New Zealand units
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On landing at Cape Town the first two companies, under Major Robin, were entrained for De Aar, and thence they moved to the Arundel district, where, on 2nd December, they joined General French, who was then endeavouring to stem the Boer invasion in the central or Colesberg district. In the official telegram of 8th December it was noted that on the 7th the New Zealanders had occupied a ridge at Arundel, and covered the detrainment of other troops. Thus they were at the earliest moment placed in a position of responsibility, and they were soon to distinguish themselves. In the official telegram of 19th December it was stated that during a retirement the New Zealanders "were most steady under hot fire at short range".
In his despatch of 2nd February 1900, General French describes the efforts he made in December and January to drive or worry the enemy out of the very strong positions the latter had taken up about Arundel and Colesberg, and he used the words—"I wish particularly to bring to notice the excellent conduct and bearing of the New Zealand MR, commanded by Major A W Robin, on one of these occasions. On 18th December I took them out with a battery of Horse Artillery to reconnoitre round the enemy's left flank, and determined to dislodge him from a farm called Jasfontein, lying on his left rear. The guns shelled the farm, and the New Zealand MR then gained possession of it. But the enemy very suddenly brought up strong reinforcements and pressed on us with his artillery. Our artillery had been left some way behind to avoid this latter fire, and I had to send back some distance for its support, during which time we were exposed to a heavy musketry fire from the surrounding hills. The conduct of the New Zealanders was admirable in thus maintaining a difficult position till the artillery caused the enemy to retire".
Regular troops with years of training could not have gained a more appreciative and complimentary reference, and coming as it did from General French, the most incorrigible detractor of irregulars or volunteers will not venture to say it was idle praise, such as is every day lavished by inspecting officers in peace time.
On the night of 31st December and on 1st January 1900 the New Zealand Mounted Rifles were again hotly engaged. General French had arranged that the Berkshire Regiment should assault a hill known as M'Cracken's Hill. At 3.45 am the assault was successfully made and a strong position captured. Colonel Porter of the 6th Dragoon Guards was, before daybreak, to move out from Rensburg, his force being two guns RHA, two squadrons 6th Dragoon Guards, and one company New Zealand Mounted Rifles. Porter was to move to Porter's Hill, which was garrisoned by one squadron 6th Dragoon Guards and one company New Zealand Mounted Rifles, and from that point he was to co-operate. The words of the despatch are: "This he did at daybreak, with great effect at Porter's Hill and along the southern face of the position. The New Zealand MR made a most gallant attempt to effect a footing in the south-western corner, but were obliged to retire before greatly superior numbers".
General French described operations on 9th and 11th January 1900 in which the New Zealanders were engaged, and he gave an account as follows of a very severe fight on 15th January: "On the 10th January an attack was made by the enemy on my advanced post at Slinger's Farm. This is a high and rather steep hill, surrounded by a good deal of dead ground. The first was held by one company Yorkshire Regiment, and one company New Zealand Mounted Rifles, and was in charge of Captain Orr, Yorkshire Regiment. For some time during the morning of the 15th the enemy engaged in heavy and continuous firing at long ranges from the whole of his position opposite this post. At about 10 am a movement was developed, which appeared to indicate an attack on the east side of the hill, where there was some cover, and the ground favoured it. Whilst this threat was in progress the firing from the enemy's main position was continued with great vigour. When the attention of our troops was chiefly engaged in watching for this attack on the east, it was suddenly reported that a large body of the enemy had established themselves at the foot of the western slope, which was very steep, and were creeping up the hill, taking all advantage of cover from rocks, &c. When the Boers found that their real attack was thus apparent, they opened a hot fire from their position on the western slope. Captain Orr at once fell badly wounded, and the Sergeant Major was killed. The enemy came on briskly, and the moment was critical. Captain Madocks, Royal Artillery, attached to the New Zealand MR, saw the critical situation of the Yorkshires, and that they were practically without a leader: with the greatest promptitude he took a few of his men to the west side of the hill, and rallied the troops holding it. He caused them to line their entrenchments and stem the enemy's advance, which had now become very bold, several of our men having fallen from their fire. Captain Madocks then jumped up, gave the order to fix bayonets, and charged down the hill, upon which the leading Boers immediately turned and ran down the hill, followed by many others, who had been under cover of rocks, etc , unseen. Our troops poured many well-directed volleys on the retreating enemy, who left 21 men dead at the foot of one hill, and it is estimated that their loss in wounded could not be less than 50. The greatest credit is due to Captain Madocks and his New Zealanders for their prompt action".
'The Times' History, vol iii p 140, gives a very detailed account of this action, and bestows the highest praise on Captain Madocks and on those who, facing the very heavy fire on the crest, took part in the final charge on the enemy, who, according to ' The Times'' account, had established themselves in a sangar of the Yorkshires. The names of those who leapt the wall first, as mentioned by the historian, are Sergeant Gourlay, Madocks, Trooper Connell, and Lieutenant Hughes. The number of dead Boers found is stated at 29.
The foregoing extracts prove that the New Zealand Mounted Rifles had done splendidly about Colesberg, and Major Robin and his men were chosen to accompany General French and the Regular Cavalry to Modder River, where, in the beginning of February 1900, Lord Roberts was concentrating a great force —first, to relieve Kimberley, and second, to march on Bloemfontein. The contingent was split up at Kimberley. One squadron was present at the battles of Paardeberg, Poplar Grove, and Driefontein. After Paardeberg they formed part of the 1st Brigade of Mounted Infantry under Brigadier General Alderson, the other units being the 1st and 3rd regiments of Regular Mounted Infantry, Roberts' Horse, and Rimington's Guides.
When the New Zealanders marched into Bloemfontein on 13th March, their strength was officially stated at 5 officers, 60 men, and 72 horses. The remainder of the contingent came in later.
Major A W Robin was mentioned in Lord Roberts' despatch of 31st March for his good work since 11th February, the date when the movement on Kimberley commenced.
Alderson's Brigade was present at Sannah's Post, east of Bloemfontein, on 31st March when Broadwood's force was ambushed (see Roberts' Horse). The New Zealanders formed part of the little body of Mounted Infantry which did so much to assist in bringing 'Q' Battery into shelter. The detachment was the portion of the rear-guard to hold on upon the east side of the Koorn Spruit, and were the last to cross after having nobly covered the retirement. The New Zealanders lost about 17, taken prisoners.
On 25th October, the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd contingents were present at the ceremony of proclaiming the annexation of the Transvaal. On the same evening some of the 1st contingent left Pretoria for Cape Town, and by the end of November practically all the 1st contingent had sailed for home.