WITH THE NATAL FIELD FORCE OF 1900
E. BLAKE KNOX, B.A., M.D.
LIEUTENANT ROYAL ARMY MEDICAL CORPS
WITH MAPS AND ILLUSTRATIONS
LONDON R. BRIMLEY JOHNSON, 8 YORK BUILDINGS, ADELPHI 1902
COLONEL SIR THOMAS GALLWEY, M.D.
Royal Army M Corps
PRINCIPAL MEDICAL OFFICER
MY BROTHER OFFICERS OF THE NATAL ARMY
THESE EXPERIENCES ARB DEDICATED
AS AN EXPRESSION OF APPRECIATION OF THE GOOD COMRADESHIP THAT EXISTED BETWEEN ALL RANKS DURING THE CAMPAIGN
‘The onlooker sees most of a fight'
Why should a doctor write a book on war? The answer may not at first be apparent. Let us give it a little attention.
Few, if any, books exist in which the position of a medical man on the battlefield is considered; little is known about what first-aid work in the field really is; little is known, even, by the initiated of what is to be expected. Like many other juniors, I had to 1 cut my teeth,’ and it is partly with the hope of making this process easier to others than it was to me that I record my experiences. Had I had access in the beginning to a work similar to the present one, I should perhaps have obtained useful hints.
An army surgeon with a fighting unit has opportunities of observation second to none should he care to use them; he is the onlooker, he is the non-combatant eye-witness of events likely to happen and continually happening; his position may be aptly compared to that of ‘the man on the stile' or the marker at a grouse or partridge ‘drive'; his professional education as a doctor will have supertrained the faculty of observation—impartial observation, too, as he can faithfully describe the fighting powers of troops in a way from which a combatant officer is precluded, owing to the unwillingness of brave men to speak of their own actions.
A surgeon's position in a regiment being central, he has more scope as an eye-witness; besides, his time is not taken up with professional work, as a rule, until after a fight; at any rate, he sees the action up to its most critical point.
My late Commanding Officer, Colonel Sir Thomas Gallwey, P.M.O., Natal Army, writing to me on this subject, states:
'I am glad to learn that you are bringing out a book telling the story of the Natal Army during the eventful period of 1900. I consider that a military medical officer with an army in the field has exceptional opportunities for gaining information without in any way interfering with his work as a surgeon.’
An army surgeon under the conditions of modern warfare finds himself in a peculiar situation. As he necessarily follows into action the unit to which he is attached—be it cavalry, artillery, or infantry—it behoves him to make his own arrangements. He must be on the spot, alert and observant, not only of his charge, but of the enemy; he must not put himself in a position whereby he cannot exercise his skill should there be wounded; when his regiment moves, he must move, too; he must take his chance of life and death like the rest, yet must ever remember the gravity of his charge, and must not recklessly expose either it or himself; nor can he expect the Geneva Cross to afford protection in a hilly country where the brassard may only be regarded of use as a regimental badge.
My second excuse for writing these pages is the consciousness of my good fortune in being present at each and every engagement that I describe as medical
officer of one or other unit employed in the fighting lines. My duties also brought me on conversational terms with many of the enemy, both in the early and later stages of the war, and I am thus able to record certain hitherto unpublished items of interest bearing on the campaign, gathered from the Boer side, all of which I have given as nearly as possible in the words of the speakers.
During lulls in my professional work I made a point of entering all items of real interest into my diary of the day; this diary I illustrated with sketches, battle-maps, and photographs, afterwards tearing out those pages and sending them home as part of my weekly letter to my parents. These notes, battle-maps, and photos form the basis of my book.
I have endeavoured to present a brief, though accurate, account of some of the enormous difficulties that General Buller’s army had to surmount; concerning these considerable vagueness seems to prevail in this country. If ever truth lay at the bottom of a well, it must have been during wartime, and the Natal Campaign has verified the proverb.
I am not so presumptuous as to imagine that an army doctor can fulfil the rdle of Piscator in the well; this office will be taken up in time by other hands, and it does not come within the scheme of my book to treat of or to criticise ‘ feats of broil and battle ’ other than as they were seen by an onlooker, who learned in the course of his duty to appreciate the sterling worth of the British officer and Tommy Atkins.
ERNEST BLAKE KNOX.
8, Milward Terrace, Bray.
