Lt.-Col. William D. Otter, CO, 2nd SS Bn. RCRI, South African War, 1899-1900 Official Reports, Part II.

— The Globe. — How Colonel Otter Received His Wound at Thaba N’Chu. —. . . . On practically every occasion in which he has been under fire in this campaign Colonel Otter has shown himself freely to the enemy. At Paardeberg he remained erect during a considerable portion of the first Sunday’s fight, and on February 20th, when the Pom-Pom disturbed the equanimity of the battalion, he strolled about the field in a very nonchalant manner. Seeing the disorder into which the left of the firing line had fallen, or was in danger of falling, Colonel Otter and Lieutenant Ogilvy, the Adjutant, hastened to the spot, steadied the men, and restored order, the Colonel taking the right of the disordered line, and the Adjutant the left. Colonel Otter was observed, and just as he was settling down he was struck.

It was a curious wound, and a narrow escape. The bullet struck him on the right side of the chin and cut along the side of the neck. The crown which formed part of his rank badge on the right shoulder was detached, the clip which goes under the strap was destroyed, and the “C” of the R. C. R.  on the point of the shoulder was carried away. It was a singular course, and, while the wound was slight, it became painful; while, of course, it was a very narrow escape of a piercing of the jugular. When he fell, the command devolved upon Lieutenant-Colonel Buchan the senior major, and a message was sent to him to take charge of the movements of the regiment. For some reason a delay occurred in the assumption of control by Colonel Buchan, and delay occurred also in reinforcing the firing line by the second line. During this period the regiment continued the fight, the Adjutant, Lieutenant Ogilvy, especially distinguishing himself for zeal and conduct, as well as courage.

2nd SS Bn. Royal Canadian Regiment of Infantry at Quebec, City before leaving for South African War, 1899.

The Gazette, Montreal May 2nd, 1900. — Colonel Otter Reports Lord Roberts Speaks Highly of the Canadians. — Ottawa. May 1. — (Special) — The Militia Department today received from Colonel Otter his official report, dated Bloemfontein, March 18th, of the operations of the First Canadian contingent, after the battle of Paardeberg. Referring to the march to Bloemfontein, Colonel Otter says: — During the march, which began on the 13th of February, and ended on the 13th instant. I cannot speak too highly of the conduct generally of officers and men, of the Royal Canadian Regiment. Taken altogether the march was very trying one; without tents, or change of clothing, for many days engaged more or less with the enemy; for two-thirds of the time upon half rations, subject to a very hot sun, cold nights and several sever rain storms. The endurance, courage and good spirit of the battalion was most fully tried and it is with pleasure I have to record its having proved itself fully equal to the strain.

The battalion is now resting in conjunction with other parts of the army and though still in bivouac is again on full rations to which I have been enabled with the funds at my disposal to procure a few extra comforts in the way of food. I regret having to report the sentence by F.G.C.M., on the 14th instant, to 56 days field imprisonment No, 2 awarded — for stealing a fowl the property of an inhabitant. The orders on the subject of looking were most stringent and definite and while no doubt the provocation was great, considering the lack of food for the previous three weeks, yet owing to the consistent warnings the men had received, the offence cannot, from a military point of view, be palliated. In recording the action of the battalion on the 27th ultimo, I find that a very important event was omitted by me, viz: the personal inspection by the F.M.C. in C., Lord Roberts at his own request on the afternoon of that day. The field marshal in addressing the battalion expressed his satisfaction with its conduct on the 18th, and 27 instants, his command and his belief that the surrender of General Cronje and his forces had been accelerated by its action this morning. By the parade state it will be seen that the strength of the battalion is very much reduced through a large numbers of sick and wounded. These, however, are doing well so far as I am able to learn, but my reports for the past months have in that direction necessarily been most meager.

From the Officer Commanding 2nd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment, to Chief Staff Officer, Ottawa, CanadaBloemfontein. April, 28, 1900. — Sir,—I have the honour to report upon the action at Israels Poort on Wednesday, April 25, in which the battalion took part, in conjunction with a brigade of mounted infantry and the 19th brigade, under Gen. Smith-Dorrien, the whole force being under the immediate command of Gen. Ian Hamilton.

