2nd Lt H J Roe DCM, Hants

From Ancestry Tree

RETURN OF MR HARRY ROE FROM THE FRONT.

The heading above is from an article in the Hants and Berks Gazette which appeared on Saturday 15th June 1901.  I have reproduced the article in full, and hope that it will be of interest to all those Whitchurchians who read it.“It is with great pleasure.that we record this week, the return from South Africa of Mr Harry Roe. a son of a well-known and highly esteemed Whitchurch resident, Mr John Roe of the Brewery.

Mr Harry Roe volunteered for active service some fifteen months ago, joining the 78th Company of that useful body of men known as the Rough Riders Imperial Yeomanary.  After about three weeks training at Aldershot they were sent out to South Africa on board the S.S.Canada, this vessel taking out over 500 of the same battalion, Through the difficulties and dangers of fourteen months service, nearly the whole time of which was spent in a part of the country in which the Boers were very active. Mr Roe escaped,beyond a slight attack of sun blindness. without mishap, reaching England again on Saturday, and his home in Whitchurch on Wednesday evening.  Although it was not generally known by which train he would return, there was a large crowd awaiting the arrival of the 6.8 pm from Farnborough. All along Newbury Street flags and bunting were flying and the brewery house was gaily and artistically decorated with various flags. The word "Welcome",standing out in bold letters over the front door. When the "Gentleman in khaki" was seen coming down the street leaning on his fathers arm.and in the company of his brothers and sisters, cheer after cheer rent the air evincing the pleasure which the hundreds who had turned out to welcome him felt at his safe return.  Arriving at the house the doors hid for a few minutes the mother’s welcome a sight all too sweet and sacred for a public gaze, but returning to the street the young soldier was soon in the thick of the crowd shaking hands with one and another and receiving the congratulations of his friends. Neither the hardships of the campaign, the lack of proper food or clothing or the effects of the climate seem to have had much effect on the lithesome frame of the young soldier.and beyond the loss of surplus flesh which made him look slightly thinner than when he left home, he appears none the worse for his experience.  lt is a matter of extreme congratulation that while disease and death have been rife even among the stalwart Yeomen in his company. yet he has escaped unscathed. thanks to a good constitution and his general fitness for work ln an interview which a Hants and Berks Gazette reporter had with Mr Roe shortly after his arrival the following details of his experiences were gleaned,

                                                           Mr Roe's  Experiences.

After the disembarkation at Cape Town, Mr Roe and his Company went into Maitland Camp for two or three weeks.  Here their first business was the breaking in of the young Austrian horses served out to them.While at Cape Town they took part in the elaborate celebrations of the Queens Blrthday, the feeling of loyalty and patriotism running very high in the town on that occasion. Leaving camp they were ordered up through Cape Colony to Wellington where a few days were spent, the company being then entrained for Bioornfontain,to which place they travelled in open trucks. For several days they were then stationed on outpost duty at Bannas Post ? and Boestran's Kopje ? under Major Bonham, their object to protect the water works. While there, they had several night alarms.there being a large number of Boers in the district.

His First Fight

At the Vet river,with Colonel Teblas column,Mr Roe saw his first real fight,the Boers being in bed of river.while one British force was on one side of the river and The Rough Riders on the other. Here.he says.the sound of the great guns.the firing of the pom-poms,and the bursting of lyddite shells made him feel rather excited.and slightly nervous,but that feeling soon wore off.and he was only anxious to get to close quarters. After driving the enemy off and capturing supplies.a number of stores and farm -houses were bumt.Then,under Col.White they were entrained in open trucks for Springfontaln, travelling all night.and here the first nip of the South African winter was experienced,the temperature during that journey showing 20 degrees of frost and as they only had a blanket and an overcoat they felt the reverse of comfortabte. After proceeding to Smithfield they were sent to the relief of Ronvelf.the Cape Mounted Rifles being the first to enter the town on one side while Mr Roe's company galloped In on the other.There was great rejoicing among the inhabitants.who brought their relievers everything they required,and, emarked Mr Roe.as the remembrance of the place came round."They treated us well"

Close Quarters

Fifty yards with a magazine rifle face to face with a shooting Boer is close enough for practical purposes.Near Rodsburgh.he experienced the sensation of potting at the enemy at this short range, the sensation about the region of the spine being decidedly funny.

