The 1st Battalion sailed from Alexandria, Egypt, on 24th September 1899, and arrived at Durban on 12th October. They were at once taken up country, unfortunately without their baggage and much of their equipment, which was to follow, but never reached, the battalion.
On 13th October the battalion arrived at Ladysmith, where they took outpost duty the same evening. On the 15th October at 11.20 pm they entrained for Dundee, taking supplies for the force at Dundee (see 1st Leicestershire Regiment), and 400 rounds per rifle. On the 17th, 18th, and 19th nothing particular happened, and the only noteworthy incident was that General Penn-Symons stated on parade he would have no intrenchments made. On the evening of the 19th news came that the railway had been cut. On the 20th the infantry paraded at 5 am and were dismissed at 5.20 am, but were standing about when a gun was heard and a shell fell between the town and the camp. Orders came to the battalion that Talana Hill was to be attacked, one company of the Fusiliers to be left in camp. The 1st Battalion Leicester Regiment was also left in or near the camp. The 1st Royal Irish Fusiliers were to direct in the centre, the 1st King's Royal Rifles on the left, and the 2nd Dublin Fusiliers on the right. When the battalions advanced the King's Royal Rifles seem to have inclined to the centre, and the 1st Royal Irish Fusiliers accordingly, to clear them, inclined to the left. All the battalions did a bit of racing. Before the wood at Smith's farm was reached orders came that the attack on Talana Hill was to be by the Dublin Fusiliers first line, King's Royal Rifles second line, Royal Irish Fusiliers in reserve. The maxims of the three battalions took up a position near the north-west corner of the wood at Smith's farm, and did excellent service. The wood was 1200 yards from Sand Spruit,—a watercourse between the town and the hill,—where the battalion had halted for a time. The ground between the spruit and the wood was open and devoid of cover. The leading battalions got into the wood and halted there. The wood was, roughly, 500 yards square, but parts of it were sparse. The two leading battalions advanced from the wood, some up either side of a 3-foot wall running perpendicularly up the hillside. They reached another wall running across the hill at right angles, but could not get farther. The Royal Irish Fusiliers were ordered to reinforce at the cross wall, and did so; then all three battalions jumped the wall and climbed the last and steepest part of the hill. Just below the crest the leading men had to halt and lie down, but were able to hold their own, when, to the horror of all, the British artillery burst shrapnel among them, and drove the whole down again to the wall. Colonel Yule seems to have hesitated about another assault, but risked it. The wall was jumped again, many of the Royal Irish Fusiliers being in the front line, and when the top was reached a second time the Boers had almost all fled, and the day was won, but at heavy cost.
The battalion went into action 640 strong. They lost Captain Connor and Lieutenant Hill and 15 men killed, and 5 officers and 37 men wounded. The newspapers spoke of 4000 British infantry being in the attacking force, but as the Leicestershire Regiment was left in camp, and none of the other battalions were stronger than the Royal Irish Fusiliers, 1900 was about the number of infantry engaged. It was said the Boers numbered about 4000 with four guns.
At 9.30 pm on the 22nd the retreat from Dundee commenced, and the Royal Irish Fusiliers had reason to feel the hardships of that awful march more than any of the other battalions, as they had no transport, and had to carry all ammunition, coats, etc. They had no kettles, and had to borrow these from the other troops at a halt. At 2 pm on the 26th they reached their camping-ground at Ladysmith physically done up. The last twenty-five miles had been done under fearful conditions; rain had fallen very heavily, and the road, so called, was a sea of mud, often knee-deep.
On the 29th the battalion was ordered to provide six companies as part of a column under Lieutenant Colonel Carleton, consisting of these companies, about six companies of the 1st Gloucestershire Regiment, and the 10th Mountain Battery; the force to take 300 rounds per rifle, two days' cooked rations, no water; no wheeled vehicles to be allowed. At 11.15 pm the column marched out towards Nicholson's Nek, which it was intended they should hold. The Irish Fusiliers led, followed by 45 mules with ammunition, etc, then the mountain battery with 135 mules, then 59 animals belonging to the Gloucesters, who brought up the rear.
