The Great Boer War
by Arthur Conan Doyle
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Colonel Park had had no great success in his last two expeditions, but on February 20th he made an admirable march, and fell upon a Boer laager which lay in placid security in the heart of the hills. One hundred and sixty-four prisoners, including many Boer officers, were the fruits of this success, in which the National Scouts, or 'tame Boers,' as they were familiarly called, played a prominent part. This commando was that of Middelburg, which was acting as escort to the government, who again escaped dissolution. Early in March Park was again out on trek, upon one occasion covering seventy miles in a single day. Nothing further of importance came from this portion of the seat of war until March 23rd, when the news reached England that Schalk Burger, Reitz, Lucas Meyer, and others of the Transvaal Government had come into Middelburg, and that they were anxious to proceed to Pretoria to treat. On the Eastern horizon had appeared the first golden gleam of the dawning peace.

Having indicated the course of events in the Eastern Transvaal, north and south of the railway line, I will now treat one or two incidents which occurred in the more central and northern portions of the country. I will then give some account of De Wet's doings in the Orange River Colony, and finally describe that brilliant effort of De la Rey's in the west which shed a last glory upon the Boer arms.

In the latter days of December, Colenbrander and Dawkins operating together had put in a great deal of useful work in the northern district, and from Nylstrom to Pietersburg the burghers were continually harried by the activity of these leaders. Late in the month Dawkins was sent down into the Orange River Colony in order to reinforce the troops who were opposed to De Wet. Colenbrander alone, with his hardy colonial forces, swept through the Magaliesburg, and had the double satisfaction of capturing a number of the enemy and of heading off and sending back a war party of Linchwe's Kaffirs who, incensed by a cattle raid of Kemp's, were moving down in a direction which would have brought them dangerously near to the Dutch women and children. This instance and several similar ones in the campaign show how vile are the lies which have been told of the use, save under certain well-defined conditions, of armed natives by the British during the war. It would have been a perfectly easy thing at any time for the Government to have raised all the fighting native races of South Africa, but it is not probable that we, who held back our admirable and highly disciplined Sikhs and Ghoorkas, would break our self-imposed restrictions in order to enrol the inferior but more savage races of Africa. Yet no charge has been more often repeated and has caused more piteous protests among the soft-hearted and soft-headed editors of Continental journals.

The absence of Colenbrander in the Rustenburg country gave Beyers a chance of which he was not slow to avail himself. On January 24th, in the early morning, he delivered an attack upon Pietersburg itself, but he was easily driven off by the small garrison. It is probable, however, that the attack was a mere feint in order to enable a number of the inmates of the refugee camp to escape. About a hundred and fifty made off, and rejoined the commandos. There were three thousand Boers in all in this camp, which was shortly afterwards moved down to Natal in order to avoid the recurrence of such an incident.

Colenbrander, having returned to Pietersburg once more, determined to return Beyers's visit, and upon April 8th he moved out with a small force to surprise the Boer laager. The Inniskilling Fusiliers seized the ground which commanded the enemy's position. The latter retreated, but were followed up, and altogether about one hundred and fifty were killed, wounded, and taken. On May 3rd a fresh operation against Beyers was undertaken, and resulted in about the same loss to the Boers. On the other hand, the Boers had a small success against Kitchener's Scouts, killing eighteen and taking thirty prisoners.

There is one incident, however, in connection with the war in this region which one would desire to pass over in silence if such a course were permissible. Some eighty miles to the east of Pietersburg is a wild part of the country called the Spelonken. In this region an irregular corps, named the Bushveld Carbineers, had been operating. It was raised in South Africa, but contained both Colonials and British in its ranks. Its wild duties, its mixed composition, and its isolated situation must have all militated against discipline and restraint, and it appears to have degenerated into a band not unlike those Southern 'bush-whackers' in the American war to whom the Federals showed little mercy. They had given short shrift to the Boer prisoners who had fallen into their hands, the excuse offered for their barbarous conduct being that an officer who had served in the corps had himself been murdered by the Boers. Such a reason, even if it were true, could of course offer no justification for indiscriminate revenge. The crimes were committed in July and August 1901, but it was not until January 1902 that five of the officers were put upon their trial and were found to be guilty as principals or accessories of twelve murders. The corps was disbanded, and three of the accused officers, Handcock, Wilton, and Morant, were sentenced to death, while another, Picton, was cashiered. Handcock and Morant were actually executed. This stern measure shows more clearly than volumes of argument could do how high was the standard of discipline in the British Army, and how heavy was the punishment, and how vain all excuses, where it had been infringed. In the face of this actual outrage and its prompt punishment how absurd becomes that crusade against imaginary outrages preached by an ignorant press abroad, and by renegade Englishmen at home.

To the south of Johannesburg, half-way between that town and the frontier, there is a range of hills called the Zuikerboschrand, which extends across from one railway system to the other. A number of Boers were known to have sought refuge in this country, so upon February 12th a small British force left Klip River Post in order to clear them out. There were 320 men in all, composing the 28th Mounted Infantry, drawn from the Lancashire Fusiliers, Warwicks, and Derbys, most of whom had just arrived from Malta, which one would certainly imagine to be the last place where mounted infantry could be effectively trained. Major Dowell was in command. An advance was made into the hilly country, but it was found that the enemy was in much greater force than had been imagined. The familiar Boer tactics were used with the customary success. The British line was held by a sharp fire in front, while strong flanking parties galloped round each of the wings. It was with great difficulty that any of the British extricated themselves from their perilous position, and the safety of a portion of the force was only secured by the devotion of a handful of officers and men, who gave their lives in order to gain time for their comrades to get away. Twelve killed and fifty wounded were our losses in this unfortunate skirmish, and about one hundred prisoners supplied the victors with a useful addition to their rifles and ammunition. A stronger British force came up next day, and the enemy were driven out of the hills.

A week later, upon February 18th, there occurred another skirmish at Klippan, near Springs, between a squadron of the Scots Greys and a party of Boers who had broken into this central reserve which Lord Kitchener had long kept clear of the enemy. In this action the cavalry were treated as roughly as the mounted infantry had been the week before, losing three officers killed, eight men killed or wounded, and forty-six taken. They had formed a flanking party to General Gilbert Hamilton's column, but were attacked and overwhelmed so rapidly that the blow had fallen before their comrades could come to their assistance.

One of the consequences of the successful drives about to be described in the Orange River Colony was that a number of the Free Staters came north of the Vaal in order to get away from the extreme pressure upon the south. At the end of March a considerable number had reinforced the local commandos in that district to the east of Springs, no very great distance from Johannesburg, which had always been a storm centre. A cavalry force was stationed at this spot which consisted at that time of the 2nd Queen's Bays, the 7th Hussars, and some National Scouts, all under Colonel Lawley of the Hussars. After a series of minor engagements east of Springs, Lawley had possessed himself of Boschman's Kop, eighteen miles from that town, close to the district which was the chief scene of Boer activity. From this base he despatched upon the morning of April 1st three squadrons of the Bays under Colonel Fanshawe, for the purpose of surprising a small force of the enemy which was reported at one of the farms. Fanshawe's strength was about three hundred men.

