The SALH was raised in Cape Colony in November 1899 (Colonel Adye's evidence before the War Commission) and the command was given to Major (local Lieutenant Colonel) the Honourable J H G Byng (10th Hussars). No corps was more fortunate in its leader. Eight complete squadrons were raised by an early date in December. A portion was employed for a short time on the De Aar line, but three squadrons of the regiment were, on formation, taken round to Natal and, with other mounted troops, were employed under Lord Dundonald on the right flank at Colenso on 15th December 1899 (General Butter's despatch of 17th December 1899 and list of troops annexed.). Three further squadrons were got ready at Cape Town and sent to Natal, but the other men who had been enrolled were retained in Cape Colony and went to form the nucleus of Roberts' Horse and Kitchener's Horse.
In the orders issued by General Buller on 14th December it was stated, paragraph 7, "The Officer Commanding mounted brigade will move at 4 am with a force of 1000 men and one battery of No 1 Brigade Division in the direction of Hlangwane Hill; he will cover the right flank of the general movement, and will endeavour to take up a position on Hlangwane Hill, whence he will enfilade the kopje north of the iron bridge. The Officer Commanding mounted troops will also detail two forces of 300 men and 500 men to cover the right and left flanks respectively and protect the baggage". Lord Dundonald and the mounted irregulars did attack Hlangwane and made good progress towards its capture. If the General had been able to send adequate infantry support the capture would have been almost certainly assured and the bloodshed of Spion Kop saved, but the entanglement of the guns rendered such support impossible. (Evidence of General Buller and Major General Barton before War Commission). In his despatch, General Buller said: "I cannot speak too highly of the manner in which the mounted Volunteers behaved". The SALH lost 4 men killed, 2 officers—Lieutenants B Barhurst and J W Cock— and 19 men wounded, while 2 officers and 11 men were returned as missing.
When the move to turn the Boer right on the Tugela was commenced, four squadrons of the regiment accompanied Lord Dundonald, marching on the 11th January via Springfield and Potgieter's, but a portion remained at Chieveley with General Barton to watch the Boer position at Colenso. In order to keep the enemy engaged there, frequent reconnaissances and demonstrations were made in which the detachment several times had sharp casualties (Reports by General Barton in White Book 'Spion Kop despatches'). Captain de Rougemont being killed on 23rd January. On the 11th Lord Dundonald seized the bridge at Springfield over the Little Tugela, and pushing on had, before dusk, secured heights on the right bank of the main river which commanded Potgieter's Drift. Some volunteers from the SALH on the 11th swam the Tugela, got into the ferry-boat, and brought it to the right bank (See 'London to Ladysmith', by W S Churchill, and ' The Natal Campaign', by Bennet Burleigh, and ' Times History', vol iii). Mr Bennet Burleigh mentions that the party of volunteers were Lieutenant Carlisle, Sergeant Turner, Corporals Cox and Barkley, and Troopers Howell, Godden, and Collingwood. For five days the mounted troops did reconnoitring and outpost work. On the 16th they were ordered to march that night to Trichard's Drift. On the 17th they and Warren's troops crossed the river, and on the 18th Lord Dundonald was sent off to the left flank. The Composite Regiment, 1 squadron Imperial Light Horse, 1 company of Mounted Infantry, regulars, and 1 squadron Natal Carbineers, managed to cut off about 40 Boers near Acton Homes, and before dusk these surrendered after the SALH had come up in support. On the 20th Lord Dundonald ordered Colonel Byng to seize Bastion Hill. Two squadrons of the regiment were dismounted and ascended the steep ascent, the two others supporting. The Boers fled from the crest, and it was taken with little loss, but the hill, like Spion Kop, was exposed to the enemy's fire, and Major Childe was killed by a shell fragment after the crest had been occupied, and 4 men were wounded. Corporal Tobin was first man up; he stood on the top and waved his hat to let the troops see the hill-top was free of Boers. Next day he was killed. At nightfall 2 companies of the Queen's relieved the regiment. During the following days, until the evacuation of Spion Kop, the regiment held posts on the British line. Between the 19th and 27th the regiment had about 60 casualties.
