Essex Regiment in the Boer War

1st Battalion Essex Regiment

The 1st Battalion Essex regiment embarked on the 11th November 1899 and arrived at Colesburg where they were deployed to prevent incursions by the Boers into the colony.

The Battalion were part of the British 18th Brigade, 6th Division with Colonel Stephenson in charge of the Brigade and in his absence  Major F J Brown was temporarily in command of the 1st Essex.

Once Lord Roberts was ready to move the British army marched to intercept the retreat of Cronje. Marching swiftly, the regiment took part in the relief of Kimberley, and then came up upon Cronje at Paardenberg, and on the 18th February 1900, Cronje's trenches were hotly attacked. In the gallant charge across the plain to the Boer trenches on the river banks, The Essex Regiment had 11 NCO and men killed with 3 officers and 48 NCO and men wounded. Lieutenant Parsons was awarded the Victoria Cross for conspicuous courage in this action.

The result of this fight obliged the Boers to contract their defences and so subjected them to a greater intensity of artillery fire, with the result that on the 27th, Cronje, with over 4,000 Boers surrendered themselves as prisoners of war.

The army then advanced on its way to Bloemfontein and after brushing away the enemy at Poplar's Grove, found then strongly entrenched at Driefontein.

At 5 in the afternoon on the 10th March, in the face of heavy fire, the Essex and Welsh Regiments stormed the heights and drove the Boers off at the point of a bayonet, 120 of their dead being afterwards found on the ground. Of the Essex Regiment 2 Officers ( on being the gallant Lt Parsons VC) and 11 NCO's and men were killed and 5 officer and 78 NCO and men were wounded. On reaching Bloemfontein the battalion was complimented by Lord Roberts for the excellent bayonet charge it had made at Driefontein.

On the 22nd April, the regiment was engaged in the relief of Deweradorp, and on the 1st May, started on the long march to Pretoria. On the 10th May at the Zand River, where the Boers had attempted to obstruct the British advance, the Essex regiment was kept on fatigue duty for 24 hours to get the baggage across the drift, while the rest of the division marched on. On the next day ( the 11th) the battalion marched 21 miles, and halting for 3 hours only started again and marched for 23 miles, when it caught up its comrades.

On the 31st May after some fighting, the battalion marched into Johannesburg, and on the 4th June took part in the skirmishing which proceeded the occupation of Pretoria.

After Pretoria the battalion was present at the engagements of Diamond Hill and Belfast, and took part in the operations which ended in the flight of Kruger to Europe, the destruction of the Boer artillery, and the flight of some thousands of Boers across the frontier into Portuguese territory.

Shortly afterwards, it formed part of the force which proceeded to Frederickstad to the assistance of General Barton, who was surrounded by De Wets's force. The Boers were forced to withdraw after suffering heavy loss. Then followed months of incessant marching in pursuit of the Boer commandos and finally the close of the war found it doing duty in the line of blockhouses.

2nd Battalion Essex Regiment

In the meantime the regiment had also been represented by a body of mounted infantry from the 2nd Battalion in India which rendered good service in the engagement at Driefomtein, Sanna's Post, Johannesburg, Diamond Hill, Wittebergen and elsewhere.

The 2nd Battalion itself followed in December 1901 and during the war constructed and occupied the blockhouse line from  Tafel Kop to Vrede.

Essex Regiment Militia and Volunteers

The 3rd Battalion volunteered for active service, and served in South Africa from 27 March to 15 September 1902 being engaged in holding blockhouse lines and guarding the lines of communication, while the service companies furnished by the volunteer battalions joined the 1st Battalion and shared its hardships and dangers with a spirit and endurance which won the highest praise.


The total casualties of the regiment in the Boer War amounted to 7 officer, 1 warrant officer and 203 men killed or died from wounds, disease etc. and 11 Officers and 185 men were wounded.

This article is mainly drawn from the Essex Regiment section of Territorial Regiments of the British Army written  by Robert de Montjoie Rudolph in 1905. Written so soon after the war the language used no doubt reflects on feelings towards the war at the time.