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The Great Boer War
by Arthur Conan Doyle
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On December 6th De Wet had at last reached the Orange River a clear day in front of his pursuers. But it was only to find that his labours had been in vain. At Odendaal, where he had hoped to cross, the river was in spate, the British flag waved from a post upon the further side, and a strong force of expectant Guardsmen eagerly awaited him there. Instantly recognising that the game was up, the Boer leader doubled back for the north and safety. At Rouxville he hesitated as to whether he should snap up the small garrison, but the commandant, Rundle, showed a bold face, and De Wet passed on to the Coomassie Bridge over the Caledon. The small post there refused to be bluffed into a surrender, and the Boers, still dropping their horses fast, passed on, and got over the drift at Amsterdam, their rearguard being hardly across before Knox had also reached the river.

On the 10th the British were in touch again near Helvetia, where there was a rearguard skirmish. On the 11th both parties rode through Reddersberg, a few hours separating them. The Boers in their cross-country trekking go, as one of their prisoners observed, 'slap-bang at everything,' and as they are past-masters in the art of ox and mule driving, and have such a knowledge of the country that they can trek as well by night as by day, it says much for the energy of Knox and his men that he was able for a fortnight to keep in close touch with them.

It became evident now that there was not much chance of overtaking the main body of the burghers, and an attempt was therefore made to interpose a fresh force who might head them off. A line of posts existed between Thabanchu and Ladybrand, and Colonel Thorneycroft was stationed there with a movable column. It was Knox's plan therefore to prevent the Boers from breaking to the west and to head them towards the Basuto border. A small column under Parsons had been sent by Hunter from Bloemfontein, and pushed in upon the flank of De Wet, who had on the 12th got back to Dewetsdorp. Again the pursuit became warm, but De Wet's time was not yet come. He headed for Springhaan Nek, about fifteen miles east of Thabanchu. This pass is about four miles broad, with a British fort upon either side of it. There was only one way to safety, for Knox's mounted infantrymen and lancers were already dotting the southern skyline. Without hesitation the whole Boer force, now some 2500 strong, galloped at full speed in open order through the Nek, braving the long range fire of riflemen and guns. The tactics were those of French in his ride to Kimberley, and the success was as complete. De Wet's force passed through the last barrier which had been held against him, and vanished into the mountainous country round Ficksburg, where it could safely rest and refit.

The result then of these bustling operations had been that De Wet and his force survived, but that he had failed in his purpose of invading the Colony, and had dropped some five hundred horses, two guns, and about a hundred of his men. Haasbroek's commando had been detached by De Wet to make a feint at another pass while he made his way through the Springhaan. Parsons's force followed Haasbroek up and engaged him, but under cover of night he was able to get away and to join his leader to the north of Thabanchu. On December 13th, this, the second great chase after De Wet, may be said to have closed.



CHAPTER 31. THE GUERILLA WARFARE IN THE TRANSVAAL: NOOITGEDACHT.

Leaving De Wet in the Ficksburg mountains, where he lurked until after the opening of the New Year, the story of the scattered operations in the Transvaal may now be carried down to the same point—a story comprising many skirmishes and one considerable engagement, but so devoid of any central thread that it is difficult to know how to approach it. From Lichtenburg to Komati, a distance of four hundred miles, there was sporadic warfare everywhere, attacks upon scattered posts, usually beaten off but occasionally successful, attacks upon convoys, attacks upon railway trains, attacks upon anything and everything which could harass the invaders. Each General in his own district had his own work of repression to perform, and so we had best trace the doings of each up to the end of the year 1900.

Lord Methuen after his pursuit of De Wet in August had gone to Mafeking to refit. From that point, with a force which contained a large proportion of yeomanry and of Australian bushmen, he conducted a long series of operations in the difficult and important district which lies between Rustenburg, Lichtenburg, and Zeerust. Several strong and mobile Boer commandos with guns moved about in it, and an energetic though not very deadly warfare raged between Lemmer, Snyman, and De la Rey on the one side, and the troops of Methuen, Douglas, Broadwood, and Lord Errol upon the other. Methuen moved about incessantly through the broken country, winning small skirmishes and suffering the indignity of continual sniping. From time to time he captured stores, wagons, and small bodies of prisoners. Early in October he and Douglas had successes. On the 15th Broadwood was engaged. On the 20th there was a convoy action. On the 25th Methuen had a success and twenty-eight prisoners. On November 9th he surprised Snyman and took thirty prisoners. On the 10th he got a pom-pom. Early in this month Douglas separated from Methuen, and marched south from Zeerust through Ventersdorp to Klerksdorp, passing over a country which had been hardly touched before, and arriving at his goal with much cattle and some prisoners. Towards the end of the month a considerable stock of provisions were conveyed to Zeerust, and a garrison left to hold that town so as to release Methuen's column for service elsewhere.

