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The Great Boer War by Arthur Conan Doyle

Part 7 out of 11

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obscurity to fame, is situated upon the long line of railway which
connects Kimberley in the south with Rhodesia in the north. In
character it resembles one of those western American townlets which
possess small present assets but immense aspirations. In its litter
of corrugated-iron roofs, and in the church and the racecourse,
which are the first-fruits everywhere of Anglo-Celtic civilisation,
one sees the seeds of the great city of the future. It is the
obvious depot for the western Transvaal upon one side, and the
starting-point for all attempts upon the Kalahari Desert upon the
other. The Transvaal border runs within a few miles.

It is not clear why the imperial authorities should desire to hold
this place, since it has no natural advantages to help the defence,
but lies exposed in a widespread plain. A glance at the map must
show that the railway line would surely be cut both to the north
and south of the town, and the garrison isolated at a point some
two hundred and fifty miles from any reinforcements. Considering
that the Boers could throw any strength of men or guns against the
place, it seemed certain that if they seriously desired to take
possession of it they could do so. Under ordinary circumstances any
force shut up there was doomed to capture. But what may have seemed
short-sighted policy became the highest wisdom, owing to the
extraordinary tenacity and resource of Baden-Powell, the officer in
command. Through his exertions the town acted as a bait to the
Boers, and occupied a considerable force in a useless siege at a
time when their presence at other seats of war might have proved
disastrous to the British cause.

Colonel Baden-Powell is a soldier of a type which is exceedingly
popular with the British public. A skilled hunter and an expert at
many games, there was always something of the sportsman in his keen
appreciation of war. In the Matabele campaign he had out-scouted
the savage scouts and found his pleasure in tracking them among
their native mountains, often alone and at night, trusting to his
skill in springing from rock to rock in his rubber-soled shoes to
save him from their pursuit. There was a brain quality in his
bravery which is rare among our officers. Full of veld craft and
resource, it was as difficult to outwit as it was to outfight him.
But there was another curious side to his complex nature. The
French have said of one of their heroes, 'Il avait cette graine de
folie dans sa bravoure que les Francais aiment,' and the words
might have been written of Powell. An impish humour broke out in
him, and the mischievous schoolboy alternated with the warrior and
the administrator. He met the Boer commandos with chaff and jokes
which were as disconcerting as his wire entanglements and his
rifle-pits. The amazing variety of his personal accomplishments was
one of his most striking characteristics. From drawing caricatures
with both hands simultaneously, or skirt dancing to leading a
forlorn hope, nothing came amiss to him; and he had that magnetic
quality by which the leader imparts something of his virtues to his
men. Such was the man who held Mafeking for the Queen.

In a very early stage, before the formal declaration of war, the
enemy had massed several commandos upon the western border, the men
being drawn from Zeerust, Rustenburg, and Lichtenburg.
Baden-Powell, with the aid of an excellent group of special
officers, who included Colonel Gould Adams, Lord Edward Cecil, the
soldier son of England's Premier, and Colonel Hore, had done all
that was possible to put the place into a state of defence. In this
he had immense assistance from Benjamin Weil, a well known South
African contractor, who had shown great energy in provisioning the
town. On the other hand, the South African Government displayed the
same stupidity or treason which had been exhibited in the case of
Kimberley, and had met all demands for guns and reinforcements with
foolish doubts as to the need of such precautions. In the endeavour
to supply these pressing wants the first small disaster of the
campaign was encountered. On October 12th, the day after the
declaration of war, an armoured train conveying two 7-pounders for
the Mafeking defences was derailed and captured by a Boer raiding
party at Kraaipan, a place forty miles south of their destination.
The enemy shelled the shattered train until after five hours
Captain Nesbitt, who was in command, and his men, some twenty in
number, surrendered. It was a small affair, but it derived
importance from being the first blood shed and the first tactical
success of the war.

The garrison of the town, whose fame will certainly live in the
history of South Africa, contained no regular soldiers at all with
the exception of the small group of excellent officers. They
consisted of irregular troops, three hundred and forty of the
Protectorate Regiment, one hundred and seventy Police, and two
hundred volunteers, made up of that singular mixture of
adventurers, younger sons, broken gentlemen, and irresponsible
sportsmen who have always been the voortrekkers of the British
Empire. These men were of the same stamp as those other admirable
bodies of natural fighters who did so well in Rhodesia, in Natal,
and in the Cape. With them there was associated in the defence the
Town Guard, who included the able-bodied shopkeepers, businessmen,
and residents, the whole amounting to about nine hundred men. Their
artillery was feeble in the extreme, two 7-pounder toy guns and six
machine guns, but the spirit of the men and the resource of their
leaders made up for every disadvantage. Colonel Vyvyan and Major
Panzera planned the defences, and the little trading town soon
began to take on the appearance of a fortress.

On October 13th the Boers appeared before Mafeking. On the same day
Colonel Baden-Powell sent two truckloads of dynamite out of the
place. They were fired into by the invaders, with the result that
they exploded. On October 14th the pickets around the town were
driven in by the Boers. On this the armoured train and a squadron
of the Protectorate Regiment went out to support the pickets and
drove the Boers before them. A body of the latter doubled back and
interposed between the British and Mafeking, but two fresh troops
with a 7-pounder throwing shrapnel drove them off. In this spirited
little action the garrison lost two killed and fourteen wounded,
but they inflicted considerable damage on the enemy. To Captain
Williams, Captain FitzClarence, and Lord Charles Bentinck great
credit is due for the way in which they handled their men; but the
whole affair was ill advised, for if a disaster had occurred
Mafeking must have fallen, being left without a garrison. No
possible results which could come from such a sortie could justify
the risk which was run.

On October 16th the siege began in earnest. On that date the Boers
brought up two 12-pounder guns, and the first of that interminable
flight of shells fell into the town. The enemy got possession of
the water supply, but the garrison had already dug wells. Before
October 20th five thousand Boers, under the formidable Cronje, had
gathered round the town. 'Surrender to avoid bloodshed' was his
message. 'When is the bloodshed going to begin?' asked Powell. When
the Boers had been shelling the town for some weeks the
lighthearted Colonel sent out to say that if they went on any
longer he should be compelled to regard it as equivalent to a
declaration of war. It is to be hoped that Cronje also possessed
some sense of humour, or else he must have been as sorely puzzled
by his eccentric opponent as the Spanish generals were by the
vagaries of Lord Peterborough.

Among the many difficulties which had to be met by the defenders of
the town the most serious was the fact that the position had a
circumference of five or six miles to be held by about one thousand
men against a force who at their own time and their own place could
at any moment attempt to gain a footing. An ingenious system of
small forts was devised to meet the situation. Each of these held
from ten to forty riflemen, and was furnished with bomb-proofs and
covered ways. The central bomb-proof was connected by telephone
with all the outlying ones, so as to save the use of orderlies. A
system of bells was arranged by which each quarter of the town was
warned when a shell was coming in time to enable the inhabitants to
scuttle off to shelter. Every detail showed the ingenuity of the
controlling mind. The armoured train, painted green and tied round
with scrub, stood unperceived among the clumps of bushes which
surrounded the town.

On October 24th a savage bombardment commenced, which lasted with
intermissions for seven months. The Boers had brought an enormous
gun across from Pretoria, throwing a 96-pound shell, and this, with
many smaller pieces, played upon the town. The result was as futile
as our own artillery fire has so often been when directed against
the Boers.

As the Mafeking guns were too weak to answer the enemy's fire, the
only possible reply lay in a sortie, and upon this Colonel Powell
decided. It was carried out with great gallantry on the evening of
October 27th, when about a hundred men under Captain FitzClarence
moved out against the Boer trenches with instructions to use the
bayonet only. The position was carried with a rush, and many of the
Boers bayoneted before they could disengage themselves from the
tarpaulins which covered them. The trenches behind fired wildly in
the darkness, and it is probable that as many of their own men as
of ours were hit by their rifle fire. The total loss in this
gallant affair was six killed, eleven wounded, and two prisoners.
The loss of the enemy, though shrouded as usual in darkness, was
certainly very much higher.

On October 31st the Boers ventured upon an attack on Cannon Kopje,
which is a small fort and eminence to the south of the town. It was
defended by Colonel Walford, of the British South African Police,
with fifty-seven of his men and three small guns. The attack was
repelled with heavy loss to the Boers. The British casualties were
six killed and five wounded.

Their experience in this attack seems to have determined the Boers
to make no further expensive attempts to rush the town, and for
some weeks the siege degenerated into a blockade. Cronje had been
recalled for more important work, and Commandant Snyman had taken
over the uncompleted task. From time to time the great gun tossed
its huge shells into the town, but boardwood walls and
corrugated-iron roofs minimise the dangers of a bombardment. On
November 3rd the garrison rushed the Brickfields, which had been
held by the enemy's sharpshooters, and on the 7th another small
sally kept the game going. On the 18th Powell sent a message to
Snyman that he could not take the town by sitting and looking at
it. At the same time he despatched a message to the Boer forces
generally, advising them to return to their homes and their
families. Some of the commandos had gone south to assist Cronje in
his stand against Methuen, and the siege languished more and more,
until it was woken up by a desperate sortie on December 26th, which
caused the greatest loss which the garrison had sustained. Once
more the lesson was to be enforced that with modern weapons and
equality of forces it is always long odds on the defence.

On this date a vigorous attack was made upon one of the Boer forts
on the north. There seems to be little doubt that the enemy had
some inkling of our intention, as the fort was found to have been
so strengthened as to be impregnable without scaling ladders. The
attacking force consisted of two squadrons of the Protectorate
Regiment and one of the Bechuanaland Rifles, backed up by three
guns. So desperate was the onslaught that of the actual attacking
party--a forlorn hope, if ever there was one--fifty-three out of
eighty were killed and wounded, twenty-five of the former and
twenty-eight of the latter. Several of that gallant band of
officers who had been the soul of the defence were among the
injured. Captain FitzClarence was wounded, Vernon, Sandford, and
Paton were killed, all at the very muzzles of the enemy's guns. It
must have been one of the bitterest moments of Baden-Powell's life
when he shut his field-glass and said, 'Let the ambulance go out!'

Even this heavy blow did not damp the spirits nor diminish the
energies of the defence, though it must have warned Baden-Powell
that he could not afford to drain his small force by any more
expensive attempts at the offensive, and that from then onwards he
must content himself by holding grimly on until Plumer from the
north or Methuen from the south should at last be able to stretch
out to him a helping hand. Vigilant and indomitable, throwing away
no possible point in the game which he was playing, the new year
found him and his hardy garrison sternly determined to keep the
flag flying.

January and February offer in their records that monotony of
excitement which is the fate of every besieged town. On one day the
shelling was a little more, on another a little less. Sometimes
they escaped scatheless, sometimes the garrison found itself the
poorer by the loss of Captain Girdwood or Trooper Webb or some
other gallant soldier. Occasionally they had their little triumph
when a too curious Dutchman, peering for an instant from his cover
to see the effect of his shot, was carried back in the ambulance to
the laager. On Sunday a truce was usually observed, and the snipers
who had exchanged rifle-shots all the week met occasionally on that
day with good-humoured chaff. Snyman, the Boer General, showed none
of that chivalry at Mafeking which distinguished the gallant old
Joubert at Ladysmith. Not only was there no neutral camp for women
or sick, but it is beyond all doubt or question that the Boer guns
were deliberately turned upon the women's quarters inside Mafeking
in order to bring pressure upon the inhabitants. Many women and
children were sacrificed to this brutal policy, which must in
fairness be set to the account of the savage leader, and not of the
rough but kindly folk with whom we were fighting. In every race
there are individual ruffians, and it would be a political mistake
to allow our action to be influenced or our feelings permanently
embittered by their crimes. It is from the man himself, and not
from his country, that an account should be exacted.

