South Africa and the Transvaal War, Vol. 2 (of 6) - From the Commencement of the War to the Battle of Colenso, - 15th Dec. 1899
by Louis Creswicke
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To show how completely all the British projects were known, a curious incident of this battle may be quoted. Four men were captured by Rimington's Guides, but three of them being unarmed were released. It was subsequently discovered that these same persons had taken to the Jacobsdal commando minute details regarding the British camp, with the result that a Boer force was detached to attack the station. The total British casualties were estimated at 197, including twenty killed and seven missing. At the close of the action, Lord Methuen complimented the members of the Naval Brigade on their splendid behaviour, and expressed regret at the losses they had sustained.

The following is the list of officers killed, wounded, and missing at the battle of Graspan or Enslin of 25th November:—

2nd Battalion Yorkshire Light Infantry.—Wounded: Captain C. A. L. Yate, Lieutenant H. C. Fernyhough, Lieutenant C. H. Ackroyd. Naval Brigade.—Killed: Commander Ethelston, Powerful;[6] Major Plumbe, R.M.L.I., Doris; Captain Senior, R.M.A., Monarch; C. A. E. Huddart, Midshipman, Doris.

The following were severely wounded:—

Flag-Captain Prothero, Doris, and Lieutenant Jones, R.M.L.I., Doris.

Lord Methuen addressed his division in stirring words, congratulating his men on the work they had done and the hardships they had surmounted. The work, he said, was the severest accomplished by the British army for many a long day. Not a single point, he added, could they afford to give to the enemy. The Boers' tactics had been proved excellent and their courage admirable. The gallant General added that when called on to fight for his country, he preferred to fight against a foe worthy of his steel rather than against savages, whose sole recommendation was bravery. He hoped that he and his men had gained each other's confidence, and that they would all do their duty to their country as Englishmen should. Lord Methuen described as dastardly the firing by the enemy on ambulance waggons, the shooting of a British officer by a wounded Boer, and the use of Dum-Dum bullets; but he refused to believe that these acts were characteristic of the enemy; he would give them credit until he was convinced to the contrary that they wished to fight fair and square. Addressing the Scots Guards, the General said that they had acted as he expected his old battalion would.

The troops rested well on the night of the 27th, and on the following day proceeded towards Modder River, where the General was aware that the passage of the river would involve a bloody fight. By this time General Pole-Carew had taken command of the 9th Brigade, in place of General Featherstonhaugh, who was wounded.


This battle, to use Lord Methuen's words, was one of the hardest and most trying fights in the annals of the British army. He might also have truly said that it was one of the most gloriously-fought engagements that has been known in modern warfare. On reconnoitring the enemy's position, the Boers were found to be strongly entrenched and concealed behind a fringe of furze and foliage and in front of trees in the neighbourhood of Modder River. From native sources it was learnt that the river and the Riet River were fordable anywhere—a statement which was afterwards found to be entirely false. The enemy was discovered on the east of the village to be in strong force and aggressive. His trenches commanded the plain for a distance of 1600 yards, and there was no means of outflanking him, as the Modder River was in flood.

The word Modder means muddy, and this term was appreciated in its full significance when our parched troops came to make acquaintance with it. But there are times and seasons when even ochreous water becomes clear as crystal to the fevered imagination, and before this day of days was over—in the sweltering, merciless sun, with the thermometer at 110 degrees in the shade—men felt as though they would stake their whole chance of existence for one half-bottle of the reviving fluid. But this is a digression. The horror of that day's thirst had barely set in at the time treated of—4 to 8 A.M. At that hour there was no suspicion that the enemy, strong in numbers, would continue to fight, and be strengthened by some 8000 more Dutchmen. He appeared to be retiring, and there were no signs that the village would be held. But at 8.10 a fierce roar of guns multifarious declared that the river was fringed by the enemy, and that he was well and skilfully concealed.

Parallel to the river on the north side the Boers had constructed, with their wonted cunning, long sandbag trenches and various complicated breastworks, which afforded them splendid cover. The line extended over some five miles, and they were discovered to be posted on both sides of the water. Where the stream of the Riet joins the Modder there is a small and picturesque island some two acres in extent. It has shelving banks all fringed with willows, and thus forms an excellent natural cover for troops. Till now this spot had been the resort of picnickers and pleasure-seekers from the Diamond City. On the north bank were farmhouses and hotels, which had been evacuated by their owners and had been taken possession of by the Boers. Here they had posted guns of every available kind, in every available spot. They had Hotchkiss guns and Maxim guns, and the deadly, much-abhorred Vickers-Maxim quick-firer, a machine which, by the way, was offered some time ago to the British Government—and refused! This objectionable weapon was christened by some "Putt-Putt," by others "Bong-Bong," and one officer styled it "the Great Mogul," because its presence was invariably greeted with profound salaams and Chinese prostrations. With these guns the enemy began to show that he meant business, as will be seen.

The division, that had been strengthened by the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, had moved out from Wittekopslaager about 5 A.M., breakfastless, because it was thought that on reaching the river, which was but a short march of five miles off, there would be ample time for a meal. But by seven o'clock the fighting had begun. The General had arranged with the officer commanding the Royal Artillery to prepare the infantry attack with both batteries from the right flank, and the Infantry Division being still some miles distant, he gave them two distinct points to march on, which allowed of the brigades keeping in extended order and covering a very wide front.

The Guards Brigade had orders to develop their attack first, which they did with the 1st Battalion Scots Guards on the right, with directions to swing their right well round in order to take the enemy in flank, the 2nd Battalion Coldstreams and the 3rd Battalion Grenadiers making the frontal attack, the former on the left to keep touch with the 9th Brigade; the 1st Battalion Coldstreams in reserve in the right rear. Well, before they could look about them and settle down into their positions, the whole force found itself facing the Boer commando 8000 strong, two large guns, Krupp guns, &c. The Scots Guards on the extreme right marched through the old reservoir, and directly they emerged from cover a shower of bullets greeted them. Soon after their Maxim gun was disabled by the Hotchkiss gun of the enemy, and presently their whole detachment was completely wiped out. First the sergeant in charge was killed, then an officer was wounded, then Colonel Stopford of the Coldstream Guards was hit in the neck and killed, and the horse ridden by Colonel Paget was shot in five places and dropped dead. Meanwhile the 75th Battery in return launched some magnificent shots in the direction of the Dutchmen. The third of these struck a farmhouse in which the Boers and a gun were posted, and set the whole place in a blaze. Not till the roof was burnt about their ears, however, did the Boers budge. They clung with ferocious tenacity to every position, and the fight at all times of the day was one of great stubbornness. The 1st Battalion of the Coldstream Guards had extended, and, swinging their right round, had prolonged the line of the Scots Guards to the right. Farther advance was checked by the Riet River. The troops then lay down, being fairly under cover in that position. The heat was scorching, and in the plain occupied by our troops Mauser bullets swept the field in thousands. There was absolutely no cover save the shelving bank of the river, which served no purpose directly they rose on elbow from the ground. For hours our men lay on their faces unable to show a head without inviting a shower of lead—lay on the blistering sand with the hot African sun grilling them, some of the Highlanders having their legs veritably toasted, their mouths parched and full of sand, while bullets were fluting a death-song in the air, and the thunderous detonations of the big guns seemed to be raking the very bowels of the earth. Still the Boers stuck to their posts. For hours they plied their guns without sign of exhaustion. A terrific fire was kept up on both sides for a long—a seemingly interminable—time, but without any appreciable advance in the state of affairs. It was felt that nothing could be done on the right flank till the guns had cleared the position. The 18th Battery, however, came vigorously into play, and so brilliantly acquitted itself that finally the enemy was forced to evacuate their ferociously-contested positions among the houses. But so ably had they constructed their intrenchments that from these it was impossible to dislodge them. Meanwhile the 9th Brigade had advanced the Northumberland Fusiliers along the east side of the railway line, supported by half a battalion of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. The Yorkshire Light Infantry moved along the west side of the railway, supported by the remaining half battalion of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. The half battalion Loyal North Lancashire prolonged the line to the left, and endeavoured to cross the river and threaten the enemy's right flank. The six companies of Northamptons acted as a baggage-guard.

Early in the day a plucky attempt was made on the extreme right of the line to cross the Modder. Colonel Codrington and Captain Feilding of the 1st Coldstreams, with Captain Selheim of the Queensland Permanent Force with some two dozen men, forded the river. The water was almost chin deep, and while they crossed, the Hotchkiss gun directed an appalling fire on them. Though laden with all their gear and 150 rounds of ammunition, they yet succeeded in reaching the other side, where they found themselves almost swamped in mud. As they were not supported they had to retire. But this was easier said than done. On the return passage two men were almost drowned, and had it not been for the ingenious device of their comrades, who, by joining hands and slinging their putties together, managed to drag them ashore, they would certainly have perished.

