Dear Cowan,

I asked Major Crompton for a copy of his report on the successful defence of the Railway Reconstruction trains at Leeuwspruit on 14th June.  Owing to postal disarrangements it is possible that the original nay not have reached Smith-Dorrien.  It has since been reported by an escaped prisoner that De Wet had 1500 men with him in the attack.  The Electrical Engineers R.E. are one of the very few complete Volunteer units out here, and I write in case Lord Roberts may not have received the report of their gallant action.  The little force consisted almost entirely of R.E. details.

Yours sincerely,
Elliott Wood.
11. 7. 1900.



Attack on two Construction Trains, dated 22nd June 1900.

C in C, 123/118

Camp Railhead, Viljoen’s Drift, June  22nd 1900.


I have the honour to submit for your information the following report on the attack on the 2 Construction Trains made by the: Boers - reported to be under the Command of General De Wet.

On June 14th at 1.35 a.m. the night working party, under command of Lieutenant North R.E. were at work on the Crib piers of the recently destroyed Bridge at Leeuwspruit close to the 619 mile post.  The two construction trains A and B were then about ½ mile apart, A being drawn up close to the working party at the spruit, B being in the act of starting Northwards to shunt "empties" at Leeuwspruit Siding.

The first notice of the attack was the derailing of the northernmost truck of train B, caused by a stone being wedged into the "guard rail" by the Boers, followed by the train being fired on by an attacking party apparent­ly surrounding it.  The troops on the train who had their rifles and ammunition at hand replied at once - and apparently with effect as the Boers drew off - and apparently went to assist the party attacking train A.  The officers’ coach on Train B was riddled, and the officers sleeping in it had narrow escapes.  The Engineering reconstruction work was under Lieut Micklem R.E.  The other Officers being extra R.E. officer acting as his assistants, or like myself in command of Volunteer Engineer details who were acting as working parties.

The attack on train A commenced by a Volley which caused the Engine driver to move Northward.  This removed the arms or the working party from being close to their hands to a considerable distance to enable the Boers to reach them and thus capture 1 officer Lieut North and 80 Non-commissioned officers and men were made prisoners.  We who were asleep on train A were unaware of this - but awakened by the firing, turned out of the train - and at once lost 2 Officers wounded, several men, and a large number of Basutos killed and wounded.  Lieut Micklem was hit by this first volley which enfiladed the Eastern side of the train.  Whilst I was attending to Lieut Micklem a message cane in from the Boer Commandant - one of our own sergeants of the captured party bringing the message.  We were summoned to surrender the train "as they were in greatly superior force and would shell the trains", we paid no attention to the message and I took command and extended the Sappers who were left along a line at right angles to the eastern side of the train.

I advanced the line southwards towards the spruit, and took up a good position on abridge of rocks which extended about 200 yards eastwards from the southern end of train A.  Later on Captain Lloyd R.E. my second in command, extended a few men to the westward also from the southern end of train A.    We were short of ammunition so that we fired only occasionally just to a sufficient extent to show the length of our line.  The Boers after the first attack took up a position on a ridge running almost parallel to train A 450 yards to the west of it and from there kept up an almost continuous fire on the train - from 2 a.m. to 5 o'clock.   At this time, someone, which we afterwards found out was a party sent out by Lord Kitchener himself from Kopjes, fired several rounds of shrapnel along a line from South to North - and almost enfilading the Boer position.   This no doubt caused them to abandon the attack - as firing on the train was discontinued about 5 or 5.15 but it was not until about 5.30 that we could get to the trains and render effective aid to the wounded.

The night was intensely cold and trying to the Officers and men all of whom with exception or the night working party were asleep in the trucks when the attack commenced.  Although taken at such a serious disadvantage every­one was as cool and steady as on a parade.  It was a difficult matter for young troops to free themselves from the crowd of Basutos who cleared out from the trains at the first volleys fired by the Boers - but there was no confusion, ammunition was quietly served out - and our flanking parties were got into strong positions within a few minutes of the summons to surrender which made a successful Boer attack on the train almost an impossibility.

Lieut Micklem R.E although twice hit in one ankle showed great endurance remaining by the train and giving his orders for two hours after he was hit.

I received great assistance from Captain Lloyd R.E. Captain Webber R.E. Lieut Manifold R.E. and Lieut Pritchard R.E.  Unfortunately Lieut Holmes of the R.I.F was severely wounded during the first attack on train B.

The services of two Non-commissioned Officers, Sergeant Phillips Electrical Engineers, who was at the outer flank of our eastern line, and Sergt H. Newman of the Norfolk Regt who distributed the ammunition are deserving of recognition.

I regret to say that the casualty list is heavy considering the smallness of the force defending the trains.

I have to report that Corporal Daniels 20th Coy R.E. Sapper D. Atkinson Cheshire Co R.E. Vols: and Lance Corpl Burns or the 2nd Bedforshire Regt were killed.  Three officers, Lieut Micklem E.E., 2nd Lieut H.F.Bigge Electrical Engineers, and Lieut Holmes of the R.I.F. were severely wounded.  3 Sappers 1 Civilian Engine driver severely wounded - a large number probably about 30 Basutos killed and wounded, and 1 officer Lieut North R.E., and 80 sappers missing - of these Lieut North and 60 sappers are prisoners in the hands of the Boers, remainder have since returned to camp.  The missing officer and men formed the night working party at the Bridge.

I need hardly point out to you Sir how greatly the work of renewing the line of railway would have been retarded by the loss of these two construction trains with all the tools and gear, and reconstruction materials and to point out that after deducting the missing working party, and officers and men killed and wounded by the first volleys the two trains were successfully defended by 8 officers and 96 men, a large part of the latter being Volunteer Engineer details.

I have the honour to be
Your obedient servant,

(Sgd) R. E. Crompton Major Commanding Electrical Engineers R.E.

The G.O.C.
Line of Communication Kroonstadt – Pretoria

Copy to Engineer in Chief Army Head Quarters, Pretoria.

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