At 5.25 a.m. an opening shot from one of the guns the Boers had brought up on to Talana Hill, combined with the view of that and the neighbouring hill to the south-eastward, lined with men watching us in our camp, very speedily convinced us what our work for that day was to be.
The first few shells fell far over our heads, but they quickly got the range and then poured them, as fast as they could, into every quarter of the camp. Luckily for us their shells were all " common shell," and the ground being a little soft, they sunk in and did little or no damage, though they created some confusion at first. But this was soon rectified. Some of the Artillery horses had been sent down to water, but the 18th Hussars had not been at all satisfied with the outlook earlier in the morning, and were ready saddled in their lines at the commencement of the shelling. They retired from the ridge the camp was on, and which was everywhere commanded by the enemy's guns, and took cover in a valley on the west side of it. The Artillery horses were hurried back from water, and one battery opened fire from camp against the enemy's guns. But the range was too far, some 4,500 yards, for our shrapnell, as we had not the " Blue fuses " in those days for the guns, and they could do no good till they advanced to another position quite close to the town. In a few minutes General Symons sent round orders to say that three Infantry Regiments, the 1st Battalion of the 60th Rifles, the Royal Irish Fusiliers, and the Dublin Fusiliers, would attack Talana Hill, aided by the 13th and 69th Batteries, while the 18th Hussars and some Mounted Infantry under Colonel Moller, would proceed to the west end of the camp and wait till he, Colonel Moller, received orders to advance, but to advance without them if he saw a good opportunity. The remainder of the Mounted Infantry were sent to guard our right flank, and patrols were despatched to Glencoe Junction, Impati Mountain, and along the Newcastle road, to gather information. The Infantry set off on their task at once, and the batteries moved away in rear of them, halting at a position at the south-east end of the town, where they at once opened a very effective fire from a range of just over 2,000 yards. The Infantry continued on through the town to their attack on Talana Hill.
As it is only intended to give here an account of what actually concerns the Regiment, so further details of the magnificent attack by the Infantry and Artillery on Talana Hill must be omitted, while the following description of the doings of the 18th Hussars, from the time we left them in the valley west of the camp, written by a senior officer of the Regiment, will show what befell them on that day :—
" The doings of the 18th Hussars on October 20th, 1899."
" About 5.20 a.m. orders were received to off-saddle and water, but not quite liking the general outlook, we decided to ' stand to,' and in ten minutes a heavy Artillery fire was opened on us from the Boers on Talana Hill. We received very shortly orders to form up under cover on the Glencoe side of the camp, and we did so as quickly as possible, many of us having narrow escapes from bursting shells, but no one was hit during the process. After we had formed up the Regiment, Colonel Moller ordered me to proceed in advance with ' A ' Squadron, and try and get in rear of the enemy's position. During my advance the enemy fired on us with their guns, but they did no damage, and I got my men to an excellent position, about 1,200 yards in rear of the enemy's, and from there sent two messages to Colonel Moller, asking him to bring up the remainder of the Regiment and Mounted Infantry, and one Squadron and some Mounted Infantry were sent up about twenty minutes' later, followed later on by the rest of the Regiment, but Colonel Moller would not allow the Maxim gun to open fire, although it was in an excellent position. I was then ordered to take ' B ' Squadron forward and try and get farther in rear of the enemy, and I sent one troop, under Lieut. Bayford, on my left flank, as parties of the enemy were seen coming towards us from that direction. Lieut. Bayford sent back word to say he had captured twelve men, and I went towards him to give orders respecting the prisoners, when I observed a Boer patrol of about twenty men, supported by two other bodies of men of similar strength, advancing to rescue the prisoners, so I ordered Major Greville to charge the leading party with two troops, which he did, killing two Boers and capturing twenty, while one of his own men was wounded. Our men would have made short work of the whole of the Boer patrol had not the officers prevented them. In the meantime the other Boer patrols retired. I then rejoined Colonel Moller, who ordered me to take 2 Squadrons right in rear of the enemy's position, and I advanced over very broken ground to the roads the enemy had used in their advance the night before. I refused to take the Maxim gun with me, as it was madness to remove it from the very excellent position it was in and risk its capture over the difficult country before me.
