Spioenkop Battlefield - Tragedy in Ladysmith

The Spioenkop Battlefield in Ladysmith, near Durban, is a historical site of tragedy for the many lives lost, and of courage for the bravery the soldiers of both sides displayed in this epic battle. The graves, trenches and monuments stand as reminders to the 118 day siege of Ladysmith and the war between the British and Boers.

In October 1899, Lt General George White, started his night march on the 30th, in order to halt the Boer offensive. Eight hundred POW’s, led by Colonel Carleton, were ambushed and taken at Nicholson’s Nek, after which battles at Tchrengula and Modderspruit, known as the Battle of Farquhars Farm, occurred at which the British were defeated. These incidents won by the Boers, forced Lt General White to withdraw his troops into Ladysmith. The Boers, who were led by General Louis Botha, surrounded Ladysmith, cutting the link to Durban, and starting the 118 day siege of Ladysmith. The British forces vigorously defended the town, but as water and food supplies began to dwindle, so did the health and general morale of the troops. While the siege made news headlines all over the world, the furious attacks from both sides to break each other’s lines, were claiming a tremendous number of lives. Finally, in 1900, British forces under General Sir Redvers Buller, broke through and raised the siege on 28 February.

The Spioenkop Battlesite itself started when General Buller planned to relieve Ladysmith completely. But to accomplish this, the second offensive was to commence on 20 January and on two fronts. Given command of 15 000 men, General Sir Charles Warren was ordered to attempt to outflank the Boers by crossing the Thukela River, while General Buller and his troops broke through the hills lower down. Unfortunately, General Warren was unable to break the Boer defences at Rangeworthy Hill (iNtabamnyama), but thought Spioenkop to be the key to the Boer defense. He set about capturing Spioenkop Hill by sending men up at night to secure the hill, which they found virtually undefended. By sunrise the poorly entrenched British troops soon realized that they were being looked down on by Boer artillery and marksmen and the fiercest and most unforgiving battle took place, with both sides suffering dreadful casualties. By nightfall, in the confusion of battle, both sides thought the other had won Spioenkop Hill, and withdrew, only for the Boers to realise that the British had abandoned their efforts, allowing the Boers to reoccupy the hill.

Today, the All Saints Church, built in 1902, bears the names of over 3,000 British soldiers, who died in the battle to relieve Ladysmith. Countless men lost their lives, and Spioenkop Battlesite, is a reminder of the devastation and loss that is suffered during war.

 





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