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TOPIC: Always to the fore, always to the front - Major H.G. Plant

Always to the fore, always to the front - Major H.G. Plant 1 year 3 months ago #59804

  • Rory
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The locating of Plant's missing V.D. as well as new information which came to light, prompted me to revisit Plant's story.

Henry Gilbert Plant, V.D.

Lieutenant, Umvoti Mounted Rifles – Anglo Boer War
Major, Umvoti Mounted Rifles - Bambatha Rebellion


- Queens South Africa Medal with clasps Tugela Heights, Relief of Ladysmith, Transvaal, Laing’s Nek & South Africa 1901 to Lieut. H.G. Plant, Umvoti M.R.
- Natal Medal with 1906 clasp to Maj. H.G. Plant, Umvoti Mtd. Rifles
- Colonial Auxiliary Forces Officers Decoration self-engraved to Major. H.G. Plant, U.M.R.
- Colonial Auxiliary Forces Long Service Medal to Major H.G. Plant, U.M.R.


Gilbert Plant (as he was known) was according to his grandson, quite a character. Born in about 1869 in Greytown to interesting pioneer parents he was to make his mark on the military structures in late Victorian Natal. I’ve mentioned that he had interesting parents and this was certainly the case - his mother Sarah Jane Bryant, was the daughter of a sea captain who had been lost at sea. She reportedly transported a ships cannon overland to Greytown in about 1860 in a wagon from Port St Johns in a journey she undertook by herself with a young Kaffir as guide.


Plant as a Captain in the uniform of the U.M.R.

In Greytown, Miss Bryant became the housekeeper to Mrs Windham, the wife of Mr Ashe Smythe Windham, the Magistrate. She married a local butcher Henry Plant in 1867 but was widowed in 1872 where after she subsequently opened an inn and acted as the local Post Mistress between 1873 and 1880. It was into this environment that Plant was born.

Sent to boarding school at Hilton College in 1880 where he was to remain for almost eight years – a school friend, E. Newmarch, recalled how Hilton had a numbering system in those days – he was no. 62 and Plant was 63. Plant excelled at sport and was a regular in the football team.



Plant as he appeared in an early version of the Hilton College magzine

Having matriculated he returned to Greytown and took up farming in the area. Always alive to the threat posed by marauding Zulus the local men would organise Militia outfits to ward off any potential dangers to their lives and livelihood. Plant joined the ranks of the Umvoti Mounted Rifles as a Trooper on 14 March 1887 at the age of 18 rising to the rank of Sergeant before he was commissioned as a Lieutenant on the 25th May 1894 by Sir Walter Hely-Hutchison the Governor General of Natal.

On 29 April 1897 his Agent wrote to the Surveyor General in Pietermaritzburg, a man Plant was to have several run-ins with over the years as follows,

“Sir

With reference to your notice in the Gazette of March 16th last. I am instructed by Mrs Plant to say that it will be very difficult and expensive for her or her son to attend at your offices, but if the Commission sits at Greytown they can easily attend – any notice or Summons addressed “Mrs. Plant, Greytown” will reach her, or “Gilbert Plant, Oakford, Greytown” will reach him.

I am etc. etc.

On 21 November 1898 Plant himself wrote to Mr Masson the Surveyor General as follows,

“Dear Sir

I wrote to you once before about our Diagrams but you did not condescend to answer. I would be very pleased if you would send up our Diagrams as decided by the Commission.

The Greytown Local Board have had Mr Middleton up surveying and he has shifted one of the Beacons, how am I to know if it is correct? Others have got their Diagrams, why are we not served alike?

I got an account from you some time ago for £6 I am sure I don’t know what you want this money for, as I have received nothing as yet from you.

I am Sir etc etc.”

A short twelve months later, in October 1899, the long standing animosity between Britain and Boer spilled over into open conflict and the Natal-based regiments were called out to assist in the fight with the Boers threatening to invade Natal as almost their first port of call. The Umvoti Mounted Rifles mobilised on the 30 September 1899 in anticipation of this conflict and left Greytown at 8 a.m. on 2 October under the command of Major Leuchars. There were 89 officers, non-commissioned officers and men who left for the front receiving a hearty send-off as they departed for Helpmekaar to act as scouting party to the Dundee column.



Plant is to the left of this photo

Doing the 60 miles on two days in hot conditions and over rough country they reached their destination and were expected to scout between the Dundee-Vryheid road and the Isibinde River. Outposts were placed on hills commanding good views of the surroundings thereby making sure that the Boers couldn’t arrive unannounced. On Wednesday, 18 October the march to Dundee was underway when word was received with instructions to remain at Helpmekaar, were it not for this the U.M.R. would have been in the thick of it at Talana a few days later.

