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Battle of Graspan November 25th 1899

Map of the Battle of Graspan

The Battle of Belmont and Graspan

War: The Boer War

Date: 23rd and 25th November 1899.

Place: North West of Cape Colony in South Africa.

Combatants: British against the Boers.

Generals: Lieutenant General Lord Methuen against Commandant J. Prinsloo at Belmont and Koos de la Rey at Graspan.

Size of the armies: 8,000 British against 2,000 Boers from the Transvaal and the Free State.

The conduct of the small Naval Brigade in storming the Boer hill top position at Graspan attracted considerable attention in the British Press. The public imagination was particularly taken by the Jack Russell of Major Plumbe from the Royal Marines found guarding the body of his dead master on the embattled hillside.

On November 24th 1899 an armoured train was pushing forward up the line towards Graspan, when it was shelled. Methuen decided it was time to move his troops forward again, in the afternoon the force advanced to Swinkpan, leaving the Scots Brigade and the 2 companies of Munsters at Belmont Station. Methuen intended to use 9 Brigade to attack the hills to the right of the railway at Graspan and Enslin. The next day the assault was made. A mile to the SE of Enslin Siding is a large and steep outcrop hedged on its north and south sided by rough ground.

From Rooilaagte Farm area all parts could be served by the defending force, out of sight of the invaders. Prinsloo and De La Rey with over 2,000 men, three Krupps and two Pom Poms began their defensive line to the west of the railway. Lt Dean RN unloaded 2 of the naval guns from the train and had begun to shell the Boers 5,000 yds away. About 2 miles away from the Kopjes the Naval Brigade was to move diagonally right and attack the eastern corner, with the 18th Battery firing over its shoulder, Lt Dean, on the left flank, was under shrapnel fire, and although Methuen ordered him to withdraw he kept his place to the end of the day although his position was exposed.

4 companies of the Northamptons were on the left with 5 companies of the Northumberland Fusilers inside them, then the Loyal North Lancashires and some Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, the Northamptons and more Northumberlands. On their right were the Naval Brigade and the bulk of the KOYLI. All were more or less in extended line apart from the seamen. The Naval officers stood out by carrying their swords and wearing badges of rank causing the brunt of the fire to fall on them. Captain Prothero (HMS Doris) let the way and his men followed for 50 or 60 yds , went to ground fired a volley then attacked again. A number of the officers were picked out and were down before a pause could be made at the foot of the cliffs. Where they fixed bayonets. The Boers did not give ground until they were 25 yds from the top.

Capt Prothero was seriously wounded, Cdr A.P. Ethelston (HMS Powerful), Maj J.H. Plumbe RMLI (HMS Doris) and Lt G Senior RMA (HMS Monarch) were killed