HOW THE 4.7-INCH GUN REACHED LADYSMITH
In Command of H.M.S. Terrible - State of the Ship's Gunnery - Useless Appliances - Making Good Defects - Arrival at the Cape - The South African War - Deficiency in Long-Range Guns - Mounting Naval Guns for Service Ashore - Why the 4.7 Guns were sent to Ladysmith - Admiral Sir Robert Harris's Statements - A Recital of the Facts - How the Mountings were turned out - The Value of the 12-pounders - I am appointed Military Commandant of Durban - Prince Christian Victor of Schleswig-Holstein - A Keen Soldier - Assistance in the Defence of Durban - General Buller's Visit - The Man-hauled 4.7 - An Effective Object Lesson - Communication with Ladysmith - Mounting the Terrible's Searchlight Ashore - Successful Signalling.
AFTER a few months' leave I was sent for by Mr. Goschen, the First Lord of the Admiralty, and informed that I should be appointed to H.M.S. Terrible and proceed, via the Suez Canal, to China, where I should meet H.M.S. Powerful, a sister ship, which we were to relieve. The Terrible was what was known as a protected cruiser and the largest of her type in the Navy, displacing 14,440 tons. She had attained a speed of 22.41 knots on a four hours' trial, which was regarded as a wonderful achievement. The Terrible mounted two 9.2-inch and twelve 6-inch guns. 1
I did not much like the appointment, as I felt sure that we should have war in South Africa, and
1 Later on - in 1903 - four more 6-inch guns were added.
WAR WITH THE TRANSVAAL
I hoped to get there somehow or other. The First Lord declined to let me go out via the Cape, as all the arrangements for both ships coaling at Port Said had been made.
During the ensuing days, our relations with the Transvaal Republic became still more strained, and I made another application to go out via the Cape, only to meet with a second refusal. It annoyed me, as it seemed such a reasonable thing for the two ships to be heading for the part of the world where war seemed so probable the Powerful having already been ordered to the Cape instead of going in the opposite direction. At the last moment something happened, and the next day, the 18th September, 1899, I received a telegram to proceed to China via the Cape of Good Hope. We lost no time, and left on the 19th, calling at Las Palmas and St. Helena for coal.
St. Helena was in a very bad way. Few ships had called there, and, without any industry, the island had no money. But my experience of St. Helena is that when things are in a bad way, something always turns up. I wondered what the saving event would be this time. Six months later the island was a very busy spot, with four thousand Boer prisoners to feed and look after.
I found the ship's company of the Terrible lamentably ignorant as regards gunnery, but very keen on learning, and very anxious to equal the Scylla's score, though they were rather dubious as to whether it had ever really been made. Eighty per cent. of hits looked so impossible to them in those days.
No instructional apparatus was supplied by the
THE 4.7-IN. GUN AT LADYSMITH
Admiralty, but I took some out with me, and during the passage both officers and men were kept busy in acquiring a knowledge of shooting, with all descriptions of weapons from the revolver to the 9.2-inch gun.
At this time, when no interest was taken in ships hitting the target or not, the appliances for laying the guns were deplorably bad. The guns themselves were good, and the authorities seemed to think that the matter ended there, and that the gun sight, which is the all-important element in hitting, was of no consequence.
From the fighting point of view, I made an inspection of H.M.S. Terrible on leaving England, and found that the gun sights of the 9.2-inch guns were wrongly constructed and unserviceable ; that the gun sights of the 6-inch guns were unserviceable, as they could not be adjusted with sufficient accuracy ; and that as for the bow guns put in for firing when chasing an enemy, the object of pursuit would be invisible through the sight, as the port was not large enough, and the guns could not be loaded for want of room to open the breech. These defects applied not to H.M.S. Terrible alone, but to every ship.
If we met an enemy I wanted to have a chance, so the only thing to do was to alter these ridiculous contrivances supplied by the Admiralty as best we could. The low-power telescopes we replaced by others of high power, and we made the cross-wires by making free with the head of a midshipman who had marvellously fine hair. In order to be able to set the sight accurately for the range, I put on a long pointer which gave a very open reading, and
THE IMPORTANCE OF GUN SIGHTS
made a new deflection arrangement so that it could be adjusted by a sight-setter. A very good sight was the result and many ships copied it. At the bow guns I put up a looking-glass, which enabled the layer to see through the other side of the port. The 9.2-inch gun sights were so bad that we could do little with them. However, we managed to get them accurate for our ordinary target-practice range. Such defects as those enumerated arose from the fact that gun sights were never properly tested ; at the gunnery trials of the ship no aimed rounds were fired. In fact, very often the gun sights were not on board the ship. If the guns went off, the authorities were satisfied ; whether they could hit anything or not was regarded as a matter of no importance.
