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Mortimer, 2nd June 1902 2 years 1 month ago #67139

  • BereniceUK
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Oswaldtwistle Yeoman among the Boers.

….Mr. H. Bower, of Oswaldtwistle, has received an interesting letter from Corporal E. Nowell, of the Imperial Yeomanry, whose residence is at Stanhill, and who was one of the Church Artillery until the war broke out, and joined the Imperial Yeomanry, in which he has gained the rank of corporal.
….Having expressed his satisfaction that peace had been proclaimed, the letter states: - I am now going to give you a few details of my experiences in a Boer laager. We, that is, one officer, one sergeant, two corporals besides myself, 19 men, two black scouts, one signaller, and one Colonial scout, left our column at Dreefontein at 7 a.m. on the morning of Tuesday, June 2nd, to go scouting and to try to locate the enemy. Men had been sent out the day previous from different parts of the colony under the white flag to inform the Boers and rebels that peace had been signed and that hostilities were ended in South Africa. Our orders were that if we came in touch with the enemy we had not to fire a shot unless we were fired upon. I was sent on in charge of the advance guard, and came in contact with the enemy about 10 miles from Dreefontein.
….It seems that the Boers were not aware that peace had been signed. I was going along the road just in front of two of my men when we came to a small kopje. We dismounted, and led our horses up the hill, and when we got to the top I could see smoke rising just ahead. I told the men that I would gallop on and see what it was, and that they must follow on behind. I came to a bit of a rise, and when I got to the top I saw it was a farm, and I could see two horsemen riding past. They sighted me as soon as I saw them. I could not turn back to go and inform our officer, because if I had the Boers would all have turned out, and they could have killed every one of our men, who were coming along the valley below, before they could have returned a shot. I stuck my spurs into my horse and galloped into the Boers before they had time to get up from their dinners, which they were just having. They pointed their rifles at me and shouted "Hands up!" and pulled me off my horse and took my rifle and bandoliers and also my boots, and most of them galloped out to meet our men, who were not aware the enemy were near. However, I asked the Boer commandant not to fire on our men, as we had not come out to fight, but to inform them that peace had been signed, and that hostilities were over. He would not believe me at first, but just then my two men came up, and they made them prisoners also, and they both told the same tale I had told, and so I managed to convince the Boer leader that I was speaking the truth. I told him that if any of our men fired on them he could shoot me. He said he would, and then galloped out and told his men (who had already taken up a position and had lined the ridges, not to fire until he gave the order. However, our men had seen them from below, and thinking that the Boers were going to open fire galloped away to cover. The Boers, thinking that our men were going to get a position and open fire immediately opened fire,
and mortally wounding our officer, Lieutenant Spratt, and another man, and slightly wounding one of our corporals. More of the enemy then came up and surrounded our men, and called for them to put up their hands, and they wouldn't fire. Our men, seeing that there was nothing else for it, immediately gave in, the enemy numbering over 100. They then brought the men into the farm, and asked them whether they came out to fight or on a peace errand. They all told the same tale, and they then gave us permission to bring in our wounded and bury our dead. The casualties were as follow: - Lieutenant Spratt, of Liverpool, mortally wounded; Private Hale, of Kent, killed; Private Hanley, of Rochdale, mortally wounded; Corporal Boardman, of Bolton, slightly wounded.
….The Boer commandant then came to me and said he was very sorry for what had happened, but it was warfare. He said that it looked like as if we were playing a trick on them, and had our men put down their rifles instead of galloping on they would not have fired. Then he gave me a dispatch to take to our colonel, and sent another man along with me; the remainder of the men he told to stay at the farm until the ambulance came up. The Boers behaved splendidly to our wounded.
….I have here a copy of the dispatch from the Boer leader to Colonel W. Doran: -
"Will you be so kind as to send an ambulance? Here are some of your men killed and wounded. And will you also be so kind as to send two or three men with a white flag, and a written report if there is such a thing as peace, but not armed men, because it means fighting and not peace? And your lieutenant is severely wounded too. Please send your ambulance as soon as possible. By doing so you will greatly oblige me. - H. J. Van Rensburg, Commandant."

