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TOPIC: Didloff of the Stockenstrom Rifle Volunteers

Didloff of the Stockenstrom Rifle Volunteers 2 years 7 months ago #55829

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Nicholas Johannes Didloff

Sergeant Major, 1st Stockenstrom Volunteer Rifles – Ninth Frontier War & Moorosi’s Stronghold

- South African General Service Medal with clasp 1878-79 to Sergt. N. Didloff, 1st Stockenstrom Vol. Rifles

Nicholas Didloff was born in the Eastern Cape in about 1844 although little is known about his formative years. He was of farming stock with the family being particularly numerous in the Balfour and Seymour districts – a remote and very rural setting. As can be imagined life was tough in what was known as frontier country and only the hardiest and most resilient survived both the harshness of the climate, the barrenness of the soil and the frequent raiding parties from the local tribesmen in the area who resented not only the presence of these white men but also their success at making something of themselves.

These incessant raids which led to the loss of life and livestock for the settlers, had occasioned as many as eight previous “Kaffir Wars” as they were known but the issues that led to the Ninth Kaffir war in 1877 were different to those fought before and it was as a Sergeant and later Regimental Sergeant Major of the 1st Stockenstrom Rifle Volunteers which saw service in this war that Didloff first shot to a semblance of prominence.

An article by Philip Gon in the South African Military History series described the situation and the actions around the Ninth Kaffir war that followed thus:-

The whole country was in a state of transition. A changing economy, prosperity from diamonds, gold and a taste for ostrich feathers were beginning to rouse the land out of its pastoral slumber. In September 1877 Sir Bartle Frere departed Cape Town for the Eastern Cape, he found the frontier districts in a restless state. A mood had arisen on the back of a rumour about a conspiracy among the black nations to drive the white man out of the conquered territories. A violent squabble which had broken out a few weeks before, between the ‘loyal’ Mfengu (Fingoes) of the Transkei and their Xhosa neighbour, the independent House of Galeka, had aggravated the prevailing anxiety.

A few days later, Frere left for the Transkei to hold talks with the dissident chiefs. But Sarhili (Kreli) of the Galekas, Paramount Chief of the amaXhosa, refused the invitation to meet with the High Commissioner. He offered a string of unconvincing excuses, but what the old chief feared was that promises might be wrung out of him that he might not be able to keep. An influential war-party, emboldened by guns purchased on the diamond fields, had arisen in Galekaland which was opposed to further concessions to the white man. Angered by the Galeka rebuff, Frere issued a warning to Sarhili making him responsible for all transgressions into Mfengu territory, and returned to Kingwilliamstown to prepare for war.

The first clash between Galekas and a colonial force took place on 26 September 1877 on a hill called Gwadana, when a mixed force of Mfengu and troopers from the Colony’s Frontier Armed and Mounted Police (FAMP), commanded by Inspector Chalmers, engaged a Galeka party that had sacked a Mfengu kraal. Burgher volunteers, it was decided, were going to have to be relied on to fight this war and the 1st Stockenstroom Volunteer Rifles were one of those outfits called upon for the task. The S.V.R., records show, was, in August 1877, commanded by Capt. J. W. Green and were 46 strong. The Snider rifles the men were issued with included several worn out when they arrived. The strength jumped in January 1878 to 5 officers and 95 men, and the corps was on active service in March and April, and in May about half were still there. The return for May 1878 gives 25 horses and for June 35. At the end of 1878 the strength was down to 3 officers and 72 men, armed with 70 long Sniders and 5 short. Their Headquarters were at Balfour – Didloff’s home village.

The colonial effort grew rapidly, and on 18 October, the Galeka homeland was invaded with 8 000 men (two thirds of them black levies) divided into three columns. The lightly equipped, fast-moving columns encountered little opposition in their drive to the coast, and the pursuit continued into neutral Bomvanaland. Galekaland was turned into a desolation of burnt-out kraals and empty grain-pits. It was the huge herds of confiscated cattle that slowed the invaders and helped Sarhili’s people escape. With the men eager to return home with their loot and the supply-lines starting to disintegrate, the chase was called off and, by the middle of November the war was described, officially, as over, and the Galeka army ‘entirely extinguished.’ The volunteers streamed home as fast as their mounts could carry them but, in reality, the war was far from over. It was soon to enter its grimmest phase.

It was after Christmas of 1877 that Colonel Glyn considered himself to be in a position to take action in the Transkei using Imperial troops. His strategy was to use three columns driving to the coast, then an eastward swing to Bomvanaland.

