South African Battle: 29 May 1901

Battle of Vlakfontein

Early in May 1901 Brigadier-General Dixon was engaged in a swoop movement, trying to corner the Boer commandos under Generals de la Rey, Liebenberg and Kemp, and making sure that their presence was outside the Moot and away from Krugersdorp. Towards the end of the month Dixon was made aware of guns and ammunition which had been stashed away by the Boers and he was determined to find it.

Late on 28 May 1901 the rear-guard of Dixon’s force engaged with a number of Boers and rifle-fire was exchanged before the Boers retired. Dixon decided to setup camp on the farm Vlakfontein, east of the present town of Derby. Dixon didn’t realise that the Boers he had engaged were in fact part of General Kemp’s commando and that Kemp was preparing an attack for the following day.

On the morning of 29 May Dixon continued his search for the hidden arms in the area and divided his force into three – on the left flank Major Chance had 300 men and two guns, on the right flank Colonel Duff had 350 men and three guns, and in the centre Colonel Wylly and Dixon had 450 men and three guns. The two flanks advanced on their search along raised ground/ridges, with Wylly and Dixon being in the valley below. However neither of the flanks occupied the heights where the Boers were positioned to their west. Dixon, for a reason known only to himself, after advancing a short distance, retraced his steps, to search elsewhere for the arms cache. Kemp became aware of this change and decided to attack the force that remained.

At midday Kemp launched a minor attack on the right flank, with his main attack being on the left flank of Major Chance. Whilst this was going on the grass between the two forces was set alight – whether by accident or on purpose, but it shielded the British from the attacking Boers. It also prevented Duff from appreciating the predicament in which Chance found himself, and Dixon and his force were too far away to react to the action taking place. Two of Chance’s guns, after fierce resistance from the British fell into the hands of the Boers.  

Dixon, who by this stage had almost reached camp, sent reinforcements to the scene of the attack, and Kemp, realising that he would soon be outnumbered withdrew his men, leaving the guns behind. The British had 68 men killed or died of wounds received, seven of whom were officers. They also suffered over 100 men wounded. Almost all of Colonel Chance’s gunners were casualties. British casualties were the heaviest since the battle of Nooitgedacht on 13 December 1900.

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