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.