- Queens South Africa Medal with clasps Elandslaagte, Defence of Ladysmith, Orange Free State, Transvaal and Laing’s Nek to 190 Tpr. H.W. Sander, Natal M.R.
- Natal (Bambatha Rebellion) Medal with clasp 1906 to WDR. H.W. Sander, Natal Police
Herman Sander was born in the small settlement of New Germany, just outside Pinetown and a stones-throw away from Durban in the Colony of Natal in about 1880. His father, Ernest Herman August Sander, was a second-generation Natalian being the son of German immigrants to Natal back in the 1850’s.
As was often the case in the Victorian era, families were, of necessity, large and the Sander family were no exception with Herman being joined by a host of siblings – Hermine Dorothea Luise, Adolph Friedrich, Anna Friederica, Heinrich Johann Carl, Adolph Johannes Wilhelm, Wilhelm Heinrich Wilfred, Johan Theodor, Milda Hermina Carolina Jubileta, Ernestine Amalie Dorothea, Gertrude Elise Regina and Ernest Fred George making a total of twelve children born to Ernest and his wife Susanna Maria (born Dinkelmann) – with the duplication of names among the many children it must have been an interesting and noisy household.
The Sander family, Herman Wilhelm is the tall chap to the right in the back row - next to him is brother Adolph Friedrich who also fought at Elandslaagte.
Mr Sander was a Farmer by occupation and both sons and daughters would have been put to work after they had received a rudimentary education from the local Lutheran Minister. There was little in the way of entertainment in the late 19th century which meant that, partially to relieve the boredom, young men would enlist with the local regiment or militia. This was the ideal way to meet other fellows and build up a network of friends.
Herman and many of his brothers were no different and, himself included, at least four of them enlisted with the Natal Mounted Rifles at some point in the late 1890’s. Being of farming stock they were good horsemen and would have known their way around a rifle, making them ideal candidates for the Natal Mounted Rifles – the regiment to which they gravitated.
Sander enlisted on 20 September 1899 and was assigned No. 190 and the rank of Trooper. War clouds had been looming over South Africa for quite some time with animosity between the two Boer Republics of the Orange Free State and the Transvaal, on the one hand, and the might of Imperial Britain on the other. This finally erupted into what we now know as the Anglo Boer War on 11 October 1899.
As can be seen from Sander’s attestation date – the Colony of Natal had been placed on alert some weeks before this as the call went out to Colonials to muster with one or other of the local units in preparation for war. The N.M.R. were mobilized on 29 September with Boer commandos having already massed at the Natal border. The only Imperial presence in the Colony was the garrison based in and around Dundee in Northern Natal. General Sir George White, recently arrived to take command in Natal, based his headquarters in Ladysmith and it to this small, dusty town that Natal volunteers were sent on mobilization.
Three Squadrons of the N.M.R. entrained in Durban for Ladysmith on 1 October 1899 and, having arrived early the next morning, made their temporary home at the town’s showgrounds. Patrolling, both day and night, was their lot for the first while until news reached the town on the 13th October that a large force of Boers were coming over the Drakensberg pass from the Orange Free State to engage them. Orders to boot and saddle were given and a large force wormed its way out in the pounding rain and dark of night. After a thorough search of the area no Boer force was found and they returned to camp.
On 20 October General French left Ladysmith with a large body of troops to ascertain the situation at Elandslaagte, a railway siding between the town and Dundee, where the Boers had attacked and captured a supply train. Orders were to clear the neighbourhood of the enemy and cover the reconstruction of the railway and telegraph lines. An N.M.R. Trooper gave an account of the battle that followed in the official history of the regiment. It read as follows:
“We galloped all the way, doing the journey (to Elandslaagte) in two hours, and immediately took up position: “A” Squadron as escort to the artillery and armoured train, Squadrons “B” and “C” on the left of the Gordon Highlanders, after joining the cavalry to cut off the retreat. We were three hours in the firing line. The early sunset saved many of the foe. At 6.45 it was dark, and a mist, drenching all, came over. About 8 o’ clock began the grim work of relieving the wounded – it was too late to bring them in; volunteers were called for to search the field, and nearly all our men went out. We left Elandslaagte as advance guard at 2 a.m. daybreak revealed the awful effect of shell fire. Horses by the dozen, saddled and bridled, were lying dead; hundreds, unsaddled were awaiting owners. The regiment did not reach camp that morning till 9 a.m. It suffered no casualties.”
Stung by rumours and assertions in the popular press to the effect that the N.M.R. had played a secondary role, Captain Murray-Smith’s letter appeared in a Durban paper on 25 October – it read as follows:
“Our men have been doing a lot of work and they don’t seem to be named in the papers. They were the only volunteer corps at Elandslaagte. Buck up the Durban newspapers, as the men say their efforts are no appreciated by their own papers. From what I can see the Natal Mounted Rifles are quite as good as any other mounted corps.”
Back in Ladysmith everyone was asking - where was Buller? On 24 October White decided to make a demonstration against one of the enemy-held hills surrounding Ladysmith. This was on the Modder Spruit side known as Tinta ‘Nyoni. The N.M.R. was an integral part of the 5300 men who moved out of Ladysmith at 05h00, proceeding along the Newcastle road for about 6 miles before the column came under fire. Fierce fighting at between one to two hundred yards ensued although the advance, thanks to accurate and persistent firing from the Boers, was held up making even withdrawal a dangerous affair.