They left Helpmekaar on 23 October at 10 p.m. and on 26 October received an order to fall back on the Tugela River which was in flood caused by a heavy storm. A series of skirmishes followed with Boer advance parties with news being received that the Boers had entered nearby Weenen. The U.M.R. was ordered back to Greytown on November 18 destroying the punt and the road as they departed. They saw action a few days later on 23 November when a party of 400 Boers attempted to force the ferry to Greytown. Outposts were engaged until the main body arrived and, after 3 hours, the Boers retired having burnt the stores and the Police barracks.

On 7 March 1900, a week after the relief of Ladysmith, a move was made by the regiment to occupy the Helpmekaar Heights in anticipation of a general forward move by the army in Natal. They bivouacked at Pomeroy on the night of 7 March and moved forward the next morning. The objective wasn’t reached as they were met with a hot reception and forced to move back to the south of the river again.

On 10 March after their long vigil on the Tugela Drifts they again advanced to reoccupy Pomeroy. This they did without opposition until Buller’s advance guard reached them, they then joined in the action at the “Nek” (Helpmekaar Nek) coming under heavy “Pom” fire. The U.M.R. then continued with Buller to Laing’s Nek being in the advanced outpost line and among the first through the Nek when the Boer position at Allemansnek was taken.

They then advanced as far as Volksrust and then returned with the remainder of the Natal Volunteer Brigade for duty on the line of communications under General Dartnell. After spending some time at Dundee they marched to Vryheid meeting some opposition from the enemy at Blood River.

On returning the Regiment was deployed on mainly detached duties in the Buffalo area until the disbandment of the Natal Volunteers in October 1900. They were remobilised in September 1901 and formed part of the defence of the Eastern border of Natal and Zululand where the Boers, under General Botha were threatening to break through again. They were demobilised on 20 October 1901 and didn’t take to the field again during the war.

For his efforts Plant was awarded the Queens South Africa Medal with clasps Tugela Heights, Relief of Ladysmith, Transvaal, Laing’s Nek & South Africa 1901. Plant’s name appears on the role for the award of the Kings Medal but this was removed in a controversial move by the authorities and one which applied to all colonial Natal-based troops who were not part of the Voluntary Composite Regiment.

The war over Plant returned to his farm Oakford. There was time now for romance and, already 33 years of age, Plant married Evelyn Alice Mackenzie a 26 year old spinster from Pietermaritzburg at the St. John’s Presbyterian Church in that town on 24 February 1903.

The next event of import that impacted on Plant’s life was the Bambatha Rebellion of 1906. Natal was counting the cost of an expensive war and the colonial fiscus was battling to make end meet. Able minds were being applied to ways of generating additional revenue and one of the measures adopted was to impose a hut tax on every male Zulu in the Colony. This was to be levied and collected by the Regional Magistrates accompanied by a Natal Police escort in case of trouble. This didn’t sit well with the young Chief Bambatha Zondi who lived in the Kranskop/Greytown area and who made his feelings very clear by fomenting an uprising amongst his fellow Zulus refusing to pay the tax and embarking on a campaign of civil disobedience which soon degenerated into armed rebellion. The Militia units of Natal, the Umvoti Mounted Rifles included were mobilised on 9 February 1906 to quell this uprising and Plant, now a Major and second in command of the U.M.R. was part of the second column mobilised on 24 February consisting of 250 U.M.R. men among others.



U.M.R. officers and men enjoying Christmas lunch, December 1906 - Plant is seated fourth from the left

When Colonel Leuchars was instructed to command all troops in Natal he left the Umvoti Field Force under the temporary command of Major Newmarch with Major Gilbert Plant in control of the Umvoti Mounted Rifles with 135 troops under his direct control stationed at Kranskop. The U.M.R. was instrumental in the chase and eventual capture of Bambatha who had fled into the Mome Gorge area with his supporters. After being ambushed and driven into a corner his supporters were almost annihilated and he was captured and beheaded as proof that his end had come.

For his efforts Plant was awarded the Natal Medal with 1906 clasp.

