Colonel Harvey Alexander D. S. O.

4Colonel Harvey Alexander D. S. O.

The whole of the service of Colonel Alexander, from the 24th January 1880, when he obtained a commission as 2nd Lieutenant (From the Hereford Militia.) to the 10th October 1922 when he went on half pay, was Tenth Hussar service.

Immediately after being gazetted he proceeded to join the Regiment, which then, as now, formed part of the Garrison of Rawal Pindi.

After three years Indian service he was detailed for duty with the Regimental Depot at the Cavalry Depot at Canterbury, thus missing the fighting in which the Tenth took part in the Eastern Soudan.

He rejoined with the Depot, which had been transferred to Shornecliffe Camp on the arrival of the Regiment there on the 21st April 1884, having, on the 1st July 1881, been promoted Lieutenant.

He was promoted Captain on the 16th July 1889, and on the 1st February the following year appointed Adjutant of Auxiliary Forces.

This appointment he held for the full five years, and resumed Regimental service on the 1st February 1895. From that date he was present with the Regiment until the end of the South Africa War.

He was promoted Major on the 2nd January 1897, and Lieutenant-Colonel on the 3rd August 1900.

Colonel Alexander commanded that portion of the Regiment which embarked for South Africa on the ill-fated hired transport “Ismore”; readers of the Gazette will have been made acquainted with the particulars of that unlucky voyage from Birkenhead to Paternoster Bay, in the excellent and graphic account of Captain Cadogan, and it is due to Major Alexander to say that the splendid discipline and good order displayed by the troops on board was, in great measure, the result of his example and personal display of coolness and presence of mind.

He was the last man on board except for one other, our old Farrier-Major Crawford, to done a lifebelt, and he did not leave the swiftly sinking ship until the last boatload of soldiers was ready to move off.

As has already been accounted in the Gazette, all the arrangements for the bivouac on the inhospitable coast on which the shipwrecked party were landed, as well as the trying march through the sand veldt to the place of re-embarkation, fell upon Colonel Alexander in his capacity as Officer Commanding the Troops on board.

These were carried out with surprising smoothness, and were followed by the responsibility of preparing during the twelve days at Stellenbosch, for rejoining the headquarters, including the selection of re-mounts, and refitting with equipment and stores to replace those lost in the wreck. When it is considered that only such a brief period was occupied thus, and in training the Argentine remounts which were received for the party, it is obvious that no time was lost, and even the party chafed in their impatience to be at the front with the Regiment. It was a source of regret to all that they missed the first introduction of the Tenth to the enemy on the 13th December, the day on which the Regiment had its first brush with the Boers.

The “Ismore” party left Stellenbosch on the 19th December and rejoined Headquarters at Arundel, Cape Colony on the 21st.

A period of activity was in course, and Colonel Alexander was at once called upon to take part in the daily work of reconnaissance which was the routine of the small army then employed in holding a front of nearly forty miles, and checking the advance of the Boers.

He accompanied the Regiment from Arundel to Rensberg on the 31st December, and in the march on the evening of that day, to Maeder’s Farm, which was reached at 9.30 pm. A move forward was made at 2.00 am, with the object of surprising the Boers. Whose position, about four miles from the farm, consisted of a series of apparently unending kopjes, with the town of Colesberg in the centre, practically hidden from our view by the hills. As is known, the Boers were on the alert, and having challenged, opened in the dark a heavy fire upon the column, which had halted about 1,500 yards from the foot of the hills. The Berkshires here did a smart piece of work, rushing a kopje immediately to their front, and driving the enemy out. As soon as day broke the enemy’s artillery opened fire and our replied; we were now introduced, for the first time, to the “pom-pom”.

The fighting did not cease until 7.00 pm., was resumed and continued during the whole of 2nd January c1900, and again on the 3rd and 4th. On the latter day Colonel Alexander was wounded by rifle fire, and had to retire to the field hospital at Rensberg.

He was soon back again doing his duty as second in command, and left Maeder Farm, with the Regiment on the 5th February having taken part in many small affairs in the neighbourhood of Colesberg in the interval.

