- Queens South Africa Medal with clasps Cape Colony, Orange Free State and Transvaal to 34805 Tpr. J.W. Chippett, Damant’s Horse
John Chippett was born in Humansdorp in the Eastern Cape in about 1881 the son of Frederick Adolphus Chippett, a Harness Maker by profession, and his wife Sarah Anna Martha Susanna Chippett (born Charsley)
He would have received, at best, a rudimentary education with his intended future career being heavily influenced by his surroundings. The Eastern Cape and Humansdorp in particular was a sparsely populated area in late Victorian times with farming and the industries and occupations that supported that rustic pursuit. Small wonder then that a young Chippett followed in his father’s footsteps becoming a Harness Maker as well.
The closing months of 1899 saw the eruption onto the world’s stage of the Anglo Boer War. Essentially a conflict between the two Boer Republics of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State and the might of the British Empire; the Eastern Cape was mostly unaffected but this reprieve wasn’t going to last and, as the war wore on developing into a guerrilla-type struggle, the Eastern Cape became a target for marauding Boer Commando’s in their quest to expand their operations towards the coast.
Chippett, at the age of 19 enlisted with Gorringe’s Flying Column for service on 7 January 1901 - Gorringe’s column was raised by Lt. Colonel G.F. Gorringe and saw much service against various Boer Commandos in the Cape. On 19 February 1901 the G.F.C.’s, or Gorringe’s Light Oxen as they were sometimes called because of the “rapidity” of their movements, were in the Bethesda Road area of the Eastern Cape hot on the heels of the Boer Commandant Gideon Scheepers who had split off from Kritzinger in an attempt to evade capture.
Kritzinger himself was in an engagement with Col Gorringe north of Cradock at the Fish River Station on 23 and 24 February but gave the British the slip and on 3 March 1901 surrounded the village of Pearston. Interestingly it seemed to be almost a family affair as his brother Edward as well as two Charsley cousins also served with the unit at the same time.
Chippett didn’t remain long with them before taking his discharge on 11 April 1901 only to attest for service in Damant’s Horse a month later on 10 May 1901. It is the Attestation Papers for this enlistment that we have to thank for most of what we know about Chippett’s earlier life.
Assigned no. 34805 and the rank of Trooper, Chippett was 20 years of age and a Saddler by trade when he joined. Previously known as Rimington's Guides, Damant’s Horse were resuscitated under one of their old leaders, Major Frederick Damant. Major Damant was put in command of a small column, including his own corps, which took part in the operations of Charles Knox and Bruce Hamilton between April and September 1901. In the despatch of 8th October he was mentioned "for very able command of a column in south of Orange River Colony, a most gallant and exceptionally good officer".
In September the column was taken to Heilbron. On the 13th October Major Damant engaged 300 Boers near Naude's Drift, on the Wilge River, and two days later encountered a commando 500 strong, under Commandants Ross and Hattingh, which he drove towards the Bothasberg. Among the prisoners taken on this occasion was Adjutant Theron. On the 25th Major Damant returned to Frankfort, bringing in with him 19 prisoners and much stock. Lord Kitchener was quoted as saying, "Some minor night raids by Major Damant's corps have resulted in the capture of 12 other prisoners". In these affairs they escaped with comparatively few casualties, because their work was most skilfully carried through.
The despatch of 8th December 1901 contains the following passage, very flattering to the work Damant’s Horse: "Since the fifteenth of November successful operations have been carried out by Major Damant, operating from Frankfort, along the valley of the Vaal. Frequent captures have been made by this unit, who have exhibited marked ability in adapting themselves to the peculiar methods of Boer warfare. It would be tedious, indeed, to give in detail the many minor successes which have rewarded their energy and ingenuity".
In the despatch of 8th January 1902, after referring to De Wet's successful rushing of the camp of a Yeomanry battalion at Tweefontein, in the Harrismith district, in the early morning of 25th December 1901, Lord Kitchener said: "Another very determined attack was also made upon Lieutenant Colonel Damant's column in the vicinity of Tafel Kop, between Frankfort and Vrede. On the evening of the 19th December, this column, together with Colonel Rimington's troops, who had also moved from Heilbron to Frankfort, marched from the latter town towards Tafel Kop to cover the extension of the blockhouse line in that direction. They moved throughout the night by two parallel roads, some three miles apart, and to the north of the proposed line of blockhouses, and, after circling round Tafel Kop, were at daybreak in the vicinity of Bacchante Farm. Here a resolute attack was suddenly made by some 800 Boers, under General Wessels, upon Colonel Damant's advanced guard, who were deceived by the khaki disguise of the enemy, and their clever imitation of the formation usual with regular mounted troops.
