Battle of Kalkheuwel

The following report on the battle of Kalkheuwel by Prof Ian Copley is based mainly on research in British military archives.

Just over one hundred years ago, the South African, or Anglo-Boer War, came to the countryside around Hartbeespoort

On the 3rd of June 1900, Field Marshall Lord Roberts began his march on Pretoria from Johannesburg. His cavalry wing under General French at Bergvlei was detailed to swing round to the West of Pretoria, out of range of the guns of the Pretoria forts. The objectives were to cut off the retreat of the Boer Government to the West or to the North (by rail), to capture the Wonderboom fort north of Pretoria and to liberate 3,500 prisoners of war at Waterval further north on the Pretoria – Pietersburg railway line.

Owing to the deeply incised course of the Jukskei and Crocodile rivers flowing northwards into what was to become Hartbeespoort Dam thirty years later, French had to cross to the west of them and proceed towards Kalkheuwel Pass to reach the Moot or valley South of the Magaliesberg. It turned into a race with Commandant SP Du Toit whose Potchefstroom commando convoy was attempting to delay the cavalry advance by reaching the pass to defend it.

Du Toit arrived first and laid an ambush. The ensuing battle lasted an hour or two before nightfall and continued sporadically into the night whilst Du Toit extracted his depleted convoy. What might have become a disaster for the British cavalry was averted by the prompt action of Major (later Field Marshall, Viscount) Allenby. He organized the dismounting and storming of the heights by his own troops (Inniskilling Dragoons), the New South Wales Lancers and Canadian Mounted Infantry. Only three Carabiniers (6th. Royal Dragoon Guards) in the lead were killed (and buried in an adjacent cemetery in the pass), but some fifty exposed horses were killed. Several batteries of Royal Horse Artillery supported the assault on the heights by expending 119 shrapnel 12-pounder shells and 275 pom-pom 1-pounder shells during the limited  daylight.  The following morning Du Toit was seen disappearing over the distant horizon.

It is assumed that he left the Moot via Silkaats nek, since one of the wounded, Veld Cornet Kruger, was buried at the foot of the pass. Some 30 Boers were reported to have been killed on the heights and buried in a common grave in the cemetery; no names are recorded there. The body of Cornelius Francois Kruger (father of 12 children, 9 of whom died prior to the war, left a will, but his estate proved to be insolvent to the tune of ₤1200) was presumably exhumed by the family and taken back to Krugersdorp, Wolmaranstad or Potchefstroom because the grave beneath a handsome gold-lettered headstone was found to be empty when excavated by the Pretoria University Department of Anatomy in 1996. Some pieces of slate representing a kist, about a foot below the surface, were all that remained of the grave, which was empty except for a brass buckle, a pewter purse rim and a small bone possibly of the hallux.

Next morning the cavalry proceeded by following the road that took a right angled turn and climbed out of the pass; not down to the Welgegund ford over the Crocodile River (the present route of the R512), which had been French’s original objective. The original road led off to Broederstroom where light shelling from hilltops was encountered.  Some villagers had gathered on a hilltop to watch the fun and got shelled for their pains.

The troops passed old Voortrekker graves and continued down to the farm Klipdrif (016) helping themselves to abundant oranges. At the farm the 11th. Hussars found a very long table that had been laid with food, an uneaten repast, for the retreating enemy.

The dirt road can still be followed from Kalkheuwel past Jelalapor’s store (021) as far as Hartbeespoort Dam.

After midday the 1st. Cavalry Brigade and the 14th Hussars crossed the wooden bridge to the right bank of the Crocodile River on the property of General Hendrik Schoeman. General French met his old opponent from the 10 weeks at Colesburg and spent the night at ‘Schoemans Rust’. Schoeman obtained a protection order in exchange for an oath of neutrality (082).

The 4th. Brigade and mounted Infantry remained on the left bank of the Crocodile sending elements to seize Commando nek whilst ‘A’ Squadron Inniskillings were sent to Silkaats nek and found it to be clear thus controlling the two important passes in the area for wheeled vehicles. ‘A’ Squadron of the Royal Scots Greys was sent to relieve the Inniskillings on the nek and also to occupy Put’s Drift over the Crocodile beyond. They could hear the big guns near Pretoria and in the same direction saw the army’s war balloon. The soldiers met a Scotsman who kept a store on the right hand side of the road up Silkaats nek (062)and kept zebras that he drove in harness (see map fig.11).

The Inniskillings with the Royal Horse Artillery (RHA) bivouacked at Rietfontein (now Ifafi) “in a very nice valley” on the small hills that command the whole region of the valley (053).

Next morning, June 5th, General French with the cavalry and RHA proceeded North of the Magaliesburg over Silkaats nek (marked Engat’s Nek on Goldman’s map) to capture the Wonderboom fort and liberate over 3,000 POWs in the Waterval camp, whilst the Mounted Infantry, mostly Canadians under General Hutton, continued along the Moot, seizing Daspoort Fort on the way towards Pretoria, which surrendered the same day, theoretically the end of the war.