Leaving Momema Kopje, which is two miles to the east of the Bloemfontein waterworks, on the Modder River, at 9 a.m., of the 25th, the battalion formed the advance guard to the 19th brigade. After moving about six miles the progress of the infantry was stopped for over two hours, while the mounted infantry and artillery reconnoitred and shelled several kopjes on our front and flanks occupied by the enemy. At about 2:30 p.m. instructions were given me for the battalion to move forward, with an extended front of about 1,200 yards, and obtain possession, if possible, of a small kopje and the lower slopes of two others on either side of it, which lay immediately to our front, while the mounted infantry and the remainder of the 19th brigade were to make a detour to our left and threaten the right flank of the enemy, who it was found were occupying all the kopjes in the neighbourhood.

Forming the battalion into four double companies in extended order, with intervals of twelve paces, and 150 yards distance between double companies, the advance was made at 3 p.m.

  • 1st line on the left, G Co., Lieut. Jones; on the right, H Co., Capt. Stairs.
  • 2nd ” E Co., Capt. Fraser ” F Co., Lieut. LeDuc.
  • 3rd ” C Co., Capt. Barker ” D Co., Capt. Rogers
  • 4th “D Co., Capt. Burstall” A Co., Lieut. Blanchard.

The first line was in charge of Major Pelletier, I being with him; the 3rd and 4th lines under supervision of Lt.-Col. Buchan. After advancing about a mile, and just as we reached a wire fence extending across our front, about 600 yards from the centre kopje, a hot fire was opened upon us, and everyone took the best cover available at hand. A ditch running near to the fence for a short distance gave good cover to a part of the first line, while the rest of it was on the open veldt.

2nd SS Bn. Royal Canadian Regiment Inf. Drill on deck, SS Sardinian, South African War, Nov. 1899.

In directing the disposition of the first line I was obliged to remain standing for a few seconds, and immediately on sitting down I was struck with a bullet on the right side of my chin, which also passed through the right side of my neck, causing a slight flesh wound, while another passed through the badge on ray right shoulder, but the wound was not sufficiently severe to prevent my remaining in command for the rest of the day. I regret to announce three other casualties, which occurred about the same time, of a more serious nature, viz:—

  • No. 8,074, Private J. Defoe, H. Co., killed, being shot through the head.
  • No. 7,835, Private Culver, (enlisted as ‘Raymond,’ as already reported) F. Co., wounded severely in the leg.
  • No. 7,454, Lance-Corp. Burns, D. Co., wounded slightly in the arm.

All of which casualties I reported by cable on my arrival here yesterday. For three quarters of an hour the battalion lay thus, under fire, to which its first line kept up a well controlled response. Finding the enemy’s fire abating, and hearing the remainder of the brigade engaged on our left, I determined to advance, so reinforcing the first line, we moved forward, under a spluttering and weak attempt of the enemy to check us and which soon ceased, until we occupied the ground originally designated, and where the battalion ultimately went into bivouac for the night.

In connection with this small engagement, which did not occupy more than three hours from first to last, I am glad to report the excellent conduct of all ranks, and would specially beg to bring before your notice, the great assistance rendered me by Lieut. J. C. Ogilvy, my acting adjutant, whose energy and coolness was most conspicuous. I am also glad to report that during the evening Major General Smith-Dorrien came to our bivouac, and expressed his entire approval and great satisfaction with the manner in which his instructions had been carried out; while on the following morning previous to my being sent back here, General Ian Hamilton visited me at the field hospital, and reiterated and confirmed the expressions made by Major General Smith-Dorrien the previous evening.

  • I have the honour to be, Sir,
  • Your obedient servant,
  • W. D. OTTER, Lt.-Col.
  • Commanding 2nd Battalion, Royal Canadian Regiment

—Battle of Doorn-Kop 29th May, 1900Florida, Johannesburg, May 31, 1900. — Sir, — I have the honour to report upon the action at Doorn-Kop, which took place on the 29th inst., and in which the battalion took part. Leaving the bivouac at Cyferfontein at 7.15 a.m. on the morning of the 29th inst., the 19th Brigade followed the 21st Brigade in the order named, viz.:—

  • Gordon Highlanders.
  • Royal Canadians.
  • Duke of Cornwalls L. I.
  • King’s Shropshire L. I., Rear Guard.

