Royal Garrison Artillery: 23rd Company with six 7 pounder mountain guns commanded by Major Chamier
Royal Engineers: 1 section of 7th Field Company commanded by Lieutenant McClintock
Army Service Corps company commanded by Captain Gorle
Headquarters and 4 companies of the 1st Battalion Loyal North Lancashire Regiment commanded by Major Murray.
Diamond Fields Artillery: six 7 pounder guns commanded by Major May.
Diamond Fields Horse commanded by Major Rodger.
Kimberley Regiment commanded by Colonel Finlayson.
Lying in the North West of Cape Colony on the western border with the Orange Free State, Kimberley was the centre of Cecil Rhodes’ De Beers diamond mining empire.
|Rhodes was a major player in the slide to war between the two
Boer republics and Britain and a colossus on the South African
political scene. As war became imminent Rhodes moved from Cape Town
to Kimberley, forcing the commander-in-chief to send Lieutenant
Colonel Kekewich with half his battalion of the North Lancashire
Regiment to defend the town, that would otherwise have been left to
the advancing Boers.
The obligation to relieve Kimberley, stridently demanded by Rhodes, hamstrung the actions of the British in the West, although not to the extent that the need to relieve Ladysmith dictated Buller’s strategy in Natal.
A capable and resourceful officer, Kekewich found he had nothing like the free hand enjoyed by Baden-Powell in Mafeking. Kimberley was De Beers; with most of the garrison made up of De Beers employees. The essential resources of the town were controlled by De Beers and therefore by Rhodes. Rhodes dictated the course of the defence as much as did Kekewich.
On 14th October 1899 the Boers invaded the northern Cape Colony and invested Kimberley beginning the siege.
George Labram, chief engineer at De Beers and a key member of the garrison until his death, provided many services: a water supply from the mine, building a gun in the De Beers workshops, “Long Cecil”, and an armoured train and manufacturing ammunition. On 6th November 1899 the Boers opened their bombardment of the town.
On 21st November 1899 Lord Methuen began his march north from Orange River to relieve Kimberley. The garrison noticed groups of Boers from the besieging force leaving for the South to reinforce their brothers on the Modder River. Cronje left to command the Transvaal forces opposing Methuen.
On 25th November 1899 the garrison launched a sortie on Carter’s Ridge to the South West of the town, attempting to capture the Boer artillery established on the high ground. The attack was a limited success, catching the Boers by surprise but failing to take any of the guns. Kekewich attempted a repeat attack trying again for the guns on 28th November 1899. He directed the officer commanding the assault, Lieutenant Colonel Scott-Turner, only to attack the position if it was lightly held. The attack was maintained in spite of the heavy reinforcements the Boer had introduced, killing Scott-Turner and many of his men.
The siege continued with the garrison anxiously noting Methuen’s
progress north up the railway line towards Kimberley. On 11th
December 1899 Methuen suffered the severe reverse of Magersfontein,
destroying the prospects of early relief for the town. Rhodes
showered Buller with hysterical complaints.
In the new year of 1900, Lord Roberts and Lord Kitchener arrived in South Africa with substantial reinforcements, taking over the command in chief from General Buller.
General French's Cavalry Division galloping across the Veldt in the rush to relieve Kimberley
On Wednesday 7th February 1900 the Boers opened fire on Kimberley
with one of the Creusot Long Tom guns. The bombardment caused panic
in the population, provoking a lengthy crisis between Rhodes and
Kekewich. One of the casualties in the first days of the bombardment
was Labram, killed by a shell.
Kimberley was relieved on 15th February 1900 by General French’s spectacular gallop across the Veldt with his Cavalry Division. This dramatic action caused the loss of a high proportion of the cavalry horses, overloaded and unused to the conditions, leaving the Cavalry Division seriously weakened.
On his arrival, acting on Rhodes’ prompting, French sacked Kekewich as the garrison commander, before leaving with his division.
Lord Roberts enters Kimberley after the lifting of the siege
Click to buy this picture
The lifting of the siege of Kimberley had little impact on the progress of the war, other than to reduce significantly the number of mounted troops available to Lord Roberts, following French’s rash gallop across the Veldt (likened to the progress of a torpedo).
Rhodes was released to make himself a nuisance on a wider stage; but his influence was significantly reduced by his involvement in bringing about the disastrous war.
The Boer War is widely covered. A cross section of interesting volumes would be:
The Great Boer War by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Goodbye Dolly Gray by Rayne Kruger
The Boer War by Thomas Pakenham
South Africa and the Transvaal War by Louis Creswicke (6 highly partisan volumes)
© britishbattles.com 2002 - 2012.