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Magersfontein 5 months 3 weeks ago #71476

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Pictures from a visit to Magersfontein





Some of the memorials









Dr David Biggins
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Magersfontein 5 months 3 weeks ago #71477

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Two views of the Boer trenches



Dr David Biggins
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Magersfontein 5 months 3 weeks ago #71478

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Two images from the German Army account of the Boer War.



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Magersfontein 3 weeks 6 days ago #74607

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Source: Forbes' Battles of the 19th Century
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Magersfontein 3 weeks 6 days ago #74614

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RETURN TO MAGERSFONTEIN

By Frank C. Overmann

It was a glorious day, and my chum and I having decided to pay a visit to this now famous battlefield, we accordingly took the train from Spyfontain to Merton, from which spot we intended to walk across the veldt to the trenches. The walk from Merton to the foot of the kopjes occupied about three quarters of an hour, and was a walk that repaid us amply for out troubles.

From the line up to the kopjes nothing of special interest occupied our thoughts but it was when we approached the scene of the conflict that both of us became very interested, as almost every step seemed to carry our minds back to the day when the British forces left Modder River on a trying march to the hills of Magersfontein.

As I walked steadily on, my imagination carried me back to that fateful day, that day when as the sun went down nearly one thousand brave men were left dead upon the grim and solemn looking hill around the peaceful little spot. Peaceful did I say, now yes, but not at that time, every so often seeing a shell casing laying in to dust.

Now where the stainbuck lay amongst the bushes taking their mid-day rest, then did those same bushes afford excellent cover to men belonging to both sides, of the Britisher and also to the Boers. Each man gazing with eyes strained to the utmost, ever on the move, frightened as it were that at any moment he may be shot down by someone sheltering behind the now peaceful looking bushes.

On and On we walked toward the trenches, my chum stopped to gaze upon the scene around us, every now and again placing the camera which he carried in position prior to taking a photograph which would be a memento of our afternoon's jaunt. He slowly bent down and picked up a spent shell casing, all tarnished, was it British or Boer.

But our time was limited and our destination the monument, which had been erected by subscription amongst the Scot's from practically all over the world, erected to the memory of those gallant men who, knowing that death stared them in the face, willingly marched on without murmur to try and uphold the traditions of Scotland the British Army, and the prestige of the Empire.

Solidly and in quarter column, the closest formation of all military manoeuvres did the gallant Highlanders moved over the veldt which lay between Modder River and those kopjes. It was bad enough walking through the little clumps of stick grass and amongst the small bushes which covered this part of the veldt, clothed as we were, in ordinary English walking attire but what must it have been for the highlanders dressed as they were in regimental costume, namely the highland kilt, with nothing to protect their legs except the small spats, which form part of their kit. It is said and I quite believe it, that their legs or at least part of them would be burnt and blistered from the heat of the sun's rays making walking almost unbearable. Not only burnt, but also scratched with the huge thorns, some of which must have been at least 3 inches long, of the “Wacht-on-Bitja” bushes, which were to be found in all directions. But never a grumble came from the lips of those who's duty it was to obey the word of their commander.

A toilsome climb brought us at last to the top of the hill upon which the monument stands, and where it is said that General Cronje watched the battle, when at its height.

Built of solid granite, with the inscription engraved upon the side facing the place from where the general advances took place, it stands like a huge, grim sentinel overlooking the plain over which the men to whose memory it was erected, marched onwards to what turned out afterwards to be their death. A fitting stone, granite, reminding me of what I might style the stone of their birthplace, towering heavenwards covering the remains of those, the pick of the Highland Regiments, who when only termination stared them in the face, namely death, marched on steadily, as solidly as their native granite and as though on parade. Surrounded palings this monument stands out in all its peaceful glory, a landmark which can be seen for miles around, and tourists passing on the train when they gaze out of the windows of the compartments knew that that solid piece of granite marks the spot where the pick of the bravest gave up their life, so that in years to come, people would tell the rising generation how the brave Highlanders gave up that which was most dear to them – Life – for the honour and glory of the Motherland.

