About Spioenkop Battlefield
Spioenkop Battlefield, also known as Spion Kop Battlefield, in South Africa was the site of a British defeat to the Boers during the Second Anglo-Boer War. The Battle of Spioenkop was an attempt by British forces to relieve the Siege of Ladysmith, in which Boer forces had been surrounding the British in the town for around 4 months.
From 23 January 1900, the British tried in vain to free the town in a clash with Orange Free State and South African Republic forces. However, on 24 January, the British withdrew, having suffered significant casualties.
Today, Spioenkop Battlefield contains several memorials to the battle which can be seen together with graves and trenches along a trail.
Spioenkop Battlefield history
Spioenkop was the largest hill in the region and lay at the centre of the Boer line. Therefore, if the British could capture the position they could command any nearby Boer positions.
On the night of 23 January, British General Sir Charles Warren sent a large force to secure the hill top, climbing the hill in the dark and mist. Surprising the Boers, the British drove them off with bayonets. Those who survived retreated to the camp to wake their comrades.
As the sun rose, it dawned on the British that they had only captured the smaller, lower part of Spioenkop and were surrounded by the Boers, both higher up and with knowledge of the area. While it took some time to drive the British completely from the kop, the delay allowed the Boers to get their artillery into position and bombard the British.
On both sides, morale nosedived. Winston Churchill was a journalist at the time, spreading news between Spioenkop and the British headquarters. The Boers abandoned their positions as did the British, unaware of their victory, and all exhausted. However, the Boers later returned to the kop to find the only British there casualties.
Spioenkop Battlefield today
Today, what remains of the Spioenkop Battlefield atop the mountain are a number of graves and memorials maintained by Heritage KZN. The area is open to the public and an overview of the battle which includes a map of the battlefield is displayed at the entrance gate. You can walk the battlefield at your own pace, guided by markers and a timeline.
The Boer memorial is a short, cuboid stone memorial while the British memorial, a stone base topped with a white obelisk, has 6 faces dedicated to the different battalions, including Thorneycrofts Mounted Infantry and the Scottish Rifles.
The view from the top of Spioenkop is also outstanding.
Getting to Spioenkop Battlefield
Spioenkop Battlefield is easiest reached by car. The hill is led up to by a dirt track road that connects to both the R616 and R600 from Ladysmith, which is a 35 minute drive via the N11.
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