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The Great Boer War by Arthur Conan Doyle

Part 9 out of 11

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means used by all armies under such circumstances--which is to
place hostages upon the trains. A truckload of Boers behind every
engine would have stopped the practice for ever. Again and again in
this war the British have fought with the gloves when their
opponents used their knuckles.

We will pass now to a consideration of the doings of General Paget,
who was operating to the north and north-east of Pretoria with a
force which consisted of two regiments of infantry, about a
thousand horsemen, and twelve guns. His mounted men were under the
command of Plumer. In the early part of November this force had
been withdrawn from Warm Baths and had fallen back upon Pienaar's
River, where it had continual skirmishes with the enemy. Towards
the end of November, news having reached Pretoria that the enemy
under Erasmus and Viljoen were present in force at a place called
Rhenoster Kop, which is about twenty miles north of the Delagoa
Railway line and fifty miles north-east of the capital, it was
arranged that Paget should attack them from the south, while
Lyttelton from Middelburg should endeavour to get behind them. The
force with which Paget started upon this enterprise was not a very
formidable one. He had for mounted troops some Queensland, South
Australian, New Zealand, and Tasmanian Bushmen, together with the
York, Montgomery, and Warwick Yeomanry. His infantry were the 1st
West Riding regiment and four companies of the Munsters. His guns
were the 7th and 38th batteries, with two naval quick-firing
twelve-pounders and some smaller pieces. The total could not have
exceeded some two thousand men. Here, as at other times, it is
noticeable that in spite of the two hundred thousand soldiers whom
the British kept in the field, the lines of communication absorbed
so many that at the actual point of contact they were seldom
superior and often inferior in numbers to the enemy. The opening of
the Natal and Delagoa lines though valuable in many ways, had been
an additional drain. Where every culvert needs its picket and every
bridge its company, the guardianship of many hundreds of miles of
rail is no light matter.

In the early morning of November 29th Paget's men came in contact
with the enemy, who were in some force upon an admirable position.
A ridge for their centre, a flanking kopje for their cross fire,
and a grass glacis for the approach--it was an ideal Boer
battlefield. The colonials and the yeomanry under Plumer on the
left, and Hickman on the right, pushed in upon them, until it was
evident that they meant to hold their ground. Their advance being
checked by a very severe fire, the horsemen dismounted and took
such cover as they could. Paget's original idea had been a turning
movement, but the Boers were the more numerous body, and it was
impossible for the smaller British force to find their flanks, for
they extended over at least seven miles. The infantry were moved up
into the centre, therefore, between the wings of dismounted
horsemen, and the guns were brought up to cover the advance. The
country was ill-suited, however, to the use of artillery, and it
was only possible to use an indirect fire from under a curve of the
grass land. The guns made good practice, however, one section of
the 38th battery being in action all day within 800 yards of the
Boer line, and putting themselves out of action after 300 rounds by
the destruction of their own rifling. Once over the curve every
yard of the veld was commanded by the hidden riflemen. The infantry
advanced, but could make no headway against the deadly fire which
met them. By short rushes the attack managed to get within 300
yards of the enemy, and there it stuck. On the right the Munsters
carried a detached kopje which was in front of them, but could do
little to aid the main attack. Nothing could have exceeded the
tenacity of the Yorkshiremen and the New Zealanders, who were
immediately to their left. Though unable to advance they refused to
retire, and indeed they were in a position from which a retirement
would have been a serious operation. Colonel Lloyd of the West
Ridings was hit in three places and killed. Five out of six
officers of the New Zealand corps were struck down. There were no
reserves to give a fresh impetus to the attack, and the thin
scattered line, behind bullet-spotted stones or anthills, could but
hold its own while the sun sank slowly upon a day which will not be
forgotten by those who endured it. The Boers were reinforced in the
afternoon, and the pressure became so severe that the field guns
were retired with much difficulty. Many of the infantry had shot
away all their cartridges and were helpless. Just one year before
British soldiers had lain under similar circumstances on the plain
which leads to Modder River, and now on a smaller scale the very
same drama was being enacted. Gradually the violet haze of evening
deepened into darkness, and the incessant rattle of the rifle fire
died away on either side. Again, as at Modder River, the British
infantry still lay in their position, determined to take no
backward step, and again the Boers stole away in the night, leaving
the ridge which they had defended so well. A hundred killed and
wounded was the price paid by the British for that line of rock
studded hills--a heavier proportion of losses than had befallen
Lord Methuen in the corresponding action. Of the Boer losses there
was as usual no means of judging, but several grave-mounds, newly
dug, showed that they also had something to deplore. Their retreat,
however, was not due to exhaustion, but to the demonstration which
Lyttelton had been able to make in their rear. The gunners and the
infantry had all done well in a most trying action, but by common
consent it was with the men from New Zealand that the honours lay.
It was no empty compliment when Sir Alfred Milner telegraphed to
the Premier of New Zealand his congratulations upon the
distinguished behaviour of his fellow countrymen.

From this time onwards there was nothing of importance in this part
of the seat of war.

It is necessary now to turn from the north-east to the north-west
of Pretoria, where the presence of De la Rey and the cover afforded
by the Magaliesberg mountains had kept alive the Boer resistance.
Very rugged lines of hill, alternating with fertile valleys,
afforded a succession of forts and of granaries to the army which
held them. To General Clements' column had been committed the task
of clearing this difficult piece of country. His force fluctuated
in numbers, but does not appear at any time to have consisted of
more than three thousand men, which comprised the Border Regiment,
the Yorkshire Light Infantry, the second Northumberland Fusiliers,
mounted infantry, yeomanry, the 8th R.F.A., P battery R.H.A., and
one heavy gun. With this small army he moved about the district,
breaking up Boer bands, capturing supplies, and bringing in
refugees. On November 13th he was at Krugersdorp, the southern
extremity of his beat. On the 24th he was moving north again, and
found himself as he approached the hills in the presence of a force
of Boers with cannon. This was the redoubtable De la Rey, who
sometimes operated in Methuen's country to the north of the
Magaliesberg, and sometimes to the south. He had now apparently
fixed upon Clements as his definite opponent. De la Rey was
numerically inferior, and Clements had no difficulty in this first
encounter in forcing him back with some loss. On November 26th
Clements was back at Krugersdorp again with cattle and prisoners.
In the early days of December he was moving northwards once more,
where a serious disaster awaited him. Before narrating the
circumstances connected with the Battle of Nooitgedacht there is
one incident which occurred in this same region which should be

This consists of the determined attack made by a party of De la
Rey's men, upon December 3rd, on a convoy which was proceeding from
Pretoria to Rustenburg, and had got as far as Buffel's Hoek. The
convoy was a very large one, consisting of 150 wagons, which
covered about three miles upon the march. It was guarded by two
companies of the West Yorkshires, two guns of the 75th battery, and
a handful of the Victoria Mounted Rifles. The escort appears
entirely inadequate when it is remembered that these stores, which
were of great value, were being taken through a country which was
known to be infested by the enemy. What might have been foreseen
occurred. Five hundred Boers suddenly rode down upon the helpless
line of wagons and took possession of them. The escort rallied,
however, upon a kopje, and, though attacked all day, succeeded in
holding their own until help arrived. They prevented the Boers from
destroying or carrying off as much of the convoy as was under their
guns, but the rest was looted and burned. The incident was a most
unfortunate one, as it supplied the enemy with a large quantity of
stores, of which they were badly in need. It was the more
irritating as it was freely rumoured that a Boer attack was
pending; and there is evidence that a remonstrance was addressed
from the convoy before it left Rietfontein to the General of the
district, pointing out the danger to which it was exposed. The
result was the loss of 120 wagons and of more than half the escort.
The severity of the little action and the hardihood of the defence
are indicated by the fact that the small body who held the kopje
lost fifteen killed and twenty-two wounded, the gunners losing nine
out of fifteen. A relieving force appeared at the close of the
action, but no vigorous pursuit was attempted, although the weather
was wet and the Boers had actually carried away sixty loaded
wagons, which could only go very slowly. It must be confessed that
from its feckless start to its spiritless finish the story of the
Buffel's Hoek convoy is not a pleasant one to tell.

Clements, having made his way once more to the Magaliesberg range,
had pitched his camp at a place called Nooitgedacht--not to be
confused with the post upon the Delagoa Railway at which the
British prisoners had been confined. Here, in the very shadow of
the mountain, he halted for five days, during which, with the usual
insouciance of British commanders, he does not seem to have
troubled himself with any entrenching. He knew, no doubt, that he
was too strong for his opponent De la Rey, but what he did not
know, but might have feared, was that a second Boer force might
appear suddenly upon the scene and join with De la Rey in order to
crush him. This second Boer force was that of Commandant Beyers
from Warm Baths. By a sudden and skilful movement the two united,
and fell like a thunderbolt upon the British column, which was
weakened by the absence of the Border Regiment. The result was such
a reverse as the British had not sustained since Sanna's Post--a
reverse which showed that, though no regular Boer army might exist,
still a sudden coalition of scattered bands could at any time
produce a force which would be dangerous to any British column
which might be taken at a disadvantage. We had thought that the
days of battles in this war were over, but an action which showed a
missing and casualty roll of 550 proved that in this, as in so many
other things, we were mistaken.

As already stated, the camp of Clements lay under a precipitous
cliff, upon the summit of which he had placed four companies of the
2nd Northumberland Fusiliers. This strong post was a thousand feet
higher than the camp. Below lay the main body of the force, two
more companies of fusiliers, four of Yorkshire Light Infantry, the
2nd Mounted Infantry, Kitchener's Horse, yeomanry, and the
artillery. The latter consisted of one heavy naval gun, four guns
of the 8th R.F.A., and P battery R.H.A. The whole force amounted to
about fifteen hundred men.

It was just at the first break of dawn--the hour of fate in South
African warfare--that the battle began. The mounted infantry post
between the camp and the mountains were aware of moving figures in
front of them. In the dim light they could discern that they were
clothed in grey, and that they wore the broad-brimmed hats and
feathers of some of our own irregular corps. They challenged, and
the answer was a shattering volley, instantly returned by the
survivors of the picket. So hot was the Boer attack that before
help could come every man save one of the picket was on the ground.
The sole survivor, Daley of the Dublins, took no backward step, but
continued to steadily load and fire until help came from the
awakened camp. There followed a savage conflict at point
blank-range. The mounted infantry men, rushing half clad to the
support of their comrades, were confronted by an ever-thickening
swarm of Boer riflemen, who had already, by working round on the
flank, established their favourite cross fire. Legge, the leader of
the mounted infantry, a hard little Egyptian veteran, was shot
through the head, and his men lay thick around him. For some
minutes it was as hot a corner as any in the war. But Clements
himself had appeared upon the scene, and his cool gallantry turned
the tide of fight. An extension of the line checked the cross fire,
and gave the British in turn a flanking position. Gradually the
Boer riflemen were pushed back, until at last they broke and fled
for their horses in the rear. A small body were cut off, many of
whom were killed and wounded, while a few were taken prisoners.

This stiff fight of an hour had ended in a complete repulse of the
attack, though at a considerable cost. Both Boers and British had
lost heavily. Nearly all the staff were killed or wounded, though
General Clements had come through untouched. Fifty or sixty of both
sides had fallen. But it was noted as an ominous fact that in spite
of shell fire the Boers still lingered upon the western flank. Were
they coming on again? They showed no signs of it. And yet they
waited in groups, and looked up towards the beetling crags above
them. What were they waiting for? The sudden crash of a murderous
Mauser fire upon the summit, with the rolling volleys of the
British infantry, supplied the answer.

Only now must it have been clear to Clements that he was not
dealing merely with some spasmodic attack from his old enemy De la
Rey, but that this was a largely conceived movement, in which a
force at least double the strength of his own had suddenly been
concentrated upon him. His camp was still menaced by the men whom
he had repulsed, and he could not weaken it by sending
reinforcements up the hill. But the roar of the musketry was rising
louder and louder. It was becoming clearer that there was the main
attack. It was a Majuba Hill action up yonder, a thick swarm of
skirmishers closing in from many sides upon a central band of
soldiers. But the fusiliers were hopelessly outnumbered, and this
rock fighting is that above all others in which the Boer has an
advantage over the regular. A helio on the hill cried for help. The
losses were heavy, it said, and the assailants numerous. The Boers
closed swiftly in upon the flanks, and the fusiliers were no match
for their assailants. Till the very climax the helio still cried
that they were being overpowered, and it is said that even while
working it the soldier in charge was hurled over the cliff by the
onrush of the victorious Boers.

