THE victory over Cronje had cost us in ten days from 10,000 to 12,000 men killed and wounded, and still we had other commandos to overcome before we entered the Free State capital, though now within a few miles of it. The Boers who had parted from Cronje after the decisive battle on the Modder were found on the hills to the east under De Wet and Delarey, occupying a position in a semi-circle, extending fifteen miles from the Modder river, which divided their centre from their right on the north bank. Starting with 6,000 their numbers soon increased by arrivals from Natal and the south of the State, until it was estimated, by the 1st of April, there were within a radius of 20 miles of Bloemfontein quite 20,000 Boers.
Early on Wednesday, March 7th, Lord Roberts's army moved forward to the attack. Gen. Colville's division took the north bank and the cavalry the south. Gen. French, with two brigades of cavalry, two of mounted infantry, and seven horse batteries, made a wide turning movement to the south-east, while the naval guns and howitzers went to the front and left. Finding out the rear movement, for which they were not prepared, the burghers turned and fled, though Presidents Kruger and Steyn tried to rally them. Our casualties numbered fifty. We captured a Krupp gun and a number of waggons and tents. The next day two brigades of the cavalry, with horse artillery, and Gen. Kelly-Kenny's division, marched ten miles on the road to Bloemfontein, keeping to the Modder, and camping at Poplar Grove. Lord Roberts and the main body followed quickly after. On Saturday they took the road by the Kaal Spruit, and then came a fight at Driefontein on the 10th, in which Col. Broadwood's cavalry and Col. Porter's troops engaged, with their batteries. The Welsh regiment, supported by the Essex and Gloucesters, advanced under a steady fire, while the Yorks. and Buffs occupied a kopje in a central position. Before dusk the Welsh rushed the position at the point of the bayonet. The enemy then fled before our advancing host.
On Monday night the Cavalry Division arrived at a point of the railway six miles south of the capital. Two hills overlooking the little town were seized, after some opposition, and a brother of President Steyn was captured. On Tuesday, the 13th, Lord Roberts left Ventersvlei, where he had made a farm his headquarters, and joined General French, as the road was now clear.
Two miles from the capital, the British Commander was met by officials of the late Executive Government, who delivered up the keys of the public offices.
As the procession, headed by Lord Roberts and his staff, approached the town, great commotion was observed among the inhabitants. Mr. Collins, the Free State Secretary, conducted his lordship into the town, where a great number of inhabitants, including men, women, and children, were awaiting his arrival.
Here a great surprise was in store for us. Instead of the sullen, scowling faces which might have been looked for on the entry of a victor into the enemy's capital, we saw only bright looks and fluttering handkerchiefs, while our ears were greeted with wild cheers. On the way the grave Field Marshal stopped the looting of a school-house by some blacks. The Duke of Westminster and Lord Stanley, leaning over their saddles, caught pilfering niggers by the scuff of their necks.
Amid enthusiastic rejoicings Lord Roberts reached the Market Square, whence he proceeded to the Parliament House and thence to the Presidency.
Here there was a fresh and yet more expressive outburst of enthusiasm. As Lord Roberts entered the front garden of Steyn's residence the large crowd outside suddenly started " God Save the Queen," and they sang the National Anthem from beginning to end with tremendous energy. Every soldier stood rigid, and the civilians raised their hats. When the anthem was finished there was a mighty burst of cheering.
Captain Lord George Scott followed Lord Roberts bearing the silken Union Jack which had been worked by Lady Roberts, and in one corner of which a four-leafed shamrock was embroidered. With the aid of Commander the Hon. S. J. Fortescue, R.N., he bent the flag to the halyard, and, amid hurrahs, fixed the Union Jack over the town of Bloemfontein.
Half a troop of cavalry faced the gates of the Presidency. The crowd, turning round, appeared to be struck with the begrimed, unshaven faces of the troopers, in their soiled and patched khaki uniforms. Everything about them showed signs of hard fighting.
Acting, apparently, on the impulse of the moment, the crowd roared forth the song " Tommy Atkins," and then " Soldiers of the Queen." The men's stolid faces relaxed at this tribute of admiration.
Immediately the ceremony was over Lord Roberts ordered measures to be taken for the protection of the town, and made certain military dispositions.
General Pretyman was appointed Governor, and the police arrangements were entrusted to him pending the drafting of further regulations. A visit was paid to the gaol, where four men were found imprisoned for refusing to fight the British. They were at once released.
Gradually that portion of the troops necessary to man the northern heights passed through the town, meeting everywhere with a reception which could only be described as enthusiastic.
Soon the plain outside the town was filling with Regiments of Infantry, and the immense transport train for the supply of the force.Bloemfontein looks more like a village in Arcadia, than the metropolis of a Free State. It stands on a plain surrounded by low hills, with a Market Place in the centre, to which the principal streets or roads converge. It has some substantial buildings in red' brick and in the fine-grained white stone of the neighbouring quarry. The New Raad Zaal is surrounded by Doric columns, with a domed tower 90 ft. high, and cost £57,000. There are a cricket ground, race course, golf links and swimming baths. Trees, especially the willow and gum, are a feature in the landscape, as nearly all the houses stand in parks and gardens. In the National Museum are fossils and specimens of the flora, fauna, and geology of the country.