The Talana & Elandslaagte clasp group to Carbineer H.A. Craig 2 months 2 weeks ago #77197
Hugh Alexander Craig
Trumpeter, Dundee Squadron, Natal Carbineers – Anglo Boer War
Sergeant Trumpeter, Natal Carbineers – Bambatha Rebellion
- Coronation Medal (Edward VII) 1902 – unnamed as issued
- Queens South Africa Medal with clasps Talana, Defence of Ladysmith, Transvaal, Laing’s Nek and Elandslaagte to 583 TPTR. H.A. CRAIG. NATAL CARB:
- Natal Medal with 1906 clasp to SGT. TRMPTR. H.A. CRAIG, NATAL CARBINEERS
Hugh Craig had the rare distinction of being one of only nine men who qualified for and was awarded both the Talana and Elandslaagte clasps to his Queens Medal.
Born on 20 May 1880, he was the son of John Craig, a hardy old Scot who had left his native Ayrshire to seek his fortune in South Africa, and his wife, Diena Maria, a Dutch-speaking, Cape Colony-born lady whose maiden name had been Maritz. Having settled in Dundee, Natal, the Craig’s set about making a life for themselves. A Wagon builder by trade, Mr Craig would have found plenty of work in what was then a far-flung outpost of the Colony of Natal, not very far from the Transvaal border towns of Utrecht and Vryheid.
The first order of business for almost any couple in the sparsely populated hinterland was the making of a family and young Hugh would not grow up alone, being joined in the house by siblings Frank Ignatius Maritz Craig (named partially after Mrs Craig’s father in the Dutch tradition); Mary Elizabeth De Waal Craig; Diena Maria Craig; James Stephen Craig and Margaret Jane Craig. In terms of the pecking order, Hugh brought up the rear on the family farm “Goede Huis” (Good House) in the Waschbank area of Dundee in the district of Helpmekaar (help each other).
As can be imagined, Hugh and his siblings would have been raised to respect both their father’s Scottish heritage, as well as their mother’s strictly Calvanistic Dutch heritage and traditions.
On 12 February 1899, at the age of 18, Hugh enlisted with “K” Squadron (the Dundee Squadron) of the Natal Carbineers. Being a small but growing town, Dundee could only muster 30 men to add to the numbers of the parent unit headquartered in Pietermaritzburg. Being the premier peacetime regiment in Natal, the Carbineers had a wide reach with squadrons stationed at Pietermaritzburg, Richmond, Estcourt, Ladysmith, Newcastle and Dundee; each centre recruited young men from their neighbourhood to their ranks.
Tragedy struck the Craig family when, on 1 October 1899, Mr Craig passed away at the age of 76. Fortunately, all of the children were either already married or old enough to fend for themselves, leaving less of a burden on an ageing Mrs Craig. The other event of significance that year was the outbreak of hostilities between the two Boer Republics of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State and the might of Great Britain. This took place on 11 October 1899 and, with their preparations for war already well advanced, the Boer Commandos, having been massing at the Natal border, crossed over into Natal and headed, via Newcastle, to Dundee.
General Sir George White was the Officer Commanding of the Imperial garrison in Northern Natal and, having made Ladysmith his forward base, was keen to consolidate his meagre forces there, as a final bastion against the approaching Boers. General Penn-Symons had other ideas, however, and persuaded White that his force of some 4000 men, who were currently camped in Dundee, should remain there. White grudgingly agreed and so it was that the first major engagement of the Second Anglo Boer War took place on 20 October 1899 on Talana hill, some two miles to the east of the town. It was fought between an under-strength brigade of some 4,000 British and colonial troops stationed in the town, commanded by William Penn-Symons, and an invading force of Boers under the command of Vecht Generaal Lukas Meyer.