….I took the dispatch to Colonel Doran. I had to go on foot, as they had taken all our arms, ammunition, and horses. They also gave me an old pair of boots. I had gone about four miles, when I came to some of our men. I got one of our horses, and galloped in at once to the colonel. He read the message, and then wrote out a dispatch, and sent the captain of the 17th Lances to get me a good horse. The horse cvame up, and the colonel gave me the dispatch, which contained a written report about peace, and told me to go back to the Boers with the message as fast as I could. I started off and got to the farm where I had left them, but they had gone. I picked up their poor trail, and followed it into the hills, and I just managed to catch up to the rearguard just as the sun was setting. They levelled their rifles at me, but I waved a white handkerchief and they called for me to come up. I galloped up to them and asked for the commandant. One of the men covered me with my own revolver (which he had taken from me in the morning when they made me a prisoner) first they searched my saddle for arms or ammunition. When they were satisfied that all was right they told me that the commandant had gone on in front and that I should have to go with them. They went right up into the hills, and it was pitch dark by the time we got to the Boer laager. There they took me up to the field cornet, and gave him the dispatch, which he read, and then told me that the commandant had gone on ahead, and that I should have to stay with them all night, so I sat down beside the fire and had something to eat, and had a good conversation with the officers and burghers. They told me that I was the only British soldier who had had
since the war broke out. They have often had our men in camp, but they had been prisoners, and they also told me it would be a good experience for me, having seen the way they laager and the way they march. They gave me four blankets to sleep with, and told me I could sleep anywhere I liked. I wasn't long before I made my bed under some bushes, and was very soon asleep, as I was very tired, having done a lot of travelling that day. They marched at daybreak the following morning, and just before they marched I had a good look round the laager. They all bid me good morning, some in English and some in Dutch; however, I understood enough Dutch to return the compliment. It was amusing to see the way they scanned me from head to foot, and I heard many pass the remark, "Smart Englishman, that." They treated me very well indeed. We started on the march, and when we had gone about four miles we came up to another small party of Boers inside a farm. We left these and the remainder behind, and galloped on to try to catch up the commandant. We called at another farm about four miles ahead of the one where we left the commando following us slowly on. Here we had something to eat, and we also learned that the commandant was about five miles ahead of us. We started off again, and finally caught up to the commandant at a large farm called Elands Drift. There were five of us together, the field cornet, two lieutenants, one burgher, and myself. The commandant had an escort of about 12 men with him. We rode up to him, and the field cornet gave him the dispatch. He then directed me to off saddle and turn my horse into the garden, and go into the house and get something to eat myself. I had a very good meal, then a shave and a wash, and then I went and had a conversation with the Boers. They were all very pleased at peace having been proclaimed, and they
….They had two pianos going, and were singing a lot of English songs, one of which was "Shall I see my happy home again." The commandant wrote out a reply to the dispatch, and gave it to me to take back to the column. I got some very nice presents from them for keepsakes. One of the lieutenants gave me a very nice watch, which has his name scratched on inside, in exchange for one of my own. The field cornet gave me a small silk handkerchief with his initials on, and I gave him one that I had had sent out from England. I also got a splendid riding whip from a Boer, and the Transvaal badge from another. They are all very good relics, and most of our men have been up to me to see the curios, and I could have got my own price if I would have sold them.
….I left the Boers at Elands Drift about 11 a.m., and arrived back at our column about three o'clock, having galloped nearly all the way. I have just had to leave off my letter to attend the funeral of our officer, who has been brought to Dreefontein to be buried; they were buried at the place where they fell. I am sure you will all be pleased in England to hear that we are at peace again. All the farmers and Colonials are delighted out here. I must draw my letter to a close as I have other duties to attend to. I am very pleased to say that I have pulled through the war without a scratch, and we have been in rather rough corners at times, as you will have read in the papers. I am expecting being home soon after the Coronation.

Haslingden Gazette, 12th July 1902 [If I remember rightly, this letter also appeared in the Accrington Gazette]

Boardman's QSA has been sold for £350, date unknown.

Frank Hanley is named on Rochdale's ABW memorial.
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Mortimer, 2nd June 1902 2 years 1 month ago #67141

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There were a number of British casualties subsequent to the signing of the Peace. Regrettable but probably inevitable in an era of slow communications.
Here is the entry in SAFF regarding the action near Mortimer on 2nd June, 1902 -

Best regards
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Mortimer, 2nd June 1902 2 years 1 month ago #67151

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Another fascinating post, Berenice. Many thanks
Dr David Biggins

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