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The 1st Battalion was at Glencoe when the war broke out, and fought at the battle of Glencoe or Talana Hill on 20th October 1899 (see 1st Leicestershire Regiment and 1st Royal Irish Fusiliers). The battalion did splendid work in that action, and their losses were very severe. Colonel Gunning and 4 other officers and 13 men being killed, and 6 officers and 75 men wounded.
On 30th October, at Lombard's Kop or Ladysmith, the battalion was with Grimwood (see 1st Liverpool Regiment). Like the rest of his force, they were hard pressed, their losses being 3 officers and 1 man killed, 1 officer and 32 men wounded, besides about 30 taken prisoners. In the appendices to the Report of the War Commission, p 375, it is noted that "this party was sent on in advance at the battle of Lombard's Kop, but were left behind on the general retirement of the force, no order having apparently been given to them to retire". The party endeavoured to retire, but it was too late; they were surrounded, and after a sharp fight surrendered.
In the great attack on Ladysmith on 6th January 1900 (see 1st Devonshire Regiment), the 1st King's Royal Rifles were in the thick of the fight. The usual garrison of Waggon Hill was three companies of the battalion; among other reinforcements, four other companies reached the hill at 7 AM, and all day long the fiercest fighting of the campaign surged about the crest and side of the hill until the final charge by the Devons, shortly after 5 pm, cleared the ground. The losses of the battalion on the 6th were about 10 killed and 20 wounded. Three officers and 5 non-commissioned officers and men were mentioned in Sir George White's despatch of 23rd March 1900.
In Sir Redvers Buller's northern movement the 1st King's Royal Rifles were in the IVth Division under Lieutenant General Lyttelton, and in the 8th Brigade under Major General Howard, — the other regiments of the brigade being the 1st Liverpool, 1st Leicestershire, and 1st Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. Near Amersfoort on 24th and 25th July 1900 there was stiff fighting, in referring to which Lord Roberts says, "On which occasion the 13th and 69th Batteries RFA, the 1st King's Royal Rifles, and the 2nd Gordon Highlanders distinguished themselves, especially the Volunteer company of the latter regiment".
Again at Amersfoort on 7th August, and near Geluk between 21st and 24th August, there was fighting, but the Boers were always driven back till the great position at Bergendal was reached. There a really important battle, opening as it did the way to Koomati Poort, was fought (see 2nd Rifle Brigade). In this action the 1st King's Royal Rifles were not heavily engaged.
After Bergendal the IVth Division went with General Buller to Lydenburg, in which neighbourhood other actions were fought. The force then marched up and down the awful sides of the Mauchberg and other mountains, and afterwards back to the railway. In the operations about Badfontein en route for Lydenburg the Leicesters and 1st King's Royal Rifles were mentioned by Lord Roberts "as dragging the guns of a battery up a steep hill, whence a heavy fire was brought to bear on the Boers". On 9th September the 1st King's Royal Rifles dislodged the enemy from a position on the Mauchberg. In his final despatch of 9th November 1900 General Buller mentioned 7 officers and 5 non-commissioned officers.
The battalion was brought into Pretoria to be present at the proclamation of the annexation on 25th October 1900,—an honour which was deserved as well as appreciated.
In Lord Roberts' final despatch 28 officers and 40 non-commissioned officers and men of the King's Royal Rifle Corps were mentioned. These commendations included the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Battalions.
During the second phase of the war the battalion was employed in the Eastern Transvaal, and afterwards in Cape Colony. During part of 1901 they were doing column work under General Babington, Colonel Campbell, and other commanders. On 16th July 1901 the battalion entrained from Balmoral to De Aar, where they took over the guardianship of seventy miles of railway, building and occupying the blockhouses. They were still on this duty when peace was declared.
At Baakenlaagte on 30th October 1901, when Colonel Benson's rear-guard was destroyed and he himself killed (see 2nd East Kent Regiment), the King's Royal Rifles were represented in the force by the 25th Battalion Mounted Infantry, which did very excellent work. The 25th Mounted Infantry was composed of one company from the 1st Battalion, two companies from the 4th Battalion, and one company from the 3rd Battalion King's Royal Rifles. Three officers and 15 men of the 1st company held out on the gun-ridge until the Boers retired after dark. Two officers, Lieutenants Bircham and R E Crichton, 4 non-commissioned officers, and 1 rifleman were commended for distinguished gallantry. Fourteen men of the regiment were killed, and 3 officers and 24 men wounded. Altogether about 7 officers and 13 non-commissioned officers and men were mentioned in despatches by Lord Kitchener during the campaign, and in his final despatch 11 officers and 16 non-commissioned officers and men were mentioned. Some of these names were stated to belong to the 1st and some to the 3rd Battalion, but in other cases the battalion is not mentioned in the despatches. The 1st could certainly claim the majority.
The VC gained by Lieutenant the Honourable F H S Roberts in the attempt to rescue the guns at Colenso is at least one of the dearly-paid-for trophies secured by the regiment, if it cannot be claimed by the 1st Battalion.
The 2nd Battalion was one of the infantry battalions which, between 16th and 30th September 1899, were sent from India to Natal. The battalion was first engaged on 24th October at Rietfontein, outside Ladysmith (see 1st Liverpool Regiment). The 2nd King's Royal Rifles were at first with the baggage, and afterwards half the battalion was in the reserve line. They had no losses.