The garrison, in the face of increasing losses and decreasing food,
lost none of the high spirits which it reflected from its
commander. The programme of a single day of jubilee--Heaven only
knows what they had to hold jubilee over--shows a cricket match in
the morning, sports in the afternoon, a concert in the evening, and
a dance, given by the bachelor officers, to wind up. Baden-Powell
himself seems to have descended from the eyrie from which, like a
captain on the bridge, he rang bells and telephoned orders, to
bring the house down with a comic song and a humorous recitation.
The ball went admirably, save that there was an interval to repel
an attack which disarranged the programme. Sports were zealously
cultivated, and the grimy inhabitants of casemates and trenches
were pitted against each other at cricket or football. [Footnote:
Sunday cricket so shocked Snyman that he threatened to fire upon it
if it were continued.] The monotony was broken by the occasional
visits of a postman, who appeared or vanished from the vast barren
lands to the west of the town, which could not all be guarded by
the besiegers. Sometimes a few words from home came to cheer the
hearts of the exiles, and could be returned by the same uncertain
and expensive means. The documents which found their way up were
not always of an essential or even of a welcome character. At least
one man received an unpaid bill from an angry tailor.

In one particular Mafeking had, with much smaller resources,
rivalled Kimberley. An ordnance factory had been started, formed in
the railway workshops, and conducted by Connely and Cloughlan, of
the Locomotive Department. Daniels, of the police, supplemented
their efforts by making both powder and fuses. The factory turned
out shells, and eventually constructed a 5.5-inch smooth-bore gun,
which threw a round shell with great accuracy to a considerable
range. April found the garrison, in spite of all losses, as
efficient and as resolute as it had been in October. So close were
the advanced trenches upon either side that both parties had
recourse to the old-fashioned hand grenades, thrown by the Boers,
and cast on a fishing-line by ingenious Sergeant Page, of the
Protectorate Regiment. Sometimes the besiegers and the number of
guns diminished, forces being detached to prevent the advance of
Plumer's relieving column from the north; but as those who remained
held their forts, which it was beyond the power of the British to
storm, the garrison was now much the better for the alleviation.
Putting Mafeking for Ladysmith and Plumer for Buller, the situation
was not unlike that which had existed in Natal.

At this point some account might be given of the doings of that
northern force whose situation was so remote that even the
ubiquitous correspondent hardly appears to have reached it. No
doubt the book will eventually make up for the neglect of the
journal, but some short facts may be given here of the Rhodesian
column. Their action did not affect the course of the war, but they
clung like bulldogs to a most difficult task, and eventually, when
strengthened by the relieving column, made their way to Mafeking.

The force was originally raised for the purpose of defending
Rhodesia, and it consisted of fine material pioneers, farmers, and
miners from the great new land which had been added through the
energy of Mr. Rhodes to the British Empire. Many of the men were
veterans of the native wars, and all were imbued with a hardy and
adventurous spirit. On the other hand, the men of the northern and
western Transvaal, whom they were called upon to face the burghers
of Watersberg and Zoutpansberg, were tough frontiersmen living in a
land where a dinner was shot, not bought. Shaggy, hairy,
half-savage men, handling a rifle as a mediaeval Englishman handled
a bow, and skilled in every wile of veld craft, they were as
formidable opponents as the world could show.

On the war breaking out the first thought of the leaders in
Rhodesia was to save as much of the line which was their connection
through Mafeking with the south as was possible. For this purpose
an armoured train was despatched only three days after the
expiration of the ultimatum to the point four hundred miles south
of Bulawayo, where the frontiers of the Transvaal and of
Bechuanaland join. Colonel Holdsworth commanded the small British
force. The Boers, a thousand or so in number, had descended upon
the railway, and an action followed in which the train appears to
have had better luck than has usually attended these ill-fated
contrivances. The Boer commando was driven back and a number were
killed. It was probably news of this affair, and not anything which
had occurred at Mafeking, which caused those rumours of gloom at
Pretoria very shortly after the outbreak of hostilities. An agency
telegraphed that women were weeping in the streets of the Boer
capital. We had not then realised how soon and how often we should
see the same sight in Pall Mall.

The adventurous armoured train pressed on as far as Lobatsi, where
it found the bridges destroyed; so it returned to its original
position, having another brush with the Boer commandos, and again,
in some marvellous way, escaping its obvious fate. From then until
the new year the line was kept open by an admirable system of
patrolling to within a hundred miles or so of Mafeking. An
aggressive spirit and a power of dashing initiative were shown in
the British operations at this side of the scene of war such as
have too often been absent elsewhere. At Sekwani, on November 24th,
a considerable success was gained by a surprise planned and carried
out by Colonel Holdsworth. The Boer laager was approached and
attacked in the early morning by a force of one hundred and twenty
frontiersmen, and so effective was their fire that the Boers
estimated their numbers at several thousand. Thirty Boers were
killed or wounded, and the rest scattered.

While the railway line was held in this way there had been some
skirmishing also on the northern frontier of the Transvaal. Shortly
after the outbreak of the war the gallant Blackburn, scouting with
six comrades in thick bush, found himself in the presence of a
considerable commando. The British concealed themselves by the
path, but Blackburn's foot was seen by a keen-eyed Kaffir, who
pointed it out to his masters. A sudden volley riddled Blackburn
with bullets; but his men stayed by him and drove off the enemy.
Blackburn dictated an official report of the action, and then died.

In the same region a small force under Captain Hare was cut off by
a body of Boers. Of the twenty men most got away, but the chaplain
J.W. Leary, Lieutenant Haserick (who behaved with admirable
gallantry), and six men were taken. [Footnote: Mr. Leary was
wounded in the foot by a shell. The German artillerist entered the
hut in which he lay. 'Here's a bit of your work!' said Leary
good-humouredly. 'I wish it had been worse,' said the amiable
German gunner.] The commando which attacked this party, and on the
same day Colonel Spreckley's force, was a powerful one, with
several guns. No doubt it was organised because there were fears
among the Boers that they would be invaded from the north. When it
was understood that the British intended no large aggressive
movement in that quarter, these burghers joined other commandos.
Sarel Eloff, who was one of the leaders of this northern force, was
afterwards taken at Mafeking.

Colonel Plumer had taken command of the small army which was now
operating from the north along the railway line with Mafeking for
its objective. Plumer is an officer of considerable experience in
African warfare, a small, quiet, resolute man, with a knack of
gently enforcing discipline upon the very rough material with which
he had to deal. With his weak force--which never exceeded a
thousand men, and was usually from six to seven hundred--he had to
keep the long line behind him open, build up the ruined railway in
front of him, and gradually creep onwards in face of a formidable
and enterprising enemy. For a long time Gaberones, which is eighty
miles north of Mafeking, remained his headquarters, and thence he
kept up precarious communications with the besieged garrison. In
the middle of March he advanced as far south as Lobatsi, which is
less than fifty miles from Mafeking; but the enemy proved to be too
strong, and Plumer had to drop back again with some loss to his
original position at Gaberones. Sticking doggedly to his task,
Plumer again came south, and this time made his way as far as
Ramathlabama, within a day's march of Mafeking. He had with him,
however, only three hundred and fifty men, and had he pushed
through the effect might have been an addition of hungry men to the
garrison. The relieving force was fiercely attacked, however, by
the Boers and driven back on to their camp with a loss of twelve
killed, twenty-six wounded, and fourteen missing. Some of the
British were dismounted men, and it says much for Plumer's conduct
of the fight that he was able to extricate these safely from the
midst of an aggressive mounted enemy. Personally he set an
admirable example, sending away his own horse, and walking with his
rearmost soldiers. Captain Crewe Robertson and Lieutenant Milligan,
the famous Yorkshire cricketer, were killed, and Rolt, Jarvis,
Maclaren, and Plumer himself were wounded. The Rhodesian force
withdrew again to near Lobatsi, and collected itself for yet
another effort.

In the meantime Mafeking--abandoned, as it seemed, to its fate--was
still as formidable as a wounded lion. Far from weakening in its
defence it became more aggressive, and so persistent and skilful
were its riflemen that the big Boer gun had again and again to be
moved further from the town. Six months of trenches and rifle-pits
had turned every inhabitant into a veteran. Now and then words of
praise and encouragement came to them from without. Once it was a
special message from the Queen, once a promise of relief from Lord
Roberts. But the rails which led to England were overgrown with
grass, and their brave hearts yearned for the sight of their
countrymen and for the sound of their voices. 'How long, O Lord,
how long?' was the cry which was wrung from them in their solitude.
But the flag was still held high.

April was a trying month for the defence. They knew that Methuen,
who had advanced as far as Fourteen Streams upon the Vaal River,
had retired again upon Kimberley. They knew also that Plumer's
force had been weakened by the repulse at Ramathlabama, and that
many of his men were down with fever. Six weary months had this
village withstood the pitiless pelt of rifle bullet and shell. Help
seemed as far away from them as ever. But if troubles may be
allayed by sympathy, then theirs should have lain lightly. The
attention of the whole empire had centred upon them, and even the
advance of Roberts's army became secondary to the fate of this
gallant struggling handful of men who had upheld the flag so long.
On the Continent also their resistance attracted the utmost
interest, and the numerous journals there who find the imaginative
writer cheaper than the war correspondent announced their capture
periodically as they had once done that of Ladysmith. From a mere
tin-roofed village Mafeking had become a prize of victory, a stake
which should be the visible sign of the predominating manhood of
one or other of the great white races of South Africa. Unconscious
of the keenness of the emotions which they had aroused, the
garrison manufactured brawn from horsehide, and captured locusts as
a relish for their luncheons, while in the shot-torn billiard-room
of the club an open tournament was started to fill in their hours
off duty. But their vigilance, and that of the hawk-eyed man up in
the Conning Tower, never relaxed. The besiegers had increased in
number, and their guns were more numerous than before. A less acute
man than Baden-Powell might have reasoned that at least one
desperate effort would be made by them to carry the town before
relief could come.

On Saturday, May 12th, the attack was made at the favourite hour of
the Boer--the first grey of the morning. It was gallantly delivered
by about three hundred volunteers under the command of Eloff, who
had crept round to the west of the town--the side furthest from the
lines of the besiegers. At the first rush they penetrated into the
native quarter, which was at once set on fire by them. The first
building of any size upon that side is the barracks of the
Protectorate Regiment, which was held by Colonel Hore and about
twenty of his officers and men. This was carried by the enemy, who
sent an exultant message along the telephone to Baden-Powell to
tell him that they had got it. Two other positions within the
lines, one a stone kraal and the other a hill, were held by the
Boers, but their supports were slow in coming on, and the movements
of the defenders were so prompt and energetic that all three found
themselves isolated and cut off from their own lines. They had
penetrated the town, but they were as far as ever from having taken
it. All day the British forces drew their cordon closer and closer
round the Boer positions, making no attempt to rush them, but
ringing them round in such a way that there could be no escape for
them. A few burghers slipped away in twos and threes, but the main
body found that they had rushed into a prison from which the only
egress was swept with rifle fire. At seven o'clock in the evening
they recognised that their position was hopeless, and Eloff with
117 men laid down their arms. Their losses had been ten killed and
nineteen wounded. For some reason, either of lethargy, cowardice,
or treachery, Snyman had not brought up the supports which might
conceivably have altered the result. It was a gallant attack
gallantly met, and for once the greater wiliness in fight was shown
by the British. The end was characteristic. 'Good evening,
Commandant,' said Powell to Eloff; 'won't you come in and have some
dinner?' The prisoners--burghers, Hollanders, Germans, and
Frenchmen--were treated to as good a supper as the destitute
larders of the town could furnish.

