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Not a very long war...
Old 02-22-2004, 12:19 PM   #1
Chris Boonzaier
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Default Not a very long war...

...for Lt Owen.
He was wounded in the first hour on the first day in WW1.
Here is a full account of the action...
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Old 02-22-2004, 12:20 PM   #2
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Zandfontein, in what was once known as German South-West
Africa, is a group of three wells situated on the route from
Steinkopf in the Cape Province to Warmbad in German Territory.
The road crosses the Orange River at Ramans Drift, the former
being the boundary between British and German soil. The dis-
tance between Ramans Drift and Warmbad is about 45 miles, and
the Zandfontein wells are to be met with about midway between
these points, making their possession to an invading force a
necessity and a measure of the utmost importance.

In September, 1914, a British column known as the "A"
Force, under the command of Brig.-General H. T. Lukin, C.M.G.,
D.S.O., seized the drifts on the Orange River at Homs, Ramans,
and Gudaus, and also the Zandfontein wells, prior to a general
advance into the hostile territory. On September 25th the wells
were garrisoned by a squadron of Police under the command of
Capt. E. J. Welby, who had as troop leaders under him Lieuts.
Grahame, Cowley, Owen, Gwatkin, and Northway. In addition
to these officers the detachment included Capt. Turner-Jones, of
the Royal Engineers, who arrived on the 24th to report on the
defensive capabilities of the position, and Capt. Genry, in com-
mand of an Intelligence Staff of ten Europeans and natives, mak-
ing a total combatant strength of 120 all ranks. On the evening
of the 25th it was decided to reinforce the Zandfontein detach-
ment by despatching a force from Ramans Drift. This force,
under the command of Lt.Col. R. C. Grant, left the drift at
about 6.30 p.m., and was comprised of the following:One section
of the Transvaal Horse Artillery of two 13-pounder quickfirers
under Lieut. F. M. Adler; one Machine Gun Section of two guns
of the Police under Lieut. Butler; three troops of Police under
Capt. P. E. Hale, with Lieuts. Scott, Clements, and Austin
the fourth troop under Lieut. Allen was detached at the last
minute to escort transport which had intended to follow as soon
as the wagons were loaded with rations for the force. No rations
were issued to the details of the column before leaving the drift,
reliance being placed on the transport being able to keep close
up with the advance. The total strength of this reinforcement
was 122, excluding a detachment of the S.A. Medical Corps with
a field ambulance in charge of Capt. Holcroft, who accompanied
the column on its night march. Capt. Dalton, with several medical
orderlies, was already at Zandfontein. The eventual junction of
the reinforcements and the detachment at Zandfontein resulted
in an available combatant strength of 237 all ranks. The greater
portion of this region consists of ridges and groups of rugged
ironstone kopjes intersected by narrow sandy defiles, and move-
ment for mounted troops in such an area is restricted to so-called
roads that follow the course of these defiles. The site of the wells
is commanded by isolated conical-shaped kopjes of about 150 feet
in height. In the plain situated at the western foot of the kopjes
are three old buildings and a walled enclosure for kraaling animals.
Access to the Zandfontein plain was only possible by means of
the defiles that abutted on it, and the only outlet was the defile
running south to Horn's Drift. To an enemy operating from
Warmbad the isolation and destruction of a force holding Zand-
fontein was quite a simple matter. By moving down the defiles
to the north-west and north-east any force at the wells could be
dealt with at leisure, and so it actually occurred.

Having nothing to fear on the south-eastern border owing
to the inactivity of Maritz, the Germans concentrated a large
force of about 2,000, four batteries of artillery and machine guns,
at Warmbad, in close proximity to Zandfontein, who at dawn
seized all the commanding points at Zandfontein. Such was the
position at sunrise on ths 26th, when the reinforcements under
Grant first sighted the Zandfontein Kopjes after an arduous night
march from Eamans Drift, where only one halt was made of short
duration and both men and animals were done up. The reinforce-
ments sighted the wells at a distance of three miles, and unsuspect-
ingly continued their march into the trap laid for them. There
was nothing to indicate that large bodies of hostile troops were
in the vicinity and that one party of the enemy were actually in
rear of them. The advance, rear, and flank guards had met with
no opposition or seen anything to arouse suspicion. The column
arrived at the wells at 7.30 a.m., and formed up prior to watering
the tired animals.

