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South African War, Ladysmith

Sergt. F.E. Bishop, 28th Regt.
(Gloucestershire Regimental Association Handbook)

We (the 28th) were part of the forces sent out on 24th October 1899, with the object of engaging the enemy under General Joubert to allow the retreat of the small force under General Yule. We had only got a mile or two along the Newcastle road when, as we were halted in column of route, the enemy was sighted, our Brigadier orderd Colonel Wilford to advance. He immediately ordered the Left Half Battalion to advance in the direction of Pepworth Hill. 'E' Company, to which I belonged, was first to extend and advance to a position on a ridge at Rietfontein, where I had the distinction of giving the command for the first volley fired by the 28th in the South African War. As will be remembered, we lost our Colonel killed that day, also other casualties before retiring on Ladysmith in the evening, having accomplished our object.

It was on Sunday 29th October 1899 that the ill-fated column started out for Nicholson's Nek, where the mules of the 10th Mountain Battery stampeded. I was not at Nicholson's Nek, as I was unable to go with my company owing to illness, I had been poisoned. It happened so: On Saturday 28th Oct. I sent a man of my section (No. 5110 J. Giles) to the dry canteen to get something for breakfast, he returned saying that they had nothing but cheese, of which I purchased half a pound. I cut it in half, gave Giles a portion, and had the other myself. After breakfast I mounted guard in camp, and before the old guard marched away, I became very ill and vomitted violently. I was taken to the doctor (Major Green) and lay on the bed for a while, and despite his medicine I continued to vomit. In the meantime another sergeant had taken my place on guard, and all that kept me going was my water bottle until the following Wednesday, 1st November, when I managed to digest a little brandy. A few men of the 10th Mountain Battery and of the 1st Devons became ill through the same cause, and some of them went under. (I might add that poor Giles who shared my cheese went out and was killed). Major Green was very anxious, so the CO (Major Humphrey) sent the Orderly Room Sergt. (Dave Dennard) to me to enquire what I had taken that day. I told Dennard about the cheese, Major Green, accompanied by our CO went to the dry canteen and examined the cheese and ordered it to be buried at once. The canteen steward, a Dutchman, had decamped during the night and was never seen again.

The siege of Ladysmith was from 2nd Nov. 1899 to 28th Feb. 1900 (119 days) and within a few days of the Relief, Sir George White, VC left for England. I was at the Railway Station with an unarmed 'Guard of Honour' as he was brought there on a stretcher. We who were left of the 28th were sent to Durban to recuperate.

Another incident was on 18th Oct. 1899, when an armoured train went out from Ladysmith and returned with some Prisoners of War, at that time 'E' Company was on duty in the Station Yard guarding the provisions etc. and it fell to my lot to escort the Boer prisoners to the Civil Prison... so I received them from Staff Officer Major Mulaly, 19 prisoners and obtained a receipt from the Governor for 21, where the other 2 came from I do not know to this day.

Fate again came our way on 19th Dec. 1899, when we lost our Sergeant-Major Beresford Grey who was one of the very best and every inch a soldier, a strict disciplinarian, and one whose bark was much worse than his bite. He suffered greatly for several weeks, and died of double pneumonia in Intombi Spruit Hospital. His last words were "My poor brother" for he was thinking of his brother Bob, who was one of the ill-fated at Nicholson's Nek, who fell into the hands of the Boers.

The 28th landed at Durban on Friday 13th Oct. 1899 and proceeded by rail in open trucks to Ladysmith, arriving early on the morning of the 14th. The first news we received at Durban was that the Boers had declared war and had occupied Newcastle. Our first piece of bad luck came on 16th Oct. when we lost Willie Parks (Band Sergt), accidentally killed. The next was on 24th Oct. when Col. E.P. Wilford was killed in action at Rietfontein, then came the disaster at Nicholson's Nek. Another of piece of bad luck was on 12th Jan. 1900 when we lost our Orderly Room Sergt. Dave Dennard who died. Colour-Sergt. Charlie Pittaway, who was badly wounded at Nicholson's Nek, lingered all through the siege at the Intombi Spruit Hospital Camp and died 11th March 1900.

I might add that Long Tom from Umbulwana Hill put over a shell one day during the siege that accounted for no less than 17 of us. This is what some people of today refer to as a picnic.


