ON Saturday, May 12th, at 1-30 p.m., the British Commander-in-Chief entered Kroonstad, with his staff and a portion of the army, the rest encamping outside. The Guards led the way, fifes and drums playing.
The night before the Transvaalers had fled from the trenches towards the Vaal, under Botha and De Wet, while the Free Staters revolted, saying they were not going into the Transvaal when thus deserted by Brother Boers. A smart photographer took a snap shot of President Steyn using his sjambox (whip) and boots as arguments upon disobedient Boers.
The Union Jack was raised at Kroonstad Town Hall with acclamation from the few British residents left in the place. Many burghers had fled by vehicle and train.
This is a pretty place—on the pure, perennial Vaisch river, avenued with trees, wilgeboon's or weeping willow in particular—100 miles south of Johannesburg, 570 miles from Port Elizabeth, and about 100. miles on the line from the capital, with an elevation of 4,500 feet above sea level, and containing a normal population of 2,000 souls.
It was in the Market Square on the 17th of March that the two Presidents harangued the people to stand firm, denouncing the British " treachery" and promising victory.
On April 2nd the Free State Volksraad was opened here by Steyn with a speech to the effect that they fought only for independence.
Lord Roberts having been presented with the keys of the municipal offices by the Mayor, handed over the government of the place to some of his officers and no pleasanter residence could be desired. It is surrounded by flourishing farms, which offer sport, while on the river the Johannesburg Boating Club has its headquarters, five miles being navigable.
There are all the elements of a city close by—the Lace diamond mines, coal mines, and a fertile soil.
Among the papers not destroyed in the hurry of flight was a list of 30,000 Cape Boers stated to have risen in revolt against the British power, and other instances of official mendacity were discovered in the published telegraph messages; in fact, the Boer newspapers all through the war were supplied with most exaggerated reports or fabricated statements as to Boer successes and British reverses, with the view of stimulating Boer zeal, which was evidently.an unreliable force.
Wanton destruction had been done "at- the Kroonstad railway station and in the town by the drunken Irish brigade from America, fighting for the Boers. Outside the town the convoy taken from Broadwood at Sanna's Post had been burnt.
More instances of Boer treachery with the white flag, were reported by Lord Roberts, at Kroonstad. On the 10th of May, a party of the 6th Dragoons and Australians dismounted, disarmed, at a kraal bearing a white flag, when they were fired upon. An officer was killed, two wounded, and several privates were taken prisoners. On the 16th, two officers and six men of the Prince Alfred's Guard, were foraging, when they visited a farm flying the white flag, whose owner surrendered; but when within 40 yards of another white flagged farm, 15 Boers fired upon them, killing two privates, wounding a lieutenant, and a lieutenant and two corporals were taken prisoners. Before the war began, Swinburne wrote—
“Scourge these dogs with jaws afoam”
These imitators of savage tactics deserved the scourge.
It was said that Lord Roberts had made up his mind to take Pretoria by the 24th of May, the Queen's birthday. He had done 127 miles since March 13th. Could he average fourteen miles a day for the next twelve days he would achieve his object and one of the most remarkable marches on record. Hence the race against time and after the disheartened Transvaalers from this point excited intense national, and even world-wide, interest.
Whilst there was a short stay at Kroonstad, Buller was making for Dundee with a big force, en route to join Lord Roberts on his east flank. The Natal troops consisted of the 2nd, 4th, and 5th infantry divisions, with 12 field batteries, 72 15-pounder guns, a cavalry division with a battery of R. H. artillery, 14 naval 12-pounders, two mountain batteries, four naval 4-7 in. guns, one naval 6 in. gun, two captured Nordenfelts, one battery of howitzers, a battery of Colt guns, part of the siege train, a large body of mounted infantry, and three battalions of corps troops; and they were formed at the outset in a ring of camps from Acton Homes to near Helpma-kaar; Bethune's mounted infantry holding the main road southward towards Dundee, while the West Yorkshire battalion were at Elandslaagte.
When this strong force moved to within two miles of Helpmakaar the enemy opened a heavy artillery fire from the heights, and this led to an engagement lasting till Sunday, when the Biggarsberg position of the enemy was broken down. They had had a fighting strength of between 12,000 and 15,000, with 15 heavy guns, including two long-toms, but were now in scattered and reduced companies.
In four days, Sir Redvers had moved 25,000 soldiers 45 miles with few casualties—a very good start; but Dundonald's troops covered nearly 40 miles one day in a waterless country.
Could the reader have surveyed this formidable column of Buller's moving among the high ridges of the Drakensberg, and then have winged his way westward to Methuen's division moving towards Hoopstad, and Hunter's facing Christiana, he might have fancied that the huge army promenading northward was really making a demonstration wholly beyond requirements. On the ground of humanity, however, the invading host could not well be too great, as it rendered fighting on the part of the Boers an act of reckless self-destruction, and the Boers love life.
