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Armored Train Ambush 11-15-99 Chuchill & Haldane 5 months 3 weeks ago #80553

  • Neville_C
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Here is another report of the November 5th reconnaissance, this time taken from the London Morning Post of 10 November 1899. This states that the Dublins were under the command of Captain C.F. Romer. This implies that Major Morgan was in over all command of the venture, while the two companies of RDF were under Capt. Romer.
The RDF officer in the photograph is therefore likely to be Captain Romer.


ARMOURED TRAIN ENGAGEMENT.

ESTCOURT, NOV. 5, 8.30 P.M.

A brilliant little performance has been achieved by the armoured train which left here this morning to reconnoitre the line towards Ladysmith, and which has just returned. It carried two companies of the Dublin Fusiliers under Captain Romer.
Close to Colenso the enemy were sighted near the line in considerable force. The Dublins at once opened a brisk fire, to which the Boers replied.
Their fire was quite ineffective, however, and as they were suffering loss they quickly retired.
For some time they were lost to sight, but as the train cautiously advanced they were seen to be moving round on the left flank with the object, it was resumed, of taking the train in the rear. To avoid this the train retired.

IN FULL RETREAT.
It was then seen that the Boers had no intention of attacking, but were in full retreat over the road bridge.
Immediately the Boers were perceived to be retiring a strong detachment left the train and entered the town, while the train itself advanced slowly to the station.
Several volleys were poured at long range into the still retreating enemy.
Our men succeeded in entering Fort Wylie, and brought back four waggon-loads of shell, provisions, and stores.






The Penny Illustrated Paper, 18th November 1899

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Armored Train Ambush 11-15-99 Chuchill & Haldane 5 months 3 weeks ago #80562

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And yet Romer, who wrote"The second battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers in the South African War" writes (p. 29):
'Our mounted troops had been busily engaged in reconnaissance work, and in an evil hour it occurred to the authorities that the armoured train was also an excellent means of gaining news. Captain Hensley had taken it to Colenso on the 5th and 6th, and on the latter day surprised a party of Boers engaged in looting the village.'
I attach a blurred photo of Romer vs our unknown officer.
The past is not dead. In fact, it's not even past.
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Armored Train Ambush 11-15-99 Chuchill & Haldane 5 months 3 weeks ago #80563

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Here's another photo of Churchill at the wreck.
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Armored Train Ambush 11-15-99 Chuchill & Haldane 5 months 3 weeks ago #80564

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I have to say "our unknown officer" looks a lot more like Romer than Hensley.
I quickly ran the images through facial comparison software, and the results seem to back this up ...

I also notice that the ear structure is a good match for Romer, but not for Hensley.

I guess we will never know why Romer's 1908 account is at odds with the many reports published at the time.



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Armored Train Ambush 11-15-99 Chuchill & Haldane 5 months 3 weeks ago #80565

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Neville, I see exactly what you mean. And you are quite likely correct!
I can't make a couple of things fit.
First, the mystery officer is notably short. Compare him to the man alongside him, and his rifle. Now, it's possible the other fellow is gigantic, but using my Lee Metford as a guide, I reckon the mystery officer measures perhaps 5 ft 4 in tall. Am I wrong about the size of the mystery officer?You'll recall Churchill wrote: "Captain Hensley was one of the smallest and bravest men in the Army." Romer looks to me to be average size, maybe even big, compared to his comrade and to the bentwood chair.
Scond, colouring. Romer's complexion looks swarthy, whereas our mystery officer has pale irises and a brownish moustache. Has Romer been at the macassar oil?
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Armored Train Ambush 11-15-99 Chuchill & Haldane 5 months 3 weeks ago #80588

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A selection of reports detailing the movements of the armoured train prior to the November 15th "Disaster".


2 November 1899 (evacuation of Colenso)

DURBAN, Nov. 3. [Reuters]

A telegram to the Natal Advertiser says that the garrison of Colenso saved all its stores, tents, kit, and the like. The enemy’s force numbered about 5,000 men, and comprised a fresh commando of Free Staters.
The armoured train rendered splendid service, taking a detachment of the Dublin Fusiliers to relieve an outlying fort, which was garrisoned by Volunteers.



3 November 1899

NO REPORTS FOUND


4 November 1899 - this may refer to the 4 a.m. reconnaissance of Nov 5

ESTCOURT, Nov. 5, 10.30 A.M. [Winston Churchill]

ARMOURED TRAIN RECONNAISSANCE.
Last night a reconnaissance was made from Estcourt by means of a armoured train in the direction of Colenso.
The bridge over the Tugela was found to be still intact.



