At daylight on the 14th, the whole garrison was on the alert. Reports declared the Boers to be advancing on the south. Firing was at the same time heard from the north, and Lord Charles Cavendish-Bentinck was reported to be in action. While the firing continued the armoured train was hurriedly got in readiness, and started with the object of engaging the enemy.
The crew of the leading truck, "Firefly," consisted of a detachment of the British South African Police and Railway Volunteers, Captain Ashley Williams himself being in command, Mr. Gwayne being the driver of the engine, and Mr. A. Moffat acting as stoker. The second truck was in charge of Lieutenant More, an engineer on the Bechuanaland Railway. No. 1 truck was armed with a Maxim, and its crew mostly with Lee-Metfords. Truck No. 2, which carried another Maxim, rejoiced in the name of "Wasp." A third truck, the "Gun," carried a Hotchkiss. The crew of the trucks numbered barely fifteen in each. The train, after passing Lord Charles Bentinck's squadron, who hailed it with a cheer and various humorous sallies, came on the enemy, about 500 strong, to right front of the trucks.
A fierce interchange of bullets followed, the Mafeking party firing with such success that the enemy cautiously withdrew into the distance; still they kept up a rattling fire against the armour of the train, which careered up and down the line for some time with imperturbable yet cheerful activity. Presently, however, Colonel Baden-Powell despatched Captain FitzClarence with a squadron of men to cover its retreat, but before this could be effected the Boers again appeared, and a determined engagement ensued. Some sharp fighting took place, and Captain FitzClarence, though ordered to return to Mafeking, was unable to do so without reinforcements on account of the number of his wounded. The phonophore having been connected with the railway line, a telegraph message to this effect was sent to headquarters. Thereupon Lord Charles Bentinck was ordered to take his squadron to the relief of Captain FitzClarence. Meanwhile Captain Ashley Williams and a party of the South African Police alighted from the train, and went unarmed to the assistance of the wounded. Among these was Lieutenant Brady of Queenstown. Soon, the helpless were removed into the trucks, and the train was steaming on its return to Mafeking after having done great execution among the enemy.
Travelling in an armoured train, even when you are not wounded, is scarcely an enjoyable experience; indeed, it may be described as one of the most superb tests of warrior qualities. The machine itself resembles a species of tank-truck, boxed round with seven-feet high walls of iron or steel, without doors or windows, and with no covering for the occupants save the dome of heaven. You climb in and you climb out as you would into a bath, by hanging on to the loopholes made for the rifles, and planting your feet on the exterior ridges that act as steps for the nimble toe. Once in, there is comparative safety. From all sides there is shelter from rifle-fire save when going down-hill below the enemy, who can then with ease pour cascades of bullets upon the heads of the travellers. The machine is painted kharki colour to make it less observable to the enemy, and has the distinction of being quite the ugliest of the many ugly inventions of modern science. Occasionally the exterior is of varied hue—particularly in green country, when it is made to look verdant and covered with boughs to give it an arboreal aspect, and render its shape less observable. But the ugliness and inconvenience of the train are nothing to the dangers it may have to encounter. The occupant may find himself surrounded by a party of the enemy before he has been a mile out from his base; he may find the rail cut behind him; he may steam straight into an ambush at any moment, or be blown up before he can wink. It has rightly been called a "death trap," for it provides chances of dissolution many and varied.
But notwithstanding these risks, the machine was at this time continually in use, and the pluck of the defenders of Mafeking rose superior to all tests. The engagement of the 14th, with all its thrilling and painful experience, bore good fruit; for all felt that the encounter had been beneficial in many ways, more especially in strengthening the sense of security that everywhere began to prevail. To show how much courage and determination was the order of the course, it must be noted, in somewhat Irish phrase, that the manning of the town was assisted by women, some of whom refused to go into laager, but elected to handle their Lee-Metfords for the protection of themselves and their companions.
In the engagement of this day, Lord Charles Cavendish-Bentinck and Lieutenant Brady were both slightly wounded. Major Baillie had a narrow escape, his horse having been shot under him, while his water-bottle was also struck by a bullet. In the evening Colonel Baden-Powell issued a general order congratulating the A and L squadrons, commanded by Captain FitzClarence and Lord Charles Bentinck, and the crew of the armoured train, under Captain Williams and Lieutenant More, for their highly creditable performances.
About this time some discomfort and anxiety was occasioned by the fact that water became scarce in the town, owing to the Boers having taken possession of a fountain from which the inhabitants were supplied. Still, as Colonel Baden-Powell is an officer of genius, full of resource and infinite capacity for taking pains, all had confidence that he would not allow himself to be overcome by a temporary difficulty, and that he and his would emerge from all tests much as Colonel Pearson and his gallant party emerged from the ordeal of Eshowe. So the water difficulty was soon settled. Under Major Hepworth's supervision all the wells were cleaned out, and Sir Charles Warren's old well re-opened. On the 16th of October Commandant Cronje's commandoes took up a position among the thorns above the racecourse and opened fire on the town. Then a Boer party bearing a flag of truce was sent by Cronje to demand surrender to avoid further bloodshed. "Certainly, but when will bloodshed begin?" asked Colonel Baden-Powell, who, alive to all the little dodges of his enemies, knowingly kept the Burgher messenger blindfolded while he formulated his reply. Of course he meant to hold out, and he said so in round terms, and the Burgher departed discomfited and without having secured a plan of the fortifications! Subsequently some Boer Krupp batteries were brought up to cover the town, to impress those concerned and to show that the enemy meant business. But the bombardment so far was not fraught with much damage, for Colonel Baden-Powell, telegraphing on the 21st, thus comically described the situation: "All well. Four hours' bombardment. One dog killed."
The Boers had now begun to penetrate to Tuli in Rhodesia. Tuli is the nearest post on the north to Transvaal territory. It stands on a river that comes down from the Matopo Hills, and joins the Limpopo about twenty miles beyond the town, which commands the cross-roads from the Transvaal to Buluwayo and from Mafeking to Victoria. The troops here were under the command of Colonel Plumer, who, from the time that Mafeking was besieged, was untiring in his efforts to come to the rescue. With Colonel Plumer were the following officers: Majors Pilsen and Bird, Captain Maclaren (13th Hussars), the notable polo-player, Captain Blackburn (Cameronians), Captain Rolt (York and Lancashire Regiment), Lieutenant Rankin (7th Hussars), Lieutenant French (Royal Irish Regiment), and several others.
On the 19th of October a party of the enemy was suddenly met on the Rhodesian side of the river by a reconnoitring patrol. The Dutchmen fired on the patrol, wounding a trooper. Captain Glynn went off for the purpose of locating the enemy, and discovered the presence of a Boer column in his neighbourhood. Two days later a smart skirmish took place between a strong patrol and the enemy, who was encountered at Rhodes's Drift, with the result that two troopers were killed and two wounded. The Boers afterwards took up a strong position on a kopje at Pont's Drift, fired in a dastardly manner on Major Pilsen, Sergeant Shepstone, and his party while they were removing dead and wounded to an ambulance and a cart brought for the purpose, and their work of mercy had to be carried on under the most trying and aggravating conditions. There were also some skirmishes at Crocodile River. An armoured train got within about 1500 yards of a Boer laager three miles south of Crocodile Poort. Captain Blackburn (Cameronians) was seriously wounded and died on the road to Tuli, whither the British retired by Colonel Plumer's orders. It is satisfactory to note that Sergeant Shepstone, who gallantly came to Captain Blackburn's assistance, received his commission.
Skirmishing took place at odd intervals, and Colonel Plumer continued to send reconnoitring parties up and down the river. On many occasions these were fired upon, but without serious result. On the 28th, however, Captains White and Glynn reconnoitred a kopje at Pont's Drift—each approaching the hill on a different side—whereupon a brisk skirmish ensued, when five of their men were shot by the enemy and four wounded. Later on, after his reconnaissance westward along the Crocodile River, Colonel Plumer returned to Tuli. Boer commandoes were at that time supposed to have retired to the neighbourhood of either Pietersburg or Mafeking. Colonel Spreckley's camp was shelled by the enemy on the 3rd of November, and the mules and horses belonging to the squadron promptly stampeded.
To return to Mafeking. The Boers had now begun their activities, and miniature artillery duels were continually taking place between the British and the enemy. More guns were brought to bear upon the position by Cronje and his gang, and they set to work to do as much damage as possible. The Convent was hit, but no one was injured. Finally, after several days of bombardment and reciprocated shelling, Colonel Baden-Powell decided to give the enemy a taste of cold steel. A council of war was held, and on the 27th of October a most courageous night attack was made on the Boer trenches by Captain FitzClarence. As darkness descended, the little force stole noiselessly out of their stronghold with fixed bayonets, creeping like cats along the veldt, breath even being almost suspended lest a sound should put the enemy on guard. Then, on a given signal—a whistle from Captain FitzClarence—the men dashed forward on the foe, cheering lustily, while from the town the echoes and the voices of anxious watchers gave back cheer for cheer. The tussle was short and sharp. It was a case of fifty desperate men with fifty bayonets dealing destruction to a roaring rabble under the tarpaulins! Then came a storm of hostile bullets from the rear of the trenches, a swift reply from the attacking party, followed by Captain FitzClarence's whistle, "Cease fire. Scatter homeward." Under a withering fire the forces obeyed, returning as they went, in silence and in darkness. Then came the roll-call. Six were killed and eleven wounded, but of the latter all returned, none being left on the field. Here we may read Colonel Baden-Powell's general order:—
"The Colonel commanding wishes to record his high appreciation of the dash with which the attack on the enemy's trenches was carried out last night by D squadron of the Protectorate Regiment, under Captain FitzClarence, supported by the Cape Police under Lieutenant Murray. The whole operation was executed exactly as was wanted, and the results, though gained at the cost of several gallant lives, were entirely successful and of great value. By this action the intention of the enemy to push their intrenchments to within rifle distance of the town has been checked, and the heavy loss that they have sustained has given them a wholesome fear of the dash of our men, and they have had an introduction to cold steel such as will not encourage them willingly to face it again. The steadiness of the Town-Guard on the east front was noticeable later in the night, when the enemy had a scare, and broke into wild firing, to which the guard made reply.—By order (Signed) E. H. CECIL, Major, C.S.O."
