In his evidence before the War Commission General Sir G A French said that the total contribution of this colony to the fighting strength in South Africa was 6945 officers and men and 6104 horses, with six 15-pounder guns. He also stated that the contingent of the NSW Lancers, 70 all ranks, who had been at Aldershot for training, were the first oversea Colonials to land in South Africa. They had sailed from Britain on 10th October 1899, actually before war was declared. They arrived on 2nd November. A draft of 5 officers, 1 warrant officer, 32 men, and 130 horses, sailed from New South Wales on 28th October to make up a complete squadron.
The Lancers, after their arrival at Cape Town, were sent to De Aar, but were shortly split up—one body, about 40, under Captain Cox, going to Colesberg, and another, about 30, under Lieutenant Osborne, to Orange River. The latter formed part of Lord Methuen's force when he advanced north from Orange River. This detachment was engaged at Belmont, 23rd November 1899; at Enslin on the 25th; at Modder River on the 28th; and at Magersfontein on 11th December.
In the last week of December Lieutenant Osborne and his detachment were taken from Lord Methuen and sent to join the remainder of the squadron, who had been doing good work under General Sir J P D French in the Colesberg district. In a telegram of 19th January Lord Roberts said: "A patrol of the NSW Lancers, halting at a drift for water, was taken by surprise. Two killed and fourteen missing". The incident happened on the 16th. Lieutenant Dowling of the 1st Australian Horse was in command; he was wounded. Corporal Kilpatrick of the Lancers was killed. The patrol made a very gallant fight, and six actually broke through, although the enemy were said to be 100 strong."
In his despatch of 2nd February 1900 General French mentions the squadron of Lancers as part of his force. They were put into a brigade consisting of the 6th Dragoon Guards, New Zealand MR, and some Regular Mounted Infantry. The detachment with General French was the advance-guard of a force which reconnoitred towards Colesberg on 21st November, and were said to have behaved with steadiness. Thereafter they took their share in the very arduous work which fell to General French's force in the Colesberg district during December 1899 and January and February 1900.
When Lord Roberts was about to undertake the relief of Kimberley and the advance on Bloemfontein, the squadron of NSW Lancers was taken to Modder River and put into the 1st Cavalry Brigade under Brigadier General Porter. Lord Roberts' army commenced its advance on 11th February, and General French entered Kimberley with his cavalry and some mounted infantry on the 15th. An excellent account of the work of the 1st Brigade is to be found in the 'War Record of the Inniskilling Dragoons', by Lieutenant Colonel Watkins-Yardley (Longmans, 1904), who at p 43, speaking of the last halt to reform and water before entering Kimberley, says: "There was but little subsequent resistance, but the march was long and thirsty, and the horses were badly done up. For instance, 'A' squadron Inniskilling Dragoons could only muster 42 horses on its arrival at Kimberley. There the NSW Lancers under Major Lee were attached to it under Major Allenby, making the squadron up to 120 horses, and thereafter they remained with the regiment, rendering yeoman service until their return to New South Wales". From Modder River to Bloemfontein Major Allenby's men were constantly in the thickest, and always did well. Few cavalry leaders came out of the campaign with a better reputation than he did. On 12th March he led the advance-guard of the 1st Cavalry Brigade, and after a long march seized some hills a few miles south of Bloemfontein, which practically commanded the town. On the 13th the capital surrendered. The strength of the NSW Lancers when they marched into Bloemfontein was 6 officers, 89 men, and 90 horses. On the 15th Major Allenby's men and some others escorted a convoy to Thabanchu via Sannah's Post, the scene of Broadwood's mishap on the 31st (see Roberts' Horse). The regiment now had much reconnoitring work to do, and on several occasions the Lancers had casualties. On the 29th March the 1st Cavalry Brigade, including the Australian Horse and the NSW Lancers under Captain Cox, were engaged in the battle of Karee Siding, and their fine conduct was specially mentioned by various British correspondents who were present. On the 31st, the day of Sannah's Post, the brigade was sent out to help Broadwood, but was too late to be of any assistance in the way of recovering the lost guns or waggons: however, they were able to bring in the British wounded, who had been left in some buildings.
