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War came to Natal 10 years 3 months ago #1221

  • Brett Hendey
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14/10/1899 - 14/10/2011

Today is the anniversary of the invasion of Natal by the Boers in 1899. It was a gentle affair involving relatively few men and no bloodshed. The only casualties were members of a Natal Police detachment monitoring the Transvaal border, who surrendered without a fight. One of them was Trooper C C Alexander, whose story is told below:

TROOPER C C ALEXANDER, NATAL POLICE
(LATER WARDER, NATAL POLICE)

Queen’s South Africa Medal with three clasps (Natal, Transvaal, South Africa 1901).
Natal Rebellion Medal with 1906 clasp. (Medal missing.)

During the Anglo-Boer War, Alexander was one of the first casualties in the Natal theatre of operations, having been taken prisoner by the Boers on 14/10/1899, three days after the start of the War.


Charles Curling Alexander enlisted in the Natal Police (NP) on 15/9/1898 (No. 2209). He is recorded as having a “Good discharge from 1st Middlesex Regt”. He provided testimonials from Captain Hughes of the 1st Middlesex Regiment, and Superintendent Alexander of the Durban Borough Police. The latter may have been a relation, although Alexander was recorded as having “no kin”.

Alexander served throughout the Anglo-Boer War, except for a brief period with the Provisional Transvaal Constabulary, and was discharged from the NP at his own request on 15/12/1904, his character having been recorded as “Very Good”. After only about three weeks, he rejoined on 5/1/1905 as a Warder in the Gaol Department. He served throughout the Natal Rebellion of 1906. He was appointed Gaoler on 24/12/1907 and on 7/10/1910 he was “Re-engaged after 12 years”.

There is no known subsequent record of his service, although he might have been transferred to the South African Prison’s Department in 1913, after the Natal Police ceased to exist. No record of his service in the S A Prison’s Department has been found, but this Department’s early records are incomplete and the tracing of individuals is difficult.

While serving in the NP, Alexander was awarded the QSA with three clasps (Natal, Transvaal, South Africa 1901), and the Natal Rebellion Medal with 1906 clasp. The latter Medal was named to “Warder C.C.M. Alexander”, which is the only known reference to a third forename. The whereabouts of this Medal is not known. If Alexander did indeed join the S A Prison’s Department, it is possible that he would have qualified for the award of the S A Prison’s Faithful Service Medal.

Alexander’s service during the Anglo-Boer War is notable for the fact that he and several colleagues were taken prisoner by the Boers on 14/10/1899, thus becoming “what may have been the first P.O.Ws of the Boer War” (Droogleever 1993), as well as the first casualties on the British side in the Natal theatre of operations.

This incident was recorded by Clarke (1909/10: 503, 404) as follows:

