Mansfield Men's return from 2nd Boer War 1901

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Article from Mansfield Reporter May 17 1901

By Tony & Dorothy Mellors

THE RETURN OF THE SHERWOOD FORESTERS PARTICULARS OF THEIR CAPTURE BY DE WIT MANSFIELD WELCOMES HER CONTINGENT

After an absence of 16 months the Sherwood Foresters Militia are home again. They returned on Friday. Some little anxiety was occasioned by the delay of the Formosa in which the men were brought from the Cape, but they landed at Southampton on Thursday, and reached Nottingham, where the heartiest welcome was accorded them on Friday morning. Arrangements for greeting the men with similar cordiality to that extended to other military bodies that have returned from the war were made in anticipation of the men reaching the city on Wednesday, but as stated it was Friday before they arrived.

The weather was delightfully fine, and a huge crowd assembled at Nottingham to see the men who were taken prisoner at Rhenoster River march through the city to the Guildhall , to receive back their colours from the Mayor, in whose keeping they were placed in January of last year.

At Newark too the Mayor extended a hearty greeting to the militia. At this depot town they threw off their khaki and once more donned mufti. The change was an agreeable one, considering the condition their fighting garments were in. From Newark the 21 Mansfield men journeyed by the train reaching Mansfield at 6.10 p.m. and news of their arrival at the county town having been received here, many persons turned out to witness the home-coming. Major W F Sills with the Mansfield Military Band, and the Wesleyan Boys Brigade, was at the station to “play” the fellows down to the Market Place, otherwise they would have walked back to their homes without any demonstration whatever.

The route from the Railway Station to the Market Place was thickly lines with people, and the square was kept clear by a posse of police under Superintendent Hensley. The men were drawn up in line opposite Messrs Crompton and Evan’s Bank, and a couple of members of the Town Council were present to receive them. They were Councillors T Taylor and J L Wilson. The former said he was very pleased to give the men the heartiest welcome home. They could not allow an occasion like this to pass without thanking them very cordially for the way in which they had fought for their King, Queen and Country.

During this vexed year the militia had helped to carry out such an enormous task that probably no other nation in the world could have done. It was said years ago that Englishmen never knew when they were beaten. That opinion held good just as much today as it did long ago, for pluck and determination were still characteristics in the quality of an Englishman. The Militia had proved that in South Africa. In the name of the town and the Corporation of Mansfield, he welcomed them and thanked them for the way they had done their duty in South Africa. It seemed a rather mild way of greeting them, but he did not doubt that at the close of the campaign something of a substantial character would be done in recognition of the service they had rendered to their country.

The following is a list of the men who returned to Mansfield, Sutton and Kirkby :- Single men: John Whitehead, Kirkby ; Albert E Raynor, John E Bownes, Albert Bacon, George Ball, Walter Twigg, Frank Huntington, John Palethorpe, William Betts, Ernest Crowder, Leonard Gee, Christopher Bools, William Hudson, Geo. Watson, Charles Thrall, Samuel Davison, John Armstrong, Mansfield; Joseph Clarke, Skegby; Joseph Clarke, William Stocks, Sutton ; (married) Samuel Ball, James Newton, Reuben Watson Mansfield; J Gregory, John A Ward, Henry Dove, Suttton.

The following is the only really authentic narrative of the militia’s doings in South Africa. It was given to the “Newark Advertiser” by Lieutenant and Quartermaster McGuire who returned home on Wednesday in last week in advance of the regiment:

After some weeks in guarding the railway and bridges, on June 4th, they received orders to proceed to Rhenoster on garrison duty. On the way they were stopped at Kroonstadt and told that 300 Boers were in the vicinity of Roodeval Station, intending to take the station and seize the stores waiting to be sent up country. From this point Quartermaster McGuire’s narrative is of absorbing interest. He says: We got into Roodeval Station about three o’clock in the morning of June 6th. Colonel Wilkinson was in command and immediately we went back to Kroonstadt. Then we put out outposts and stood to arms till daylight. The outposts were to the east and west of the station and inside we put it in a state of defence by means of biscuit boxes, meat boxes, bales of clothing and other articles. During the morning 30 Yeomanry scouts arrived from Kroonstadt and were ordered to push on to Rhenoster and reconnoiter. The Colonel, in compliance with his orders, decided that we should push on and take up our position at Rhenoster, three miles further north, which we did. We tried to get up our stores from Roodeval to Rhenoster, camp equipment and so on, but we did not get them up to Rhenoster till just getting dark in the evening. On reaching there we pitched our camp, and sent out outposts to the north, east and west, and a strong guard at the bridge. Rhenoster is a river with a pumping station and a bridge and our duty was to guard the bridge and pumping station. We sent a company back to Roodeval to assist in guarding the stores at the ??????.

There was also at the station ?????????????? of Railway Pioneers sent up from Kroonstadt to help guard the stores. This was how matters stood at ten o’clock on the night of June 6th. The only information we had was the rumour that there were 300 Boers somewhere in the vicinity of Roodeval; we understood that they were all riflemen and no big guns with them. The outpost were put out and and the rest of the men went to sleep to get as much sleep as possible.

