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Imperial Light Horse
Imperial Light Infantry
South African Military History Society - Journal - Trooper C C Hawkins and the South African War
Trooper C C Hawkins and the South African War
South African Military History Society - Journal - Trooper C C Hawkins and the South African War The South African Trooper C C Hawkins and the South African War The letters, seven in all, were written between 15 February and 18 September 1900 by Cyril Caesar Hawkins, formerly of the Imperial Light Infantry and later a trooper in the Imperial Light Horse. He was 22 years old at the time.(1) Four letters were addressed to his mother in Pietermaritzburg and the remainder to his sister, Edie. Apart from their human interest value, providing as they do an ordinary soldier's perspective of military life, the letters also have relevance to such campaigns as the storming of the Tugela heights, the relief of Mafeking and the capture of Barberton. Hawkins wrote with little regard for grammar or sentence construction, but apart from adding the occasional comma, minimal changes have been made to his correspondence so as to preserve its original flavour. Sundry references to family and friends have, however, been omitted. Hawkins' first letter, dated 'Springfield 15-2-1900', is addressed to his sister in Eshowe. Burn-Murdoch's division consisted of the cavalry, York and Lancaster Regiment, Imperial Light Infantry, 'A' Battery Royal Horse Artillery and two naval 12-pounders.(2) At that time, Hawkins was in the Imperial Light Infantry. He wrote: Being an imperial volunteer himself, Hawkins would have been familiar with this. The Nkandhla Magistrate managed to flee before the Boers arrived, but the Nqutu Magistrate and neighbouring inhabitants (one of whom Hawkins names) were taken prisoner. On 10 April, Hawkins, still in Colenso, wrote to his sister once more. Hawkins joined the Imperial Light Horse on 13 April 1900, just in time to embark with the regiment for Cape Town from Durban four days later. Hawkins was recovering from a severe leg wound sustained during the relief when he wrote the following letter, dated 'Mafeking Hospital, 6-6-1900', to his sister: 'Dear Edie I suppose you know that I am wounded, the mater must have been in a fearful state when she saw my name amongst the wounded. The battle in which Hawkins was wounded took place near the Maritsani River on 13 May. Here Hawkins took advantage of the rare respite to write once more to his mother. By this stage, his brother had joined him: In a post-script, Hawkins adds: Though these were good-looking animals, they either did not acclimatise or possessed no stamina, and Lieutenant Blake eventually had to be sent around to the well-known horse breeding farms in the district to obtain replacements.(13) There is also a reference to the previous day's attack by Commandant Dirksen's Boksburg Commando on a small outpost of Canadians (incorrectly identified by Hawkins as New Zealanders) at Wonderfontein. Dirksen broke off the attack when he learnt of the ILH's approach and was well clear by the time they arrived. On 16 September, having encountered minimal resistance, the column finally reached Barberton. Here Trooper Hawkins, in considerably better spirits for reasons that will become apparent, wrote the last of his letters, at least of those that have survived: Hawkins can be forgiven, therefore, for writing that it was practically all over. Little did he realise that the war, whose end he had longed for ever since joining up, would run for almost another two years. Apparently well beaten, the Boers were unexpectedly about to launch a new phase in the conflict, effectively introducing guerrilla tactics to counter their opponents' numerical superiority. What part, if any, Hawkins played in this phase is uncertain as we have no further letters of his (at least not in MuseuMAfricA). However, since the ILH Memorial to their dead in the South African War does not include his name, we can at least assume that he survived it and returned to his family, perhaps even convincing them and himself as the years went by, that it was actually all a fine old adventure in retrospect. References 1. The author wishes to thank Colonel Gibson of the Light Horse Regimental Association for this and other pieces of information regarding Hawkins. 7. These are the rebels to whom Hawkins refers as being disarmed.