The British cavalry found themselves, however, in the position of the hunter who, when he is out for a snipe, puts up a tiger. All went well with the expedition as far as Holspruit, the farm which they had started to search. Commandant Pretorius, to whom it belonged, was taken by the energy of Major Vaughan, who pursued and overtook his Cape cart. It was found, however, that Alberts's commando was camped at the farm, and that the Bays were in the presence of a very superior force of the enemy. The night was dark, and when firing began it was almost muzzle to muzzle, with the greatest possible difficulty in telling friend from foe. The three squadrons fell back upon some rising ground, keeping admirable order under most difficult circumstances. In spite of the darkness the attack was pressed fiercely home, and with their favourite tactics the burghers rapidly outflanked the position taken up by the cavalry. The British moved by alternate squadrons on to a higher rocky kopje on the east, which could be vaguely distinguished looming in the darkness against the skyline. B squadron, the last to retire, was actually charged and ridden through by the brave assailants, firing from their saddles as they broke through the ranks. The British had hardly time to reach the kopje and to dismount and line its edge when the Boers, yelling loudly, charged with their horses up the steep flanks. Twice they were beaten back, but the third time they seized one corner of the hill and opened a hot fire upon the rear of the line of men who were defending the other side. Dawn was now breaking, and the situation most serious, for the Boers were in very superior numbers and were pushing their pursuit with the utmost vigour and determination. A small party of officers and men whose horses had been shot covered the retreat of their comrades, and continued to fire until all of them, two officers and twenty-three men, were killed or wounded, the whole of their desperate defence being conducted within from thirty to fifty yards of the enemy. The remainder of the regiment was now retired to successive ridges, each of which was rapidly outflanked by the Boers, whose whole method of conducting their attack was extraordinarily skilful. Nothing but the excellent discipline of the overmatched troopers prevented the retreat from becoming a rout. Fortunately, before the pressure became intolerable the 7th Hussars with some artillery came to the rescue, and turned the tide. The Hussars galloped in with such dash that some of them actually got among the Boers with their swords, but the enemy rapidly fell back and disappeared.

In this very sharp and sanguinary cavalry skirmish the Bays lost eighty killed and wounded out of a total force of 270. To stand such losses under such circumstances, and to preserve absolute discipline and order, is a fine test of soldierly virtue. The adjutant, the squadron leaders, and six out of ten officers were killed or wounded. The Boers lost equally heavily. Two Prinsloos, one of them a commandant, and three field-cornets were among the slain, with seventy other casualties. The force under General Alberts was a considerable one, not fewer than six hundred rifles, so that the action at Holspruit is one which adds another name of honour to the battle-roll of the Bays. It is pleasing to add that in this and the other actions which were fought at the end of the war our wounded met with kindness and consideration from the enemy.

We may now descend to the Orange River Colony and trace the course of those operations which were destined to break the power of De Wet's commando. On these we may concentrate our attention, for the marchings and gleanings and snipings of the numerous small columns in the other portions of the colony, although they involved much arduous and useful work, do not claim a particular account.

After the heavy blow which he dealt Firmin's Yeomanry, De Wet retired, as has been told, into the Langberg, whence he afterwards retreated towards Reitz. There he was energetically pushed by Elliot's columns, which had attained such mobility that 150 miles were performed in three days within a single week. Our rough schoolmasters had taught us our lesson, and the soldiering which accomplished the marches of Bruce Hamilton, Elliot, Rimington, and the other leaders of the end of the war was very far removed from that which is associated with ox-wagons and harmoniums.

Moving rapidly, and covering himself by a succession of rearguard skirmishes, De Wet danced like a will-o'the-wisp in front of and round the British columns. De Lisle, Fanshawe, Byng, Rimington, Dawkins, and Rawlinson were all snatching at him and finding him just beyond their finger-tips. The master-mind at Pretoria had, however, thought out a scheme which was worthy of De Wet himself in its ingenuity. A glance at the map will show that the little branch from Heilbron to Wolvehoek forms an acute angle with the main line. Both these railways were strongly blockhoused and barbed-wired, so that any force which was driven into the angle, and held in it by a force behind it, would be in a perilous position. To attempt to round De Wet's mobile burghers into this obvious pen would have been to show one's hand too clearly. In vain is the net laid in sight of the bird. The drive was therefore made away from this point, with the confident expectation that the guerilla chief would break back through the columns, and that they might then pivot round upon him and hustle him so rapidly into the desired position that he would not realise his danger until it was too late. Byng's column was left behind the driving line to be ready for the expected backward break. All came off exactly as expected. De Wet doubled back through the columns, and one of his commandos stumbled upon Byng's men, who were waiting on the Vlei River to the west of Reitz. The Boers seem to have taken it for granted that, having passed the British driving line, they were out of danger, and for once it was they who were surprised. The South African Light Horse, the New Zealanders, and the Queensland Bushmen all rode in upon them. A fifteen-pounder, the one taken at Tweefontein, and two pom-poms were captured, with thirty prisoners and a considerable quantity of stores.

This successful skirmish was a small matter, however, compared to the importance of being in close touch with De Wet and having a definite objective for the drive. The columns behind expanded suddenly into a spray of mounted men forming a continuous line for over sixty miles. On February 5th the line was advancing, and on the 6th it was known that De Wet was actually within the angle, the mouth of which was spanned by the British line. Hope ran high in Pretoria. The space into which the burgher chief had been driven was bounded by sixty-six miles of blockhouse and wire on one side and thirty on the other, while the third side of the triangle was crossed by fifty-five miles of British horsemen, flanked by a blockhouse line between Kroonstad and Lindley. The tension along the lines of defence was extreme. Infantry guarded every yard of them, and armoured trains patrolled them, while at night searchlights at regular intervals shed their vivid rays over the black expanse of the veld and illuminated the mounted figures who flitted from time to time across their narrow belts of light.

On the 6th De Wet realised his position, and with characteristic audacity and promptness he took means to clear the formidable toils which had been woven round him. The greater part of his command scattered, with orders to make their way as best they might out of the danger. Working in their own country, where every crease and fold of the ground was familiar to them, it is not surprising that most of them managed to make their way through gaps in the attenuated line of horsemen behind them. A few were killed, and a considerable number taken, 270 being the respectable total of the prisoners. Three or four slipped through, however, for every one who stuck in the meshes. De Wet himself was reported to have made his escape by driving cattle against the wire fences which enclosed him. It seems, however, to have been nothing more romantic than a wire-cutter which cleared his path, though cattle no doubt made their way through the gap which he left. With a loss of only three of his immediate followers be Wet won his way out of the most dangerous position which even his adventurous career had ever known. Lord Kitchener had descended to Wolvehoek to be present at the climax of the operations, but it was not fated that he was to receive the submission of the most energetic of his opponents, and he returned to Pretoria to weave a fresh mesh around him.

