THE BATTLE OF DIAMOND HILL / DIE SLAG VAN DONKERHOEK

While it seems strange that the battle site of what proved to be the second last conventional battle of the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1901) before it entered the guerrilla phase has two names, there is a sound reason for it. The steep plateau where the battle took place on 11th – 12th June 1900 is called Diamond Hill – a reference to the discovery of diamonds in that area around 1819. The British thus called this the Battle of Diamond Hill. As part of the battle raged over the farm called Donkerhoek, the Boers called it die Slag van Donkerhoek / the Battle of Donkerhoek.

When the Commander of the British Forces, General Lord Roberts, occupied Pretoria on 5th June 1900, you can imagine that the Transvaal commandos felt despondent and exhausted after months of defeat. Many had, in fact, already returned to their farms on the assumption that the war was over. However, spurred on by Boer successes in the Free State, the Commandant-General of Transvaal, Louis Botha, rallied an army consisting of about 5-6 000 men and 30 guns. He then established a 40-kilometre north-to-south defensive line 29 kilometres east of Pretoria. Louis Botha commanded the centre and left flank while General Koos de la Rey commanded north of the Pretoria-Delagoa Bay railway line.

Determined to hold onto Pretoria, General Lord Roberts sent 14 000 soldiers to destroy this remnant of Boer resistance. Lieutenant-General Ian Hamilton, who later described this battle as the turning point in the Anglo-Boer War, was positioned along the base of the Bronberg ridge with 3 000 cavalry and 2 200 infantry ready to sweep around the south of the Boers and take Diamond Hill. General French with two cavalry and mounted infantry columns was poised to execute a similar manoeuvre to the north. The Boers were hidden among the hills when the British began firing at the whole Boer line of defence on 11th June. The battle was fiercest on the left flank, where General French and his cavalry repeatedly charged the positions of the Ermelo and Bethel burghers, each time to be repulsed with heavy losses.

The Boers had taken cover in the rocky outcrops of the Magaliesberg terrain and sheltered behind stone-walled sangars while they fired on the advancing British troops scrambling up the stone hill, but they were unable to stop the fresh ranks of British soldiers repeatedly sent out against them – despite suffering severe casualties – and Diamond Hill was captured late on the afternoon of 12th June 1900.

The Boers retreated from Diamond Hill / Donkerhoek to Belfast, further east, where they fought their last conventional battle at Bergendal.

Official British casualties have been given as 28 killed in action, 145 wounded, and three missing. Official Boer casualties were three killed in action and 27 wounded. During 1904 the Transvaal Government exhumed the remains of the fallen British soldiers, scattered across a number of farms along the battle line, and re-interred them at Diamond Hill.

Useful references:

https://www.theheritageportal.co.za/article/short-history-battle-diamond-hill-11-12-june-1900

https://www.angloboerwar.com/books/65-viljoen-my-reminiscences-of-the-anglo-boer-war/1342-viljoen-chapter-16-battle-of-donkerhoek-qdiamond-hillq

https://www.geocaching.com/geocache/GC1W2HZ_the-battle-of-diamond-hill?guid=c8ef7a3d-845b-4e48-a883-64f0da82faeb

A LOSS AT THE BATTLE OF COLENSO

First the words around the cross: Thy will be done. The nearest and dearest of this man, Captain Matthew Louis Hughes, probably needed to give themselves up to the belief that thy will be done in order to cope with the grief of their loss during the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902). Did they even know where he was? Did they have any idea of what he was doing? How long did it take for that tragic news to reach them?

Rest in Peace. Yes, rest in peace – away from the sights and sounds of battle. Was he really even aware of what they were fighting for? Did he believe in the cause? Did he have an option? Who was left at home mourning his loss? Captain Matthew Louis Hughes, a member of the Royal Army Medical Corps, aged 32 when he was killed at the Battle of Colenso on the 15th December 1899.

A granite slab, added later, tells us that:

Captain M.L. Hughes R.A.M.C. was a distinguished military medical officer. He was a pioneer in the field of bacteriology. If it had been possible for him to continue his researches instead of to serve as a front line soldier, typhoid vaccine, crude but promising as it then was, might largely by his efforts, have been perfected in time to save the lives of thousands of soldier [sic] and civilians.

In a nutshell, Battle of Colenso took place on 15th December 1899 along the Tugela River in Northern Natal when General Sir Redvers Buller was trying to cross the river in an attempt to relieve the siege of Ladysmith. According to https://www.britishbattles.com/great-boer-war/battle-of-colenso/ during this battle 16 000 British soldiers were pitted against about 12 000 Boers and yet they lost. General Botha’s men did not return fire until the British troops were fully committed to the attack, to permit the British to cross the Tugela at Colenso and then to detonate the charges under the road bridge, leaving a substantial British force north of the river with no option but to surrender.  British casualties at the Battle of Colenso were 1 125: 132 were killed – among them Captain Hughes, 765 were wounded and 228 were captured by the Boers. Their losses are not known but were slight.

