This action took place approximately 65 kilometres west of Klerksdorp, 10 May 1901. It involved an ambush of a squadron of the recently arrived 2nd New South Wales Mounted Rifles. It was the heaviest loss to an Australian unit before the attack on Wilmansrust later that year.
This is the only occasion that 3NSWIB was not part of the same column as 2NSWMR during their tour of duty in South Africa.
Colonel E C William's column consisted of 2NSWMR (Lt Col H Lassetter), a squadron of Kitchener's horse, a company of Coldstream Guards, a section of ‘A’ Field battery RAA (Captain Antill), 2NSWMR machine gun section (Captain Jenkins) and two pom-poms. The British plan was to corner a large Boer force approximately 30 miles from Klerksdorp, consisting of up to 5000 burghers led by the De La Rey and Smuts. A number of columns would advance over different routes. Unfortunately the coordination was poor and the main Boer force had dispersed and was not cornered.
Williams’ column moved out on Sunday 5 May 1901; it appears that 2NSWMR was leading. During that day they engaged several times with small groups of Boers who disappeared when fire missions were called from the section of ‘A’ Field battery. On the 6 May, the column reached Hartebeestefontein, a noted Boer resistance centre, so it was decided to evacuate the town and burn it, sending the inhabitants to a concentration camp at Klerksdorp. On the 8 and 9 May the column was again on the move westwards with a flank and rearguards constantly being sniped at.
On the morning of 10 May near the farm called Korannafontein some 65 kilometres west of Klerksdorp, the column ran into a larger enemy force. From the available narratives it appears that 2NSWMR was leading with ‘C’ squadron in a one squadron up formation. The Boer force was believed to number about 200 and was well hidden on some wooded kopjes to the left of the column. Taking two troops of ‘C’ Squadron (Captain McIntosh), a troop of ‘B’ Squadron, (Lt McCall), and with the support of ‘A’ battery, Lieutenant-Colonel Lasseter cleared the position.
Meanwhile on the right front of the column Lt Mills’ troop from ‘C’ Squadron had become engaged with another Boer party. The remaining troops of ‘B’ Squadron (Captain Maclean), which had been guarding the pom-poms and providing a reserve, were ordered forward to clear this party out of the way. The Boers were in a mealie field (Maize), with one of the pom-poms providing support, ‘B’ Squadron’s troops began to clear the paddock in an extended line. Lt Coyle’s troop from ‘D’ Squadron was brought forward to protect ‘B’ squadrons left flank. ‘B’ squadron found that the enemy had left the mealie paddock. A rider from headquarters came up with orders to retire however the Squadron commander noting a small number of Boers in front elected to send a message back that he would follow up and maintain contact with them. He expected that support would follow including the pom-poms. By the time the ambush of the Squadron was over 5 miles from the main body and had out run its support; unbeknownst to the Squadron commander, its supporting pom-pom had run into technical problems with its harness which required field repairs and had not been able to move forward in support. The order of battle at this point appears to have been the Squadron headquarters Lt Lamb’s and Lt Airey’s troops of ‘B’ Squadron, Lt Coyle’s Troop ‘D’ squadron and Lt Mills’ troop ‘C’ Squadron.
About 20 Boers appeared about 800 or 900 metres distant. When fired on this group galloped off at full speed. The Squadron lost contact with the group and stopped to search a Boer farmhouse, then a force of about 150 Boers were noted approaching from the right. ‘B’ Squadron deployed to deal with this threat but found only 20 Boers visible in the tree-line about 80 metres away. Suddenly this group was joined by about 200 more Boers. Captain Maclean sent Lance Corporal G L Hobson pounding off for reinforcements. Corporal Hobson dodged several parties of Boers only to ride into a force of about 160 Boers blocking his way. He attempted to ride through as if he was a Boer but was spotted. He dismounted and set about the Boers using the butt of his rifle but received three bullet wounds in quick succession. The Boers then stripped him and left him. He was picked up by the ambulance about four hours later. So the message requesting support never got through to the main body. Lance Corporal Hobson was Mentioned in Dispatches and awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) as well as being promoted Corporal.
Another large group of Boers attacked the left flank of Lt Coyle's ‘D’ Squadron troop. The Australians were now faced by 300 or 400 Boers and soon it became evident that the force was surrounded on all sides. One of the ‘B’ Squadron troop commanders, Lt A E Lamb having had his horse shot from under him was just mounting behind one of his troopers when he was shot and killed. Several troops with their ammunition exhausted and wounded soldiers to look after were forced to surrender, the final toll being five dead seven wounded and another 27 taken prisoner. The wounded included the squadron commander, Captain McLean. The prisoners were stripped of their weapons, equipment, horses, and personal possessions; in some cases clothing was taken then they were released. Eventually support arrived but the Boers were gone by that time.
Over enthusiasm had got them into strife.
The column arrived back in Klerksdorp on 15 May 1901 with 300 Boer family detainees, approximately 500 Africans and a huge quantity of livestock.
David Deasey 2013
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