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.”"


Sunday, 27 October 2019

Tribute Medals: Borough of Barnsley

On eBay a Borough of Barnsley Tribute medal has been sold for £545. This medal is in Hibbard but when he published 1982 only one example was known to a "L-Cpl H Pearson".

The medal sold, the second example known, is to "Pte W Crossland".

The inscription does not identify the unit of the recipient. Hibbard states that  "L-Cpl H Pearson" served in the volunteer company, Yorks & Lancs Regiment. As Hibbard details Pearson's WW1 service in the Army Service Corps one may assume that the tribute medal named to him comes with Pearson's campaign medals.

"L-Cpl H Pearson" was Harry Pearson, 2 volunteer battalion York & Lancaster Rgt. His service number for South Africa was 7047. Pearson was born in Barnsley.

Following this line the medal just sold is to Willie Crossland also of the 2 volunteer battalion York & Lancaster Rgt. His service number for South Africa was 7026. Crossland was born near  Barnsley.

The inscription reads:


A search of British Newspapers Archive has failed to turn up a newspaper report on the award. It is unknown if all the recipients were from the 2nd volunteer battalion Yorks & Lancaster Rgt or inhabitants of Barnsley.

To estimate the number of this Barnsley Tribute medals I used FindmyPast.  I searched for all men born in Barnsley, Regiment = "York and Lanc*", Service Number = 70*, Year = 1900; there are 23 hits. This is inexact as Willie Crossland is indexed by FmP for "Huddersfield", yet his papers show he was born in Gilroyd Dodson [?], Barnsley.

Sunday, 6 October 2019

Bridging the Thukela, February 1900

As the Boers advanced into Natal they destroyed railway bridges and culverts, one such bridge was that over the Thukela (Tugela) river at Colenso.

The besieged town and northern Natal was isolated from railway traffic. The Boers held the Thukela river line as a defensive position from December 1899 to February 1900. British forces under General Sir R Buller VC made three failed attempts before gaining a foothold across the river to the east of Colenso on February 21st, 1900. Ladysmith was relieved six days later on the 27th.

While the battles raged on the hills just north of the river work began to build a railway bridge over the Thukela. Ladymith had been besieged since 28th October 1899 and, after four months, the garrison and civilians were starving, food and medical supplies would be needed immediately the siege was lifted. The river was within range of Boer artillery, yet civilians form the Natal government's Public Work Department, were bought in to do the work instead of using Royal Engineers. As it was the Engineers had built two pontoon bridges across the Thukela here under fire.

Work was begun on February 24th by one sub-overseer and 17 “mechanics”, their names are recorded on the medal rolls (WO100/279p238).  Supplies for the bridge were sent from Durban and work was expected to be completed in fourteen days. The bridge was was 600ft long and 30 ft high. In the end the bridge was completed in 20 days, a searchlight was lent by the Royal Engineers (who used some civilians themselves to operate the light) to allow work to continue at night. On two occasions the Boers shelled the bridge, no casualties or significant damage was recorded.

The first train to cross the bridge on March 19th was the Princess Christian ambulance train.

Each man who worked on the construction of the bridge was sent a congratulatory letter, the transcript reads:

"Public Works Department
Pietermaritzburg 24th March 1900

Re-Construction of the Tugela Bridge

As you were employed on the re-construction of the Tugela Bridge, I have much pleasure in informing you that in an open letter, COLONEL RAWSON, R.E. was good enough to make the following satisfactory remarks:
“The Bridge was finished in good time to allow the waggons proceeding to Ladysmith to supply the wants of the town as it was relieved, and it was with much pleasure that I conveyed to Mr Rennie and the men working with him, the commendation of the Commander in Chief, Sir REDVERS BULLER on their excellent work.”
I need hardly say That I add my own acknowledgement of your good work, especially having regard to the fact that for some two days you were under shell fire.

JFR Barnes
Chief Engineer
Pub Works Department

To: Mr A Campbell"

Plans to re-build the bridge, and others destroyed by the Boers, were well advanced. British newspapers reported on the plans. The original railway bridge had been constructed in 1877 by the Patent Shaft and Axletree Company located in Wednesbury, a suburb of Birmingham. This company had also built the railway bridge at Frere which the Boers destroyed as well. They were awarded the contract to build a new bridge, an American company also tendered for the contract offering to build the bridge quicker, but the Government decided to stick with the original builders. The Shrewsbury Chronicle reported on the 19th January that the first span had been completed and inspected and was planned for despatch to Durban in the week. All the spans, five for Colenso and two for Frere were anticipated to be completed in six weeks. The spans would be a total of 735 feet in length and weigh about 740 tons.

