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The first attempt to relieve Kimberley, 21 November -11 December 1899
The Boer War can be seen as falling into four main phases. The first phase saw the Boers invade British territory, and lay siege to Ladysmith and Kimberley. The second phase saw the arrival of General Sir Redvers Bullers to take command of the British response, and was dominated by a series of attempts to relieve the besieged towns, each of which ended in failure.
The relief of Kimberley was entrusted to Lieutenant-General Lord Methuen. Despite his high rank, Methuen had almost no experience of command in the field, having served as a staff officer for most of his career (as had Bullers). His one field command had come in the bloodless Bechuanaland Expedition of 1884-5. He was popular, hard working and interested in his profession (by no means common amongst Victorian officers), but the Kimberley expedition was to suggest that he was not too bright, and was unwilling to adapt his plans when things went wrong.
Methuen prepared for the relief expedition at the point where the railway from Cape Town crossed the Orange River. That railway line continued on across the flat country to Kimberley, no more than a week’s march away. The only barriers in his way were the Modder River, and three places where clusters of kopjes linked by ridges blocked the direct route. However, Methuen would be marching without a good map, so his freedom of movement was limited. As long as he followed the railway he was safe. This meant that the Boers could fairly safely predict the route of the British advance.
They needed that advantage, for they were very heavily outnumbered. Methuen began his march with around 10,000 men, and continued to receive new troops on the march, until he had 15,000 men present for the battle of Magersfontein. In contrast, the Boers opposing him started with 2,000 men, although by the time of Magersfontein they too had been reinforced, giving them 8,500 men. Methuen’s main weakness was a lack of cavalry.
Methuen began his march on 21 November 1899. Towards the end of the next day his advance guard ran into the first Boer defensive line, at Belmont. Methuen decided to launch a frontal assault on the Boer position, with the intention of putting “the fear of God into these people”. The Battle of Belmont (23 November) was a clear British victory, despite a plan based on an inaccurate map. The British infantry forced their way to the top of the kopje, and the Boers were forced to retreat. British losses were twice those suffered by the Boers, but the Boer commander, Jacob Prinsloo, described the battle as “a terrible fight to our disadvantage.”
An inevitable side effect of the victory at Belmont was that Methuen was confirmed in his belief in the value of the frontal assault. On 25 November he used the same tactic against a second Boer defensive line (battle of Enslin, Graspan or Rooilaagte). Once again the Boers were forced to retreat after a costly British attack, once again they were able to retreat largely intact.
Methuen was now very close to Kimberley. Only the Modder River and the hills at Magersfontein blocked his advance. Methuen expected the Boers to defend the line of hills. Instead they decided to make a stand on the Modder River. Prinsloo had been replaced by Koos de la Rey and Piet Cronjé. De la Rey arrived first, and was responsible for the plan. The Modder and Riet rivers flowed through narrow cuts, some thirty feet below the level of the surrounding plains. De la Rey decided to use the river banks as natural trenches, and dug his men into the river bank facing the British advance.
The Boer plan totally surprised the British. On 28 November (Battle of the Modder River), unaware of the true nature of the river, Methuen’s men were preparing to advance towards what they thought would be a largely unopposed river crossing. When the British advanced to within 1,200 yards of the river, the Boers opened fire. The British could neither advance nor retreat, and were forced to spend the rest of the day flat on the ground trying to find what little cover they could. The accurate Boer rifle fire inflicted nearly 500 casualties on the British (70 dead and 400 wounded). Boer losses were not as low as a description of the battle would suggest – 50 were killed, mostly by British artillery fire. Overnight, discouraged by one minor British success, the Boers decided to withdraw.
Despite the setback at the Modder River, Methuen was now almost within site of Kimberley. From his position by the Modder River, Methuen was actually in regular contact with the besieged town. Knowing that the town was safe, Methuen waited for reinforcements to arrive. When he was ready to move again, he had 15,000 men. Against him the Boers now had around 8,000 men.
Once again it was De le Rey who came up with the Boer plan that would win them the battle of Magersfontein (11 December 1899). He had realised just how powerful modern accurate rifle fire was on the South Africa plains. Instead of building their defences along the top of the hills around Magersfontein, De la Rey persuaded his colleagues that they should build their trenches along the base of the hills.
Methuen was totally fooled. On 10 December his artillery bombarded the empty hilltops. The next day the Highland Brigade advanced towards the base of the hills, unaware that they were approaching the Boer trenches. Finally, when the Scots were 400 yards from the hidden trenches, the Boers opened fire. The results were devastating. The Highlanders were still in their closed marching formation, just about to spread out for the advance. The commander of the Highland Brigade, Major General Andrew Wauchope, was killed, and the brigade stumbled back in retreat. Just as at the Modder River, they spend most of the day flat on the ground trying to avoid rifle fire. Finally, at about 1.30 p.m. the British line retreated, despite orders to hold on till darkness fell. The retreat quickly turned into a rout as the Boers fired on the retreating Scots – any idea that it was not Christian to fire on a retreat foe was long gone by now.
The British suffered 971 casulaties at Magersfontein (205 dead, 690 wounded and 76 missing or prisoners). Boer losses were much lower, perhaps around 300. In the aftermath of the defeat, Methuen retreated back to the Modder River. Magersfontein came in the same week as defeats at Stormberg (10 December) and Colenso (15 December). This became known as Black Week. Buller lost his command and was replaced by Field Marshal “Bobs” Robert, although he remained in South Africa. Methuen remained on the Modder River when Roberts arrived to launch a second attempt to relieve Kimberley, and remained in South Africa until the end of the war, managing to be captured by the Boers at the battle of Tweebosch (7 March 1902). Finally, Kimberley would have to wait until February 1900 to be relieved.
LONG CECIL The Gun made in Kimberley during the Siege
'The production of this gun must be considered one of the most remarkable events in the history of beleaguered garrisons . . . . Truly a feat of which any mechanical establishment might be proud.' Thus the 'Times History of the War in South Africa, 1899-1902'(iv, 560).
In considering the validity of this statement account should be taken of the events leading to the gun's manufacture, some of the difficulties encountered and how these were overcome, plus something about the gun itself and what it achieved. The story really begins before the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War.
Lt-Col R.G. Kekewich, garrison commander in Kimberley during the siege.
(Kimberley Public Library)
On 13 September 1899, just four weeks before war was declared, Lt-Col R.G. Kekewich, commanding the 1st Battalion The Loyal (North Lancashire) Regiment, arrived in Kimberley to assess the military situation there and to advise the new General Officer Commanding British Troops in South Africa (Lt-Gen Sir F.W.E.F. Forestier-Walker) as to what steps should be taken for the town's defence in the event of war between Great Britain and the Republics of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State. The adjoining municipalities of Kimberley and Beaconsfield (for convenience in this article both are regarded as one town and referred to as Kimberley) lie about 8 kilometres west of the Free State border and 72 kilometres south of the Transvaal. It would have taken a matter of hours only for Boer forces to reach the town after a declaration of war. A scheme for Kimberley's defence had been drawn up in 1896 when, amongst other things, a large quantity of rifles, and ammunition and an few Maxim machine guns had been purchased privately and stored in the town, and these were still in Kimberley on Kekewich's arrival. In 1898, and again in June 1899, Lt-Col J.K. Trotter, Royal Artillery, had been sent to Kimberley by Lt-Gen Butler, Forestier-Walker's predecessor, to review and revise the defence scheme, his plan being to defend only Kimberley itself, excluding Beaconsfield, and to hold Wesselton Mine about two kilometres from the Free State border (some old maps show this as 'Premier Mine'). After a thorough reconnaissance and consultations with the local authorities, Kekewich decided to include both Beaconsfield and the outlying Kimberley suburb of Kenilworth within a defended perimeter some 22 kilometres in length, as he felt this was the minimum he would have to hold in order to protect the town's 50 000 inhabitants and four of the richest diamond mines in the world. He too considered it essential to hold Wesselton Mine as an isolated strongpoint since it would be the only adequate source of drinkable water should the normal supply from the Vaal River, 35 kilometres to the north, be cut - as indeed happened. What Kekewich found available locally for the defence of the town was little short of alarming, a situation aggravated by obvious military preparations already taking place across the Transvaal border, together with confirmed evidence of similar activities in the Free State, just across the way.
Drawn by R.H. Wishart
S.A. National Museum of Military History
There were no British troops in Kimberley at that stage and, according to Kekewich's official report on the siege, local volunteer units (Diamond Fields Artillery, Diamond Fields Horse, and the Kimberley Regiment) could muster only 540 officers and men between them with six rifled muzzle-loading 2. 5-inch mountain guns fitted to 'Kaffraria' field carriages (some accounts give a slightly higher total of volunteers available at this stage). The RML 2. 5-inch guns, firing a 3.34 kg shrapnel shell, had a range of 3 000 metres and could reach 3 600 metres when firing ring shell, but at Kimberley's high summer temperatures and altitude of 1 220 metres it was later found that targets could be engaged with ring shell at ranges almost up to 4 600 metres.
RML 2.5-inch mountain gun of 23 Coy RGA in action during the siege. The
gun is being laid on the target preparatory to firing and the man sitting lower
left is ready to set the time forthe fuze on the next shrapnel shell to be fired.
The guns had arrived in Kimberley the preceding July to replace some worn-out old RML 7-pounders, but Maj T.J. May and his 90 officers and men had neither exercised with, nor fired, their new guns as they had neither horses to move them, nor ammunition to use! Kekewich discovered too that he could not place these units on standby since they could not be called out without proclamation of a state of emergency by the Cape Parliament, sitting 1 041 kilometres away in Cape Town and refusing either to recognize the seriousness of the local situation, or to do anything which might offend the Free State Government. The obvious solution was to get British regular troops moved into Kimberley as soon as possible, and Kekewich wired Lt-Gen Forestier-Walker asking for the immediate despatch of fiield artillery, infantry, engineers, and services and medical personnel to Kimberley.
Between 20 and 26 September, 23 Company Royal Garrison Artillery, four companies and a mounted infantry section of The Loyals, one section from the 7th Field Company Royal Engineers, and a dozen officers and men of the Army Service Corps and Royal Army Medical Corps arrived in the town, a total of about 596 all ranks. These were the only reinforcements Kekewich ever received, and were all that could be spared, since the total British garrison in the Cape Colony at that time amounted to only two RGA companies in the forts at Cape Town, three and a half battalions of infantry, one RE field company, and some services and medical units. There was no field artillery other than the horseless volunteer battery of Cape Field Artillery equipped with six Mark I BL 15-pounders and subject to the same call-up restrictions as the Diamond Fields Artillery.(1) It is worth noting perhaps that the total British garrison in South Africa at the end of September 1899 amounted to 11 978 all ranks with three field artillery batteries and one mountain battery, and that two-thirds of this force, including all four batteries, was in Natal.
Together with 14 Coy RGA, 23 Coy was one of the two normal peacetime garrison-artillery companies at the Cape and had a strength of 4 officers and 90 other ranks, being commanded by Maj (later local Lt-Col) G.D. Chamier, RA. It was to be equipped on arrival in Kimberley with six RML 2.5-inch mountain guns on their mountain carriages (these were the type of guns made famous by Kipling's ballad 'Screw Guns'), which were being railed up from King William's Town where they had been stored against possible use in the troubled and mountainous areas of the Eastern Cape frontier. Four of these guns arrived shortly after 23 Coy reached Kimberley, the remaining two arrived on 12 October, the day after war had been declared. Accustomed to firing BL 9.2-inch and 6-inch coastal defence guns, the comments of 23 Coy's Gunners on taking over their diminutive muzzle-loaders firing black powder charges must have been worth hearing! One suspects the blow was softened somewhat by the prospect of engaging targets more attractive than those normally provided during practices seawards. With the arrival of these reinforcements, Kekewich's total force in Kimberley the day after war was declared amounted to 1 220 British regulars and local volunteers with twelve 2.5-inch guns, the local volunteer units having been called out on 5 October and having been joined by some 80 recruits.
Two days after war broke out, members of the para-military Cape Police started riding into Kimberley from abandoned outlying police posts, bringing with them two obsolete RML 7-pounder Mark IV guns and some ammunition. These were mounted on 'Colonial' field carriages and had a maximum range of about 2 700 metres and fired 3.46 kg studded common shell.(2) Eventually, Cape Police in the town totalled 478 all ranks and formed part of the garrison throughout the siege, taking an active part in the defence. Their arrival, plus recruiting for existing volunteer units and the hurried raising of new 'hostilities only' units, soon brought the garrison's strength up to about 4 600 officers and men, but more than half of these were completely untrained. An amusing authentic account describes how, during the actual assault on Carter's Ridge by part of the garrison on 25 November 1899, a member of the newly-raised Kimberley Light Horse enquired of his officer how he should attach his bayonet to his rifle 'as he could never get it quite right'! With this force Kekewich kept the Boers at arm's length throughout the four-mouth siege, the garrison doing all the attacking.
Section of RML 2.5-inch guns of the Diamond Fields Artillery in action in temporary positions at the Newton Reservoir.
Maj T.J. May, commanding the DFA, on the right (holding riding switch). About a minute after this photograph was taken
the camera tripod received a direct hit by a 75mm Boer shell which failed to explode!
The strength of the investing Boer force varied between 3 000 and 5 000 men supported by nine field guns. Eight of these were 75mm Krupp guns with a 5 500-metre range when 6.12 kg segment shell was fired and a range of about 3200 metres when 5 kg shrapnel shell was used. The ninth gun was an old RML 9-pounder of 8 cwt with a range of about 3 200 metres. This gun was later captured by the garrison and is still in Kimberley. In keeping with their normal practice, the Boers sited their guns singly around the town, most of them being just beyond shrapnel range of the 2.5s emplaced in the Kimberley defences, some being even beyond range of ring shell. In any event, the little 3 kg shells of the garrison's guns were ineffective against the earthbanked dry-stone walling used in nearly all the Boer positions around the town. The Boer gunners could thus shell Kimberley without fear of effective counter-bombardment, and this they proceeded to do from about the end of October onwards, displaying a fine disregard for target selection by scattering their shells liberally throughout the residential and business areas of the town. From recorded shelling reports the Boers fired about 8 500 rounds into Kimberley during the siege causing little serious damage to property and remarkably little loss of life (only nine civilians and one soldier were killed by shell-fire), but causing a good deal of annoyance.
News that Lord Methuen and the 1st Division had left Orange River Station on 21 November, on their way to relieve Kimberley, plus further news that he had won three battles and reached Modder River Station in a week, made the inhabitants of Kimberley feel that relief could not be far off and that Boer shelling would have to be endured for at most a few more days. Hopes were dashed on 11 December by Methuen's shattering defeat at Magersfontein, only 22 kilometres away, and by messages from him to the effect that it would be some time before his advance could be resumed and enquiring whether the town could hold out. Boer shelling continued.
