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The Great Boer War by Arthur Conan Doyle

Part 5 out of 11

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them. Shortly afterwards the feigned attack upon Brakfontein was
commenced and was sustained with much fuss and appearance of energy
until all was ready for the development of the true one. Wynne's
Brigade, which had been Woodgate's, recovered already from its
Spion Kop experience, carried out this part of the plan, supported
by six batteries of field artillery, one howitzer battery, and two
4.7 naval guns. Three hours later a telegram was on its way to
Pretoria to tell how triumphantly the burghers had driven back an
attack which was never meant to go forward. The infantry retired
first, then the artillery in alternate batteries, preserving a
beautiful order and decorum. The last battery, the 78th, remained
to receive the concentrated fire of the Boer guns, and was so
enveloped in the dust of the exploding shells that spectators could
only see a gun here or a limber there. Out of this whirl of death
it quietly walked, without a bucket out of its place, the gunners
drawing one wagon, the horses of which had perished, and so
effected a leisurely and contemptuous withdrawal. The gallantry of
the gunners has been one of the most striking features of the war,
but it has never been more conspicuous than in this feint at

While the attention of the Boers was being concentrated upon the
Lancashire men, a pontoon bridge was suddenly thrown across the
river at a place called Munger's Drift, some miles to the eastward.
Three infantry brigades, those of Hart, Lyttelton, and Hildyard,
had been massed all ready to be let slip when the false attack was
sufficiently absorbing. The artillery fire (the Swartz Kop guns,
and also the batteries which had been withdrawn from the
Brakfontein demonstration) was then turned suddenly, with the
crashing effect of seventy pieces, upon the real object of attack,
the isolated Vaalkranz. It is doubtful whether any position has
ever been subjected to so terrific a bombardment, for the weight of
metal thrown by single guns was greater than that of a whole German
battery in the days of their last great war. The 4-pounders and
6-pounders of which Prince Kraft discourses would have seemed toys
beside these mighty howitzers and 4.7's. Yet though the hillside
was sharded off in great flakes, it is doubtful if this terrific
fire inflicted much injury upon the cunning and invisible riflemen
with whom we had to contend.

About midday the infantry began to stream across the bridge, which
had been most gallantly and efficiently constructed under a warm
fire, by a party of sappers, under the command of Major Irvine. The
attack was led by the Durham Light Infantry of Lyttelton's Brigade,
followed by the 1st Rifle Brigade, with the Scottish and 3rd Rifles
in support. Never did the old Light Division of Peninsular fame go
up a Spanish hillside with greater spirit and dash than these,
their descendants, facing the slope of Vaalkranz. In open order
they moved across the plain, with a superb disregard of the crash
and patter of the shrapnel, and then up they went, the flitting
figures, springing from cover to cover, stooping, darting,
crouching, running, until with their glasses the spectators on
Swartz Kop could see the gleam of the bayonets and the strain of
furious rushing men upon the summit, as the last Boers were driven
from their trenches. The position was gained, but little else.
Seven officers and seventy men were lying killed and wounded among
the boulders. A few stricken Boers, five unwounded prisoners, and a
string of Basuto ponies were the poor fruits of victory--those and
the arid hill from which so much had been hoped, and so little was
to be gained.

It was during this advance that an incident occurred of a more
picturesque character than is usual in modern warfare. The
invisibility of combatants and guns, and the absorption of the
individual in the mass, have robbed the battle-field of those
episodes which adorned, if they did not justify it. On this
occasion, a Boer gun, cut off by the British advance, flew out
suddenly from behind its cover, like a hare from its tussock, and
raced for safety across the plain. Here and there it wound, the
horses stretched to their utmost, the drivers stooping and lashing,
the little gun bounding behind. To right to left, behind and
before, the British shells burst, lyddite and shrapnel, crashing
and riving. Over the lip of a hollow, the gallant gun vanished, and
within a few minutes was banging away once more at the British
advance. With cheers and shouts and laughter, the British
infantrymen watched the race for shelter, their sporting spirit
rising high above all racial hatred, and hailing with a 'gone to
ground' whoop the final disappearance of the gun.

The Durhams had cleared the path, but the other regiments of
Lyttelton's Brigade followed hard at their heels, and before night
they had firmly established themselves upon the hill. But the fatal
slowness which had marred General Buller's previous operations
again prevented him from completing his success. Twice at least in
the course of these operations there is evidence of sudden impulse
to drop his tools in the midst of his task and to do no more for
the day. So it was at Colenso, where an order was given at an early
hour for the whole force to retire, and the guns which might have
been covered by infantry fire and withdrawn after nightfall were
abandoned. So it was also at a critical moment at this action at
Vaalkranz. In the original scheme of operations it had been planned
that an adjoining hill, called the Green Hill, which partly
commanded Vaalkranz, should be carried also. The two together made
a complete position, while singly each was a very bad neighbour to
the other. On the aide-de-camp riding up, however, to inquire from
General Buller whether the time had come for this advance, he
replied, 'We have done enough for the day,' and left out this
essential portion of his original scheme, with the result that all

Speed was the most essential quality for carrying out his plan
successfully. So it must always be with the attack. The defence
does not know where the blow is coming, and has to distribute men
and guns to cover miles of ground. The attacker knows where he will
hit, and behind a screen of outposts he can mass his force and
throw his whole strength against a mere fraction of that of his
enemy. But in order to do so he must be quick. One tiger spring
must tear the centre out of the line before the flanks can come to
its assistance. If time is given, if the long line can concentrate,
if the scattered guns can mass, if lines of defence can be
reduplicated behind, then the one great advantage which the attack
possesses is thrown away. Both at the second and at the third
attempts of Buller the British movements were so slow that had the
enemy been the slowest instead of the most mobile of armies, they
could still always have made any dispositions which they chose.
Warren's dawdling in the first days of the movement which ended at
Spion Kop might with an effort be condoned on account of possible
difficulties of supply, but it would strain the ingenuity of the
most charitable critic to find a sufficient reason for the lethargy
of Vaalkranz. Though daylight comes a little after four, the
operations were not commenced before seven. Lyttelton's Brigade had
stormed the hill at two, and nothing more was done during the long
evening, while officers chafed and soldiers swore, and the busy
Boers worked furiously to bring up their guns and to bar the path
which we must take. General Buller remarked a day or two later that
the way was not quite so easy as it had been. One might have
deduced the fact without the aid of a balloon.

The brigade then occupied Vaalkranz and erected sangars and dug
trenches. On the morning of the 6th, the position of the British
force was not dissimilar to that of Spion Kop. Again they had some
thousands of men upon a hill-top, exposed to shell fire from
several directions and without any guns upon the hill to support
them. In one or two points the situation was modified in their
favour, and hence their escape from loss and disaster. A more
extended position enabled the infantry to avoid bunching, but in
other respects the situation was parallel to that in which they had
found themselves a fortnight before.

The original plan was that the taking of Vaalkranz should be the
first step towards the outflanking of Brakfontein and the rolling
up of the whole Boer position. But after the first move the British
attitude became one of defence rather than of attack. Whatever the
general and ultimate effect of these operations may have been, it
is beyond question that their contemplation was annoying and
bewildering in the extreme to those who were present. The position
on February 6th was this. Over the river upon the hill was a single
British brigade, exposed to the fire of one enormous gun--a
96-pound Creusot, the longest of all Long Toms--which was stationed
upon Doornkloof, and of several smaller guns and pom-poms which
spat at them from nooks and crevices of the hills. On our side were
seventy-two guns, large and small, all very noisy and impotent. It
is not too much to say, as it appears to me, that the Boers have in
some ways revolutionised our ideas in regard to the use of
artillery, by bringing a fresh and healthy common-sense to bear
upon a subject which had been unduly fettered by pedantic rules.
The Boer system is the single stealthy gun crouching where none can
see it. The British system is the six brave guns coming into action
in line of full interval, and spreading out into accurate dressing
visible to all men. 'Always remember,' says one of our artillery
maxims, 'that one gun is no gun.' Which is prettier on a field-day,
is obvious, but which is business--let the many duels between six
Boer guns and sixty British declare. With black powder it was
useless to hide the gun, as its smoke must betray it. With
smokeless powder the guns are so invisible that it was only by the
detection with powerful glasses of the dust from the trail on the
recoil that the officers were ever able to localise the guns
against which they were fighting. But if the Boers had had six guns
in line, instead of one behind that kopje, and another between
those distant rocks, it would not have been so difficult to say
where they were. Again, British traditions are all in favour of
planting guns close together. At this very action of Vaalkranz the
two largest guns were so placed that a single shell bursting
between them would have disabled them both. The officer who placed
them there, and so disregarded in a vital matter the most obvious
dictates of common-sense, would probably have been shocked by any
want of technical smartness, or irregularity in the routine drill.
An over-elaboration of trifles, and a want of grip of common-sense,
and of adaptation to new ideas, is the most serious and damaging
criticism which can be levelled against our army. That the function
of infantry is to shoot, and not to act like spearmen in the Middle
Ages; that the first duty of artillery is so far as is possible to
be invisible--these are two of the lessons which have been driven
home so often during the war, that even our hidebound conservatism
can hardly resist them.

Lyttelton's Brigade, then, held Vaalkranz; and from three parts of
the compass there came big shells and little shells, with a
constant shower of long-range rifle bullets. Behind them, and as
useful as if it had been on Woolwich Common, there was drawn up an
imposing mass of men, two infantry divisions, and two brigades of
cavalry, all straining at the leash, prepared to shed their blood
until the spruits ran red with it, if only they could win their way
to where their half-starved comrades waited for them. But nothing
happened. Hours passed and nothing happened. An occasional shell
from the big gun plumped among them. One, through some freak of
gunnery, lobbed slowly through a division, and the men whooped and
threw their caps at it as it passed. The guns on Swartz Kop, at a
range of nearly five miles, tossed shells at the monster on
Doornkloof, and finally blew up his powder magazine amid the
applause of the infantry. For the army it was a picnic and a

But it was otherwise with the men up on Vaalkranz. In spite of
sangar and trench, that cross fire was finding them out; and no
feint or demonstration on either side came to draw the concentrated
fire from their position. Once there was a sudden alarm at the
western end of the hill, and stooping bearded figures with slouch
hats and bandoliers were right up on the ridge before they could be
stopped, so cleverly had their advance been conducted. But a fiery
rush of Durhams and Rifles cleared the crest again, and it was
proved once more how much stronger is the defence than the attack.
Nightfall found the position unchanged, save that another pontoon
bridge had been constructed during the day. Over this Hildyard's
Brigade marched to relieve Lyttelton's, who came back for a rest
under the cover of the Swartz Kop guns. Their losses in the two
days had been under two hundred and fifty, a trifle if any aim were
to be gained, but excessive for a mere demonstration.

That night Hildyard's men supplemented the defences made by
Lyttelton, and tightened their hold upon the hill. One futile night
attack caused them for an instant to change the spade for the
rifle. When in the morning it was found that the Boers had, as they
naturally would, brought up their outlying guns, the tired soldiers
did not regret their labours of the night. It was again
demonstrated how innocuous a thing is a severe shell fire, if the
position be an extended one with chances of cover. A total of forty
killed and wounded out of a strong brigade was the result of a long
day under an incessant cannonade. And then at nightfall came the
conclusion that the guns were too many, that the way was too hard,
and down came all their high hopes with the order to withdraw once
more across that accursed river. Vaalkranz was abandoned, and
Hildyard's Brigade, seething with indignation, was ordered back
once more to its camp.



The heroic moment of the siege of Ladysmith was that which
witnessed the repulse of the great attack. The epic should have
ended at that dramatic instant. But instead of doing so the story
falls back to an anticlimax of crowded hospitals, slaughtered
horses, and sporadic shell fire. For another six weeks of
inactivity the brave garrison endured all the sordid evils which
had steadily grown from inconvenience to misfortune and from
misfortune to misery. Away in the south they heard the thunder of
Buller's guns, and from the hills round the town they watched with
pale faces and bated breath the tragedy of Spion Kop, preserving a
firm conviction that a very little more would have transformed it
into their salvation. Their hearts sank with the sinking of the
cannonade, and rose again with the roar of Vaalkranz. But Vaalkranz
also failed them, and they waited on in the majesty of their hunger
and their weakness for the help which was to come.

