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.

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: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.

Lieutenant Francis Newton Parsons VC

For Valour.

Lieutenant Francis Newton Parsons VC Essex Regiment.

Lieutenant Parsonwon his Victoria Cross on the 18th February 1900 at Paardeberg by going to the assistance of a private of his regiment who was badly wounded.

He dressed his wound under heavy fire, went down twice to the bank of the river to get water, and then carried him to a place of safety.

Lieutenant Parsons was unfortunately killed a few weeks later on the 10th March during the engagement at Driefontein, where he again showed great gallantry.

He was born in 1873 and joined his regiment in 1898.

Parson

Lieutenant Francis Newton Parsons VC Essex Regiment.

 

He was recommended by Lieutenant-General Kelly-Kenny, C.B.. for the award and the citation was published in the London Gazette of 20 November 1900

On the morning of the 15th February, 1900, at Paardeberg, on the south bank of the River Modder, Private Ferguson, 1st Battalion Essex Regiment, was wounded and fell in a place devoid of cover. While trying to crawl under cover, he was again wounded, in the stomach, Lieutenant Parsons at once went to his assistance, dressed his wound under heavy fire, went down twice (still under heavy fire) to the bank of the river to get water for Private Ferguson, and subsequently carried him to a place of safety.

Parsons also received a posthumous Mention in Despatches on 8 February 1901.