Private, Ladysmith Town Guard (Natal Government Railways Rifle Association) – Anglo Boer War
Sergeant A.W. Sayers, 10th Infantry, Witwatersrand Rifles – WWI
- Queens South Africa Medal with clasp Defence of Ladysmith to Pte. A.W. Sayers, Ladysmith Town Gd.
- 1914/15 Star to A/Sjt. A.W. Sayers, 10th Infantry
- British War Medal to Sjt. A.W. Sayers, 10th Infantry
- Victory Medal to Sjt. A.W. Sayers, 10th Infantry
Andrew Sayer(s) was born in Harlseden Green in the County of Middlesex in 12 June 1876, the son of William, an Engine Driver with the London & North Western Railways, and Eliza, born Barnacle, his wife. Andrew was baptised in the Parish of Ufton in Warwickshire (from whence his mother hailed) on 13 August of that year.
Five years later, the 1881 England census revealed that the Sayer’s were living at 63 Railway Cottages, Old Oak Common Lane in Brentford, Middlesex. Andrew was 5 years old and was joined in the house by siblings – 4 year old Zilla Laura, Joseph Ernest (2) and Edith Eliza, a 3 month old baby.
Ten years later, at the time of the 1891 England census, the family were still at the same address. William, now a young lad of 15, was employed as a Railway Engine Cleaner. Additions to the family came in the form of Albert Henry (, Florence Elizabeth (6), Victor Albert (3) and Eustace Frederick (1). The Sayer’s had obviously been very busy in the intervening years. Bernard Brown, a 2 year old Visitor, brought up the rear.
Perhaps Sayer was in search of adventure or perhaps he had tired of life with a big family at home, whatever his reason, he set sail for South Africa towards the end of the 19th century where, having arrived in the country, he quite naturally gravitated to the Natal Government Railways where he was employed as an Engine Driver.
Sayer was most probably among the men in this photo of the NGR Rifle Association.
The Boer War, a conflict between the two Dutch-speaking Republics of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State on the one hand and Great Britain on the other; burst onto the international stage in October 1899 and Sayer, by now a resident of Ladysmith and a member of the Natal Government Railways Rifle Association enlisted with the local Town Guard. In an interesting development the L.T.G. was the only one in the country comprised of three parts, the Town Guard, the Klip River Rifle Association and the N.G.R. Rifle Association. Medals to all three were issued off the Ladysmith Town Guard roll.
With war imminent, members of the Town Guard were enrolled from 19 September 1899, all taking the Oath of Allegiance to the Crown. There had been warning signs for quite some time and the Colony was beginning to hold itself in readiness for the expected invasion from the north and west. Ladysmith was a frontier town and the only one in those parts with a reasonably strong (although events were to prove this number inadequate) military presence under Sir George White.
Including the members of the Klip River Rifle Association who were affiliated for the defence of the borough, the aggregate number of men who enlisted was 233. Mr T R Bennett was appointed commandant of the combined town defence, acting under the orders of Colonel W G Know CB, commanding the defences and daily drills were at once inaugurated, whilst the members were allowed to practice at the rifle ranges of the Klip River Rifle Association.
Nightly patrols were instituted in the town and guards posted on Convent Hill to give the alarm of the approach of the enemy and on and after the 18th of October the Guard took duty at the Railway Bridge Defences freeing up Imperial troops who might have been used for that purpose. On the night of 12th October the men were ordered to guard all the roads leading into the Borough, to prevent anyone from entering or leaving the town. This was quite a responsible task as the Boers were known to move quite freely about the place dressed, as they were, in civilian clothes as opposed to any form of uniform. This too was the case with the Town Guard who, although issued with rifles and ammunition, had no uniform of their own.
Regulations concerning the duties and conduct of the men were drawn up and approved of by Lieutenant General Sir George White VC, commanding the Forces in Natal, on the 16th of October. On the 28th the entire guard mustered in the defences at 4.30 am and remained under arms till 7 am – they were also on duty at the Bridge Head and adjacent defences during the engagement of Lombard's Kop on the 30th of October. From 5 November until 12 December the services of the Guard were not made use of however, on the latter date the men were again called out, and with the members of the Natal Government Rifle Association, placed under the command of Captain Young RE, Railway Staff Officer. At this point their strength was now 157 men, exclusive of those on the sick list. They were assigned the duty of guarding the river's bank on the South side of the town nightly – a potential scene of Boer infiltration.
Captain Molyneux, of the Natal Volunteer Staff, assumed command of the Town Guard on the 23rd of December, a system being arranged that each man should be one night on and two nights off and free rations were issued on the 29th of December and each succeeding day throughout the remainder of the siege. The term “rations” is used loosely for, as was well known, the town and its inhabitants were soon reduced to stale maize and tough horseflesh as a staple diet.
During the Boer attack on Wagon Hill on the 6th of January 1900 the whole of the Guard lined the defences from daybreak till 10 am, being under fire early in the morning. This was the Boer forces surrounding the town’s most effective attempt to break through the defences and, on several subsequent occasions the men were roused in the night to help to repel an expected attack. With the lifting of the Siege on 1 March 1900 the Guard was disbanded for all Defence purposes with the men allowed to go home.
Sayers, for his efforts, was awarded the Queens Medal off the roll dated 24 July 1901. He does not appear to have taken any further part in the war which ended on 31 May 1902.
