South African Battle: 3 June 1900

The first battle after the fall of Johannesburg (29 May 1900)

After the fall of Johannesburg on 29 May 1900, a ‘false truce’ was agreed to with the British. The British had a feeling that the Boers were going to ‘blow up’ the gold mines.

The British ‘Uitlanders’ were heavily invested in the industry, so Lord Roberts agreed to a 24 hour truce with Commandant Krause on condition the mines weren’t touched, giving the Boers a chance to get as many of their possessions out of Johannesburg as they could.

It also gave the Boers the chance to get their troops, guns and ammunition out. It is reported that General Smuts left with an undisclosed amount of gold.

The British weren’t sitting with their arms folded either. Having taken the capital of the Orange Free State Republic, Lord Roberts believed that if he managed to take Pretoria, the capital of the Zuid Afrikaans Republic, the war would be over.

The two Republics had declared war on the British Empire, so with both their capital towns in the hands of the British, there seemed little point in the Boers carrying on with a futile war. After the fall of Johannesburg, and a little rest for his forces, Roberts set out along the main Johannesburg-Pretoria route for the capital, whilst General French took a more westerly route to Pretoria.

Around mid-afternoon on 3 June 1900 French’s scouts spotted a Boer convoy of wagons passing through Kalkheuwel and his forces set off in pursuit. Those in front were mounted infantry.

As was the Boer way of protecting their convoys, the Groot Marico and Wolmaransstad Commandos were guarding the pass.

Just after 4pm French ordered the Inniskilling Dragoons to occupy the western slopes of the pass and the Scots Greys to occupy the eastern slopes. On ascending the slopes, the Inniskillings came across Boers amongst covering rocks, and firing broke out.

Those in the rear of the Inniskillings, not wanting to join their comrades under fire, joined the main centre column of the Dragoon Guards and the New South Wales Lancers and were immediately confronted by retreating horses.

Now that the Boer position had been exposed, the Boers opened fire on the advancing troops entering the pass. The road was narrow, and scattered rocks made the going heavy. Confusion ensued  as the leading horses started bolting. In the narrow pass, those following were now confronted by frightened animals who became the main casualties. An order was passed around to dismount.

The guns of the Royal Horse Artillery, which were in the rear of the column, were finding it difficult to make progress in the narrow rocky road. Eventually troops had to help with the positioning of the guns so that they could be used against the positions of the Boers.

It is believed that because of the resulting shelling of the hills, on both the east and west, the casualties of the Boers were significantly heavier than the British losses.

Having no guns made it impossible for the Boers to defend the pass more effectively. It is reported that early that day, orders had been given to move the two guns that were north of the pass, protecting the movement of the convoy of wagons.

With the wagons approaching the pass, and there being no perceived attack on the convoy, the order was given to move the guns to the north. As it happened, only half of the convoy were safe from attack. So the withdrawal was premature.

Fighting continued into the night with sporadic rifle fire after nightfall as both sides were unaware of the exact positioning of their foe. The Boers withdrew during the night, leaving six wagons stranded at the far end of the pass.

Of the 25 Boer wagons in the convoy, half were captured or destroyed by the British, with the other half making their way northwards. Two of those wagons captured were hospital wagons.

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