5 November 1899 (4 a.m. reconnaissance)

ESTCOURT, Nov. 5, 10.30 A.M. [Reuters]

COLENSO BRIDGES INTACT.
An armoured train left at four o’clock this morning with the object of making its way to Ladysmith if possible. One company of Dublin Fusiliers were aboard. It returned at 9.30. The officer in charge reported that he had proceeded beyond Colenso and had found that both the iron bridges were intact, that dwelling houses in the town had also been left untouched, and no looting had taken place, at least, so far as the Boers were concerned, though he learned that one store had been looted by Kaffirs.



5 November 1899 (11 a.m. reconnaissance)

Black and White, December 9, 1899. [René Bull]

A LETTER FROM NATAL
WRITTEN BY OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT, MR RENE BULL
November 10th
Last Saturday night I took the train to Estcourt, arriving there about 4 a.m. Sunday morning. I saw the general commanding, and obtained permission to travel on the armoured train which was to leave in a few hours to see how near the Boers were and if it would be possible to get to Colenso, where there still remained a quantity of stores, fodder and mealies. I send you photos and developed films taken on the train. They are rather unique.
The journey till we neared Colenso was safely accomplished. Frequently we stopped to ask natives how far the enemy were off, but their information was always vague. I send a good negative of a Zulu being interrogated. In the front of the armoured train you can see some of the officers searching the horizon with their glasses, while others are questioning the Zulu.
As we came round a bend in the line near Colenso we noticed several Boers in the village, who immediately mounted their horses and galloped for protection to the houses, and fired on us. The train was pulled up, and we started firing back. The enemy were about forty or fifty strong. I saw a man and horse drop. Their bullets were tapping against our armour-plates without doing any damage, and for a short time the fire was very hot. I was thankful there were no shells fired at us; we should have had little chance, as there was no covering to the armoured cars.
The Boers managed to escape, and our men disembarked from the train and searched the houses. The Boers had looted everything. Shops were burst open, and goods scattered about the streets. The only living objects were some unfortunate dogs, one of them shot through the chest, and two pigs, which were shot by some officers with their revolvers, and brought back for the mess. I never could have believed a pig was so hard to kill; three bullets in the head seemed to have no effect whatever. There were several trucks on the siding, filled with stores, which we found at the station, and brought back. We arrived at Estcourt after our eventful day at 7.30 p.m., and at 10.30 I embarked again on a train for Maritzburg.


Caption of sketch accompanying the above report:
On Sunday Nov. 6th [sic] we advanced to Colenso on the armoured train under Major MORGAN’s command. The Boers were holding the town but were soon dispersed. We brought back to Estcourt a quantity of fodder and mealies.


ESTCOURT, Nov. 5. [Reuters]

THE ARMOURED TRAIN.
The armoured train left on another trip at eleven this morning. It is to go to Pieters, the station beyond Colenso, and is, if possible, to repair the line which is said to have been broken up in that part. The train took a company of the Dublin Fusiliers, with Major MORGAN in command.
The Kaffirs have looted Edwards Hotel, at Colenso, and a store.
The Boers, it is believed, imagine that the Colenso column has evacuated the town as a ruse, and is lying in ambush to surprise them, should they push forward.



ESTCOURT, Sunday, 8.30 p.m. [Press Association]

BRILLIANT ARMOURED TRAIN PERFORMANCE.
A brilliant little performance has been achieved by the armoured train which left here this morning to reconnoitre the line towards Ladysmith, and which has just returned here. It carried two companies of the Dublin Fusiliers, under Captain ROMER, close to Colenso. The enemy were sighted near the line in considerable force. The Dublins at once opened a brisk fire, to which the Boers replied. Their fire, however, was quite ineffective, and, as they were suffering loss, they quickly retired.
For some time they were lost to sight, but, as the train cautiously advanced, they were seen to be moving round the left flank, with the object, it was presumed, of taking the train in the rear. To avoid this, the train retired. It was seen that the Boers had no intention of attacking, but were in full retreat over the road bridge.
Immediately the Boers were perceived to be retiring a strong detachment left the train, and entered the town, while the train itself advanced slowly to the station. Several volleys were poured at long range into the still retreating enemy.



Morning Post, 10 Nov 1899

THE FIGHTING AROUND COLENSO.
The little armoured train fight outside Colenso probably led the Boers to anticipate an advance in force, and coincided with their expectation of an ambush South of the town, into which they declined to be drawn the day before. The statement that our men entered Fort Wylie and brought back several waggon loads of shells and stores hardly coincides with the previous account, that all stores had been removed in the earlier retreat.



