Mr. Charles Burnham. was the owner of the bales of wool that were consigned for shipment from Whitbank across the border to neutral Portuguese South Africa. He also accompanied his ‘shipment’ in order to expedite the shipment and run interference to keep people away. He was in more danger over the 2 ½ day journey than almost anyone else in the enterprise. Winston later sent him one of the gold watches that he had made to commemorate the adventure and their bravery in assisting him.
A friend of mine, who lives in Durban, Mrs. Wendy Wrinch-Schulz, visited the Killie Campbell museum and took pictures of Charles Burnham’s watch and also other items of his in their collection. Then my friend Joe Ervin was able to take out most of the remaining glare and also identify the inscription on the back.
Mr. Burnham lived until 1956. At the end of his life, Mr. Burnham lived on Harvey Street in Umkomaas. His funeral service took place at the Umkomaas cemetery.
I wrote a brief article that describes the journey and contains a few more details about Charles Burnham's life. I had to reduce the PDF file size to get it to upload and the image quality suffered a bit but OCR is still enabled so feel free to use any quotes or other resources from it. The attachment is BurnhamGoldWatch1.1_2022-08-09.pdf It appears that even after uploading, the hyperlinks are still working in the document; that's unusual in a reduced size PDF.
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The report reproduced below gives an insight into the experience of one of the Boer Staatsartillerie officers, Lieut. Friedrich Wilhelm von Wichmann, on the day of the Armoured Train Disaster.
REPORTS, PRECIS, TRANSLATIONS, ETC.
VOL. XXXI, No. 5 (August 1904).
Published with the “Proceedings” of the Royal Artillery Institution, Vol. XXXI., 1904-5.
Lieutenant Friedrich Wilhelm von Wichmann
III. – AMMUNITION.
As soon as the war broke out, the English began to use armoured trains on their railway lines. They built great hopes upon them, and at first the Boers themselves treated them with profound respect. But when the latter found what short work artillery could make of them, armoured trains fell very low in their estimation, and came to be looked upon as most harmless engines of war.
They consisted, as a rule, of an engine and four or five carriages; the engine was in the middle of the train. The carriages were armed with plates about the height of a man, and some about ½ an inch thick, with very often two tiers of loopholes; they were open on top. These wagons were manned by infantry, but sometimes they also carried small guns, either behind shields or unprotected on the wagons. In the latter form, however, they were very soon given up, because the detachments, when exposed to our fire, preferred to disappear quietly from their dangerous positions.
The engine was also armour-plated. In most cases they were also hung with rope mantlets, and the same thing was done later on with the wagons, outside the armour-plates. The armoured trains were always painted khaki. The engine was placed in the middle of the train so that in case of dynamite being placed on the line, or other obstructions, it would not be injured, and could steam away at once with the rest of the train.
At first, armoured trains were mainly used for reconnaissance, but in this capacity they were not very successful. We immediately captured them wherever they appeared. The English then began to use them more cautiously, and it was not until the second phase of the war that they once more assumed an important rôle; even then, it was only in the protection of railway communication. By that time they were very much assisted by the fact that we no longer possessed any artillery. Dynamite took its place; and for the time, the best that the English could do was to strengthen and guard their lines so that no one could come near to damage them.
The Boers used to think at first that these trains were so strongly armoured that ordinary fragments of shell, or smaller projectiles, would never be able to pierce them; they consequently constructed special steel points to screw on to the projectiles of field guns. But it was very soon found that these measures were quite unnecessary.
One of the "special steel points". This example was found at the site of the Armoured Train Disaster, so is probably from one of the rounds fired by von Wichmann - see below.
(with thanks to Dougie McMaster / MC Heunis)
During the advance upon Estcourt, in Natal, while in command of a battery, I happened to come in contact with an armoured train. One used to come out early every morning from Estcourt and run up to Chieveley Station, from which a view of the country could be obtained for about eight miles all round.
In the night of the 15th-16th November, 1899, we set out with a force of some 2,000 men, crossed the railway by Chieveley Station, and waited, under cover of some small hills, until the train came by. I then galloped out with my battery, and took up a position where the train, on its return journey, coming out of a cutting, would pass within 1,100 yards of me. As soon as the enemy saw us, they came back at full speed. Our field guns and pom-poms opened fire, but without any apparent results; a hail of rifle bullets showered around us, and the train was gone. But about a mile further on, our people had put stones on the rails, and the two front wagons were thrown off. I promptly limbered up, and took up another position at a range of 1,390 yards, and opened fire at once. They replied with what turned out afterwards to be an old mountain gun, a prehistoric muzzle-loader; it fired three rounds, and was then silenced. In the meantime the English infantry had opened a brisk fire upon me. I fired the first few rounds with our steel-pointed shell, but as the train was gradually abandoned, I went on to ordinary common shell and shrapnel. The English made tremendous exertions, and managed to push the two wagons aside so as to leave the way free for the others; but the engine was badly crippled by bullets, and only had just enough strength to drag itself along. The remaining wagons stayed where they were. After a time the Boers advanced to the attack They were met at first by sharp rifle fire, but very soon the white flag went up. I immediately rode down to them, and came upon a scene of sad havoc. The plates had been pierced like paper; all kinds of fragments, and even pom-pom shell, had gone through them. On a later occasion I even saw instances of Mauser bullets having pierced armoured trains. Our steel points had therefore been quite superfluous. Thirty or forty men were killed and wounded, and we captured seventy, without the loss of a single man on our side.
The same sort of thing happened to nearly all the earlier armoured trains; later on, they were mostly blown up by dynamite. In theory, and against an enemy who has no artillery and does not know how to use dynamite, they may be very good; but in practice, against an enemy armed with modern weapons, they are an indifferent success.
The following user(s) said Thank You: djb, Rory, EFV, pfireman, Sturgy
None of the other accounts mention the initial engagement that caused the train to accelerate towards the stones laid on the track. They conflate them into one event of continuous firing on the train.
Nice to see a genuine firsthand account from the Boer side of the fray.
Lieutenant Wichmann talks about rope mantlets for the trains. They were known as Hairy Mary’s. Here are a few examples. I'm out of time to fix the URL's but you'll get the gist of where they came from.
1. A protected armoured train. Cunliffe, History of the Boer War Vol 1 (NY Library Scan)
2. “Hairy Mary” Locomotive at siege of Ladysmith.
[url="Ladysmith, 1899. Hairy Mary locomotive." - Atom site for DRISA]Hairy Mary” Locomotive at siege of Ladysmith[/url]
3. Natal no. 48 “Havelock” disguised as Hairy Mary. English: Natal Government Railways 4-6-2TT no. 48 “Havelock” disguised as Hairy Mary during the South African War.