Personal info

  • Name: Ernest Beachcroft Beckwith TOWSE
  • D.O.B: 23rd Apr, 1864
  • D.O.A: 11th Dec, 1899
  • D.O.D: 21st Jun, 1948
  • Award: Victoria Cross
  • Occupation at time of action: Captain, 1st Battalion The Gordon Highlanders, 19th Brigade
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Sources & Acknowledgements

Magersfontein, Cape Colony, South Africa 11 December 1899

11 December 1899

More details about:
The Second Boer War 1899 - 1902 

On 20 November 1899 Lieutenant General Lord Methuen moved north with 8,000 men from the Orange river along the route of the railway to try to relieve Kimberley, the only place on the line north to Mafeking still in British hands. After a fierce battle with the Boers at the Modder river on 28 November, Methuen launched another attack on 11 December at Magersfontein Kop. The hill had been heavily shelled the day before but the enemy forces had taken up positions in trenches at the base of the hill, sheltered from the effects of the bombardment. When 4,000 men of the Highland Brigade attacked the hill, the Boers emerged from their trenches and, with rapid fire, decimated their attackers killing many of their officers. The Highlanders were then pinned down on the plain for several hours at which point Lieutenant H E M Douglas and Corporal J F D Shaul tended to the injured on the battlefield at great risk to themselves. Meanwhile, Captain E B B Towse cared for the mortally wounded Lieutenant Colonel G T F Downman of the Gordon Highlanders. On the following day, the British attack having failed, Methuen withdrew his force back to the Modder river. It was not until 3 May 1900 that Lord Roberts was ready to advance north from Bloemfontein towards Pretoria with an army of 44,000 men. Meanwhile, Lieutenant General Ian Hamilton was active east of Bloemfontein. On 22 April he recaptured the waterworks at Sanna’s Post and four days later, the small town of Thaba ’Nchu. With a force of 13,000 men, he then marched north towards Winburg. In a tactical move, a Boer force led by General Christiaan de Wet, had taken up a position ahead of Hamilton’s advancing force in the Hout Nek Hills. The key to this position was the flat-topped Mount Thaba, four miles to the southwest, which Hamilton attacked on 30 April. During the attack, Captain Towse and 12 men from the Gordon Highlanders and Kitchener’s Horse climbed the eastern flank of the mountain, unaware that a Boer force of 150 men, which included some German volunteers and was commanded by a Russian, Colonel Maximoff, was advancing across the plateau at the summit, to engage them. When the two groups confronted each other, the Boers called on Towse to surrender. His response and that of his men was to open fire and with assistance from the 74th Field Battery and Royal Horse Artillery, the Boers were driven off the plateau. During the battle Captain Towse was blinded.


 On the 11th December, 1899, at the action of Majesfontein, Captain Towse was brought to notice by his Commanding Officer for his gallantry and devotion in assisting the late Colonel Downman, when mortally wounded, in the retirement, and endeavouring, when close up to the front of the firing line, to carry Colonel Downman on his back; but finding this not possible, Captain Towse supported him till joined by Colour-Sergeant Nelson and Lance-Corporal Hodgson. On the 30th April, 1900, Captain Towse, with twelve men, took up a position on the top of Mount Thaba, far away from support. A force of about 150 Boers attempted to seize the same plateau, neither party appearing to see the other until they were but 100 yards apart. Some of the Boers then got within 40 yards of Captain Towse and his party, and called on him to surrender. He at once caused his men to open fire and remained firing himself until severely wounded (both eyes shattered), succeeding in driving off the Boers. The gallantry of this Officer in vigorously attacking the enemy (for he not only fired, but charged forward) saved the situation, notwithstanding the numerical superiority of the Boers. (‘Majesfontein’ in the first sentence is as it appears in the Gazette, rather than the more usual Magersfontein). 

The London Gazette of 6 July 1900, Numb. 27208, p. 4196

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