This is what happens when politicians try to change history; they get it wrong.
This is the new monument to the Indians and Blacks who participated in the Anglo-Boer War. I have absolutely no problem with it except that it is in the wrong place; it is situated on the summit of Spioenkop, slap bang in the so-called ‘acre of massacre’ of the famous battlefield and also in the middle of the defensive line, which the British dug when they occupied the summit. The ground here was so hard that the Royal Engineers had to utilise the large rocks instead of entrenching on that section of the summit.
This monument should be in Ladysmith or where the field hospital was situated during the battle, or even at Spearman’s Military Cemetery. It correctly pays tribute to two members of the Driefontein Scouts (but what about the rest of the Scouts?), a unit that was raised in the ‘native’ township of Driefontein outside Ladysmith by the Reverend R C Samuelson. They weren’t at Spioenkop.
It also refers to the role played by the Indian Stretcher Bearers led by Mohandas Gandhi (later the Mahatma) but contrary to tradition, lists the names of people who were not killed in action.
The monument should have been erected in Ladysmith, which is more relevant to the remarkable role played by these men – or if it really is absolutely necessary to be politically correct, alongside the interpretive panels on the summit of The Kop, where it would not have impacted on the pristine nature of the Battlefield.
Several people – including some battlefield guides – claim that Gandhi’s men moved around the battlefield while under fire. This is not so; according to their commanding officer, Major William Babtie VC (a Staff Officer of General Sir Redvers Buller VC’s army and secretary to Colonel Gallwey RAMC), he informed the Indian Ambulance Corps that there were many wounded soldiers to be removed from the field hospital below Spioenkop. The possibility of Boers dropping a shell or two on the pontoon bridge could also not be ruled out and Babtie warned the stretcher bearers accordingly. He also informed them that they were not required to work within the line of fire and were therefore not under any obligation to take the risk. Babtie indicated that he would be glad to lead the stretcher-bearers if they were prepared to cross the bridge. The leaders and the bearers indicated that they were prepared to follow him and so crossed the pontoon bridge to remove the wounded from the field hospital below the summit of Spioenkop to the stationary hospital at Spearman’s Farm. The Indian Ambulance Corps spent three weeks moving the wounded from the field hospital to the stationary hospital [this would have been No 4 Stationary Hospital] at Spearman’s Farm and from Spearman’s Farm to Frere. Frere Station was being used as a base where the wounded had to be brought before being transported to the general hospital. That was a remarkable feat and I am pleased that their role has been acknowledged – but why on the summit of The Kop?
I suppose that their commanding officer would have some idea of what was going on – unlike those who have erected this monument in the ‘Acre of Massacre’ of this once pristine battlefield.
Wouldn’t it be nice if politicians consulted with historians before trying to score brownie points..?
Script and Photos by: Ken Gillings