Soon after this the General, who had been moving about surveying and commanding, was shot through the thigh. Then followed some confusion, as the two brigades, in the absence of orders, had to act independently of each other, and there was some fear that the 9th Brigade would fire on the 1st. Command of the field was now assumed by Major-General Sir H. E. Colvile, whose headquarters were on the right close to the river. It had been Lord Methuen's idea to take the position at nightfall at the point of the bayonet, but owing to the tremendous day's work, the heat, the absence of food, and the general fatigue that all had undergone, this project was abandoned. There was another reason for the change of plan.

Just as it was beginning to grow late some of the most brilliant work of the day commenced. As the trenches were found to be utterly impregnable to rifle-fire, it was felt that only desperate measures would rout the Dutchmen from their stronghold. Colonel Barter (King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry) and Lieutenant Thorpe, with some men of the Argyll and Sutherland and North Lancashire Regiments, started off, and, much to the surprise of the Boers, who had evidently not calculated upon such dauntless agility, got safely across the river. The wonderful way in which this feat was accomplished was described by an eye-witness, a correspondent of the Times.

"That it could even be attempted to cross the river sliding sideways through the rush of water over the paddles along a rickety iron bar one by one, clinging to the short supports in full view of the opposite shore, was an act of reckless heroism against which even the wary Cronje had not provided. This, however, is what was actually done, and it would be difficult to find a parallel for the stubborn pluck of the men who accompanied Colonel Barter across the 300 yards of dam and weir. One by one some 400 of them crossed. Then a detachment of the Royal Engineers, showing how well they could take their part in the forefront of the fighting line, followed them, after that some more of the Yorkshire Light Infantry. Little by little a force was collected which cleared several of the nearest houses on the right and effected an occupation of an irrigation patch from which they were never dislodged." It was quite wonderful to note the effect of the gallant British cheer which rang out from General Pole-Carew's men as they burst from the river, bayonet in hand. The Boers were startled and fled, with our men closely in pursuit. At the rousing, ringing, menacing sound, their hopes had failed—they thought that the rumour of victory was already in the air. "The thunder growl edged with melodious ire in alt," as Carlyle called it, never did better work. It demoralised and brought about the end.

Shortly after, a battery of Royal Artillery came upon the scene, but before it had time to unlimber, more Boers took to their heels, falling over each other in their haste to be off and catch their horses. The sound of British lungs in their rear and the sight of the guns was too much for them. Thus after twelve hours' fighting the day was practically won, for, when morning came, it was found that the enemy had entirely cleared out, and removed to fresh intrenchments half-way between the river and Spyfontein.

It was a brilliant but a hardly-earned victory. It is stated that the Naval guns fired over 500 rounds, and the 18th Battery more than 1100. The 75th fired 900 rounds, the 62nd (who came to the rescue from the Orange River late in the day), 500 rounds. The glorious gunners vied with one another in the display of gallantry and proficiency.

A vivid story of the energetic march of the 62nd Battery was told by an officer, who must have had an even more trying time than most.

"We had orders to reinforce the main body at once; marched twenty miles the first day, had a few hours' rest, and started at the first streak of dawn again. We did about twenty-five miles, and were just going to have a well-earned rest when an orderly came galloping up with the order to go at once (I am talking of the 62nd now), as the battle was going against our troops. We started off again at a trot, and kept it up for about five miles, when our horses were just done up. We had to take four out of our gun-teams, as they dropped dead of exhaustion. The sergeants hooked their own horses in, and off we went again. We lost more horses, and had to walk after we had done about eight miles. We were only able to just make the horses drag the guns into action. I shall never forget it. I was feeling very queer. I don't think any of us were afraid, but we were all of us expecting to be shot every minute, as the bullets came in showers.... We were in action in this place about two hours. Our troops were being shot down in heaps, and things were looking very black, when Lord Methuen came up to our Colonel and asked him to send his batteries up closer (we were then 1500 yards from the Boer trenches, and you must understand that a rifle carries 2500 yards). Our Colonel did. We then advanced up past our own infantry and came into action about 900 yards closer than artillery had ever taken up position before. After severe loss on our side we managed to silence the Boer guns. The order was then given to retire. We got out of range, and were on the point of congratulating ourselves on being so lucky, when up rode an orderly giving us instructions to go and relieve the Guards. Our Major advanced.... We took up our position 800 yards from the Boer trenches, and, by Jove! the Boers let us have a fearful reception. Before I got my horses out they shot one of my drivers and two horses ... and brought down my own horse. We then got my gun round on the enemy, when one of my gunners was shot through the brain and fell at my feet. Another of my gunners was shot whilst bringing up shell, and I began to feel queer.... At last we had a look in; our shells began to tell. We were firing six rounds a minute, and were at it until it was too dark to fire any more. The Boer firing had ceased, and the Guards were able to get up and retire. They blessed the artillery that day. We had to keep our position all night, with not a soul near us and nothing to eat and drink. Our orders were to open fire as soon as it was light enough, and the infantry were to take the place at the point of the bayonet.... But in the morning the Boers had fled. The field presented a terrible sight at daybreak; there were dead and dying in every direction. I couldn't describe it; it was awful. We lost heavily on our side, but the Boer losses must have been heavier. The Boers bury their dead in the trenches as soon as they drop, so that one cannot gauge their loss, but we counted hundreds."

It is pleasant to remember that this hurried march and its trials were fully appreciated by Lord Methuen, who reported that the 62nd Battery was of great service. It must be noted that it came into action between three and four o'clock in the afternoon. The gunners had made a splendid forced march from Orange River in some twenty-three hours, yet there and then, with worn-out horses and jaded frames, joined in the fight.

Heroic actions were so abundant that they made quite a formidable list in the General's despatch, but they afford such inspiriting reading to all who honour Great Britain's heroes, that the list is reproduced in its entirety.

"From the Lieut.-General Commanding the First Division to the Chief Staff Officer.

"MODDER RIVER, Dec. 1, 1899.

"I have much pleasure in bringing to your notice the names of the following officers and rank and file who distinguished themselves during the day:—

"Major Count Gleichen, C.M.G., for the coolness shown by him throughout the engagement, especially in attending to the wounded under a heavy fire.

"Sergeant Brown and Private Martin, 3rd Battalion Grenadier Guards, who helped him, were both shot.

"Sergeant-Major Cooke, 3rd Battalion Grenadiers, displayed remarkable coolness under fire.

"Lieutenant the Hon. A. Russell showed great coolness in working the machine-gun, which he did with marked success.

"Major Granville Smith, Coldstream Guards, in volunteering to find a ford, which he did in dangerous mud and a strong river.

"Captain and Adjutant Steele, Coldstream Guards, for excellent service during the day.

"Sergeant-Major S. Wright, Coldstream Guards, showed great coolness when a change of ammunition carts was being made, and was of great value at a critical time.

"Native Driver Matthews for making the other natives stick to their carts when they would otherwise have bolted.

"Drill and Colour-Sergeant Price, Coldstream Guards, at Belmont and at Modder River rendered excellent service whilst commanding half a company.

"Drill and Colour-Sergeant Plunkett, Coldstream Guards, collected 150 men, and helped the 9th Brigade crossing the river under Captain Lord Newtown Butler.

"No. 1825, Lance-Corporal Webb, Coldstream Guards, twice asked leave to go into the open to bind up the wounds of a Grenadier; under a heavy fire he succeeded in his object.

"Captain Hervey Bathurst, Grenadier Guards, was of great value in rallying a number of Grenadiers and Coldstreams shaken by the fire.

"I again call attention to Colonel Paget's cheerfulness and intelligence under the most trying surroundings.

"He draws attention to Captain Moores, Royal Army Medical Corps, who, although wounded in the hand, said nothing, but continued his duties. Also he draws attention to the good services of the Master of Ruthven, Scots Guards. The valuable services of Captain Nugent, aide-de-camp, and Captain Ruggles-Brise are again noted.

"The names of Lieut.-Colonel Barter, King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, and Major the Hon. C. Lambton, Northumberland Fusiliers, are mentioned for having rendered invaluable assistance to their Brigadier. Captain Bulfin, Yorkshire Regiment, did his duty admirably.

"Lieutenant Percival, Northumberland Fusiliers, managed with great difficulty to establish himself with a small party on a point near the railway, from which, by his judgment and coolness, he was able to keep down the fire of the enemy, many of his small party being killed.

"Nos. 3499, Lance-Corporal R. Delaney, 4160, Private J. East, 4563, Private Segar, 4497, Private Snowdon, Northumberland Fusiliers, under a very heavy fire picked up and brought in a wounded man of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders; No. 3955, Private Smarley, Northumberland Fusiliers, No. 1 of a Maxim detachment, who showed great coolness and judgment when wounded.