I.THE MARCH TO THE TUGELA
II. THE BATTLE OF TABA MYAMA
III. THE BATTLE OE SPION KOP
IV. THE BATTLE OF VAAL KRANTZ
V. THE ENGAGEMENTS ROUND COLENSO
VI. THE ENGAGEMENTS ROUND HART’S HILL
VII. THE BATTLE OF PIETER’S HILL
VIII. THE BATTLE OF LAING’s NEK
IX. THE BATTLE OF BELFAST
APPENDIX I.—NOTE ON THE MEDICAL ASPECT OF THE NATAL CAMPAIGN
APPENDIX II.—ROLL OF OFFICERS, WITH CASUALTY LISTS, HONOURS, ETC., OF SOME OF THE REGIMENTS THAT SERVED WITH THE NATAL FIELD FORCE, I9OO
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
GENERAL SIR REDVERS BULLER, V.C. -COLONEL SIR THOMAS GALLWBY, K.C.M.G. MAJOR-GENERAL THE EARL OF DUNDONALD -A TYPICAL BOER CAMP ....
SPION KOP, NATAL ..... COLONEL A. W. THORNEYCROFT, C.B. -BOER POM-POM, OR V1CKERS-MAXIM GUN GENERAL LOUIS BOTHA AND HIS STAFF BOERS CONCEALING GUNS BEHIND BUSHES. SACKING USED TO SUPPRESS DUST .... BRINGING WOUNDED ACROSS THE TUGELA AT COLENSO NATAL VOLUNTEER AMBULANCE CORPS AT WORK AMBULANCES CROSSING THE KLIP RIVER INTO LADYSMITH - ‘TOMMY' IN A BOER CAMP OUTSIDE LADYSMITH BATTLE OF ALLEMAN’s NEK: ROYAL HORSE ARTILLERY IN ACTION - BOERS TAKING OATH OF NEUTRALITY SWORN AT GREY-L1NGSTAD. PROVOST-MARSHAL RECEIVING ARMS -THE MILITARY GOVERNOR READING THE ANNEXATION PROCLAMATION AT PRETORIA BEFORE LORDS ROBERTS AND KITCHENER -
battle plan: spion kop position
BATTLE OF VAAL KRANTZ - MAP OF DISPOSITIONS OF SIR REDVERS BULLER’S FORCE
DURING THE BATTLE OF PIETER’S HILL
BATTLE PLAN OF LAING’s NEK AND BOTHA’S PASS
BATTLE PLAN OF ALLEMAN’s NEK
SKETCH MAP OF THE BATTLE OF BELFAST
GENERAL MAP OF THE SPHERE OF OPERATIONS AND THE ACTUAL LINES OF MARCH OF THE NATAL ARMY
When the Boer Army invaded Natal on October 12, 1899, their plan of campaign was to overrun that colony and seize its principal port—Durban—with the aim of preventing the landing of our reinforcements. To Sir George White falls the credit of frustrating this, in that he threw himself across their path, and, by electing to hold Ladysmith, retained the bulk of the Boer Army, and, what was more important, sustained the prestige of the Empire by standing firm, and holding not only an important town, but also a very considerable amount of stores, which he might otherwise not have been able to carry away.
The investment of Ladysmith by the Boers was complete on November 2, 1899. Two days previous to this Sir Redvers Buller arrived in Cape Town, and his plans had to be modified by the Boer initiative; the relief of Ladysmith was of primary importance, for in that town troops to the number of 13,436 men, under Sir George White, were shut up. These consisted of:
1st Gloucestershire (half-batt.).
1st King’s Royal Rifles.
2nd King’s Royal Rifles.
1st Royal Irish Fusiliers (half-batt.).
2nd Rifle Brigade.
18th Hussars (part only).
5th Dragoon Guards.
13th, 21st, 42nd, 53rd, 67th, and 69th Field Batteries (each six 15-pounder).
10th Mountain Battery (two muzzle-loading 7-pounders, two 12-pounders, quick-firers).
Also two old 6‘3-inch howitzers, firing 80-pound shell
IRREGULARS AND NATAL TROOPS.
Imperial Light Horse;
Durban Naval Volunteers (one Nordenfeldt quick-firer);
Border Mounted Rifles;
Natal Artillery (with six 9-pounder muzzle-loaders);
Natal Mounted Rifles.
Two 4’7-inch guns; four long naval 12-pounders.
Ladysmith had to be relieved. The question was, how? Two methods suggest themselves:
1. Direct relief, by an advance from South Natal— that is, a relief from within the colony.
2. Automatic relief, by an advance from the Orange River on Bloemfontein—that is, an advance from outside the frontiers of Natal.
In favour of the direct route was the fact that it would prevent Natal being overrun by the enemy, which must occur if reinforcements were not sent. Unless the main army were sent to Natal, no other troops could be spared. Against this route was the mountainous nature of Natal, the presence of an un-fordable river—the Tugela—backed as it was by an almost impregnable position, which we know too well —a position referred to by a German Attach^ with the Natal Field Force as requiring at least three army corps to force.
