At the start of the Boer War, Kraaipan was a small station on the main line between Kimberley and Mafeking.
Its name became associated with the first engagement of the Boer War.
Michael Davitt gives the Boer perspective:
The first encounter of the war occurred at Kraaipan, south of Mafeking, and to General De la Rey belongs the credit of securing the initial victory for the cause of the Republic. He had started from Cronje's laager with two hundred Lichtenburghers before artillery had arrived from Pretoria, in order to be over the border at midnight, and was to await the arrival of Captain Van der Merwe with guns before engaging any force he might locate between Vryburg and Mafeking. On reaching the railway station at Kraaipan he found that the English outposts at that place had retired on seeing the approach of the Boers. De la Rey, in awaiting the arrival of Van der Merwe, tore up the railway going south to Kimberley, and cut the telegraph wires.
The object for which the column had crossed the border was accomplished, but De la Rey remained for possible developments from the direction of Mafeking. His scouts soon discovered an armored train steaming from the south towards the railway station. This mobile fort consisted of an engine and two trucks lined with bullet-proof armor sheeting, and was armed with a Maxim and two mountain guns. The "fort" bore down upon the station at Kraaipan during the evening of the 13th of October, the officer in command being evidently ignorant of the damage done to the railway line. The engine and trucks capsized on reaching the derailed spot, but not so completely as to prevent the surprised occupants from trying to replace the train on the rails. This the Boers easily succeeded in preventing by their rifle fire. The English were enabled, however, to use their mountain guns and Maxim, and by this means to keep De la Rey at a respectful distance during the night.
The official report of this opening engagement of the war, as sent by General Cronje to Pretoria, was as follows :
" General De la Rey on his arrival at Kraaipan found that all the British troops and police had fled to Mafeking.
" He immediately tore up the railway lines on both sides of the station, and also cut the telegraph wires.
" In the evening a locomotive with two wagons, protected by iron work, was seen approaching the derailed spot.
" On reaching it the locomotive capsized, together with the wagons.
" The burghers prevented the train from being replaced on the rails, and were successful in their efforts throughout the night.
" Meanwhile the enemy kept up a hot fire with a Maxim and two mountain guns.
" The burghers kept strict watch during the night.
" In the morning Captain Van der Merwe arrived with cannon.
" Directly he opened fire with them, the white flag was hoisted, and the enemy surrendered.
" On our side there was no wounded.
" The enemy's casualties were their captain and eight men (slightly) wounded.
" Dum-Dum (Mark IV?) bullets were found with the enemy."
In Rompel's book is a picture labelled as the train at Kraaipan but this is not the correct configuration for the train and the setting does not tally with the accounts of the capture.
Dr David Biggins
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When we neared Kraipann, we came to a region of rocks and kopjes, truly a God-forsaken country. Leaving our horses in the native stadt, we proceeded on foot to the scene of the disaster. There was not much to see, after all—merely a pilot armoured engine, firmly embedded its whole length in the gravel. Next to this, an ordinary locomotive, still on the rails, riddled on one side with bullets, and on the other displaying a gaping aperture into the boiler, which told its own tale. Then came an armoured truck—H.M.'s Mosquito—that I had seen leaving Mafeking so trim and smart, but now battered with shot; and lastly another truck, which had been carrying the guns. This had been pushed back into a culvert, and presented a dilapidated appearance, with its front wheels in the air. The whole spectacle was forlorn and eerie. All the time I gave cursory glances right and left, to make sure no Boers were prowling about, and I should not have been surprised to have seen an unkempt head bob up and ask us our business. But all remained as silent as the grave. Swarms of locusts were alone in possession, and under the engine and carriages the earth was a dark brown moving mass, with the stream of these jumping, creeping things. I had soon gratified my curiosity, and persuaded my companion, who was busy photographing, also to leave this desolate spot.
This photo, reputedly of De la Rey's Commando and the Kraaipan train, appeared on a facebook site recently. The caption read: General Koos de la Rey's commando with the captured British armoured train "Mosquito" after the battle of Kraaipan, 12 October 1899 (first battle of the war).