Established in October 1875, the Newcastle Mounted Rifles was another regiment in the style of the day: small by British standards, normal for Natal, but properly constituted. The unit was commanded by Captain Charles Robert Bradstreet; something of a rolling stone, he had joined the civil service and had been sent up to Newcastle as Assistant Magistrate, later resident Magistrate.
With war looming, Bradstreet had his hands full. The licentious soldiers were giving continual trouble and bar brawls were a daily occurrence. The remount officers came in to protest that the farmers were fleecing them, demanding exorbitant prices for a horse. Boer farmers rode in to complain about cattle thieving and native servants came to complain about ill treatment by their masters. To top it all, the Newcastle Mounted Rifles were rather thin on the ground with a muster of only 20. By the time they were called out on active service on 25 November 1878, on reaching their assembly point, Helpmekaar, the regiment numbered 30 with 8 to follow.
As part of the central or No. 3 Column, the Newcastle Mounted Rifles crossed the Buffalo River as part of the invading force and on 12 January took part in the battle of Sihayo’s kraal. Until the 20th when the column advanced on Isandhlwana, they carried out patrols and kept a lookout for any Zulu warriors.
On the morning of 21 January the entire column was in camp; following Chelmsford’s order of the previous day, two separate parties moved out to reconnoitre to the east. As many of the mounted colonials as possible were required for these duties and all - with the exception of those needed for vidette and outpost duty, and those who were not well or whose horses were not fit - therefore moved out with the reconnoitring force. Just 15 men of the Newcastle Mounted Rifles remained in camp.
Of these men left behind, Bradstreet and seven others were killed in action having retreated into the
dry river bed in front of the camp. According to the Natal Mercury of 27 January 1879, ‘The last that was seen of poor Bradstreet was in a crowd of Zulus, fighting vigorously with sword, his ammunition all expended.’ Caught in the mad stampede to get free of Zulu warriors, now washing their spears in the blood of men and animals, seven men of the Newcastle Mounted Rifles escaped by making their way back to the Buffalo River and reaching the safety of the Natal bank. The remaining men, together with those of the Buffalo Border Guard, remained at Fort Pine until they were finally dismissed. The Newcastle Mounted Rifles arrived in their home town on 8 August and were disbanded shortly thereafter.
38 Medals were awarded to the Newcastle Mounted Rifles, 37 of them with the ‘1879’ clasp.