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138 TROOPER F.V.ACTON: BETHUNE'S MI; KIA AT KLIPKRAAL 26/2/1901 KFS 1 week 2 days ago #96194

  • Moranthorse1
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Francis Vincent Acton, known affectionately to his family and friends as Frank was born in Durban, Natal on 18th April 1867, the son of James Devitt Acton (born in Knysna Town, South Africa) of Irish descent, the family originating from the County of Mayo. Frank's mother was a Mary Ellen Acton, who was born in County Limerick, Ireland.
I will continue to refer to our man as Frank throughout the rest of his biography.
Frank was one of four children, his fellow siblings being Vincent Joseph, Charles Henry and Cora Josephine Ellen Ilsley (yes, that is all her Christian names etc!)

The Actons were, in every sense of the word, truly a colonial family. It can come as no surprise then, that with their livelihoods, homes and communities under threat from the onset of war between the Imperial forces of Queen Victoria's Empire and the Transvaal Orange Free State allies, that the Acton brothers Frank and Charles would enlist into a colonial regiment with all possible haste. One would assume that they were both excellent shots, good riders and knew the Natalian locale like the back of their hands!

Frank attested to Bethune's Mounted Infantry on 19th October 1899 receiving the regimental number 138 and the rank of Trooper. Brother Charles also joined this very capable corps on the same date as Frank becoming Trooper 150. Both brothers gave their next of kin as S. F. Acton, Bloemfontein, Orange River Colony.

Both brothers were involved in the operations at Tugela Heights. They battled on to the relief of Ladysmith and could have been in on the action at Willow Grange under General Hildyard on 22nd November 1899. 500 men of Bethune's were present at the battle of Colenso, but were consigned to being baggage guards!. As the conflict progressed, the regiment was split and elements were at Frere, Chieveley, Potgeiter's Drift. At Spion Kop, Colonel Bethune offered to lead his men onto the plateau. But this gallant request was denied as it was felt by higher command than manning the trenches was the domain of the infantryman.
Much patrol work was carried out by BMI during operations around Vaal Krantz.
So, we can safely assume that the brothers Acton would have been there at the previously mentioned events.
Charles was discharged from Bethune's on 26th April 1900 after completing six months service. I can find no other military service for him, perhaps he'd seen enough of what warfare was about? He received the Queen's South Africa medal with clasps Tugela Heights and Relief of Ladysmith.

Frank remained with the corps until his discharge on 27th September 1900. He was present in the Laing's Nek operations and in the dangerous work of patrolling to the south of the Transvaal and in the Utrecht district, protecting outposts and the vital railway line

The life of a soldier must have suited Frank, either out of the need to protect his homeland or by necessity in order to earn a living to support those at home.
Following a three month break from service, he attested to the KFS, a newly formed unit raised by Lord Kitchener, to comprise of men who could take the mounted system of warfare to the Boers on equal terms sharing the same skillsets. This was to be a unit which experienced many skirmishes and one which the wily Boers did not enjoy tangling with!
On 28th December 1900 at Bulawayo, Frank attested to the 1st Battalion of Kitchener's Fighting Scouts. He must have been very close to the front of the queue, or pencilled in as a capable recruit, as he was allocated the regimental number 3 and rank of Corporal. He would be exactly the calibre of experienced soldier this new corps required.
He declared his age to be 33 and was 5'11" tall with grey eyes, grey hair, of fresh complexion and had a scar on his left wrist. A strapping fellow for the period.
His next of kin was his wife, Mrs. J. D. Acton of Winberg, Orange River Colony.
Apparently, the transition between enlistment and speedy entrance into the field of action was well managed with no mistakes. Which probably reflected the quality of recruits

One report of their work as follows:
"The Commandos in Cape Colony are being hustled. Kitchener's Fighting Scouts attacked 100 Boers at Door bridge, leaving one killed, horses, carts, ammunition, and tools were taken. We had two men wounded."
This possibly the commando of Hertzog who had made successful incursions into Cape Colony but were met now by mounted men of a different stamp.
One can only assume that Frank was involved with these chases and confrontations.
However, it was during just such a movement at the end of February 1901 that Frank was to meet his fate.
Rather than recount the events myself as a researcher gleaning my information from history, I will quote a letter written by an eyewitness who was actually at Klipkraal on 26/27th February 1901. Here an Australian veteran takes up the story:

"The following letter has been received from South Africa, and as it refers to a former resident of Ash field, it may be of some interest to our readers."
"The death of a gallant soldier ---Lt. Benson, of Kitchener's Fighting Scouts, was the bravest soldier and one of the most courtly gentlemen it has ever been my lot to become acquainted with, and although it is now over six months since his death, I cannot yet relate the manner of it without an aching heart. He was a dear old chap, always so cheerful on the line if March, his interesting conversation has whiled away many an hour.
A hot, dusty day in the Karoo Cape Colony, a troop of about 60 men with half a dozen 'Caoe Carts', wending it's way in snake like column over the sandy, parched up flats.
Towards Richmond the horses dragged their weary legs dejectedly, and men rolled and lurched in their saddles, it was 3:90 pm and they had been on the march rapidly for the last 24 hours. , with only two halts of one hour each. Then a farmhouse, looking sweet and cool with it's orchard and fields mainly if malky, rose in sight, and worn out men and horses pulled themselves together. We hoped for the welcome order to halt and camp. Our advance guard ride about 800 yards in front towards the farm, and the column halted to await the signal to advance.
Suddenly our scouts were seen to turn and gallop towards us, and then from the outbuilding and surrounding ridges poured a perfect hail of bullets, and for the space of some six seconds we stood aghast, so unsuspected was the onslaught. Then order rang upon order, all contradictory, and the squadron with one accord turned round and galloped for a line of detached kopjes to our right rear, the cape carts swaying and lurching over the stones as the drivers lashed their terrified teams to madness. Lt. Benson yelled as we swept along, "follow me 4troop, no surrender boys," and he was the first to take up the position and return the enemy's fire.
From the first our plight was hopeless. Outnumbered 5 to 1, horses dead, and caught in a cunningly arranged trap. No sooner did the enemy open fire that their flanking parties galloped out from the right and left and before the fight was half an hour old we were receiving fire from every side. On account of our small number we could not occupy the whole ridge, and mostly in the centre, to do otherwise would have destroyed what little chance we had. The Boers gradually closed in, finding excellent cover among the rocks and scrub, until at last we were engaged at 30 yards on one side. Benson was hit by an explosive bullet that shattered his left forearm, and shortly afterwards through his leg, but still his cry was "let them have it boys, no surrender from four troop."
Closer and yet closer, crept out plucky and wily enemy, and many a good and brave man died grasping his rifle, or rolled in speechless agony among the bloodstained rocks. Again our gallant officer was hit through the jaw and throat, and yet again through the chest where beat a dauntless heart, then, at last he fell mortally wounded, and brushing aside our feeble attempt at a bayonet charge carried the position, and we were all prisoners all who were left standing.
7 men killed and 21 wounded, was the result of our"roll call".
The Boers, who were Cape rebels and Commandant Malan of De Wet's Commando, took all they wanted from us, but otherwise treated us fairly well. They took macs, blankets and any article of clothing they fancied. The fight lasted three hours, and it was just getting dark when they rode away, leaving us to our harrowing reflections , 17 miles away from the nearest camp and railway without a Dr, ambulance or the slightest assistance for our wounded.
A storm came on and the hail beat down upon our dead and helpless it was a terrible night, men cried out and groaned frightfully at the agony of their stiffening wounds. Benson, in spite of the frightful nature of his injuries was plucky all through, and it was only when lapsing into delirium that he made a sound of complaint..
Next morning we borrowed a wagon from the farm, whose inhabitants seemed equally terrified of British and Boers. The 2 ambulances came over from Richmond Road Station, in response to a message, which Malan had allowed us to send. Mr. Benson was taken to Deelfontein Hospital, and there died two days later, regretted every soul who knew him.
The bullet which struck him in the chest, smashed a hole through a small flask which he was carrying and he gave it to me as a memento, it is dyed and stained with the blood of a hero. His gallant conduct that day was the one high spot of the most disastrous and miserable day of my life. Lt. Benson was son-in-law of Mr. Mark Smith of Summer Hill."
"N. B. The writer of this letter is not identified."

From the City Coins catalogue of November 2020:

"Klipkraal, near Richmond 26 February 1901.
Captain Strong and some 70 men of Kitchener's Fighting Scouts were on reconnaissance duty in the Richmond district and we're caught in an ambush by a 200 strong commando while passing through a defile on the farm Klipkraal.
Eventually, with 4 of his party killed and 7 wounded, Captain Strong surrendered. The subsequent Court of Enquiry found that the party was captured owing to the absence of proper precautions on approaching the defile, the result of want of military training and knowledge. SA Surrenders WO100/372."

A very exciting and disastrous turn of events for this small group of KFS men.
This is where Corporal Francis Vincent Acton was killed in action on 26th February 1901. Whether he was one of the advanced scouts or part of the last stand alongside Captain Strong, Lt. Benson and his comrades we cannot know.

The other men who were killed in action at Klipkraal were:

26 Trooper G. Adams (QSA with Cc/SA1901)
879 Trooper W. L. Austin (QSA with R of M/ Rhod/ SA1901).
343 Trooper D. Hardwick.
651 Trooper Joseph Rosen.

The available casualty rolls give either 26th and 27th February 1901 as the dates of Frank's death. Personally, based upon my research, I opt for the earlier date.
Also, he is recorded as F. E. Acton in error in the S.A.F.F. Casualty Roll

The Record of Deceased Soldiers' Effects ( entry number 86154) makes for a sad read. His remaining account balance of £23 7s 7d was left to his orphan at Bloemfontein. Not sure if it says 'Martin' or 'master'.

Frank was interred nearby to the scene of his death at Richmond New Cemetery.

Death Notice naming Francis Vincent Acton showing date and place of death. (Courtesy of Familysearch).

Queen's South Africa medal awarded posthumously named to 138 Trooper F. V. Acton bearing clasps Tugela Heights/Relief of Ladysmith/Transvaal/Laing's Nek and South Africa 1901 (WO100/236 for BMI and WO100/256 for 1st KFS).

Officially impressed number, rank and name to the rim of the medal.

Officially impressed regimental naming to the rim.

While Frank may have been cut down in the prime of life, at least he still had a son to carry the family name on, who would, hopefully, have been proud of his father's sacrifice for family and homeland.

Thank you for reading about Frank this far!

Cheers Steve
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138 TROOPER F.V.ACTON: BETHUNE'S MI; KIA AT KLIPKRAAL 26/2/1901 KFS 1 week 1 day ago #96198

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Excellent post. Thank you, Steve.
Dr David Biggins
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