The circumstances which attended the movements of Colonel Carleton's column are even now somewhat fraught with mystery. He carried Out the night march unmolested until within two miles of Nicholson's Nek. Then some boulders, loosened evidently for the ptirpose, rolled down the hill, and a sudden crackling roll of musketry stampeded the infantry ammunition mules. The alarm became infectious, with the result that the battery mules also broke loose from their leaders, practically carrying with them the whole of the gun equipment. The greater part of the regimental small-
The list of officers taken prisoners by Boers was as follows
1st Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment.-
Some details of their misfortune were given by the prisoners in Pretoria, and they serve to throw more light on the subject.
Colonel Carleton, as we know, was sent towards Nicholson's Nek to hold it and prevent
the Free Staters from coming to the assistance of the other Boers. Having lost his
reserve ammunition and the water of all the battery through the stampede of the mules,
he set to work to construct a defensive position. But stones were scarce and the
defences were slender, and by the light of dawn his position. was revealed. At this
time a long-
The most vivid account of the disaster, from an outsider's point of view, was given
by the Times special correspondent at Ladysmith. He wrote:-
"Two hours before daybreak, while the column was in enclosed country, either a shot
was fired or a boulder rolled into the battery in column of route. The mules stampeded,
and easily broke away from their half-
"The position itself was a flat kopje commanded on the south by a selfcontained ridge.
To the east was another kopje, which commanded the top of the position at about
500 yards. On the west were two similar spurs, also commanding the position at short
ranges. The summit of the kopje was a plateau, all the sides being gradual slopes
except the eastern, which was almost sheer, this latter being the side from which
access had been gained. From below it appeared a defensible position, but when once
the top was reached it was evident that it was commanded from all sides. The men
busied themselves attempting to build breastworks. The Gloucestershire companies,
with their Maxim gun, were given the northern face to hold, two companies being detached
on to a self-
"From earliest daybreak Boer scouts were reconnoitring, and about eight o'clock mounted
Boers could be seen galloping in small groups to the cover at the reverse of the
hill on the west. Later two strong parties of mounted men took position on the far
side of the two hills commanding the kopje from the west. About nine o'clock these
two parties had crowned the hills and opened a heavy fire at short ranges right
down upon the plateau. Our men made a plucky attempt to return this fire, but it
was impossible; they were tinder a cross-
An officer of the Gloucestershire Regiment described the affair
"HOSPITAL, WYNBURG, 91' 111899.
"We were ordered out with six companies of Royal Irish Fusiliers and No.10 Mountain
Battery, Royal Artillery, to make a night march through the Boer lines and hold
a hill behind their right flank till the rest of the troops took us off, which they
expected to do about I I AM. As it turned out, they were not able to do this, but
they did keep the Boer guns employed, luckily for us. We started off at 8.30 P.M.,
and got to the foot of our hill about 2 A.M. The Royal Irish Fusiliers were in front,
then the battery and S.A.A. mules, and last ourselves. The Royal Irish Fusiliers
had got part way up the hill-
"It was pitch dark, and the noise of the mules and the loads and the stores falling
about was enough to put any one off: Several men were hurt, some got in next day,
some are missing.-
"I got a grazing shot on my left hand and a bullet in my right forearm early (about
8.30 A.M., and two more grazers-
An officer of the Royal Irish Fusiliers, writing from Staatsmodel Schule, Pretoria,
You don't know what it means shooting a Boer; he is behind a rock, and all you can
ever see is his rifle sticking out. For the last hour of the fight I had a rifle
and ammunition which I took from a dead man, and blazed away for all I was worth.
Then we fixed bayonets and prepared for a rush, when the 'Cease fire' sounded. Our
senior Captain has told me that my name has been mentioned to our Colonel, who was
commanding the force, as having caused a lot of men to rally. We were all then taken
prisoners, except two officers killed and eight wounded, and marched to the Boer
laager, and sent off that night to a station twenty miles distant in waggons. While
we were in their laager they treated us extremely well, and gave us food and tobacco.
All you read about the Boers in England is absolutely untrue. They are most kind
to the wounded and prisoners, looking after them as well as their own wounded, and
anything they've got they will give you if you ask them, even if they deprive themselves.
We came up to Pretoria in first-
As this letter had evidently to pass through the hands of the prison censor, we
may take the eulogies of the Boers for what they were wdrth! However, it is but just
to own that there are Boers and Boers. For instance, it is a fact that Captain Gerard
Rice, who was wounded in the ankle and unable to move, offered a Boer half-
Father L. Matthews, chaplain of the Royal Irish Fusiliers, who was captured at Nicholson's Nek on October 31 and subsequently released, gave the following version of the disaster
"We were sent out to occupy the position with the object of preventing the two Boer forces from joining. We started at 8.30 on Sunday night, marched ten miles, and got to the hill at I A.M. The first mishap was that the mountain battery stampeded and scattered the whole lot of mules. We formed up again and gained the top of the hilL The guns were gone, but not all the ammunition. I do not know what stampeded the mules. They knocked me down. It was pitch dark.
"We had one hour's sleep. Firing began just after daylight. It was slack for some time, but the Boers crept round. Then the firing became furious. Our men made a breastwork of stones.
"After 12 o'clock there was a general cry of 'Cease fire' in that direction. Our fellows would not stop firing. Major Adye came up and confirmed the order to cease fire. Then the bugle sounded 'Cease fire.' In our sangar there was a rumour that the white flag was raised by a young officer who thought his batch of ten men were the sole survivors.
"We were 900 alive, having started perhaps 1000. .I think that many of the battery men escaped. Our men and officers were furious at surrendenng. The Boers did not seem to be in great numbers on the spot, but I heard that the main body had galloped off.
"The men had to give up their arms. The officers were sent to Commandant Steenekamp.
The officers then ordered the men to fall in. The officers were taken away from the
men and sent to General Joubert. On the same day the officers went in mule-
"I think that the surrender was a great blunder; and was caused by a mis-
Father Matthews puts the case mildly. Some of the officers of the Irish Fusiliers were so exasperated at the exhibition of the white flag, that they set to work and smashed their swords rather than give them up.
The final figures of the losses sustained at Nicholson's Nek were as follows: The
total of missing of the Gloucesters and Royal Irish Fusiliers was 843. Thirty-
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|The Web Thickens|
|The Zulu War|
|Isandlwana, an hour by hour account|
|Affairs at Home|
|The First Anglo Boer War|
|Between the Wars|
|The Fate of SGT Elliot|
|The Siege of Pretoria|
|The Reform Movement|
|The Critical Moment|
|The Fate of the Raiders|