Pat Rundgren

When the Boer raiding party rode into Elandslaagte on 19 October 1899  they first made a turn at David Harris’ imposing red-brick residence. Harris, the General Manager of the Elandslaagte Colliery, was having dinner with Simpson Mitchell-Innes of the farm “Blanerne”, who was also one of the Directors of the Colliery. The ten minutes spent in conversation there gave the acting Station Master, G.P. Atkinson and his clerk, D. Christie, an opportunity to warn Ladysmith of the Boer’s arrival via the telegraph.

Known as “Long Toms”, the four 155mm siege guns installed in the forts to protect Pretoria, were supposed to be far too big and cumbersome to move, yet one of them (nicknamed Schanskop Tom), which had originally been installed at Fort Schanskop, was used to drive the British out of Dundee. It was manoeuvred up Impati Mountain and shelled the British camp on Ryley’s Hill. Unable to retaliate, the British were forced to withdraw from Dundee and make a hazardous, but mostly uncomfortable (in the pelting rain) retirement to Ladysmith.

Dawn. Dundee, Natal. 20 October 1899. It was bitterly cold. Indeed, it had uncharacteristically snowed the previous week. Huge banks of fog covered the town and surrounding high ground. Intermittent drizzle made everything clammy and miserable. Breath puffed out like a steam train. All in all, a time for any sensible person to be indoors, in bed.

Although suffering from the worst drought in decades, one hopes that the rainy season is going to hit Zululand with a vengeance this year. From mid October onwards the heavens open up and the countryside transforms itself from harsh, barren, rock strewn tawny hillsides into rolling slopes covered with emerald green grass, rushing rivers and sparkling air. Looming massively on the skyline, and lit most afternoons by truly spectacular forked lightning streaking across the pitch black sky, Itala Mountain has a particularly eerie feel to it.

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