The Australian Boer War Memorial
Anzac Parade Canberra

 
 
Lieutenant Alfred Benson

Ancestor Details

Last Name: Benson

First Name: Alfred

Other Names: Ernest Arthur

Date of Birth: 19 November 1868 in Sydney

Date of Death: 1 March 1901

Cause of Death: Wounded at Klip Kraal and died at Deelfontein.

"Benson was hit by an explosive bullet that shattered his left forearm, and shortly afterwards through his leg. Again our gallant officer was hit through the jaw and throat, and yet again through the chest, and then at last he fell mortally wounded.

A storm came on and the hail beat down upon our dead and helpless, it was a terrible night. Benson, in spite of the frightful nature of his injuries was plucky all through, and it was only when lapsing into delirium that he made sound of complaint.

Next morning Mr Benson was taken to Deelfontein Hospital and there died two days later."

Service Number: 525

State or Colony: NSW CITIZENS' BUSHMEN ("B" Squadron - Discharged 4 February 1901) and joined Kitchener's Fighting Scouts 17 January 1901)

Highest Rank attained in Boer war: Lieutenant in Kitchener's Fighting Scouts

Place of enlistment: NSW Parramatta, Lancer Barracks

Murray page number: 78

Sailed on date: 1 March 1900

Ship: Four companies sailed on the Atlantian and the Maplemore on 28 February 1900.

BWM Cemetery or Memorial details: Boer War Nominal Roll (Probably buried at Deelfontein)

Decorations and commendations: Queens South Africa Medal

Personal character traits:

Alfred Benson was 31 years old and had left his wife at home in Sydney with four small children. She had not been pleased that he had set out on this adventure and subsequently (it is said) had refused to answer any of his letters.

Apparently it was many years before Alf's widow received a British war widow's pension.

Reasons for enlisting to fight:

Alf had served with the New South Wales Lancers - Parramatta and would have found it difficult to refuse to take up arms against the Boer when young civilian men were volunteering all around him.

My details are: Richard Benson, Pymble, NSW
Relationship to ancestor: Great Grandson

Other details of service (major battles significant events):

Kitchener's Fighting Scouts

The corps was raised in December 1900, being recruited in Cape Colony and Natal. As soon as they could be mounted they were sent into the field, and it is to the credit of the force and its leaders that they made no mistake. It will be remembered that Hertzog and other leaders had penetrated to the south-west of Cape Colony. In his telegram of 3 February 1901 Lord Kitchener said: "The commandos in Cape Colony are being hustled. Kitchener's Fighting Scouts attacked one hundred Boers at Doornbridge. Boers retired, leaving one killed. Horses, carts, ammunition, and tools were taken. We had two men wounded". In the despatch of 8 March 1901 Lord Kitchener dealt with the efforts made to clear the Colony in the preceding December, January, and February. Speaking of events in the western parts of the Colony, his Lordship said: "While the pursuit from De Aar and Britstown was maintained by columns under Lieutenant Colonels Bethune (16th Lancers), Thorneycroft, and De Lisle, troops of local levies were hurried up to occupy centres of disaffection in the Ceres, Worcester, and Piquetberg district; at the same time Lieutenant Colonel Colenbrander's newly formed regiment of Kitchener's Fighting Scouts were railed to Matjesfontein, whence they moved out to hold the passes leading south from Sutherland. My object was to keep the enemy north of the Roggeveld Mountains, and to prevent any junction between Hertzog and Kritzinger in the Prince Albert or Worcester districts. This being achieved, it appeared to me useless to follow out into the far west an enemy at all times disinclined to fight and ever ready to scatter". On the 9 January Hertzog's commando withdrew north towards Calvinia. "A general advance northwards was commenced by the columns under Lieutenant Colonels De Lisle, Scobell (Scots Greys), and Colenbrander (commanding Kitchener's Fighting Scouts). These quite succeeded in driving the enemy out of Calvinia and Van Rhyrisdorp, and pursued him as far north as Carnarvon". The regiment was taken to the central district of Cape Colony, where they had a very hard time. The pursuit of the enemy was not a task free from danger, and KFS had one strong patrol captured near Richmond on 27 February 1901. Lieutenant A E Benson and 6 men were killed, Lieutenant Naughton and 12 men wounded, and some taken prisoners, "after a prolonged fight", the official telegram said. On 8 March Captain John Boyd was killed.

(source: http://www.angloboerwar.com/units/kfs.htm)

Additional Information:

The Advertiser (Ashfield - Sydney Australia)

Saturday, 23 November, 1901

Mitchell library reference Micro Film RAV/FM4/942

LETTER FROM THE FRONT

The following letter has been received from South Africa, and as it refers to a former resident of Ashfield, it may be of some interest to our readers.

The death of a gallant soldier - Lieutenant Benson, of Kitchener's Fighting Scouts, was the bravest soldier and one of the most courtly gentleman it has ever been my lot to become acquainted with, and although it is now over six months since his death, I cannot yet relate the manner of it without an aching heart. He was a dear old chap, always so cheerful on the line of march, his interesting conversation has whiled away many an hour.

