On the 19th November General Hildyard found that it was necessary either to reinforce the mounted troops that were posted at Willow Grange, thus dividing the forces at his disposal, or to evacuate the place. He decided on the latter alternative, and thereupon the Boers, with delighted expedition, commenced to make preparation for a triumphant progress to Maritzburg.
The weather now grew intensely hot, and at night the fall in the thermometer became almost dangerously pronounced. In fact, the troops had all the discomforts of India without the conveniences commonly at hand in that country for the amelioration of its conditions. The railway between Maritzburg and Estcourt was cut, and further aggressive action seemed to be brewing. All news from Ladysmith came out either by pigeon-post or by Kaffir runners, who, in a manner peculiar to themselves, managed to get through the enemy's lines. Food in the beleaguered town was still moderate in price, meat being tenpence a pound and bread threepence. A good deal of concern prevailed because the country between Ladysmith and the south was fast being taken possession of by the enemy, and the peaceful farmers and loyalists in the vicinity were shaking in their shoes, spending days and nights in an agony of suspense as to their future and the safety of their belongings.
The people in the neighbourhood of Willow Grange at this time had some exciting and alarming experiences. The Boers bound for Maritzburg, of course, made their way into such farms as suited them. They had encamped themselves on the surrounding kopjes, and these soon became living hives, moving hills, of horses, cattle, and human beings, dotted with some fourteen or fifteen ambulances carrying red-cross flags. They endeavoured to make themselves agreeable to such of the inhabitants as remained, assuring them that they did not intend to hurt those who sat quietly on their farms, though they meant to loot and raid everything from deserted homesteads. Here is a description given at the time by an owner of a farm who entertained Field-Cornet Joubert to breakfast—a plucky lady who determined to show that the Boers had no terrors for her.
"We hurried breakfast, and had hardly finished when the yard was full of men, galloping all through the trees. I went out, and was fiercely greeted with, 'Where are the other two men? We have taken three prisoners (Thorneycroft's scouts) out of five, and two are here.'
"They rode into the stable, looked through my outside bedroom door, dairy, and every conceivable place. Luckily, the men got clear.
"Shortly afterwards the Boers began to pass, cutting fences and riding in all directions, anywhere through the homestead; no discipline whatever, just like a pack of hounds when the fox is lost. They lined our kopjes overlooking Willow Grange, Weston, and Estcourt. They could hear the cannon at Ladysmith, and were not more than a mile from the house. But as scouts our boys are not in it. No stranger would have believed that stony hills were full of men and horses. I don't think that there were more than 400 or 500, evidently the advance-guard. We were kept lively the whole time, as almost every man and horse came into the yard for water, which is in a spring fifty yards from the front door, and had to be got out in buckets. They asked for anything and everything except meat. We gave as long as we could, thinking discretion the better part of valour. They invariably offered to pay, but our answer was, 'We are under martial law.'
"On Monday three men came to commandeer our carriage horses, one riding-horse, and my youngest boy's pony. We argued; but no! They must take them, as they were big and fat. My husband had almost given it up, being tired out. When they entered the stable, I stood by my favourite and slated them. The men were not Boers, but some of the scum who have joined.
"One, as ugly as sin, replied, 'Well, we will allow the lady to keep her trap-horses, but we will take the two riding-horses. We want this flat-backed, nice-looking pony for a stout man.'
"Then followed a scene. My son, aged eleven, rushed and threw his arms round his pony's neck, sobbing, and shouting out, 'I'll shoot the first Dutchman that touches him' (the boy is a cadet).
"'What a —— of a row, mates; let's clear.'
"It was too much even for that scoundrel.
"Within an hour they brought down the troop branded N.G., put them in the kraal, caught unbroken mares with foals—anything the wretches could lay hands on.
"I stood by, and said, 'Are you Boers (farmers) like ourselves or vagabonds? I'll put a fire in the grass for you.'
"A genuine Boer remonstrated with them, but it was of no use; so, for a loaf of bread, he agreed to take a note to Commandant-General David Joubert.
"I wrote explaining matters, and received a courteous reply, saying they had no authority from him. He called later on, and told us to resist them; that if he required anything he would write, and send one of his own officers; and Mr. Kirby must go into the camp and pick out all the horses—an honour he declined, saying we were under martial law, and he wished to have nothing to do with them.
"On my going out to meet General Joubert, he sat on his horse, pipe in mouth, slouch hat well pulled over his ears.
"His aide-de-camp said, 'Our Commandant-General.'
"I shook hands, and said, 'Commandant who?'
"He replied, 'David Joubert;' he's only a second-cousin of the other.
"Later on we had a visit from Commandant Trichardt. He also expressed regret, saying he had men of all nations, and could not keep order.
"But it's funny to watch them. They never salute an officer or stand at attention; they talk and crack jokes round them, and when ready, say, 'Let's be going.' This, mind, to men in command.
"They shot our sheep.
"I sent my youngest son into camp. The Boers asked after several people, whom the child did not know. They crowded round him a dozen deep. The young native with him began to cry, but the boy enjoyed it. He picked out a number of horses, which they eventually caught again and cleared with. He spotted the ugly fellow who wanted to steal his pony, and called out, 'You wanted to take my horse, and to-day you've got Scrick, the fright.'
"The others laughed and jeered the fellow.
"They told us some funny tales. One was that the balloons are the English people's gods, but Slim Piet sent L5 worth of shot at one and brought it down, as he wanted to see it.
"Another was, 'We don't mind Rhodes, but show us old Franchise; that's the man we want.'
"Some say they are tired of this life, as they have it 'bitter sware,' but will fight for their country for five years, as they believe this is the war the Bible speaks of. After this we shall have a thousand years' peace.
"On Sunday a skirmish took place. David Joubert's son was wounded. They fired on to the Hoek farmhouse.
"On Wednesday heavy firing was heard in the direction of Willow Grange, and on Friday every man was on the alert. We, knowing nothing of the outside world, expected a night attack, and put food and wraps ready for the night, as we were afraid of the British shells coming on to the house.
"They advised us to hoist the white flag, but we steadily refused, nor will we carry a flag of truce, as they advised, if we left the house for a hundred yards....
"One man came for dry firewood, and tried to be agreeable; gave a very vivid description of our balloons, and finished off by saying, 'You would have laughed last night (Friday night). The Dutch and Fusiliers got mixed up. When they found it out, one ran one way and one the other. The Fusiliers shot one of our scouts only; but they are good fellows, these Fusiliers; they are nearly as tough as we are.'
"One had a big lump out of his leg, his hand blown off, and a hole in his cheek. He stood up and said, 'Well, I've had enough.' He further said, 'The Fusiliers can fight; we fought them seven and a half hours before we took 1200 prisoners. They fought hard, and would not give in.' He evidently admired them.
"The Dutch troopers carry all they have with them on horseback (no transport); they have one blanket, one mackintosh, and live principally on meat (grilled); each cooks for himself. They sleep out in the open veldt—no tents, except for their heads; and one Boer said he had never had his clothes off for a month. They water their horses, and then swill their faces in the dregs.
"Our neighbour had deserted his home. They turned his house into a hospital, hoisted the red-cross flag on his chimney, and have broken and destroyed everything about his place, killed off his sheep, &c., eaten bottles of fruit, and broken the bottles.
"The description they themselves gave of wrecked homes was heart-rending. Some of them sported all sorts of loot, and were dressed in clothes that were never bought by them.
"I offered (through a trooper) to exchange Field-Cornet Joubert hats. I would give him a new grey felt helmet for the one he wore—a battered, brown, hard felt hat, bound with Transvaal colours, two bullet-holes right through the crown, just above the band. No doubt he had placed it on a stone as a target. I was told he had been in hospital with a wound in his leg, got at the same time his hat was hit, but he was so strong and tough he soon came out again. I don't know if he would have exchanged, as I only made the offer the morning they retreated. I thought of sending it to our museum."
On the 20th of November some 700 Boers from Weenen took up a strong position at Highlands, which is situated some thirteen miles from Estcourt. They occupied two farms north-east of the Mooi River. On the following day communication with Estcourt was interrupted and the telegraph wires south of the place were cut, and later on the lines were torn up. That done, the Boers began to shell the Mooi River village. They were posted in two strong positions, but their fire, though accurate, did little damage. Cattle-looting was briskly continued, the enemy varying the monotony by firing at intervals. In this district alone the direct loss to the loyal colonists amounted to over L25,000. From the north a hot artillery fire was poured into the Mooi River camp, while from the west further Free State commandoes were marching in. Great caution was observed in the camp, as it was known that the enemy had entirely captured the railway line, and there was no knowing what their next tactics, or rather dodges, might chance to be.
THE FIGHT ON BEACON HILL
Some definite action was now bound to be attempted, for after the evacuation of Willow Grange the investment of Estcourt was practically complete. The enemy, some 7000, with eight big guns and led by the Commandant-General, had taken up a strong position about six miles south of Willow Grange. There was nothing now between him and Maritzburg but the force at Mooi River, and, in fact, there was no knowing how soon he might overrun the whole colony of Natal.
The curious entanglement of military operations at this time formed a puzzle that, had the British not been too gravely interested, would have afforded them entertainment. The rules of no known military war game could be applied to the situation, and its uniqueness was a matter as incomprehensible to the tactician as to the ignoramus. For instance, from Maritzburg to Ladysmith one side alternated with the other at intervals along the line. There were British troops at Maritzburg, Boers at Balgowan; British at Mooi River, Boers at Willow Grange; British at Estcourt, Boers at Ennersdale; British within Ladysmith, and Boers without. To the Commander this complicated sandwich of friend and foe must have been most confounding, and the upshot of the war, even by experts, could no longer be hopefully foretold.
