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Saturday, November 13, 1999 Published at 18:07 GMT

World: Africa

Prince Philip honours Boer War dead

Prince Philip lays a wreath of remembrance

The Duke of Edinburgh has remembered those who perished in the Anglo-Boer War at the site of a remote battlefield in South Africa.

Prince Philip travelled by helicopter from Durban to Spionkop, a remote and rugged region of KwaZulu-Natal, to commemorate the bloody battle that took place nearly a century ago.

BBC Court Correspondent Nicholas Witchell reports from South Africa
In a spirit of reconciliation, he laid poppy wreaths on the war memorials of both the British and the Boers.

[ image: Hundreds died during the bloody battle]
Hundreds died during the bloody battle
Inscriptions on the two wreaths read: "In memory of the brave soldiers of both sides who fought and fell on this site, and also of all those who lost their lives in the Anglo-Boer South African War, white and black, men, women and children. Never again - nooit weer nie."

The visit is part of a royal state trip with the Queen to Africa, taking in Ghana, South Africa and Mozambique.

Spionkop was one of the most calamitous defeats of the British Empire. At least 322 British troops died, 563 were wounded and 300 taken prisoner in 24 hours. The troops failed to secure an observation hill as part of an attempt to relieve the siege of Ladysmith in January 1900.

Casualties on the Boer side saw about 58 killed and 140 wounded or taken prisoner.

[ image: Prince Philip travelled to each country's memorial]
Prince Philip travelled to each country's memorial
The British attempt involved climbing the hill at night and digging shallow trenches. But daylight revealed that the length of the trenches was directly in the sights of the Boer rifles and artillery on nearby Twin Peaks.

Communications and command were confused, and the British, although vastly outnumbering the Boers, retreated.

Among those at the Battle of Spionkop were a young Winston Churchill who, at 24, was a war correspondent, Gandhi who was a stretcher bearer for the British and, on the Boers' side, Louis Botha who later became South Africa's first prime minister.

[ image: Buglers paid tribute]
Buglers paid tribute
Mr Churchill's grand-daughter Celia Sandys and his great-grandson Alexander Perkins, 13, were at Spionkop for the commemoration ceremony.

But for some, the move to reconcile over war is not enough. Afrikaans protesters in South Africa have demanded an apology from the British for their colonial past and alleged war crimes when Boer women and children were detained in insanitary concentration camps. Up to 28,000 died.

The Queen has expressed sadness at the loss of life during the Boer War, but stopped short of an apology.

Further tribute to those who lost their lives during war will be paid by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh on Remembrance Sunday. They will attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting to lay a wreath at the Cenotaph in Durban.

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