Raison, William Frederick (shown as Raisin on Boer War Panel)
Killed in Action 17 September 1901 at Tarkastad
William Frederick Raison was baptized on the 9th of January 1881 at Holy Trinity, Brompton.
He was the oldest of three children born to Henry and Eliza nee Stevens. William’s father was employed as a bricklayer.
On the 1881 census the family were living at 5, Sloane Place, Kensington. The property contained three other families. William is recorded as being six months old. His father was listed as being an unemployed bricklayer.
William’s father died in 1888; he was just twenty seven. Two more children had been born in the intervening years and the father had been in Chelsea workhouse the year prior to his death.
William himself was also in and out of the same workhouse between 1888 and 1892 until being transferred to the Branch School.
According to army service records William enlisted into the Royal Lancashire regiment in 1896 giving his age as 18 years, he was in fact 16. His occupation was given as tailor and he was 5 feet 5 inches tall with a fresh complexion, and having brown eyes and hair. He had a heart and arrow tattoo on his right forearm and blue dots on his left. His next of kin was given as his mother Eliza.
He was discharged on the 3rd of April 1897 having made a misstatement on attestation (presumably regarding his age).
His service records with the Lancers are sadly missing.
The 17th Lancers ( Duke of Cambridge’s Own) sailed on the Victorian on the 14th of February 1900 and arrived at the Cape about the 10th of March. They joined Lord Roberts at Bloemfontein and were put into Gordon’s 3rd Cavalry Brigade, along with the 9th and 16th Lancers.
At Diamond Hill on the 11th and 12th June 1900 the 17th were heavily involved, losing two officers and four men. From this time their work was quite as arduous as anything the Cavalry had done on the way to Pretoria. They took part in the pursuit of General De Wet when he endeavoured to get into Cape Colony in December 1900.
In June 1901 the regiment was split up and the squadrons were attached to different columns which had endless severe marches and some very hard fighting. One set of operations resulted in them driving General Kritzinger across the Orange River and out of the colony in August 1901. This action resulted in heavy losses with the 17th Lancers having an important role. The clearing of the mountainous districts in Cape Colony entailed much hardship and involved great risk as there was every opportunity for the use of ambuscades( ambushes).
On the 17th of September 1901 at Tarkastad a grievous misfortune overtook a squadron under Major Sandeman. The battle known as the Battle of Elands River was brief, bloody and decisive and as near to a massacre as anything that spring.
General Smut’s men’s shooting at Elands River was deadly accurate. They were after all, De La Rey’s veterans, their battle skills honed and polished by two years grind in the Transvaal. Their opponents, Captain Sandeman and Lieutenant Lord Vivian, with 130 men of the famous 17th Lancers ( the death and glory boys - with a skull and crossbones on their uniforms) were relative amateurs.
Map of the Elands River.
The weather was foggy and the passes to the north were invisible from the British camp. When opposing scouts were spotted by a British patrol, they were mistaken for British. This was not simply a matter of fog as many of the Boers were wearing captured khaki. “ Don’t fire we are the 17th Lancers”, shouted an officer. “And we are the Dandy 5th “ said an answering volley of bullets. Reitz himself used up his last two rounds, then threw away his rifle and grabbed a Lee Metford rifle and bandelier of ammunition from one of the first British soldiers to fall. Having crawled up to within a few yards of the main British encampment, under the lee of a rocky outcrop a desperate duel followed, almost at handshake distance.
In all Reitz’s party claimed to have killed twelve or thirteen without loss to themselves, though three of their men were wounded. Meanwhile the main commando had worked up to the British camp, many Boers also being dressed in captured khaki which allowed them to approach to within a few hundred yards, a crucial advantage.
When the confused butchery was over, 29 killed and 41 wounded on the British side compared to 1 dead and 6 wounded among the Boers, the victors took stock of their captures. And well stocked the camp was. Reitz wrote later that they had ridden into action that morning at our last gasp, and we emerged refitted from head to heel. We all had fresh horses, fresh rifles, clothing, saddlery, boots and more ammunition than we could carry away, as well as supplies for every man.
Colonel Douglas Haig, the commander directly responsible, under the overall directness of General French called Smuts and his commandos “ brutes and ruffians”.
The news of the disaster suffered by “C” squadron of the 17th Lancers reached him at Tarkastad, 14 miles from Elands River Poort. He galloped the fourteen miles in an hour and a quarter, splashing down the waterlogged track. He was appalled by what he saw. The brutes had used explosive bullets.
From Ancestry the “UK Army Registers of Soldiers Effects” shows that William enlisted on the 1st of December 1898 and it reveals how any pay and gratuities owing to him was split. His mother Eliza received £4 8s 11d, brother Ernest £4 8s 10d and sister Nellie £4 8s 10d. [Four pounds Eight Shillings and 10 pence equivalent to £4.44]
William was entitled to the South African medal with Cape Colony and Orange Free State clasps.