It is now necessary to make some mention of the squadron
garrisoning Zandfontein. Pickets had been posted the previous
evening in the usual manner, and nothing occurred to cause any
alarm. It was known that reinforcements were on their way
from Ramans Drift and that the situation was, no doubt, in hand.
The first event of a suspicious nature was the observance soon
after dawn of dust rising from the north-east by Lieut. Cowley.
On the matter being reported to Capt. Welby a patrol was sent
out to reconnoitre and ascertain the nature of the movements
indicated. This patrol was still absent when Col. Grant's Force
arrived at the wells, and this fact was made known to him by
Capt. Welby. It was at this moment found that communication
with Ramans Drift was interrupted and the matter was very
serious. No sooner had Col. Grant assumed command than
desultory rifle fire was heard to the north-east, and a few minutes
later the patrol under Sergt. Spottiswood was seen retiring before
superior numbers of the enemy, whose mounted troops now
emerged on the plain in large numbers, both from the direction
of Homs Drift and Warmbad. It was thought the enemy were
merely attempting some harassing tactics, and troops under Lieut
Gwatckins and Clements were sent to the assistance of Spottiswood.
Colonel Grant and his Adjutant, Lieut. Wakefield, proceeded to
the summit of a kopje, and on arrival there it was found that the
attack from the north-east was more serious than was at first
thought. Enemy mounted troops came pouring out from the
ridge on the Homs Drift Road, The troops under Lieuts. Cowley,'
Owen, and Graham were now ordered into position around the
base of the main kopje, the latter on the northern face and the
two former on the eastern side. The fire from these units and of
the troops under Lieuts. Clements and Gwatkin soon had the
effect of checking the enemy's initial intention of rushing the
position from that side. After the full strength of the enemy to
the north-east had revealed itself the troops under Clements and
Gwatkin were withdrawn to man the northern face of the kopje.
About the same time the troop under Capt. Hale was recalled from
the Ramans Drift Road in order to reduce their defensive peri-
meter. This troop, under Lieut. Scott, finally took up a position
among some sangars at the extremity of the spur that jutted out
from the main kopje to the south-west. The remaining troop,
commanded by Lieut. Austin, occupied the rest of the ridge over-
looking the wells, and between Lieut. Scott's troop and the kopje.
Events now occurred in such quick rotation that it is difficult
to describe them in their proper sequence. While the enemy were
being engaged in the north-east the unexpected appearance of a
body of troops advancing on the wells from the direction of
Ramans Drift riveted the attention of all on the south-western
face of the kopje. Seeing that the column under Col. Grant had
only just traversed it it was thought that surely this could not
be a hostile force. However, a diversion from the north-west
removed all doubts as to the character of the movement in the
south-west. Lieut. Northway, with a patrol of half a dozen men,
was now observed retiring slowly before an extended line of enemy
skirmishers, who had entered the plain from the Main Warmbad
Road. Line after line of mounted troops advancing in rear of the
skirmishing line could be plainly seen driving Northway in. The
latter made good his retirement, frequently checking the too bold
advance of the enemy riflemen. Northway finally dismounted his
men in some broken ground about five hundred yards from the
western foot of the main kopje, and then sent his horses to join
the remainder of his squadron's horses, which were still secured
to the picket lines in the rear of the main well. About this time
a patrol of the 2nd Squadron under Sergt.Major Barrett reappeared
from the south-west, retiring in extended order. Hesafely made
his way into the main position.

