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Retribution—Sir Archibald Hunter's bold scheme—A night attack—Silently through the darkness—At the foot of Gun Hill—A broken ascent—"Wie kom dar?" "The English are on us!"—Major Henderson thrice wounded—Destroying "Leviathan"—Hussars suffer under fire—Rejoicings in town—Sir George White's address to the troops—Boer compliments—A raid for provender—A second sortie—The Rifles' bold enterprise—An unwelcome light—Cutting the wires—Surprise Hill reached—The sentry's challenge—Rifles' charge with the bayonet—Boer howitzer destroyed—The return to camp—Cutting the way home—Serious losses
This constant shelling of the town could not go on for ever without some attempt being made to stop it. Mr. Pearse had himself urged the practicability of capturing or putting out of action at close quarters the Boer big gun which could not be dealt with by our shell-fire. This was now to be done. The Creusot gun just mounted on Gun Hill, which like its neighbours had been given a name and endowed with a personality by the nimble-witted among the garrison, was to pay the penalty of its crimes, and the enterprise of which this was the result formed one of the most brilliant incidents in the history of the siege.
Probably (writes Mr. Pearse) no corps within our lines has been more deliberately shelled than the Imperial Light Horse, who were driven out of one camp by "Long Tom" of Pepworth's Hill, only to pitch their tents by the river bank within sight of "Puffing Billy's" gunners, who had got the range from Bulwaan to a nicety, so that they could pitch shell after shell into the new encampment. Even their "Long Tom" also still pounded at them by way of varying the monotony of a daily duel with our naval guns. But the most annoying fire of all came from the newly-mounted 6-inch Creusot on Little Bulwaan, which, for the sake of distinction, is known officially as Gun Hill, in front of Lombard's Kop. Having an effective range that enables it to search with shell every part of our camp that is visible, this weapon fired first in one direction, then in another, changing its aim so frequently that nobody could predict where the next shell might fall until it came hurtling through the air, in dangerous proximity, with a sound that suggests the half-throttled scream of a steam siren, and it generally finished, as it began, with a few shots at the Imperial Light Horse, or their near neighbours the Gordon Highlanders.
I do not know whether the idea of putting an end to the career of this worrying monster originated at headquarters, or grew out of the wish, frequently expressed by Imperial Light Horse and Natal Volunteers, to "have a go" at the enemy's guns—Sir George White has given the credit to General Sir Archibald Hunter, and such an enterprise is worthy of the man who stormed the Dervish stronghold at Abu Hamed, and led his troops up to the flame of rifle fire that fringed Mahmud's zeriba on the Atbara. He kept the whole scheme so secret that he did not even let his aide-de-camp know anything about it until some time after dinner last night. Then he sent round a brief message to Colonel Royston commanding the Volunteer Forces of Natal, and to Colonel Edwardes of the Imperial Light Horse. In accordance with this order the troops detailed got under arms very quietly, taking all the ammunition they could carry, but leaving their horses and cumbersome equipment in the lines, for Sir Archibald had wisely resolved that all taking part in this expedition must march the five miles out, and get back as best they could on foot, neither troop horses nor officers' chargers being allowed to join the column. Lord Ava, who is attached to Brigadier-General Hamilton's staff, happened to be a guest of the Light Horse. Getting an inkling of some mysterious movement, for which officers were arming themselves like their men with rifles, he stole away to get a night free from galloper's duties, shouldered a Lee-Enfield, crammed a bandolier full of cartridges, and came back in time to join the ranks before they marched off.
