14 Feb. 1900: Rensburg Siding
Strong Boer attacks forced Maj-Gen R A P Clements to abandon his positions around Colesberg and retire to Rensburg on 13 February. However, that area was not well suited for defence and on 14 February he withdrew further south to Arundel. In the process ‘D’ and ‘G’ Companies were not informed of a changed time of the withdrawal and the two Companies, under Major F. R. MacMullen, set off at daybreak, as originally instructed, and soon came under heavy fire. After a brisk skirmish they surrendered, losing 14 killed, including Major MacMullen, 45 wounded and altogether 130 officers and men made prisoners - luckily to be released on the fall of Bloemfontein a few weeks later.
The following extract, taken from a special correspondent’s report in the Cape Times, contains his views on the action and of subsequent events:
“The Wilts, as will be remembered, were retreating to Arundel, and in the hurry 150 men, under Major Stock [sic!], were left behind. These men, marching from near Rensburg siding in the direction of Arundel, came in contact with the Boers; in fact, mistook the Boer camp for the British camp.
For more than two hours these gallant men fought against overwhelming odds, and not until their ammunition was exhausted did they surrender. The Boers themselves admitted that the Wilts had beaten a manly retreat and had shown splendid fight. The Wiltshire prisoners, I regret to state, were badly treated by the Boer authorities.
They were marched from beyond Rensburg in the broiling sun to town. Pausing through Church Street, several of the men dropped down from fatigue and had a drink of water from the furrow passing down the main street. In the Town Hall, where they were confined prior to being marched on to Bloemfontein, two huge buckets of mealie-pap had been placed for their supper, and no cup was provided wherewith the contents could be bailed out. Suffice it to say, the buckets and contents were abandoned for the more palatable niceties sent them by some Colesberg ladies. In connection with this supper I must there make special mention of the kindness of Mrs. Porter, of this town, who not only on that occasion but on frequent occasions subsequently, contributed most liberally to the wants of the soldiers. From the Court House, where we were imprisoned, we could just catch a glimpse of the Wiltshire men, about 100, more or less, who had the run of the back yard of the Town Hall.
The following morning the Wilts were marched on to the Free State, via Norval's Pont. The day was rather more pleasant than the previous one, it threatening rain all day. Before leaving the Town Hall the Wilts were presented with a copy of the Good Book by the Rev G. Scholtz, Dutch Reformed parson. Crowds of ladies and gentlemen lined Church Street, in order to catch a last glimpse of the Wiltshires. The men all seemed in excellent spirits, owing probably not so much to the scanty food provided by the authorities as to the abundance of spiritual comfort they had received for the journey.”
• QSA, 4 bars CC, OFS, Tvl, SA’01: 2366 Pte. W. Nugent, 2nd Wilts: Regt.
Pte Nugent was one of the men taken PoW at Rensburg and afterwards marched on to Bloemfontein via Colesberg and Norval’s Pont . According to the QSA roll he took his discharge in South Africa.
• ABO: Burger P. J. S. Venter
Petrus Venter served in the Ladybrand Cdo and was one of two Burghers killed in the skirmish at Rensburg (4 Boers were wounded).
His daughter, Mrs Halliwell, who was 4 years old when her father was killed, applied for his medal in 1937. In a covering letter she stated that she was the only surviving member of the family.
Father: killed at Rensburg,14 Feb 1900. He was re-interred at Colesberg some years later.
Mother: died 18 March 1900, but name of Concentration Camp not specified.
Younger sister: died later in 1900.
Brother : who must have been with the young Miss Venter and also survived the Concentration Camp, died in 1935
The following user(s) said Thank You: djb, David Grant, Rory
A great combination Henk. You are to be heartily thanked and congratulated for keeping their memories alive and for having medals to opposing forces for every battle you are then able to share with us.
Another fantastic pair of medals, Henk! I agree with Rory. You have done a great service to everyone with an interest in the Boer War, especially what to me has always been the neglected Boer side.
PS Colesberg is a town that has seldom come to my mind, but reading about it this morning was an extraordinary coincidence, because I spent part of yesterday being informed about a little of the town's earlier military history. Thanks to Rory, my interest in events around the award of the SA 1853 Medal have been rekindled. Yesterday, while writing up my current project, the occupation of Colesberg in 1845 by the Light Company of the 45th Regiment received attention. Their role was to keep the peace on either side of the nearby Orange River, which they did successfully. They moved away only because in 1846 the War of the Axe broke out, but that is another story also not relevant to this forum.
Thanks for the kind words!!
Due to the considerable difference in numbers (participants as well as medals issued) it is not so easy to get awards to Boer and Brit for the same action!
Fortunately I have been busy with this theme since the early 1980's.