HIS may seem to be incredible, yet was a fact. It had, in a moment of unguardedness, been announced by Mr. Kruger to an interviewer, and if the intimation reached Lord Roberts, it was treated as an idle, empty taunt. The Boers, however, had given many indications of vitality and daring, as well as of remarkable mobility, consequently it behoved our Commander-in-chief to keep a sufficient line of outposts for many miles to prevent a surprise. In the present instance this is what he did not do, and our forces and reputation suffered for it.
On Wednesday, July nth, the Boer advance was made upon Pretoria to the east, west, north, and south, and one of these attempts ended in a disastrous defeat for the British troops and a great encouragement to the enemy.
General Lucas Meyer, with the Erasmus commando on the raid, ventured as far as Horner Nek in the Magaliesberg Range, to the northward of Wonderboom, which overlooks Pretoria. An outpost party of the Scots Greys met and shelled the intruders, the action lasting from dawn to 8 a. m. Fortunately the enemy had but few guns, and had to retire. Our casualties were small.
This was one part of the design. It seems that three commandos—those of Delarey, Erasmus, and Meyer— with six guns, during the previous night took up positions facing the lesser kopjes five miles north of the Wonderboom Range, and extending west to Zart Kopjes.
At daybreak on the 11th, C Squadron, 7th Dragoon Guards, advanced from the regiment's camp near Doornpoort, scouting with a long line to watch. Lieutenant Cholmley's troop was leading, when, three miles out, on nearing a farm, they saw a score of khaki-clad helmeted men.
One showed a white flag, which was afterwards dropped. This was the enemy's signal for a fusillade at a range of from 100 to 200 yards on the front, rear, and flanks of the Dragoons, who had supposed the enemy to be the 14th Hussars.
Horses and men fell, but the lieutenant, though suffering from two flesh wounds, and with clothes and saddle riddled with bullets, and his horse hit, made a detour, and halting his men and firing, regained the outpost with eight troopers, the rest of the squadron assisting.
Lord Church was also wounded.
From the camp, the Dragoons advanced, and with two guns shelled the Boers, checking them; but later, owing to an action breaking out further west, the whole of the outpost line retired to the main range.
Whilst the Dragoons' fight was proceeding, the Boers attacked outposts to the westward, held by the Lincoln Regiment, Scots Greys, and another battery section of two guns.
The enemy, finding good cover behind the rocks and amidst the thick bush, surrounded and overwhelmed three companies of the Lincolns and a squadron of the Scots Greys, who strove to save the guns. Owing to the terrific Mauser fire, this task became impossible, and both the cannon were lost.
Some of the troops retired fighting towards the main ridge, suffering considerable loss.
Lord Roberts reported that our right flank was threatened in a determined fashion, and that Nitral's Nek, which was garrisoned by a squadron of Scots Greys, v two guns of O battery R. H. A., and five companies of the Lincolnshire Regiment, was captured. The enemy attacked us in superior numbers at dawn, and seizing the hills which commanded the Nek, brought a heavy converging fire to bear upon the small garrison.
Nitral's Nek is about eighteen miles from Pretoria, near where the road crosses the Crocodile River. It was held by us in order to maintain the road and telegraphic communications with Rustenburg.
Severe fighting lasted more or less throughout the day. Immediately on receiving information in the early morning of the enemy's strength, Lord Roberts despatched reinforcements under Colonel Godfrey—the King's Own Scottish Borderers. Before, however, they reached the spot the garrison was overpowered. The two guns and a greater portion of the squadron of the Greys were captured owing to their horses being shot, as were also about 90 men of the Lincoln Regiment. The list of casualties was rather a heavy one.
Simultaneously the attack was made on our outposts near Derdepoort, a few miles north of the town, in which the 7th Dragoon Guards were engaged. The regiment, which was handled with considerable skill by Lieutenant Colonel Lowe, kept the enemy in check until he retired on his supports, and we would probably have suffered but slight loss had not one inexperienced troop mistaken some Boers in the bushes for our men.
According to another account, the Lincolns were attacked at dawn, whilst having coffee in camp in the Nek, when Commandant Delarey brought up four guns and two pom-poms.
The three companies of the Lincolns who supported the squadron of the Scots Greys, fought pertinaciously. Colonel Roberts, of the Lincoln Regiment, was wounded in the arm and taken prisoner.
The force only surrendered when cut off, and it was found that the guns could not be brought back. Some horses of the Scots Greys got loose, and escaped into the town. Detachments of men fought on until night, when they escaped to Pretoria.
Reinforcements arrived after four o'clock in the afternoon, when it was too late to attack the Boers.
The Boers looted Schuman's Farm before retiring to entrenchments.
In consequence of a report our force had been ordered on Tuesday to hold the pass which is in the neighbourhood of Daspoort Fort and they reached there in the afternoon. Three companies, with two guns of O Battery, took up a position in the pass, and camped at night there, leaving the squadron in the plain, some distance south of the pass. The eastern hill presented a rugged, rocky, and inaccessible face, but further east it was apparently approachable from the main ridge.
At daybreak next day, as shots were being fired by the men forming the pickets placed on a small kopje north of the pass, the Boers appeared on the eastern kopje, and opened a heavy fire. Confusion ensued, but the colonel soon made his voice heard, and commanded the men to take up a position on a kopje west of the gap.
It was the two guns with an escort of Scots Greys placed in advance of the main body that were captured. After making an heroic resistance, nearly every man of them was killed or wounded. The Maxim sergeant brought his gun into action early in the day, but the opposing fire was too hot, and he was obliged to retire. This he did successfully, saving the gun with the aid of seven volunteers. Meanwhile the Boers were keeping up a continuous fire all along the line, the Lincolns gallantly replying. About three o'clock the enemy also appeared on the left of the British position. One officer and 15 men made a valiant attempt to charge the Boers, and 14 of the little band were either killed or wounded.
The three companies of the Lincolns were now practically surrounded, but they never wavered. Their firing was a model of steadiness. They had to be as economical as possible with their ammunition, as there was no chance of getting further supplies. Towards nightfall all the ammunition was expended. The latest arrival from the scene of the engagement that night stated that the men were taking good cover with fixed bayonets at the moment of his escape. They were awaiting the approach of the enemy. It was reported with authority that the enemy employed armed natives. Two leaped from cover when a small party of the Lincolns were surrounded and demanded the latter's surrender. A soldier, who had still his magazine full, stepped forward, and shot both natives dead. An officer who escaped was also challenged by an armed native.
Our 7th Dragoons were holding three kopjes at Commando Nek, says a correspondent, when Commandant Grobler, at the head of a strong column, with four guns, seized higher ground to the east early on Wednesday morning, and opened a terrific fire at dawn. The horses were shot down, and the guns rendered useless.
Our men held out with the utmost gallantry all day, retiring to the westernmost kopje, where the remnants were forced to surrender at dusk.
A force of Norfolks, Borderers, and an Elswick battery were despatched at 1 p.m., but though they marched hard, they could not reach the spot in time.
Commandant Grobler subsequently asked for an ambulance, which was sent to him. The scene of this skirmish was 8,000 yards due north of Wonderboom Fort. The British cavalry prevented the enemy from making a turning movement towards the extreme left of General Pole-Carew's position.
In the encounter narrated, the Scots Greys alone lost forty men while trying, though vainly, to hold a little hill on the nek, while the Lincolns lost five officers out of ten.
After this a strong force was sent from the Pretorian camp to prevent the enemy's advance.
