A Reconquest of the Sudan pair to a Boer War Battle of Spion Kop Casualty, Private T. King, 2nd Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers, who having taken part in the operations leading to the reconquest of the Sudan in 1898, including the Battle of Omdurman and the entry into Khartoum on 2nd September 1898, went on to be killed in action at Spion Kop on 24th January 1900, this being the iconic British defeat during General Buller’s second and disastrous attempt to cross the Tugela River and relieve Ladysmith.

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A Reconquest of the Sudan pair to a Boer War Battle of Spion Kop Casualty, Private T. King, 2nd Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers, who having taken part in the operations leading to the reconquest of the Sudan in 1898, including the Battle of Omdurman and the entry into Khartoum on 2nd September 1898, went on to be killed in action at Spion Kop on 24th January 1900, this being the iconic British defeat during General Buller’s second and disastrous attempt to cross the Tugela River and relieve Ladysmith.
Queen’s Sudan Medal 1896-1898; (4523 PTE T. KING. 2/LAN: FUS:); Khedive’s Sudan Medal 1896-1908, 1 Clasp: Khartoum, named in correct regimentally engraved style; (4523. PTE. T. KING. 2ND: L.F.)

Condition: Good Very Fine or better.

Awarded to Private (No.4523) T. King, 2nd Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers, who saw service during the reconquest of the Sudan and was present in action at the Battle of Omdurman and the entry into Khartoum on 2nd September 1898.

Subsequently he saw service with his battalion during the Boer War in South Africa, and took part in the operations then attempting to relieve Ladysmith, being himself killed in action at Spion Kop on 24th January 1900, this being the iconic British defeat during General Buller’s second and disastrous attempt to cross the Tugela River and relieve Ladysmith.

Of all the Great Boer War battles Spion Kop retains an appalling notoriety for the incompetence of British leadership and the slaughter of the small number of men engaged on each side in the struggle for the top of the hill. The battle graphically showed the failure of the British Army to understand the requirements of modern warfare: tactics to cope with powerful long range artillery and magazine rifle fire, the need for proper communications and systems of reconnaissance, maintenance of chains of command in action and training and leadership at all levels.

General Buller’s defeat at Colenso on 15th December 1899 left him with the same strategic conundrum; how to relieve Ladysmith. Before he assumed the position of commander-in-chief in South Africa, Buller urged that the small British force in Natal must remain on the defensive behind the Tugela River in the face of a Boer invasion of the colony. General Penn Symons ignored this advice and advanced to the northern tip of Natal, where he won the battle of Talana -dying in the process- a minor success that did little to stem the Boer invasion. General Sir George White, arriving in the colony with reinforcements, had not felt able to pull his troops back from Ladysmith behind the Tugela, although fundamentally he agreed with Buller, and found himself besieged in the town with most of the British troops in the colony.

Similar actions in Mafeking and Kimberley left British garrisons besieged by forces of Boers in the North West of South Africa. Instead of having a free hand to counter invade the two Boer republics, The Orange Free State and the Transvaal, Buller was forced to attempt the relief of these three towns. In particular it was inconceivable that White be left to surrender to the Boers with 10,000 British troops.

General Botha with his Boer burgher army entrenched on the line of the Tugela River and awaited attack by Buller’s Natal Field Force. At Colenso Buller attempted an assault straight up the railway line to Ladysmith, hoping that White would mount a simultaneous assault from Ladysmith against the Boer rear. Colenso was a severe reverse for Buller leaving unresolved the problem of crossing the Tugela River.

White’s losses in the Boer assaults on Wagon Hill and Caesar’s Camp on 6th January 1900 caused him to signal to Buller that he was unable to make any further foray to assist the relief operation. Relieved of the obligation to attempt a joint operation with White Buller planned his next attack further west on the Tugela to outflank the main Boer entrenched positions around the north-south railway line.

Substantial reinforcements arrived from Britain in Warren’s Fourth Division. Once they reached the main army Buller moved to the west and began his assault across the Tugela. The point chosen for the attack lay opposite the Rangeworthy Hills, of which Spion Kop was one.

Major General Lyttelton’s brigade of Rifle Regiments initially crossed the river at Potgeiter’s Drift to the East of the main attack, at a point where the river bending in a loop to the south protected the crossing from enfilade fire. Lieutenant General Warren with 13,000 men and 36 guns had the task of crossing the river further west at Trikhardt’s Drift and pushing up onto the Rangeworthy Hills, thereby diverting Boer attention so that Lyttelton could punch through to Ladysmith. Buller planned to follow Lyttelton’s attack with a further force of 8,000 men and 22 guns.

Warren’s force set off for the Tugela on 15th January 1900, beginning the crossing of the river on 17th January. On 19th January Warren was still bringing his column across the river and had not begun his attack although his artillery opened an extensive bombardment along the Tabanyama Ridge immediately opposite Trikhardt’s Drift. In the meantime Botha realising the threat to his extreme right flank brought Boer commandoes and guns to the area, settling them into the threatened hills and opening fire on Warren’s waiting troops.

