South Africa, August 21st, 1900
A Painting by Sir Robert Baden-Powell

From C. R. B. Barrett, History of the XIII Hussars, 1911


When C. R. B. Barrett was writing the History of the XIII Hussars, he looked to one of the most distinguished veterans and serving officers of the 13th Hussars, Lieutenant-General Sir Robert Baden-Powell. The two volume set has several color plates, some done exclusively for this history. Volume II is introduced with Baden-Powell's painting "South Africa, August 21st, 1900." It depicts a member of the 13th Hussars offering a "hand up" to a dismounted Hussar during an engagement near the Buffalo River. It is interesting to note that B-P was not present on that day, nor, in fact, did he serve with the 13th Hussars during the South African War. But, in the best traditions of the British Army, his loyalties were always with "the Regiment."

The Regimental History reports:

For the next four days all was quiet at Donga Spruit. News was, however, received that a patrol of the 5th Dragoon Guards from Coetze's Drift had been fired on, and that the Boers to the east of Newcastle were in fairly strong force.

On the 19th twelve remounts of possibly worse character than usual, though not much, arrived from the remount department. Five of these after trial were returned. Mounted on such useless brutes, the men were at a most distinct disadvantage when patrolling in a country known to be full of the enemy.

On August 20th a message was received from Major Smithson to the effect that the troop of the Royals at Duck Pond Farm had been attacked by some 400 Boers and compelled to retire on Fort Macready. Major Smithson endeavoured to cut off the Boers, and went as far as the junction of the Ingagane and Buffalo rivers, but the Boers retired, and he took on his troops towards Wool's Drift. From camp the squadron turned out and reconnoitred towards the Ingagane and Buffalo rivers, but no sign of the enemy was visible.

From Donga Spruit that morning a patrol was kept well occupied. It appears that about 250 or 300 Boers were on the flats under Doornkop. They were being watched by a patrol under Sergeant Miller. The Boers tried to cut the party off, and to prevent this Lieutenant Wise turned out with his inlying picket, upon which the enemy retired. When Sergeant Miller's patrol in retirement reached the river, the horse of Private Graham fell just as he got into the water. Private Graham hid in some long grass, and eluding the search made for him by the Boers rejoined Lieutenant Wise on foot. Lieutenant Wise reported that this patrol behaved well, and that Sergeant Miller showed coolness and discretion.

All the patrols of the 5th Dragoon Guards were fired on that day, two men being wounded and one taken prisoner.

On the 21st news came about 8.30 A.M. that an attack was being made on Donga Spruit. The squadrons turned out and went in that direction, but were met by intelligence that the enemy had retired.

It seems that the Boers had kept up a very heavy and accurate pom-pom fire on the post, but the horses were well concealed in a donga and the men placed under good cover, so that the only damage done was two mules killed and a waggon slightly injured.

By 11:30 there were two Royal Field Artillery guns under Captain Spencer, R.A., and two companies of the Middlesex Regiment on the ridge west of the railway, under Windsor Castle. The two squadrons of the 13th Hussars were then ordered to reconnoitre down to the Buffalo river. As soon as the advanced scouts had crossed the stream, the enemy came on in considerable force. Both squadrons came under a heavy rifle and pom-pom fire, and retired to the ridge between two and three miles west of Wool's Drift. The enemy then retired towards Doornkop. The casualties that day in the regiment were Privates Gilchrist and Willis slightly wounded, and five horses wounded. The squadron under Major Smithson at Mathew's Farm was ordered to be relieved on the following day by Major Williams's squadron. About 8 A.M. news came to Major Smithson that about 200 Boers were crossing the Buffalo river near Wool's Drift.

Now owing to the number of men employed in patrolling, the squadron was reduced to one weak troop. With this, however, Major Smithson advanced to a slight rise, since known as Smithson's Ridge, and at about one and a half mile west of Wool's Drift, the intention being to check the Boers' advance. A message was sent back to Major Williams, who was unaware that the enemy were attacking, and had already started for Mathew's Farm, to give him information of the state of affairs. This troop (Lieutenant Lyons') was attacked heavily on three sides. Major Smithson gave the order to fall back on A Squadron, and was almost immediately shot through both knees. Corporal Cooke also was wounded in the arm.

