The corps was raised in December 1900, being recruited in Cape Colony and Natal. As soon as they could be mounted they were sent into the field, and it is to the credit of the force and its leaders that they made no mistake.
It will be remembered that Hertzog and other leaders had penetrated to the south-west of Cape Colony. In his telegram of 3rd February 1901 Lord Kitchener said: "The commandos in Cape Colony are being hustled. Kitchener's Fighting Scouts attacked one hundred Boers at Doornbridge. Boers retired, leaving one killed. Horses, carts, ammunition, and tools were taken. We had two men wounded". In the despatch of 8th March 1901 Lord Kitchener dealt with the efforts made to clear the Colony in the preceding December, January, and February. Speaking of events in the western parts of the Colony, his Lordship said: "While the pursuit from De Aar and Britstown was maintained by columns under Lieutenant Colonels Bethune (16th Lancers), Thorneycroft, and De Lisle, troops of local levies were hurried up to occupy centres of disaffection in the Ceres, Worcester, and Piquetberg district; at the same time Lieutenant Colonel Colenbrander's newly formed regiment of Kitchener's Fighting Scouts were railed to Matjesfontein, whence they moved out to hold the passes leading south from Sutherland. My object was to keep the enemy north of the Roggeveld Mountains, and to prevent any junction between Hertzog and Kritzinger in the Prince Albert or Worcester districts. This being achieved, it appeared to me useless to follow out into the far west an enemy at all times disinclined to fight and ever ready to scatter". On the 9th January Hertzog's commando withdrew north towards Calvinia. "A general advance northwards was commenced by the columns under Lieutenant Colonels De Lisle, Scobell (Scots Greys), and Colenbrander (commanding Kitchener's Fighting Scouts). These quite succeeded in driving the enemy out of Calvinia and Van Rhyrisdorp, and pursued him as far north as Carnarvon". The regiment was taken to the central district of Cape Colony, where they had a very hard time. The pursuit of the enemy was not a task free from danger, and KFS had one strong patrol captured near Richmond on 27th February 1901. Lieutenant A E Benson and 6 men were killed, Lieutenant Naughton and 12 men wounded, and some taken prisoners, "after a prolonged fight", the official telegram said. On 8th March Captain John Boyd was killed.
The corps had been fortunate in getting in Colonel Colenbrander a leader widely known and thoroughly respected as a fighting man in South Africa, and among the other officers were some who had already distinguished themselves by good work in other corps: it was thus soon possible to have a second regiment.
In the despatch of 8th July 1901, appendix, both regiments are referred to. It is there stated that Lieutenant Colonel Wilson's regiment in May was 417 strong, and Lieutenant Colonel Grenfell's 364, and both were then employed in the Pietersburg district, far north of Pretoria. In the despatch of 8th May 1901 Lord Kitchener, after detailing General Plumer's operations in that district, said that a commando had been reported at Klipdam, 15 miles north of Pietersburg, which was said to be under General Beyers.
"Lieutenant Colonel Grenfell, whose regiment, KFS, had been sent by rail to Pietersburg, was, therefore, directed to clear up the situation. Starting on the night of the 26th April, Lieutenant Colonel Grenfell discovered the enemy's laager at Klipdam, and attacked it at dawn on the 27th with complete success, with the loss of only one man wounded. Seven Boers were killed, 41 were captured, besides which he obtained possession of the enemy's camp with 26 horses, 10 mules, many waggons and carts, and 76,000 rounds of ammunition. Information having been obtained that the enemy's last Long Tom was at Berg Plaats, about 20 miles east of Pietersburg, on the road to Haenertsburg, I desired Colonel Grenfell to make every effort to capture the gun. He moved at once, and at daylight on the 30th occupied Doornhoek, thence pushing on to Berg Plaats. On his approach the enemy opened fire at over 10,000 yards' range, but after 16 rounds they blew up the gun, while Colonel Grenfell's men were still about 3000 yards distant, and retreated in a north east direction. Colonel Grenfell captured 10 prisoners and 35 rounds of Long Tom ammunition, our only casualties being two men wounded. As the result of a careful search on the farm, Berg Vlei, adjoining Berg Plaats, 100,000 rounds of Martini-Henry ammunition were discovered and destroyed. With Berg Vlei as a centre Colonel Grenfell continued to operate for several days with success, and a detachment of the 12th Battalion MI, under Major Thomson, was able, under cover of a thick fog, to effect the capture of Commandant Marais and 40 of his men. Other prisoners were brought in by Lieutenant Colonels Colenbrander and Wilson of KFS, and on his return to Pietersburg, on the 6th May, Colonel Grenfell reported that altogether he had accounted for 7 Boers killed, 129 prisoners, and 50 voluntary surrenders: 240,000 rounds of ammunition were destroyed".