Nobody really knows who first mooted the idea of making a gun in Kimberhey which could outrange the Boer artillery, but credit is usually given to George Labram, an American engineer in the town. He had come to South Africa in 1893 to erect a new crusher plant for one of the Kimberhey mines, staying on to become Chief Engineer to De Beers Consolidated Mines Ltd, the company owning all the Kimberley diamond mines and which was under the chairmanship of Cecil Rhodes. In August 1899 Labram resigned his post with De Beers to take up another in the gold-mining town of Johannesburg but, for some reason, was still in Kimberley when war broke out. A good mechanical engineer with a fertile brain, Labram not only designed and made 'Long Cecil', for which he is perhaps best remembered, but during the first three weeks of the siege he designed and constructed a plant for the bulk refrigeration of perishable foodstuffs - essential with shade temperatures averaging about 31 degrees C. He had also installed an emergency fresh-water supply system, which became the town's sole supply (apart from one or two wells) for the whole siege, and had given much practical assistance and advice to the Royal Engineers in laying out controlled minefields around the town, and with the design and actual construction of the defences. Then, as the garrison's artillery had expended nearly a third of its ammunition by the end of November, Labram turned part of De Beers' workshops over to making shells, charges, and fuzes for the 2.5-inch guns.(3) Prior to all this he had perfected a method (still in use) for the extraction of diamonds from the crushed rock of the mines. His greatest triumph perhaps was turning the workshops into a gun factory as well, never before having had anything to do with gun-making.
The two men mainly responsible for the design and manufacture
of 'Long Cecil' - left: George Labram right: Edward Goffe.
Labram had noticed a billet of steel, 3 metres in length, ordered originally as shafting for one of the workshop machines, which was lying in the workshop yard. As it had a diameter of almost 28 cm it occurred to him that a fairly large calibre gun might be made from it. There were no books on gun-making in Kimberley but he remembered attending a lecture given some years previously by Sir William Anderson on the engineering aspects of the subject. With recollections of this, Labram and the De Beers' Chief Draughtsman (Edward Goffe) sought out all they could find on guns and their construction. There was not much available, only the few paragraphs on gunnery in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, some articles on guns in an old engineering journal, a War Office 'Treatise on Ammunition', and a gunnery textbook owned by an enthusiastic officer of the Diamond Fields Artillery. Having read all these and discussed the subject with Lt-Col Chamier, who it seems was somewhat lukewarm about the whole idea, Labram decided it would be worthwhile attempting to make a gun which could reply more effectively to the Boer Artillery than the garrison's little mountain guns. On Christmas Night 1899, he put the suggestion to Rhodes and was given an immediate go-ahead. Work on the gun started next day.
The billet of steel from which "Long Cecil" was made.
Rough preliminary calculations indicated that to make a gun with a desired range of a little more than 7 600 metres would require one with a calibre of approximately 100 mm firing a 12.7 kg shell and using a 2.26 kg black powder charge. To allow sufficient air space round the charge a chamber of 107.9 mm diameter with a length of about 304 mm, thus achieving a capacity of about 2 785 cc, would be needed. The steel billet was large enough to permit this. Labram estimated that a chamber pressure of about 339.77 MPa (22 tons per square inch) would be reasonable to expect and his next problem was to ascertain whether the steel would withstand this, considering that the billet had not been intended as gun steel and probably had too low a carbon content. Further calculations indicated that some form of strengthening would be required and that shrunk-on rings, or hoops, should meet the case. (It was learnt after the siege that the prescribed minimum tensile breaking strain for forged gun steel at that time was 525.1 MPa (34 tons per square inch) and that the 'Long Cecil' steel had a breaking strain of between 416.99 MPa and 463.33 MPa!).
Labram had read about the De Bange system of obturation and, as the manufacture of cartridge cases was out of the question, he decided to follow the standard British field artillery practice of the time by making a BL gun since the manufacture of obturator pads would present no special difficulty.(4) Any thought of a buffer and recuperator system was likewise dropped, partly for technical reasons and partly because nobody really knew very much about this type of recoil arrangement. It was felt in any case that the final weight of gun and carriage, together with the use of drag shoes, would keep the gun steady on firing, and this proved to be the case although wheel brakes were also fitted later on.
These points settled, the first task was to rough-turn the steel billet to an external diameter of 26.67 cm at the breech, tapering to 22.06 cm at the muzzle, allowing for muzzle swell, and leaving a 3 mm shoulder all round to take the thrust of the trunnion ring. This done, the task of drilling out the bore commenced, a calibre of 104 mm (4.1 inches) having been decided upon. Using an adjoining lathe as well, a 38 mm hole was bored right through, using a twist drill, then this hole was first enlarged to a 76.2 mm diameter and then to 100 mm, the difference between this and the final calibre being taken up during rifling. Of interest is the fact that the lathe is still in use today having, in the interim, been used for turning gun barrels during World War II as well! Working 24 hours a day, closely supervised by William Berry, the workshop foreman, whose pride and joy the gun became, this task was completed in just under a week.
Meantime, under Labram's supervision, Goffe had been busy making the drawings and blueprints for the sights, breech screw, strengthening hoops, carriage, and shells, not to mention the tools for rifling the bore, which had to be specially designed and made. As each drawing was completed so work on that item commenced at once. A great deal of experimentation by trial and error took place as problems arose, since neither Labram nor any of his foremen had had any experience of gunshop practice. Fortunately, some of the artisans had worked previously in either the Royal Gun Factory at Woolwich, or else at Elswick, and came forward with ideas and suggestions.
The first items completed were the strengthening hoops and the trunnion ring. Two rows of hoops were required, the inner row having nine hoops plus the trunnion ring and the outer row four. These hoops were made from 15.2 cm x 6.35 cm Low Moor iron bars cut to length and bent into a circle with the ends welded together, and then machined to the exact size required. The inner hoops had an internal diameter (less shrinkage) of 26cm, whereas the outer hoops had an internal diameter of about 36.2 cm when made. The trunnion ring at first presented a major problem as it was considered impossible, with the equipment available, to make a satisfactory weld in so heavy a piece of metal. The leading blacksmith came up with a solution, however, by taking a length of 15.2 cm x 15.2 cm iron bar through which he drilled a small hole from one side to the other. This hole was then gradually enlarged by successive heats until it was of almost the correct size to slip over the gun tube. It was then machined to the required internal diameter and the trunnions themselves were turned. By this time boring of the gun tube had been completed.
In order to fit the strengthening hoops the tube, or barrel, was slung, breech-end upwards, from a derrick, the ends were plugged, and a constant circulation of cold water was arranged inside the bore. Meanwhile, the strengthening hoops were being heated over a wood fire. As soon as they had expanded sufficiently, the hoops were slipped one by one over the end of the tube, the trunnion ring going on first and resting against the shoulder left when the billet was first machined. As each hoop was put on, it was clamped into position whilst cooling and shrinking, the hoop below it being kept cool by a stream of cold water from a garden hose. Once the seven hoops in rear of the trunnion ring were in place, the tube was reversed in the derrick and the two front hoops were fitted. The tube was then taken back to the machine shop and the outside of the hoops were turned to form a seating for the four outer hoops which were then fitted in a similar manner. Final external machining of the gun was then done.
'Long Cecil' nearing completion in the yard of De Beers' Workshops.
The strengthening hoops have just been fitted and the gun is about to go
in to the machine shop for final external machining.
(De Beers Consolidated Mines Ltd)
A good deal of thought had gone into the type of rifling to be cut and how it was to be done, Labram eventually deciding on a polygroove plain section type having 32 grooves with a righthand twist, each groove being 6.35 mm wide and 1.58 mm deep.(5) To lessen the strain on the gun, and on the shell's driving band when firing, the rifling had a twist of 1 in 100 at the commencement of rifling increasing to 1 in 32 at the muzzle, the final 58cm being uniform at 1 in 32. After overcoming a good many problems in designing and making the tools needed, and meeting difficulties encountered when cutting of the rifling first commenced, the job was completed in a little less than 48 hours of continuous work. The chamber was then reamed out to a diameter of 10.79 cm and the threads cut to take the breech screw. Originally it had been planned to make an interrupted thread breech screw which could be removed completely after a one-sixth turn, no breech carrier being envisaged. Practical problems involved in cutting and smoothing the plain sections in the breech and on the breech screw itself, plus the additional time it would take (estimated at two days), led finally to the making of a continuous-thread breech screw which could be screwed right out and removed by hand, a slower loading rate being acceptable. The mushroom head and spindle was a solid piece of mild steel, there being no axial vent as the gun was to be fired by means of a Mark III friction tube inserted in a copper-lined radial vent drilled through the strengthening hoops into the chamber. As will be seen, these firing arrangements were to cause serious problems and had to be altered once the gun was in service. The obturator pad was, to all intents and purposes, a standard service pattern.
The sights were similar to those in general field artillery use at the time, consisting of a blade foresight fitted to the right trunnion and a tangent hindsight copied from those used on the 2.5-inch guns. When fitted in its brass clamp on the right of the breech opening, the tangent sight had an inclination of two degrees to the right to compensate for drift and, to everyone's delight when the gun was tested, this turned out to be almost exactly correct. When made, the sight bar of the tangent sight was not graduated, pending calibration, but the crosshead was fitted with a deflection scale. A clinometer plane was cut just forward of the radial vent and, in practice, it seems that both the layer and the No.1 of the gun preferred laying for elevation by clinometer and used the tangent sight for line only. There was no top traverse, all traversing being done by means of two handspikes fitted into sockets on either side of the trail eye. Elevating arrangements were simple, consisting of a long screw passing through a transom nut fixed between the trail legs and attached to a hinged lug bolted on to the underside of the piece below the breech. The screw was rotated by means of a spoked handwheel and the gun could be elevated between 0 and +26degrees.
The carriage had been completed by the time the gun itself was finished and consisted of four 6.35 mm steel plates cut to the shape of carriage and trail and riveted together in pairs, 57 mm apart. Gun metal castings, also riveted to the plates, served as axle and trunnion bearings. The two pairs of plates were then bolted together, 43.8 cm apart, using shouldered bolts. The wheels were the only parts not made, having been taken off a disused mobile steam engine. A roller was fitted underneath the trail closing plate to assist in running the gun up into the emplacements which had been prepared for it. When completed, the centre of the trunnions was 1.52 metres above ground and 12.7 cm behind a vertical line through the centre of the axle, the trail eye being 2.89 metres behind the same point. The wheels were 1.52 metres apart, centre to centre. A limber was also made for the gun, being of a standard pattern and possessing no special features.
The lathe used for making 'Long Cecil' as it is today in the Kimberley Engineering Works.
After 24 days continuous work, much of it under shellfire (one or two direct hits had been scored on the workshops and there seem to have been several near-misses), gun and carriage were completed on 18 January 1900. By this time too the ammunition had also been made, the only components not manufactured in Kimberley being the powder, friction tubes, and the detonators for the fuzes. The large-grain black powder used for shell fillings and charges consisted of sticks of gunpowder 50.8 mm in length and 11 mm in diameter. This stock of powder had been in Kimberley for more than ten years and, thanks to good storage, was still in perfect condition. An adequate supply of mealed powder was also available for use in the fuzes. As already mentioned, some experience had been gained in ammunition manufacture since shells, fuzes and charges for the 2.5-inch guns had been made locally since the previous November.
Ring and common 2 crh(6) shells were made for 'Long Cecil', each weighing 12.7 kg unfilled and having an overall length of 33cm. The shells were of cast steel, the rings in the ring shell being of cast iron and, for ease of manufacture, the shells were cast with a hole in the nose and base, the latter then being sealed with a screwed-in brass plug. Every shell was steam-tested at a pressure of 861.84 kPa (125 lb per sq in) so as to reveal any flaws in casting (this was probably done as result of a premature burst with one of the locally made 2.5-inch shells). The shells were then lacquered internally, turned to a 102 mm external gauge, and a groove was cut for the driving band according to a method adopted in England as recently as April 1899, i.e., by having the sides undercut instead of straight. The ribs in the groove were the standard straight British type, cut away at intervals, waved ribs being introduced in British ammunition in June 1901. A 19 mm wide copper driving band was then fitted. This was a narrow Vavasseur type, locally designed, with three cannelures cut round its circumference to take up the surplus copper dragged back by the rifling lands, and was an improvement on British field-gun driving bands of the period.The hole left in the nose of the shell was then threaded internally to take the fuze, the shell was filled with a 0.454 kg gunpowder bursting charge and plugged (fuzes were fitted at the gun position). As proof of origin, and no doubt adding a collector's value amongst Boer souvenir hunters, each shell had 'DE BEERS' and a diamond shape cast into the base, whilst some even had 'WITH COMPTS CJR' (Rhodes's initials) stamped on the body near the driving band! The 2.2 kg propellant charges were sewn into wool-serge bags made by a local draper and taped with silk.
Casting shells in the De Beers' Workshops during the siege. Note the moulds in the foreground
The percussion nose fuze, designed by Labram, was identical to those already in use with the locally made 2.5-inch shells and was of simple design. Although not a graze fuze in the true sense, it did not require the shell to hit the ground at a steep angle of descent in order to function since there was no striker which had to be driven in. As will be seen from the accompanying section drawing, the gun-metal fuze body was tapered and threaded externally and had a channel bored centrally through it for almost the whole of its length, the undrilled portion being pierced by a fire hole. The upper end of the channel was threaded internally to take a brass detonator plug, the detonator itself being a shotgun-cartridge cap. Fitting inside the channel and held against the fire hole by two lead safety pins, each having a shearing stress of 18.14 kg, was a steel plunger, or pellet, which served as both striker and magazine. The lower cylindrical portion of the plunger was hollowed out from the base and filled with mealed powder, thus forming the magazine, and the open end was sealed with a muslin disc. The conical upper portion, which acted as the striker, had a flash channel drilled through it from the apex to the magazine, and fitting round the striker, between the shoulders of the plunger and the detonator plug, was a steel detent spring having a 1.36 kg tension. On impact, the plunger's inertia sheared the two lead safety pins and it flew forward, compressing the detent spring, to strike the detonator. The resultant flash passed down the flash channel setting off the powder in the magazine which, in turn, ignited the shell filling, there being no primer in the shell itself. It was an efficient fuze and there appear to be no recorded reports of 'blinds' due to malfunctioning. This is more than can be said of standard British direct action fuzes of the period, and for many years afterwards, as these frequently failed to function when the angle of impact was too acute for the striker to be driven in, or caused it to bend and jam.
On Friday, 19 January, 1900, the gun, nicknamed 'Long Cecil' in honour of Cecil Rhodes, was taken for testing and calibration to one of the three emplacements already prepared for it. Rhodes, who had taken a great interest in the gun and its manufacture, was present, along with a number of local dignitaries and senior officers of the garrison. He invited Lt-Col Chamier, as the senior Gunner, to fire the first round. The story goes that Chamier refused on the grounds that, as a member of the Royal Regiment, he was permitted to fire only such guns as had been officially approved by the War Office and that 'Long Cecil' definitely did not fall within this category! Rhodes, so the story continues, then told Chamier to remove himself to a safe distance and sent his pony and trap to fetch Mrs Pickering, wife of the Secretary to the De Beers Company. On her arrival, Rhodes handed her the end of the firing lanyard, inviting her to pull it. This she duly did, with some trepidation, and fired the first round from 'Long Cecil' - of this latter part of the story there is no doubt. The round landed and burst in the middle of a hitherto safe and quiet Boer laager at the Intermediate Pumping Station some 7 200 metres away, causing considerable alarm and dismay according to Boer letters written at the time, some of which were later intercepted by the British.