After this the Boers brought a big gun to bear on the position, and blazed away at a distance of seven miles from the town. Out of sixteen shells only one struck. This set fire to a store. The huge weapon evidently proved a white elephant, for before long the besiegers, much to the joy of the besieged, ceased their attempts to work it.
But heavy bombardment still took place. The Boer hosts attacked the town from three sides at once and were steadily repulsed by the British Maxims. All through the week Cronje's commandoes indulged in desultory rifle-fire, now and again throwing a shell by way of variety, to which attentions Colonel Baden-Powell and his smart garrison responded with such zest and animation, that the Boers, discomfited, declared that the place contained "not men, but devils!"
On Tuesday, the 31st of October, in the early hours of the morning, some hard fighting again took place. Colonel Walford and his detachment of the British South African Police held the fort called Cannon Kopje against an advance of the enemy, made under cover of four heavy guns and one 100-pounder. The affair ended in an entire defeat of the Dutchmen, but not before some gallant lives were sacrificed. The following order, issued the same day by Colonel Baden-Powell, describes the action:—
"The detachment of British South African Police forming the garrison at Cannon Kopje under the command of Colonel Walford, have this day performed a brilliant service by the gallant and determined stand made by them on their post in the face of a very hot shell-fire from the enemy. The intention of the Boers had been, after getting their guns and attacking force into position during the night, to storm Cannon Kopje at daybreak, and thence to bombard the south-east position of the town and carry it with a large force. They collected in the Molopo Valley. Their whole scheme has been defeated by the gallant resistance made by the garrison at Cannon Kopje, who not only refused to budge from their position under a cross-fire of artillery, but succeeded in inflicting such losses on the enemy as compelled them to retreat. In this way they were assisted by the timely and well-directed fire of a seven-pounder, under Lieutenant Murchison. The Colonel Commanding deplores the loss of the gallant officers and men who fell this day. By the death of the Hon. Douglas Henry Marsham and Captain Charles Alexander Kerr Pechell, Her Majesty loses two officers of exceptional promise and soldier-like qualifications. The Colonel Commanding believes he is giving voice to the feeling of the whole Mafeking garrison in expressing the deepest sympathy with the British South African Police in their loss. At the same time he congratulates Colonel Walford and his men on their brilliant achievement."
A pathetic funeral followed, the honoured dead being wrapped in the Union Jack, and buried by the grim light of a lantern, while the Rector and Roman Catholic Chaplain each said over the graves the last solemn words according to the rites of his Church. There was no Dead March, nor were any volleys fired, but the dumb grief of the community told its own tale of mourning.
Kimberley, as has been said, is by no means a picturesque place. On first acquaintance it appears to be surrounded by redoubts or forts, being dotted with mounds of greyish slag, technically called "tailings," which represent the refuse soil from which the diamondiferous ore has been extracted. The buildings are somewhat formal and unpleasing, being for the most part of corrugated iron, and conveying the impression that they are constructed with a view to being carried off at any moment. There are a few private residences, which the orthodox house-agent might style "handsome" or "commodious." The hotel is merely useful as a place for passengers to alight at and depart from, and that it is no more may be accounted for by the fact that Kimberley hospitality is so double-handed that visitors are seldom left to the tender mercies of public caterers. The Kimberley Club dispenses hospitality royally, and for this reason travellers are made independent of outside luxury. Round Kimberley are the suburbs of Beaconsfield, Kenilworth, and Gladstone. Beaconsfield, which was once a growing town, has become stunted, while Kenilworth has blossomed forth under the auspices of Mr. Rhodes.
When the Boer Ultimatum was pronounced, all eyes turned naturally in the direction of the Diamond City, and as naturally the Diamond City, under the direction of Colonel Kekewich, prepared to defend itself. The population to be protected numbered some 33,000, of whom 19,000 were blacks. Among these latter were 4000 women. At that time it was doubtful if the Zulus, Matabeles, and Basutos were to be trusted, and consequently the position of the Colonel in supreme command was one of great responsibility. Fortunately the place was stocked with arms and ammunition, though the number of the regulars was absolutely inadequate to the requirements of so large an area.
The Imperial garrison sent to Kimberley for the defence only consisted of the 23rd Company Royal Garrison Artillery, with six 7-pounder mountain guns, Major Chamier commanding; one section of the 7th Field Company Royal Engineers, under Lieutenant M'Clintock; Captain Gorle and three non-commissioned officers and men of the Army Service Corps, and the headquarters and four companies of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, under Major Murray; in all, 564 officers and men. The staff included Lieutenant-Colonel Kekewich, North Lancashire Regiment, commanding; Major Scott-Turner, Royal Highlanders (staff officer); Captain O'Meara, Royal Engineers (Intelligence Officer); and Lieutenant MacInnes, Royal Engineers. The volunteer forces, when first called out for active service, consisted of one battery Diamond Fields Artillery, six 7-pounder field-guns, Major May, 3 officers, and 90 rank and file; Diamond Fields Horse, Major Rodger, 6 officers, 142 rank and file; Kimberley Regiment, Colonel Finlayson, 14 officers, 285 rank and file:—total all ranks, 1060.
The whole garrison was reviewed, and a town-guard was formed at Beaconsfield, under the command of Major Fraser. Colonel Harris commanded the Volunteers, most of these being employees of the De Beers mines. Preparations were made for the arrival of Mr. Cecil Rhodes, who was hastening to the scene of his early life-work, and for whose body, alive or dead, it was reported the Boers had sent out an offer of L5000. The artillery was exercised and defences were erected on all sides. Ladies and children made haste to leave by every train, but one lady of note, the Hon. Mrs. Rochfort Maguire, remained. The Commandant of Kimberley gave orders that trees should be felled and the bush cleared, in order to open a fine field for firing, the garrison to a man exerting themselves so as to give a warm reception to the enemy directly he should show a head above the kopje. On the 12th of October Mr. Cecil Rhodes arrived. His entry was somewhat melodramatic, as his train was delayed and spies were actually on the platform lying in wait for him. Fortunately he was not recognised. The magnetism of his presence added fresh zest to the proceedings in the town, while the calm confidence of his bearing became absolutely infectious. In fact, he soon delighted every one by stating that he considered Kimberley to be every bit "as safe as Piccadilly." At this time the town was well provisioned and the mines were kept working. Most of the garrison occupied the brigade grounds, while the detachment of regulars and the Kimberley regiments were stationed at the Sanatorium. The Town-Guard soon numbered 2000.
Skirmishing took place on Friday, the 14th of October, and on the following day there were more encounters. One squadron in an armoured train was held up by the Boers, and their attack was supported by a second force. The second squadron of the Protectorate regiment grandly repelled the attack. The train, in which were several Imperial officers, was uninjured. The Boer artillery gave way at last, and the forces withdrew, but not before having sustained heavy loss.
On the 15th a proclamation was made establishing martial law in Griqualand West and Bechuanaland. Persons not members of the defending forces were ordered to register their firearms, and no one was allowed to leave their houses between nine at night and six in the morning. The canteens without permits were opened only for a few hours during the day. Death was to be the punishment for acts contrary to civilised warfare. Fourteen Streams and Vryburg were now evacuated, the police detachments retiring from them on Kimberley.
In order to maintain internal order, Colonel Kekewich divided the town into four sub-districts, and the people were cautioned against holding communication with the Queen's enemies. The consumption of meat was regulated, each man being allowed 1 lb. daily, while the exports of foodstuffs and forage were prohibited. Roads were closed, and no one without authority or a permit was allowed to pass in or out. The defences everywhere were strengthened.
On the 21st of October, an armoured train that went out to reconnoitre discovered the enemy in the neighbourhood of Spyfontein. A proclamation having been issued by the Boers at Vryburg annexing Bechuanaland, most probably for the purpose of impressing the disloyal Dutch, Colonel Kekewich forthwith issued another, threatening that British subjects found assisting the Queen's enemies would be summarily dealt with as base rebels. He also declared that, in spite of the hoisting of the Vierkleur in Vryburg, the status of British subjects in Griqualand and Bechuanaland would remain unaltered. An armoured train was again engaged on this date, but only one man was killed. Two trucks of dynamite, however, which had been safely removed, were blown up by the Boers. The town was now completely isolated, the railway line being cut north and south.
On the 24th inst. the garrison, supported by two armoured trains, had a fresh and an exceedingly animated encounter with the enemy. Colonel Scott Turner and 270 mounted volunteers marched north to Macfarlane's Farm. There they off-saddled and kept a look-out for the Boers. Soon afterwards they appeared, and Colonel Turner opened fire. The Boers promptly intrenched themselves behind a sandheap, and from thence kept up a hot fusilade. To Colonel Turner's assistance there came the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, followed at noon by their Colonel—Colonel Murray—with two guns, two Maxims, and 70 mounted men.
The Boers advanced on Colonel Murray and tried to cut off the party, and in endeavouring to frustrate their efforts Colonel Turner found himself in the thick of a furious fire which burst from a dam wall 500 yards on his left.
