The 2nd Battalion sailed on the Yorkshire about 19th October 1899, and arrived at Durban about 14th November. Along with the 2nd Devons, 2nd West Yorkshire, and 2nd East Surrey, they formed the 2nd Brigade under Major General H Hildyard.
Before the brigade landed at Durban, Ladysmith had been invested and Estcourt threatened. No time, therefore, was lost in pushing the men to the front. The brigade formed a most important part of the Natal Field Force, taking part in practically all the engagements fought with the object of relieving Ladysmith.
About 18th November it was seen that there was a chance of the Boers cutting in between Estcourt and Mooi River. Accordingly the 2nd West Yorks were sent to Willow Grange, about six or seven miles down the line from Estcourt; but General Hildyard thought it would be too dangerous to have the battalion there, so he brought them back, and Joubert's men occupied a position west of Willow Grange on the 20th. General Hildyard determined not to leave them there in peace. On the 22nd he occupied Beacon Hill, half-way between Estcourt and the Boer position, with half of the 2nd Queen's, the 2nd West Yorks, seven companies 2nd East Surrey, and the Durham Light Infantry, a naval 12-pounder and the 7th Battery RFA, the whole under Colonel W Kitchener, whose orders were to attack the Boer position on the night of the 22nd. Half of the 1st Border Regiment were to assist from Estcourt.
The 2nd West Yorks led the attack and were the last to retire, suffering most of the casualties. The East Surrey were in the second line, the Border Regiment and 2nd Queen's being in reserve. After lying some hours in a downpour of rain our men advanced and stormed the Boer position, but the enemy had removed their guns. It was not intended to hold the hill, and while Colonel Kitchener's troops were retiring Boer riflemen reoccupied the crest and were able to do a good deal of damage. However, Sir Redvers Buller stated that "the operations resulted in a strategical success of the greatest value". The enemy's force, "7000 men, led by the commandant-general in person", was so severely handled that they returned "at once to Colenso in a manner that was more a rout than a retreat". Civilian critics have found fault with the handling of the reserves and artillery, and it does seem the case that neither did quite as much as they might have done to keep down the enemy's rifle-fire during the retirement. The 7th Battery RFA seems to have been kept unnecessarily far back and to have been withdrawn too quickly. The next time our artillery were to be in action they were to err on the other side, and were to be found too close to the enemy's rifles. Our total losses were approximately 13 men killed, 1 officer and 64 men wounded, and 1 officer, Major Hobbes, and 7 men prisoners, mostly through staying behind to look after the dead and wounded.
General Buller now devoted all attention to massing his troops about Frere and Chieveley. By 14th December this was accomplished, his force consisting of the 2nd Brigade (Hildyard's), 4th Brigade (Lyttelton's), 5th or Irish Brigade (Fitzroy Hart's), 6th or Fusilier Brigade (Barton's). The following mounted troops: 1st Royal Dragoons, 13th Hussars, South African Light Horse, Natal Carabiniers, Imperial Light Horse; Bethune's Mounted Infantry, Thorneycroft's Mounted Infantry, one company King's Royal Rifles Mounted Infantry, one company Dublin Fusiliers Mounted Infantry. The following artillery: two (47) naval guns, manned by men of the Terrible and Natal Volunteers, two 12-pounder naval guns from the Tartar, and ten from the Terrible. The 7th, 14th, 64th, 66th, and 73rd Batteries RFA and 17th company Royal Engineers.
On 13th and 14th December the Boer positions round Colenso were shelled but no response was made. On the 15th the attack was launched and failed. General Buller in his despatch stated that he intended that Hart's brigade on the left should cross at the Bridle Drift, up the Tugela from the Colenso Bridge; Hildyard in the centre should cross at the bridge, Lyttelton being between Hart and Hildyard to support either as occasion required. Barton on the right to move near Hlangwane Mountain, which, although on the south or near side of the river, was known to be held by the enemy. Dundonald's mounted troops were to seize that mountain, whence "he will enfilade the kopjes north of the bridge".