Under leaden skies, the Utrecht and Wakkerstroom Commandos occupied Talana Hill early that morning, together with three 75 mm guns of the Staatsartillerie. The Boers, having seized the initiative, now had to be knocked off the hill by a classic infantry fire-and-movement attack up the terraced slope, supported by artillery. The British force in the camp below, just outside of the town, had been caught by surprise but were quick to respond once they had been fired upon. According to Vol. ii of The Times History of the War at pages 156 and 158:
“a British battery (67th Battery RFA) opened fire with splendid promptitude and strewed the slopes of Talana with its ineffective shrapnel (it was out of range). The reaming and plunging horses were hooked in. While the 67th Battery unlimbered in the gun park and fired the shells (which) fell short of the Boers on the hill, the 13th and 69th advanced to get within effective range.
The guns with their straining teams came thundering through the outskirts of Dundee and unlimbered on a knoll to the south of the town. A minute of rapid movement, a hell broken by the hoarse orders of the section commanders and the cracking of the driver’s whips ... the 69th ... came into action at a range of 3,650 yards, barely 10 minutes having elapsed since the first Boer shells were fired.”
The forces at Penn-Symons disposal comprised the 1st King’s Royal Rifles, the 2nd Royal Dublin and 1st Royal Irish Fusiliers. The 18th Hussars were instructed to make their way to the rear of the Boer positions, and await their opportunity. Two batteries Royal Field Artillery, the 13th and 69th came up in support. The 1st Leicestershire Regiment and 67th Battery RFA were detailed as camp guards and saw no major part in the action. Colonial units included the Dundee Town Guard and Dundee Rifle Association, Natal Police, the Dundee Troop of the Natal Carbineers (including Craig) and a handful of Natal Guides. By and large, their job was to remain with the Leicestershire Regiment in the comparative safety of the army camp.
Boer forces comprised the units already mentioned, with the Middelburg, Vryheid and Piet Retief commandos taking up position on a hill known as Lennox 3, a few hundred yards south of Talana. A typical thick Natal ground mist precluded the intervention of further Boer forces stationed on Mpati Mountain to the north until the battle was almost over. The battle ebbed and flowed with the Infantry assault wavering under a heavy fire from the Boer marksmen, hidden for the most part behind rocks and boulders of which there was no short supply on the hill. Penn-Symons on mounted horse, foolishly exposed himself to enemy fire as he exhorted the men to renew their attempts to take the hill and fell, mortally wounded, soon after.
The men surged forward and, despite the withering fire from above and the friendly fire from the artillery below who had not got the correct range, mounted the summit of Talana. As they approached the Boers withdrew, fleeing down the other side to their waiting horses and cantering away. The 18th Hussars who had been sent round the hill, to prevent just such an occurrence, had lost their way and fell into the waiting arms of the Boers who promptly took many of them prisoner.
Back in the town of Dundee itself, despite their pyrrhic victory, the garrison, now under the command of General Yule (Penn-Symons having succumbed to his wound) decided that the most prudent course of action, with so few men available to him, was to fall back on Ladysmith. He simply didn’t think or believe that he could defend the town from the advancing Boer forces.
It was therefore decided to withdraw to Ladysmith, using a succession of elaborate ruses before the enemy realised they had gone. This included keeping lights and fires burning at night, ensuring that various activities took place, bugles were blown and so on. The patients in the various hospitals were to be abandoned, and most of the town’s residents were unaware that a retirement was even being contemplated. They were to be left to their own devices.
According to resident Jimmy Durham,
“Early the next morning (22 October) two officers arrived at the Swedish hospital and asked for Sgt. Durham (Dundee Troop, Natal Carbineers). My Dad went out (he was in civvies at the time) and spoke to them. Charlie and I went down to the house and helped him to saddle up Don, his troop horse. The officers said, “We are on the retreat to Ladysmith, you’ll have to guide us”.
He said “Can’t I go back and say goodbye to my family?” and they said “No”.