Sir George White was surrounded at Ladysmith, General Hildyard at Estcourt, and General Barton at Mooi River, and the Boers seemed able, after detaching troops sufficient to form three forces, consisting in all of about 17,000 men, still to be going onward with 7000 odd towards the sea.
During the afternoon of the 22nd of November a column moved out of camp in the direction of Beacon Hill to check the Boer advance. No sooner had they started than a tremendous downpour of rain accompanied by heavy thunder began to transform the whole earth into one huge morass. Naturally the already heavy task of marching was made doubly severe; but the splendid "Tommies" nevertheless plodded steadily over five miles of undulating ground, always steep in parts, and now terribly slippery from slush. Torrents continued to fall, accompanied by large hailstones, but still the troops moved on, arriving eventually at the foot of Beacon Hill where the Boer camp was situated, and beginning with steady and dogged steps to climb. Rivulets swollen by rain were successfully crossed, swamps negotiated, and massive boulders stumbled over. The force, which consisted of the 2nd Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment, half 2nd Battalion of Queen's, seven companies 2nd Battalion East Surrey Regiment, and the Durham Light Infantry, on reaching its destination, bivouacked for the night. A Naval 12-pounder gun was placed on the summit of the hill, and the 7th Battery Royal Field Artillery was also in position. These forces were under the command of Colonel Kitchener, who was directed to make a midnight attack and seize the enemy's guns and laager. The Border Regiment from Estcourt was to arrive in the morning and assist in the operations.
Unfortunately the troops, while taking up their position at the base of Beacon Hill, were discovered by the enemy, who at once blazed out with their artillery. Thereupon the Naval gun from its post on the hill snorted defiance, and from this time the Boers remained on the alert. Nevertheless in the grey gloom of the early dawn the ascent was begun, the West Yorks, supported by the Queens and East Surreys, struggling to the summit over steep and rocky ground. From the base of the hill on the left flank of the enemy's position a wall led straight to the crown, and this wall and the absence of beaten tracks helped to make the already hard task additionally arduous. However, by patience and perseverance the crest of the hill was at last gained, and the troops, with a lusty cheer, cleared out some 150 Boers at the point of the bayonet. These with remarkable agility fled to a second position, on which the bulk of their force was situated. So precipitate was the flight that thirty horses were left behind and captured, together with saddlery and camp equipment. The West Yorks then took up a position on the hill behind a barricade of stones.
Meanwhile hard work during the afternoon and night of the 22nd and 23rd had been taking place in other directions. The Naval gun, supported by the Durham Light Infantry, with the greatest difficulty had been transported over the veldt, and lugged by sheer force of muscle up the almost inaccessible mountain. The route of the strugglers lay either across sponge or rock, and the choice was not exhilarating. The 7th Battery of Field Artillery also toiled manfully in bringing guns up the steep incline.
When the day broke, the enemy opened fire from the surrounding kopjes, and the Yorks finding the Boers had to an inch the range of their position, were then forced to retire. A heavy Boer gun had been posted on a hill to west of Willow Grange Station, and this murderous weapon blazed away at the infantry with unabated zeal, though our guns warmly returned the fire. The Boer shells did practically no damage, while our shots from the Naval gun failed to reach the hostile quarters, its range being shorter than that of the Boer weapons. However, the object of the reconnaissance was attained, namely, to prevent the enemy from taking up certain positions overlooking Estcourt and from spreading farther to the south. The mounted troops, under Lieut.-Colonel Martyr, were directed to co-operate at daylight by a movement towards Willow Grange Station, and subsequently to patrol towards Highlands. Bethune's Mounted Infantry Regiment was directed to operate on Colonel Kitchener's right flank. The troops under Lieut.-Colonel Martyr, after holding a party of some 300 Boers south of Willow Grange, moved to the support of Colonel Kitchener's left flank, where they did valuable service in helping him back and assisting to get the wounded of the 2nd Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment down the hill. The troops, after being under arms from 2 P.M. on Wednesday 22nd to 5.30 P.M. of Thursday 23rd of November, gradually returned into camp. The 2nd Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment was the last to retire. During the movement the Border Regiment, Durham Light Infantry, and Natal Royal Rifles held Beacon Hill, supported by the 7th Battery of Artillery. The Imperial Light Horse, Carabineers, Natal Police, and King's Mounted Infantry took conspicuous parts in the engagement. The Volunteers, by their well-directed volleys, compelled the enemy to remain at a respectful distance. General Hildyard commanded, and Colonel Kitchener, Lieut.-Colonel Martyr, and Major Mackenzie of the Carabineers did yeoman service. A curious feature of the fight was the fact that Boer women must have been engaged on the hill, as some of their side-saddles were captured among the guns, ammunition, blankets, &c., seized by the West Yorks when the Boers were routed from the hill-top.
Many acts of gallantry and devotion were performed, especially by Lieutenant Nicholson, Corporal Wylde, and Private Montgomery. Private Montgomery, though shot through the thigh, went on firing, and when shot through the other thigh, refused to be taken to the rear for fear of exposing the stretcher-bearers. Major Hobbs was made prisoner while attending to a wounded man. General Hildyard especially commented on the valorous behaviour of Lieutenant Davies, Mounted Infantry Company, King's Royal Rifles. This young officer, under a heavy fire, dismounted, disentangled the reins of a horse he was driving in front of him, and assisted one of his men, who had lost his horse, to mount and escape. Lieutenant James, Royal Navy, who commanded the Naval gun, greatly distinguished himself in his efforts to reach the enemy's position, in spite of the persistent attentions of a Creusot gun which had the range of him. Captain Bottomley, Imperial Light Horse, rescued several of the wounded under a heavy fire, and Lieutenant Palmer, R.A.M.C., while attending the sufferers, was taken prisoner. He was subsequently released. An amusing story was told of a trooper who was found to have shot a very smart Boer, dressed in the regulation coat and polished leather boots. "He was," explained Tommy, "such a swell of a toff, that one couldn't help potting him." One of the West Yorks also viewed life with much pluck and some jocosity. Though hopelessly shot through the neck, with the bullet emerging in his left eye, he still demanded tobacco, saying, "Ah wor varry near killed befoor wi' fallin' off a house, but ah'm noan dead yet, and ah'm noan bown to dee." Let us hope the plucky fellow lived to give his doctors the lie. The glorious behaviour of all men of the West Yorks was especially eulogised. They conducted themselves heroically; and those of the 2nd Battalion East Surrey behaved with great gallantry under most trying circumstances.
During the fight Lieutenant Bridge, R.A., attached to the Imperial Light Horse, under a heavy fire of both shot and shell rushed to a wounded man of the West Yorks, picked him up, slung him over his shoulder, and brought him to a place of safety. Trooper Fitzpatrick, I.L.H., brother of the author of "The Transvaal from Within," and a prominent member of the Reform movement—specially referred to in General Hildyard's despatch—was killed while gallantly helping to save a wounded man. The West Yorks' ambulance had just been reached when the poor fellow was caught by a bullet in the back of the neck. He was buried in the afternoon with military honours, his body being carried to the grave by his comrades. Our loss was estimated at eleven killed and sixty wounded.
This highly successful night attack was, strategically speaking, of prodigious value. The hostile hordes that were advancing to the south with the intention of overrunning the Colony of Natal were summarily disposed of, their treatment at the hands of Colonel Kitchener and his small force being such that they preferred not to try conclusions with him again for some time to come. They at once took themselves off to Colenso, and in a very short space of time the telegraph lines and rails between Weston, Estcourt, and Frere were restored. The arrival of the first trains in camp was greeted with uproarious cheers.
The inhabitants of Ladysmith had almost begun to accustom themselves to the promiscuous arrival of shells at odd hours throughout the day, when General Joubert hit on the happy idea of varying the monotony of the daily routine by making the night into a "lurid inferno"—the term is borrowed from the Boers. Now no sooner were the besieged wrapped in slumber than boom! bang! a shower of 94-pound shells was launched into their midst. In an instant all was confusion. Strange forms, some weird, some grotesque, all terrified, fled from their beds and hung hovering in gardens and verandahs, uncertain whether to believe their eyes and ears. The nights were mostly dark, and from the black ridges occupied by the enemy came with a swish and a roar red tongues of flame and the spitting, splitting fury of bursting steel, which produced in the mind of those who had recently been folded in the arms of Morpheus a sensation as of fevered nightmare or threatened madness. But the sturdy soon attuned themselves to the terrific reality, though for some days, while the midnight cannonading continued, many of the more nervous were well-nigh distraught. The bombardment was accounted for in different ways. Some said it was to celebrate a victory over the advance-guard of Hildyard's brigade, others declared that the firing had been attracted by some companies of the Liverpool Regiment who had gone to cut firewood, and were visible in the gleams of the moonlight. This midnight uproar continued for several days with more or less vigour, and then it languished, possibly from economy, possibly because the Boers themselves desired to sleep. On the 18th Dr. Stark, a naturalist who had come to Natal to study birds, was killed as he was standing near the door of the Royal Hotel, a shell having descended through the roof and come out by the door.
It grew ever more and more difficult to communicate with the relieving forces, as the Kaffir runners stood in fear of their lives, many having been killed during their hazardous journeys. Shells from "Long Tom" and the new gun on Bulwana continued to cause horror in the daytime and to pursue uninterruptedly their mission of mutilation. The porch of the English Church was destroyed, several rooms of houses wrecked, and splinters and flying fragments of brick and rock kept all who moved abroad in a state of suspense and mental anxiety. No! not all. There was one imperturbable Scot who occupied a house between the Naval guns and the Boer position, who watched the havoc played by the shells in his house or garden, and occasionally applauded with the remark, "Aye, aye! Lord, man, that wuz a hummin'-bird damned weel hatched!"
