The Battlefields Route. Dundee to Rourkes Drift | 455km

Rorkes Drift Hotel.

BATTLEFIELDS ROUTE

Guests on South African holidays should visit the Battlefields Route, which is situated in the northern part of KwaZulu-Natal. This region has the largest concentration of battlefields in the country. The route links 17 key towns to over 50 historical sites, embracing the struggles between Voortrekker and Zulu, the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879, the First War of Independence (1880-81), the South African War (1899- 1902) and the Bambatha Rebellion of 1906. In addition to the numerous battle sites, the route also offers visitors opportunities to experience Zulu culture and to enjoy hiking, fishing, game-viewing and birding.

LADYSMITH

Learn a lot about history on South African holidays in Ladysmith. On 30 October 1899 (a day that became known as Mournful Monday), British forces were humiliated at the Battle of Modderspruit. The battle, conceived by General Sir George White as a knock-out blow to the Boer forces, turned into a rout after the Boers changed position during the night and forced the British to retreat into Ladysmith. The town came under siege on 2 November 1899 when Boer forces occupied all the encircling hills, except Platrand which formed part of the British forward defence line. Situated 5 km southwest of the town, Platrand (also known as Wagon Hill) was the key to the capture of Ladysmith, but two Boer attacks on the flat-topped hill were beaten back.

On 27 February 1900, General Buller's forces crossed the Tukhela River and advanced on Ladysmith, causing the Boers to abandon their positions. The siege was relieved the following day, 118 days after it began. British casualties were high; 563 soldiers died of disease, 211 were killed in action, 59 died of wounds and 10 were reported missing. It is not known how many Boers were killed in action, but an estimated 60 died of wounds. The story of the siege is depicted in the town's Siege Museum.

ELANDSLAAGTE

...saw battle on 21 October 1899 when a 3 500-strong force under the command of Major-General JDP French recaptured the railway station, occupied two days earlier by Boer forces. After heavy fighting, the Boers were compelled to retire, but 290 (including 105 wounded) were taken prisoner. Guests on South African holidays can visit several monuments and war graves in the vicinity.

DUNDEE

Situated in the foothills of the Biggarsberg, Dundee was established in 1882 on the farm owned by a Scottish immigrant named Peter Smith. Named after Dundee in Scotland, the town lies in a prosperous livestock farming and coal-mining area. After winning the Battle of Talana, British forces found themselves surrounded by 10 000 Boers and short of artillery ammunition. Unable to send reinforcements, General Sir George White ordered the British forces under Brigadier-General James Yule to fall back on Ladysmith. On 22 October, the British withdrew from Dundee under cover of darkness, taking only what they could carry and abandoning the garrison's food supply and stores, as well as their wounded, to the Boers. The town and the military camp surrendered without resistance the following day.

TALANA

Following the declaration of war on 11 October 1899, Boer forces from the Orange Free State and Transvaal invaded northern Natal. The first shots of the South African War were fired at Talana, 2 km from Dundee, on 20 October 1899. After an artillery attack on Talana Hill, seized by Boer forces early in the morning, the British launched a concentrated infantry attack, forcing the Boers to retreat. Misfortune struck, though, when fire from two of the British batteries inflicted casualties on their own troops.

Although the British captured the hill, it was at considerable cost: 66 men killed or died of injuries, 185 wounded and 246 taken prisoner, or reported missing. The Boers lost 35 killed or died of wounds, 91 wounded and 30 taken prisoner, or reported missing. Guests on South African holidays on the Battlefields Route can visit the Talana Museum with displays on the battle at Talana and on the Anglo-Zulu War. It also includes the Iscor Hall of Mining, Chamber of Mines Coal Museum, Consol Glass Collection and the Brick Heritage display.

HELPMEKAAR

...was one of the British garrisons along the supply line of the Centre Column which invaded Zululand at Rorke's Drift on 11 January 1879 during the Anglo-Zulu War. During the South African War, General Buller's forces broke through the Boer defence lines in the Biggarsberg at Helpmekaar on 13 May 1900, opening the way for the recapture of Dundee. The remains of a Boer fort on the crest of the hill and a British military cemetery with a single grave are reminders of this battle.

ISANDLWANA

...ranks among the worst defeats suffered by the British Army in Africa. Following the start of the Anglo-Zulu War on 11 January 1879, the British commander-in-chief, Lord Chelmsford, invaded Zululand with a force of 4 659 men at Rorke's Drift. On 20 January, the British set up camp to the south of Isandlwana, a prominent hill, unaware of the fact that the main Zulu army of about 20 000 men was concentrated only about 5 km away, at Nqutu Hills. The following day Chelmsford sent out a reconnaissance patrol, which was lured further away from the camp by an apparently retreating Zulu force.

On 22 January Chelmsford and 800 men went to the assistance of the patrol, leaving Colonel H Pulleine in charge of the camp. Around mid-morning, Pulleine's force of about 1 774 was reinforced by 500 men who arrived with Colonel Durnford, who soon left to defend Chelmsford against a possible Zulu attack from the rear. Using the traditional ox-horn formation, the 20 000-strong main Zulu army attacked the camp, but the attack of the central force was stalled. The attack resumed at 13:00, and within half an hour the camp was overrun by the Zulu warriors. Most of those who managed to flee were pursued and killed, with only a few surviving. Over 1 000 Zulu were killed in the battle of Isandlwana, while the British lost 52 officers and 1 277 men, including 471 black troops.

FUGITIVE'S DRIFT

A few men managed to escape from Islandlwana, but on finding the road to Rorke's Drift blocked they tried to escape in a more southerly direction towards the Buffalo River. But most of them were pursued and overtaken by the Zulu; among those killed were Lieutenants N Coghill and T Melville, who had tried to save the Queen's Colours. They were buried where they fell.

RORKE'S DRIFT

...was attacked late on the afternoon of 22 January by the reserve of the Zulu forces that had not taken part in the Islandlwana assault. The British force consisted of 8 officers and 131 men, of whom 35 were ill, while the Zulu force numbered between 3 000 and 4 000. After being driven from the hospital building, the redcoats took cover behind a line of biscuit boxes and eventually retreated to a redoubt of mealie bags.

The Zulu attack continued until after midnight and repeatedly penetrated the British defences, necessitating hand-to-hand combat. The assault was abandoned only in the early hours of the morning. On the British side, 17 men were killed, while one officer and seven men were wounded. The Zulu casualties are estimated at over 500. The defenders of Rorke's Drift received 11 Victoria Crosses - the highest number ever awarded for a single engagement.

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