The King's Road--On the track of a commando--A stern chase--Wearing out the Boers--Kritzinger appears--The column goes to meet him--Kaffir's Kop--A mélée--A gallant death--Kritzinger gets through--Moving westwards--Night march on Jagersfontein--Boers surprised at dawn--Captures at Vlakfontein--Christmas Day--Fauresmith--Vlakfontein again.
After the fight at De Put, the column again divided into two "commandos," of which Major Gilbert's returned with Head Quarters to Ventershoek. Very heavy rain on the 29th and 30th of October flooded the camp there.
Col. du Moulin had from the first determined to shorten the route from this camp to Edenburg. The convoy, in bringing supplies from the line, had to go round by Mooifontein, 6 miles north of Ventershoek, in order to cross the ridge running in that direction. Close to the camp, this ridge was cut by a small stream (Hex River) running through a stony gorge. The gorge was of considerable length, and was strewn throughout with great boulders of ironstone. Through this gorge the Colonel decided to make a road, and the cyclists had been for some time employed in preparing it. All the men in the camp were now turned on to the work. Chains were fastened to the larger rocks, and they were hauled to one side or rolled into the stream. Boulders were blasted and embankments made, and by the 31st of October the convoy on its way to Edenburg was able to pass along "King's Road." Frequent use was subsequently made of this road when moving troops out to the west and south, and Boers of the neighbourhood who were brought in by it, were considerably astonished. The people of the district probably still find it a great convenience.
The country round Ventershoek was constantly patrolled by parties of ten or twelve men under an officer, who went out at night so as to reach positions from which they could see the country round, by dawn. One of these patrols under Lt. Bond located a Boer commando at Lakensvlei, to the south-west, on November 7th; and on November 8th, a general move of columns was begun with the object of surrounding it. Col. du Moulin moved out with the whole of his force at 2 a.m. on the 9th, getting into touch with the other columns that afternoon. A Boer hospital was found among the hills, and the three ambulances with it were ordered to rejoin their commando.
On the 10th two Boers were captured by Liliveld at Lakensvlei, and others were seen in the distance; and on the 11th, Ackerman's commando was found in the middle of the circle of columns. Col. du Moulin had made an early march from Lakensvlei to Parys (a farm some miles south of Ventershoek) that morning; and while the column was breakfasting, a helio message came from Ventershoek to say that a party of Boers were being driven by Col. Hamilton towards Parys. The column was off in ten minutes, and chased Ackerman for the remainder of the day, capturing his Cape cart, eighty horses and twenty-five rifles. A halt was made that night at Mooifontein, after a day's trek of 30 miles for the baggage and 40 for the mounted troops, the Boers being still ahead. Col. Hamilton had taken seven prisoners.
One hundred men under Lieut. Bond were sent out at midnight to a hill (the Bulsberg) where the Boers were last seen. Silently they rode through the darkness, and, nearing the hill, took one end of it at a gallop; but the Boers had gone. This party was, during the morning, itself attacked by another small column that had come on the same mission. Fortunately the attack was stayed before any harm was done. The Boers escaped out of the ring of columns--so harried, however, that twelve went straight to Bloemfontein to surrender, five of whom were too weak from want of food and sleep to reach the town, and had to be fetched in in Cape carts.
On the night of the 23rd November, Lieut. Crawley-Boevey was sent with 100 men (cyclists and mounted men) to search the hills at Parys for stray Boers. At dawn he saw a couple of Boers watering their horses at a dam near; he despatched a dozen men to cut them off, but these soon returned, having found a commando of sixty on the other side of the hill. The Boers at once moved off towards Ospoort, where Captain Montrésor lay hidden; took fright at the smoke of some fires there and moved north; were headed off by column after column, and lost twenty-six prisoners before the day was over, four of them falling to Crawley-Boevey. At dawn on the 26th Captain Montrésor was sent to Lakensvlei, where the Boers were reported to have gone; but Col. Pilcher was before him, and had captured twelve more. Thus the commando, which was Joubert's, was practically wiped out.
At this time Kritzinger with 300 men and a number of led horses was making his way down to the Colony; and on the 27th of November Col. du Moulin got orders to move out and try to intercept him, 150 South African Constabulary under Major Vaughan and fifty Edenburg M.I. under Lieut. Kentish (Royal Irish Fusiliers) being added to the column. By the evening of the 28th he reached Roodepoort, 25 miles east of Ventershoek as the crow flies and considerably more by road. The baggage, with which were one of the guns (under Lt. Warren, R.F.A.) and the pom-pom (under Capt. Harrington, R.G.A.) went by a different route from that taken by the main body. On emerging from De Rand pass, fire was opened by both gun and pom-pom upon Captain Montrésor's "commando," which was crossing the front--fortunately without inflicting any damage. By the evening six Boers had been captured, with four rifles.
Kritzinger was known to be close to Roodepoort, and likely to break west; Col. du Moulin therefore decided to occupy a line north and south, and after dark sent Captain Montrésor with two companies two miles to the north, and the S. A. C. the same distance to the south.
