Lest We Forget
THE ROYAL DUBLIN FUSILIERS IN THE BOER WAR
taken from 'Our Regiments in South Africa' by John Stirling
The 1st Battalion sailed on the Bavarian on 10th November 1899, arrived at the Cape about the 28th, and was sent on to Durban. Along with the 1st Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, 1st Border Regiment, and 1st Connaught Rangers, they formed the 5th Brigade under Major-General Fitzroy Hart.
The 2nd Battalion was in Natal before the war broke out, and took part in the battle of Talana Hill (20th October) and in the subsequent retreat to Lady-smith. Before that town was shut in Sir George White sent them down the line, and when General Buller was ready to advance, the 2nd Battalion seem to have been ready also, and the history of the two battalions is so mixed up during all the Ladysmith relief operations that reference can only be made to what is said under the 2nd Battalion. During the actual relief operations—that is, from the beginning of December 1899 to 3rd March 1900—A, B, and C companies of the 1st Battalion were attached to the 2nd Battalion, which actually took the place of the 1st Battalion in the Irish Brigade. During that period the remainder of the 1st Battalion garrisoned Moor River and other posts on the lines of communication. A sketch of the work of the relief force is given under the 2nd Queen’s, Royal West Surrey, and the work of the Irish Brigade is dealt with under the 1st Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.
The 1st Battalion, now united, was at Colenso from 3rd March to 6th May, when they joined Talbot Coke’s brigade at Elandslaagte and then crossed the Biggarsberg with him.
At Alleman’s Nek on 11th June 1900 the 1st Battalion had heavy fighting on the right flank, but did very well. Their losses were 3 men killed, 2 officers, Colonel Mills being one, and 15 men wounded. Colonel Mills and 2 men were mentioned in General Buller’s despatch of 19th June. On 29th June the battalion was in an engagement at Amersfoort, and lost 2 killed and 1 wounded.
Five officers, 2 non-commissioned officers, and 2 men were mentioned in General Buller’s final despatch of 9th November 1900, and 23 officers and 40 non-commissioned officers and men were mentioned in Lord Roberts’ final despatches. These latter commendations embraced both the 1st and 2nd Battalions.
The 1st Battalion long continued to operate on the Natal-Transvaal border and on the lines of communication. One hundred and fifty men of the battalion were in the column of Colonel E. C. Knox in the first quarter of 1901—one of those columns which swept through the Eastern Transvaal to the Swazi border.
The Mounted Infantry of the Dublin Fusiliers was represented in the little garrison of Fort Itala, which made such a splendid defence when the place was attacked by Botha with an overwhelming force on 26th September 1901 (see 2nd Royal Lancaster). Major Chapman of the 1st Dublins, who commanded the garrison, received promotion. Lieutenant Lefroy and several non - commissioned officers and men were also mentioned in despatches by Lord Kitchener at the time for great gallantry.
In the beginning of 1902 the 1st Battalion was moved west to Krugersdorp to relieve the 2nd Battalion.
In the supplementary or final despatch 4 officers and 11 non - commissioned officers and men were mentioned, these included both battalions.
The 2nd battalion was in South Africa when war was declared, and when Sir George White landed at Durban was stationed at Glencoe, along with the 1st Leicestershire Regiment, 1st King’s Royal Rifle Corps, 18th Hussars, and the 13th, 67th, and 69th Batteries R.F.A., under General Pema-Symons. The 1st Royal Irish Fusiliers arrived in time to be also sent to Glencoe, completing an infantry brigade before the battle on 20th October 1899 (see 1st Leicestershire Regiment and 1st Royal Irish Fusiliers). The 2nd Dublins took a very important share in the fighting. Their losses were approximately 2 officers and 8 men killed, and 3 officers and 50 men wounded. With the rest of the troops the 2nd Dublins retreated to Lady-smith. They were present in the action of Lombard’s Kop on 30th October 1899 (see 1st Liverpool Regiment), but were much split up, three companies acting as escort to artillery, one on outpost, &c. They did not suffer many casualties. On the same evening the battalion was “hurriedly entrained” and sent down the line to occupy Fort Wylie and protect the great bridge over the Tugela, but the advancing tide of Boer invasion soon lapped round them and they had to move still farther south. Three sections were in the unfortunate armoured train which was derailed on 15th November 1899. Before General Buller made his first advance the 1st Battalion had arrived in Natal as part of the Irish Brigade. In the Colenso despatch, list of troops engaged, the 1st Battalion Dublin Fusiliers is mentioned, but the casualties of the Regiment are debited to the 2nd Battalion. The fact seems to be that three companies of the 1st Battalion were added to the 2nd, and thus really both fought at Colenso and the other engagements prior to the relief of Ladysmith. The work of Hart’s brigade in Natal is sketched under the 1st Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, and that of the relief force generally under the 2nd Queen’s.
At Colenso the Irish Brigade got into a hot place, coming under a very heavy fire before extending, and after their extension they pushed into a peninsula formed by a loop of the river, where they were subjected to severe fire from the front and both flanks, but all stood the severe trial splendidly The casualties of the Regiment were heavy, approximately 2 officers and 50 men killed, 3 officers and 176 men wounded. The three companies of the 1st Battalion were the chief sufferers. Of these losses their share was 1 officer and 31 men killed, and 1 officer and 133 men wounded.
