From the Officer commanding the 2nd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment, to the Chief Staff Officer of Militia, Canada.
Paardeberg Drift, February 26, 1900. — Sir, — I have the honour to report upon the part taken by the battalion under ray command in the engagement at Paardeberg on the 18th. inst. The battalion arrived near Paardeberg drift with the 19th brigade at 6 a.m. of the 18th inst., having formed the rear guard to the brigade in its march during the night from Klip drift, a distance of 22 miles.
Within half an hour of the arrival of the battalion orders were received to be ready to parade at 7 a.m., and at 7.20 am, the battalion moved out to support the artillery, about a mile away. The men in the meantime had had a biscuit and a cup of tea. Hardly had the battalion reached the place designated than it was ordered to move to the drift and cross the river. This was done, and the crossing began at about 8.30 a.m. The current ran 9 miles an hour, while the water was sufficiently deep to reach up to the men’s armpits. Two crossings were used about, 50 yards apart, over one of which a rope stretched, by which the men passed across by holding on to it, and at the other the men passed over in fours with linked arms. The companies as they crossed were pushed forward, and at 10 a.m., ‘A’ and ‘C’ Cos., under Captains Arnold and Barker, were in the firing line at about 1800 yards from the enemy, who occupied the woods along the near edge of the river, but were totally hidden from view. They also occupied a series of dongas enfilading our left flank, but this was not discovered until the afternoon, when they disclosed themselves, although they were quietly ‘sniping’ from that direction all day. ‘D’ and ‘E’ Companies, under Captains Rogers and Fraser, formed the support, while as ‘B,’ ‘F,’ ‘G’ and ‘H,’ commanded respectively by Lt. Ross, Capt. Peltier, Lt. Macdonell and Capt. Stairs, came up, they formed the reserve.
The remainder of the brigade was disposed of; is under: the Duke of Cornwalls L. I., on our right, but over the river; the Shropshires and Gordons on our left in the order named; but on the other side of the hill, with a battery of artillery behind them. The battalion, however, was practically alone, and during the whole day received no orders or instructions from anyone until about 4 p.m. as noted later on. In addition to the 19th Brigade, the 3rd (Highland) Brigade was engaged on the south side of the river, and with it were the Cornwalls up to about 2 p.m.
Firing began about 9.30 a.m. from the enemy’s left at very long ranges, and continued along their front towards the centre. The advance of the battalion took place over perfectly open ground, somewhat undulating, and with no cover, save the inequalities of the ground and a few ant hills. The firing line attained a position from the enemy, varying from 400 yards on the right to 800 yards on the left, where it remained until late in the afternoon. After the establishment of the firing line, the enemy’s fire was for some time very severe, and Capt. Arnold, who had been doing most excellent service, was mortally wounded, and many others hit.
During this time, three or four men in reserve (‘H’ Company) were wounded at a distance of over sixteen hundred yards (1,600.) At noon ‘D’ Company reinforced the firing line, and shortly afterwards ‘E’ and part of ‘B’ Company also reinforced, the remainder of ‘B’., ‘F’ and ‘G’ Companies becoming supports with ‘H’ still in reserve. Only one Maxim gun could be crossed, and that was soon got into position by -, Capt. Bell on the rising ground to the left at a distance of some 1,000 yards, where it did most excellent service during the day, being in a position to keep down the lire of the enemy, who occupied the dongas on our left. A battery of field artillery occupied the hill on our left rear, and shelled the enemy’s line at intervals during the day. The fire discipline of the several companies engaged was excellent, and perfect coolness as well as accurate shooting was maintained.
Throughout the day, the fire was maintained, at times being comparatively slack and then severe, the enemy evidently had the ranges marked, as their fire at certain prominent places was so accurate as to render them almost untenable by us. Interruption to our fire was occasioned several times during the day by the cry from beyond the right of our line to ‘stop firing from the left,’ as men in the part were being hit by the fire from our left. The fire complained of was, I am satisfied, from the dongas occupied by the enemy on our left, and not from our own men.
