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The Great Boer War by Arthur Conan Doyle

Part 6 out of 11

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part of them lay safe from the shells, but the rattle of their
musketry when the outposts moved showed that the trenches were as
alert as ever. The thing could only have one end, however, and Lord
Roberts, with admirable judgment and patience, refused to hurry it
at the expense of the lives of his soldiers.

The two brigades at either end of the Boer lines had lost no chance
of pushing in, and now they had come within striking distance. On
the night of February 26th it was determined that Smith-Dorrien's
men should try their luck. The front trenches of the British were
at that time seven hundred yards from the Boer lines. They were
held by the Gordons and by the Canadians, the latter being the
nearer to the river. It is worth while entering into details as to
the arrangement of the attack, as the success of the campaign was
at least accelerated by it. The orders were that the Canadians were
to advance, the Gordons to support, and the Shropshires to take
such a position on the left as would outflank any counter attack
upon the part of the Boers. The Canadians advanced in the darkness
of the early morning before the rise of the moon. The front rank
held their rifles in the left hand and each extended right hand
grasped the sleeve of the man next it. The rear rank had their
rifles slung and carried spades. Nearest the river bank were two
companies (G and H.) who were followed by the 7th company of Royal
Engineers carrying picks and empty sand bags. The long line stole
through a pitchy darkness, knowing that at any instant a blaze of
fire such as flamed before the Highlanders at Magersfontein might
crash out in front of them. A hundred, two, three, four, five
hundred paces were taken. They knew that they must be close upon
the trenches. If they could only creep silently enough, they might
spring upon the defenders unannounced. On and on they stole, step
by step, praying for silence. Would the gentle shuffle of feet be
heard by the men who lay within stone-throw of them? Their hopes
had begun to rise when there broke upon the silence of the night a
resonant metallic rattle, the thud of a falling man, an empty
clatter! They had walked into a line of meat-cans slung upon a
wire. By measurement it was only ninety yards from the trench. At
that instant a single rifle sounded, and the Canadians hurled
themselves down upon the ground. Their bodies had hardly touched it
when from a line six hundred yards long there came one furious
glare of rifle fire, with a hiss like water on a red-hot plate, of
speeding bullets. In that terrible red light the men as they lay
and scraped desperately for cover could see the heads of the Boers
pop up and down, and the fringe of rifle barrels quiver and gleam.
How the regiment, lying helpless under this fire, escaped
destruction is extraordinary. To rush the trench in the face of
such a continuous blast of lead seemed impossible, and it was
equally impossible to remain where they were. In a short time the
moon would be up, and they would be picked off to a man. The outer
companies upon the plain were ordered to retire. Breaking up into
loose order, they made their way back with surprisingly little
loss; but a strange contretemps occurred, for, leaping suddenly
into a trench held by the Gordons, they transfixed themselves upon
the bayonets of the men. A subaltern and twelve men received
bayonet thrusts--none of them fortunately of a very serious nature.

While these events had been taking place upon the left of the line,
the right was hardly in better plight. All firing had ceased for
the moment--the Boers being evidently under the impression that the
whole attack had recoiled. Uncertain whether the front of the small
party on the right of the second line (now consisting of some
sixty-five Sappers and Canadians lying in one mingled line) was
clear for firing should the Boers leave their trenches, Captain
Boileau, of the Sappers, crawled forward along the bank of the
river, and discovered Captain Stairs and ten men of the Canadians,
the survivors of the firing line, firmly ensconced in a crevice of
the river bank overlooking the laager, quite happy on being
reassured as to the proximity of support. This brought the total
number of the daring band up to seventy-five rifles. Meanwhile, the
Gordons, somewhat perplexed by the flying phantoms who had been
flitting into and over their trenches for the past few minutes,
sent a messenger along the river bank to ascertain, in their turn,
if their own front was clear to fire, and if not, what state the
survivors were in. To this message Colonel Kincaid, R.E., now in
command of the remains of the assaulting party, replied that his
men would be well entrenched by daylight. The little party had been
distributed for digging as well as the darkness and their ignorance
of their exact position to the Boers would permit. Twice the sound
of the picks brought angry volleys from the darkness, but the work
was never stopped, and in the early dawn the workers found not only
that they were secure themselves, but that they were in a position
to enfilade over half a mile of Boer trenches. Before daybreak the
British crouched low in their shelter, so that with the morning
light the Boers did not realise the change which the night had
wrought. It was only when a burgher was shot as he filled his
pannikin at the river that they understood how their position was
overlooked. For half an hour a brisk fire was maintained, at the
end of which time a white flag went up from the trench. Kincaid
stood up on his parapet, and a single haggard figure emerged from
the Boer warren. 'The burghers have had enough; what are they to
do?' said he. As he spoke his comrades scrambled out behind him and
came walking and running over to the British lines. It was not a
moment likely to be forgotten by the parched and grimy warriors who
stood up and cheered until the cry came crashing back to them again
from the distant British camps. No doubt Cronje had already
realised that the extreme limit of his resistance was come, but it
was to that handful of Sappers and Canadians that the credit is
immediately due for that white flag which fluttered on the morning
of Majuba Day over the lines of Paardeberg.

It was six o'clock in the morning when General Pretyman rode up to
Lord Roberts's headquarters. Behind him upon a white horse was a
dark-bearded man, with the quick, restless eyes of a hunter,
middle-sized, thickly built, with grizzled hair flowing from under
a tall brown felt hat. He wore the black broadcloth of the burgher
with a green summer overcoat, and carried a small whip in his
hands. His appearance was that of a respectable London vestryman
rather than of a most redoubtable soldier with a particularly
sinister career behind him.

The Generals shook hands, and it was briefly intimated to Cronje
that his surrender must be unconditional, to which, after a short
silence, he agreed. His only stipulations were personal, that his
wife, his grandson, his secretary, his adjutant, and his servant
might accompany him. The same evening he was despatched to Cape
Town, receiving those honourable attentions which were due to his
valour rather than to his character. His men, a pallid ragged crew,
emerged from their holes and burrows, and delivered up their
rifles. It is pleasant to add that, with much in their memories to
exasperate them, the British privates treated their enemies with as
large-hearted a courtesy as Lord Roberts had shown to their leader.
Our total capture numbered some three thousand of the Transvaal and
eleven hundred of the Free State. That the latter were not far more
numerous was due to the fact that many had already shredded off to
their farms. Besides Cronje, Wolverans of the Transvaal, and the
German artillerist Albrecht, with forty-four other field-cornets
and commandants, fell into our hands. Six small guns were also
secured. The same afternoon saw the long column of the prisoners on
its way to Modder River, there to be entrained for Cape Town, the
most singular lot of people to be seen at that moment upon
earth--ragged, patched, grotesque, some with goloshes, some with
umbrellas, coffee-pots, and Bibles, their favourite baggage. So
they passed out of their ten days of glorious history.

A visit to the laager showed that the horrible smells which had
been carried across to the British lines, and the swollen carcasses
which had swirled down the muddy river were true portents of its
condition. Strong-nerved men came back white and sick from a
contemplation of the place in which women and children had for ten
days been living. From end to end it was a festering mass of
corruption, overshadowed by incredible swarms of flies. Yet the
engineer who could face evil sights and nauseous smells was repaid
by an inspection of the deep narrow trenches in which a rifleman
could crouch with the minimum danger from shells, and the caves in
which the non-combatants remained in absolute safety. Of their dead
we have no accurate knowledge, but two hundred wounded in a donga
represented their losses, not only during a bombardment of ten
days, but also in that Paardeberg engagement which had cost us
eleven hundred casualties. No more convincing example could be
adduced both of the advantage of the defence over the attack, and
of the harmlessness of the fiercest shell fire if those who are
exposed to it have space and time to make preparations.

A fortnight had elapsed since Lord Roberts had launched his forces
from Ramdam, and that fortnight had wrought a complete revolution
in the campaign. It is hard to recall any instance in the history
of war where a single movement has created such a change over so
many different operations. On February 14th Kimberley was in danger
of capture, a victorious Boer army was facing Methuen, the lines of
Magersfontein appeared impregnable, Clements was being pressed at
Colesberg, Gatacre was stopped at Stormberg, Buller could not pass
the Tugela, and Ladysmith was in a perilous condition. On the 28th
Kimberley had been relieved, the Boer army was scattered or taken,
the lines of Magersfontein were in our possession, Clements found
his assailants retiring before him, Gatacre was able to advance at
Stormberg, Buller had a weakening army in front of him, and
Ladysmith was on the eve of relief. And all this had been done at
the cost of a very moderate loss of life, for most of which Lord
Roberts was in no sense answerable. Here at last was a reputation
so well founded that even South African warfare could only confirm
and increase it. A single master hand had in an instant turned
England's night to day, and had brought us out of that nightmare of
miscalculation and disaster which had weighed so long upon our
spirits. His was the master hand, but there were others at his side
without whom that hand might have been paralysed: Kitchener the
organiser, French the cavalry leader--to these two men, second only
to their chief, are the results of the operations due. Henderson,
the most capable head of Intelligence, and Richardson, who under
all difficulties fed the army, may each claim his share in the



The surrender of Cronje had taken place on February 27th,
obliterating for ever the triumphant memories which the Boers had
for twenty years associated with that date. A halt was necessary to
provide food for the hungry troops, and above all to enable the
cavalry horses to pick up. The supply of forage had been most
inadequate, and the beasts had not yet learned to find a living
from the dry withered herbage of the veld. [Footnote: A battery
which turned out its horses to graze found that the puzzled
creatures simply galloped about the plain, and could only be
reassembled by blowing the call which they associated with feeding,
when they rushed back and waited in lines for their nosebags to be
put on.] In addition to this, they had been worked most desperately
during the fortnight which had elapsed. Lord Roberts waited
therefore at Osfontein, which is a farmhouse close to Paardeberg,
until his cavalry were fit for an advance. On March 6th he began
his march for Bloemfontein.

The force which had been hovering to the south and east of him
during the Paardeberg operations had meanwhile been reinforced from
Colesberg and from Ladysmith until it had attained considerable
proportions. This army, under the leadership of De Wet, had taken
up a strong position a few miles to the east, covering a
considerable range of kopjes. On March 3rd a reconnaissance was
made of it, in which some of our guns were engaged; but it was not
until three days later that the army advanced with the intention of
turning or forcing it. In the meantime reinforcements had been
arriving in the British camp, derived partly from the regiments
which had been employed at other points during these operations,
and partly from newcomers from the outer Empire. The Guards came up
from Klip Drift, the City Imperial Volunteers, the Australian
Mounted Infantry, the Burmese Mounted Infantry and a detachment of
light horse from Ceylon helped to form this strange invading army
which was drawn from five continents and yet had no alien in its

The position which the enemy had taken up at Poplars Grove (so
called from a group of poplars round a farmhouse in the centre of
their position) extended across the Modder River and was buttressed
on either side by well-marked hills, with intermittent kopjes
between. With guns, trenches, rifle pits, and barbed wire a
bull-headed general might have found it another Magersfontein. But
it is only just to Lord Roberts's predecessors in command to say
that it is easy to do things with three cavalry brigades which it
is difficult to do with two regiments. The ultimate blame does not
rest with the man who failed with the two regiments, but with those
who gave him inadequate means for the work which he had to do. And
in this estimate of means our military authorities, our
politicians, and our public were all in the first instance equally

Lord Roberts's plan was absolutely simple, and yet, had it been
carried out as conceived, absolutely effective. It was not his
intention to go near any of that entanglement of ditch and wire
which had been so carefully erected for his undoing. The weaker
party, if it be wise, atones for its weakness by entrenchments. The
stronger party, if it be wise, leaves the entrenchments alone and
uses its strength to go round them. Lord Roberts meant to go round.
With his immense preponderance of men and guns the capture or
dispersal of the enemy's army might be reduced to a certainty. Once
surrounded, they must either come out into the open or they must

On March 6th the cavalry were brought across the river, and in the
early morning of March 7th they were sent off in the darkness to
sweep round the left wing of the Boers and to establish themselves
on the line of their retreat. Kelly-Kenny's Division (6th) had
orders to follow and support this movement. Meanwhile Tucker was to
push straight along the southern bank of the river, though we may
surmise that his instructions were, in case of resistance, not to
push his attack home. Colvile's 9th Division, with part of the
naval brigade, were north of the river, the latter to shell the
drifts in case the Boers tried to cross, and the infantry to
execute a turning movement which would correspond with that of the
cavalry on the other flank.

