Lieut. C de Vere Hunt of Mosita Squadron D.M.T. (Keeley's Scouts) 10 months 3 days ago #66993
Charles De Vere Hunt
Lieutenant, Mosita Squadron D.M.T. (Keeley’s Scouts)
Lieutenant, Kimberley Horse – Anglo Boer War
- Queens South Africa Medal with Relief of Mafeking clasp to Lieut. C. De Vere Hunt, Mosita Squad, D.M.T.
Charles De Vere Hunt was born on 22 August 1874 in Madras, India to William Shapter Hunt, a Major in the Madras Staff Corps, and his wife Maria. Besides being a staff officer in the Indian Army, William Shapter Hunt was to gain renown as a sketch artist – the man behind the famous “Captain Brown’s Sporting Tour in India, a Pictorial Journal of that Distinguished Sportsman’s Doings in the East.”
Baptised in St. George’s Cathedral in Madras on 23 September 1874 by the Chaplain, H. Pope (an unfortunate surname for a clergyman with the Church of England), Hunt and his family resided in nearby Fort St. George where his father was stationed as a Military Accountant. Hunt’s grandfather, Robert, had been a Colonel in the 49th Regiment and, with the men of the family thus so heavily steeped in the military tradition, it was almost preordained that Charles would follow suit – the surprise being that he donned a uniform in South Africa.
His parents having retired and returned to England where they took up residence in Berkshire, Hunt was sent to the prestigious Cheltenham College for his formal education. Quite when it was that he sought greener pastures in South Africa is unknown but, at the outbreak of the Anglo Boer War in October 1899 he had already been in the country for some years. Hunt was a large man, in excess of 6 feet in height, and would have made a decent officer given the opportunity. This was indeed to come his way when in early 1900, he joined the recently raised Mosida Squadron, a District Mounted Troop situated in the far reaches of what was then known as Bechuanaland.
We have a letter his mother directed on 2 October 1902 to The Right Honourable Joseph Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister, to thank for the information that her son had:
“Started a store at Sherwood, Kraaipan Siding, near Mafeking, and was doing well when the war broke out. His store was looted and all he had taken. He then joined Mahon’s force and was at the Relief of Mafeking. He then joined “Keeley’s Scouts”, now the District Mounted Rifles (sic) stationed (or was) at Setlagoli.”
But we are getting ahead of ourselves so let us return to the Boer movements on the outbreak of the war. Mafeking was a dusty little town of little or no importance in the grand scheme of things, but the Boers got it into their heads that the town and the having of it, was of strategic importance to their cause. Along with Kimberley and Ladysmith they invested Mafeking, laying siege to her. The number of Imperial and Colonial troops to defend her were far inferior in number to that of the Boer force and, having surrounded the town, which was under the control of Colonel Baden-Powell, on 13 October 1899, they tried to starve the inhabitants into submission.
Lady Sarah Wilson, who had been recruited as a War Correspondent to cover events in that neck of the woods, in her book “South African Memories”, recalls her flight from Mafeking as the Boers were throttling the egress points of the town. One of the first stops she made in her flight was to Mosita, a small “native stadt” as she termed it, some sixty miles west of Mafeking. She wrote:
“In the distance we could see the glimmering blue waters of a huge dam, beyond which was the farm and homestead of a loyal colonial farmer named Keeley, whose hospitality I had been told to seek.”
James Keeley was, of course, the man behind the “Keeley’s Scouts” referred to and, by dint of geographic circumstance if none other, was a friend and confidant to Charles Hunt, whose store was close by. Keeley was, in fact, the Veld Kornet of the area and a man who was regarded as a Boer sympathiser and conscript in certain quarters although this is not the picture painted by Lady Sarah who stated that:
“Mr Keely was actually the Veld Kornet of the district, an office which at times of peace corresponded to that of a magistrate. In reality he was shut up in Mafeking, siding against the Dutch. The surrounding country was peopled entirely, if sparsely, by Dutch farmers and natives, the former of whom at first and before our reverses professed sympathy with the English.”
