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Corporal Frederick Bancroft Story

First Boer War

A campaign which is now almost forgotten in history, which only lasted 3 months and 3 days, known as the First Boer War. (16th December 1880 – 23rd March 1881). Due mainly by the British take over into Southern Africa. Triggered by three factors:

  1. Controlling the trade routes to India which passed around the Cape.
  2. The discovery in 1868 of huge mineral reserves of diamonds and gold near Kimberley, situated on the joint borders of South Africa and the Cape Colony. The area known as the Transvaal by the British.
  3. The expansion of Colonial powers by Britain against other European powers. A war that eventually brought victory to the Boers.

Second Boer War (Great Boer War)

Fought from (11th October 1899 – 31st May 1902). Between the British Empire and the Afrikaans speaking Dutch settlers. From two independent Boer Republics, The South African Republic (Transvaal Republic) and the Orange Free State. In accordance with the Treaty of Vereeniging. The conflict ended with a British victory with both republics incorporating into the Union of South Africa, a dominion of the British Empire in 1910.

The War and the Sherwood Foresters

In 1899 the 1st Battalion Sherwood Foresters was based in Malta. With the Battalion being notified that preparations for the war with the Boers was completed.

On 8th October 1899 news was given to the Battalion that they were to mobilise and proceed to take part in the Great Boer War.

On 21st November the British India Company’s ss “Dunera” arrived at Malta, where the Battalion embarked without delay.

On the night of 13th December the ship dropped anchor in Durban Roads.

Within days the 1st Battalion set-off in three train loads travelling to Sterkstroom  setting up camp with the 1st Royal Scots, Royal Irish Rifles and the Northumberland Fusilers.

The Battalions would now face many conflicts throughout the Transvaal.

The Horrors of War

To realise the dreadful horrors of the Boer War that (Private Frederick Bancroft 5097) and his colleagues faced each day, we must consult:

The History of the 1st Battalion of the Sherwood Foresters (Notts. And Derby Regt.) In the Boer War. 1899-1902 by Captain Charles J. L. Gilson.

An extract of his detailed account on the Moedwill conflict is copied here:

The Battle of Moedwil

At 4-30a.m on the 30th September 1901 …………….

This post consisted of 12 men under Sergeant Chambers. The Boers called on him to surrender, but he told them to “Go to Hell”, and called to his men, “Stick to it, men, Stick to it!” This became a sort of rallying cry among them, and as each was hit, the survivors passed on the word. Of these gallant 13, 9 were killed or died of wounds, 3 were wounded, and only 1 man, Private Picard, was untouched. (The Boer prisoners, who were taken during the action, acknowledged the services of this picquet in checking their advance, and declared that Sergeant Chambers must have had at least 100 men under his command).

The three guns had come early into action in front of the centre of the camp; they were, however, quite out in the open and terribly exposed under a hail of bullets – as indeed was every part of the camp. The Colonel commanding the Column, Colonel Kekewich, was twice wounded near the guns, about half-way through the action, and the command therefore devolved upon Lieutenant-Colonel Wylly. The A.D.C. and Captain Baldwin, the D.A.A.G., were also hit. One of the guns was silenced early in the action, owing to so many of the detachment being down: 2 of the 3 artillery officers were wounded – 1 mortally. Later the pom-pom jammed; and Sergeant Naylor, R.A., though badly wounded in the leg, kept on returning under a heavy fire to his gun to try and get it again into working order.
The Maxim, under Corporal Simpson, had early come into action, and maintained its ground right well, until 6 of the 9 men composing the detachment were wounded. Here Private Bees, who received the Victoria Cross for his gallantry, and Private Brierly greatly distinguished themselves: the former, hearing his wounded comrades asking for water, went down to the river, running the gauntlet of a number of Boers, who were firing from within a hundred yards; Private Brierly went sixty yards under a hot fire to fetch water for the gun from the officers’ mess – the kettle he carried being hit several times. Poor young Second-Lieutenant Mills was killed alongside Popham in the advance towards the river: he showed the greatest keenness and disregard of danger. Even the men of the company, when advancing, cautioned him not to expose himself too much, and he replied: “Never mind me, men; there they are – shoot, shoot!”. He was himself shot through the head and died about midday, never regaining consciousness. He would have made a fine soldier had he been spared. Afterwards the men of his company sent a deputation to Captain Green, asking that their sympathy and regret might be expressed to poor Mill’s people.

Private Bancroft in the same action rushed out from cover in broad daylight and bayoneted a Boer, firing at his section. Being slightly wounded for all his efforts.

By 6-00a.m the fire had appreciably lessened and the men of the Regiment had mastered the enemy in the river-bed, where several were bayoneted and shot at the closest quarters.

The casualties among the force totalled 191; of these 57 were killed or died of wounds, while 27 officers were hit and 5 died. The Column suffered also very heavily in horses and mules, 307 horses and 185 mules being either killed or so seriously wounded that they had to be destroyed.

