1st Battalion was in Ladysmith when war was declared. They were not
present at either Glencoe (20th October 1899) or Elandslaagte (21st
October). On the 24th Sir George White, being anxious to engage the
attention of the Boers and so prevent them falling on General Yule's
column, then retreating from Dundee to Ladysmith, moved out of the latter
town and fought the action of Rietfontein. The force which he took out
was-5th Lancers, 19th Hussars, Imperial Light Horse, Natal Mounted Volunteers,
42nd and 53rd Batteries R.F.A., No. 10 Mountain Battery, 1st Liverpools,
1st Devons, 1st Gloucesters, and 2nd King's Royal Rifles.
Sir George threw out the Lancers and Hussars to seize some ridges and
protect his right. The Gloucesters advanced on the left and the Liverpools
on their right, the Devons being in support afterwards in the firing
line and the King's Royal Rifles at the baggage. The general's intention
was not to come to close fighting. The two field batteries did admirable
work, silencing the Boer guns and keeping down the enemy's rifle-fire,
and what was a tactical success might have been accomplished at very
slight loss, but the Gloucesterspushed rather too far forward and suffered
severely Before 2 P.M. firing had ceased, the Boers had withdrawn westwards,
and the danger of that Fart of their army attacking General Yule was
On 26th October General Yule's force entered Ladysmith, wearied and
mud - bedraggled, after a march entailing very great bodily hardship
to al and very great anxiety to those in command.
On the three following days the Boers concentrated to the north of Ladysmith,
and on the 29th General White resolved to again take the offensive next
The action is variously known as Lombard's Kop, Farquhar's Farm, Nicholson's
Nek, and Ladysmith. The last name seems the most appropriate. To reconcile
the different accounts of this battle written by men who were on the
field is an impossible task. For example, the account of Mr Bennet Burleigh
differs on many most important points from that of 'The Times' historian.2
For the main features the official despatch must be relied on. Briefly,
General White's scheme was to take the Boer positions, Long Hill and
Pepworth Hill, north of Ladysmith , to throw forward part of his cavalry
between and beyond Lombard's Kop and Bulwana on the north-east to protect
his right flank, and to seize Nicholson's Nek, or a position near it,
on the north-west, from which the rest of his cavalry could operate
in the event of a Boer retreat.
At 11 P.M. on the 29th the 1st Royal Irish Fusiliers, 1st Gloucesters,
and 10th Mountain Battery marched off towards Nicholson's Nek.3
At a hill called Cainguba some stones were rolled down from above; there
was a momentary confusion, during which the mules carrying the mountain
guns and ammunition stampeded. Some of the infantry charged and took
the hill without difficulty. The officer in command then ordered the
remainder of the force up the hill, and some stone works were set up
in the darkness; but when daylight appeared it was seen that the perimeter
was such as to make the task of holding the top one of difficulty. In
the morning the Boers massed round the hill, ascended its steep sides,
and firing from the rocks round the edge of the top, soon did much damage.
At 12.30 a white flag, unauthorised by any of the senior officers, was
put up at an outlying sangar and the Boers flocked in. The flag was
indorsed by those in chief command, and the whole force surrendered.
This, of course, was not known to Sir George till late on the 30th,
although from men and mule-drivers who had come back into Ladysmith
in the morning he knew that his operations on the left were foredoomed
to failure, if not to disaster. Strange it is that British troops have
so often been unfortunate in their experience of holding hill-tops in
South Africa. After dark on the 29th the Natal Mounted Volunteers seized
Lombard's Kop and Bulwana. At 3 A.M. on the 30th Major-General French
moved out with the 5th Lancers, the 19th Hussars, and some Natal Volunteers;
but at daybreak he found that he could not get much farther than the
exit of the pass between the two last-mentioned hills; indeed by 8 A.M.
he could barely hold his-position, and was thus of little use in protecting
the right of the main attack.
