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Lieutenant Colonel A. J. Watson, 1st Suffolk Regt.- k.i.a. at Rensburg, 6.1.1900 5 months 4 weeks ago #79937

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There are several memorials dedicated to his memory in Suffolk.

A plaque and stained glass window in St John's Church, Bury St Edmunds.



In the Regimental Chapel, St Mary's Church, Bury St Edmunds, are a plaque and one of several inscriptions on wooden panelling in the chapel.

The plaque has almost the same wording as the one in St John's Church, but with additional punctuation. It's now partly hidden behind an altar, and is in a glass-fronted frame.


He's also named on the 1st Battalion Suffolk Regiment's memorial in St Mary's Church, on the Suffolk Soldiers Memorials in Bury St Edmunds and Ipswich, and on his wife's gravestone in Colchester Cemetery, Essex.

....A good deal that is unreliable having been written about the disaster to the Suffolks at Rensburg, and blame having been wantonly cast upon Col. Watson in a letter from a Private which recently appeared in a London half-penny paper, we have felt it a duty to endeavour to arrive at the truth in the matter, and as the result of our investigations we have pleasure in expressing the firm and confident belief that Colonel Watson was in no way responsible for the fact that the movement of the Suffolk Regiment waa not a success, and that he acted like a brave and loyal soldier and commander throughout, and heroically died at the head of his Regiment. It is with gratification we are able to record that the Queen sent a message of deep sympathy to Mrs. Watson on the loss of her gallant husband. Her Majesty also asked for and has received a photograph of the Colonel. In order that the full truth may be known of the Rensburg disaster we publish with melancholy satisfaction the following copies of letters received from Major Cubitt, second in command of the 1st Suffolk Regiment, and Capt. Massy-Lloyd:—
Rensburg, 7th January, 1900.......
...."Colonel Watson got permission to capture a Boer position on the night of the 5th. He kept it entirely to himself to the last moment, and only told me when everyone but poor Mr. Wilkins and Mr. Wilson had gone to bed. He was awfully keen about it, and quite confident of success. It would have been a magnificent thing for our side if his hopes had been fulfilled, as it was the key of the Boer position. That it was not a success was not Colonel Watson's fault, or, indeed, anyone's, but the result of treachery, probably on the part of Kaffirs attached to our transport. Colonel Watson at 10 30 p.m. told me his plans, and left me in charge of the camp and reserves. He left camp at 12.30 a.m., and they marched out quietly and grimly. They advanced across the veldt, and got to the hill in safety, and three-quarters of the way up. Then they halted in perfect silence. The Colonel, Mr. Wilkins, and Captain Brown advanced cautiously and reconnoitred. They returned, and the Colonel gave the order to advance—he leading. One shot was fired, and he gave the order to charge, and they charged the position, only to be met by a high wall with two tiers of loopholes ten to fifteen paces in front. The poor Colonel and half the front Company fell at once. They charged several times, and ali the casualties occurred here. It was hopeless, as the Boers were prepared for the attack. The fire was terrific, and some of the enemy shouted 'Retire,' which was mistaken for our officers' voices in the pitch darkness, and the rear Companies obeyed it. The Colonel was killed instantaneously; Mr. Wilkins and his bugler were shot dead beside him. The men behaved very bravely, but the task was an impossible one. Major Graham was shot in the shoulder, the bullet coming out at the neck; and also in the arm. Our ambulances went out in course of the day, and the dearly-loved Colonel and his comrades were buried, Major ————, R.A.M.C, reading the Service. Some of the Boers attended and said some prayers. They told the doctors Col. Watson was a gallant officer, and died at the head of his command as a soldier should."
....Extract from Captain Massy-Lloyd's letter:—
Naaupoort, 10th January, 1900.......
...."What actually happened no one knows; you get a different story from each man. It appears the Colonel led them all right up to the position, but as some wretch had gone ahead of us, and warned the Boers, the attack failed. The account that seems the best is that they marched off at 12.30 a.m. About 1,000 yards from tbe position the Colonel called the officers out and explained his. He said the Companies were to attack in column, at 50 paces between Companies. By the time they reached the hill, they were in quarter-column, the very formation the Colonel said he would not attack in, but in the pitch darkness it was impossible to keep any distance or order. H Company was leading, Captain Brown; then D Company, Major Graham; B Company, Captain Thomson; and A Company, Captain Brett. When they got within about forty paces from the position one shot was fired, and the Boers all shouted 'The Rooineks,' and then the most terrific fire began. The men lay down, and then someone said 'Retire'—a Boer, most likely—and some of our men began to go. It is quite certain that the Colonel never gave that order, or the officers would have retired too. They remained to a man, except Graham, who was wounded early, and could not hold his rifle. He dragged himself down the hill, and somehow crawled the two miles back to camp."