Major General Hart seems to have kept his troops too long in close order, at any rate before extending they came under a heavy rifle-fire and suffered severely. Notwithstanding this, they opened out and advanced towards the river in the most gallant way. No drift was found. General Buller says: "I heard afterwards that a dam had been thrown below it and the water made too deep. Watching Hart's advance, I saw his troops pressing on into the salient loop of the river. I saw at once that if he got there he would be under a severe cross-fire, and sent to tell him to recall them. In the interval he had become heavily engaged, and I sent two battalions of General Lyttelton's brigade and Colonel Parson's brigade division, RFA, two batteries, 64th and 73rd, to help extricate him. This they did, and subsequently, as ordered, came to the right to support the main advance". The Irish Brigade actually reached the edge of the river. Some men, plunging in with reckless bravery, were drowned; and it is said in some unofficial accounts that a few actually got across to find themselves in a maze of Boer trenches on the north side, but of this there is some doubt.
While the Irish Brigade was advancing on the supposed drift General Hildyard's 2nd Brigade was moving on the bridge. According to all accounts, they were handled in the most faultless way. In his despatch General Buller says: "General Hildyard was advancing on the bridge, and as I was proceeding in that direction to superintend the attack and also ascertain what Colonel Long's brigade division (RFA), which was heavily engaged on the right, was doing, I received a message that he had been driven from his guns by superior infantry-fire. I believed at the moment that the six naval guns had shared the same fate, and that without guns it would be impossible for me to force the passage. I directed General Hildyard to divert the right of his two leading battalions to the east of the railway and direct it upon the guns, his left battalion to advance on Colenso but not to become too hotly engaged". It was difficult to restrain officers and men who did not know all that was passing in the mind of the Commander-in-Chief, and the 2nd Queen's and 2nd Devons actually pushed into and held Colenso village. This was the farthest point the infantry were destined to reach. The general's attention was now engrossed with Colonel Long's artillery, which instead of a help had become a hindrance, or at least a responsibility. In General Clery's orders occurs the sentence, "No 1 Division, RFA, less one battery detached to the Mounted Brigade, will move at 3.30 am east of railway, and proceed under cover of the 6th Brigade to a point from which it can prepare a crossing for the 2nd Brigade (Hildyard's). The six naval guns will accompany and act with the brigade division". Colonel Long, acting outwith those instructions, took his field batteries away from their infantry and away from the naval guns, "and coming into action under Fort Wylie, a commanding trebly intrenched hill, at a range of 1200 yards, and I believe within 300 yards of the enemy's rifle-pits". The result was that the 14th and 66th Batteries were put out of action, the gunners being mostly killed or wounded. In his despatch General Buller says, "The men fought their guns like heroes and silenced Fort Wylie; but the issue could never have been in doubt, and gradually they were all shot down". Many attempts were made to withdraw the guns of the 14th and 66th Batteries. Captain Scho-field, RA, Captain Congreve, Rifle Brigade, Lieutenant the Honourable F Roberts, King's Royal Rifles, and Captain H L Reed of the 7th Battery with drivers did all that men could do. The severity of the fire may be gauged by the fact that Lieutenant Roberts was hit in three places, dying of his wounds; Captain Reed was wounded; with him were 13 men, 1 of whom was killed and 5 wounded; Captain Congreve was hit in four places and his horse in three places. These three and Corporal Nurse, 66th Battery, were recommended for the VC, and Captain Schofield subsequently also got the cross. Two guns were rescued but ten were left. Fortunately the naval guns, not being quite so far forward as the 14th and 66th Batteries, were got away by hand. When the general saw that further attempts to rescue the guns would only result in loss of life he ordered a retirement. This was carried out with little molestation, the big naval guns keeping down the enemy's shell-fire.
Towards the close of his despatch General Buller remarks: "Considering the intense heat, the conduct and bearing of the troops was excellent. I especially noticed the Royal West Surrey, the Devonshire, and the Border Regiments, but all were good". Our losses were approximately 9 officers and 140 men killed, 45 officers and 709 men wounded, and 21 officers and 220 men missing or prisoners. The 2nd Queen's had 2 officers wounded, 3 men killed and 88 wounded (4 of these died next day).
The battle of Colenso has given rise to much discussion and criticism. Three points are difficult to explain:—
(a) Looking to the position of Hlangwane, from which the Colenso trenches could, as admitted in General Clery's orders, be enfiladed and in fact rendered untenable, why did General Barton's brigade not give some more effective assistance to Lord Dundonald in the gallant effort he and his irregulars made to take the hill? With a river in their rear it does appear unlikely that the Boers would have made a very desperate defence of the hill.
