18 May 2003

Exactly 102 years after the event a ceremony took place on Sunday, 18th May 2003, at Lambrechtfontein Farm, Free State Province, South Africa, to erect a headstone over the remote grave of Lieutenant Gustavus Coulson VC, DSO, King's Own Scottish Borderers. It was on this spot that Gustavus Coulson lost his life, but gained the award of the Victoria Cross, for fighting a desparate rearguard action and attempting to rescue a wounded comrade under heavy fire. He was buried where he fell on the battlefield but the original headstone over his grave became damaged and vandalised only a small part remaining.

Following a report by Steve Watt on the status of British military graves in South Africa, which included the fact that Gustavus Coulson's grave was unmarked, Ken Gillings, former Chairman of the KwaZulu-Natal Branch of the South African Military History Society, decided to start a project to raise interest and funds to erect a new headstone over Coulson's grave.

He approached and was offered assistance from various authorities, such as the South African Heritage Resources Agency, and the War Museum of the Boer Republics, and other organisations listed below, who all decided to support this worthwhile cause to commemorate, not only Gustavus Coulson, but three other British soldiers buried in the same spot - Private A. Horton and Lance Corporal J. Riddle of the 1st Bn, King's Own Scottish Borderers, and Private G.H. Woolam, 2nd Bn, Durham Light Infantry.

The headstone has been made of Rustenburg Granite by a local company incorporating on top the remaining piece of the original headstone laid over Coulson's grave way back in May 1901. ( The monumentalist is allowing the memorial to settle before incorporating the original portion in a more suitable position, and a fence will be erected later to protect the memorial from cattle ).

Those involved in supporting the project and who were in attendance:

  • Ken Gillings
    • Chief organiser of the project to erect the Coulson headstone
  • Lieutenant Colonel Rupert Robson RA and Mrs Robson
    • Representing the British High Commission
  • Stephen Verrals
    • Grandson of Corporal Ernest Shaw, who attempted to rescue Gustavus Coulson.
  • Lieutenant Colonel Eugene Casey, C.O. Witwatersrand Rifles
    • The Witswatersrand Rifles are affiliated to the King's Own Scottish Borderers.
  • Colonel Frik Jacobs
    • Director of the War Museum of the Boer Republics, Bloemfontein.
  • Mr Colin Steyn
    • Great-grandson of President M.T. Steyn of the Orange Free State.
  • Historical Firearms and Ammunition Society of South Africa
    • Who fired three rifle volleys using weapons from the Anglo-Boer War period.
  • Mr Troy Phili and Mr Thabo Kgomommu
    • South African Heritage Resources Agency.
  • Mr Glyn Rudman
    • Bothaville Historic Conservation Committee.
  • Mr Steve Watt
    • An authority on British War Graves in South Africa.

The order of events on Sunday, 18th May 2003, were:

  • 10:15 Invited guest assemble at Lambrechtfontein Farm, Bothaville District
  • 10:30 A welcome address given by Ken Gillings
  • 10:40 A description of Coulson's VC action given by Stephen Verralls
  • 10:55 Guard of Honour provided by the Witwatersrand Rifles
  • 11:00 Last Post
  • 11:02 Reveille
  • 11:03 Memorial headstone unveiled by Stephen Verralls
  • 11:05 Laying of wreaths
  • 11:10 A volley of rifle fire carried out by the Historical Firearms Society of South Africa
  • 11:15 The National Anthems of the Republic of South Africa and Great Britain
  • 11:20 Closure, followed by refreshments

After graduating from Sandhurst, Gustavus Coulson was gazetted second lieutenant and joined the 4th Battalion, ( Princess of Wales' Own ) Yorkshire Regiment. But later, in July 1899, he transferred to the 1st Battalion, the King's Own Scottish Borderers, in which several of his relatives had previously served. Promoted lieutenant, Coulson sailed for South Africa with his regiment as part of Lord Roberts force, landing at Cape Town on 10th January 1900.

The KOSB was engaged in heavy fighting in the Orange Free State and the Transvaal, first under Lord Roberts and later under Lord Kitchener. Gustavus Coulson was mentioned in despatches by both commanders and for bravery on a number of occasions and during the fighting around Paardeberg in February 1900 he was awarded the DSO London Gazette 27th September 1901.

For the award of the Victoria Cross.

[ London Gazette, 8th August 1902 ], Lambrechtfontein, Near Bothaville, South Africa, 18th May 1901, Lieutenant Gustavus Coulson, 1st Bn, King's Own Scottish Borderers.

The Boers were mounting an offensive which had forced the British to evacuate their base at Lambrechtfontein. Lieutenant Coulson, in command of a squadron of 300 mounted infantry, had been sent back to ensure that all useful stores, and especially ammunition, had been removed. Acting independently was a pom-pom battery of the Lincolnshire Regiment under the command of Major F.C. Lloyd. Suddenly coming under heavy Boer fire the British troopers broke and fled, abandoning their artillery positions.

At this critical moment Coulson and some of his squadron rode up, rallied the men and fought a desperate rearguard action which prevented a Maxim gun falling into enemy hands. A deadly fusillade from the Boer Mausers cut a swaithe through the British troops and when Coulson saw Corporal Cramer's horse shot dead under him, immediately rode towards the soldier and hauled him up on his own saddle, rescuing him from under the muzzles of the enemy's rifles.

They had not gone far when the horse was shot and both Coulson and Cramer fell to the ground. Coulson then ordered Cramer to remount the wounded horse and make his escape as best he could, where he eventually rejoined the main force, while Coulson gave him covering fire.

At this juncture Corporal Ernest Shaw of the Lincolnshire Regiment, aware of the exposed position that Coulson was now in, rode back through the rearguard and took him up on his horse. But after galloping a short distance, Shaw was shot through the back and there is reason to believe Coulson was also shot for he fell off the horse. Corporal Shaw fell off the horse a few minutes later but managed to rejoin the column.

Much later a field ambulance under the command of Dr. May was sent back to the spot where Coulson had been shot and discovered he was dead. Gustavus Coulson was buried where he fell in the vicinity of Lambrechtfontein Farm. A marker was erected over his grave but this was later vandalised and the remains removed to the farm for safe keeping.

Throughout the whole action, Gustavus Coulson's gallantry had been witnessed by Major Lloyd and Colonel T.D. Pilcher, late of the 2nd Bedfordshire Regiment, who recommended him for a posthumous Victoria Cross.

Medal entitlement of Lieutenant Gustavus Coulson - 1st Bn, King's Own Scottish Borderers

  • Victoria Cross
  • Distinguished Service Order ( DSO )
  • Queen's South Africa Medal ( 1899-1902 )
    • 5 clasps:
    • "Cape Colony" - "Paardeberg" - "Johannesburg" - "Diamond Hill" - "Wittebergen"


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Iain Stewart, 19 May 2003