On the 14th October, 1899, we arrived at the Cape and learnt that the Boers had crossed our frontier two days before. This meant war, and attention had to be turned from preparing for a sea fight to seeing what we could do to assist the Army.
The Boers had no navy, and it was quite impossible for any Power to send a fleet out to attack us at the Cape. Hence the ship's guns were available if they were required by the Army. I was surprised to find that the Navy had made no provision for mounting heavy guns to cope with the superior artillery of the Boers. The omission was contrary to tradition, as the Navy has always helped the Army with big guns.
Our Army had no long-range weapons, and on board the ship the only guns fitted on wheels for shore work were short 12-pounders, which were no better than the Army guns. Curiously enough,
THE 4.7-IN. GUN AT LADYSMITH
these guns, specially supplied by the Admiralty for land service work, were the only guns which the Terrible did not use for land service.
After being twenty-four hours at the Cape, I realised the seriousness of the situation. We had insufficient troops to resist the Boer invasion ; our base was 6000 miles from the scene of operations, and we had no artillery to cope with the enemy's, either in power or in range. It was the experience of the Crimea and the Indian Mutiny and Egypt over again.
We had on board long-range 12-pounder guns, specially supplied for use against torpedo boats. They were superior in range to any field artillery that either we or the Boers had in the field. It occurred to me that there would be no difficulty in mounting these guns on wheels for service on shore. I purchased a pair of Cape waggon wheels and an axle-tree, and made a sketch embodying my rough ideas.
Mr. Johns, our excellent carpenter, remained up all night with some of his shipwrights and blacksmiths hard at work, and in twenty-four hours we had this little gun ready. To make sure that everything was right, we fired a few rounds, and the mounting behaved very well.
In a week we could have placed in the field fifty of these guns, and, hitched up to the tail of a Cape waggon which would serve as a limber for the ammunition, I anticipated that they could go anywhere, as was to be demonstrated later.
The mounting looked rather amateurish, and I had great difficulty in convincing the authorities that it was not a toy, and a still greater difficulty
THE GREAT EMERGENCY
in persuading them that long-range guns must be met with long-range guns. In the face of much obstruction I hammered away, and by the 25th October four were ready, and as it turned out they were badly wanted, for by that date Mafeking and Kimberley were invested, and Sir George White had retreated to Ladysmith and was threatened with investment.
Much has been said and written about the two 4.7-inch naval guns that assisted in the defence of Ladysmith. Replying for the Navy at a Mayoral banquet, Admiral Sir R. Harris, who was Commander-in-Chief at the Cape of Good Hope Station at the time, was reported by a newspaper to have said :
" On the 25th October at 4.30 p.m., to be precise, a telegram came from Sir Walter Hely-Hutchinson, the Governor of Natal, saying that General Sir George White in Ladysmith found his guns out-ranged by the Boer guns, and he asked for naval guns. He (Admiral Harris) telegraphed to the officer commanding the line of communications, asking if he had mountings for naval guns. The reply came that he had not. Captain Lambton was dining with him. Captain Percy Scott was lying outside in the Terrible. He signalled to Captain Scott to see what he could do. Captain Scott replied : 'Give me until 8 o'clock.' Admiral Harris replied : < All right, I will.' And the next day Captain Scott came along with his design for the mountings of the gun."
In his book entitled "From Naval Cadet to Admiral " (1913), Admiral Sir Robert Harris makes the following reference to the guns :
THE 4.7-IN. GUN AT LADYSMITH
"On October 25th, at 1.30 p.m., the Governor of Natal telegraphed to me - ‘Following from Sir George White October 24 : " In view of heavy guns being brought by General Joubert from the north, I would suggest that Navy be consulted with the view of their sending here detachments of bluejackets with guns firing heavy projectiles at long ranges." ‘Very fully realising the urgency of Sir George White's position, I informed the G.O.C., Capetown that I would supply two 4.7-inch guns, and asked him if he could supply shore mountings for them. This latter question I put because I knew that there were two 4.7-inch guns mounted on the Capetown defences. On his at once answering in the negative, and the matter being too pressing for any argument, I asked the Gunnery Lieutenant of my flagship if he could design or plan shore mountings for these guns without any delay. He replied that he could not. I then at once signalled for Captain Percy Scott of the Terrible to come to me, and explained to him that I wanted temporary designs to mount two 4.7-inch guns on shore immediately, or at any rate by 8 a.m. to-morrow. Captain Scott promptly replied ' I will have them ready by that time.' And he did so."
