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Moedwil 11 months 1 week ago #67956

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Thank you for clarifying, Mark.
Dr David Biggins

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Moedwil 4 weeks 9 hours ago #74009

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Source: A military history of Perthshire, 1899-1902

The war in the west was well waged by the two rival commanders, Kekewich and Delarey. Both Boer and British generals were born leaders. Both tempered daring with caution, both knew when to risk much and when to risk nothing. Colonel Kekewich commanded the unshaken confidence, the respectful affection, and the loyal devotion of all ranks of his force, not only because they saw him for what he was—the best type of English gentleman—but because they well knew that the greater the emergency, the greater would prove the resources of their leader’s generalship. Delarey was an enemy worthy of Kekewich: the Stonewall Jackson of the Boers—Puritan—born strategist—a chivalrous but uncompromising enemy—he inspired the respect of the British almost as much as the enthusiasm of the Dutch, and emerged from two and a half years of incessant warfare with the finest reputation of any of his countrymen.

The column commanded by Colonel R. G. Kekewich, composed of five companies of the Derbyshire Regiment under Lieutenant-Colonel Wylly (approximately 400 men), three guns of the 28th Battery Royal Artillery, one pom-pom of “ G” and eight squadrons of mounted men (about 560 in all), had been operating in the Magaliesberg district throughout the month of September 1901 . The mounted troops were composed of six squadrons of the 1st Scottish Horse under Major Duff (8th Hussars), and two squadrons of the 7th Imperial Yeomanry. Major Blair (King’s Own Scottish Borderers) was second-in-command of the 1st Scottish Horse, and the squadrons of that regiment were commanded as follows:—

A Squadron, Captain H. G. Field.
B Squadron, Captain J. P. Lambert.
C Squadron, Captain R. H. Dick-Cunyngham (21st Lancers).
D Squadron, Captain P. M. Rattray.
J Squadron, Captain P. N. Field.
K Squadron, Captain I. R. Mackenzie. 

Of these six Scottish Horse Squadrons, two (C and D, under Dick-Cunyngham and Rattray respectively), although they had landed at Durban in July, had practically never yet been under fire, inasmuch as throughout September Kekewich’s column had taken part in those “combined operations” and “closing- in movements” which for the most part characterised the 1901 period of the war. Stragglers from various commandos had been captured, but the column had for several weeks continuously trekked through the Magaliesberg country without any serious engagement.

On the 28th of September Kekewich was at Waterval, but left that spot at 5 A.M. on the 29th, arriving at noon on that day at the point where the road from Rustenberg to Zeerust crosses the drifts over the Selons River and joins the road from Waterval. The veld at this place is marked on the maps “Moedwil (639)" and the camp was pitched at mid-day at a point some 400 yards to the east of the drift over the river, and on slightly rising ground. The camp at Moedwil was set in an open space, roughly speaking, about 1400 or 1500 yards square, completely surrounded by bush of varying degrees of thickness, and beyond the bush bounded on north and west by the Selons River, which had here cut itself deep into the soft soil (see sketch). The camp faced west and its left rested on the Rustenburg-Zeerust main road. The mounted troops were on the right (the Yeomanry being on the extreme right), the guns were in the centre, and the Derbys on the left. Of the outposts the Derbys were responsible for the south-western, southern, and south-eastern aspects, while the mounted men took up a semicircular line covering western, north, and north-eastern sides, and joined hands with the infantry both at the drift over the river and on the road to Magato's Pass. The posts held by the mounted men were formed by one squadron of Yeomanry and C Squadron Scottish Horse, the latter being thrown out about six hundred yards to the right rear of the camp as a detached post:

A=Imperial Yeomanry.
B=Scottish Horse.
C=Artillery and Pom-pom.
D=Derbyshire Regiment.
F=C Squadron, Scottish Horse.
G=Line of advance of Steinkamp and Osthinzen.
H = Line of advance of Van Tonder, Plessis, and Boshoff.
J = Line of advance of Fowrie and Coetzie.
K = Line of advance of Van Heerden and Kemp.
L=Direction of first Boer attack.
o = British picquets.
x = Positions the Boers intended to take up.
• = Those they actually took up.

The ground behind the camp was fairly level, but it fell gently away in front towards the Selons River, rising again beyond it, and the alternative of placing his outposts on the near or far side of the river-bed offered itself to the commander. Outposts placed beyond it would see more, but would have to be pushed far out, and would thus be much more exposed than if posted on the camp side; and again outposts on the right bank of the river would in places be somewhat too near the main body to give timely warning of attack. The latter alternative was the one chosen by Colonel Kekewich, but he gave orders that each picquet was to send out a patrol an hour before daylight, and that two special patrols, each a troop strong, were to move out in north-westerly and southwesterly directions respectively, at 4 A.M. One Derby picquet was to hold the main drift over the Selons River, and another was posted on the further bank.

