Major Edmond John Phipps-Hornby

'Q' Battery Royal Horse Artillery

31st March 1900
Major Edmond John Phipps Hornby VC

    On March 31, 1900, a force under General Broadwood was falling back upon Bloemfontein from Thabanchu. It crossed the Modder River and bivouacked at 4.30 a.m. When the Boers attacked at 5.45 a.m., the convoy of about 100 wagons was hurried away towards Bloemfontein along the road which traversed a large open plain about one-and-a-half miles in diameter, across which, at right angles, ran a donga, and through this the wagons began to pass. The guns of "Q" and " U " Batteries followed in line. From the statement of some Boer prisoners, who said that they had been present on the occasion, it would appear that a large party of them had been making their way to Thabanchu and marched across this spruit straight into our camp. They promptly beat a hasty retreat and got into the drift just before daylight, and, as the convoy came up, disarmed the drivers, took them prisoners, and packed each wagon on.
    Various statements have been made as to what actually happened at this moment. One version is that Major Phipps-Hornby, being told that the enemy were in the drift, promptly galloped his battery away to bring it into action, and that the noise caused thereby told the Boers that they were detected, and they at once opened a terrific fire on all who had not passed the drift. However, it is certain that no sooner had the battery commenced to dash away than the enemy concentrated a furious fire upon the frantic horses and their gallant drivers and gunners. One gun and one wagon, their horses mown down, were left behind. Reaching a spot about 800 yards distant, the remaining guns were unlimbered and came into action, firing steadily. The horses were taken behind some unfinished railway sheds some distance away. So terrible was the fire, that every man round one of the guns was hit, and, at two of them, only one man was left to serve each, and one to bring up ammunition for both. Soon, of all the officers who had come into action, Major Phipps-Hornby was the only one left.
     The ground was littered with dead and dying men, the bullets were rattling on the guns like hail, and every time that limbers with ammunition were brought up, the horses were all killed. Word was presently sent to retire and save the guns if possible, and, as the fire was too hot for the horses to face, it was resolved to try to drag them back by hand. Four guns were hauled to shelter in this way, and it was then necessary to bring in the limbers. The work was so terribly hard, and the distance so considerable, that volunteers were called for to take out horses for the purpose. Two limbers were brought in by this means and two more partly by horses and partly by hand. One gun and one limber still remained in the open, and, though four heroic attempts were made, the horses were killed each time, and, finally, they had to be abandoned. The rescued guns had one by one been sent to a place of safety, where the Battery was reformed. Under a deluge of shot and shell, such as perhaps has only been equalled by that faced by the 14th and 66th Batteries at Colenso, the heroism displayed by all ranks was so magnificent that it was impossible to select any individual for special reward, and the Commander-in-Chief decided to act in accordance with Rule 13 of the Victoria Cross Warrant, which resulted in the decoration being awarded to Major Phipps-Hornby, Sergeant Parker, Gunner Lodge and Driver Glasock. That so many guns were saved under such terrible circumstances, and such a frightful fire from the enemy, and that the little force was extricated from the dangerous position in which it was placed, was very greatly due to the heroism and individual example of Major Phipps-Hornby, who was in command, and who most fearlessly exposed himself during the terrible ordeal.

    Colonel Phipps-Hornby, son of Admiral of the Fleet Sir Geoffrey Phipps-Hornby, G.C.B., was born December 31, 1857, at Lordington, Sussex. Entered the Royal Artillery in 1877, his first service being in the Bechuanaland Expedition, 1884-5. Became Major, December 1, 1895 ; Brevet-Lieut.- Colonelófor distinguished serviceóNovember 29, 1900 ; and was, from April 12 following, until attaining the rank of Lieut.-Colonel in the Regiment, A.D.C. to the Commander-in-Chief, Earl Roberts, V.C.


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