Extract taken from 'Our Regiments in South Africa' by John Stirling
published by Naval and Military Press Ltd

THE 1st Battalion was one of the four sent from India between 16th and 30th September 1899 They were first engaged on 24th October at Rietfontern (see 1st Liverpool Regiment). The action was fought to enable General Yule to reach Ladysmith unmolested. It was not intended to press the attack home, but the Gloucesters got too far forward on unfavourable ground on the left. They lost Colonel Wilford killed, 1 other officer wounded, 7 men killed and 57 wounded.

To the battalion the 30th October was a disastrous day (for general account of action see 1st Liverpool). It will be remembered that five and a half companies of the Gloucesters with six companies of the 1st Royal Irish Fusiliers were sent out under Colonel Carleton of the Fusiliers, with Major Adye as staff officer, on the night of the 29th for the purpose of seizing Nicholson’s Nek. By the stampeding of the mules that point was never reached, but the hill near which the stampede occurred, Carnguba, was occupied. The reference to the action in Sir George White’s despatch1 does not enter into details, merely stating that the force “strengthened the position somewhat with breastworks, and remained unmolested till daybreak. It was then found that the position was too large for them to adequately occupy, and that only the most pronounced salients could be held.” The Boers surrounded the bill, and after several hours’ fighting our men’s ammunition began to fail. The advanced parties were driven back, the Boers gained the crest, whence they brought a converging fire “to bear from all sides on our men crowded together in the centre, causing much loss. Eventually it was seen that this position was untenable, and our force hoisted a white flag and surrendered about 12.30 P.M.

‘The Times’ historian (vol. ii. p. 237) gives an admirably clear and detailed account of the action, and in some respects it differs from the despatch. The top of the hill is described as like a foot. The heel at the south end was precipitous and easily defended, towards the middle of the sole or tread there was a rise whence it sloped gently, and the approaches on the north, north-west, and north-east easily afforded good cover for attackers. Against the advice of the owner of the farm, who was present, Major Adye, the staff officer, kept most of the troops at the heel and comparatively few at the forepart, where they were needed. At 11.30 E and H companies of the Gloucesters were ordered by Major Humphery to retire on another sangar. This seems to have been a fatal mistake, as during the retirement one of the companies lost half its strength. Colonel Carleton ordered the sangars evacuated to be reoccupied, but this was found impossible. About 12.30 C company got what was understood to be another order to retire, and again in withdrawing lost half their men. Soon after this three officers of the Gloucesters, finding themselves absolutely without men (except dead and wounded) and unable to see any other part of the position, raised a white flag The Boers stood up and came forward, and after some hesitation Colonel Carleton came to the decision that the whole force was bound by the white flag which had been shown. ‘The Times’ historian points out that the staff officer “repeatedly sent orders” that the men were not to fire “independent” but only volleys. The value of volley - firing at single Boers darting from one rock to another can be gauged by the least initiated. But we had to learn all these lessons in the field, and had to pay a very high fee to our teachers.

The Gloucesters lost 33 men killed, 6 officers and about 75 men wounded. Those of the battalion who were not with Carleton fought and suffered in Lady-smith till the siege was raised. On 22nd December they had the misfortune to lose 8 killed and 9 wounded by one shell from a Boer big gun. After the relief the battalion took little active part in the campaign, and in August 1900 was sent to Ceylon with prisoners.

In Lord Roberts’ final despatch 11 officers and 16 non - commissioned officers and men were mentioned, these embraced both battalions, but those mentioned belonged chiefly to the 2nd Battalion.

The 2nd Battalion sailed on the Cymrlc on 1st January 1900, and arrived at Cape Town on the 21st. Along with the 2nd East Kent Regiment, 1st West Riding Regiment, and 1st Oxford Light Infantry, they formed the 13th Brigade under Brigadier-General C. E. Knox, and part of the VIth Division under Lieut.General Kelly-Kenny (See notes under 2nd East Kent.)

The whole division did splendid work in the advance from Modder River to Bloemfontein. At Klip Kraal the East Kent, Gloucesters, and Oxford Light Infantry had sharp fighting with Cronje’s rear-guard. On the 18th at Paardeberg the Gloucesters were not so seriously engaged as many other battalions, but between the 18th and 28th they did good work in seizing positions of importance, and driving back the Boer reinforcements. Their losses were about 6 killed and 20 wounded, including Colonel Lindsell.

The correspondent of the Press Association, whose work was generally very reliable, telegraphing from Paardeberg on 26th February said “Last Monday night (19th) a brilliant piece of work was performed by the Gloucesters. During the afternoon they approached within a short distance of a Boer kopje and contained the enemy until nightfall, when 120 men charged the kopje with bayonets and drove off the Boers with loss, bayoneting several.” On 28th February Lord Roberts wired “Cronje with his family left here yesterday in charge of Major-General Prettyman, and under an escort of the City Imperial Volunteers’ Mounted Infantry Later in the day the remaining prisoners left under the charge of the Earl of Errol, and escorted by the Gloucester Regiment and 100 City Imperial Volunteers.” The Gloucesters soon rejoined the main army to take part in some further hard marching and fighting

At Driefontein on 10th March 1900 the 13th Brigade had the toughest of the work, and although the Gloucesters were not in the original first line, they did their part splendidly, and had again about 5 killed and 20 wounded.

Three officers were mentioned in Lord Roberts’ despatch of 31st March 1900.

On 22nd November 1900, when De Wet made his famous rush south, he snapped up on his way the garrison of Dewetsdorp, consisting of three companies of the 2nd Gloucesters, one company of the Highland Light Infantry, and some of the 2nd Royal Irish Rifles, so that both battalions of the regiment have had the nasty experience of losing a large proportion of their men in surrenders.

Three men of the battalion were mentioned in Lord Kitchener’s despatch of 8th March 1901, presumably for gallantry at Dewetsdorp.

In 1901 the battalion furnished about three companies as the infantry of a column which operated m the Orange River Colony under Colonel Henry 2

The Mounted Infantry company of the battalion saw a good deal of fighting, and gained several “mentions.” In the final despatch of Lord Kitchener 4 officers and 6 non-commissioned officers of the battalion were mentioned.

As to mentions by Lord Roberts, reference is made to the notes under the 1st Battalion.

1 Despatch of 2nd December 1899, pars. 10. See also account of this engagement under 1st Battalion Royal Irish Fusiliers.
2 Lord Kitchener’s despatch of 8th July 1901.

Last updated 17 February, 2009

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