EVERY Boer commandant did not reason like young Cronje at Klerksdorp, on the west of the Transvaal, or the work of disarmament would have proceeded faster in the east of that State, as well as on the other side of the Vaal. The Court House at Klerksdorp became full of Mausers surrendered. Fighting had practically ceased in the western parts of the Federals, and the Dutch warriors were joining their long-parted families, and resumed the long-neglected cultivation of their farms. It was with the idea of expediting wavering resolutions of this kind, that General Rundle, at Ficksburg, threatened confiscation of property if the fighting farmers did not surrender by the 15th of June.
As a colonial farmer and a true man of peace—as an influential statesman and a wealthy settler—he was just the man for his present task of persuading the irresolute Boers to leave soldiering for tillage, seeing there was nothing now to fight for. Mr. Steyn, who was sharing Mr. Kruger's loot, tried to rekindle the flickering ardour of the patriots thereabouts, but there was a limit to the treasury commanded by the stern old smoker in the snug railway saloon then at Machadodorp siding, whose engine was always kept in readiness with the steam up in case of a surprise visit from little Bobs.
When General Lyttelton entered Wakkerstroom, after the capture of the important strategical Laing's Nek, a message from the Boer Commander-in-Chief was intercepted, stating that he could not supply the place with provisions. Of course, unless he could get a supply from the Portuguese port of Delagoa, he would soon be in straights himself.
The opening of the railway tunnel, cut in the rock in Laing's Nek, on June 18th, gave Lord Roberts the short communication with Durban for supplies of every kind. It was found that about 150 yards of the brickwork at either end of the tunnel had been destroyed, and the rolling stock removed.
When Lord Lansdowne, the head of our War office, sent congratulations to General Buller on his victory at the famous pass, one could not help thinking of the unpolitic publication of Lord Roberts' criticism of the General's conduct at Spion Kop. There was also a sly compliment to him in Roberts' telegram that the actions at Pretoria and at the Nek had helped each other. The Queen also signified her pleasure with the great victory at the Pass.
The Diamond Hill from which Botha was forced on the night of June 14th, fifteen miles east of Pretoria, is in the Derdepoort district, and the enemy's line extended to Tierpoort. He was there to defend his venerable Cal-vinistic paymaster, the chief cause of the war, and onlookers wondered how and whence the old fighter would be captured, seeing that would be the short cut to the end of the struggle.
As Botha had been compelled to fall back on Middle-burg in consequence of his rear being thoroughly routed by Ian Hamilton's Mounted Infantry—chiefly West Australians, and the 6th Battalion—it was no surprise to hear that the Government in the Railway Train had moved to Alkmaar, 50 miles further, but other reports put the locale as westward of Nelspruit. At the same time Mr. Poldman, secretary of the Volksraad, arrived at Lorenzo Marques, by special train with a quantity of gold for shipment.
De Wet at this time had the merit of being the only aggressive Boer commander, and his fell designs on the Midland Railway though smart, and entailing some loss, were of the nature of a military fiasco.
Emboldened by the success in capturing the detraining Derbyshires, a commando, about 500 to 700 men strong, and under the leadership of two men, Borman and Muller, attacked the Zand River Station, at daybreak on Thursday, June 14th.
Lord Kitchener narrowly escaped being captured. He was sleeping in a railway carriage at Kopje's Siding when, at three in the morning, the enemy, under De Wet, suddenly opened rifle and gun fire on it. Lord Kitchener at once saddled his horse and galloped to Rhenoster River, two miles away, where Colonel Spens was encamped with 1,300 men and six guns. The enemy, who were 900 strong, and had three guns, were very active. They burned a culvert which had just been rebuilt and derailed a train.
The Zand River bridge was badly damaged during the Boer flight northward, and to repair it 350 of the Railway Pioneer Corps men, who are volunteers for this particular work but not regular combatants, happened to be at the spot when the attack was delivered. They thus -fortunately increased the garrison of 250 Royal Lancasters under Colonel North, and with them fought shoulder to shoulder.
After the successful operations north of Kroonstad it appears that Lord Kitchener anticipated an attack would be made on Virginia, and warned the local commandant, Colonel Capper, of the Royal Engineers, the' officer who repaired Norvals Pont bridge, to be on his guard.
Accordingly Colonel Capper carefully entrenched the place, and a strict watch was kept for the enemy.
The first appearance of daylight showed the Boers were all round and in position, and a heavy rifle fire was opened at once. The enemy in addition used a "pompom " and one 12-pounder.
The attack, furious though it was, met with unflinching courage, and heavy fighting lasted well into the afternoon.
Early in the fray Mr. Louis Seymour, the American mining engineer, who was chief of the Eckstein group of Rand miners, was shot dead by an explosive bullet, while Lieutenant Clements, also of the Rand, was mortally wounded. Five privates of the Royal Pioneers were also killed, while seven wounded were removed to the south.
