In July 1899 Colonel Baden-Powell was sent out to Rhodesia to raise two regiments, in order to protect the borders of that country and of the Bechuanaland Protectorate in the event of war. Recruiting began on 10th August, and the two regiments, namely, the Rhodesian, under Colonel Plumer, and the Protectorate, Colonel Hore, were raised, trained, and equipped before war broke out. Colonel Baden-Powell had about twenty regular officers to assist him in his task. In September Baden-Powell took down to Mafeking the Bechuanaland Regiment. He left Colonel Plumer with the Rhodesia Regiment, and some of the British South Africa Police, to watch the northern and north-western borders of the Transvaal, and if possible to keep the railway from Bulawayo to Mafeking open. Colonel Plumer and his regiment went to Tuli, where about 100 British South Africa Police were already posted. Between 11th October and 25th November the Tuli force was very frequently engaged, a Boer force of about 1700 being opposed to them. On 22nd October there was sharp fighting at the drifts on the Crocodile River, in which Captain Blackburn was mortally wounded, Sergeant Major Young and 3 men were killed, and several were wounded. About the middle of December it was ascertained that the Boer force had retired towards the south, and Colonel Plumer then moved west towards the railway, which had been broken by the enemy. Colonel Nicholson, of the British South Africa Police, with 350 men of the Police and Rhodesian Volunteers, had taken up positions on the railway, the most southern being Palapye, about 200 miles from Mafeking. On 14th January 1900 Colonel Plumer got to Gaberones, 100 miles farther down the line. Ten miles south of that place the Boers held a strong position, and Plumer's men did a lot of fighting before the enemy cleared out of their position on 25th February 1900. On 12th February Captain French and 6 men were killed, and Major Straker and Lieutenant Colonel H F White and about 20 men were wounded. On 6th March Lobatsi, 60 miles from Mafeking, was reached by Plumer. On 15th March the Boers attacked Plumer's force. Lieutenant Tyler was killed and several men were wounded. Lieutenant Chapman, whose horse fell close to the enemy, was captured. After more fighting Sefetili, 30 miles northwest of Mafeking, was reached, and a message sent into Baden-Powell was duly replied to. Colonel Plumer and his little force had done, and continued to do, all that men could do to keep the enemy off the town. On 26th March they made an incursion into the Transvaal to within twelve miles of Zeerust, and on the 31st they reconnoitred to within six miles of Mafeking. On this date the enemy was found in strength, and the British mounted troops lost heavily. Colonel Plumer was wounded on the arm. The Rhodesian Regiment had Captain F Crewe and Lieutenant Milligan and 6 men killed, and Major Weston Jarvis, Captain Maclaren, and Captain Holt, and 30 men wounded. Lieutenant F Smitheman, who had distinguished himself as a scout in Matabeleland, penetrated the lines of the investing force, got into Mafeking on 4th April, and rejoined Plumer on the 8th. By his influence he induced many natives to break out, and between his visit and the relief 1200 natives came out, and so saved the garrison's food supplies. On 1st May 100 men of the British South Africa Police from Mashonaland joined Plumer. On the 12th he received a message that Colonel Mahon would be on the Molopo on 15th May, and on the 14th he was joined by a most welcome reinforcement of over 100 Queensland Mounted Infantry, dismounted, and a Canadian battery of 4 guns. On the same day Plumer, with about 800 men and 8 guns, set out, and succeeded in joining hands with Mahon on the Molopo on the 15th. On the 16th was fought the engagement already touched upon under the Imperial Light Horse, and Mafeking was entered on the 17th before dawn. Lieutenants Harland and Lloyd and several men of the regiment were killed, and Major Bird and Lieutenant A J Forbes and 20 men were wounded in the fighting outside Mafeking. Out of thirteen Imperial officers serving with the regiment four had been killed, five wounded, and one captured, up to 18th May; while one volunteer officer had been killed and two wounded.
On the 17th the Boers were driven from the confines of the town, and on the 20th Plumer occupied Zeerust, and afterwards Ottoshoop and Polfontein. Baden-Powell and Plumer now moved farther east, and Rustenburg was occupied on 10th June.