“When war became inevitable, orders were issued to all Police Detachments in the Newcastle and Dundee Districts to hold themselves in readiness to abandon their camps, and retire on Dundee. On the 14th October this mobilization actually took place, but at the request of the G.O.C. the Detachment at De Jager’s Drift was left to watch the movements of the Boers on the opposite side of the Buffalo River, and the doings of this detachment may well be left to Sergt. Mann, who was in charge, and who reports as follows:-
‘Some months prior to the outbreak of the late Boer War, the Detachment, which consisted of Sergeant Mann and Troopers Askland and Alexander, were kept busy patrolling the Transvaal border, and sending in reports as to the Boer movements to the Military authorities at Dundee. Later on, when the political situation became more strained, we were strengthened by the addition of Trooper Ferguson from Helpmekaar, Troopers Kenny and Harris from Hatting Spruit, and Trooper Attwood from Dundee, with the idea of keeping a more strict watch along the Border, our orders being to retire towards Botha’s Nek, midway between De Jager’s Drift and Dundee, in the event of the position becoming untenable. We had telephonic communication to Dundee, and were instructed from there to ring up every two hours both day and night. I think it was about the beginning of October, 1899, that the Boers formed camps at the Doornberg Hill, near De Jager’s Drift; they also occupied Messrs. McLagan and Maby’s railway construction camp just across the Border, and which was almost in sight of our camp. On the 14th October, Saturday morning, early (about 6 a.m.), I had only been back in Camp a short while, having been watching at the Drift during the night with Troopers Askland and Ferguson, when I noticed a party of Boers, about 25 strong, coming towards the Drift, from the direction of Utrecht: it appeared as though they were intending to cross the river, but on arriving at the Transvaal Customs House they off-saddled there, and no particular notice was taken of this, as the same thing had been going on for weeks before. Of course at that time Dundee was occupied by the Troops, and information was at once sent by telephone, giving the numbers, etc., of this party of Boers.
At about 9 a.m. Trooper Harris was sent to the Emjanyadu Hill on patrol, and he was subsequently captured. At about 11 a.m. a party of about 18 Boers crossed the River, and managed to capture our horses, which were then out grazing, and drove them across the River into the Transvaal. At first we could not understand why they had crossed without any warning, as we had not heard then of any action having taken place, or a shot fired. About half an hour later a party of our Mounted Troops appeared over the rise of a hill a mile from our Camp, on the main road, and halted there. The Boers from their position, which was higher than ours, must have seen these Troops some time before we did, and I suppose, thought they would take our horses while the opportunity still offered. I expect these Troops were sent out to reconnoitre the position at De Jager’s Drift, and also, perhaps, on account of my wire reporting the arrival of the party of 25 Boers from Utrecht direction. I could see the officer in command scanning the position with his glasses, and it evidently did not look very inviting to him, as he came no further, and almost immediately retired, galloping towards Dundee, the Boers being in close pursuit. It was towards midday when these Boers returned from the pursuit and recrossed the Border about a mile from our Camp.
This news was sent to Dundee, and I received instructions to remain at the post, and to secrete all arms and ammunition, and a party would be sent to our relief with fresh horses. While these orders were being sent the wire was cut. We could see from the Camp one of the enemy climbing the pole. At 2 p.m. a party of Boers, 20 strong, crossed the Border at the Drift, and galloped up and surrounded the Camp, taking us all prisoners, with the exception of Trooper Harris (away on patrol), and Trooper Ferguson, who managed to secrete himself, subsequently getting away wearing a Kafir blanket. We were taken to their Camp, about a mile from the Drift, and from there sent on to Vryheid by mule wagon.
We were not aware that a shot had been fired until the Boers themselves told us that an action had been fought at Maribago against an armoured train, on the 11th October.
After the occupation of Pretoria, when some houses were being searched, a photo was found of Trooper Ferguson, showing him to have been at one time a Lieutenant in the Transvaal Staats Artillery – his proper name being Lean.’ “

Curiously, in view of Sergeant Mann’s statement, Clarke then goes on to record that the De Jager’s Drift detachment were made prisoners on the 13/10/1899, not 14/10/1899.

Thirteen members of the NP taken prisoner at De Jager’s Drift and elsewhere were held in Pretoria and released on 6/6/1900, when the city fell to the British. One man, Sergeant C W Collins, died in captivity on 23/4/1900 (Anon. 1980). Twelve of the ex-POW’s, including Alexander, were drafted into the Provisional Transvaal Constabulary and served with this force from June until August, with Alexander leaving it on 17/8/1900.


REFERENCES

Anon. 1980. The South African War Casualty Roll. The “Natal Field Force.”
Polstead, Suffolk: J B Haywood & Son.

Anon. No date. Natal Medal Roll 1906. Uckfield, East Sussex: The Naval &
Military Press.

Clarke, W J 1909/1910. A History of the Natal Police. The Nongqai: 503, 504.

Droogleever, R W F. 1993. The Q.S.A. and K.S.A. to the Natal Police: some
facts and figures. Journal of the Orders and Medals Research Society.
Spring 1993: 22, 23.