No mention has yet been made of the section of the Trans-
vaal Horse Artillery. On the appearance of the strange force on
the Ramans Drift Road the guns were unlimbered between the
walled enclosure and the main well, and between the latter and
the kopje. The mule teams were grouped against the north-east
wall of the enclosure. Up to now no more than half an hour had
elapsed since the arrival of Col. Grant's small column at the wells,
and the time was about 8 o'clock. The times must be taken as
merely approximately, as much as half an hour one way or the
other. Before proceeding to describe the main engagement, which
may be said to have commenced at 8 a.m. by the discharge of the
first two rounds from our artillery, it is perhaps necessary to
review the tactical position as it now stood. The whole of the
force at the wells was now disposed around the Zandfontein Kopje
in such a manner as to deny the enemy access to the valuable water
that lay at its foot. This disposition may give cause for the
remark as to why no offensive movement was attempted. In South
African warfare water has played a very important part, and such
was the case here. Against the first body of the enemy that
appeared to the north-east an offensive movement was commenced,
and would have continued except for the appearance of the enemy
on the exposed flank and in rear of the wells. The position was
being attacked simultaneously from four widely different points
by hostile troops, any one of which was vastly superior in num-
bers to the detachments at the wells. The withdrawal from the
water was impossible when it is considered that the nearest water
was twenty miles away. An equitable adjustment of the tactical
situation could only have been brought about two hours earlier by
getting astride the Main Warmbad Road and delaying the enemy
in the defile to the north-west, thus ensuring the safe retirement
of the detachment guarding the wells. At 8 o'clock it might
have been possible by leaving the water, abandoning the guns,
transport and ambulance, and for the two hundred men to make
a running fight of it to the west in the faint hope of evading
destruction. At 8 a.m., as matters now stood, there was no doubt'
whatever that the situation of the force at the wells was quite
hopeless tactically, and no amount of readjustment of the meagre
numbers available could have brought about an improvement.
After this digression the events that commenced at 8 a.m. may
now be related. The rapidly advancing force to the south-west
was still some four thousand yards distant when it was decided
that it must be the enemy, and the order was given for the
artillery to open fire. The gunners were not long in complying,
and the simultaneous discharge of the two quickfirers echoed again
and again among the surrounding hills, followed a few moments
later by the burst of shrapnel. After a few shots the range was
obtained, and the enemy at once opened well out and soon gained
the shelter afforded by the lower range of hills to the south of
Zandfontein. A new event now changed the whole complexion
of affairs. A faint discharge of a gun was heard in the distance,
and a shrapnel exploded over a building in rear of our guns. The
gun teams were in the line of burst and a coloured driver and a
mule were seen to fall. The animals were hastily transferred to
the other end of the enclosure, and our guns were swung smartly
round to meet this unexpected attack. Quite a stream of shells
were now commencing to fall in and around the enclosure, close
to which our guns had come into action, from which it could be
inferred that at least a four-gun battery was being utilised by
the enemy. This battery came into action at a range of about
four thousand yards, and occupied what is known as a semi-covered
position among the hills to the north east. Our guns soon opened
out on their new target, and, though outnumbered, the accuracy
of their fire brought about a temporary cessation of the hostile fire.
The enemy now commenced to find the range, and their shells
began to drop with precision around our guns. While this artil-
lery duel was in progress events in other portions of the position
deserve attention. Immediately the enemy riflemen commenced
to develop their initial attack from the north-east, the Machine
Gun Section under Lieut. Butler was ordered into position on a
projecting knoll to the south-east of the main kopje. The one
gun under Sergt. Pizzey came into action almost at once against
bodies of hostile riflemen who endeavoured to cross an open space
about one thousand yards distant, in order to establish themselves
amongst some rocky outcrops, which provided an easy approach
for an attack on the main kopje. The fire from this gun together
with the fire of the troops on that side of the position soon brought
this movement to a standstill, and the majority of the enemy rifle-
men returned from whence they had emerged. In the meanwhile
the remaining gun under Lieut. Butler himself was posted in a
sangar, from where the plain to the west and the Ramans Drift
Road could be commanded. The hostile artillery had now opened
fire, and it was thought advisable to keep the machine gun pack
animals and horses on the southern slope of the kopje, where they
would be immune from shell fire from the north-east. The majority
of these animals were held by native horse-holders, and stood in
a compact group, when, without warning, an enemy machine gun
from a position about 800 yards away, opened up on what must
have been a splendid target. The natives abandoned the animals,
and with a headlong rush sought refuge on the western slope of
the kopje, where they remained under cover for the rest of the
day. The horses then scattered in all directions, and soon fell
victims to the murderous fire. Some succeeded in gaining the
plain, where they started grazing between the opposing firing lines
undisturbed by the fearful medley of sounds produced by the
artillery, machine gun fire, and rifle fire. The hostile machine
gun to the east, which was well concealed, now directed a search-
ing fire over the south-eastern slopes of the kopje and the summit.
It was one of these bursts that resulted in Lieut. Owen being
dangerously wounded. It was subsequently found that this officer
had permanently lost the sight of both eyes. Ihe machine gun
under Sergt Pizzey endeavoured to cope with the hostile fire but
with little success. Concealment was impossible, and Pizzey's gun
was subjected to burst after burst of effective fire, with such effect
that the gun was struck oy a shower of bullets. The continuous
hostile machine gun fire from the east seemed to indicate that the
enemy had many guns in action at this period. Their machine
guns were well handled and their fire was one of the greatest
factors in bringing about a situation that rapidly became more
hopeless as the engagement progressed. The storm of bullets made
any movement in the open impossible, and the control by fire of
Unit Commanders was rendered very difficult. The cover on the
kopje was very crude, comprised of sangars of loosely. piled-up
stones and consequently far from bullet proof.

