This corps was raised at Durban in October 1899 by Major E C Bethune, 16th Lancers, an officer who was to do well throughout the whole war, like several others who undertook the raising and command of irregular corps before the value of these was fully appreciated at home. The regiment was present at General Hildyard's action at Willow Grange on the night of 22nd November 1899, and did good service (see the General's report, dated 24th November). At Colenso, 15th December 1899, the regiment, 500 strong, was present (see General Buller's despatch of 17th December and list of troops appended), but was detailed as portion of the baggage-guard.
When General Buller commenced the movement by which he attempted to turn the right of the Boer positions between himself and Ladysmith, Bethune's Mounted Infantry was split up, a squadron being left under General Barton at Frere and Chieveley, in which district they were constantly employed on reconnaissance duties, and had some sharp casualties. The remainder of the corps accompanied their commander to Potgieter's Drift, where they were attached to General Lyttelton's Brigade, and had skirmishing on various occasions. On the 24th January, when the awful combat was going on upon the summit of Spion Kop, General Lyttelton sent the 2nd Scottish Rifles, the 3rd King's Royal Rifles, and Colonel Bethune, with two of his squadrons, to assist. The 3rd King's Royal Rifles seized the Twin Peaks, north-east of the Spion; the Scottish Rifles ascended the latter mountain and were put into the firing-line on the summit, where they did very fine work, but although Colonel Bethune offered to lead his men on to the plateau1, they were kept in reserve by General Talbot Coke, probably because the role of lining the trenches was rather that of the infantry present.
During the Vaal Krantz operations the corps continued to do patrol work, chiefly on General Buller's right and rear. On 11th February Colonel Bethune was ordered to take his men to Greytown2, in order to watch the Boers near the Zululand border, and also with the view of ultimately co-operating from Greytown in any movement towards Dundee. The regiment thus missed the fierce fighting which took place near Colenso between 13th and 27th February.
In his despatch of 30th March, General Buller, in mentioning Colonel Bethune, said: "He proved himself to be an excellent commander of irregular horse. He has acted with great skill and judgment when in command of a detached force".
It will be remembered that the Natal Army lay chiefly to the north of Ladysmith during March and April. On 7th May General Buller commenced his movement to turn the Boer position on the Biggarsberg. In his despatch of 24th May 1900, para. 10, General Buller said: "While we were at Ladysmith a force under Colonel Bethune had been holding Greytown and the line of the Tugela, that force being five squadrons Bethune's Mounted Infantry, one squadron Umvoti Mounted Rifles, two 12-pounders, RGA, two 7-pounders, Natal Field Artillery, two Hotchkiss, Natal Field Artillery, six companies Imperial Light Infantry. This force I had directed to advance concurrently with our advance on Vermaak's Kraal, and we established connection with it at eleven o'clock (on the 13th). Colonel Bethune's arrangements had been very good. He had seized during the night, with his left, the hills which commanded the southern sides of the pass up which we had to approach. At 11.20 we advanced up the pass". The enemy made a poor defence and fled, pursued by the Colonial mounted troops. Natal was, almost without loss, cleared of the enemy, and Laing's Nek was turned by the battle of Alleman's Nek on 11th June.
Lieutenant J M Dalrymple was severely wounded in a skirmish on 10th May near Helpmakaar.
Before Laing's Nek was turned Bethune's Mounted Infantry were to suffer a grievous mishap. In his telegram of 21st May 1900 General Buller said that he had detached Colonel Bethune with about 500 men from Dundee on the 19th, to march to N'qutu, and to rejoin at Newcastle. On the 20th one squadron was ambushed about six miles south of Vryheid, very few escaping. Captain Goff, 3rd Dragoon Guards, Lieutenants Lanham and M'Lachlan, and about 26 non-commissioned officers and men, were killed. Captain Lord de la Warr, Lieutenant De Lasalle, Sergeant-Major Hadler, and about 30 non-commissioned officers and men, were wounded.
Bethune's Mounted Infantry was, during the remainder of 1900, mainly employed on patrol work in the south of the Transvaal and in the Utrecht district, with the view of protecting our posts and the railway line, and frequently they had some skirmishing and much very dangerous work. When Vryheid was occupied by General Hildyard on 19th September the strong position of the enemy was turned by the skilful work of Gough's and Bethune's Mounted Infantry3.
In his final despatch of 9th November 1900, General Buller complimented the troops left to protect his rear: "In the area commanded by General Hildyard the mounted work of guarding the communications was performed by Bethune's Mounted Infantry and the composite regiment of Mounted Infantry" and he made numerous mentions. bOf Colonel Bethune he said "Raised this regiment and commanded it most efficiently throughout the campaign. I strongly recommend him to your favourable consideration".
