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Division commanded by Major General Sir Henry Colville arrived to relieve the mounted brigade, but de Wet’s men had withdrawn to highly defensible positions across the Modder River and both sides retired from the field.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



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.


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


Lieutenant (Later Brigadier General) Francis Aylmer Maxwell VC

For Valour.

Lieutenant (Later Brigadier General) Francis Aylmer Maxwell

Maxwell was 28 years old, and a lieutenant attached to Roberts’s Light Horse during the Second Boer War when the following deed took place for which he was awarded the VC:

On 31 March 1900 at Sanna’s Post (aka Korn Spruit), South Africa,

Lieutenant Maxwell was one of three Officers not belonging to “Q” Battery, Royal Horse Artillery, specially mentioned by Lord Roberts as having shown the greatest gallantry, and disregard of danger, in carrying out the self-imposed duty of saving the guns of that Battery during the affair at Korn Spruit on 31st March, 1900.

This Officer went out on five different occasions and assisted, to bring in two guns and three limbers, one of which he Captain Humphreys, and some Gunners, dragged in by hand. He also went out with Captain Humphreys and Lieutenant Stirling to try to get the last gun in, and remained there till the attempt was abandoned.

During a previous Campaign (the Chitral Expedition of 1895) Lieutenant Maxwell displayed gallantry in the removal of the body of Lieutenant-Colonel F. D. Battye, Corps of Guides, under fire, for which, though recommended, he received no reward.

During the First World War Maxwell was the commander of the 12th Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment, and later of the 27th Brigade, He came to be regarded as one of the finest combat commanders serving in the British Army on the Western Front. He was an aggressive commander who was also both an original thinker and popular with his men.

Despite his rank, Maxwell was frequently at the front line. He was killed in action, shot by a German sniper, during the Battle of the Menin Road Ridge on 21 September 1917. He is buried in Ypres Reservoir Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery. The gravestone inscription states: “An ideal soldier and a very perfect gentleman beloved by all his men.”

The Sphere 30th April 1901

Sgt Major James Wise RE

First up is an apology for the lack of posts recently. Unfortunately real life has conspired to keep me from writing and even researching has been tough. I now have plenty of time on my hands so hopefully you should see an increase in posts which I hope you enjoy.

Recently I have been researching the British armies Balloon Corps which was sent to South Africa at the start of the 2nd Boer War. Originally the preserve of amateur aeronauts the first British Army balloon was built in Woolwich Arsenal by Captain J.L.B. Templer.


Balloon pioneer, Captain J.L.B. Templer.

He built the balloon, Pioneer which was made of specially treated and varnished cambric, and cost £71. It was the first balloon built by the RE at Woolwich. Therefore it was the first British Built Military Aircraft. The first flight was on the 23rd August 1878.

The Army began military balloon training in 1880 and moved the unit to Chatham, Kent.

Balloons were first deployed by the British Army’s Royal Engineers during the expeditions to Bechuanaland and Suakin in 1885.

By 1890 the British government has recognised  the importance of the Balloon Corp and had moved it to larger quarters in Aldershot and brought the unit into the British Army establishment.

The first unit in action was the 2nd Balloon Section under the command of Major GM Heath, which arrived at Ladysmith on 27th October only to remain within the besieged town for the next four months. At first they continued to observe the enemy’s movements until the supply of gas ran out.

A small contingent of the 2nd Section which had remained outside of the town and with reserve equipment and gas, saw action at Potgieters Drift and Spion Kop.

The 1st Balloon Section joined Lord Methuen’s advance on the Modder River and at the battle of Magersfontein, observing the enemy and directing the artillery with great effect.

Soldiers of the Royal Engineers (balloon section) stood in front of the basket of a fully inflated observation balloon, some men in kilts are stood at the edge of the photograph. Image slightly overexposed.  © IWM (RAE-O 677

Soldiers of the Royal Engineers (balloon section) stood in front of the basket of a fully inflated observation balloon, some men in kilts are stood at the edge of the photograph. Image slightly overexposed. © IWM (RAE-O 677

In 1900 the balloonists provided vital information on the Boer’s positions at Paardeborg, even though the 12,000 cub foot Duchess of Connaught was holed and leaking badly.

The gas was transferred to the Bristol which flew at the Battle of Poplar Grove, and in the advance from Blomfontein, it was kept inflated for twenty two days on the 165 mile march.

It then took part in the engagements at Vet River and Zand River.

(Text taken from
Balloons at War’ by John Christopher. Tempus Publishing)

While researching the Balloon Corp, I came across this great picture of the NCO’s of the Balloon Section RE.

