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An I.L.H. man in the Relief of Mafeking - Harry White 1 month 3 days ago #95464

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Henry Herbert White

Sapper, Royal Engineers
Trooper, Colonial Scouts
Trooper, Imperial Light Horse - Anglo Boer War


- Queens South Africa Medal (NATAL/RoM/TVL) to 800 TPR: H. WHITE. IMP. LT. HORSE

Harry White was born in Wells, Somerset on 28 February 1869 the son of George White, a Blacksmith by trade and his wife, Mary Maria (Martha), born Towell. He was baptised in the Parish Church of St. Cuthbert in Wells on 25 March 1869 at which point his parents were living in South Street.

A mere two years later, at the time of the 1881 England census, the White family were still living at 27 South Street. Henry (2) was the youngest of six children – older siblings being Samuel George (17) and apprenticed to his father as a Blacksmith; Frederick Charles (14); Edwin Henry (9); William Alfred (7) and Mary Louise (5).

Ten years later, at the time of the 1881 England census, the family were still at the same address. Impressively (although this was probably poetic licence on the part of the enumerator) George White had moved from Blacksmith to Engineer. Edwin (19) was now a Blacksmith whilst William Alfred (17) was a Stable Boy. Mary Louise was 15 and Henry, 12 was still at school.

On 29 October 1887, at the age of 18 years and 9 months, Henry White completed the Shot Service Attestation form for service with C Company of the Royal Engineers at Bristol. Confirming that he was a Blacksmith by trade, he was found to be 5 feet 6 ½ inches in height with a pale complexion, brown hair and brown eyes. He weighed 135 lbs and had no distinctive marks about his person. Having been found fit for service he was assigned no. 22498 and the rank of Sapper.




After 1 year and 68 days of Home Service he was posted to South Africa. Arriving at the Cape on 1 January 1889 he was to serve a further 332 days before purchasing his discharge for £18 at Cape Town on 28 November 1889. Remaining in South Africa, White betook himself to Durban in Natal where he joined the ranks of the Natal Field Artillery in about 1895. He was to spend four years with them during which time peace reigned in the land and he would have had to do no more than attend camps and drill routines for the most part.

By the time the end of the 19th century dawned, White and the N.F.A. had parted company. Thus, as the end of 1899 neared, he found himself at a loose end when the Anglo Boer War – between the two Boer Republics of the Orange Free State and the Transvaal and the might of Imperial Britain – erupted on 11 October that year. Initially the war went badly for the Imperial forces who were very thin on the ground. With the aid of locally raised units, alongside the Colonial regiments already in existence, things started to improve as time marched on.

White, imbued no doubt with a patriotic spirit, wasted no time in coming forward to do his bit. At Durban on 27 November 1899 he attested for service with the Colonial Scouts, one of the earliest to do so, and was assigned no. 106 and the rank of Trooper.

The Colonial Scouts were raised by the Natal Government; strength five squadrons of 100 men each, under the command by Colonel F. Addison, MLA. Their rank structure was an interesting one – the Conditions for Raising Corps of Colonial Scouts stating that;

“As each troop of 25 men is enlisted and equipped the men will elect their leader and proceed whither ordered. As each 100 men is raised a head leader will be elected, and when 500 men are raised, a chief leader will be elected.”

White wasn’t elevated to a leadership position but he was immediately in the field with his comrades. As they were raised by the Natal Government, members were enlisted as volunteers and any member could leave on seven days’ notice. By 15 December the 500 men in 5 squadrons had been equipped, mounted and despatched. The majority were colonials, good riders, true shots and eager to get into the thick of things.

B, C, D and E Squadrons were in the district of Nottingham Road, Mooi River, Willow Grange and Estcourt making valuable captures of livestock. During January, February and March 1900 portions of D and E Squadrons were detached from the Flying Column despatched to Zululand and were stationed at Mooi River under Captain Wood proving of great assistance to the military by keeping an eye on Natal Boers, and patrolling Weenen, Hlatikulu and Riet Vlei.

On 3 January 1900 300 Scouts were ordered by General Buller to attack Helpmekaar and to destroy enemy communications around Wasbank by blowing up a bridge. They were to leave Estcourt the day the troops left Frere. Most of the five squadrons left Estcourt on 11 and 12 January deciding to go across country to Eshowe and Melmoth. For five days the Scouts marched from daybreak until nightfall, through rough and roadless country. On reaching Nqutu they learned that the Boers had got wind of their movements and had virtually encircled them.

With Boers on the left, front, right and rear of them it was concluded that Buller’s plan had failed whereafter the Scouts went to Eshowe where they formed part of the garrison until 14 March when they were ordered back to Pietermaritzburg to disband. Some fifty percent of them re-enlisted in other volunteer and irregular corps.