So in a small blaze of glory ended the historic siege of Mafeking,
for Eloff's attack was the last, though by no means the worst of
the trials which the garrison had to face. Six killed and ten
wounded were the British losses in this admirably managed affair.
On May 17th, five days after the fight, the relieving force
arrived, the besiegers were scattered, and the long-imprisoned
garrison were free men once more. Many who had looked at their maps
and saw this post isolated in the very heart of Africa had
despaired of ever reaching their heroic fellow-countrymen, and now
one universal outbreak of joybells and bonfires from Toronto to
Melbourne proclaimed that there is no spot so inaccessible that the
long arm of the empire cannot reach it when her children are in

Colonel Mahon, a young Irish officer who had made his reputation as
a cavalry leader in Egypt, had started early in May from Kimberley
with a small but mobile force consisting of the Imperial Light
Horse (brought round from Natal for the purpose), the Kimberley
Mounted Corps, the Diamond Fields Horse, some Imperial Yeomanry, a
detachment of the Cape Police, and 100 volunteers from the Fusilier
brigade, with M battery R.H.A. and pom-poms, twelve hundred men in
all. Whilst Hunter was fighting his action at Rooidam on May 4th,
Mahon with his men struck round the western flank of the Boers and
moved rapidly to the northwards. On May 11th they had left Vryburg,
the halfway house, behind them, having done one hundred and twenty
miles in five days. They pushed on, encountering no opposition save
that of nature, though they knew that they were being closely
watched by the enemy. At Koodoosrand it was found that a Boer force
was in position in front, but Mahon avoided them by turning
somewhat to the westward. His detour took him, however, into a
bushy country, and here the enemy headed him off, opening fire at
short range upon the ubiquitous Imperial Light Horse, who led the
column. A short engagement ensued, in which the casualties amounted
to thirty killed and wounded, but which ended in the defeat and
dispersal of the Boers, whose force was certainly very much weaker
than the British. On May 15th the relieving column arrived without
further opposition at Masibi Stadt, twenty miles to the west of

In the meantime Plumer's force upon the north had been strengthened
by the addition of C battery of four 12-pounder guns of the
Canadian Artillery under Major Eudon and a body of Queenslanders.
These forces had been part of the small army which had come with
General Carrington through Beira, and after a detour of thousands
of miles, through their own wonderful energy they had arrived in
time to form portion of the relieving column. Foreign military
critics, whose experience of warfare is to move troops across a
frontier, should think of what the Empire has to do before her men
go into battle. These contingents had been assembled by long
railway journeys, conveyed across thousands of miles of ocean to
Cape Town, brought round another two thousand or so to Beira,
transferred by a narrow-gauge railway to Bamboo Creek, changed to a
broader gauge to Marandellas, sent on in coaches for hundreds of
miles to Bulawayo, transferred to trains for another four or five
hundred miles to Ootsi, and had finally a forced march of a hundred
miles, which brought them up a few hours before their presence was
urgently needed upon the field. Their advance, which averaged
twenty-five miles a day on foot for four consecutive days over
deplorable roads, was one of the finest performances of the war.
With these high-spirited reinforcements and with his own hardy
Rhodesians Plumer pushed on, and the two columns reached the hamlet
of Masibi Stadt within an hour of each other. Their united strength
was far superior to anything which Snyman's force could place
against them.

But the gallant and tenacious Boers would not abandon their prey
without a last effort. As the little army advanced upon Mafeking
they found the enemy waiting in a strong position. For some hours
the Boers gallantly held their ground, and their artillery fire
was, as usual, most accurate. But our own guns were more numerous
and equally well served, and the position was soon made untenable.
The Boers retired past Mafeking and took refuge in the trenches
upon the eastern side, but Baden-Powell with his war-hardened
garrison sallied out, and, supported by the artillery fire of the
relieving column, drove them from their shelter. With their usual
admirable tactics their larger guns had been removed, but one small
cannon was secured as a souvenir by the townsfolk, together with a
number of wagons and a considerable quantity of supplies. A long
rolling trail of dust upon the eastern horizon told that the famous
siege of Mafeking had at last come to an end.

So ended a singular incident, the defence of an open town which
contained no regular soldiers and a most inadequate artillery
against a numerous and enterprising enemy with very heavy guns. All
honour to the towns folk who bore their trial so long and so
bravely--and to the indomitable men who lined the trenches for
seven weary months. Their constancy was of enormous value to the
empire. In the all-important early month at least four or five
thousand Boers were detained by them when their presence elsewhere
would have been fatal. During all the rest of the war, two thousand
men and eight guns (including one of the four big Creusots) had
been held there. It prevented the invasion of Rhodesia, and it gave
a rallying-point for loyal whites and natives in the huge stretch
of country from Kimberley to Bulawayo. All this had, at a cost of
two hundred lives, been done by this one devoted band of men, who
killed, wounded, or took no fewer than one thousand of their
opponents. Critics may say that the enthusiasm in the empire was
excessive, but at least it was expended over worthy men and a fine
deed of arms.



In the early days of May, when the season of the rains was past and
the veld was green, Lord Roberts's six weeks of enforced inaction
came to an end. He had gathered himself once more for one of those
tiger springs which should be as sure and as irresistible as that
which had brought him from Belmont to Bloemfontein, or that other
in olden days which had carried him from Cabul to Candahar. His
army had been decimated by sickness, and eight thousand men had
passed into the hospitals; but those who were with the colours were
of high heart, longing eagerly for action. Any change which would
carry them away from the pest-ridden, evil-smelling capital which
had revenged itself so terribly upon the invader must be a change
for the better. Therefore it was with glad faces and brisk feet
that the centre column left Bloemfontein on May 1st, and streamed,
with bands playing, along the northern road.

On May 3rd the main force was assembled at Karee, twenty miles upon
their way. Two hundred and twenty separated them from Pretoria, but
in little more than a month from the day of starting, in spite of
broken railway, a succession of rivers, and the opposition of the
enemy, this army was marching into the main street of the Transvaal
capital. Had there been no enemy there at all, it would still have
been a fine performance, the more so when one remembers that the
army was moving upon a front of twenty miles or more, each part of
which had to be co-ordinated to the rest. It is with the story of
this great march that the present chapter deals.

Roberts had prepared the way by clearing out the south-eastern
corner of the State, and at the moment of his advance his forces
covered a semicircular front of about forty miles, the right under
Ian Hamilton near Thabanchu, and the left at Karee. This was the
broad net which was to be swept from south to north across the Free
State, gradually narrowing as it went. The conception was
admirable, and appears to have been an adoption of the Boers' own
strategy, which had in turn been borrowed from the Zulus. The solid
centre could hold any force which faced it, while the mobile
flanks, Hutton upon the left and Hamilton upon the right, could lap
round and pin it, as Cronje was pinned at Paardeberg. It seems
admirably simple when done upon a small scale. But when the scale
is one of forty miles, since your front must be broad enough to
envelop the front which is opposed to it, and when the scattered
wings have to be fed with no railway line to help, it takes such a
master of administrative detail as Lord Kitchener to bring the
operations to complete success.

On May 3rd, the day of the advance from our most northern post,
Karee, the disposition of Lord Roberts's army was briefly as
follows. On his left was Hutton, with his mixed force of mounted
infantry drawn from every quarter of the empire. This formidable
and mobile body, with some batteries of horse artillery and of
pom-poms, kept a line a few miles to the west of the railroad,
moving northwards parallel with it. Roberts's main column kept on
the railroad, which was mended with extraordinary speed by the
Railway Pioneer regiment and the Engineers, under Girouard and the
ill-fated Seymour. It was amazing to note the shattered culverts as
one passed, and yet to be overtaken by trains within a day. This
main column consisted of Pole-Carew's 11th Division, which
contained the Guards, and Stephenson's Brigade (Warwicks, Essex,
Welsh, and Yorkshires). With them were the 83rd, 84th, and 85th
R.F.A., with the heavy guns, and a small force of mounted infantry.
Passing along the widespread British line one would then, after an
interval of seven or eight miles, come upon Tucker's Division (the
7th), which consisted of Maxwell's Brigade (formerly
Chermside's--the Norfolks, Lincolns, Hampshires, and Scottish
Borderers) and Wavell's Brigade (North Staffords, Cheshires, East
Lancashires, South Wales Borderers). To the right of these was
Ridley's mounted infantry. Beyond them, extending over very many
miles of country and with considerable spaces between, there came
Broadwood's cavalry, Bruce Hamilton's Brigade (Derbyshires, Sussex,
Camerons, and C.I.V.), and finally on the extreme right of all Ian
Hamilton's force of Highlanders, Canadians, Shropshires, and
Cornwalls, with cavalry and mounted infantry, starting forty miles
from Lord Roberts, but edging westwards all the way, to merge with
the troops next to it, and to occupy Winburg in the way already
described. This was the army, between forty and fifty thousand
strong, with which Lord Roberts advanced upon the Transvaal.

In the meantime he had anticipated that his mobile and enterprising
opponents would work round and strike at our rear. Ample means had
been provided for dealing with any attempt of the kind. Rundle with
the 8th Division and Brabant's Colonial Division remained in rear
of the right flank to confront any force which might turn it. At
Bloemfontein were Kelly-Kenny's Division (the 6th) and Chermside's
(the 3rd), with a force of cavalry and guns. Methuen, working from
Kimberley towards Boshof, formed the extreme left wing of the main
advance, though distant a hundred miles from it. With excellent
judgment Lord Roberts saw that it was on our right flank that
danger was to be feared, and here it was that every precaution had
been taken to meet it.

The objective of the first day's march was the little town of
Brandfort, ten miles north of Karee. The head of the main column
faced it, while the left arm swept round and drove the Boer force
from their position. Tucker's Division upon the right encountered
some opposition, but overbore it with artillery. May 4th was a day
of rest for the infantry, but on the 5th they advanced, in the same
order as before, for twenty miles, and found themselves to the
south of the Vet River, where the enemy had prepared for an
energetic resistance. A vigorous artillery duel ensued, the British
guns in the open as usual against an invisible enemy. After three
hours of a very hot fire the mounted infantry got across the river
upon the left and turned the Boer flank, on which they hastily
withdrew. The first lodgment was effected by two bodies of
Canadians and New Zealanders, who were energetically supported by
Captain Anley's 3rd Mounted Infantry. The rushing of a kopje by
twenty-three West Australians was another gallant incident which
marked this engagement, in which our losses were insignificant. A
maxim and twenty or thirty prisoners were taken by Hutton's men.
The next day (May 6th) the army moved across the difficult drift of
the Vet River, and halted that night at Smaldeel, some five miles
to the north of it. At the same time Ian Hamilton had been able to
advance to Winburg, so that the army had contracted its front by
about half, but had preserved its relative positions. Hamilton,
after his junction with his reinforcements at Jacobsrust, had under
him so powerful a force that he overbore all resistance. His
actions between Thabanchu and Winburg had cost the Boers heavy
loss, and in one action the German legion had been overthrown. The
informal warfare which was made upon us by citizens of many nations
without rebuke from their own Governments is a matter of which
pride, and possibly policy, have forbidden us to complain, but it
will be surprising if it does not prove that their laxity has
established a very dangerous precedent, and they will find it
difficult to object when, in the next little war in which either
France or Germany is engaged, they find a few hundred British
adventurers carrying a rifle against them.

The record of the army's advance is now rather geographical than
military, for it rolled northwards with never a check save that
which was caused by the construction of the railway diversions
which atoned for the destruction of the larger bridges. The
infantry now, as always in the campaign, marched excellently; for
though twenty miles in the day may seem a moderate allowance to a
healthy man upon an English road, it is a considerable performance
under an African sun with a weight of between thirty and forty
pounds to be carried. The good humour of the men was admirable, and
they eagerly longed to close with the elusive enemy who flitted
ever in front of them. Huge clouds of smoke veiled the northern
sky, for the Boers had set fire to the dry grass, partly to cover
their own retreat, and partly to show up our khaki upon the
blackened surface. Far on the flanks the twinkling heliographs
revealed the position of the wide-spread wings.

On May 10th Lord Roberts's force, which had halted for three days
at Smaldeel, moved onwards to Welgelegen. French's cavalry had come
up by road, and quickly strengthened the centre and left wing of
the army. On the morning of the 10th the invaders found themselves
confronted by a formidable position which the Boers had taken up on
the northern bank of the Sand River. Their army extended over
twenty miles of country, the two Bothas were in command, and
everything pointed to a pitched battle. Had the position been
rushed from the front, there was every material for a second
Colenso, but the British had learned that it was by brains rather
than by blood that such battles may be won. French's cavalry turned
the Boers on one side, and Bruce Hamilton's infantry on the other.
Theoretically we never passed the Boer flanks, but practically
their line was so over-extended that we were able to pierce it at
any point. There was never any severe fighting, but rather a steady
advance upon the British side and a steady retirement upon that of
the Boers. On the left the Sussex regiment distinguished itself by
the dash with which it stormed an important kopje. The losses were
slight, save among a detached body of cavalry which found itself
suddenly cut off by a strong force of the enemy and lost Captain
Elworthy killed, and Haig of the Inniskillings, Wilkinson of the
Australian Horse, and twenty men prisoners. We also secured forty
or fifty prisoners, and the enemy's casualties amounted to about as
many more. The whole straggling action fought over a front as broad
as from London to Woking cost the British at the most a couple of
hundred casualties, and carried their army over the most formidable
defensive position which they were to encounter. The war in its
later phases certainly has the pleasing characteristic of being the
most bloodless, considering the number of men engaged and the
amount of powder burned, that has been known in history. It was at
the expense of their boots and not of their lives that the infantry
won their way.

