And in the hope of freedom they possess
All that the contest calls for,--spirit, strength,
The scorn of danger, and united hearts.
With the exception of the Stormberg engagement we do not intend to dwell on the battles of the first part of the campaign. They have already been described by able hands, by men who participated in them, or were in a position to ascertain their true history. By this we do not infer that all accounts are correct, for it requires many eyes to see one battle in all its aspects. Besides, some writers are unconsciously influenced and prejudiced by their national sentiments, and thus fail to do justice to the parties concerned. We shall confine ourselves to the engagements in which we personally took part, and shall record only the more remarkable among them.
BATTLE OF STORMBERG.
In the beginning of November, 1899, the commandoes of Rouxville, Smithfield, and Bethulie entered the Cape Colony at different points. Having occupied several villages in the Eastern Province, they concentrated towards the end of the month in the Stormbergen. Our tents were pitched on the northern slopes of this mountain range, which runs from east to west, six miles to the north of Molteno. Here we were to have our first lesson in actual fighting; for up to that time we had not encountered any resistance on the part of the enemy.
On the 9th of December, the night fixed on by General Gatacre to strike a blow at the Boer forces at Stormberg, Assistant Chief Commandant Grobler left that place with about nine hundred burghers, intending to occupy Steynsburg. The enemy, having heard of their departure, and knowing that our positions were in consequence so much weaker, left that same evening, fully resolved to surprise us, and, if possible, reoccupy the Stormbergen, which were abandoned at the first approach of our commandoes.
The object of the British was to attack us on our right flank before dawn, seize our positions and force us to surrender or retreat. On paper this plan presented no difficulties, but its accomplishment was not quite so easy, and proved a dangerous operation. The English general, as we afterwards learnt, had started for the Boer positions at too late an hour to reach them in due time; and, moreover, had lost his way in the darkness of the night, so that the first rays of the rising sun were lighting the majestic mountain tops before he was in position.
The "brandwachten"--night pickets--of the Rouxville Commando were already on their way back to the camp, when one of them, who had by chance returned to the top of the mountain, saw, in the shadow of the valley, and on the slopes of the mountain, human forms moving silently onward. One glance of his keen eye assured him that those forms were enemies. Bang! went the first rifle report. The other pickets all rushed back and opened fire as swiftly as they could handle their Mausers. This brought the enemy to a standstill, for they, too, were surprised.
In the Boer camp below some of us were still peacefully sleeping, while others were enjoying their first cup of coffee. With the rifle reports came wakefulness and bustle. It did not take us a moment to realise that speed would be our only means of salvation. Should the enemy reach the summit first, disaster and defeat would be our lot. For some minutes it was a scene of confusion. The horses, saddles, bridles, rifles and bandoliers, where were they? Some knew, and had their equipments ready in a moment; others, less careful, did not know, and sought almost frantically for theirs. We made for the mountain and scaled it as swiftly as our feet could carry us. Exhausted and breathless we reached the summit before the enemy.
Gatacre's men were now exposed to a somewhat confused fire, which greatly embarrassed them. Subjected to this fire from the summit, some concealed themselves behind the rocks, while others retreated for shelter to a donga not far off.
The English battery was then brought into action, and opened a terrific fire on our positions, commanded by only two Krupp guns. So unceasing and accurate was the enemy's fire, that our guns were soon silenced. In a short time some of our burghers fell wounded and a few killed. One of the enemy's guns was taken by mistake too near to our positions, with the result that, in a few minutes, all its horses and most of the gunners were disabled, and the gun passed into our hands.
Although exposed to a violent bombardment, we held our ground and repelled the repeated attacks of Gatacre's men, who began to realise that, should their guns not speedily dislodge us, the attack was bound to collapse.
After the engagement had lasted an hour and a half we noticed that the enemy began to waver, and was planning a retreat. To their dismay General Grobler now made his appearance with reinforcements. He had encamped that night some nine miles from Stormberg, and on hearing the report of the guns, returned with Commandant du Plooy of Bethulie to assist the Stormberg defenders.
On his arrival the enemy, exposed to a cross-fire, ran the risk of being surrounded and captured. There was but one way out of a wretched position--one loophole out of the net. Fortunately for them, Commandant Zwanepoel of Smithfield, who had just given orders to guard this way of escape, was badly wounded while rising to lead on his men. Owing to this mishap his burghers failed to carry out his instructions, thus leaving the way open.
