Battle of Witpoort

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Battle of Witpoort
Part of Second Boer War
Battle of Witpoort, South African War Memorial (Halifax), Nova Scotia
Date16 July 1900
Location Witpoort, South Africa
Result British Empire victory
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg  United Kingdom
Canadian Red Ensign (1868-1921).svg  Canada
Flag of Transvaal.svg  South African Republic
Commanders and leaders
Major-General Edward Hutton, Major Frederick Henry Munn General Ben Viljoen, Roland Schikkerling
Casualties and losses
7 killed
30 wounded
2 officers and 22 soldiers captured
2 killed

The Battle of Witpoort was a battle during the Second Anglo-Boer War. Major Frederick Henry Munn commanded the detachment of the Royal Irish Fusiliers at Witpoort which was attacked on 16 July 1900, his orders being to "hold his position at all costs". The Boers called on Major Munn to surrender, but, scornfully refusing, he held out from daybreak till 2 pm, when the Canadian forces mounted a counterattack and the Boers retired. The battle became famous because of the death of Harold Lothrop Borden.

Royal Irish Fusiliers Former regiment of the British Army

The Royal Irish Fusiliers was an Irish line infantry regiment of the British Army, formed by the amalgamation of the 87th Regiment of Foot and the 89th Regiment of Foot in 1881. The regiment's first title in 1881 was Princess Victoria's , changed in 1920 to the Royal Irish Fusiliers . Between the time of its formation and Irish independence, it was one of eight Irish regiments.

Harold Lothrop Borden Canadian military officer

Lieutenant Harold Lothrop Borden was from Canning, Nova Scotia and the only son of Canada's Minister of Defence and Militia, Frederick William Borden and related to future Prime Minister Robert Laird Borden. Serving in the Royal Canadian Dragoons, he became the most famous Canadian casualty of the Second Boer War. Queen Victoria asked F. W. Borden for a photograph of his son, Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier praised his services, tributes arrived from across Canada, and in his home town a monument was erected to his memory.



The Second Boer War was fought from 11 October 1899 until 31 May 1902 between the British Empire and the Afrikaans-speaking Dutch settlers of two independent Boer republics, the South African Republic (Transvaal Republic) and the Orange Free State. It ended with a British victory and the annexation of both republics by the British Empire; both would eventually be incorporated into the Union of South Africa, a dominion of the British Empire, in 1910.

British Empire States and dominions ruled by the United Kingdom

The British Empire comprised the dominions, colonies, protectorates, mandates and other territories ruled or administered by the United Kingdom and its predecessor states. It originated with the overseas possessions and trading posts established by England between the late 16th and early 18th centuries. At its height, it was the largest empire in history and, for over a century, was the foremost global power. By 1913, the British Empire held sway over 412 million people, 23% of the world population at the time, and by 1920, it covered 35,500,000 km2 (13,700,000 sq mi), 24% of the Earth's total land area. As a result, its political, legal, linguistic and cultural legacy is widespread. At the peak of its power, the phrase "the empire on which the sun never sets" was often used to describe the British Empire, because its expanse around the globe meant that the sun was always shining on at least one of its territories.

Afrikaans West Germanic language, spoken in South Africa and Namibia

Afrikaans is a West Germanic language spoken in South Africa, Namibia and, to a lesser extent, Botswana and Zimbabwe. It evolved from the Dutch vernacular of South Holland spoken by the mainly Dutch settlers of what is now South Africa, where it gradually began to develop distinguishing characteristics in the course of the 18th century. Hence, it is a daughter language of Dutch, and was previously referred to as "Cape Dutch" or "kitchen Dutch". However, it is also variously described as a creole or as a partially creolised language. The term is ultimately derived from Dutch Afrikaans-Hollands meaning "African Dutch".

Boer descendants of Dutch-speaking settlers in Southern Africa

Boer is the Dutch and Afrikaans noun for "farmer". In South African contexts, "Boers" refers to the descendants of the then Dutch-speaking settlers of the eastern Cape frontier in Southern Africa during the 18th and much of the 19th century. From 1652 to 1795 the Dutch East India Company controlled this area, but the United Kingdom incorporated it into the British Empire in 1806.