"Major Lindsay, Royal Artillery, 75th Battery, ignored a painful wound, and continued in command of his battery. Lieutenant Begbie, Royal Artillery, suddenly placed in command of his battery, led it and brought it into action with great coolness.

"Captain Farrell, wounded a second time, continued to do his duty, having first placed a wounded man on one of the gun-carriages. Wounded gunners and drivers continued at their duty.

"Lieutenant Rochford Boyd, Royal Artillery, on this, as on former occasions, showed himself reliable and capable of acting without orders.

"I personally bring to notice the value of Lieut.-Colonel Rhodes's service and Major Streatfeild's service in sending forward reinforcements to Major-General Pole-Carew, for on this movement the result of the evening's success depended.

"I cannot too highly commend the conduct of the troops, ably assisted by the Naval Brigade, for on them the whole credit of our success rests."

There were some miraculous escapes, one sergeant in the Coldstream Guards having had many nasty experiences. In an account of them he said:—

"During the afternoon some one seemed to have spotted me from the trenches. First a shot struck the side of my boot and struck my rifle just in front of my face, filling my eyes with dirt and splinters. I rose up a little, when another shot struck the middle finger of my left hand. I had got on my knees, when a bullet struck me fair in the chest on the buckle of my haversack, breaking it through the centre and causing a slight puncture of the skin and bruising my chest. Have been congratulated as being the luckiest beggar in my battalion."

The terrible nature of the fighting was described by an officer in the Guards, who must have had a charmed life. He wrote:—

"We had no cover except little scrub bushes about six inches high, and the ground sloped gently down to the Boers from about 2000 yards. I don't suppose troops have ever been in a more damnable position. I sat up occasionally to see how things were going, but only for a moment, as it was always the signal for a perfect storm of bullets. My ammunition-bearer had his head blown to bits by a 1-lb. shell from a 37-millimetre Maxim, a most damnable gun. I happened to be in the line of it just before dark, and they pumped six rounds at me. The first four pitched in a line about twenty, ten, fifteen, and the fourth four yards in front of me, and threw dirt all over me, and the next two just pitched behind me. I didn't like it a bit.... It was the worst day I have ever spent in my life. Twelve hours under a constant and heavy fire of Maxims, 12-pounders, and other quick-firing guns and rifles, a hot sun, no cover, no water, and no food is more than enough for yours truly.... The guns yesterday fought magnificently, and I believe fired more rounds per gun than have ever been fired in a battle before.... We had a lovely wash this morning. I washed shirt and drawers, besides myself—I wanted it. My clothes have not been off since we left the Orange River on November 21.... Cronje and Steyn are said to have both been present at the battle."

In this battle the hardships of warfare were accumulated. Not only had the troops to display active but passive heroism. Though the longing for water exceeded the craving for food and repose, the unfortunate fellows were very near the verge of famine. Their position at times must have savoured of the tortures of Tantalus, for many of the men were groping after the enemy in a doubled-up fashion and under a shower of lead, along farms and gardens, while hens clacked, pigs grunted, goats offered milk, and potatoes and other edibles smiled a mute invitation. When the Boers were routed, however, these delicacies at last became the reward of their labours, but of the niceties of the culinary operations it is best not to speak. Our gallant Highlanders needed the services of no Vatel—an old can and a wood fire right royally served their purpose. The crossing of the river, which was so splendidly effected, particularly by the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, was fraught with unlooked-for dangers, as the following quotation from a letter of a private in the regiment will show. Talking of the enemy he said:—

"They held their position for five or six hours, and it was with great difficulty that we managed to shift them. Our regiment was the first to cross the river on the left flank, and my company was the first to get over. We advanced along the river and drove the Boers before us; but, unfortunately, our big guns dropped two or three shells uncomfortably close to us, entirely by mistake. When the first of these shells fell, I was only about ten yards past the spot. About twenty of our men were killed by the Boer bullets; and our regiment, I think, sustained the heaviest loss of any that took part in the fight. I felt a bit frightened when I first went into battle, but as the day advanced I got myself again. My legs are badly burned by the sun, and are very sore, but I am rapidly getting all right again. We expect to have another fight this week, and it will be even worse than the last, so one never knows the hour when he may fall."

Indeed they did not, and it was a pathetically common experience to wish a man good luck one morning and on the next to find that his helmet and belongings were being gathered together—all that was left of him—to be sent home to his friends. For instance, there was the case of poor Colour-Sergeant Christian of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, a hero who did magnificent work, but who never lived to receive the decorations he deserved. An extract from one of his last letters is full of pathetic interest:—

"We have been fairly roughing it since we came out here. I have lost everything, and have nothing but what I stand up in. I haven't had the kilt off since we landed from the boat three weeks ago, and we consider it very lucky if we can manage to get a wash once a week. Just now we are all right, as the river is close at hand. You wouldn't know the regiment now if you saw us; we are brown all over. They have taken our sporrans away and covered our kilts with khaki cloth; in fact, I believe they will be making us dye our whiskers khaki colour next. Not a man has shaved since we left Dublin, so you can imagine what we are like. I haven't said anything about the battle, as I am sure you will know more about it at home than we do here. It may seem strange, but it is true. The people at home know more about what is going on than we do here. We have been receiving congratulatory telegrams from every one connected with the regiment, giving us great praise for our share in the battle, and really I must say the regiment did very well, considering we have so many youngsters in the ranks. The most trying part was lying down so long under fire without seeing any one to fire at. I was rather luckier, having to retire at first, and then chase some Boers out of the house with the bayonet, and then we had to ford the river and clear the north bank of the river. We were clearing them beautifully with the bayonet when a shell from our own guns burst among us. This seemed to demoralise every one, and they all commenced to retire. But, seeing this was my first fight, I couldn't see my way to retire without seeing who I was retiring from, and besides there was a lot of wounded lying about; so a major of the North Lancashire Regiment and myself succeeded in rallying ten men of different corps and held an enclosure. We were soon tackled by the Boers, but after we killed half-a-dozen of them they appeared to get tired of it and cleared off, and we managed to get all the wounded in. I believe I have got recommended for the Distinguished Conduct Medal and the Victoria Cross for my share in this, but of course it is one thing being recommended and quite another thing getting it."

Boer treachery, of which we had many examples, had hitherto been practised with monotonous regularity. They had fired on the white flag and disregarded the sacred sign of the red cross. They had shot the hand that tended them, they had used Dum-Dum and explosive bullets, but on this occasion the triumph of originality in treacherous trickery was achieved. On the principle of "all is fair in love and war," the enemy utilised their ambulance for the purpose of removing their Hotchkiss gun from the field, and that too when the precious weapon was not even invalided!

Tales of many plucky actions which were recorded would fill a volume in itself. Private Anderson, Scots Guards, over and over again traversed the fire zone and carried off the wounded to a place of safety. Lieutenant Fox, Yorkshire Light Infantry, was seriously wounded whilst valiantly leading an assault against the enemy's strong position. When the horses approached to take the guns out of action, the Boers at once commenced to aim at them, and for the moment it seemed as though the work of removing the guns could not be persisted in. Twenty-five horses were killed, but the chargers of several officers were next utilised, and the officers themselves, some of them wounded, walked or crawled off the field in order that the valuable weapons should be borne off in safety. A driver was also heroically self-abnegating. Though shot through the lungs, he refused to leave his post, and valiantly drove his gun out of action.

The list of killed and wounded was a grievously long one:—

Killed: Staff—Lieutenant-Colonel H. P. Northcote.[7] 2nd Coldstream Guards—Lieutenant-Colonel H. Stopford,[8] Captain S. Earle. Wounded: Field Artillery—Major W. Lindsay, hand; Captain Farrell, foot; Lieutenant Dunlop, shoulder; Lieutenant Furse. 3rd Grenadier Guards—Major Count Gleichen, severely; Lieutenant Hon. E. Lygon, slight. 2nd Coldstream Guards—Lieutenant Viscount Acheson. Royal Army Medical Corps—Captain Gurse Moore. Killed: 2nd Yorkshire Light Infantry, Second Lieutenant L. W. Long. Wounded: Staff—Lieutenant-General Lord Methuen, slightly; bullet flesh wound in thigh. Royal Engineers—Captain N. G. Von Hugel, slightly. 3rd Grenadier Guards—Second Lieutenant A. H. Travers, slightly. 1st Scots Guards—Lieutenant H. C. Elwes, seriously; Second Lieutenant W. J. M. Hill, 1st Loyal North Lancashire—Lieutenant R. B. Flint, slightly. 2nd Yorkshire Light Infantry—Major H. Earle, Major G. F. Ottley, Lieutenant R. M. D. Fox. 1st Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders—Lieutenant H. B. F. Baker-Carr, Second Lieutenant W. G. Neilson.


All night long energetic members of the Ambulance Corps picked their way over the battlefield collecting the wounded and succouring them. Not only had our unhappy sufferers to be attended to, but many of the enemy, of whom there was an unusual number. So anxious had been the Dutchmen to clear out before our troops could reach them in the morning, that, contrary to custom, they had left wounded, doctors, and ambulance train behind them.

