Major Winsloe was in command inside the fort in Potchefstroom.
COLONEL R.W.C. WINSLOE joined the 15th Foot in 1853, the following year volunteering to the Royal Scots Fusiliers. In 1855 the Regiment went out to the Crimea and the following account is taken from an article “21st Royal North British Fusiliers, now 21st Royal Scots Fusiliers”, published in the Ayrshire Post of January, 1885:
“On the night of 15th August 1885 [sic, for 1855], the Fusiliers furnished the duties on the extreme left of our
position in the advance trench. The party numbered about 300 of all ranks, 100 of whom were detached under the command of Lieut. Winsloe (now Colonel 2nd Battalion R.S. Fusiliers), into the Grave Yard. This was the most advanced position on the British left attack, and could only be occupied during the night. It was situated on the left front of, and under our fifth parallel, on the low ground between the British and Russian batteries, cutting across the head of the Picket House Ravine, and extending almost under the muzzles of the Russian guns. The party could only enter it when dark, retiring from it again at daybreak. On the above night we had taken up our position as described, Lieutenant Winsloe posting a strong line of double sentries a considerable distance in front to guard against surprise. The night was very dark, thus requiring increased vigilance on the part of all. About an hour after midnight, Lieut. Winsloe, with escort, went out visiting the centries (sic), when a sound caught his ear. He soon discovered the cause. The enemy were forming up on the plain in front of their creek battery, some of whom had already begun to move forward in the direction of our trenches. Under the cool directions of this young officer our sentries delivered their fire, when all retired within the trench in a most orderly manner and then lined the parapet ready to defend the same. The fire was repeated along the whole line of sentries in front of the advance trench above us. The enemy, seeing that our men were on the alert, did not advance further.
Thus a well-organised sortie was frustrated by the cool and daring conduct of Lieut. Winsloe. The object of the enemy in thus trying to steal upon us on this occasion was to divert British attention away from the attack which they were about to make on the French and Sardinians on the plains of the Tchernaya. It was now about daybreak, and heavy firing could be heard from the direction of the latter. Our party, under Lieut. Winsloe, now retired from the Grave Yard, and marched to the camp, there to be ready to fall in at a moment’s notice to reinforce the French and Sardinians, who were then engaged fighting the ever-memorable battle of the Tchenaya.”
The Regiment was sent out to Natal in February 1879. At theBattle of Ulundi, on 4 July, the regiment formed a portion of the right of the hollow square, and with the 58th, bore the brunt of the first desperate onslaught of the enemy, large numbers of whom got to within thirty yards of the line before their advance was stayed. Winsloe was severely wounded in the chest during the engagement (Mentioned in Dispatches, London Gazette: 21 August 1879, Brevet of Lieutenant Colonel).
Following the Zulu campaign the Regiment was sent to the Transvaal and was at Pretoria at the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War 1880-81. In December 1880 Colonel Winsloe was ordered to relieve the officer in command at Potchefstroom, arriving on 12th December. On 16th December, “Dingaan’s Day,’’ the Boers launched their attack on the fort, which continued until its surrender on 21 March of the following year (wounded, Mentioned in Dispatches).
The following extract is taken from Sir H. Mortimer Durand, A Holiday in South Africa., Part IV, Potchefstroom, Blackwood’s Magazine, Nov. 1910:
“... there during the course of the unhappy war of 1881, a war remarkable for some painful defeats inflicted upon British troops, and closed by a humiliating peace, a small body of our country men redeemed by a very brave feat the honour of our arms. It is the “Old Fort’’, in which for three months 140 men of the Scottish Fusiliers, with some artillerymen and a few civilians, held their ground against the attacks of an enemy
very superior in numbers. Their only defences were a hastily raised line of earthwork. They were encumbered with women and children and camp-followers. The hot season was upon them and made life a misery. Their supplies and water was insufficient. The round-shot and rifle-fire of the enemy, who had good cover in almost every direction, searched the enclosure side to side, and forced the garrison to take shelter in holes dug under the “wall”, the little tents they had put up at first being soon riddled with bullets. From first to last they
lost more than a third of their number in killed and wounded, and there was much sickness. Yet under the command of a brave and capable officer, Winsloe, they held out till they were practically without food and even then the enemy brought about their surrender only by a breach of faith which was condemned and repudiated by the Boer Government. It is a fine story, and an Englishman who stands in the little grass grown square, now neglected and almost forgotten, cannot but think with pride and gratitude of the men who held it so long … “
“ …the war of 1881, for which we were as usual not ready, and the peace which, as even its apologists admit, brought upon us the contempt of our brave enemies, are not pleasant things to think of. One thanks God that a British officer was found in this time of need whose one thought was to do his duty and keep the flag flying. He was not the only one, for our small garrisons in the Transvaal all held out well: but their trials and sufferings were not so great.”
A District Order issued by Colonel Bellairs, C.B., 7 April 1881 (as quoted in Winsloe’s own book Siege of
“The fort at Potchefstroom capitulated on the 21st March, but only when its garrison was reduced to extremity, and after as brave a defence as any in military annals; the troops marching out with the honours of war, and proceeding through the Orange Free State to Natal. The sterling qualities for which British soldiers have been so renowned have been brilliantly shown in this instance, during a long period of privation and under very trying circumstances. Colonel Bellair begs Lieutenant-Colonel Winsloe, and the officers and men under
him, will accept his thanks for the proud and determined way in which they have performed their duty”.
In 1882 Winsloe was appointed A.D.C. to the Queen, a position which he held until his retirement in 1890. He
commanded the 2nd Battalion in the Burmese Expedition 1885-87 and was present at the Relief of Thyabin.
(Mentioned in Dispatches, G.G.O. 864 of 1887). In 1889 he was nominated a C.B.
Colonel R.W.C. Winsloe, C.B. died on 5 June 1917.