In the despatch of 6th February 1900 Lord Roberts, after referring to the organisation of the Colonial Division under Brigadier General Brabant (see Cape Mounted Rifles), said: "Two other regiments, designated, at the particular request of the members, Roberts' Horse and Kitchener's Horse, have also been formed, chiefly from men who have found their way to South Africa from various parts of the world". These corps were at first intended to be called 'The second and third regiments of the South African Light Horse', but the names were changed as a compliment to the new Commander-in-Chief and his chief of the staff.
Appended to the despatch of 16th February, written after Lord Roberts had commenced his great movement for the relief of Kimberley and the advance on Bloemfontein, there is a list of the troops taking part in the movement, and among these is Roberts' Horse, set down at a strength of 550. Before this the corps had been doing some work on the western railway, and a detachment had taken part in an expedition to Prieska, but the regiment was attached to General French's Cavalry Division before it set out for Kimberley. They joined General French at Ramdam before midnight on 11th February, and at 2 am on the 12th started off with the cavalry division to seize the fords on the Riet. French did not carry the whole of his mounted infantry with him in his rush to Kimberley: he had to leave strong bodies on the 13th and 14th to keep touch with the infantry divisions who were following. On the 15th part of Roberts' Horse was in the Mounted Infantry Brigade under Colonel Hannay when Cronje was discovered to have left Magersfontein and to be trekking through the gap which, on 15th February, existed between the cavalry heading for Kimberley and the main army. As it was, the gallant Hannay's Mounted Infantry, although but very recently raised and mounted, did splendid work from the time Cronje was discovered until he was surrounded at Paardeberg. Mr Goldmann, in his 'With General French and the Cavalry', gives a fine description of the rush to Kimberley, the heading of Cronje, and the many engagements on the way to Bloemfontein. At page 77, speaking of the seizing of the drifts on the Riet, he tells how General French manoeuvred so as to deceive the enemy as to the point of crossing: "Finding that his bait had taken, General French at once made for Dekiel's Drift with the first Brigade, the mounted infantry, and Roberts' Horse. The banks of the river were very steep and difficult, but by following the track a fordable place was discovered. Some Boers, seeing the cavalry make a dash for the ford, also had a race for it, and attempted to dispute the passage, but, out-manoeuvred by a boldly handled party of Roberts' Horse, came up too late to offer more than a show of resistance. Captain Majendie of the Rifle Brigade, attached to Roberts' Horse, was the only man killed, and but two were hit". One man of Roberts' Horse was killed. On the 15th Lieutenant Gray was wounded near Kimberley. On the 16th some of the corps were in the fighting round Kimberley. On the 18th a portion of the corps were assisting Brigadier General Gordon to the north of Paardeberg. Gordon had left Kimberley that morning about twenty-four hours after Broadwood's Brigade, which, it may be remembered, headed Cronje on the 17th. On the 19th Roberts' Horse did good work in seizing Koedoesrand Drift and the hills south of it, and part of them were at the taking of Kitchener's Hill next day. This was an important position two miles south of the Boer laager, which, if held by the enemy, made it possible for them to send help to Cronje. The regiment had casualties several times between the 15th and 28th February, including Lieutenant Grant wounded. This officer died in Kimberley shortly afterwards. During that period they had suffered severe hardships: the work had been incessant, and the rations for officers, men, and horses most scanty.
In the despatch of 15th March it was noted that Roberts' Horse had, about 2nd March, been put into the brigade of mounted infantry under Lieutenant Colonel Alderson, along with the first and second regiments of regular mounted infantry, the New Zealand Mounted Rifles, and Rimington's Guides. At the seizing of the positions commanding Bloemfontein on the evening of 12th March Roberts' Horse had again a prominent place. On their arrival at Bloemfontein the strength of the regiment was 35 officers, 358 men, and 387 horses.