Things might have gone hard with the British forces had it not been for 180 of the Northumberland Hussars belonging to the Imperial Yeomanry, who opportunely arrived from the south, and went into action with great dash and brilliancy.
The arrival of these men speedily caused the Boers to decamp, leaving behind them six dead Free Staters close to the trenches. We took one of their wounded to our camp and nine prisoners. Many of our men were wounded by explosive bullets.
General Kelly-Kenny mustered 600 men from the various regiments directly the news reached .4 Bloemfontein, and hurried them north to the Zand River in a special train.
On the way the force was detrained at Doorm River, as 700 Boers were reported in the vicinity, and it was thought inadvisable to proceed further for the time being.
After two hours' stay the garrison was further reinforced from Bloemfontein, and the first special train then proceeded to Virginia, which was then quite safe.
All stations to the north of Bloemfontein were now strongly guarded, as Boers lingered in the vicinity with two guns.
The damage done to the railway at Zand River was repaired by Major Molony within six hours.
The discharge of some of the Mafeking Relief Column, and of the Natal Volunteers, was hailed as another sign of the approach of the end.
In an order issued by Sir Redvers Buller, he placed on record his high appreciation of the services rendered by Brigadier-General Dartnell and the Natal Volunteers in the arduous task which had resulted in the expulsion of the enemy from Natal territory. The order stated that the Natal Volunteers had borne their full share of effort during the last eight months, and had largely contributed to the successful issue. The General fully realised the sacrifices the men had cheerfully made to remain in the field, and felt that the time had come when he ought to release as many as possible from the duty so patriotically undertaken. He had therefore asked General Dart-nell to undertake the defence of Dundee and a section of the eastern frontier, and allow those Volunteers who were not required for duty to return to their vocations.
With respect to Dundee, it may be mentioned that the acts of Boer vandalism during their occupation evidence the bitterness of their hostility to the colonists. Even the places of worship were stripped, and what fire and looting had spared was damaged by flooding the buildings with water.
General Buller specially reported on this barbarous rascally. " I desire to call attention to the disgraceful way in which private property has been treated in that part of the colony occupied by them. Wilful and needless damage is visible everywhere, and houses when not completely wrecked have been desecrated with filthy ingenuity. That this has been done with consent of the leaders is proved by the fact that while in Charlestown every house is wrecked, in Volksrust, two miles off, but in the Transvaal, the houses are practically intact."
Still the high and mighty lieutenant of Oom the Autocrat, could publish to the world a high falutin counter-proclamation to the annexation of the Orange State. The serio-comic bulletin was fulminated from the "capital of Reitz" on June nth. After declaring that the two Republics had been for eight months, and were still, fighting an unrighteous war which had been forced upon them, he contended that the Free State had not been conquered, and therefore, seeing that the armies of the Free State were still in the field, annexation was totally contrary to the rights of the people. " It is a matter of world-wide knowledge that British authorities long since acknowledged that the Free State was well-governed, and it is contrary to the fundamental rights of the people to deprive them of their national heritage."
He concluded by declaring that the annexation was non-effective and that the people of the Free State remained free and independent, and would not cast themselves under the British yoke,
Baden-Powell, on the 12th of June, reported from his camp 40 miles W. S. W., of Rustenburg of his operations after the relief of Mafeking. He had repaired the railway and telegraphs and arrested 100 rebels for trial. On moving into the Transvaal with 800 men, he took the surrender of 600 Boers about Marico West, Lichtenburg, and Rustenburg. Among the arrests were local chiefs who had taken up arms with the Boers, but otherwise the natives had been loyal to Queen Victoria.
General Baden-Powell had now been made a Lieu-tenant-General on the staff in South Africa. This is only what was to be expected after the hero of Mafeking decided to remain at the front. The difference of rank maybe gauged by the "pay." A full General receives £8 a day, a Lieutenant-General £5 10s., a Major-General £3, and a Brigadier-General £2 10s. With rare exceptions, all staff officers on active service are granted a rank one step higher than they hold substantively. Most of the brigade commanders were colonels, and ranked in the war as Major-Generals. Divisional Commanders, as a rule, were Major-Generals.
On the 16th of June, the report from headquarters gave the fact that up to then over 1,000 stands of arms had been surrendered in Baden-Powell's district, and Hans Eloff and Piet Kruger, son of the President, were to make their surrender the next day, having been already disarmed on their farms.
After seven months of Boer occupation, the British flag was hoisted at Daniel's Kuil in Griqualand West, on June 14th amidst the cheers of white and native loyalists, Colonel Hughes having the .honour of reclaiming the town. The native women joined in singing the National Anthem in English, which of course is expected to be the tongue of South Africa in the near future. This place, 80 miles west of the Kimberley and Mafeking railway, had been commandeered by De Villiers.
The disposition of our forces now completely severed the two States, and each Boer Commandant left in the field felt his rear imperilled.