The Defence of Duffer’s Drift, Setting

Friday, May 2nd, 2014

The opening of the first dream of The Defence of Duffer’s Drift sets the scene:

I felt lonely, and not a little sad, as I stood on the bank of the river near Duffer’s Drift and watched the red dust haze, raised by the southward departing column in the distance, turn slowly into gold as it hung in the afternoon sunlight. It was just three o’clock, and here I was on the banks of the Silliaasvogel river, left behind by my column with a party of fifty NCOs and men to hold the drift. It was an important ford, because it was the only one across which wheeled traffic could pass for some miles up or down the river.

The river was a sluggish stream, not now in flood, crawling along at the very bottom of its bed between steep banks which were almost vertical, or at any rate too steep for wagons anywhere except at the drift itself. The banks from the river edge to their tops and some distance outwards, were covered with dense thorn and other bushes, which formed a screen impenetrable to the sight. They were also broken by small ravines and holes, where the earth had been eaten away by the river when in flood, and were consequently very rough. See Map 1.

Duffer's Drift Map 1

Some 2000 odd meters north of the drift was a flat-topped, rocky mountain, and about a mile to the north-east appeared the usual suger-loaf kopje, covered with bushes and boulders — steep on the south, but gently falling to the north; this had a farm on the near side of it. About 1000 meters south of the drift was a convex and smooth hill, somewhat like an inverted basin, sparsely sown with small boulders, and with a Kaffir kraal, consisting of a few grass mud huts on top. Between the river and the hills on the north the ground consisted of open and almost level veld; on the south bank the veld was more undulating, and equally open. The whole place was covered with ant-hills.

My orders were to hold Duffer’s Drift at all costs. I should probably be visited by some column within three or four day’s time. I might possibly be attacked before that time, but this was very unlikely, as no enemy were known to be within a hundred miles. The enemy had guns.

It all seemed plain enough, except that the true inwardness of the last piece of information did not strike me at the time. Though in company with fifty “good men and true,” it certainly made me feel somewhat lonely and marooned to be left out there comparatively alone on the boundless veld; but the chance of an attack filled me, and I am quite sure, my men, with martial ardour. At last here was the chance I had so often longed for. This was my first “show,” my first independent command, and I was determined to carry out my order to the bitter end. I was young and inexperienced, it is true, but I had passed all my examinations with fair success; my men were a good willing lot, with the traditions of a glorious regiment to uphold, and would, I knew, do all I should require of them. We were also well supplied with ammunition and rations and had a number of picks, shovels, and sandbags, etc., which I confess had been rather forced on me.

As I turned towards my gallant little detachment, visions of a bloody and desperate fight crossed my mind — a fight to the last cartridge, and then an appeal to cold steel, with ultimate victory and — but a discreet cough at my elbow brought me back to realities, and warned me that my colour-sergeant was waiting for orders.

To a modern audience — especially to a geeky modern audience — this is obviously the opening to a choose-your-own-adventure book or a roleplaying-game adventure module. So, what orders to you give your colour-sergeant?


  1. Alex J. says:

    I’m thinking dig in on the hill with the kraal, and cover the drift with fire. Maybe send a patrol to the top of the mountain to observe and signal. I suppose the farm will need to be investigated too. You could detach the patrol unobtrusively at that point.

  2. Isegoria says:

    When I first read that the enemy had guns (field artillery), I immediately wondered, do I have to take the high ground?

    A little research shows that the Krupps 7.5 cm field gun had a maximum range of 4,600 m, while the smaller pom-pom one-pounder had a similar maximum range. So, either piece could shell the drift from (3) Regret Table Mountain or (5) Incidentambia.

    It looks like riflemen could cover the way to the drift from the table mountain or the sugar-loaf, but they couldn’t cover the drift itself, or alternate approaches.

    It’s definitely not clear (yet) how one is expected — or allowed — to handle local Boer farmers or black Africans.

  3. Toddy Cat says:

    If they (farmers) are a danger, they can be placed in detention, and if they resist, they can be fired on, under the rules of war at that time.

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