The Third Battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment was embodied, under the command of Col. the Earl of March, A.D.C., from December 11th, 1899, to September 11th, 1902--probably the record embodiment for a Militia Battalion during the war. The Battalion assembled at Preston Barracks, Brighton, and, shortly before Christmas, 1899, volunteered as a whole for service in South Africa. This offer was not, however, utilized until early in 1901.
On the 30th March, 1900, the Battalion was moved to the Shaft Barracks, Dover. Both Line Battalions being abroad, line details were attached to it, ultimately amounting to three Companies.
The Battalion marched to Shorncliffe on the 30th April, and remained there under canvas until the 18th October, forming part of a Militia Brigade. On that date they moved into Napier Barracks. The latter part of the time under canvas had been extremely wet and cold.
On the 2nd February, 1901, the Battalion took part in the lining of the streets for the funeral of Queen Victoria. They paraded with the Colours at 2.15 a.m., and entrained for London, where they were stationed near Apsley House.
Early in February, orders were received for the Battalion to hold itself in readiness to proceed on active service; and after many delays it embarked on the "City of Cambridge," at the Albert Dock, on the 29th of March. The numbers proceeding to South Africa were twenty-four officers and 480 men. Already 123 men of the Battalion had been sent out to join the 1st Battalion as Militia Reservists. One officer (Capt. Blake) had also been attached to that Battalion for duty a year before.
Capetown was reached on the 23rd April, and the Battalion was at once entrained for Bloemfontein, arriving there five days later. On the way, a call was made at the Headquarters of the 1st Battalion at Norval's Pont, and a football match played with them.
At Bloemfontein, the 3rd Battalion camped at Spitzkop, 4 miles west of the town, and took over the "B" section of the outposts, which was placed under the command of Col. the Earl of March. On the suggestion of Col. Long, R.A., commanding the troops at Bloemfontein, a number of men of the Battalion were trained as Mounted Infantry for local defence purposes, first under Captain Papillon, and then (on his falling sick in June) under Capt. the Hon. J. S. R. Tufton. By August, the 3rd Battalion M. I. numbered eight officers and 225 N. C. O.'s and men.
There must have been, at this time, over a thousand men, in all, of the Royal Sussex Regiment, doing mounted work in South Africa.
The mounted duties round Bloemfontein consisted of patrolling beyond the outposts, and of escorting convoys to columns in the field. The men for the most part knew nothing about horses to start with; they were, however, very keen, and, under careful instruction, quickly learned the rudiments of horsemastership, and finally constituted a really useful body of M. I.
Capt. Tufton took over the post at Fischer's Farm with fifty men, in July; and in September another seventy-five of the M. I. were sent, under Lieut. Wilson (4th Suffolk Regt., attached) and 2nd Lieut. Nicholson, to occupy Warringham's, beyond Thabanchu.
Although no opportunity is allowed for a militiaman to learn signalling, yet the 3rd Battalion had taken this up on the voyage out; some signalling equipment was obtained at Bloemfontein, and classes were started, with the result that when, in July, the regular signallers at Spitzkop had to be withdrawn, the 3rd Battalion signallers were able to take over the station.
Capt. Hankey and Lieut. Parkin, with 100 men, had been sent to the Supply Depôt in Bloemfontein, in place of coming to Spitzkop. Shortly afterwards Capt. Hankey went as A.D.C. to Col. Long.
On November 23rd the M.I. was broken up. Col. Long wrote the following letter upon the subject:
The O. C. troops regrets to have to publish an order to-day for the withdrawal of the ponies of the Sussex M.I. The Remount Department have to furnish 600 horses for columns on the move in the next week, and they are at present so short of fit horses that they are obliged to call upon the Sussex to hand in the ponies they have so well looked after and converted into serviceable animals. The greatest credit is due to you and all concerned for the way you have cared for these ponies. The G. O. C. regrets having to take this step, but feels sure you will understand that this step has only been taken owing to extreme pressure and the urgent requirements of the service.
