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THE BATTLE OF GRASPAN

The commandos defeated at Belmont fell back upon Graspan, the next station northwards on the way to Kimberley. There Lord Methuen decided they should not long  remain. He thought, to use his own words, "that it would be best to march the division at once to Swinks Pan, which would place me on the left front of the enemy's position; and that if I worked one battery round each  flank, sent my cavalry and mounted infantry well forward, the greater part of the cavalry being on the eastern side, I ought to capture the eastern force; The Naval Brigade and 9th Brigade I left for protecting the guns or  assaulting a position if necessary. The Guards Brigade left with the baggage to march to Enslin, where I had my next camp. The brigade could always give a hand if wanted. I had left 1st Battalion Scots Guards at Belmont  Station, also two companies Munster Fusiliers, because there were 500 Boers and a gun, so it was said, threatening Belmont. I made this my divisional battle, marching straight from Belinont to Enslin. Uhe armoured train with  infantry was to give me a help from the line." Thus the General briefly described his programme.

On the day following the battle of Belmont, a hot, blistering day, with the sun glaring pitilessly till the heavens looked  like a sheet of burnished brass, the Division, with the Yorkshire Light Infantry as advance guard, moved on towards Graspan. This place is probably called Graspan because it is the centre of a circular phalanx of huge kopjes,  which, rising out of the smooth white sand, have an air of quaint picturesqueness resembling that of some ancient ruined arena. There the troops encamped. Here, in the light of the stars and rolled in their blankets, they laid  them down to their hard-earned rest.

Before cock-crow, however, the men were up and doing, and as the lavender hues of dawn began to lighten the horizon, the gallant warriors were on the move. It was known that the enemy was  near at hand, sneaking on the surrounding heights, therefore the last two miles were covered in fighting formation, the Naval detachment and the 5th Fusiliers being supported by the Yorkshire Light Infantry and the Northampton  Regiment.

The enemy, not 400 strong as was supposed, but 2500, with six guns, one Hotchkiss, and one Maxim, was posted on a series of five kopjes over 200 feet in height, joined by neks, all of which save one were strongly  occupied. In a laager in the remote distance 500 more Boers were reported to be hidden in reserve. The ground on all sides had been previously measured to find the ranges, the Boers having evidently been quite well informed  regarding the British plan of action.

In advance of the troops came the armoured train, a pachydermatous monster which moved cumbrously in front of the column, and was saluted by the smoking wrath of big guns as soon as it  appeared. It retired cautiously, and disgorged its gallant crew of marines to help in handling the naval guns. Lord Methuen deployed the cavalry on the flanks, while the artillery took up positions in front of the Boer  trenches. Meanwhile the 9th Brigade went forward in skirmishing order. This consisted of the Northumberland Fusiliers, 2nd Battalion Northamptons, half-Battalion Loyal North Lancashires, 2nd Battalion King's Own Yorkshire Light  Infantry. With the 9th was the Naval Brigade, commanded by Captain Prothero. At six o'clock an active artillery duel began; the guns of the foe being splendidly posted, and their range, as before-said, carefully calculated.  Their shells burst with appalling fracas over our batteries, but the brave British gunners never swerved. They gave the Boers some smart and telling replies, and presently, on withdrawing their guns to a new position, quite  defeated the calculations of the enemy, whose shells now began to fall wide of the mark. The rifle-fire of the Dutchmen was not so accurate as usual, and was evidently under no control, though there were sharp-shooters who  crept under cover for the purpose of sniping at any prominent person who might be taken for an officer. As has been stated, there was now no outward or visible sign of rank, so for the time being the enemy's efforts were  unsuccessful. They were more deadly-grievously deadly, however, when the gallant Naval Brigade, the officers of which were distinguishable by their swords, came to the foot of the hill. The fire from the kopjes was terrific,  and every moment men threw up their arms and fell. They had advanced in extended order, but in converging upon the position to be taken, found themselves closed in, and in that formation attempted the ascent.

Meanwhile the  rest of the infantry was moving forward in preparation for attack. The Northamptons worked from the lefL round to the right, where they were joined by the Yorkshires and Northumberlands. All this time a scene of terrific  slaughter was taking place, a tremendous and unceasing fire being poured from the Boer positions upon our steadily advancing men. But these were undefeatable, the 2nd Yorkshire Light Infantry, the Marines, and the 1st North  Lancashire acquitting themselves nobly in a most perilous situation. One after another of their numbers dropped. Stones and sand were heaped with the mutilated and fainting, and dyed with the life-blood of trusty comrades that  a moment ago had been hearty and hale; but on they went, these gallant lads, while a storm of shrapnel be'lowed overhead, and bullets whistled past their ears, and dust and dirt blinded their eyes. With a ringing cheer the  Yorkshire men directed a fusilade towards the crest of the enemy's sangar, and then the whole mass crawled up with splendid effort, neared the summit, and prepared to charge. The Boers, however, began discreetly to remove  themselves to a second position still better intrenched, from whence they could fire on the British as they gained the top. At this time the British guns were forced to be almost inactive, as the storming line was now so near  the crest that the shrapnel could only be directed on the enemy by enfilading the position from the ridge of the kopje on the left, and it was during the lull that Lieutenant Taylor, Yorkshire Light Infantry, and Lieutenant  Jones, of the Marines, scaled the sangar.