Soon after leaving Colonel Moller I got right in the thick of the enemy, many of whom were at that time evacuating Talana Hill and retiring by the Landsman's and Vant's Drifts roads; some 300 were on my left flank, a very large force on my right, and about eighty to one hundred in my immediate front. I forced my way through their line of retreat, engaging the enemy, dismounted in doing so, and I had one man killed, three or four wounded, and some horses shot during my progress. I also came under Artillery fire from the Boer guns, which had been removed from Talana Hill, and were in retreat towards the Buffalo, at about 2,500 yards range, but they did no damage, though one shell pitched in the middle of a Squadron which was in Squadron column. I had now become so completely surrounded by the enemy, in much superior numbers, that I had no chance of remaining in safety in one position, and it was only the rapidity of my advance which had so far saved me from capture. I therefore determined to get right through the enemy's line of retreat and let him pass me if possible, so I advanced about another two miles, and succeeded in withdrawing from the very difficult position I had had to advance to. I had then to endeavour to retrace my steps, and it was 7 p.m. before our force reached the camp at Dundee, where I learnt that Colonel Moller and the remainder of the mounted troops had been captured.
" In my opinion the Cavalry and Mounted Infantry should have been kept together on the enemy's right flank, where they had an excellent position, and could nave opened fire with the maxim gun and rifles at a range of 1,200 yards on a target of some 800 Boers and ponies . . . ."
An account of the capture of part of " B " Squadron, 18th Hussars, and of the Mounted Infantry.
" In accordance with the orders issued the previous night, all the troops in camp stood to their arms at 4.30 a.m. on Friday morning, October 20th, 1899. It was one of those cold misty mornings which are occasionally experienced in Natal at that time of the year. All night it had rained incessantly, and the prospect outside was so very uninviting, that I was very loth to get up when my servant called me at a quarter to four in the morning. After struggling into my clothes I ran over to the mess tent to procure myself a cup of cocoa and a few biscuits, a very wise precaution as it turned out later.
" I was one of a group of officers standing outside the tent when Colonel Beckett, staff officer to General Symons, rode past, calling out to us we could dismiss. I heard afterwards he was on his way to a piquet of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, which had just sent in word that Boers were advancing and firing on them, and that they were in need of support.
" Whilst conversing at the end of my squadron lines, numbers of men were pointed out to me collecting on the two hills which lay to the east and overlooked our camp. I ran to my tent and got my field glasses, and through them could see swarms of men, mostly on ponies, on Talana Hill. They were plainly visible against the sky line, and undoubtedly Boers. I could just distinguish some dark-looking objects, round which small clusters of men were gathered, and, whilst speculating whether they were guns, there suddenly came a flash from the bill top, and a shell crashed in the direction of the town. This was quickly followed by another, and soon plenty came pounding into our camp. I think the guns were being principally aimed at the General's tent, which, with the Union Jack floating from the flagstaff close by, was a conspicuous mark for the Boers. As I was in my tent, buckling on revolver and sword, whilst my horse was being brought me, a shell burst, but did no damage, a few yards off. Most of the shells were not bursting properly, no doubt due to the long range (5,000 yards) at which they were fired from; anyhow very few caused any damage. Still this unexpected bombardment on a practically empty stomach was not over pleasant, and it had the effect of hastening us out of camp pretty smartly. Whilst Colonel Moller, accompanied by his adjutant, rode off to the Headquarters Camp to get the orders, our men quickly mounted their horses, which fortunately had remained saddled up, and hurried out of camp, to form up under cover of some rocky ground, which was below the lie of the camp, and to the west of it. There was no confusion, and the officers were able to collect the squadrons and tell them off. Our guns had opened fire from the camp itself, but the range was too long a one to reach Talana Hill. Soon we caught sight of the horses of one of the batteries being led back at a gallop from the watering troughs beyond. The battery to which these horses belonged remained in camp with the Leicestershire Regiment, whilst the other two batteries were quickly on the move, making for a spot east of the town, where they came into action at a much closer range.
