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TOPIC: John Brereton Summers of Swanson's Volunteer Corps

John Brereton Summers of Swanson's Volunteer Corps 5 months 1 week ago #58614

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John Brereton Summers

Trooper, Swanson’s Volunteer Corps – Matabele Rebellion
Trooper, Driscoll’s Scouts – Anglo Boer War


- British South Africa Company Medal (Rhodesia 1896 reverse) to Tpr. John B. Summers, Swanson’s Vol. Corps

John Brereton Summers, or J Brereton Summers as he was wont to be called, was born in 1869 the son of Henry Summers a Linen Draper and Alderman of the Borough of Reigate and his wife Elizabeth. Our first glimpse of a young Summers came via the 1871 England census – the family were living at Station Road in Reigate and, aside from a 2 year old John, other family members were siblings Elizabeth (7), Henry Robert (5) and Annie (3). Emily Brereton (Mr Summers’ mother-in-law) was also in residence as was 25 year old Eleanor Eustace, a Milliner in Mr Summers’ employ.

Ten years later at the time of the 1881 England census the family had moved to Commerce House, the same property which housed the Drapery business, and the numbers had swollen accordingly. Mr Summers who at 56 was only 6 years younger than his mother-in-law, lived at the property along with Henry (16) and John (12). Of Mrs Summers there was no sign. As many as 9 Drapers or Drapers assistants were in attendance along with Gertrude Ainsworth, a Domestic Housemaid.

By the time of the 1891 England census a 25 year old John had moved out of the family home and was living with George Manger and his family at 29 Albemarle Road, Beckenham, Bromley in the county of Kent. A Draper’s Assistant, it would appear that he had come to learn his father’s trade in the premises of another Draper (Manger) although it is not known if they were in any way related to each other.

No doubt tiring of the drudgery of life as a Draper - Summers, at some point between 1891 and 1896, determined to leave the shores he was most comfortable with and venture into unchartered waters – the wilds of Rhodesia where, having only been “colonised” since 1890, the bulk of the land and its peoples comprised of the two tribes, the Matabele and the Mashona, along with a smattering of pioneer traders and farmers.

Over the course of a few years animosity had developed and grown from the side of the black tribes towards the European settlers who were regarded as infiltrators and a threat to their livelihood and their way of life. This led, in part, to the first Matabele War of 1893 which, once it had been quashed, led to the presumption that the natives would remain compliant forever more thereafter. This proved not to be the case giving rise to a second rebellion in 1896. Whether by intention or co-incidence Summers found himself in Bulawayo when the conflict started in earnest.

The second Matabele outbreak must be ascribed to a variety of causes. In the first campaign of 1893 a comparatively small proportion of the Matabele had participated in the war, and as a nation they were not finally subdued. Lobengula was clever enough to recognise the futility of trying to wage successful warfare against the whites, and tried to stave off the day by jockeying the "jingoes" of his tribe. "Wait," said he, "until the white man is weak, and then rise against him." But he was overruled by the forward party, and after the defeat of his best regiments by the Jameson commando, the rest of the nation seemed to settle down in tranquil acceptance of the situation. But this was only an apparent quietude. The nation at large looked upon the new comers with barely concealed hostility, and bided their time for throwing off their yoke. The opportunity seemed to have arrived with the withdrawal of the police for the Jameson raid, and the defeat of the raiders, when the Matabele believed that the Rhodesian settlers would fall an easy prey, and that the country would again become their own. There were further factors at work, moreover. Another immediate cause was the failure of the food supply. After the first campaign, locusts (which had, it is stated, never previously devastated the country) put in an appearance in force, and the Rinderpest, or splenic fever, which had likewise never before visited South Africa, began to decimate the herds of cattle. Both these scourges, associated with the presence of the whites, were looked upon as due to their malign influence, and the native mind was unable to comprehend the measures which were taken to stay the spread of the latter plague by killing the undiseased remnant.

Add to this the effect of the drought of 1895-6, causing a general failure of the crops, and it can readily be understood that the natives believed that God and man had combined to compass their extermination. There were not wanting means also to fan the flame of discontent, and the Makalaka deity, known to the natives as the M'Limo, whose chief shrine was in the Matoppo Hills, prompted by the ringleaders of rebellion, inflamed the popular mind to the pitch of revolt.

