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"L'art de la guerre n'est que l'art d'augmenter les chances pour soi."  Napoleon.

ENEMY FORCES INVEST THE DIAMOND FIELDS: KEKEWICH LEARNS THAT ALARMIST REPORTS HAVE REACHED THE COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF

WESSELS' ULTIMATUM TO KEKEWICH

On the morning of 4th November, it was reported from the Premier Mine that a flag of truce, accompanied by a large party of the enemy, was approaching the redoubt there; instructions were sought. It was at first thought that an attack was about to be made on the post, but, if this had been the original intention, the Boers changed their minds; before the party had come within range of our guns, the main escort halted and the flag of truce came forward with a small staff. Instructions were sent to the O.C. (O'Brien) that the parlementaire should be taken, with the usual precautions, to the military Headquarters (in Lennox Street). This was done. The parlementaire was the bearer of a communication (in Dutch) from Head Commandant Wessels, of the Orange Free State, to Kekewich, who was called upon to surrender Kimberley unconditionally. Wessels, in his ultimatum, which expired at 6 a.m. on Monday, 6th November, requested Kekewich, should he not accede to the request therein contained, to remove all women and children from Kimberley. It was further intimated that the Boer Head Commandant was willing to receive into his camp Afrikander families, who might desire to leave Kimberley.

Kekewich had from the earliest days of the siege recognized that Rhodes occupied an exceptional position, not only by virtue of his rank as a Privy Councillor, but also by reason of the high offices he had held under the Crown; he had, therefore, ever been willing and ready to consult him on all matters which affected the defence of Kimberley on the civil, as distinct from the strictly military, side. Consequently, after the notice (which it was intended to publish in the local newspaper) announcing that a demand for the surrender of Kimberley had been received from the Head Commandant of the Boer Forces had been drafted, Kekewich sent a staff officer to the Sanatorium Hotel, with instructions that the draft was to be shown to Rhodes. An officer accordingly went off there and placed the draft notice before Rhodes; the latter, after reading the document, stated that he did not approve the terms of the notice as drafted. Rhodes thought that it would be unwise to make the announcement that the ultimatum contained a request for the removal of all women and children from Kimberley, such an announcement might, he said, cause unnecessary alarm; he agreed, however, that the special invitation to the Afrikander families should be published, expressing, at the same time, strong views on the subject of the differentiation in the treatment offered to the two classes of the white population. The draft was accordingly at once modified in such a way as to conform with the views on the subject expressed by Rhodes' who signified his approval of the alterations made and of the final draft. This was taken back to the Kimberley Club, where Kekewich was at the moment; he approved of the alterations made at Rhodes' suggestion. The Editor of the Diamond Fields Advertiser, as was his wont, called at the Press Censor's office (in the Kimberley Club) during the afternoon, and he was shown the draft notice approved by Rhodes, and also the translation of the ultimatum and, indeed, the original document too. Authority was given for an announcement to appear in the paper that a "flag of truce" had come into the besieged town from the Boer headquarters; the announcement appeared in the issue for 6th November. Next day, a fair copy of the notice relating to the "ultimatum was sent to the Diamond Fields Advertiser in normal course; it was published, together with a "leader" on the subject, in the issue of the 8th. So it will be seen that Kekewich made neither a secret nor a mystery of the communication received by him from Head Commandant Wessels at the time. Three weeks later, the Kimberley troops, during one of their sorties, found a copy of the Volkstem, a Dutch newspaper, in the enemy's trenches and brought it into the town with them. The paper was sent to the Intelligence Office and was found to contain the full text of the correspondence between Wessels and Kekewich. By this time the public had grown accustomed to the Boer shelling, and, the military authorities having reason to believe that the actual text of Wessels' ultimatum had become widely known in the town, Kekewich decided that nothing was to be gained by keeping from the public the actual terms of Wessels' ultimatum and his reply thereto. In these circumstances, the copy of the Volkstem in question was sent to the Editor of the Diamond Fields Advertiser and he was given authority to reproduce the correspondence, should he so desire; he took advantage of the offer and the copies of the letters in question were published in the issue of the paper for 28th November.