Gatacre, seeing that it was a hopeless struggle, abandoned the project of reoccupying Stormberg and sounded the retreat. He was followed up for some distance by Commandant du Plooy, who made a few prisoners and took two ammunition waggons. Weary and thirsty, the English forces re-entered Molteno that evening. They had been baffled in a determined attack. Their losses amounted to about 700, captured, wounded and killed. Those who had taken shelter behind the rocks and in the donga were all made prisoners. They remained there till the rest had retreated, and then hoisted the white flag. One English writer says that they were shamefully forgotten by General Gatacre, who was thus responsible for their loss. Indeed a questionable explanation! Among the wounded were a few officers and some privates, who were seriously injured by their own guns as they tried to seize the Boer positions. Colonel Eagar, one of the wounded, was removed to our hospital, where he breathed his last. In addition to the number of prisoners we also captured two big guns. Our losses amounted to 6 killed and 27 wounded.
The attack on the Stormberg positions, if it was boldly conceived, was badly carried out. The English general should have postponed the attack when it dawned upon him that he would not reach the enemy's positions before daybreak; and he should have used the knowledge, common to most soldiers, that it is best to attack a foe's weakest side. This was not done at Stormberg. We, too, suffered from ill-advised action--or rather, inaction. For we had had the opportunity of capturing, if not all, most of Gatacre's men, with all their guns, and we neglected it! The victory would have been complete if we had only followed up our advantage. In those early days, however, some of our leaders regarded it as rather sinful to harass a retreating enemy.
On the occupation of Bloemfontein some of the burghers, discouraged and despondent, left for their homes. Lord Roberts's proclamation, promising protection to all who should lay down their arms and settle quietly on their farms, enticed many to remain at home. Most, however, changed their minds after a few weeks' rest and returned to their commandoes.
It was then, after they had rallied again, that General De Wet, on the eve of the 28th of March, left Brandfort with a commando 1500 strong and moved in the direction of Winburg. De Wet had made up his mind to surprise the English garrison which guarded the Bloemfontein Waterworks at Sanna's Post, and so cut off the water supply of Bloemfontein.
With that object in view he made his movements thither by night, so as to keep the enemy in the dark as to his plans. Neither were these disclosed to the burghers, who were naturally anxious to know where they were going and what they were to do next.
On his way De Wet learnt that General Broadwood, dreading an attack of Commandant Olivier, had quitted Ladybrand and was marching on Bloemfontein with a strong force. This information was rather disconcerting, for now he had not only to reckon with the garrison, but to be ready for an engagement with a column 2000 strong, which might come to the relief of the garrison at any moment. In case of such an emergency, De Wet divided his forces into two parts. He placed one division--1050 strong with four guns--under the control of Generals Cronje, Froneman, Wessels, and Piet De Wet, with instructions to occupy the positions east of the Modder River and directly opposite the Waterworks, so as to check Broadwood, should he come to the rescue of the garrison.
Taking the remaining 350 burghers he set out to Koorn Spruit, a brook which flows into the Modder River. Arrived there, he carefully concealed his horses and men at a point where the road from the Waterworks to Bloemfontein passes through the brook. The other generals were to shell the garrison at daybreak, while he would fall on the troops if they tried to escape to Bloemfontein viâ Koorn Spruit.
As the Boer forces were getting into their different positions during the night, Broadwood, who had left Thaba 'Nchu at nightfall, arrived that very night at Sanna's Post. But we were each unconscious of the other's presence.
The next morning at daybreak we saw a waggon and a large number of cattle and sheep not far off the brook. The Kaffir drivers informed us that the British column had just arrived at Sanna's Post. As soon as we could see some distance ahead, we observed the enemy now hardly 3000 paces off. A few minutes later our guns began to play upon the unsuspecting British forces. What a scene of confusion! Broadwood had fallen into a trap and was between two fires. The whole column, with guns, waggons and carts, made hurriedly for the drift where De Wet and his men lay hidden. Nearer they came. At length a cart entered the drift. The occupants, husband and wife, looked bewildered on seeing armed Boers all around them in the bed of the brook. De Wet immediately ordered two of his adjutants to mount the cart and drive on. Then in quick succession followed a number of carts and vehicles, all driven by Englishmen from Thaba 'Nchu. These were ordered to proceed ahead and warned not to make any signals to the enemy. So well was everything arranged, that the first batch of troops that entered the drift had not the slightest suspicion that there was something wrong. Absolutely abashed were they on finding themselves among us; the men raised their hands in surrender at the cry of "Hands up!"
