Wandering Through South Africa – Part 6

Day 8 was the last day of the conference and again I cherry picked and again the PA system was not quite there.  The little hut for so many people, too many speakers and not enough time to say what was needed to be said   all jarred somewhat on the visitor, some of whom had traveled some distance to be there.  The quality of what was said was a bit of a curates egg.  It was as though they were dragging any one in who was passing to fill the numerous slots but I suppose overall the organisers nearly made it and hopefully will learn the next time.

We had the afternoon off in the pleasant surroundings of Lennox, time to relax, time to write up my notes of the trip so far.  We had been promised a treat in the evening the ex-servicemen’s club in Dundee had offered us dinner and a trip round their museum.  Des was telling us all about these men, the salt of the earth, the food will be great.  However what we got was a salad and a bit of barbecued meat served out in a dingy old bug hut.  Not my idea of a treat, not that I was after treats.  Nor was I after the presence of these two weird women and I have a feeling one of them probably wasn’t.  They had been stalking us for days now  and they were getting on my tits.  However certain elements found them amusing but each to his own.  We had a few drinks and were glad to be out.  Back to Lennox by 9.00pm to find Dirk in bed and the bar shut.  You win some and lose some.

Day 9 was a tour round Dundee and a visit out to the countryside to look at some sights.  I was not feeling 100% so I demurred preferring my own company and some writing to what was proposed.  A lovely morning, I had a doze and wrote and read and a nice Zulu lady came over with a toasted cheese and ham sandwich and a pot of coffee at noon.  By the time the boys returned I was well on the mend.  This evening we had been promised another treat. Sarie Mehl, the Boer lady , who had given a talk on her ancestors at the conference, had invited us over for dinner at her old farmhouse, south of Glencoe.  She is the great great great granddaughter of Karel Landman, the Voortrekker leader who was second in command at the battle of Blood River and great granddaughter of Lodewyk de Jager who ran a spy ring for the Boer forces behind British lines.  During the war the Dublin Fusiliers and the Natal Carbiniers were stationed at the house.  As with Boer tradition the family have their own burial plot in the grounds and there is an extra grave in the space that is not attributed to the family.  The story goes that in 1901 when the Natal Carbiniers were stationed there, two of them over dinner had a heated discussion over a particular lady and one shot the other.  It was covered up by the authorities at the time and there is now no record to suggest anything except this extra grave with no markings on it to make it clear as to who lies under.  Sarie has plans to get in an archeologist to investigate.  Meanwhile the house which is 120 years old is deteriorating, Sarie lives now in Pretoria and visits the place once a month and has let the land to a tenant farmer thrown out of Zimbabwe.  The history of the place makes it dear to her heart but her children have no interest.  It is sad really and like with everything kids do not want to be encumbered and parents wish they would attain maturity quicker than nature intends.

We had a lovely meal and drank lashings of good red wine, only once more to be plagued by one of these women I wrote about last night.  From the looks of the other Boer women she was not at all welcome and neither was her history.  The colonel was again asked to do his sacerdotal duty and I am not certain whether is prayers tonight were not in Welsh but it went down a treat.  We thanked Sarie, a wonderful lady, said our goodbyes and we were off, away from the pestilent French woman.

Day 10 looked good after breakfast at Lennox our guide for the day met us, Patrick Rundgren.  A mountain of a man of Swedish lineage and an ex-sergeant in the South African Army.  He was taking us to Isandlawana and Rorke’s Drift, which were about 40 miles south west of Dundee.  On the way he explained the situation in January 1879.

Lord Chelmsford ,the leader of British Forces in South Africa had been persuaded by the British authorities to invade Zululand to put down Chief Cetshwayo and his unruly warriors and claim the land for the British Empire. His army of 4,000 men plus followers, cattle and numerous wagons crossed the Orange River at Rorke’s Drift in early January, the wet season.  So overloaded were they and they could only proceed as fast as the 0x wagons, they were only averaging a couple of kilometres a day.  Eventually after five or six days they came to Isandlawana, a majestic setting which he decided was to be his temporary camp while he sought out the Zulu.  He gave orders not to entrench or lager as that would take a week so his canp was spread out over many hundreds of acres with the large rocky outcrop of Isandlawana at his back with a wide expanse of plain to his front and left.

