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The Scottish Horse

Many Australians of Scottish ancestry must have felt more connected to their ancestors than their fellow countrymen.  Caledonian societies within Australia recruited actively for the Scottish Horse.

Major the Marquis of Tullibardine, MVO, DSO, in the written statement furnished by him to the War Commission and in his evidence gives an admirably clear yet modest account of the organisation, composition, and work of the two regiments of the Scottish Horse, each of which earned great distinction by exceptionally fine work.

In November 1900 Lord Kitchener sanctioned the raising of a regiment to be known as the Scottish Horse. Lord Tullibardine soon started recruiting from Scotsmen, or men of Scottish descent, in South Africa, chiefly in Natal; and on 4th February 1901 he took the field with three squadrons. To these other squadrons were soon added. The Volunteer Service Companies of Scottish regiments furnished no less than 200 men. To these their leader gave the highest possible praise. "One hundred of them were the best body of men in every way that I saw in South Africa. This particular squadron had a reputation which extended far beyond the column with which it was trekking".

Recruiting was not confined to South Africa. Great Britain and the other Colonies were appealed to, and the Caledonian Societies in London and overseas did grand work. The Highland Society of London sent out 386 officers and men, who sailed in February and March 1901; and the Marquis's father, the Duke of Atholl, personally raised 831 men before the war was over. The Society in Melbourne took up the matter with enthusiasm, and "about 300 men joined me on 8th March. These were a splendid draft, very fine riders, and all Victorians". Later on more men joined from Australia, recruiting having been attended with success. The first regiment was soon six squadrons strong, and a second of five squadrons also took the field. In no way did Lord Tullibardine show his organising power to greater advantage than in the setting up of depots for his force for both men and horses. A central headquarters depot for both regiments, with a convalescent camp for sick men and overworked horses, was at Johannesburg, and there were advance depots for each regiment near the railway in the district in which each might be trekking. At these advance depots were remount establishments. Thus sick men could go to the regimental camp, and so not get lost in the great army hospitals. Horses needing a rest could be sent in to the rest-camp at the depot, and come out as well as ever. In selecting his officers his lordship showed the same wisdom, and in that all-important respect no corps was more fortunately situated. The commander, second in command, and adjutant of each regiment were all regulars of experience. "From first to last I had 157 officers: 14 were killed or died; 7 were invalided; 11 were removed or resigned at my request; 107 served to the end of the war, and the remainder resigned for private reasons. The officers were - Supplied from regular army, 22; appointed in South Africa outside the regiment, 78; through the ranks of the regiment, 46; and at home, 11". At another part Lord Tullibardine said: "Some of the most reliable officers I had were appointed through the ranks. They were of all classes, and were promoted principally on their merits". This coming from an officer of the Royal Horse Guards who had seen much active service, apart from South Africa, is surely a sufficient reply to the old-fashioned people who insist with tiresome reiteration that an officer must be selected for his pedigree.

Only a very brief account of the services of the corps can be given here. What follows is almost entirely taken from Lord Tullibardine's evidence and the official despatches.

1st Regiment

This regiment was commanded at first by Lord Tullibardine, then by Major Blair, King's Own Scottish Borderers, after him by Lieutenant Colonel C E Duff, 8th Hussars, and finally by Lieutenant Colonel H P Leader, 6th Dragoon Guards. It served in the Western Transvaal in a column commanded (1) by Colonel Flint, (2) by Colonel Shekleton, (3) by Brigadier General Cunningham, (4) by Brigadier General Dixon, and (5) by Colonel Kekewich. They had a few casualties, but saw no very serious fighting till the action at Vlakfontein on 29th May 1901. When the fight commenced the Scottish Horse were detached, but they rejoined Brigadier Dixon in time to assist the infantry in driving off one of the fiercest attacks made during the war. The charge successfully made by a portion of the Sherwood Foresters in order to recapture the guns was a piece of work certainly unsurpassable in gallantry and dash. Brigadier General Dixon having been appointed to another command, Colonel Kekewich took over the column. "Under t