After the uproar of the conflict and the night of merciful repose were over, the troops were able to inspect their new quarters. The pretty little village presented a strange sight—a study in contrasts for the meditative mind. A pastoral calm reigned everywhere, though scarcely a house, farm, or hotel but could bear witness to the terrible energy of the British fire.

The scene was one of picturesque green fertility and black blistered ruin. Peacefully flowed the cool rippling river—the river in which the delighted Tommy rushed to bathe—while in its bosom lay the bodies of the slain, Boer men and Boers' horses, which had hurriedly been cast away and hidden, so that the full tale of loss might never be revealed. Serenely waved the willows and acacias on the banks and neighbouring islets, smiling with polished green leaves over the forms of the ragged, grimy, unkempt slain—the riffraff of the Boer commandoes, who were left lying as they fell. The dark trail of blood dyed the earth round mimosa and cactus hedges, while a thousand perforations on the roofs of the corrugated iron dwellings confessed to the all too fervent kisses of British lead. Shell holes, shattered doors and broken windows, telegraph poles lying about, with their hairy whiskers twisting raggedly over the veldt, farmhouses burnt to cinders, hotels that had once been smart in their way now weevilled by shrapnel—all these things surrounded the encamped division which so brilliantly had crossed the river. And in the hearts of the conquerors there was also (in some measure) a reflection of these contrasts—there was rejoicing over animal comforts restored, the freedom to quench thirst, to remove boots, to eat and to smoke after an over-long spell of battle; yet at the same time, deep down, there lurked a numb and dumb feeling of regret for the good fellows who were going—were known to be sinking into eternity, and for those—so many of them!—who had already gone.

Very simple but very sad and impressive was the funeral of Colonel Stopford, who was shot early in the fight the day before. His grave was made in a peaceful spot beside one of the gardens of the village, and garlands gathered by his men of the 2nd Coldstream Guards were placed all over it. Major the Marquis of Winchester—so soon to join his lost comrade—acted as chief mourner. He took over the duties of Commandant of the regiment, which duties he was doomed to perform for twelve days only. But we are anticipating.

During the whole of the days following, a melancholy procession of invalids passed to the railway, and on, home for good, or to hospital, whence they hoped to return again to pay their debt to the enemy. On some death had set his mark, with others he had but shaken hands and passed on.

The river was soon found to be crowded with dead men and horses, which had been hurriedly consigned to the mercy of the waters, and arrangements had to be made for encampment farther up the stream. Quantities of Boer spies still lingered about the camp, some of them pretending to be ambulance drivers, in order to get nearer and closer inspection of British movements. Fortunately these wily folk somewhat overreached themselves, and their further activities were interrupted by arrest.

Meanwhile the sappers wrought wonderful things. They had shown the stuff they were made of by crossing over the river-dam in the teeth of the enemy. They now demonstrated their ability in their own special line. The Modder bridge was entirely wrecked, but very speedily a temporary one was constructed, and the railway, which had also suffered at the hands of the enemy, was repaired with great celerity, and brought into working order. Lieutenant Crispin of the Northumberland Fusiliers was wounded while out on patrol duty. Fortunately the injury sustained by Lord Methuen was slight, and there was every hope that he would be equal to active duty in the course of a very few days.

We must now leave this division in the enjoyment of its well-earned repose and return to Ladysmith, which was fast becoming the cage of 9000 of our gallant troops.


[5] Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel Cecil Edward Keith-Falconer, born in October 1860, was gazetted to the Northumberland Fusiliers in January 1883. He was promoted Captain in 1892 and passed through the Staff College with honours. He served with the 13th Soudanese Battalion in the Dongola Expeditionary force under Lord Kitchener in 1896, and acted as Brigade-Major to Colonel H. Macdonald at the engagements of Abu Hamed, Berber, Atbara, and finally at the battle of Omdurman. In recognition of these services he was three times mentioned in despatches, promoted as Brevet-Major in March 1898, and Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel in November 1898, and received the Khedive's medal with four clasps. He acted as A.D.C. to Lord Loch when Governor and Commander-in-Chief of Victoria from 1887 to 1889, and subsequently at the Cape of Good Hope from 1889 to 1890. Colonel Keith-Falconer was the eldest son of the late Major the Hon. Charles J. Keith-Falconer, son of the seventh Earl of Kintore.

[6] Commander Alfred Peel Ethelston, of the cruiser Powerful, who was among the killed at the battle of Graspan, joined the navy in 1875, and two years later became a midshipman. In 1882 he attained the rank of sub-lieutenant, was promoted to a lieutenancy in 1885, and was made commander at the beginning of 1897. As sub-lieutenant of the Helicon he took part in the naval and military operations in the Eastern Soudan at Suakim in 1884-85, for which he received the Egyptian medal and the Khedive's bronze star. Commander Ethelston was appointed to the Powerful two years ago.

[7] Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel H. Ponting Northcote, who belonged to the Prince of Wales's Leinster Regiment, became a Lieutenant in 1877, Captain in 1886, and Major in 1894. He served in the Sherbro' Expedition in 1883 with the 2nd West India Regiment, and was mentioned in despatches, receiving a medal, and was afterwards created a C.B. In 1888 he served in the operations in Zululand as Deputy-Assistant Adjutant-General, while in 1895 he accompanied the expedition to Ashanti under Sir Francis Scott, receiving the star.

[8] Lieutenant-Colonel Horace Robert Stopford, of the Coldstream Guards, was appointed a Lieutenant in 1874, Captain in 1885, and Major in 1893. He had not previously been on war service.



Before going farther it may be interesting to inspect a rough table showing approximately the composition and total strength of the British and Boer forces at the various points mentioned:—



21st, 42nd, and 53rd Field Batteries; Battalion of Natal Artillery; two guns of the Natal Naval Reserve; Natal Mounted Volunteers; 5th Lancers; 19th Hussars; 1st Battalion Liverpool Regiment; 2nd Battalion Gordon Highlanders; 1st Battalion Devonshire Regiment; 1st Manchesters; several companies of Mounted Infantry; Medical Corps; Veterinary Corps; 23rd Company Royal Engineers; reinforcements from Combined Free State and Maritzburg; Naval Brigade }13,550 Transvaal forces }30,500 (750) Following from Glencoe: 13th, 67th, and 69th Field Batteries; 18th Hussars; Natal Mounted Volunteers; 1st Battalion Leicestershire Regiment; 1st and 2nd Battalions King's Royal Rifles; 2nd Battalion Dublin Fusiliers; several companies of Mounted Infantry; Field Hospital Corps / /


Four companies of the Loyal Free Staters, and probably North Lancashire Regiment; some Transvaal Boers, with Battery of Royal Garrison four field-guns, 3500; on Artillery, consisting of six }2500 Orange River, 2000; }6500 7-pounder mountain-guns; a Reinforcements from large party of Royal Mafeking, 1000 Engineers; detachment of the Army Medical Corps / /


Colonel Baden-Powell, with 500 1000 Transvaal Boers under Cavalry, 200 Cape Mounted Commandant Cronje; 500 Police and B.S.A. Company's Boers at Maritzani Mounted Police, 60 Volunteers, }1500 }1500 6 machine-guns, two 7-pounders, 200 to 300 townsmen used to arms / /

At Tuli, or moving towards Mafeking, was Colonel Plumer's column, which consisted of about 1000 men, and was opposed by an equal force of Boers.

At Palapye there was a British force of 700, which was watched by a Burgher force of about 1000.

The Boers had also a force estimated at 3000 in laager near Komati Poort.

At Estcourt there was a considerable force under Brigadier-General Wolfe-Murray, and at Pietermaritzburg other troops.

Distributed along the northern border of Cape Colony were some 5000 Free State Boers and about 1000 or 1500 British troops and police.

The Natal Field Force was now confronted with the bulk of the Boer commandoes, whose strength was vastly superior to its own, and whose courage was generally acknowledged to be splendid. The Dutch have ever a stoical stolidity which serves them in the hour of need as does the bulldog tenacity of the Briton, and therefore "those who knew" were not without apprehension in regard to the upshot of hostilities. It was plain to all who were in any way familiar with previous history and with local conditions that the struggle was likely to be both prolonged and bloody, and they urged on the attention of those at home the need of reinforcements. Yet the soldiers, particularly those who had recently arrived, were light-hearted and confident, full of satisfaction to be let loose from their hencoops in the ships, and keen to try conclusions with the Boers. At Ladysmith the state of affairs was becoming more and more complicated, and the invasion of the Free Staters into Cape Colony was now an accomplished fact. The enemy's tactics everywhere were acknowledged to be excellent, and where tactics failed tricks succeeded. The Boer dodges, though scarcely honourable, might be described by the Americans as "cute." For instance, an enterprising officer of the Transvaal artillery conceived the idea of utilising the flag of truce in a new and original fashion. Disguised as an ambulance driver, he arrived at Ladysmith, and improved the occasion by observing the effects of Boer artillery fire on the town.

