THE scattered commandoes in the " Orange River State," in the Transvaal, Natal, and in Cape Colony still occasioned considerable trouble. The news that Pretoria had fallen did not quench the fighting spirit of the Boers at once.
General Buller, who was detained at Newcastle for several days by the damages to the railway caused by the enemy, sent out Colonel Bethune's contingent of 500 men on the 20th of May to do a little clearing business, and they were " ambushed " at Vryheid and lost 66 men, mostly captured.
The Natal Compensation Commission visited Newcastle and viewed the depredations of the Boers. Most of the stores in the town had been fully equipped before the British evacuation, and the haul made by the enemy and
The escape of Louis Botha was a disappointment. It had been hoped to end the war by one staggering blow, the effect of which would have aided the formal negotiations between the Commandant-General and those of his burghers who recognise the hopelessness of further resistance.
It was said that the General consulted Mr. Kruger as to what should be done in the event of his force being surrounded, and the laconic reply was, “Cut your way out."
There was said to be an informal armistice for a few days, so far as Botha was concerned, with a view to surrender, and Judge Van Leeuwen, under permit of the Pretorian Governor, arrived by a " special" to suggest an honourable capitulation to the doughty champion, but when his train reached the station Mr. Kruger was fast asleep, and his Secretary, Reitz, despising the proposal, refused to awake him. A day or two after Mr. Reitz was reported to have sailed incognito as the guest of a Dutch man of war. the rebels was found to have been very extensive. The Convent and the Church had been burned down, and a search among the ruins failed to bring to light any valuables.. The hotels were cleared of all their furniture, and a number of the rooms used as stables. Almost all the private dwellings had been depleted of anything of value. The Town Hall and the police buildings were found, after the Boer retreat, to be crammed with a miscellaneous assortment of furniture, all more or less damaged. The Commission has advised the owners to take back their furniture and only to send in a claim for depreciation. This decision has caused great dissatisfaction amongst the owners, who are objecting to receive back their goods damaged. They prefer not to take back their furniture, but to be compensated to the full extent of its value. One objection they raise is that it is scarcely possible for them to recognise their own property.
The enemy having formed a laager at Doornberg and pressed General Buller's right rear on May 27, he sent out Hildyard, who took Utrecht, and Lyttelton captured Doornberg, after a light bombardment. The two places, 25 miles apart, are in the Transvaal, respectively 22 and 37 miles from Newcastle, the railway to which was opened on May 28. General Clery was bombarding Laing's Nek from a commanding position.
General Buller put out a conciliatory proclamation in reference to our invasion of the Transvaal, assuring all who observed neutrality that they would be protected, and any goods requisitioned would be paid for.
General Coke with the Tenth Brigade and the South African Light Horse on June 6th seized Van Wyk Hill, a position near Botha's Pass. General Hildyard cleared the spurs between Botha's Pass and Inkwelo, thus^pre-paring the way for the forcing of the Drakensberg. At the same time positions were secured on Inkwelo Mountain, to render Laing's Nek untenable.
When this was accomplished, Christian Botha, brother to the Commander-in-Chief, offered to submit on certain terms, and there was a three days' armistice to communicate with the latter, and his order was to fight on; so the enemy's positions were bombarded in Pogwani, Laing's Nek, and Majuba, with casualties to both sides.
On June 11 the troops fought the battle of Allemann's Nek, one of the most dashing engagements of the Natal campaign. It resulted in the precipitate retreat of a strong Boer commando with four guns, and cleared the way for General Buller's advance to Volksrust, the frontier town of the Transvaal.
Allemann's Nek is a position of immense natural strength. Hills of great height rise almost abruptly from the road which winds round precipitous and rocky slopes.
The natural protection of the pass is continued on either side by ascending ranges of hills cleft here and there by sudden precipices and deep ravines. There was but one way for the column to go, and only one thing for it to do. It had to force the pass and to storm the heights commanding it.
When the march was resumed, far out on either side the road was closely scouted. General Brocklehurst with the 18th and 19th Hussars scoured the country to the left, while Lord Dundonald with Thorneycroft's Guides and the Mounted Infantry did similar service on the right.
The enemy had held the ridges on our line of advance, but must have fallen back to the Nek, as General Buller was enabled to deliver the opening attack from the last ridge facing the pass without needing to fire a shot before its occupation.
"A" battery of Royal Horse Artillery was early in position, and shelled the base of the hills to the right for half-an-hour without eliciting a reply from the enemy. But suddenly, at a quarter past two, a heavy gun opened on us. Immediately the naval guns, Howitzers, and the 7th and 64th Field batteries were brought into action, and subjected the Nek and the heights to a terrific pounding.
The enemy's gun was soon silent, but the bombardment was kept up for an hour. Yet only an occasional Boer could be seen scudding for dear life from the vicinity of a bursting shell.
The attack was now developed. The 2nd brigade deployed on the left, and the 10th brigade formed the centre and right. Both converged on the nek and the heights to the right of the pass. They had just passed over the ridge, and moved down into the intervening dip in full view of the nek, when, with startling suddenness, the enemy let go their guns. They discharged shell after shell at the Royal Horse battery, following them up with a shower of shells from a pom-pom.