During the Vaal Krantz combat, 5th to 8th February, the mounted troops were mainly on the flanks; but in the earlier part of the fighting which took place between 13th and 27th February, the mounted irregulars, including the SALH, which had been strengthened by further squadrons from Cape Colony, the whole brigade being under Lord Dundonald, took a most important share of the work. The regular cavalry had now been put into a separate brigade under Colonel Burn-Murdoch, and were left in the Springfield neighbourhood to secure General Buller's left rear. Between 9th and 11th February the army marched back to Chieveley, Lord Dundonald covering the left flank. On the 12th, with the South African Light Horse, the Composite Regiment, Thorneycroft's Mounted Infantry, and the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, he thoroughly reconnoitred and examined Hussar Hill with the view to its being used as a stepping-stone in an attack on the Boer left. The force was ordered to retire in the afternoon, and had a few casualties in the retirement. Lieutenant John Churchill and 7 men of the SALH were wounded. On the 14th General Buller decided to occupy Hussar Hill, and the regiment, being the advanced screen, successfully seized the Hill with but slight loss. On the 15th and 16th the fighting was chiefly confined to the artillery. On the 17th the attack on Mount Cingolo was developed. Dundonald's Brigade struck away to the east, through very broken and wooded country, and ascending an almost precipitous face seized the summit, the 2nd Infantry Brigade assisting on their inner flank. The work of the SALH was specially commended by some of the correspondents present. The casualties were not serious considering the formidable nature of the task. On the 18th the 2nd Infantry Brigade attacked the summit of Monte Cristo, making a fine advance along the Nek between that mountain and Cingolo. Dundonald's men were again out on the right, and worried the enemy by a flanking fire at long ranges. "The steep crags of Monte Cristo were brilliantly carried after considerable resistance by the West Yorkshire and Queen's Regiments". On the same day the Fusilier Brigade carried another hill. On the 19th heavy guns were got into position on Monte Cristo, and on the 20th it was found that the enemy had left all their positions on the south side of the Tugela. Thorneycroft's Mounted Infantry swam the river, but were driven back. From the 21st to the 27th, when the very strongly fortified positions on Pieter's Hill, Railway Hill, and Terrace Hill were, carried, the fighting was mainly done by the infantry and guns. On the 28th Lord Dundonald's Brigade had the honour of being chosen for the direct advance on Ladysmith, and in the evening he galloped into the town with a squadron of the Imperial Light Horse, and one of the Natal Carbineers, and some representatives of his other irregulars.
After the relief, the Natal Field Force had a comparatively easy time until General Buller started on his next great movement with the object of clearing Natal,—a movement admirably conceived, and carried out in a way deserving of the highest praise. On the 2nd of May General Buller received Lord Roberts' instructions to occupy the enemy's attention on the Biggarsberg. On the 7th he set out first towards Elandslaagte to deceive the enemy as to his real direction. General Buller then swept away to the south-east. Lord Dundonald's Brigade, now called the 3rd Mounted Brigade, was chosen to accompany the turning force. On the 13th General Buller arrived at the Helpmakaar road at a point near Uithoek on the left flank of the enemy's position. Here he joined hands with Colonel Bethune, who had been occupying Greytown. The mounted men seized the hill commanding the Pass, and the enemy retired. From this point to Newcastle it was an almost ceaseless pursuit in which the mounted irregulars did splendid work, for which General Buller warmly praised them. The Boers lit grass fires, but Dundonald's men dashed through the smoke, and at times over the burning vegetation, and unweariedly drove the enemy before them. On the 15th the whole force was at Dundee, on the 18th at Newcastle, and the enemy had been driven from his carefully entrenched position on the Biggarsberg at a cost of 7 wounded.
After the occupation of Newcastle General Buller sent a portion of his troops to the Utrecht district, where there was some skirmishing towards the end of May, in which the SALH had Lieutenant T H Thompson and several men wounded.