In his despatch of 14th March 1900, describing the last and successful attempt to relieve Ladysmith, General Buller says: "Ever since the enemy occupied positions round Ladysmith they have always maintained a very strong force on the south bank of the Tugela, east of Colenso, about the Hlangwane Mountain. I examined this position several times in December, as, had I been able to take it, it was evident its possession would confer great advantages. I decided that its capture was a task altogether beyond the power of the force I then commanded". The words "in December"presumably mean after the battle of Colenso, as to take the mountain could not possibly have been more difficult than to assault the Boer position at Colenso frontally with a deep and practically unfordable river in its front. While assuming the latter position to have been taken by him, Sir Redvers does not say what he would then have done if the Boers had continued to occupy in force a hill which commanded the Colenso position. 'Arm-chair criticism' is easy, and 'wisdom after the event' is not a valuable asset at any time, and perhaps all that should be said here is that it is difficult to reconcile
1. The views expressed in paragraphs 6 and 7 of General Clery's orders;
2. The fact that General Barton's brigade did not make any serious effort to take Hlangwane;
3. The views expressed in paragraphs 1 and 2 of the despatch of 14th March;
4. The fact that Hlangwane was ultimately taken with comparatively slight loss.
(b) Why did Colonel Long press forward so far? He had commanded the artillery in the Soudan, and there had done well; but one is tempted to think that our experience with savages does us harm, not good. Mr Bennet Burleigh describes some practice in Egypt with 5-inch howitzers against a wall, the ranges mentioned being 750 yards and 350 yards. Unless against an enemy armed only with fowling-pieces or bows and arrows, it is impossible to conceive circumstances in which such practice would be of any practical use. That Colonel Long's 'theory' was to press in is vouched for by Mr J B Atkins in his most excellent account of Colenso, than which there is none fairer. Colonel Long's theory may have worked out against the dervishes, but how an officer, after Talana Hill and Sir George White's three battles, could still dream of taking a battery within 1500 yards of Boer rifle-trenches as a first start in his artillery work, is absolutely inexplicable.
(c) It has been said, with some apparent reason, that the guns could have been got away with little loss if General Buller had been content to remain on the field till dusk. There was no desperate hurry to go back to Chieveley camp. The army had not had a long march before coming into action, and if General Buller had asked his men, or part of them, to keep the ground they had won, or something approaching that, till dusk, it does seem likely the guns would have been brought out by hand, if not otherwise, and certain units, such as the Devons and Royal Scots Fusiliers, who lost prisoners through not timeously getting the command 'to retire', would have escaped that loss.
On 11th November orders had been given that the Vth Division should be mobilised, the commander being Sir Charles Warren. The first two regiments to sail, the 2nd Warwicks and 1st Yorkshire, were taken to Cape Colony and put under General French, then greatly in need of infantry for his operations in the Colesberg district. The other six battalions came round to Natal, arriving between 20th December and 5th January. After Colenso General Buller decided to await the arrival of Sir C Warren's force before making a fresh move. Otherwise no time was lost. On 8th January orders were issued which betokened that the next attempt to relieve Ladysmith would be by crossing the Tugela to our left, or west of the Boer lines. General Barton's Fusilier Brigade, the 6th, was to be left in charge of the rail-head and the camps at Chieveley and Frere. With him remained some mounted troops, part of the South African Light Horse and Bethune's Mounted Infantry, and one squadron 14th Hussars, six naval 12-pounder guns, and the remnants of the 14th and 66th Batteries.
The troops marching to Springfield were the 2nd Division under Clery, consisting of the brigades of Hildyard and Hart. The Vth Division under Warren, consisting of the 4th Brigade (Lyttelton), and the 11th or Lancashire Brigade (Woodgate), the 10th Brigade, 2nd Dorset, 2nd Middlesex, and temporarily the 2nd Somerset Light Infantry, and the Imperial Light Infantry raised in Natal: cavalry under Lord Dun-donald, consisting of the 13th Hussars, 1st Royal Dragoons, part of the South African Light Horse, Thorneycroft's Mounted Infantry, part of Bethune's Mounted Infantry, some regular Mounted Infantry, one squadron Natal Carabiniers, one squadron Imperial Light Horse, Colt Battery, four guns. The following artillery: two 47 and eight 12-pounder naval guns; the 7th, 63rd, 64th, 73rd, 78th, 19th, 28th, Batteries RFA, 61st Howitzer Battery RFA, and 4th Mountain Battery.