To the Relief of Philttpopolis

They then joined the column which was hurrying to the relief of the plucky little garrison of Phillipopolis,travelling as far as their horses would carry them during the day, and only resting for short snatches at night.The journey lay through several dangerous passes.About ten miles from their destination they got into touch with the Boers.and the Welsh Yeomanry engaged them in skirmishing order,charging through the thick grass with fixed bayonets.At one farm-house they found

eight British prisoners belonging to Nesbit's Horse. After this excitement they had off-saddled for a rest .when the sound of big guns firing could be heard.lt was getting late in the evening.but every man and horse who was fit had to saddle up and then commenced a midnight gallop to Phillipopplis. This was the roughest gallop Mr Roe was ever in. They went practically at full stretch the whole distance.Some idea of the rate may be gathered from the fact that nearly a hundred of their number were left on the road.their horses failing to carry them at the pace.The situation was intensified because during the mad gallop a fearful thunderstorm was raging,the blinding flashes of the lightning and the deep roll of the thunder adding a weird and ominous effect to the sight of the rushing body of horses and their eager riders. There had been two little garrisons at Phitlipopolis.but one had been forced to surrender: The other was pluckily holding out though reduced to subsisting on mealies and having to risk their lives every day to obtain water. The Boers who held the town,after a few shots had been fired, did not wait the coming of the rushing avalanche of rescuers, but got away in good time.

They found the garrison which they had rescued nearly mad with joy,and they received them as only men who have gone through the horrors which they had experienced in their heroic defence, against overwhelming odds. Every face, said Mr Roe,was gaunt and haggard with lack of food and the constant watching.In the fort they saw two men who had been killed,and there were several wounded.Needless to say the townspeople welcomed them gladly.and here they received a welcome change of clothes.though many were forced to take to civilians garments.the only clothes obtainable.Their captain remarked afterwards that they looked more like drapers assistants than soldiers." "Here"said Mr Roe, "l had the first bottle of beer I had tasted since leaving Cape Colony". A man must have gone through a deal of roughing it for the memory of a simple Bass to be recalled as one of the bright features of the relief of a town.

Surprised

While returning to Springfontein the Rough Riders met with another rather unpleasant experience.They were riding through a long yalley when the enemy suddenly opened fire from a commanding kopje.Three men dropped out of the saddles and Colonel White had his horse shot under him and.besides.five other horses dropped in their tracks.The men were obliged to lie behind ant hills until the guns came up,not daring to show even their hats above their retreat. When the guns came up they soon made short work of the Boers,and then Mr Roe saw one of the finest sights he saw in South Africa.

A Blazing Kopje

The fire from the bursting shells right on the hill caught the grass and dry brushwood alight and this,running right over the summit flared away  until the whole kopje appeared one mass of flame.lt was a grand spectacle and one never to be forgotten. The next day they burnt Vischer's farm.Vischer had been a high official in the Free State,and it was necessary to teach him and his commando a salutary lesson. Round Rudaburg Mr Roe saw several minor engagements,In one of which they narrowly escaped capturing Commandant Fernie.Here he was under pom-pom fire and had an uncomfortable quarter of an hour until the Welsh Yeomanry got to close quarters.  Proceeding to Bloomfontein his company were detailed to guard two drifts of the Modder River.and here with five companions who were acting as a patrol he was nearly captured and had to make

A Five Mile Ride For Liberty

Being the target of about fifty mounted Boers while they shot from the saddle,Mr Roe said he rode for all he was worth and lay pretty low in the saddle.The Boers only dropped off when they within sight of an outpost. For about three weeks Mr Roe was obliged to lay up in Bloomfontein Hospital suffering from the effect of a severe sand shower that got into his eyes, half blinding him,but the rest and quietness soon put him right again,and for several months he was employed first with one column and then another.spending his Christmas day around the camp fire thinking of the good things at home.until his company were eventually ordered home .His particular company of the Rough Riders -the78th-had a special immunity from deaths.and brought home nearly a full muster of their men,not so with the other companies many of whom suffered severly.

 Mr Roe returned home on board the Avondale Castle in company with the Hampshire.Berks and Irish Yeomanry. He may congratulate himself that he has proved himself one of the true sons of the empire who at a very critical period in our history stepped forward prepared to lay down their lives for their country to keep the flag of old England flying over one of the richest of her colonies and preventing her prestige from being diminished by any untoward catastrophe.The great surrender has fortunately not been asked of our Whitchurch Yeoman, but more the less are we proud of his heroism.and whether his days may be short or long we can assure him the  glory of his act will not be forgotten  and on the-roll of those who have done their duty for their country his name will be inscribed to the pride of the inhabitants of his native town.