Sgt-Major W Robertson VC Gordon Highlanders

For Valour

Sergeant-Major William Robertson, Gordon Highlanders was awarded his Victoria Cross at Elands Laagte on the 21st October 1899, during the final advance on the enemy’s position when he lead each successive rush exposing himself fearlessly to the enemy’s artillery and rifle fire to encourage the men.

Robertson

William Robertson VC

After the main position had been captured he lead a small party to seize the Boer camp, and although exposed to a deadly cross fire from the enemy’s rifle fire he gallantly held on to the captured position, and continued to encourage the men until he was dangerously wounded in two places.

Robertson was later commissioned into the Gordon Highlanders as a quartermaster with the rank of lieutenant. He was promoted captain in 1910, major in 1915, and lieutenant-colonel in 1917. He retired in 1920. After his retirement he became honorary treasurer of the Royal British Legion Scotland.

 

He died in 1949

Forgotten Voices of Empire: A Soldier Poet

Private Alfred Roberts, of the Royal Irish Lancers, sends home some lines which a soldier comrade had written. They are remarkable both in sentiment and as possessing real poetic fire.

IF I SHOULD FALL!

If I should fall among the dead and dying,

  Amid the strife upon the blood-stained field,

My spirit, Lord, upon Thy love relying,

  To Thee I yield.

THEIR ORDEAL OF FIRE THE GRENADIER GUARDS AT THE BATTLE OF BIDDULPH’S BERG

THEIR ORDEAL OF FIRE THE GRENADIER GUARDS AT THE BATTLE OF BIDDULPH’S BERG 1900

I do not ask a respite from the grave;

  When duty calls I’ll hasten to my place,

But when my hour should come, one boon I crave

  To see Thy face.

THE GREAT ASSAULT ON LADYSMITH—THE DEVONS CLEARING WAGON HILL.

THE GREAT ASSAULT ON LADYSMITH—THE DEVONS CLEARING WAGON HILL.

For Thou hast been my friend and brother,

  And thro’ sweet nature all my joys I’ve known:

No earthly bond unites me to another,

  I stand alone.

FIX BAYONETS! REPELLING AN ATTACK FROM THE TRENCHES AROUND LADYSMITH.

FIX BAYONETS! REPELLING AN ATTACK FROM THE TRENCHES AROUND LADYSMITH.

For I despise the cant and double-dealing

  Which serve mankind, the humble and the proud:

How hard to find one heart with genuine feeling,

  In all the crowd

A PICKET OF 13th HUSSARS SURPRISED NEAR THE TUGELA RIVER HUSSAR HILL

A PICKET OF 13th HUSSARS SURPRISED NEAR THE TUGELA RIVER HUSSAR HILL

To Thee, to Thee, O, Father, I surrender.

  This earthly gift whene’er I hear Thy call,

But let my death be swift, the pang be tender,

  Yet like a soldier fall. 

For the Queen and old Ireland', 1900

 The Cheltenham Chronicle, Saturday March 7th 1900.

Sergeant T Lawrence 17th Lancers VC

For Valour
 
Sergeant T Lawrence 17th Lancers was awarded his Victoria Cross on the 7th August 1900.
He was on patrol with a private near Essenbosch when the two were attacked by twelve or fourteen Boers. The private’s horse was shot and he was thrown, dislocating his shoulder.
Sergeant Lawrence at once came to his assistance, extricated him from under his horse, put him on his own horse and sent him back to the picket.
Lawrence

Sergeant T Lawrence 17th Lancers

Sergeant Lawrence took the private’s carbine and with his own weapon kept the Boers off until the wounded man was out of range. He then returned for some two miles on foot followed by the Boers, and keeping them off until assistance arrived.
 
Lawrence later served in World War I and World War II and reached the rank of lieutenant-colonel in the 18th Royal Hussars (later 13th/18th Royal Hussars)
 
He competed in the 1912 Summer Olympics for Great Britain in eventing. He did not finish the Individual eventing (Military) competition, also the British team did not finish the team event.
 
He died in 1949.