"When the head of the column was two-thirds up the hill called Cainguba the battalion mules took fright, bolted down on the battery and the Gloucester mules, and the whole 240 animals swept through or over the Gloucester detachment. The Fusiliers pressed on and occupied Cainguba; 11 mules were recovered". At dawn the Fusiliers were moved back a little to a hill called Hogsback Hill. The Gloucesters now came up, and they occupied the left front somewhat in advance of the Fusiliers. The latter were placed along the right front, the right, and the right rear. There were no intrenching tools, and the men had to do what they could to make sangars with the very few loose stones available. At daylight the Boers opened fire from Surprise Hill, 800 yards to the left front. At 7 am Boers were seen advancing from other hills on the right and right rear. At 8 am a company of Gloucesters was advanced 600 yards from the Hogsback to command the valley between it and Surprise Hill. At 9.30 am it was noticed that the main action was not progressing well; Sir George White's right column was seen to be losing ground, and the centre column could be seen to be stationary. At this time Boers came riding over from Pepworth Hill in large numbers. To meet these developments, pointing to an attack from the north, the position of some companies of the Fusiliers was changed. About 11 am Boers were seen to be occupying a knoll 1000 yards to the front. The advanced company of the Gloucesters was reinforced by a half company, but the whole of that advanced party were driven back, losing heavily. At 11.45 am many Boers appeared on the right front, and "a part of E company of the Fusiliers retired without orders from the lower ground on the front of the right of Hogsback".
This party fell in with others on the right and rear faces, and lay down in the firing line. About 11.45 am Captain Silver of the Fusiliers bravely took a half of his company under a very heavy fire to the left brow to replace a company of the Gloucester Regiment. The officer commanding G company of the Fusiliers unfortunately took this movement to be a retirement, and moved back three of his sections. In going back to his other half-company Captain Silver was severely wounded. At noon the officers could see a heliograph on Limit Hill signalling "Retire on Ladysmith as opportunity offers". To attempt that was out of the question.
The attack had slackened a little, and to economise ammunition and to induce the Boers to come to closer quarters, the Fusiliers were told to fix bayonets and somewhat save their fire. "Presently the 'cease fire' was sounded on the left front, but no attention was paid to it, as it was thought to be a ruse by the enemy". Some little time afterwards the Boers were seen to be disarming the Gloucester detachments on the left, and the officers of the Fusiliers now received orders to the effect that the whole force was to surrender. "The whole affair was sprung on us as a complete surprise, and the Fusiliers had so little idea of surrendering that it was some time before the men could be got to cease fire". The casualties of the Fusiliers were 10 men killed, and 3 officers and 54 men wounded.
The Gloucestershire companies lost three times the above number killed, and probably they had the most indefensible position to hold. The white flag was raised by a wounded officer of that regiment who had found himself almost alone in an advanced sangar on the left front. The officer stated "he made this surrender solely with reference to his own small party", but the Boers walked into the position with rifles at the trail, and Colonel Carleton felt himself bound by the white flag. Of course any idea of making reflections on the Gloucestershire Regiment would never occur to any one who has taken any trouble to get at the facts.
The Irish Times gave a breakdown of the men of the RIF who were released in September 1900:
|| 75 man
|B Company||78 men|
|C Company||35 men|
|D Company||23 men|
|E Company||74 men|
|F Company||69 men|
|G Company||59 men|
|H Company||62 men|
The two companies of the Royal Irish Fusiliers who had been left in Ladysmith held 'Red Hill' and 'Range Post' in the western defences during the siege. They seem to have done excellently, and kept watch so well that they were not molested except by shell-fire. Like the 2nd Gordons, these companies were wonderfully healthy, and for the same reason, that the officers, the Quartermaster especially, were most particular about the water used.
Two non-commissioned officers were mentioned in Sir George White's despatch of 23rd March 1900.
After the relief the Ladysmith companies and a draft were in the Drakensberg defence force, and in June moved up to Newcastle, and were afterwards employed about Van Reenen's Pass. In November 1900 these companies joined at Bloemfontein the others, who had been prisoners. The latter had for two months been employed in the Orange River Colony. The reunited battalion held a section of the Bloemfontein defences, and patrolled the neighbourhood down to July 1901, when they moved to Springfontein and occupied blockhouses on the railway till peace was declared. For a part of 1901 about 120 of the battalion were in the column of Colonel Western. A company of Mounted Infantry was organised. They were frequently in contact with the enemy, and did much towards keeping the railway safe. About 25 of the battalion were in Gough's Mounted Infantry, with which they had arduous work and much fighting.
