See also the Forum discussion on the NFA.

At the onset of the Boer War the NFA was commanded by Captain Daniel Taylor with a unit strength 123 men and 6 x 2.5 guns, based at Ladysmith.

On the 21st General French and Sir George White fought the battle of Elandslaagte. In his despatch of 2 November 1899, para. 14, Sir George mentioned that before that battle the Natal Field Battery moved out with General French at 4 am; some of the Natal M.R. and Carbineers were also with him. When the enemy were found near the station the battery opened fire, but the position was strong, and the little guns were outranged; reinforcements had therefore to be got.

In describing the battle of Lombard's Kop, 30th October 1899, Sir George said that 200 Natal Mounted Volunteers were sent out on the evening of the 29th to hold Lombard's Kop and Bulwana Mountain; and the remainder of the Mounted Volunteers, with the 5th Lancers and 19th Hussars, moved out with 'General French at 3 am on the 30th to endeavour to cover the right flank in the main action. The Natal Field Battery formed part of Grimwood's force on the right of the infantry line. It will be remembered that General French could not get much beyond the Pass between Lombard's Kop and Bulwana; while Grimwood's Brigade was heavily pressed on its right, and the whole force had ultimately to retire on Ladysmith.

In the despatch of 23rd March 1900, para 4, Sir George stated that on 31st October he sent the 2nd Royal Dublin Fusiliers and the Natal Field Battery to Colenso to assist in defending the bridges on the Tugela; but they were soon forced to retire farther south.

The following is the report furnished by Colonel Royston to the Chief of the Staff : "I have to report that on Saturday, 6th inst., at about 4.15 am, I received information by telephone from headquarters that the enemy were making an attack on Wagon Hill. I at once despatched 80 men of the Natal MR, under Major Evans, to strengthen the outposts on the Flats, then held by 1 officer and 40 men Natal Police, attached to Volunteers, and 1 officer and 20 men Natal Carbineers. The Town Guard was also directed to stand fast at its post on the left bank of the Klip River. As it had been intimated that a battery of artillery would be placed at my disposal, I directed two squadrons Border MR, with one maxim, to accompany the guns. Major Abadie, at about 5.40 am, reported his guns in position near the point where the road to Caesar's Camp crosses the town rifle-range. On my arrival at the outpost line, at 5 am, the enemy were occupying the extreme south-eastern point of Caesar's Hill, well under cover amongst the rocks and bushes. About 50 men were visible from the Flats, but more appeared to be pushing on from the west in small parties. These men were being fired on from the thorn trees and from sangars below by my men as soon as they appeared in sight. A few minutes after my arrival the enemy advanced north along the top of the hill, firing at a party of 'Gordons' near a sangar about 500 yards to their front. I requested the officer commanding the battery to open fire, which he did with good effect, stopping the enemy's advance, and driving them into the rocks. As there appeared to be only a small party of the 'Gordons' opposed to the enemy at this spot, as far as I could see from below, I directed a squadron of Border MR, under Lieutenant Royston, to climb the hill and go to their assistance dismounted. This would be about 6 am. On my men joining the Gordons the party advanced towards the enemy in the rocks, but were at first driven back by their heavy fire, and the enemy again advanced. The battery again opened fire, and the 'Gordons' and the Border MR again advancing, drove the enemy over the point of the hill, and they never again mounted to the crest. At mid-day the enemy had retired about half way down the southern slope of the hill, but still kept up a heavy fire. Unfortunately, it was impossible to get at these with artillery fire from where the battery was limbered, owing to the danger of hitting our own people on the crest of the hill, and the officer commanding the battery did not consider it advisable, owing to the rough ground to cross, and to exposure to Bulwana, to advance any of his guns as far as our outpost line, from which point the enemy could be reached. Rifle-fire was kept up until the enemy finally got into the bed of the Fourie Spruit, where he could only be reached from the top of Caesar's Hill. A heavy fire was kept up until dark, when it gradually ceased, and the enemy appeared to be retiring up the Fourie Spruit. My casualties were 4 men killed and 2 officers and 10 men wounded. I wish to bring to notice the gallant manner in which the battery of artillery, under Major Abadie, stuck to its ground under the very heavy fire from the 6 inch gun and another long range gun on Umbulwana, and also the excellent practice made by the battery. ..."

Sixty men of the Durban Light Infantry formed part of the personnel of the armoured train which at this time patrolled daily from Estcourt to Colenso. On 15th November a rail was removed or twisted, and the train was attacked; 2 men of the Durban regiment were killed, Captain J. Wyllie and 15 were wounded, and 19 were taken prisoners, of whom 8 were wounded, 1 mortally. A squadron of Carbineers and one of Imperial Light Horse came out to the help of the armoured train. These reinforcements drove back the enemy, killing 3. Some of the Durban Light Infantry, Natal Royal Rifles, a squadron of Carbineers, and some of the Police were present in the action at Willow Grange on 22nd and 23rd November under Colonel Martyr (see General Hildyard's Report of 24th November 1899). Four guns of the Natal Artillery were out on reconnaissance work in the same district about this time.