Forgotten Voices of Empire: The Battle of Maiwand 27th July 1880 Part 1

The Battle of Maiwand was one of the principal battles of the 2nd Afghan War (1878-1880).  A British force consisting of  two Brigades of British and Indian troops under the command of Brigadier General Burrows (1827–1917) was defeated by an Afghan force under the leadership of Ayub Khan.

On the afternoon of 26 July information was received that the Afghan force was making for the Maiwand Pass a few miles away (half-dozen km). Burrows decided to move early the following day to break-up the Afghan advance guard.

As Afghan horsemen appeared the Burrows mistaken believed that they were the advance guard but it was Ayub Khan’s main force of 25,000 regular troops and five batteries of Artillery.

In the ensuing battle the British left flank, consisting of Indian regiments was rolled up and crashed into the British right and 66th Regiment was swept away.

Most of the regiment was caught up in the rout. Some 140 of them made a stand at the Mundabad Ravine, which ran along the south side of the battlefield, but were forced back with heavy losses. Eventually 56 survivors made it to the shelter of a walled garden and made a further stand. Eventually the 56 were whittled down to only 11 men—two officers and nine other ranks. An Afghan artillery officer described their end:

“These men charged from the shelter of a garden and died with their faces to the enemy, fighting to the death. So fierce was their charge, and so brave their actions, no Afghan dared to approach to cut them down. So, standing in the open, back to back, firing steadily, every shot counting, surrounded by thousands, these British soldiers died. It was not until the last man was shot down that the Afghans dared to advance on them. The behaviour of those last eleven was the wonder of all who saw it”

queen-vic

Queen Victoria awarding the Afghan War Medal to Bobbie the dog, survivor of the Battle of Maiwand, and other members of the 66th Foot at Osborne House

The British Force was routed but in part by the ferocious  efforts of the British survivors and in part by apathy of the Afghans they managed to withdraw towards the relief force heading out from Kandahar.  The British and Indian force lost 21 officers and 948 soldiers killed, and eight officers and 169 men were wounded and the 66th lost 62% of their strength. Its believed that the Afghans lost up to 3000 men.

A medical officer who was present describes the the battle and the retreat to Kandahar.

 

Candahar (sic) August 21

On the morning of the fight we made a march of seven miles to Maiwand for the sole purpose of attacking a force of 1000 Ghaisais (Afghan fanatics), who were said to have occupied the place; but when we got within two miles of Maiwand we came across the whole force of Ayoob Khan _ I suppose between 15,000 and 20,000 troops, with 30 guns, occupying a very strong position.

Our force was a little over 3,000 strong, with six guns of the Royal Horse Artillery and four guns we had taken from the mutinous army of Shere Ali at Giriakh. The order was given to attack at once. The battle commenced about 11am and there was hard fighting up to about three pm, when our two native infantry regiments broke. This caused the retirement of the 66th, who I hear, fought splendidly.

Victory_day_at_Kandahar_1880

Afghan commanders after their victory at the Battle of Maiwand.

In the opinion of everyone all might yet have been well had the cavalry charged, but they refused to obey orders. They did not cover our retreat or protect the guns at all. The cavalry loss was very very small compared with the losses of all the other regiments and there is a very bitter feeling against them as they might have done so much to save the force.

When once the retreat commenced all the horrors of fighting savage nations began. Most of our wounded, poor fellows had to be left on the ground, and their fate, of course was sealed. It makes one’s blood run cold to think of the sad fate of such a number of gallant men.

That day we lost 20 officers killed and missing, and five were wounded, who I’m thankful to say, were all brought in here. The retreat from Maiwand to Candahar (sic) – close upon sixty miles – is an event that was never be forgotten by anyone who participated in it. We left Maiwand just a little after three pm and we reached Candahar at 3.30 pm on the following day.

During the whole of our march, up to within five miles of Candahar, there was not a drop of water to be obtained anywhere. This is one of the reasons why we lost so man men. They simply dropped on account of great thirst. In addition to this the inhabitants, of every village en route turned out and had shots at us. In fact many of the forces were under fire more or less, the whole way. 

