IL's interest in the abovementioned action was sparked by the acquisition , many years ago, of a four clasp QSA medal named to "271 Serjt. A.A.APPS. Imp Lt: Horse". The NFF casualty list show the recipient as "Wounded, Lancer's Nek, 3.11.99" - one of firteen ILH casualties on that day. Of the units present. only the ILH and the NMR show entries in the NFF list.
The Lancer's Nek action is mentioned in several accounts of the conflict; Amery V.3, Maurice V. 2, "The Story of the Imperial Light Horse" by Lt. Gibson - and quite useful was the official after-action report by Brigadier Gen. Brocklehurst (found in "The 18th Hussars in South Africa" by Maj. Burnett). Lancer's Nek caused an immediate and beneficial change of leadership in the ILH. Here. IL offers his view of the action; with special reference to one particular squadron of the ILH.
As background, the situation in Ladysmith at the commencement of November 1899 was grim. Despite the victory at Elandslaagte, other opertations had far from improved the British situation and, by the 2nd, the town was under bombardment. The investment, however, was not thought to be complete. That same day, under the command of Brig. Gen. Brocklehurst, the defenders made a small scale probe to the West of the town with scant results. The next day, they were to try again towards the South West with an entire cavalry brigade supported by artillery.
What followed on the morning of the 3rd November was described as a "reconnaissance"; a reaction to a patrol report of enemy movement. Operating over "good cavalry country", it seems likely that Brocklehurst's brigade was strong enough to exploit any opportunity offered. Having no infantry component, his force would not have been able to take and hold ground. However, mobility and direct artillery support might allow the force to inflict a check on the activities of the besiegers.
Accounts differ as to the sequence of events; however Gibson says two ILH squadrons under the temporary command of Maj. Karri Davies were thrown out early in the AM and well ahead of the main force. They were to draw whatever the enemy fire there was and fix his position. The enemy was located with at least one gun on Lancer's Hill (thus being able to dominate any activity in Long Valley and on the Colenso and Oliver's Hoek roads) and by 1115, the 5th DG, 18th and 19th Hussars and 21st FB, RA were positioned to support the ILH and exploit any enemy weakness.
By 1215, however, things began to unravel. Upon drawing enemy fire from Lancer's Hill and seeing what he thought was an enemy retirement, Maj. Karri Davies had dismounted his men, saying "Boys, load your guns". "You see that kopje, that's the Boer laager, we're going to take it". "Right squadron, go on. Left squadron in support". Lt. Gibson fleshed out what followed by extensively quoting the military correspondent of the London Daily Mail; G.W.Steevens.
Steevens wrote that "the incident rose out of the prodigal valour of the ILH". They had lost their Colonel (late of the 5th Lancers) at Elandslaagte, he wrote, and General Brocklehurst, the new cavalry Brigadier, had incautiously given their new civilian CO a free hand. "I've heard your men are very fine fellows, Major, do what you like". Steevens (who must have had sources close to the action) regarded Maj. Karri Davies as "no soldier" and commented that the hill was occupied by "at least eight hundred Boers" . Steevens usefully identifies the leading ILH squadron attacking Lancer's Hill as "C" squadron.
The odds were stacked so heavily against success that fully half of "C" squadron refused to obey the order. Stevens says they "jibbed". Only thirty of the sixty-strong squadron responded -apparently led by Maj. Doveton - and they got to within 700 yards of the enemy before heavy fire and many casualties caused them to "shelter under ant hills" and could neither advance nor retire.
Extraction of the two squadrons was difficult. Seeing the rash advance, the Brigadier had his mounted units and artillery positioned for supporting fire and by 1600 the ILH and the supporting elements were able to withdraw in extended order at no further cost - save dignity. Seeing that he had grasped a hornet's nest, the Brigadier ordered the force to retire to Ladysmith. Later, when Maj. Karri Davies was queried by one of his squadron commanders about the unsupported, headlong advance, he replied "Well, Jimmy, as the Regiment was formed to fight the Boers, I went for them". Steevens again: " The event of the day was the splendid madness of the Thirty Light Horsemen". He also commented that of the thirty ILH that actually advanced from the Nek and up Lancer's Hill, only twelve came down.