When the decision was made to evacuate Dundee, no communication to that effect was made to members of the Town Guard, either for security reasons or because the command element failed to remain in contact with their men. According to another Dundee luminary Samuel Benjamin Jones, the brother to Charles Jones who owned the Royal Hotel in Ladysmith before, during and after the siege: -
“Mr. H. Ryley, Chairman of the Local Board, in company with the late Hon. Harry Escombe, drove out to see the General, and to hear from him what was to be done with the Town Guard. The reply was “Hoist the white flag and surrender to the Boers”.
Others, perhaps more prudent, had already left. Captain Charles Willson, a prominent local businessman and Captain of the Dundee Troop of the Natal Carbineers, had led his Troop out of Dundee prematurely and without permission the previous day. He was court marshalled immediately he reached Ladysmith, forfeiting his command, the Troop being taken over by Captain Archibald Wales. Willson was a marked man among the Boers, many of whom had specifically asked where he was the moment they entered Dundee.
By early morning on 23 October 1899, those that knew about the evacuation and could go had left. Those that didn’t or couldn’t, waited in ignorance or fear for what the dawn might bring.
They awoke to find that the Boers had entered the town and what followed were two days of looting and mayhem, during which those inhabitants who were left kept a low profile. However, the Boers were so preoccupied with the loot they encountered in the abandoned houses, that it became too late for them to attempt any sort of pursuit of General Yule’s retiring column.
According to Stirling, the Carbineer contingent must have left Dundee earlier than Yule’s column, because “on 23rd Colonel Royston got permission to send out Captain Wales and 24 of the Carbineers (Dundee troop), who had themselves arrived in Ladysmith from Dundee on 22nd Captain Wales was to endeavour to come into contact with Yule; he found the column at Van Tonder’s Pass, to which place it had been led by Colonel Dartnell.” C. F. (Tommy) Dodd and Sgt. Jimmy Durham of the Dundee Troop, Natal Carbineers had led the men through the pass and into the Waschbank Valley.
On the 25th Colonel Royston took out the whole of the Mounted Volunteers to assist Yule, whose force was found eighteen miles out. The roads were beyond description, and the rear of the column had to wade, often beyond their knees, in liquid mud. On the 26th Yule’s column entered Ladysmith.
But for Craig this was all academic - not for him the retiral to the comparative safety of Ladysmith. According to various sources, ‘during the battle, two Natal Carbineer despatch riders, Trumpeter H.A. Craig and Cpl. J. Watson, broke through from Dundee with a message from Colonel Yule to General White.’ Apart from having what must have been a very interesting ride, they created a little bit of history by becoming the only soldiers to qualify for both the "Talana" and "Elandslaagte" bars to their Queen's South Africa Medals by fighting at both battles.’
Unwittingly and certainly inadvertently, Craig and his companion had become embroiled in what was, in terms of the Natal theatre of the war, the second major battle of the campaign. Precisely what role he played in the battle is unknown, perhaps he was on the periphery, perhaps, as a Trumpeter, used to sound the charge. Nothing has been written about his exploits or even those of the other 14 Carbineers who went out to Elandslaagte with General French.
On his return to Ladysmith, Craig bivouacked with his Carbineer comrades who were deployed to the east of the town, together with General Brocklehurst’s Cavalry Brigade. They now took part in many of the many small skirmishes which took place between Boer and Brit leading up to and after the town was officially besieged on 3 November 1899 – with all links in and out of Ladysmith being cut. They were not directly involved in the battle of Nicholson’s Nek which took place on 30 October 1899 (Mournful Monday) – this was a defeat for the British which presaged the siege. Three squadrons had occupied Mbulwana and Lombard’s Kop but these had to be vacated when the main British attack failed. These both fell into Boer hands and were used to torment the Carbineers in the days and months to come.