In this way we disarmed 200 without wasting a bullet. But this was not to go on for long; there came an officer from the rear who was determined to upset our plans and disturb our peace seriously. He, at least, was not going to surrender in this fashion. On being asked for his rifle he said, with marked resoluteness, "Be d----d! I won't," and called on his men to fire. He drew his sword, but before he could use it he was no more among the living.
The battle had begun. Scarcely 100 paces from the banks of the brook stood five of the enemy's guns and more than 100 waggons. Some 400 paces from these two more guns had stopped. The enemy had withdrawn for cover about 1300 yards to the station on the Dewetsdorp-Bloemfontein railway.
[Illustration: SANNA'S POST--Plan of Battle.]
It was while they were retreating to this station that the greatest havoc was wrought among them. Across the open plain, with no cover at all, they had to retreat, and before they reached the place of shelter the ground between the brook and the station was thickly strewn with their dead and wounded. It was, indeed, a ghastly scene. The burghers stood erect and fired on the retreating foe as though they were so much game. So quickly did the waggons and guns wheel round that many were overturned. To remove them was impossible. In vain did the English try to save the guns. They succeeded, however, in getting two to the station house, where they had rallied. With these they bombarded us for some time; but owing to our sheltered positions only two men were wounded.
The Boer forces on the east of the Modder River had in the meanwhile been doing their best to come to the assistance of General De Wet. But their progress was much retarded by the uneven veldt and dongas through which they had to ride. After three hours, spent in fruitless attempts, they forded the river, attacked the enemy with great energy, and succeeded in putting them to flight, and this brought the battle to an end.
We made 480 captives. What their losses in wounded and killed were is difficult to estimate. In the evening, when all was over, we went to the house where the wounded were gathered, and there counted in one room alone 96 cases. Their own report made their losses 350 dead and wounded. Besides, 7 guns and 117 waggons fell into our hands. Our loss consisted in 3 killed and 5 wounded.
On looking at the bodies of the dead and listening to the groanings of the wounded, one was forced to say what a pity that the trap was discovered, that one brave man, through his very bravery, prevented the bloodless capture of his column and his general.
The victory at Sanna's Post was soon followed up by another success over the British arms. On the evening of the eventful day at the Waterworks De Wet handed the command over to Generals A. Cronje and Piet De Wet, and, having taken three of his staff, he went in the direction of Dewetsdorp on a reconnoitring expedition.
The following day he learnt that a party of the enemy had occupied Dewetsdorp. On receiving the report his mind was made up: these too must be captured. He was then thirty miles away from the commandoes, but instantly despatched a report to us to come post-haste so as to attack the enemy at Dewetsdorp or intercept them, should they try to join the main body, which was advancing under Gatacre on Reddersburg.
In the meanwhile the burghers of that district, who had gone to their farms on the fall of Bloemfontein, were commandeered. With these, some 120, who were almost all unarmed, De Wet started for Dewetsdorp to watch the movements of the British.
Early on the 2nd of April the enemy left Dewetsdorp, and resumed their march to Reddersburg. While marching De Wet kept them all the while under surveillance. He was moving on one of their flanks, parallel to them with an intervening distance of six miles. They were evidently not aware that he was so close to them. As soon as we received the report concerning the British, we left Sanna's Post in haste. We required no urging on. For were we not encouraged by our recent success, and was there not every chance of achieving another? We left Sanna's Post a little before sunset, and that whole night we rode on without off-saddling once. We did not halt save for a few minutes to rest our horses.
Early the following morning a third report, pressing us to increase our speed and leave behind those whose horses were too tired to proceed rapidly, reached us. De Wet was most anxious to occupy a ridge in front of the enemy, between the farms Mostert's Hoek and Sterkfontein. The road leading to Reddersburg from Dewetsdorp traverses this ridge. Hence it was absolutely necessary to seize it before the enemy if we were to intercept them.
