This corps, 300 strong, was raised by Major Orpen early in 1900 in the Hopetown neighbourhood for service on the Lower Orange River and in the extreme west of Cape Colony. They were of great use, when the enemy was making serious efforts to stir up rebellion in that outlying district, as a protection to the loyal inhabitants; while as assisting to restrain the waverers from joining the rebels, the presence of the corps was invaluable.
A glance at any map of South Africa shows that the railway from Cape Town to Kimberley runs roughly in a north-easterly direction, and that the British possessions were, before the annexation of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State, much greater in area on the north-west than on the south-east of the line. When the Orange Free State, finding Britain unprepared, attempted an invasion of Cape Colony in October and November 1899, it was only natural that they should choose to cross the Orange on the east of the railway. By doing so they struck more directly towards Cape Town and the other ports, and they entered a district where the provisioning of their army was possible. Sympathisers they had in all districts, and in the first months of 1900 unrest and incipient rebellion showed themselves in the region west of Victoria West, De Aar, and Orange River Station.
When Lord Roberts was launching his movement to relieve Kimberley he had to take measures against the rebels. In the despatch of 15th March 1900, he said that in the "Prieska-Britstown and Carnarvon districts of Cape Colony, west of the railway, between De Aar and Orange River, I regret to report that signs of organised disaffection have been apparent during the past fortnight". Two columns were got ready, one including three companies of mounted infantry and 400 of the City Imperial Volunteers; another under Major General Settle, which assembled at Hopetown, embraced about 80 of Orpen's Horse, one company of mounted infantry, a field battery, and half a battalion of infantry. Lord Kitchener was sent down from Paardeberg to direct the operations. After a little fighting these were successful, and the district, for a time, was fairly quiet and clear of the enemy, but disaffection soon broke out again. The enemy's bands scattered in one neighbourhood to reappear in another. A portion of Orpen's Horse were engaged about 11th March 1900 and inflicted some loss on the enemy. The corps had one casualty.
Orpen's Horse remained at Upington as garrison of that place, and as the balance of the regiment came up from Hopetown they, along with the Cheshire Yeomanry and the Royal Australian Battery, held Kenhardt, Draghoender, and Dopas Poort. In his telegram of 17th April 1900 Lord Roberts said: "Settle reports from Kenhardt on 14th that 200 Transvaalers made determined attack on Dopas Poort, held by a party of Orpen's Horse; our loss 2 killed and 9 wounded. Enemy's must have been heavy, as they applied for doctors and ambulance". Two other deaths from wounds on this occasion were afterwards reported. This was the regiment's first serious fight. General Settle complimented the corps on the way in which the detachment of about 40 had driven off an attack by very superior numbers. These were estimated at between 300 and 400. Near Kheis, 160 miles west of De Aar, Colonel Adye on 28th May inflicted some punishment on the enemy; while in Griqualand, north of the river, Sir Charles Warren beat his opponents in several stiff fights (see Duke of Edinburgh's Volunteers). For some months after May sympathy with the Boers was less active, but when the enemy reinvaded the north-east of Cape Colony in December 1900 every effort was made to relight the flame of rebellion west of the railway. Commandos under Hertzog and others penetrated to Calvinia, Clanwilliam, and Piquetberg. In January 1901 several columns were employed to drive these forces north, but the task was difficult in the extreme. The region is of vast extent, much of it the reverse of fertile, and although sparsely populated, very many of the farmers were anxious to assist the enemy with food, forage, or information. Roads were few, and for regular troops moving with the usual convoy, the district was one in which they could do little harm to mobile bands. In the despatch of 8th May 1901 Lord Kitchener remarked that unrest was showing in the extreme north-west, close to the frontier of German Namaqualand. In May 1902 the enemy were still moving about immediately to the north of Calvinia, and were actually besieging the town of Ookiep close to the German frontier.
From the beginning of 1901 to the close of the war the local forces did much good work; indeed to them belongs the credit of preventing the enemy gaining complete control of this wide area.
The men of Orpen's Horse were only enlisted for six months, but they cheerfully served twelve. At the end of the year 200 took their discharge, and Major Orpen with the remainder joined the column of Major Jeudwine at Van Wyk's Vlei. Orpen's men were in action on various occasions, and were, along with the other mounted troops of the column, Nesbitt's Horse, and some Border Scouts, successful in capturing prisoners at various places. At Ganabosch in the Calvinia district, on 25th June 1901, a detachment was ambushed, when 3 men were killed and several wounded. On the same day Conroy was severely defeated (see Border Scouts, under whose heading some further particulars are given of the work of troops in this difficult country).
Major Orpen was mentioned by Lord Roberts and received the CMG.
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