She goes on to say that, “Early in November (1899) we had a great surprise. Mr Keeley himself turned up from Mafeking, having been given leave from the Town Guard to look after his wife and farm. He had to ride for his life to escape the Boers, who were drawing much closer to the town and the news he bought was not altogether assuring. The young men, he said, vied with each in begging permission to join scouting-parties, at night, to pepper the Boers, often, as a result, having a brush with the enemy and several casualties.
There had been several small fights, notably one on Canon Kopje, where two officers and many men had been killed. In such a small garrison this loss was a serious one and, besides the attacks, the rifle fire in the streets was becoming very unpleasant.
Mr Keeley was by no means sure that either his life or his property were safe, but he relied on his influence with his neighbours (the Boer farmers), which was considerable, and he thought he would be able to keep them quiet and on their farms.”
Sadly this was not to be the case and, in a move that most likely gave rise to the raising of “Keley’s Scouts” or the Mosita Squadron D.M.T. (as they were otherwise known), many of the Boers in the area, neighbours to Keeley and customers of Hunt, took up arms and became Cape Rebels, joining the Commandos operating in that vast area.”
As was mentioned previously, Hunt had joined the Mosita Squad as a commissioned officer, a Lieutenant under Captain Keeley. The Mosita’s (as I am wont to call them) didn’t get much of a press and, to determine their movements and the actions in which they participated, one has to revert to newspaper accounts of the time. They did, however, form part of Mahon’s force tasked with relieving Mafeking.
This worthy, in his despatch published in the London Gazette on 8 February 1901, detailed the progress he made from the day he started out from Barkly West on 4 May 1900 until he finally entered Mafeking two weeks later – on 17 May. The convoy he led was often under shell fire and rifle attack from the Boers as it wound its way on. This rather impeded its movements.
At 6.30 on the 15th May the column, split into two brigades, were within seven miles of Mafeking. It was at this juncture that the Boer attacks were at their fiercest. With the help of the Royal Artillery the Boer guns and pom poms were silenced and, at 16h40 that afternoon the Boers were found to have retired from all parts and the road to liberation lay ahead without hindrance. The town was entered at 3.30 a.m. on 17 May. Mahon estimated that his force had been engaged against 2000 Boers on that day.
Special mention was made of “The following farmers who were very useful to us and rendered every assistance, viz, Mr Keeley, Mr Lamb etc.” There can be no doubt that the Mosita’s, Hunt among them, was part of this force.
With Mafeking relieved and having been awarded the Relief of Mafeking clasp to the Queens Medal he would earn, Hunt and the Mosita’s continued to carry the fight to the Boers. The Gloucester Citizen of 7 September 1901 carried the following article:
“Next day the patrol encountered some of Van Zyl’s men, killing two men and five horses, and taking eight prisoners and a quantity of livestock. Van Zyl was thus driven hastily south-westward. Some of Van Zyl’s commando burnt Field Cornet Keeley’s farm at Mosita, south west of Mafeking (that day of reckoning had finally come), while Keeley was fighting with another portion of the same commando thirty miles away. The Boers turned Mrs Keeley, six children, and a governess out of the house, and refusing to allow anything to be moved, set fire to the place.”
The Leeds Mercury of 2 October 1901 recounted another incident in which Hunt would have been involved:
“The following further details have been received regarding the fight at Zoutlief, to the north of Vryburg, on the 16th ult.
On the evening of the 15th a column numbering 250, consisting of Cape Police, Mounted Town Guard, and two guns of the Royal Field Artillery left Vryburg, and reached Zoutlief in a storm of wind and rain. The next morning the column encountered a party of the enemy, of whom two were captured and two wounded. The mounted men then proceeded to Thanet, and found the Boers in strength.