West of French's cavalry was what was intended to be the main attacking
force under Colonel Grimwood, to consist of the 1st Liverpool, 1st Leicester,
1st and 2n King's Royal Rifles, and 2nd Dublin Fusiliers, with the 21st,
42nd, and 53rd Batteries R.F.A. and the Natal Field Battery By some
unfortunate bungling or confusion of orders the artillery intended for
Colonel Grimwood did not accompany him, but branched off, taking along
with them the Liverpools, Dublin Fusiliers, and two companies of the
Mounted Infantry. 4
West of Grimwood was Colonel Ian Hamilton with the 1st Devon, 1st Manchester,
2nd Gordons, and 2nd Rifle Brigade. The latter battalion had arrived
in Ladysmith at 3 A.M. that morning, and only joined the rest of the
brigade on the field at 6.30. With Hamilton the 13th, 67th, and 69th
Batteries R.F.A. were intended to be.
The original scheme of the action involved that Colonel Grimwood's brigade
would turn half-left and work inwards to Pepworth Hill, but at an early
hour he was very heavily attacked from his right front and right flank.
Accordingly he had to turn in that direction, extend his front greatly,
throw his whole people into the firing line, and when that was done
he had the greatest difficulty in maintaining his position even after
the 21st and 53rd Batteries came to his support. About 8 A.M. General
White sent the 5th Dragoon Guards and 18th Hussars and the 69th and
afterwards the 21st Batteries to assist French, the 13th and 53rd Batteries
supporting Grimwood. At 10 A.M. the Manchesters were taken from Hamilton
and were also sent to support Grimwood. Even with this diversion of
force to the right he could gain nothing “This condition of affairs
continued until 11.30 A.M., when, finding that there was little prospect
of bringing the engagement to a decisive issue, L determined to withdraw
my troops." The 2nd Rifle Brigade lined the crest of Limit Hill,
facing east. The 2nd Gordons took up a similar position. Sir George's
words are: “I sent Major-General Sir A. Hunter, K.C.B., my chief
of staff, to arrange a retirement in echelon from the left, covered
by the fire of our artillery. This was most successfully carried out,
the artillery advancing in the most gallant manner and covering the
infantry movement with the greatest skill and coolness." That the
artillery did magnificently is beyond doubt. They had to work in the
open exposed to very heavy shell-fire, and but for the heroic services
of the 13th, 21st, 53rd, and 69th Batteries, Grimwood's infantry and
French's cavalry would have had much greater difficulty in withdrawing.
Unfortunately unofficial accounts do not praise the infantry of Colonel
Grimwood's command, and it has been said that the retirement was not
orderly. ‘The Times' historian is indeed mercilessly severe on
that officer and certain of the regiments in his command. Whether that
severity is warranted it is outside the scope of this work to discuss;
but it must be borne in mind that some of the troops were still worn
out with the march from Dundee—and further, at Talana Hill they
had lost very many officers. The 1st King's Royal Rifles, for example,
had lost their colonel and 4 officers killed and 6 wounded.
In his evidence before the War Commission Sir Archibald Hunter, who
was chief of Sir George White's staff, said: "We withdrew, and
in a very orderly way. The artillery covered our withdrawal, and the
long lines of infantry simply marched back; it was like a field-day."
No account of the battle of 30th October could possibly omit the value
of the services of the Naval Brigade, who arrived in Ladysmith by train
that morning, and with characteristic expedition got their guns into
action against the heavy artillery of the Boers.
During the siege of Ladysmith the Liverpools were located on the north
side of the town, and were not in the terrible fighting when the attack
was made upon the southern defences on 6th January. Of course a feint
was made on the north of the town, but the attack was not pressed as
it was at Caesar's Camp and Waggon Hill.
On the night of the 7th December Colonel Mellor and three companies
of the Liverpools seized Limit Hill, "and through the gap thus
created" a squadron of the 19th Hussars penetrated some four miles
to the north, destroying the enemy's telegraph line and burning various
On 1st March 1900, the day of the relief, the 1st Liverpools and other
troops, now emaciated and worn to absolute weakness, crawled some five
miles north of Ladysmith to harass the enemy in their retreat, and did
effect some good work in that way.
Two officers were mentioned in General White's despatch of 23rd March
When Sir Redvers Buller moved north from Natal the Ladysmith troops,
called the IVth Division, were put under General Lyttelton, the brigadiers
being General F. W. Kitchener, 7th Brigade, and General Howard, 8th
Brigade, the latter composed of 1st Liverpool, 1st Leicestershire, 1st
Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, and 1st King's Royal Rifles; the Fusiliers
taking the place of the 2nd King's Royal Rifles, which went to Ceylon
in July with prisoners.
