On the 4th of August 1914 the world was at war. The Allied powers which included Great Britain were ranged against the Central Powers and South Africa was called upon to assist in the effort by invading the territory adjacent to her borders, German South West Africa.
Unlike WW2 when citizen force units were activated and war service was performed in them, during WW1 men served directly in the Union Defence Force. One such unit was the 7th Dismounted Rifles known as the Southern Rifles in which a Walmer resident Louis John Poulter would serve.
Main picture: The Southern Rifles
Initial service in the Southern Rifles
According to Tylden on page182, the Southern Rifles was a unit formed mainly from the Cape Light Horse for the campaign in German S.W.A. On the 13th July 1913, Lieut.-Colonel A.P.J. Wares who held the rank of Lieut.-Colonel of Prince Alfred’s Guards was appointed the Commanding Officer of the Southern Dismounted Rifles.
The first order of business for this unit was to assist in the quelling of an internal rebellion playing out within South Africa between the Union Defence Forces under the command of the Prime Minister, General Louis Botha, and a force of rebels comprising burghers from the old Transvaal and Orange Free State Republics who were dissatisfied with the decision to assist Great Britain in a war with Germany.
For this purpose, the 1st Southern Rifles (as they were known) were placed under Military District No.3 until 13 December 1914 by which time the rebellion was, to all intents and purposes, a thing of the past. During the campaign in S.W.A. the unit had been in charge of the lines of communication, with the headquarters being at Usakos for a time.
Louis John Poulter at the age of 21 joined the Southern Rifles on the 19th October 1914 with the rank of Trooper and was placed in C Squadron’s First Troop.
On 16 March 1915 the 1st Southern Rifles entered the German South West African theatre as part of the Northern Force operating out of Walvis Bay from 23 March 1915. The Northern Force were probably the most active of the various forces, taking the fight to the Germans and forcing them up northwards in the territory until, on 9 July 1915, when they surrendered at Otavi signalling the end of the campaign. The Southern Rifles were used to protect the vital lines of communication on the march to capture Windhoek along the line from Walvis Bay to kilometre 13 beyond Swakopmund thus playing an invaluable role in the campaign.
At the end of the campaign, the unit returned to the Eastern Province and they were re-incorporated in the 3rd Infantry known as Prince Alfred’s Guards.
According to the Social Chronical by Margaret Harradine on July 1915, the Prince Alfred’s Guard under Lt-Col Nolan Neylan, and the Southern Rifles, returned home to a warm welcome.
Service Card for Louis John Poulter
Poulter received the 1914-1915 Star medal for this campaign in German South West Africa. Most of the South African men were now faced with a choice – either join the numbers being raised for the fight in German East Africa, join the 1st S.A. Infantry Brigade for the fight in France and Flanders or, simply, go home and resume life as a non-combatant. Louis Poulter’s election was to return home and was discharged on the 20th July 1915. At some later stage during the following year but he had a change of heart and instead decided to volunteer to join the fight in German East Africa.
Service in the 1st Mounted Brigade
Louis Poulter joined the 9th SA Horse of the 1st Mounted Brigade at the age of 23 on the 4th April 1916. On the 1st of May that year they departed from Durban aboard the HMS Armadale Castle and arrived at Kilindini Harbour in Mombasa, Kenya on the 8th May where they disembarked to take part in the East Africa campaign of WW1.
The 9th South Africa Horse joined the 2nd Division in Tanzania on the 7th July where General van Deventer was waiting for the accumulation of suppliers before he could advance on the enemy where the rearguard had retired to Chambala and the main body at Dodoma. The 2nd Division then engaged the German forces over the coming months.
Louis returned to South Africa aboard the SS Ingoma on the 19th December 1916 before the campaign was over possibly due to ill health as the 9th South African Horse was still involved in engaging the enemy on the 25th December where they had dismounted because all the horses had succumbed. It was not only the horses which suffered miserable deaths due to numerous tropical diseases, but also the soldiers themselves. A case in point is my great grandfather who contracted black water fever as it was then known. Due to ill-health, he was discharged prematurely and died in agony in Schoenmakerskop several years later leaving a large family destitute.
Left: SS Ingoma, Durban, South Africa, July 1917
Louis was discharged on the 28 February 1917 at Wynberg to return to Port Elizabeth. Subsequently he was awarded the British War Medal and Victory Medal for his service in WW1.
British War Medal