Impressions of Spion Kop

The Battle of Spion Kop was fought about 38 km (24 mi) west-south-west of Ladysmith on the hilltop of Spioenkop along the Tugela River, Natal in South Africa from 23–24 January 1900. It was fought between the South African Republic and the Orange Free State on the one hand and British forces during the Second Boer War campaign to relieve Ladysmith. It resulted in a Boer victory.

LETTERS FROM ISLE OF WIGHT MEN AT THE FRONT.

Impressions of Spion Kop.

Lance-Corporal W. Hobbs, 2nd Scottish Rifles, writing home to Wootton, I.W., of the battle of Spion Kop, says, “We have just returned from another fierce battle, the biggest that has been fought yet. Our battalion lost a lot of men — l4 killed, 74 wounded. The Lancashire Fusiliers and Middlesex Regt. received an order to attack the hill under the cover of darkness, which they did successfully. They found only a small party of Boers, who immediately ran away to another hill some 800 yards away, and they were afterwards reinforced by another large force, with some quick-firing guns, which were mowing our troops down in all directions.

British dead on the field of Spion Kop, taken by the Boers after the withdrawal, 23 January 1900 NAM. 2003-06-39-3

Our General then sent us and the 3rd Kings Royal Rifles to their relief, and we arrived at a most critical moment, for I think that had we been later our other troops would have had to surrender. We managed to hold our own, but were obliged to leave the position, as we could get no guns up the hill, as it was so steep. I shall never forget the sight we saw as we were going up the hill. It was most revolting. There were poor fellows by the dozen, coming down on the stretchers, some with their legs blown off, and some with their faces blown to pieces with shells.

It made me feel quite sick to see them, and so mad with rage that I could have done anything to avenge them. We were engaged in carrying water to tho wounded in the trenches, and the sights there were most awful. I saw one poor fellow going into the trenches have his head blown completely off by a shell. How anyone of us managed to get safely through that hailstorm of bullets and shell I don’t know. It took us all night to get to the bottom of the hill when we retired. General Buller personally thanked us for what we did, and said that our timely arrival, and the way the relief was carried out, saved the British forces in Natal from a very bad defeat.

Isle of Wight Observer – Saturday 10 March 1900

WOUNDED AND CAPTURED AT ESTCOURT

WOUNDED AND CAPTURED AT ESTCOURT. “BOERS BEHAVE LIKE GENTLEMEN.”

A member of the Leeds Constabulary, Police-constable Kay, who left the force to join his old regiment, the West Yorkshire, and was wounded in Hildyard’s engagement near Estcourt, writes from that place on November 26 : —

Nothing happened of any note until the 22nd November, when we received orders to parade in fighting order to go out to attack the Boers, who were encamped upon the lop of a hill about ten miles away. It was 2.30 p.m. when we started, and we were marching and skirmishing until about 7 p.m, when the enemy’s guns opened fire on our scouts, and then we halted on the brow of a big hill to wait for orders.

West Yorkshire 1900

Men of the West Yorkshire Regiment bathing in a Stream, South Africa 1900 The Illustrated Police Budget.

We had nothing but our thin clothing on, and it rained and poured down, and we all got wet through. We slopped there until about 2 a.m., the 23rd November, when we advanced again to attack by surprise.

The commanding officer told us we were going to surprise the Boers and do a bayonet charge. Not a shot was to be fired, and there was to be perfect silence. Then we started off again, until we came to the foot of the hill where the Boers were, we fixed bayonets, opened out to single rank, and advanced up the hill, which was about 600 yards high. When we had got within thirty yards of the top, the Boer picket opened fire upon us. Then we charged and cheered, and when we got to the top of the hill they were just disappearing down the other side, and we opened fire on them for about five minutes.

Then w found out it was only a strong picket, and that the Boer main body was encamped on another hill on the opposite side. So we waited on the hill till daybreak. Then we opened fire on the Boers again, and kept it up for seven hours.

