Port Elizabeth of Yore: Edgar Brocas Walton at War

This blog covers Edgar Brocas Walton’s experiences during the Anglo Boer War. Unlike most participants he saw action not once but multiple times being also wounded numerous times but the third and last time was particularly severe causing life-long negative consequences. After being employed by E.H. Waltons, the owner of the Herald during this period, Brocas, as he was known, retired as Chairman after 50 years’ service.

This information has been extracted from Neil Orpen’s excellent book “Prince Alfred’s Guard 1856 -1966” supplemented by extracts from The History of the E.H. Walton Group 1845 to 1995”

Main picture: Edgar Brocas Walton

Life story

This information has been taken from the book History of E.H. Walton 1845 to 1995 by G.S. Walton

Edgar Brocas Walton, Edgar Walton’s eldest son, was known as Brocas or, affectionately; as “Bro.” He joined the family firm in 1902, after the end of the South African War at the age twenty-two.

His obituary in the Herald of Monday, 21st July 1964, tells much of his life story: “Port Elizabeth is a better place for the lifetime that the late Lieut.-Col. Edgar Brocas Walton spent in and devoted to it. He was a rare man, one of active intelligence, absolute integrity and an earnest devotion to public duty. He was inevitably over-shadowed, as Editor of the Herald, by the political stature and enduring intellectual vigour of Sir Edgar Walton, his father and predecessor. But by his own acts Brocas Walton won the respect and affection of the whole community. Sense of duty took him into the South African War straight from the Grey Institute (Grey High School). He served with Prince Alfred’s Guard and was wounded three times. When World War I broke out he volunteered again and went through the hard campaigns of South West and East Africa. He was Captain, Southern Rifles in South-West. In East Africa he was major, second-in-command of the 11th South African Infantry. From 1918 to 1930 he was Lieut.-Colonel, Commanding Officer, of the 4th Dismounted Rifles, U.D.F. In the two wars he was mentioned in dispatches three times and was awarded the Volunteer Decoration in 1930. His experience on active service left a spiritual legacy in Colonel Walton’s liking for people and sincere concern for the underdog. Old soldiers, whether they had been batmen or brigade majors, were equally old comrades-in-arms, all deserving respect and help in need.          

During World War II he was a member of the Governor-General’s Fund Committee and at the armistice [he was] chairman of the Discharged Soldiers’ Demobilisation Committee. Between the wars Brocas Walton learnt and practiced the arts, skills and responsibilities of journalism on the Eastern Province Herald, while his brother, the late J.L. Walton, concentrated on printing and management in the parent firm of E.H. Walton and Company. Before Colonel Walton retired in 1938, he had, over 36 years, performed the duties of reporter, sub-editor, news editor, leader-writer and editor. He relinquished editorship to become Chairman of the Board. He finally retired in 1947.

Painting of Sir Edgar Walton father of Brocasby Dorothy Kay

Unostentatious civic pride and sound judgment had marked him as an obvious candidate for public bodies and boards of directors. He performed many functions, and in doing so made lasting contributions to Port Elizabeth’s social and financial development. “The last of the offices he retained was membership of the Library Board. He was a Life Vice-President of the B.C.E.S.L. and an Officer of the Order of the St. John Ambulance Brigade. Colonel Walton was the half-brother of Leycester Walton of Johannesburg, the present Managing Director of South African Associated Newspapers and a Director of Eastern Province News- papers, also of Mr. Gurth Walton, of Port Elizabeth, Sales Director of E.H. Walton & Co. Two sisters live in Britain. He leaves a wife, Mrs. Elma Harriet Walton, with whom he celebrated their golden wedding anniversary five years ago, and a daughter, Mrs. M.E.H. Sulter, of Grahamstown, their only child. Though Colonel Walton was essentially serious-minded, he had the well-adjusted person’s capacity for enjoyment. He had not long finished a game of bridge on Thursday night when he suffered the stroke from which he died on Saturday morning (18th July 1964), without regaining consciousness. He died in his home in Mill Park, aged 83. As an Edwardian gentleman, he would have been aware of his ‘reputation,’ which today might be termed his ‘public image.’ Whatever it is called, Edgar Brocas Walton’s good name lives on as an inspiration to his successors.”

