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Raison, William Frederick (shown as Raisin on Boer War Panel)

Private 4792

17th Lancers

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.

Elands river Boer War William Raison

                                               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.

Research by Rachel and Jim Stapleton

SOURCES :- Find My Past, Ancestry, Wikepedia, AngloBoer, “The Boer War” by Thomas Pakenham,  Map from the Anglo Boer War site.

Last checked Aug 2016 - nothing new found.

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Read, Charles John

Trummpter 19995, later Gunner

4th Battery Royal Field Artillery


Charles John Read was born on the 3rd of March 1882 and baptized on the 21st of May at St Clement Notting Hill. He was one of at least six children born to Henry Read and Fanny nee Akerman. Henry was employed as a carpenter and his marriage to Fanny was a second one. There were at least two children from his first marriage. When Charles was baptized the family were living at 13, Walmer Road.

Charles’ father died in 1888, and he was admitted to Beechholme on the 30th of April of the same year.
The 1891 census shows that Charles and an older sister Hannah were resident in Beechholme, then Kensington and Chelsea District school. A younger brother was a patient in the London Hospital Whitechapel. His mother married again that year to Arthur Wheeler. According to the Poor Law records Charles was admitted to the workhouse on the 9th of September 1891.

Charles enlisted on the 10th of May 1897 at Woolwich. From his attestation paper he was described as being 15 years old and working as a butcher. He was just over 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighed 122 pounds. He was of fair complexion with grey eyes and fair hair. He had a scar on his left thigh and one on the inside of his right knee. His mother Fanny Wheeler was given as his next of kin and she was residing at Upper Westbourne Park.

At the end of the 19th century the Royal Field Artillery was divided into Garrison and Field Artillery. The Field Artillery was then divided into horse batteries, field batteries and mountain batteries. The field batteries were numbered 1-103 and had their depot at Woolwich. A battery was commanded by a Major with a Captain as 2nd in command. It was then divided into two or three sections each commanded by a Lieutenant and consisted of a detachment of two guns. The Royal Field Artillery was the largest arm of the artillery and was responsible for the medium calibre guns and Howitzers deployed close to the front line. It was organised into brigades, attached to divisions or higher formations. During the Great War a whole new form of artillery was developed to meet the unusual conditions of war on the western front, the trench mortar. It also provided the manpower for the heavier mortars.

Charles served in South Africa from the 15th of November 1899 until the 10th of June 1900 when he was moved into the 39th battery and into the army reserve seemingly back in England.

He was awarded the Queens South African medal with Orange Free State and Cape Colony clasps.

During the Boer War the 4th battery of the Royal Field Artillery operated with General French in the Colesberg district in December 1899 and January 1900. In his despatch of the 2nd of February 1900 General French says that “ Major Butcher with great energy and perseverance succeeded in placing two field guns on the top of a steep hill called Coleskop which was 800 feet high and from this commanding position had inflicted great damage and loss on the enemy” The ammunition was hoisted by an arrangement of wires and pulleys. In April and May 1900 the battery was in the Boshof and Warrenton district. They did good work under Lord Methuen and saw a good deal of fighting in the Orange River Colony. Charles had originally appointed to the rank of Trumpeter on the 6th of March 1898 and on his arrival back in England was duly promoted to the rank of Corporal. It appears that he was based at Aldershot where he passed a cookery course, a short gunnery course and then passed an exam for promotion to Sergeant in 1904.

Charles married Rose Minnie Grace on the 25th of April 1904 at Christchurch ,Notting Hill. Both were aged 23 and Charles’s younger brother was a witness. They would have at least three children together.

Charles was re-engaged at Bulford on the 6th of February 1908.

On the 1911 census the family were based at Bulford Camp in Wiltshire.

Charles was promoted to Quarter Master Sergeant on the 17th of November 1913.

Charles was sent to France with the Expeditionary Force on the 17th of August 1914 and remained there until the 20th of August 1915 when he came home. He had spent a few days in a military hospital at Boulogne at the beginning of August. It is not known what caused him to be admitted but it was possibly this that necessitated the end of his service on the western front.

On the 25th of January 1919 he was found to be medically unfit for further service. His length of army service was 21 years and 261 days in total.

He was awarded the 1914 Star and the British and Victory medals. He had also been awarded a good conduct medal with gratuity in 1916.

The 1939 register shows Charles living with his wife at The Cottage next to the school, Amersham, Bucks. His occupation was given as army pensioner.

Charles died on the 30th of March 1941 at 20, Forty Close, Wembley. He left £1057 15s 8d to his widow.

Research by Rachel and Jim Stapleton

SOURCES :- Ancestry,  Find My Past, Anglo Boer, Forces War Records.

Last updated: 31 Aug 2016 with information from Poor Law records.

