By LT. E. C. BEETON, Royal Sussex Regiment.
1901.--The two Companies of the 21st M. I., made up largely of men of the Royal Sussex Regiment, were trained at Shorncliffe during March and April, 1901. No. 2 Co., commanded by Major Anderson (late 60th Rifles), was composed entirely of men of the Regiment, and was 130 strong, though, with the exception of Lieut. Drinan, it was officered from other regiments. No. 3. Co., commanded by Major Hearn, late 21st Lancers and K. D. G.'s., was 136 strong, and was made up of a section of Royal Sussex under Lieut. Beeton, a section of Dublin Fusiliers, a section of Buffs and a mixed section of the West Kent and Loyal North Lanes. Regts.
No. 2 Co. left England at the end of April, and was followed three weeks later by No. 3 Co.; the latter Company disembarked at Durban on the 14th June, proceeding to Elandsfontein for remounts, and thence by train to Klerksdorp. Meanwhile No. 2 Co. had joined the 21st M. I. on Colonel Williams' column in the Western Transvaal, where it took part in various minor engagements against Potgeiter's and Vermas' commandos, and did good work in the Orange River Colony, and on the Magaliesberg mountains, assisting in the capture of several Boer convoys during July, August, and September, 1901. During the latter part of September Col. Williams' column succeeded in taking nearly 100 prisoners and over sixty wagons of the enemy. About October 20th No. 2 Co. was sent into the base at Klerksdorp for garrison duty, and was relieved by No. 3 Co., which had been on almost continuous convoy-escort duty between Potchefstroom and Ventersdorp, with headquarters at Potchefstroom. Though no serious fighting had occurred, the convoys were frequently threatened and fired at by small parties of Boers. No. 2 Co. had also been working with General Wilson's column, assisting in the capture of Cdt. Holls. In six weeks Gen. Wilson took 140 prisoners, and cleared a large stretch of fertile country.
In October, the 21st M. I. was operating on Col. Hickie's column in the Western Transvaal. From Nov. 10th to Nov. 20th this column, then only 800 strong, was held up by the combined commandos of Generals Delarey, Kemp, and Liebenberg, about 2,000 strong, at Brakspruit, 14 miles west of Klerksdorp. The column was very strongly entrenched, and the entire perimeter of the camp encircled with barbed wire. The enemy did not attack, and the column was subsequently relieved by Lord Methuen's (1st Division) column coming up from the south, and Col. Kekewich's from the east. A squadron of the 11th Yeomanry, belonging to Col. Hickie's column, were surprised and captured by Delarey on Nov. 12th, when on reconnaissance. The 21st M. I. were sent out in relief, and met the squadron of Yeomanry returning on foot, stripped of all rifles and clothing.
On Dec. 8th Major Hearn was relieved of command of No. 3 Co., and appointed commandant of Col. Kekewich's Base Depôt. Lieut. Beeton took over command of this Company.
From Dec. 8th, 1901 to Jan. 23rd, 1902, Col. Hickie's column was trekking through the Western Transvaal and down to the Vaal River without much result; very few Boers were found owing to the very heavy rains. Many small expeditions for mounted troops, with four days' rations on the saddle, were undertaken.
1902.--On Feb. 3rd an attack was made at dawn on Commandant Alberts' commando by the 21st M. I., Scottish Horse, and 11th Co. I. Y., in which General Alberts and fifty Boers were captured, together with a number of wagons. The British casualties were one officer killed and two men, and about twenty wounded. The Boer casualties were four killed and about twenty or thirty wounded.
At the end of February the 21st M. I. were transferred to Lord Methuen's column, subsequently commanded by Col. von Donop.
On Feb. 25th Col. von Donop's empty convoy of 160 mule wagons (2,000 mules) was attacked and captured at daybreak 8 miles from Klerksdorp by General Delarey and 1,500 Boers. The convoy was trekking from Wolmeranstadt to Klerksdorp for supplies, under an escort of 360 men, composed of Yeomanry and two or three companies Northumberland Fusiliers, with two field guns and a pom-pom and a maxim---all of which were taken by the Boers. Major Anderson, commanding the escort, sent in to Klerksdorp for reinforcements, and Major Hearn, with Lieut. Beeton, and about thirty men of the 21st M. I. (who had been sent in to Klerksdorp for remounts) moved out of the town towards Wolmeranstadt about 7.30 a.m., and were subsequently joined by two troops of Scottish Horse, some men of No. 2 Co. 21st M. I., with Lieut. Drinan, and other details, making up a total of perhaps 250 men. This force, commanded by Col. Grenfell, 1st Life Guards, galloped 6 miles towards the scene of the disaster, subsequently reaching high ground from which the captured convoy could be seen, turned about and moving off in an opposite direction. The woods on the right of the road were occupied by large numbers of Boers, who could be clearly seen, as well as a great number trekking away over the hills. Col. Grenfell's men dismounted and opened fire at 1,000 yards. Part of the force charged down the hill in an attempt to recapture half-a-dozen wagons, which had been blocked and overturned in the Spruit; whereupon the Boers in large numbers formed up and galloped, firing from their saddles, down the hill opposite, towards the British, compelling them to retire, with a loss of several horses killed and two men of the Scottish Horse wounded. The Boers did not continue the pursuit, being satisfied with the capture of the entire convoy, and the guns, with the exception of the maxim, which was galloped into Klerksdorp on a pack horse. The casualties among the convoy escort were over 200. Two officers of the Northumberland Fusiliers were killed, and three severely wounded.