These two accounts are misleading. I was not sent for, and, although the urgent telegram arrived at 4 p.m., I never heard anything of it until 9 p.m., and then only by pure accident. Had I known of the telegram earlier, Captain Lambton could have had four guns instead of two, and I could have tested the mountings, demonstrating that there was no need to concrete them down.
A FORTUNATE COINCIDENCE
Let me now relate what actually took place.
On the 25th October, 1899, I read in a Cape evening paper that the powerful electric lights of Kimberley could be seen from where our troops were. It was obvious, therefore, that we could establish communication by a flashing searchlight. I made out a design for mounting a searchlight on a railway truck, and signalled to the Admiral to ask him if I could come and see him after dinner with reference to it. He replied, " Yes." I little thought that this visit to the Admiral, which was prompted by what I read in an evening paper, would result in getting two 47-inch guns into Ladysmith in the nick of time, and that, had I not read that local paper, Ladysmith would have had no artillery to keep the Boer siege guns at such a distance that they were unable to make accurate firing.
At 9 p.m. my drawings of the searchlight on a truck being complete, I visited the Admiral, explained the idea, and obtained his sanction to proceeding with it.
The Admiral then informed me that he had received an urgent telegram from Sir George White in Ladysmith asking if it were possible for the Navy to send him some long-range 4.7-inch guns, but that, having consulted his experts, he found it was impossible to get mountings for them. He had, therefore, decided to send the Powerful, commanded by Captain the Hon. Hedworth Lambton, at 5 o'clock on the following day, with the four long-range 12-pounders which had been mounted by me and were ready.
I pointed out that I could see no reason why
THE 4.7-IN. GUN AT LADYSMITH
Sir George White should not have the guns he asked for. There was no more difficulty in making a mounting for a 4.7-inch gun than for a 12-pounder ; in fact, it was easier. To the Admiral's question whether I could have two ready by 5 p.m. on the following day, I replied that I could, if the Dockyard gave me every assistance. This being agreed to, I returned to my ship and made out a pencil drawing of the arrangement, which was very simple.
I ordered an ink copy of the drawing to be made for the Dockyard to work by. The task was entrusted to an engineer lieutenant, the copy to be ready by six o'clock in the morning. Owing to some misinterpretation of my instructions, the drawing had not been commenced when I called for it in the morning. My pencil sketch was, however, quite good enough for the purpose, and I mention this incident only because it was stated in the Press that, although I conceived the idea of the mounting, the details were worked out by an engineer. I was further considered ungenerous for not mentioning in my dispatches the assistance given me by this officer, and a question was subsequently asked in Parliament. 1
1 House of Commons, 20th Oct., 1902. Sir William Allan asked the First Lord of the Admiralty if he would state who designed the gun carriage for the guns used in Ladysmith.
Reply : The gun carriages for the guns used at Ladysmith were designed by Captain Percy Scott, and were constructed under his immediate supervision.
Sir William Allan : May I ask the right hon. gentleman if he is aware that the gun carriage was designed by Assistant-Engineer Roscrudge, and not by Captain Percy Scott ?
The First Lord : I am quite clear that the facts are as I have stated them.
IMPROVISED GUN MOUNTINGS
In preparing the design I wished it to meet the following requirements :
- The guns must be able to turn on the platform, and fire in any direction.
- The platform must be sufficiently stable not to require concreting down.
- The arrangement must be such that if the gun was not required in one position, it could be quickly transferred to another.
The first requirement I met by putting the baulks in the form of a cross, which gave almost equal stability all round, the second by using baulks 12 feet long, and the third by leaving the nuts of the bolts on the top, so that the pedestal could be quickly unscrewed.