It was then past ten o'clock; the crescent moon was "sloping slowly towards the west" behind a bank of dark clouds, and in another hour the faint light would have gone, giving place to a gloom that makes rocks, trees, rough knolls, and deep dongas one shapeless black. General Hunter's instructions were brief and simple, silence being the point most strongly insisted on. For the rest, Imperial Light Horse and Carbineers, to whom he entrusted the attack, were to follow their guides and keep line if possible. These two corps contributed about one hundred men each. The Border Mounted Rifles, Natal Volunteers, and a small field force of Colonel Dartnell's Border Police, making altogether about four hundred, were to be in reserve, the Border Mounted furnishing supports and pushing them up the hill as each step in the ascent was gained. The fourteen guides, with Major Henderson of the Intelligence branch as staff officer, went ahead, and then the column moved off silently, the order being passed from section to section in whispers. The Boers, five miles off, would not have heard if a full band had played the adventurous six hundred out; but we know that there are Boer emissaries still in camp who might, by preconcerted signal, have given the alarm if the unusual movement had aroused them and their suspicions. It was well, therefore, to let such sleeping dogs lie. So the column marched in silence along town roads, where nearly every house is deserted, and deep dust muffled the tread of many feet until they were clear of the town, and passing our outposts on Helpmakaar Hill. The forms of massed men could be made out dimly where the Devon battalion rested under arms, ready to give assistance in case of any reverse.
From that point the Helpmakaar road leads straight round a scrubby nek where the Boers have thrown up a formidable series of earthworks. To avoid these, the column struck off across open veldt into a hollow where men had to feel their way among stunted bushes of the "Wacht een bichte" thorn, and across dongas where the sandy banks crumbled under weights incautiously placed, and slid down with men into depths of six feet or more. After floundering about there they climbed out again to re-form with such regularity as was possible in the circumstances. But for the guides, who seemed to know every inch of ground, right directions would almost inevitably have been lost. As it was, however, they reached the foot of Little Bulwaan (or Gun Hill) at twenty minutes to two, and preparations were made for an immediate assault lest daylight should come before the work could be accomplished. Everybody knew full well how impossible it would be to get away from the position without terrible losses, if the Boers could see to shoot It was pretty well known that not many of them occupied Gun Hill, but the number encamped within reach of it was a matter of pure speculation, dependent on the accuracy of Kaffir stories which might be true of one day, but quite untrustworthy twenty-four hours later; so rapid are the Boers in their movements, if they get any suspicion that an attack is impending.
Notwithstanding the difficulties of keeping touch across rough ground, where silence was imposed, the different detachments, each with a guide to lead it, marched so quietly that not a word was spoken, and all arrived at their proper posts in admirable order, worthy of trained troops. That, however, became somewhat broken as the ascent began, and little wonder, for the boulders, rounded and worn smooth by the storms of ages, were slippery to tread on, and occasionally a man's foot would become wedged between them in a deep cleft. Here and there progress was painfully slow, and the hill so steep that it had to be climbed on hands and knees. The higher they climbed the worse it became, until, as one man describing his own experiences said, they were like a lot of lizards crawling over rocks. Half-way up the hill they had a narrow escape from stumbling on a Boer picket. The sentry heard if he did not see the line of crouching figures that passed him like ghosts in the darkness with stealthy steps that must have sounded weird across the night stillness. In a voice huskily vibrant, he challenged, "Wie kom dar?" Getting no reply, he called again twice in louder tones, and then fired his rifle at nothing in particular. Then, the whole picket waking, or beginning to realise that danger was near, let off a volley, and voices were heard shouting to comrades on the ridge. "The English are on us, Hans, Carl. Shoot! shoot!" A few shots came from so close to one flank of the Imperial Light Horse that Boers must have been lying there almost under the feet of our men, if they did not actually join the ranks for a time to escape detection. But a sound greeted their ears at that moment, and knowing what it meant, they scampered downhill without waiting to hear more. It was a ringing British cheer followed by strident commands to "Fix bayonets and give the devils cold steel." Begun by Major Karri Davis, the order ran along from Imperial Light Horse to Carbineers, who had not a bayonet amongst them, for irregular mounted infantry in this country do not carry such weapons. But they struck the butts of their rifles on rocks, and made a great clatter as if preparing for a bayonet charge, and cheered again and again for a good deal more than their actual numbers, while crags on each hand tossed the shouts to and fro in a mighty tumult. This was apparently too much for the small number of Boers who held the crest. Letting off bullets in rapid succession, until the magazines were exhausted, they turned and bolted, having hit only ten of our men, one of whom, the tallest trooper in the Imperial Light Horse, was badly wounded. In proportion to their numbers the guides suffered most, having four out of fourteen hit, though none very severely. The worst wound of all was from an explosive bullet similar to those used in Express rifles for big-game shooting, and many missiles of the same kind were seen to burst with a flash like shells as they struck on stones round about, thus proving that the use of explosive bullets by Boers is not quite so rare as most of us have believed hitherto. Major Henderson received three wounds from buck-shot or "loupalin," one of which penetrated deeply, but caused so little shock at the time that he was able to keep pace with the best uphill. Nevertheless, "scatter guns" are not weapons proper to be used in warfare between civilised combatants.
