This force was so ubiquitous, and its services throughout the whole war were so varied, that to give a connected account of its work is impossible. It must suffice to mention the districts and occasions when these services were of outstanding value. At the commencement of the war the force was distributed as follows: Kimberley district 226, Mafeking 103, scattered over Colony 430.
All through October, November, and December detachments of the Police were doing all the work of regular mounted infantry, and much besides, as when they provided the crews of armoured trains. Towards the end of December there were sundry operations about Dordrecht, in which mixed forces of Cape Mounted Rifles, Police, and Brabant's Horse were employed, and frequently there was sharp fighting. On the 30th Lieutenant Warren of the Cape Police was killed in one of these actions. On 3rd January 1900 "the Police Camp north of Cyphergat and overlooking Molteno was attacked in force, and was, indeed, for a time quite isolated. The garrison seems to have been about 140 Police under Inspector Neylan, and 58 Kaffrarian Rifles under Captain R Maclean. The attack commenced in the early morning, but the defenders held out splendidly till nearly three o'clock in the afternoon, when the Berkshire Mounted Infantry and the 79th Battery RFA drove off the enemy. Major Pollock, in his account of this engagement, notes that Inspector Neylan and Captain Maclean, who came to his assistance, were both satisfied that the site of the camp was badly chosen. "The two put their heads together, and the result was that the camp was left to take care of itself, and the men were judiciously disposed amongst the adjacent rocks, or anywhere that good cover could be found, and a command retained over the approaches to the position. Consequently, although the Boers kept pounding the camp hour after hour with artillery and musketry fire, the very fact that their fire was so well directed prevented any mischief being done to the defenders—for the simple reason that not a single man was in the entrenchments! Thus when the enemy, very naturally assuming that their fire had been effectual, advanced to the attack, they were driven back with loss by men who, thanks to smokeless powder, were concealed from their view, and who, having suffered no losses, had not become dismayed by the fire that had been directed upon their supposed position".
Apart from their duties in regular warfare the Police had throughout the campaign to look after the numerous rebels and suspects, very many of whom they captured and brought in during January and February 1900.
When General French was skilfully holding back the Boers about Colesberg in January and February 1900, he had with him 25 Cape Police, with two 9-pounder muzzle-loading guns. As in other districts, their local knowledge was valuable.
When, towards the end of February, General Brabant cleared the north-eastern portion of Cape Colony, some of the Police were with him, and took part in many engagements; while Major Neylan and another detachment were in the advance-guard of Gatacre's force which moved on Bethulie Bridges from Stormberg. The Boers destroyed the railway bridge, but after dark on the 9th Neylan's Cape Police came up, and next morning they and M'Neill's Scouts seized a position commanding the road bridge and held on under very heavy shell and rifle fire until noon, when more troops came up. The little party had prevented the enemy setting off the mines, and on the night of the 10th Lieutenant Popham of the Derbyshires and four men removed the mines, and Captain Grant, RE, cut the wire. Within the next few days Captains Hennessey of the Police and Turner of the Scouts rode to Springfontein on a trolley, surprised and disarmed eight Boers, and next day brought back to Bethulie two engines and forty trucks, a prize of the greatest value.
Before Kimberley was invested several detachments of Cape Police, who had been holding posts on the railway, retired into the town, thus adding about 350 to the strength of the defenders, an addition which was to prove very important.
At Mafeking, also, the Cape Police contributed a very valuable section of the defenders. In his despatch Colonel Baden-Powell stated the total drilled force at 38 officers and 679 men, of whom there were — of Cape Police, Division I, Inspector Marsh, 2 officers and 45 men; Division II, Inspector Brown, 2 officers and 54 men. In the numerous actions and skirmishes, as well as in holding the trenches, the Cape Police with their maxim did excellent work, which was several times mentioned by Colonel Baden-Powell. He also spoke very highly of the individual efforts of several officers and men. In the telegraphic despatch of 13th April 1900 Colonel Baden-Powell, speaking of an attack on the 11th, said: "A small attacking force advanced against Fort Abrams. The garrison under Corporal Webb, Cape Police, reserved their fire until they were within effective range, and, with assistance from Fort Cronje, repulsed the attack. The enemy left five dead".
