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Medals to the Umvoti Mounted Rifles 5 years 4 months ago #46924

  • Brett Hendey
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Umvoti Mounted Rifles during the Anglo-Boer War

The account that follows of the UMR’s role in the Anglo-Boer War is largely adapted from information in the comprehensive ‘History of the Umvoti Mounted Rifles’ by Mark Coghlan (Just Done Productions, Pinetown, 2012).

The UMR played a marginal part in the Boer War. This was due to the regiment being posted to those parts of the Buffalo and Tugela River valleys that were in the regiment’s recruitment area. They were close to the Vryheid district of the Transvaal that extended into Zululand, and were potentially a Boer invasion route. As it transpired, the Boers made no serious incursions in these valleys, and, instead, concentrated their army further west along the main road and railway line between the British garrison towns of Dundee and Ladysmith. The UMR was to emerge “from the formal phase of the war [in] October 1900 with a unique record among the volunteer forces of Natal: no fatal casualties, from enemy action or disease, and no prisoners.” (Coghlan 2012: 56).

THE NATAL CAMPAIGN

The Natal Volunteer Regiments were mobilised on 29/9/1899. The UMR was then commanded by Major G Leuchars, a Member of the Legislative Assembly of Natal. The regiment numbered 89 men in three Troops (Helpmekaar, Greytown and Noodsberg). The mobilisation strength was much lower than the numbers in other local mounted regiments: Natal Carbineers - 508, Border Mounted Rifles - 286, and Natal Mounted Rifles - 220. The regiment’s enrolment had increased to 145 by June 1902.

The UMR left Greytown on 2/10/1899 for Helpmekaar in the Buffalo River valley near the border with Zululand, and not far from the Zulu War battlefields of Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift. Here it joined a detachment of the Natal Police Field Force (NP FF). The men were initially employed in intelligence-gathering patrols, and they reported to the British army in Dundee.

The UMR was in Helpmekaar when the Boers attacked Dundee on 20/10/1899. The British turned their victory in the Battle of Talana into a defeat by abandoning Dundee and retreating to Ladysmith by way of the Buffalo River valley. The UMR did not join the retreating Dundee garrison, and, instead, it was ordered to hold its position and watch for a Boer advance along the same route. By doing so, the regiment escaped being besieged in Ladysmith.

In order to further secure this indirect route to Pietermaritzburg during General Buller’s Relief of Ladysmith operations, the UMR and NP FF were later joined by Bethune’s Mounted Infantry (BMI).

Towards the end of October, the UMR and NP FF withdrew southwards to protect the river crossing at Tugela Ferry. November proved to be a month of uncertainty and confusion as the British army consolidated its positions along the Tugela River frontline. For the UMR it culminated in an order to destroy the ferry they were protecting. This order was almost immediately rescinded, but too late to save the ferry. Its rebuilding was ordered, but it was not until 10/3/1900, after the Siege was lifted, that the ferry was operating again.

From time to time, the Boers sent patrols to test the defences at Tugela Ferry, the most notable being on 23/11/1899 when an inconclusive three-hour gun battle between the Boers and the UMR/NP FF took place. It resulted in the UMR’s only battle casualty of the war, the wounding of RSM R Ferguson.

After the Ladysmith siege was lifted, the NP FF was transferred to Zululand, and the UMR and BMI were reinforced by the Imperial Light Infantry and a Hotchkiss Gun detachment. On 8/3/1900, this force moved northwards into the Buffalo River valley, and on 8/5/1900 it occupied Pomeroy while Buller’s army attacked the Boer positions in the Biggarsberg further west. By16/5/1900, both forces had moved on to Dundee,

At Dundee, the UMR joined the other Natal Volunteers in the 3rd Mounted Brigade, and they advanced on Newcastle (17/5/1900), and Laing’s Nek (19/5/1900). They then moved to Volksrust in the Transvaal, but, since the Volunteer Regiments were restricted to serving only in Natal, they soon returned to the Colony. The UMR saw out the Natal Campaign where it had started, in the Buffalo River valley.

The Natal Volunteers were demobilised during September, and the UMR and others arrived in Pietermaritzburg on 9/10/1900. After an official welcome by local dignitaries, the men dispersed to their homes.

TRAITORS IN THEIR MIDST ?

Unlike Natal’s other Volunteer Regiments, the UMR had in its ranks an appreciable number of Boers (Dutch). Their occupation of the UMR’s recruitment area dated back to the mid-19th Century, and it is reflected in the Dutch place names of Helpmekaar (= help each other), Kranskop (= cliff head), and Noodsberg (= need/danger/misery mountain). There was a question about their reliability in confronting on the battlefield the invading Boers from the two Republics. Although the campaign in northern Natal did bring men of the UMR into close contact with the invaders and the Dutch-speaking majority in that part of the country, there were no major problems between them. The low-key nature of the UMR’s part in the war lessened the chance of such conflict. The situation did change later when the very divisive “scorched-earth policy” was implemented by the British, but the UMR had been demobilised when the worst excesses of this policy were perpetrated.