So on we went, leaving the weary and exhausted behind to follow on as soon as possible. About 9 A.M. Generals Froneman and De Villiers, with 350 men, met De Wet, who was still moving parallel to the British column, obscured from their view by a rising of the ground.
The ridge referred to already loomed now in the distance. We were all fiercely anxious to seize it before the enemy. For it was a question of life and death who was to be first there. But our horses were too tired, and began to fall out rapidly. We were still four miles from the ridge when the English began to occupy the eastern extremity of it. We moved on to the western extremity, and reached it in time.
The enemy, however, had the advantage of the best positions, but was fortunately cut off from the water. We were resolved to hem them in completely, for we knew that, if no relieving forces arrived, they would be compelled by thirst alone, if nothing else, to surrender.
Before commencing the fight, De Wet, anxious as usual to avoid unnecessary bloodshed, sent the following note to the commanding officer:--
"SIR,--I am here with 500 men, and am every moment expecting reinforcements with three Krupps, against which you will not be able to hold out. I therefore advise you, in order to prevent bloodshed, to surrender."
The messenger returned under a storm of bullets, for no sooner had he left the English lines than they opened fire on him. How he was missed seemed inexplicable. The answer he brought back was: "I am d----d if I surrender." On receiving this reply firing at once commenced. Positions nearer to the enemy were gradually occupied.
Towards sunset our guns arrived, and were brought to bear upon the enemy. But darkness soon set in, and firing ceased on both sides. To make sure that the enemy would not escape during the night, we occupied positions all round them, and in the darkness of the night silently stole as near to their positions as was possible.
The next morning, as soon as the glimmer of dawn revealed the Mauser sights to our eyes, the firing started with renewed vigour. We had drawn so close to the enemy that when our guns were brought in action we could, under cover of these, storm their positions. The men boldly rushed up to the enemy's skanzes, and some burghers even seized their rifles by the barrels, as they presented these over the bulwarks, calling out, "Hands up! hands up!"
At 11 A.M. the white flag was hoisted. The commanding officer, who had refused to surrender, was mortally wounded. Three hundred and seventy were sent to the Transvaal as prisoners-of-war, while their wounded and killed numbered 92.
Among the English we found five Boer prisoners-of-war, who were likewise exposed to our firing. Imagine their joy in being released! They greeted us with the ejaculation: "Thank God we are free!" We mourned the death of Veldt Cornet du Plessis of Kroonstad, who fell after the white flag had been hoisted. That such mistakes should occur! Six or seven burghers were wounded.
Towards the end of July, 1900, Prinsloo's surrender took place. Those of us who escaped the trap laid left for Heilbron with the hope of meeting De Wet's commando there. Near Heilbron we heard the dismal news that he was forced over the Vaal and was being driven northward by some 40,000 troops. This, led us to change our course and move in the direction of Winburg.
On the morning of the 27th of August we made an unsuccessful attack on Winburg. Olivier, with 27 men, got captured. The burden and responsibility of leading others was then first placed upon my shoulders. I was elected commandant.
Frustrated in our attempt to seize Winburg, we resolved to attack Ladybrand, which was not strongly garrisoned. Having encamped at Koeranerberg--a mountain 30 miles west of Ladybrand--we mustered our forces, took three guns and about 800 burghers, and left for the village.
It was a bitterly cold night--one of those nights which one can hardly forget. We rode till sunrise without off-saddling once. At 9 P.M. we halted to prepare a hasty supper. How we enjoyed that! A few days before, the enemy had unwillingly provided us with sugar, coffee, milk, butter and cheese. Owing to the intense cold the men that had no overcoats wrapped themselves up in their blankets, in which they appeared before the village just as the sun was rising.
Commandant Hertzog, on our arrival, despatched a messenger under a flag of truce to demand the surrender of the garrison. In reply he received a message to the effect that it would be much better if he would come in himself and lay down arms; that would put an end to the business much quicker. On receiving this answer we at once began to bombard the forts of the enemy, with the result that almost all their horses took to flight and fell into our hands, while some of them were wounded and killed.
