THE strength of the 2nd NSW Mounted Rifles, Lieutenant Colonel Lassetter commanding, was, on sailing, 709 all ranks. They arrived in South Africa at the end of March 1901. The 2nd and 3rd NSW Mounted Rifles formed the fifth contingent or contribution of the colony.
Lord Kitchener in his despatch, 8th May 1901, para 11, remarks that a fresh column of mounted Australian troops was, in April, organised at Klerksdorp in the Transvaal, under Lieutenant Colonel E C Williams, to reinforce General Babington. The appendix to the despatch of 8th July 1901 shows that the column was, in May, composed of 2nd NSW Mounted Rifles, 526; 3rd NSW Bushmen, 229; 21st Battalion Mounted Infantry, 432; 78th Battery Royal Field Artillery, 2 guns; Elswick Battery, 1 gun; 'A' Battery Royal Australian Artillery, 2 guns; 2 sections of pom-poms; 192 men of the 2nd Cheshire Regiment; Australian Medical Corps; and 7th company Royal Engineers.
Colonel Williams' column, in the beginning of May, took part in operations in the south-west of the Transvaal, and on the 10th had sharp fighting, when Lieutenant E Lamb and 4 men were killed and 7 wounded. On the 15th Captain M'Lean, of the 2nd Mounted Rifles, was severely wounded at Koranafontein. "On the 24th, on the right bank of the Vaal, near Klerksdorp, this force had a successful action with Yan Rensburg's Commando, in the course of which 24 prisoners, 6200 rounds of ammunition, and 30 ox-waggons were taken". Thirty-five Burghers surrendered on the march back. Throughout June and July the column was in the Western Transvaal. In the end of June and first half of July, along with three other columns, all under General Fetherstonhaugb, Williams marched through the Megaliesberg to Zeerust and back to Klerksdorp. There were many sharp skirmishes, and a fair number of prisoners were taken. Another long march to the western railway and back was next undertaken. On 19th August Williams, hearing that a Boer convoy was to the north of him, sent his waggons in another direction to deceive the enemy; "then with his Australians, New South Wales MR, and Bushmen, made a rapid night march" towards the Boers. "After a gallop of 12 miles he was able to ride down and capture the whole convoy, with 18 prisoners, 65 waggons", and much stock. On this occasion the column covered 60 miles in twenty-seven hours. In September and October the same kind of thing went on—the column always doing well and keeping out of mishaps. On 20th October 1901 Williams and his "600 Australians" (the Mounted Infantry and Cheshires had left the column) were railed from Klerksdorp to the Eastern Transvaal, and on the 26th drove in a Boer picket and took 50 prisoners and much stock. The next day the very difficult Witnek defile was forced. "The enemy held the pass in some strength, and brought a pom-pom into action. The energetic advance of our troops, however, eventually forced him to abandon his strong position, and he finally fled, leaving 5 dead on the ground". In the pass, which is 6 miles long, a few prisoners were taken. Williams was now brought to the east of Pretoria, and moved first to Leeuwkop and then to Pienaars River Station. In November and December he was working south of Wonderfontein on the Delagoa line, and took part in the very successful operations of General Bruce Hamilton. On the 6th December Williams had stiff fighting at Weltevreden, killing 5 and capturing 12 of the enemy. Throughout December and four following months many night marches were undertaken, often with luck. On one occasion the force fought a successful action and marched 60 miles within forty-eight hours. During these last months of the war the mobile columns had terribly hard work, and few of them came out better than that of Colonel E C Williams. On the whole, it escaped with wonderfully few casualties.
About the end of April 1902, immediately after a very successful movement, "the column was broken up, the Over-Sea Colonials of whom it was composed having completed their period of service in South Africa". In Lord Kitchener's despatch of 1st June 1902 (see New Zealand - 8th Contingent), a corps, there designated 3rd New South Wales Bushmen, is mentioned, but doubtless the General meant to refer to one of the New South Wales battalions of Commonwealth Horse.
The bulk of the 2nd NSW Mounted Rifles, under Lieutenant Colonel Lassetter, arrived at Sydney on 5th June while the Peace celebrations were in progress, and got a magnificent reception.
Click on the icon to read the account of this unit from Lt Col P L Murray's 1911 'Official Records of the Australian Military Contingents to the War in South Africa'