The potential for divided loyalties in the UMR had been foreseen early in the war, and it was for this reason that men from the predominantly Dutch-speaking Noodsberg Troop were deployed to undertake policing duties in southern Natal, far from the Tugela River frontline. Southern Natal was where the Border Mounted Rifles (BMR) recruited its men, who were of English, German and Norwegian descent. None were Boers. Since the loyalties of the BMR were not in any doubt, the whole regiment was deployed to Ladysmith, instead of leaving a troop or two to undertake the duties assigned to the men from Noodsberg.

There was reason to doubt the loyalty of at least one of the Boers in this unit. The QSA medal roll records that 209 Trooper J J Botha was charged with ‘High Treason’ and his medal was withheld. A relative, 210 Trooper J M Botha, probably a brother, was awarded his QSA. The National Archives in Pietermaritzburg includes a document that records the charge against both these men as: “Disloyal language in a joint letter”. Contrary to the medal roll, the document records that it was J M Botha who was “Dismissed from his regiment”, while J J Botha was acquitted.

It is of interest here to raise the matter of another Botha from the Greytown district – Commandant-General Louis Botha, the Officer Commanding the troops of the Transvaal Republic during the Boer War. Louis Botha was born on a farm near Greytown and he was educated at the German School at Hermannsburg. Had he remained on his Greytown farm, his life would have been very different. As it was, he left Greytown, and in 1884 he helped launch the Nieuwe Republiek (New Republic) in the area of Zululand adjoining the Transvaal. Four years later it was incorporated into the Transvaal as the districts of Vryheid and Utrecht. Louis Botha’s rise to fame during the Boer War, and subsequently, made him a figure of international importance. His kinship to J J and J M Botha is not known, but there is likely to have been one, which may have contributed to their “disloyalty”.

There were also a significant number of Germans in the UMR, particularly in the Noodsberg and Helpmekaar Troops. The widespread occupation of this part of Natal by German settlers is reflected in locality names such as New Hanover, Wartburg, Hermannsburg and Muden. Lieutenant G B Moe wrote of the Germans that “a better lot of men and stauncher no one could have wished for. They are very amenable to discipline, quiet and orderly, know the country like a book, and are born scouts.” (Coghlan 2012: 66).

Nevertheless, the Dutch and Germans of Umvoti County had much in common, perhaps more so with each other than with the English speakers. In the months preceding the outbreak of the war, there were 26 resignations from the UMR, over 20% of its strength at that time, which reflected the unease felt about the coming war. Almost all of the surnames of the men who left were Dutch and German.

There was no question of divided loyalties in the UMR when the next crisis arose – the Natal (Bambata) Rebellion in 1906. The Boer War divisions in the settler population of this part of Natal were forgotten, at least for the duration of the rebellion. The attitude of the Colonists was summed up by Coghlan (2012: 107) as follows:
“In the opinion of settler society, the military men in particular, stern deterrent and punitive action was mandatory”.

THE LAST YEARS OF THE WAR

The UMR and other Natal regiments were remobilised during September 1901, when there was the threat of a second Boer invasion of Natal. The UMR were closest to Zululand through which the invasion would have been launched, and it seemed to be the regiment that would first go into action. In fact, no military action was necessary, and the regiments were soon released from service.

The end of the Natal Campaign brought into being the Volunteer Composite Regiment, which enabled Natal Volunteers to continue in the war beyond the borders of the Colony. Of the VCR’s initial enlistment of about 300 men, only 14 came from the UMR. The VCR had a relative large turnover in men, and while some of the original UMR enlistments left the regiment, a few more joined it.

The VCR operated in northern Natal and the adjoining south-eastern Transvaal. Much of its time was spent on patrol and escort duties, but it also became increasingly involved in enforcing the British “scorched earth” policy. This involved the destruction of the farm buildings, equipment, crops and livestock of the Boers on commando, as well as the internment in concentration camps of their wives, children and servants. While this policy had a military purpose, it was disliked by Colonial soldiers, many of whom were farmers themselves. It no doubt contributed to the instability in the ranks of the VCR, which ceased to exist on 31/7/1902, two months after the war ended.

