Monday, May 27, 2013

Footsteps of three great leaders: Churchill, Gandhi and Botha. Spion Kop (South Africa)

This is called a story on which the sun never sets. Britain marched into the South African war in the spring of 1899, confident that it “would all be over by Christmas!” The war lasted three years and was to become the most costly war Britain had ever fought.
Winston Churchill (future Prime Minister of United Kingdom), Mohandas Gandhi (One of the greatest man of the Millennium) and Louis Botha (future South African Prime Minister and leader of the Boer forces) were present together at the battle before they got famous.
The British suffered 243 fatalities during the battle, many were buried in the trenches where they fell. Approximately 1,250 British were either wounded or captured.

Spion Kop battlefield area

Mahatama Gandi was there:
Mohandas Gandhi had organised the Indian Ambulance Corps and he was a stretcher-bearer at the battle. Indian Ambulance Corps was decorated. Later on he was known as one of the greatest man of the millennium.
Winston Churchil was there:
Winston Churchill was a journalist stationed in South Africa and he had also been commissioned as a Lieutenant in the South African Light Horse by General Buller after his well-publicized escape from Boer captivity.

View from the Spion Kop hill
Churchill acted as a courier to and from Spion Kop and General Buller’s HQ and made a statement about the scene: “Corpses lay here and there. Many of the wounds were of a horrible nature. The splinters and fragments of the shells had torn and mutilated them. The shallow trenches were choked with dead and wounded.

Spion Kop Battle memorials
“Later when Winston Churchill was Prime Minister he revealed that General Botha was the man who captured him at the ambush of a British armored train on 15 November 1899. Churchill was not aware of the man’s identity until 1902, when Botha traveled to London seeking loans to assist his country’s reconstruction, and the two met at a private luncheon. The incident is also mentioned in Arthur Conan Doyle’s book, The Great Boer War, published in 1902.
Louis Botha was there:
General Sir Redvers Buller, VC, commander of the British forces in Natal, was attempting to relieve a British force besieged in Ladysmith.

Group photo of Mahatama Gandhi’s Indian Ambulance Corps at Spion Kop
The Boers under General Louis Botha held the Tugela River against him. Although Botha’s men were outnumbered, they were mostly equipped with modern Mauser rifles and up-to-date field guns, and had carefully entrenched their positions. In late December, 1899, Buller made a frontal assault on the Boer positions at the Battle of Colenso. The result was a heavy British defeat.

Mahatama Gandhi’s closeup in the above picture.
Spion Kop is a hill among the mighty Drakensberg Mountains, in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. It is located near the town of Ladysmith, 27 km to the WSW and about 2. 5 km to the north of the Spioenkop Dam, a reservoir for the waters of the Tugela River.
It has historic importance otherwise nothing special about it. Well once a while once may sight a zebra or giraffe here or there.

Road from Ladysmith to Bergville
I always wanted to visit this place so one day I was there but visit turned out a very pleasing one. Ladysmith is a small scenic town surrounded by the lush green hills. I arrived here from Durban on a 6 hour Greyhound bus. I spent a night in the Ladysmith town and strolled in its neat avenues. Tried hard but could not find any Indian Restaurant although some Indians do live here and run small stores.

Ladysmith, South Africa
Next day I caught another local but to Bergville and told the driver to drop me near the battle ground. He stopped the bus for me at signpost on the gravel road. From there I walked to the Spinkop Lodge.
Spionkop Lodge is situated on the site of the original farmhouse where Winston Churchill set up camp prior to the battle.

Spion Kop Lodge
The farm itself is now part of a 700 hectare eco-reserve, with some 270 bird species, abundance of antelope, indigenous bush. Since it is the month of July and flowering aloes are at bloom and beauty of this place is breathless. Aloe can grow in India also by grafting or spreading roots but its flowering is rare in India.
On the reserve is also Mount Alice, where General Buller established his headquarters, and lost communication with his troops at a vital point in the battle. Trips to the battlefield are run by the Lodge Host Mr. Raymond is a genius entertainer as well a history goof. He brings alive the life, the adventures and misadventures of those fateful days of war. An alternative tour is to Tugela Heights, Winston Churchill Capture Site, and Ladysmith.

Flowering aloes in Spion Kop area
The lodge itself is in the 108 year old former farmhouse, which has been wonderfully restored in park-like grounds to now house the reception lounge, the dining room, with spectacular views overlooking the Spionkop Mountain, and the Churchill pub.
The accommodation consists of 8 comfortable en-suite bedrooms, as well as 2 fully equipped self-catering cottages, ideal for families or friends traveling together.
It is important to note that Spionkop also offers a panoramic view of the entire Northern and Central Drakensberg. The views of this world heritage site at sunset from this site are breathtaking.

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