From this time he took part in every engagement in which the Regiment participated, up to 30th April, when, in the battle of Kranz Kraal, he was again wounded (severely) and had to go back for treatment. In a comparatively short space of time he resumed his place with the Regiment and was present in each action and operation in which it was engaged, including the occupation of Pretoria, the battle of Diamond Hill, and many other minor affairs up to 3th august 1900. On this day, the period of Colonel Fisher’s command having expired, Colonel Alexander succeeded to the command of the Regiment, and lead it in that harassing chase after the elusive Commandant De Wet, which was pursued in the high veldt under the most trying climactic conditions of a Transvaal winter, and with limitations of rest, rations and supplies of all kinds strained to their utmost. Though little actual fighting took place, sniping and desultory musketry fire were constant experiences in the daily marches of the Regiment, which frequently were “forced” marches of up to forty miles, and at no time of the war, had more been exacted from all ranks. Accordingly, on arrival at Pretoria, on the 28th August, the prospect of a rest there was pleasant to all. Here, on the 28th September remounts were received, and three days later the Tenth was again on the move, marching to Nitral’s Nek, the recent scene of the disaster of the greys and Lincolns.

From that date, up to the middle of January 1901 the Regiment, under Colonel Alexander’s command, was engaged in an unending pursuit of Boer commandoes under De Wet, Delaray, Beyers and others and were engaged in many minor affairs, suffering comparatively little loss, but subjected to the same trying conditions that marked the proceeding period.

On the 12th January a hurried march was made from Bezeidenhuit to Kaalfontein, where the Boers, in force, were attacking the railway station, and the next one to it, Suurfontein. They made off on the approach of the Brigade, and the Regiment halted there for a fortnight, re-equipping, and receiving, for the first time, the long rifle in replacement of the cavalry carbine, which was withdrawn.

On the 27th January, a big enveloping movement, the object of which was to drive the Boers on to the borders of Zululand and Swaziland, was started. The column of which the Tenth formed part consisted, in addition, to the 8th Hussars, who had replaced the Composite Household Regiment in the Brigade; and the 12th Lancers with two sections of “Q” R. H. A. ; one section of the 28TH Battery R. F. A. ; 200 Lancer Fusiliers, and 300 of the Dublin Fusiliers.

Six other columns took part in this movement, and our column trekked east, via Bethel and Ermelo, engaging fugitive parties of Burghers almost every day, destroying grain supplies, and collecting refugee women and children. On the 16th February we arrived at Piet Retief, in rains which totally impeded any further advance, and here the column was held up by the incessant downpour, until 15th March. The Assegai, Pongola, Pivaan and Blood rivers were all in flood and impassable, which precluded all practicability of bringing forage and rations to the columns, and the whole were entirely without supplies for three weeks. During this time sheep were killed, mealies were collected and made into paste or a semblance of bread, and even coffee (?) was made from them. A generous crop of peaches from orchards in the vicinity were gathered and were excellent substitutes for vegetables.

In the meantime, despite the weather, the Royal Engineers never relaxed in their work, and having reported that a trestle bridge had been constructed over the Assegai; the troops were released and marched out of Piet Retief on the 15th March. On the 22nd the Pongola was crossed by means of a pontoon bridge constructed by the sappers, and the columns went on day by day, until 11th April when the Buffalo River was forded and Natal entered. Here tranquillity prevailed, and for the first time for a year and a half Colonel Alexander was able to dispense with outlying picquets, etc. at night. The next day the Regiment, with the Brigade, marched through Dundee to Glencoe, receiving orders to entrain again for Pretoria on the 13th.

On arriving at Elandsfontein on the 17th, counter-orders were received to proceed to Springs, and there the Regiment was re-fitted and re-mounted for another trek through Heidlberg, Riversdraai, to Boschcop, the idea being to move in the direction of Greylingstadt, extending our right as far as the Vaal, and sweep the country as we marched.

About six miles from Boschcop the advance reported a large convoy in front, and the Colonel at once gave the order to pursue, soon ascertaining that it was a Boer convoy. By this time we were close to the Vaal river, across which the Boers were hurriedly crossing, and several of their wagons had already gained the Orange Free State on the far bank.

Colonel Alexander, with “A” Squadron and one Troop of “C” crossed to help them. After a little shooting at some snipers, they galloped to the main drift, stopped a lot of wagons, swung to the right, and galloped on to stop a long line of cattle, moving on, about three miles off. This was done and another wagon captured. The rest of the convoy was some way off and an exciting chase ensured. The head of it was apparently just turning round the right hand corner of a flat hill two or three miles distant. Thinking the Burghers would be sure to hold this hill to save their wagons, and that the rest of the Brigade was coming on, on his right, Colonel Alexander made for the left hand corner of the hill, and after shooting at some of the enemy on the left, galloped to the back of the hill; there was no sign of the Brigade, but wagons still trekking and turning rather from the pursuing party, which continued to gallop, parallel to, and on the left of them. They then turned more to their right, and again the pursuers conformed to the movement, having to get on higher ground, up a long level incline, to get up with their quarry. Immediately the ascent of the incline was commenced

Some Boers on the top opened fire, the Tenth drew swords and galloped for them, and after a very little defence they fled. On gaining the crest of the hill, some wagons were found, and Boers seen flying in all directions. The wagons were taken, also about 400 head of cattle, and our party returned to the Vaal, arriving in the dark, with exhausted horses. At least thirteen miles had to be traversed to reach the river where the Brigade had bivouacked, and at a moderate computation, forty five miles must have been covered by Colonel Alexander and his party that day.