Halting for a brief breathing space, now and again, at General Hunter's command, then following with all the speed they could muster where he and his aide-de-camp, Major King, led the Imperial Light Horse on the left, the Carbineers on their right made a final dash for the steepest climb of all, and, breathless, gained the ridge, to find that the Boers had quitted it, leaving not a man in defence of the guns. A great stroke of luck befell the Imperial Light Horse, who crossed the heights with their left flank opposite a Boer 12-pounder and Maxim gun. The latter they made a clean capture of, but the field-piece, being too heavy for them to carry off, was left to the tender mercies of the engineers, who soon had bracelets of gun-cotton round it, and the breech-pieces damaged beyond repair.
Meanwhile the right flank was sweeping round towards the main battery in expectation of meeting with some resistance from the gun's crew of "Big Ben of Little Bulwaan." That weapon had, in virtue of similar qualities, succeeded to "Long Tom's" second title, but did not live long to enjoy it. The end of his active career was at hand when the Light Horse made their dash for him and found that he had been deserted by all his friends. It was poetical justice that Colonel Edwardes and Major Karri Davis of the corps which Big Ben had shelled most persistently should be first to lay hands on him and claim every part that could be taken away as a rightful trophy for the Imperial Light Horse. But Major Henderson, in spite of his wounds, General Sir Archibald Hunter, and Major King were in the redoubt at that moment, and therefore the honours are divided. Doctor Platt, of the Border Mounted, claims to have been among the first four in. Some of the Carbineers are also under the impression that they captured a gun, and though there is nothing to show for it, they deserve full credit for an important share in the night's success. A line was formed in rear of the battery, while engineers put rings of gun-cotton round Big Ben's muzzle and breech. Then fuses were set alight, and our men retired hastily beyond reach of the imminent explosion. After that engineers and artillerymen went back to make sure that their work had not been bungled, and saw with satisfaction that the gun-cotton had rent great holes through Big Ben's breech in two places, rendering him totally unfit for foreign service. This was the crowning act of a great achievement, and the force that had aided in its accomplishment marched back to camp triumphantly just as day broke.
As a precautionary measure, in case there should be a reverse, and with the object also of cutting off any fugitive Boers who might fly panic-stricken from Gun Hill, the 19th Hussars had gone earlier to make a demonstration by way of Limit Hill, towards Modder's Spruit, and destroy some Boer stores. With characteristic faith in the luck that has favoured bold cavalry enterprises so often, they pushed far forward and gained some valuable information at the risk of being cut off, but fortunately that did not happen. Meanwhile the 18th, jealous for the great reputation they have won as scouts, attempted a movement even more hazardous. In advance of General Brocklehurst's reconnoitring force one squadron of this regiment made straight for a position which the enemy was believed to hold in strength between Pepworth's and Surprise Hill. To do this they crossed near a deep cutting through which the Harrismith railway passes, and there came under a terribly heavy fire, against which even their hardihood was not proof. Retiring, they made a detour to avoid unnecessary exposure, and swept round two small kopjes, where not a Boer had been seen previously. But, as it happened, the stony ridges were full of riflemen, who, without emerging from their concealment, brought a furious fusillade to bear on the Hussars, who had to run the gauntlet at full speed, all but one, and he, with gallant self-sacrifice, rode straight towards the nearer kopje, drawing the whole fire on himself, and thus giving his comrades time to get clear. Fortunately not a bullet touched him as he wheeled about, lay flat on his saddle-bow, and galloped after the squadron. Its retreat was covered by a very pretty movement of the main body and by salvos of shrapnel from our field batteries, with the naval guns chiming in. Then the reconnoitring force slowly withdrew across the plain towards Junction Hill, still under a rifle fire heavier even than we had to face on the slopes of Elandslaagte, though not so well directed. Several saddles, however, were emptied, bringing our losses in this affair up to five killed and seventeen wounded. Of these considerably more than half were 18th Hussars, whose ranks have been seriously thinned since they marched to Dundee less than eight weeks ago.