Boer Map

Following the Battle:

THE LONDON GAZETTE December 3rd 1901

ACTION AT MOEDWILL 30th September 1901

Lord Kitchener’s Men Mentioned in Despatches October 8th 1901

2nd Lieutenant G. E. Mills. (Killed) Gallantly encouraging his men at the attack on the camp at Moedwill 30th September 1901 for his example and disregard of danger.

5422 Sergeant C. Chambers. Gallant conduct while in charge of a picquet at Moedwill. Refused to surrender when called upon, shouting “Fight on, fight on!” Till wounded. (Awarded D.C. Medal).

3257 Lance Corporal R. Dixon, 3978 Private J. Caveney, 6240 Private P. Picard. Members of Sergeant Chambers piquet, held on till five were killed and seven wounded. With only one left un-hit. They refused to surrender when called upon by the enemy. Survivors of No.4 section out of 13 men. Four of whom have since died. (All promoted Corporals).

5097 Private F. Bancroft. At same action (Moedwill) rushed out from cover in broad daylight and bayoneted a Boer who was firing at his section. (Promoted Corporal).

2753 Private W. Bees. Gallant conduct while with the Maxim gun detachment during attack at Moedwill. Six men hit out of nine. Hearing his wounded comrades asking for water. He went forward under heavy fire, to a spruit held by Boers about 500 yards ahead of the gun and returned with a kettle full of water. In going and returning he had to pass within 100 yards of some rocks, also held by the Boers, and the Kettle which he was carrying hit by several bullets. (Victoria Cross).

4201 Private J. Brierley. Gallantly bringing water for the Maxim gun under very heavy fire from 60 yards range during attack on the camp. (Moedwill). (Awarded D.C. Medal). (Promoted Corporal).

End of the War

The end of the South Africa, Swaziland Boer War was declared on 31st May 1902. A campaign that had lasted 2 years, 7 months, 2 weeks and 6 days.

Resulting in a British victory, giving British Sovereignty over the Orange Free State and Transvaal in accordance with the Treaty of Vereeniging.

Plans were soon prepared to Welcome back home the West Hallam hero.

The November 1902 Parish Magazine printed the “red letter” day, with the return home of Corporal Bancroft.

West Hallam Parish Magazine

No. 11th November 1902

Rector: Rev. Cuthbert W. Birley

Return of Corporal Bancroft

On Tuesday, October 28th 1902, was a “red letter” day in the annals of West Hallam, and the reception accorded to Corporal Bancroft on his return home from South Africa will long live in the memories of all who had the pleasure of taking part in it. All Arrangements had been in the hands of a large and representative committee, of which the Rector was chairman and Mr. Raby secretary.

On arriving at West Hallam Station, shortly after 6.30p.m., our hero was met on the platform by his mother and other members of his family, and the Chairman of the Committee, who conducted him to a carriage with a pair of greys, provided and driven by Mr. Beardsley; a detachment of lads from West Hallam School, in khaki, and another as “Handy men”, forming a guard of honour. Cheers were raised as the little party emerged from the station, and a procession was at once formed, the Mapperley Colliery Band, who had kindly given their services, striking up “See the Conquering hero comes”. Superintendent Daybell headed the procession on horseback, and there must have been about a score of mounted men in addition; the members of the cricket club, resplendent in top hats, occupied a char-a-banc; the lads in khaki marched immediately in front of the central carriage, and the Jack Tars or “Handy men” behind it; then came members of the bicycle club, and some other carriages (some of the occupants in quaint costumes) brought up the rear, the whole being illuminated by the light of 50 torches. The route taken was by Newdigate Street to Stanley Common, where the procession turned and proceeded by High Lane and Four Lane Ends to Mrs. Bancroft’s house. Arrived here, the Rector, on behalf of the parishioners of West Hallam and the friends of Corporal Bancroft, presented him with a framed address of welcome in the following terms:

To Corporal F. Bancroft, 1st Battalion Derbyshire Regt.

We, the Parishioners of West Hallam, desire to offer you a most heartly welcome on your return home from South Africa. The news of your well deserved promotion for gallantry in the field at Moedwill was received here with the greatest satisfaction by your family and numerous friends, to whom it has been a source of gratification to feel that the village of West Hallam was so well represented by one of her sons at the front. Now that the war is happily over, and your time with the colours has expired, we trust that you may be spared to enjoy a long life of usefulness as a citizen of this country; while the gift which we present to you, as a token of appreciation and regard, will, we venture to hope, serve to remind you, and your children after you, of the gallant service rendered by you to that country while serving in the ranks of her army.

Signed on behalf of the subscribers,
Cuthbert W. Birley.

Corporal Bancroft said it was exceedingly kind of his friends to give him such a reception. He had caused them a lot of trouble.

(“No, No.”). He was very thankful to see so many kind friends around him. He did not think he had so many friends until that night. The South African war had been a very trying campaign, but he thanked God that he had been spared from sickness. He felt very proud to think that he had got so many friends. He heartily thanked them all for the presentation.

After prolonged cheering, the Chairman called for a verse of the National Anthem. This was heartily sung, and after some more patriotic songs, and selections by the band, the gathering dispersed.

