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"Bonne renommee vaut mieux que ceinture doree."  Proverb.

REWARD

On the morning of 17th February, when Kekewich arrived at the military Headquarters in Lennox Street, he found Porter (1st Cavalry Brigade) installed in his office. French had left Kimberley early in the morning, having received instructions during the night to head off Cronje, who had retired from Spytfontein in an easterly direction; he had informed Kekewich neither of his intended departure nor of the fact that he had instructed Porter to take over the command in Kimberley from him. The report was at once current in the town that Kekewich had been superseded; it had been spread by Rhodes and his partisans, who were naturally delighted that their poison had done its work so effectively. On the other hand, those who recognized the value of all that Kekewich had done for the civil population of the Diamond Fields during the four months of the siege and appreciated the difficulties with which he had had to contend were dismayed. Porter felt the greatest sympathy for Kekewich and did everything a loyal soldier could for one who was undeservedly placed in a distressing position.

The Secretary of State for War was quick to recognize Kekewich's services and a telegram was received stating that he had been promoted brevet-colonel. It was perhaps not unnaturally assumed now by Kekewick's friends that he would be early selected for some important appointment or command. They had, however, overlooked the fact that Rhodes, who still wielded great power, possessed a very vindictive nature; he had at once got to work to do Kekewich as much injury as possible. That evil influences were at work was soon manifest; within a few days of the relief of Kimberley, Kekewich was ordered back to the command of his battalion. This step cannot have been taken because Lord Roberts was in any way dissatisfied with the manner that Kekewich had carried out the onerous task entrusted to him. After Cronje's surrender at Paardeberg, his Lordship had proceeded to Kimberley, where a reception in his honour was held by the Mayor and Town Council on March 2nd. In the course of a reply to an address of welcome on that occasion, the Commander-in-Chief said:

"It is a great pleasure to me to listen to the highly complimentary terms in which the Mayor has alluded to that distinguished officer, Colonel Kekewich—(loud cheers)—a name which I am delighted to see is received with so much enthusiasm by you all, for on that officer devolved the responsibility of carrying out the measures necessary for the defence of this great community. Riding, as I did this morning, through the outlying portions of your town, I could not help wondering how it was possible that the defence of such a large and straggling place could have been maintained for so long a time, and I think it is highly creditable, not only to Colonel Kekewich and those who were immediately associated with him in the measures for the defence of the town, but also to the soldiers of the Regular and Colonial Forces and the many Volunteers who came to the front and behaved with so much heroism during these eighteen weeks in which you have suffered so much" (applause).

Again, in his covering letter, dated 20th March 1900, forwarding Kekewich's Despatch on the Defence of Kimberley to the Secretary of State for War, Lord Roberts reported:

"I am of opinion that the greatest credit is due to Lieutenant-Colonel Kekewich for the able dispositions which he made for the defence of Kimberley, an unwalled town spread over a wide area; for his rapid organization of an auxiliary force, which in conjunction with the Regular troops, enabled him to keep the enemy in check; and for the tact, judgment, and resolution which he displayed throughout the siege, I confidently recommend this officer to the favourable consideration of Her Majesty's Government."[1]

Nevertheless, Kekewich continued for many months in command of the 1st Loyal North Lancashire Regiment. It was not until 26th July 1901, that he was given command of a Column, which he handled with the same success that he had already achieved in Kimberley. It may be of interest to record that the step referred to above was taken very shortly after a visit paid by Oliver, who had ceased to be Mayor of Kimberley and was home on business, to Lord Roberts, then Commander-in-Chief at the War Office. Oliver took the opportunity, which his visit to England afforded, of calling on the Commander-in-Chief to explain to him personally that many people on the Diamond Fields were much grieved at the shabby treatment which was being meted out to Kekewich after the very successful manner in which he had performed his difficult duties in Kimberley. However, although Kekewich was given command of a Column, yet he was not given local rank as were other Column Commanders, many of them his juniors.

It was not only Kekewich's military career that Rhodes attempted to affect prejudicially; he did his best also to prevent the people of Kimberley showing their appreciation in a tangible way of all that he had done for them during the period of their isolation. A proposal was made by the Mayor of Kimberley that a Sword of Honour should be presented to Kekewich from the town. On hearing of this project Rhodes opposed it and told the Mayor to drop it; he even intimated that the De Beers' employes would not be allowed to subscribe. However, the number of those on the Diamond Fields who admired the sterling qualities of Kekewich was so numerous that the sum required for the presentation was quickly raised in spite of Rhodes' opposition. The sword was in due course presented. Rhodes had on many of the occasions that Kekewich had refused to allow him to interfere in military matters said: "Kekewich, I will yet prove too strong for you." Unfortunately, it is the case that, in some ways, Rhodes did prove too strong for Kekewich, who had to pay the penalty for his whole-hearted devotion to the interests of the Nation. It is true, of course, that many others have done so also. However, the failure properly and adequately to recognize his services in Kimberley, in no way caused his zeal and devotion to slacken. This characteristic of the distinguished defender of Kimberley stands out so boldly that Lord Kitchener in his final Despatch on the South African War was moved to place his own appreciation thereof on record in the following terms:

" Brevet-Colonel R. G. Kekewich, C.B., has through this long campaign maintained his high reputation as a fine soldier of character, loyalty and discretion. He is well qualified to hold high command."[2]

Kekewich had, for the Buffs, to which he was first gazetted, that deep affection which all good soldiers have for their Regiment; he was immensely proud of their record and traditions. It was my great privilege to serve under him during the days of, perhaps, his severest trial, and it is my hope that this brief record of his defence of Kimberley may help to inform those of his old Regiment how considerable were the services he rendered during an exceedingly trying period in the history of our Empire. Many distinguished soldiers have served in the Regiment and held the proud position of Colonel of the Buffs; of \ these none deserves to be held in higher honour than Robert George Kekewich


[1] London Gazette, 8th May 1900

[2] London Gazette, 29th July 1902

 

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Category: O'Meara: Kekewich in Kimberley
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