After the British defeat at Amajuba, and the subsequent retrocession of the Transvaal to the victorious Boers, the ardent loyalty of the colonists of Natal seemed all of a sudden to sink almost to extinction. But it was alive nevertheless, and as warm as ever.. Its apparent diminution was the result partly of their vexation that, while they saw clearly what political wisdom required to be done for progress and freedom in their corner of the Empire, the leaders of the English Parliament appeared to be blind to it; partly of anger that they and the other loyalists of South Africa had been so lightly and heartlessly sacrificed to the Boers. For years, and with growing impatience, they watched the increasing arrogance and tyranny of the Transvaal oligarchy, in the expectation, rising at length to certainty, that the time was coming when the cup of Boer iniquity would be full and the Home Government be forced to reverse the Gladstonian policy. The accession of Mr. Chamberlain to the Colonial Office, with his firm and well-known conviction of the importance of Britain beyond the Seas, and his sympathy with the feelings of colonists, was the first sign to Natalians that a new order of things would soon begin in South Africa. Then followed in close succession, and in the same hopeful direction, the appointment of Sir Alfred Milner, as High Commissioner; his quick perception of the real object of the Boers of Graaf-Reinet:—"Loyal! it would be monstrous if you were not"; and his conference with Paul Kruger at Bloemfontein as the forlorn hope of peace.
The discovery of the rich gold fields of the Witwatersrand not only saved the Dutch Government of the Transvaal from fast approaching bankruptcy, but poured into their hands, as they thought, the means of realising an idea which had taken possession of their minds since Amajuba, viz., of ousting British rule from South Africa and erecting a Dutch Republic which should extend from Cape Town to the Zambezi. With this object in view they spent, but secretly under the name of public works, a large part of their annual revenue, which in ten years had increased twentyfold, in the purchase of guns, rifles, .and ammunition, and the hire of trained artillerymen, from France and Germany. They also built forts, in Johannesburg to overawe and quell the Uitlanders, and around Pretoria as bulwarks of that city's protection. The Uitlanders were forbidden to own firearms of any kind, and though they outnumbered the Burghers, and contributed at least nine-tenths of the revenue that flowed into the public treasury, they were denied civil rights and the smallest voice in the control and distribution of the finances. When they clamoured for the franchise, it was promised them on their fulfilment of certain conditions that at first seemed fair and realisable. But as the time drew near when the conditions would soon be complied with, new laws were again and again passed which raised the qualifications required for enfranchisement, till it became clear that there was no intention to admit the Uitlanders to burgher rights. The promised franchise was like the mirage of the desert; it vanished as it was approached. Paul Kruger and his clique, like the witches in Macbeth, paltered with the Uitlanders in a double sense, they kept the word of promise to the ear but broke it to the hope. Their determination to keep political power exclusively to themselves was revealed by the President himself, in an unwary moment, when he replied to an advocate of the Uitlanders, "You see that flag? If I grant the franchise, I may as well pull it down." In reality it was not a republic that the Transvaal was zealous to maintain, but an oligarchy by the Boer minority of its inhabitants. In the Cape Colony and Natal, Dutch and British colonists were politically on an •equality; but in the Transvaal Republic, British subjects were the helots of the Dutch. The injustice of the Boer Government towards the British advanced so near to the end of human endurance that in March, 1899, a petition, signed by 21,000 of them, was sent Home containing a statement of their grievances and a prayer that Her Majesty, as Suzerain of the Transvaal, would protect her subjects there, secure a reform of the abuses they complained of, and a recognition of their rights. Sir Alfred Milner, in a despatch to Mr. Chamberlain, informed him that the position of the Uitlanders was intolerable and that the case for intervention was overwhelming. On the 30th May, at Bloemfontein, the High Commissioner met the Presidents of the two Dutch Republics in conference. He insisted on the redress of the Uitlanders' grievances, but as President Kruger's concessions were unsatisfactory, the conference came to nothing.
The propaganda of Dutch republicanism, which had its headquarters in Pretoria, was a specially bitter grievance to loyal Natalians, because it was inciting within their borders to a civil war for which neither they nor their Government had given the slightest provocation. For more than half a century Britons and Boers had lived in Natal side by side in amity. In markets and agricultural shows, sports, and rifle associations, they had bargained and vied with one another to their mutual advantage and enjoyment. The Government of Natal had treated both races alike, or, if it had made any difference between them, the balance of favour had been on the side of the Boers. The town constituencies, which were almost exclusively British, returned fewer members of Parliament, in proportion to the number of voters, than those of the country; and consequently, at the outbreak of the Boer war, Natal had what was with good reason called a farmers' Parliament. The system of farmhouse schools carried education, in Dutch as well as in English, to isolated and outlying families all over the Colony. And it was the Dutch farmers of Umvoti, Klip River, and Weenen Counties who primarily enjoyed that security of life and property which the Imperial Government had won for South Africa when it broke the power of the Zulus in 1879. In short, Natal had enabled Briton and Boer to live together in peace and comfort in the only way possible, by treating both alike on a footing of equality. And what return were the Natal British to get from their Boer fellow-colonists for having dealt with them as brothers? As time passed on after the declaration of war, colonial towns, occupied almost entirely by British tradesmen and artisans, were seized and plundered; the homesteads of British farmers, as far south as Mooi River,, were singled out by former neighbours for wanton destruction;. and if the Boers had taken Maritzburg, as they were confident they would, their intention was, and they did not blush to avow it, to hold the women and children as hostages for the surrender of Natal. Within a few weeks from the outbreak of the war there seemed to be nothing, except the dilatoriness of the Boers themselves, to prevent the greeting, telegraphed to the Transvaal President by General Louis Botha when he began his march to invade Natal, from being temporarily fulfilled, "May the Vierkleur soon wave over a free harbour." And all this misery and humiliation was intended, and in part accomplished, for the realisation of a vain dream of an Africander Republic from the Zambezi to Cape Town—a dream that the leaders of the Africander Bond had beguiled the ignorant and bigoted Boers with for twenty preceding years.
To appreciate the feelings and aims of the South African Dutch it is necessary to recall to mind how they fretted under the stringent rule of the British, their grievances which they attributed to it, and the sacrifices which they made to escape from it throughout the whole course of the century which closed with their effort to expel it from South Africa. The Voortrekkers of 1837 left their homes in the Cape Colony, thereby renouncing for ever, as they believed, the control of the British over them, with the purpose, publicly declared by them at their exodus, to seek peacefully and honestly for a home for themselves in the wilderness. The fair and fertile land of Natal, swept almost clean of human beings by Chaka, the Attila of South-East Africa, invited them to end their wanderings in it, and they claimed to have won a freehold title to it by their victory over Dingaan at the Blood River. After a fruitless struggle to retain it, and smarting with the sense that they had been wrongfully dispossessed, they, relinquished the prize to which Great Britain asserted and enforced her prior claim. Resuming their trek, they found across the Vaal River a settlement ample enough to gratify to the full their love of isolation and individualism, and there for a whole generation they lived their own manner of life, almost free from authority of any kind and entirely liberated from alien interference. The Transvaal Boers of 1899, were the sons and grandsons of the Voortrekkers and the heirs of their spirit and traditions. At the close of the year 1880, they began what everybody outside their borders scoffed at as a hopeless war to undo the British annexation of their country in 1877, and in three months' time they ended it with a world's wonder—their acquisition of self-government under the suzerainty of Great Britain. Elated by the result of their successful skirmish at Amajuba, magnified by them into a Marathonian triumph, and enriched with the gold which they drew without toil and in ever increasing volume from the mines of Johannesburg, they would have been more than human if they had not grown to count their prowess as invincible and their resources as unfailing, and to arrogate to themselves, a numerically insignificant band of simple farmers, the right to keep in perpetual subordination the growing multitude of immigrant Uitlanders from Britain, America, Germany, and France, the strongest and most enlightened countries of the world. Their courage might win applause from brave men, but their infatuation could only be deplored by their best friends. They had to learn with pain and disappointment the lesson which reason and history should have taught them, that their endeavours to arrest the onward march of civilization and enterprise in South Africa would be as futile as Mrs. Partington's to sweep back the tide of the Atlantic with her mop.
