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    On 22 March 1901 General Babington, acting on observations of a sentry the previous evening, ordered Col Briggs and 3 squadrons of the ILH with a pom-pom to Kafferskraal, 25 km west of Hartbeestfontein, to find out whether De la Rey’s laager is in the vicinity.


    Reaching the farm Geduld at the halfway mark at 9.30 am, an advance troop under Lt Dryden was attacked by some 200 Boers.


    They took refuge in a kraal and vigorously returned the enemy fire. Shortly afterwards Col Briggs brought the pom- pom into action, causing the Boers to temporarily fall back.

    Having confirmed the presence of De la Rey’s commando, Briggs ordered the ILH to retire to Hartbeestfontein.

    De la Rey’s men attacked on horseback, firing from the saddle and a running battle developed with Smuts’ men joining in. The three ILH squadrons were subjected to heavy fire but fought their way back with the pom-pom working at maximum capacity.


    Individual troops and squadrons alternated as rear-guard and they reached base camp at about 2 pm.


    The British casualties were heavy: 2 officers and 4 men killed, and 3 officers and 15 men wounded. Years after the war General Smuts, who was shot through the leg at close quarters in an effort to capture the pom-pom, spoke at a banquet in honour of Col Briggs when he relinquished command of the Transvaal Volunteers. 

    He said, inter alia: “The rear-guard action fought by the ILH, supported by a Maxim Nordenveldt, at Hartebeestfontein was the most brilliant one I had seen fought by either side during the entire campaign. Both General de la Rey and myself were determined to capture the pom-pom, as well as the ILH”.

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    DCM (Vic): 2828 Sqdn. Sgt. Major A.E. Hurst 5/Drgn. Gds.; 
    QSA 5 clasps RoM, Elandsl, DoL, Tvl, SA’01: 2828 Sq: S. Major A. Hurst, 5th Dragoon Guards


    Arthur Hurst was in South Africa with his parent unit when the war broke out and saw action at Elandslaagte and during the Defence of Ladysmith. He was one of 3 Sergeants “imported” from the 5th Dragoon Guards by Major B R M Glossop when Adjutant of the 1st Imperial Light Horse and he earned his Relief of Mafeking, Transvaal and SA1901 clasps with his adopted unit.


    In “The Story of the Imperial Light Horse” by Lt G F Gibson it is related that during the action at Cyferfontein on 5 Jan 1901, when Colonel Woolls-Sampson was trying to get his men to retire from heavy fire, RSM Hurst was seen to ride down the whole Imperial Light Horse line, waving the men away and yelling “Retire! Retire!”


    Miraculously neither Colonel Wools-Sampson, Major Briggs, Captain Normand nor RSM Hurst, although remaining mounted were touched, but their chargers were wounded in many places and their saddlery and clothing were pierced by many bullets.


    Hurst displayed much coolness under fire that day, but, as the history of the ILH informs us, he reacted a lot more hotly to a visiting member of the Army Service Corps that evening: Hurst was yarning to the members of his mess, including a visiting Sergeant-Major of the A.S.C., about the day’s experiences; he was particularly sore about the damage to his hat, which had received more than its arithmetical quota of attention from the enemy that morning, no less than three bullets having torn through it and shot it to rags.


    His miraculous escape from death concerned him less, knowing the workings of the supply side, than the prospect of having to replace the hat at his own expense. Sourly regarding his wrecked headgear, he commented fluently upon the parentage, upbringing and morals of the “New Hat Department.” The Sergeant-Major from the A.S.C., his branch of the Service involved, imprudently intervened: “What would happen if every soldier wanting a new hat merely fired three bullets through his old one and then claimed a new one?”


    At this interjection (and possible innuendo) 
    Hurst warmed to his work in real earnestness. Expurgated of his Rabelaisian ornamentation and the choicer cuts and thrusts of army lingo and shafts of pious wit (this out of consideration for our more gently nurtured readers) his homily on the scale of values, rank and precedence in the army, but nothing about ‘hats’ ran:-


    “Look here, my lad (glaring maliciously). You are talking to the R.S.M. of the I.L.H.,  and a S.M. of the 5th Dragoon Guards, two fighting regiments, FIGHTING regiments.


    My Colonel, who is a just bloke, would choke me off like Hades if he saw me talking with one of your sort. It would break his precious heart if he heard that I had talked with a Creator Condemned Grocer, and as for arguing – if he knew that I, a cavalry soldier, had condescended to argue with one, do you know what he’d do? 

    Of course, you don’t – pity the ignorant! He’d have me on the peg and reduced to the ranks in a brace of shakes. Now, no more ruddy talk from YOU about my hat.” Of true fighting spirit, Arthur Hurst was killed in action at Hartebeestfontein.


    In the London Gazette of 9 July, 1901 (p4561) RSM Hurst with 2 other men (Pte Langham, 4th NZ Rgt and Cpl Moy, 6th Imp Bushmen) are “Brought to notice by General Babington for their conduct in capture of guns and convoy at Vaal Bank on March 23rd and 24th, 1901”.


    In the “Remarks Column” is stated “Awarded DC medal”. Langham and Moy were definitely mentioned and rewarded for this particular action, also known as Wildfontein. However, SSM Hurst’s name is out of place when coupled to Vaal Bank as he had been killed on 22 March!


    As the Hartbeesfontein rear-guard action led to General Babington’s success at Vaal Bank it seems that he commented on the 3 days’ combined operations (22 to 24 March) in his despatch to Kitchener. This is borne out by the particulars and dates in the LG mentions by Babington: 


    22nd and 23rd March 1901: Sixteen Officers are mentioned under the reference “General Babington’s despatch on capture of Boer guns and convoy at Vaal Bank”


    24 March 1901: Fifteen men (including Hurst) are mentioned under the reference “General Babington’s despatch, dated 29th March, on capture of Boer guns and convoy at Vaal Bank.” 


    22 March 1901: Only three men are mentioned under the reference “General Babington’s despatch on action of Imperial Light Horse.”

    Based on the above, it is concluded that Hurst’s DCM must have been awarded for the Hartbeesfontein action. It is hoped that Babington’s Despatch(es) will one day be traced to confirm this!


    Warrant for Municipal or Metropolitan Police Service Ten Year Loyal Service Medal 2008.pdf

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