" And now Colonel Moller and Captain Pollok returned from the General. They had found him calmly smoking a cigarette while issuing orders, and whilst shells fell all around. He was much incensed at the impudence of the enemy daring to attack us like this.
" It was about 5.15 a.m. when the Boers began their bombardment, and barely half an hour later ' A ' squadron, of the 18th Hussars, under Major Marling, V.C, received the order to move off along* the Sandspruit nullah and take up a position just below a stony ridge east of Dundee, and almost right behind Talana Hill. About five minutes afterwards I was ordered to follow, with my squadron ' B,' the direction * A ' squadron had taken and join it. Two only of my officers were with me, Captain Burnett and Lieut. Bayford, as my two other subalterns, Lieutenants Thackwell and Maclachlan, had left camp the previous night, and were still out with their patrols. Before starting to join Major Marling, Colonel Moller rode up to my squadron and ordered Captain Burnett away with a patrol to reconnoitre our left flank and the southern slopes of Impati Mountain, whose summit lay hidden in mist. Thus early in the day I lost the services of my second-in-command, for I never saw Captain Burnett again. As I trotted off towards the Sandspruit nullah the enemy's guns opened fire on me. On my way I met Lieut. Maclachlan with his patrol, and they joined me. From him I learnt that he had seen nothing of the enemy near the Navigation Colleries or on the Newcastle road. Major Laming, with ' C ' Squadron, now followed me, and, in turn, the Mounted Infantry of the Dublin Fusiliers, under Captain Lonsdale, and a section of the 60th Rifles Mounted Infantry, under Lieut. Crum, together with our Maxim gun under Lieut. Cape, and this completed our little force.
" From the ridge top behind which we were assembled we could watch the progress of the battle, admire the precision of our Artillery fire, and, later on, the dash with which the Infantry attacked. Our shrapnel was doing great execution on Talana Hill; the shells were bursting beautifully just over the summit. From the position we had taken up, and which was about 2,000 yards from the hill, we could see thousands of Boers. A great many were coming down the hill and making for a farm house at the foot of it, and from which the red cross was flying, a building the Boers had temporarily turned into a hospital for their wounded. A great number of ponies, waiting for their masters, were scattered about below Talana. Had we but had a horse battery with us, what deadly execution it could have inflicted! Our position completely enfiladed the Boers, but the range was too great for rifle fire. Our plan should have been to remain in this position until the enemy were in full retreat, but, unfortunately, we committed the error of issuing out into the plain far too soon. We thus disclosed to the enemy our intention, and instead of sweeping down into them when they were a routed foe, they saw us in time to tell off a portion of their force to make a strong counter attack and so cover their retirement. The plain, east of Dundee, stretches away to the Buffalo river, and over it lay the enemy's line of retreat. This impatient eagerness of ours to intercept and cut off the Boers was the primary cause of our ultimate discomfiture. My squadron was to act as advance guard, and Major Knox accompanied it. It was still drizzling slightly, and the fog had not lifted as we descended into the plain, followed at some distance by the remainder of the regiment and the Mounted Infantry. I picked my way through the fog, moving in a north-easterly direction, with scouts thrown out well to the front and flanks. No enemy was visible, and but for the rattle of musketry fire, which could be distinctly heard, there was no sign a fierce battle was raging close by. After advancing some little way Knox ordered me to halt whilst he galloped back to see what the Colonel proposed doing. My advanced parties were under the command of Second Lieutenant Bayford, while Maclachlan was galloping for the commanding officer. Presently one of my scouts returned to report that a small party of Boers were gathering in a spruit about three-quarters of a mile away, and to my right flank. I sent him back, telling him to keep a sharp look out and report any further developments. It was about this time that I noticed some Boers advancing towards a Boers' ambulance waggon, which, with its staff of doctors, had halted in the open veldt. Owing to the fog these latter Boers were unaware of the presence of my squadron, and it came quite as a surprise to them when they caught sight of me advancing on them at a gallop, for I quickly made up my mind to charge. It was all over in a few seconds, and out of the thirty Boers one was killed, about eight wounded, and the remainder taken prisoners. Had I not shouted to my men to give quarter few would have escaped death. The men's blood was up, and it was their first introduction to the Boers, and their desire to lay about them was only natural. Besides, these very Boers had previously fired at us from off their ponies as we were advancing towards them. But once we got amongst them they were a wretched, miserable, cringing lot, pleading for mercy. Some took off their bandoliers and held them up to us, others threw their rifles to the ground and prayed for their lives. These we made prisoners. I then saw a young Boer, a mere lad, deliberately fire at one of my men, who had purposely spared him on his begging for mercy. He shot him through the body, but this was my only casualty. I then retired with my prisoners towards the Boer ambulance, and despatched their doctors off to attend to the wounded. Dr. Hardy, our own doctor, also assisted. The prisoners were handed over to a guard of mounted infantrymen, who, with the remainder of the 18th, had come on the scene. These Boers were a funny crew. Their shaggy beards, slouch hats, and unkempt appearance reminded me forcibly of the brigands portrayed in burlesque.