The British guns promptly began to blaze on the enemy, who very briskly responded. In the end, however, they were compelled to fall back. At this juncture the Lancashires, whose pluck and dexterity were magnificent throughout, hastily occupied the position, fixed bayonets, and gallantly drove off the enemy whenever he turned to make a stand. The fight, which was in every way a brilliant success, lasted four long hours. The British loss was three killed and twenty-one wounded, while that of the Boers was considerable. Commandant Botha was said to be among the killed. During this engagement Kimberley, as may be imagined, was in a state of frantic excitement, and the return of the troops was looked for by swarms of people, including women, who crowded the trenches and received the gallant defenders with great enthusiasm. Mr. Rhodes afterwards made an amusing speech to the Volunteers, complimented them on their splendid work, and explained that there was one man whom the Boers wished to capture, and that man was himself. Owing to the efficiency of the troops, however, he declared that he rejoiced in a sense of complete security. Cheers followed, for the Queen, the Governor, Mr. Rhodes, and the officers of the corps. After this things were fairly quiet, though the garrison remained on the alert. Lord Methuen, it became known, had started from the Orange River on the 22nd, and was daily decreasing the distance between his relieving force and the town; and, in order to meet his energetic advance, the Boers were unable to afford a sufficient number of troops to force the town into surrender. So Kimberley kept up its spirits—it viewed life with "one auspicious and one drooping eye"—mingling the discharge of guns with the chime of marriage-bells. This is no figure of speech, for there was actually a wedding—two people, at least, having found time to be romantic in their love amid the storm and stress of war. A dance and a concert also took place. Indeed, things were conducted with such high spirit and in so convivial a manner that it might have been imagined that the Boers were commissioned to supply the fireworks, and that a species of "Brock's benefit" was got up whenever events were inclined to wax monotonous. Reports computed the investing force at 4000, and it was further stated that General Cronje's commando would be reinforced by the arrival of some 1500 more. Yet the gallant little town smiled within itself and said "The more the merrier." Colonel Scott Turner made a reconnaissance on the 1st of November, found the enemy posted on a kopje, was thundered at with thirteen shells, but returned with his force in safety. On the 4th of November Commandant Wessels invited Colonel Kekewich to hand over the troops and town on pain of bombardment. The exact terms of the invitation are not known, but some portions of the communication were as follows:—
"In case your Honour should determine not to comply with this demand, I hereby request your Honour to allow all women and children to leave Kimberley, so that they may be placed out of danger, and for this purpose your Honour is granted time from noon on Saturday, November 4, 1899, to 6 A.M. on Monday, November 6, 1899. I further give notice that during that time I shall be ready to receive all Afrikander families who wish to remove from Kimberley, and also to offer liberty to depart to all women and children of other nations desirous of leaving."
The Boers soon began to receive the reinforcements which have been mentioned. These came from the direction of Mafeking, that place having proved too much a "spitfire" for their liking. As a last resource, they directed their attention to Kimberley, and by way of exercise blew up some L3000 worth of dynamite which was stored in some huts belonging to the De Beers Company. While these exciting events were taking place, and with the roar of intermittent explosions in his ears, Mr. Rhodes pursued a placid way. His labours were eminently horticultural—at least so they appeared on the surface. He engaged himself at Kenilworth, the suburb which he may be said to have created, in planting an avenue a mile long with orange-trees, espalier vines, and pepper-trees. It was called his Siege Avenue. There was suggestion in the arrangement, and the mind instinctively conjured up visions of mystery—mystery somewhat prolonged and clinging, with spice of a stimulating kind thrown in.
News from the Orange River, which came in by fits and starts, hinted that after the evacuation of Colesberg would come the abandonment of Stormberg. Stormberg was intended to be the depot where stores, tents, ammunition, and all the commissariat details of the Third Division under General Gatacre would be accumulated. These stores, owing to the Boer advance from Bethulie and Aliwal North, were now being removed to Queenstown, some sixty miles down the line.
In consequence of the incursion of about 3000 refugees—some of them most undesirable in character—it was deemed expedient to issue a proclamation of martial law in Natal. This was followed by the seizure of the Transvaal National Bank at Durban, a most exciting episode, which caused quite a ferment in the town. All around the offices a curious and somewhat rowdy rabble congregated, and it was found necessary to guard the premises with Bluejackets and marines. However, after the place had been searched, the men, looking strangely transmogrified in their kharki, returned to Her Majesty's ship Tartar, and affairs went on as usual. At the Cape, owing to widespread rumours of disloyalty, Sir Alfred Milner issued the following proclamation, dated October 28:—
"Whereas it has been reported to me that a proclamation has been made by or on behalf of the Government of the South African Republic purporting to declare as part of the territory of the Republic certain portions of that part of this Colony situated north of the Orange River, and which have been invaded by the forces of the said Government; and whereas it is necessary to warn all Her Majesty's subjects, especially those resident in the aforesaid portions of this Colony, of the invalidity of such proclamation:
"Now therefore, in virtue of the authority committed to me as Governor of this Colony, I do hereby proclaim and make known that any such proclamation, if made, is null and void and of no effect, and I do hereby further warn and admonish all Her Majesty's subjects, especially those resident in the aforesaid portions of this Colony, that they do, in accordance with their duty and allegiance, disregard such proclamation, as being of no force and effect whatsoever, and observe their obligations to her Majesty, her Crown and Government, and in no way voluntarily accept or recognise the Government of the South African Republic in any part of this Colony which may have been proclaimed territory of that Republic.
"And I do further warn that any one failing, in contravention of the law, to obey the terms of this proclamation, will render himself liable to be prosecuted for the crime of high treason."
To Mr. Chamberlain he wrote on the subject on the same date:—
"It is impossible accurately to find out what has happened as regards the alleged annexation by the Government of the South African Republic or Orange Free State of portions of the Cape Colony.
"No copies of any proclamation by either Government to that effect have reached me here, but news coming from various parts of districts west and north of Kimberley clearly show that the people there credit the annexation theory.
"It seems, however, more probable on the whole that it is the Government of the South African Republic which has annexed the district north of the Vaal River.
"With the consent of Ministers, I issued yesterday the proclamation contained in my previous message, in order to check the mischief which this widespread report is causing."
Apropos of Sir Alfred Milner's letter, it must be mentioned that several of the Bechuanaland Dutch had openly joined the Boers; and on the occasion of the hoisting of the Transvaal flag in Vryburg, Commandant Delarey took occasion to deliver himself of an effective speech, in which he said that the flag of the country was now floating over the whole Orange River, and that the flag of Britain would never again do so unless it were hoisted over the dead bodies of the Burghers. At Klipdam also the Boers put in an appearance, and celebrated their incursion by holding "at homes" in the Magistrates' Court; but hearing of the British successes at Kimberley, and judging discretion to be the better part of valour, they decamped northwards, leaving food and stores behind.
The disaffection of the Dutch was as yet almost confined to the western border. On the eastern side the inhabitants for the most part were staunch. Indeed, in the history of the war the splendid loyalty of Natal as a whole will ever be remembered. Her trials were many and her faith almost sublime. Weekly the Times of Natal had poured forth its plaint on the dilatoriness or insouciance of the Imperial Government, yet nothing was done till those who put their trust in the good faith of the mother country were deprived of home and fortune, and in their bitterness were tempted to declare that British protection was as Dead-Sea fruit—a profitless show, that was apt to turn to ashes in the mouth. The following letters serve to show the attitude of a staunch loyalist under the severe strain put upon him, and they are quoted because they are descriptive, not of individual anxiety and distress, but of the general feeling of the Colony in those months of supreme trial.
One letter, dated October 27, began:—
"Those brave fellows up at Ladysmith have been fighting all day. We heard their cannon even after dusk. What is the result, I wonder? I fear we shall not hear till to-morrow. That essential but most aggravating censor causes such delays, and dishes up such garbled accounts of the actual facts, as to astound those who know the truth.... There is little chance of our being able to attempt even to defend this place. It simply means evacuation or surrender, and stand by and see the Transvaal flag go up! O England! England! As ever, unprepared."
The next letter, dated October 31, said:—
"Here we are in peace and quiet, such as it is possible to enjoy with the roar of artillery booming over the few miles of echoing hills which divide us from the scene of battle and bloodshed, torn limbs and ceaseless pain. I am weary of the contemplation of all this frightful suffering and brutality.... I do not know what opportunities you have of obtaining correct information, for the trash the papers publish after the real facts have been distorted by the censor is as good as useless. I hardly like to say too much, as one never knows into whose hands one's letters may fall, and our own noble defenders are as severe in suppressing the knowledge of the true facts of the battles and movements of the forces as any enemy could possibly be. However, the game is with the English still.... If only Ladysmith is held, the Colony is safe. This shocking flight of women and children from town after town is too awful to witness. Shame on the British Government to make our Colony the scene of this bloody struggle, and leave the handful of soldiers sent out all unsupported, unprepared—unprepared as usual—all smug and self-confident in the little overcrowded, over-comfortable island, and forgetful of the horrors to which unfortunate colonists are exposed across the sea."
The Governor of the British prison at Misina, Pomeroy, Natal, wrote in a similar heart-breaking strain:—
"I have only time for a few lines. I am tired out, having been turned out of house and home by the cursed Boers. I have ridden the ninety-one miles to Pietermaritzburg. I and four other Government officials had to remain at our posts till the last. We had to ride for our lives. I never shall forget these times. We waited almost too long—long enough for the five of us to have a shot at the advanced guard, of whom we captured two, and rode with them to the Volunteer camp, eighteen miles from Pomeroy, at Tugela. I never felt like shooting any one before a commando of about 400 came down for myself and the magistrate."
In regard to the readiness of Natal to support British supremacy, a visitor who participated in the raising of the volunteer regiments there stated that there were 4500 volunteers in the field, three-fourths of whom were drilled men. They were enrolled at the rate of 200 a day. Durban a month later raised a splendid corps of colonial scouts for the purpose of checking Boer raiding. It was composed of some sixty or seventy men of the best families in the place.
The conduct of the Natal women was especially noteworthy. Their patience, their fortitude, their eager desire to be of service, their readiness to face sacrifice, won general esteem. One eye-witness stated that while shells were hurtling through the air and bursting on the ground, they—the women-folk of the place—calmly traversed the streets in ordinary costume and with ordinary demeanour, as though no hostile Boer or bellowing gun was within a hundred miles of them. Not a trace of fear or panic was manifest. It was not surprising to learn that a community boasting such noble specimens of womanhood decided to remain where they were rather than accept the dubious shelter offered them by the Boer general.