From the commencement of the war, or at least the last week of October 1899 to 1st January 1900, a small body of Cape Police under Captain Bates, assisted by Captain Dennison, afterwards of Dennison's Scouts, held the village of Kuruman, situated about 100 miles to the west of the Kimberley-Vryburg railway. The total number of men available to bear arms was 63, and this included half-castes and blacks. The numbers of the assailants varied, running from 300 to over 1000. From 12th to 17th November the place was bombarded, but the enemy failed to effect a lodgment. Frequently the Boers got very close to the trenches and walls of the little forts, but were always driven off with loss up to 1st January, when they brought a second and heavier gun, whose shells smashed the defences and made a surrender inevitable. But too little justice has been done to the defenders of Kuruman: their endurance, watchfulness, and pluck could not have been excelled. They had no artillery, and by rifle fire alone they held the place and kept a considerable body of the enemy employed for two months. They were also a means of getting news to and from Mafeking. About one-half of the force were hit during the siege.
While Lord Roberts was fighting his way to Pretoria, and afterwards to Komati Poort, the Police were struggling with rebels in different parts of Cape Colony. In May and June one detachment, 30 strong, were said to be doing "most excellent work" with Sir C Warren in West Griqualand.
In October, November, and December 1900 a body of the Police were in the column of General Settle, which had an immense deal of marching and some very tough fighting in the Orange River Colony. Near Hoopstad, on 23rd October, there was a very severe engagement, when the Police had 4 killed and 22 wounded. The detachment was complimented by General Settle.
On 14th November Lord Roberts telegraphed: "A Police post near Vryburg, which was attacked on November 10th, succeeded in killing several Boers and capturing 2 wounded prisoners, one of whom is Field-Cornet Du Plessis". The Police had 1 killed and 2 wounded.
In the second phase of the war — that is, after Lord Roberts had handed over his command to Lord Kitchener, November 1900 — the Cape Police were still employed in many different districts; and from the date when it was seen the enemy desired to re-invade Cape Colony — that is, early in December 1900 — their functions became as important as in the last three months of the previous year. Whenever the invasion became a realised fact, bodies of Cape Police were attached to various columns, and their local knowledge was again of very great value. In January, February, and March 1901 they assisted in the expulsion of De Wet, and did excellent work under Major Berrange and other leaders. 'D' and 'I' troops were with Colonel Doran, who was in February endeavouring to keep the Calvinia roads open for convoys: on the 5th and 6th of that month his column had severe fighting. In July and August the Police assisted to keep the native territories on the eastern border of the Colony clear of the enemy. A strong detachment operated during a great part of 1901 in a column under Colonel Gorringe, RE, and afterwards under other leaders. The despatch of 8th July 1901 shows Gorringe's column to have consisted, in May, of — Cape Defence Force, 263; Cape Police, 212; Tasmanian Imperial Bushmen, 92; 5th Battery, RFA, 2 guns, 1 pom-pom. The column did endless skirmishing and very hard marching in pursuit of sundry commandos, chiefly in Central Cape Colony. In August Kritzinger was being driven northwards. "About fifteen miles north-west of Steynsburg he was joined by bands under Erasmus, Wessels, and Pypers. This body was attacked on the 13th near Rooitfontein, twenty miles north-east of Steynsburg, by Lieutenant Colonel Gorringe, who drove the enemy past Venterstad into Orange River Colony". In this fighting the Police had Lieutenant Colonel Neylan, Major Marsh, Captain Wood, and several men wounded.