Great activity was displayed by small parties of the enemy between Graylingstad and Standerton, at the same time; telegraphic communication had three times in three days been cut shortly after being restored, while the railway bridge, seven miles from Gfeylingstad had been damaged and the line torn up for some distance.
On an order to concentrate his forces, General Clery moved back from Vlakfontein. The troops made a detour, avoiding the defiles, but there were no signs of the enemy. General Buller on returning from Pretoria on the Sunday, had to remain at Graylingstad, owing to the destruction of the railway, until the Tuesday when he proceeded forward.
A few Boer houses in the neighbourhood of the railway were destroyed. A patrol of Thorneycroft's surprised three Boers fully armed beyond Vlakfontein and took them prisoners.
We shelled the enemy from here effectively with our 5-inch gun, causing them to evacuate Van Colbers Kop on the north of the railway whence they had shelled our convoy on the 7th. The Boers retired to a laager thirteen miles north of this place, where they had a large quantity of supplies and ammunition.
Smith-Dorrien also had a successful engagement with the enemy near Krugersdorp towards Johannesburg, on the west, inflicting heavy loss on them. This daring advance was another proof that Krugerdom was not extinct.
Buller reported that the Boers who were destroying his line of railway near Paardekraal were driven off on the nth, after a short action, while Hart's report from Heidelberg was that the surrendering of arms and ammunition continued to be made by the Boers in that district.
A British prisoner who escaped stated that the Boers under De Wet, several thousands strong, and with ten guns, who were driven out of Bethlehem, had taken up a strong position fifteen miles to the south in the hills around Retief Nek.
President Steyn accompanied the force, which, when concentrated in laager on July 6th, comprised both De Wet's and Steinkamp's commandoes.
Botha and Delaroux were at Stern Kamps Kop, holding the Eighth Division in check.
The Boers at Fouriesberg were short of clothing and boots, and suffering considerably from the bitterly cold nights. The Rev. Mr. Snyman resigned his ministerial charge in order to become a fighting general.
General Clery's column moved in an easterly direction from Graylingstad and camped at Vetpoort, on the main road from Standerton to Heidelberg.
The Mounted Infantry engaged about 200 Boers a few miles forward. A trooper of Thorneycroft's Horse was shot in the forehead. The Horse Artillery shelled the ridge occupied by the enemy. The shells struck a cart which seemed to form the sole transport of the Boers.
Colonel Mahon, reinforced by French's Brigade, took with considerable dash all the positions held by the Boers in the neighbourhood of Reitfontein. A number of the enemy's dead were found on the field. The British casualties were trifling.
Mr. Eloff, Mr. Kruger's son-in-law, was brought in to Mafeking on this memorable Wednesday as a prisoner of war.
The Boer Commander-in-Chief moved some of his forces towards Standerton with a view of diverting attention from De Wet. Four squadrons of the South African Light Horse left the camp there on the 8th for a reconnoitre and after capturing two armed Boers in a Kaffir kraal, the right squadron fell in with a strong picket covering a big force of the enemy. In a skirmish a non-commissioned officer was killed.
In forty-eight hours over twenty trains arrived at Pretoria from the south, bringing supplies and troops, including the Elswick Battery.
The reason of Lord Roberts's three weeks inactivity was the subject of criticism. Mr. C. Williams, of the Morning Leader, thought a possible explanation of the* delay in the general advance might be found in the fact (which we learnt with profound regret) that Field Marshal Lord Roberts had been suffering from a bowel complaint, which was so serious that Lady Roberts was sent for in a hurry from Bloemfontein.
Attention was called to the extraordinary heroism shown by the victor of Kandahar in his endurance of the saddle after having been operated upon in a most serious manner some years before for fistula. But this did not appear to be apposite of the present ailment. Anyhow the news of a defeat near to Pretoria showed that somebody was not equal to the task of coping with General Botha.
The same week a hundred Natal rebels escaped from the Transvaal, via Lorenzo Marques, and Cape rebels openly preached sedition.in connection with the new Cape Ministry, showing that a strong hand was needed to repress a fresh revolt that was threatened.
In Pretoria itself the amenities of good society prevailed, for Lord Roberts in opening the " Irish Hospital" in the Court of Justice (to accommodate 500 beds) had the patronage and presence of the wives of the two leading Boer commandants—Mrs. Botha and Mrs. Meyer, while Mrs. Kruger, through those ladies, sent her good wishes. Some of the most influential residents were present, Dutch as well as English.
If, as stated confidently by some writers, the two first objectives of Lord Roberts, by the order of the British Government, were the relief of Kimberley and the capture of Johannesburg for the sake of British shareholders in their mines, this did not prove, per se, that it was a capitalists' war, and our Government repeatedly asserted that their first and chief motive was, Justice for the Outlanders. But the price of the enforced march to Pretoria was the sacrifice of much life by over fatigue, and the only partial conquest of the country through which we rushed. Thus, after gaining the Transvaal capital, we had still to dispose of the scattered enemy in both States, and this was not so easy as the remarkably swift advance.
We have seen how Lord Roberts set about the defeat of De Wet's forces in the Orange River Colony by concentrating a large army which gradually narrowed around the enemy, whose strength was variously estimated at from 5,000 to 6,000.
While Botha's army was advanced to the vicinity of Pretoria and lay entrenched on the hills a few miles to the north, in the second week in July, the generals on the other side of the Vaal were daily narrowing the corner into which De Wet was being driven.
Shortly after rounding Biddulphsberg General Rundle's force met General Clement's flying column returning from Bethlehem after its splendid march and brilliant victory there. While the two generals exchanged courtesies their forces moved on in opposite directions. The picture was a remarkable one. The battle-weathered soldiers of each division as they moved quickly past— the one fresh from victory, the other in pursuit of the fleeing enemy—greeted and cheered one another with the greatest heartiness.
Soon the divisions had passed each other, General Clements camping in a fine country, while the other, leaving the Bethlehem road, turned to the right. Wit-kop was looming on the sky-line ahead, and General Rundle was now right behind what had been deemed impregnable Boer fortresses a few days ago. As we were in the midst of the enemy's country the greatest precautions were taken, General Rundle personally seeing that scouting was thoroughly carried out. It was well that he did so, for on nearing a lonely farmhouse at the foot of Witkop he saw, through his field glass, a number of Boers moving about, as if intending to ambush our advance scouts. General Rundle, however, cleared them out with a few well-timed shells, and they madly galloped away leaving Witkop in our hands. Following up this movement, the General soon occupied all the surrounding hills, including Gaunkrantz, another much-vaunted Boer position, which, with the help of the Colonials, we now held.
All the different Boer commandoes had, as we have seen, retired to Foriesburg, near the Basutoland northern border, where they had immense herds of cattle. They had been forced into a portion of country which had only five outlets capable of allowing transports through— namely, the one closed by the Colonial Division, Slab-bart's Nek, Commando Nek, near Ficksburg, Riet's Nek, and Naauwport. If these avenues of escape were stopped it was obvious that the enemy would be a prisoner. It was stated that Mr. Steyn threw up the sponge after the loss of Bethlehem, and would have then surrendered but that Christian De Wet threatened to shoot him, and it was believed that he was now a prisoner in his own laager.
A characteristic incident is recorded of Captain Driscoll, of the Scouts, who went alone on Sunday night to Zuringkrantz to view the Boer positions. He was entertained by a British storekeeper there, and on Monday morning, while drinking coffee, he was surprised to see four armed Boers dash round the corner of the street. Driscoll immediately snatched up his carbine and, pointing it at the Boers, commanded them to hold up their hands, or he would shoot. AH four at once surrendered, one being so frightened that he actually fell off his horse. The amusing point was that Captain Driscoll at the time of his plucky act was all alone, ten miles away from the main body of his scouts, and was close to a large Boer force.