While General Buller was pounding away along the Tugela some of the Natal Volunteers under Major G. Leuchars were usefully employed about Greytown and the Zululand border. The Umvoti Mounted Rifles, about 80 strong, with 50 Police, were at Greytown and Tugela Ferry from the beginning of the war, and 2 guns of the Natal Field Artillery and 150 Natal Royal Rifles were after 10th January in the Melmoth Field Force operating from Eshowe. The Greytown force did most excellent work; they were practically isolated from 18th November to 13th February, when they were joined by Bethune's Mounted Infantry. During that period the posts and drifts held by the Umvoti Mounted Rifles and Police were repeatedly attacked. On 23rd November a commando 400 strong attacked 100 men holding the drift, but the enemy was driven off. The stubborn defence made by Major Leuchars and his men prevented an invasion from that quarter and had a great moral effect, as was proved by the tenor of despatches from General Burgher to General Joubert which were captured. In this affair Sergeant Major Ferguson was severely wounded.

In General Buller's movement which commenced on 7th May for turning the Boers out of the Biggarsberg, and so clear Natal, the Volunteers were in the 3rd Mounted Brigade (see South African Light Horse). The Brigade was engaged almost daily between 10th and 19th May. Colonel Bethune co-operated from Greytown, and joined General Buller on 13th May (see Bethune's Mounted Infantry). Bethune's force was composed of 5 squadrons of his own regiment, 1 squadron Umvoti Mounted Rifles, two 12-pounder guns worked by men of the Royal Garrison Artillery, two 7-pounder guns, Natal Field Artillery, 2 Hotchkiss manned by the same corps, and 6 companies of the Imperial Light Infantry, a corps which was raised in the Colony. For seven months this force, or portions of it, had done good work in protecting the north-east of Natal from invasion or raids. On 19th May the Durban Light Infantry and Natal Royal Rifles were ordered to garrison Dundee. When Laing's Nek was turned by General Buller (see South African Light Horse), the Natal Mounted Volunteers were the advanced-guard of General Clery's force, which crossed the Nek itself on 12th June. Dundonald's Brigade had been split up, and the South African Light Horse were part of the turning force.

On 21st September 1900 authority had been obtained from Lord Roberts to raise among the Natal Volunteers a composite regiment of 300 mounted men to take over the duties hitherto performed by the Volunteer Brigade, and thus facilitate the return of the remainder of the Brigade to their daily avocations. The Volunteer Composite Regiment was made up as follows:

 

 

Officers

Men

 

Natal Carbineers

6

125

 

Natal Mounted Rifles

5

32

 

Umvoti Mounted Rifles

1

13

 

Border Mounted Rifles

3

48

 

Natal Field Artillery

-

19

 

Natal Royal Rifles

-

8

 

Durban Light Infantry

-

39

 

Hotchkiss Gun Detachment

-

6

 

Volunteer Medical Corps

1

4

 

 

16

294

Source: Colonials in South Africa by J Stirling.

The date of the formation of the first artillery unit in Natal was April or May, 1855, when a public subscription was made to "buy a field piece as an accessory of the artillery company about to be formed." It is not known when the gun materialised, if ever.