On the 21st an inhuman action defaced the ordinary programme of warfare. As before said, the Town Hall had been turned into a hospital for sick, and this, by reason of its conspicuous clock-tower with the red flag flying above it, made a convenient mark for the shots of the enemy. In spite of all remonstrances, the Boer commandant proceeded to batter the place with shell after shell, with the result that on one occasion the wing of the hall was destroyed, fortunately without loss of life, and on another, a shell breaking through the roof, some nine poor patients were wounded and one killed. The General had chosen this way of expressing his annoyance that his proposed arrangements were not complied with. He had insisted that the wounded should be taken to the neutral camp at Intombi, where they would have been virtually prisoners. This could not be allowed, and therefore he was evidently determined, out of spite, to make the life of the unhappy sick in the hospital a long-drawn agony. They were helpless, stricken in body and nerve, and the perpetual crashing of bursting steel, the rending of buildings in their vicinity, was almost worse than the pang of actual death. Still, in spite of everything, the garrison bore up wonderfully and tried to put a good face on matters. A message sent out on the 25th of November, even showed signs of spurious jocosity. The writer said, "Shells and flies very numerous, but the latter more annoying." There was a pathetic ring in the little pleasantry. In reality, valiant Ladysmith was beginning to droop with the suspense of hope deferred that maketh the heart sick. The heat was getting terrific, and cases of fever were beginning to appear. The Boer firing was becoming more accurate, and their commandoes seemed to remain at their full strength, some 10,000. The besieged lost about seventy head of cattle—a terrible mishap at this crisis—and these could not, unfortunately, be recovered. A party went in pursuit of the valuables, but had to return worsted! The total casualties up to this date were eight killed and twenty-three wounded. Searchlight for night-signalling began to be in continual use, and Sir George White, being fully acquainted with the plan of campaign, was preparing himself to co-operate whenever the great hour and moment should arrive. The third big cannon, which had been christened "Franchise," now began to open fire on the tunnels in which the British were said to be concealed, and assisted actively in the already murderous chorus. On the 29th, much to the joy of the community, a message from the Prince of Wales was received, thanking officers and men for the birthday congratulations they had succeeded in forwarding to him. Hopes of speedy relief revived. It was known that General Clery had by this time some 23,000 men (including Natal Volunteers) coming to the rescue, and these, together with Sir George White's 9500 in Ladysmith, would, when the time for junction should arrive, make a not insignificant total with which to meet the Boers. But the troops were beginning to grow somewhat restless and impatient for the hour when they should be let loose to settle their little account with those outside. At this juncture Commandant Schalk-Burger grew "slimmer" than ever. In order still further to cramp Sir George White, the Dutch general sent to him a crowd of some 400 coolies, on the score that they were British subjects whom he could not feed. As it was impossible to receive any addition to the numerous mouths already inside the place, Sir George suggested their being sent on to Estcourt; so the little ruse was defeated.
ESTCOURT AND FRERE
Tugela Drift was next attacked by the enemy. Some 300 Boers advancing from Helpmakaar were met by Umvoti Mounted Rifles under Major Leuchars and some Natal Police under Sub-Inspector Maxwell. Two good hours of fighting ensued, after which the Boers turned tail and made off. Here we must note that every one spoke highly of the Natal Mounted Police. The members of the force, mostly gentlemen, were fine horsemen and crack shots. Being Colonial bred, they were conversant with every inch of the country, having done splendid service in Zululand, Pondoland, and the outlying districts. Their experience was, therefore, invaluable.
At this time two important events took place, the Tugela River rose, and became impassable save for boats and punts, and the long-looked-for arrival of Sir Redvers Buller at Maritzburg was the signal for general rejoicing. He now began the direction of operations.
So many are the minor yet exciting incidents of war, that it is impossible to recount them; yet in these minor incidents many glorious lives have been heroically hazarded, and indeed sacrificed, with scarce any recognition from the country in whose service the daring deeds were done. Some idea of the adventures of scouting parties may be obtained from an account given by the correspondent of the Natal Times on the 25th of November.
"A patrol party of sixty members of the Rifle Association went out to-day under Captains Gough and D. E. Simmons to locate the enemy on the Berg side of the railway.
"They found the enemy encamped on Simmon's farm, and commissariat waggons on Blaker's farm, about twenty-two miles from here, and seven and a half west of Mooi River.
"On reaching the swollen river near Nourse Varty's farm, eight of the party swam across on horseback to scale the kopje.
"While doing so, the scouts, who had been sent along the river-bank, gave the alarm, and reported that the Boers were closing round the kopje to cut them off.
"They at once retreated, and crossed the river, but the horses could not climb the bank and returned riderless to the other side.
"The riders swam in and brought them back, and succeeded in dragging the exhausted animals up, when they discovered that they had been the victims of a false alarm.
"After resting, the party again crossed the river, leaving their clothes behind.
"Without a vestige of clothing, they proceeded to a height a mile off, and saw the Boers breaking up camp, and moving towards Ulundi Road.
"The naked party remained watching for an hour and a half, when Simmons recrossed the river and came back to camp to report the news, leaving Gough to report the enemy's further movements."
Here it must be mentioned that General Hildyard spoke most highly of the members of the Rifle Association and of the admirable scouting done by them. He said also that great credit was due to Captains Symonds and Ross and their officers for the wonderful efficiency which they had displayed.
From the accounts received of the battle that took place outside of Estcourt while that village was shut off, it was believed that Boer women had come to help their lords to smash the "verdomde rooineks." Those who are well acquainted with the Boers suggest that their ladies were brought upon the scene to act in the place of white flags, for certainly in the storming of Beacon Hill one of our officers ceased to fire because he was confronted with a woman. Others declared that they formed a portion of a trek which had come to implore the Boer generals to cease the war. As we all know, the Boer women in ancient history—such ancient history as the trekkers have—egged their husbands and fathers on to warfare, loading their guns for them, and even firing themselves when needful; therefore the idea of their being desirous of peace was improbable. It is possible they would scorn to treat the petticoat in the light of a white flag, and prefer to stand side by side with their mates in their thinning ranks.
The Boers now entirely vacated their position along the Highland range of hills, owing, it was believed, to the River Mooi being in flood, and also in consequence of a smart engagement that had taken place with General Hildyard's troops. Ladysmith remained calm, and though there was some cannonading, it evoked no response. The Boers congratulated themselves that the days of Ladysmith were numbered, that another week would find them in possession of the place, and, though no great humourists, they indulged in mild witticisms, christening their big guns "Suzerainty" and "Franchise." The besieged meanwhile consoled themselves. Their position was stronger than ever, having been made so with redoubts and breastworks, and they awaited the coming of Sir Redvers Buller and his forces with cheerfulness and confidence.
On the 26th of November the British troops began to advance on Colenso, marching from Estcourt to Frere, where they found that the railway bridge had been destroyed. The lines, however, were rapidly repaired. By this time all had learnt to look cautiously out for the derailing of the trains, and Kaffirs with flags were posted at points in the line to signal if danger were ahead. Another contingent of the Naval Brigade from Her Majesty's ship Terrible started from Durban with guns and special mountings invented by Captain Percy Scott. The officers in command were Commander Limpus, Lieutenants Richards, Wilde, and England. Surgeon Lomas accompanied them.
The new gun-carriage designed by Captain Percy Scott at this time came in for a great share of attention. The feature of the invention is a spade which holds the gun in position, while the recoil is absorbed by the compression of oil and springs. Great strain is thus placed on the spade, and consequently its success depends largely on the character of the soil and the hold obtained.
On this subject a correspondent writing to the Times from Natal said:—
"You may be interested to hear a little about the Navy, who have come to the front as usual and met an emergency. From the first it would seem that what was wanted were long-range guns which could shell the enemy at a distance outside the range of their Mauser rifles, and the captain of the Terrible, therefore, proposed a field-mounting for the Naval long 12-pounder of 12 cwt., which has a much longer range than any artillery gun out here. A pair of waggon wheels were picked up, a balk of timber used as a trail, and in twenty-four hours a 12-pounder was ready for land service. Captain Scott then designed a mounting for a 4.7-inch Naval gun by simply bolting a ship's mounting down on to four pieces of pile. Experts declared that the 12-pounder would smash up the trail, and that the 4.7-inch would turn a somersault; the designer insisted, however, on a trial. When it took place, nothing of the kind happened, except that at extreme elevation the 12-pounder shell went 9000 yards and the 4.7-inch (lyddite) projectile 12,000 yards. Captain Scott was, therefore, encouraged to go ahead, and four 12-pounders were fitted and sent round to Durban in the Powerful, and also two 4.7-inch guns. People say here that these guns saved the situation at Ladysmith. A Naval friend writing to me from the camp says: 'The Boers complain that we are not "playing the game"; they only expected to fight rooineks, not sailors who use guns that range seven miles, and they want us to go back to our ships. One of our lyddite shells went over a hill into their camp, killed fourteen men and wounded thirty. Guns of this description are not, according to the Boer idea, at all proper, and they do not like our way of staggering humanity. Had these guns been landed earlier, how much might have been saved? It is a peculiar sight to see the 4.7-inch fired. Many thought it would turn over, but Captain Percy Scott appears to have well calculated the stresses; there is with a full charge of cordite a slight rise of the fore end, which practically relieves all the fastenings. Hastily put together, and crude as it looks, it really embraces all the points of a scientific mounting, and it wants a great expert to pronounce an opinion on it. The gun is mounted so high that to the uninitiated it looks as if it must turn over on firing, but it does not, and the higher angle of elevation the less strain there is on it. The arrival of our guns practically put the Royal Artillery guns out of use, for they can come into action 2000 yards behind those supplied to the soldiers and then make better practice. Their arrival has, every one admits, quite changed the situation.'