The use of the white flag by the enemy was now beginning to be distrusted, for daily evidences of treachery were forthcoming. As one correspondent said in writing home of the subject, "Its advantages they seem to construe in too liberal a spirit, but of its obligations on the men who hoist it they do not appear to be aware." As in old times, they tried to use the white flag to assist them in going from cover to cover, or to create delay while guns were being adjusted in more convenient positions. Nor was this all. A wounded Boer accepted water with one hand from a British soldier, while he shot him with the other, and numberless accounts of dastardly deeds of a similar nature were reported and authenticated.

On November 2 the Boers began to occupy the points of vantage around Ladysmith, and telegraphic communication with the south was cut. They energetically commenced the building of emplacements for their guns of position, which were fast being forwarded from the Transvaal. Reinforcements from the Free State were also pouring in, and a Boer commando was creeping towards Colenso. In spite of threatened serious inconveniences, hopes were high and spirits cheery, especially among the newspaper correspondents, who, regardless of danger, drove four-in-hand round the camp and fortifications, and helped to maintain a devil-may-care attitude that was certainly reassuring. Ammunition was plentiful, but water—Klip water—was somewhat inclined to cause colic, and, in consequence, to be generally suspected. It was no uncommon sight to see at the Royal Hotel ladies heating their kettles prior to drinking their doubtful contents. Flies were so numerous as to make another persistent inconvenience. They destroyed such repose as the inhabitants might otherwise have enjoyed. Added to these petty discomforts were night-alarms of various kinds, and curious and disconcerting discoveries. For example, one young man—an immaculate young man—well turned out and apparently plentifully endowed with ready money, was discovered to be a Boer spy, and was promptly arrested. An account of the last days of a British sojourner in Ladysmith serves to give an example of the trials and anxieties through which hundreds had to pass:—

"Since my last note to you we have had some lively times of it at Ladysmith. I always had a liking to see a real battle, but never thought that it would be my luck. However, I have now seen four battles, and I think that I am satisfied. I can assure you that it is anything but pleasant to go on the field after battle. The sights of the wounded and dead are horrible, and yet the soldiers are always laughing and joking when they are going out to fight, and the poor fellows are getting very little rest. They never have a chance to get their boots off. They have to be always ready to move at a moment's notice, and they do it with light heart. Your heart would have ached to see the lot that came down to Ladysmith from Dundee. They were not strong enough for the Boers, so they made a forced march of it, and they had terribly bad weather. It was raining all the time, and when they came into Ladysmith they were mud all over and in rags. Some of them were carrying their boots in their hands and could hardly crawl. Mrs. V. and myself made some buckets of coffee and let them have a pull at it; and were not they thankful for it? A word about how we are going on here. I don't know whether you are getting any news at home about the war, but we can't get to know anything here, as the whole country is under martial law, and they won't let the papers publish any news concerning the war.... Now the Boers are all round Ladysmith, and our troops can only defend the town. I don't think for a moment that the Boers will take Ladysmith unless they get strongly reinforced, and I don't think that will happen. However, the sooner that troops arrive for the relief of the garrisons that are here and hemmed in by the Boers the better it will be for Britain. There is no doubt about it that the Boers have got our troops in a tight corner, and Britain is a bit slow, not having her troops here before now. I hear that troops are likely to land next week, and I hope that it is true. I had to leave Ladysmith on November 2; the military authorities would not grant me a permit to stay, so they gave me my free pass to Durban, where I intend to stop until the trouble is over. You would have laughed to see some of the men running out into the street with no clothes on when the Boers sent their first shell into Ladysmith. It came into the town at 5.15 A.M. I was up and partly dressed, as I had heard the firing, and was going to have a look at the battle, when in came the shell right over the house I was staying in and dropped on the road. I was sure that it was going to hit the house. The shell makes a terrific whistling as it travels through the air.... The Bluejackets did some very good work. They arrived by train about eleven o'clock, and by twelve o'clock they had off-loaded their guns and got them into action, and their third shot silenced the Boers' 40-pounder."

Our cavalry while reconnoitring discovered a large force of the Boers which was manoeuvring to the south of the town. The troopers charged, and succeeded in cutting their way through the enemy. Meanwhile at Grobler's Kloof the Volunteer Light Infantry, a corps that had been doing splendid work throughout, met the enemy, and a sharp encounter was maintained, but they were outnumbered by their assailants. An armoured train brought troops to their assistance, and these enabled them to return safely to headquarters. The naval gunners were active, and scored as usual, for they finally succeeded in putting the big gun on Hepworth Hill out of action. "Long Tom," an objectionable weapon and a great favourite with the enemy, was now posted on Mount Umbulwana, whence at intervals it spat viciously upon the town, but without causing serious damage. The enemy, as we know, made a move towards Colenso, and the officer commanding at that place decided to fall back with men and horses on Estcourt. The move over some twenty miles of hilly country was admirably executed, and all stores, huts, kit, &c., were preserved.

Meanwhile Sir George White sent out a strong force under the command of Colonel Brocklehurst, reinforced by the 5th Dragoon Guards, Royston's Horse, and two batteries, for the purpose of making a flank attack on the Boer commando that was advancing on Colenso. Splendid work was done, the Boers being routed from all their positions and three guns silenced. The Imperial Light Horse pressed too far into a gully, and for a time their position was critical, but they were extricated by the 5th Dragoon Guards. The Boers took up a strong position on the hills, and were shelled with terrific effect by the British artillery. Finally they retreated, and were cut to pieces by the cavalry. Quantities of prisoners were made, and over a thousand burghers were said to be slain—in fact, the veldt was a complete parquet of dead Dutchmen. Lieutenant the Hon. R. Pomeroy, 5th Dragoon Guards, greatly distinguished himself by pluckily riding to the rescue of a dismounted trooper and carrying him out of the fire zone. Captain Knapp and Lieutenant Brabant were killed.

At Ladysmith there was temporary peace after the enemy's fire had succeeded in hitting the hospital and a hotel. Fortunately no one was injured. All were mourning the loss of Major Taunton, Captain Knapp, and Lieutenant Brabant, who fell in the engagement on the previous day. General French, by what is termed "a close shave," succeeded in getting out of Ladysmith, and went down to Cape Town to take over the command of the Cavalry Brigade, and General Wolfe-Murray at Estcourt, with a mounted battery, reconnoitred in the direction of Colenso. Efforts were made to restore communication with Ladysmith, but in vain; yet the troops within kept up a cheerful attitude, and a continuous artillery duel was carried on between besiegers and besieged.

The art of dodging shells had by this time begun to be studied by the least nervous, for no place was safe from these screeching messengers of death. Hard roadways were rent in twain and deep gulfs dug in their midst. Gardens, from being trim and neat, became a scene of upheaval and dilapidation; the open veldt was strewed with dust and debris, and rocks were shot from their positions and sent hurtling here and there to assist in the work of wreckage. It was curious to notice upon different temperaments the effect of the shells' arrival. Some persons might be seen holding their hands to their heads as though to protect them from damage; others shrank under the nearest available cover or screwed themselves up as though endeavouring to make smaller parcels of themselves, or hoping to lessen their own obstructiveness to the passage of the devilish invader; some would flatten their backs against a wall—make pancakes of themselves—while others would fall prone to earth, and there grovel till the moment of peril was past. Many would rush helter-skelter towards the river-caves, vast places of refuge that had been dug into the deep-shelving clay and sandbanks of the Klip, and there, in their rocky hiding-places, breathe freely and await the inevitable fracas that told them, temporarily, that the coast was clear. These caves and their powers of accommodation began to be deeply interesting to the community, and daily the soldiers were set to work constructing new ones for the safety of the apprehensive. The places varied in size and quality according to the demands of their tenants. Some would accommodate a dozen people standing upright in them, and even admitted of furniture of a rough kind—bedding, seats, eatables, and cooking-pots—just enough to enable nervous folks to go "out of town" for a day or two during a period of bombardment. Others were mere fox-holes, as it were, alcoves scooped out of the bank to serve as a screen for the more hardy souls who were content to breathe the air of the river-brink, and only popped their heads under cover in ostrich fashion when danger threatened. The banks thus became honeycombed, and it was not unusual to find a whole family perched all day long with their backs against the protecting wall and their eyes fixed meditatively on the purling stream, awaiting with resignation the whims of "Long Tom."

