The South African National Defence Force will tomorrow again proudly form part of the 110th Anniversary of the Relief of Ladysmith. More than 330 personnel from different Services and Divisions comprising of Regular and Reserve Forces will participate in a parade to be reviewed by mayor DCP Mazibuko.
The Siege of Ladysmith was,the wikipdia notes, “a protracted engagement in the Second Boer War, taking place between October 30 1899 and February 28 1900.” The Four Unit Colours Commemorative Parade will include elements of the SA Army, SA Navy, SA Military Health Services, SA Army Band Kwazulu Natal and the SA Police Service. The celebration will commence with a static parade followed by a march past via the Ladysmith Town Hall.
The town was named in 1850 after Lady Juana Maria de los Dolores de Leon Smith, the Spanish wife of Sir Harry Smith, the Governor of the Cape Colony from 1847 to 1852. Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes and author of the excellent “The Great Boer War” (available free online or from Galago Books), described the run-up to the siege as the worst setback to British arm since the days “when the egregious [outstandingly bad] Duke of York [he of the satirical children’s rhyme] commanded in Flanders.”
The Natal Field Force under General Sir Redvers Buller attempted three times before succeeding on the fourth to break the siege. This resulted in defeat for the British forces at the battles of Colenso (December 15, 1899), Spion Kop (January 20-24) and Vaal Krantz (February 5-7). Success was achieved on February 27 when Buller’s forces broke through the Tugela Heights, where they had been battling since February 14. The Valour-class frigate SAS Spioenkop is named for the January battle, arguably the bloodiest single battle of the Boer War.
Locked in the town was most of the Natal garrison under Lt General Sir George White. Conan Doyle recorded that White commanded a “formidable little army some twelve thousand in number. His cavalry included the 5th Lancers, the 5th Dragoons, part of the 18th and the whole of the 19th Hussars, the Natal Carabineers, the Border Rifles, some mounted infantry, and the Imperial Light Horse (ILH). Among his infantry were the Royal Irish Fusiliers, the Dublin Fusiliers, and the King’s Royal Rifles, fresh from the ascent of Talana Hill, the Gordons, the Manchesters, and the Devons who had been blooded at Elandslaagte, the Leicesters, the Liverpools, the 2nd battalion of the King’s Royal Rifles, the 2nd Rifle Brigade, and the Gloucesters, who had been so roughly treated at Rietfontein. He had six batteries of excellent field artillery – the 13th, 21st, 42nd, 53rd, 67th, 69th, and No.10 Mountain Battery of screw guns. No general could have asked for a more compact and workmanlike little force.” The Natal Carbineers and the ILH, now the Light Horse Regiment, are still on the SA Army Reserve Force nominal role.
On January 6 1900 the Boer forces of Commandant-General Piet Joubert had attempted to end the siege by taking the town before the British could launch another attempt to break the siege. This lead to a battle at Platrand and Wagon Hill south of the town.
Many a later famous name were present in the town and its environs. With the relief force was both later British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill and Indian liberation struggle leader, Mohandas Gandhi, the Mahatma. Commanding at Platrand was Colonel Ian Hamilton, who during World War One commanded at Gallipoli. Present at the relief was Major Hubert Gough who commanded the British Fifth Army in the later stages of the same conflict and Lt Colonel Julian Byng, who raised the SA Light Horse, a companion regiment to the ILH. He commanded the Third Army at the time of the Battle of Cambrai.
Pic: From”The Relief of Ladysmith.” Painting by John Henry Frederick Bacon. The elderly Sir George White (horsed, centre left) can be seen greeting his liberators.