QSA To The Royal Irish Rifles , KIA Stormberg
QSA one Bar Cape Colony 2920 PTE J MADDEN R IR RIF
Pte J Madden ( Modden on casualty roll) was killed in action at Stormberg on the 10th of December 1899
The Battle of Stormberg, which was the 2nd Battalion's first and only major action of the war, was ill directed, ill handled, and ill supported - especially when the Rifles were shelled by the Artillery. However, Gatacre's explanation may have lacked detail and frankness as the Battalion cheered him at the end of his speech with an eagerness to return and carry on with the fight. Importantly, there had been no error on the part of the Rifles.
The Battalion, as a result of this action, lost 12 other ranks killed; five officers and 46 other ranks wounded; and four officers and 216 men captured. The Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel H A Eagar, died of his wounds on 3 February 1900
At 9.15 p.m. the column marched out of Molteno, the Royal Irish Rifles leading. Just before moving off, Colonel Eager said: "The battalion represents the North of Ireland, which is watching you. I know I have not to ask you to do your duty." Two days' rations of tinned meat and biscuit were carried. The distance to be covered was ten miles. There was a bright moon, which set about midnight. The road at first was quite good; every-thing looked promising, and the men were in capital spirits. General Gatacre gave the order to fix swords, and the men marched on, carrying their arms in this rather constrained position. The artillery followed the infantry, but with a long interval between, and the wheels of the guns, etc., were wrapped up in raw hide, to deaden the sound. Behind the guns came the mounted troops. Various details, including the Maxim gun detachment of the Royal Irish Rifles, under Lieutenant Wright, had not been informed of the change of plan from the frontal to the flank attack, and they took the direct road to the nek and lost themselves. The guides, in the darkness, missed the right turning, and the force halted at I a.m. at a farm, owned by a Mr. Roberts. The guides informed General Gatacre that the distance from the coveted heights was now only one and a half miles; in reality it was three miles away. The Boers had sent out some 600 men that night, probably to beat up Gatacre's left flank. This force was under Grobler, and was laagered three miles farther up the road from the British column, so Gatacre was actually between the two bodies of Boers, who had not the vaguest idea that his outposts were nearer than Molteno. Here indeed was a chance, if he had known of it, to finish up the 600 Bethulie warriors with the bayonet. However, not knowing this, at 2 a.m. the march was resumed. The track—for it could not be called a road—became appallingly bad. Colonel Eager reported to the General that he thought the guide had lost his way. The guide as stoutly protested that he had not. At 3.45 a.m. on the 10th of December the head of the column reached the point which General Gatacre had aimed for. He was at the foot of the heights which formed the western boundary to the Stormberg Basin, and he was on the western side of those heights, in a small valley, which led into the Stormberg Basin.
Everything was as he could wish it. Unfortunately in the dark he did not know that he had arrived there, and his guides did not quite understand his plans, so there was a misunderstanding. The guides thought he wanted to push on by road into the valley, and did not realise that the infantry, facing east, could have climbed straight up the hill and dominated all the Boer camps from these heights with their rifles; so the column toiled along the road, past the heights on their right, until broad daylight came on, still marching in fours, with swords fixed.
Colonel Eager realized the danger, and requested the General's permission to send half a company out as an advanced guard. General Gatacre ordered him not to do so. A few hundred yards to the east of the British force lay one of the Boer laagers, its outpost absolutely unconscious of the presence of the enemy. There was a picquet, with a single Boer sentry on the road which ran through the nek, which the force was now approaching in column of route. To his horror, the sentinel saw this long serpent of marching men drawing near him. He roused his comrades—between ten and twenty in number—and fire was opened. The Dutch poured out of their laager, wheremost of them had been making coffee, and rushed for the heights. General Gatacre ordered the Royal Irish Rifles to rush through the nek and seize a detached hill just inside it, but it was too late to issue orders then. Everyone had felt that they were called upon to act promptly for themselves in the emergency, and, though three companies (" F," "G," and "H ") dashed through the nek for the hill beyond, the remainder of the Royal Irish Rifles formed for attack towards their right flank, and, with the Northumberland Fusiliers prolonging their right, rushed for the summit, led by " C " Company, under Captain Bell. The advance was well maintained, and half the distance had been crossed when the whole force was brought to a standstill by a line of precipices, which rose sheer up for some distance, and was only scalable here and there.