Most men in the UMR were awarded the Queen’s South Africa Medal (QSA) with the clasps Tugela Heights, Relief of Ladysmith, Transvaal and Laing’s Nek, as well as the South Africa 1901 clasp for their call-up during that year. Those men who served in southern Natal, about 36 in all, were awarded the Natal clasp. By 1906, ten of the QSA’s were still unclaimed, of which eight were named to men with Dutch or German surnames. By 1909, 26 of the South Africa 1901 clasps were unclaimed. The King’s South Africa Medal was awarded to those men in the VCR who had the required number of month’s service during 1901 and 1902. Major Leuchars was awarded the DSO, and ended the war as a Lieutenant-Colonel. He remained a prominent, and controversial figure in the government of Natal, and was later knighted (Sir George Leuchars KCMG).

The UMR contributed six men to Natal’s contingent that attended the Coronation of King Edward VII in London during August 1902. Interestingly, five of the six men had German surnames. The selection may have been based on the men’s marksmanship rather than other attributes. The only English-speaker in the group was Sergeant Herbert Mayne, a known marksman, and the visiting Colonials did engage in shooting competitions at Bisley. The men in the Coronation contingent were awarded the 1902 Coronation Medal.

Brett Hendey
31/5/2016
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Medals to the Umvoti Mounted Rifles 5 years 4 months ago #46929

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Thank you for this Brett

I have a number of medals to the UMR but not the benefit of Coghlan's book. The first history done by the chap who was the Headmaster of the local High School was, to my mind, woefully inadequate.

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Rory

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Medals to the Umvoti Mounted Rifles 5 years 4 months ago #46945

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Rory

Coghlan's book was not written with the medal collector in mind, but just about everything else you might want to know about the UMR is there

A bonus for some people will be the accounts of the Northern Districts Mounted Rifles and the Zululand Mounted Rifles. The NDMR and ZMR were raised after the Boer War and their recruitment areas were west and east of that of the UMR. They were amalgamated with the UMR after Union. Although short-lived, the ZMR had a particularly distinguished time during the 1906 Natal Rebellion. The present residents of the Nkandla district may not see it that way. Five of the eight Natal DCM's awarded during the Rebellion went to men of the ZMR, and, since there was only one other awarded during the Boer War, they are (or should be) highly desired by medal collectors.

Since dabbling with the UMR, I have been thinking of focusing my magpie activities on this regiment.

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Brett
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Medals to the Umvoti Mounted Rifles 5 years 4 months ago #46968

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The account of the UMR in the first post of this thread was adapted from my biography of Colonel Herbert Mayne, whose medals I recently acquired.



The medals are: QSA (TH, RoL, Tvl, LN, [SA '01 missing]); Natal Rebellion (1906 clasp); 1914/15 Star (replacement); War Medal; Victory Medal (replacement [MiD oakleaf missing]); 1902 Coronation Medal (possible replacement); 1935 Jubilee Medal; Colonial Auxiliary Forces Officer's Decoration; CAF Long Service Medal (replacement).

Herbert Mayne joined the UMR as a Trooper in 1893. He rose through the ranks and, as a Lieutenant-Colonel, he became the regiment's Commanding Officer in 1923, a position he held until 1928. In 1931, he came out of retirement and as a Colonel commanded the 1st Mounted Brigade, which was made up of all the mounted regiments of Natal. He retired again in 1936. Mayne was one of South Africa's leading marksmen and he represented the country at Bisley on three occasions. In 1942, while still on the Reserve of Officers, he offered to raise a company of sharpshooters for the South African Coast Defence Corps. The offer was accepted, although by then the threat of a Japanese invasion had diminished. This additional service evidently qualified Mayne for the award of the Africa Service Medal, the ribbon of which he wore on the lower of two ribbon bars. Mayne died in 1945 aged 68, so he never got to see his last medal that was issued in the early 1950's. The ASM shown below is not his.







Brett
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Medals to the Umvoti Mounted Rifles 5 years 4 months ago #46969

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A wonderful group notwithstanding Brett. I wonder if he ever applied for his ASM?

We have all, at one time or another, fallen prey to families who have, in their misguided wisdom, split a family members medals up and distributed them willy nilly to an assortment of next of kin.

Very sad really. Do you think there is a chance of ever finding the "missing ones"?

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Rory

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Medals to the Umvoti Mounted Rifles 5 years 4 months ago #46971

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Rory
I suspect that previous owners of Mayne's medals must have kept an eye out for the missing ones. I rather regret the fact that the replacements have been privately named. If I do replace missing medals, I prefer to use unnamed ones.

The ribbon of the Africa Service Medal was distributed to qualifying persons from 1943 onwards, so I suspect that Mayne got his ribbon in that year. Since Mayne died in 1945, he probably had not put in a claim for the medal itself. He functioned under the ACF in WWII, so a record of Mayne's ASM should be with their files, but it has yet to be found.

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Brett

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