On news from scouting parties of Zulu presence he left the camp with about 3500 men and went off in pursuit.  The Zulus who were traveling at about 16 kilometres a day easily by-passed his force and descended on the camp at Isandlawana with surprising speed.  The engagement lasted no more than an hour 1300 men lay dead, the rest had made off for Rorke’s Drift pursued by Zulus most of the way and being killed as they ran.  The massive difference in numbers 1800 against 24,000 and the fact they were not lagered meant the result was inevitable.  The Zulus also probably lost about 1300 men but gained so much in terms of cattle, armaments and food supplies that it was for them a massive victory both physically and psychologically.

You look at the massive valley floor now scattered with hundreds of white cairns, every cairn a place where a soldier was found and then buried and wonder why they had not lagered, formed a square or even gathered on the hill on the right hand side but it seems it all happened too quick for the inexperienced Pulleine who had been left in charge. Today the place so little changed in a 135 years has a mystical air about it, a place of real sadness inhabited by the ghosts of some real brave men.  Few places impress me on battlefield visits but this place, Verdun and the south west side of Ypres send shivers up my back.

We left there and followed the fugitive’s frail back to Rorke’s Drift where the following night 120 British soldiers held off 4500 Zulu warriors until they were forced to withdraw the following morning.  Rorke’s Drift has gone down in military history as being a unbelievable victory and it is certainly a lesson in being small, well prepared and well managed.  12 VCs were won that night, probably a political gesture after Isandlawana but the two Lieutenants Chard and Bromhead certainly earned their spurs that night and undoubtedly there was a lot of incidents of remarkable bravery amongst the British regular army soldiers.  But who won the engagement is difficult to say.  The British lost a few men the Zulus possibly a thousand but the Zulus made off with several hundred head of cattle which meant a hell of a lot to them.  I would say a draw with a generous advantage to the Zulus.

Before we actually walked the killing field we had lunch at the Rorke’s Drift Hotel, a splendid place overlooking the Buffalo River and the historic Drift built by an Ex-Irish Guards officer Charles Aikenhead, but it is literally in the middle of nowhere and is approached by a haul road fit only for 4x4s.  It must be the importance of the place that keeps it viable, I did not see any guests but Charles Aikenhead proved to be an excellent host and we spent a relaxed few hours in his company.  We moved on to the station afterwards and we could see what an excellent place it was to make such a stand against overwhelming odds.  I would suggest anybody in the vicinity of KwaZulu Natal should visit both these places, soak up the atmosphere and marvel at the remarkable bravery of the private soldier in the British Army of 135 years ago.

Well that was enough for one day and we retired back to Lennox, a slap up meal, wine by the vineyard and Castle by the crate load.  Everybody in ruminative mood after the stirring events of the day and we all slept the sleep of the just,  Day 11 beckoned.

Wandering Through South Africa – Part 5

Day 7 started in blazing sunshine and I have to say the weather we have had has been great, 90% sunshine, the odd cloudy period, a couple of five minute showers and the temperatures settled at about 27C.  Often there is a wind which you have to watch, it can burn you quicker than the sun.  However you never feel uncomfortable, it is a dry heat and you do not tend to sweat.

Once more a great breakfast and then off to the early start to the conference.  Unfortunately we were all shown into a little hut, too small for such a crowd and it became weary after a while, this combined with the fact that they could not sort out the PA system and the fact that the Afrikaan’s accent was new to us, made listening a chore especially as the academics had bagged all the front seats.  The speakers were a mixed bag, they were only given 40 minutes to explain their subject and no over-runs they were strictly managed by the chair.  To stand out you had to deliver and it struck me that a lot of them, although university professors, did not succeed.  A few lectures stood out, Meurig Jones from London on Boer War Memorials, Professor Philip Everitt from KwaZulu Natal University on Buller’s Deputy, Lt Gen Sir Charles Warren whose talk rescued Warren in my mind, were the best of a bad day, although Charles Leach’s talk on Constable Charles William Eagle, a Canadian indiginent who came over and joined the Natal Police and was eaten by a lion was interesting when audible.