Mr. Winston Spencer Churchill, writing of the Natalians in the Morning Post, feelingly said: "There are several points to be remembered in this connection. Firstly, the colonists have had many dealings with the Boers. They knew their strength; they feared their animosity. But they have never for one moment lost sight of their obligations as a British colony. Their loyalty has been splendid. From the very first they warned the Imperial Government that their territories would be invaded. Throughout the course of the long negotiations they knew that if war should come, on them would fall the first fury of the storm. Nevertheless, they courageously supported and acclaimed the action of the Ministry. Now at last there is war—bitter war. It means a good deal to all of us, but more than to any it comes home to the Natalian. He is invaded; his cattle have been seized by the Boer; his towns are shelled or captured; the most powerful force on which he relies for protection is isolated in Ladysmith; his capital is being loopholed and intrenched; Newcastle has been abandoned, Colenso has fallen, Estcourt is threatened; the possibility that the whole province will be overrun stares him in the face. From the beginning he asked for protection. From the beginning he was promised complete protection; but scarcely a word of complaint is heard. The townsfolk are calm and orderly, the Press dignified and sober. The men capable of bearing arms have responded nobly. Boys of sixteen march with men of fifty to war—to no light, easy war. The Imperial Light Infantry is eagerly filled. The Imperial Light Horse can find no more vacancies, not even for those who will serve without pay. The Volunteers and Town-Guards bear their parts like men." Of the excellence of the service of the Natalians a great deal remains to be said. At present the story must proceed.
The arrival of Sir Redvers Buller at Cape Town on the 31st of October was a signal for general rejoicing. The streets were filled to overflowing, and cheer after cheer rung from thousands of throats. As the General drove to Government House, he was greeted by cries of "Avenge Majuba!" and "Bravo, General!" and by the amount of emotion expended and the universal expression of relief evidenced, it was plain that the Cape colonists, like the cockney Londoner, were prepared "to bet their bottom dollar" on the combination of Sir Redvers Buller and Mr. Thomas Atkins!
On the 2nd November the Boers proclaimed the Upper Tugela division of Natal to be Free State Territory, and they seized Colesberg Bridge, some eighteen miles north of the town of Colesberg, where the road between that place and Philippolis crosses the Orange River. However, as Orange River, De Aar, Colesberg, and Stromberg were still held by our forces, the inhabitants remained confident. Yet reports of the Boer advance on Colesberg were scarcely reassuring, and rumours of increased disaffection among the Dutch farmers in this region were rife.
It was a curious fact that some of the Boers started from Johannesburg for the frontier wearing in their hats the national colours, red, white, and blue—and green, with above them a yellow band, thus completing the insignia of the United South Africa for which they were to fight. It would be interesting to know how the red, white, and blue became associated with the green, and whether Aylward, the agitator, and his Fenian friends introduced it for the purpose of giving prominence to the sympathy of the Anti-English brotherhood in the Emerald Isle. The disloyal Natal Dutch, such of them as there then were, were distinguished by a red rose badge. These signs were of no consequence in themselves, but they served to demonstrate the preconcerted nature of Boer actions, which were supposed by certain persons to have been a sudden and spontaneous outcome of British oppression.
Racial feeling grew stronger and fiercer day by day, and Mr. Kruger's threat to "stagger humanity" was by some declared to be within an ace of being fulfilled. The Boer is inherently as tough as the Briton, and as obstinate: he was now well equipped for warfare, well led, and the chances of a terrific and bloody struggle seemed hourly to become more and more certain. Fortunately, each day brought our troops nearer to the Cape, and after the 9th of November they began to disembark—a total, so far, of 11,000 in all. At first sight this military multitude seemed an imposing addition to our force, but, in view of the losses we had sustained and the general complications of the position, some 100,000 was nearer the figure required. However, the Home authorities chose to send out their help in driblets, and the same Home authorities were supposed to know how the driblets might be adequately disposed. It was only to the ignorant "man in the street" that the problem of how to meet the massed armies of the Boers with diffused handfuls of troops became incomprehensible.
Among the misfortunes with which the British had to contend was the unfit state of the horses after prolonged travel. Horses are intensely liable to sea-sickness; they also suffer much from being cribbed, cabined, and confined for any length of time; and the difference between the state of the Australian and the British animals on landing was very marked. The former were in good working fettle, while the latter had swollen and stiff joints, and were generally below par. The New Zealand chargers were all that could be desired, and they made an excellent show when compared with those of some of the other mounted regiments. Horse-sickness had also to be contended with, and it was with great difficulty averted. Some of the officers, however, discovered that by keeping the horses protected by their nosebags during the dewy hours of early morning the liability to the complaint was lessened. The question of horses was a serious one, almost as important as the question of guns. The exceeding mobility of the Boer army for long had been a matter of surprise, if not to the initiated, at least to the general public, and, as it later appeared, to the Government itself. They had sent out important generals and learned tacticians, and a fairly large and unwieldy mass of men, who were bound by their healthy appetites to stick to their base and hug the railway lines, while the enemy shifted about with the most annoying and confounding velocity, delighting to deceive as to their position, and in their deception being for the most part eminently successful. There is a passage in the Scriptures that mentions that "the king of Israel is come out to seek a flea as when one doth hunt a partridge in the mountain," and this quotation on the approach of our weighty military machine, the Boers, ever Biblical, must have been inclined to remember and to appreciate.
The opinion seemed prevalent, particularly in Colonial circles, that English generals, in consequence of their European or Indian experiences, were unequal to a struggle with the "slim" and shifty Boers. Laing's Nek, Ingogo, and Majuba had all proved that some extraordinary weakness, either tactically or mentally, seemed to possess the bravest warriors in the face of this incomprehensible foe. Since the date of Majuba the ways of the Boers had become still more of a conundrum. They had kept up their habit of sharpshooting, and had acquired an insight into German tactics. For all that, on occasion certain of their old commanders resorted to the primitive tricks of the Zulus, and advanced in horn fashion, keeping one horn in ambush as long as possible, so as to create a surprise for an unprepared enemy. Even to eminent tacticians like General Clery and others, the blend of modern German and antique Zulu in the ordering of war must have been confounding, and it is scarcely surprising that they took some little time to master the subject.
The landing, on the 8th November, of the Naval Brigade with twenty guns for the defence of Durban was a move in the right direction, and the arrival and marching in of the brigade was an inspiriting sight. The streets swarmed with an enthusiastic multitude that welcomed the jolly Jack Tar with delight, and cheered itself hoarse, almost drowning the vigorous strains of the band of the Terrible, which played outside the Town-Hall. Captain Percy Scott of the Terrible, inventor of the now celebrated gun-carriages, replaced Major Bethune as commandant of the forces defending the port, while the latter officer returned to the active command of the Uitlander corps.
The tide of reinforcement now began to flow evenly into Cape Colony and Natal, and there was great excitement owing to the arrival of the Moor, which left Southampton on October the 21st. Among those on board were Lieutenant-General Lord Methuen, commanding the First Division of the Field Force; Major-General Sir C. F. Clery, commanding the Second Division; and Major-General Sir W. F. Gatacre, commanding the Third Division; and a large number of officers for service on the Staff.
THE INVASION OF CAPE COLONY
The position of affairs in the direction of the Orange River was at first somewhat stationary. The British were awaiting the arrival of troops and keeping on the alert; the Boers were making proclamations and annexing adjacent villages.
A column from Cape Colony had started, and more troops were pushing up as fast as train could carry them in the direction of De Aar. A letter from a British officer from that place describes the state of affairs on the 20th of October. He said:—
"This place is to be a big base when the British troops arrive; 10,000 are to come here, but are not expected for at least a month. At present we are the only regiment here, and have to keep the line open and guard all the stores coming up for the 10,000 troops. We have not got half enough men, as the front of our position is nearly five miles, and we cannot watch it properly. Our position is strong as long as we can hold the hills; but if the Boers can get artillery near us, they will wipe us out in a few hours without getting within rifle range at all, as we have no guns ourselves. We keep on telegraphing for them, but the officials at home and at Cape Town do not seem to understand the position. The worst of this place is that there is not a loyal native within twenty miles of us, and they are only waiting for a good opportunity to rise. We can only be ready for them—that is, we cannot attack them, as they have not yet declared openly for the Transvaal, though they are all spies, and give the Boers information on all our dispositions."
In this short letter we find the keynote of all our subsequent troubles. The complete and almost absurd confidence of the British, supported as it was by valour without wisdom or activity, was a "voice" and nothing more. Deeply have we suffered since those words were written, for an arrogant under-estimation of the enemy, a reprehensible delay in preparing for him, and a parsimonious system of carrying out those preparations when attempted. However, it is useless to cry over spilt milk.
To thoroughly appreciate the situation at this period it is necessary to understand the direction in which our troops were moving. Modder River, Hope Town, and Orange River are situated on the railway between Kimberley and the junction of the lines which run south to Cape Town and Port Elizabeth respectively. De Aar, of which we began to hear so much, is an important station at the apex of the triangle, just over 500 miles from Cape Town, and here towards the end of the month of October many troops were congregating. Here, though no hostilities were actually taking place, there was a good deal of simmering activity; for it must be remembered that De Aar Junction was our advanced supply base in the Colony, and owed its strategical importance at this critical period to the fact that it was the junction of Cape Town and Port Elizabeth railways. It is situated about sixty miles from the Orange River and Free State border.