his officer's magnificent leading the column then became one of the most useful in the country, being only equalled by Colonel Benson's for numbers of prisoners taken. The regiment improved rapidly. The next serious fight was when Delarey surprised the camp at Moedwill on September 30th 1901. The Scottish Horse casualties were 3 officers and 17 men killed, 12 officers and 41 men wounded. The regiment, owing to the greater part being away on command, were very weak that night, and behaved splendidly". No fewer than 7 officers and 3 non-commissioned officers and men of the regiment gained mention on this occasion. At Moedwill the officers' casualties were-Captain H A F Watson, Lieutenant T J Irvine (killed), Lieutenant H N C Erskine-Flower (died of wounds on 22nd November), Lieutenant Colonel C E Duff, Major A Blair, Captains P M Rattray and P N Field, Surgeon Captain W S Kidd; Lieutenants N C G Cameron, W Loring, J Stuart Wortley, W Jardine, Edwards, Prior, D Rattray.

"Soon after this [Moedwill action] Lieutenant Colonel Leader, 6th Dragoon Guards (Carbineers), took over the command from Lieutenant Colonel Duff, who took over the command of his own regiment, the 8th Hussars. To Colonel Leader is due the high state of efficiency of the regiment at the end of the war". The regiment continued its good work in the Western Transvaal.

Between May and September the regiment had been almost constantly in contact with the enemy. They had 1 man killed and Lieutenant Duncan Stewart and 1 man wounded on 6th July. On 8th August, at Elandsdrift, 1 man was killed and Surgeon J M Bernstein and several men were wounded. At Witpoort on 13th December, Captain H G Field was severely wounded, and on this occasion 5 men were wounded. Among the next losses the regiment had to mourn was the death of Captain P N Field, who was killed at Doornlaagte on 2nd March 1902. This splendid officer had in September 1899 enlisted in the Natal Mounted Rifles, had gone through the siege of Ladysmith, joined the Scottish Horse as a lieutenant in December 1900, been twice wounded, once captured, mentioned in despatches, invalided home in December 1901 after Moedwill, insisted on embarking again in February, and was killed as soon as he got to the front. His record is one of which not only his corps but every Volunteer or irregular must be proud.

In the early months of 1902 the regiment was constantly on the trek and fighting. At Gruisfontein, on February 5th, 1902, the whole of Sarel Albert's commando was captured. As to this action, Lord Kitchener, in his despatch of 8th February, said: "During Major Leader's advance he came upon and captured a Boer picket, from which he ascertained that General Delarey had already moved his camp, but that Commandant Sarel Albert's laager was for that night at Gruisfontein, which he reached just before daybreak. Our men charged the enemy's laager with great dash, the Scottish Horse taking the main share of the attack, and as most of the Boer horses had been stampeded by the fire of Major Leader's pompom, the gallantry of the attacking force was rewarded by an unusually large measure of success; 7 Boers were killed, 132 prisoners taken, 11 of whom were wounded, together with 130 rifles, 2800 rounds of ammunition, and a large number of horses, mules, cattle, and waggons were taken. Our casualties were 2 officers (Captain Ian R M'Kenzie and Lieutenant W Tanner) and 6 men wounded, all belonging to the Scottish Horse". In his telegram of 5th February Lord Kitchener said: "Leader reports that the Scottish Horse behaved with great gallantry".

The regiment was in the column of Colonel Kekewich and the brigade of General Walter Kitchener in the last great drives in the Western Transvaal. In the drive which started from the Klerksdorp blockhouse line on 23rd March, and came back to that line on the 24th, the troops covered 130 kilometres in twenty-four hours. To the 1st Scottish Horse chiefly belonged the credit for the capture of three 15-pounder guns and two pom-poms.

The regiment bore an honourable part in another big fight at Rooival on 11th April 1902. It is described in Lord Kitchener's despatch of 1st June 1902, a quotation from which has been given under the Imperial Light Horse, who were present in the latter part of the action. Lord Tullibardine claimed for the Scottish Horse, apparently with good ground, the capture of some guns in the pursuit after a gallop of 32 kilometres. The official telegram certainly said that Kekewich had captured 2 guns, 1 pom-pom, 1 ammunition-cart, and 10 waggons. The regiment had 1 killed and 8 wounded in this engagement.

