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The Batlle of Doornkop

Rob Milne
0

29th May 1900

 The Final Battle for Johannesburg: the British broke through the final Boer defences along the Witwatersrand at Doornkop during a suicidal Infantry charge which General Ian Hamilton ordered in symbolic revenge for the Jameson Raid surrender on the same Battlefield 4 years earlier.

The Battle for Johannesburg started when the British crossed the Vaal River into the Transvaal Republic at Parys on 24th March 1900, 9 weeks before Doornkop. The Battlefield stretched from Parys in the south to Johannesburg in the north (90 kilometres) and a point east of Germiston to just west of Doornkop (40 kilometres apart). The Boers were entrenched on the ridge just north of the modern-day suburb of Soweto and General Hamilton ordered the City Imperial Volunteers and the Gordon Highlanders to charge the position across open ground without supporting fire or adequate cover from the artillery.

The CIV took proper cover and suffered few casualties, however the Gordons reverted to tradition by fixing bayonets and slowly advanced line by line. Within ten minutes they lost a hundred men but put the Boers to flight. The loss of life from this unnecessary frontal attack was much criticised because General French and 7,000 mounted men had already outflanked the Boers further to the West.

This action had an unforeseen effect for the 1st Gordon Highlanders seven weeks later at the Battle of Dwarsvlei which General Smith-Dorrien later described as “his worst fight of the War”. Corporal J.F. McKay of the Gordon Highlanders was awarded the Victoria Cross for repeatedly attending to the wounded at Doornkop, under a withering fire at short range. He was later to repeat his acts of bravery at Dwarsvlei.

Image above: The Gordon Highlanders charged up this ridge where the Boers were entrenched behind these boulders

Tour Highlights

  • The ridge near Durban Roodepoort Deep mine.
  • The Memorial to the 1st Gordon Highlanders at the mine cemetery.
  • The Doornkop surrender site.
  • Maraisburg Cemetery where some of the casualties were buried.
  • The deliberate Biblical misquote on the headstone of the only Gordon Highlander Officer killed in action at Doornkop: Captain St. John Meyrick

Fitness required: minimal walking

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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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