'Faugh-a-Ballaghs, fix your bayonets and die like men'.

Event
Monday, 30 October, 1899
Nicholson's Nek Ladysmith
Ladysmith

During the night of 29/30 October 1899, a column consisting of the 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Fusiliers, The Gloucestershire Regiment and No 10 Mountain Battery The Royal Artillery, marched north out of Ladysmith led by the Faugh's Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel F R C Carleton. Lieutenant General Sir George White VC, the Commander Ladysmith Garrison, aimed to protect his lines of communication to Colenso in the south by dispersing the advancing Boer forces to the north. White's plan was to take the Boer positions at Long Hill and Pepworth Hill north of Ladysmith, throw a cavalry screen to the east between and beyond Lombard's Kop to protect the right flank, and seize Nicholson's Nek as left flank cover to prevent Boer forces to the west from interfering with the battles for Pepworth and Long Hill.

Two miles before the column, with the Faughs leading, reached Nicholson's Nek, a small group of Boers rolled boulders down a hill and then opened fire. This ambush in the pitch dark on the 200 infantry and artillery mules, carrying the reserve ammunition and gun equipment, caused them to stampede. The loose mules careered into the Gloucesters at the rear of the column, who then opened fire believing they were being attacked. The reserve ammunition and water were lost and the column, now proceeding in chaos, moved further along high ground short of Nicholson's Nek. Before the ambush, Carleton, concerned that he would not arrive on his objective before first light, had already turned off the column's main approach route onto a feature called Tchrengula. He now decided to go firm and no doubt hoped to create order out of chaos. There, in partial moonlight, sangars were raised on Tchrengula. Unfortunately, it was not a sound tactical position and was quickly outflanked by agile mounted Boer forces. Around 0800 hours, Boers on the higher ground to the north of Carleton's force on Tchrengula began to skirmish in strength towards him with supporting fire from other Boers occupying commanding features to his flanks. Fighting from better concealed positions, the Boers had little difficulty winning the fire fight. A London 'Times' newspaper journalist later wrote that the order Faugh-a-Ballaghs, fix your bayonets and die like men was passed as the Faughs began to run out of ammunition.

Around 1230 hours, as the result of an extraordinary decision by a junior officer (not a Faugh) whose isolated detachment was completely out of ammunition, a white flag was raised. Following the usual obligations of such a signal, Carleton reluctantly ordered his force to 'Cease fire'. When Lieutenants Holmes and Kinahan first heard the call for cease fire, suspecting that it was a Boer trick, they ignored it and continued firing until they were ordered to lay down their arms. It was also reported that Faugh officers smashed their swords rather than surrender them to the Boers. However, the Boers took all survivors prisoner and among the prisoners (but later released) was Father L Matthews, chaplain of the 1st Faughs who wrote:

We were sent out to occupy the position with the object of preventing the two Boer forces from joining. We started at 8.30 on Sunday night, marched ten miles, and got to the hill at 1 a.m. The first mishap was that the mountain battery stampeded and scattered the whole lot of mules. We formed up again and gained the top of the hill. The guns were gone, but not all the ammunition. I do not know what stampeded the mules. They knocked me down. It was pitch dark.

We had one hour's sleep. Firing began just after daylight. It was slack for some time, but the Boers crept round. Then the firing became furious. Our men made a breastwork of stones. After 12 o'clock there was a general cry of 'Cease fire' in that direction. Our fellows would not stop firing. Major Adye* came up and confirmed the order to cease fire. Then the bugle sounded 'Cease fire.' In our sangar there was a rumour that the white flag was raised by a young officer who thought his batch of ten men were the sole survivors.

We were 900 alive, having started perhaps 1000. I think that many of the battery men escaped. Our men and officers were furious at surrendering. The Boers did not seem to be in great numbers on the spot, but I heard that the main body had galloped off.

The men had to give up their arms. The officers were sent to Commandant Steenekamp. The officers then ordered the men to fall in. The officers were taken away from the men and sent to General Joubert. On the same day the officers went in mule-waggons and slept at some store en route, and next day took the train at Waschbank for Pretoria. The officers are very well treated, and so, I have heard, are the men. There has been no unpleasantness in Pretoria. The officers are in the Model School, and are allowed to walk as they please in the grounds.

I think that the surrender was a great blunder, and was caused by a misunderstanding. Major Adye* was much put out. The white flag was not hoisted by the Irish Fusiliers.

*
Major Adye, an Intelligence Staff Officer from General White's headquarters, was attached as a guide and advisor to Lieutenant Colonel Carleton.

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