The Dockyard worked well, and by 4 p.m. both mountings were ready. Some "know-alls " were quite certain that the platforms would require concreting down. I was certain they would not, but as I had not time to demonstrate this I took the precaution of sending with the mountings sixteen old 12-inch 600-lb. shot, and some chain, with which to anchor down, if necessary, the ends of the timbers. 1
The Powerful left at 5 p.m. under full speed for Durban, where the guns were entrained for Ladysmith. Immediately on arrival the 12-pounders were brought into action. They opened fire at 7000 yards on the Boer artillery, and kept it in check while Sir George White was withdrawing his own guns into the town.
1 Nine years afterwards I visited Ladysmith, and the Mayor told me that no one had ever been able to solve the mystery of how these 12-inch shot got to Ladysmith.
THE 4.7-IN. GUN AT LADYSMITH
In this initial action, the Gunnery Lieutenant of the Powerful, to whom I had given the instructions for mounting the 47-inch guns, was unfortunately killed, and the mounting of the guns fell into the hands of some one else, who unfortunately concreted them in, thereby destroying their mobility. This mistake may have been due to the following telegram sent by Admiral Sir Robert Harris : "I am sending in Powerful, due at Durban on the 29th, two 4.7-inch guns, on extemporised mountings. Efficient SOLID PLATFORM accommodation should be ready for them."
The day after the Powerful left we had another mounting ready, and for the benefit of the wiseacres who had doubted its stability and thought a solid platform necessary, I fired the gun without sinking the platform into the earth at all, with the result that the platform did no more than jump slightly. To test how long it took to dismantle the mounting and take it to another position, we fired a round in one position and in half an hour had the gun ready for firing in another position 100 yards away, thus demonstrating that the mounting fulfilled the conditions of mobility. A great number of these mountings were used during the late war.
These platform mountings were the best I could do in the ten hours given me by Admiral Sir Robert Harris, but as our Army had no heavy guns at all, it was necessary to extemporise quickly a more mobile mounting which would move with troops in the field.
It was no good preparing an elaborate design. I had to investigate the resources of the Dockyard,
A QUESTION OF AMMUNITION
and see what could be made quickly. In the blacksmiths' shop I found some 4-inch square bar iron. This settled the design, which I drew on the door in chalk. The 4-inch bar was to be heated and a hole worked in it of sufficient diameter to receive the coned pedestal of a 4.7-inch gun mounting, the ends being then drawn down and turned for the wheels. In a minute the blacksmith was under way making it. I then went over to the plate shop, and found a circular piece of 5/8-inch plate about 4 feet in diameter, with a hole in the middle of it. This was the very thing. Two pieces of angle-iron worked round the edge of it to carry a broad tyre, a brass box as a nave with a few pieces of angle-iron radiating, and there was the wheel. A wooden trail and the mounting was complete. The Dockyard worked splendidly, and in forty-eight hours we had a gun on wheels which in range and accuracy was better than any weapon which either the Boers or our Army had in the field. 1
It was heavy, of course, but the guns on these mountings could always keep up with any infantry regiment. At Durban, later on, when time was not so pressing, I had another carriage made, which was much lighter.
After the relief of Ladysmith, when the shortage of ammunition for the two 4.7-inch guns became generally known, a newspaper stated that I was responsible for the limited amount of ammunition sent into Ladysmith. I will make it quite clear now that I was in no way responsible for the shortage, that I used every endeavour to
1 Many guns were mounted on carriages similar to this one during the late War.
THE 4.7-IN. GUN AT LADYSMITH
get more ammunition for them, and that had the amount of ammunition which I pressed for gone with the guns, Ladymith [Ladysmith] would not have suffered as it did from the Boer bombardment.
On the 26th October, 1899, when the platforms were being made at Simon's Bay, the question arose as to what amount of ammunition Captain Lambton should take with him for the two guns. I suggested 5000 rounds, for the following reasons :-
- Simon's Bay was the base where the ammunition was kept.
- Plenty of ammunition was stored there.
- The destination of the two guns was 1000 miles from Simon's Bay.
Captain Lambton agreed to my proposal, but could not persuade Admiral Sir Robert Harris to let him take more than one-tenth of this amount, namely, 500 rounds. A 4.7-inch gun can easily fire ten rounds a minute; at this rate the two guns could have used 500 rounds in about twenty-five minutes.
The situation was very serious. More ammunition had to be obtained somehow, so I advised Captain Lambton, immediately on his arrival at Durban, to take ammunition out of the ships that were there, and say nothing to the Admiral about it. This he agreed to do, and I felt more comfortable.