What of Captain Hughes? We know that he was a son of Col. Emilius Hughes, C.B., A.S.C., of Guildford and Mary Sandys Emily Hughes. He was born on 7th July 1867 in Yokohama, Japan. He was educated at King’s College, London, as well as at the University of Edinburgh and the Rotunda Hospital Dublin. Prior to joining the R.A.M.C. in 1890, he had been an Assistant Demonstrator in anatomy at King’s College London in 1889. Captain Hughes was husband of Kate Winifred (née Simpson). He was buried in the Chieveley Military Cemetery in South Africa. His grave, along with others, can now be seen in the Clouston Field of Remembrance, next to the R103 at Colenso, which was the site of General Buller’s headquarters during the Battle of Colenso.

More detailed information about Captain Hughes can be read at these sites:

https://www.maltaramc.com/ramcoff/h/hughesml.html

https://kingscollections.org/warmemorials/kings-college/memorials/hughes,-matthew-louis

FORT POST RETIEF REVISITED

My first visit to the Post Retief Barracks was in February 2017 during a period of rain that had turned the grass within the fort a lush green.

Four years later, and at the end of winter, not only was the grass dry and pale, but there were further signs of deterioration of these historic buildings designed by Major Charles Selwyn of the Royal Engineers in 1836.

Local clay bricks and sandstone were used in the construction of these buildings – both materials are showing serious signs of wear and tear. A stone lintel that was already bending and cracking four years ago despite being shored up with timber, has cracked further.

Compare the state of the first of the buildings in this row between 1917 and 2021.

There are other aspects of this fort that are worth returning to later. I will end, as I did with my earlier post, with the narrow gate in the wall opposite the officer’s quarters through which one had to pass to draw water from the Koonap River below.

ANGLO-BOER WAR CONCENTRATION CAMP IN PORT ELIZABETH

Concentration camps were first implemented in South Africa by the British during the Anglo Boer War (1899-1902). The first to be established was in Port Elizabeth, which was functional between December 1900 and November 1902. Its existence came about shortly after the British invasion of the Free State, which is why most of the internees, Boer women and children, came from the Jagersfontein and Fauresmith districts. They had been removed as there was concern that they might ‘aid the enemy’. Although originally sited on the racecourse, by March 1901 the concentration camp had been moved to Lennox Road in Glendinningvale, close to the Kemsley Park Police Sports Ground and Old Grey Sports Club.

The memorial is surrounded by a symbolic barbed wire fence.

The camp housed about 200 children and 86 women in zinc and iron huts surrounded by a 1.5-m high fence, with approximately 32 men accommodated in a separate camp nearby. Among the notable internees were the mother, wife, three sisters-in-law, and children of General J. B. M. Hertzog, who was later to become the Prime Minister of South Africa. Fourteen people died at the concentration camp between November 1900 and April 1902. Seven-year-old Charles Neethling Hertzog died of measles shortly after his arrival in the camp.

Few families could afford a gravestone such as the one above and so the rest of the dead were buried in paupers’ graves in the North End Cemetery, where this memorial has been erected in their memory.

The names, ages, and date of death of those who died have been engraved on a marble memorial with the words Ons vir jou Suid Afrika (from the national anthem) inscribed above them.

The incarceration of women and children garnered adverse publicity in England, leading to Emily Hobhouse visiting the Port Elizabeth concentration camp first on her arrival in this country. Unlike the conditions she was to encounter in other concentration camps, she reported that these families had been made as comfortable as possible.

Despite early opposition to the establishment of a memorial on the site of this concentration camp, the Summerstrand branch of Dames Aktueel, supported by the Rapportryers, oversaw the erection of the monument which was unveiled on 29th October 1983.

IN DEFENCE OF THEIR TOWN IN 1901

There was a time during the Anglo-Boer War (1889-1902) when the Boers adopted guerrilla tactics to harass the British forces. As the advancing commandos of Generals Jan Smuts and P. H. Kritzinger had attacked towns in the Eastern Cape, Grahamstown called upon cadets from local schools to assist with defending the town. Trenches were dug around the perimeter of the town.

This happened during March 1901. For about ten days these trenches or schanze were manned by school cadets from St. Andrew’s College, Kingswood College and Graeme College. Unmarked remnants of these trenches can still be seen if one has a careful eye.

None of these boys saw any action and not much information is readily available about their contribution to the defence of the town. What we do know is that the St. Andrew’s College cadets (Detachment No 4) manned their post on the fringes of the old golf course for ten days before standing down. It transpires that Kritzinger’s forces only reached as far as Carlisle Bridge, about 127Km away. In 1997 the school erected a marble tablet to commemorate this event.

Those St. Andrew’s College cadets voluntarily forfeited their soldiers’ pay, having voted to put it towards the building of what is now known as the Drill Hall.  This memorial can be located at 33°17’51.90”S; 26°30’14.60”E. The trenches they dug, though overgrown, are still visible.

A rich source of information about St. Andrew’s College in Grahamstown can be found in Marguerite Poland’s magnificent book, The Boy in You: a biography of St. Andrew’s College, 1855-2005.