"Captain Scott has also rigged up a searchlight on a railway truck with a flasher attachment, the idea being to use it for communication with Kimberley and Ladysmith if these places are surrounded. It has been tested at a distance of forty miles, and proved a great success. I am told, too, that he is now engaged in designing a travelling carriage for a 6-inch gun, and has, indeed, converted the Terrible into a factory for curiosities in gun-mountings.
"Each mounting, by the way, has an inscription upon it, presumably concocted by the ship's painter. One, a parody upon the Scotch proverb, runs, 'Those who sup with me will require a devil of a long spoon'; another, 'For what we are going to receive may the Lord make us truly thankful—Oom Paul'; and a third, 'Lay me true and load me tight, the Boers will soon be out of sight.' I saw one of these guns fired with an elevation of 24 degrees and a range of 12,000 yards, and fully expected to see the whole thing capsize, but it hardly moved. After the firing of several rounds I carefully examined the mounting, and noticed that, crude as it might appear, a wonderful amount of practical knowledge was apparent in its construction; the strain was beautifully distributed, every bolt and each balk bearing its proportionate share. It is in every way creditable to the navy that when emergency arises such a thing could be devised and made by the ship's engineering staff in twenty-four hours."
While the brigade was pushing on to the front, General Joubert was falling back, with a view to disputing the passage of the Tugela River. He was believed to be concentrating three corps—one on Ladysmith, one on the Tugela, and one to east of Maritzburg.
As the scene of the armoured train disaster was only about two miles from Frere camp, several of the officers rode out to look at the wreckage of the machine. The trucks were still lying on the line, a most lamentable evidence of shock and collapse. One armoured truck was off the metals, two unarmoured trucks were also overturned, one containing the platelayers' tools standing on its head, wheels uppermost, in a state of melancholy abandonment. All the trucks were mute witnesses to the fierce fire to which the train and men had been subjected. Shell-holes were here, there, and everywhere, and the iron was ripped up and rent as though it had been matchwood. The spring of one of the waggons had been blown into space, and the Naval gun which was posted on one of the low-sided trucks must have gone with it, for no trace of its existence remained. The method of derailing the train had been simple. A railway metal had been arranged across the lines with stones at the end to weigh it down and keep it from being pushed clear. Besides this, fish-plates had been loosened, and stones put under the rails. Round the scene still lay helmets and remnants of clothing, many of these being blood-stained and ragged.
At Estcourt all was quiet. Farmers were returning to their homes and provisions streaming in. Much satisfaction was displayed at the arrival of some 500 cattle and sheep which the Boers had apparently looted and left behind them.
With Lord Methuen's advance in the west and General Buller's arrival in the east the campaign may be said to have begun in earnest. The Boer programme in a fashion seemed to have collapsed; the support of the Cape Dutch, on which it had relied, was not forthcoming. The idea of the Republics was to consolidate themselves and capture Natal, while minor forces were to blockade Mafeking, Vryburg, and Kimberley. This latter place was to be the rallying-point of the Cape Dutch. But fortunately the Cape Dutch did not see it. They did not rise to time and cut off all the railway systems, and Lord Methuen in his part of the world was too active in bringing up his advance to allow for the development of any nefarious schemes which might have been on the tapis. In face of this disappointment and this advance, the Boers had to gather themselves together. They had no reserves to send down to the assistance of their forces in the southern borders, and could only assist these by withdrawing men from commandoes already in the field. As a natural consequence, therefore, certain commandoes had to be withdrawn from Mafeking and Kimberley. In Natal all watched the forward march of the British with eager eyes. The Boers, hampered by a long train of waggons, captured cattle, and miscellaneous loot, had been headed off at the only point on the Tugela where a crossing, since the heavy rains, could be effected. It seemed, therefore, that Fortune had twisted her wheel, and that before long the prospects of South Africa would be brightened, and the remembrances of eighteen years would be entirely sponged out. Rumours were afloat, however, that the Boers were concentrating in their old positions near Colenso at the back of Grobler's Kloof, and everything pointed to the fact that a last determined effort would be made to prevent the British from crossing the Tugela.
In spite of the success of our flying column in driving the foe back across the river, there was cause for regret that the distance was too great to allow of our bringing up guns and reinforcements in time to save the bridge from destruction. But the distance from Frere to Colenso was considerable, and roads were so heavy that the dragging of guns from one place to the other would have meant a stiff day's work. There was apparently no option, the Frere bridge being broken, but to let the enemy destroy the Colenso bridge, invaluable as it was. It became very evident that the enemy meant to fight tooth and nail, and that the passage of the Tugela would be disputed inch by inch. However, none was dismayed: all believed that when the great tug-of-war should come, they would be equal, and more than equal, to the occasion. Indeed, now that the forward movement of the troops had commenced, the camp was animated by a wave of patriotic fervour. The men were literally on fire with enthusiasm. They longed to press on and come to some distinct turning-point in the history of the campaign.
A word must here be said of the splendid work done at this time by the irregular mounted troops, about 700 in number. Their value in all manner of ways was continually being demonstrated. This force was made up of a troop of Natal Mounted Police under Captain Fairlie, the Imperial Light Horse, Bethune's Horse, 60th Rifles Company of Thorneycroft's Mounted Infantry, Mackenzie's Carabineers, and the 7th Battery of field-guns.
The Boers were now energetically preparing a warm reception for General Buller. Small parties were found in the neighbourhood of Chieveley, and these were endeavouring to post their long-range guns in convenient positions for the defence of the river. They were not destined to have things entirely their own way, however, and were promptly engaged by the Imperial Light Horse and forced to retire. This they did to the tune of a tremendous explosion, which could be heard for miles off. It was caused by the blowing up of the Colenso bridge, for the purpose of impeding our possible advance. The iron bridge over the Tugela River had previously been rendered a hopeless wreck. The number of Boers round Colenso at this time was said to be about 15,000, with some 15 guns. At Frere camp our troops numbered about 3500, and at Estcourt there were about the same number, but reinforcements were expected.
SURPRISES AT LADYSMITH
At Ladysmith, St. Andrew's Day was duly kept by the Gordon Highlanders, and Scottish compliments, appropriately seasoned with whisky—now getting tragically scarce—were passed round. Sir George White dined with the gallant regiment. Now that the town was in heliographic communication with Sir Redvers Buller, and military intelligence was received regarding the movements of the relieving force, there was a general sense of security among those who had been incarcerated so long. The Ladysmith force under General White's command amounted to a total of some 12,500 troops, and these, could they once get free and join the force, numbering about 20,000, at Sir Redvers Buller's disposal, would have made a sensible difference on the fortunes of Natal. At this time provisions were fairly moderate in price, meat being one shilling a pound and bread fourpence a pound, but luxuries, liquors, &c., were growing scarce. For instance, a tin of milk—the last in Ladysmith—fetched three shillings, and eggs were purchasable for six shillings a dozen. The military authorities had commandeered all eatables, arranging that bread and meat should be sold at prices fixed for all. The health of the troops was kept up by athletic exercises, and the officers at times played polo. The bars at the hotels were closed, but mineral waters were obtainable. Horses began to look lean, though oats and mealies, bran and hay were forthcoming in sufficient quantity; but of pasturage there was little. The Boers made great efforts to shoot the cattle, thinking that though they might not storm the garrison they might starve it to surrender. Very few newspapers were smuggled into the town, and these were rapturously seized and devoured. Life was monotonous and a little sickness began to be apparent, many of the cases arising from using the muddy water of the river.
It was now discovered that the fashionable entertainment of the Dutch ladies was to take special weekly trains from Pretoria for the purpose of joining the Boers on the hills outside Ladysmith and inspecting the unhappy town. The forces surrounding the place were commanded by Schalk-Burger and Louis Botha, who doubtless, with Pretorian dames, were the heroes of the hour.
On Sundays Divine Service took place in the Church of England, the Congregational minister's house, and in the Convent, all these religious devotions partaking of a particularly solemn and earnest character. Every man stood, as it were, with his life in his hands before his God, and week after week it was impossible to say which of the devout flock might be missing, and have gone out into the invisible to solve the grana peut-etre. There was a pathetic atmosphere surrounding these religious meetings that none who joined in them will ever forget.
On the 8th of December a very brilliant operation took place at Lombard's Kop. General Hunter, with a hundred picked men of the Imperial Light Horse under Colonel Edwards (5th Dragoon Guards), and five hundred Natal Carabineers under Colonel Royston, started from Ladysmith camp about nine o'clock on the previous night. Four abreast they marched from the outpost and faded in the gloom. The march lay across a stony, rugged plain, through the scrub of mimosa bush and among dongas deep and shallow. Close on the heels of Major Henderson and several of the Corps of Guides the troops pressed on. About ten o'clock they reached the base of the hill under Lombard's Kop, and there took up a position. While still pitch dark—two o'clock in the morning—they began to advance on their perilous enterprise, climbing up steep and slippery slopes, and stumbling over boulders, and tripping on loosened stones. The stars blinked, the sky seemed slumbering in one vast dream of blue. Stealthily they moved with the footfalls of tigers stalking their prey. Not a word was spoken. Scarcely a breath drawn.
Above, on the flat top of the hills, were the objects of British desire—the Boer guns. A 6-inch Creusot, throwing a 94-lb. shell, and a 4.7-inch howitzer, firing a 40-lb. shot. More anxious than sweetheart for the sight of his lady-love were these gallant fellows for the touch of these treasures. Up they went, each outracing the other, straining every nerve and muscle to gain the summit of the hill, to be first to handle the prize!
