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Battlefield correspondence 2 months 1 week ago #94692

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Correspondence between Lt. General Lord Methuen and Fighting General J.G. Celliers

Mid-September 1901, Lord Methuen sent a letter to Fighting General Celliers (and assistant Fighting General L.A.S. Lemmer) announcing that he intends to repair the telegraph lines between Mafeking and Zeerust and imploring the Boer forces not to destroy these as he is then forced to burn farms in retaliation.



I don’t know what Methuen’s exact intentions behind the message were. By that time it was already SOP that any destruction of infrastructure important to the British would cause retaliation in the form of farm burnings. Also, Methuen’s aversion to the practice of burning farms was already well known to the Boer Generals. The only “new” information contained in the message was perhaps Methuen’s intention to select a property owned by a Burger on commando for burning rather than the farm closest to where the destruction took place. Not that the latter made any difference: Celliers’ curt response follows 3 days later and could not have been subject to any misinterpretation.



In the Field
18 September 1901

Lt. General Methuen
Honorable Sir,
I have the honor to acknowledge receipt of your message of September 15, 1901. Your threat re. burning of houses will not cause me to neglect my duty, more so since we are quite accustomed to see houses burned by his Majesty’s troops; I will cut wires when military operations necessitate so.
I have the honor to be,
Your Obedient Servant,
(signed) J.G. Celliers
Fighting General



The distance between Mafeking and Zeerust is almost 70 kilometers. Belfield’s map shows clearly the frantic movement of Methuen’s troops in the area and the importance of a working telegraph line between the towns is self-evident.
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Battlefield correspondence 2 months 1 week ago #94696

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Correspondence of Lt General Lord Methuen with Fighting General Celliers ultimo September/October 1901

The correspondence, which will be presented in two post because of the volume of documents involved, cover the last documents featured in Belfield’s file with battlefield correspondence.

On the 22nd of September, Celliers wrote a letter to Lord Methuen (not reproduced in this thread) stating that Mrs Louw and Mrs Lemmer wanted to return to Mafeking and asking his assistance therewith. A scribbled remark in the margin indicates that Methuen did so. By all appearances, communication between the top echelon of the warring parties seemed to have returned to normal, i.e. cordial, respectful, acquiescent. Two days later, however, something happened that changed all that.

On the 24th of September 1901 a squadron of the Imperial Yeomanry under Capt. Miles Backhouse were recovering some cattle on the farm Weltevreden (Jeppe 110), a few miles East of Mafeking. Of the squadron, Lt. William Yates and a handful of troopers came under fire by a group of about 20 Burgers. This little skirmish - involving British troops trying to steal cattle from the Boers- left Trooper 29481 G. Armstrong wounded and would probably have been lost in time if it were not for the assertion by Lt. Yates that one of the Burgers had been waving a white handkerchief prior to the attack. A copy of Yates’ report about this so-called white-flag incident survived in Belfield papers:







Methuen was incensed about the reported abuse of the white flag and in an effort to prevent a repeat, he issued fresh orders on the 27th of September regarding the treatment of Boer representatives approaching British troops, whether under a Flag of Truce or not.




Methuen sent a copy of these orders, together with Yates’ report, with a stern letter to Celliers. (Celliers’ response can be read in the following post)





The farm Weltevreden 110 is located close to Mafeking. The road described in Yates’ report is clearly marked.




The farm Rooigrond still exists and is visible on Google. I tried from there to work out the exact spot where the skirmish took place on Weltevreden. Remnants of the old road are still in existence and some barely visible white spots indicate where the house marked C and adjacent building would have been.



British protagonists mentioned in this saga:

Lt. William Milwarde Yates 74th (error?) Company, 8Btn, IY is listed in the QSA Medal rolls.