After the occupation of the capital Alderson's Mounted Infantry, including Roberts' Horse, accompanied Major General Broadwood on an expedition to Ladybrand. Broadwood, thinking the enemy was in too great force beyond Thabanchu to allow of his small body remaining long so far from a base, decided to retire on Sannah's Post. On 30th March he fought a rear-guard action. On the 31st his camp was shelled from the east or rear at daybreak, and he decided to push on to the west. In his report he said: "Roberts' Horse and 'U' Battery moved off on opposite sides of the baggage column, which was clearing rapidly out of the shell-fire, and before they had cleared the column came to a deep spruit about 2000 yards west of the bivouac. This spruit was occupied by about 600 of the enemy, who seized five guns of the battery and the convoy, and opened a heavy fire on Roberts' Horse and the main body of the cavalry which was following: these retired out of fire". 'Q' Battery wheeled into action about 1200 yards from the spruit, and the Durham Mounted Infantry formed up on its flank. This checked any intention of the enemy to come out of the spruit. General Broadwood ordered the Household Cavalry and 10th Hussars to move to the south, crossing Koorn Spruit above the Boers, and to press down the gully on their right flank. The cavalry got across, but do not seem to have made any determined attempt to press or enfilade the Boers. To Alderson's Mounted Infantry, including Roberts' Horse, was allotted the post of honour—that of rear-guard—and to the splendid stand which they made was due the fact that any of the guns were saved. When Alderson was finally ordered to retire he was holding his position with comparatively little difficulty. A regular officer who saw their work that day has told the writer that nothing could have been finer than the conduct of Roberts' Horse throughout the trying hours after the first outburst of fire from the spruit. 'Q' Battery had to leave two guns, for which no horses were available; indeed the guns saved were only got out by hand and with the greatest difficulty. Lieutenant Maxwell, DSO, 18th Bengal Lancers; Sergeant J C Collins; Troopers T Murphy and V D Todd, all of Roberts' Horse, were mentioned by Brigadier General Broadwood. Lieutenant Maxwell got the Victoria Cross for heroic efforts made in the saving of the guns, and the others got the DCM. In his telegraphic despatches of 1st and 2nd April Lord Roberts mentions that Roberts' Horse and some regular mounted infantry covered the retirement of the guns, first from the proximity of the spruit and again from the position taken up by 'Q' Battery.
The approximate losses of the regiment were Lieutenant Growler and about 30 men killed, Major A W Pack Beresford, Captain H C Smith, Captain P D Bray, Lieutenant Darley, Lieutenant Kirkwood, and Lieutenant and Quartermaster Hawkins, and about 50 men wounded. About 70 were made prisoners. Notwithstanding the losses at Sannah's Post the corps was soon in action again, taking part in the operations under Generals French and Rundle for clearing the south-east of the Orange River Colony and effecting the relief of Wepener. On 23rd April, at Kariefontein near Leeuwkop, they were sharply engaged and had some casualties. Several correspondents spoke of the regiment as doing their work exceedingly well and taking a prominent share in the attack on a strong position. On 1st May Lord Roberts inspected the corps and complimented them on the good work which they had done.
Roberts' Horse were with Ridley and Ian Hamilton in the next advance from Bloemfontein to Pretoria. The regiment was now in the 5th Mounted Infantry Corps under Lieutenant Colonel Dawson, along with the 5th Mounted Infantry Regulars and Marshall's Horse. Frequently during the advance Roberts' Horse was heavily engaged and suffered sharp losses. The regiment was in action to the south of Pretoria before the occupation; at Diamond Hill, 11th-12th June; and in other fighting immediately after that battle. They took part in the initial operations for the surrounding of Prinsloo, and again had sharp fighting near Heidelberg on the north side of the Vaal on 23rd June. The day was a disastrous one for the officers of the corps. Captain Whitaker was mortally wounded, Captain M Browne and Lieutenants C L Learmonth and Rex King were wounded, while there were about 20 casualties in other ranks. Broadwood's Cavalry Brigade and Ridley's Mounted Infantry were detached by Sir Archibald Hunter to pursue De Wet when he broke out of the Brandwater Basin, and between 16th and 20th July Roberts' Horse were frequently engaged with the Boer rear-guard, having Lieutenant J C Collins wounded, and about half-a-dozen other casualties. On the 24th, at Stinkhoutboom, 150 of the corps boldly pursued and captured some waggons, but the detachment was in turn attacked, and only managed to withdraw their booty by the prompt assistance of Kitchener's Horse. They took part in the pursuit after De Wet and his men had broken across the Vaal on the night of 6th August, and thereafter they operated in the Krugersdorp district under Ridley and Clements. The regiment was present in Pretoria as representing the South African forces at the ceremony of proclaiming the annexation on 25th October 1900.