A hot dusty day on the Karoo Cape Colony, a troop of about sixty men with half a dozen "Cape Carts", wending its way in snake like column over the sandy, parched up flats. Towards Richmond the horses dragged their weary legs dejectedly, and men rolled and lurched in their saddles, it was 3.00pm and they had been on the march rapidly for the last 24 hours with only two halts of one hour each. Then a farm house, looking sweet and cool with its orchard and fields of mally, rose in sight, and worn out men and horses pulled themselves together. We hoped for the welcome order to halt and camp. Our advance guard rode about 800 yards in front towards the farm, and the column halted to await their signal to advance.

Suddenly our scouts were seen to turn and gallop towards us, and then from the out buildings and surrounding ridges poured a perfect hail of bullets, and for the space of some six seconds we stood aghast, so unsuspected was the onslaught. Then order rang upon order, all contradictory, and the squadron with one accord turned and galloped for a line of detached kopjes to our right rear, the cape carts swaying and lurching over the stones as the drivers lashed their terrified teams to madness. Lieutenant Benson yelled as we swept along, "follow me number four troop, no surrender boys", and he was the first to take up a position and return the enemy's fire.

From the first our plight was hopeless. Outnumbered five to one, horses dead beat, and caught in a cunningly arranged trap. No sooner did the enemy open fire than their flanking parties galloped out from the right and left and before the fight was half an hour old we were receiving fire from every side. On account of our small number we could not occupy the whole ridge, and lay mostly in the center, to do otherwise would have destroyed what little chance we had. The Boers gradually closed in, finding excellent cover among the rocks and scrubs, until at last we were engaged at 30 yards on one side.

Benson was hit by an explosive bullet that shattered his left forearm, and shortly afterwards through his leg, but still his cry was "let them have it boys", no surrender from number four troop.

Closer, and yet closer, crept our plucky and yet wary enemy, and many a good and brave man died grasping his rifle, or rolled in speechless agony among the blood-stained rocks. Again our gallant officer was hit through the jaw and throat, and yet again through the chest where beat a dauntless heart, then at last he fell mortally wounded, and the Boers closing in with a rush, and brushing aside our feeble attempt at a bayonet charge carried the position, and we were prisoners all who were left standing.

Seven men killed and twenty-one wounded was the result of our "roll call".

The Boers, who were Cape-rebels under Commandant Malan of De Wet's commando, took all they wanted from us, but otherwise treated us fairly well. They took mackintoshes, blankets, and any article of clothing they fancied. The fight lasted three hours, and it was just getting dark when the enemy rode away, leaving us to our harrowing reflections, seventeen miles from the nearest camp and railway, without a doctor, ambulance or the slightest assistance for our wounded.

A storm came on and the hail beat down upon our dead and helpless, it was a terrible night, men cried out and groaned frightfully at the agony of their stiffening wounds. Benson, in spite of the frightful nature of his injuries was plucky all through, and it was only when lapsing into delirium that he made sound of complaint.

Next morning we borrowed a wagon from the farm, whose inhabitants seemed equally terrified of British and Boers. Then two ambulances came over from Richmond Road Station in response to a message, which Malan had allowed us to send. Mr Benson was taken to Deelfontein Hospital, and there died two days later, regretted every soul who knew him.

The bullet which struck him in the chest, smashed a hole through a small flask which he was carrying, and he gave it to me as a memento; it is dyed and stained with the blood of a hero. His gallant conduct that day was the one bright spot of the most disastrous and miserable day of my life. Lieutenant Benson was son-in-law of Mr Mark Smith, of Summer Hill.

NB. The writer of this letter is not identified.

From Wikipedia:

Cape cart
A Cape cart was a two-wheeled four-seater carriage, drawn by two horses, and formerly used in South Africa. It was equipped with a bowed canvas or leather hood. It was used to carry passengers and mail. A Cape cart could travel quickly over rough terrain and, in the days before the railways arrived, it was one of the fastest means of transport available in the region. The name comes from the Cape of Good Hope.

Kopjes
The Kopjes ('small heads' in Afrikaans) are probably the most striking feature of the Serengeti grasslands. The technical term for these rock outcrops is inselberg. The Kopjes are made from old granite outflows and over time deposits of volcanic ash and dust have accumulated around them. On the Serengeti they have their own range of vegetation and wildlife. Through common usage, any small hills in South Africa might be called Kopjes.

Deelfontein
(Written as Weelfontein in the original newspaper article)

Deelfontein is a village in the great Karoo, Northern Cape, region of South Africa on the route of the Pretoria to Cape Town railway. It primarily developed to service the railway due to its good water supply for steam locomotives. In 1900 a British military field hospital, the Imperial Yeomanry Hospital, was constructed for casualties from the Second Boer War. The location was chosen for its communications and dry climate, and its proximity to De Aar, then the centre of hostilities. The hospital was unusual in pioneering the use of x-ray diagnosis. The hospital, with a capacity for some 800 patients, largely comprised tents and prefabricated huts. Little remains of the complex except a cemetery with around 130 graves and the remains of the Yeomanry Hotel, built after the war to accommodate soldiers' relatives visiting the site.

One internet article about the war suggests: Kitchener's Fighting Scouts had one strong patrol captured near Richmond on 27th February 1901. Lieutenant A E Benson and 6 men were killed. Lieutenant Naughton and 12 men wounded, and some taken prisoners, "after a prolonged fight", the official telegram said.

 


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