General Fourie, Commandant Nieuwhoudt and myself, with a number of daring volunteers, made for the village. We reached a few houses safely, and under cover of these we succeeded in forcing the enemy to retreat to their forts and skanzes at the foot of Platrand--a mountain to the south-east of the village and very near to it. Gradually we occupied more and more of the village, and before sunset we were in possession of the whole of it.
The enemy was, however, so strongly entrenched that, in spite of their small numbers, it was impossible to compel them to capitulate without incurring the risk of sustaining heavy losses. For at the base of the mountain are natural forts and grottoes, against which lyddite shells would spend their force in vain. All we could do was to keep the foe in their haunts by directing such a fire against them that they could not venture even to peep out. In doing this the commandoes could requisition--loot, as some would say--what they required.
During the night the enemy shifted and occupied other positions. At daybreak they took vengeance on us from these positions. It did not take a long time to silence them for the rest of the day.
The following two days we remained in the village, keeping the enemy at bay. We had hoped that eventually their rations would run short, and thus bring about their surrender. Unfortunately our hopes were not to be realised; they were only too well provided. Then, again, we thought that thirst might prove an irresistible force in our favour; but in this, too, we erred, for in their grottoes was abundant water.
On the second day of the attack we placed one of our guns in the centre of the village, whence we shelled the enemy's forts, but all to no purpose. On the evening of the third day we heard that relieving forces were at hand, and as we had received a message from De Wet to meet him in Bothaville district, we left Ladybrand at dusk.
During the three days' fighting only a few burghers were wounded. As the enemy fired at random into the village, some of the inhabitants were also injured. A young man was mortally wounded, while a bullet shattered the arm of a woman.
Our efforts were rewarded by the seizure of the enemy's horses, which we valued even more than their persons. The horses we could keep and use, the men we had to dismiss again. We returned to the laager well supplied with clothes and foodstuffs. But for some traitors, who assisted the enemy, the garrison would in all probability have fallen. These, dreading the results of a capitulation, held out until relieved.
As this was our first visit to Ladybrand since its occupation, the joy of the Boer families in meeting relatives and burghers was indeed great. They welcomed them with open arms, and during their short stay it was their delight to minister unto them. We shall ever gratefully remember the hearty reception which was extended to us by the Ladybrand Africanders. Were they not prosecuted after our departure for welcoming and receiving their kith and kin?
Compelled to abandon the Cape Colony in August, we went to Gastron District, a Free State village situated on the Basutoland border. There we intended to rest our horses for a time; but no sooner had we entered the district than the English column came pouring into it like so many birds of prey. They had concentrated in that district and in the adjoining ones to clear them, i.e., to remove or destroy whatever could be removed or destroyed.
During this time we often came in conflict with the enemy. It was impossible to avoid that; they were on every side. For miles and miles it was one column on the other. We could hardly engage any of these columns successfully during the day, for no sooner had the fight begun than reinforcements would come from all directions, making our position quite untenable.
It was in such circumstances that we planned a night attack on one of the English camps nine miles east of Gastron. We had engaged the enemy on several occasions without desirable results. Our limited supply of ammunition was gradually exhausted. Come what would, we were bound to strike a blow at the enemy, so as to fill our bandoliers once more. The night was the only time we could hope to succeed. Reinforcements would not then scatter us before we had achieved our object.
At 11 P.M. on the 19th of September, 1901, after a day's hard fighting from early morn till sunset, we started, 70 men in all, with the intention of attacking a column encamped at the foot of a hill. It was a very cold night, and the moon, casting her pale light across the frosty plains, was sinking in the west. The column was about eight miles off. As we approached it, deep silence reigned. Not a word, not a whisper was heard. Ah! if we could but succeed in passing the enemy's pickets unobserved, the victory would be ours, the battle half won. So we held our breath and our tongues as well, and moved onward. Indeed, we have succeeded! We are past the pickets, and that unnoticed! The hill, where the slumbering foe is encamped, is in our possession.
Having dismounted, the burghers were arranged in fighting order. Commandant Louis Wessels was placed on one flank, Commandant De Bruijn on the other. Before commencing the work of destruction, we briefly admonished and encouraged the men to be true to each other and to fight as befits men. We pointed out to them that our success would depend entirely upon our united efforts. For a long address there was no time, so we proceeded to the camp.
The moon has set. Down below the enemy is fast asleep. Soon, too soon, their midnight slumbers will be sadly disturbed. Many of them will not see the dawn of another day. They are enjoying their last sleep.