Firing a further fifteen rounds (Rhodes himself fired several) the gun was thoroughly tested and data recorded for the compilation of a range table. Although no detailed account of the procedure followed appears to exist, it seems that a 'range and accuracy trial', somewhat modified and adapted, was carried out. Mr C.D. Lucas, one of the De Beers Company's surveyors wrote that he recorded 'data for several shots taken at different elevations' and also that the 'wind pressure and direction, atmospheric pressure, weight and class of powder and recoil of the gun were carefully noted.' As the garrison's Royal Artillery officers were either not asked to assist, or preferred to have nothing to do with the whole business, Lucas undertook the compilation of the range table himself, assisted by another De Beers' surveyor, J.P. Cornwall. Lucas set up his theodolite at the gun position, observing the bearing to each fall of shot and recording its time of flight and the quadrant elevation at which it was fired. Cornwall positioned himself at Fort Rhodes, one of the Kimberley redoubts about 6 000 metres away to the right and at an angle of about 100 degrees to the line of fire, and cross-observed each shell burst. From these observations it was a simple matter to calculate the exact range to each shell burst and thus arrive at a mean range for all the rounds fired at each quadrant elevation (usually a group of about ten rounds is fired at each of three different quadrant elevations during a range and accuracy trial but, judging by the ammunition expenditure that morning, it seems that only five could have been fired at each elevation). From data thus recorded it is possible to compute the quadrant elevations for the intervening ranges and thus compile the range table. Lucas then went away to do his sums, admitting later that he could not get the gunnery textbook formulae to work out and so invented his own! A copy of Lucas's range table as compiled and used with the gun, together with a table comparing 'Long Cecil's' main characteristics with those of similar British guns then in service, are given at the end of this article.
'Long Cecil' completed. Note the twin handspikes and the tangent sight crosshead visible above the breech.
(Kimberley Public Library)
The gun behaved well during the test firing and was then taken back to the workshops for a thorough technical examination, no flaws being found. Some adjustments were, however, made to the elevating arrangements, a better foresight was fitted, and the threads on the breech screw were flattened slightly as it tended to set back on firing and become difficult to open. In spite of allegedly refusing to fire the gun, Chamier obviously took some interest in it as he wrote in his own hand opposite the entries for 19 January, in the 'Remarks' column of the ammunition return for that day: 'Tried "Long Cecil". Results good but Mr Labram WILL use too heavy a charge.' Chamier was later proved correct on this point.
'Long Cecil' and the men who made it. Second row standing, left to right: George Paley (Assistant Mechanical Engineer)
William Berry (Workshop Foreman) at right of second row: George Labram (Chief Engineer) and Edward Goffe (Chief Draughtsman).
On 21 January 'Long Cecil' was handed over to the Diamond Fields Artillery who provided a 10-man detachment under Sgt James Wheaton, an ex-member of the Royal Navy who had quite understandably included a number of former bluejackets in his detachment. The following day the gun and its detachment were attached to the RGA section commanded by Lt H.M. Close, RA, and joined them at No 1 Searchlight Redoubt. The next day, 23 January 'Long Cecil' fired its first rounds in anger, expending 18 rounds that day and 57 on the following day. Filled with enthusiasm no doubt, possibly encouraged by Labram, and hoping to get a bit more range out of their new weapon, the detachment loaded a 2.72 instead of a 2.26 kg charge into a cold gun on the morning of 29 January and, according to Edward Goffe, the first round of the day was 'productive of an extra loud and peculiar report, and the idea that something had gone wrong was general.' Judging by some of the diaries kept in Kimberley during the siege, the 'extra loud and peculiar report' was heard all over town and more people than Goffe and the gun detachment were convinced that something was wrong!
A look at the gun revealed that the outer strengthening hoop containing the radial vent had cracked. The gun was sent down to the workshops where the furnace was fired so that the rearmost outer strengthening hoop could be heated, expanded and slipped off thus releasing the damaged one as well. Whilst this was being done work started on making a new hoop. When the two outer hoops had been removed it was discovered that the two inner hoops on either side of the radial vent had also cracked and these had to be removed as well and new ones made. Careful examination of the chamber revealed no internal or external cracks or damage, but it was noted that the internal diameter of the chamber at the centre had increased by 0.79 mm, there being no measurable increase in external diameter. At this stage the gun had fired 93 rounds and subsequent measurements during the remainder of the gun's service revealed no further expansion - had Labram but realised it he had stumbled on the principle of autofrettaging gun barrels!(7) There seemed to be no apparent cause for the cracked hoops until somebody noticed that there were powder stains on the undersides of the hoops in the vicinity of the radial vent. It then became obvious that gas had forced its way past the outside of the copper tube lining the radial vent and, with the increased volume of gas resulting from the higher charge, this had cracked the hoops by direct pressure. The radial vent was condemned at once and the hole was plugged and sealed. An axial vent was then drilled through the mushroom head and spindle, tests first being carried out to ensure that the flash from the friction tubes in use would carry this additional distance. The new strengthening hoops were shrunk on and a safety device was fitted to the back of the breech screw to prevent the friction tube from being blown out to the rear on firing.
These repairs took about two days to complete and the gun was then returned to its detachment. It fired one round and the mushroom-head spindle broke. A complete spare breech screw and vent axial were at hand and were fitted to the gun. The second spindle also broke after one round. As may be imagined there was a great deal of concern and headscratching as a result. Then one of the fitters let out that when he had worked previously at Woolwich he had heard of a similar thing happening, when six or seven vent axials had broken in as many rounds, and the problem had been solved by annealing them in oil. In near-desperation this was tried. It worked successfully but, as a safety precaution, several spare vent axials were made and kept handy with the gun. After about another fifty rounds it was noticed that there was an inexplicable drawing down, or thinning, of the spindle just in rear of the mushroom-head itself. For safety reasons a new vent axial was fitted. This happened twice, until the charge was later reduced. In a discussion of this problem, when Goffe's paper on the making of 'Long Cecil' was read to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in London in June 1900, a Mr H.F. Donaldson of Woolwich suggested that the fracturing and thinning of the spindle was possibly due to the 'sharp angle' at the base of the mushroom-head and that if this had been more generously curved there might have been no problem, even without annealing.
These problems overcome, the gun continued in action, engaging Boer positions to the north and north-west of the town. Then, on 9 February, a major tragedy occurred. To trace its cause one must go back to the early days of the siege.
As far back as 20 November 1899 Gen J.H. de la Rey, then in the Kimberley area, had suggested to President Kruger that one of the four 155 mm Schneider siege guns in the forts around Pretoria should be sent south to shell Kimberley into submission. (These were the four famous 'Long Toms' usually referred to as Creusot guns). De la Rey's suggestion was turned down as three of these guns were already in Natal, whilst the fourth was in action shelling the town of Mafeking. The appearance of 'Long Cecil' gave new meaning to De la Rey's idea as its shelling of hitherto safe laagers had forced the Boers to move their headquarters and administrative areas out of range and, in addition, many of their forward positions hitherto out of British gun range were now receiving some unpleasant attention. Gen S.P. du Toit, commanding the Transvaal forces at Kimberley, renewed De la Rey's request. By this time the 'Long Tom' situation had altered somewhat. On 5 December 1899, a British raiding party from Ladysmith had badly damaged one of the Long Toms shelling the town. The gun was sent to Pretoria for repair and was again serviceable by the end of January 1900. Kruger authorized its despatch to the Kimberley area where Gen P.A. Cronje, sitting at Magersfontein, had also asked for one of these guns to shell Lord Methuen's steadily growing camp at Modder River Station, and to reply to the 4.7-inch guns, manned bv the Naval Brigade and 15 Coy RGA, which were shelling his defences almost daily. (Cronje had even gone so far as to blast a gunpit into one of the rocky hillocks at Magersfontein for his hoped-for 'Long Tom' - it is still to be seen). Backed by Col de Villebois-Mareuil's recommendation, Du Toit's request won the day and the gun arrived at Kamfersdam, a little more than 6 kilometres north-west of Kimberley, on 6 February and was promptly dragged to the top of a mine dump and into a prepared emplacement. (De Villebois-Mareuil was a famous French officer serving as a soldier of fortune and military adviser to the Boers. He was killed in action two months later).
Following on increased shelling by all the Boer guns around Kimberley, the 'Long Tom' opened fire on the town on 7 February, its 43.5 kg segment and shrapnel shells causing a good deal of damage and near-panic amongst the townspeople who had become almost accustomed to the generally ineffective shelling by the lighter Boer field guns. At about 6 p.m. on 9 February the last round fired by the 'Long Tom' that day hit the Grand Hotel in the centre of Kimberley, bursting in the second floor room where Labram was changing prior to going to dinner with Rhodes. Labram was killed instantly. The following evening, to the intense disgust of the Kimberley people, the 'Long Tom' gunners shelled the start of Labram's funeral procession at the Kimberley Hospital and then shelled the Gladstone Cemetery (visible from the gun's position) during the actual burial service. Two days later, on 11 February, over 3 000 women and children were sent underground for safety in the Kimberley and De Beers' mines, and there they remained for the rest of the siege.
The day after Labram was killed Chamier at last had his way and his remark written on the ammunition return for 10 February reads:-'"Long Cecil" - on poor Labram's death I ordered all the charges to be broken up and made into 4 lb charges. The gun did not break down again.' Between 10 and 15 February, when Kimberley was relieved, 'Long Cecil' fired a further 107 trouble-free rounds, its reduced maximum range of about 5 900 metres still enabling it to engage its usual targets. Although there is ample evidence of the fact that 'Long Cecil' frequently shelled Kamfersdam, where the Boer 155 mm gun was (a difficult target as this gun was dug in on the crest of a high, steep mine dump), there seems to be no record of the Boer gun ever engaging 'Long Cecil' in an effort to put it out of action. This appears surprising as the latter's existence was one of the reasons for the 'Long Tom' being sent to Kimberley, but it is equally true that the Boer artillery devoted remarkably little time and ammunition to shelling the Kimberley defences, bombarding the town instead. On its last day in action, 'Long Cecil' bade farewell to 'Long Tom' with six rounds before the Boer gun disappeared, and there is no record of what finally happened to this particular gun.
A look at the original handwritten copy of the Total No. of Rounds fired in Kimberley from 24-10-99 to 16-2-00 has proved interesting (the first artillery engagement took place on 24 October and the last rounds were fired on 16 February in support of Gen French's abortive operations to the north of the town). The document is a day-to-day record of ammunition expenditure by 23 Coy RGA, the Diamond Fields Artillery battery, and 'Long Cecil', giving also the targets engaged and the ranges to them. In all, the garrison's Gunners fired a total of 2 281 rounds during the four-month siege and of these a considerable number had been made in Kimberley, including all those fired by 'Long Cecil'. As mentioned earlier, the Boers fired about 8 500 rounds into the town during the same period. Of the 2 281 rounds the six guns of the Diamond Fields Artillerv, which had been used mainly as a mobile field battery during the siege, accounted for 1 033 rounds, their highest expenditure on any one day being 112 rounds fired in support of the Carter's Ridge attack on 25 November 1899.
'Long Cecil' in action, firing at the Boer positions on Carter's Ridge.
23 Coy RCA fired a total of 988 rounds, its expenditure being reflected by sections since its guns had been deployed in pairs in the forts throughout the siege. As far as can be established, the RCA section which fired the most rounds was that commanded by Lt H.M. Close, RA, which had later reinforced the two Cape Police 7-pounders at Otto's Koppie and fired a total of 408 rounds during the siege, 96 being expended on 16 February. By comparison, during its 28 days in service (including four days when it was out of action and Sundays when no firing took place) 'Long Cecil' fired 260 rounds in action (most published accounts give a slightly lower figure) Assuming the RCA and DFA section comanders adhered to normal practice by ensuring that their guns each fired roughly the same number of rounds, it may safely be said that 'Long Cecil' did more firing whilst in service than any other gun in Kimberley throughout the whole period of the siege! Not a bad performance for a home-made gun.
The tall and the short - 'Long Cecil' and one of 23 Coy RGA's little mountain guns which formed
part of the Kimberley garrison's main armament prior to the manufacture of 'Long Cecil'.
Its share in the defence of Kimberley completed, 'Long Cecil' was returned to the DFA gun park on 18 February with instructions that it was to be kept 'clean and serviceable'. An object of considerable interest to Gunners of the relief force, and to others who took the opportunity to see it, the gun was not again used in action during the war, but more fame lay ahead. On Friday, 9 August 1901, Maj T.J. May, CMG, Battery Sergeant-Major H. Wilkins, Sgts Wheaton and Lust, with a detachment of ten NCOs, Gunners and Drivers entrained with 'Long Cecil' for Cape Town where the gun was to be exhibited during the visit of Their Royal Highnesses The Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York (later H.M. King George V and Queen Mary). The gun and a well-feted, and one suspects, exhausted detachment, returned to Kimberley on 29 August. Then, on 26 March 1902, Cecil Rhodes died and 'Long Cecil' went to Cape Town for the second time during the war, on this occasion to serve as the gun carriage in Rhodes's funeral procession to Cape Town railway station and again from Bulawayo station to his final resting place in the Matopo Hills. For this last journey 'Long Cecil' was pulled at first by mules and, for the final stage, by twelve gleaming black oxen. Thereafter the gun was returned to Kimberley to be placed on the Honoured Dead Siege Memorial where it stands to this day. In the Museum of Artillery in the Rotunda at Woolwich there is a good scale model of the gun, made, it is believed, by Mr Harry Beer who was one of the artisans employed in making the original gun during the siege.
Close by the Siege Memorial in Kimberley is a comparatively new suburb called Monument Heights and nearly all its streets are named after people who have played their part in the city's chequered history. Both Chamier and Kekewich have streets named after them and it is ironic that, with a changing population and the passage of time, few people in Kimberley today know who these men were or what they did. Labram is perhaps better remembered for, as Brian Roberts puts it in his recent book Kimberley: Turbulent City, 'Few men had done more for besieged Kimberley than George Labram few men were more deeply mourned'. Today 'Long Cecil' remains as visible proof of his achievements. A suburb of Kimberley has been named after him but, other than an annuity to his widow and a grant for his son's education (both paid by the De Beers Company), this is the only recognition ever given him for his many contributions towards the successful defence of Kimberley. No acknowledgment of his services was made by the British Government, but what has been done by a grateful Kimberley is possibly more lasting and generous than a posthumous medal.
Copy of the Range Table for 'Long Cecil' calculated and prepared by Mr C.D. Lucas of De Beers Consolidated Mines Ltd, and used with the gun during the Siege of Kimberley
|Range Table : 4.1-inch Gun 'Long Cecil' |
Projectile : 2 crh Common or Ring Shell: 29 lb.
