The Regiment in South Africa
Extracted from “The Royal Monmouthshire Militia” by B E Sargeaunt - 1910

The month of October 1899 had seen the commencement of the war in South Africa - a long and perhaps inglorious struggle which was not concluded until May 1902. The total British Force engaged amounted to 448,435; that of the Boers approximately to 75,000. Of the British Force 5,744 were killed in action, 22,829 were wounded, and 16,168 died of wounds or disease in South Africa. The total cost of the campaign was about £223,000,000. Owing to the large number of troops required at the seat of war, it was found necessary to embody the Militia early in the campaign, and many regiments proceeded to South Africa, while others did garrison duty in the Mediterranean, relieving Regular regiments required for service at the front. The Yeomanry and Volunteers also proceeded in large numbers to the war. There was much useful fighting material furnished by the Auxiliary Forces, until methods of recruiting were adopted by which raw and unsuitable men were sent in numbers to satisfy public clamour. Some remarks on the services of the Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers during those critical months, will at this juncture be of interest. The London Gazette of February 13, 1900, contains: 'Her Majesty has been graciously pleased to accept the voluntary offer made by the undermentioned section of the Royal Engineers Militia and by embodied battalions to serve at stations out of the United Kingdom, viz. a section of the Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers Militia. ' The services of the section. were accepted for duty with the Bridging Battalion, Royal Engineers, on active service in South Africa and assembled at Monmouth on February 26.

The section embarked under the command of Lieutenant R. S. Forestier-Walker on the transport Nile at Southampton on March I4. Meanwhile a District Order of March 10 had intimated that all Militia regiments stationed in the district, if not already embodied, would be called out on or before May I. On April 9 the recruits enlisted since July I899 assembled for Preliminary Drill, and on April 21 Company Sergeant-Majors were directed to prepare notice papers calling up the non-commissioned officers and men of their companies for embodiment at Monmouth on May 1.

On May 10 it was notified for general information that the War Office had proposed to accept the services of at least one company of the Regiment for service in South Africa at an early date, conditional on her Majesty's consent being obtained, and that the Commanding Officer had recommended for acceptance the voluntary offer of the Regiment to serve as a whole in South Africa.

The official news of the Relief of Mafeking having been received on May 21, the occasion was celebrated by a torchlight procession in the town of Monmouth.

It was announced on May 22 that orders had been received for the preparation of a company of about l00 rank-and-file to be in readiness to proceed to South Africa and to embark about June I; and the following officers, non-commissioned officers, and men were selected by the Commanding Officer for duty with the company :---

Captain and Honorary Major H. E. M. Lindsay in Command.
Lieutenant R. L. Matthews.
Second Lieutenant C. H. R. Crawshay.
Company Sergeant-Major J. Brown.
Sergeant F. Alder.
Bugler H. Gilmore and such men of No. 8 Company as were medically fit; the numbers being completed by such men as were selected from those who volunteered from other companIes.

On June 6, 1900, the company left Troy Station en route for Southampton, and embarked in the s.s. Aurania. It landed at Cape Town on June 29, and, after a short stay at Green Point, proceeded by rail to the Orange River Colony for duty under the C.R.E.

On July 12 one section under Lieutenant R. C. Matthews detrained at Springfontein, and the rest proceeded to Bloemfontein.

On the 18th the Headquarters, with three sections, started by route march for Sannah's Post with orders to put the waterworks, which supplied Bloemfontein, in a good state of defence, which done, the company on August 2 returned to Bloemfontein.

After having been employed for a few days in road making and other duties, the company was, on August 20, placed at the disposal of the Director of Railways in exchange for the 20th Company R.E., which was retransferred to the Engineer-in-Chief.

The Headquarters were then moved to Kroonstad, and Lieutenant Matthews' section was transferred to Bloemfontein.

From that time onwards the company was kept exclusively for work on the Imperial Military Railways in the Orange River Colony, on which portion of the line - some 420 miles in length - the men were practically the only Sappers employed.

