I was able to find some interesting testimonials with regards to the use of the lance in the early stages of the Boer War -
The 5th Dragoon Guards at Elandslaagte, 21st October 1899.
The role of the
5th Dragoon Guards at Elandslaagte
was that of pursuing the defeated Boers at the end of the battle. Elandslaagte, situated northeast of Ladysmith was occupied by 1,200 Boers under the aged General Kock. Major-General French was sent out with a force from Ladysmith to clear the Boers from the area. This force was made up of Imperial Light Horse, half a battalion of the Manchester Regiment plus gunners and sappers. But the force was too small and French called for reinforcements. These included the Devons, Gordon Highlanders, two squadrons of the 5th Lancers and two squadrons of the 5th Dragoon Guards. The mounted troops had the task of riding alongside the train that transported the infantry to Elandslaagte. They were kept busy driving large numbers of Boers away from the track.
The Boers entrenched on the heights were subjected to an assault by the infantry which turned into a horrendous ordeal for the Manchesters, Gordons and the dismounted Imperial Light Horse who were pinned down by accurate rifle fire and were also soaked in a tremendous thunderstorm. Theirs' was a flanking attack which was intended to distract the Boers from a frontal assault made by the Devons who went in vigorously and achieved success but the Boers regained the heights again in a desperate fight. More hand-to-hand fighting took place and the British finally forced the retreat of the Boers who took to their horses and fled as the light of day began to fade. It was here that the Lancers and Dragoon Guards began their pursuit of the enemy. The ground was difficult for the cavalry at first, as St John Gore relates:
'At last I saw the Boers apparently coming down...by twos and threes: great uncertainty in the bad light as to what they were doing. Then "They're off!" "No they're not!" "Yes they ARE!" I sent back word to my two squadrons to "advance in line at extended files" [ie. 4 yards interval between each horse]. After half a mile our heads rose over a fold in the ground, and showed us a long stream of Boers going leisurely away from the position at right angles to my line of advance, and about 300 yards off. I gave the word "gallop". When they saw us, the Boers broke in every direction and galloped away. The ground was very stony in most parts, but there were some good grassy bits along which I was able to pick my way (being one single man), while most of the men had to go over the bad places as they happened to come to them in their line.'
This illustration was published in Pomeroy's history, titled 'The Charge of the 5th Dragoon Guards at Elandslagte, October 21, 1899'. There is no signature on the picture, but it is well painted. The officer out in front, firing his pistol, must be Major St John Gore and the soldiers wielding lances are his dragoon guards.
They made three charges against the Boers. There was much blood spilt in these charges and the Boers harboured a deep hatred of the British after this 'massacre', especially the Lancers. They swore that any lancers they captured in the future would be killed. But there are conflicting accounts from those that took part in the charges at Elandslaagte. One lancer wrote home: 'They threw up their arms and fell on their knees for mercy; but we were told not to give them any, and I can assure you they got none. We went along sticking our lances through them - it was a terrible thing: but you have to do it in a case like this.'
The accounts written by men of the 5th DG all talk of taking prisoners. Troop Sergeant Savage said, 'The pace increased, on and on, until we could see and pick out our man. After this I no longer tried to follow my Troop leader, but rode as hard as I could for that one man. As I approached him, he dropped off his pony (a grey) and fired at someone to the right. I overtook him and rode on for another who was some little distance in front. This fellow, by the time I got up to him, was laid on his back, and looked so helpless and so much like a civilian, that I took his arms and ammunition, and as by this time the troops were rallying, I marched him up a prisoner and handed him over to Corporal Howard, who was taking over the prisoners. This man, whilst I had my lance to his breast, asked for no mercy, but handed over his arms like a soldier who could do no more. I took the precaution to make him hand me the butt first. There was nothing of the coward about him.'
This narrative is interesting as it indicates that the 5th DG were using lances. Lieut. Philip Reynolds wrote, 'Men were dismounted by twos and threes to make a single Boer prisoner, and our ranks were soon thinned out. At last, we came to a spruit and the whole line halted. A few Boers here were dismounted and fired a few shots without doing any damage. I took a few men, and we surrounded them and made prisoners of them.' Thus it becomes obvious that the taking of prisoners was detrimental to the pursuit.
The Boer Point of View.
This contemporary illustration by J J Waugh is titled ‘A Charge of lancers from the Boer Point of View’ but is rather too chauvinist for modern tastes. It was probably inspired by this quote by Ben Viljoen who was one of those pursued at Elandslaagte, and who later became a Boer General: ‘The British lancers were shouting “Stop, stop, you ****** Boers!” ...Revolvers were being promiscuously fired at us....We could plainly hear them shouting “Stop or I’ll shoot you”, or “Halt you damned Boer or I’ll run my lance through your blessed body”...Looking round furtively once more I could distinguish my pursuers; I could see their long assegais; I could hear the snorting of their unwieldy horses, the clattering of their swords. These unpleasant combinations were enough to strike terror into the heart of any ordinary man.’
Charge of the 5th Lancers at Elandslaagte on 21st October 1899 by Richard Caton Woodville, showing Trumpeter Shurlock firing his revolver.
The following user(s) said Thank You: Ians1900, azyeoman, Dave F
Very useful info., thanks!
The use of lances against the Boers at Elandslaagte was, I think, not repeated during the War... or am I wrong?
Here's a useful snippet I was given:
'From the formation of lancer units in 1816 until 1895 only Lancer Regiments carried lances. In 1895 the War Office decided the front rank of all heavy cavalry squadrons would carry lances.'
I guess the questions arise, in the ABW, who were classed as "heavy cavalry", and what is meant by a "front rank"?
The past is not dead. In fact, it's not even past.