White was one of those who put his hand up for service elsewhere and, where else would a man of action rather be? In none other than the 1st Battalion, Imperial Light Horse whose renown was already widespread. Having taken his leave of the Colonial Scouts on 15 March 1900 – two weeks after the siege of Ladysmith had been lifted – White completed attestation forms for service with the I.L.H. at Pietermaritzburg on 24 March 1900. Calling himself “Harry White”, he confirmed that he had 2 years previous service with the Royal Engineers, 4 years with the N.F.A. and had also been with the Colonial Scouts. He provided his next of kin as William White, Brunswick Lodge, Stamford Hill, Durban – possibly his brother of the same name.

No less a person than the O.C., Colonel Aubrey Woolls Sampson, signed as Witness to his enlistment. White was described as being 30 years old; 5 feet 7 ½ inches in height, weighing in at 160 lbs and with a medium complexion brown eyes and black hair. Assigned no. 800 and the rank of Trooper with E Squadron, he took to the field.

Sterling, in his comprehensive “COLONIALS IN SOUTH AFRICA 1899-1902” provides a succinct account of the I.L.H.’s movements from the time White joined them: -

“About the middle of April 1900 Sir Archibald Hunter with the Fusilier Brigade, the Irish Brigade, and the I.L.H. were brought round by sea from Natal to Cape Colony, and these troops concentrated near Kimberley. (A 100 men of) The I.L.H., Lieutenant-Colonel A. H. M. Edwards commanding, were chosen to accompany Colonel Mahon on his hazardous march to the relief of Mafeking, the other troops of his column being 'M' Battery RHA 4 guns, the Kimberley Mounted Corps, and a composite company of infantry made up of four sections of twenty- five selected men each, from each of the regiments in Barton's Fusilier Brigade.




The column assembled at Barkly West on 2nd and 3rd May, and set off on its perilous march on the 4th. On the 5th Sir Archibald Hunter attacked the Boers at Rooidam with the object of allowing the column a free road so far, which object was attained; Vryburg was reached on the 9th. Few Boers were seen till the 13th. Colonel Mahon having learned that the enemy was at Koodoesrand Ridge to block his path, moved off to his own left. In the afternoon the Boers, realising what he had done, came up with the right flank near Maritzani and attacked that flank and at the head of the column. The enemy's attack was favoured by the bush; but the troops did well, and the attackers withdrew with a loss of about 20 killed. Colonel Mahon estimated that the enemy numbered 900, with 4 guns. The British loss was approximately 7 killed and 20 wounded, of whom the I.L.H. lost 6 men killed, Major C H Mullins and 14 non-commissioned officers and men wounded.

Before dawn on the 14th the column again set off, and reached the Molopo, about eighteen miles east of Mafeking, at 5.30 am on the 15th. At daylight touch was gained with Plumer's column, which had come from the north; Mahon crossed the Molopo, and both forces were now combined under him. At 7.30 am on the 16th the column set its face eastwards, towards the little town whose fate had for seven months engrossed the most anxious attention of the empire. At 1.45 pm, the I.L.H. on the left front became engaged, and it was seen that the enemy were to oppose the relievers. A fiercely fought action followed, in which the Boer threatened both flanks and rear and heavily shelled the convoy; but again all behaved splendidly, and about four o'clock the enemy began to give way. This corps had Lieutenant Campbell Ross and two men wounded.




Major A W A Pollock, who accompanied the force, in his `With Seven Generals in the Boer War,' says, at page 252, "Ground was now being gained continuously by the left wing under the clever leadership of Lieutenant Colonel Edwards; whose own corps, the Imperial Light Horse, led the advance with the skill and courage that they have so consistently displayed throughout the war". After describing the general advance, in which the enemy's centre was pierced and his right driven off the ground before darkness set in, Major Pollock says "Then the Brigadier wisely decided to halt until the moon had risen, and meanwhile sent forward Major Karri-Davies with six volunteers of the I.L.H. to announce the victory to Baden-Powell, and report that the relief column would enter Mafeking during the night".

The troops entered the town at 3.30 am on the 17th. In his report, dated 23rd May 1900, printed among the despatches, Colonel Mahon praised all the troops, but selected the Royal Horse Artillery and Imperial Light Horse for special mention.

The forces of Mahon and Plumer remained at Mafeking until the 28th, when an order was received that Mahon's force was to join General Hunter at Maribogo. At 3 pm, the column started, and marching south-east joined Sir Archibald Hunter, and afterwards marched via Lichtenburg and Potchefstroom to the central Transvaal, arriving at Krugersdorp on 18th June. At Lichtenburg Colonel Woolls-Sampson had joined the regiment with a welcome draft. Mahon was now ordered to take his column, including the I.L.H., to Irene, east of Pretoria. In his telegram of 5th July Lord Roberts said, " I have recently inspected Mahon's small force, which did such excellent work in the relief of the Mafeking garrison. The Imperial Light Horse, which I purposely brought from Natal to take part in the expedition, are a most soldierly and workmanlike body of men".