....A letter recently received by Mrs. Long, of 25, Lambert's Row, Risbygate-street, from her son, Private W. Long, of the 1st Battalion Suffolk Regiment, who writes from Naauwpoort under date January 9th, says:—I daresay you have seen by the papers what has happened to our regiment, but I am very pleased to let you know I am one of the lucky ones to return. Dear Mother, I don't know how they will bring it in the papers about us, but I must tell you the cause of us getting cut up as we did was through our own Colonel's mistake. He received orders to march us to the foot of the hill on which the enemy had taken up position, and to remain there until daybreak, when the artillery were going to fire and shell the hill for two hours, and the cavalry were coming up on both sides of the hill, and after the artillery had stopped shelling we were to attack the hill with fixed bayonets and drive the enemy into the cavalry, so they could cut them all off; and instead of that we were marched right to the top, and no sooner had we reached it than a heavy fire from about 2,000 Boers broke out on us, and we had to lay down and wait orders, not being allowed to fire a shot, and bullets flying in all directions over our heads and all around us, and we were ordered to retire, but it was too late, for, as soon as the words were out of the Colonel's mouth he was shot dead on the spot, and the adjutant and bugler by his side. Tell Alf. Powell that the bugler was poor old Jack Carter. I must tell you that it was the cruelest sight that ever I witnessed, and I shall never forget it. We went up with four companies, amounting to about 400 men and came back with 260. The remainder were killed and wounded, and some taken prisoners. In my company we lost three officers, one colour-sergeant, three sergeants, two corporals, and about 32 men, and how I escaped myself I can hardly tell you, but I managed to get back to camp with a small bullet wound in my thigh, and that is very nearly healed up now, so I am getting over it all right There is a lot belonging to Bury killed, but we cannot get to know all yet. We have come back to Naauwpoort again on account of losing so many officers, and I don't suppose we shall go to the front again without they are very hard pushed, as we have no one left to command us or take charge of us. Our losses altogether were 11 officers, two drummers, and about 150 non-commissioned officers and men. Dear mother, give my love to all at home, and tell them I shall be glad enough when this is all over, so I can get back home, which l hope, please God, I shall do now I have escaped through this, because I am sure we shall never have a harder battle to fight if we do go back to the front again, as we were led right into the enemy's hands in the dark of the night, and all they had to do was to lay and cut us down as we advanced up. We were not allowed to fire a shot. My company chum was running down the hill by my side, and all at once he fell, and I dare not stop to look if he was shot or only stumbled over, but in the afternoon the helmets of the dead men were brought to camp by the doctor, and to my sorrow I found his was amongst them."

....Another letter, which contains some interesting particulars containing the Suffolks, has been received from Private R. Bridges (son of Mr. Bridges, of 4, Churchgate-street), who joined the regiment on the Reservists being called up. The letter is addressed from Arundel, under date January 9th,, and was to the writer's wife. He says:—
...."I suppose you have been very uneasy about me since my regiment happened with the sad misfortune. Well, I will tell you all about it from the time we were under fire, till we were sent back to Arundel, after losing so many officers, and for rest. Well, we marched to Coles Kopje, and around it, to attack the Boers' flank. From the moment we went round the kopje we were under a very heavy fire, but we passed on until one position was gained, when we laid down, while A and B Companies took a position on a kopje commanding the Boer position. D Company went to a kopje on the left, to prevent a flank attack. This movement cut the Boer force off from their supplies, and as they could get nothing to eat and nothing to drink we expected the reinforcements to try and get through our lines, and carry them provisions. We were pretty busy all day, and at night laid down where we were. In the morning a large force of Boers advanced to try and get through, but after five hours' very heavy fighting we drove them back with great loss, and we laid down to rest and watch for any movements of the enemy, as our orders were to lay close. The next day the ambulance corps got work burying the dead. Seven carts were busy all day as casualties occurred. Friday we were busy all the morning, and at noon we were ordered to occupy a position on a kopje to the left. We went there and at night we received orders to join the battalion—half my company (C). Then it was cancelled, and we were to remain where we were, and a God-send it was too. The Colonel came and told us to be careful in the morning, as the cavalry, mounted infantry, and some guns would move out in front of us at daybreak, and the guns in the rear would shell the hill until 5. 30, when the regiment would storm it with the bayonet. So we laid down for the night. At 2.30 the enemy began a heavy rifle fire, and we wondered what was up. . . . . We moved off at 12.30 to attack the hill at 2.30, instead of 5.30. We had advanced to the foot of the hill in quarter column, when the men saw a red light on the right, and reported it. The Colonel said it was Colesberg Station, and kept on until near the top, when he sent a section round to see if anyone was there. They returned, having seen no one round the hill, and he ordered one company to the right, and one to the left, when he ordered the advance. He gave the order, and they began to move off, when a shot was fired, and then a volley, which took all H Company's front rank down; and what our losses were through that charge is 141 killed, wounded, and missing, and young Clark is one of them, and some more that come from Bury. . . . We are a lot better off where we are now."