Rundle was closing in upon Wit Nek and Commando Nek, and the road grew rougher and more hilly as we advanced.
General Clery on the 13th, was at Platkop, and was engaged with the enemy through the whole of the day. Our mounted infantry moved in a northerly direction, and found the Boers in force on a ridge from which they were compelled to retreat the day before. They held out obstinately, compelling Strathcona's Horse to engage them and the artilleryists to bring the howitzers and 5-inch guns into action. Our infantry deployed and after the engagement had lasted three hours General Clery gave directions for a general advance. The mounted infantry in dashing style forced the enemy, some 1,000 strong, from a number of strong ridges in the face of a severe fire.
That day we only made three miles, but the next day we covered six to the east, reaching Waterval Spruit, near to Holgatfontein. The enemy, who had four small guns, occupied a position on a ridge fifteen miles east of Greylingstad. They tried to shell our transport, but made no stand, retreating northward towards Bethel. We had not enough mounted troops to enable us to strike a decisive blow, though we were once within a mile of a Boer convoy.
Two men of Thorneycroft's were wounded. A major and four men of Strathcona's Horse were captured and two troopers wounded. A new fuse enabled our shrapnel to burst at 5,500 yards.
After three days' skirmishing, the general result of which was the forcing of the enemy back a considerable distance to the eastward, General Clery returned on Sunday, the 15th, to Vaal, the next station to Greylingstad. Each day the Boers, to cover their retreat, set the grass alight, and the country over a vast area was laid waste. The mounted infantry, Thorneycroft's Horse, and Strathcona's corps, did capital work, and the artillery made some excellent practice. On Friday, the 13th, the Boers, on their last position being taken, reformed in the open country, whereupon every branch of our artillery, including pom-poms and Colts, poured in a heavy fire upon them.
A little to the north of Standerton, the South African Light Horse did some good spouting work and prevented the Boers from destroying part of the railway near Vlak-laagte Station, while Dundonald captured near Wietpoort (five miles north of Greylingstad) a camp belonging to a party of the enemy, who blew up the Leeuwspruit Bridge a few days before. Other troops were moving up Van Reenen's Pass, to make that secure.
Botha sent a commando from Barberton towards Volksrust to help De Wet out in that direction.
After our defeat on the nth of June, the defence of Pretoria was strengthened by fresh guns, placed on the northern hills.
On Friday afternoon the 13th, a reconnaissance was made in the direction of Wonderboom towards Onderste Poort with a section of the Elswick Battery. Our men came under a sharp fire from the Boers, who used cannon of large calibre, bursting shells close to the Elswick long 12-pounder quick-firers, but doing no damage. The Elswick guns were unlimbered and returned shrapnel, but apparently the enemy's cover was good, as the shells only checked their fusilade partially. The force, having accomplished its object, retired to camp, our big 6-in. gun in the old Boer fort dropping shells amidst the burghers who ventured to follow too near.
On Saturday we fired three shells from a 9.7 gun, using for the first time a war weight projectile of 280 lbs. So far as could be seen the effect was satisfactory, the shells dispersing the enemy at a range of over 8,000 yards.
On Monday morning, July 16th, the Boers were occupying five kopjes only eight miles from Pretoria, and large numbers were on Pyramid Hill, ten miles to the north-west. Our patrols were sniped and several shells fell upon a force of mounted infantry. It was a little bit too warm even for the amiable Bobs; so a general advance was made from Pretoria at daybreak that morning, our troops moving forward through the various passes from Hartebesthoek on the west to Derdepoort on the east in a broad front.
Colonel Hickman was on the left, General Ian Hamilton in the centre from Wonderboom, and General French on the right with the Eleventh Division at Pienaar's Poort. The Boers retreated as soon as our advance began, not waiting even to fire a shot at either column. We hastened their retreat with a few well-aimed shells.
They left Doornpoort, near the Pietersburg Railway, so hurriedly that they were unable to remove their camp equipment. Part of it they burned, but their tent equipage, forage, cooking utensils, and other things were captured. A body of Boers over 2,000 strong moved off in a north-westerly direction towards the bush country. Many women and children were with them. General Hamilton's force halted at Waterval. General French found the enemy on his front near Kamel-drift, at midday. The Boers here fired about twenty shells, and a number of pom-poms were also used, as well as the Mausers. French, however, never replied, quietly waiting for Hamilton to get round their flank. There were no casualties on our side. Colonel Henry's Mounted Infantry had a brisk skirmish with portions of Botha's men at a point beyond Pienaar's Poort. Gen. Hutton was located near Bronkhurst Spruit.
Fresh evidence accrued that a number of armed Kaffirs were fighting for the Boers. Five natives tried to take one of the Lincolns, who bolted, declaring that he would be hanged if he would be captured by niggers. The blacks fired volleys, but the soldier escaped.
The Boers helped the Makapans in their war against the Zwart Boys, whose location was twenty miles north of Pretoria. The result was that the Zwart Boys were driven to seek shelter under our guns.
A feature of the late operations had been the exact knowledge of our movements possessed by the enemy. Immediately General French had withdrawn from the north they attacked, while the movements of the Lincolns must have been known to the Boers almost to the exact minute of their departure and arrival. This was held to furnish undoubted proof that information was sedulously collected in the town and transmitted" to the Boers by means of natives.
A Boer officer and two men had passed through the town in British uniform, and a number of men in the Boer ranks put on khaki taken from our men who fell in the field. In consequence of this, and in order to prevent as far as possible the transmission of information, a zone on either side of our lines was now cleared of natives, and steps were taken to identify soi-disant officers and soldiers attempting to pass our lines.
We have already incidentally referred to the trouble threatening in Cape Colony by rebels openly preaching sedition. In deciding the terms of peace we had before us a work fraught with grave anxiety owing to the strong sympathy of a portion of the Dutch colonists. Mr. Schreiner, the late premier, sought to steer a middle course. He was in favour of the punishment of rebels and of. the modified independence of the conquered States—not for annexation.
The settlement of the question was made as difficult a matter as possible, judging from the information sent from Capetown by Mr. Prevost Battersby, an able correspondent, who quoted a recent speech of Dr. Te Water, a member of Mr. Schreiner's Ministry, who disagreed strongly with the late Premier as to the punishment to be meted out to the Cape rebels. It was said that we had been far too lenient with traitors and rebels in the present war, just as we were too lenient and too trustful after the Majuba Hill affair. Mr. Battersby pointed out that the irreconcilable members of the Bond, encouraged by our leniency, considered the present to be the most propitious moment to flout the authority of Great Britain and to sow the seeds of future discord, and that Dr. Te Water's defiant speech was more than the encouragement of a rebel to a people with whom we were at war, for it voiced the rebellious sentiments of the colony with the intention of challenging further disturbance. This chief among rebels still entertained the hope of a Dutch South Africa, he and his followers hoping to sicken us of our conquests by making our rule in South Africa increasingly difficult; and he had the hardihood to declare that had the colony adopted a proper attitude, and had the Bond Ministry had the courage of its opinions, the war would have been brought to a different issue. In other words, Great Britain would have been hopelessly defeated notwithstanding its quarter of a million of troops, if the rebellion of the disloyal Dutch had been general, and if the Bond Ministry had sided openly with the Boers, instead of merely preaching the doctrine of neutrality as a save-face while they promised rebels forgiveness and allowed unlimited quantities of ammunition to pass freely through the Colony to the Boers.