L-R Sgt-Champion, Sgt Jolly, Sgt-Maj Greener, Sgt-Maj Wise, Sgt Ewen.

L-R Sgt-Champion, Sgt Jolly, Sgt-Maj Greener, Sgt-Maj Wise, Sgt Ewen. IWM (RAE-O 6)

As you can see the men are named so I set about to see what I could find out about them. Using I first tried to find their service records, for Sgt Maj Champion, Sgt Jolly, Sgt Maj Greener and Sgt Ewen as expected this drew a blank.

When I added Sgt Wise into the search engine amazingly I got a hit. It is quite rare to have a picture and a complete service record for any solider, especially from pre WW1 so this got me quite excited.

Using his service record I could then find his birth index, census records, Marriage and finally death index. This is what I found out.

James Wise was born in Dartford, Kent 1864 to Charles and Jane Wise. His father was a gardener and he was the youngest of 4 children. When he finished his schooling he became a General labourer until on the 23rd June 1883 he joined the Royal Engineers as a Sapper.

James Wise's original sign up paper.

James Wise’s original sign up paper.

He seems to have taken to soldiering and was steadily promoted up the ranks:

2nd Corporal 1/9/93

Corporal 1/9/95

Sergeant 1/1/1900. (even though he is listed as Sgt Major on the picture it isn’t listed on his service record).

On the 19/5/91 he was listed as skilled Ballooning which earned him extra pay.

He spent the first 15 months of his service at depot but in September 1884 he was posted to Egypt. He served for just over 2 years in Egypt for which he earned  the Egyptian medal.

He also saw service thought out the 2nd Boer war in South Africa and was awarded the King’s SA medal and also a Good Conduct award.

Image 9

He married with permission, Lizzie Ackrill Brown on the 23rd May1893 in Aldershot and went on to have 4 children with Lizzie.

He retired from the Royal Engineers on the 22nd of June 1904 after 21 years exemplary service. He originally retired to Chatham Kent but by 1911 was living in Channing town with Lizzie and the children.

Sergeant-Major James Wise (retired) died in Channing Town in 1926.



The defenders of Rorke’s Drift Part One


21st January 1879 and for the 150 men at  a remote border post on the Buffalo River, Natal the day seemed like any other.  A single company of the 2nd battalion 24th Regiment of foot guard the outpost and the few dozen recuperating hospital patients. Many feet aggrieved that they were not part of the main invasion column that had entered the Zulu territory a few day before.

Under the command of the affable Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead, the men went about their normal duties unaware of the storm that was approaching them. The first inkling of trouble is when gunfire reverberates around the hills surrounding the outpost.

Their worst fears are confirmed when  a panicking group of Colonial horseman ride up to the outpost and inform them that the British have suffered a catastrophic defeat at Isandlwana and their parent battalion has been wiped out. 

The Horseman refuse to stay at the outpost and inform them that a large Zulu Impi is on its way to wipe out the garrison. At this point a Royal Engineers officer by the name of Lieutenant John Rouse Merriot Chard takes command of the outpost.

Chard narrowly missed out at being at the slaughter of Isandlwana and is determined to hold Rorke’s Drift at all cost. He knows they are the only thing between the Zulu army and the civilian population in Natal.

Prince Dabulamanzi KaMpande

For Prince Dabulamanzi, Brother of King Cetshwayo,  being in reserve during the battle of Isandlwana hadn’t satisfied his burning ambition and with a young regiment desperate to wash their spears with blood,  the few defenders at Rorke’s Drift are a tempting target . 

Even though he is disobeying his brother’s orders not to attack fortified places and with darkness approaching he sends his Impi up against the defenders of Rorke’s Drift.

What followed next has entered British Military folklore (for anyone not familiar with it I highly recommend ‘Like Wolves on the Fold’ by Mike Snook) and thanks to the film Zulu (1964) a stirring if highly inaccurate film it has also entered mainstream conciseness.

For the British Government at the time the successful defence of Rorke’s Drift by 150 men (some sick) was a useful distraction form the disaster at Isandlwana and as such awarded 11 Victoria Crosses to the defenders, the most awarded for a single action.

To commemorate the 135 anniversary today (and tomorrow) I wanted to track what happened to the eleven VC winners after the battle.

Acting Assistant Commissary James Langley Dalton. Army Commissariat & Transport Department.

James Dalton had been in the military for most of his adult life. He joined the 85th Regiment in 1849 at the age of 17 and then enjoyed a typical career of a soldier in Imperial service. He served in Ireland, Mauritius, where he was promoted to Sergeant and then went to the Cape to take part in the 8th Frontier War.