At 7 P.M. on the 29th the supply column with refugees and prisoners, under an escort of one company of the Derbys, J Squadron Scottish Horse [Less Captain P. N. Field, who took over command of A squadron] and a half squadron of Yeomanry left the column for Naaupoort to “fill up" and the force in camp that evening resolved itself into four companies of the Derbys and one maxim, six and a half squadrons of mounted men, three guns of the 28th Battery and one pom-pom; in all, about 900 men and 800 rifles.

The night passed quietly, and at 4.15 A.M., while still quite dark, a patrol moved out from the Devon Yeomanry picquet, on the extreme left of the line held by the mounted troops. Suddenly at about 4.30 some rifle shots were heard coming from the north-west; the patrol had sighted Boers in the river-bed, had immediately opened fire in order to arouse the camp, and had then retired on the picquet, one man being taken prisoner. The first shots were followed by a loud outburst of fire from the same direction, a general alarm was given, and Colonel Kekewich turned out immediately. His orders were immediate and simple, and from first to last, according to the testimony of many who saw him, he was blessed with a complete coolness and decision which were in themselves the ingredients of victory. The situation which he now had to face was actually as follows :—

Delarey, foremost and astutest of the leaders of the Dutch, had effected a sudden concentration of the western commandos, amounting to about 1100 men. A force under Kemp and Van Heerden, working south, was to occupy higher ground some 5000 yards to the east of the camp, and there to join hands with Steinkamp and Osthuisen pushing round by the north, while the main body under Delarey himself, with Fourie, Coetze, Van Tonder, Plessis, and Boshoff, was to drive home an attack through the river-bed on to the front of the camp, and force the British to retire into the arms of Kemp. Delarey purposed to repeat the tactics of Komspruit, and the deep scrubby valley which like a python enveloped two sides of the slope on which Kekewich’s camp stood, lent itself to his plan. Collecting some 900 men in the river-bed, he pushed them up into the scrub which everywhere fringed the right bank, and only waited for daylight to come to open a murderous fire.

The first brunt of the attack now fell on the unfortunate picquets, and especially on those of the mounted men who were responsible for the north-western and western sides of the camp; these men at once found themselves enfiladed and all but engulfed in the firing line of the Boers. Point-blank fire was brought to bear on them from both flanks, and two of the Yeomanry picquets were in a few minutes all but annihilated. The enemy also pushed up the river and overwhelmed the Derby picquet at the main drift—every man but one being either killed or wounded.

The alarm having been given, the officers hastily collected their men and led them forward to the nearest spot, clear of the horse lines and tents, from which a field of fire could be obtained. By 4.45 A.M., and before darkness had fully given place to twilight, every unit had turned out of camp, with the exception of a small party of the Derbys, left behind to guard the ammunition.

The camp, however, which stood on the skyline of the rising ground, came under a heavy fire from west and north-west as the light increased, and many horses and men were hit. The fire was so hot that in a few minutes one of the field-guns was out of action—the detachment being all shot down—and the pom-pom is said to have jammed. Colonel Kekewich gave an order for some of the horses to be saddled up in order to be able to pursue the enemy later, but, to quote the words of one who took part in this attempt—“ It was almost hopeless. All the men who were worth their salt were already in the firing line ; moreover the horses were dropping like shelled peas. ... In one troop-line there stood thirteen horses ” (of the Scottish Horse). “ Of these, twelve were hit (eight, if I remember right, being killed), and the thirteenth was so panic-stricken that it was found impossible, even after the fight, to saddle him.” It was in several fruitless attempts to carry out this order that most of the casualties occurred among the officers and men of the Scottish Horse. Colonel Kekewich himself was hit twice (in the right shoulder and left side) but never discontinued directing operations.

The volume of fire directed on the tents and horses at this period of the fight far exceeded that which was turned upon the men in the firing line, for these were now lying down on the slope and were hardly visible; hence for the most part the Boer fire passed over their heads until broad daylight came, when the attacking force could better see where the defenders of the camp lay. On the other hand, when the full light of day came, our men could get a better view of the enemy, and so did more execution.