On 3 November the Carbineers were involved in a skirmish in the vicinity of End Hill, when a Boer convoy was attacked north of Ladysmith. It was in this operation that Major Taunton perished. With each passing day the siege wore on and, with it, the number of men who fell victim to the debilitating illnesses and diseases which an increasingly poor diet brought about. With the Boers permission, a hospital had been established outside Ladysmith at Intombi and, ere long, the beds in the make-shift tents were full to capacity with patients suffering with the dreaded Enteric as well as Gastric complaints, Dysentery and, of course, those who were wounded in the sporadic fighting.
Long Tom and other big guns rained shells down on Ladysmith with impunity, jolting the citizens of the town and the garrison that was there to defend it, out of their complacency. One never knew where or when the next shell would fall and this uncertainty created great anguish amongst the townspeople who had remained, and the refugees who had flooded in. Monotony and boredom became constant companions and, after the initial shows of strength by both sides, the siege lapsed into a stalemate.
One opportunity for action came in the form of a rather daring nocturnal sortie on the night of 7-8 December 1899 against Gun Hill, site of one of the many Boer artillery emplacements that tormented the town. The main target was a 155mm Creusot gun affectionately dubbed “The Stinker”. The regiment was assembled, dismounted, in front of the Volunteer Brigade office at 9 p.m., departing the lines just before midnight to rendezvous at the Helpmekaar Ridge defences with the other units involved. The utmost secrecy was observed, with even officers kept in the dark until the last minute. This was because it was thought that there were many townspeople sympathetic to the Boers who would give them forewarning of what was planned.
Of the Volunteers, 100 Carbineers deployed on foot with many of them wearing a type of canvas tennis shoe to minimise noise, for the final assault. The foot of Gun Hill was reached at about 2 a.m. after a march of about 6 miles.
Together with a similar number of men from the Imperial Light Horse, they formed part of the right flank, the assault commenced, with much crawling and scrambling over rocks and through dongas. A Boer sentry’s challenge unleashed a hail of bullets, combined with an “order” to fix bayonets (very few had these to hand), which ruse proved enough of a deterrent to the small Boer picket on the hill, guarding the gun. The Long Tom was successfully disabled by the Royal Engineers and the weary men returned to base camp.
Battle casualties for the besieged squadrons were dominated by the disastrous effects of one particular 100 lb Creusot shell form the Boer gun “Slim Piet” ensconced on Mbulwana. It exploded in the Carbineers horse-lines at about 6 a.m., during early morning stables, on 18 December 1899. The shell passed clean through one horse, struck another and exploded, with appalling results.
Hugh Rethman in his book the “Natal Campaign, a Sacrifice Betrayed, takes up the story on page 239: -
“Eleven horses were dead or so badly wounded they had to be destroyed. Troopers Buxton and Miller from Pietermaritzburg lay dead together, one with his legs missing. A few paces away lay two troopers from Dundee. 16 year old T. Elliott had both his legs cut off at the thigh, and lying there, he begged the orderly to pour cold water over his legs as they felt so hot. In a few minutes his life had ebbed away. Partly over him lay the body of Trooper Craig-Smith. A couple of years older than Elliott, he was the grandson of Peter Smith, on who’s farm the battle of Talana had been fought. Among the wounded was Trooper A. Nicholson, one of whose legs was hanging on by a piece of tendon. When the Carbineers Veterinary Surgeon, Major Watkins-Pritchard, arrived at the scene one man was putting five human legs in a sack.
There were some lucky escapes among the Carbineers. Trooper H.A. Craig, also from Dundee, had three holes through his breeches but did not receive a scratch. Saddler Sergeant Lyle was sitting on a box outside his tent talking to some friends when the shell exploded. A piece of it passed through the box on which he was sitting, smashed four rifles strapped to a pole, and went through Sergeant Major Mitchell’s kit, tearing it to shreds.”
