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At the start of the Boer War this unit was commanded by Major J F Rethman, was 286 men strong and was based in Ladysmith and Acton Homes.

On 12th October war was declared, the enemy entered Natal, and their movements were reported by the Carbineers. When Major Taunton reported the enemy's movement, the Intelligence Department discredited this, and he had to send a patrol to locate, or rather look into, the hostile laager. On the 17th, No. 1 squadron of the Border M.R., under Captain Royston, was fired on at the foot of the Tintwa Pass; and on the same night Captain Wales, Volunteer Staff, with a troop of Natal M.R., set out to patrol the Waschbank Valley, passing through several parties of Boers and covering 126 miles in forty-eight hours. On the 18th Sir George White asked the Natal M.R. for a bodyguard of 24 non-commissioned officers and men; Captain F. S. Tatham of the Carbineers was chosen as commander. On this date the enemy advanced in force, and the Border M.R. from Acton Homes and the Carbineers from Van Reenen's and other passes had, according to the GOC's orders, to retire nearer to Ladysmith. On the 20th the Umvoti men reported heavy firing at Dundee. This was, of course, the severe engagement fought by General Penn-Symons in order to drive the enemy off Talana Hill, which commanded his camp. It will be remembered that the general was mortally wounded. His successor, Brigadier-General Yule, finding that he was being threatened by very superior forces, started at 9 pm on the 22nd to withdraw his force to Ladysmith. Colonel Dartnell, chief commissioner of the Natal Police, was on the staff of General Penn-Symons at Talana Hill, and was beside the general when he fell. Two of the police acting as orderlies to Colonel Dartnell were wounded in the engagement. On the 20th No. 4 squadron of the Carbineers captured four Boer scouts.

In his despatch of 2nd December 1899 Sir George White mentions that the Natal Mounted Volunteers were with him at Rietfontein on 24th October (see Imperial Light Horse). After the engagement was well developed "the Natal Mounted Volunteers, who had been with the Cavalry, had been recalled, and as the enemy showed some disposition to work round my left flank as if to cut me off from Ladysmith, I sent this force under Colonel Royston to work round the Boer right and cover my left flank, a movement which was most successfully performed." In a report to the Chief-of-Staff Colonel Royston drew attention to the gallant manner in which Major Taunton, Natal Carbineers, afterwards killed, and Major Sangmeister, Border Mounted Rifles, seized a kopje under heavy fire, and bringing a maxim gun into action speedily cleared out the enemy. Also, on the same date, to the gallant behaviour, and devotion to the wounded, under a heavy fire, of Captains Platt and Buntine of the Volunteer Medical Staff. Colonel Royston also detailed gallant acts on the part of Troopers Seed (Police) and C. E. J. Miller, D. A. Shaw, and Rowland Watts (Carbineers). The gun team alluded to lost 2 killed; the other casualties among the volunteers were - Border M.R. 9 wounded, Carbineers 2 killed, 10 wounded, and Natal M.R. 3 wounded.

On the 25th Colonel Royston took out the whole of the Mounted Volunteers to assist Yule, whose force was found eighteen miles out. The roads were beyond description, and the rear of the column had to wade, often beyond their knees, in liquid mud. On the 26th, Yule's column entered Ladysmith. On the 27th and two following days most of the Mounted Volunteers were out, and found the enemy gathering in great strength beyond Lombard's Kop. 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 same despatch, speaking of Colonel W. Royston, Sir George said "The services which Colonel Royston and the forces under his command have rendered to the State and Colony have been of the very highest value. In him I have found a bold and successful leader, and an adviser whose experience of the Colony and of the enemy has been of great value to me. Employed on arduous duty from the commencement of the campaign, in touch with the enemy, I have found him prompt and ready for every emergency; he and his force reflect the greatest credit on the colony of Natal."

When the siege commenced the following were part of the garrison:

 

 

 

 

Volunteer Staff, including Medical and Veterinary

11

 

Natal Carbineers

390

 

Border Mounted Rifles

260

 

Natal Mounted Rifles

200

 

Natal Naval Volunteers

65

 

Hotchkiss Detachment

20

 

Natal Police

40

 

 