19225289_1281335645308769_1588340586603056807_n

Lord Roberts (L), first Baron of Kandahar and Waterford and endeared to Tommy Atkins as ‘Bobs’ is one of our most distinguished Generals and established his fame in the Afghan War of 1880.

Our total loss was I believe :- 20 officers killed and missing, five wounded (and doing well) about 950, both native and European killed and missing, about 200 wounded, and about 550 camp followers killed and missing. Besides this the colours of the 66th and 1st Bombay native infantry were taken, and six guns- two of the Royal Horse Artillery, and the four we took from Shere Ali.

For a week before the battle I had been suffering badly from fever and was on the sick list, having been carried in a dooley on the 27th July. When the fight was going on I got upon my legs and tried to get a look at what was passing. I went to the rear and attended to one or two of the 66th who were wounded. 

I soon found that our force kept retreating and at last the general retreat took place. All the dooley walis had bolted and there was nothing left for me to do but to walk, which I did, I suppose for about a mile. I could not find my horse although I had given strong instructions to my ayse to keep close to me..

All this time I was feeling far from well and most awfully faint. I had only had a cup of tea and a biscuit in the early morning. Luckily I managed to get hold of a mule, and on this animal I got into Candahar. How I ever got in here alive I do not know. I have much to be thankful for.

I used to have to get off the mule every two miles and lie down and have about ten minutes sleep. On these occasions I always managed to get hold of someone to stay by me to help me on the mule again, for to have mounted without help would have been an utter impossibility, considering how fearfully weak and exhausted I was. 

How I got in will always be the greatest mystery to me, I lost all my kit, my horse and my salary. The first fortnight after this terrible affair I was laid up again with the fever.

Such a nice lot of officers have been taken away by this calamity – young fellows, mere boys, full of pluck. It is dreadfully sad and sickening when one thinks of how many good and valuable lives have been lost and of the number of homes that have been desolated. 

If there had only been water on our road back from Maiwand we should not have lost one half of the men. It is very slow and dull work being boxed up in Candahar. The enemy have as yet made no assualt upon the place, and the general opinion is that they will not do so. Generals Roberts and Phayre must soon be up. It is astonishing how all the fellows keep up their spirits. 

 

Part two is coming soon…

 

How the Guns were saved at Korn Spruit 1900

For Valor.

On the morning of the 13th March 1900 a British mounted force under the command of Brigadier General Robert George Broadwood were just striking camp at the railway station at Sanna’s Post (Aka Korn Spruit). Unbeknown to them a force of a force of two thousand Boers under command of the Christiaan de Wet had taken up position.

De Wet sent 1600 of his men under his brother Piet to attack Broadwood from the north, while he himself occupied Sanna’s Post to intercept their retreat.

At first light, Piet’s artillery opened fire on the British camp and as De Wet predicted they retreated towards his men hidden in a ravine.

Tactical surprise was complete and all were sent into a state of confusion. The civilian wagon drivers preceding the soldiers were seized by the Boers and told if they warned the British they would be shot. Therefore, the British soldiers suspected nothing and approached the river in small groups. As they did so De Wet’s troops ordered them to surrender, and approximately two hundred were captured, along with the six guns of U Battery.

Q Battery

All Q Battery, Royal Horse Artillery 1900

Luckily for the British, an eagle eyed officer had noticed what happening and ordered Q Battery to gallop away. The British retired back towards the station which offered decent cover for the troops and Q Battery deployed in the open and returned accurate fire which combined with rifle fire from the station pinned down  Christiaan de Wet’s men but Piet de Wets’s force was increasing pressure on the British.

Broadwood’s ammunition was running out, and he decided to retire to the south. His guns had first to be recovered. Five were hooked up and towed away, but two had to be abandoned. Many British soldiers were killed crossing the 1300 yards of open ground to retrieve the guns, but unit integrity was maintained.

Eventually, Broadwood managed to break contact. Approximately three hours later the 9th Infantry Division commanded by Major General Sir Henry Colville arrived to relieve the mounted brigade, but de Wet’s men had withdrawn to highly defensible positions across the Modder River and both sides retired from the field. This nevertheless left Bloemfontein’s water works in Boer hands.