The next instant there was a roar and a rush, and all were leaping forward to clear the second position. This was only accomplished after some desperately hard work and a quarter of  an hour's hand-to-hand fighting-an eternity it seemed to those engaged for the kopje was stubbornly held. But even Boer pluck, of which in this case there was no lack, could not resist the impetuous advance of the British  infantry, and at last, when the hill-top was one crimson crown of blood and half the gallant number were struck down, the Boers bolted one after another down the back of the hill, pursued by our artillery fire, and made for  their horses. Finally, as they were retreating in hot haste across the plain, the 9th Lancers charged .them, and succeeded in catching up their rear close to a kopje where they were sheltering. But here the place literally  swarmed with Dutchmen, and the Lancers, whose numbers were small, and whose horses were exhausted, were forced to retire.

Still the object of the fight was magnificently accomplished. The rout of the enemy was complete. The  gallant Naval Brigade, Yorkshire Light Infantry, and Loyal North Lancashires remained masters of the situation. A party of Boers who had rushed from their sheltering kopje were intercepted by the detachment of the New South  Wales Lancers, who, charging, forced them back to their hiding-place.

The amazing gallantry of the Marines, who bore the brunt of the desperate fight, was the subject of general eulogy. Many of these splendid fellows had  three wounds, while some had four. Sixty per cent. of the officers and sergeants were hit. Nothing could have been more heroic than the conduct of poor Huddart, who so gloriously fell in doing his duty.

Captain Le Marchant,  Royal Marine Light Infantry, who was left in command of the Naval Brigade with Lord Methuen's force after the action at Graspan, reported as follows: "It is with deep regret that I have to report the death of Midshipman  Huddart, who behaved magnificently, and still advanced after he had been twice wounded, until he was finally struck down mortally wounded." A brother naval officer also wrote: "At the bottom of the hill Huddart was  hit in the arm, and half-way up he was shot in the leg, but still he pressed on. On reaching the top of the kopje he was shot through the stomach and fell." Captain Le Marchant, when his senior officers were killed or  wounded, led the remnant of the Naval Brigade up the kopje with splendid pluck and ability.

But magnificent deeds were numerous. Lieutenant W. J. C. Jones, Royal Marine Light Infantry, though he had a bullet in his thigh, led  his men up the kopje, and only after the day was won consented to have his wound dressed. Colour-Sergeant Water-house was also mentioned by Lord Methuen, who - said in his despatch, "I beg to bring to your notice No.1843,  Colour-Sergeant Waterhouse, King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, who at a critical moment acted with great coolness in shooting down an enemy who had been doing great execution on our men at I I 50 yards." The General  deplored the lack of a cavalry brigade and horse artillery, owing to which he was unable to reap the fruits of his hard-fought action, and all must unite to condole with this much-tried commander on the manner in which he had  been handicapped from the first. Lord Methuen in his despatch drew attention to the excellent work done by the Naval Brigade near the line. He said :-

"Lieutenants Campbell and L. S. Armstrong displayed great coolness in  conducting the fire of their guns. Petty Officers Ashley, Doris, and Fuller, Monarch, laid their guns with great accuracy under fire.

"I again draw attention to the exceptional organising power of Colonel Townsend. At  Swinks Pan at 11.30 P.M. I was informed that, owing to all the ambulances having been used for taking the wounded to the train at Belmont, I had scarcely a field-hospital mounted officer, only three ambulances and three  stretchers. I knew I had to fight next morning, so got together fifty blankets in order to carry wounded with help of rifles. I also sent to Colonel Townsend tomake arrangements for wounded by 3 A.M., a messenger having to ride seven miles to him. He met me on the  field with full supply of ambulances, and I never saw anything more of him or the wounded, because he had a train ready for them between Graspan and Belmont. His only complaint is that there is not much of his mules left, an  observation which applies equally to men and animals."

To show how completely all the British projects were known, a curious incident of this battle may be quoted. Four men were captured by Rimington's Guides, but three  of them being unarmed were released. It was subsequently discovered that these same persons had taken to the Jacobsdal commando minute details regarding the British camp, with the result that a Boer force was detached to attack  the station. The total British casualties were estimated at 197, including twenty killed and seven missing. At the close of the action, Lord Methuen complimented the members of the Naval Brigade on their splendid behaviour, and  expressed regret at the losses they had sustained.

The following is the list of officers killed, wounded, and missing at the battle of Graspan or Enslin of 25th November

2nd Battalion Yorkshire Light I nfantry.-Wounded: Captain C. A. L. Yate, Lieutenant H. C. Fernyhough, Lieutenant C. H. Ackroyd. Naval Brigade.- Killed: Commander Bthelston, Powerful1  Major Plumbe, R.M.L.I., Doris; Captain Senior, R.M.A., Monarch; C. A. E. Huddart, Midshipman, Doris.

The following were severely wounded

Flag-Captain Prothero, Doris, and Lieutenant Jones, R.M.L.I., Doris.

Lord Methuen addressed his division in  stirring words, congratulating his men on the work they had done and the hardships they had surmounted. The work, he said, was the severest accomplished by the British army for many a long day. Not a single point, he added,  could they afford to give to the enemy. The Boers' tactics had been proved excellent and their courage admirable. The gallant General added that when called on to fight for his country, he preferred to fight against a foe  worthy of his steel rather than against savages, whose sole recommendation was bravery. He hoped that he and his men had gained each other's confidence, and that they would all do their duty to their country as Englishmen  should. Lord Methuen described as dastardly the firing by the enemy on ambulance wagons, the shooting of a British officer by a wounded Boer, and the use of Dum-Dum bullets; but he refused to believe that these acts were  characteristic of the enemy; he would give them credit until he was convinced to the contrary that they wished to fight fair and square. Addressing the Scots Guards, the General said that they had acted as he expected his old  battalion would.

The troops rested well on the night of the 27th, and on the following day proceeded towards Modder River, where the General was aware  that the passage of the river would involve a bloody fight. By this time General Pole-Carew had taken command of the 9th Brigade, in place of General Featherstonhaugh, who was wounded.