On the 22nd September, Mr. Chamberlain broke off the unavailing attempts,—which he had continued, with unexpected patience, much longer than was consistent with prudent consideration for British supremacy in South Africa,—to persuade the Transvaal Government to deal justly and fairly with the Uitlanders. In a despatch of that date he informed President Kruger that it was useless to continue the discussion which had lasted for months, and that the British Government would consider the matter afresh and make their own proposals for the settlement of the question. To that despatch President Kruger replied on the 9th October, with the concurrence of President Steyn of the Free State, with an ultimatum which was to be accepted by the British Government, or war would be declared by the two Dutch Republics, within forty-eight hours. The ultimatum demanded:—(1) That all British troops near the border should be instantly withdrawn. (2) That all recently arrived reinforcements should be removed from South Africa. (3) That the troops then on the sea should not be landed. Of course the answer to this "audacious defiance" as Lord Salisbury termed it, could be no other than instant rejection.
The official reply from London, dated 10th October and despatched through Sir Alfred Milner, was in these words: — "Her Majesty's Government have received with great regret the peremptory demands of the Government of the South. African Republic, conveyed in your telegram of the 9th October. You will inform the Government of the South. African Republic in reply that the conditions demanded by the Government of the South African Republic are such as her Majesty's Government deem it impossible to discuss."
Mr. Conyngham Greene, Her Majesty's representative in the Transvaal, at once quitted Pretoria, and the Boers hurried on their preparations for the invasion of Natal.
Natalians, thoroughly convinced that under Mr. Chamberlain and Sir Alfred Milner there would be no repetition of the Amajuba surrender, and knowing besides that it was not the Transvaal only that was at stake now, as in the Boer War of 1881, but the whole of British South Africa, at once took up arms and entered with grim determination on the long-foreseen conflict. The whole Empire knows, and has handsomely-acknowledged, the loyal service rendered by Natal in the three years' war that began in 1899.
In anticipation of an inevitable war between the South African Republic and the British Empire, the officer commanding the Natal Carbineers had taken steps to prepare his regiment to mobilize at the shortest notice. Mobilization orders, with the date left blank, had been issued to all squadron officers, and it only required a telegram of one word to each squadron leader to set the wh.ole regimental machinery in motion. At last the day arrived when Briton was ordered out to face Boer, for on the morning of the 29th September, 1899, the day after President Kruger commandeered his burghers, orders were received for the Regiment to mobilize for active service. The "one word" was duly wired to each squadron leader, and the Carbineers were once again buckling on their armour.
At this time the Natal Carbineers Regiment was officered, as follows: —
Lieut-Colonel E. M. Greene, Commanding.
Major C. E. Taunton.
Major D. McKenzie.
Major G. J. Macfarlane.
Major C. B. Addison.
Captain J. Weighton, Adjutant.
Captain A. Lyle, Quartermaster.
No. 1 Squadron (Head Quarters).
Lieut. C. N. H. Rodwell;
Lieut. A. C. Townsend;
Lieut. W. E. C. Tanner.
No, 2 Squadron (Head Quarters).
Capt. W. S. Shepstone;
Lieut. W. J. Gallwey;
Lieut. G. W. Nourse.
No. 3 Squadron (Nottingham Road and Camperdown).
Capt. A. Hair;
Lieut. B. Crompton;
Lieut. W. Bartholomew.
No. 4 Squadron (Richmond and Richmond Road).
Capt. F. S. Foxon;
Lieut. E. Lucas;
Lieut. W. Comrie.
No. 5 Squadron (Estcourt and Weenen,).
Lieut. D. W. Mackay.
No. 6 Squadron (Ladysmith).
Lieut. G. F. Tatham;
Lieut. D. Sparks.
No. 7 Squadron (Dundee and Newcastle).
Capt. C. G. Willson;
Lieut. W. A. Vanderplank;
Lieut. W. T. Gage.
During the campaign there were promoted to commissioned rank: —as Lieutenants, A. W. Smallie, T. M. Owen, R. Ash-burnham, J. P. S. Woods, T. Duff, R. A. Cockburn, and A. Wylde-Browne; and promotions amongst the officers were: — Capt. Weighton to be Major; Lieutenants Rodwell, Nourse, Crompton and Lucas to be Captains.
Lieut. T. M. Owen was appointed Paymaster to the Volunteer Brigade and remained in Maritzburg where he did excellent service during the campaign.
Captain Crompton, upon promotion, was given command of No. 3 Squadron, Captain Hair taking over the command of No. 5 Squadron.
Captain G. F. Tatham was, early in the siege of Ladysmith, placed on the Volunteer Brigade Staff, and continued in that position till the relief.
Lieut. Ashburnham obtained leave to proceed to England in March, 1900, and did not return.
The following officers of the Natal Medical Corps were attached to the Regiment from time to time, and their services were very highly appreciated:—Captains O. J. Currie and R. A. Buntine, and Lieutenants H. B. Currie and J. E. Briscoe (attached to No. 5 Squadron on the Relief Column). There were also attached from time to time the following Veterinary Surgeons:—Lieutenants J. P. Byrne, F. Verney (No. 5 Squadron, Relief Column), and S. T. Amos.
At the outbreak of the war, and during the siege of Ladysmith, the Regimental Sergt.-Major was that smart little soldier "Benny" Bowen, late 3rd Dragoon Guards. When the Regiment reached Highlands after the siege he fell ill of enteric fever and succumbed to the disease. He was an excellent warrant officer, and all the time he was with the Carbineers he was most popular. As his successor the Regiment was fortunate in securing Staff Sergt. W. Burkimsher of the 9th Lancers, a man who in every way has proved himself worthy of the responsible position which he still holds.
By the evening of the 1st October, Nos. 1, 2, 3, 4, and 6 squadrons were in Ladysmith. Two or three days later they were joined there by the Newcastle troop, and on the 26th October by that of Dundee, owing to the evacuation of the towns from which these troops respectively took their names, The Ladysmith squadron, being composed of local men, was detailed to furnish guides for practically every unit in the garrison as well as for units on outpost duly, and the services rendered by them in that capacity were highly appreciated. The remaining squadron, No. 5 of Estcourt and Weenen, kept to their own recruiting ground. Under the command of the gallant and capable Major Duncan McKenzie, who had hurried back from England to take his place in the Regiment, the men of that squadron, by their thorough knowledge of the ground, which for months to come was to be the scene of the fiercest fighting in the whole course of the war, and their acquaintance with the ways and wiles of the enemy, could not fail to be of value in the field out of all proportion to their weakness in number.