On May 11th Lord Roberts's army advanced twenty miles to Geneva
Siding, and every preparation was made for a battle next day, as it
was thought certain that the Boers would defend their new capital,
Kroonstad. It proved, however, that even here they would not make a
stand, and on May 12th, at one o'clock, Lord Roberts rode into the
town. Steyn, Botha, and De Wet escaped, and it was announced that
the village of Lindley had become the new seat of government. The
British had now accomplished half their journey to Pretoria, and it
was obvious that on the south side of the Vaal no serious
resistance awaited them. Burghers were freely surrendering
themselves with their arms, and returning to their farms. In the
south-east Rundle and Brabant were slowly advancing, while the
Boers who faced them fell back towards Lindley. On the west, Hunter
had crossed the Vaal at Windsorton, and Barton's Fusilier Brigade
had fought a sharp action at Rooidam, while Mahon's Mafeking relief
column had slipped past their flank, escaping the observation of
the British public, but certainly not that of the Boers. The
casualties in the Rooidam action were nine killed and thirty
wounded, but the advance of the Fusiliers was irresistible, and for
once the Boer loss, as they were hustled from kopje to kopje,
appears to have been greater than that of the British. The Yeomanry
had an opportunity of showing once more that there are few more
high-mettled troops in South Africa than these good sportsmen of
the shires, who only showed a trace of their origin in their
irresistible inclination to burst into a 'tally-ho!' when ordered
to attack. The Boer forces fell back after the action along the
line of the Vaal, making for Christiana and Bloemhof. Hunter
entered into the Transvaal in pursuit of them, being the first to
cross the border, with the exception of raiding Rhodesians early in
the war. Methuen, in the meanwhile, was following a course parallel
to Hunter but south of him, Hoopstad being his immediate objective.
The little union jacks which were stuck in the war maps in so many
British households were now moving swiftly upwards.

Buller's force was also sweeping northwards, and the time had come
when the Ladysmith garrison, restored at last to health and
strength, should have a chance of striking back at those who had
tormented them so long. Many of the best troops had been drafted
away to other portions of the seat of war. Hart's Brigade and
Barton's Fusilier Brigade had gone with Hunter to form the 10th
Division upon the Kimberley side, and the Imperial Light Horse had
been brought over for the relief of Mafeking. There remained,
however, a formidable force, the regiments in which had been
strengthened by the addition of drafts and volunteers from home.
Not less than twenty thousand sabres and bayonets were ready and
eager for the passage of the Biggarsberg mountains.

This line of rugged hills is pierced by only three passes, each of
which was held in strength by the enemy. Considerable losses must
have ensued from any direct attempt to force them. Buller, however,
with excellent judgment, demonstrated in front of them with
Hildyard's men, while the rest of the army, marching round,
outflanked the line of resistance, and on May 15th pounced upon
Dundee. Much had happened since that October day when Penn Symons
led his three gallant regiments up Talana Hill, but now at last,
after seven weary months, the ground was reoccupied which he had
gained. His old soldiers visited his grave, and the national flag
was raised over the remains of as gallant a man as ever died for
the sake of it.

The Boers, whose force did not exceed a few thousands, were now
rolled swiftly back through Northern Natal into their own country.
The long strain at Ladysmith had told upon them, and the men whom
we had to meet were very different from the warriors of Spion Kop
and Nicholson's Nek. They had done magnificently, but there is a
limit to human endurance, and no longer would these peasants face
the bursting lyddite and the bayonets of angry soldiers. There is
little enough for us to boast of in this. Some pride might be taken
in the campaign when at a disadvantage we were facing superior
numbers, but now we could but deplore the situation in which these
poor valiant burghers found themselves, the victims of a rotten
government and of their own delusions. Hofer's Tyrolese, Charette's
Vendeans, or Bruce's Scotchmen never fought a finer fight than
these children of the veld, but in each case they combated a real
and not an imaginary tyrant. It is heart-sickening to think of the
butchery, the misery, the irreparable losses, the blood of men, and
the bitter tears of women, all of which might have been spared had
one obstinate and ignorant man been persuaded to allow the State
which he ruled to conform to the customs of every other civilised
State upon the earth.

Buller was now moving with a rapidity and decision which contrast
pleasantly with some of his earlier operations. Although Dundee was
only occupied on May 15th, on May 18th his vanguard was in
Newcastle, fifty miles to the north. In nine days he had covered
138 miles. On the 19th the army lay under the loom of that Majuba
which had cast its sinister shadow for so long over South African
politics. In front was the historical Laing's Nek, the pass which
leads from Natal into the Transvaal, while through it runs the
famous railway tunnel. Here the Boers had taken up that position
which had proved nineteen years before to be too strong for British
troops. The Rooineks had come back after many days to try again. A
halt was called, for the ten days' supplies which had been taken
with the troops were exhausted, and it was necessary to wait until
the railway should be repaired. This gave time for Hildyard's 5th
Division and Lyttelton's 4th Division to close up on Clery's 2nd
Division, which with Dundonald's cavalry had formed our vanguard
throughout. The only losses of any consequence during this fine
march fell upon a single squadron of Bethune's mounted infantry,
which being thrown out in the direction of Vryheid, in order to
make sure that our flank was clear, fell into an ambuscade and was
almost annihilated by a close-range fire. Sixty-six casualties, of
which nearly half were killed, were the result of this action,
which seems to have depended, like most of our reverses, upon
defective scouting. Buller, having called up his two remaining
divisions and having mended the railway behind him, proceeded now
to manoeuvre the Boers out of Laing's Nek exactly as he had
manoeuvred them out of the Biggarsberg. At the end of May Hildyard
and Lyttelton were despatched in an eastern direction, as if there
were an intention of turning the pass from Utrecht.

It was on May 12th that Lord Roberts occupied Kroonstad, and he
halted there for eight days before he resumed his advance. At the
end of that time his railway had been repaired, and enough supplies
brought up to enable him to advance again without anxiety. The
country through which he passed swarmed with herds and flocks, but,
with as scrupulous a regard for the rights of property as
Wellington showed in the south of France, no hungry soldier was
allowed to take so much as a chicken as he passed. The punishment
for looting was prompt and stern. It is true that farms were burned
occasionally and the stock confiscated, but this was as a
punishment for some particular offence and not part of a system.
The limping Tommy looked askance at the fat geese which covered the
dam by the roadside, but it was as much as his life was worth to
allow his fingers to close round those tempting white necks. On
foul water and bully beef he tramped through a land of plenty.

Lord Roberts's eight days' halt was spent in consolidating the
general military situation. We have already shown how Buller had
crept upwards to the Natal Border. On the west Methuen reached
Hoopstad and Hunter Christiana, settling the country and collecting
arms as they went. Rundle in the south-east took possession of the
rich grain lands, and on May 21st entered Ladybrand. In front of
him lay that difficult hilly country about Senekal, Ficksburg, and
Bethlehem which was to delay him so long. Ian Hamilton was feeling
his way northwards to the right of the railway line, and for the
moment cleared the district between Lindley and Heilbron, passing
through both towns and causing Steyn to again change his capital,
which became Vrede, in the extreme north-east of the State. During
these operations Hamilton had the two formidable De Wet brothers in
front of him, and suffered nearly a hundred casualties in the
continual skirmishing which accompanied his advance. His right
flank and rear were continually attacked, and these signs of forces
outside our direct line of advance were full of menace for the

On May 22nd the main army resumed its advance, moving forward
fifteen miles to Honing's Spruit. On the 23rd another march of
twenty miles over a fine rolling prairie brought them to Rhenoster
River. The enemy had made some preparations for a stand, but
Hamilton was near Heilbron upon their left and French was upon
their right flank. The river was crossed without opposition. On the
24th the army was at Vredefort Road, and on the 26th the vanguard
crossed the Vaal River at Viljoen's Drift, the whole army following
on the 27th. Hamilton's force had been cleverly swung across from
the right to the left flank of the British, so that the Boers were
massed on the wrong side.

Preparations for resistance had been made on the line of the
railway, but the wide turning movements on the flanks by the
indefatigable French and Hamilton rendered all opposition of no
avail. The British columns flowed over and onwards without a pause,
tramping steadily northwards to their destination. The bulk of the
Free State forces refused to leave their own country, and moved
away to the eastern and northern portion of the State, where the
British Generals thought--incorrectly, as the future was to
prove--that no further harm would come from them. The State which
they were in arms to defend had really ceased to exist, for already
it had been publicly proclaimed at Bloemfontein in the Queen's name
that the country had been annexed to the Empire, and that its style
henceforth was that of 'The Orange River Colony.' Those who think
this measure unduly harsh must remember that every mile of land
which the Freestaters had conquered in the early part of the war
had been solemnly annexed by them. At the same time, those
Englishmen who knew the history of this State, which had once been
the model of all that a State should be, were saddened by the
thought that it should have deliberately committed suicide for the
sake of one of the most corrupt governments which have ever been
known. Had the Transvaal been governed as the Orange Free State
was, such an event as the second Boer war could never have

Lord Roberts's tremendous march was now drawing to a close. On May
28th the troops advanced twenty miles, and passed Klip River
without fighting. It was observed with surprise that the
Transvaalers were very much more careful of their own property than
they had been of that of their allies, and that the railway was not
damaged at all by the retreating forces. The country had become
more populous, and far away upon the low curves of the hills were
seen high chimneys and gaunt iron pumps which struck the north of
England soldier with a pang of homesickness. This long distant hill
was the famous Rand, and under its faded grasses lay such riches as
Solomon never took from Ophir. It was the prize of victory; and yet
the prize is not to the victor, for the dust-grimed officers and
men looked with little personal interest at this treasure-house of
the world. Not one penny the richer would they be for the fact that
their blood and their energy had brought justice and freedom to the
gold fields. They had opened up an industry for the world, men of
all nations would be the better for their labours, the miner and
the financier or the trader would equally profit by them, but the
men in khaki would tramp on, unrewarded and uncomplaining, to
India, to China, to any spot where the needs of their worldwide
empire called them.

The infantry, streaming up from the Vaal River to the famous ridge
of gold, had met with no resistance upon the way, but great mist
banks of cloud by day and huge twinkling areas of flame by night
showed the handiwork of the enemy. Hamilton and French, moving upon
the left flank, found Boers thick upon the hills, but cleared them
off in a well-managed skirmish which cost us a dozen casualties. On
May 29th, pushing swiftly along, French found the enemy posted very
strongly with several guns at Doornkop, a point west of Klip River
Berg. The cavalry leader had with him at this stage three horse
batteries, four pom-poms, and 3000 mounted men. The position being
too strong for him to force, Hamilton's infantry (19th and 21st
Brigades) were called up, and the Boers were driven out. That
splendid corps, the Gordons, lost nearly a hundred men in their
advance over the open, and the C.I.V.s on the other flank fought
like a regiment of veterans. There had been an inclination to smile
at these citizen soldiers when they first came out, but no one
smiled now save the General who felt that he had them at his back.
Hamilton's attack was assisted by the menace rather than the
pressure of French's turning movement on the Boer right, but the
actual advance was as purely frontal as any of those which had been
carried through at the beginning of the war. The open formation of
the troops, the powerful artillery behind them, and perhaps also
the lowered morale of the enemy combined to make such a movement
less dangerous than of old. In any case it was inevitable, as the
state of Hamilton's commisariat rendered it necessary that at all
hazards he should force his way through.

