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The Battle of Graspan 1899

Updated: Nov 26, 2022

The Battle of Graspan during the Boer War.

On the 25th November 1899 the Royal Marines were involved in the battle of Graspan (also known as the Battle of Enslin). “Two RMLI companies and one RMA company, with a total of 190 officers and men, had been formed at Simonstown in South Africa from the complements of HMS Doris, Powerful and Terrible.

Image: Royal Marines from HMS Doris in Cape Town. Captain Senior is marching on the right. Senior was killed in the storming of the Boer position by the Naval Brigade at the Battle of Graspan on 25th November 1899 in the Great Boer War

Their task was to accompany the Naval Brigade’s sailors and four 12-pounder guns, which were sent by rail to reinforce Lord Methuen’s relief column on its way to raising the siege of Kimberley.

They had acted in support at the Battle of Belmont on the 23rd and two days later spearheaded the assault on Boer positions dug in atop Graspan kopje.

The Royal Marines companies assembled at 0700hrs and moved forward from their start line towards the enemy held crests half a mile away as soon as the preliminary bombardment had stopped. Each marine was only 4 paces from his neighbour and thus bunched they made a series of rushes.

Captain Prothero is said to have called out ‘Men of the Naval Brigade, advance at the double; take that kopje or be hanged for it’.

Image: Officers of the Naval Brigade at the Battle of Graspan on 25th November 1899 in the Great Boer War. Some of the officers are numbered: 1 Commander Ethelston 2 Major Plumbe 3 Lieutenant Jones 4 Captain Senior 5 Midshipman Huddart. Major Plumbe’s Jack Russell Dickie is shown

The Naval brigade stormed into the Boer positions at the top of the hill led by Lieutenant Taylor RN and Lieutenant Jones RMLI.

In the face of the British bayonet charge the Boers left their positions, some hurrying along the top of the ridge to the east and others descending the far side to their ponies and making off to the north.

The 9th Lancers and Rimington’s Guides on the extreme British right attempted to pursue the retreating Boers, but came under a heavy fire from the kopje in the rear of the stormed positions. The British mounted men were forced to draw rein while the Boers with their field guns made off to the north and east.

A heavy and accurate fire swept through the advancing British line, marines falling at every step, including the commanding officer Major J. H. Plumbe RMLI, Captain G. Senior RMA and ninety others, of whom 5 were killed outright.

Image: The death of Major Plumbe of the Royal Marines Light Infantry at the Battle of Graspan on 25th November 1899. His Jack Russell ‘Dickie’ is behind him, who was found guarding his masters body after the battle

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The Graspan Memorial

The Royal Marines Memorial, also known as the Graspan Royal Marines Memorial, is an outdoor bronze sculpture by Adrian Jones, installed on the north side of The Mall in London. Located next to Admiralty Arch, the 1903 memorial commemorates the Royal Marines who died in the Boxer Rebellion in China and the Second Boer War in Africa, and depicts two figures on a Portland stone plinth

Brass lettering laid in the ground around it reads: "This memorial was rededicated in October 2000 in honour of all Royal Marines who have served their country by land and sea and who are forever remembered by their friends."[

The base includes bronze plaques by Sir Thomas Graham Jackson depicting the conflicts and Roll of Honour of the two conflicts.

A brass plaque on the front of the plinth contains the inscription, "Erected by the officers and men of the Royal Marines in memory of their comrades who were killed in action or died of wounds or disease in South Africa and China, 1899–1900."

Bronze reliefs on the plinth's sides depict the Repulse of the Chinese attack on the Peking legation and the conflict at Graspan. One side contains the inscription, "Adrian Jones 1902"; the other side may contain the same inscription, but the text is much less legible.

A brass plaque on the plinth's back displays the names of 70 men who died in either conflict.

In 1940, it was put in storage during construction of The Citadel. It was relocated to its present position in 1948.

In 2000 the sculpture was rededicated as the national monument for the Royal Marines. It was unveiled by the Duke of Edinburgh, the Captain General of the Marines.

The memorial became the focus of the annual Graspan Parade and is maintained by The Royal Parks (Wikipedia)

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