Lieutenant, East Griqualand Field Force – Anglo Boer War
- Queens South Africa Medal to Lieut. J.A.G. Webster, E. GRIQLND. F.F.
John Webster was born in Kokstad, East Griqualand on 6 August 1873 the son of William Henry Webster and his wife, Elizabeth Stanton. The family was a large one with John enjoying the company of siblings Henry Garnet, Julia, Rowland, Annie Viola, Fanny, Jessie, Rosina and William. East Griqualand is a small enclave sandwiched between the Transkei area of the Cape Colony on the one side and the Colony of Natal on the other. Inland the region borders on the Maluti region of Basutoland. The area lends itself to agricultural pursuits and is highly fertile. Stock theft from the Basuto tribesmen is rife and the farmers in the area have always maintained a vigilant watch over each other’s property.
But Webster, aside from the ever-present danger of stock theft, had a rather more pressing matter to deal with – in 1896, at the age of 23, he was declared insolvent and his estate was sequestrated. After a long and protracted investigation and several court appearances, his debts to a long list of people were found to be in excess of his assets – these consisting primarily of 557 Merino sheep and 5 ½ bales of wool. This might well have, temporarily, been the reason why he gave up farming as a livelihood.
By the time the Anglo Boer War broke out on 11 October 1899 John Webster was a Detective with the local police and all of 26 years of age. By the very nature of his work he was most likely well acquainted with the area and, with the incursion of Boer Commando, his knowledge would be put to good use.
Initially Webster enlisted with the East Griqualand Mounted Rifles with no. 15 and the rank of Sergeant. The East Griqualand Mounted Rifles were raised in 1892 as a district defence force, the regiment consisting of troops centred at Kokstad, under Captain James Barclay; at Matatiele, under Captain Hugh Nourse; at Umzimkulu, under Captain Robert Strachan; at Newmarket, under Captain W. F. Raw; at Mpatoane, under Captain C. R. Rennie; and at Droevig, under Captain G. Wedderburn. The troops were more or less independent and autonomous units. They varied considerably in strength, according to the European population of their centres. The Kokstad troop to which Webster belonged was dismounted and served as town garrison.
Members provided their own horses against an annual grant; also their own saddlery and some articles of equipment. Government provided arms and ammunition and some field equipment. The unit was originally armed with the Martini-Enfield .450 rifle. In 1900 these were changed for the Lee-Metford .303 magazine rifle.
In early 1901 Webster transferred to the newly raised East Griqualand Field Force with the commissioned rank of Lieutenant. The E.G.F.F. was raised in Mount Currie, Kokstad and Matatiele to defend the borders of East Griqualand against the belligerent and rebel Boer parties from the adjacent Barkly East district of the Cape Colony. They were organized into three squadrons under Major Birbeck, with a strength of approximately 300 men. It was involved in a number of minor actions and skirmishes, mostly in the Maclear district, and sustained several casualties.
But before Webster was transferred he wed a local girl in Kokstad on 8 August 1900. Jessie May Joyner was a young 19 living with her parents on the farm “Slangfontein” when they married. Webster was residing on the family farm “Glen Thorn” at the time. Sadly, the marriage wasn’t to be a long one – Jessie passed away at Usher Memorial Hospital in Kokstad on 9 December 1900 (4 months after they were wed) from Enteric Fever, with which she had been suffering for 18 days. The couple had moved into town and were living in Hawthorn Street when this tragedy occurred.
As was previously mentioned the E.G.F.F. partook in a number of skirmishes – the one in which Lieutenant Webster played his part was reported in the Orkney Herald of 17 July 1901. The article, under the banner “The invasion of Transkei – How Maclear was saved” – read thus: -
Cape Town, Friday. – A dispatch from East London gives details of the invasion of Transkei. On June 23rd, the Boers were reported at Drakensberg. On the following day they entered the Tsits-Lakand passes. The whole force available to repel the invaders consisted of 55 men of the East Griqualand Mounted Rifles.
These were divided into two parties, and gallantly did their best to meet the enemy. Captain Nourse commanded the one detachment, and Lieut. Webster the other. Lieutenant Webster left Maclear and reached Senkop on June 25th. He found the Boers looting the store. He opened fire, and the Boers hurriedly retired, but, being reinforced, compelled Lieutenant Webster to retire to the Baralong location.
The retreat was continued until the troops reached the foot of a mountain where Captain Nourse had left the ammunition wagons, guarded by a small detachment. It was decided to make a stand here, and fighting ensued, which lasted six hours.
In the meantime, Captain Nourse, hearing that Lieutenant Webster’s detachment had been compelled to retire, ordered a move to the east of Maclear. During this time, Colonel Dalgety, by forced marches, arrived and saved the town of Maclear from attack. The Boers ultimately retired to the Barkly East district.”
Dalgety might have saved the day but Webster saved the hour – by keeping the Boers occupied for 6 hours he and his men gained valuable time for Dalgety to reach Maclear.
The war over Webster was awarded the Queens Medal (with no clasp) for his considerable efforts. Tiring of police work and now a widower, he took up farming. The life was a lonely one and, at the age of 33, he wed 21-year-old Gladys Trevor Hayman from Wydenham near Umkomaas on the South Coast of Natal, on 15 June 1905.
At some point he and his family moved to the Witwatersrand where he became an Underground Gold Miner. He passed away on 30 May 1947 at the age of 77 from Silicosis, Uraemia and Myocardial Degeneration. At the time he was a retired Miner’s Phthisis Pensioner and was resident at 28 Chestnut Road, Primrose, Germiston.
The following user(s) said Thank You: djb, QSAMIKE, jim51