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Battlefield correspondence 2 months 1 week ago #94705

  • Smethwick
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Everhard - I presume by "snotty Eton boy" you refer to Lieutenant William Milwarde Yates. Do you have concrete evidence he attended Eton? If so, I would like to add it to my growing file about him.

I do know he enlisted in the IY on 21st January 1901 and initially served as Trooper 22688. He was commissioned in SA on 27th September 1901 just two months before the incident he reported to his superiors.

When he attested in Manchester he was 21 years 3 months old and his father was a Yorkshire clergyman. He gave his occupation as "commercial traveller".

As you can see from the clipping below from the Shipley Times of 22nd March 1918 he served in the Great War as well. In view of the injuries he suffered and the reconstructive surgery he underwent your choice of phrase to describe him is unfortunate and, like Gordon Watson, I feel he is due respect.



Regards David (Grammar School boy)
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Battlefield correspondence 2 months 1 week ago #94706

  • EFV
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Smethwick, sorry, I mixed up Backhouse and Yates. Thank you all for the encouragements along the way. I did enjoy the research as new elements kept cropping up and mapping things out greatly enhanced my (and hopefully yours) perspective on the matter. Besides the field correspondence, Belfield retained all sorts of ephemera; notes, reports, copies of intercepted letters between Boer officers, Almanacs, newspaper clippings, maps etc. He also kept a diary as well as some 200 letters he wrote home during the war (these items are in possession of another forum member). As I stated in the first post, Belfield had from the beginning of the war the idea to write a book about his experiences. Because he was a staff officer travelling with a large column, he was in position to conserve these items and transport them home. Boer Officers were constantly on the move and obviously didn't have this luxury. As a result war archives like this one from Belfield are rather scarce and merit to be treasured and shared.
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Battlefield correspondence 2 months 1 week ago #94711

  • Moranthorse1
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EFV,
Many thanks for sharing this correspondence between such gentlemanly protagonists. As you say, artefacts like these are scarce and your willingness to take the time and effort to share with the forum are much appreciated by this forummer. It all adds to our knowledge.
Cheers Steve
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Battlefield correspondence 2 months 6 days ago #94717

  • Smethwick
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EFV - I have indeed followed with interest your fascinating paper trail from start to finish. I have found some of the correspondence a bit bizarre in its manner and I was amused by Sturgy’s comment regarding a TV Series – the one that sprang to my mind, for its title rather than content, was “Keeping Up Appearances”.

Regarding whether there was an abuse of the White Flag on 24th September 1901 I tend to feel there was although I would not care to prove the point in a court of law. Originally I assumed Trooper Mallen was one of the “six men” but re-reading his letter he need not have been and if not, he would not actually have witnessed the alleged abuse. If the report of Lt Yates was a fabrication he also asked two men to lie on his behalf – no way quicker for an officer of 2 months standing to lose the all-important respect of his men than asking them to lie to cover his back.

Regarding Heffernan – he was 32601 Trooper Joseph Heffernan, born in Ireland and aged 24 at the time. When he attested he was working in Newcastle-on-Tyne as a “Hotel Manager”. He married in 1903 and the 1911 Census found him, wife and young son living in the Gloucester Arms in Newcastle and he gave his occupation as “Bar Manager” and that of his wife as “Barmaid”.

29633 Trooper James Martin was born in London but when he attested was working in Newcastle-upon-Tyne as a hairdresser. In September 1901 he was 21 years of age. He was slightly wounded on 25th February 1902 at Yzer Spruit, near Klerksdorp but remained with his unit. In July 1902 he opted to be discharged in South Africa to pursue a “civilian career” there.

Lt.Col W G Anderson was Lt.Col William Campbell Anderson and you can find a write-up on him on this site by doing a name search or alternatively looking for him under recipients of the DSO. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle thought a lot of him, but then again Sir Arthur believed there were fairies at the bottom of his garden.
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Battlefield correspondence 1 month 3 weeks ago #94921

  • EFV
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Letter Smuts to De La Rey 25 September 1900 intercepted by the enemy

As stated in my previous post, the Belfield archives included many interesting scraps of paper besides the field correspondence detailed in this thread. One of these papers became separated from the archive and appeared many years later at auction.