Major Smithson was taken prisoner, wounded, but was very courteously treated by the Boer Commandant Opperman,—one of the 13th whose horse had been shot, and who had been taken prisoner, being sent in to get an ambulance and guide it to Major Smithson. But the resistance offered by the troop bore ample fruit. A Squadron had time to come out and engage the enemy well away from the town, and the guns also were able to be brought out. The C and A Squadrons had practically defeated the attack, and a round or two from the guns completed the discomfiture of the enemy. The Boers retired, and were eventually driven back across the Buffalo river. More than one gallant action was performed on that day. Private Dempsey of the A Squadron dismounted and assisted a comrade, whose horse had been shot, on to his own mount. Holding on to the stirrup, he was in the act of retiring when the brave fellow was shot and died within the hour. The name of this gallant soldier, had he lived, would have been brought forward for a Victoria Cross.

Lieutenant Jenkins, despite the efforts made to bring him in, was taken prisoner.

The troop of Lieutenant Jenkins had dismounted to cover the retirement of the troop of C Squadron. When Major Williams gave the order for this troop to mount and take up another position, the horse of Lieutenant Jenkins, which was being led up to him by Private Herbert, fell shot. Private Herbert rode to the officer and offered his own horse, an offer which Lieutenant Jenkins refused. Private Herbert then rejoined his troop. Lieutenant Jenkins then took hold of the stirrup of Sergeant-Farrier Hunt, and ran alongside for a short distance, but soon fell, and in falling injured his hip. The enemy were now quite close. Sergeant-Farrier Hunt then rode up to Major Williams and reported that all the troop were mounted and coming away except Lieutenant Jenkins. Major Williams said to him that as he had a big horse he might try to pick the Lieutenant up, if he liked to chance it. Sergeant-Farrier Hunt then rode back to Lieutenant Jenkins, who, however, still refused assistance and would not mount Hunt's horse. It was perfectly certain that both would be taken prisoners, and Lieutenant Jenkins was disabled. Sergeant-Farrier Hunt then galloped back to his troop, running the gauntlet of a heavy fire. Private Herbert and Sergeant-Farrier Hunt were both mentioned in despatches for their behaviour on this occasion, but while Private Herbert subsequently received a medal, Sergeant-Farrier Hunt was unrewarded. Lieutenant Jenkins was released by his captors on October 9, and rejoined the regiment at Heidelberg on November 1.

Major Smithson reported to the Officer Commanding as follows:—

Private Cooke, who was hit alongside of me, behaved very well, as also did the others.

Our casualties on this day were: One man killed, Major Smithson and one man wounded, Lieutenant Jenkins missing, four horses killed, sixteen horses wounded.

Lieutenant Church, who left with two troops of A Squadron to relieve Lieutenant Wise and his two troops at Donga Spruit, was opposed by a considerable number of Boers, who galloped down to the line and blew up a culvert near Wessel's Farm, doing but little damage. Lieutenant Church undoubtedly prevented further damage being done. When the Boers attacking Mathew's Farm retreated, this force retired, and Lieutenant Church proceeded to Donga Spruit.

This was intended by the Boers to have been the main attack, and to have ended in the capture of Newcastle. The enemy under Commandant Opperman numbered 2000, and were so sure of success that they wired that Newcastle had been captured, a message that appeared in some Dutch papers in Europe. That this was so intended was confirmed later, and also after peace had been declared. The Boer excuse for failure was that one commando under Lucas Meyer, the distinguished commandant, arrived too late, and that in consequence they were beaten in detail. Colonel Blagrove was complimented by the General Officer Commanding on the excellent work done by the regiment during the day.

Major Smithson was invalided home in October, and rejoined the regiment again in August 1901.

From C. R. B. Barrett, History of the XIII Hussars, 1911


  Baden-Powell's Lessons from the Varsity of Life, Chapter VII: The South African War tells of B-P's service including the defense and relief of Mafeking.
  The South African War Virtual Library contains a wide selection of research data related to the South African War. This site presents an archive of easily accessible and concise material concerning the War. It is not intended to be a new historical 'front', but instead an organised amalgamation of a wide variety of available material. (This site is currently inactive. The owner plans on re-activating in the future).
  In 1876, Baden-Powell was posted to his first regiment, The 13th Hussars, a cavalry regiment with a long tradition. They were perhaps best known for their part in the Charge of the Light Brigade before the guns at Balaclava in the Crimean War. The regiment continues today as part of The Light Dragoons, an armored regiment of the British Army that saw service in Desert Storm.
  B-P's first Commanding Officer, Sir Baker Creed Russell, 13th Hussars.
  Baden-Powell Photo Gallery: Early Years and Military Years. Thumbnail Graphic Index
  The Baden-Powell Home Page

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