The whole of the 8th May was spent in collecting derelict cattle from the south bank of the river, and keeping off small parties of Boers hovering round. The total of the captures was 30 Boers, 69 families, about 4,000 cattle, 15,000 sheep, 100 wagons and carts, and 583 horses.

Marching on the 9th, “B” Squadron fought a heavy rear-guard action when leaving the bivouac. Great difficulty was experienced with the cattle, the whole force becoming herders and drovers of the stock, which covered an expanse of many miles. Grootevlei was reached without serious opposition, and there the force bivouacked for the night, marching to Greylingstadt on the 10th, and handing over all prisoners and stock on the 10th.

A stay was made at Greylingstadt until the 15th March, which took the form of a “rounding-up” expedition. For this the Regiment turned out at 2 a.m. and marched to the south-eat corner of a range of kopjies, south of the dorp. Arriving at its position soon after day break, Boers were discerned on a flat kopje: these were pursued, and eleven captured, also some cattle.

On the 15th May the march was resumed, and continued to the middle of June, encountering and fighting many small commandoes, the most important opposition being met with at Bethel. On the 5th of June the Vaal was re-crossed, and Piet Retief, which was found totally deserted, re-occupied on the 9th June. Paul Pieter’s Dorp was entered and found in the same condition on the 20th. Crossings of the River Assegai, Pongola, Swaartwater, and Umgwimpisi were affected with some difficulty during this movement, which terminated at Middlesburg, in the Transvaal on the 16th July 1901.

Here the Brigade, which had been formed in 1900and included the Tenth and Twelfth during the whole period, was broken up ,and the Colonel was ordered to return with his Regiment to the Cape Colony, and there form an independent column, composed of the Regiment, a section of “Q” Battery, R. H. A. , a Field Hospital, and a Supply Column.

Accordingly, the Tenth entrained on the 17th and 18th of July, and arrived at Naawpoort, in the Colony, on the 21st. The work for preparing for an advance into districts in which the enemy was inciting the colonists to rebel was at once commenced. All arrangements having been completed, the column set out on the 29th July, and experienced what may be described as the most harassing time of the campaign. Bad weather, forced marches frequently continued through the night, often many miles from the rail, and unable to communicate with, or receive orders from the Directing Officers of operations, the difficulties of the conduct of the guerrilla war were increased to a maximum degree. Often orders were received by despatch riders two or three days after being written, when it was impossible to be at the places directed; it can therefore be imagined that the responsibilities devolving upon Commanders of columns working under these conditions were intensified to an extraordinary extent, and that their lot was not a happy one. Very much good work was done by Colonel Alexander’s column in these times, including the successful termination of an attack of an overwhelming force of the enemy under Scheepers and Van de Venter, at Uniondale on the 19th August, and culminating in the capture of the former brave Commandant on the 11th October. A day or two after this event he proceeded to England to enjoy a well-deserved rest, and on his return to South Africa was appointed to the Command of a long line of blockhouses in the Colony, which he held until the cessation of hostilities. He then returned to the Regiment, at Porterville Road, and took it to Malmesbury, again leaving it to assume the post of Assistant Adjutant-General at Jersey, which he filled until his retirement from the Army on half pay.

For his services in South Africa he was mentioned in despatches, appointed to the distinguished Services Order, and received the Queen’s Medal with five clasps, and the King’s Medal with two clasps.

It may be said that the whole period of Colonel Alexander’s service as Commanding Officer of the Tenth was a period of unceasing fighting, the strain of which can only be realised by those who have had similar experiences; all his reflections on the share in the war, performed by the Regiment whilst under his command, and the success with which it emerged from every situation, must fill him, as it does those who served under him, with satisfaction.

In times of peace, his kindness and consideration for his men, also that of Mrs Alexander for the married families, will ever be a dominating memory of all ranks of his time, and this opportunity is taken of wishing them both many years of usefulness in their life in the County of Dorestshire, where they now reside.

This wish is heartily endorsed by the Old Comrades Association, in which our former Colonel takes a keen interest, and to which he is always ready to lend his support.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *