Queen’s Sudan, Queen’s South Africa, 5 bars, Cape Colony, Orange Free State, Transvaal, South Africa 1901, South Africa 1902, British War Medal & Bilingual Victory Medal, Khedive’s Sudan, 2 bars, The Atbara, Khartoum.
Queen’s Sudan and Khedives Sudan named as Corporal in 1st Seaforth Highlanders.
Q.S.A. Named to the Mounted Infantry: “4943 Serjt J. Cameron. Sea: Highrs: M.I.”
WW1 Bilingual SA Issue pair named: “R.S.M. J. Cameron 4th S.A.I.”
Sergeant John Cameron, 1st Battalion Seaforth Highlanders Mounted Infantry, who was wounded in action in the Boer War, being later RSM 4th S.A.I. in WW1 when he was Killed in action on the first day of Delville Wood.
John Cameron was born in 1876 in Ross Keen, Invergordon, Ross & Cromarty, Scotland.
He attested for service on 18th April 1894, having just turned 18.
He was appointed to Lance Corporal on 15th August 1895, then to Corporal on 1st April 1897.
Served in the Occupation of Crete during 1897, followed by the Nile Expedition of 1898.
Whilst in Egypt, he passed his exam for Sergeant and gained his Mounted Infantry Certificate at Cairo on 20th November 1899.
On 21st January 1901 he was sent straight to South Africa, where he served as a Sergeant in the Mounted Infantry of the 1st Battalion Seaforth Highlanders.
During the Boer War, he was involved in a Skirmish at Houtenbek on 9th May 1902, he was slightly wounded in the action. The total casualties were one killed and three wounded from the battalion.
He was transferred to the Army reserve on 22nd July 1902 seeming to stay posted in South Africa. He discharged form the Army Reserve on 17th April 1906.
After remaining in South Africa and during WW1, he rejoined the Army and was appointed Regimental Sergeant Major of the 4th Battalion South African Infantry.
On the 15th July 1916, on the Somme, in a similar manner to the British Regiments of the 1st July 1916 where a large number of British Units took many casualties, 2 weeks later the South Africans did the same as they managed to take control of Delville Wood, but at a great cost, it is described by Sir Basil Liddell-Hart as “the bloodiest battle-hell of 1916.”
The South African Brigade had entered the battle on 15th July, 120 Officers and 3032 men had gone into action, they were not relieved for 6 days, the few survivors were so exhausted they could not stay awake even under heavy shelling, at the height of the battle on the 15th July 1916, when RSM Cameron was killed, the German Artillery were bombarding the Wood at a rate of 400 shells every minute.
At the relief, the British Soldiers who were taking their place saw the survivors and wept, only two days later barely 780 survivors were left and marched past General Lukin, who took the salute with heavy tears running down his cheeks, he knew the parents of those who had died, 85% of the officers and 77% of the ranks were casualties, the Officers from Natal amounted to 100% casualties.
An excellent retelling of the South Africans at Delville Wood was published in the South African Military History Journal Vol 7 No 2, December 1986. In an Article: The South Africans at Delville Wood, by I.S. Uys.
After being taken prisoner then Private Victor Wepener (Later Lieutenant Colonel) relayed his experiences in the battle and mentions Cameron who was killed:
“The 2nd Natal Regiment were decimated and left a large gap on our left flank. The Germans eventually came through there. Capt Medlicott’s Headquarters was in the front line, not in the rear as usual. We were shelled from all sides. At times men were killed next to me while I was talking to them. Though I had ammunition, the rain and mud go into our rifle bolts and caused them to jam. Our RSM, incidentally, was killed in the fighting.
(Editor’s Note from the SA Military History Society: Lt Col Wepener, by referring to ‘our RSM’ presumably means the Regimental Sergeant Major of the 3rd South African Regiment. In this he is incorrect. The Regimental Sergeant Major of the 3rd Battalion was W.K. Lawson, a former member of the 10th Infantry Regiment (Witwatersand Rifles) who survived both the battle and the war. However the Regimental Sergeant Major of the 4th Battalion, RSM J Cameron was killed on 15 July, and it is perhaps he to whom Lt Col Wepener is referring.)
When the Germans eventually overran us, I was impressed by a very aristocratic officer who wore a cap instead of a steel helmet. He kept his hand over his pistol holster whilst we "remnants" were being collected in an open glade. A German soldier with a bandaged head and his rifle and bayonet slung over his shoulder called me "Kamerad" (comrade). I didn't quite know what to say as I didn't fancy being his comrade. The German soldiers on average were jolly good chaps
. . . I then helped carry Lieut Guard who had been shot in the leg. Some of the wounded had to be left behind. I was one of the few to escape unscathed. We were then marched through their lines and we saw many Germans lying there waiting to attack. A couple of our chaps carried a German with a stomach wound on a groundsheet. Our artillery opened up and we were amused to see our guards ducking away and running for cover. After what we had been through we didn't worry about shellbursts anymore.”