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The Relief of Ladysmith 10 years 1 month ago #8526

  • Brett Hendey
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Another anniversary day ........

On the afternoon of 28 February 1900, Colonials of the Composite regiment, Mounted Brigade, rode into Ladysmith, thereby ending the Siege of Ladysmith. To commemorate the occasion I will be posting some reports that were compiled by me a few years ago.

Brett
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The Relief of Ladysmith 10 years 1 month ago #8527

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The Composite Regiment, Mounted Brigade, during the Relief of Ladysmith


During General Sir Redvers Buller’s operations to relieve the Siege of Ladysmith in late 1899 and early 1900, the Mounted Brigade of the relief force was commanded by the Earl of Dundonald. This Brigade was made up of Imperial cavalry regiments (1st Royal Dragoons, 13 Hussars and 14 Hussars [2 squadrons during early 1900]), and irregular Colonial mounted regiments (South African Light Horse, Bethune’s Mounted Infantry [moved to the Zululand border during February 1900] and Thorneycroft’s Mounted Infantry).

The Mounted Brigade also included the “Composite Regiment” under the command of Major (later General Sir) Hubert Gough. The main elements of the Composite Regiment were detachments of units that were besieged in Ladysmith. They were:
Imperial Light Horse (“A” Squadron)
Natal Carbineers (Estcourt/Weenen Squadron [on their home turf])
Natal Police Field Force (Detachment of about 40 men)
2nd King’s Royal Rifle Corps Mounted Infantry (One company)

Smaller numbers of men came from the following units:
Natal Mounted Rifles (26 men)
Border Mounted Rifles (10 men)
Natal Police – Estcourt District Police (Number not known)

A company of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers Mounted Infantry was decimated during the Battle of Talana (20/10/1899), most men being captured by the Boers. This unit was in the process of being re-formed during the relief operations and it is possible that some men from it were part of the Composite Regiment at this time. The RDF MI were certainly active after the relief.

The army units in the Composite Regiment (i.e. excluding the Natal Police) all represented regiments the greater parts of which were besieged in Ladysmith. The besieged men were awarded the Defence of Ladysmith clasp on their QSA’s. The Relief of Ladysmith and Tugela Heights clasps of their Composite Regiment counterparts are therefore comparative rarities.

Since the Composite Regiment included many men who spoke Dutch and Zulu, and were familiar with the area of operations, it performed an invaluable role in intelligence-gathering patrols, guiding and the carrying of messages. For example, early in the Siege a Natal Police trooper safely escorted a 5th Lancers officer through Boer lines into Ladysmith. Later, on 28/11/1899, Estcourt District Police led an in-strength patrol of the Composite Regiment as far as Colenso, where it came under fire from the Boers. Also, apart from providing the Bodyguard for General Buller, the Natal Police provided orderlies for Major-General H J T Hildyard and the Earl of Dundonald.

The Composite Regiment took an active part in the Battle of Colenso (15/12/1899). It was part of the force that assaulted Hlangwane, the hill on the British right that was the Boers main stronghold south of the Tugela River. The assault failed for want of infantry support, although it was the disasters that befell the Irish Brigade and guns of the Royal Artillery that sealed the British defeat during this battle.

After General Buller shifted his attention to the Boer right flank in the vicinity of Spioenkop, it was the Composite Regiment that provided him with an early, but limited and short-lived success by crossing the Tugela, outflanking Spioenkop and ambushing a Boer patrol near Acton Homes. Had this success been exploited, it might have provided a ‘side-door’ access to Ladysmith from the west and so averted the costly assaults across the Tugela from the south that were to follow.

These assaults mainly involved the infantry, although the Composite Regiment was again actively involved in February at the start of the Tugela Heights campaign, when it repeated the attack on Hlangwane and other Boer-held hills south of the Tugela and, this time with infantry support, captured them.

It fell to men of the Composite Regiment to finally break the Siege of Ladysmith on 28/2/1900, when an advance party, which was probing the Boer lines after the conclusion of the Tugela Heights battles, found an opening and galloped into the town, thus bringing to an end the 118-day siege. Although the role of the Composite Regiment in this epic event is not disputed, reports on the units and the numbers of men involved do differ. The units most often credited are the Imperial Light Horse and Natal Carbineers. However, men of the Natal Police were certainly present, while the Natal Mounted Rifles and Border Mounted Rifles have also been credited, but perhaps later overlooked because of the small numbers of men involved.