The contrast at this time between camps British and camps Dutch in the neighbourhood of the border was curious. The Boers were prepared, taking their ease. The British were in suspense. Disaffection was visible on all sides, and yet inaction, irritating inaction, was obligatory. Morning, noon, and night a perennial sand-storm blew; overhead, the sun grilled and scorched. Meals, edibles, and liquids were diluted with 10 per cent. of grit, and when perchance Tommy strove to strain his hardly-earned beer—to make a filter of a butter-cloth—phut! would come a gust of wind and bring the experiment to a melancholy conclusion. Poor Thomas's temper was much tried! He was, of necessity, an exceedingly temperate fellow in those days, but when he got a pot of beer he preferred it to be beer, and not porridge. He did not relish in his mouth the same thing that the wind was distributing impartially into ears and eyes. He said he could take in—at the pores—enough of that to suit his liking. But he was no grumbler, as a rule. He worked hard and incessantly, Colonel Barter determining to keep his men of the Yorkshire Light Infantry quite up to the mark. It was necessary to take every precaution against surprise, and for commanding officers to remain eternally on the qui vive. It needed considerable tact to order sufficient work, and only sufficient. It was dangerous to over-fatigue troops who might be required to leap to arms at any moment; it was also risky to allow active men in a hot sun to give way to inertia. There was the never-ceasing routine of guards and picquets, the practice of route marching and field manoeuvres, and the daily round of minor camp duties to keep the warriors hale and hearty, and prepare their thews for a tough tussle. A regular system of scouting was matutinally carried on, and it was thought that the enemy would not be able to encroach beyond his border without enjoying a startling reception. At this time he was not visible, and all that scouts could detect, beside some innocent hares and springbok among the hills, was now and then a flying horseman who disappeared on their approach.
But the Boers were not far off. They were encamped close to the border. One adventurous individual, for his personal satisfaction, performed the feat of travelling north and swimming across the Orange River to reconnoitre. In the darkness of the night he stole out, plunged cautiously into the river, clothes and all, and swam safely to the other side. Then striking out in a north-easterly direction, he made for a small kopje overlooking the Boer camp. Meanwhile the moon had sailed out, and began to throw a sheet of silver over the panorama. Below, the three lines of tents were outlined, and these were flanked and interspersed with multitudinous waggons, which formed a chain almost along the entire length of the valley. In the early dawn more objects became discernible, the flickering red tongues of the camp-fires, the winking eye of a lantern that hung from a pole. By this illumination it was possible to note the general scene of disorder. Scattered garments and goods in promiscuous array—ammunition and provisions, harness, saddles, biltong, and gin-bottles—a multifarious, slovenly litter, shed here, there, and everywhere. Only two sentries were visible, and these our friend stealthily evaded. One Cerberus sat on the ground with his back planted against a waggon wheel yawning dolefully, and farther on slouched another, hands in pockets, head on chest, walking back and forwards with the air of an automaton. The individual creeping past them, close under their noses, smiled softly to himself. How simple to sweep off a dozen or two of the inmates of the camp before these so-called sentries recovered from their dozing. Fifty men and fifty bayonets could have got in without difficulty, and the rout of the rebels would have been an affair of moments. Now, perhaps before nightfall the whole commando would have melted away!
Presently at the bottom of the kopje came horsemen—some five of them—galloping along, and the adventurous one made haste to hide. The Boer patrol passed within some two hundred yards of him, and he was safe. It was now time to hurry off. The day was breaking. Again a plunge into the icy river, again a fight with the racing current, again a safe landing, this time on the British bank. So the escapade ended, but it enabled those interested to form a fair idea of the lack of organisation among the Dutch, and to argue that if once they should leave their naturally strong fortifications and intrenchments, the first united and sustained attack on the part of the British would mean their certain discomfiture.
At the end of October the Border Regiment arrived upon the scene. The Yorks almost immediately struck camp and prepared to entrain for Orange River; but presently a counter-order arrived, and, much to their regret, the regiment again resumed its former routine.
The place at this time was under military law, and precautions were rigorously taken against spies. The railway stations were cautiously guarded night and day, and none was allowed to approach without proper authority. Troops soon began to pour through on the way to Orange River, whence the advance was shortly to take place. Tremendous labour came on the hands of Lieut.-General Sir F. Forestier Walker, who took trips along the lines of communication to ascertain that all arrangements were satisfactory.
In readiness for the influx of troops new sidings were constructed to north and south of the railway station, and the little karoo junction began to assume an air of wonderful importance. Among the innovations was a branch of the Standard Bank adjoining Friedlater's Store, showing that, though not a Klondyke, this place, which has been described as "the windiest, dustiest, most unfinished, most inhospitable corner of the South African wilderness, the veritable jumping-off place of the globe," was fast becoming the base of gigantic military operations. The outlying farms were still in occupation, though inhabitants were few. These apparently were indifferent to the progress of coming events, but possibly at that time they were engaged in careful investigation as to the side of the bread which held the most butter before committing themselves to an attitude. Their sole obvious desire was that patrols should not omit to close the gates after them whenever they chanced to pass through their domains. The Border Regiment soon after its arrival moved to Naauwpoort, and a battery and a half of artillery swelled the little garrison. The development of the place now went on more rapidly.
Mr. E. F. Knight, the brilliant correspondent of the Morning Post, wrote an interesting description of this now important locality only a few days before he had the misfortune to lose his arm through the treachery of the Boers. He said:—
"The township, which surrounds the railway station, is merely a congregation of a few houses belonging to people connected with the railway. It stands in the midst of a desert—a dusty, treeless plain covered with sparse low sage brush and enclosed by rocky ridges. The camp is ever increasing in size, but, as I write, it consists of two encampments, one to the north and one to the south of the township, all the troops being under canvas. In the North Camp are the 2nd Battalion of the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, eight hundred strong, and a field-battery and a half-battery (15-pounders), and in the South Camp, in which I have pitched my tent, is the remount camp, with a company of the Army Service Corps, a supply detachment of the same corps, with a field-bakery, two half-sections of the Royal Engineers, a company of the Army Ordnance Corps, and a detachment of the Volunteer Medical Staff Corps. A wing of the Berkshire Regiment has also just come in from Naauwpoort, which we have abandoned as being untenable by the small force which could at present be spared to defend it. There are at De Aar now about two thousand men all told, including Major Rimington's two hundred scouts. More artillery is expected from Cape Town, and by the time this letter reaches England we shall probably be largely reinforced. Several redoubts, lines of intrenchments, and sangars on the heights protect the camps, and a few small guns have been posted on the neighbouring kopjes. The surrounding country is being well patrolled, and we cannot well be taken by surprise.... In short, one sees here all that skilled, laborious, indispensable preparation for the campaign of which the British public knows so little, and which never receives its due credit at home.
"It is wonderful, indeed, that the Boers did not attempt to seize this valuable prize a week or so ago, when the camp was practically undefended, and when our officers, momentarily expecting attack, were sleeping in their boots. Our position is far from secure even now; our force here is insignificant, and it seems that the Boers are getting nearer. They have crossed the river at various points.
"Our scouts have been in touch with their commandoes. We have had some false alarms since I have been here; it is rumoured to-day that they are close to, and that the attack on De Aar is but a question of hours. But still the heavily-laden trains come in with their valuable freight and the military stores accumulate. It is to be hoped that we shall have the men, too, without delay."
In the above words we have, repeated, the story of suspense and anxiety that was told by one and all who had the misfortune to spend October and November on the Transvaal border, a story of brave Britons, practically unarmed—heroically valorous but impotent—standing almost in the teeth of the enemy and sickening with hope deferred.
The Dutchmen came to work much fresher. The warrior-farmer was untrammelled by red tape—unwearied by routine. He was not hampered by minute regulations, though he was bound to look after himself and rely on his own resources. He provided his own provisions, his own waggon and horses, but the Government in the event of his requiring it supplied him with the necessaries of the campaign. He could have luxuries ad libitum sent from home, and while battle was not absolutely going on he had little to do but to eat, drink, and sleep. Drills and field exercises were unknown, though, of course, each had to take his turn at guard duty. In action the operations of the Boer commandoes were presided over by field-cornets, and in camp the work was carried out by corporals, who superintended the supply department—the munitions of "war" and "mouth," as we call them, on which the fighting line depended for ammunition and food.
General Wood arrived at De Aar on the 4th of November and took over the command of the troops. His first action was to employ the Engineers and some Cape boys to throw up defensive works and erect sangars on a ridge—some 2000 yards from the camp—which by a sheer accident had not been seized by the Boers. From this point of vantage it was possible for the British guns to command the plain for many miles round. He then put the place under martial law, as Dutchmen and spies were slinking about in the neighbourhood of the railway and the camps. The General's regulations ran thus:—
"No person is allowed to remain in or to quit De Aar without a permit signed by the Magistrate, and countersigned by the Camp Commandant. The permits for railway officials will be signed and issued by the heads of the traffic, locomotive, and engineering departments, those for postal officials by the heads of that department. Any person found selling intoxicating liquors to a soldier or to a native or coloured person will be immediately apprehended and the whole of his goods will be seized. The sale of intoxicating liquors to others can only take place between the hours of 11 A.M. and 6 P.M. This includes sale of liquors to persons staying in any hotel or boarding-house in De Aar. Every person keeping an hotel or boarding-house, or any one receiving persons into his private house to stay for one night or more, is required to obtain permission of the Camp Commandant before doing so. No persons other than railway and postal officials, who will be provided with a special pass, will be allowed to be out of their houses after 9.30 P.M. Any person infringing these regulations will be dealt with by martial law."
We must now move in the direction of the Orange River, where more activities were taking place. Information having been received that the Boers in great numbers were gathered at Kaffir's Kop, a hill some 500 feet high east of Belmont, a reconnaissance was made in that direction on the 10th of November. The reconnoitring force was composed of a couple of squadrons of the 9th Lancers and detachments of the Munster Fusiliers, the Northumberland Fusiliers, and the Loyal North Lancashires. With these were a handy lot of mounted infantry and a half battery of field-artillery. They bivouacked two nights before on the north side of the bridge, in order to be ready to move on at daybreak. Early on Thursday morning they marched out, the cavalry forming a wide screen, behind which were the mounted infantry and guns. Belmont, which was some twenty-eight miles off, was reached at 2.30, but not a sign of the Dutchmen was to be seen. The troops consequently returned to Fincham's Farm, some ten miles back, where they spent the night. In the morning they went east, where the enemy was reported to have retired. The object of the reconnaissance was to ascertain the strength of the enemy, and this was soon achieved, for he was found to be in immense force in a position of natural strength flanked by huge hills. Some smart skirmishing ensued. Colonel Gough with a battery of field artillery engaged the Boers and sent one and a half companies of mounted infantry to turn the enemy's left flank and discover his laager. Fighting continued for more than three hours, during which Colonel Keith-Falconer, Northumberland Fusiliers, was killed. Lieutenant Wood, North Lancashire Regiment, was shot through the head, and Lieutenants Bevan and Hall of the Northumberland Fusiliers were also wounded. An armoured train came to the rescue and attracted the Boer fire, pouring from two Maxims a withering storm of bullets on the enemy and inflicting heavy loss. The Dutchmen were discovered to be in great force all around, and as they blocked the road to Kimberley, the promise of more spirited engagements was in the air. Already it was ascertained that a number of culverts on the railway line had been destroyed by the hostile troops, and rumours of Boer invasion were continually being brought in.