RAILWAY LINE CUT A MILE SOUTH OF COLENSO


6 November 1899

ESTCOURT, Monday [Press Association]

The armoured train has returned here after reaching the 170-mile post, without seeing anything of the enemy. A native runner returning from Ladysmith was met, who informed the train party that the Boers had torn up the line within one mile of Colenso station.
The enemy, he added, were in the vicinity in great numbers. They had brought their big guns down again from Grobler’s Kloof Hill, and had placed them in a new position on the main roadway, whence they had fired five shots into Colenso.
Having ascertained that the place was completely evacuated, they entered the town with five empty wagons, which they filled with goods from Edwards’ store.
The train party, after securing reliable information that Colenso was in the actual possession of the Boers, returned, bringing the native runner with them, to Estcourt, where they arrived at six o’clock this evening.



ESTCOURT, November 6. Evening. [Montreal Star]

An armoured train, which has returned from reconnoitring in the direction of Colenso, reports having seen nothing of the enemy. The train guard met a native runner returning from Ladysmith, who said that a party of Boers had torn up the line within a mile of Colenso station. The Boers, he asserted, were in great numbers in that vicinity. They brought big guns down from Grobler’s Kloof Hill, pointed them on the main roadway, and fired five shots into Colenso, only to ascertain that it had been completely evacuated. Then they entered with five empty waggons, which they filled with goods from Edwards’ store.
The train party went scouting and obtained reliable news that Colenso was in possession of the Boers, and therefore returned here, bringing the runner with them.



7 November 1899

ESTCOURT, Tuesday November 7 [Halifax Evening Mail]

CAPTAIN HENSLEY HEARD FROM.
The Haligonian Officer’s Trip with an Armoured Train.
An armoured train, manned by an engineering staff and a company of the Dublin Fusiliers, under Captain HENSLEY, returned here tonight. It reports that it found the stores at Frere looted, apparently by Kaffirs, and met cyclist patrols who reported that the Boers were on the Springfield road, five miles away. The train proceeded cautiously and found the Blue Spruit bridge intact. The train frequently stopped and Captain HENSLEY examined the road ahead before proceeding nearing Colenso. Captain HENSLEY inspected Fort Nicholson, and proceeding found the line cut a mile south of Colenso. Two lengths of the rail on each side had been lifted and placed out of gauge. From information obtained from Kaffirs, it appears that the Boers left the vicinity of Colenso early this morning, proceeding in the direction of Buluwan [sic] mountain.
Captain HENSLEY found Colenso absolutely deserted. A balloon was observed for several minutes hovering over the Boer positions in the mountains. It was presumably a British balloon, from Ladysmith. The natives here are undertaking the safe delivery of despatches from Ladysmith.



ESTCOURT [Press Association]

AN EXCURSION BY THE ARMOURED TRAIN TO COLENSO.
The correspondent of the Press Association at Estcourt thus describes the trip of the armoured train from there to Colenso on Tuesday –
The armoured train, which I accompanied, left the station at 2.50 today, manned by an engineering staff and a company of the Dublin Fusiliers, under Captain HENSLEY.
When Ennersdale was reached, a telegraphist named McArthur sounded the wires, and found them all in order.
Frere, the next station, was then visited. It was found that Wilsons store had been looted, apparently by Kaffirs. An empty truck was left to be filled up with forage and mealies.
Cyclist patrols belonging to the Durban Light Infantry were met with, and reported having seen the enemy on the Springfield Road, five miles away.
Bluespruit railway bridge was found intact. After examining it with caution we pressed forward quietly. Occasionally the train stopped to reconnoitre, Captain HENSLEY directing operations. On satisfying himself that the road ahead was clear, he would order the train to push on.
We reached the 170 mile-post, when Captain HENSLEY again went forward to see if all was right. He walked over Fort Nicholson, and then on to the railway, where he found that the line had been cut. Two lengths of rails on each side had been lifted, and simply placed out of gauge. Two hundred yards of fencing skirting the railway had also been pulled up, but for what reason this had been done was not clear.
I saw despatches handed to natives, who undertook their safe delivery inside the besieged town.



ESTCOURT, Tuesday. [Daily Mail Correspondent]

To-day an armoured train pushed out as far as Colenso, where the line was found to be destroyed, but none of the enemy were seen, although their guns were seen planted on a hill covering an important bridge over the Tugela River.


