The Australian Boer War Memorial
Anzac Parade Canberra

Natal Field Artillery

At the onset of the Boer War the Natal Field Artillery was commanded by Captain Daniel Taylor with a unit strength 123 men and 6 x 2.5 guns, based at Ladysmith.

On the 21 October 1899 General French and Sir George White fought the battle of Elandslaagte. In his despatch of 2 November 1899, para. 14, Sir George mentioned that before that battle the Natal Field Battery moved out with General French at 4 am; some of the Natal M.R. and Carbineers were also with him. When the enemy were found near the station the battery opened fire, but the position was strong, and the little guns were outranged; reinforcements had therefore to be got.

In describing the battle of Lombard's Kop, 30 October 1899, Sir George said that 200 Natal Mounted Volunteers were sent out on the evening of the 29 October to hold Lombard's Kop and Bulwana Mountain; and the remainder of the Mounted Volunteers, with the 5th Lancers and 19th Hussars, moved out with 'General French at 03:00 on the 30 October to endeavour to cover the right flank in the main action. The Natal Field Battery formed part of Grimwood's force on the right of the infantry line. It will be remembered that General French could not get much beyond the Pass between Lombard's Kop and Bulwana; while Grimwood's Brigade was heavily pressed on its right, and the whole force had ultimately to retire on Ladysmith.

In the despatch of 23 March 1900, para 4, Sir George stated that on 31 October he sent the 2nd Royal Dublin Fusiliers and the Natal Field Battery to Colenso to assist in defending the bridges on the Tugela; but they were soon forced to retire farther south.

The following is the report furnished by Colonel Royston to the Chief of the Staff : "I have to report that on Saturday, 6 inst., at about 04:15, I received information by telephone from headquarters that the enemy were making an attack on Wagon Hill. I at once despatched 80 men of the Natal MR, under Major Evans, to strengthen the outposts on the Flats, then held by 1 officer and 40 men Natal Police, attached to Volunteers, and 1 officer and 20 men Natal Carbineers. The Town Guard was also directed to stand fast at its post on the left bank of the Klip River. As it had been intimated that a battery of artillery would be placed at my disposal, I directed two squadrons Border MR, with one maxim, to accompany the guns. Major Abadie, at about 05.40, reported his guns in position near the point where the road to Caesar's Camp crosses the town rifle-range. On my arrival at the outpost line, at 05:00, the enemy were occupying the extreme south-eastern point of Caesar's Hill, well under cover amongst the rocks and bushes. About 50 men were visible from the Flats, but more appeared to be pushing on from the west in small parties. These men were being fired on from the thorn trees and from sangars below by my men as soon as they appeared in sight. A few minutes after my arrival the enemy advanced north along the top of the hill, firing at a party of 'Gordons' near a sangar about 500 yards to their front. I requested the officer commanding the battery to open fire, which he did with good effect, stopping the enemy's advance, and driving them into the rocks. As there appeared to be only a small party of the 'Gordons' opposed to the enemy at this spot, as far as I could see from below, I directed a squadron of Border MR, under Lieutenant Royston, to climb the hill and go to their assistance dismounted. This would be about 06:00. On my men joining the Gordons the party advanced towards the enemy in the rocks, but were at first driven back by their heavy fire, and the enemy again advanced. The battery again opened fire, and the 'Gordons' and the Border MR again advancing, drove the enemy over the point of the hill, and they never again mounted to the crest. At mid-day the enemy had retired about half way down the southern slope of the hill, but still kept up a heavy fire. Unfortunately, it was impossible to get at these with artillery fire from where the battery was limbered, owing to the danger of hitting our own people on the crest of the hill, and the officer commanding the battery did not consider it advisable, owing to the rough ground to cross, and to exposure to Bulwana, to advance any of his guns as far as our outpost line, from which point the enemy could be reached. Rifle-fire was kept up until the enemy finally got into the bed of the Fourie Spruit, where he could only be reached from the top of Caesar's Hill. A heavy fire was kept up until dark, when it gradually ceased, and the enemy appeared to be retiring up the Fourie Spruit. My casualties were 4 men killed and 2 officers and 10 men wounded. I wish to bring to notice the gallant manner in which the battery of artillery, under Major Abadie, stuck to its ground under the very heavy fire from the 6 inch gun and another long range gun on Umbulwana, and also the excellent practice made by the battery. ..."

Sixty men of the Durban Light Infantry formed part of the personnel of the armoured train which at this time patrolled daily from Estcourt to Colenso. On 15 November a rail was removed or twisted, and the train was attacked; 2 men of the Durban regiment were killed, Captain J. Wyllie and 15 were wounded, and 19 were taken prisoners, of whom 8 were wounded, 1 mortally. A squadron of Carbineers and one of Imperial Light Horse came out to the help of the armoured train. These reinforcements drove back the enemy, killing 3. Some of the Durban Light Infantry, Natal Royal Rifles, a squadron of Carbineers, and some of the Police were present in the action at Willow Grange on 22 and 23 November under Colonel Martyr (see General Hildyard's Report of 24 November 1899). Four guns of the Natal Artillery were out on reconnaissance work in the same district about this time.

In General Buller's movement which commenced on 7h May for turning the Boers out of the Biggarsberg, and so clear Natal, the Volunteers were in the 3rd Mounted Brigade (see South African Light Horse). The Brigade was engaged almost daily between 10 and 19 May. Colonel Bethune co-operated from Greytown, and joined General Buller on 13th May (see Bethune's Mounted Infantry). Bethune's force was composed of 5 squadrons of his own regiment, 1 squadron Umvoti Mounted Rifles, two 12-pounder guns worked by men of the Royal Garrison Artillery, two 7-pounder guns, Natal Field Artillery, 2 Hotchkiss manned by the same corps, and 6 companies of the Imperial Light Infantry, a corps which was raised in the Colony. For seven months this force, or portions of it, had done good work in protecting the north-east of Natal from invasion or raids. On 19 May the Durban Light Infantry and Natal Royal Rifles were ordered to garrison Dundee. When Laing's Nek was turned by General Buller (see South African Light Horse), the Natal Mounted Volunteers were the advanced-guard of General Clery's force, which crossed the Nek itself on 12 June. Dundonald's Brigade had been split up, and the South African Light Horse were part of the turning force.

On 21 September 1900 authority had been obtained from Lord Roberts to raise among the Natal Volunteers a composite regiment of 300 mounted men to take over the duties hitherto performed by the Volunteer Brigade, and thus facilitate the return of the remainder of the Brigade to their daily avocations. The Volunteer Composite Regiment was made up as follows:

  Officers Men
Natal Carbineers 6 125
Natal Mounted Rifles 5 32
Umvoti Mounted Rifles 1 13
Border Mounted Rifles 3 48
Natal Field Artillery - 19
Natal Royal Rifles - 8
Durban Light Infantry - 39
Hotchkiss Gun Detachment - 6
Volunteer Medical Corps 1 4
  16 294

Natal Field Artillery were equipped with in 1899 by 2.5 inch RML 7-pounders and these were used during the Anglo-Boer War and were in action at the battle of Elandslaagte on 21t October, 1899. But they were hopelessly outranged by the Boer field guns which were of the most modern continental type and for this reason the battery played only a minor part in subsequent phases of the war, being used mostly on line-of-communication duties in northern Natal. In 1901 these out-of-date guns,  pop-guns, were withdrawn and the battery was armed with 15-pounder modern field guns mounted on Indian pattern carriages.

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Item submitted by David Deasey 2012

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