The next day, amid universal regret, the two gallant officers who had lost their lives in leading their men against the powerful enemy, were buried.
Lieutenant Brook (9th Lancers) on the day of the reconnaissance had a narrow escape, and experiences more exciting than pleasurable. Early in the morning he had gone on ahead of the column for the purpose of making a route sketch. This done, he sent it back by his orderly, and while continuing his investigations found himself confronted with the enemy. A shower of bullets greeted him. His horse was shot and he was brought to the ground. It was neck or nothing now, and he ran for dear life pursued by a horde of mounted Boers. Fortunately he came to a wire fence, vaulted it, and was for a moment safe. The enemy's ponies could not follow. But the Boers sent shots after his retreating form, shots which luckily missed him, and he was enabled to reach two troops of the 9th Lancers which galloped up to the rescue.
On the 12th Lord Methuen arrived, and there was general satisfaction among the troops. They were now in fine fighting condition, and, having had one taste of battle, were longing to advance and get in touch with the enemy.
But the advance of Lord Methuen's column was no simple affair. It must be remembered that from Cape Town to the base, De Aar, is 500 miles, to Belmont 591, to Kimberley 647, and to Mafeking 870 miles, and the railway from place to place needed continual guarding, and especially the bridges in localities where the disaffected portion of the Dutch community resided. Lord Methuen's route, too, lay across a species of dusty Sahara, over boulder-strewn plains with scarcely a tree to offer shade, though dotted about now and then with some ancient kopjes to vary the monotony of the South African scene. On these kopjes it was as likely as not that Boer sharpshooters might already be hidden, for the affluent Dutchmen forced their poorer countrymen to maintain eyrie-like positions—padded with blankets and hedged in with boulders—in readiness for the approach of an army, while they themselves arrived fresh, spick and span, only on the rumour of battle.
With all its alarms, however, life in camp was not without its joviality. The Naval Brigade prepared for action laughing and singing, and Jack Tar indulged in promiscuous hornpipes between the conversations of his big guns. A correspondent of the Central News Agency gave an entertaining account of his sojourn among the military. He said:—
"There are, of course, pleasantries and pleasantries. The other night a correspondent was returning to camp when he was met with the usual challenge. 'Who goes there?' shrieked the sentry. 'A friend,' replied the correspondent. 'Stand, friend, and give the countersign,' promptly demanded the watchful guardian of the camp. The correspondent had forgotten the countersign. He knew it related to Yarmouth. As a matter of fact, it was Yarmouth. So he made a desperate bid for bed, and replied 'Bloaters.' The sentry replied, 'Advance, friend,' and the scene closed. You doubt this as ben trovato. Well, do not doubt any longer when I plead conviction in personal guilt. I was 'Bloaters.' Nevertheless, to an active sentrydom, as well as to vigilant curfew, we were becoming cheerfully accustomed. It is martial law, and the camp is the centre of Boerdom. Anything, indeed, is welcome, even martial law, if it relieves boredom at the same time."
On the 14th of November General Wauchope, commanding the Highland Brigade, arrived on the Orange River, followed a day or two later by Major-General Sir H. Colvile, who assumed command of the Guards Brigade and camp north of the river. The First Division was composed of two brigades. The Ninth was an Infantry Brigade, consisting of portions of the Northumberland Fusiliers, a wing of the North Lancashires, portions of the Manchesters, the Yorkshires, and the Northamptonshire Regiment. The Guards Brigade was composed of the Scots Guards, two battalions of the Coldstreams, and one of the Grenadiers. To this brigade was attached the Naval Brigade (Captain Prothero, H.M.S. Doris). There were also two squadrons of the 9th Lancers, "bits" of the Engineers, of the A.S.C. and the Army Medical Corps—the whole force numbering some 9000 men. The transport arrangements having been completed, the advance was to be made in the course of the week. Officers and men were to wear uniform as similar as possible, in order not to give the sharpshooters a chance of distinguishing them. The men covered their buttons with mud and sand in order to make them more of a piece with their kharki, and their haversacks in the same way were darkened to match.
At this time Naauwpoort and Stormberg were evacuated by order of Sir Redvers Buller, on the ground that our frontier line was weak and too much extended. The troops from the former place reinforced De Aar, those from the latter strengthened Queenstown. The enemy, though he left De Aar in peace, was active elsewhere. A Boer commando of 1300 to 2000 strong entered Colesberg on the 15th November before dawn, and planted itself on the kopjes surrounding the town, much to the surprise of the inhabitants. The invaders possessed themselves of the keys of the town, and endeavoured with great parade to hoist the Free State flag. The ceremony was a fiasco, however, as before the flag reached the top of the staff, the halyard, which had been secretly cut partly through by some loyalists, broke, so that the flag, flying a little above half-mast, could neither be hoisted properly nor hauled down again. Ultimately the Boers tied another flag on to the end of a long bamboo, and sent that up instead. The Mayor endeavoured, in impassioned periods, to address the loyal inhabitants, but his eloquence was useless. He could not make himself heard, and had at last to desist.
The Mounted Police, who were forced to retreat from Colesberg, joined the New South Wales Lancers at Naauwpoort, and from thence went on to De Aar. Aliwal North was occupied by a Free State commando, and the inhabitants of Lady Grey were ordered to vacate the place. They were allowed until the 25th November to obey orders. The public offices there were closed, and preparations were made to occupy the town.
Here must be noted the story of a woman in a thousand—the post-mistress of Ladygrey. When the Boers came to seize the post-office, she "stuck to her post" with a vengeance. She refused to budge or to give it up, and when the Free State flag was hoisted, she promptly hauled it down and substituted the Union Jack. Not content with this, she tore down the proclamation of the Boers annexing the district, and put in its place the Governor's proclamation against treason. Pluck carried the day; the Boers were worsted, and the post-mistress remained mistress of the situation. What became of this heroine of the war is not yet known.
Proclamations emanating from Bloemfontein, and signed by Mr. Wessels, President of the Volkraad, were also issued, declaring the whole of Griqualand West, except Kimberley and Mafeking and the districts four miles around each of these places, to be Free State territory. In the face of these energetic movements action on the part of the British was necessary to restore the confidence of the wavering people, and consequently the following telegram was despatched by the General Commanding in Chief to the officer commanding at Queenstown:—
"November 15.—General Gatacre, with the 1st Battalion of the Seventh Brigade, left yesterday for East London. More troops will follow as they arrive.
"Owing to the distance from England, it has not been possible to give the frontier districts, at first, the protection they merit, and the enemy's troops have in places entered our territory.
"Make known as widely as possible that her Majesty's Government will exact compensation for any actual injury done to the property of individuals who remain loyal, and take every means in your power to obtain and record the names of any who may act disloyally, with a view to the consideration of their cases afterwards. Circulate this as widely as you can in English and Dutch."
On the other side the enemy exerted himself freely. A curious appeal was made to the farmers about Colesberg by the Boer commander. He addressed the crowd with great fervour, and called on all to join the Republican cause and to throw off the yoke of England, whose tyranny could no longer be endured. War, he declared, had been forced upon them. They were now fighting for liberty, and it was the will of God. He said it depended on the Afrikanders themselves whether they would for ever continue to be ruled from Downing Street or become an independent nation. So far, he added, their arms had been victorious, and God had been with them.
* * * * *
Meanwhile Lord Methuen and his troops were preparing to march to the relief of Kimberley via Witteputs, and in expectation of his arrival (of which they were duly informed by their many spies and the disloyal Dutch in the neighbourhood), the Boers, reinforced, posted a cannon at Belmont Station, and again took up a powerful position on the Kaffir's Kop range of hills.
THE BATTLE OF BELMONT
On the morning of Tuesday, the 21st of November, at three o'clock, Lord Methuen's march to the relief of Kimberley definitely began. The force consisted of the Naval Brigade, the 9th Brigade under Colonel Featherstonhaugh, the Guards Brigade under General Sir H. Colvile, two batteries of Field Artillery, Rimington's Guides, and the 9th Lancers. The first halt was made at Fincham's Farm, some twelve miles off, where the troops breakfasted, and whence the 9th Lancers and Rimington's Guides started on a reconnoitring expedition, which was not without its excitement. The Boers were reported to be somewhere in the vicinity, and soon they were espied, some three hundred of them, climbing a kopje with the evident intention of firing down on the party. This they did, and with such rapidity that only by sheer luck the men escaped. They went on to the farm of one Thomas, a supposed loyalist, for the purpose of watering their horses. This person had declared that there were no Boers in the neighbourhood; but no sooner had the tired beasts begun to dip their dusty noses in the cool and longed-for draught than a brisk fire was opened on them from all sides, and the troops had hurriedly to return to the main body at Fincham's. But they lost three horses.
On the following day the division moved on to the said Thomas's Farm. The advance party again came under fire—"Just by way of salute," as Tommy said—but the enemy was promptly silenced. Here the troops bivouacked.
On the night of the 22nd coffee was served out about twelve o'clock, and after this the whole force prepared to move.