The plan of action was based, however, upon one supposition which
proved to be fallacious. It was that after having prepared so
elaborate a position the enemy would stop at least a little time to
defend it. Nothing of the sort occurred, however, and on the
instant that they realised that the cavalry was on their flank they
made off. The infantry did not fire a shot.

The result of this very decisive flight was to derange all
calculations entirely. The cavalry was not yet in its place when
the Boer army streamed off between the kopjes. One would have
thought, however, that they would have had a dash for the wagons
and the guns, even if they were past them. It is unfair to
criticise a movement until one is certain as to the positive orders
which the leader may have received; but on the face of it it is
clear that the sweep of our cavalry was not wide enough, and that
they erred by edging to the left instead of to the right, so
leaving the flying enemies always to the outside of them.

As it was, however, there seemed every possibility of their getting
the guns, but De Wet very cleverly covered them by his skirmishers.
Taking possession of a farmhouse on the right flank they kept up a
spirited fire upon the 16th Lancers and upon P battery R.H.A. When
at last the latter drove them out of their shelter, they again
formed upon a low kopje and poured so galling a fire upon the right
wing that the whole movement was interrupted until we had driven
this little body of fifty men from their position. When, after a
delay of an hour, the cavalry at last succeeded in dislodging
them--or possibly it may be fairer to say when, having accomplished
their purpose, they retired--the guns and wagons were out of reach,
and, what is more important, the two Presidents, both Steyn and
Kruger, who had come to stiffen the resistance of the burghers, had

Making every allowance for the weary state of the horses, it is
impossible to say that our cavalry were handled with energy or
judgment on this occasion. That such a force of men and guns should
be held off from an object of such importance by so small a
resistance reflects no credit upon us. It would have been better to
repeat the Kimberley tactics and to sweep the regiments in extended
order past the obstacle if we could not pass over it. At the other
side of that little ill-defended kopje lay a possible termination
of the war, and our crack cavalry regiments manoeuvred for hours
and let it pass out of their reach. However, as Lord Roberts
good-humouredly remarked at the end of the action, 'In war you
can't expect everything to come out right.' General French can
afford to shed one leaf from his laurel wreath. On the other hand,
no words can be too high for the gallant little band of Boers who
had the courage to face that overwhelming mass of horsemen, and to
bluff them into regarding this handful as a force fighting a
serious rearguard action. When the stories of the war are told
round the fires in the lonely veld farmhouses, as they will be for
a century to come, this one deserves an honoured place.

The victory, if such a word can apply to such an action, had cost
some fifty or sixty of the cavalry killed and wounded, while it is
doubtful if the Boers lost as many. The finest military display on
the British side had been the magnificent marching of Kelly-Kenny's
6th Division, who had gone for ten hours with hardly a halt. One
9-pound Krupp gun was the only trophy. On the other hand, Roberts
had turned them out of their strong position, had gained twelve or
fifteen miles on he road to Bloemfontein, and for the first time
shown how helpless a Boer army was in country which gave our
numbers a chance. From now onwards it was only in surprise and
ambuscade that they could hope for a success. We had learned and
they had learned that they could not stand in the open field.

The action of Poplars Grove was fought on March 7th. On the 9th the
army was again on its way, and on the 10th it attacked the new
position which the Boers had occupied at a place called
Driefontein, or Abram's Kraal. They covered a front of some seven
miles in such a formation that their wings were protected, the
northern by the river and the southern by flanking bastions of hill
extending for some distance to the rear. If the position had been
defended as well as it had been chosen, the task would have been a
severe one.

Since the Modder covered the enemy's right the turning movement
could only be developed on their left, and Tucker's Division was
thrown out very wide on that side for the purpose. But in the
meanwhile a contretemps had occurred which threw out and seriously
hampered the whole British line of battle. General French was in
command of the left wing, which included Kelly-Kenny's Division,
the first cavalry brigade, and Alderson's Mounted Infantry. His
orders had been to keep in touch with the centre, and to avoid
pushing his attack home. In endeavouring to carry out these
instructions French moved his men more and more to the right, until
he had really squeezed in between the Boers and Lord Roberts's
central column, and so masked the latter. The essence of the whole
operation was that the frontal attack should not be delivered until
Tucker had worked round to the rear of the position. It is for
military critics to decide whether it was that the flankers were
too slow or the frontal assailants were too fast, but it is certain
that Kelly-Kenny's Division attacked before the cavalry and the 7th
Division were in their place. Kelly-Kenny was informed that the
position in front of him had been abandoned, and four regiments,
the Buffs, the Essex, the Welsh, and the Yorkshires, were advanced
against it. They were passing over the open when the crash of the
Mauser fire burst out in front of them, and the bullets hissed and
thudded among the ranks. The ordeal was a very severe one. The
Yorkshires were swung round wide upon the right, but the rest of
the brigade, the Welsh Regiment leading, made a frontal attack upon
the ridge. It was done coolly and deliberately, the men taking
advantage of every possible cover. Boers could be seen leaving
their position in small bodies as the crackling, swaying line of
the British surged ever higher upon the hillside. At last, with a
cheer, the Welshmen with their Kent and Essex comrades swept over
the crest into the ranks of that cosmopolitan crew of sturdy
adventurers who are known as the Johannesburg Police. For once the
loss of the defence was greater than that of the attack. These
mercenaries had not the instinct which teaches the Boer the right
instant for flight, and they held their position too long to get
away. The British had left four hundred men on the track of that
gallant advance, but the vast majority of them were wounded--too
often by those explosive or expansive missiles which make war more
hideous. Of the Boers we actually buried over a hundred on the
ridge, and their total casualties must have been considerably in
excess of ours.

The action was strategically well conceived; all that Lord Roberts
could do for complete success had been done; but tactically it was
a poor affair, considering his enormous preponderance in men and
guns. There was no glory in it, save for the four regiments who set
their faces against that sleet of lead. The artillery did not do
well, and were browbeaten by guns which they should have smothered
under their fire. The cavalry cannot be said to have done well
either. And yet, when all is said, the action is an important one,
for the enemy were badly shaken by the result. The Johannesburg
Police, who had been among their corps d'elite, had been badly
mauled, and the burghers were impressed by one more example of the
impossibility of standing in anything approaching to open country
against disciplined troops, Roberts had not captured the guns, but
the road had been cleared for him to Bloemfontein and, what is more
singular, to Pretoria; for though hundreds of miles intervene
between the field of Driefontein and the Transvaal capital, he
never again met a force which was willing to look his infantry in
the eyes in a pitched battle. Surprises and skirmishes were many,
but it was the last time, save only at Doornkop, that a chosen
position was ever held for an effective rifle fire--to say nothing
of the push of bayonet.

And now the army flowed swiftly onwards to the capital. The
indefatigable 6th Division, which had done march after march, one
more brilliant than another, since they had crossed the Riet River,
reached Asvogel Kop on the evening of Sunday, March 11th, the day
after the battle. On Monday the army was still pressing onwards,
disregarding all else and striking straight for the heart as
Blucher struck at Paris in 1814. At midday they halted at the farm
of Gregorowski, he who had tried the Reform prisoners after the
Raid. The cavalry pushed on down Kaal Spruit, and in the evening
crossed the Southern railway line which connects Bloemfontein with
the colony, cutting it at a point some five miles from the town. In
spite of some not very strenuous opposition from a Boer force a
hill was seized by a squadron of Greys with some mounted infantry
and Rimington's Guides, aided by U battery R.H.A., and was held by
them all that night.

On the same evening Major Hunter-Weston, an officer who had already
performed at least one brilliant feat in the war, was sent with
Lieutenant Charles and a handful of Mounted Sappers and Hussars to
cut the line to the north. After a difficult journey on a very dark
night he reached his object and succeeded in finding and blowing up
a culvert. There is a Victoria Cross gallantry which leads to
nothing save personal decoration, and there is another and far
higher gallantry of calculation, which springs from a cool brain as
well as a hot heart, and it is from the men who possess this rare
quality that great warriors arise. Such feats as the cutting of
this railway or the subsequent saving of the Bethulie Bridge by
Grant and Popham are of more service to the country than any degree
of mere valour untempered by judgment. Among other results the
cutting of the line secured for us twenty-eight locomotives, two
hundred and fifty trucks, and one thousand tons of coal, all of
which were standing ready to leave Bloemfontein station. The
gallant little band were nearly cut off on their return, but fought
their way through with the loss of two horses, and so got back in

The action of Driefontein was fought on the 10th. The advance began
on the morning of the 11th. On the morning of the 13th the British
were practically masters of Bloemfontein. The distance is forty
miles. No one can say that Lord Roberts cannot follow a victory up
as well as win it.

Some trenches had been dug and sangars erected to the north-west of
the town; but Lord Roberts, with his usual perverseness, took the
wrong turning and appeared upon the broad open plain to the south,
where resistance would have been absurd. Already Steyn and the
irreconcilables had fled from the town, and the General was met by
a deputation of the Mayor, the Landdrost, and Mr. Fraser to tender
the submission of the capital. Fraser, a sturdy clear-headed
Highlander, had been the one politician in the Free State who
combined a perfect loyalty to his adopted country with a just
appreciation of what a quarrel A l'outrance with the British Empire
would mean. Had Fraser's views prevailed, the Orange Free State
would still exist as a happy and independent State. As it is, he
may help her to happiness and prosperity as the prime minister of
the Orange River Colony.

It was at half-past one on Tuesday, March 13th, that General
Roberts and his troops entered Bloemfontein, amid the acclamations
of many of the inhabitants, who, either to propitiate the victor,
or as a sign of their real sympathies, had hoisted union jacks upon
their houses. Spectators have left it upon record how from all that
interminable column of yellow-clad weary men, worn with half
rations and whole-day marches, there came never one jeer, never one
taunting or exultant word, as they tramped into the capital of
their enemies. The bearing of the troops was chivalrous in its
gentleness, and not the least astonishing sight to the inhabitants
was the passing of the Guards, the dandy troops of England, the
body-servants of the great Queen. Black with sun and dust,
staggering after a march of thirty-eight miles, gaunt and haggard,
with their clothes in such a state that decency demanded that some
of the men should be discreetly packed away in the heart of the
dense column, they still swung into the town with the aspect of
Kentish hop-pickers and the bearing of heroes. She, the venerable
mother, could remember the bearded ranks who marched past her when
they came with sadly thinned files back from the Crimean winter;
even those gallant men could not have endured more sturdily, nor
have served her more loyally, than these their worthy descendants.

It was just a month after the start from Ramdam that Lord Roberts
and his army rode into the enemy's capital. Up to that period we
had in Africa Generals who were hampered for want of troops, and
troops who were hampered for want of Generals. Only when the
Commander-in-Chief took over the main army had we soldiers enough,
and a man who knew how to handle them. The result was one which has
not only solved the question of the future of South Africa, but has
given an illustration of strategy which will become classical to
the military student. How brisk was the course of events, how
incessant the marching and fighting, may be shown by a brief
recapitulation. On February 13th cavalry and infantry were marching
to the utmost capacity of men and horses. On the 14th the cavalry
were halted, but the infantry were marching hard. On the 15th the
cavalry covered forty miles, fought an action, and relieved
Kimberley. On the 16th the cavalry were in pursuit of the Boer guns
all day, and were off on a thirty-mile march to the Modder at
night, while the infantry were fighting Cronje's rearguard action,
and closing up all day. On the 17th the infantry were marching
hard. On the 18th was the battle of Paardeberg. From the 19th to
the 27th was incessant fighting with Cronje inside the laager and
with De Wet outside. From the 28th to March 6th was rest. On March
7th was the action of Poplars Grove with heavy marching; on March
10th the battle of Driefontein. On the 11th and 12th the infantry
covered forty miles, and on the 13th were in Bloemfontein. All this
was accomplished by men on half-rations, with horses which could
hardly be urged beyond a walk, in a land where water is scarce and
the sun semi-tropical, each infantryman carrying a weight of nearly
forty pounds. There are few more brilliant achievements in the
history of British arms. The tactics were occasionally faulty, and
the battle of Paardeberg was a blot upon the operations; but the
strategy of the General and the spirit of the soldier were alike



From the moment that Lord Roberts with his army advanced from
Ramdam all the other British forces in South Africa, the Colesberg
force, the Stormberg force, Brabant's force, and the Natal force,
had the pressure relieved in front of them, a tendency which
increased with every fresh success of the main body. A short
chapter must be devoted to following rapidly the fortunes of these
various armies, and tracing the effect of Lord Roberts's strategy
upon their movements. They may be taken in turn from west to east.

