Many of the men who died at the Battle of Colenso are buried at this cemetery including Lt. Freddie Roberts, the only son of Field Marshal Lord Roberts.
With Ladysmith under siege, British forces traveled from Durban with the objective of relieving the town. The Boers meanwhile had taken up positions along the northern bank of the Thukela River. Following the withdrawal of General Piet Joubert (due to injury), General Louis Botha took command of the Boer forces.
On 15 December 1899, Buller mounted a three-prong attack but it was unsuccessful. Maps used by the British were inaccurate and as a result the 5th Irish Brigade, who were to cross the river on the eastern flank of the attack got trapped in a loop of the river looking for a drift that was not there. They came under Boer fire from three sides and in less than two hours, 400 lay dead. The second and third prongs of the attack had faltered and by 11 am the British began to retreat.
Lt. Freddie Roberts was killed during the recovery of the guns, which had been left behind during the retreat, By the end of the day, only two guns had been recovered, leaving ten for the Boers to capture.
The first attempt to relieve Ladysmith had failed.