Talana Hill Heritage Park and Battlesite, South Africa

Talana Hill Heritage Park and Battlesite

The first stop on the battlefield leg of my 2013 tour of southern Africa was Ladysmith, partly because of proximity, but partly because the Siege of Ladysmith was one of the most iconic episodes of the early part of the 2nd Boer War. The only thing worth seeing as a casual visitor was the Ladysmith Siege Museum.

Dundee on the other hand, a small town about eighty miles northeast of Ladysmith, the gateway to the battlegrounds as it is touted, threw up a very unexpected surprise. Dundee is, or perhaps more accurately was, a coal mining settlement in the heart of what was Natal, and was an extremely important strategic asset to the British inasmuch as it provided the fundamental fuel to run the key transport system, the railways, without which the British war effort would be neutralized, or at least very severely compromised.

War was declared on 11 October 1899, and on 19 October the Boers had taken up positions above Dundee on three strategic hills, Talana, Lennox and Mpande, from where they began an artillery barrage of the town the following day. The British, surprised by this, replied with artillery of their own, but were outranged. Artillery was brought in closer as a full frontal infantry assault was ordered against Talana Hill. I am not going to describe the battle in any detail here, it is very well covered on Wikipedia, but the net result was a British victory with high casualties, resulting, strangely, in an eventual British withdrawal from the area in order to converge at Ladysmith where the main action was taking place.

The Talana Hill Battle site is actually what it termed a heritage park, and as I found it, it was a wonderful collection of displays, museums and monuments to that particular period of South African history, given over in large part to Dundee’s coal mining history, but also not without rich vignettes of life as it was at the time of the Anglo/Boer War. The battlesite itself is confusing and quite neglected, and I suppose that the many visitors there were not necessarily likely to climb to the summit of the hill and peruse the sequence of action. However, I did, and I found it fascinating, and here is a selection of image,s not only from the hill, but from the various museums too.

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