2nd Regiment

"The second regiment started in Colonel Benson's column in the Eastern Transvaal, under Major Murray, Black Watch, and, thanks to Colonel Benson's good guidance, speedily became one of the best corps in the country, and never degenerated, even after his death. Their first serious skirmish was at Roodekrantz, on April 30th, 1901, when one man was killed, 4 officers and one man wounded. Their next (on 3rd July 1901) at Eland's Hoek [Kloof in the despatches, see Mentions], when three men were killed and nine wounded". The officers wounded at Roodekrantz were Captains M W H Linday and A M Creagh, and Lieutenants Oscar Hamilton and C S Long-Innes.

The despatches report Colonel Benson's operations in some detail, and the Scottish Horse are invariably mentioned in terms of credit. On 9th and 10th July 1901, near Dullstroom, north of the Delagoa Bay Railway, they are said to have pursued the enemy in a northerly direction, and to have captured some waggons. On the 11th the regiment was detached on a wide detour, during which they successfully located and captured 6 prisoners, 40 horses, and 24 vehicles belonging to Viljoen's commando, which were hidden in a kloof in the Tautesberg. On 15th July, at Wagen Drift, Lieutenants O W Kelly and M'Letchie and 4 men were wounded. In August, September, and October Benson operated south of the Delagoa Railway, and was most successful in rushing laagers after long night marches, taking a large number of armed Boers and immense quantities of cattle and transport. For their fine work Lord Kitchener bestowed on the column and its gifted leader the highest praise. But to few soldiers is it given to know nothing but unqualified success.

It will be remembered that at the end of September 1901 a great concentration of Boers was reported in the Vryheid district. After making most determined but unsuccessful! attacks on Forts Itala and Prospect, the enemy was driven from the south-east corner of the Transvaal. General Botha knew that Benson's column, which had become a standing cause of terror to his subordinates, was operating alone in the Bethel district. Into that district the Boer commandant moved, determined to concentrate and strike hard. On the 30th October, at 4.30 am, Colonel Benson moved from Quaggalaagte northwards towards Brugspruit. He was soon opposed on his front and flanks and rear, but the attacks on front and flanks were not so serious as those on rear. At the crossing of a drift the enemy had a good opportunity of doing serious damage, but did not press home; the guns and waggons were got over, and the trek was continued in a torrent of rain. The soft ground caused serious trouble, and two waggons, which were bogged, had to be left. The accounts of what followed vary considerably. The despatch states that:

"At about 0900 the advance guard, on approaching the farm Bakenlaagte [more usually spelt Brakenlaagte], where Colonel Benson intended to halt, found the ground was held by the enemy, who after a short resistance was dislodged, and the column moved gradually into camp covered by the rear-guard, composed of two companies of mounted infantry, two squadrons 2nd Scottish Horse, two guns 84th Field Battery Royal Artillery, a pom-pom, and one company of the 2nd Battalion the Buffs, the whole under the command of Major Anley, 3rd Mounted Infantry. The guns, with the company of the Buffs and 50 mounted infantry, took up a position on an irregular ridge running generally east and west some 2500 metres south of the camp. Small posts of mounted infantry were well out on either flank, and the remainder, with the Scottish Horse, occupying some hillocks another 1000 metres to the south of the ridge, where the guns were in position, formed a screen to the whole. As the front of the column was cleared, the numbers of the enemy hovering round the flanks and the rearguard increased. It was now past noon, the rain continued, and a strong wind was blowing from the south-west. The country was open, an expanse of vast rolling downs without any very marked features, giving a far-reaching command of view, while the deep hollows afforded cover for the approach of an enemy who knew the ground and avoided heights. As soon as the column and baggage had been brought into camp, and all arrangements made for the defence, Colonel Benson ordered the screen of Mounted Infantry and Scottish Horse to fall back on the remainder of the rear-guard at Gun Hill. When about to carry this out between 12 and 1 pm, Major Anley, who was in command, reported that the enemy was advancing in greatly increasing numbers, and was already close to his position, which he could no longer hold. He at once retired on Gun Hill, sending a company of Mounted Infantry to some small kopjes well to the left. The movement had hardly commenced when a strong Boer force appeared over the rise, immediately to the left of the position just vacated by the screen, and, wheeling sharp to its left, pushed in the Scottish Horse and Mounted Infantry. Our men passed over the ridge to the northern slope, while the Boers formed up in a large area of dead ground, which lay immediately under and in front of its western extremity: here they dismounted and rapidly worked their way into a good position within close range of the guns on the crest. The company of the Buffs, which formed the original escort, posted well to the front of the guns on the south side of the ridge, was captured by the enemy as he rode practically into our position almost in touch with our men. In spite of the gallant efforts of the Mounted Infantry Company of the Yorkshire Light Infantry and a squadron of the Scottish Horse, which promptly formed up on the flanks of the guns, our troops were unable to offer any serious resistance, and the ridge, with the exception of the extreme western end, which was held by a party of the Mounted Infantry until dark, gradually fell into the enemy's hands. As soon as Colonel Benson had become aware of the nature of the attack he had ordered up two more companies of the Buffs to reinforce the rear-guard on the ridge, but these did not succeed in reaching any position whence their fire could be effectually brought to bear. It is now known that the sudden change in the enemy's tactics was brought about by the arrival of a reinforcement of 600 or 800 men under Commandant General Louis Botha, which came on the field from the direction of Ermelo shortly before noon. Their subsequent attack, which was delivered simultaneously both on the camp and rear-guard, was greatly aided by the heavy rain and mist which concealed the enemy's movements, as the storm burst in the faces of our troops. The attack on the camp was easily driven off, but no further reinforcements could be sent to the ridge, nor were the guns in camp able to materially assist the defence of those with the rear-guard. Both Colonel Benson and Colonel Guinness fell by the guns on the ridge, the former being wounded in three places. The fight was continued until dusk, and when our ambulance moved out after dark to collect the wounded, the guns were removed by the enemy". In his statement before referred to Lord Tullibardine said: "The next fight was the big one at Brakenlaagte, when Colonel Benson and Major Murray were both killed. The men did magnificently trying to save the guns. Only 96 [actually fewer] were engaged at this point, and they stuck it out until only 6 were left unhit. Their casualties were 5 officers and 28 men killed, and 4 officers and 36 men wounded; total, 73 killed and wounded out of 96 engaged, all the officers engaged being hit. I do not think I ever heard of better or more determined fighting, and although we lost the guns the camp was saved by the delay, and the men really did cover themselves with glory". Major F D Murray and Captains M W H Lindsay and A Inglis, Lieutenants C Woodman and J B Kelly were killed. Captain A C Murray and Lieutenants W Campbell, T Firns, A T Wardrop were wounded. Subsequently Lord Tullibardine informed the writer that the actual total of the officers and men of the corps engaged was 93. One officer and 13 men formed the covering troop when the rear-guard retired to Gun Hill. That troop was cut off. Seventy-three reached Gun Hill; of these only 6 were unhit at the close of the day, and many were hit several times.

Naturally every corps thinks well of its doings, and officers and men of the Scottish Horse have spoken proudly of what the regiment did. It is a satisfaction to them to know that officers of other corps have spoken and written in a similar strain. If more is needed, the Casualty List, which, after all, is the best test, proves that the mounted infantry, notably that of the Yorkshire Light Infantry and the King's Royal Rifle Corps, along with the Scottish Horse, particularly 'L' Squadron, did all that men could do to hold the ridges and save the guns at Brakenlaagte.

No minor engagement of the war has engrossed greater attention than Brakenlaagte, and about no other has there been more written. The death of Colonel Benson, whose work as a column commander was unsurpassed by that of any other leader, gave it a tragic interest, but other causes contributed, and among these a degree of uncertainty as to the conduct of the troops. The infantry of a mounted or mobile column in South Africa was the part of the force which had little to do, when night attacks on the enemy's outposts or laagers were made, beyond marching to the point ordered; but if the column were seriously attacked, it behoved the infantry to hold their ground to the last man, 'cost what it may', in the words of the red book. From the despatch one would infer that there were two parties of Buffs concerned in the rear-guard action. There were actually three. These were:

1. The rear-guard company, actually 50 strong. They do not seem to have been on the ridge, but to have been cut off and captured some 2500 metres south of the ridge. This company was supporting the mounted screen, which, forced to retire, galloped through the company, thus masking any fire of which the company was capable; for it had little ammunition left. Close behind the mounted screen came the enemy, smothering the company by sheer weight of numbers, and making resistance an impossibility. The casualties of the company were few.