By the time the relief came, with Buller finally breaking through the Boer lines on 28 February 1900, the regiment’s effective strength had plummeted to 149 men and fifteen officers. Craig and his comrades were emaciated and in much need of some restorative leave. The regiment was sent down to Highlands near Estcourt to recover, before rejoining the Ladysmith garrison. Until the Boers were expelled from Natal there was still plenty for them to do and, after gathering their strength, they joined Buller’s army with their first stop at Buys’s Farm at Elandslaagte. This must have stirred up recent memories for Craig. Here they set up camp on the site of the famous charge of the 5th Lancers during the battle.
They remained there until 7 May, when Buller resumed his drive to evict the Boers from the colony, entering the pillaged village of Helpmekaar on 14 May and pressing on to Craig’s hometown of Dundee. From there it was on to Newcastle on 18 May. One wonders whether or not Craig was able to drop in on his mother and siblings whilst he was in the vicinity. Despite being present at Alleman’s Nek and the battle on Botha’s Pass in June, the Carbineers were mainly spectators to the main event, with endless patrolling being the order of the day. Whilst at Charlestown on 15 June the regiment received a Special Order from Buller thanking them for their service and instructing them to return to Dundee, from where they guarded the lines of communication.
The regiment was demobilized in Pietermaritzburg on 8 October 1900 and Craig, it is assumed, went home. For his efforts he was awarded the Queens Medal with, as has been mentioned before, the almost unique clasp combination of Talana and Elandslaagte, along with Defence of Ladysmith. Laing’s Nek, Transvaal and South Africa 1901. The Elandslaagte and SA 1901 clasps were supplementary issues. The regiment, Craig included, were called out on 18 September 1900 to patrol the western borders of the colony – to guard the Krantzkop district against a threatened Boer attack – and were on standby until 16 October 1901, although not participating in any action.
King Edward VII had ascended the throne on the death of his mother, Queen Victoria and, to commemorate his coronation later in 1902, representatives were selected from many Colonial regiments to go to London for the event, this was a singular honour and one that befell Hugh Craig. He was awarded the 1902 Coronation Medal for his attendance. One can only wonder at how he experienced the sights, sounds and smells of the big metropolis, something very alien to what he was accustomed to.
Could Craig have been one of these men?
The war over, Craig returned home, but things were no longer the same with his father now dead and his siblings older, some of them married, and some having moved away. He continued on as a peacetime member of the Natal Carbineers and was promoted to Sergeant Trumpeter (Left Wing) with effect from 26 April 1905. His mother passed away at the age of 71 on 15 November later that same year and there was little incentive for him to remain on the farm. He had apprenticed as a Blacksmith, the trade he was now qualified for, and in 1906 he applied for and was granted a position in Dundee with the District Veterinary Surgeon’s department. He appeared well-suited for the job, garnering an increase in salary from 21 November 1906.
But something else was afoot of more sinister import in 1906, something which would put Craig back into uniform. This was none other than the outbreak of what became known as the Bambatha Rebellion. Post-war Natal’s finances were in a parlous state and the fiscus was desperate to find additional monies to ward off the threat of depression.
The Colonial government hit upon an ingenious (but contentious) scheme where every male aged 18 and above would have a poll tax of £1 levied against his head. This was accepted grudgingly by most Zulu tribal Chiefs and Indunas but there were exceptions, the chief among them being a vocal and stroppy young chap from the Zondo clan in the Greytown/Kranskop area. Bambatha, for such was his name, went about stirring up trouble and inciting others to follow his lead, refusing to pay the tax when the magistrates charged with the task of collecting it called round.
This in itself was unacceptable to the authorities but Bambatha went one step further and called upon his followers to take up arms and openly rebel against the white man and his rule. Initially the Militia were called out in early 1906 but the strife fizzled out and they were disbanded. Several months later trouble flared up again and, with the blood of several citizens and Natal Policemen on his hands Bambatha was actively pursued.
Craig, along with the Carbineers, was mobilised twice – once from 9 February 1906 until 31 March and, after trouble had flared up again, from 26 April until 3 August 1906. On the second occasion, the Left Wing under Lt. Colonel MacKay was despatched to Dundee (Craig was already there), from where they moved to Nkandla via Vant’s Drift.