In May Grenfell commanded an expedition to Louis Trichard, 100 miles north-east of Pietersburg. His force was 600 men of KFS, the 12th MI Regulars, 2 guns, and four companies of the Wiltshire Regiment. The column left Pietersburg, and two days later Colenbrander with the advanced force occupied Louis Trichard. About the 20th Colenbrander, "by a well-planned night march, surprised a laager on the Klip Spruit. Field-Cornet Venter with 72 Burghers, 68 rifles, 18 waggons", and a large amount of ammunition and many cattle, were captured. On the 25th May Grenfell received the surrender of Commandant Van Rensburg and about 150 men. Shortly after this Colenbrander, in the Buffels district, had some skirmishes, "killing seven and capturing a maxim. A detachment under Major Knott overtook a commando under Barend Viljoen and captured 79 prisoners". Lord Kitchener said, in his despatch of 8th July 1901, that this expedition did much to secure the pacification of the Northern Transvaal. While Grenfell was on this expedition, Wilson, with a wing of the KFS, two guns, and two companies 2nd Gordon Highlanders, was, in conjunction with Major M'Micking's column, doing most excellent work in the Nylstroom district. On 19th May 79 Burghers and 100 rifles, 33,000 rounds, 66 waggons, some dynamite were taken. On the 21st Wilson attacked another position and took 18 prisoners, 48 rifles. On 2nd June a detached force drove the enemy on Wilson, who, after a stubborn fight, took 40 prisoners, 70 rifles, 8000 cattle, besides ammunition and dynamite (see despatch of 8th July). Of course all this could not be accomplished without loss. On 1st and 2nd June the regiment had 7 killed and 20 wounded.
On 1st July, at Hopewell, Grenfell surprised another laager, killing 1 and capturing 93 prisoners, 100 horses, much stock and ammunition.
During August and September 1901 many other expeditions were undertaken by the corps, but the results of these were meagre compared to the splendid successes previously obtained, and to those obtained in October, November, and December. In the despatch of 8th November Lord Kitchener said: "In the Northern Transvaal Colonel Colenbrander, KFS, has traversed the Water Berg between Warmbaths and Magalapye on the Rhodesian Railway, a district hitherto unvisited by our troops". Leaving Warmbaths on 6th October, Colenbrander visited many "Boer supply depots, carefully located beforehand, and during the march captured 45 prisoners of war, 67 rifles, nearly 4000 rounds of ammunition, and a very large number of waggons and cattle". In the same month the column of Colonel Dawkins, formerly Grenfell's, did excellent work, capturing 97 prisoners.
In the despatch of 8th December 1901 Lord Kitchener said that Colenbrander, on his return march to Warmbaths, captured 54 prisoners and much stock. About the end of November Colenbrander and Dawkins were out again. On the 27th 200 of KFS pushed out through the Zand River Poort. The enemy retreated; for two days "the pursuit was not relaxed, and on the 29th Colonel Colenbrander, with half of KFS, pressed on ahead of the remainder of the column upon Baden-horst's traces, and following them closely till the morning of 3rd December, Colonel Colenbrander, after a long and exhausting chase through an almost waterless region, came suddenly upon the enemy and captured 15 prisoners, with all the waggons of the commando". The remainder of the Scouts were successful "in killing 3 and capturing 17 Burghers, while 60 stragglers, driven into the hills near Sterkfontein, were cleverly secured by the 12th Mounted Infantry of Colonel Dawkins' column. The total results of these well-planned and carefully executed operations were 104 prisoners", many waggons, cattle, etc.
