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A Stretcher Bearer at Colenso - EJ Nettelton 8 years 2 months ago #5029

  • Rory
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I have posted this story elsewhere but the chap from whom I received the medals is a member of this great Forum..

Evelyn Jarvis Nettelton

Bearer, Natal Voluntary Ambulance Corps and
Conductor, No. 32 Army Service Corps – Anglo Boer War
Driver, South Africa Army Service Corps – WWI

- Queens South Africa Medal with clasps Tugela Heights and Relief of Ladysmith
- British War Medal
- Allied Victory Medal

Evelyn Nettelton was born in East London in the Cape Province in 1882 the son of Thomas Stocks Nettelton – a man who had served in the Eastern Cape Frontier Wars of 1877-78 as a Captain with the Cape Mounted Rifles.

At some point a young Evelyn made his way to Natal where, with the Anglo Boer War having broken out in October 1899, he enlisted for service with the Natal Volunteer Ambulance Corps as a Bearer on 9 December 1899.

The job, apart from being decidedly unglamorous, was also an arduous and dangerous one. The idea was that the NVAC bearers would run onto the battlefield under fire, place the wounded on stretchers and bring them out of the fight. The Indian Corps would then carry them further to the railhead.

On December 14 1899, the Corps left for the front, reaching the field hospital at Chieveley the next day. It was immediately employed in carrying the wounded from the Battle of Colenso. The bearers were then stationed at Estcourt before being summoned on the eve of the battle of Spion Kop. During the big battle there on 24 January 1900, when British suffered heavy casualties, the Natal Volunteer Corps saved the wounded under fire and the Indian Corps carried them from Spion Kop to the base hospital at Frere, more than twenty miles away.

Thomas Pakenham has vividly described, based on diary entries and interviews, what they will have experienced:
“At sunset, a wild-looking processes ion had stumbled into Frere. They were nearly two thousand strong, dressed in tattered khaki tunics, and a strange assortment of hats: helmets, bowlers and tam-o’shanters. They were the ‘body-snatchers’: Uitlander refugees and Gandhi’s Indians, recruited as stretcher-bearers. They brought in the last of the wounded: 150 bad cases, covered in brown blankets, with their special belongings, boots, haversack and perhaps a pot of jam and a lump of tinned meat, carried in the hood of the stretchers. Most of the wounded were too shocked, or deeply encased in bandages, to speak. But sometimes a head would peer out of the hood to look at its neighbour. ‘Fancy you here, Tom? ‘Thought you were stiff.’ Many men were delirious. One shouted that he was going to ‘chuck it’, and promptly rolled off the stretcher. Another was babbling about the harvest and the great time he was having at home. These were the latest instalment of the 3,400 casualties the South Natal Field force had suffered in the last three months”

With Ladysmith relieved in February 1900 the Natal Volunteer Ambulance Corps and the Indian Ambulance Corps were disbanded a month later at the end of that month. Nettelton, like most of his comrades, were discharged on 13 March 1900 free to go about their business.

He enlisted next with the Army Service Corps as a Conductor attached to No. 32 Company based at Volksrust on the Natal/ Transvaal border and with no. 487. How long he stayed with this outfit is unknown but no date bars to his QSA were earned presupposing that his service was not of a lengthy duration.

At some point Nettelton took himself off to the Transvaal no doubt in order to improve his work prospects.

South Africa, as part of the British Empire, was thrown full tilt into the Great War that started on 4 August 1914. Nettelton, by now plying his trade as a Miner in the employ of Durban Roodepoort Deep Gold Mine, waited quite a while before offering his services to the Mechanised Transport Section of the South African Services Corps for service in German East Africa.

By only attesting on 10 May 1918 he was to slip in to the conflict zone long after most troops of European descent had been repatriated to the Union on account of their inability to weather the hostile tropical climate.

His attestation papers revealed that he was now 36 years of age, married to Florence Letitia Nettelton, had two children and was resident at “Box 110” Durban Roodepoort Deep Mine where he was employed as a Cyanator with the Chamber of Mines. Having been assigned no. MT 8028 he was taken on strength as a Driver.

After a short period of orientation he boarded the H.M.T. “Salamis” at Durban bound for East Africa on 25 June 1918 disembarking at Mozambique on 2 July 1918.

It wasn’t long before he too succumbed to the vagaries of the climate and was admitted to the Field Ambulance at Massassi on 27 October 1918 with Malaria. After treatment he was discharged to duty on 31 October.

With his sojourn in East Africa at an end Nettelton boarded the H.T. “Coconada” on 13 December 1918 for home. By this point the war was already over.

Disembarking at Durban on 19 December he was sent for dispersal and was discharged from the army on 11 February 1919 with a Very Good Military Character rating and having served a total of 278 days.

A Medical Report on an Invalid, completed at the General Depot at Congella, Durban on 7 January 1919 stated that Nettelton had Malaria which he had fallen prey to at Nampula in August 1918. The Doctors found his story to be uncorroborated but stated that he had two attacks altogether where he was in hospital for 6 days. His last attack was November 1918 but “he does not feel incapacitated by service and has never worked underground”.

For his efforts he was awarded the British War Medal and Allied Victory Medal both impressed to the rank of Driver.
Post war Nettelton returned to his civilian employment. He experienced the loss of his wife at Benoni in the Transvaal in 1934.

On December 28, 1936 he disembarked from the Windsor Castle at Southampton having undertaken the voyage with his 27 year old daughter Grace. He was recorded on the manifest as being a Foreman by occupation.

Records in respect of Nettelton become sketchy from this moment on.

That he was still in the Transvaal we know from the proceedings he set in motion to sequestrate the estate of one David Douglas on 14 September 1948. The gist of the case was that Douglas had borrowed £1 500 from him in order to purchase a number of Lorries which would be used in a transport business. Not all of the Lorries were purchased and Douglas appears to have used some of the funds for other purposes. He had also, tellingly, neglected to hold up his end of the bargain by repaying the loan. The address provided by Nettelton was that of “The Summit”, Pretoria Street, Johannesburg. He had moved there from 12 Hakla Road, Hill Extention, Johannesburg. Although the finding was in his favour, it is doubtful if Nettelton saw his money - Douglas having done a bunk to the Free State where he was “untraceable”

Nettelton appears to have been resident, or at least have business interests, at Bulawayo in Southern Rhodesia for this is where; on 30 October 1952 he passed away at 5285 Light Industrial Sites at the age of 72 years 4 months. The Death Notice, signed by his daughter, Grace Cobbold, reflects that he was a Retired Reduction Worker resident at 185/6 Pomona Estates, Kempton Park, Transvaal. (A recent conversation with Nettelton’s grandson revealed that he had an Ice Cream Manufacturing plant in Bulawayo which would explain his visiting there from time to time.)

His Last Will and Testament, signed at Roodepoort on 28 November 1945 bequeathed an amount of £750. to a Mrs. Henrietta Matilda Marshall, Widow, (possibly a lady friend) with the balance split between daughters Grace Winifred Cobbold and Evelyn Joyce Monk.

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Re: A Stretcher Bearer at Colenso - EJ Nettelton 8 years 2 months ago #5033

  • Brett Hendey
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Hi Rory

I had not seen this account before. Thank you for posting it. Do you know if there is a published history of the Eastern Cape Nettelton's and their descendents? One of the medal groups in my collection has an indirect connection with a William John Nettelton, who had an active military career until the end of 1881, after which he faded into obscurity.


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