Quite a crowd of us from the KwaZulu-Natal branch of the South African Military History Society, with some visitors from Johannesburg and a few who were not even members, made up the crowd who assembled at the Majuba Lodge in Newcastle on Friday, 14 August 2015. One bright spark went to the Majuba Lodge in Volksrust but hot-footed it down the N11 to Newcastle when apprised of his error!
Ken Gillings had organised the trip in his usual efficient manner and introduced Curator Louis Eksteen, who led off at the Fort Amiel Museum, Newcastle, explaining the museum's history and its part in the defence of northern Natal from the early 1870s onward. There are a number of original buildings, graves and monuments on site and loads of interesting artefacts in the various rooms.
From there, we headed to Laing's Nek, site of Major General George Pomeroy Colley's disastrous foray to capture the only practicable pass on the road to the Transvaal - as it then was. Incredible bravery and heroism were displayed by the 58th Regiment as they stormed the heights of Engelbrecht's Kop in their red coats, carrying their Regimental and Queen's Colours. This was almost the last time that the British Army went into battle like this - already in India, British soldiers were wearing khaki tunics, affording them some camouflage in the dry and dusty north Indian countryside. Carrying the Colours into combat was henceforth forbidden by army regulation.
Ken gave us all the facts about the slaughter on the slopes of the hill. Two young African locals drawn to the group became very interested in the story of the clash that had unfolded just up the hill from where they lived. Thereafter we visited Mount Prospect, the burial place of General Colley and numbers of other casualties of the campaign, and then Schuinshoogte, site of yet another of Colley's abortive attempts to clear the way to an advance into the Transvaal.
The next day, Sunday, was the highlight of the tour, with a visit to the Hill of Doves, Majuba. The fitter ones among us climbed to the summit, a good climb but within the capability of any reasonably fit person. This is where Colley was killed, along with numbers of his soldiers and only two of the Boer attackers. The view from the top is quite breathtaking and well worth the effort.
We called in at O'Neill's Cottage on the southern slope of Majuba. The house has recently been restored and renovated. We trod in the footsteps of Paul Kruger, Piet Joubert and Colonel Evelyn Wood who arranged an armistice there after the battle and wondered at how the negotiators fitted into the tiny front room.
A Durban member of the Military History Society, Udo Awerbach, made a speech of thanks to Ken Gillings who was responsible for yet another successful military history outing of the KZN branch. It is a pity that more Johannesburg members did not join us, but David and Peter Scholtz were very welcome, as was Nigel Mason from Wakkerstroom. The hotel in Newcastle was comfortable and convenient. A great way to spend the weekend, was the unanimous verdict!
Robin Smith Howick, KZN
16 August 2015
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