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June 16th 9 years 11 months ago #3893

  • djb
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From the diary of Lt Burne, RN:

Starting about 10 a.m. I rode over to Laing's Nek with Captain Jones and Lieutenants Hunt and Steel, taking Charlestown on our way and getting up to the railway tunnel where Clery's Division is encamped. The Boer scoundrels have blown down both ends of the tunnel, blocking up the egress, and putting a dead horse at each end! We found also a deep boring they had made over the top of the nek through the slate with the object of reaching the roof of the tunnel and exploding it; but this having failed, from our friends not getting deep enough, the damage is insignificant and the rail will be cleared by the Engineers within a few days. We rode along the top of Laing's Nek and looked at the trench, some three to four miles long, which the Boers had made there; it completely defends the nek from every point of attack and gives the defender, by its zigzag direction, many points for enfilading any assaulting party. In fact, the work is marvellous; the Boers must have had 10,000 men employed on it, the trench being some five feet (p. 074) deep on stone and slate, with clever gun positions, stretching from Pougwana, to the east of the nek, to Amajuba on the west, as we saw plainly later on from Majuba and elsewhere. We rode up Majuba Hill as far as we could, finding it a great upstanding hill with a flat top overlooking the nek. On the way we passed many small trenches and sniping pits evidently made for enfilading fire. From the top of the grassy slope (when it became too steep for the horses to climb) we commenced the ascent of the actual hill on foot, climbing, one might say, in the footsteps of the Boers of 1881 when they made the wonderful attack on Colley and turned his men off the top. Right well can we now understand how they did it; it is almost too clear to be credible to us, and one cannot but regret the omission of the English force to hold the spurs of the mountain when occupying the top, seeing that any attacking party, safe from fire from the top of the hill on account of the projecting spurs, could get up untouched to within a few feet of the top of this northern face; this is what the Boers did while holding poor Sir George Colley's attention by long-range fire from the valley below. We saw what must have been the very paths up which the Boers crept, and when it came to the point where they had to emerge the slope was precipitous but short; here, so records tell us, by a heavy rifle-fire while lying flat on their stomachs, they drove our men off the sky-line, and once at the top the whole affair became a slaughter. Climbing this last steep bit as best we could, we reached the flat top quite blown and found it about 300 yards wide with the well-known, cup-shaped hollow, in the centre of which lie our poor fellows buried in a wire enclosure—sad to say twenty-two bluejackets among them, beside Gordons, King's Royal Rifles, and others. An insignificant stone heap marks the place where poor Colley was shot, and on one (p. 075) stone is put in black-lead "Here Colley fell." The sky-line which our men held had only a few small rocks behind which they tried to shelter themselves but no other defence at all in the shape of a wall or trench. All the east and south faces overlooking the nek have now (nineteen years later) been very heavily trenched by the Boers at great expense of labour; they were evidently expecting we should attack and perhaps turn them out of Majuba, although the slope of the hill on the south side is quite too precipitous for such an operation. I picked up some fern and plants near where Colley fell, as a memento. We took an hour and a half to get down again, meeting General Buller and his Staff walking up to inspect the hill, and I rode back ten miles to Volksrust blessed with a headache from the steep climb and strong air. The view from the top of Majuba, showing the Boer trenches on Laing's Nek, was wonderful; well might they think their position impregnable and well might we be satisfied to have marched through Botha's Pass and forced the enemy to evacuate such an impregnable place with so little loss to ourselves.
Dr David Biggins

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