This was not hard to do, as the Boer General had simply escaped from one pen into another, though a larger one. After a short rest to restore the columns, the whole pack were full cry upon his heels once more. An acute angle is formed by the Wilge River on one side and the line of blockhouses between Harrismith and Van Reenen upon the other. This was strongly manned by troops and five columns; those of Rawlinson, Nixon, Byng, Rimington, and Keir herded the broken commandos into the trap. From February 20th the troops swept in an enormous skirmish line across the country, ascending hills, exploring kloofs, searching river banks, and always keeping the enemy in front of them. At last, when the pressure was severely felt, there came the usual breakback, which took the form of a most determined night attack upon the British line. This was delivered shortly after midnight on February 23rd. It struck the British cordon at the point of juncture between Byng's column and that of Rimington. So huge were the distances which had to be covered, and so attenuated was the force which covered them, that the historical thin red line was a massive formation compared to its khaki equivalent. The chain was frail and the links were not all carefully joined, but each particular link was good metal, and the Boer impact came upon one of the best. This was the 7th New Zealand Contingent, who proved themselves to be worthy comrades to their six gallant predecessors. Their patrols were broken by the rush of wild, yelling, firing horsemen, but the troopers made a most gallant resistance. Having pierced the line the Boers, who were led in their fiery rush by Manie Botha, turned to their flank, and, charging down the line of weak patrols, overwhelmed one after another and threatened to roll up the whole line. They had cleared a gap of half a mile, and it seemed as if the whole Boer force would certainly escape through so long a gap in the defences. The desperate defence of the New Zealanders gave time, however, for the further patrols, which consisted of Cox's New South Wales Mounted Infantry, to fall back almost at right angles so as to present a fresh face to the attack. The pivot of the resistance was a maxim gun, most gallantly handled by Captain Begbie and his men. The fight at this point was almost muzzle to muzzle, fifty or sixty New Zealanders and Australians with the British gunners holding off a force of several hundred of the best fighting men of the Boer forces. In this desperate duel many dropped on both sides. Begbie died beside his gun, which fired eighty rounds before it jammed. It was run back by its crew in order to save it from capture. But reinforcements were coming up, and the Boer attack was beaten back. A number of them had escaped, however, through the opening which they had cleared, and it was conjectured that the wonderful De Wet was among them. How fierce was the storm which had broken on the New Zealanders may be shown by their roll of twenty killed and forty wounded, while thirty dead Boers were picked up in front of their picket line. Of eight New Zealand officers seven are reported to have been hit, an even higher proportion than that which the same gallant race endured at the battle of Rhenoster Kop more than a year before.

It was feared at first that the greater part of the Boers might have escaped upon this night of the 23rd, when Manie Botha's storming party burst through the ranks of the New Zealanders. It was soon discovered that this was not so, and the columns as they closed in had evidence from the numerous horsemen who scampered aimlessly over the hills in front of them that the main body of the enemy was still in the toils. The advance was in tempestuous weather and over rugged country, but the men were filled with eagerness, and no precaution was neglected to keep the line intact.

This time their efforts were crowned with considerable success. A second attempt was made by the corraled burghers to break out on the night of February 26th, but it was easily repulsed by Nixon. The task of the troopers as the cordon drew south was more and more difficult, and there were places traversed upon the Natal border where an alpen stock would have been a more useful adjunct than a horse. At six o'clock on the morning of the 27th came the end. Two Boers appeared in front of the advancing line of the Imperial Light Horse and held up a flag. They proved to be Truter and De Jager, ready to make terms for their commando. The only terms offered were absolute surrender within the hour. The Boers had been swept into a very confined space, which was closely hemmed in by troops, so that any resistance must have ended in a tragedy. Fortunately there was no reason for desperate councils in their case, since they did not fight as Lotter had done, with the shadow of judgment hanging over him. The burghers piled arms, and all was over.

The total number captured in this important drive was 780 men, including several leaders, one of whom was De Wet's own son. It was found that De Wet himself had been among those who had got away through the picket lines on the night of the 23rd. Most of the commando were Transvaalers, and it was typical of the wide sweep of the net that many of them were the men who had been engaged against the 28th Mounted Infantry in the district south of Johannesburg upon the 12th of the same month. The loss of 2000 horses and 50,000 cartridges meant as much as that of the men to the Boer army. It was evident that a few more such blows would clear the Orange River Colony altogether.

The wearied troopers were allowed little rest, for in a couple of days after their rendezvous at Harrismith they were sweeping back again to pick up all that they had missed. This drive, which was over the same ground, but sweeping backwards towards the Heilbron to Wolvehoek line, ended in the total capture of 147 of the enemy, who were picked out of holes, retrieved from amid the reeds of the river, called down out of trees, or otherwise collected. So thorough were the operations that it is recorded that the angle which formed the apex of the drive was one drove of game upon the last day, all the many types of antelope, which form one of the characteristics and charms of the country, having been herded into it.

More important even than the results of the drive was the discovery of one of De Wet's arsenals in a cave in the Vrede district. Half-way down a precipitous krantz, with its mouth covered by creepers, no writer of romance could have imagined a more fitting headquarters for a guerilla chief. The find was made by Ross's Canadian Scouts, who celebrated Dominion Day by this most useful achievement. Forty wagon-loads of ammunition and supplies were taken out of the cave. De Wet was known to have left the north-east district, and to have got across the railway, travelling towards the Vaal as if it were his intention to join De la Rey in the Transvaal. The Boer resistance had suddenly become exceedingly energetic in that part, and several important actions had been fought, to which we will presently turn.

Before doing so it would be as well to bring the chronicle of events in the Orange River Colony down to the conclusion of peace. There were still a great number of wandering Boers in the northern districts and in the frontier mountains, who were assiduously, but not always successfully, hunted down by the British troops. Much arduous and useful work was done by several small columns, the Colonial Horse and the Artillery Mounted Rifles especially distinguishing themselves. The latter corps, formed from the gunners whose field-pieces were no longer needed, proved themselves to be a most useful body of men; and the British gunner, when he took to carrying his gun, vindicated the reputation which he had won when his gun had carried him.

From the 1st to the 4th of May a successful drive was conducted by many columns in the often harried but never deserted Lindley to Kroonstad district. The result was propitious, as no fewer than 321 prisoners were brought in. Of these, 150 under Mentz were captured in one body as they attempted to break through the encircling cordon.

Amid many small drives and many skirmishes, one stands out for its severity. It is remarkable as being the last action of any importance in the campaign. This was the fight at Moolman's Spruit, near Ficksburg, upon April 20th, 1902. A force of about one hundred Yeomanry and forty Mounted Infantry (South Staffords) was despatched by night to attack an isolated farm in which a small body of Boers was supposed to be sleeping. Colonel Perceval was in command. The farm was reached after a difficult march, but the enemy were found to have been forewarned, and to be in much greater strength than was anticipated. A furious fire was opened on the advancing troops, who were clearly visible in the light of a full moon. Sir Thomas Fowler was killed and several men of the Yeomanry were hit. The British charged up to the very walls, but were unable to effect an entrance, as the place was barricaded and loopholed. Captain Blackwood, of the Staffords, was killed in the attack. Finding that the place was impregnable, and that the enemy outnumbered him, Colonel Perceval gave the order to retire, a movement which was only successfully carried out because the greater part of the Boer horses had been shot. By morning the small British force had extricated itself, from its perilous position with a total loss of six killed, nineteen wounded, and six missing. The whole affair was undoubtedly a cleverly planned Boer ambush, and the small force was most fortunate in escaping destruction.

