During a recent trip to the Northern Cape I joined an old friend from Kimberley on a trip to Marrick Game Farm to photograph some birds of the Northern Cape. The Northern Cape might be a vast arid area but it is full of the most beautiful birds you can imagine.

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Battle of Magersfontein site revisited.

 

A visit to the Battle of Magersfontein site 116 years after the battle.

By John Rodger

www.johnrodger.co.za

08/01/2016

 

Every time I go to Magersfontein I think that the place will be closed and run down and every time I go I am amazed at how many people there are visiting the old battlefield and museum. This last December was no exception.

Naturally it was a blazing hot day and the cricket buzz from the veld was piercing. Stepping out of the air-conditioned car at the parking area drew gasps and mutterings from everyone. The first thing I noticed was that the parking and restaurant area looked exactly the same as the last time I was here, which was a good thing as the facilities there have always been superbly maintained. The “outydse” décor in the restaurant is still the same and the potted ferns are the biggest I have ever seen since those on my dear Grandmothers veranda in Kimberley. The restaurant is air conditioned and serves a very decent lunch and ice cold beer that can be drunk under the big thorn trees in old style garden furniture.

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There are a number of areas to visit at Magersfontein, the best being the main view-point overlooking the battlefield. The view stretches all the way down to the Modder River 9 kilometres away. It is along this route that followed the railway line to Kimberley that the British army marched on the night of 10 December 1899. Their aim was the relief of Kimberley and the defeat of the Boers who had laid siege to the town. So far they had sent the Boers running at the skirmishes of Belmost, Graspan and Enslin and expected little further resistance.

The British night march took place during heavy rain storms that pelted down throughout the dark night. They marched in tight formation so as not to lose one another often stumbling and cursing the harsh conditions. Ahead in the trenches and oblivious to them were thousands of Boers waiting for them along the Magersfontein Kopie and ridge.

At the break of dawn as the front ranks of the British army approached the base of Magerfontein Kopie the ground in front of them was lit up by the flashes and cracks of thousands of Mauser rifles as the Boers let rip from the trenches.

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The British had expected the hill to be almost deserted and had been bombarding it for days. They had no idea about the long line of trenches the Boers had dug at the base of the hill for the first time. It was the brilliant and popular General de la Rey who had come up with this new strategy. Previously the Boers had been defending against Methuen’s column from the tops of hills with disastrous consequences not least of all for being easy targets for the British artillery whose canons had better range.

The details of the British advances and regiments involved as well as all the Boer defensive positions and commandos are shown on the map board including the position of the Scandinavian unit that fought with the Boers and was almost wiped out defending their lone left flank position that came under heavy attack. The line of trenches can still be seen below the viewing area even though 116 years have passed since the battle.

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The surprised British suffered heavy losses and many units were pinned until nightfall in the blazing hot sun that unfolded during the day. Major General Andy Wauchope who commanded the Highland Brigade who were leading the march was killed early in the attack and it was this famous regiment Scottish regiment that suffered the heaviest losses.

The museum on the top of the hill has a wonderful audio-visual  presentation as seen from behind the Boer trenches. I think quite a few people miss this display as you have to enter a room on the side and wait for the display to start. Go in the green “enter” door and wait. Apart from the audio visual show the museum has lots of other well-lit displays including the different arms used by the British and Boers as well as their uniforms and equipment some of which would have been collected on the battlefield.

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Numerous monuments are erected around the battlefield some requiring further driving and some within walking distance including the Scandinavian monument. There are tour guides from Kimberley who also know a lot about the battle and can take you down into the trenches where blackened cartridges still lie in the baking sun.

 

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References :

Wikipedia ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Magersfontein)

The Boer War (Thomas Packenham)

 

How to get there :

Magersfontein is accessible from Modder River or Kimberley. From Kimberley go to the airport and turn left before entering the airport along the road to the army bases.  Carry on and take the road to the right before entering the second army base. It is a dirt road and about 25 km to go. From Modder River turn into the town at the silos turn that crosses the railway bridge. Turn left on the dirt road after which it will kink to the right. Thereafter it forks. Take the left fork and follow until you get to Magerfontein. You will see the hill ahead of you. If you arrive at the   Magersfontein Memorial Golf Estate you took the wrong fork.

 

Contact the McGregor Museum in Kimberley

on 053 833 7115  during office hours for more info on  guided tours.

 

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I took this photograph of the Kimberley Boys High Pavilion that I knew so well and where I wrote my matric finals. It was during one of my trips up from Cape Town and during a summer thunderstorm that is always welcome in the dry old town. After a storm people drive around looking all happy!

Funny old place.

 

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