MOST concern at this time was felt as to Wepener— a village about 68 miles from Bloemfontein, on the border of Basutoland, where the Colonials bravely resisted a siege of seventeen days by a varying force up to 8,000 Boers.
On the 9th, 10th, and nth of April Major Dalgety had a stiff fight and his losses up to that date were 20 killed and about 100 wounded. Four Boer guns were disabled and 100 Boers killed in these engagements. On the night of the nth they were discovered slipping up a donga when the Maxims of the Cape Mounted Rifles fired into them at 200 yards, and five waggon loads of wounded and killed were the sacrifice for such indiscretion. A simultaneous attack in another quarter was repulsed with the bayonet. In their retreat on this occasion the Boers left their dead in the mill furrows un-buried.
Unfortunately Capt. Little, paymaster of the First Division of Brabant's Horse, Lieut. Holbeck, of Weir's transport, and Mr. Milne, Reuter's correspondent, fell into the enemy's hands when trying to reach Wepener, and after being dispoiled of all they had, they were sent to Pretoria as captives.
It was now discovered that something more than the relief of Wepener was being attempted. It was the grand march of our big army for Pretoria. This was the re-arrangement of forces.
Cavalry Division.—Lieut. General French.
Mounted Infantry Division.—Col. Ian Hamilton.
First Division.—Lord Methuen.
Second.—Lieut. General Sir F. C. Clery.
Third.—Lieut. General Sir H. C. Chermside.
Fourth.—Major-General Sir A. Hunter.
Sixth.—Lieut .-General Kelly-Kenny.
Eighth.—Lieut.-General Sir H. Rundle.
The First Division was formed of the 9th Brigade, under Colonel Douglas, and the 20th Brigade, under Colonel Paget.
The Ninth Division of the Highland Brigade, under Major-General Macdonald, and the 19th Brigade, under Colonel Smith-Dorrien.
Brigade of Guards.—Col. Inigo Jones.
Colonial Troops.—Brigadier-General Brabant.
Rhodesian Field Force.—Lieut.-General Sir F. Carrington.
The Mounted Infantry Division included both regulars and volunteers to the number of 10,000 in eight corps. General Brabazon, in command of the Imperial Yeomanry, had Lord Henry Bentinck M.P., as aide-decamp.
The first objective of the advance — the relief of Wepener's gallant garrison of some 1,500 men and 13 guns, was watched with intense interest. The enemy disputed the advance of the relieving forces, hence the delay. Gen. Rundle, with the Eighth and Third divisions, (about 12,000 men), moving on from Reddersburg to Dewetsdorp, encountered the Boers at Oorlongspoort, 15 miles west of the latter place, and after two days' artillery practice the enemy had to retire two miles to the east, and we occupied their first position with a battery. It had taken four days to cover 20 miles, partly due to the heavy roads through the rain, which had converted dust twelve inches deep into mud, and our transports could only crawl through it.
Then Gen. Brabant's force (about 7,000) at the same time had only got twenty miles from Rouxville, and was engaged by the enemy at Bushman's Kop, about 20 miles from the beleaguered camp. Thus on the south and west 'the besiegers had to prepare for an onslaught, and they did so by two divisions falling back to meet them.
At the same time General Pole-Carew's division of infantry, with two brigades of cavalry under Gen. French, moved eastward, and having retaken the waterworks supplying Bloemfontein, passed on to Leeuwkop, on the way to Dewetsdorp, on April 22nd, where we had a brush with the entrenched foe, and Rundle gained Karriefontein, 15 miles south-east of Bloemfontein.
Fighting was continuing day and night at Jammersberg drift, close to Wepener, where on April 23rd we lost 120 men out of 500, in killed and wounded, including several officers. It was the final brush. On that day the relief columns made fair advance, Brabant and Hart getting near enough to have heliograph communication with the imprisoned commandant; in fact, at 1 p.m., they encamped within eight miles of Wepener, waiting for the other forces to get into position to complete the cordon round the enemy. Carew and French were then at Tweede Geluk, about 40 miles from Wepener, and able to signal to Rundle. Gen. Ian Hamilton, with his strong division of Mounted Infantry, took possession of Sanna's Post (the waterworks) and the Ninth Division, consisting of Smith-Dorrien's and Macdonald's brigades, went to his support, as Boers crowded the neighbouring hills. The same day Maxwell's brigade, (late Chermside's) of the Seventh Division seized the hills covering the waggon bridge over the Modder River at Krantze Kraal.
General Stephenson on Sunday, the 22nd, with his Infantry brigade, did not reach Leeuwkop without a fight, directed by French, at Paardekraal, where the Essex, Warwicks, and Welsh were engaged, with the Yorkshires in reserve. A battery shelling a farm and kopje was replied to by the Boer pom-pom and heavy rifle fire, but in the evening we carried the kopje with the bayonet. The Cavalry brigade (8th and nth Hussars) and the 7th Dragoon Guards reconnoitred a hill on the right, but had to retire before a one-pounder Maxim and rifle fusillade to the protection of our guns at Leeuwkop, while the third Cavalry brigade and Lancers made a turning movement to the extreme right of the hill, the Naval guns shelling to the left. The next morning the Boers had fled. ,
On Tuesday Carew had made ten miles, and French was eight miles N.N.E. of Dewetsdorp, having made 15 miles, and here again the surprised burghers took to their heels, Chermside occupying without a blow.The enemy, who had surrounded our camp at Jammersberg Drift, were on Wednesday morning found on their way to Ladybrand, a town of a thousand population in the wheat district, on the Basuto border. Thus was the siege of Wepener raised after a brave defence, and once more the " slim " enemy had escaped in the nick of time, showing how well posted up they were in our movements.