2. A party of 30 men, belonging to the left flank guard of the convoy, who had been temporarily detained with Colonel Guinness' guns. The guns galloped back to the ridge or hill a kilometre off, leaving this small party of infantry to follow. The detachment, while still moving back, was caught in the Boer charge, but made what stand they could, losing 19 killed and wounded.

3. Two companies. The despatch speaks of Colonel Benson ordering up two more companies of the Buffs to reinforce on the ridge. These had been escorting the convoy. The officer commanding them, hearing heavy firing in rear, had halted them near the ridge on his own initiative, but had been ordered by Colonel Benson to rejoin the convoy. Just as these companies were nearing camp, where the waggons had already arrived, they received a message to go back to the ridge. They at once turned about and advanced to the ridge. When they reached it the fighting was practically over; but they maintained the struggle for a time, and endeavoured to remove the guns. The Boers are said to have admitted that this advance, in which the companies lost 25 per cent of their strength, put an end to their aggressive movement. The distance from the ridge to the camp was 2000 metres.

After October the 2nd Scottish Horse continued to operate in the Eastern Transvaal in the column of Colonel Mackenzie. There was often severe fighting, and on 20th December 1901 Major Jennings Bramley (19th Hussars), who had succeeded Major Murray in the command of the 2nd Scottish Horse, and Lieutenant John Dow were killed at Lake Banagher. In February the regiment made some smart captures of influential Boers about Carolina.

Having been brought to Pretoria after the declaration of peace, the Scottish Horse, along with the Imperial Light Horse, Johannesburg Mounted Rifles, and Kitchener's Fighting Scouts, marched past Lord Kitchener on 17th June, and the Commander-in-Chief intimated that arrangements might be made under which these corps would be placed on a permanent basis.

The Honours and Mentions gained by the corps are noted below. An attempt has been made to distinguish the regiments (1st and 2nd).

Lieutenant W J English, 2nd Regiment, was awarded the Victoria Cross.

DESPATCH or 8 July 1901 - Captain P N Field, first, for conspicuous gallantry on several occasions, and notably on 29 May 1901 at Vlakfontein, when he went back at considerable personal risk to extricate two men who could not retire owing to fire. Sergeant J O Gange, 2nd, on Houtbosch Kop on 13 June 1901, a party of the regiment being under fire of Boers and of our men, voluntarily crossed a most difficult kloof under heavy fire from both sides to stop the firing of our own men, thereby saving many lives; also on June 15 crossed the Crocodile River under fire and burnt some Boer waggons and stores on opposite bank. Sergeant D Milwraith, 1st, on 4th April 1901, when scouts and cyclists were hard pressed, he, with one other man, covered the retirement of the whole party, and by his behaviour prevented the whole party from being rushed. Troopers Gibbons, Ruddy, M Shadwell, L N Smith, all 1st, as scouts have several times passed with messages through the Boer lines, and through country filled with the enemy.

8 August - Lieutenant O W Kelly, second, shot through stomach at Laatse (Wagon) Drift, 15 July 1901, when with advanced patrol, but, having located some of the enemy, crawled back under heavy fire to inform the officer commanding. Staff Sergeant Major J Sharps, second, for his coolness and good command when opposed to very superior force of enemy at Mauchberg, 14 July 1901, and Elandshoek, 3 July. Lance Corporal A Redpath, 2nd, on same occasion, called on to surrender and refused and tried to get away, wounded and again summoned to surrender, but continued to retire, and again wounded, still persisted, and got into camp with his rifle and bandolier; promoted Corporal by the Commander-in-Chief. Sergeant W L Whiteman, Sergeant R Fraser, Trooper T Fraser (promoted Corporal by Commander-in-Chief), Sergeant T Firns, all 2nd, at Elandskloof, 3rd July 1901, for gallantry and good conduct in an attack by 60 Boers on an extended position held by 26 men, of whom 3 were killed and 9 wounded. The attack was repulsed. Corporal F T Kecrouse, second, at Laatse Drift, 15 July 1901, galloped out under fire to fetch in a man whose horse had fallen and dragged him, and succeeded. Private F W Wilkinson, on same occasion, for gallantry in action and good example.