The general orders were as follows: "At three A.M. Guards Brigade to advance from small white house near railway on Gun Kopje, supported by battery on right plus Naval Brigade; 9th Brigade on west side of Table Mountain; at same hour, bearing already taken, supported by battery on left, 9th Lancers, two squadrons, one company Mounted Infantry, marching north of Belmont Station, keeping one to two miles on left flank and advanced; Rimington's Guides, one squadron Lancers, one company Mounted Infantry from Witte Putt to east of Sugar Loaf; one company Mounted Infantry on right of Naval Brigade, protecting right; the force having got over open ground should arrive at daybreak on enemy; 9th Brigade having secured Table Mountain to swing round left and keep on high ground, and then advance east to west on A (on plan; not printed); Guards Brigade conform, being pivot; then Guards advance on east edge of Mount Blanc, guns clearing entire advance with shrapnel; cavalry to get round rear of enemy, securing horses and laager."
This carefully-arranged programme, however, was not followed in its entirety. In the grim blackness of the small hours the Grenadiers lost direction, and Lord Methuen was committed to a frontal attack. But still the attack was a brilliant success. The Boers were caught napping, for they were in the happy belief that the troops were still at Witte Putt at the very hour when they were marching steadily upon them.
The infantry tramped four miles in pitch darkness and took up their position on a long low hill facing the enemy. The Boers occupied a magnificent horseshoe-shaped position on a series of kopjes and ridges eastward of Belmont railway station. As usual, they had utilised the boulders as screens, behind which they could safely blaze away at the advancing ranks. Near daybreak—the hot summer morning dawned about four o'clock—firing began. The Guards had opened out for the attack, and the Boers, suddenly espying them from the heights, thereupon commenced to pelt and batter them. The Scots and Grenadiers nevertheless proceeded. Their position was far from comfortable, as it was necessary to cross some hundred yards of arid open veldt with no cover at all, while the enemy, ensconced behind tremendous rocks some 500 feet above their level, had nothing to do but to point their rifles and send their bullets whizzing at the advancing mass. But the Guards stoutly held their own, lying down and returning volley after volley for a full half-hour. Meanwhile the 9th Brigade advanced across the plain in extended order, and at half-past four two batteries posted near the railway commenced shelling the enemy's position.
Now the Guards began to proceed. Steadily forward they went—the thin, extended line moved as on parade, no supports being behind them.
Scarcely had they reached the base of the hill than a fierce storm of lead poured like a cascade from guns and rifles. It was useless now to attempt to return the fire—the Boers were invisible. There was no help for it; the men had only to move on and trust to their best "cold Sheffield" and their warm, gallant hearts. They fixed bayonets. Major Kinloch gave the word to his men to advance. "Now, boys, as hard as you can go!" he sang out. The other officers shouted their orders; all were dashing along like lions loosened from a cage. Cheers rent the air, bullets buzzed, cannons roared, blood streamed and spouted, plucky men and brave boys dropped dead on every side. Yet on went the infantry brigades! The first kopje was stormed! The Boers had vanished!
It was a sight to thrill the blood, to make the heart leap to the throat—so grand, so awful, so reminiscent of all the great traditions of British history. The enemy went helter-skelter to their second kopje on the right, where another force was strongly intrenched. Here they were sheltered by a number of "schantz," or trenches built of boulders and arranged in gallery form, and here our men mounted after them—Coldstreams, Grenadiers, Scots Guards, Northumberlands, Northamptons, and 2nd King's Own Yorkshires, now steadily advancing without excitement and with stern determination, and through a horrible cross-fire from the death-dealing rifles of the enemy.
Their advance was grand—a feat of heroism—with the Boer missiles flying about their heads and the track of blood seeming to tinge the very atmosphere with red. On and on they pushed, cheering loudly up the steep incline and over the boulders, nimble as goats, determined as giants, on and on, and, with a mighty roar, took the position. Dead men lay at their feet, but honour, with its laurel crown, wreathed their heads!
Again the Boers made a hasty, a desperate retreat; again they sought a strongly-fortified position; again, our cavalry being too far off to reach them, the infantry combat was renewed.
A hurricane of bullets poured down. Death for the third time stared and gibbered; for the third time our gallant fellows, all in mass, again advanced to the attack. The Naval Brigade brought up four guns, and Captain Prothero got his cannon in position of 1800 yards and blazed out a chorus of distraction.
The enemy fled. The rout was now complete. Away went the 9th Lancers, away went the Mounted Infantry, both pursuing the fugitives for a good five miles. Thus the battle of Belmont was won. The whole of the camp waggons, filled with boxes of clothing, hundreds of horses and bullocks, were captured, and tons of ammunition were destroyed.
But this fight, that has taken so short a time to describe, and which was over in less than four hours, was hardly won. Forms all bloodily dashed lay here and there and everywhere, and the Scots Guards, who had stormed the kopje to inspiriting strains of drums and pipes, were doomed later on to hear the wail of the pibroch for many comrades mourned and buried. In all, our losses—about 200—were comparatively small considering that the engagement was a series of three battles, during which the Boers were constantly carrying off dead and wounded. Very many of our officers were wounded and three were killed. One—Lieutenant Fryer of the Grenadier Guards—was slain while gallantly leading his men and creeping along the bed of a stream in the enemy's rear. After the battle Lord Methuen made the following address to the troops: "Comrades, I congratulate you on the complete success achieved by you this morning. The ground over which we had to fight presented exceptional difficulties, and we had as an enemy a past-master in the tactics of mounted infantry. With troops such as you are, a commander can have no fear of the result. There is a sad side, and you and I are thinking as much of those who have died for the honour of their country and of those who are suffering as we are thinking of our victory."
Three instances were reported of the despicable treachery of the Boers. Lieutenant Willoughby was shot at from an ambush under cover of the white flag; a Boer holding a white flag in his left hand murdered Lieutenant Brine with his right, and Lieutenant Blundell-Hollinshead-Blundell (3rd Batt. Grenadier Guards) was shot in the merciful act of tending a wounded Boer. Lord Methuen after the fight sent a remonstrance to the Boer commander, saying, "Acting quite fairly with you, I decline to take Kimberley men who know the country, because their parole cannot be accepted. I must ask you to warn your wounded not to shoot our officers. I must warn you not to use Dum-Dum bullets, or use the flag of truce treacherously. Such action is cowardly in the extreme, and I cannot countenance it."
The Boer losses were reported as very small, but no credence can be placed on their statements, for the very good reason that it has been President Kruger's policy to conceal from outsiders, and even from his own country, the extent of his losses. Whenever the Boer dies in battle, his body is weighted and cast into a river, or into a trench as quickly as possible. His family are left in ignorance as to his fate, and their only conclusion is to assume that he is dead. But Mr. Kruger's methods and his ruthless military oligarchy were disapproved even by his own countrymen, and more especially by his own countrywomen, who now began to mistrust the continual story of Boer victory, and asked pitifully for permission themselves to seek for fathers, sons, and brothers from whom they never heard. In some cases many of these were lying not an inch below their feet, for a British search party came upon a portion of the veldt that was literally mosaicked with dead Dutchmen whose bodies were scarcely more than peppered with earth!
Mr. Knight, the correspondent of the Morning Post, who was a general favourite, was wounded in a singularly treacherous manner. He was in the firing line of the Northamptons, who were then attacking the Boers. Some of the enemy suddenly emerged from behind rocks and displayed a handkerchief attached to a rifle. On this sign Mr. Knight with two others rose, and all three were instantly shot with Dum-Dum bullets. Mr. Knight's sufferings were great, and the arm was amputated. The use of Dum-Dum bullets had been proscribed, as, after hitting the mark, they expand and cause wounds as large as a five-shilling piece. The Boers, besides using them on occasion, so manoeuvred the Mauser bullets that they could act in identical fashion. Another treacherous Boer device was the wearing of the red cross upon their sleeves—an action on a par with the display of the white flag—for convenience' sake. However, it must always be remembered that the Boer armies were commandeered and cosmopolitan armies, and not disciplined troops.
During the heat of the fray Colonel Crabbe, commanding the Grenadier Guards, became detached from his regiment. He was instantly surrounded by Boers, and being wounded, might probably have been killed had not a private suddenly rushed to the rescue. The plucky fellow shot two of the enemy, silenced a third with his bayonet, and finally, amid a shower of bullets, carried off the Colonel to the shelter of an ambulance waggon. Colonel Crabbe sustained injuries to wrist and thigh, but was not dangerously wounded.
A curious experience befell the Hon. George Peel, who was trying to reach Kimberley, where his sister, the Hon. Mrs. Rochfort Maguire, was imprisoned. Roaming about after the battle of Belmont, he came by accident on a Boer camp. A Dutchman promptly emerged, and when he was preparing to meet a grim fate, deciding that all hope was lost, he found himself accosted and handed a Bible. He was in the very act of congratulating himself on his lucky escape when on the scene came two grenadiers, who seeing his battered condition and his Bible, mistook him for a Boer spy and carried him off as a prize. Fortunately he was recognised by a member of Lord Methuen's camp and liberated.
Very interesting are the following official particulars given by the General Officer Commanding the 9th Brigade to the Chief Staff Officer of the 1st Division:—
"BELMONT, Nov. 23, 1899.
"SIR,—I have the honour to submit the following report of the part taken by the brigade under my command in the action which took place to-day. The rendezvous was left at 3.7 A.M. in the following formation: Northumberland Fusiliers, in column of companies, on the left, directing, and fifty paces from them moved the Northamptonshire Regiment in similar formation, and parallel to them. In rear of both these battalions was the 2nd Battalion King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry and two companies Munster Fusiliers." (Having described the operations which ended in the occupation of a ridge south of Table Mountain, Major-General Featherstonhaugh continues:) "This party of the enemy was finally dislodged at the point of the bayonet, and 'independent fire' poured into them at a distance of fifty yards, when a white flag was hoisted by the party. On our men ceasing fire, the white flag still being displayed, a shot was fired by this party at our men; but the actual bearer of the flag of truce, followed by some eleven or twelve unarmed Boers, surrendered themselves to Colonel Money and were made prisoners.—Signed for Major-General Featherstonhaugh,
EDWARD S. BULFIN, Captain, Brigade Major, 9th Brigade."