We went back to Lennox early, prepared ourselves for the evening had another marvellous meal and seven of us settled down with Dirk for an evenings conversation and refreshment.  Now Dirk along with our guide Des does not partake so we did not have long of their company but what we had was intense and mind troubling.  I had not been happy from the start with social conditions as I saw them, I thought that the Blacks were hardly tolerated by the Whites, they were looked down on, patronised and not in their presence, almost spit upon.  They were a lazy, indolent, undisciplined lot who did not deserve anything, not that they got much anyway, the minimum wage was about five euros a day.  In fact all the subservient jobs went to any Black who would take it.  The terms and conditions of employment seemed tenuous to say the least.  Although all children went to school, the conditions looked drab and the hours short, lots and lots only spoke Zulu or variations of same.  Any Black man or woman who had risen out of the ghetto existence was despised.

I cannot say what the Blacks think of the Whites because I was never introduced to one but it struck me that this racist feeling was mutual.  In a way I think both sides realise that apartheid still exists.  I put this view to a few Whites I met socially and not one denied it.  Because of the imbalance in opportunity in the country, the government had to bring in laws and charters to help the rising Blacks to ensure that they were given preference in certain situations in sport and in the professions, the Whites abhorred this bias and said it is now no place for young Whites.  The fact is that the Blacks have all the political power, while the Whites in the shape of the multinational companies that abound, have all the economic power.  Neither side seems able to back down from their imagined moral high ground and embrace the other.  The whites can only scorn the tribalism that affects the choice of leaders and grasp for morsels when talking about the present leader, Jacob Zuma, who incidentally has just spent €18 million of state funds on upgrading his KwaZulu Natal home.  They await their hoped for redeemer, Cyril Rhamaphosa, to put matters, in their eyes right.  They might be clutching at straws but I cannot see a Black man giving a white man an advantage.  The problem was for too long on the other foot.  So with this intransigence on both sides the country is slowly going backwards and the average age of the white population is probably getting older.  To me it seems like a first world country with massive third world propensities which is a bloody shame for all those people taking part in this charade they call life here in South Africa.

Now I know I had only been seven days in the country but to a newcomer it is like a permanent elephant in the room, you cannot move without being aware of the problems.  Whites in big houses surrounded by 6 metre high electrified fences and Security signs blocking out the sunshine and 100 metres away hundreds of blacks living in hovels with little in the way of public services, its bound to lead to contention and my thoughts certainly led to lively debate.  It is just a pity that one or two of the farm hands could not have been introduced to the conversation but they only spoke Zulu any way.  Our two abstainers had faded out of the company and we had been joined by a fellow conference delegate, an ex-army man from Durban, who made his living buying and selling military memorabilia.

Well more drink was put on the table and as soldiers do, the drinks were moved off the table and down respective gullets and the previous high brow conversation reverted to the barrack room, Durban turned to Mad Mullingar and said he was dressed like a fuckin’ Christmas tree, Mullingar said to Durban that he would knock his fucking head off his shoulders if he did not take back his words, Durban would not retreat, Boyling Scouse was wondering which side to take, the Colonel was saying an Hail Mary in a language that the clergy did not know, Flash Harry was poised for some action shots and I was quickly weighing up the scene, whether to take flight or grab the Zulu assegai hung on the wall, because Mullingar at whatever age he is, is a sight to be feared by the best of men when aroused.  We quivered between deadly intent and WW3, when a young unassuming accountant from Pretoria staying at Lennox broke the ice by asking how the conference had gone.  By god we were close!

Day 8 was slightly cloudy and as with all aftermaths the sparring partners shook hands, shared an egg and Durban gave me a wonderful news sheet, the type you see outside newsagents telling the passer-by what is the headlines in the paper.  The one he gave to me was from the Natal Witness First Edition timed at 1.20 pm on 28th April 1916 telling of the Irish Revolt and that rebels were still holding various public buildings in Dublin and that General Maxwell was preparing to go over to take charge. It was a present for our museum and what a marvelous present, which set my mind wondering how to start another row that evening if the harvest was that good.

