The Maritzburg Ambulance Corps (MAC) was raised in Pietermaritzburg to support the local Rifle Association and was “accepted for service at Fort Napier after the battle of Colenso.” The men of the MAC had then been transferred to serve as Orderlies on the Hospital Ship ‘Nubia’, which was anchored in Durban Bay. (Letter dated 5/3/1900 from Assistant Superintendent C E Arlidge, MAC, to Colonel Hime, Premier of Natal.)
The purpose of Arlidge’s letter was to request that the men of the MAC be put to their intended purpose as stretcher bearers at the front. The request was not acceded to mainly because none of the Rifle Associations were on front-line service. Also, the MAC had an enrolment of only 19 men and could at most service only two stretcher parties of eight men each, the standard number then being used by the Natal Volunteer Ambulance Corps (NVAC), which had been on active service since mid-December 1899. This unit had in the field 1200 men, while its partner, the Natal Indian Ambulance Corps (NIAC) numbered 600 men. The men of the MAC were therefore obliged to remain as Orderlies on the ‘Nubia’. Only in the case of a few of them is anything recorded about their subsequent service.
The men who made up the unit were recorded on the QSA medal roll in the National Archives at Kew (WO100/225, page 267). All were recorded as being issued with the ‘Natal ‘ clasp. It will take a careful examination of the original roll to determine how many medals were actually issued. At least one was ”returned to Woolwich”, while it seems unlikely than a deserter (R Rogers) received a medal. The following men are named on the roll:
Superintendents A E Albert and C E Arlidge*.
Sergeants ? ? John, G F Robbins and W W Roberts.
Privates T V Baker, ? ? Beresford, G G Cope, H F Cottrill*, P Grimpson*, R P Patterson*, H J Roberts, R Rogers, F P Rowell*, ? ? Stevenson, W L Stuart*, A R Turpin, E A Varney* and H T Zeppenveldt.
In his letter referred to above, Superintendent Arlidge mentions that the MAC’s Medical Officer was Dr Strapp of Pietermaritzburg
* These men went on to serve in the Imperial Hospital Corps (IHC). Like the newly founded Imperial Bearer Corps (IBC), the IHC was intended to put in good order under the command of the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) the various volunteer medical units, both local and overseas, that had emerged in Natal since the war began.
The names of the MAC men known to have served in the IHC were gleaned from the unit’s nominal roll. Their names and new ranks, with enlistment and discharge dates, and other comments, are as follows:
Leader Charles Edward Arlidge. 27/6/1900 – 9/10/1900. ‘Nubia’, Durban.
Orderly Harry Frank Corttrill. 27/6/1900 – 6/11/1900.
Orderly Peter Henry Keith Grimson. 19/2/1901 – 19/8/1901. (He is listed as ‘Grimpson’ on the medal roll.)
Orderly Russell Patterson. 4/5/1900 – 14/1/1901.
Orderly Frank Percy Rowell. 27/6/1900 – 24/12/1900.
Orderly William Bowry Stuart. 27/6/1900 (21/7/1900) – 17/12/1900.
request. Re-enlisted 3/2/01 – 18/2/1902. Howick.
Orderly Edward A Varney. 27/6/1900 – 19/9/1900. Not likely to become efficient.
It is likely that six men remained on the ‘Nubia’, as is indicated in the case of Arlidge. Grimson joined the IHC later and he may have served elsewhere, which was the case with Stuart after he re-enlisted. What became of the other men of the MAC is not known.
Most of the men of the MAC are likely to have been on the first of the 15 return trips between Durban and Southampton undertaken by the ‘Nubia’. It took place between 3/4/1900 and 9/6/1900. It is also likely that after the end of the first trip the MAC ceased to exist.
The following can be inferred by matching names and dates to the trips of the ‘Nubia’:
Pte Patterson (MAC) missed the first trip, since he joined the newly-formed IHC while the ‘Nubia’ was away.
Pte R Rogers (MAC) “deserted in England”, and this must have happened during the first trip, since the men who went on the later trips were by then in the IHC, and Rogers was not.
Orderly Cottrill (IHC) was discharged at Southampton on 6/11/1900, which was during the third trip.
Leader Arlidge (IHC) was discharged on 9/10/1900, a day before the third trip began.
