Natal Mounted Rifles
In May 1868 the Regimental Committee of the Durban Mounted Rifles, Captain WH Addison presiding, held a meeting to discuss the forming of the Natal Mounted Rifles. This in effect would amalgamate the four current Volunteer Units, Royal D’urban Rangers (1854), Victoria Mounted Rifles (1862), Alexander Mounted Rifles (1865) and Durban Mounted Rifles(1873); see Tree.
In 1854, the early days of D’urban when it was a struggling small community, there was a white population of around 1200 people, of whom just over 300 were male adults. It was a wild area, people living in tents and it was just a few years earlier that Elephants have moved out, pythons were a daily catch and everyone kept a wary eye out for lions. Apart from the fear of an animal attack there was the ever increasing fear of attack by natives so it was inevitable that a military force was muted. On 23 March 1854 a meeting was held at “The Commercial & Family Hotel in West Street where forty members were enrolled, the title Royal D’urban Rangers adopted and the Lieutenant-Governor was appointed Colonel of the Corps. It was, incidentally, to be a further five years before the introduction of the volunteer movement in England!
During the period up to the second Anglo Boer war the Associate Units, of what was to become the Natal Mounted Rifles, were used as policing units within the Natal County until the Zulu Wars when they were all involved in various areas and known as the Natal Volunteer Force under the command of Captain PHS Barrow, 19th Hussars.
In 1894 the Border Mounted Rifles joined with the Natal Mounted Rifles as the Left wing, with the NMR the right wing. The uniform for both wings was the same except the lettering of the monogram. In 1897 the universal khaki serge with chocolate facings (BMR) and green (NMR) was adopted with the felt Smasher-Hat, the brim of which was turned up on the left side and carried the appropriate monogram backed by a square of cloth – green or chocolate. Although the NMR had a motto the BMR did not and it was a visit to the BMR officers mess in 1899, by Sir Walter Hely-Hutchinson, Government of Natal, that gave the BMR their motto. The story goes that the Governor on entering the mess noted the absence of a plate and remarked, “This is Spartan, Rethman, and what I like to see –‘rough but ready’. No sooner had he made this comment than the Regimental Medical Officer, Captain HT Platt, placed the top-boot, complete with spurs on the mess table saying, “This is all the plate we have.” Thus the boot and spur became the crest of the Border Mounted Rifles together with the motto Rough but Ready.
In 1895 the command structure was, Border Mounted Rifles Major JF Rethman and Natal Mounted Rifles Lieutenat-Colonel Addison. Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Winter Evans led the regiment during the Anglo Boer War with a compliment of 220 men based in Ladysmith.
On 11th October 1899 war was declared, the enemy entered Natal, and their movements were reported by the Natal Carbineers. When Major Taunton reported the enemy’s movement, the Intelligence Department discredited this, and he had to send a patrol to locate, or rather look into, the hostile laager. On the 17th, No. 1 squadron of the Border Mounted Rifles under Captain Royston, was fired on at the foot of the Tintwa Pass; and on the same night Captain Wales, Volunteer Staff, with a troop of Natal Mounted Rifles, set out to patrol the Waschbank Valley, passing through several parties of Boers and covering 126 miles in forty-eight hours. On the 18th Sir George White asked the NMR for a bodyguard of 24 non-commissioned officers and men; Captain F. S. Tatham of the Carbineers was chosen as commander. On this date the enemy advanced in force, and the BMR from Acton Homes and the Carbineers from Van Reenen’s and other passes had, according to the GOC’s orders, to retire nearer to Ladysmith.
On the 21st October General French and Sir George White fought the battle of Elandslaagte. Before the main action commenced one squadron from each of the 5th Lancers, 5th Dragoon Guards, and NMR were sent out to turn the enemy’s right flank and harass his rear and two squadrons of the NMR took part in the final pursuit.
On the 22nd October Surgeon Hornabrook, medical officer of the NMR, when seven miles out from Ladysmith, met a Boer patrol of 25 men and, although alone, he shouted to the party to surrender, as the Boers had been defeated and they were surrounded. The demand was promptly obeyed, the party giving up their rifles to three of their own number, and the triumphant doctor led his 25 prisoners into Elandslaagte Station. If this tale were not vouched for by the Natal Staff it would probably not be credited.
