Sunday, 20 March 2011

Nicholsons nek part 15 of the war in south africa

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.
beneito 54mm

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 clamouring 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!medical officer

boer war wagon

Types of Arms—The Creusot Quick-Firing Field Gun, or "Long Tom" 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 Bluejackets, 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 wrist; 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.


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 purpose, 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-arm ammunition reserve was similarly lost. In consequence of this[Pg 46] misfortune, Colonel Carleton's small force, after a plucky fight and heavy loss, had to capitulate. The real truth about the affair may never be known, but for the lamentable result Sir George White in an official dispatch, with heroic courage—greater perhaps than any required by warriors in the field—took upon himself the entire blame. The General knew well that the failure of his programme in the engagement of Lombard's Kop had inevitably brought about the disaster to the isolated force.

The list of officers taken prisoners by Boers was as follows:—

Staff.—Major W. Adye. 1st Battalion Royal Irish Fusiliers.—Lieutenant-Colonel F. R. C. Carleton; Majors F. H. Munn and C. S. Kincaid; Captains Burrows, Rice, wounded, and Silver, severely wounded; Lieutenants A. E. S. Heard, C. E. Southey, W. G. B. Phibbs, A. H. C. MacGregor, H. B. Holmes, A. L. J. M. Kelly, W. D. Dooner, wounded; Second Lieutenants R. J. Kentish, C. E. Kinahan, R. W. R. Jeudwine; Chaplain Father Matthews. 1st Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment.—Majors S. Humphrey, H. Capel Cure, and W. R. P. Wallace; Captains S. Duncan and R. Conner, both slightly wounded; Lieutenants A. Bryant, F. C. Nisbet, J. O'D. Ingram, R. M. M. Davy, C. S. Knox, W. A. M. Temple, A. H. Radice, F. A. Breul, W. L. B. Hill, P. H. Short; Second Lieutenants H. H. Smith, W. S. Mackenzie, R. L. Beasley, Lieutenant and Quartermaster R. J. Gray. Royal Artillery Mountain Battery.—Major G. E. Bryant; Lieutenants Wheeler, G. R. H. Nugent, W. H. Moore, Webb (attached): Newspaper Correspondent, J. Hyde.

Some details of their misfortune were given by the prisoners in Pretoria, and they serve to throw more light on the subject.

boer war block house

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-range fire was opened from three hills to south and west, dropping from 1500 yards into the position, and taking it both in flank and in rear. From his observations Colonel Carleton discovered that General White's scheme had failed—that it was being abandoned. In consequence of this failure the whole Boer force was enabled to swarm from all directions towards the isolated column. Firing fierce and incessant, exhausted the already worn-out Irish Fusiliers, while the advanced companies of the Gloucesters were severely mauled by the Martini bullets of the enemy. The hill was now completely surrounded, the ammunition expended; still Colonel Carleton had no idea of giving in. The bayonet was left, and by the bayonet he meant to stand or fall. Suddenly a wounded officer ordered the white flag to be raised. It was then hoisted, but uncertainty prevailed as to the authority for[Pg 47] the exhibition of the flag, and some of our men still continued to fire. However, the mischief was done, and the surrender was merely a matter of moments.

On the left a tomb to a member of the bRITISH CYCLE REGT KILLED IN sOUTH aFRIC
AThe most vivid account of the disaster, from an outsider's point of view, was given by the Times special correspondent at Ladysmith. He wrote:—

"This column, consisting of six companies of the Royal Irish Fusiliers, four and a half companies of the Gloucestershire Regiment, and No. 10 Mountain Battery, left camp on Sunday night at 10.30, with the object of occupying a position from which it would be able to operate upon the right of the Boer position on Pepworth Hill. The column was guided by Major Adye, of the Field Intelligence, and a staff of the headquarters guides.
lancashire monument above
Their destination was Nicholson's Nek, a position which, when reconnoitred from this side, appeared to possess the necessary tactical advantages for a detached force. Nicholson's Nek lies about four miles up Bell's Spruit, a donga due north of Ladysmith. The men blundered along in the darkness, the Irish Fusiliers leading, the battery in the centre, the rear being brought up by the Gloucestershire Regiment. There seems no doubt upon one point, and that is, the enemy were aware of this part of the movement from the beginning. Probably they were aware of the whole of the plans for Monday, for in Ladysmith it was impossible to say who was a Boer agent and who not. However that may be, it is certain that the enemy were on the flanks of the column all night, one of the survivors positively stating that he constantly heard the snapping of breeches, and once the peculiar noise which a rifle makes at night when it is dropped.

"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-asleep drivers. They came back upon the Gloucestershire Regiment, the advance party of whom fired into the mass, believing in the darkness that it was an attack. This added to the chaos; the ranks were broken by the frenzied animals, and they dashed through the ranks of the rearguard, carrying the first and second reserve ammunition animals with them. It became a hopeless panic; the animals, wild with the shouting and the turmoil, tore down the nullah into the darkness, and the last that was heard of them was the sound of ammunition-boxes and panniers as they were splintered against the boulders. The hubbub of those few minutes was sufficient to have alarmed the enemy.
highbury fields memorial by mackennal. I pass this every day when in london going home. one name on the monument is Jesse James
By a strenuous effort the officers succeeded in getting the men again under control, and when daylight came they seized the first position which presented itself, and which was about two miles short of the original goal. They were forced to take advantage of the first kopje, as Boer scouts were all round them, and the day was ushered in with desultory firing.bertram mackennal
ù It was a sorry position which they had chosen, and the men were in a sorrier plight. All their reserve ammunition was gone, and though they had saved pieces of the screw-guns, they were not able with these pieces to patch up a single mounting.

"The position itself was a flat kopje commanded on the south by a self-contained 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-contained ridge of the position which lay on the south side. The Irish Fusiliers had the precipitous flank to defend.

"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 under a cross-fire from two directions, flank and rear. The two companies of Gloucesters holding the self-contained ridge were driven from their shelter, and as they crossed the open on the lower plateau were terribly mauled, the men falling in groups. The Boers on the west had not yet declared themselves, but about 200 marksmen climbed to the position which the two companies of the Gloucesters had just vacated. These men absolutely raked the plateau, and it was then that the men were ordered to take cover on the steep reverse of the kopje. As soon as the enemy realised this move, the men on the western hill teemed on to the summit and opened upon our men as they lay on the slope. They were absolutely hemmed in, and what had commenced as a skirmish seemed about to become a butchery. The grim order was passed round—'Faugh-a-Ballaghs, fix your bayonets and die like men!' There was the clatter of steel, the moment of suspense, and then the 'Cease fire' sounded. Again and again it sounded, but the Irish Fusiliers were loth to accept the call, and continued firing for many minutes. Then it was unconditional surrender and the men laid down their arms."

boers with captured guns

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