One squadron of Mounted Rifles sailed from New South Wales in November 1899, and three squadrons of Mounted Infantry on 17th January 1900. Another squadron of Mounted Infantry was formed from the infantry unit, 125 men, which sailed on 3rd November 1899. It has to be kept in view that the 1st contingent from New South Wales, as from several other colonies, would have been much larger,—more had been offered,—but over-wise directors of military affairs at home wired on 3rd October 1899 desiring two units, about 125 men each, from each of the larger colonies, and one unit from each of the smaller. It has become the fashion to blame the civilians in the Cabinet or War Office for undue preparation and the studied discouragement of Colonial or Volunteer assistance generally. The blame, if any, seems to rest on one man alone, the Commander-in-Chief in 1899—that is, on the assumption that his title or office meant anything; and if it did not, he should not have held it a day.
The squadron of Mounted Rifles, commanded by Captain J M Antill, was, on arrival upon 6th December 1899, taken to Orange River, and during December and January did useful work in that neighbourhood, being sent to garrison Prieska for a time when there was good reason to believe many of the inhabitants in that district were disloyal. The squadron of infantry which was converted into mounted infantry was, during December and January, its period of foot service, working in the Enslin neighbourhood along with the other units which composed the Australian Regiment of Infantry. Along with these other units it was taken to Naauwpoort, Central Cape Colony, in the end of January 1900, and was there served out with horses. Under Captain Legge, this squadron did good service in General Clements' operations, both in the retirement from the positions round Colesberg, in the fighting round Arundel, in the advance from Arundel to Colesberg and Norvals Pont, and on the march through the Orange Free State. (See 1st Victorian Contingent.) Lieutenant F A Dove was wounded on 26th February, and the squadron had losses on various occasions in this district.
The three squadrons of Mounted Infantry arrived in South Africa in time to take part, along with Antill's squadron of Mounted Rifles, in Lord Roberts' big operations for the relief of Kimberley and the capture of Bloemfontein. They were part of the brigade under Colonel Hannay which started from Orange River, marched to Ramdam, and following on the heels of General French's cavalry division, were the advance-guard of the great army after General French had branched off to Kimberley. When Cronje vacated his positions at Magersfontein and was discovered trekking eastward through the gap between General French's force and the main army, Colonel Hannay's Mounted Infantry was the first mounted force available for the pursuit. Colonel Hannay's men made every effort to drive in the Boer rear-guard, but as usual the latter was very skilfully commanded, successive positions being taken up and held to enable Cronje's convoy to get away. However, a good many waggons were either abandoned by the enemy through the animals being unable to proceed or were cut off by the Mounted Infantry. When the laager was discovered on the morning of the 18th Hannay's men again did excellent service, although both horses and men were utterly exhausted with the unceasing work of the previous seven days, during three of which they had had constant fighting. It will be remembered that General French had blocked Cronje's exits on the north and north-east. The infantry of the Vlth and IXth Divisions were on the west and southern sides of the laager, while Hannay was ordered by Lord Kitchener to take his men past the laager and attack from the east. After several assaults had been driven back by the terrible fire from the Boers in the hollows about the river-bed, Hannay was ordered to make one more desperate attempt to get in from the east side. That such an effort could succeed could scarcely have occurred to any one who had seen the deadly accuracy of the Boer fire when they were attacked across level ground suitable for the low trajectory of the modern rifle. However, Hannay obeyed the command, and was killed in this last desperate charge undertaken at the imperious desire of Lord Kitchener.
After the surrender of Cronje the NSW Mounted Infantry were in the 2nd Mounted Infantry Brigade commanded by Colonel P W J Le Gallais, under whom they did most excellent work in the battles of Poplar Grove and Driefontein on the way to Bloemfontein. On 6th March, near Osfontein, the Mounted Infantry had Lieutenant Holborrow and 3 men wounded. At Driefontein the squadron of Mounted Rifles had 1 killed and 4 wounded. Captain J M Antill gained mention in the despatch of 31st March. The strength of the NSW Mounted Infantry, including Antill's squadron, when they marched into Bloemfontein on 13th March 1900, was officially stated at 22 officers, 408 men, and 345 horses.
The regiment, under the command of Colonel G C Knight, was said to have done good work at the battle of Karee Siding on 29th March, when General Tucker's infantry, French's cavalry, and Le Gallais' brigade of mounted infantry cleared the hills north of Bloemfontein and opened the road to Brandfort. In April the regiment was in some of the engagements southeast of Bloemfontein.
For the advance to Pretoria the regiment was put into the 2nd Mounted Infantry corps under De Lisle, part of Ian Hamilton's army, but in the earlier stages, on account of the cavalry having been unable to take their appointed place on the left flank until after the army had started north, the NSW Mounted Infantry were detached from Hamilton and operated, under Hutton, with the other oversea Colonials (see Canadian Mounted Rifles and Royal Canadian Dragoons). After Kroonstad was left behind, De Lisle's corps, now including the NSW Mounted Infantry, took a very prominent part in the operations which culminated in the surrender of Pretoria. In the despatch of 14th August, para 22, Lord Roberts spoke of the Boers pressing the left flank and threatening the rear of his centre column, so he ordered Ian Hamilton, out on the left, to close in. "As soon as Ian Hamilton's troops came up and De Lisle's mounted infantry pushed well round the enemy's right flank, they fell back on Pretoria ... Shortly before dusk Lieutenant Colonel De Lisle, whose mounted infantry had followed up the enemy to within 2000 yards of Pretoria, sent an officer under a flag of truce to demand in my name the surrender of the town". The officer referred to was Lieutenant Watson of the NSW Mounted Infantry. The town was surrendered on the following day.
The regiment frequently had casualties throughout May, as at the crossing of the Zand, where they lost 8 men. On the 21st Lieutenant A J M Onslow was wounded.