A rather fuller account of this incident is given here than perhaps its importance deserves. The reason for this is that later in the siege, and also after the relief of Kimberley, Rhodes' partisans tried to make mischief out of the fact that the full text of Wessels' ultimatum was not published immediately on its receipt. They, further, tried to create prejudice against Kekewich and his Staff for the manner in which the matter had been handled, alleging that to their wrong methods was it due that British women and children had lost their lives during the Boer bombardment of the town. Some of Rhodes' partisans even went so far as to suggest that Rhodes himself had prompted them to attack the military in relation to this matter: their action is reminiscent of the deception practised, by other partisans of Rhodes, on the Times newspaper in connection with the Jameson Raid. On that occasion, in the letter of invitation to Jameson, the cry was also raised of the peril in which "women and children of our race" were placed.[1] It may be of interest to place on record here that one family only (five persons in all) accepted Wessels' special invitation to the Afrikanders; they were given permits as soon as they applied for them. It should further be stated that it was not feasible for many reasons to form a "women's laager" outside Kimberley; of the localities suitable for such a laager, the choice lay between Barkly West and Modder River—at least twenty-four miles away. In view of the fact that a number of the women in Kimberley had deliberately come into the town for protection, it was hardly likely that they would have gone out again voluntarily. And so far as a compulsory removal is concerned, it will be seen later that Rhodes and the De Beers Board strongly opposed the proposal which was made a few weeks later for the removal from the Diamond Fields of the civil population on the arrival of the Relief Column in Kimberley.

A TRYING SITUATION

In order presumably to signal the fact that the time limit laid down in Wessels' ultimatum had expired, the Boers fired two shells into the Premier Mine Redoubt at 7 p.m. on the 6th. No damage was done by these projectiles, but next morning, as day broke, the situation to the north-east of Kimberley appeared to be serious. The officer on watch in the Conning Tower called Kekewich's attention to a large mass of men scattered to the north-eastward of Kenilworth— one of the weak points in our defence line; they appeared to be advancing against our positions in that locality, and were already within some 1,500 yards of our works. As soon as the R.A. officer in command of the guns at the "Crusher Redoubt" observed the living mass which was approaching the Kimberley defences, he brought his guns into action and opened fire. Fortunately, it was soon discovered that our shells were being fired not at Boers but at unarmed natives; Kekewich quickly ascertained that this was so, and immediately ordered the "cease fire" to be sounded. It was afterwards learnt that 3,000 natives had been released from the De Beers compounds during the night under Rhodes' orders, but no notification of the fact had been sent to the military authorities, and accordingly the troops had not been warned. The intention was that these natives should return to their homes in Basutoland, in order thus to reduce the number of mouths to be fed. This project Kekewich was in every way willing to assist the De Beers Company to carry out; but; it could only succeed if small numbers were sent out at a time. The farms in the Orange Free State were in many cases inhabited by women and children only, so that, quite apart from military reasons for preventing the exodus from Kimberley, the Boers were not likely to allow us to turn these natives loose into their territory. Consequently, as soon as they reached the enemy's lines they were turned back. In this instance the whole affair was badly managed and the incident had a disturbing effect on the minds of the free natives in the town. Further, very considerable difficulty was experienced in again compounding these 3,000 "boys." It was indeed fortunate that the Boers were not enterprising enough to make an attempt to rush Kenilworth under cover of the screen formed by the returning natives.

Nevertheless, in order to show how deadly in earnest they were, the Boers began at 5.30 on the morning of the 7th, to bombard the south-western defences of Kimberley from a position on the Wimbledon Ridge, which lay to the north of the Spytfontein position. The shelling continued until 11 a.m. and then ceased for a few hours; probably the Boer gunners wanted a rest after their strenuous exertions which resulted in the wasting of a good deal of ammunition, for no serious damage was done. The bombardment recommenced at 5 p.m. and continued until dusk. The enemy's artillery occupied a position approximately 9,000 yards from our nearest work, "Fort Kumo." The people treated the whole thing as a huge joke, while some of the more daring of the youngsters lay in wait in positions close to where the shells were falling and scrambled for the fragments of the projectiles after their explosion. Orders were, of course, issued immediately to prevent a recurrence of such acts of recklessness on the part of the juvenile population.