At times, when the enemy was specially active and the company was manning four or even five construction trains, every available man was taken up, but in the intervals of comparative peace, as soon as a section could be spared, it was always sent to assist in the reconstruction of the permanent bridges, where the men's work was invariably much appreciated by the Engineers in charge, and on every day on which the construction trains were not out, the men were employed on such works as cutting up and riveting together pieces of old girders from blown-up bridges, constructing sidings, building platforms for detraining horses and waggons, and sometimes, when railway work was slack at any particular station and men were available, doing work for the C.R.E.
After April 1901 the breaks to the road by the enemy were comparatively rare, although in three cases - the derailment of the hospital train at Boschrand, the explosion under the armoured train at America, when Major Heath was killed, and the derailment of the engine of the up-mail at Tredefort Road, when the fireman, Private Dale, 9th Lancers, lost his life - the results were most serious.

It was consequently possible to employ most of the company on permanent bridges (the 100 foot span at Doorn River was launched and riveted and the bridge over the Rhenoster River re-riveted almost entirely by the company) and in refencing the line and fitting up the apparatus for ringing electric bells in the blockhouses.

At the time that the company was transferred to the Imperial Military Railways Major H. E. M. Lindsay was appointed Deputy Superintendent of Works (really Chief Engineer for the Orange River Colony) and O.C. Railway Troops, Orange River Colony, but was provided with no staff for these duties other than the help he could obtain in his own company.

In the latter capacity he had to maintain two offices - at Bloemfontein and Kroonstad - and to look after the pay, clothing, and discipline of the soldiers of all corps employed on the Imperial Military Railways in the Colony. These averaged (in addition to his own company) some 200 men who were continually changing, as in thirteen months at least 400 men passed through his hands. He had to arrange for the testing of these men on their applying for work on the Imperial Military Railways, their transfer from and to their regiments and the Military Imperial Railways, and the transfers to the reserve or the discharges of those who took permanent employment, as well as answering the applications of the hundreds for whom employment could not be found.

This meant the finding, by the company, of an Acting-Sergeant-Major and Quartermaster-Sergeant for the railway troops, two clerks and an orderly, as well as taking up much of the time of two officers of the company.

As Deputy Superintendent of Works, Major Lindsay had his office at Kroonstad, from which the ’outward' letters alone averaged 350 per month, besides telegrams sent out and received at the rate of about twenty a day. Here the services of at least one clerk and an orderly were indispensable, and a great part of Major Lindsay's time was taken up visiting and inspecting the line and the various works under his charge - for this purpose a private coach was placed at his disposal; the company also sent one man to the railway telegraphs, two to the South African Constabulary, and one was employed, for almost the whole time, as fireman on No.2 armoured train.

That a company of Engineer Militia of this strength should have successfully coped with the works already described is no doubt creditable, but it cannot be doubted that the strength was far too small for the work an Engineer company would probably be called upon to perform, especially when the inevitable waste of active service is considered - indeed in this particular instance it is known that the work could never have been carried through had not the assistance, at a most critical moment, of Lieutenant R. S. Forestier-Walker and the remains of his Special Service Section been obtained.

The company had embarked for South Africa on June 6, 1900, with a total strength of three officers and 103 N.C.O.s and men, and when it entrained at Kroonstad for re-embarkation on September 14, 1901 (the Special Service Section had already gone home), the numbers were two officers and sixty-eight N.C.O.s and men.

One man, Sapper Greenfield, was taken prisoner by the enemy when the train was wrecked at Klip River, between Vereeniging and Elaandsfontein (he was afterwards released), but in no other case was anyone either killed, wounded, or made prisoner. It was by no means uncommon for working parties, when repairing the railway line, to be fired upon at long range by the enemy, but these attacks were never pushed home. For the ordinary maintenance work of the railway Major Lindsay had under him, in his position as Deputy Superintendent of Works, two civilian District Engineers, but during the first three months of 1901 these gentlemen were both either in hospital or on sick leave, and their places had to be filled by officers of the company - Lieutenant Forestier-Walker took the Bloemfontein District, while Major Lindsay, assisted by Lieutenant R. L. Matthews, took the northern or Kroonstad part of the line, in addition to the other work.

On Major Lindsay taking leave of the Superintendent of Works, Imperial Military Railways, the latter expressed his very high opinion of the work done by the company, an opinion which nothing but the unremitting zeal displayed by all ranks could have enabled them to deserve. The company on arrival in England was disembodied on October 14, 1901.