Battle of Dwarsvlei

On 11 July 1900 1300 Gordon Highlanders and other infantry left Krugersdorp under the command of General Horace Smith-Dorrien to assist the beleaguered town of Rustenburg. Their orders were to link up with reinforcements from the Rietfontein camp (now Hartbeespoort Dam) and the combined column was to drive out the Boer commandos in the area.

General Sarel Oosthuizen, nicknamed ‘Rooibul’ because of his large red beard, planned to ambush the column as it crossed his own farm, Dwarsvlei, 15km outside Krugersdorp. He had already won fame as the man who caught Winston Churchill and for his courage on the Natal battlefields.

Dwarsvlei was an ideal position for an ambush. The Witwatersberg ridge overlooks the Krugersdorp-Hekpoort road at the crossroads that today lead to the Broederstroom in the east and Maropeng in the west.

Oosthuizen did not have a large force – some 750 recently-recruited men to confront a column of almost twice that number – but he deployed them along the crests of the surrounding koppies and they waited in silence as the British marched up the hill towards them.

When the column reached the intersection, the Boers opened fire. In their haste to engage the enemy, the British artillery galloped too close to the Boer riflemen on top of the ridge. Within half an hour 14 of the 17 gunners had been hit; their horses were shot down in their harnesses and wounded men lay trapped with their dead colleagues behind hastily constructed sangars.

The battle lasted all day and was distinguished by acts of great courage on both sides. The section commander, Lieutenant Turner, was wounded three times but continued to try to fire the guns alone. Captains W.E. Gordon and D.R. Younger of the Gordon Highlanders both tried to save the guns and both were awarded the Victoria Cross, their country’s supreme decoration for valour. .  Younger was killed and Corporal J.F. Mackay was recommended for decoration for carrying his body out of the firing line .

The Boers made several heroic attempts to capture the guns and dusk General Oosthuizen personally led a final and desperate charge against the guns. Just a few metres from his objective he was mortally wounded and died some weeks later. With the loss of their leader the Boers fell back and once it was dark, the British managed to limp back to Krugersdorp. The graves of Sarel Oosthuizen and Captain Younger lie a few metres apart in the Krugersdorp cemetery .