1899 - 1902



Anglo Boer War
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Towards the end of October Sir George White decided that something must be done to protect his line of communication with the south. The Boers were spreading  out in crescent form and drawing gradually nearer to the town. On the north were troops commanded by General Joubert. On the west was a Free State commando, and on the east was General Lucas Meyer, who owed us a grudge after  the events of Talana Hill. Reinforced by troops from General Erasmus, he now desired to press towards the railway with a view to seizing it at some point south of the town. It was necessary at all costs to put a stop to this  scheme. Colonel Jan Hamilton with an Infantry Brigade was therefore despatched on the 27th to Lombard's Kop, a hill some five miles east of Ladysmith. There he bivouacked for the night, with a view to clearing the enemy out at  the point of the bayonet on the morrow. He never brought his plan into execution, however, for Sir George White, having been informed of the size of Meyer's force, ordered him to fall back on the town. On Sunday the 29th it was  discovered that the Boers were intrenched in lines that extended over twenty miles, while "Long Tom," their six-inch gun, was perched on Pepworth Hill, its big ominous muzzle being situated some 7500 yards to the  north of Ladysmith. In addition to this formidable weapon, field-guns with a range of some 5000 yards were posted about in well-concealed positions. For the protection of our line of communication it was necessary that the  enemy, though three times as strong as the British force, should be dispersed, and that night, at half-past ten o'clock, Colonel Hamilton again set out with three battalions, the Devons, tbe Gordons, the Mancliesters, and a  Brigade Division of Artillery. The night was dark but clear, and the troops marched along the Newcastle Road to Limit Hill, a strong kopje some three miles north of Ladysmith, and half-way between that town and Pepworth Hill.  There they bivouacked for the night. While this party was moving as described, a small force under Colonel Carleton, composed of four and a half companies of the Gloucestershire Regiment and six companies of the Royal Irish  Fusiliers and No. 10 Mountain Battery, was moving towards Nicholson's Nek with a view of seizing it. But of Colonel Carleton's column anon.

On Colonel Ian Hamilton's right flank, towards Lombard's Kop, was Colonel Grimwood,  with the 1st and 2nd King's Royal Rifles, the Liverpools, Leicesters, and Dublin Fusiliers, three Field-Batteries, and the Natal Volunteer Artillery. On the extreme right, when day broke, was General French with a Cavalry  Brigade and some volunteers. The idea was, that while Colonel Grimwood was shelling the Boer position to the north of Lombard's Kop, General French should prevent any attempt to turn his right; the enemies artillery silenced,  Colonel Grimwood was to drive him along the ridge running to Pepworth, and, under cover of the British guns, press the Boers towards their centre. Meanwhile our centre, under Colonel Hamilton, was to attack a hill where the  enemy was in force, rout him and join in the general scheme, while Colonel Carleton protected the centre from a flank movement. Unfortunately "the best laid schemes of mice and men gang aft agley," and General White's  admirable scheme failed, as we shall learn. An artillery duel began operations, and this continued for two long hours, while the warm spring morning developed, and the Boers, who had. been warned of our plans and had changed  their position during the night, were laughing in their sleeves at the capital surprise they had prepared. They had drawn off their men from the point that was to have been the objective of our centre, and extending and  reinforcing their left, were calmly waiting our attack. The artillery duel continued till seven o'clock, our batteries with great difficulty searching out the enemy's position. Colonel .Grimwood, with two battalions of the  King's Royal Rifles, held the kopjes and ridges in front of Farquhar's Farm, while mounted infantry and troopers of the 18th Hussars, supported by the Liverpools and Leicesters, were posted on the hills on the right. Behind  them came the artillery, who directed their fire at the hill above the farm, where the enemy was supposed to be intrenched.

The Boers, who in great hordes had streamed from the hills like a mountain torrent and concealed  themselves in the surrounding ridges, now made all Colonel Grimwood's plans impossible. He seemed, indeed, in danger of being annihilated by sheer force of superior numbers, when troops from the centre were pushed forward to  his support. A smart engagement ensued, the Boers making energetic efforts to penetrate the line. between the Infantry and Artillery, while the 53rd Battery changed front to meet the attack and the 5th Lancers struggled to form  up on the left of the rifle regiments. But the enemy's automatic quick-firing gun vomited forth its death-dealing steel with such persistence that the cavalry was forced to retire at a gallop. The gunners again came to the  rescue, and six field-batteries, spread over in a semicircular front of three-quarters of a mile, sent their shrapnel over the heads of the infantry to crash on the ridges occupied by the Boers.