In camps and town everybody is elated to-day. Casting aside the sombre garb that was suitable to retirement, ladies have come forth clad in raiment that is festively bright to go a-shopping, as if there were no such things as shells to disturb them, and no cares greater than feminine frivolities. If the siege were at an end, and peace within sight, we could hardly be more joyously animated, and all because two hundred gallant fellows, led by a dashing General, have shown how Boer positions may be captured at night, and Boer siege guns silenced for ever with small loss.
Sir George White ordered special parades for the afternoon of all volunteers, guides, Irregular Horse, and Frontier Police Force who had taken part in the attack on Gun Hill. Each corps had its own appointed place for the ceremony, and Sir George visited them in turn to congratulate them on their brilliant achievement. For the guides, who are attached as scouts, interpreters, and field orderlies to the Intelligence Staff, the General had special words of praise. Without their valuable aid the enterprise might have been doomed to failure, and he expressed high appreciation of their gallantry, not less than of the skill they had shown in guiding a column over difficult ground when there was not light enough to make a single landmark visible except the sky-line of Gun Hill. To the Imperial Light Horse he paid an equally flattering tribute. As the men of three companies were drawn up in line to receive him, "Puffing Billy" tried to put a spoke in their wheel by sending a shell very near one flank, and the line was accordingly broken into close column with a short front, so that it be hidden by house and trees from sight of the gunners on Bulwaan. At that moment Sir George White, with General Sir Archibald Hunter, General Brocklehurst, and a number of staff officers, rode to the ground, and were received by a general salute, to which the presence of two or three wounded men with arms in blood-stained slings gave emphasis, as they had no rifles wherewith to shoulder and present.
The officers on parade were Colonel Edwardes, commanding, Major Karri Davis, Major Doveton, Lieutenant Fitzgerald, adjutant, Captain Fowler, commanding F Company, Captain Mullins, B Company, and Captain Codrington, E Company, with their subalterns, Lieutenants Brooking, Normand, Matthias, Pakeman, Kirk, and Huntley, all of whom had been in the fight except Major Doveton, who volunteered for it, but was compelled to stay in camp for field-officer's duties. His seniors had the privilege of first choice, and insisted on it, so there was nothing left for him but submission to the inevitable. As a tribute to the men whose heroic achievement is the brightest episode in this long siege, Sir George White's soldierly speech will interest readers at home. Addressing Colonel Edwardes, he said:
"General Hunter, who planned and carried out the very successful movement of this morning, has reported to me the very efficient help that he received from the men of the Imperial Light Horse as well as the other corps who were employed. When he told me last night that he was anxious to have a shy at the gun on Gun Hill, there was one thing that I determined on, and that was, that I would give him the best support that I could. I knew I could trust you to help on account of your knowledge of the business which you have taken in hand in this campaign, and on account of your bravery and your steadiness. I was also confident of your intelligent individual action in case there might be any difficulty to overcome. I have come here to express to you my appreciation of the value of the work you did last night, and also to thank you for it. It will be a great pleasure to me to report to General Sir Redvers Buller, whose name brings confidence wherever it is mentioned, on the work you have done, not only on this occasion, but on every occasion when it has been my good luck to have your assistance. I have no doubt there is a great deal more hard fighting before us, and my only hope is that you will do as well in the future as in the past, so that I may be able to say at the end of this campaign as I now say in the middle of it, that your behaviour is an honour not only to your own country and colony, but to the whole empire. Colonel Edwardes, I don't wish to keep you any longer, owing to the circumstance that 'Long Tom' of Bulwaan may interfere in this conference, but once more I thank you one and all."