The force under General Clements (formerly French's) had, as has
already been told, been denuded of nearly all its cavalry and horse
artillery, and so left in the presence of a very superior body of
the enemy. Under these circumstances Clements had to withdraw his
immensely extended line, and to concentrate at Arundel, closely
followed by the elated enemy. The situation was a more critical one
than has been appreciated by the public, for if the force had been
defeated the Boers would have been in a position to cut Lord
Roberts's line of communications, and the main army would have been
in the air. Much credit is due, not only to General Clements, but
to Carter of the Wiltshires, Hacket Pain of the Worcesters, Butcher
of the 4th R.F.A., the admirable Australians, and all the other
good men and true who did their best to hold the gap for the

The Boer idea of a strong attack upon this point was strategically
admirable, but tactically there was not sufficient energy in
pushing home the advance. The British wings succeeded in
withdrawing, and the concentrated force at Arundel was too strong
for attack Yet there was a time of suspense, a time when every man
had become of such importance that even fifty Indian syces were for
the first and last time in the war, to their own supreme
gratification, permitted for twenty-four hours to play their
natural part as soldiers. [Footnote: There was something piteous in
the chagrin of these fine Sikhs at being held back from their
natural work as soldiers. A deputation of them waited upon Lord
Roberts at Bloemfontein to ask, with many salaams, whether 'his
children were not to see one little fight before they returned.']
But then with the rapid strokes in front the hour of danger passed,
and the Boer advance became first a halt and then a retreat.

On February 27th, Major Butcher, supported by the Inniskillings and
Australians, attacked Rensburg and shelled the enemy out of it.
Next morning Clements's whole force had advanced from Arundel and
took up its old position. The same afternoon it was clear that the
Boers were retiring, and the British, following them up, marched
into Colesberg, around which they had manoeuvred so long. A
telegram from Steyn to De Wet found in the town told the whole
story of the retirement: 'As long as you are able to hold the
positions you are in with the men you have, do so. If not, come
here as quickly as circumstances will allow, as matters here are
taking a serious turn.' The whole force passed over the Orange
River unimpeded, and blew up the Norval's Pont railway bridge
behind it. Clements's brigade followed on March 4th, and succeeded
in the course of a week in throwing a pontoon bridge over the river
and crossing into the Orange Free State. Roberts having in the
meanwhile seized Bloemfontein, communication was restored by
railway between the forces, and Clements was despatched to
Phillipolis, Fauresmith, and the other towns in the south-west to
receive the submission of the inhabitants and to enforce their
disarmament. In the meantime the Engineers worked furiously at the
restoration of the railway bridge over the Orange River, which was
not, however, accomplished until some weeks later.

During the long period which had elapsed since the repulse at
Stormberg, General Gatacre had held his own at Sterkstroom, under
orders not to attack the enemy, repulsing them easily upon the only
occasion when they ventured to attack him. Now it was his turn also
to profit by the success which Lord Roberts had won. On February
23rd he re-occupied Molteno, and on the same day sent out a force
to reconnoitre the enemy's position at Stormberg. The incident is
memorable as having been the cause of the death of Captain de
Montmorency [Footnote: De Montmorency had established a remarkable
influence over his rough followers. To the end of the war they
could not speak of him without tears in their eyes. When I asked
Sergeant Howe why his captain went almost alone up the hill, his
answer was, 'Because the captain knew no fear.' Byrne, his soldier
servant (an Omdurman V.C. like his master), galloped madly off next
morning with a saddled horse to bring back his captain alive or
dead, and had to be forcibly seized and restrained by our cavalry.
], one of the most promising of the younger officers of the British
army. He had formed a corps of scouts, consisting originally of
four men, but soon expanding to seventy or eighty. At the head of
these men he confirmed the reputation for desperate valour which he
had won in the Soudan, and added to it proofs of the enterprise and
judgment which go to make a leader of light cavalry. In the course
of the reconnaissance he ascended a small kopje accompanied by
three companions, Colonel Hoskier, a London Volunteer soldier,
Vice, a civilian, and Sergeant Howe. 'They are right on the top of
us,' he cried to his comrades, as he reached the summit, and
dropped next instant with a bullet through his heart. Hoskier was
shot in five places, and Vice was mortally wounded, only Howe
escaping. The rest of the scouts, being farther back, were able to
get cover and to keep up a fight until they were extricated by the
remainder of the force. Altogether our loss was formidable rather
in quality than in quantity, for not more than a dozen were hit,
while the Boers suffered considerably from the fire of our guns.

On March 5th General Gatacre found that the Boers were retreating
in front of him--in response, no doubt, to messages similar to
those which had already been received at Colesberg. Moving forward
he occupied the position which had confronted him so long. Thence,
having spent some days in drawing in his scattered detachments and
in mending the railway, he pushed forward on March 12th to
Burghersdorp, and thence on the 13th to Olive Siding, to the south
of the Bethulie Bridge.

There are two bridges which span the broad muddy Orange River,
thick with the washings of the Basutoland mountains. One of these
is the magnificent high railway bridge, already blown to ruins by
the retreating Boers. Dead men or shattered horses do not give a
more vivid impression of the unrelenting brutality of war than the
sight of a structure, so graceful and so essential, blown into a
huge heap of twisted girders and broken piers. Half a mile to the
west is the road bridge, broad and old-fashioned. The only hope of
preserving some mode of crossing the difficult river lay in the
chance that the troops might anticipate the Boers who were about to
destroy this bridge.

In this they were singularly favoured by fortune. On the arrival of
a small party of scouts and of the Cape Police under Major
Nolan-Neylan at the end of the bridge it was found that all was
ready to blow it up, the mine sunk, the detonator fixed, and the
wire laid. Only the connection between the wire and the charge had
not been made. To make sure, the Boers had also laid several boxes
of dynamite under the last span, in case the mine should fail in
its effect. The advance guard of the Police, only six in number,
with Nolan-Neylan at their head, threw themselves into a building
which commanded the approaches of the bridge, and this handful of
men opened so spirited and well-aimed a fire that the Boers were
unable to approach it. As fresh scouts and policemen came up they
were thrown into the firing line, and for a whole long day they
kept the destroyers from the bridge. Had the enemy known how weak
they were and how far from supports, they could have easily
destroyed them, but the game of bluff was admirably played, and a
fire kept up which held the enemy to their rifle pits.

The Boers were in a trench commanding the bridge, and their brisk
fire made it impossible to cross. On the other hand, our rifle fire
commanded the mine and prevented any one from exploding it. But at
the approach of darkness it was certain that this would be done.
The situation was saved by the gallantry of young Popham of the
Derbyshires, who crept across with two men and removed the
detonators. There still remained the dynamite under the further
span, and this also they removed, carrying it off across the bridge
under a heavy fire. The work was made absolutely complete a little
later by the exploit of Captain Grant of the Sappers, who drew the
charges from the holes in which they had been sunk, and dropped
them into the river, thus avoiding the chance that they might be
exploded next morning by shell fire. The feat of Popham and of
Grant was not only most gallant but of extraordinary service to the
country; but the highest credit belongs to Nolan-Neylan, of the
Police, for the great promptitude and galantry of his attack, and
to McNeill for his support. On that road bridge and on the pontoon
bridge at Norval's Pont Lord Roberts's army was for a whole month
dependent for their supplies.

On March 15th Gatacre's force passed over into the Orange Free
State, took possession of Bethulie, and sent on the cavalry to
Springfontein, which is the junction where the railways from Cape
Town and from East London meet. Here they came in contact with two
battalions of Guards under Pole-Carew, who had been sent down by
train from Lord Roberts's force in the north. With Roberts at
Bloemfontein, Gatacre at Springfontein, Clements in the south-west,
and Brabant at Aliwal, the pacification of the southern portion of
the Free State appeared to be complete. Warlike operations seemed
for the moment to be at an end, and scattered parties traversed the
country, 'bill-sticking,' as the troops called it--that is,
carrying Lord Roberts's proclamation to the lonely farmhouses and
outlying villages.

In the meantime the colonial division of that fine old African
fighter, General Brabant, had begun to play its part in the
campaign. Among the many judicious arrangements which Lord Roberts
made immediately after his arrival at the Cape was the assembling
of the greater part of the scattered colonial bands into one
division, and placing over it a General of their own, a man who had
defended the cause of the Empire both in the legislative assembly
and the field. To this force was entrusted the defence of the
country lying to the east of Gatacre's position, and on February
15th they advanced from Penhoek upon Dordrecht. Their Imperial
troops consisted of the Royal Scots and a section of the 79th
R.F.A., the Colonial of Brabant's Horse, the Kaffrarian Mounted
Rifles, the Cape Mounted Rifles and Cape Police, with Queenstown
and East London Volunteers. The force moved upon Dordrecht, and on
February 18th occupied the town after a spirited action, in which
Brabant's Horse played a distinguished part. On March 4th the
division advanced once more with the object of attacking the Boer
position at Labuschagne's Nek, some miles to the north.

Aided by the accurate fire of the 79th R.F.A., the colonials
succeeded, after a long day of desultory fighting, in driving the
enemy from his position. Leaving a garrison in Dordrecht Brabant
followed up his victory and pushed forward with two thousand men
and eight guns (six of them light 7-pounders) to occupy Jamestown,
which was done without resistance. On March 10th the colonial force
approached Aliwal, the frontier town, and so rapid was the advance
of Major Henderson with Brabant's Horse that the bridge at Aliwal
was seized before the enemy could blow it up. At the other side of
the bridge there was a strong stand made by the enemy, who had
several Krupp guns in position; but the light horse, in spite of a
loss of some twenty-five men killed and wounded, held on to the
heights which command the river. A week or ten days were spent in
pacifying the large north-eastern portion of Cape Colony, to which
Aliwal acts as a centre. Barkly East, Herschel, Lady Grey, and
other villages were visited by small detachments of the colonial
horsemen, who pushed forward also into the south-eastern portion of
the Free State, passing through Rouxville, and so along the
Basutoland border as far as Wepener. The rebellion in the Colony
was now absolutely dead in the north-east, while in the north-west
in the Prieska and Carnarvon districts it was only kept alive by
the fact that the distances were so great and the rebel forces so
scattered that it was very difficult for our flying columns to
reach them. Lord Kitchener had returned from Paardeberg to attend
to this danger upon our line of communications, and by his
exertions all chance of its becoming serious soon passed. With a
considerable force of Yeomanry and Cavalry he passed swiftly over
the country, stamping out the smouldering embers.

So much for the movements into the Free State of Clements, of
Gatacre, and of Brabant. It only remains to trace the not very
eventful history of the Natal campaign after the relief of

General Buller made no attempt to harass the retreat of the Boers,
although in two days no fewer than two thousand wagons were counted
upon the roads to Newcastle and Dundee. The guns had been removed
by train, the railway being afterwards destroyed. Across the north
of Natal lies the chain of the Biggarsberg mountains, and to this
the Transvaal Boers had retired, while the Freestaters had hurried
through the passes of the Drakensberg in time to make the fruitless
opposition to Roberts's march upon their capital. No accurate
information had come in as to the strength of the Transvaalers, the
estimates ranging from five to ten thousand, but it was known that
their position was formidable and their guns mounted in such a way
as to command the Dundee and Newcastle roads.

