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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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
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
officers were mentioned in Lord Roberts’ despatch of 31st March
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.
men of the battalion were mentioned in Lord Kitchener’s despatch
of 8th March 1901, presumably for gallantry at Dewetsdorp.
1901 the battalion furnished about three companies as the infantry of
a column which operated m the Orange River Colony under Colonel Henry
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
to mentions by Lord Roberts, reference is made to the notes under the
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.