On March 14th Lord Kitchener concentrated a large force in the vicinity of Klerksdorp with the object of destroying Delarey's commandos. Col. Grenfell, 1st Life Guards, took command of all mounted troops belonging to the three columns (Col. von Donop's, Col. Kekewich's, and Col. Grenfell's), together 1,500 strong. The first of the combined drives began on March 16th and occupied five days, the enemy being driven from S.-W. to N.-E., in the direction of Klerksdorp. Owing to a gap left by General W. Kitchener's column, most of the Boers escaped over the hills, near Brakspruit, 9 miles from Klerksdorp. The 21st M. I. came in touch with a party of Boers quite unexpectedly at nightfall, and after galloping a few miles in pursuit drove them in the direction of General Kitchener's column, where sixteen subsequently were taken prisoners.
From March 16th to April 1st, small three days' operations took place from Vaalbank (50 miles W. of Klerksdorp), the men carrying rations on their saddles. Many men had to be sent on to Klerksdorp for remounts, owing to considerable losses in horses from exhaustion and horse-sickness.
On the evening of April 4th the mounted troops moved from Middlebult at 7 p.m., rationed for three days, in very heavy rain. The night was pitch dark. At daybreak they attacked and captured a Boer convoy and large herds of cattle and sheep, after a long gallop.
On April 9th the mounted troops of the combined columns started from Middlebult to join General Ian Hamilton's big drive and enveloping movement against General Delarey's commandos. After two days' march they arrived at Rooival, passing the scene of Col. Cookson's engagement, which had occurred five days previously, when Delarey surrounded the column, killing all Cookson's horses. Col. von Donop's troops finally took up their position in the driving line on the extreme right, and entrenched for the night. On the following morning, two hours before daybreak, word was brought by the scouts that the combined commandos of Delarey, Kemp, Liebenberg, and Potgeiter, 2,000 strong, with four field guns and two pom-poms (those captured from Col. von Donop's convoy six weeks previously) were halted 6 miles away on the right. Col. von Donop's column, being on the extreme right, was the first to move, the 21st M. I. being ordered to furnish the screen and supports of the advanced guard. At about 6 a.m. the screen came over a rise, and was at once face to face with Delarey's commandos, who were partially concealed in large mealie patches less than 4,000 yards away. Although apparently surprised, the enemy quickly formed into two or three long lines, and riding almost knee to knee, charged through the screen, shouting, and firing from the saddle. The 21st M. I. dismounted, and those horses which were not shot were galloped to the rear, the men lying in the grass and firing at the Boers as they galloped through. Many of the latter and of their horses were shot as they passed von Donop's main body, which by this time had had sufficient warning, and received the charge with a very heavy fire. At the same time Gen. Rawlinson, whose column had come up, met and repulsed an attempted turning movement. The Boers were now effectively stopped, their casualties being very large. Col. von Donop's Scottish Horse were then ordered to charge the enemy, who made a big wheel to the left towards some hills covered with scrub and small trees. The British guns then opening fire caused the whole force of Boers to break and scatter in all directions, though their guns still replied in a desultory way. The British pursued throughout the day, the Boers with their guns and wagons scattering in parties all over the country. By 4 p.m. all their guns and many prisoners had been captured. The 21st M. I. suffered more casualties than any other corps in this engagement, losing two officers and a colour-sergeant killed, and five out of nine officers dangerously or severely wounded, including Major Roy, of the Sherwood Foresters, then in command.
The Boer casualties were given as forty-five killed and many wounded, Potgeiter being killed and Kemp badly wounded. The next day Col. von Donop received the following message from General Ian Hamilton:--"My best congratulations to you and your gallant troops. I shall have great pleasure in telling Lord Kitchener of their steadiness when attacked and their dashing pursuit."
The combined columns moved rapidly back to Brakspruit (near Klerksdorp) in order to rest horses and troops and procure remounts. Many of the horses had been killed or had given out from exhaustion.
On May 5th von Donop's column halted for a week at Rooijantjesfontein, 40 miles west of Klerksdorp. They started from here on the last big drive into the Mafeking Line, which occupied five days, through an almost waterless tract of country. The columns commanded by Col. Kekewich were again posted on the extreme right of the driving line, which extended southward 30 miles to Vryburg and beyond. Their right, at the termination of the drive, rested on Saltpan Siding. During the last two days they captured about forty or fifty Boers, the total bag for the whole drive being 400.
The 21st M.I. then returned to Klerksdorp, whence, after peace was declared, it was sent out to bring in many of the surrendered parties of Boers.
During June and July, and up to the 24th August, the 21st M.I. were camped 4 miles outside Klerksdorp, subsequently marching to Bloemfontein, which town was reached on the 28th August. Here Lieutenants Beeton and Drinan, together with all N.C.O.'s and men of the Royal Sussex Regiment, rejoined the Regiment.