This artillery company formed one company of the Durban Volunteer Guard raised in Durban on 24th May, 1854, and it was by its separation from the Durban Rifle Guard, formerly the Durban Volunteer Guard, that the unit, which later be came the Natal Field Artillery, had its genesis. The style Durban Volunteer Guard Artillery Company lasted only till 1859, although for several years previously the unit, the D.V.G., was more or less dormant, almost moribund, by loss of members. But in September, 1859, the Durban Volunteer Guard was revived from its own still-glowing ashes as the Durban Rifle Guard and the original artillery company formed one company of that unit. No assistance was given by the Natal Government to volunteering and it was not till 1861 that the Guard took on a new lease of life. Captain A. W. Evans was appointed to the command of the artillery company which existed as a company of the Durban Rifle Guard till 1870 when it broke away and became a separate unit under the name Durban Volunteer Artillery. In April, 1892, the name was changed to Natal Field Artillery. Captain A. W. Evans remained in command after the separation until the end of 1870 or early in 1871 when he retired and was succeeded by Captain Archibald McNeil who had been Lieutenant of the company since 1864. He held the command till his death in 1884 and was in command during the Zulu War of 1879. Captain Reuben W. Beningfield, later Lieut.-Colonel, succeeded to the command, afterwards commanding the Natal Field Artillery until March, 1898. It was due to Captain Beningfield that at last the Government authorised the horsing of the Durban Volunteer Artillery. Prior to 20th March, 1884, the two guns of the battery, 7-pounder Armstrong B.L., were entirely man-handled by drag-ropes. Captain Dan Taylor succeeded Major Beningfield in March, 1898, in command of the N.F.A., serving through the Anglo-Boer War of 1899—1902. He relinguished the command of the battery in March, 1903, when he was promoted Lieut-Colonel and appointed to the command of the 1st Brigade, Natal Field Artillery formed in that month and consisting of three six-gun batteries, A., B., and C. He retired in 1905. He was succeeded by Lieut.-Colonel H. H. C. Puntan in August of that year, having, as Major, previously commanded A. Battery since April, 1903. Major Colin Wilson succeeded Lieut.-Colonel Puntan in command of A. Battery in April, 1905, and was promoted to Lieut.-Colonel on the conversion of two batteries of the brigade to Durban Garrison Artillery in August, 1912. Captain R Murison, M.D., commanded B. Battery from July, 1904, to October, 1906, and was succeeded by Major G. R. O. Edwards till August, 1912. C. Battery was originally a 2-gun artillery company of the Natal Royal Regiment — infantry — of Pietermaritzburg under Major F. S. Tatham and at first man-handled. In June, 1903, the company broke off and was formed into a 4-gun horsed field artillery battery. Upon Union this battery remained as such unchanged while A. and B. Batteries were converted to garrison artillery. Before Union and after con-version to a 4-gun horsed battery C. Battery was a unit of the 1st Natal Field Artillery Brigade, but it was later (1916) absorbed into the South African Field Artillery. C. Battery served through the German South West Africa campaign as a field battery, drawn by donkeys, as part of Colonel Berrange's Desert Column.

The strength of the Durban Volunteer Artillery was about 58, all ranks. By 1874 this had dropped to 24 by reason of migration of members from Durban and their dissatisfaction at the many months of delay that occurred in paying them for their services in Zululand in 1874 when the battery formed part of the Natal force which attended the Coronation of King Cetshwayo. In 1875 the strength was about 76; in 1895 the Natal Field Artillery was over 250 strong and henceforth, being popular units, had no difficulty in keeping up to the full strength of their establishment which was based upon that of Imperial field batteries.

As recorded above, up to March, 1903, there was only one battery of artillery in Natal, but in that month the raising of two more field batteries was authorised by the Natal Government and these came into being in June, 1903, being B. and C. Batteries. The latter was composed almost entirely of civil servants and was known as the Civil Service Battery. The batteries were 6-gun units, 15-pounder B.L. and it is recorded that the guns with their entire equipment, so-called spares from the Anglo-Boer War, were bought by Natal from the British Government for one shilling each: a gift, of course. C. Battery soon had to change its name to D. Battery upon discovery of the fact that the battery raised in Pietermaritzburg about the same time as C. Battery was raised in Durban ante-dated the new Durban unit by a few weeks and claiming priority as C. Battery and succeeded. C. Battery — P.M. Burg1— was commanded by Major (later Lieut.-Colonel) Frederick S. Tatham, afterwards Justice Tatham, who was succeeded successively by Major W. S. Bigby and Major (later Lieut.-Colonel) W. P. M. Johnston. D. Battery existed till 1904 when it was disbanded, most of the personnel transferring to A. and B. Batteries.

In 1905 a Pom-Pom section of two guns and two ammunition wagons, horse-drawn, was raised in Durban and attached to the 1st N.F.A. Brigade. The strength was 23, all ranks. This small unit took a very useful part in the Zulu Rebellion operations in 1906—1907. It was disbanded at the end of 1907.

Medical, veterinary, signalling, supply and transport services were rendered by detachments furnished to the brigade from those departmental units of the Natal forces. The Head-quarters of the Brigade were in Durban.

The first weapons of the Durban Rifle Guard Artillery Company are not now known as no record can be traced about them, moreover it is not even known for certain whether any guns were ever issued to the unit. The first guns of the Durban Volunteer Artillery were 7-pounder B.L. Armstrong mountain screw guns, followed in 1899 by 7-poundcrs of the same make but adapted to field carriages. These latter were used during the Anglo-Boer War and were in action at the battle of Elandslaagte on 21st October, 1899. But they were hopelessly outranged by the Boer field guns which were of the most modern continental type and for this reason the battery played only a minor part in subsequent phases of the war, being used mostly on line-of-communication duties in northern Natal. In 1901 these out-of-date guns — pop-guns — were withdrawn and the battery was armed with 15-pounder modern field guns mounted on Indian pattern carriages.

Source: Short History Of The Volunteer Regiments Of Natal And East Griqualand, Past and Present. Compiled by Colonel Godfrey T Hurst, DSO OBE VD, Honorary Colonel of the Natal Mounted Rifles.

Search:
Search Options:
(0 Records)

 Surname   Forename   No   Rank   Notes 
 
Please enter a search phrase...
 
Page 1 of 1

Only registered users can post comments