The troops marched off on the 9th, but were greatly impeded by torrential rain, which made the road a quagmire and rendered the spruits passable only with great difficulty. On the 11th the mounted troops seized Spearman's Hill, commanding Potgeiter's Drift. On the 13th the force was massed at Springfield and Spearman's. Supply having been got up, General Warren was ordered by Sir Redvers Buller to move to Trichard's Drift, six miles up the river from Potgeiter's. Warren took the Hnd and Vth Divisions and 10th Brigade, the Mounted Brigade, and practically all the artillery except the naval guns. Lyttelton's brigade was left to hold Spearman's Hill and Potgeiter's Drift.
A quotation from Lord Roberts' despatch of 13th February 1900 will best show what was intended to be done: "The pIan of operations is not very clearly described in the despatches themselves, but it may be gathered from them and the accompanying documents themselves that the original intention was to cross the Tugela at or near Trichard's Drift, and thence, by following the road past ' Fair View' and ' Acton Homes’, to gain the open plain north of Spion Kop, the Boer position in front of Potgeiter's Drift being too strong to be taken by direct attack. The whole force, less one brigade, was placed under the orders of Sir Charles Warren, who, the day after he had crossed the Tugela, seems to have consulted his general and principal staff officers, and to have come to the conclusion that the flanking movement which Sir Redvers Buller had mentioned in his secret instructions was impracticable on account of the insufficiency of supplies. He accordingly decided to advance by the more direct road leading north-east, and branching off from a point east of ' Three-Tree Hill.' The selection of this road necessitated the capture and retention of ' Spion Kop'; but whether it would have been equally necessary to occupy ' Spion Kop’, had the line of advance indicated by Sir Redvers Buller been followed, is not stated in the correspondence".
In his despatch of 30th January 1900 Sir Redvers Buller says: "The arrival of the force at Trichard's was a surprise to the enemy, who were not in strength. Sir C Warren, instead of feeling for the enemy, elected to spend two whole days in passing his baggage. During this time the enemy received reinforcements and strengthened his position. On the 19th he attacked and gained a considerable advantage. On the 20th, instead of pursuing it, he divided his force, and gave General Clery a separate command". The same despatch contained further very severe criticisms of Sir C Warren's conduct of the operations. It is no part of the purpose of this book to indicate any opinion on the points at issue between these two generals. Much might be said on both sides. It will be sufficient to quote another sentence from the despatch of Lord Roberts, para 7: "The attempt to relieve Lady-smith described in these despatches was well devised, and I agree with Sir Redvers Buller in thinking that it ought to have succeeded. That it failed may in some measure be due to the difficulties of the ground and the commanding positions held by the enemy, probably also to errors of judgment and want of administrative capacity on the part of Sir Charles Warren.
But whatever fault Sir Charles Warren may have committed, the failure must also be ascribed to the disinclination of the officer in supreme command to assert his authority and see that what he thought best was done, and also to the unwarrantable and needless assumption of responsibility by a subordinate officer". The last clause refers, of course, to the evacuation of Spion Kop by Major Thorneycroft.
On the evening of the 19th, after Sir Charles Warren decided that the road by Acton Homes was too long, that he could not "refuse his right", and that he should take the more direct road to Lady smith, via Fair View, he ordered General Woodgate, with the Lancashire Brigade, to seize "Three-Tree Hill", near the point where the Fair View road leaves the Acton Homes road. This was successfully done during the night. On the morning of the 20th his force was disposed roughly as follows: On the extreme left guarding the flank was Dundonald's Cavalry, which early on the 20th seized a hill, known as Bastion Hill or Conical Hill, a position of great importance, as from it the enemy could have enfiladed our force from the left with artillery. Next to the cavalry, and supporting them on the 20th, was Hildyard's Brigade; in the centre was Hart's Irish Brigade, and on the British right was Wood gate's Lancashire Brigade holding Three-Tree Hill. At this flank the artillery were posted.