The fight of the mounted infantry men had been at half-past four.
At six the attack upon the hill had developed, and Clements in
response to those frantic flashes of light had sent up a hundred
men of the yeomanry, from the Fife and Devon squadrons, as a
reinforcement. To climb a precipitous thousand feet with rifle,
bandolier, and spurs, is no easy feat, yet that roar of battle
above them heartened them upon their way. But in spite of all their
efforts they were only in time to share the general disaster. The
head of the line of hard-breathing yeomen reached the plateau just
as the Boers, sweeping over the remnants of the Northumberland
Fusiliers, reached the brink of the cliff. One by one the yeomen
darted over the edge, and endeavoured to find some cover in the
face of an infernal point-blank fire. Captain Mudie of the staff,
who went first, was shot down. So was Purvis of the Fifes, who
followed him. The others, springing over their bodies, rushed for a
small trench, and tried to restore the fight. Lieutenant Campbell,
a gallant young fellow, was shot dead as he rallied his men. Of
twenty-seven of the Fifeshires upon the hill six were killed and
eleven wounded. The statistics of the Devons are equally heroic.
Those yeomen who had not yet reached the crest were in a perfectly
impossible position, as the Boers were firing from complete cover
right down upon them. There was no alternative for them but
surrender. By seven o'clock every British soldier upon the hill,
yeoman or fusilier, had been killed, wounded, or taken. It is not
true that the supply of cartridges ran out, and the fusiliers, with
the ill-luck which has pursued the 2nd battalion, were outnumbered
and outfought by better skirmishers than themselves.

Seldom has a General found himself in a more trying position than
Clements, or extricated himself more honourably. Not only had he
lost nearly half his force, but his camp was no longer tenable, and
his whole army was commanded by the fringe of deadly rifles upon
the cliff. From the berg to the camp was from 800 to 1000 yards,
and a sleet of bullets whistled down upon it. How severe was the
fire may be gauged from the fact that the little pet monkey
belonging to the yeomanry--a small enough object--was hit three
times, though he lived to survive as a battle-scarred veteran.
Those wounded in the early action found themselves in a terrible
position, laid out in the open under a withering fire, 'like
helpless Aunt Sallies,' as one of them described it. 'We must get a
red flag up, or we shall be blown off the face of the earth,' says
the same correspondent, a corporal of the Ceylon Mounted Infantry.
'We had a pillow-case, but no red paint. Then we saw what would do
instead, so they made the upright with my blood, and the horizontal
with Paul's.' It is pleasant to add that this grim flag was
respected by the Boers. Bullocks and mules fell in heaps, and it
was evident that the question was not whether the battle could be
restored, but whether the guns could be saved. Leaving a fringe of
yeomen, mounted infantry, and Kitchener's Horse to stave off the
Boers, who were already descending by the same steep kloof up which
the yeomen had climbed, the General bent all his efforts to getting
the big naval gun out of danger. Only six oxen were left out of a
team of forty, and so desperate did the situation appear that twice
dynamite was placed beneath the gun to destroy it. Each time,
however, the General intervened, and at last, under a stimulating
rain of pom-pom shells, the great cannon lurched slowly forward,
quickening its pace as the men pulled on the drag-ropes, and the
six oxen broke into a wheezy canter. Its retreat was covered by the
smaller guns which rained shrapnel upon the crest of the hill, and
upon the Boers who were descending to the camp. Once the big gun
was out of danger, the others limbered up and followed, their rear
still covered by the staunch mounted infantry, with whom rest all
the honours of the battle. Cookson and Brooks with 250 men stood
for hours between Clements and absolute disaster. The camp was
abandoned as it stood, and all the stores, four hundred picketed
horses, and, most serious of all, two wagons of ammunition, fell
into the hands of the victors. To have saved all his guns, however,
after the destruction of half his force by an active enemy far
superior to him in numbers and in mobility, was a feat which goes
far to condone the disaster, and to increase rather than to impair
the confidence which his troops feel in General Clements. Having
retreated for a couple of miles he turned his big gun round upon
the hill, which is called Yeomanry Hill, and opened fire upon the
camp, which was being looted by swarms of Boers. So bold a face did
he present that he was able to remain with his crippled force upon
Yeomanry Hill from about nine until four in the afternoon, and no
attack was pressed home, though he lay under both shell and rifle
fire all day. At four in the afternoon he began his retreat, which
did not cease till he had reached Rietfontein, twenty miles off, at
six o'clock upon the following morning. His weary men had been
working for twenty-six hours, and actually fighting for fourteen,
but the bitterness of defeat was alleviated by the feeling that
every man, from the General downwards, had done all that was
possible, and that there was every prospect of their having a
chance before long of getting their own back.

The British losses at the battle of Nooitgedacht amounted to 60
killed, 180 wounded, and 315 prisoners, all of whom were delivered
up a few days later at Rustenburg. Of the Boer losses it is, as
usual, impossible to speak with confidence, but all the evidence
points to their actual casualties being as heavy as those of the
British. There was the long struggle at the camp in which they were
heavily punished, the fight on the mountain, where they exposed
themselves with unusual recklessness, and the final shelling from
shrapnel and from lyddite. All accounts agree that their attack was
more open than usual. 'They were mowed down in twenties that day,
but it had no effect. They stood like fanatics,' says one who
fought against them. From first to last their conduct was most
gallant, and great credit is due to their leaders for the skilful
sudden concentration by which they threw their whole strength upon
the exposed force. Some eighty miles separate Warm Baths from
Nooitgedacht, and it seems strange that our Intelligence Department
should have remained in ignorance of so large a movement.

General Broadwood's 2nd Cavalry Brigade had been stationed to the
north of Magaliesberg, some twelve miles westward of Clements, and
formed the next link in the long chain of British forces. Broadwood
does not appear, however, to have appreciated the importance of the
engagement, and made no energetic movement to take part in it. If
Colvile is open to the charge of having been slow to 'march upon
the cannon' at Sanna's Post, it might be urged that Broadwood in
turn showed some want of energy and judgment upon this occasion. On
the morning of the 13th his force could hear the heavy firing to
the eastward, and could even see the shells bursting on the top of
the Magaliesberg. It was but ten or twelve miles distant, and, as
his Elswick guns have a range of nearly five, a very small advance
would have enabled him to make a demonstration against the flank of
the Boers, and so to relieve the pressure upon Clements. It is true
that his force was not large, but it was exceptionally mobile.
Whatever the reasons, no effective advance was made by Broadwood.
On hearing the result he fell back upon Rustenburg, the nearest
British post, his small force being dangerously isolated.

Those who expected that General Clements would get his own back had
not long to wait. In a few days he was in the field again. The
remains of his former force had, however, been sent into Pretoria
to refit, and nothing remained of it save the 8th R.F.A. and the
indomitable cow-gun still pocked with the bullets of Nooitgedacht.
He had also F battery R.H.A., the Inniskillings, the Border
regiment, and a force of mounted infantry under Alderson. More
important than all, however, was the co-operation of General
French, who came out from Pretoria to assist in the operations. On
the 19th, only six days after his defeat, Clements found himself on
the very same spot fighting some at least of the very same men.
This time, however, there was no element of surprise, and the
British were able to approach the task with deliberation and
method. The result was that both upon the 19th and 20th the Boers
were shelled out of successive positions with considerable loss,
and driven altogether away from that part of the Magaliesberg.
Shortly afterwards General Clements was recalled to Pretoria, to
take over the command of the 7th Division, General Tucker having
been appointed to the military command of Bloemfontein in the place
of the gallant Hunter, who, to the regret of the whole army, was
invalided home. General Cunningham henceforward commanded the
column which Clements had led back to the Magaliesberg.

Upon November 13th the first of a series of attacks was made upon
the posts along the Delagoa Railway line. These were the work of
Viljoen's commando, who, moving swiftly from the north, threw
themselves upon the small garrisons of Balmoral and of Wilge River,
stations which are about six miles apart. At the former was a
detachment of the Buffs, and at the latter of the Royal Fusiliers.
The attack was well delivered, but in each instance was beaten back
with heavy loss to the assailants. A picket of the Buffs was
captured at the first rush, and the detachment lost six killed and
nine wounded. No impression was made upon the position, however,
and the double attack seems to have cost the Boers a large number
of casualties.

Another incident calling for some mention was the determined attack
made by the Boers upon the town of Vryheid, in the extreme
south-east of the Transvaal near the Natal border. Throughout
November this district had been much disturbed, and the small
British garrison had evacuated the town and taken up a position on
the adjacent hills. Upon December 11th the Boers attempted to carry
the trenches. The garrison of the town appears to have consisted of
the 2nd Royal Lancaster regiment, some five hundred strong, a party
of the Lancashire Fusiliers, 150 strong, and fifty men of the Royal
Garrison Artillery, with a small body of mounted infantry. They
held a hill about half a mile north of the town, and commanding it.
The attack, which was a surprise in the middle of the night, broke
upon the pickets of the British, who held their own in a way which
may have been injudicious but was certainly heroic. Instead of
falling back when seriously attacked, the young officers in charge
of these outposts refused to move, and were speedily under such a
fire that it was impossible to reinforce them. There were four
outposts, under Woodgate, Theobald, Lippert, and Mangles. The
attack at 2.15 on a cold dark morning began at the post held by
Woodgate, the Boers coming hand-to-hand before they were detected.
Woodgate, who was unarmed at the instant, seized a hammer, and
rushed at the nearest Boer, but was struck by two bullets and
killed. His post was dispersed or taken. Theobald and Lippert,
warned by the firing, held on behind their sangars, and were ready
for the storm which burst over them. Lippert was unhappily killed,
and his ten men all hit or taken, but young Theobald held his own
under a heavy fire for twelve hours. Mangles also, the gallant son
of a gallant father, held his post all day with the utmost
tenacity. The troops in the trenches behind were never seriously
pressed, thanks to the desperate resistance of the outposts, but
Colonel Gawne of the Lancasters was unfortunately killed. Towards
evening the Boers abandoned the attack, leaving fourteen of their
number dead upon the ground, from which it may be guessed that
their total casualties were not less than a hundred. The British
losses were three officers and five men killed, twenty-two men
wounded, and thirty men with one officer missing--the latter being
the survivors of those outposts which were overwhelmed by the Boer

A few incidents stand out among the daily bulletins of snipings,
skirmishes, and endless marchings which make the dull chronicle of
these, the last months of the year 1900. These must be enumerated
without any attempt at connecting them. The first is the
long-drawn-out siege or investment of Schweizer-Renecke. This small
village stands upon the Harts River, on the western border of the
Transvaal. It is not easy to understand why the one party should
desire to hold, or the other to attack, a position so
insignificant. From August 19th onwards it was defended by a
garrison of 250 men, under the very capable command of Colonel
Chamier, who handled a small business in a way which marks him as a
leader. The Boer force, which varied in numbers from five hundred
to a thousand, never ventured to push home an attack, for Chamier,
fresh from the experience of Kimberley, had taken such precautions
that his defences were formidable, if not impregnable. Late in
September a relieving force under Colonel Settle threw fresh
supplies into the town, but when he passed on upon his endless
march the enemy closed in once more, and the siege was renewed. It
lasted for several months, until a column withdrew the garrison and
abandoned the position.

Of all the British detachments, the two which worked hardest and
marched furthest during this period of the war was the 21st Brigade
(Derbysbires, Sussex, and Camerons) under General Bruce Hamilton,
and the column under Settle, which operated down the western border
of the Orange River Colony, and worked round and round with such
pertinacity that it was familiarly known as Settle's Imperial
Circus. Much hard and disagreeable work, far more repugnant to the
soldier than the actual dangers of war, fell to the lot of Bruce
Hamilton and his men. With Kroonstad as their centre they were
continually working through the dangerous Lindley and Heilbron
districts, returning to the railway line only to start again
immediately upon a fresh quest. It was work for mounted police, not
for infantry soldiers, but what they were given to do they did to
the best of their ability. Settle's men had a similar thankless
task. From the neighbourhood of Kimberley he marched in November
with his small column down the border of the Orange River Colony,
capturing supplies and bringing in refugees. He fought one brisk
action with Hertzog's commando at Kloof, and then, making his way
across the colony, struck the railway line again at Edenburg on
December 7th, with a train of prisoners and cattle.