So off to the conference in happy mood, I did not bother with the first three hours and chose to walk round the museum’s grounds with Flash and Boyling but was very interested in not missing the late morning session.  First up was a gem from Ulsterman Professor Donal McCracken from the University of KwaZulu Natal.  The place was still overcrowded and hot and still the PA system had problems but McCracken disavowed the microphone and in a voice that Ian Paisley would have been proud of started his monologue which made me think that he had been so long out of Ulster he probably could not point it out on a map.  He gave a sharp witty, disparaging talk on the ageing Michael Davitt’s visit to South Africa in 1900. Disparaging in that he described Davitt’s whole life as being a continuous  diatribe against Britain and its aims, without explaining how at the age of four in 1850 Davitt and his family were evicted from their rented property by a zealous landlord, how he had his right arm cut off in machinary at a Baxendale mill at the age of 14, a constant reminder that Britain’s policies were a massive thorn in Irish life, how he was a pivotal figure in the restoration of ownership of agricultural land back to the Irish tenant farmer with his activities  in the Irish National Land League and how he became an international socialist revered throughout the world and offered by Gandhi as being his biggest influence.  Mr McCracken’s words echoed his Protestant heritage and despised his ancestor, Henry Joy McCracken, for his good work with the United Irishmen of 1798 for which he was hanged by the authorities.  However let us just put Donal’s words down to ill conceived mischief as he said from the floor that he would not take questions from Connaught Rangers.

There was more good lectures from Arnold Van Dyk, a very interesting and likeable fellow but more about this man later, he was aided by a great photographic display, he spoke of the activities of the Isaac Malherbe Corporalship from Pretoria which included the young Reitz brothers in the early part of the war before most of them were killed.  This talk was followed by Sarie Mehl speaking about her historic roots in Boer history but again her very interesting talk was slightly nullified by the stupid PA system.  Why when they went to the trouble of inviting speakers from all over the world did they herd us into a hut and to an extent make a mockery of what people had to say.  Third world or first world?

At this juncture I have to mention the works of Denys Reitz, Boer and writer extraordinaire.  His book Commando sustained me during the many long hours travel and I recommend it to all.  It tells the tale of a 16 year old burgher who rode out with his friends in September 1899 to face the growing force of the British Army, the tremendous hardships they suffered and the bravery of them all and the privations they were put through when politically exiled from South Africa after the treaty was signed: a compelling and literate piece of work.

Enough was enough for me, I skipped the afternoon lectures went back to Lennox and had a very peaceful afternoon on the farm.  We had lunch and Dirk took us for a drive round his estate as well as cattle, he has a wild life reserve which he farms.  It seems there is money in farming these beasts and he has a herd of zebra, antelope of all sorts like springbok and eland and bigger animal like hartbeeste, he also has a family of giraffe.  While we were there a zebra was accidentally killed and he went out and skinned the beast, the hide it seems is very valuable and then hung the beast up in one of his sheds.  It would feed his workforce for weeks, they were making some biltong out of parts of it when I looked in (marinated and dried strips of meat the indigenous chew during their day).  Like dillisk the Irish seaweed variant, it is very moreish.

A quiet evening followed, everybody on edge following the antics of last night, subdued in body and spirit.  Mullingar contented himself with some sort of Zulu liquer that is supposed to be mind-bending, the colonel brought some Lourdes holy water from his bag and poured a thimble of this juice into hit, drank it, did two somersaults and went to bed without praying.  Flash and his mate Boyling settled for a crate of Castle, I contented myself with a couple of glasses of Pinotage, a native South African vine but tasty none the less.