At last, when about half the distance had been cleared, they were challenged by the picket. "Wie gaat daar?"—"Who goes there?" he sang out in alarm. It was a thrilling moment. To the challenge there could be but one reply. That reply they gave. Shots rang out in the darkness. There was now no more creeping. Tongues of flame darted from every side. The troops pushed forward in the grey mysterious gloom to the ping of bullets that whizzed in shoals swiftly past their ears. Major Henderson dropped. More bullets rained down. A Guide fell wounded by cycle bearing-balls shot from a rifle—so it was subsequently said. One gallant fellow after another threw up his arms dying or dead. But still the troops pressed on, Colonel Edwards in advance shouting them on to victory. "Fix bayonets," he called with a voice of thunder, knowing there were but four bayonets among the lot. "Give 'em cold steel," shouted some one else with delirious rapture, and the Carabineers and Light Horse, with scarce a bayonet to their name, cheered and charged! But the Boers delayed not to find out if there were steel or no steel. They fled in dismay, leaving behind them their cherished guns. So swift indeed was their flight, that hats, boots, letters, everything—were scattered to the winds.
Thereupon Captain Fowke and Lieutenant Turner, R.E., with great skill destroyed a 6-inch gun and a 4.7-inch howitzer with gun-cotton. They also captured a Maxim. This magnificent piece of work, counting from the moment the order to charge was given, was performed in three-quarters of an hour, with the loss to our troops of only seven men. The conduct of the Imperial Light Horse was superb, and Major Edwards was the first man in the embrasure. The following is an account of the destruction of the guns given by the war correspondent of the Standard:—
"In order to give the rest of the force time to complete its work, Major Edwards, who was the first man to set foot on the summit, led his men of the Imperial Light Horse to the far side of the hill, and poured volleys in the direction of the Boer retreat. Some of their vedettes could be seen hovering about, but they were evidently too demoralised to approach us closely.
"Meanwhile, the Volunteers and Sappers were making a hurried search for the big guns. For a moment the horrible thought seized us that there might be no guns at all—that the enemy, as has so often been the case of late, had somehow got wind of the projected attack, and had removed the cannon to a safe distance. But at last, to the delight of everybody, 'Long Tom' itself was discovered, snugly ensconced behind a parapet of sand-bags no less than 31 feet thick. A 4.7-inch howitzer was found in an emplacement hardly less strong, with a Maxim gun between the two—posted there, apparently, for the purpose of repelling any such assault as the one we had actually delivered.
"Lieutenant Turner, with a party of two sappers and six artillerymen, at once took charge of 'Long Tom,' and, getting to work with crowbars and hammers, smashed the breach and elevating gear. Two charges of gun-cotton were then placed in the breech and muzzle and connected with fuses. While 'Long Tom' was thus being provided for, similar attentions were bestowed on the howitzer by Captain Fowke and the other sappers and gunners.
"The preparations being complete, General Hunter ordered the men to make their way back down the hill, and the fuses were set light to with the burning ends of the officers' cigars. Everybody fell back, with the exception of Captain Fowke, who remained midway between the big guns, and, after a couple of minutes' suspense, a loud report showed that our object had been accomplished. Captain Fowke hastened to examine the debris, and found that the 6-inch gun had two gaping holes in its muzzle, which was badly bulged, and that the breech and rifling had been destroyed beyond all chance of repair. The howitzer was in an even worse plight, the explosion having wrecked the carriage as well as the gun."
The force under General Hunter was composed of a hundred men selected from three squadrons of the Imperial Light Horse: Squadron B, Captain Mullens; Squadron E, Captain Codrington; Squadron F, Captain Fowler; Commanding Officer, Colonel A. H. M. Edwards, of the 5th Dragoon Guards, with Major "Karri" Davis, and Captain Fitzgerald, Adjutant of the Regiment. The second hundred men were chosen from the Natal Volunteers, and were led by Major Addison. The flanking parties, under Colonel Royston, were composed of Natal Mounted Rifles, under Major Evans; Border Mounted Rifles, under Major Rethman; Carabineers, under Colonel Greene; and Natal Mounted Police, under Inspector Clarke; Colonel Royston in command. Major Henderson was in charge of the Guides. Our casualties were nine wounded, one mortally.
A little later in the day a smart skirmish commenced between Colonel Knox with one squadron of the 19th Hussars and the Boers on Pepworth Hill. The enemy thinking that all the troops had been engaged, to their discomfiture, near Lombard's Kop, arranged that they would seize the opportunity to approach the town. Again they were somewhat surprised to find Colonel Knox and his party in readiness for them. Some brisk fighting ensued, but all was over by six o'clock, and the net result of the morning's work was considered highly satisfactory. The voice of "Long Tom" was completely silenced, and Ladysmith had got a Maxim to the good. The Boer telegraph lines were cut and their kraals burnt. On the whole, the troops were well pleased with themselves, and returned to receive an enthusiastic reception from those within the town. The only regret was that Major Henderson, D.A.A.G., 1st Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, should have been wounded in two places.
Probably this was the first time in the history of British arms that guns have been stormed by Mounted Infantry, and the complete success of the movement reflected the utmost credit, not only on the troops themselves, but on Major-General Hunter, who so magnificently led the assault. After the men returned to camp, General White had the Volunteers, Light Horsemen, and other portions of the force paraded, and addressed them as follows:—
"Colonel Royston, officers and men of the Natal Mounted Volunteers, officers and men of the Imperial Light Horse, and officers and men of the Imperial Forces,—I have heard the details of last night's work from Major-General Hunter, who so ably planned the undertaking and carried it out. He has asked me to express to you his appreciation—and deep appreciation—of the admirable manner in which you supported him in it throughout. It is a great pleasure to me that I am here, not only to acknowledge the fine work you did last night and your valuable services, but also as I was longing for an opportunity of acknowledging the value of your services since this campaign commenced. I am glad to think that the very important service rendered last night was got through with so few casualties. It will be a great pleasure to me to report to General Sir Redvers Buller, whom we all hope to see in a few days, the good behaviour and great help we have had from the Natal Volunteers, who, I may say without any inflated or exaggerated language, are a credit, not only to their own Colony, but to the Empire. We I daresay, have a lot of severe fighting before us, and it is a great gratification to me to know I have the help of such men as I see before me. I know you had a bad night last night and are needing rest, but I thought you would not, perhaps, mind my turning you out to tell you how all the officers of this force appreciate your behaviour, and I hope you will keep it up to the end. Colonel Royston, I won't keep the parade any longer."
Hearty cheers were given for General White, Major-General Hunter, and the Queen.
General White also addressed the Royal Engineers and Artillery, stating that all praise was due to the officer in charge for the able manner in which he had performed his duty, and to the men for the steadiness with which they had assisted individually.
General White visited the I.L.H. camp, inspecting the corps on parade, and expressed himself in similar terms to those used to the Volunteers.
Doubtless the success of the last midnight sortie roused a spirit of emulation in the breast of the gallant besieged, for another daring manoeuvre was secretly planned. It was decided that an effort should now be made to destroy an inconveniently active 4.7-inch howitzer which was posted on a height appropriately termed Surprise Hill. When the shades of night began to fall, five companies of the Rifle Brigade, with an Engineer detachment in charge of Lieutenant Digby Jones, R.E., started off from King's Post on their dangerous mission. The moon, however, shone clear and white, throwing undesirable magnesian light over their progress. It was a night for Hero and Leander, not for deeds dark and deadly. For this reason they halted at the base of Observation Hill until such time as it was possible to proceed in safety. Presently the moon sank behind clouds and they moved on. At half-past one they crossed the railway lines and commenced, stealthy as cats, to ascend the hill. One company and a half was left on the right, and one company and a half on the left flank. A half company was posted in a nullah near the railway. The remainder of the force, led by Colonel Metcalfe, deployed into line and ascended with steady, cautious step. The Boer picket was evidently dozing, as the party was never challenged till the British had almost reached the top of the hill. Then, with a sudden surprised "Who goes there?" and a leap to arms, the enemy fired several shots. Directly afterwards, the order to "Fix bayonets" was given. This was followed by the click of steel and the rush of our men wildly cheering—cheering till the midnight echoes rang with weird reverberations. The crest of the hill was carried! The Boers, after firing a few shots, had vanished into space.
After some moments of anxious search the gun—the object of the British operations—was found. It was promptly surrounded, and the breech-block and muzzle were destroyed with gun-cotton by Lieutenant Digby Jones, R.E. The fuse unluckily declined at first to ignite, causing the delay of some twenty minutes, during which interval the Boers, reinforced, had swept back round the kopje and sandwiched themselves between the attacking force as they retired down-hill and the reserves. The confusion that ensued was lamentable, as the fighting line were forced to cut their way through with the bayonet, but this with extreme caution, as in the darkness it was difficult to distinguish between friend and foe. The Boers cunningly enhanced the difficulty of the position by passing themselves off as British, and repeating our cries and orders, and calling "Is that the Rifle Brigade?" &c. On receiving an answer they promptly fired, our reserve being unable to make return owing to a fear of injuring our own force. The Boers' losses were great. Our own were: Lieutenant Fergusson, 2nd Rifle Brigade, and ten rank and file killed; Captain Paley, Second Lieutenant Davenport, Second Lieutenant Bond, and forty rank and file wounded. Six men of the Rifle Brigade who remained in charge of the wounded were taken prisoners.
Sir George White now continually used his balloon for purposes of observation. He was also in communication with Frere Camp, where an electric searchlight was in operation, and with Umkolanda, near Weenen, where Captain Cayzer of the Dragoons worked the heliograph.