General Lyttelton's Division had camped as far out as Elandslaagte
with Burn Murdoch's cavalry, while Dundonald's brigade covered the
space between Burn Murdoch's western outposts and the Drakensberg
passes. Few Boers were seen, hut it was known that the passes were
held in some strength. Meanwhile the line was being restored in the
rear, and on March 9th the gallant White was enabled to take train
for Durban, though it was not until ten days later that the Colenso
bridge was restored. The Ladysmith garrison had been sent down to
Colenso to recruit their health. There they were formed into a new
division, the 4th, the brigades being given to Howard and Knox, and
the command to Lyttelton, who had returned his former division, the
second, to Clery. The 5th and 6th brigades were also formed into
one division, the 10th, which was placed under the capable command
of Hunter, who had confirmed in the south the reputation which he
had won in the north of Africa. In the first week of April Hunter's
Division was sent down to Durban and transferred to the western
side, where they were moved up to Kimberley, whence they advanced
northwards. The man on the horse has had in this war an immense
advantage over the man on foot, but there have been times when the
man on the ship has restored the balance. Captain Mahan might find
some fresh texts in the transference of Hunter's Division, or in
the subsequent expedition to Beira.

On April 10th the Boers descended from their mountains and woke up
our sleepy army corps by a brisk artillery fire. Our own guns
silenced it, and the troops instantly relapsed into their slumber.
There was no movement for a fortnight afterwards upon either side,
save that of Sir Charles Warren, who left the army in order to take
up the governorship of British Bechuanaland, a district which was
still in a disturbed state, and in which his presence had a
peculiar significance, since he had rescued portions of it from
Boer domination in the early days of the Transvaal Republic.
Hildyard took over the command of the 5th Division. In this state
of inertia the Natal force remained until Lord Roberts, after a six
weeks' halt in Bloemfontein, necessitated by the insecurity of his
railway communication and his want of every sort of military
supply, more especially horses for his cavalry and boots for his
infantry, was at last able on May 2nd to start upon his famous
march to Pretoria. Before accompanying him, however, upon this
victorious progress, it is necessary to devote a chapter to the
series of incidents and operations which had taken place to the
east and south-east of Bloemfontein during this period of
compulsory inactivity.

One incident must be recorded in this place, though it was
political rather than military. This was the interchange of notes
concerning peace between Paul Kruger and Lord Salisbury. There is
an old English jingle about 'the fault of the Dutch, giving too
little and asking too much,' but surely there was never a more
singular example of it than this. The united Presidents prepare for
war for years, spring an insulting ultimatum upon us, invade our
unfortunate Colonies, solemnly annex all the portions invaded, and
then, when at last driven back, propose a peace which shall secure
for them the whole point originally at issue. It is difficult to
believe that the proposals could have been seriously meant, but
more probable that the plan may have been to strengthen the hands
of the Peace deputation who were being sent to endeavour to secure
European intervention. Could they point to a proposal from the
Transvaal and a refusal from England, it might, if not too
curiously examined, excite the sympathy of those who follow
emotions rather than facts.

The documents were as follow:--

'The Presidents of the Orange Free State and of the South African
Republic to the Marquess of Salisbury. Bloemfontein March 5th,

'The blood and the tears of the thousands who have suffered by this
war, and the prospect of all the moral and economic ruin with which
South Africa is now threatened, make it necessary for both
belligerents to ask themselves dispassionately and as in the sight
of the Triune God for what they are fighting and whether the aim of
each justifies all this appalling misery and devastation.

'With this object, and in view of the assertions of various British
statesmen to the effect that this war was begun and is carried on
with the set purpose of undermining Her Majesty's authority in
South Africa, and of setting up an administration over all South
Africa independent of Her Majesty's Government, we consider it our
duty to solemnly declare that this war was undertaken solely as a
defensive measure to safeguard the threatened independence of the
South African Republic, and is only continued in order to secure
and safeguard the incontestable independence of both Republics as
sovereign international States, and to obtain the assurance that
those of Her Majesty's subjects who have taken part with us in this
war shall suffer no harm whatsoever in person or property.

'On these conditions, but on these conditions alone, are we now as
in the past desirous of seeing peace re-established in South
Africa, and of putting an end to the evils now reigning over South
Africa; while, if Her Majesty's Government is determined to destroy
the independence of the Republics, there is nothing left to us and
to our people but to persevere to the end in the course already
begun, in spite of the overwhelming pre-eminence of the British
Empire, conscious that that God who lighted the inextinguishable
fire of the love of freedom in our hearts and those of our fathers
will not forsake us, but will accomplish His work in us and in our

'We hesitated to make this declaration earlier to your Excellency
as we feared that, as long as the advantage was always on our side,
and as long as our forces held defensive positions far in Her
Majesty's Colonies, such a declaration might hurt the feelings of
honour of the British people. But now that the prestige of the
British Empire may be considered to be assured by the capture of
one of our forces, and that we are thereby forced to evacuate other
positions which we had occupied, that difficulty is over and we can
no longer hesitate to inform your Government and people in the
sight of the whole civilised world why we are fighting and on what
conditions we are ready to restore peace.'

Such was the message, deep in its simplicity and cunning in its
candour, which was sent by the old President, for it is Kruger's
style which we read in every line of it. One has to get back to
facts after reading it, to the enormous war preparations of the
Republics, to the unprepared state of the British Colonies, to the
ultimatum, to the annexations, to the stirring up of rebellion, to
the silence about peace in the days of success, to the fact that by
'inextinguishable love of freedom' is meant inextinguishable
determination to hold other white men as helots--only then can we
form a just opinion of the worth of his message. One must remember
also, behind the homely and pious phraseology, that one is dealing
with a man who has been too cunning for us again and again--a man
who is as wily as the savages with whom he has treated and fought.
This Paul Kruger with the simple words of peace is the same Paul
Kruger who with gentle sayings insured the disarmament of
Johannesburg, and then instantly arrested his enemies--the man
whose name was a by-word for 'slimness' [craftiness] throughout
South Africa. With such a man the best weapon is absolute naked
truth with which Lord Salisbury confronted him in his reply:--

Foreign Office: March 11th.

'I have the honour to acknowledge your Honours' telegram dated
March 5th from Bloemfontein, of which the purport was principally
to demand that Her Majesty's Government shall recognise the
"incontestable independence" of the South African Republic and
Orange Free State as "sovereign international States," and to offer
on those terms to bring the war to a conclusion.

'In the beginning of October last peace existed between Her Majesty
and the two Republics under the conventions which then were in
existence. A discussion had been proceeding for some months between
Her Majesty's Government and the South African Republic, of which
the object was to obtain redress for certain very serious
grievances under which British residents in the. Republic were
suffering. In the course of those negotiations the Republic had, to
the knowledge of Her Majesty's Government, made considerable
armaments, and the latter had consequently taken steps to provide
corresponding reinforcements to the British garrisons of Cape Town
and Natal. No infringement of the rights guaranteed by the
conventions had up to that time taken place on the British side.
Suddenly, at two days' notice, the South African Republic, after
issuing an insulting ultimatum, declared war, and the Orange Free
State with whom there had not even been any discussion, took a
similar step. Her Majesty's dominions were immediately invaded by
the two Republics, siege was laid to three towns within the British
frontier, a large portion of the two Colonies was overrun with
great destruction to property and life, and the Republics claimed
to treat the inhabitants as if those dominions had been annexed to
one or other of them. In anticipation of these operations the South
African Republic had been accumulating for many years past military
stores upon an enormous scale, which by their character could only
have been intended for use against Great Britain.

'Your Honours make some observations of a negative character upon
the object with which these preparations were made. I do not think
it necessary to discuss the questions which you have raised. But
the result of these preparations, carried on with great secrecy,
has been that the British Empire has been compelled to confront an
invasion which has entailed a costly war and the loss of thousands
of precious lives. This great calamity has been the penalty which
Great Britain has suffered for having in recent years acquiesced in
the existence of the two Republics.

'In view of the use to which the two Republics have put the
position which was given to them, and the calamities which their
unprovoked attack has inflicted upon Her Majesty's dominions, Her
Majesty's Government can only answer your Honours' telegram by
saying that they are not prepared to assent to the independence
either of the South African Republic or of the Orange Free State.'

With this frank and uncompromising reply the Empire, with the
exception of a small party of dupes and doctrinaires, heartily
agreed. The pens were dropped, and the Mauser and the Lee-Metford
once more took up the debate.



On March 13th Lord Roberts occupied the capital of the Orange Free
State. On May 1st, more than six weeks later, the advance was
resumed. This long delay was absolutely necessary in order to
supply the place of the ten thousand horses and mules which are
said to have been used up in the severe work of the preceding
month. It was not merely that a large number of the cavalry
chargers had died or been abandoned, but it was that of those which
remained the majority were in a state which made them useless for
immediate service. How far this might have been avoided is open to
question, for it is notorious that General French's reputation as a
horsemaster does not stand so high as his fame as a cavalry leader.
But besides the horses there was urgent need of every sort of
supply, from boots to hospitals, and the only way by which they
could come was by two single-line railways which unite into one
single-line railway, with the alternative of passing over a
precarious pontoon bridge at Norval's Pont, or truck by truck over
the road bridge at Bethulie. To support an army of fifty thousand
men under these circumstances, eight hundred miles from a base, is
no light matter, and a premature advance which could not be thrust
home would be the greatest of misfortunes. The public at home and
the army in Africa became restless under the inaction, but it was
one more example of the absolute soundness of Lord Roberts's
judgment and the quiet resolution with which he adheres to it. He
issued a proclamation to the inhabitants of the Free State
promising protection to all who should bring in their arms and
settle down upon their farms. The most stringent orders were issued
against looting or personal violence, but nothing could exceed the
gentleness and good humour of the troops. Indeed there seemed more
need for an order which should protect them against the extortion
of their conquered enemies. It is strange to think that we are
separated by only ninety years from the savage soldiery of Badajoz
and San Sebastian.

The streets of the little Dutch town formed during this interval a
curious object-lesson in the resources of the Empire. All the
scattered Anglo-Celtic races had sent their best blood to fight for
the common cause. Peace is the great solvent, as war is the
powerful unifier. For the British as for the German Empire much
virtue had come from the stress and strain of battle. To stand in
the market square of Bloemfontein and to see the warrior types
around you was to be assured of the future of the race. The
middle-sized, square-set, weather-tanned, straw-bearded British
regulars crowded the footpaths. There also one might see the
hard-faced Canadians, the loose-limbed dashing Australians,
fireblooded and keen, the dark New Zealanders, with a Maori touch
here and there in their features, the gallant men of Tasmania, the
gentlemen troopers of India and Ceylon, and everywhere the wild
South African irregulars with their bandoliers and unkempt wiry
horses, Rimington's men with the racoon bands, Roberts's Horse with
the black plumes, some with pink puggarees, some with birdseye, but
all of the same type, hard, rugged, and alert. The man who could
look at these splendid soldiers, and, remembering the sacrifices of
time, money, and comfort which most of them had made before they
found themselves fighting in the heart of Africa, doubt that the
spirit of the race burned now as brightly as ever, must be devoid
of judgment and sympathy. The real glories of the British race lie
in the future, not in the past. The Empire walks, and may still
walk, with an uncertain step, but with every year its tread will be
firmer, for its weakness is that of waxing youth and not of waning

The greatest misfortune of the campaign, one which it was obviously
impolitic to insist upon at the time, began with the occupation of
Bloemfontein. This was the great outbreak of enteric among the
troops. For more than two months the hospitals were choked with
sick. One general hospital with five hundred beds held seventeen
hundred sick, nearly all enterics. A half field hospital with fifty
beds held three hundred and seventy cases. The total number of
cases could not have been less than six or seven thousand--and this
not of an evanescent and easily treated complaint, but of the most
persistent and debilitating of continued fevers, the one too which
requires the most assiduous attention and careful nursing. How
great was the strain only those who had to meet it can tell. The
exertions of the military hospitals and of those others which were
fitted out by private benevolence sufficed, after a long struggle,
to meet the crisis. At Bloemfontein alone, as many as fifty men
died in one day, and more than 1000 new graves in the cemetery
testify to the severity of the epidemic. No men in the campaign
served their country more truly than the officers and men of the
medical service, nor can any one who went through the epidemic
forget the bravery and unselfishness of those admirable nursing
sisters who set the men around them a higher standard of devotion
to duty.