In the early days of the siege a great deal of scooping and excavating went on, and you might see on one side some gallant tiller of the soil providing cover for a lady, while another rigged up sheltered garden-seats for children. An amusing picture was beheld of three massive Gordons in their kilts plying pick and shovel for a small couple in distress, a natty little woman in a state of panic which agreed badly with her smart ribbons, and her small lord who shared her anxiety for a place of safety. The Scotsmen delved and scooped and built the temporary shelter, indulging in the gayest jokes, and laughing and talking the while delicious "Aberdeen awa,'" till the hearers became so absorbed and interested that they almost forgot the fact that such a thing as a "Long Tom" existed. The daily operations were also of a highly-spirited character, for the British forces not only defended themselves with the greatest animation against artillery somewhat superior to their own, but at times took the offensive and harassed the enemy considerably. On three different occasions they made attacks on the Boer batteries on Umbulwana Hill, and though the British losses were somewhat heavy, those of the Boers were still greater. A message was sent by Sir George White to General Joubert requesting him to allow women, children, and non-combatants to leave the town in order to escape the effects of the bombardment, and the Boer General invited those who wished to go, to do so under protection of the Umbulwana guns, but intimated that all who had borne arms would be treated as prisoners of war. Finally, however, after a meeting had been held and the matter discussed threadbare, it was decided that the citizens of Ladysmith could accept no terms from the enemy, and the meeting dispersed to the tune of "God save the Queen," in which all fervently joined in chorus. The only means of communication with the outer world was now by pigeon-post, and there was therefore much excitement when Lieutenant Hooper (5th Lancers) arrived on the scene. Guided by a Natal policeman, he had managed to sneak unnoticed through the Boer lines and to reach the British camp in safety.

All sorts of efforts were made to save Ladysmith from her doom, and an armoured train was sent from Estcourt for the purpose of reestablishing communication with the town, but the train had to return without accomplishing its mission. In spite of this, the proprietor of a hotel in Ladysmith very cleverly managed to travel from the beleaguered town to Estcourt without being captured by the Boers. He made a detour along Kaffir paths in order to elude the Boer outposts, riding all night and arriving at his destination unharmed. At that time, as may be imagined, the investment of Ladysmith was almost complete. The enemy's big guns dominated the town east, north, and west, "Long Tom" pursuing its annoying and disquieting vocation with intermittent vigour. Most of the people had now quitted their homes and were taking refuge in the caves before described, while the shops, in default of customers, were closed. The convent, which was occupied by nuns together with the wounded, was struck by a shell, but happily without injury to its inmates. The neutrals betook themselves to a camp under Mount Umbulwana, which some inventive person appropriately christened "Funkumdorf," but there some plucky women and children refused to go, preferring to cast in their lot with the valiant defenders of the little town. At this time people and horses were still in good condition and spirits; the military inhabitants amused themselves with polo and cricket, as though there was no chance of being bowled out by "Long Tom," while the ladies gave little concerts for the amusement of the select circle. So great was the pluck of this little community, that they even edited a paper called the Ladysmith Lyre, a species of Transvaal edition of Truth, which, if not vero, was certainly ben trovato.

A new instance of the Boers' treachery soon took place. They sent in under a flag of truce a number of refugees from the Transvaal. They were met outside the pickets by a flag of truce from Ladysmith, but no sooner had the parties separated, and before the British could reach the pickets, than the Boers fired upon them. These continued breaches of the laws of civilised warfare continued to exasperate the troops, who, whenever they got a chance, naturally tried to wipe off old scores.

On the 9th November, the King's Royal Rifles and the Rifle Brigade in the north, and the Manchester Regiment in the south, succeeded in repelling two simultaneous attacks, inflicting on the Boers a loss roughly estimated at about 700 to 1000. A deep trench which had been made by the enemy on their temporary retirement, to bring forward horses, was promptly captured by the Rifle Brigade. From thence, when the Boers returned, they were briskly fired on, with the result that they retreated in hot haste across open ground. Taking advantage of this opportunity, the artillery commenced an effective fire, inflicting on the Dutch considerable loss. The Manchester Regiment, which occupied a position at Caesar's Camp, for the purpose of protecting the south-western side of the town, caught several hundred Boers hiding from shells in a ditch. They poured on them several volleys, and the enemy suffered severely. Unfortunately, Lieutenant Lethbridge (Rifle Brigade) was mortally wounded, and Lieutenant Fisher, of the Manchesters, received a slight wound in the shoulder. About noon, after seven hours' continuous fighting, the combined attack upon the town failed and the Boers retired. Then, in honour of the Prince of Wales's birthday, the big guns in the Naval redoubts commenced a salute of twenty-one guns, each shot in stately procession following the other and bursting over the Boer positions. Outside the battery, on King Kop, stood Sir George White surrounded by his Staff. The General led the way by raising three cheers for the Prince, and then Captain Lambton and the gunners on the top of the breastwork took up the roar and passed it on to the Rifle Brigade, lying in their sangars along the top of the ridge, till the whole atmosphere was vibrant with loud and prolonged cheering. In the evening the troops drank to the health of his Royal Highness, and succeeded in sending home telegraphic congratulations. On that day the townspeople, for greater safety, went into laager on the racecourse, and the military lines were removed some three miles out, so as to avoid the persistent shelling of the enemy. Major Gale, R.E., was wounded while sending a message.

Efforts were made to establish heliographic communication between Estcourt and Ladysmith, but the atmospheric conditions were entirely against the success of the operation. Bombardment continued, and life was pursued to the continuous thunder of the Naval guns firing lyddite and the "Long Toms" of the Boers, now within a three-mile range, replying with persistent and deadly reverberation. But the community in Ladysmith were not so depressed by their incarceration as to lose the spirit of fun altogether. In default of other entertainment, they beguiled the time by indulging in various practical jokes at the expense of the Boers. The greatest achievement was the preparation of a smart dummy, on which the irate Dutchmen wasted a considerable amount of ammunition. The effigy was manufactured of straw and attired in the uniform of the Lancers, by whom it was modelled. Its imposing form, placed near the Boer position, had an air of lifelike reality, and naturally the enemy jumped at a chance of riddling so venturesome a foe. Away whistled Mauser bullets round the head of the supposed courageous Lancer, who budged never a bit. Shot failing—the big gun was turned on. Bang, bang! Boom, boom! Still was the warrior unperturbed. After considerable expenditure of both shot and shell, the truth, much to the disgust of the assailants, dawned upon them!

So pleasing was the success of this manoeuvre, that the Liverpools, for further recreation, got up a miniature Tussaud's. They arrayed a row of martial effigies, and waited with the glee of school-boys while the artillery from the neighbouring hills pounded away at what they imagined to be some dauntless Britons who dared to defy them.

Efforts to signal to Ladysmith by heliograph still continued to fail, at least to reach those for whom the display was intended, though the Boer heliograph graciously acknowledged the communication. It answered jocosely, "Will be with you to-morrow." The British reply was monosyllabic! The pigeon-post medium was resorted to, and by this means those outsiders struggling for its relief were informed that with Ladysmith all was well.

The process of pigeon postal communication was exceedingly interesting. Mr. Arthur Hirst, who at the onset of the war had started a loft of the best Yorkshire racing pigeons at Durban, settled himself at the Intelligence Department Headquarters, Ladysmith, and from thence sent out his intelligent birds. Of these he had some 200, all of which were trained by himself and his assistants. His early experiments were most successful. He despatched thirteen pigeons to Durban, a distance of 200 miles, yet they arrived safely with messages within five hours. The birds were returned from thence for more work. After that time Mr. Hirst continued training a hundred young birds to travel from the seat of war to Ladysmith, and great interest was taken by all who began to understand that news of the outer world would shortly be very limited indeed.

On the 14th the Free State troops took up a position on a small kopje whence a British battery strove to rout them. There was some smart cannonading, till the British were forced to fall back on the town. Their day assault over, the Boers tried a new experiment, that of a midnight attack. All the Afrikander cannon simultaneously opened fire on the town, turning the sleeping scene into a lurid inferno. Several buildings caught fire, and the whistling and shrieking shells at intervals made terrifying music in the weird silence of the night.


Opinions regarding Estcourt differ. Some consider it a picturesque and verdant little village, placed in the bosom of the hills and very similar to a Sussex hamlet on the Downs. Others have described it as well deserving the name of being the hottest and most unpleasant region in the high veldt of Natal. It is in the thorn country, and is surrounded with rough irregular kopjes. The railway bridge over the Bushman's River is an imposing structure, and the line leads from Durban to Maritzburg, Colenso, and Ladysmith, and thence to the Orange Free State and the Transvaal. A little lower down the river is a substantial bridge that runs across from Estcourt to Fort Napier, a quaint-looking structure, neither ornamental nor useful, for hills behind and round it command the situation. Thus commanded, it is utterly indefensible, and would need an army corps to hold it. The garrison, under Brigadier-General Wolfe-Murray, at this time consisted of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, the Border Regiment, one squadron of Imperial Light Horse, Natal Field Artillery, and some scouts. This small force would have been absolutely inadequate to the defence of the place had it been seriously attacked. The Boers in hordes were supported at Colenso by heavy guns, while the British troops that had to evacuate that village had but one obsolete nine-pounder manned by volunteers. The absence of good guns was everywhere deplored. At Ladysmith the position was merely saved by the hasty arrival at the very last moment of the Naval Brigade with their formidable weapons, and at Colenso the regrettable evacuation was obligatory solely on account of the lack of guns. The depressing effect of retreat on the unhappy colonists who had their homes in the neighbourhood may be imagined.