He then spent a portion of his time in England including a spell at the School of Musketry at Hythe in Kent (we will return there again). His last posting overseas was to Canada where he transffered to the Army Service Corps.

He took his discharge in London in 1871 and was awarded the Long Service Good Conduct Medal.

In 1877 he volunteered for service in South Africa and the invasion of Zululand. He was appointed Acting Assistant Commissary and sent to the outpost at Rorke’s Drift to ensure the smooth transport of supplies from Natal to the invasion force.

For his actions at Rorke’s Drift he was awarded the Victoria Cross and was presented his medal by Major-General Clifford in January 1880.

He was also given a permanent commission and promoted to Assistant Commissary. He served as a volunteer in Egypt before returning to the Cape to gold mine in the Transvaal.

He died suddenly at the Grosvenor Hotel on the night of the 7th January 1887.

His VC is owned by the Royal Corps of Transport who brought his medal for £62,000.

Surgeon James Henry Reynolds Army Medical Department

James Reynolds was born in Dublin 1844 and studied medicine at Trinity College, graduating in 1867. He joined the Medical Staff Corps in 1868 and was posted to the 36th Regiment as Medical Officer in 1869.

He served in India and for his efficient handling of a Cholera outbreak was promoted to Surgeon in 1873. He served thoughout the Zulu War and was in charge of the Hospital at Rorke’s Drift.


For his actions at Rorke’s Drift he was mentioned in Dispatches and awarded the Victoria Cross. He was presented his medal by Lord Wolseley during a special parade and was promoted to Surgeon-Major.

He continued serving  in the army and married his wife in 1880. He retired a Brigade-Surgeon Lieutenant-Colonel in 1896 and senior medical officer at the Royal Army Clothing Factory.

Both him and John Williams VC were guests of Honour at the VC’s dinner hosted by the Prince of Wales in 1929. He died in a nursing home on the 4th March 1932 and is buried at Kensal Green RC Cemetery.

Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead B Coy, 2nd Bn, 24th Regt of Foot

Gonville Bromhead was a classic army officer of the 19th Century. He was third son of a Baronet who was a lieutenant at Waterloo and had retired as a major.

He was purchased an ensigns commission in the 24th regiment of foot on the 20th April 1867. A hugely popular officer he excelled at Boxing, wrestling and Singlestick.


He was promoted to lieutenant in 1871 and went with his regiment to South Africa for the 9th Frontier War. He was in command of B Company 2nd Battalion 24th Regiment of Foot at Rorke’s Drift but was superseded by Lieutenant Chard RE for overall command of the Outpost.

For his conduct and coolness during the attack, Bromhead was mentioned in dispatches and  awarded the Victoria Cross. He received his medal from Lord Wolseley in 1879 and was promoted to Captain.

What followed was again the classic career of a British Officer. He was posted to Gibraltar in 1880 and then posted to the East Indies until 1881. In 1882 he was posted to the Hythe School of Musketry (another one!) and was awarded a First Class certificate.

In 1883 he was promoted to Major and then joined the South Wales Borderers in India. He  served with distinction in the Burmese Campaigns 1886-88.

He died of enteric fever in Camp Dabhaura, Allahabad on the 9th February 1891. His VC is in the Regimental museum, Brecon.

A side story is that both Bromhead and Chard were invited to an audience with Queen Victoria, unfortunately Bromhead was fishing in Ireland when his invitation was delivered so missed the audience. While Chard remained a firm favourite with the Queen, Bromhead was never invited again.

Corporal Friedrich Schiess 3rd reg, Natal Native Contingent

Friedrich (real name Ferdnard) Schiess was a Swiss national who served in the Colonial cavalry during the 9th Frontier War. He was born at Berne in Switzerland in 1856 and when only 15 served on the French side during the Franco-Prussian war.

A some point he arrived in South Africa and joined Lonsdale’s Horse, one of the main Colonial militia’s forming for the Invasion of Zululand.


Schiess was in hospital at Rorke’s Drift due to blisters caused by army issue boots. For his actions during the defence of the outpost he was awarded the Victoria Cross (the first man serving with South African Forces under British Command). He was presented with his medal by Lord Wolseley .

After the war he was employed in the Telegraph Office at Durban but for some reason lost his job. Despite desperate appeals for work he soon became destitute and was found on the streets of Durban ill and dishevelled.

The Royal Navy took pity on him and offered free passage to England which Schiess took up. He boarded the troopship Serapis but was too sick to survive the journey and died on the 14th December 1884. He was buried at sea of the coast of Angola.