The paper concerned is a letter which Generaal Smuts (“Onze Jannie”) wrote to Generaal (Koos) De La Rey on September 25, 1900. Smuts writes in his own hand:






Wagenpadspruit
25 September 1900
To: General De La Rey
Right honorable Sir,
Yesterday a strong force joined the camp at Hartley’s poort from the direction of Scheerpoort [Skeerpoort] and Krokodil rivier. I expected a forward movement this morning towards Maanhaarraand [Belfield’s translation mentions Hogsback Ridge], and I proceeded to Maanhaarrand but could not detect any enemy movement whatsoever. I positioned our people on the ridges of Hartley’s poort facing the English as far as Coert Grobler [’s farm]. I also sent Commandant Badenhort for two guns to be placed on Wagenpadnek but a message I just received mentions that an English force is underway from Commandonek and reached Wolhuterskop last night. For that reason, my dispatch rider did not proceed to Badenhorst and a message was momentarily received that Badenhorst is heading for Olifantsnek. I have sent spies to Sterkstroom and should the enemy proceed further I shall attack him from the direction of Wagenpadnek. You will observe from this that matters may become serious quickly and therefor I beg you to come here as speedily as possible. To the best of my knowledge the road is still safe.
Your Obedient Servant
[signed] Smuts
Staats Procureur


In essence, Smuts had expected a strong enemy movement in westerly direction along the south side of the imposing Magalies Mountain Ridge. In reality the British troops moved north, up through the Commandonek and then along the road in the direction of Rustenburg. Upon hearing this, Smuts adapted his strategy by planning to halt the enemy’s advance near the farm Sterkstroom but realized he needed the support of De La Rey’s forces that seemed to have been laagered about a hundred miles west, near Lichtenburg.

The dispatch rider taking the message to De La Rey was intercepted by British troops on the 28th of September 1900 near Manana, a farm belonging to the De La Rey Family (north of Lichtenburg). The letter ended up with Colonel Belfield who, according to his map, was bivouacked at the time on the nearby farm of Putfontein 70 (South East of Manana)

From Bellfield’s perspective the interception of this letter must have been a big coup. The letter not only specified the position of the Boer forces (albeit 3 days old) but also detailed Smuts’ intentions. The letter must also have given Belfield insight into the knowledge and understanding the Boer Commanders had of British strategies and tactical objectives which, in turn, would have given Belfield a good indication of Boer intelligence-gathering capabilities. Massive cherry on Belfield’s cake, however, was the fact that by the interception, De La Rey remained blissfully unaware of the -for Smuts- critical situation.

Belfield undoubtedly realized the importance of the interception. The letter was translated, visibly in great haste (on Union Castle Letterhead), and the obtained information transmitted to Methuen. Smuts must at some stage have found out that the letter was intercepted and must have realized the damaging consequences as the letter, and the fact that it was intercepted by the enemy, are notably absent from the “Smuts Papers” edited by Hancock and Van der Poel.




I couldn’t locate Hartley’s poort on any map, nor do I know which farm was Coert Grobler’s. The position of Maanhaarrand (Hogsback Ridge) appears on google maps but I could not find it on Jeppe’s so the indication on the above map is an approximation only. To get a sense of scale: the distance between Krugersdorp and Rustenburg is 44 Miles or 70 km (as the crow flies)
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Battlefield correspondence 1 month 1 week ago #95189

  • EFV
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Message drop by British POW, 13 June 1900.

One of the most interesting scraps of paper in Belfield’s archive is a scribbled note that was dropped by an unnamed British Officer. The officer had been taken prisoner at the Battle of Roodewal (or Rooiwal) of June 7, 1900 when on his way to a POW camp. The note, containing tactical information, is dated June 13th 1900, and was dropped near the Rhenoster River railway bridge.








