The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging

Military History Journal
Vol 1 No 7 - December 1970

General Botha's own report on the Battle of Colenso

Edited and translated by C.J. BARNARD

Apart from their telegraphic dispatches, it was not customary for the Boer generals to provide their governments with written reports on their battles. General Louis Botha's report on the battle of Colenso, which the Military History Journal publishes here for the first time, is therefore a rare exception. It was also the last report of its kind that Botha made throughout the Anglo-Boer War. The report, dated 19th December, 1899, was submitted, with appendices, to Commandant-General Piet Joubert, who was then indisposed on his farm near Volksrust. This particular document has apparently been lost, but a copy which Botha sent to the State Secretary on 27th December, 1899, survives in the Transvaal Archives in Pretoria. The report, with Appendix I and the first two letters of Appendix 2, are to be found in the Archive of Dr. W. J. Leyds, Volume 754(1), pp. 31-48. The third letter of Appendix 2 and Appendices 3 and 4 are to be found in the War Documents of the State Secretary's Archive, Volume 8329, pp. 21-27.

Fisrt photo

Botha at Colenso, December 1899.

A feature of Botha's report is that he confines himself strictly to the events of the day of the battle. He gives no details of the fortnight's preparations for the British attack. The reason for this is that he had been in continuous telegraphic communication with the Commandant-General and with President Kruger, whom he had kept fully informed of his plans and of developments at the front right up to the actual attack. He also kept General Joubert and President Kruger abreast of the situation during the battle and telegraphed to them the result and the main features of the action in several dispatches. His report of the battle could therefore be relatively brief.

Botha devotes considerable space to what he regarded as misuse of the Red Cross flag by the British during the battle. He was much upset about this since the Boers ceased firing whenever the Red Cross flag appeared on the battlefield. General Buller, as will be seen, flatly denied Botha's allegations and rejected his protest. No attempt is made here to unravel the rights or wrongs of this affair; Botha's complaints and the correspondence on the subject are reproduced without comment.

In Botha's view General Buller attacked at Colenso with three columns, a left and a right flank and a centre. The left flank was General Hart's 5th Brigade, the right flank General Hildyard's 2nd Brigade and the centre, General Lyttelton's 4th Brigade. The probe by Lord Dundonald's mounted brigade towards Hlangwane Hill, the key to the Colenso position, is described by Botha merely as a movement to protect the right flank of the general attack -- a view confirmed by Buller's operation order which the Boers found on the body of a British officer.

It will be observed that Botha states unequivocally that his orders "were everywhere carried out excellently and faithfully, except on our extreme right (western) flank." His plan for a counter-attack on this flank failed, and in the article above it is explained how this came about. But in all other respects his orders were carried out "excellently and faithfully" -- "implicitly", as he put it in another account of the battle (Pen Pictures of the War by Men at the Front, London, 1900, p.281; see also Leyds Archive 713(c), Tel. 21 of 18/12/1899, Transvaal Archives).

These statements are important in view of the descriptions of the battle given by Botha's biographers (Harold Spender, Dr. F. V. Engelenburg and Johannes Meintjes) and by several other authors, including Major-General Sir Frederick Maurice (British official History of the War in South Africa, Vol. I, London, 1906, pp. 354-355), Sir Percy Fitzpatrick (South African Memories, London, 1932, pp. 152-154) and W. Baring Pemberton (Battles of the Boer War, London, 1964, p. 132). According to these authors, Botha's plan to allow Buller's troops to approach well within rifle range and cross the Tugela was thwarted because his men disregarded his orders and fired prematurely. These versions, according to Botha's own testimony, are incorrect. Not one of these authors, it should be added, consulted the voluminous Boer records of the war.

In order to assist the reader a few annotations have been added to the English translation of Botha's report.

Second photo

Burgers and their trophies. The captured guns on their way to Pretoria after the battle of Colenso. Here Boer gunners were to train with them before using them in battle.

Rapport van den Slag bij Colenso op Vrijdag 15 December 1899

[The Dutch original is not included in this scanned version]

Report on the Battle of Colenso on Friday 15 December 1899

At one o'clock in the morning we observed many lights in the enemy camp and at the break of day we saw that the enemy had moved out of their camping area in large masses. This area appeared to us to be divided into three camps, pitched in the nearest koppies to the south of the Tugela, south-west of Colenso and approximately three to four miles from our defences.

