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Armored Train Ambush 11-15-99 Chuchill & Haldane 2 months 1 week ago #78775

  • Neville_C
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A souvenir made for early battlefield tourists.
These are more commonly impressed "SIEGE / OF / LADYSMITH / P. / OF / L.T.S." [Siege of Ladysmith - Piece of Long Tom Shell], suggesting that they were produced in Ladysmith.




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Armored Train Ambush 11-15-99 Chuchill & Haldane 2 months 1 week ago #78792

  • Rob D
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Very interesting to see a souvenier made for an early battlefield tourist.
I would love to see more if you would be kind enough to start a thread on these?
John Coventry of Fairview farm (Tabanyama battlefield) and his brother, Charles Coventry of Groote Hoek farm (Spioenkop battlefield) benefited from a hotel that was put up for battlefield visitors, just south of Three Tree Hill, soon after the War. After 1919, relatives' and tourists' interests lay closer to home, and the supply of visitors dried up. The hotel mysteriously burnt down. Coventry salvaged the hotel staircase and it is in use in Fairview farmhouse to this day.
The past is not dead. In fact, it's not even past.
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Armored Train Ambush 11-15-99 Chuchill & Haldane 2 months 1 week ago #78793

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I notice the sign to the right of the picture "GENTLEMEN"

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Armored Train Ambush 11-15-99 Chuchill & Haldane 2 months 6 days ago #78857

  • pfireman
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I was able to locate Haldane’s after action report at the Churchill Archives Centre. With the help of the archivist Katherine Thomson I was able to transcribe the letter and obtain the Centre’s permission to post images of the letter to the forum. I’ve modified the images to brighten them. It is interesting that Haldane was able to post his report from Pretoria only two weeks after his capture. Of course Winston also filed his first despatch to the Morning Post on November 24th. Dr. Gunning was the censor at the state model school at the time.

From: Captain Aylmer Haldane
2nd Battalion Gordon Highlanders
To: The Chief of Staff Natal Field Force.
[From] Pretoria 30th November 1899

Sir:
I have the honour to forward the following report, concerning the capture of an armoured train, which left Estcourt under my command on the 15th November 1899.
1. On the night of the 14th, November, I received verbal instructions from Colonel Long, R.A. commanding at Estcourt, to take a 9 lb. muzzle loading naval gun, and detachment H. M. S. Tartar, 1 company Royal Dublin Fusiliers and 1 company Durban Light Infantry – and with the – armoured train reconnoitre in the direction of Colenso, proceeding with caution and keeping out of range of the enemy’s guns.
2. The train which was made up and manned as follows: -
[1] Ordinary [railroad] truck gun detachment - H.M.S. Tartar line guard.
[2] Armoured [truck] 3/4 company Royal Dublin Fusiliers
[3] Engine
[4] Tender
[5& 6] 2 Armoured trucks 1/4 company Royal Dublin Fusiliers. 1 company Durban Light Infantry
[7] Breakdown gang truck and line guard.

Left Estcourt at 5:10 AM, and on arrival at Frere station at 6:20 AM I reported [by telegraph] that no enemy had been seen. Here, I met a party of 8 men of the Natal Mounted police, from whom I learnt that their patrols were in advance [of the train] and reconnoitering towards Chieveley, whither I proceeded after a halt of 15 minutes. On reaching there [Chieveley] at 7:10 AM, I received a telegraph message from Estcourt (enclosure marked “A”) and in acknowledging it stated that a party of about 50 Boers and 3 waggons was visible, moving South on the West side of the railway. I at once retired towards Frere and on rounding the spur of a hill which commanded the line, the enemy suddenly opened on us at 600 yards with artillery, one shell striking the leading truck.

3. The driver put on full steam and ran down the gradient at a rapid rate and almost immediately on reaching the level, 3/4 of a mile from Frere, the break down gang truck and 2 armoured trucks, which preceded the engine were derailed, one of the latter standing partly across the track. The Enemy, lying in ambush had allowed the train to pass towards Chieveley, and had then placed a stone on the line, which the guard, probably owing to the shell fire had neither seen nor reported.

4. Mr. Winston S. Churchill, who was with me in the truck next [to] the gun truck offered me his services and knowing how thoroughly I could rely on him, I gladly accepted them and undertook to keep down the enemy’s fire; while he endeavoured to clear the line. Our gun came into action at 900 yards, but after 4 rounds was struck by a shell and knocked over: I reached the gun detachment with the armoured truck whence I kept up a continuous fire on the enemy’s guns, considerably disconcerting their aim as I was afterwards informed and killing 2 and wounding 4 men. The Boers meantime maintained a hot fire with rifles three 15 lb. Creusot guns and a maxim shell gun, but as the shells struck the engine and trucks obliquely the armoured plating was only occasionally penetrated.

