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A Colt Gun detachment man with Bethune's and the S.A.L.H. 3 years 9 months ago #52947

  • Rory
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Thomas Campbell Carson

Trooper, Bethune’s Mounted Infantry
Trooper, Colt Gun Detachment, South African Light Horse – Anglo Boer War

- Queens South Africa Medal with clasps Tugela Heights and Relief of Ladysmith to 605 Tpr. T. Carson, Bethune’s M.I.

Thomas Carson was born in 1878 the son of James Carson, a Shipping Clerk and his wife Mary Campbell Carson, born Watson. Tragedy was to dog the small family early on with Mr Carson passing away in 1877 leaving his pregnant wife to give birth to Thomas on her own. This might account for the confusion surrounding his birth as, depending on what records are consulted, he was born either in West Derby, Lancashire (where his father had been employed) or in Dumfries, Scotland from whence his mother hailed.

The 1881 Scotland census records that a 3 year old Thomas was living in Church St. Glencaple, Caerlaverock, Dumfriesshire along with his mother and older siblings Agnes (13), Jessie (6) and James (5). Ten years later at the time of the 1891 Scotland census, the family had moved and were living at 6 Balcarres St in Edinburgh. A 13 year old Thomas was a school boy and only older brother James was still in residence. Sister Jessie had passed away on 17 February 1883 at the age of 11 adding yet another painful blow to the Carson family.

Quite what decided the young man to leave his maternal home is unknown but at some point in the 1890’s he determined to move to South Africa finding himself in that country when the Anglo Boer War broke out in October 1899. The reasons for the conflict are many suffice it to say that, in the final analysis the war was fought between the two Boer Republics of the Orange Free State and Transvaal and the British Empire over the right to participate more freely in the economic and political affairs of these two Republics.

A typical Colt Gun section with Gunner, ammunition loaders and subaltern at the ready.

Thomas enlisted on the eve of war with Bethune’s Mounted Infantry and was assigned no. 605 and the rank of Trooper - Mr J. Hildebrandt of No 1 Airedale Villas, Cape Town was listed as his next of kin. (Jacob Henry Hildebrandt had married Carson’s sister Agnes Crichton Carson in Johannesburg on 21 November 1896). Completing the attestation papers for service on 24 October 1899 he was one of the first to enlist with this unit which had been raised at Durban in October 1899 by Major E C Bethune, 16th Lancers. The regiment was in on the action almost from the start of hostilities and were present at General Hildyard's action at Willow Grange on the night of 22nd November 1899, doing good service there - at Colenso on 15th December 1899, the regiment, 500 strong, was present but was detailed as portion of the baggage-guard thereby missing out on the action which yielded a number of casualties for the British and Colonial forces.

When General Buller commenced the movement by which he attempted to turn the right of the Boer positions between himself and Ladysmith, Bethune's Mounted Infantry was split up, a squadron being left under General Barton at Frere and Chieveley, in which district they were constantly employed on reconnaissance duties, and had some sharp casualties. The remainder of the corps accompanied their commander to Potgieter's Drift, where they were attached to General Lyttelton's Brigade, and had skirmishing on various occasions. On the 24th January, at Spioenkop General Lyttelton sent the 2nd Scottish Rifles, the 3rd King's Royal Rifles, and Colonel Bethune, with two of his squadrons, to assist but they were kept in reserve by General Talbot Coke, probably because the role of lining the trenches was rather that of the infantry present.

During the Vaal Krantz operations the corps continued to do patrol work, chiefly on General Buller's right and rear. On 11th February Colonel Bethune was ordered to take his men to Greytown, in order to watch the Boers near the Zululand border, and also with the view of ultimately co-operating from Greytown in any movement towards Dundee. The regiment thus missed the fierce fighting which took place near Colenso between 13th and 27th February.

Three days after Ladysmith had been relieved Carson took his leave of Bethune’s transferring to the South African Light Horse with no. 1332 where he was with the Colt Gun detachment. This outfit saw much skirmishing and was very active as it accompanied Buller in his drive to rid Natal of the Boer forces – work which required a great deal of resolve against a resolute enemy.

The Colt Gun used in the war was the Colt Model 1895 (calibre .303). It was sometimes referred to as a "tape gun"; the rounds being placed in a thin cloth belt (hence "tape") rather than a thicker webbing belt of the Maxim. The Colt was air cooled and later became known as the "potato digger" due to the action-actuating arm under the barrel swinging forcefully up and down in the firing cycle.

Usually employed on a wheeled carriage, it could be quickly detached from its mount and deployed in a less conspicuous manner. The lightness of the Colt made it much more suitable for mobile warfare and there are numerous references to those in Carson’s detachment being mentioned in Buller’s despatches. The crew of a Colt Gun would normally have been comprised of a gunner, a loader, and one or two ammunition carriers - the two guns of a section being directed by a subaltern.

Carson stayed with the S.A.L.H. on detachment until returning to Bethune’s M.I. on 13 November 1900 – 6 days before he took his final discharge on 19 November 1900. He was awarded the Queens medal with clasps Tugela Heights and the Relief of Ladysmith for his effort.

After the cessation of hostilities Carson appears to have settled in the Transvaal where, on 3 April 1918, at the age of 33 and resident at 14 Rose Street, Johannesburg, he wed 22 year old Margaret Russell Scott who had been born in East London in the Eastern Cape and who was living at 13 Simmer's East Cottages in Germiston. (This was probably mine accommodation for employees and family of Simmer and Jack Gold Mine). Interestingly, given the confusion alluded to at the beginning in respect of where he was born, the marriage certificate awards that honour to Liverpool which further muddies the waters.

Carson lived to an advanced age passing away at the Glenwood Nursing Home, 23 Manning Road Durban, on 23 April 1965. It was claimed that he was 91 years and 4 months old. His wife had predeceased him on 28 November 1950. There had been children of the union – Doreen Margaret Blundy and Elizabeth Gibbs.

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A Colt Gun detachment man with Bethune's and the S.A.L.H. 8 months 1 week ago #69163

  • rdarby
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Very interesting Rory. I think you have given me some context on my man Vellacarde whom I just posted about. His records are also tangled between BMI and the SALH. A group of BMI must have gone over to SALH and back again. I wonder if any record exists?

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