The Second Battle of Silkaats Nek

2nd August 1900

On 1st August, due to the recent Boer attacks on isolated garrisons, Lord Roberts decided to give up Rustenburg and Olifants Nek and despatched General Ian Hamilton from Pretoria to re-capture Silkaats and Commando Neks and then advance to Rustenburg to bring away Baden-Powell.

General Ian Hamilton divided his force of about 6 000 men and 26 guns into two columns: Mahon’s Brigade moved westwards north of the Magaliesberg, and he marched in parallel along the south with Cunningham’s infantry and Hickman’s Mounted troops. Hamilton arrived at Silkaats Nek on the 1st, before Mahon, and decided to attack on the 2nd in case Mahon was in difficulty, as their communications were defective. The Nek was carried by infantry attacks by the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders on the left, and the Berkshires (Princess Charlotte of Wales’ Regiment) on the right, supported by the 75th Battery, the two 5” guns and the Elswick battery in the centre.

Commandant Coetzee, West Pretoria Commando, offered little resistance in the face of overwhelming odds and his Commando fled. Coetzee and one other Boer was killed, three were badly wounded and 17 prisoners, some cattle and horses and two wagons were captured. Soft-nosed bullets were found on the prisoners and Hamilton issued a protest to General Botha.

On the British side two Berkshires were killed in action and three died of wounds: one Argyll and Sutherland Highlander was killed. Two Officers (Lt. Col. Rhodes and Major G.D. Williams) and 26 men of the Berkshires were wounded, together with 13 of the Highlanders. Private W. House 2nd Princess Charlotte of Wale’s (Royal Berkshire) Regiment was awarded the Victoria Cross for gallantry during this action.

Tour Highlights (both Battles at Silkaatsnek)

  • Drive from the area of the Rietfontein Campsite along the route of the two guns which were sent to support the Lincolns, to where “D” and “F” Company of the Lincolns provided supporting fire to the camp above them in the Nek.
  • Pause below the Nek to see the steep slopes up which the Berkshires and Highlander Infantry attacked Coetzee’s Commando.
  • Have a leisurely picnic lunch under the trees on the Battlefield at the Silkaatsnek Nature Reserve and look at the detailed maps of both Battles.
  • Walk or drive to the Nek itself to see the shell marks on the rocks above the Scots Grey’s position.
  • Examine the road cutting which gave the British wounded shelter during the first Battle.
  • Pay respect to the British dead at the Rietfontein Cemetery, within the old British Campsite, and see the critical Neks or passes from this good vantage point.

Fitness required: minimal walking. Extended guided walks along the heights overlooking the Nek are available for the fit and healthy.

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