We had taken up our positions all along the river, from the great hill south (on the opposite side therefore) of the Tugela and east of Colenso,(1) and in the koppies and the plain west of that hill and on this side (north) of the river. The koppies were entrenched by the packing of stones and sand-bags, while in the plain trenches were dug for the protection of our burghers against the enemy fire. The enemy divided themselves into three distinct formations, and formed a left and right flank and a centre.

The most westerly flank marched forward in full array in a northerly direction towards the bend in the river near where Doorn Spruit falls into the Tugela, straight towards the trenches held by Comdt. C. Botha of Swaziland(2) and his men. To the right of Comdt. C. Botha lay Comdt. Van Rensburg of Soutpansberg and his men, and still a little higher up Comdt. Grobler of Ermelo and some of his men. This flank of the enemy marched under the protection of a full battery to a distance of about 2 000 yards from our positions where the battery unlimbered, and then, under cover of a heavy shell-fire from this battery, the infantry began the attack. In addition to the guns mentioned, the attack was supported by two other batteries of four pieces each, placed approximately a thousand yards ahead of the enemy's big naval guns. The latter - four in number - mounted on the koppie immediately in front of the camp, also maintained a brisk fire on all our positions.(3)

Our burghers as well as our artillery allowed the enemy to advance unmolested to a range of about 1 500 yards with their guns, and having allowed the infantry to approach to approximately 500 yards, they suddenly unleashed a heavy fire. The enemy had orders to cross the river at this point, and although they stormed repeatedly, the fire of our burghers and artillery was so well directed and had such good effect that only a captain, two lieutenants and a few men were able to reach the river bank. Here the enemy suffered a tremendous loss in dead and wounded, while on our side T. Graham was killed, De Schaaf was mortally wounded (died since) and J. A. du Plessis, P. Roos and Karel Hansen were lightly wounded.

The leading battery had meanwhile been transferred in a westerly direction to a cluster of trees approximately 1 500 yards from the Ermelo positions in the ditch. On the mountain right behind these positions stood our two Creusot guns,(4) and on these pieces the enemy battery directed its fire - however without any effect. Our burghers soon perceived that this most forward English battery was within range of the Mausers. It was thereupon subjected to such a severe and accurate fire with Mauser and Creusot that it had to withdraw precipitately, leaving one gun behind in the agaves, as we discovered later - although unfortunately too late - when the enemy suddenly dragged the piece away again with a team of horses. The two Creusots, one of which was sited rather more behind the Soutpansberg positions, were of very great assistance to our burghers with their Mausers and inflicted awfully heavy losses upon the enemy, hurling their shells upon the advancing troops rather than engaging the hostile batteries.

It was in this sector of the battlefield that the terms of the Geneva Convention were violated repeatedly by the English Red Cross, so that I was later compelled to bring this to the attention of the enemy's commanding officer. I shall however return to this subject in more detail.

The enemy's centre advanced in extended order in such a way that it could at any time, if necessary, render assistance to either the left or right flank. At the same time two full batteries moved in a more easterly direction to just opposite Colenso, probably with the intention of taking up position there. But when they found that they were not being fired on, they advanced further and took up position in line with the railway bridge and east of Colenso, probably in order to provide cover for the troops who were marching on the wagon bridge, i.e. the enemy's right flank.

As soon as the guns had been unlimbered and had taken up position and opened fire, our burghers blasted the batteries with their Mausers, while the big Maxim, the Krupp and the Howitzer, which stood in our centre(5), supported them vigorously. The fire of our burghers, namely the Krugersdorp commando under Acting Comdt. Oosthuizen and the Heidelberg commando under Comdt. Buis [Buys], was now so heavy, so well aimed and excellently sustained, and, in addition, so splendidly supported by our artillery, that the gunners - those who had survived - soon had to abandon the guns.

Concerned that the enemy, who now charged repeatedly in an effort to recapture the guns, might force their way through sheer weight of numbers into the entrenched hill of Field-cornet Van Wyk of Krugersdorp,(6) which lay nearest the two enemy batteries, I sent Field-cornet Emmett(7) of Ward 2, Vryheid district, with his men (about 80 in number) to that position as a reinforcement - under heavy artillery-fire - and later also Lieut. Pohlman of the mounted police of Van Dam's commando, likewise with 80 men.