Experiences during the Anglo Boer War

Edgar Brocas Walton’s left Port Elizabeth with the infantry regiment, Prince Alfred’s Guard, 522 strong, as a Lieutenant in B Company, on 2nd December 1899. This regiment was converted from infantry to mounted infantry.

Lord Roberts sailed from England in the Dunottar Castle two days before Christmas, 1899 and at Gibraltar he was joined by Kitchener, who had hurried from Khartoum as his Chief of Staff. They were due to reach Cape Town on January 10, by which time it was abund-antly clear that in a country like South Africa the foot-slogging British infantry, firing volleys, could not hope to match the highly mobile, individualistic Boer horsemen, almost every one of whom was a born sharpshooter. Antiquated War Office ideas had to be thrown overboard, for what was wanted were good shots on horseback – mounted infantry – and not foot soldiers or dashing cavalrymen wielding flashing sabres and lances. Volunteers were called for to form mounted infantry sections for so-called ‘light cavalry regiments’ and Prince Alfred’s Guard was among the first of the Colonial volunteer Corps to be horsed. In Natal, Buller’s army had become involved in yet another disaster, this time at Spioen Kop on January 24, before orders were received by Court who had been promoted Major on December 20, to select men as mounted infantry. Some three hundred volunteers, all good horsemen and rifle shots, were soon re-equipping at Rosmead Junction.

The incident in which Walton was wounded for the first time arose when they were a few miles from Kroonstad in the Orange River Colony. On this day, the 14th May 1900, two officers and six men of Prince Alfred’s Guard, were scouting a few miles from this scruffy Boer town. In accordance with a proclamation issued by Lord Roberts, all Free State farmers were supposed to have surrendered their arms and ammunition and the Alfred’s Guard patrol had just visited a farm owned by a man who had already complied with the regulations by flying a white flag. As the patrol was approaching a neighbouring farm, also flying the white flag, and were within 40 yards of the farmyard enclosure when they were fired on by 16 Boers hidden behind the farmyard walls. Privates A.S Goldschmidt and J.A. Coltherd were killed and Lieutenant E.B. Walton was slightly wounded in the thigh. Lieutenant Everton, Corporal Sagar and Lance-Corporal George were taken prisoner to join at least ten others of the corps already at Waterval Camp near Pretoria. Coltherd was the son of boot merchant in Edinburgh, where he had been born, and was a first-class cricketer and football player, and Goldschmidt was a very popular member of Prince Alfred’s Guard.

Whilst there is no indication that the armed Boers had any direct connection with the white flag above the farmstead, the reaction in camp at Kroonstad was bitter when the survivors of the little patrol returned with the news. A party went out immediately, but no trace was found of the Boers. Coltherd and Goldschmidt still lay where they had fallen and they were buried together in a single grave, Major Pilkington of the West Australians reading the prayers. Private Schultz had displayed great gallantry in helping the wounded Lieutenant Walton, and he specially mentioned Walton in dispatches.

With the mounted infantry companies widely separated at the time, the unit had no opportunity of distinguishing itself as a regiment. Men from Prince Alfred’s Guard were attached in small numbers to various forces from Komatipoort near the Portuguese East African boundary down to Serfontein on the railway line near Kroonstad, and even in cases where even though they gave a good account of themselves the credit went to the Corps to which they were attached. Nevertheless in Lord Roberts’s dispatch of 20 October 1900, Prince Alfred’s Guard – and Brocas Walton in particular – were specifically mentioned for a gallant action at Serfontein.

Prince Alfred’s Guard mobilized for service in the Anglo-Boer War

With de Wet back from an excursion into the Transvaal, it was believed that the Boers intended making a dash to cut the railway north of Kroonstad and Colonel Bullock sent out Lieutenant Walton and a party of only 13 men to intercept the enemy and prevent them from damaging the line. After riding for about three hours, the detachment came in sight of the Boers who at once turned and ran for cover, opening fire on the Prince Alfred’s Guard patrol as they did so. Walton decided to try and get behind the demolition party so as to cut them off from the main body. Accordingly, the Guardsmen galloped round some koppies and were suddenly confronted by a strong party of about 100 Burghers.

