Topic: BatzB - Koster River
The Battle of Koster River
The Tunbridge Account
The following account of the Battle at Koster River, South Africa, 22 July 1900 was extracted from The Queenslander, 1 December 1900, p. 1109.
The transcription is below:
WITH THE QUEENSLANDERS.
THE KOSTER RIVER ENGAGEMENT.Captain Echlin, who left here with the Third Queensland South African Contingent, under Major (now Lieutenant-Colonel Tunbridge, has forwarded from Megatos Nek to friends in Brisbane an interesting account of the Koster River fight, in which the Queenslanders were engaged, and Lieutenant Leask, of Bundaberg, received wounds which, in conjunction with disease, afterwards caused his death, while others or the Queenslanders were injured. The engagement was a unique one, as only Australian troops, commanded by an Australian officer (Colonel Airey) were engaged. The force amounted to 270, and the fighting line was held by the New South Wales and Queensland troops on the right and left respectively, while the flanks in support were the Victorians (3rd Regiment), and West Australians (3rd Regiment) on the right and left. Lieutenant-Colonel Holdsworth, 7th Hussars, accompanied the column as second in command. They were to escort a convoy in from Elands River, meeting it beyond Woodstock.THE FIRST SHOT.
At 2 a.m. on Sunday, 22nd instant, while the column was on the move, the advance guard was fired on, six or eight independent shots were discharged, followed by two excellent volleys. The only casualty was one horse hit. The order was immediately given, "Line to the front," and without confusion, or noise the troops, were formed in the positions previously arranged. Then a cautious advance was made in extended order for two or three hundred yards. There was no sign of the enemy, so the retire was ordered until the troops reached the place they dismounted, where they remained in the same order until daylight. The night was bitterly cold, the men being anxious for the rising of the sun for warmth's sake. When day broke, we moved off, maintaining our extended distances; crossed the Koster River, and assembled on a small kopje, or, more rightly speaking, ridge. In about twenty minutes afterwards we were ordered to mount, and marched off in column of twos, until we struck a well-defined track leading into the main road to Elands River. This move necessitated the crossing of Koster River again. All this time, Colonel Airey had an advance guard, and patrolling and flanking parties out. On our right was fairly open country, with numerous kopjes, distant some 3000 yards; on our left the cover for the enemy was much denser, and very much closer. Shortly after crossing the river the patrols on the right got in touch with the enemy, exchanging shots with him; on our left nothing disturbed us. The order of march was two squadrons New South Wales, with Colonel Airey and Colonel Holdsworth leading; Queenslanders, Victorians, then West Australians, bringing up the rear. Half a mile after striking the main road, another track bore off to the right, and. was followed by Colonel Airey, who sent an orderly back to me with an order to keep the main road. This put the Queenslanders in the van.
GOING INTO ACTION.I had just time to send my advance party out about 200 yards, and was in the act of detailing men for flanking patrols, when shot after shot was poured into us from the left. At this time, when mounted, we were in full view of the kopjes, which after wards proved to be within 800 yards of us. I then turned round in my saddle; I was leading the column, still in twos, and caught Colonel Holdsworth's eye, and got the order: “Dismount! Form line to the left!" All this time we were being fired upon; this fact made the men nip off with out much regard to the motions laid down in the drill-books for the movement. In those few seconds the Boers' aim was so bad that they only succeeded in hitting one man and one horse. Keogh was the man hit, a bullet striking him in the left jaw, behind his teeth, and coming out at the nape of the neck. I gave the orders to the sergeant-major to take the horses away to cover; where it was I had not the slightest idea. The Queenslanders had the whole brunt of the fire, being in the lead, and first to come in view of the enemy. Once dismounted, many seconds were not wasted in lying down in such cover as could be found. It was sorry protection from the notorious Boer sharpshooters at 800 yards range! The only reason I can assign for every man not being shot down in the first minute or two was that the. Boers must have directed their fire on the horses as they were being led to cover. This gave our men time to extend a little and pick their positions.IN THE THICK OF IT.The cover was grass, our best friend, trees 6in. to 10in. in diameter downwards, some shrubs, not unlike saltbush, but not a single stone or rock. My officers were Leask, Walsh, Hanly, and Brand. They one and all acted like men, and stuck to their troops until wounded — in fact, Leask, badly shot in the left forearm early in the day remained with his men until the firing ceased. Eight o'clock was the time of commencement, and 2.30 p.m. was the first time one of us was able to stand at full length without the certainty of being shot. My position was about fifteen yards in rear of the squadron, a portion of the time behind a small tree, but I exchanged this for a scrubby bush. The trees proved to be the very worst shelter, the Boers firing at them on spec. Our men replied, erratically at first, but when properly set to their work never firing at random. It would never have done to blaze away their 200 rounds when we soon saw it must be darkness or relief for our salvation. Hanly came over to me about 9 a.m., and we had a little council of war together. Unanimously we acknowledged we were beaten, as shortly before we had heard firing on our right flank and left rear. It was at this juncture that our men for the only time during the weary six and a half hours we were under fire, showed uneasiness. The sun we so wished for when we were lying extended on the ridge the same morning, we, with a hundred fold more earnestness, prayed might disappear, and thus give us a chance. But the time was 9 a.m., and eight long, weary hours would have to be told off before the darkness would give us a hope of escape.