On the 20th the fighting was most severe on the right, especially about the right centre. Sir Francis Clery acted as divisional commander here, and his report is given in the published despatches. Before evening a number of ridges had been taken, and that night the enemy evacuated a further portion of their position. On the left the 2nd Brigade occupied the hill which the cavalry had boldly seized. That brigade had no casualties on the 20th.
On the 21st it was found that although Clery's division had won much ground, what they had gained was commanded by higher ridges which the Boers still held in great force, and which were very closely trenched. Between the two positions was a bare glacis. A frontal attack would have been attended with enormous loss. This part of the Boer position was subjected all the 21st and 22nd to a very heavy artillery and long-range rifle fire, but no substantial gain was made on these days. From the 19th till the 25th, when Spion Kop was evacuated, our artillery were under the disadvantage that much of the Boer position was invisible from the ground on which it was possible to post our guns. On the 21st the 2nd Brigade were heavily engaged. General Hildyard made an effort to seize a position which would cut the Boer line in two. Colonel W Kitchener was placed in command of a force consisting of the 2nd Queen's, 2nd West Yorks, and 2nd East Surrey. These troops were able to gain some ground, but without much advantage, as here, as on the right, they found between the positions gained and the Boer trenches a glacis which they could not cross, although some gallant attempts were made. That day the Queen's lost 1 officer and four men killed, and 5 officers and 31 men wounded; the casualties of the West Yorkshires being somewhat similar.
On the 22nd and 23rd the British held the ground already gained, and there was some desultory firing, but no attempt to fight closely. On the 22nd it had been decided that Spion Kop, which seemed to be the key of the Boer position, must be taken. Taken it was on the night of the 23rd (see 2nd Royal Lancaster Regiment). It was held all the 24th, notwithstanding very great losses, but it was abandoned that night. Recognising that his second attempt to relieve Ladysmith had failed, on the 25th Sir Redvers Buller decided to withdraw across the Tugela, and this was accomplished by 4 am on the 27th.
Within a few days General Buller was to commence his third attempt to relieve Ladysmith. On 3rd February preparations were being made for an attack on Vaal Krantz, a hill some little distance down the river from Brakfontein. On the 5th General Lyttelton's 4th Brigade, assisted by the 2nd Devons from Hildyard, captured the position, and held it that day and the next day under a very heavy fire. So far as the nature of the ground would admit defences were made or improved. On the afternoon of the 6th the Boers made a determined attempt to retake the hill, and the farthest out line was driven in, but the enemy were eventually repulsed. On the evening of the 6th General Hildyard's 2nd Brigade relieved the 4th Brigade. The 2nd Queen's held the left facing Brakfontein, the East Surrey the centre, and the West Yorkshire the right; the 2nd Devons being in reserve on the inner slope. "Linesman "in his marvellously graphic account of this action, in which he was present with the 2nd Devons, says, "The Queen's, whom no artillery in the world would move, suffered heavily up on the left crest, keeping their discipline, than which there is none finer in the British Army, intact under an absolutely ceaseless visitation of projectiles". On the evening of the 7th General Buller, being satisfied that the character of the ground prevented intrench-ments and gun-emplacements from being made on the hill, withdrew the 2nd Brigade, and his third attempt ceased.
At Vaal Krantz the Queen's had about 25 men wounded.
The army now marched back to Chieveley, Colonel Burn-Murdoch's cavalry brigade and two battalions of infantry being left to guard Springfield Bridge.
General Buller's next move was to be by the Boer left, via Hussar Hill, Cingolo, Monte Cristo, Hlang-wane; the possession of the last - named mountain would, it was clear, render untenable Fort Wylie and the trenches near Colenso.
On the 12th February Lord Dundonald with the South African Light Horse and other troops reconnoitred Hussar Hill. On the morning of the 14th the hill was seized by Lord Dundonald's men and the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. The other brigades were put in position for a further advance. To Hart's brigade fell the duty of protecting the rail-head and the big naval guns near Chieveley. Two 5-inch guns, five naval 12-pounders, and other guns were got into position on Hussar Hill. On the 17th Lord Dundonald's mounted men, a regiment of Mounted Infantry, and the South African Light Horse, forming the extreme right of the army, moved away to the eastward, then circling back, came in on the east side or end of Cingolo. Dismounting, they led their horses through thick bush up the precipitous side; when they reached the top they were fired on, but the Boer garrison did not stand. Hild-yard's men were on the left of Dundonald, the Queen's being next him, and simultaneously attacked on his inner flank, arriving at the top about the same time; the 2nd Queen's leading and "bivouacking that night on the northern crests "of Cingolo. During the night a field battery was with infinite labour hauled up to the top of the mountain by Hildyard's men. The toil was, for their own sakes, well spent, as its fire was to be invaluable next day.
