Jump to content
News Ticker
  • I am now accepting the following payment methods: Card Payments, Apple Pay, Google Pay and PayPal
  • Latest News

    Recommended Posts

    Buller and his Staff proceeded to Natal where a force of 20000 troops and five Field Batteries awaited, the intention being to cross the heavily defended line of the Tugela River and advance to relieve Ladysmith. Hildyard’s 6th Infantry Brigade supported by the 14th and 66th Batteries, Royal Field Artillery, and six Naval 12 pounder guns under Colonel Long, Royal Artillery, held the centre of the British position. 


    The objective of 15 December was to cross the Tugela by the bridge at Colenso and dislodge the Boers beyond the river. Colonel Long, who had been responsible for the disaster to an armoured train a month before, had a theory that artillery was most effectively used at close quarters, or, in his own words, ‘the only way to smash the beggars is to rush in at ‘em’. Early in the action, Long employed his theory bringing his guns into a dangerously exposed position not more than 1000 yards from the enemy. ‘To see those 18 gun teams riding out far ahead of the infantry battalions 
    supposed to screen them, was to return to some scene from Balaklava.’ No sooner were the guns unlimbered than an enemy shell burst among them hailing the onset of a continuous and murderous fire.


    After half an hour of firing on the Boers at Fort Wylie both Batteries had run short of ammunition and the little they had left was 
    kept to cover the expected advance of 6 Brigade. Casualties had been severe and nearly all the officers including Colonel Long were wounded. The surviving men and officers withdrew to take cover in a donga to the rear of the position, leaving their guns exposed and unattended. Shortly afterwards Buller and his Staff appeared on the scene, having that heard the guns supposedly in support of Hildyard’s Brigade were out of action.


    The Boers recognising the Staff in an unusually forward position trebled their fire, but Buller, unperturbed, finished his sandwich and ordered the immediate recovery of the guns. From the surrounding group of officers emerged ‘one of the most gallant trio’s that ever tried to win the 
    Victoria Cross’. They were Captain Harry Schofield, Captain Walter Congreve of the Rifle Brigade, and Lieutenant the Hon. F. H. S. Roberts, King’s Royal Rifle Corps, only son of the Field-Marshal. 

    The following narrative is taken from Schofield’s pocket diary: 
    ‘We went back to the donga where all the horses and drivers were, which was under a hot fire and the General tried to get some of them (men and horses) out to try and recover the guns but there were no officers there; so General and Congreve (RB.) and self-set to work to get some out and we got 2 teams and a corporal and hooked in the teams to limbers just in front; doing this was no easy matter as it was difficult without N.C.O’s to get men on foot to come and help to hook in;


    Gerard was coming out when I shouted to him to send me a man or two to help; we got the teams hooked in somehow, I forget how (except I saw Congreve doing his) and 
    then I started off at a gallop with the limbers for the two guns on the right and Roberts, 60th, joined in; also Congreve came on tho ‘I did not find this out till after; the impression I had going on was galloping on a carpet spotted thick with spots, it was a very hot fire; after we had gone about 400 yards Roberts on my left was shot, he had just before been looking at me and smiling, waving his stick in a circular motion like one does one’s crop sometimes when one goes away from covert, thinking to have a good burst;


    Congreve tells me he was shot just before this and also his horse and the latter plunging badly, threw him; so the Corporal and self were left. When on the way, I saw the lead driver riding very wildly; I shouted to him to keep his horse in hand, which I 
    think took them off thinking of the bullets; on getting to the guns I howled out ‘wheel about on your guns’, which they did as if on parade; Corp. Nurse and self jumped off our horses and ran to hook on the guns, I found mine too far off to drag up alone so told the Corporal to come and help me, which he did and then he put his own gun on which was just in the right place; while he was doing this my wheel driver turned round and said ‘elevate the muzzle Sir’, which I did; they all kept their heads; we then mounted, galloped for the centre sunken road running across the far donga and I left them in a place of safety some way behind; after 
    crossing the Donga a spent bullet hit me on the thigh, only a tap and didn’t leave a mark. Corporal Nurse, drivers Henry Taylor, Young, Potts, Rockall, Lucas and Williams, all of the 66th battery were not touched; 3 or 4 horses got hit; luckily not enough to make them falter or we should not have got off that particular plain,I think.


