In We Wander the Battlefields you will read about the heroic actions at Koster River of Emily Back, Bugler Forbes and Dr Ingoldby.
On 21st July 1900, a detachment of 300 Bushmen (from Western Australia, Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland) were sent to clear the road between Magato Pass and Eland’s River, but were caught in a Boer ambush.
The position was difficult and the horselines were being pounded.
The men waited for an order from Colonel Airey, but hours went past without one. There was disbelief and anger among the Bushmen when – finally – they were told that Colonel Airey planned to surrender.
Major Vialls informed him that he and his West Australians believed they could hold the hill, but Airey still decided to give in. However, when Vialls was reluctantly about to obey (though the numbers of his men had mysteriously lessened), he became aware that Colonel Lushington was approaching with reinforcements. A message was sent to him and as a result the surrender order was rescinded.
Acts of valour
- Western Australian Dr Ingoldby’s hand was badly injured when he went out under fire to tend to Trooper Scott, who was shot in the groin by an explosive bullet.
- 16 year old Bugler Forbes, from Queensland, later earnt a Distinguished Conduct Medal for retrieving ammunition pouches from dead horses in an exposed position.
Fuller descriptions, plus photos, are included in We Wander the Battlefields.
- Local girl 18 year old Emily Back (of British descent), had offered to ride for help for those wounded at Koster River, but when this was not needed she tended the men, in the thick of the action. She also went back the next day.
Emily was universally admired by soldiers on both sides of the War. Major-General Baden-Powell and Lord Roberts were very keen to track her down to acknowledge her bravery. Boer General Smuts even passed on BP’s recommendation, which had been intercepted.
The New South Wales Bushmen thanked her with a purse of 16 sovereigns sent via Major Thomas, and EJ Tannock was given the task of sending an engraved watch from the 3rd Queensland Contingent.
The letters written to Emily by Major Thomas re the donation of money from the grateful men, from EJ Tannock re the gift of the watch, the correspondence between Army personnel who were searching for Emily, and background information about Major Thomas, are printed in the book.
The Australians killed at Koster River are buried in the Rustenburg Cemetery.