Military Insignia – Harrismith 1900

42nd Hill (previously known as Reitzheuwel), Staffordshire Hill, Platberg, the Grant Quarries and Basotu Hill

During the Anglo Boer War the number of troops in the town increased & many camps were established around the town.

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The British troops occupied Harrismith in August 1900 under Genl. Leslie Rundle of the 8th Division. The 8th Division was made up of the 1st Leister Regiment, 1st South Staffordshire Regiment, 2nd Grenadier Guards, 2nd Scots Guards, 2nd East Yorkshire Regiment, 1st Worcestershire Regiment, 2nd Royal West Kent Regiment, 2nd Manchester Regiment and the 2nd, fourth and 11th Battalion of the Imperial Yeomanry.

The Division was 8000 men strong, but Rundle lost many soldiers because of total exhaustion and malnutrition. The units that originated in 1902 replace what was left of Rundle’s unit. Half of Rundle’s division was for ever on track to dominate the Eastern Free State. The remainder of the unit’s soldiers then rotate and it was time for the next group to go to battle.

The 20000 troops that is mentioned in Hawkin’s book actually spoke of Kitchener’s major concentration of troops, which he used for his 2nd Great Drive in February 1902 that ended in Harrismith and the town was used for a short period from where the soldiers operated and from. From Harrismith they were place back into operations in different areas.

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1st Battalion Black Watch, which was part of maj.gen. Hector MacDonald’s Highland Brigade which seized Harrismith in August 1900. The photo courtesy of Biebie de Vos collection

In the ensuing months the number of troops increased and many encampments were established around the town. The 3rd Dragoon Guards and the Staffordshire Regiment pitched their tents under Stafford Hill, while the Manchester Regiment, the Grenadier Guards and, later, the 4th King’s Royal Rifles were quartered on Basuto Hill. To enable the latter group to reach town, a suspension bridge was built across the Wilge River.

Royal Engineers
Manchester Regiment, the Grenadier Guards and, later, the 4th King’s Royal Rifles were quartered on Basuto Hill and had to make use of a suspension bridge to reach town. Thank you to Biebie de Vos for sharing a part of his collection

The artillery took post on Queen’s Hill, while a military hospital, No. 19 Stationary Hospital was situated where Bergsig is today.

A memorial service in honor of the death of Queen Victoria was held in Harrismith on Saturday 2 February 1901 starting at l0h00. The garrison in town, forming up on three sides, in a rectangle, facing the Town Hall (draped in black) gathered to show their respect. Lt Gen Rundle and Staff took up their places in the center. Precisely on the hour an 81-shot salute was fired from Johannesburg Hill (presumably this was 42nd Hill) overlooking the town.

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The view from 42nd Hill from where the 81-shot salute was fired. Part of Biebie de Vos collection

Stafford Hill, which bears the stone badges of the Third Dragoon Guards (The Prince of Wales’ Feathers) the Knot of the Staffordshire Regiment and the Sphinx of the Manchester Regiment.

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Knot of the Staffordshire Regiment clearly visible in this old photo.
This photo is part of Biebie de Vos collection

The Sphinx appeared in the badges of several British Regiment, it is difficult to ascertain which Regiment was responsible for the Badge. E B Hawkins claims that it is the Badge of the Gloucester  Regiment, but according to the archivist of the Regiment, Lt. Col. H Radice, none of the Battalions of the Gloucestershire Regiment were in the vicinity of Harrismith. The badge could be possibly have been the handiwork of the Manchester Regiment, which also had a Sphinx as a badge, and was stationed at Harrismith.

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The Plumes of the Prince of Whales visible on this old photo which is part of the Biebie de Vos collection

The military camp of the 3rd Dragoon Guards, was established under a ridge to the east of the town. The 3rd Dragoon Guards whose regimental emblem is inscribe on the hillside, arrived in South Africa in February 1901 and remained in Harrismith until mid-1904. The 42nd Hill was previously known as Reitzheuwel.

42nd Hill, to the north of Harrismith where the N3 ascend to the plateau above Harrismith, has an interesting history. Before the war it was known as Reitzheuwel (after pres. FW Reitz of the Free State).

At the end of the Anglo Boer war, it was renamed after the 2nd Black Watch. (Not to be confused with the 1st Battalion Black Watch, which was part of maj.gen. Hector MacDonald’s Highland Brigade which seized Harrismith in August 1900, but they only stayed for a week, before moving on to Heilbron.)

The 2nd Battalion Black Watch only arrived in South Africa at the end of 1901 from India. They camped on top of Reitzheuwel, just above Harrismith. On 27 December the headquarters and 4 companies reached Harrismith. One of the companies stayed there, while the rest moved to Elands River Bridge. By the end of January 1902 the battalion returned to Reitzheuwel, where they would camp until the end of the war four months later. After the war they became part of the garrison stationed in Harrismith, still camping on Reitzheuwel. It was during this time that the hill was renamed after the 2nd Battalion ’s feeder unit, the 42nd Regiment of Foot. (During the Childers Reforms in the early 1880’s the 42nd Regiment of Foot became the 2nd Batalion Black Watch.)

The 2nd Black watch was relocated to Kings Hill when the permanent buildings were erected early in 1903. They left Harrismith in 1904.

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The British Regimental Badges in Harrismith.

The Regimental Badges are a Provincial Heritage site.

Thanks to Leon Strachan for sharing his knowledge.

Till next time

Hennie & Sandra

 

 

 

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