Note on Sources
All the men involved in building the trestle bridge can be found on The Register.

Newspaper reports can be found in:
The Scotsman 26-02-1900
South Wales Daily News 24-02-1900
Western Morning News 24-02-1900
Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser 22-03-1900 - reported the Princess Christian ambulance train crossed on the 21st March.
Bromyard News 22-03-1900
Bury Free Press 06-01-1900

Image of the destroyed bridge is in the public domain.
Image of the trestle bridge under construction is from With the Flag to Pretoria p458
Image of the Princess Christian ambulance train crossing is from the Digital Railway Images of South Africa

An actual copy of the letter sent to the building crew can be seen on this thread.

Friday, 30 August 2019

Tribute Medals: Holborn Engine Works

A "new" tribute medal has appeared on eBay. The medal is not in Hibbard's Boer War Tribute Medals: The Definitive Work (Constantia Classics (1982)).


The tribute was presented to Ralph Charles P Coulthard who served as Sapper 5861 1st Newcastle Volunteers RE attached to 12 Field Company. He was awarded a QSA with J,DH,Bf,CC,OFS,SA01 clasps, I have not noted the medal for sale. His service papers are catalogued on FindmyPast under number 5858.

Ralph Coulthard was born in St Andrew's, Newcastle in 1880 (or 1882 according to census information), the son of James and Sarah Coulthard. He enlisted for Short Service, one year, to serve in South Africa on January 19th, 1900. He was serving in the Newcastle Volunteers RE.
Ralph was working as a fitter apprenticed to G Gray (or Grey), Holborn Engine Works for five years. Holborn Engine Works made ships engines.

There were 52 men from the Newcastle Volunteers who went out in March 1900 to serve with the 12th Field company RE. They served until May 1901, in that time they served in the Cape Colony, Orange Free State and the Transvaal.

Ralph was awarded the QSA with the clasps: Johannesburg, Diamond Hill, Belfast, Cape Colony, Orange Free State and South Africa 1901.

Sunday, 25 August 2019

Repeated Gallantry: brave veterans of the Anglo-Boer War

During the Anglo-Boer War there were only three gallantry awards available to the Army; Victoria Cross, Distinguished Service Order and the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

78 Victoria Crosses and 2092 DCMs were awarded. The number of gallantry DSOs has not been calculated and they are excluded here.

Thousands of ABW veterans went on to serve in other wars, notably the First World War. The tables below show the gallantry awards subsequently won by ABW veterans.

Further details on these men are available on The Register.

You can see which ABW veterans went on to win their first gallantry awards (and other orders and campaign medals) using the search in The Research Centre.

VC winners - who subsequently won a second VC (1):

Name Rank Number Unit Remarks
Martin-Leake, A Surgeon-Captain South African Constabulary

DCM winners - who subsequently won an MC (50):