At about 4 p.m., three companies of the Duke of Cornwall’s L.I. under Lt. Col. Aldworth came up, and this officer informed me that ‘he had been sent to finish this business, and proposed doing so with the bayonet. ‘He then asked for information respecting our own position, and that of the enemy, which I gave him. One company of the Cornwalls was at once sent into the firing line, followed in twenty minutes by the other two. These reinforcements being received by a very heavy fire from the whole length of the enemy’s front.
At 5 p.m., Lt.-Col. Aldworth notified me that a general advance would take place, and at about 5.15 p.m. the whole line, with the exception of part of ‘G’ and ‘H’ Companies, which were held in reserve, went forward with a rush. The fire of the enemy became intense, and after an advance of about 200 yards, effectually stopped our men, and no further progress could be made. The loss to both the corps taking part in the charge was very severe, Lt.-Col. Aldworth and his Adjutant being killed, while Lieut. Mason of ours was wounded severely.
The position gained was, however, held, and a continuous heavy fire maintained until darkness set in about 7 p.m., when I gave the order to collect the dead and wounded and withdraw to the bivouac at the drift. The enemy also withdrew from their position at the same time to the Boer laager, some two miles up the river, leaving a few men in the dongas on our left, who continued ‘sniping’ our collecting parties until about 10 p.m. Many instances of individual bravery were displayed during the day, as for example the case of No. 8110, Pt. Kennedy, who led one of the ammunition mules right up to the firing line where it was instantly killed. The company stretcher bearers exhibited great pluck, and five of them were among the wounded; three were wounded in carrying Capt. Arnold from the firing line, the stretcher upon which he was, being made a special object of attention by the Boer marksmen. In connection with this incident, I must note the courage displayed by Surg. Capt. Fiset, who when the stretcher upon which Capt. Arnold was being brought to the rear was stopped a short distance from the firing line by the wounding of one of the bearers, went forward and attended to Capt. Arnold, and subsequently assisted as a bearer in bringing him to the rear. Capt. Fiset also attended to many of the wounded under fire during the day. Lt.-Col. Buchan was in charge of the firing line, which he directed, and controlled in the coolest and most effective manner, while my Acting Adjutant, Lt. Ogilvy, rendered excellent service in carrying my orders about the field. The following N.C.O.’s. and men distinguished themselves during the day, viz. :—
- No. 6559—Sgt. F. W. Utton.
- No. 7017— Pte. H. Andrews.
- No. 7040—Pte. J. H. Dickson.
- No. 7043—Pte. C. W. Duncafe.
- No. 7360—Pte. W. L. McGivern.
- No. 7376—Pte. F. Page.
- No. 7552—Pte. R. R. Thompson.
- No. 7806—Pte. J. Curphey.
The collection of the dead and wounded of both our own battalion, and those of the Duke of Cornwall’s L. I., was made by parties of the Royal Canadians and continued all night. The duty was a most onerous one, and too much credit cannot be given to those who were engaged in it By 7 a.m. of the 19th inst., all the dead of the Battalion were buried, beside many of those of the D. C. L. I., and the wounded sent to the rear. I must here place on record the great services rendered by the R. C. Chaplain of the Battalion, the Rev. Father O’Leary, who was present in the field all day and towards the end in the firing line, while during the night he was prominent in the search for the wounded, as well as officiating in the burial of the dead. Several of the officers accompanied these parties up to midnight while, No. 685 Q. M. Sergt. E. Reading, No. 7304 Sergt. J. H. Ramage, No. 7302 Sergt. H. Middleton, and No. 7253 Pte R. D. Whigham, were out all night on this duty.
