Afghanistan Medal 1878-80, 3 bars, Charasia, Kabul, Kandahar, 2087 Pte J. McArthur, 92nd Highlanders. Following the war in Afghanistan he was posted to South Africa for the First Boer War and was killed in the disastrous battle for Majuba Hill on 27th February 1881.
James McArthur who was from Lanarkshire, had served with the 92nd Highlanders as early as 1871, being present with the regiment in Jullundur, India.
He first fought in the Afghanistan War of 1878-80, being present at the Battle of Charasia on 6th September 1879, followed by Kabul where the regiment fought in the siege of the Sherpur Cantonment between 10th-23rd December 1879. He was finally involved in the last major conflict of the war in the Battle of Kandahar on 1st September 1880.
After the war was finished the 92nd Highlanders were swiftly posted to the war in South Africa, known as the First Boer War of 1880-1.
On 27th February 1881, Pte McArthur was involved in the final battle of the war, the Battle of Majuba Hill, which would lead to one of the most humiliating defeats the British Forces have ever experienced.
The British Force was about 405 strong, with 171 men of the 58th Regiment and Pte McArthur being one of 141 men from the 92nd Gordon Highlanders, with a small naval brigade from HMS Didio.
They were ordered by General Colley to hold the summit of Majuba Hill, but bring no artillery and order his men to dig in, as the mountain was deemed unscalable and he was hoping the Boers would simply retreat when they saw the commanding force already a top the hill.
The Boers quickly formed a group of storming parties, led by Nicolaas Smit, totalling 450 men to attack the hill.
By daybreak at 4.30 am, the 92nd Highlanders had covered a wide perimeter of the summit, with a handful occupying Gordon’s Knoll on the right side of the summit. The Boers were oblivious to the presence of the British Troops until the 92nd Highlanders began to yell and shake their fists, causing the Boers to panic, fearing an artillery attack on their position, however the British had no such artillery in place.
Three Boer storming parties of 100-200 men each then began their advance up the hill. As the Boers were superior marksmen, they kept the enemy on the slopes at bay wihle their groups crossed the open ground to take Gordon’s Knoll, by 12:45 Commandant Ferreira’s men unleashed a tremendous fire and captured it.
Colley was still in his tent when he was informed of the advancing Boers, but took no immediate action until he had been warned by several officers of the seriousness of this attack.
Over the next hour, the Boers poured over the top of the British line, they were far superior marksmen and refused to fight in close quarters, allowing them to pick off the British soldiers one by one taking very few casualties.
The Boers also took advantage of the scrub and high grass that covered the hill, something the British were not trained to do, causing mayhem as the British dropped one by one to an invisible enemy.
Eventually even more Boers were seen to be encircling the hill, the British Line collapsed and many fled from the battle, however the Gordons are reported to have held their ground the longest, but once they were broken, the battle was over.
As Colley fled and attempted to order a fighting retreat, he was shot and killed by Boer Marksmen.
By the end of the battle the Boers were reporting 1 killed and 5 wounded from their 450-500 strong force.
The British had 405 soldiers, they lost 92 killed, 134 wounded, with 59 captured.
Private James McArthur was one of the brave 92nd Highlanders to fight for the hill, he became one of 33 men from the regiment that day to be Killed, with another 63 wounded and 11 died from their wounds.