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    31 March 1900   Sanna’s Post


    On 30th March 1900, a 2000-man Boer force led by Christiaan de Wet advanced in the direction of Bloemfontein. Reconnaissance indicated the presence of a small garrison of British troops at Sanna’s Post, 23 miles east of Bloemfontein, which held Bloemfontein’s water works, and a British mounted force under Brigadier General RG Broadwood, which had earlier attacked other Boer positions at Thaba ‘Nchu, was withdrawing there. Broadwood’s force consisted of Q and U Batteries of the Royal Horse Artillery, a composite regiment of the Household Cavalry which included the Mounted Infantry of the 1st Battalion, Rifle Brigade, and the 10th Hussars, the New Zealand and Burma Mounted Infantry, and the local South African Units, Roberts’ Horse and Rimington’s Guides.


    De Wet sent 1600 men under his brother Piet to attack Broadwood from the North, while he himself occupied Sanna’s Post to intercept their retreat. This action would become the first full scale use of guerrilla tactics used by the Boers during the war, tactics which would so typify the Boer War at a later date. During the darkness De Wet infiltrated a force of riflemen into the ravine created by the Modder River, setting the kill zone of the ambush. At first light on 31st March, Piet de Wet’s artillery opened fire from a small set of hills to the north as the British troops were striking camp for the morning. Tactical surprise was complete, and all were sent into a state of confusion.


    The British forces began to retreat as expected, in the direction of the ravine where the blocking force awaited with orders from De Wet to hold their fire. The civilian wagon drivers preceding the soldiers were seized by the Boers and told if they warned the British, they would be shot. Therefore, the British soldiers suspected nothing and approached the river in small groups. As they did so De Wet’s troops ordered them to surrender and approximately 200 were captured, along with the six guns of U Battery. An alert British officer noticed what was happening and ordered Q Battery to gallop away. De Wet’s men then opened fire.


    The British fell back on a railway station which offered substantial cover, while Q Battery together with one gun from U Battery which had managed to break away, deployed in the open and opened fire. This fire combined with accurate rifle fire from the railway station, pinned down Christiaan de Wet’s men, but Piet de Wet’s forces were increasing their pressure. Broadwood’s ammunition was running out, and he decided to retire to the south. His guns had first to be recovered. Five were hooked up and towed away, but two had to be abandoned, and many British soldiers were killed crossing the 1300 yards of open ground to retrieve the guns, but unit integrity was maintained.


    Eventually, Broadwood managed to break contact, and approximately 3 hours later the 9th Infantry Division commanded by Major General Sir H Colville arrived to relieve the mounted brigade, but De Wet’s men had withdrawn to highly defensible positions across the Modder River and both sided retired from the field. This nevertheless left Bloemfontein water works in Boer hands.


    In the action, the British suffered 155 men killed or wounded, and 428 men, seven field artillery pieces 96 loaded wagons, 21 other vehicles and a substantial amount of arms and ammunition including 2 wagon loads of artillery shells captured. But even more serious than the losses in the action was the loss of Bloemfontein’s water supplies, and this was one of the causes of an epidemic of enteric fever, dysentery, and cholera among the occupying British army, which eventually resulted in 2000 deaths.


    The Boer force suffered 5 burghers killed and 11 wounded.


    Lieutenant Arthur Strachan Way was recommended by Brig-Gen Broadwood “for conspicuous gallantry at Sanna’s Post in assisting to withdraw the guns of Q Battery, R.H.A., under heavy fire” (LG 7 February 1901, p890).

    When Broadwood’s order came for the guns to be withdrawn, Major Hornby, Captain Humphreys and ten men of the battery alone remained on their feet. The fire from Korn Spruit was constantly increasing in vigour, and the guns were seventy yards from even the slight cover afforded by the station buildings. The Hornby and Humphreys set themselves to bring back the guns. Eight gunners responded and ran back two pieces forty yards. There these brave men lay down exhausted.


    Hornby went to the mounted infantry escort and called for volunteers. Lieutenants Stirling, Way, Ainsworth, Grover and Ashburner of the Burma M. I., Captain Maxwellof Robert’s Horse, and about four or five men at once responded. Those men gallantly faced the withering fire, and with two gunners, ran back the first two guns to the shelter of the railway embankment; three yet remained and all the limber. As the men came out towards them, the storm of bullets was so violent that they pressed their helmets down on their heads and bent forward as if they were meeting a heavy wind; the horses that were brought out fared even worse than the men, for its burden. Yet, the men who did the work showed the coolness of a parade. Humphreys, for example, had his stick knocked out of his hand by a bullet, he quietly stooped down, picked it up, and walked on. Hornby was asked to take cover by Broadwood’s aide-de-camp, and replied, “Perhaps it would be as well, but I have been there for hours now.”


    At last, after many failures, guns and limbers were brought in. One guns and limber had to be left in the open for horses to bring them away, and finally five guns, including the one remaining of “U”, one wagon and one wagon limber were saved. As the mutilated remains of the two batteries of horse artillery trotted to the rear through the line of prone mounted infantrymen, through it was to court death to show a hand, the men, in a spontaneous outburst of admiration, rose to their feet and cheered the gallant survivors.


    Lieutenant Way was appointed the DSO in the LG of 27 September 1901 (p6318), having been mentioned in despatches by Roberts (LG 10 September 1901, p5953). He had earlier been killed in action in a skirmish with De Wet at Tabaksberg, between Winburg and Brandfort, on 29 January 1901.  


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    Great read, thanks for sharing it 👍


    It reminded me I have this 👇





    it’s a framed wooden piece, engraved in what looks to me, an Indian or Middle Eastern style.


    tony 🍻




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