Another incident of coolness and pluck was that of No. 7347 Pte. J. L. Hornibrook, who at daylight in the morning of the 19th inst. was down into the extreme right of the lines occupied by the enemy the previous day. He was unarmed, and came suddenly upon an armed Boer, looking for a stray horse. With great presence of mind, Hornibrook pretended to be armed with a revolver, and called upon imaginary assistance, at the same time demanding the man’s surrender. The Boer at once submitted, and on being brought in proved to be one of General Cronjes Adjutants, and a most important officer. I beg to attach a sketch of the ground occupied during the action.
- I have the honour to be, sir.
- Your obedient servant,
- W. D. OTTER, Lt. Col.
- Commanding 2nd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment.
From the Officer Commanding 2nd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment, to the Chief Staff Officer of Militia, Ottawa, Canada, Second Report.
— Paardeberg, February 27, 1900. — Sir,—I have the honour to report upon the operations upon which the battalion under my command was engaged on the 20th inst., on which occasion four men of the corps were wounded. Following the retirement of the enemy from the position, which he withdrew from on the evening of the 18th inst., the battalion was at 6 A.M. of the 20th inst. Detached from the outpost line, and advanced to within 1,000 yards of the trenches in front of the Boer laager, the Shropshire Light Infantry being on our right, the Gordon Highlanders on our left.
The ground occupied by the battalion was quite open, and slightly rolling, but fairly covered with ant hills. The men were served with tea and biscuits about 10 A.M.; the cook wagon and water cart being brought up to within 200 yards in rear of reserve. An intermittent rifle fire was kept up all day until about 4 p.m., when that of the enemy increased, and their celebrated Vickers-Maxim gun (Pom-pom) was turned upon us no less than five different times, but fortunately without loss to us. The moral effort of the gun, however, is very great and infinitely more disastrous in that direction than any other arm we have experienced.
The wounds received were entirely among men in the reserve, and from long range rifle fire—about 1,700 yards. The day was a trying one, being very hot, while owing to the enemy’s fire it was almost impossible to get water forward to the men. It was the attempt to bring the water cart forward that first brought the ‘pom-pom’ to bear upon us. At 6 p.m. the battalion was withdrawn to its bivouac thoroughly done out. The position occupied I have denoted on the sketch accompanying this report, and a list of the wounded included in the general list.
- I have the honour to be, sir.
- Your obedient servant,
- W. D. OTTER, Lt.-CoL,
- Commanding ind. Batt., Royal Canadian Regiment.
From the Officer Commanding 2nd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment, to the Chief Staff Officer of Militia, Ottawa, Canada.
— Ossfontein, S. A., March 2, 1900. — Sir, — I have the honour to report on the action of the 27th ult., in which the battalion, under my command, was engaged. In accordance with instructions received from the General Officer Commanding the 19th Brigade, 9th Division, on the previous evening, the following disposition of the battalion was made by 10 p.m. of the 26th inst. In the main trench running north and south from the river, and beginning on the left, were placed “C,” “D,” “E,” “F,” “G,” and “H” Companies, under the following officer., viz.:—Capt. Barker, Capt. Rogers, Capt. Fraser, Lt. LeDuc, Lt. Macdonnell, and Capt. Stairs, respectively ; while on the extreme right was a party of 30 Engineers. This trench was about 350 yards long, the right of it resting within 25 yards of the river, and 550 yards from the nearest Boer trench. The force placed in this trench numbered 500 officers and men of the battalion; “A” Company, under Lieut. Blanchard, remained on the south side of the river, where it had been detailed for special duty on the morning of the 26th and was posted just opposite the line of the main trench continued southwards, while “B” Company, under Lieut. Ross, and a few details formed reserve at the bivouac, some 300 yards to the rear, and the wagons were fully 1000 yds. to the rear again. The continuation of the main trench from where it turned to the north-east was occupied by 200 of the Gordon Highlanders, and about 1500 yds on our left was the Shropshire Light Infantry.
The plan of attack was, that our six companies in the main trench should advance on the Boer trenches at 2 a.m.; the front rank of each company to move with fixed bayonets, and orders not to fire until fired upon by the enemy, while the rear rank carried shovels and picks with which to entrench. When the advance could go no further, the Engineers on the right were to give a base and trench from the cover of the wood on the river.