Rundle also had put in much hard work in his efforts to control the
difficult district in the north-east of the Colony which had been
committed to his care. He traversed in November from north to south
the same country which he had already so painfully traversed from
south to north. With occasional small actions he moved about from
Vrede to Reitz, and so to Bethlehem and Harrismith. On him, as on
all other commanders, the vicious system of placing small garrisons
in the various towns imposed a constant responsibility lest they
should be starved or overwhelmed.

The year and the century ended by a small reverse to the British
arms in the Transvaal. This consisted in the capture of a post at
Helvetia defended by a detachment of the Liverpool Regiment and by
a 4.7 gun. Lydenburg, being seventy miles off the railway line, had
a chain of posts connecting it with the junction at Machadodorp.
These posts were seven in number, ten miles apart, each defended by
250 men. Of these Helvetia was the second. The key of the position
was a strongly fortified hill about three-quarters of a mile from
the headquarter camp, and commanding it. This post was held by
Captain Kirke with forty garrison artillery to work the big gun,
and seventy Liverpool infantry. In spite of the barbed-wire
entanglements, the Boers most gallantly rushed this position, and
their advance was so rapid, or the garrison so slow, that the place
was carried with hardly a shot fired. Major Cotton, who commanded
the main lines, found himself deprived in an instant of nearly half
his force and fiercely attacked by a victorious and exultant enemy.
His position was much too extended for the small force at his
disposal, and the line of trenches was pierced and enfiladed at
many points. It must be acknowledged that the defences were badly
devised--little barbed wire, frail walls, large loopholes, and the
outposts so near the trenches that the assailants could reach them
as quickly as the supports. With the dawn Cotton's position was
serious, if not desperate. He was not only surrounded, but was
commanded from Gun Hill. Perhaps it would have been wiser if, after
being wounded, he had handed over the command to Jones, his junior
officer. A stricken man's judgement can never be so sound as that
of the hale. However that may be, he came to the conclusion that
the position was untenable, and that it was best to prevent further
loss of life. Fifty of the Liverpools were killed and wounded, 200
taken. No ammunition of the gun was captured, but the Boers were
able to get safely away with this humiliating evidence of their
victory. One post, under Captain Wilkinson with forty men, held out
with success, and harassed the enemy in their retreat. As at
Dewetsdorp and at Nooitgedacht. the Boers were unable to retain
their prisoners, so that the substantial fruits of their enterprise
were small, but it forms none the less one more of those incidents
which may cause us to respect our enemy and to be critical towards
ourselves. [Footnote: Considering that Major Stapelton Cotton was
himself wounded in three places during the action (one of these
wounds being in the head), he has had hard measure in being
deprived of his commission by a court-martial which sat eight
months after the event. It is to be earnestly hoped that there may
be some revision of this severe sentence.]

In the last few months of the year some of those corps which had
served their time or which were needed elsewhere were allowed to
leave the seat of war. By the middle of November the three
different corps of the City Imperial Volunteers, the two Canadian
contingents, Lumsden's Horse, the Composite Regiment of Guards, six
hundred Australians, A battery R.H.A., and the volunteer companies
of the regular regiments, were all homeward bound. This loss of
several thousand veteran troops before the war was over was to be
deplored, and though unavoidable in the case of volunteer
contingents, it is difficult to explain where regular troops are
concerned. Early in the new year the Government was compelled to
send out strong reinforcements to take their place.

Early in December Lord Roberts also left the country, to take over
the duties of Commander-in-Chief. High as his reputation stood
when, in January, he landed at Cape Town, it is safe to say that it
had been immensely enhanced when, ten months later, he saw from the
quarter-deck of the 'Canada' the Table Mountain growing dimmer in
the distance. He found a series of disconnected operations, in
which we were uniformly worsted. He speedily converted them into a
series of connected operations in which we were almost uniformly
successful. Proceeding to the front at the beginning of February,
within a fortnight he had relieved Kimberley, within a month he had
destroyed Cronje's force, and within six weeks he was in
Bloemfontein. Then, after a six weeks' halt which could not
possibly have been shortened, he made another of his tiger leaps,
and within a month had occupied Johannesburg and Pretoria. From
that moment the issue of the campaign was finally settled, and
though a third leap was needed, which carried him to Komatipoort,
and though brave and obstinate men might still struggle against
their destiny, he had done what was essential, and the rest,
however difficult, was only the detail of the campaign. A kindly
gentleman, as well as a great soldier, his nature revolted from all
harshness, and a worse man might have been a better leader in the
last hopeless phases of the war. He remembered, no doubt, how Grant
had given Lee's army their horses, but Lee at the time had been
thoroughly beaten, and his men had laid down their arms. A similar
boon to the partially conquered Boers led to very different
results, and the prolongation of the war is largely due to this act
of clemency. At the same time political and military considerations
were opposed to each other upon the point, and his moral position
in the use of harsher measures is the stronger since a policy of
conciliation had been tried and failed. Lord Roberts returned to
London with the respect and love of his soldiers and of his
fellow-countrymen. A passage from his farewell address to his
troops may show the qualities which endeared him to them.

'The service which the South African Force has performed is, I
venture to think, unique in the annals of war, inasmuch as it has
been absolutely almost incessant for a whole year, in some cases
for more than a year. There has been no rest, no days off to
recruit, no going into winter quarters, as in other campaigns which
have extended over a long period. For months together, in fierce
heat, in biting cold, in pouring rain, you, my comrades, have
marched and fought without halt, and bivouacked without shelter
from the elements. You frequently have had to continue marching
with your clothes in rags and your boots without soles, time being
of such consequence that it was impossible for you to remain long
enough in one place to refit. When not engaged in actual battle you
have been continually shot at from behind kopjes by invisible
enemies to whom every inch of the country was familiar, and who,
from the peculiar nature of the country, were able to inflict
severe punishment while perfectly safe themselves. You have forced
your way through dense jungles, over precipitous mountains, through
and over which with infinite manual labour you have had to drag
heavy guns and ox-wagons. You have covered with almost incredible
speed enormous distances, and that often on very short supplies of
food. You have endured the sufferings inevitable in war to sick and
wounded men far from the base, without a murmur and even with

The words reflect honour both upon the troops addressed and upon
the man who addressed them. From the middle of December 1900 Lord
Kitchener took over the control of the campaign.



(DECEMBER 1900 TO APRIL 1901.)

During the whole war the task of the British had been made very
much more difficult by the openly expressed sympathy with the Boers
from the political association known as the Afrikander Bond, which
either inspired or represented the views which prevailed among the
great majority of the Dutch inhabitants of Cape Colony. How strong
was this rebel impulse may be gauged by the fact that in some of
the border districts no less than ninety per cent of the voters
joined the Boer invaders upon the occasion of their first entrance
into the Colony. It is not pretended that these men suffered from
any political grievances whatever, and their action is to be
ascribed partly to a natural sympathy with their northern kinsmen,
and partly to racial ambition and to personal dislike to their
British neighbours. The liberal British policy towards the natives
had especially alienated the Dutch, and had made as well-marked a
line of cleavage in South Africa as the slave question had done in
the States of the Union.

With the turn of the war the discontent in Cape Colony became less
obtrusive, if not less acute, but in the later months of the year
1900 it increased to a degree which became dangerous. The fact of
the farm-burning in the conquered countries, and the fiction of
outrages by the British troops, raised a storm of indignation. The
annexation of the Republics, meaning the final disappearance of any
Dutch flag from South Africa, was a racial humiliation which was
bitterly resented. The Dutch papers became very violent, and the
farmers much excited. The agitation culminated in a conference at
Worcester upon December 6th, at which some thousands of delegates
were present. It is suggestive of the Imperial nature of the
struggle that the assembly of Dutch Afrikanders was carried out
under the muzzles of Canadian artillery, and closely watched by
Australian cavalry. Had violent words transformed themselves into
deeds, all was ready for the crisis.

Fortunately the good sense of the assembly prevailed, and the
agitation, though bitter, remained within those wide limits which a
British constitution permits. Three resolutions were passed, one
asking that the war be ended, a second that the independence of the
Republics be restored, and a third protesting against the actions
of Sir Alfred Milner. A deputation which carried these to the
Governor received a courteous but an uncompromising reply. Sir
Alfred Milner pointed out that the Home Government, all the great
Colonies, and half the Cape were unanimous in their policy, and
that it was folly to imagine that it could be reversed on account
of a local agitation. All were agreed in the desire to end the war,
but the last way of bringing this about was by encouraging
desperate men to go on fighting in a hopeless cause. Such was the
general nature of the Governor's reply, which was, as might be
expected, entirely endorsed by the British Government and people.

Had De Wet, in the operations which have already been described,
evaded Charles Knox and crossed the Orange River, his entrance into
the Colony would have been synchronous with the congress at
Worcester, and the situation would have become more acute. This
peril was fortunately averted. The agitation in the Colony
suggested to the Boer leaders, however, that here was an untouched
recruiting ground, and that small mobile invading parties might
gather strength and become formidable. It was obvious, also, that
by enlarging the field of operations the difficulties of the
British Commander-in-chief would be very much increased, and the
pressure upon the Boer guerillas in the Republics relaxed.
Therefore, in spite of De Wet's failure to penetrate the Colony,
several smaller bands under less-known leaders were despatched over
the Orange River. With the help of the information and the supplies
furnished by the local farmers, these bands wandered for many
months over the great expanse of the Colony, taking refuge, when
hard pressed, among the mountain ranges. They moved swiftly about,
obtaining remounts from their friends, and avoiding everything in
the nature of an action, save when the odds were overwhelmingly in
their favour. Numerous small posts or patrols cut off, many
skirmishes, and one or two railway smashes were the fruits of this
invasion, which lasted till the end of the war, and kept the Colony
in an extreme state of unrest during that period. A short account
must be given here of the movement and exploits of these hostile
bands, avoiding, as far as possible, that catalogue of obscure
'fonteins' and 'kops' which mark their progress.

The invasion was conducted by two main bodies, which shed off
numerous small raiding parties. Of these two, one operated on the
western side of the Colony, reaching the sea-coast in the
Clanwilliam district, and attaining a point which is less than a
hundred miles from Cape Town. The other penetrated even more deeply
down the centre of the Colony, reaching almost to the sea in the
Mossel Bay direction. Yet the incursion, although so far-reaching,
had small effect, since the invaders held nothing save the ground
on which they stood, and won their way, not by victory, but by the
avoidance of danger. Some recruits were won to their cause, but
they do not seem at that time to have been more than a few hundreds
in number, and to have been drawn for the most part from the
classes of the community which had least to lose and least to

The Western Boers were commanded by Judge Hertzog of the Free
State, having with him Brand, the son of the former president, and
about twelve hundred well-mounted men. Crossing the Orange River at
Sand Drift, north of Colesberg, upon December 16th, they paused at
Kameelfontein to gather up a small post of thirty yeomen and
guardsmen under Lieutenant Fletcher, the wellknown oar. Meeting
with a stout resistance, and learning that British forces were
already converging upon them, they abandoned the attack, and
turning away from Colesberg they headed west, cutting the railway
line twenty miles to the north of De Aar. On the 22nd they occupied
Britstown, which is eighty miles inside the border, and on the same
day they captured a small body of yeomanry who had been following
them. These prisoners were released again some days later. Taking a
sweep round towards Prieska and Strydenburg, they pushed south
again. At the end of the year Hertzog's column was 150 miles deep
in the Colony, sweeping through the barren and thinly-inhabited
western lands, heading apparently for Fraserburg and Beaufort West.

The second column was commanded by Kritzinger, a burgher of
Zastron, in the Orange River Colony. His force was about 800
strong. Crossing the border at Rhenoster Hoek upon December 16th,
they pushed for Burghersdorp, but were headed off by a British
column. Passing through Venterstad, they made for Steynsberg,
fighting two indecisive skirmishes with small British forces. The
end of the year saw them crossing the rail road at Sherburne, north
of Rosmead Junction, where they captured a train as they passed,
containing some Colonial troops. At this time they were a hundred
miles inside the Colony, and nearly three hundred from Hertzog's
western column.