The letters above appeared in The Bury and Norwich Post, Tuesday 13th February 1900

....We have received from South Africa the following account of the performance of the last rites of the Church over the fallen Suffolks:—
....On Tuesday, the 6th of March, exactly two months to the day after the disaster that befel the Suffolk Regt. on the hill that henceforward will be called Suffolk Hill (but was formerly known by Colesberg residents as Mount Ephraim), an impressive burial service was conducted by tbe Rev. C. Usher Wilson, rector of Colesberg and acting chaplain to the forces, in memory of all the officers, non-commissioned officers, and men of tbe Suffolk Regiment who were killed in action round Colesberg. The friends of the men who lost their lives in their too eager attempt to capture this hill, in the early morn of the 6th of January, will be glad to know that the memorial service was a very solemn one and one that will never be forgotten by any who attended it.
....The hill stands a good mile out of the town, and after a visit to the spot anyone can understand the desire of General French to secure possession of such a vantage point, commanding as it does the plain that extends in a semi-circle round it, stretching away some 2,000 yards northwards from the foot of the hill and crossed by the roads leading to Colesberg Bridge, Buffels Vlei, and Rietfontein, the Railway Junction and rail to Norvals Pont and the road to the Colesberg Bridge. Looking in the opposite direction the town is in view, walled in by its kopjes, and utterly at the mercy of any guns planted on this hill.
....Considering tbe distance from town it was surprising how many people had taken the trouble to walk in the heat across the veldt to be present at the ceremony, and the proportion of ladies, who had come to pay their respects to the brave departed, was large. A good number of the officers and men of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and of the Colonial troops at present camped near the town, attended the service. A number of natives also walked out to witness the unusual sight.
....The names of the officers who fell were—Colonel Watson, Lieut. and Adjutant Wilkins, Lieut. Carey, and Lieut. White. These with 34 men lie buried in this one grave.
....Arriving at the graveside, a square was formed round it. At the head stood Major Cubitt, Capts. Lloyd and Clifford, and Pvts. Corbett and Rodger, Suffolk Regiment, and Capt. Gregson, lately attached to the Suffolk Regiment. At the foot were the pipers and buglers of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, on the left the firing party and other troops, and opposite, on the other side of the grave, the Rev. C. Usher Wilson, the choir, and people of Colesberg. The first part of the service was the blessing of the grave, followed by the funeral service of the Church of England, which was fully choral. The thirty-ninth Psalm was chanted by the choir, and after the lesson, the hymn No. 401 in the Ancient and Modern Hymn Book, "Now the Labourer's Task is O'er" was beautifully rendered, and the office proceeded with. Before the grace, hymn No. 537, "Peace, Perfect Peace" was sung, and the effect on the still hill-side in the bright morning was particularly solemn.
....At the conclusion of the service three volleys were fired by a party supplied by the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, and between the volleys the pipers of the same regiment played the plaintive strains of "The Land of the Leal."
....The buglers then sounded "The Last Post," and the ceremony concluded by all joining in singing the National Anthem.
....The grave has an oblong shaped mound of earth, with sloping sides raised over it, and on tbe flat top surface the Berkshire Regiment have placed a cross, formed of rough rounded stones, taken from the kopje on which the brave dead met their death. The ground surrounding the grave for some little distance is enclosed, also by stones taken from the hill. At the head of the grave, on a piece of rough wood, are inscribed the following words:—
Erected by the Berks
Regiment on the re-occupation
of Colesberg, in memory
of officers and men of the Suffolk
Regiment, killed in action
Jan. 6th, 1900.
....After the ceremony, several floral tributes were laid on the grave. Some of them bore no names, but amongst those to which cards were attached was a wreath from the Officers of the Suffolk Regiment, another from the officers and men of the Argyll and Sutherland Regiment in camp, Colonels Dick and Major Scott. Mrs. Jno. Andrews sent a wreath with the text, "And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of Hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels." Another wreath bore the legend, "From the British Ladies," and yet another from Miss Praed, with the words "Peace, Perfect Peace." Miss Campbell also placed a wreath on the grave.
....The troops marched off, the townspeople slowly wended their way back, and some children gathered round to pick up the empty cartridge cases of the firing party as reminders of the scene they had witnessed.
....It is understood that the officers and men of the regiment have decided to have the grave properly enclosed and a suitable monument erected, and they may rely upon the residents of Colesberg seeing that the sacred spot is well cared for, and an attempt made to induce some trees to grow on the hill side.
....The Suffolk Regiment will be for ever grateful to the Berkshire Regiment for the care they took of the grave on the re-occupation of Colesberg, and to the Rev. C. Usher Wilson, the people of Colesberg, and the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders for so kindly helping with the Burial Service.
....Captain Brown died of his wounds in Colesberg on Monday, the 8th January, and was buried the following day, in the old grave-yard, at the entrance to the town and on the left of the main road. The grave is by the side of that of an officer of H.M. service—Major Dugald Ducat, 91st Regiment, who died in 1843.
....Privates C Hackett, C. Webb, T. Arnull, Radley, and Skeet, who died of their wounds in Colesberg, were buried side by side in ground destined to become the new cemetery; it is on the opposite side of the road to the old one. Sergt. Baker and Prvt. Forge, killed in the engagement on the 4th January, were buried at the foot of the hill on which they fell, about two miles east of Colesberg.
The Bury and Norwich Post, Tuesday 3rd April 1900
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