Captain Backhouse is extensively described on this website and went on to a successful military career after the Boer war. An extract: BACKHOUSE, MILES ROLAND CHARLES, Captain, was born 24 November 1878, at the Rookery, Middleton Nyas, Yorkshire, son of Sir Jonathan E Backhouse, Baronet, and Florence, daughter of Sir John S Trelawny, 9th Baronet. He was educated at Eton, and Trinity Hall, Cambridge, and became Second Lieutenant, Northumberland Hussars (Yeomanry Cavalry) in April, 1897. He was employed in the 14th Yeomanry Squadron, Imperial Yeomanry, South Africa, from January to the end of the war, in which he served as Lieutenant from January 1900 to April, 1901, and was then promoted Captain (Honorary), and given command of a squadron. He was severely wounded; mentioned in Despatches [London Gazette, 29 July 1902]; received the Queen's Medal with three clasps; the King's Medal with two clasps, and was created a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order [London Gazette, 31 October 1902]: "Miles Roland Charles Backhouse, Captain, 5th Battalion Imperial Yeomanry. In recognition of services during the operations in South Africa".

Private G Armstrong, 29481, 14th Com 5th Btn, IY and the man wounded in the skirmish, is listed in the QSA Medal rolls.

Private James Martin 29633 14th Com 5th Btn, IY is listed in the QSA Medal rolls.

There are various Hefferman’s mentioned, none that jumps out as a possible candidate.

Lt. Col W.G. Anderson. Couldn’t find him. There was a Corporal William George Anderson in the 15th Company, 5th Btn, IY.

Major S.B von Donop is listed as a member of the RA, mentioned in Dispatches.
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Battlefield correspondence 2 months 1 week ago #94699

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Regarding the above white flag incident, from the Shields Daily News 5th November 1901:



Trooper Mallen then goes on to describe a concert held at Mafeking on 28th September at which he played the violin.

The British papers at the time were reporting several white flag incidents.

The service records of 29481 Trooper Gilbert Armstrong show he had his right leg amputated and he was unmarried & 23 years and 10 months old at the time. He did not step foot on the soil of England until the 15th May 1902 and was discharged "medically unfit" on 16th June 1902 at Shorncliffe Barracks. Back home the good folk of Newcastle came to his aid as this paragraph from the Newcastle Evening chronicle of 24th July 1902 shows.

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Battlefield correspondence 2 months 1 week ago #94701

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Gen J.G. Celliers



Gen L.A.S. Lemmer

Elmarie Malherbe
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Battlefield correspondence 2 months 1 week ago #94702

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Correspondence of Lt General Lord Methuen with Fighting General Celliers ultimo September/October 1901 (Cont’d)

Methuen’s hopes for the return to a cordial relationship with Celliers were dashed when only a few days after he sent his curt message to the Boer Commander, he was confronted by yet another white-flag incident. On this occasion it was the British flying white, and this time the incident was not reported by some snotty Eton boy but by Gordon Watson, a respected Civil Surgeon. On Sunday the 13th of October, 1901 Watson’s party had come under fire on a ridge some 4 miles south of the farm Vaalkop while trying to recover the corpse of a soldier. Watson escaped unharmed from the ordeal and wrote a report of the incident as soon as he returned to camp:




This incident must have been Lord Methuen’s proverbial drop. Still reeling from the earlier incident and perhaps vexed by Celliers’ silence after the letter he sent him almost two weeks earlier, Methuen seems to have exploded with anger when he learned about the attack on the ambulance party. There is absolutely no ambiguity in the blunt message he fired off to Celliers that same day.





If General Celliers had any previous doubts about Methuen’s true feelings on the matter after the latter’s letter of September 30th, the missive of October 13th must have caused him to cough his Vetkoek and Boeretroos squarely over the breakfast table. This time Celliers didn’t waste time with responding:







In the Field
14 October 1901

To the Hon.Lord Methuen
Lt. Genl, Zeerust

Honorable Sir,
I have the honor to acknowledge receipt of your message of 30 September regarding the abuse of the Flag of Truce near Mafeking on September 24. I have thoroughly investigated the matter and, having the fullest confidence in the officer who was in command there, I have formed the opinion that no abuse has been made of the Flag of Truce but that your Hon. troops must have been under false impressions. I don’t have to reiterate to your Honor that no one is more desirous of conducting warfare in the most civilized manner than I am. In case events like this take place and are brought to my attention, they always get investigated thoroughly and when guilt is established, culprits are punished with the utmost severity.
I have received your missive of the 13th of this month regarding firing upon an ambulance. I kindly request your Honor to inform me of the exact location where such took place to allow me to investigate the matter and so that the guilty persons can be properly punished.
I have the Honor to be,
Your Honors Obedient Servant
(Signed) J.G. Villiers, Fighting General.