Mention has already been made of the enemy's appearance
on the plain from the north-west and of the driving in of the
patrol of Lieut. Northway. On this side the enemy provided
another bolt from the blue by bringing into action a second bat-
tery at about 8.30 a.m. The situation was critical as it was; but
the arrival of a string of shells from this direction made the
western and north-western face of the position a death-trap, not
only for our two guns but also for the three hundred horses and
mules that were collected at the foot of the kopje on this side.
On the sandy flat at the foot of the kopje there was not a vestige
of cover except that provided by the low wall of the enclosure, and
a single small building which could not give security to more than
a dozen men. Up to the present the animals had been sheltered
from the hostile battery to the north-east by the northern slope
of the Zandfontein Kopje, but now the position of the horses and
horse-holders was indeed precarious. However, their destruction
was deferred for the moment, as the enemy devoted all their
attention to silencing our two guns. Immediately fire was opened
from the north-west the one gun under Battery Sergt. Harris was
turned on to the new target; the two guns were now almost tail
to tail, firing at right angles to each other, and furnished with
the stupendous task of engaging a battery each - themselves in a
position that was perfectly open to gun fire. The range to this
second hostile battery was somewhere about three thousand yards,
and the enemy guns were clearly visible, with the result that the
fire of our gun made things so uncomfortable that they withdrew
behind the ridge in order to resort to the indirect and more
orthodox method of applying their fire. For some considerable
time the shooting of the enemy battery was indifferent, but gradu-
ally their fire became more accurate and completely enveloped our
gun position in a shower of exploding percussion shrapnel. Our
guns were exposed to a most deadly enfilade fire, against which
the steel shields were or little value. The first casualties among
the gunners occurred about this time, and the medical staff were
now requisitioned. Headed by Captains Holcroft and Dalton,
the S.A.M.C. doubled across the shrapnel-swept area and succeeded
in getting the wounded under cover of the wall of the enclosure,
where first aid was promptly applied. The gun teams again came
under fire, and under the direction of Lieut. Adler they were got
away to the remainder at the foot of the kopje, where they were
grouped, but not before several drivers and animals were hit.
Attention must now be withdrawn from the guns in order to
describe the events to the south-west or Ramans Drift side of the
position. The initial advance had been checked by our fire, but
only temporarily, for gaining the shelter of the hills to the south
parties of the enemy presently emerged from round the base in
skirmishing order at a distance of about 1,500 yards. Numerous
trees and bushes dotted the plain on this side, and they were able
to approach to within 300 yards of their objective. Collective
fire was at once opened on these skirmishers by the troops under
Lieut. Scott and Austin with some effect, as after the first line
had been reinforced by several lines of riflemen their progress was
slow. The machine gun under Lieut. Butler was instrumental in
checking their advance to a great degree, though their work was
difficult. Between 10 a.m and 10.30 a party of the enemy sud-
denly appeared over a nek in the hills to the south, and with
their rifles slung over their shoulders commenced to descend a
rough path leading to a watercourse that ran at the foot of the
hills. The range was only 1,200 yards, and the target a splendid
one for collective rifle fire. The opportunity was soon taken
advantage of, with tha result that the Germans suffered many
casualties. Some of them gained the shelter of the watercourse,
whilst the rest hastily disappeared behind a knoll. Our machine
gun and rifle fire at these longer ranges brought the hostile rifle
fire attack to a complete standstill for a period of three hours,
and the forward movement was only recommenced about noon
under machine gun and artillery covering fire. Meanwhile the
artillery duel continued without cessation. The enemy had by
now gauged the position of our guns and directed such a deluge
of fire on our two guns that one wondered that they remained
in action as long as they did. At 10.30 a.m. the enemy scored
a direct hit on the gun under Sergt.-Major Harris, who was killed
on the spot and the remainder of the gun crew were all disabled.
By this time the crew of the gun had been greatly reduced by
casualties, yet those who remained continued to work their gun
with the greatest vigour. Our other gun, through being tem-
porarily silenced, now opened out again, being worked by two
spare files. Only a few rounds of ammunition were left. The
guns continued action for another ten or fifteen minutes, and
through the gunners sustaining a number of further casualties
this unequal contest had to come to an end. The guns were now
abandoned, and the few remaining details withdrew to the main
kopje, where they continued the defence with their rifles. Before
retiring Lieut. Adler inflicted as much damage on the guns so
as to render them useless to the enemy. The two guns had been
in action for three hours in an open position against four times
their number, and were only silenced after the detachment had
sustained casualties which compelled them to abandon their two
guns. Apart from the great volume of artillery fire the coming
into action of an enemy machine gun on the Ramans Drift Road
made the continuation of fire by our guns quite, out of the
question, and would have resulted in complete annihilation. They
abandoned their guns none too soon, as the appearance of the
machine gun made the position untenable, and the S.A.M.C.
had to seek shelter with their wounded inside the enclosure. Once
inside they were compelled to remain with the wounded all that
day on account of the hostility of the heavy fire on the kopje in
the near vicinity. Now that our guns were silenced the hostile
battery to the south-east ceased fire, whilst the other directed
attention to the lines of animals which were grouped at the base
of the kopje. The horse-holders were soon compelled to leave
their animals and seek shelter on the kopje itself, but this was
not accomplished before several men were killed and wounded.
About two hours shell fire sufficed for the total destruction of the
horses and mules. Thus the defenders were rendered quite
immobile by the destruction of their mounts. This wholesale
slaughter was certainly the most heartrending incident of the
day. The animals were quite indifferent of their fate, and instead
of breaking away seemed to collect and huddle together. About
11 a.m. the hostile artillery was seen moving across the plain to
the south-west, evidently having been detached from the body of
the enemy to the north-west. Crossing the Ramans Drift Road,
two guns quietly unlimbered on the plain to the south. They
opened fire, which continued for two hours. By noon the enemy
machine gun had established itself among the stony outcrops
lining the Ramans Drift Road, and it was difficult to locate. By
the cover of their artillery the enemy approached to within 600
yards of our position. Lieut. Butler with his machine gun
endeavoured to suppress their fire, but he was silenced by a rain
of shrapnel fire from the German guns. Our riflemen were now
compelled to resort to snapshooting, and by working in pairs did
some admirable shooting, which time and again held up the
German advance, although exposed to shell and machine gun fire.
About mid-day distant machine gun fire was heard, but it grew
fainter and fainter, showing that the attempt had failed.