About the end of November 1900 Colonel Bethune left the regiment, having been given a command in the Clanwilliam district of Cape Colony, from which, in a few weeks, he was promoted to the command of a cavalry brigade — a compliment to the high order of the work done in the first stage of the war by himself and his corps.
The corps was, in December 1900, taken to the Lindley district of the Orange River Colony4, and Lieutenant-Colonel S C H Monro was appointed to succeed Colonel Bethune. Captain L M Boddam and 5 men were wounded on 31st December near Lindley. The regiment was frequently engaged in that district, and in other parts of the Orange River Colony. Captain G 0 Webster was killed in a railway accident at Bethulie on 1st February, and on the 6th 1 man was killed and several wounded. In Lord Kitchener's despatch of 8th May 1901, para. 5, it is mentioned that on 9th April at Dewetsdorp, in the south-east of the Orange River Colony, Lieutenant Colonel Monro, with a detachment of 150 mounted men and a pom-pom, after two hours' fighting cleverly effected the capture of a Boer convoy and 83 prisoners, including Commandant Bresler and Lieutenant Lindique of the Staats Artillery. Colonel Monro's casualties were 1 man killed and 4 wounded. Private G E Duffey was killed; Sergeant Major Goulding and Private Rosevean died of wounds.
Colonel Monro's column, consisting of Bethune's Mounted Infantry, about 275 strong, and the 56th, 57th, 58th, and 59th Companies Imperial Yeomanry, with 2 guns of the 39th Battery Royal Field Artillery, was, on 19th May 1901, taken to Cape Colony (see despatch of 8th July), where, down to the close of the war, they were everlastingly pursuing commandos under Kritzinger, Myburg, and other leaders. On 12th September the force was heavily engaged with Commandant Smuts at Stavelberg, in the eastern part of Cape Colony, and lost 7 killed and 6 wounded, the latter including Lieutenant Pollard. On 27th March 1902 Captain Collopy and 4 men were wounded at Mointje's Nek, and a few days later there were further casualties at Maraisburg, Cape Colony.
Like the other troops in Cape Colony, Bethune's Mounted Infantry had few opportunities of gaining distinction in the latter phases of the war, but the work of Colonel Monro's column was very often referred to in terms of approval by Lord Kitchener.
The Mentions gained by the corps are as follows:
Sir R Buller's despatches: 30th March 1900. Major (local Lieutenant Colonel) E C Bethune, 16th Lancers; Captains W E D Goff (3rd Dragoon Guards), W C C Erskine; Lieutenants C J Collopy, L Lanham; Corporals F Howroyd, H Schott; Privates P Kilcullen, A E Partridge, E G Brown, H Edwards, A M'Neilage.
9th November 1900. Lieutenant Colonel Bethune (raised and commanded regiment most efficiently); Captains C J Collopy, A E Capell, Lieutenants Norman Packer and M. Prior have distinguished themselves on more than one occasion; Captains F M Ford, J H A Annesley (3rd Dragoon Guards), Lieutenants A A Slatter and G Webster performed continuous good work throughout, as also have Regimental Sergeant Major G W Mortiboy (18th Hussars); Squadron Sergeant Majors J H Macbeth, H E Saunders; Sergeants A G Nichol, A H Ball, H Shackle, F Howroyd; Privates A S Beeves, A S Partridge, P Kilcullen; Lance Corporal Farquhar.
Lord Roberts' despatches: 2nd April 1901. Captains A E Capell, Collopy, W C C Erskine, F C M. Ford; Lieutenants Lanham and Prior; Sergeant F Howroyd; Corporal H Schott; Lance Corporal Glassborough; Trooper Alien; Private A S Partridge; Squadron Sergeant Major Murrow.
4th September 1901. Captain G Osborne.
Lord Kitchener's despatches: 8th April 1902. Lieutenant H H Shott.
23rd June 1902. Lieutenants W A Pollard, D Crawford, R N B Needham; Regimental Sergeant Major Mortiboy (18th Hussars); Trumpet Major D E Densham; Corporal F S Stallard. Colonel Bethune was awarded the CB.
1 Lieutenant Blake Knox's 'Buller's Campaign' p. 82; also the Spion Kop Despatches.
2 Lieutenant Blake Knox's 'Buller's Campaign', p. 133.
3 Lord Roberts' despatch of 21st September 1900.
4 Despatch of 8th March 1901.
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