Damant's Horse

Rimington's Guides were raised in South Africa at the outbreak of the war by Major M F Rimington, 6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons, who had been on special service in South Africa prior to the commencement of hostilities. As far as numbers go they were not strong, but for quality, officers and men could not be surpassed. The corps was fortunate in that it produced its own author—one can scarcely say historian,—for Mr March-Phillipps gives in his 'With Rimington' not so much a formal record of work as an exquisite series of pictures, showing in every line insight into men in all fields - warlike or peaceful - great power of observation, and a graphic force and directness that are a treasure. His first letter is dated 18th November 1899, from Orange River Camp, just before Lord Methuen set out from that starting-point. In it he says: "It is lucky for our corps that it has in its leader a man after its own heart; a man who, though an imperial officer, cares very little for discipline or etiquette for their own sakes, who does not automatically assert the authority of his office, but talks face to face with his men, and asserts rather the authority of his own will and force of character. They are much more ready to knock under to the man than they would be to the mere officer. In his case they feel that the leader by office and the leader by nature are united, and that is just what they want".

At that time the corps numbered about 150, but as even then many were detached to act as guides with different units, only about 100 remained with their leader.

In November 1899 the corps showed their grit and confidence by undertaking an expedition to Prieska, which had the effect of temporarily stifling the rebellious spirit in that district. Prior to the battle of Belmont, 23rd November, much patrol and reconnaissance work was done. The corps were present at that battle on the extreme right; at Enslin or Graspan on the 25th, again on the right; at Modder River on the 28th, on the left, being among the first troops to cross the river; at Magersfontein on the 10th and 11th December, again on the left. All of these were mainly infantry battles, but the few mounted men at Lord Methuen's disposal had very hard work scouting before each engagement and watching the flanks and otherwise helping during the fighting.

After Magersfontein the main body of the Guides, about 175 strong, with their leader was taken south to the Colesberg district to assist General French, a section under Lieutenant Chester-Master being left at Modder River Camp to act as eyes to Lord Methuen.

General French was not long in discovering the worth of Major Rimington and his detachment. On 1st January 1900 the Berkshire Regiment attacked and captured a hill—part of the Colesberg defences; a body of the enemy—about 1000 strong—in the afternoon made a counter-attack on the British right at Jasfontein, attempting also to outflank it, but this was frustrated by the Carbineers and Major Rimington's men. Rimington with his detachment, a squadron of cavalry and a company of New Zealand MR, was afterwards sent to Kleinfontein, an isolated position, in touch with the enemy, which they held successfully. General French mentioned Major Rimington in his despatch as to the Colesberg operations.

Rimington and his men were brought up to Modder River early in February 1900 to assist in Lord Roberts' big movements. The corps was distributed among the various columns. The company which had been at Colesberg and their leader accompanied General French in the cavalry rush to Kimberley; some of the Guides claim they were the first men in. Chester-Master's section did not start with French, but made up to him at the drift on the Modder; however, they were left behind to guide the Mounted Infantry and 6th Division. Fortunately they used their eyes as soldiers should, and discovered a train of waggons trekking eastwards — Cronje bolting from Magersfontein, — and Chester-Master lost not a moment in sending to hurry up the Mounted Infantry, and in reporting to Lord Kitchener, who sent him through to Kimberley with orders for General French (see Roberts' Horse).

On the march to Bloemfontein and at the fighting at Paardeberg, Poplar Grove, and Driefontein, the corps was able to be of good service, as will be seen from the mentions gained. Among many other pieces of fine work accomplished, Rimington and about 60 of his men, pushing to the very front as usual, were able to afford assistance to Major Scobell of the Greys when the latter with a weak squadron seized a hill commanding Bloemfontein on the night of 12th March.

A portion of the corps was in Broadwood's mishap at Sannah's Post, and lost several killed and wounded (see Roberts' Horse). The Guides were on the right rear, and assisted to keep back Piet de Wet's attack from the north. Had they been in advance of the convoy, no doubt the disaster would never have taken place. As it was, their services were valuable.

The corps was in the advance to Pretoria. At the capture of Brandfort and on other occasions their services were very valuable. At Kroonstad they were attached to Ian Hamilton (acting as his bodyguard). They were present at the battle of Doornkop (29th May), in which the 1st Gordons did so splendidly. Mr March-Phillipp's account of that battle is a most valuable contribution to the history of the war.

After the occupation of Pretoria the corps was sent east, and was present at Diamond Hill, 11th and 12th June 1900 (see also Canadian Mounted Rifles).

When the operations to clear the north-east of the Orange River Colony were begun, the greater part of the corps was part of Sir Archibald Hunter's force; and when De Wet and about 1500 men broke out of the Brandwater Basin on the night of 15th July, Sir Archibald Hunter sent Broadwood with the 2nd Cavalry Brigade and some Imperial Yeomanry in pursuit, so that Rimington's Guides and Lovat's Scouts had now to do an immense deal of scouting, and the work of both corps was frequently praised. In closing his despatch as to the surrounding and capture of Prinsloo's force, Sir Archibald Hunter said: "Rimington's Guides.—Major Rimington has gathered a body of men whose virtues are like his own. They can ride, see, fight, and shoot straight. They are in the forefront where there is danger. They have never disappointed me, let alone failed me".