A hot engagement then ensued. The Boers, who comprised Van Zyl’s and Van der Merwe’s commandos, and numbered 400 strong, took up a position covering a house which appeared to be the enemy headquarters.
The enemy were shelled vigorously, but a number of shells failed to explode in consequence of the heavy rain of the previous night. Soon afterwards Keeley’s Scouts, from Maribogo, reinforced the British left flank, and endeavoured to cut off the enemy’s retreat.
A body of the enemy, who had been fighting in trenches near the farm house, surrendered on condition of their lives being spared. They proved to be 14 well-known and dangerous rebels from the Vryburg district.”
The West Sussex Country Times of 12 July 1902 carried a letter written home by a Trooper Myson - it read, in part, as follows:
“We have just got some cuttings out about our disaster a Klipdrift, and I am sorry to see that some of the papers state that Lord Methuen’s Yeomanry ran away, which is a most scandalous lie, and I trust that you will let the people at home know the true facts of the case.”
“As you know the 43rd was broken up, some of us were at Mafeking and some on the column taking part in the capture of several laagers. On January 22nd, the part of us on column were in that mishap at Kannonefontein with Colonel Chesney where they were taken prisoner. Well, after that the Squadron got together again at Rooi Gronde, half way between Mafeking and Lichtenburg.
Leaving the column at the latter place we then went into Mafeking, where we drew remounts, entrained to Maribogo one night and then on to Setlagoli. When we go there, we joined the Cape Police, and Cape Special Police (two distinct branches) and with Keeley’s Scouts went on a flying move after Van der Merwe’s Commando, which consisted of Bechuanaland rebels.
After a march of 103 miles in 36 hours, across country with scarcely any water, with the exception of a few dirty pools, we came upon them; killed two, wounded one and captured 20. But the main body had scooted and we could not get at them.”
Whilst in the thick of things, both in the Relief of Mafeking and the fighting thereafter, a 26-year-old Hunt, described as a Gentleman, found the time to wed a 23-year-old spinster, Ada Nicholls, in Kimberley on 20 March 1900. One can only imagine what the bill of fare at the reception was with the siege of that city only lifted on 15 March – a month before the nuptials. The couple were to have their first child, William Shapter (named after Hunt’s father) on 30 April 1902. He was baptised in Kimberley on 16 May 1902 with Hunt’s address provided as Setlagoli, Bechuanaland.
This was a week before Hunt had enlisted with the Kimberley Horse as a Lieutenant on 23 April 1902. According to the nominal roll he was released from service on 31 May 1902 but does not appear to have been awarded any additional clasps as there is no medal roll detailing this service.
According to the medal roll signed by Captain Keeley and dated at Setlagoli on 15 August 1904, Hunt was awarded the Queens Medal with Relief of Mafeking clasp. An annotation in the column of the roll reads: “The force was originally raised by the Imperial Authorities, did active military duty under Colonial officers and was actively engaged with the enemy both in the Transvaal and with the column under Lord Methuen, Colonel Chesney, Major Dashwood the Squadron did principally scouting duties.”
The war might have been over but the battle for compensation was just beginning. Why he was unable to fight his own war of words is unknown but his mother, in far-away England, took up the cudgels on his behalf. In a letter, alluded to earlier, to Joseph Chamberlain, she wrote from Gaunt House, Wargrave, Twyford in Berkshire on 2 October 1902 as follows:
I take the liberty of writing to you on my son’s behalf – Charles de vere Hunt (sic).
My son has served all through the war and was given a senior Lieutenancy in this Corps with the proviso that he would live at Setlagoli. To do this he had to build a house, buy a horse, trappings uniform and go to great expense. I may state he has no private means and is a married man with two babies (perhaps William Shater junior was a twin).
He is a fine big fellow, 6 foot 2 inches aged 28. He is a good rider and a good shot having been at Bisley. He can talk Kaffir and knows the country well. He was educated at Cheltenham College. He has gone through great hardships during the war; he cannot get compensation for his losses.
