Britain and the Colonies responded well to the call of the Government in December 1899, and London was not behindhand. The infantry Volunteers all over England and Scotland answered nobly, and the value of the services of the officers and men who went out was handsomely acknowledged by all the generals.
Taken suddenly from civil life, they rapidly assimilated what extra teaching could be given before being thrown into the field, and when there, almost all became useful soldiers and took the hardships inseparable from active service with a minimum of grumbling. The Metropolitan Volunteers were more in the public eye, because they formed a battalion of infantry, two companies of mounted infantry, and a field battery. They thus had organisation separate from any regiment and a history of their own, whereas the infantry volunteer companies from other parts of the country were attached to their respective territorial battalions of regulars. The latter system has perhaps the most to commend it. It involved less risk. It drew closer the Volunteers and the Regulars, and in doing that it brought many young men of the middle classes into close contact with the rank and file of the army, with obvious advantages to both. That the City Imperial Volunteers came through the crucial test of standing on their own legs is to their credit, and the fact will always be an answer to the humbugs who declare that Volunteers are a useless crowd.
The City Imperial Volunteers embarked on the Briton, Garth Castle, Ariosto, Gaul, and Kinfauns Castle between 16th and 21st January 1900. On 20th February the bulk of the Infantry Battalion left the Cape for De Aar and Orange River, in which district they took over various posts from the Regulars. On account of the rising in the Britstown district fighting was soon seen, and on 6th March 13 men were wounded, some of these being taken prisoners. On 31st March the battalion left De Aar for Bloemfontein via Naauwpoort. At the latter place they were detrained and stayed some time. Ultimately, about 23rd April, the battalion got to the Free State capital, partly by road, partly by rail, and on the 24th were inspected by Lord Roberts. Within a few days they were put into the 21st Brigade under General Bruce Hamilton (see 1st Sussex), and thus formed a part of Ian Hamilton's army of the right flank, which did no little fighting on the way to Pretoria (see Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry).
In the numerous engagements the battalion seems to have always done well. Speaking of Doornkop, 29th May (see 1st Gordons), Major General Mackinnon, himself a soldier of thirty years' experience, said in his 'Journal', p 78: "I was thoroughly satisfied with the steadiness of our ranks, their disregard of danger, and the alacrity with which they obeyed orders, especially those to advance, and I feel very proud of the battalion. This is an interesting day for the English Volunteer force, as it is the first occasion on which so many of them have been in any important action". General Smith-Dorrien, in his despatch regarding the battle (see 'Journal', p 89), said: "The features of the day were the attacks of the Gordon Highlanders and the City Imperial Volunteers. That of the City Imperial Volunteers convinced me that this corps, at any rate of our Volunteers, is as skilled as the most skilful of our Regulars at skirmishing. The men were handled with the most consummate skill by Colonel Mackinnon, Colonel Lord Albemarle, and their other officers, and it was entirely due to this skill and the quickness and dash of their movements, and taking advantage of every fold of the ground, that, in spite of a terrific fire from several directions, they drove the enemy from several positions with comparatively small loss"—about 12 wounded.
The battalion was present at Diamond Hill, 11th and 12th June (see 1st Sussex), and had again stiff work. Their casualties were 1 officer and 1 man killed, and about 20 wounded. The brigade next took part in Sir Archibald Hunter's operations in the north-east of the Orange River Colony. At Frankfort, on 4th July, the City Imperial Volunteers left the brigade on convoy duty to Heilbron, where they did garrison duty for three weeks. Colonel Mackinnon was then told to rail the garrison to Krugersdorp. This was accomplished by the 26th, and the battalion operated about Frederikstad, Banks, and Krugersdorp during the exciting times when De Wet was preparing for, and did effect, his crossing of the Vaal. The work was most arduous and fighting frequent. The cyclists were in constant request, and Colonel Mackinnon notes that one man "travelled continuously for two days and a night".
On 30th July the battalion marched to Frederickstad, and on the 31st a Boer force sent in a message asking their surrender. Colonel Mackinnon did not entertain the idea, but took out five companies who, after stiff fighting, drove the enemy off some hills they had seized near the camp. In this action the battalion lost 2 men killed and 4 severely wounded. General Smith-Dorrien complimented the battalion on their excellent work on this occasion. Part of the battalion took part in the pursuit of De Wet to the Megaliesberg and marched to Rustenburg, part remained about Welverdiend under Lord Albemarle. About the end of August the battalion was gathered together again near Pretoria. On 2nd October Lord Roberts inspected the regiment and made "a splendid speech", which is printed in the 'Journal'. The Commander-in-Chief not only spoke flatteringly of the City Imperial Volunteers, but stated his belief in the value of the Volunteer force. His Lordship said: "The admirable work now performed by the City Imperial Volunteers, the Volunteers now attached to the regular battalions serving in South Africa, and the Imperial Yeomanry have, I rejoice to say, proved that I was right, and that England, relying as she does on the patriotic Volunteer system for her defence, is resting on no broken reed". On the afternoon of the same day the entraining for Cape Town commenced.
The Mounted Infantry companies saw much fighting, and were very frequently praised by the generals under whom they acted. At Jacobsdal on 15th February 1900 they did well, and Lord Roberts wired to the Lord Mayor, "The City of London Imperial Volunteers came under fire for the first time yesterday under Colonel Cholmondeley at Jacobsdal and behaved most gallantly". After Paardeberg they provided part of the escort of Boer prisoners to Modder River. Colonel Cholmondeley was mentioned in Lord Roberts' despatch of 31st March 1900. The Mounted Infantry took part in the movement on Pretoria, and at the end of August were under Smith-Dorrien in the Eastern Transvaal. General Smith-Dorrien also praised their work most highly.
Apart from the battery, which is mentioned under the Field Artillery, the commendations gained were approximately as follows:—
Colonel Mackinnon was praised "for tact, judgment, and resource " in a "position hitherto unprecedented in the annals of our military history". He was promoted Major General, and got the CB In the despatch of 4th September 1901. Colonel the Earl of Albemarle, other 5 officers, and 20 non-commissioned officers and men of the Infantry Battalion were mentioned, and in the same despatch 1 officer of the machine-gun section and 5 officers and 12 non-commissioned officers and men of the Mounted Infantry companies were mentioned.
- Next >>