Charge : 5 lb. 'Kidney' Powder
Muzzle Velocity :1710 fs
|Quadrant elevation||Time of flight||Remaining velocity||Range|
|Table of comparative data for |
'Long Cecil' and equivalent British guns in service in 1899
|Gun||BL 30-pr |
|BL 4-in |
|Weight of piece (nominal) kg||1016||1320||1625|
|projectile (filled) kg||13.6||11.34||13.15|
|charge (powder) kg||1.13+||5.44*||2.26|
|Length overall m||2.92||3.04||3.04|
|of rifling cm||22.42||22.54||24.95|
|Chamber capacity cc||4096||6833||2785|
|Muzzle velocity m/s||503||579||521|
|Remaining velocitv at 900 m m/s||389||440||406|
|Elevation (maximum) deg||+ 16||+ 25||+ 26|
|Rifling||24 PPS(mod) 1in |
to 1 in 30
|24 PPS(mod) 1in |
to 1 in 30
|32 PPS(mod) 1in |
to 1 in 32
Note 1. + = cordite charge only 2. * = 3« lb (1.58 kg) cordite charge also used.
Timeline of Land Dispossession and Segregation in South Africa 1800-1899
Zulu warriors defeated the British in 1879 at the Battle of Isandlwana
22 January, The British forces are defeated by the Zulu impis at the Battle of Isandlwana. 28 November, The Pedi under the leadership of Sekhukhune are defeated by British forces leaving about 1000 Pedi warriors dead. Sekhukhune is captured and imprisoned in Pretoria. The Cape government annexes Fingoland (Mfenguland) and Griqualand west which constitutes two thirds of the territory between the Cape and Natal. 1882-3 White farmers lay a siege of Ndzundza-Ndebele for nine months who when faced with starvation are forced to surrender. Their fertile lands are seized and divided among the voortrekkers. Each war participant is given five families to use as servants who work for little or no pay on the farms. 1885 Gcalekaland and Thembuland are incorporated into the Cape Colony. 1887 After defeating the Zulu warriors at the Battle of Ulundi, the British formally annex Zululand to pre-empt simmering threat of the Zulu people fighting back to recover the loss of their territory. The kingdom is broken up into 13 chiefdoms by Garnet Wolseleyand placed under different chiefs each with a British resident. 1891 Squatting on crown lands by black people was prohibited by Volksraad Resolution No. 359. 1894 The Glen Grey Act (No. 25 of 1894) is passed. Under the Act, the alienation and transfer of land was to be approved by the governor. Subletting or subdivision of the land was prohibited and the principle of ‘one man one plot’ was to be applied, thus the rest of the people who were not allocated land were forced to go and find work out elsewhere. Although declared in the Glen grey District, itis immediately extended to the Transkeian districts of Butterworth, Idutywa, Ngqamakwe and Tsomo by Proclamation No. 352 of 1894. The Cape government incorporates Pondoland along the east coast. 1895 British Bechuanaland passes into the hands of the Cape Colony. The Act of Annexation makes special provision that no lands reserved for the use of Africans in the territory were to be alienated. Law No. 21 of 1895 prohibits farmers from employing more than 5 African householders on one farm without government permission. However, this proves to be ineffective as Land Companies repeatedly break the law. 1898 Voortrekker commandos underJoubert isolate the Venda chiefdoms and attack them one by one resulting in their defeat. Some of the Venda people are driven across the Limpopo River and their territory is incorporated into the Transvaal. ">
Kevin Shillington, (1987), A History of Southern Africa, (Essex), pp. 57-59, 93-103|
Elphick, R, The Shaping of South African Society 1652-1840, pp. 443, 448, 482-489.|
Mats Lundahl, C. Colin L. McCarthy, Lennart Petersson, In the Shadow of South Africa: Lesotho's Economic Future, pp.18-22.|
Second Boer War
When the Boer War began on October 12, 1899, Australia was still a collection of separate British colonies with a total population of less than 4 million on a land mass nearly as large as the United States. When each colony immediately offered troops for the war, the War Office in London didn’t want unskilled, probably unreliable colonial volunteers. But the British government, facing criticism of its policies and actions in southern Africa from America and most European countries, chose to regard the offers from the Australian colonies as a mark of Empire solidarity, overrode the War Office and accepted the offers. Shiploads of soldiers and horses set sail from Australia for the Cape of Good Hope.
The first contingents arrived in South Africa in November 1899 they continued arriving throughout the war until more than 16,000 soldiers had been transported to the Cape. They were not regular soldiers, though they were militia, part-tithe soldiers with anything from 36 to 80 of hours training or drill a year, depending on the colony they came from.
They arrived in small units, since the British government stipulated that the units should consist of about 125 then, with no more than a single captain and three subalterns to each one. If more than one unit carne from a single colonial force, these could be commanded by a major. The Aussies came under such names as the New South Wales Lancers, New South Wales Mounted Rifles, Queensland Mounted Infantry, Queensland Bushmen, South Australian Mounted Rifles, South Australian Imperial Bushmen, Victorian Bushmen, Western Australian Mounted Infantry, Tasmanian Bushmen, and Australian Commonwealth Horse. Ill-trained as soldiers, they would probably not have lasted very long in a conventional war against regular, disciplined troops.
The Boers, however, were fighting an unconventional war, one to which the Australians adapted easily and in which they were able to make a contribution quite out of proportion to their numbers. Like the colonial-steeped Boers themselves, the Australians were mostly countrymen, used to the bush, to living rough and living off the land when necessary, able to find their way day or night in any kind of country, and familiar with horses and guns from an early age.
Other volunteers for the war came from among Australians living and working in southern Africa. Some joined units such as the South African Constabulary, whose Australian James Rogers was awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery. Others joined irregular units such as that formed by the Australian Walter D. ‘Karri’ Davis, the Imperial Light Horse of South Africa. All units, wherever they came from, were dispersed among British units, under British command.
The war began badly for the British. Before the war was a month old, Boer General Pieter A. ‘Piet’ Cronjé had led a large force of horsemen out of the Transvaal and laid siege to Mafeking Orange Free State forces had laid siege to diamond-rich Kimberley and General Petrus Jacobus ‘Piet’ Joubert and his 15,000 horsemen had defeated General Sir George White’s Natal Defence Force at Laing’s Nek, defeated him again a week later at Talana Hill, and by November 2 had laid siege to Ladysmith. And then came “Black Week,” when between December 10 and 17 the Boers defeated the British at Magersfontein, where the British suffered 1,000 casualties at Stormberg, where they lost 100 casualties and 600 prisoners and at Colenso, where General Buller’s force took 1,200 casualties in an unsuccessful attempt to relieve Ladysmith. Buller–General Sir Redvers Buller–was commander in chief of all forces, but now the British government decided he had to go.
On the first day of January 1900, meanwhile, 200 Australians of the Queensland Mounted Infantry, with a supporting group of Canadians and British, mounted an attack on a Boer camp on Sunnyside Kopje, one of the low hills near the Vaal River west of Kimberley. While the Canadians and British held the Boers’ attention with a frontal attack, the Queenslanders moved in from the flank, using cover as they moved from ridge to ridge, until they were in position to launch a surprise attack on the Boers. The Boers retreated, leaving 30 dead and 41 prisoners and a large supply of food and weapons. The Queenslander casualties were two dead and two wounded. In another action, on January 16 at Slingersfontein, a Boer commando (group) of 400 attacked a small hill where 20 men of the Western Australian Mounted Infantry were positioned. The Australians, constantly moving in the scrub and rocks, beat off attack after attack from sunrise to sunset, at which time the Boers finally withdrew. These small successes were given much publicity, drawing attention to the unorthodox fighting tactics of the colonial horsemen.
General Buller’s replacement arrived in mid-January 1900. He was Field Marshal Lord Frederick Sleigh Roberts, 1st Baron of Kandahar. He brought with him General Lord Horatio Herbert Kitchener as his chief of staff.
Roberts realized immediately that this was no conventional war and that vast changes would have to be made if he was to defeat the Boers. A much more mobile army was needed, and different tactics. The Australian horse soldiers already were working successfully against the Boers, an example of what was needed. Roberts began putting every man he could on horseback and concentrating his forces at Enslin near the Modder River for an invasion of the Orange Free State.
Meanwhile, General Buller was still in the field. Disobeying his commander in chief’s order to stay put, he crossed the Tugela River into Natal–and there he was badly beaten by the Boers at Spion Kop and at Vaal Kranz. He blundered deeper into Natal.
While concentrating his own forces at Enslin, Roberts sent Maj. Gen. John French in a wide, flanking move toward Kimberley, as if intending to relieve the diamond town. French’s forces, in addition to British cavalry regiments such as the Inniskilling Fusiliers and the Scots Greys, included the New South Wales Lancers, Queensland Mounted Infantry and New South Wales Mounted Rifles. Then Roberts himself moved with massive force across the Modder taking with him 30,000 infantry, 7,500 cavalry, 3,600 mounted infantry and 120 guns, and a transport unit of 4,000 drivers, 11,000 mules and 9,600 oxen.
He sent Lord Methuen’s 1st Division along the rail line leading to Kimberley to convince Boer General Piet Cronjé that this was the main assault and that he should hold his forces at Magersfontein to oppose it. With Cronjé taking the bait, Roberts ordered General French’s British and Australian horsemen to avoid Magersfontein and spearhead the drive on Kimberley.
French drove hard for the Modder River, where a large Boer force was in position. On one of that summer’s hottest days French’s cavalrymen and mounted infantry raced nonstop for the Modder. It was so hot, horses pulling the guns died in their traces. The cavalrymen and infantrymen trotted alongside their horses to give them some relief, with dead and dying horses littering the back trail. Even 21 of the men died on the march. But the Boers were completely surprised and hastily retreated, leaving their supply wagons behind.
Roberts’ forces caught up with French and they moved on toward Kimberley together. Cronjé, however, had moved 1,000 Boers, with field guns, into positions in the hills overlooking the pass that led to Kimberley. The only alternative for the British was a long march around the hills, a march inviting harassment and attacks by Boer horsemen and fire from the guns in the hills. Roberts sent French and his British and Australian horsemen into the pass.
Lances down, sabers swinging, mounted infantry shooting from the saddle, they charged so fast the Boer gunners could not alter range quickly enough to keep up with them. The Boer riflemen also were beaten by the speed of the charge and the clouds of dust kicked up by the horses’ hoofs. Reinforcements followed the charge, and the Boers slipped away. The horsemen rode on into Kimberley, raising a siege that had lasted 124 days.
Next day French could find only 2,000 horses that could possibly be ridden. Mounting some of his cavalrymen and his Australians, he set off after Cronjé, who was making for Bloemfontein. Hampered by the slowness of his supply wagons and the women and children in his column, Cronjé reached the Modder River at Paardeberg Drift, and there French, followed by some of Roberts’ force, caught up with him. The Boers dug in. General Christiaan de Wet and his commando arrived to help Cronjé, attacking and skirmishing around the British force. The Australians were sent out to contain them while the main force concentrated on Cronjé. He held out for eight days, then surrendered with 4,000 fighting men on February 27.
In Natal, General Buller had captured Hlangwane, a dominant height southeast of the Tugela River, and advanced on Ladysmith. The Boers waited for him at Pieter’s Hill. True to form, Buller sent in his troops in massed attack. They were saved by the Natal Carbineers and the Imperial Light Horse, each unit including Australian volunteers. Those rescuers broke through the Boer lines–but only after 1,900 of Buller’s troops were dead or wounded. Ladysmith was relieved on February 28, and Buller at last was sent back to England.
Advancing next on Bloemfontein, Roberts caught up with Boer commander Christiaan de Wet, who made a stand at Dreifontein Kopjes (the Hills of the Three Springs). The Ist Australian Horse dismounted and went into the assault, keeping low in the long grass and shooting as they moved while artillery fired over their heads. In the face of this implacable advance, the Boers took flight on their horses, although scene of their guns continued firing until the riders of the New South Wales Mounted Rifles and Queensland Mounted Infantry charged on horseback and silenced them. The Aussies then went after de Wet, but he disappeared in the dark hills.
Roberts’ army moved on to Bloemfontein, where the hills around the town were thick with Boer riflemen, machine-gunners and artillerymen, but when he began shelling their positions they faded away. The army stayed in Bloemfontein for six weeks. A quarter of the army was ineffective because of an epidemic of enteric fever, from which more than a thousand died. The horses were in such terrible condition that the soldiers shot them in batches of 100. Replacement horses arrived from Argentina, but they were mostly of poor quality–and wild. The Australian bushmen were given the job of breaking them, and dazzled the British with their expertise.
Out on the veldt, Boer commandos were still skirmishing and attacking. At Sannah’s Post, not far from Bloemfontein, three squadrons of British cavalry, two Royal Horse Artillery batteries and some infantry were guarding a large convoy of supplies when de Wet struck with 2,000 men and field guns. In a fast, savage fight, 19 British officers and 136 of their men were killed or wounded and 426 taken prisoner. Seven guns were lost and the whole of the convoy.
Roberts got his army moving again, 45,000 men, 11,000 horses, 120 guns and 2,500 wagons. Spearheading it was Maj. Gen. Ian Hamilton’s division, which included a brigade commanded by Maj. Gen. ‘Curly’ Hutton and mostly made up of colonials-New Zealanders, Canadians, and mounted infantry from all the Australian colonies. On May 5, the brigade came up against Boer positions at Coetzee’s Drift on the Vet River. The Boers, estimated at 1,000, occupied positions along the riverbank while artillery covered them from a hill behind.
The Royal Horse Artillery softened up both positions, then the New South Wales Mounted Rifles dismounted and went into the attack. Under heavy fire they pushed the Boers back from the river bank and, after another bombardment of the hill, joined Queenslanders and New Zealanders in clearing the hill. The division moved on.
A young reporter riding with the division, Winston Churchill (the future British prime minister during World War II), described how the soldiers lived off the flocks of sheep they drove with them and off chickens and anything else they could find to eat on the deserted Boer farms, while nearly every day there was Boer rifle fire from the front, the flanks or the rear. “This,” he wrote, “made us conscious of the great fighting qualities of these rifle-armed horsemen of the wilderness.”
In May 1900, a column of Hussars commanded by Colonel Bryan Mahon and a column commanded by Colonel Sir Herbert Plumer (which included Australians) galloped across the border from Rhodesia and relieved Mafeking. Colonel Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell (later the founder of the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides), who had commanded during the siege, reviewed the relieving forces. In Natal, the last Boer resistance was crushed at Glencoe and Dundee, and on May 24, the Orange Free State was annexed as a colony of Britain.
With Australians leading his spearhead, Roberts now advanced on Johannesburg in the Transvaal. And holding a line on the Klip River south of Johannesburg was Boer General Louis Botha.
While the New South Wales Mounted Rifles drew Boer fire as a diversion, the Queenslanders crossed the river and held fast on the other side. Next day, the rest of Ian Hamilton’s division crossed the river under heavy fire, and the Australians then raced on to Johannesburg. The first unit entering the city apparently was a troop of South Australian Mounted Infantry commanded by Lieutenant Peter Rowell. It was May 30.
Roberts next marched on Pretoria, the capital of the Transvaal, which he occupied on June 4. The president of the Orange Free State, Marthinus Steyn, Commando Commandant Marthinus Prinsloo and the elusive Christiaan de Wet had all been in the city, but they abandoned it with all their forces when Roberts’ army came close.
