The 1st Battalion was commanded by Lt Col Wilford and was stationed at Allahabad in Northern India in the summer of 1899. The 1st Battalion was one of the four sent from India between 16th and 30th September 1899. They were first engaged on 24th October at Rietfontein (see 1st Liverpool Regiment). The action was fought to enable General Yule to reach Ladysmith unmolested. It was not intended to press the attack home, but the Gloucesters got too far forward on unfavourable ground on the left. They lost Colonel Wilford killed, 1 other officer wounded, 7 men killed and 57 wounded.
To the battalion the 30th October was a disastrous day (for general account of action see 1st Liverpool). It will be remembered that five and a half companies of the Gloucesters with six companies of the 1st Royal Irish Fusiliers were sent out under Colonel Carleton of the Fusiliers, with Major Adye as staff officer, on the night of the 29th for the purpose of seizing Nicholson's Nek. By the stampeding of the mules that point was never reached, but the hill near which the stampede occurred, Cainguba, was occupied. The reference to the action in Sir George White's despatch does not enter into details, merely stating that the force "strengthened the position somewhat with breastworks, and remained unmolested till daybreak. It was then found that the position was too large for them to adequately occupy, and that only the most pronounced salients could be held". The Boers surrounded the hill, and after several hours' fighting our men's ammunition began to fail. The advanced parties were driven back, the Boers gained the crest, whence they brought a converging fire "to bear from all sides on our men crowded together in the centre, causing much loss. Eventually it was seen that this position was untenable, and our force hoisted a white flag and surrendered about 12.30 pm."
'The Times' historian (vol ii p 237) gives an admirably clear and detailed account of the action, and in some respects it differs from the despatch. The top of the hill is described as like a foot. The heel at the south end was precipitous and easily defended; towards the middle of the sole or tread there was a rise whence it sloped gently, and the approaches on the north, north-west, and north-east easily afforded good cover for attackers. Against the advice of the owner of the farm, who was present, Major Adye, the staff officer, kept most of the troops at the heel and comparatively few at the forepart, where they were needed. At 11.30 E and H companies of the Gloucesters were ordered by Major Humphery to retire on another sangar. This seems to have been a fatal mistake, as during the retirement one of the companies lost half its strength. Colonel Carleton ordered the sangars evacuated to be reoccupied, but this was found impossible. About 12.30 C company got what was understood to be another order to retire, and again in withdrawing lost half their men. Soon after this three officers of the Gloucesters, finding themselves absolutely without men (except dead and wounded) and unable to see any other part of the position, raised a white flag. The Boers stood up and came forward, and after some hesitation Colonel Carleton came to the decision that the whole force was bound by the white flag which had been shown. 'The Times' historian points out that the staff officer "repeatedly sent orders" that the men were not to fire "independent" but only volleys. The value of volley - firing at single Boers darting from one rock to another can be gauged by the least initiated. But we had to learn all these lessons in the field, and had to pay a very high fee to our teachers.
The Gloucesters lost 33 men killed, 6 officers and about 75 men wounded. See the account of the mens' imprisonment by H Rummins.
Those of the battalion who were not with Carleton fought and suffered in Ladysmith till the siege was raised. On 22nd December they had the misfortune to lose 8 killed and 9 wounded by one shell from a Boer big gun.
After the relief the battalion took little active part in the campaign, and between 21 - 24th August 1900 they were sent to Ceylon to guard the Boer prisoners. They embarked on the Dilwara, Mongolian and Bavarian and landed between 5th and 12th Sep 00. On 12th Sep 00, HQ and 6 Companies went to Echelon Barracks, Colombo and 2 Companies went to Mount Lavinia.
In Lord Roberts' final despatch 11 officers and 16 non-commissioned officers and men were mentioned; these embraced both battalions, but those mentioned belonged chiefly to the 2nd Battalion.
