Chris van Schalkwyk (KZN 0404) - Historical Tour Guide.
Historical Editorial and the majority of historical photos provided by Mr C v Schalkwyk.
Kwazulu-Natal :- Battlefields Route
 

Visiting the Okhahlamba or Drakensberg area, you have the opportunity to relive and experience some of the famous battles fought in South Africa. You indeed find yourself in the place where the most fascinating historical events in SA took place. This is where Piet Retief and 1000 Voortrekkers crossed the mighty Drakensberg Mountains, and miraculously descended treacherous slopes with all their earthly possessions in tented ox wagons. Confrontations with Zulu impi’s along the Bushman’s river, and the bitter experiences at Bloukrans, Weenan and Moordkuil, where the Afrikaaner nation was faced with extinction, are but a few of the hardships they suffered on their perilous trek.

Mounted Infantry
Mounted Infantry
Turning onto the R 74 you will be captivated by the surroundings. On the one side the highest mountains in SA tower into the clouds,forming the magnificent Barrier of Spears or the Okhahlamba,as named by the Zulu People.  Travelling either from the coast,or entering KwaZulu- Natal from the north,you find to your amazement that you are actually entering a large basin.  The Northern side of this basin is formed by a broken mountain range.  This mountain range,with its steep South – Western slopes,intersected and divided by gullies and valleys cutting into them, formed a natural defense barrier,which became known as the Tugela Ridge, during the Anglo-Boer War (1899 – 1902). On 11 October 1899 war was declared between the mighty British Empire and the two Boer Republics, the Republic of the OFS and the Republic of the ZAR. The Boer Commando’s besieged Ladysmith on 2 November 1899, after General Sir RedversBuller had already landed in Cape Town with the British Army Corps. At that time this was the largest and most well equipped army ever to sail from the British shores.  Buller mobilized the waiting troops in Cape Town,and dispatched them to Bloemfontein. He then sailed with the bulk of his army to Durban,from where his troops were railed to Colenso.  He then joined General Clery and the troops waiting for his arrival at Frere station.
 

The 37 year old General Louis Botha was commanding the defence,tasked with stopping this mighty force from relieving Ladysmith,and halting their advance to Pretoria.This brilliant,and very ambitious Boer leader decided to fortify the whole 26 mile long Tugela Ridge to stop the Imperial Army. General Louis Botha,commanding an outnumbered civilian force while defending a very long front,made full use of the natural barriers to out-manoeuvre General Buller for nearly four months. This became the largest military operation in the Southern Hemisphere.

As you travel along this magnificent R 74 scenic route and your eyes follow the broken ridges and slopes of this Northern barrier, you can imagine the hardened Welsh, Scottish, Irish and British soldiers scrambling to the top in the face of devastating Mauzer rifle fire.

British Memorial at Spionkop
British Memorial at Spionkop


As you travel along this magnificent R 74 scenic route and your eyes follow the broken ridges and slopes of this Northern barrier, you can imagine the hardened Welsh, Scottish, Irish and British soldiers scrambling to the top in the face of devastating Mauzer rifle fire. In your mind’s eye you can picture the frightening British artillery attack; the smoke trails of their Star grenades screaming through the skies while exploding shells from well positioned gun batteries, the large calibre naval guns create a red haze of dust and smoke. Names like Red Hill, Gun Hill, Naval Hill, Caesars Camp, Military Hill etc given to the mountains surrounding the famous battle sites of Colenso, ThabaNyama, Spion Kop, Vaalkranz and Ladysmith tell the story of death and destruction.Places called “ The Acre of Massacre” and “ Garden of Remembrance” carry with them the deep emotion that lies buried there. Twenty – five Victoria Crosses,England’s highest award for valour,were awarded on these timeless hills to soldiers who gave the highest offer in the service of King and country.

In these hills ordinary, simple farmers, while being far outnumbered,rose to the occasion,and became ‘The Formidable Boer Nation’. On this natural defence barrier they engaged the British in what was to become modern warfare,where magazine rifles,smokeless gun powder and trench warfare was used for the first time. This innovation was the forerunner to the trench warfare used during the Great War, ten years later.

Written by:
Chris van Schalkwyk (KZN 0404)

   
Memorial where Sir Winston Churchill was captured Wall of Rememberance, Burger Monument
Memorial where Sir Winston Churchill was captured Wall of Rememberance, Burger Monument
   
Boer Positions on Colenso field Battlefield Photo
Boer Positions on Colenso field Battlefield Photo
   
Three Tree At Spioenkop