PAST AND PRESENT COLLIDE
JOHN AT KINS OF THE Manchester Guardian peered through a naval telescope at British entrenchments 3 miles away. From this distance the khaki uniforms of the 2,000 brave Englishmen who had seized the heights of Spion Kop during the night looked dirty brown. As he squinted to see the action, the whole ridge appeared to quiver in the hot glare of the midmorning sun. Suddenly, the brown wall of men rose to charge, heads and torsos bent instinctively forward into a curve. “They looked like a cornfield with a heavy wind sweeping over it from behind.” 1 It was as if their bodies spoke to the superior force of Mauser and shrapnel fire, cutting into them like a scythe.
It was supposed to be different. By taking Spion Kop and digging trenches, the British were to jeopardize the Boer positions around Ladysmith, forcing the hardy burghers to break themselves in successive charges against an impregnable position. Indeed, 400 Boer attackers had scurried up the northern slope on the morning of 24 January 1900; but having reached the summit opposite their hated enemy, they, too, took cover. There was no final charge. Rather, the Boers' magazine rifles kept the British belly-down in their shallow trench, while rapid-firing, French-made, 75-mm cannons rained deadly shrapnel shells. With their position jeopardized, the British were forced to charge. Reinforcements were sent to the top, but the Boers could not be dislodged. With nearly 300 of their number dead and 900 wounded, the British finally withdrew under cover of dark-