" Colonel Moller now ordered me to halt and dismount; my squadron was to remain with him and the Mounted Infantry, whilst ' A ' and ' C ' squadrons, under Major Knox, moved away in a south-easterly direction. Lieut. Bayford was still out with his troop scouting, and he, with his men, eventually joined Knox.
" I was next ordered to mount my men and accompany the commanding officer, but after proceeding a short distance we returned to the Mounted Infantry, whom we found dismounted close to a road, and lying down ready to fire to cover our retirement had it been necessary. It was then a message from Major Knox was brought me, bidding me rejoin him with my squadron. However, it was not to be, for the Colonel, thinking Knox was advancing' too far towards the Buffalo, ordered me to remain with him; but he sent Veterinary-Lieutenant Shore, who was acting as galloper, to ask why Knox required my squadron. Unfortunately Shore was unable to deliver the message owing to large parties of Boers now blocking the way and separating us from Knox.
'' The Boers were now advancing on us in numbers. My scouts had warned me of their approach. They had collected in batches in the spruit before alluded to until they were sufficiently strong to attack us. The Mounted Infantry fired a few volleys and the Maxim gun also opened fire, but the range was still a long one, and many ant hills gave the Boers good cover; besides the heavy fog assisted in keeping them concealed.
" The Boers steadily increased in numbers, and the flanks of our small force were threatened, so the Colonel ordered a retirement. I am inclined to think my squadron might then have been advantageously employed; a charge into the flank of the enemy at this period, though costly no doubt, might have checked the enemy, and even caused them to fly. I was not, however, in a position to dictate orders, and I had to obey those I received.
" After retiring nearly a mile we were again halted, and besides the Mounted Infantry, one troop of my squadron was ordered to dismount and take up a position to check the enemy's advance. It was difficult to tell exactly how many Boers were attacking us, but there is no doubt we were greatly outnumbered. The position taken up on the open veld, with only a few ant hills to give cover, was really no position at all, and when the Boers began to work round our flank we were forced once more to fall back. We now had to cross a deep spruit, and here my horse stumbled and rolled over with me, but I managed to keep hold of him, and, being none the worse for my spill, I was quickly up again in the saddle and with my squadron. A good deal of wire fencing had now to be cut through, but sending on a few men with wire cutters to clear a way for us, we were not much retarded. It was at this spruit our casualties began. Our Maxim gun got stuck in the muddy bottom. 1ms I heard afterwards, and also how pluckily Lieut. Cape and the gun detachment had behaved. But in their endeavour to extricate the gun from its perilous position, all the detachment were either killed or wounded. Lieut. Cape was himself severely wounded, shot through the throat, and the Boers quickly closing in captured the gun. All this was related to me afterwards. A portion of the Mounted Infantry had been told off as escort to the maxim, but, for some unaccountable reason, had been removed, by order of the commanding officer, before the gun got into difficulties. Being the only officer with my squadron I had not left it, and so the sad gun episode, which had occurred on the right flank whilst I was on the left, had not attracted my notice. My trumpeter, a smart lad, had been wounded before we got to the spruit, but now the poor lad was hit again and killed.