When Buller reached Dundee, 73 miles in 60 hours, on May 15th, he found that 2,500 Boers had the day before entrained for Glencoe, while the waggons were on the road via De Jager's Drift and Dannhauser road. Almost every house in Dundee had been looted. Thence to Glencoe, to find that the Transvaal commandoes had trekked for home—about 4,000 with 18 guns. Hildyard's Fifth Division had largely contributed to this success by an intrepid hill-climbing at great speed.
When it was found that the Boers would not dispute the passage at Nithoek, where they would have every advantage from a commanding position on the heights, it was known that the enemy had shown the white feather. Then by Dannhauser, to Newcastle on the 18th of May. The enemy had gone by Wakkerstroom and Meiller's Pass into the Free State, a disorderly rabble, destroying railway bridges, tunnels, and other property.
On Thursday, May 17th, Ian Hamilton's cavalry, under Broadwood, occupied Lindley, 47 miles east of Kroonstad, after slight opposition, only two of our men being wounded. President Steyn had made it his seat of government for two days and cleared out on the 13th. Thirty miles north-west of this Hutton's mounted infantry the same day, 17th, captured one commandant Botha, a field-cornet, five Johannesburg policemen, and 17 Boers. These policemen were harassing the farmers outside the British lines, and hence the presence of our troops was needed to keep these raiders in check. Another good capture was that of a Captain Herron, the chief of the bridge-wrecking gang. A detachment of 105 Norfolk Volunteers did 22 miles in five hours just to make the acquaintance of the district.
It was significant of the end of the war in the Free State, that several members of the Volksraad, including representatives of Kroonstad and Wepener respectively, were in Kroonstad at this time strongly advising the burghers to surrender. Even President Steyn's brother was of opinion that the State might thrive better under British protection. The result was that in a few days 400 Boers gave up their arms.
Rundle's movements in the direction of Maseru on the eastern border of the Free State were for a week or two a mystery, and then we heard that after the flight from Thaba N'Chu, the Boers held a meeting at Mequatling's Nek, when it was decided to continue the struggle. Accordingly some 6,000 of them tried to break through our lines to the south. With the help of the Colonials, Rundle spread his force over a front of 30 miles, and at the same time the yeomanry and other troops pushed forwards, driving the enemy back with daily skirmishing, with the result that Colonel Grenfell, commanding the 2nd Brabant Horse, captured Newberry's Leenw Mills, a Boer headquarters, with enormous stores of mealies and other corn, since which many of them surrendered. On the 14th of May, Rundle had marched twenty miles to the east of Lady-brand, receiving the submission of burghers all the way; and next day was at Ladybrand, then off to Clocolan.
Lord Methuen, who had had rather a leisure time since the tragic Magersfontein, was now advancing to the front rapidly and without incident. On May 17th, he entered Hoopstad, on the Vet river, 85 miles west of Kroonstad, without opposition. This brought his column practically abreast of Hunter's and the main army. The disposition of the several advancing columns was to reconnoitre the whole of the State, and this had now been nearly completed.
Sir Frederick Carrington was on the 4th of May waiting at Marandellas for the arrival of the rest of his force by steamers at Beira. To impatient on-lookers they came so slowly that it might be thought the war would be over before they had the chance of a shot. The Galeka brought 1,100 men on the 3rd, and they were given Hungarian mounts. Other transports disembarked 700 New Zealand troops. More arrivals in a few days increased the force to 3,000, the Canadian artillery bringing a battery of 15-pounders. Some Canadian batteries had reached Bulawayo, (which was the head-quarters of this Rho-desian division), at the beginning of May.
A historian with each separate advancing column could produce an interesting volume concerning them, and yet many of their operations were only chronicled in late despatches, and in brief terms. Thus, after Gen. French had assisted at Thaba N'Chu he was lost sight of for a week, till an incidental reference in the Field Marshal's telegram informed the world that he had reached the front.Leaving Bloemfontein on the 17th of April with Colonel Porter's and General Dickson's brigade of cavalry, he was joined later by General Hutton's mounted infantry, and had marched 30 miles a day to gain the front by May 6. Active operations began after crossing the Zand river, where on that date French pushed out a Carbineer patrol towards the enemy's main body. They encountered some foreigners in khaki carrying swords, and fell back; but French advanced about three miles to the rear of the Boer position, while Porter ordered a mixed squadron of Scots' Greys, Inniskillings, Carbineers, and Australian Horse to occupy a hill commanding the enemy's flank and rear, in which they encountered some opposition. The force then dismounted and were engaged examining a horse kraal when the Boers opened fire from an entrenchment further along the ridge, killing many horses (40 within an acre) and stampeding the rest. The riderless troopers were captured and the rest of the squadron driven back. A pom-pom confronted a brigade coming up to support, but Dickson outflanking the enemy they had to take to the plain, when the 8th Hussars charged with their swords, and routed them.