Lusty cheers were then given for Sir George White, General Hunter, General Brocklehurst, and Colonel Edwardes. Sir George White's appreciation of the heroic achievement is shared by Boer leaders, and in their case it is all the more flattering because expressed while they are smarting under the humiliation of a great loss. Dr. Davis, with another medical officer and some ambulance men, went up Gun Hill at daybreak under a flag of truce, to look after the wounded men who could not be found when their comrades came down in the dark. Giving no heed to the Geneva Cross, some Boers made Dr. Davis and his companions prisoners, and they were taken before Commandant Schalk-Burger, who received them with scant courtesy at first. In the end, however, he paid a great compliment to the Light Horse on their plucky deed. One Boer officer who stood by said he thought they all deserved the Victoria Cross, and another showed familiarity with English habits of thought by describing the night attack as "a devilish sporting thing." They wanted to know who led it, and the answer has given Sir Archibald Hunter a place in Boer estimation among the British soldiers whom they would rather meet as friends than as enemies.
The Imperial Light Horse are celebrating their achievement by a brilliant gathering to-night, and have feasted their guests on so many good things that one begins to doubt whether there can be much scarcity in camp, though ordinary articles of food, and especially drink, are running up rapidly to famine prices.
Plenty in the Imperial Light Horse larder may however be accounted for by success in another night attack about which one did not hear so much, though it was carried out with characteristic dash as a preliminary to the greater enterprise that followed twenty-four hours later. One company of the Imperial Light Horse, being on outpost duty south of Waggon Hill, had conceived the idea of a midnight raid on Bester's Farm, whence the Boers, after an effective occupation of several weeks, had retired, leaving a Red Cross flag still attached to a thorn bush in the garden, by way of suggesting that poultry and pigs should be regarded as under the protection of the Geneva Convention. They did not go far, however, and parties of them came down to the farm nearly every night for supplies. The Light Horse, having impartial minds, thought they might as well "chip in" for some of the good things. So they made their raid, and came back laden with provender. Much of this they distributed with a liberality that has won for them and for all Natal Volunteers concurrently the title of "friendlies," which will certainly stick as long as British troops and Colonial Irregulars campaign together. Some fat turkeys were part of the loot, and they helped to make a right royal feast to-night, when the gallant "friendlies" had their cup of happiness filled by warm congratulations from the Gordons, the Devons, and every cavalry regiment with which they are brigaded.
Such brilliant achievements as the above might, it was soon felt, be more difficult in future, the enemy having been put upon his guard; but all the good-comradeship in the world could not prevent some jealousy being felt, and nobody can pretend to regret that a spirit of noble emulation has thus been roused. There had never been any lack of men ready for work of that kind from the first day of investment. Devons and Gordons had volunteered weeks before to take the Boer guns from which the defenders suffered most annoyance, any night the General might give them permission; but those fine battalions were wanted for important duties in the purely defensive scheme, and so they had to lie behind earthworks or in bomb-proof structures, half tent, half cave, shelled when they ventured to move out by day, kept on the alert through many hours of weary night, and called to arms again an hour before dawn. They had shown—and the same is true of every corps and detachment in the garrison—the most splendid endurance. Indeed, the only signs of impatience seen among the troops were the outcome of an eager desire to be led out against the enemy, that they might get some satisfaction for the losses and annoyance to which they had been subjected from the long-range fire of Boer artillery.
Now, however, the regulars, who had long been ready for any service, in view of the brilliant performance of the irregulars, regarded inaction as a slur upon their particular regiments. The feeling resulted in a second attempt being made, this time to destroy the enemy's big gun on Surprise Hill. Though it failed to win an equal success, it was a hardly less brilliant performance, and forms another engrossing page in Mr. Pearse's story. Writing on 11th December, he thus describes the enterprise from its inception:—
Lieut.-Colonel Metcalfe of the 2nd Rifle Brigade gave expression yesterday to a general desire that the regulars should be allowed a chance to prove their mettle, by sending to Sir George White a request that his battalion might be allowed to attack the Boer position on Surprise Hill and silence the howitzer there. This request had to be sanctioned by Brigadier-General Howard, who, as an old Rifle Brigade officer, was nothing loth to add strong reasons why the step should be taken. Other corps might be panting for opportunities of distinction, but the Rifle Brigade, having held the post on Cove Hill which now bears its name under fire from this howitzer for weeks past, had a right to claim that their chance should come first.