Silently we moved on to the British column, which gave no signs whatever that our approach was suspected. As it was very dark, the men were ordered not to advance ahead of one another, for fear of accidents, and also, if possible, to march right through the camp, so as to make sure of all.
Commandant L. Wessels, famous for his dauntlessness, was the first to open fire by lodging a shot in one of the enemy's tents. The rest followed, and then a shower of bullets, thick and fast, poured in upon the surprised and embarrassed foe. The men aimed low and fired with deadly precision. The flashes of the rifles leapt forth like lightning freaks in the darkness. Never before had I witnessed such a scene.
In a quarter of an hour all was over and the whole camp taken. Two Maxims were destroyed and an Armstrong was taken along with us. What havoc was played in that brief quarter of an hour! The wounded mules, horses and men lay groaning side by side. Colonel Murray, Captain Murray, and almost all the other officers, fell in the action, and several privates passed into the unseen world that fatal night. So terrific was the firing that entire teams of mules were shot down where they stood tied to the ropes.
As the veldt was strewn with the many wounded and the dead, we could not put the waggons on fire, lest the grass should catch fire and consume the fallen in battle. We took what we could remove and left the camp--not exactly as we found it, but a little poorer.
The enemy, though attacked off their guard, defended themselves bravely. We shall not forget the gallant conduct of the officer who had charge of the Maxim. Distinctly we could hear him say, "Get the Maxim into action. Don't be afraid, boys. Go for them! Go for them!" Brave man! He, too, fell by the side of his Maxim, which was charged and seized by Commandant Wessels.
As to the conduct of the burghers, we need only remark that their good behaviour pleased us exceedingly. There was no reason to urge them on; not one retreated. Though only a handful as compared to the enemy, they fought well till the foe was vanquished. One of them, young Liebenberg (familiarly known by the name of Matie) from Murraysburg, was shot through the head and succumbed at once. Another, young Hugo from Smithfield, was wounded in the foot. We had no other casualties.
The attack on Murray's column was to a great extent incidental. Near his was another very much smaller camp. When I left that night it was with the intention to attack this smaller camp, for I had only 65 men at my disposal. In the darkness I lost my way, and so lighted on Murray's column. It was unfortunate for them, but for ourselves we could have wished for no better accident.
In the Colonel's letter-bag we found a letter addressed to his wife, dated 19th September, 1901, and written the very day before his death. We purposed to forward that letter, but the following day the bag was retaken. Not only was it taken, but also the gun, while 20 burghers were captured and one--Myburgh--was killed. We were again surprised. Inconstant are the fortunes of war.
The villages in possession of the enemy were at length so thoroughly fortified that it was well-nigh impossible to seize them without sustaining great losses. Though they seemed impregnable, yet we were sometimes compelled by sheer necessity to attack them. Beyond expectation we now and again succeeded in inducing the garrison to surrender. Such was the case at James Town, a village in the Eastern Province of the Cape Colony.
Late one afternoon in the month of July, 1901, I set out to this village to reconnoitre it in person. Unobserved, I reached the summit of a small hill, about a mile from it. Through my field-glasses I carefully noted the various forts, and there and then planned an attack. The next morning I knew exactly what to do.
At 2 A.M. Commandant Myburgh, Commandant Lötter, and myself, with some 60 men, were in the saddle and on our way to James Town. What will be the issue? Shall we succeed? Can we surprise the enemy? Such questions we put to ourselves as we rode on in the darkness and silence of the night to accomplish the work of destruction.
The spot we had in view was a kopje, situated to the north of the village. Here the enemy's camp was located. As this kopje was the key to the village, it was necessarily very strongly fortified. We knew that if we could only occupy that hill, the rest would be easy work. Before dawn we were close to the camp. A few minutes more and we shall grimly salute our sleeping brethren. Silently we approach them. We are keenly on the alert for the pickets, whom, least of all, we wished to disturb. Behold! something in the darkness--what may that be? To be sure, two human forms! Hush! they are slumbering. Noiselessly we draw nearer, reach them, seize their rifles, and then--wake them. They are our first prisoners; our way to the camp is open, safe and sure.