One other isolated incident may be mentioned here, though it occurred far away in the Vryheid district of the Transvaal. This was the unfortunate encounter between Zulus and Boers by which the latter lost over fifty of their numbers under deplorable circumstances. This portion of the Transvaal has only recently been annexed, and is inhabited by warlike Zulus, who are very different from the debased Kaffirs of the rest of the country. These men had a blood-feud against the Boers, which was embittered by the fact that they had lost heavily through Boer depredations. Knowing that a party of fifty-nine men were sleeping in a farmhouse, the Zulus crept on to it and slaughtered every man of the inmates. Such an incident is much to be regretted, and yet, looking back upon the long course of the war, and remembering the turbulent tribes who surrounded the combatants—Swazis, Basutos, and Zulus—we may well congratulate ourselves that we have been able to restrain those black warriors, and to escape the brutalities and the bitter memories of a barbarian invasion.


IT will be remembered that at the close of 1901 Lord Methuen and Colonel Kekewich had both come across to the eastern side of their district and made their base at the railway line in the Klerksdorp section. Their position was strengthened by the fact that a blockhouse cordon now ran from Klerksdorp to Ventersdorp, and from Ventersdorp to Potchefstroom, so that this triangle could be effectively controlled. There remained, however, a huge tract of difficult country which was practically in the occupation of the enemy. Several thousand stalwarts were known to be riding with De la Rey and his energetic lieutenant Kemp. The strenuous operations of the British in the Eastern Transvaal and in the Orange River Colony had caused this district to be comparatively neglected, and so everything was in favour of an aggressive movement of the Boers. There was a long lull after the unsuccessful attack upon Kekewich's camp at Moedwill, but close observers of the war distrusted this ominous calm and expected a storm to follow.

The new year found the British connecting Ventersdorp with Tafelkop by a blockhouse line. The latter place had been a centre of Boer activity. Colonel Hickie's column covered this operation. Meanwhile Methuen had struck across through Wolmaranstad as far as Vryburg. In these operations, which resulted in constant small captures, he was assisted by a column under Major Paris working from Kimberley. From Vryburg Lord Methuen made his way in the middle of January to Lichtenburg, meeting with a small rebuff in the neighbourhood of that town, for a detachment of Yeomanry was overwhelmed by General Celliers, who killed eight, wounded fifteen, and captured forty. From Lichtenburg Lord Methuen continued his enormous trek, and arrived on February 1st at Klerksdorp once more. Little rest was given to his hard-worked troops, and they were sent off again within the week under the command of Von Donop, with the result that on February 8th, near Wolmaranstad, they captured Potgieter's laager with forty Boer prisoners. Von Donop remained at Wolmaranstad until late in February; On the 23rd he despatched an empty convoy back to Klerksdorp, the fate of which will be afterwards narrated.

Kekewich and Hickie had combined their forces at the beginning of February. On February 4th an attempt was made by them to surprise General De la Rey. The mounted troops who were despatched under Major Leader failed in this enterprise, but they found and overwhelmed the laager of Sarel Alberts, capturing 132 prisoners. By stampeding the horses the Boer retreat was cut off, and the attack was so furiously driven home, especially by the admirable Scottish Horse, that few of the enemy got away. Alberts himself with all his officers were among the prisoners. From this time until the end of February this column was not seriously engaged.

It has been stated above that on February 23rd Von Donop sent in an empty convoy from Wolmaranstad to Klerksdorp, a distance of about fifty miles. Nothing had been heard for some time of De la Rey, but he had called together his men and was waiting to bring off some coup. The convoy gave him the very opportunity for which he sought.

The escort of the convoy consisted of the 5th Imperial Yeomanry, sixty of Paget's Horse, three companies of the ubiquitous Northumberland Fusiliers, two guns of the 4th R.F.A., and a pom-pom, amounting in all to 630 men. Colonel Anderson was in command. On the morning of Tuesday, February 25th, the convoy was within ten miles of its destination, and the sentries on the kopjes round the town could see the gleam of the long line of white-tilted wagons. Their hazardous voyage was nearly over, and yet they were destined to most complete and fatal wreck within sight of port. So confident were they that the detachment of Paget's Horse was permitted to ride on the night before into the town. It was as well, for such a handful would have shared and could not have averted the disaster.

The night had been dark and wet, and the Boers under cover of it had crept between the sleeping convoy and the town. Some bushes which afford excellent cover lie within a few hundred yards of the road, and here the main ambush was laid. In the first grey of the morning the long line of the convoy, 130 wagons in all, came trailing past—guns and Yeomanry in front, Fusiliers upon the flanks and rear. Suddenly the black bank of scrub was outlined in flame, and a furious rifle fire was opened upon the head of the column. The troops behaved admirably under most difficult circumstances. A counter-attack by the Fusiliers and some of the Yeomanry, under cover of shrapnel from the guns, drove the enemy out of the scrub and silenced his fire at this point. It was evident, however, that he was present in force, for firing soon broke out along the whole left flank, and the rearguard found itself as warmly attacked as the van. Again, however, the assailants were driven off. It was now broad daylight, and the wagons, which had got into great confusion in the first turmoil of battle, had been remarshalled and arranged. It was Colonel Anderson's hope that he might be able to send them on into safety while he with the escort covered their retreat. His plan was certainly the best one, and if it did not succeed it was due to nothing which he could avert, but to the nature of the ground and the gallantry of the enemy.

The physical obstacle consisted in a very deep and difficult spruit, the Jagd Spruit, which forms an ugly passage in times of peace, but which when crowded and choked with stampeding mules and splintering wagons, under their terrified conductors, soon became impassable. Here the head of the column was clubbed and the whole line came to a stand. Meanwhile the enemy, adopting their new tactics, came galloping in on the left flank and on the rear. The first attack was repelled by the steady fire of the Fusiliers, but on the second occasion the horsemen got up to the wagons, and galloping down them were able to overwhelm in detail the little knots of soldiers who were scattered along the flank. The British, who were outnumbered by at least three to one, made a stout resistance, and it was not until seven o'clock that the last shot was fired. The result was a complete success to the burghers, but one which leaves no shadow of discredit on any officer or man among those who were engaged. Eleven officers and 176 men fell out of about 550 actually engaged. The two guns were taken. The convoy was no use to the Boers, so the teams were shot and the wagons burned before they withdrew. The prisoners too, they were unable to retain, and their sole permanent trophies consisted of the two guns, the rifles, and the ammunition. Their own losses amounted to about fifty killed and wounded.

A small force sallied out from Klerksdorp in the hope of helping Anderson, but on reaching the Jagd Drift it was found that the fighting was over and that the field was in possession of the Boers. De la Rey was seen in person among the burghers, and it is pleasant to add that he made himself conspicuous by his humanity to the wounded. His force drew off in the course of the morning, and was soon out of reach of immediate pursuit, though this was attempted by Kekewich, Von Donop, and Grenfell. It was important to regain the guns if possible, as they were always a menace to the blockhouse system, and for this purpose Grenfell with sixteen hundred horsemen was despatched to a point south of Lichtenburg, which was conjectured to be upon the Boer line of retreat. At the same time Lord Methuen was ordered up from Vryburg in order to cooperate in this movement, and to join his forces to those of Grenfell. It was obvious that with an energetic and resolute adversary like De la Rey there was great danger of these two forces being taken in detail, but it was hoped that each was strong enough to hold its own until the other could come to its aid. The result was to show that the danger was real and the hope fallacious.