Enteric fever is always endemic in the country, and especially at
Bloemfontein, but there can be no doubt that this severe outbreak
had its origin in the Paardeberg water. All through the campaign,
while the machinery for curing disease was excellent, that for
preventing it was elementary or absent. If bad water can cost us
more than all the bullets of the enemy, then surely it is worth our
while to make the drinking of unboiled water a stringent military
offence, and to attach to every company and squadron the most rapid
and efficient means for boiling it--for filtering alone is useless.
An incessant trouble it would be, but it would have saved a
division for the army. It is heartrending for the medical man who
has emerged from a hospital full of water-born pestilence to see a
regimental watercart being filled, without protest, at some
polluted wayside pool. With precautions and with inoculation all
those lives might have been saved. The fever died down with the
advance of the troops and the coming of the colder weather.

To return to the military operations: these, although they were
stagnant so far as the main army was concerned, were exceedingly
and inconveniently active in other quarters. Three small actions,
two of which were disastrous to our arms, and one successful
defence marked the period of the pause at Bloemfontein.

To the north of the town, some twelve miles distant lies the
ubiquitous Modder River, which is crossed by a railway bridge at a
place named Glen. The saving of the bridge was of considerable
importance, and might by the universal testimony of the farmers of
that district have been effected any time within the first few days
of our occupation. We appear, however, to have imperfectly
appreciated how great was the demoralisation of the Boers. In a
week or so they took heart, returned, and blew up the bridge.
Roving parties of the enemy, composed mainly of the redoubtable
Johannesburg police, reappeared even to the south of the river.
Young Lygon was killed, and Colonels Crabbe and Codrington with
Captain Trotter, all of the Guards, were severely wounded by such a
body, whom they gallantly but injudiciously attempted to arrest
when armed only with revolvers.

These wandering patrols who kept the country unsettled, and
harassed the farmers who had taken advantage of Lord Roberts's
proclamation, were found to have their centre at a point some six
miles to the north of Glen, named Karee. At Karee a formidable line
of hills cut the British advance, and these had been occupied by a
strong body of the enemy with guns. Lord Roberts determined to
drive them off, and on March 28th Tucker's 7th Division, consisting
of Chermside's brigade (Lincolns, Norfolks, Hampshires, and
Scottish Borderers), and Wavell's brigade (Cheshires, East
Lancashires, North Staffords, and South Wales Borderers), were
assembled at Glen. The artillery consisted of the veteran 18th,
62nd, and 75th R.F.A. Three attenuated cavalry brigades with some
mounted infantry completed the force.

The movement was to be upon the old model, and in result it proved
to be only too truly so. French's cavalry were to get round one
flank, Le Gallais's mounted infantry round the other, and Tucker's
Division to attack in front. Nothing could be more perfect in
theory and nothing apparently more defective in practice. Since on
this as on other occasions the mere fact that the cavalry were
demonstrating in the rear caused the complete abandonment of the
position, it is difficult to see what the object of the infantry
attack could be. The ground was irregular and unexplored, and it
was late before the horsemen on their weary steeds found themselves
behind the flank of the enemy. Some of them, Le Gallais's mounted
infantry and Davidson's guns, had come from Bloemfontein during the
night, and the horses were exhausted by the long march, and by the
absurd weight which the British troop-horse is asked to carry.
Tucker advanced his infantry exactly as Kelly-Kenny had done at
Driefontein, and with a precisely similar result. The eight
regiments going forward in echelon of battalions imagined from the
silence of the enemy that the position had been abandoned. They
were undeceived by a cruel fire which beat upon two companies of
the Scottish Borderers from a range of two hundred yards. They were
driven back, but reformed in a donga. About half-past two a Boer
gun burst shrapnel over the Lincolnshires and Scottish Borderers
with some effect, for a single shell killed five of the latter
regiment. Chermside's brigade was now all involved in the fight,
and Wavell's came up in support, but the ground was too open and
the position too strong to push the attack home. Fortunately, about
four o'clock, the horse batteries with French began to make their
presence felt from behind, and the Boers instantly quitted their
position and made off through the broad gap which still remained
between French and Le Gallais. The Brandfort plain appears to be
ideal ground for cavalry, but in spite of that the enemy with his
guns got safely away. The loss of the infantry amounted to one
hundred and sixty killed and wounded, the larger share of the
casualties and of the honour falling to the Scottish Borderers and
the East Lancashires. The infantry was not well handled, the
cavalry was slow, and the guns were inefficient--altogether an
inglorious day. Yet strategically it was of importance, for the
ridge captured was the last before one came to the great plain
which stretched, with a few intermissions, to the north. From March
29th until May 2nd Karee remained the advanced post.

In the meanwhile there had been a series of operations in the east
which had ended in a serious disaster. Immediately after the
occupation of Bloemfontein (on March 18th) Lord Roberts despatched
to the east a small column consisting of the 10th Hussars, the
composite regiment, two batteries (Q and U) of the Horse Artillery,
some mounted infantry, Roberts's Horse, and Rimington's Guides. On
the eastern horizon forty miles from the capital, but in that clear
atmosphere looking only half the distance, there stands the
impressive mountain named Thabanchu (the black mountain). To all
Boers it is an historical spot, for it was at its base that the
wagons of the Voortrekkers, coming by devious ways from various
parts, assembled. On the further side of Thabanchu, to the north
and east of it, lies the richest grain-growing portion of the Free
State, the centre of which is Ladybrand. The forty miles which
intervene between Bloemfontein and Thabanchu are intersected midway
by the Modder River. At this point are the waterworks, erected
recently with modern machinery, to take the place of the insanitary
wells on which the town had been dependent. The force met with no
resistance, and the small town of Thabanchu was occupied.

Colonel Pilcher, the leader of the Douglas raid, was inclined to
explore a little further, and with three squadrons of mounted men
he rode on to the eastward. Two commandos, supposed to be Grobler's
and Olivier's, were seen by them, moving on a line which suggested
that they were going to join Steyn, who was known to be rallying
his forces at Kroonstad, his new seat of government in the north of
the Free State. Pilcher, with great daring, pushed onwards until
with his little band on their tired horses he found himself in
Ladybrand, thirty miles from his nearest supports. Entering the
town he seized the landdrost and the field-cornet, but found that
strong bodies of the enemy were moving upon him and that it was
impossible for him to hold the place. He retired, therefore,
holding grimly on to his prisoners, and got back with small loss to
the place from which he started. It was a dashing piece of bluff,
and, when taken with the Douglas exploit, leads one to hope that
Pilcher may have a chance of showing what he can do with larger
means at his disposal. Finding that the enemy was following him in
force, he pushed on the same night for Thabanchu. His horsemen must
have covered between fifty and sixty miles in the twenty-four

Apparently the effect of Pilcher's exploit was to halt the march of
those commandos which had been seen trekking to the north-west, and
to cause them to swing round upon Thabanchu. Broadwood, a young
cavalry commander who had won a name in Egypt, considered that his
position was unnecessarily exposed and fell back upon Bloemfontein.
He halted on the first night near the waterworks, halfway upon his

The Boers are great masters in the ambuscade. Never has any race
shown such aptitude for this form of warfare--a legacy from a long
succession of contests with cunning savages. But never also have
they done anything so clever and so audacious as De Wet's
dispositions in this action. One cannot go over the ground without
being amazed at the ingenuity of their attack, and also at the luck
which favoured them, for the trap which they had laid for others
might easily have proved an absolutely fatal one for themselves.

The position beside the Modder at which the British camped had
numerous broken hills to the north and east of it. A force of
Boers, supposed to number about two thousand men, came down in the
night, bringing with them several heavy guns, and with the early
morning opened a brisk fire upon the camp. The surprise was
complete. But the refinement of the Boer tactics lay in the fact
that they had a surprise within a surprise--and it was the second
which was the more deadly.

The force which Broadwood had with him consisted of the 10th
Hussars and the composite regiment, Rimington's Scouts, Roberts's
Horse, the New Zealand and Burmah Mounted Infantry, with Q and U
batteries of Horse Artillery. With such a force, consisting
entirely of mounted men, he could not storm the hills upon which
the Boer guns were placed, and his twelve-pounders were unable to
reach the heavier cannon of the enemy. His best game was obviously
to continue his march to Bloemfontein. He sent on the considerable
convoy of wagons and the guns, while he with the cavalry covered
the rear, upon which the long-range pieces of the enemy kept up the
usual well-directed but harmless fire.

Broadwood's retreating column now found itself on a huge plain
which stretches all the way to Bloemfontein, broken only by two
hills, both of which were known to be in our possession. The plain
was one which was continually traversed from end to end by our
troops and convoys, so that once out upon its surface all danger
seemed at an end. Broadwood had additional reasons for feeling
secure, for he knew that, in answer to his own wise request,
Colvile's Division had been sent out before daybreak that morning
from Bloemfontein to meet him. In a very few miles their vanguard
and his must come together. There were obviously no Boers upon the
plain, but if there were they would find themselves between two
fires. He gave no thought to his front therefore, but rode behind,
where the Boer guns were roaring, and whence the Boer riflemen
might ride.

But in spite of the obvious there WERE Boers upon the plain, so
placed that they must either bring off a remarkable surprise or be
themselves cut off to a man. Across the veld, some miles from the
waterworks, there runs a deep donga or watercourse--one of many,
but the largest. It cuts the rough road at right angles. Its depth
and breadth are such that a wagon would dip down the incline, and
disappear for about two minutes before it would become visible
again at the crown of the other side. In appearance it was a huge
curving ditch with a stagnant stream at the bottom. The sloping
sides of the ditch were fringed with Boers, who had ridden thither
before dawn and were now waiting for the unsuspecting column. There
were not more than three hundred of them, and four times their
number were approaching; but no odds can represent the difference
between the concealed man with the magazine rifle and the man upon
the plain.

There were two dangers, however, which the Boers ran, and, skilful
as their dispositions were, their luck was equally great, for the
risks were enormous. One was that a force coming the other way
(Colvile's was only a few miles off) would arrive, and that they
would be ground between the upper and the lower millstone. The
other was that for once the British scouts might give the alarm and
that Broadwood's mounted men would wheel swiftly to right and left
and secure the ends of the long donga. Should that happen, not a
man of them could possibly escape. But they took their chances like
brave men, and fortune was their friend. The wagons came on without
any scouts. Behind them was U battery, then Q, with Roberts's Horse
abreast of them and the rest of the cavalry behind.

As the wagons, occupied for the most part only by unarmed sick
soldiers and black transport drivers, came down into the drift, the
Boers quickly but quietly took possession of them, and drove them
on up the further slope. Thus the troops behind saw their wagons
dip down, reappear, and continue on their course. The idea of an
ambush could not suggest itself. Only one thing could avert an
absolute catastrophe, and that was the appearance of a hero who
would accept certain death in order to warn his comrades. Such a
man rode by the wagons--though, unhappily, in the stress and rush
of the moment there is no certainty as to his name or rank. We only
know that one was found brave enough to fire his revolver in the
face of certain death. The outburst of firing which answered his
shot was the sequel which saved the column. Not often is it given
to a man to die so choice a death as that of this nameless soldier.

But the detachment was already so placed that nothing could save it
from heavy loss. The wagons had all passed but nine, and the
leading battery of artillery was at the very edge of the donga.
Nothing is so helpless as a limbered-up battery. In an instant the
teams were shot down and the gunners were made prisoners. A
terrific fire burst at the same instant upon Roberts's Horse, who
were abreast of the guns. 'Files a bout! gallop!' yelled Colonel
Dawson, and by his exertions and those of Major Pack-Beresford the
corps was extricated and reformed some hundreds of yards further
off. But the loss of horses and men was heavy. Major Pack-Beresford
and other officers were shot down, and every unhorsed man remained
necessarily as a prisoner under the very muzzles of the riflemen in
the donga.

