Golf was first played at St Andrews in Scotland over 600 years ago, so it is little wonder that this venue is steeped in wonderful stories. According to Sporting Life’s Golf News some of the sand traps have very individualistic names relating to ginger beer, spectacles and the best spot to catch a lassie. One large bunker and two nearby smaller ones at the 10th hole have a historic link to South Africa and the Anglo-Boer War. The large one is the Kruger bunker, nearby is Mrs Kruger and Kruger’s mistress.
The story goes that when war broke out Lt. Frederick Guthrie Tait, “the man who could smack a golf ball further than anyone else in the world,” was the darling of St. Andrews. Freddie an officer in Scotland’s most famous regiment, The Black Watch, was the British amateur golf champion in 1896 and 1898. In 1899 he was given a grand send-off at St Andrews when he left for the war in South Africa under the leadership of Major-general Andrew Wauchope, affectionately known to his men as “Red Mick.” Shortly after they arrived Wauchope was killed and Freddie Tait wounded in Battle of Magersfontein. A few months later, in February, 1900, Tait was killed on a battlefield near Kimberley. When his fans back home heard this news it is said they built an effigy of Kruger and burnt it on this bunker.
2. Three recipients of the Victoria Cross are buried in Ladysmith town cemetery, Dick-Cunningham, Trooper Albrecht and Digby-Jones. This is possibly the only such situation in the world.
3. During the early part of a “charge”, Major Woolls-Sampson Imperial Light Horse had observed one of his men lying on the ground and immediately ordered him to advance. The man replied that he was perfectly willing to do so, but that he was paralysed with fear. The charge continued and shortly afterwards the Major was overtaken by the same man, this time running at full speed. On enquiring about the sudden change, the trooper showed the major where his moustache and part of his upper lip had been shot away. The trooper yelled out “Where are the bastards? Let me at them!”. With that, he rushed away and led the charge for the rest of the action.
4. Texan Muleteers were responsible for importing mules over from America. Many of these muleteers remained to fight with the South African Light Horse.
5. Major Childe of the Imperial Light Horse, who was killed in action at the Battle of Spioenkop, is said to have had a premonition of his forthcoming demise. On the evening prior to his death he predicted that he would die the following day and requested that his epitaph be taken from the Bible-2 Kings; 4.26, which reads, “Is it well with the Child? It is well”. He was buried at the bottom of Bastion Hill with the epitaph he requested.
6. Hussar Hill, which features in the battle of the Breakthrough, was named after the 13th Hussars regiment. On 20th December 1899, determined to avenge two of their number, Privates Smith and Ross were sniped at and killed by the enemy. Four of their comrades decided to avenge this nad laid a trap for the Boers. They left their dead colleagues where they were and hid in the bushes close by. The Boers duly arrived and as they stripped the bodies, the Hussars opened, fire killing two and wounding two.
7. On the Natal front, at the battle of Spioenkop, Boer cyclists diverted the British fire from a hill overlooking the Tugela River by raising the Transvaal flag on the summit. They stayed there until the heavy artillery chased them off.
8. The War was unique in many ways and a particular incident worth mentioning was when members of the same family were to fight on opposite sides. One such case is that of the Osche family. Trooper Harold joined the Imperial Light Horse whilst his brother joined the Boers. Both were situated at Ladysmith. Harold died of wounds at Elandslaagte. The native runner carrying the sad news out of Ladysmith was captured by none other than Harold’s brother.
9. The mockingbird learnt to mimic the whistle which was blown when the Long Tom was seen firing.
10. British signallers were called up by Boers asking whether they considered one Long Tom equal to 10 field guns by which they were obviously referring to the capture on Gun Hill and their capture of 10 of the British guns at Colenso.
11. Another anecdote refers to a signal from a British searchlight to the Boers which read, “God help you when you get to Pretoria”. The reply is purported to have been, “He will”.
12. The Boer heliograph operators signalled to the British operators, “When is Buller coming over for that Christmas dinner?”. The British replied, “When is Kruger being crowned king of South Africa?”