The IVth Division had fighting in various places after moving north
from the Natal Railway, particularly at Rooikopjes on 24th July, where
the Gordons of the 7th Brigade had stiffish work, and at Amersfoort
on the 7th August. Daily there was skirmishing. In the fighting on the
21st August, Sergeant Hampton of the 2nd Liverpool Mounted Infantry
and Corporal Knight of the 1st Battalion gained the Victoria Cross for
acts of the most conspicuous gallantry.
It became evident that the Boers were to make a stand between Geluk
and Dalmanutha. “Buller met with some opposition on the 23rd August
near Van Wyk's Vlei, and towards evening two companies of the 1st Battalion
Liverpool Regiment entered by mistake a hollow out of sight of the main
body, where they came under a heavy fire, losing 10 men killed, and
1 officer and 45 men wounded."5
On the 23rd Private Heaton also gained the Cross for volunteering to
take back a message explaining the unfortunate position of the companies;
this he successfully did, saving them from capture. The very unsatisfactory
incident mentioned in the quotation took place close to the main Boer
position, which on the 27th Sir Redvers Buller, after consultation with
Lord Roberts, decided to assault. The 7th Brigade, General Walter Kitchener's,
was chosen for the main attack, the 8th supporting. The regiment selected
to lead the assault on the key of the position at Bergendal was the
2nd Rifle Brigade, and as to them fell the worst of the fighting, the
details of the action are dealt with under that battalion.
After the battle of Bergendal General Buller's force crossed to the
north of the railway and parched towards Lydenburg. On 2nd September
he found himself in front of a very strong position at Badfontein, and
Lord Roberts ordered Lan Hamilton with a strong column to move up on
Buller's left. This had the desired effect, and on the 6th the enemy
withdrew beyond Lydenburg. On the 8th General Buller successfully attacked
another position at Paardeplatz, and thereafter he crossed the Mauchsberg
and other mountains after the fleeing Boers. He returned to Lydenburg,
and leaving part of his force there, he came back to the railway, and
shortly afterwards he himself left for home.
Five officers and 5 non-commissioned officers and men of the battalion
were mentioned in General Buller's final despatch of 9th November 1900,
and 8 officers and 12 non-commissioned officers and men in Lord Roberts'
Part of Buller's force long continued to garrison Lydenburg and the
posts between that town and the railway. One of the posts, Helvetia,
close to the line, was garrisoned by about 250 men of the Liverpools
with a 4.7 naval gun when the place was attacked and captured by a strong
force of Boers on 29th December 1900. In his telegraphic despatch Lord
Kitchener described Helvetia as a “very strong post,” and
he seemed to be surprised at its capture. Our losses were 11 men killed,
4 officers and 20 men wounded, and the remainder taken prisoners. No
official explanation of the loss of the post has ever been made public,
and from some points of view this is a matter of regret, as the incident,
left as it is, tarnishes the reputation of a regiment which had done
very good work. Very probably a few individuals were responsible for
the Boers getting in; and it has been said that in any event there is
very good ground for believing that it would be better for the regiment
involved, and for the service generally, if the result of the official
inquiry in such a case were published.
During the remainder of the war the 1st Liverpool Regiment was in the
Three officers and 6 non-commissioned officers and men gained mention
in Lord Kitchener's despatches during the war, 1 officer, Captain Wilkinson,
being appointed major "for holding out at Helvetia"; and in
the final despatch 3 officers and 3 men were mentioned.
Sir G. White's despatch of 2nd December 1899.
2 ‘The Times’ History, vol. ii.
3 Sir George White in his despatch says 1st Royal Irish Fusiliers
and 1st Gloucesters, but only six companies of the Royal Irish Fusiliers
and five and a half companies of the Gloucesters were sent. This expedition
is more fully dealt with under the 1st Gloucestershire Regiment and
1st Royal Irish Fusiliers.
‘The Times’ History, vol. p. 222.
5 Lord Roberts' despatch of 10th October 1900.