Day 8 was waiting to grab us

Wandering Through South Africa – Part 4

Well Day 6 started with one mighty fine breakfast.  Lennox Farm is run by an ex-Springbok, Dirk Thonemann and his wife, Salome.  Dirk is the farmer whilst Salome is what you could call front of house.  However she is away in Ullapool in the far north west of Scotland, attending the birth of her only daughter’s first child.  Now Ullapool is as far away from South Africa as you need to get, she is married to a fisherman up there.  I just wondered during the week was she perhaps trying to give her parents a message, that South Africa is not for the young, but I am stepping out of line, the Scottish fisherman could hardly catch fish in KwaZulu Natal.  Dirk reckons nobody should be made to live that far north.  However Dirk’s wife has taught the Zulu women who work on the farm how to cook in a Cordon Bleu way and they are sending us up some great food.

The boys themselves are settling down to a routine, no squabbles so far but plenty of chiding and everybody trying to get in the favoured back seat of the bus.  I have decided not to get involved and usually sit in the cramped middle seat alongside Mullingar or if we have no accompanying guide, act as co-pilot or shotgun in front left.  Flash Harry as now perfected his style and his acting like a David Bailey in taking photo shots of the young women of the various towns, Boyling Scouse has chosen to be reasonably friendly and has started talking to Flash.  The Mad Mullingar has started to involve himself in a paperchase by leaving items of toiletry and clothing and the odd camera where ever we spend the night.  We have a fleet of couriers chasing us round KwaZulu Natal with all things Mullingar.  The Colonel now he can spot his moment of fame is practising saying the Lords Prayer, the Hail Mary and the Glory Be in Donegal Irish, Galway Irish and Belfast Irish.  He is like a Trappist monk of an evening repeating his mantras.

On the alchohol front Boyling and Flash settle down to 12 0r 15 bottles of Castle lager with a bottle or two of wine with their food, the colonel busy in his devotions, slurps a bottle of wine with his meal and sometimes takes one to bed with him, I tend to tentatively sip a glass of wine and I have taken a liking to a dry Cape cider.  Mad Mullingar, in living up to his Army nickname of the Dry Fucker, is busy making sure he has enough.  A few sips of strong liquer for breakfast, a bucket of beer for lunch and whatever is going in the evening as long as it is plenty.  Snores and farts accompany his progress and there is not normally a word out of him on the bus as he gently cuddles his half gallon hip flask.  All seems well with the world but I know it cannot last.

Day 6 is our big day we have been selected to lead the big procession through the town of Dundee behind the pipe band of the South African Irish Regiment.  They have travelled overnight in the back of an enormous wagon from Johannesburg, a six or seven hour journey, so they are not too well pleased when they meet us at the rendezvous in a secluded part of town.  Behind us are an assorted few hundred British soldiers, camp followers and a Boer contingent that seem very heavily armed as though expecting trouble on the way.  Mullingar calms the pipers by producing his hip flask, and giving each and every one their tot.  Once a soldier always a soldier I say and then were off down the town with Mullingar’s tot putting a swing into the pipers step.

Flash Harry was like a dervish dancing in, out and around the crowded footpaths to get the right shot, The Colonel was on the left flank giving the orders and keeping us in step, Boyling Scouse was in and around our centre while I was posted to our right flank, in the vanguard was trusty Mad Mullingar carrying our colours and daring any man to relieve them off him.  He was like a Churchill tank as he swept all before him, even the parade marshals looked a little scared.  On the dais taking the salute was a little black man who seemed to have borrowed his uniform off Mullingar.  He was Colonel of the South African Irish and probably originated from Mayo.  I heard he was third in command in Zuma’s government.  A quick eyes left from the Colonel and four Connaught heads swivelled as though swivelling was going out of fashion.  I have to say the march could have seemed a little in your face to the overwhelming black population of Dundee but everybody and there were lots of bodies in the spectators seem to enjoy the occasion and the local police force came down hard on one or two impatient motorists.  I have to say I enjoyed the spectacle, I enjoyed the pageantry, I can well understand how a soldier would swing his shoulders and march off like a hero.

In the afternoon and evening we were at the Talana Museum for drinks, eats, military re-enactments and general interaction.  The Museum covers 120 acres of land at the foot of Talana Hill where the first battle of the Boer War took place on 20th October 1899.  The result you could say was a draw but the Brits got a bloody nose and leaderless they marched, ran or limped the 80 kilometres back to Ladysmith over the following three days.