Celliers’ letter must have struck the right chord with the gentle Lord. Methuen responded, effectively exonerating Celliers by putting the blame for the incidents on a band of Burgers operating from Koedoesfontein and acknowledging that the Boer Generals opposing his forces always conducted themselves in an honorable manner. His appeasing mood may to some extent be attributed to his embarrassment for having the wrong cluster of houses burned.





Methuen’s note of October 15, 1901 is the final item of battlefield correspondence found in Belfield’s file. Belfield did not leave the army or the battlefield in October 1901 but there must have been a change in his responsibilities as it seems he was no longer directly involved in the communication with Boer commanders. A few months later (January 1902) Belfield was promoted to Inspector General of the Imperial Yeomanry with the rank of Brigadier General.



Copied from this website: BELFIELD, HERBERT EVERSLEY, Colonel, was born 25 September 1857, son of Captain Belfield, JP, of Gloucestershire. He was educated at Wellington College, and joined the Army 26 February 1876, as a Lieutenant in the Royal Munster Fusiliers, in which he became Captain 20 May 1885; he passed the Staff College; was Brigade Major, Aldershot, 1 August 1890, to 3 March, 1893; promoted Major 1 February 1893; was DAAG, Aldershot, 4 March, 1893, to 30 September 1895. He served in Ashanti, 1895-96; as Chief Staff Officer; was honourably mentioned, and received the Brevet of Lieutenant Colonel 25 March, 1896, and the Ashanti Star. He was promoted Lieutenant Colonel, West Riding Regiment, 28 July 1897, and Colonel 18 December 1899. Colonel Belfield took part in the South African War. He was AAG 18 December 1899 to 22 January 1902; then Brigadier General (Inspector-General, Imperial Yeomanry), 23 January to 23 October 1902, and was present in operations in the Orange Free State, February to May 1900; operations in the Transvaal, west of Pretoria, including the actions at Venterskroon (7 and 9 August); operations in Orange River Colony, including the actions at Lindley (1 June) and Rhenoster River; operations in the Transvaal 30 November 1900 to July 1901, and January to 31 May 1902; operations in Orange River Colony, March and April, 1901; operations in Cape Colony, January and February 1901 and July 1901 to January 1902. He received the Queen's Medal with three clasps, and the King's Medal with two clasps; was mentioned in Despatches twice [London Gazettes, 16 April 1901, and 29 July 1902]; created a CB, and was created a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order [London Gazette, 31 October 1902]: "Herbert Eversley Belfield, CB, Colonel, West Riding Regiment. In recognition of services during the operations in South Africa". He was invested by the King 18 December 1902. Colonel Belfield was AAG, 1st Army Corps, 11 December 1902 to 7 December 1903; commanded the 4th Infantry Brigade 8 December 1903 to 28 February 1907; became Major General 1 December 1906; commanded the 4th Division, Eastern Command, 12 May 1907 to 1911, and became Colonel, The Duke of Wellington's (West Riding) Regiment 1909; became Lieutenant General 10 August 1912; was created a KCB in 1914, and placed on the Retired List 12 May 1914. Lieutenant General Sir H E Belfield, KCB, DSO, was Director-General of Prisoners of War from 1914; was created a KCMG in 1918, and KBE, 1919. He married (1st), in 1882, Emily Mary, daughter of Right Reverend Herbert Binney, DD, Bishop of Nova Scotia; and (secondly), Evelyn Mary, daughter of Albon Taylor, of Elm Grove, Barnes, and they had two daughters.
Belfied died in London on the 19th of April 1934, aged 76.


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Battlefield correspondence 2 months 1 week ago #94704

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Thanks for posting (and translating) the battlefield correspondence.

When I read the final piece of correspondence it felt like the end of a TV (or these days Netflix) series.

Thanks again.
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