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The Battle of Diamond Hill

Rob Milne
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10th to 12th June 1900 : The Battle of Diamond Hill (Donkerhoek)

Just before Pretoria fell on 5th June 1900, Commandant-General Botha sent his secretary to Lord Roberts to propose Peace Talks. However, this was merely a ruse to get the gold, guns and ammunition out of Pretoria and to gain time to re-organise the Commandos into a strong defensive position 24kilometes east of Pretoria. Roberts wasted nearly a week in Pretoria on his fruitless quest for peace before he moved his army eastwards in pursuit of the fleeing Boers. He found 7 000 of them with 20 guns entrenched in the Magaliesberg Range for over 40 kilometres in a north-south line centred on Diamond Hill, where the eastern railway line cut through Pienaar’s Poort.

Facing the Boers were General French’s understrength Cavalry Division to the north of the railway line (1 500 rifles and sabres), with General Pole-Carew’s 11th Infantry Division in the centre (6 000 rifles), and General Hamilton’s Mounted Infantry Division to the south (also about 6 000 strong). Following his recent successful military tactics, Lord Roberts wished to avoid a frontal attack and worked his way around both flanks with his mounted troops.

On 11th June, French’s initial successes in the north turned into a stalemate after General de la Rey counter attacked and fierce fighting took place on both the Boekenhoutskloof and Kameelfontein Ridges until sundown (near present day Cullinan). Hamilton’s Cavalry Brigades and Mounted Infantry charged the Boer left flank in the south but, after intensive skirmishes, no further progress could be made. During one of these attacks the Commanding officer of the 12th Lancers, the Earl of Airlie, was killed whilst trying to mount his white charger. At dusk General Hamilton stormed the centre of the Boer position and secured the first line of Boer defences on Kleinfontein Ridge.

The next day fighting continued in the north with General French in an increasingly precarious position – however he held on, pinning down half the Republican forces. After enduring heavy shelling, the Boer forces in the south retreated towards the northern heights above Donker Poort and the southern height around Mors Kop. The key to the Boer position was gained when Colonel de Lisle stormed a commanding height at the eastern end of Donkerhoek Ridge. At the end of the 12th June it appeared that the Boers were in the stronger position. However, when the British prepared to attack on the 13th, they found that the Boers had made a strategic withdrawal.

The Battle had been won by the Imperial Forces, but it was a hollow victory.

dragoon
David Ogilvy, 11th Earl of Airlie, killed on 11th June 1900 commanding the 12th Royal Lancers
(his epitaph reads “He was, as he had always desired, killed in action at the head of his Regiment”)

Tour Highlights

  • From the Sammy Marks Museum view the central part of the Battlefield.
  • Visit the Military Cemetery in the southern portion of the Battlefield – key to the final British break-through.
  • Hear the interesting story of the Earl of Airlie and his last moments at his graveside in the Military Cemetery.
  • See where De Lile’s Mounted Infantry made their successful charge.
  • Enjoy refreshments in the northern sector of the Battlefield where General French held onto his footholds on the Kameelfontein and Boekenhoutskloof Ridges.

Fitness required: minimal walking. Extended guided walks to see the remains of the Boer defences are available for the fit and healthy.

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Rob Milne

Rob Milne robmilne.com

Rob Milne was born in Johannesburg and educated at St. David's Marist College and the University of the Witwatersrand. From an early age he spent most of his free time in the veld exploring South African battlefields and historic places, developing a keen interest in both South African Wars, archaeology and geology.

Rob Milne
Writer/Tour Guide

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