At 2.15 a.m. the six companies with the engineers moved forward; a distance of 15 paces being placed between the ranks, and an interval of one pace between men. The Brigadier was on the right, Lt.-Col. Buchan and Major Pelletier in charge of the attacking line, the former on the left, the latter on the right; the O.C. in rear of the attack on the left.
The line advanced without interruption for about 450 yards, when it was met by a terrific fire from the enemy. The premature discharge of a couple of shots just before the general fusillade served as a warning to many of our men, who instantly threw themselves on the ground, but the effect of the fire was disastrous to us; ‘H’ company’ being in the wood on the river bank did not suffer, but ‘G’ and ‘F’ companies, being in the open, lost heavily, the former having 4 killed and 12 wounded, the latter 2 killed and 9 wounded. ‘G’ company was within 65 yards (actual measurement) of the advanced trench of the enemy when fire was opened on them. The companies on the left, ‘E,’ ‘D’ and ‘C’ being from 75 to 100 yards distant from a subsidiary trench in prolongation of the enemy’s line.
On receiving the enemy’s fire the line at once laid down and returned it, while the rear rank generally began to entrench; the time was about 3 a.m. The trench on the right, begun by the party of the R.E., was 100 yards from the enemy’s trench, and covered by ‘G’ and ‘H’ companies, made rapid progress, but those begun by the other companies did not advance very rapidly, and after the battalion had been for some minutes under fire, someone unknown, called in an authorative tone, to retire and bring back your wounded, in consequence of which the companies on the left failed to establish themselves in the new trenches, and retired to the main trench they had recently occupied, leaving ‘G’ and ‘H’ holding the ground on the right, Lt.-Col. Buchan being the last to retire, which he did by the right.
Daylight found “G” and “H” Companies well entrenched, with the R. E. still pushing the work on. Firing continued on the right until about 5.15 a.m., when the enemy in their advanced trench made proposals to surrender. Our men being doubtful of the genuineness of the proposition, continued their work and firing for nearly an hour. At about 6 a.m. one of the enemy advanced with a white flag, when firing ceased, and the enemy began to come in by batches to the number of 200.
General Sir Hy. Colville, commanding the division, had come up about 6.15 and directed the disposal of the prisoners, sending forward an officer into the nearest part of the Boer laager to make terms of surrender, the result of which was the unconditional capitulation of General Cronje and his whole force, numbering upwards of 4,000. Capt. Stairs and Lieut. Macdonell, with their companies, deserve the greatest credit for their pertinacity in holding on as they did, the result of which undoubtedly had a material effect in hastening the final result achieved. The supporting companies of the Gordon Highlanders were not engaged, although the trench which protected them was subjected to a fairly heavy fire from the enemy.
The battalion of the Shropshire Light Infantry, on our left, fired volleys at long ranges for some time after our attack developed, and materially assisted us. All the wounded were brought in before daylight and sent back to the collecting station by our men, and the Bearers of the N.S.W. Company, and Naval Brigade (H.M.S. Barrossa), who rendered us every assistance possible in the arduous service. The dead were buried close to where they fell at 7 a.m. by the Rev. Father O’Leary, R.C. chaplain to the battalion. That the duty entailed on the Royal Canadian Regiment was most difficult and dangerous no one will deny, and though the advance was not so successful at all points as was hoped for, yet the final result was a complete success, and credit can fairly be claimed by the battalion for such, as it was practically acting alone.
I attach a sketch of the positions occupied, and a list of those killed and wounded in the day’s operations. The night was starlight, with the moon in the last quarter at 4 a.m. The various actions beginning on 18th, and concluding on 27th February have been denominated Paardeberg.
- I have the honour to be, sir,
- Your obedient servant,
- W. D. OTTER, Lt.-Col.
- Commanding 2nd Battalion Royal Canadian Regiment.