tweebosch (de klipdrift)

South African Battle: 7 March 1902

Battle of Tweebosch (de Klipdrift)

In order to trap the Boer guerrillas in the Orange Free State and the Western Transvaal (now North West Province), Lord Kitchener built lines of blockhouses connected with barbed wire. However, the Boers kept evading this system so Kitchener mobilised nine British columns to hunt down de la Rey and the other Boer commanders in the Western Transvaal.

On 24 February 1902, de la Rey had successfully attacked a wagon convoy, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel von Donop, an action where the British lost 12 officers and 369 men either killed, wounded or captured, and the Boers made off with much needed supplies and ammunition. Lieutenant General Methuen was then sent in pursuit of de la Rey. Johannes Meintjies, in his book, De la Rey – Lion of the West, describes these events (page 235) – “He (de la Rey) withdrew north-wards at once, knowing that Methuen would be in hot pursuit – which he was in order to retrieve the ammunition. Methuen’s column was a rather mixed crew, according to Kitchener’s biographer, 1 300 men drawn from different units, with a prodigious train of ox and mule wagons. De la Rey was reported to be making for the Marico River, and Methuen moved in that direction to intercept him. Kekewich was asked to lend a hand from Klerksdorp, so Grenfell was despatched to join Methuen at Rooirantjieslaagte, seventeen miles south of Lichtenburg, where he arrived on the 7th March.” Methuen’s progress however had been delayed due to a lack of water on route, and he only arrived at Tweebosch on 6 March 1902, still some way from the arranged rendezvous position with Lieutenant-Colonel Grenfell.

Tweebosch was a farm in the Western Transvaal, about 70 km south west of the town of Lichtenburg. Adjacent to Tweebosch was a farm de Klipdrift and the battle is often referred to by that name. Methuen had left Vryburg on 2 March with a column, and camped at Tweebosch on 6 March. He was informed by scouts that the Boers were close by. So, early the following day Methuen split his column into two divisions and at 3 a.m., the ox-convoy moved out of camp escorted by Cape Police, the Yeomanry, all the Infantry and Lieutenant Venning’s guns. The main column moved out at 4 a.m., escorted by the Cape Special Police, Ashburner’s Light Horse, with one pom-pom gun, forming the advance guard, and Dennison’s Scouts and the Diamond Fields Horse the rear guard. Lieutenant Nesham’s guns were with this column.

Grenfell was then just under 60 km away to the east of Tweebosch and de la Rey moved in between the two columns. His battle plan was much the same as that employed at Ysterspruit on 24 February, which was to divide the British column into three, and to overcome resistance with a charge, the men firing from the saddle.

By about 5 a.m. the head of the column had reached de Klipdrift on the Great Harts River, when the Boer attack commenced on the rear-guard.

Meintjies carries on (page 235) – “De la Rey first pounced on the rear-guard, then half an hour later, he attacked on the flank. At 6 a.m., before the convoy closed up, he descended from the right, his men being able to move up because of the confusion, lack of discipline, and the British shells and fire that went wild. With deadly precision de la Rey chose the right moment for his veterans, firing from the saddle, to fling themselves on the crumbling screen of troops. The mounted troops fled, the mule convoy was surrounded, and de la Rey fell on the ox-convoy and Methuen in a hollow near a dried stream. They were quickly overwhelmed, Methuen himself wounded in his side and thigh, his horse shot beside him rolling over and crushing his leg. There was no alternative but to surrender.”

The British force numbered 1 250, including nearly 1 000 mounted men and four guns. However, many of the men were inexperienced in battle and after a small measure of resistance they panicked and fled or surrendered. The regulars, or the handful that were left, and Nesham’s gunners, stood fast. This resistance soon waned and when the surrender was called, the British had lost 200 killed and wounded, plus 600 men and all four guns captured.

De la Rey sent the wounded Methuen to a British hospital in his own carriage under a flag of truce, despite demands from his own troops to execute him.

Meintjies, who records an eye-witness account of what happened, explains (page 236) – “De la Rey then sent Methuen’s and his own doctor with his distinguished captive to Gestoptefontein in order that his leg could be put into proper splints. They were conveyed on Methuen’s own spring-wagon (which de la Rey was to keep as a souvenir) and then brought back to the laager. The next day Tom Leask, a member of de la Rey’s staff, took Methuen for medical treatment to Klerksdorp and returned of his own with the spring-wagon which he gave to de la Rey.”

This defeat of the British, so close to the end of the war gave the Boers a feeling that an honourable end could be found to the war. This was not to be.

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