Our next serious encounter with the enemy took place on 6th January, 1900. On that day we had, as usual, stood to arms at 3 a.m. The sound of rifle fire reached us from the direction of Caesar’s Hill and Wagon Hill, but little notice was taken of it until bullets started to fall into our camp, one of which wounded a Bantu cook. At 4 a.m. our squadron (including the Highflats troop) was ordered to go to the support of a battery of Field Artillery which had been moved to a position across the Klip River, near the foot of Caesar’s Hill. From there we of the Highflats troop, commanded by Captain J.R. Royston (Galloping Jack) were ordered to proceed to the eastern crest of Caesar’s Hill to reinforce the Manchester Regiment, who held that section of the line. We linked our horses at the Foot of the Hill and climbed its steep and rocky sides. We reached its summit at daybreak but, instead of finding the Manchesters in possession, we found a company of the Gordon Highlanders. Its Commander was Captain Carnegie. He replied in answer to a question by Royston, that he had been ordered to go to the assistance of the Manchesters and that the Colonel of that Regiment had instructed him to remain where he was and await further orders, and had left shortly before our arrival to inspect his outlying picquets on the other side of the plateau. As the Colonel had not returned as expected, Carnegie and Royston decided to ascertain the reason for his failure to do so. With that purpose in view we were deployed in open order and took up a position about 100 yards beyond the edge of the flat topped hill. Having placed us in position Royston went forward, unaccompanied by anyone, to reconnoitre the terrain ahead of us. While he was away someone detected a suspicious movement on our right front and fired a shot at random in that direction. Thereupon a man wearing a uniform similar to ours and a military type helmet stood up and shouted, “Don’t shoot, you b....y fools! We are the Town Guard”. Knowing that, in fact, Ladysmith had its own civilian Town Guard we were, for a few moments, put off our guard. We then saw numbers of men to our front and right and Royston fighting his way back to rejoin us. He succeeded in avoiding capture and reached us safely. It was then that numbers of Boers showed themselves about 50 yards away on our right. One of them called out to us “Hands up you B..... s, we’ve got you now!”, and immediately a volley of bullets was poured into ranks, killing four of our men, namely, Troopers Fox, James Gold, Jim Lawson and Percy Hulley. We returned the fire and Carnegie ordered his men to “Fix bayonets”. We Volunteers were not armed with that weapon and our only means of defence was a single breech loading Lee Enfield Rifle. As we were greatly outnumbered by the enemy I expected that they would rush our position. They probably would have done so were it not for the fact that their position was made untenable by the very accurate fire of the Field Artillery, a Battery of which was positioned on the plain below Caesar’s Hill. No doubt Carnegie’s order “Fix Bayonets”, was also a factor that influenced them not to attempt to overwhelm us.
After a short period of sniping the enemy evacuated their position and fled hurriedly over the southern edge of Caesar’s hill, where they took refuge behind the large rocks which abound on the slopes. We followed them and established ourselves behind other rocks that fringe the edge of the Hill. Sniping at each other continued throughout the rest of the day but there were few further casualties in our ranks. During the forenoon we were reinforced by some men of the Rifle Brigade who had been sent to support us. We held our position from 5.30 a.m. until 7.30 p.m., at which late hour more reinforcements, consisting of men of the Gordon Highlanders, the Rifle Brigade, and the Devon Regiment arrived and cleared the enemy from the slopes of the Hill. Throughout the whole of that day there was heavy fighting, some of it hand to hand, along the whole of Caesar’s Hill and Wagon Hill, the last named position having been mainly held by the Imperial Light Horse. Besides rifle fire, we were bombarded throughout the day, at times heavily, by the Boer Long Tom on Umbulwana Hill, and by guns of lesser calibre situated on hills in enemy held country to the south. Owing, however, to the shelter afforded to us by the large rocks on our position, we suffered few casualties from big gun fire. To add to our discomfort, a terrific thunderstorm with torrential rain swept over us at about 4p.m.
When we reached our camp that evening we found our tents under water and our clothing saturated! Control having been re-established over the Caesar’s hill and Wagon Hill positions we irregulars retired to our camp at 7.30 p.m., after a very strenuous day without food or water except that in our water bottles.
It is always difficult and frequently impossible to make an accurate estimate of casualties sustained during battles. It was considered by those competent to judge that the enemy suffered the loss of at least 500 killed and 800 wounded in the fighting on the 6th January, 1900. It was said at the time that a Boer Army Doctor admitted the loss of 500 men killed in action. Our own losses must have been very heavy. They were estimated at the time to be at least 800 killed and wounded.
The attack upon our positions was made with great stealth and daring, mostly by men of the Orange Free State, who crept up the steep slopes of Caesar’s Hill in the early hours of the day, and killed most, if not all, of the men of the Manchester Regiment, who manned the Regiment’s outlying picquets. A dispatch found on the person of a Boer Commandant who was killed in the battle revealed that the High Command of the enemy had ordered the capture of Ladysmith at any cost.
The 6th January was a particularly hot day, and it was not long before our water bottles needed refilling. Probably because I was the youngest and most agile of our fellows, I was detailed to replenish from the water point on Caesar’s Hill, which was about 400 yards distant from our position, on the sheltered side of the Hill. With as many water bottles as I could carry slung over my shoulder, I took the shortest route, across the roof of the plateau. That way was, apparently, within the view of an enemy Pom Pom detachment, because whilst en route I was followed by a number of the nasty little missiles that flow from that type of gun. Naturally, I lost no time in completing my journey.
On reaching the water point I found a number of Officers congregated there. One was a Major in rank, a magnificent specimen of manhood, clad in the uniform of the Gordon Highlanders, who hailed me in these words, “Hey -Ginger - where are you from?”. I told him. He then asked me if I had seen any of his men there. I replied in the affirmative and told him that they were alongside of us at the extreme end of Caesar’s Hill and that Captain Carnegie had been thrice wounded but was still carrying on. He then asked me to guide another officer and reinforcements to the position held by the Highlanders. We did not, however, go by the way I had taken during my forward journey. We played safe by taking a longer route out of sight of the Pom pom. I learned later that the distinguished looking officer was Major Miller Walnutt, D.S.O., who had assumed command of the Gordon Highlanders when his Commanding Officer, Colonel Dick Conyngham was killed, that same morning, while leading his men to the scene of the battle. He, too, was later on killed in the hand to hand fighting at the gun emplacement on Wagon Point. He was described by Conan Doyle as “a man cast in the mould of a beserk Viking”.
There were several officers with Major Miller Walnutt, and one of them, on hearing me say in answer to a question put to me by the Major, that the Boers were still in position immediately ahead of us, contradicted me and said he had just come from that direction and added in an affected manner “There are no Boas thar”. I could not, of course, argue with him. Another officer in the group was Lord Ava who was also killed during the forenoon on Wagon Hill. A memorial cross marks the spot where he fell.