In all, the British suffered 155 men killed or wounded. 428 men, seven field artillery pieces and 117 wagons were captured. The Boer force suffered three killed and five wounded. But even more serious than the losses in the action was the loss of Bloemfontein’s water supplies. This greatly aggravated an epidemic of enteric fever dysentery and cholera among the occupying British army, which eventually caused 2000 deaths.

In recognition of the conspicuous gallantry displayed by all ranks of Q Battery on this occasion, Field Marshal Lord Roberts decided to treat the case as one of collective gallantry, under the Rule 13 of the Victoria Cross Warrant. Accordingly, direction was given that one of the officers should be chosen by the other officers, one non-commissioned officer by the non-commissioned officers and two gunners or drivers by the gunners and drivers for the award of the Victoria Cross.

A difficulty arose with regard to the officer, owing to the fact that there were only two unwounded officers. Major Phipps-Hornby was chosen as the senior,

Major E J Phipps-Hornby

Major E J Phipps-Hornby VC

Sergeant Charles Parker was selected by the Non Commissioned officers.

Sergeat Charles Parker

Sergeant Charles Parker VC

Gunners Issac Lodge and Driver Henry Glassock were elected by the gunners and drivers.

Gunner Issac Lodge

Gunner Issac Lodge VC

Driver Henry Glassock

Driver Henry Glassock VC

The Sphere (7th July 1900) reported the action as:

The fine achievement of Q Battery may be recalled as follows: When the alarm was given Q Battery was within 300 yards of the Spruit. Major Phipps-Hornby who commanded it at once wheeled about and moved off at a gallop under a very heavy fire. One gun upset when a wheel horse was shot and had to be abandoned, together with a waggon, the horses of which were killed. The Remainder of the battery reached a position closer to some unfinished railway buildings, and came into action. 

When the order to retire was received Major Phipps-Hornby ordered the guns and their limbers to be run back by hand to where the teams of uninjured horses stood behind the unfinished buildings. The few remaining gunners directed by Major Phipps-Hornby and Captain Humphreys, the only remaining officers of the battery, succeeded in running back four of the guns under shelter, one or two limbers were similarly withdrawn by hand but the work was most severe and the distance considerable. 

In consequence all concerned were so exhausted that they were unable to drag the remaining limbers of the fifth gun. It now became necessary to risk the horses, and volunteers were called for from among the drivers, who readily responded. Several horses were killed and men wounded, but at length only one gun and one limber were left exposed.

Four attempts were made to rescue them but when no more horses were available the attempt had to be given up. Driver Glassock was wounded in the attempt. 

Major Phipps-Hornby returned to the United Kingdom, and served as Aide-de-camp to Lord Roberts when he was Commander-in-Chief from 1901 to 1903. He later served in the First World War. He achieved the rank of brigadier general granted upon his retirement in 1918, after 40 years of service.

Sergeant Charles Parker rejoined the army and was seriously injured in World War I. He died in August 1918, aged 48.

Driver Glasock later settled in South Africa and served as a Conductor in the South African Service Corps he died in 1916.

Gunner Issac Lodge later achieved the rank of bombardier and died in 1923.

 

Pictures and words The Sphere 7th July 1900 page 7

 

 

Forgotten Voices of Empire: The Charge of the 21st Lancers 1898

On the 2nd September 1898,  General Sir Herbert Kitchener lead his army, made up of Regular British regiments and mixed Sudanese/Egyptian regiments into action against the army of Abdullah al-Taashi, the successor to the self-proclaimed Mahdi, Muhammad Ahmad. Ostensibly the Battle the of Omdurman, as it became known was fought to help the Egyptian state reconquer the Sudan, though Kitchener was seeking revenge for the death of General Charles Gordon in Khartoum in 1885.

The battle has become famous/infamous for a number of reasons:

It demonstrated how a highly disciplined army, armed with modern rifles, artillery and machines guns could destroy an army twice its size but armed with obsolete weapons with minimal casualties. 16,000 dervishes attacked the British position, mainly armed with old rifles and spears, not one attacker reached within 50m of the British and suffered 4,000 casualties too artillery fire and then heavy volley fire and Maxim guns.