" Men were beginning to drop, several riderless horses were careering about, and Boers were firing from closer quarters. Lieutenants Crum and Maclachlan were wounded. Both the latter managed to get back to camp without further mishap. Bullets were whistling past us and the fire was getting hotter, but, considering the excellent target we must have presented while riding through the narrow openings made in the wire fence, the Boer's markmanship was very erratic.
" Once more we dismounted, and this time the whole of my squadron, besides the Mounted Infantry, were dismounted and sent into the firing line. An ant hill here and there offered cover, but many men had to lie down and fire fully exposed. The Boers have a wonderful knack of keeping concealed, and it was only very occasionally during the whole of our retirement I actually caught sight of one.
" Captain Pollok and myself had imprudently ridden up into the firing line, with the result we almost simultaneously had our horses shot under us. Remaining mounted, we had drawn the enemy's fire on to us. Whilst in the act of dismounting from my wounded horse, who was bleeding profusely, a bullet passed through the end of my right boot, but it avoided my toes most miraculously, and another took a small snick out of the heel of the same boot. I soon captured another mount, a Boer pony, which was trotting about riderless. Meantime the order to mount and retire was again shouted out, as Boers were beginning to outflank us and render our present position no longer tenable. I had not even the time to unstrap my cloak from off my dead horse or even empty the contents of the wallets, in which, amongst other things, lay my flask. I had barely time to draw my sword and secure my field glasses.
" The Boer pony I had managed to catch seemed a willing enough beast, but I found having to ride in a saddle with only one stirrup, and that one quite four holes too short, a not altogether comfortable predicament to be in.
" I soon caught up the squadron and Mounted Infantry, who now retired through a narrow defile, and struck west round Impati Mountain, with the intention of regaining the camp via the Newcastle road. We could hear no more firing from the direction of Dundee, and fighting was evidently over. By this time we had shaken off the enemy. The Colonel trusted in getting safely back round by the Navigation Collieries, which neighbourhood Maclachlan had reconnoitred early in the morning, and reported clear of Boers at 6 a.m. Our luck was, however, dead out, for we had not proceeded far when my advanced scout reported the presence of Boers in the vicinity, and I soon myself observed parties of them descending the slopes of Impati. It was now clear to push on further in the direction we were taking was but to court disaster. We were heading for a new Boer commando, which had taken no part in the battle of Dundee. Thereupon the Colonel decided in taking up as strong a position as could be found handy and holding out until nightfall in the hope of slipping away in the dark. I considered this a most injudicious plan, and was all in favour of retracing our footsteps the way we had retired, now the Boers, who had harassed us all the morning, had sheared off and given up the pursuit. Had we done so and returned to camp via the Sandspruit nullah we should have escaped the sad fate which awaited us. By taking up a position then our mobility no longer stood us in good stead; we became Infantry and isolated Infantry, caught like a rat in a hole. There seemed little chance of deliverance, and it was with a feeling we were all doomed men I entered Adelaide Farm, for I never expected to leave it alive. It was about 1.15 p.m. when the Colonel settled on this farm as our last stand. Hills which were spurs of Impati Mountain lay at the back; on them the Mounted Infantry were posted. Scarcely had we dismounted and got into our places when the Boers, with their customary alacrity, collected from all sides and opened fire upon us. The position we had taken up was the best we could select, and which the country we were in afforded us. It gave the men good cover and a clear field of fire, but it had the drawback of giving an insufficiency of cover for the horses, and the presence of a nullah, stretching along the front and flanks, only about 750 yards away, which was quickly occupied by Boers, and from which they fired unceasingly for over two hours, was a great disadvantage."
The Defence of Adelaide Farm.