Orderly Rowell (IHC) was discharged on 24/12/1900, eight days after the end of the third trip.
Orderly Varney (IHC) was discharged on 19/9/1900 while the ‘Nubia’ was in Durban between its second and third trips.
The ‘Nubia’ docked at Southampton as a Hospital Ship for the last time on 5/9/1903, by which time its one-time MAC hospital staff had passed into the pages of its history as a footnote.
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Private Frank Percy Rowell, Maritzburg Ambulance Corps
(later Orderly, Imperial Hospital Corps)
Frank Rowell was born on 4/4/1876 in Hackney, Middlesex, the son of Thomas and Annie Rowell. At the time of the 1881 Census the family lived at 102 Downham Road, Hackney. Frank had two older brothers, George and John. By 1891, the family had added an elderly lodger to their number, Joseph Playforth, aged 65.
Later in the 1890’s, Rowell moved to Natal, where he set himself up as a printer at 132 Boshoff Street, Pietermaritzburg. He evidently remained in this trade for his entire working life, and on his Death Notice he is recorded as being a retired Master Printer.
Nothing further is known of Rowell until his enlistment in the Maritzburg Ambulance Corps (MAC) when it was raised late in December 1899 after the Battle of Colenso. The MAC was from its inception superfluous to the requirement for stretcher bearers in the field, and, instead, the men were assigned to be Orderlies on the Hospital Ship ‘Nubia’, which was anchored in Durban Bay.
In March 1900 after the first phase of the Natal Campaign had been successfully concluded and the advance on the Transvaal was beginning, the various volunteer medical units in the Colony made way for the Imperial Bearer Corps (IBC) and Imperial Hospital Corps (IHC), which were established to function under the command of the Royal Army Medical Corps.
It is likely that the men of the MAC remained on duty on the ‘Nubia’ at least until the ship returned to Durban on 9/6/1900 after its first round trip to Southampton. Thereafter, some men, including Rowell, joined the IHC, others are unaccounted for, and the MAC ceased to exist. Rowell enlisted in the IHC on 27/6/1900. He stayed with the ship for two more of its return trips to Southampton, and left at his own request on 24/12/1900, eight days after the ‘Nubia’ docked back in Durban. This was close to the first anniversary of his enlistment in the MAC. He presumably then returned to his civilian trade.
For his service, Rowell was awarded the QSA with the ‘Natal’ clasp, which was issued to him on 12/2/1904. The medal with its original ribbon and box of issue, together with his leather medical instrument belt pouch, are relics of his Boer War service (see below). The pouch still contains a pair of scissors, forceps, and two mercury thermometers.
Little is known of Rowell’s later life. He travelled to Britain on at least two occasions, presumably to visit family members who still resided there. He returned after his first recorded visit having embarked at Glasgow on the Blue Funnel ship ‘Aenaes’ on 14/10/1922. His British address was given as 52 Roseberry Avenue, London EC1. The next trip came after his retirement. On 21/7/1950, he arrived at Tilbury aboard the Union-Castle ship ‘Dunnottar Castle’. His address on that occasion was given as 146 Palmerston Road, London N22.
It is also known that Rowell was a Scoutmaster of long standing. A file in the Pietermaritzburg Repository of the South African National Archives (GG, Vol 2065, Ref 65/210, 1933) is described as follows:
“Boy Scouts: Decorations. Application for the award for good service to the movement for Group Scoutmaster F P Rowell; Desire that the matter be referred back for further detailed evidence.”
The outcome of this matter is not known.
More was revealed in Rowell’s Death Notice and Will. Rowell died on 18/6/1972 of a coronary thrombosis in Addington Hospital, Durban. He was 96 years old. He never married and had no local next of kin. His body was identified by a friend, W E Phillips, the recently retired Vice Principal and Professor of Physics at the University of Natal (Durban). His last residence was the Colorado Farm Hotel at Inchanga, which is about 50 kilometres inland from Durban.
Rowell’s Will records no property ownership, but he had cash on hand and several investments, which he bequeathed to both individuals and organisations. The beneficiaries included the Durban Congregational Church, United Congregational Church of South Africa, Durban Community Chest, and Wildlife Protection Society of South Africa. Professor Phillips was to receive his personal belongings, except for his clothing which was to be distributed amongst the staff of the Colorado Farm Hotel.
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