The Boer artillery was silent on the 8th, but it was observed that the enemy was particularly active on Carter's Ridge, some 5,500 yards west of the Reservoir Redoubt. This seemed to point to the fact that the Boers realized that their guns on Wimbledon Ridge were too distant to do any effective shooting and had probably decided to move a part, at least, of their artillery into a position from which it could be sure of doing some execution.

BULLER CALLS FOR AN APPRECIATION OF THE SITUATION

As soon as the telegraph lines to the south were cut, Kekewich's Intelligence Department organized a communication service, and despatch-riders (generally men of the Cape Police) and native "runners" were sent from Kimberley to the nearest British post south of the town. These men were employed in a three-fold capacity: they carried official despatches from and to Kimberley; they acted as intelligence agents and endeavoured to locate the Boer laagers and ascertain the number of burghers and guns in each; and they played the part of mounted postmen taking private letters out of Kimberley and bringing private letters, and sometimes newspapers, into the besieged town. In the early days of the siege, the " runners " went out in pairs every night, but when the enemy closed in, they were often unable to get out and occasionally were shot dead by the Boers.

The newspapers brought into Kimberley in this way gave us news of the course of events in Natal and the arrangements being made by the Home Government for the conduct of the war. Information concerning Sir Redvers Buller's departure from England and of his arrival at Cape Town at the end of October also reached Kimberley in this way. The despatch-riders and "runners" who returned to Kimberley during the first weeks of the siege reported that Boer commandos had taken up positions at Honey Nest Kloof and at Belmont; according to the best estimate that could be made, there appeared to be between 4,000 and 5,000 burghers with 9-pdr. guns—numbers not ascertained—along the stretch of railway extending from Spytfontein to Belmont railway station. All the information relating to the enemy collected in Kimberley was always reported to the nearest British post south of the town, with a request that it should be compared with that received from other sources.

Some minor differences had taken place between Rhodes and Kekewich after the first week of the siege but they had not been allowed to interfere with their personal relations and Kekewich continued to consult Rhodes on many matters, imparting to him all information obtained concerning the enemy. However, Rhodes was now becoming more and more impatient at the delay which was taking place in the relief of Kimberley, and particularly so as Kekewich could give him no information as to what was being done in this matter by the Commander-in-Chief. The fact is that Kekewich was himself completely in the dark as to the intentions of his military superiors. From the beginning of November, the investment of Kimberley had become so close that it was difficult to get the native "runners" either out of or into the town and for several consecutive days Kimberley was completely isolated. However, on the night of 9th/10th November, a knock was heard at the door of the hut at the foot of the Conning Tower; its occupants were dozing— it was then about midnight. The door of the hut was quickly opened and outside it stood a non-commissioned officer with a native "runner"; the latter had come in from the Orange River railway bridge with a despatch, having managed to elude the Boer patrols owing to the darkness of the night. The despatch was a short one and was quickly deciphered; it had been sent by the Commander-in-Chief himself and ran as follows: "Civilians in Kimberley representing situation there as serious. Have heard nothing about this from you. Send appreciation of the situation immediately."

The tenour of Sir R. Buller's message took Kekewich completely by surprise. It was evident that the signatories to the communications referred to by the Commander-in-Chief were important personages, otherwise no notice would have been taken of their representations in relation to the military situation. It also seemed clear that they had kept Kekewich deliberately in the dark in connection with their intention to get their views known in the highest quarters in Cape Town. Kekewich had had frequent interviews with Rhodes since 21st October, the date upon which he had received the High Commissioner's message for Rhodes, and he was in the closest touch . with the then Mayor (Henderson); but neither of them had given him the smallest hint that they were proposing to send, or had actually sent, messages to the High Commissioner as to the situation in Kimberley, or indeed on any other subject. It was much later that it leaked out that, at the instigation of Rhodes, messages had been sent to the High Commissioner by Rhodes, by the De Beers Board, by the Mayor (Henderson), by the Members of the Cape Legislative Assembly then in Kimberley, and by certain highly placed Government officials.[2] As in the case of the first message sent by Rhodes to the High Commissioner, so also in these instances, no permit was obtained for the despatch-riders sent south with the batches of messages referred to here.