Name Rank Number Unit Remarks
Acraman, WE Colour-Sergeant 3070 Grenadier Guards
Axten, S Sergeant 3172 Cameron Highlanders
Beckett, AC Corporal 27995 Engineers, Royal
Bell, WC Lance-Sergeant 6380 Fusiliers, Royal
Belt, CB Quartermaster Sergeant 2814 South Staffordshire Regiment
Boast, ST Quartermaster Sergeant 1989 South Lancashire Regiment
Bradley, SGL Colour-Sergeant 328 Middlesex Rifle Volunteers
Brown, A Sergeant-Major 2623 Dorset Regiment
Burke, J Sergeant-Major 43 Dublin Fusiliers
Carney, TP Drummer 5748 East Yorks Regiment
Chalmers, J Sergeant 4978 Scottish Rifles
Clarke, AJ Sergeant 3012 Norfolk Regiment
Collier, A Sergeant 3513 18th Hussars
Croydon, AC Colour-Sergeant 4401 Lincolnshire Regiment
Dakin, E Colour-Sergeant 4649 Royal Lancaster Regiment
Downing, S Sergeant 2689 Devonshire Regiment
Dunn, JC Trooper 8376 Imperial Yeomanry
Finney, W Colour-Sergeant 3154 Manchester Regiment
Forbes, HN Sergeant 4216 5th Lancers
Harford, CE Regimental Quartermaster Corporal Major 1284 Royal Horse Guards (The Blues)
Harris, CB Sergeant 2481 Horse Artillery, Royal
Hazelgrove, A Drill Sergeant 1703 Grenadier Guards
Hazelwood, J Colour-Sergeant 4588 South Staffordshire Regiment
Hodgkinson, C Sergeant 3496 Worcestershire Regiment
Hudson, J Colour-Sergeant 398 Irish Guards also awarded bar to DCM
Jones, TA Colour-Sergeant 3871 Sussex Regiment
Langrish, W Sergeant 3433 Scottish Rifles
Leavens, FC Sergeant 3254 East Surrey Regiment
MacWhinnie, NH Sergeant 5177 King's Own Scottish Borderers
Marsden, WH Lance-Sergeant 4956 Shropshire Light Infantry
Moncrieffe, JA Sergeant 252 Imperial Yeomanry
Moore, J Sergeant 4204 King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry
Nicholl, RA Corporal 26794 Engineers, Royal
Parker, EA Sergeant-Major 1726 Welsh Fusiliers, Royal
Pepper, AL Colour-Sergeant 2624 Norfolk Regiment
Percy, HJ Colour-Sergeant 3046 East Surrey Regiment
Reid, W Quartermaster Sergeant 3479 Inniskilling Fusiliers
Richardson, JT Quartermaster Sergeant 2547 Norfolk Regiment
Roberts, FG Colour-Sergeant 4930 Scots Fusiliers, Royal
Ross, T Sergeant-Major 8322 Scots Guards
Rouse, AW Sergeant-Major 5365 Berkshire Regiment
Routh, PG Sergeant 314 Strathcona's Horse
Scaife, J Corporal 2622 Gloucester Regiment
Seaton, W Colour-Sergeant 4440 Derbyshire Regiment
Shea, JPL Colour-Sergeant 4236 Durham Light Infantry
Simpson, W Colour-Sergeant 6867 King's Own Scottish Borderers
Watts, AF Sergeant 87933 Field Artillery, Royal
Wenham, E Sergeant 9283 King's Royal Rifle Corps
White, EO Colour-Sergeant 2877 Border Regiment
Withers, J Corporal 3250 Leicestershire Regiment

DCM winners - who subsequently won a bar to the DCM (16):

Name Rank Number Unit Dated Bar
Boyd, W Private 3493 Middlesex Regiment '14th JUNE 1915'
Burley, JE Lance-Corporal 4 West Australian MI
Carney, TP Drummer 5748 East Yorks Regiment
Cownie, S Private 6411 Royal Scots Also won an MM
Howells, A Private 5771 South Wales Borderers
Hudson, J Colour-Sergeant 398 Irish Guards '10th -11th AUGUST 1915', also awarded MC
Hudson, WG Sergeant 2208 Devonshire Regiment
Lawn, JW Private 5516 King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry '29th SEPTEMBER 1915'
MacDonald, A Drummer 4938 Hampshire Regiment  '19th OCTOBER 1914'
MacKie, JD Colour-Sergeant 1980 Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders
MacKinnon, A Sergeant 2541 Cameron Highlanders '25th-27th SEPT. 1915'
McIntyre, WL Colour-Sergeant 2794 Highland Light Infantry '30th JULY 1915'
Noble, A Colour-Sergeant 3042 Durham Light Infantry '31st JULY 1915'
Shields, W Gunner 95011 Garrison Artillery, Royal '28TH JANUARY 1916'
Skinner, J Colour-Sergeant 4853 Seaforth Highlanders
Wing, FW Sergeant 3802 5th Lancers

DCM winners - who subsequently won an MM (3):

Name Rank Number Unit Remarks
Cownie, S Private 6411 Scots, Royal Also won a second bar to the DCM
Donnelly, JP Private 3269 East Yorks Regiment
Holmes, W Sergeant 5433 Dublin Fusiliers

Monday, 24 June 2019

A failed escape attempt? - Sgt Delaney, Royal Irish Fusiliers

Eighty British soldiers are recorded as having escaped from captivity, from about 10,000 soldiers captured. But, only 6,000 POWs were kept for any length of time. After September 1900, most British POWs were kept for a short period of time, some only long enough to be stripped of useful arms, ammunition, clothing, food and valuables before being set free to hobble barefoot and nearly naked back to camp.

A post on featured the exploits of two escapers of the New South Wales Lancers, Troopers Ford and Whittington. The text and images come from "the first 150 pages of Volume 62 of The Graphic, July to December 1900." A report was carried in the newspapers in June from which the account in The Graphic relies on heavily.

Trooper Milverton Ford had his account published in The Sydney Mail Saturday 30 June 1900 which is transcribed here. He notes they were joined by: "a sergeant of the Royal Irish Fusiliers, who had seen service in India and Omdurman". The report in The Graphic names him as "Sgt Delaney".

Whittington and Ford arrived safely in Delagoa Bay, Portuguese East Africa, but what happened to Sgt Delaney and who was he?

