The 1st Battalion sailed on the Orient on 30th December 1899, and arrived at the Cape on 21st January 1900. Along with the 2nd East Kent, 2nd Gloucesters, and 1st Oxford Light Infantry, they formed the 13th Brigade under Major General O E Knox, and part of the Vlth Division under Lieutenant General Kelly-Kenny. The whole division distinguished themselves in the advance from Modder River to Bloemfontein. Their work has been sketched under the 2nd East Kent.
At Klip Drift, 16th February, the battalion lost 1 man killed, 2 officers and 27 men wounded; and at Paardeberg, 18th February, 1 officer (Lieutenant Siordet) and 22 men killed, and 2 officers and 104 men wounded. In the subsequent advance to Bloemfontein they had no very severe fighting. Four officers and 2 men were mentioned in Lord Roberts' despatch of 31st March 1900.
In the latter part of May the battalion was employed about Smaldeel, and from 11th June to 11th August garrisoned Winburg. In August they were, with the 2nd Wiltshire and Royal Munster Fusiliers, put under Brigadier General A H Paget to operate north and north-west of Pretoria. Early on 22nd September 1900 the enemy attacked Elands River Station, but were easily driven off; and while they were absent from their camp General Paget "made a forced march of twenty-six miles during the night with the West Riding Regiment, two companies of the Wiltshires, two companies of the Munster Fusiliers, the City Imperial Volunteers' Battery, and two 5-inch guns, and captured Erasmus' Camp, 2500 cattle, 6000 sheep, 50 horses, 12 prisoners, &C". On the same day Plumer, co-operating with Paget, captured more prisoners and much stock. In the latter half of October Paget's column moved to Rustenburg, making more captures, Colonel Lloyd of the West Riding Regiment being mentioned as particularly successful. Eleven officers and 19 non-commissioned officers and men were mentioned in Lord Roberts' final despatch.
On 28th and 29th November 1900 Paget had very severe fighting with Viljoen and Erasmus at Rhenoster Kop, north-east of Bronkhorst Spruit. On the 29th Paget closed in on the enemy's position, "but the Boers were reinforced, bringing up three more guns. They then made a determined attack on our line, and after severe fighting were repulsed with heavy loss". Lord Kitchener adds that the troops behaved with great gallantry, specially mentioning the New Zealand Mounted Rifles. The West Ridings lost Colonel Lloyd and 5 men killed, 3 officers and 24 men wounded. Referring to the action in his written despatch, Lord Kitchener said "that the seizure of this position secured an important centre from which to block several of the most extensively used roads leading up from the bush veldt to the high veldt. In this action I had to deplore the loss of Lieutenant Colonel G E Lloyd, who fell whilst gallantly leading his men". Two officers and 8 non-commissioned officers and men of the battalion were mentioned in Lord Kitchener's despatch of 8th March 1901 for gallantry at Rhenoster Kop.
After this the battalion was mainly employed in the Central Transvaal. On 31st August 1901 they had the grievous misfortune to lose 7 men killed and 2 officers and 14 men wounded or injured in the derailing of a train at Hamman's Kraal. Lord Kitchener, referring to this incident, said, "Although it may be admitted that the mining of railways and the derailment of trains is in no way opposed to the customs of war where any definite object is in view, it is impossible to regard senseless and meaningless acts of this nature, which have no effect whatever on the general course of operations, as anything better than wanton murder".
The Mounted Infantry company of the battalion saw a good deal of fighting on the way to Pretoria and afterwards in the Transvaal and Orange River Colony, being present at Bothaville, 6th November 1900. They gained several commendations. Sergeant J Firth gained the Victoria Cross near Arundel on 24th February 1900 for, under heavy fire at 400 yards, carrying Corporal Blackman and afterwards Lieutenant Wilson, both of whom had been wounded, to places of shelter, Sergeant Firth being himself shot through the nose and eye when carrying Lieutenant Wilson.
- Next >>