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Captain John E. Orr, 1st Imperial Light Horse, M.I.D. W.I.A. (Elandslaagte) 2 years 9 months ago #68674

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John Ernest Orr , Mentioned in Dispatches & Wounded in Action

Captain, “C” Squadron, 1st Imperial Light Horse
Secretary to the Military Governor of Pretoria – Anglo Boer War
Lt. Colonel and Officer Commanding – 2nd Imperial Light Horse – post Boer War


- Queens South Africa Medal with clasps Cape Colony, Elandslaagte, Defence of Ladysmith, Orange Free State, Transvaal and South Africa 1901 named to Capt. J.E. Orr, Imp. Lt. Horse

John Orr was a product of his times. A colossus who made his mark on everything he attempted –both in the military sphere, in business, and as an International Rugby player who turned out for Scotland in the Four Nations twelve times. Born in Neilston, Renfrewshire on 28 August 1865, he was the son of Robert Orr, a wealthy Manufacturer and owner of the Crofthead Mill, a Cotton Spinner and Thread Making enterprise employing 210 Males and 512 Females, and his wife Mary.

Our first glimpse of John comes courtesy of the 1871 Scotland census. Aged 5, he was at home in Shore Road, Heywood, in Largs, Ayrshire along with his parents and siblings – older brother James (6), Charles (4), twins Archibald and Francis (2) and Mary (1). Mr Orr’s brother, James Graham Adam Orr (6) and a myriad of servants in the form of Jessie Fosler, Agnes Bordon, Margaret Gibson, Jane McWhinney, Isabella Findlayson and James Young were also in residence – as if to reinforce the fact that the Orr’s were a wealthy family.



Cowden House

Ten years later, at the time of the 1881 census, a 15 year old Orr was a boarder and pupil at the prestigious King Williams College, a Public School on the Isle of Man. He might have been far from home but he wasn’t alone – his brother James was a fellow pupil – all under the Headmastership of the inspirational Joshua Hughes-Games. His father, Robert, had meanwhile taken over the business from his Uncle James and had moved the family to Cowden House Hall – a mansion of truly Victorian proportions.

Having furthered his education in Nancy, France, Orr returned to Scotland and, as was customary for young gentlemen, joined the local militia – the Volunteer Service Gazette of 1 March 1884, enlightening us to the fact that, on 27 February 1884, John Ernest Orr, Gent. to be Lieutenant (Supernumerary) from 27 February 1884 with the 3rd Renfrewshire. He also immersed himself in the game of Rugby for which he had a natural aptitude; kicking off his international career against Ireland on 16 February 1889 when 23 years old. As a forward he enjoyed success against Ireland again when, on 22 February 1890, he scored a try and added two points in a 5 – 0 victory over the men from the Emerald Isle. He repeated his performance against Wales on 7 February 1891, adding 1 point and 1 try to the scoreboard and, against England (the old enemy) on 7 March 1891, he added 1 point and 1 try to help the victory margin to 9 – 3. Of his 12 games for Scotland – 9 were wins with 1 draw and 2 losses – an enviable record. His last game was played against England at Leeds on 4 March 1893 in what was an 8 – 0 drubbing in Scotland’s favour.

The 1891 Scotland census informs us that Orr was back under his father’s roof and applying his considerable acumen in the business of the mill. Now 25 years of age, he was not alone in the sprawling house – his many siblings were in residence, along with a plethora of servants who were on hand to pander to the family’s every whim. He was also something of an innovator – the Bradford Daily Telegraph of 16 February 1892 – informed their readers under “Applications for patents” that John Ernest Orr, applied for a patent for “improvements in spinning and twisting machinery”.

It was out of this environment of privilege and undoubted success that John Orr stepped in February 1896, deciding to move away from home and seek his fortune in the Transvaal in far-away South Africa.