Two men of the 1st Battalion were mentioned in General Buller's final despatch of 9th November 1900 for continuous good work. Eight officers and 12 non-commissioned officers and men were mentioned in Lord Roberts' final despatch, but these latter embraced both 1st and 2nd Battalions.
Four officers and 6 men of the Royal Irish Fusiliers were mentioned during the war in Lord Kitchener's despatches, but the number of the battalion to which they belonged was in most cases omitted in the Gazettes. In the final despatch 7 officers and 7 non-commissioned officers and men of the regiment were mentioned.
The 2nd Battalion sailed on the Hawarden Castle on 23rd October 1899, arrived at the Cape about 12th November, and was sent on to Durban. Along with the 2nd Royal Fusiliers, 2nd Royal Scots Fusiliers, and 1st Royal Welsh Fusiliers, they formed the 6th or Fusilier Brigade under Major General Barton. The work of the brigade is dealt with under the 2nd Royal Fusiliers, and that of the Natal Army generally under the 2nd Queen's, Royal West Surrey Regiment.
At Colenso the battalion was near the place where the unfortunate 14th and 66th Batteries were placed, and four companies were for a time employed in covering the guns and preventing their removal. The battalion lost approximately 2 men killed, 1 officer and 20 men wounded, and 13 missing. It will be remembered that some of the Fusilier Brigade got very far forward, and were left stranded by the hurried withdrawal of the force.
For a portion of the time during which General Buller was making his second and third attempts to break through to Ladysmith the 2nd Royal Irish Fusiliers guarded Springfield Bridge on the Little Tugela.
The battalion took part in the fighting between 14th and 27th February, including the final and successful assault on Pieter's Hill. During that period its losses were approximately 1 officer and 12 men killed, 5 officers and 81 men wounded.
Four officers and 5 non-commissioned officers and men were mentioned in General Buller's despatch of 30th March 1900, one man being recommended for the distinguished conduct medal.
The brigade having been brought round to Cape Colony about the middle of April 1900, was concentrated near Kimberley in preparation for the operations necessary for the relief of Mafeking. The brigade was now in what was called the Xth Division, under Sir A Hunter. On 5th May the battalion took part in the battle of Rooidam, when the Boers were defeated with considerable loss. Thereafter Sir A Hunter's force marched into the Transvaal and occupied various towns with little fighting.
In the Western Transvaal the Boers were either demoralised or "lying low".
About 21st June the Royal and Royal Irish Fusiliers came on to Pretoria, leaving the other two battalions under General Barton in the Krugersdorp district. The Royal and Royal Irish Fusiliers were sent on east of Irene under General Hutton. On 16th July the Tigerpoort-Witpoort ridge, east of Irene, was fiercely attacked by 2000 Boers with eight guns. "On this occasion the detachment at Witpoort under Major Munn, 2nd Royal Irish Fusiliers, consisting of three companies of that regiment and 60 New Zealand Mounted Rifles, with two pom-poms, greatly distinguished themselves. By 3 pm the enemy fell back, and at dusk they were in full retreat eastward". A few days later General French with a large force of cavalry, this battalion, and the 1st Suffolk marched eastward, crossed the Wilge and Oliphant's Rivers, and after some fighting occupied Middelburg about the 25th.
The battalion was put into Machadodorp as garrison there in September 1900. On the night of 7th January 1901 the Boers attacked our stations on the Delagoa Railway. The attack at Machadodorp lasted from 12.5 am till daylight, but the Royal Irish Fusiliers drove off the enemy at a cost of 1 officer, Lieutenant E M Harris, and 2 men killed and 8 wounded.
The battalion remained at Machadodorp till 6th September 1901, when they took the field as the infantry of columns acting under General F W Kitchener, Colonel Campbell, and General Bruce Hamilton. About the end of September the battalion was entrained at Wonderfontein and railed to Newcastle to assist in keeping Louis Botha out of Natal. After a month's work between Vryheid and De Jaeger's Drift the battalion on 1st November entrained again for the Eastern Transvaal. In January 1902 they escorted convoys to Bethel and Ermelo, and then sat down in the Ermelo-Carolina blockhouse line until the proclamation of peace.
The Mounted Infantry of the battalion was with Major Gough when he was ambushed at Blood River on 17th September 1901. The company suffered severely, having over 20 casualties.
Reference is made to the notes regarding mentions under the 1st Battalion.
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