986

These formed the Volunteer Brigade under Colonel Royston, with Lieutenant Colonel H. T. Bru-de-Wold as Chief Staff Officer. The Naval volunteers were generally split up throughout the siege, part being on Caesar's Camp and part at Gordon Post. Between 1st November and the end of February the Natal Mounted Volunteers were frequently engaged. On 2nd November they were, with other troops, out reconnoitering; on the 3rd they were sent to cover the retirement of another force. On this occasion the Carbineers had Major Taunton and Sergeant Mapston killed, and the Border M.R. lost Captain Arnott and 11 men wounded. Section D of the defences of Ladysmith was placed under Colonel Royston. This included the thorn country north of Caesar's Camp and the Klip River Flats. Colonel Royston lost no time in building sangars and digging trenches, and soon had his section greatly strengthened. On 9th November the enemy attacked, firing 800 shells into the town; but their attack was driven off. On the 14th the Volunteers were out with Major-General Brocklehurst, and, along with the Imperial Light Horse, seized Star Hill; but it was not held permanently. When Sir Archibald Hunter made his deservedly famous sortie on 7th December to destroy the Boer guns on Gun Hill, his force consisted of 500 Natal Mounted Volunteers under Colonel Royston, 100 Imperial Light Horse (see that regiment), and a few Royal Engineers, artillerymen, and guides. The storming-parties were 100 Carbineers, Major Addison, and 100 ILH, Lieutenant Colonel Edwards. Two big guns were destroyed and one maxim brought back. Colonel Royston was among those specially mentioned in the body of the despatch. Sir George White had the ILH and Volunteers paraded on the following day, and, addressing them, said " that he did not wish to use inflated or exaggerated language, but the men of Sir Archibald Hunter's party were a credit, not only to the colony, but to the Empire. There was a lot of severe fighting to do, but it was a gratification to a General to have the help of such men."

The town and camps were during the siege constantly under shell-fire, and on 18th December one 6-inch shell bursting in the camp of the Carbineers killed 4 men, wounded 6 men, and destroyed 10 horses. The times were trying, but hard digging, sangar building, and brigade sports kept the men fairly fit. In the repulse of the great attack of 6th January 1900 the volunteers took a prominent part. 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. I also consider that Lieutenant Royston, Border MR, did good service with his men. The behaviour of Captain Platt and Lieutenant Hornabrook, Vol. Med. Corps, in attending to the wounded throughout the day under heavy fire, deserves special mention; the last-named officer was wounded, besides having his clothes pierced by a bullet."

When Dundonald rode into Ladysmith on the evening of 28th February, he was accompanied by some Carbineers, Natal Mounted Rifles, Border Mounted Rifles, and Natal Police, the officers being Major D. M'Kenzie, Lieutenants Silburn, M'Kay Verney, Richards, Ashburnham, and Abraham. None of those present will ever forget this ride, probably the most memorable occasion in the lives of any of them.

After the relief of Ladysmith the Volunteer Brigade was allowed some time to recuperate, and was reorganised. On 3rd April 1900 it consisted of the Natal Carbineers, Natal Mounted Rifles, and Border Mounted Rifles, temporarily under Lieutenant-Colonel Bru-de-Wold. On the 8th Colonel Dartnell was appointed to command the whole of the Natal Volunteers and Police with the rank of Brigadier-General.

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

 

23rd March 1900: Colonel W. Royston, commanding Natal Vol. Force, and in charge of Section D of defence. I can only repeat the high praise which I had the pleasure to bestow on him in my despatch of 2nd December. He commanded Section D in an admirable manner, and with his force, though much reduced in numbers by casualties and disease, continued to the end to perform invaluable service. He is an officer exceptionally suited to his important position aka commandant of the Natal Vol Forces, and I trust he may receive some equitable reward. Colonel Royston's gallant behaviour at Gun Hill, 1st December, was noticed in body of despatch. (To the regret of the Colony, Colonel Royston succumbed to illness after the relief.) Colonel Dartnell possesses an exceptional knowledge of the Colony and of native character. I am greatly obliged to him for the advice and assistance which he has always been ready to afford me, of which I have availed myself freely, and which I have found of the highest value. Captain F. S. Tatham, Mounted Rifles; Lieutenant Colonel E. M. Greene, Carbineers ; Majors R. W. Evans, Natal M.R.; F. J. Rethman, Border M.R.;

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(325 Records)

 Surname   Forename/inits   Regimental no   Rank   Notes 
AdamsonG CCplNatal 1906 (1)
Source: Recipients of the Natal 1906 Medal
AdcockJTrooperNatal 1906 (1)
Source: Recipients of the Natal 1906 Medal
AikenJ WCaptainNatal 1906 (0)
Source: Recipients of the Natal 1906 Medal
AlboroughA205TprDied of disease at Ladysmith. 13 Mar 1900.
Source: Natal Field Force Casualty Roll, page 213 line 28
AlboroughA DTrooperDemise: Died of disease - enteric fever 13 Mar 1900
Place: Ladysmith
Source: In Memoriam by S Watt
AlboroughETrooperNatal 1906 (1)
Source: Recipients of the Natal 1906 Medal
AlboroughW SSQMSNatal 1906 (1)
Source: Recipients of the Natal 1906 Medal
AlcockH PTrooperNatal 1906 (1)
Source: Recipients of the Natal 1906 Medal
AlexanderWLieutenantNatal 1906 (1)
Source: Recipients of the Natal 1906 Medal
AndersonA O36TprDied of disease at Ladysmith. 29 Jan 1900.
Source: Natal Field Force Casualty Roll, page 213 line 21
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