In the Battle of Witpoort, British commander Edward Hutton had four companies of the Royal Irish Fusiliers, the 1st Mounted Infantry, which was made up of the 1st and 2nd Canadians (who had arrived in camp on 15 July), as well as the Australians of the Queensland Mounted Infantry. Under the command of Major Munn were three companies of the Royal Irish Fusiliers (or four, according to 'G' Troop) and 60 troopers of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles were placed on the three hills straddling the Witpoort Pass, The British officers were charged by South African Republic General Ben Viljoen and renowned Boer fighter Roland Schikkerling. [1]

Ben Viljoen South African general

Benjamin Johannes "Ben" Viljoen was an Afrikaner-American Consul, soldier, farmer, Maderista, and Boer general. Viljoen was born in a cave in the Wodehouse district of the Cape Colony to Susanna Magdalena Storm and Wynand Johannes Viljoen. This was the temporary residence of the Viljoen family while their farm house was being constructed. He spent his early years on the Varkiesdraai farm near Umtata. He attained the position of Assistant Commandant-General of the Transvaal Burgher Forces and was member for Krugersdorp in the Transvaal Volksraad.He was a South African Freemason The High School in Groblersdal is named after him.


Harold Lothrop Borden Harold Lothrop Borden.jpg
Harold Lothrop Borden

South African Republic General Ben Viljoen had positioned his troops for attack during the night of 15 July and then launched a three-pronged assault on Major Munn and the Irish positions at daybreak. Viljoen ordered a 'general storming of the British's entrenchments'. The battle opened at 06.45 with heavy shelling on Major Munn's troops. Renowned Boer fighter Roland Schikkerling and his comrades went to the north of the New Zealanders' ridge and then charged under heavy rifle fire. The New Zealanders surrendered one of the three hills they occupied, the Boers were in possession of the higher hill which commanded the lower middle hill. Schikkerling captured a captain and twenty New Zealanders and some continued right over the ridge and captured a number of horses. (Boer Willem Morkel du Toit died in the charge.)

The Canadians mounted a counter-attack. Colonel Edwin Alderson sent two squadrons of the Canadians to assist 'the Irish on the kopje which had been vacated by the New Zealanders' and, with the fire from the guns, the position was regained. Lieutenants Borden and John Edgar Burch [2] of 'B' Squadron led a counter-attack. [3] They were successful, but at the cost of their lives. Boer marksmen less than 200 yards distant shot them as they stood up to lead the rifles forward. Lord Roberts reported to the War Office that Borden and Burch "were killed while gallantly leading their men in a counter attack upon the enemy’s flank at a critical juncture of his assault upon our position."

Edwin Alderson British and Canadian First World War general

Lieutenant General Sir Edwin Alfred Hervey Alderson, KCB was a senior British Army officer who served in several campaigns of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. From 1915-1916 during the World War 1 he commanded the Canadian Expeditionary Force on the Western Front, during which time it saw heavy fighting.

At 14.00, British officer Edward Hutton moved all of his available troops onto the desperately regained positions and, by sundown, the battle of Witpoort had ended. His losses were seven killed, with 30 wounded. Two officers and 22 soldiers had been taken prisoner. The Canadian losses were heavy and included Lt Borden, the son of the Canadian Minister of Defence. He is buried at the Braamfontein Cemetery, not far from the grave of Willem Morkel du Toit.

Edward Hutton (British Army officer) British Army general

Lieutenant General Sir Edward Thomas Henry Hutton, was a British military commander, who pioneered the use of mounted infantry in the British Army and later commanded the Canadian Militia and the Australian Army.

Battle of Witpoort, Harold Lothrop Borden Monument, Canning, Nova Scotia Witpoort2ndBoerWar.jpg
Battle of Witpoort, Harold Lothrop Borden Monument, Canning, Nova Scotia


There are very few battlefields of the Anglo-Boer War which present such well preserved traces as does Witpoort with its 51 small two and four man stone breastworks (sangars) built by the New Zealanders. The long line of stone shelters makes it possible for one to stand there and visualise the mad charge made by renowned Boer fighter Roland Schikkerling and his fellow Johannesburgers. There Willem Morkel fell. One can also crouch behind the rocky ridge thirty to forty meters below the sangars and then walk over the ground once swept by the New Zealanders' fire. There Schikkerling took his prisoners.

On the south of the ridge Colonel Alderson led his Canadians in their counter-attack toward the captured position. Today, this area is a well tended farm and in the north, the level ground over which the Boers charged is now a wattle plantation.

This battle site, with its clearly identifiable sangars, deserves to be declared a Heritage Site under auspices of the new National Heritage Commission.

See also

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  1. Roland Schikkerling later authored the book Commando Courageous: (a Boer's Diary).
  2. BURCH - Lieut. John Edgar - Royal Canadian Dragoons Killed at Reit Vlei. 16 July 1900. Memorial at St. catharine's, Niagara, Canada - "Lieut. J. Edgar Burch, Adjt. 2d Dragoons, attached to 1st Battalion C.M.R., on special duty, killed in action near Pretoria, South Africa, July 16th. 1900."