Short of abandoning the cause of the Uitlanders altogether the British Government did everything in their power to avoid war in South Africa. They indicated their readiness to accept the least concessions from the Transvaal that would deliver their clients from degrading subservience; and even when their relations with the Republics were strained to the breaking point, they purposely refrained from taking the legitimate and prudential steps necessary for the defence of their South African colonies, lest such action on their side should be taken on the other as a challenge. In the middle of August, the total strength of the Imperial force for the defence of the frontier, marching for hundreds of miles with the Dutch Republics, was little over 6,000 men, consisting of two regiments of cavalry, three batteries of field artillery, and six and a half battalions of infantry. At such a crisis so ill met it is not surprising that Lord Wolseley, the responsible administrator of the war department, losing patience with the diplomatists still eagerly straining after a hopeless peace, wrote to the Secretary of State on the 3rd September:—"We have committed one of the greatest blunders in war, namely, we have given the enemy the initiative. He is in a position to take the offensive and, by striking the first blow, to ensure the great advantage of winning the first round."
The Home Government's blunder, a foiling which leaned to virtue's side, was foreseen by South African loyalists long before it was pointed out by the Commander-in-Chief, and as early as July, the attention of the Colonial Office was indirectly and ineffectually called to it by the Government of Natal in a comparative statement of the weakness of their colony, and the strength of the Transvaal. On the 6th of September they sent a second and more pressing appeal for help, which was so far successful that before the end of the month the Imperial forces in the two South African colonies were raised to 22,000 men by reinforcements from India and the Mediterranean. Thankful for this small relief, and yet aware of its inadequacy, the Natal Government unfortunately impaired its insufficiency still further by a blunder of their own. Sir George White, who had just then come to take supreme command of the troops in Natal, would have drawn and kept together the army of 12,000 men allotted to him, but advised by the Civil Government of the importance of the coal fields, and assured by General Penn Symons that the force of 4,000 under him at Dundee was sufficient for their protection, he courteously allowed his better Judgement to be overruled for a time. The mistake was proved and paid for a short while after.
It was on the 20th October that the first battle of the war was fought. Early in the morning of that day, the troops, under General Penn Symons, suddenly discovered that Talana Hill, which overlooked their camp and the town of Dundee, was occupied by the enemy in force. At once the cavalry were sent round the left flank of the Boers to intercept their retreat, the guns moved forward, unlimbered and came into action in front at a range of 2,300 yards, and the infantry were ordered to the enemy's right to storm the hill on that side. The three lines of the Dublin Fusiliers, the Rifles, and the Irish Fusiliers passed the first 1,000 yards of the advance with few casualties and reached the plantation which stretched half-way up the hill. Between it and a rough stone wall which ran below the summit, there lay an open space, several hundreds of yards across. It was a fire zone such as the Gordons rushed through at Dargai. Starting from the wood their losses were heavy, among them the brave but over sanguine Penn Symons, before they reached the shelter of the wall. Under its cover, they sorted themselves, and took breath to face the 200 yards of boulder-strewn steep that rose above them. Gallantly led by their officers, and pelted by the Boer riflemen in front and shrapnell from their own artillery behind them, they scrambled their way up, and the hill was won and cleared. The British loss was 41 killed and 180 wounded in the engagement, and 200 cavalry—18th Hussars and mounted infantry of the Dublin Fusiliers and the Rifles—surrounded and taken prisoners by the Boers in their retreat. And what was gained by the victory of Talana? It had a two-fold moral gain: the Empire was reassured that as in the post there was scarcely a task in war too arduous for the British soldier, and the Boers were undeceived of their delusion that the conquest of Natal was to be made with, but little trouble.
The day after the battle the Boers mounted guns, superior in weight and range to those of their enemy, on Impati, a hill farther than Talana from Dundee, and began, in security to themselves, to shell the town and the British position. Shifting his camp out of range, Colonel Yule, who succeeded General Penn Symons, hoped that with reinforcements from Ladysmith he might still be able to guard the collieries, and he telegraphed his plan to General White, The answer was:—"I cannot reinforce you without sacrificing Ladysmith and the Colony behind. You must try to fall back on Ladysmith, I will do what I may to help you when nearer." So there was nothing for it but to evacuate Dundee. On the 22nd the retreat began, under the expert guidance of Colonel Dartnell of the Natal Mounted Police, and by a circuitous route well to the eastward of the railway, for it was known that the line had been cut by the Boers.
On the 21st October, the day after Talana, Sir George White sent out General French with a sufficient force to restore railway communication with his detachment at Dundee, As soon as the British topped the rise above Elandslaagte the Boers hurriedly left the station there, and, on the hills behind it, took up a strong position fortified by the two Maxim-Nordenfelds taken nearly four yours ago from the Jameson raiders. The Boer stronghold had to be approached over a series of heights and hollows that alternately exposed and hid General French's advancing lines, The enemy resisted stoutly to the very end, but the four attacking battalions, in spite of their serious losses, pressed forward unflinchingly, each straining emulously of the others, to reach the same end—the Devons, the Manchesters, the Gordons determined to erase the blot of Amajuba from their regimental records, and the Imperial Light Horse, composed of refugees from the Rand. burning to requite their tormentors for the insults they had had to bear from the failure of Jameson's raid till their ignominious expulsion from Johannesburg. At the point of the bayonet, and shouting "Majuba, Majuha !" they carried the summit and drove off or captured the last of its defenders. The flight of the Boers was turned into a rout when the Lancers and Dragoons, who had stolen round the hill-foot to the rear, charged through the scattered fugitives once and again before the darkness fell. The line of rail between Ladysmith and Dundee was again clear of obstruction, but except for the capture of the Boer guns, stores, and prisoners, Elandslaagte, like Talana, was a victory of the Pyrrhic kind. The day following, owing to the swarming of the Free State Boers as for the assault of Ladysmith, General White ordered French's force to return with their utmost speed.
Mindful of his promise to General Yule, Sir George White on the 24th marched from Ladysmith, with as large a force as could safely be spared from the garrison there, and drew up his lines at Rietfontein, about seven miles to the north-east. As usual the Boers were in a strong posture of defence. They occupied the hill of Tinta Inyoni on which they had contrived to drag up some of their guns of heavy calibre. General White on his part had no mind to dislodge the enemy, while the Boers, conceiving that to be his aim, kept on the defensive most of the day. His object was to hold them where they were, and so prevent them from intercepting the Dundee column, now little more than a day's march from Ladysmith. The affair of Rietfontein should have been only an artillery duel; but the Gloucester, by some mischance whose explanation was lost by the death of the Colonel, advancing as if to the assault, exposed themselves needlessly to the fire of the enemy's riflemen. Their losses were, their commanding officer and five men killed, and forty wounded. The Natal Carbineers, too, ordered from the right flank, to counter an outflanking manoeuvre of the enemy on the British left, came under a destructive fire. They lost, in killed, Sergt. A. E. Colville and Trooper W. Cleaver, and in wounded, Troopers E. Taylor, E. Russel, W. J. Freeman, R. A. Richmond, P. Ballantyne, G. W. Teasdale, R. J. Raw, R. J. Mason, and E. E. Smith. At the close of a day designedly consumed in Fabian tactics, Sir George White led his men back to Ladysmith. Early in the morning of the 26th, the column from Dundee, smeared with mud, hungry, dazed from want of sleep, but not dispirited, was received with cheers of admiration, and welcome by the garrison in Ladysmith. The Boers had been staved off, the retreat of the 4,000 skilfully and successfully conducted, and the blunder of the Natal Government rectified at last; but the achievement of it all had cost a high price in lives and suffering.
