11th December 1899
Many historians have written about the battle of Magersfontein, so we have not repeated the details here.
Major General ‘Andy’ Wauchope. Although killed at Magersfontein, his burial place is at Matjiesfontein. In We Wander the Battlefields is a full transcription of the words on his imposing monument. There are photos of many of the monuments at Magersfontein and other nearby battle sites, also with full transcriptions.
Colonel Bertram Lang
In 1970 Midge interviewed a dear old chap – Colonel Bertram Lang – who as a Lieutenant, had been with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders at Modder River and Magersfontein (among others). He also had a distinguished military career in World War One, earning several awards, including the Croix de Guerre. Some stories from the audio tape are included in We Wander the Battlefields.
He had been invited to South Africa by Fiona Barbour on an official visit for a commemoration of Magersfontein. As far as Midge can recall, he met ‘Uncle Bertie’ at a function at the Kimberley Club and arranged to meet him in Durban the next week where Midge interviewed him on 9th March 1970. The Colonel was then 91 and was accompanied by his niece.
Colonel Lang invited Midge to get in touch with him when he and Jean (his ex-wife) were in London later in 1970, and took them to the Army and Navy Club for lunch. Laing is the spelling of his name that we recorded at the time.
The Magersfontein Museum, on the hill overlooking the battlesite, is very well presented. When we were last there, it included an excellent visual recording of what happened here. Fiona Barbour, Garth Benneyworth and Sarah Haines are to be congratulated. A clip of their battle description follows.
The military features of the surrounding locality were well-signposted and described, as part of the Diamond Fields N12 Battlefield Route. The local McGregor Museum, at the time in the care of Fiona Barbour, is another very good source of information.
The following words appear on the monument:
During the Moddersfontein action the Highland Brigade occupied this area, and by sunset many hundreds of men lay dead or wounded on the veld between here and Magersfontein Hill.
Just before dawn the Brigade started their pre-dawn deployment some 375 metres from Magersfontein Hill, but came under a hail of bullets from Boer riflemen concealed in their trenches.
In the weak light the troops saw that the line of Boer rifle flashes revealed a gap in the Boer defence line between Magersfontein and Scrub Ridge. Three small groups of men outflanked the trench and started climbing the hill, but Boer reinforcements plugged the gap and drove them back. Sunrise found the Brigade pinned down on the veld and under heavy Boer rifle fire. They suffered numerous casualties throughout the morning.
Many men risked their lives carrying wounded soldiers back to the dressing stations and field hospitals located near Headquarters Hill. Among others, Lieutenant Douglas and Corporal Shaul moved across the bullet-swept veld to provide first aid to the wounded men lying trapped in the open.
Shaul was remembered by many who saw him fearlessly dressing the soldiers’ wounds while under fire. Douglas injected morphine into men screaming with pain, but was later seriously wounded himself when struck in the face by British shrapnel.
During the afternoon the Boers on Scrub Ridge counter-attacked the Highland Brigade’s right flank. Threatened with encirclement the Highlanders withdrew, but while crossing the open veld, they came under rifle and shellfire and suffered heavy losses.
During their retirement Lieutenant Colonel Downman was mortally wounded and carried off the battlefield by Captain Towse, Colour-Sergeant Nelson and Lance Corporal Hodgsen. Towse, Nelson and Shaul were later decorated with the Victoria Cross (VC), Britain’s highest award for bravery.
Nelson and Hodgsen received the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) in recognition of their courage under fire.
The inscription on the Highland Brigade memorial (above) says:
Erected by Scots the world over in memory of the officers and men of the Highland Regiments who fell at Magersfontein on 11th December 1899.
Scotland is poorer in men but richer in heroes.
The Scandinavian Corps comprised 52 Danes, Finns, Swedes and Norwegian immigrants who volunteered to fight for the Boers. 23 were killed in action or died of wounds.
Till minne av har Scandinaver 11 December 1899. De kunde icke vicka, blott falla kunde de.
In memory of the Scandinavians who fell here, 11 December 1899. Theirs was not to retreat – only to die”.
~ Translated by Fiona Barbour, McGregor Museum, Kimberley leaflet.