The battle was the first time that the Mark IV hollow point bullet, made in the arsenal in Dum Dum was used in a major battle. It was an expanding bullet and the units that used it considered it a great success though they caused dreadful wounds.

After a few incidences of wounded dervishes attacking British troops, Kitchener ordered all of the wounded the be killed and this brutal attack dogged him for the rest of his life, even Winston Churchill agreed he had gone to far.

Kitchener was anxious to occupy Omdurman before the remaining Mahdist forces could withdraw there. He advanced his army on the city, arranging them in separate columns for the attack. The British light cavalry regiment, the 21st Lancers, was sent ahead to clear the plain to Omdurman. They had a tough time of it. The 400-strong regiment attacked what they thought were only a few hundred dervishes, but in fact there were 2,500 infantry hidden behind them in a depression. After a fierce clash, the Lancers drove them back (resulting in three Victoria Crosses being awarded to Lancers who helped rescue wounded comrades)

The correspondent from Reuter describes the action:

Omdurman, September 4 (via Nasri, Monday)

There has been such a pressure of daily work that the great incident of the Battle of Omdurman has probably received less attention than it merited. This was the famous charge of the 21st Lancers against enormous odds.

Colonel Martin’s orders were to prevent the broken enemy from returning to Omdurman, five miles away from the filed of Battle. The 21st Lancers unexpectedly came upon the enemy’s reserve who were 2000 strong, but whose exact strength could not ascertained owing to the nature of the ground.

Sudan5

The Charge of the 21st Lancers Drawn by John Charlton The Graphic 24th September 1898

The cavalry were then in form of troops. They deployed into line for the attack and charged. When they were within thirty yards of the entrenchments they found the enemy ensconced in a nulla and concealed by a depression of the ground.

The Lancers wild with excitement and coming on at full gallop for the attack, had not a single moment for hesitation. They charged gallantly home, the brunt falling on No.2 squadron, who absolutely had to hack their way through the enemy twenty deep, exposed to a withering infantry fire.

They struggled through, but every man who fell was immediately hacked to pieces by the swords of the fanatic foe.

lancer 2

The London Illustrated News 17th September 1898.

The men of the British cavalry rallied, bleeding, on the far side of the lanes which they had cut for themselves in the enemy’s ranks and with admirable fortitude they re-formed as coolly as if they had been on parade.

One corporal, who was covered in blood, and reeling in his saddle, when ordered to fall out shouted , waving his bent lance- “Never! Form up No.2” meaning his squadron.

Then it was that young Grenfell was missed for the first time. Lieutenant de Montmorency, with Corporal Swarback dashed out to effect, if possible, the rescue of his body. They were immediately joined by Captain Kenna.

With their revolver fire the two officers kept the enemy forty yards away, and would have secured Lieutenant Grenfall’s body if the horse upon which it was placed had not shied with its burden.

Then seeing that a second charge would be futile, colonel Martin dismounted his men and with magazine and carbine fire drove the enemy steadily into the zone of the Anglo-Egyptian infantry fire, the Lancers having accomplished their object by covering the enemy line of retirement though at the cost of heavy casualties. This maiden charge of the 21st Lancers is regarded as an extremely brilliant affair.  [1]

Sudan officer

Officers wounded at Omdurman in the English Military Hospital at Abadia. Far right is Lieutenant C S Nesham 21st Lancers wounded in the charge. The Illustrated London News 8th October 1898.

 

Of less than 400 men involved in the charge 70 were killed and wounded and the regiment won three Victoria Crosses. These three were Private Thomas Byrne, Lieutenant Raymond de Montmorency and Captain Paul Kenna.

Winston Churchill was present at the battle and he rode with the 21st Lancers.

[1] The Citizen 10th September 1898.

Forgotten Voices of Empire: Battle of Nicholson’s Nek, 30 October 1899

The Battle of Nicholson’s Nek was a British defeat outside Ladysmith which,  added to the defeat at Lombard’s Kop on the same day became known as “Mournful Monday.

