At long last I can tell the interesting story of our own expedition last year to locate the Lost Battlefield in the Kalahari. For various reasons I was constrained not to do so but the embargo has been lifted to some extent.
Wulf Haacke in his seminal article “Simon Kopper and the Kalahari Expedition of 1908 in the Journal of the Namibia Scientific Society 1993/1994 wrote, “Mr E. Le Riche reports (pers.com.) having been at that site twice. On his first visit, when he still quite young, the graves were marked with wooden stumps identified with metal discs cut from ration cans, while on on the second occasion apparently a veldfire had destroyed these markers.”
These two sentences dominated my and Carsten Möhle’s thinking for a long time. We both knew instinctively that our searches would be almost foolish if we did not make use of Elias Le Riche’s knowledge. Elias grew up inside the greater Kalahari Gemsbok Park, which was established by his uncle and father in the 30’s of the previous century.
The problem was that Elias was long retired and now not a young man anymore. Would he even be interested in undertaking such an arduous expedition just to satisfy our fancy whims? Would he still be in decent health? How were we to approach him?
Remember that initially Carsten and I did not even know of each other, yet we shared the same thoughts and questions.
Through a series of chance happenings, a long and detailed story of its own, it happened that I met Elias in Pretoria one day. He agreed to accompany me on a search expedition at some or other stage.
One of the hoops to jump through was to get permission to enter the area. Through another series of events of equal intricacy that also transpired. One fine day last year three vehicles left Pretoria for the Kalahari where we met the officials who would accompany us on our search.
For the next four days we were guided by the legendary Elias Le Riche, former Head of the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park. He took us on the most amazing routes indicating trees where he had camped fifty years ago. He also took us directly to certain sites near Grootkolk where we saw with our own eyes remnants of the 1908 expedition: empty water canisters, bully beef tins, clearly marked “Rindfleisch” even with date stamps. He took us to the few branches left over from the formerly glorious Königsbaum, the big camel thorn tree at Grootkolk into which the soldiers clambered to search the horizon for signs of the enemy and their own distant heliographs. The German Schütztruppe had hammered horse shoes into the tree to act as steps and we even found one of these as well as some ammunition and cartridges.
The unwavering way Elias had led and directed our search gave me a lot of confidence. Eventually after four days we came to a place where he stated that that was where he thought that the graves were located. Naturally we marked the place and I recorded his words for posterity. Elias speaks in Afrikaans. He says that he thinks this the place where he met a group of Kalahari people who told them that this was the place of Simon Koper. Watch the video.
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