Umvoti Mounted Rifles

In October 1899 the UMR were commanded by Major George Leuchars and were 89 strong based in the Helpmakaar District with one Troop on the southern border of Natal.

On 2nd October the Natal Carbineers were ordered to patrol the Free State Border and observe the passes, and within the next few days the cyclists of the Durban Light Infantry were patrolling from Colenso to Springfield, covering 80 miles on bad roads in twelve hours. Along with the Natal Naval Volunteers the Durban Regiment was employed in building forts near Colenso. The Umvoti Mounted Rifles were watching the drifts lower down the Tugela, - an invaluable service, which they performed for many months; other bodies were on outpost duty.

On the 21st General French and Sir George White fought the battle of Elandslaagte. In his despatch of 2nd November 1899, para. 14, Sir George mentioned that before that battle the Natal Field Battery moved out with General French at 4 am; some of the Natal M.R. and Carbineers were also with him. When the enemy were found near the station the battery opened fire, but the position was strong, and the little guns were outranged; reinforcements had therefore to be got. Before the main action commenced one squadron from each of the 5th Lancers, 5th Dragoon Guards, and Natal M.R. were sent out to turn the enemy's right flank and harass his rear. Two squadrons of the Natal M.R. took part in the final pursuit. On the night of the 21st Sergeant Schroeder and Corporal Jones of the Umvoti M.R. bore the good news of the Elandslaagte victory to General Yule; to reach him they had to pass through large bodies of the enemy.

While General Buller was pounding away along the Tugela some of the Natal Volunteers under Major G. Leuchars were usefully employed about Greytown and the Zululand border. The Umvoti Mounted Rifles, about 80 strong, with 50 Police, were at Greytown and Tugela Ferry from the beginning of the war, and 2 guns of the Natal Field Artillery and 150 Natal Royal Rifles were after 10th January in the Melmoth Field Force operating from Eshowe. The Greytown force did most excellent work; they were practically isolated from 18th November to 13th February, when they were joined by Bethune's Mounted Infantry. During that period the posts and drifts held by the Umvoti Mounted Rifles and Police were repeatedly attacked. On 23rd November a commando 400 strong attacked 100 men holding the drift, but the enemy was driven off. The stubborn defence made by Major Leuchars and his men prevented an invasion from that quarter and had a great moral effect, as was proved by the tenor of despatches from General Burgher to General Joubert which were captured. In this affair Sergeant Major Ferguson was severely wounded.

In General Buller's movement which commenced on 7th May for turning the Boers out of the Biggarsberg, and so clear Natal, the Volunteers were in the 3rd Mounted Brigade (see South African Light Horse). The Brigade was engaged almost daily between 10th and 19th May. Colonel Bethune co-operated from Greytown, and joined General Buller on 13th May (see Bethune's Mounted Infantry). Bethune's force was composed of 5 squadrons of his own regiment, 1 squadron Umvoti Mounted Rifles, two 12-pounder guns worked by men of the Royal Garrison Artillery, two 7-pounder guns, Natal Field Artillery, 2 Hotchkiss manned by the same corps, and 6 companies of the Imperial Light Infantry, a corps which was raised in the Colony. For seven months this force, or portions of it, had done good work in protecting the north-east of Natal from invasion or raids. On 19th May the Durban Light Infantry and Natal Royal Rifles were ordered to garrison Dundee. When Laing's Nek was turned by General Buller (see South African Light Horse), the Natal Mounted Volunteers were the advanced-guard of General Clery's force, which crossed the Nek itself on 12th June. Dundonald's Brigade had been split up, and the South African Light Horse were part of the turning force.

On 21st September 1900 authority had been obtained from Lord Roberts to raise among the Natal Volunteers a composite regiment of 300 mounted men to take over the duties hitherto performed by the Volunteer Brigade, and thus facilitate the return of the remainder of the Brigade to their daily avocations. The Volunteer Composite Regiment was made up as follows:

 

 

Officers

Men

 

Natal Carbineers

6

125

 

Natal Mounted Rifles

5

32

 

Umvoti Mounted Rifles

1

13

 

Border Mounted Rifles

3

48

 

Natal Field Artillery

-

19

 

Natal Royal Rifles

-

8

 

Durban Light Infantry

-

39

 

Hotchkiss Gun Detachment

-

6

 

Volunteer Medical Corps

1

4

 

 

16

294

The regiment, under Lieutenant Colonel Evans, Natal MR, did much hard and effective work down to the close of the campaign.

Lord Robert's despatches: 2nd April 1901: Umvoti Mounted Rifles - Lieutenant Colonel G. Leuchars.