It has been already narrated how General Buller had made his three
attempts for the relief of the city. The General who was inclined
to despair was now stimulated by despatches from Lord Roberts,
while his army, who were by no means inclined to despair, were
immensely cheered by the good news from the Kimberley side. Both
General and army prepared for a last supreme effort. This time, at
least, the soldiers hoped that they would be permitted to burst
their way to the help of their starving comrades or leave their
bones among the hills which had faced them so long. All they asked
was a fight to a finish, and now they were about to have one.
General Buller had tried the Boers' centre, he had tried their
extreme right, and now he was about to try their extreme left.
There were some obvious advantages on this side which make it
surprising that it was not the first to be attempted. In the first
place, the enemy's main position upon that flank was at Hlangwane
mountain, which is to the south of the Tugela, so that in case of
defeat the river ran behind them. In the second, Hlangwane mountain
was the one point from which the Boer position at Colenso could be
certainly enfiladed, and therefore the fruits of victory would be
greater on that flank than on the other. Finally, the operations
could be conducted at no great distance from the railhead, and the
force would be exposed to little danger of having its flank
attacked or its communications cut, as was the case in the Spion
Kop advance. Against these potent considerations there is only to
be put the single fact that the turning of the Boer right would
threaten the Freestaters' line of retreat. On the whole, the
balance of advantage lay entirely with the new attempt, and the
whole army advanced to it with a premonition of success. Of all the
examples which the war has given of the enduring qualities of the
British troops there is none more striking than the absolute
confidence and whole hearted delight with which, after three bloody
repulses, they set forth upon another venture.

On February 9th the movements were started which transferred the
greater part of the force from the extreme left to the centre and
right. By the 11th Lyttelton's (formerly Clery's) second division
and Warren's fifth division had come eastward, leaving Burn
Murdoch's cavalry brigade to guard the Western side. On the 12th
Lord Dundonald, with all the colonial cavalry, two battalions of
infantry, and a battery, made a strong reconnaissance towards
Hussar Hill, which is the nearest of the several hills which would
have to be occupied in order to turn the position. The hill was
taken, but was abandoned again by General Buller after he had used
it for some hours as an observatory. A long-range action between
the retiring cavalry and the Boers ended in a few losses upon each

What Buller had seen during the hour or two which he had spent with
his telescope upon Hussar Hill had evidently confirmed him in his
views, for two days later (February 14th) the whole army set forth
for this point. By the morning of the 15th twenty thousand men were
concentrated upon the sides and spurs of this eminence. On the 16th
the heavy guns were in position, and all was ready for the advance.

Facing them now were the formidable Boer lines of Hlangwane Hill
and Green Hill, which would certainly cost several thousands of men
if they were to take them by direct storm. Beyond them, upon the
Boer flank, were the hills of Monte Christo and Cingolo, which
appeared to be the extreme outside of the Boer position. The plan
was to engage the attention of the trenches in front by a terrific
artillery fire and the threat of an assault, while at the same time
sending the true flank attack far round to carry the Cingolo ridge,
which must be taken before any other hill could be approached.

On the 17th, in the early morning, with the first tinge of violet
in the east, the irregular cavalry and the second division
(Lyttelton's) with Wynne's Brigade started upon their widely
curving flanking march. The country through which they passed was
so broken that the troopers led their horses in single file, and
would have found themselves helpless in face of any resistance.
Fortunately, Cingolo Hill was very weakly held, and by evening both
our horsemen and our infantry had a firm grip upon it, thus turning
the extreme left flank of the Boer position. For once their
mountainous fortresses were against them, for a mounted Boer force
is so mobile that in an open position, such as faced Methuen, it is
very hard and requires great celerity of movement ever to find a
flank at all. On a succession of hills, however, it was evident
that some one hill must mark the extreme end of their line, and
Buller had found it at Cingolo. Their answer to this movement was
to throw their flank back so as to face the new position.

Even now, however, the Boer leaders had apparently not realised
that this was the main attack, or it is possible that the
intervention of the river made it difficult for them to send
reinforcements. However that may be, it is certain that the task
which the British found awaiting them on the 18th proved to be far
easier than they had dared to hope. The honours of the day rested
with Hildyard's English Brigade (East Surrey, West Surrey, West
Yorkshires, and 2nd Devons). In open order and with a rapid
advance, taking every advantage of the cover--which was better than
is usual in South African warfare--they gained the edge of the
Monte Christo ridge, and then swiftly cleared the crest. One at
least of the regiments engaged, the Devons, was nerved by the
thought that their own first battalion was waiting for them at
Ladysmith. The capture of the hill made the line of trenches which
faced Buller untenable, and he was at once able to advance with
Barton's Fusilier Brigade and to take possession of the whole Boer
position of Hlangwane and Green Hill. It was not a great tactical
victory, for they had no trophies to show save the worthless debris
of the Boer camps. But it was a very great strategical victory, for
it not only gave them the whole south side of the Tugela, but also
the means of commanding with their guns a great deal of the north
side, including those Colenso trenches which had blocked the way so
long. A hundred and seventy killed and wounded (of whom only
fourteen were killed) was a trivial price for such a result. At
last from the captured ridges the exultant troops could see far
away the haze which lay over the roofs of Ladysmith, and the
besieged, with hearts beating high with hope, turned their glasses
upon the distant mottled patches which told them that their
comrades were approaching.

By February 20th the British had firmly established themselves
along the whole south bank of the river, Hart's brigade had
occupied Colenso, and the heavy guns had been pushed up to more
advanced positions. The crossing of the river was the next
operation, and the question arose where it should be crossed. The
wisdom which comes with experience shows us now that it would have
been infinitely better to have crossed on their extreme left flank,
as by an advance upon this line we should have turned their strong
Pieters position just as we had already turned their Colenso one.
With an absolutely master card in our hand we refused to play it,
and won the game by a more tedious and perilous process. The
assumption seems to have been made (on no other hypothesis can one
understand the facts) that the enemy were demoralised and that the
positions would not be strongly held. Our flanking advantage was
abandoned and a direct advance was ordered from Colenso, involving
a frontal attack upon the Pieters position.

On February 21st Buller threw his pontoon bridge over the river
near Colenso, and the same evening his army began to cross. It was
at once evident that the Boer resistance had by no means collapsed.
Wynne's Lancashire Brigade were the first across, and found
themselves hotly engaged before nightfall. The low kopjes in front
of them were blazing with musketry fire. The brigade held its own,
but lost the Brigadier (the second in a month) and 150 rank and
file. Next morning the main body of the infantry was passed across,
and the army was absolutely committed to the formidable and
unnecessary enterprise of fighting its way straight to Ladysmith.

The force in front had weakened, however, both in numbers and in
morale. Some thousands of the Freestaters had left in order to
defend their own country from the advance of Roberts, while the
rest were depressed by as much of the news as was allowed by their
leaders to reach them. But the Boer is a tenacious fighter, and
many a brave man was still to fall before Buller and White should
shake hands in the High Street of Ladysmith.

The first obstacle which faced the army, after crossing the river,
was a belt of low rolling ground, which was gradually cleared by
the advance of our infantry. As night closed in the advance lines
of Boers and British were so close to each other that incessant
rifle fire was maintained until morning, and at more than one point
small bodies of desperate riflemen charged right up to the bayonets
of our infantry. The morning found us still holding our positions
all along the line, and as more and more of our infantry came up
and gun after gun roared into action we began to push our stubborn
enemy northwards. On the 21st the Dorsets, Middlesex, and Somersets
had borne the heat of the day. On the 22nd it was the Royal
Lancasters, followed by the South Lancashires, who took up the
running. It would take the patience and also the space of a
Kinglake in this scrambling broken fight to trace the doings of
those groups of men who strove and struggled through the rifle
fire. All day a steady advance was maintained over the low kopjes,
until by evening we were faced by the more serious line of the
Pieter's Hills. The operations had been carried out with a monotony
of gallantry. Always the same extended advance, always the same
rattle of Mausers and clatter of pom-poms from a ridge, always the
same victorious soldiers on the barren crest, with a few crippled
Boers before them and many crippled comrades behind. They were
expensive triumphs, and yet every one brought them nearer to their
goal. And now, like an advancing tide, they lapped along the base
of Pieter's Hill. Could they gather volume enough to carry
themselves over? The issue of the long-drawn battle and the fate of
Ladysmith hung upon the question.

Brigadier Fitzroy Hart, to whom the assault was entrusted, is in
some ways as singular and picturesque a type as has been evolved in
the war. A dandy soldier, always the picture of neatness from the
top of his helmet to the heels of his well-polished brown boots, he
brings to military matters the same precision which he affects in
dress. Pedantic in his accuracy, he actually at the battle of
Colenso drilled the Irish Brigade for half an hour before leading
them into action, and threw out markers under a deadly fire in
order that his change from close to extended formation might be
academically correct. The heavy loss of the Brigade at this action
was to some extent ascribed to him and affected his popularity; but
as his men came to know him better, his romantic bravery, his
whimsical soldierly humour, their dislike changed into admiration.
His personal disregard for danger was notorious and reprehensible.
'Where is General Hart?' asked some one in action. 'I have not seen
him, but I know where you will find him. Go ahead of the skirmish
line and you will see him standing on a rock,' was the answer. He
bore a charmed life. It was a danger to be near him. 'Whom are you
going to?' 'General Hart,' said the aide-de-camp. 'Then good-bye!'
cried his fellows. A grim humour ran through his nature. It is
gravely recorded and widely believed that he lined up a regiment on
a hill-top in order to teach them not to shrink from fire. Amid the
laughter of his Irishmen, he walked through the open files of his
firing line holding a laggard by the ear. This was the man who had
put such a spirit into the Irish Brigade that amid that army of
valiant men there were none who held such a record. 'Their rushes
were the quickest, their rushes were the longest, and they stayed
the shortest time under cover,' said a shrewd military observer. To
Hart and his brigade was given the task of clearing the way to

The regiments which he took with him on his perilous enterprise
were the 1st Inniskilling Fusiliers, the 2nd Dublin Fusiliers, the
1st Connaught Rangers, and the Imperial Light Infantry, the whole
forming the famous 5th Brigade. They were already in the extreme
British advance, and now, as they moved forwards, the Durham Light
Infantry and the 1st Rifle Brigade from Lyttelton's Brigade came up
to take their place. The hill to be taken lay on the right, and the
soldiers were compelled to pass in single file under a heavy fire
for more than a mile until they reached the spot which seemed best
for their enterprise. There, short already of sixty of their
comrades, they assembled and began a cautious advance upon the
lines of trenches and sangars which seamed the brown slope above

For a time they were able to keep some cover, and the casualties
were comparatively few. But now at last, as the evening sun threw a
long shadow from the hills, the leading regiment, the
Inniskillings, found themselves at the utmost fringe of boulders
with a clear slope between them and the main trench of the enemy.
Up there where the shrapnel was spurting and the great lyddite
shells crashing they could dimly see a line of bearded faces and
the black dots of the slouch hats. With a yell the Inniskillings
sprang out, carried with a rush the first trench, and charged
desperately onwards for the second one. It was a supremely dashing
attack against a supremely steady resistance, for among all their
gallant deeds the Boers have never fought better than on that
February evening. Amid such a smashing shell fire as living mortals
have never yet endured they stood doggedly, these hardy men of the
veld, and fired fast and true into the fiery ranks of the Irishmen.
The yell of the stormers was answered by the remorseless roar of
the Mausers and the deep-chested shouts of the farmers. Up and up
surged the infantry, falling, rising, dashing bull-headed at the
crackling line of the trench. But still the bearded faces glared at
them over the edge, and still the sheet of lead pelted through
their ranks. The regiment staggered, came on, staggered again, was
overtaken by supporting companies of the Dublins and the
Connaughts, came on, staggered once more, and finally dissolved
into shreds, who ran swiftly back for cover, threading their way
among their stricken comrades. Never on this earth was there a
retreat of which the survivors had less reason to be ashamed. They
had held on to the utmost capacity of human endurance. Their
Colonel, ten officers, and more than half the regiment were lying
on the fatal hill. Honour to them, and honour also to the gallant
Dutchmen who, rooted in the trenches, had faced the rush and fury
of such an onslaught! Today to them, tomorrow to us--but it is for
a soldier to thank the God of battles for worthy foes.