In view of the fact that Kekewich and his Staff were ignorant of the character of the representations made by Rhodes and his friends, and that it was not even hinted by Buller in his message to Kekewich that these series of telegrams were "all crying out loudly for relief, and one of them hinting at surrender if relief were withheld,"[3] it was somewhat difficult to prepare a reply to the Commander-in-Chief's message. Kekewich might have delayed his reply for twenty-four hours and endeavoured to obtain copies of the communications which, it is now known, were sent to the High Commissioner, but it was as likely as not that Rhodes might have taken up the attitude, as, indeed, he did later, that Kekewich had no right to interfere in respect of communications passing between himself and the High Commissioner. In these circumstances, it would have been impossible to see the text of his message, and the friction, which was already bad enough, would have been increased. Further, the night appeared to be a good one for the "runners" to elude the vigilance of the Boer patrols and the opportunity of getting them through the enemy lines was one not to be lost. After fully considering the situation as a whole, an appreciation was drafted; the first thing to be done was to assure the Commander-in-Chief that the dangers threatening Kimberley were not so immediate as the messages from the civilians seemed to indicate. Therefore in the opening sentence, it was definitely stated: "Situation in Kimberley not critical." However, Kekewich recognized that a rapid change in the situation might occur, and he thought it right to let the Commander-in-Chief know that there were certain important factors which would have to be reckoned with. Consequently, he explained that the situation might become critical if the enemy should show more activity and bring heavier guns, and a larger number of them, into action against our defences; if the expenditure of ammunition should be greater than heretofore, and if continuous duty in the trenches should tell on the health of the Town Guard.

The reason for the amplification of the opening statement in the appreciation was due to the fact that (a) a rumour had reached Kimberley that Cronje was coming south from Mafeking and bringing siege guns with him for an attack on Kimberley; (b) when the siege started there were only 2,600 rounds of 7-pdr. ammunition and some two million rounds only of S.A.A. in Kimberley; and (c) although the men enrolled in the Town Guard had shown an excellent spirit and had responded most cheerfully to all calls made on them, yet Kekewich realized that many of them had passed the prime of life and were men who had not been accustomed to roughing it, and he feared that the exposure in the trenches in all kinds of weather, by night as well as by day, might injuriously affect their health.

The appreciation containing Kekewich's views having been put into cipher, as there still remained a sufficient period of darkness to enable "runners" to pass through the Boer lines without being detected, a couple of them, who had been held in readiness, were started off on their perilous journey to the Orange River railway bridge. It was later learnt that they had reached their destination safely. Kekewich was naturally disturbed by the fact that messages could be sent out of Kimberley without his knowledge, and that of his Staff, not only by Rhodes, but also by others, owing to the barrier guards failing to comply with their orders. He felt that should messages containing information, en clair, of a military character be sent out of Kimberley and fall into enemy hands, harm might be done; accordingly fresh regulations were drawn up with a view to ensuring greater strictness being observed in the matter.

BOER ARTILLERY OCCUPIES CARTER'S RIDGE

It had been suspected, as already mentioned, that the activity shown by the enemy on Carter's Ridge was due to a desire on his part to bring his guns closer to our defences than was the case in the positions hitherto occupied on Wimbledon Ridge. This surmise proved to be correct. At 5.15 a.m. on 11th November, enemy guns began shelling Kimberley from positions on Carter's Ridge. The bombardment was very brisk for the first hour and then slackened; shells fell in the streets of the town as well as in the redoubts—one of the first of them killed an unfortunate Kaffir woman in the main street at a point not far from the Kimberley Club. The fire of the 7-pdr. guns at the Reservoir Redoubt, it was evident, was quite ineffective against the superior Boer artillery in action on Carter's Ridge; consequently a detachment of mounted men was sent out under Scott Turner to harass the Boer gunners, and, taking up a position within 1,200 yards of their guns, they succeeded by well-aimed long-range rifle fire in slowing down the rate of fire of the Boer artillery.

