Queen’s South Africa, 3 bars, Cape Colony, Transvaal, Wittebergen, King’s South Africa, 2 bars, SA 1901, SA 1902, with Matching Miniatures.
Lieutenant P.C. Shepard, Notts & Derby Regiment, was taken prisoner of war in the disastrous ambush at Roodeval on 7th June 1900. The entire battalion, but six men were killed, wounded or taken prisoner, in the epic action. Colonel Baird-Douglas, was wounded in four places, still fighting valiantly to his last breath, he threatened any man to retreat would receive a round from his revolver, they surrendered to save the remainder of the battalion after the Colonel collapsed and died of his wounds. An excellent account of the battle from ‘South Africa and the Transvaal War, by Louis Creswicke’; “It was imagined that the combined vigilance of these officers had entirely protected the communications in the Orange River Colony, but on the 7th of June the unquenchable Dutchmen succeeded in cutting line and telegraph wire north of Kroonstad, and in taking prisoners most of the 4th Battalion of the Derbyshires (Sherwood Foresters), who were guarding the district. Of the battalion, the Colonel, a lieutenant, and thirty-four rank and file were killed, five officers and ninety-nine men were wounded, and the rest, save six, made prisoners! The story ran thus: At dusk on the 4th, the Derbyshire Militia Regiment arrived at Roodeval and pitched their camp in the lee of a string of kopjes that shelved away to the west, and terminated in a high hump which, jutting out of the plain, commanded rail, camp, and the surrounding hills. Owing to the darkness it was impossible to do much in the way of reconnoitering, and though some scouts and natives warned the commanding officers that Boers had been espied in the vicinity, little notice was taken. The pickets, which had been posted on a range of kopjes north of the camp, were strengthened, and some few shots fired at distant snipers. Then the party laid themselves down to rest, and slept placidly. Before dawn they were awakened by the furious crackling of musketry, and even as the men turned out with their rifles, they dropped. One after another as they left their tents fell victims to the unseen foe. The fact was, the pickets had been attacked and driven in, and the enemy occupied the range, which commanded the British troops. Presently the early morning was humming with shot and shell, the Boers now having brought four big guns and a pom-pom to bear on the unfortunate camp and the bald plain that surrounded it. Valiantly the militiamen, raw and unfledged warriors as they were, fought; long, bloody, and disastrous hours passed, and they, falling thick as autumn leaves, continued to hold out in a completely defenseless position till the plain was littered with dead and wounded — more than eighty of them now lying in a trap from which it was impossible to escape. Colonel Baird-Douglas, wounded in four places, fought like a lion, encouraging his men, and vowing to shoot the first who should display a white flag. Then he dropped exhausted and breathed his last. Finally 420 prisoners were taken, including the following officers of the 4th Derbyshire Regiment: Captain J. Humber, Captain C. P. Piers, Captain A. M. W. Mohun-Harris, Captain E. M. Wilmot, Captain R. C. Fenwick, Captain and Adjutant R. Britten, Lieutenant P. C. Shepard, Second-Lieutenant A. C. Hewitt, Second-Lieutenant J. L. Heymann, Second-Lieutenant H. L. Napier, Second-Lieutenant H. M. Milward, Second-Lieutenant J. H. W. Becke, Second-Lieutenant J. H. Mathias, Second-Lieutenant H. S. Anderson, Second-Lieutenant E. N. T. Collin, Hon. Lieutenant and Quartermaster M. M'Guire. Among the killed were: Lieutenant-Colonel Baird-Douglas and Lieutenant Horley. Among the wounded: Colonel Wilkinson, Captain Bailey, Second-Lieutenants Hall and Lawder, Lieutenant Blanchard, Canadian Infantry (attached to 4th Derbyshire). It was said that after the capture the commandants, on bringing the prisoners to the station, were seen cordially shaking hands with a railway official as though exchanging congratulations. This circumstance was one of many which bore witness to the innumerable acts of treachery and duplicity with which commanding officers had to contend.”