After his failure to defend a line at Dundee, British Commander Lieutenant-general Sir George White had retreated to Ladysmith and concentrated his army there.

At the same time, several Boer columns were converging on Ladysmith and White decided to strike against the forces already grouped around the town and also sent a force to Nicholson’s Nek in an attempt to prevent another Boer Column from joining the forces already at Ladysmith.

Under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Frank Carleton, the British force consisted of six companies from the Royal Irish Fusiliers , five and a half from the Gloucestershire Regiment and No. 10 Mountain Battery, roughly 1000 men in total and 100 mules which carried most of the supplies and ammunition.

Commander1jpg

Lieutenant Colonel Frank Carleton [1]

Carleton’s force didn’t leave for the Nek until the 29th October and by 2am on the 30th the British set up camp on Tchrengula Hill, a steep hill to the side of the trail, after Major Adye of the Field intelligence decided that  it was too late to continue on to Nicholson’s Nek.

As the British climbed the hill, something spooked the mules, the ‘Special correspondent’ of the Times described what happened next:

Two hours before daybreak, while the column was in enclosed country, either a shot was fired or a boulder rolled into the battery in column of route. The Mules stampeded and easily broke away from their half-asleep drivers. 

They came back upon the Gloucestershire Regiment, the advance party of whom fired into the mass. believing in the darkness that it was an attack. This added to the chaos, the ranks were broken by the frenzied animals, and they dashed through the ranks of the rear guard carrying the 1st and 2nd reserve ammunition animals with them. 

It became a hopeless panic; the animals wild with the shouting and the turmoil, tore down the nullah into the darkness; and the last that was heard of them was the sound of the ammunition boxes and panniers as they were splintered against the boulders. The hubbub of those few minutes was sufficient to have alarmed the enemy. [2]

10th mule

Men of the ill fated 10th Mule Battery. Captured by the Boers[3]

About 500 Boers took up position on the north end of the Tchrengula Hill and opened fire on the British position. As J Rickard says in his article[4]

“This was the empty battlefield that the British were so bad at dealing with at this stage. The Boer riflemen were scattered amongst the rocks on the top of the hill, almost invisible, and refusing to present a target for disciplined British musketry.”

The battle was a confusing affair for the British as isolated groups of soldiers, mainly from the Gloucestershire Regiment struggled to get to grips with the enemy and even abandoned positions in confusion, which the Boers gratefully took advantage of.

Captain Stuart Duncan of the Gloucestershire Regiment, was in command of his isolated company, which was taking heavy loses and he became convinced that he was fighting alone so ordered the white flag to be raised. When Lieutenant Colonel Carleton saw the Boers rise to accept the surrender he felt compelled to order the cease fire and surrender of the entire force.

Father I Matthews, Chaplain to the Royal Irish Fusiliers described the surrender:

After 12 O’clock there was a general cry of “Cease fire” from the direction of the top of the hill. Our fellows would not stop firing, Major Adye came up and confirmed the order to cease fire. Then the bugfle sounded “Cease Fire”

In our vicinity there was a rumour that this white flag was raised by a young officer who thought his batch of men were the sole survivors. 

Our men and officers were furious at surrendering, the Boers did not seem to be in great numbers but the men had to give up their arms. We were all taken to Pretoria and we have all been treated well.  

I think the surrender was a great blunder and was caused by a misunderstanding. Major Adye was much put out. The White Flag was NOT hoisted by the Irish Fusiliers. [5]

Hill

Second Lieutenant A.H.M Hill Royal Irish Fusiliers fought at Nicholson’s Nek [6]

Over 900 officers and men were captured at Nicholson’s Nek and with the defeat at Lombard’s Kop allowed the Boers to encircle Ladysmith and begin the siege.

 

  1. The West Somerset News 7th November 1899
  2. The Evening Telegraph December 11th 1899
  3. The Illustrated London News November 11th 1899
  4. Rickard, J (5 February 2007), Battle of Nicholson’s Nek, 30 October 1899, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_nicholsons_nek.html
  5. Cardiff Times and South Wales Weekly November 18th 1899
  6. The London Illustrated News November 30th 1899