On the 18th the advance continued, Dundonald again out on the right flank; Hildyard's brigade advancing along the neck between Cingolo and Monte Cristo, "the steep crags of which were brilliantly carried, after considerable resistance, by the West Yorkshire and Queen's Regiments". l General Lyttel-ton now sent forward the 4th Brigade, who advanced on Hildyard's left, and General Warren moved up the 6th, Barton's Fusilier Brigade. "The position was well carried by the Royal Scots Fusiliers and abandoned precipitately by the enemy, who left a large quantity of materiel, many dead and wounded, and a few prisoners behind them".
On the 19th General Hart moved forward from Chieveley towards Colenso; Barton's brigade took Hlangwane Mountain, and that night the Boers abandoned the last of their positions on the south of the Tugela. In his telegraphic despatch of the 20th General Buller said: "The energy and dash of the troops have been very pleasant to see, and all have done well. The work of the irregular cavalry, the Queen's, the Royal Scots Fusiliers, and the Rifle Brigade was perhaps most noticeable". He also mentioned the artillery and naval guns. The 20th was spent in making roads, getting heavy guns up, and in other preparations for crossing the river.
On the 21st a bridge was put across the Tugela, and General Coke's 10th Brigade, Dorsets, Middlesex, and Somerset Light Infantry, crossed and occupied some kopjes on the north bank. The Somersets got into a nasty place commanded by Boer positions, about Grobelar's Kloof, at short range, and lost heavily.
On Thursday, 22nd, many more regiments and much artillery crossed by the bridge. Sir Redvers Buller had made up his mind to follow the railway line in attacking the Boer position. Roughly that position was as follows: On their right they held the mountain called Grobelar's, on which they had strong defensive works. It was unassailable. East of Grobelar's, but west of the line, are numerous little hills and at least three big ones. The "Hog-backed"Hill and another to the east of it, which seems tQ have been called Terrace Hill, Hart's Hill, or Inniskilling Hill; east of Terrace Hill, and separated by a nek which the Colenso-Nelthorpe Road crosses, is Railway Hill; east of Railway Hill, and separated from it by a ravine, is Pieter's Hill. Up this ravine the railway to Pieter's passes. On the afternoon of the 22nd Wynne's brigade, Royal Lancaster, South Lancashire, and composite Rifle Battalion, mostly reservists destined for the Ladysmith garrison, assisted by other battalions, took various hills "which covered the railway bridge over the Onder-brook Spruit and commanded the country between that and Langerwachte Spruit. The fighting was very severe. Our principal objective was a long hog-backed hill running N and S, which completely commands the valley of the Langerwachte Spruit". l These hills are to the right front, or north-east of the kopjes taken by Coke on the 21st. Wynne's men actually took the crest of the hog-backed hill, but were driven off it and had to be content to hold a position on the south end. Other positions were taken, and had to be abandoned on account of the fire from Grobelar's; indeed on the positions which we retained every man had to lie flat behind his rock or sangar. A lifted head instantly brought bullets, while shells were coming from all directions. Major General Wynne was wounded this day. Things seemed as bad as at Vaal Krantz. On the night of the 22nd the 11th Brigade was relieved by the 2nd Brigade and by the Royal Fusiliers and Royal Welsh Fusiliers. During the night the sangars were improved. Apart from their work on the sangars our men could get no sleep, because the Boers fiercely attacked the positions we had taken, creeping up close to the lines and pouring in a tremendous rifle-fire. These attacks were fortunately all repulsed.