A most violent action thereupon ensued along the whole length of our positions against the enemy's right flank, which was pressing forward towards the bridge and part of which attempted to relieve the guns, bringing along with them fresh limber teams. Under cover of the naval guns and of another battery stationed along the road to Weenen,(8) east of Colenso, the infantry charged no less than five times, but in vain. At length the enemy succeeded in limbering up quickly and taking away two guns, but not without having suffered heavy loss, including 32 artillery horses. In addition to the 10 guns, the enemy here left behind many dead and wounded, and were completely defeated and repulsed.

It has to be mentioned, incidentally, that we saw clearly that a number of shells were dropped by the enemy on their own retiring troops in this sector of the battlefield; to what purpose will probably become clear to us later.

In the afternoon and while the battle was still in progress Field-cornet Emmett with 15 men and some Krugersdorpers crossed the river in order to take possession of the guns, etc. Here, alas, one of our burghers was killed and two were seriously wounded by the enemy who fired at us at a range of 20 yards from a dry watercourse in the immediate vicinity of the guns. While the shooting continued, Acting Commandant Oosthuysen [Oosthuizen] of Krugersdorp dashed to their assistance, whereupon the enemy soon gave themselves up, and it was found that they consisted of about 150 gunners and supporting infantry. The guns, ammunition wagons and caissons were now quickly taken in hand by our burghers and pulled into the mimosas near the railway bridge, from where they were hauled with mules, etc. over the wagon bridge to our positions and lined up in our centre behind the hill on which the Krupp gun was mounted.

The Geneva Convention was once again violated during the fighting on the ground described above.

A force consisting of infantry, cavalry and one battery moved in an easterly direction in support of the enemy's right (eastern) flank.(9) A part of this force, so it proved later, had instructions to take possession, if possible, of the hill on the opposite side of the river, held by Comdt. Joubert (J.A.) of Wakkerstroom and Comdt. Muller of Standerton, assisted by Field-cornet Gouws of Olifants River, Middelburg district, Field-cornet Strydom of Soutpansberg and Acting Field-cornet Mey [Steyn] of Ermelo with their men. Our burghers here allowed the enemy, who were apparently unaware that the hill was occupied by us, to approach to approximately 60 yards and then opened fire on them. It need hardly be said that this fire was highly effective and immediately put to flight what was still left of the enemy. At about three o'clock in the afternoon the enemy, having been repulsed at all points, began to retreat along the entire length of the front under cover of their big naval guns, leaving behind on the battlefield their dead and many of their wounded.

Their loss was so great that they requested an armistice of 24 hours for the next day in order to bury their dead. The correspondence about this is attached as an appendix and is self-evident. I have to add, however, that since the enemy had not received an affirmative reply from me to their last letter, they were, in my opinion, bound by an armistice of 24 hours, from eight o'clock to eight o'clock, as defined in their first letter. I did not reply to them; the enemy carried out movements after twelve o'clock at night and at daybreak early in the morning, thus, in my opinion, wilfully and deliberately violating the terms of the armistice. I did not consider it necessary to enter into correspondence about this with the enemy's commanding officer, and mention the fact solely to put it on record for possible future reference.

I attach furthermore the correspondence in connection with the infringements, or rather violations, of the Geneva Convention. Although the letters are self-evident and the feigned indignation of the enemy's reply constitutes, in my opinion, a clear and irrefutable self-condemnation, I nevertheless wish to state here the facts upon which my contention was based and which induced me to send my letter of 16th December last to the enemy commander.

Let us first take the enemy's left flank. Here guns were moved into position behind [the Red Cross wagons], i.e. in such a way that the wagons were between our lines and the enemy's guns. In addition, there were a number of wagons loaded with pontoons among them. A Red Cross man was seen picking up a rifle, slinging it over his shoulder and riding off with it. Another galloped forward from the Red Cross wagons, rode through the soldiers who were lying down firing at us on his way to the river, and shouted to us: "You must now stop firing at us." Our burghers ceased firing when they saw him approaching, but Comdt. C. Botha had him warned that our burghers could not possibly stop while they themselves were being shot at.

Our burghers saw distinctly how two men with Red Cross flags left the Red Cross wagons and walked past the prostrate troops, who jumped up as soon as the flag-bearer reached them and were in this way led by him to a dry watercourse in which they found shelter. In no other way than by abusing the Red Cross flag did these troops succeed in reaching cover, since they were difficult [to see], indeed almost invisible, when lying down, but immediately disclosed their presence as soon as they got up - something for which they invariably had to pay with wounds or with their lives. It has to be mentioned here, too, that no rifles were found by our burghers next to the dead, next to many of the wounded or lying around on the battlefield, from which no other conclusion can be drawn than that they were carried off by the Red Cross. All this can be confirmed under oath by Comdt. C. Botha of Swaziland and his men, as he has informed me.