As Roberts's Horse turned and galloped for dear life across the
flat, four out of the six guns [Footnote: Of the other two one
overturned and could not be righted, the other had the wheelers
shot and could not be extricated from the tumult. It was officially
stated that the guns of Q battery were halted a thousand yards off
the donga, but my impression was, from examining the ground, that
it was not more than six hundred.] of Q battery and one gun (the
rearmost) of U battery swung round and dashed frantically for a
place of safety. At the same instant every Boer along the line of
the donga sprang up and emptied his magazine into the mass of
rushing, shouting soldiers, plunging horses, and screaming Kaffirs.
It was for a few moments a sauve-qui-peut. Serjeant-Major Martin of
U, with a single driver on a wheeler, got away the last gun of his
battery. The four guns which were extricated of Q, under Major
Phipps-Hornby, whirled across the plain, pulled up, unlimbered, and
opened a brisk fire of shrapnel from about a thousand yards upon
the donga. Had the battery gone on for double the distance, its
action would have been more effective, for it would have been under
a less deadly rifle fire, but in any case its sudden change from
flight to discipline and order steadied the whole force. Roberts's
men sprang from their horses, and with the Burmese and New
Zealanders flung themselves down in a skirmish line. The cavalry
moved to the left to find some drift by which the donga could be
passed, and out of chaos there came in a few minutes calm and a
settled purpose.

It was for Q battery to cover the retreat of the force, and most
nobly it did it. A fortnight later a pile of horses, visible many
hundreds of yards off across the plain, showed where the guns had
stood. It was the Colenso of the horse gunners. In a devilish sleet
of lead they stood to their work, loading and firing while a man
was left. Some of the guns were left with two men to work them, one
was loaded and fired by a single officer. When at last the order
for retirement came, only ten men, several of them wounded, were
left upon their feet. With scratch teams from the limbers, driven
by single gunners, the twelve-pounders staggered out of action, and
the skirmish line of mounted infantry sprang to their feet amid the
hail of bullets to cheer them as they passed.

It was no slight task to extricate that sorely stricken force from
the close contact of an exultant enemy, and to lead it across that
terrible donga. Yet, thanks to the coolness of Broadwood and the
steadiness of his rearguard, the thing was done. A practicable
passage had been found two miles to the south by Captain
Chester-Master of Rimington's. This corps, with Roberts's, the New
Zealanders, and the 3rd Mounted Infantry, covered the withdrawal in
turn. It was one of those actions in which the horseman who is
trained to fight upon foot did very much better than the regular
cavalry. In two hours' time the drift had been passed and the
survivors of the force found themselves in safety.

The losses in this disastrous but not dishonourable engagement were
severe. About thirty officers and five hundred men were killed,
wounded, or missing. The prisoners came to more than three hundred.
They lost a hundred wagons, a considerable quantity of stores, and
seven twelve-pounder guns--five from U battery and two from Q. Of U
battery only Major Taylor and Sergeant-Major Martin seem to have
escaped, the rest being captured en bloc. Of Q battery nearly every
man was killed or wounded. Roberts's Horse, the New Zealanders, and
the mounted infantry were the other corps which suffered most
heavily. Among many brave men who died, none was a greater loss to
the service than Major Booth of the Northumberland Fusiliers,
serving in the mounted infantry. With four comrades he held a
position to cover the retreat, and refused to leave it. Such men
are inspired by the traditions of the past, and pass on the story
of their own deaths to inspire fresh heroes in the future.

Broadwood, the instant that he had disentangled himself, faced
about, and brought his guns into action. He was not strong enough,
however, nor were his men in a condition, to seriously attack the
enemy. Martyr's mounted infantry had come up, led by the
Queenslanders, and at the cost of some loss to themselves helped to
extricate the disordered force. Colvile's Division was behind
Bushman's Kop, only a few miles off, and there were hopes that it
might push on and prevent the guns and wagons from being removed.
Colvile did make an advance, but slowly and in a flanking direction
instead of dashing swiftly forward to retrieve the situation. It
must be acknowledged, however, that the problem which faced this
General was one of great difficulty. It was almost certain that
before he could throw his men into the action the captured guns
would be beyond his reach, and it was possible that he might swell
the disaster. With all charity, however, one cannot but feel that
his return next morning, after a reinforcement during the night,
without any attempt to force the Boer position, was lacking in
enterprise. [Footnote: It may be urged in General Colvile's defence
that his division had already done a long march from Bloemfontein.
A division, however, which contains two such brigades as
Macdonald's and Smith-Dorrien's may safely be called upon for any
exertions. The gunner officers in Colvile's division heard their
comrades' guns in 'section--fire' and knew it to be the sign of a
desperate situation.] The victory left the Boers in possession of
the waterworks, and Bloemfontein had to fall back upon her wells--a
change which reacted most disastrously upon the enteric which was
already decimating the troops.

The effect of the Sanna's Post defeat was increased by the fact
that only four days later (on April 4th) a second even more
deplorable disaster befell our troops. This was the surrender of
five companies of infantry, two of them mounted, at Reddersberg. So
many surrenders of small bodies of troops had occurred during the
course of the war that the public, remembering how seldom the word
'surrender' had ever been heard in our endless succession of
European wars, had become very restive upon the subject, and were
sometimes inclined to question whether this new and humiliating
fact did not imply some deterioration of our spirit. The fear was
natural, and yet nothing could be more unjust to this the most
splendid army which has ever marched under the red-crossed flag.
The fact was new because the conditions were new, and it was
inherent in those conditions. In that country of huge distances
small bodies must be detached, for the amount of space covered by
the large bodies was not sufficient for all military purposes. In
reconnoitring, in distributing proclamations, in collecting arms,
in overawing outlying districts, weak columns must be used. Very
often these columns must contain infantry soldiers, as the demands
upon the cavalry were excessive. Such bodies, moving through a
hilly country with which they were unfamiliar, were always liable
to be surrounded by a mobile enemy. Once surrounded the length of
their resistance was limited by three things: their cartridges,
their water, and their food. When they had all three, as at Wepener
or Mafeking, they could hold out indefinitely. When one or other
was wanting, as at Reddersberg or Nicholson's Nek, their position
was impossible. They could not break away, for how can men on foot
break away from horsemen? Hence those repeated humiliations, which
did little or nothing to impede the course of the war, and which
were really to be accepted as one of the inevitable prices which we
had to pay for the conditions under which the war was fought.
Numbers, discipline, and resources were with us. Mobility,
distances, nature of the country, insecurity of supplies, were with
them. We need not take it to heart therefore if it happened, with
all these forces acting against them, that our soldiers found
themselves sometimes in a position whence neither wisdom nor valour
could rescue them. To travel through that country, fashioned above
all others for defensive warfare, with trench and fort of
superhuman size and strength, barring every path, one marvels how
it was that such incidents were not more frequent and more serious.
It is deplorable that the white flag should ever have waved over a
company of British troops, but the man who is censorious upon the
subject has never travelled in South Africa.

In the disaster at Reddersberg three of the companies were of the
Irish Rifles, and two of the 2nd Northumberland Fusiliers--the same
unfortunate regiments which had already been cut up at Stormberg.
They had been detached from Gatacre's 3rd Division, the
headquarters of which was at Springfontein. On the abandonment of
Thabanchu and the disaster of Sanna's Post, it was obvious that we
should draw in our detached parties to the east; so the five
companies were ordered to leave Dewetsdorp, which they were
garrisoning, and to get back to the railway line. Either the order
was issued too late, or they were too slow in obeying it, for they
were only halfway upon their journey, near the town of Reddersberg,
when the enemy came down upon them with five guns. Without
artillery they were powerless, but, having seized a kopje, they
took such shelter as they could find, and waited in the hope of
succour. Their assailants seem to have been detached from De Wet's
force in the north, and contained among them many of the victors of
Sanna's Post. The attack began at 11 A.M. of April 3rd, and all day
the men lay among the stones, subjected to the pelt of shell and
bullet. The cover was good, however, and the casualties were not
heavy. The total losses were under fifty killed and wounded. More
serious than the enemy's fire was the absence of water, save a very
limited supply in a cart. A message was passed through of the dire
straits in which they found themselves, and by the late afternoon
the news had reached headquarters. Lord Roberts instantly
despatched the Camerons, just arrived from Egypt, to Bethany, which
is the nearest point upon the line, and telegraphed to Gatacre at
Springfontein to take measures to save his compromised detachment.
The telegram should have reached Gatacre early on the evening of
the 3rd, and he had collected a force of fifteen hundred men,
entrained it, journeyed forty miles up the line, detrained it, and
reached Reddersberg, which is ten or twelve miles from the line, by
10.30 next morning. Already, however, it was too late, and the
besieged force, unable to face a second day without water under
that burning sun, had laid down their arms. No doubt the stress of
thirst was dreadful, and yet one cannot say that the defence rose
to the highest point of resolution. Knowing that help could not be
far off, the garrison should have held on while they could lift a
rifle. If the ammunition was running low, it was bad management
which caused it to be shot away too fast. Captain McWhinnie, who
was in command, behaved with the utmost personal gallantry. Not
only the troops but General Gatacre also was involved in the
disaster. Blame may have attached to him for leaving a detachment
at Dewetsdorp, and not having a supporting body at Reddersberg upon
which it might fall back; but it must be remembered that his total
force was small and that he had to cover a long stretch of the
lines of communication. As to General Gatacre's energy and
gallantry it is a by-word in the army; but coming after the
Stormberg disaster this fresh mishap to his force made the
continuance of his command impossible. Much sympathy was felt with
him in the army, where he was universally liked and respected by
officers and men. He returned to England, and his division was
taken over by General Chermside.

In a single week, at a time when the back of the war had seemed to
be broken, we had lost nearly twelve hundred men with seven guns.
The men of the Free State--for the fighting was mainly done by
commandos from the Ladybrand, Winburg, Bethlehem, and Harrismith
districts--deserve great credit for this fine effort, and their
leader De Wet confirmed the reputation which he had already gained
as a dashing and indefatigable leader. His force was so weak that
when Lord Roberts was able to really direct his own against it, he
brushed it away before him; but the manner in which De Wet took
advantage of Roberts's enforced immobility, and dared to get behind
so mighty an enemy, was a fine exhibition of courage and
enterprise. The public at home chafed at this sudden and unexpected
turn of affairs; but the General, constant to his own fixed
purpose, did not permit his strength to be wasted, and his cavalry
to be again disorganised, by flying excursions, but waited grimly
until he should be strong enough to strike straight at Pretoria.

In this short period of depression there came one gleam of light
from the west. This was the capture of a commando of sixty Boers,
or rather of sixty foreigners fighting for the Boers, and the death
of the gallant Frenchman, De Villebois-Mareuil, who appears to have
had the ambition of playing Lafayette in South Africa to Kruger's
Washington. From the time that Kimberley had been reoccupied the
British had been accumulating their force there so as to make a
strong movement which should coincide with that of Roberts from
Bloemfontein. Hunter's Division from Natal was being moved round to
Kimberley, and Methuen already commanded a considerable body of
troops, which included a number of the newly arrived Imperial
Yeomanry. With these Methuen pacified the surrounding country, and
extended his outposts to Barkly West on the one side, to Boshof on
the other, and to Warrenton upon the Vaal River in the centre. On
April 4th news reached Boshof that a Boer commando had been seen
some ten miles to the east of the town, and a force, consisting of
Yeomanry, Kimberley Light Horse, and half of Butcher's veteran 4th
battery, was sent to attack them. They were found to have taken up
their position upon a kopje which, contrary to all Boer custom, had
no other kopjes to support it. French generalship was certainly not
so astute as Boer cunning. The kopje was instantly surrounded, and
the small force upon the summit being without artillery in the face
of our guns found itself in exactly the same position which our men
had been in twenty-four hours before at Reddersberg. Again was
shown the advantage which the mounted rifleman has over the
cavalry, for the Yeomanry and Light Horsemen left their horses and
ascended the hill with the bayonet. In three hours all was over and
the Boers had laid down their arms. Villebois was shot with seven
of his companions, and there were nearly sixty prisoners. It speaks
well for the skirmishing of the Yeomanry and the way in which they
were handled by Lord Chesham that though they worked their way up
the hill under fire they only lost four killed and a few wounded.
The affair was a small one, but it was complete, and it came at a
time when a success was very welcome. One bustling week had seen
the expensive victory of Karee, the disasters of Sanna's Post and
Reddersberg, and the successful skirmish of Boshof. Another chapter
must be devoted to the movement towards the south of the Boer
forces and the dispositions which Lord Roberts made to meet it.