It now rested greatly with Sir Alfred Milner, and Sir Gordon Sprigg, the new Premier, insisting on some form of punishment for disloyalty. Mr. Battersby declared that a situation might arise demanding an attitude of unswerving determination to enforce that supremacy which was still sneered at in certain circles. Then he added, " We are always weakest in the moment of our success, and this is one of them."
Some Britishers used their wits to escape from captivity and their stories relieved the tedium of dry records of military movements which have been " much of a muchness." Here is one little adventure.
Sergt. Nicoll, of the Middlesex Yeomanry, a prisoner of war who escaped from the Free State, arrived safely at Ladysmith. Interviewed by a correspondent, Nicoll said he was taken prisoner near Senekal, owing to some muddling on the part of somebody. He was conveyed to Bethlehem, and afterwards to Harrismith. In the latter town he, with other prisoners of war, were confined in the school house and grounds. They talked over the chances of escape, and it was ultimately arranged that Nicoll should be given a chance.
A boxing match was announced to take place amongst the prisoners, and when the time came it was found, as had been expected, that all the guards were amongst the interested spectators of the fight. When the boxing was in full swing, Nicoll and two other men slipped out, climbed the wall of an outhouse of the school buildings, and got clear away without an alarm being raised.
Nicoll and his companions marched boldly through Harrismith, and as soon as they were clear of the town pressed on for Van Reenen's Pass. The distance was thirty-five miles, and by avoiding the main roads and keeping a sharp look out for the enemy's patrols they managed to reach the pass unobserved. They got to the top of the Drakensberg all right, and then took a bypath down the mountain range. They had not gone far when they stumbled upon a Boer laager surrounded by barbed-wire entanglements, amongst which they floundered. The noise made by the fugitives roused the Boer sentry, who fired upon them at only forty yards' range, but, fortunately, missed,
Nicoll and his chums then left the path, and literally rolled down the steep mountain side. After a series of really marvellous escapes, they reached Natal territory, and were ultimately found and rescued by British Hussar scouts. Sergeant Nicoll, when rescued, was completely knocked up by hunger and fatigue.
The British losses at Nitral's Nek turned out to be smaller than at first anticipated. The fact that many of the captured Lincolns and Scots Greys escaped was a striking proof of Boer disorganisation. The cause of the disaster to the Lincolns and Scots Greys was said to be that the officer in command of the force camping on the Nek neglected to occupy the heights on both sides.
The country round Pretoria became deserted, Kaffirs and farmers abandoning their homes in expectation of fighting.
On Tuesday, July 17th, the Eleventh Division had a quiet day at Piennar's Poort, as the Boers retired still further from before General Ian Hamilton's column, but the day before the sniping and cannonading had resulted in'one man of General Stephenson's Brigade being hit by a stray bullet.
The enemy were still hovering about to the east of Elandsriver, and also to the south-east of Irene Station. Nevertheless so little did the presence of the Boers disturb the Eleventh Division that a cricket match, officers versus men, was held.
The Boers unsuccessfully attacked the left of General Pole-Carew's position, where the West Australians were stationed. The British general, having left an apparent gap in his defence, which was able to be swept by the naval and other guns, the Boer advance was carefully and suddenly met by such a hot artillery fire that they decamped. The Boers also attacked the springs to the south of Pretoria, where there was heavy fighting. They advanced within fifty yards of the Royal Irish Regiment and summoned them to surrender. The only answer was a rattling volley, dispersing the enemy in every direction.
From Lorenzo Marques we were informed that within the last three weeks the demeanour of the Boers stationed between Machadodorp and Pretoria had, according to the testimony of one who had come in contact with them, completely changed. They no longer treated with contumely and bitter insult non-fighting men suspected of British sympathies, but on the contrary showed them an amount of friendliness and courtesy quite exceptional in recent years.
Apart from firebrands of the Reitz type and those under their influence there was evident among the burghers a general desire to accept British rule with the best grace possible, to make the most of the new order of things. This was in a large measure due to the favourable reports reaching the burghers from Pretoria and other occupied districts.
Scarcely a day passed without desertions in batches, numbering from twelve to sixty, from Botha's army.
A plot to surprise the garrison at Johannesburg and capture the forts was discovered on July 13th. Four hundred persons under suspicion in the matter were arrested, and a large quantity of hidden arms and ammunition seized.
The coup was to have been made while the projected race meeting was on, and when numbers of troops would be out of the town.
It had also been arranged that one of the Boer commandos in the neighbourhood should come up to assist. This commando, however, had been encountered at Krugersdorp by Smith-Dorrien and defeated.
One of the conspirators, a young Dutchman, revealed the secret to a lady friend, who immediately gave information to the British authorities.
The police in consequence took the most stringent measures to prevent the possibility of another similar attack.
At Pretoria, for some time, a considerable number of vagrant and disreputable foreigners from Johannesburg, (most of whom had come here during the war,) had been showing signs of uneasiness. Ultimately the authorities received information to the effect that they intended creating a riot and breaking out to join a commando with which they had been in communication for a long time. The plot was nipped in the bud. Lieutenant-Colonel Mackenzie, Director of Military Intelligence, had 380 of these persons imprisoned, at the same time informing their respective Consuls that he was quite willing to release them if the Consuls answered for their future good behaviour.
Lord Roberts issued a proclamation ordering all women whose husbands were out on commands or otherwise absent, and were unable to support themselves, to leave Pretoria, and be seat to rejoin their natural guardians.
De Wet being now considered comparatively harmless, Lord Roberts got everything in readiness for the advance towards Machadodorp, under General Hamilton, who had now recovered from the injury to his collar-bone. There was a furtner reorganisation of the division for this purpose, and General Hamilton now commanded a new division, composed of General Smith-Dorrien's Brigade and a new brigade under Colonel Cunningham, of the Derbyshires, comprising two battalions, each taken from Generals Hart and Barton, who were left with half brigades on the lines of communication, Colonel Mahon's Cavalry Brigade, including the Imperial Light Horse and Colonel Hickman's Bushmen Corps.
At Zeerust, the latest arrivals from the front stated that the Marrieo commando was in sore straits, inasmuch as lung sickness and red water were prevalent, and the commissariat was in a low state. General Delarey superseded Commandant Snyman, who had been reduced to the ranks. Measles had broken out in the Elands River camp, and there were some suspicious cases in the local camp.
At Waterval, on July 16th, the railway line was kept open only with considerable difficulty owing to the presence of detached parties of the enemy.
A patrol of 22 men of Strathcona's Horse and the Devonshire Regiment were attacked at Waterval Bridge by about 40 Boers, and rounded up in a farm about five miles to the north. Luckily a couple of officers were in the neighbourhood, and though they were fired at rode hard into camp and brought back assistance. The patrol was rescued after five hours' fighting.
The Mounted Infantry Division, formerly General Ian Hamilton's, now General Hunter's, completed a march right across from Meidelberg through Frankfort to Bethlehem, while Coi. Hickman's Bushman Corps had ridden through the district from south to north. Thus De Wet was being pushed back upon Harrismith.
Interesting details of recent operations in the neighbourhood of Bethlehem showed that General Paget's Brigade, with the 38th Battery, occupied Lindley on the 5th of June, and defended it for a whole month against De Wet's repeated attacks. The defence was extended to a distance of 11 miles.