It is one thing, however, to repulse the British soldier and it is
another to rout him. Within a few hundred yards of their horrible
ordeal at Magersfontein the Highlanders reformed into a military
body. So now the Irishmen fell back no further than the nearest
cover, and there held grimly on to the ground which they had won.
If you would know the advantage which the defence has over the
attack, then do you come and assault this line of tenacious men,
now in your hour of victory and exultation, friend Boer! Friend
Boer did attempt it, and skilfully too, moving a flanking party to
sweep the position with their fire. But the brigade, though sorely
hurt, held them off without difficulty, and was found on the
morning of the 24th to be still lying upon the ground which they
had won.

Our losses had been very heavy, Colonel Thackeray of the
Inniskillings, Colonel Sitwell of the Dublins, three majors, twenty
officers, and a total of about six hundred out of 1200 actually
engaged. To take such punishment and to remain undemoralised is the
supreme test to which troops can be put. Could the loss have been
avoided? By following the original line of advance from Monte
Christo, perhaps, when we should have turned the enemy's left. But
otherwise no. The hill was in the way and had to be taken. In the
war game you cannot play without a stake. You lose and you pay
forfeit, and where the game is fair the best player is he who pays
with the best grace. The attack was well prepared, well delivered,
and only miscarried on account of the excellence of the defence. We
proved once more what we had proved so often before, that all
valour and all discipline will not avail in a frontal attack
against brave coolheaded men armed with quick-firing rifles.

While the Irish Brigade assaulted Railway Hill an attack had been
made upon the left, which was probably meant as a demonstration to
keep the Boers from reinforcing their comrades rather than as an
actual attempt upon their lines. Such as it was, however, it cost
the life of at least one brave soldier, for Colonel Thorold, of the
Welsh Fusiliers, was among the fallen. Thorold, Thackeray, and
Sitwell in one evening. Who can say that British colonels have not
given their men a lead?

The army was now at a deadlock. Railway Hill barred the way, and if
Hart's men could not carry it by assault it was hard to say who
could. The 24th found the two armies facing each other at this
critical point, the Irishmen still clinging to the slopes of the
hill and the Boers lining the top. Fierce rifle firing broke out
between them during the day, but each side was well covered and lay
low. The troops in support suffered somewhat, however, from a
random shell fire. Mr. Winston Churchill has left it upon record
that within his own observation three of their shrapnel shells
fired at a venture on to the reverse slope of a hill accounted for
nineteen men and four horses. The enemy can never have known how
hard those three shells had hit us, and so we may also believe that
our artillery fire has often been less futile than it appeared.

General Buller had now realised that it was no mere rearguard
action which the Boers were fighting, but that their army was
standing doggedly at bay; so he reverted to that flanking movement
which, as events showed, should never have been abandoned. Hart's
Irish Brigade was at present almost the right of the army. His new
plan--a masterly one--was to keep Hart pinning the Boers at that
point, and to move his centre and left across the river, and then
back to envelope the left wing of the enemy. By this manoeuvre Hart
became the extreme left instead of the extreme right, and the Irish
Brigade would be the hinge upon which the whole army should turn.
It was a large conception, finely carried out. The 24th was a day
of futile shell fire--and of plans for the future. The heavy guns
were got across once more to the Monte Christo ridge and to
Hlangwane, and preparations made to throw the army from the west to
the east. The enemy still snarled and occasionally snapped in front
of Hart's men, but with four companies of the 2nd Rifle Brigade to
protect their flanks their position remained secure.

In the meantime, through a contretemps between our outposts and the
Boers, no leave had been given to us to withdraw our wounded, and
the unfortunate fellows, some hundreds of them, had lain between
the lines in agonies of thirst for thirty-six hours--one of the
most painful incidents of the campaign. Now, upon the 25th, an
armistice was proclaimed, and the crying needs of the survivors
were attended to. On the same day the hearts of our soldiers sank
within them as they saw the stream of our wagons and guns crossing
the river once more. What, were they foiled again? Was the blood of
these brave men to be shed in vain? They ground their teeth at the
thought. The higher strategy was not for them, but back was back
and forward was forward, and they knew which way their proud hearts
wished to go.

The 26th was occupied by the large movements of troops which so
complete a reversal of tactics necessitated. Under the screen of a
heavy artillery fire, the British right became the left and the
left the right. A second pontoon bridge was thrown across near the
old Boer bridge at Hlangwane, and over it was passed a large force
of infantry, Barton's Fusilier Brigade, Kitchener's (vice Wynne's,
vice Woodgate's) Lancashire Brigade, and two battalions of
Norcott's (formerly Lyttelton's) Brigade. Coke's Brigade was left
at Colenso to prevent a counter attack upon our left flank and
communications. In this way, while Hart with the Durhams and the
1st Rifle Brigade held the Boers in front, the main body of the
army was rapidly swung round on to their left flank. By the morning
of the 27th all were in place for the new attack.

Opposite the point where the troops had been massed were three Boer
hills; one, the nearest, may for convenience sake be called
Barton's Hill. As the army had formerly been situated the assault
upon this hill would have been a matter of extreme difficulty; but
now, with the heavy guns restored to their commanding position,
from which they could sweep its sides and summits, it had recovered
its initial advantage. In the morning sunlight Barton's Fusiliers
crossed the river, and advanced to the attack under a screaming
canopy of shells. Up they went and up, darting and crouching, until
their gleaming bayonets sparkled upon the summit. The masterful
artillery had done its work, and the first long step taken in this
last stage of the relief of Ladysmith. The loss had been slight and
the advantage enormous. After they had gained the summit the
Fusiliers were stung and stung again by clouds of skirmishers who
clung to the flanks of the hill, but their grip was firm and grew
firmer with every hour.

Of the three Boer hills which had to be taken the nearest (or
eastern one) was now in the hands of the British. The furthest (or
western one) was that on which the Irish Brigade was still
crouching, ready at any moment for a final spring which would take
them over the few hundred yards which separated them from the
trenches. Between the two intervened a central hill, as yet
untouched. Could we carry this the whole position would be ours.
Now for the final effort! Turn every gun upon it, the guns of Monte
Christo, the guns of Hlangwane! Turn every rifle upon it--the
rifles of Barton's men, the rifles of Hart's men, the carbines of
the distant cavalry! Scalp its crown with the machine-gun fire! And
now up with you, Lancashire men, Norcott's men! The summit or a
glorious death, for beyond that hill your suffering comrades are
awaiting you! Put every bullet and every man and all of fire and
spirit that you are worth into this last hour; for if you fail now
you have failed for ever, and if you win, then when your hairs are
white your blood will still run warm when you think of that
morning's work. The long drama had drawn to an end, and one short
day's work is to show what that end was to be.

But there was never a doubt of it. Hardly for one instant did the
advance waver at any point of its extended line. It was the supreme
instant of the Natal campaign, as, wave after wave, the long lines
of infantry went shimmering up the hill. On the left the
Lancasters, the Lancashire Fusiliers, the South Lancashires, the
York and Lancasters, with a burr of north country oaths, went
racing for the summit. Spion Kop and a thousand comrades were
calling for vengeance. 'Remember, men, the eyes of Lancashire are
watching you,' cried the gallant MacCarthy O'Leary. The old 40th
swept on, but his dead body marked the way which they had taken. On
the right the East Surrey, the, Cameronians, the 3rd Rifles, the
1st Rifle Brigade, the Durhams, and the gallant Irishmen, so sorely
stricken and yet so eager, were all pressing upwards and onwards.
The Boer fire lulls, it ceases--they are running! Wild hat-waving
men upon the Hlangwane uplands see the silhouette of the active
figures of the stormers along the sky-line and know that the
position is theirs. Exultant soldiers dance and cheer upon the
ridge. The sun is setting in glory over the great Drakensberg
mountains, and so also that night set for ever the hopes of the
Boer invaders of Natal. Out of doubt and chaos, blood and labour,
had come at last the judgment that the lower should not swallow the
higher, that the world is for the man of the twentieth and not of
the seventeenth century. After a fortnight of fighting the weary
troops threw themselves down that night with the assurance that at
last the door was ajar and the light breaking through. One more
effort and it would be open before them.

Behind the line of hills which had been taken there extended a
great plain as far as Bulwana--that evil neighbour who had wrought
such harm upon Ladysmith. More than half of the Pieters position
had fallen into Buller's hands on the 27th, and the remainder had
become untenable. The Boers had lost some five hundred in killed,
wounded, and prisoners. [Footnote: Accurate figures will probably
never be obtained, but a well-known Boer in Pretoria informed me
that Pieters was the most expensive fight to them of the whole war.
] It seemed to the British General and his men that one more action
would bring them safely into Ladysmith.

But here they miscalculated, and so often have we miscalculated on
the optimistic side in this campaign that it is pleasing to find
for once that our hopes were less than the reality. The Boers had
been beaten--fairly beaten and disheartened. It will always be a
subject for conjecture whether they were so entirely on the
strength of the Natal campaign, or whether the news of the Cronje
disaster from the western side had warned them that they must draw
in upon the east. For my own part I believe that the honour lies
with the gallant men of Natal, and that, moving on these lines,
they would, Cronje or no Cronje, have forced their way in triumph
to Ladysmith.

And now the long-drawn story draws to a swift close. Cautiously
feeling their way with a fringe of horse, the British pushed over
the great plain, delayed here and there by the crackle of musketry,
but finding always that the obstacle gave way and vanished as they
approached it. At last it seemed clear to Dundonald that there
really was no barrier between his horsemen and the beleaguered
city. With a squadron of Imperial Light Horse and a squadron of
Natal Carabineers he rode on until, in the gathering twilight, the
Ladysmith picket challenged the approaching cavalry, and the
gallant town was saved.

It is hard to say which had shown the greater endurance, the
rescued or their rescuers. The town, indefensible, lurking in a
hollow under commanding hills, had held out for 118 days. They had
endured two assaults and an incessant bombardment, to which,
towards the end, owing to the failure of heavy ammunition, they
were unable to make any adequate reply. It was calculated that 16,
000 shells had fallen within the town. In two successful sorties
they had destroyed three of the enemy's heavy guns. They had been
pressed by hunger, horseflesh was already running short, and they
had been decimated by disease. More than 2000 cases of enteric and
dysentery had been in hospital at one time, and the total number of
admissions had been nearly as great as the total number of the
garrison. One-tenth of the men had actually died of wounds or
disease. Ragged, bootless, and emaciated, there still lurked in the
gaunt soldiers the martial spirit of warriors. On the day after
their relief 2000 of them set forth to pursue the Boers. One who
helped to lead them has left it on record that the most piteous
sight that he has ever seen was these wasted men, stooping under
their rifles and gasping with the pressure of their accoutrements,
as they staggered after their retreating enemy. A Verestschagen
might find a subject these 2000 indomitable men with their
emaciated horses pursuing a formidable foe. It is God's mercy they
failed to overtake them.

If the record of the besieged force was great, that of the
relieving army was no less so. Through the blackest depths of
despondency and failure they had struggled to absolute success. At
Colenso they had lost 1200 men, at Spion Kop 1700, at Vaalkranz
400, and now, in this last long-drawn effort, 1600 more. Their
total losses were over 5000 men, more than 20 per cent of the whole
army. Some particular regiments had suffered horribly. The Dublin
and Inniskilling Fusiliers headed the roll of honour with only five
officers and 40 per cent of the men left standing. Next to them the
Lancashire Fusiliers and the Royal Lancasters had been the hardest
hit. It speaks well for Buller's power of winning and holding the
confidence of his men that in the face of repulse after repulse the
soldiers still went into battle as steadily as ever under his

On March 3rd Buller's force entered Ladysmith in state between the
lines of the defenders. For their heroism the Dublin Fusiliers were
put in the van of the procession, and it is told how, as the
soldiers who lined the streets saw the five officers and small
clump of men, the remains of what had been a strong battalion,
realising, for the first time perhaps, what their relief had cost,
many sobbed like children. With cheer after cheer the stream of
brave men flowed for hours between banks formed by men as brave.
But for the purposes of war the garrison was useless. A month of
rest and food would be necessary before they could be ready to take
the field once more.