On we moved until stopped, not by a sentinel--it was much too cold that night to expect an attack--but by a network of barbed wires, by which the hill and camp were fenced in. Quickly the wires were cut. That done, some of the burghers charged the tents, while the rest made for the enemy's trenches on top of the hill.
How awful a surprise! Taken unawares, the foe ran to their strongholds, but only to meet death there, for these were already in possession of our men. Myburgh, a Gastron burgher, so very brave, was the first and only one to receive a mortal wound--other men were slightly wounded in that hand-to-hand struggle. At dawn the hill and the camp were in our possession, for the enemy, after a loss of 9 killed and wounded, thought it best to resist no longer.
With the occupation of the hill it was possible to reach the village. The British allowed the burghers to pass their skanzes without shooting at them. But no sooner had they entered the village than a heavy fire from the forts was directed against them. They were not slow to respond to this reception, and that so effectively that the commanding officer was soon willing to entrust himself with his 130 men to our keeping. All was over.
At 3 P.M. we departed. The English commandant and his men accompanied us for some distance, and then we dismissed them after their having promised that they would remain strictly neutral.
CAPTAIN SPANDOW SURPRISED.
While operating in the Cradock district I learnt that a certain Captain Spandow, with about ninety men, was on the track of a small party of Boers. Only ninety! The small number tempted us to try to effect their capture, which, as a rule, was not a very difficult nor dangerous operation. Taking forty burghers I started at midnight, and at dawn found myself still six miles from the enemy. Lest they should escape I took twelve men with the best animals, and with these proceeded ahead, so as to engage the enemy until the rest, whose horses were very tired, should come to our assistance.
About half an hour after sunrise we unexpectedly lighted on the pickets of the enemy, who camped for the night in the Waterkloof valley, twenty miles from Cradock. The pickets were charged and captured, and we seized a position hardly 200 yards from the English, who had off-saddled at a wall.
A brisk firing from both sides then ensued. The wall served the enemy in good stead. From there they could fire volley after volley on us. But gradually we crept nearer, until at last a few of the burghers had passed the wall, and were now on the side of the enemy, so that the wall could afford them no cover. While the men were trying to get on the other side of the wall, one of my adjutants--Hugo, a lad of thirteen summers--was killed, and two others wounded. But the British, now exposed to a cross-fire, suffered heavily. Several of them dropped down, either dead or wounded.
When I saw how untenable their position was becoming I sent in a flag of truce, asking them to surrender, so as to avoid unnecessary bloodshed. One of the officers sent word that, seeing Captain Spandow had already fallen, and their losses were so great, he considered further resistance useless.
We found that 15, including the captain, were killed, and 14 wounded. Six of the wounded died soon after their surrender. One of their men was at once sent to Cradock for an ambulance. Our losses were 1 killed and 2 wounded.
The men I had left behind had off-saddled, and so only arrived after the enemy had surrendered. The officer, on inquiring where our men were, and who had engaged them, only shook his head when I told him that we were but 13, and that 3 of these had been put out of action almost at the beginning of the engagement. The British numbered 84 in all. We were again provided with a good supply of ammunition, and 105 horses in excellent condition.
Some months later Major Warn's column was attacked at the same place by Commandant L. Wessels. Several of the enemy's horses were shot down, while a number of men were wounded. So suddenly had they to turn back, that many a helmet dropped down and the owner had no inclination to pick it up. The English had fallen once more into an awkward trap from which they had to extricate themselves with the utmost speed.
On another occasion Commandant Fouché awaited the enemy at the same spot and made about 150 prisoners. Long Kloof Valley has thus become a noted place. The traveller passing through that valley will always be reminded of the South African War on seeing the fourteen graves alongside the road, and near to the stone wall.
SPRAGGE'S COLUMN CAPTURED.
The following report, bearing on Colonel Spragge's surrender, has been submitted to me by my military secretary, R.D. McDonald.
"On the 27th of May, 1900, Spragge entered Lindley. Our commando was then stationed at a farm eight miles to the north of the village. General Colvile, whom Spragge was to have joined here, left early on the morning of the 27th. What urged him on we could not guess. Had he waited another day, Spragge would not have been captured. We followed him up for some miles, and inflicted slight losses on his rear.
