Reading the histories of the Boer War, the column commander who most stands out for his skill, leadership and cunning is Colonel George Benson, RA.
Conan Doyle acknowledges Benson's role and also points out that the British had 60 columns in the field in October 1901. "Of all the sixty odd British columns which were traversing the Boer states there was not one which had a better record than that commanded by Colonel Benson. During seven months of continuous service this small force, consisting at that time of the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders, the 2nd Scottish Horse, the 18th and 19th Mounted Infantry, and two guns, had acted with great energy, and had reduced its work to a complete and highly effective system. Leaving the infantry as a camp guard, Benson operated with mounted troops alone, and no Boer laager within fifty miles was safe from his nocturnal visits. So skilful had he and his men become at these night attacks in a strange, and often difficult country, that out of twenty-eight attempts twenty-one resulted in complete success. In each case the rule was simply to gallop headlong into the Boer laager, and to go on chasing as far as the horses could go. The furious and reckless pace may be judged by the fact that the casualties of the force were far greater from falls than from bullets. In seven months forty-seven Boers were killed and six hundred captured, to say nothing of enormous quantities of munitions and stock. The success of these operations was due, not only to the energy of Benson and his men, but to the untiring exertions of Colonel Wools-Sampson, who acted as intelligence officer. If, during his long persecution by President Kruger, Wools-Sampson in the bitterness of his heart had vowed a feud against the Boer cause, it must be acknowledged that he has most amply fulfilled it, for it would be difficult to point to any single man who has from first to last done them greater harm."
Benson's medals show the range of his war service:
Can anyone identify a more successful column commander?
Thank you for your replies. I was interested because the Intelligence Officer was Colonel Wools-Sampson, formerly of the Imperial Light Horse and I had wondered what became of him after he left the ILH.
Both Wools-Sampson and his deputy Major Karri Davies had their limitations while commanding the ILH, so success as civilians and a passionate dislike of the Boers did not necessarily make them good military commanders. It seems that Wools-Sampson, at least, made a success of his job as an Intelligence Officer.
I've just joined the forum and am enjoying browsing through it - lots of interesting information that I haven't seen in other sources.
Re Benson and Woolls-Sampson if you haven't already see, 'Anti-Commando' by Mr Justice Sampson and General Sir Ian Hamilton (1931) which has much about Benson, his death (W-S took command) and W-S's post-ILH service.