Shelling began on the 16th, and on the 20th a picket of Munsters was attacked. They repulsed the Boers at the point of the bayonet.
Constant shelling and sniping followed till the 26th, when the enemy brought five guns into action and attacked the Yorkshire Light Infantry. An outpost, consisting, of half a company, was cut up, only six men remaining unwounded. The Yorshiremen, including the wounded, fixed bayonets, and held the enemy at bay, the Boers being afraid to approach the trench. The enemy finally withdrew.
The 38th Battery had seven casualties while going to the assistance of the picket. One man of the Yorkshires volunteered to fetch reinforcements, and did so under a terrible fire. He was severely wounded while returning. General Paget's force was strengthened towards the end of the day by the arrival of the City Imperial Battery, and General Clements effected a junction with the force on July ist. On the following day General Clements, in conjunction with General Paget, attacked the enemy, General Paget moving on the Boer left flank while General Clements operated in front. The 38th Battery was surprised by a party of Boers, who were in hiding in a mealie field. They poured in a heavy fire, killing Major Oldfield and one subaltern, and wounding 10 men. The Yeomanry dismounted, and drove off the Boers, thus saving the guns.
Meanwhile the infantry attack had been successful in driving the Boers from Beacon Kop. The enemy had laid an ambush for a Munster outpost, and at nightfall fired upon them at a range of 50 yards. They were in turn surprised themselves, however, by the Middlesex Yeomanry, who attacked their flank and drove them off.
Then on the 6th, General Clements sent a messenger into Bethlehem to demand the surrender of the town, General De Wet refused to surrender unconditionally, and General Clements accordingly attacked the Boer front and left positions, which were held in great strength, while General Paget moved on the right. Two companies of Munsters having expended their ammunition, made a dashing bayonet charge, and carried a kopje towards nightfall.
The action was renewed at daybreak next day. Paget continued to push round the enemy's flank, and ultimately the Royal Irish carried the Boer main kopje by a brilliant bayonet charge. They captured the enemy's 15-pounders. The Boers just, managed to retire with their other guns.
The C.I.V. Battery, with their quick firers, did excellent work. Their fire was very accurate. Three hundred Bushmen, mostly South and West Australians, joined in the attack, and behaved most gallantly. The Royal Irish had about 50 casualties, while the Munsters lost four officers and 32 men.
The Boers fled through the town in confusion to Retief s Nek, a strong position.
Lord Abinger and Captain Ured were captured and afterwards released. Many Boer graves were found. The enemy's loss was undoubtedly heavy.
A diary from Captain Simpson, of Castleford, (K.O. Y.L.I.) — serving in the Orange River Colony, under Lord Methuen, threw light on the difficulties of bringing up supplies.
Here are a few extracts:—
May 16th.—We are escorting an enormous convoy, which contains food and forage for 10,000 men and 5,000 horses for a month. It is six or seven miles long, and the work of seeing it safely through is very hard. Yesterday we started at 4-30 a.m.; and marched 14 miles, getting in at 8-30 at night—16 hours. To-day we left at 3-30 a.m., and have done about 8 miles, and are now stopping for breakfast at 8-30. We pass through nothing but endless veldt. I am now lying on my valise on the open veldt miles away from shade. The Colonel is arguing with a Boer woman whose farm we have just robbed of two cows and two hens of great age—the others are sitting round about, talking and smoking. We quite expect the enemy to have a shot at the convoy, but as we are about 4,000 strong we hope to render a good account of ourselves.
Saturday, 12-20.—Six miles from Hoopstadt. We arrived here at nine this morning. Left Kraalkop 5-30 last night and halted from 10-30 until 4 a.m., and then did remainder of march. Not a bit tired. Leave here at 4, get to Hoopstadt about 7.
Monday.—Since writing the last few lines I have had a jolly bad time. Instead of leaving at 4 we did not, at least my company did not, leave until 10-30 p.m., because the beastly ox transport was not ready. When we did start the brutes kept breaking down, and we were out all night going six miles, and did not get into camp until 7 next morning, nearly frozen to death, sleepy, and terribly hungry, as we had had nothing to eat since four the day before. We are now encamped on the banks of the Vaal River, and can see the " Promised Land." Every one seems to be giving in their arms and ammunition, and the war is sure to be soon over. We have just heard of the**relief of Mafeking, and are very much delighted. The Vaal river looks awfully nice, and there are plenty of fish. The soil here is 20 feet deep.
Jacob's Farm, Tuesday.—Marched 15 miles to-day before breakfast on an empty stomach. I was both hungry, hot, and tired. We started at five and got here about ten.
Commando Drift, Wednesday. — Very short march, about eight miles to this place, which is a ford over the Vaal. The river is pretty here, and the whole countryside is much nicer than that never-altering veldt through which we have been passing. We shall be at Botha's Hill the day after to-morrow, and shall then cross the river into the Transvaal.
Sands Spruit, 2-5 p.m.—We have only just finished breakfast after a terrible morning. Had nothing to eat since 4 a.m., and then only cocoa and a biscuit. There are heaps of Boers about ready to snipe us' or cut off the convoy if they get a chance.
5-15 p.m.—Just had Queen's Birthday parade; and a verse of God Save the Queen; gave three cheers. There is a ration of rum being served out, so that the men can drink her health.
Monday.—Spent the coldest night I ever remember.
The blankets were frozen stiff and covered with white frost. Nearly frozen to death. Marched 13 miles before breakfast; wind again very cold. I have not washed for three days, as water is scarce, and what we have to drink is horrid and makes the strongest tea and coffee taste and look quite earthy. We shall get to Kroonstadt early tomorrow.
Kroonstadt, Tuesday.—Arrived here at 10-30, simply delighted to finish our 15 days' march, having done nearly 200 miles. It is really very hard work marching, especially on an empty stomach. This is a pretty little place in a valley I am just going to explore. We are leaving here on Thursday for Lindley (43 miles), so our journey is not yet ended.
May 31st.—We are now on the way to Lindley to extricate a battalion of Yeomanry who are in trouble there.
June 1st.—Since last writing my company and another have been detached to take some empty waggons back to Kroonstad and return with full ones, so we left them last night at a drift which it took them until midnight to cross, and made an early start, 4 a.m. this morning, halting at 7 for breakfast. The scene last night when they crossed the drift was most extraordinary. Imagine a hell made up of miles of veldt on fire, a struggling mass of oxen, hundreds of them, creaking waggons, any quantity of yelling niggers making the most hideous noise in the world encouraging them up the hill on the far side of the drift, two big fires to lighten the darkness near and show the way to the crossing, officers shouting, men grumbling and groping their way in the dusty, murky atmosphere—and you will get somewhere near a faint idea of what I witnessed. We have done the record trek of the campaign, 18 days, and we have not finished yet.
June 2nd.—Arrived here at Kroonstad at 9-30 last night absolutely worn out in temper and feet, after 5 hours of the worst and most annoying march I ever had. We were lost in the dark a dozen times on the veldt.
June 10th.—We are in a state of siege here, at Lindley, and on half rations, which means that you get up from your meals still hungry. I am thankful to say I never was in such good health. The weather is very extraordinary. The nights are terribly cold—7 or 8 deg. of frost very frequently, which is quite dissipated when the sun gets up at ten o'clock. Then sleeping without tents is far from luxurious. Two nights ago we had a violent storm, which saturated both our beds and ourselves. While I am writing this, our artillery has commenced thundering away at the enemy, who are about 2,000 yards off. So far, they have only replied by rifle fire, not doing any harm. We lose a great number of men through sickness. I have 50 or 60 men down. One has died, three have been sent home invalided, and others are in hospitals in various stages of sickness, but improving. I had to read the burial service over the dead man, as the chaplain was in bed, ill.