So the riddle of the Tugela had at last been solved. Even now, with
all the light which has been shed upon the matter, it is hard to
apportion praise and blame. To the cheerful optimism of Symons must
be laid some of the blame of the original entanglement; but man is
mortal, and he laid down his life for his mistake. White, who had
been but a week in the country, could not, if he would, alter the
main facts of the military situation. He did his best, committed
one or two errors, did brilliantly on one or two points, and
finally conducted the defence with a tenacity and a gallantry which
are above all praise. It did not, fortunately, develop into an
absolutely desperate affair, like Massena's defence of Genoa, but a
few more weeks would have made it a military tragedy. He was
fortunate in the troops whom he commanded--half of them old
soldiers from India--[Footnote: An officer in high command in
Ladysmith has told me, as an illustration of the nerve and
discipline of the troops, that though false alarms in the Boer
trenches were matters of continual occurrence from the beginning to
the end of the siege, there was not one single occasion when the
British outposts made a mistake.]--and exceedingly fortunate in his
officers, French (in the operations before the siege), Archibald
Hunter, Ian Hamilton, Hedworth Lambton, Dick-Cunyngham, Knox, De
Courcy Hamilton, and all the other good men and true who stood (as
long as they could stand) by his side. Above all, he was fortunate
in his commissariat officers, and it was in the offices of Colonels
Ward and Stoneman as much as in the trenches and sangars of
Caesar's Camp that the siege was won.

Buller, like White, had to take the situation as he found it. It is
well known that his own belief was that the line of the Tugela was
the true defence of Natal. When he reached Africa, Ladysmith was
already beleaguered, and he, with his troops, had to abandon the
scheme of direct invasion and to hurry to extricate White's
division. Whether they might not have been more rapidly extricated
by keeping to the original plan is a question which will long
furnish an excellent subject for military debate. Had Buller in
November known that Ladysmith was capable of holding out until
March, is it conceivable that he, with his whole army corps and as
many more troops as he cared to summon from England, would not have
made such an advance in four months through the Free State as would
necessitate the abandonment of the sieges both of Kimberley and of
Ladysmith? If the Boers persisted in these sieges they could not
possibly place more than 20,000 men on the Orange River to face 60,
000 whom Buller could have had there by the first week in December.
Methuen's force, French's force, Gatacre's force, and the Natal
force, with the exception of garrisons for Pietermaritzburg and
Durban, would have assembled, with a reserve of another sixty
thousand men in the colony or on the sea ready to fill the gaps in
his advance. Moving over a flat country with plenty of flanking
room, it is probable that he would have been in Bloemfontein by
Christmas and at the Vaal River late in January. What could the
Boers do then? They might remain before Ladysmith, and learn that
their capital and their gold mines had been taken in their absence.
Or they might abandon the siege and trek back to defend their own
homes. This, as it appears to a civilian critic, would have been
the least expensive means of fighting them; but after all the
strain had to come somewhere, and the long struggle of Ladysmith
may have meant a more certain and complete collapse in the future.
At least, by the plan actually adopted we saved Natal from total
devastation, and that must count against a great deal.

Having taken his line, Buller set about his task in a slow,
deliberate, but pertinacious fashion. It cannot be denied, however,
that the pertinacity was largely due to the stiffening counsel of
Roberts and the soldierly firmness of White who refused to
acquiesce in the suggestion of surrender. Let it be acknowledged
that Buller's was the hardest problem of the war, and that he
solved it. The mere acknowledgment goes far to soften criticism.
But the singular thing is that in his proceedings he showed
qualities which had not been generally attributed to him, and was
wanting in those very points which the public had imagined to be
characteristic of him. He had gone out with the reputation of a
downright John Bull fighter, who would take punishment or give it,
but slog his way through without wincing. There was no reason for
attributing any particular strategical ability to him. But as a
matter of fact, setting the Colenso attempt aside, the crossing for
the Spion Kop enterprise, the withdrawal of the compromised army,
the Vaalkranz crossing with the clever feint upon Brakfontein, the
final operations, and especially the complete change of front after
the third day of Pieters, were strategical movements largely
conceived and admirably carried out. On the other hand, a
hesitation in pushing onwards, and a disinclination to take a risk
or to endure heavy punishment, even in the case of temporary
failure, were consistent characteristics of his generalship. The
Vaalkranz operations are particularly difficult to defend from the
charge of having been needlessly slow and half-hearted. This
'saturnine fighter,' as he had been called, proved to be
exceedingly sensitive about the lives of his men--an admirable
quality in itself, but there are occasions when to spare them
to-day is to needlessly imperil them tomorrow. The victory was his,
and yet in the very moment of it he displayed the qualities which
marred him. With two cavalry brigades in hand he did not push the
pursuit of the routed Boers with their guns and endless streams of
wagons. It is true that he might have lost heavily, but it is true
also that a success might have ended the Boer invasion of Natal,
and the lives of our troopers would be well spent in such a
venture. If cavalry is not to be used in pursuing a retiring enemy
encumbered with much baggage, then its day is indeed past.

The relief of Ladysmith stirred the people of the Empire as
nothing, save perhaps the subsequent relief of Mafeking, has done
during our generation. Even sober unemotional London found its soul
for once and fluttered with joy. Men, women, and children, rich and
poor, clubman and cabman, joined in the universal delight. The
thought of our garrison, of their privations, of our impotence to
relieve them, of the impending humiliation to them and to us, had
lain dark for many months across our spirits. It had weighed upon
us, until the subject, though ever present in our thoughts, was too
painful for general talk. And now, in an instant, the shadow was
lifted. The outburst of rejoicing was not a triumph over the
gallant Boers. But it was our own escape from humiliation, the
knowledge that the blood of our sons had not been shed in vain,
above all the conviction that the darkest hour had now passed and
that the light of peace was dimly breaking far away--that was why
London rang with joy bells that March morning, and why those bells
echoed back from every town and hamlet, in tropical sun and in
Arctic snow, over which the flag of Britain waved.



It has already been narrated how, upon the arrival of the army
corps from England, the greater part was drafted to Natal, while
some went to the western side, and started under Lord Methuen upon
the perilous enterprise of the relief of Kimberley. It has also
been shown how, after three expensive victories, Lord Methuen's
force met with a paralysing reverse, and was compelled to remain
inactive within twenty miles of the town which they had come to
succour. Before I describe how that succour did eventually arrive,
some attention must be paid to the incidents which had occurred
within the city.

'I am directed to assure you that there is no reason for
apprehending that Kimberley or any part of the colony either is, or
in any contemplated event will be, in danger of attack. Mr.
Schreiner is of opinion that your fears are groundless and your
anticipations in the matter entirely without foundation.' Such is
the official reply to the remonstrance of the inhabitants, when,
with the shadow of war dark upon them, they appealed for help. It
is fortunate, however, that a progressive British town has usually
the capacity for doing things for itself without the intervention
of officials. Kimberley was particularly lucky in being the centre
of the wealthy and alert De Beers Company, which had laid in
sufficient ammunition and supplies to prevent the town from being
helpless in the presence of the enemy. But the cannon were popguns,
firing a 7-pound shell for a short range, and the garrison
contained only seven hundred regulars, while the remainder were
mostly untrained miners and artisans. Among them, however, there
was a sprinkling of dangerous men from the northern wars, and all
were nerved by a knowledge that the ground which they defended was
essential to the Empire. Ladysmith was no more than any other
strategic position, but Kimberley was unique, the centre of the
richest tract of ground for its size in the whole world. Its loss
would have been a heavy blow to the British cause, and an enormous
encouragement to the Boers.

On October 12th, several hours after the expiration of Kruger's
ultimatum, Cecil Rhodes threw himself into Kimberley. This
remarkable man, who stood for the future of South Africa as clearly
as the Dopper Boer stood for its past, had, both in features and in
character, some traits which may, without extravagance, be called
Napoleonic. The restless energy, the fertility of resource, the
attention to detail, the wide sweep of mind, the power of terse
comment--all these recall the great emperor. So did the simplicity
of private life in the midst of excessive wealth. And so finally
did a want of scruple where an ambition was to be furthered, shown,
for example, in that enormous donation to the Irish party by which
he made a bid for their parliamentary support, and in the story of
the Jameson raid. A certain cynicism of mind and a grim humour
complete the parallel. But Rhodes was a Napoleon of peace. The
consolidation of South Africa under the freest and most progressive
form of government was the large object on which he had expended
his energies and his fortune but the development of the country in
every conceivable respect, from the building of a railway to the
importation of a pedigree bull, engaged his unremitting attention.

It was on October 15th that the fifty thousand inhabitants of
Kimberley first heard the voice of war. It rose and fell in a
succession of horrible screams and groans which travelled far over
the veld, and the outlying farmers marvelled at the dreadful
clamour from the sirens and the hooters of the great mines. Those
who have endured all--the rifle, the cannon, and the hunger--have
said that those wild whoops from the sirens were what had tried
their nerve the most.

The Boers in scattered bands of horsemen were thick around the
town, and had blocked the railroad. They raided cattle upon the
outskirts, but made no attempt to rush the defence. The garrison,
who, civilian and military, approached four thousand in number, lay
close in rifle pit and redoubt waiting for an attack which never
came. The perimeter to be defended was about eight miles, but the
heaps of tailings made admirable fortifications, and the town had
none of those inconvenient heights around it which had been such
bad neighbours to Ladysmith. Picturesque surroundings are not
favourable to defence.

On October 24th the garrison, finding that no attack was made,
determined upon a reconnaissance. The mounted force, upon which
most of the work and of the loss fell, consisted of the Diamond
Fields Horse, a small number of Cape Police, a company of Mounted
Infantry, and a body called the Kimberley Light Horse. With two
hundred and seventy volunteers from this force Major Scott-Turner,
a redoubtable fighter, felt his way to the north until he came in
touch with the Boers. The latter, who were much superior in
numbers, manoeuvred to cut him off, but the arrival of two
companies of the North Lancashire Regiment turned the scale in our
favour. We lost three killed and twenty-one wounded in the
skirmish. The Boer loss is unknown, but their commander Botha was

On November 4th Commandant Wessels formally summoned the town, and
it is asserted that he gave Colonel Kekewich leave to send out the
women and children. That officer has been blamed for not taking
advantage of the permission--or at the least for not communicating
it to the civil authorities. As a matter of fact the charge rests
upon a misapprehension. In Wessels' letter a distinction is made
between Africander and English women, the former being offered an
asylum in his camp. This offer was made known, and half a dozen
persons took advantage of it. The suggestion, however, in the case
of the English carried with it no promise that they would be
conveyed to Orange River, and a compliance with it would have put
them as helpless hostages into the hands of the enemy. As to not
publishing the message it is not usual to publish such official
documents, but the offer was shown to Mr. Rhodes, who concurred in
the impossibility of accepting it.

