Braai4Heritage Tour Day 24: Spioenkop

There are graves like these all over the top of Spioenkop. The British were buried where they fell.

Near Ladysmith (the one in KwaZulu-Natal) we find the famous Anglo-Boer war battlefield Spioenkop. The Battle of Spioenkop (Slag van Spioenkop) was fought about 38 km west-south-west of Ladysmith on the hilltop of Spioenkop along the Tugela River from 23–24 January 1900. During the time of the battle, Ladysmith was besieged by the Boere and the English were trying to relieve it.

This photo is taken from the area where the British dug their trenches, in the background you can see our braai, and further back some of the fantastic views that Spioenkop offers.

During their attempted march to Ladysmith General Redvers Buller ordered his men to conquer Spioenkop, the highest koppie in that region and a position he considered strategically important to hold. The British were the first to surprise, dispersing of a small group of Boere on their way to the top. They entrenched themselves at the top of the hill, but due to the thick mist they could not see that the position right at the top of Spioenkop where they were entrenched was extremely vulnerable. As the mist lifted and they realised their mistake, bullets and cannon fire from the Boere started to rain down on them. Winston Churchhill was there that day as a reporter and wrote “Many of the wounds were of a horrible nature. The splinters and fragments of the shells had torn and mutilated in the most ghastly manner”.

We stayed at the Tugela River Lodge. A beautiful place at the the foot of Spioenkop, right next to the Tugela river.

A combination of poor leadership and weak lines of communication further hampered the British efforts. After a day of fierce fighting the British retreated, having lost many men, with countless others injured. Some reports claim that the Boere also retreated down the other side of the hill that night, having also suffered casualties and thinking that the battle was over. This version of events have it that it was only the next morning when a few brave Boere climbed the summit yet again that they saw the English had retreated to the Tugela. Other versions have it that the Boere did not retreat, but only saw the English had retreated the next morning. Nevertheless, the koppie was claimed by the Boere the next day. A lot of men were lost that day and those wounded were ferried off by a unit called the Indian Ambulance Corps. They managed to help so many men amongst the carnage that one of their officers were decorated after the battle. His name was Mohandas Gandhi.

Arguably the highlight of my tour thus far was the arrival of the biggest braai drum that I have seen in my life.

As they unloaded the beast, I saw that the whole back of the bakkie was completely full of wood.

As if the braai wasn't fantastic enough, the locals used a petrol bomb to set it alight. These photos were taken immediately after each other. As you can see I realised just in time what was happening and stepped away. Boere are tough, buggers are crazy.

Thank you to Simon Stockhill for organizing us permission to braai at the top of Spionkop after hours. The meat for the evening was sponsored by Gred de Franca from De Franca SPAR (036 631 09670) in Ladismith.

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