But the ringleaders had been organizing and carefully planning the revolt for some time. The Majakas (warriors) were, according to plan, to obtain employment in Bulawayo as servants, and on the night of the full moon, March 28th, were to rise and massacre their white masters. Unfortunately for the success of this deeply-laid scheme, events were precipitated by some of the more impatient rebels. A native murder brought matters to a head. Beacon fires sprung up all over the country, and the rising may be said to have begun on the day (March 23rd, 1896) when Mr. Tom Maddocks, a prospector, was "knob-kerried" at the Insiza. During the following week or two each day brought its tidings of murders and escapes, and numerous patrols were sent out to relieve or to punish.

No fewer than five were got together and despatched with wonderful promptness within two days. The most pressing needs having been disposed of by the despatch of small patrols, under Captains Napier, Grey, Selous, Dawson, and Gifford, Captain Duncan, the Acting Administrator, made a brief pronouncement as to the situation, and a council of war was formed, consisting of Mr. A. H. F. Duncan, in command; General Digby Willoughby, chief of the staff; Capt. Nicholson, military secretary; Capt. Norris-Newman, staff officer; Capt. Carden, S.C.O., and adjutant K.H.V; Commandant Van Rensburg, Africander Corps; Capt. Macfarlane, "A" Troop, K.H.V.; Capt. H. Robinson," B" Troop, R.H.V.; Lieut. Swanson, "C" Troop, R.H.V.; Capt. F. C. Selous, "D" Troop, K.H.V; and Capt. Sadler, Commissary-General; and this council remained in office until the arrival of Lord Grey, when fresh arrangements were made, pending the coming of Sir Frederick Carrington, appointed by the Imperial authorities to carry on the operations.

It is interesting to note that Swanson was one of the Council as an officer with the Rhodesian Horse Volunteers – his presence gave rise to the formation of his own Corps not long thereafter – a group of no more than 30 men who formed Swanson’s Volunteer Corps under his command. William George Swanson was an interesting man, an Accountant by profession he had arrived in South Africa on 2 September 1890 and had, soon after, moved to Bulawayo in Rhodesia where he was engaged as Accountant of Willoughby’s Consolidated Company Limited. Initially he was with the Salisbury Horse but, having transferred to Bulawayo in 1894, he saw service with the R.H.V.

Information as to the exact movements of Swanson’s Volunteers is hard to find as they formed part of the Bulawayo Field Force and, as a result, seldom gained mention in their own right. An account of the action at that time which does contain reference to them appeared in "A Guide to the Public Records of Southern Rhodesia Under the Regime of the British South Africa Company, 1890-1923" as follows:-

"In December 1895 the majority of the Mashonaland Mounted Police participated in the Jameson Raid, leaving a meagre force of about forty police, together with the Rhodesia Horse to represent the armed forces of Rhodesia. Thus the outbreak of the native rebellion of 1896 found the Company's military forces totally inadequate. The volunteers were unable to deal with the situation and the Matabeleland Regiment of the volunteers was officially disbanded in April 1896. The authorities instead formed the Bulawayo Field Force to suppress the rising in Matabeleland. In addition a considerable number of other local volunteer units of varying size and quality played their part. These included Gifford's Horse, Grey's Scouts, Swanson's Volunteers, an Afrikaner and an Engineer corps, the Gwelo Burgher corps, the Umtali Volunteers, the Mangwe Field force, the Belingwe Column, the Gwelo Volunteer corps, the Salisbury Rifle corps, Honey's scouts, the Salisbury Field force, the Victoria Rifles, the Enkeldoorn and Charter Garrison Corps, and the Umtali Burgher Corps.

In addition volunteers joined from Natal, and two Cape coloured units took part in the operations. The Chartered Company supplemented these bodies by recruiting and equipping the Matabeleland Relief Force in South Africa. This went into action under the command of Lieut-Col Herbert Charles Onslow (afterwards Lord) Plumer. The Imperial Government assisted with troops. The supreme command over all these forces lay in Imperial hands. In May 1896 Sir Richard Martin was appointed Deputy Commissioner for Southern Rhodesia and assumed the duties of Commandant General. But almost immediately afterwards Major General Sir Frederick Carrington assumed command during the course of hostilities. In October of the same year a proclamation placed supreme control over the military and police forces in the hands of the High Commissioner for South Africa, who also received extensive disciplinary powers. The Rebellion was crushed but its lessons led to re-organization.