It is difficult to allude to this subject without touching upon the
painful but notorious fact that there existed during the siege
considerable friction between the military authorities and a
section of the civilians, of whom Mr. Rhodes was chief. Among other
characteristics Rhodes bore any form of restraint very badly, and
chafed mightily when unable to do a thing in the exact way which he
considered best. He may have been a Napoleon of peace, but his
warmest friends could never describe him as a Napoleon of war, for
his military forecasts have been erroneous, and the management of
the Jameson fiasco certainly inspired no confidence in the judgment
of any one concerned. That his intentions were of the best, and
that he had the good of the Empire at heart, may be freely granted;
but that these motives should lead him to cabal against, and even
to threaten, the military governor, or that he should attempt to
force Lord Roberts's hand in a military operation, was most
deplorable. Every credit may be given to him for all his aid to the
military--he gave with a good grace what the garrison would
otherwise have had to commandeer--but it is a fact that the town
would have been more united, and therefore stronger, without his
presence. Colonel Kekewich and his chief staff officer, Major
O'Meara, were as much plagued by intrigue within as by the Boers

On November 7th the bombardment of the town commenced from nine
9-pounder guns to which the artillery of the garrison could give no
adequate reply. The result, however, of a fortnight's fire, during
which seven hundred shells were discharged, was the loss of two
non-combatants. The question of food was recognised as being of
more importance than the enemy's fire. An early relief appeared
probable, however, as the advance of Methuen's force was already
known. One pound of bread, two ounces of sugar, and half a pound of
meat were allowed per head. It was only on the small children that
the scarcity of milk told with tragic effect. At Ladysmith, at
Mafeking, and at Kimberley hundreds of these innocents were

November 25th was a red-letter day with the garrison, who made a
sortie under the impression that Methuen was not far off, and that
they were assisting his operations. The attack was made upon one of
the Boer positions by a force consisting of a detachment of the
Light Horse and of the Cape Police, and their work was brilliantly
successful. The actual storming of the redoubt was carried out by
some forty men, of whom but four were killed. They brought back
thirty-three prisoners as a proof of their victory, but the Boer
gun, as usual, escaped us. In this brilliant affair Scott-Turner
was wounded, which did not prevent him, only three days later, from
leading another sortie, which was as disastrous as the first had
been successful. Save under very exceptional circumstances it is in
modern warfare long odds always upon the defence, and the garrison
would probably have been better advised had they refrained from
attacking the fortifications of their enemy--a truth which
Baden-Powell learned also at Game Tree Hill. As it was, after a
temporary success the British were blown back by the fierce Mauser
fire, and lost the indomitable Scott-Turner, with twenty-one of his
brave companions killed and twenty-eight wounded, all belonging to
the colonial corps. The Empire may reflect with pride that the
people in whose cause mainly they fought showed themselves by their
gallantry and their devotion worthy of any sacrifice which has been

Again the siege settled down to a monotonous record of decreasing
rations and of expectation. On December 10 there came a sign of
hope from the outside world. Far on the southern horizon a little
golden speck shimmered against the blue African sky. It was
Methuen's balloon gleaming in the sunshine. Next morning the low
grumble of distant cannon was the sweetest of music to the
listening citizens. But days passed without further news, and it
was not for more than a week that they learned of the bloody
repulse of Magersfontein, and that help was once more indefinitely
postponed. Heliographic communication had been opened with the
relieving army, and it is on record that the first message flashed
through from the south was a question about the number of a horse.
With inconceivable stupidity this has been cited as an example of
military levity and incapacity. Of course the object of the
question was a test as to whether they were really in communication
with the garrison. It must be confessed that the town seems to have
contained some very querulous and unreasonable people.

The New Year found the beleaguered city reduced to a quarter of a
pound of meat per head, while the health of the inhabitants began
to break down under their confinement. Their interest, however, was
keenly aroused by the attempt made in the De Beers workshops to
build a gun which might reach their opponents. This remarkable
piece of ordnance, constructed by an American named Labram by the
help of tools manufactured for the purpose and of books found in
the town, took the shape eventually of a 28 lb. rifled gun, which
proved to be a most efficient piece of artillery. With grim humour,
Mr. Rhodes's compliments had been inscribed upon the shells--a fair
retort in view of the openly expressed threat of the enemy that in
case of his capture they would carry him in a cage to Pretoria.

The Boers, though held off for a time by this unexpected piece of
ordnance, prepared a terrible answer to it. On February 7th an
enormous gun, throwing a 96 lb. shell, opened from Kamfersdam,
which is four miles from the centre of the town. The shells,
following the evil precedent of the Germans in 1870, were fired not
at the forts, but into the thickly populated city. Day and night
these huge missiles exploded, shattering the houses and
occasionally killing or maiming the occupants. Some thousands of
the women and children were conveyed down the mines, where, in the
electric-lighted tunnels, they lay in comfort and safety. One
surprising revenge the Boers had, for by an extraordinary chance
one of the few men killed by their gun was the ingenious Labram who
had constructed the 28-pounder. By an even more singular chance,
Leon, who was responsible for bringing the big Boer gun, was struck
immediately afterwards by a long-range rifle-shot from the

The historian must be content to give a tame account of the siege
of Kimberley, for the thing itself was tame. Indeed 'siege' is a
misnomer, for it was rather an investment or a blockade. Such as it
was, however, the inhabitants became very restless under it, and
though there were never any prospects of surrender the utmost
impatience began to be manifested at the protracted delay on the
part of the relief force. It was not till later that it was
understood how cunningly Kimberley had been used as a bait to hold
the enemy until final preparations had been made for his

And at last the great day came. It is on record how dramatic was
the meeting between the mounted outposts of the defenders and the
advance guard of the relievers, whose advent seems to have been
equally unexpected by friend and foe. A skirmish was in progress on
February 15th between a party of the Kimberley Light Horse and of
the Boers, when a new body of horsemen, unrecognised by either
side, appeared upon the plain and opened fire upon the enemy. One
of the strangers rode up to the patrol. 'What the dickens does K.L.
H. mean on your shoulder-strap?' he asked. 'It means Kimberley
Light Horse. Who are you?' 'I am one of the New Zealanders.'
Macaulay in his wildest dream of the future of the much-quoted New
Zealander never pictured him as heading a rescue force for the
relief of a British town in the heart of Africa.

The population had assembled to watch the mighty cloud of dust
which rolled along the south-eastern horizon. What was it which
swept westwards within its reddish heart? Hopeful and yet fearful
they saw the huge bank draw nearer and nearer. An assault from the
whole of Cronje's army was the thought which passed through many a
mind. And then the dust-cloud thinned, a mighty host of horsemen
spurred out from it, and in the extended far-flung ranks the glint
of spearheads and the gleam of scabbards told of the Hussars and
Lancers, while denser banks on either flank marked the position of
the whirling guns. Wearied and spent with a hundred miles' ride the
dusty riders and the panting, dripping horses took fresh heart as
they saw the broad city before them, and swept with martial rattle
and jingle towards the cheering crowds. Amid shouts and tears
French rode into Kimberley while his troopers encamped outside the

To know how this bolt was prepared and how launched, the narrative
must go back to the beginning of the month. At that period Methuen
and his men were still faced by Cronje and his entrenched forces,
who, in spite of occasional bombardments, held their position
between Kimberley and the relieving army. French, having handed
over the operations at Colesberg to Clements, had gone down to Cape
Town to confer with Roberts and Kitchener. Thence they all three
made their way to the Modder River, which was evidently about to be
the base of a more largely conceived series of operations than any
which had yet been undertaken.

In order to draw the Boer attention away from the thunderbolt which
was about to fall upon their left flank, a strong demonstration
ending in a brisk action was made early in February upon the
extreme right of Cronje's position. The force, consisting of the
Highland Brigade, two squadrons of the 9th Lancers, No. 7 Co. Royal
Engineers, and the 62nd Battery, was under the command of the
famous Hector Macdonald. 'Fighting Mac' as he was called by his
men, had joined his regiment as a private, and had worked through
the grades of corporal, sergeant, captain, major, and colonel,
until now, still in the prime of his manhood, he found himself
riding at the head of a brigade. A bony, craggy Scotsman, with a
square fighting head and a bulldog jaw, he had conquered the
exclusiveness and routine of the British service by the same dogged
qualities which made him formidable to Dervish and to Boer. With a
cool brain, a steady nerve, and a proud heart, he is an ideal
leader of infantry, and those who saw him manoeuvre his brigade in
the crisis of the battle of Omdurman speak of it as the one great
memory which they carried back from the engagement. On the field of
battle he turns to the speech of his childhood, the jagged,
rasping, homely words which brace the nerves of the northern
soldier. This was the man who had come from India to take the place
of poor Wauchope, and to put fresh heart into the gallant but
sorely stricken brigade.

The four regiments which composed the infantry of the force--the
Black Watch, the Argyll and Sutherlands, the Seaforths, and the
Highland Light Infantry--left Lord Methuen's camp on Saturday,
February 3rd, and halted at Fraser's Drift, passing on next day to
Koodoosberg. The day was very hot, and the going very heavy, and
many men fell out, some never to return. The drift (or ford) was
found, however, to be undefended, and was seized by Macdonald, who,
after pitching camp on the south side of the river, sent out strong
parties across the drift to seize and entrench the Koodoosberg and
some adjacent kopjes which, lying some three-quarters of a mile to
the north-west of the drift formed the key of the position. A few
Boer scouts were seen hurrying with the news of his coming to the
head laager.

The effect of these messages was evident by Tuesday (February 6th),
when the Boers were seen to be assembling upon the north bank. By
next morning they were there in considerable numbers, and began an
attack upon a crest held by the Seaforths. Macdonald threw two
companies of the Black Watch and two of the Highland Light Infantry
into the fight. The Boers made excellent practice with a 7-pounder
mountain gun, and their rifle fire, considering the good cover
which our men had, was very deadly. Poor Tait, of the Black Watch,
good sportsman and gallant soldier, with one wound hardly healed
upon his person, was hit again. 'They've got me this time,' were
his dying words. Blair, of the Seaforths, had his carotid cut by a
shrapnel bullet, and lay for hours while the men of his company
took turns to squeeze the artery. But our artillery silenced the
Boer gun, and our infantry easily held their riflemen. Babington
with the cavalry brigade arrived from the camp about 1.30, moving
along the north bank of the river. In spite of the fact that men
and horses were weary from a tiring march, it was hoped by
Macdonald's force that they would work round the Boers and make an
attempt to capture either them or their gun. But the horsemen seem
not to have realised the position of the parties, or that
possibility of bringing off a considerable coup, so the action came
to a tame conclusion, the Boers retiring unpursued from their
attack. On Thursday, February 8th, they were found to have
withdrawn, and on the same evening our own force was recalled, to
the surprise and disappointment of the public at home, who had not
realised that in directing their attention to their right flank the
column had already produced the effect upon the enemy for which
they had been sent. They could not be left there, as they were
needed for those great operations which were pending. It was on the
9th that the brigade returned; on the 10th they were congratulated
by Lord Roberts in person; and on the 11th those new dispositions
were made which were destined not only to relieve Kimberley, but to
inflict a blow upon the Boer cause from which it was never able to

Small, brown, and wrinkled, with puckered eyes and alert manner,
Lord Roberts in spite of his sixty-seven years preserves the figure
and energy of youth. The active open-air life of India keeps men
fit for the saddle when in England they would only sit their club
armchairs, and it is hard for any one who sees the wiry figure and
brisk step of Lord Roberts to realise that he has spent forty-one
years of soldiering in what used to be regarded as an unhealthy
climate. He had carried into late life the habit of martial
exercise, and a Russian traveller has left it on record that the
sight which surprised him most in India was to see the veteran
commander of the army ride forth with his spear and carry off the
peg with the skill of a practised trooper. In his early youth he
had shown in the Mutiny that he possessed the fighting energy of
the soldier to a remarkable degree, but it was only in the Afghan
War of 1880 that he had an opportunity of proving that he had rarer
and more valuable gifts, the power of swift resolution and
determined execution. At the crisis of the war he and his army
disappeared entirely from the public ken only to emerge
dramatically as victors at a point three hundred miles distant from
where they had vanished.

