It is common knowledge that, prior to the advent of Union, Natal depended for its defence in times of war upon Units raised locally on a purely voluntary basis. There was no obligation upon young men, other than their own consciences, to enrol in such units. In fact, anyone enlisting in a Mounted Regiment had to do so at considerable cost to himself. He was required to provide himself with a Troop horse at least 14.2 hands in height, a saddle and bridle, and a uniform (including top boots), all of approved regimental pattern. To ensure uniformity of pattern his tunics and riding breeches were made by the Regiment’s master tailor, but paid for by himself. The only tangible financial benefit that accrued to a member was the free insurance of his Troop horse for an amount not exceeding £25 (R.50)
In 1897 I joined the Highflats troop of the Border Mounted Rifles which regiment drew its members from the Magisterial Districts of Ixopo, Polela, Harding, Port Shepstone and Umzinto. The Officer in charge of the Highflats troop was Lieutenant John Robinson Royston, popularly known as “Galloping Jack”, who in the wars fought in later years proved himself to be a gallant and fearless soldier. He attained the rank of General Officer and won high awards for distinguished and meritorious service.
Our preliminary military training was gained at compulsory monthly parades held at convenient centres within our Districts of domicile. The training was continued and consolidated at what were known as “General Camps”, which were held once a year at various centres somewhere in Natal. All branches of our Volunteer army were required to, and did, attend these camps, where they underwent training for a period of fourteen days. I think I can safely say that the majority of the members of our Forces enjoyed the camps.
When I joined the Border Mounted Rifles the Regimental badge was the letters B.M.R. intertwined with each other.
It was later changed to a representation of a Jack Boot and Spur, surmounting the Motto “Rough but Ready”. The change came about in this manner. It was customary for the Governor of Natal to pay at least one official visit to the Officers’ messes of the Units in camp. On one occasion, having dined and wined sumptuously with the officers of the Natal Carbineers, whose mess table was adorned with the glittering trophies of that Regiment, he passed on to the much less pretentious mess of the Border Mounted Rifles. Being impressed, seemingly, by the simplicity of the furnishings of the Regiment’s Mess, he remarked to the Commanding Officer, Colonel J. F. Rethman, “These are the conditions I like to see in the messes of Units when they are in training camps.” He added, “By the way Rethman, what is your Regimental Badge?” On the spur of the moment Colonel Rethman removed one of his field boots, with its spur, placed it on the table and replied, “Your Excellency, we are rough but ready and this is our badge.” That pleased His Excellency and he suggested that the Regiment should adopt the Jack Boot and Spur with the motto “Rough but Ready” as its distinguishing badge, and so it was done.
Some years later the Border Mounted Rifles, for administration reasons, were absorbed into the Natal Mounted Rifles, who proudly adopted our badge as their own.