It was at noon that Colonel Grant was wounded by machine
gun fire from the south, and the command devolved upon Capt.
Welby. Late in the afternoon Col. Grant again assumed com-
mand. In the early part of the afternoon Lieut. Northway,
finding himself in danger of being cut off, endeavoured to gain
the main column with three men of his command. They were all
killed by machine gun fire and the remainder of his patrol were
captured by the enemy. Between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. a distinct
lull occurred. The enemy used the time for making new dis-
positions and having a meal. No such relief for our men. They
had passed a sleepless night marching, and were hungry and
thirsty. Owing to the sudden commencement of the action they
had had no time to fill their water bottles. The heat of the sun
on the ironstone rocks was terrific, and the situation was made
almost unbearable owing to the absence of shade. At 2 p.m. the
enemy again opened with their artillery, and they commenced a
systematic search of the kopjes. The shelling was continued
unceasingly throughout the afternoon, and though little material
damage was caused excellent covering fire was provided for their
skirmishers. The result of the artillery fire only accounted for
two men being killed through a direct hit, though three thousand
shells must have been directed on our position. By 5 p.m. matters
became very critical for our troops. By this time the Germans
had got to within three hundred yards of our position, and the
only possible further progress to be made by them was an assault
with the bayonet. This measure they seemed very adverse to
undertaking against our troops, and they were relying on their
artillery and machine gun fire to bring the action to a conclusive