In the meantime Lord Kitchener, who had descended for a few days to
De Aar, had shown great energy in organising small mobile columns
which should follow and, if possible, destroy the invaders. Martial
law was proclaimed in the parts of the Colony affected, and as the
invaders came further south the utmost enthusiasm was shown by the
loyalists, who formed themselves everywhere into town guards. The
existing Colonial regiments, such as Brabant's, the Imperial and
South African Light Horse--Thorneycroft's, Rimington's, and the
others--had already been brought up to strength again, and now two
new regiments were added, Kitchener's Bodyguard and Kitchener's
Fighting Scouts, the latter being raised by Johann Colenbrander,
who had made a name for himself in the Rhodesian wars. At this
period of the war between twenty and thirty thousand Cape colonists
were under arms. Many of these were untrained levies, but they
possessed the martial spirit of the race, and they set free more
seasoned troops for other duties.

It will be most convenient and least obscure to follow the
movements of the western force (Hertzog's), and afterwards to
consider those of the eastern (Kritzinger's). The opening of the
year saw the mobile column of Free Staters 150 miles over the
border, pushing swiftly south over the barren surface of the Karoo.
It is a country of scattered farms and scanty population; desolate
plains curving upwards until they rise into still more desolate
mountain ranges. Moving in a very loose formation over a wide
front, the Boers swept southwards. On or about January 4th they
took possession of the small town of Calvinia, which remained their
headquarters for more than a month. From this point their roving
bands made their way as far as the seacoast in the Clanwilliam
direction, for they expected at Lambert's Bay to meet with a vessel
with mercenaries and guns from Europe. They pushed their outposts
also as far as Sutherland and Beaufort West in the south. On
January 15th strange horsemen were seen hovering about the line at
Touws River, and the citizens of Cape Town learned with amazement
that the war had been carried to within a hundred miles of their
own doors.

Whilst the Boers were making this daring raid a force consisting of
several mobile columns was being organised by General Settle to
arrest and finally to repel the western invasion. The larger body
was under the command of Colonel De Lisle, an officer who brought
to the operations of war the same energy and thoroughness with
which he had made the polo team of an infantry regiment the
champions of the whole British Army. His troops consisted of the
6th Mounted Infantry, the New South Wales Mounted Infantry, the
Irish Yeomanry, a section of R battery R.H.A., and a pom-pom. With
this small but mobile and hardy force he threw himself in front of
Hertzog's line of advance. On January 13th he occupied Piquetburg,
eighty miles south of the Boer headquarters. On the 23rd he was at
Clanwilliam, fifty miles south-west of them. To his right were
three other small British columns under Bethune, Thorneycroft, and
Henniker, the latter resting upon the railway at Matjesfontein, and
the whole line extending over 120 miles--barring the southern path
to the invaders.

Though Hertzog at Calvinia and De Lisle at Clanwilliam were only
fifty miles apart, the intervening country is among the most broken
and mountainous in South Africa. Between the two points, and nearer
to De Lisle than to Hertzog, flows the Doorn River. The Boers
advancing from Calvinia came into touch with the British scouts at
this point, and drove them in upon January 21st. On the 28th De
Lisle, having been reinforced by Bethune's column, was able at last
to take the initiative. Bethune's force consisted mainly of
Colonials, and included Kitchener's Fighting Scouts, the Cape
Mounted Police, Cape Mounted Rifles, Brabant's Horse, and the
Diamond Field Horse. At the end of January the united forces of
Bethune and of De Lisle advanced upon Calvinia. The difficulties
lay rather in the impassable country than in the resistance of an
enemy who was determined to refuse battle. On February 6th, after a
fine march, De Lisle and his men took possession of Calvinia, which
had been abandoned by the Boers. It is painful to add that during
the month that they had held the town they appear to have behaved
with great harshness, especially to the kaffirs. The flogging and
shooting of a coloured man named Esan forms one more incident in
the dark story of the Boer and his relations to the native.

The British were now sweeping north on a very extended front.
Colenbrander had occupied Van Rhyns Dorp, to the east of Calvinia,
while Bethune's force was operating to the west of it. De Lisle
hardly halted at Calvinia, but pushed onwards to Williston,
covering seventy-two miles of broken country in forty-eight hours,
one of the most amazing performances of the war. Quick as he was,
the Boers were quicker still, and during his northward march he
does not appear to have actually come into contact with them. Their
line of retreat lay through Carnarvon, and upon February 22nd they
crossed the railway line to the north of De Aar, and joined upon
February 26th the new invading force under De Wet, who had now
crossed the Orange River. De Lisle, who had passed over five
hundred miles of barren country since he advanced from Piquetburg,
made for the railway at Victoria West, and was despatched from that
place on February 22nd to the scene of action in the north. From
all parts Boer and Briton were concentrating in their effort to aid
or to repel the inroad of the famous guerilla.

Before describing this attempt it would be well to trace the
progress of the eastern invasion (Kritzinger's), a movement which
may be treated rapidly, since it led to no particular military
result at that time, though it lasted long after Hertzog's force
had been finally dissipated. Several small columns, those of
Williams, Byng, Grenfell, and Lowe, all under the direction of
Haig, were organised to drive back these commandos; but so nimble
were the invaders, so vast the distances and so broken the country,
that it was seldom that the forces came into contact. The
operations were conducted over a portion of the Colony which is
strongly Dutch in sympathy, and the enemy, though they do not
appear to have obtained any large number of recruits, were able to
gather stores, horses, and information wherever they went.

When last mentioned Kritzinger's men had crossed the railway north
of Rosmead on December 30th, and held up a train containing some
Colonial troops. From then onwards a part of them remained in the
Middelburg and Graaf-Reinet districts, while part moved towards the
south. On January 11th there was a sharp skirmish near Murraysburg,
in which Byng's column was engaged, at the cost of twenty
casualties, all of Brabant's or the South African Light Horse. On
the 16th a very rapid movement towards the south began. On that
date Boers appeared at Aberdeen, and on the 18th at Willowmore,
having covered seventy miles in two days. Their long, thin line was
shredded out over 150 miles, and from Maraisburg, in the north, to
Uniondale, which is only thirty miles from the coast, there was
rumour of their presence. In this wild district and in that of
Oudtshoorn the Boer vanguard flitted in and out of the hills,
Haig's column striving hard to bring them to an action. So
well-informed were the invaders that they were always able to avoid
the British concentrations, while if a British outpost or patrol
was left exposed it was fortunate if it escaped disaster. On
February 6th a small body of twenty-five of the 7th King's Dragoon
Guards and of the West Australians, under Captain Oliver, were
overwhelmed at Klipplaat, after a very fine defence, in which they
held their own against 200 Boers for eight hours, and lost nearly
fifty per cent of their number. On the 12th a patrol of yeomanry
was surprised and taken near Willowmore.

The coming of De Wet had evidently been the signal for all the Boer
raiders to concentrate, for in the second week of February
Kritzinger also began to fall back, as Hertzog had done in the
west, followed closely by the British columns. He did not, however,
actually join De Wet, and his evacuation of the country was never
complete, as was the case with Hertzog's force. On the 19th
Kritzinger was at Bethesda, with Gorringe and Lowe at his heels. On
the 23rd an important railway bridge at Fish River, north of
Cradock, was attacked, but the attempt was foiled by the resistance
of a handful of Cape Police and Lancasters. On March 6th a party of
Boers occupied the village of Pearston, capturing a few rifles and
some ammunition. On the same date there was a skirmish between
Colonel Parsons's column and a party of the enemy to the north of
Aberdeen. The main body of the invading force appears to have been
lurking in this neighbourhood, as they were able upon April 7th to
cut off a strong British patrol, consisting of a hundred Lancers
and Yeomanry, seventy-five of whom remained as temporary prisoners
in the hands of the enemy. With this success we may for the time
leave Kritzinger and his lieutenant, Scheepers, who commanded that
portion of his force which had penetrated to the south of the

The two invasions which have been here described, that of Hertzog
in the west and of Kritzinger in the midlands, would appear in
themselves to be unimportant military operations, since they were
carried out by small bodies of men whose policy was rather to avoid
than to overcome resistance. Their importance, however, is due to
the fact that they were really the forerunners of a more important
incursion upon the part of De Wet. The object of these two bands of
raiders was to spy out the land, so that on the arrival of the main
body all might be ready for that general rising of their kinsmen in
the Colony which was the last chance, not of winning, but of
prolonging the war. It must be confessed that, however much their
reason might approve of the Government under which they lived, the
sentiment of the Cape Dutch had been cruelly, though unavoidably,
hurt in the course of the war. The appearance of so popular a
leader as De Wet with a few thousand veterans in the very heart of
their country might have stretched their patience to the
breaking-point. Inflamed, as they were, by that racial hatred which
had always smouldered, and had now been fanned into a blaze by the
speeches of their leaders and by the fictions of their newspapers,
they were ripe for mischief, while they had before their eyes an
object-lesson of the impotence of our military system in those
small bands who had kept the country in a ferment for so long. All
was propitious, therefore, for the attempt which Steyn and De Wet
were about to make to carry the war into the enemy's country.

We last saw De Wet when, after a long chase, he had been headed
back from the Orange River, and, winning clear from Knox's pursuit,
had in the third week of December passed successfully through the
British cordon between Thabanchu and Ladybrand. Thence he made his
way to Senekal, and proceeded, in spite of the shaking which he had
had, to recruit and recuperate in the amazing way which a Boer army
has. There is no force so easy to drive and so difficult to
destroy. The British columns still kept in touch with De Wet, but
found it impossible to bring him to an action in the difficult
district to which he had withdrawn. His force had split up into
numerous smaller bodies, capable of reuniting at a signal from
their leader. These scattered bodies, mobile as ever, vanished if
seriously attacked, while keenly on the alert to pounce upon any
British force which might be overpowered before assistance could
arrive. Such an opportunity came to the commando led by Philip
Botha, and the result was another petty reverse to the British

Upon January 3rd Colonel White's small column was pushing north, in
co-operation with those of Knox, Pilcher, and the others. Upon that
date it had reached a point just north of Lindley, a district which
has never been a fortunate one for the invaders. A patrol of
Kitchener' s newly raised bodyguard, under Colonel Laing, 120
strong, was sent forward to reconnoitre upon the road from Lindley
to Reitz.

The scouting appears to have been negligently done, there being
only two men out upon each flank. The little force walked into one
of those horse-shoe positions which the Boers love, and learned by
a sudden volley from a kraal upon their right that the enemy was
present in strength. On attempting to withdraw it was instantly
evident that the Boers were on all sides and in the rear with a
force which numbered at least five to one. The camp of the main
column was only four miles away, however, and the bodyguard, having
sent messages of their precarious position, did all they could to
make a defence until help could reach them. Colonel Laing had
fallen, shot through the heart, but found a gallant successor in
young Nairne, the adjutant. Part of the force had thrown
themselves, under Nairne and Milne, into a donga, which gave some
shelter from the sleet of bullets. The others, under Captain
Butters, held on to a ruined kraal. The Boers pushed the attack
very rapidly, however, and were soon able with their superior
numbers to send a raking fire down the donga, which made it a
perfect death-trap. Still hoping that the laggard reinforcements
would come up, the survivors held desperately on; but both in the
kraal and in the donga their numbers were from minute to minute
diminishing. There was no formal surrender and no white flag, for,
when fifty per cent of the British were down, the Boers closed in
swiftly and rushed the position. Philip Botha, the brother of the
commandant, who led the Boers, behaved with courtesy and humanity
to the survivors; but many of the wounds were inflicted with those
horrible explosive and expansive missiles, the use of which among
civilised combatants should now and always be a capital offence. To
disable one's adversary is a painful necessity of warfare, but
nothing can excuse the wilful mutilation and torture which is
inflicted by these brutal devices.