The following is the list of officers killed and wounded at the battle of Belmont:—
3rd Grenadier Guards.—Lieutenant Fryer, killed; Lieutenant Blundell-Hollinshead-Blundell, dangerously wounded; Second Lieutenants Leslie and Vaughan, wounded; Lieutenants Gurdon Rebow and Russell, slightly wounded; and in addition the following officers reported as wounded: Lieutenants Lygon and Cameron, and Lieutenant-Colonel Crabbe. 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards.—Lieutenant Grant, wounded. 2nd Battalion Coldstream Guards.—Lieutenant the Hon. Claude Willoughby, slightly wounded; Second Lieutenant Burton, severely wounded. 1st Battalion Scots Guards.—Major the Hon. North Dalrymple Hamilton, severely wounded; Second Lieutenants Bulkley and Alexander, wounded. 1st Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers.—Captain Eagar and Lieutenant Brine, killed; Major Dashwood and Lieutenant Festing, dangerously wounded; Captain Sapte and Lieutenant Fishbourne, Brigadier-General Featherstonhaugh, Captain Freeland, 2nd Northampton, Lieutenant Barton, 2nd Northampton, severely wounded.
THE BATTLE OF GRASPAN
The commandos defeated at Belmont fell back upon Graspan, the next station northwards on the way to Kimberley. There Lord Methuen decided they should not long remain. He thought, to use his own words, "that it would be best to march the division at once to Swinks Pan, which would place me on the left front of the enemy's position, and that if I worked one battery round each flank, sent my cavalry and mounted infantry well forward, the greater part of the cavalry being on the eastern side, I ought to capture the eastern force. The Naval Brigade and 9th Brigade I left for protecting the guns or assaulting a position if necessary. The Guards Brigade I left with the baggage to march to Enslin, where I had my next camp. The brigade could always give a hand if wanted. I had left 1st Battalion Scots Guards at Belmont Station, also two companies Munster Fusiliers, because there were 500 Boers and a gun, so it was said, threatening Belmont. I made this my divisional battle, marching straight from Belmont to Enslin. The armoured train with infantry was to give me a help from the line." Thus the General briefly described his programme.
On the day following the battle of Belmont, a hot, blistering day, with the sun glaring pitilessly till the heavens looked like a sheet of burnished brass, the Division, with the Yorkshire Light Infantry as advance guard, moved on towards Graspan. This place is probably called Graspan because it is the centre of a circular phalanx of huge kopjes, which, rising out of the smooth white sand, have an air of quaint picturesqueness resembling that of some ancient ruined arena. There the troops encamped. Here, in the light of the stars and rolled in their blankets, they laid them down to their hard-earned rest.
Before cock-crow, however, the men were up and doing, and as the lavender hues of dawn began to lighten the horizon, the gallant warriors were on the move. It was known that the enemy was near at hand, sneaking on the surrounding heights, therefore the last two miles were covered in fighting formation, the Naval detachment and the 5th Fusiliers being supported by the Yorkshire Light Infantry and the Northampton Regiment.
The enemy, not 400 strong as was supposed, but 2500, with six guns, one Hotchkiss, and one Maxim, was posted on a series of five kopjes over 200 feet in height, joined by neks, all of which save one were strongly occupied. In a laager in the remote distance 500 more Boers were reported to be hidden in reserve. The ground on all sides had been previously measured to find the ranges, the Boers having evidently been quite well informed regarding the British plan of action.
In advance of the troops came the armoured train, a pachydermatous monster which moved cumbrously in front of the column, and was saluted by the smoking wrath of big guns as soon as it appeared. It retired cautiously, and disgorged its gallant crew of marines to help in handling the naval guns. Lord Methuen deployed the cavalry on the flanks, while the artillery took up positions in front of the Boer trenches. Meanwhile the 9th Brigade went forward in skirmishing order. This consisted of the Northumberland Fusiliers, 2nd Battalion Northamptons, half-Battalion Loyal North Lancashires, 2nd Battalion King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. With the 9th was the Naval Brigade, commanded by Captain Prothero. At six o'clock an active artillery duel began, the guns of the foe being splendidly posted, and their range, as before-said, carefully calculated. Their shells burst with appalling fracas over our batteries, but the brave British gunners never swerved. They gave the Boers some smart and telling replies, and presently, on withdrawing their guns to a new position, quite defeated the calculations of the enemy, whose shells now began to fall wide of the mark. The rifle-fire of the Dutchmen was not so accurate as usual, and was evidently under no control, though there were sharpshooters who crept under cover for the purpose of sniping at any prominent person who might be taken for an officer. As has been stated, there was now no outward or visible sign of rank, so for the time being the enemy's efforts were unsuccessful. They were more deadly—grievously deadly—however, when the gallant Naval Brigade, the officers of which were distinguishable by their swords, came to the foot of the hill. The fire from the kopjes was terrific, and every moment men threw up their arms and fell. They had advanced in extended order, but in converging upon the position to be taken, found themselves closed in, and in that formation attempted the ascent.
Meanwhile the rest of the infantry was moving forward in preparation for attack. The Northamptons worked from the left round to the right, where they were joined by the Yorkshires and Northumberlands. All this time a scene of terrific slaughter was taking place, a tremendous and unceasing fire being poured from the Boer positions upon our steadily advancing men. But these were undefeatable, the 2nd Yorkshire Light Infantry, the Marines, and the 1st North Lancashire acquitting themselves nobly in a most perilous situation. One after another of their numbers dropped. Stones and sand were heaped with the mutilated and fainting, and dyed with the life-blood of trusty comrades that a moment ago had been hearty and hale; but on they went, these gallant lads, while a storm of shrapnel bellowed overhead, and bullets whistled past their ears, and dust and dirt blinded their eyes. With a ringing cheer the Yorkshire men directed a fusilade towards the crest of the enemy's sangar, and then the whole mass crawled up with splendid effort, neared the summit, and prepared to charge. The Boers, however, began discreetly to remove themselves to a second position still better intrenched, from whence they could fire on the British as they gained the top. At this time the British guns were forced to be almost inactive, as the storming line was now so near the crest that the shrapnel could only be directed on the enemy by enfilading the position from the ridge of the kopje on the left, and it was during the lull that Lieutenant Taylor, Yorkshire Light Infantry, and Lieutenant Jones, of the Marines, scaled the sangar.
The next instant there was a roar and a rush, and all were leaping forward to clear the second position. This was only accomplished after some desperately hard work and a quarter of an hour's hand-to-hand fighting—an eternity it seemed to those engaged—for the kopje was stubbornly held. But even Boer pluck, of which in this case there was no lack, could not resist the impetuous advance of the British infantry, and at last, when the hill-top was one crimson crown of blood and half the gallant number were struck down, the Boers bolted one after another down the back of the hill, pursued by our artillery fire, and made for their horses. Finally, as they were retreating in hot haste across the plain, the 9th Lancers charged them, and succeeded in catching up their rear close to a kopje where they were sheltering. But here the place literally swarmed with Dutchmen, and the Lancers, whose numbers were small, and whose horses were exhausted, were forced to retire.
Still the object of the fight was magnificently accomplished. The rout of the enemy was complete. The gallant Naval Brigade, Yorkshire Light Infantry, and Loyal North Lancashires remained masters of the situation. A party of Boers who had rushed from their sheltering kopje were intercepted by the detachment of the New South Wales Lancers, who, charging, forced them back to their hiding-place.
The amazing gallantry of the Marines, who bore the brunt of the desperate fight, was the subject of general eulogy. Many of these splendid fellows had three wounds, while some had four. Sixty per cent. of the officers and sergeants were hit. Nothing could have been more heroic than the conduct of poor Huddart, who so gloriously fell in doing his duty.
Captain Le Marchant, Royal Marine Light Infantry, who was left in command of the Naval Brigade with Lord Methuen's force after the action at Graspan, reported as follows: "It is with deep regret that I have to report the death of Midshipman Huddart, who behaved magnificently, and still advanced after he had been twice wounded, until he was finally struck down mortally wounded." A brother naval officer also wrote: "At the bottom of the hill Huddart was hit in the arm, and half-way up he was shot in the leg, but still he pressed on. On reaching the top of the kopje he was shot through the stomach and fell." Captain Le Marchant, when his senior officers were killed or wounded, led the remnant of the Naval Brigade up the kopje with splendid pluck and ability.
But magnificent deeds were numerous. Lieutenant W. J. C. Jones, Royal Marine Light Infantry, though he had a bullet in his thigh, led his men up the kopje, and only after the day was won consented to have his wound dressed. Colour-Sergeant Waterhouse was also mentioned by Lord Methuen, who said in his despatch, "I beg to bring to your notice No. 1843, Colour-Sergeant Waterhouse, King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, who at a critical moment acted with great coolness in shooting down an enemy who had been doing great execution on our men at 1150 yards."
The General deplored the lack of a cavalry brigade and horse artillery, owing to which he was unable to reap the fruits of his hard-fought action, and all must unite to condole with this much-tried commander on the manner in which he had been handicapped from the first. Lord Methuen in his despatch drew attention to the excellent work done by the Naval Brigade near the line. He said:—
"Lieutenants Campbell and L. S. Armstrong displayed great coolness in conducting the fire of their guns. Petty Officers Ashley, Doris, and Fuller, Monarch, laid their guns with great accuracy under fire.
"I again draw attention to the exceptional organising power of Colonel Townsend. At Swinks Pan at 11.30 P.M. I was informed that, owing to all the ambulances having been used for taking the wounded to the train at Belmont, I had scarcely a field-hospital mounted officer, only three ambulances and three stretchers. I knew I had to fight next morning, so got together fifty blankets in order to carry wounded with help of rifles. I also sent to Colonel Townsend to make arrangements for wounded by 3 A.M., a messenger having to ride seven miles to him. He met me on the field with full supply of ambulances, and I never saw anything more of him or the wounded, because he had a train ready for them between Graspan and Belmont. His only complaint is that there is not much of his mules left, an observation which applies equally to men and animals."