Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria (10 & 11 May 2017)

Date of Auction: 10th & 11th May 2017

Sold for £16,000

Estimate: £6,000 - £8,000

A Rare First Boer War ‘Siege of Potchefstroom’ D.C.M. pair awarded to Private H. Bush, Royal Scots Fusiliers, for his gallant conduct in bringing in the wounded following an attack on the Boer positions on 22 January 1881, on day 38 of the 98 day siege of the Fort of Potchefstroom

Distinguished Conduct Medal, V.R. (Pte. H. Bush. 2/21st Foot. Jany. 1881.); South Africa 1877-79, 1 clasp, 1879 (2418. Pte. H. Bush. 2-21st Foot.) minor edge bruising, otherwise good very fine (2) £6000-8000


Provenance: Christie’s, October 1991.

D.C.M. Recommendation submitted to the Queen, 21 September 1882.

‘On the 15th December, 1880, the South African Republic was proclaimed at Paardekraal and the elected triumvirate of Kruger, Joubert, and Pretorious established themselves at Heidelberg; on the same day a large Boer Commando rode in Potchefstroom and disregarding all protests, took over the printing works. The small British garrison of nearly 200 Royal Scots Fusiliers, about 20 Artillerymen with two nine pounders, and some volunteers, took up defensive positions; 20 regulars and 46 volunteers fortified the brick courthouse, another 20 men defended the stone prison, and the remainder occupied a fortified earth work fort 30 yards square. Insults were thrown, and on the following morning shots were fired. After an argument as to which side fired the first shot a general action ensued - the opening shots of the First Boer War had been exchanged. The Prison garrison on the redoubt and the men in the courthouse surrendered two days later.
Food, rationed from day one of the siege, consisted of three pounds of Indian corn (intended as animal fodder) daily with four ounces of tinned meat on alternate days; water was found after digging down 15 feet. The defenders occasionally cried foul especially when severe gunshot injuries led to the assumption that the Boers were using explosive bullets, although these were probably caused by the balls from an 8 bore elephant gun. Hostilities were often suspended for lunch; wounded men were courteously exchanged; and Sunday was declared a day of peace.
On 1 January the fort was heavily attacked on three sides by about 1,600 men and the old ship’s gun firing a 9 lb. roundshot. The firing lasted unabated for about three hours, but the men sat next to their posts, waiting for the rush at the fort that was expected at any time. The men sang part-songs to pass the time, with the ladies joining in the refrains, and the buglers played what pieces they could. The conduct of the women throughout the siege was magnificent, suffering the same hardships as the men they lived in a 9 x 5 foot shelter, and a dugout when the Boer gun took the fort in reverse. Two girls were wounded but recovered.
Improvements to the defence of the fort never ended. Ramparts were increased in height and damaged sandbags repaired each night, and more added. The tents which protruded above the ramparts were riddled by bullets, and had over 500 bullet holes in them. Cooking was done as well as possible under the circumstances, but because of the lack of fuel to eat the food was to eat disease. Torrents of rain often flooded the fort, washing over the stretchers of the wounded and leaving all articles of clothing swimming with rain. The two doctors, working under impossible conditions, wrought miracles of healing.
On 22 January, Lieutenant Dalrymple-Hay and twelve men attacked and cleared a Boer trench 300 yards south of the fort. Stretchers were later lent to the Boers to remove their casualties, and were returned the following day with fruit and carbolic acid for the doctors.
At the end of January 1881 food rations were cut drastically; dysentery was rife and scurvy appeared; and typhoid and enteric fever cases joined the wounded in the hospital tents. February brought little let-up. A raid out of the fort produced five stray sheep and several sheets of iron- a treasure beyond price. But the end was near. By early March the defenders were down to eight bags of rotten mealies and on 12 March out of physical necessity they sent out a flag of truce and asked for terms of surrender. Cronje, the Boer commander, unaware of their true condition, offered the British some most acceptable concessions. Officers and men were to keep their private property and arms except rifles; no prisoners were to be taken, and the garrison was to be permitted to march out with honours of war to Natal. On 23 March, after 98 days under siege, the defenders of Potchefstroom marched out from their redoubt en route to Natal; flags flew at their head, bugles played, and over 400 burghers lined up on both sides of the road saluting their former adversaries. Almost at the frontier the British discovered the bitter truth - the war had ended on the very day that they had proudly marched out of Potchefstroom.’

For their gallant conduct in bringing in the wounded after the attack on the Boer trench on 22 January 1881 Lance-Corporal Patrick Cunnief and Private Henry Bush were later awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal. The 2nd Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers, who suffered a total of 83 casualties out of 213 all ranks at Potchefstroom, sailed for India in December 1881. They returned to South Africa for service during the Second Boer War, and in June 1900 the same battalion raised the historic Union Flag taken from Pretoria over the old Fort in remembrance of the gallant defence.

Note: Awards for gallant and distinguished services during the First Boer War amounted to six V.C.s; one C.B.; four R.R.C.s; one C.G.M., and 20 D.C.M.s. No campaign medal, however, was issued.