Medal Rolls under WO 100 for the QSA and KSA to the Natal Police. National
Archives, London.

Pietermaritzburg Archives Repository of the National Archives of South Africa –
Various papers indexed under ‘Natal Police.’
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Re: War came to Natal 10 years 3 months ago #1222

  • capepolice
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Hello Brett,

A real treasure you have there to a man that was perhaps one of the first POW's of the war.

Good on you for noting today as the anniversary of the invasion of Natal.

Regards

Adrian
Part time researcher of the Cape Police and C.P.G Regiment.

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Re: War came to Natal 10 years 3 months ago #1224

  • Mark Wilkie
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capepolice wrote: Hello Brett,

A real treasure you have there to a man that was perhaps one of the first POW's of the war.

Good on you for noting today as the anniversary of the invasion of Natal.

Regards

Adrian

Thanks, Brett! I'll echo Adrian. A real treasure of a post to remember the anniversary of the invasion of Natal.

Cheers,

Mark

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Re: War came to Natal 10 years 3 months ago #1225

  • QSAMIKE
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Good Morning Brett....

Great article, lucky to be able to have access to archives......

Mike
Life Member
Past-President Calgary
Military Historical Society
O.M.R.S. 1591

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Re: War came to Natal 10 years 3 months ago #1227

  • djb
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That's a fascinating account Brett and a lovely medal too.

I imagine it must have been a strange time to be stationed so close to the border at a time when war was expected imminently.

Best wishes
David
Dr David Biggins

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Re: War came to Natal 10 years 3 months ago #1228

  • djb
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A short extract from the Talana book:

Deneys Reitz described the moment when the Boers crossed into Natal: “After a long ride we emerged into open country and there, winding across the plain ran the Buffalo River with the green hills and pleasant valleys of Natal stretching beyond. With one accord the long files of horsemen reined in, and we gazed silently on the land of promise. General Maroola, with a quick eye to the occasion, faced round and made a speech telling us that Natal was a heritage filched from our forefathers, which must now be recovered from the usurper. Amid enthusiastic cries we began to ford the stream. It took nearly an hour for all to cross, and during this time the cheering and singing of the 'Volkslied' were continuous, and we rode into the smiling land of Natal full of hope and courage.”

Schikkerling gave another picture of this time in Natal:

“Entering the enemy's territory at Botha's Pass we descended into Natal through the mountains by a narrow winding pathway, which in parts was only a shelf cut in the mountain side. The country in every direction was mountainous, and the prospect was strikingly beautiful. It was spring, and all sorts of green, subtropical vegetation and flowers spread over the mountain slopes. At our approach, the border Police, residing in rondavels on the upper Ingogo River, fled, leaving their table spread, the food unfinished, and cups of tea, almost warm, to the guests unbidden. The next day the wagons transporting our impedimenta descended through the pass in a long file and camped near the Police huts. Our vehicles presented a strange spectacle - laundry wagons, grocers' wagons, butchers' carts, trolleys and spiders, many of them bearing the names of the firms or persons from whom they had been commandeered. Irregularly, alongside and between, on horseback and on foot, came the men, each one dressed for war according to his own sweet fancy.”

The main column, under Joubert, occupied Laing’s Nek on 13th October and the general was amazed to find the pass unguarded, the railway bridges intact and the railway line untouched. Two of the Long Tom artillery pieces were dragged up to the top of Mount Pogweni, to the west of Laing’s Nek, from where they could command the paths north to Laing’s Nek but they were not needed. Indeed, rather than adopt a defensive stance, the commandos probed further south in the next few days but they were ever wary of coming into contact with the British. On the 14th, the vanguard under Erasmus moved on Newcastle and Kock pushed his forces to Muller’s Pass. Joubert reached Newcastle on the 16th.
Dr David Biggins

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