Lord Roberts never showed his self-command and fixed purpose more
clearly than during his six weeks' halt at Bloemfontein. De Wet,
the most enterprising and aggressive of the Boer commanders, was
attacking his eastern posts and menacing his line of
communications. A fussy or nervous general would have harassed his
men and worn out his horses by endeavouring to pursue a number of
will-of-the-wisp commandos. Roberts contented himself by building
up his strength at the capital, and by spreading nearly twenty
thousand men along his line of rail from Bloemfontein to Bethulie.
When the time came he would strike, but until then he rested. His
army was not only being rehorsed and reshod, but in some respects
was being reorganised. One powerful weapon which was forged during
those weeks was the collection of the mounted infantry of the
central army into one division, which was placed under the command
of Ian Hamilton, with Hutton and Ridley as brigadiers. Hutton's
brigade contained the Canadians, New South Wales men, West
Australians, Queenslanders, New Zealanders, Victorians, South
Australians, and Tasmanians, with four battalions of Imperial
Mounted Infantry, and several light batteries. Ridley's brigade
contained the South African irregular regiments of cavalry, with
some imperial troops. The strength of the whole division came to
over ten thousand rifles, and in its ranks there rode the hardiest
and best from every corner of the earth over which the old flag is

A word as to the general distribution of the troops at this instant
while Roberts was gathering himself for his spring. Eleven
divisions of infantry were in the field. Of these the 1st
(Methuen's) and half the 10th (Hunter's) were at Kimberley, forming
really the hundred-mile-distant left wing of Lord Roberts's army.
On that side also was a considerable force of Yeomanry, as General
Villebois discovered. In the centre with Roberts was the 6th
division (Kelly-Kenny's) at Bloemfontein, the 7th (Tucker's) at
Karee, twenty miles north, the 9th (Colvile's) and the 11th
(Pole-Carew's) near Bloemfontein. French's cavalry division was
also in the centre. As one descended the line towards the Cape one
came on the 3rd division (Chermside's, late Gatacre's), which had
now moved up to Reddersberg, and then, further south, the 8th
(Rundle's), near Rouxville. To the south and east was the other
half of Hunter's division (Hart's brigade), and Brabant's Colonial
division, half of which was shut up in Wepener and the rest at
Aliwal. These were the troops operating in the Free State, with the
addition of the division of mounted infantry in process of

There remained the three divisions in Natal, the 2nd (Clery's), the
4th (Lyttelton's), and the 5th (Hildyard's, late Warren's), with
the cavalry brigades of Burn-Murdoch, Dundonald, and Brocklehurst.
These, with numerous militia and unbrigaded regiments along the
lines of communication, formed the British army in South Africa. At
Mafeking some 900 irregulars stood at bay, with another force about
as large under Plumer a little to the north, endeavouring to
relieve them. At Beira, a Portuguese port through which we have
treaty rights by which we may pass troops, a curious mixed force of
Australians, New Zealanders and others was being disembarked and
pushed through to Rhodesia, so as to cut off any trek which the
Boers might make in that direction. Carrington, a fierce old
soldier with a large experience of South African warfare, was in
command of this picturesque force, which moved amid tropical
forests over crocodile-haunted streams, while their comrades were
shivering in the cold southerly winds of a Cape winter. Neither our
Government, our people, nor the world understood at the beginning
of this campaign how grave was the task which we had undertaken,
but, having once realised it, it must be acknowledged that it was
carried through in no half-hearted way. So vast was the scene of
operations that the Canadian might almost find his native climate
at one end of it and the Queenslander at the other.

To follow in close detail the movements of the Boers and the
counter movements of the British in the southeast portion of the
Free State during this period would tax the industry of the
historian and the patience of the reader. Let it be told with as
much general truth and as little geographical detail as possible.
The narrative which is interrupted by an eternal reference to the
map is a narrative spoiled.

The main force of the Freestaters had assembled in the
north-eastern corner of their State, and from this they made their
sally southwards, attacking or avoiding at their pleasure the
eastern line of British outposts. Their first engagement, that of
Sanna's Post, was a great and deserved success. Three days later
they secured the five companies at Reddersberg. Warned in time, the
other small British bodies closed in upon their supports, and the
railway line, that nourishing artery which was necessary for the
very existence of the army, was held too strongly for attack. The
Bethulie Bridge was a particularly important point; but though the
Boers approached it, and even went the length of announcing
officially that they had destroyed it, it was not actually
attacked. At Wepener, however, on the Basutoland border, they found
an isolated force, and proceeded at once, according to their
custom, to hem it in and to bombard it, until one of their three
great allies, want of food, want of water, or want of cartridges,
should compel a surrender.

On this occasion, however, the Boers had undertaken a task which
was beyond their strength. The troops at Wepener were one thousand
seven hundred in number, and formidable in quality. The place had
been occupied by part of Brabant's Colonial division, consisting of
hardy irregulars, men of the stuff of the defenders of Mafeking.
Such men are too shrewd to be herded into an untenable position and
too valiant to surrender a tenable one. The force was commanded by
a dashing soldier, Colonel Dalgety, of the Cape Mounted Rifles, as
tough a fighter as his famous namesake. There were with him nearly
a thousand men of Brabant's Horse, four hundred of the Cape Mounted
Rifles, four hundred Kaffrarian Horse, with some scouts, and one
hundred regulars, including twenty invaluable Sappers. They were
strong in guns--two seven-pounders, two naval twelve-pounders, two
fifteen-pounders and several machine guns. The position which they
had taken up, Jammersberg, three miles north of Wepener, was a very
strong one, and it would have taken a larger force than De Wet had
at his disposal to turn them out of it. The defence had been
arranged by Major Cedric Maxwell, of the Sappers; and though the
huge perimeter, nearly eight miles, made its defence by so small a
force a most difficult matter, the result proved how good his
dispositions were.

At the same time, the Boers came on with every confidence of
victory, for they had a superiority in guns and an immense
superiority in men. But after a day or two of fierce struggle their
attack dwindled down into a mere blockade. On April 9th they
attacked furiously, both by day and by night, and on the 10th the
pressure was equally severe. In these two days occurred the vast
majority of the casualties. But the defenders took cover in a way
to which British regulars have not yet attained, and they outshot
their opponents both with their rifles and their cannon. Captain
Lukin's management of the artillery was particularly skilful. The
weather was vile and the hastily dug trenches turned into ditches
half full of water, but neither discomfort nor danger shook the
courage of the gallant colonials. Assault after assault was
repulsed, and the scourging of the cannon was met with stolid
endurance. The Boers excelled all their previous feats in the
handling of artillery by dragging two guns up to the summit of the
lofty Jammersberg, whence they fired down upon the camp. Nearly all
the horses were killed and three hundred of the troopers were hit,
a number which is double that of the official return, for the
simple reason that the spirit of the force was so high that only
those who were very severely wounded reported themselves as wounded
at all. None but the serious cases ever reached the hands of Dr.
Faskally, who did admirable work with very slender resources. How
many the enemy lost can never be certainly known, but as they
pushed home several attacks it is impossible to imagine that their
losses were less than those of the victorious defenders. At the end
of seventeen days of mud and blood the brave irregulars saw an
empty laager and abandoned trenches. Their own resistance and the
advance of Brabant to their rescue had caused a hasty retreat of
the enemy. Wepener, Mafeking, Kimberley, the taking of the first
guns at Ladysmith, the deeds of the Imperial Light Horse--it cannot
be denied that our irregular South African forces have a brilliant
record for the war. They are associated with many successes and
with few disasters. Their fine record cannot, I think, be fairly
ascribed to any greater hardihood which one portion of our race has
when compared with another, for a South African must admit that in
the best colonial corps at least half the men were Britons of
Britain. In the Imperial Light Horse the proportion was very much
higher. But what may fairly be argued is that their exploits have
proved, what the American war proved long ago, that the German
conception of discipline is an obsolete fetish, and that the spirit
of free men, whose individualism has been encouraged rather than
crushed, is equal to any feat of arms. The clerks and miners and
engineers who went up Elandslaagte Hill without bayonets, shoulder
to shoulder with the Gordons, and who, according to Sir George
White, saved Ladysmith on January 6th, have shown for ever that
with men of our race it is the spirit within, and not the drill or
the discipline, that makes a formidable soldier. An intelligent
appreciation of the fact might in the course of the next few years
save us as much money as would go far to pay for the war.

It may well be asked how for so long a period as seventeen days the
British could tolerate a force to the rear of them when with their
great superiority of numbers they could have readily sent an army
to drive it away. The answer must be that Lord Roberts had
despatched his trusty lieutenant, Kitchener, to Aliwal, whence he
had been in heliographic communication with Wepener, that he was
sure that the place could hold out, and that he was using it, as he
did Kimberley, to hold the enemy while he was making his plans for
their destruction. This was the bait to tempt them to their ruin.
Had the trap not been a little slow in closing, the war in the Free
State might have ended then and there. From the 9th to the 25th the
Boers were held in front of Wepener. Let us trace the movements of
the other British detachments during that time.

Brabant's force, with Hart's brigade, which had been diverted on
its way to Kimberley, where it was to form part of Hunter's
division, was moving on the south towards Wepener, advancing
through Rouxville, but going slowly for fear of scaring the Boers
away before they were sufficiently compromised. Chermside's 3rd
division approached from the north-west, moving out from the
railway at Bethany, and passing through Reddersberg towards
Dewetsdorp, from which it would directly threaten the Boer line of
retreat. The movement was made with reassuring slowness and
gentleness, as when the curved hand approaches the unconscious fly.
And then suddenly, on April 21st, Lord Roberts let everything go.
Had the action of the agents been as swift and as energetic as the
mind of the planner, De Wet could not have escaped us.

What held Lord Roberts's hand for some few days after he was ready
to strike was the abominable weather. Rain was falling in sheets,
and those who know South African roads, South African mud, and
South African drifts will understand how impossible swift military
movements are under those circumstances. But with the first
clearing of the clouds the hills to the south and east of
Bloemfontein were dotted with our scouts. Rundle with his 8th
division was brought swiftly up from the south, united with
Chermside to the east of Reddersberg, and the whole force,
numbering 13,000 rifles with thirty guns, advanced upon Dewetsdorp,
Rundle, as senior officer, being in command. As they marched the
blue hills of Wepener lined the sky some twenty miles to the south,
eloquent to every man of the aim and object of their march.

