This film is part of Free

Battle of Spion Kop: Ambulance Corps Crossing the Tugela River (1)

Stunning cinematic record of a key British defeat in the Boer War

Non-Fiction 1900 1 mins Silent


These are probably the most spectacular of the images shot by William Kennedy Laurie Dickson during his time in South Africa. With astonishing depth of field, it shows the long line of ambulances and troops snaking their way through across the river. The film demonstrates Dickson's compositional ability, as well as the astonishing detail captured by his own patented large-format 68mm film. It's a scene as epic as any military painting in the National Gallery, which becomes more poignant when we realise that it depicts an army after one of its most disastrous defeats at the hands of the Boer forces in January 1900.

The battle of Spion Kop was a terrible defeat, with British forces suffering heavy losses when they were caught out in dense fog by Boer snipers. Dickson's film witnesses the train of ambulances cueing up to bring the wounded over the Tugela river. They had to carry the most serious cases by hand on stretchers. That hill we see on the horizon is the Spion Kop itself. There are three versions of this film: the longest (this one) comprises two slightly different shots, each of which also survives independently.