The two columns did good work all through December. On the 13th Colenbrander drove Badenhorst and 22 of his Burghers into the arms of Dawkins, and ten days later KFS captured 60 prisoners at Jericho on the Crocodile. Again it may be remarked that all these splendid results could not be achieved without some losses, but these were marvellously small. On the 20th December 3 men were killed and Lieutenant J Sampson and 6 men were wounded at Zoutpans Drift. On the 26th Colenbrander set out for Rustenburg, arriving there on 1st January 1902. "A skilful march through Magato Nek on the night of 4th January enabled him to capture a laager and 29 prisoners after an engagement at dawn, in which 5 of the enemy were killed". In his telegram regarding this affair, Lord Kitchener said: "This surprise was highly creditable to Colonel Colenbrander, who with a very small force effected it within a few miles of a superior force of the enemy". On this occasion there was one casualty. Lord Kitchener also mentioned in his despatch of 8th January 1902 that Colenbrander on 9th January came upon the native chief Linchwe and 2000 of his people searching for stock stolen by the Boer leader General Kemp. "Colenbrander directed the chief to return to the Pilandsberg, which order he obeyed forthwith, much to the relief of the families scattered throughout the district". Colenbrander, with the 1st KFS, continued to operate in the Western Transvaal during January, February, and part of March 1902. In the despatch of 8th February 1902 Lord Kitchener remarked that "in the Northern Transvaal operations at any distance from the railway have necessarily been temporarily suspended by the season of horse-sickness. The departure of Colonel Colenbrander's column for the south for this reason appears to have given General Beyers breathing-time, and sufficient leisure for the initiation of a plan which aimed at an attack on Pietersburg in conjunction with the simultaneous removal of a number of Burghers who had been residing voluntarily and as neutrals in the refugee camp at that place". The removal of some of the latter was effected, but otherwise the attack was repulsed, the Town Guard supporting the troops with great steadiness. In the despatch of 8th April it is stated that Beyers moved from Malips Poort, southeast of Pietersburg, about 13th March, and invested Fort Edward, a small fortified post near Louis Trichard. A column of 200 mounted men and 300 of the Northampton Regiment moved out to relieve the place, but was opposed, and on 24th March fell back. Colenbrander's column, 1st KFS, was therefore brought up from Krugersdorp. On the 27th he moved out from Pietersburg. On the 28th "he undertook a long night march from Dwars River, which terminated at daybreak on the 29th in the complete surprise of the enemy, who fled in an easterly direction, with the loss of 3 killed and 4 captured". This is a notable instance of irregulars succeeding brilliantly where regulars failed.
A portion of the 1st KFS were with Colonel Keir's column, which, along with Colonel Cookson's column, was heavily attacked at Boschbult, 31st March 1902 (see 2nd Regiment Canadian Mounted Rifles). The detachment of KFS had 1 man killed and 8 wounded.
In his final despatch, that of 1st June 1902, para 3, Lord Kitchener said that "in the Northern Transvaal Lieutenant Colonel Colenbrander has carried out some successful operations against General Beyers, who, on 5th April, was in camp on the southern slopes of the hills close to Malips Poort". Colenbrander, who had returned from the relief of Fort Edward on the 5th, aimed at the surrounding of the enemy. "Two parties of 400 men each were sent out on the 6th under General Celliers, National Scouts, and Captain M'Queen, Steinaecker's Horse, to block the two roads open to the Boers to the south-east and south-west. A third party under Captain Lyle, 1st KFS, moved on the night of the 6th along the top of the hills to the west of the Poort to block all possible exits in that direction; whilst Colonel Colenbrander himself, with the 2nd Battalion Inniskilling Fusiliers and the remainder of his mounted men, left Pietersburg on the night of the 7th to make a direct attack on the Poort itself. The attack was delivered on the morning of the 8th, and after severe fighting extending over two days, in which, I regret to say, Lieutenant Colonel A J Murray, commanding 2nd Inniskilling Fusiliers, was dangerously wounded, resulted in the flight of the Boers in a south-easterly direction". Unfortunately Captain M'Queen had failed "to reach the exact position assigned to him, and this enabled General Beyers and the majority of his followers to make good their escape towards Haenertsburg", but the Boers left their laager, waggons, and camp equipment. Nine were killed, 11 wounded, and 108 unwounded prisoners were taken. "Colenbrander's subsequent pursuit of General Beyers in the direction of Oud Agatha after this highly successful engagement was unfortunately marred by a mishap to a small mounted force under Captain Blaine, 1st KFS, who, pushing on too eagerly into most difficult country, fell into a cleverly arranged ambuscade from which he only extricated his men with a loss of 6 killed, 1 officer and 11 men wounded, and 30 taken prisoners".
Operations were suspended for a time during a stage of the peace negotiations, but between 5th and 10th May Colenbrander's force was able to account for 1 Boer killed, 21 wounded, and 101 armed prisoners. On 10th May hostilities in the district practically ceased.
In August 1901 Colonel Wilson, with the 2nd KFS, was railed to the Orange River Colony, and in the despatches of October, November, and December 1901 there are frequent references to the work of Wilson's column. In their new sphere they had endless marching and constant fighting, and always made good use of their opportunities. The column had the good fortune to be working under and often with Colonel Rimington (see despatch of 8th October 1901, para 7). On 4th October Wilson, marching from Kroonstad to Heilbron, was attacked near the Rhenoster River, but drove off the enemy. The regiment lost 4 killed and 6 wounded, including Lieutenants F G Schnadhorst and E E Jones, both severely wounded. Lieutenant Schnadhorst died of his wounds three weeks later.
On 14th November the columns of Colonel Byng, South African Light Horse, and Wilson, 2nd KFS, were very resolutely attacked. After two hours' fighting the attack was successfully repulsed by "Byng's rear-guard, which was well and skilfully handled by Lieutenant Colonel Wilson of KFS, and the enemy retired, leaving 8 dead on the field". The telegraphic despatch stated that the rear-guard was composed of KFS, who had all the losses, namely, 3 killed, including Lieutenant Hughes, and 8 wounded, including Lieutenants Prince Radziwill, A E Smith, and C C Allsopp. Captain J B Gedge was dangerously wounded about this time.
