The Boer War in Hartbeespoort

British troops in Hartbeespoort

by Ian Copley

General Lord Roberts reached Pretoria on June 5th. 1900 from the Cape after several set—piece battles astride the railway line. His extended lines of communication were very vulnerable to attack a fact taken notice of by such as De Wet. However, after the last set-piece battle at Diamond Hill west of Pretoria on 12/ 13 June it was felt that the war was over. ‘Bobs’ prepared to depart leaving affairs in the hands of his ambitious, but administratively inept, second-in—command, General Kitchener, who was to face a series of military disasters in the remainder of the war which was to last for almost two more years. The general was keen to ensure that no blame should fall at his feet and thus jeopardize’ his aim of becoming C-in-C India.

The prolongation of the guerrilla phase of the war was to see the erection of so-called concentration camps for Boer families out in the veldt and from whom the Boers were getting their sustenance (apart from stores of food, weapons and ammunition captured from the British). Just as the first concentration camp for British POWs at Waterval, north of Pretoria entailed a high mortality from malnutrition and disease so did the concentration of families during a very harsh winter combined with ignorance of nutrition and hygiene.

To contain Boer movements strings of forts were built at intervals along the railway lines connected by barbed wire fences. In the Hartbeespoort area after August 1900, some 50 forts of various designs were constructed along the Magaliesberg at Horn’s Nek, Smit’s Nek, Silkaatsnek, Commando Nek, Klein (Pampoen) Nek, Cave Nek, Damhoek, Nooitgedacht, Grobler’s Pass (Breedt’s Nek) and Oliphant’s Nek within sight of the road and telegraph line between Pretoria and Rustenburg to deny Boer movement north and south. Other forts – three immediately South of Rietfontein and others at Orange Grove in Broederstroom, Kalkheuwel and ‘Barton’s folly’ at the Hekpoort guarding the passes to the south of Die Moot. Only two forts survive today in complete form.