" The position we had selected to defend was a small farm, the front of which was faced by a stone wall 3ft. 6in. high, and about 80 yards long. This wall was about twenty yards from the house. The house itself was quite a small brick building, with a tin roof, on which bullets were heard to rattle unceasingly. It contained but three small rooms and a front and a back door. A small stable, also of brick, stood about thirty yards to the right, and an ox waggon lay halfway between the two buildings. A wire fencing, which completed the enclosure behind, we cut down on entering the farm. My men were posted behind the wall, whilst our horses were placed behind the house and stable, which latter was able to accommodate a couple only. The Mounted Infantry of the Dublin Fusiliers occupied some rocky ground on a hill to the right, which commanded the approach to the farm. The section of the 60th Rifles Mounted Infantry, took up a position on a small hill overlooking the place. Behind us rose Impati Mountain, on whose stony slopes lay the Mounted Infantry as well.
" From behind the wall we could see no Boers, but the continual whizzing of bullets over our heads made us aware of their presence. The Mounted Infantry, being on higher ground, could occasionally catch a glimpse of a Boer moving about, and they would seize those opportunities to fire a volley, and, as their shooting was good, they accounted for several of the enemy. The Boers' fire never showed signs of slackening; the expenditure of ammunition to them did not matter, besides they were plentifully provided, whereas we had to carefully nurse ours. I could see nothing of the enemy, and my men had to content themselves in remaining crouching behind the wall, wet through and shivering from cold. But they behaved splendidly, as they did all through that trying day. Not the slightest symptom of fear or wavering was ever shown, all orders were cheerfully and bravely carried out. The men were on their mettle, and seemed to realise their case was a desperate one, but a firm desire to do their duty to the last filled the mind of each defender. Once we experienced a bitter disappointment. We had observed a body of men approaching, and in the distance had mistaken them for British troops; our hopes of being rescued were, however, quickly dispelled on finding them to be Boer reinforcements. At about 1.45 p.m., and after we had been about half an hour in the farm, a gun opened fire on us, but the shell dropped short of the wall.
Only one shot was fired, and at the time I could not under-stand why no more followed. Meanwhile the Boers were actively employed firing off their Mausers. Though none of us had yet been hit behind the wall, the rain of bullets which poured into the farm enclosure made it very unsafe to move out, even but a few yards away from the wall. Bullets were pattering into the roof of the house and stable, and occasion-ally a horse was hit. The house was too small to completely hide the horses from view, and unfortunately a good number had to stand unprotected from the enemy's fire. It was a sad sight to see the poor brutes shot down one after another, and exasperating to feel we could do nothing to prevent this massacre. We tried shifting some of the more exposed ones from behind the house to the back of the stable, but whilst moving them across the bit of open ground which separated the buildings several were struck, the Boers firing with increased energy when they came into view. A corporal of my squadron, who was leading a horse, was knocked over, and at first I thought he was killed. He was picked up and carried into the house through the back entrance. He had been badly wounded, the bullet having entered the right side of his body, struck a pocket book, which saved his life, for it caused the bullet to glance off a vital spot.
" The owner of the farm was discovered, with his wife, lying under the bed, too terrified to render any assistance to the wounded man. The latter was put to bed and the best done for him, and a man told off to remain by his side. From time to time I looked over the wall to try and catch sight of the enemy, but not a single Boer could I see. It was necessary, however, to keep a sharp look out, as the Boers might at any moment emerge from the spruit and try to rush us. Their firing never relaxed a moment, but as far as we were concerned it did us no harm. The Mounted Infantry fared less well, and a few of their men were struck. Our horses, too, were frequently knocked over. A few turkeys and chicken were pecking away in the farm quite unconcerned. A bullet would often strike the ground with a thud right in their midst and cause a little skipping, but they would soon resume their grubbing, regardless of the consequences. The Mounted Infantry were now beginning to run short of ammunition, and matters were getting serious. The fire was now not only directed at our front, but our flanks were also beginning to catch it hot. The Boers had crept along the spruit, which formed nearly a complete semicircle round our position. When we eventually capitulated we found the enemy had worked right round and gained the heights of Impati to our rear.
*' But if matters had previously looked bad for our small force, they looked doubly more so when, at 3.45 p.m., a couple of Krupp guns opened fire on us at a range of only 1,500 to 2,000 yards. The first shell struck the rocks above the ground where the Mounted Infantry were lying, but the second fell amongst them, killing one of the Dublin Fusiliers and wounding several others. The third, I believe, did no harm, but the following one fell amongst the horses, killing several and causing the remainder to stampede. The guns were making excellent practice. Every second I expected a shell to come ploughing into us, and it was hardly a pleasant sensation to experience. One hit the stable plump, killing a horse inside, another carried away part of the wall, behind which we were, smothering the men with earth and stones, but hurting no one.
