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A Victoria Cross for a South African Hero - 24 to 26 August 1916

Updated: Feb 11, 2022

William Anderson Bloomfield VC

Captain William Bloomfield was an Edinburgh-born emigrant to South Africa, and during the Boer War he fought on the side of the Boers. During the First World War East Africa Campaign he served as an officer in the mounted scouts attached to the 2nd South African Mounted Brigade.

In August 1916 General J C Smuts attempted to trap the forces of Colonel Paul von Lettow- Vorbeck, the German commander in East Africa, at Morogoro on the railway line west from Dar-es-Salaam, north of the Uluguru Mountains. Unaware that there was in fact a track south from Morogoro through the mountains to Kissaki, Smuts sought to block von Lettow- Vorbeck’s retreat by cutting the roads that ran south to the east and west of the range. The 2nd South African Mounted Brigade under Brigadier General B.G.L. Enslin was detailed to cut the western road at Mlali. On 24 August Mlali was taken but German reinforcements arrived and while advancing to deal with German fire part of the force got into difficulties and was recalled. The British captured considerable quantities of German stores but could not prevent the escape of von Lettow-Vorbeck and his forces south into the mountains the following day.

Sketch map of the Mlali action

Being the first to arrive at Mlali, Captain Bloomfield with his scouts seized Kisagale Hill, the dominant feature overlooking the crossing of the adjacent river. The South African Military History comments:

The seizure of Kisagale by the Scouts was, incidentally, an instance of the tactical instinct of the soldier in the ranks of the commando, and, in view of Enslin's inferiority in strength and distance from support, a probably fortunate exhibition of initiative.

Brigadier Enslin then ordered the scouts and other mounted men to cross the river and seize the feature marked 'D' on the above sketch map. But the Germans reacted swiftly, reinforcing their positions on the east side of the river and attacking the South African intruders. This made Enslin withdraw his forward detachment back across the river.

During this withdrawal William Bloomfield controlled the situation and then performed an act of great gallantry. He was later awarded the Victoria Cross with this citation:

For most conspicuous bravery. Finding that, after being heavily attacked in an advanced and isolated position, the enemy were working round his flanks, Captain Bloomfield evacuated his wounded, and subsequently withdrew his command to a new position, he himself being amongst the last to retire. On arrival at the new position he found that one of the wounded - No. 2475 Corporal D.M.P. Bowker - had been left behind.
Owing to very heavy fire he experienced difficulties in having the wounded Corporal brought in. Rescue meant passing over some 400 yards of open ground, swept by heavy fire, in full view of the enemy. This task Captain Bloomfield determined to face himself, and unmindful of personal danger, he succeeded in reaching Corporal Bowker and carrying him back, subjected throughout the double journey to heavy machine-gun and rifle fire. This act showed the highest degree of valour and endurance.

William Anderson Bloomfield VC was later promoted to the rank of Major. He died in May 1954 and is buried in Ermelo Cemetery, South Africa.

The Bloomfield headstone

(Both the British and South African Official Histories omit William Bloomfield's name and the details of his act of great gallantry.)

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