A detachment, 27 strong, was with Colonel Brookfield when on 25th June 1900 he left Kroonstad with a big convoy for General Paget. The convoy was heavily attacked (see 4th South Australians), but got through successfully.

A portion of the corps remained in the Transvaal during July, and had fighting and casualties east of Pretoria. During the latter half of 1900 the bulk of Rimington's Guides were in the Orange River Colony doing hard work under Generals Hunter and Bruce Hamilton, and other leaders. During November their daring and skill were constantly referred to by correspondents.

On 16th January 1901 Major Rimington left the Guides to take another command. On taking leave of the corps Major Rimington gave them every praise for good work and bravery. "You are absolutely the finest class of men I could have had under me. I could not have wished for better, and every general under whom you have served has the highest opinion of you". By his men the commander had been always implicitly trusted, generally beloved, and sometimes feared. Of no leader in the campaign has a finer word-portrait been painted than that of 'Mike' Rimington by Mr March-Phillipps.

Rimington's Guides seem to have been paid off in January 1901, but they were resuscitated as Damant's Horse under one of their old leaders, Major Frederick Damant. In February 1901 the corps, still called officially Rimington's Guides, were along with General Bruce Hamilton's 21st Brigade in Cape Colony, helping to drive out De Wet. On 24th February they had several casualties at Strydenburg, including Captain T Harvey, mortally wounded. Soon after this Major Damant was put in command of a small column, including his own corps, which took part in the operations of Charles Knox and Bruce Hamilton between April and September 1901. In the despatch of 8th October Major Damant of Rimington's Guides' was mentioned "for very able command of a column in south of Orange River Colony, a most gallant and exceptionally good officer".

In September the column was taken to Heilbron. On the 13th October Major Damant engaged 300 Boers near Naude's Drift, on the Wilge River, and two days later encountered a commando 500 strong, under Commandants Ross and Hattingh, which he drove towards the Bothasberg. Among the prisoners taken on this occasion was Adjutant Theron. On the 25th Major Damant returned to Frankfort, bringing in with him 19 prisoners and much stock. At another place Lord Kitchener said, "Some minor night raids by Major Damant's corps have resulted in the capture of 12 other prisoners". In these affairs they escaped with comparatively few casualties, because their work was most skilfully carried through.

The despatch of 8th December 1901 contains the following passage, very flattering to the work of both the leaders mentioned: "Since the fifteenth of November successful operations have been carried out by Colonel Rimington and Major Damant, operating from Frankfort, along the valley of the Vaal. Frequent captures have been made by these officers, who have exhibited marked ability in adapting themselves to the peculiar methods of Boer warfare. It would be tedious, indeed, to give in detail the many minor successes which have rewarded their energy and ingenuity. The most important capture effected by Colonel Rimington was that of Commandant Buys, who fell into his hands after being wounded in a skirmish with a detachment of the Railway Pioneer Regiment, to whose assistance Colonel Rimington had gone".

In the despatch of 8th January 1902, after referring to De Wet's successful rushing of the camp of a Yeomanry battalion at Tweefontein, in the Harrismith district, in the early morning of 25th December 1901, Lord Kitchener said: "Another very determined attack was also made upon Lieutenant Colonel Damant's column in the vicinity of Tafel Kop, between Frankfort and Vrede. On the evening of the 19th December, this column, together with Colonel Rimington's troops, who had also moved from Heilbron to Frankfort, marched from the latter town towards Tafel Kop to cover the extension of the blockhouse line in that direction. They moved throughout the night by two parallel roads, some three miles apart, and to the north of the proposed line of blockhouses, and, after circling round Tafel Kop, were at daybreak in the vicinity of Bacchante Farm. Here a resolute attack was suddenly made by some 800 Boers, under General Wessels, upon Colonel Damant's advanced guard, who were deceived by the khaki disguise of the enemy, and their clever imitation of the formation usual with regular mounted troops. To complete the deception the enemy even fired volleys, as they approached Colonel Damant's men, in the general direction of some Boers who were escaping across the front of the two forces. This clever ruse enabled them to get sufficiently close to Colonel Damant's troops to anticipate them by a few yards in the occupation of the crest of a kopje which commanded the whole field, including the guns and the main body of our troops. Lieutenant Colonel Damant's men displayed the utmost gallantry, holding on to their inferior position so as to save the two guns which accompanied the advanced guard, and every officer and man, except four, of the leading troops was shot down before reinforcements, which were pushed forward from the main body and from Colonel Rimington's column directly firing commenced, could arrive upon the scene. The appearance of these reinforcements compelled the Boers to relinquish their attack, and they fled over the Wilge River, pursued for some miles by Colonel Rimington's troops. Since the date of this affair the troops of Colonels Rimington and Damant have continued to operate in the neighbourhood of Tafel Kop, where I am reinforcing them by two of the newly formed battalions of Royal Artillery Mounted Rifles, and by the Canadian Scouts under Major Ross". In his telegram of the 21st December Lord Kitchener said that the losses of the column were 2 officers and 20 men killed, and 3 officers and 17 men wounded. These turned out to be rather greater; the 39th Battery—one section—had 6 killed and 8 wounded. The losses of Damant's Horse were severe, but nothing like those of the 91st Company Imperial Yeomanry, which had 32 hit out of 40, and, in the words of Lord Kitchener, "sacrificed itself almost to a man to save Damant's guns". Lieutenant Colonel Damant was wounded in four places, Lieutenant Shand (Cameron Highlanders, attached Damant's Horse) was killed, Lieutenant C H A Wilson was wounded, 5 men were killed and 10 wounded.

