QSA (2) Defence of Ladysmith, Laing's Nek (6020 Pte. W. J. Leo. Rifle Brigade)
William J. Leo was severely wounded on the night of 10/11 December 1899 at Surprise Hill whilst serving with the 2nd Battalion, Rifle Brigade. Departing Ladysmith at 10pm, 500 men of the Battalion climbed the 600ft high square-topped kopje Surprise Hill undiscovered, which enabled Lieutenant Robert J. T. Digby-Jones, V.C., of the Royal Engineers, to destroy a 4.7-inch howitzer with gun-cotton:
'For weeks past it had been one of the most troublesome guns of the thirty-two that surround us. It had a long range and accurate aim. Its position commanded Observation Hill, part of the Newcastle Road, Cove Hill and Leicester Post, the whole of the old camp and all the line of the country away to Range Post and beyond. It was this gun that shelled the 18th Hussars out of their camp and continually harassed the Irish Fusiliers. It was constantly dropping shells into the 69th Battery and on the King's Royal Rifles at King's Post.' (The Capture of Surprise Hill, refers)
Having 'blown the breech clear out' and destroyed the screw, the order was given to retire and the line began to climb down in the darkness. As they descended, the British were met by the Pretoria Kommando, the young Deneys Reitz among its ranks. In the darkness it became increasingly difficult to differentiate friend from foe and the British resorted to fighting their way with the bayonet:
'The only way was to stoop down till you saw the edge of a broad-brimmed hat. Then you drove your bayonet through the man, if he did not shoot your first. Many a poor fellow was shot down by some invisible figure who was talking to him in English and was taken for a friend.'
Despite bayonetting their way through the Boer ranks and inflicting considerable losses, the British were subject to a ferocious and sustained enemy assault, and lost approximately 12 killed and 44 wounded, with a further six men trusted to the care of those left on the hillside being captured as the sun began to rise. By 3.30am the battle was over and the survivors slowly made their way to Leicester Post, all the while harried by Boer sniping, particularly towards the medical units.
A cairn to the memory of the Riflemen killed in action was later constructed at the base of the hill and affixed with a plaque. The gallant Lieutenant Digby-Jones was killed in action not long thereafter on 6 January 1900 when struck in the throat by a bullet. He was buried in Ladysmith Cemetery and a second cairn was erected on neighbouring Waggon Hill at the spot where he died.
A rare and interesting medal awarded to the Officer who Commanded the attack and capture of Orakau, New Zealand, 1864.
New Zealand Medal, dated 1863 to 1865 (Captn. C. Blewitt, 65th Regt.). Better than very fine.
Only eight 1863-1865 issued to the 65th. Blewitt, C. (Hon. M.-Gen. ret. pay). New Zealand War, 1863-5-5. Waikato campaign, storming and capture of Rangiawhia, and commanded a detached force at the attack and capture of Orakau; Wanganui campaign, attack and capture of Wairoa. Despatches, LG 14 June 64. Medal.
QSA (5) Cape Colony, Relief of Ladysmith, Transvaal, Orange Free State, SA01 (Lieut. C. O. B. Blewitt, Rifle Bde.), engraved naming.
Charles Oakes Bates Blewitt. Born 28th July 1875, first appointment 18th July 1896,
Lieutenant 10th December 1898.
IGS 1854 (2) Burma 1885-7, Burma 1887-89, clasp carriage altered to accommodate second clasp (7384 Pte. C. Cook 1st. Bn. Rif. Brig.) ;
QSA (3) Laing’s Nek, Belfast, South Africa 1901, date clasp loose on riband, as issued (7384 Cpl. C. Cook, Rifle Brigade.)
Charles Cook was born in Marshfield, Chippenham, Gloucestershire, in 1866, and attested for the Rifle Brigade at Bristol on 20 November 1884. He served with the 1st Battalion in India and Upper Burma from 5 October 1886 to 13 November 1892, and was promoted Corporal on 9 September 1890. Transferring to the Reserve on 20 November 1892, he was recalled to the Colours on 10 March 1900, and served with the 2nd Battalion in South Africa during the Boer War from 24 March 1900 to 21 November 1901, being promoted Sergeant on 9 August 1901. He was discharged on 25 November 1901, after 17 years and 6 days’ service.
The 2nd Battalion, Rifle Brigade, was chosen by Buller to lead a head-on assault on the strong position held by the ZARPs.
“Once the Rifles started their assault, the artillery concentrated their fire on the kopje and farmhouse, blasting it with shrapnel and lyddite. It was only this effective bombardment which saved the Rifles from devastating casualties. The Rifle Brigade’s Maxim gun under Lieut. Maclachlan was doing splendid work next to C Company. The Gordons had sent their Maxim gun under the command of Corporal Macdonald and he brought his gun into action first, close to where F Company were lying, and then moved onto G Company. It took in all about seven of these rushes and about three-quarters of an hour from the first charge to the reaching of the kopje. The last rush of about 100 yards’ distance from the kopje was the cue for the Boers to start making their getaway. The gunners kept up their fire till the last possible moment, the last shells falling just ahead of the leading riflemen. Colonel Metcalfe fell just after giving the order for the final charge, but there was no stopping the riflemen now”.
Article by G Caldwell, OMRS Journal, Autumn 1986, p152-6.
The Rifle Brigade’s casualties were high: 13 killed in action, 12 died of wounds and 57 wounded.
Pte Strange was one of the wounded and was subsequently invalided to England.