Military - Boer War
Events at Colsburg
The Suffolk Regiment suffered large casualties at Colsburg/Rensburg. Colesburg and Rensburg are close to each other. On and around 6th January 1900 the Suffolks were at Colesburg and ordered to occupy a hill at Rensburg. They advanced up the hill in darkness and the Boers were entrenched at the top. The Boers waited for them to get within yards and then opened up with accurate rifle fire. This caused confusion among the Suffolks, some ran back down the hill, others stood around in the confusion getting picked off. Many were captured. It seems they took a lot of officer casualties because the Boers picked them off while they stood at the front of their men. Events run roughly as below.
January 5th 1900 - Boer positions around Colesberg shelled by Artillery and a position known as Grassy Hill (Suffolk Hill) reconnoitred with a view to gaining possession of it the next day. French believed that the capture of this hill would win Colesberg.
Victoria Cross awarded to Lieutenant Sir John Millbank for bravery on the Colesberg Front.
6th January 1900 - 1st Suffolk Regiment defeated at Colesberg - Boer attack at Ceasar's Camp, Ladysmith.
Only four companies of the battalion were used in the attempt to occupy the hill. The Hill was renamed Suffolk Hill.
Cambridgeshire Times – 12/1/1900
The Disaster to the 1st Suffolk’s
About midnight on Saturday, Colonel Watson, having urged the General to grant him peradanton was allowed to attempt to occupy a very important hill commanding the road to Colesberg Bridge. The hill presents a bare face with a gentle accent towards our position by rugged rocks, and has a steep front towards the back. Four companies of the Suffolk Regiment marched on the hill and took up a position. The Boers appeared in force from the east front, and opened a hot fire.
A cry of “Retire” was raised, it is said by some of the Boers, and about two thirds of our men retired.
The remainder held the position for twenty minutes longer, and then being outnumbered and surrounded, they surrendered.
Colonel Watson was wounded and taken prisoner. Six other officers and about seventy men are killed or wounded, or in the hands of the Boers.
Local Men Killed and Missing
Pte. Prigg, (who has a sister at Stuntney)
Pte. Phipps, Ely.
Sergt. Frost, Little Downham
Pte. J. Wayman, Ely
Pte. A. Case, March
Pte. J. Rayment, Chatteris
Sergt. G. Claridge, Chatteris
Pte. H. Hodson, Chatteris
Pte. C. McCue, Manea
Pte. G. Pears, Walsoken
[This list is as complete as it can be made.]
Cambridgeshire Times - 9/2/1900
Five Thousand Boers against the Brave Little Band
Another interesting account of the fight is given in a letter from Private W.H. Garford. Private Garford was one of the Wisbech reservists, and in writing to his mother, who resides on the Elm road, from Arundel, on Jan 12, he says:-
“On January 1st we arrived at Koleskop at 9.30, and after halting for an hour received orders to occupy a hill on the left flank. There we remained under fire for four days and nights without any rest, losing four men killed and ten wounded. We understood that we were to be relieved by our remaining four companies from Rensburg for a little rest. In a short time, however, we received orders that we were to parade at 4.30am on the 5th for the purpose of taking Red Hill. Somehow or other the order was cancelled, and at 12pm on the 5th, we were roused in silence and told that we had to take Red Hill. So on we marched, as steady as a wall, little thinking of the dreadful straits awaiting us. After marching on about a thousand yards in quarter column, a whistle was heard similar to that of a bird. We all made the remark that it was a signal to the enemy, to let them know that we were coming. Little or no notice was taken of it, and we still marched on, when another whistle was heard similar to the first, but no particular attention was paid to either. Then came the order, fix bayonets, but no one was to fire a shot on any account until dawn. On we marched, clambering from rock to rock until we reached the brow of the hill, where the command ‘halt’ was given. Colonel Watson called out the officers commanding the companies to the front, and they all stood on the summit scanning the enemy’s position, when a single shot was fired. The order was given to lie down, and then a terrible fusillade of rifle fire was poured into us from 15 to 20 paces. The Commanding Officer finding he had made a mistake by marching us into that terrible trap, gave the order ‘H Company advance’. Seeing, however, his men falling down like hail, he then gave the order to retire and get away as quickly as possible. I believe most of the officers fell at this period, for only one of them was seen again. On rallying for another charge we met with a terrible flank fire and were compelled to retreat for better shelter, while our comrades were falling like hail all around us. The only officer returning out of twelve was Major Graham, who was foremost in the fight and received three wounds. He also states that there must have been between five and six thousand of the enemy holding the position, which was strongly fortified, against a brave little band numbering 400 of the Suffolk Regiment, viz., A, B, D and H Companies, the enemy averaging 15 to 1. Our total losses were four officers killed, seven wounded, six of whom were taken prisoners. Rank and file: killed 36, wounded 49, missing 99; being a total of 195 casualties. Personally, I am all right, but I do not think I shall get into a worse fire if we stop here for a year. The enemy’s firing was dreadful and in total darkness. They were hidden behind well fortified walls, with only small loop holes for them to fire through. I lost my right and left hand men, whilst standing at the summit of the hill, one being George Pears, of Wisbech. He was one of the six reservists that left the town when I did. The other remaining pulled through with only a scratch or two from explosive bullets. Poor old ‘Minty’ Hotson is missing, but I cannot say whether he is killed or taken prisoner. I cannot tell you how we are to manage now, for most of our officers have gone, and we are put back from the fighting line in reserve, awaiting for reinforcements of officers and men.”
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