The bullets are whistling all around us, and the only thing we can do is to treat them unconcernedly. War is a funny game as we play it, for after the last engagement the Boers brought their wounded into our camp for our doctors to attend to, as they have no doctors of their own. Lindley is a pretty little place, and the country around is much superior to anything I had seen before. Like many another patriotic volunteer, Capt. Simpson took with him an enthusiastic band from his detachment at Wakefield.
Sir Alfred Milner appointed a commission of six members, military and civil, to inquire into the damage sustained by the loyalists in the north of the Colony during the Boer occupation.
It is heartrending to think of the nine thousand British soldiers—all of them somebody's boys and somebody's darlings—who had lost their lives in the war, and hundreds of whom were lying in unknown graves on the wild veldt. Many of them lay huddled together with a score or more companions in a hastily dug grave or rather trench. More could not well have been done for them in an emergency when a hurried march forward after the fighting was necessary; and from the very nature of things it was absolutely impossible, even where decent Christian burial was given the poor fellows who had died fighting for Queen and country, to do more than inter the bodies out of the reach of the vultures and then leave them, their unadorned graves never to be visited by sorrowing relatives and friends. We were delighted to read in this connection a telegram from Capetown to the effect that the Loyal Ladies' Guild throughout the country had been appealed to by the head committee to make the graves of the soldiers and sailors who have fallen in the war their sacred care wherever they were within reach, including, of course, the graves of the Canadians, Australians, and New Zealanders.
In this work the guild had been promised the cordial co-operation of the military and naval authorities. The graves were to be fenced in, and on certain days in the year flowers would be placed thereon. And it is pleasing to know that fate has not dealt so unkindly as might have been feared with all our fallen soldiers, as witness a letter from Corporal Griffiths, of the South Lancashire Regiment, dated from Norval's Pont, Orange River Colony. The writer's words will, we feel sure, breathe comfort to many sorrowing people.
He says:—" Perhaps it might be pleasing to your numerous readers to hear how the graves of our soldiers who have fallen in this most trying war are cared for. When we were stationed at Rensburg we came across many graves and did what little we could in the way of making them look as tidy as possible. At the foot of a kopje we came across three graves of men belonging to the ioth Hussars. The centre one had a plain wooden cross with the inscription; ' In memory of Private H. Hornsey, ioth Hussars. 5-3-1900.' This had been erected by his own comrades. But as the grave had no surroundings we took the job in hand and soon had a God's-acre with a small gateway erected. A few lines were then composed in the rough and placed in a bottle, which we filled with sand and deposited on the centre grave at the foot of the cross:—
"A hallowed spot, erected By soldiers' hands alone; With reverend hands they raised it, And piled it stone by stone.
Oh, who can tell our feeling? Each face we read so well, 7/1/The anguish that we feel for those Who for their country fell.
A wreath we laid with care upon
Our gallant comrades' grave; You've done your duty,' each one said,
'Your country's name to save.'"
" We came across some more graves at Colesberg, which we treated in a like fashion." The hearts of some poor mothers and wives will throb with thankfulness to Corporal Griffiths and his colleagues for their kindly action and for a truly reverential token of their respect for the memory of unknown brothers-in-arms. Perchance it may have fallen to the lot of some of that gallant company of Lancashire men to likewise find a soldier's grave in South Africa. If so, may be others have been led to do for them what they did for those three members of the 10th Hussars who had fallen by the way and found a secluded resting-place beneath the Rensburg-kopje.
To return to the fighting in the Transvaal. It was an imposing and efficient force that was dispatched to clear the vicinity of Pretoria of the "invaders." In fact, it was a new brigade, consisting of the Border Regiment, the King's Own Scottish Borderers, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, and the Berkshires, under Colonel Cunningham (late of the Derbyshire Regiment) together with Colonel Hickman's force of 1,800 Mounted Infantry, various details, an Elswick Battery, and a Canadian Battery attached to Cunningham's force, the whole under General Ian Hamilton. Colonel Mahon, with the Imperial Horse, effectively operated with General French on the enemy's right. But the Boers were evidently aware of our intentions, and withdrew to prepare for another attack on a portion of our line—which shows good generalship.
General Ian Hamilton continued his advance on the 17th shelling a few of the enemy, as they were retreating to the north. In the morning some of his men entered the thick bush on the veldt, in which a small party of Boers were hidden. One Queenslander was killed and another wounded.
A commando 1,000 strong, with three guns, under De Bruye, was to our front. Two thousand more of the enemy retired, some to the westward to join Delarey, and others to the eastward to Donker Hock, to join Grobler.
General Botha had been reinforced from Lydenburg. His women's laager was only a few miles ahead of us. Colonel Mahon's force at Kameel's Drift came in touch with the enemy's outpost.
Every moment our columns were now expecting an encounter, and were on the alert against a surprise.
On the 16th the enemy made a determined attack on the left of Pole-Carew's position and also along our left flank commanded by Hutton. A stiff fight ensued.
The outposts held by the Royal Irish Fusiliers, under Major Munn, New Zealand Mounted Infantry, under Captain Vaughan, and Canadian Mounted Infantry, under Lieutenant-colonel Alderson, were gallantly defended.
The enemy made repeated attempts to assault the position, coming up to a close range and calling upon the Fusiliers to surrender.
The 1st Cavalry Brigade, on the extreme right of the line, temporarily commanded by Lieutenant-colonel Clowes, was well handled in a fine charge on the Boers.
The enemy suffered severely. They had 15 killed, 50 wounded, and four were taken prisoners.
Our casualties included two officers killed belonging to the 1st Canadian Mounted Rifles—Lieutenants H. Borden and J. Birch.
These young Canadian officers were shot while gallantly leading their men in a counter attack on the enemy's flank at a critical juncture of the assault upon our position. Lieut. Borden (only son of the Minister of Militia, Canada) had been twice before mentioned for gallant and intrepid conduct.
Ian Hamilton's column advanced to Waterval without opposition, and then to Hainan's Kraal.
General Rundle, with the Colonial Division and part of General Campbell's Brigade, reached Rooikrantz on Sunday night, July 15th, just in time to stop a force of Boers, estimated at over 1,000 strong, from escaping from the Brandwater Basin.
The British column marched in the morning from Witkop and Witnek, our advanced scouts discovering the Boers in three kopjes to the west of Rooikrantz. The enemy were quickly driven froth these hills, and retired on Rooikrantz itself.
A squadron of Grenfell's Battalion of Brabant's Horse followed the enemy up across the plain, and gained possession of a Kaffir kraal close to Rooikrantz, where a heavy rifle fire checked their advance. The men held their positions in the kraal until dark, three of our guns shelling the Boers on Rooikrantz hill.
Meanwhile a large commando of Boers appeared on the skyline on Witterbergen, trekking over a rough and almost inaccessible path to reinforce their comrades. The path was so steep that the Boers were compelled to lead their horses down the mountain.
They were beyond the range of our guns, and the force gained the position.
The next day the wary enemy eluded even the vigilant watch-dog, for 1,500 men with five guns managed to break through the cordon formed by Generals Hunter and Rundle's division between Bethlehem and Ficksburg. They made rapid tracks for Lindley, and were closely followed by Paget's and Broadwood's brigades.
