The Australian Boer War Memorial
Anzac Parade Canberra
|Diamond Hill 11-12 June 1900|
After the capture of Pretoria, Lt Gen Hamilton’s army was suffering badly.
“Few units could muster even half their strength with so many horses dead or useless and so many men weak or ill or hospitalised somewhere along the line of march. Only 14,000 tired men, a third of them on unsteady horses, lumbered eastward to fight the battle of Diamond Hill.
French’s cavalry and Hutton’s brigade rode out to the left flank to sweep north and around the Boers, Hamilton’s infantry and de Lisle’s corps went out to the right for a more modest outflanking movement from the south, and Pole Carew’s infantry pushed up toward the Boer centre with Henry’s corps bridging the gap between them and French. The battle began on the morning of 11 June and the firing line extended for forty kilometres. The Boers were stretched thin, but not thin enough.
On the left flank the cavalry were caught in a valley and shot at from three sides in ‘the closest thing to a reverse we have yet had’, Lieutenant Percy Vaughan of the Australian Horse admitted. On the right de Lisle’s corps rode into a horseshoe of hills and was also pinned down. Roberts resolved to make a frontal attack next day. A gloom pervaded the soldiers’ thoughts. Next morning, in a heavy fog, Captain Maurice Hilliard’s squadron of New South Wales Mounted Rifles escorted some guns to new positions from which they thundered into the Boer line, allowing the regular infantry to go forward safely and take Diamond Hill. But the Boers were not yet broken. Indeed Botha planned to counter-attack, and stung the infantry with rifle fire from Rhenosterfontein (Rhinoceros Spring) Hill to the south. Now de Lisle’s corps intervened. First his regular MI rode forward, supported by Hatherly Moor’s Western Australians, to a farm where, under tall gum trees, the artillerymen with the corps set up two light, rapid-firing guns, popularly called pop-poms from t he sound they made as they fired their automatic rounds which exploded as they landed.
Then de Lisle summoned Knight’s regiment and sent them against the next hill while pom-pom fire tried to keep Boer heads down. The regiment trotted across the plain in extended order, maintaining uniform distance between each man and each squadron, a hard-won precision that would have delighted their drill instructors back in Australia. They gained speed as Boer rifle increased, broke into a gallop, and at the foot of the hill dismounted and began to crawl up its steep and rocky side. ‘It was a difficult climb especially after a trying gallop’, reported Hilliard later, ‘but our men never hesitated.’ Soon they were on the hill’s flat top, scurrying forward from boulder to boulder, bullets hissing past them. Then they flashed their bayonets or waved their rifles like clubs, and their officers cried: ‘Forward, New South Wales,’ with a ‘real colonial yell’ they leapt forward and bluffed the Boers into evacuating the hill.
They had not only ended the sniping at the regular infantry; they had also seized a hill from which the artillery, once brought forward, could disrupt any Boer retreat. The Boers tried pounding the men off the hill with their own artillery but they held on. Botha was forced to cancel his plans for a counter-attack. The battle was over.”
Most Australian Mounted Troops in the area were Involved Including:
1st NSW Mounted Rifles
1st WA Mounted Infantry
Reference: Wilcox, Craig. Australia’s Boer War. The War In South Africa 1899-1902. Oxford University Press in conjunction with AWM, Australia, 2002, ISBN 0 19 551637 0 p 81,86-87
Austin RFD, ED, Roy. Encyclopedia of the Zulu and Boer Wars, Slouch Hat Publications, Australia, 1999, ISBN 0 9585296 3 9 p 113
Major John Baines