It is not only as a soldier, but as a man, that Lord Roberts
possesses some remarkable characteristics. He has in a supreme
degree that magnetic quality which draws not merely the respect but
the love of those who know him. In Chaucer's phrase, he is a very
perfect gentle knight. Soldiers and regimental officers have for
him a feeling of personal affection such as the unemotional British
Army has never had for any leader in the course of our history. His
chivalrous courtesy, his unerring tact, his kindly nature, his
unselfish and untiring devotion to their interests have all
endeared him to those rough loyal natures, who would follow him
with as much confidence and devotion as the grognards of the Guard
had in the case of the Great Emperor. There were some who feared
that in Roberts's case, as in so many more, the donga and kopje of
South Africa might form the grave and headstone of a military
reputation, but far from this being so he consistently showed a
wide sweep of strategy and a power of conceiving the effect of
scattered movements over a great extent of country which have
surprised his warmest admirers. In the second week of February his
dispositions were ready, and there followed the swift series of
blows which brought the Boers upon their knees. Of these we shall
only describe here the exploits of the fine force of cavalry which,
after a ride of a hundred miles, broke out of the heart of that
reddish dustcloud and swept the Boer besiegers away from
hard-pressed Kimberley.

In order to strike unexpectedly, Lord Roberts had not only made a
strong demonstration at Koodoosdrift, at the other end of the Boer
line, but he had withdrawn his main force some forty miles south,
taking them down by rail to Belmont and Enslin with such secrecy
that even commanding officers had no idea whither the troops were
going. The cavalry which had come from French's command at
Colesberg had already reached the rendezvous, travelling by road to
Naauwpoort, and thence by train. This force consisted of the
Carabineers, New South Wales Lancers, Inniskillings, composite
regiment of Household Cavalry, 10th Hussars, with some mounted
infantry and two batteries of Horse Artillery, making a force of
nearly three thousand sabres. To this were added the 9th and 12th
Lancers from Modder River, the 16th Lancers from India, the Scots
Greys, which had been patrolling Orange River from the beginning of
the war, Rimington's Scouts, and two brigades of mounted infantry
under Colonels Ridley and Hannay. The force under this latter
officer had a severe skirmish on its way to the rendezvous and lost
fifty or sixty in killed, wounded, and missing. Five other
batteries of Horse Artillery were added to the force, making seven
in all, with a pontoon section of Royal Engineers. The total number
of men was about five thousand. By the night of Sunday, February
11th, this formidable force had concentrated at Ramdam, twenty
miles north-east of Belmont, and was ready to advance. At two in
the morning of Monday, February 12th, the start was made, and the
long sinuous line of night-riders moved off over the shadowy veld,
the beat of twenty thousand hoofs, the clank of steel, and the
rumble of gunwheels and tumbrils swelling into a deep low roar like
the surge upon the shingle.

Two rivers, the Riet and the Modder, intervened between French and
Kimberley. By daylight on the 12th the head of his force had
reached Waterval Drift, which was found to be defended by a body of
Boers with a gun. Leaving a small detachment to hold them, French
passed his men over Dekiel's Drift, higher up the stream, and swept
the enemy out of his position. This considerable force of Boers had
come from Jacobsdal, and were just too late to get into position to
resist the crossing. Had we been ten minutes later, the matter
would have been much more serious. At the cost of a very small loss
he held both sides of the ford, but it was not until midnight that
the whole long column was brought across, and bivouacked upon the
northern bank. In the morning the strength of the force was
enormously increased by the arrival of one more horseman. It was
Roberts himself, who had ridden over to give the men a send-off,
and the sight of his wiry erect figure and mahogany face sent them
full of fire and confidence upon their way.

But the march of this second day (February 13th) was a military
operation of some difficulty. Thirty long waterless miles had to be
done before they could reach the Modder, and it was possible that
even then they might have to fight an action before winning the
drift. The weather was very hot, and through the long day the sun
beat down from an unclouded sky, while the soldiers were only
shaded by the dust-bank in which they rode. A broad arid plain,
swelling into stony hills, surrounded them on every side. Here and
there in the extreme distance, mounted figures moved over the vast
expanse--Boer scouts who marked in amazement the advance of this
great array. Once or twice these men gathered together, and a
sputter of rifle fire broke out upon our left flank, but the great
tide swept on and carried them with it. Often in this desolate land
the herds of mottled springbok and of grey rekbok could be seen
sweeping over the plain, or stopping with that curiosity upon which
the hunter trades, to stare at the unwonted spectacle.

So all day they rode, hussars, dragoons, and lancers, over the
withered veld, until men and horses drooped with the heat and the
exertion. A front of nearly two miles was kept, the regiments
moving two abreast in open order; and the sight of this magnificent
cloud of horsemen sweeping over the great barren plain was a
glorious one. The veld had caught fire upon the right, and a black
cloud of smoke with a lurid heart to it covered the flank. The beat
of the sun from above and the swelter of dust from below were
overpowering. Gun horses fell in the traces and died of pure
exhaustion. The men, parched and silent, but cheerful, strained
their eyes to pierce the continual mirage which played over the
horizon, and to catch the first glimpse of the Modder. At last, as
the sun began to slope down to the west, a thin line of green was
discerned, the bushes which skirt the banks of that ill-favoured
stream. With renewed heart the cavalry pushed on and made for the
drift, while Major Rimington, to whom the onerous duty of guiding
the force had been entrusted, gave a sigh of relief as he saw that
he had indeed struck the very point at which he had aimed.

The essential thing in the movements had been speed--to reach each
point before the enemy could concentrate to oppose them. Upon this
it depended whether they would find five hundred or five thousand
waiting on the further bank. It must have been with anxious eyes
that French watched his first regiment ride down to Klip Drift. If
the Boers should have had notice of his coming and have transferred
some of their 40-pounders, he might lose heavily before he forced
the stream. But this time, at last, he had completely outmanoeuvred
them. He came with the news of his coming, and Broadwood with the
12th Lancers rushed the drift. The small Boer force saved itself by
flight, and the camp, the wagons, and the supplies remained with
the victors. On the night of the 13th he had secured the passage of
the Modder, and up to the early morning the horses and the guns
were splashing through its coffee-coloured waters.

French's force had now come level to the main position of the
Boers, but had struck it upon the extreme left wing. The extreme
right wing, thanks to the Koodoosdrift demonstration, was fifty
miles off, and this line was naturally very thinly held, save only
at the central position of Magersfontein. Cronje could not denude
this central position, for he saw Methuen still waiting in front of
him, and in any case Klip Drift is twenty-five miles from
Magersfontein. But the Boer left wing, though scattered, gathered
into some sort of cohesion on Wednesday (February 14th), and made
an effort to check the victorious progress of the cavalry. It was
necessary on this day to rest at Klip Drift, until Kelly-Kenny
should come up with the infantry to hold what had been gained. All
day the small bodies of Boers came riding in and taking up
positions between the column and its objective.

Next morning the advance was resumed, the column being still forty
miles from Kimberley with the enemy in unknown force between. Some
four miles out French came upon their position, two hills with a
long low nek between, from which came a brisk rifle fire supported
by artillery. But French was not only not to be stopped, but could
not even be retarded. Disregarding the Boer fire completely the
cavalry swept in wave after wave over the low nek, and so round the
base of the hills. The Boer riflemen upon the kopjes must have seen
a magnificent military spectacle as regiment after regiment, the
9th Lancers leading, all in very open order, swept across the plain
at a gallop, and so passed over the nek. A few score horses and
half as many men were left behind them, but forty or fifty Boers
were cut down in the pursuit. It appears to have been one of the
very few occasions during the campaign when that obsolete and
absurd weapon the sword was anything but a dead weight to its

And now the force had a straight run in before it, for it had
outpaced any further force of Boers which may have been advancing
from the direction of Magersfontein. The horses, which had come a
hundred miles in four days with insufficient food and water, were
so done that it was no uncommon sight to see the trooper not only
walking to ease his horse, but carrying part of his monstrous
weight of saddle gear. But in spite of fatigue the force pressed on
until in the afternoon a distant view was seen, across the reddish
plain, of the brick houses and corrugated roofs of Kimberley. The
Boer besiegers cleared off in front of it, and that night (February
15th) the relieving column camped on the plain two miles away,
while French and his staff rode in to the rescued city.

The war was a cruel one for the cavalry, who were handicapped
throughout by the nature of the country and by the tactics of the
enemy. They are certainly the branch of the service which had least
opportunity for distinction. The work of scouting and patrolling is
the most dangerous which a soldier can undertake, and yet from its
very nature it can find no chronicler. The war correspondent, like
Providence, is always with the big battalions, and there never was
a campaign in which there was more unrecorded heroism, the heroism
of the picket and of the vedette which finds its way into no
newspaper paragraph. But in the larger operations of the war it is
difficult to say that cavalry, as cavalry, have justified their
existence. In the opinion of many the tendency of the future will
be to convert the whole force into mounted infantry. How little is
required to turn our troopers into excellent foot soldiers was
shown at Magersfontein, where the 12th Lancers, dismounted by the
command of their colonel, Lord Airlie, held back the threatened
flank attack all the morning. A little training in taking cover,
leggings instead of boots, and a rifle instead of a carbine would
give us a formidable force of twenty thousand men who could do all
that our cavalry does, and a great deal more besides. It is
undoubtedly possible on many occasions in this war, at Colesberg,
at Diamond Hill, to say 'Here our cavalry did well.' They are brave
men on good horses, and they may be expected to do well. But the
champion of the cavalry cause must point out the occasions where
the cavalry did something which could not have been done by the
same number of equally brave and equally well-mounted infantry.
Only then will the existence of the cavalry be justified. The
lesson both of the South African and of the American civil war is
that the light horseman who is trained to fight on foot is the type
of the future.

A few more words as a sequel to this short sketch of the siege and
relief of Kimberley. Considerable surprise has been expressed that
the great gun at Kamfersdam, a piece which must have weighed many
tons and could not have been moved by bullock teams at a rate of
more than two or three miles an hour, should have eluded our
cavalry. It is indeed a surprising circumstance, and yet it was due
to no inertia on the part of our leaders, but rather to one of the
finest examples of Boer tenacity in the whole course of the war.
The instant that Kekewich was sure of relief he mustered every
available man and sent him out to endeavour to get the gun. It had
already been removed, and its retreat was covered by the strong
position of Dronfield, which was held both by riflemen and by light
artillery. Finding himself unable to force it, Murray, the
commander of the detachment, remained in front of it. Next morning
(Friday) at three o'clock the weary men and horses of two of
French's brigades were afoot with the same object. But still the
Boers were obstinately holding on to Dronfield, and still their
position was too strong to force, and too extended to get round
with exhausted horses. It was not until the night after that the
Boers abandoned their excellent rearguard action, leaving one light
gun in the hands of the Cape Police, but having gained such a start
for their heavy one that French, who had other and more important
objects in view, could not attempt to follow it.



Lord Roberts's operations, prepared with admirable secrecy and
carried out with extreme energy, aimed at two different results,
each of which he was fortunate enough to attain. The first was that
an overpowering force of cavalry should ride round the Boer
position and raise the siege of Kimberley: the fate of this
expedition has already been described. The second was that the
infantry, following hard on the heels of the cavalry, and holding
all that they had gained, should establish itself upon Cronje's
left flank and cut his connection with Bloemfontein. It is this
portion of the operations which has now to be described.

The infantry force which General Roberts had assembled was a very
formidable one. The Guards he had left under Methuen in front of
the lines of Magersfontein to contain the Boer force. With them he
had also left those regiments which had fought in the 9th Brigade
in all Methuen's actions. These, as will be remembered, were the
1st Northumberland Fusiliers, the 2nd Yorkshire Light Infantry, the
2nd Northamptons, and one wing of the Loyal North Lancashire
Regiment. These stayed to hold Cronje in his position.

There remained three divisions of infantry, one of which, the
ninth, was made up on the spot. These were constituted in this way:

Sixth Division (Kelly-Kenny).
12th Brigade (Knox).
Oxford Light Infantry.
Gloucesters (2nd).
West Riding.
18th Brigade (Stephenson).
Yorks Seventh Division (Tucker).
14th Brigade (Chermside).
Scots Borderers.
15th Brigade (Wavell).
North Staffords.
S. Wales Borderers.
East Lancashires Ninth Division (Colvile).
Highland Brigade (Macdonald).
Black Watch.
Argyll and Sutherlands.
Highland Light Infantry.
19th Brigade (Smith-Dorrien).
Shropshire Light Infantry.
Cornwall Light Infantry.

