Battle of Bergendal, 26-27 August 1900 (Anglo Boer War)

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Information provided by Hans Bornman from his unpublished book, Lowveld Tour Guide:

Travelling about 6 km east of Belfast, on the way to Machadodorp, is the monument of Bergendal. It was officially opened on 29 August 1970 to commemorate the Battle of Bergendal which took place on 26 and 27 August 1900 during the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902).

Several months before the capture of Pretoria by the British Forces in June 1900, President Paul Kruger and his government were stationed at Machadodorp. Conscious of the vital necessity of effectively halting the British in their march towards the east, General Louis Botha (1862-1919) had been doing everything in his power to entrench his troops at all the probable points of attack. A month after the fall of Middelburg, General Sir Redvers Buller (1839-1908) was ready for a test of strength against the Boers.

Botha held himself responsible for the defence of the Belfast sector. Every Boer Commando had already been allotted the terrain to be defended. Botha’s men were stationed at Bergendal. The Krugersdorp Commando and the Johannesburg Mounted Police (ZARP’s) held a koppie to the south of the railway line.

General J D P French brought up reinforcements from the direction of Wonderfontein and he and Buller had some 13 000 men ready for the attack, with another 7 500 reserves standing by. On 25 August Lord F S Roberts (1832-1914) arrived on the scene and organised the plan of attack.

General Buller launched his main attack from the direction of Vogelstruispoort, 2 km from Bergendal. On a small koppie (hillock) scarcely the size of one morgen, 74 men of the Johannesburg Mounted Police took up position, a few hundred metres south of the railway line. A little further on 100 foot police were ensconced behind the stone walls of cattle enclosures.

At 11:00 on 27 August Buller’s 38 guns opened fire on the position held by the ZARP’s. For three hours without pause a deadly artillery bombardment was concentrated on the koppie spreading death and destruction. Stores were shattered and rocks crushed by luddite explosions. For hours this murderous onslaught had to be endured by 74 men who, without any support, had to try and stem the tide of a mighty British force. Only with a charge by the infantry could the ZARP’s hit back, killing six officers and 75 men. Of their own number 40 out of the original 74 men were either killed, wounded or captured. In the cemetery at Bergendal the names of 12 men are recorded. About 100 metres away is a monument erected to the memory of the six British officers and 19 men.