A short history of the 69th Battery, Royal Field Artillery during the Anglo Boer War.
This battery, along with the 13th and 67th saw action at Talana Hill, 20th October 1899, and at Lombard’s Kop, 30th October 1899, when, along with the 21st, they were sent to support General French. On that occasion they were most valuable. Major Wing was mentioned in General White’s despatches of 2nd December 1899 and 23rd March 1900, and 1 non-commissioned officer in the latter despatch. The battery moved north with General Buller to Volksrust, and was present at the turning of Laing’s Nek. In General Buller’s final despatch Major Wing was most highly praised and another officer was mentioned. In Lord Robert’s despatch of 10th October 1900, para. 27, the 13th and 69th were said to have distinguished themselves at Amersfoort.
In 1901 the battery was employed in the south-east of the Transvaal, and a section was present with Major Gough when his force was cut up and the two guns were captured on the 17th September 1901.Two guns were at Fort Itala, Zululand, when that place was attacked on the 26th September. On this occasion the section lost 1 officer and 4 men were wounded. Five non-commissioned officers and men gained mention for conspicuous gallantry: of these, Driver Bradley gained the V.C. for rushing out and carrying in a wounded man, then volunteering to take ammunition to a post up the hill; the 4 others were awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.
The battery sailed for India in November 1901.
The Battle of Talana (also referred to as the Battle of Dundee)
20th October 1899.
Northern Natal in South Africa.
Approximate size of the opposing forces: 4,000 British against 3,000 Boers.
British Artillery Regiments at Talana:
Royal Field Artillery: 13th, 67th and 69th Batteries.
In early autumn 1899 British reinforcements were rushed to South Africa from India under the command of Major General Penn Symons.
Experienced advisers at the British War Office in London urged Symons to keep his outnumbered troops well back from the frontier, behind the Tugela River. Symons thought otherwise and advanced his lead brigade to Dundee north of the Tugela, where it would be outflanked by a Boer invasion along the length of the frontier.
On 20th October 1899 the Boer commando of General Lucus Meyer appeared on Talana Hill to the North East of Dundee, following a night approach march.
General Symons, unimpressed by the readiness of the British troops in Natal worked them hard. His battalions were falling in for a day’s training when the first artillery rounds came in from Meyer’s artillery on Talana Hill.
During the months leading up to open war the Transvaal Republic had bought substantial quantities of weapons from European countries, including modern artillery pieces from the French manufacturer Creusot. The first of these, three 75 millimetre guns, came into action at Talana, firing on the British camp.
There was a delay before fire could be returned, the British artillery horses were being watered. The batteries quickly harnessed up and hurried into action in the open ground beyond the town, quickly silencing the outnumbered Boer guns.
As the British artillery bombarded the Boers, Symons prepared to attack their positions on Talana Hill with his infantry, forming with the Dublin Fusiliers massed in the front rank, the Rifle Regiment in the second rank and the Royal Irish Fusiliers in the third rank. Penn Symons insisted his regiments attack in conventional close order, an strange tactic against an enemy armed with modern magazine rifles.
The assault went in, the first lines reaching a wood at the base of Talana Hill where in the face of heavy fire the attack stalled. Symons arrived at the wood, dismounted and led the advance himself, until he was mortally injured.The air was filled with the smell of the eucalyptus oil that had been released from the gum trees by the boer rifle fire, as it stripped the leaves from the branches.
The British infantry attack regained its momentum and continued up Talana Hill in the face of heavy fire, gathering below the peak for the final attack. As the troops stormed the top of the hill the Boers fell back. One of the British batteries firing from the open ground outside Dundee failed to identify the troops on the top of Talana as British and continued to fire on the crest, inflicting unnecessary casualties and hindering the assault.
The Boers could be seen mounting their ponies and streaming away across the valley on the far side of the hill. Penn Symons had sent the 18th Hussars and Mounted Infantry around Talana Hill to take advantage of just such a situation, but there was no sign of them. The country was not familiar to the officers and they had become lost. They subsequently strayed towards the main Boer force where later that day they were surprised by a larger contingent of Boers and captured.
The British batteries came forward but due to a misunderstanding of their orders or a failure to identify the Boers, did not open fire on the retreating commando.
British casualties were 250. Boer casualties were 500. The 3 Creusot guns were left on Talana Hill, but recovered by the Boers with the British withdrawal from Dundee.
The British marked the battle as a victory, but it was only a temporary reprieve from the Boer invasion of Northern Natal and the British retreated into Ladysmith.
This medal has the "chunkier" earlier type of naming and has ghost dates.
It would appear that Penny was also entitled to a 1901 bar but this did not come with the medal? Further research pending.
The casualty rolls in the history of the RDF by Romer & Mainwaring record that Pte Gray was wounded on 20/10/1899 during the Battle of Talana. He is also recorded as a Talana casualty in David's Talana monograph.
Perhaps 'Glencoe' was used in early communiques because it was an important railway junction and was a better-known locality than Dundee and Talana.
David deals with P Frost in his Talana book. I hope he wont mind if I pre-empt a reply from him by giving relevant information here. It is as follows:
Frost, Guide P. FID. QSA 5 clasps (as per the medal you have), KSA 2 clasps.
QSA listed with ASC. KSA issued by FID.
Conductor with ASC attached to 18th Hussars - 7/8/1899 to 12/1/1900.
FID 13/1/1901 to 28/7/1902.
The year gap - a mistake?
Perhaps he and EP Frost were one and the same and he spent the missing year with the Remount Department. The records in Kew might resolve this issue.
As usual, I am very impressed by what you have in your collection.