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    Posted (edited)

    Plumer made contact with De Wet at 11 am on 12 Feb, a little to the north of Hamelfontein. This was a critical meeting, for all De Wet’s hopes of penetrating into the interior of Cape Colony depended on his being neither delayed nor deflected at this moment.


    Plumer’s, on the other side, had to keep the invaders from the vitals of the colony by turning them westward. The enemy’s left, in short, was the strategical flank, and Plumer, though he fully recognised this was fortunately served by subordinates able to anticipate his orders before they could be conveyed across the field.


    It happened that the enemy was first struck into by a reconnoitring squadron of the Imperial Light Horse., commanded by Captain G. T. M. Bridges, R.A. Had this party bungled in its tactics infinite harm might have resulted; but the situation was as clear to Bridges as to his chief.


    He instantly sprang towards the proper flank and, establishing himself in a defensive position, successfully clung to De Wet and warned him away from the east until Jeffreys’ column, coming up, finally barred the south and east, and bent the hostile fine of advance in the required direction.


    After a sharp skirmish, in which six of Plumer’s men were wounded, the Boers drew off towards Philipstown, whence another part of the Boer vanguard was beaten off by the small garrison, opportunely supported by Henniker’s Coldstream Guards, after eleven hours’ fighting. “Official History” Vol IV, p79.

    DCM (VR): Trpr Sopp, Imp.Yeo.; 
    QSA, 4 clasps CC, Rhod, OFS, SA’01: 12040 Cpl. W. Sopp 65th Coy. 17th Impl. Yeo.; 
    1914-15 Trio: 777 Pte. W. Sopp. Bucks. Yeo.; 

    Melton Mowbray Tribute Medal: Corporal W. Sopp 7th Com. IY 
    (Last without suspender as presented – Hibbard A16)


    The award of Sopp’s DCM (Supplement to the LG, 25 March 1901, p2103) read “…for gallantry at Phillipstown, on same occasion as Captain Tivey”. Maj Gen Settle’s endorsement of Lt-Col Crabbe’s recommendation for the award of the DCM provides more detail:

    “Trooper Sopp displayed great courage in running the gauntlet under a very heavy fire, and getting his message through obviated the necessity of Captain Tivey leaving the town which he probably could not have done without heavy loss”.

    However, a vivid account of Sopp’s heroic effort, written in a style reminiscent of a Victorian novel, was given by Sharrad H Gilbert (who also served in the 65th Company, I Y) in the chapter headed “The 
    Defence of the Jail” of his book “Rhodesia – and After”.

    “Those in the jail watch the hill eagerly. What will they do? What can they do? They are but sixty strong. But soon it is seen that some attempt is to be made from the hill. A party commence to make their way to the relief across the plain westward of the town.


    But this is madness. From the jail it can be seen that that side is seamed with dongas bristling with Boers, but evidently unknown to the Australian Captain. If they come that way they will be cut off to a man, but a short mile away, the men who have come to save them are riding to annihilation, all unwitting. And those upon the walls are forced to watch them, hand-tied, helpless.


    There seems no means. To ride through that zone of fire is suicide— is courting 
    instant death; even was there the man to attempt it. But such a man is found. Trooper William Sopp volunteers to make the attempt, and the offer is accepted. No time is lost. Descending to the yard, Lieut. 
    Munn’s own horse is saddled, with every ounce of useless weight discarded. Then — a cheery word or two, the gate flung wide, and urging his horse with voice and heel, Sopp takes Death by the hand, and makes his dash.


    For several moments the men above draw their breath, expecting instantly to see the 
    fall of horse and rider. And the Boers themselves seem paralysed by his audacity, for twenty yards is gained before they fire.
    But not for long. Scores of rifles are swiftly emptied on horse and man. For many hundred yards they ride through showers of lead.


    The fire on the jail perceptibly slackens, for every rifle seems turned on that flying 
    horseman, who moment by moment grows less as the distance widens. He leaves the road and striking across the veldt, shapes a beeline for the Bushmen’s hill. A horse with outstretched head and straining limbs, the rider sitting tight but still, riding to win.


    A horse and rider, faint seen through rising dust. A little dark patch scudding o’er an ocean of veldt. On, smaller, till a speck crawling up the far rise, and then – “Hurrah! He’s got through,” — broke from the men. And with a better heart, into the baffled 
    Boers they pour their hail of lead, for they know the Bushmen are saved. And shortly from the hill a black speck comes, and reaching the plain, makes townwards.


    It is a horseman riding easily, for he has 
    not yet been noticed by the Boers. What is it? — men ask. Surely no one man is so mad. Ah! The Boers have seen him and he is riding under fire, for there is now no lagging in his pace. Nearer, till through the glasses he takes shape, and one says with a gasp — “’Tis Sopp coming back!’ 

    Nearer the flying horseman. This is a different task. To ride into the fire of a hundred rifles is not the same as flying from them. “Pour in your fire! Draw their attention! “shouts Lieut. Munn. And the men strive their best. Nearer the horseman.


    In the still moments ‘tween the firing the beat of the hoofs can be heard. “Keep up the fire into that donga. There’s where the mischief lies “And for the next few seconds 
    the donga becomes a warm corner indeed for its sheltering occupants. 300 yards away, and the horse still on its feet. The crackle of shots is like fresh thorns on a fierce campfire.”

    “To the gate!” ‘Tis the last order given. Two hundred yards, —one hundred, and from the road fly little spurts of sand, thick as the first coming of big raindrops on still water. Back fly the gates. There is a sound of splintering glass, as every unbroken pane in the windows of the jail falls shivered by the storm of bullets. And with a clatter and a cheer from the men Trooper Sopp gallops into the yard — without a scratch on horse or man. ‘Trooper’ for that day only. For from that date henceforward he is ‘Corporal’ 
    Sopp — promoted by the Commander- in-Chief for his deed. And, recommended by the Australian Captain, his name appears in ‘orders’. 

    As mentioned by Gilbert Sopp was promoted to Corporal as additional reward for his gallantry. Sopp was in a group of almost 50 “north-country” soldiers whose DCM’s were presented in April 1902 by Maj Gen Thynne at the Cavalry Barracks in York. His address, as given in a newspaper report was ‘The Stables, Newport Lodge, Melton Mowbray’. He died from pneumonia in January 1928.


    Edited by archie777
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