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May 29, 1900 : Battle of Biddulphsberg 6 years 5 months ago #41290

  • Henk Loots
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Hi
Biddulphsberg is a 250m high hill located 13 km east of Senekal and, as the crow flies, 30 km NW of Rosendal where I live. It lent its name to the battle that took place on 29 May 1900 in which Lt-Gen Sir Leslie Rundle’s Column (2nd Grenadier Guards, 2nd Scots Guards and some IY Companies) lost some 40 men killed and DoW as well as 130 wounded: as a schoolboy in Bethlehem in the late 1940’s I heard Boer veterans referring to it as the “veldbrand slag” (veld-fire battle).
The Boer force under Gen A de Villiers (some 400 men from the Senekal, Ladybrand and other Eastern Free State Commando’s) were well-hidden and waiting for the British when Rundle’s Column advanced from the direction of Senekal before dawn on 29 May and over the next hours they inflicted heavy losses on Rundle’s men, with the losses compounded by the effect of the raging veld fire that swept over the British positions.
The battle is extensively documented in contemporary publications and Caton Woodville’s depiction of the Grenadiers in that action is well known.



However, the artwork does not convey the horrifying effect that the fire had on the soldiers: for an on-the-spot eyewitness account I quote from p 479 of an extract of “The Household Brigade Magazine” (?date?), where the opening shots of the Boer gunners at approximately 11 am were described by a correspondent with the column:
“It is a pity that the Boer gunners did not fire a few moments earlier. If they had, an evil thing had remained undone. While watching the 2nd Battery fire at the farmhouse some Yeomanry officers lit their pipes, and, throwing down the flaming matches, set the tall grass on fire. One of them made a half attempt to extinguish the flame – a vigorous stamp of the boot would have been sufficient – but he turned away with a laugh and let the flames gain strength. That laughing carelessness cost gallant lives, and has caused many an agonised hour of awful suffering. Mr Hallimond, the Times correspondent, Mr Adams of the Exchange Telegraph Company and I galloped to the spot, but before we could reach it, the flames were leaping yards into the air. An hour or two later they had burned out the life or scorched the sight from gallant fellows whose wounds prevented them from making a movement to escape.”
On page 481 the correspondent elaborated on the subsequent effects of the fire:
“The scene on the battlefield at this moment was one of the most awful description. The battle had now fully developed. From the front, where the Grenadiers had disappeared in the smoke, the crackle of bullets was deafening…… Ten guns on our side and two on the Boers’ added their roar - the bursting of shells and the demoniac scream of shrapnel made up a perfect pandemonium of sound. Over all, and dominating all, was the dreadful popping crackle of the burning grass, while the smoke hid everything. Biddulph’s Berg, the Boer guns, our own guns, the Grenadiers and the Scots Guards, who had moved up in support of them, had all vanished. One saw nothing but vast rolling billows of thick blue-white smoke…… Out of this great pall that hung over the battlefield came the dreadful din, and from under its edge crept stricken and bleeding figures, groping along in the semi-darkness, or staggering feebly, supported between blackened and dishevelled comrades towards the busy doctors at the rear. It was bewildering, it was terrifying, it was horrifying….. no realism of art could equal the awful realism of the pallid, drawn, blood-smeared faces and swaying, tottering steps of the ghastly figures that now, in a steady stream, staggered out of the hell in front of me….”
Late afternoon Rundle ordered a retreat and Gen de Villiers personally led a number of Boer sorties in pursuit of the British. During this charge De Villiers was dangerously wounded: some sources mention splinters from an exploding shell and others a bullet in the jaw. He died in Senekal a few days later: another Boer was killed during the battle and 3 wounded.




Korporaal Adriaan van Jaarsveld served in the Ladybrand Commando. He saw action at Wepener, Sannaspos and Biddulphsberg before he was take PoW (No 8936) at the age of 23 with the surrender of Gen Prinsloo and sent to Diyatalawa.






1533 Pte J Smith, Scots Guards, was severely wounded while 7266 Pte J G Mackay was Killed in Action at Biddulphsberg. One would not know after 115 years whether the fire added to their injuries.



In the case of 2685 Pte J Jefferies, Grenadier Guards, the fire was the ultimate cause of his death. He died of burns at Deelfontein Hospital on 25 June 1900, almost 4 weeks, during which period he must have suffered excruciating pain, after the battle.

Many unrecognised acts of gallantry and lifesaving must have been performed during the battle. One incident that resulted in the award of a DCM involved two Grenadier Guardsmen : the C/O, Lt Col Lloyd and Colour Sgt Morgan.