The men laid down under cover, whilst Colonel Eager, Major Seton, Major Welman, and Captain Bell drew together, studied the formation of the ground, and arranged for the forward movement. The three companies who had taken the hill beyond the nek outflanked the Boer position, whilst the mounted infantry had also pushed inside the Stormberg Valley. Everything was in capital train. The General rode up to the three companies on the hill, whilst Colonel Eager, without orders, but wisely comprehending the situation, arranged for the rush to clear the heights. The two batteries—the 74th and the 77th—opened fire on the heights, but, unfortunately, thinking the Royal Irish Rifles were the enemy in the uncertain light, commenced to shell them. The results were instantaneous. The first shell mortally wounded Colonel Eager and severely wounded Majors Seton and Welman, Captain Bell and several riflemen. The next few were equally deadly, and in a few seconds, to the surprise of the Boers, some of whom had been pouring in an ineffectual fire, whilst others were hurrying to the rear, the whole of the infantry who had been lying close under the cliffs, ready to escalade them, were driven down the slope, vainly trying to avoid the deadly shrapnel of their own guns. The officer commanding the Northumberland Fusiliers ordered his battalion to retire to reform it, ready to support either attack. Some of the Royal Irish Rifles, hearing the order, moved with this battalion, assuming that it also applied to them. Some of the Northumberland Fusiliers did not hear it, and remained where they were.
The men who retired first took shelter in the donga at the foot of the hill, but this was enfiladed, so the retirement was continued as far as the small hills across the valley. The movement was carried out in good order, and each part covered the retreat of the others. Arriving at these small hills, one company was told off to hold the heights, whilst the remainder formed in quarter column under cover. General Gatacre had been with the party that held the hill inside the nek. From here he had meant to sweep down the enemy's position, pressing home his attack. With the hills abandoned to the Boers, he saw that this could not be done, so he gave the order to the three companies to retire, which they did, under heavy fire, in good order, and the mounted infantry of the force galloped back, and a new line was formed on a ridge across the road up which the force had marched. This was about an hour and a quarter after the first shot had been fired. Naturally, the noise had drawn in all parties of Boers, even Grobler's detachment. This last commando fired into Gatacre's troops from the rear, and the 77th battery had three guns firing forward and three backward.
In the meantime, some 600 men of the two infantry battalions lay on the hill under the cliffs, keeping up the fight with the Boers. General Gatacre ordered the force he was now with on the ridge to retire. Major Allen, of the Royal Irish Rifles, urged the General to allow him to take up the remaining companies of the Rifles to carry the heights, but General Gatacre refused to let him do this. The remainder, nearer to the enemy, were left to their fate. Afterwards it transpired that the officers and men did not know what was going on, and that they held tenaciously to their ground, expecting that the remainder of the force was moving to make a flank attack. No orders were given, and each party was overpowered in detail. The retreating force, under General Gatacre, was not kept well in hand, and the infantry straggled a great deal. The guns and mounted infantry kept the enemy at a distance, and Lieutenant and Adjutant Sitwell collected the men of the Royal Irish Rifles who were least fatigued and formed an efficient rearguard. About 11 a.m. Molteno was reached; 634 unwounded prisoners (officers and men) were taken by the Boers. The total casualties of the whole force were 28 killed and 61 wounded on the British side, and 8 killed and 26 wounded on the Boer side.
The Royal Irish Rifles loss was as follows: —Twelve non-commissioned officers and men killed and forty-six non-commissioned officers and men wounded; also wounded officers as follow: Lieutenant-Colonel Eager (mortally wounded), Majors Seton and Welman, Captains Bell and Kelly, and Lieutenant Stevens. The following officers were captured: Captain Weir, Lieutenant Christie, and 2nd-Lieutenants Maynard and Rodney, and 216 unwounded non-commissioned officers and men. The battalion, under Major Allen, was entrained that afternoon, with the remainder of the infantry of General Gatacre's force, and was sent down to Sterkstroom.
General Gatacre had, on the whole, bad luck at Stormberg. The idea was sound; but his arrangements were not thoroughly supervised. He surprised his enemy, but, from want of precautions, was not able to use his advantage, and appears to have sent no orders to his troops. That he should have left 600 of them to be made prisoners was also a piece of bad staff work; whilst the crowning calamity was the successful shelling by the British artillery of their own side. On the whole, the force was lucky to have been able to effect their retreat. An enterprising enemy would have stopped it and captured the whole force. The prisoners were sent to Pretoria.
Medal dark toned with some edge contacting and generally in VF condition