In the report published by the Sydney Mail Ford says that Delaney split from them after four days, "Parting as friends", heading south towards the railway at Bronkhorst Spruit. No further mention is made of him. However, the report published in the Daily Mail (Perth, Western Australia) two weeks earlier on 16th June, states that "Near Middelburg they missed Sergeant Delaney". Middelburg and Bronkhorstspruit are nearly 100km apart in a rough east-west line; Bronkhorstspruit is not south from Middelburg. There is definitely some confusion in Ford's account or the re-telling by the journalist who recorded it.

There was only one Sergeant Delaney of the Royal Irish Fusiliers captured in the war, 4245 C Delaney. The published Natal Field Force simply shows him as dying in Pretoria on 21st May, 1900, no record of him being captured. However, he must have been a POW to have died in Pretoria before the city was captured on 6th June, 1900. Delaney was most likely a POW at Nicholson's Nek on 30th October, 1899, although he was also present at Talana ten days prior.

Contemporary newspapers published confusing information about Delaney's exact date of death. The Army & Navy Gazette, 16th June, and The Times, 11th June, both state the date as 21st May,  but in the Army & Navy Gazette edition published 14th July it states "30-04". Only the latter publication shows the cause of death as peritonitis.

If this is the same Sgt Delaney as escaped with Ford and Whittington then he must have been re-captured by the Boers and returned to the POW camp. Ford recounts that "some of these who had attempted to escape before us contracted fever, and gave themselves up soon afterwards, returning to camp only to die". Delaney became ill and died a prisoner, one of 76 British soldiers to die as a POW, he is buried in Petronella. Sgt 4245 Delaney served in the 1898 Sudan campaign. Unfortunately no service papers have been traced.

Saturday, 4 May 2019

Who was there? 66th battery Royal Field Artillery at Colenso 15th December, 1899

Family historians want to know where their ancestor fought, and medal collectors obtaining a medal to someone involved in a well known action is a popular aim, but how do you know "your man" was there?

The Battle of Colenso on 15th December, 1899 was the third and final British defeat in seven days - christened "Black Week" by the newspapers.

The battle was notable for the loss of four guns from 66th battery and six from 14th battery, despite attempts to recover them under intense fire from the Boers that resulted in multiple casualties. Just two of the original 12 guns that were marooned were recovered. The remaining 10 were abandoned on the field of battle on the orders of the British commander, Major-General Sir Redvers Buller, VC. The loss of the guns, a rare event and embarrassment to the Army. For the Royal Artillery the guns were their Colours - the flags each infantry regiment used to carry into battle. The Colours were defended resolutely and many lives were lost in their defense. Conversely capturing the enemies' Colours was a great and celebrated event.

Darrell Hall's excellent forensic examination of the artillery at Colenso is essential reading to understand the battle.                                                              
Immediately news of the battle and the loss of the guns was telegraphed to the world a row broke out; "Who was responsible?" Buller blamed his chief gunner, Colonel CJ Long for positioning the guns too close to the Boer positions so their fire blasted the gunners from their guns. Others blamed Buller for ordering efforts to recover the guns to be stopped and the guns left as his army retreated from Colenso.                                                                                                                                                                         In efforts to recover the guns six Victoria Crosses and 22 Distinguished Conduct Medals were awarded. One of the VC winners was Lt FHS Roberts, King's Royal Rifle Corps, the only son of Field Marshal Lord Roberts VC, who was given command in South Africa following "Black Week".

Which members of the 66th battery fought at Colenso? Obviously, the one VC and 13 DCM winners and casualties from the battery are confirmed as being present. But, this group is the minority of those who were present at the battle.

Casualties 66th battery

    Officer    NCO       Other        Rank        Total
KIA 1 2 3 6
WO 3 2 10 15
POW 2 4 15 21

2 2
Total 6 8 30 44

The next source of identification is the clasp qualification on the Queen's South Africa medal. The "Relief of Ladysmith" clasp covers this battle, but also other battles, the qualification date for the clasp is from the 15th December, 1899 to the 28th February, 1900. Therefore soldiers not present at Colenso could be awarded the clasp the same as those present at Colenso, how do you tell them apart?

A total of 266 men are on the roll of the 66th battery with the clasp "Relief of Ladysmith", but the usual complement of a battery was 171 men (from Hall), a contemporary account states there were 165 men in the battery at the battle of Colenso (Act-Bdr 31002 T Stephenson, English Lakes Visitor 20-01-1900). It is clear that about 100 men on the 66th battery roll with the clasp "Relief of Ladysmith" could not have been at the battle. To identify the men who were there from those who were not you need to establish when they joined the battery. A number of men were bought into the battery to make up for its losses at Colenso. This information can be found in the service records.