In the summer of 1899, the 2nd Battalion was stationed at Aldershot and was commanded by Lt Col Lindsell. They sailed on the Cymric on 1st January 1900, and arrived at Cape Town on the 21st. Along with the 2nd East Kent Regiment, 1st West Riding Regiment, and 1st Oxford Light Infantry, they formed the 13th Brigade under Brigadier General C E Knox, and part of the VIth Division under Lieutenant General Kelly-Kenny. (See notes under 2nd East Kent)
The whole division did splendid work in the advance from Modder River to Bloemfontein. At Klip Kraal the East Kent, Gloucesters, and Oxford Light Infantry had sharp fighting with Cronje's rear-guard. On the 18th at Paardeberg the Gloucesters were not so seriously engaged as many other battalions, but between the 18th and 28th they did good work in seizing positions of importance, and driving back the Boer reinforcements. Their losses were about 6 killed and 20 wounded, including Colonel Lindsell.
The correspondent of the Press Association, whose work was generally very reliable, telegraphing from Paardeberg on 26th February said: "Last Monday night (19th) a brilliant piece of work was performed by the Gloucesters. During the afternoon they approached within a short distance of a Boer kopje and contained the enemy until nightfall, when 120 men charged the kopje with bayonets and drove off the Boers with loss, bayoneting several". On 28th February Lord Roberts wired: "Cronje with his family left here yesterday in charge of Major General Prettyman, and under an escort of the City Imperial Volunteers' Mounted Infantry. Later in the day the remaining prisoners left under the charge of the Earl of Errol, and escorted by the Gloucester Regiment and 100 City Imperial Volunteers". The Gloucesters soon rejoined the main army to take part in some further hard marching and fighting.
At Driefontein on 10th March 1900 the 13th Brigade had the toughest of the work, and although the Gloucesters were not in the original first line, they did their part splendidly, and had again about 5 killed and 20 wounded.
Three officers were mentioned in Lord Roberts' despatch of 31st March 1900.
On 22nd November 1900, when De Wet made his famous rush south, he snapped up on his way the garrison of Dewetsdorp, consisting of three companies of the 2nd Gloucesters, one company of the Highland Light Infantry, and some of the 2nd Royal Irish Rifles, so that both battalions of the regiment have had the nasty experience of losing a large proportion of their men in surrenders.
Three men of the battalion were mentioned in Lord Kitchener's despatch of 8th March 1901, presumably for gallantry at Dewetsdorp.
In 1901 the battalion furnished about three companies as the infantry of a column which operated in the Orange River Colony under Colonel Henry.
The Mounted Infantry company of the battalion saw a good deal of fighting, and gained several "mentions". In the final despatch of Lord Kitchener 4 officers and 6 non-commissioned officers of the battalion were mentioned.
As to mentions by Lord Roberts, reference is made to the notes under the 1st Battalion.
By Major H Rummins OBE.
I was one of that ill-fated little force sent out from Ladysmith to Nicholson's Nek on the night of the 29th October 1899. and about 5 p.m., on the 30th found ourselves prisoners of war to the Boers. Historians tell you we were disarmed and taken in wagons to Waschbank Station; this may have applied to the Officers, but as to the 850 rank and file it was certainly not so. We marched a considerable distance across the veldt, and eventually halted for the night, and I distinctly remember what a piercingly cold night it was. The following morning we were on the move early and continued the march to Waschbank Station, where we arrived devilishly hungry and thirsty. We there entrained for Pretoria. The Gloucesters numbered one Colour-Sergeant, twelve Sergeants and approximately 350 men. Arriving at Pretoria we were encamped on the Racecourse, while the permanent camp at Waterval was being prepared; during our stay in Pretoria we were treated fairly well as regards food—for instance, on our arrival we were issued with a 1-lb. tin of bully beef, bread and coffee, and I always look back on that meal in spite of my antipathy to bully beef, as one of the best meals I had during my military career (hunger is a good sauce). After about a fortnight in Pretoria we were moved on to Waterval, where long tin sheds had been erected for our reception. The whole surrounded by a network of barbed wire, outside of which our guards were posted. These consisted of very old men and very young boys, the former were very bitter against us and the latter eager to loose off their rifles on the slightest provocation. On cold and wet nights, some of the old sentries used to mount with an umbrella and a small devil containing a charcoal fire and the bolder spirits among us derived a certain amount of amusement by throwing an occasional stone at the fire, but one had to be careful.