I was properly in the thick of it. You talk about raining! It wasn’t rainbut bullets that were coming! I could see our men falling, some shot dead, some wounded, and I thought it would soon be my turn. I did not in the least fear. I kept firing away. Then it was passed along that the enemy were getting a big gun in position, and we tried to stop them, with long-range volleys; but. it was no good, the range was too far for us, and we had no big guns with us.

Then they started shelling us to some tune. I saw a man not far from me get half his face blown off with a shell, and there were two or three who lost a leg. I went through all that lot without a scratch. There is no doubt that the Boers have lost a lot. Then we get the word to retire, and I turned round to do so. I had not gone two paces when I got shot through the back. I rolled ever about three times and thought I was a ‘gonner.” I tried to get up, but it was no go, and all the time I lay bullets and shells were flying around me like rain.

British Army Field Hospital Wynberg Camp 1900

It is a miracle that I escaped being shot a second time.

I could not walk so I pulled myself with my hands along the grass and got behind a stone, where I lay, bleeding, and parched in the sun for an hour and a half when the Boers came up and gave me come water and bandaged my wounds, and took me to their camp. I will give them their due: they behaved like gentlemen to us. There were two Leeds men amongst us. They gave us whisky and brandy but they have not much bread They live on what they loot, and on the 25th they sent all our wounded prisoners to our own hospital at Estcourt.

Leicester Chronicle – Saturday 30 December 1899

Private Walter Cooper, of the Scots Guards

Forgotten voices of Empire.

Walter Cooper a postman from Arbroath has recieved a letter from his son, Private Walter Cooper, of the Scots Guards, from Modder River, and is dated 30th November. He says: “l have pulled through all safe up till now. I have been through all three battles€” Belmont, on the 23d,  Graspan. on the 25th, and Modder River on the 28th. So you can tell mother that we celebrated your silver wedding on the 28th in great style. There were plenty salutes fired anyway.

Belmont was a deadly fight. We charged right up the hill with fixed bayonets. The officer on my right was shot through the cheek, the fellow on my left was shot through the leg. Luck was in my way, and I got, to the hilltop all right. The Boers on the top did not stay long, I tell you.

There were thousands on the hill opposite, and they poured in volley after volley. Poor Sergeant Wilson, to whom I used to bowman, was killed the beginning of the fight. Belmont lasted fully six hours, eight hours, and Modder 14 hours. The General said it was one of the hottest fights in the annals the British Army. We lost heavily at the river. We fixed bayonets and charged right across the river.

Two fellows were drowned in crossing. It was very deep some parts. However, we did not forget the Boers when we did get across. We are about 122 miles from Kimberley. I hope to be home soon again if all goes well. Tell all the boys that l am getting on ‘champion.’ We get a  big feed some days, other days we have nothing to eat at all. There are plenty of ostrich farms round about here.

27-BBBB-The-Foot-Guards-at-Modder-River

Modder River


Private Walter Cooper was born in 1874 at Abroath, Scotland. He was a ‘Boot Finisher’ but joined the Scots Guards on the 5th of July 1895. On the 21st October 1899 his regiment was sent to South Africa, he spent a total of 180 days and was entitled to the Queen’s South Africa medal with clasps for Modder River and Belmont. He served a total of 12 years with the colours before being discharged in July 1907. He emigrated in New Zealand and died there in 1932.

Captain George Chrystie 25th Cavalry.

I posted this picture of the 38th Dogras and the 25th Cavalry (Frontier Force) parade through Lahore, 1909 on Facebook and Twitter this week. Someone on Twitter pointed out that the officer on horseback in the centre of the picture was named but it was difficult to make it out.

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The 38th Dogras and the 25th Cavalry (Frontier Force) parade through Lahore, 1909                NAM. 1969-10-587-1-28 (1)

 

 

I decided to see if I could find out the identity of the unknown officer. First port of call was the Army and Navy Gazette,  I knew he was a captain but wasn’t sure which of the two regiments he belonged to, so I used the search terms Captain, 38th Dogras and 1909. After searching through the first few results, it became apparent that none of the officers named matched the caption.

