Battle of lindley
South African Battle: 28 – 31 May 1900
Lindley is a town in the Orange Free State, about 60 km north-west of Bethlehem and about 250 km north-east of Bloemfontein.
After the fall of Bloemfontein, and then Kroonstad to the British, Lindley, for a few days, became the provincial capital of the Orange Free State. Many of the Free State commandos camped around Lindley, waiting for orders, as the British forces were now marching on the Transvaal and Johannesburg.
General Colville was in Lindley with his column, planning to leave for Heilbron, a town 70 km north of Lindley, early on the morning of 27 May. Colonel Spragge who commanded the 13th Battalion Imperial Yeomanry had been instructed to join Colville at Lindley, but due to logistical errors his arrival had been delayed.
When the Yeomanry arrived at Lindley, later on that same day, they saw the dust of a column heading northward in the distance – they had missed Colville.
While the town seemed deserted, the Boers had reoccupied it after Colville’s departure, and then moved to the hills to the south, waiting for the arrival of the Yeomanry. Rifle fire was opened on the leading squadrons as they entered the town.
The 13th Battalion Imperial Yeomanry comprised the 47th Company (the Duke of Cambridge’s Own) under the command of Captain Keith and three Irish companies – the 46th under Captain Maude, the 54th under Captain Humby, and the 45th under Captain the Earl of Longford. The first three companies were made up mostly of men of wealth, who paid for all their equipment. The battalion also had two Colt guns.
Colville’s departure from Lindley before Spragge’s arrival signified a huge break in communication between the two. Colonel Spragge claims he was handed a telegram, the origins of which are still a mystery, directing him to Lindley. At a subsequent Court of Inquiry, which investigated the Lindley affair, Spragge claimed – “I was shown a telegram from General Colville directing me to join him with my regiment at Lindley.”
At the same enquiry Colville denied ever having sent the telegram. There are many sources that claim that the Boers had tapped the telegraph lines and sent a bogus message to lure the Imperial Yeomanry into an ambush. However, there are other sources that claim that bad staff work, by British headquarters, issued the order to Spragge, but did not tell Colville.
According to Wikipedia – “Spragge’s battalion marched at dawn on the 26th and that afternoon met a party of armed Boers. The Boers claimed to be going to Kroonstad to surrender and Spragge naively disarmed them, invited them to lunch and then allowed them to proceed. The Boers promptly returned to Lindley with useful intelligence. Private Maurice Fitzgibbon of the Dublin company, son of one of Ireland’s most senior judges, recalled: “The scouts of the Boer commandos at Lindley had been permitted to enter our lines to find out our numbers, our armaments and the amount of our supplies, had even had lunch with us and all this information and hospitality at the expense of a few out-of-date rifles and a few perjured oaths.””
Having been welcomed to Lindley with Boer rifle fire Spragge chose a position for defence about 4 km north-west of Lindley. It was an area covering the road to Kroonstad and two groups of hills which were separated by a valley through which a stream flowed into the Vals River. The northern group of hills contained a boulder-strewn plateau, to the east a rocky hill called Platkop. Across the valley of the Vals River stood two stony koppies (small hills), 300 metres apart. To the south, the ground rose gradually to an elevation, which would, at a distance, command the koppies. The koppies were assigned for occupation to the 47th Company for defence, while a farmhouse at the foot was occupied as an outpost. A stone kraal near the farmhouse was defended by the 45th Company, and positions to the west were occupied by the 46th Company. The 54th Company was kept in reserve and as guard to the transport and horses.
The City Coin catalogue for their 71st Auction, records the following for the battle – “On the afternoon of the 27th May 1900, the 13th Battalion rode into Lindley and were shocked to find that it was not Colville, but a large contingent of the enemy that met them. Spragge made the decision to hold his ground in a group of hills to the north west of Lindley and await help. Messages were sent but they did not contain the required tone of urgency. After choosing his ground, the situation for Spragge and his battalion grew rapidly worse – they were surrounded by a numerically superior enemy who also had artillery – which arrived on the 29th May under the command of Piet de Wet.”
On the evening of 29 May Lieutenant Montgomery, with 16 men, seized a ridge which was being held by the Boers. However, having taken the ridge they were exposed to gun fire for two hours, and eventually surrounded and captured.
On the morning of 31 May, Captain the Earl of Longford, with 50 men, was sent to recapture the position which they managed to do with a bayonet charge. By then, however, Spragge was compelled to recall Lord Longford’s men closer to his headquarters, as Prinsloo had brought a gun into position on Platkop, 2 km to the north-east of Lindley. Spragge’s Colt guns returned fire but this only aggravated the situation as the Boers then brought concentrated artillery fire to bear on both the koppies.
Under cover of this fire, Prinsloo with 200 men galloped up to the southern koppie which was being held by a few men under Lieutenant Alexander. Alexander was forced to retreat to the second koppie, which was held by Lieutenant Robin. Between the two koppies was a small post of a few men, one of whom decided to raise the white flag as a token of surrender. This man was shot by his comrades. Reinforcements from the 54th Company arrived, but it was too late to save the position
With the southern koppie already in Boer hands, Lieutenant Robin, under the mistaken notion that he was bound by the white flag of his subordinate, ordered a ceasefire. This brought the valley in which the transport was parked into Boer hands. The remainder of the British position became untenable. Seeing the futility of further effort, Spragge also surrendered. Lord Longford, with the 45th Company to the north, and Captain Maude, with the 46th Company in the west, held out for a little longer but they too finally surrendered. All firing ceased at about 2pm.
British losses were an officer and 16 men killed, while another officer and three men died of wounds received. The Boers captured more than 400 men – a huge shock, especially to the public back in Britain. To make matters worse, the men of the 13th Battalion were the Duke of Cambridge’s Own and the three Irish companies – which symbolised the wealth and power that had been associated with the corps.
Also of interest is the fact that between mid-May 1900 and the beginning of June 1900 the occupation of the town changed hands on a number of occasions Also, by the end of 1900 a British garrison had been established in the town to patrol the area and act as a staging post for the sweeps which were conducted against the Boer guerrillas operating in the area.