COULD WE DO IT?We thought so, by saving our ammunition, and thus the word went round. Our intermittent firing did not cause the enemy to save his powder. Possibly he surmised our object, and kept pegging away. Gradually his aim got better, and the men got more cautious, never without absolute cause showing a particle of their anatomy.THE WOUNDED.Hanly went back to his troop, and five minutes later along came Trooper Blair, badly wounded in the left arm. He staggered down alongside me, bringing with him a perfect shower of bullets. I made him lie down full length on his back so as to offer as small a mark as possible. Poor fellow, his suffering was great, and he kept continually asking for the ambulance. All the time bullets, the majority of them explosive ones, too, were whistling, singing, exploding, and hissing all around us. One in particular struck the twig off a bush, certainly not more than an inch from Blair's ear. His only exclamation was "That's close." Another ten minutes brought Hanly supporting Walsh hit in the forehead. They half crouched along, and of course brought their share of the bullets with them. At first we thought Walsh was done for, there being a wound fair in line with his nose, just below where his hair commences. Closer examination revealed the pleasant fact that the bullet glided off, followed round the right side of the skull, and went out through his hat. In spite of the seriousness of the situation, we could not let the stereotyped "hard head" joke pass. We tied him up with my neck handkerchief, binding the lot with one of his putties. Hanly then went back to his men.AN EXCITING SEARCH FOR THE AMBULANCE.I made up my mind to have a look for the ambulance, and guessed it must have been in a. certain place. To get to this place the road we dismounted on would have to be crossed, and it was in full view of the kopje our friends were dealing out the lead from. Off I started, crawling through the grass to as near as that cover went to the road — there was nothing for it but to run I got across safely, escaping the hail that was sent after me, then down into the grass again, and had a breath, another crawl, a look about. No ambulance: not a sign of one of the New South Welshmen or Victorian men. I then howled for Colonel Holdsworth; no answer. It was evident things were fairly serious. I deliberated, and decided I would run the road gauntlet again, partly because I was in wretched cover, and partly to try and get the sufferers into some kind of safety. I got to the edge of the road, using the same tactic, took a long breath, made a dart for a small thorny bush en route. In getting through it my handkerchief got torn from my left sleeve, and was left suspended in the bush. Before I got it off four bullets riddled it. (I am keeping it as a memento). My time across that road was fairly good, I can assure you. When I crawled up to Walsh, he said, "Old fellow, you are bringing a lot of fire with you."COVER FOR THE WOUNDED.I then made another excursion, this time to a place further down the road, which I thought I had seen, when in the grass before making my final spurt across. This appeared to be a water-worn rut, and if I was not deceived would make a most excellent shelter for the wounded. I got safely to the edge, had a look, and was delighted with the discovery. Both ruts were waterworn sufficiently to hide one completely from the kopje when lying perfectly flat. Very little time was lost in getting Walsh and Blair to the haven of rest. We were fired on the whole way. The time was then getting on for 2, and our boys were working away cheerily. Night was within measurable distance, and a little more hope was instilled into us.
RELIEF AT LAST.
Just then we heard a succession of beautiful (oh! how beautiful) volleys, away to our left front among the kopjes. We knew it was not the Boers, at the same time we could not imagine who could be pouring volleys into the enemy on our behalf. By 2 o'clock the firing ceased from the kopjes on our front. We could not believe it, some venturing the opinion it was a ruse to get us on our feet. All this time there was firing from the river direction in the rear, and no one made a move. More volleys were heard, and at last the joyful noise came along the line that the West Australians were on the kopje! We then one and all stood up, and mustered in small groups when the news of the situation was circulated. Lieutenant Leask was shot through the left forearm; Sergeant Koch, thigh; Troopers Forrest, chest and arm, and Walters right shoulder. All but a few of our horses were shot or missing, fifteen or sixteen men were known to have been wounded, thirty or forty men were missing, and several were killed. This was at 2.30 p.m., and was the first news we got after we were ordered to dismount at 8 a.m. We straggled down to where the horses had been taken to shelter, two buildings, and there met Colonel Airey and Colonel Holdsworth, and most of the other officers. To the north of the building were a hundred or so of our poor horses, some dead, some wounded, and others dying. They were scattered all around, some of us went among them with revolvers to put the poor brutes out of their misery. This was too good a chance for the Boers, and from perfect cover they poured a few volleys into us before we were able to regain the cover of the houses. We then found out how we were relieved, although the party did not join us for an hour later. When at breakfast the garrison here, Magato's Nek, heard heavy firing to the westward, Colonel Lushington, with great promptitude, telephoned into Rustenburg for reinforcements, with the result that a force under Captain Fitz-Clarence, of Mafeking fame, got here some time about 11 a.m., and, with a force from here under Colonel Lushington, came to our rescue. The splendid volleys we heard with so much welcome were the work of Captain Fitz-Clarence's men, the Protectorate Regiment.
The Battle of Koster River, South Africa, 22 July 1900
The Battle of Koster River, South Africa, 22 July 1900, Roll of Honour
Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920
Citation: The Battle of Koster River, South Africa, 22 July 1900, The Tunbridge Account