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Division commanded by Major General Sir Henry Colville arrived to relieve the mounted brigade, but de Wet’s men had withdrawn to highly defensible positions across the Modder River and both sides retired from the field.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

Forgotten Voices of Empire: A letter from Burma 1887

In 1885 The British Empire invaded Burma, starting the third Anglo-Burmese War. The British claimed that King Thibaw Min (ruled 1878–1885) was a tyrant intending to side with the French, that he had lost control of the country, thus allowing for disorder at the frontiers, and that he was reneging on a treaty signed by his father.

The war lasted a little over two weeks with only sporadic resistance by the Royal army after intrigue at the Burmese court lead to conflicting orders being issued. The War ended with the British marching into Mandalay and the capture of King Thibaw Min.

The British immediately organised the looting of the palace and city of Mandalay. The proceeds were sold off at a profit of 900,000 of rupees.

King Thibaw being escorted to captivity by British soldiers, Burma, 1885

King Thibaw being escorted to captivity by British soldiers, Burma, 1885 NAM. 1974-03-148-5

Burma was annexed by the British on 1 January 1886 but an ongoing insurgency carried on until 1896. With the end of the war came the men of the Royal Engineers whose job it was to build roads, bridges and fortified posts to help pacify the country and allow easy transport not only of troops but also the vast resources so converted by the British merchants.

An officer with the Royal Engineers wrote on the 29th December 1886:

To say that I am worked off my legs is putting it mildly. I have just completed this post, and have three more to make at the same time, and about twenty miles of hill roads, with bridges innumerable, and I find no work goes on without my personal superintendence. I have occasionally to do twenty miles in a day and then work at the other end – and this in a country where roads are not even decent bridle-paths over rocks.

This morning I was up at dawn and out in the road superintending coolies, then  up the hill about 900ft higher than this to see arrangements for clearing jungle and preparing a site for a post; then down again for breakfast, after which I had to pay some men, and then went out to experiment with some dynamite upon rocks – work I did not much like as I had never touched the infernal stuff before. 

Minhla, after its capture by the British, mid-November 1885, showing death and devastation

Minhla, after its capture by the British, mid-November 1885, showing death and devastation. Hooper, Willoughby Wallace (1837–1912).

Then I had to wander about looking for timber for a bridge. After this I wrote some officials, had a bath, and out open the road again some two miles out to see how the work was getting on, and explore a stream for a suitable place for a bridge. Then I came in and handed over some money and orders to an overseer, who had come out to assist me and make arrangements for marching out tomorrow morning for a six days trip (Not a pleasure one) to posts further out and arrange for carpenters and tools to come out with me. By that time dinner was ready, and I had a cheroot before a jolly log before sitting down to write. This is much the way I spend my days. Tomorrow I’m off to a post twelve miles further in the hills, about 1,200ft higher than this; and then on next day, or as soon as I can get the work into order, to a post further on at the end of the line.

792px-British_soldiers_dismantling_cannons_ava1885

British soldiers dismantling cannons 1885 Hooper, Willoughby Wallace (1837-1912)

I got into Mandalay on Christmas day by riding six marches in three days to bring in a report on a position, and had a good dinner at the mess, which was a relief after living on compressed beef and tinned things for a fortnight. Sometimes we can get beef out here- i.e, a calf, costing about 6s. English Money; but often, as is the case now, we can’t get fresh meat for love or money. However, I like the place, and plenty of work suits me. Of course I have had my goes of fever; but then I have seen two doctors carried out of the post in doolies quite unable to stand. About 300 men have gone down sick (since I have been here) into Mandalay- some to die, others to be invalided to India. We have only buried about six of them here. Many a day I have dined alone, the doctor and officer commanding both down with this blessed fever. However, the bad times are over, the weather is jolly and cool and thanks to five grains of quinine a day, I keep the fever off, and feel up to any amount of work. It is a lovely view from from here over Mandalay and the valley of the Irrawaddy, and the jungles are pretty in their way,

St James Gazette February 2nd 1887

 

 

 

Forgotten Voices of Empire:The Battle of Belmont 1899

The Battle of Belmont is the name of an engagement of the Second Boer War on 23 November 1899, where the British under Lord Methuen assaulted a Boer position on Belmont kopje.

Methuen’s three brigades were on their way to raise the Boer siege of Kimberley. A Boer force of about 2,000 men had entrenched on the range of Belmont kopje to delay their advance. Methuen sent the Guards Brigade on a night march to outflank the Boers, but due to faulty maps the Grenadier Guards found themselves in front of the Boer position instead.

The Guards, the 9th Brigade and the Naval Brigade assaulted the Boers over open ground, suffering about 200 casualties. Before the British came to use their bayonets, the Boers retreated by pony and re-formed in another entrenched position at Graspan, where the pattern was repeated with the British suffering another 197 casualties: one sailor reporting that “at 200 yards we fixed bayonets, and we just saw their heels; they didn’t wait when they heard the rattle”.

On the 25th of November 1899, a Corporal Res of the 3rd Battalion Grenadier Guards wrote a letter home to his parents detailing the events of the battle and his resulting wounds.

Field Hospital, Orange River

Saturday November 25th 1899

My Dear Mother – I thought I should have had a letter from home by this time, but I suppose you are all too busy, or you may have written and it has not reached here yet. No doubt you will be looking at the address of this letter. well to make a long story short, I have been rather seriously wounded in three places. I will tell you how I got these.

