THE EMPHATIC TALK by Committee Member Maj Antony Gordon at our last meeting on 9 March 2000 was impressive in two ways. Firstly, he was able not only to describe the Battle of Pieter's Hill on 27 Feb 1900, (exactly a Century ago), in great detail by using his late father's personal diary about the events leading up to and during the engagements, but secondly he supplemented his observations with slides of the area from a recent visit.
Outlining the plan by Gen Warren, he recounted the many difficulties faced by Gen Barton's Fusilier Brigade, consisting of battalions of 2nd Royal Scots Fusiliers, 1st Royal Irish Fusiliers and Dublin Fusiliers, who were ordered to capture Pieter's Hill. During the night of 26/27 Feb a pontoon bridge was put across the Tugela, enabling troops to traverse and advance towards their objective. On the next morning they progressed over rocky ground along the river, making the going tough under a merciless sun, and then climbed up and crossed open veld under heavy fire from the Boers, who had the advantage of high ground and rocky outcrops behind which to shelter. But there were merely 6 000 Boer riflemen and 12 guns to cover their positions of about 12 km, compared to the 28 000 British troops with their 78 guns. The Boers were subjected to heavy and continous artillery fire including naval guns who were able to shell the enemy until the last minute of the attack.
The battle lasted for one day, Pieter's Hill was taken, and Railway Hill and Hart's Hill late in the afternoon, and the Boers withdrew to the north. On the following day the British forces consolidated their positions, looked after the wounded and buried the dead. Late on 28 Feb mounted infantry entered Ladysmith, with the main body of troops following on 3 March 1900.
As a member of the South African War Graves Commission, Tony's
interest and preoccupation lies in the preservation and upkeep
of all war graves in our country, and in this position he took
part in a visit organised by our Durban Branch, under fellow member
Ken Gillings, to the Pieter's Hill region. He described the
tough walk across the veld, the visits to a number of memorials
with wreath laying ceremonies, as well as talks by other members
of the party introducing different aspects of the battle.
A annoying interlude was created by a farmer who wanted to refuse a section of naval ratings to jackstay a complete naval gun over the Tugela river at Colenso. A little later, however, the report of the gun being fired confirmed that it had been re-assembled and could honour the dead with a salvo.
In the morning of 27 Feb 2000, the party assembled at the bottom of Hart's Hill to listen to a talk by Ken Gillings on the actions at Wayne's amd Harts Hills, followed by an excellent speech by Prof D McCracken of Natal University. Wreaths were laid in the Boer trench and at the Irish Memorials with fitting ceremonies. In the afternoon another gathering took place on top of Pieter's Hill at the Fusilier Brigade's Memorial. A Zulu Induna and Impi received the visitors with a dignified address, and Louis Botha, great-grandson of the Boen general made a speech, after which Tony Gordon described the battle in detail. A re-enactment of the engagement by 20 "Brits" and 10 "Boers" followed, then two minutes silence and the Last Post, and again wreaths were laid.
13 April 2000
11 May 2000
8 June 2000
13 July 2000
John Mahncke, (Vice-Chairman/Scribe), (021) 797 5167