8 October 1901 - Captains P N Field and Ian R Mackenzie and Lieutenant W Jardine, all 1st, for work done by them in clearing kloofs in Megaliesberg in September; Lieutenant Jardine, also for gallantry at Moedwill. Captains R H Dick-Cunyngham (Lieutenant 21st Lancers), P M Rattray, Lieutenants J H Symonds, A Rattray, N C G Carneron (wounded), W Loring, J Stuart Wortley (wounded), all 1st, for gallantry, Moedwill, 30th September 1901. Surgeon Captain W S Kidd, wounded early in same action but continued at his duties many hours. Trooper Richardson (promoted Corporal by Commander-in-Chief), Sergeant Mainwaring, both 1st, for specially good service in the dangerous and difficult work of searching kloofs in the Megaliesberg, 5th September 1901. The three following gained mention for work at Moedwill: Farrier-Sergeant Kirkpatrick, 1st, conspicuous by leading and rallying the men at Moedwill; Trooper G Webster (promoted Corporal by Commander-in-Chief), advanced with three comrades and when all were wounded continued alone, called on to surrender, refused, and continued to fight till reinforced, when he advanced again; Sergeant C E L'Anson, for continuing to serve and carry up ammunition though himself wounded.

8 December 1901 - Lieutenants C E Rice and W A King, first, for good service in capture of a laager at Beeste Kraal, 30 October 1901. Lieutenant D Robertson, 2nd, for distinguished good service in Colonel Benson's action at Brakenlaagte, 30 October 1901. Trooper N Grierson, 2nd (severely wounded, promoted Corporal by Commander-in-Chief), for gallantry, same occasion, crawling up to guns and offering to carry messages to the camp. Sergeant Major Sharpe, 2nd, good service, same occasion.

8 March 1902 - The following are all of the 1st Battalion. Major H P Leader (Carbineers), for his capture of Sarel Alberts and his laager at Gruisfontein, 5 February 1902. Lieutenants W Lawless, H Selby, J C Wallace, for gallantry and good behaviour on same occasion. Staff Sergeant Major J Sharpe, coolness and gallantry in directing the men under him in hand-to-hand fighting, same occasion. Troopers J S Robb and M'Callum, promoted Corporals. (M'Callum was a son of the Governor of Natal). Trooper C Barclay, Staff Sergeant Major F Neal and Sergeant G Gunning, all for gallantry, same occasion.

1 June 1902 - Captain C E Rice, 1st, gallantry in action against Delarey, 24 March 1902. Major A Blair, DSO, and Corporal W Parker (promoted Sergeant), 1st, good service at Brakspruit, 11th April 1902. Sergeant A Martin, conspicuous good service, same occasion.

FINAL DESPATCH - The Marquis of Tullibardine. 1st Regiment, Lieutenants W F Fison, S H Lewis, Squadron Sergeant Major G H Manley, 13th Hussars, Squadron Quartermaster Sergeant, afterwards Lieutenant E A Legge, 18th Hussars, Farrier Quartermaster Sergeant W Fraser, Royal Horse Guards, Sergeant Major M'ilvraith, Farrier Sergeant R H Tellam, Scout T Tooms. 2nd Regiment, Lieutenants J M Baker, J L Jack, 2nd VB Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, Quartermaster and Honourable Lieutenant Murray, 3rd Dragoon Guards, Regimental Sergeant Majors H E Varley, 6th Dragoon Guards, W G Austin, 19th Hussars, Squad. Sergeant Major E Luther, Corporal F Helmkemp.

One of course would hope that in 2010, all Australians would choose to fight with their countrymen for Australia.


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