Natal Indian Ambulance Corps
(The Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902)
During the Second Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902 M. K. Gandhi, who was a lawyer working for Muslim Indian Traders in Natal, formed a volunteer Ambulance Corps for the British Army.
The Natal Indian Ambulance Corps, led by M. K. Gandhi, was composed of 300 free and 800 indentured labourers sent by their employers. Its task was to take the wounded brought by the Natal Volunteer Ambulance Corps from the battlefield and carry them to the railhead. It left for the front on December 14, 1899. It reached the field hospital at Chieveley the next day and was immediately employed in carrying the wounded from the battle of Colenso. It was moved to Estcourt on December 17, and temporarily disbanded two days later.
Due to the rocky and broken terrain surrounding the Kop horse drawn ambulances were unusable. The task of getting the British wounded down from Spion Kop and back to the field hospital, a march estimated by Gandhi to be some 25 miles, fell instead to Gandhi and his stretcher bearers. Gandhi and his men worked tirelessly in oppressive heat with little water or cover from the sun or the enemy. It is likely many more men would have died if the Indian Ambulance Corps had not been there to evacuate them.
The Corps was reformed on January 7, 1900, and was again stationed at Estcourt. It was summoned on the eve of the battle of Spion Kop. During the big battle there on January 24, when British suffered heavy casualties, members of the Corps agreed to receive the wounded under fire and carry them from Spion Kop to the base hospital at Frere, more than twenty miles away. Gandhi lived in South Africa for over 20 years, arriving in 1893; he became a prominent member of the Indian community in South Africa campaigning for the rights of other Indian émigrés.
The British commander General Buller mentioned the Corp in despatches and Gandhi and 34 of his men were awarded the Queen’s South Africa campaign medal.