The South African
Military History Society

Die Suid-Afrikaanse Krygshistoriese Vereniging

Military History Journal
Vol 2 No 2 - December 1971


by J. L. KEENE

The road from Johannesburg to Machadadorp presents little that can be called visually beautiful or spiritually uplifting, especially towards the end of a rigorous winter when the veld has been blighted by frost and termites and blackened in patches by fire. What then could have induced so many people of various ages to gather in the War Museum grounds at 8 o'clock on a cool Sunday morning at the end of September, for a coach ride to, of all places, Bronkhorstspruit? Had their destination been the Las Vegas of the Transvaal, Bapsfontein, the prevailing atmosphere of anticipation might have been understandable! But why Bronkhorstspruit? The reason for the Military History Society's expedition was to visit a battlefield in the vicinity - the scene of an armed engagement which occurred almost a century ago.

With coat tails flying and hats pressed to their heads, late risers, admonished by the transport officer, Major Tyrrell, bustled aboard. With a grating of gears and belching black smoke, the bus eased through the gates of the Museum, and wound its way through sleeping suburbia into the environs of Modderfontein where strange odours assailed the nostrils of the travellers. Onwards it sped past marshlands dotted with hoardings, past newly erected locations, the Railway College and onto the open road towards Bapsfontein which seemed to wink a sad, bloodshot eye, the aftermath of Saturday night's revels.

The War Museum's combi, which had left an hour before the bus, passed through Bronkhorstspruit, which, but for a sprinkling of surprised churchgoers, appeared to be uninhabited, and proceeded at an admirable speed towards Delmas. Approximatehy three miles past the monument to the 94th Regt, it turned and, in a trice, drew to a halt outside the homestead of the farm which was the venue for the day's expedition.

The water urn was unloaded and set to boil while trestle-tables were erected and prepared for tea under the acacia trees at the scene of the historic action. The main party arrived in due course, hungry and thirsty after their long drive, but the sight of white-clad tables laden with refreshments in the midst of the dry, dusty veld soon restored any flagging enthusiasm.

After tea everyone gathered around Cohonel Duxbury who delivered an enlightening lecture on the happenings at that very spot on the fateful December day in 1880. With the aid of précis, complete with excellent maps, distributed beforehand, the audience was able to follow the course of events. The party then dispersed to survey the area while questions were asked and answered. A resounding explosion from Mr Gillings' magnificent model cannon piece added a touch of reality and excitement to the proceedings. Finally the party visited the monument and the graveyard of the unfortunate members of Col. Anstruther's column who fell that day.

By this time everyone was beginning to feel hungry as the result of breakfasting early. In short order, the party boarded the bus which roared on its way towards Bronkhorstbaai where a beautiful lake provided an ideal picnic spot. Upon arrival, the Museum's refreshment box was unlocked and iced minerals and beer were dispensed.

The rate at which beer was consumed was a clear indication of members' preference in the matter of liquid refreshment.

After lunching alfresco, everyone relaxed to the sounds of lapping water and the hum of speedboats, skimming over the lake with waterskiers in tow. A great deal of amusement was occasioned by the sight of novices clinging frantically to ropes while they were drawn across the water at incredible speed, until losing their balance, they fell into the water, wildly flailing arms and skis. All in all, good humour prevailed.

The day was coming to an end, and after another dip into the cool box, everyone collected his belongings and prepared to go home.

A honk or two on the hooter summoned all aboard the bus which started on its homeward journey with a weary but contented band.

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