Whilst this action of Doornkop was fought by the British left
flank, Henry's mounted infantry in the centre moved straight upon
the important junction of Germiston, which lies amid the huge white
heaps of tailings from the mines. At this point, or near it, the
lines from Johannesburg and from Natal join the line to Pretoria.
Colonel Henry's advance was an extremely daring one, for the
infantry were some distance behind; but after an irregular
scrambling skirmish, in which the Boer snipers had to be driven off
the mine heaps and from among the houses, the 8th mounted infantry
got their grip of the railway and held it. The exploit was a very
fine one, and stands out the more brilliantly as the conduct of the
campaign cannot be said to afford many examples of that
well-considered audacity which deliberately runs the risk of the
minor loss for the sake of the greater gain. Henry was much
assisted by J battery R.H.A., which was handled with energy and

French was now on the west of the town, Henry had cut the railway
on the east, and Roberts was coming up from the south. His infantry
had covered 130 miles in seven days, but the thought that every
step brought them nearer to Pretoria was as exhilarating as their
fifes and drums. On May 30th the victorious troops camped outside
the city while Botha retired with his army, abandoning without a
battle the treasure-house of his country. Inside the town were
chaos and confusion. The richest mines in the world lay for a day
or more at the mercy of a lawless rabble drawn from all nations.
The Boer officials were themselves divided in opinion, Krause
standing for law and order while Judge Koch advocated violence. A
spark would have set the town blazing, and the worst was feared
when a crowd of mercenaries assembled in front of the Robinson mine
with threats of violence. By the firmness and tact of Mr. Tucker,
the manager, and by the strong attitude of Commissioner Krause, the
situation was saved and the danger passed. Upon May 31st, without
violence to life or destruction to property, that great town which
British hands have done so much to build found itself at last under
the British flag. May it wave there so long as it covers just laws,
honest officials, and clean-handed administrators--so long and no

And now the last stage of the great journey had been reached. Two
days were spent at Johannesburg while supplies were brought up, and
then a move was made upon Pretoria thirty miles to the north. Here
was the Boer capital, the seat of government, the home of Kruger,
the centre of all that was anti-British, crouching amid its hills,
with costly forts guarding every face of it. Surely at last the
place had been found where that great battle should be fought which
should decide for all time whether it was with the Briton or with
the Dutchman that the future of South Africa lay.

On the last day of May two hundred Lancers under the command of
Major Hunter Weston, with Charles of the Sappers and Burnham the
scout, a man who has played the part of a hero throughout the
campaign, struck off from the main army and endeavoured to descend
upon the Pretoria to Delagoa railway line with the intention of
blowing up a bridge and cutting the Boer line of retreat. It was a
most dashing attempt; but the small party had the misfortune to
come into contact with a strong Boer commando, who headed them off.
After a skirmish they were compelled to make their way back with a
loss of five killed and fourteen wounded.

The cavalry under French had waited for the issue of this
enterprise at a point nine miles north of Johannesburg. On June 2nd
it began its advance with orders to make a wide sweep round to the
westward, and so skirt the capital, cutting the Pietersburg railway
to the north of it. The country in the direct line between
Johannesburg and Pretoria consists of a series of rolling downs
which are admirably adapted for cavalry work, but the detour which
French had to make carried him into the wild and broken district
which lies to the north of the Little Crocodile River. Here he was
fiercely attacked on ground where his troops could not deploy, but
with extreme coolness and judgment beat off the enemy. To cover
thirty-two miles in a day and fight a way out of an ambuscade in
the evening is an ordeal for any leader and for any troops. Two
killed and seven wounded were our trivial losses in a situation
which might have been a serious one. The Boers appear to have been
the escort of a strong convoy which had passed along the road some
miles in front. Next morning both convoy and opposition had
disappeared. The cavalry rode on amid a country of orange groves,
the troopers standing up in their stirrups to pluck the golden
fruit. There was no further fighting, and on June 4th French had
established himself upon the north of the town, where he learned
that all resistance had ceased.

Whilst the cavalry had performed this enveloping movement the main
army had moved swiftly upon its objective, leaving one brigade
behind to secure Johannesburg. Ian Hamilton advanced upon the left,
while Lord Roberts's column kept the line of the railway, Colonel
Henry's mounted infantry scouting in front. As the army topped the
low curves of the veld they saw in front of them two well-marked
hills, each crowned by a low squat building. They were the famous
southern forts of Pretoria. Between the hills was a narrow neck,
and beyond the Boer capital.

For a time it appeared that the entry was to be an absolutely
bloodless one, but the booming of cannon and the crash of Mauser
fire soon showed that the enemy was in force upon the ridge. Botha
had left a strong rearguard to hold off the British while his own
stores and valuables were being withdrawn from the town. The
silence of the forts showed that the guns had been removed and that
no prolonged resistance was intended; but in the meanwhile fringes
of determined riflemen, supported by cannon, held the approaches,
and must be driven off before an entry could be effected. Each
fresh corps as it came up reinforced the firing line. Henry's
mounted infantrymen supported by the horse-guns of J battery and
the guns of Tucker's division began the action. So hot was the
answer, both from cannon and from rifle, that it seemed for a time
as if a real battle were at last about to take place. The Guards'
Brigade, Stephenson's Brigade, and Maxwell's Brigade streamed up
and waited until Hamilton, who was on the enemy's right flank,
should be able to make his presence felt. The heavy guns had also
arrived, and a huge cloud of debris rising from the Pretorian forts
told the accuracy of their fire.

But either the burghers were half-hearted or there was no real
intention to make a stand. About half-past two their fire slackened
and Pole-Carew was directed to push on. That debonnaire soldier
with his two veteran brigades obeyed the order with alacrity, and
the infantry swept over the ridge, with some thirty or forty
casualties, the majority of which fell to the Warwicks. The
position was taken, and Hamilton, who came up late, was only able
to send on De Lisle's mounted infantry, chiefly Australians, who
ran down one of the Boer maxims in the open. The action had cost us
altogether about seventy men. Among the injured was the Duke of
Norfolk, who had shown a high sense of civic virtue in laying aside
the duties and dignity of a Cabinet Minister in order to serve as a
simple captain of volunteers. At the end of this one fight the
capital lay at the mercy of Lord Roberts. Consider the fight which
they made for their chief city, compare it with that which the
British made for the village of Mafeking, and say on which side is
that stern spirit of self-sacrifice and resolution which are the
signs of the better cause.

In the early morning of June 5th, the Coldstream Guards were
mounting the hills which commanded the town. Beneath them in the
clear African air lay the famous city, embowered in green, the fine
central buildings rising grandly out of the wide circle of villas.
Through the Nek part of the Guards' Brigade and Maxwell's Brigade
had passed, and had taken over the station, from which at least one
train laden with horses had steamed that morning. Two others, both
ready to start, were only just stopped in time.

The first thought was for the British prisoners, and a small party
headed by the Duke of Marlborough rode to their rescue. Let it be
said once for all that their treatment by the Boers was excellent
and that their appearance would alone have proved it. One hundred
and twenty-nine officers and thirty-nine soldiers were found in the
Model Schools, which had been converted into a prison. A day later
our cavalry arrived at Waterval, which is fourteen miles to the
north of Pretoria. Here were confined three thousand soldiers,
whose fare had certainly been of the scantiest, though in other
respects they appear to have been well treated. [Footnote: Further
information unfortunately shows that in the case of the sick and of
the Colonial prisoners the treatment was by no means good.] Nine
hundred of their comrades had been removed by the Boers, but
Porter's cavalry was in time to release the others, under a brisk
shell fire from a Boer gun upon the ridge. Many pieces of good luck
we had in the campaign, but this recovery of our prisoners, which
left the enemy without a dangerous lever for exacting conditions of
peace, was the most fortunate of all.

In the centre of the town there is a wide square decorated or
disfigured by a bare pedestal upon which a statue of the President
was to have been placed. Hard by is the bleak barnlike church in
which he preached, and on either side are the Government offices
and the Law Courts, buildings which would grace any European
capital. Here, at two o'clock on the afternoon of June 5th, Lord
Roberts sat his horse and saw pass in front of him the men who had
followed him so far and so faithfully--the Guards, the Essex, the
Welsh, the Yorks, the Warwicks, the guns, the mounted infantry, the
dashing irregulars, the Gordons, the Canadians, the Shropshires,
the Cornwalls, the Camerons, the Derbys, the Sussex, and the London
Volunteers. For over two hours the khaki waves with their crests of
steel went sweeping by. High above their heads from the summit of
the Raad-saal the broad Union Jack streamed for the first time.
Through months of darkness we had struggled onwards to the light.
Now at last the strange drama seemed to be drawing to its close.
The God of battles had given the long-withheld verdict. But of all
the hearts which throbbed high at that supreme moment there were
few who felt one touch of bitterness towards the brave men who had
been overborne. They had fought and died for their ideal. We had
fought and died for ours. The hope for the future of South Africa
is that they or their descendants may learn that that banner which
has come to wave above Pretoria means no racial intolerance, no
greed for gold, no paltering with injustice or corruption, but that
it means one law for all and one freedom for all, as it does in
every other continent in the whole broad earth. When that is
learned it may happen that even they will come to date a happier
life and a wider liberty from that 5th of June which saw the symbol
of their nation pass for ever from among the ensigns of the world.



The military situation at the time of the occupation of Pretoria
was roughly as follows. Lord Roberts with some thirty thousand men
was in possession of the capital, but had left his long line of
communications very imperfectly guarded behind him. On the flank of
this line of communications, in the eastern and north-eastern
corner of the Free State, was an energetic force of unconquered
Freestaters who had rallied round President Steyn. They were some
eight or ten thousand in number, well horsed, with a fair number of
guns, under the able leadership of De Wet, Prinsloo, and Olivier.
Above all, they had a splendid position, mountainous and broken,
from which, as from a fortress, they could make excursions to the
south or west. This army included the commandos of Ficksburg,
Senekal, and Harrismith, with all the broken and desperate men from
other districts who had left their farms and fled to the mountains.
It was held in check as a united force by Rundle's Division and the
Colonial Division on the south, while Colvile, and afterwards
Methuen, endeavoured to pen them in on the west. The task was a
hard one, however, and though Rundle succeeded in holding his line
intact, it appeared to be impossible in that wide country to coop
up altogether an enemy so mobile. A strange game of hide-and-seek
ensued, in which De Wet, who led the Boer raids, was able again and
again to strike our line of rails and to get back without serious
loss. The story of these instructive and humiliating episodes will
be told in their order. The energy and skill of the guerilla chief
challenge our admiration, and the score of his successes would be
amusing were it not that the points of the game are marked by the
lives of British soldiers.

General Buller had spent the latter half of May in making his way
from Ladysmith to Laing's Nek, and the beginning of June found him
with twenty thousand men in front of that difficult position. Some
talk of a surrender had arisen, and Christian Botha, who commanded
the Boers, succeeded in gaining several days' armistice, which
ended in nothing. The Transvaal forces at this point were not more
than a few thousand in number, but their position was so formidable
that it was a serious task to turn them out. Van Wyk's Hill,
however, had been left unguarded, and as its possession would give
the British the command of Botha's Pass, its unopposed capture by
the South African Light Horse was an event of great importance.
With guns upon this eminence the infantry were able, on June 8th,
to attack and to carry with little loss the rest of the high
ground, and so to get the Pass into their complete possession.
Botha fired the grass behind him, and withdrew sullenly to the
north. On the 9th and 10th the convoys were passed over the Pass,
and on the 11th the main body of the army followed them.

The operations were now being conducted in that extremely acute
angle of Natal which runs up between the Transvaal and the Orange
Free State. In crossing Botha's Pass the army had really entered
what was now the Orange River Colony. But it was only for a very
short time, as the object of the movement was to turn the Laing's
Nek position, and then come back into the Transvaal through
Alleman's Pass. The gallant South African Light Horse led the way,
and fought hard at one point to clear a path for the army, losing
six killed and eight wounded in a sharp skirmish. On the morning of
the 12th the flanking movement was far advanced, and it only
remained for the army to force Alleman's Nek, which would place it
to the rear of Laing's Nek, and close to the Transvaal town of

Had the Boers been the men of Colenso and of Spion Kop, this
storming of Alleman's Nek would have been a bloody business. The
position was strong, the cover was slight, and there was no way
round. But the infantry came on with the old dash without the old
stubborn resolution being opposed to them. The guns prepared the
way, and then the Dorsets, the Dublins, the Middlesex, the Queen's,
and the East Surrey did the rest. The door was open and the
Transvaal lay before us. The next day Volksrust was in our hands.

