Battle of Hart;s hill (Terrace hill) Natal 1900
23 February 2018
Battle of Hart’s Hill (Inniskilling )
With two brigades tied down by the Boers along the Tugela line, Maj Gen Arthur Fitzroy Hart was ordered to attack the next feature along the Boer line – Hart’s Hill (occupied by elements of the Rustenburg and Krugersdorp Commandos. The latter’s sangars extended across the valley to the next feature, known as Railway Hill (later Kitchener’s Hill), which they shared with elements of the Johannesburg and Vryheid Commandos).
Hart’s 5th Brigade comprised the 1st Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, the 1st Connaught Rangers, the 2nd Royal Dublin Fusiliers and half a battalion of the Imperial Light Infantry.
Hart’s advance had commenced on the 23rd February 1900; the brigade had moved along the muddy bank of the Thukela River and then run the gauntlet of the railway bridge (known as pom-pom bridge). They then assembled in a basin-like depression which was referred to Hart’s Hollow but the irascible General decided to attack before dark, despite the fact that only a portion of his force had arrived. He ordered his bugler to sound the ‘double’ and ‘charge’ repeatedly and as the battalions (the Inniskillings on the left, the Connaught Rangers on the right) emerged from the Hollow, they came under devastating attack from the Boers on Hart’s Hill. The Irish surged up the hill over the terrace and were subjected to such heavy rifle fire that they withdrew to shelter. Over they went again, and their commanding officer, Lt Col TMG Thackeray was killed. The 2 I/C was also killed. Eventually command of the Inniskillings passed to a Captain.
The battery commanders on the opposite bank of the Thukela struggled in the poor light to determine targets and without artillery support, the British attack ground to a halt and the men spent a terrible night in the veld, listening to the moans of the wounded and dying men.
On the morning of the 24th February 1900, Hart was reinforced but the additional battalions remained cramped into Hart’s Hollow while Hart and Lt Gen Sir Charles Warren deliberated. At this stage, Gen Buller decided to redeploy the artillery and to relocate the Royal Engineers’ pontoons across the river. The dead and wounded from Wynne Hill and Hart’s Hill still lay in the open and on Sunday 25th February 1900, a partial armistice was agreed to by both sides. Boer and Brit emerged from their positions to exchange tobacco and partake of some whisky. Even Maj Gen Neville Lyttelton made his way to confer with some Boers, who suggested that they were giving the British a rough time. Lyttelton responded: “A rough time? Yes, I suppose so. But for us it is nothing. We are used to it, and we are well paid for it. This is the life we lead – always, you understand?” To this, the Boers replied: “Great God!” Lyttelton continued: “Why not? This is our life, whether we are at Aldershot or in India, or wherever we are. We are just to settle down to this campaign”.
This respite enabled the British gunners to register the Boers positions when they returned to their defences. It also revealed the devastating effect of the Lyddite from the British projectiles; everything appeared yellow – the rocks, the veld, the water, the burghers...
The British also used the opportunity to re-arrange the commands on the north bank and divided the line into two, using the Langverwachtspruit as the dividing line. It was remarkably similar to the Boers’.
The scene was now set for the final phase of the Battle of the Thukela Heights; a repeat attack by the British on Hart’s Hill and a simultaneous attack on the Boer defences along Railway Hill and Pieters Ridge.
Source : Ken Gillings