His VC was forwarded to the War Office where is sat in a drawer for many years before being presented to the National Army Museum.

Private Frederick Hitch B Coy, 2nd Bn, 24th Regt of Foot

Frederick Hitch was born in New Southgate Middlesex on the 2nd November 1856. He was a building Labourer by profession but signed up for the army in 1887 (his records show he couldn’t sign his name)

He was sent to South Africa with the rest of the 24th Regiment of Foot and was in B Company at Rorke’s Drift. During the action Hitch shot in the shoulder and despite the agony he must of been in continued to offer support and ammo to his fellow soldiers.


For his actions at Rorke’s Drift Hitch was awarded the Victoria Cross. Surgeon Reynolds removed over thirty pieces of bone from Hitch’s shoulder and inevitably he was invalided out of the army.

He received his medal from Queen Victoria in Person while recuperating at a Military Hospital in Southampton.

In 1880 he married his wife Emma and went on to have 6 children with her. He worked for many years at the Imperial Institute and the Royal United Services Institute where he famously had his VC cut from his coat.

In later life he became a cab driver in London and was a popular sight on the streets of London. He lived quietly in Chiswick but died of Heart failure on the 6th January 1913.

He was buried with full military honours in Chiswick Old Cemetery, two of his Pall Bearers were John Fielding VC and Frank Bourne DCM and over 1000 cab drivers attended.

A myth of his funeral is that during it you couldn’t get a cab anywhere in London, which is true but only because they were all on strike at the time!

Hitch’s VC was recovered after his son paid £85 at a public auction for it, it now resides at the Regimental Museum Brecon.

Tomorrow I will cover Lieutenant Chard, Privates William Allen, Henry Hook, John William, Robert Jones and William Jones.

Churchill: Man of Empire

Today is Empire day! Every year on the 24th of May throughout the Empire the achievements of this Little Island in the Atlantic Ocean were celebrated. In honour of this day I thought I would do a quick post on one of the Empires favourite sons, Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill.

One of the things I have noticed as I have researched for this blog is the amount of times you come across Churchill in the Empire. He seems to appear in pictures from the Sudan, India and South Africa and this is all before his greatest moment in World war 2.

He was born on the 30th November 1874 into one of the grandest families in Britain and was the grandson of the 7th Duke of Marlborough. A true son of the empire he born at the height of Imperial reach.

Churchill as a child.

Churchill as a child.

Destined for a career in the army he struggled to pass the entrance exam for the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. It took him three attempts and he only qualified for the cavalry and not the Infantry. Sandhurst was the making of him and in 1894 he passed out 2oth out of 130.

Upon passing out he joined the 4th Hussars as lowly Cornet (2nd Lieutenant). With his pay at £400 pa but by his own reckoning needing £900 pa to live up to the standards expected he turned to war correspondence to supplement his earning.

young winston

A young Winston in the Uniform of the 4th Hussars

Churchill was determined to see action where ever and whenever he could.

In 1895 he sailed to Cuba to see the Spanish fight Cuban guerrillas and he came under fire on his 21st birthday. It was while in Cuba that he first acquired the taste  for Havana cigars. Something that would acquire a fame of its own during WW2.

Churchill in India 1897

Churchill in polo kit. India 1897

In late 1896, Churchill transferrred to Bombay in India. A keen Polo player he soon established himself one of the best players in India. As always his aim was to see action, this time it was in Malakand in the North West Frontier to campaign against the Pashtun tribes.

Every influence, every motive, that provokes the spirit of murder among men, impels these mountaineers to deeds of treachery and violence. The strong aboriginal propensity to kill, inherent in all human beings, has in these valleys been preserved in unexampled strength and vigour. That religion, which above all others was founded and propagated by the sword — the tenets and principles of which are instinct with incentives to slaughter and which in three continents has produced fighting breeds of men — stimulates a wild and merciless fanaticism. The love of plunder, always a characteristic of hill tribes, is fostered by the spectacle of opulence and luxury which, to their eyes, the cities and plains of the south display. A code of honour not less punctilious than that of old Spain, is supported by vendettas as implacable as those of Corsica.

Churchill’s description of the Tribes on the NWF

India had a profound effect on Churchill and he saw India as the jewel in the Crown and essential to the Empire.

His racism towards the Indians would effect is outlook on dealing with The Indian independence moment and he had a deep dislike for Gandhi. His actions during the Bengal famine where ineffectual if not down right negligent but he always believed that The British Empire was a force for good in India and that by bring civilization to millions of ordinary Indians it would improve their lives.