'How many of you are there?' asked Botha. 'A hundred,' said an
officer. 'It is not true. There are one hundred and twenty. I
counted you as you came along.' The answer of the Boer leader shows
how carefully the small force had been nursed until it was in an
impossible position. The margin was a narrow one, however, for
within fifteen minutes of the disaster White's guns were at work.
There may be some question as to whether the rescuing force could
have come sooner, but there can be none as to the resistance of the
bodyguard. They held out to the last cartridge. Colonel Laing and
three officers with sixteen men were killed, four officers and
twenty-two men were wounded. The high proportion of fatal
casualties can only be explained by the deadly character of the
Boer bullets. Hardly a single horse of the bodyguard was left
unwounded, and the profit to the victors, since they were unable to
carry away their prisoners, lay entirely in the captured rifles. It
is worthy of record that the British wounded were despatched to
Heilbron without guard through the Boer forces. That they arrived
there unmolested is due to the forbearance of the enemy and to the
tact and energy of Surgeon-Captain Porter, who commanded the

Encouraged by this small success, and stimulated by the news that
Hertzog and Kritzinger had succeeded in penetrating the Colony
without disaster, De Wet now prepared to follow them. British
scouts to the north of Kroonstad reported horsemen riding south and
east, sometimes alone, sometimes in small parties. They were
recruits going to swell the forces of De Wet. On January 23rd five
hundred men crossed the line, journeying in the same direction.
Before the end of the month, having gathered together about 2500
men with fresh horses at the Doornberg, twenty miles north of
Winburg, the Boer leader was ready for one of his lightning treks
once more. On January 28th he broke south through the British net,
which appears to have had more meshes than cord. Passing the
Bloemfontein-Ladybrand line at Israel Poort he swept southwards,
with British columns still wearily trailing behind him, like honest
bulldogs panting after a greyhound.

Before following him upon this new venture it is necessary to say a
few words about that peace movement in the Boer States to which
some allusion has already been made. On December 20th Lord
Kitchener had issued a proclamation which was intended to have the
effect of affording protection to those burghers who desired to
cease fighting, but who were unable to do so without incurring the
enmity of their irreconcilable brethren. 'It is hereby notified,'
said the document, 'to all burghers that if after this date they
voluntarily surrender they will be allowed to live with their
families in Government laagers until such time as the guerilla
warfare now being carried on will admit of their returning safely
to their homes. All stock and property brought in at the time of
the surrender of such burghers will be respected and paid for if
requisitioned.' This wise and liberal offer was sedulously
concealed from their men by the leaders of the fighting commandos,
but was largely taken advantage of by those Boers to whom it was
conveyed. Boer refugee camps were formed at Pretoria, Johannesburg,
Kroonstad, Bloemfontein, Warrenton; and other points, to which by
degrees the whole civil population came to be transferred. It was
the reconcentrado system of Cuba over again, with the essential
difference that the guests of the British Government were well fed
and well treated during their detention. Within a few months the
camps had 50,000 inmates.

It was natural that some of these people, having experienced the
amenity of British rule, and being convinced of the hopelessness of
the struggle, should desire to convey their feelings to their
friends and relations in the field. Both in the Transvaal and in
the Orange River Colony Peace Committees were formed, which
endeavoured to persuade their countrymen to bow to the inevitable.
A remarkable letter was published from Piet de Wet, a man who had
fought bravely for the Boer cause, to his brother, the famous
general. 'Which is better for the Republics,' he asked, 'to
continue the struggle and run the risk of total ruin as a nation,
or to submit? Could we for a moment think of taking back the
country if it were offered to us, with thousands of people to be
supported by a Government which has not a farthing?. . .Put
passionate feeling aside for a moment and use common-sense, and you
will then agree with me that the best thing for the people and the
country is to give in, to be loyal to the new government, and to
get responsible government. . .Should the war continue a few months
longer the nation will become so poor that they will be the working
class in the country, and disappear as a nation in the future. . .
The British are convinced that they have conquered the land and its
people, and consider the matter ended, and they only try to treat
magnanimously those who are continuing the struggle in order to
prevent unnecessary bloodshed.'

Such were the sentiments of those of the burghers who were in
favour of peace. Their eyes had been opened and their bitterness
was transferred from the British Government to those individual
Britons who, partly from idealism and partly from party passion,
had encouraged them to their undoing. But their attempt to convey
their feelings to their countrymen in the field ended in tragedy.
Two of their number, Morgendaal and Wessels, who had journeyed to
De Wet's camp, were condemned to death by order of that leader. In
the case of Morgendaal the execution actually took place, and seems
to have been attended by brutal circumstances, the man having been
thrashed with a sjambok before being put to death. The
circumstances are still surrounded by such obscurity that it is
impossible to say whether the message of the peace envoys was to
the General himself or to the men under his command. In the former
case the man was murdered. In the latter the Boer leader was within
his rights, though the rights may have been harshly construed and
brutally enforced.

On January 29th, in the act of breaking south, De Wet's force, or a
portion of it, had a sharp brush with a small British column
(Crewe's) at Tabaksberg, which lies about forty miles north-east of
Bloemfontein; This small force, seven hundred strong, found itself
suddenly in the presence of a very superior body of the enemy, and
had some difficulty in extricating itself. A pom-pom was lost in
this affair. Crewe fell back upon Knox, and the combined columns
made for Bloemfontein, whence they could use the rails for their
transport. De Wet meanwhile moved south as far as Smithfield, and
then, detaching several small bodies to divert the attention of the
British, he struck due west, and crossed the track between
Springfontein and Jagersfontein road, capturing the usual supply
train as he passed. On February 9th he had reached Phillipolis,
well ahead of the British pursuit, and spent a day or two in making
his final arrangements before carrying the war over the border. His
force consisted at this time of nearly 8000 men, with two
15-pounders, one pom-pom, and one maxim. The garrisons of all the
towns in the south-west of the Orange River Colony had been removed
in accordance with the policy of concentration, so De Wet found
himself for the moment in a friendly country.

The British, realising how serious a situation might arise should
De Wet succeed in penetrating the Colony and in joining Hertzog and
Kritzinger, made every effort both to head him off and to bar his
return. General Lyttelton at Naauwpoort directed the operations,
and the possession of the railway line enabled him to concentrate
his columns rapidly at the point of danger. On February 11th De Wet
forded the Orange River at Zand Drift, and found himself once more
upon British territory. Lyttelton's plan of campaign appears to
have been to allow De Wet to come some distance south, and then to
hold him in front by De Lisle's force, while a number of small
mobile columns under Plumer, Crabbe, Henniker, Bethune, Haig, and
Thorneycroft should shepherd him behind. On crossing, De Wet at
once moved westwards, where, upon February 12th, Plumer's column,
consisting of the Queensland Mounted Infantry, the Imperial
Bushmen, and part of the King's Dragoon Guards, came into touch
with his rearguard. All day upon the 13th and 14th, amid terrific
rain, Plumer's hardy troopers followed close upon the enemy,
gleaning a few ammunition wagons, a maxim, and some prisoners. The
invaders crossed the railway line near Houtnek, to the north of De
Aar, in the early hours of the 15th, moving upon a front of six or
eight miles. Two armoured trains from the north and the south
closed in upon him as he passed, Plumer still thundered in his
rear, and a small column under Crabbe came pressing from the south.
This sturdy Colonel of Grenadiers had already been wounded four
times in the war, so that he might be excused if he felt some
personal as well as patriotic reasons for pushing a relentless
pursuit. On crossing the railroad De Wet turned furiously upon his
pursuers, and, taking an excellent position upon a line of kopjes
rising out of the huge expanse of the Karoo, he fought a stubborn
rearguard action in order to give time for his convoy to get ahead.
He was hustled off the hills, however, the Australian Bushmen with
great dash carrying the central kopje, and the guns driving the
invaders to the westward. Leaving all his wagons and his reserve
ammunition behind him, the guerilla chief struck north-west, moving
with great swiftness, but never succeeding in shaking off Plumer's
pursuit. The weather continued, however, to be atrocious, rain and
hail falling with such violence that the horses could hardly be
induced to face it. For a week the two sodden, sleepless,
mud-splashed little armies swept onwards over the Karoo. De Wet
passed northwards through Strydenburg, past Hopetown, and so to the
Orange River, which was found to be too swollen with the rains to
permit of his crossing. Here upon the 23rd, after a march of
forty-five miles on end, Plumer ran into him once more, and
captured with very little fighting a fifteen-pounder, a pom-pom,
and close on to a hundred prisoners. Slipping away to the east, De
Wet upon February 24th crossed the railroad again between Krankuil
and Orange River Station, with Thorneycroft's column hard upon his
heels. The Boer leader was now more anxious to escape from the
Colony than ever he had been to enter it, and he rushed
distractedly from point to point, endeavouring to find a ford over
the great turbid river which cut him off from his own country. Here
he was joined by Hertzog's commando with a number of invaluable
spare horses. It is said also that he had been able to get remounts
in the Hopetown district, which had not been cleared--an omission
for which, it is to be hoped, someone has been held responsible.
The Boer ponies, used to the succulent grasses of the veld, could
make nothing of the rank Karoo, and had so fallen away that an
enormous advantage should have rested with the pursuers had ill
luck and bad management not combined to enable the invaders to
renew their mobility at the very moment when Plumer's horses were
dropping dead under their riders.

The Boer force was now so scattered that, in spite of the advent of
Hertzog, De Wet had fewer men with him than when he entered the
Colony. Several hundreds had been taken prisoners, many had
deserted, and a few had been killed. It was hoped now that the
whole force might be captured, and Thorneycroft's, Crabbe's,
Henniker's, and other columns were closing swiftly in upon him,
while the swollen river still barred his retreat. There was a
sudden drop in the flood, however; one ford became passable, and
over it, upon the last day of February, De Wet and his bedraggled,
dispirited commando escaped to their own country. There was still a
sting in his tail, however; for upon that very day a portion of his
force succeeded in capturing sixty and killing or wounding twenty
of Colenbrander's new regiment, Kitchener's Fighting Scouts. On the
other hand, De Wet was finally relieved upon the same day of all
care upon the score of his guns, as the last of them was most
gallantly captured by Captain Dallimore and fifteen Victorians, who
at the same time brought in thirty-three Boer prisoners. The net
result of De Wet's invasion was that he gained nothing, and that he
lost about four thousand horses, all his guns, all his convoy, and
some three hundred of his men.

Once safely in his own country again, the guerilla chief pursued
his way northwards with his usual celerity and success. The moment
that it was certain that De Wet had escaped, the indefatigable
Plumer, wiry, tenacious man, had been sent off by train to
Springfontein, while Bethune's column followed direct. This latter
force crossed the Orange River bridge and marched upon Luckhoff and
Fauresmith. At the latter town they overtook Plumer, who was again
hard upon the heels of De Wet. Together they ran him across the
Riet River and north to Petrusburg, until they gave it up as
hopeless upon finding that, with only fifty followers, he had
crossed the Modder River at Abram's Kraal. There they abandoned the
chase and fell back upon Bloemfontein to refit and prepare for a
fresh effort to run down their elusive enemy.

While Plumer and Bethune were following upon the track of De Wet
until he left them behind at the Modder, Lyttelton was using the
numerous columns which were ready to his hand in effecting a drive
up the south-eastern section of the Orange River Colony. It was
disheartening to remember that all this large stretch of country
had from April to November been as peaceful and almost as
prosperous as Kent or Yorkshire. Now the intrusion of the guerilla
bands, and the pressure put by them upon the farmers, had raised
the whole country once again, and the work of pacification had to
be set about once more, with harsher measures than before. A
continuous barrier of barbed-wire fencing had been erected from
Bloemfontein to the Basuto border, a distance of eighty miles, and
this was now strongly held by British posts. From the south Bruce
Hamilton, Hickman, Thorneycroft, and Haig swept upwards, stripping
the country as they went in the same way that French had done in
the Eastern Transvaal, while Pilcher's column waited to the north
of the barbed-wire barrier. It was known that Fourie, with a
considerable commando, was lurking in this district, but he and his
men slipped at night between the British columns and escaped.
Pilcher, Bethune, and Byng were able, however, to send in 200
prisoners and very great numbers of cattle. On April 10th Monro,
with Bethune's Mounted Infantry, captured eighty fighting Boers
near Dewetsdorp, and sixty more were taken by a night attack at
Boschberg. There is no striking victory to record in these
operations, but they were an important part of that process of
attrition which was wearing the Boers out and helping to bring the
war to an end. Terrible it is to see that barren countryside, and
to think of the depths of misery to which the once flourishing and
happy Orange Free State had fallen, through joining in a quarrel
with a nation which bore it nothing but sincere friendship and
goodwill. With nothing to gain and everything to lose, the part
played by the Orange Free State in this South African drama is one
of the most inconceivable things in history. Never has a nation so
deliberately and so causelessly committed suicide.