After an initial skirmish on the Namanca Ridge the first serious confrontation for the Carbineers took place on 2 May when a 100-strong rebel impi was encountered by a group of 20 Carbineers under Captain Park Gray. Four rebels were despatched.
But the seminal battle of the Rebellion was undoubtedly that of Mome Gorge, a remote and inhospitable place whence Bambatha and his rebels had fled. Thinking themselves hidden from any danger and safe from harm, they were annihilated on 10 June 1906. McKenzie, the man in command, had learned the previous evening that Bambatha and his followers had entered the Nkandla Forest by way of the Gorge. The Carbineers, dismounted, furnished a blocking force together with the Durban Light Infantry, around the Dobo Forest, one of the identified escape routes.
With additional Colonial troops joining up, a ring was formed on the ridge overlooking the Gorge, and shortly after 6h45 the assault commenced.
A hail of artillery and small arms fire rained down on the unsuspecting rebels, leading to between 400 and 500 killed. Bambatha himself was caught and beheaded, the thinking being that only physical proof of his death would quell the rebellion once and for all. The last simmering flickers of revolt were soon snuffed out and the regiment was demobilised at a parade in Pietermaritzburg on 2 August 1906. Craig received the Natal Medal with 1906 clasp for his efforts and, once more, returned to his civilian pursuits. Probably in a move aimed at preventing his further involvement, his employers, the District Veterinary Surgeon, Dundee, wrote to the authorities requesting that he be exempted from any future active service with the Militia.
Peace now prevailed but Craig was still attending the annual Militia camps that were held in Natal, one of which was in Colenso in 1909. He also left the Veterinary Department, moving to Durban where he took up the trade of Mechanic.
We have his marriage certificate to thank for this information – at the age of 29 he wed, on 9 February 1910, the 21 year old Gertrude Bowers Geils of Dundee in the Presbyterian Church in Dundee. His sister, Margaret, was one of the witnesses to the nuptials. Gertrude was to provide him with two children – Hugh Alfred Craig, born on 5 June 1915, and Phyllis Marjorie Craig, born on 10 November 1919. Sadly, his wife passed away on 19 July 1925 at the age of 36 with a mitral disease of the heart.
Finding life a tad lonely, Craig wed a second time – to 37 year old widow Albertina Louise Dickman (born Riggs) at the Congregational Church in Umbilo, Durban on 5 May 1928. He was now 47 years of age and a Blacksmith by occupation, living at 35 Regina Avenue, Umbilo. Once again his sister Margaret witnessed the occasion (she had married and was now Margaret Wilson).
Hugh Alexander Craig was not destined to live a long life – he passed away at the Sanatorium in Durban “from the effects of an anaesthetic administered to a subject suffering from acute inflammatory disease of the heart vessels”, on 16 November 1936, at the age of 56. He is today interred at Stellawood Cemetery. As a post script, I feel compelled to add the comment on his death notice pertaining to his domestic situation at the time of his passing – it read: -
“Survived by his wife, Albertina Craig, who was not living with the deceased”. Craig, it appears had died alone.
The following user(s) said Thank You: QSAMIKE, David Grant, jim51, Bicolboy59
The Talana & Elandslaagte clasp group to Carbineer H.A. Craig 2 months 2 weeks ago #77198
Thank you Rory,
It never ceases to amaze me how you can "flesh out" a story.
I love reading about the men in your collection
The following user(s) said Thank You: Rory
The Talana & Elandslaagte clasp group to Carbineer H.A. Craig 2 months 2 weeks ago #77199
Thank You Rory......
Ditto Bicolboy's remarks.....
Did the Pooch get a medal also, now there would be a research project LOL......
Thinking about it now, some regimental mascots are seen wearing medals, I wonder it there is an official list......
Military Historical Society
The following user(s) said Thank You: Rory, Bicolboy59
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