In July Mahon's force was, with others, employed in driving back the Boers who were hanging about the country east of Pretoria, and he was afterwards ordered north of the capital for a similar object. On 6th and 7th July there was severe fighting at Witklip, in the Bronkhorst Spruit district, when the I.L.H. lost Captain Curry and Lieutenant Kirk and 7 men killed, and 8 non-commissioned officers and men wounded. In his telegram of 18th July Lord Roberts said: "One squadron of this distinguished corps pressed by a very superior force of the enemy in a gallant attempt to carry off a wounded comrade, to which is attributable the heavy losses it sustained".

About the middle of July Lord Roberts commenced a further advance eastwards from Pretoria. Mahon's troops, which included the I.L.H., were put under General Ian Hamilton, who commanded a strong force, which, starting on 17th July, marched eastwards on the north of the Delagoa Railway. On the 25th Hamilton occupied Balmoral. On the 27th he started to return to Pretoria to operate against a concentration of Boers in the Rustenburg district. Pretoria was left again on 1st August, and the column throughout the month did much heavy marching and some stiff fighting as at Zilikat's Nek and bore heavy losses. After taking part in a pursuit of De Wet, then in progress, Hamilton's force returned to Pretoria, which was reached on 28th August.

During the four weeks 400 miles had been covered on low rations. In August Lord Roberts renewed his advance eastward to join General Buller and the Natal Army about Belfast, and on the 30th Mahon left Pretoria for that district. His force now was "M" Battery Royal Horse Artillery, 3rd Corps of Regular Mounted Infantry, Queensland Mounted Infantry, New Zealand Mounted Rifles, 79th Company Imperial Yeomanry, Imperial Light Horse, and Lumsden's Horse.

On 27th August Buller had thoroughly defeated the Boers at Bergendal, near Belfast, and General French had been ordered to seize Barberton, marching via Carolina. On 3rd September, when Mahon arrived at Belfast, he was ordered to join French at Carolina. This he did on the 5th. French now advanced through most difficult country; very high mountains had to be crossed, several times in face of opposition, but a general who made no mistakes was in command, and Barberton was taken on the 13th. The official despatches do not do sufficient justice to the splendid daring of General French, and the marvellously fine work of the troops on this fighting march. The strength of the regiment with Mahon at this time is put down at 26 officers, 367 men, with 444 horses.

After a very short rest in Barberton the mounted troops pushed towards the north-east, and, as mentioned by Lord Roberts, a detachment of the I.L.H. captured, near French Bob on the 21st, 20 prisoners, 200 rifles, and a quantity of ammunition. On 29th September the regiment left General Mahon's force, marched to the railway, and were shortly afterwards entrained for Pretoria.

White took his discharge from the I.L.H. on 12 December 1900 – for him the war was over. He was awarded the Queens medal with the relevant clasps, named to the Imperial Light Horse. Disappearing from public view, he was next heard of at the time of his wedding in Boksburg, Transvaal on 7 November 1910. Aged 43 he took for his wife 42 year old widow Emma Jane Kemp (born Lockwood). Emma, as stated on the marriage certificate had no children from her previous marriage. She passed away at the age of 63 on 24 March 1929 whilst the couple were living at Illovo Buildings, Johannesburg.

Henry Herbert White passed away on 10 November 1937 at the age of 68 from Cardiac Failure. He had moved to Durban since his wife’s death and was living at 15 Devonshire Avenue when he died at the Government Hospital. He was described as being a retired Blacksmith who had worked on the surface of a Gold Mine.

Perhaps indicative of the fact that he hadn’t severed ties with his birthplace, the Wells Journal of 10 December 1937 ran the following article:

“Death Abroad – News has reached England of the death of Mr Henry Herbert (Harry) White, youngest son of the late Mr George White, of Tucker Street, Wells, which occurred at Durban, Natal, South Africa on November 10th. Mr White who was in his 69th year, was the last member of the family of Mr George White. The last eighteen months of his life he was an invalid, suffering from heart trouble, being nursed by his sister-in-law, Mrs E White at 12 Devonshire Avenue, Durban.”


Acknowledgements:

- Stirling, Colonials in South Africa (Anglo Boer War)
- Photo of ILH in camp (Neville Constantine)
- Ancestry for various medal rolls; census data etc.
- British Newspaper Archive for Wells Journal article
- Familysearch for marriage certificate; probate etc.







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