For an hour efforts to clear the line were unsuccessful as the trucks were heavy and jammed together and the break down gang were not to be found, but Mr. Churchill with indomitable perseverance continued his difficult task and about 8:30 a.m. the engine forced its way past the obstructing truck, which however again fell forward some inches across the line. Shortly before this, the coupling which fastened the armoured and gun trucks to the engine had been broken by a shell and when the engine cleared the wreckage, they were left behind.

Perhaps it was possible to again remove the wreckage and re-couple the trucks to the engine, but as the cab of the latter was now crammed with wounded who would have been scalded had a shot struck the boiler as the pipe of the reserve water tank was torn open and the water rushing out, as the front of the engine was in flames and because I apprehended lest the enemy seeing the engine free should again tamper with the rails I resolved to allow it to retreat out of range towards Frere and withdrawing the men from the trucks made a run for some houses 800 yards distant where I had hopes of making a further resistance.

As the enemy had not relaxed his artillery and musketry fire and there was absolutely no cover, the men became considerably scattered along the line and in a formation ill-adapted to offer resistance. To my disgust, I saw 2 men 200 yards in front of me holding up white handkerchiefs. I shouted and ran towards them, but at this moment the Boers, who unperceived by us had left the hill on our right rear and seeing the signal had stopped their long range fire, galloped among the retreating soldiers – who remained uncertain what to do – and called upon them to surrender. Under these circumstances, I, 2nd Lieutenant Frankland 2nd Dublin Fusiliers and 50 men were captured, the remainder making for their retreat across the railway bridge to Frere station; whence I understand they and the engine reached the British lines at Estcourt and safety.

5. I mention here with some diffidence, owing to the unfortunate termination of this reconnaissance, to record my acknowledgement of the services of the following:
2nd Lieutenant Frankland of 2nd Dublin Fusiliers a gallant young officer who carried out my orders with coolness.
A[ble] seaman E. Read H.M.S. Tartar, L[anc]e Corporal L. Connell, P[rivates] Phoenix and Kavanagh, 2nd Dublin Fusiliers, who notwithstanding that they were repeatedly knocked down by the concussion of the shells striking the armoured trucks, continued steadily to fire until ordered to cease.
Captain Wylie and his men of the Durban Light Infantry who ably assisted in covering the working party engaged in clearing the line and who were much exposed to the enemy’s fire. I regret I am unable to give exact details of any deserving special mention but I beg to suggest Captain Wylie be called upon for a report.
Mr. Winston S. Churchill, whose valuable services have already been detailed in the text of this report and whom owing to the urgency of the case, I formally placed on duty. I would point out that while engaged in the work of saving the engine, for which he is mainly responsible, he was continually exposed to the full fire of the enemy. I cannot speak too highly of his gallant conduct.
The driver of the engine, who though wounded remained at his post.
The telegraphist attached to the train, who showed a fine example of cheerfulness and indifference to danger.
Lastly, under this heading, I desire to mention the bearing of all the troops under my command, which under the trying circumstances of this small affair was admirable.

6. I understand that the Boers buried 4 of our killed and that they have 13 wounded in hospital. Of the 52 taken prisoner, 7 including Mr. Churchill are slightly wounded.

7. I should like to be accorded an opportunity of making a report in detail of the many defects of the armoured train and the dangers and disabilities under which it lies in an unsupported reconnaissance, but the popular opinion of this flimsy military machine may best be shown by the fact that in the camp it was known as Wilson’s deathtrap.

8. I attach list of prisoners, rough sketch and copy of telegram referred to in para[graph] 2
I have the honour to be
L.
Your obedient servant
Aylmer Haldane captain
2nd battalion Gordon Highlanders

FYI Repository: Churchill Archives Centre
Title: Report of Action on November 15th, 1899 by Captain Aylmer Haldane
Reference Code: CHAR 1 23 18-19
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Armored Train Ambush 11-15-99 Chuchill & Haldane 2 months 6 days ago #78858

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Fascinating report. Thank you Payton.

Here is a photograph of a similar setup for the lead truck. These are H.M.S. Philomel men with a Hotchkiss 3-pdr, opposed to Tartar men with a 9-pdr, and the truck benefits from the addition of armour plate to its sides. This train was photographed in Durban, before proceeding to the front. Frank Dadd's drawing of the same scene was published in The Graphic, December 23 1899, p.853, with the caption "THE BEST OF COMRADES: SOLDIERS CHEERING BLUEJACKETS LEAVING DURBAN IN AN ARMOURED TRAIN". Dadd exaggerated the height of the sides of the truck for dramatic effect.









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Armored Train Ambush 11-15-99 Chuchill & Haldane 2 months 6 days ago #78859

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This photograph of the derailed carriages near Chieveley shows a similar truck to that pictured in my last post, but lacking side armour. Was this the lead truck described in Haldane's report as carrying a Naval 9-pdr with H.M.S. Tartar crew?



Note the shell hole marked with an "X".


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