Magersfontein Battlefield – A Fascinating War Story
The Magersfontein Battlefield situated outside the city of Kimberley is looked upon with both pride and heartache. The Magersfontein Battle was a short and furious battle, and although many lives were lost, this battle has an interesting story attached to it. A story of bravery, respect, empathy and compassion.
On the 11th of December 1899, Lord Methuen marched his columns of troops toward Magerfontein Hill at 4:00 am to attack the Boer trenches. Unknown to the British troops the Boer General, Koos de la Rey, had ordered his troops to dig strategic trenches in front of the hill, and they were not positioned on top of the hill as the British had expected. The approaching army of Highlanders and British forces were devastated by the Boer fire from their camoflaged position at 400 meters away. British troops were left without most of their high ranking officers within the first fifteen minutes of the battle. Lost on the battlefield, with no one to receive orders from, the British troops tried in vain to attack the Boers several times throughout the day. By approximately 4:00 pm on the first day, the British attack had fallen apart and the remaining soldiers fled the battlefield. At 6:00 pm, the Boers left their safe positions to assist the British doctors and to help the wounded enemy. The British guns constantly shelled these soldiers, but the undeterred Boer fighters carried on assisting on the battlefield, sharing their water with the wounded British soldiers.
The Boers offered the British a cease fire on the second day, to allow them to remove their dead and wounded off the battlefield, and once again, the Boer fighters assisted in the effort. They again left the safety of their trenches, to help the attacking unknown soldiers. During the extraction, a British Naval Gun opened fire, on both the Boer fighters and the British Soldiers, but the fire returned by the Boers quickly silenced the big gun. By 2:00 pm on the 12th of December 1899, the British troops retreated to their Modder Rivier camp.
Not only did General Koos de la Rey show superb leadership skills, by successfully placing his fighters in the correct positions to win the battle at Magerfontein Hill, but he and his fighters displayed a respect and understanding toward the men fighting them. Lending their assistance to the wounded British soldiers displayed a compassion rarely seen on a battlefield. The Boers lost 71 men at Magerfontein Hill, with 142 wounded. The British were even worse off, with the loss of 288 and 700 wounded, and many men missing from the battlefield. The unfortunate Highlanders, not accustomed to the heat of South Africa, suffered severe sunburn. Because of the actions of the Boer fighters, Magersfontein Battlefield remains a unique battlefield, where a tragic war was fought by extraordinary men.