Our main speaker, Garth Benneworth, generously paid his own airfare from Cape Town to
give his talk, originally planned for March. His subject was The Battle of Driefontein,
fought on the 10 March 1900, on the western front during the Anglo-Boer War.
In October 1899 Kimberley was besieged by Boer forces. To raise the siege the British
despatched 10,000 troops, under Lieutenant General Lord Methuen, who were initially to
follow the railway line towards Bloemfontein. Actions took place at Belmont, Graspan, and
Modder River and, on 11 December, at Magersfontein. The British were consolidating their
forces while reinforcements were brought in. Field Marshal Lord Roberts was to outflank the
Boers at Magersfontein and then capture Bloemfontein. The Boers retreated to Paardeberg
where 4,000 Boers, under General Piet Cronje, surrendered. Roberts, with heavy battle
casualties and his army plagued by enteric (typhoid), reorganised his army and after an action
at Poplar Grove, entered Bloemfontein on 13 March 1900.
Garth Benneworth took us through, in great and fascinating detail, the action 3 days earlier, on 10 March, when the Boers under General Koos de la Rey, were attempting to hold back the British. Garth compiled the battle story from maps, written accounts and a meticulous examination of the terrain. In this remote and relatively undisturbed area, he not only found graves and the remains of gun emplacements, but also spent cartridges and shell cases that marked the British and Boer positions. His excellent slides revealed fairly flat countryside with low hills providing limited cover.
The British infantry, led by Lieutenant General Kelly-Kenny, came under heavy fire from the Boer Creusot and Krupp guns and their one-pounders ("Pom-Poms", imported from Britain before the war!) all operated by the gunners of the Z.A.R.P.(Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek Politie - South African Republic Police). There was also one of the British guns captured from General Buller at Calenso. The British infantry divisions were supported by 2 batteries (12 guns). These gunners obviously fired on the Boer gun positions, as evidenced by shrapnel found on the site, but could not take them out. A fierce British bayonet assault against the Z.A.R.P. was the occasion for a desperate fight with very few prisoners taken, in this attempt to cut off the Boer retreat.
In the advance of the British, close combat is indicated by the plentiful .303 Lee Metford, Martini-Henry and Mauser cartridges strewn about. The remoteness of the area has saved these sites and the numerous graves, from the attention of souvenir hunters - and the War Graves Commission!. In The Battle of Driefontein the Boers suffered exceptionally heavy casualties, even heavier than those suffered by the British, which in the Anglo-Boer war was an exception.
Dave Matthews gave a warm vote of thanks to both speakers for an excellent evening of historical research.
Due to Garth Benneworth agreeing to move his talk forward from our March to our February
meeting, there have been changes to our program for the next meeting on 11 March 1999.
The good news is that we will be having 3 speakers instead of 2!!, as follows :
Thursday 11 March 1999.
DDH: GEORGE NEL O'Neill's Cottage
DAVE MATTHEWS The Baffle of Flodden - 1513
PAUL KILMARTIN The History of the Irish Guards
We look forward to seeing you all at the March meeting.
Also, please do not forget that the Battlefields Tour is scheduled for the weekend of 8/9 May - just 2 months after our next meeting. We have to limit our numbers to 60 and we are filling up fast. We hope to close our list by March.
For further information or to book, please ring Paul Kilmartin on 561-2905 (H) or 268-7400 (0) or 082-449-7227 (Cell).
Dr Ingrid Machin
Secretary: Durban Branch
S.A.MILITARY HISTORY SOCIETY
4 Hadley,101 Manning Road,Glenwood,Durban,4001
Telephone: (031) 21 3983