To conclude this series of posts, I must mention the one Colonial regiment that took part in the 28/2/1900 relief, but that is not represented in my medal collection, the Natal Mounted Rifles. Also, the one squadron of the Composite Regiment that missed the early entry into Ladysmith on 28/2/1900 was the company of King's Royal Rifles Mounted Infantry.
The Natal volunteer regiments, including the three squadrons of the Natal Mounted Rifles (NMR), were mobilized on 29/9/1899 and two days later the NMR left for Ladysmith. The regiment took part in the Battles of Elandslaagte (21/10/1899), Rietfontein (Tinta Nyoni) (24/10/1899) and Lombard’s Kop (30/10/1899), before being besieged in Ladysmith. During the siege, men of the NMR took part in the raid on Gun Hill (7/12/1899) and the Battle of Wagon Hill (6/1/1900). The NMR also provided the bodyguard for General Sir George White, commander of the Ladysmith garrison during the siege.
The 26 men of the NMR who missed the siege and who served with the Composite Regiment in the relief force included one man who had been wounded at Rietfontein (Corporal A Austin) and who presumably was unable to rejoin the regiment after he recovered. The reasons for the other 25 men being separated from the regiment are unknown, but illness is the likely cause in at least some instances.
The small numbers of men of both the NMR and Border Mounted Rifles who served in the Composite Regiment meant that these regiments were seldom mentioned as such in accounts of the relief of Ladysmith.
Rifleman J Mather, 2nd King’s Royal Rifle Corps Mounted Infantry.
John Mather was born in Prescot, near St Helens, Lancashire in May 1873.
Having previous served in the South Stafford Regiment for 33 days, Mather, a labourer by trade, enlisted on 15/7/1892 in Winchester, Hampshire, for seven years with the Colours and five years in the army reserve. He joined at the Rifle Depot as Rifleman 7625 of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps and was posted to the 4th KRRC at Gosport, Hampshire.
Between 1894 and 1899, Mather served with the 2nd KRRC successively at Gibraltar, Malta, Cape Town and Calcutta. With the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War threatening, the 2nd KRRC was returned to South Africa and disembarked in Durban on 5/10/1899, a week before war was declared.
On 23/10/1899, the 2nd KRRC Mounted Infantry, which included Rifleman Mather, joined the Composite Regiment of the Mounted Brigade at Frere, while the rest of the regiment was in Ladysmith, where it was trapped when the Boers surrounded the town.
The 2nd KRRC MI took part in most of the Composite Regiment’s relief operations, including the patrol to Colenso on 28/11/1899 and the Battle of Colenso on 15/12/1899. It was not part of that element of the Composite Regiment that broke the siege on the afternoon of 28/2/1900, because it took a wrong direction and was recalled by Lord Dundonald, the Officer Commanding the Mounted Brigade. It arrived in Ladysmith later that evening.
After Ladysmith was relieved, the 2nd KRRC MI became part of a reconstituted Composite Regiment. It went with Buller through northern Natal and into the eastern Transvaal until the end of his campaign. It continued to serve in the eastern Transvaal, Zululand and the Orange Free State until the end of the War.
Mather was one of only two officers and 29 other ranks of the original 2nd KRRC MI who remained at the end of the War and his QSA/KSA is one of only 68 verified pairs for this unit.
On 1/5/1902, Mather was posted to the 1st KRRC and on 16/7/1902 he left South Africa for England, where he was posted to the Rifle Depot in Winchester. On 15/2/1903 he was posted to the Army Reserve and on 14/7/1904 he was finally discharged after 12 years service.
In my mind I equate the Colonials riding into Ladysmith to end the Ladysmith siege with the action of the same men in confronting the Boers at Acton Homes prior to the disaster at Spioen Kop. They were mobile horsemen who knew the countryside and the enemy, men who shared these attributes with them. In addition to this matching of talents, both these groups of men were capable of acting independently of senior officers, who, at least on the British side, were often less than capable in the field.
The Composite Regiment deserved greater respect from both the British high command and many of the historians who recorded the events of the Boer War. As a Colonial myself, I find it annoying that Lord Dundonald is credited by many for lifting the Ladysmith siege. In fact, Dundonald was indecisive on that day and it was Major Gough who took the initiative to ride for Ladysmith in spite of Dundonald's contradictory orders. In the history of the ILH, Gough is quoted as follows:
At about 4 pm on 28/2/1900, Gough "went to Dundonald and asked for leave to take the Regiment (the Composite Regiment) on to the next ridge, and from there to push forward patrols towards Ladysmith. First he said yes, then no, then yes in the space of five seconds, recalling me to his side half-a-dozen times to repeat or contradict his orders! At last I escaped, with permission to proceed, and ordered the three squadrons to go forward at once. As we moved off the enemy fired a few shells at very long range at us. I knew this would be the signal to order us to retire, from Dundonald, so galloped across the valley to the hill already occupied by Bridges and his troop (of the I.L.H.) As I got up a message was sent to me from Dundonald "to retire!" I would not think of it under the circumstances, but sent back a message to say after reconnoitring the hill I would do so. Eustace with [the] 60th ([KRR] MI) taking a wrong direction at first, was recalled by Dundonald, but with the remaining two squadrons I decided to go on. I sent a patrol to reconnoitre the plateau about a mile broad. They reported our positions round Ladysmith in full view, and no signs of the enemy. I then received another order that I was not to advance. I went forward with both squadrons to the edge, and determined to ride straight into Ladysmith. At 6.15 p.m. I sent back a message to Dundonald to say the road was clear and I was going on."
Interestingly, during this action, it was the only Imperial squadron in the Composite Regiment (the KRR MI) that wandered off course, and it was the only one that responded to Dundonald's order to retire.
For Dundonald to be given the credit by historians for being the "first in" to Ladysmith is a travesty, as is the claim to share the credit by Lieutenant Winston Churchill of the South Africa Light Horse, both of whom were later arrivals in Ladysmith that evening.
I believe Lord Roberts saw the value of Colonial light horsemen in that new kind of war, hence his decision to give the ILH the duty of leading the column to lift the Siege of Mafeking.
On reading all of your posts again today, it just occurred to me that Messrs Mason and Anderson would have not only known each other, but, I would think, really very well indeed, yes, I agree, a very exciting day for them both!
Kind regards Frank
Brett Hendey wrote: The men and their medals who were the subjects of my posts yesterday all took part in the gallop into Ladysmith on the afternoon of 28 February 1900, perhaps the most exciting event in all the days of their lives. Of course, the names of most of the men who were there on that occasion are not recorded but, since their units were represented, they deserve to be included in this series of posts.
Frank's Trooper Anderson is one such man and I am adding two more today, Sergeant Fisher of the Natal Police (Estcourt District), and Trooper Mason of the Border Mounted Rifles.