From our centre it could also be seen clearly that advancing and retiring troops of the enemy's extreme right (eastern) flank moved repeatedly among the ambulance wagons. This can be sworn to by me, by my secretary, Mr. Sandberg, by Captain Pretorius of the Staatsartillerie and many others.

If our burghers, as I have said, fought bravely and well, the Staatsartillerie, too, deserve a word of praise. Whereas our burghers sent away their horses or left them behind in their laagers, firmly resolved to fight unto death, so our artillery, too, were determined to do their utmost. Under the heaviest fire, Captain Pretorius rode calmly from his one gun to the other so as to satisfy himself that everything was in order, that nothing was lacking and that the guns were working well. And our artillery did work well; the shots were fired accurately and only where and when necessary - no waste but also no misconceived parsimony. While the enemy had found the correct ranges by their bombardment of the previous two days, and our artillery still had to estimate theirs not having responded with a single shot, I was glad to see that they were immediately effective - right from the first shots of our guns.(1O)

The enemy used lyddite and dum-dum bullets in this battle. I am pleased to be able to report that my orders were everywhere carried out excellently and faithfully, except on our extreme right (western) flank.

The following documents are attached as appendices:
1. The orders and plan of attack, with a little map,(11) found on the body of one of the officers killed in action.
2. Correspondence, originals and copies, regarding armistice.
3. Correspondence, originals and copies, regarding violations of the Geneva Convention.
4. List of our losses in dead and wounded.

It now remains for me only to repeat what I have already telegraphed to you, namely that the disorderly flight, the loss of guns, the relinquishing of their positions and the transfer of their camp, the abandonment of their dead and wounded on the battlefield and the request for an armistice for the interment of their dead, are the grounds on which I base my contention that the enemy suffered heavy casualties and that my estimate of their losses, namely 2 000, cannot be called exaggerated.

And herewith I think I have discharged what I considered to be my duty, namely to provide you with a reliable and true report of the battle of Colenso, the battle in which it must again have been clear and obvious to the most blinded that the Lord of Hosts fought this battle for us, thereby enabling a small force of not quite 3 000 men with five guns not only to resist, but to defeat - even with great loss - a strong and powerful enemy of 23 000 men with 36 guns(12), including some of the largest calibre, and armed with lyddite and dum-dum.

Louis Botha,
19 December, 1899.
Sandberg, Secretary, Assistant-General Botha.

P.S. I should not refrain from bringing a word of thanks and praise here to Acting Commandant-General S.W. Burger. During the battle he immediately sent me reinforcements without waiting until I had to ask for them and however difficult it was for him to spare men.

1. Hlangwane Hill.
2. Commandant (later General) Chris Botha was a younger brother of General Botha.
3. These references to the British artillery are not quite accurate. 5th Brigade was supported by two field batteries (64th and 73rd Batteries, R.F.A. - altogether twelve Armstrong 15-pounders). The naval guns to which Botha refers, were sited as follows: two 4.7-inch and four 12-pounders on Naval Gun Hill and two 12-pounders on Shooter's Hill (see map).
4. 75mm. Creusot field guns, mounted respectively on Red Hill and Cannon Koppie (see map).
5. 37mm. Maxim-Nordenfeldt, 75 mm. Krupp field gun and 120 mm. Krupp Howitzer, mounted in the Colenso Koppies (see map).
6. Fort Wylie.
7. Field-cornet (later General) Cherrie Emmett was General Botha's brother-in-law. He was an English-speaking officer of Irish descent.
8. 7th Battery, R.F.A. (see map).
9. The troops referred to here are General Barton's 6th Brigade and Lord Dundonald's mounted brigade, with 7th Battery, RFA.
10. This statement by Botha refutes the account of the British official History of the War in South Africa (Vol. I, p.359), according to which the Boers had whitewashed stones and posts along the railway in order to provide the exact range. See also W. Baring Pemberton, Battles of the Boer War, p. 138.
11. This "little map", no doubt similar to the sketch given to General Hart, could not be found in the Transvaal Archives.
12. Approximately 19 400 men (according to official British statistics), with 44 guns.