Sir George White, fully appreciating Colonel Metcalfe's plea of privilege and the spirit that animated it, gave consent at once, and left Colonel Metcalfe free to carry out his plan unhampered by any conditions save those of ordinary military prudence. He did not even give the direction of it to a staff officer, and though the Intelligence Department furnished guides it took no active part in the affair, for the success or failure of which Colonel Metcalfe alone held himself responsible. Major Altham saw the column off and accompanied it for some distance, but only as a spectator, and that no farther than the initial stage, beyond which everything was shrouded in darkness. The new moon, sinking behind heavy clouds, gave little light when the men fell into rank by companies for their march. There were about 450 rifles all told. To these must be added two small detachments of artillery and engineers, taking with them charges of gun-cotton. The whole command numbered no more than 469, and they were going for one of the strongest Boer positions by which our force is ringed about.
Captain Gough's company was detached to lead the right assault, and Major Thesiger's the left, each having with it a section of C Company. Captains Paley and Stephens were to bring their companies close up in support, while Lieutenant Byrne was in command of E Company, forming the reserve. Only a small detachment of ambulance men with four stretchers followed the column as it moved off a few minutes after ten o'clock, across open ground by Observation Hill, and turned westward towards its objective, which could just be seen, a dim rounded mass like a darker cloud in the dark sky. The guides Ashby and Thornhill had no difficulty in finding their way without other landmarks, for every inch of the ground is familiar to them both. An unlooked-for obstacle, however, presented itself as they neared the nek that joins Thornhill's Kop with Rietfontein on Pepworth's Ridge. A break in clouds that hung behind Surprise Hill let light through from the crescent moon that was still well above the rugged Drakensberg Crags.
In that light, subdued though it was, a man crossing the nek would have shown up sharply, and Boer sentries always keep well down where they can watch the sky-line. Our troops, naturally anxious not to discover themselves prematurely, lay down in a convenient donga and waited for darkness. There they had to lie an hour or longer, until the nearest ridges were again merged in the gloom of their surroundings, and the more distant hills became vague shadows, perceptible only to the second sight of men who are familiar with Nature in all aspects. Then the column, moving silently, advanced towards the railway line, which few could see until they were stopped by the barbed wire that fences it on each side. The necessity for cutting this was another awkward hindrance. All officers, however, had come provided for such an emergency with wire-nippers. The anxiety was painfully tense as men listened to the sharp click of these instruments, and heard the severed wires drop with a clatter that struck harp-like across the deep silence, and went vibrating along the fence towards a Boer camp where perhaps some sentry, more alert than his comrades, might catch the meaning of such sounds. No alarm followed, however, as the work of wire-cutting went on across the railway and from enclosure to enclosure, care being taken to bend the wires only in one place so that they could be bent back, leaving a space just wide enough for successive companies in fours to defile through.
Thus by slow degrees they gained the foot of Surprise Hill, and began the difficult ascent. Colonel Metcalfe, and probably most of his men, expected that they would have been met by Boer rifle fire long before this and compelled to win their way with the bayonet. It seemed almost impossible to believe that the Boers, after one sharp lesson, would keep no better watch than to let us creep up to their stronghold unopposed. Suddenly a challenge "Wie kom dar?" rang out from half-way up the hill. Silence would serve no longer, and indeed it had been broken again and again by the clang of iron-heeled boots on loose stones. So the order to fix swords was given, and passed in stentorian tones along the front. Sword-bayonets rattled sharply against rifle barrels to show that there was no deception this time, and then with lusty cheers the assaulting companies sprang forward, floundering at times in deep clefts between boulders, then re-forming to continue their advance, while the supports and reserves fell as quickly as they could into the formation that is roughly indicated in the accompanying diagram. That plan had been adopted to guard against flank attacks by the oblique fire from two companies, between which an opening was left for the assaulting companies to retire through in case of reverses. But neither flank attack nor reverses came at this critical point. Major Thesiger and Captain Gough, following their respective guides, gained the crest before their enemies had time to fire many shots from magazine rifles, and the battery was won. But it contained neither gun nor gunners. Was the whole expedition therefore fruitless? No! there came sounds as of men at work stealthily a few yards off.
