9th October 1900
In September 1900 a young officer re-joined his Regiment (after serving with them in India), the 2nd Battalion the Royal Scots Fusiliers, in Krugersdorp. He was assigned to raise a train a mounted company to include a group of Australian Bushmen, infamous for their drinking, gambling and debauchery. Captain Hugh Trenchard had acquired the nickname “The Camel” in India because he did not drink and was a quiet and introverted Officer. However, he was an excellent horseman, a good shot, and an exceptional leader.
During September and early October Trenchard’s riders were involved in several skirmishes near Krugersdorp. On 5th October he joined the first De Wet Hunt as part of the 6th Brigade under General Barton heading south-west to Roodewal in the Free State. The column consisted of over 1 800 men with 7 guns, 3 ambulances and 80 to 100 wagons. Captain Trenchard was in command of 40 Bushmen and 80 Mounted Infantry of the Royal Welsh and Royal Scots Fusiliers that he had trained in Krugersdorp.
Patrolling to the far west of Krugersdorp at dawn on 9th October the Ayrshire Yeomanry disturbed a Boer encampment. The Boers took off with Captain Trenchard and his Mounted Infantry in close pursuit. After topping the ridge on the Dwarsvlei Battlefield of 11th July, the Boers disappeared into the valley. Trenchard saw smoke coming from a farmhouse in the valley and assumed that the Boers were making breakfast, confident that they had lost their pursuers. He placed his men on all the surrounding heights (including Spion Kop, 4 kilometres away) and watched and waited for nearly an hour. He then led a four-man patrol down to the farmhouse, dismounted, and approached the door. Suddenly the Boers, in ambush, opened fire from 12 different points. Captain Trenchard was badly wounded in the left lung and was partially paralysed from the bullet glancing off his spine. The young officer next to him was killed instantly.
Rescued by his Company and barely alive, Trenchard was in a coma for 3 days. Eventually he was sent back to England to recover and Lady Dudley took a special interest in his case. She sent him to St. Moritz in Switzerland in the hope that the bracing air would heal his damaged lung. However, being bored and competitive, and with minimal use of his legs, Trenchard took up bobsleighing. After a heavy crash on the Cresta Run he regained the full use of his legs. He was back in South Africa in late July 1901.
Fast forward to 31st July 1912 when he obtained the Royal Aero Club’s aviator certificate no. 270. He went on to become Marshall of the Royal Air Force, known as “Father of the Air Force”.
What if the Boer bullets had found their mark on 9th October 1900? The Battle of Britain may have been lost and our history would have been very different.
Tour Highlights (both Battles)
- Get a birds-eye view of the Battlefield from the lawn above the Bru House & Diner.
- An easy walk or drive takes you to where the two guns were positioned and where the drama of the Battle unfolded.
- A visit to the eastern portion of the Battlefield on the Mount Savannah Game Reserve can be arranged in a game drive vehicle. This is where the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry fought off the attacks on the baggage.
- Stand at the doorway to the present-day ruins of the farmhouse where Captain Trenchard was shot and contemplate some “what-ifs”.
- Visit the graves of Fighting-General “Rooi Bul” Sarel Oosthuizen and Captain Younger V.C. who are buried only 14 paces apart in the Burgershoop Cemetery, Krugersdorp.
Fitness required: minimal walking. Extended guided walks up the ridge to the Boer fortified positions are available for the fit and healthy. A challenging 8-kilometer hiking trail takes you through both the Boer and British positions, including the Headquarters of General Oosthuizen and General Smith-Dorrien. An easy 2-kilometer walk (there and back) takes you to the ruins of the farmhouse where Captain Trenchard was ambushed and badly wounded)