It was on March 2nd that Methuen left Vryburg. The column was not his old one, consisting of veterans of the trek, but was the Kimberley column under Major Paris, a body of men who had seen much less service and were in every way less reliable. It included a curious mixture of units, the most solid of which were four guns (two of the 4th, and two of the 38th R.F.A.), 200 Northumberland Fusiliers, and 100 Loyal North Lancashires. The mounted men included 5th Imperial Yeomanry (184), Cape Police (233), Cullinan's Horse (64), 86th Imperial Yeomanry (110), Diamond Fields Horse (92), Dennison' s Scouts (58), Ashburner's Horse (126), and British South African Police (24). Such a collection of samples would be more in place, one would imagine, in a London procession than in an operation which called for discipline and cohesion. In warfare the half is often greater than the whole, and the presence of a proportion of halfhearted and inexperienced men may be a positive danger to their more capable companions.

Upon March 6th Methuen, marching east towards Lichtenburg, came in touch near Leeuwspruit with Van Zyl's commando, and learned in the small skirmish which ensued that some of his Yeomanry were unreliable and ill-instructed. Having driven the enemy off by his artillery fire, Methuen moved to Tweebosch, where he laagered until next morning. At 3 A.M. of the 7th the ox-convoy was sent on, under escort of half of his little force. The other half followed at 4. 20, so as to give the slow-moving oxen a chance of keeping ahead. It was evident, however, immediately after the column had got started that the enemy were all round in great numbers, and that an attack in force was to be expected. Lord Methuen gave orders therefore that the ox-wagons should be halted and that the mule-transport should close upon them so as to form one solid block, instead of a straggling line. At the same time he reinforced his rearguard with mounted men and with two guns, for it was in that quarter that the enemy appeared to be most numerous and aggressive. An attack was also developing upon the right flank, which was held off by the infantry and by the second section of the guns.

It has been said that Methuen's horsemen were for the most part inexperienced irregulars. Such men become in time excellent soldiers, as all this campaign bears witness, but it is too much to expose them to a severe ordeal in the open field when they are still raw and untrained. As it happened, this particular ordeal was exceedingly severe, but nothing can excuse the absolute failure of the troops concerned to rise to the occasion. Had Methuen's rearguard consisted of Imperial Light Horse, or Scottish Horse, it is safe to say that the battle of Tweebosch would have had a very different ending.

What happened was that a large body of Boers formed up in five lines and charged straight home at the rear screen and rearguard, firing from their saddles as they had done at Brakenlaagte. The sight of those wide-flung lines of determined men galloping over the plain seems to have been too much for the nerves of the unseasoned troopers. A panic spread through their ranks, and in an instant they had turned their horses' heads and were thundering to their rear, leaving the two guns uncovered and streaming in wild confusion past the left flank of the jeering infantry who were lying round the wagons. The limit of their flight seems to have been the wind of their horses, and most of them never drew rein until they had placed many miles between themselves and the comrades whom they had deserted. 'It was pitiable,' says an eye-witness, 'to see the grand old General begging them to stop, but they would not; a large body of them arrived in Kraaipan without firing a shot,' It was a South African 'Battle of the Spurs.'

By this defection of the greater portion of the force the handful of brave men who remained were left in a hopeless position. The two guns of the 38th battery were overwhelmed and ridden over by the Boer horsemen, every man being killed or wounded, including Lieutenant Nesham, who acted up to the highest traditions of his corps.

The battle, however, was not yet over. The infantry were few in number, but they were experienced troops, and they maintained the struggle for some hours in the face of overwhelming numbers. Two hundred of the Northumberland Fusiliers lay round the wagons and held the Boers off from their prey. With them were the two remaining guns, which were a mark for a thousand Boer riflemen. It was while encouraging by his presence and example the much-tried gunners of this section that the gallant Methuen was wounded by a bullet which broke the bone of his thigh. Lieutenant Venning and all the detachment fell with their General round the guns.

An attempt had been made to rally some of the flying troopers at a neighbouring kraal, and a small body of Cape Police and Yeomanry under the command of Major Paris held out there for some hours. A hundred of the Lancashire Infantry aided them in their stout defence. But the guns taken by the Boers from Von Donop's convoy had free play now that the British guns were out of action, and they were brought to bear with crushing effect upon both the kraal and the wagons. Further resistance meant a useless slaughter, and orders were given for a surrender. Convoy, ammunition, guns, horses—nothing was saved except the honour of the infantry and the gunners. The losses, 68 killed and 121 wounded, fell chiefly upon these two branches of the service. There were 205 unwounded prisoners.

This, the last Boer victory in the war, reflected equal credit upon their valour and humanity, qualities which had not always gone hand in hand in our experience of them. Courtesy and attention were extended to the British wounded, and Lord Methuen was sent under charge of his chief medical officer, Colonel Townsend (the doctor as severely wounded as the patient), into Klerksdorp. In De la Rey we have always found an opponent who was as chivalrous as he was formidable. The remainder of the force reached the Kimberley to Mafeking railway line in the direction of Kraaipan, the spot where the first bloodshed of the war had occurred some twenty-nine months before.

On Lord Methuen himself no blame can rest for this unsuccessful action. If the workman's tool snaps in his hand he cannot be held responsible for the failure of his task. The troops who misbehaved were none of his training. 'If you hear anyone slang him,' says one of his men, 'you are to tell them that he is the finest General and the truest gentleman that ever fought in this war.' Such was the tone of his own troopers, and such also that of the spokesmen of the nation when they commented upon the disaster in the Houses of Parliament. It was a fine example of British justice and sense of fair play, even in that bitter moment, that to hear his eulogy one would have thought that the occasion had been one when thanks were being returned for a victory. It is a generous public with fine instincts, and Paul Methuen, wounded and broken, still remained in their eyes the heroic soldier and the chivalrous man of honour.

The De Wet country had been pretty well cleared by the series of drives which have already been described, and Louis Botha's force in the Eastern Transvaal had been much diminished by the tactics of Bruce Hamilton and Wools-Sampson. Lord Kitchener was able, therefore, to concentrate his troops and his attention upon that wide-spread western area in which General De la Rey had dealt two such shrewd blows within a few weeks of each other. Troops were rapidly concentrated at Klerksdorp. Kekewich, Walter Kitchener, Rawlinson, and Rochfort, with a number of small columns, were ready in the third week of March to endeavour to avenge Lord Methuen.

The problem with which Lord Kitchener was confronted was a very difficult one, and he has never shown more originality and audacity than in the fashion in which he handled it. De la Rey's force was scattered over a long tract of country, capable of rapidly concentrating for a blow, but otherwise as intangible and elusive as a phantom army. Were Lord Kitchener simply to launch ten thousand horsemen at him, the result would be a weary ride over illimitable plains without sight of a Boer, unless it were a distant scout upon the extreme horizon. De la Rey and his men would have slipped away to his northern hiding-places beyond the Marico River. There was no solid obstacle here, as in the Orange River Colony, against which the flying enemy could be rounded up. One line of blockhouses there was, it is true—the one called the Schoonspruit cordon, which flanked the De la Rey country. It flanked it, however, upon the same side as that on which the troops were assembled. If the troops were only on the other side, and De la Rey was between them and the blockhouse line, then, indeed, something might be done. But to place the troops there, and then bring them instantly back again, was to put such a strain upon men and horses as had never yet been done upon a large scale in the course of the war. Yet Lord Kitchener knew the mettle of the men whom he commanded, and he was aware that there were no exertions of which the human frame is capable which he might not confidently demand.