It would have been too much to expect of brave men that they should submit to a blockade without a struggle. Besides, they foresaw that in the case of a siege. Long Hill and Pepworth Hill, each about four miles distant, would be invaluable either as bulwarks for the defence, or stations for the bombardment of the town. For these reasons it was decided to offer battle on Monday the 30th. A bold plan of operations for that day was carefully prepared, but in its execution it went sadly awry, partly by misfortune and partly owing to an underestimate of the enemy's strength in position and numbers. On the eve of the battle a force of 1,100 men, with a battery of mountain guns on pack mules, set out under the command of Colonel Carleton to occupy Nicholson's Nek and protect the left flank of the fighting line. About the same time the Natal Carbineers were sent out to the far right, with orders to hold the Nek between Lombard's Kop and Bulwana at all costs, so that they might keep, for General French's cavalry in their rear, a safe passage when the right time came for the intended charge on the Boer left. With two squadrons Colonel Greene held Bulwana, and Major Macfarlane with one squadron held Lombard's Kop. At midnight the infantry and artillery commanded by Colonel Grimwood moved out to take post for the attack of Long Hill, and a body of reserves under Colonel Ian Hamilton followed them a few hours later.
On the way to Nicholson's Nek, Carleton's mules unaccountably took fright and stampeded, carrying with them the mountain guns and. all the ammunition except what had been served out to the men. Fearing to press on to the Nek, Carleton climbed the nearest koppie, and there, surrounded and more than decimated by riflemen under cover, after fighting till their ammunition was spent, 37 officers and 917 men, the survivors of the party that should have covered General White's left flank, surrendered to the Boers.
As the battle developed in the morning General French, on the right wing, was surprised to find that the enemy's line extended far beyond what was presupposed to be its limit on the south-east, and it needed all his vigilance and skill to save himself from being surrounded and cut off. The head of Colonel Grimwood's column marched straight to the post assigned to it, but in the dark the guns in the middle and the infantry following them turned off to the left. When daylight came Colonel Grimwood, without guns and with only half his infantry, found his task too much, for him, and from that time onward, while the battle lasted, he had again and again to send for reinforcements, both from the stray part of his own column and from the reserves, to enable him to hold his own. Before midday, Sir George White was aware that his plan had miscarried, but what at last settled his wavering decision was a message from Colonel Knox, in charge of the small garrison left in Ladysmith, that the Free State Boers were threatening the town from the south-west. The retreat was ordered, and the retiring infantry was successfully protected by the energy and self-sacrifiving heroism of the gunners. If the British had an unpleasant surprise at the extent of the enemy's line, they got another of quite a different sort when a shell flew over their heads and exploded far beyond any that had been shot from their batteries that day. Captain Lambton came on the field, just in time to cheer the one side and depress the otherf with a naval gun that was a matxh for the Boer "Long Tom." In Ladysmith the civilians—most of them refugees from Dundee and elsewhere in northern Natal, and even from the Transvaal)—were panic-stricken ever since the first shell from Long Tom on Pepworth Hill burst over them in the morning; and when they saw the troops returning, wearied and in disarray, they read in the sight the signs, not merely of an unsuccessful battle, but of a lost cause. The sinister name of "Mournful Monday," given to the day of the unlucky engagement indicated the popular view of the situation.
In three days more, the investment of Ladysmith was complete. During these days of grace stores were hurried in, and many useless mouths got rid of by rail. Amongst the last who left before the town was hemmed in was General French; but he to give, on other scenes of the theatre of war, a splendid display of the knowledge of the Boers and their method of fighting which he had gained by a few days of acting in Natal.
The week that followed the closing of the line of railway running south, the last door of exit from Ladysmith, was spent by the antagonists within and around the town in making preparations to accomplish the tasks which they had severally and deliberately undertaken—by the besiegers, to harass and subdue and by the besieged, to endure and repel.
On the 9th November, a section of the enemy, more venturesome and impatient than the rest, exchanged the security of their entrenchments for the risk of an open attack; but their onset, feebly supported and due to impulse more than sound judgement was easily met and driven back. As this abortive essay happened on the birthday of the Prince of Wales, the garrison showed their loyalty by firing a salute of 21 shotted guns into the enemy's lines. On both sides there ensued weeks of lull—the situation relative to each other in which they found themselves being considered. The Boers contented themselves with keeping a firm grip on what they complacently regarded as their prize, while they detached spare commando to raid Natal to the south and east; and Sir George White was satisfied to detain the bulk of their forces around him in the expectation of relief before long.
The monotony of the exchange of shells day after day between the British and the Boers was broken on the morning of the 8th December. Of all the Boer gunners, those on Gun Hill seemed to enjoy more than their fair share of the pastime of shelling Ladysmith, and it was resolved that they should be deprived for a time of the means of keeping up that sport. For this purpose Sir Archibald Hunter led out 600 Natal Volunteers and 100 Imperial Light Horse to surprise Gun Hill; but up to the moment of setting out he kept not only the men but even the officers in ignorance of the business in hand, for it was suspected that sometimes military information, which should have been confined to the garrison, had somehow been conveyed to the enemy. Leaving Ladysmith before midnight, and guided by Major Henderson of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, they reached the foot of Gun Hill at 2 a.m. There General Hunter left Major Rethman with 100 of the Border Mounted Rifles to protect his left flank, and Colonel Royston with 300 men of the Natal Carbineers, Border Mounted Rifles, and Natal Mounted Rifles, to guard his right. The rest of his party, 100 of the Imperial Light Horse under Colonel Edwards and Major Karri Davies, and 100 Natal Carbineers officered by Major Addison, Captain and Adjutant Weighton, Captain Foxon, and Lieutenants Bartholomew and Vanderplank, began to scale the almost perpendicular rock that rose above them. Using the utmost caution, even slipping off their boots, to creep up in silence, they had climbed to within a few yards of the summit unnoticed, when there was a faint challenge, "Wie daar?" followed in an agonized shriek by "Schiet, Stephanus, hier kom de verdomde rooineks, schiet, schiet!" and then one wild volley was fired on them by the alarmed and excited guard. "Come on, boys, Fix bayonets" shouted Captain Foxon. The word "bayonets" alone, for the things it stands for were not there, had a magical effect; it was the "Hey, presto" at which the Boer piquet vanished on the instant, leaving everything, even their private documents and letters, behind them. The Imperial Light Horse rushed on "Long Tom," the Carbineers found the howitzer; then a charge of gun cotton wrapped round the breech and muzzle of them and exploded by Captain Fowke and Lieutenant Turner of the Royal Engineers, and these two guns could harm Ladysmith no more. Their task accomplished, they left Gun Hill. At daylight they marched into town in triumph, carrying with them the breech-blocks of the two big guns, and dragging two maxims which they had captured on their way back, as the trophies of their night's work. In the course of the day, Sir George White paraded the whole Volunteer Brigade, and after thanking those of them who had taken part in the previous night's expedition, he complimented them all on their conduct generally, which, he said, was "a credit to the Empire." In addition to this public recognition by the General, the Carbineers were gladdened with a congratulatory letter from the Gordon Highlanders with whom they were on excellent terms.
Official reports of the exploit of the Volunteers, from two sources the most interested in it, Ladysmith and Pretoria, were published in Maritzburg simultaneously a few days after the event.
From Sir George White:—"9th December. Last night I sent out General Hunter with 500 Volunteers under Royston, and 100 Imperial Light Horse under Edwards, to surprise Gun Hill. The surprise was admirably carried out and was entirely successful, the Hill being captured, and a 6 inch gun and a 4.7 inch howitzer destroyed with gun cotton by Captain Fowke and Lieutenant Turner, R.E., and a maxim was captured and brought to Ladysmith. Our loss: One man killed; Major Henderson, Argyll .and Sutherland Highlanders, wounded; two men slightly wounded."