Three consecutive chapters have now given some account of the
campaign of De Wet, of the operations in the Transvaal up to the
end of the year 1900, and of the invasion of Cape Colony up to
April 1901. The present chapter will deal with the events in the
Transvaal from the beginning of the new century. The military
operations in that country, though extending over a very large
area, may be roughly divided into two categories: the attacks by
the Boers upon British posts, and the aggressive sweeping movements
of British columns. Under the first heading come the attacks on
Belfast, on Zuurfontein, on Kaalfontein, on Zeerust, on
Modderfontein, and on Lichtenburg, besides many minor affairs. The
latter comprises the operations of Babington and of Cunningham to
the west and south-west of Pretoria, those of Methuen still further
to the south-west, and the large movement of French in the
south-east. In no direction did the British forces in the field
meet with much active resistance. So long as they moved the gnats
did not settle; it was only when quiet that they buzzed about and
occasionally stung.

The early days of January 1901 were not fortunate for the British
arms, as the check in which Kitchener's Bodyguard was so roughly
handled, near Lindley, was closely followed by a brisk action at
Naauwpoort or Zandfontein, near the Magaliesberg, in which De la
Rey left his mark upon the Imperial Light Horse. The Boer
commandos, having been driven into the mountains by French and
Clements in the latter part of December, were still on the look-out
to strike a blow at any British force which might expose itself.
Several mounted columns had been formed to scour the country, one
under Kekewich, one under Gordon, and one under Babington. The two
latter, meeting in a mist upon the morning of January 5th, actually
turned their rifles upon each other, but fortunately without any
casualties resulting. A more deadly rencontre was, however,
awaiting them.

A force of Boers were observed, as the mist cleared, making for a
ridge which would command the road along which the convoy and guns
were moving. Two squadrons (B and C) of the Light Horse were
instantly detached to seize the point. They do not appear to have
realised that they were in the immediate presence of the enemy, and
they imagined that the ground over which they were passing had been
already reconnoitred by a troop of the 14th Hussars. It is true
that four scouts were thrown forward, but as both squadrons were
cantering there was no time for these to get ahead. Presently C
squadron, which was behind, was ordered to close up upon the left
of B squadron, and the 150 horsemen in one long line swept over a
low grassy ridge. Some hundreds of De la Rey's men were lying in
the long grass upon the further side, and their first volley, fired
at a fifty-yard range, emptied a score of saddles. It would have
been wiser, if less gallant, to retire at once in the presence of a
numerous and invisible enemy, but the survivors were ordered to
dismount and return the fire. This was done, but the hail of
bullets was terrific and the casualties were numerous. Captain
Norman, of C squadron, then retired his men, who withdrew in good
order. B squadron having lost Yockney, its brave leader, heard no
order, so they held their ground until few of them had escaped the
driving sleet of lead. Many of the men were struck three and four
times. There was no surrender, and the extermination of B company
added another laurel, even at a moment of defeat, to the regiment
whose reputation was so grimly upheld. The Boer victors walked in
among the litter of stricken men and horses. 'Practically all of
them were dressed in khaki and had the water-bottles and haversacks
of our soldiers. One of them snatched a bayonet from a dead man,
and was about to despatch one of our wounded when he was stopped in
the nick of time by a man in a black suit, who, I afterwards heard,
was De la Rey himself. . .The feature of the action was the
incomparable heroism of our dear old Colonel Wools-Sampson.' So
wrote a survivor of B company, himself shot through the body. It
was four hours before a fresh British advance reoccupied the ridge,
and by that time the Boers had disappeared. Some seventy killed and
wounded, many of them terribly mutilated, were found on the scene
of the disaster. It is certainly a singular coincidence that at
distant points of the seat of war two of the crack irregular corps
should have suffered so severely within three days of each other.
In each case, however, their prestige was enhanced rather than
lowered by the result. These incidents tend, however, to shake the
belief that scouting is better performed in the Colonial than in
the regular forces.

Of the Boer attacks upon British posts to which allusion has been
made, that upon Belfast, in the early morning of January 7th,
appears to have been very gallantly and even desperately pushed. On
the same date a number of smaller attacks, which may have been
meant simply as diversions, were made upon Wonderfontein,
Nooitgedacht, Wildfontein, Pan, Dalmanutha, and Machadodorp. These
seven separate attacks, occurring simultaneously over sixty miles,
show that the Boer forces were still organised and under one
effective control. The general object of the operations was
undoubtedly to cut Lord Roberts's communications upon that side and
to destroy a considerable section of the railway.

The town of Belfast was strongly held by Smith-Dorrien, with 1750
men, of which 1300 were infantry belonging to the Royal Irish, the
Shropshires, and the Gordons. The perimeter of defence, however,
was fifteen miles, and each little fort too far from its neighbour
for mutual support, though connected with headquarters by
telephone. It is probable that the leaders and burghers engaged in
this very gallant attack were in part the same as those concerned
in the successful attempt at Helvetia upon December 29th, for the
assault was delivered in the same way, at the same hour, and
apparently with the same primary object. This was to gain
possession of the big 5-inch gun, which is as helpless by night as
it is formidable by day. At Helvetia they attained their object and
even succeeded not merely in destroying, but in removing their
gigantic trophy. At Belfast they would have performed the same feat
had it not been for the foresight of General Smith-Dorrien, who had
the heavy gun trundled back into the town every night.

The attack broke first upon Monument Hill, a post held by Captain
Fosbery with eighty-three Royal Irish. Chance or treason guided the
Boers to the weak point of the wire entanglement and they surged
into the fort, where the garrison fought desperately to hold its
own. There was thick mist and driving rain; and the rush of vague
and shadowy figures amid the gloom was the first warning of the
onslaught. The Irishmen were overborne by a swarm of assailants,
but they nobly upheld their traditional reputation. Fosbery met his
death like a gallant gentleman, but not more heroically than Barry,
the humble private, who, surrounded by Boers, thought neither of
himself nor of them, but smashed at the maxim gun with a pickaxe
until he fell riddled with bullets. Half the garrison were on the
ground before the post was carried.

A second post upon the other side of the town was defended by
Lieutenant Marshall with twenty men, mostly Shropshires. For an
hour they held out until Marshall and nine out of his twelve
Shropshires had been hit. Then this post also was carried.

The Gordon Highlanders held two posts to the southeast and to the
south-west of the town, and these also were vigorously attacked.
Here, however, the advance spent itself without result. In vain the
Ermelo and Carolina commandos stormed up to the Gordon pickets.
They were blown back by the steady fire of the infantry. One small
post manned by twelve Highlanders was taken, but the rest defied
all attack. Seeing therefore that his attempt at a coup-de-main was
a failure, Viljoen withdrew his men before daybreak. The Boer
casualties have not been ascertained, but twenty-four of their dead
were actually picked up within the British lines. The British lost
sixty killed and wounded, while about as many were taken prisoners.
Altogether the action was a brisk and a gallant one, of which
neither side has cause to be ashamed. The simultaneous attacks upon
six other stations were none of them pressed home, and were
demonstrations rather than assaults.

The attempts upon Kaalfontein and on Zuurfontein were both made in
the early morning of January 12th. These two places are small
stations upon the line between Johannesburg and Pretoria. It is
clear that the Boers were very certain of their own superior
mobility before they ventured to intrude into the very heart of the
British position, and the result showed that they were right in
supposing that even if their attempt were repulsed, they would
still be able to make good their escape. Better horsed, better
riders, with better intelligence and a better knowledge of the
country, their ventures were always attended by a limited

The attacks seem to have been delivered by a strong commando, said
to have been under the command of Beyers, upon its way to join the
Boer concentration in the Eastern Transvaal. They had not the
satisfaction, however, of carrying the garrison of a British post
with them, for at each point they were met by a stout resistance
and beaten off. Kaalfontein was garrisoned by 120 men of Cheshire
under Williams-Freeman, Zuurfontein by as many Norfolks and a small
body of Lincolns under Cordeaux and Atkinson. For six hours the
pressure was considerable, the assailants of Kaalfontein keeping up
a brisk shell and rifle fire, while those of Zuurfontein were
without artillery. At the end of that time two armoured trains came
up with reinforcements and the enemy continued his trek to the
eastward. Knox 's 2nd cavalry brigade followed them up, but without
any very marked result.

Zeerust and Lichtenburg had each been garrisoned and provisioned by
Lord Methuen before he carried his column away to the south-west,
where much rough and useful work awaited him. The two towns were at
once invested by the enemy, who made an attack upon each of them.
That upon Zeerust, on January 7th, was a small matter and easily
repulsed. A more formidable one was made on Lichtenburg, on March
3rd. The attack was delivered by De la Rey, Smuts, and Celliers,
with 1500 men, who galloped up to the pickets in the early morning.
The defenders were 600 in number, consisting of Paget's Horse and
three companies of the 1st battalion of the Northumberland
Fusiliers, a veteran regiment with a long record of foreign
service, not to be confused with that 2nd battalion which was so
severely handled upon several occasions. It was well that it was
so, for less sturdy material might have been overborne by the
vigour of the attack. As it was, the garrison were driven to their
last trench, but held out under a very heavy fire all day, and next
morning the Boers abandoned the attack. Their losses appear to have
been over fifty in number, and included Commandant Celliers, who
was badly wounded and afterwards taken prisoner at Warm Baths. The
brave garrison lost fourteen killed, including two officers of the
Northumberlands, and twenty wounded.

In each of these instances the attacks by the Boers upon British
posts had ended in a repulse to themselves. They were more
fortunate, however, in their attempt upon Modderfontein on the
Gatsrand at the end of January. The post was held by 200 of the
South Wales Borderers, reinforced by the 59th Imperial Yeomanry,
who had come in as escort to a convoy from Krugersdorp. The attack,
which lasted all day, was carried out by a commando of 2000 Boers
under Smuts, who rushed the position upon the following morning. As
usual, the Boers, who were unable to retain their prisoners, had
little to show for their success. The British casualties, however,
were between thirty and forty, mostly wounded.

On January 22nd General Cunninghame left Oliphant's Nek with a
small force consisting of the Border and Worcester Regiments, the
6th Mounted Infantry, Kitchener's Horse, 7th Imperial Yeomanry, 8th
R.F.A., and P battery R.H.A. It had instructions to move south upon
the enemy known to be gathering there. By midday this force was
warmly engaged, and found itself surrounded by considerable bodies
of De la Rey's burghers. That night they camped at Middelfontein,
and were strongly attacked in the early morning. So menacing was
the Boer attitude, and so formidable the position, that the force
was in some danger. Fortunately they were in heliographic
communication with Oliphant's Nek, and learned upon the 23rd that
Babington had been ordered to their relief. All day Cunninghame's
men were under a long-range fire, but on the 24th Babington
appeared, and the British force was successfully extricated, having
seventy-five casualties. This action of Middelfontein is
interesting as having been begun in Queen Victoria's reign, and
ended in that of Edward VII.

Cunninghame's force moved on to Krugersdorp, and there, having
heard of the fall of the Modderfontein post as already described, a
part of his command moved out to the Gatsrand in pursuit of Smuts.
It was found, however, that the Boers had taken up a strong
defensive position, and the British were not numerous enough to
push the attack. On February 3rd Cunninghame endeavoured to
outflank the enemy with his small cavalry force while pushing his
infantry up in front, but in neither attempt did he succeed, the
cavalry failing to find the flank, while the infantry were met with
a fire which made further advance impossible. One company of the
Border Regiment found itself in such a position that the greater
part of it was killed, wounded, or taken. This check constituted
the action of Modderfontein. On the 4th, however, Cunningham,
assisted by some of the South African Constabulary, made his way
round the flank, and dislodged the enemy, who retreated to the
south. A few days later some of Smuts's men made an attempt upon
the railway near Bank, but were driven off with twenty-six
casualties. It was after this that Smuts moved west and joined De
la Rey's commando to make the attack already described upon
Lichtenburg. These six attempts represent the chief aggressive
movements which the Boers made against British posts in the
Transvaal during these months. Attacks upon trains were still
common, and every variety of sniping appears to have been rife,
from the legitimate ambuscade to something little removed from

It has been described in a previous chapter how Lord Kitchener made
an offer to the burghers which amounted to an amnesty, and how a
number of those Boers who had come under the influence of the
British formed themselves into peace committees, and endeavoured to
convey to the fighting commandos some information as to the
hopelessness of the struggle, and the lenient mood of the British.
Unfortunately these well-meant offers appear to have been mistaken
for signs of weakness by the Boer leaders, and encouraged them to
harden their hearts. Of the delegates who conveyed the terms to
their fellow countrymen two at least were shot, several were
condemned to death, and few returned without ill-usage. In no case
did they bear back a favourable answer. The only result of the
proclamation was to burden the British resources by an enormous
crowd of women and children who were kept and fed in refugee camps,
while their fathers and husbands continued in most cases to fight.

