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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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”

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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.

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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. 

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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…

 

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.

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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.

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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]

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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.

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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]

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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