About three o’clock in the morning we were aroused by the outposts firing at the Boers on the kopje lying immediately to north of us. These kopjes look like volcanic eruptions. This one began to rise up into a steep hill some few hundred yards from us. There were also some smaller kopjes or hillocks round on the east and west. Our sentries were on the kopje firing at the enemy where they thought he was. We fell in and sent up reinforcements. It was quite dark and there was no moon, and being midwinter with them the night was cold. A good deal of desultory firing was going on, and we found afterwards the Boers were gradually closing round us. As soon as daylight came we found that they had taken up a position pretty well all round us, principally to the north, east and along the bed of the river. They opened fire all over the camp and the men took up a position on the railway embankment. Running along the embankment were shallow trenches five feet wide and affording about a foot of cover. They were trenches that had been made when the embankment was thrown up on the railway line being constructed. So the firing went on till about half-past ten.

The Boers as well as their rifle fire used five 12-pounder guns and a pom-pom. With these guns they were able to pour shrapnel upon us and they searched the kopje with their shrapnel and the embankment all down the line. Colonel Wilkinson was on the kopje and was wounded in four places. The adjutant Captain Brittan was with him and came down and back again under a terrific fire to Colonel Douglas on the embankment and handed over the command to him. Colonel Douglas was shot in the arm and then the temple. Lieutenant Horley was shot dead and Lieutenant Hall died of his wounds afterwards. Captain Bailey was wounded in the hand and Lieutenant Lawder was also wounded. The Sergeant Major was shot in the abdomen. We has about 34 killed, including 3 officers and 104 wounded. Having left one company at the station we were only 500 strong, and at half-past ten the bridge was forced by the terrific fire and the force holding it had to retire from it. The Boers then set fire to the bridge. They then moved two of their guns down to enfilade the sides of the embankment and if the men had been allowed to remain in the trenches they would have been shot down to a man in a very short time.

In this hopeless position of affairs there was nothing for it but surrender. The men at the station under Captain Fenwick held out until the last, the station being in a state of defence. The Boers blew up stores and destroyed 1500 bags of letters for the men at the front. Then commenced for the survivors a lengthy period of captivity. The officers were prisoners seven weeks and the men one month. They were often short of food, gladly taking to mealie meal and porridge. At first the Boers would throw a box of biscuits amongst them, but in the scramble some got food and the others did not, so arrangements were made for Quartermaster McGuire to receive what their captors had to give, and then divide it amongst his men. It was fairer and whatever there was, each and all shared alike.

De Wet who was hunted about like a fox, had to keep on the move always, and they had some long and trying marches. The longest tramp was one of 36 miles. They started at 4.30 in the evening and marched until 7 o’clock the next morning. Then they had an hour’s rest and were forced on another seven or eight miles. The men were naturally in a very low state from their hardships and their clothing was in rags and tatters. Still they kept up nobly and bore their captivity with sturdy imperturbility. They were taken towards Heilbron, Lindley and Reitz where they separated the officers from the men on June 26th.

The officers were sent on to Bethlehem, and the men stayed at Reitz. Several times the Boers asked the men if they would take parole as they did not see how they could feed so many prisoners; but the men refused. They threatened to take them into the mountains, but still the men refused.

They were marched to Harrismith and there the Llandros talked to them to try to get them to take parole, but they would not. Eventually they put them through Van Remen’s Pass (?) and told them to make their way to Ladysmith. Here they were rearmed and officers found for them, principally from the Gloucester Regiment.

Having been re-equipped they were put on duty on the Drakensburg Defence Force on the mountains. From there they went to Pretoria and did duty. Here officers and men met again, and were reviewed by Lord Roberts. They were with De Wet in the march until they came to Bethlehem, when he went away with 2000 men, leaving Prinsloo. They had frequent opportunities of seeing De Wet. He was of a better class burgher stamp, with a remarkable adeptness in military matters. He could both fight and get away. Doubtless his success was largely due to the excellent information he could get from every place. His intelligence department was perfect because he was in his own country amongst his own kith and kin and sympathizers- Dutch and Kaffir. Every scrap of information they could get was sent to the nearest commando.

Quartermaster McGuire said he had often seen this. An ordinary farmer looking chap would drive up in his Cape cart to a farm. He would stop and go inside and have his coffeee and smoke. A few minutes afterwards they could see a Kaffir boy mounted on off all post with the information- so that no British force could move a finger without the Boer leader being informed. Their horses could travel on a dogtrack and they knew every bridlepath in the country. He could not say that their captors were particularly offensive or given to taunting their prisoners. True they would regale them with stories of intervention by Russia or Germany and would stolidly and resolutely discredit anything which told in favour of the English arms.

Reverting to the fight at Rhenoster, Quartermaster McGuire said their camp was in the only place suitable for the camp. The kopje was formed of large loose boulders and was held by a strong outpost. No camp could have been placed there. When the alarm was given, reinforcements were sent up to the kopje, which was held throughout the fight by the Militia. The kopje was a long one going for several miles and so big to cover by the Militia. So they had to defend the southern end whilst the Boers fired from the bed of the river and from the northern end of the kopje.

The Militia had not time to turn up entrenchments and had therefore no cover from the shell and rifle fire. It was dusk in the evening when they pitched their camp. It was not their fault that they sent up without guns. They did their best; they fought seven long and weary hours against great odds. There was no chance either of any reinforcements getting up. Lord Mathnen arrived four or five days afterwards; and the line of Railway was broken for miles. None could have come up by train. Luckily the Yeomanry Hospital was there or the single civilian surgeon, Buchanan would have been overwhelmed. Baird Duglas, lieutenant colonel was a brave man, and died like a true soldier. He was shot through the arm but continued to fire with his other arm until a bullet cut through his temble( ? ) and he died with his face to the foe. Since then – and only a few weeks ago-the Notts Militia were the chief defenders against the Boers determined attack on Aberdeen when they again distinguished themselves.

 

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