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Fifty Years After

by Lieut. W.J. Salvage
(Back Badge 1950)

The 61st moved out from Salamanca Barracks, Aldershot, at dawn on the morning of the 24th December 1899. It was a real winter's morning with the snow many feet deep. Entraining for Liverpool, where the White Star liner Olympic awaited our arrival, we embarked the same day. Christmas Eve, together with artillery units and hundreds of horses destined for the front to replace casualties. On Christmas Day, before sailing, we were treated to a sumptuous feast. We left Liverpool during the night - bully beef, salt pork and ship's biscuits was all we got for the next 21 days.

Inoculation against typhoid or enteric fever followed, and most of the lads were rendered hors de combat for a few hours in consequence. The voyage was extremely rough, and for some days we were battened down; altogether we lost some 7 men and 400 horses, from one cause or another, between Liverpool and Cape Town. Disembarking at Cape Town, we entrained for De Aar. On arrival there will forms were issued with instructions to complete them before going into action.

We formed part of a brigade under General Charles Knox, serving with the 6th Division, under the command of General Kelly Kenny. We encamped by the Modder River, near Magersfontein. Whilst a flank attack was in progress on Magersfontein by a skeleton force, whispered instructions went round that we were to be in readiness to march out during darkness, leaving all the tents standing, without sound or noise of any kind so as to give the impression that we were still under canvas. Our departure was a complete success and surprise to the Boer Commandos, but being mounted they eventually caught up with our infantry and cut-ff our slow moving convoy, capturing hundreds of wagons containing our rations and equipment. This meant we were forced to march on quarter rations, one hard biscuit and a quarter per day until we reached Bloemfontein 3 months later. Under such terrible conditions, thirst, hunger and boiling sun, it was no wounder that hundreds fell exhausted en route and were unable to catch up with their units. There was no such thing as motor vehicles or telephones, no mechanised hospitals in those days. A field bandage, sewn on the inside of our khaki tunic, was the only means of rendering first aid.

We were now on a mission to relieve Kimberley. It was a race between our cavalry under General French and the slow but sure-footed Boer ponies. Our cavalry pipped them on the post and relieved the besieged garrison on 15th February 1900. The Boers had now taken up a strong position on the river at Paardeberg, protected by the natural fortresses and high trees where snipers were perched. It was decided to surround them and if on the third day there was no surrender, to open fire. Before the firing started General Cronje and his 4000 followes surrendered, 27th February 1900.

The Battalion distinguished themselves in all these skirmishes and actions, some 16 in all, prior to the fall of Bloemfontein, especially so during the Battle of Driefontein which ended with a bayonet charge. It was during this action that our Colonel R.F. Lindsell, our CO, was badly wounded in the chest. I happened to be near him at the time and offered first-aid treatment. He refused medical attention and continued to move among the men with words of encouragement; very few knew of his condition. The morning following the battle he collapsed from loss of blood and was in a very distressed state. He was taken back to the nearest field hospital, and after treatment, was invalided home to England. He was the bravest man I had ever known, or ever will know.

Another oustanding case was a young soldier whose name unfortunately I cannot recall. He belonged to my section. We were moving towards our objective in extended order, bullets and pom-pom shells were too frequent to be pleasant, and all the time he kept murmuring the word "Mother." We were now drawing nearer to our goal and the firing intensified. The order was passed - "Fix Bayonets," then "Charge." I could never fathom the change which came over him. Still muttering that adorable word "Mother" he charged, sometimes using his bayonet and then his magazine, into the very thick of it as though the tradition of the "Old Slashers" depended upon him. His example brought others less daring to his side until we reached the summit of the hill and victory. I heard afterwards that he had been awarded the DCM. I hope he is still alive and able to read this extract.

Others who received recognition for their services was RSM Trevelyan, Sergeant William (Lackri) Wood, Corporal Beattie Johnson, Colour Sergeant David Evans, Colour Sergeant Wilkins, Corporal Gleeson, Privates Newman and Tom Graball - the latter being killed on the day he had 21 years service. I myself was reported killed at Driefontein and my family went into temporary mourning. I was actually the last man to rejoin the Battalion after the battle, many hours afterwards. Hence the report of my death. I afterwards learnt that Lord Roberts had been watching the engagement and that I for one had been mentioned in despatches.

Our forward march to Bloemfontein was uneventful, we were halted on the outskirts. The few remaining bandsmen who had acted as stretcher bearers were ordered to play. Poor fellows, they did their best to make a noise resembling martial music. And so we entered the capital of the Orange Free State, foot sore and bleeding, more than half starved, and looking more like gorillas than human beings. Eating bread for the first time in 3 months brought on dysentry, causing the death of many of my comrades who had survived many battles and extreme hardships up to this time.


A Letter

ex- 5333 Pte A.J. Shinn, 61st Regiment
(Back Badge 1960)

14th March 1960

Glen View, Somerton, Somerset.

Sixty years ago today the 61st, of which I was one, marched into Bloemfontein after our long, quarter-ration, march of 230 miles from Enslin. Also on this date, in 1898, my draft from the Depot joined the 2nd Battalion in Jersey. Two young officers who did their training in the same squad as myself were popular Patsy Pagan and Mr. Vassal. Our CO was Lieut-Colonel Toby Leatham who died in 1898 and succeeded by Lieut-Colonel Lindsell. In those days we had a bear as mascot. I well remember when he slipped past the main guard sentry and wandered off into town, being eventually rounded up near Corbiere Lighthouse. I am in now in my 81st year abd enjoying fairly good health. I am still in possession of my bed plate, issued in 1898, and a few other reminders of my short stay in the 2nd Battalion. On becoming a casualty at Sannah's Post in May 1900, I found my way back to Horfield Barracks via No. 8 General Hospital, Bloemfontein, and No. 1 General Hospital, Wynburg, Cape Colony. Of all the kit I took to South Africa, which was left at the Cape, only my small book was returned when I was doing probation for transfer to the A.P.C.

I was in Salonika in 1916-18 and was twice mentioned in despatches and received the MSM, being granted in April 1959. In 1919 I accepted a post on the audit staff of the RAF.