They had reached about half-way between Bethlehem and Lindley when they were sighted by Broadwood's cavalry and Ridley's mounted infantry, and it was an exciting chase.
Methuen left Krugersdorp the same morning with Smith-Dorrien in command of his infantry to clear the country between that place and Rustenburg.
On General Clery moving across Waterfall Spruit on July 17th, it was found that the enemy had sub-divided their forces, as small parties were discovered by native scouts in different directions in our rear.
The Boers lighted a grass fire and moved behind it. When our column observed these movements, a few lyddite shells were sent in their direction. A party of horsemen was seen in the evening on a ridge. Two explosions had been heard near Greylingstad, and it was feared that the Boers had destroyed the line near Paardekop.
Previously the enemy fired a high-velocity gun, and one shell fell in the mess tent of the Lancashire Fusiliers. Other shells hit the station, but there were no casualties.
Investigations at Paardeberg, the scene of Cronje s last stand, showed that large quantities. of ammunition, rifles, and shells were buried with dead Boers and elsewhere. The Australian Bushmen proved extremely clever in discovering these strange graves. The undamaged weapons and ammunition have been removed to prevent their future use.
General Rundle found that there were several commandoes not far from his camp facing Rooikrantz, and though the one he had hemmed in was reinforced, their supplies of food and ammunition were scarce and had to be brought over the mountain on pack horses. The Colonial Division artillery, by shelling the Boer camp, compelled the enemy to shift nearer Wittebergen, but a couple of naval guns would have cleared the whole of Rooikrantz. The Boers showed fight on several occasions, and we lost a few men killed or wounded.
On the 18th of July Rundle's line before Commando Nek was strengthened by the Colonial Division, and at the same time Colonel Dalgety attacked the Boers' left wing, driving them out of a sheltered donga towards the rugged hills.
A section of the 79th Battery shelled the Boer centre, while Colonel Blair's Yeomen and Colonel Grenfell's Colonials fired long range volleys on the right. The latter set the veldt on fire, and the flames, driven by a strong wind, burned brightly behind Rooikrantz, destroying the pasture of the Boer horses there. The smoke and heat made them adjourn to a safer place.
The enemy were content with sniping and did not appear to possess a gun. They were believed to be a horse commando of about 1,500 men, trying to break through and attack our communications.
The prisoners taken at Mogelikatze Nek (Nitral's Nek) were sent to Balmoral, Botha's headquarters. A sergeant made an attempt to escape by staying behind in a house, where he was, however, discovered later by a field cornet. He had managed to secure a revolver, and with it he shot the cornet dead, but other Boers hearing the discharge of a firearm surrounded the house, and recaptured him.
The advance of Ian Hamilton's Division, in extended front, was continued on the 17th, when General French arrived near Boxburg, where he cleared General Hutton's flanks of Boer outposts.
Skirmishing proceeded in that direction, and south-east of Irene all day, with a steady forward movement.
A number of important arrests of spies were made during the last two days. One man was found disguised as a woman.
In pursuance of the proclamation issued by General Maxwell, as Military Governor of Pretoria a large number of women and children presented themselves at the railway station on the 19th of July, and two transport trains, containing them and their belongings, were sent via Hatherley, to the Boer lines beyond Pienaar's Poort. They seemed pleased with the cheap trip and the prospect of rejoining husbands, fathers and brothers.
On the 18th Mr. Wolmarans, whose house was within our lines, near Hatherley, was arrested. It was discovered that a quantity of arms and ^"12,000 in bar gold were concealed in the house. He had lately arrived at Cape Town from a visit to Europe as a Peace delegate. He was allowed to proceed home after taking the oath of neutrality, and afterwards admitted that he was serving on a commando. This is typical of many cases of the kind.
The Chief Commissioner in Zululand, in a despatch to Sir Redvers Buller, reported on the 19th that a number of Vryheid burghers, who had entered Zululand with waggons and stock, had surrendered to the British magistrate at Ngogte. They had also given up their arms. An arrangement was suggested to locate them in Zululand.
Steps were taken for the British Government to take over the control of Rhodesia. A patrol was fired upon by natives north of Buluwayo and a policeman was killed. A body of yeomanry was despatched to the place. Fifteen thousand horses were disembarkeed at Beira for the front.
Mr. M'Masters, the British Consul at this place was stabbed in the back by a German-American and died on the 19th of July. His assailant was arrested.
With the return of aristocratic officers and many war correspondents, as well as foreign military attaches, by the middle of July, the public interest in the war became overshadowed by the massacres in China; nevertheless there were several critical fights on, and as Mr. Winston Churchill stated when interviewed on disembarcation at Southampton, there was much for our army still to do beyond that of a police force. This was exemplified by the telegrams from Lord Roberts on the 21st and 22nd of July.
July 21st—Little, temporarily commanding the Third Brigade, reports that on the 19th he came in contact, near Lindley, with the force under De Wet, which had forced its way through Hunter's cordon. Fighting lasted until dusk, when De Wet's force, being repulsed, broke up into two parties.
Little's casualties were slight. He buried five Boers, and took two dangerously wounded into his ambulance.
Hamilton and Mahon continued their march yesterday, practically unopposed, and should join hands to-day with Pole-Carew's division near the Eerstefabricken station: they found the country extremely difficult. Hamilton captured a few prisoners and four waggons.
A body of the enemy have appeared between Krugers-dorp and Potchefstroom, where they wrecked a train on the 19th inst., which was taking two officers and twenty-one sick men to Krugersdorp.
Pretoria, 22nd July, 1-35 p.m.—The enemy made a determined attempt to-day to destroy the post at Railhead, thirteen miles east of Heidelberg. They attacked it at daybreak with three guns and a poni-pom, and by noon had completely surrounded it. The position was garrisoned by two companies Royal Dublin Fusiliers, one hundred and ten Royal Engineers, and ten Yeomanry, under the command of Major English, of the first-named regiment. He telegraphed to Heidelburg when the attack commenced, and General Hart started to his assistance with two guns, one pom-pom, and one hundred and forty Marshall's Horse and Yeomanry. The Boers had, however, been beaten off before the reinforcements arrived, owing, General Hart states, to the skill with which Major English had fortified the position, his vigilant arrangement, and the good fighting qualities of the garrison. The Boers were seen burying their dead, and their ambulance was busy with the wounded.
A Cape Town telegram of Saturday, July 21st, stated— Lord Roberts has made an attack in force on the road to Middleburg, and a big battle is now in progress.
President Kruger is with his burghers, and is exhorting them to fight to the death, quoting Scripture to show that they must win. It is believed, however, that the Boers will not make a long stand.
Then from Lorenzo Marques, the same day—A despatch from Machadodorp states that there has been heavy artillery firing in the neighbourhood of Middleburg. The Boers in that district are fully prepared to fall back upon the approach of the British.
British prisoners have been passing through to Nooitgedacht all this week. Two hundred and twenty arrived yesterday. Among them were a number of Canadian scouts captured at Greylingstad.
Four German officers who have been acting as Kruger's military advisers have arrived here by way of Barberton, having received orders from Berlin to proceed on active service to China. All are in poor health owing to privations endured in the field-
Another despatch from the same source stated that President Kruger and his Executive, having become tired of the railway siding in which their saloon car had been moored for a long time past, were now moving up and down the railway line. They recently took a. trip to Balmoral.
Before starting Mr. Kruger issued another manifesto to the burghers full of quotations from the Scriptures. He had been very careful, however, not to let the deluded Boers know that he had been offered honourable terms of peace without removal -from the country, it was said.