To live he has had to borrow and is in debt from no fault of his. He tells me he expects his Corps to be disbanded any day and it is almost impossible to get employment.”
Chamberlain, writing from Downing Street on 17 October under his personal signature, directed the matter to Sir Hely-Hutchinson, the Governor of the Cape Colony, writing thus:
I have the honour to transmit to you, for consideration by the Compensation Commission a copy of a letter from Mrs. S. Hunt respecting the claim of her son Mr. C. de vere Hunt for losses incurred in the war.
I have the honour etc. etc.”
Not to be outdone and perturbed by the length of time a response was taking, Hunt’s wife wrote to Sir Walter Hely-Hutchinson from Setlagoli, Maribogo. Bechuanaland on 29 November 1902 as follows:
My husband, Mr C. de Vere Hunt, since the disbandment of his Corps (D.M.T.) of which he was Lieutenant, has gone to Rhodesia in search of employment and has left me with a general power of attorney that I may receive his compensation to keep our children and myself during his absence.
The claim having been passed, I should be much obliged if you would forward the money as soon as possible, as we are greatly in need of it. I write at the advice of J.J. Keeley Esq. Late Captain, District Mounted Troops, Mosita Squadron.
The Cape Colony’s Colonial Secretary, J Gordon Sprigg, wrote from Cape Town on 16 December 1902 in a Minute, that “Ministers beg to inform his Excellency that the War Losses Compensation Commission has reported that Mr Hunt’s claim has now been duly investigated and assessed and will be forwarded to the Government for consideration in due course.”
The wheels of bureaucracy grinding exceedingly slowly, Mrs Hunt took it upon herself to write again – this time on 16 January 1903 and to none other than Lord Milner:
In consequence of letters I have recently received from my son, Charles de Vere Hunt, I feel bound to write and ask Sir if nothing can be done to process his compensation claim.
He is dreadfully in debt and he says getting a bad name but what can he do? He lost his all through the war. My son and daughter in law have gone through untold hardships in the last 2 ½ years, her health has quite broken down, so I hope you will forgive me reminding you.
This anxiety is breaking me up as I cannot give them the help they require. If my son could only get a billet and his compensation. He is well suited to a commission in the army.
It is very hard on him to be in the position he is from no fault of his. I therefore venture again to ask you if you will kindly do something to help. It is so horrid living on borrowed money and if he had his compensation he could help his poor wife and he has done his best
It is mortifying to see him in this position and we are unable to give him the help he requires.
On the 16th February Milner’s secretary wrote back to Hunt’s mother as follows:
I am directed by Lord Milner to acknowledge your letter of the 16th January. Lord Milner does not complain in any way of your addressing him, nor does he regard the matter as trivial, but he is anxious that you should understand that it is not a case with which he would personally deal. Your son’s claim for compensation is in respect of losses in the Cape Colony and the proceedings of the Compensation Commission in that Colony are not within his cognisance or in any way under his control. He has therefore forwarded your letter to the Governor of the Cape Colony for his consideration, but he is unable to say what may be the result.”
True to his word, Milner wrote to his colleague in the Cape as follows:
“My dear Hutchinson
I am sorry to trouble you with the enclosed. It is from a lady whose son apparently served through the war in Bechuanaland, Cape Colony, and has a claim for compensation there. I am not acquainted with the circumstances, but perhaps you would have it looked into.
Yours very sincerely
With this last epistle the matter had come full circle – having been previously with Healy-Hutchinson and without resolve. If, indeed when, Hunt received compensation is unknown.
Seemingly Hunt’s fortunes never improved to pre-war levels of prosperity. His death notice reveals to us that, at the time of his death on 13 December 1920, he was a Reduction Worker on the mines in Johannesburg. Aged 48 he was married and resident at 242 Jeppe Street. The cause of death was a sad one – Chronic Alcoholism - for which he spent three days in the Johannesburg Hospital before breathing his last.
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