The Boer War – The Battle at Slingersfontein 1900

 

The 2nd Battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment left Bermuda on 25 November 1899 under the command of Lt. Col. C. Coningham. They landed at Southampton and spent ten days at Aldershot in freezing winter weather, before leaving for South Africa from Southampton on 17 December 1899 aboard SS Tintagel Castle.

The Battalion arrived at Cape Town on 12 January 1900 where the Boer War had been in progress for three months.  They travelled by train to Rensburg and then marched 18 miles to take over the outpost at Slingersfontein from the cavalry. Slingersfontein was a farm on the extreme right flank of the British line.

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A British sentry keeps watch at Slingersfontein

The 2nd Battalion Worcesters now joined General Clements Brigade together with the 1st Royal Irish and the 2nd Battalion Wiltshires. The British line still laid in a semicircle extending from Slingersfontein upon the right to Kloof Camp upon the left, and the general scheme of operations continued to be an enveloping movement upon the right. General Clements commanded this section of the forces on the right. The British lines had gradually stretched until they were now nearly fifty miles in length.

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Members of the 2nd Battalion manning a “saggar”

Patrols were in action every day and captured several Boers from whom they learned that an attack was imminent. The attack came before dawn on 12 February 1900, exactly a month after the Battalion had arrived in South Africa. They were attacked by 300 of the South African Republic (Transvaal) Police, known as the “Zarps”, the storm troops of the Boer Forces.

The weight of the attack was at the extreme right held by A, C and E Companies under  Major Stubbs. The forward picquets were overrun, but no ground was lost. The landscape was hilly scrub land and the battle was centred around Pinnacle Hill, Burnt Hill and Signal Hill.

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Lt. Colonel C. Coningham

Lt. Col. Coningham went to take command, but was shot in the head by a sniper as he directed operations from the top of Pinnacle Hill. Major Stubbs and Captain Thomas were also killed. Captain Hovell assumed command of the three companies.

Pinnacle Hill was held throughout the day. E Company led initially by Major Stubbs held onto the lower slopes assisted by C Company and well directed fire from A Company. In spite of heavy attacks during the day, they held fast and did not give ground. They made several counter attacks, but were unable to drive the Boers from the crests of Signal Hill and Burnt Hill.

The defence was helped by fire from four guns of J Battery, RHA and one howitzer, which kept all lost ground under heavy bombardment and eventually set fire to the scrub on Burnt Hill, enveloping the position in clouds of smoke.

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Burying in the dead at Slingersfontein. In the foreground are the grave markers of Col. Conningham and Major Stubbs

After the all day fight, with heavy casualties inflicted  on the enemy the Boers retired. Three officers had been lost, 22 men killed and three officers and 47 men wounded.

The successful defence was largely due to the high standard of musketry in the Battalion. Boers taken prisoner were reputed to have said that they had never met such accurate and well directed fire.

A memorial was erected below Pinnacle Hill over the graves of the fallen. It occupies a prominent spot some 200 feet above the surrounding country. It is a granite cross, and at its foot, a plaque is inset into the mound naming Lt. Col. Coningham, the Officers, N.C.O.s and men who died. The foundation of the memorial contains the empty rifle cartridges from the battle.

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