    The corporal and drivers behaved most admirably and no doubt if they had bungled in their driving on to the guns we could not have got out, they were nailers.’ Congreve had crawled into the donga to seek shelter and later went out to bring in Roberts. He eventually remained in the donga with the other wounded until the Boers, who took the position, allowed their evacuation. 
    A second attempt to recover the remaining guns was mounted by Lieutenants Grylls and Schreiber of the 66th Battery but their efforts were unavailing and both officers were killed. 

    A third dash for the guns by Captain Reed of the 7th Battery ended with the loss of half his men and two-thirds of his horses. Eventually Buller, resigning himself to the loss of the guns, forbade any further attempts. Later, he went to the survivors of the abandoned batteries and personally thanked them for their gallantry.


    Buller’s final orders of the day were to recall Lord Dundonald’s force from Hlangwane. At 11:00, all the British soldiers were on their way back to camp. The naval guns maintained a long-range barrage on the bridge until they were also limbered up and hauled away at 14:30. The burghers crossed the river in small groups and 
    captured the artillerymen in the donga behind the guns.


    At 17:00 they hooked up the 10 guns and 9 ammunition wagons and drag them across the bridge in full view of the retreating British army. The abortive action to take the village of Colenso- part of the disastrous ‘Black Week’ of the Boer War- struck 
    the world with the manifest determination of the British soldier under fire, and was recognised by the award of 5 Victoria Crosses and 24 DCM’s for gallantry in attempting to extricate the guns, together with a further Victoria Cross and 21 DCMs for acts of gallantry at or near Colenso.

    The British lost 143 killed in action, 756 wounded and 240 missing. The Boers captured 38 men and 10 serviceable guns. Their own losses included 7 killed in action, 30 wounded and one drowned.


    DCM (EVIIR): 787 Clr.-Serjt. W. Ewer. 2nd Rl. W. Surrey Regt.; 
    QSA 5 clasps TugH, OFS, RoL, Tvl, L Nek: 787 Clr.-Serjt. W. Ewer. The Queen’s.;
    KSA, 2 clasps SA’01, SA’02: 787 Clr.-Serjt. W. Ewer.

    The Queen’s.; Army LS&GC Medal (EVIIR): 787 Clr.-Sergt. W. Ewer. Rl. W. Surrey Regt.


    While the drama at Long’s guns enfolded on the outskirts of Colenso, there was some determined fighting inside the village. “The fire now became intense, but in spite of bursting shells and whistling bullets, the men advanced as steadily as on a Long Valley field day, and no halt was made until the foremost ranks were within 1000 yards of the Tugela. Here a few volleys were fired at the crest of the low hills behind Colenso, and the advance was then continued, first by section, and, as reinforcements came up, by half-company rushes, until the men on the left of the line halted in the cover of a small shelter trench 400 yards to the south west of Colenso.


    So rapid had been the attack that a gap now appeared between the right of the Queen’s and the left of the Devons, owing to the slower movement of the troops in the donga, and this was at once filled by A and B companies, which crossed the railway line under a storm of bullets. Soon afterwards, as the men of the Devons advanced, the Queen’s re-crossed the line, and pushing gradually forward portions of A, B, C, D, and E companies succeeded in establishing and maintaining themselves in Colenso, in face of heavy rifle fire, being from time to time reinforced by driblets of men from a hut on the railway about 250 yards in rear, where a considerable number of the men of the Battalion had found cover.


    In the course of one of these forward rushes by a section of Captain Croft’s 
    company, led by Lieutenant Watson, a man fell severely wounded in the village street. Seeing this, and in spite of the heavy fire which swept the roadway, 2nd Lieutenant Wedd at once rushed out of a house, which he was holding with about 5 men, and, with the help of Sergeant Ewer, succeeded in carrying the wounded man to a place of safety.”