A newspaper report dated 3 April 1899 quoted a travelling sportsman as follows: “Amongst others we met there Gordon Beves, John E. Orr, the Scotch forward; Abe Bailey and W.M. Clarke, of racing fame, all of who are known at home”. Orr, with a myriad of first rate connections amongst the “Royalty” of Johannesburg, was carving out a highly successful career for himself as the Manager of the Clydesdale Collieries Company.

Life could simply not be better but dark clouds were looming on the horizon. Clouds that threatened to destroy his Utopian existence. Orr was, in late 1899, in the very nerve centre of the Transvaal Economy. He was an “Uitlander”, a foreigner, the very epitome of what the old Transvaal President, Paul Kruger, despised most. The Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek, over which he held sway with an iron rod, had become increasingly dependent on the revenues generated by the mines and industries of the Witwatersrand, for his Government’s survival.
Threatened by the sheer enormity of their success and their ever increasing numbers, he persistently denied them the franchise or any say in the affairs of state.

This led to increasing resistance from the foreigners, mainly men of British origin, and they made it known to their Home Government that the situation they found themselves in was grossly unfair. Emotions ran at a fever pitch and, on 11 October 1899, Kruger’s Government sent an ultimatum to England demanding that any troops gathered on her borders be removed, failing which a state of war would exist between the two countries. Needless to say there was no response and the world woke up to war on 12 October.

Knowing full well that the mines and industries of the “Rand” would be one of Kruger’s first targets; most “Uitlanders”, several weeks before the outbreak of hostilities, had fled in panic for the coast, boarding what trains there were. Most fled to Durban in the Colony of Natal to weigh up their options. One of the first regiments to be raised among those who had left Johannesburg was the, soon to be famous, Imperial Light Horse. John Orr was one of its founding members. But let us, for the moment, return to Johannesburg on the “eve” of war.

The South Wales Daily News of 29 September 1899, under the banner “Other Arrests Probable” reported thus: -

‘Johannesburg, Wednesday, via Newcastle, Natal – The oft denied intention of the Pretoria Executive to arrest the leading Uitlanders can no longer be in doubt, for the work has actually commenced. The first victim is Mr John Robertson, a clerk in the service of the Clydesdale Collieries Company. The ostensible cause of the arrest is that he has been endeavoring to obtain recruits for the Imperial Light Horse Regiment, which is being raised in Natal, just across the border, to the extreme exasperation of the Boers. It is alleged that Mr Robertson has been going about the Rand tempting men to join in this treasonable work. But as far as can be ascertained the only ground for connecting him with such illegal recruiting lies in the fact that the chief manager of the Clydesdale Collieries, Mr John Orr, has obtained a commission as captain in the Imperial Light Horse. Mr Robertson is now in gaol’.




But what better way to convey the actions of the I.L.H. in the opening round of the Anglo Boer War than through the pen of one of its rank and file – the chaps that ‘experienced’ the battles and the skirmishes into which the regiment was soon thrown. The West Somerset Free Press of 25 November 1899 carried a number of letters “home” from their sons at the front. The first, penned by Jack Drurie from Pietermaritzburg on 4 October 1899 read, in part, as follows: -

‘My dear Father, - Well I must tell you about the whole concern. The corps is raised and financed by men in Johannesburg, granted by Mr Chamberlain, and now handed over to the Imperial Government. We are 500 strong – six squadrons, three troops to each – armed with rifles only. We are in the show-ground, tents fixed in the centre, stables all round. A good useful lot of horses and, I may say, a fine body of men – the Colonel says so. He complimented us on inspection yesterday, and said if he had the drilling of us for five days more he would not wish for a better lot.

Every man had to pass a strict medical examination, as well as be able to ride and shoot. Lots and lots have been thrown out through not being able to ride well enough. Jack Orr is my Captain, R Johnson and Normand two of the Lieutenants in the troop. I am a Corporal. It is almost like Johannesburg with so many men from there that you know.