On my arrival at Durban six days afterwards, the first question I asked the senior naval officer, Captain Bearcroft, R.N., who received me, was, "Did you give Lambton plenty of ammunition out of the ships here ? "
AN UNFORTUNATE DELAY
He replied that Captain Lambton wired to him for 500 rounds, that he got it out of the ship, loaded it up, and had it ready to start, but he had been so hauled over the coals for sending up two 12-pounders which Captain Lambton had wired for, that he could not very well send off the ammunition without the Admiral's permission. The Admiral delayed in granting permission, and when it did arrive, it was too late - the door of Ladysmith was shut. I realised that Captain Lambton was in Ladysmith for probably a pro- longed siege, and that he had only 250 rounds of ammunition per gun.
I examined the telegram book, and found as follows :-
"31st October. From Captain Lambton to Captain Bearcroft. 'Send immediately two long 12-pounders to Maritzburg ; dispatch is necessary. Send 500 rounds 4.7 ammunition.'
"1st November, 1899. Admiral to Captain Bearcroft. 'Guns should not have been sent to Maritzburg without authority from me ; they are to be returned to the Powerful forthwith.'
"1st November, 1899. Captain Bearcroft to Admiral. 'Captain Lambton telegraphed yesterday for 500 rounds of 4.7 ammunition. Instructions are requested.'
"1st November, 1899. Admiral to Captain Bearcroft. 'No men, guns, or ammunition are to be landed without permission from me.'
"2nd November, 1899. Admiral to Captain Bearcroft. Telegram 285. Send 250 rounds shrapnel shell and lyddite to Lambton ; remainder will be sent in Puttiala arriving at Durban on the 7th. Lambton has been informed that ships at Durban are not under
THE 4.7-IN. GUN AT LADYSMITH
his orders and he must demand ammunition from me."
The Admiral then appears to have altered his mind, and decided to let Lambton have the ammunition he had asked for. Later on the 2nd of November came telegram 286. "In addition to 250 rounds approved by telegram 285, send 250 rounds common shell."
Captain Bearcroft immediately on the receipt of the Admiral's first telegram took 250 rounds out of the truck he had loaded up and sent it on by a special train to Ladysmith. On receipt of the second telegram, he sent off the other 250 rounds by another special train. As stated, it was too late, and both the trucks of ammunition were sent back to Pietermaritzburg. Captain Lambton had to go through a siege of 119 days with only 250 rounds of ammunition per gun. How ably he eked out this very limited supply is mentioned in Sir George White's dispatch :-
"Captain the Honourable H. Lambton, R.N., 1 reached Ladysmith in the nick of time. He brought with him two 4.7-inch and four 12-pounder guns, which proved to be the only ordnance in my possession capable of equalling in range the enemy's heavy guns. Although the ammunition available was very limited, Captain Lambton so economised it, that it lasted out to the end of the siege (119 days), and under his direction, the naval guns succeeded in keeping at a distance the enemy's siege guns, a service which was of the utmost importance."
1 Now Admiral of the Fleet Sir Hedworth Meux.
INVESTMENT OF THE GARRISON
But to return to my narrative : at Cape Town I met Prince Christian Victor of Schleswig- Holstein, who had come out to join his regiment, the King's Royal Rifles, only to find it shut up in Ladysmith.
The Prince told me he had volunteered to serve anywhere pending the opportunity of joining his regiment. He was a very keen soldier, but he was a prince, and the authorities did not like to take the responsibility of sending him to the Front. He knew every gun the Boers had got, and was one of the few officers I met who understood the importance of heavy guns in the field, and who fully realised our comparative impotency in regard to artillery. After our interview, he wrote to me that he had talked to more than one General about heavy artillery, but could not get them to see that Railhead would in many cases be our fighting position, and that we could bring up guns of any calibre we liked. Subsequent events showed how sound were the views of this keen soldier.
By the end of October, 1899, Ladysmith was shut in. The Boers were south of it at Tugela, and there was nothing to prevent them marching down and taking the undefended Durban.
Admiral Sir Robert Harris informed me that the High Commissioner had appointed me Military Commandant of Durban ; that I was to proceed there in H.M.S. Terrible, and take what steps I thought necessary to place the town in a defensive position, utilising the Terrible's officers and men, and the officers and men of the other ships stationed there. I had, in fact, carte blanche to do anything I could. We left Simonstown on the 3rd
THE 47-IN. GUN AT LADYSMITH
November, and I took all the campaigning stores that I could lay my hands on.
