South African Battle: 31 March 1900
A battle which had a devastasting effect on the history of Bloemfontein.
This battle is also referred to as the Battle of Koorn Spruit as well as Korn Spruit – the wording used in the citations relating to the VC’s awarded at the battle. The Boers were demoralised following the surrender of Commandant-General Cronje at Paardeberg, and their inability to stop the advancing British forces at both Poplar Grove and Abraham’s Kraal. Following Cronje’s surrender, de Wet had been appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Free State forces. With Bloemfontein falling to the British without a shot being fired, de Wet had to re-motivate his troops. He had been made aware of a small British Garrison posted at Sanna’s Post, the Bloemfontein Water Works. Sanna’s Post was 25 km east of Bloemfontein on the banks of the Modder River. He had also been made aware of Brigadier-General Broadwood’s movements. After the fall of Bloemfontein, Broadwood had made his way to Thaba ‘Nchu to ‘rid’ the area of pockets of Boer forces. Mission achieved, he was on his way back to Bloemfontein with his column.
On his way back to Bloemfontein Broadwood was harassed by Commandant Olivier’s commando, and he was forced to bivouac overnight at Sanna’s Post, at the Railway Station.
Commandant de Wet had over 2 000 Boers with him and he decided to split his force in order to effect a planned ambush on Broadwood’s column. De Wet sent 1 600 of his men under his brother Piet to the north to prepare for the ambush, whilst he positioned himself close to Sanna’s Post.
At first light on the morning of the 31 March 1900 Broadwood’s force were just striking camp at the railway station at Sanna’s Post when Piet de Wet’s artillery opened fire on the British camp and as was planned they retreated towards Christiaan de Wet’s men hidden in the nearby ravine (Koorn Spruit). The civilian wagons accompanying the troops were sent to cross the river first and were seized by the Boers. The drivers and occupants were warned that if they told the British what was happening they would be shot. Therefore, the British soldiers suspected nothing and approached the river in small groups. When the troops realised what was happening, there was total confusion in the ravine as the British tried to withdraw back to the station at Sanna’s Post.
Broadwood’s convoy consisted of 92 Wagons, many of which were civilian wagons of families wanting to be ‘escorted’ back to Bloemfontein under the protection of Broadwood, a force of about 1 700 men, and 12 guns. In the confusion in the ravine, with de Wet’s forces well placed, within minutes, 200 British had been taken prisoner, and the 12 guns were in danger of falling into Boer hands. Broadwood was still in ‘camp’’ some 2 km away, and on being told what was happening, sent a message to Roberts in Bloemfontein asking for immediate help.
The British forces who could, retired back to the station where they could regroup. Christiaan de Wet’s men were now being pinned down by the British, but Piet de Wets’s Boers were applying increasing pressure on the British with accurate artillery fire. Broadwood decided to retire to the south, away from the artillery fire, however his guns had first to be recovered. In the effort to recover the guns many British soldiers were killed crossing the open ground.
The British suffered 45 men killed or wounded, with 478 men, seven field artillery pieces and over 70 wagons captured. The Boer losses were minimal. However, the greatest loss in the battle was the Bloemfontein Water Works. With it being put out of action, the water supply to the town ceased causing many deaths through disease.
Broadwood eventually managed to break contact from the Boers. At about midday Major General Colville arrived to help with relief of Broadwood’s force. De Wet’s men had withdrawn to the north with their bounty – bound for Wepener.
In recognition of the conspicuous gallantry displayed by all ranks of ‘Q’ Battery on this occasion, Field Marshal Lord Roberts decided to treat the case as one of collective gallantry, under the Rule 13 of the Victoria Cross Warrant. Accordingly, direction was given that one of the officers should be chosen by the other officers, one non-commissioned officer by the non-commissioned officers and two gunners or drivers by the gunners and drivers for the award of the Victoria Cross.
- A difficulty arose with regard to the officer, owing to the fact that there were only two un-wounded officers. Major Phipps-Hornby was chosen as the senior
- Sergeant Charles Parker was selected by the Non-Commissioned officers
- Gunner Issac Lodge and Driver Henry Glassock were elected by the gunners and drivers
- Lieutenant Maxwell was one of three Officers not belonging to ‘Q’ Battery, specially mentioned by Lord Roberts as having shown the greatest gallantry, and disregard of danger, in carrying out the self-imposed duty of saving the guns.