Included in the General’s instructions to Colonel Glyn had been the injunction ‘prevent Kreli from passing over Fingoland or across the Kei and the colonial border into the Gaika locations’. Sarhili had been kept out, but a Galeka party, led by Khiva, the tribe's most distinguished warrior, had eluded a patrol from Komga, and reached the Ngqika reservation. Khiva was no renegade headman like Makinana, and an appeal for help from so noteworthy an emissary could not be ignored. The Ngqika chief, Sandile, veteran of two hard-fought frontier wars, was well acquainted with the penalties of defeat, but the voices for war were very persuasive, and on the last day of 1877 the people of Ngqika broke out in rebellion.

Headquarters were established in March 1878 at Keiskamma Hoek where the commandos of John Frost, Friedrich Schermbrucker and Edward Brabant were waited for, as well as a contingent of Mfengu levies from the Transkei. Didloff himself was already about 36 years old and was made a Sergeant of the Foot Section of the 1st Stockenstrom Volunteer Rifles, being mobilised in the field on 10 March 1878.

The Ngqikas were reported to be hiding in the bush- and boulder-filled canyon known as the Buffalo Poort. The plan was to ascend the highland plateau that overlooked the poort from three directions, converge on the hide-out, and squeeze them out of the bush on to the plain below where a line of infantry would be waiting to receive them. But the enemy stayed out of sight, unless it was to lure the unwary into an ambush, and remained two jumps ahead of the highly visible forces. The first offensive in the Amatolas, hampered by rain and mist, failed. Unseen the Ngqikas slipped past the sodden line of infantry, moved westwards, and entered another wilderness known as the Lotutu Bush.

Five companies of the 90th Regiment were moved up from Fort Beaufort and a cordon was thrown around the Lotutu Bush. But the Ngqika defiance had inspired other Xhosa clans from the Ciskei to rise up, and Sandile had been reinforced in his refuge. When the second offensive began, the Xhosa broke through under the cover of darkness, and once again, entered the Buffalo Poort.

It was only when the tactics that the colonials had been urging for weeks was adopted that the campaign swung in the Colony’s favour. The eastern part of the Amatolas was divided up into eleven military districts. In each a mounted garrison was stationed. When a Xhosa party appeared it was pursued until it entered the district of the neighbouring garrison which in turn took over the chase. In this manner, pursuit and harassment were uninterrupted, with the pursuers remaining fresh and never far from their supplies. In addition earthworks, manned by infantry detachments, were thrown-up near the, by now, well known exits from the Buffalo Poort. The winter weather brought hardship and sickness to the garrisons in the Amatola highland, but far more wretched was the condition of the half-starved Xhosas in the sunless ravines. The fatal wounding of Sandile in a chance encounter with a small Mfengu patrol, ended the Ngqika will to continue what, all along, had been a hopeless war. In July, Sandile’s sons surrendered, and in August Glyn’s army was brought back from Galekaland, the territory pacified, but Sarhili still at large.

A reward of £500 was now offered for the capture of Sandile, and an attempt was made to surround that portion of the forest occupied by the rebels and either make them prisoners or destroy them. From the 10th to the 17th of March the troops and colonial forces were engaged in this task, but the area of operations was so extensive and the ground was so difficult for Europeans to traverse that they met with much less success than they hoped for and the operation was called off.

Didloff remained with the S.V.R. throughout 1878 and into 1879. In April of that year the S.V.R. was placed on standby in expectation of a call out to proceed to either Basutoland or the Transkei. In the final analysis it was to Moroosi’s Stronghold in Basutoland that he and his comrades were despatched on 25 June 1879. But what was Moroosi’s Stronghold? The following excerpt provides the answer:-

Moorosi was chief of the BaPhuthi clan. The clan was of Nguni origin and had lived for several generations in what is now southern Lesotho. During the Mfecane, Moorosi earned himself a reputation as a freebooter and cattle thief. Moorosi's father submitted to Moshweshwe's authority in 1825. However, he seems to have maintained a measure of autonomy. He was a constant source of trouble to his neighbours and, during the 1840s and 1850s, gave sanctuary to San cattle raiders. Moorosi's own reputation as a cattle thief lasted into the 1870s. This is probably one reason why the Cape colonial government decided to deal with Moorosi. The BaPhuthi, like many clans, had taken advantage of the availability of firearms at the diamond fields. This made them an ideal test case for the enforcement of the Cape's new disarmament laws.

The pretext was provided by the behaviour of Moorosi's son, Doda. Doda persuaded some of the BaPhuthi not to pay their hut tax. Mr Austin, the local magistrate then arrested a few of the supposed ringleaders and Doda said that he would rescue them. When he arrived at the magistracy, Austin tried to arrest him with only a few policemen to support him. He had to back down. Even worse, Doda had sufficient men to free those whom Austin had already arrested. Realistically, the Cape colonial government could not ignore the challenge to its authority that Doda presented.

