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TOPIC: Private F Lawrence, 1st King’s Royal Rifle Corps

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  • Brett Hendey
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FRED LAWRENCE
7308 Private F Lawrence, 1st King’s Royal Rifle Corps
India Medal (Relief of Chitral)
Queen’s South Africa Medal (Talana, Transvaal. Also entitled to Cape Colony
and Orange Free State, which are added loose on ribbon.)
King’s South Africa Medal (South Africa 1901, South Africa 1902)

837 Sergeant F Lawrence, Rand Rifles
1914/15 Star
War Medal
Victory Medal (Bilingual South African issue)

Lawrence’s British Army service papers have apparently not survived, so nothing is known of his date and place of birth, and his early life. His medals indicate that he joined the King’s Royal Rifle Corps (KRRC) in 1895 or earlier. He served until he was placed on the Army Reserve on 10 November 1902.

He evidently settled in South Africa some time after the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902). When he enlisted in the Rand Rifles in 1914, his forename was given as Fred and his next-of-kin was his wife, Emily, who lived in Woods Cottage, Kildare Road, Newlands, Cape Town. In 1921 he was employed as a painter in the Salt River (Cape Town) Workshops of the South Africa Railways. Nothing is known of his later life.

Fortunately, much can be learnt of Lawrence’s service with the KRRC, partly from his medals, but mostly because the history of this regiment has been diligently recorded by Irving A Mortensen of Sequim, Washington. Mortensen has made an almost day-to-day record of the activities of the KRRC during its periods on active service, so it is possible to infer the likely events that involved Lawrence, both in India in 1895, and in South Africa between 1899 and 1902. More detailed accounts of important battles are well covered by published and electronic media. In addition, Lawrence was made a prisoner-of-war during the Boer War and the experiences he would have shared with other men captured at the same time are well documented.

Information obtained from the sources referred to above is summarised as follows:

INDIA (1895 - 1896)

Chitral was on the North West Frontier of British India. It is in present-day Pakistan bordering on Afghanistan. In 1892, the ruler of Chitral died and a succession struggle ensued, which led in 1895 to the siege of the Chitral Fort. The Fort was manned by British officers and 420 Indian troops. A strong British force of over 15000 men was sent in two columns to lift the siege.

During March 1895, the 1st KRRC, which included Lawrence, joined the 1st Brigade of the Chitral Relief Force. Another member of the KRRC was the son of Field Marshal Lord Roberts, Lieutenant Freddie Roberts, who would later win the VC during the Boer War, while trying to save the guns during the Battle of Colenso.

On 1 April, the 1st Brigade marched towards the Shalkot Pass and on the next day it moved to the Malakand Pass, which was attacked on 3 April. The battle that dislodged the enemy from the pass lasted five hours. The enemy force of about 12000 lost 500 killed, while British casualties were 11 killed and 51 wounded. KRRC casualties were four killed and four wounded.

After the battle, the crest of the pass was held by the 1st Brigade. On 4 April, the 1st Brigade moved into the Swat Valley, which was occupied to secure the lines of supply and communication.

On 20 April 1895, the Chitral Fort was relieved after a siege of 47 days. Afterwards, the 1st Brigade remained in the Swat Valley to maintain the link between Chitral and the rest if India. On 15 May, the KRRC moved to the mountain range of Laram Kotal, where the men were employed in road-making and repair. A few days later, they settled at nearby Dostai to wait out the hot weather, during which there was a great deal of sickness in the camp.

On 25 September 1895, the KRRC started on its long march back to India and, on 5 October, it reached its base at Jullundur in the Punjab.

During the hot season between 9 April and 27 October 1896, the KRRC was based at Dalhousie, a hill station in northern India bordering on Kashmir. It then returned to Jullundur.

On 30 November 1896, the KRRC left Jullundur under orders to garrison the Cape and Mauritius, and it sailed from Bombay on10 December 1896.

SOUTH AFRICA (1896 – 1902)

On 28 December 1896, the 1st KRRC arrived at Cape Town, where four companies disembarked for garrison duty at Wynberg. This group included Lawrence. The remainder sailed for Mauritius, where they were involved in the dramatic wreck of the SS Warren Hastings.

Early in May 1899, the entire regiment was assembled in Pietermaritzburg, where the 1st KRRC Mounted Infantry Company was formed on 10 May. Lawrence became a member of the 96 man MI Company.

On 26 September 1899, with the outbreak of war threatening, the 1st KRRC left Pietermaritzburg for Ladysmith, where it arrived on 2 October. A few days later the men marched on to Dundee.

On 11 October 1899, when war was declared, the 1st KRRC was camped at Dundee.
For the next week, the KRRC MI was kept busy scouting by day and serving as picquets at night.

On 20 October 1899, the Battle of Talana was fought. The dismounted men of the KRRC took a prominent part in dislodging the Boers from the top of Talana Hill, which overlooks Dundee, and they suffered many casualties.

Before the battle, a 22-man section of the KRRC MI, including Lawrence, had been sent to escort the 18th Hussars maxim gun detachment. Another three KRRC MI men accidentally joined them. These men, together with two troops of the 18th Hussars and most of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers MI Company, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel B Möller of the 18th Hussars, were sent to cut off the retreating Boers behind Talana Hill. Möller, who ignored advice from more experienced subordinates, led his force in a northerly direction away from Talana Hill and was soon cut off by a numerically superior Boer commando with artillery support. After a futile effort to escape back to the British lines, Möller was forced to surrender. In addition to six men killed, the 18th Hussars had 90 men captured, while about 80 men of the RDF MI and 25 KRRC MI were also taken prisoner. The prisoners were transported by train to Pretoria. They were released when British forces occupied the town on 5 June 1900.

