Let’s paint the ’42nd’ up on 42nd Hill! Yeah! We’ll shoot up there with some whitewash and paint it quickly.
We Boy Scouts needed a PROJECT – a ‘good deed’ – and this seemed a good one. Everyone would notice and be impressed by the shiny white freshly-whitewashed stones spelling out ’42nd’ compared to the dull look it had as the whitewash faded.
This was ca. 1970 and the symbol had been put up there by some Pommies of something called 42nd whatever, way back just after the Anglo-Boer War – over sixty years earlier. We would get it looking like new.
I mean, how hard could it be . . . ?
Well . . .
When we got there we parked on the top of the ridge – none of those towers and pylons were there back then – and walked down to the white stones. That 42nd was A LOT bigger than we had imagined. Our big whitewash brushes and buckets looked tiny now. We would have painted for hours and run out of whitewash before we even finished the ‘n’ – the smallest of the symbols.
We had a good look around at the unusual – to us, we had never been up in Phomolong before – view of Harrismith and the mountain, climbed back to our Scoutmaster Father Sam van Muschenbroek’s car on the ridge and snuck back to town, tails between our legs!
So who put all those stones spelling a huge ’42nd’ there?
From ca. 1900, Harrismith was to serve as the base for all military operations conducted by the 8th Division until the end of hostilities. The bulk of the Division were posted at Harrismith. The force under command of Lt Gen Sir H M L Rundle, comprised:
The 16th Infantry Brigade (under command of Maj Gen B B D Campbell) consisting of 2nd Bn Grenadier Guards, 2nd Bn Scots Guards, 2nd Bn East Yorkshire Regt, the 1st Bn Leicester Regt, and the 21st Bearer Company, 21st Field Hospital;
The 17th Infantry Brigade (under Maj Gen J E Boyes) consisting of 1st Bn Worcestershire Regt, 2nd Bn Royal West Kent Regt, 1st Bn South Staffordshire Regt, the 2nd Bn Manchester Regt, and the 22nd Bearer Company, 22nd Field Hospital;
The 1st Brigade Imperial Yeomanry consisting of the 1st, 4th and 11th battalions; 5th Company, The Royal Engineers; 2nd, 77th and 79th Batteries, Royal Field Artillery; 23rd Field Hospital, Royal Army Medical Corps.
General Rundle used the de Beer home as his headquarters. Mom Mary Bland’s best friend Joey de Beer greew up here:
In 1904 a census revealed that there was a white population of 4 345 resident at Harrismith of which the soldiers numbered 1 921. By the end of 1902 the regiments comprising the 8th Division had departed, and in the next decade Harrismith was occupied by the 2nd Hampshires, the 2nd Yorkshires, the 4th Royal Garrison, the 3rd Dragoons, the 1st Wiltshires and the 4th King’s Royal Rifles. The latter regiment was involved in garrisoning blockhouses from January 1902 until the end of the war and finally departed in June 1904.
I haven’t yet found anything that says ’42nd’ but I did find that the ‘Royal Highlanders’ encamped at 42nd Hill.
Later: During the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902), the British occupational forces were active in and around Harrismith until up to or even until their official withdrawal at the outbreak of the First World War (WWI) in 1914 (Breytenbach 1978, Pakenham 1997, Dreyer 2007). The remnants of their camps can still be seen at King’s Hill, Queen’s Hill and 42nd Hill. The badges of the 80th Regiment of Foot (Staffordshire Volunteers), the Gloucestershire Regiment and 3rd Dragoon Guards are still recognisable against the hill to the north west of town. Regular maintenance by the Harrismith Heritage Foundation, the MOTHS Military Veteran Society and, until their disbandment, the Harrismith Commando, watched over the stone-built and whitewashed badges against the hill (Dreyer 2013).
Ah! So we should probably have asked the MOTHs or the Commando before we went a-painting anyway!