‘The Somerset East District Mounted Troops went out on the night of the 1st instant, and following up the spoor of Smut’s scouts, captured five men on the morning of the 2nd instant. The patrol covered 50 miles’ (The Lancashire Daily Post 4 October 1901, refers).
However, approximately two weeks later, on 15 October 1901, the mass surrender of 180 men to the Boer Commando of General Jan Christiaan Smuts on a ridge near Somerset East was subject to a Court of Enquiry which cast them in a far less favourable light. The Court of Enquiry - from which they were not exonerated - judged the unit had ‘given up’ with the minimum of resistance.
The loss of 121 horses and 161 rifles was considered a disgrace and several of the officers were placed under arrest, eight men jailed awaiting Court-Martial and the rest questioned over their loyalty; it was almost inconceivable that 180 men would surrender a strong position to an equal force with practically no resistance, unless by pre-arrangement. James Troop, a Colonial Defence Force Surgeon-Captain, witnessed the surrender:
‘We learnt afterwards that the Boers had gradually crept all round and that the white flag had been hoisted by Lieutenant (Bareath J.) Botha, that all the better class of our men had fought well, but that the poorer class in our force, of whom there were a large number, miserable dirty cowardly, good-for-nothing creatures, had never fired a shot but lain flat on their faces and put their hands up at the first opportunity … The misfortune was due to a variety of causes. The initial blunder consisted in moving out of camp at all - 150 comparatively untrained men, against 300 Transvaal Boers who had been at it for two years and knew how to take advantage of every error on our part. The second blunder was giving away two of our flanks. And thirdly inexperience, want of gumption and cowardice among half the officers and men would have rendered any sort of attempt on our part hopeless wither in attack or defence.’
Whilst the numbers involved in the surrender vary between sources, the obvious humiliation caused by such action did considerable harm at a time when the British were in the ascendancy in the region - with the earlier capture of Lotter’s Commando and the death of Commandant P. Van Der Merwe, with the loss of 28 killed or captured out of a force of 79 at Driefontein, it was hoped that there would be a lessening of Boer activity south of Graaf-Reinet. The events of 15 October proved otherwise.
Reference source: Graaff-Reinet during the Boer War
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