The Battle of Colwood – June 20, 1904 – a description of the military manoevres held by the local militia as published in the Daily Colonist of June 21, 1904.
THE SHAM FIGHT AT COLWOOD
The Advance of Lt. Col. Whyte’s Forces Checked by Colonel Hall.
Scene of Battle Was Around Racecourse – Honors Divided.
(From Our Correspondent with Lieut. Colonel Hall’s Forces).
Colwood Race Course, June 20, 1 p.m. – Victoria is saved. The Rodd Hill fortress yesterday seriously threatened by the enemy, still stands intact at the entrance to Esquimalt harbor. All possible avenues of advance on the city are covered, and the invaders have been hurled back from the hills of Colwood, and have retreated, with some confusion, behind the trenches of their camp on the Langford Plains. Their total losses have not yet been estimated, but quite a number have been taken prisoner, including three officers. A field gun has also been captured.
That is the result of the fighting which commenced at 9:30 this morning and continued until after the hour of noon, and it is due to the grand generalship of the officer commanding, the excellent manner in which his plans were carried out by the officers under him, and the cool gallantry of the non commissioned officers and men of the Fifth Regiment and the reinforcing detachments of the Royal Engineers and Royal Artillery.
It was late on Sunday evening when Lieut.-Colonel Hall, commanding the Fifth Regiment, R.C.G.A., encamped at Macaulay Point, received dispatches that Lieut.-Colonel Whyte with a strong force consisting of the Sixth D.O.C. Rifles from Vancouver, had landed at Nanaimo and after capturing that city had made a rapid movement by railroad and steamship to the south and had encamped at Langford Plains, threatening the security of the Rodd Hill fortress.
A council of officers was immediately held, and preparations were made to attack the invaders on the following day.
The camp was early astir. The morning broke cloudy and cold and a few light showers of rain fell while a hasty breakfast was being served to the men. At 7 o’clock the regiment was drawn up into line, and ammunition having been served out, the force marched out of camp and took the road to Esquimalt, arriving at the harbour shortly before 8 o’clock. There a steam transport was in waiting and the force was carried across the harbor to Rodd Hill where the men were disembarked.
Scouts having been sent out ahead, the column proceeded at a brisk pace along the Colwood road and reached the Colwood hotel at nine o’clock without misadventure. There the column was reinforced by detachments of Royal Engineers and Royal Artillery with two 13-pounder guns. A short council or war was held, and then Colonel Hall commenced to make a disposition of his forces.
From reports received from the front it was clear that the enemy lay to the northeast of the Colwood racecourse, and, accordingly, Colonel Hall decided to advance as quickly as possible in order to take up a position to the west and south, covering all avenues by which the enemy might advance towards the city.
The detachment under Lieut. Patton was hurried forward with orders to approach Langford Station and if possible to capture it and hold the railway line, and other detachments were sent north and northwest to occupy the flanks of the position which Colonel Hall had decided to hold. A general advance was then made, and at 9:15 Colonel Hall and his staff started for the scene of the expected conflict
Firing was soon heard from the left and an orderly riding up reported that the enemy’s scouts had been sighted east of the racecourse.
Your correspondent accompanied Colonel Hall and his staff to the centre of the position, where an excellent view of the field was secured. Our lines extended in a semi circle, more or less, from the southwest to the east of the racecourse, which lay right below the centre, which occupied a hill with excellent cover for both infantry and guns. The left flank, extending to the east about half a mile, occupied lower ground, but amply protected by trees and brush. It was there that the hottest part of the engagement took place. In the event of the left flank being turned, Colonel Hall ordered shelter trenches to be thrown up to protect the centre and this work was carried out promptly by the Royal Engineers.
In the meantime, firing on the extreme left continued, and before 10 o’clock the enemy had opened rifle fire all along their lines, which was seen to be some 800 yards in front, and beyond the open ground of the racecourse. Soon after the enemy’s position had been thus determined Captain Currie’s two 13 pounders came into action. The guns had been splendidly placed on the hill, right in the centre of the position, overlooking the plain below and well screened by dense timber, while supporting companies of the Fifth lay concealed close by. One of the enemy’s guns came into view some 600 yards away and was promptly put out of action by two well-directed shells from Capt. Currie’s and Lieutenant Booth’s 13-pounders. A few minutes later a body of the enemy attempted rashly to cross over to a more advanced position in the open, and the guns opened fire on them and drove them back.
A rash spirit evidently pervaded the attacking forces under Lieut.-Colonel Whyte, for a detachment under Captain Tite crept up to our right and were promptly put out of action, while another large body of infantry came into the open on the left and were shattered by rifle and shrapnel fire.
Reports from officers commanding different sections along the line began to come in fast and all told of the enemy’s steady advance, but only one conveyed news of repulse of our own men, and this was from a detachment which had got too far in advance of the line. After a brief engagement the men had to fall back, and being a little exposed in so doing, suffered some loss.
It was evident that the left was the chief objective of the attacking forces and as soon as he realized this, Colonel Hall strengthened that part of the line by sending thither considerable reinforcements under Captain and Adjutant McConnan.
Shortly after this the “cease firing” was sounded on the bugles and opposing forces stood fast while Col. English and the other umpires considered the situation. The pause lasted about twenty-five minutes.