Amongst the lessons learnt by the British high command during the early months of the War was the need to counter the Boers with the use of mounted infantry, rather than regular cavalry, as well as to make greater use of the knowledge and skills of Colonial forces. In his autobiography, General Sir Hubert Gough wrote that he had “learnt more in one day with the Natal Carbineers than … in 10 years with the regular cavalry”.

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The Relief of Ladysmith 10 years 1 month ago #8528

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Captain D F Gilfillan, Imperial Light Horse

Douglas Gilfillan was born in Cradock, Cape Colony, on 26/6/1865, where his father was a lawyer. He grew up in Cradock and was an exceptionally bright scholar. He left for Cape Town, where he served lengthy articles with a leading firm of attorneys. He was admitted as an attorney in 1886. He joined his future brother-in-law’s firm in Pretoria in 1888 and then moved to the gold-mining town of Barberton in 1889, where he was very successful. He married Sophia (Sophy) de Jongh in 1890, and they had four children, all born in Johannesburg, where they had settled in 1892.

In Johannesburg, Gilfillan became involved in politics and was a member of the Reform Committee, whose members spent time in jail after the abortive Jameson Raid. Gilfillan was released after his fine of £2000 was paid by Sir Abe Bailey, who also came from Cradock. Gilfillan’s legal practice prospered and he established the flourishing partnership of Bowman Gilfillan, which still exists today.

When war threatened in 1899, Sophy and her children left for Queenstown, Cape Colony, while Gilfillan moved to Pietermaritzburg, Natal, where he and ten other members of the Reform Committee played a prominent role in the formation of the Imperial Light Horse. Gilfillan was appointed as one of the three Lieutenants in ‘A’ Squadron, which was the first to be armed and equipped and which left for Estcourt on 13/10/1899.

‘A’ Squadron became part of the Composite Regiment of the Mounted Brigade in General Buller’s army, during the operations to relieve the siege of Ladysmith. The men were involved in scouting the area south of the Tugela River between the Drakensberg and Weenen, often in the company of men of the Natal Carbineers and Natal Police, who were from this area and who knew it well. ‘A’ Squadron was involved in the armoured train incident between Estcourt and Colenso, and also in the Battles of Willow Grange and Colenso. On 28/2/1900, Lieutenant Gilfillan was one of the men of the Composite Regiment who rode into Ladysmith to end the siege.

The other ILH squadrons had distinguished themselves at the Battle of Elandslaagte and in the Defence of Ladysmith, where they played important roles in the raid on Gun Hill and the Battle of Wagon Hill.

Lord Roberts was so impressed by the performance of the ILH that he gave them the honour of leading the column to relieve the Siege of Mafeking. Gilfillan was promoted to Captain and given command of ‘F’ Squadron and he took part in this operation, thereby earning the rare distinction of having a “double relief” Queen’s South Africa Medal – Ladysmith and Mafeking. After Mafeking was relieved, the ILH moved into the Transvaal and took part in several engagements that led up the capture of Johannesburg and Pretoria. On 15/7/1900, Gilfillan resigned his commission as he had been appointed a member of the Special Judicial Commission in Johannesburg.

After the war, Gilfillan resumed his prosperous law practice and he played a prominent role in the affairs of Johannesburg, the Transvaal and South Africa. He died on 5/9/1948.



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The Relief of Ladysmith 10 years 1 month ago #8529

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342 Trooper H E Symons, Natal Carbineers
(later Lieutenant, Natal Volunteer Composite Regiment [1900 – 1902],
and Squadron Sergeant Major, Border Mounted Rifles [1906])


Harry Eustace Symons was born in Natal in about 1865. He was the son of a prominent local civil servant and politician.

At the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War he was already a member of the Estcourt/Weenen Squadron of the Natal Carbineers, so evidently was a resident of the Estcourt district from which the Ladysmith relief operation was launched. Symons served throughout this operation. The other squadrons of the Natal Carbineers were besieged in Ladysmith.