ESTCOURT, Tuesday, 9.10 p.m. [Reuters]

ANOTHER ARMOURED TRAIN RECONNAISSANCE.
The armoured train has returned from a reconnaissance of the country up to within half a mile of Colenso. There were no signs of the enemy.



ESTCOURT, Wednesday Morning. [Daily Telegraph Correspondent]

I went out with the armoured train which reconnoitred yesterday to Colenso. A few rails had been removed by the enemy, but the journey was accomplished without any firing, nor did we hear any in the direction of Ladysmith. We saw the war balloon, however. It hastily ascended and then descended, and was apparently about six miles to the south of Ladysmith.


8 November 1899 - this may refer to the reconnaissance of Nov 7

ESTCOURT, Nov. 9. [Winston Churchill]

CRUISE IN THE ARMOURED TRAIN.
Yesterday [sic?] I travelled with the armoured train. This armoured train is a very puny specimen, having neither gun nor Maxims, with no roof to its trucks and no shutters to its loopholes, and being in every way inferior to the powerful machines I saw working along the southern frontier. Nevertheless it is a useful means of reconnaissance, nor is a journey in it devoid of interest. An armoured train! The very name sounds strange; a locomotive disguised as a knight errant; the agent of civilisation in the habiliments of chivalry. Mr Morley attired as Sir Lancelot would seem scarcely more incongruous. The possibilities of attack added to the keenness of the experience. We started at one o’clock. A company of the Dublin Fusiliers formed the garrison. Half were in the car in front of the engine, half in that behind. Three empty trucks, with a plate-laying gang and spare rails to mend the line, followed. The country between Estcourt and Colenso is open, undulating, and grassy. The stations, which occur every four or five miles, are hamlets consisting of half a dozen corrugated iron houses, and perhaps a score of blue gum trees. These little specks of habitation are almost the only marked feature of the landscape, which on all sides spreads in pleasant but monotonous slopes of green. The train maintained a good speed; and, though it stopped repeatedly to question Kaffirs or country folk, and to communicate with the cyclists and other patrols who were scouring the country on the flanks, reached Chieveley, five miles from Colenso, by about three o’clock; and from here the Ladysmith balloon, a brown speck floating above and beyond the distant hills, was plainly visible.

ON DANGEROUS GROUND.
Beyond Chieveley it was necessary to observe more caution. The speed was reduced – the engine walked warily. The railway officials scanned the track, and often before a culvert or bridge was traversed we disembarked and examined it from the ground. At other times long halts were made while the officers swept the horizon and the distant hills with field-glasses and telescopes. But the country was clear and the line undamaged, and we continued our slow advance. Presently Colenso came into view – a hundred tin-pot houses under the high hills to the northward. We examined it deliberately. On a mound beyond the village rose the outline of the sand-bag fort constructed by the Naval Brigade. The flagstaff, without the flag, still stood up boldly. But, as far as we could tell, the whole place was deserted.

A DISCUSSION.
There followed a discussion. Perhaps the Boers were lying in wait for the armoured train; perhaps they had trained a gun on some telegraph post, and would fire the moment the engine passed it; or perhaps, again, they were even now breaking the line behind us. Some Kaffirs approached respectfully, saluting. A Naval Volunteer – one of the cyclists – came forward to interrogate. He was an intelligent little man, with a Martini-Metford rifle, a large pair of field glasses, a dainty pair of grey skin cycling shoes, and a slouch hat. He questioned the natives, and reported their answers. The Kaffirs said that the Dutchmen were assuredly in the neighbourhood. They had been seen only that morning. “How many?” The reply was vague – twelve, or seventeen, or one thousand; also they had a gun – or five guns – mounted in the old fort, or on the platform of the station, or on the hill behind the town. At daylight they had shelled Colenso. “But why”, we asked, “should they shell Colenso?” Evidently to make sure of the range of some telegraph post. “It only takes one shell to do the trick with the engine”, said the captain who commanded. “Got to hit us first, though”, he added. “Well, let’s get a little nearer”.