Churchill in the Sudan.

Churchill in the Sudan.

In 1898 Churchill was sent to the Egypt where he explored the sites of Cairo and the Pyramids before joining the 21st Lancers in the Sudan. During this time he was commanded by General Herbert Kitchener and Douglas Haig, both of whom he would work with during WW1.

At the Battle of Omdurman in September 1898 he would take part in what is know as the last meaningful charge by British Cavalry. His books on the Conquest of the Sudan became best sellers and he resigned from the army in 1899.

It is the habit of the boa constrictor to besmear the body of his victim with a foul slime before he devours it; and there are many people in England, and perhaps elsewhere, who seem to be unable to contemplate military operations for clear political objects, unless they can cajole themselves into the belief that their enemy are utterly and hopelessly vile. To this end the Dervishes, from the Mahdi and the Khalifa downwards, have been loaded with every variety of abuse and charged with all conceivable crimes. This may be very comforting to philanthropic persons at home; but when an army in the field becomes imbued with the idea that the enemy are vermin who cumber the earth, instances of barbarity may easily be the outcome. This unmeasured condemnation is moreover as unjust as it is dangerous and unnecessary.

From Churchill’s book Red River

Churchill as a prisoner of War. South Africa.

Churchill as a prisoner of War. South Africa.

In 1899 as the Boer War broke out in South Africa, Churchill obtained a commission to act as a war correspondent for the Morning Post. He was soon in the thick of the action. He was in a scouting expedition on an armoured train when it was ambushed. Captured and despite being a correspondent he was sent to Pretoria as a POW.

His escape and return to British lines turned him into a minor celebrity and this helped in securing his election to Parliament in the 1900 elections.

What is the true and original root of Dutch aversion to British rule? It is the abiding fear and hatred of the movement that seeks to place the native on a level with the white man … the Kaffir is to be declared the brother of the European, to be constituted his legal equal, to be armed with political rights

Churchill on the Boers

ww1 ch

Churchill in Command of the Royal Scots Fusiliers at Ploegsteert. 1916

Churchill had a mixed war. As first lord of the Admiralty his proposal for the disastrous Gallipoli campaign lead to his resignation and after leaving the cabinet he travelled to the Western Front where he was given command of the 6th Royal Scots Fusiliers.

Correspondence with his wife shows that his intent in taking up active service was to rehabilitate his reputation, but this was balanced by the serious risk of being killed. As a commander he continued to exhibit the reckless daring which had been a hallmark of all his military actions, although he disapproved strongly of the mass slaughter.

I think a curse should rest on me — because I love this war. I know it’s smashing and shattering the lives of thousands every moment — and yet — I can’t help it — I enjoy every second of it.

Winston writing to a friend 1916

The Inter war years were some of the toughest Churchill would have to face. As an outspoken critic of disarmament and appeasement of Hitler’s Germany  he became something of a laughing stock. With the coming of war and Chamberlain’s resignation the country clamored for one man.

Churchill became Prime Minister in May 1940 and immediately galvanized the country.

I would say to the House, as I said to those who have joined this Government: ‘I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat.’ We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I will say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us: to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: It is victory, victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be; for without victory, there is no survival.

Winston’s speech to the House of Commons 13th May 1940

The second World War has been called Winston’s greatest hour so it is somewhat ironic that in winning the war he destroyed the Empire he adored.

Winston Churchill 1940

Winston Churchill 1940

Winston Churchill died on the 24th January 1965. He died known as the saviour of the free world and even in 2001 was voted the Greatest Britain of all time but in my eyes he will always be a son of the Empire.

Fake or Real?


This is one of my favourite pictures from the Boer War. It is labelled Royal Munster Fusiliers fighting from behind redoubt at Honey Nest Kloof (Feb 16th 1900).

Now I have always wondered if this was real or staged for the photographer. A number of things have concerned me.

1) the Cameraman is very high up on the ramparts, It looks like his camera and head are above them (not a good idea as a battle is raging)

2) The two soldiers closest to the camera are bareheaded, would a NCO or officer allow this?

3) The soldier laying in the centre seems to be sitting up staring into the camera.

Then again, the treatment of the casualties seems to be real and the officers in the background look like they are directing the action.

This afternoon I was browsing the excellent and came across this picture.


Obviously, this picture is taken either just before or just after the first picture. The only really difference is the soldier on the left is now staring into the camera and the one of the medical orderlies is also looking into it.

Does this second picture confirm that it is a setup or a real action shot from the Boer War?

What do people think?

To be fair I’m not bothered either way…it is still a great picture.