On April 20th, Rundle as he advanced found a force with artillery
across his path to Dewetsdorp. It is always difficult to calculate
the number of hidden men and lurking guns which go to make up a
Boer army, but with some knowledge of their total at Wepener it was
certain that the force opposed to him must be very inferior to his
own. At Constantia Farm, where he found them in position, it is
difficult to imagine that there were more than three thousand men.
Their left flank was their weak point, as a movement on that side
would cut them off from Wepener and drive them up towards our main
force in the north. One would have thought that a containing force
of three thousand men, and a flanking movement from eight thousand,
would have turned them out, as it has turned them out so often
before and since. Yet a long-range action began on Friday, April
20th, and lasted the whole of the 21st, the 22nd, and the 23rd, in
which we sustained few losses, but made no impression upon the
enemy. Thirty of the 1st Worcesters wandered at night into the
wrong line, and were made prisoners, but with this exception the
four days of noisy fighting does not appear to have cost either
side fifty casualties. It is probable that the deliberation with
which the operations were conducted was due to Rundle's
instructions to wait until the other forces were in position. His
subsequent movements showed that he was not a General who feared to

On Sunday night (April 22nd) Pole-Carew sallied out from
Bloemfontein on a line which would take him round the right flank
of the Boers who were facing Rundle. The Boers had, however,
occupied a strong position at Leeuw Kop, which barred his path, so
that the Dewetsdorp Boers were covering the Wepener Boers, and
being in turn covered by the Boers of Leeuw Kop. Before anything
could be done, they must be swept out of the way. Pole-Carew is one
of those finds which help to compensate us for the war. Handsome,
dashing, debonnaire, he approaches a field of battle as a
light-hearted schoolboy approaches a football field. On this
occasion he acted with energy and discretion. His cavalry
threatened the flanks of the enemy, and Stephenson's brigade
carried the position in front at a small cost. On the same evening
General French arrived and took over the force, which consisted now
of Stephenson's and the Guards brigades (making up the 11th
division), with two brigades of cavalry and one corps of mounted
infantry. The next day, the 23rd, the advance was resumed, the
cavalry bearing the brunt of the fighting. That gallant corps,
Roberts's Horse, whose behaviour at Sanna's Post had been
admirable, again distinguished itself, losing among others its
Colonel, Brazier Creagh. On the 24th again it was to the horsemen
that the honour and the casualties fell. The 9th Lancers, the
regular cavalry regiment which bears away the honours of the war,
lost several men and officers, and the 8th Hussars also suffered,
but the Boers were driven from their position, and lost more
heavily in this skirmish than in some of the larger battles of the
campaign. The 'pom-poms,' which had been supplied to us by the
belated energy of the Ordnance Department, were used with some
effect in this engagement, and the Boers learned for the first time
how unnerving are those noisy but not particularly deadly fireworks
which they had so often crackled round the ears of our gunners.

On the Wednesday morning Rundle, with the addition of Pole-Carew's
division, was strong enough for any attack, while French was in a
position upon the flank. Every requisite for a great victory was
there except the presence of an enemy. The Wepener siege had been
raised and the force in front of Rundle had disappeared as only
Boer armies can disappear. The combined movement was an admirable
piece of work on the part of the enemy. Finding no force in front
of them, the combined troops of French, Rundle, and Chermside
occupied Dewetsdorp, where the latter remained, while the others
pushed on to Thabanchu, the storm centre from which all our
troubles had begun nearly a month before. All the way they knew
that De Wet's retreating army was just in front of them, and they
knew also that a force had been sent out from Bloemfontein to
Thabanchu to head off the Boers. Lord Roberts might naturally
suppose, when he had formed two cordons through which De Wet must
pass, that one or other must hold him. But with extraordinary skill
and mobility De Wet, aided by the fact that every inhabitant was a
member of his intelligence department, slipped through the double
net which had been laid for him. The first net was not in its place
in time, and the second was too small to hold him.

While Rundle and French had advanced on Dewetsdorp as described,
the other force which was intended to head off De Wet had gone
direct to Thabanchu. The advance began by a movement of Ian
Hamilton on April 22nd with eight hundred mounted infantry upon the
waterworks. The enemy, who held the hills beyond, allowed
Hamilton's force to come right down to the Modder before they
opened fire from three guns. The mounted infantry fell back, and
encamped for the night out of range. [Footnote: This was a
remarkable exhibition of the harmlessness of shell-fire against
troops in open formation. I myself saw at least forty shells, all
of which burst, fall among the ranks of the mounted infantry, who
retired at a contemptuous walk. There were no casualties.] Before
morning they were reinforced by Smith-Dorrien's brigade (Gordons,
Canadians, and Shropshires--the Cornwalls had been left behind) and
some more mounted Infantry. With daylight a fine advance was begun,
the brigade moving up in very extended order and the mounted men
turning the right flank of the defence. By evening we had regained
the waterworks, a most important point for Bloemfontein, and we
held all the line of hills which command it. This strong position
would not have been gained so easily if it had not been for
Pole-Carew's and French's actions two days before, on their way to
join Rundle, which enabled them to turn it from the south.

Ian Hamilton, who had already done good service in the war, having
commanded the infantry at Elandslaagte, and been one of the most
prominent leaders in the defence of Ladysmith, takes from this time
onwards a more important and a more independent position. A thin,
aquiline man, of soft voice and gentle manners, he had already
proved more than once during his adventurous career that he not
only possessed in a high degree the courage of the soldier, but
also the equanimity and decision of the born leader. A languid
elegance in his bearing covered a shrewd brain and a soul of fire.
A distorted and half-paralysed hand reminded the observer that
Hamilton, as a young lieutenant, had known at Majuba what it was to
face the Boer rifles. Now, in his forty-seventh year, he had
returned, matured and formidable, to reverse the results of that
first deplorable campaign. This was the man to whom Lord Roberts
had entrusted the command of that powerful flanking column which
was eventually to form the right wing of his main advance. Being
reinforced upon the morning after the capture of the Waterworks by
the Highland Brigade, the Cornwalls, and two heavy naval guns, his
whole force amounted to not less than seven thousand men. From
these he detached a garrison for the Waterworks, and with the rest
he continued his march over the hilly country which lies between
them and Thabanchu.

One position, Israel's Poort, a nek between two hills, was held
against them on April 25th, but was gained without much trouble,
the Canadians losing one killed and two wounded. Colonel Otter,
their gallant leader, was one of the latter, while Marshall's
Horse, a colonial corps raised in Grahamstown, had no fewer than
seven of their officers and several men killed or wounded. Next
morning the town of Thabanchu was seized, and Hamilton found
himself upon the direct line of the Boer retreat. He seized the
pass which commands the road, and all next day he waited eagerly,
and the hearts of his men beat high when at last they saw a long
trail of dust winding up to them from the south. At last the wily
De Wet had been headed off! Deep and earnest were the curses when
out of the dust there emerged a khaki column of horsemen, and it
was realised that this was French's pursuing force, closely
followed by Rundle's infantry from Dewetsdorp. The Boers had
slipped round and were already to the north of us.

It is impossible to withhold our admiration for the way in which
the Boer force was manoeuvred throughout this portion of the
campaign. The mixture of circumspection and audacity, the way in
which French and Rundle were hindered until the Wepener force had
disengaged itself, the manner in which these covering forces were
then withdrawn, and finally the clever way in which they all
slipped past Hamilton, make a brilliant bit of strategy. Louis
Botha, the generalissimo, held all the strings in his hand, and the
way in which he pulled them showed that his countrymen had chosen
the right man for that high office, and that his was a master
spirit even among those fine natural warriors who led the separate

Having got to the north of the British forces Botha made no effort
to get away, and refused to be hustled by a reconnaissance
developing into an attack, which French made upon April 27th. In a
skirmish the night before Kitchener's Horse had lost fourteen men,
and the action of the 27th cost us about as many casualties. It
served to show that the Boer force was a compact body some six or
seven thousand strong, which withdrew in a leisurely fashion, and
took up a defensive position at Houtnek, some miles further on.
French remained at Thabanchu, from which he afterwards joined Lord
Roberts' advance, while Hamilton now assumed complete command of
the flanking column, with which he proceeded to march north upon

The Houtnek position is dominated upon the left of the advancing
British force by Thoba Mountain, and it was this point which was
the centre of Hamilton's attack. It was most gallantly seized by
Kitchener's Horse, who were quickly supported by Smith-Dorrien's
men. The mountain became the scene of a brisk action, and night
fell before the crest was cleared. At dawn upon May 1st the
fighting was resumed, and the position was carried by a determined
advance of the Shropshires, the Canadians, and the Gordons: the
Boers escaping down the reverse slope of the hill came under a
heavy fire of our infantry, and fifty of them were wounded or
taken. It was in this action, during the fighting on the hill, that
Captain Towse, of the Gordons, though shot through the eyes and
totally blind, encouraged his men to charge through a group of the
enemy who had gathered round them. After this victory Hamilton's
men, who had fought for seven days out of ten, halted for a rest at
Jacobsrust, where they were joined by Broadwood's cavalry and Bruce
Hamilton's infantry brigade. Ian Hamilton's column now contained
two infantry brigades (Smith-Dorrien's and Bruce Hamilton's),
Ridley's Mounted Infantry, Broadwood's Cavalry Brigade, five
batteries of artillery, two heavy guns, altogether 13,000 men. With
this force in constant touch with Botha's rearguard, Ian Hamilton
pushed on once more on May 4th. On May 5th he fought a brisk
cavalry skirmish, in which Kitchener's Horse and the 12th Lancers
distinguished themselves, and on the same day he took possession of
Winburg, thus covering the right of Lord Roberts's great advance.

The distribution of the troops on the eastern side of the Free
State was, at the time of this the final advance of the main army,
as follows--Ian Hamilton with his mounted infantry, Smith-Dorrien's
brigade, Macdonald's brigade, Bruce Hamilton's brigade, and
Broadwood's cavalry were at Winburg. Rundle was at Thabanchu, and
Brabant's colonial division was moving up to the same point.
Chermside was at Dewetsdorp, and had detached a force under Lord
Castletown to garrison Wepener. Hart occupied Smithfield, whence he
and his brigade were shortly to be transferred to the Kimberley
force. Altogether there could not have been fewer than thirty
thousand men engaged in clearing and holding down this part of the
country. French's cavalry and Pole-Carew's division had returned to
take part in the central advance.

Before entering upon a description of that great and decisive
movement, one small action calls for comment. This was the cutting
off of twenty men of Lumsden's Horse in a reconnaissance at Karee.
The small post under Lieutenant Crane found themselves by some
misunderstanding isolated in the midst of the enemy. Refusing to
hoist the flag of shame, they fought their way out, losing half
their number, while of the other half it is said that there was not
one who could not show bullet marks upon his clothes or person. The
men of this corps, volunteer Anglo-Indians, had abandoned the ease
and even luxury of Eastern life for the hard fare and rough
fighting of this most trying campaign. In coming they had set the
whole empire an object-lesson in spirit, and now on their first
field they set the army an example of military virtue. The proud
traditions of Outram's Volunteers have been upheld by the men of
Lumsden's Horse. Another minor action which cannot be ignored is
the defence of a convoy on April 29th by the Derbyshire Yeomanry
(Major Dugdale) and a company of the Scots Guards. The wagons were
on their way to Rundle when they were attacked at a point about ten
miles west of Thabanchu. The small guard beat off their assailants
in the most gallant fashion, and held their own until relieved by
Brabazon upon the following morning.

This phase of the war was marked by a certain change in the temper
of the British. Nothing could have been milder than the original
intentions and proclamations of Lord Roberts, and he was most ably
seconded in his attempts at conciliation by General Pretyman, who
had been made civil administrator of the State. There was evidence,
however, that this kindness had been construed as weakness by some
of the burghers, and during the Boer incursion to Wepener many who
had surrendered a worthless firearm reappeared with the Mauser
which had been concealed in some crafty hiding-place. Troops were
fired at from farmhouses which flew the white flag, and the good
housewife remained behind to charge the 'rooinek' extortionate
prices for milk and fodder while her husband shot at him from the
hills. It was felt that the burghers might have peace or might have
war, but could not have both simultaneously. Some examples were
made therefore of offending farmhouses, and stock was confiscated
where there was evidence of double dealing upon the part of the
owner. In a country where property is a more serious thing than
life, these measures, together with more stringent rules about the
possession of horses and arms, did much to stamp out the chances of
an insurrection in our rear. The worst sort of peace is an enforced
peace, but if that can be established time and justice may do the

The operations which have been here described may be finally summed
up in one short paragraph. A Boer army came south of the British
line and besieged a British garrison. Three British forces, those
of French, Rundle, and Ian Hamilton, were despatched to cut it off.
It successfully threaded its way among them and escaped. It was
followed to the northward as far as the town of Winburg, which
remained in the British possession. Lord Roberts had failed in his
plan of cutting off De Wet's army, but, at the expense of many
marches and skirmishes, the south-east of the State was cleared of
the enemy.



This small place, which sprang in the course of a few weeks from

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