In the latter part of September the column was engaged in the pursuit of Smuts, who, after his encounter with the 17th Lancers at Tarkastad, made for the south of the Colony. Lord Kitchener said that "the troops under Lieutenant Colonels Gorringe, Doran, and Scobell responded cheerfully to the great exertions demanded of them". In the Zuurberg, Gorringe engaged the enemy, and succeeded in dividing them up. On 3rd October he again attacked them ten miles south of Darlington, when the enemy lost 3 killed and 5 wounded, and were driven north.
During May and following months of 1901 a body of Police were doing column work in the extreme west of Cape Colony, and some were present in a successful engagement against Conroy on 25th June. The detachment with Colonel Doran got credit for a smart piece of work in the west of the Colony on 9th January 1902. At Windhoek, near Van Rhynsdorp, Western Cape Colony, on 26th February, a detachment had severe fighting, in which they lost 2 killed and Captain A C Wilson and 5 men wounded.
While these operations were in progress in the south, some of the Police were employed in the Kimberley district and in the Western Transvaal. They had casualties on various occasions. At Zoutlief on 16th September 1901 Lieutenant Moberly was wounded. A body of the Police were in the ill-fated force which accompanied Lord Methuen in the beginning of March 1902, when he was severely defeated by Delarey. In February Major Berrange with a detachment had been to clear the road to Kuruman, 100 miles west of the Vryburg railway. In the beginning of March Berrange and Major Paris joined Lord Methuen's column. Lord Methuen's force was wretchedly heterogeneous: he had 900 mounted men from nine different units, 300 infantry from two regiments, and six guns from three batteries; and the force was utterly unworthy, either in composition or numbers, of the leadership of a Lieutenant General. It was quite unfit to move through the heart of a district where the enemy was known to be in very strong force and flushed with the confidence begotten of a recent success, for they had captured a convoy and destroyed a force of about 450 men a fortnight before. The Police, including 'Special Police', numbered 233 under Major Berrange, and were in that part of the force starting from Vryburg under Major Paris on 2nd March. Lord Methuen in his report said on 6th March "there had been some sniping at the rear-guard by about 100 of Van Zyl's commando, and seeing some confusion I went back myself, sending at same time for the section of the 38th Battery. I found the men forming the rear screen, which consisted of the 86th Company IY, very much out of hand, and lacking both fire-discipline and knowledge how to act. There seemed to be a want of instructed officers and non-commissioned officers". The enemy being accurately shelled, retired and took up a position at Tweebosch in the bed of the Klein Harts River. "Major Berrange" with the Police, the section 4th Battery and the pom-pom, were ordered to move straight on Tweebosch, while Dennison's Scouts, supported by Cullinan's Horse, were to move round the enemy's left flank. The commando retired rapidly, the Police under Major Berrange working with the greatest quickness. Much praise is due to Major Berrange for the way in which he handled his men". Shortly after moving off on the morning of the 7th, the rear-guard, consisting of Diamond Fields Horse and Dennison's Scouts, was most fiercely attacked. They were reinforced by other troops, but eventually the screen was broken, and after several hours' hard fighting the enemy captured the infantry and guns. Most of the mounted men took the Boer method of seeking safety in flight and reached the railway. During the fight, and after the screen was broken, Major Paris and Major Berrange were ordered to occupy a kraal. This they did with some 40 men, and they held out under heavy shell fire and "against repeated attacks" till the main body surrendered. In his telegram of 16th March Lord Kitchener said that in addition to the party of Cape Police in the kraal, "other small parties of Police continued to resist after the panic which had swept the bulk of mounted troops off the ground".
Many of the corps from which Lord Methuen's column was made up had, previous to this, done lots of hard fighting, and had always done it well. Which corps set the stampede agoing it is impossible to say, but the affair is not a bright spot in the history of the campaign. The infantry and artillery did all that men could do—"held out in a most splendid manner", the despatch said. The Police apparently could not have done more than they did do. Their losses were very heavy, about 60 killed and wounded. General Brabant, in an article contributed to the 'Nineteenth Century' of February 1904, praised Major Berrange most highly, and said "if his warning and advice had been acted on, Lord Methuen's disaster might not have taken place. Every man of his stood till killed or wounded. He himself had a marvellous escape, his clothes being penetrated by seven bullets".