"Pretoria, 9th December:—The British at Ladysmith scored a success between one and two in the morning. A body of men crawled up the ravine and carried one of the Kopjes constituting the Lombard's Kop Boer position on which one big creusot and one howitzer were put out of action with dynamite, after which the force retired. Major Erasmus and Lieutenant Malan will be court-martialed in connection with the loss of the cannon. Besides the big guns the Boers also lost two maxims."
Those who were in Maritzburg at the time will not readily forget with what pride these paragraphs were read and reread by old and young. They struck an exultant chord in the hearts of Natalians everywhere, for they told of a glorious feat by "Our Boys."
In emulation of the success of the Volunteers at Gun Hill, four companies of the 2nd Rifle Brigade set out on the night of the 11th to destroy a 4.7 inch howitzer on Surprise Hill, But it was hardly to be hoped that the enemy would be taken at unawares again in a similar fashion, and after so short an interval. The Rifles drove off the guard from the hill and destroyed the gun, but were waylaid as they were returning and suffered the loss of 11 killed, 43 wounded, and 6 missing.
As the new year opened there was evidence of a change of temper in the two belligerents. "Black week," the 10th to the 17th December, in which three British defeats were chronicled, fixed immovably in the defeated, both the Mother Country and her Colonies, the determination to fight to a finish this time; and elated the victors with, the expectation that Magersfontein, Stormberg, and Colenso would be followed, as Lang's Nek, Ingogo, and Amajuba had been, with an offer of surrender from the British Government. But when the news spread among them that Lord Roberts was on the way out to take command of the British, forces in South Africa, with Lord Kitchener as the chief of his staff, and that Sir Redvers Buller was recovering strength to force the passage of the Tugela, the Boers could not but conclude that the end was not yet and that, if it was necessary for them to repeat, with emphasis, the staggering blows of Magersfontein and Colenso, their commandos detained around Ladysmith must be set free without delay. The arguments of the younger and more enterprising section, urged by General Botha and Commandant De Wet, prevailed over the caution of General Joubert and the elders, and at a krijgsraad held on the 5th January, it was decided by a majority 'to finish the business of Ladysmith by assault off-hand instead of the tedious process of starvation.
The Platrand was the name given by the Boers to a plateau about two miles south of Ladysmith, 600 feet above the level of the Klip River, stretching more than two miles from east to west, and divided by two neks into three unequal lengths— Caesar's Camp, Waggon Hill, and Waggon Point. It was the key to Sir George White's circle of defence and was chosen by the Boers for the delivery of their attack next day (6th January), with a force of 4,000 men—2,000 from each of the Republics. At about three in the morning the sentry of the Imperial Light Horse on the Nek between Waggon Hill and Waggon Point, hearing some noise from the donga above which he was posted, challenged and fired. A volley and a rush of Boers followed. It happened that an extraordinary party of over 100 men, Sappers, Bluejackets, and Gordon Highlanders, were at work all that night preparing to mount a 4.7 inch naval gun on Waggon Point. On the outburst of firing these men left their work and hurried forward to the help of the handful of Imperial Light Horse. About an hour after the attack on Waggon Hill the other end of the Rand was assailed by the Transvaal storming party. They had slipped between the Manchester piquet at the east corner of Caesar's Camp and the patrols of Royston's Volunteer Brigade, and were making their way by the left flank to the rear of the Manchester position, when they were faced by a company of the Gordons, under Captain Carnegie, and gradually pushed back and round to the south front of the Platrand. From the beginning of the attack till daybreak, close and confused fighting was kept up all along the south face of the plateau, but fiercest at its extremities around the naval gun on Waggon Point and Manchester Fort on Caesar's Camp, each side where it was pressed attracting help from its supports. When the sun. rose it showed that the assailants had effected a lodgment on the far edge of the summit from which, covered as they were by the outcrop of rock there, it would be hard to dislodge them. Soon, however, it was made manifest that their losses could not be repaired, and far less their original strength increased, by reinforcements from Bester's Valley behind them. Two batteries of artillery in rear of the Rand, the 63rd under Major Abdy at the east end, and the 21st under Major Blewitt at the west, firing over the heads of their infantry, poured such a storm of shrapnell on the reverse slope of the Platrand as made it impassable and kept the Boer reserves all day on the safe side of Fourie Spruit. By midday, though neither side could yet claim the victory, the Boers were morally defeated. The firing had almost ceased, and it was believed by the defenders that their enemy were just waiting for sundown to make a safe retreat. Suddenly, at one p.m., as if the preceding ten hours had never been, a rush was made as fresh as at first for the 4.7 inch naval gun at Waggon Point. It was bravely led by Commandant de Villiers and Field-Cornet de Jagers, but could only result in a grand spectacle of Homeric fighting and the sacrifice of brave lives on both sides. General Ian Hamilton, who had charge of the Platrand section of the Ladysmith defences, would have been content to hold the enemy where they were till nightfall, as much perhaps to spare the brave though foiled foe as his own exhausted men; but Sir George White, fearing that the assault might be prolonged to a two days' battle, gave orders to drive them from his precincts that day. From the opposite side of the town three companies of the Devons were summoned to make the final charge. Their line never wavered, though it showed many gaps before it covered the 130 yards of open ground, and at the point of the bayonet they cleared the Platrand of those who had clung to it so tenaciously for sixteen hours. The Boers fled before the bayonets, but not all of them to safety. A terrific thunderstorm in the afternoon had made a foaming torrent of the usually insignificant Fourie Spruit, and by its swollen waters many of the fugitives, too eagerly seeking escape from British bullets, were swept away. Ladysmith was saved by a part of its thin-drawn line of defenders, but at the cost of 424 in killed and wounded.
A result of the failure of the Boer attack on the 6th of January was to satisfy the garrison that their fortifications, manned by resolute defenders, were impregnable to Boer assaults. Its disheartening effect on the Boers was attested by the sudden access of "leave-plague" which raged without intermission, in spite of all the efforts of the commandants to suppress it, so long as they continued to laager around Ladysmith, and culminated, when at last the siege was raised, in the general cry of "Huis toe!"
The following paper, entitled "Within Beleaguered Ladysmith," was written primarily for the "Ladysmith Gazette," and appeared as its leading article, 3rd November, 1906, but with the ulterior object of its republication in these pages: —
"It is now seven years since the mind and heart of the whole British Empire began to be drawn irresistibly for a time to Ladysmith. For there the Dutch and British contestants for the prize of South African supremacy had at last come to grips, and it was felt, both by the two combatants and the world of onlookers that, whether Boer or Briton should ultimately win, the palm depended on the issue of that encounter. British sympathy with, their beleaguered countrymen was of course but temporary, and the lapse of seven years, it may be hoped, has carried away with it the last remnants of suffering inflicted in the four months' siege; but each recurring anniversary revives the memory of both, and will recall it as long as our pride of race endures. As the siege went on the feelings of the British people in the Mother Country and the Sister Colonies—wrath at the sudden blockade, pity for the sufferers by it, irritated impatience of its long continuance, and delirious joy at its relief—were fully and freely made known. Not so, however, the innermost sentiments of those who struggled through and survived the four months' agony. The noble reticence of the brave man, arising from shame at his own momentary weakness and the desire to cheer the hearts of his less courageous fellow-sufferers, has buried in oblivion whatever of bitterness, complaint, and despair may have been thought or said when temper and patience were sorest tried; What we are permitted to know of the story of the siege of Ladysmith from within is not a full, true, and particular account of what must have been but a sad time throughout. It can hardly be doubted, that for pity's sake, a veil of forgetfulness is cast over many an instance of pardonable human frailty, and that much of the dark and gloomy tints required for a faithful picture has been purposely left out and the most has been made of the bright and cheerful.