In his despatch of 2nd December 1899 Sir George White mentions that the Natal Mounted Volunteers were with him at Rietfontein on 24th October. After the engagement was well developed “the Natal Mounted Volunteers, who had been with the Cavalry, had been recalled, and as the enemy showed some disposition to work round my left flank as if to cut me off from Ladysmith, I sent this force under Colonel Royston to work round the Boer right and cover my left flank, a movement which was most successfully performed.” In a report to the Chief-of-Staff Colonel Royston drew attention to the gallant manner in which Major Taunton, NC’s, afterwards killed, and Major Sangmeister, BMR, seized a kopje under heavy fire, and bringing a maxim gun into action speedily cleared out the enemy.
On the 25th October Colonel Royston took out the whole of the Mounted Volunteers to assist Yule, whose force was found eighteen miles out. The roads were beyond description, and the rear of the column had to wade, often beyond their knees, in liquid mud. On the 26th, Yule’s column entered Ladysmith. On the 27th and two following days most of the Mounted Volunteers were out, and found the enemy gathering in great strength beyond Lombard’s Kop.
The NMR, BMR, Natal Filed Artillery and other Natal Volunteer units were part of the “Battle of Ladysmith” on 30th October 1899. In another despatch speaking of Colonel W Royston Sir George White said “The services which Colonel Royston and the forces under his command have rendered to the State and Colony have been of the very highest value. In him I have found a bold and successful leader, and an adviser whose experience of the Colony and of the enemy has been of great value to me. Employed on arduous duty from the commencement of the campaign, in touch with the enemy, I have found him prompt and ready for every emergency; he and his force reflect the greatest credit on the colony of Natal.”
When the siege commenced the Volunteer Brigade was under Colonel Royston, with Lieutenant Colonel H. T. Bru-de-Wold as Chief Staff Officer. The Naval volunteers were generally split up throughout the siege, part being on Caesar’s Camp and part at Gordon Post. Between 1st November and the end of February the Natal Mounted Volunteers were frequently engaged, either out reconnoitring or sent to cover the retirement of another force. On the 2nd November, the Carbineers had Major Taunton and Sergeant Mapston killed, and the BMR lost Captain Arnott and 11 men wounded. Section D of the defences of Ladysmith was placed under Colonel Royston and included the thorn country north of Caesar’s Camp and the Klip River Flats. Colonel Royston lost no time in building sangars and digging trenches, and soon had his section greatly strengthened. On the 14th the Volunteers were out with Major-General Brocklehurst, and, along with the Imperial Light Horse, seized Star Hill; but it was not held permanently. When Sir Archibald Hunter made his deservedly famous sortie on 7th December to destroy the Boer guns on Gun Hill, his force consisted of 500 Natal Mounted Volunteers under Colonel Royston.
The town and camps were during the siege, constantly under shell-fire, and on 18th December one 6-inch shell bursting in the camp of the Carbineers killed 4 men, wounded 6 men, and destroyed 10 horses. The times were trying, but hard digging, sangar building, and brigade sports kept the men fairly fit.
In the repulse of the great attack of 6th January 1900 the volunteers took a prominent part. Colonel Royston wrote that “on his arrival at the outpost line, at 5 am, 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. By bout 6 am, the ‘Gordons’ and the BMR again advancing, drove the enemy over the point of the hill, and they never again mounted to the crest.”
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 Umbulwane, and also the excellent practice made by the battery. I also consider that Lieutenant Royston, Border MR, did good service with his men. The behaviour of Captain Platt and Lieutenant Hornabrook, Vol. Med. Corps, in attending to the wounded throughout the day under heavy fire, deserves special mention; the last-named officer was wounded, besides having his clothes pierced by a bullet.” Colonel Royston after Platrand battle.
One of the outposts which were first attacked on the Flats was held by Natal Police; the officer commanding it being absent, the senior non-commissioned officer, Sergeant Woon, although severely wounded in the neck, assumed command, and held the post until reinforced by a squadron of the NMR.
On the 22nd January Troopers Inman and Agnew, NMR, volunteered to attempt to blow up railway bridges used by the enemy. These two men made their way through the investing lines, but found the bridges very closely guarded; eventually they succeeded in joining the troops south of the Tugela.
When Dundonald rode into Ladysmith on the evening of 28th February, he was accompanied by some Carbineers, Natal Mounted Rifles, Border Mounted Rifles, and Natal Police, the officers being Major D. M`Kenzie, Lieutenants Silburn, M`Kay Verney, Richards, Ashburnham, and Abraham. None of those present will ever forget this ride, probably the most memorable occasion in the lives of any of them.
After the relief of Ladysmith the Volunteer Brigade was allowed some time to recuperate, and was reorganised. On 3rd April 1900 it consisted of the Natal Carbineers, Natal Mounted Rifles, and Border Mounted Rifles, temporarily under Lieutenant-Colonel Bru-de-Wold.