The whole series of operations were excellently conceived and
carried out. Putting Colenso on one side, it cannot be denied that
General Buller showed considerable power of manoeuvring large
bodies of troops. The withdrawal of the compromised army after
Spion Kop, the change of the line of attack at Pieter's Hill, and
the flanking marches in this campaign of Northern Natal, were all
very workmanlike achievements. In this case a position which the
Boers had been preparing for months, scored with trenches and
topped by heavy artillery, had been rendered untenable by a clever
flank movement, the total casualties in the whole affair being less
than two hundred killed and wounded. Natal was cleared of the
invader, Buller's foot was on the high plateau of the Transvaal,
and Roberts could count on twenty thousand good men coming up to
him from the south-east. More important than all, the Natal railway
was being brought up, and soon the central British Army would
depend upon Durban instead of Cape Town for its supplies--a saving
of nearly two-thirds of the distance. The fugitive Boers made
northwards in the Middelburg direction, while Buller advanced to
Standerton, which town he continued to occupy until Lord Roberts
could send a force down through Heidelberg to join hands with him.
Such was the position of the Natal Field Force at the end of June.
From the west and the south-west British forces were also
converging upon the capital. The indomitable Baden-Powell sought
for rest and change of scene after his prolonged trial by harrying
the Boers out of Zeerust and Rustenburg. The forces of Hunter and
of Mahon converged upon Potchefstroom, from which, after settling
that district, they could be conveyed by rail to Krugersdorp and

Before briefly recounting the series of events which took place
upon the line of communications, the narrative must return to Lord
Roberts at Pretoria, and describe the operations which followed his
occupation of that city. In leaving the undefeated forces of the
Free State behind him, the British General had unquestionably run a
grave risk, and was well aware that his railway communication was
in danger of being cut. By the rapidity of his movements he
succeeded in gaining the enemy's capital before that which he had
foreseen came to pass; but if Botha had held him at Pretoria while
De Wet struck at him behind, the situation would have been a
serious one. Having once attained his main object, Roberts could
receive with equanimity the expected news that De Wet with a mobile
force of less than two thousand men had, on June 7th, cut the line
at Roodeval to the north of Kroonstad. Both rail and telegraph were
destroyed, and for a few days the army was isolated. Fortunately
there were enough supplies to go on with, and immediate steps were
taken to drive away the intruder, though, like a mosquito, he was
brushed from one place only to settle upon another.

Leaving others to restore his broken communications, Lord Roberts
turned his attention once more to Botha, who still retained ten or
fifteen thousand men under his command. The President had fled from
Pretoria with a large sum of money, estimated at over two millions
sterling, and was known to be living in a saloon railway carriage,
which had been transformed into a seat of government even more
mobile than that of President Steyn. From Waterval-Boven, a point
beyond Middelburg, he was in a position either to continue his
journey to Delagoa Bay, and so escape out of the country, or to
travel north into that wild Lydenburg country which had always been
proclaimed as the last ditch of the defence. Here he remained with
his gold-bags waiting the turn of events.

Botha and his stalwarts had not gone far from the capital. Fifteen
miles out to the east the railway line runs through a gap in the
hills called Pienaars Poort, and here was such a position as the
Boer loves to hold. It was very strong in front, and it had widely
spread formidable flanking hills to hamper those turning movements
which had so often been fatal to the Boer generals. Behind was the
uncut railway line along which the guns could in case of need be
removed. The whole position was over fifteen miles from wing to
wing, and it was well known to the Boer general that Lord Roberts
had no longer that preponderance of force which would enable him to
execute wide turning movements, as he had done in his advance from
the south. His army had decreased seriously in numbers. The mounted
men, the most essential branch of all, were so ill horsed that
brigades were not larger than regiments. One brigade of infantry
(the 14th) had been left to garrison Johannesburg, and another (the
18th) had been chosen for special duty in Pretoria. Smith-Dorrien's
Brigade had been detached for duty upon the line of communications.
With all these deductions and the wastage caused by wounds and
disease, the force was in no state to assume a vigorous offensive.
So hard pressed were they for men that the three thousand released
prisoners from Waterval were hurriedly armed with Boer weapons and
sent down the line to help to guard the more vital points.

Had Botha withdrawn to a safe distance, Lord Roberts would
certainly have halted, as he had done at Bloemfontein, and waited
for remounts and reinforcements. But the war could not be allowed
to languish when an active enemy lay only fifteen miles off, within
striking distance of two cities and of the line of rail. Taking all
the troops that he could muster, the British General moved out once
more on Monday, June 11th, to drive Botha from his position. He had
with him Pole-Carew's 11th Division, which numbered about six
thousand men with twenty guns, Ian Hamilton's force, which included
one infantry brigade (Bruce Hamilton's), one cavalry brigade, and a
corps of mounted infantry, say, six thousand in all, with thirty
guns. There remained French's Cavalry Division, with Hutton's
Mounted Infantry, which could not have exceeded two thousand sabres
and rifles. The total force was, therefore, not more than sixteen
or seventeen thousand men, with about seventy guns. Their task was
to carry a carefully prepared position held by at least ten
thousand burghers with a strong artillery. Had the Boer of June
been the Boer of December, the odds would have been against the

There had been some negotiations for peace between Lord Roberts and
Botha, but the news of De Wet's success from the south had hardened
the Boer general's heart, and on June 9th the cavalry had their
orders to advance. Hamilton was to work round the left wing of the
Boers, and French round their right, while the infantry came up in
the centre. So wide was the scene of action that the attack and the
resistance in each flank and in the centre constituted, on June
11th, three separate actions. Of these the latter was of least
importance, as it merely entailed the advance of the infantry to a
spot whence they could take advantage of the success of the
flanking forces when they had made their presence felt. The centre
did not on this as on several other occasions in the campaign make
the mistake of advancing before the way had been prepared for it.

French with his attenuated force found so vigorous a resistance on
Monday and Tuesday that he was hard put to it to hold his own.
Fortunately he had with him three excellent Horse Artillery
batteries, G, O, and T, who worked until, at the end of the
engagement, they had only twenty rounds in their limbers. The
country was an impossible one for cavalry, and the troopers fought
dismounted, with intervals of twenty or thirty paces between the
men. Exposed all day to rifle and shell fire, unable to advance and
unwilling to retreat, it was only owing to their open formation
that they escaped with about thirty casualties. With Boers on his
front, his flank, and even on his rear, French held grimly on,
realising that a retreat upon his part would mean a greater
pressure at all other points of the British advance. At night his
weary men slept upon the ground which they had held. All Monday and
all Tuesday French kept his grip at Kameelsdrift, stolidly
indifferent to the attempt of the enemy to cut his line of
communications. On Wednesday, Hamilton, upon the other flank, had
gained the upper hand, and the pressure was relaxed. French then
pushed forward, but the horses were so utterly beaten that no
effective pursuit was possible.

During the two days that French had been held up by the Boer right
wing Hamilton had also been seriously engaged upon the left--so
seriously that at one time the action appeared to have gone against
him. The fight presented some distinctive features, which made it
welcome to soldiers who were weary of the invisible man with his
smokeless gun upon the eternal kopje. It is true that man, gun, and
kopje were all present upon this occasion, but in the endeavours to
drive him off some new developments took place, which formed for
one brisk hour a reversion to picturesque warfare. Perceiving a gap
in the enemy's line, Hamilton pushed up the famous Q battery--the
guns which had plucked glory out of disaster at Sanna's Post. For
the second time in one campaign they were exposed and in imminent
danger of capture. A body of mounted Boers with great dash and
hardihood galloped down within close range and opened fire.
Instantly the 12th Lancers were let loose upon them. How they must
have longed for their big-boned long-striding English troop horses
as they strove to raise a gallop out of their spiritless overworked
Argentines! For once, however, the lance meant more than five
pounds dead weight and an encumbrance to the rider. The guns were
saved, the Boers fled, and a dozen were left upon the ground. But a
cavalry charge has to end in a re-formation, and that is the
instant of danger if any unbroken enemy remains within range. Now a
sleet of bullets hissed through their ranks as they retired, and
the gallant Lord Airlie, as modest and brave a soldier as ever drew
sword, was struck through the heart. 'Pray moderate your language!'
was his last characteristic remark, made to a battle-drunken
sergeant. Two officers, seventeen men, and thirty horses went down
with their Colonel, the great majority only slightly injured. In
the meantime the increasing pressure upon his right caused
Broadwood to order a second charge, of the Life Guards this time,
to drive off the assailants. The appearance rather than the swords
of the Guards prevailed, and cavalry as cavalry had vindicated
their existence more than they had ever done during the campaign.
The guns were saved, the flank attack was rolled back, but one
other danger had still to be met, for the Heidelberg commando--a
corps d'elite of the Boers--had made its way outside Hamilton's
flank and threatened to get past him. With cool judgment the
British General detached a battalion and a section of a battery,
which pushed the Boers back into a less menacing position. The rest
of Bruce Hamilton's Brigade were ordered to advance upon the hills
in front, and, aided by a heavy artillery fire, they had succeeded,
before the closing in of the winter night, in getting possession of
this first line of the enemy's defences. Night fell upon an
undecided fight, which, after swaying this way and that, had
finally inclined to the side of the British. The Sussex and the
City Imperial Volunteers were clinging to the enemy's left flank,
while the 11th Division were holding them in front. All promised
well for the morrow.

By order of Lord Roberts the Guards were sent round early on
Tuesday, the 12th, to support the flank attack of Bruce Hamilton's
infantry. It was afternoon before all was ready for the advance,
and then the Sussex, the London Volunteers, and the Derbyshires won
a position upon the ridge, followed later by the three regiments of
Guards. But the ridge was the edge of a considerable plateau, swept
by Boer fire, and no advance could be made over its bare expanse
save at a considerable loss. The infantry clung in a long fringe to
the edge of the position, but for two hours no guns could be
brought up to their support, as the steepness of the slope was
insurmountable. It was all that the stormers could do to hold their
ground, as they were enfiladed by a Vickers-Maxim, and exposed to
showers of shrapnel as well as to an incessant rifle fire. Never
were guns so welcome as those of the 82nd battery, brought by Major
Connolly into the firing line. The enemy's riflemen were only a
thousand yards away, and the action of the artillery might have
seemed as foolhardy as that of Long at Colenso. Ten horses went
down on the instant, and a quarter of the gunners were hit; but the
guns roared one by one into action, and their shrapnel soon decided
the day. Undoubtedly it is with Connolly and his men that the
honours lie.

At four o'clock, as the sun sank towards the west, the tide of
fight had set in favour of the attack. Two more batteries had come
up, every rifle was thrown into the firing line, and the Boer reply
was decreasing in volume. The temptation to an assault was great,
but even now it might mean heavy loss of life, and Hamilton shrank
from the sacrifice. In the morning his judgment was justified, for
Botha had abandoned the position, and his army was in full retreat.
The mounted men followed as far as Elands River Station, which is
twenty-five miles from Pretoria, but the enemy was not overtaken,
save by a small party of De Lisle's Australians and Regular Mounted
Infantry. This force, less than a hundred in number, gained a kopje
which overlooked a portion of the Boer army. Had they been more
numerous, the effect would have been incalculable. As it was, the
Australians fired every cartridge which they possessed into the
throng, and killed many horses and men. It would bear examination
why it was that only this small corps was present at so vital a
point, and why, if they could push the pursuit to such purpose,
others should not be able to do the same. Time was bringing some
curious revenges. Already Paardeberg had come upon Majuba Day.
Buller's victorious soldiers had taken Laing's Nek. Now, the Spruit
at which the retreating Boers were so mishandled by the Australians
was that same Bronkers Spruit at which, nineteen years before, a
regiment had been shot down. Many might have prophesied that the
deed would be avenged; but who could ever have guessed the men who
would avenge it?

Such was the battle of Diamond Hill, as it was called from the name
of the ridge which was opposite to Hamilton's attack. The prolonged
two days' struggle showed that there was still plenty of fight in
the burghers. Lord Roberts had not routed them, nor had he captured
their guns; but he had cleared the vicinity of the capital, he had
inflicted a loss upon them which was certainly as great as his own,
and he had again proved to them that it was vain for them to
attempt to stand. A long pause followed at Pretoria, broken by
occasional small alarms and excursions, which served no end save to
keep the army from ennui. In spite of occasional breaks in his line
of communications, horses and supplies were coming up rapidly, and,
by the middle of July, Roberts was ready for the field again. At
the same time Hunter had come up from Potchefstroom, and Hamilton
had taken Heidelberg, and his force was about to join hands with
Buller at Standerton. Sporadic warfare broke out here and there in
the west, and in the course of it Snyman of Mafeking had
reappeared, with two guns, which were promptly taken from him by
the Canadian Mounted Rifles. On all sides it was felt that if the
redoubtable De Wet could be captured there was every hope that the
burghers might discontinue a struggle which was disagreeable to the
British and fatal to themselves. As a point of honour it was
impossible for Botha to give in while his ally held out. We will
turn, therefore, to this famous guerilla chief, and give some
account of his exploits. To understand them some description must
be given of the general military situation in the Free State.