From very early days after Kimberley was isolated, it had been Labram's practice to join Kekewich in the Conning Tower shortly after daybreak. Labram was a great favourite with all the soldiers; he had a great admiration for Kekewich, who on his part, had a great regard for De Beers' Chief Mechanical Engineer, not alone on account of his very valuable work in connection with the defence works on the Diamond Fields, but also on account of his amiable disposition and his ever-willing readiness to help. Labram possessed many of the qualities of the best Americans; he was most discreet, and Kekewich felt that he could be trusted with all our secrets. Further, his humorous ways and sayings did much to brighten the dreary morning watches in the Conning Tower. The insufficiency of our ammunition supplies had often been discussed with Labram in the Conning Tower, where many a scheme in connection with the defence of the Diamond City saw birth. On Labram's arrival in the Conning Tower on the morning of 12th November, the conversation at once turned to the subject of the new Boer artillery position on Carter's Ridge. It was evident that the new situation necessitated an increase in the daily allowance of ammunition to our guns, and this caused the conversation to drift on to the question of the replenishment of our stock, should the consumption be at such a rate as to exhaust our supplies before relief came. Labram at once came to the rescue. He had not previously had any experience in relation to the manufacture of war material, and consequently proceeded to make inquiries as to the various types of projectiles and fuzes in use in the British Army. This information was supplied by one of Kekewich's staff officers, who also showed him some of the shells fired into Kimberley the previous day, which were almost intact. A few Boer percussion fuzes, also only slightly damaged, were also given to him. After making a careful examination of them, he remarked: "I guess I can make things like these all right; I only want a requisition from you now." The requisition was, it is needless to say, sent at once, and four days later, the moulders in De Beers workshop were busy casting segment shell for our artillery. The difficulty of providing suitable cartridges for use with the De Beers shell was also ingeniously overcome by Labram. Powder of a description suitable for artillery purposes was naturally unobtainable on the Diamond Fields; however, large quantities of blasting powder and also of sporting powder were procurable in the town. Labram mixed the two kinds of powder in different ratios and carried out a number of experiments to ascertain the pressures generated on explosion by the different blends. He thus ascertained in exactly what proportions the two sorts of powders should be mixed together to propel the shell being manufactured by him with the proper muzzle velocity to suit the sighting of our guns and without producing dangerous pressures in the gun-tubes. Labram also designed and manufactured a very effective percussion fuse for our new 7-pdr. ammunition. Kekewich's anxieties on the score of the possible failure of artillery ammunition supply were therefore entirely removed owing to the genius of Labram.

TWO EXTRAORDINARY PROPOSALS

Kekewich's anxieties as regards his artillery ammunition supply certainly ceased to trouble him, but this did not mate our 7-pdr. guns a match for the Boer 9-pdr. and 15-pdr. guns. From now onwards, the Boer gunners paid Kimberley and Beaconsfield quite a lot of attention. As our guns were handicapped in the matter of range and the destroying power of their projectiles, Kekewich resorted to the tactics that had proved so successful on 11th November. He made it a practice to push small parties of dismounted men to within long rifle-range of the enemy's artillery positions; these men harassed the Boer gunners with their volleys all day long and succeeded in keeping down the rate of fire of their artillery.

