2nd Battalion The Rifle Brigade at Bergendal

R.D.C. writes. In 1899 the Boer War broke out and the 2nd Battalion took an active part in the Defence of Ladysmith, Relief of Ladysmith and Bergendal.

In 1900 the 1st Battalion formed part of the force which effected the relief of Ladysmith, and was frequently engaged. Subsequently both battalions saw much service; the 2nd Battalion greatly distinguished itself at Bergendal. The 4th Battalion also went to South Africa towards the end of the war. Two V.Cs. were awarded to the Regiment during this campaign. Captain (later General Sir) W. Congreve and Rifleman Durrant. In 1903 the Victoria Cross was awarded to Major Gough for gallantry in Somaliland.

An edited version of the letter written by Sergeant Danton of the 2nd Battalion to his wife from Ladysmith, 27, December 1899. Compiled from Rifle Brigade Chronicles, knowledge of Terence by R.D.C. and from a copy of the original letter from Ladysmith supplied by Terence and Mrs Danton.

My Dearest Wife and all at Home,
At the time of writing this long letter I am, thank God alive and well, no doubt it has been a very trying time to you all not knowing where or what had become of me. After arriving at Durban in Natal on the 26th of October and expecting to proceed to Cape Town, our proper destination, we were ordered to disembark at once, three Companys that night, the rest of the Battalion in the morning.

To make things worse it was very rough and they landed the Troops in surf boats lowered over the side in baskets, of course, we made a laughing matter over it. My Company was fortunate to stop on board until the morning and they got the Trooper inside over the Bar, and landed us on the Quay. There we received the news of a great battle up country, off we went by trains to a place called Peitersmaritzburgh, reached there at midnight.

Before I go farther I must tell you that the reception we got was excellent, every station we stopped at the Troops were given every-thing they required. Dear Lizzie all this time we are not able to wash—only when we have a drop left in the bottle, also living is very bad, one pound of bread and meat per diem, and water is very bad.

Now for the glorious news of our Battalion which I suppose you have already heard about. On Sunday evening of 10 December, at about 9 o’clock we were warned to parade for the purpose of going out to a large hill held by the Boers, to attack them and seize their big gun which was causing so a great deal of damage in camp. It was a moonlight night for the first three hours. A, B, H, and G Companys were the attacking party. Our Colonel led us over the country which is all rocks and deep holes, not a whisper amongst the troops, everything done in silence.

We marched about two miles and laid down, the moon showing too bright. At about midnight the clouds came over and suited us admirable. Right through the Boer lines, which was on our right and left, up to Surprise Hill which is very high and very steep. The order to” fix swords” ‘a regimental custom to do with the Baker rifle, bayonets are called swords’. A Coy moved first in line up the hill. H Coy next ½ a Coy each way, so that the gun would be in the centre, my Coy on the left and B on the right, E guarding the base. We had not heard a sound up to then but as soon as we reached the top, firing commenced.

Our men fought splendidly, they drove the swords through them and cleared the hill, the noise of cries was fearful. During this time we blew up their big gun, and then it was perfect hell. The Boers came round on both sides and fired into us, and tried to cut off our Company. Men and officers wounded on all sides, poor fellows, we never knew when our last moment was. There was no time for thought but to act at once and fight our way through at the point of the sword, bullets were flying like hail storm at this time. My captain was shot at this time in three places. Archer, he shouted for me to form up my men and get the wounded inside which we did, during that time men were shot each side of me. After forming up we charged the Boers and cut our way through, you can fancy what it must have been for us. I carried a poor fellow named Dacres of C Coy for a time on my back. He was shot through the breast and leg, but he begged me to stop and die where he was. After this we mad for our entrenchments which, thank God we arrived in safety after five hours hard fighting. I can’t make out why I was not hit myself-luck I suppose.

Our casualties were (killed one officer, C/S. Saunders, Sgt Patterson, wounded severely Sgt Ebner and 12 men), 48 NCOs and men, total 15 killed, 46 wounded.

But, Dear Lizzie and parents, the camp is ringing with our gallant deeds and bravery considering our strength was 490 and the Boers about 2,000. I am proud to say that me and J Archer are both mentioned in dispatches for bravery in the field. Our Regiment has received compliments from every Battalion. After that great fight I think it is a miracle that I am alive and kicking. I thought of you all on Christmas day. Tell Mother and Dad I drank their health with water that you would not wash your clothes in, our food was beef and water. Bread for pudding. Dear Lizzie we are firing here all day long to keep the Boers back and they are sending big shells into our camp and hill, a few daily.