With these were two brigade divisions of artillery under General
Marshall, the first containing the 18th, 62nd, and 75th batteries
(Colonel Hall), the other the 76th, 81st, and 82nd (Colonel
McDonnell). Besides these there were a howitzer battery, a naval
contingent of four 4.7 guns and four 12-pounders under Captain
Bearcroft of the 'Philomel.' The force was soon increased by the
transfer of the Guards and the arrival of more artillery; but the
numbers which started on Monday, February 12th, amounted roughly to
twenty-five thousand foot and eight thousand horse with 98 guns--a
considerable army to handle in a foodless and almost waterless
country. Seven hundred wagons drawn by eleven thousand mules and
oxen, all collected by the genius for preparation and organisation
which characterises Lord Kitchener, groaned and creaked behind the

Both arms had concentrated at Ramdam, the cavalry going down by
road, and the infantry by rail as far as Belmont or Enslin. On
Monday, February 12th, the cavalry had started, and on Tuesday the
infantry were pressing hard after them. The first thing was to
secure a position upon Cronje's flank, and for that purpose the 6th
Division and the 9th (Kelly-Kenny's and Colvile's) pushed swiftly
on and arrived on Thursday, February 15th, at Klip Drift on the
Modder, which had only been left by the cavalry that same morning.
It was obviously impossible to leave Jacobsdal in the hands of the
enemy on our left flank, so the 7th Division (Tucker's) turned
aside to attack the town. Wavell's brigade carried the place after
a sharp skirmish, chiefly remarkable for the fact that the City
Imperial Volunteers found themselves under fire for the first time
and bore themselves with the gallantry of the old train-bands whose
descendants they are. Our loss was two killed and twenty wounded,
and we found ourselves for the first time firmly established in one
of the enemy's towns. In the excellent German hospital were thirty
or forty of our wounded.

On the afternoon of Thursday, February 15th, our cavalry, having
left Klip Drift in the morning, were pushing hard for Kimberley. At
Klip Drift was Kelly-Kenny's 6th Division. South of Klip Drift at
Wegdraai was Colvile's 9th Division, while the 7th Division was
approaching Jacobsdal. Altogether the British forces were extended
over a line of forty miles. The same evening saw the relief of
Kimberley and the taking of Jacobsdal, but it also saw the capture
of one of our convoys by the Boers, a dashing exploit which struck
us upon what was undoubtedly our vulnerable point.

It has never been cleared up whence the force of Boers came which
appeared upon our rear on that occasion. It seems to have been the
same body which had already had a skirmish with Hannay's Mounted
Infantry as they went up from Orange River to join the rendezvous
at Ramdam. The balance of evidence is that they had not come from
Colesberg or any distant point, but that they were a force under
the command of Piet De Wet, the younger of two famous brothers.
Descending to Waterval Drift, the ford over the Riet, they occupied
a line of kopjes, which ought, one would have imagined, to have
been carefully guarded by us, and opened a brisk fire from rifles
and guns upon the convoy as it ascended the northern bank of the
river. Numbers of bullocks were soon shot down, and the removal of
the hundred and eighty wagons made impossible. The convoy, which
contained forage and provisions, had no guard of its own, but the
drift was held by Colonel Ridley with one company of Gordons and
one hundred and fifty mounted infantry without artillery, which
certainly seems an inadequate force to secure the most vital and
vulnerable spot in the line of communications of an army of forty
thousand men. The Boers numbered at the first some five or six
hundred men, but their position was such that they could not be
attacked. On the other hand they were not strong enough to leave
their shelter in order to drive in the British guard, who, lying in
extended order between the wagons and the assailants, were keeping
up a steady and effective fire. Captain Head, of the East
Lancashire Regiment, a fine natural soldier, commanded the British
firing line, and neither he nor any of his men doubted that they
could hold off the enemy for an indefinite time. In the course of
the afternoon reinforcements arrived for the Boers, but Kitchener's
Horse and a field battery came back and restored the balance of
power. In the evening the latter swayed altogether in favour of the
British, as Tucker appeared upon the scene with the whole of the
14th Brigade; but as the question of an assault was being debated a
positive order arrived from Lord Roberts that the convoy should be
abandoned and the force return.

If Lord Roberts needed justification for this decision, the future
course of events will furnish it. One of Napoleon's maxims in war
was to concentrate all one's energies upon one thing at one time.
Roberts's aim was to outflank and possibly to capture Cronje's
army. If he allowed a brigade to be involved in a rearguard action,
his whole swift-moving plan of campaign might be dislocated. It was
very annoying to lose a hundred and eighty wagons, but it only
meant a temporary inconvenience. The plan of campaign was the
essential thing. Therefore he sacrificed his convoy and hurried his
troops upon their original mission. It was with heavy hearts and
bitter words that those who had fought so long abandoned their
charge, but now at least there are probably few of them who do not
agree in the wisdom of the sacrifice. Our loss in this affair was
between fifty and sixty killed and wounded. The Boers were unable
to get rid of the stores, and they were eventually distributed
among the local farmers and recovered again as the British forces
flowed over the country. Another small disaster occurred to us on
the preceding day in the loss of fifty men of E company of
Kitchener's Horse, which had been left as a guard to a well in the

But great events were coming to obscure those small checks which
are incidental to a war carried out over immense distances against
a mobile and enterprising enemy. Cronje had suddenly become aware
of the net which was closing round him. To the dark fierce man who
had striven so hard to make his line of kopjes impregnable it must
have been a bitter thing to abandon his trenches and his rifle
pits. But he was crafty as well as tenacious, and he had the Boer
horror of being cut off--an hereditary instinct from fathers who
had fought on horseback against enemies on foot. If at any time
during the last ten weeks Methuen had contained him in front with a
thin line of riflemen with machine guns, and had thrown the rest of
his force on Jacobsdal and the east, he would probably have
attained the same result. Now at the rumour of English upon his
flank Cronje instantly abandoned his position and his plans, in
order to restore those communications with Bloemfontein upon which
he depended for his supplies. With furious speed he drew in his
right wing, and then, one huge mass of horsemen, guns, and wagons,
he swept through the gap between the rear of the British cavalry
bound for Kimberley and the head of the British infantry at Klip
Drift. There was just room to pass, and at it he dashed with the
furious energy of a wild beast rushing from a trap. A portion of
his force with his heavy guns had gone north round Kimberley to
Warrenton; many of the Freestaters also had slipped away and
returned to their farms. The remainder, numbering about six
thousand men, the majority of whom were Transvaalers, swept through
between the British forces.

This movement was carried out on the night of February 15th, and
had it been a little quicker it might have been concluded before we
were aware of it. But the lumbering wagons impeded it, and on the
Friday morning, February 16th, a huge rolling cloud of dust on the
northern veld, moving from west to east, told our outposts at Klip
Drift that Cronje's army had almost slipped through our fingers.
Lord Kitchener, who was in command at Klip Drift at the moment,
instantly unleashed his mounted infantry in direct pursuit, while
Knox's brigade sped along the northern bank of the river to cling
on to the right haunch of the retreating column. Cronje's men had
made a night march of thirty miles from Magersfontein, and the
wagon bullocks were exhausted. It was impossible, without an
absolute abandonment of his guns and stores, for him to get away
from his pursuers.

This was no deer which they were chasing, however, but rather a
grim old Transvaal wolf, with his teeth flashing ever over his
shoulder. The sight of those distant white-tilted wagons fired the
blood of every mounted infantryman, and sent the Oxfords, the
Buffs, the West Ridings, and the Gloucesters racing along the river
bank in the glorious virile air of an African morning. But there
were kopjes ahead, sown with fierce Dopper Boers, and those
tempting wagons were only to be reached over their bodies. The
broad plain across which the English were hurrying was suddenly
swept with a storm of bullets. The long infantry line extended yet
further and lapped round the flank of the Boer position, and once
more the terrible duet of the Mauser and the Lee-Metford was sung
while the 81st field battery hurried up in time to add its deep
roar to their higher chorus. With fine judgment Cronje held on to
the last moment of safety, and then with a swift movement to the
rear seized a further line two miles off, and again snapped back at
his eager pursuers. All day the grim and weary rearguard stalled
off the fiery advance of the infantry, and at nightfall the wagons
were still untaken. The pursuing force to the north of the river
was, it must be remembered, numerically inferior to the pursued, so
that in simply retarding the advance of the enemy and in giving
other British troops time to come up, Knox's brigade was doing
splendid work. Had Cronje been well advised or well informed, he
would have left his guns and wagons in the hope that by a swift
dash over the Modder he might still bring his army away in safety.
He seems to have underrated both the British numbers and the
British activity.

On the night then of Friday, February 16th, Cronje lay upon the
northern bank of the Modder, with his stores and guns still intact,
and no enemy in front of him, though Knox's brigade and Hannay's
Mounted Infantry were behind. It was necessary for Cronje to cross
the river in order to be on the line for Bloemfontein. As the river
tended to the north the sooner he could cross the better. On the
south side of the river, however, were considerable British forces,
and the obvious strategy was to hurry them forward and to block
every drift at which he could get over. The river runs between very
deep banks, so steep that one might almost describe them as small
cliffs, and there was no chance of a horseman, far less a wagon,
crossing at any point save those where the convenience of traffic
and the use of years had worn sloping paths down to the shallows.
The British knew exactly therefore what the places were which had
to be blocked. On the use made of the next few hours the success or
failure of the whole operation must depend.

The nearest drift to Cronje was only a mile or two distant,
Klipkraal the name; next to that the Paardeberg Drift; next to that
the Wolveskraal Drift, each about seven miles from the other. Had
Cronje pushed on instantly after the action, he might have got
across at Klipkraal. But men, horses, and bullocks were equally
exhausted after a long twenty-four hours' marching and fighting. He
gave his weary soldiers some hours' rest, and then, abandoning
seventy-eight of his wagons, he pushed on before daylight for the
farthest off of the three fords (Wolveskraal Drift). Could he reach
and cross it before his enemies, he was safe. The Klipkraal Drift
had in the meanwhile been secured by the Buffs, the West Ridings,
and the Oxfordshire Light Infantry after a spirited little action
which, in the rapid rush of events, attracted less attention than
it deserved. The brunt of the fighting fell upon the Oxfords, who
lost ten killed and thirty-nine wounded. It was not a waste of
life, however, for the action, though small and hardly recorded,
was really a very essential one in the campaign.

But Lord Roberts's energy had infused itself into his divisional
commanders, his brigadiers, his colonels, and so down to the
humblest Tommy who tramped and stumbled through the darkness with a
devout faith that 'Bobs' was going to catch 'old Cronje' this time.
The mounted infantry had galloped round from the north to the south
of the river, crossing at Klip Drift and securing the southern end
of Klipkraal. Thither also came Stephenson's brigade from
Kelly-Kenny's Division, while Knox, finding in the morning that
Cronje was gone, marched along the northern bank to the same spot.
As Klipkraal was safe, the mounted infantry pushed on at once and
secured the southern end of the Paardeberg Drift, whither they were
followed the same evening by Stephenson and Knox. There remained
only the Wolveskraal Drift to block, and this had already been done
by as smart a piece of work as any in the war. Wherever French has
gone he has done well, but his crowning glory was the movement from
Kimberley to head off Cronje's retreat.

The exertions which the mounted men had made in the relief of
Kimberley have been already recorded. They arrived there on
Thursday with their horses dead beat. They were afoot at three
o'clock on Friday morning, and two brigades out of three were hard
at work all day in an endeavour to capture the Dronfield position.
Yet when on the same evening an order came that French should start
again instantly from Kimberley and endeavour to head Cronje's army
off, he did not plead inability, as many a commander might, but
taking every man whose horse was still fit to carry him (something
under two thousand out of a column which had been at least five
thousand strong), he started within a few hours and pushed on
through the whole night. Horses died under their riders, but still
the column marched over the shadowy veld under the brilliant stars.
By happy chance or splendid calculation they were heading straight
for the one drift which was still open to Cronje. It was a close
thing. At midday on Saturday the Boer advance guard was already
near to the kopjes which command it. But French's men, still full
of fight after their march of thirty miles, threw themselves in
front and seized the position before their very eyes. The last of
the drifts was closed. If Cronje was to get across now, he must
crawl out of his trench and fight under Roberts's conditions, or he
might remain under his own conditions until Roberts's forces closed
round him. With him lay the alternative. In the meantime, still
ignorant of the forces about him, but finding himself headed off by
French, he made his way down to the river and occupied a long
stretch of it between Paardeberg Drift and Wolveskraal Drift,
hoping to force his way across. This was the situation on the night
of Saturday, February 17th.