Third photo

4.7 inch naval gun in action at Colenso. Gen. Sir Francis Clery extreme right.


Orders by Lieut.-General Sir Francis Clery, K.C.B., Commanding South Natal Field Force


14th December, 1899. 10 p.m.

1. The enemy is entrenched in the kopjes north of Colenso bridge. One large camp is reported to be near the Ladysmith road, about five miles north-west of Colenso. Another large camp is reported in the hills which lie north of the Tugela in a northerly direction from Hlangwhane Hill.

2. It is the intention of the General Officer Commanding to force the passage of the Tugela tomorrow.

3. The 5th brigade will move from its present camping ground at 4.30 a.m., and march towards the Bridle Drift, immediately west of the junction of Doornkop Spruit and the Tugela. The brigade will cross at this point, and after crossing move along the left bank of the river towards the kopjes north of the iron bridge.

4. The 2nd brigade will move from its present camping ground at 4 a.m., and passing south of the present camping ground of No.1 and No.2 Divisional troops, will march in the direction of the iron bridge at Colenso. The brigade will cross at this point and gain possession of the kopjes north of the iron bridge.

5. The 4th brigade will advance at 4.30 a.m., to a point between Bridle Drift and the railway, so that it can support cither the 5th or the 2nd brigade.

6. The 6th brigade (less a half-battalion escort to baggage) will move at 4 a.m., east of the railway in the direction of Hlangwhane Hill to a position where it can protect the right flank of the 2nd brigade, and, if necessary, support it or the mounted troops referred to later as moving towards Hlangwhane Hill.

7. The Officer Commanding mounted brigade will move at 4 a.m., with a force of 1 000 men and one battery of No.1 brigade division in the direction of Hlangwhane Hill; he will cover the right flank of the general movement, and will endeavour to take up a position on Hlangwhane Hill, whence he will enfilade the kopjes north of the iron bridge. The Officer Commanding mounted troops will also detail two forces of 300 and 500 men to cover the right and left flanks respectively and protect the baggage.

8. The 2nd brigade division, Royal Field artillery, will move at 4.30 a.m., following the 4th brigade, and will take up a position whence it can enfilade the kopjes north of the iron bridge. This brigade division will act on any orders it receives from Major-General Hart. The six Naval guns (two 4.7-inch and four 12-pdr.) now in position north of the 4th brigade, will advance on the right of the 2nd brigade division, Royal Field artillery. No. 1 brigade division, Royal Field artillery (less one battery detached with mounted brigade), will move at 3.30 a.m., east of the railway and proceed under cover of the 6th brigade to a point from which it can prepare the crossing for the 2nd brigade. The six Naval guns now encamped with No.2 Divisional troops will accompany and act with this brigade division.

9. As soon as the troops mentioned in preceding paragraphs have moved to their positions, the remaining units and the baggage will be parked in deep formation, facing north, in five separate lines, in rear of today's artillery position, the right of each line resting on the railway, but leaving a space of 100 yards between the railway and the right flank of the line.
In first line (counting from the right):
Ammunition column, No.1 Divisional troops.
6th brigade Field Hospital.
4th brigade Field Hospital.
Pontoon troop, Royal Engineers.
5th brigade Field Hospital.
2nd brigade Field Hospital.
Ammunition column, No.2 Divisional troops.
In second line (counting from the right):
Baggage of 6th brigade.
Baggage of 4th brigade.
Baggage of 5th brigade.
Baggage of 2nd brigade.
In third line (counting from the right):
Baggage of mounted brigade.
Baggage of No.1 Divisional troops.
Baggage of No.2 Divisional troops.
In the fourth and fifth line (counting from the right):
Supply columns, in the same order as the Baggage columns in second and third lines.
Lieut.-Colonel J. Reeves, Royal Irish Fusiliers, will command the whole of the above details.

10. The position of the General Officer Commanding will be near the 4.7-inch guns. The Commander Royal Engineers will send two sections 17th company, Royal Engineers, with the 5th brigade, and one section and Headquarters with the 2nd brigade.

11. Each infantry soldier will carry 150 rounds on his person, the ammunition now carried in the ox-wagons of regimental transport being distributed. Infantry greatcoats will be carried in two ox-wagons of regimental transport, if Brigadiers so wish; other stores will not be placed in these wagons.

