2nd Battalion sailed on the Briton on 5th December 1899, and arrived
at the Cape on the 20th after a very quick passage; was sent round to
Durban on the Orcana, and joined the 10th Brigade under Major-General
Talbot Coke, two of whose battalions had been landed in Cape Colony,
the two remaining with the general being the 2nd Dorsets and 2nd Middlesex.
The 10th Brigade formed part of the Vth Division under General Warren,
and went with him to Springfield and Venter’s Spruit. The work
of the brigade has been sketched under the 2nd Dorsets, and that of
the Natal Army generally has been dealt with under the 2nd Queen’s
Royal West Surrey.
Like the Dorsets, the Somersets saw the heavy fighting between 20th
and 24th January 1900 at Venter’s Spruit and Spion Kop, but were
not themselves seriously engaged. The Middlesex were on the summit all
the afternoon of the 24th and lost heavily (see 2nd Royal Lancaster
for account of Spion Kop).
On 21st February, during the last and successful attempt to relieve
Ladysmith, the Somersets had their first heavy fighting among the hills
north of Colenso. The country was very difficult, and the battalion
seems to have got into a place where they were subjected to fire from
During the fourteen days’ fighting the battalion’s casualties
were approximately 3 officers and 11 men killed, 1 officer and 80 men
wounded. Five officers and 6 non-commissioned officers and men were
mentioned in despatches by General Buller, 2 of the latter being recommended
for the Distinguished Conduct Medal.
After the relief of Ladysmith the Somersets left Coke’s brigade
and joined that of Major-General Hart, which consisted of the Somersets,
1st Border Regiment, 1st Connaught Rangers, and 2nd Dublin Fusiliers,
the first-named having taken the place of the Inniskilling Fusiliers,
who were left in Natal. Hart’s brigade was brought round to Cape
Colony, and along with Barton’s Fusilier Brigade was put under
Sir Archibald Hunter as general of division. Hart’s Brigade was
ordered to Aliwal North to co-operate with Brabant in the relief of
Wepener. The relief was accomplished on 24th April, and the brigade
then followed Barton’s to the western border. Having defeated
the enemy at Rooidam on 5th May with the Fusilier Brigade, Sir Archibald
Hunter proceeded to march through the Western Transvaal. One wing of
the Somersets was left to garrison Vryburg,1 the other was taken east
of Pretoria, and along with the 2nd Dublins formed the garrison of Heidelberg
under Hart. On 26th July Major-General Cooper with the 3rd King’s
Royal Rifles and 1st Rifle Brigade relieved Hart, who with the 2nd Dublins
and half-battalion of the Somersets was ordered to Rhenoster, on the
Bloemfontein-Pretoria Railway. He arrived there on the 30th, and marching
to Kopje Alleen, joined Major-General O. E. Knox and Major-General Broadwood,
who were endeavouring to surround De Wet.2 The Boer general with about
2000 men was then occupying the hills south of Reitzburg, near the Vaal.
De Wet crossed the Vaal on the night of 6th August, and was at once
pursued by several columns under the direction of Lord Kitchener, including
that of Lord Methuen (see 1st Northumberland Fusiliers). De Wet escaped
north of the Megaliesberg after some of his waggons, guns, &c.,
had been captured, and some prisoners he had with him had been released.
In this pursuit Hart’s men did 123 miles in the first seven days.
After they were “whipped off” at Oliphant’s Nek they
went to help Hore at Elands River. Hart then moved into Krugersdorp
about the middle of August. His column was shortly strengthened by the
2nd South Wales Borderers, 400 Imperial Yeomanry, and a 41 gun, and
early in September he proceeded to Potchefstroom, having some fighting
and extremely hard marching on the way. He then returned, reaching Krugersdorp
on 30th September. During the march his column had disposed of a fair
number of Boers, and had captured 96 prisoners, many cattle, waggons,
After this the battalion was again taken to the Heidelberg district,
and remained there a long time doing good work. In Lord Kitchener’s
despatch of 8th March 1901 Colonel Gallwey and two other officers were
mentioned. On 25th May 1901 a convoy returning from Bethel to Standerton,
the escort of which was a mixed force, under Colonel Gallwey of the
Somersets, and including a portion of the battalion, was heavily attacked.
“The escort fought with great gallantry and completely foiled
the enemy’s repeated attempts to press into close quarters.”
3 The Somersets lost 1 man killed and 3 wounded. Three officers
and 6 non-commissioned officers and men of the battalion were mentioned
in despatches for exceptional services that day, and the cause of mention
after the name of Lieutenant and Quartermaster Moran is worth quoting:
“Seeing party of enemy creeping up under cover of a donga, headed
the cooks and invalids and drove them off.” One can scarcely help
associating cooks with kettles and invalids with crutches, but doubtless
the gallant party left their impedimenta behind.
During 1901 a portion of the battalion did column work under Colonel
E. C. Knox and other commanders in the north-east of Orange River Colony
and the south of the Transvaal.
In Lord Roberts’ final despatch 9 officers and 14 non-commissioned
officers and men gained mention for good work up to the time the field-marshal
left South Africa; and in Lord Kitchener’s final despatch 3 officers
and 3 non-commissioned officers were mentioned.
Lord Roberts’ despatch of 10th October 1900, para. 12.
2 Lord Roberts’ despatch of 10th October 1900, paras.
3 Lord Kitchener’s despatch of 8th July 1901, para.