For that point a sergeant led his section, and found the howitzer with a few men round it as escort, bearing rifles. The men threw down their arms in token of submission, but that trick has been played too often. "This damned nonsense is too late," said the sergeant, and with levelled bayonets his sections swept away the chance of treachery. So the story runs, and at any rate our men pushed forward without further opposition until they formed a half-moon overlooking the darkness in a deep valley that might have been full of foes. Into that darkness, therefore, they poured steady volleys for half an hour, while the engineers were trying to destroy the captured howitzer. Their first attempt failed owing to a defective fuse, but with the next gun-cotton charge a fracture was made so deep that the howitzer will never be able to fire a shot again. Then the riflemen retired, and as they reached a safe distance downhill they heard a mightier explosion. This also was the work of our engineers, who had found a magazine and blown it up with all the ammunition there.
But now from flanks and rear came heavy rifle fire. Colonel Metcalfe, thinking he was being fired on by his own supports, rode towards them, calling upon Captains Paley and Stephen by name to cease firing. But he was met by a withering volley, and knew it must have come from enemies. At the same time a sergeant going off in another direction, and calling, "Second Rifle Brigade, are you there?" was received by answers in English, and before he had discovered his mistake three rifle-bullets stung him, but for all that he managed to get back in safety to his company. Then the Adjutant-Captain Dawnay, assisted by Major Wing of the Artillery, who had come out from camp as a volunteer unattached, did successful work in getting together sections that had gone astray in the intense darkness.
It was almost impossible to see anything a yard off. One man felt something brush against him, and said by way of precaution, "Third Rifle Brigade?" "Yes," was the response, but at that moment the rattle of a rifle warned him. He saw something white, which was certainly not part of a British soldier's campaigning uniform, and, driving at that, got his bayonet into a Dutchman's shirt just in time to save himself from being shot. An officer had an exciting bout with a Kaffir who was fighting on the Boer side, the weapon on one side being a broomstick that had been used as an alpenstock for hill-climbing, and on the other a Mauser rifle which the Kaffir had no chance to reload, so quickly were the blows showered upon him, and a bayonet-thrust delivered at hazard as he ran put an end to his fighting for the time at least. Our men were dropping fast from rifle shots, and they had somehow missed touch with Captain Paley's company. That officer's name was called several times, but no answer came until the Boers on one side began shouting in good English, "Captain Paley, here is your company, sir," and a few men decoyed that way were shot down. The difficulty of finding wounded comrades in the darkness was great, but still several gallant fellows made the attempt, and brought no less than thirty-five out of the fight over ground so broken that they frequently stumbled and fell with their groaning burdens. One of them begged to be left there, but his entreaties were met with the response, "Oh, cheer up, old chum; a stretcher in camp is better than a cell in Pretoria."
While these gallant acts of mercy were being done by men whose blood had been at fighting heat but a few minutes before, their comrades were forming for a charge on dongas thick with Boers, whose rifles rang out incessantly. Bayonets soon did their work. Before that charge the Boers would not stand, but fled off to fire from a safer distance. One lying wounded held some papers up, and said, "I am an American correspondent"; but unfortunately for him he had a rifle in his hand and it was hot. Captain Paley, at first returned as missing, was, as it happens, leading that charge at one point. Hearing calls for him he led his company towards them, but likewise found himself discovered, and had just ordered the charge when three bullets bowled him over, and he lay there until the enemy came at dawn and found him with other wounded; but his fall was quickly avenged, for his company charged gallantly, and made a way for themselves clean through the Boers. Colonel Metcalfe succeeded in bringing the main body of his troops away in unbroken formation, the detached sections following, and quickly falling into order ready for another fight; but the Boers did not molest them again, though we know now that reinforcements numbering over 2000 had been specially sent that night to guard against a possible attack on Surprise Hill.When our ambulance detachments went forward at daybreak they were fired upon, though Commandant Erasmus had sent under a flag of truce asking that surgeons and burying parties should go out from our camp. The medical staff were also made prisoners, and sent before Erasmus and Schalk-Burger, who, after many questions, released them with the most seriously wounded, among whom was Captain Paley. Lieutenant Ferguson died before he could be brought in. Our losses in this night attack, or rather in the fight that followed it, were 11 killed and 43 wounded, including Colonel Metcalfe slightly, Captain Paley, Captain Gough, Lieutenant Brand, and Lieutenant Davenport.