For each of the 266 men I have looked for service papers and constructed a nominal roll for the battery at Colenso. Each man's entry in The Register will show whether it was likely he served at the battle or not. A summary is shown in the table below:

Rank Establishment (from Hall) Total on Roll Present - 66th btty Percentage of establishment Present Other # Not Present Unknown *
Major  1 2 1 100
Captain 1 4 1 100 1 1 1
Lieutenant ^ 3 5 3 100
Battery Sergeant-Major 1 3 1 100
1 1
Quartermaster Sergt~ 1 3 2 200
Farrier Sergt~ 1 3 1 100 1
Sergeant 6 10 6 100
1 3
Bombardier~ 6 15 9 150
3 3
Corporal 6 9 3 50
3 3
Trumpeter 2 4 2 100 1
Farrier 4 0 0 0

Saddler 2 0 0 0

Wheeler~ 2 3 2 100

Gunner 76 104 61 80 4 18 21
Driver 59 88 48 80 5 15 20
Cpl SS 0 1 1 0

Cpl Collar Maker 0 1 1 0

Bmdr CM 0 3 1 0
1 1
Shoeing-Smith 0 8 6 0 2

171 266 148 87 14 47 57

^ the number of Lieutenants on the roll is unusually inflated by 1 as Lt CStL Hawkes was on the sick list at the time of the battle and his place was taken by Lt GL Butler from the Unattached List.
~ Ranks listed follow Hall, these ranks include trades such as Wheelers and Acting ranks as shown on the medal roll, such as Wheeler QMS and Acting Bombardier
# Present other - with RA Staff or 66th battery's Brigade partners the 7th and 14th batteries
* Unknown - no service papers or papers show no proof

This table shows that 86% of the 66th battery who served at Colenso have been verified as joining the battery prior to the 15th December, 1899. Two men were transferred in just two days prior to the battle. A further 62 who appear on the 66th battery medal roll for the "Relief of Ladysmith" clasp did not serve with the battery on the 15th December. There is a large rump, 56 men, for whom no proof has been found that they served, numerically over half of this group could not have served with the battery at Colenso.

Having established that "your man" was there the next question is "Where was he on the battlefield, what did he do?". Did "your man" try and rescue the guns?

Again, unless he won a gallantry medal this is very difficult to establish. It is believed that all who tried to rescue the guns either received a gallantry medal or were killed in the attempt. However Bombardier 31002 T Stephenson wrote a number of letters home, in one he gives a lengthy account of his unsuccessful attempt to rescue a gun (English Lakes Visitor 20-01-1900). Stephenson did not receive a gallantry award, so his letter raises the possibility others tried to rescue the guns whose names have been lost.

Artillery batteries are very structured, divided into "the guns" and "the ammunition supply". Certain ranks only served in one of those sections; Lieutenants, Sergeants and Bombardiers served on the guns, Corporals were on the ammunition wagons (in the rear). Gunners and Drivers, the most numerous ranks in the battery, served on both the guns and ammunition wagons. 

In Bombardier 31002 T Stephenson's lengthy account he summarises, "Out of 165 men only 91 returned, but half of them were in charge of the baggage." (English Lakes Visitor 20-01-1900) The figure of "91 returned" seems low given that only 44 of the battery were casualties. Stephenson, according to his account, was stranded on the battlefield and made his own way back to camp. Perhaps there were more stragglers like him to add to the "91 returned". From the nature of the fight, the majority of casualties were among the gun crews and not the ammunition wagon crews, as Stephenson remarks, "half of them were in charge of the baggage.". Most Gunners and Drivers who were present but not casualties or gallantry award winners would not have been with the guns but on the ammunition wagons. The experience of the men on the ammunition wagons, well to the rear of the guns themselves - about 800 yards on the day sheltered in the "large donga" was different to those serving the guns exposed to the full force of the Boer fire.

The other evidence showing "he was there" is a letter or account either written by the man or he is named. I have found letters, long and short from three members of the 66th battery:

Shoeing-Smith 25723 AH Butler
Gunner 29487 W Silsby
Acting Bombardier 31002 T Stephenson

No doubt others exist.

This work has uncovered two new casualties; Driver 6302 T Jeffs was, according to his service papers, wounded, Driver 31020 J Williams suffered from chorea, literally "shell shock" when a "shell burst above his head". He is not in the official casualty roll due, I believe that chorea was not regarded as "wound", accordingly I have not included him as a casualty above. Gunner 85109 J Treanor was actually in prison on the 15th December, he is counted as "not present".