To complete the deception the enemy even fired volleys, as they approached Colonel Damant's men, in the general direction of some Boers who were escaping across the front of the two forces. This clever ruse enabled them to get sufficiently close to Colonel Damant's troops to anticipate them by a few yards in the occupation of the crest of a kopje which commanded the whole field, including the guns and the main body of our troops. Lieutenant Colonel Damant's men displayed the utmost gallantry, holding on to their inferior position so as to save the two guns which accompanied the advanced guard, and every officer and man, except four, of the leading troops was shot down before reinforcements, which were pushed forward from the main body and from Colonel Rimington's column directly firing commenced, could arrive upon the scene.
The appearance of these reinforcements compelled the Boers to relinquish their attack, and they fled over the Wilge River, pursued for some miles by Colonel Rimington's troops. Since the date of this affair the troops of Colonels Rimington and Damant have continued to operate in the neighbourhood of Tafel Kop, where I am reinforcing them by two of the newly formed battalions of Royal Artillery Mounted Rifles, and by the Canadian Scouts under Major Ross". The losses of Damant's Horse were severe, but nothing like those of the 91st Company Imperial Yeomanry, which had 32 hit out of 40, and, in the words of Lord Kitchener, "sacrificed itself almost to a man to save Damant's guns.
In the despatch of 8th February 1902 it was stated that "in the north of the Orange River Colony columns under Lieutenant Colonels Keir and Wilson, together with Damant's Horse, have acted vigorously wherever opportunity offered against the enemy's bands". The corps took part in many driving operations in this district, and when it was seen, after Lord Methuen's defeat, that the Western Transvaal was insufficiently supplied with troops, the columns of Keir, Wilson, and Damant marched through Vrede to Volksrust to entrain for Klerksdorp. They were at once again put into the field, and took part in the last big operations under General Ian Hamilton, which destroyed the power of Delarey in the Western Transvaal. In the drive of 23rd and 24th March 80 miles were covered in twenty-four hours. In this operation the corps had 2 killed. On the 31st March the Boers made a most determined attack on the column of Colonel Cookson near Boschbult, and a fight as fierce as, and on a bigger scale than, that at Tafel Kop took place. Damant's Horse again did well.
As can be surmised Damant’s Horse were often in the thick of things and Chippett, no doubt, was in on the action. On 1 April 1902 he took his discharge from this unit at Cape Town, Medically Unfit, after 327 days of service and with a Character rating of Very Good. This was on the back of the findings by a Medical Board convened at No. XX Hospital, Elandsfontein on 20 March 1902. The Medical History of an Invalid forms completed on the occasion confirmed that Chippett was a “Harness Maker or Saddler” and that he was 21 years old. The disease he was found to be suffering from was twofold – Enteric Fever (the scourge of the Boer War) and Dental Caries (hardly life threatening).
The Doctors remarked that, “The patient states he first felt ill in the beginning of February while on the line of march near Frankfort, O.R.C. He was admitted to hospital at Heilbron on the 6th of February and was transferred here on the 8th February. It was an ordinary attack but it has left him debilitated.” With regards to the Dental Caries they commented that, “In the upper jaw nine teeth are absent and in the lower eight. His teeth have got worse on the march. The condition is the result of service not of climate and has not been aggravated by interference, vice or misconduct.”
As far as the permanency of the condition was concerned – the Doctors commented that, “He will not be able to earn any livelihood for the next two months. After that time it will not interfere at all.” The suggested treatment made for interesting reading,
“Rest in bed and Plain Milk Diet. Chlorine mixture and quinine. Later tonics suitable and generous diet.”
The advice must have been taken as two months later to the day (2 June 1902) Chippett enrolled for service with the Kimberley Horse at Port Elizabeth. Assigned no. 43215 and the rank of Trooper he would have known that the war was over by two days (or perhaps word hadn’t reached him). His attestation papers confirmed that he had prior service with both Gorringe’s Flying Column and Damant’s Horse and that he had been discharged from both with a Character rating of Very Good. Service with the Kimberley Horse was never going to be a lengthy one and Chippett took his leave of the regiment on 20 June 1902 – the day it was disbanded.