When Lord Roberts had swept past to the north he had brushed aside
the flower of the Orange Free State army, who occupied the
considerable quadrilateral which is formed by the north-east of
that State. The function of Rundle's 8th Division and of Brabant's
Colonial Division was to separate the sheep from the goats by
preventing the fighting burghers from coming south and disturbing
those districts which had been settled. For this purpose Rundle
formed a long line which should serve as a cordon. Moving up
through Trommel and Clocolan, Ficksburg was occupied on May 25th by
the Colonial Division, while Rundle seized Senekal, forty miles to
the north-west. A small force of forty Yeomanry, who entered the
town some time in advance of the main body, was suddenly attacked
by the Boers, and the gallant Dalbiac, famous rider and sportsman,
was killed, with four of his men. He was a victim, as so many have
been in this campaign, to his own proud disregard of danger.

The Boers were in full retreat, but now, as always, they were
dangerous. One cannot take them for granted, for the very moment of
defeat is that at which they are capable of some surprising effort.
Rundle, following them up from Senekal, found them in strong
possession of the kopjes at Biddulphsberg, and received a check in
his endeavour to drive them off. It was an action fought amid great
grass fires, where the possible fate of the wounded was horrible to
contemplate. The 2nd Grenadiers, the Scots Guards, the East
Yorkshires, and the West Kents were all engaged, with the 2nd and
79th Field Batteries and a force of Yeomanry. Our losses incurred
in the open from unseen rifles were thirty killed and 130 wounded,
including Colonel Lloyd of the Grenadiers. Two days later Rundle,
from Senekal, joined hands with Brabant from Ficksburg, and a
defensive line was formed between those two places, which was held
unbroken for two months, when the operations ended in the capture
of the greater part of the force opposed to him. Clements's
Brigade, consisting of the 1st Royal Irish, the 2nd Bedfords, the
2nd Worcesters, and the 2nd Wiltshires, had come to strengthen
Rundle, and altogether he may have had as many as twelve thousand
men under his orders. It was not a large force with which to hold a
mobile adversary at least eight thousand strong, who might attack
him at any point of his extended line. So well, however, did he
select his positions that every attempt of the enemy, and there
were many, ended in failure. Badly supplied with food, he and his
half-starved men held bravely to their task, and no soldiers in all
that great host deserve better of their country.

At the end of May, then, the Colonial Division, Rundle's Division,
and Clements's Brigade held the Boers from Ficksburg on the Basuto
border to Senekal. This prevented them from coming south. But what
was there to prevent them from coming west, and falling upon the
railway line? There was the weak point of the British position.
Lord Methuen had been brought across from Boshof, and was available
with six thousand men. Colvile was on that side also, with the
Highland Brigade. A few details were scattered up and down the
line, waiting to be gathered up by an enterprising enemy. Kroonstad
was held by a single militia battalion; each separate force had to
be nourished by convoys with weak escorts. Never was there such a
field for a mobile and competent guerilla leader. And, as luck
would have it, such a man was at hand, ready to take full advantage
of his opportunities.



Christian de Wet, the elder of two brothers of that name, was at
this time in the prime of life, a little over forty years of age.
He was a burly middle-sized bearded man, poorly educated, but
endowed with much energy and common-sense. His military experience
dated back to Majuba Hill, and he had a large share of that curious
race hatred which is intelligible in the case of the Transvaal, but
inexplicable in a Freestater who has received no injury from the
British Empire. Some weakness of his sight compels the use of
tinted spectacles, and he had now turned these, with a pair of
particularly observant eyes behind them, upon the scattered British
forces and the long exposed line of railway.

De Wet's force was an offshoot from the army of Freestaters under
De Villiers, Olivier, and Prinsloo, which lay in the mountainous
north-east of the State. To him were committed five guns, fifteen
hundred men, and the best of the horses. Well armed, well mounted,
and operating in a country which consisted of rolling plains with
occasional fortress kopjes, his little force had everything in its
favour. There were so many tempting objects of attack lying before
him that he must have had some difficulty in knowing where to
begin. The tinted spectacles were turned first upon the isolated
town of Lindley.

Colvile with the Highland Brigade had come up from Ventersburg with
instructions to move onward to Heilbron, pacifying the country as
he passed. The country, however, refused to be pacified, and his
march from Ventersburg to Lindley was harassed by snipers every
mile of the way. Finding that De Wet and his men were close upon
him, he did not linger at Lindley, but passed on to his
destination, his entire march of 126 miles costing him sixty-three
casualties, of which nine were fatal. It was a difficult and
dangerous march, especially for the handful of Eastern Province
Horse, upon whom fell all the mounted work. By evil fortune a force
of five hundred Yeomanry, the 18th battalion, including the Duke of
Cambridge's Own and the Irish companies, had been sent from
Kroonstad to join Colvile at Lindley. Colonel Spragge was in
command. On May 27th this body of horsemen reached their
destination only to find that Colvile had already abandoned it.
They appear to have determined to halt for a day in Lindley, and
then follow Colvile to Heilbron. Within a few hours of their
entering the town they were fiercely attacked by De Wet.

Colonel Spragge seems to have acted for the best. Under a heavy
fire he caused his troopers to fall back upon his transport, which
had been left at a point a few miles out upon the Kroonstad Road,
where three defensible kopjes sheltered a valley in which the
cattle and horses could be herded. A stream ran through it. There
were all the materials there for a stand which would have brought
glory to the British arms. The men were of peculiarly fine quality,
many of them from the public schools and from the universities, and
if any would fight to the death these with their sporting spirit
and their high sense of honour might have been expected to do so.

They had the stronger motive for holding out, as they had taken
steps to convey word of their difficulty to Colvile and to Methuen.
The former continued his march to Heilbron, and it is hard to blame
him for doing so, but Methuen on hearing the message, which was
conveyed to him at great personal peril by Corporal Hankey of the
Yeomanry, pushed on instantly with the utmost energy, though he
arrived too late to prevent, or even to repair, a disaster. It must
be remembered that Colvile was under orders to reach Heilbron on a
certain date, that he was himself fighting his way, and that the
force which he was asked to relieve was much more mobile than his
own. His cavalry at that date consisted of 100 men of the Eastern
Province Horse.

Colonel Spragge's men had held their own for the first three days
of their investment, during which they had been simply exposed to a
long-range rifle fire which inflicted no very serious loss upon
them. Their principal defence consisted of a stone kraal about
twenty yards square, which sheltered them from rifle bullets, but
must obviously be a perfect death-trap in the not improbable event
of the Boers sending for artillery. The spirit of the troopers was
admirable. Several dashing sorties were carried out under the
leadership of Captain Humby and Lord Longford. The latter was a
particularly dashing business, ending in a bayonet charge which
cleared a neighbouring ridge. Early in the siege the gallant Keith
met his end. On the fourth day the Boers brought up five guns. One
would have thought that during so long a time as three days it
would have been possible for the officer in command to make such
preparations against this obvious possibility as were so
successfully taken at a later stage of the war by the handful who
garrisoned Ladybrand. Surely in this period, even without
engineers, it would not have been hard to construct such trenches
as the Boers have again and again opposed to our own artillery. But
the preparations which were made proved to be quite inadequate. One
of the two smaller kopjes was carried, and the garrison fled to the
other. This also was compelled to surrender, and finally the main
kopje also hoisted the white flag. No blame can rest upon the men,
for their presence there at all is a sufficient proof of their
public spirit and their gallantry. But the lessons of the war seem
to have been imperfectly learned, especially that very certain
lesson that shell fire in a close formation is insupportable, while
in an open formation with a little cover it can never compel
surrender. The casualty lists (80 killed and wounded out of a force
of 470) show that the Yeomanry took considerable punishment before
surrendering, but do not permit us to call the defence desperate or
heroic. It is only fair to add that Colonel Spragge was acquitted
of all blame by a court of inquiry, which agreed, however, that the
surrender was premature, and attributed it to the unauthorised
hoisting of a white flag upon one of the detached kopjes. With
regard to the subsequent controversy as to whether General Colvile
might have returned to the relief of the Yeomanry, it is impossible
to see how that General could have acted in any other way than he

Some explanation is needed of Lord Methuen's appearance upon the
central scene of warfare, his division having, when last described,
been at Boshof, not far from Kimberley, where early in April he
fought the successful action which led to the death of Villebois.
Thence he proceeded along the Vaal and then south to Kroonstad,
arriving there on May 28th. He had with him the 9th Brigade
(Douglas's), which contained the troops which had started with him
for the relief of Kimberley six months before. These were the
Northumberland Fusiliers, Loyal North Lancashires, Northamptons,
and Yorkshire Light Infantry. With him also were the Munsters, Lord
Chesham's Yeomanry (five companies), with the 4th and 37th
batteries, two howitzers and two pom-poms. His total force was
about 6000 men. On arriving at Kroonstad he was given the task of
relieving Heilbron, where Colvile, with the Highland Brigade, some
Colonial horse, Lovat's Scouts, two naval guns, and the 5th
battery, were short of food and ammunition. The more urgent message
from the Yeomen at Lindley, however, took him on a fruitless
journey to that town on June 1st. So vigorous was the pursuit of
the Yeomanry that the leading squadrons, consisting of South Notts
Hussars and Sherwood Rangers, actually cut into the Boer convoy and
might have rescued the prisoners had they been supported. As it was
they were recalled, and had to fight their way back to Lindley with
some loss, including Colonel Rolleston, the commander, who was
badly wounded. A garrison was left under Paget, and the rest of the
force pursued its original mission to Heilbron, arriving there on
June 7th, when the Highlanders had been reduced to quarter rations.
'The Salvation Army' was the nickname by which they expressed their
gratitude to the relieving force.

A previous convoy sent to the same destination had less good
fortune. On June 1st fifty-five wagons started from the railway
line to reach Heilbron. The escort consisted of one hundred and
sixty details belonging to Highland regiments without any guns,
Captain Corballis in command. But the gentleman with the tinted
glasses was waiting on the way. 'I have twelve hundred men and five
guns. Surrender at once!' Such was the message which reached the
escort, and in their defenceless condition there was nothing for it
but to comply. Thus one disaster leads to another, for, had the
Yeomanry held out at Lindley, De Wet would not on June 4th have
laid hands upon our wagons; and had he not recruited his supplies
from our wagons it is doubtful if he could have made his attack
upon Roodeval. This was the next point upon which he turned his

Two miles beyond Roodeval station there is a well-marked kopje by
the railway line, with other hills some distance to the right and
the left. A militia regiment, the 4th Derbyshire, had been sent up
to occupy this post. There were rumours of Boers on the line, and
Major Haig, who with one thousand details of various regiments
commanded at railhead, had been attacked on June 6th but had beaten
off his assailants. De Wet, acting sometimes in company with, and
sometimes independently of, his lieutenant Nel, passed down the
line looking fur some easier prey, and on the night of June 7th
came upon the militia regiment, which was encamped in a position
which could be completely commanded by artillery. It is not true
that they had neglected to occupy the kopje under which they lay,
for two companies had been posted upon it. But there seems to have
been no thought of imminent danger, and the regiment had pitched
its tents and gone very comfortably to sleep without a thought of
the gentleman in the tinted glasses. In the middle of the night he
was upon them with a hissing sleet of bullets. At the first dawn
the guns opened and the shells began to burst among them. It was a
horrible ordeal for raw troops. The men were miners and
agricultural labourers, who had never seen more bloodshed than a
cut finger in their lives. They had been four months in the
country, but their life had been a picnic, as the luxury of their
baggage shows. Now in an instant the picnic was ended, and in the
grey cold dawn war was upon them--grim war with the whine of
bullets, the screams of pain, the crash of shell, the horrible
rending and riving of body and limb. In desperate straits, which
would have tried the oldest soldiers, the brave miners did well.
They never from the beginning had a chance save to show how gamely
they could take punishment, but that at least they did. Bullets
were coming from all sides at once and yet no enemy was visible.
They lined one side of the embankment, and they were shot in the
back. They lined the other, and were again shot in the back.
Baird-Douglas, the Colonel, vowed to shoot the man who should raise
the white flag, and he fell dead himself before he saw the hated
emblem. But it had to come. A hundred and forty of the men were
down, many of them suffering from the horrible wounds which shell
inflicts. The place was a shambles. Then the flag went up and the
Boers at last became visible. Outnumbered, outgeneralled, and
without guns, there is no shadow of stain upon the good name of the
one militia regiment which was ever seriously engaged during the
war. Their position was hopeless from the first, and they came out
of it with death, mutilation, and honour.