His role in the conflict a thing of the past Sayers headed north to the Goldfields of the recently liberated Transvaal where he, once more, carried on the occupation of Engine Driver – most likely with the Central South African Railways. There was time for romance though and, at the Congregational Church in Ladysmith on 19 April 1906, he wed Kathleen Collins, a girl he had met whilst living in Ladysmith. The address he provided was Benoni, Transvaal.
Kathleen was to bear him four children – Victor William, born in 1907 and who died young in 1913; Reginald Thomas, born in 1909 but who died a year later in 1910, William Andrew, born in 1914 who survived until 1965 and Marjorie Kathleen, born in 1925 and who passed away in 2005.
But what of his family who had remained in England? The Western Times of 27 May 1910 bore the sad tidings of the death of his brother Joseph under tragic circumstances. It read as follows: -
“An inquest was held at Watford on Joseph Ernest Sayer, aged 31, a railway telegraphic clerk, who was found on Monday in a tunnel on the London and North Western Railway in a dying condition. He had been travelling on the 2.45 express to Birmingham. The jury found that there was no evidence to prove that the fall from the train was intentional.” Having lost one of his own children in that year, this must have been a painful blow to Sayer.
The humdrum monotony of work and family life was rudely interrupted on 4 August 1914 with the outbreak of the Great War.
On this occasion South Africa, after an initial internal hiccup, threw her lot in with the Empire against Germany. Sayer, now 38 years old, enlisted with the 10th Infantry (Wits Rifles for service on 28 August 1914. Assigned to F Company he was granted the rank of Sergeant with no. 9648. He provided his wife of 68a Harpur Avenue, Benoni as his next of kin.
Although not of a military nature the Wits Rifles were involved in what became known as the Industrial Crisis of 1914, commencing in the Coal mines of Dundee in Natal industrial unrest fuelled by militant trade unions spread to railway workers of the Witwatersrand who were fearing retrenchment. On the 9th January the drivers refused to work and on the same day ACF units, 10 000 in number, were available to contain any disorder. The Wits Rifles numbered 658 men and were part of the larger force which quelled the uprising of 20 000 men before it had really got off the ground. Ten days later the men were demobilised and sent home from the Wanderers ground.
The Wits Rifles mobilised for training on 16 August 1914. Johannesburg’s The Star newspaper of 20 July 1916 best described the role played by the Wits Rifles in the first leg of the campaign – that of German South West Africa.
“The Wits, were the first of the Union’s Active Citizen Forces to take the field, they left Johannesburg on the 24th August last year and went first to Port Nolloth and escorted the South African Mounted Riflemen to Raman’s Drift. Namaqualand provided their field of work from August to the middle of November, when they went to Luderitz, from which base they moved a month later to Haalenburg and on to Aus, leading the advance on to Aus Nek. Then the call came to the north and from Luderitz the regiment proceeded at the beginning of May to Swakopmund. A month later they were holding the lines of communication at Omaruru, while Botha’s advance northward’s proceeded. It was at Omaruru that the news of the surrender of the German forces was received. From the brief survey it will be seen that the Wits. have covered a very large field – larger than that probably covered by any other infantry unit.”
This last sentence was the most telling – German South West Africa with its vast expanses was not an infantryman’s war. Indeed it was better suited to the Cavalry (Mounted Brigades) who were able to travel with some agility and were hot on the heels of the retreating Germans. On 29 April 1915 the Wits Rifles returned by rail to Luderitz Bay transferring to General Botha’s Northern Force. On 7 May they embarked aboard the Galway Castle for Walvis Bay landing there on the next day, en route for Swakopmund, for which they entrained on 12 May. On 9 July the German s surrendered at Tsumeb and the campaign was over. On 20 July the regiment returned to Johannesburg from where they were disbanded.
Sayer’s service card indicated that he was discharged, time expired, on 14 April 1915, he was awarded the 1914/15 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal. His wife had moved house whilst he was away, to 143 Victoria Avenue, Benoni. But for Sayer the war was not yet over – on 2 July 1918 he enlisted with the Wits Rifles Volunteer Regiment with no. V-W 29 – although he does not appear to have left Johannesburg.
Perhaps it was the strain of war, perhaps some domestic or work-related travail; whatever the case may be Sayer’s mental health took a turn for the worse resulting in his being admitted as a mental patient in April 1932. His Notice of Death, dated 9 November 1938 showed that he had been institutionalised at the Pretoria Mental Hospital and that he had died on the 7th November at the age of 61 years after an illness of 24 hours. The autopsy revealed that the cause of death was Hypostatic pneumonia and that he had been subjected to senile seizures. His final medical diagnosis was “Manic Depressive Pyschosis – Depresses”. A sad end to the man.
His wife Kathleen moved to Rhodesia where she remarried. Kathleen Duff passed away at the age of 84 in Bulawayo on 7 August 1968. She had outlived her first husband by 30 years.
That is a particularly nice group - especially the DofL to Ladysmith TG. Such QSAs seem to be especially scarce for some reason. I missed out on a single LTG some time ago. As a matter of interest, G.W.Lines's "The Ladysmith Siege" has it that the TG numbered 120 souls - yet his alpha listing of the Wards, etc., shows 173.