I next tried to search the terms Captain, 25th Cavalry and 1909. After working through some of the results a name came up that seemed to fit. It was an entry in the Army and Navy Gazette of a Captain George Chrystie of the 25th Cavalry being appointed to the Kurram Militia wing commander. (2)

This surname seemed to fit so I decided to see what else I could find out about the officer.


George Chrystie and his twin brother, John were born on the 9th March 1872 to Colonel George Chrystie and Helen Ann Thomasina Myers. They were baptized on the 6th October  1872 in Masulipatam , Madras. (3)

He was born into a family who had spent generations serving their country and  his great-uncles. Lieut. John Chrystie. R.N., and Capt. Thomas Chrystie, R.N. served under Nelson. The former was in the Victory immediately before Trafalgar, but was transferred on promotion. The latter was at Trafalgar in the Defiance.

Born in India both boys were educated in England, first at Surrey County School and then Craideigh and Portsmouth Grammar School. They then both joined the British Army though in different roles, John joined the Artillery and George was gazetted a 2nd Lieutenant in 1st Royal Dublin Fusillers on the 18th June 1892.

He was promoted to Lieutenant on the 25th June 1895. Chrystie seems to have been an excellent solider and on the 23rd October 1896 transferred to the Indian Staff corps and a year later was appointed to the 5th Punjab Calvary (as 25th Calvary was then designated). In 1901 he was promoted Captain and in 1910 to Major. (4)

He was married to Melver Campbell and they had three daughters, Aileen Margaret, Elizabeth Frances and Alice Helen. (5)

In 1913, Captain Chrystie and his regiment were based in and around Bannu (The town was founded in 1848 by Herbert Benjamin Edwardes) which is in Modern day Pakistan and was used during the Raj as as base for action against Afghan border tribes.

On the 29th April 1913, news came into the town that there had been a raid at Isa Khel, about 35 miles South of Bannu and that the raiders had carried off four Hindu boys and were making off for the passes to the North East.

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Possibly Captain (later Major) George Chrystie?

A brother officer then describes the action.

At 11.30 on Thursday we were in office when news came that the raiders had been seen at Naurang, about 12 miles south, that morning. Immediately two squadrons went out, Major Chrystie with B to Naurang, and Grant with A to Jani Khel, to hold the nullahs to the west in case they should try and break back. Two companies of Coke’s Rifles also went to Naurang. When Major Chrystie got to Naurang on Thursday he found the raiders had been sighted early that morning, but had got away from the police, and had gone off  to teh east followed by the police and villagers. So Major Chrystie went after them and soon caught up and passed the police and halted that night, having done 5 1/2 miles with barely a halt. 

On again at dawn Friday, over a bare waterless country with everything against him, and everything in favour of the raiders, but he stuck to it all that day and by 4pm reached teh edge of the Salt Range, 30 miles to the East of Bannu, having done over 100 miles since noon the day before. Then he lost trace of the raiders among the infernal Salt Hills and was just turning towards home, when he heard firing, and found that the Salt Mine Police had sighted the raiders, so he divided his squadron and sent half to head them off, and at last ran tehm to earth in a nullah. 

You must wonder why, having surrounded these fellows, he did not at once go in and finish them off, but you must remember that though one cannot help admiring these fellows for their guts, to use an expressive if vulgar term, they must have done 60 to 70 miles in 24 hours, carrying rifles and ammunition, yet they are such blackguards, with a list against them of the foulest crimes imaginable long enough to hang a hundred men, that one can only look on them as vermin, and as such to be destroyed in the safest way possible, and to rush them in the dark, quick though it would have been, would have meant certain death for at least four or five of our fellows. 