The garrison still remained cheerful although the Boer bombardment grew heavier. Threatening sounds of firing in the neighbourhood of Colenso caused them to sustain hope, though the pinch of siege life, suspense, sickness, and shell-fire were beginning to be felt. However, owing to the admirable forethought of Colonel Ward, Army Service Corps, the food supply was still equal to the drain upon it.
General Sir F. C. Clery arrived at Frere on the 2nd of December, and assumed command of the Second Division. He took up his quarters at the shattered house of the stationmaster. Preparations were set on foot to repair Frere bridge, which had been entirely wrecked, and a mounted force under Lord Dundonald was actively engaged in chasing large parties of Boers on their return to Colenso. Great interest was caused by the arrival in camp of another of the inventions of Captain Scott of the Terrible. It consisted of a searchlight apparatus for signalling to Ladysmith, with engine and dynamo, entirely armoured. Communication with Ladysmith by heliograph was soon successfully established, much to the consternation of the Boers at Colenso, who tried their best to interfere with messages. The camp was daily increasing in size, and reinforcements, with their baggage, horses, waggons, and guns, began to pour in from Maritzburg, while the Durban Light Infantry and a battery of Natal Field Artillery were posted to protect Estcourt, Willow Grange, and Mooi River from raiders and attacks on lines and telegraph wires.
The arrival of Generals Buller and Clery and the increasing concentration of troops now began to presage an important and, it was hoped, decisive movement. Visual communication was being held nightly with General White, and a combined action seemed quite possible. It was recognised, however, that the Boer position at Colenso could not be taken by direct frontal attack, and that some arrangement to turn the left of the enemy must simultaneously accompany a demonstration in front. Mounted troops had now joined the British forces, and there was every hope that the Dutchmen, once routed, could be pursued and kept on the run. But so far the Boers were unconcerned; they seemed to be in fine fettle, and even indulged in humour at the expense of the British garrison. When the heliographers questioned the enemy, "Are you Boers?" they replied, "Yes." They were then asked, "Where are you going?" and bounced back, "To Maritzburg." "God help you," said we. "We think He will," they devoutly replied. They also indulged in compliments of a less righteous description, finishing up with the crude and scarcely eloquent expression, "Go to h—ll." But, as a mild diversion, Boer humour was accepted, for, in the routine of the soldier's existence, the smallest mercies in the form of distraction were thankfully received. Life just then, even for the officers, was not roseate—the messes had a ubiquitous menu of bully beef and bread, and the mess-tents were made of the tarpaulins of the big mule-waggons. Repose was a beautiful name. The torture of sleeping on a valise on the ground for weeks at a stretch was—so an officer declared—much the same as that produced by some beds in Irish inns—after lying down for some hours, you have to get up and take a rest!
Meanwhile, Provost-Marshal Major Chichester, at Frere Camp, distinguished himself. On the 7th of December he started off with thirty men of the Natal Carabineers and a few Mounted Police for the purpose of arresting three colonists suspected of aiding the enemy. They left camp for the Gourton district at about 5 A.M., and marched through the country beneath the snow-capped Drakensberg Mountains some fifty miles. There the landscape is picturesque and beautiful as any in Natal; but their object was not to admire scenery, but to pursue traitors. At a small farm they came upon the objects of their search. The miscreants were promptly seized, together with their loot, some 150 head of cattle. With these the party started to return, but were fired on by six Boers from a neighbouring donga or ditch. Major Chichester then ordered forward part of his troop with the prisoners in charge, while he and the rest of his men held the enemy at bay. A brisk fusillade ensued, in which five of the enemy's ponies were killed, and several of the Boers were shot. The party returned to camp safely, after having accomplished the object of their expedition in the space of twenty-three hours.
The trestle bridge at Frere was now completed, and trains began to run over it. Frere Bridge, on the Natal Government Railway, some twenty miles from Ladysmith, was, it may be remembered, the first to be blown up by the Boers on their retreat from Estcourt to Colenso.
The following is a rough list of the force, under General Sir Redvers Buller, Major-General Sir C. F. Clery, Major-General Hildyard, and Major-General Barton, which was now advancing towards Ladysmith from Durban by way of Pietermaritzburg, Mooi River, Estcourt, and Colenso:—
1st Border Regiment, 2nd Royal Dublin Fusiliers, 2nd West Yorkshire, 2nd East Surrey, 2nd West Surrey, 2nd Devonshire, 1st Welsh Fusiliers, 2nd Scottish Rifles, 2nd Royal Fusiliers, 2nd Royal Scots Fusiliers, 2nd Royal Irish Fusiliers, 1st Royal Dragoons, 1st Durham Light Infantry, 13th Hussars, 1st Connaught Rangers, 1st Dublin Fusiliers, 1st Gordon Highlanders, 1st Inniskilling Fusiliers, 2nd Somersetshire Light Infantry, 3rd King's Royal Rifles, B Squadron 6th Dragoon Guards, one Squadron Imperial Light Horse, Durban Light Infantry, various Local Rifle Associations, Naval Detachments, Volunteer Cavalry and Infantry, Uitlander Corps under Major Thorneycroft, 7th, 14th, 64th, 66th, 73rd Field Batteries, several Companies Royal Engineers, several Companies R.A.M.C., Field Hospitals.
Besides the arrival of incoming regiments, camp life at Frere was enlivened by many minor episodes. Provost-Marshal Major Chichester paid more surprise visits to Dutch farms whose owners were suspected of aiding the enemy. Though looting was strictly forbidden, some of the raiding parties returned with interesting souvenirs of their expeditions—sometimes in the form of corpulent turkey, squeaking sucking-pig, or other dainty with which to vary the monotony of camp fare. Good-nature prevailed among the troops, and the health of the men testified to the excellence of their feeding. Fair beef, occasional mutton, and beer were available, and with these at hand and the enemy in front, and shortly to be interviewed by heavy guns plus the bayonet, "Tommy" was well content. Meanwhile, reinforcements continued to come up from Maritzburg in all haste. The march from thence to Balgowan made the first twenty-five miles. On to Nottingham Road made another ten. After a halt they took another twelve miles stretch to Mooi River. To Estcourt was twenty-four miles over fresh and verdurous country, and to Frere Camp was another fifteen. The troops, as a rule, were on the move about three in the morning, for it was now the Cape summer, and as much toil as possible was accomplished before the sun was up. Striking tents, loading waggons, feeding and watering horses, swallowing breakfast, took place in twilight, and then they proceeded to saddle up and march. Arrived at their destination, the troops off-saddled, attended to the horses, pitched tents, and performed other camp duties. Rations consisted of bread, tea, coffee, sometimes meat and potatoes. Water was a luxury, and so little was wasted for external application that several troopers offered to play the part of Othello without any make up. The war kit of the men was somewhat of the Christmas-tree order. On them were haversacks containing food, horse-brush, currycomb, and towel, water-bottle, bandolier with fifty cartridges, waistbelt and gun weighing ten pounds. Often as not they turned in to rest, if not exactly thus equipped, at least booted and spurred, ready to be up and doing at a moment's notice!
On the morning of the 14th of December the troops advanced from Frere to Chieveley. Reveille was sounded at 3 A.M., and soon the camp was one buzz of active life. In the warm glow of camp-fires tents were struck, kits packed, horses fed and watered, and the men breakfasted. Four regiments of infantry "fell in" and moved out from the camp, followed at intervals by other arms. The procession measured some eight miles long, and was composed of variegated objects, such as ambulance waggons dragged by innumerable oxen, mule and donkey carts, the teams and guns of six field-batteries, cavalry and infantry, and hale and hearty Jack Tars, looking very ship-shape, square and determined, and joking as though they were off to a ball. All were equally jovial, all confident that the big move was begun, and a big and glorious ending was in store.
The entire force encamped three miles from the Tuegla River to north-west of Chieveley Station; the Infantry Brigades being on the extreme front, while the Cavalry, Mounted Infantry, and Artillery were nearer to Chieveley. Soon after this the Naval guns set to work to search the intrenchments and positions of the enemy north of Colenso. These guns, consisting of two 4.7-inch and four 12-pounders, were posted some 3000 yards south of the Tugela, about three miles from Colenso village, and facing what was afterwards discovered to be the Boers' position. Their bark resounded over the kopjes for miles, throwing up gigantic volcanic eruptions, which resembled mammoth mushrooms suddenly springing to life. But beyond filling the hearts of hearers with awe, they produced no result. The Boers were silent, so silent indeed that some imagined that they had vacated their positions and that the passage of the Tugela would after all be quite a frolicsome picnic, with perchance a few crackers thrown in. All were deceived—even those well acquainted with Boer tricks and duplicity—and all imagined that the enemy had fallen back, possibly for the closer protection of Ladysmith.
But before going further, it is necessary to keep in touch with other brave defenders of the Empire.
ACTIVITY AT THE CAPE
Boer annexations continued with insolent persistency, and the High Commissioner, Sir Alfred Milner, telegraphed thus to Mr. Chamberlain:—
"16th November—Having been informed that Orange Free State have issued Proclamations annexing Griqualand West and portions of the Aliwal North, Albert, and Colesberg districts, I issued counter-Proclamation on 10th November and 15th November of a similar kind to that in my telegram of 28th October, and have declared latter districts to be under martial law."
At this time the British reinforcements arriving in Cape Colony were:—
3rd Battalion Staffordshire, 1st Highland Light Infantry and Mounted Infantry, 1st Battalion Scots Guards, 2nd Northampton Regiment, 2nd Battalion Royal Highlanders, part of 2nd East Surrey, 3rd Battalion Grenadier Guards, 2nd Battalion Devonshires, 12th Lancers, Engineers, R.A.M.C., Field Hospitals, Post-Office Corps, Seamen and Marines, and 2nd Royal Irish Rifles—about 10,900.