Percy Cumberledge Shepard was born on 2 November, 1880 in Putney. He was educated at Yorebridge Grammar School in Hawes, Yorkshire. He was 6’ tall, and single when he went from the militia to the Sherwood Foresters Regiment in 1900. He was the son of WP Shepard of Ridgeway Place, Wembeldon. He served in South Africa from 11/1/1900 to 10/9/1902. He then went to China were he served from 14/12/1902 to 6/12/1904 and then ended up in the Straits Settlements from 7/12/1904 to 27/9/1908.
He served with Sherwood Foresters and saw action at Wittebergen and of course Roodeval. His QSA and KSA and claps are confirmed in his Regimental Officer Service Records. (WO 76)
Conan Doyle described the action, but left out the number of prisoners taken...
Two miles beyond Roodeval station there is a well-marked kopje by the railway line, with other hills some distance to the right and the left. A militia regiment, the 4th Derbyshire, had been sent up to occupy this post. There were rumours of Boers on the line, and Major Haig, who with one thousand details of various regiments commanded at railhead, had been attacked on June 6th but had beaten off his assailants. De Wet, acting sometimes in company with, and sometimes independently of, his lieutenant Nel, passed down the line looking fur some easier prey, and on the night of June 7th came upon the militia regiment, which was encamped in a position which could be completely commanded by artillery. It is not true that they had neglected to occupy the kopje under which they lay, for two companies had been posted upon it. But there seems to have been no thought of imminent danger, and the regiment had pitched its tents and gone very comfortably to sleep without a thought of the gentleman in the tinted glasses. In the middle of the night he was upon them with a hissing sleet of bullets. At the first dawn the guns opened and the shells began to burst among them. It was a horrible ordeal for raw troops. The men were miners and agricultural labourers, who had never seen more bloodshed than a cut finger in their lives. They had been four months in the country, but their life had been a picnic, as the luxury of their baggage shows. Now in an instant the picnic was ended, and in the grey cold dawn war was upon them--grim war with the whine of bullets, the screams of pain, the crash of shell, the horrible rending and riving of body and limb. In desperate straits, which would have tried the oldest soldiers, the brave miners did well. They never from the beginning had a chance save to show how gamely they could take punishment, but that at least they did. Bullets were coming from all sides at once and yet no enemy was visible. They lined one side of the embankment, and they were shot in the back. They lined the other, and were again shot in the back. Baird-Douglas, the Colonel, vowed to shoot the man who should raise the white flag, and he fell dead himself before he saw the hated emblem. But it had to come. A hundred and forty of the men were down, many of them suffering from the horrible wounds which shell inflicts. The place was a shambles. Then the flag went up and the Boers at last became visible. Outnumbered, outgeneralled, and without guns, there is no shadow of stain upon the good name of the one militia regiment which was ever seriously engaged during the war. Their position was hopeless from the first, and they came out of it with death, mutilation, and honour.
Congratulations on another great find, and on a story well researched and well told. Your POW medals must now be a match for the other themes in your collection, and that must be very satisfying for you.
My wife's Grandfather was Lt. J.L Heymann that was captured with Shepard at Roodeval..Also H.M.Milward was captured who was a close friend of J.L Heymann and in fact his future brother in law,as he married Heynmann's sister later.Milward became a highly decorated soldier being mentioned in dispatches in the Boer War and WW1 and was awarded a DSO in WW1
My grandfather was Lt J.L. Heymann who was involved with your grandfather Lt P.C. Shepard at the Roodeval battle. After many years it is the first time I have come across a mention of the event by someone else.
My grandfather was, later on in the war, seriously wounded and ended up in a hospital at Aberdeen, Cape Province. Met a local girl and settled in South Africa.
I ask whether you have any additional information of how the rest of your grandfather's time went in the Boer War - was he involved when my grandfathyer was wounded?