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1900: Cuckfield Soldiers in South Africa

Updated: Dec 28, 2022

Mid Sussex Times - Tuesday 13 March 1900


The following appears in the current number of the Cuckfield Parish Magazine, and will doubtless be read with much interest by many in wider circle than Cuckfield itself:— Letters have been received from Captain Sergison from Modder River, up to February 2nd. We are rejoiced to find that he is in good health and doing much to keep up the spirits of his men during their enforced inactivity. He is the life of the cricket, and rejoices at the Scots Guards beating the Grenadiers and winning the Division Cup. It is curious to read of football with an accompaniment of shells. He says “the food is magnificent—excellent meat and bread, but forage is hard to get, and you can’t keep a Boer pony.”

His last letter was written as the Sixth and Seventh Divisions were arriving—“ We are wondering which Division will have to remain to guard this place; it would be a pity to leave our battalion here over our strength and stout as ever. Our men shoot far better than the Boers. The Australians and Canadians do big things.”

Our men in the 14th Hussars, Sergeant Rogers, A. Attwater and H. Clifford, are with General Buller’s Cavalry Brigade at Spearman’s Farm. Their letters describe their journey up the country from Durban, and after the discomforts of their voyage (“O the rats!”) they were delighted with the hospitable reception they met with at every station, and the beautiful scenery through which they travelled.

Clifford says “All the way the people had something for all of us, especially lovely pineapples and other fruits.” The thunderstorms and heat and flies were terrific. Attwater tells of a doctor shot while attending to wounded man, and says “I have just received your parcel. You could not have sent anything wanted more.”

This is most satisfactory. The parcels sent by post are arriving safely, but as to the rest —there is said to be square mile of packages at Cape Town waiting to be sent up.

E. Bleach writes from Sterkstroom that while on outpost duty he had to stop everyone without a pass. “I captured a Boer farmer and a girl in a cart, but they let them go. I think they are too easy with the prisoners. Nearly all the farmers roundabout are Boers. I got sight of Stormberg yesterday; it is a terrible place to attack, as there is only one way into it, and 100 could hold it against 1000.

British troops hauling a gun up the railway line: Battle of Stormberg 9th/10th December 1899 in the Boer War

I have seen lots of locusts. They have been passing over all the morning—millions of them.”

We are sorry to hear that George Blake, after going with his Regiment, the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry, to the front with Lord Methuen, was attacked with pneumonia and is invalided home.

Bombardiers Bredin and Gasson write in good health and spirits from the Orange River.

Mark Gravett, who was reported wounded, writes on February 2nd from Pietermaritzburg, but, oddly enough, does not refer to his wound; we can only suppose that he is in the hospital at that place.

Peter Mitchell and Arthur Morley give a good account of themselves—the former at Loopersberg, the latter at Naauwpoort.

Our Sussex Regiment sailed from Malta on February 20th, and with it Harry Clark.

Lieut. Wilfrid Woodcock, of the Lancashire Fusiliers, has left Malta for Africa with the mounted detachment of his regiment.

Frederick Cooper, R.E. started on February 25th, and Arthur Dancy, Oxfordshire LI., on the sth.

Our Volunteer, Frank Bleach, will sail next week with the other Sussex Volunteers, and we feel sure that no one will better uphold the credit of our Cuckfield Company.

Our sailor, Charles Randell, writes from Durban, February 3rd, that he is guarding the ammunition as it is landed. He stands up well for the Navy:— “ Our artillery is much superior to the Army’s; their’s won’t carry nearly so far as ours; we can stand six miles away from the enemy and do a lot of damage.”

Sir M. Burrell was again an invalid at Pietermaritzburg, on February 3rd. His horses, too, are all on the sick list—“seedy or crippled.” We all sympathise with him in his vexatious disappointments and sufferings, after the hardships he had to encounter when in camp with Sir R Buller.

In connection with the above, an interesting letter which has come from Captain Sergison, dated Modder River, February 4th, may be here introduced. The gallant Squire of Cuckfield says:

I do not know what steps are being taken in Sussex to raise Mounted Infantry Volunteers; perhaps a fine regiment may have been formed by now. The necessity for the formation of such a corps was put to me by Colonel the Hon. Frederick Stopford (Grenadier Guards, now with Sir Redvers Buller), who managed the mobilisation and defence of England scheme. I said I would try and help, so we attended on the then Military Secretary, General Sir Reginald Gipps, who warmly approved of the scheme. The Treasury, however, refused to allow any to be raised, and the Clerk said the Government would not stand the expense, and that when the public interest waned, the Mounted Infantry would be costly, and want new saddles, &c.

All my correspondence in this laudable scheme is at Cuckfield, but the gist of it was that the War Office plans were sacrificed to save about £200 a year in providing good scouts. General Hutton (afterwards Commander of the Canadian Militia) also urged the formation of Mounted Infantry as of immense importance to Sussex.

Our many readers will regret to hear that the Secretary of State for War last week received an intimation from the General of Communications in South Africa that Captain Sergison, Scots Guards, was seriously ill. Saturday, however, telegram was received saying the Captain was much better.

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