" Our casualties increased. I saw one poor fellow struck by a shell which caught him below the shoulder blades, and which also killed the horse he was holding. Another man, though riddled by splinters of a shell, was still conscious and groaning piteously. We were having a bad time of it, and I had resigned myself to the fate which awaited us, and from which there seemed no escape. It was then the Colonel decided to surrender.
" Seventeen of our horses had been shot down and the others had stampeded. The Mounted Infantry had fired their last round. To continue a hopeless resistance entailed a mere useless sacrifice of life. For over two hours we had held out against heavy odds. If those guns had not appeared on the scene we might, perhaps, have lasted out until dark. We were told by the Boers afterwards that the first time they had fired a gun at us was from their laager, but that on finding the range was too long a one, they had brought their guns up much closer. Whilst the guns were being fetched, and until their arrival, the Boers had, by their incessant rifle fire, kept us boxed up in the farm.
'* Out of a total of 187 men, the following is a correct return of our casualties on October 20th:—
|Dublin Fusiliers MI||3||6|
|60th Rifles MI||2||3||1|
" A sheet, which someone had fetched from the house, was attached to a pole and raised over the wall. Above, on the hill, the bugler was sounding the ' cease fire ' .... we had given in !
" There was a short pause and a few seconds for bitter reflection, and then, as if by magic, Boers sprang up from everywhere. From all sides they galloped up to us, waving their arms and yelling to us to lay down our arms. There were quite 500 of them, and as their laager lay not far off, it would have been easy for them to summon up more men had they required assistance. I don't mind confessing that when I saw this howling calvacade approaching, I was foolish enough to imagine we should all be shot down.''
The following is an account of the disaster which befel the maxim gun and the detachment with it, consisting of the under-mentioned:—Lieutenant H. A. Cape, in charge; Sergeant Batten, Corporal Sexton, Private Waterson, Private Lock, and Private Wolfe :—
" To relate again the events of October 20th, 1899, in detail would be labour in vain, so I commence my narrative from the time when Colonel Moller began his retirement, which eventually led to such disastrous results. The small force of Boers which came against the two troops of ' B ' Squadron, the Mounted Infantry and the machine gun, under command of Colonel Moller, was evidently an off shoot from the main body under Lucas Meyer, and they had viewed us in the open plain after ' A ' and ' C ' Squadrons had been detached under Major Knox. As they approached us I was ordered to take up a position in the open with the Mounted Infantry, and this I did. I opened fire at about 1,700 yards range, and remained in position some time. As far as I could see there was little to fire at, and it was almost impossible to watch the effects of the shots. I then received an order from Colonel Moller to retire, the Mounted Infantry doing likewise, and I again took up another position, but before I had time to come into action yet another order reached me to retire again, the Mounted Infantry already having done so. Naturally by the time we had got the horses up and hooked on we were the last to leave, and I saw the Mounted Infantry on my left, and the two troops of ' B ' Squadron in front, fast disappearing over the crest of a slight rise. We then saw Captain Pollok on our left endeavouring to get Trumpeter Salmon on to his own saddle, he evidently having lost his horse, but almost immediately the trumpeter fell off again, so we stopped the gun and took him up, and on we went again, bullets flying around like hailstones, and the squadron and Mounted Infantry still going on farther and farther away. After going about two miles, as near as one could judge, I saw a deep spruit in front, and as the horses were by now completely done and one had been shot in about four places, we knew all was up. As we approached I turned round and emptied my revolver at the fast approaching Boers, and as by some extraordinary piece of good luck I managed to knock one man over, it had the effect of checking them for an instant. The last words