From Estcourt on a clear day, with a northerly wind blowing, the exciting sound of hostilities in the neighbourhood of Ladysmith was distinctly to be heard, the deep bass of "Long Tom" booming upon the air, while the heavy baritone of the 4.7 Naval guns kept up the diabolical duet. Intense curiosity as to the doings of the besieged prevailed, but it was impossible to do more than mount up some of the highest hills and look down into the cup of shadow where Ladysmith was known to be. In that direction the hollow presented the air of an active volcano, volumes of smoke floating upwards, and spreading their message of bombardment and resistance far and wide. But nothing active could be done. The tiny garrison, it was true, was receiving reinforcements, but these came in by driblets. General Wolfe-Murray engaged himself in planning defences which should at all events make Estcourt into a hard nut to crack, and caused redoubts and intrenchments to be constructed so that the place might be safe against such attack as the Boers would make. The troops were kept in excellent training, to ensure their fitness to take the field at a moment's notice.

On the 9th of November there was general satisfaction owing to the safe arrival, under a flag of truce, of ninety-eight wounded from Dundee. The officers among them were Colonel Beckett of the Natal Field Force, Major Hammersley, Lancashire Fusiliers; Captain Adam, A.D.C.; Captain M'Lachlan, Major Boultbee, King's Royal Rifles; Lieutenant C. N. Perreau, Captain Dibly, Dublin Fusiliers; and Lieutenant B. de W. Weldon of the Leicesters. There was also some grim rejoicing in hearing reports that were brought in that the Boers in their attack on Ladysmith had suffered severely, and that Bester's Farm, to meet the strain, had been turned by them into a hospital. The first detachment of the long-looked-for division was now expected, and every one in camp began already to think the siege of Ladysmith might be considered a thing of the past.

Nothing warlike took place for some days. On the 14th, however, at noon, the sound of three guns gave evidence that parties of the enemy had somewhere made their appearance. The garrison—now counting the West Yorks—numbering some 3000 men, stood to arms. Colonel Martyn, in command of the mounted troops, at once started off in the direction whence a crackling of musketry proceeded. The Boers, in some force, were located on the summit of a hill firing at our scouts, who quickly retired. Two guns of the Natal Field Artillery were at once sent for, but their arrival was a signal for the enemy to beat a hasty retreat. Their retirement was merely momentary, however, for they went along a chain of hills, and appeared again on another eminence in full force. A squadron of the Natal Carabineers attempted to turn their flank for the purpose of ascertaining their strength, and in so doing estimated their numbers at about 500; any effort to dislodge so large a party would therefore have been useless, and Colonel Martyn with his small force was just about to retire to the hills above Estcourt, when the Boers were observed to be on the move. They were evidently preparing to clear off, which they rapidly did, particularly when assisted by a volley from the Natal Carabineers, whose nimble horses clambered up to the crest with marvellous celerity. After this, in default of sufficient cavalry, there was no choice but to retire. Men and horses were absolutely "dead beat." The expedition, with the mounting of the almost impregnable hill, had occupied six hours. This, however, was only an example of the many, almost daily, encounters that were necessary to arrest the enemy in his advance to the south.


So little is known by civilians of the nature and appearance of armoured trains, which played so prominent a part in the war, that a rough sketch of the "altogether" of one of these ungainly and diabolical machines may here be given. Armoured trains are hastily-constructed affairs, consisting of a locomotive and a few waggons, the engine generally being located about the middle of the train. The waggons and locomotive are covered by boiler-plating three-quarters of an inch thick, as firmly riveted as time will allow. One of these trains was constructed at Mafeking, where there are several railway shops, the town being on the new main line from the Cape to Buluwayo. The locomotive is the only part of the train that does not carry guns, the steel casing being solely to protect the mechanism of the engine from the shot of the enemy. The remainder of the armour is thickly perforated with portholes, through which guns of varying calibre peep, the Maxim, Nordenfeldt, and Gatling being the most serviceable weapons for this kind of work. The smaller holes are for the rifles of the marksmen, and usually the deadliest shots in a regiment are, when possible, selected for the position. It takes an expert marksman to shoot with satisfactory results from a quickly-moving train. Usually an armoured train is also supplied with a powerful searchlight, in view of a possible night attack. Of course, the boiler tubing can offer no resistance to artillery. In fact, rifle shots fired at short range will sometimes penetrate the plates, and to meet such a possibility sand-bags are often provided, as was the case in the Egyptian campaign, when the Sirdar found the armoured train of great service. The man in command of an armoured train thinks first, when an emergency arises, of his engine. So long as that remains in workable condition the odds are on his side; but once the vital parts of the locomotive are damaged, the outlook becomes serious, for an armoured train can only carry a small body of men, who would be quickly surrounded by the enemy, who might number hundreds or thousands. The chances are that an armoured train could not be damaged to such an extent unless artillery, dynamite, or some equally destructive force were used.

A machine of this kind, but of third-rate pretensions, was now continually used by the troops at Frere for the purpose of discovering the whereabouts of the enemy, and on the 15th of November an exciting and disastrous voyage was made in the "death-trap," as it was called. The troops had orders to proceed from Estcourt to Frere, and beyond if possible, to ascertain how far the line was practicable for the passage of an army.

The crew of this train consisted of Captain Haldane (Gordon Highlanders), in command of some seventy non-commissioned officers and men of the Dublin Fusiliers, Lieutenant Frankland, Captain Wylie, and Lieutenant Alexander, with forty-five non-commissioned officers and men of the Durham Light Infantry, and five Bluejackets under a petty officer. Mr. Winston Spencer Churchill, who was acting as war correspondent to the Morning Post, also accompanied the party, and in addition to him were certain railway employees to repair damages. No sooner had the train got to Frere and telegraphed "all well" than trouble began. It started to go still farther forward, in spite of the fact that natives were seen gesticulating warnings. On reaching Chieveley Station, it was found that there were Boers, who had hitherto been lying in ambush, eagerly looking out for them. These were posted in large numbers on either side of the line. Of course, the train began at once to steam back, but even as it did so a volley was poured on it from the enemy. With hideous clatter the bullets thudded on the iron, and several cannon began at once to play on the unlucky machine. Then, to add to its misfortunes, without pause or warning of any kind, the trucks suddenly, with a jerk and a crash, leapt into the air. They, at least, appeared to do so, overturning in the act, and shooting their contents helter-skelter, "like potatoes out of a sack." The words are quoted from the description of a sufferer who himself experienced the unpleasant sensation. Several of the men were mortally injured. A platelayer was killed on the spot. The cause of the disaster was simple and easily to be explained. The Boers had laid a trap for the train, and placed an impediment on the rails behind it, so that on its retreating journey it should become a complete wreck, and thus place the troops entirely at their mercy. And their ingenious machinations succeeded.

The enemy, triumphant, then opened fire with a Maxim and two 9-pounders from a kopje covered with brushwood, while Boer sharpshooters hidden in dongas and behind boulders also assisted. The Dublins and Volunteers fought gallantly; thrice they drove the enemy back, but the brave fellows, already suffering from the shock of having been shot with great force on the line, were from the first at a disadvantage, and unable at once to gather themselves together to meet the instantaneous fire of the Dutchmen. All they could do was to scramble to their feet—some were too securely jammed under the trucks to be freed—take up a position as firm as barked knees and bruised spines would allow, and defend themselves against the sudden attack. Mr. Churchill and Lieutenant Frankland immediately called for volunteers to help in clearing the line. Many hearty voices responded. Wildly they worked amid a hailstorm of bullets to free the engine and remove the wreckage, Mr. Churchill, between the screams of the injured and the rattling of the rifles, rallying the men and helping them, though every moment volley after volley picked off some of their numbers and sensibly thinned them. Some of these men were not only men but marvels; they worked with the zeal of giants and the pluck of heroes. Vigorously the Dublins and Durhams continued to fire at the unseen enemy, while the rest of the party by sheer main force got the engine into working order, smashing everything in its way, and packing it, as tenderly as possible, with the helpless creatures whose groans and cries were in themselves enough to make the blood of the stoutest hearts run cold. Every man seemed bent on eclipsing the courage of his comrade and following the example set by the gallant war correspondent. Sergeant Bassett of the Dublins roared his orders with firm and steady voice, giving his men the range with an air of cool unconcern that was truly reassuring, while Wright of the Durham Light Infantry was also conspicuous. During the turmoil he fired from the knee in the regular position, and was as calm and collected as if he had been at a rifle-range. With each shot he cracked a joke and kept his comrades from getting excited. All this time the poor fellow was wounded, half his right ear having been shot away. Private Kavanagh, the wag of the Dublins, chaffed his comrades, telling them the Boer shells were harmless, they could hit nothing "at all, at all!" and Corporal Dickie, though wounded and lying on his back, continued to bellow to his mates, "Give 'em beans, boys! give 'em beans!" And meanwhile Mr. Churchill, though rained on with lead and almost stunned by the noise, was coolly giving directions for the lifting of the wounded and for the moving of the engine. Finally, he had the satisfaction of getting the engine and tender safely charged with their mutilated human freight and started on the melancholy return journey. Swiftly the train steamed off, protected by the fire of Dublins and Durhams, and as it did so, Mr. Churchill, who went with it a little way, but who had stoutly refused all requests to continue farther, returned to the help of such of the wounded as had been left behind. His noble self-sacrifice, however, was of no avail. Directly afterwards he was set on by the enemy and made a prisoner, in company with two brave officers, Captain Haldane and Lieutenant Frankland, and fifty-eight of the wounded. The unfortunate party was then marched in the pouring rain to Colenso. On the following morning they were taken to the Boer camp before Ladysmith, and thence via Modder Spruit to Pretoria. In the course of the journey a great concourse of persons crowded to see the captured, and in justice to the Boers it must be said that there was only one exception to prove the rule that courtesy on all sides was observed.

