Queen’s South Africa, 5 bars, Relief of Kimberley, Paardebeerg, Driefontein, Transvaal, SA 1901, Lieutenant J.F. Hawkins, Roberts Horse, Wounded in action then taken as Prisoner of War at Sanna’s Post.
The regiment occupying the ‘Post of Honour’, that of rear-guard and the splendid stand which they made had resulted in the fact that any of the guns were saved.
The Battle happened on the 31st March 1900, it was the first action of the War when large scale guerrilla tactics were deployed by the Boers, leading to 155 dead or wounded, 428 captured British soldiers out of 2000 men and 7 guns were captured out of 12 total, also 117 wagons were captured.
Compared to the Boers who had 3 dead and 5 wounded out of 400 men with 1600 distantly engaged. Robert’s Horse were part of the Mounted Brigade, part of Broadwood’s force with Q & U Batteries R.H.A. and a regiment of the 10th Hussars, NZ & Burma M.R.
On this day, 5 Victoria Crosses were awarded for the action, 4 to Q battery and one to Lieutenant Maxwell who was attached to Roberts Horse and was serving beside Lt Hawkins.
De Wet’s Burgher Marksmen were particularly accurate on this day and their unrelenting deadly volleys from their Mausers rendered the entire artillery battery useless, Q Battery with a full battery of guns found them useless with the flat trajectory and need to reposition, the gun crews were ripped to shreds by Mauser fire, the small remainder of the battery were cowering behind a stone wall and Phipps Hornby VC had to both berate and inspire the men in an effort to save any of the guns.
Lieut & Quartermaster Hawkins is listed alongside Captain P.D. Dray as Wounded during the battle and subsequently taken prisoner of war, Lieut Horne was also captured but not wounded and of the same regiment, Capt. Carrington and Smith were severely wounded but were not captured.
Lieut Hawkins had joined the South Africa Light Horse on 20th November 1899, transferred to Robert’s Horse on 24th February 1900, serving as Lieutenant & Quartermaster, the next month he was Captured in the defeat at Sannah’s Post, and was released around the 20th June 1900, being announced in the list of returned Officers alongside Veterinary Captain Bray and Lieut Horne also of Robert’s Horse. After his release he joined the Military Government, Pretoria Staff on 14th June 1900.
Bars confirmed on roll, with copy roll, his medal was issued on 30th January 1903.
“In early 1900, the British army, in overwhelming strength, had occupied Bloemfontein, capital of the Orange Free State, and were preparing to drive north to Pretoria, capital of the Transvaal. Field Marshal Lord Roberts, commander in chief of the British forces, believed that with the capture of the capitals of both republics, the war would be all but over. While the Burghers of the South African Republic prepared to defend their capital, with little prospect of success, the Free State Boers, inspired by President Martinus Steyn, the spiritual heart of the Boer resistance, and Christiaan de Wet, their foremost field general, regrouped and prepared to continue the conflict through unconventional means. Their action at Sanna’s Post was the first large-scale use of guerrilla tactics in this conflict.
On 30 March 1900 a 2,000-man Boer force led by Christiaan De Wet advanced in the direction of Bloemfontein. Reconnaissance indicated the presence of a small garrison of British troops at Sanna’s Post, 23 miles east of Bloemfontein, which held Bloemfontein’s water works. A British mounted force under Brigadier General Robert George Broadwood which had earlier attacked other Boer positions at Thaba ‘Nchu, was withdrawing there. Broadwood’s force consisted of Q and U Batteries of the Royal Horse Artillery, a composite regiment of the Household Cavalry, the 10th Hussars, the New Zealand and Burma Mounted Infantry, and Roberts’s Horse and Rimington’s Guides (which were light horse units raised from English-speaking South Africans). De Wet sent 1600 of his men under his brother Piet to attack Broadwood from the north, while he himself occupied Sanna’s Post to intercept their retreat.
During the darkness De Wet infiltrated a force of riflemen into ravine created by the Modder River, setting the kill zone of the ambush.
At first light on 31st March, Piet de Wet’s artillery opened fire from a set of small hills to the north as the British troops were striking cap for the morning.
Tactical surprise was complete and all were sent into a state of confusion. The British force began to retreat as expected, in the direction of the ravine where the blocking force awaited with orders from De Wet to hold their fire. The civilian wagon drivers preceding the soldiers were seized by the Boers and told if they warned the British they would be shot. Therefore, the British soldiers suspected nothing and approached the river in small groups. As they did so De Wet’s troops ordered them to surrender, and approximately two hundred were captured, along with the six guns of U Battery.
An alert British officer noticed what was happening and ordered Q Battery to gallop away. De Wet’s men then opened fire. The British fell back on a railway station which offered substantial cover, while Q Battery under Major Phipps-Hornby (joined by one gun from U Battery whose team managed to break away from de Wet) deployed in the open and opened fire.
The fire, combined with accurate rifle fire from the railway station, pinned down Christiaan de Wet’s men, but Piet de Wet’s forces were increasing their pressure. Broadwood’s ammunition was running out, and he decided to retire to the south. His guns had first to be recovered. Five were hooked up and towed away, but two had to be abandoned. Many British soldiers were killed crossing the 1300 yards of open ground to retrieve the guns, but unit integrity was maintained.
Eventually, Broadwood managed to break contact. Approximately three hours later the 9th Infantry Division commanded by Major General Sir Henry Colville arrived to relieve the mounted brigade, but de Wet’s men had withdrawn to highly defensible positions across the Modder River and both sides retired from the field. This nevertheless left Bloemfontein’s water works in Boer hands.
In all, the British suffered 155 men killed or wounded. 428 men, seven field artillery pieces and 117 wagons were captured. The Boer force suffered three killed and five wounded. But even more serious than the losses in the action was the loss of Bloemfontein’s water supplies. This greatly aggravated an epidemic of enteric fever dysentery and cholera among the occupying British army, which eventually