The 1st Battalion sailed on the Greek about 14th November 1899, and arrived at the Cape about 2nd December.
As soon as Nicholson's Nek had opened the eyes of Britain the War Office set about sending more than the Army Corps, which all had thought would be sufficient, and among the first three extra battalions ordered out were the 1st Essex. On arrival they were sent to the Naauwpoort - Colesberg district to assist General French in stemming the Boer invasion, and they remained with him until taken to Modder River. To the Essex, as well as to the 1st Yorks and 1st Welsh, their future brigade companions, the few weeks spent under General French were of inestimable value. Officers and men had an opportunity of learning practical warfare under a leader unsurpassed for caution and delicate skill in handling troops. His scheme, a sort of aggressive defence, gave every one a chance of seeing how things could best be done, and when the time for thoroughly pressing home an attack did come no regiments knew better how to do it than the three just named, justifying the choice made by Lord Roberts when he selected them for the 18th Brigade and a place in the Vlth Division under Lieutenant General Kelly-Kenny.
To the commander of the Essex, Colonel T E Stephenson, came the honour of the command of the 18th Brigade, and it would be difficult to point to a leader who has carried out his task with more unvarying success. From the time when General French commended him in his despatch of 2nd February 1900 to the occupation of Koomati Poort and the Barberton command, Major General Stephenson has never been spoken of but with praise.
The work of the Vlth Division has been sketched under the East Kent Regiment and that of the 18th Brigade under the 1st Yorkshire Regiment.
At Paardeberg on 18th February 1900 the Essex took a prominent part, having about 12 men killed, and 2 officers, including the colonel, and 20 men wounded.
At Driefontein, or Abraham's Kraal, on 10th March, the Essex and Welsh took part in a splendid bayonet-charge which elicited the commendations of Lord Roberts. The losses of the battalion were approximately 2 officers and 14 men killed, 2 officers and 70 men wounded. Seven officers and 10 non-commissioned officers and men of the battalion were mentioned in Lord Roberts' despatch of 31st March 1900. Lieutenant F N Parsons was awarded the VC for exceptional gallantry at Paardeberg. Unfortunately he was killed at Driefontein, when he was again displaying conspicuous gallantry. In the advance from Bloemfontein to Pretoria and thence to Koomati Poort the battalion had not any severe losses.
After the occupation of Koomati Poort the 18th Brigade were retained in the Eastern Transvaal, chiefly on the railway.
On 22nd October 1900 the battalion was ordered to Frederickstad to join General Barton, who was being hard pressed. On 25th October he attacked the enemy and inflicted a severe defeat on them. The reinforcements did not take part in the action. After this the battalion was sent back to the Delagoa line.
In Lord Roberts' final despatch 14 officers and 21 non-commissioned officers and men were mentioned.
In January 1901 the Essex, along with the Suffolks, West Yorks, and Cameron Highlanders, formed an infantry brigade under Brigadier General Spens, and part of a strong force under Major General Smith-Dorrien which operated from near Wonderfontein towards Carolina. On 31st January the Essex left the brigade for the railway. Five days afterwards Smith-Dorrien was fiercely attacked at Bothwell. In February 1901, the enemy having become aggressive in Cape Colony, the Essex were railed from Wonderfontein to Norval's Pont, and soon thereafter were taken to Orange River Station and Hopetown. The bulk of the invaders having been expelled from the colony, the battalion was once more taken to the Eastern Transvaal, and when peace was declared they were inhabiting the Ermelo blockhouse line.
One officer, 2 non-commissioned officers, and 1 man gained mention in Lord Kitchener's despatches during the war, and in his final despatch he mentioned 7 officers and 9 non-commissioned officers.
The 2nd Battalion was brought from India to South Africa in December 1901, and in his despatch of 8th January 1902, para 5, Lord Kitchener remarks that he had placed them "at the disposal of Brigadier General E O Hamilton for duty on the blockhouse line east of Tafel Kop" (in the north-east corner of the Orange River Colony). During January and February 1902 great drives were taking place in that district, which made the holding of the containing lines a most arduous and responsible task.
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