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"The Thirty Light Horsemen" : the ILH at Lancer's Nek, 3/11/1899. 2 years 11 months ago #59662

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Well worth the wait, Rory and what a pair of medals!
Dr David Biggins
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"The Thirty Light Horsemen" : the ILH at Lancer's Nek, 3/11/1899. 1 week 5 days ago #76838

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Having transcribed the relevant pages of Lt D. Howard-Gills diary that pertain to this incident, I have pleasure in posting the story below. Howard-Gills was a Lt, with the 21st battery, R.F.A., the one sent out to Lancers Hill/End Valley once word had reached the camp in Ladysmith that the Boers were massing in the vicinity. His diary must be read in the context of the times - it is a subjective (and possibly inaccurate) version of events but it is yet another aspect and deserves our attention. I also enclose his hand-drawn map of the skirmish. He termed this the "First Pogglehurst Affair"

The Thirty Light Horseman – an R.F.A. Officer’s view of the Lancer’s Nek/Long Valley incident on 3 November 1899

"A Major in charge of a squadron of the Light Horse comes up to Blewitt, and asks if he may take his squadron up and take the hill from the left and rear. Brocklehurst does not appear or issue any orders. The Major bids him do so by all means, and arranges to only fire on the right side of the Hill, so as not to hit his men.

They gallop up and dismount under Hussar Hill leaving their ponies in a donga and are lost to sight. A very sharp rifle fire breaks out immediately from Lancer’s Hill and shortly after from Hussar Hill. the Major turns the two left guns onto Hussar Hill and keeps down this fire considerably. We look in vain for our men to appear on Lancer’s Hill, and are very careful not to burst our shrapnel over the crest for fear of hitting them. Where we might have, had we known, done much damage to the Boers.

No message is sent back by the ILH as to how they are prospering, but we learn afterwards that on finding the Hill strongly held they got into a donga between it and us and remained there loosing off their rifles till they retired. They suffered hardly any loss (one or two men hit, Major Taunton killed)*, but we thought they were having a frightful time, as one of their Doctor’s galloped back very pale saying they were in an awful fix, that C squadron must be cut to pieces and asking for reinforcements.

They were the only people who attempted to make any sort of attack, this idiotic day. About this time, a long range gun opens away to our right rear and starts making excellent practice at our wagons, which are about 200 yards to our rear in the Spruit (which is dry). The Farrier Sergeant canters up to know if he shall shift their position a bit, as the gun had got their range perfectly and had wounded two horses.

As he reaches the battery a thing occurs, which I must put down, as I wish this to be a full and truthful account, although it is (strictly private) the only occurrence that reflects any discredit on the battery during the war. The wagons which are now in the midst of a hot shell fire, and have no one in charge of them, Campbell being wounded, right reverse and commence to trot to the rear to take up a fresh position, without orders. The Farrier is immediately sent galloping after them and brings them back.

While we are all thunderstruck as to what can have caused this extraordinary movement, the Major thinking they had possibly received orders from some staff officer and that we were being attacked in rear, orders us to see we have our case shot and magazine shrapnel ready. Also a gun away on our left started bursting time shrapnel right up over End Hill, miles up in the air, and the men on End Hill are being shot at, so the Boers are evidently trying to turn our left and cut us off.

General Brocklehurst and his ADC, Lord Crichton, now rides up to Blewitt and says he fancies the Boers are reinforcing very strongly and seem to be trying to cut us off. So we’d better retire and suggests his retiring the battery at once. Blewitt says “Good God man you’re not going to leave those fellows in the ILH on that Hill, I’m not going to take my battery away till they are extricated.” Brocklehurst replies “Oh, I’d forgotten, what had I better do?” Blewitt says “Do, why send up some of those cavalry to reinforce, I suppose; what did you bring them out for?”

Brocklehurst thanks him quite humbly for the suggestion, and says he will send back to Ladysmith for two more batteries and reinforcements. This Blewitt is strongly opposed to as he doesn’t see any point in it if we are going to do nothing, and says so. But old Brocklehurst does so. Some of the 5th Lancers gallop up and get into the donga with the ILH but there is no more sign of any attack than before. Very shortly the 42nd and 53rd batteries arrive out and some volunteers, having trotted and galloped the whole way fancying that we must be in distress.

The 53rd come into action alongside us and help to pound away at Lancer’s Hill, the 42nd after silencing the gun to our right rear come into action in the nek at B, and knock over several Boers galloping to reinforce from the north and effectually put a stop to this reinforcing. This of course should have been done by the 19th Hussars two hours ago, as the Boers were simply galloping over the open, but their Colonel, (Wolsely-Jenkins) seemed afraid to even show up in the nek where the battery went.

The volunteers to come out, dismount and reinforce End Hill and occupy Middle Hill. Brocklehurst now orders a retirement and the ILH and 5th Lancers come galloping back in twos or threes from Lancer’s Hill amidst a fairly hot but distant rifle fire, our two batteries meanwhile covering Hussar and Lancer’s Hill with shrapnel. I think one man was hit only. One troopers horse was shot and he was footing it back about 2000 yards from the enemy’s fire without anyone taking any notice of him, when an officer pulls up and catches a loose horse for him and mounts him on it and they gallop in.

There was nothing particularly venturesome in this owing to the great distance from the enemy and the harmlessness of their fire, yet a picture of the incident drawn by Maud (who was not there) appeared in the Graphic entitled “A gallant candidate for the VC.” Meanwhile the 19th Hussars have mounted and galloped home and the 42nd battery follows them at a trot. We move off first, the ILH and 5th Lancers having retired homeward at a gallop, to position E and cover End Hill with our guns till all the volunteers and cavalry are off it. The 53rd remaining in action at A.

Lt. Higgins spots a team bringing a gun into action on the now deserted left kopje, and laying and ranging one of his own guns, knocks it out observing three horses and two men go down to the shot. They then trot past us to a position between E and F and cover End Hill. as soon as all our men have left End Hill we trot to P(F?) and come into action there, against End Hill, two guns opening fire from Lancer’s Hill. three German and Dutch gunners watch us like cats from a safe place away from their guns, and as soon as we limber up, they rush back to their deserted guns and open a rapid fire.

The top of End Hill is now covered with the Boers, but a few shells from us soon silence them, whilst our men retire from Middle Hill. The 53rd is meanwhile retiring along the road at a walk ready to come into action again, when the Colonel rides up to Blewitt and tells him to retire as everyone but the two batteries have already gone home. The ambulances pass us going out and they say one of them was fired on by the Boers, one dead Lancer is carried past on a stretcher.

We retire behind the 53rd in battery column along the road at a walk shell after shell whizzing just over us or just short from guns on our left. As we cross Sign Post ridge we come into view of Pepworth and get one or two Long Tom 96 pounders, two of which barely miss our heads. When we cross Range Post and walk down the road to camp we come under a heavy fire from Bulwana.

Major Taunton was killed and a 5th Lancer trooper, the ILH had two men wounded and this was all our casualties. *I found out after (16 February 1900) that I somewhat wronged to ILH. One troop did go forward to attack the kopje, the rest remaining in the donga. They came under a very hot fire and had to retire, losing 5 men and 2 officers. This was however the only attack made."

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