    Regimental History: The Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment, p225.
    Sgt Ewer’s name was among those specially brought to notice by LtCol Hamilton for service at Colenso and he was awarded the DCM in the London Gazette, 27 September 1901, p6311. According to Ewer’s Service Papers he enlisted on 2 November 1883 and saw service in Burma and India between 1885 and 1894 (India Medal with clasp Burma 1885-87). He received a gunshot wound to the head at Colenso and received the LS&GC Medal on 3 November 1902. He was finally discharged in England on 1 November 1904.

    Screenshot_20240530_084235_PDF Reader.jpg

    Screenshot_20240530_084509_PDF Reader.jpg

    Screenshot_20240530_084551_PDF Reader.jpg

    Link to comment
    Share on other sites

    DCM (VR): 77668 Dvr. W.T. Bodill, R.F.A.; 
    QSA, 3 clasps OFS, RoL, Tvl: 77668 Dvr. W.T. Bodill, 14th Bty, R.F.A.; 
    KSA, 2 clasps SA’01, SA’02: 77668 Dvr. W.T. Bodill, R.F.A.

    WO 132/16 contains important correspondence regarding acts of gallantry during the attempts to save the guns at Colenso. In a memo from Col Downing, dated 9 March 1900, he noted: 

    “Drivers Bodill & Parmenter appear to have been one of two parties that tried to get the guns away & I understand that their names had not been previously noted for the D.S. Medal…”

    On 16 March 1900 Lt Grylls, 66th Bty. RFA clarified the two Drivers’ involvement: 
    “These two Drivers Bodill & Parmenter belongs to 14th Bty and came up with a limber from their Battery to try and rescue the guns. Their horses were shot & Dr Bodill was wounded and taken prisoner.
    Dr Parmenter was wounded…”


    Both Drivers were awarded the DCM in the London Gazette of 8 February 1901 (p938): ‘Conspicuous gallantry in attempting to rescue the guns of their battery on 15th December at Colenso’. Dvr Bodill was wounded and taken prisoner at Colenso and then held at the Waterval Camp, north of Pretoria. He was released on 6 June 1900.

    DCM (VR): Driver E.W. Lucas. R.A.; 
    QSA, 5 clasps CC, TugH, OFS, RoL, Tvl: 
    6473 Br. E.W. Lucas, 66th Bty. R.F.A.; 
    KSA, 2 clasps SA’01, SA’02: 6473 Bomb. E.W. Lucas. R.F.A.; 
    1914/15 Star: 7705 Cpl. E.W. Lucas. R.F.A.; 
    BWM & AVM: 17705 Cpl. E.W. Lucas. R.A.

    DCM impressed in serif capitals.


    The day after the Colenso disaster General Redvers Buller wrote to the Under Secretary of State, War Office, London to report ‘cases of Distinguished Service in the Field’. After recommending Congreve, Roberts and Nurse for the Victoria Cross, he stated ‘Drivers H Taylor, Young, Petts, Rockall, Lucas and 30661 F Williams, all of the 66th Battery, Royal Field Artillery, rode the teams, each team brought in a gun. I recommend all six for the Medal for Distinguished Conduct in the Field.’


    The award of Lucas’ DCM was published in the London Gazette of 2 February 1900 (p689). 
    A photo of Lucas and 4 other “Colenso Guns Heroes” appeared in the Black and White Budget of 7 April 1900. In a letter home to his father he wrote: ‘I saw Lord Roberts’ son killed; I was close to him when it happened’.

    Lucas did WWI service as Corporal in the RGA as well as the RFA, entering the French Theatre of War on 17 June 1915.

    Screenshot_20240530_090709_PDF Reader.jpg

    Screenshot_20240530_090751_PDF Reader.jpg

    Link to comment
    Share on other sites

    Create an account or sign in to comment

    You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

    Create an account

    Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

    Register a new account

    Sign in

    Already have an account? Sign in here.

    Sign In Now
    • Create New...

    Important Information

    We have placed cookies on your device to help make this website better. You can adjust your cookie settings, otherwise we'll assume you're okay to continue.