There is a lot of sickness-enteric, men dying daily, worst luck I am in rattling good health, thank God. Now, my darling, keep up your spirits as before and all will come right in the end, give my love to Mother Dad, our Tom, Jess and Flo, Albert Henry, the old Lady and all enquiring. Bob Longley is still alright tell his father. I can’t tell when this will reach you, but trust in God that I shall be spared to write again and in a few months, take you and the boy in my arms and separate no more. Love to all in Belfast and now goodnight and God Bless you all. P.S. We received a message from the Queen on Christmas Day. Also I have not had my clothes off since the 26th October. Kiss Alfie for me and my fondest for the family. Your Loving Husband Bill.

Foot note:
Alfie was the son of Sergeant Bill Danton, born on 29 June 1899 at Aldershot from where the battalion had travelled to South Africa from. He was christened Alfred George Danton and at the age of 15 enlisted for Boy Service with the Regiment, he served with his father in Gibraltar and Malta. At the outbreak of WW1 he went to France with his battalion and was involved in the second battle of Arras. He suffered from shell shock and was casevaced to a sanatorium in England where he recovered. He married aged 26 at Winchester the home of the Regiment. Posted to India in 1925 he and his wife were stationed in Quetta, Cherat and Peshawar, returning to the Rifle Depot at Winchester in 1925. Their son Terence was born three weeks later. He retired from HM Forces in 1937, in WW2 he became a civilian instructor with the Armoury, Royal Air Force.

The Danton’s service to the crown was to continue with Terence doing National Service in The Rifle Brigade in 1947-1949, serving in BAOR. In 1950 he became a regular soldier with the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry seeing service with them in the Malayan campaign. Sent to the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry 1950/51 who at that time much involved in Korea, he took part in the battles at Hills 227 and 355, for Hill 227 the Regiment was awarded it as a Battle Honour.

In 1953 Terence requested a move back to The Rifle Brigade based on his and family service with them, he was to see further active service 1954-1958 in East Africa the Mau Mau conflict and the Malaysian campaign against the communist terrorists. In 1962 he retired from HM Forces and in the same year married. Three generations of family dedication to the Crown and Regiment.

Citations taken from: FOCUS ON COURAGE, The 59 Victoria Crosses of The Royal Green Jackets by Lieutenant- General Sir Christopher Wallace and Major Ron Cassidy.

(Later General Sir Walter Congreve VC KCB MVO)
Date of Act of Gallantry: 15 December 1899 Place: Colenso

Citation: "At Colenso, on 15th December, 1899, the detachments serving the guns of the 14th and 66th Batteries, Royal Field Artillery, had all been either killed, wounded, or driven from their guns by infantry fire at close range, and the guns were deserted. About 500 yards behind the guns was a donga in which some of the few horses and drivers left alive were sheltered. The intervening space was swept with shell and rifle fire. Captain Congreve, Rifle Brigade, who was in the donga, assisted to hook a team into a limber, went out, and assisted to limber up a gun. Being wounded, he took shelter; but seeing Lieutenant Roberts fall, badly wounded, he went again and brought him in. Captain Congreve was shot through the leg, through the toe of his boot, grazed on the elbow and the shoulder, and his horse shot in three places." (London Gazette, 2 February 1900)

Date of Act of Gallantry: 27 August 1900 Place: Bergendal

Citation: "At Bergendal on August 27th, 1900, Acting Corporal Weller, having been wounded, and feeling somewhat dazed, got up from his prone position in the firing line, exposing himself still more to the enemy's fire and commenced to run towards them. Private Durrant rose and, pulling him down, endeavoured to keep him quiet, but finding this impossible he took him up and carried him back for 200 yards under heavy fire, to shelter, returning immediately to his place in the firing line." (London Gazette, 18 October 1901)

(Later Brigadier General Sir John Gough VC KCB CMG)
Date of Act of Gallantry: 22 April 1903 Place: Daratoleh

Citation: "During the action of Daratoleh, on 22nd April, 1903, Major Gough assisted Captains Walker and Rolland in carrying back the late Captain Bruce (who had been mortally wounded), and preventing that officer from falling into the hands of the enemy. Captains Walker and Rolland have already been awarded the Victoria Cross for their gallantry on this occasion, but Major Gough (who was in command of the column) made no mention of his own conduct, which has only recently been brought to notice." (London Gazette, 15 January 1904)

Rifleman A.E. Durrant V.C.
Wearing his Victoria Cross, Queen’s Sudan medal (1896-97)’ Queen’s South African medal 1899-1902; with clasps Defence of Ladysmith, Laings Nek and Belfast. Kings South African medal (1901-1902) with clasps 1901 and 1902. Long Service and Good Conduct medal, Imperial Service medal for his Post Office work and the Khedives Sudan medal (1896-97).
Not just a very brave man but as can be seen a man with pride in his appearance. On his left arm crossed rifles which denotes he was a marksman with the chevrons which indicates his long service and good conduct. He holds a Rifle Brigade regimental cane. Born in Kentish Town, London on 4 November 1864, he died in Tottenham, London on 29 March 1933, aged 69. He had served his country well and in that time spent 21 years in The Rifle Brigade.