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    One of the most serious conflicts in which the Natal Police took part in was the defence of the magistracy at Mahlabatini on 28 April 1901. About a score of the police under Sgt Locke were brigaded at Dundee and received orders to entrain for Zululand.


    From the Tugela they rode up to Melmoth, where a standing camp was pitched for some weeks until further orders were received for them to go on a four days’ patrol to Mahlabatini. 


    A camp was established outside the courthouse and every morning before dawn a four-man patrol was sent along the road towards Emtonjeneni. This patrol went out as usual on the day of the attack. As the men were riding past a mealie patch, about two miles from the camp, a shot was fired, and one of the patrol galloped back to camp reporting the incident. 


    The whole force quickly moved out under Sergeant Locke, with Mr. Wheelwright, the magistrate, and Colonel Bottomley. They rode quickly down the road, made a thorough search of the mealie patch.


    Finding nothing they went along the veldt towards the Emtonjeneni store, about three miles away, until they came to where the road divides with the main track passing to the left, and a path going straight on through some wattle trees. 


    The magistrate, with four men, went to the left, galloping to the top of a ridge, where they came under a hail of bullets. The sun was just rising, showing the troopers up very clearly on the skyline, and providing an excellent target for the Boers, who were concealed in the trees.


    On hearing shots, the advance party of the men who had gone along the path got into skirmishing order, and entered the trees, where they were ambushed. 


    They were shot down to a man, every one of them receiving two or more wounds. The remainder of the troop hastily opened out, and arrived on the scene at a gallop, just as a Boer named Van Niekerk, more courageous than the others, came out of the trees to demand the surrender of the whole troop. 

    This was refused, so he instantly fired, hitting one of the horses; but he in return received a bullet fired by Trooper J. Smith.


    The police dismounted and took cover, spreading well out and firing at the slightest movement of the enemy. After some hours the Boers were driven off and the dead and wounded troopers were placed in a police wagon. Sergeant Locke had been very badly injured within an hour of the opening of hostilities.


    He was found lying on the ground with his head on his saddle, and Van Niekerk, also badly wounded, being near him. Sergeant Locke was with difficulty lifted on to the wagon, which went slowly towards the camp, but as the jolting was so bad a stretcher was improvised.


    No natives had been seen about all day, but fortunately at this moment a party of thirty of them in full war paint appeared. They were told to carry the stretcher in which Sergeant Locke was lying, but they were in a violent frame of mind.


    Killed: Sergeant Collett (seven wounds in one leg), Troopers Cameron, Salmond and Nelson.
    Mortally wounded: Sergeant Locke and Trooper Aldwinkle.
    Wounded: Trooper Smith.


    Sergeant Locke died the same evening and Trooper Aldwinkle about a month later. Trooper Smith recovered and became a warder at the central gaol at Pietermaritzburg.


    The defence had been maintained by 3 non-commissioned officers and 19 troopers of the Natal Police. It was afterwards discovered that the enemy had numbered about 150 (some reports suggest 400), and the little British force killed nine of them.


    The rest went back, and, thinking they had been opposed by a regiment, shot their native spies, who had told them that there were only a few men of the police there. When they discovered how many troopers there really were at Mahlabatini they sent along a disconcerting message to the effect that they would pay a visit to the camp on the first moonlight night and wipe out every man there.

    In “The Nongqai” – the official police magazine – a photograph of the survivors appeared along with a brief account of the action which read as follows: “The Magistracy, Mahlabatini, Zululand, was attacked by a large force of Boers at 5am yesterday. The defence was maintained by a detachment of the Natal Police Field Force, comprising 3 N.C.O’s, 19 men and 2 civil servants.


    The fighting lasted 6 hours, and resulted in the defeat and repulse of the Boers, who numbered 400 strong (according to computation of prisoners captured).

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    DCM (VR): Sjt. J.H. Evans Dist. Police; 
    QSA, 2 clasps Natal, Tvl: Sub.-Insptr. J.H. Evans. Natal Police; 
    1914-15 Star: Capt. J.H.T. Evans. Lan. Fus.;
    BWM & AVM: Capt. J.H.T. Evans.

    Sergeant James Herbert Thomas Evans was promoted to Sub-Inspector and was granted a DCM (LG 26 July 1901, p4950) for the part he played in the defence of the Magistracy.


    He was not mentioned in a despatch and, in addition, the Submission to the King incorrectly referred to his unit as “District Police”.


    Judging from entries in the NP Headquarter’s Order Book, Evans continued to serve in Zululand until at least the end of the war. He was awarded the QSA with the clasps ‘Natal’ and ‘Transvaal’, the latter indicating his service in those parts of the Vryheid district that bordered on Zululand. 

    Evans is one of many Natal Policemen who should have been awarded the KSA. Hevretired from the NP in 1904 and evidently returned to Britain. When World War I broke out he attested as a Private in the 12th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers and the next day he was commissioned as Lieutenant, 13th Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers.


    He served at Gallipoli till early August 1915, when he was wounded by a shell fragment (broken fibula) and returned home. After recovery he served in France, where he developed Neurasthenia: this resulted in two periods of hospitalisation in England, although he recovered sufficiently to serve in the trenches for the duration of the war.


    On completing his service, he stayed with his sister in Sussex where he eventually died after a long and painful illness.


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