"Just before the little town was invested train loads of faint hearts and useless mouths were sent down to Maritzburg. Even then there had to be a second sifting of the feeble from the strong, and a crowd of undesirables was relegated by Sir George White, with the consent of General Joubert, to the safety—within the lines of investment, but beyond the danger zone—of a neutral location which the garrison christened Fort Funk. After this process of exhaustion, which recalls that pursued by Gideon when he picked his small band of heroes, freed of "whatsoever was fearful and trembling," to fight the hosts of Midian, General White and a company of men, women, and children, all alike stout of heart though not equally strong of arm, were left within the narrow circle which was for four long months to be the unpitied target of the Boer artillery. They say that eels in time get used to skinning, and it was not long before the shrieking of the shells, at first a general horror, came by familiarity to be almost unheeded even by timid women and children. When a bombshell burst there would immediately follow a scramble by relic hunters for its fragments. Cave dwellings were hollowed out in the high banks of the Klip River, and when, on Big Ben, Long Tom, Black Jack, Silent Susan, Slim Piet, The Coughing Machine, Weary Willie, and others of the enemy's well-known guns becoming unusually troublesome, the townspeople left the streets temporarily for the river, they would facetiously intimate that they were gone for a change of scene and air to the Back Beach. Church services were kept up regularly all through the siege, for the townsfolk, morning and evening, in the wonted places of worship, and for the military in their lines. The defenders would have belied their national character and traditions if they had not beguiled dull care with amusements both out-of-door and indoor. King Henry V's soldiers, to while away their idle time at the siege of Rouen, made themselves a bowling green of which the traces still remain. Sir Francis Drake, while waiting for the Spanish Armada, amused himself with a game of bowls, and insisted on finishing his play before he would attend to business. Their descendants and successors at Ladysmith, in the intervals of serious duty, sought health and cheerfulness in cricket, polo, athletic sports, concerts, dances; and on quarter rations and Adam's ale they had the audacity to celebrate St. Andrew's Day, Christmas, and the New Year, if not duly, at least in a fashion that was both hearty and exceptional. Among many other signs of the garrison's determination to keep up their spirits, in spite of their many discouragements, was the publication of newspapers at short intervals during the four months. How these tried to sugar over whatever was essentially bitter may be gathered from the following extract from the "Ladysmith Bombshell" of 9th December, 1899.
"For we're waiting, rather weary. Is there such a man as Clery?
Are there any reinforcements? Is there any army corps?
Shall we see our wives and mothers, or our sisters and our brothers?
Shall we ever see those others who went southwards long before?
Shall we ever taste fresh butter? Tell us, tell us, we implore.
Shall be answered—"Nevermore."
"It is sometimes said that most of Charles Dickens's characters are mere caricatures of real life; that Mark Tapley, for example, whose extraordinary craze to find himself in circumstances so miserable as to bring him credit for feeling jolly in them, had his prototype only in the writer's brain. But, as we grow in years and experience, to our astonishment we every now and again come across one of his children of real flesh and blood instead of, as he was to us before, paper and ink only. Whoever hears or reads the story of the siege, as told by any of the besieged, will say that not one but many a Mark Tapley must have been shut up in Ladysmith for four months seven years ago."
When it was known in Ladysmith, immediately before the battle of Colenso, that Sir Redvers Buller's preparations to force his way through the enemy's lines were nearly complete, Sir George White organized a Flying Column of four regiments of cavalry, four batteries of Royal Field Artillery, four battalions of infantry, fifteen mixed companies of infantry, and two detachments of colonial forces. This mobile column was exercised nightly and held in readiness to break out as soon as the opportune time should come to join hands with the column of relief. But in the course of the month of inaction that followed "Black Week," though the will of the garrison to strike a blow for their own deliverance continued as firm as ever, hunger and sickness, affecting horse as well as man, had so reduced the strength and mobility of his flying column that Sir George White was constrained to disband it, at least for a time. When General Buller was about ready for his second attempt to relieve Ladysmith another flying column was constituted, and it was signalled to him that the besieged would do their best to make a sally whenever he gave them the word, but that he must not trust too much in their power to co-operate effectively.
After his unsuccessful battle of Ladysmith, 30th October, 1899, Sir George White was obliged to admit that he could not keep the field, and that the best service he could render was to hold a large part of the Republics' forces around him and thus limit the extent of the invasion of Natal. Before the siege was ended he had to make the more painful confession that he could do nothing towards his extrication. But he would listen to no suggestion of surrender, and when one was signalled to him by General Buller, despondent after his repulse at Colenso, he professed to believe that the message had been intercepted by the Boers and tampered with in its transmission. All through the long siege he and every man under him, by watchfulness, industry, and ingenuity, did everything that could be done to hold the Boers at arm's length and keep the flag flying.
On 2nd November the effective garrison of Ladysmith was 13,496 men and 51 guns. With the civilian population of 5,400, and about 2,400 kafirs and Indians, the number to be provided for reached a total of over 21,000. According to an inventory made by Colonel E. W. D. Ward, Director of Supplies, there was in store at that date bread stuff for 65 days, meat 50 days, groceries 46 days, and forage 32 days. But for the careful husbanding of these stores and their distribution in half and even quarter rations, the siege must have ended to the heart's content of the enemy early in the now year. Moreover, as the garrison's hope of breaking through the cordon of investment was gradually relinquished, the necessity of maintaining their animal means of transport and mobility proportionally diminished. By the end of the year the transport oxen within the lines had been converted into biltong. Then came the turn of the horses. It was hard for the mounted men to see their equine friends and dependents driven to slaughter, but sentiment had to give way to stern necessity. The poor horses that could no longer be fed had to be turned into food for the men. In the preparation of horse flesh for consumption by the sick and the sound, Colonel Stoneman, Army Service Corps, and his assistants showed ingenuity and versatility that would have done credit to a Parisian chef. From their laboratory they issued chevril soup for the troops, condensed chevril soup for the sick in hospital, chevril jelly for the sick and wounded, and chevril paste as a substitute for potted meat. The water of the Klip River, to the amount of 12,000 gallons a day, was filtered in improvised condensers-as a preventive against enteric fever; and the Indian Coolies turned their skill as market-gardeners to the benefit of the-besieged in general and their own profit in particular. By these and similar devices Sir George White felt justified in sending Lord Roberts this assuring message on the 28th January:—"By sacrificing the rest of my horses I can hold out for six weeks, keeping my guns efficiently horsed and 1,000 men mounted on moderately efficient horses."
"Hope deferred maketh the heart sick," and it was a heartsick garrison that wore through the long days of February, 1900. Again and again the attention of the besieged was strained to the signs of battle beyond the high hills south of Ladysmith. They could hear the roar of General Buller's artillery, and sometimes see the bursting of his shells on the hill tops, but always their hopes sank as the firing died down, and were extinguished for the time by the signalled intimation of the General's failure and change of plan. Their rescuers, notwithstanding their strenuous efforts to bring succour, seemed only to tantalize. But on the 14th of the month welcome news, inspiring sure confidence, came to Sir George White from Lord Roberts:—"I have entered the Orange Free State with a large force especially strong in cavalry, artillery, and mounted infantry. Inform your troops of this, and tell them from me I hope the result of the next few days may lead to the pressure on Ladysmith being materially lessened," On the 27th Amajuba Day, General Buller signalled Lord Roberta's capture of General Cronje and his whole army of over 4,000 men; and next day he heliographed;—"I have thoroughly beaten enemy.
