The 2nd Battalion was in South Africa when the war broke out, having been brought from Mauritius, and was employed at strategical points in Cape Colony until Lord Methuen was ready to advance. They then formed part of the 9th Brigade along with the 1st Northumberland Fusiliers, half of the 1st Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, and the 2nd Northampton Regiment. A sketch of the work of the brigade is given under the 1st Northumberland Fusiliers.
At Belmont, 23rd November 1899, the Yorkshire Light Infantry were in the supporting line, and the only casualties they had were a few men wounded. Major Earle was mentioned in Lord Methuen's despatch of 26th November 1899.
At Enslin on the 25th they took a very prominent part, and if they did not lose so heavily as the Naval Brigade, that is accounted for by their not crowding in the attack and making a better use of the ground. Their losses were approximately 8 men killed, 3 officers and 40 men wounded. Colour Sergeant Waterhouse was mentioned in Lord Methuen's despatch as to Enslin.
At Modder River the services of the battalion were invaluable. After the attack by the Guards Brigade on the right had come to a standstill, or, more correctly, a lie still, the 9th Brigade bored in on the left, and two companies of the Yorkshire Light Infantry under Colonel Barter, with some Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and Fusiliers, assaulted and carried some buildings on the near side of the river which commanded the drift. The battalion's losses were approximately 1 officer and 8 men killed, and 3 officers and 50 men wounded. Colonel Barter was mentioned in Lord Methuen's despatch of 1st December 1899.
At Magersfontein, 11th December, the 9th Brigade were employed demonstrating on the British left; but the Yorkshire Light Infantry were detached from the brigade for the day, their task being to protect Lord Methuen's right and prevent the enemy from the Jacobsdal-Kimberley road breaking in on the rear of the Highland Brigade. As matters turned out, they had plenty of work, the enemy pushing in with some force. The battalion kept their ground. Their losses were not heavy.
When Lord Roberts was preparing to advance from Bloemfontein he created some new brigades. One of these, the 20th, was put under Major General A H Paget. It consisted of the 2nd Yorkshire Light Infantry, transferred from the 9th Brigade, 1st Munster Fusiliers, 4th South Staffordshire Regiment, and 4th Scottish Rifles. After crossing from Hoopstad to the Kroonstad district Lord Methuen's division—that is, the 9th and 20th Brigades—had some fighting in the Lindley district, and in the beginning of June Paget's brigade was left to garrison Lindley.
In the operations which ended in the surrender of Prinsloo, Paget's force took part. On 25th June a large convoy left Kroonstad for Lindley. The escort was 800 mounted men, a wing of the Yorkshire Light Infantry, the 3rd East Kent, four guns City Imperial Volunteers' Battery, and two of the 17th RFA, the whole under Colonel Brookfield, 14th Battalion Imperial Yeomanry. The convoy was heavily attacked on the 26th and 27th by the enemy, 1500 strong, with two guns, but his attacks were all driven off and the convoy was brought in. On the 26th June Private C Ward of the Yorkshire Light Infantry gained the VC for volunteering to carry a message to a signalling station through a storm of bullets. He insisted on returning to his force, and in doing so was severely wounded.
During July there was almost constant fighting up to the date of Prinsloo's surrender, 30th July. After that the battalion was railed to the Transvaal, and marched past Lord Roberts in Pretoria on 13th August. Along with the 2nd Northumberland Fusiliers, 2nd Worcesters, and 1st Border Regiment, the battalion was put into a column under Clements, which for some months operated between Rustenburg, Krugersdorp, and Johannesburg.
Eleven officers and 14 non-commissioned officers and men were mentioned in Lord Roberts' final despatch.
Twenty-two men of the Yorkshire Light Infantry under a lance-corporal were among the escort of a convoy which was attacked on the Pretoria-Rustenburg road on 3rd December 1900. The escort "fought with great gallantry", and were able to save one-half of the convoy. Out of their 23 present the Yorkshire Light Infantry lost 5 killed and 6 wounded.
Four companies of the battalion were with General Clements when he met with the disaster at Nooitgedacht on 13th December 1900 (see 2nd Northumberland Fusiliers). The half-battalion formed the rear-guard and did splendid work: they lost 6 killed and 5 wounded and about 46 taken prisoners. Unofficial accounts stated that the men of the battalion fought very well. For gallant conduct in these affairs 4 non-commissioned officers and men were mentioned in Lord Kitchener's despatch of 8th March 1901. One officer afterwards got mention.
In 1901 the battalion was chiefly in the Eastern Transvaal. They formed part of General Alderson's column, one of those which under General French swept to the Zulu border in January, February, and March 1901. For a time the battalion was garrison at Elandsfontein. On 31st October 1901 they made a particularly fine march to go to the assistance of Colonel Benson's column. In the last phase the battalion was chiefly in blockhouses about Ermelo.
The Mounted Infantry company saw a great deal of work. Dealing with Colonel Benson's action at Baakenlaagte on 30th October 1901, Lord Kitchener says, "In spite of the gallant efforts of the Mounted Infantry company of the Yorkshire Light Infantry and a squadron of the Scottish Horse, which promptly formed up on the flanks of the guns", the ridge fell into the enemy's hands, "with the exception of a portion which a party of the Mounted Infantry held till dark". The company's losses were 4 officers and 9 men killed, and 1 officer and 9 men wounded,— adequate testimony to the severity of the fighting, and also to the splendid tenacity of the men of the battalion.
In Lord Kitchener's final despatch 6 officers and 8 non-commissioned officers and men were mentioned.