Down to the end of the war detachments of the Cape Police continued to do most useful service in various localities.
The Honours and Mentions gained by the Cape Police and Cape Special Police during the war were as follows:—
Sergeant Major A Young gained the Victoria Cross at Kuiter's Kraal, Cape Colony, on 13th August 1901. "With a handful of men he rushed some kopjes which were held by Commandant Erasmus and 20 Boers, who galloped back to other kopjes held by Boers. Sergeant Major Young galloped on ahead of his party, and closing with enemy shot one and captured Erasmus, the latter firing three times at point-blank range before being taken prisoner".
In Colonel Kekewich's despatch of 15th February 1900, as to defence of Kimberley, the following were highly praised: Commissioner (local Lieutenant Colonel) M B Robinson; Inspectors (local Majors) F H Elliot, W E Ayliff (wounded 3rd November), S Lorimer; Sub-Inspectors (local Captains) J W Colvin, M Z Crozier, S White (wounded 9th December), Cummings; Corporal F R Castens; Privates J Maloney, A Carr, G R Mathieson, S Brown.
Colonel Baden-Powell's Despatch: 18th May 1900, as to Mafeking.— Inspector Brown commanded detachment of Division II He and the splendid lot of men under his command did excellent work throughout, especially in occupation of trenches in the brick-field, where, for over a month, they were within close range of the enemy's fire; Inspector Marsh commanded detachment of Division I throughout and carried out his duties most efficiently and zealously. Trooper (local Sergeant Major) Hodgson acted as Sergeant Major to Army Service Corps and was of greatest help to Captain Ryan. Troopers George Collins and W F Green, bringing in wounded man under heavy fire in action of 25th October 1899. Colonel Baden-Powell remarked that "Sergeant Page, champion bait thrower of Port Elizabeth, by using a whip-stick and short line, was able to throw dynamite bombs, made up in potted-meat tins, with accuracy over 100 yards". This is perhaps the first instance of angling qualifications being utilised in war.
LORD ROBERTS' DESPATCHES.—Major Berrange, got CMG, Major J W Neylan; Captains A Bates, Halse, Pope Hennessy; Lieutenant Warren; Inspectors Ayliff, Brown, F H Elliot; Sub-Inspectors Crozier, Cummings; Sergeant Major Fuller; Sergeants Abrams,2 Jenkins; Corporals. R B Christie, H M B Currie (local Lieutenant); Trooper Lloyd; Private Richards; Lieutenant Colonel Robinson, got CMG; Captain W M Schenk; Trooper A H Blake.
LORD KITCHENER'S DESPATCHES: 8th March, 1901.—Corporal J Mulligan.
8th July 1901.—Private Stouffer, gallant conduct near Kenhardt, Cape Colony, 17th May.
8th December 1901.—Major C M Marsh, Captains E Woon, F Harvey, Lieutenant W P Harley, conspicuous gallantry with Gorringe's column. Lieutenant G B Gash, bringing in man from exposed position, 200 yards from enemy's trenches, Vryburg, 16th September Sergeant Major R G Stirling, Privates G De B Lewis, J A Ives, helping Lieutenant Gash; Lance Corporal Schley, Private Clarkson, gallantry Gorringe's column; C Vanderwest Huizen, accurately locating enemy at great personal risk. Private J Growden, galloped 600 yards under heavy fire to warn officer he was mistaking enemy for own men.
8th April 1902.—Lieutenant Colonel R Macleod.
22nd June 1902.—Lieutenant Colonel Neylan, DSO; Major J N Brown; Captains J F White, W Crawford; Lieutenant Davidson; Sergeant Carson; Corporal Van der Merwe; Lance Corporal A C Weirich. Sergeant J H Evans (District Police) received the DCM
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