South African War, Ladysmith

No. 3248 Colour-Sergt. Thomas Byrne, 28th Regt.
(Back Badge, 1957)

During February 1900, a successful night operation was carried out by a small party of volunteers from the Glosters, under the command of Lieut. Theobald, 1st G.R., of which I was the senior NCO in charge of the party. The object of the night sortie was to destroy the abattis, wire entanglements, brushwood, and all defensive objects in front of Boer positions and guns on Gun Hill, so as to clear a way for another general sortie to connect with General Buller in command of the relieving forces.

The night was very dark, the terrain most difficult, strewn with deep dongas, water holes, large boulders, brush and mines. We had to march 4½ miles over the country before reaching our objective, all the time under the glare of the enemy's searchlights, which, of course, had to be dodged. The wire had to be penetrated and cut, the brushwood and other wooden obstacles had to be destroyed by fire wads made of tar and tow, carried in haversacks, and lighted by matches, which at once revealed our positions long the abattis, drawing heavy fire from the enemy.

Our bombs were made of water bottles charged with dynamite, connected by a fuse which also had to be lighted by matches and then thrown into the enemy's trenches and positions to try to keep down their rate of fire whilst the work of demolition went on. The operation was one of the most successful, dangerous and difficult, I have ever taken part in. The G.O.C. was appparently so pleased that he had us paraded before him and thanked us. He did so in spite of his severe illness at the time.

At that time the Glosters were only a mere handful of survivors after the disaster at Nicholson's Nek, on 30th October 1899, where the Glosters, Irish Fusiliers and No. 10 Mountain Battery were all killed, wounded or taken prisoners. I was one of the many wounded in that battle left on the hills for two days before being sent into Ladysmith by the Boers, which places was already invested by the Boer Army. After the relief of Ladysmith our small party went into action at Van Reenens Pass and Orange Free State and were then detailed for escort duty with Boer prisoners to Ceylon. The war was still on and as I failed to get permission to return to South Africa I purchased by discharge and returned to South Africa, where I joined the Colonial Forces and continued to serve to the end of hostilities.

Note: Thomas Byrne purchased his discharge in Colombo in 1901. As a member of the Colonial Forces he served in the Boer War, Natal Rebellion 1906, WWI, the Rand Revolution 1922, WWII where he was wounded and captured but ecaped. He rose to be a Colonel. In 1957 he was living in Durban, Natal.


Recollections

No. 4932 Sergeant A.H. Gardiner, 28th Regt.
(Back Badge, 1958)

I enlisted in the 4th Bn, North Gloucester Militia, in 1895, the next year training at Horfield Barracks. I joined the line Regiment, the 61st, after training at Raglan Barracks, Devonport. After a while I was drafted to India, joining the 1st Bn at Fort William, Calcutta, 1897. I served with them in India, stationed at Allahabad, leaving there with the first Indian contingent for South Africa under Sir George White. We landed at Durban and proceeded to Ladysmith. I was with the column that left Ladysmith on the 29th Oct. 1899, which met with disaster during the night. I was wounded through the head and leg, so when the portion of the Regiment were taken prisoners, I was left on the battlefield for dead. Thank God, the stretcher-bearers found me before it was too late and I was taken to hospital and soon recovered. Then the gruelling time of the Siege of Ladysmith for four months of starvation, when we killed our mules and horses to keep going. I was with many more enjoying Christmas dinner of 1899 which consisted of 4 oz. minced horse flesh, 4 oz. mealy meal, 1 pint of water, per day. Things were looing pretty glum then, I can assure you.

During the S.A. war we were sent to Ceylon with 2000 Boer prisoners to Dyetalaya, then returned to Colombo Echelon Barracks where we attended the burial service for Queen Victoria before proceeding back to India. After serving some time in India I came home with the Regiment to Cambridge Barracks, Portsmouth, relieving the 2nd Bn which was proceeding to Malta. Then after a few months I was sent on catering staff for recruits, then the war started. Then the mobilisation of Reservists. When that was completed the order came that all time-serving NCOs would join their units overseas. So I went to France early in 1915 in time for the battles of Loos and Lille. I remained in France until invalided unfit for furthur trench warfare owing to frostbitten feet.

I transferred to 365 Area Employment Company in Rouen, attached as Sergeant of Military Foot Police, to evacuate people to the shelters under the old cathedral when the sirens sounded. I then moved to a prison compound to help look after the field prisoners, then was eventually sent home to Aldershot and attached to a provisional battalion until the Armistice, being finally discharged after serving 22 years and 345 days with the rank of full sergeant.