South African Battle: 13 December 1900
Battle of Nooitgedacht
The Magaliesberg range of mountains runs just north of Pretoria and extends for about 160km to the west. The southern slope of the mountain presents a sheer cliff face and is ideal for guerrilla warfare – the Boers were tough fighters who were brought up as horsemen and hunters, and who knew the countryside intimately. Wheeled traffic can only travel over the range at certain access points – passes/Neks.
On 8 December 1900, Major-General R.A.P. Clements moved his troops, numbering approximately 2 000, to the farm Nooitgedacht, which was a little removed from other British troops in the area. The British had become a little careless due to the inactivity of the Boer forces in the area. The farm was nestled in the Magaliesberg group of mountains and it is significant that this was an area where the guerrilla warfare was to become very active, with a number of battles and skirmishes being fought over the next 12 months. Clements’ camp was set up with inadequate defensive structures, and was under a steep slope of the Magaliesberg.
The Boer success at Buffelspoort, ten days earlier was followed by their attack on Clements’ position at Nooitgedacht, which can arguably be called the Boers most significant victory in the Magaliesberg.
On 12 December two Boer Generals, J.H. de la Rey and C.F. Beyers met to discuss a plan to attack Clements’ camp.
Early on the following morning (13 December) the line of pickets overseeing Clements’ camp was attacked and overwhelmed by the Boer commando. The Boers poured a deadly fire into the camp from a well hidden vantage point in the mountains. Reinforcements were ordered from Yeomanry Hill, a camp to the south-east, and 200 Imperial Yeomanry responded. They experienced difficulty in getting to the main battle, and after suffering heavy casualties, eventually surrendered. General Clements withdrew his force to Yeomanry Hill, which was occupied by a small force, comprising companies from the 6th and 7th Imperial Yeomanry.
By 10a.m. the withdrawal to Yeomany Hill had been completed. That afternoon the remainder of the column retreated to Rietfontein, a base to the north-east of Nooitgedacht (present day Hartbeespoort Dam), arriving there safely on 14 December after an all-night march.
The Boers didn’t pursue Clements’ column – they were more interested in looting what was left by the British.
Field Marshall Lord Carver, in his book – ‘The National Army Museum Book of the Boer War’, wrote: “A week later (this is after the Battle of Buffelspoort) they (Smuts and de la Rey) returned to the attack after they had discovered Clements encamped with 1 200 men in the gorge of Nooitgedacht. Making a careful reconnaissance and joining hands with General Christiaan Beyers, with another 1 500 men, they surrounded Clements on the night of 12/13th December, prepared to attack at dawn. A premature attack on the 300 men of the Northumberland Fusiliers, who were picketing the heights, gave the alarm. Beyers then launched his attack, and Captain Yatman of the Fusiliers, greatly outnumbered, was forced to surrender by 7a.m.. Clements was now swift to act. Early morning mist and the loss of the heights prevented him from signalling by helio to Broadwood for help. By energetic action he succeeded in concentrating part of his force with all his guns, onto the key position called Yeomanry Hill. Inexplicably this was not followed up by a concerted attack by the three Boer commandos, partly it would seem, because Beyers’ men were too busy looting the British camp, which Clements had left when he moved to the hill. At 4p.m. Clements withdrew unhindered with 1 800 men and made his way towards Pretoria.”
British casualties were 66 killed, over 187 wounded (of whom 14 died of their wounds), and over 346 taken prisoner or reported missing.