A Vickers-Maxim gun and the Mausers of the concealed burghers kept up a continuous fusilade on Coke's and Hamilton's brigades. It was to these troops that the main assault had been entrusted. The Middlesex Regiment was on the right, having on the left in the order named the Dorsetshires, Dublin Fusiliers, the East Surreys, and the Queens facing the open nek. The West Yorkshire and Devonshire regiments were held in reserve.
Unchecked by the heavy fire to which they were exposed, the brave fellows dashed forward to charge, and being splendidly seconded by the guns, within an hour and a half carried position after position till the nek and the heights commanding it were ours. The Surreys and Queens were subjected to a galling cross fire as they seized the inner positions.
The enemy removed their guns and pom-poms at an early stage of the attack. As usual they set fire to the grass at the opposite exit of the nek just as the Surreys swept round after them. Col. Paget, with a section of the 7th battery, pursued them for a couple of miles, but in the absence of the cavalry, who were still on our flanks, the Boers succeeded in getting away with the whole of their transport and guns. They left behind only some gear and the horses of one pom-pom, and several dead and wounded men.
Thanks to the dash and determination with which the assault was delivered, our losses were exceptionally small. During the infantry attack Lord Dundonald was hotly engaged on our right. His men also behaved with great gallantry, and finally drove the opposing Boers over the hills to join in the general retreat.
The next day we encamped at Joubert's Farm, four miles to the north of Volksrust. General Clery took possession of Laing's Nek, and the Boers moved off in the direction of Ermelo.
The white flag was seen flying everywhere, and the women met with were in tears, ignorant whether their husbands and brothers were dead or alive.
On Wednesday General Buller joined hands with General Clery at Charlestown. Sir Redvers entered Volksrust at the head of the column.
General Sir Charles Warren's movements at Douglas, (a small town in Griqualand West), on May 20, deserve mention. Moving from Rooipan with a force composed of Munster Fusiliers and Imperial Yeomanry, with two guns of the Canadian Artillery, for scouting purposes, they met with some Boers about two miles off, and chased them through Douglas, when they left behind three waggons and a great quantity of ammunition, food, &c, with sheep and goats.
Then on the 29th Sir Charles, with a force of 700, advanced to Faber Spruit, and occupied a strong defensive position. At dawn he found himself surrounded and fiercely attacked by a body of 1,000 rebels, who had stampeded the horses. The British forces were quickly concentrated and the enemy were repulsed. The British loss was fifteen killed, including Lieutenant-Colonel Spence, of the Duke of Edinburgh's Volunteers, and thirty wounded.
Col. Plumer shifted his camp on the 24th of May to Ramathlabama, sixteen miles north of Mafeking, to assist in guarding the line to Bulawayo. Snyman had scampered off to Zeerust, followed by the Queenslanders and Canadians, who, it should be mentioned, had made a record journey from Marandellas, in Mashonaland, in order to share in the relief of Mafeking, doing 550 miles to Ootsi station by train, with 24 hours' stay in Bulawayo, and then a march of 70 miles to the Molopo in eleven days.
On the Tuesday of the last week of May, there was a crop of skirmishes in different parts. The Highland brigade, opposed the whole of the way from Ventersburg, recaptured Heilbron, at a cost of 30 killed and 150 wounded, according to Rundle's report. Then there was a six hours' action in the neighbourhood of Winburg, at Rooikranz, the 2nd Grenadiers advancing to within 1,000 yards of the hill on which the enemy was posted. Two field batteries were engaged. Commandant Olivier was killed, and Gen. De Villiers was severely wounded; the enemy lost 50 killed. During the action the long dry grass of the veldt caught fire, and this aided the enemy. Rundle at the end of the day, returned to Senekal. Another of those sad long lists of casualties, which so often accompanied the record of our advance, was published by the War Office. The object of this action was to relieve the Duke of Cambridge's fSlite corps that was menaced by a larger force of Boers.
In connection with this event, on May 31, the 13th battalion of Irish Imperial Yeomanry, (about 500), had to surrender to a very superior force of the enemy near Lindley. Lord Methuen, (who was on the Heilbron side of Kroonstad), started the next day in the hope of effecting their rescue, but although he marched 44 miles by 10 a.m., he was too late. However, he attacked and routed 2,500 Boers in a five hours' running fire.
The 8th and Brabant's Divisions routed the enemy north of Ficksburg, who moved towards Bethlehem, where 7,000 Boers congregated. Ladybrand surrendered, and large flocks of sheep captured from the enemy were sold there weekly. 1,500 Boers surrendered at Ficksburg on June 11, despite the influence of Mr. Steyn, who was in the district.
The commando under Cronje, jun., at Ventersdorp, was broken up on June 9, and Major General Baden-Powell made Ottoshoop, ten miles from Mafeking, his base, in the same work, while Lord E. Cecil, his late " lieutenant," went to Malmani as Commissioner for the Rustenburg and Marico district.