Prince Christian Victor came round in the ship with me, as the authorities at the Cape would not take the responsibility of sending him to the Front, and, with a plan of Durban which I had, we discussed the best means of defending it. I found my companion wonderfully quick in recognising the vantage points which it would be essential to hold. We arrived at Durban on the 6th November, and on the following day I rode round the approaches to the town with the Prince and Major Bousfield. We definitely settled where the guns should be placed, arranging for guides to pilot the various detachments to their positions.
On the morning of the 8th the defence force, consisting of 30 guns and 450 officers and men, under the supreme command of Commander Limpus, ranked up in the main street of Durban. By ten o'clock the 100 bullocks and 60 horses were spanned-in to the guns and waggons. Commander Limpus reported that he was ready. I sounded the advance from the Town Hall, the band played " A Life on the Ocean Wave," and the little army started. Prince Christian Victor, with the Mayor of Durban and other civic dignitaries, watched the procession with me from the Town Hall, and the loyal Natalians cheered to the echo. The sailors, in khaki and khaki-coloured straw hats, looked very well. The officers were similarly dressed, but carried a telescope instead of a sword. I thought it would be more useful, and it turned out to be so.
GENERAL BOTHA'S ADMISSION
By 4 p.m. all approaches to Durban by road or rail, both east, north, and west, were guarded by batteries, an armoured train was in readiness, and I was able to wire to the Governor, Sir Walter Hely Hutchinson, and to Admiral Sir Robert Harris, that Durban was safe.
Nine years afterwards General Botha told me that but for these guns he would have flown the Vierkleur over the Town Hall at Durban, and he certainly could have done so, for the Boers were south of the Tugela in possession of the railway, moving rapidly, and we had no army in Natal. Indeed, Pietermaritzburg, the capital of the colony, was considered in such jeopardy that the archives were kept packed ready for dispatch to Durban. Afterwards troops came in very rapidly and were rushed through to Estcourt, and the Boers fell back, eventually recrossing the Tugela.
Having assisted me .in making these dispositions for defence, Prince Christian Victor left for Pietermaritzburg in the vain hope of getting to the scene, of the fighting north of Estcourt, and on November 12th he wrote to me as follows :
" Government House, Natal,
" November 12th, 1899.
" DEAR CAPTAIN SCOTT,
" I have been meaning to write for the past few days to thank you for all you did for me, and to say how much I appreciate your kindness during the two days I spent on board the Terrible.
"We were much relieved here at the arrival of the troops, and I must say this battalion of the West Yorks Regiment contains a splendid
THE 4.7-IN. GUN AT LADYSM1TH
body of men. I hear we get 12 battalions of infantry, the Highland Brigade Light Infantry Brigade, and the English Brigade, so that eventually we shall have 24 battalions of infantry here ; we want guns, and I have impressed H.E. with the importance of the naval guns, and I think he is quite of my opinion.
" We understand that on Tuesday last they attempted an attack on Ladysmith, and from all accounts were repulsed with heavy loss. I believe about 200 were killed ; all accounts point to this number. I take it that in about ten days' time we shall move forward to the relief of Ladysmith, but all depends on our artillery ; we must have guns ; T hope you will arrange with General Clary to bring up your guns.
" White wires the enemy have 22 guns of superior calibre to his, and it is urgent to relieve him as soon as possible. From what we can gather, something has gone wrong in the Boer camp ; they are very much depressed, but what it is we cannot say ; I don't believe the rumour of Joubert's death, and I don't know that it would be a good thing for us, as he is old now and is not a dasher.
" I think I shall be employed for a time with General Hildyard ; he wants some one to help him with his work ; it would suit me very well.
" Yours very sincerely,
" CHRISTIAN VICTOR."
He next wired to me that he could not get to the Front, and had nothing to do, I replied that I was very hard pressed in starting martial law, and had no military man with me, and that I could give
GENERAL BULLER'S TELEGRAM
him plenty of work. Thereupon Prince Christian Victor returned to Durban, joined my staff, and greatly assisted me in framing rules and in carrying out martial law. Then General Buller's arrival, towards the end of November, brought him his longed-for opportunity. He proceeded to the Front on the staff of General Hildyard, and took part in all the battles up to the relief of Ladysmith.
