The 1st Battalion sailed on the Aurania and arrived at the Cape about 11th November 1899. Along with the 2nd Black Watch, 2nd Seaforths, and 1st Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, they formed the Highland Brigade, first under Major General Wauchope, and after his death at Magersfontein, under Brigadier General Macdonald. The work of the brigade is dealt with under the 2nd Black Watch.
At Magersfontein the Highland Light Infantry, being the battalion in reserve, did not suffer so severely as the others in the first outburst of the enemy's fire, but its losses throughout the day were heavy.
Approximately these were 2 officers and 12 men killed, 7 officers, including Colonel Kelham, and 73 men wounded. Five officers and 9 non-commissioned officers and men were mentioned in Lord Methuen's despatch of 15th February 1900 for exceptional gallantry, one of those mentioned, Corporal J Shaul, getting the VC for several specific acts of great bravery.
The Highland Light Infantry were not present at Paardeberg, having been left at Klip Kraal, and it was not until the 1st of May 1900, as General Colvile was starting on the northward march, that they rejoined the brigade.
In the advance from the Waterworks to Heilbron the brigade was constantly engaged against very strong forces of the enemy, and in the fighting the Highland Light Infantry took their share.
In the operations for enclosing Prinsloo's force in the Brandwater basin the battalion did much useful work, particularly at Retiefs Nek on the 23rd July. That day they "gained a footing, albeit not a very firm one, on the lower spurs and kloofs of the rocky height to our left of the nek". The Black Watch obtained possession of another hill. "During the night a portion of the Highland Light Infantry, guided by several men of Lovat's Scouts, succeeded in gaining possession of the highest peak of the hill on the east of the pass, a point of vantage whence a successful occupation of the whole height was made next day".
After the surrender of Prinsloo the Highland Brigade operated under Sir A Hunter in the Bethlehem-Heilbron district. On 15th August General Hunter had a stiff action at Witpoort, near Heilbron, where the Highland Light Infantry had most of the work. They lost approximately 3 men killed, Colonel Kelham and 40 men wounded.
On 13th September the Highland Brigade had a very successful action on the south of the Vet River, in which they and Lovat's Scouts captured 7 prisoners, 31 waggons, many oxen, stores, etc.
In October the brigade was moved to the south of the Orange River Colony in consequence of the Boers appearing on the borders of Cape Colony in some strength. The brigade was split up, and the same remark applies to the Highland Light Infantry. When Dewetsdorp was attacked and captured, 18th to 23rd November 1900, one company of the battalion was part of the garrison, the remainder of the garrison being three companies 2nd Gloucesters, some Royal Irish Rifles, and 2 guns 68th Battery. Three men of the battalion were killed, Lieutenant Milne Home and 18 men were wounded, and the remainder were included in the surrender. Bearing in mind that we had made strong defensive works at Dewetsdorp on sites of our own selecting, the taking of the place was a brilliant exploit on the part of De Wet, and its loss the reverse of creditable to the British. One can find none of the excuses available in the cases of Stormberg, Reddersburg, or Nicholson's Nek. To Lord Roberts it must have been a very sickening episode, happening as it did while he was handing over his command. To the battalion the affair was not without its compensations; gallant deeds were done, and Private C Kennedy, for "on the 22nd carrying a comrade to the hospital three-fourths of a mile under a very hot fire", and on the 23rd "volunteering to take a message across a space over which it was almost certain death to venture", gained the Victoria Cross.
Eleven officers and 18 non-commissioned officers and men were mentioned in Lord Roberts' final despatch.
A few days after Dewetsdorp a half-company of the battalion under Lieutenant Blair did a fine piece of work in retaining their hold on Commissie Bridge, on the Caledon River, against De Wet and probably 2000 Boers, who after twenty-four hours gave up the attempt to take the post. Lieutenant Blair and 4 men were mentioned by Lord Kitchener in despatches for exceptionally good work on this occasion.
Shortly after this the battalion was taken to Aliwal North, and was employed in that district during the remainder of the campaign. There was often much skirmishing in this neighbourhood, but the Highland Light Infantry had no fighting which entailed heavy loss.
Four officers and 1 private were mentioned during the latter stages of the war, and in the final despatch the names of 5 officers and 6 non-commissioned officers were added.
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