In December the Battalion was moved down to Volksrust, on the Natal border. The first detachment left under Lieut.-Col. Godman on the 7th, escorting a batch of Boer prisoners as far as Ladysmith.
On the 12th of December the following order was published at Bloemfontein:
The Third Royal Sussex Regt. having been ordered away from this station, the O. C. troops wishes to take this opportunity of expressing his appreciation of their uniform excellent conduct, and of the cheerful and thorough manner of carrying out the duties in garrison by all ranks of the Battalion during the eight months they have been at Bloemfontein.
Major Clarke, with seven officers and 181 N. C. O.'s and men, moved down the line to Ingogo, in Natal, and took over a district and a line of posts along the railway between that place and Mount Prospect; other detachments were at Laing's Nek, Iketeni Nek (Majuba), and along the line north of Volksrust. Col. the Earl of March took over command of the troops at Volksrust, Capt. and Adjt. P. E. P. Crawfurd taking up the duties of S. S. O.
At Christmas time the county of Sussex sent out to the Battalion a generous gift in the shape of good fare and useful presents.
On January 5th, 1902, Capt. Aldridge came as Adjutant to the Battalion. During the following months several attempts were made by Boers to cross the railway at night; they were, however, frustrated by the heavy firing of the block-houses.
On the anniversary of the embarkation of the Battalion, three officers and forty-nine men had been invalided home, fourteen men had died, two officers and fifty-two N. C. O.'s and men were in hospital, and twenty-three officers and 452 N. C. O.'s and men were doing duty. A draft had been received from the depôt in February.
In May, the Peace negotiations were on foot, and Boer delegates arrived at Volksrust on their way to Vereeniging. In accordance with orders, they were treated with lavish hospitality.
Peace was declared on June 1st, and on the next day the Battalion received orders to move to St. Helena for duty in guarding prisoners. The various detachments collected at Ingogo, and moved down on the 9th to Durban, where the "Wakool" was waiting for them; the weather was however too rough to embark until the 14th, the intervening days being spent at Umbilo Prison Camp. Major Clarke now commanded the Battalion, Col. the Earl of March having returned for the Coronation.
St. Helena was reached on the 24th June. As the "Wakool" steamed into the Jamestown anchorage, the signallers on H.M.S. Dwarf gave the news of the King's illness, and of the consequent postponement of the coronation, which should have taken place next day.
After five days quarantine the Battalion disembarked, and marched to Broadbottom Camp, at the N.E. end of the Island, relieving the Buffs Militia. Gen. Cronje watched the men go by from the house where he lived apart; he was not very popular among the other prisoners--mostly Paardebergers.
There were about 2,000 Boers at Broadbottom, including Gen. Ben Viljoen. They were at this time just trying to make up their minds to take the oath of allegiance. They were too loyal to their old Government to do so without orders--which, however, they ultimately received. Those who took the oath beforehand did not have a pleasant time.
The weather was extremely bad, and the camp a sea of mud. On July 19th, a gloom was cast over the Battalion by the death of Colour Sergt. Penfold, who was killed in trying to climb down a steep cliff.
On August 9th, Coronation Day was celebrated. A feu de joie was fired, and the Battalion was inspected by Col. Wright, commandant of the camp. In the evening an enormous bonfire was lit upon the hillside. In the crowd round it, Boers and British mingled freely, the latter tanned from exposure, the former pale from a year or more mostly spent in their tents. After loyalty had been satisfied, Col. Wright called for three cheers for "our friends and fellow subjects, our late gallant enemies," which were heartily given. The Battalion embarked for England on board the "Dominion" on August 11th, and arrived at Chichester a month later, having travelled by way of Cape Town. At Chichester they were welcomed by the Mayor and Corporation, and marched to barracks through decorated streets.
The medals earned by the men were presented to them by Mrs. Kilgour (Col. Kilgour then commanded the Regimental District), and the embodiment, which had lasted two years and nine months, was at an end.