Walton ordered his men to retire and take up position on a slight rise, but in the meantime they came galloping after them, firing from the saddle. Several horses were knocked over in the running fight, but eventually the Prince Alfred’s Guard patrol got behind cover, dismounted and returned the Boer’s fire so effectively that the enemy pursuit was checked. However the Burghers then also dismounted and began to press very close, till only some 80 yards (74m) separated the opposing detachments. Fortunately the patrol now had good cover and a barbed wire fence complicated any Boer attempt at outflanking them. They gave the Boers a hot time and saw three of them fall, whilst several of their horses were hit. After exchanging shots for 35 minutes, the Boers spotted Mounted Infantry reinforcements coming up from Heuningspruit and, thinking a large force might be approaching, they remounted and rode away. Prince Alfred’s Guard had only one man hit, Sergeant-Major Leschinsky, who was wounded slightly in the hand, but they lost five horses killed. The party behaved with great coolness under fire although considerably outnumbered.

Walton was wounded for a second time. Per Orpen, this occurred “at Garstland’s Kloof near Waterkloof, in the very mountainous country west of Cradock, Kritzinger sprang an  unpleasant surprise on (Colonel) Crabbe’s column (which now included Prince Alfred’s Guard Mounted Infantry) on July 17 (1901). Leaving the guns and transport in Garstland’s Kloof, the column had climbed over the mountains on July 16 and sometime after nightfall reached the farm Jackalsfontein, which Kritzinger’s men had just left.

 The Boers had not ridden far however, and at dawn they crept back, shot down two of the pickets and seized the commanding ridge only 700 yards (650 m) from the column’s bivouac. As a result of the heavy Boer fire, most of the horses broke their lines and stampeded down the road, where they ran straight into the hands of the enemy. All day long the fight continued in extreme heat and with water at a premium. Kritzinger, who had been reinforced by Lotter’s commando, called on the column to surrender but the men held their ground. Private H. Westall of Prince Alfred’s Guard was killed and Company Sergeant-Major RS. Emslie and Private Robinson both wounded, but at nightfall the men, led by Captain Dick of Grahamstown, fixed bayonets and marched some 25 miles (40 km) to reach Mortimer station, south of Cradock. The column suffered seven casualties in all, including Captain E.B. Walton and Private Hughes of Prince Alfred’s Guard both of whom were wounded. Private James Taylor of Prince Alfred’s Guard died of wounds at Cradock that day, July 18. The Rev. A.T. Wirgman, still Senior Chaplain in the Cape Colonial Forces, was given the rank of Honorary Lieut.-Colonel that same month.”

            Scheepers himself was reported to be south of Ladismith, on the other side of the Klein Swart-berge, and on September 14 Crabbe caught up with him at Ockert’s Kraal on the Grootriver, 20 miles (32 km) or so down the road to Garcia’s Pass from Ladismith, and drove him eastward with 200 men. Eleven Boers were wounded as against three of the column wounded. Captain Walton was wounded for the third time, and other wounded were Private Shepherd and a 20-year old Private Walter Simpson, who died at Ladismith.

“A remarkable incident, recalled by Captain Walton’s daughter, who had been told details of the event, appears to have taken place on this occasion. Captain Walton and a handful of men were posted behind a koppie, in an attempt to cut off the retreating Boers. Spotting several men trying to pass behind the koppie, Walton moved to open fire and turn them and in doing so he broke cover, in sight of Gideon Scheepers, who was in hiding further up the koppie and promptly fired, wounding Walton with a near fatal shot through the left lung.

“‘Scheepers approached my father,’ wrote Captain Walton’s daughter, ‘and finding him severely wounded, asked where his men were posted. He then called two or three of them to lay down their arms and come to assist their officer. The men fashioned a rough stretcher and were ordered by Scheepers to follow him to a certain farmhouse a little distance away.’