You know I look upon the Rand now as my home, and I want to do a little to make it a white man’s country. We may be off next week very probably; but we are about ready to leave at any moment; nearly all the kit is supplied. It is nearly ready to be settled one way or the other now, and I think it can only be properly settled by war. We will give the Boers a good hiding….’

The next letter was written to “Dear Alec” from Ladysmith and dated 26 October 1899 – three days after the epic battle of Elandslaagte in which the I.L.H. had distinguished itself. It read, again in part, as follows: -

‘The best thing to begin with is, I suppose, that I got off scot-free from last Saturday’s affair at Elandslaagte. You will have seen all about it in the papers. It was a deuce of a fight, and no mistake! And for the first time under fire it was no end of a blooding, and, without boast, I think I may so that we did a bit over what was expected of us, as our Colonel said before it he was proud of the thought of leading us into action.

Poor old chap! He went just in the hour of victory, shot in the head, but he heard the Gordons give us a cheer, and his last words were, “And well they deserve it; they have indeed fought well.”

But I had better start from the time we left Maritzburg, a week ago last Monday, in the afternoon. We got here at about 1.30 in the night, and soon got our horses and kit out; rode to the show-ground, camping there for the night. Next day we shifted on to a place in the town (Ladysmith) but we were warned by Normand (decent fellow) that we were to be turned out at 12 o’ clock for practice. When the time came we were turned out all right but not for practice, but to get ready to be off.

Extra ammunition and provisions were soon served out, and we were off long before light. A bit out of town we waited for a battery of artillery and the Liverpool Regiment (Infantry) and about 200 Hussars, making a column rather over 2000. All the way along we had scouts out, but did not find any Boers. When we got to Van Reenen’s Pass, where the Dutch had been reported to have been, but were not at home just then, we went on to Colenso, in all about 18 miles from here, and camped there the night.

At about 3 o’ clock in the morning, we were up and on the road back to Van Reenen’s Pass. And waited there well into the afternoon, but nothing turned up. The idea was to get the Dutch between us and Ladysmith, but they were “not taking any”; so came back again to Colenso. Next day (Friday) we came back again by ourselves, and instead of going back to Colenso, came on here, and had to “slog in” pitching our tents and picket lines. While busy the Gordon Highlanders passed, and we lined up and gave them cheer on cheer for the sake of Dargai. Their lines are next to ours. We were jolly glad to get under canvas at last, as at Colenso we had no end of a bad time in the open – raining every night.

But there was little rest for us as we turned out at 2.30 and were off in an hour. At about 7 o’ clock we came on the Boers, and the Natal Field Artillery at once opened fire on them, and they at once replied. I shall never forget how I felt when their shells came flying about us. Our Lieutenant had been ordered to form the rear guard for the guns, so he, not knowing any better, lined up right behind them. It was a hot place, and no mistake! But our guns were not big enough – only 7-pounders – and they were using 15.

We were out-ranged, so had to retire without anything serious happening. At about 12 we were reinforced by a battery of Royal Artillery (15-pounders ourselves this time), the Gordons, Manchesters and Devons as well as some Lancers. At about 2 we started for them again. This time it was our turn. Their guns were soon silenced and they were being shelled from the kopjes. It was fun to see them scooting like rabbits from one place to another.; but they would not come out in the open. But at last they had all got on one big kopje. Then our Colonel wanted his “cut in,” we had been skirmishing and scouting all the time, but nothing very serious.

He said to the General that if he could have two line regiments with us he would have them out of it in two hours, and before we knew what was up we were at it. And such a time! Their bullets were like hail. At first I felt jolly funny, but on we went! Independent firing, running and dropping behind a stone for a few shots; not a Boer in sight, but that rain of bullets never ceasing. As we gradually got up the hill, they had to get up from behind their stones, and we could see what to shoot at. Then the pace quickened, and we were soon at the top, and they were going back and back, but fighting well and no mistake!