Back on the farm where peace once more prevailed, Plant applied himself to his lands. Labour in those days came from Indentured Indians brought over from the Far East in numbers to work the sugar cane plantations. Native labour was deemed to be unreliable and the natives lazy hence the preference for the Indians. Plant was no different in that he had his share contracted to him. Their stay on his property was not without incident. In 1909 the Office of the Protector of Indian Immigrants was asked to investigate a complaint they had received from a Mary Mudaly, no. 123703 who was indentured to Plant. This chap (for chap he was despite the name) was illiterate and had asked someone to pen a letter on his behalf which read,

“I have come to complain that I am getting 3 lbs rice and 8 lbs meal weekly. The rice is not enough. I am entitled to 6 lbs of rice weekly. I have had no oil given to me since I have been with my master. I have also had no wages given to me for the past 8 months. I left my master’s place about 10 days ago and I decline to return to my employer. He bought me a pair of boots at the price of 10/-“

As always there are two sides to every story and Plant, confronted with this complaint, went on the offensive in a letter to the Protector dated 3 July 1909,

“Sir

Yours of 1 July to hand re complainant of Indentured Indian Marimuthu (this was his correct name). I enclose you a statement of his account. I took two Indians over from Mr Hooper, this man Marimuthu deserted before he got here. I took them over from Hooper on 25 April last; Marimuthu deserted in Pietermaritzburg on the 26th and was returned to me under escort on 19 May 1908. He again deserted on 25 December 1908 and returned on 14 June 1909 and again deserted on 19 June and returned 2 July 1909.

As to his complaint re Rations it is too absurd. They are getting 6lbs rice 2 lbs dholl, 8 lbs fine meal and as much salt as they like weekly, the only thing I have not been giving them is oil, but they have had as much milk as they could take away. If they had wanted oil they had only to ask for it and I would have supplied them.

I have paid him no wages as you will see by his account he has been entitled to none. In conclusion I would be glad if this man could be transferred as he is of no use to me.”

The Protector’s Office must have asked for my clarity as Plant, clearly aggravated, launched once more into print on 10 September 1909 as follows,

“Sir

Yours of the 8th to hand re Marimuthu. I think I gave you a full explanation in my last letter to you when this same man complained about only getting crushed mealies as Rations.

He has been getting the same meal as used by myself – fine as well as 1 gallon of milk daily. If he had asked for oil I would have supplied it.

I am about sick of this man – my former explanation about Rations ought to have satisfied you. If you want any further information you had better question the other Indians still with me and I can show you all my receipts for their Rations. I hope Sir you will take my word in this matter before listening to this ... Indian Marimuthu.

Marimuthu has worked 16 days since 25 December 1908 up to date (9 months) I have paid out in Messenger fees on his account £4 and he has had an advance of 15/6 for his own personal use. How is it that this man has not been arrested if so far back as August 23rd he complained to you? I do not keep the Wage Book you mention, but keep a Book which answers all purposes and is open for your inspection.

I have seen the Protector in Durban about this and have arranged that he is to go down there and he will try and transfer him. I don’t want him he is of no use to me.”

The upshot of all this came in the form of a pencilled note in the column of the report from the Deputy Protector to the Protector which intimated that, “Protector, I mistook Mary Mudaly and Marimuthu Mudaly as different men. Mr Plant’s letter shows this man is in his debt. During 9 months from 25 December he is said to have worked only 16 days.” And with that ended the acrimonious correspondence between Plant and officialdom.

As a long serving member of the Umvoti Mounted Rifles (to whom he was still attached) the inevitable request for a Long Service Medal arose and on 9 October 1910 Louis Botha, the Prime Minister, approved the award of the Colonial Auxiliary Forces Long Service Medal to Major H.G. Plant. The Gazette entry was to be dated 23 December 1910. This auspicious occasion was marred by red tape when it was found that the incorrect forms had been used to make the application and a lengthy and very bureaucratic process ensued.

In 1911 a request for the award of the Colonial Auxiliary Forces Officers Decoration was made which caused no end of confusion. The Secretary of the Interior wrote stating that

“I am not quite clear about this matter. It was not intended that he (Plant) should have both the medal and the decoration was it, when the original application (which mentions “medal” in mistake for “decoration”) was put forward? I think it would be better in the Minute to say that the “decoration” is now recommended in place of the “medal” which was mentioned in the first instance under a misapprehension.” It was then recommended that Plant be awarded the Decoration in place of the Medal.