The burghers assumed mat there was nothing for them but to continue to fight, as otherwise they must be prepared for banishment to St. Helena or India.
After a gallop of three days in the hide and seek game, General Broadwood's 2nd Cavalry Brigade came up with De Wet's flying commando, without waggons, on the 19th of July. The enemy was caught at Palmiet-fontein, and it was a sharp artillery fight at a long distance. Darkness prevented a further pursuit of the laager, when it made off over the hills once more. Eight dead Boers were found, and we suffered five deaths and sixteen wounded. Our brigade went on next day to Vaal Krants, to find that the cunning enemy had doubled back through Paardeskraal in the dark. The following day the march was to Roodeval Station for supplies. The commando, which was now computed at about 2000 men and four guns, was accompanied by Steyn, who shared the command with the Brothers De Wets and Olivier. They cut the wires and destroyed the main lines on the railway to the north of Honingspruit, and also the telegraph lines to Pretoria via Potchefstroom, on the 21st. A supply train, with 100 Highlanders, was captured by them as they moved on towards Honingspruit Station, followed by 2nd and 3rd Cavalry Brigades.
A remnant of Boers was met near Bethlehem on the 19th, and a detachment of Yeomanry, after capturing a kopje, had to retire, being overpowered.
Delarey's commando was also on the prowl on the 19th, and wrecked a train between Potchefstroom and Krugersdorp which was carrying a number of civilian passengers, as well as Lieut. Harris, Welsh Fusiliers, Lieut. French Brewster, Royal Fusiliers, and 21 men, convalescent patients, none of whom were injured.
Methuen continued his march after the occupation of Leckpoort, and engaged the enemy's rearguard near Zandsfontein on July 20th. Early the next day (Saturday) he attacked the enemy again, at Oliphant's Nek, and completely dispersed them, with heavy Boer loss. By these successes Rustenberg, which had been in difficulties, was relieved, and Methuen and Baden-Powell joined hands.
Hunter reported that Bruce Hamilton had secured a strong position on Spitzray, between Bethlehem and Ficksburg, with one battalion of Cameron Highlanders and 500 mounted infantry. Our casualties were — killed: three of the Camerons; wounded: Captain Keith Hamilton, Oxford Light Infantry, severely, head; Captain Brown, Lieut. Stewart, both slightly; and thirteen men of the Cameron Highlanders.
The Grenadier Guards and dismounted men of Brabant's Horse opened fire upon a small Boer convoy, which was proceeding to Witnek, and which was also shelled. Three Boers were shot, and one Guardsman was wounded.
Colonel Bullock reported from Honingspruit, midday, 22nd July, that the latest information was that the Boers in force crossed the line to the south of Serfontein during the night.
A Boer scout asked a local farmer the way to Kerr's Store, near Junction of the Vaal and Rhenoster, where he said that De Wet would join another commando, and that all convoys were going there.
The line, which was slightly damaged, was soon cleared. Captain Fowler repairing the wire.
Little reported from Wadihook, 20th of July, that he was sending ambulances and a few waggons of supplies to Lindley, under the Geneva Cross, to bring the sick into Kroonstad, and remounts were being sent from Bloemfontein.
As Broadwood had sent to Kroonstad for supplies for his 3,000 men and horses it was most unfortunate that the communication should be cut, but this was only a temporary check upon the rations. The Raiders were living upon the farms, having no other means of supply; and this showed that we could not trust the oath which these local Boers had taken.
There were complaints at' Botha's headquarters of a scarcity of corned beef since the British Consul at Lorenzo Marques had at last got the Portuguese authorities there to stop forwarding food to the Boer army as contraband. It was stated that a Hollander merchant who had been sent to Europe with £80,000 to buy food for the burghers had absconded.
General Grobler bolted into the bush with some of his followers, tired of the war, some said—but others reported that he was still in communication with Botha.
With a rigid Press censorship, and only scrappy, almost enigmatical official telegrams, it was impossible at this time to feel satisfied with the way in which the British campaign was conducted. The breakdown in the operations against De Wet were peculiarly disheartening. Not far short of 50,000 British troops had been set in motion against perhaps one-twentieth their number of Boers, yet hitherto without a tangible result. What was required was not mere skirmishing with the Boers' rearguard, but the capture of De Wet, his troopers, and his guns. How or why the British campaign against him had so far been a complete failure was not apparent, and men suspended judgment with an impatient grumble.
The position was humiliating, even if its extreme difficulties, from a British point of view, might be quoted as an excuse.
When the exiled Pretorian families arrived at Barber-ton it was found that Mrs. Kruger had expatriated herself to go with them. A British detachment was in the neighbourhood to check Botha's advance in that direction.
Another batch of Boers was sent to Ceylon, where there was accommodation for 2,000.
Whilst the first session of the new Ministry at the Cape opened with moderation and in a conciliatory spirit, there were in the town a number of Transvaal officials, mostly Hollanders, on parole, who broke their oath of neutrality by fomenting discontent and sedition among Cape Afrikanders.
The question of the treatment of the rebels was one upon which Mr. Merriman sought to cause trouble to the new Cape Cabinet, and hence there was value in a Blue Book published by the Colonial Office on the 23rd of July referring to this subject, which had proved the wreck of the late Ministry.
Mr. Chamberlain's attitude was shown in a despatch to Sir Alfred Milner, dated May 5th, in reply to a minute drawn up by the Ministry, recommending that persons indicted for high treason should be tried by a special tribunal, that only the principal offenders should be selected, and that the rank and file should be allowed to go free, on giving proper security for their good behaviour.
Mr. Chamberlain agreed to the special tribunal, but was of opinion that the scheme of punishment for rebellion did not go far enough.
" Her Majesty's Government," he wrote to the High Commissioner, "are assured that the people of this country are animated by no vindictive feeling towards those who have been or are in arms against her Majesty's forces, whether enemies or rebels.
" Their principal desire is that when the war is over the racial and other animosities which existed before, or which have been called out by it, shall at the earliest possible moment disappear, and be succeeded by harmonious co-operation between those who have to live together in South Africa.
"But in pursuing this object the sentiments of both sides must be taken into consideration; and while on the one hand the worst results may be anticipated from any display of a revengeful policy on the part of the loyalists, not less serious consequences would ensue from the rankling sense of injustice which would follow upon a policy which would actually place rebels in a better position after the struggle was over than those who have risked life and property in the determination to remain loyal to their Queen and flag.
" Clemency to rebels is a policy which has the hearty sympathy of her Majesty's Government, but justice to loyalists is an obligation of duty and honour."
Mr. Chamberlain divided the rebels into six classes, commencing with the ringleaders and promoters, and ending with those who could prove they had acted under compulsion. The lightest penalty was to be lifelong disfranchisement.
It soon became evident that on the question of punishment the Cape Cabinet was hopelessly divided. Messrs. Schreiner, Soloman, and Herholdt were in favour of the ringleaders being tried by the special tribunal which should have power to pass such sentences on conviction as are allowed by the laws of Cape Colony, while the rank and file were to be disfranchised for five years.
Messrs. Merriman, Sauer, and Te Water, however, went further, and demanded an amnesty on the model of that conceded by Lord Durham to the Canadian rebels in 1838. These radical differences of opinion naturally led to the resignation of the Cabinet.
Sir Alfred Milner estimated the number of colonists who joined the Boers at 10,000, in round figures.
£17,000 was spent by the Cape Government on the relief of distress among the Dutch consequent upon the evacuation of Bechuanaland by the Boers.