At about 5.15 a report was sent in to Colonel Kekewich to the effect that a large body of the enemy was working round from the north to the east or rear of the camp, and a strong body of the Derbyshire Regiment under Major C. N. Watts moved out eastwards to be ready for eventualities. Major Watts, however, found that this report was incorrect—the Boers apparently not being able to carry out this part of their original plan—and being joined by Captain Mackenzie with a few of the Scottish Horse, and by Major R. A. Browne of the Border Regiment (who with much foresight had collected all the servants, cooks, and orderlies in the camp), Major Watts followed the unbreakable rule of every successful soldier and “ marched to the sound of the firing.” Although he did not then recognise the fact, he thus eventually decided the day. Swinging his men round towards the north, he advanced with fixed bayonets against the enemy’s left, through the ground held by C Squadron, Scottish Horse. This squadron had repulsed two determined attacks of the enemy, but had not been strong enough to drive him back unaided; now, reinforced in this manner, it joined in an advance which was taken up all along the British line to north and northwest, and which at once became a most effective turning movement. The enemy's left, thus threatened, gave way, and this was the beginning of the end, for at 6 A.M. a general retirement of the Boers from the river-bed began. Picking up their horses, they galloped away towards the north and north-west, and only for a short distance did they come under the fire of our guns.

The last shot was fired at 6.15. The fight had been a costly one, some 25 per cent, of Kekewich’s column being killed or wounded—a fact which proves the intensity of the Boer rifle fire and the determination of the attack.

It is evident, however, that the patrols sent out before daylight precipitated matters and upset Delarey's plan. He had intended to delay his attack until Kemp and Steinkamp had worked round to the rear of the camp, and until day should be dawning, when—the camp being on the top of a slope against the skyline—few officers or men would ever have got out of it unhit. As it was, the attack took place before the Boer flanking parties had reached their destination; most of the British troops were in the firing line before dawn; and though, as has been seen, the casualties in camp became very heavy as the light increased, they were far less than would have been the case had the attack been launched twenty minutes later.

It is said that the quality most requisite to successful generalship consists in the faculty of acting normally in abnormal times of emergency. A quick decision and a prompt execution of the only possible course achieved at Moedwil an unqualified success for the defence, when the least vacillation or want of control would have caused an unmitigated disaster.

All the Scottish Horse did well that day, but a brief mention should be made of three Perthshire men who rendered especially good service-Major Duff, who by his able dispositions materially contributed to the victory; Captain “ Pete ” Rattray, who gallantly led out his untried squadron to where the fire was hottest; and Surgeon-Captain Kidd, who, though severely wounded early in the day, continued to attend to the wounded until 10 A.M., when he was obliged to give in through loss of blood. Two others should also be noted Lieutenant W. Jardine, who, in spite of having received two wounds, remained in command of his men, and Farrier-Sergeant Kirkpatrick, who pursued and killed Boshoff, the leader of the Boer scouts, who had got right into camp. Among those killed was an excellent non-commissioned officer, Scout-Sergeant William McGregor, from Weem.

The following tables show as nearly as can be ascertained the total casualties of the column, and the losses of the Scottish Horse in particular. It may also be mentioned that 327 horses and 185 mules were killed, and that 117 rounds of shrapnel, 800 rounds of maxim, and about 67,000 rounds of small-arm ammunition were expended.


Killed and died of wounds. Officers: 5, NCOs and men: 56. Total 61
Wounded. Officers: 21, NCOs and men: 110. Total 131
Grand total 192


Killed and died of wounds.

Captain H. A. F. Watson (Adjutant).
Lieutenants T. J. Irvine and H. N. C. Erskine-Flower.
17 NCOs and men.
Toral 20

Major C. E. Duff.
Major A. Blair, D.S.O.
Captains P. M. Rattray and P. N. Field.
Surgeon-Captain W. S. Kidd.
Lieutenants J. Stuart-Wortley, D. Rattray, W. N. Edwards, M. Prior, D.S.O., W. Loring, N. C. G. Cameron, and W. Jardine.
41 NCOs and men

Grand total 73
Dr David Biggins
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Moedwil 3 weeks 6 days ago #74017

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A very informative account of the action at Moedwil.
I note, in particular, the high ratio of killed in action to those men wounded. No doubt the casualties presented a much easier target against the skyline.
As inferred, it could have been disastrous had Kemp and Steinkamp reached their tactical positions as planned.
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Moedwil 3 weeks 6 days ago #74023

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From Lord Kitchener's Mentions of October 8, 1901.
As noted earlier in this thread, Pte. W.Bees of the Derby's was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions during the defence of the camp.

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