The N.M.R. were ordered across from White’s right and sent on in front of his left flank. An eye witness account claimed that, “The colonial riflemen went with such skill into the maze of broken ground below the mountain, that they not only succeeded in outflanking the outflankers, but actually drove by enfilade fire all of the Kroonstad Commando, who were upon the right of Tinta ‘Nyoni, far back across the hill towards where the Winburgers lay at the eastern extremity. All danger had been removed, and the object accomplished.”
The retreating troops from Dundee now arrived in Ladysmith to swell the numbers and further reduce the meagre rations on offer – the siege was beginning to bite and take its toll on both men and horses. Where was Buller? Ladysmith was being shelled almost daily (the Boers respected the Sabbath) and life was becoming very monotonous. A new gun had been placed on Gun Hill by the Boers at some point in November which further added to the discomfort being experienced in the town.
White and his staff couldn’t be seen to be doing nothing so a surprise night attack, kept secret, was planned. Nevinson in his “Ladysmith, the Diary of a Siege” expanded on this:
“…….24 N.M.R. men all under the command of Colonel Royston, suddenly received orders to march on foot along the Helpmekaar road. About 600 went, though only 200 took part in the final enterprise.”
I won’t bore the reader with the details, well-known, of how the attack was executed but suffice it to say that it led to the destruction of one of the Boers “Long Toms”and provided them with a scare that jolted them out of their complacency. It was unknown whether or not Sander was one of the combatants.
The siege dragged on being relieved, finally on 1 March 1900 – Buller had finally arrived but to what? Scenes of haggard men, many riddled with enteric fever, would have confronted him. Of horses there were almost none remaining and of nutritious food, none at all. For three months the besieged had weathered the storm and a period of recuperation was now in store for the men. The Colonial volunteers repaired to nearby Highlands outside Estcourt to recharge their batteries and restore their health.
Not long after, Buller, with momentum now on his side, drove the Boers out of Dundee, and with the battle of Laing’s Nek in which Sander also participated, out of Natal as well. The authorities decided, at this point, that the Volunteer Corps must be disbanded and the men thanked and sent home. There was an outcry about this as it deprived the Colonials of the opportunity to earn the Kings Medal and other clasps unless they were part of the 300 men, from all Volunteer regiments, who came forward to join the Natal Voluntary Composite Regiment. Sander was not one of these.
The war over on 31 May 1902 peace returned to Natal. Sander, a Carpenter by trade, busied himself with his civilian pursuits until, on 11 December 1905, he enlisted with the Natal Police as a Warder with no. 3709. On attestation he would have had no inkling that the Natal Police would be playing a pivotal role in the Bambatha Rebellion not many months later.
Aged 26 years and 7 months he claimed to be a Farmer by occupation and a Lutheran by way of religious affiliation. Standing 5 feet 11 inches tall he had a fair complexion, fair hair and grey eyes and provided his father, Ernest Sander of Newcastle, Natal as his next of kin. On 11 April 1906 with the aforementioned Bambatha Rebellion well underway, he was transferred to the Mounted Branch and would have been with the N.P. contingent which helped hunt down the recalcitrant rebel, Bambatha, in Mome Gorge on the edge of the Nkandla Forest in Zululand a couple of months later.
There were many Police involved in the Rebellion and it would be pure supposition to place Sander at any specific action. The Rebellion over towards the end of 1906, he was promoted, after a year’s service, to 1st Class Trooper and deemed to be a 2nd class Zulu linguist – a prerequisite in those days if you wanted to be efficient at your work.
Just prior to that, on 1 November 1906, Sander was transferred as Warder to the Gaol attached to the Glencoe Colleries in Northern Natal, and it was from here, on 3 June 1907, that he was discharged from the force, Service No Longer Required, and with a character rating of Good. At this time the Natal Government was undergoing a fresh round of cost-cutting measures and the Police establishment was drastically reduced in number. He could well have been a victim of this but the comment in pencil on his Record of Service might have been the real reason – it read, “Very heavily in debt.”
For his efforts Sander was awarded the Natal medal with 1906 clasp in the rank of Warder.
Herman Sander passed away at the Entabeni Nursing Home in Durban at the age of 54 years 8 months on 4 February 1934. He was a Carpenter employed by the South African Railways & Harbours at the time of his death and was resident at 859 Fynnlands Road, Wentworth, Durban. He was survived by his wife, Johanna Maria Matilda Sander (born Westermeyer) and his only child, Reinhold Ernest Adolph Sander who had been born on 2 October 1914.
By way of illustrating quite how rural now suburban Durban was then, Sander bequeathed two head of cattle to his beneficiaries as well as his Dodge Motor Car. He had £118 in trust with hiss Attorney’s J.T. Cooper & Son and £70 in his Post Office Savings Book.
The following user(s) said Thank You: QSAMIKE, jim51
Thanks to Brian Conyngham who dropped in to the Bergtheil Museum in Westville outside Durban on my behalf; I am able to include a picture of my man and his family (I have included it in the story above)
Here is the medal to his brother, Adolph Friedrich, (Fred), one of the 3 casualties (1 KIA, 2 WIA) at Lombards Kop on 30th November and thus was evacuated on one of the last trains to the hospital at Pietermaritzburg.
Thanks to Rory for sharing the photo with me, Fred is on the rear, to the left of his brother.
As many will know I am relentless in the pursuit of any photographs pertaining to my medal recipients. On this occasion a contact with a Sander relative in Arizona paid dividends and I am able to add to his "photographic" story with the item below.