A report from Captain Roberts, commanding No. 6 Company, stated that at 10:40 he had met the enemy and was engaging them on the Langford Road. Later the bad news came that this company had been put out of action, and Sergt. Langwood arrived with the remnant of the force at 11:35. The little force had been surrounded near the enemy’s company – few escaped to tell the tale.
At 11 o’clock fighting was resumed. Up to this no news had been received from Lieut. Patton, who had been sent on a somewhat hazardous mission, viz., the capture of Langford Station. The question “Where is Patton?” was frequently on the lips of Colonel Hall and other members of the staff, but that officer’s silence was satisfactorily explained later on when, at 11:30, a dusty orderly arrived with a dispatch dated 9:50. The orderly explained that the delay in his movements was due to the fact that Lieutenant Patton was cut off from the main forces and after being nearly captured by the enemy, the orderly had made a long detour. The dispatch stated that Lieutenant Patton and his men had captured :Langford Station and blown it up and had destroyed two miles of railroad track, and that although he was at present somewhat isolated from the main body, his position was fairly secure.
Later on it was learned that this daring officer approached the enemy’s camp and finding it unoccupied decided to capture it. The only person there, the Chinese cook, turned out to the defence with a butcher’s knife, but he was promptly disarmed.
The fighting continues to be general along the whole line, while the left still bore the brunt of the attack. A reckless body of the enemy made a dash across the open, in the face of a heavy shrapnel fire, and raked by the rifles of the company stationed on our extreme left, in order to occupy the grandstand. A few reached this, but Capt. Currie threw a shell into the building, which blew everything there into small pieces. It was near this spot that the enemy lost one of the guns, which, with the men supporting, was surrounded and taken.
Shortly after this, while Colonel Hall was considering the ordering of a bayonet charge from the left, the enemy began to waver, and then sullenly withdrew, their retreat eventually developing into flight for their camp.
The big brass drum’s unruly sound
Has beat the last tattoo:
No more on tented plain is heard
The wild and loud “Horroo!”
No more at midnight’s ghostly hour
Is heard that fierce alarm
As up and down the lines they go
On fame’s terrestrial stamping ground
Their luster now is shed,
And Scotch high balls and other booz
Are held no more in dread.
THE UMPIRE’S DECISION.
Col. English Divides the Honors to Some Extent.
The umpire-in-chief of the fight was Colonel English, who was assisted by Major Bland, Captain Wright, Captain Watts, and Lieutenant French. Colonel English and Major Bland were stationed by the farmhouse at the north end of the racecourse and the other officers were placed with the opposing forces where they could report on the proceedings to advantage. When the “cease firing” was sounded at about 12:15 p.m., the Fifth and Sixth shook hands over the battle and a general parley of officers on both sides was held.
First, Lieut.-Colonel Hall reported to Colonel English in his plans and the carrying out thereof, and Colonel Whyte followed with his report.
Then the umpire-in-chief gave his decision. One rule of the game of war, said Colonel English, is that if you attack your force must be strong enough, and the defending force must be strong enough to hold its ground. Colonel Whyte’s men could not have got across the open before Colonel Hall’s position. It would have been better to make a feint attack on Colonel Hall’s left flank. Too many men were used on an impossible attack and some of them showed up on the open very badly, coming right across the racecourse. Up to the first “cease firing” call, Colonel English considered that the Sixth had the best of the fight. Some of the Fifth had got too far and were not covered and these had been ordered back. In the “second half”, however, Colonel English considered the Fifth had the advantage. The Sixth were separated and seemed to have no communications, so the various companies were acting independently and with no unanimity of purpose. Colonel Hall had reinforced his left when it was threatened and the attack there could not have succeeded. Too many small parties of men had been sent into the enemy’s country.
Colonel English took exception to the length of the orders of the officers commanding, being of the opinion that they should have been much shorter and the plans left to develop themselves with the situation. There should have been marching orders and short supplementary orders later on. The Sixth had suffered the loss of a gun, which had been ambushed and taken showing that the officer commanding the gun had not used his escort properly.
In regard to the whole fight, Colonel English regretted that there had not been more ground available. He hoped that next year the fight would be arranged after the harvest when the hay fields would be available.
The decision having been given, the Sixth Regiment marched off to camp, being cheered by the Fifth as they marched past.
CAMP BREAKS UP.
Fifth Regiment Returns After Fight and Packs Up.
After the fight yesterday the fifth Regiment returned to Macaulay Point and got to work packing up goods and chattels preparing to striking camp. This was accomplished by 5 o’clock, and after dinner tents were taken down and the battalion marched back to town. Victorians must have felt proud of their volunteers last night, as with a swinging step the boys took their way through the streets to the Drill Hall.
The turnout yesterday was fairly good, some 170 men being present. May of the absentees were unable to leave their work.
The Sixth Regiment numbered about 300, and it was a matter of common comment that the men looked well, and behaved nicely in the city last evening, and Lieut.-Colonel Whyte and his officers must be congratulated on the neat soldierly appearance presented by one and all of his command. There were only two accidents. The victim of one was Gunner Keefe, who was fired at by one of the Sixth at very close range and sustained an injury to his left hand in consequence. The other injured man was a member of the Sixth, who somehow got a nasty knock on his head while in the timber.