The Boer War – letters from South Africa sent to The Radleian magazine. No. 6

published on 12th December 1901


THE defence of Fort Itala against Louis Botha and twelve hundred men by a garrison of barely three hundred, is one of the most stirring, if not one of the most important, occurrences of the present struggle. Had it happened earlier in the war it would undoubtedly have attracted more attention than it did.

Fort Itala was one of the fortified posts hastily established during the first weeks of September to hold in check the commando under Botha which had been threatening Natal. After his success on the Blood River, the Boer general had moved eastward, intending to force the drifts and march on Dundee. At that time Natal was almost empty of troops, but on reaching the frontier he learnt that British columns had been hastened to the spot from all quarters, so that it was impossible for him to enter the country by the regulation route. Consequently he moved westward, knowing that Zululand was almost certain to be clear. Unfortunately for him, however, the British troops were not so sleepy as he had imagined, and anticipated his arrival by some days. They occupied several border forts, among them that of Itala, for which three hundred men were deemed sufficient garrison.

Outposts were established, and two guns placed to the right of the little army. Soon after midnight on Sept. 25th the Boers made a simultaneous attack on the Itala mountain outpost and on the guns. Sixty men held the outpost and made a desperate struggle against vastly superior numbers. Numbers, however, told their tale, and the lieutenant in command fell, shouting “No surrender!”

The fate of his gallant band is unknown, but no one will doubt that they fought and fell as nobly as their leader. For scarcely had the garrison heard of this when news was brought that the guns were put out of action. No aid could come from another post, or the Boer commandant would have a chance of slipping through. Nothing remained … but to face the inevitable and meet with rifle fire and the bayonet a vastly superior force. This dogged determination seems to have inspired the Boers with a spirit of emulation, for rarely during the course of the war have they displayed such a complete disregard of all danger. Reckless of consequences they charged again and again the dwindling British lines, and again and again were flung back. All day long the fight continued; the British supply of ammunition was failing, their water had long ago been finished; they had no guns; they numbered one to four and knew that there was no hope of relief. Yet ” No Surrender” was still the cry, and on the evening of the 27th, after nineteen hours of this desperate fighting, Botha retired and the crisis was past.

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