Doda retired to his father's lands and a troop of the Cape Mounted Riflemen was sent to support Magistrate Austin. The CMR were promptly attacked. Moorosi was ordered to hand Doda over or be considered a rebel. When the Cape troops entered Moorosi's territory, they found that the outlying homesteads and fields had been abandoned and that Moorosi had fortified his mountain with great skill.

The first attack was made on 8 April 1879. Col Griffith had under his command 97 CMR, 541 men of 2nd and 3rd Regiments Cape Mounted Yeomanry, 56 Herschel Mounted Volunteers, 42 Aliwal North Volunteers, 101 men of the Herschel Fingo Levy and about 600 Sotho clansmen. Griffith had about 557 men at or near the mountain. The rest were covering his communications.

But this first attack failed to capture the stronghold, the Cape forces then built sangars and cut the mountain off from the outside world. Moorosi had foreseen this and had ample supplies of grain together with a large herd of cattle on the mountain. The siege was underway.

On 11 April 1879 a second attack was ordered with Colonel Brabant arriving with the headquarters and right wing of the 1st Cape Mounted Yeomanry. These reinforcements amounted to about sixty men. Colonel Brabant took over command of the siege and Colonel Griffith returned to his administrative duties. Patrols on 28 and 29 May 1879 cleared some caves in which some of Moorosi's clan had been hiding.

This attack too failed compelling the Cape troops to patrol the area and to destroy crops. The besiegers did not have it all their own way, however, the BaPhuthi sallied out of their fortifications and killed seventeen men of the Cape Mounted Yeomanry. On 1 July 1879 Colonel Brabant had, under his command, 124 CMR, 266 CMY, 278 Burghers, 50 Herschel Volunteers and 338 Fingo Levies. Brabant's men made fifteen patrols between mid-June and the beginning of October 1879. Only a small outpost kept watch on the mountain during the cold months of July, August and September. There was no grass for the horses and these had to be withdrawn to the slightly warmer Eastern Cape.

Then, on 24 October, Colonel Bayly of the CMR took over command. The Cape Mounted Yeomanry were sent home and replaced by volunteers and black levies. Bayly had, under his command, 358 men of the CMR, 103 Stockenstrom Volunteers (Didloff among them), 102 men of the Stockenstrom Contingent, 310 men of the Herschel Native levies, 23 men of the Berlin Volunteer Cavalry, 54 Queenstown Volunteer Rifles, 15 Cradock Mounted Rifles, 121 Basuto Native Contingent, and 30 Herschel Mounted Fingoes. The force mustered just over 1 100 men.

The arrival of the mortar dramatically changed the situation at Moorosi's mountain. Although the mortar was thirty years old, having been made in 1849, it could, unlike the 7pr and 12pr guns, drop its shell just behind the stone walls. Also, the gunpowder charge could do some damage to the walls themselves. The defences were then subjected to a prolonged bombardment while Bayly waited for his scaling ladders to arrive. The gunners very quickly mastered the art of aiming and fuze-setting for the mortar. They learned to fire the shell over the wall and then let it roll back down the mountain to explode among the defenders.

Meanwhile, Bayly conducted a careful reconnaissance of the mountain. He discovered that, on the south-east side of the mountain, there was a spring which the defenders used as their source of water. The cliffs were lower at this point and there was a rugged and broken path leading over boulders to the spring. Moorosi had not neglected this path, which was covered with loop-holed stone walls. Bayly choose this path for one of his storming parties. To the right of the spring, about 150 metres away, the cliffs were low enough to be climbed with the aid of the scaling ladders. A second storming party was assigned to attack at this point. A third storming party was assigned to attack at the point which had been designated the 'Commandant's Cave'. The fourth storming party was to attack at the Lip, once the other storming parties had achieved a lodgement. They had a difficult task because the Lip was where the two previous attacks had failed. The fifth storming party was assigned to infiltrate up the Gully to distract the defenders from the other attacks.

There were problems with the scaling ladders when they arrived. They were initially unable to take the weight of a man, so they were reduced in width and the rungs and sides were tied up with strips of rawhide, which hardened in the sun. The Cape forces then had their scaling ladders.

The storming parties assembled and moved to their starting points on the night of 19 November 1879. They moved to their positions at 23.45 with the intention of attacking an hour before dawn. The storming parties were deployed as follows:

No 1 Storming Party was under Captain Bourne with 171 men of the CMR at a low point in the cliff known as 'Bourne's crack'. No 2 Storming Party, 104 men under the command of Captain Montagu of the CMR, was to attack at the 'Commandant's Cave'. No 3 Storming Party comprised the Fingo Levy under Commandant Maclean with 150 men. No 4 Storming Party had Lieutenant Muhlenbeck in command of 40 men of the Wodehouse Border Guard and a few volunteers.