As soon as he reached Durban, General Buller examined a 4.7 gun. I told him the range, and of some forced marches I had made the crews do for exercise. One of these marches was as follows. I wired to Commander Limpus - "Take a 4.7 gun without oxen to Umgeni (6˝ miles), fire a round, report time of leaving and time of return." In five minutes, I got a reply - " Have left " - and four hours afterwards I rode out to meet them returning. They were almost back at their camp, and coming up a hill. I have never seen a finer sight. The 100 men were marching magnificently, pulling for all they were worth. It was November, that is to say, the height of summer in Natal. Everything they had on was sweated through. When they saw me they broke into double time, and Commander Limpus, watch in hand, said, " We shall do it in 4˝ hours," and they did. This was enough for General Buller, and the next day he wired to send the two 4.7-inch guns and four 12-pounders to the Front, as soon as possible. In our little camp the news was received with cheers, and one sailor remarked that what had done it was that " ----- pull up from Umgeni." I telegraphed to have a special train ready to start at five p.m. and to clear the line (it was a single
THE 4.7 IN. GUN AT LADYSMITH
railway line) ; at a quarter to five I was at the station, and at five o'clock to the minute, the train, with guns, ammunition, officers, men and stores steamed out of the station.
The General Manager of the Natal Government Railways, Sir David Hunter, was a magnificent man to deal with. Nothing was impossible with him or even difficult, and no paper work was required, nor had one to find an exacting official to deal with. Any request that reached the works got put in hand at once somehow, and they made everything right for us, from gun mountings to gun sights.
On the 28th November, General Buller wired to me that I could call in the guns defending Durban, put them where it was convenient for the men, and where they would be given least duty. This consideration for the men was characteristic of General Buller, and made him beloved by all who had the honour of serving under him.
The railway works were so well found that they were quite competent to make mountings for 6-inch guns. I got out a design, and wrote to General Buller asking him if he would like some of these weapons. He replied that Admiral Sir Robert Harris had made such a point of not further denuding the ship of guns that he did not like to ask him. I believe that if General Buller had had six 6-inch guns at the Battle of Tugela, Ladysmith would have been relieved three months earlier than it was.
The only way that Ladysmith could communicate with us was by pigeon. Several owners
FURTHER ASSISTANCE NEEDED
of pigeons at Durban and the surroundings had sent their birds into Ladysmith before it was invested. These birds, with their message fixed in a quill, were freed and at once made for their home. If the home was in Durban, I got the message quickly enough, but as some of the homes they returned to were ten or twelve miles out of the town, there was often a delay in the message reaching me. Then I had to decipher it, and wire it to General Buller. Only a very few pigeons belonging to Ladysmith were in Durban. They were soon used and we had no communication.
I suggested to General Buller that I should mount a searchlight on a truck as I had done to get communication with Kimberley. He wired - " Yes, as soon as possible. It is most necessary." Anticipating his reply I had signalled to the Terrible to send a searchlight on shore, with a flasher which we had made on the venetian-blind principle. On receipt of the General's telegram I telephoned to Sir David Hunter that we wanted a boiler and trucks. He replied, " We shall work all night, and be ready to-morrow." I dispatched my energetic torpedo officer, Lieutenant F. A. Ogilvy, to find a dynamo. He found one in a dredger and spent all night getting it out of her. By noon the next day the installation was complete, and the train steamed away to Frere. At midnight Lieutenant Ogilvy wired to me - "Have flashed a long cipher message from General Buller to Sir George White." After this we had no difficulty in communicating with Ladysmith.
General Buller found the long-range guns so useful that he was continually telegraphing for
THE 4.7-IN. GUN AT LADYSM1TH
more, and by the 8th of December all had left Durban, the total being two 4.7-inch guns and sixteen long-range 12-pounders, all on the extemporised carriages.
On the 15th December they were in action at the Battle of Colenso, and General Buller in his dispatch wrote : "Throughout the day the two 4.7-inch guns and four 12-pounder naval guns were being admirably served, and succeeded in silencing every one of the enemy's guns they could locate."
For exceptional service during this battle, Mr. E. B. Hutchinson, midshipman, and Mr. J. Wright, gunner, of the Terrible, were awarded the Conspicuous Service Cross.
<-Previous Chapter - Next Chapter ->
^ back to top ^