This allusion to the peace movement among the burghers may serve as
an introduction to the attempt made by Lord Kitchener, at the end
of February 1901, to bring the war to a close by negotiation.
Throughout its course the fortitude of Great Britain and of the
Empire had never for an instant weakened, but her conscience had
always been sensitive at the sight of the ruin which had befallen
so large a portion of South Africa, and any settlement would have
been eagerly hailed which would insure that the work done had not
been wasted, and would not need to be done again. A peace on any
other terms would simply shift upon the shoulders of our
descendants those burdens which we were not manly enough to bear
ourselves. There had arisen, as has been said, a considerable peace
movement among the burghers of the refugee camps and also among the
prisoners of war. It was hoped that some reflection of this might
be found among the leaders of the people. To find out if this were
so Lord Kitchener, at the end of February, sent a verbal message to
Louis Botha, and on the 27th of that month the Boer general rode
with an escort of Hussars into Middelburg. 'Sunburned, with a
pleasant, fattish face of a German type, and wearing an imperial,'
says one who rode beside him. Judging from the sounds of mirth
heard by those without, the two leaders seem to have soon got upon
amiable terms, and there was hope that a definite settlement might
spring from their interview. From the beginning Lord Kitchener
explained that the continued independence of the two republics was
an impossibility. But on every other point the British Government
was prepared to go great lengths in order to satisfy and conciliate
the burghers.

On March 7th Lord Kitchener wrote to Botha from Pretoria,
recapitulating the points which he had advanced. The terms offered
were certainly as far as, and indeed rather further than, the
general sentiment of the Empire would have gone. If the Boers laid
down their arms there was to be a complete amnesty, which was
apparently to extend to rebels also so long as they did not return
to Cape Colony or Natal. Self-government was promised after a
necessary interval, during which the two States should be
administered as Crown colonies. Law courts should be independent of
the Executive from the beginning, and both languages be official. A
million pounds of compensation would be paid to the burghers--a
most remarkable example of a war indemnity being paid by the
victors. Loans were promised to the farmers to restart them in
business, and a pledge was made that farms should not be taxed. The
Kaffirs were not to have the franchise, but were to have the
protection of law. Such were the generous terms offered by the
British Government. Public opinion at home, strongly supported by
that of the colonies, and especially of the army, felt that the
extreme step had been taken in the direction of conciliation, and
that to do more would seem not to offer peace, but to implore it.
Unfortunately, however, the one thing which the British could not
offer was the one thing which the Boers would insist upon having,
and the leniency of the proposals in all other directions may have
suggested weakness to their minds. On March 15th an answer was
returned by General Botha to the effect that nothing short of total
independence would satisfy them, and the negotiations were
accordingly broken off.

There was a disposition, however, upon the Boer side to renew them,
and upon May 10th General Botha applied to Lord Kitchener for
permission to cable to President Kruger, and to take his advice as
to the making of peace. The stern old man at The Hague was still,
however, in an unbending mood. His reply was to the effect that
there were great hopes of a successful issue of the war, and that
he had taken steps to make proper provision for the Boer prisoners
and for the refugee women. These steps, and very efficient ones
too, were to leave them entirely to the generosity of that
Government which he was so fond of reviling.

On the same day upon which Botha applied for leave to use the
British cable, a letter was written by Reitz, State Secretary of
the Transvaal, to Steyn, in which the desperate condition of the
Boers was clearly set forth. This document explained that the
burghers were continually surrendering, that the ammunition was
nearly exhausted, the food running low, and the nation in danger of
extinction. 'The time has come to take the final step,' said the
Secretary of State. Steyn wrote back a reply in which, like his
brother president, he showed a dour resolution to continue the
struggle, prompted by a fatalist conviction that some outside
interference would reverse the result of his appeal to arms. His
attitude and that of Kruger determined the Boer leaders to hold out
for a few more months, a resolution which may have been
injudicious, but was certainly heroic. 'It's a fight to a finish
this time,' said the two combatants in the 'Punch' cartoon which
marked the beginning of the war. It was indeed so, as far as the
Boers were concerned. As the victors we can afford to acknowledge
that no nation in history has ever made a more desperate and
prolonged resistance against a vastly superior antagonist. A Briton
may well pray that his own people may be as staunch when their hour
of adversity comes round.

The British position at this stage of the war was strengthened by a
greater centralisation. Garrisons of outlying towns were withdrawn
so that fewer convoys became necessary. The population was removed
also and placed near the railway lines, where they could be more
easily fed. In this way the scene of action was cleared and the
Boer and British forces left face to face. Convinced of the failure
of the peace policy, and morally strengthened by having tried it,
Lord Kitchener set himself to finish the war by a series of
vigorous operations which should sweep the country from end to end.
For this purpose mounted troops were essential, and an appeal from
him for reinforcements was most nobly answered. Five thousand
horsemen were despatched from the colonies, and twenty thousand
cavalry, mounted infantry, and Yeomanry were sent from home. Ten
thousand mounted men had already been raised in Great Britain,
South Africa, and Canada for the Constabulary force which was being
organised by Baden-Powell. Altogether the reinforcements of
horsemen amounted to more than thirty-five thousand men, all of
whom had arrived in South Africa before the end of April. With the
remains of his old regiments Lord Kitchener had under him at this
final period of the war between fifty and sixty thousand
cavalry--such a force as no British General in his happiest dream
had ever thought of commanding, and no British war minister in his
darkest nightmare had ever imagined himself called upon to supply.

Long before his reinforcements had come to hand, while his Yeomanry
was still gathering in long queues upon the London pavement to wait
their turn at the recruiting office, Lord Kitchener had dealt the
enemy several shrewd blows which materially weakened their
resources in men and material. The chief of these was the great
drive down the Eastern Transvaal undertaken by seven columns under
the command of French. Before considering this, however, a few
words must be devoted to the doings of Methuen in the south-west.

This hard-working General, having garrisoned Zeerust and
Lichtenburg, had left his old district and journeyed with a force
which consisted largely of Bushmen and Yeomanry to the disturbed
parts of Bechuanaland which had been invaded by De Villiers. Here
he cleared the country as far as Vryburg, which he had reached in
the middle of January, working round to Kuruman and thence to
Taungs. From Taungs his force crossed the Transvaal border and made
for Klerksdorp, working through an area which had never been
traversed and which contained the difficult Masakani hills. He left
Taungs upon February 2nd, fighting skirmishes at Uitval's Kop,
Paardefontein and Lilliefontein, in each of which the enemy was
brushed aside. Passing through Wolmaranstad, Methuen turned to the
north, where at Haartebeestefontein, on February 19th, he fought a
brisk engagement with a considerable force of Boers under De
Villiers and Liebenberg. On the day before the fight he
successfully outwitted the Boers, for, learning that they had left
their laager in order to take up a position for battle, he pounced
upon the laager and captured 10,000 head of cattle, forty-three
wagons, and forty prisoners. Stimulated by this success, he
attacked the Boers next day, and after five hours of hard fighting
forced the pass which they were holding against him. As Methuen had
but 1500 men, and was attacking a force which was as large as his
own in a formidable position, the success was a very creditable
one. The Yeomanry all did well, especially the 5th and 10th
battalions. So also did the Australians and the Loyal North
Lancashires. The British casualties amounted to sixteen killed and
thirty-four wounded, while the Boers left eighteen of their dead
upon the position which they had abandoned. Lord Methuen's little
force returned to Klerksdorp, having deserved right well of their
country. From Klerksdorp Methuen struck back westwards to the south
of his former route, and on March 14th he was reported at
Warrenton. Here also in April came Erroll's small column, bringing
with it the garrison and inhabitants of Hoopstad, a post which it
had been determined, in accordance with Lord Kitchener's policy of
centralisation, to abandon.

In the month of January, 1901, there had been a considerable
concentration of the Transvaal Boers into that large triangle which
is bounded by the Delagoa railway line upon the north, the Natal
railway line upon the south, and the Swazi and Zulu frontiers upon
the east. The bushveld is at this season of the year unhealthy both
for man and beast, so that for the sake of their herds, their
families, and themselves the burghers were constrained to descend
into the open veld. There seemed the less objection to their doing
so since this tract of country, though traversed once both by
Buller and by French, had still remained a stronghold of the Boers
and a storehouse of supplies. Within its borders are to be found
Carolina, Ermelo, Vryheid, and other storm centres. Its possession
offers peculiar strategical advantages, as a force lying there can
always attack either railway, and might even make, as was indeed
intended, a descent into Natal. For these mingled reasons of health
and of strategy a considerable number of burghers united in this
district under the command of the Bothas and of Smuts.

Their concentration had not escaped the notice of the British
military authorities, who welcomed any movement which might bring
to a focus that resistance which had been so nebulous and elusive.
Lord Kitchener having once seen the enemy fairly gathered into this
huge cover, undertook the difficult task of driving it from end to
end. For this enterprise General French was given the chief
command, and had under his orders no fewer than seven columns,
which started from different points of the Delagoa and of the Natal
railway lines, keeping in touch with each other and all trending
south and east. A glance at the map would show, however, that it
was a very large field for seven guns, and that it would need all
their alertness to prevent the driven game from breaking back.
Three columns started from the Delagoa line, namely,
Smith-Dorrien's from Wonderfontein (the most easterly), Campbell's
from Middelburg, and Alderson's from Eerstefabrieken, close to
Pretoria. Four columns came from the western railway line: General
Knox's from Kaalfontein, Major Allenby's from Zuurfontein (both
stations between Pretoria and Johannesburg), General Dartnell's
from Springs, close to Johannesburg, and finally General Colville
(not to be confused with Colvile) from Greylingstad in the south.
The whole movement resembled a huge drag net, of which
Wonderfontein and Greylingstad formed the ends, exactly one hundred
miles apart. On January 27th the net began to be drawn. Some
thousands of Boers with a considerable number of guns were known to
be within the enclosure, and it was hoped that even if their own
extreme mobility enabled them to escape it would be impossible for
them to save their transport and their cannon.

Each of the British columns was about 2000 strong, making a total
of 14,000 men with about fifty guns engaged in the operations. A
front of not less than ten miles was to be maintained by each
force. The first decided move was on the part of the extreme left
wing, Smith-Dorrien's column, which moved south on Carolina, and
thence on Bothwell near Lake Chrissie. The arduous duty of passing
supplies down from the line fell mainly upon him, and his force was
in consequence larger than the others, consisting of 8500 men with
thirteen guns. On the arrival of Smith-Dorrien at Carolina the
other columns started, their centre of advance being Ermelo. Over
seventy miles of veld the gleam of the helio by day and the flash
of the signal lamps at night marked the steady flow of the British
tide. Here and there the columns came in touch with the enemy and
swept him before them. French had a skirmish at Wilge River at the
end of January, and Campbell another south of Middelburg, in which
he had twenty casualties. On February 4th Smith-Dorrien was at Lake
Chrissie; French had passed through Bethel and the enemy was
retiring on Amsterdam. The hundred-mile ends of the drag net were
already contracted to a third of that distance, and the game was
still known to be within it. On the 5th Ermelo was occupied, and
the fresh deep ruts upon the veld told the British horsemen of the
huge Boer convoy that was ahead of them. For days enormous herds,
endless flocks, and lines of wagons which stretched from horizon to
horizon had been trekking eastward. Cavalry and mounted infantry
were all hot upon the scent.