The railway having been repaired and supplies got up, General Buller prepared to turn Laing's Nek, and on the 6th June the SALH and other troops seized and occupied Van Wyk Mountain. The regiment lost 6 killed and 4 wounded. General Buller said "the occupation was well carried out", although a resolute attack was made on the force under cover of a grass fire. On the 7th an advance was made on Yellowboom. On the 8th the regiment occupied another hill, Spitz Kop, near Botha's Pass. On the same day the Pass was carried. "The SALH got up the Berg to the left of Botha's Pass and pursued for some miles, though they were not able to come up with, a party of the enemy who retired to the westward". On the 10th the advance continued. The regiment was in front and "cleared the enemy off a mountain without difficulty". They found the enemy moving in strength from east to north, and the regiment pushed forward two miles to some kopjes. Three squadrons were closely engaged with the enemy until dusk. Our casualties were 6 killed and 7 wounded, all of the SALH. Twenty-two of the enemy were found killed. On the 11th the enemy made a stand in a very strong position at Alleman's Nek, but after severe fighting was driven out by the 2nd and 10th Infantry Brigades, Lord Dundonald's men ably assisting against the enemy's left flank.
In his despatch General Buller said "the SALH acted as an independent unit, and performed its duties exceedingly well throughout. Lieutenant Colonel Byng proved himself as usual a valuable commander".
During the remainder of June and the month of July the Natal Army was employed in occupying and fortifying posts on the Pretoria-Natal railway and the south-east portion of the Transvaal. In his telegram of 13th July, Lord Roberts mentions that on the night of the 11th the SALH by good scouting had prevented the Boers from destroying the railway near Vlaklaagte, and that Lord Dundonald had captured a Boer camp. On 7th August General Buller commenced his advance from the railway to meet Lord Roberts' army near Belfast. On several occasions there was sharp fighting, in which the SALH had a most prominent share. On the 23rd August Captain Savory was killed. On the 27th General Buller attacked the immensely strong position held by the Boers stretching across the Delagoa Railway. Bergendal was the point selected for the chief attack, and the 2nd Rifle Brigade deservedly earned the highest praise for their advance and final assault under a very heavy fire. The enemy was thoroughly defeated. On the 29th the SALH drove the enemy out of Waterval Boven and captured five waggons. Buller's force now moved north of the railway and after some fighting occupied Lydenburg. Frequently the SALH did particularly good service, as near Lydenburg on the 8th and 9th September, and they were often mentioned in the telegrams, as in Lord Roberts' telegram of 3rd October, when he said: "On the 28th Colonel Byng, by a well-managed night-march up the Groodenonein Berg, seized the top of Pilgrim's Hill with the SALH, forcing the enemy to retire hurriedly". The corps had 3 killed and 6 wounded.
In his final despatch of 9th November 1900, General Buller said in his 'mentions': "Lieutenant Colonel J H G Byng, 10th Hussars, has commanded the SALH from its formation in November last. A cavalry officer of the highest qualifications, he has shown singular ability in the command of irregulars. His regiment has done splendid service, and I attribute this in a great measure to Colonel Byng's personal influence. I strongly recommend him for reward and advancement". Many other officers were mentioned. In October the SALH were taken to Pretoria, and on the 15th were there inspected and complimented by Lord Roberts.
In the second phase of the war the regiment was mainly employed in the Orange River Colony. In his despatch of 8th March 1901, Lord Kitchener said that in the beginning of December 1900 Thorneycroft's Mounted Infantry and the SALH were railed from Standerton and Volksrust respectively to Bloemfontein, and were sent to occupy a line of posts between Thabanchu and Ladybrand, east of the capital. De Wet was then trying to get into Cape Colony, but was headed by Charles Knox and driven north again. The bulk of the Boers broke through the line above-mentioned and got away to the Senekal district, but in his telegram of 15th December Lord Kitchener was able to say that the SALH and Thorneycroft's Mounted Infantry captured one 15-pounder taken at Dewetsdorp, one pom-pom, several waggons of ammunition, 22 prisoners, and some horses and mules. Soon after this the SALH and Thorneycroft's Mounted Infantry were, with other troops, railed to Cape Colony to operate against Kritzinger and other leaders. Both regiments took part in many a memorable pursuit. In January 1901 the SALH was constantly in touch with the enemy, and on the 16th, in the Murraysburg district of Cape Colony, a detachment acting as advance guard became engaged with a strong force of the enemy. Captain Fitzherbert and 5 men were killed, and Lieutenants H C Fleming and Venables and 13 men were wounded. In February De Wet himself with a considerable force got into Cape Colony, but being hotly and constantly pressed by numerous columns, including Thorneycroft's Mounted Infantry and the SALH, he was driven out again on the 28th February minus 200 prisoners, all his guns, waggons, and ammunition. The SALH remained in Cape Colony during March and April and did much hard work. Lieutenant E H Barker was killed at Kaliesfontein on 6th March. Both regiments were brought back to the Orange River Colony, and in May four squadrons of the Light Horse, under Major Gogarty, captured 31 armed burghers with their horses at Luckhoff. On the 21st Lieutenant J Alexander and 2 men were killed. In his despatch of 8th October Lord Kitchener said that the column of Colonel Byng was brought from the south to the north of the Orange River Colony, and in the Vredefort Road, Reitzburg district, his column and that of Colonel Dawkins captured 81 prisoners in the last fortnight of September 1901. After three days' rest Colonel Byng and his men left Kroonstad on 6th October, and in the next three weeks took other 50 prisoners on the west of the railway. He then moved to the Heilbron district to take part in the great combined movements and drives in the north-east of the Orange River Colony, and until the close of the war the SALH and their leader were constantly at the very hardest of work, often trekking for thirty-six hours with scarcely a break.