The Raiders rushed into this nullah, which had almost precipitous sides of shale about ten to twelve feet deep and they were fired at by our party.  Two were killed, the remaining three (there were eight to start with but two were killed before, and one got away) got behind some big shale boulders where they were absolutely under cover. Our people occupied the remaining sides and the forth was held by the police. As they were quite unget-at-able where they were in the dark, the deputy Commissioner, Bill, made big bundles of brushwood and straw and set alight to them and pushed them with a long stick over the edge of the nullah to smoke them out. Major Chrystie from the other side shouted to tell him where to push them, and then they pushed one over another. Those who where with him say that Major Chrystie raised himself on his knees and peered over to see where a bundle would fall, but it stuck on the edge of the slope and flared up, and by its light the raiders saw him and fired at fifty yards and the bullet struck him in the chest and he dropped forward stone dead. And so the dragged him behind the ridge and carried him down to the road two miles away.

Of all the crowd who raided Isa Khel only one escaped, so it has been a fine show as we have had for some time, but it isn’t worth losing a man like Chrystie for all the blackguards in Asia. He was the one man we could least afford to lose, one of the straightest and best men I had ever met, a man you could absolutely rely on, and a jolly good soldier to boot. (6)

As an aside note, the three Hindu boys were recovered and returned to their families. Major Chrystie’s body was carried back to Bannu, were he was buried in his local church. He left all is worldly goods to his wife and Daughters.

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The hand written will of Major George Chrystie. (7)

In a final twist of fate for the Chrystie family, his twin brother was killed in action in the First Battle of Ypres at Zillebeke. near Ypres on 17 Nov. 1914; and was buried in Ypres Cemetery.

His colonel wrote of him: He left behind him the lasting memorial of a shining example, of how we ought to live and die, and we shall not forget it. He came to this brigade at my invitation, stayed in it at my invitation, and so far as we all are concerned he remains in it for ever. We shall not see his like any more. (8)

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Major John Chrystie

So both twin brothers both died in the service of their country, George in an insignificant action in the wilds of the North West Frontier and John in the killing fields of Belgium during the bloodiest conflict man had ever known but both seemed to have been well liked and respected soldiers.

Both are commemorated on a plaque in All Saints Church, Witley.

 

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Memorial Plaque to the Chrystie Twins. All Saints Church

Sources.

  1. NAM. 1969-10-587-1-28
  2. Army Navy Gazette Saturday 05 June 1909 British Newspaper Archive. 
  3. FindMyPast British India Office Births & Baptisms. Record N-2-53 226.
  4. FindMyPast British Army, Army Lists 1839-1946. Image number: 682.
  5. Army Navy Gazette 10th may 1913. British Newspaper Archive.
  6. Army Navy Gazette 21st June 1913. British Newspaper Archive.
  7. FindMyPast British India Office Wills & Probate. Record L-AG-34-40-73
  8. masonicgreatwarproject.org.uk/legend.php?id=548
  9. Surrey in the Great War: A County Remembers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Forgotten Voices of Empire: Memories of Ladysmith.

“Interview with a Crowborough Man.”

In a interview with a “Courier” reporter, Mr David Buss related how he entered the army in 1895, and was for twelve years in the 2nd Battalion King’s Royal Rifles. He was in South Africa before hostilities broke out and first saw fire on October 15 1899. Incidentally there were three brothers serving during the South African War.

Buss

Mr David Buss a member of the  King’s Royal Rifles during the South African War.

For 118 days the garrison some 10,000 strong, under Sir George White was besieged in Ladysmith. There was also a big civilian population to feed, and horse and mule flesh for the greater part of the period formed a main item in the diet.

Tea leaves and coffee grounds also had their value as “articles” of food, consumable liquids of all kinds were also exceedingly scarce.

“And may I say,” observed Mr Buss at this stage, thirst is worse than starvation, any day!”