In the despatch of 8th February 1902 it was stated that "in the north of the Orange River Colony columns under Lieutenant Colonels Keir and Wilson, together with Damant's Horse, have acted vigorously wherever opportunity offered against the enemy's bands". The corps took part in many driving operations in this district, and when it was seen, after Lord Methuen's defeat, that the Western Transvaal was insufficiently supplied with troops, the columns of Keir, Wilson, and Damant marched through Vrede to Volksrust to entrain for Klerksdorp. They were at once again put into the field, and took part in the last big operations under General Ian Hamilton, which destroyed the power of Delarey in the Western Transvaal. In the drive of 23rd and 24th March 80 miles were covered in twenty-four hours. In this operation the corps had 2 killed. On the 31st March the Boers made a most determined attack on the column of Colonel Cookson near Boschbult, and a fight as fierce as, and on a bigger scale than, that at Tafel Kop took place. Damant's Horse again did well, as will be seen from the Mentions. Their losses were Lieutenant J J Roach and 4 men killed and Lieutenant Harold Creed and 17 men wounded.

The Honours and Mentions gained were:—

Corporal J J Clements, Rimington's Guides, gained the Victoria Cross "on 24th February 1900, near Strijdenburg; when dangerously wounded through the lungs and called upon to surrender, he threw himself into the midst of a party of five Boers, shooting three of them with his revolver, and thereby causing the whole party to surrender to himself and two un-wounded men of Rimington's Guides".

The Mentions gained by Rimington's Guides were:—

GENERAL FRENCH'S DESPATCH: 2nd February 1900.—Major M F Rimington, employed in command of a corps of Guides, has rendered me much assistance since he has been attached to this command.

LORD ROBERTS' DESPATCHES: 31st March 1900.—Major Rimington; Lieutenants R Chester-Master (King's Royal Rifle Corps), and W F Murray; Corporal Kirton; Guides E Christian and H E Jackson.

2nd April 1901.—Lieutenant Colonel Rimington, 6th Dragoons, "has rendered very exceptional service with a specially raised corps of scouts. He had an intimate knowledge of the whole of the Orange River Colony, and no hardship was too severe or peril too serious to deter him from pushing his reconnaissances far to the front or flanks of the force to which he was attached" (awarded CB); Captain Brown; Lieutenant W F Murray, Sergeant A O Vaughan, Corporal W Kirton, Troopers Hardnek, Murchie, Nelson, Patten; Guide H E Jackson.

September 1901.—Captain C H Rankin, 7th Hussars; Corporal J Spence.

LORD KITCHENER'S DESPATCHES: 8th March 1901.—Lieutenant Harvey; Corporal Clements, Private Wilson (promoted Corporal)

8th October 1901.—Major F H Damant, for very able command of a column in south of Orange River Colony, a most gallant and exceptionally good officer. Corporal J Spence, of the Guides, also got the DCM.

WITH DAMANT'S HORSE.

LORD KITCHENER'S DESPATCHES: 8th March 1902.—Lieutenant Clive Wilson, marked gallantry; Trooper J E Spreckley, good service; Sgt Carson, gallantry—all in action of 20th December 1901. "The following are some of the men who charged with Major Webb, took the ridge and held it, thereby, in a great measure, saving the guns: Sergeant J Carson, Corporal T Duff (killed), Troopers A Forsyth (killed), R Dunham".

1st June 1902.—Captain Williams Scott; Sergeant Major J Byrne; Sergeants W Roberts, A R Lake, H E G Noble, J C Cullinan, for good service at Boschbult, 31st March; Trooper R Morrisy (promoted Corporal), for gallantry, same action.

23nd June 1902.—Brevet Colonel M F Rimington, CB, 6th Dragoons, is a leader of mounted troops who is particularly well qualified for the conduct of special and independent raids or enterprises; his knowledge of the theatre of operations, his energy and his soldierly instincts, have enabled him to render exceptional services; Reg. Sergeant Major A Jenkins; Quartermaster Sergeant De Landre; Squad. Sergeant Major Roberts; Sergeant E H G Noble; Corporal A R Lake. Colonel Damant was awarded the CB as well as the DSO.

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