Humphry (1999: 23) has this postscript to Möller’s disastrous finale to the Battle of Talana:
“Ironically, before sailing for South Africa the 18th Hussars had bet another regiment £500 that they would be in Pretoria first. They were – but not in the way they had anticipated!”

After their release, Lawrence and the other captured men of the KRRC MI, were sent to recuperate as a guard detail at Vredefort Railway Station, about 100 miles south of Pretoria.

On 25 November 1900, they were reunited with the 1st KRRC MI, which was engaged in scouting and escort duties, first in the Orange Free State, and later in the Transvaal. There were frequent contacts with the Boers.

On 18 October 1901, in order to increase the size and effectiveness of MI operations, the 25th (KRR) Mounted Infantry Battalion was formed at Middelburg in the Transvaal, and the 1st KRRC MI became No. 1 Company of this Battalion. It operated with Colonel GE Benson’s Column of mounted infantry, infantry and artillery. The Intelligence Officer was Colonel A Woolls-Sampson, Imperial Light Horse, who was assisted by Native Scouts.

During the next 10 days, contacts with the Boers were more frequent and intensified as the column moved forwards. The contacts culminated in the action at Bakenlaagte on 30 October, when a determined attack by the Boers under General Louis Botha resulted in positions being overrun, with many casualties, including Colonel Benson, who was mortally wounded. No. 1 Company KRRC MI was heavily engaged. The battle ended in stalemate, with the Boers holding high ground, but too exhausted to attack the positions still defended by the British, who in turn were unable to recapture the lost ground. The Boers eventually withdrew with two captured guns, but releasing 100 captured British soldiers as they went. The remnants of Benson’s Column also withdrew from Bakenlaagte to regroup. The British lost seven officers and 60 men killed, and 16 officers and 149 men wounded, of whom five officers and 11 men subsequently died. Between 25 and 30 October, the 25th (KRR) MI Battalion had 57 casualties out of a total of 364 officers and men.

On 12 November 1901, the reformed column under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Mackenzie resumed its sweep across the south-eastern Transvaal. Mackenzie’s Column was joined by others in the harassment of the Boers, and eventually culminated in the attack and capture of a large Boer convoy near Standerton on 21 December. Captured were 23 Boers, 20 wagons, 20 carts (and others destroyed), 2000 cattle, 1000 sheep, and many horses. Mackenzie particularly commended the 25th (KRR) MI for its role in this affair. No. 1 Company (KRR) contributed in a marked way to the day’s success and for his role its commander (Captain Crum) was later Mentioned in Despatches (LG 25.4.1902).

The Column continued to be active in the Transvaal until near the end of the war, when it moved through the Orange Free State and into the Cape Colony.

When the war ended on 31May 1902, the 1st KRRC was in the blockhouse line near De Aar in the Cape Colony. A great deal of movement and reorganisation of the KRRC regiments in South Africa took place after the war and all that is certain about Lawrence is that he was finally discharged on 10 November 1902.

Lawrence had survived the first set-piece battle of the war (Talana) as a POW, and he also survived, apparently unscathed, a major battle of the guerrilla phase of the war (Bakenlaagte), and the capture of the Standerton Convoy.


SOUTH AFRICA (1914 – 1915)

Lawrence’s service during World War I was apparently mainly with F Company, Rand Rifles, in German South West Africa. His previous military experience counted in his favour, since, judging from his record card, he was given the rank of Sergeant at an early stage.

Information gleaned from the Internet shows that, although the formation of the Rand Rifles was published in the Government Gazette on 4 December 1914, recruiting had begun earlier. In Lawrence’s case, enlistment was on 20 October 1914.

There is another anomaly involving Lawrence. The Rand Rifles are recorded as having embarked in Cape Town for passage to German South West Africa on the Galwey Castle, which arrived in Walvis Bay on Christmas Day, 25 December 1914. Lawrence travelled to GSWA much later, embarking in Cape Town on the SS City of Athens on 17 April 1915.

An entry on Lawrence’s card records his service with the Rand Rifles as being from 20 October 1914 to 30 June 1915. From 1 July 1915 to 26 July 1915 he was with the “Rly Regt”, possibly ‘Railway Regiment’, although no such regiment could be traced.

No record could be found of any action involving the Rand Rifles. For at least some time, the regiment guarded a railway siding between Walvis Bay and Swakopmund. This siding was named ‘Rand Rifles’ and still exists, with a small holiday resort having grown up around it.

The GSWA campaign ended on 9 July 1915 when the Germans surrendered. Most of the units that had participated returned to South Africa and were demobilised. Many men later re-enlisted for service in German East Africa and Europe, but there is no indication that Lawrence was one of them.

All that is known about Fred Lawrence came from military records of one form or another. He did have a wife and was employed after World War I ended, but the record of his later years is as blank as that for the early ones.

CITED REFERENCE

Humphry, David. 1999. Talana. Part II. Möller’s Folly. Medal News. October 1999.
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New forum category: Prisoners of war 6 years 20 hours ago #12962

  • djb
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That's a great account Brett. Excellent research.
Dr David Biggins

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