Losing patience with Warren’s lack of urgency, on 23rd January 1900 Buller rode forward and ordered Warren to begin the attack on the Rangeworthy Hills. Warren’s plan was to climb and capture the hill of Spion Kop which he considered to be the key to the Rangeworthy position. With his troops established on Spion Kop he would overlook the open ground leading to Ladysmith. The column assigned to take Spion Kop comprised a party of Thorneycroft’s Mounted Infantry, battalions from Woodgate’s Lancastrian brigade and sappers of the Royal Engineers to dig the necessary entrenchments. The column made a night approach finally setting off up the steep side of the hill and arriving at the top in the early morning. The hill was shrouded in mist. A small Boer picket fled, leaving Warren’s men in possession of the summit, which the sappers began to entrench. It seemed to the British that the relief of Ladysmith was at hand.

The Boer picket rushed to warn Botha who directed the Boer guns in the area to fire on the summit of Spion Kop. A few hundred Boer burghers were persuaded to climb the hill and attempt to recapture it from the British. On Spion Kop the mist prevented the British force from realising that the area they occupied did not include the summit and that their position was overlooked by higher features. The infantry soldiers fell asleep after the strenuous climb while the team of sappers dug trenches. The entrenched area extended to just an acre.

The Boer bombardment began and the Boers on the lip of the summit of the hill fired into the entrenched area, which the British troops were to find was too small and too shallow. Under the storm of artillery and rifle fire the British troops in the trenches on the hill top suffered heavily. General Woodgate was an early casualty, as were the commanding officers of the Royal Lancasters and the Royal Engineers, leaving the British troops without senior officers. Warren in the meanwhile ordered General Coke to take reinforcements to the hill-top: Imperial Light Infantry, 2nd Dorsets and 2nd Middlesex. Hart and other senior officers urged Warren to attack Tabanyama. Instead Warren signaled Lyttleton that a diversion was needed. On the Boer side the fighting was just as desperate. Only volunteers could be persuaded to climb to the top of Spion Kop and the surrounding heights. The hillside was littered with Boer casualties and many were killed on the summit. The sense of desperation was as great on the Boer side as on the British.

On Buller’s urgings Warren put Thorneycroft in command on the crest of Spion Kop. Some of the despairing and exhausted British troops attempted to surrender to the Boers. Thorneycroft on taking command ordered the Boers back and shouted that there was to be no surrender. At the critical moment Coke’s reinforcements burst onto the hilltop, although Coke himself stayed beneath the crest and settled down for a nap, so it is reported. The most critical battle for the British Empire in many decades was left to a colonel to fight.

At this point in the battle Lyttelton launched his diversionary attack. The 2nd Scottish Rifles climbed Spion Kop to join Thorneycroft’s troops while 1st Rifle Brigade attacked straight up the Twin Peaks to the East of Spion Kop. Schalk Burger, commanding the Boers on the Twin Peaks, panicked at the assault on his position and many of his burghers made for the rear, leaving the 60th to take the summit of the ridge. The roasting hot day came to a close and Warren began to organise reliefs and supplies for the hard pressed infantry on the summit of Spion Kop. Still under artillery fire Thorneycroft and his men were at the end of their tether. Warren had sent Thorneycroft no orders of any sort during the day, other than his appointment in command, and he now sent no message to inform Thorneycroft that substantial reinforcements were on their way. Not until 9pm did the reliefs begin to climb the hill.

On the Boer side the effect of the battle had been just as devastating and the diversionary attack by the 60th Rifles had been the last straw. The Boers had left the summit of Spion Kop. Thorneycroft did not realise it, but he had won the battle. Instead of moving forward after the retreating enemy Thorneycroft resolved to withdraw off the hill with the confused and demoralised remnants of the Lancashire battalions, Middlesex, Scottish Rifles and his own Imperial Light Infantry. The reinforcements began to arrive and a vigorous dispute developed, a newly arrived commanding officer insisting that the hill must be held. Thorneycroft was adamant. He was in command and he was taking his troops down from this hellish hill top which they could no longer hold. At dawn the next day the Boer leaders saw that their men had re-occupied Spion Kop. The battle had been won. Warren’s force trailed back across the Tugela. The second attempt to force through to Ladysmith had failed disastrously. The British suffered 1,500 casualties, 243 of them dead in the trench on the peak of Spion Kop. The Boers suffered 335 casualties.

King was amongst those men of the 2nd Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers to be killed in action at Spion Kop on 24th January 1900, and his body lies in the mass grave beneath the memorial to the men killed there. In addition he is commemorated by name on a tablet in the Labour Club at 100 Manchester Road, Droylesden, Greater Manchester.