At Venter’s Spruit on 20th January the 2nd Dublins and the three companies of the 1st Battalion were in General Hart’s force. Their casualties were approximately 1 officer and 5 men killed, and 1 officer and 30 men wounded.
In the fourteen days’ fighting between 13th and 27th February Hart’s men were at first near the rail-head, and were brought down to Colenso village on the 2 0th. On the 23rd Hart was ordered to attack the main Boer position. A short account of this action is given under the Inniskilling Fusiliers, who led in the assault, but the Connaught Rangers and Dublins also pushed in close and lost most severely Colonel Sitwell was among the killed.
The Regiment was still to take part in another memorable assault before the close of the relief operations, being transferred to the command of General Barton for the last great effort on the 27th, when Barton attacked and carried the eastern portion of Pieter’s Hill. In addition to the Dublins his troops that day were the Royal Scots Fusiliers and the Royal Irish Fusiliers. The assault reflected credit on every one taking part in it, and gained the praise of General Buller. In the fourteen days’ fighting the Dublins’ losses were approximately 1 officer and 20 men killed, and 6 officers and over 100 men wounded. Eight officers and 7 non-commissioned officers and men of the 2nd Battalion were mentioned in General Buller’s despatch of 30th March 1900, 5 of the latter being recommended for the Distinguished Conduct Medal.
The battalion was specially selected to march into Ladysmith at the head of the relieving force.
In glancing at the doings of the 2nd Dublins one cannot but be amazed that a battalion should so constantly be in big affairs. The history of the war shows that some battalions can slip through a long campaign with little fighting, few casualties, and small notoriety of any kind, while others, such as the Dublins, Derbys, Gordons, or Rifle Brigade, seem to be out of one big thing into another. It may be luck,— and no doubt chance has something to do with it,— but there is a contrast so obvious between the records of, say, the Dublins and Gordons on the one hand, and some Regiments very far their senior on the other, that it is impossible not to notice it.
After the relief of Ladysmith the two battalions of Dublins were to be separated. The 2nd, which had been fighting constantly, and had suffered terribly from 20th October to 27th February, was taken by sea to Cape Colony in April and remained with General Hart, the other battalions in his brigade being the Somerset Light Infantry, Border Regiment, and Con-naught Rangers. Henceforth the battalion was to have fewer drains on its strength. Their doings between April and October 1900 are very similar to those of one wing of the Somersets, whom the 2nd Dublins accompanied on many wanderings in that period, and to avoid repetition reference is made to the Somersets.
In his despatch of 10th October 1900, para. 27, Lord Roberts says “On 22nd July the Boers made a determined attack on the post at Zuickerbosch Spruit, thirteen miles east of Heidelberg The post was held by two companies of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, 110 men of the Royal Engineers, and 10 men of the Imperial Yeomanry, under Major English of the first - named Regiment. Hart proceeded at once with reinforcements from Heidelberg, but before he arrived the enemy had been beaten off, great credit for the achievement being due to Major English and his small party” The two companies here referred to were of the 2nd Battalion.
The following notes from the diary of Captain A. E. Mainwaring of the 2nd Dublins show the severity of the work of an infantry battalion, apart altogether from the strain of being opposed by an active and enterprising enemy “Friday, 7th September 1900. Marched all night, did ten miles through a difficult pass in Gatsrand. Saturday Company formed rear–guard.
Set off again at 10 P.M., marched till 6 A.M. on Sunday At 7.30 A.M. went out with Bradford and St G. Smith and two companies to collect forage. Waggons bogged, men hauled them out, getting soaked. Marched back to camp, arrived there at 5.30 P.M. Found force gone. Ordered to follow at 6 P.M. Five hundred Boers reported on left flank. Some skirmishing Arrived at Potchefstroom at 10 A.M. on Monday” The distance from the camp referred to, to Potchefstroom, was thirty-six miles, it was done in sixteen and a half hours by men who had been hard at work for the previous forty-eight hours.
About the middle of October 1900 the battalion, along with the Essex Regiment and Strathcona’s Corps, was sent to the Krugersdorp district to assist General Barton, who at the time was almost hemmed in by De Wet near Frederickstad. On the 25th General Barton took the offensive, and defeated and scattered his opponents, inflicting heavy loss. The reinforcements did not take part in the fighting.
The battalion was mainly about Krugersdorp during the latter phases of the war, and part was with General Cunningham and other commanders in several engagements in that district.
In General Buller’s final despatch of 9th November 1900, 1 officer and 6 non-commissioned officers and men of the 2nd Battalion were mentioned for continuous good service in the Mounted Infantry, and under Lord Kitchener the battalion added three more “mentions.” As to mentions by Lord Roberts, reference is made to the notes under the 1st Battalion.
The battalion sailed from Durban for Aden in January 1902, getting a “tremendous send off” from the Natal folks, for whom they had fought so ungrudgingly Lord Kitchener sent them a most appreciative telegram, of which the battalion was naturally very proud.
Out of the officers commencing the war at Talana only one escaped unwounded, apart from those taken prisoner in the Mounted Infantry with Colonel Möller on 20th October 1899 (see 18th Hussars) and in the armoured train at Frere on 15th November 1899.
5 September 2004