In November the regiment was with Hart in the Gatsrand, and frequently had fighting, as on 23rd and 24th November, when they had one killed and two wounded. Their good work at this period was referred to by the General. After Clements' mishap at Nooitgedacht, 13th December 1900, a large force was employed to clear the country west of Krugersdorp. Roberts' Horse took part in these operations under Brigadier General Cunningham, and was engaged at Olifant's Nek on 22nd January 1901, and in the action at Middelfontein, 23rd. January. During February and March they were often in action, and on 17th March Lieutenant F C Montgomery was killed near Lichtenburg, in the Western Transvaal. On the 18th, Lieutenant A F Todd and some men were wounded.
In the second phase of the war—that is, after Lord Roberts had handed over his command to Lord Kitchener—the regiment had one signal opportunity of gaining distinction. In the despatch of 8th May 1901, Lord Kitchener, dealing with operations in the Western Transvaal, said: "A night march across the hills south of Kaffir's Kraal resulted in the surprise of the Boer camp at dawn of the 14th April, the laager being rushed by the men of Roberts' and Kitchener's Horse under Lieutenant Colonel Sir Henry Rawlinson. The enemy, numbering some five or six hundred, fled in haste, pursued by our troops. The enemy's losses included 6 killed, 10 wounded, 23 prisoners, 1 12-pounder gun, 1 pom-pom, 2 ammunition waggons", and an immense amount of ammunition. "Our casualties were 3 men wounded". To have accomplished so telling a victory with such a light casualty list reflected the greatest credit on Sir Henry Rawlinson and the officers and men of the two regiments.
Roberts' Horse continued to do good work in the Western Transvaal under Sir Henry Rawlinson and other leaders. For a time they were in the column of Colonel Hickie (see despatch of 8th July 1901). On 8th and 9th July, Roberts' Horse had 6 wounded, and Kitchener's Horse 3 wounded. They were afterwards employed in the Eastern Transvaal under General Bruce Hamilton, and took part in some of his very successful movements by which large numbers of prisoners were taken. To the close of the war they maintained the splendid reputation which they had gained in the first six weeks of their service.
The Honours and Mentions gained by the regiment were as follows:—
Lieutenant F A Maxwell, 18th Bengal Lancers, attached Roberts' Horse, gained the Victoria Cross. Lieutenant Maxwell was one of three officers not belonging to 'Q' Battery, RHA, specially mentioned by Lord Roberts as having shown greatest gallantry and disregard of danger in carrying out the self-imposed duty of saving the guns of that battery during the affair at Koorn Spruit (Sannah's Post), March 31,1900. This officer went out on five different occasions and assisted to bring in two guns and three limbers, one of which he, Captain Humphreys, and some gunners dragged in by hand. He also went out with Captain Humphreys and Lieutenant Stirling to try to get the last gun in, and remained there till the attempt was abandoned. During a previous campaign—Chitral Expedition, 1895—Lieutenant Maxwell displayed gallantry in the removal of the body of Lieutenant Colonel F D Battye, Corps of Guides, under fire, for which, although recommended, he received no reward".
Mentions were gained as follows:—
LORD ROBERTS' DESPATCH: 31st March 1900, for advance to Bloemfontein.—Colonel H L Dawson, 9th Bengal Lancers, attached, awarded CB; Captain A W Pack Beresford, Royal Artillery; Troopers L Chadwick and C H Worrod. For Sannah's Post, the names already quoted.
LORD ROBERTS' FINAL DESPATCHES.—Captains E R King, F C Vignolles, and J B J Baumgartner; Sergeant Major (Lieutenant) Montgomery; Lieutenants R Singer, C Ross; Doctor Leslie; Farrier-Sergeant Robinaus; Corporals. A Hayne, R Thurston, E D Patterson; Troopers L H T Apel, J M'K Chadwick, G Cullen, P Fitzherbert, T Jones, H Hilton, T Murphy, V D Todd.
LORD KITCHENER'S DISPATCH: 8th March 1902.—Brevet Major H C Smith, Royal Dublin Fusiliers, for conspicuous good service in General Bruce Hamilton's operations in Ermelo district, December 1901 and January 1902. Sergeant Brown, for great dash and energy on occasion of capture of Boers, Ermelo, December 11 and 13. Sergeant J C Collins and Trumpeter O'Hara got the DCM. Trooper Chadwick received one of the four scarves knitted by Queen Victoria, he having been selected as the South African representative. Gallant conduct in the field was the primary consideration in the awarding of these scarves.
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