Background to the conflict
The Boer Wars was a series of battles between the South African Boers and the British Empire. The Boers were comprised of the combined forces of the South African Republic (Transvaal) and the Republic of the Orange Free State. The first war span from December 16, 1880 to March 23 1881. The second Boer War span from October 9, 1899 to May 31, 1902.
A number of interrelated factors led to the Second Anglo-Boer War. These include the conflicting political ideologies of imperialism and republicanism, control of trade routes to India, and most crucially, the discovery of gold in the Transvaal in 1885 at Witwatersrand Reef.
The discovery of gold in the Transvaal led to a massive influx of immigrants to the area, who quickly started to claim rights for citizenship. A conference was held in Bloomfontein, capital of the Orange Free State to try and resolve the issues, but ended in stalemate. Relations between the Boer States, and the British deteriorated rapidly after this, and both sides moved forces to their mutual borders.
The British forces in Natal numbered less than 16,000, whilst the Transvaal Burgher army alone totalled nearly 27,000. In September 1989, London decided to despatch over 10,000 additional troops to South Africa.
9th October 1899
On the 9th October 1989, the Transvaal Government responded to the increase in British troops by issuing an ultimatum, with a two day deadline: all British forces were to withdraw from the borders of the Transvaal, all the troops which had landed since the previous June were to be moved from South Africa and those on their way from overseas were not to be landed.
11th October 1899
The Transvaal Government declares war at 5pm on the 11th October 1899, and the Boers invade.
The Boers were very well armed and struck first. The British forces were quickly overwhelmed and forced back to the towns of Mafeking, Kimberley and Ladysmith, which were then besieged. It was at this point that the Royal Navy was called into action.
28 October 1899
As the Boers surrounded Ladysmith, Lieutenant General Sir George White ordered a sortie by his entire force to capture the Boer artillery. The result was the disastrous Battle of Ladysmith, in which the British were driven back into the town having lost 1,200 men killed, wounded or captured.
The Siege of Ladysmith was a protracted engagement in the Second Boer War, taking place between 2 November 1899 and 28 February 1900 at Ladysmith, Natal following the Battle for Ladysmith.
Royal Naval Brigade
At anchor off Capetown were the cruisers, HMS Terrible and HMS Powerful. The British Commander in Natal, General Sir George White VC, signalled the ships for assistance, particularly long range guns. Fortunately for the General, Captain P.Scott RN of HMS Terrible was a gunnery expert and he quickly designed a carriage that could hold 6 inch, and 4.7 inch, 12 pounder naval guns for transit and in action. Following initial tests, all the necessary guns and equipment were transported to Durban by HMS Terrible; the carriages were then speedily manufactured in the Durban Railway workshops. The contingent was soon ready and under the command of Captain H.Lambton RN, the 280 officers and men with two, 4.7 inch guns, four long range 12 pounders and four maxim guns the Naval Brigade as they were now called, left Durban by rail for Ladysmith. Their train was the last to complete the journey to Ladysmith on the 30th October just as the siege and bombardment started.
The Relief of Ladysmith
The Naval Brigade were soon in action against the Boer artillery; their long range guns were so effective in countering the enemy batteries and holding them at bay that it was not long before Captain Scott was being asked to provide another brigade. This was duly done and the new brigade acted in support of General Buller's push towards their besieged comrades. Due to the nature of this operation the railway was of little use, therefore the guns had to be manhandled over difficult terrain to be brought into action in many different engagements, eventually reaching Ladysmith after 120 days of blockade.
The Naval Brigade participated in a number of important battles during the fight for the relief of Ladysmith:
* 25 November 1899 - The Naval Brigade from HMS Powerful fought in the Battle of Graspan against the Boers in South Africa
* 6 January 1900 - The Naval Brigade from HMS Powerful repulsed a strong Boer attack at Ladysmith.
* 30 October 1900 - The Naval Brigade of HMS Powerful attacked Boer positions at Lombards Kop, Ladysmith
The news of the relief of Ladysmith was greeted with great jubilation in Britain and Queen Victoria sent a telegram to the Naval Brigades thanking them for their invaluable assistance. Leaving Ladysmith on the 7th March 1900 the sailors of Powerful and Terrible were soon back on board, the Powerful heading for home and arriving in Portsmouth on the 11th April.
The officers and men of Powerful were soon invited to a number of military and civic receptions culminating in a Royal audience with Queen Victoria where she personally thanked the ship's company for their part in the saving of Ladysmith.
After the initial setbacks at the start of the war, the British founght back, relieving the three besieged cities, and invading the two Boer republics in late 1900. The onward marches of the British Army were so overwhelming that the Boers did not fight staged battles in defense of their homeland. Britain quickly seized control of all of the Orange Free State and Transvaal, as the civilian leadership went into hiding or exile. In conventional terms, the war was over.
The Field Gun Competition
The whole idea of the Field Gun competition is to try and reconstruct, as near to the truth as possible, what happened a century ago during the relief of Ladysmith. The men not only had to cope with very difficult terrain but they had to construct some sort of way of getting across a bottomless area of land; this is where the present days chasm idea came from in the Command Field Gun competition.