13. A heliograph message from a Boer clearly a cricket fan sent to Ladysmith on the 101st day of the siege, “101 not out”. The reply from the 1st Manchesters, “Still batting”.
14. All the roads in the Irish Fusiliers camp were macadamised.
15. A message between a Boer officer, Commandant Viljoen and a Veldt Cornet in the Transvaal commando, complains about the poor condition of the men that were being sent to fight in Ladysmith. He points out that, of the twenty men sent, all have medical certificates which state they are unfit for service. He goes on to mention some of them by name, mentioning one as being blind, another having a rupture, and one with an ulcer. Even an epileptic was listed. He asks whether they consider his camp to be a “reformatory”, an “hospital” or “ready for war”.
17. A message sent by Eloff to Baden-Powell read, “How about a game of cricket?” Baden-Powell’s reply was… “I would like nothing better when the engagement is over. Just now we are having our innings and right now have scored 200 days against the bowling of Cronje, Snyman and Botha”.
18. A notable casualty during the Battle of Platrand was a Trooper named Henry Corbett “Dickie” Gorton an inter-provincial rugby player who had earlier been wounded at Elandslaagte. He was wounded again, on Wagon Hill, this time in thirteen places. He died from these wounds four days later.
19. The 5th Lancers and 5th Dragoon Guards were the last British cavalries to “charge” in a war. This occurred at Elandslaagte.
20. Queen Victoria, after the defeat at Colenso said, “We are not interested in the possibilities of defeat”.
21.The first Boer killed during the Natal campaign was Fred Johnson of the Harrismith Commando. His death occurred when about fifty Boers, veldkornet Zac de Beer, came into contact with a party of Natal Carbineers on 11th October 1899. Johnson is buried at Besters farm.
22. The first siege baby was born on 12th November 1899 to a Mrs Moore and was baptised Tintwa Siege Redvers Moore the following March.
23. It has been estimated that the Boers fired an average of 2 tons of shell per day, making 4 tons of metal per man killed.
24. A cheque for seven pounds sterling was sent by Nc’geda, Chief of the N’Dunge tribe to Ladysmith for the strict instructions that it was to be for the benefit of the Manchester regiment who defended Ladysmith.
25. An instruction by the Queen to all Irish Regiments read, “Her Majesty The Queen is pleased to order that in future all ranks of her Majesty’s Irish Regiments shall wear as a distinction, a sprig of shamrock in their head-dress on St. Patricks Day to commemorate the gallantry of her Irish soldiers during the recent battles in South Africa.”
26. On 18th December 1899 a shell landed among the Natal Carbineer lines killing four men and wounding six others. Quartermaster Tom Lyle, of the Dundee Squadron, was sitting on a candle box reading when the shell detonated. A fragment passed between his legs, shattered the box and deposited him on the ground unhurt.
27. At the battle of Nicholson’s Nek, Sergeant Major T.J. Byrne of the 1st Battalion Gloucester regiment showed remarkable courage by re-assembling the men and equipment after the mules had stampeded and although wounded he retrieved two boxes of ammunition. Later, with another sergeant and five men, he was sent to hold a position, which he did all day until overcome by the enemy. He was the only survivor and lay out in the field for two days awaiting for the ambulance. He was in due course tried for being “absent without leave” and for allowing himself to be captured. On his acquittal he remarked, “The law is an ass”.