On the afternoon of the 23rd General Hart, with the 1st Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, Connaught Rangers, Dublin Fusiliers, and Imperial Light Infantry, was sent forward to assault a "high steep hill"on the east side of Langerwachte Spruit, "which was very strongly fortified and protected by extremely strong flank defences". General Lyttelton with the Durham Light Infantry, 2nd Rifle Brigade, and part of the Scottish Rifles supported General Hart. The attacking regiments were the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, the Con-naught Rangers, and half the Royal Dublin Fusiliers. "The attack was delivered with the utmost gallantry, but the men failed to reach the top of the hill. The regiments suffered severely, but their loss was not unproductive; their gallantry secured for us the lower sangars, and a position at the foot of the hill which ensured our ultimate success". General Buller states that the regiments intended to support the two and a half battalions were late of coming up, but it is doubtful if more men would have made any difference beyond a larger casualty list. Unofficial accounts state there was not room for more to advance in the attacking line without crowding. On the 24th there was heavy artillery and rifle firing, but no important change in the positions occupied. Some of the Irishmen were withdrawn from their sangars on Terrace Hill and relieved by Durham Light Infantry. On Sunday, the 25th, a truce was suggested by General Buller, and agreed to by the Boers, for the purpose of burying the dead and taking in the wounded, many of whom had been lying for about forty hours between the trenches of the Boers and our own sangars. During this day General Buller took steps to carry out a different method of attacking the Boer position. To the right of the hill attacked by Hart were two others already mentioned. An attempt was to be made to capture these, and at same time renew the assault on Hart's Hill. To this end the artillery were rearranged, many big guns being placed on the lofty Monte Cristo, a new road was made, and a pontoon bridge thrown across the Tugela lower down. In the meantime the positions we had gained on the left had to be kept, but part of the army had to recross the river and make for the new bridge below. On the 26th the whole of the artillery fired at the enemy's position until every gun knew the exact ranges of its objectives. On the 27th the closing scene of the long-drawn-out drama was to be enacted. In the morning General Barton with the Royal Irish Fusiliers, Royal Scots Fusiliers, and Royal Dublin Fusiliers crossed the new bridge, and going down the river-bank, got into position to scale the cliff-like sides of Pieter's Hill, the eastmost of the three hills. Working up the steep face, sometimes on hands and knees, Barton's men gained the top and turned inwards or westwards, but found themselves much harassed by a heavy fire from Boers in a donga and on another crest, a false left wing still further east. This did not, however, seriously affect the general movement. As soon as General Barton's men were across the pontoon bridge a brigade under Major General F W Kitchener marched over. It was composed of the 2nd Royal Lancaster, 2nd West Yorkshire, 1st South Lancashire, and the 1st York and Lancaster. The West Yorkshire captured Railway Hill. The Royal Lancaster were intended to take part in this bit of the work, but "seeing the main position, Terrace Hill, on their left front, went straight at it, and were stopped by a heavy fire from the sangars in the valley". Major General Kitchener threw in the South Lancashires on the right of the Royal Lancaster, and the York and Lancasters on the right of the South Lancashires. The sangars in the hollow were carried, and the three Lancashire regiments gained the summit and "the day was won". In this final assault they were much helped by the 4th Brigade working from the west; indeed men of the two brigades seem to have gained the summit almost simultaneously. During the day most of the 2nd Brigade had been holding the hills about the east of Grobelars and between the Onderbrook and Langerwachte Spruits, which had been captured on the 22nd and 23rd. In his despatch General Buller remarks that brigades were sadly mixed because of the impossibility of withdrawing men from advanced positions in daylight.
Next day the road to Ladysmith was found open. There are very few instances in history where troops have had a harder spell of marching, climbing, and fighting than the Natal Army between 13th and 27th February. Practically every rifle and gun in the force was in use every one of the fourteen days, except on the 25th, during the twelve hours' armistice. The strain on all was tremendous, but was nobly borne. In closing his despatch, a plain unvarnished record of a magnificent piece of work, the general says, para 61: "So was accomplished the relief of Ladysmith. It was the men who did it. Danger and hardship were nothing to them, and their courage, their tenacity, and their endurance were beyond all praise".
The casualties of the 2nd Queen's during the fourteen days' fighting were approximately 7 men killed, 7 officers and 120 men wounded.
After the 1st of March 1900 the force which relieved Ladysmith, as well as the garrison, had a well-deserved two months' rest. The 2nd Brigade were moved out to near Sunday's River, north of Ladysmith, about which place they lay till the beginning of May, having a peaceful time, with the exception of a shelling on the 10th April from guns which the enemy had been allowed to place on the hills within range of the camp. On 7th May General Buller commenced his northward march. The infantry of the column consisted of the 2nd and 4th Brigades. The 2nd Brigade had lost its brigadier, he having been appointed to command the Vth Division; but the Queen's had the gratification of seeing their colonel, E O F Hamilton, raised to the command of the brigade.