The precise location of the Boer laagers does not appear to have been known, but it was certain that a considerable number of them were scattered about thirty miles or so to the west of Klerksdorp and the Schoonspruit line. The plan was to march a British force right through them, then spread out into a wide line and come straight back, driving the burghers on to the cordon of blockhouses, which had been strengthened by the arrival of three regiments of Highlanders. But to get to the other side of the Boers it was necessary to march the columns through by night. It was a hazardous operation, but the secret was well kept, and the movement was so well carried out that the enemy had no time to check it. On the night of Sunday, March 23rd, the British horsemen passed stealthily in column through the De la Rey country, and then, spreading out into a line, which from the left wing at Lichtenburg to the right wing at Commando Drift measured a good eighty miles, they proceeded to sweep back upon their traces. In order to reach their positions the columns had, of course, started at different points of the British blockhouse line, and some had a good deal farther to go than others, while the southern extension of the line was formed by Rochfort's troops, who had moved up from the Vaal. Above him from south to north came Walter Kitchener, Rawlinson, and Kekewich in the order named.

On the morning of Monday, March 24th, a line of eighty miles of horsemen, without guns or transport, was sweeping back towards the blockhouses, while the country between was filled with scattered parties of Boers who were seeking for gaps by which to escape. It was soon learned from the first prisoners that De la Rey was not within the cordon. His laager had been some distance farther west. But the sight of fugitive horsemen rising and dipping over the rolling veld assured the British that they had something within their net. The catch was, however, by no means as complete as might have been desired. Three hundred men in khaki slipped through between the two columns in the early morning. Another large party escaped to the southwards. Some of the Boers adopted extraordinary devices in order to escape from the ever-narrowing cordon. 'Three, in charge of some cattle, buried themselves, and left a small hole to breathe through with a tube. Some men began to probe with bayonets in the new-turned earth and got immediate and vociferous subterranean yells. Another man tried the same game and a horse stepped on him. He writhed and reared the horse, and practically the horse found the prisoner for us.' But the operations achieved one result, which must have lifted a load of anxiety from Lord Kitchener's mind. Three fifteen-pounders, two pom-poms, and a large amount of ammunition were taken. To Kekewich and the Scottish Horse fell the honour of the capture, Colonel Wools-Sampson and Captain Rice heading the charge and pursuit. By this means the constant menace to the blockhouses was lessened, if not entirely removed. One hundred and seventy-five Boers were disposed of, nearly all as prisoners, and a considerable quantity of transport was captured. In this operation the troops had averaged from seventy to eighty miles in twenty-six hours without change of horses. To such a point had the slow-moving ponderous British Army attained after two years' training of that stern drill-master, necessity.

The operations had attained some success, but nothing commensurate with the daring of the plan or the exertions of the soldiers. Without an instant's delay, however, Lord Kitchener struck a second blow at his enemy. Before the end of March Kekewich, Rawlinson, and Walter Kitchener were all upon the trek once more. Their operations were pushed farther to the west than in the last drive, since it was known that on that occasion De la Rey and his main commando had been outside the cordon.

It was to one of Walter Kitchener's lieutenants that the honour fell to come in direct contact with the main force of the burghers. This General had moved out to a point about forty miles west of Klerksdorp. Forming his laager there, he despatched Cookson on March 30th with seventeen hundred men to work further westward in the direction of the Harts River. Under Cookson's immediate command were the 2nd Canadian Mounted Infantry, Damant's Horse, and four guns of the 7th R.F.A. His lieutenant, Keir, commanded the 28th Mounted Infantry, the Artillery Mounted Rifles, and 2nd Kitchener's Fighting Scouts. The force was well mounted, and carried the minimum of baggage.

It was not long before this mobile force found itself within touch of the enemy. The broad weal made by the passing of a convoy set them off at full cry, and they were soon encouraged by the distant cloud of dust which shrouded the Boer wagons. The advance guard of the column galloped at the top of their speed for eight miles, and closed in upon the convoy, but found themselves faced by an escort of five hundred Boers, who fought a clever rearguard action, and covered their charge with great skill. At the same time Cookson closed in upon his mounted infantry, while on the other side De la Rey's main force fell back in order to reinforce the escort. British and Boers were both riding furiously to help their own comrades. The two forces were fairly face to face.

Perceiving that he was in front of the whole Boer army, and knowing that he might expect reinforcements, Cookson decided to act upon the defensive. A position was rapidly taken up along the Brakspruit, and preparations made to resist the impending attack. The line of defence was roughly the line of the spruit, but for some reason, probably to establish a cross fire, one advanced position was occupied upon either flank. On the left flank was a farmhouse, which was held by two hundred men of the Artillery Rifles. On the extreme right was another outpost of twenty-four Canadians and forty-five Mounted Infantry. They occupied no defensible position, and their situation was evidently a most dangerous one, only to be justified by some strong military reason which is not explained by any account of the action.

The Boer guns had opened fire, and considerable bodies of the enemy appeared upon the flanks and in front. Their first efforts were devoted towards getting possession of the farmhouse, which would give them a point d'appui from which they could turn the whole line. Some five hundred of them charged on horseback, but were met by a very steady fire from the Artillery Rifles, while the guns raked them with shrapnel. They reached a point within five hundred yards of the building, but the fire was too hot, and they wheeled round in rapid retreat. Dismounting in a mealie-patch they skirmished up towards the farmhouse once more, but they were again checked by the fire of the defenders and by a pompom which Colonel Keir had brought up. No progress whatever was made by the attack in this quarter.

In the meantime the fate which might have been foretold had befallen the isolated detachment of Canadians and 28th Mounted Infantry upon the extreme right. Bruce Carruthers, the Canadian officer in command, behaved with the utmost gallantry, and was splendidly seconded by his men. Overwhelmed by vastly superior numbers, amid a perfect hail of bullets they fought like heroes to the end. 'There have been few finer instances of heroism in the course of the campaign,' says the reticent Kitchener in his official despatch. Of the Canadians eighteen were hit out of twenty-one, and the Mounted Infantry hard by lost thirty out of forty-five before they surrendered.

This advantage gained upon the right flank was of no assistance to the Boers in breaking the British line. The fact that it was so makes it the more difficult to understand why this outpost was so exposed. The burghers had practically surrounded Cookson's force, and De la Rey and Kemp urged on the attack; but their artillery fire was dominated by the British guns, and no weak point could be found in the defence. At 1 o'clock the attack had been begun, and at 5.30 it was finally abandoned, and De la Rey was in full retreat. That he was in no sense routed is shown by the fact that Cookson did not attempt to follow him up or to capture his guns; but at least he had failed in his purpose, and had lost more heavily than in any engagement which he had yet fought. The moral effect of his previous victories had also been weakened, and his burghers had learned, if they had illusions upon the subject, that the men who fled at Tweebosch were not typical troopers of the British Army. Altogether, it was a well-fought and useful action, though it cost the British force some two hundred casualties, of which thirty-five were fatal. Cookson's force stood to arms all night until the arrival of Walter Kitchener's men in the morning.