The text on the envelope is in Belfield’s hand.


The bridge, later destroyed by Boer forces.

Context:
By the time Lord Roberts’ troops were about to march into Pretoria (June 5, 1900) Generaal De Wet was operating with his force in the Heilbron District. Already firmly committed to Guerilla-style warfare, his actions focused on hampering enemy advances by cutting off their communication- and supply lines. Camped out on a farm near Heilbron he was made aware by his scouts under Gideon Scheepers of enemy transport columns moving through the district as well as of a large quantity of stores amassed along the railway line near Roodewal station (according to Boer sources with a value of Bpnd 800,000 in excess of Bpnd 100 million today). With his own supplies running low (ammunition, certainly, but also clothing, boots, tobacco and coffee) and with burger morale deep in the toilet after a string of British military successes, De Wet realized that the Roodewal stores offered an unmissable opportunity to kill multiple birds with one stone.

Although the English literature on the topic tends to focus on the eventual “incidents” at Roodewal, De Wet’s plan in effect entailed three other actions which generally only attract cursory mention. As will be argued below this is unjustified as one of these actions proved crucial to De Wet’s eventual success in getting his hands on the stores at Roodewal station.

Scheepers had informed De Wet not only about the stores in transport or storage but also about the exact position of the British troops in the district (although his estimates of enemy strength seemed to have been too low). The first of the three under-exposed actions actually occurred on June 5th, two days before the Battle of Roodewal, and entailed De Wet’s capture of a British supply convoy of 56 heavily laden wagons protected by 200 “Bergschotten.” The convoy, en-route to Heilbron, had been encamped on the farm Zwavelkrans bordering the Rhenoster River. De Wet captured the entire convoy without firing a shot.

On June 6 De Wet moved his force to the farm Walfontein and there split it into three sections, each with instructions for an early morning attack on the 7th which had the capture of the stores at Roodewal as ultimate objective. The second under-exposed, and successful, action occurred on the following morning and involved one of the three sections under Kommandant Steenkamp attacking British troops near the Vredefort-road station. That action was probably meant to prevent that these troops could come to the assistance of the Roodewal defenders. The third action that morning, and key to De Wet’s later success at Roodewal, was an attack by a force of 300 burgers and two guns under Generaal Froneman to subdue the main British force in the area. This 500+ strong force was encamped on the farm Honing Kopje on the banks of the Rhenoster river just a mile north of Roodewal station. Froneman acquitted himself of this crucial task by 10 o’ clock in the morning and then hurried his two guns to assist De Wet who -with only 80 burgers under Kommandant Fourie and a Krupp gun under Muller- had simultaneously moved on the 200 British troops defending Roodewal station from behind mailbags and bully beef tins. Whether De Wet would have captured the stores without Froneman’s guns is a matter open to debate. What is not open to debate that the battles at and around Roodewal can’t be called an “Incident.” From Boer perspective it was a great victory, from British perspective it was nothing less than an unmitigated disaster. (refer for an extensive write up to Rory’s December 2020 post: “Sgt A Chapman, A.P.O.C. and the Roodewal incident of 7 June 1900”)





Steenkamp’s position is approximate. On some maps the Rhenoster river tributaries join east of the railway and not west as shown on this and following map.


Van Zyl, in his staunchly pro-Boer “Die Helde Album,” states that the combined British losses on June 7 at by De Wets actions amounted to 200 killed and wounded and 700 taken prisoner (this excludes the 200 Scottish prisoners who had already been moved). This in addition to massive material losses and the knowledge that the burgers in the district were well supplied for months to come. Lord Roberts (and his wife, a horrible, hen-pecking Boer-hating battle ax) must have spit dummies, as the news of the reverse came around the time that he realized that his delayed entry into Pretoria had allowed the ZAR government to escape with large quantities of weapons and almost the entire treasury. As for the note, it is not known when Belfield came into possession of it, nonetheless Belfield’s map below clearly shows Methuen’s frantic movements in the days following the Roodewal disaster.

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