I had got among the Gordons. When well on the top, the pipes started, and then there was no thought of cover, but a deadly rush, and the place was ours. Then the Lancer’s had their “cut in” and they did their lot, and no mistake! The Boers can’t stand being speared or bayoneted; they were on their knees wanting to be shot instead. It was just at the end that the Colonel was killed. I did not see him fall, as it was getting dark, but a Gordon told me that one of our Captain’s was down. I went back, and found him quite dead. Poor chap! He was the making of us, and he went – the only officer of ours to be killed, though we had a lot wounded.

Jack Orr was shot through the ear, came out at the neck. But he is nearly alright; Normand, shot through the arm, was in camp today.”

Drurie provided a stirring account indeed of what was not only his baptism of fire but that of John Orr’s as well as most of the Imperial Light Horse. Made up of mostly miners and gentlemen from the Witwatersrand, they would not have been in a fight for survival against a dedicated and competent foe before.

But what of Orr’s role in the battle? The Sheffield Daily Telegraph of 25 October carried the following passage: -

“The weather was fine yesterday, but there was a heavy Scotch mist, and travelling on the veld was heavy. Captain Orr, with twenty men of the “D” Squadron, was with Lieutenant Brooking at the capture of the station,” The station referred to was, of course, the Elandslaagte station where the Boers, up until the battle, had been firmly ensconced.

The day won, the Imperial forces made their way back to Ladysmith. The newspapers were soon full of the day’s events and the public, both at “home” and in South Africa, were relishing every account. The Glasgow Herald of 30 October 1899 carried this extract which referred to Orr: -

“The third man is Captain John E. Orr, who played as a forward so often against our international rivals. It is only a few years since Orr went to Africa, and soon after joining the Imperial Light Horse, he was made Captain. Fortunately, his wound is not dangerous; and with good nursing there is every reason to hope that he will soon be restored to his wonted health.”

Eye-witness accounts are one thing and they paint an impressive first-hand view of the proceedings but it is to the official account that we now turn for more context – the dispatch penned by Sir George White, Commanding the Forces in Natal, which was published in the London Gazette of 26 January 1900. Only those parts pertinent to the I.L.H. are quoted: -

‘As the reinforcements gradually reached him, Major General French pushed forward again, throwing our one squadron 5th Lancers and four squadrons Imperial Light Horse, under Colonel Chisholme, to the right to clear a ridge of high ground parallel to the enemy’s position, from which he considered an attack could best be developed. This movement was well carried out, the enemy’s advanced troops being driven back, and the ridge gained.

The Manchesters and Gordons, with the Imperial Light Horse on their right, continued to press forward, losing but few men until a point was reached about 1200 yards from the enemy’s camp. Here the ridge became, for 200 yards, flat and bare of stones, while to the north, where the Boers were posted, it was very rocky and afforded excellent cover. Our men, well led by their officers, and strengthened by their reserves, crossed this open neck of land in brilliant style, but the losses here were heavy, the reserves were all used up and the units completely mixed.

Moreover, the enemy’s camp, which was evidently his final position, was still 1000 yards distant. At this moment the enemy’s German contingent, who had been out on the west of the railway, trying to capture our trains, reinforced the Boers and Hollanders along the ridge. The enemy became much encouraged and from this point up to the extreme end of the horse-shoe ridge, where it overlooks the enemy’s camp, the struggle was bitter and protracted. Our men worked forward in short rushes of about 50 yards.

Many of the Boers remained lying down, shooting from behind stones until our men were within 20 or 30 yards of them, and then sometimes ran for it and sometimes stood up and surrendered. These latter individuals were never harmed, although just previous to surrendering they had probably shot down several of our Officers and men. At length the guns were reached and captured, and the end of the ridge was gained, from which the whole of the enemy’s camp, full of tents, horses and men, was fully exposed to view. A white flag was shown from the centre of the camp and Colonel Hamilton ordered the ceasefire to be sounded.