All kinds of fire at this period was very intense. About
5.30 p.m. the enemy advanced a section of mountain guns to
within 1,200 yards of the northern face of the kopje, and in con-
junction with the other guns a terrific and concentrated bombard-
ment on the summit of the kopje was commenced. The ten hours
engagement thus entered on its last phase. The enemy now
employed high explosive shell, and to those on the lower slopes
of the kopje the summit appeared like an active volcano. The
shells burst in salvoes of four at a time. Rocks of enormous size
were flung in all directions, and dozens of boulders were sent
rolling down the slopes, placing the defenders at the base of the
kopje in every danger of being crushed to death. The effect of
the shell fire on the summit of the kopje in a short space of time
altered its appearance. Colonel Grant, Capts. Turner-Jones and
Geary, and Lieut. Wakefield were wounded. Meanwhile the enemy
machine gun and rifle fire was redoubled, and though every effort
was made to reply to it the situation was now recognised to be
hopeless. Hemmed on all sides, without food and water, with no
hope of being relieved, no good purpose would seem to be served
by continuing a contest in which the defending side had held on
to an untenable position for ten hours against a much superior
force in men and guns.

Shortly before 6 p.m. the raising of the white flag brought
the action to a close. There was little or no demonstration on the
part of the enemy The last rays of the setting sun showed both
sides making one dash for the well at the foot of the kopje, where
British and Germans mingled together to quench their terrible
thirsts. Every consideration was given the prisoners under the
circumstances, an excellent example being set by Colonel Heyden-
brecht, the German leader, who congratulated Colonel Grant on
his gallant defence.

At 8 o'clock that night the prisoners were marched off into
the interior under a strong escort. The rank and file walked,
whilst the officers were provided with liorses. Captains Holcroft
and Dalton, assisted by Lieut. Cowley, remained behind to attend
to the wounded.

The British casualties amounted to sixty-seven, or twenty-two
per cent. of the force; sixteen were killed and died of wounds.
The Germans published a casualty list of sixty, including fourteen
killed, among whom was Major Von Ruppart, one of the best-
known German Officers.

The enemy forces that took part in the action amounted to
ten guns, four machine guns, and 1,700 rifles.

The dead were buried the following day, the British being
afforded the same honours as the Germans.
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Old 02-22-2004, 12:47 PM   #3
Peter J.
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indeed a short career, but your thread must be one of
the longest I´ve read so far. I´m impressed

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Old 02-22-2004, 01:11 PM   #4
jimuk is offline
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Hi Chris-
I think I must have been reading this for the last half hour. If you continue posting like this, I will never ever get anything done . Great story, though, and a great group !! I am assuming that Lt Owen, spent the rest of the war in captivity - quite disheartening. All the best

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Old 02-22-2004, 01:51 PM   #5
Chris Boonzaier
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Actually he was sent back to south African lines on the same day with 4-5 other heavily wounded, the germans did not want to look after them and it was obvious they would never fight again.

Here is a pic of him in 1902 on his wy to the coronation in London...

I must admit the story is direct from the official history, not my own work.
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