hydrophone research and development. Again Eedes was working on new technology, the hydrophone had only been invented in 1914. Once more he was successful in his work and was awarded an OBE in 1919 for "carrying out pioneer work in connection in which his electrical knowledge was invaluable". His report in ADM-337/123/244 noted: "Possess tact and firmness. Has greatly helped development of the Special Trawler Flotillas attached to Southern Patrol Force."

In 1929 be became a Joint Managing Director of the newly formed Young Accumulator Company Ltd. The 1935 AGM reported success of the company's "Super Armoured Battery" for use in electric vehicles, the report noted the batteries could be re-charged overnight; sound familiar?

In June 1918 Eedes married Nancy Lilias Bayford, they had one son, George T Eachus who was killed serving in the Royal Navy in 1943. 

Eedes died 11, August 1931 in East Molesey, Surrey.

Sunday 23 January 2022

Medals "returned as protest, not wanted"


In December 1936 a veteran of the Anglo-Boer War and World War 1 returned his medals to the War Office. The reason is not recorded and one can hazard a guess why a veteran would return his DCM (WW1), QSA, KSA and 1914-15 Star trio in December 1936.
The veteran was James Galoska (or Gasloska), Sergeant 4125 2nd bn Somerset Light Infantry, later RQMS 20218 6th bn Somerset LI.
Born 1875 St Pancras, London, son of Charles and Christina Galoska. His father was Prussian and worked as a commission agent. His mother was from Orkney. He enlisted 08-06-1894 at Devonport, a member of the Devon Artillery Militia. After 12 years exemplary service James was discharged 07-06-1906 at Exeter, intending to live in Toronto Canada at 119 Wellington Street West, Toronto, where his mother and sister lived.
AT some stage he returned to the UK and in 1914 enlisted again. He went to France in 1915. In 1917 he was awarded the DCM, "For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He has performed consistent good work throughout and has at all times set a splendid example."
Demobilised 08-03-1920 in Germany to serve with the Inter-Allied Rhineland High Commission. On 14-12-1936 the War Office recorded the return of the medals "in protest". They were scrapped on 01-09-1942. The object of the protest is unknown.
Note on the KSA roll WO100-323p148. Crown Copyright, The National Archives, London.
James appears to have worked as a clerk for Lloyd's Bank, King's Cross Branch, London. He died in London in 1955.