During December 1901 and January and February 1902 the 2nd KFS took part in many big driving movements in the north of the Orange River Colony. In his telegram of 27th January 1902 Lord Kitchener said: "Colonel Wilson, KFS, moved out on Thursday night from Frankfort and surrounded a small laager at Damplatz, capturing 20 prisoners, including Field-Cornet Strydoin. During the return march he was attacked by a superior force under Alberts, who was driven off after severe fighting, leaving 5 dead. All Wilson's prisoners, except three, escaped". Kitchener's Fighting Scouts lost 8 killed and 7 wounded. In the despatch of 8th February, dealing with events in that district, Lord Kitchener said that the columns of Keir and Wilson and Damant's Horse "have acted vigorously whenever opportunity offered against the enemy's bands under Commandants Alberts and Ross, which continued to frequent the valley of the Vaal to the north of Frankfort". In the beginning of March Wilson's column was, with other troops, taken to the Western Transvaal, where, it will be remembered, Lord Methuen had met with disaster. The 2nd KFS were placed under General Walter Kitchener, and were present at the fiercely fought action of Boschbult on 31st March 1902, when they lost 1 killed and 7 wounded. They took part in the final great drives, under General Ian Hamilton, towards the Mafeking railway and back to Klerksdorp.
Kitchener's Fighting Scouts took the field when the war was far advanced, but during the whole of the second phase of the campaign they did splendid work. Judged by the losses inflicted on the enemy, no corps could point to a finer record, and they are an outstanding example of what can be made in a very short time of Colonial material, provided that officers suitable for irregulars are found. A regular regiment can pull through a campaign although it has in its commissioned ranks a fair proportion of those not unknown types—the inconsiderate soldier and the finicking old maid whose idea of taking responsibility stops short at the enforcement among the rank and file of well-shaved chins and very clean equipment. In an irregular corps there is no place for such people, and their presence is a sure source of trouble and failure. Officers must be had with great tact and common-sense, not unduly magnifying their position, and fearless of all consequences when they act conscientiously on their own initiative.
Having been taken to Pretoria after the declaration of peace, Kitchener's Fighting Scouts had, along with the Imperial Light Horse, Johannesburg Mounted Rifles, and Scottish Horse, the honour of marching past Lord Kitchener, who spoke highly of the work which had been done.
The Mentions gained by Kitchener's Fighting Scouts were as follows:—
Despatch of 8th December 1901.—Captain E St M Hutchinson, Lieutenant L S C Lister, Lieutenant L C Hughes (killed), for conspicuous gallantry in action near Heilbron, 14th November. Sergeant W Marsburg, 1st KFS, for continual good work with scouts of Colonel Colenbrander's column.
8th March 1902.— Captain W Hurrell, 1st KFS, at Zoutpans Drift, December 21st, with 30 men charged an equal number of enemy in a difficult position and captured 22, including Commandant Nagal. Lieutenant J Sampson, Sergeant G Pirrie (died of wounds), for very valuable service in holding a ridge against much superior force of the enemy for over half an hour at Zoutpans Drift, December 30th. Corporal E P Berlyn, promoted Sergeant, at same place bandaged an officer under very heavy fire and then carried him under cover, being twice wounded in doing so, last time severely, and then continued to give directions as to other wounded men. Sergeant W Marsburg, 1st KFS, at Jericho, December 28th, when only accompanied by native scouts, rushed 7 Boers and captured them, thereby preventing them from giving the alarm to main body, which was subsequently taken. Sergeant Majors R B Sheridon, Johnson-Scott, Sergeant C Peters, for good service in north-western Transvaal, November and December 1901.
8th April 1902.—Lieutenant Colonel A E Wilson; Lieutenant Colonel J W Colenbrander, got the CB
1st June 1902. —1st KFS —Captain J C Lyle and Armourer Sergeant A P Pillan, good service in operations east of Pietersburg, 25th March to 21st April 1902. 2nd KFS — Lieutenant J S Kelly, Sergeant Major D R Bettington, Farrier Sergeant W Welsh, Sergeant E Hatison, Trooper De Wet, for good service in action at Boschbult, 31st March 1902.
3rd June 1902.—1st Regiment—Captain D E Henderson; Lieutenant E Armstrong; Regimental Sergeant Major J H Zeeder; Quartermaster Sergeant W M Croft; Private D C Scott. 2nd Regiment—Captains J B Gedye, O W Staten; Lieutenant J N Brown; Regimental Sergeant Major D Gormley; Squadron Sergeant Major R E James; Troopers C Olsson, R De Vere.
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