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    The Battle of Spion Kop was the most ferocious and bloody of the Boer War and marked the end of Buller’s second attempt to relieve Ladysmith. Spion Kop was the natural strongpoint of the Tugela range and if occupied and held by the British, it was thought, would secure them the path to Ladysmith


    Attempting to make a two-pronged encirclement of Boer forces on the Tugela River, thus clearing the way to Ladysmith, the forces under General Sir Redvers Buller VC proceeded to the easterly flank, and those under General Sir Charles Warren took the westerly flank towards the crossing point at Trichardt‘s Drift.

    Met by Boer forces on the facing hill crest l of Thabanyama, a bombardment and subsequent infantry attack by Warren’s forces was easily repulsed by the entrenched Boer troops, and Warren looked toward taking the great hill of Spion Kop to allow him to turn the Boer flank.He ordered the hill to be taken on the night of the 23rd.


    A lightly equipped force of 1700 men, comprising eight companies of the 2nd Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers, six of the 2nd Royal Lancasters, two of the 1st South 
    Lancashires, one-hundred and eighty men of Thorneycroft’s Mounted Infantry, and half a company of Sappers, slowly climbed the hill. The Column overwhelmed the Boer picket on the “summit” and at 3.30am gave three resounding cheers to let the rest of Buller’s Army know that the hill was theirs. 

    For the rest of the early morning, in a pitch black and swirling mist, the British dug a line of trenches some 300 yards long on what they thought was the crest of Spion Kop. Dawn showed that they were not on the summit of Spion Kop but rather 100 to 200 yards back from the crest.


    As hasty attempts were made to dig a new position, an even worse situation came to light. Conical Hill and Aloe Knoll on either side of Spion Kop gave the Boers a murderous field of fire onto the British trenches. Rifles on Green Hill and the Artillery on Aloe Knoll burst into life and raked the trenches with shot and shell, 
    particularly those of the vulnerable Lancashire Fusiliers on the right, who bore the brunt of the Artillery barrage.


    As the Boers pounded the hill, the Carolina Commando embarked on a brave frontal assault to recapture the hill, resulting in a ferocious battle between the crest line and the British main trench. Woodgate was mortally wounded, which prompted the message back to Warren: “Colonel Crofton to G.O.C. Force. Reinforce at once or all lost. General dead.”

    While Warren digested this urgent plea for help, the close quarter battle on the summit became increasingly desperate, as described by The Times historian: 
    ‘The incessant roar and crackle of musketry as it rose and fell; the whistling of bullets rising to a screech as they ricocheted among the rocks; the booming of the guns and shriek of bursting shrapnel; the constant undertone of human voices, the orders of the officers, the shouts for reinforcements, the guttural exhortations 
    in the taal, the agonised cries of the wounded, the groans of the dying – all combined into one indescribable din in the glaring sunshine beating down on that little death-swept patch of stony hill-top.


    The little patch was probably no more than one acre in size. The main British trench became choked with dead and wounded and those living craved water in the stifling 
    heat. Having taken the crest line, the Boers kept up their fire on the main trench and Louis Botha pushed the Utrecht Commando onto Green Hill to add weight to the firepower. The Pretoria Commando assaulted the hard-pressed Lancashire Fusiliers on the right and at about 1pm the first white flags appeared.


    Thorneycroft, now commanding on Spion Kop and leading the counterattacks on the crest, intervened to stop the white flags 
    spreading across. In blunt terms he told the Pretoria Commando, “I’m Commandant here; take your men back to hell, sir! There’s no surrender.” In the ensuing melee the Boers pushed 167 prisoners down the slope. 

    Reinforcements from Warren joined the firing line. The Scottish Rifles, 2nd Battalion Middlesex and Imperial Light Infantry joined the fray. Lyttleton, to the right of Spion Kop, attacked Twin Peaks with the King’s Royal 
    Rifles; it was captured at heavy cost but still the pressure on the forces on Spion Kop could not be relieved. 


    Acting as a courier between Spion Kop and Buller’s Headquarters that day, a young Lieutenant and journalist Winston Churchill reported of the scene: “Corpses lay here and there.

    Many of the wounds were of a horrible 
    nature. The splinters and fragments of the shells had torn and mutilated them. The shallow trenches were choked with dead and wounded.” By nightfall of the 24th Thorneycroft ordered his remaining exhausted, unfed and thirsty troops to retreat to the foot of the hill, leaving the equally weary remaining Boer troops in control of the hill.


    In the course of the day’s fighting the British suffered approximately 380 killed, more than 1000 wounded and 300 taken prisoner. Boer losses were some 60 killed and 140 wounded.


    DCM (VR): Sgt. J. H. Jefferies, Thorneycroft’s M.I.’ (‘J.H. Jeoffreys’ privately engraved after unit); 
    QSA, 5 clasps Tug H, OFS, RoL, Tyl, L Nek: 7139 Serjt., J.H Jeoffreys. Th’croft’s M.I.; 
    1914-15 Star: Capt. J.G. Jeoffreys S.A. Irish Regt.; 
    BWM & AVM: Capt J.H Jeoffreys

    According to the South African Who’s Who (1908) Joseph Horace Jeoffreys was born on 14 April 1874 in Brooklyn, New York, USA. However, according to an obituary published in “The Star”, he was born 
    in County Cork in 1873. He came to South Africa in 1896 and was employed on railway construction work in the Orange Free State. He enlisted in in “A” Company, Thorneycroft’s Mounted Infantry on 27 October 1899 and was recommended as Sergeant J H Jeffries for the grant of the DCM for “Conspicuous gallantry: Colenso 15 December 1899 and Spion Kop: 24 January 1900” in Buller’s 
    Despatch of 30 March 1900 (LG of 8 February 1901, p938 & 940). Jeoffreys’ detailed account of the difficult climb up Spion Kop and the subsequent fight can be found in W. Baring Pemberton’s Battles 
    of the Boer War (p172, 181-2).

    He took his discharge from TMI in Pretoria on 15 Nov 1900 and joined the Transvaal Civil Service as Deputy Clerk of Customs in Boksburg on 1 May 1901. The award of his DCM was published 11 days earlier in the LG of 19 April 1901, p2709.


    Following the promulgation in the Transvaal of the “Volunteer Ordinance, 1904”, Jeoffreys was appointed as Lieutenant in the Volunteer Force on 1 April 1905 and 
    subsequently as Captain on 20 August 1909. In this rank he was posted to the Reserve of Officers on 1 July 1913. On his initiative the S.A. Irish Regiment was formed five days after WWI broke out and he was appointed O/C of “C” Company.


    After serving in German South-West Africa he went to Europe at his own expense and joined the Middlesex Regiment as Captain, serving until the end of the War. He came back to South Africa after a severe gassing and a bad bout of trench fever and returned to his position as Inspector of Customs and Excise with the Union Government. The outbreak of WWII again sparked his Irish sentiment.


    The formation of the 1st South African Irish Regiment in 1940 followed 
    representations by Jeoffreys to General Sir Pierre van Ryneveld that “Irishmen and South Africans of Irish descent be encouraged to form a special unit for services anywhere in Africa or overseas, according to the decision of the Union Government”. (Shamrock & Springbok refers). Captain Jeoffreys died in 
    Johannesburg on 5 January 1940.



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