Five years ago, an Adelaide-based military historian called Tony Stimson started visiting a small cluster of hills between Lindley and Reitz in the Free State province of South Africa.
Stimson’s grandfather Captain AEM Norton had fought in a Boer War skirmish between those hills in early July 1900, and the recently-retired headmaster had always been fascinated with finding out more.
He discovered Captain Norton, of the 4th regiment of South Australian Bushmen, was instrumental in re-capturing three field guns used by Imperial forces to bombard Boer guns on Bakenkop (Beacon’s Head), approximately 4000 metres away from on Leeukop (Lion’s Head).
After a morning hammering away at each other, the Imperial forces slowed their rate of shelling, fearing they would run out of ammunition.
The Boers took this as a sign their artillery had inflicted heavy casualties and sent two contingents through the valley separating the hills.
The first was a highly visible ‘mock’ dart for Imperial positions, while the second, through a corn field, was more audacious.
Under Michael Prinsloo this group captured three heavy guns – but only temporarily.
These were the very guns Norton would re-capture minutes later, an effort for which he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order medal.
“The Boers didn’t have sufficient gun limbers and horses to take the artillery pieces away,” Stimson said at the unveiling of a memorial honouring the dead of both sides on a farm Leeukop on Monday.
“What a coup it would have been for the Boers to capture an entire battery.”
Norton and his fellow Australians had only recently arrived at the front.
They spent a hot week off Beira before disembarking at Durban, where they were told to re-board their troopship and head to Port Elizabeth.
After disembarking they spent four days in cattle wagons heading north by rail to Kroonstad, and from there to Lindley.
About 24 000 Australians fought in the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902), and Norton returned to Adelaide as a hero
“Back in South Australia this is big stuff. The young men thought of Africa as unbelievably exotic,” Stimson said.
Stimson’s idea to build a memorial commemorating the action wouldn’t have been possible without the co-operation of local farmer Albert Jordaan.
“It’s not something I would have done on my own,” said Jordaan.
“But what Tony has done is wonderful.”
The sandstone cairn, inlaid with a granite plaque, nearly didn’t get finished in time for a visit by a group of Australian Boer-War enthusiasts on Monday.
The January rains in South Africa have been torrential, setting work back weeks.
“Albert [Jordaan] and I have been playing games with each other,” an emotional Stimson said at the site on Monday.
“I deliberately haven’t asked for a photo of the memorial and he hasn’t offered one. I think it’s called delayed gratification.”