2nd Battalion The Royal Irish Fusiliers enter Ladysmith.

Saturday, 3 March, 1900
The Royal Irish Fusiliers line the streets of Ladysmith on 3 March 1900. ©

Siege of Ladysmith, Natal, South Africa 30 October 1899 - 28 February 1900.

The British Government dispatched fifteen thousand soldiers in response to the unrest in Southern Africa. The Boer leadership's reply was to raise twenty-one thousand of their own men. Despite warnings by other senior British officers to keep British troops closer to the coast, Lieutenant General Sir George White moved his soldiers into the Natal Triangle.

The 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Fusiliers arrived in the area of Ladysmith on the 13 October 1899. Five of the eight companies were immediately deployed on outpost duties around the town. Whilst at Ladysmith, elements of the 1st Battalion took part in the Battle of Talana. The troops invested within Ladysmith made a number of sorties during the siege. On the 30 October 1899, at the action of Nicholson’s Nek the 1st Battalion lost four hundred and ninety-three men as prisoners of war.

By the 2 November 1899, the Boers had cut off all outside contact to the besieged troops including the rail link to Durban. The garrison's only means of communication now fell to the heliograph and searchlights. Meanwhile, the initial attempt to relieve Ladysmith ended in failure at the Battle of Colenso. At this point the relieving General, Sir Redvers Buller VC, suggested that General White attempt to break out of Ladysmith or surrender. White was unwilling to take the latter course and unable to take the former as he had no draught animals.

On the 17 November 1899, the 2nd Battalion arrived at the front and were among the troops that came to the Relief of Ladysmith. Relief had proved impossible until new tactics in infantry and artillery had been developed. These tactics were employed successfully at the battle of Pieter’s Hill on the 27 February 1900 where the 2nd Battalion lost one hundred men. During the siege, the two companies of the Royal Irish Fusiliers, who had not been deployed at Nicholson’s Nek, suffered from scurvy and typhoid.

You can view Queen's South African Medals at the Royal Irish Fusiliers Regimental Museum; those awarded to the 1st Battalion bear the clasp ‘Defence of Ladysmith’, those to the 2nd Battalion bear the clasp ‘Relief of Ladysmith'.