Believe them to be in full retreat. Have sent cavalry to ascertain what way they have gone." Late in the afternoon of that day, the 28th, mounted men in khaki were seen riding rapidly aoross Bester's Valley towards the town. They were the vanguard of Lord Dundonald's mounted brigade—Major Mc~ Kenzie's Estcourt Squadron of the Natal Carbineers, Imperial Light Horse under Major Bottomley, and Border Mounted Rifles commanded by Captain Gough of the 16th Lancets.
It was intolerable to the Ladysmith garrison to see the enemy, that had kept them in durance for 118 days, trekking away to the north and west, with all their guns and baggage, on the morning of the 1st March. With the design of intercepting them a small flying column moved out consisting of portions of the Liverpool, Devon, and Gordon infantry, two guns of the 10th Mountain Battery, part of the 53rd and 60th batteries R.F.A., two squadrons of the 5th Dragoon Guards, and as many of the Natal Carbineers as were thought to be efficient. At Pepworth Hill they were slightly engaged with the enemy's rearguard, but it was evident that men who had only with difficulty accomplished a march of four miles were physically unable to do more than ply the enemy with their artillery. The spirit was willing but the flesh was weak. Next day Sir Redvers Buller humanely ordered their return to Ladysmith.
For two reasons Sir Redver's Buller could not pursue the Boers retreating from Ladysmith. After three months of arduous campaigning he was in need of horses, clothing, and drafts from Home to make up the wastage of battle and disease; and on the 3rd March, the day on which with his victorious army he made his triumphal entry into Ladysmith, Lord Roberts, making for Bloemfontein, telegraphed to him: — "The Natal Field Force is to act strictly on the defensive until such time as the operations of this column have caused the enemy to withdraw altogether from, or considerably reduce their numbers in the Drakensberg Passes." His first business was to disperse the enfeebled defenders of Ladysmith to recuperate in clean and healthy camps, and send the sick, numbering upwards of 2,000, down to the Maritzburg hospitals as fast as his means of conveyance allowed. Then he began to give his whole attention to the reorganisation of his army, preparatory to his final advance against the enemy still clinging to northern Natal. At the same time the Boers, finding that they were not pursued, set to work to entrench themselves on the Biggarsberg to bar his way to the north. For more than a month it was as if the generals on both sides had agreed to an armistice.
North of Ladysmith Natal is roughly in the shape of an isosceles triangle, of which the base is the Biggarsberg stretching from the boundary of the Free State to Helpmakaar close to Zululand, its apex is Lang's Nek leading into the Transvaal, its western side is the Drakensberg range, and its eastern the Buffalo River separating it from Zululand, On the 10th May, General Buller set his army in motion to drive the invaders out of this triangle. His intention was to force the enemy to the north of Newcastle before attempting the passage of the Drakensberg. Screened by Lord Dundonald's mounted men he led a strong force of infantry and artillery towards Helpmakaar with the object of turning the enemy's left flank and rolling up their whole line of defence on the Biggarsberg. On the morning of the 13th, Uithoek, which had been neglected by the Boers though it dominated the extremity of their line resting on Helpmakaar, was scaled by the mounted men and soon after occupied in force by Hamilton's brigade of infantry. The mounted brigade then swiftly skirted the semicircle of the hill of Helpmakaar from Uithoek to the first line of the enemy's trenches on the Biggarsberg and, joined by Bethune's force, charged straight for the first entrenchment and drove its occupants to their second line on the farther side of Helpmakaar Nek. The Boers were taken by surprise. Hitherto they had been accustomed to select and prepare their battle-ground, and it was not on Helpmakaar they had fixed for a fusilade of their adversaries. Stormed at from Uithoek on their front and Helpmakaar Nek on their left they held their ground till dark. In the night, knowing that their line of defence on the Biggarsberg was now untenable, they retreated with their usual rapidity northwards to Beith.
Lord Dundonald's mounted brigade, with the Natal Carbineers scouting in front, took up the pursuit on the morning of the 14th. Two or three times that day, in his march of 25 miles, he came into action with the enemy's rearguard but without bringing them to a resolute stand. During the night he learned from his patrols that Dundee was deserted, and at 9 a.m. next day he recovered that town over which the Vierkleur had been flying for seven months. Here the whole army stayed a day for a much-needed rest. Resuming the pursuit on the 17th the mounted brigade entered Newcastle at 1.0 p.m., only twelve hours after the Boers passed through it on their way to occupy and entrench Lang's Nek and make their last stand on that spot in Natal which recalled to them the happiest memories of victory.
By a reconnaissance well to the north of Newcastle Lord Dundonald discovered that the Boers were already ranged in large numbers, and with heavy guns posted, on the heights of Amajuba and Pougwana and on the sides of Lang's Nek. Doubtless they were looking forward confidently to a day of what they called "splendid shooting" when, themselves safe by their invisibility, as they had been at Magersfontein and Colenso, they would mow down our men exposed in the open, as they would be, in delivering the wonted frontal attack. Sir Redvers Buller adroitly encouraged them in this hope by ordering Sir F. Clery to make a feint of preparations for storming their strongholds, while he himself led, behind the cover of his cavalry, a strong force of artillery and infantry to Botha's; Pass, about ten miles south-west of Lang's Nek, by which he meant to turn the enemy's right flank.
Owing to their eagerness to concentrate their numbers on and about Lang's Nek the Boers had not spared men enough to protect their right wing. General Buller's first care, as soon as he reached the scene of his outflanking operations, was to secure the heights from which it could be dominated. From the summit of Inkwelo, a lofty and isolated hill situated about, six miles north of the Pass, the whole field of the coming battle could be overlooked, and guns posted on its slopes could shell Lang's Nek on the one side and the crest of the Drakensberg on the other. This commanding height was seized by the Natal Volunteers without any opposition, for happily the enemy lacked either the men or the will to occupy it, and heavy guns were quickly dragged into position on its sides. From Van Wyk hill, facing the mouth of the Pass and commanding the whole of its southern jaw, the Boer piquets were driven off by the South African Light Horse. Between these two hills the Boers were occupying two inferior and less important heights, Spitz Kop and Inkweloane. The South African Light Horse captured Spitz Kop without having to fight for it, and it was at once occupied by three battalions of infantry and a battery of artillery. Of the four hills which stood in a line of seven or eight miles in front of the Drakensberg, Inkweloane alone was left for a short time in possession of the Boers. By these preliminary successes and arrangements General Buller made it impossible for the enemy, with any regard for their own safety, to contest his advance through the Pass
At 10 a.m. of 8th June the infantry began their ascent of Botha's Pass and after a stiff climb of four hours they reached the top. The Drakensberg presents a lofty and precipitous mountain side only towards Natal. From the summit there begins, not a reverse and correspondingly steep slope as one would expect but, a tableland stretching far into Basutoland and the Free State. On the plateau above Botha's Pass the Boers in a long line of trenches were awaiting the coming of their enemy. But just as our infantry appeared on the ridge the men of the 3rd mounted brigade rushed up the steep slopes of Inkweloane, dragging up with them two guns of the R. H.A. battery and, before their infantry supports were alongside of them, they had begun enfilading the left of the Boer lines. The 11th brigade of infantry on the crest swung round on the enemy's right, and the 2nd brigade charged in upon his front. Two hours before dark the Boers were in flight, heavily shelled by our artillery, and setting the grass on fire to hide their retreat. By his brilliant strategy Sir Redvers Buller had gained a firm footing in the Free State, and turned the flank of the Boer army in Natal, at a cost of only fifteen casualties, two killed and thirteen wounded. One can hardly bear to think what his losses would have been had he tried to dislodge the enemy from Lang's Nek in the way they expected.