Moving northward for nearly four hours, and then somewhat to the east, the whole infantry force was halted about noon at Klipriversberg, the enemy being found strongly posted on a line of heights, and holding the cavalry of General French from a further advance on the west side of Johannesburg. At 1.45 p.m. orders were received for the battalion to form a line of attack in conjunction with the Gordon Highlanders, on that part of the ridge occupied by the left flank of the enemy, while the 21st Brigade moved against his right. At 2.30 p.m., the battalion moved forward in four lines, with intervals of 25 paces between men, and 150 yards distance between lines; the Gordon Highlanders being in a similar formation on our left. Our first two lines were placed under charge of Lt.-Col. Buchan, while Major Pelletier had immediate supervision of the third and fourth lines. Our advance began at a distance of about 3000 yards from the enemy’s position, and was made over rolling ground, the entire part of which nearest the enemy had already been burned over, and was quite black; while that part nearest us was still on fire and burning fiercely towards us. The effect of this burnt grass was, of course, to render our Khaki uniform particularly distinct and an easy mark.

Battle Of Doorn Kop Showing Disposition Of XIX Brigade With Royal Canadian Regt. May 29 1900.

We had no sooner begun to move forward than fire was opened upon us by the enemy from two 5-inch guns, and though their projectiles went over our heads, the effect in the transport wagons, amongst which they fell, was very demoralizing. This fire was returned by two similar guns on our side, as well as by the guns of one of our field batteries, while we continued our movement forward.

At about 2,000 yards the enemy opened upon us with rifle fire, and one of our men in the third line was severely wounded. Continuing the advance, the fire became hotter, particularly as we entered the ‘burnt zone,’ in doing which most of the men were scorched from the blazing grass, but fortunately escaped further injury from bullets, until the foot of the ridge, which gradually ascended for fully 1,000 yards to the summit occupied by the Boers, was reached. A Kattir hut surrounded by a stone wall on the face of the hill, offered good cover for our men, and a rush was made by fully one-third of the battalion for its occupation, which was effected, though, with a loss of three or four men wounded from a heavy frontal, as well as enfilading fire which was concentrated upon them. Here, however, they were comparatively safe, and made good use of the cover thus obtained. It now became apparent that an attempt was being made to outflank us on our right, and I detailed one of the Maxim guns to open in this direction. This was most effectively done under Lieutenant Hodgins’ supervision, and in half an hour our flank was safe.

The Gordon Highlanders on our left evidently came into contact at the strongest part of the enemy’s position, and met with a most stubborn resistance, as their very heavy losses testify, but finally succeeding, they moved to the crest of a hill, and simultaneously we also went forward, clearing the enemy from their position just before 5 p.m., and the battalion being concentrated occupied the ridge for the night.

I regret to report the following casualties, although when compared with those of the Gordon Highlanders, sincerely congratulate myself that they were not very much worse.

  • No. 7038, Private J. E. Davies, Severe.
  • No. 7235, J. B. Robinson, Severe.
  • No. 7355, J. Jordan, Severe.
  • No. 7688, F. Richardson, Severe.
  • No. 7888, A. Y. Evans, Slight.
  • No. 7838, E. Hill, Slight.
  • No.  7938, n A. Haydon, Slight.

The enemy evidently considered the retention of this point as most important, and made every preparation to hold it; while its possession by our forces, no doubt, cleared the way for the peaceful entry of Johannesburg by Lord Roberts on the following day with the main army.

I cannot speak too highly of the conduct of all ranks of the battalion at this engagement, it being most quiet, steady and intelligent. Very little time was occupied, it taking less than three hours from beginning to end, owing to the spirited and Jetermined way in which the attack was carried out.

  • I have the honour to be, sir,
  • Your obedient servant,
  • W. D. OTTER, Lieutenant- Colonel,
  • Commanding Second Royal Canadian Regiment.






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