It must here be noted that among the many prominent persons who had placed themselves at the disposal of their country and were leaving for the front were Sir W. MacCormac and Mr. Makins, whose surgical skill was offered to relieve the suffering. Mr. Treves, the eminent surgeon, had also volunteered his services. The following regiments arrived at Cape Town on the 20th of November, and went on to reinforce the advance columns or to preserve the lines of communication under the command of Lieut.-General Sir W. E. F. Forestier-Walker:—
12th Lancers, one squadron 14th Hussars, 2nd Northumberland Fusiliers, 1st Royal Munster Fusiliers, four companies 2nd Berkshire, 2nd Royal Highlanders, 1st Highland Light Infantry, 2nd Seaforth Highlanders, 1st Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, 1st Welsh Regiment, several Corps of Engineers, including Balloon Sections, Batteries, Field Hospitals, Seamen and Marines, Post-Office Corps, Railway Engineers, Corps of Light Horse (in course of formation), New Zealand contingent:—a total of about 8000 men.
The South African Light Horse, a corps formed of the Uitlanders, was being rapidly organised, and great enthusiasm prevailed among the Colonists. All were anxious to be first in the field and to display their loyalty to the Sovereign. Indeed, there was not a little jealousy lest other Colonists might debar those at the Cape from proving their devotion to the full. The new regiment started on the 30th of November for the north amid enthusiastic cheers.
Quantities of reports having been circulated and a great deal of misapprehension caused as to the policy and intention of the Government, Sir Alfred Milner issued a proclamation addressed to the people of Cape Colony. In it he said:—
"Misleading manifestoes from beyond the borders represent the Imperial Government as desiring to oppress the Dutch, and the idea has been spread abroad that the Dutch are to be deprived of constitutional rights.
"There is absolutely no truth in such allegations. The Imperial Government desires the greatest freedom of self-government for Dutch and British alike, and the extension, not the curtailment, of the above. The Constitution can solely be endangered by rebellion.
"The Imperial Government adheres firmly to the principles of equal freedom for all loyal Colonists.
"Her Majesty the Queen during her long reign has given innumerable proofs that she does not favour one race at the expense of another. All allegations to the contrary are made either in ignorance or with the deliberate intention of shaking the loyalty of a section of the community, including many connected by close ties of kinship with a people with which we are now at war.
"An attempt is being made to inflame their minds, and to convert feelings of sympathy with kinsmen into a spirit of rebellion, by representing the Imperial Government as hostile to the Dutch, and by otherwise distorting its acts and objects.
"I gladly recognise that the majority, nevertheless, maintain a law-abiding attitude, and I am proud of their worthiness of the confidence reposed in them. But the statements which continue to be spread abroad are producing a deplorable effect in some quarters, and I therefore most earnestly warn all against being misled into defection from their allegiance, and thereby exposing themselves to grave consequences.
"I call upon all the Queen's subjects, of whatever race, to stand together in support of the Crown and its authority."
But, for the treachery of some of Her Majesty's subjects, the devotion and fealty of others made glorious atonement. There are loyal people in the Cape, who, if they live to be as old as Methuselah, will never forget the opening of December. The streets of Cape Town were literally panting with enthusiasm, every hole and corner being alive with animated crowds to welcome the New Zealanders, Australians, and Canadians, gallant fellows, who, from sheer pride in being associated with the defence of the mother country, came trooping to do battle in her cause. Each successive arrival of the Colonists was the cue for fresh demonstrations and for the display of flags and banners bearing mottoes, "For Queen and Empire," "Welcome, Brother Colonists," and the like; and by the time the Canadians had landed patriotic feeling had reached its climax. Then public enthusiasm literally seemed to burst all bounds. The streets, windows, verandahs, roofs, were packed with an excited, surging, shouting, cheering throng, and the air was thick with hats, and flags, and handkerchiefs, waving a hearty welcome to our British brethren from across the seas. The Canadians, about 1000 strong, were "a sicht for sair e'en," as the Scots would say, a hale, well-grown, muscular set of men, who evidently appreciated the magnificent reception that was accorded them, and who as evidently meant to earn laurels in the service of the great Queen Mother. Indeed, all the Colonial troops were remarkable for their excellent appearance, and the sight of them arriving from every corner of the earth to support the honour and prestige of the Empire was vastly inspiriting. One may safely assert that such an exhibition of patriotic solidarity and power was without precedent in the world's history.
There never was such a show of fine men, said all who saw them; but—. There was a great But. We were deficient still in other ways. We had the men, but in the matter of guns we were still lamentably weak; we could not compete with our enemies. Those in power seemed to have been ignorant of, or apathetic to, the fact that the expenditure of the Transvaal Government for artillery during the previous four years had been enormous. The marvel was that our Intelligence Department should have taken no cognisance of these gigantic preparations, or that if it had, the Cabinet had not acted on its information. In 1894 L100,000 was handed over to Krupp of Germany, and the same amount to an Austrian firm. Two of the finest guns in the world were imported in 1895. These were 48 feet long, 120 tons in weight, throwing a shell weighing 2300 lbs., and requiring 904 lbs. of powder for each discharge. Both were amply provided with ammunition, which, in addition to the great steel and iron shells, consisted of shrapnel holding 3000 balls, weighing 3 1/2 ounces each. One of these treasures was pointed at Ladysmith, and the other was used to defend the fortifications of Pretoria.
This was not all. In 1895 Krupp received another L100,000, and field-guns of long range, which we now know too well, were forwarded, and also certain mountain and bush guns suited to high ground and hot climate. In 1896 further developments took place. Six Creusot guns were introduced, to be followed later on by eighteen more. In 1897, '98, and '99 further additions to the Boer artillery were made, and the frontier kopjes fortified, and distances marked and measured. Then were bought forty-eight rapid-fire Schneider-Canet 14 1/2 pounders, that throw a shrapnel containing 234 bullets, to be fired 200 times per minute, with a range of 3 1/2 miles. Maxims in plenty were invested in, as those in Mafeking and Ladysmith knew to their cost, and the Boers also secured four batteries of 12-lb. quick-firing Vickers Maxim guns, with a range extending up to 5000 yards. Four guns with a range of 1200 yards were distributed between hills guarding the Drakensberg passes, Ladysmith, and Pretoria.
With this array of guns only our Naval guns could compete. As regards horses, we were also deficient. The sea-voyage played terrible havoc with the poor beasts. Ill-luck seemed to pursue us, for on the 4th of December grievous news arrived that the Esmore with the 10th Hussars and a battalion of infantry on board had gone ashore at St. Helena, some 180 miles from Cape Town. Fortunately the men were rescued from the transport, but their chargers were all lost. This was a terrible blow, for at the time cavalry was almost a nullity, and operations were somewhat suspended, if not entirely crippled, owing to the lack of that arm. Indeed, Lord Methuen's brilliant operations on the Orange River had all been heavily handicapped owing to the impossibility of pushing his victories home, and at this time the one cry of the commandants in chorus was, "Oh for a Cavalry Brigade!" There was General French, a born cavalry commander, minus mounted troops; General Gatacre with his division distributed in fragments everywhere; Lord Methuen hampered as before described, all because the nation had allowed itself to slumber and drift, and put its hand to the helm too late!
As there were continual changes in the military situation, it may be as well to make a rough computation of the troops engaged in the various campaigns. In Ladysmith, Sir George White had some 9500 men, while at Colenso, Weenen, and Natal, Generals Buller and Clery had between them some 23,000. Advancing from Queenstown to attack Stormberg was General Gatacre with 6000 men, while a probable 3000—cavalry and infantry—were with General French at Naaupoort. In the west, advancing from the Modder River to the relief of Kimberley, Lord Methuen had less than 8000 men, and on the line of communications at Graspan, Orange River, and De Aar were some 8000 more. At Kimberley there were about 2000 troops, while with Colonel Baden-Powell at Mafeking and Colonel Plumer in Rhodesia were about 1000 men respectively. The newly-arrived Canadian contingent, numbering some 1000 men, were sent to the front to act in concert with the Black Watch and Seaforth Highlanders. Quantities of soldiers and volunteers were daily arriving, all of them in high spirits at a chance of seeing service. Among the many passengers who landed on the 11th of December was one whose zealous determination to serve his country caused not a little emotion in those who heard his story. He was a reservist belonging to the Seaforth Highlanders, who was absent when called up. He had been in France, and only arrived in England twenty-four hours after the troopship which brought out his regiment started. He therefore proceeded to Southampton, paid his passage to Cape Town, and went on to the front at his own expense.
Of course, this is a solitary example of devotion to duty, but there are thousands which might be recorded. Millionaires rushed from their palaces, from the lap of nineteenth-century luxury into sober kharki, with all its accompaniment of bully beef and muddy water; bridegrooms tore themselves from winning brides, and scurried from the altar-rails to sacrifice their lives—at that moment more precious than at any other time—for the honour of the Empire. Not only "Dukes' sons," but a Duke indeed joined in the magnificent mob who clamoured to fight for the great cause. This impetuosity of gallantry had even its comic side, for deserters came from hiding ready to face shot and shell rather than be out of it; small boys tried spurious dodges to bring themselves to "regulation" height; and many fibbed right royally as to their ages! Some even, when rejected, were found stowed away after the transports had put to sea! "Trifles these," some prosaic readers will remark. Possibly, but to others such trifles made confirmation "strong as holy writ" that the martial majesty of our mighty nation was never more grandly evident than in the declining years of Victoria's reign!