The army went after them. New South Welshmen and West Australians caught up with the Boer rear guard in the mountains east of the city at Diamond Hill and attacked with bayonets. They captured the rear guard’s positions, but the main force kept moving and managed to get away.
It was, however, only a matter of time. The Boers, for all their bush skills, could not long evade the huge number of British, Australian, Canadian and other troops searching the mountains for them. Before long, Commando Commandant Prinsloo and 4,000 Boers were rounded up.
Even so, the Boers were still not beaten. Boer commandos roamed the veldt attacking outposts and supply lines and disappearing to turn up somewhere else to fight again.
In early August, a force of 150 Queensland Mounted Infantry, 100 New South Wales Bushmen, smaller numbers of Victorian and Western Australian Bushmen and 75 Rhodesians under command of a British officer, a Colonel Hore, were sent to guard a huge consignment of stores at the Elands River Post. They arrived at the post after a running fight with Boers front a commando of 2,500 to 3,000, commanded by General Jacobus ‘Koos’ de la Rey, and quickly improvised a defensive position out of ox wagons and boxes and bags of stores. The commando surrounded the post and during the next two days poured 2,500 artillery shells into it from the hills around. Nearly all of the 1,500 horses, mules and oxen were killed or died of wounds from the shelling, but the troop casualties were very light, since the men burrowed into the rocky ground and stayed down. After the second day the bombardment eased, probably because the Boers realized they were destroying the stores they badly needed, but they kept up intense rifle and machine-gun fire.
During the day, the defenders lay motionless in their holes in the ground, but at night they came out. Some ran the gauntlet of fire to bring water from the river, while others repaired shattered defenses and dug deeper holes and others went out into the darkness looking for Boer field-gun and machine-gun positions, which they attacked loudly with grenades or silently with knives and bayonets. Many sleeping Boers and even wide-awake sentries lost their lives in this night stalking and attack. A Boer who had been at Elands River wrote: “For the first time in the war, we were fighting men who used our own tactics against us. They were Australian volunteers and though small in number we could not take their position. They were the only troops who could scout our lines at night and kill our sentries while killing and capturing our scouts. Our men admitted that the Australians were more formidable opponents and far more dangerous than any other British troops.”
On August 8, de la Rey, under a flag of truce, advised the Australians that the whole area was in Boer hands and there was no hope of relief for the post. He offered safe conduct to the nearest British garrison if they would surrender. It was that, or destruction by his artillery. The offer was refused, and the bombardment began again. On the 12th, de la Rey sent another offer of honorable surrender, to which Colonel Hore replied: “Even if I wished to surrender to you—and I don’t—I am commanding Australians who would cut my throat if I accepted your terms.”
During the truce a messenger got through the Boer lines and made it to Mafeking, where he reported that the force was still holding out at the Elands River it had not surrendered or been taken as was believed at headquarters. General Lord Kitchener himself led a column in relief. When the Boers saw it approaching they withdrew, and the column marched into the post in the afternoon of August 16. Looking about him, Kitchener remarked: ‘Only colonials could have held out and survived in such impossible conditions.’
The Transvaal had now all but fallen, and like the Orange Free State, it was annexed as a colony of Britain.
The war had passed through two phases. In the first phase of some three months, British forces of mainly foot soldiers led by incompetent generals were besieged or defeated by highly mobile Boer mounted infantry. It was a period of bloody fighting in which the only real battles of the war occurred. The second phase was the British offensive, during which British and colonial troops, vastly outnumbering the Boers, smashed and dispersed the Boer forces and annexed their two states. But the war was by no means over. There were still strong Boer commandos at large, led by experienced and successful leaders such as Koos de le Rey, Jan Smuts, Danie Theron, Christiaan de Wet and others. The British held the cities and towns, but a vast amount of territory was left to the commandos, which now broke into smaller groups and began a guerrilla war, intercepting telegraph messages for intelligence, infiltrating bases, making lightning raids on posts and convoys, and sabotaging rail and road communications.
Wearing captured British uniforms, Boers of one command rode into a British cavalry post and opened fire, killing or wounding more than 70 troopers. They took supplies and arms and drove off all the horses. After that success, they often wore British uniforms to get close enough to kill. For greater killing power, they used dumdum and expanding bullets. The Boer soldier only needed to hide his rifle to become a farmer again. Many were the times when British soldiers searching farms for weapons were shot in the back by a farmer who had reached for his hidden rifle. And many were the times they were fired on from under a flag of truce. When the Boers went into action, almost every civilian in the area was ready to provide them with intelligence, food, shelter, medical help and hiding places.
Field Marshal Roberts put into action his plan to combat this situation. The map of South Africa was marked in squares to show where ‘protected areas’ would be established. On the ground, blockhouses were built in the squares, each within rifle shot of the next, and barbed wire was strung between them, enclosing the veldt in an interlocking system of armed squares. Then, one at a time, the squares were cleared of Boer guerrillas, and the occupants of farms and settlements were concentrated in camps, their homes and crops destroyed, their wells poisoned, and their livestock slaughtered or driven off. Outside these ‘protected areas,’ however, the war went on more savagely than ever.
At the end of November, Roberts handed over command to Kitchener and returned to England. Kitchener intensified the clearing of ‘protected areas’ and by the end of the year some 26,000 square kilometers of the Transvaal and north Orange Free State and 10,000 square kilometers around Bloemfontein had been declared free of Boer fighting men.
Many Australians took part in this scorching of the South African earth, and many more were in the columns searching the veldt for Boer guerrillas, while others were fighting with irregular units. Under a variety of names, irregular units had existed since the beginning of the war, and now they mush-roomed. They were used mainly on the outer edges of the war, where there was little control. The irregulars fought, as did the Boers themselves, giving and expecting no quarter. One such unit, working in the rough country north of Pietersburg, called the Spelonken, was the Bushveldt Carbineers. It was a unit of tough Australians, British and South Africans. One of its officers was Lieutenant Harry ‘The Breaker’ Morant.
Harry Morant was born in England and arrived in Australia in 1885. His background in England remains a mystery, but he was a well-spoken, charming young man who settled easily into a bushman’s life, working on cattle and sheep stations from Queensland to South Australia. He became well-known for his remarkable horsemanship and for his verse. He rode as if he and a horse were one he could get a horse to do anything it was possible for a horse to do, and he could break the wildest of horses. This skill earned him the nickname ‘The Breaker,’ which he used to sign the verses, bush ballads, satirical odes and lyrical love poems he wrote for publication in district newspapers and across Australia in the periodical called The Bulletin.
He landed at the Cape in February 1900 with the South Australian Mounted Rifles. He was said to be an efficient soldier, skilled in moving and fighting in rough country. When his one-year enlistment ended, he went on leave to England, where he became friends with a Hussar officer, Captain Frederick Hunt. Both returned to the Cape to take commissions in the newly formed Bushveldt Carbineers. A few months later, in the deadly guerrilla war being fought in the Spelonken, Hunt was killed and apparently mutilated. For Morant, the war became a vendetta.
On a patrol, Morant stopped and questioned a Dr. Heese, a German missionary who later reported that in one of the wagons with the patrol were the corpses of eight Boers. Shortly afterward, Heese was found shot dead. Six officers of the Bush veldt Carbineers, including Morant, were arrested by the British and charged with looting, manslaughter and the murder of the missionary.
Of the six, the commanding officer of the Carbineers was reprimanded and sent back to Australia. The second, the unit’s intelligence officer, had finished his military term and was no longer subject to military law, and the third, a regular British officer, was cashiered. The other three, Lieutenants Harry Morant, Peter Handcock and George Witton, were sentenced to death, although none was ever found guilty of the murder of the missionary. Witton’s sentence was afterward commuted to life imprisonment he spent four years in English jails before a petition secured his release and return to Australia.
During his court-martial, Morant argued that the killing of prisoners and wounded was common to both sides and that it was, in fact, done on orders from above. The only rule in the Spelonken, he said, was ‘rule 303’ (.303 was the caliber of the British military rifle). None of his arguments was accepted, and on February 27, 1902, he and Handcock were taken before firing squads of British soldiers. Refusing a blindfold, Morant called to his squad, ‘Shoot straight don’t make a mess of it.’ Then the rifles cracked, and Breaker Morant, bushman, balladist, horsebreaker, soldier, passed into Australian legend.
The Boers were still carrying out successful and bloody raids, but the war was going against them. The system of blockhouses and barbed wire was having a telling effect, and no help was forthcoming from the various countries that nominally supported the Boer cause. Then, in April 1902 at Rooiwal (formerly Roodewal), the Red Valley, occurred the last action of any consequence of the war, when 1,200 Boer horsemen charged 1,500 British soldiers armed with bayonets, backed by field guns. The charge was broken, the Boers suffering heavy casualties. A week later peace delegates from both sides met in Pretoria.
This article was written by John Brown and originally published in the October 2001 issue of Military History magazine. For more great articles be sure to subscribe to Military History magazine today!
Women and Children in White Concentration Camps during the Anglo-Boer War, 1900-1902
Due to the fact that Black People were detained in separate camps, the issue of Black Concentration Camps is dealt with in another chronology.
Boer women, children and men unfit for service were herded together in concentration camps by the British forces during Anglo-Boer War 2 (1899-1902). The first two of these camps (refugee camps) were established to house the families of burghers who had surrendered voluntarily, but very soon, with families of combatant burgers driven forcibly into camps established all over the country, the camps ceased to be refugee camps and became concentration camps. The abhorrent conditions in these camps caused the death of 4 177 women, 22 074 children under sixteen and 1 676 men, mainly those too old to be on commando, notwithstanding the efforts of an English lady, Emily Hobhouse, who tried her best to make the British authorities aware of the plight of especially the women and children in the camps.
1900 September, Major-Gen J.G. Maxwell announces that ". camps for burghers who voluntarily surrender are being formed at Pretoria and Bloemfontein." This signals the start of what was to evolve into the notorious Concentration Camp Policy. 22 September, As result of a military notice on this date, the first two 'refugee' camps are established at Pretoria and Bloemfontein. Initially the aim was to protect the families of burghers who had surrendered voluntarily and their families by the institution of these camps. As the families of combatant burghers were also driven into these and other camps, they ceased to be 'refugee' camps and became 'concentration' camps. 20 December, A proclamation issued by Lord Kitchener states that all burghers surrendering voluntarily, will be allowed to live with their families in Government Laagers until the end of the war and their stock and property will be respected and paid for. 21 December, Contrary to the announced intention, Lord Kitchener states in a memorandum to general officers the advantages of interning all women, children and men unfit for military services, also Blacks living on Boer farms, as this will be "the most effective method of limiting the endurance of the guerrillas. "The women and children brought in should be divided in two categories, viz.: 1st. Refugees, and the families of Neutrals, non-combatants, and surrendered Burghers. 2nd. Those whose husbands, fathers and sons are on Commando. The preference in accommodation, etc. should of course be given to the first class. With regard to Natives, it is not intended to clear . locations, but only such and their stock as are on Boer farms."
Second Boer War - Bloemfontein Concentration Camp Image source
1901 21 January, Emily Hobhouse, an English philanthropist and social worker who tried to improve the plight of women and children in the camps, obtains permission to visit concentration camps. Lord Kitchener, however, disallows visits north of Bloemfontein. 24 January, Emily Hobhouse visits Bloemfontein concentration camps and is appalled by the conditions. Due to limited time and resources, she does not visit the camp for Blacks, although she urges the Guild of Loyal Women to do so. 30 January, Pushing panic-stricken groups of old men, women and children, crowded in wagons and preceded by huge flocks of livestock in front of them, French's drive enters the south-eastern ZAR (Transvaal). 31 January, Mrs Isie Smuts, wife of Gen. J.C. Smuts, is sent to Pietermaritzburg and placed under house arrest by the British military authorities, despite her pleas to be sent to concentration camps like other Boer women.Concentration camps have been established at Aliwal North, Brandfort, Elandsfontein, Heidelberg, Howick, Kimberley, Klerksdorp, Viljoensdrift, Waterfall North and Winburg. 25 February, A former member of the Free State Volksraad, H.S. Viljoen, and five other prisoners are set free from the Green Point Camp near Cape Town. They are sent to visit Free State concentration camps with the intention of influencing the women in the camps to persuade their husbands to lay down their arms. They are met with very little success. 27 February, Discriminatory food rations - 1st class rations for the families of 'hands-uppers' and 2nd class for the families of fighting burghers or those who refuse to work for the British - are discontinued in the 'Transvaal' concentration camps. 28 February, Concentration camps have been established at Kromellenboog, Middelburg, Norvalspont, Springfontein, Volksrust, and Vredefort Road.At the Middelburg conference between Supreme Commander Lord Kitchener and Commandant-General Louis Botha, Kitchener comments to Lord Roberts, now Commander-in Chief at the War Office in London: "They [referring to the Burghers S.K.] evidently do not like their women being brought in and I think it has made them more anxious for peace." The conference is discussing terms of a possible peace treaty.Sir Alfred Milner leaves Cape Town for Johannesburg to take up his duties as administrator of the 'new colonies'. 1 March, Concentration camps in the 'Orange River' and 'Transvaal' Colonies are transferred to civil control under Sir Alfred Milner. 4 March, Emily Hobhouse visits the Springfontein concentration camp. 6 March, Discriminatory food rations are also discontinued in the 'Orange River Colony' camps. 8 March, Emily Hobhouse visits the Norvalspont concentration camp. 12 March, Emily Hobhouse visits the Kimberley concentration camp. 6 April, Emily Hobhouse returns to Kimberley 9 April, Emily Hobhouse visits the Mafeking concentration camp. 12 April, Emily Hobhouse witnesses the clearing of Warrenton and the dispatch of people in open coal trucks. 13 April, Emily Hobhouse returns to Kimberley, witnessing the arrival of the people removed from Warrenton at the Kimberley camp, where there are only 25 tents available for 240 people. 20 April, The towns of Parys and Vredefort and many outlying farms have been cleared of inhabitants and supplies. The women and children have been removed to concentration camps. 21 April, Emily Hobhouse arrives in Bloemfontein. 23 April, Sir Alfred Milner refuses to issue a permit to Emily Hobhouse authorising her to travel north of Bloemfontein. 4 May, Emily Hobhouse arrives in Cape Town. 7 May, Emily Hobhouse leaves for Britain after an extended fact-finding tour of the concentration camps. 14 June, Speaking at a dinner party of the National Reform Union in England, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, leader of the Liberal opposition, says the war in South Africa is carried on by methods of barbarism. 17 June, David Lloyd-George in England condemns the concentration camps and the horrors inflicted on women and children in the camps in South Africa. He warns, "A barrier of dead children's bodies will rise between the British and Boer races in South Africa."