That Swanson’s little band of men saw plenty of action as they went out as part of the larger force to scout for rebels and flush them out as well as assisting in bringing in parties of Europeans who were left in the wilderness cannot be doubted. For his efforts he was awarded the British South Africa Company medal, one of only 9 to his unit on the roll.

The Rebellion over Summers sought and obtained employment in Bulawayo as a Secretary or Typist. Life continued on with nothing of any magnitude to disturb the tranquillity of the land until the dying days of the 19th century brought with them strife between Boer and Brit. Tensions between Great Britain and the two Boer Republics of the Orange Free State and the Transvaal had been simmering for several years and finally boiled over into open warfare on 11 October 1899.

The regular British forces stationed in South Africa proved to be woefully inadequate to counter the Boers as they poured over the borders into the Cape and Natal laying siege to important towns such as Ladysmith, Kimberley and Mafeking. The call went out for the raising of volunteer Colonial units and many such sprang up in the late stages of 1899 and into 1900 and beyond.

One such unit was Driscoll’s Scouts - this corps was raised, on a modest basis as regards numbers, about the time Lord Roberts landed at Cape Town. Their leader, Captain Driscoll, was a British resident in Burma.

In the second phase of the war the corps was greatly augmented in numbers and it was at this time that Summers joined their ranks – as a Trooper with no. 37898 – on 22 August 1901. Driscoll's Scouts were for a considerable time in the column of Colonel Western, who was frequently credited in the despatches with useful captures made chiefly in the neighbourhood of the Vaal. In August Western's column was taken to Cape Colony, and operated for a short time against Myburg about Jamestown and in September the corps was taken to the south-east of the Orange River Colony, where for about four months they operated under General Knox, Colonel Rochfort, and Colonel Western. In the despatch of 8th January 1902 Lord Kitchener remarked that Colonel Rochfort's troops, under Lieutenant Colonel Western and De Moulin and Major Driscoll, were moved to the west of the railway in pursuit of straggling bands of the enemy.

Summers wasn’t long with Driscoll’s or even in uniform for that matter as he took his discharge on 30 November 1901. His Record of Service indicated that he was discharged at Cape Town owing to being Medically Unfit, that he had served for 101 days and that his address after discharge was 239 White Horse Lane, South Norwood, London, S.E.

A Detailed Medical History of an Invalid report was completed in respect of him at Deelfontein on 5 November 1901. The problem was diagnosed as being an Old Potts Fracture – a complaint dating from September 1895 where “some thickening and incomplete union of ligament of ankle joint not due to service” was present. This, it was reported, was “aggravated by riding” and had occasioned “probably some permanent injury” which would not incapacitate him from earning a full livelihood.

For his efforts Summers was awarded the Queens Medal with Orange Free State and Transvaal clasps.

A few months before his discharge he had the unpleasant task of signing his brother Robert Herbert’s death notice. This was at Bulawayo on 25 August 1901 although his 26 year old brother had died in the Magato Mountains in Soutpansberg, Northern Transvaal on 2 May 1901 leaving the sum of 20 Pounds in the hands of the Base Commandant at Bulawayo.

By the time the 1911 England census called round Summers was back in England and resident at 33A Burnbury Road, Balham, S.W. By occupation he was a Commercial Clerk at a Costumers and, now 42 years of age, he had been married for 11 years to Alice Mary. There were no children of the union.
For many years thereafter Summers was an active member of the London Surrey Society - The Surrey Mirror and County Post of Friday, 3 April 1936 carried an article which read thus (in part):-

“Mr Nigel Colman M.P. presided at the annual dinner of the London Surrey Society dinner (of which he is President) at the Holborn Restaurant on Wednesday evening of last week… those present included Mr Brereton Summers (Honorary Secretary and Treasurer).

….the charm of the county was fully appreciated by those who enjoyed rambles over its beautiful hills. Surrey ramblers had done splendid work in this direction and great credit was due to their indefatigable Secretary, (Mr Brereton Summers) for his excellent organisation of this branch of the Society’s activities.

…..The London Surrey Society wish to record their appreciation of the many years you have devoted to its interests and welfare. Not only have you been an active member of the Society since its inception in 1912, but you have held many responsible offices for the last 17 years.”

John Brereton Summers was obviously a man committed to community involvement and one held in high esteem by his peers. He passed away in Fulham, London in 1955 at the age of 86.










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