The glorious work done by Cape Colony in aid of the Empire may be appreciated in viewing the following figures, which show that nearly 6000 South African volunteers were called out for service during the month of December:—
Prince Alfred's Own Artillery, Cape Town, 120; Cape Garrison Artillery, Cape Town, 450; Duke of Edinburgh's Own Rifles, Cape Town, 1000; Cape Town Highlanders, Cape Town, 500; Prince Alfred's Guard, Port Elizabeth, 600; Uitenhage Rifles, Uitenhage, 200; Kaffrarian Rifles, East London, 400; 1st City Volunteers, Grahamstown, 500; Queenstown Rifle Volunteers, Queenstown, 300; Kimberley Regiment, Kimberley, 650; Diamond Fields Artillery, Kimberley, 120; Frontier Mounted Rifles, Cathcart, 200; Komgha Mounted Rifles, Komgha, 100; Transkei Mounted Rifles, Butterworth, 125; Xalanga Border Mounted Rifle Club, 72; Tembuland Mounted Rifle Club, 52; Engcobo Mounted Rifle Club, 47; Cape Medical Staff Corps, 200:—total, 5636.
This number only included volunteers, and did not take in the paid irregular regiments, Mounted Police, and other bodies, of which there were several thousand more. In fact, it was estimated that the Colonial levies in Cape Colony alone numbered, at the end of 1899, about 12,000 men.
The troops in South Africa early in December, apart from the force under Sir George White, were approximately the following:—
CAVALRY DIVISION (Lieut.-General French).—1st Brigade (Major-General Babington)—R Battery R.H.A., 6th Dragoon Guards, 10th Hussars, Mounted Infantry, Ammunition Column, No. 9 Field Hospital. 2nd Brigade (Major-General Brabazon)—O Battery R.H.A., 1st Royal Dragoons, 6th Dragoons, 2nd Dragoons, Ammunition Column, No. 12 Company R.A.M.C.
KIMBERLEY RELIEF COLUMN (Lord Methuen's Command).—Major-General Sir H. E. Colvile's Brigade—1st Scots Guards, 1st Coldstream Guards, 2nd Coldstream Guards, 3rd Grenadier Guards. Major-General Pole-Carew's Brigade—1st Northumberland Fusiliers, 2nd Northamptonshire Regiment, 2nd Yorkshire Light Infantry, 2nd Loyal North Lancashire Regiment (half-battalion). Major-General Wauchope's Brigade—1st Highland Light Infantry, 1st Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, 2nd Royal Highlanders, 2nd Seaforth Highlanders, No. 8 Field Hospital. Naval Brigade, G and P Batteries R.H.A., 18th, 37th (howitzer), 62nd, and 75th Royal Field Artillery, 9th and 12th Lancers, 7th Field Company Royal Engineers, Ammunition Column, No. 19 Field Hospital.
COLONIAL FORCES (in support of Lord Methuen).—Canadian Contingent, New South Wales Lancers, New Zealand, South and West Australian, Tasmanian, and Victorian Contingents.
TROOPS IN SOUTH NATAL (Lieut.-General Sir C. F. Clery's Command).—Major-General Hildyard's Brigade—2nd Royal West Surrey, 2nd West Yorkshire, 2nd East Surrey, 2nd Devonshire. Major-General Lyttleton's Brigade—2nd Scottish Rifles, 1st Durham Light Infantry, 1st Rifle Brigade, 3rd King's Royal Rifles, No. 14 Field Hospital. Major-General Barton's Brigade—1st Royal Welsh Fusiliers, 2nd Royal Irish Fusiliers, 2nd Royal Scots Fusiliers, 2nd Royal Fusiliers, Field Hospital. Major-General Fitzroy Hart's Brigade—1st Connaught Rangers, 1st Royal Dublin Fusiliers, 1st Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, No. 10 Field Hospital Company, No. 16 Bearer Company, 2nd Somerset Light Infantry, 1st Borderers, 2nd King's Royal Rifles, 1st Gordon Highlanders, 7th, 14th, 64th, 66th, and 73rd Batteries R.F.A., 12th Field Company R.E., Ammunition Column, No. 3 Field Hospital.
IN CAPE COLONY (Lieut.-General Gatacre's Command).—1st Welsh Regiment, 1st Royal Scots, 2nd Northumberland Fusiliers, 2nd Royal Berkshire, 2nd Royal Irish Rifles, 1st Rifle Brigade, 1st Royal Munster Fusiliers, 2nd Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry, 2nd Shropshire Light Infantry, 74th, 77th, and 79th Batteries R.F.A., Two Station Hospitals.
CORPS TROOPS.—4th, 38th, 61st, 65th, and 78th Batteries R.F.A., 4th Mountain Battery, 13th Hussars, 1st Telegraph Division R.E., 10th Railway Company R.E., 26th Field Company R.E., 1st Field Park R.E., Pontoon Troop R.E., Balloon Section R.E., No. 5 Field Hospital.
UNATTACHED.—1st Suffolks, 1st Essex.
WITH GENERAL GATACRE
By the end of November two British forces were advancing from East London by way of Queenstown to the Stormberg and Colesberg districts in the north of Cape Colony. With General French's advance we must deal anon: that of Major-General Sir W. F. Gatacre calls for immediate attention. The General had under his command what was by courtesy termed the 3rd Division, namely, 2nd Royal Irish Rifles, four companies of the 1st Royal Berkshire Regiment, a troop of the New South Wales Lancers, some companies of Army Medical Corps, Field Hospital, and Volunteer Mounted Infantry. The total was about 5000 men.
On the 28th of November he was reinforced by the 2nd Northumberland Fusiliers. His force, as we see, was none too large, for he was proceeding through country where it may be said that every hand was either openly or stealthily turned against him. For strategical reasons, and for the purpose of reassuring the British population, however, General Gatacre had decided that some sort of advance must be made. He reconnoitred in and around Molteno, and visited the outposts of regulars, irregulars, and police, and ascertained to an almost pitiful degree the slenderness of his resources should any strain occur.
On the 26th November the Boers occupied Stormberg, and on the 28th General Gatacre moved to Bushman's Hoek with a battalion of infantry and some mounted infantry, the main body being at Putter's Kraal. On the 29th he accomplished a smart piece of work, though any really decisive action could not be attempted till more troops arrived from the Cape. The General concentrated a force at Molteno, commandeered five trains, and secured 1000 bags of flour which were in danger of being captured by the Boers.
On the 5th December the headquarters of the 3rd Division were still at Putter's Kraal, and here reinforcements were arriving daily. Manifestations of disloyalty grew more and more prevalent throughout Cape Colony, and the spread of the spirit of rebellion around Stormberg pointed to the fact that there were deliberate designs to assist in the overthrow of British supremacy.
On the 5th of December it was decided that a forward movement must at last be made. The plan was for the column to start by train to Molteno, and from thence march to the Boer laager at Stormberg. A dash was to be attempted in the darkness preceding dawn, and the position was to be carried at the point of the bayonet.
The project was fraught with extreme risk, but General Gatacre, though fully aware that he was without the necessary reinforcements to make good a continuous advance, resolved to accept the hazard for the sake of the chance of success, and for the sake of the moral effect such success might make in a district weevilled with disaffection. The game of war is one where reputation, armies, and empires are the stakes, and needs to be played not only with science, but with bluff, and no committee of generals, not even one composed of Napoleon, the Archduke Charles, and Wellington, could have laid down any fixed theory on the art of war as practised in the Transvaal at that moment. So our officers had to watch which way the wind blew and trim their sails accordingly; and Sir William Gatacre judged that it would be perilous to delay an attack on Stormberg until circumstances seemed to be absolutely propitious. The Colonial Boers were daily joining the enemy in considerable numbers, British subjects were imploring aid to save their property from destruction, and it was imperative to make some strong move which, if successful, would immediately arrest the threatened tide of rebellion. The worst of it was that everything depended on the strength of the move, and it was exactly this strength that was wanting. The Third Division was broken up and distributed in various parts of the country, and General Gatacre was forced to make a hazardous venture with only such forces as he could muster. On all sides the same unfortunate tale of weakness could be told. Our force was so divided up that each general was crippled with the consciousness that he had no hope of getting reinforcements for some time to come. Lord Methuen, now on the extreme west, while struggling for the relief of Kimberley, had kept the Free Staters at bay with great loss to himself, and was suffering from the weakness consequent on violent strain to his resources. General French, his eye fixed on Colesberg, with a diminutive and totally inadequate force, had dodged about from town to town, keeping the enemy ever on the alert and allowing him no time to snore behind his intrenchments, and no opportunity to proceed farther in his invasion of the Colony; while General Gatacre was now about to do his best in the midst of a swarming enemy to capture Stormberg. Thus we see that at one and the same time four different battles, in the most trying circumstances, were taking place in the Transvaal, and that the flower of our army was being exposed on all sides to the murderous shells of an overwhelming foe powerfully posted in places of his own choosing—at Modder River, at Arundel, at Stormberg, at Colenso—in each of these regions the continuous thunder of guns, the gallant advance of heroes, the stubborn and courageous defence of a preponderating enemy. It is some satisfaction to think that, though from the first the British suffered from inferiority in numbers, though they were out-fought by sheer weight of the Boer commandoes and guns, still they displayed an undismayed front, and those superb fighting qualities which tradition has taught us to look for in the British race, and which the enemy, misled or self-deceived, had chosen to under-estimate. It was also a matter for congratulation that the foe, with all the natural advantages of the situation, his knowledge of every inch of the ground, his great mobility and advanced preparations, merely succeeded in repelling the British attack, and never took the initiative in attempting one single forward movement in the face of the British army. But it must be allowed our own forward moves were so stubbornly resisted, that General Sir William Gatacre, while attempting to advance, recognised that in some bold and well-conceived plan of action lay his only chance of success. Such a plan he attempted to carry out, but with deplorable results, as we shall see.