Mr Buss kept a diary of the siege, and interesting and revealing extract is given as follows:-

14 lbs oatmeal…………………………………………60/-

Condensed Milk per tin………………………….10/-

1 lb coffee………………………………………………..17/-

Eggs per Dozen………………………………………..48/-

Fowls Each……………………………………………….18/6

1 Doz Tomatoes ……………………………………….18/-

1 Doz Potatoes ………………………………………….19/-

1 Bottle Jam……………………………………………….31/-

1 lb Marmalade…………………………………………31/-

1 Doz matches……………………………………………13/-

1 Pk Cigarettes……………………………………………25/-

50 Cigars………………………………………………………185/-

1/4 lb cake tobacco………………………………………45/-

1/4 lb sailors tobacco…………………………………..43/-

1/4 lb Capstan Naval cut………………………………60/-

(Typical Infantry private’s pay 1/- a day)

“Articles in everyday use such as rice, starch, curry powders etc had vanished long ago. Violet powder was impounded and turned into mysterious blancmanges. Clothing also run short, especially for the feet and men’s stocks were very scarce.

ladysmith-trenches

Trenches around Ladysmith 1899

When a live shell was fired in Ladysmith in honour of the Prince of Wales birthday the whole population were in a ferment of excitement, they had thought it to mark the arrival of relief.

With Mr Buss in Ladysmith was one of his brothers and their numbers were respectively 9196 and 9238. Mr Buss’s brother was servant to Captain Northley now residing at Epsom.

During his Army service Mr Buss was also in India, and was at Delhi when Kind Edward VII was proclaimed and later attended the coronation ceremony.

“Rode in the King’s carriage”  

Mr Buss told the reporter that he was “a 1914 man” in the Great War (Interestingly his Service record states that he didn’t arrive in France until July 1915)  and was wounded in France in 1916 (GSW Left Arm)  and “gassed” in 1917. When in the King George V ward at Charing Cross Hospital he once had the privilege, as Mr Buss put it, of “riding in the King’s carriage.”

He was then transferred to a Bristol Hospital, where King George spoke to him when visiting.

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The Military service of David Buss later of the King’s Royal Rifles 1895-1907

In the later stages of the war he was attached to the Carabineers in Italy and was there when Armistice was signed.

Here, therefore, is a veteran who has been through two major wars. Today Mr Buss is seeking work, and his opinion was given to our representative in these words:

“In times of war it is Tommy this and Tommy that; but afterwards you just aren’t wanted”

However Mr Buss is by no means downhearted, and he meanwhile delights to get hold of an interested listener for his many army reminiscences.

Born is 1875, Mr Buss is a proud Surrey Man.

The Surrey Courier 30th December 1938.

Charge of Light Brigade Veteran

Died in the Workhouse

Centenarian who was in the Light Brigade.

Probably the eldest survivor of the famous Light Brigade and the oldest inmate of the Belfast workhouse died on Sunday in the person of Robert Yeates at the age of 103.

Mr Yeates retained to the last a vivid memory of his adventure in the historical charge at Balaclava. He was born at Killynure, Carryduff near Belfast and joined the 17th Lancers with whom he went to the Crimea with.

Yeates

Robert Yeates 17th Lancers

The Veteran, in an interview some time ago, told a “Telegraph” representative how he remembered being wounded in the charge of the Light Brigade and lying bleeding beside his dead horse all night in the bitter cold.

After his discharge from the Army he served for a number of years on the L.M.S (N.C.C) Railway, and since the death of his wife, six years ago, he has been an inmate of the Belfast’s workhouse.

Unfortunately all his papers and military records were accidentally burned in his home and in the absence of these Army credentials the War Office turned a deaf ear to his appeals of assistance.

His person of 1s 3d a week was stopped by the authorities, and as he had no other means of support and was without any friends was compelled to enter the workhouse. Many applications were made to have his pension renewed, but in the absence of documentary proof even the meagre allowance he had received was not allowed the Crimean Veteran.

Mr Yeate’s only son resides in America and another relative is a sister in law residing in Purdysburn.

Up till the end the centenarian enjoyed his daily smoke, and and chatted happily with his fellow inmates. The workhouse authorities, and especially the Master, Mr James Mahood always saw to it that this aged figure, one of the Empire’s oldest soldiers, was kindly looked after, and his favourite seat was in one of the corridors, underneath a vividly coloured picture of the famous Charge at which he figured.

Ballymena Weekly Telegraph March 27th 1926

 

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.