Emily Hobhouse tells the story of the young Lizzie van Zyl who died in the Bloemfontein concentration camp: She was a frail, weak little child in desperate need of good care. Yet, because her mother was one of the "undesirables" due to the fact that her father neither surrendered nor betrayed his people, Lizzie was placed on the lowest rations and so perished with hunger that, after a month in the camp, she was transferred to the new small hospital. Here she was treated harshly. The English disposed doctor and his nurses did not understand her language and, as she could not speak English, labeled her an idiot although she was mentally fit and normal. One day she dejectedly started calling for her mother, when a Mrs Botha walked over to her to console her. She was just telling the child that she would soon see her mother again, when she was brusquely interrupted by one of the nurses who told her not to interfere with the child as she was a nuisance. Quote from Stemme uit die Verlede ("Voices from the Past") - a collection of sworn statements by women who were detained in the concentration camps during the Second Boer War (1899-1902). Image source
18 June, Emily Hobhouse's report on concentration camps appear under the title, "To the S.A. Distress Fund, Report of a visit to the camps of women and children in the Cape and Orange River Colonies". Summarising the reasons for the high fatality rate, she writes, "Numbers crowded into small tents: some sick, some dying, occasionally a dead one among them scanty rations dealt out raw lack of fuel to cook them lack of water for drinking, for cooking, for washing lack of soap, brushes and other instruments of personal cleanliness lack of bedding or of beds to keep the body off the bare earth lack of clothing for warmth and in many cases for decency . " Her conclusion is that the whole system is cruel and should be abolished. 26 June, Lord Kitchener, in a telegram to Milner: "I fear there is little doubt the war will now go on for considerable time unless stronger measures are taken . Under the circumstances I strongly urge sending away wives and families and settling them somewhere else. Some such unexpected measure on our part is in my opinion essential to bring war to a rapid end." 27 June, The British War Department promises to look into Emily Hobhouse's suggestions regarding improvements to the concentration camps. 30 June, The official camp population is 85 410 for the White camps and the deaths reported for June are 777. 15 July, Dr K. Franks, the camp doctor at the Mafeking concentration camp reports that the camp is "overwhelmed" by 1 270 women and children brought in after sweeps on the western ZAR (Transvaal). Lack of facilities ads to the hardships encountered by the new arrivals. 16 July, The British Colonial Office announces the appointment of a Ladies Commission to investigate the concentration camps in South Africa. The commission, whose members are reputed to be impartial, is made up as follows:Chairlady Mrs Millicent G. Fawcett, who has recently criticised Emily Hobhouse in the Westminster Gazette Dr Jane Waterson, daughter of a British general, who recently wrote against "the hysterical whining going on in England" while "we feed and pamper people who had not even the grace to say thank you for the care bestowed on them" Lady Anne Knox, wife of Gen. Knox, who is presently serving in South Africa Nursing sister Katherine Brereton, who has served in a Yoemanry Hospital in South Africa Miss Lucy Deane, a government factory inspector on child welfare Dr the Hon Ella Scarlett, a medical doctor. One of the doctors is to marry a concentration camp official before the end of their tour. 20 July, Commenting on confiscation of property and banishment of families, St John Brodrick, British secretary of State for War, writes to Kitchener: ". Your other suggestion of sending the Boer women to St Helena, etc., and telling their husbands that they would never return, seems difficult to work out. We cannot permanently keep 16,000 men in ring fences and they are not a marketable commodity in other lands . " 25 July, Since 25 June, Emily Hobhouse has addressed twenty-six public meetings on concentration camps, raising money to improve conditions. 26 July, Emily Hobhouse again writes to Brodrick asking for reasons for the War Department's refusal to include her in the Ladies Commission. If she cannot go, "it was due to myself to convey to all interested that the failure to do so was due to the Government". 27 July, St John Rodrick replies to Emily Hobhouse's letter, "The only consideration in the selection of ladies to visit the Concentration Camps, beyond their special capacity for such work, was that they should be, so far as is possible, removed from the suspicion of partiality to the system adopted or the reverse." 31 July, The officially recorded camp population is 93 940 for the White camps and the deaths for July stands at 1 412. 16 August, General De la Rey protests to the British against the mistreatment of women and children. 20 August, Col. E.C. Ingouville-Williams' column transports Gen. De la Rey's mother to the Klerksdorp concentration camp. A member of the Cape Mounted Rifles notes in his diary: "She is 84 years old. I gave her some milk, jam, soup, etc. as she cannot eat hard tack and they have nothing else. We do not treat them as we ought to." 31 August, The officially recorded camp population for White camps is 105 347 and the camp fatalities for August stand at 1 878. 13 September, The Merebank Refugee Camp is established near Durban in an attempt to reduce the camp population in the Republics. Its most famous inmates are to be Mrs De Wet and her children. 30 September, Cornelius Broeksma is executed by an English firing squad in Johannesburg after having been found guilty of breaking the oath of neutrality and inciting others to do the same. A fund is started in Holland for his family and for this purpose a postcard with a picture of himself and his family is sold, bearing the inscription: "Cornelius Broeksma, hero and martyr in pity's cause. Shot by the English on 30th September 1901, because he refused to be silent about the cruel suffering in the women's camps."The officially recorded camp population of the White camps is 109 418 and the monthly deaths for September stand at 2 411. 1 October, Emily Hobhouse again urges the Minister of War, "in the name of the little children whom I have watched suffer and die" to implement improvements in the concentration camps. 26 October, As the commandoes in the Bethal district, Transvaal, become wise to Benson's night attacks, his success rate declines and he contents himself with 'ordinary clearing work' - burning farms and herding women, children, old men and other non-combatants with their livestock and vehicles. 27 October, Emily Hobhouse arrives in Table Bay on board the SS Avondale Castle, but is refused permission to go ashore by Col. H. Cooper, the Military Commandant of Cape Town. 29 October, Reverend John Knox Little states in the United Kingdom: "Among the unexampled efforts of kindness and leniency made throughout this war for the benefit of the enemy, none have surpassed the formation of the Concentration Camps". 31 October, Despite letters of protest to Lord Alfred Milner, Sir Walter Hely-Hutchinson and Lord Ripon, Emily Hobhouse, although unwell, is forced to undergo a medical examination. She is eventually wrapped in a shawl and physically carried off the Avondale Castle. She is taken aboard the Roslin Castle for deportation under martial law regulations.The officially recorded camp population of White camps is 113 506 and the deaths for October stand at 3 156. 1 November, Miss Emily Hobhouse, under deportation orders on board the Roslin Castle writes to Lord Kitchener: ". I hope in future you will exercise greater width of judgement in the exercise of your high office. To carry out orders such as these is a degradation both to the office and the manhood of your soldiers. I feel ashamed to own you as a fellow-countryman."And to Lord Milner: "Your brutal orders have been carried out and thus I hope you will be satisfied. Your narrow incompetency to see the real issues of this great struggle is leading you to such acts as this and many others, straining [staining S.K.] your own name and the reputation of England. "
Boer prisoners in Johannesburg. Source: Parliament Archive, Cape Town
7 November, The Governor of Natal informs St John Brodrick that the wives of Pres. Steyn, General Paul Roux, Chief Commandant C.R. de Wet, Vice President Schalk Burger and Gen. J.B.M. Hertzog, the last four all presently in Natal, are to be sent to a port, other than a British port, outside South Africa.Lord Milner, referring to the concentration camps, writes to British Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain: "I did not originate this plan, but as we have gone so far with it, I fear that a change now might only involve us in fresh and greater evils." 15 November, In his 'General Review of the Situation in the Two New Colonies', Lord Milner reports to Chamberlain, ". even if the war were to come to an end tomorrow, it would not be possible to let the people in the concentration camps go back to their former homes. They would only starve there. The country is, for the most part, a desert. " 16 November, On being questioned by St John Brodrick on his motivations for proposing the deportation of prominent Boer women, Kitchener cancels his orders. 21 November, Referring to a 'scorched earth' raid, Acting State President S.W. Burgers and State Secretary F.W. Reitz address a report to the Marquis of Salisbury, the British Prime Minister: "This removal took place in the most uncivilised and barbarous manner, while such action is . in conflict with all the up to the present acknowledged rules of civilised warfare. The families were put out of their houses under compulsion, and in many instances by means of force . (the houses) were destroyed and burnt with everything in them . and these families among them were many aged ones, pregnant women, and children of very tender years, were removed in open trolleys (exposed) for weeks to rain, severe cold wind and terrible heat, privations to which they were not accustomed, with the result that many of them became very ill, and some of them died shortly after their arrival in the women's camps." The vehicles were also overloaded, accidents happened and they were exposed to being caught in crossfire. They were exposed to insults and ill-treatment by Blacks in service of the troops as well as by soldiers. ". British mounted troops have not hesitated in driving them for miles before their horses, old women, little children, and mothers with sucklings to their breasts . " 30 November, The officially recorded camp population of the White camps is 117 974 and the deaths for November are 2 807. 1 December, Fully aware of the state of devastation in the Republics, and trying to force the Boer leadership to capitulate, Lord Milner approves a letter that Kitchener sends to London, with identical copies to Burger, Steyn and De Wet. In the letter he informs them that as they have complained about the treatment of the women and children in the camps, he must assume that they themselves are in a provision to provide for them. He therefore offers all families in the camps who are willing to leave, to be sent to the commandos, as soon as he has been informed where they can be handed over. 4 December, Lord Milner comments on the high death rate in the Free State concentration camps: "The theory that, all the weakly children being dead, the rate would fall off, it is not so far borne out by the facts. I take it the strong ones must be dying now and that they will all be dead by the spring of 1903! . " 7 December, In a letter to Chamberlain, Lord Milner writes: ". The black spot - the one very black spot - in the picture is the frightful mortality in the Concentration Camps . It was not until 6 weeks or 2 months ago that it dawned on me personally . that the enormous mortality was not incidental to the first formation of the camps and the sudden inrush of people already starving, but was going to continue. The fact that it continues is no doubt a condemnation of the camp system. The whole thing, I now think, has been a mistake." 8 December, Commenting on the concentration camps, Lord Milner writes to Lord Haldane: "I am sorry to say I fear . that the whole thing has been a sad fiasco. We attempted an impossibility - and certainly I should never have touched the thing if, when the 'concentration' first began, I could have foreseen that the soldiers meant to sweep the whole population of the country higgledy piggledy into a couple of dozen camps . " 10 December, President Steyn replies to the British Commander-in-Chief Lord Kitchener's letter about releasing the women and children, that, however glad the burghers would be to have their relatives near them, there is hardly is single house in the Orange Free State that is not burnt or destroyed and everything in it looted by the soldiers. The women and children will be exposed to the weather under the open sky. On account of the above-mentioned reasons they have to refuse to receive them. He asks Kitchener to make the reasons for their refusal known to the world.
Anglo-Boer war prisoners in St Helena showing old men and young boys with toys made at the camp. Source: Parliament Archive
The first attempt to relieve Kimberley, 21 November -11 December 1899 - History
The History of the Gordon Highlanders
From the book "History and Handbook of The Gordon Highlanders"
In 1787 the 75th Regiment, the forerunner of the 1st battalion The Gordon Highlanders, was raised for service in the Far east, but it was not until 1793 when the French Revolutionary Government had declared war on Great Britain that the Government asked the Duke of Gordon to raise another regiment.
The Duke having agreed, he received the authority on the 10th February, 1794, and the command was given to his son, the Marquess of Huntly, at that time a Lieutenant-Colonel in the 3rd, now the Scots Guards. The Duke himself, and his son, took a personal interest in the recruiting and the celebrated Duchess Jean, still a beautiful woman, lent to it all the prestige of her high position and the grace and charm of manner for which she was famed. She rode to the country fairs in Highland bonnet and regimental jacket and it is told how she gave a kiss to the men she enlisted. Sometimes she is said to have placed a guinea between her lips.
On the 24th June, 1794 the newly embodied regiment was paraded for the first time at Aberdeen when they wore the then almost new, and now famous, tartan which had been devised by Forsythe of Huntly. Forsythe had taken the standard plaid and woven in a yellow stripe, which, as he wrote to Lord Huntly, he trusted would appear "very lively."
It was at Gibraltar that the regiment, at that time not yet the 92nd, but the 100th Regiment of Foot, received their first colours and soon afterwards they were in Ireland making the acquaintance of Major-General John Moore with whom they were to serve on many historic occasions. In 1798 they were numbered the 92nd and in 1799 were fighting for a foothold on the sand-dunes of Holland at Egmont-op-Zee, the 75th were plodding through the jungles of Mysore with Colonel Wellesley on their way to Seringapatam, where the ultimately stormed the breach and trampled Tippoo Sahib underfoot. Ten years later at Corunna, at the end of the great retreat, the regiment had a prominent place at the funeral of their distinguished commander and it is in Sir John Moore`s memory that black buttons are worn on the spats.
By the autumn of 1810 the 92nd had joined Wellingtons army before Lisbon to spend more than a year preparing to breach the defences of the Spanish frontier. 1812 was the decisive year when the British army moved steadily northwards driving the Emperor's forces back to France. Famous actions followed in quick succession, no less than six battle honours being added to the colours, but it was in the mountainous Pyrenees that the Gordon Highlanders really came into their own and were in at every skirmish. They would attack with fury when Soult turned to face them on the Nivelle, and as the year came to an end they were campaigning outside Bayonne remembering the gallantry of their three pipers at St. Pierre, where, as they went into battle, one piper died and another took up the air and when death silenced him, a third continued it. Soon the war was over, Wellington was a Duke and the Gordon Highlanders returned to Ireland.
But their recall to service was not long in coming when the Emperor Napoleon, having escaped from Elba, landed near Cannes on 1st March, 1815. Thus they soon found themselves once more under Wellington's command and by mid-May they were in Belgian billets. On the evening of the day early in June when Napoleon hurled his whole command towards Brussels four Sergeants of the Gordon Highlanders were dancing reels to amuse the guests at a ball given by the Duchess of Richmond, the eldest daughter of Jean, Duchess of Gordon. Among those present was Cameron of Fassifern their commanding officer, but the military guests left early and at dawn the regiment was marching out of the city and by afternoon they had joined a mixed force of Dutch and Germans holding a position near the cross-roads of Quatre Bras. In the savage fighting which followed the 92nd lost their Colonel, that Cameron of Fassifern who had joined the regiment when first raised and of him Sir Walter Scott wrote :-
During twenty years of active military service,
With a spirit that knew no fear and shunned no danger
In marches, sieges, in battle
The gallant 92nd regiment of Scottish Highlanders.
Always to honour, almost always to victory.
And it was not only Fassifern who had gone. That night though the men of the 92nd cooked their supper in the breastplates of the French Cuirassiers they had killed and the Pipe-Major played his music at the cross-roads, he played for half the men in vain
In the chill of the next dawn Wellington came to the Gordon Highlanders and it was there he came to his great decision that he would "get back to the position at Mont St. Jean, where I will accept battle with Napoleon if I am supported by one Prussian Corps." Thus on Sunday, 18th June, the two armies faced each other at Waterloo . While Grouchy sought for the Prussians the Emperor brought 70,000 men to bear upon Wellington's position in which he had scarcely 63,000 of whom 42,000 were foreigners.
The Gordon Highlanders were in the second line behind the Netherlands Brigade when they heard the good news that the Prussians were on their way, but as the main attack developed they heard their Brigadier shouting to them "92nd you must charge, for all the troops to your right and left have given way." And that was their signal for the Dutch were no longer ahead and the French were on the ridge. But the 92nd came on four deep with levelled bayonets and screaming pipes and beside them beyond all belief, a pounding charge of British cavalry thundered towards the French.
