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14 Aug 2001 00:00
Durban | Tuesday
SUSPECTED treasure hunters have desecrated a mass grave of British soldiers who fought in the Anglo-Boer War, the organisation which looks after the graves reported on Monday.
THE desecration of the grave of eight privates of the 27th Iniskillen Regiment at Hart’s Hill outside Ladysmith, 236 kilometres northwest of Durban, occurred at the weekend, Amafa/Heritage KwaZulu-Natal said.
Chairman Barry Marshall said a heavy concrete slab over the grave had been smashed in half and removed, the headstone destroyed and the grave opened.
Officials found two bone fragments and a tunic buckle.
Marshall said Hart’s Hill formed part of the Tugela Heights chain of battlefields and was where the British forces broke through the Boer line in 1900 to relieve Ladysmith, where British forces were besieged.
Amafa field officer Graham Smythe, who was the first on the scene, said: “I found a small piece of finger bone and a piece of ribbon, as well as the buckle. More remains might come to light as we investigate further.
“The site is a complete mess. It makes me quite sick. It’s difficult to say at this stage what the motive was but the buckle being left behind makes it look as if it was not relics they were after.
“There’s a common myth that something of value is buried in these cemeteries. Probably they were trying to find out what’s there.”
Smythe said there had been similar desecrations in the area in the past.
The graves around Ladysmith are isolated and difficult to guard, he added.
In July, a memorial commemorating the Zulu soldiers who were killed by British forces during the 1879 battle of Isandlwana was damaged, apparently by copper thieves.
They removed a bronze spike from the giant “Isiqu”—a bravery necklace which is the Zulu equivalent of Britain’s Victoria Cross.
The memorial was unveiled in January 1999 on the 120th anniversary of the battle.
At the end of July, thieves took a British Martini-Henry rifle, which was used at Isandlwana, and a Tower musket dating from about 1850. A cash box containing about R1 000 ($120) was also taken. - AFP
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