After an entire day spent in the laborious task of dragging his guns and supplies up Botha's Pass General Buller, on 10th June, was only two days' march from Volksrust, the first Transvaal town beyond the northern border of Natal. General Clery's column was still facing Lang's Nek from the south, and between his and General Buller's force, when it should reach Volksrust, it seemed possible to entrap the whole of the Boers still in Natal. Only at Alleman's Nek, which cleft Verzamel Berg, could the Boers hope to check the British advance on Volksrust, An encounter here might be avoided by a detour round the northern end of Verzamel Berg, but time was precious and it was resolved to force the Nek. Two thousand Boers with a long range field gun and two Vickers-Maxims were holding the Nek and, though for want of time they were not entrenched, they found good cover behind boulders and bush. The action began at 1.30 in the afternoon with an artillery duel and, the enemy's fire having been subdued in an hour's time, the Dublin Fusiliers, the Dorset, the 2nd Queen's, and the 2nd Surrey regiments led the attack, supported by the Middlesex and 2nd West Yorkshire regiments. By a succession of short charges by the infantry and by the well-timed and accurate firing of the artillery the defenders were steadily pushed along the Nek from end to end. In the night the Boers retreated, but they had gained their object. They had fought what was in reality a rearguard action to give their army on Lang's Nek time to escape with their guns and waggons. When General Buller marched into Volksrust next day, the rear ranks of the Boer invaders of Natal were miles ahead of him on the road to Standerton.
The following order was issued on 16th June:—"The General places on record his high appreciation of the services rendered by Brigadier-General Dartnell and the Natal Volunteers in the arduous operations which have resulted in the expulsion of the enemy from Natal territory. They have borne their full share, and their efforts throughout the last eight months have largely contributed to the successful issue. The General fully realises the sacrifices cheerfully made to remain in the field, and feels the time has come when he ought to release as many as possible from duty so patriotically undertaken. He therefore asks General Dartnell to undertake the defence of Dundee and a section of the eastern frontier, and allow the volunteers not required to return. They have earned the respect and confidence of every one and, when now leaving, carry the best wishes of their late comrades."
In obedience to this order the Regiment left Charlestown for Dundee on the 15th, and arrived there on the 18th, having bivouacked at Ingogo, Newcastle, and Dannhauser on their way down. Here a tiresome time of more than three months of mounting guard, patrolling, and scouting dragged slowly to an end, and seemingly with but little to show for it all, relieved only by an interesting and rather exciting advance on Vryheid, and it was with more than satisfaction that orders were received on 8th October to return to their homes. On the following day the Regiment returned to Maritzburg after an absence on active service of a year and eight days.
It was generally believed that the Boers would sue for peace after the loss of their capitals, Bloemfontein and Pretoria, and Johannesburg, the source of their wealth and arrogance; but the belief was erroneous, because it was arrived at without the consideration that they were not an urban but a rural population. The Free Staters were willing to let their capital go on circuit with the restless and peripatetic President Steyn, and to the Transvaalers the saloon carriage which accommodated President Kruger was a good enough substitute for Pretoria. As for the gold-field, before it was discovered they had lived and enjoyed the simple life on their isolated farms, and a return to it now would be no great hardship. To them, therefore the loss of these three cities did not involve the end of the war, as it should have done if they had known when they were beaten, but it changed the character of their warfare from regular and formal to guerrilla. The effect of this obstinate determination to prolong a hopeless struggle was to keep South Africa in turmoil for a year and a half after it should have entered into the enjoyment of rest and peace, till at last the opposition of the Boers was worn down by Lord Kitchener's "drives" and blockhouses.
The Regiment was again called upon to take the field in consequence of a threatened inroad of the Boers from the Zululand border. Orders were received on the 18th September, 1901, and by the 22nd the whole Regiment, despite the very bad weather prevailing at the time, had assembled at Maritzburg. The Ladysmith troop were sent back to their own district on the 22nd, and were employed in watching the western border. The remainder of the Regiment formed part of a mobile column under Colonel Mills, and left Maritzburg on the 29th of September for Greytown, one squadron having gone on by rail. Greytown was reached the following day, and it was found that the advance squadron had been sent on to Untunjanibili. On the 1st October the column moved on the Magistracy at Krantzkop, where it remained until the 13th. During this time the only real work to be done was frequent patrolling, and outposts were stationed at Solitude, Sir Garnet's Road, and Untunjambili. The Regiment, recalled to Greytown on the 13th October, after waiting there one day, returned to Maritzburg. Before being dismissed the whole of the Volunteer Brigade were thanked by His Excellency the Governor.
On the 11th March, 1902, the services of the Ladysmith troop were called upon in consequence of an inroad of the Boers in the Upper Tugela district, and the troop proceeded in that direction, but fortunately their services were only required for a few days.
Before the Natal Carbineers were relieved from their long and faithful service in the field the two Boer Republics had ceased to exist. On the 28th May, 1900, Lord Roberts, by proclamation at Bloemfontein, had annexed the Free State and given it the name of the Orange River Colony; and on the 1st September he had in a similar way added the Transvaal Republic to the British Empire under the name of the Transvaal Colony. Yet, although their capitals had been captured and their armies broken up into fragments, the stubborn Boers kept up a sullen resistance. But their warfare was now of the guerrilla character and carried on by marauding bands acting independently of each other. Patience and hard work, and the extension by Lord Kitchener of lines of blockhouses that secured district after district as each was cleared by his "drives," slowly but surely wore down the remnants of Boer opposition, till the last of them, exhausted and heartless, with their leaders, Generals Botha, Delarey, and De Wet, driven at length to surrender, accepted the British terms of peace at Vereeniging on the 31st May, 1902.
In no war that history tells of has such humanity been shown by the stronger to the weaker side as in that waged in South Africa from October, 1899, to May, 1902. While the war went on, surrendered Boers and their families, and even the wives and children of enemies still in arms, to the number of 110,000 in August 1901, were supported at the expense of the British Government in concentration camps established in the pacified parts of the Transvaal and Orange River Colonies, and in Natal and the Cape. Short of the restoration of independence, the terms offered to the Boers at Vereeniging were more than merciful, they were magnanimous. The crimes of treason and rebellion by British subjects in Natal and Cape Colony were punished with a leniency hitherto unheard of anywhere. And to crown its generosity the British Government made the late Republics a free gift of £3,000,000, and granted advances in the shape of loans amounting to £5,000,000, free of interest for two years and afterwards repayable over a period of three years with three per cent, interest, to repatriate the banished prisoners and assist them and the impoverished enemies fresh from the field of war to restock their farms and make a new start in life. By these means, and as her chief intention in adopting them, Great Britain paved the way for the speedy and lasting reconciliation of British and Boers in South Africa estranged the one from the other by the long and devastating war. It remains for the two races to forget the bitter feelings of the past, and to strive to make their quarter of the British Empire over the Seas as prosperous and progressive as are the other three—Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.