The men, who were carrying Maconochie rations, were served out that evening with a ration of raw meat. It was late however, and many did not trouble to cook the meat, eating the tinned stew instead; as a result they went short the next day.
The column started again at four the next morning. The Colonel moved out with the main body at a fast trot in a N.W. direction towards a long high ridge called Kaffir's Kop. The S. A. C. were on his right; Captain Montrésor was on the left, but the ground there was so broken that he could not be seen. Owing to a misunderstanding, the advanced guard took a wrong direction, and a second one had to be sent out somewhat hurriedly. Shortly afterwards Boers were reported on the left. The Colonel and his staff, the main body (in close order), the gun, pom-pom and escort all turned on to a rise to the left of the road, and saw a large body of Boers going west at the foot of Kaffir's Kop, a couple of miles away. Almost at the same moment, a smart fire was opened from a small kopje 1,000 yards in rear, which, owing to the pace and the change of advanced guards, had not been searched. Colonel, staff, men and guns all turned sharp to the right again and galloped under cover of the rise, the crest of which was at once lined, while the guns opened fire. The Boers in rear did not wait, however, and streamed away from the other side of the kopje--to which gun, pom-pom, and troops followed them. Their course lay directly over a ridge on which were half of Captain Montrésor's men, and a general mélée ensued, the two sides getting so involved that in one case a drummer and a Boer took shots at each other at ten yards distance, and then threw down their rifles and closed. Lieut. Woodruffe fired his revolver up at a Boer as he jumped his horse over the depression in which Woodruffe was lying.
Unfortunately the pom-pom had again opened on Captain Montrésor's men by mistake--it being almost impossible to tell which of the scattered parties were Boers and which not. Beset by friend and foe, they had a bad quarter of an hour, losing two men killed by the Boers (Sergt. Waters and Private Elphick) and one mortally wounded (Corporal Robinson). Elphick (whose horse had been shot) died splendidly: he was found behind an ant-heap, his bayonet fixed, all the cartridges in his bandolier used--killed by a shot from a Boer who had worked round behind him. The Boers also lost two killed and one wounded.
Another column was pressing the rear of the main body of the Boers, who hurried west some miles to the north of Col. du Moulin, and then turned south in a wide circle. The Colonel turned and followed them. On their way the Boers picked up and looted one of the company kit wagons that had broken down, taking the mules and a native guide away with them. The latter they shot.
The column followed the Boers till three in the afternoon without a halt, and stopped then at Ganspoort, unable to go further. The first meal of the day was at 4 p.m. Kritzinger's men, however, had got through; the columns ahead were not in position to block them; and on the following day they crossed the line to the west, shifting their laager half a mile further from the railway when they found that the gun on the armoured train could reach them.
The local Boers were at this time finding the eastern district too hot to hold them. They were harried by the columns and short of food; for although a certain amount of grain was still left, hidden in broken down sheds and under bushes, meat was getting scarce, and the few wild sheep on the hills were growing wilder. A general movement of the Boers therefore set in to the west; and towards the end of December the columns followed.
Col. du Moulin's column moved into Edenburg on the 19th of December, and down the line to Jagersfontein Road on the 22nd. Capt. Griffin had joined it on the 12th.
On the evening of December 23rd, the column moved out of Jagersfontein Road and made for Jagersfontein Town, 25 miles to the west. The camp was not struck till dark, and the baggage was left to follow in the morning.
It was known that the Commandants had been summoned by De Wet to a conference in the North, and it was intended to attack the local commandos (believed to be at Jagersfontein) during their absence.
Col. du Moulin started at 7 p.m., having with him about 300 mounted men of the Sussex and the pom-pom; and the column trekked along in bright moonlight till midnight, and then halted and off-saddled for a couple of hours under the black mass of Boomplaats Hill. Starting again at 2 a.m., they went forward till the setting of the moon, which occurred shortly before dawn. A halt was then made to wait for the light.
The advanced guard (H. Company) were now on the edge of a broad plain that stretched across to Jagersfontein and the hills behind it, 6 miles away. Lt. Crawley-Boevey and his cyclists were to the left front of the advanced guard. As the light grew stronger, two farms could be seen half way across the plain, about a mile apart; and a number of horses were made out grazing round them. The Colonel ordered the advanced guard, and F Company under Major Gilbert, to gallop these farms. The two companies spread out into a line nearly two miles long, and set off at a canter. Other companies supported them in rear.
The sun was just rising, shewing up a row of eucalyptus trees that stood out between the farms like the teeth of a comb, and casting long shadows in front of the galloping men. As H Company got nearer to the farm house on the left (Vlakfontein) figures could be seen making for the horses. Nearer still, and across a spruit, and they were in among the dazed Boers, those who had not been able to jump on a horse and get away throwing up their hands and surrendering.
On the right Major Gilbert came upon a donga in which Field Cornet du Toit and a number of Boers were sleeping. These rolled out of their blankets, and started firing, wounding two men. The advancing Company was checked by a wire fence, and there was an awkward moment till the wire was cut; then the donga was taken, and the Field Cornet and his men surrendered. A desultory fire was kept up for a short time from a kopje on the extreme right, but soon ceased.
