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, 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!”

Sunday, 4 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. []

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:

“ 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 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]

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 Bayley, 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:

Sierra Leone 1898-99
Sierra Leone 1898-99 & 1892
Sierra Leone 1898-99 & 1897-98

 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 50 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 1 1 51
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 8 1 97

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.