Plant circa WWI

When the Great War broke out in August 1914 Plant was still actively farming and retired from military life. On 16 July 1916 he applied to the Prime Minister’s office for a loan of £1200 from the Land and Agricultural Bank. This was not in respect of his farm “Oakford” in the Greytown area but rather in respect of another farm he had purchased in the Brandfort area of the Orange Free State where he and the family had moved to in 1912. It was not recorded as to whether he was successful or not. The Greytown Gazette at the time carried an insert advertising the “Unreserved Sale of Farming Implements & Furniture” – Messrs. Cadle & Nel, “favoured with instructions from Mr H.G. Plant, who is leaving the Province will sell at his residence facing Cooper Street, Greytown”, on Saturday, 7 September at 10.30 prompt, “without the slightest reserve, all his goods and possessions”.

The same local newspaper, shortly after, carried an article entitled “Major H.G. Plant - U.M.R. Farewell – Rally Round” which read as follows:-
‘Major H.G. Plant, better and more familiarly known as “Gilbert” is – after over twenty years – leaving Umvoti and necessarily severing a long and distinguished career with the U.M. Rifles. Always of a taciturn nature, Major Plant has nevertheless won a name for himself, both as a soldier and as a sportsman, and one second to none in the regiment.

Major Plant has ever been foremost in supporting and pushing forward sport – “manly sport” – and likewise of endeavouring to see that the true British instinct of sport was kept alive in the U.M.R., which for many years he has been associated with. Always to the fore, always to the front, seldom heard, but invariably seen. Such can be said of Major Plant.

He is leaving the U.M.R. and the District or County of Umvoti, and we are perfectly certain all wish him success in the future, yet deplore his departure from Umvoti. On the 6th September (today week), the gallant and silent Major will be accorded a “send-off” at the Greytown Hotel by the officers and men of the regiment, and it is pleasing to learn that from Colonel Carter downwards, all are determined the “send-off” shall be worthy of the occasion – worthy of the regiment – and worthy of the long and tried service of the Guest.’

In about 1919 Plant got “wanderlust” and uprooting his family from the Orange Free State, moved them, lock stock and barrel to Kenya where he continued to farm. On 27 October 1924 the Earl of Athlone, the then Governor General of South Africa, signed a Minute placing Plant on the Reserve or Retired List – he was all of 55 at the time and had reached the age where this became the norm.

Continuing with his farming pursuits Plant offered his services to the war effort when World War II commenced. On 10 January 1941 he was commissioned into the Active Citizen Force as a 2nd Lieutenant a rank which he held until retiring on the 29th September 1946 when he was granted the honorary rank of Lieutenant. Not playing a combatant role he was not eligible and was not awarded the War Medal 1939/45.

Gilbert Plant, of Mombasa, passed away at Nakuru in Kenya on 7 May 1949 at the age of 79, after a short illness. The local paper announced the news thus:-

“The death occurred in Nakuru last week of Major Henry Gilbert Plant, one of the South African who settled in Kenya after the first World War. Major Plant had been ill for some weeks, and was buried with full military honours. He was 79.

Major Plant, who came from one of the pioneering families who settled in South Africa early in the 18th century, served in the Boer War and was with the relieving force which raised the siege of Ladysmith. He settled in the colony (Kenya) in 1918. His first venture – coffee farming at Ruiri – was not a success, and he then took up contracts on the Uasin G’shu railway, and later the Thika-Nyeri, Nyeri-Naro Moru and Gilgil-Thomson’s Falls lines.

After a period of stock-farming at Rumuruti – where his cattle were decimated by East Coast Fever – he joined the Kakamega gold rush. Although he was 69 at the outbreak of World War II he joined up again and served in the E.A.M.L.S. and the Royal Engineers until the cessation of hostilities.
After the war Major Plant went to Mombasa to work for Nyali Estates Ltd. He leaves a widow and two sons.

An interesting and spirited man had breathed his last.




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Always to the fore, always to the front - Major H.G. Plant 1 year 3 months ago #59806

  • QSAMIKE
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Thank You Rory for the Plant research and story...….

Mike
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Military Historical Society
O.M.R.S. 1591

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Always to the fore, always to the front - Major H.G. Plant 1 year 3 months ago #59813

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Fantastic research and images, Rory.
Dr David Biggins

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Always to the fore, always to the front - Major H.G. Plant 3 months 9 hours ago #65369

  • Rory
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The family have unearthed the silver tea set Major Plant was presented with in 1912, on the occasion of his departure from the regiment and the Province. A very desirable thing to have - sadly not mine.





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Always to the fore, always to the front - Major H.G. Plant 3 months 7 hours ago #65372

  • Frank Kelley
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If unearthed recently, Rory, it has certainly polished up very well indeed, no harm in making an offer.
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Always to the fore, always to the front - Major H.G. Plant 3 months 7 hours ago #65374

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It does look to be in fabulous condition.
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