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The Battle of Kalkheuwel

Rob Milne
1

3rd June 1900

After the occupation of Johannesburg on 31st May 1900, Lord Roberts advanced on Pretoria leading his main force towards Schurweberg (Sesmylspruit) west of Pretoria. General French left the main force with his cavalry soon after they had crossed the Jukskei River at Leeukop.

He led his two Cavalry Brigades and the Mounted Infantry Brigade (4 536 Officers and men) via Diepsloot towards Broederstroom, roughly along the present-day R512 highway. The narrow track down the Kalkheuwel Pass was a death-trap for cavalry as the huge dolomite rocks and thorn bushes meant that the horses could not leave the track. In ambush on the hills and high ridges at the site of the new Lion and Safari Park, a commando under Sarel du Toit opened fire as the cavalry scouts discovered some Boers entrenched behind boulders next to the track.

Chaos ensued, with some of the advance cavalry in full flight and the main body with artillery pressing forward from the back. Major Allenby with a small number of Inniskilling Dragoon Guards and Major Lee of the New South Wales Lancers ordered the horsemen to dismount and steadied the situation. The Scots Greys had taken the important hill on the right of the track just before the trap was sprung and the Canadian Mounted Rifles, acting as Infantry, managed to capture the heights opposite the Scots Greys before night fell.

The Boers withdrew before daylight the next day, and the cavalry advanced to Broederstroom and the wooden bridge at Hartbeespoort.

Image above: The hollow (now the Lion Park buildings) where most of the British cavalry were pinned down. Photo taken from Commandant Sarel du Toit’s Headquarters

The hollow (now the Lion Park buildings) where most of the British cavalry were pinned down. Photo taken from Commandant Sarel du Toit’s Headquarters
Boer “skantz” or sangar dominating the narrow point of the pass


British losses were small: two men were killed in the opening salvo of the Battle, but Boer losses were severe in comparison at around twenty. However, it was the loss of British horses that had a huge impact in a later engagement – the Battle of Dwarsvlei six weeks later, where General Smith-Dorrien had to advance through open ground with only 46 horsemen.

Tour Highlights

  • Listen to the account of the Battle next to the hollow where most of the cavalry were pinned down by Boer fire.
  • See the first Blue Plaque memorial of the Magaliesberg Battlefields Route.
  • View “Scots Greys’” Hill and the steep Western ridges where the Boers were entrenched.
  • A half-day strenuous walking tour is available to the British forts and campsites built and occupied until the end of the war.
  • A Battlefield drive in a Safari vehicle is currently being developed.

Fitness required: minimal walking. The walking tour requires a high level of fitness and stamina.

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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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