28. During the course of his research into the Battle of Bergendal, my friend Huffy Pott visited the military cemetery near Airlie station in the Elands Valley. After complaining about the overgrown state of the cemetery to the National Monuments Council, Huffy later visited the manager of the farm, Geoff York, at “Ryton Estates” to find out exactly where the Nooitgedacht prisoner of war camp had been. Unknown to him the National Monuments Council had written to Geoff and asked him to clean up the cemetery. Geoff showed him the letter and then told him a “ghost story”. The last grave in the cemetery records that Major R. L. MacGregor, 1st Battalion the Royal Scots, died there on 2nd April 1901. Geoff and his wife Anita walked down to the cemetery to ensure that it had been cleared properly, and took their Jack Russell terrier with them. He smartly examined each grave, sniffed here and there, and lifted his leg a few times. When he got to the last grave, he froze, growled menacingly, and all the hackles on his neck rose. Geoff and Anita thought he had seen a snake, but the area had been cleared and they could see no reason for his aggressive behaviour. Suddenly he turned tail and, with tail between his legs, he ran away. This is when Geoff said, “He must have seen a ghost !”. A few weeks later they saw an elderly couple poring over a large book opposite the cemetery. Thinking they were lost, they asked if they could help. The elderly couple said that they just visited to the cemetery, and told them that Major MacGregor, in the last grave, had committed suicide. A few months later Huffy’s White River friend, James MacGregor, during a fishing week-end revealed that Major MacGregor was his great uncle, and he still had correspondence about his death at his home, Lochaber. James found a letter from Lt.-Colonel William Douglas, the commanding officer of the Royal Scots Regiment, explaining the circumstances leading up to the suicide. It revealed that his great uncle was depressed, and being undiagnosed and without help, the Major shot himself. It turned out that there was a history of depression in the family, so we conclude that, through Huffy, the Major was passing this message on. This story has a strange sequel. Huffy was looking for pictures of horses in Wilson’s book entitled “With the Flag to Pretoria” and “After Pretoria – the Guerrilla War”. There are 1724 pages in these four volumes and, putting Lieutenant-Colonel Douglas’ letter to one side, he chanced to open volume 3 page 585. Instead of finding a picture of a horse he found a photo of the Lt.- Colonel William Douglas, whose letter he had just put aside. Huffy had unwittingly become a cog in the supernatural wheel that linked the Major with his great nephew, and brought the family history of depression to their attention.
29. The song “Sarais Marais”, adopted by the Boers as their own was in fact written by an American for the Civil War. After the Boer War it was adopted by the British Royal Marines as their song.
30. Captain George Anthony Weldon of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers holds the dubious distinction of being the first British officer killed, at the Battle of Dundee on 21st October 1899.
31. At the battle of Ladysmith on the 30th October 1899 the Boers had taken up a position on Nicholson’s Nek and were under heavy fire when a Jew came up to a Burgher who was lying behind a stone and asked to buy the position from him for half-a-crown. When told in no uncertain terms what he could do with the money, the Jew raised the price to fifteen shillings and was again turned down.
32. Four babies were born during the Siege.
33. Three enterprising residents came up with a novel idea to ensure that they had a regular supply of eggs. They fashioned a light-proof cupboard, closed it each day after the hens had laid their customary egg then later opened it and the Hens obliged again.
34. It was estimated that during the battle of Platrand some 60 000 rifle rounds were fired off by the British troops. At the same battle, one of the guns used by the Boers was a Mountain gun which had been captured at Nicholson’s Nek.
35. The first recorded skin graft was performed in Ladysmith on a soldier who had been involved in a shell explosion that had blasted off the top off his skull. A Blacksmith was instructed to forge a plate of steel that was fitted to the soldiers head. Skin taken from his thigh was grafted over the plate. The man survived until “the ripe old age of 65″ but could never go out into the sun for fear that his brain would boil.
36. The battle of Platrand resulted in five soldiers being awarded the Victoria Cross.
37. The name Hussar comes from two Hungarian words, HUSS and AR which, literally translated, would mean twenty and pay respectively. Together they refer to a law that required that twenty residents would pay for one mounted soldier.
38. During the reign of Queen Victoria the British army were involved in forty wars, including the second Anglo Boer War.
39. The “rank” of Conductor was held by Warrant Officers Class 1 of the Stores Branch. This ancient title dates back to the days of the Board of Ordnance (abolished 1852) and is exclusive to the RAOC who became Royal in 1920. The rank took precedence over all other Warrant Officers in the Army and was the pinnacle of achievement for a man who started at the bottom.
40. Major Karrie Davis of the Imperial Light Horse invented a dye that would colour not only the bleached uniforms, but also the lighter coloured horses. The base was permanganate of potash. Unfortunately for Davis he did not dye his red breeches and was wounded in the buttocks on Wagon Hill on 6th January 1900, at the battle of Platrand.