1st Bn OXFORDSHIRE LIGHT INFANTRY 1899-1902. The 43RD in South Africa.
Based on extracts from - A short history of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, 1741-1922 for the young soldiers of the Regiment. By R.B. Crosse
Relief of Kimberley. Paardeberg. South Africa, 1900-2.
The 43rd moved in 1898 from the Curragh to Mullingar ; in 1899 to England, spending two months at Devonport before joining the 13th Infantry Brigade, 6th Division at Aldershot, in November, in order to mobilize for South Africa.
Having sailed from Southampton on December 22nd, the Regiment landed at Cape Town on January 14th, 1900, and moved thence by rail via Naauwpoort (spending ten days there) and Thebus to the Modder River, to take part in operations undertaken to bring about the Relief of Kimberley.
Early on the morning of February 15th, the Regiment reached Klip Drift after a march of twenty-seven miles, and the next day in the attack at Klip Kraal bore the brunt of the fighting and had 50 casualties. The effect was to cause the Boers to evacuate the position under cover of darkness, so that the pursuit was resumed the next morning, the 43rd bivouacking that night (17th/18th) two miles from Paardeberg Drift.
Lord Kitchener decided to attack the Boer position at Paardeberg at once, and so on the 18th the battle began. Severe fighting continued till dark, and a very gallant charge cost the Regiment in killed and wounded 3 officers and 32 others; with the result that though the position was as yet untaken, it was completely surrounded and the Boers were held secure.
During the week which followed, the enemy laager was subjected to a severe bombardment, while the infantry entrenched themselves and watched for an opportunity. On the 19th, at dark, the 43rd and two other regiments attacked an outlying position which was finally taken two days later, and held against repeated counter-attacks.
On the 27th the Boer commander, Cronje, surrendered unconditionally with over 4,000 men, and preparations were begun for the invasion of the Orange Free State.
On March 7th the advance began; the same evening the 6th Division reached Poplar Grove, and after some opposition near Driefontein, in which the 43rd was not actively engaged, Bloemfontein was occupied on March 14th.
Exposure, fatigue, and short rations, as well as battle casualties, had so far reduced the effective strength of the Regiment to under four hundred and fifty, and before long enteric and dysentery began to spread, but a month of outpost duty followed until tents were again issued on April 18th.
Remaining at Bloemfontein with the rest of the division whilst Lord Roberts marched on Pretoria, the Regiment moved on June 6th to Kroonstad, as part of a reinforcement to the garrison of that place, and was employed, during August and September, in operations against De Wet, marching more than five hundred miles before reaching Heilbron on October 3rd.
Mention must here be made of the excellent services in South Africa of a part of the 43rd detached from the Regiment. As well as the shortage of the Army Reserve, another cause which resulted in the Regiment embarking for the seat of war no stronger than 660 of all ranks, was being required to leave behind 4 officers and 131 others as a company of Mounted Infantry.
The company landed at Cape Town on February 8th, was at once sent to the north of Cape Colony, and reached Bloemfontein on April 3rd. A few days later the company joined 8th Corps Mounted Infantry at Karee Siding, and marched and fought to Pretoria; after which it was continuously on the move in the Orange River Colony, and on October 5th marched into Heilbron to refit.
Leaving Heilbron again three days later in pursuit of De Wet, the company formed part of a column of mounted men and horse artillery which, on November 6th, came suddenly upon the Boer laager in the early morning near Bothaville. De Wet himself and many of his followers escaped, but for some hours there was a very stubborn fight until, with the aid of reinforcements, the laager was surrounded and 130 prisoners, some guns, ammunition, and stores "were taken. The company of the 43rd, at first with the advanced guard, and then in the front line, behaved very gallantly throughout, its commander, Captain G. N. Colvile, being severely wounded.
After this the company was continually on trek with various columns, always doing the same excellent work and keeping up the credit of the Regiment until the end of the war.
In pursuance of a scheme for "driving" the Boers and forcing them to surrender, the headquarters of the 43rd remained at Heilbron, which was a base for the flying columns until June, 1901, finding at times strong detachments, and in the spring having two companies on trek with various columns, which marched many hundreds of miles.
In June the Regiment moved to Kroonstad, in July to Bloemfontein, and then to the Modder River, to hold the drifts about Kooderand and Paardeberg. In September it took over a line of some thirty-five blockhouses established so as to divide the country up into areas which could be easily cleared of the enemy, but moved in October to another section, and in November occupied, as well, a secondary line. These latter blockhouses and some others were garrisoned up to the close of the war in May, 1902.
During the campaign drafts numbering nearly six hundred had joined in the field, as well as a Volunteer Company over one hundred strong, recruited from the Volunteer Battalions of Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire,
Four months after the Proclamation of Peace the Regiment returned to England,