On 14th November 1901 Byng and Wilson were nearing Heilbron when they were suddenly attacked. The despatch of 8th December says: "The attack, delivered in a resolute manner, was, after two hours' hard fighting, successfully repulsed on all sides by Lieutenant Colonel Byng's rear-guard, which was well and skilfully handled by Lieutenant Colonel Wilson of Kitchener's Fighting Scouts.. The enemy retired, leaving 8 dead on the field".
In the despatch of 8th February 1902 Lord Kitchener gives details of certain driving operations, and says: "On the night of 2nd February Colonel Byng, who had remained on Liebenberg's Vlei, to the west of Reitz, learned that a Boer force was rapidly marching north and at no great distance from him. He promptly started in pursuit, and fifteen miles to the east came upon a convoy which was guarded, but not strongly, by a portion of De Wet's commando. The New Zealanders and Queensland Imperial Bushmen at once charged the enemy's rear-guard with the greatest dash and gallantry, whilst the South African Light Horse, rushing the centre with equal bravery, got well home and completed a very gratifying success. The enemy fled in a westerly direction, leaving in our hands one 15-pr gun, two pom-poms, three waggon-loads of ammunition, 26 prisoners".
Down to the close of the campaign the regiment continued to show the splendid spirit which it had exhibited at Colenso and other hard-fought actions in Natal; and when peace came, the SALH left the field with a reputation second to that of no corps, regular or irregular, in South Africa.
The Mentions gained by the corps were as follows:—
Sir C Warren's despatch: 1st February 1900. — SALH—On 20th January a detachment under Major Childe (since killed) did gallant service in capture of Sugar-Loaf Hill. Corporal Tobin was first man up and was subsequently killed by a shell.
Sir R Buller's despatches: 30th March 1900. — Recommends Corporal Tobin for DCM Major (local Lieutenant Colonel) Hon J Byng, 10th Hussars, has commanded SALH with marked ability and success and done very good service with them. Captain H K Stewart; Lieutenants E Marshall, W F Barker, C Walker-Leigh, R S Thorold, G Marsden, W P Pearse, T H Carlisle; Sergeant Major Mudford (got DCM), East Kent Yeomanry (attached); Sergeant R Turner; Corporals. W Cox, G Barkley; Troopers J Collingwood, C Godden (since dead), R Howell.
19th June 1900.—Lieutenant Colonel Byng. The regiment acted as an independent unit and performed its duties exceedingly well throughout. Lieutenant Colonel Byng proved himself as usual a valuable commander. Captain R Brooke, 7th Hussars, specially recommended for manner in which he commanded left of line on June 6.