Source: Colonials in South Africa by John Stirling

 

The Umvoti Mounted Rifles had their beginning as the Greytown Mounted Rifles, formed in October. 1864, the first commanding officer being Captain Commandant Ashe Smyth Wyndham, The original strength was 32. Two years later were raised the Natal Hussars also with headquarters at Greytown and comprising two troops, one at Greytown and the other at Noodsberg. the commanding officer being Major T. F. Eastwood and the original strength 82. Successive commanders were Captain John Kirby of the Greytown Mounted Rifles, 1866; Major T. F. Eastwood, 186S; Captain R. Paris, 1869. In 1869 the Greytown Mounted Rifles and the members were absorbed into the Natal Hussars. Major T. F. Eastwood remained in command till 1870, followed by Captain P. J. E. Hellett, 1869; Captain J. \V. Shepstone. 1872; Captain T. B. Hill, 1873; Captain P. Norton, 1877. In 1877 the Natal Hussars ceased to exist as such upon amalgamation with the Natal Carbineers of which they becime the Left Wing under Captain T. Menne who had previously commanded the Natal Hussars. In 1893 the Left Wing seceded from the Natal Carbineers and adopted the designation Umvoti Mounted Rifles with Captain H. von Bulow as commanding office.- who, in 1898, was succeeded by Major George Leuchars. The latter, afterward Colonel Sir George Leuchars, K.CMG., was followed by Lieut.-Colonels S. Carter, 1907; H. Wayne, 1922; E. Royden Turner, 1929; O. M. Solomon, 1932; V. G. Fannin, 1934; and G. E. l'Estrange, 1937.

As a result of the coming into effect of the S.A. Defence Act of 1912, the Umvoti Mounted Rifles and the Zululand Mounted Rifles were amalgamated under the title 4th Mounted Rifles (U.M.R.) under Lieut.-Colonel S. Carter but in 1934 the pre-Union title, Umvoti Mounted Rifles, was restored. The headquarters of the regiment arc at Greytown.

The original uniform of the regiment was of a reddish-brown moleskin with black braid on collar, cuffs and in a stripe down the trousers, with a leather cap. This was re placed by dark veld green till 1894 when khaki was adopted with kepi cap with white cover and the felt hat with brim turned up on the left. When the unit became U.M.R. they adopted maroon facings on their khaki uniform, brass buttons with monogram and collar badges. The smasher hat carried the letters U.M.R. in monogram form on the turned-up brim. The badge of the regiment was two galloping wildebeeste with the motto Toujour Pret. The Wolseley pattern tropical helmet, khaki, was adopted in 1915, carrying the flash on left side and monogram in front. The unit has a war cry, "Hubu, hubu, hubu, hubu." It is not clear when and where this originated, but it is a startling and fearsome cry when shouted together by hundreds of men.

Up to 1875 the Natal regiments were armed with the muzzle-loading Enfield rifle and sword. In that year the Terry carbine replaced the Enfield rifle. The Swinburn-Henry carbine followed, then the Martini-Henry carbine .303 calibre. In 1898 the Lee-Metford rifle was adopted, with revolver, and after the Anglo-Boer War the magazine rifle replaced the last with bayonet, the revolver being discarded except for officers, trumpeters, machine gunners and some staff details.

Up to 1899 regiments had their own medical, veterinary and signalling officers and detachments, but in that year this was changed and officers with detachments from the Medical, Veterinary and Signalling Corps were attached to combatant units in war time.

The Umvoti Mounted Rifles have taken part in the following campaigns and operations.

(1) Zulu War, 1878 — 1879.

The unit, then the Natal Hussars, was mobilised on 25th November, 1878, and with other Natal Mounted volunteer corps operated with the column of Colonel Pearson of the Imperial forces along the coastal road in southern Zululand. The force was engaged in the action of Inyenzane on 22nd January, 1879, and proceeded to Eshowe whence, after a few days when the news of the disaster to British arms at Isandhlwana was received, the Natal volunteers were hurried back to Natal where they were joined by the Isipingo Mounted Rifles and were employed till the end of the war guarding the Natal-Zululand border along the Tugela River. During this period the only fighting participated in was a skirmish at Middle Drift with a Zulu force endeavouring to raid into Natal but was there checked and driven back.

(2) Anglo-Boer War, 1899—1902.

Under Major Geo. Leuchars the U.M.R. took part in the Relief of Ladysmith. The regiment was employed holding the Tugela drift north of Greytown and there held and checked the Boer force endeavouring to raid Natal behind the main British force about Colenso further westward. After the Relief of Ladysmith the U.M.R. joined the Natal Volunteer Brigade under Major-General John G. Dartnell north of Lady-smith in April, 1900. The Brigade formed part of the British force which advanced northwards culminating in the battles of Ingogo and Langs Nek and the expulsion of the Boers from Natal. After reaching Volksrust the Brigade was sent back to the Dundee district and was employed on duties of guarding the frontiers of Natal and in operations in the adjacent eastern Transvaal until the end of October, 1900. The Natal Volunteer force was then demobilised leaving a composite mounted regiment in the field till the end of the war, the Natal Volunteer Composite Regiment under Lieut.-Colonel Robert Winter Evans of the Natal Mounted Rifles. The U.M.R. contributed its fair quota of volunteers to that unit which saw considerable fighting during its life, mostly in the eastern Transvaal. Major Leuchars was awarded the D.S.O. and promoted Lieut.-Colonel and at an official banquet held in Pietermaritzburg on 17th November, 1900, he was thanked by General Sir Redvers Buller, V.C., for his services. In September, 1901, the regiment was again mobilised during a critical month when Natal was threatened by a second invasion of the Boer forces. The Natal forces, however, were not called upon to fight as the enemy was checked and driven back by the Imperial force at Itala in northern Zululand.

Source: Short History Of The Volunteer Regiments Of Natal And East Griqualand, Past and Present. Compiled by Colonel Godfrey T Hurst, DSO OBE VD, Honorary Colonel of the Natal Mounted Rifles.

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