Two miles south of the Rhenoster kopje stands Roodeval station, in
which, on that June morning, there stood a train containing the
mails for the army, a supply of great-coats, and a truck full of
enormous shells. A number of details of various sorts, a hundred or
more, had alighted from the train, twenty of them Post-office
volunteers, some of the Pioneer Railway corps, a few Shropshires,
and other waifs and strays. To them in the early morning came the
gentleman with the tinted glasses, his hands still red with the
blood of the Derbies. 'I have fourteen hundred men and four guns.
Surrender!' said the messenger. But it is not in nature for a
postman to give up his postbag without a struggle. 'Never!' cried
the valiant postmen. But shell after shell battered the
corrugated-iron buildings about their ears, and it was not possible
for them to answer the guns which were smashing the life out of
them. There was no help for it but to surrender. De Wet added
samples of the British volunteer and of the British regular to his
bag of militia. The station and train were burned down, the
great-coats looted, the big shells exploded, and the mails burned.
The latter was the one unsportsmanlike action which can up to that
date be laid to De Wet's charge. Forty thousand men to the north of
him could forego their coats and their food, but they yearned
greatly for those home letters, charred fragments of which are
still blowing about the veld. [Footnote: Fragments continually met
the eye which must have afforded curious reading for the victors.
'I hope you have killed all those Boers by now,' was the beginning
of one letter which I could not help observing.]

For three days De Wet held the line, and during all that time he
worked his wicked will upon it. For miles and miles it was wrecked
with most scientific completeness. The Rhenoster bridge was
destroyed. So, for the second time, was the Roodeval bridge. The
rails were blown upwards with dynamite until they looked like an
unfinished line to heaven. De Wet's heavy hand was everywhere. Not
a telegraph-post remained standing within ten miles. His
headquarters continued to be the kopje at Roodeval.

On June 10th two British forces were converging upon the point of
danger. One was Methuen's, from Heilbron. The other was a small
force consisting of the Shropshires, the South Wales Borderers, and
a battery which had come south with Lord Kitchener. The energetic
Chief of the Staff was always sent by Lord Roberts to the point
where a strong man was needed, and it was seldom that he failed to
justify his mission. Lord Methuen, however, was the first to
arrive, and at once attacked De Wet, who moved swiftly away to the
eastward. With a tendency to exaggeration, which has been too
common during the war, the affair was described as a victory. It
was really a strategic and almost bloodless move upon the part of
the Boers. It is not the business of guerillas to fight pitched
battles. Methuen pushed for the south, having been informed that
Kroonstad had been captured. Finding this to be untrue, he turned
again to the eastward in search of De Wet.

That wily and indefatigable man was not long out of our ken. On
June 14th he appeared once more at Rhenoster, where the
construction trains, under the famous Girouard, were working
furiously at the repair of the damage which he had already done.
This time the guard was sufficient to beat him off, and he vanished
again to the eastward. He succeeded, however, in doing some harm,
and very nearly captured Lord Kitchener himself. A permanent post
had been established at Rhenoster under the charge of Colonel Spens
of the Shropshires, with his own regiment and several guns.
Smith-Dorrien, one of the youngest and most energetic of the
divisional commanders, had at the same time undertaken the
supervision and patrolling of the line.

An attack had at this period been made by a commando of some
hundred Boers at the Sand River to the south of Kroonstad, where
there is a most important bridge. The attempt was frustrated by the
Royal Lancaster regiment and the Railway Pioneer regiment, helped
by some mounted infantry and Yeomanry. The fight was for a time a
brisk one, and the Pioneers, upon whom the brunt of it fell,
behaved with great steadiness. The skirmish is principally
remarkable for the death of Major Seymour of the Pioneers, a noble
American, who gave his services and at last his life for what, in
the face of all slander and misrepresentation, he knew to be the
cause of justice and of liberty.

It was hoped now, after all these precautions, that the last had
been seen of the gentleman with the tinted glasses, but on June
21st he was back in his old haunts once more. Honing Spruit
Station, about midway between Kroonstad and Roodeval, was the scene
of his new raid. On that date his men appeared suddenly as a train
waited in the station, and ripped up the rails on either side of
it. There were no guns at this point, and the only available troops
were three hundred of the prisoners from Pretoria, armed with
Martini-Henry rifles and obsolete ammunition. A good man was in
command, however--the same Colonel Bullock of the Devons who had
distinguished himself at Colenso--and every tattered, half-starved
wastrel was nerved by a recollection of the humiliations which he
had already endured. For seven hours they lay helpless under the
shell-fire, but their constancy was rewarded by the arrival of
Colonel Brookfield with 300 Yeomanry and four guns of the 17th
R.F.A., followed in the evening by a larger force from the south.
The Boers fled, but left some of their number behind them; while
of the British, Major Hobbs and four men were killed and nineteen
wounded. This defence of three hundred half-armed men against seven
hundred Boer riflemen, with three guns firing shell and shrapnel,
was a very good performance. The same body of burghers immediately
afterwards attacked a post held by Colonel Evans with two companies
of the Shropshires and fifty Canadians. They were again beaten back
with loss, the Canadians under Inglis especially distinguishing
themselves by their desperate resistance in an exposed position.

All these attacks, irritating and destructive as they were, were
not able to hinder the general progress of the war. After the
battle of Diamond Hill the captured position was occupied by the
mounted infantry, while the rest of the forces returned to their
camps round Pretoria, there to await the much-needed remounts. At
other parts of the seat of war the British cordon was being drawn
more tightly round the Boer forces. Buller had come as far as
Standerton, and Ian Hamilton, in the last week of June, had
occupied Heidelberg. A week afterwards the two forces were able to
join hands, and so to completely cut off the Free State from the
Transvaal armies. Hamilton in these operations had the misfortune
to break his collar-bone, and for a time the command of his
division passed to Hunter--the one man, perhaps, whom the army
would regard as an adequate successor.

It was evident now to the British commanders that there would be no
peace and no safety for their communications while an undefeated
army of seven or eight thousand men, under such leaders as De Wet
and Olivier, was lurking amid the hills which flanked their
railroad. A determined effort was made, therefore, to clear up that
corner of the country. Having closed the only line of escape by the
junction of Ian Hamilton and of Buller, the attention of six
separate bodies of troops was concentrated upon the stalwart
Freestaters. These were the divisions of Rundle and of Brabant from
the south, the brigade of Clements on their extreme left, the
garrison of Lindley under Paget, the garrison of Heilbron under
Macdonald, and, most formidable of all, a detachment under Hunter
which was moving from the north. A crisis was evidently

The nearest Free State town of importance still untaken was
Bethlehem--a singular name to connect with the operations of war.
The country on the south of it forbade an advance by Rundle or
Brabant, but it was more accessible from the west. The first
operation of the British consisted, therefore, in massing
sufficient troops to be able to advance from this side. This was
done by effecting a junction between Clements from Senekal, and
Paget who commanded at Lindley, which was carried out upon July 1st
near the latter place. Clements encountered some opposition, but
besides his excellent infantry regiments, the Royal Irish,
Worcesters, Wiltshires, and Bedfords, he had with him the 2nd
Brabant's Horse, with yeomanry, mounted infantry, two 5-inch guns,
and the 38th R.F.A. Aided by a demonstration on the part of
Grenfell and of Brabant, he pushed his way through after three days
of continual skirmish.

On getting into touch with Clements, Paget sallied out from
Lindley, leaving the Buffs behind to garrison the town. He had with
him Brookfield's mounted brigade one thousand strong, eight guns,
and two fine battalions of infantry, the Munster Fusiliers and the
Yorkshire Light Infantry. On July 3rd he found near Leeuw Kop a
considerable force of Boers with three guns opposed to him,
Clements being at that time too far off upon the flank to assist
him. Four guns of the 38th R.F.A. (Major Oldfield) and two
belonging to the City Volunteers came into action. The Royal
Artillery guns appear to have been exposed to a very severe fire,
and the losses were so heavy that for a time they could not be
served. The escort was inadequate, insufficiently advanced, and
badly handled, for the Boer riflemen were able, by creeping up a
donga, to get right into the 38th battery, and the gallant major,
with Lieutenant Belcher, was killed in the defence of the guns.
Captain FitzGerald, the only other officer present, was wounded in
two places, and twenty men were struck down, with nearly all the
horses of one section. Captain Marks, who was brigade-major of
Colonel Brookfield's Yeomanry, with the help of Lieutenant Keevil
Davis and the 15th I.Y. came to the rescue of the disorganised and
almost annihilated section. At the same time the C.I.V. guns were
in imminent danger, but were energetically covered by Captain
Budworth, adjutant of the battery. Soon, however, the infantry,
Munster Fusiliers, and Yorkshire Light Infantry, which had been
carrying out a turning movement, came into action, and the position
was taken. The force moved onwards, and on July 6th they were in
front of Bethlehem.

The place is surrounded by hills, and the enemy was found strongly
posted. Clements's force was now on the left and Paget's on the
right. From both sides an attempt was made to turn the Boer flanks,
but they were found to be very wide and strong. All day a
long-range action was kept up while Clements felt his way in the
hope of coming upon some weak spot in the position, but in the
evening a direct attack was made by Paget's two infantry regiments
upon the right, which gave the British a footing on the Boer
position. The Munster Fusiliers and the Yorkshire Light Infantry
lost forty killed and wounded, including four officers, in this
gallant affair, the heavier loss and the greater honour going to
the men of Munster.

The centre of the position was still held, and on the morning of
July 7th Clements gave instructions to the colonel of the Royal
Irish to storm it if the occasion should seem favourable. Such an
order to such a regiment means that the occasion will seem
favourable. Up they went in three extended lines, dropping forty or
fifty on the way, but arriving breathless and enthusiastic upon the
crest of the ridge. Below them, upon the further side, lay the
village of Bethlehem. On the slopes beyond hundreds of horsemen
were retreating, and a gun was being hurriedly dragged into the
town. For a moment it seemed as if nothing had been left as a
trophy, but suddenly a keen-eyed sergeant raised a cheer, which was
taken up again and again until it resounded over the veld. Under
the crest, lying on its side with a broken wheel, was a gun--one of
the 15-pounders of Stormberg which it was a point of honour to
regain once more. Many a time had the gunners been friends in need
to the infantry. Now it was the turn of the infantry to do
something in exchange. That evening Clements had occupied
Bethlehem, and one more of their towns had passed out of the hands
of the Freestaters.

A word now as to that force under General Hunter which was closing
in from the north. The gallant and energetic Hamilton, lean,
aquiline, and tireless, had, as already stated, broken his
collar-bone at Heidelberg, and it was as his lieutenant that Hunter
was leading these troops out of the Transvaal into the Orange River
Colony. Most of his infantry was left behind at Heidelberg, but he
took with him Broadwood's cavalry (two brigades) and Bruce
Hamilton's 21st infantry brigade, with Ridley's mounted infantry,
some seven thousand men in all. On the 2nd of July this force
reached Frankfort in the north of the Free State without
resistance, and on July 3rd they were joined there by Macdonald's
force from Heilbron, so that Hunter found himself with over eleven
thousand men under his command. Here was an instrument with which
surely the coup de grace could be given to the dying State. Passing
south, still without meeting serious resistance, Hunter occupied
Reitz, and finally sent on Broadwood's cavalry to Bethlehem, where
on July 8th they joined Paget and Clements.

The net was now in position, and about to be drawn tight, but at
this last moment the biggest fish of all dashed furiously out from
it. Leaving the main Free State force in a hopeless position behind
him, De Wet, with fifteen hundred well-mounted men and five guns,
broke through Slabbert's Nek between Bethlehem and Ficksburg, and

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