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British regiments, units and columns

Driscoll's Scouts

This unit consisted of pro-British residents of the Cape Colony. Their leader, Captain Daniel Patrick Driscoll, was born to Irish residents in Burma. At the age 0f 37, he set off to assist the British war effort in South Africa. At first, he was a captain in the Border Horse, but soon established his own unit of volunteers, called the Driscoll's Scouts. He was generally known as a dashing and courageous fighter, and the Scouts attracted an increasing number of men. The Scouts thrived on guerilla warfare.

Captain Driscoll must have exerted some fascination in the public mind at the time. In 1901, AG Hales, the war correspondent for the Daily News, published a novel, Driscoll, King of Scouts: A Romance of the South African War (AG ( JW Arrowsmith, London, 1901). Captain Driscoll, an Irishman, was described as a formidable fighter. Unlike some of the foppish British commanders, “The Captain of the scouts carried himself like the genuine article … [His] headgear was a great, grey, soft slouch hat, turned up at one side … The Captain carreid a grim-looking rifle, which he handled lovingly all the time in his right hand … There was not a solitary inch of Driscoll’s [uniform] that had not got a stain … Driscoll was as dark as a Sioux Indian … His mouth was hard and firm; his glance proud and almost defiant …” (p 25-6). He had a bracing sense of humour – with “a lurking devil in his eye” (p 36). He had little patience for the narrow regulations of the conventional British commander, and dealt with his own men as equals.


According to Hales's novel, Driscoll was also a formidable casanova among the Boer women: “He was a great teller of tales; hand, eye, and voice all helped to weave his romances. It was so that he wheedled his way into the hearts of the Boer maidens on farms and in vilages. Even the young widows in their new weeds found it hard to resist the subtlety of his tongue ... In love or war he was always Driscoll – Driscoll the Scout, doing daring deeds with man or maid, and doing them neatly” (p 37). It was often averred that “the Captain of the Scouts had enough locks of hair given him by Boer maidens, to each of whom he had vowed eternal faith, to make a decent horse rug” (p. 41).


In November and December 1901, some of the Driscoll Scouts were with Colonel Bruce Hamilton in the Free State, under whom they "performed to the general's satisfaction". During this period, they were responsible for destroying farm houses, as Rosa Munro’s compensation claim suggests. 

After the war, he joined the Legion of Frontiersmen, gave him a paid job rose to be Chief Executive Officer. Under his outstanding leadership the Legion thrived. Many of his ideas on managing fighting men were years ahead of his time. During World War One he commanded the 25th (Frontiersmen) Battalion in East Africa. After the War, the battalion was disbanded and Driscoll was appointed to the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) and a awarded the Croix de Guerre.


Nesbitt's Horse

During the siege of Philippolis (18-24 October 1900), Magistrate Gostling was assisted by a few members of Nesbitt’s Horse. This colonial unit, about 300 strong, was raised in the eastern portion of Cape Colony in December 1899 by Col Nesbitt, "a veteran South African campaigner" (Stirling 1907:175). The unit first accompanied Lord Roberts from Modder River to Bloemfontein, and then northwards to Pretoria.


After the fall of Pretoria, the Nesbitt’s Horse returned to the Free State, to strengthen the British hold on the towns, and to participate in anti-guerilla campaigns.  Nesbitt’s Horse remained active in the Cape Colony, countering the roaming Boer commandos.


The small contingent of Nesbitt’s Horse in Philippolis was under the command of Capt Tomkins.  In the meantime, the Philippolis Town Guard and the men of Nesbitt’s Horse took refuge in the jail for three days.

When news of Gideon Scheepers's assault on Philippolis reached Colesberg on 20 October 1900, the British commander sent Lieutenant John Hanna and 34 additional men of Nesbitt's Horse to relieve or assist the garrison. Hanna and his men were stationed at Colesberg Bridge. Lieutenant Hanna – an auctioneer in his private life - approached Philippolis on the 21st, but his unit was heavily attacked early on the 22nd October by the Boers. The party of Nesbitt's Horse lost nine men killed and 12 wounded. Eventually, Hanna and six men succeeded in joining Gostling’s encampment on the hillside outside Philippolis.