"At noon the burghers returned to the laager. About an hour before sunset our scouts returned with the news that the English had reoccupied Lindley, and that it was but a small column without guns. When the burghers heard that the column was only 500 strong, and had no guns, they required no other inducements, but started immediately for Lindley. Our men are, as a rule, more daring if they discover that the enemy has no cannons at their disposal; the big, monstrous guns they do not like. We had thus decided that this detached column would receive every attention from us.
"The British, being warned by the dust in the distance that our commando was coming, considered it wiser to quit the village, fall back on Valsch River and occupy positions on the right bank of it. Darkness had now set in, and we could do no more than place our pickets round the column. We had, however, not enough men that night to make sure that should the enemy try to escape they would not succeed. Forsooth, we were greatly surprised to find them still there the following morning. It seemed to us a little over-bold on their part to stay on with only two Maxims at their command. We did not know then that it would take us three and a half days, and some precious lives, before the white flag would be hoisted. The next day we surrounded them completely and thus knew that unless reinforced they would have to surrender.
"Early in the morning firing commenced; but the enemy had occupied during the night such strong positions--the hills and ridges on the river banks--that they were quite secure. We had the bed of the river, from whence we could not inflict such losses as would compel the enemy to capitulate. They held the key of the positions, and unless we could seize that stronghold, all our efforts would be useless. The question was, how to take it. Without the assistance of guns it was a dangerous and risky undertaking to charge that particular position--a hill on the right bank of the river. Our men, in charging it, would be exposed to a rifle and Maxim fire for at least 800 yards. Under cover of guns, however, it was possible to reach the hill. A gun was immediately sent for, and on the evening of the third day of the siege it arrived at Lindley.
"That night the gun was placed in position, and at dawn the hill was shelled. I stood watching the shells, as one after the other exploded on the hill. Not a living object was visible, none stirred, and so still (I shall not say at ease) did the English lie in the skanzes that I remarked to Prinsloo: 'General, it seems the enemy has abandoned the hill during the night, else we must already have seen some signs of them.'
[Illustration: THE LINDLEY AFFAIR.]
"After we had bombarded the hill for some time, a number of burghers charged it. Breathlessly we stood watching these gallant chargers. Arrived at the foot of the hill, they dismounted, and began climbing it. For some time all went well, when lo! a fire was directed against them from the summit. Being quite coverless on the slopes of the hill, they were forced to retreat. As they retreated the enemy rose to their feet and fired as briskly as they could at them. When we saw the English on top of the hill we mistook them for Boers, and began to clap hands and cheer, thinking that the hill had been taken by our men. We were soon disillusioned.
"As the burghers retreated, something strange and inexplicable occurred, which really decided the fate of the enemy. It was this: the burghers had hardly gone 300 yards, when the British abandoned en masse the hill, and retreated, almost as fast as the former, in the opposite direction. Whether they feared another and more determined onslaught, or whether there was the usual misunderstanding, I wot not. Be it as it may, the position we so coveted was abandoned; it was for us to seize it at once. With a little encouragement the charge was repeated, the hill taken, and in less than twenty minutes the white flag announced the surrender of Spragge's column.
"Between 60 and 70 of the enemy were wounded and killed, while the rest were made prisoners. It was their first interview with the Boers. After a four days' siege a bath and a good meal must have been welcome.
"From the veldt we took our surrendered friends to the village. The wounded were placed in the local hospital, and the officers found lodgings for the night in an hotel.
"I escorted Spragge to the village. On the way he had a long talk with me about the war, and wished to know why the Free State had cast in her lot with the Transvaal. He failed to see, and had to be reminded that Free Staters and Transvaalers were essentially one people; that the Vaal River divides the two States, but not the people, as far as blood was concerned.
"On being asked why they had evacuated the hill, which was their chief stronghold, he replied: 'That was a mistake.' We do not object to such mistakes. If this had not been committed, Spragge would in all probability have remained a free man, and his column would not have fallen into our hands, for that was our last and only chance. Early the next morning the reinforcements appeared on the adjacent hills, but they were too late to rescue Spragge's column. The prisoners were sent on to Reitz, and from there to the Transvaal."
[Illustration: AN INTERESTING GROUP.
The three seated in the centre are MR. MCDONALD, COMMANDANT LOUIS WESSELS, and the late LIEUT. P. TROSKIE.]