I heard poor Trumpeter Salmon shout out were ' Well done.' Down into the Spruit we all plunged and then they were all around us, so I shouted to the men to save themselves, but I knew it to be too late. Sergeant Batten, before he was killed, and Corporal Sexton, before he was wounded, succeeded in disabling the gun, and Private Waterston, ' C ' Squadron, behaved most gallantly. He seized Sergeant Batten's revolver after he had been hit, shot one Boer's horse, and then knocked him on the head with the empty revolver. Private Waterson himself was hit in three places, but managed, by lying' perfectly still, to escape detection, and made his way back into camp that same evening. Out of the gun detachment Sergeant Batten, Private Lock the driver, and Trumpeter Salmon were killed; Corporal Sexton, Private Waterston, and myself were wounded; Private Wolfe, whose horse was shot, was taken prisoner at the same time. On seeing the Maxim gun in their hands, the Boers almost at once gave up the pursuit of Colonel Moller and his force, and came crowding round, stripping us of everything we possessed. They then took out the horse that was so badly shot and harnessed in a pony, and so we were taken back, picking up one wounded man of the King's Royal Rifles, whom we placed on the gun, into the midst of the now retreating Boer forces, to whom we were a great object of interest. Whilst we were in amongst the Boers we saw our own batteries of Artillery come up into the nek at Talana Hill, over which the main Vryheid road ran, unlimber and whip round their guns. Every moment we expected to have shells hurtling over our heads, but not a shot was fired. It was a magnificent opportunity lost, as the Boers were crowding in masses, and the whole of the Staats Artillery was standing there, the men off the horses and wandering about with their hands in their pockets. We were not kept long here, but we were sent off in a Cape cart to the farm at the base of Talana Hill on the Vryheid side, which had been turned into a Boer Hospital. I was put into a room eventually, which was crowded to suffocation with about twenty-five wounded Boers, and the sights, sounds, and smells were truly awful. Captain Hardy came out from camp and did what he could for us. After a night, the like of which I never wish repeated, and during which several of the Boers had died, we awoke with hopes of ambulances or doolies coming for us from camp, but it was long past one o'clock before eventually we got off, and were taken back to our own Field Hospital through a most appalling thunderstorm. The journey back in hospital tongas was a very severe trial, and caused excruciating agony to some poor chaps who were badly wounded. On arrival in camp we met with a distinctly cold reception from our own people, as we were placed on the wringing wet ground in tents through which the rain poured. Our friends the enemy, however, gave us a warm enough one to make up for it, for no sooner had we reached camp than they commenced shelling the Hospital Camp, about which they could see the Doolie bearers moving, from Impati Mountain. Their shells were, however, more alarming than harmful, but, I fear, sadly tried the already too highly strung nerves of the wounded. Here I found McLachlan shot in the leg, and from him gleaned much welcome news. Besides being at times full of shells, the sir was full of rumours too of reinforcements coming from Ladysmith and also of our success at Elandslaagte. At daybreak, on the 22nd October, the Boers commenced shelling the hospital again, and continued doing so throughout most of the day whenever they saw any movement of any sort. In the evening General Symons received a message from General Yule, saying that he was sorry he could not come into camp to bid him goodbye, and that the column was leaving that night for Helpmakaar. Unfortunately this news was kept so secret that no one knew of it until the following morning, when it was too late to make a bold bid for liberty. Had we known this on the Sunday night I am convinced that there would have been a few absentees from the Hospital Camp on the Monday morning."
The casualties of the regiment on October 20th, 1899, were as follows:-
(a) Sergeant Batten, Trooper Salmon, Privates Lock and Bushell, Trumpeters Shrubsole and Grieve.
(b) Of these numbers thirteen men remained in the hands of the enemy, three were sent into Ladysmith during the investment (Lieut McLachlan, Lieut. Gape, and Corporal Franklin), and one remained at duty (Lieut. Bayford).
(c) Colonel Moller, Major Greviile, Captain Poliok, and Veterinary-Lieut. Shore.
A Squadron, 16 non-commissioned officers and men.
B Squadron, 60 non-commissioned officers and men.
C Squadron, 5 non-commissioned officers and men.
On October 21st Sergeant Farrier Shepherd was shot through the arm by a fragment of a shell when on parade with the Mounted Infantry, to which he was attached.