Sweeping away far to the right, General Buller on 13th May found himself opposite the extreme left of the Boer position on the Biggarsberg. Hills were seized by Colonel Bethune and Lord Dundonald, and occupied by the 2nd Brigade, who drove the enemy from the position, the Boers making a very contemptible stand. After this it was a pursuit only till Ingogo was reached on the 19th, and it was there found that the Boers were holding a very strongly intrenched position on Laing's Nek. General Buller sat down opposite this to await the repair of the railway, up which General Hildyard with the Vth Division was advancing. On 28th May that general and General Lyttleton both crossed the Buffalo River and moved on Utrecht, which surrendered. Their forces thereafter returned to the neighbourhood of Laing's Nek. On 5th June General Buller commenced a series of operations designed to turn the nek. On the 6th General Hildyard directed General Coke with the 10th Brigade, South African Light Horse, and 13th Battery to seize and occupy a commanding hill, Van Wyk. This was done, and heavy naval guns with infinite labour were dragged to the top during the night. On the 8th General Hildyard with the 11th (Lancashire) Brigade, the 2nd Brigade, cavalry, and guns, assisted by the artillery on Van Wyk, attacked and carried Botha's Pass over the Drakensberg. On the 9th the baggage was hauled up. On the 10th the force moved forward, sighting the enemy. On the 11th was fought the brilliant little action of Alleman's Nek. The infantry engaged were the 2nd Brigade and Coke's 10th Brigade, now the Middlesex, Dorsets, and 1st Dublins. The pass crosses a nek between two hills. These were strongly held. After a heavy shelling from our artillery the position was attacked. The left hill by the 2nd Brigade, Queen's leading; the right hill by the 10th Brigade, Dorsets leading; the cavalry meanwhile being heavily engaged on either flank, about seven miles apart. By sundown the enemy had fled and the position was ours, but at some cost, our total loss being 3 officers and 20 men killed, and 5 officers and 114 men wounded.
The advance of the leading infantry battalions in the face of a very heavy rifle and artillery fire has been greatly praised.
The 2nd Queen's lost approximately 1 killed and 26 wounded.
That night the miles of intrenchments, hewn or blasted, in the solid rock at Laing's Nek were evacuated.
Two officers, a colour-sergeant, and a private of the Queen's were mentioned in General Buller's despatch of 19th June 1900.
The Natal Army now spread itself about that part of the Transvaal which lies north of the Natal border and of the Vaal River. On 24th June General Clery occupied Standerton. The 2nd Brigade was not, as a brigade, to be in any more big battles; but the battalions, as garrisons on the Natal-Elandsfontein Railway and as helping to furnish the infantry of endless columns, were still to suffer no little hardship and see much fighting before taking off their armour. The 2nd Queen's had taken such a distinguished part in so many big engagements that to recount their garrison and trekking work is needless, had it been possible. Because they did their task well their casualty list henceforth was not large, and they never were in serious trouble. During the latter part of 1901 four companies were the infantry of Colonel Rimington's column, which did very good work in the north of the Orange River Colony.
In his despatch of 30th March 1900, with list of officers commended, General Buller, after mentioning Colonel E O F Hamilton, said, "His battalion has done conspicuously well in action, in camp, and on the march". Six officers and 11 non-commissioned officers and men were mentioned in the same despatch, and 3 men were recommended for the distinguished conduct medal. One officer and 4 men were mentioned by Sir C Warren for great gallantry on 21st January at Venter's Spruit.
To Colour-Sergeant Ferrett, as one of the best all-round infantry men taking part in the campaign, was awarded one of the four scarves knitted by her late Majesty.
In General Buller's final despatch of 9th November 1900, 8 officers and 6 non-commissioned officers were mentioned. In Lord Roberts' final despatch 16 officers and 17 non-commissioned officers and men were mentioned; and 1 officer, 1 non-commissioned officer, and 2 privates gained mention by Lord Kitchener during the war, and in his final despatch 4 officers and 6 non-commissioned officers and men were mentioned.
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