12. The General Officer Commanding 6th brigade will detail a half-battalion as Baggage Guard. The two Naval guns now in position immediately south of Divisional Headquarter camp will move at 5 a.m., to the position now occupied by the 4.7-inch guns.

By order, B. Hamilton, Colonel,
Assistant Adjutant-General, South Natal Field Force.

Fourth photo

Destroyed railway bridge at Colenso as seen from Fort Wylie.


Correspondence regarding armistice
To the Officer Commanding
South African republic Forces,
Dec. 15th, 1899.
I have the honour by desire of the General Officer Commanding British Forces South Africa to request that you will agree to an armistice tomorrow, Dec. 16th, 1899 in order that I may have an opportunity of burying any men of any forces who were left dead on the field during today's operations.
I would suggest that the armistice hold good for 24 hours, from 8 a.m. tomorrow Dec. 16th, 1899.
I have the honour to be,

Yr. Obedient servant,
Fred. W. Stopford,
Military Secretary.

[The original Dutch has not been included in the scanned version]


16th Dec., 1899.
Honourable Sir,
I have the honour to acknowledge receipt of your letter of yesterday, which was delivered to me this morning by one of your men under a flag of truce, requesting an armistice of 24 hours, commencing at eight o'clock this morning, in order to bury your dead.
In reply I wish to inform you that I have no objection to agreeing to your request, provided that it be understood explicitly that no military operations or any movement whatsoever of your troops shall be carried out during the armistice.
Permit me, furthermore, to point out to you that I have to reserve the right to send a certain number of my men, i.e. approximately fifty, to the battlefield to pick up and gather together weapons which had been abandoned there. An officer will lead these men and they will not proceed beyond the actual battlefield.
Finally I cannot refrain from drawing Your Honour's attention to the fact that no military personnel belonging to the British forces, who are not strictly connected with their Ambulance, shall be allowed to come on to the battlefield.
Should Your Honour concur with this letter, I request that you inform me accordingly with the bearers, two of my burghers, who will deliver it to you, so that I can immediately apprise my burghers of this armistice.
I have the honour to be,

Your obedient servant,
Louis Botha
Assistant General.

The Honourable
The Officer Commanding the British Troops in South Africa.
To the Officer Commanding South African Republic Forces,
Dec. 16th, 1899.
I have the honour by desire of the General Commanding the British Forces in South Africa to acknowledge the receipt of your communication in reply to my letter of yesterday's date respecting an armistice for the purpose of burying men killed in yesterday's operations.
I am desired to inform you that the General Commanding the British Forces accepts the conditions proposed by you, which shall be loyally carried out.
He is acting on the assumption that on receipt of this communication by you the arrangements for the armistice may be considered as concluded. He is therefore giving instruction that all hostile operations and movements of his troops shall cease from now until the conclusion of the armistice.
As the armistice is solely for the purpose of burying the dead, and as this duty will be concluded by nightfall, he proposes, if you agree, that the armistice be concluded at 12 midnight tonight, Dec. 16th, 1899.
I have the honour to be, Sir,
Your obedient servant,
Fred. W. Stopford
Military Secretary.


Correspondence regarding violations of the Geneva Convention

[The original Dutch has not been included in the scanned version]


16th Dec., 1899.
Honourable Sir,
I have the honour to bring the following to your attention: During yesterday's battle the British troops repeatedly abused the Red Cross, and the infantry and cavalry were repeatedly among the Red Cross wagons during the fight.
The Red Cross itself overstepped its function by moving its ambulance wagons into the fighting line.
I regret to have to point this out to the Officer Commanding the British Forces, and I regret it even more to have to inform you that if such violations recur, I cannot hold myself responsible for the extremely serious consequences which must naturally flow from them.
I have the honour to be,
Your obedient servant,
Louis Botha

The Officer Commanding the British troops in South Africa.