The museum is a wonderful example of dedication, management and closeness to history, all done with very, very little state involvement or input.  Gandhi figured highly in the museum because Dundee figured highly in his early life.  It was here in 1913 Gandhi was arrested and sentenced to three months imprisonment for deliberately breaking immigration laws.  Well done to the board of trustees who have turned the place into a masterpiece.

On our way home at the dead of night we were just crossing the cattle grid into Lennox when our headlights picked out a leopard chasing two zebra about 10 metres away, whether it was our presence or the flailing back legs of the Zebra, I do not know, but the leopard took a big leap into a stunted thorn tree and remained still, the Zebras galloped off and the leopard jumped down and slunk off, he was so near to a feast.  So we had to have a drink to calm our nerves, tomorrow was the start of the three day military conference.  I for one was looking forward to it but a bit feared about walking across the lawn afterwards with no bride to offer to the cat.


Wandering Through South Africa – Part 3

Well Day 5 started early as most days seemed to do.  The world here shuts down at dusk because everybody seems scared of the night.  They might have good reason for it.  Our first words of advice after getting the South African welcome was do not go out at night.  A quizzical why was mooted.  Because you have to be aware was the answer.  Which makes me think that unless you are toting an AK47 and are team handed, you are a virtual prisoner for half the year, but more of my queries on the country later.

Breakfast at 6.30am, bags once more packed and meet with Liz Spiret for 8.00am, again she is our guide today, Ladysmith is definitely her patch.  She took us off to the Ladysmith museum, an excellent piece of work in an historical building.  It was the grain store during the siege and the townsfolk queued every day for their rations.  It told the story of the siege very well with some great models explaining what was happening whilst the Boers were in the supremacy.  With lots of people dying of disease because of the filthy water in the town, the Boers let them move their hospital out to fresher cleaner pastures some miles out of town, it saved a lot of lives and ensured the good name of the Boers lived on in history.

We were shunted outside for press photographs and interviews, a look round the artillery parked in the forecourt of the museum and then away to the Soldiers Church, All Saints, the Anglican Church on Murchison Street.  A splendid little church reminiscent of the small Anglican Cathedral, St Georges, in Ypres.  Around the walls of the side altars on marble slabs set into the walls are the names of every soldier who had lost his life in the Relief of Ladysmith, under the Connaught Rangers there were the names of 66 soldiers.  With no piper this time Mullingar carried the flag up the main aisle, Des read a few words from a book, Mullingar lowered the flag, I laid a wreath by the names of the soldiers, the colonel said his Irish prayers, a minutes silence and another moving ceremony was over.  If we carried out this ceremony ten times a day , seven days a week, I would still get tearful.  Everybody plays out their part so magnificently and Flash Harry gets a chance of some emotional pictorials.

It was time for lunch and a date had been fixed at our Piper, Dougie McMaster’s house, a few miles out of town.  Dougie’s house was a splendid example of a 120 year old working farmhouse house, it reminded me somewhat of my grandfather’s farmhouse in Denton.  Dougie’s wonderful wife had put on a superb spread of South African food and she made sure Mullingar was topped with whisky after all his efforts with our standard.  We ate and talked, the atmosphere was so relaxed, I could have stayed there all day but things had to be done.  However before we left we spent an hour in Dougie’s private museum.  He told us that a lot of the artefacts on show had been gathered by a local historian, Edmund Llewellyn (Wally) Hyde, immediately after the battles of Colenso, Vaalkrans and Hart’s Hill.  In fact Wally had helped bury the dead in the loop at Colenso.  As an old man he had befriended Dougie and asked him to look after his legacy and Dougie has done this magnificently.  Previously when looking at my old friend Peter Dunne’s life I had presumptiously thought he had died of enteric and Dougie had the original Medical Officers Report Book which listed the death of every British army soldier who died in chronological order during the Relief of Ladysmith, an unbelievably important historical document and there was Peter’s death recorded on the morning of April 10th 1900 of enteric and signed by the doctor officiating.