On the day of the 22nd we were encamped at Chalk Farm, which we reached on the 21st. Our scouts went out to reconnoitre and found the enemy had taken up a very good position about 8 miles away.

We got this news about two O’clock in the afternoon. At five O’clock we were ready to go. We marched as close to the position as we dared (Which I suppose was about 4 miles) reaching the camping ground shortly after dusk. We had tea there and waited in silence and darkness until 1.30 in the morning, when we got the order to advance.

Everything was as silent as death as we crept along. Bye and bye we came to Belmont Station. We could then see in the distance the long range of low hills where the enemy were supposed to be.Map of Belmont

We crept closer and closer in the dark, still silence. We were getting very close now to the hills, and my company, No 1 (right half company) got the order to open out and advance. We got closer and closer on hands and knees: still the enemy never saw us until we got within 200 yards from the bottom of the hill and then one single shot rang out. 

Our chaps (there were half of No 1 Company about 60) dropped on their stomachs and fixed bayonets, then advanced without a waver up the hill. The bullets were flying round us like hail and the carnage was awful. It was a fearful position for any troops to take or attempt to take without first being shelled by artillery, No 1 was simply wiped out. 

We had to advance across the open fully 300 yards , and then climb the hill, while the Boers were on the top keeping up a galling fire all the time. Of course the remainder of the Brigade came up and drove the Boers away; still the loss everywhere was very heavy. No 1 Company lost 10 killed and about 20 wounded  out of 120, while the total for the battalion was 26 killed and 80 wounded.

Such was the battle, which I suppose will be called Belmont as it was quite close to Belmont Railway Station. Our general complimented us the next day. He said there never had been anything like it fought since Inkerman. I had just got to the top of the hill when I first shot through the left wrist. I managed to stop it bleeding, and ran on and was just going across an open place when I got shot through the shoulder blade and in a second got another right across the forehead, it was a near shave I tell you, however I shall be all right shortly and hope to be at the last fight, which I think will be Pretoria. 

3rd Batt Grenidier Guards 1899

3rd Battalion Grenadier Guards 1899

At any rate I have won a medal and one bar already. Charlie will no doubt remember Corporal Pattison, whom he met at Pirbright, he was shot dead through the brain. Then our adjutant came in front of No 1 and shouted ‘ Come on lads, let them have it’. Just then we saw a Boer with a white flag. The adjutant went to see what was the matter, and he was immediately shot the adjutant dead. We captured the Boer and brought him to camp where he was bayoneted at “Retreat” same day. 

They are the roughest and most cowardly set of ruffians you would wish to see anywhere. I don’t feel like writing anymore just now, but I don’t wish you to think I am dangerously wounded because the doctor thinks I shall be all right in a week or so. If this is the case I shall have to fight another battle or two.

We are advancing on Kimberley. We expect another big fight at the Modder River today and one or two more before we reach Kimberley. Then we go to Pretoria. Must close now, love to all at home. Don’t fret about my wounds, as the doctors have extracted the bullets- Your affectionate Son

Bob. 

Write by return and address to 3rd Grenadier Guards, 1st Brigade South African Field Force. Excuse this awful scrawl, but a wounded man can’t do much, can he? and the right arm is my only whole part. 

 Belfast Evening Telegraph 20th December 1899 Page 3.

Sir John Peniston Milbanke VC

For Valour

Lieutenant (Later Lieutenant-Colonel) Sir John Peniston Milbanke, 10th Baronet, VC (9 October 1872 – 21 August 1915)

Milbanke was born the son of Sir Peniston Milbanke, 9th Baronet, in London. In 1886, he began attendance at Harrow School, where he became a close friend of Winston Churchill. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the 10th Hussars on 23 November 1892, and promoted to lieutenant on 18 April 1894. Following the outbreak of the Second Boer War, Milbank was posted to South Africa as Aide-de-camp to Lieutenant-General Sir John French.

MilBanke

Lieutenant-Colonel Sir John Peniston Milbanke, 10th Baronet, VC

Milbanke was 27 years old, serving as a lieutenant in the 10th Hussars during the Second Boer War, when the following deed took place near Colesberg for which he was awarded the Victoria Cross:

On the 5th January, 1900, during a reconnaissance near Colesberg, Sir John Miibanke, when retiring under fire with a small patrol of the 10th Hussars, notwithstanding the fact that he had just been severely wounded in the thigh, rode back to the assistance of one of the men whose pony was exhausted, and who was under fire from some Boers who had dismounted. Sir John Miibanke took the man up on his own horse under a most galling fire and brought him safely back to camp.

Promoted to captain on 17 April 1900, he served in South Africa until the end of hostilities when peace was declared in May 1902. He left Cape Town on board the SS Walmer Castle in late June 1902, and arrived at Southampton the following month.

In 1914, having retired from the regular army, he became lieutenant-colonel of the Sherwood Rangers. He was killed in action at Suvla, Gallipoli, Turkey, on 21 August 1915 and is commemorated on the Helles Memorial.

 

The Sphere 13th April 1901

Wikipedia

Indian Pipers

Native troops.

Many Indian Regiments adopted the Bagpipes after coming into contact with Highland Regiments.
The regiments from the North West Frontier of India especially had an close relationship with the Highlanders and eagerly adopted the Pipes and some regiments even had their own ‘Clan’ Tartan.

 

Sikh Pipers

Sikh Pipers from the Punjab

Punjabi Pipers

Punjabi Pipers (Mohammedans)

Hazara

Chacha Hazara Pipers

Sikh Pipe Major

Sikh Pipe-Major

The Graphic 6th November 1915.