Interested Forum members
Obtained many years ago from an unrecorded source, the illustrated medal - a bit wobbly on its suspension and rather polished on the reverse - has languished in the cupboard ever since. Il felt it was time to have a look at this rather obscure unit and see what could be found out about the recipient:
Queen's South Africa medal, clasp "Cape Colony", impressed to "549 Tpr. W. Wooding. Warren's M.I."
As has been mentioned previously, Stirling's "The Colonials in South Africa" describes the service of WMI in a few paragraphs. Raised during the Guerrilla phase of the war in December of 1900, Stirling tells us that the unit operated in the Western district of Cape Colony from April 1901, was about three squadrons strong and was commanded by Col. F.J.Warren. Stirling also gives a little more context to the activity of WMI by quoting a despatch of 7th July, 1901 which relates that from May 1901 onwards, two squadrons were attached to Col. Doran's column and involved in the pursuit of Cape rebels and members of scattered commandos.
The headings of some of the pages of WMI's medal rolls (WO100/239) reads partially that the unit "......was raised by the Cape Colonial Govt early in January 1901 and disbanded 20th July of 1901 and ..........." (regrettably, the remaining words appear so faded as the be unreadable). Recruiting posters specify "Service in the Colony only" and the terms of service - according to the enlistment form for this "unclassified corps - were either three or six months at five shillings a day all found.
Turning to the WMI nominal roll on this site, a total of 678 names are shown - and as might be expected - given the situation in the Cape at that time, the bulk of enlistments occurred in January and February 1901; about 470 all ranks. Later however, recruiting dropped considerably and between April and July of the same year less than eighty names were added.
Col. Warren (with previous service in Kitchener's Horse and SALH) must have had difficulty in fielding three squadrons on an ongoing basis; given the seemingly optional enlistment terms - less "wastage" such as desertions, sickness, undesirability of recruits, lack of medical fitness and the like. Looking at the nominal roll, the earliest dated entry is that for its founder (January, 1901) and he is recorded as "resigned" on 4th August 1901. Many of the later enlistments are shown as discharged on the same date; not just that but with red-inked "disbanded" next to their names. Hence a short unit life of just seven months.
How did "549 Tpr. J. Wooding" fit in with WMI's short life span? The nominal roll shows he served for three months between 15th April 1901 and 19th July 1901. Incidentally, that roll corrects Wooding's forenames to "Robert W" instead of just "W". Turning to WMI's medal rolls, his "Cape Colony" and his later issued "South Africa 1901" clasps are confirmed - as well as showing that the "W" impressed on his medal stood for "William". A marginal note says "intelligence sc" and records subsequent service in Cape Colony Cyclist Corps as 40204. That particular roll confirms his entitlement to the "South Africa 1902" clasp - as well as marginally noting "intelligence scts, WMI".
Turning to the Buxton FID rolls, they contain no reference to any Tpr. Wooding. However, the "intelligence scout(s)" notations may well fit in with a certain reference in Creswicke (Vol.VII page 100) about small unit tactical handling during July of 1901. In that section covering Cape Colony, he cites a comment made by C-in-C Lord Kitchener as considering it "advisable to form some specially mobile columns for independent and rapid action in different parts of the country, generally at some distance from the operations of other troops". Creswicke then tells us that those columns were given a free hand in respect of their movements, and acted at any time on intelligence gained by themselves in addition to such as might be received from HQ.
As Forum members would be aware, the rugged and remote Western Cape could be a dangerous area of operations in 1901/2. The Boer hold-outs and discontented , according to Creswicke, were engaged in "independent freebooting excursions"; living hand to mouth on what they could get from sympathetic "loyalists". The hold-outs clearly hoped that embarrassment caused by their efforts would deflect British attention from the main game elsewhere. To an extent, that did happen- and the counter did involve a disproportionate effort in terms of manpower and resources.
Such was - and still is - the reality of counter insurgency operations; small columns (whose composition altered according to circumstances) trekking in a patchwork quilt of pursuits, ambushes and drives as can be seen in Maurice Vol.IV and Amery Vol.V.
Stirling's remarks might have us think that Warren's M.I. only served with Col. Doran's column from April to August 1901. However, research shows that Col. Doran assumed command of Col. Henniker's mobile column in June of that year and remained so until August. The organisation of thaqt column can be seen in the attached cut from Creswicke Vol.VII - however, little appears to be known about WMI's prior involvement with Col. Henniker.
IL is tempted to think that "549 Tpr R.W. Wooding, intelligence scout" was a local farmer or resident in the Western Cape with local knowledge and served in WMI's Intelligence Scouts section and reporting to its Intelligence Officer. Purely conjectural of course - but his role as intelligence scout does add another dimension to the earning of his "Cape Colony" clasp.
According to SAFF, the regions of Cape Colony where WMI took battle casualties were Oorlogspoort, 6th June 1901 and near Plaat Drift on 15th of the same month. The other components of Col. Doran's column which took similar losses during their association with WMI (i.e., between January and early August of 1901) were: 11th Sqn., I.Y. (four casualties) at Klipfontein on 17th June 1901 and 23rd Sqn., I.Y. (one casualty same place, same date).
Stirling summarises his short account of WMI by commenting "...the corps do not seem to have been in any satisfactory stand up fight." Obviously meaning WMI had not undergone a test of its leadership and discipline on the battlefield". Likely it was that the tasks WMI undertook attracted no special mention at HQ.
All that remains today of the short lived Warren's Mounted Infantry is the occasional QSA medal, the even more occasional badge and marginal notes on medal rolls.
Regards to all who have lasted to the end.