Dougie told us a story about Wally Hyde after the battle in the loop at Colenso as he was burying the dead.  He was right at the end of the loop as far as any soldier had got, on the banks of the Tugela River he found this dead Connaught Rangers.  The body was in the first stages of decomposition, the man still had his pith helmet on, so he took it off and the soldier’s ginger hair came away with the helmet.  The soldier’s dog tag showed him to be 1190 Cpl W Doherty, they buried him and put up a simple cross but he kept the helmet with the hair attached.  When he got home for whatever reason, he scraped off the hair and put it in a jar and there it remained for over 20 years sitting on his shelf.  He then got wind of a party of Irish relatives in Ladysmith wanting to know about the conditions at the loop.  Wally the historian was contacted and he showed them the battlefield and its tragedy and then he learnt these travellers were the relations of Corporal Doherty.  He took them home and presented them with a relic of their relation.  In history every little thing is important.

We left Dougie and drove up onto the Platrand, this is a long hill overlooking Ladysmith and ownership was of high strategic importance, the besieged garrison owned it from the beginning but on the night of the 3rd January the Boers tried to take it and force the town to submit.  The hill was flat topped and about four kilometres long and about 120 metres above the town.  It had three defined zones, Caesar’s Camp at the eastern end occupied by the 1st Manchesters throughout the seige, Wagon Hill in the middle and Wagon Point at the east end.  The area was under the command of Col Ian Hamilton, who was later to be famed for his lack of success in Gallipoli in 1915.  About a 1000 Boer undercover of darkness attacked and quickly put paid to two companies of Manchester’s but a bayonet charge by the Gordons drove them off the hill.  Meanwhile after rallying again the Boers attacked Wagon point the following evening in force and were slowly gaining the edge when a critical bayonet charge by the Devonshire regiment finally threw the Boers off the hill.  Casualties were high with 18 British officers and 150 men killed and 18 officers and 224 men wounded with the Boers losing 68 men killed and 135 men wounded.The action was awarded with five VCs, Lt Digby-Jones of the Royal Engineers, Lt Masterson of the 1st Devonshires, Trooper Albrecht of the Imperial Light Horse and Pte J Pitts and Pte R Scott of the 1st Manchesters.  The day was saved in some brutal hand to hand fighting and Ladysmith lived on.

Up on the hill that afternoon we could see how important it was , we were looking out over Ladysmith and any force with artillery could have brought the town to its knees in a matter of hours.  Everything seemed as it was 114 years ago, gun emplacements almost as good as new, trenches and especially graves scattered about the hill.  Cattle and antelope grazed at will untroubled by history.

Our last stop before we left Ladysmith was to visit the Town Cemetery.  This spot was most important to me I was visiting Peter Dunne’s grave.  There are only two Connaught Rangers buried here both dying of enteric while in hospital at Hyde’s Farm, 1005 Pte T Heal;ey who died on 6th April 1900 and 3058 Pte Peter Dunne who died on 10th April.  I could not help thinking of Peter’s great granddaughter, Vivian Roche, now in Saudi Arabia, who had found Peter’s campaign medals only a few days before we set off and who donated them to our museum in Boyle.  She would have been so proud to see us five stood at Peter’s grave.  It is a funny moment when you stand at the grave of a soldier you have researched, you are one of the family, I had spoken to Peter often and shared a cup of tea with his wife Jane and played with his two daughters, Molly and Annie.  I thought I knew them well and I looked at his gravestone and realised he had died 114 years and six months ago.  If I shed one tear on this trip I must have shed a hundred.

We left Ladysmith, it was a town I liked and journeyed on to Dundee, town born on coal and named after the town in Scotland when a past resident and then a farmer by the name of Smith found the stuff by the thousand ton in his back garden.  Day 5 ended for us at Lennox Farm just outside Dundee where we were going to put our feet up for a few days.  We had a great meal and washed it down with some cheap wine we found.  I was staying in the honeymoon suite but unfortunately without the honey.

1 2 3 4 5 99 100