The signal for the attack was the firing of three rockets. The attackers immediately ran into trouble. The men detailed to carry the ladders and water of No 1 Storming Party dropped their loads and fled when the first shot was fired. The CMR men had to carry their own ladders. Meanwhile, No 2 Storming Party found that they could not climb the cliffs at the 'Commandant's Cave' and so moved to support No 1 Storming Party.

No1 Storming Party's ascent was headed by Lieutenant Sprenger, who climbed up the ladder into 'Bourne's crack'. There, he climbed a large boulder, at the top of which he encountered a BaPhuthi clansman, who threatened to shoot him and tried but missed during the attempt. Sprenger's return shot was fatal and soon the CMR had a foothold on the mountain which grew more secure as time passed. There was no BaPhuthi counter-attack. Maclean's Fingoes had a difficult struggle up to the Spring, but they, too, broke through to the upper mountain. They lost one man killed and one man wounded. Maclean led from the front. The Wodehouse Border Guard was very reluctant to advance. Hook and Tainton, with Storming Party No 5, managed to get their men across the danger zone and into the defences. Soon there were enough men on the summit to form a line. They charged the rallying BaPhuthi, who found that a rifle and bayonet are an unnerving weapon. Hand-to-hand fighting followed and the BaPhuthi broke and ran. Some were shot as they fled, while others fell to their deaths as they ran over the cliffs. Then the attackers divided into three parties and started to search for Moorosi and Doda.

One trooper, named Whitehead, was fired upon by a BaPhuthi clansman, who managed to shoot the cap off his head. Whitehead shot his opponent in the neck. The man crawled away to die. He was Moorosi. Five of his sons died in the fighting for the mountain. Doda threw himself down the mountain side and escaped. The attackers were stunned to find how well prepared the BaPhuthi were for a siege. There were stone houses on the top of the mountain and large stocks of food in caves.

The defenders lost 70 killed and the attackers, one killed and seven wounded. It is probable that some of the defenders slipped away during the winter of 1879 when the approaches to the mountain were less well guarded. Two members of the Stockenstrom Volunteer Rifles were killed in action, the first of them at Morosi’s Stronghold on 16 August 1879 and the second at Muntyao’s Cave on 30 August 1879.

For his efforts Didloff was awarded the South African General Service (or Zulu War medal) off the roll signed by Captain George Green on 29 November 1880.

It wasn’t long before Didloff was back in the thick of things – newly promoted to the rank of Sergeant Major of the Stockenstrom Volunteer Rifles, he was part of the 2nd detachment of the S.V.R. which took part in what became known as the Gun War, a conflict in the British territory of Basutoland fought between Cape Colony forces and rebellious Basotho chiefs over the right of natives to bear arms. Although officially considered a stalemate, the final settlement favoured the Basotho.

Matters came to a head in 1879, when Governor Henry Bartle Frere reserved part of Basutoland for white settlement and demanded that all natives surrender their firearms to Cape authorities under the 1879 Peace Protection Act.

The Cape government of Sir John Gordon Sprigg set April 1880 as the date for surrendering weapons. Although some Basotho with great reluctance were willing to surrender their guns, the majority refused; government attempts to enforce the law brought fighting by September.

Within months, most Basotho chiefs were in open rebellion. Colonial Cape forces sent to put down the rebellion suffered heavy casualties, as the Basotho had obtained serviceable firearms from the Orange Free State and enjoyed a natural defensive advantage in their country's mountainous terrain. The rebels relied primarily on guerrilla warfare, ambushing isolated units to negate the British/Cape superiority in firepower. In October, Basotho forces ambushed a mounted column of British Army lancers (1st Regiment, Cape Mounted Yeomanry) at Qalabani near Mafeteng), killing 39. The defeat of an experienced and well-armed cavalry column discouraged Cape authorities.

The costs of the war when added to the earlier war with the Xhosa and renewed troubles in the Transkei were dragging the Cape Colony towards bankruptcy. The war was also becoming increasingly unpopular, and the Sprigg government was replaced by the Thomas Scanlen government.
A peace treaty was signed with Basotho chiefs in 1881, in which colonial authorities conceded most of the points in dispute. The land remained in Basotho hands and the nation enjoyed unrestricted access to firearms in exchange for a national one-time indemnity of 5000 cattle.

Didloff served in the field from 23 September 1880 until 30 March 1881 but is not on the roll for the Cape Of Good Hope General Service Medal issued for the conflict. He did, however, receive his Cattle Prize Money in 1882. After this his services were no longer required and he returned to his farm and his wife, Maria.

On 20 February 1908 he entered into a Mortgage Bond in the amount of £50 in respect of a farm at Seymour in the Stockenstrom district of the Eastern Cape. Sadly that is the last entry I was able to find for a man who certainly did his bit in defence of his family and community.

The following user(s) said Thank You: Brett Hendey, QSAMIKE

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