The Boer losses were heavy, being estimated at over 100 killed, 108 wounded and 188 prisoners. Our own losses were also considerable, consisting of 4 officers and 37 men killed, 31 officers and 175 men wounded, and 10 men missing. The Imperial Light Horse, and the 2nd Battalion Gordon Highlanders, who encountered the severest resistance during the progress of the attack, suffered the most severely.’

White’s dispatch to General Buller, which appeared in the London Gazette of 8 February 1901, belatedly ‘desired to bring the following officers, very specially to your notice as eminently deserving of reward for the services rendered by them’ – Captain J.E. Orr was among those listed.

Orr and the I.L.H. now fell back on Ladysmith which, from 1 November 1899 was under siege, the Boers successfully cutting the town, its people and the garrison off from the outside world. Mounting several big artillery pieces on many of the hills surrounding the town, the Boers commenced a daily bombardment, the Long Toms only falling silent on the Sabbath, a day strictly observed by the religious Boers. Orr, with the bullet having entered his right ear and passing through the left side of his neck, was incapacitated, but not permanently. He returned to duty at some point but does not appear to have played an active part in the night sortie on Gun Hill in December 1899, nor the attack on Wagon Hill on 6 January 1900 – the last determined effort by the Boer forces to break through and take Ladysmith by the scruff of the neck.

What became of him? His war was far from over, although no longer an active participant (most likely on account of the after-effects of his wound) he was destined for further accolades – the Greenock Telegraph of 4 October 1900, trumpeted the news that, “The friends in the West of Scotland of Mr J.E. Orr, who went to the front with the Imperial Light Horse, will be gratified to observe his promotion to be secretary to the Military Governor of Pretoria.” The Military Governor was General Maxwell and it was his staff Orr joined.

This announcement was followed up on the 15th October by the Scottish Referee – a champion of the sporting man – whose correspondent wrote: -

“To Rugby followers particularly, the announcement made this week of Captain J.E. Orr’s promotion to be Secretary to the Military Governor of Pretoria will be received with much satisfaction. As a Rugby footballer, Jack Orr was a power in himself, and, indeed, played a game particularly his own, but with telling effect, not only in club games, but in the more important International matches. Captain Orr was, until recently, attached to the Imperial Light Horse, and was wounded, although not severely, in the campaign. Since his recovery he has played a conspicuous part, and the post which has been given him is but a fitting reward for services rendered. We wish him every success, and hope his advancement will not stop there.”

The war over on 31 May 1902, Orr received the Queens medal with the relevant clasps. His service though, was not at an end as he continued on in the Active Citizen Force but there was time for a trip back home to the “old country” – The Barrhead News of 22 May 1904, carried the story: -

“Mr John E. Orr, the once famous football player of the West of Scotland, and ex-Captain of the Imperial Light Horse, South Africa, has arrived at Cowden Hall, on a six months holiday. It is about nine years since Mr Orr left the position of Managing Director in the Crofthead Mill to go to Johannesburg, where he became Managing Director of one of the principal mines. Shortly after the outbreak of the Boer war. He joined the Imperial forces, and was in many engagements. At the battle of Elandslaagte he was severely wounded in the neck, a bullet entering his right ear and passing out on the left side of his neck, and so hot was the fire of the Boers that a trooper who sought to place him in a place of safety was immediately shot. The stalwart ex-Captain, who is in the best of health, has a most favourable opinion of South Africa.”




Prior to his departure he had been elected a committee member of one of the most prestigious clubs in South Africa – the Wanderers Club – in Johannesburg. He went on to serve as its Chairman and was embroiled in a lively debate around the issue of the admission of coloured persons. This thorny subject remained extremely live during 1903 and tortured a Committee already strained by massive problems. Inspired by the Transvaal Rugby Union, Orr and William Dalrymple moved that non-whites be admitted to all rugby matches provided that suitable accommodation could be found for them. The Grounds Sub-Committee to which it was referred, objected and John Orr then gave notice of calling a Special General Meeting to deal with the matter. The Rugby Union then made its own request in July which, being mid-winter, always reduced the number of members present at meetings and, in the absence of Orr to enhance the recommendation, the Committee advised the Union that it could not consider it. Their embarrassment was increased by promptly receiving a letter with the same request from a Lincoln’s Inn barrister, M. K. Gandhi, recently arrived from India via Natal to work for his numerous country people in Johannesburg!