After the relief of Mafeking the Rhodesian Regiment was much split up: the greater portion accompanied General Plumer to the Rustenburg district, but detachments were left at different posts. In Lord Roberts' telegram of 8th August 1900 he said that he feared that Colonel Hore's force at Eland's River (between Rustenburg and Zeerust) had been captured. He also said that the garrison consisted of about 140 Australian Bushmen, 80 of the Rhodesian Regiment, and 80 Rhodesian Volunteers. Mr Green, in his 'Story of the Australian Bushmen' (Sydney, 1903), gives what appears to be the best account yet published of the Eland's River defence. He arrived there on 16th July. Even then the Boers were in strong force in the neighbourhood, and Colonel Hore kept his men busy on entrenchments, but the garrison could scarcely be got to believe that this was necessary work. On the 19th Major Tunbridge and a squadron of the 3rd Queensland Mounted Infantry brought in a convoy. The intention was that he should go on with it to Rustenburg, but Hore deemed this inadvisable. Patrols were kept moving out, and there was often fighting, as on the 21st and 23rd. On the 22nd there was a severe engagement at Koster's River, between Eland's River and Rustenburg (see 1st New South Wales Bushmen). On 3rd August Hore learned that there was a concentration of Boers, over 2000, in his immediate neighbourhood. On the 4th the enemy commenced the attack by opening a heavy fire on parties who were taking the horses to water. Mr Green states that the garrison was now as follows:—
Queensland Mounted Infantry, Major Tunbridge: 140
New South Wales Bushmen, Captain Thomas: 100
Rhodesian Regiment and Volunteers, Protectorate Regiment, Captain Butters and Lieutenant Myburg: 150
Victorian Bushmen, Captain Ham (3rd Contingent): 5
A few British South Africa Police were also present.
Total about 500.
The garrison possessed one 7-pounder gun and two maxims; the enemy had nine modern guns.
On the 4th no less than 1500 shells fell within the perimeter of the defence, and the casualties were 32, of whom 5 were killed. On the night of the 4th and every night afterwards the men worked hard at the trenches, deepening those already made, and providing head cover from waggons which had been smashed.
No part of the camp was secure from shell-fire, and the hospital was several times struck. On the 5th Carrington's force approached so near that they could be plainly seen, but his effort to break through seems to have been almost contemptible, and Mr Green states that he actually retreated seventeen miles that night, to the amazement of his own officers and men. On the 6th an attempted relief was commenced by Baden-Powell: he got within twenty miles but turned, because he had heard the garrison had surrendered. According to Mr Green's account, and his version is well supported, there was bungling all round, and Lord Roberts was anything but satisfied with his lieutenants. After the 6th shell and rifle fire continued, but were not so heavy as on the 4th. Some incidents of how snipers stalked snipers were almost amusing. One Boer, who had done much firing but could not for some time be located, was at last found in a tree and duly brought to the ground. About the 8th Delarey sent in what was a very gentlemanly letter, asking surrender: he said he had driven back Carrington, which was true. Hore declined to surrender, and asked his opponent to keep his shells off the hospital, a request which was attended to. Fighting continued till the 15th. On that morning there was no reply to the defender's fire. A force could that day be seen in the distance, but could not be identified as friend or enemy. On the 16th, at 3 AM, some West Australians, the advance scouts of Lord Kitchener's Division, rode in. Lord Kitchener came in at 7 am. He remarked: "You have had a hot time, but have made a wonderful defence". The severity of the fire may be guessed from the fact that out of 1540 animals in camp, 1379 were lost. Owing to the good trenches, the casualties among the troops were slight in comparison. About 10 men were killed and 43 wounded, of whom 8 died. The Rhodesian Regiment lost 4 killed and 2 wounded, the Volunteers 2 killed and 2 wounded, and the British South Africa Police 2 killed and 2 wounded. Lord Roberts said: "The gallant defence of this post was most creditable to Colonel Hore and the troops under his command". Lieutenant Sandilands, of the Cameron Highlanders, who was with his own mounted infantry in the relieving force, wrote in the 'War Record of the 79th': "To my mind the defence of the garrison at Eland's River was quite one of the finest things in the whole war", and he goes on to give some details, and says every one will agree that it was a defence of which the Colonies "may well be proud".
After the relief Lord Kitchener split up his force, sending part of it on to Mafeking with Lord Methuen, who took the garrison with him.
