From the next City Coins auction, November 2020
Modderfontein, 17 September 1901
Douglas Haig’s account (from a letter to his sister, Henrietta, 22 September 1901):
“You will have heard ere this of the terrible losses C Squadron 17th Lancers sustained on Tuesday last. I trained the regiment from Stormberg to Tarkastad to head Smuts’ commando which had broken SW from near Dordrecht. The Squadron in question under a most capable officer (Sandeman) was holding a position about 14 miles [22,5km] from Tarkastad to prevent the enemy coming south. I was out with the squadron on the previous day (Monday) when it marched from Tarkastad. The weather for several days had been terribly wet. However, it cleared for an hour about 3 o’clock and Sandeman lunched with me (off some of those nice tin things you sent me from Cabbett) on the fatal koppie on which next day so many poor fellows were killed. I got back to Tarkastad at 9pm. Next morning was very foggy. However, his patrols reconnoitred the two passes at the exits of which Sandeman had his camp. All was reported clear, but about noon a message was sent to Sandeman that the Boers were advancing to attack his camp. A troop moved out at once. The officer in charge of it saw some men in khakee [sic] whom he took to be some of Gorringe’s column which was expected north of the post. These men levelled their rifles at him when about 200 yards [180m] distant. He shouted to them ‘Don’t fire. We are the 17th Lancers.’ (These irregular corps often fire at one another by mistake.)
The Boers, as such they proved to be, opened fire at once and emptied several saddles. Before the troop got back to camp the enemy had worked up a donga to the rear of the camp. Again, their khakee [sic] dress assisted them. They were now between Sandeman’s squadrons and another squadron which was about three miles [4,8km] distant. Seeing khakee [sic] dressed men in rear of camp, they were allowed to approach quite close before fire was opened on them. Our men held the position to the last, and not a man surrendered. Out of 130 men, 29 were killed and 41 wounded. The other men were still fighting when the next squadron came to their support and the enemy made off. All the officers were either killed or wounded.”
The 17th Lancers lost more men killed in action on that day than on any other single day in its long history, including even the Charge of the Light Brigade at Balaklava in 1854!
QSA (4) CC, Jhburg, D Hill, Witt (4656 Pte. J. Naughton, 17/Lcrs), engraved naming;
[ KSA ]
Pte Naughton was slightly wounded in the Modderfontein attack.