DCM, V.R. (7330 Clr. Serjt. T. Morgan, Gren. Gds.); QSA, 4 bars CC, Witt, Tvl, SA'01 (7330 Clr. Serjt., Gren. Gds.); Coronation 1902, bronze; Coronation 1911, privately engraved, ‘T. Morgan’; Army L.S. & G.C., V.R. (7330 Sergt., Gren. Gds.); Army MSM, G.V.R., coinage bust (C. Sjt., D.C.M., G. Gds)
Thomas Morgan enlisted in the Grenadier Guards in May 1880, aged 19 years and was awarded his L.S. & G.C. Medal in October 1898, the same month in which he was advanced to Colour-Sergeant. Morgan embarked for South Africa with the 2nd Battalion in March 1900and was quickly in action, not least in the engagement at Biddulphsberg on 29 May 1900, when the Grenadiers were badly mauled. On that occasion, he assisted in the rescue of Lieutenant-Colonel Lloyd: an incident to which his grateful C/O later referred in his account of the action.
However, by way of introduction, the diary entry of fellow Grenadier, Corporal J. Clay:
‘At this the General said to the Colonel “Move on Lloyd.” We wheeled with five or six companies in extended order facing the objective at a distance of about 1500 yards, into a field of mealies which were ripening at a height of three or four feet. On reaching 1000 yards we were met by a rain of bullets and our casualties grew. Our gun officer ordered us to leave the gun and get down to it. We could see no enemy but we blazed away. It was woe betide the man who did not lie still and keep his head down. The artillery kept up a continued bombardment, but about 4 p.m. the mealies field behind us was ablaze. As the fire came towards us we covered our faces with our pith helmets and forced our way through the flames and smoke. Never shall I forget the screams and cries of the wounded as we drew our gun out to the left to flank the fire. Our Colonel was badly wounded and of No. 6 Company of 100 men only 30 escaped ... ’
And it was as these flames threatened to engulf the thinning ranks of the Grenadiers that Morgan came forward to rescue his wounded C/O. Lieutenant-Colonel Lloyd takes up the story:
‘I managed to struggle for 300 yards or so, when Colour-Sergeant Morgan came up and helped me. He was one of the few unhit. Bullets were falling thick, but I reached a wire fence where I lay down behind a stone post for a minute or two. Colour-Sergeant Morgan and another man then came and insisted on pulling me along, while others received like aid, those who could walk helping those who could not. Some 200 yards further on I was put on to a Scots Guards stretcher ... I asked Gilmour to mention the following who came under my notice: Lieutenant E. Seymour, 2nd Lieutenant A. Murray, and Colour-Sergeant Morgan.’
Morgan was MiD by Lord Roberts (LG 10 Sept 1901, p 5936) and the award of his DCM was gazetted on 27 September 1901. Meanwhile, however, he had been invalided, and he was discharged as ‘medically unfit for further service’ on his return to the U.K. in July 1901.
According to a write-up that came with the group, he was then appointed Gatekeeper at Windsor Castle and served in that capacity until his retirement, except for a tour of duty as RSM on the Military Prison Staff at the Aliens Detention Camp at Douglas, Isle of Man, during WWI. This employment that did not qualify him for any further awards. He was finally awarded his MSM in 1933 (Army Order 122) and died in Nottingham in September 1944, aged 84 years.

Henk
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May 29, 1900 : Battle of Biddulphsberg 6 years 5 months ago #41302

  • Brett Hendey
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Henk
Great medals and a great story to go with them. Thank you for the post. It is this sort of thing that makes getting up in the morning worthwhile!
Regards
Brett

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May 29, 1900 : Battle of Biddulphsberg 6 years 5 months ago #41312

  • coldstream
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Henk,

Thank you for the write up and showing your collection, superb!

Regards
Paul :)
"From a billow of the rolling veldt we looked back, and black columns were coming up behind us."

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May 29, 1900 : Battle of Biddulphsberg 6 years 5 months ago #41619

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Henk,

A stunning group of medals.

I thought this detail from Caton Woodville's 1902 version of the battle might be of interest. The painting was exhibited at the Carlton Galleries, Pall Mall, during February 1903.





Lloyd wrote: "At the next halt my right-hand man was hit, my left-hand man was hit, I was hit ....... There were a few ant-heaps, but they were rotten and useless. I was behind one on my back with Drummer Haines and Fruin of No. 6. ...... Drummer Haines had got his arm over me, drawing me to him for protection, I suppose (I was a bit silly, but not very), when bang came a bullet that hit me on the stomach, but it was covered by his arm, which it broke, and I was only bruised fearfully. This, no doubt, saved my life. I tied him up with a handkerchief, and he put some stuff on my wounds, and there we lay" (Lloyd & Russell, 1907, p. 38).
At 3 p.m. the order was given to retire: "The Commanding Officer was assisted to rise by Drummer Haines and Private Fruin, and, stumbling through the fire, was able to crawl away until he was picked up and taken to the dressing station. There were, however, a certain number of men who, being unable to move, were burnt - some to death" (Loyd & Russell, 1907, p. 34).

Special Divisional Order, Harrismith, 19th November, 1900:
"The following names have been brought to the notice of the Lieutenant-General by their Commanding Officers:- FOR VALOUR: 6903, Corporal W. Dickens; 3450, Drummer Douglas Haines".

Neville
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May 29, 1900 : Battle of Biddulphsberg 6 years 5 months ago #41629

  • Henk Loots
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Hi
Thanks for the thanks and especially to Neville for the additional data.
I enjoyed putting these medals together over a period of many years!
Henk

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May 29, 1900 : Battle of Biddulphsberg 5 years 1 month ago #48982

  • sahpa2000
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We drove past it this weekend, this is on my priority list to see still.
Regards
Eric
Regards
Eric de Jager(SAHPA2000)
South African History Protection Association
Since 2000

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