Symons’ QSA was issued to him without the Tugela Heights clasp, to which he was clearly entitled. He lobbied for this award through local military circles and he finally received it in 1906. Interestingly, his claim revealed the fact that he was one of the men of the Composite Regiment who had ridden in to Ladysmith on 28/2/1900, the event that broke the siege. His assertion was not challenged by the Commandant, Natal Militia, and officers of the Natal Carbineers and Border Mounted Rifles through whom his claim was processed. This tacit verification of his claim means that Symons is one of the few, and perhaps the only non-commissioned man known to have been one of the 28/2/1900 relief detachment.

Symons went on to join the Natal Volunteer Composite Regiment after the Natal Carbineers were demobilized in October 1900. He served in the VCR until the end of the War and rose to the rank of Lieutenant. His service with the VCR qualified him for the award of the King’s South Africa Medal. This medal is missing and has been replaced with a name-erased filler.

After the War Symons went farming in the Underberg district, which necessitated his transfer from the Natal Carbineers to the Border Mounted Rifles, the unit in which he served during the Natal Rebellion of 1906.

In 1913 Symons and his wife moved to Kenya, where they remained until their deaths in 1953 and 1961, respectively. They evidently retained links with Natal because Symons’ medals surfaced there and their deaths were recorded in the Pietermaritzburg Repository of the South African National Archives.


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The Relief of Ladysmith 10 years 1 month ago #8530

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Sub-Inspector A G Abraham, Natal Police Field Force
(later Inspector, Natal Police)


Albert George Abraham was born in Bristol, England, in about 1860.

He joined the Natal Mounted Police in 1886 and remained with the force when it became the Natal Police in 1894. He was promoted to Sub-Inspector in 1896. In 1898 he led the first detachment of Natal Police into Zululand after that territory was incorporated into Natal.

He made a name for himself during the Anglo-Boer War and, with the exception of the Commandant of the Natal Police (Colonel [later Major-General Sir] John Dartnell), Abraham was the Natal Policeman with the highest profile during the War. He was one of only seven members of the force to be Mentioned in Despatches (Buller 30/3/1900), one of only 11 to be awarded the KSA, and one of only 26 to be awarded the QSA with the Belfast clasp.

After the start of the War, Abraham was in command of the Natal Police Field Force (NP FF) detachment at Tugela Ferry, not far from the Transvaal border with Zululand. Early in December 1899 he took command of the NP FF detachment in the Composite Regiment at Chieveley. He remained with the Composite Regiment throughout the relief operations. He was in charge of the NP Maxim gun at Hlangwane during the Battle of Colenso and, like Trooper Symons of the Natal Carbineers, he was one of the men who broke the siege by riding into Ladysmith on 28/2/1900.

In April 1900, Abraham was appointed head of General Buller’s Bodyguard, a position he held until Buller left Natal in October 1900. He acted as Buller’s Aide-de-Camp during the Battle of Bergendal on 27/8/1900, the last major set-piece battle of the War, thereby qualifying for the Belfast clasp. The only Natal Policemen to be awarded this clasp were the members of Buller’s Bodyguard at the relevant time.

After Buller’s departure, the NP Commandant, George Dartnell, took command of one of the columns operating in the eastern Transvaal and Abraham served as his Aide-de-Camp and Assistant Provost Marshal.

In August 1901, Abraham accompanied Dartnell and served as his Provost Marshal when the latter took command of the newly-formed Imperial Light Horse Brigade in the eastern Orange Free State. It was for his heroism during an action in this theatre of the War that Captain Thomas Crean of the 1st ILH won the Victoria Cross, an award that was recommended by Dartnell. Both Dartnell and Abraham returned to Natal at the end of 1901.

After the War, Abraham was promoted to Inspector and his appointments included District Police Officer at Ladysmith and supervision of the disembarkation and transport of Chinese labourers to the gold mines in the Transvaal.

Abraham retired on 9/3/1906 after 20 years service. He took no active part in the Natal Rebellion of 1906 and, although he was entitled to it, he did not claim the Rebellion Medal without clasp.

He later became Secretary of the Durban Club, a position he held for 10 years. He never married and died in Durban in 1922.


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The Relief of Ladysmith 10 years 1 month ago #8531

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A wonderful start to this special day, Brett. Many thanks!
Dr David Biggins

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