The 1st Battalion sailed on the Catalonia on 5th November 1899, arrived at the Cape about the 30th, and was sent to Durban. Along with the 1st Border Regiment, 1st Connaught Rangers, and 1st Dublin Fusiliers, they formed the 5th Brigade under Major General Fitzroy Hart. It was originally intended that the 2nd Royal Irish Rifles should be in the brigade, making it completely Irish, but that battalion, alone out of the division, landed in Cape Colony with the divisional commander, Sir W F Gatacre, and the Border Regiment took their place in the brigade.
The 5th Brigade were on the extreme left of General Buller's force at Colenso, 15th December 1899. It was intended that they should cross the Tugela at a place called Bridle Drift, but that drift was never found— possibly the river was dammed back, as General Buller suggested. A short account of the action, as well as of the work of the Natal Army generally, is given under the Royal West Surrey. It is possible that, as has been said by some writers, the Irish Brigade were kept too long in close order; certainly they suffered severely before getting extended, and also while advancing at a point where the river forms a loop to the north or Boer side, where they came under an awful fire from either flank as well as from the front. It has been said that some men actually forced their way across the river and could not get back, but this is uncertain. The brigade was extricated from its difficult position, every one behaving most nobly. The entanglement with the guns near the right flank put an end to all thoughts of attempting a crossing elsewhere, and the army retired to Chieveley. The battalion lost approximately 1 officer and 17 men killed, and 10 officers and 76 men wounded. Altogether the brigade lost over 500 officers and men killed, wounded, and missing.
At Venter's Spruit the brigade was very heavily engaged on the 20th January. Several of the Boer positions were gallantly carried; but beyond those was a plateau, on the farther side of which was still another ridge scored with trenches and sangars. Farther than the outer edge of the plateau our men could not advance. Two Lancashire regiments who were with Hart that day and the Dublin Fusiliers and Border Regiment lost heavily. The Inniskilling Fusiliers were not so closely engaged, and their casualties were trifling. The troops in the centre and on the left hung on to the positions gained until Spion Kop had been taken and evacuated, but they were never able to make any substantial step forward.
The Irish Brigade were not engaged in the attack on Vaal Krantz, and they were chiefly occupied as garrison of the rail-head during the first few of the fourteen days' fighting, which culminated in the defeat of the Boers and the relief of Ladysmith. On 20th February—that is, after Monte Cristo and Hlangwane had been captured—General Hart's brigade moved down to Colenso, occupying the village and ground about it. On the 22nd they went nearer the front, where Wynne's brigade were to get some hard knocks that day. On the afternoon of the 23rd a high steep hill, strongly fortified and held, on the eastern side of the Langerwachte, was attacked by General Hart. The attack has already been shortly described under the 2nd Queen's.
The Inniskilling Fusiliers were the front line, supported by the Connaught Bangers and part of the Dublins, and later by the Imperial Light Infantry, who had taken the place of the Border Regiment in the brigade; but soon the lines were to be all mixed—nay, some were to be obliterated altogether. The first tier of the defensive works was carried in the face of an awful fire from the front and flanks. An attempt, unsurpassable in its devoted gallantry, was made to press in with the bayonet to the next line of trenches on the crest, but this failed. The attackers were mown down like grass, and as darkness set in those left had to retire to a position near the hill-foot. It was impossible to bring in all the dead and wounded, and throughout the next day wretched men had to lie in the open writhing with pain and thirst, and mercilessly fired on if they made an attempt to wriggle down the hill. To these the armistice of the 25th came as a godsend. Some of the positions taken were held, and were to be of use on the 27th. The losses in the attack were appalling. The Inniskilling Fusiliers lost the gallant Colonel Thackeray, Major Sanders, and Lieutenant Stuart killed, 8 officers wounded, and about 54 men killed and 165 wounded. The Dublins, Connaughts, and Imperial Light Infantry had over 330 casualties. Altogether the brigade's losses were even heavier than at Colenso on 15th December.
'Linesman's' description of what he saw of the fighting and of the strangely contrasted scenes on that most blessed of Sundays is pretty well burnt into the minds of most of us.
The story of the assault on the 27th, when the whole Boer position—not a feature of it only—was successfully attacked, is told under the 2nd Queen's.
Five officers were mentioned in General Buller's despatch of 30th March 1900, and 5 non-commissioned officers and men were recommended for the distinguished conduct medal. No doubt more men would have been mentioned, had the awful casualty list not made that wellnigh impossible.
Ladysmith being relieved, the battalion got some time to recuperate and gather strength from the drafts it so badly needed. When General Buller moved north from the Natal-Pretoria Railway towards Belfast on the Delagoa line, he took with him the Ladysmith garrison and the Inniskilling Fusiliers, who replaced the 2nd King's Royal Rifles, sent to Ceylon. At Bergendal, 27th August 1900 (see 2nd Rifle Brigade), the Inniskilling Fusiliers and Rifle Brigade were in the front line, and although the latter regiment had the heaviest of the work, the Fusiliers did well and gained praise from those who saw their advance.
Four officers and 7 non-commissioned officers and men were mentioned in General Buller's despatch of 13th September 1900.
The battalion advanced with General Buller to Lydenburg, fighting there, and after the general had left for home they were long employed in the Eastern Transvaal. Their big days were over, but there was a lot of tidying up to do, and the Inniskillings always did well. In his despatch of 9th November 1900 General Buller, after referring to the battalion's very severe losses, Gives praise to Colonel Payne, DSO, and remarks, "There can, I think, be but few instances in history in which a battalion after such heavy losses has returned a perfect machine into the fighting line within so short a time".
Ten officers and 16 non-commissioned officers and men were mentioned in Lord Roberts' final despatch.
In December 1900 the battalion was put into a column under General Alderson to relieve and assist General Clements after his defeat at Nooitgedacht (see 2nd Northumberland Fusiliers).
In 1901 portions of the battalion did a lot of hard marching in columns under Colonel Allenby and other commanders, and in the autumn of that year the battalion did garrison duty in the central district of the Transvaal.
In 1902 the battalion assisted in the great driving operations undertaken to clear the north-east of the Orange River Colony.
In Lord Kitchener's final despatch 6 officers and 5 non-commissioned officers and men of the regiment were mentioned.
The 2nd Battalion arrived in South Africa from India at the close of 1901. They were sent to operate in the Pietersburg district under Colonel Colenbrander, and did good service there. In his telegram of 13th April 1902 Lord Kitchener said: "Beyers' laager having been located at Palkop, the force under Colonel Colenbrander moved by different routes from Pietersburg so as to block all the principal outlets. The march was successful, and at 3 pm on the 8th a half-battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, led by Colonel Murray, attacked the entrance to Molipspoort, covering the enemy's position. The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers advancing magnificently in the face of opposition, and making skilful use of cover, by dusk had seized a hill to the east of Poort".
In the fighting on the 8th and 9th 1 officer was killed, 3 officers and 5 men wounded. Two officers gained mention in despatches for good work on this occasion.
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