The losses aroused criticism of the "reckless manner" in which the ILH had conducted it's part of the reconnaissance. Of Maj.Karri Davies, Brigadier Brocklehurst recorded that "the advance was most gallantly made, but being unsupported, it was an error of judgement, and I would not have sanctioned it had I been aware it was contemplated". The comment of Steevens that the retirement was "well covered" was tempered by this proviso to his readers "only now you must be tired of retirements".
The day after the withdrawal, Maj. A.H.M.Edwards of the 5th DG was summoned by Sir George White and offered the command of the ILH. Maj. Karri davies did not demur; indeed he confessed to his successor that it would not
be fair on the Regiment if he was retained. The loss of two valuable officers, Capt. Knapp and Lt. Brabant, as well as twelve ORs wounded and one missing in what could fairly be termed a fiasco - not to mention the "jibbing" incident and other casualties in the Natal Volunteers - all would have weighed heavily on the CiC.
Subsequent to the appointment of (temporary) Lt. Col.Edwards, casualties were replaced and a number of Regular NCOs were attached to "improve discipline". Those who have served under arms will know what THAT means. The rank-and-file responded and the result can be seen at Gun Hill, Caeser's Camp, Wagon Hill and during the Relief of Mafeking.
Some considerable ground has been traversed in fleshing out what otherwise would simply be a bald entry in the NFF casualty list. It is satisfying to be able to reasonably establish Sjt. A.A. Apps as a member of "C" squadron on 3rd November 1899 and one of the "Thirty Light Horsemen" of Lancer's Nek. Happily, he survived his wounding and in addition to being bresent at Elandlaagte and the Defence of Ladysmith, he later accompanied Col. Mahon on the march to relieve Mafeking. He also earned the clasp "Transvaal" on his QSA before being discharged on 15th November, 1900.
Thanks to all who have read this far.
Thanks for sharing Apps' medal with us, and for an excellent account of the Lancer's Nek action. Thanks mainly to a recent kindness by fellow forum member Jon, I have been revisiting the ILH and the ILH medals in my collection. Unfortunately, I do not have the medal of a proven ILH participant in the action that day, but I do have the medal of Sergeant F G Mapstone, Natal Carbineers, who died of wounds a day or two later.
As is often the case, the NFF Roll is faulty in its record of casualties, in this instance those suffered by the Carbineers in that action. Like the ILH they lost a senior officer killed, Major C E Taunton of No 1 Squadron, a much loved and respected member of the regiment. I will post a list of the NC casualties later.
Thanks for your reply. I was a bit concerned about a lack of info in my resources regarding the other casualties of Lancer's Nek. However, I decided to go with my focus on the ILH. It would be much appreciated if you could post the casualties of the Natal Volunteers to round off my account.. Major Taunton has a good writeup in the Palmer "telephone book" (as it has been termed). There is a good portrait of him in the "Natal Carbiniers 1855-1911" by Rev.Stalker, M.A. I can post it if you do not have it.
I do have a copy of Stalker's book, and it is from his account of the Lancer's Nek action that I have copied the Natal Carbineers' casualty roll. It is:
Killed - Major C E Taunton
Mortally wounded - Sergeant F G Mapstone
Wounded - Corporal W McCullough, Troopers W Anderson, C E J Miller, A Paine, R Watts, S E Waugh & C W Webber
Stalker also records that Tprs Miller, Watts and D A Shaw were awarded the DCM for going to the rescue of Tpr Webber, who had been severely wounded.
The other Natal Volunteers engaged in the action were from the Border Mounted Rifles and the Natal Mounted Rifles. Their casualties were recorded by Eric Goetzsche in his book 'The Official Natal Mounted Rifles History'. They were:
Border Mounted Rifles
Wounded - Captain W Arnott (Adjutant), Troopers G L Edmonds, A G Goldstone & F J Thomas.
Major J F Rethman and Lieutenant H Andreasen had a narrow escape when a shell burst near them.
Natal Mounted Rifles
Wounded - Corporal H Silburn
Goetzsche refers to the action under the name 'Bester's Kop', while Stalker refers to the location of the Volunteers as being at Middle and End Hills.