While the army was at Bloemfontein the Lancers received a reinforcing draft of nearly half a squadron, which had sailed about 16th February. The work of the cavalry had been such that, on 3rd April, the 1st Brigade had only 120 fit horses, 'A' squadron of the Inniskillings only mustering 17. Throughout April many of the infantry battalions were able to get some rest, but the mounted men had to undertake long reconnoitring patrols and constant outpost work. Lord Roberts had, however, been reorganising his army, getting up stores and horses, and on 1st May he was ready to move again. Under that date Lieutenant Colonel Watkins-Yardley says "The New South Wales Lancers under Major Lee, who had hitherto been attached to 'A' squadron, were formed into a distinct squadron of the 6th Inniskilling Dragoons. They were proud to be considered a part of the Regiment: all officers will testify to their usefulness, the fine scouting and efficient work they rendered. Under splendid officers their coolness, self-reliance, and dash brought them out of difficulties where other troops might have suffered severely ... The Australian Horse were similarly attached to the Scots Greys".
It is impossible to embody here all the other references to the New South Wales Lancers; but up to the entry into Pretoria they did work of a very high order. On the 28th May they cleared the enemy from a farm at Olifant's Vlei. On 3rd June there was very severe fighting at Kalkheuvels Pass, when the squadron and 'A' squadron of the Inniskillings averted what might very easily have developed into a panic, by rapidly dismounting and pouring in a heavy and well-directed fire on the enemy, who, posted in a strong position, had suddenly attacked the troops in front when passing through a difficult gorge. On 6th June, when the British prisoners were released, the enemy heavily attacked the relieving force when they had commenced to return. Allenby's men covered the retirement, and again did splendidly.
At Diamond Hill on 11th and 12th June the whole of the 1st Cavalry Brigade was very heavily engaged on the left, and only maintained their ground by exhibiting great determination. It will be remembered that the cavalry and mounted infantry on the right also found it difficult to make progress, and that the infantry had to attack and pierce the enemy's centre. From this time till the middle of July the squadron was much on outpost duty and in constant touch with the enemy. On 15th July two posts were attacked at dawn, and were only saved by the timely arrival of the Lancers and 'B' squadron of the Inniskillings, who together drove back the enemy.
During the advance to Belfast, from there to Carolina, and thence to Barberton and Avoca, the Inniskillings and their Colonial comrades rendered splendid service, and Colonel Yardley makes many very flattering references to their work. As showing the complete confidence the leaders had in the squadron, it may be noted that when it became known that fifty two locomotives were standing at Avoca, the men sent down to capture and guard this extremely valuable prize was a troop of NSW Lancers under Lieutenant Nicholson. Colonel Yardley mentions his meeting, a few days later, with this officer, and relates how cleverly Nicholson had captured three prisoners: "Noticing small details is one of the arts of scouting, and in it our Colonial brothers excel. Lieutenant Nicholson himself was a fine specimen. Though getting on in life, he was capable and worthy of a much higher command; but on the war breaking out he cheerfully undertook the duties of a subaltern". It was frequently remarked by regular officers that some of their brethren of the Colonial regiments were too old; but age alone brings caution and the 'cuteness' necessary to outwit a Boer: and to the mature years of a large proportion of their officers the immunity from mishaps and the general success of many Colonial contingents were undoubtedly due. Apart from this is the fact that volunteer corps, with many men of good position in the ranks, do not relish being 'bossed' by very young officers.
The Lancers had some casualties about Carolina on 10th October 1900. They took part in General French's march from Machododorp to Heidelberg, 13th to 25th October 1900, and had a full share of the almost continuous fighting which took place throughout the fortnight. Speaking of 19th October, Colonel Yardley says: "Major Allenby, with the Inniskilling Dragoons, 2 guns and a pom-pom, fought a fine rearguard action, the Regiment bearing the brunt of the fighting. Captain Stevenson Hamilton's squadron did good work, also the NSW Lancers. The latter, which worked as a squadron of the Regiment, consistently rendered excellent service. They were a fine lot of men, and their officers — especially Major Lee, Captain Cox, and Lieutenant Heron—were hard to beat anywhere".
The following extract is gratifying as showing that many of our late enemies were people of fine feeling: "October 15. A NSW Lancer whom we left badly wounded at Carolina on our last occupation died a few days ago: the inhabitants reported that the enemy had buried him most reverently, numbers attending the funeral in tall hats and frock-coats. We found his grave beautifully decorated with flowers".
On 29th October Colonel Yardley says: "Major Lee with his squadron now left us on their return to New South Wales, greatly to our regret. Captain Cox, Second-in-Command, afterwards returned as Lieutenant Colonel of the New South Wales Mounted Rifles, and rendered admirable service for twelve months under Colonel Rimington".
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