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The Battle of Talana Hill

Location: 5kms outside the town of Dundee

On 20th October 1899 the Boer commando of General Meyer appeared on Talana Hill to the North East of Dundee, following a night approach march. General Symons was not impressed by the readiness of the British troops in Natal and worked them hard. His battalions were falling in for a day’s training when the first artillery rounds came in from Meyer’s artillery on Talana Hill.

During the tense months leading to open war the Transvaal Republic had bought substantial quantities of weapons, including modern artillery pieces from the French manufacturer Creusot. The first of these, three 75 millimetre guns, came into action at Talana, firing on the British camp.

There was a delay before fire could be returned, the British artillery horses being at water. The batteries harnessed up and hurried through Dundee, coming into action in the open ground beyond the town, quickly silencing the outnumbered Boer guns.

As his artillery bombarded the Boers, Symons prepared to attack their positions on Talana Hill with his infantry, forming with the Dublin Fusiliers massed in the front rank, the Rifles in the second rank and the Royal Irish Fusiliers in the third rank. Penn Symons insisted his regiments attack in conventional close order, an unrealistic tactic against an enemy armed with modern magazine rifles.

The assault went in, the first lines reaching a wood at the base of Talana Hill where in the face of heavy fire the attack stalled. Symons arrived at the wood, dismounted and led the advance himself, until he was mortally injured.