On Saturday, November 15ht 1902, there is to be a public tea in the Girls’ School, at 4.30, when a further presentation to Corporal Bancroft is to take place.

West Hallam Parish Magazine

No. 12th December 1902

Rector: Rev. Cuthbert W. Birley

Presentation to Corporal Bancroft

A Tea and Social Evening was held in the Girls’ School, on November 15th 1902, for the purpose of presenting to Corporal Bancroft a gold watch and chain which had been subscribed for by a very large number of parishioners and friends. Over 100 sat down to tea, and when justice had been done to the good things provided by Mrs. Hallam, the Rector rose to make the presentation. He expressed his regret that Canon Madan was unable to be with them that evening and to make the presentation, and he then read a letter from the Canon, describing the guest of the evening as “One of the worthiest sons of West Hallam”. This sentiment the speaker entirely endorsed, and after touching on the sad side of the war, he expressed the satisfaction of all that Corporal Bancroft had been spared to return safe and sound to his native village. It was a matter for satisfaction, too, that West Hallam had had such a worthy representative in the ranks of the army, not only throughout the Boer War, and especially in the engagement at Moedwill, but during the whole of the 7 years of Bancroft’s service with the colours. He hoped the watch and chain would be handed down to future generations of Bancrofts to remind them of the appreciation of the Corporal’s gallant conduct at the front by his fellow parishioners.

Corporal Bancroft replied, expressing himself as highly gratified by the presentation. He didn’t wish to boast, but he had always tried to “dodge the guard-room”. (i.e., keep out of trouble) while in the army; he was proud of being a West Hallamite.

Declaration of the Great War

War was declared on 4th August 1914 following the invasion by Germany of Belgium the day before.

A Government statement declared:

“Owing to the summary rejection by the German Government of the request made by his Majesty’s Government that the neutrality of Belgium be respected, His Majesty’s Ambassador in Berlin has received his passport and his Majesty’s Government has declared to the German Government that a state of War exists between Great Britain and Germany as from 11p.m. 4th August 1914.”

The Derby Telegraph, on 5th August 1914, like many papers placed an advert calling men to the cause


Will you answer your Country’s Call?

Each day is fraught with the gravest possibilities, and at this very moment the Empire is on the brink of the Greatest War in the history of the World.

In this crisis your Country Calls on all her young unmarried men to rally round the Flag and enlist in the ranks of her Army.

If every patriotic young man answers her call, England and her Empire will emerge stronger and more united than ever.

If you are unmarried and between 18 and 30 years old will you answer your Country’s Call?

And go to the nearest Recruiter – whose address you can get at any Post Office and


Edward James Montagu Stuart Wortley (Eddie Stuart Wortley), a well respected Major General, with the King’s Royal Rifle Corps. Had led his men in India, followed by the second Afghan War and first and second Boer Wars. He soon set-up a temporary Divisional Headquarters at Derby to train the new recruits. His wife Violet stayed with the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire at Chatsworth House, during this period.

On the 14th August 1914 Corporal Frederick Bancroft aged 39 years 182 days, living at 22 Lord Haddon Road, Ilkeston. Formerly of West Hallam, Derbyshire. Enlisted at Derby for the 3/Battn. Sherwood Foresters (Notts & Derby). Signing in the Army Reserve (Special Reservists) for a term of one year.

The entire Division was ordered south to Luton, the main training base on 15th August.

The 9/Battalion was formed at Derby on 24th August 1914 designated as a Service Battalion and Fred Bancroft was placed in this unit.

Again the Derby Telegraph reported on the military activities taking place in Derby. Reporting 27th August 1914.



We understand that the 9th Battalion the Sherwood Foresters, newly raised in accordance with Lord Kitchener’s request, numbers now nearly 1,200. They have been mobilised at the Normanton Barracks, and their equipment is now rapidly nearing completion. They are of course a bit crowded at the Barracks, and in order to relieve the pressure up there those companies that were first enrolled and have received their equipment have been moved into Derby, and are billeted at the Temperance Hall. As others are ready, other billets will be found for them, and it is anticipated that a good many will be found at the Drill Hall shortly.

When the 5th Battalion moved off to Luton a short time ago they were 150 or so under strength, but recruits came in rapidly and the number was quickly made up. The Drill Hall, Becket Street was established as their depot, and Major W. Reginald H. Whiston, who left the Battalion several years ago, rejoined in the capacity of adjutant and Commander of the depot. Since then most of the recruits have received their necessary equipment and clothing together, with their preliminary drills, and most of them have already joined the Battalion. There were a few over a dozen left, and as their arrangements are now all completed, they will leave today for Harpenden in Herts., and then the 5th Battalion will be at full strength.

This will leave the Drill Hall available for the other troops and decrease the pressure at Normanton.

So the first of the King’s volunteers from Derbyshire were leaving to train and serve England and Her Empire. Thinking that the war would be soon over.

Frederick Bancroft did not survive the First World War. His name is listed on the West Hallam War Memorial.

R.Wood 01-Jul-2013

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