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With the Boer Foreign Legion

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With the Boer Foreign Legion
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Author(s): Anonymous (An Ex-Lieutenant of General de Villebois-Mareuil) & J. Y. F. Blake
Date Published: 2013/07
Page Count: 412
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-1-78282-123-6
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1-78282-122-9

Ten Months in the Field With the Boers
by Anonymous (An Ex-Lieutenant of General de Villebois-Mareuil)

A West Pointer With the Boers
by J. Y. F. Blake
The Irish and European Brigades in Boer service in South Africa

By virtue of its abiding and justified fame, the term ‘Foreign Legion’ is usually thought to mean the standing force in the service of France. However, this is by no means the only example of a mercenary force, either in present times or throughout the history of military conflict. Some legions like those of the French and Spanish became part of the permanent military establishment and some have come and gone motivated by pay. Others have been raised specifically in time of war and have been manned by those driven by conviction, principle or the spirit of adventure, to serve causes not naturally their own. The Spanish Civil War famously had its International Brigades. When the Boers in South Africa rose against the might of the British Empire at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, they too attracted soldiers of fortune. Some, no doubt, were motivated to support an underdog against imperial oppression and others simply saw themselves as natural enemies of the British and were ready to take them on whenever and wherever the opportunity presented itself. The authors of the works in this special Leonaur volume belonged in each ‘camp.’ The French aide to de Villebois-Mareuil was able to dine amiably with English officers while travelling to the theatre of war, whereas the American, Blake, indentified in every way with the convictions of his ‘Irish Brigade’ comrades and roundly hated his enemy. This book provides unusual perspectives and often discomforting insights into the sharp end of the Boer War and will fascinate all those interested in the subject.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.

The Heilbron Commando, consisting of over 200 men, was represented by the corporal and three men. All the rest, the commandant at their head, had gone home; hence their reduced fighting strength. At last all the remnant of the force was in its place, behind little rocky entrenchments hastily thrown up.<br>
In the distance a long column of ‘khakis’ defiles, marching from north to south, presenting its left flank to us from a distance of seven or eight miles, and preceded by a body of mounted scouts.<br>
We go to inspect the mounting of our guns, which are arriving on our left and in the centre of our line. Then we return to the kopje where we were before with the Johannesburg Politie. Captain D——, the French Military Attaché, is there following all the movements.<br>
About eight o’clock an English detachment essays a movement against us, and we open fire with our Krupp gun. English regiments defile against the horizon till eleven o’clock. Some Maxims and a battery of field-guns have been mounted against us.<br>
Between the English and Boer lines a herd of springbock are running about in terror under the shells. The poor beasts finally make off to more tranquil regions and disappear.<br>
The Maxims fire short, but after a few seconds the field-guns find the range, and fire with a certain precision. Two shrapnel-shells fired one after the other burst over our heads. My right-hand neighbour gets a bullet just below his right eye, and falls against me; I am covered with his blood. He died soon after.<br>
As I bathe his face, I see Captain D——hobbling back. I go to him. He has been struck on the hip by a ball, which, having fortunately spent most of its force, has not penetrated the flesh. The wound was not dangerous, but it swelled a good deal at once, and caused a numbness in the leg. I hastily applied the necessary dressing, which the captain had with him, and then went to fetch his horse.<br>
After his departure, we return to the kopje. The Mounted Rifles advance in force. We wait till they are about 500 metres off, and then open a heavy fire upon them, supported by the two Maxims. They retreat rapidly, leaving some dozen of their number on the field. We make four prisoners. They are sailors who have been mounted, lads of barely twenty. There is a lull after this attempt.<br>
About four o’clock the artillery fire begins again with redoubled fury, heralding a violent charge by the infantry, who have been concentrated under the shelter of the field-guns. A simultaneous charge is made on our left wing. All along the line and on both flanks we sustain a heavy fusillade from the enemy. Although protected to some extent by our rocks, our losses are pretty heavy.<br>
The English come up to be killed with admirable courage. Three times they return to the charge in the open, losing a great many men. At nightfall they are close upon us.<br>
I go in search of Colonel Villebois, who means to rest his men in a little wood behind a kopje on the banks of the Modder. We have eaten nothing since the night before.<br>
At eight o’clock comes an order for a general retreat. We learn that an outflanking movement is to be attempted against us. In the evening General Delarey telegraphed as follows:<br>
The English are advancing upon our positions in two different directions. They have begun to bombard General Sellier, and are keeping up a sharp rifle-fire. We have been heavily engaged from nine o’clock this morning till sunset. The federated troops fought like heroes. Three times they repulsed a strong force of the English, who brought up fresh troops against us every time. Each attack was repulsed, and at sunset the English troops were only about forty metres from us. Their losses were very heavy. Our own have not yet been ascertained. A report on this point will follow.
We found afterwards that Roberts’ entire army was present, some 40,000 men, and that he had engaged over 12,000. Our losses were 380 men out of about 950.