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Royal, John Robert

Gunner 18050

83rd Battery Royal Field Artillery


John Robert Royal was born on the 17th of June 1879 and baptized  on the 6th of July at St John’s Worlds End. He was the second child of three boys born to Joseph and Margaret nee Scorfield. John’s father was employed as a linkman - this was someone employed as a torch carrier who guided people through unlit streets.

On the 1881 census the family were living at 33, Lots Road in Chelsea. According to Charles Booth’s poverty map this was a fairly comfortable area with people in employment. By November of 1886 things must have gone badly wrong for the family as all three boys were placed in the Britten Street workhouse by their mother. She collected them in January 1887 and they were discharged to her care.

Poor Law records show that John was admitted to Beechholme, date not given, probably after the death of his mother in 1888. It is noted that John's father was in prison, and when the 1891 census was taken both boys were resident in the school then known as the Kensington and Chelsea District School.

John was discharged to service to service on the 17th of August 1892 aged fourteen. He was apprenticed for five years to Edwin John Le Grys a painter of 100, Golbourne Road. There are no details of any follow up visits.

On the 13th of January 1897 John enlisted into the Royal Field Artillery in London. He was eighteen years old and his occupation was given as potman. He was described as being five feet eight inches in height and weighing 139 pounds. He had a fair complexion with brown eyes and hair. He had a scar on the back of his left hand and a birthmark on his chest.

John’s service in the Boer War was relatively short, from the 18th of January 1900 until the 9th of June the same year when he was invalided back home to England. He was awarded the Queens South African medal with Dreifontein and Cape Colony Clasps.

On arrival in South Africa the 83rd battery were hurried to the front and although too late to take part in the actual pursuit to Paardeberg, they were able to render assistance later.

The battle of Dreifontein on the 10th of March 1900 was the last attempt by the Boers to prevent the British under Lord Roberts from occupying Bloemfontein.

The problem for Roberts was that the Boers had learned a lesson at Paardeberg, and as soon as they were given the merest hint of a possible encirclement they hitched up their wagons and ran like the wind. French’s horses had been ridden into the ground and were in no condition to mount an effective pursuit, the infantry had been on half rations since a transport fiasco and they too did not have the energy to halt the fleeing Boers. Roberts was bitterly disappointed. He had to watch powerless as De Wet, all his men and President Kruger got clean away. There were mutual recriminations between Roberts and French that such an opportunity had been lost.

As a stream of wagons thundered panic-stricken towards Bloemfontein, Kruger and De la Rey  who had been on his way down with more men, were powerless to stop them. They had halted at a place called Abraham’s Kraal near Driefontein and decided that De le Rey should try to detain Roberts here while Kruger used the extra time to prepare the defences in Bloemfontein. Roberts had split his men into three columns 16 kilometres apart, and they resumed their laborious progress through the Orange Free State. When French, who was leading the first column, spotted De la Rey’s presence at Abraham’s Kraal, he attempted to skirt round him to the south.

 Driefintein John Robert Royal

 De la Rey had planned for this and French ended up riding straight into the Boer lines at Driefontein. In an all too familiar scene,1,500 Boers managed to keep 10,000 Khakis at bay for an entire day. It was only when a creeping artillery barrage enabled the infantry to launch an overwhelming assault that the Boers, still firing to the last moment, were forced to flee.

John married Ellen Stock at Farnham on the 26th of August 1900. Neither of them can be traced on the 1901 census and it is unknown if they had any children together.

From John’s original army service records he was transferred to the army reserves on the 13th of January 1904. He was re-engaged on the 13th of January 1909 to the reserves and married for the second time in August of that year to Florence Burbidge. What happened to his first wife is unknown. Both marriages are recorded in his army records.

On the 1911 census John and Florence were living in Leghorn Road , Harlesden and they had a young daughter. John was employed as a breakman for the railway.

He was discharged again from the army in 1913 and his character was described as very good.

After the outbreak of world war one John once again enlisted at Woolwich on the 23rd of August 1915. He was promoted to Corporal and then to Sergeant on the 29th of February 1916.

His youngest daughter Ethel Rose died of whooping cough and broncho-pneumonia in 1916. She was aged eighteen months and John was present at her death.

He was posted to India on the 7th of October in 1917 in a peace-keeping role.

He was demobbed on the 20th of November 1919. He was awarded the British medal only as although he served overseas he was not actively involved in the fighting.

The 1939 register shows John as a widower of 72, Park Road, Wembley. His occupation was given as a goods guard with the LMS. railway.

He probably died in 1951 in Leicester. His wife had been born there.

Research by Rachel and Jim Stapleton

SOURCES :- Ancestry, Find My Past, Anglo Boer, The Boer War by Tabitha Jackson, Map available online.

Last updated:31 Aug 2016 with information from Poor Law records.

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