After enlisting in the 10th Hussars and undergoing training, war erupted being the two Boer Republics and the British. The 10th Hussars were immediately mobilised and shipped to the Cape Colony. After spending the whole war on active service without respite, Arthur John Montgomery requested a discharge from the Army. This was not to endure. The monotony of civilian life swiftly disabused Arthur of that notion. Soon he had re-enlisted but this time with the Cape Mounted Rifles in the Cape Colony.
AJ’s narrative has been edited for readability and grammar, but it still largely remains the voice of the author narrating his impressions, concerns and fears while providing vivid images of war.
Main picture: Photograph of A.J. Montgomery in his later years
We were told by the Military Medical Staff that bilharzia was incurable. On that basis, we were informed that we could remain in the Army or take a discharge as medically unfit. The majority of us decided to take a discharge and so I became a civilian.
I soon became bored with the monotonous life in London. I had a good home and could have become just an ordinary workman. With no training to compete against the millions of others catching my bus or train every morning in the rush to earn a basic living competing against me who had more experience than I had, having lost over 6 years in the Army, how could I compete.
When I showed some potential employers my Army discharge papers, they would exclaim, “Oh, but you don’t have any experience of work of this kind.” Being a soldier, I had to satisfy any prospective employer of what I had been doing for the past six years of my life otherwise they would look at my application with suspicion. So one day, after plenty of disappointment, on searching in the Situations Vacant column of the Daily Express, my eye caught this advertisement.
“Cape Mountain Riflemen
Physical fit young men wanted,
Able to ride and shoot
Not under 5ft 7in in height
Chest measurements 37in
Pay 5/- a day
All found …………………”
I will always remember that day walking along Tottenham Court Road feeling totally exasperated and disgruntled. After reading the advert above, I suddenly felt reinvigorated and the future seemed bright once again. Then among all the crowds of people on the road who were all hurrying to their jobs, I saw a face that I knew.
I had last seen Bert leading sick horses to the rear as a Trooper in Robert’s Horse during the relief of the Eland’s River Garrison in the Western Transvaal. I still had that copy of the Daily Express under my arm when I encountered Bert. As soon as Bert and I were settled in a pub where we could enjoy our surprise meeting in comfort and quiet and after the usual greetings of friendship, I showed Bert the advert for recruits for the C.M.R. He soon enthused at the chance of applying to join. So we arranged to meet the next day at the Cape Government Offices and try our luck.
The examination that we were subjected to by the Medical Orderly was easily passed. However, I was rather handicapped at the time by having my discharge marked, “Medically unfit” so I did not show it to them. I just resolutely admitted that I could ride and had experience in shooting. I think that these gentlemen, who passed me, could judge by my looks that I was suitable. Anyway, the bilharzia troubled me very little at this time.
So, the following week, Bert and I said our farewells to our parents and were on the Avondale Castle, introducing ourselves to the rest of our C.M.R. draft en route to Cape Town. This time I travelled in comfort as I recalled the hardships that I had experienced on the ill-fated SS Ismore three years earlier. I had a four-berth cabin with plenty of room and comfortable bunks and more importantly, genial companions. Bert and I soon found plenty of opportunities to enjoy life as well as sports on the voyage. There was nothing to do but play games, read books from the library, chat with our fellow C.M.R.s, most of whom had been on some active service, previously serving in many famous Regiments. As a consequence, we had plenty of men to make interesting conversation with.
We arrived safety at Cape Town and were met on board by a C.M.R. Sergeant Davies, who accompanied us to a Hotel where we would stay for two days or so. In the interim, we were extremely active, climbing Table Mountain, visiting the City’s most interesting sights and going to the Standard Bar, a famous watering hole, for drinks. We then entrained for King William’s Town where we lodged in the Old Barracks for a few days. The reality struck as we were then ordered to march to Umtata on our feet. What a test of endurance! I forget how long we took but I do recall having to cook our own meals whenever we camped next to the ox-wagon which carried our baggage. Sergeant Davies held strictly to his instructions not to let us ride on the wagons but as we were all old veterans as regards to roughing it, this was not an imposition. We accepted it all as part of our test as we had to pass another medical examination in Umtata, our headquarters camp.
On arrival in Umtata, we were allotted our tents, issued with our kit and commenced training. Prior to the Boer War, a Trooper in the C.M.R. had to purchase his horse, saddlery, equipment and uniform. The Cape Government only issued arms and ammunition free, but all subsequent issues had to be paid for. The helmet was buff coloured with a brass spike and chain. The other items comprised a khaki tunic, Bedford cord, riding breeches, brown leather putties, leggings, bandolier for ammunition, leather belts with revolver holster, 303 Lee Enfield rifles, Colonial style of saddles and bridles.
The Troopers’ pay was 5/- per day becoming 6/- after two years’ service. The period of service was 5 years with re-engagements for periods of three years. There were no married men in the C.M.R. and only a few senior officers
were allowed to marry.
The life was a hard, tough one and often monotonous. There were many periods of competitive sport, shooting matches, gymkhanas, and sometimes cricket and tennis. After a few weeks training in Umtata, I was detailed to hold myself in readiness to march on Outstation Duty with about 25 others.
At this point, A.J.’s memoir ends. This is a pity for Arthur was to serve both in the First World War with the British forces and in WW2 with the South African Defence Force.
Hand written autobiography by JR Montgomery
Photos of JR Montgomery supplied by Alan Montgomery, JR’s grandson