In the course of that night the British brigades, staggering with
fatigue but indomitably resolute to crush their evasive enemy, were
converging upon Paardeberg. The Highland Brigade, exhausted by a
heavy march over soft sand from Jacobsdal to Klip Drift, were
nerved to fresh exertions by the word 'Magersfontein,' which flew
from lip to lip along the ranks, and pushed on for another twelve
miles to Paardeberg. Close at their heels came Smith-Dorrien's 19th
Brigade, comprising the Shropshires, the Cornwalls, the Gordons,
and the Canadians, probably the very finest brigade in the whole
army. They pushed across the river and took up their position upon
the north bank. The old wolf was now fairly surrounded. On the west
the Highlanders were south of the river, and Smith-Dorrien on the
north. On the east Kelly-Kenny's Division was to the south of the
river, and French with his cavalry and mounted infantry were to the
north of it. Never was a general in a more hopeless plight. Do what
he would, there was no possible loophole for escape.

There was only one thing which apparently should not have been
done, and that was to attack him. His position was a formidable
one. Not only were the banks of the river fringed with his riflemen
under excellent cover, but from these banks there extended on each
side a number of dongas, which made admirable natural trenches. The
only possible attack from either side must be across a level plain
at least a thousand or fifteen hundred yards in width, where our
numbers would only swell our losses. It must be a bold soldier and
a far bolder civilian, who would venture to question an operation
carried out under the immediate personal direction of Lord
Kitchener; but the general consensus of opinion among critics may
justify that which might be temerity in the individual. Had Cronje
not been tightly surrounded, the action with its heavy losses might
have been justified as an attempt to hold him until his investment
should be complete. There seems, however, to be no doubt that he
was already entirely surrounded, and that, as experience proved, we
had only to sit round him to insure his surrender. It is not given
to the greatest man to have every soldierly gift equally developed,
and it may be said without offence that Lord Kitchener's cool
judgment upon the actual field of battle has not yet been proved as
conclusively as his longheaded power of organisation and his iron

Putting aside the question of responsibility, what happened on the
morning of Sunday, February 18th, was that from every quarter an
assault was urged across the level plains, to the north and to the
south, upon the lines of desperate and invisible men who lay in the
dongas and behind the banks of the river. Everywhere there was a
terrible monotony about the experiences of the various regiments
which learned once again the grim lessons of Colenso and Modder
River. We surely did not need to prove once more what had already
been so amply proved, that bravery can be of no avail against
concealed riflemen well entrenched, and that the more hardy is the
attack the heavier must be the repulse. Over the long circle of our
attack Knox's brigade, Stephenson's brigade, the Highland brigade,
Smith-Dorrien's brigade all fared alike. In each case there was the
advance until they were within the thousand-yard fire zone, then
the resistless sleet of bullets which compelled them to get down
and to keep down. Had they even then recognised that they were
attempting the impossible, no great harm might have been done, but
with generous emulation the men of the various regiments made
little rushes, company by company, towards the river bed, and found
themselves ever exposed to a more withering fire. On the northern
bank Smith-Dorrien's brigade, and especially the Canadian regiment,
distinguished themselves by the magnificent tenacity with which
they persevered in their attack. The Cornwalls of the same brigade
swept up almost to the river bank in a charge which was the
admiration of all who saw it. If the miners of Johannesburg had
given the impression that the Cornishman is not a fighter, the
record of the county regiment in the war has for ever exploded the
calumny. Men who were not fighters could have found no place in
Smith-Dorrien's brigade or in the charge of Paardeberg.

While the infantry had been severely handled by the Boer riflemen,
our guns, the 76th, 81st, and 82nd field batteries, with the 65th
howitzer battery, had been shelling the river bed, though our
artillery fire proved as usual to have little effect against
scattered and hidden riflemen. At least, however, it distracted
their attention, and made their fire upon the exposed infantry in
front of them less deadly. Now, as in Napoleon's time, the effect
of the guns is moral rather than material. About midday French's
horse-artillery guns came into action from the north. Smoke and
flames from the dongas told that some of our shells had fallen
among the wagons and their combustible stores.

The Boer line had proved itself to be unshakable on each face, but
at its ends the result of the action was to push them up, and to
shorten the stretch of the river which was held by them. On the
north bank Smith-Dorrien's brigade gained a considerable amount of
ground. At the other end of the position the Welsh, Yorkshire, and
Essex regiments of Stephenson's brigade did some splendid work, and
pushed the Boers for some distance down the river bank. A most
gallant but impossible charge was made by Colonel Hannay and a
number of mounted infantry against the northern bank. He was shot
with the majority of his followers. General Knox of the 12th
Brigade and General Macdonald of the Highlanders were among the
wounded. Colonel Aldworth of the Cornwalls died at the head of his
men. A bullet struck him dead as he whooped his West Countrymen on
to the charge. Eleven hundred killed and wounded testified to the
fire of our attack and the grimness of the Boer resistance. The
distribution of the losses among the various battalions--eighty
among the Canadians, ninety in the West Riding Regiment, one
hundred and twenty in the Seaforths, ninety in the Yorkshires,
seventy-six in the Argyll and Sutherlands, ninety-six in the Black
Watch, thirty-one in the Oxfordshires, fifty-six in the Cornwalls,
forty-six in the Shropshires--shows how universal was the
gallantry, and especially how well the Highland Brigade carried
itself. It is to be feared that they had to face, not only the fire
of the enemy, but also that of their own comrades on the further
side of the river. A great military authority has stated that it
takes many years for a regiment to recover its spirit and
steadiness if it has been heavily punished, and yet within two
months of Magersfontein we find the indomitable Highlanders taking
without flinching the very bloodiest share of this bloody day--and
this after a march of thirty miles with no pause before going into
action. A repulse it may have been, but they hear no name of which
they may be more proud upon the victory scroll of their colours.

What had we got in return for our eleven hundred casualties? We had
contracted the Boer position from about three miles to less than
two. So much was to the good, as the closer they lay the more
effective our artillery fire might be expected to be. But it is
probable that our shrapnel alone, without any loss of life, might
have effected the same thing. It is easy to be wise after the
event, but it does certainly appear that with our present knowledge
the action at Paardeberg was as unnecessary as it was expensive.
The sun descended on Sunday, February 18th, upon a bloody field and
crowded field hospitals, but also upon an unbroken circle of
British troops still hemming in the desperate men who lurked among
the willows and mimosas which drape the brown steep banks of the

There was evidence during the action of the presence of an active
Boer force to the south of us, probably the same well-handled and
enterprising body which had captured our convoy at Waterval. A
small party of Kitchener's Horse was surprised by this body, and
thirty men with four officers were taken prisoners. Much has been
said of the superiority of South African scouting to that of the
British regulars, but it must be confessed that a good many
instances might be quoted in which the colonials, though second to
none in gallantry, have been defective in that very quality in
which they were expected to excel.

This surprise of our cavalry post had more serious consequences
than can be measured by the loss of men, for by it the Boers
obtained possession of a strong kopje called Kitchener's Hill,
lying about two miles distant on the south-east of our position.
The movement was an admirable one strategically upon their part,
for it gave their beleaguered comrades a first station on the line
of their retreat. Could they only win their way to that kopje, a
rearguard action might be fought from there which would cover the
escape of at least a portion of the force. De Wet, if he was indeed
responsible for the manoeuvres of these Southern Boers, certainly
handled his small force with a discreet audacity which marks him as
the born leader which he afterwards proved himself to be.

If the position of the Boers was desperate on Sunday, it was
hopeless on Monday, for in the course of the morning Lord Roberts
came up, closely followed by the whole of Tucker's Division (7th)
from Jacobsdal. Our artillery also was strongly reinforced. The
18th, 62nd, and 75th field batteries came up with three naval 4.7
guns and two naval 12-pounders. Thirty-five thousand men with sixty
guns were gathered round the little Boer army. It is a poor spirit
which will not applaud the supreme resolution with which the
gallant farmers held out, and award to Cronje the title of one of
the most grimly resolute leaders of whom we have any record in
modern history.

For a moment it seemed as if his courage was giving way. On Monday
morning a message was transmitted by him to Lord Kitchener asking
for a twenty-four hours' armistice. The answer was of course a curt
refusal. To this he replied that if we were so inhuman as to
prevent him from burying his dead there was nothing for him save
surrender. An answer was given that a messenger with power to treat
should be sent out, but in the interval Cronje had changed his
mind, and disappeared with a snarl of contempt into his burrows. It
had become known that women and children were in the laager, and a
message was sent offering them a place of safety, but even to this
a refusal was given. The reasons for this last decision are

Lord Roberts's dispositions were simple, efficacious, and above all
bloodless. Smith-Dorrien's brigade, who were winning in the Western
army something of the reputation which Hart's Irishmen had won in
Natal, were placed astride of the river to the west, with orders to
push gradually up, as occasion served, using trenches for their
approach. Chermside's brigade occupied the same position on the
east. Two other divisions and the cavalry stood round, alert and
eager, like terriers round a rat-hole, while all day the pitiless
guns crashed their common shell, their shrapnel, and their lyddite
into the river-bed. Already down there, amid slaughtered oxen and
dead horses under a burning sun, a horrible pest-hole had been
formed which sent its mephitic vapours over the countryside.
Occasionally the sentries down the river saw amid the brown eddies
of the rushing water the floating body of a Boer which had been
washed away from the Golgotha above. Dark Cronje, betrayer of
Potchefstroom, iron-handed ruler of natives, reviler of the
British, stern victor of Magersfontein, at last there has come a
day of reckoning for you!

On Wednesday, the 21st, the British, being now sure of their grip
of Cronje, turned upon the Boer force which had occupied the hill
to the south-east of the drift. It was clear that this force,
unless driven away, would be the vanguard of the relieving army
which might be expected to assemble from Ladysmith, Bloemfontein,
Colesberg, or wherever else the Boers could detach men. Already it
was known that reinforcements who had left Natal whenever they
heard that the Free State was invaded were drawing near. It was
necessary to crush the force upon the hill before it became too
powerful. For this purpose the cavalry set forth, Broadwood with
the 10th Hussars, 12th Lancers, and two batteries going round on
one side, while French with the 9th and 16th Lancers, the Household
Cavalry, and two other batteries skirted the other. A force of
Boers was met and defeated, while the defenders of the hill were
driven off with considerable loss. In this well-managed affair the
enemy lost at least a hundred, of whom fifty were prisoners. On
Friday, February 23rd, another attempt at rescue was made from the
south, but again it ended disastrously for the Boers. A party
attacked a kopje held by the Yorkshire regiment and were blown back
by a volley, upon which they made for a second kopje, where the
Buffs gave them an even rougher reception. Eighty prisoners were
marched in. Meantime hardly a night passed that some of the Boers
did not escape from their laager and give themselves up to our
pickets. At the end of the week we had taken six hundred in all.

In the meantime the cordon was being drawn ever tighter, and the
fire became heavier and more deadly, while the conditions of life
in that fearful place were such that the stench alone might have
compelled surrender. Amid the crash of tropical thunderstorms, the
glare of lightning, and the furious thrashing of rain there was no
relaxation of British vigilance. A balloon floating overhead
directed the fire, which from day to day became more furious,
culminating on the 26th with the arrival of four 5-inch howitzers.
But still there came no sign from the fierce Boer and his gallant
followers. Buried deep within burrows in the river bank the greater

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