To the Asst. General Commanding
South African Republic Forces,
Chieveley Camp.
Dec. 16th, 1899.
I am desired by the General Commanding the British Forces in South Africa to acknowledge the receipt of your letter regarding the alleged misuse of the Red Cross Flag. I am directed to inform you that you are entirely mistaken in supposing that the British troops ever used the Red Cross Flag as a protection for anything except ambulances and field hospitals. It is the custom among civilized nations to establish during an action field hospitals two or three miles behind the troops and to have the wounded collected and brought first to dressing stations and thence to the field hospitals by bearer companies during the progress of the action.
This practice was adhered to yesterday. The field hospitals and bearer companies employed were marked as is their right by Red Cross Flags.
During the action the position of the troops changed, and on two occasions a bearer company and a field hospital were in positions that were under the fire of your forces. Of this we made no complaint as we did not for a moment suppose you fired at either the hospital or the ambulances, but that your fire was directed at the troops whom the course of the action had brought into the locality where those humane establishments had been accidentally stationed.
I am desired to repudiate in the strongest possible manner the imputation you make against the British troops, and if you like to send an officer over the ground tomorrow I will cause him to be shown the exact positions in which the field hospitals were located and where dressing stations for ambulance work were established, and will give evidence of those cases in which our hospitals were fired on by your troops, but with regard to this last I must beg that you will understand that no complaint is, or has been, made regarding this accident as it was assumed to be unintentional.
I am instructed to deny that there was any occasion yesterday when ambulances entered the firing line other than one in which a retiring line passed through a locality at which ambulances were already at work.
I have the honour to be, Sir,
Yr. obedient servant,
Fred. W. Stopford
Military Secretary.


List of our casualties

[The original Dutch has not been included in the scanned version}


16/12/99. The following is the list of dead and wounddq on our side:

Jan van Tonder, lightly wounded, splinter in arm, resides ward Olifants River, Middelburg district.

From field-cornetcy ward 2, Vryheid

H. G. Grove, killed; D. A. J. Louw, lightly wounded, grazing shot in head.

Krugersdorp, ward 2

Killed: Johannes Schoeman of Rietfontein; Diedlof L. Marais, Roodepoort.

Wounded: Ben Erasmus, Olifantshoek, flesh wound, right leg above knee; A. Akkerman [Ackermann?], Vlakplaats, seriously wounded, in at right arm and out at left chest; Daniel Booyens, Elandsfontein, lightly in head; Roelof van Vu[u]ren, Olifantsvlei, lightly in head; Daniel van der Merwe, Misgund, lightly in head.

Ward 1

Nicolaas Gey van Pittius, seriously wounded in head above left eye; Reinier Gerardus Deyzel, lightly through foot; Hendrik Nagel, through right foot; Servaas de Kock, lightly in head; Antonie Vlotman, scratch in head. Swaziland Commando (Botha)

Killed: T. Graham.

Mortally wounded: De Schaaf.

Lightly wounded: J. A. du Plessis, P. Roos and Karel Hansen.

Boksburg field-cornetcy (Dercksen)

Frans Lombard, Elandsfontein, and Shaw, both killed.

Ermelo Commando (Grobler)

Lodewijk van Aardt, thigh broken; P. Mare, P. son, lightly wounded.

Wakkerstroom Commando (J. A. Joubert)

The Commandant himself (J. A. Jouhert), lightly wounded; Field-cornet Gabriel Swart, lightly wounded. Heidelberg Commando

J. Bekker, F. son, ward Roodekoppen, lightly wounded through foot; J. Strijdom, J. son, lightly in head; Christoffel Botha, lightly through shoulder, both of Roodekoppen.

Standerton Commando

Petser, ward Blesbokspruit, lightly through hand; Gert Diederiks, ward Klip River, also lightly wounded.

Later the names of the following persons were received:

Jacobus Wijnand Rautenbach, shot in left thigh, of Sterkfontein, ward 3, Ermelo, Breitenbach's field-cornetcy. J.P.J. Smit, Ermelo, ward 3.

Jacob [van?] Schoor, Heidelberg, killed - shell right through body.

A.H. Dykes, Ermelo, ward 3, flesh wound left leg.

H.J. [Grobler?], through foot, Krugersdorp.

Pieter de la Rey, Johannesburg Police.

W. Friedlander, Springs, Boksburg (field-cornetcy), lightly in hand.

Note: The official Boer casualty list for the battle of Colenso (No. 18), as supplied by the Boer Red Cross and published in the Transvaal Staatscourant (Government Gazette) of 27th December, 1899, does not contain the name of J. P. J. Smit, of Ermelo, who is mentioned among the wounded in Botha's list. The official list differs from Botha' s in one other respect. It mentions among the dead a Standerton burgher, Gabriel Uys, who was drowned in the Tugela. According to the official Boer returns, therefore, Botha's casualties at Colenso were: killed in action and died of wounds, 7; drowned in the Tugela, 1; wounded, 30.

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