At this critical moment, when  the turmoil of warfare was at its hottest, and when our gallant troops were struggling unsuccessfully to hold their own against an overwhelming number of the enemy, a message came from Sir George White to retire. Some sort of a  panic had taken place in the town, owing partly to the fact that the Boers were threatening it from another quarter, partly to the persistent shelling of " Long Tom," which, as some one described, was like a voluble  virago, determined to have the last word! All efforts to silence the horrible weapon had failed, and for some three or four hours it had sent its eighty-four-pound shells shrieking into the town. There was no resource but to  fall back, which was done to the appalling detonations of the Boer guns all going at once, while Long Tom," like some prominent solo-singer, dominated the whole clamounng orchestra. To silence him and to cover the retreat,  a Lieutenant of the Powerful in charge of a gun drawn by a team of oxen, went out on the road between Limit Hill and Ladysmith.

Before the gun could be got in position, however, "Long Tom" had spotted it-barked at  it overturned it, and killed several of the oxen. But his triumph was short-lived. Another rival performer had come on the scene, namely, the twelve-and-a-half-pounder of the Naval Brigade. It came, saw, and conquered, knocking  out "Long Tom" at the fourth shot!

The whole action of the Naval Brigade reads like a fairy story. Ladysmith on the point of exhaustion, with all its troops engaged and no big guns wherewith to meet the terrific  assaults of the six-inch cannon on Pepworth Hill, was almost in despair. At the eleventh hour up came the Naval Brigade under Captain the Hon. Hedworth Lambton of H.M.S. Powerful with 280 Blue-jackets, two 4.7 guns, and four  twelve-and-a-half-pounders. Then the affair was done. It was just one, two, three, and away-for the fourth splendidly-directed shot saved the situation. In this engagement great feats of daring were accomplished, feats which  have now become so general that we have almost ceased to gasp in wonder at the heroism of the "mere man" of the nineteenth century. When the regiments were forced to retire from the death-laden region of Lombard's  Kop, Major Abdy of the 53rd Battery R.A., dashing across the plain under a storm of shells from a quick-firing gun, brought his battery between the enemy and the straggling mass of retreating soldiers. Horse and man rolled  over, but the fire of the 53rd never slackened till the imminence of danger was past. The correspondent of the Standard, who was present, said: "When the moment came for the battery to fall back, the limber of one of the  guns had been smashed and five horses in one team had been killed. Captain Thwaites sent back for another team and waggon limber, and brought back the disabled gun under a concentrated fire from the enemy, who were not more  than four hundred yards distant. Lieutenant Higgins, of the same battery, also distinguished himself for gallantry. One of the guns was overturned in a donga. In the face of a close and heavy fire the Lieutenant succeeded in  righting the gun and bringing it into a place of safety."

The following is a list of killed and wounded among the officers who were engaged on Lombard's Kop :-

13th Field Battery, R.A.-Major John Dawkins, wounded,  slightly. 42nd Field Battery.-Lieutenant James Taylor M'Dougall, killed. 69th Field Battery -Lieutenant Harold Belcher, bullet wound, forearm, severely. 1st Battalion King's Royal Rifles.-Major W. T. Myers (7th Battalion),  Lieutenant H. S. Marsden, and Lieutenant T. L. Forster, killed; Lieutenant H. C. Johnson, bullet wound in shoulder, severely. 2nd Battalion King's Royal Rifles.-Major H. Buchanan Riddell, bullet wound, abdomen, severe. 1st  Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment.-Captain Willcock, bullet wound, shoulder and wnst; Captain Bertram Fyffe, bullet wound, forearm and chest, severe; Captain Frederick Staynes, bullet wound, forearm, severe. Royal Army Medical  Corps.-Major Edward G. Gray, killed. Natal Mounted Rifles.-Lieutenant W. Chapman, killed.