Now out of uniform he returned to his civilian pursuits in Humansdorp meeting and marrying Hester Jemima Jackson. Hester was to bear him a son who was given his father’s names, Frederic Adolphus, although he was given the nickname “Mannie”
On 4 August 1914 the world was at war on a far larger scale than had been the case twelve years before. The call went out to South African men to enlist for service in, initially, German South West Africa and thereafter, once the Germans had been defeated there on 9 July 1915, for service either in German East Africa or the slaughter fields on the Western Front in France and Flanders. Chippett missed out on the first phase of the war choosing to enlist for service in German East Africa with the 7th South African Infantry regiment, part of the 2nd .S.A.I. Brigade. Assigned no. 10265 and the rank of Private he was taken on strength on 20 March 1916 embarking at Durban about the 1st May 2016 aboard the “Armadale Castle” where after he disembarked at Kilindini on 8 May 1916 and commenced operations against Otto Von Lettow-Vorbeck and his Askaris. At this point in time he and his family had moved to Port Elizabeth and were resident at 14 Todd Street, North End.
It wasn’t long before Chippett fell prey to Dysentery followed by Malaria – neither of these uncommon among European troops who were wholly unsuited to a life in the pestilential conditions that existed in the tropics. He was admitted to 14 Casualty Clearing Station at Ugiome with dysentery on 4 July 1916 and released to duty on the 28th July. This was followed by a bout of Malaria which hospitalised him on 31 October 1916 necessitating his removal back to the Union aboard the Hospital Ship “Aragon” disembarking at Durban on Christmas Day 1916. He was discharged from the army on 3 March 1917 and one could be forgiven for thinking that it was the end of the military road for him. Not so – on 1 May 1917, at the age of 37, he attested for service on the Western Front with the 2nd South African Infantry Battalion.
Assigned no. 15297 and the rank of Private he embarked at Cape Town for England on 25 June 1917 aboard the “Walmer Castle”. Once in England he was sent on to Rouen arriving there on 23 October 1917 where he joined “B” Company, 2nd S.A.I. in the field. The war on the Western Front theatre was a particularly gruesome one which generated thousands of fatalities in seemingly endless assaults where only a few feet of ground would be gained to be lost again with many lives expended a day or so later. It was into this seething cauldron that Chippett stepped and, as was the case with so many, he wasn’t to emerge from it.
Marshall Foch assumed control of the sector of the front where Chippett was with his first aim being to push the Germans back behind their prepared defences and destroy their reserves with continual methodical attacks on limited fronts. This initial campaign of destruction had begun on the 8th August and continued through to the 26th September 1918. The plan was on target and by the 24th September Ludendorff and his German army were in their last lines of defence, and the end of the war on the Western Front was in sight.
On 6th October 1918 the South Africans once again prepared to go into battle with the 2nd Regiment (Chippett’s) on the right and the 4th on the left with the 1st Regiment in support, to destroy the remnants of the Beaurevoir line in the Siegfried zone. 0n the7th and 8th October 1918 the SA Brigade moved into the Siegfried lines at Bony and by 3.30 am on the 8th had occupied its battle position.
Lieutenant-Colonel Bamford, the commanding officer of the 2nd Regiment was wounded during this movement. Supported by Whippet tanks the 2nd Regiment made its objective by 7o’clock taking 500 prisoners, two anti-tank guns, seventeen machine guns and four field-pieces. The 3-4 mile advance by the allied forces had not come cheaply, the 1st Regiment had been caught in a barrage and suffered 23 casualties, and the 4th Regiment faced heavy machine gun fire and suffered 49 deaths and 194 wounded.
Tragically Chippett was one of the deaths reported above. His Death Notice confirmed that he was 36 years old and survived by his wife Hester Jemima Chippett, nee Jackson as well as his child, Frederick, and two of his wife's children from her first marriage - Cecilia and Michael. Today he is remembered with honour in the Beaurevoir Communal British Cemetery – a life given in the cause of freedom.
The following user(s) said Thank You: Brett Hendey, QSAMIKE
Thank you for another very interesting story about a man who seemingly would have chosen a life as a professional soldier had that option been open to him.
I liked the comment about Damant's Horse "adapting themselves to the peculiar methods of Boer warfare". It took the British some time to learn that it was necessary to fight fire with fire, and they may never have been comfortable with it since it wasn't traditional.
Do you know if his WWI medals were claimed by his family?