In regard to the attempts at relief, Major General Carrington, who had landed at Beira to command the brigade of Australian Bushmen which disembarked there, had crossed Rhodesia and entered the Transvaal from the north-west border. General Carrington had been compelled to split up the Rhodesian Field Force, and to despatch portions of it across the north-west of the Transvaal to reinfore Generals Baden-Powell and Plumer. He had thus had to weaken the portion at his own disposal in August, but he was still in command of a fairly strong force—about 1000 men and a 15-pounder battery manned by New Zealanders,—and no one seemed to have any doubt that he would be able to push through to Rustenburg if necessary. He had left Zeerust on 3rd August to go to Eland's River, and it is said that on the way he received a message from Hore that the enemy were very threatening. But Carrington did not push through, as he was expected to do, at all costs. After an engagement which cannot be described as severe, and after reconnoitring to within a few miles of Hore's camp, he retired, not only to Zeerust, but actually to Mafeking.
Perhaps General Carrington's information was that the enemy's strength in the district was overwhelming, and certainly two correspondents who were with him did wire that his force was too weak. But that does not seem to have been the opinion of Lord Roberts, who on 14th August, after he had learned of Carrington's retreat, wired: "Carrington has been ordered to proceed at once to Zeerust".
On 6th August Baden-Powell approached Eland's River from Rustenburg, "but", in the words of the despatch, "though firing was going on, its sound became more distant; and concluding that Lieutenant Colonel Hore's force had either been captured by the enemy or relieved by Carrington, he retired to Rustenburg". Want of supplies prevented another attempt being made from the Rustenburg direction. Between 7th and 14th August Lord Kitchener, with several columns, was pursuing De Wet from the Vaal towards the Megaliesberg. On the 13th August a messenger reached Mafeking: he had been sent on the 10th by Hore with a request for assistance. Lord Roberts at once directed Lord Kitchener to press on to Hore's relief; and, as already stated, this was effected on 16th August.
The Eland's River garrison having, as already stated, marched to Mafeking with Lord Methuen, was, after some weeks' rest there, railed via De Aar and Bloemfontein to Pretoria, where it was inspected and congratulated by Lord Roberts on 1st October.
The bulk of the Rhodesia Regiment was, during July, August, and September, operating to the east of Rustenburg and to the north of Pretoria. In Lord Roberts' telegram of 22nd August, he said that Paget reported from Haman's Kraal that Baden-Powell was engaged with Commandant Grobler's rear-guard all the previous day. Grobler was driven back on the east of the Pienaar's River. During the fight, Baden-Powell's and the enemy's advance guards galloped into each other. The Rhodesians suffered severely, Lieutenant Colonel Spreckley, commanding Rhodesian Volunteers, and 4 men being killed, and Lieutenant Irvine and 6 men wounded. In the despatch it was stated that, as a result of this fighting, 100 British prisoners were rescued and 25 Boers captured. Colonel Spreckley was a splendid type of the colonial officer, and had done grand work in the Matabele Wars.
Soon after this, about the end of September, the year for which the Rhodesian men were engaged expired, and they were disbanded. Neither the regiment nor the Rhodesian Volunteers seem to have suffered any casualties in action after 22nd August 1900.
In his evidence, already quoted, General Plumer remarked: "In connection with engineer services I should like to record the excellent work done by the engineer troop of the South Rhodesian Volunteers who came and repaired the railway. They were all railway employees, and it was owing to their work that the railway from Bulawayo, on which so much depended, was so rapidly repaired". They also manned the armoured trains.
The Mentions gained were as follows:—
LORD ROBERTS' FINAL DESPATCHES.—Colonel Beale (BSA Company); Colonel Spreckley (killed); Major A Weston Jarvis (got CMG); Captains G Glyn, F Smitheman; Lieutenant A Myburgh, Rhodesian Regiment; Captain G Hook; Sergeant Major J Lough, South Rhodesian Volunteers; Troopers C Bentley, G F Burton or Parton, Rhodesian Regiment; Trooper C Duner; Sergeant Major Webb, South Rhodesian Volunteers; Lieutenant Duly, Rhodesian Volunteers, commanding cyclists.
LORD KITCHENER'S DESPATCH: 8th May 1901.—Captain and Local Lieutenant Colonel Grey's time leading has much contributed to the success of the operations (March 1901); he at all times displays marked ability as a leader of men. At the time to which this entry refers, Lieutenant Colonel Grey was commanding some New Zealand troops in the Western Transvaal; he had at one time been an officer in the Inniskilling Dragoons, and his old regiment were very proud of his success on 23rd March (see War Record of the Inniskillings).
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