An officer writing of the armoured train affair at Chieveley so well described the glorious deeds that were performed that his version was quoted even by war correspondents. It is therefore reproduced here.

"The train," he writes, "had gone on past Frere towards Chieveley, when a party of about 200 Boers were seen evidently watering their horses. After watching them for some time the train reversed, and went back at a fair speed. On rounding a curve, a truck containing men of the Durham Light Infantry toppled over, almost burying the inmates. Fortunately the men had room to scramble out, although three or four had almost to be dug out before they got free. In the meantime the Boers were pouring a rifle-fire into the train, and were working their big guns and Maxim as fast as it was possible for them to load and fire. The Dubs (Dublin Fusiliers) in the truck in what was now the rear of the train were firing as hard as they could, and the Naval men on an open waggon at the rear opened fire with their 7-pounder, but after about three shots it was put out of action. Gradually all the men got out of the overturned truck, and, seeking cover behind waggons, returned the Boer fire, but the enemy was so well protected that hardly a man could be seen. It soon became apparent that the foe being in overwhelming force and provided with heavy artillery, the best thing was to endeavour to get the road clear.

"Twenty volunteers were called for, and it was at this point that Lieutenant Winston Churchill so distinguished himself. With the greatest coolness he superintended the operation of getting the trucks free of the line. He encouraged the men at work by walking about in the open with bullets flying round him, and telling the working party not to mind the Boer fire, as the aim was bad.

"The engine was backed and then pushed against the trucks on the line, and it was when this operation was going on that another truck, behind which the men were firing to cover the working party, fell over and injured one or two D.L.I. seriously. They had been ordered to stand back while the engine butted against the derailed trucks, but they evidently did not hear the order.

"After nearly an hour's hard work and harder fighting, the line was clear enough for the engine to go forward, but the waggons behind had to be uncoupled and left. The Dubs who were in them and the Naval men, however, had got out, and had gone away in extended order, and the engine had moved on just when the line was clear.

"Captain Wyllie was shot in the thigh and dropped. Sergeant Tod, who had also been injured in the hand, went to the Captain's assistance and built up a cover of stones as a protection against rifle-fire. Just as he was lying down a shell burst right in front, scattering the stones in all directions, and some of the pieces struck Tod in the hip, inflicting an ugly but not a serious wound.

"The engine in the meantime had gone forward, and was brought by Lieutenant Churchill to pick up as many wounded as could be found. Captain Wyllie and Tod were taken up on the tender, and the engine went on some distance farther, when Captain Haldane of the Gordons and Lieutenant Churchill jumped off and joined the men fighting their way back; but the Boers were now closing all round, and the engine barely got through."

The Echo, in a leading article, spoke warmly of Mr. Churchill's exploit. It said: "In this affair Mr. Churchill, though a non-combatant, displayed the courage of his stock, and cheered the men in the work of rescuing the wounded and the bodies of the dead, crying, 'Come on, men!' with all the courage that his father showed in political warfare or his great ancestor on the fields of Blenheim or Malplaquet. When the engine steamed off, Mr. Churchill remained behind to help. Every one will hope that he is not killed."

It is somewhat interesting here to note Mr. Churchill's soliloquy on his journey in an armoured train, published in the Morning Post at the very time the noble fellow was suffering for his bravery on an identical trip. "This armoured train," he said, "is a very puny specimen, having neither gun nor Maxims, with no roof to its trucks and no shutters to its loopholes, and being in every way inferior to the powerful machines I saw working along the southern frontier. Nevertheless it is a useful means of reconnaissance, nor is a journey in it devoid of interest. An armoured train! The very name sounds strange; a locomotive disguised as a knight-errant—the agent of civilisation in the habiliments of chivalry. Mr. Morley attired as Sir Lancelot would seem scarcely more incongruous. The possibilities of attack added to the keenness of the experience. We started at one o'clock. A company of the Dublin Fusiliers formed the garrison. Half were in the car in front of the engine, half in that behind. Three empty trucks, with a plate-laying gang and spare rails to mend the line, followed. The country between Estcourt and Colenso is open, undulating, and grassy. The stations, which occur every four or five miles, are hamlets consisting of half-a-dozen corrugated iron houses, and perhaps a score of blue gum trees. These little specks of habitation are almost the only marked feature of the landscape, which on all sides spreads in pleasant but monotonous slopes of green. The train maintained a good speed; and, though it stopped repeatedly to question Kaffirs or country folk, and to communicate with the cyclists and other patrols who were scouring the country on the flanks, reached Chieveley, five miles from Colenso, by about three o'clock; and from here the Ladysmith balloon, a brown speck floating above and beyond the distant hills, was plainly visible.

"Beyond Chieveley it was necessary to observe more caution. The speed was reduced—the engine walked warily. The railway officials scanned the track, and often before a culvert or bridge was traversed we disembarked and examined it from the ground. At other times long halts were made while the officers swept the horizon and the distant hills with field-glasses and telescopes. But the country was clear and the line undamaged, and we continued our slow advance."

Little did he know when these thoughts passed though his busy brain that in a few days he would find himself in the State School of Pretoria, a prisoner, far from kith and kin, and uncertain whether or not he, like others, might be tried by Judge Gregorowski, who would take a grim pleasure, as he did in the case of the Uitlanders, in sentencing him to death. On this score great anxiety was felt, and it is no exaggeration to say that his countrymen, whether friends or strangers, were all equally regretful at his loss, and deeply anxious as to the fate that might befall so gallant a descendant of a great line.


Things were now going from bad to worse. The Ermelo commando, some 2000 strong, with six 7-pounders and two French guns, took up a threatening position near Ennersdale, with a view to attacking Estcourt at an early date, and there was every chance that the place would be surrounded.

Meanwhile the inhabitants of Ladysmith reported themselves in good health, some of them having taken refuge during the daytime in the caves by the river-bank, returning to their homes only to sleep. The war-balloon continued to attract a great deal of the enemy's attention, and they expended a vast quantity of ammunition in taking pot-shots at its tranquil form as it floated on the skyline of the hill behind the hollow from which it was sent up. Lieut.-Colonel Sir Henry Rawlinson, of the headquarters staff, while aloft making a reconnaissance had a narrow escape. A shrapnel shell pierced the balloon, came out on the other side, and burst some distance beyond. Had it exploded while traversing the gas-bag, the balloon and its occupant would have been done for; as it was, the balloon made a gentle and dignified descent, and the sole casualty reported was "one balloon wounded."

Various commandoes were now seen advancing towards the railway bridge, which is half a mile north-west of Estcourt, and also from a northerly direction. Upon this General Hildyard's force stood to arms. The outpost fired on the enemy, and one shell at 8000 yards' range was launched from the Naval guns. The effect was good, for the enemy with all celerity retired. At the same time around Ladysmith the Boers were continuing their bombardment from four strong positions: the first at Wonona, the second on Intintanyone Hill, the third on Umbulwana Hill, and the fourth at Grobler's Kloof. Sorties from time to time took place, thus frustrating the intention of the enemy to make the investment closer. Sir George White's lyddite shells were discovered to be more effective than those of the Boers, many of which were charged with sand, and jocosely said to be "made in Germany." As a matter of fact, the shells were charged with cordite which had probably grown stale and ineffective from over-keeping. It may be remembered that they were stored for use against the British after the Jameson Raid.

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