At the battle of Ladysmith on 30th October the battalion was with Grimwood on the right (see 1st Liverpools) and was hardly pressed all morning. Their losses were approximately 1 officer wounded, 8 men killed, 29 wounded, and some missing. In the great attack of 6th January (see 1st Devons) four companies of the 2nd King's Royal Rifles were sent in the early morning as reinforcements to Waggon Hill, where they took part in the furious fighting. One company under Lieutenant Tod attempted to rush the eastern crest, then held by the Boers, but the attempt failed, Lieutenant Tod being killed. The battalion's losses that day were 4 officers and 7 men killed and about 35 wounded.
Three officers and 6 non-commissioned officers and men were mentioned in Sir George White's despatch for excellent work during the siege. Six officers and 4 non-commissioned officers and men were mentioned in General Buller's final despatch of 9th November 1900, three of these officers having gained their commendations with the Composite Rifle Battalion in the relief operations.
After the relief of Ladysmith the battalion marched north to the Transvaal-Natal border, and in July was ordered to sail for Colombo with prisoners.
The Mounted Infantry company remained in South Africa and saw endless fighting.
Lieutenant L A E Price-Davies was awarded the VC for great gallantry in dashing among the enemy and trying to save the guns at Blood River Poort (Gough's disaster), 17th September 1901.
(see also the separate history of the 3rd Battalion).
The 3rd Battalion sailed on the Servia on 4th November 1899, arrived at the Cape about the 24th, and was sent on to Durban. Along with the 2nd Scottish Rifles, 1st Durham Light Infantry, and 1st Rifle Brigade, they formed the 6th Brigade under Major General N G Lyttelton. An account of the work of the brigade is given under the 2nd Scottish Rifles, and of that of the Natal Army generally under the 2nd Queen's.
At Colenso the battalion was not in the thickest, being, along with the 2nd Scottish Rifles, escort to Captain Jones's two 47 naval guns and four 12-pounder guns. They had almost no casualties. Their first heavy fighting was on 24th January 1900. A sketch of the great combat on Spion Kop is given under the 2nd Royal Lancaster, and reference is also made to the 2nd Scottish Rifles, whose task that day was not unlike that of the 3rd King's Royal Rifles. In the Natal Army despatches (Blue-Book, p 79) there is an admirably clear report by Major Bewick-Copley of what the battalion did. Leaving Spearman's Hill at 10 am, they crossed the Tugela and advanced in widely extended order against the Twin Peaks north-east of Spion Kop, the right-half battalion attacking the right hill, called Sugar-Loaf Hill, and the left-half battalion the other hill. Both hills and the nek between them were strongly held. At 4.45 pm the Sugar-Loaf Hill was carried, "the Boers only leaving as the men's swords came over the crest-line". Lieutenant Colonel Buchanan-Riddell was killed as he cheered his men in the final rush. Shortly afterwards the left hill was carried by Major Bewick-Copley's command. "Though still under a galling fire from both flanks, we were able to stop the fire of the machine guns 150 yards to our front, and also to keep down the fire of the Boers, which was being directed on to the right flank of Sir Charles Warren's troops, holding the main ridge of Spion Kop". About 6.30 the battalion received General Lyttelton's order to retire, and "by midnight had recrossed the Tugela practically unmolested". The fact that the hills were so very steep, and that the operation was very skilfully carried out, rendered the casualty list less heavy than was to have been expected. The battalion's losses were approximately 17 killed and 61 wounded, almost precisely the same as that of the Cameronians. Another very good account of this engagement is to be found in the King's Royal Rifle Corps Chronicle for 1901.
The evacuation of Spion Kop has been greatly discussed by those who are in authority and by those who are not, but the evacuation of the Twin Peaks seems to have been criticised by the latter class only. The question has been touched on under the Royal Lancasters. No doubt General Lyttelton had reason to be nervous about the safety of the battalion, but it is a truism that in war big risks must be taken. The Commander-in-Chief was the one to take the risk, and we are forced back to the belief that a greater centralisation of authority in himself and more rigorous use of it, regardless of all susceptibilities, might have made the story of the 24th January less heartrending. This is, of course, the tenor of Lord Roberts' covering despatch of 13th February 1900.
The battalion took part in the storming of Vaal Krantz, where their losses were approximately 1 officer and 20 men wounded. They were also in the work between 13th and 27th February, and after the Tugela was crossed had some very heavy fighting. During the fourteen days' fighting the losses of the King's Royal Rifles, including those of officers and men in the Composite Battalion, were approximately 1 officer and 16 men killed, 5 officers and 84 men wounded.
Three officers and 25 men were mentioned in despatches for work in the relief operations, 3 men being recommended for the distinguished conduct medal.
The 3rd King's Royal Rifles, like the other regiments of the 4th Brigade, were chiefly employed in guarding the railway line and fighting on either side of it after the forces of Lord Roberts and General Buller had joined hands.
In General Buller's final despatch of 9th November 1900, 3 officers and 5 non-commissioned officers and men were mentioned.
On 28th July 1900 Major General Cooper, with the 3rd King's Royal Rifles and 1st Rifle Brigade, took over Heidelberg from Hart, and in this district the home or headquarters of the battalion was long to remain. Garrison duty and column work occupied their energies to the close of the campaign. For about the last eight months of the war the battalion was garrison at Machadodorp.
For note as to commendations by Lord Roberts and Lord Kitchener see 1st Battalion.
The 4th Battalion sailed from England on 9th December 1901, and after the disaster at Tweefontein, 25th December 1901, the battalion, along with the 1st Black Watch, newly arrived from India, were sent to reinforce Rundle's command in the north-east of the Orange River Colony, being employed chiefly about Harrismith till the close of the war (see Lord Kitchener's despatch of 8th January 1902 and King's Royal Rifle Corps Chronicle). During the period they were in this district several very fruitful drives were carried through, the excellent way in which the infantry held the blockhouse lines and posts contributing greatly to the successful results obtained.
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