Botha, however, was a leader of spirit, not to be hustled with
impunity. Having several thousand burghers with him, it was evident
that if he threw himself suddenly upon any part of the British line
he might hope for a time to make an equal fight, and possibly to
overwhelm it. Were Smith-Dorrien out of the way there would be a
clear road of escape for his whole convoy to the north, while a
defeat of any of the other columns would not help him much. It was
on Smith-Dorrien, therefore, that he threw himself with great
impetuosity. That General's force was, however, formidable,
consisting of the Suffolks, West Yorks and Camerons, 5th Lancers,
2nd Imperial Light Horse, and 3rd Mounted Infantry, with eight
field guns and three heavy pieces. Such a force could hardly be
defeated in the open, but no one can foresee the effect of a night
surprise well pushed home, and such was the attack delivered by
Botha at 3 A.M. upon February 6th, when his opponent was encamped
at Bothwell Farm.

The night was favourable to the attempt, as it was dark and misty.
Fortunately, however, the British commander had fortified himself
and was ready for an assault. The Boer forlorn hope came on with a
gallant dash, driving a troop of loose horses in upon the outposts,
and charging forward into the camp. The West Yorkshires, however,
who bore the brunt of the attack, were veterans of the Tugela, who
were no more to be flurried at three in the morning than at three
in the afternoon. The attack was blown backwards, and twenty dead
Boers, with their brave leader Spruyt, were left within the British
lines. The main body of the Boers contented themselves with a heavy
fusillade out of the darkness, which was answered and crushed by
the return fire of the infantry. In the morning no trace, save
their dead, was to be seen of the enemy, but twenty killed and
fifty wounded in Smith-Dorrien's column showed how heavy had been
the fire which had swept through the sleeping camp. The Carolina
attack, which was to have co-operated with that of the
Heidelbergers, was never delivered, through difficulties of the
ground, and considerable recriminations ensued among the Boers in

Beyond a series of skirmishes and rearguard actions this attack of
Botha's was the one effort made to stay the course of French's
columns. It did not succeed, however, in arresting them for an
hour. From that day began a record of captures of men, herds, guns,
and wagons, as the fugitives were rounded up from the north, the
west, and the south. The operation was a very thorough one, for the
towns and districts occupied were denuded of their inhabitants, who
were sent into the refugee camps while the country was laid waste
to prevent its furnishing the commandos with supplies in the
future. Still moving south-east, General French's columns made
their way to Piet Retief upon the Swazi frontier, pushing a
disorganised array which he computed at 5000 in front of them. A
party of the enemy, including the Carolina commando, had broken
back in the middle of February and Louis Botha had got away at the
same time, but so successful were his main operations that French
was able to report his total results at the end of the month as
being 292 Boers killed or wounded, 500 surrendered, 3 guns and one
maxim taken, with 600 rifles, 4000 horses, 4500 trek oxen, 1300
wagons and carts, 24,000 cattle, and 165,000 sheep. The whole vast
expanse of the eastern veld was dotted with the broken and charred
wagons of the enemy.

Tremendous rains were falling and the country was one huge
quagmire, which crippled although it did not entirely prevent the
further operations. All the columns continued to report captures.
On March 3rd Dartnell got a maxim and 50 prisoners, while French
reported 50 more, and Smith-Dorrien 80. On March 6th French
captured two more guns, and on the 14th he reported 46 more Boer
casualties and 146 surrenders, with 500 more wagons, and another
great haul of sheep and oxen. By the end of March French had moved
as far south as Vryheid, his troops having endured the greatest
hardships from the continual heavy rains, and the difficulty of
bringing up any supplies. On the 27th he reported seventeen more
Boer casualties and 140 surrenders, while on the last day of the
month he took another gun and two pom-poms. The enemy at that date
were still retiring eastward, with Alderson and Dartnell pressing
upon their rear. On April 4th French announced the capture of the
last piece of artillery which the enemy possessed in that region.
The rest of the Boer forces doubled back at night between the
columns and escaped over the Zululand border, where 200 of them
surrendered. The total trophies of French's drive down the Eastern
Transvaal amounted to eleven hundred of the enemy killed, wounded,
or taken, the largest number in any operation since the surrender
of Prinsloo. There is no doubt that the movement would have been
even more successful had the weather been less boisterous, but this
considerable loss of men, together with the capture of all the guns
in that region, and of such enormous quantities of wagons,
munitions, and stock, inflicted a blow upon the Boers from which
they never wholly recovered. On April 20th French was back in
Johannesburg once more.

While French had run to earth the last Boer gun in the
south-eastern corner of the Transvaal, De la Rey, upon the western
side, had still managed to preserve a considerable artillery with
which he flitted about the passes of the Magaliesberg or took
refuge in the safe districts to the south-west of it. This part of
the country had been several times traversed, but had never been
subdued by British columns. The Boers, like their own veld grass,
need but a few sparks to be left behind to ensure a conflagration
breaking out again. It was into this inflammable country that
Babington moved in March with Klerksdorp for his base. On March
21st he had reached Haartebeestefontein, the scene not long before
of a successful action by Methuen. Here he was joined by
Shekleton's Mounted Infantry, and his whole force consisted of
these, with the 1st Imperial Light Horse, the 6th Imperial Bushmen,
the New Zealanders, a squadron of the 14th Hussars, a wing each of
the Somerset Light Infantry and of the Welsh Fusiliers, with
Carter's guns and four pom-poms. With this mobile and formidable
little force Babington pushed on in search of Smuts and De la Rey,
who were known to be in the immediate neighbourhood.

As a matter of fact the Boers were not only there, but were nearer
and in greater force than had been anticipated. On the 22nd three
squadrons of the Imperial Light Horse under Major Briggs rode into
1500 of them, and it was only by virtue of their steadiness and
gallantry that they succeeded in withdrawing themselves and their
pom-pom without a disaster. With Boers in their front and Boers on
either flank they fought an admirable rearguard action. So hot was
the fire that A squadron alone had twenty-two casualties. They
faced it out, however, until their gun had reached a place of
safety, when they made an orderly retirement towards Babington's
camp, having inflicted as heavy a loss as they had sustained. With
Elandslaagte, Waggon Hill, the relief of Mafeking, Naauwpoort, and
Haartebeestefontein upon their standards, the Imperial Light Horse,
should they take a permanent place in the Army List, will start
with a record of which many older regiments might be proud.

If the Light Horse had a few bad hours on March 22nd at the hands
of the Boers, they and their colonial comrades were soon able to
return the same with interest. On March 23rd Babington moved
forward through Kafir Kraal, the enemy falling back before him.
Next morning the British again advanced, and as the New Zealanders
and Bushmen, who formed the vanguard under Colonel Gray, emerged
from a pass they saw upon the plain in front of them the Boer force
with all its guns moving towards them. Whether this was done of set
purpose or whether the Boers imagined that the British had turned
and were intending to pursue them cannot now be determined, but
whatever the cause it is certain that for almost the first time in
the campaign a considerable force of each side found themselves in
the open and face to face.

It was a glorious moment. Setting spurs to their horses, officers
and men with a yell dashed forward at the enemy. One of the Boer
guns unlimbered and attempted to open fire, but was overwhelmed by
the wave of horsemen. The Boer riders broke and fled, leaving their
artillery to escape as best it might. The guns dashed over the veld
in a mad gallop, but wilder still was the rush of the fiery cavalry
behind them. For once the brave and cool-headed Dutchmen were
fairly panic-stricken. Hardly a shot was fired at the pursuers, and
the riflemen seem to have been only too happy to save their own
skins. Two field guns, one pom-pom, six maxims, fifty-six wagons
and 140 prisoners were the fruits of that one magnificent charge,
while fifty-four stricken Boers were picked up after the action.
The pursuit was reluctantly abandoned when the spent horses could
go no farther.

While the vanguard had thus scattered the main body of the enemy a
detachment of riflemen had ridden round to attack the British rear
and convoy. A few volleys from the escort drove them off, however,
with some loss. Altogether, what with the loss of nine guns and of
at least 200 men, the rout of Haartebeestefontein was a severe blow
to the Boer cause. A week or two later Sir H. Rawlinson's column,
acting with Babington, rushed Smuts's laager at daylight and
effected a further capture of two guns and thirty prisoners. Taken
in conjunction with French's successes in the east and Plumer's in
the north, these successive blows might have seemed fatal to the
Boer cause, but the weary struggle was still destined to go on
until it seemed that it must be annihilation rather than
incorporation which would at last bring a tragic peace to those
unhappy lands.

All over the country small British columns had been operating
during these months--operations which were destined to increase in
scope and energy as the cold weather drew in. The weekly tale of
prisoners and captures, though small for any one column, gave the
aggregate result of a considerable victory. In these scattered and
obscure actions there was much good work which can have no reward
save the knowledge of duty done. Among many successful raids and
skirmishes may be mentioned two by Colonel Park from Lydenburg,
which resulted between them in the capture of nearly 100 of the
enemy, including Abel Erasmus of sinister reputation. Nor would any
summary of these events be complete without a reference to the very
gallant defence of Mahlabatini in Zululand, which was successfully
held by a handful of police and civilians against an irruption of
the Boers. With the advent of winter and of reinforcements the
British operations became very energetic in every part of the
country, and some account of them will now be added.



The African winter extends roughly from April to September, and as
the grass during that period would be withered on the veld, the
mobility of the Boer commandos must be very much impaired. It was
recognised therefore that if the British would avoid another year
of war it could only be done by making good use of the months which
lay before them. For this reason Lord Kitchener had called for the
considerable reinforcements which have been already mentioned, but
on the other hand he was forced to lose many thousands of his
veteran Yeomanry, Australians, and Canadians, whose term of service
was at an end. The volunteer companies of the infantry returned
also to England, and so did nine militia battalions, whose place
was taken however by an equal number of new-comers.

The British position was very much strengthened during the winter
by the adoption of the block-house system. These were small square
or hexagonal buildings, made of stone up to nine feet with
corrugated iron above it. They were loopholed for musketry fire and
held from six to thirty men. These little forts were dotted along
the railways at points not more than 2000 yards apart, and when
supplemented by a system of armoured trains they made it no easy
matter for the Boers to tamper with or to cross the lines. So
effective did these prove that their use was extended to the more
dangerous portions of the country, and lines were pushed through
the Magaliesberg district to form a chain of posts between
Krugersdorp and Rustenburg. In the Orange River Colony and on the
northern lines of the Cape Colony the same system was extensively
applied. I will now attempt to describe the more important
operations of the winter, beginning with the incursion of Plumer
into the untrodden ground to the north.

At this period of the war the British forces had overrun, if they
had not subdued, the whole of the Orange River Colony and every
part of the Transvaal which is south of the
Mafeking-Pretoria-Komati line. Through this great tract of country
there was not a village and hardly a farmhouse which had not seen
the invaders. But in the north there remained a vast district, two
hundred miles long and three hundred broad, which had hardly been
touched by the war. It is a wild country, scrub-covered,
antelope-haunted plains rising into desolate hills, but there are
many kloofs and valleys with rich water meadows and lush grazings,
which formed natural granaries and depots for the enemy. Here the
Boer government continued to exist, and here, screened by their
mountains, they were able to organise the continuation of the
struggle. It was evident that there could be no end to the war
until these last centres of resistance had been broken up.

The British forces had advanced as far north as Rustenburg in the
west, Pienaar in the centre, and Lydenburg in the east, but here
they had halted, unwilling to go farther until their conquests had
been made good behind them. A General might well pause before
plunging his troops into that vast and rugged district, when an
active foe and an exposed line of communication lay for many
hundreds of miles to the south of them. But Lord Kitchener with
characteristic patience waited for the right hour to come, and then
with equally characteristic audacity played swiftly and boldly for
his stake. De Wet, impotent for the moment, had been hunted back
over the Orange River. French had harried the burghers in the
South-east Transvaal, and the main force of the enemy was known to
be on that side of the seat of war. The north was exposed, and with
one long, straight lunge to the heart, Pietersburg might be

There could only be one direction for the advance, and that must be
along the Pretoria to Pietersburg railroad. This is the only line
of rails which leads to the north, and as it was known to be in
working order (the Boers were running a bi-weekly service from
Pietersburg to Warm Baths), it was hoped that a swift advance might
seize it before any extensive damage could be done. With this
object a small but very mobile force rapidly assembled at the end
of March at Pienaar River, which was the British rail-head forty
miles north of Pretoria and a hundred and thirty from Pietersburg.
This column consisted of the Bushveld Carbineers, the 4th Imperial
Bushmen's Corps, and the 6th New Zealand contingent. With them were

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