NEAR COLENSO.
The electric bell rung three times, and we crept forward – halted – looked around, forward again – halt again – another look around; and so, yard by yard, we approached Colenso. Half a mile away we stopped finally. The officer, taking a sergeant with him, went on towards the village on foot. I followed. We soon reached the trenches that had been made by the British troops before they evacuated the place. “Awful rot giving this place up”, said the officer. “These lines took us a week to dig”. From here Colenso lay exposed about two hundred yards away – a silent, desolate village. The streets were littered with the belongings of the inhabitants. Two or three houses had been burned. A dead horse lay in the road, his four legs sticking stiffly up in the air, his belly swollen. The whole place had evidently been ransacked and plundered by the Boers and the Kaffirs. A few natives loitered near the far end of the street, and one, alarmed at the aspect of the train, waved a white rag on a stick steadily to and fro. But no Dutchmen were to be seen. We made our way back to the railway line and struck it at the spot where it is cut. Two lengths of rail had been lifted up and, with the sleepers attached to them, flung over the embankment. The broken telegraph wires trailed untidily on the ground. Several of the posts were twisted. But the bridge across the Tugela was uninjured, and the damage to the line was such as could be easily repaired. The Boers realise the advantage of the railway. At this moment, with their trains all labelled “To Durban”, they are drawing supplies along it from Pretoria to within six miles of Ladysmith. They had resolved to use it in their further advance, and their confidence in the ultimate issue is shown by the scrupulous care with which they avoid damaging the permanent way. We had learned all that there was to learn – where the line was broken, that the village was deserted, that the bridge was safe, and we made haste to rejoin the train. Then the engine was reversed, and we withdrew out of range of the hills beyond Colenso at full speed – and some said that the Boers did not fire because they hoped to draw us nearer, and others that there were no Boers within ten miles. ......

BACK TO ESTCOURT.
So we rattled back to Estcourt through the twilight; and the long car, crowded with brown-clad soldiers who sprawled smoking on the floor or lounged against the sides, the rows of loopholes along the iron walls, the black smoke of the engine bulging overhead, the sense of headlong motion, and the atmosphere of war made the [Durban Light Infantry] Volunteer seem perhaps more than he was. …..



9 November 1899

ESTCOURT, Nov. 9, 7.10 P.M. [Reuters]

SKIRMISH AT COLENSO.
THE ARMOURED TRAIN IN USE.
The armoured train returned from a reconnaissance at six o’clock this evening.
It went out at half-past one this afternoon with a company of the Dublin Fusiliers, Captain HENSLEY being again in command. All the intervening stations between Estcourt and Colenso were passed without incident.
When the break in the line was reached, half a mile from Colenso, Captain HENSLEY with several men reconnoitred round the village. They met a native who said the enemy were then in Colenso.
Captain HENSLEY was still talking to the Kaffir when the Boers opened fire on the party from Fort Wylie. None of our men was hit, and the detachment fell back on the train.
The heliograph was seen to be working from Fort Wylie.
As soon as the train was reached Captain HENSLEY ordered his men to open fire on the fort. Several volleys were poured in but the enemy made no response, and it was thought that they must have retreated.
Failing to draw the fire of the Boers, the train returned to Estcourt, which it reached without mishap.
On the journey back the train picked up an Indian who had come from Ladysmith. He stated that the Boers were in large numbers between Ladysmith and Colenso.



ESTCOURT, Thursday, 9.45 p.m. [Guardian Correspondent]

The last telegram from our special correspondent up to the time of writing is dated Thursday, 9.45 p.m., and conveys the news that the armoured train was fired upon at Colenso fort, where the enemy appear to be holding positions.


10 November 1899

ESTCOURT, Friday, 6.30 p.m. [Press Association]

The armoured train has just returned from another trip up the line.
Colenso was reached without the enemy being seen.
On the return journey a native runner was picked up at Frere, carrying a number of letters.
He had been searched by the Boers, but had somehow manage to elude their vigilance.



ESTCOURT, Friday Night [Bennett Burleigh, Daily Telegraph]

The armoured train proceeded out to Colenso today and returned this afternoon. It found numbers of Boers at Grobler’s Kloof. They descended to attack, but failed to reach the train.
It also met a messenger of mine whom the Boers had caught, stripped, and searched. They failed to find any letters on him, but they made him prisoner and compelled him to do two days’ work. This man is returning, and will try to enter Ladysmith to-night.



ESTCOURT, November 10 [Winston Churchill]

An armoured train reconnoitred to Colenso to-day. Three hundred Boers were observed galloping near Grobler’s Kloof. Everything is quiet at Estcourt.


12 November 1899

ESTCOURT, Nov. 12, 1.55 p.m. [Press Association]

The armoured train again went out on a reconnaissance, taking a company of the Border Regiment. The trip was quite uneventful, and it had nothing noteworthy to report on its return.


13 November 1899

ESTCOURT, Nov. 13, 2.30 p.m. [The Times Correspondent]

The armoured train proceeded this morning to within three miles of Chieveley. They saw a small party of Boers signalling by the Dingaan Monument. It is reported that there are 500 Boers at Chieveley.



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