During our stay in Pretoria, small contingents of various regiments had been brought in, others continued to arrive after we moved to Waterval, so that at the end of a month we began to look quite a sizeable little force. Little did we dream how large this force was to become. At this time our hut consisted of one Colour Sergeant, twelve Sergeants of the Gloucesters, one Colour-Sergeant and four Sergeants of the Suffolks, and three Sergeants of the Devons. I might here remark that one of the Sergeants of the Devons afterwards became a distinguished General. News was very difficult to obtain and that which we did get was very unreliable. The Boers were always winning and the British suffering defeat. One source of information eagerly looked forward to was through the Boer paper Volkstem, this we used to it usually on Sundays, when the parson from Pretoria came to conduct service and left the corner sticking out of his pocket for the detailed one to pinch. The news in this however, was usually dished up for the benefit of the Boers and which we termed all-lies. There was very little money amongst us at first, but as fresh contingents arrived, the wealth of the camp became more enhanced, and of course, gambling was rife—such games as "Crown and Anchor," "House," and "Banker," being the principal games. There were as many others, of course, as to make Epsom Downs on Derby Day look like a Sunday School Outing. Candles were at a premium; we used to get a small issue and these could always be disposed of at sixpence each, considerably more to the wealthy owner of a gambling table in times of shortage. I believe we (the twelve) had about thirty-six bob between us, and I remember playing Nap for this on one occasion for about 30 hours, apart from meals. I forget what happened in the end to the thirty-six bob, but it still remained in the school, which was something. As you may imagine, fights were very numerous, and afforded quite a lot of amusement. It was not so much going to sea a fight, as to which fight you would go to see. Food, of course, was very poor; we lived principally on mealy meal and rice with salt; occasionally we received an issue of bread, and on rare occasions meat. Butter we was not on our menu, but as a substitute we got a very long and broad fat sheep's tail, usually very rancid, but eatable when rendered down. I believe the Boers bred the particular kind of sheep more for the tails than anything else. Peaches in the season were very plentiful. Tobacco, such as it was, could be had in plenty—it was issued in sacks like wheat, and was very short and dry. Each smoker provided himself with a small bag and a pair of wire' tongs, usually carried on the belt; the small bag was replenished as required from the sack, and as there were no matches, the tongs were used for picking a small brand from any fire one came across to light the pipe. As wood was scarce, one did not always welcome strangers poking about for the brightest bit of burning ember, but it was a recognised practice throughout the camp, and the Britisher—always being pally in times of adversity, very few rows occurred in consequence. Concerts were organised and some very good singers were found in the camp. Also we used to dance to the music of a piccolo that one of the prisoners brought in, and to see three or four hundred lusty fellows doing the Lancers, and suchlike, in hobnail boots and a cloud of veldt dust must have made a native war-dance look tame in comparison. Anyhow it helped us to keep fit, which was all to the good. Christmas came, and some kindly disposed people in Pretoria gave a ration of mutton, which was very acceptable. Some messes, however, went short as the Boer Quartermaster did not know our "C" Company gang of champion "lifters." I remember one of these, seeing half-a-bag of mealy outside the stores, going up to the sentry and asking for a lift-up as he had forgotten it when rations were drawn, he got away with it too. The Quartermaster missed it and came in to search the Camp for it—-he had some hopes. One other of these bright lads got a month in prison at Pretoria for lifting the Commandant's pouch belt and pistol from his office.
Trials at escape were numerous, usually by burrowing under the wire and coming up outside. One of these had a comic ending. Six Sergeants in one of the huts made their tunnel and on a selected night entered fully determined to depart ; unfortunately (or otherwise) in the party was one "tubby" an Armourer Sergeant who entered third man and got stuck in the middle. The ones in front lost touch and made so much noise trying to find out what had happened that the first man on popping his head above ground, at the outlet, like a rabbit, found two sentries awaiting his appearance. They got the first two, the others managed to withdraw dragging "tubby" with them more dead than alive, and only just in time, as the Boers came into camp to search for the entrance to the tunnel.