And then the horsemen recognised their countrymen and a great cry went up "Scotland for Ever," and the Gordon Highlanders seized hold of the stirrups of the Scots Greys as they gave back the cry and all together the whole thundering mass of men and horses, sabres, bayonets and muskets were hurled into the midst of the French lines. The Gordons were beside themselves as they took to the slaughter and an old piper shouted that he could see Fassifern, still leading them, his bonnet lifted as it always used to be. And there was nothing that could stand against Highland frenzy, but the Brigadier recalled them saying "You have saved the day Highlanders, but you must return to your former position there is more work to be done." It was then only half past three and there remained five hours of daylight. The summer afternoon wore on and wave after wave of French cavalry came charging up the slope, but the squares of the 92nd did not flinch.
But now they could hear the Prussian guns and, as the light began to fade, the last attack, the massed bearskins of the Emperor's Guards came up the hill, came closer still and then withered away under the blast of British musketry. And the whole allied line swept forward and the Gordon Highlanders found themselves cheering their allies at La Belle Alliance. The great day was over they had lost Fassifern and half their strength at Quatre Bras. At Waterloo they had lost almost half that had remained, but those two days of savage fighting brought to the Gordon Highlanders imperishable honour such as can never be outdone.
After Waterloo Europe was to enjoy almost forty years of peace and the regiment did uneventful garrison duty at home and overseas including many years in the West Indies where they suffered much from disease. They were at Gibraltar in 1854 when Russian interference with Turkish sovereignty brought France and Britain to her aid in the Crimean War. But although, as a regiment, the 92nd saw no service in the Crimea between three and four hundred of their number had fought there with other units and amongst those who now returned to their original regiment was Private Thomas Beach, a native of Forfar, who rejoined with the newly established Victoria Cross pinned to his breast.
Two years later the 92nd were sent to India to take part in the closing stages of the Indian Mutiny. The 75th were already in India, and the officers and men, who had established for themselves a reputation as the first mounted infantry and employed as such in the Kaffir War of 1835, were now rushed on elephants to bring in outlying settlers, and when this had been successfully accomplished, they prepared to advance, by a series of forced marches, against the mutineers who what murdered the inhabitants of Delhi. The 75th had also a reputation as infantry for, a short time before this they had reached Umballa, a distance of 48 miles from their base, in 38 hours.
It was in June, 1857, that they came in front of Delhi as part of the 1st Brigade, and here they found themselves for the first time opposed by organised and intelligently led Indians. Thus they spent three months outside the city until Brigadier John Nicholson led them through a breach in the walls and fell mortally wounded in the hour of the 75th`s victory, a victory which earned three of their number the Victoria Cross, namely Private Patrick Green, Lieutenant Richard Wadeson and Colour-Sergeant Cornelius Coghlan . After Delhi they became part of a flying column which did brilliant work in saving Agra, and took part in the relief of Lucknow by Sir Colin Campbell. They returned home in 1862, to be followed shortly by the 92nd.
In 1878 a sudden crisis blew up on the North-West Frontier of India due to intrigue between the Russians and the Amir of Afghanistan and the Gordon Highlanders joined a force under Lord Roberts who in his "Forty one years in India" says `Towards the end of February, 1879, I paid a visit to Kohat and had the pleasure of welcoming to the frontier that grand regiment the 92nd Highlanders, which has been sent up in readiness to join my column in the event of an advance on Kabul becoming necessary.`
A few months later the whole of the British Embassy staff in Kabul was murdered and there followed a period of mountain fighting when all the advantages were with the Afghans and even the Highlanders found it possible to curse the inclemency of the weather fighting 8000 feet above sea level. Some idea of the temperature may be gathered from the fact that on several occasions the rum had frozen in the barrels and once hard-boiled eggs in haversack ration had to be thawed out before they could be eaten.
The war soon reached the hills around Kabul and the 92nd under Major White, raced for a hill and crowned it with a charge of great gallantry so that it is still known as Whites hill in commemoration of that Gordon major who was later as Field Marshal Sir George Stuart White, V.C., to be honoured with the Colonelcy of the Regiment. But though Kabul was captured and Roberts had assumed the rule of the country, Afghanistan was by no means at peace.
In July, 1880, far away to the south-east a force of 2,500 under General Burrows had defeated as Maiwand with casualties of 1,000 and the survivors were now besieged in Kandahar. It was just such a defeat of European troops by native forces which was calculated to bring the latent unrest in North India into open rebellion and it was imperative that the beleagured force be relieved.
The distance from Kabul to Kandahar is 300 miles and Lord Roberts, his guard throughout the march provided by 24 Gordon Highlanders, led a force of 10,000 through enemy country without news of their progress reaching besieged or besiegers at Kandahar. At the end of the long march came the culminating scene when Gordons and Gurkhas raced each other to capture the Afghan guns. And when Lord Roberts was Knighted being made a G.C.B.,(Grand Cross of the Bath) he, like Sir John Moore before him, chose to have as one of the supporters of his coat of arms, a private of the Gordon Highlanders.
In the following year the regiment sailed for home, but were diverted to South Africa where a dispute between the British and the Boers was deepening into hostilities and arrived in time to suffer heavy casualties at the melancholy action of Majuba Hill. The 92nd were still in South Africa when in 1881 came the merging with the 75th, which was to be known as the Gordon Highlanders and neither regiment would seem to be very pleased with this enforced marriage. At midnight on 30th June, they solemnly interred a flag decorated with the figures `92,` while all the officers in full Highland dress walked behind as chief mourners, and the Colonel of the 15th Hussars delivered the funeral oration before the proceedings ended with three volleys over the grave and a piper's lament. Next morning when the flag was exhumed it was found to be inscribed `No died yet.` At the same time in Malta the 75th were registering their grief by raising a Roman altar below the ramparts of Floriana on which was inscribed :-
But under God's protection
They'll rise again in kilt and hose
For by the transformation powers
But any feeling of regret was soon forgotten and before long the Gordon Highlanders were to prove that they were by no means `deid yet.`
In August, 1882, the 1st Battalion disembarked at Alexandria to take part in the suppression of an armed insurrection. The rebels were threatening the Suez Canal and Sir Garnet Wolseley found them entrenched at Tel-el-Kebir and realised at once that it would be useless to attack by daylight. So, by a night march of 8 miles, two divisions advanced simultaneously upon the enemy and dawn found them passed through the enemy's forward line without being discovered. And then as the Egyptian bugles called to action and a stream of rifle fire opened on the British forces the Gordons went in with fixed bayonets and pipers playing and in twenty minutes Arabi Pasha and his army were in full retreat. Though order was soon restored in Egypt, the Sudan was in a turmoil and the 1st Battalion took part with both the desert and river columns in the attempt to save Gordon at Khartoum.
In 1888 the 1st Battalion went to India living uneventfully enough until 1895 when they were called to service with the Chitral Relief Force and two years later they again saw fighting on the frontier, this time against the Afridis. The tribesmen held the heights before Dargai and had withstood for half a day the onslaught of a Brigade when it was decided that once again the classic combination of Gordons and Gurkhas should clear the way. But the Gurkhas were checked and the Gordons heard their Colonel, colonel Matthias, tell them ` The General says the hill must be taken at all costs the Gordon Highlanders will take it.` Then they left cover for a dash across the bullet-swept approaches, the pipes screaming. Almost at once there were casualties and through the pipes played on they did not go with the advance for Piper (George) Findlater had been shot through both feet. yet under heavy fire he sat there playing doggedly and both he and Private (Edward) Lawson received the Victoria Cross for their work that day.
Dargai was captured. The swift march against the enemy, the short and dashing battle without too many casualties and the touch of romance added by the wounded piper captured the imagination of the British public in a remarkable way, so that when the battalion returned home their progress from Liverpool to Edinburgh was triumphal and in the capital itself it required a squadron of the Scots Greys to clear a way for them.
But clouds were gathering in South Africa as Queen Victoria's reign drew to its close. The 2nd Battalion had reached there from Bombay and were at Ladysmith when war was declared. Resolved to stem the Boer invasion of Natal the garrison made a thrust towards Elandslaagte and it was there in October, 1899, that they first met the Boers in battle. The Boers were in a strong position and their arms and musketry were more modern and better than those of the British forces. The Gordons attacked as the pipers played and paid a heavy price, but the contested ridge was reached at last and shouting `Majuba` to remind them of what had befallen their comrades there at the hands of the Boers, they went after the retreating enemy. But the victory failed to disengage Ladysmith and they settled down to the dwindling amenities of a siege life which was to last until the 28th February, 1900.
The 1st Battalion came out from Britain in time to join Lord Methuen`s attempt to relieve Kimberley and suffered heavily with the rest of the Highland brigade at Magersfontien so that the century ended in dismal fashion for the British troops. But with the arrival of Lord Roberts to take command the tide began to turn. The 1st Battalion saw Kitchener win his victory at Paardeberg and then they swept on to Bloemfontein, while in the east relief came to Ladysmith.
The 1st Battalion distinguished themselves with rare gallantry at Hout Nek and then at Doornkop, led by Ian Hamilton, the Gordons won fresh laurels. Much has been written of that battle, but there is surely no better account than that given by Winston Churchill in his book, "Ian Hamilton's March." ` The honours, equally with the cost of victory, making every allowance for skilful direction and bold leading, belongs to the 1st Battalion Gordon Highlanders more than to all the troops put together. The rocks against which they marched proved to be the very heart of the enemy's position. The grass in front of the position was burnt and burning, and against this dark background the khaki figures showed distinctly. The Boers held their heaviest fire until the attack was within 800 yards, and then the ominous rattle of concentrated rifle fire burst forth. The advance neither checked or quickened. With remorseless stride, undisturbed by peril or enthusiasm. the Gordon Highlanders swept steadily onwards, changed direction half left to avoid as far as possible an enfilade fire, changed again to effect a lodgement on the end of the ridge most suitable to attack and at last rose up together to charge. The Boers shrunk from the attack. they fled in confusion. "
The South African war ended, the 2nd Battalion returned to India and by summer of 1914 had been stationed at Kase-el-Nil, Cairo, for two years. The 1st Battalion had come home and at this time were at Crownhill Barracks, Plymouth.
When on the 4th August the Germans struck through Belgium the shock had to be met at the fields of Flanders and France and within a few days the `contemptible little army` as the Kaiser called it had been thrown across the channel and by the 22nd of the month had reached Mons. The 1st Battalion as part of the 8th Brigade in the 3rd Division helped to line the Conde-Mons canal near Nimy Bridge and it was here on the morning of the following day that the brunt of the German onslaught fell and two days later, after the longest march of the retreat, they made their famous stand at Le Cateau. At last after 8 days of retreat and with only one company left they reached a line behind the river Marne and it was from here that General Joffre struck at the German flank and turned the tide of invasion away from Paris.
Meanwhile the 2nd Battalion had taken the field with the 7th Division at the first battle of Ypres held the line against a force, six times its strength, which was aimed at the channel ports. And now at intervals there arrived four territorial and three service battalions to join the regulars so that the year 1915 was to see all the Gordon battalions in action from Neuve Chapelle in March, Festubert in May to the autumn battle of Loos.
A year later the allies in the west found themselves on something like equal terms with the enemy and after heavy losses of the French at Verdun the brunt of the fighting fell on the British. Throughout the five months` long battle of the Somme, every Gordon Battalion took its full share, the 1st Battalion with the `Fighting 3rd` and the 2nd in the no-less famous 7th Division. The four territorial Battalions were by now brigaded with the 51st, while the two service battalions, which hat fought so well at Loos, served in the 15th (Scottish) Division.
The fight of the 2nd Battalion at Mametz was a typical Somme action in which a dour and ready enemy sold ground at the highest possible price. Three lines of trenches had to be won and crossed before the village of Mametz was reached and at the end of the long day the battalion had lost 16 officers and 445 other ranks.
As the battle progresses the other Battalions were drawn in. The 1st had a memorable engagement at Delville Wood. The four Battalions in the 51st fought at High Wood and the service Battalions at Flers and Pozieres Ridge. Each Battalion was engaged over and over again and it was not until August that the great day came when all those tired Battalions were to meet. The regulars were resting at Mericourt, the remainder at Happy Valley. The 1st had the longest way to go, but by a forced march they managed to reach the scene of that great gathering of eight Gordon Battalions.
Throughout 1917 the struggle raged and the Gordons were there at Vimy Ridge and Bullecourt, at the battles of Third Ypres and Cambrai and countless other actions.
In the spring of the following year came the supreme crisis of the war and on 21st March the mighty German blow fell. The 2nd Battalion had by now moved to the Italian front to help stem the tide after the disaster to the Italian army at Caporetto, but the other seven battalions were engaged in the second battle of the Somme and an indication of the ferocity of the strugle is given by the casualties of the 5th Battalion in six days` fighting at Doignie and Mezieres, 22 officers and 560 other ranks.
To atone for his partial failure on the Somme the enemy now threw in 35 fresh divisions at the battle of the Lys on the Flanders front and when this was no more successful Ludenorff launched his last and greatest effort to force a decisive victory. He forced the Aisne and reached the Marne at Chateau Thierry and it was here that history was to repeat itself, just as Joffe had thrown back the first German rush from this line, so now, they were to meet a more disastrous fate at the hands of Foch.
And throughout these great battles and those that followed all the Gordon battalions played their part and when, on 11th November, 1918, the Armistice was signed, victory was celebrated where each battalion stood. the 1st at Longueville, the 2nd on the Piave, the 6/7th at Thu-Leveque and the 9th east of the Scheldt. The regiment had suffered casualties close on 30,000 of all ranks.
The 1st Battalion now did a spell at Cologne before coming home to prepare for foreign sevice. Early in 1920 they landed at Constantinople as part of the Army of the Black Sea. here internal trouble in Turkey and quarrels with Greece had led to a dangerous situation. Soon they were in Malta though two years later a further call came for sevice in Turkey, but the crisis passed. Again in 1924 they were called upon to leave the island at short notice when they sailed in the Aircraft Carrier Eagle for Eygpt where a nationalist agitation had arisen, but after a month on the outskirts of Cario the battalion was again on board ship bound for Bambay and the fourth Indian tour in its history.
Sevice in Deccan, at Delhi and on the North-West Frontier occupied the next ten years and then after a short stay in Palestine they sailed for home and, en-route, disembarked at Gibraltar to spend a day with the 2nd Battalion which was stationed on the rock. This was in 1935, the year in which the Depot moved to the Bridge of Don and the new barracks in their spacious setting of 50 acres, a great contrast to the cramped two acres of Castlhill, which had been the home of the regiment for more than 140 years.
The 2nd Battalion began its post=war reconstruction in Phoenix Park, Dublin, and thereafter served in Scotland, Ulster and England before leaving for Gibraltar and the start of their foreign service tour. September, 1939, found them as part of the garrison of Singapore, while the 1st Battalion was at Aldershot. There were three territorial battalions and during the summer months these had been in the process of doubling, thus at the outbreak of the war the regiment had five battalions and three more forming.
