The Second Anglo-Boer War started on October 11, 1899, after an ultimatum given by President Kruger to Chamberlain had gone unanswered.
General Joubert moved to Newcastle on October 12 and with that, the war had reached Natal.
The battles of Dundee (Talana) and Elandslaagte were considered victories by the British, but thinly veiled ones, as the Boers simply withdrew and the British failed to follow up the initiative, with the Boers favouring to continue the fight when more suitable terms were presented to them.
They did not have to wait long, as General White was faced with the dilemma of whether to stay and defend the town or to opt for comparative safety and retreat. He decided on the latter, ordering General Yule to leave the wounded behind and make haste for Ladysmith.
The Boers decided to return to Dundee.
The Siege of Ladysmith began when the Boers cut the railway and telegraph lines on November 2, 1899, and lasted for 118 days. The population, civilian and military, numbered 21,156 and they were to suffer the ravages of disease and starvation on an unprecedented scale.
In addition to the human contingent, there were over 4580 horses, oxen and mules.
Fortuitously, someone prior to the war had had the presence of mind to stockpile an enormous amount of supplies, both food and armaments, in the town that undoubtedly saved it from an early surrender.
General Sir George White, with his Chief of Staff Sir Archibald Hunter, commanded the forces in Ladysmith. The perimeter defences were divided into four zones, each with a telephone link to White’s headquarters.
The British armoury comprised 55 pieces of artillery and 18 machine guns to defend the town. Included in this were the guns from the Royal Navy ship HMS Powerful, along with men who had arrived in Ladysmith on October 30.