25th Royal Fusiliers: South Africa

The Old and the Bold

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South Africa

February to May 1917

Having embarked aboard H.M.T. Professor, a Union-Castle Mail Steam Ship which had formerly been the German s.s. Professor Woermann before its capture by H.M.S. Carnarvon in August 1914, the 25th Royal Fusiliers sailed from Dar-es-Salaam bound for the South African port of Durban.  After an uneventful journey they arrived there on 7th March, disembarking at 9 a.m. and marching to the Imperial Rest Camp on Marine Parade where they would stay under canvas for the next few days.


On 11th March the battalion entrained on a special troop train bound for Wynberg, about 8 miles south of Cape Town and three days later, at 8 a.m., duly arrived at the Cape.  Marching to their camp they were met on arrival there by a reinforcement draft, the third such draft for the battalion, of 117 men who had arrived the previous day aboard the s.s. Marathon having left Plymouth on 10th February.


Whilst in camp at Wynberg the battalion still drilled and marched daily but passes were readily available to allow the troops their free time, an option that was never present whilst campaigning in East Africa, in and around Cape Town.  Army life still continued though and on 11th April ‘D’ Company under Captain Sutton-Page moved to the Castle at Cape Town to take over garrison duties there which included mounting guard on the Governor General’s residence and providing a few orderlies in addition to the usual fatigues.  During this time the battalion also provided a number of instructors for drill and musketry courses for No.1 Composite Regiment and the 2nd Cape Corps Battalion as well as mounting guard to vessels arriving in harbour.  


During the month of April the battalion was strengthened by the return of about 200 men who had previously been invalided to South Africa and who were now able to rejoin the battalion in camp.  Rumours abounded, as the rest and recuperation continued, as to the eventual destination of the battalion once it was decided that the men were fully recovered, Mesopotamia or a return to German East Africa being regarded as the most likely scenarios.   ‘D’ Company returned from it’s garrison duties at the castle on 8th May and the same day saw 150 men invalided home to the UK.


Brigadier-General Cavendish, the officer commanding South Africa Military Command, carried out a general inspection of the battalion on 11th May and Colonel Wright, Senior Medical Officer at Cape Town, a medical inspection, the result of which was a further 100 men being declared unfit and put aside to remain at Wynberg.  These inspections also spelt the end of the battalion’s rest period at the Cape and the following day 21 officers and 473 men entrained at 9 a.m. bound for Durban.


Three days were spent travelling from Wynburg to Durban where, at 5.15 a.m. on the 15th May, they arrived and marched back to the Imperial Rest Camp they had left two months previously.  After a further five days the battalion embarked aboard H.M.T. Medic on 20th May and at 4 p.m. the following afternoon sailed once more for German East Africa and the port of Lindi.




Sources:

WO95/5334 - 25th Battalion Royal Fusiliers War Diary 1917 Feb. - 1917 May.

WO95/5325 - 25th Battalion Royal Fusiliers War Diary 1917 May - 1917 Sep.

Lieut.-General A. R. Hoskins Despatch dated 30th May 1917, London Gazette, No.30447 dated 27th December 1917.

Three Years of War in East Africa – Capt. Angus Buchanan M.C.

The Great War Letters of Roland Mountfort - Chris Holland & Rob Phillips.

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