The enemy naturally profited by our confusion to pursue us more closely than before. The prospect before us was a sad one, and we asked ourselves, "What is to be the end of all this, and what is to become of our poor people? Shall we be able to prolong the struggle, and for how long?"
But no prolongation of the struggle appeared to have entered into our enemy's minds, who evidently thought that the War had now come upon its last stage, and they were as elated as we were downhearted. They made certain that the Boer was completely vanquished, and his resistance effectually put an end to. At this juncture Conan Doyle, after pointing out what glorious liberty and progress would fall to the Boers' lot under the British flag, wrote:—
"When that is learned it may happen that they will come to date a happier life and a wider liberty from that 5th of June which saw the symbol of their nation pass for ever from the ensigns of the world."
Thus, not only did Lord Roberts announce to the world that "the War was now practically over," but Conan Doyle did not hesitate to say the same in more eloquent style.
How England utterly under-estimated the determination of the Boers, subsequent events have plainly proved. It is equally plain that we ourselves did not know the strength of our resolution, when one takes into account the pessimism and despair that weighed us down in those dark days; and as the Union Jack was flying over our Government buildings we might have exclaimed:—"England, we do not know our strength, but you know it still less!"
Nearly all the commandos were now in the neighbourhood of Pretoria, General Botha forming a rearguard, and we determined to defend the capital as well as we could. But at this juncture some Boer officer was said to have received a communication from the Government, informing us that they had decided not to defend the town. A cyclist was taking this communication round to the different commandos, but the Commandant-General did not seem to be aware of it, and we tried in vain to find him so as to discover what his plans were. The greatest confusion naturally prevailed, and as all the generals gave different orders, no one knew what was going to be done. I believe General Botha intended to concentrate the troops round Pretoria, and there offer some sort of resistance to the triumphant forces of the enemy, and we had all understood that the capital would be defended to the last; but this communication altered the position considerably. Shortly afterwards all the Boer officers met at Irene Estate, near Pretoria, in a council of war, and were there informed that the Government had already forsaken the town, leaving a few "feather-bed patriots" to formally surrender the town to the English.
I thought this decision of easy surrender ridiculous and inexplicable, and many officers joined me in loud condemnation of it. I do not remember exactly all that happened at the time, but I know a telegram arrived from the Commandant-General saying that a crowd had broken open the Commissariat Buildings in Pretoria and were looting them. An adjutant was sent into Pretoria to spread an alarm that the English were entering the town, and this had the effect of driving all the looters out of it. Some of my own men were engaged in these predatory operations, and I did not see them again until three days after.
The English approached Pretoria very cautiously, and directed some big naval guns on our forts built round the town, to which we replied for some time with our guns from the "randten," south-west of the town; but our officers were unable to offer any organised resistance, and thus on the 5th of June, 1900, the capital of the South African Republic fell with little ado into the enemy's hands. Bloemfontein, the capital of the Orange Free State, had months before suffered the same fate, and thousands of Free Staters had surrendered to the English as they marched from Bloemfontein to the Transvaal. Happily, however, in the Free State President Steyn and General De Wet were still wide awake and Lord Roberts very soon discovered that his long lines of communication were a source of great trouble and anxiety to him. The commandos, meanwhile, were reorganised; the buried Mausers and ammunition were once more resurrected, and soon it became clear that the Orange Free State was far from conquered.
The fall of Pretoria, indeed, was but a sham victory for the enemy. A number of officials of the Government remained behind there and surrendered, together with a number of burghers, amongst these faint-hearted brethren being even members of the Volksraad and men who had played a prominent part in the Republic's history; while to the everlasting shame of them and their race, a number of other Boers entered at once into the English service and henceforth used their rifles to shoot at and maim their own fellow-countrymen.