All the Boers had now either got away towards Jagersfontein, or been taken prisoners. Two companies were sent on towards the Jagersfontein hills; but there was no chance of stopping the retreating Boers, and the companies soon returned to Vlakfontein. Heaps of rifles, saddles, bandoliers and other equipment were brought in and piled against the verandah of the farmhouse, the Colonel and the other officers assembled on the verandah, the horses were picketed in lines in front of the house, the men started to brew their coffee over little fires, and a general air of cheerful satisfaction pervaded the place; for it had been a very successful raid. Besides twenty-eight prisoners, the column had taken 52 rifles, 78 bandoliers, 2,500 rounds of ammunition, 105 horses, 96 saddles, 130 blankets, 25 cloaks and 8 bags of wheat.
One shadow however fell upon the day. One of the Boers taken was in a complete suit of Khaki, regimental badges, slouch hat and all. Too many British had been killed, deceived by a British uniform upon a Boer, for it to be possible to be lenient: and he was accordingly tried by Court Martial, and shot in the evening.
Companies were sent out in the afternoon to search adjoining hills and kloofs; no Boers however had remained within reach. In the afternoon the explosion of Mauser cartridges which were being destroyed by burning sounded to those who had not been warned like a counter-attack, and caused a momentary sensation.
It was thought very probable that the Boers would rally and try to take their revenge, and with the first light of Christmas morning the column stood to arms, and waited. Nothing occurred, however, until soon after sunrise, when guns were heard from the south. Col. du Moulin started off as soon as possible in that direction, and trekked through the long midsummer morning. Very hot and dusty, the column arrived about mid-day at Fauresmith, without, however, having come across anything more aggressive than a swarm of locusts, many miles in length.
The guns had been those of Col. Hamilton, who, with Major Driscoll, was co-operating with Col. du Moulin. Col. Hamilton had surprised a commando at dawn that morning, taken fifteen of them and chased the remainder, but in turn got his own baggage cut off at Kok's Kraal by a party of 150 who slipped behind him. A number of his wagons were looted and burned.
Fauresmith was a deserted town (three streets of tin-roofed houses and a market place) lying at the foot of a high, boldly-shaped hill: the column camped outside, and soon parties were making their way in to explore.
At the entrance to the town was a spring running freely. The water was clear, not muddy; cold, not tepid; it did not smell; there was plenty of it. The explorers filled themselves, and passed on.
There was not much to be said for the street. The doors of the houses were open; here and there in front of a house was a bed, or a mattress, half destroyed: for all bedding that could not be used for the Refugee camps had to be burnt. But the gardens at the back were Paradise. What if much of the fruit had not ripened, for want of water? There was still enough and to spare for everyone: apricots, figs, mulberries, small peaches. Men shook the trees or lay along the branches, and blessed their luck. The padré attached to the column (the Rev. ---- Hood) had given out that he would hold a service in the Dutch church, as there was sure to be an organ there. There was: but it had been damaged--so had that in the Anglican church. Then he decided to hold his service in the street; a piano was found, and placed on the verandah of a house; chairs and sofas were borrowed and arranged in the road, and the bell in the market-place was rung. A small congregation collected, the men, of course, all fully armed, and the service was carried out. "Oh, come, all ye faithful," was lustily rendered; and the walls of the empty houses echoed it back.
One more excitement, and Christmas day was over. Late at night, a shot from one of the piquets and a cry of "Stand to!" turned everybody out. It was only Driscoll, however, riding in with his Scouts. The string of tired men and horses made its way through the camp, and silence fell again, this time unbroken.
On Boxing Day Col. du Moulin moved to Jagersfontein, an absolutely deserted town with a diamond mine like a vast quarry, the bottom of which was full of emerald green water. The Boers in passing through had been living in the schoolroom of the convent there, and they had chalked on the black board their names and various messages. The hills round were searched without result, and the column moved back to Vlakfontein.
This place was made the Headquarters and depôt for the columns of the district, and Col. Rochfort came out there on the 2nd of January, 1902. On the 3rd, Col. du Moulin moved out with 350 mounted men, the cyclists and pom-pom, at 8 p.m. It was the beginning of a combined move of all Col. Rochfort's columns against the Boers, who had again collected together in the west.
The generous Christmas gifts from the County of Sussex, consisting of pipes and other useful articles, besides luxuries in the way of food, had been served out to the men while at Vlakfontein.
 Pte. L. Greenfield, E Co., was also wounded.
 The report of Commandant Brand upon the District, at the Vereeniging Meeting of Commandants in May, 1902, was that everything had been carried off; there was, he said, not a sheep left.
 Capt. Griffin had been sent from Malta to South Africa at the beginning of the war on special service. He had been invalided home with fever, and now returned to the Regiment.
 These were Cpl. A. Palmer and Pte. R. Smith, of F. Co.