The 2nd Imperial Light Horse had been born during the Boer War under Sir Duncan McKenzie – disbanded after the cessation of hostilities, it was resurrected for a short while under the command of Orr, promoted to Lieutenant Colonel during its second lease on life. It was amalgamated with the 1st Battalion on 1 July 1908 and Orr donned his uniform for the last time. The London Evening Standard of 25 June 1909 wrote that: -

“Following on the resignation of Colonel Schumacher, commanding the Witwatersrand Rifles, Colonel Orr, of the Imperial Light Horse, and Colonel Boyd, of the Scottish Rifles, have given up their commands. The cause is the unsympathetic attitude of the Pretoria Government in the matter of financial grants to Volunteer corps in the Transvaal.”

Free from the constraints of military life, Orr at the age of 48, wed for the first time, the nuptials taking place at the Magistrate’s Office in Johannesburg on 19 October 1913 where he wed 30 year old divorcee, Florence Ethel Gertrude Grace Morrison, born Walker. His address at the time of the wedding was 48 Hunter Street, Yeoville, Johannesburg. This marriage wasn’t destined to last – aa divorcee 11 years later, on 4 September 1924, he wed fellow divorcee, Dorothy Arthurton, born Whitchair. She was a young 27 and he was 59 at the time, resident at “Hazeldine” Park Town, Johannesburg – he was Director of Companies.

In the same year he retired, purchasing one of Cape Town’s most iconic properties, “Barlgarthen” in St. James from John William Jagger, settling down, after a life of industry and activity, to peace and quiet.

John Ernest Orr passed away at the age of 70 years and 2 months at his home on 6 November 1935. He was survived by his second wife and their daughter, Glendyr (born on 9 November 1926) – his death notice also makes mention of a John Orr – an Illegitimate son. His obituary in The Scotsman of 1 May 1936 read that he was the Managing Director of Northern Lime at the time of his death, as well as a member of St. Andrews Golf Club and a former Chairman of the South African Turf Club. He left a capital sum of £11 748. His house was left to his wife, Dorothy. She died in March 1963 and her daughter Glendyr inherited the home from her mother's estate in September 1963. Glendyr's husband Dr Peter Packer, was the son of the famous South African authoress Joy Packer, wife of Admiral Sir Herbert Packer, Commander-in-Chief, South Atlantic Station, Simon's Town (1950-1952)

John Orr, the legend, was no more.








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Captain John E. Orr, 1st Imperial Light Horse, M.I.D. W.I.A. (Elandslaagte) 2 years 9 months ago #68675

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Thank You Rory, a great piece of work..... Made me sit up and take notice as I have an H.J. Orr in my collection..... Mike
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Captain John E. Orr, 1st Imperial Light Horse, M.I.D. W.I.A. (Elandslaagte) 2 years 9 months ago #68684

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Great story and a cracking medal Rory. Is it a recent acquisition or one you've had for some time?

David
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Captain John E. Orr, 1st Imperial Light Horse, M.I.D. W.I.A. (Elandslaagte) 2 years 9 months ago #68688

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It doesn't get much better than that, Rory.
Dr David Biggins
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Captain John E. Orr, 1st Imperial Light Horse, M.I.D. W.I.A. (Elandslaagte) 2 years 9 months ago #68694

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davidh wrote: Great story and a cracking medal Rory. Is it a recent acquisition or one you've had for some time?

David


Thanks David - had him since January this year

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Captain John E. Orr, 1st Imperial Light Horse, M.I.D. W.I.A. (Elandslaagte) 2 months 2 weeks ago #86940

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An overlooked (by me) photo of Orr

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