13th September 1900.— Major (local Lieutenant Colonel) Honourable J Byng, 10th Hussars, in the terms already mentioned in the text. Captain W H L Allgood, King's Royal Rifles, an admirable squadron commander. Captain A Solly Flood, South Lancashire Regiment, has rendered excellent service, and been of great value as adjutant. Captain (local Major) R G Brooke, 7th Hussars, has proved himself an excellent second in command. Of the Colonial officers, Captains S Tucker, S Chapin, Grant-Thorold, and Lieutenant G Marsden have done invaluable service throughout the campaign. Non-commissioned officers and men who have rendered continuous good and valuable service: Lee.-Sergeant J Burrows, ASC Trumpet-Major; Corporal F Filling, 5th Dragoon Guards (acting Sergeant Major, Colt Gun detachment); Lance Corporal P Melia, Royal Dublin Fusiliers; Squadron Sergeant Major C T Mudford, East Kent Yeomanry (attached); Squadron Sergeant Majors J Hopper, G Mitchell; Sergeants F Battershill, A Sanson, J Liddell; Privates D Cochrane, T Dow. A list is added of those officers and men who, during the twelve months' work, have performed special acts of bravery, or have been selected for, and successfully carried out, arduous reconnaissances or dangerous duties: Lieutenants R Turner, W F Barker, P H Goodair, J S Churchill, W L Edmunds, J M O'Brien, R Johnstone, T S Wickham, O M Dansey, E M Garrard (Colt Gun Detachment); Sergeants J M'Sorley, H H Clarke, D Bennet, C Green, J C White, E Prowse, C O Taylor, C Baker, W H Wesley, H Tobin, R C Alexander, W J Cox, T Marriott, R Holroyd, J W Weekes, J Dudgeon; Corporals. F P Erdmer, W M'Arthur, C H Wallis, H Moore, R Gifford, C H, Cotterill, J M'Ewen, J R Arrowsmith, W Hudson; Lance Corporals. F Murray, J Kelleher, H Crane, D Stewart, J Howard, T Braund, E Constable, C Flick, J Banks, G Earle, W Desfountain, H Campbell, F Stringer, W Bruyn, V O'Connor, W H Slidolph; Privates F Crowle, R Dobson, P Siegfield, J Turner, A Galloway, W Haylett, W Heeley, D M'Coll, C Van Schade, G Warren, B Sinks, H Bickley, D Blurton, G Dumsden, W Gibbon, A Grant, F Holmes, T Kidd, J Morrison, G Murgatroyd, P Murgatroyd, W Collins, G Lively, J Pinch, J Purkiss, J M Brown, E Brophy, W Meadows, A, Pirie, W Thomas, H T Smith, S M Barnes, H H Carroll, O F Fielding, J Gibson, T V Hansen, E H Campbell, R M Smith, R St John, F Vallecarde, R Cook (Bethune's Mounted Infantry, attached with Colt Gun Detachment).
Lord Roberts' despatches: 2nd April 1901.—Major Childe; Captains S Chapin, S N Tucker; Lieutenants W F Barker, G Marsden, R Turner, T S Wickham; Squadron Sergeant Major Hopper; Sergeants F L Battershill, J Dudgeon, H Tobin2 (killed); Corporals. F H Vallecarde (Colt Gun Detachment), F P Erdmer; Lance Corporals. A J Miller, F J Murray; Privates D Cochrane, T Dow.
4th September 1901.—Captain Allgood (KRR), Captain H R Stewart (late Gordon Highlanders), Corporal Melia (Dublin Fusiliers).
Lord Kitchener's despatches: 8th July 1901.—Captain T S Wickham, DSO, good leading in night surprise, Metz Farm, Orange River Colony.
May 14. Sergeant C M'Millan, great gallantry, same occasion, reforming and leading men into buildings after officer fell. Corporal F H Secombe (wounded, promoted Sergeant), first man in. Sergeant A J Miller,2 Bastard's Drift, Orange River Colony, April 15, in command of patrol, coolness in presence of superior forces and skill in extricating men, reported as "constantly brought to my notice for gallantry in action". Mentioned in Army Orders: Trooper T Dow, Corporal J W Kendall, at Winter's Kraal, Cape Colony, April 22, under heavy fire at 600 yards, went back to assist a wounded man and brought him out.
8th March 1902.—Captain and Adjutant W F Barker, DSO, and Lieutenant J Steele, good service in Colonel Byng's capture of laager at Fanny's Home, 2nd February. Trooper F Stringer, single-handed capture of a Boer under circumstances of gallantry, 5th February.
23rd June 1902. — Captain J M'Sorley; Lieutenants C Green, C M F Lilly; Squadron Sergeant Majors Holroyd, G Carpenter, E H Tompkins; Quartermaster Sergeant H G Gilding; Sergeant M Farrell; Corporal W Dye; Privates H H Bowers, A Van Schalwyk.
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