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 soldiers involved were letter writers and a number were published in the weeks following the incident.

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. They departed and on arrival his men began digging trenches. The ground was very hard and progress was slow. Patrols were sent out and sentries posted. 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 "British Mounted Infantry" were approaching the camp. A number soldiers swore the mounted men were dressed exactly like British MI and rode in formation, the mounted force approached from the east with the dawn light at their back and the soldiers admitted the light was not good. The patrol was captured and the Boer continued to the camp splitting into smaller groups, when they were about 100 yds they shouted "Hands Up". A number of soldiers maintain that Genl Christian de Wet captured them personally at the point of his mauser pistol. Cpt 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 or sheltering trying to get warm, rifles piled in neat stacks. Faced with an estimated 300-400 Boers (soldiers give a figure as high as 800) Ewen had no choice but to surrender. The volunteers were rounded up and marched off to be stripped.

The Boers had stopped a goods train outside the station and were busy looting it. The volunteers lost about a dozen sets of binoculars and a dozen rifles smashed. Very soon, an armoured train could be heard steaming fromthe south and opened fire on the Boers driving them away. Shortly afterwards General TC Porter rode up with his staff, the 3rd Cavalry Brigade were in the neighbourhood.

The volunteers were sent were conducted to Bloemfontein arriving there on November 2 and kept as prisoners overnight. (Windsor & Eton Express 15-12-1900, Oxford Journal 01-12-1900)

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. Ewen's brief account of the affair was published in the Berkshire Chronicle (08-12-1900).

The names are not probably recorded in the casualty rolls because they were only prisoners for a short period. The medal roll clearly shows the volunteer service company headed by Cpt Ewen's name. There are 135 names on the roll. Analysing the roll to exclude those who either died or were invalided prior to 28th October and Lt WP Alleyne who served as a Railway Staff Officer, Bloemfontein, leaves 119 names. Reading contemporary newspaper reports and accounts put the number of men at Holfontein at a maximum of 90. Frustratingly, South African Surrenders does not give a number but only states "The company", Pte 6793 HG Swain states there were 88 men (Oxford Journal 01-12-1900), The Reading Mercury (01-12-1900) states between 80 and 90 from the letters written by soldiers who were there, the letter from an unknown soldier states they numbered 50, but 50 is half a company, and perhaps the writer was simply reinforcing the fact they were heavily outnumbered.

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:


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.