I was fortunate enough to pick up several small pieces of shell nearby the foot of the monument, each piece as I examined it carrying my thoughts back to the year 1899 and I almost imagined that I saw the troops coming slowly up to the attack. I stood upon the crest of the kopje, almost in the spot where the Boer General Cronje stood when he witnessed the fight that was going on before his eyes. I fancy I saw the troops extending for miles over the plain, the dark green tunics of the Highlander showing up distinctly amidst the bushes around them, making them a fine target for the Boer gunners. Further on I saw the cavalry dashing hither and thither, doing their utmost to draw the fire of their enemies upon themselves, in order that the infantry might, with one accord make a dash for the hill before them. But their efforts were in vain, the Boers refused to be drawn, by this gallant recklessness on the part of the Lancers and other branches of the mounted brigade. The scene was changed, away in the distance I saw the smoke of the guns, and almost imagine that I could hear the boom from them as each and every successive shell was hurled onwards on its journey of destruction. Shell after shell pursued its flight through the air, some bursting on the kopje, others in the air, whilst others found their resting place in the well filled trenches, already running with the blood of the Dutchmen. It must have been a dreadful sight, dying and wounded, laying there no one to help them, no one to attend to them as they lay were they fell, waiting for the day to break, when perhaps the ambulance would go round to attend to their wounds, and in many cases bury them. The fight raged on. The Highlanders were as a rock, their granite, although badly cut up, they would not retreat, but stood firmly to their posts.

Now going forward, only to be stopped by the barbed wire entanglements which the Boers had placed around the foot of the kopje. Some managed to get past the barbarous devices, others, got caught in the wire only to be shot down like so many dogs. On and On they came led by their great leader General Wauchope, their pride, Bravest of the Brave, calm, cool and collected, uttering words of cheer to those who followed him and were ready to go wherever he had a mind to lead them, but knowing that this time a mistake had been made, and he was leading them to their death, in fact almost to be massacred. He knew someone had blundered, but with that high and glorious sense of duty although he himself is said to have exclaimed “Don't blame me for this,” he repeatedly urged them on, almost imploring them to take the mill in front of them.

They responded to his exhortations and followed him. Determined that if that object were not gained that they themselves would not be at fault. Again that scene was changed, a bold dash, fighting as though possed of devils, the strove to obtain the upper hand, but in the midst of their efforts their beloved General received a shot, from a Boer rifle, the report of which sounded like his funeral knell. Struck in a vital part, the life of one of the most gallant of our leaders began to slowly ebb away, and he at the pinnacle of a brilliant career died as a soldier should die, upon the field of battle.

What the affect upon his faithful followers must have been, neither you nor I can tell, but for a time, although only for a few minuets they may have been demoralized and still they fought on determined if possible to avenge the death of their leader. Hard pressed, but showing no signs of fatigue the onslaught was continued, night was drawing near, and an honourable retreat was necessary. But who would cover that retreat . The lot fell to the Gordon Highlanders, and right valiantly did they cover the retreat of their comrades, who with heads bowed low slowly wound their way back to camp at Modder River.

Again that scene is changed.

It was the following morning. I picture a solitary horseman riding across the veldt, to meet a rider from the forces of the enemy, each bearing a flag of truce each with a dispatch the contents of which were for an armistice, of some few hours to bury the dead. An exchange of courtesies between the Generals of both armies. That armistice was arranged and soon the ambulance waggons were coming in from almost all directions upon their errand of mercy. Boer and Briton, wounded of the combatant parties, were assisted into these waggons to be taken to the camp to have their wounds and their injuries attended to. It made no difference, friend and foe received the same humane treatment. My thoughts ran on. Highlanders of every regiment that had taken part in this disastrous fight were gathered together to pay their respects to the fallen General. Slowly the sad procession filed on, I could hear the wild swirl of the pipes playing the “Flower of the Forest”, I could see the grimy warriors, with arms reversed, with heads bowed low, and with solemn footsteps headed by the chaplain clad in his robes of office follow the coffin containing the remains of the late General Wauchope slowly to his last resting place. The graveside was reached, the dark and dreary grave stood yawning out before them, its sides lined with sorrowing warriors, a short service was read and slowly, with great reverence the coffin was lowered into the abyss ready to receive the body. Scarcely had the coffin disappeared from view, than the music of “Lochinvar No More” was borne on the winds across the veldt, it broke out like unto the wail of a Highland woman mourning her loss. Although accustomed to scenes of this description, this lament was almost to much for the sturdy sons of Scotland, and tears streamed down their bronzed and sun burnt faces their sobs being heard above the moaning of the pipes. All was over and with heavy hearts but with strong determination to avenge the death of their leader these brave fellows wound their way back to their camp overcome with what they had just passed through, determined that should the opportunity present itself, the gap in their ranks would be avenged a hundredfold.

Such were the thoughts that passed through my mind as I gazed upon the field whereon one of the fiercest battles in English history.
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