It was not long before four of these had crossed the channel and when in 1940 the German break-through came, two of them, the 1st and the 5th, part of the 51st Division, were holding a section of the Maginot Line and from here they were withdrawn to fight their way west and south by way of Amiens to Saint Valery. And it was here, faced with overwhelming force and all hope of escape by sea gone, that the rest of the division , laid down their arms. Meanwhile to the North the 4th and 6th Battalions having moved forward into Belgium were obliged to fall back on Dunkirk from whence they were evacuated to England.
There followed a long period of reorganisation and training during which new 1st and 5th Battalions were formed and three units of the regiment were converted to other arms. The 4th and 8th Battalions became respectively the 92nd and 100th Anti/Tank Regiments R.A., (Royal Artillery) while the 9th Battalion became the 116th regiment R.A.C. (Royal Armoured Corp)
When in December, 1941, the Japanese opened hostilities, the 2nd Battalion were drawn into the fight. As part of the garrison of Singapore they were not thrown in to resist the Japanese advance down the Malayan peninsular until late in the campaign and by then the position was desperate. But they withdrew in good order over the causeway to Singapore to play a full part in the battle which ended with the surrender of the garrison.
Nearer home Britain was building up her forces and the time was not far away when, with her American allies, they were to go over to the offensive. Thus the 1st and 5/7th Battalions in the new 51st Division had rounded the Cape and were now training in the Nile delta for the task of ridding Africa of the Germans ans Italians. And these two battalions marched with the 8th army from El Alamein westwards to Tripoli and beyond, while from the west came the 6th Battalion in the 1st Army to meet them, their task accomplished, on the tip of Tunisia.
There followed the invasion and rapid conquest of Sicily before the 51st Division was withdrawn to prepare for yet a more important task. The 6th battalion remained in this theatre, however, and was soon to land on the beaches of Anzio and take the road which led them to Rome.
At home a new 2nd Battalion was rising and was ready to take the field with the 15th (Scottish) Division in the invasion of Normandy. They followed closely on the heels of the 1st and 5/7th Battalions in the 51st Division which had landed on D day, and from then onward until the final surrender of Germany there were three Gordon Battalions in the fight which led them across France and over the Rhine to avenge their comrades of Saint Valery.
And in the East two other units of the regiment, 100th Anti/Tank Regiment Royal Artillery, (The Gordon Highlanders) and the 116th Regiment, Royal Armoured Corp, (The Gordon Highlanders) were there at the defence of Kohima and N.E India, and in the drive which cleared Burma of the Japanese. Four and a half years` fighting had cost the regiment 2,500 lives.
16 Incredible Facts About Ancient Australia
Whether due to the vast distances separating Australia from the rest of the world or merely general apathy, popular understanding of the native Aboriginal culture of Australia remains limited. Beyond stereotypes and simplifications, often combining the native peoples of all non-European cultures into a single homogeneous amalgam, general knowledge concerning the Aboriginals is often minimal. In spite of this lack of attention or wider interest, the Aborigines inhabiting ancient Australia were actually part of a rich eco-system and even richer culture, producing impressive artwork, complex religious and communal systems governing relations, in addition to technological innovations far beyond those of their pre-historic European and Asian cousins.
Wandjina rock art in the Kimberley region of Australia. The University of Queensland.
Here are 16 incredible facts about Ancient Australia that you probably did not know:
Artwork depicting the first contact between the Gweagal Aboriginal people and Captain James Cook and his crew on the shores of the Kurnell Peninsula, New South Wales. Wikimedia Commons.
16. Ancient Australia is believed to be the world&rsquos oldest civilization outside Africa, dating from as far back as 75,000 years ago and developing in near isolation to the rest of the world
Whilst only speculation, albeit reasoned and supported by the genetic and geological information available to us, it is generally believed that humans have occupied the island of Australia since between 75,000-50,000 years ago. Stemming from early African migration, DNA analysis strongly supports the conclusion that Australian Aborigines descended from a single human population which departed Africa sometime between 64,000 and 75,000 years ago this migration consequently would have occurred approximately 24,000 years before humans from Africa migrated into Europe and Asia. In a split that would see the first human populations leave Africa, recent genetic examination has determined a founder population of between 1,000 to 3,000 women would have been necessary to provide the genetic diversity among the fledgling civilization that can be observed today. For reasons unknown this migration suddenly stopped about 50,000 years ago as a result, ancient Australian Aborigines developed in near-total isolation from the rest of the world and are likely the oldest indigenous peoples outside of Africa itself.
The earliest place determined to have been inhabited by humans in Australia dates to around 55,000 years ago: the Malakhunanja II rock shelter located in the Northern Territory of modern-day Australia. The earliest human remains discovered in Australia were found at Lake Mungo, in New South Wales, and dated at around 42,000 years old, confirming the existence of populations in Australia by that time additionally, the identification of ancient artifacts from between 6,500 to 30,000 years ago clearly demonstrates human occupation of these parts of Australia, particularly at Rottnest Island, during this time. Further assisting in the isolation of these migrants, the land bridge between Australia and New Guinea was eradicated approximately 8,000 years ago by rising sea levels DNA analysis of the native populations of both islands reveals a close connection, suggesting significant interaction prior to this environmental separation.
A male Aborigine carrying a hunting spear (1922). Wikimedia Commons.
15. The first Australians were predominantly hunter-gathers and nomadic people, similar to other early human populations
Whilst information is naturally limited in scope concerning the earliest inhabitants of Australia, it is widely believed and supported that the Aborigines existed as hunter-gathers: that is to say they subsisted through the hunting of animals and the collection of plant-foods this method of survival was common throughout early human history, with up to 90 percent of human history experienced in this manner and agriculture only first discovered during the Neolithic Revolution approximately 12,500 years ago.
It is also asserted that these early Aborigines were nomadic, as also was typical for hunter-gatherer communities due to the seasonal requirements of food chains and the need to allow the land to repopulate itself to prevent man-made extinctions. Among the locations known to archeology as sites of early Aboriginal habitation are Lake Mungo, Kow Swamp, Coobool Creek, Talgai, and Keilor. Interestingly, the bones of Aborigines born between 40,000 and 10,000 years ago are considered to have been far stronger and more physically varied than their more recent descendants this suggests the introduction of agriculture and the development of larger and more permanent settlements in the last 10,000 years, resulting in an increasingly secure and sedentary existence compared to that of a nomadic existence.
The largest crater at the Henbury Meteorites Conservation Reserve. Wikimedia Commons.
14. Much of what we know about the history of ancient Australia stems from Aborigine stories and legends told via the oral tradition
As with many ancient peoples who resided outside the so-called &ldquoknown world&rdquo, Aboriginal Australians are generally believed to have not developed an advanced system writing akin to that used by European and Asian societies. Instead these cultures imparted stories and wisdom via the oral tradition, passed down within tribes and families often in the form of legends and folktales without a written record of major events, like that which we enjoy from Ancient Greece for example, much of what we currently understand about the early history of Australia stems from these cross-generational stories.
Among these stories, particular attention has been paid in recent years by researchers to Aboriginal disaster legends as indicators of significant geological upheaval or occurrences of note the first notable success of this approach was the identification and confirmation of the Henbury Meteorite Field in modern-day Northern Territory, heralding into prominence the inclusion of Aboriginal oral tradition in modern scientific explorations. Found in 1899, it was not recognized as a meteorite impact site until 1931 after a connection was made with a local Aboriginal tale of a &ldquofire devil&rdquo who struck the land there over 4,700 years prior. Since the Henbury revelation, the technique has also been applied to confirm a legend of the Gunditjmara people of modern-day Victoria regarding a massive flood sediment and soil testing in 2015 strongly indicated an ancient tsunami covering the land several thousand years ago.
Map of Torres Strait Islands. Wikimedia Commons.
13. Ancient Australians were possibly the world&rsquos first human oceanic travelers, crossing vast distances over water to migrate to the isolated island
During the Pleistocene period, stretching from roughly 2.6 million years ago to 11,700 years ago, sea levels were far lower than they presently are, making migration from Africa to Australia, via Asia, much simpler than today. However, unlike the Bering Strait which is widely believed to have possessed an actual physical land bridge allowing humans to cross with relative ease, even during the Pleistocene period Australia was separated from the mainland by at least 90-100 kilometers of ocean this transportation requirement means that the initial African migrants who crossed into Australia were, in fact, the first recorded oceanic travelers in human history.
The precise manner or nature of the crossing is naturally unknown, but it is suspected rudimentary boats, similar to rafts and crafted from bamboo, most likely carried the migrants to their new home it is generally assumed that a method of &ldquoisland hopping&rdquo was employed as the means to ensure safe passage across the treacherous ocean waters to the uninhabited continent. Even more remarkably, due to the general consensus opinion of a single large human migration to Australia, it has been contended &ldquothat initial colonization of the continent would have required deliberately organized sea travel, involving hundreds of people&rdquo.
Rather than merely accidental discovery, as occurred in the case of Iceland when Naddodd lost his way en route to the Faeroe Islands, and the gradual cumulative actions of individual families following suit, it would appear that the initial settlement of ancient Australia was a deliberate act and choice what force might have compelled these individuals to attempt en mass the dangerous ocean crossing into isolation is impossible to guess, but more recent exoduses such as that of the Mormons in the United States or the Great Migrations of the early Medieval period, particularly that of the Turkic peoples, might provide clues as to the undeniably passionate motivations behind Aboriginal relocation to Australia.
A Macassan wooden sailboat, of the kind used for the collection of sea cucumbers. Wikimedia Commons.
12. Although predominantly isolated from the wider world, Aboriginal Australians did engage in external trade with Asian countries
Before the &ldquodiscovery&rdquo of Australia by Europeans during the Age of Exploration, it is often believed that the Aboriginal populations of the island were completely isolated from the outside world although predominantly true, limited commerce and external relations did occur between Aborigines and other nations, in particular with the Chinese, Indonesians, and until the collapse of the land bridge the neighboring island of New Guinea. The Torres Strait, a 150-kilometer wide channel dotted with islands settled by humans approximately 2,500 years ago, was easily navigable and cultural interactions between islanders and Aboriginals were not infrequent. Aboriginal oral history explicitly details legends of differently looking humans, seemingly of Chinese description but unquestionable not Aborigine, visiting coastal tribes ranging from Cape York to the Gulf of Carpentaria.
Moreover, definitive proof was established when in 2014 archeologists unearthed an 18th-Century Chinese coin from the Qing Dynasty at a remote island in the modern-day Northern Territories the use of Chinese coins as common practice by Aborigines in fishing was originally considered a modern cultural introduction, but this has now been called into question by the discovery. The presence of foreign coinage heavily suggests commercial interactions with visitors to the island from Indonesian fishermen from the Spice Islands to Macassan traders from Sulawesi seeking to harvest or purchase sea cucumbers to trade with the Chinese, the evidence suggests consistent commerce and relations between the Aboriginal peoples of ancient Australia and the outside world. Even older coinage, with Arabic inscriptions and traced to 10th Century East Africa, have been discovered in Australia, indicating the possibility of even earlier contact with a broader range of other civilizations.
A word cloud of Aboriginal words.
11. More than 250 Indigenous Aboriginal languages used to exist in Australia, many of which are now extinct with fewer than 20 spoken by Indigenous groups in modern-day Australia
Despite the absence of a formal writing system, the Aborigines were by no means unsocial, developing in excess of 250 separate and distinct Aboriginal languages prior to the colonization of Australia. In 1788, coincidentally the year of the first white birth in Australia, it was estimated more than 500 separate Aboriginal nations spoke in excess of a hundred separate languages using more than 600 dialects of said languages.
Sadly, after a slow period of decline less than 20 such languages are spoken collectively by all the Indigenous peoples of Australia today although some have been successfully preserved by linguists, others have been forever lost as they became extinct with dozens more highly endangered. More happily, however, many Aboriginal words have been transplanted into modern English, with more than 400 words adopted, most notably &ldquokangaroo&rdquo which was picked up during Captain Cook&rsquos visit to modern-day Cooktown for ship repairs other borrowed words include koala, wombat, kookaburra, and boomerang, but several non-nouns have also been adopted including bung: an adjective for bad.
Having clashed repeatedly with Kitchener and having lost the confidence of the Cabinet, French was relieved in December 1915 and replaced by General Sir Douglas Haig. Appointed to command the Home Forces, he was elevated to Viscount French of Ypres in January 1916. In this new position, he oversaw the suppression of the 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland. Two years later, on May 1918, the Cabinet made French British Viceroy, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and Supreme Commander of the British Army in Ireland. Fighting with various nationalist groups, he sought to destroy Sinn Féin. As a result of these actions, he was the target of a failed assassination attempt in December 1919. Resigning his post on April 30, 1921, French moved into retirement.
Made Earl of Ypres in June 1922, French also received a retirement grant of £50,000 in recognition of his services. Contracting cancer of the bladder, he died on May 22, 1925, while at Deal Castle. Following a funeral, French was buried at St. Mary the Virgin Churchyard in Ripple, Kent.
U.S. government takes over control of nation’s railroads
Eight months after the United States enters World War I on behalf of the Allies, President Woodrow Wilson announces the nationalization of a large majority of the country’s railroads under the Federal Possession and Control Act.
The U.S. entry into the war in April 1917 coincided with a downturn in the fortunes of the nation’s railroads: rising taxes and operations costs, combined with prices that were fixed by law, had pushed many railroad companies into receivership as early as late 1915. A year later, in a last-minute bill passed through Congress, Wilson had forced the railroad management to accept union demands for an eight-hour work day. Still, many skilled workers were leaving the cash-poor railroads to work in the booming armaments industry or to enlist in the war effort.
By the end of 1917, it seemed that the existing railroad system was not up to the task of supporting the war effort and Wilson decided on nationalization. Two days after his announcement, the United States Railroad Administration (USRA) seized control. William McAdoo, Wilson’s secretary of the treasury, was appointed Director General of Railroads. The railroads were subsequently divided into three divisionsst, West and South. Passenger services were streamlined, eliminating a significant amount of inessential travel. Over 100,000 new railroad cars and 1,930 steam engines were orderedsigned to the latest standards𠄺t a total cost of $380 million.
In March 1918, the Railroad Control Act was passed into law. It stated that within 21 months of a peace treaty, the railroads would be returned by the government to their owners and that the latter would be compensated for the usage of their property. Consequently, the USRA was disbanded two years later, in March 1920, and the railroads became private property once again.
The commander of Mafeking was Colonel Robert Baden-Powell. At the outset of the siege, he had at his disposal 750 locally raised troops and a force of 400 irregulars formed from the townspeople. In addition, more than 600 black Africans were employed as cattle guards. The civilian population of the town numbered 650 Europeans and 7,000 Africans.
Baden-Powell decided to defend a perimeter around 7.5 miles (12km) long around the town. As the siege progressed, the military role of the armed black population became increasingly important.
Baden-Powell had an ambivalent attitude towards the black Africans in Mafeking, without whose assistance the town would quickly have fallen. He reduced their rations during the siege and by playing down their contribution ensured that they received little reward after it.View this object