The intrepid Lieut Hannah was wounded on 12 May 1901, and on 9 August 1901, Capt Noel Nesbitt was also severely wounded at Maraisburg (near Tarkastad) (Stirling 1907: 177).

The Seaforth Highlanders

This famous regiment fought at Magersfontein (December 1899), where they lost 5 officers and 53 men killed or mortally wounded.  Three officers and 1 non-commissioned officer were mentioned in Lord Methuen's despatch of 15th February 1900 for great gallantry.

At Paardeberg (February 1900), the battalion again suffered great loss, with 2 officers and 50 men being killed or dying of wounds, and 5 officers and 95 men wounded.  Their advance that day, commanded the admiration of all onlookers, crossing the Modder River in their assault on General Cronje's laager (see

During October 1900, the Seaforth Highlanders were based at Jagersfontein and Fauresmith, and had to fight off General Hertzog's commandos. They were led by Major MacIntosh at this time.

After the Siege of Philippolis (October 1900), the Seaforths indulged in some looting. Mr Sutherland, the local photographer in Philippolis, wrote to Major MacIntosh, complaining that his house was wrecked and nearly all my photographic stock destroyed. "I am hereby rendered destitute and humbly beg that my case may be favourably considered”. The Seaforths also removed 40 sheep from Mr Snyman's farm Onderdwarsrivier, cattle from Christian Boshoff's farm Linxfontein, oxen from Willem Boshoff's farm Bankfontein, burnt down the Rowelsfontein dwelling of Gerhardus Schoeman, and burnt the wheatfield of Isaac du Preez in Waterkloof (Compensation Claims).

Nesbitt's Horse
Seaforth Highlanders
Driscoll's Scouts
The South African Light Horse (SALH)

The SALH was raised in Cape Colony in November 1899, and the command was given to Major  J H G Byng (10th Hussars). Byng was frequently in the Philippolis district, during the guerilla period of the war. This unit was highly effective in numerous settings, including Natal and the Cape Colony (during De Wet's invasion). General Buller said "the SALH acted as an independent unit, and performed its duties exceedingly well throughout. Lieutenant Colonel Byng proved himself as usual a valuable commander". Much more information is provided on

Th Lieutenant E H Barker was killed at Kaliesfontein on 6th March. Both regiments were brought back to the Orange River Colony, and in May four squadrons of the Light Horse, under Major Gogarty, captured 31 armed burghers with their horses at Luckhoff.

On 11 May 1901, a group of SALH was surrounded near Driefontein (just west of Philippolis). Corporal GB McCullock was killed on 12 May 1901, on the farm Grootfontein, about 20 km west of Philippolis (on the road to Luckhoff). The SALH remained in the Philippolis area for a while. Trooper EH Johnson of the SA Light Horse died of disease in Philippolis on 17 June, and Trooper A McMillan of the SA Light Horse died of disease on 28 June.

South African Light Horse
Imperial Yeomanry (IY)

The IY was a large volunteer army which was raised in the UK after the British defeats in December 1899.  These recruits were completely untrained, although some of them could ride and shoot.

In May 1900, the 4th Battalion of IY settled at Springfontein. It consisted of 53 Company East Kents ("The Buffs"), 55 Co Northumberlands, 62 Co Middlesex, and 62 Co Sussex Regiment. They set up the fortification of the town, railway siding, and surroundings.

They were supported by the 30th Company Army Services Corps (ASC), which arranged supplies and transport. Springfontein became an important supply depot.

Many of these soldiers never left Springfontein; their graves can be found in the local cemetery.

Source: Blackie de Swardt, 963 Days at the Junction.

See for photographs of South African cemeteries.

Imperial Yeomanry
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