Extract taken from 'Our Regiments in South Africa' by John Stirling
published by Naval and Military Press Ltd

THE 2nd Battalion sailed on the City of Cambridge on 23rd October 1899, and arrived at Durban about 21st November. Along with the 1st Durham Light Infantry, 3rd King's Royal Rifles, and 1st Rifle Brigade, they formed the 4th Brigade under Major - General Lyttelton.

The brigade was concentrated at Mooi River on 3rd December, on the 6th marched to Frere, and on the 13th to Chieveley, to take part in the attack on the Boer position at Colenso (see 2nd Queen's). On the 15th the 4th Brigade was less heavily engaged than any of the other brigades present. For this reason, and because it was, according to all accounts, most excellently handled, skilfully taking cover and moving in very extended order, its casualties were few At Colenso one company of the Scottish Rifles, along with part of the 3rd King's Royal Rifles, acted as escort to Captain Jones and his two 4.7 and the 12-pounder naval guns, and the battalion had no losses.

On the afternoon of 10th January the brigade marched out from Frere and arrived at Spearman's Hill, nearly opposite Brakfontein, on the 12th. On the 16th the 1st Rifle Brigade and Scottish Rifles crossed the river and occupied some low hills. The King's Royal Rifles crossed before the morning. During the next few days demonstrations and a very daring reconnaissance by the principal officers of the brigade were made. On the 24th, the day of Spion Kop, the 1st Rifle Brigade and 1st Durham Light Infantry made a feint attack on Brakfontein, but were ordered to retire as early as 7.30 A.M., "after which hour the two battalions remained passive spectators of the combat on Spion Kop, including the magnificent advance up the precipitous hillside by the 60th Rifles." 1 It is difficult to get away from the idea that there were too many passive spectators — most unwilling ones too—on that awful day What the result would have been had there been fewer will be discussed by soldiers for many a day The main facts of the Spion Kop combat are briefly given under the King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment. It will be remembered that General Warren, convinced of the terrible struggle going on on the hill-top, wired General Lyttelton at 10 A.M. to help all he could from the Potgeiter's side. Accordingly General Lyttelton sent out the Scottish Rifles and 3rd King's Royal Rifles,—the former to report themselves to the commander on the top of Spion Kop, the latter to ascend the hills east of the Spion, known as the Twin Peaks. Both battalions carried out their task in a way that won admiration. The Scottish Rifles arrived at the summit of Spion Kop between 2.30 and 3 P.M. and were pushed into the firing line by companies, which had to move on to the plateau in single file along a narrow path down which the wounded were being carried. On reaching the plateau the two leading companies became hotly engaged at close range. Some men of the 2nd and 3rd companies then charged the opposing Boers in flank, m order to relieve the pressure on No. 1, or A company This was successful, the enemy retiring, but cost 1 officer and several men killed, and 3 officers and more men wounded. Gradually the battalion got extended, and by 4.40 P.M. had taken up a position across the summit. At one part, on the right, when the Scottish Rifles pushed forward, the original firing line had quite disappeared, and the Boers were where it should have been, and that within 60 yards of rocks which, if occupied by the Boers, would have enabled them to command our only approach to the plateau.2 Like other troops on the hill, the Scottish Rifles fought splendidly and held their ground marvellously well. Their losses on the day were very heavy. Four officers and 33 men were killed or died of their wounds, 6 officers and about 60 men were wounded. In his telegraphic despatch of 27th January 1900 General Buller says, " Our men fought with great gallantry, and I would specially mention the conduct of the 2nd Scottish Rifles and 3rd King's Royal Rifles, who supported the attack on the mountain from the steepest side, and in each case fought their way to the top, and the 2nd Lancashire Fusiliers and 2nd Middlesex, who magnificently maintained the best traditions of the British army, and Thorneycroft's Mounted Infantry, who fought throughout the day equally well alongside of them." When addressing the troops after the retirement the general especially mentioned the two rifle regiments. Mr Bennet Burleigh wrote, "Nothing could have been grander than the scaling of Spion Kop by the Scottish Rifles and 60th of glorious reputation."

The brigade remained near Spearman's till 3rd February. They then marched to Swartz Kop, down the river. On the 5th they again crossed to the north side and attacked the hill known as Vaal Krantz, the Lancashire Brigade and artillery having made a feint attack on the Brakfontem position earlier in the day In his despatch of 8th February 1900 General Buller says, " The Durham Light Infantry, supported by the 1st Rifle Brigade, advanced on Vaal Krantz under a heavy fire from the hill and the dongas on the right, causing considerable loss , but the men would not be denied, and the position was soon taken." It was found the hill was subject to a very severe rifle and shell fire from the front and both flanks. Fortunately a wall gave some shelter from rifle-fire. After dusk steps were taken to strengthen the wall and make other defences, but the ground was too rocky to allow proper trenches or gun emplacements to be made. Next morning the Boers opened an exceedingly heavy fire, so heavy that there was great difficulty in getting food or water taken to the men lining the wall. This firing continued throughout the day. At dusk on the 6th the 4th Brigade were relieved by Hildyard's 2nd Brigade.

At Vaal Krantz the battalion lost 2 men killed and 1 officer and 33 men wounded.

The 4th Brigade took part in the fourteen days' fighting between the 13th and 27th February, and were at times very heavily engaged.

On the 23rd the Durham Light Infantry and 1st Rifle Brigade supported Hart's Irishmen in the attack on Hart's or Inniskilling Hill, which, it will be remembered, was only partially successful (see 2nd Queen's). On the 24th these two battalions occupied the sangars and other positions which the Irish regiments had been able to capture and hold, and till the final assault the 4th Brigade, now under Colonel Norcott, held on and fought about these awful hills in the neighbourhood of the Langerwachte. On the 27th the 4th Brigade took part in the last and successful assault on the hill which had defied our people so long The Scottish Rifles were split up during most of the fourteen days, one-half being on the left and the other on the right. The latter assisted in the attack on Pieter's Hill on 27th February 3

The losses of the battalion in the fourteen days' fighting were approximately 3 men killed and 2 officers and 20 men wounded. Eight officers and 14 men were mentioned in despatches for good work in the relief operations, 2 men being recommended for the Distinguished Conduct Medal. In his list of commendations, dated 30th March 1900, General Buller, in referring to Lieut.-Colonel Cooke, used the words, “who commands an admirably trained battalion."

The 4th Brigade marched with General Buller in his turning movement via Helpmakaar, and while the 2nd, 10th, and 11th Brigades were turning the Laing's Nek position, 8th to 11th June, the 4th Brigade operated in front of it. At Laing's Nek on 11th June 1900 the battalion's losses were approximately 1 officer and one man killed, and 1 officer and 6 men wounded. After the battle of Alleman's Nek, which completed the success of the turning movement, the 4th Brigade moved over Laing's Nek and along the railway, reaching Heidelberg before the end of June. The headquarters of the Scottish Rifles were for over fourteen months at Greylingstad, and during the second phase of the war they were chiefly employed guarding the railway and doing some fighting on either side of it. The officers of the battalion were sorely struck by the war, 13 were killed or died of wounds, and 10 were wounded.

Three officers and 1 non-commissioned officer were mentioned in General Buller's final despatch of 9th November 1900, 9 officers and 17 non-commissioned officers and men in Lord Roberts' final despatch, and 6 officers and 6 non-commissioned officers in the despatches of Lord Kitchener.

1An account by Major Lamb of the work of the lst Rifle Brigade in the relief of Ladysmith, given in the Rifle Brigade Chronicle for 1900.
2An account furnished by an officer who was present.
3Regimental Records.

Last updated 28 September, 2010

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