The regiment was present, under De Lisle and Ian Hamilton, on the right, at the battle of Diamond Hill, 11th and 12th June 1900. Mr Paterson's excellent account of their very gallant work, reprinted in the War Record of the Inniskilling Dragoons, says: "Our mounted infantry, under Antill and Holmes, were ordered to advance over a lot of open country, and got possession of some kopjes outlying from the main hills. They made the advance in fine style, and got the hills on the first day without much trouble, although they were shelled as they went over". Next day they were ordered to drive the Boers off a steep rocky kopje on the extreme right. On the top of the hill Lieutenant Dragge was killed and Lieutenant W R Harrison mortally wounded. Captain Holmes and Sergeant Majors Baker and Baring were wounded. In Lord Roberts' telegram of 15th June he referred to the good work done by De Lisle's men, and in that of the 16th he said that Botha's army had "retired, and that the rear-guard was surprised and thoroughly routed by Ian Hamilton's mounted infantry, chiefly West Australians and 6th Battalion".
Towards the end of June Colonel De Lisle's mounted infantry were a part of the force which moved on Heidelberg, where the New South Wales men were engaged: thereafter part of the force re-crossed the Vaal, under Sir A Hunter, to endeavour to close in on the Boers in the Brandwater Basin. De Wet having broken through on 15th July, Broadwood's cavalry and Ridley's mounted infantry, of which Colonel De Lisle's corps was part, were detached by Sir A Hunter in pursuit (see Roberts' Horse). On the 19th there was a sharp fight at Palmietfontein, in which the NSW Mounted Infantry lost 3 men killed and Lieutenant Lucas Tooth and several men wounded. De Wet took refuge in the Reitzburg Hills, but broke across the Vaal on 6th - 7th August. De Lisle's mounted infantry and other troops followed, and continued the pursuit to the Megaliesberg, the New South Wales men suffering a few casualties on the way. After De Wet had got clear they assisted to relieve their fellow - Colonials under Hore at Elands River in August (see Rhodesia Regiment), one of the few casualties in the relieving force being Lieutenant Colonel De Lisle wounded. In the latter part of August and first half of September De Lisle's mounted infantry were operating under Clements in the Gats-rand and generally west of Pretoria. On 17th September they were railed to Rhenoster in the Orange River Colony, where they did a great deal of chasing and fighting. In an attempt to surround a Boer force at Elands Kop on 1st October, the contingent lost 2 men killed. They assisted to drive De Wet from the Reitzburg Hills to the north of the Vaal on 8th-9th October, and when he had re-crossed to the south they had an honourable share in the very successful actions at Rensburg and Parys Drifts, 27th October 1900, and Bothaville, 6th November 1900.
In his despatch of 15th November 1900, para 14, when dealing with the Bothaville action, Lord Roberts said: "On the 3rd November Le Gallais was again in touch with De Wet's scouts east of Bothaville, and on the night of the 5th surprised the Boer force three miles south of that place, and was heavily engaged for five hours, when he was reinforced by Charles Knox with De Lisle's mounted infantry. This was a most successful engagement, reflecting great credit on Major General Charles Knox and all serving with him, especially on the Australian and other mounted troops under Colonel Le Gallais and Lieutenant Colonel De Lisle, who must have felt themselves amply rewarded for the perseverance and energy they had displayed during the preceding weeks, which had been most harassing to all concerned". Lord Roberts then went on to detail the fruits of the victory: these included 6 field-guns, 1 pom-pom, 1 maxim, all the enemy's ammunition and waggons, and 100 prisoners; 25 dead and 30 wounded Boers were left on the field.
In his telegram of 3rd November 1900 Lord Roberts said: "One of the two guns taken from De Wet on the 27th October was a Krupp. It was captured by the New South Wales Mounted Infantry".
On 16th November 3 men of the Mounted Infantry were wounded at Rhenoster.
In Lord Roberts' telegram of 26th November 1900, he said: "De Lisle from Kroonstad reports that Colonel Fanshawe had a rear-guard action with about 60 Boers near Duinsfontein. One man of the NSW Mounted Rifles was killed. Fanshawe reports that Captain Watson performed a gallant act. Seeing Private Robinson, NSW Mounted Rifles, fall, he turned back and carried him out on his own horse under a hot fire". Captain Watson was an officer of the NSW Mounted Infantry. Most of the Mounted Rifles left South Africa before the end of 1900.
In January and February 1901 De Lisle, with some of the NSW Mounted Infantry and their old comrades the 6th Battalion Mounted Infantry (regulars), was doing very fine work in the Piquetberg-Clanwilliam district of Cape Colony,—work which greatly contributed to persuade the enemy of the hopelessness of any attempt to reach Cape Town or to get arms or ammunition from the sea-coast. The work of the NSW men was over and over again most highly praised by the Press Association correspondent who accompanied the column on its march through very difficult country about the Roggeveld mountains. In order to turn a pass Captain Bennett led his men during darkness over a high mountain, climbing a very steep face for nearly 2000 feet. On another occasion the column did 72 miles in forty-eight hours in a district almost waterless. Writing on 25th January 1901, the Press Association correspondent remarked that the Intelligence officer of the column was Captain Legge, Colonel De Lisle's galloper was Captain Watson, while the Supply officer was Lieutenant Osborne—all NSW officers. He said the work of all three was excellent, and the column the best fed he had been with. This latter fact may account for some of the praise. On the 19th February, the anniversary of the landing of the 2nd contingent, Colonel De Lisle addressed them. He could not have spoken in more flattering terms of them and their comrades the 1st Contingent NSW Mounted Infantry.
On 31st March 1901 the last of the 1st and 2nd Contingents of NSW Mounted Infantry sailed for home.
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'
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