I must now describe some of the events which occurred after our removal from Waterval. This happened when Lord Roberts with his Army was close to Pretoria. The Camp Commandant ordered the Gloucesters and Irish Fusiliers to fall in for removal to a new camp, and under instructions from our seniors we entrained like a lot of lambs and were actually passing through Pretoria when our shells were bursting on the forts and alongside the railway. It makes me wild, even to this day, to think what fools we were; the strength of the Camp at Waterval at this time was about 4,000. If my memory is not at fault, we were the only two regiments moved; we were taken to a place named Nooitgedacht on the Crocodile River, and turned into a swampy bit of ground, wired in, but with no covering of any sort against the weather. Fortunately, I had been able to scrounge a very large blanket when first camped in Pretoria, and after making a hole in the ground, stretched this across a ridge pole, pegged down the sides and managed to keep fairly dry in spite of some heavy rain. Conditions during this latter part of our confinement were much worse. Food was more scarce. The Boers were being hard pressed, and, I believe, very short themselves. I had one complaint against them in this connection. The Absent Minded Beggar Fond had been started at home, and goods of all description, including a considerable amount of tinned food, had been sent out to be distributed to the troops; a share of this had been sent up for the prisoners of war. This, however, was not issued free, but sold by the Boer Quartermaster to those who had money to pay. After a short time in this swampy hole, many of the men became sick and deaths began to occur. Our medical officer was a black-bearded old Russian who had an ambulance train on the railway close to the Camp. He was a good-hearted old fellow, who hated to see the conditions under which we were living, and threatened to take his ambulance away unless the Boers moved us, or did something to improve things. Whether he carried out his threat, or moved according to plan, the fact remains, he left the week before our release. His medical comforts he distributed among the prisoners; my share being a Lazenby Soup Tablet, I remember a bit of luck coming our way with regard to food. A small contingent of prisoners were brought; in belonging to a crack Yeomanry Regiment; they had plenty of money and practically bought out the Boers' stores. A day or so after, one of our party, on going down to the river for water, saw one of them making a pot of stew with a piece of buck he had bought. He asked; "How much of this beastly curry does one put in, Sergeant ?" The Sergeant looked in the pot and advised, before putting any curry in, more water was required. The trooper took his can to get more water and the Sergeant passed away with the pot of stew. We had a good feed that day. This same Sergeant played a trick on the Boers worth recounting. A family named Emmett were farming in the Transvaal on the outbreak of War; the father fought on the Boer side ; the son elected to throw in his lot with the British. Of course, the Boers were always on the look-out for him, and rumours got around that he had been captured, and was confined in the prisoners of war camp. The guards searched the camp on two or three occasions for him, but as a matter of fact, none of them knew Emmett. On the last search the before-mentioned Sergeant pointed to a man of ours, belonging to "F" Company, winked at one of the guards, and whispered "Emmett." As none of the guards could say whether he was Emmett or not, in spite of his protestations, he was taken out of camp to one of the Boer Depots for identification. The joke, however, was with him, as he returned in about a week, having had some good food, about thirty bob in his pocket and a new rig-out. In recounting his experiences afterwards, he said : " They didn't half ------ well laugh when they saw me." We heard later that Emmett was captured and given 15 years' imprisonment.
Another bit of amusement we had, when one of the prisoners smuggled a pair of wire-cutters into camp and cut the wire entanglements two or three times a week. The Commandant was furious and used to parade and count us on each occasion, search us and the dug-outs, but he never got the wire-cutters, or the man who used them.
Conditions in camp had been going from bad to worse; we were half starved, mostly in rags, and sickness was rife. You can imagine therefore with what joy we heard the order on the 30th August to fall in for release. Just ten months to the day after our capture. How we cheered the short farewell speech of General Botha, in which he said: "Soldiers of the Queen, you are being released to-day, and I trust when next we meet, we shall not be fighting each other. Good-bye."