“Scheepers then apparently went ahead and on the way the stretcher party was stopped by one of his men who ordered the bearers to put the wounded man down and, after searching him quickly took his binoculars and removed his scarf, which had been wrapped round his shoulder to stop the bleeding.    When they arrived at the farmhouse, an argument was taking place between Scheepers and the Boer occupants, who wanted no part in the war and had locked the door. The guerrilla leader kicked the door in and ordered the farmer and his wife to care for Walton till the British arrived to take him away. The commando was in a hurry and Captain Walton’s men were allowed to go off for help.”

“On September 15, Colonel Crabbe’s column made contact with Scheepers’ commando but again they broke away and were lost. “Though there was now a line of blockhouses from Vryburg all the way to Aliwal North commandos from the north still ranged the Cape Colony, receiving help from sympathetic farmers in spite of a proclamation by Lord Kitchener that all Boers still under arms on September 15 would be banished. The effect of this threat, which was expected to cause wholesale surrenders, was virtually nil. Smuts, Kritzinger, Scheepers, Fouche, Myburgh, Theron and others were continually active, and towards the end of the month Crabbe was still persuing Scheepers,

“October opened with Maritz and Louw taking possession of Van Rhynsdorp and young Scheepers staging a comeback at Buffelsfontein, in spite of rumours that he was ill.  In a stiff engage-ment on September 30, the Guard lost Captain A.J. Annison and Private C.R. Sanders both killed. Private J. Martin was severely wounded and Private J.W. Heine slightly wounded. Captain Annison’s death was an especially sad blow to the corps, as he had been connected with Prince Alfred’s Guard for 12 years. He had gone right through from Bloemfontein to Pretoria with the 11th Division and was stationed for some time in Johannesburg before being captured and kept prisoner for several weeks. He had joined Colonel Crabbe’s force from Humansdorp and was at the head of his old Corps when he met his death, which Scheepers himself noted in his diary under the date October 2.

“Scheepers’ commando rested near the ostrich camps at Muir Kraal after the fight at Buffels-fontein, but by October 10 he was seriously ill and hard-pressed near Blood River Station. The former Signals Officer of the Staatsartillerie, unable to mount his horse or even to get up from his sickbed in a farmhouse, handed over to his lieutenant, Pypers, who sent at once to Prince Albert for a British doctor.

“Still not fully recovered, Gideon Scheepers was tried on charges of murder, arson, train wrecking and cruelty to prisoners in December, and on 18 January 1902, he was executed by a firing squad – a tragic end to a man who, as a guerrilla fighter, had few equals.” What a tragedy that such an able leader could not have been spared to assist the country’s recovery, especially as there was to be peace within five short months. Bearing in mind Scheeper’s actions to ameliorate Brocas Walton’s suffering, one cannot believe that Scheepers would condone let alone be party to deliberate cruelty to prisoners. The other charges all relate to war and would not today be considered crimes. One shudders to think what the world would have lost if Smuts, who was doing precisely the same as Scheepers, had been captured and suffered the same fate. Gideon Scheepers’ humane action undoubtedly saved Brocas Walton’s life. It was this last wound however. which plagued him for the rest of his life. He was granted twelve months sick leave at the board meeting on 9th April 1937, and in February, 1944, he had to go to Cape Town for a serious operation, all attributable to that wound in his lung. It eventually led to his having to resign as chairman and director of E.H. Walton & Co. Ltd. when he was only 68, an age when he could normally have been expected to enjoy sufficiently good health to enable him to have, for several more years, put his wealth of experience and wisdom at the service of the company at which he had worked so long to develop.

Other biographical details

Brocas Walton must have inherited some of his father’s interest in, and prowess at golf. His daughter has a pewter tankard presented to him for winning the Monthly Handicap at the Port Elizabeth Golf Club in March, 1922. He also followed his father in his interest in the Port Elizabeth Club, as he was elected President for 1939-41.


History of the E.H. Walton 1845 – 1995 by G.S. Walton (1995, EH Walton, Port Elizabeth)

Prince Alfred’s Guard 1856-1966 by Neil Orpen (1967, Cape and Transvaal Printers, Cape Town)

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