The absence of information in Kimberley as to the intentions of the Commander-in-Chief began by the middle of November to cause Rhodes some uneasiness. Kekewich was as much in the dark on the subject of relief measures as were the privates serving under him; he was therefore unable to answer Rhodes' repeated inquiries as to what was being done in the matter. The latter had now become extremely irritable and at one of his interviews with Kekewich he made it appear that his chief concern was now for the safety of Mafeking. No information had been received by Kekewich suggesting that this place was in any serious jeopardy; it was, of course, known that a tolerably large force of Boers, estimated at between 5,000 and 6,000 burghers, was engaging Baden-Powell's attention, but he appeared to be more than holding his own. Consequently, Kekewich's surprise was great when he was told by Rhodes that it seemed unlikely that British troops would be sent up from the Orange River in time to save Mafeking and therefore it was Kekewich's duty to undertake the task. Rhodes now wanted the Kimberley mounted troops to be utilized for this purpose. Kekewich quietly pointed out to Rhodes that the operation suggested by him was not a feasible one for many reasons: the troops would require to take supplies with them for the journey of 220 miles—at least ten days' march—and he had not transport for this; there was, too, the risk of the Kimberley troops meeting, whilst on the march, an enemy force superior in numbers, and even provided with artillery; the mere addition to the Mafeking garrison of some 800 mounted men, even supposing that they were successful in fighting their way into the place, might prove inconvenient to Baden-Powell should he be situated as regards food supplies as we were in Kimberley—Kekewich was entirely without information on this subject; and, most important of all, Kimberley could not even temporarily do without its mounted troops, forming as they did the most valuable part of its reserve—the march to Mafeking and back, even if successful, was likely to deprive Kimberley of one-sixth of its small garrison for the space of at least twenty days. But Rhodes would not accept any of Kekewich's reasons as being sound; in his view, it was not necessary for the troops to take either food or forage, they should live on the country; the troops could march a good deal to the west of the frontier and thus make sure of avoiding Boer Commandos; with Baden-Powell's help the Kimberley troops could easily fight their way into as well as out of Mafeking, and so on. Kekewich was very patient, but Rhodes found that where purely military policy was concerned, the Commandant of Kimberley was not to be moved into undertaking hazardous enterprises, so Rhodes ended by completely losing his temper and became violently abusive; as a parting shot, he shouted: "You are afraid of a mere handful of farmers armed with rifles. You call yourselves soldiers of an Empire-making nation. I do believe you will next take fright at a pair of broomsticks dressed up in trousers. Give it up; give it up." And away he went; it was obvious he had learnt no lesson from the fiasco of Jameson's ride with his troopers to Doornkop in 1896.

A few days later, Rhodes came to see Kekewich again. He was now in a different mood; it was the safety of Kimberley that was uppermost in his mind. Rhodes complained that the number of mounted men in Kimberley was insufficient for the needs of the situation—yet only a few days earlier he had been immensely annoyed with Kekewich for refusing to send this part of his command to Mafeking—and he, therefore, wanted a mounted force of 2,000 men raised at once in Cape Colony, the whole expense in connection with which he offered personally to bear. He demanded that these 2,000 men should immediately be "thrown into Kimberley," and requested Kekewich to communicate with the General at Cape Town at once for the purpose of placing his (Rhodes') views before him. Kekewich pointed out that he would naturally be delighted to have such an addition to the troops already under his command; at the same time, he explained that a force such as that mentioned by Rhodes took time to raise, equip and train, and, further, trained officers were required as leaders. The matter seemed to Kekewich one in which he could not well move, as a representation of this kind might not be favourably received by his military superiors, who were, Kekewich thought, fully alive to the needs of the situation and probably had their hands already full in raising just the kind of force Rhodes wanted. Kekewich was of opinion that Rhodes could place such a suggestion before the High Commissioner direct and told him so. Rhodes was not well pleased with the attitude Kekewich had taken up in this matter; he was not willing to admit that some weeks must elapse even before so small a force as 2,000 mounted men could be got ready for the field; he also expressed the opinion that Kekewich was exaggerating the difficulties of moving a force of 2,000 mounted men from the Orange River railway bridge to Kimberley, a trifling distance of some seventy miles only. It was no good trying to argue the point with Rhodes, and Kekewich, having listened to him and, out of politeness, explained that certain important factors would have to be considered before effect could be given by the military authorities at Cape Town to Rhodes' suggestion, left the matter there— later, the proposal that 2,000 volunteers should be raised for duty in Kimberley was put forward by the De Beers Board in a letter addressed to the High Commissioner on 8th December.


[1] See The Times History of the War in South Africa, 1899-1900, Vot I, p. 162 et seq

[2] See The Times History of the War in South Africa, 1900,Vol. IV, p. 548

[3] War Commission, 1903 [Cd. 1791], p. 171

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