General Ian Hamilton, who had acted for some time as Chief of the Staff to Lord Kitchener, had arrived on April 8th at Klerksdorp to take supreme command of the whole operations against De la Rey. Early in April the three main British columns had made a rapid cast round without success. To the very end the better intelligence and the higher mobility seem to have remained upon the side of the Boers, who could always force a fight when they wished and escape when they wished. Occasionally, however, they forced one at the wrong time, as in the instance which I am about to describe.

Hamilton had planned a drive to cover the southern portion of De la Rey's country, and for this purpose, with Hartebeestefontein for his centre, he was manoeuvring his columns so as to swing them into line and then sweep back towards Klerksdorp. Kekewich, Rawlinson, and Walter Kitchener were all manoeuvring for this purpose. The Boers, however, game to the last, although they were aware that their leaders had gone in to treat, and that peace was probably due within a few days, determined to have one last gallant fall with a British column. The forces of Kekewich were the farthest to the westward, and also, as the burghers thought, the most isolated, and it was upon them, accordingly, that the attack was made. In the morning of April 11th, at a place called Rooiwal, the enemy, who had moved up from Wolmaranstad, nineteen hundred strong, under Kemp and Vermaas, fell with the utmost impetuosity upon the British column. There was no preliminary skirmishing, and a single gallant charge by 1500 Boers both opened and ended the engagement. 'I was just saying to the staff officer that there were no Boers within twenty miles,' says one who was present, 'when we heard a roar of musketry and saw a lot of men galloping down on us.' The British were surprised but not shaken by this unexpected apparition. 'I never saw a more splendid attack. They kept a distinct line,' says the eye-witness. Another spectator says, 'They came on in one long line four deep and knee to knee.' It was an old-fashioned cavalry charge, and the fact that it got as far as it did shows that we have over rated the stopping power of modern rifles. They came for a good five hundred yards under direct fire, and were only turned within a hundred of the British line. The Yeomanry, the Scottish Horse, and the Constabulary poured a steady fire upon the advancing wave of horsemen, and the guns opened with case at two hundred yards. The Boers were stopped, staggered, and turned. Their fire, or rather the covering fire of those who had not joined in the charge, had caused some fifty casualties, but their own losses were very much more severe. The fierce Potgieter fell just in front of the British guns. 'Thank goodness he is dead!' cried one of his wounded burghers, 'for he sjamboked me into the firing line this morning.' Fifty dead and a great number of wounded were left upon the field of battle. Rawlinson's column came up on Kekewich's left, and the Boer flight became a rout, for they were chased for twenty miles, and their two guns were captured. It was a brisk and decisive little engagement, and it closed the Western campaign, leaving the last trick, as well as the game, to the credit of the British. From this time until the end there was a gleaning of prisoners but little fighting in De la Rey's country, the most noteworthy event being a surprise visit to Schweizer-Renecke by Rochfort, by which some sixty prisoners were taken, and afterwards the drive of Ian Hamilton's forces against the Mafeking railway line by which no fewer than 364 prisoners were secured. In this difficult and well-managed operation the gaps between the British columns were concealed by the lighting of long veld-fires and the discharge of rifles by scattered scouts. The newly arrived Australian Commonwealth Regiments gave a brilliant start to the military history of their united country by the energy of their marching and the thoroughness of their entrenching.

Upon May 29th, only two days before the final declaration of peace, a raid was made by a few Boers upon the native cattle reserves near Fredericstad. A handful of horsemen pursued them, and were ambushed by a considerable body of the enemy in some hilly country ten miles from the British lines. Most of the pursuers got away in safety, but young Sutherland, second lieutenant of the Seaforths, and only a few months from Eton, found himself separated from his horse and in a hopeless position. Scorning to surrender, the lad actually fought his way upon foot for over a mile before he was shot down by the horsemen who circled round him. Well might the Boer commander declare that in the whole course of the war he had seen no finer example of British courage. It is indeed sad that at this last instant a young life should be thrown away, but Sutherland died in a noble fashion for a noble cause, and many inglorious years would be a poor substitute for the example and tradition which such a death will leave behind.


It only remains in one short chapter to narrate the progress of the peace negotiations, the ultimate settlement, and the final consequences of this long-drawn war. However disheartening the successive incidents may have been in which the Boers were able to inflict heavy losses upon us and to renew their supplies of arms and ammunition, it was none the less certain that their numbers were waning and that the inevitable end was steadily approaching. With mathematical precision the scientific soldier in Pretoria, with his web of barbed wire radiating out over the whole country, was week by week wearing them steadily down. And yet after the recent victory of De la Rey and various braggadocio pronouncements from the refugees at The Hague, it was somewhat of a surprise to the British public when it was announced upon March 22nd that the acting Government of the Transvaal, consisting of Messrs. Schalk Burger, Lucas Meyer, Reitz, Jacoby, Krogh, and Van Velden had come into Middelburg and requested to be forwarded by train to Pretoria for the purpose of discussing terms of peace with Lord Kitchener. A thrill of hope ran through the Empire at the news, but so doubtful did the issue seem that none of the preparations were relaxed which would ensure a vigorous campaign in the immediate future. In the South African as in the Peninsular and in the Crimean wars, it may truly be said that Great Britain was never so ready to fight as at the dawning of peace. At least two years of failure and experience are needed to turn a civilian and commercial nation into a military power.

In spite of the optimistic pronouncements of Mr. Fischer and the absurd forecasts of Dr. Leyds the power of the Boers was really broken, and they had come in with the genuine intention of surrender. In a race with such individuality it was not enough that the government should form its conclusion. It was necessary for them to persuade their burghers that the game was really up, and that they had no choice but to throw down their well-worn rifles and their ill-filled bandoliers. For this purpose a long series of negotiations had to be entered into which put a strain upon the complacency of the authorities in South Africa and upon the patience of the attentive public at home. Their ultimate success shows that this complacency and this patience were eminently the right attitude to adopt.

On March 23rd the Transvaal representatives were despatched to Kroonstad for the purpose of opening up the matter with Steyn and De Wet. Messengers were sent to communicate with these two leaders, but had they been British columns instead of fellow-countrymen they could not have found greater difficulty in running them to earth. At last, however, at the end of the month the message was conveyed, and resulted in the appearance of De Wet, De la Rey, and Steyn at the British outposts at Klerksdorp. The other delegates had come north again from Kroonstad, and all were united in the same small town, which, by a whimsical fate, had suddenly become the centre both for the making of peace and for the prosecution of the war, with the eyes of the whole world fixed upon its insignificant litter of houses. On April 11th, after repeated conferences, both parties moved on to Pretoria, and the most sceptical observers began to confess that there was something in the negotiations after all. After conferring with Lord Kitchener the Boer leaders upon April 18th left Pretoria again and rode out to the commandos to explain the situation to them. The result of this mission was that two delegates were chosen from each body in the field, who assembled at Vereeniging upon May 15th for the purpose of settling the question by vote. Never was a high matter of state decided in so democratic a fashion.

