The Magersfontein Anglo Boer War Battlefield Site in South Africa


In the predawn light of Monday 11 December 1899, Major General Andrew Wauchope led his men of Highlanders on a dawn attack of the Boer positions who were believed to be entrenched somewhere ahead amongst the hills of Magersfontein. At this time only the silhouette of Magersfontein kopie could be seen some 1000 yards in the distance. Wauchope pressed ahead across the flat plain towards the hills, and disaster.

At 400 yards all hell broke loose. No-one had suspected that the Boers had camouflaged themselves in trenches at the foot of the Magersfontein hills. At the end of the day casualties stood at 902 dead on the British side, and 236 on the Boer side. Amongst the fallen was Wauchope himself, only 200 yards from the Boer trenches.

The Magersfontein Anglo Boer War battlefield site is situated about 35 miles south of South Africa’s diamond capital of Kimberley on the Eastern side of the N12 that connects Kimberly to Cape Town. The last 7 miles is gravel road that runs on the southern side of the Magersfontein hills. There is a large prominent entrance gate on the left which leads into the area that was occupied by the Boers during the battle.

Be sure to get a map of the area at the gate. Once through the gate the road takes one up to the visitor’s center. About half way up, there is a fork in the road. The right hand road leads to the foot of the Magersfontein hills and the old Boer trenches, while the left road ends at the visitor’s center.

The visitor’s center contains an excellent museum displaying many artifacts from the battle. These include field guns, rifles, uniforms and artillery shells. From the visitors center there is a path leading towards the edge of Magersfontein kopie where one can get a good view of the British positions below in the distance. A small covered shelter contains a display and information boards on the various points of interest in the area.

Heading back and past the visitors center, there is a monument on the highest point of Magersfontein kopie dedicated to the memory of the officers and men of the various Highland regiments that fell here on 11 December 1899. Just to the west are short trails leading to the Boer cannon positions. A trip to the foot of Magersfontein kopie and the old Boer trench line is well worth a visit. The trenches run for hundreds of yards from east to west in a zigzag line.

The British positions may be visited by heading back to the main gate and crossing the road to the south. Here a vast flat plain extends for many miles. The area is sparely vegetated with only a few thorn trees and anthills offering any sort of protection to the British troops. Dotting this landscape are the numerous memorials dedicated to the various regiments of the British whose men fell here on that fateful day. Amongst them you will find the memorials to the Northumberland Fusiliers, the Highland Light Infantry, and the Black Watch. Far to the east, is a memorial to a Scandinavian regiment that fought on the side of the Boers, and was totally annihilated by the British. The memorials are often hundreds of yards apart and more or less indicate the position where most men of a particular regiment fell.

Looking back north towards the Magersfontein hills, one wonders what went through the minds of the men that took part in the battle that pre-dawn morning. The hills look ominous in the distance, almost as if sheltering a great dragon that spits flames in the form of bullets and cannon fire.