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”.
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.
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.