THERE are several ways in which a war may be viewed. The commanding officers send detailed reports of military movements, with deeds of daring and statistics of the dead and wounded; the war correspondent paints smart pictures of great events and throws over the scenes of carnage a lurid glory; while the rank and file combatants, writing home to parents or friends, tell a simple, honest story of suffering, and though some of the mates may joke at the cannon's mouth, the writer says distinctly he is sick of the ghastly business and longs to be again at the old homestead. To witness comrades falling to the right and the left, and to be with the ambulance on the Aceldama, when the wounded are tended and the dead buried, is a sickly, horrible experience, and enough to make any humane heart bleed.
Still there are gleams of light in the sombre story. There was a desire on the part of the leading officers on both sides to mitigate the horrors, to carry on the conflict under civilized rules, to respect the white flag when mercy wished to succour the maimed, or inter the dead, (though, it seems, some Boers used the flag of truce as a statagem of treachery.) There were displays of kindness and hospitality between the contestants when opportunity offered and discipline permitted.
In one case for instance, a Boer prayed over the grave of an English soldier; and a thousand men at daily prayers in the besieged camp at Ladysmith, shows that if the gory field of Mars seems like a pandemonium of malignant beings, the fighters do not always lose their manhood, or their faith in God. Never had a General so many officers given to Christian Evangelistic Service, as Lord Roberts, the pious Commander-in-Chief; and the work of the chaplains was supplemented by that of the Salvation Army.
There was alarm in our military circles lest while we were getting ready to fight, the enemy, so mobile and fiery, should reach the Cape and defy the landing of our soldiers. This design failed, and while the Boers advanced to the attack we rushed our preparations.
As division after division was called up, till the mother land was stripped of its usual protectors, there was an unprecedented response from reservists and volunteers, thousands of men offering their services beyond requirements, and the outburst of patriotism, shown in every possible way, is one of the redeeming features of the awful calamity. It was a demonstration to the world that when the British people feel their cause is just, they are prepared to unite in grim earnestness to make any sacrifice. Employers freely released workmen to go to the front, keeping their places vacant, and even, in many cases, making provision for wives so deprived of their support. During the war working men have freely contributed, as well as the rich, to funds for the relief of sufferers by it, and ladies, from the Princess of Wales and Princess Christian downwards, interested themselves in this good work all over England.
At the outset the odds were fearfully against us— only about 5,000 men and 18 guns available under Gen. Sir Penn Symons in Natal, and in Cape Colony were but 2,000 men, under General F. Walker, while the opponent commanded some 40,000 men and 70 guns from the stronger State and 12,000 men and 30 guns from the other. It is said the reason war was not declared in September, was that President Steyn and his Volksraad had not then been won over by the secret service money of the Transvaalers, and then it had to get ready for the forward movement. The Cape Dutch were also expected to rise, but somehow this was delayed for about six months.
Physical necessity too, impeded the Boer hordes eager for the fray, as October found both transport and commissariat insufficient for such an armament as they had in the Transvaal, and the season rendered the brown veldt bare and dry, while their horses needed grass for their main support. Many small skirmishes prefaced the decisive battles we have to record.
On the afternoon of October 11th, the Free State Boers seized a Natal armour plated train between Ladysmith and Harrismith. The next day they marched through the Tintwa Nek for Ladysmith, while a Transvaal force entered Natal at Laing's Nek, and the Johannesburg contingent, mainly "foreigners," pressed into service,—(about 1,800)—by way of Biggars-Berg, made for Dundee.
The next day—the 13th—Spitz Kop, on the Free State border, was occupied by Boers, and on the 14th they entered Newcastle with a view of attacking Gen. White at the rear of the left wing of his army; at the same time the commandoes from Newcastle menaced his front.
It was on the 18th that the first shots were fired in Natal, and Lieut. Gennell was wounded in the leg when with a patrol of Imperial Horse scouting near Acton Homes, 17 miles from Ladysmith, he met the pickets of the foe.
The Transvaalers assembled their legions at Landspruit, on the northern border of Natal, some 16,000 strong, and their Free Stater comrades, 10,000, mustered near the Drakensberg range, threatening the Colony in that direction.
After studying the geographical characteristics of the country, which were against him, General Symons, resolved to abandon the position at the far north of the wedge-like range of hills, and to make a stand at Dundee, but when General White took the command in October after the arrival of a contingent from India, the camp was established at Ladysmith; in all we had now, in both places, some 12,000 men and 42 guns, and some Natal reinforcements brought the Ladysmith garrison up to 9,000.
The position of this camp as commanded by a lofty range of hills proved disastrous, yet Sir George White, when invalided home after the siege, defended its position as the best under the circumstances.