Up to that period the Boer leaders had made a succession of tentative suggestions, each of which had been put aside by the British Government. Their first had been that they should merely concede those points which had been at issue at the beginning of the war. This was set aside. The second was that they should be allowed to consult their friends in Europe. This also was refused. The next was that an armistice should be granted, but again Lord Kitchener was obdurate. A definite period was suggested within which the burghers should make their final choice between surrender and a war which must finally exterminate them as a people. It was tacitly understood, if not definitely promised, that the conditions which the British Government would be prepared to grant would not differ much in essentials from those which had been refused by the Boers a twelvemonth before, after the Middelburg interview.

On May 15th the Boer conference opened at Vereeniging. Sixty-four delegates from the commandos met with the military and political chiefs of the late republics, the whole amounting to 150 persons. A more singular gathering has not met in our time. There was Botha, the young lawyer, who had found himself by a strange turn of fate commanding a victorious army in a great war. De Wet was there, with his grim mouth and sun-browned face; De la Rey, also, with the grizzled beard and the strong aquiline features. There, too, were the politicians, the grey-bearded, genial Reitz, a little graver than when he looked upon 'the whole matter as an immense joke,' and the unfortunate Steyn, stumbling and groping, a broken and ruined man. The burly Lucas Meyer, smart young Smuts fresh from the siege of Ookiep, Beyers from the north, Kemp the dashing cavalry leader, Muller the hero of many fights—all these with many others of their sun-blackened, gaunt, hard-featured comrades were grouped within the great tent of Vereeniging. The discussions were heated and prolonged. But the logic of facts was inexorable, and the cold still voice of common-sense had more power than all the ravings of enthusiasts. The vote showed that the great majority of the delegates were in favour of surrender upon the terms offered by the British Government. On May 31st this resolution was notified to Lord Kitchener, and at half-past ten of the same night the delegates arrived at Pretoria and set their names to the treaty of peace. After two years seven and a half months of hostilities the Dutch republics had acquiesced in their own destruction, and the whole of South Africa, from Cape Town to the Zambesi, had been added to the British Empire. The great struggle had cost us twenty thousand lives and a hundred thousand stricken men, with two hundred millions of money; but, apart from a peaceful South Africa, it had won for us a national resuscitation of spirit and a closer union with our great Colonies which could in no other way have been attained. We had hoped that we were a solid empire when we engaged in the struggle, but we knew that we were when we emerged from it. In that change lies an ample recompense for all the blood and treasure spent.

The following were in brief the terms of surrender:—

1. That the burghers lay down their arms and acknowledge themselves subjects of Edward VII. 2. That all prisoners taking the oath of allegiance be returned. 3. That their liberty and property be inviolate. 4. That an amnesty be granted—save in special cases. 5. That the Dutch language be allowed in schools and law-courts. 6. That rifles be allowed if registered. 7. That self-government be granted as soon as possible. 8. That no franchise be granted for natives until after self-government. 9. That no special land tax be levied. 10. That the people be helped to reoccupy the farms. 11. That 3,000,000 pounds be given to help the farmers. 12. That the rebels be disfranchised and their leaders tried, on condition that no death penalty be inflicted.

These terms were practically the same as those which had been refused by Botha in March 1901. Thirteen months of useless warfare had left the situation as it was.

It had been a war of surprises, but the surprises have unhappily been hitherto invariably unpleasant ones. Now at last the balance swung the other way, for in all the long paradoxical history of South African strife there is nothing more wonderful than the way in which these two sturdy and unemotional races clasped hands the instant that the fight was done. The fact is in itself a final answer to the ill-natured critics of the Continent. Men do not so easily grasp a hand which is reddened with the blood of women and children. From all parts as the commandos came in there was welcome news of the fraternisation between them and the soldiers; while the Boer leaders, as loyal to their new ties as they had been to their old ones, exerted themselves to promote good feeling among their people. A few weeks seemed to do more to lessen racial bitterness than some of us had hoped for in as many years. One can but pray that it will last.

The surrenders amounted in all to twenty thousand men, and showed that in all parts of the seat of war the enemy had more men in the field than we had imagined, a fact which may take the sting out of several of our later mishaps. About twelve thousand surrendered in the Transvaal, six thousand in the Orange River Colony, and about two thousand in the Cape Colony, showing that the movement in the rebel districts had always been more vexatious than formidable. A computation of the prisoners of war, the surrenders, the mercenaries, and the casualties, shows that the total forces to which we were opposed were certainly not fewer than seventy-five thousand well-armed mounted men, while they may have considerably exceeded that number. No wonder that the Boer leaders showed great confidence at the outset of the war.

That the heavy losses caused us by the war were borne without a murmur is surely evidence enough how deep was the conviction of the nation that the war was not only just but essential—that the possession of South Africa and the unity of the Empire were at stake. Could it be shown, or were it even remotely possible, that ministers had incurred so immense a responsibility and entailed such tremendous sacrifices upon their people without adequate cause, is it not certain that, the task once done, an explosion of rage from the deceived and the bereaved would have driven them for ever from public life? Among high and low, in England, in Scotland, in Ireland, in the great Colonies, how many high hopes had been crushed, how often the soldier son had gone forth and never returned, or come back maimed and stricken in the pride of his youth. Everywhere was the voice of pity and sorrow, but nowhere that of reproach. The deepest instincts of the nation told it that it must fight and win, or for ever abdicate its position in the world. Through dark days which brought out the virtues of our race as nothing has done in our generation, we struggled grimly on until the light had fully broken once again. And of all gifts that God has given to Britain there is none to compare with those days of sorrow, for it was in them that the nation was assured of its unity, and learned for all time that blood is stronger to bind than salt water is to part. The only difference in the point of view of the Briton from Britain and the Briton from the ends of the earth, was that the latter with the energy of youth was more whole-souled in the Imperial cause. Who has seen that Army and can forget it—its spirit, its picturesqueness—above all, what it stands for in the future history of the world? Cowboys from the vast plains of the North-West, gentlemen who ride hard with the Quorn or the Belvoir, gillies from the Sutherland deer-forests, bushmen from the back blocks of Australia, exquisites of the Raleigh Club or the Bachelor's, hard men from Ontario, dandy sportsmen from India and Ceylon, the horsemen of New Zealand, the wiry South African irregulars—these are the Reserves whose existence was chronicled in no Blue-book, and whose appearance came as a shock to the pedant soldiers of the Continent who had sneered so long at our little Army, since long years of peace have caused them to forget its exploits. On the plains of South Africa, in common danger and in common privation, the blood brotherhood of the Empire was sealed.

So much for the Empire. But what of South Africa? There in the end we must reap as we sow. If we are worthy of the trust, it will be left to us. If we are unworthy of it, it will be taken away. Kruger's downfall should teach us that it is not rifles but Justice which is the title-deed of a nation. The British flag under our best administrators will mean clean government, honest laws, liberty and equality to all men. So long as it continues to do so, we shall hold South Africa. When, out of fear or out or greed, we fall from that ideal, we may know that we are stricken with that disease which has killed every great empire before us.


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