Hart's sphere of action was originally round Potchefstroom. On September 9th he made a fine forced march to surprise this town, which had been left some time before with an entirely inadequate garrison to fall into the hands of the enemy. His infantry covered thirty-six and his cavalry fifty-four miles in fifteen hours. The operation was a complete success, the town with eighty Boers falling into his hands with little opposition. On September 30th Hart returned to Krugersdorp, where, save for one skirmish upon the Gatsrand on November 22nd, he appears to have had no actual fighting to do during the remainder of the year.

After the clearing of the eastern border of the Transvaal by the movement of Pole-Carew along the railway line, and of Buller aided by Ian Hamilton in the mountainous country to the north of it, there were no operations of importance in this district. A guard was kept upon the frontier to prevent the return of refugees and the smuggling of ammunition, while General Kitchener, the brother of the Sirdar, broke up a few small Boer laagers in the neighbourhood of Lydenburg. Smith-Dorrien guarded the line at Belfast, and on two occasions, November 1st and November 6th, he made aggressive movements against the enemy. The first, which was a surprise executed in concert with Colonel Spens of the Shropshires, was frustrated by a severe blizzard, which prevented the troops from pushing home their success. The second was a two days' expedition, which met with a spirited opposition, and demands a fuller notice.

This was made from Belfast, and the force, which consisted of about fourteen hundred men, advanced south to the Komati River. The infantry were Suffolks and Shropshires, the cavalry Canadians and 5th Lancers, with two Canadian guns and four of the 84th battery. All day the Boer snipers clung to the column, as they had done to French's cavalry in the same district. Mere route marches without a very definite and adequate objective appear to be rather exasperating than overawing, for so long as the column is moving onwards the most timid farmer may be tempted into long-range fire from the flanks or rear. The river was reached and the Boers driven from a position which they had taken up, but their signal fires brought mounted riflemen from every farm, and the retreat of the troops was pressed as they returned to Belfast. There was all the material for a South African Lexington. The most difficult of military operations, the covering of a detachment from a numerous and aggressive enemy, was admirably carried out by the Canadian gunners and dragoons under the command of Colonel Lessard. So severe was the pressure that sixteen of the latter were for a time in the hands of the enemy, who attempted something in the nature of a charge upon the steadfast rearguard. The movement was repulsed, and the total Boer loss would appear to have been considerable, since two of their leaders, Commandant Henry Prinsloo and General Joachim Fourie, were killed, while General Johann Grobler was wounded. If the rank and file suffered in proportion the losses must have been severe. The British casualties in the two days amounted to eight killed and thirty wounded, a small total when the arduous nature of the service is considered. The Canadians and the Shropshires seem to have borne off the honours of these trying operations.

In the second week of October, General French, with three brigades of cavalry (Dickson's, Gordon's, and Mahon's), started for a cross-country ride from Machadodorp. Three brigades may seem an imposing force, but the actual numbers did not exceed two strong regiments, or about 1500 sabres in all. A wing of the Suffolk Regiment went with them. On October 13th Mahon's brigade met with a sharp resistance, and lost ten killed and twenty-nine wounded. On the 14th the force entered Carolina. On the 16th they lost six killed and twenty wounded, and from the day that they started until they reached Heidelberg on the 27th there was never a day that they could shake themselves clear of their attendant snipers. The total losses of the force were about ninety killed and wounded, but they brought in sixty prisoners and a large quantity of cattle and stores. The march had at least the effect of making it clear that the passage of a column of troops encumbered with baggage through a hostile country is an inefficient means for quelling a popular resistance. Light and mobile parties acting from a central depot were in future to be employed, with greater hopes of success.

Some appreciable proportion of the British losses during this phase of the war arose from railway accidents caused by the persistent tampering with the lines. In the first ten days of October there were four such mishaps, in which two Sappers, twenty-three of the Guards (Coldstreams), and eighteen of the 66th battery were killed or wounded. On the last occasion, which occurred on October 10th near Vlakfontein, the reinforcements who came to aid the sufferers were themselves waylaid, and lost twenty, mostly of the Rifle Brigade, killed, wounded, or prisoners. Hardly a day elapsed that the line was not cut at some point. The bringing of supplies was complicated by the fact that the Boer women and children were coming more and more into refugee camps, where they had to be fed by the British, and the strange spectacle was frequently seen of Boer snipers killing or wounding the drivers and stokers of the very trains which were bringing up food upon which Boer families were dependent for their lives. Considering that these tactics were continued for over a year, and that they resulted in the death or mutilation of many hundreds of British officers and men, it is really inexplicable that the British authorities did not employ the means used by all armies under such circumstances—which is to place hostages upon the trains. A truckload of Boers behind every engine would have stopped the practice for ever. Again and again in this war the British have fought with the gloves when their opponents used their knuckles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER 32. THE SECOND INVASION OF CAPE COLONY.

(DECEMBER 1900 TO APRIL 1901.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



CHAPTER 33. THE NORTHERN OPERATIONS FROM JANUARY TO APRIL, 1901.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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