In favour of an automatic relief, by an advance from the Orange River on Bloemfontein, was the difference of the sphere of operations. Had such an advance been made, it is not apparent that in itself it would have affected the relief of Ladysmith, as the forcing of the mountain-passes of the Drakensberg which lead into Natal would have to be reckoned with, and the enemy always had a line of retreat open to the north or to the east. Be it remembered that by that time they could have overrun Natal.
General Buller decided that Ladysmith must be relieved from within Natal, and it is certain that by this decision he saved the Empire from great disaster. From his past experiences, he knew the almost impregnable position that presented itself along the Tugela, the forcing of which was a task that no man could depute to another. He did not depute it; he went for it himself. He made his first attempt at Colenso on December 15, 1899, with four brigades of infantry, and failed. He then withdrew the Fifth Division to Natal; it had already started for the Orange River. From its arrival at Estcourt my story starts. It brought the strength of the Natal Field Force up to that of an army corps, and its composition as it marched out of Frere on January 9, 1900, was as follows:
SECOND DIVISION: LIEUTENANT-GENERAL SIR F. C. CLERY.
Second Brigade: Major-General Hildyard.
2nd East Surreys,
2nd West Yorks.
2nd West Surreys.
Fifth Brigade: Major-General Hart.
1st Connaught Rangers.
1st and 2nd Royal Dublin Fusiliers.
1st Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.
1st Border Regiment.
13th Hussars (one troop).
7th, 63rd, 64th, and 73rd Royal Field Artillery Batteries. Ammunition Columns.
17th Company Royal Engineers.
FIFTH DIVISION: LIEUTENANT-GENERAL SIR CHARLES WARREN.
Fourth Brigade: Major-General Lyttelton.
1st Rifle Brigade.
1st Durham Light Infantry.
3rd King's Royal Rifles.
2nd Scottish Rifles.
Eleventh Brigade: Major-General Woodgate.
2nd Royal Lancasters.
2nd Lancashire Fusiliers.
1st South Lancashires.
1st York and Lancaster.
7th, 73rd, 78th, 19th, 28th, and 63rd Royal Field Artillery Batteries.
13th Hussars (one squadron).
1st Dragoon Guards (one troop).
37th Company Royal Engineers.
Tenth Brigade: Major-General Coke.
2nd Somerset Light Infantry.
Imperial Light Infantry.
78th Battery Royal Field Artillery.
4th Mountain Battery Royal Field Artillery.
61st Howitzer Battery Royal Field Artillery.
13th Hussars (one squadron).
A Pontoon Troop, Telegraph Section.
Major-General Earl of Dundonald.
1st Royal Dragoons.
South African Light Horse.
Thorneycroft’s Mounted Infantry.
Bethune's Mounted Infantry.
Composite Mounted Infantry.
Natal Carbineers (one squadron).
Imperial Light Horse (one squadron).
Colt Battery of four guns.
Two 4'7 quick-firing naval guns; eight long-range, quick-firing naval 12-pounders.
The total fighting force was therefore 15,000 infantry, 2,500 cavalry and mounted infantry, and 64 guns; six of the latter may be disregarded, as being mountain pieces, firing black powder and having short range, they were not used.
General Barton was left at Chieveley with the following:
Sixth Brigade: Major-General Barton.
2nd Royal Fusiliers.
2nd Royal Scots Fusiliers.
2nd Royal Irish Fusiliers.
1st Royal Welch Fusiliers.
Six long-range, quick-firing naval 12-pounders.
Remnants of the two field batteries lost at Colenso.
Two ‘dummy’ 47 naval guns.
Frere Camp was left protected by the Rifle Reserve Battalion—a composite force built up of reservists whose regiments were in Ladysmith. It was commanded by Major the Hon. E. Montagu Stuart-Wortley, and officered mainly by Second Lieutenants.
The numerical strength of the combined forces of the Transvaal and Orange Free State in the field has been, and will be, a subject of considerable interest; it cannot at present be accurately stated, but the following is the most recent and probably most correct official account respecting the combined Boer Army as it existed on or about January 1, 1900:
1st Line ...............................38,000
Cape rebels (10,000 to 20,000), say.............10,000
Natal rebels (1,000 to 3,000), say ..................1,000
Foreigners and riff-raff (about 15,000), say.. 10,000
* Including old men and boys, probably nearer 10,000.
Of these, the greater portion were concentrated in Natal at the time of General Buller’s arrival there.
On or about January i, 1900, some 5,000 (at least) were actively employed in the investment of Ladysmith; 4,000 were more or less doing duty as patrols and for commissariat purposes. A mobile force of 30,000 was also ranged along the Tugela, from Acton Homes on the west to Colenso on the east, to oppose the Natal Field Force in its attempt to relieve Ladysmith.
From the nature of the Tugela positions, each and every advance of the Natal Army was plainly visible, and the bulk of this mobile force were able to rapidly mass at the point each attempt to cross the Tugela was aimed at.