Marched to Badfontein on Lydenburg road; no opposition. Saw Boers in distance with a few wagons but Dundonald said he couldn't catch them. Rather grand country, very hilly and berg-like round the valley.
Marched out at 8 am on the Lydenberg Road and after going about 4 miles cavalry were received with very hot shell fire from the top of hill about 5 miles off, from a Long Tom and high velocity gun, and a pom pom from somewhere.
Found enemy occupying a large Kopje to our right front also; hills in shape of horseshoe in front of us to both flanks, very like Laing's Nek. Boers soon opened with 2 more Long Toms, one on the right and other in front not far from the first, then with 2 4.7 howitzers, 2 high velocity and one or two field guns and another pom pom. The S.A.L.H. were going on to the Kopje and I was sent forward to stop them which was some difficulty as the going very rough and stony for riding. The General came to conclusion must have more troops to attack place so sent back for another battalion and half which would take some time in coming. In meantime from information received it was found that artillery could be taken up nowhere except by main road. (Louis Botha commanding here). Altogether it looks a very nasty and impossible place to take without great loss even if successful. He wired to Roberts to say very strong and nasty place but would try it tomorrow but I am glad to say Lord Roberts says don't I believe, as it should be capable of being turned. I never saw Boer guns fire so much, the Long Toms fired about 120 rounds, luckily and mostly at the road or somewhere where there was no one.
We sat on the plain all day and shells went over us and to our right in great number; the Boer artillery tactics and practice was on whole execrable.
We made no reply to guns and only R.H.A. which had gone forward with cavalry, came into action. They were fired at all day and had 5 horses hit and two men wounded. The last shell but one killed 8 and wounded 7 horses. Our casualties were 15 altogether, only 1 killed I am glad to say. About half only were wounded by shells.
Stayed in bivouac, heat very great during day in this valley, beastly dust.
Remained same place. Gerard sent wire to say he was going home. Prisoners released the other day amounted to about 1900 but only 6 officers who escaped. Boers kept remainder.
Boers got a Long Tom round to our right and shelled the camp, not at all unexpectedly to the ordinary "lay" mind. We have a large hill on our right flank and the top of which is about 6000 yards, nice range for a high velocity which, truth be told, had not been occupied by us, but cavalry just went up part of it the first day and patrols of ditto on succeeding days. It should and would have been easily held by a regiment or less, and certainly would have stopped them putting a Long Tom up which they did on a hill behind it about 3000 yards. However as soon as we got shelled 2 regiments and a battery were turned to go and take it, the hill, which they did before dark, the Boers retiring off it and consequently the Long Tom going and no other gun being brought up!
I think it the greatest luck that it didn't prove very inconvenient our not having occupied this place besides which if we had attacked frontally it was the only place where our long range guns could be put to any advantage. Ian Hamilton is now beyond Dullstrous where Brocklehurst's cavalry went to meet him. He has made a very good march and will probably turn this position.
We went up to top of hill mentioned yesterday, a rough climb. Cavalry were held in readiness to go forward in valley and the 2 regiments on top of hill went a short way over to the "Long Tom" hill but saw no Boers.
We soon saw General Ian Hamilton's helio to our west about 10 miles and cavalry were ordered forward up the road at the top of which they arrived in due course, Boers having been turned out of their position by Hamilton's flank march. A very strong position and well nigh impregnable from the front, certainly without great slaughter, a great number of men and guns neither of which we have too many for this job; in fact much too few .
Rode over to Hamilton's camp, about 3 miles off, was much pleased to see Algy King and Rouse there (latter taken prisoner at Sanna's Post in Q battery).
Bivouac about 3 miles North of top.
Marched to Lydenburg, a pretty green town, best I've seen in this cursed country. Boers began to shell us soon after 2.30 with 2 Long Toms and are still doing so. Very pleasantly we are in a nice little villa residence belonging to one Archer, an English store keeper.
Got shelled again soon after 8 am. when troops were getting under way. Find a few men and horses got hit yesterday in camp; it is strange that the General seems to have a "penchant" for bivouacing within range of enemy's guns. This Long Tom is a most formidable weapon when firing shrapnel which it does at over 10,000 yards but luckily they burst most of them badly, very often miles high; the other day when they fired so many a well-burst and directed shell killed 8 and wounded 7 horses of the battery, and today on the Gordons marching out of camp one shell burst well at a range of 11,400 yards, hitting 19 or 21 men, killing 1 man, dangerously wounding 3, and 9 others; even after all this I believe we shall camp under shell fire if possible!, which seems to be rather senseless. We atacked the position to our right, a strong one and rising nearly 2000 ft. up, on a broad front. Ian Hamilton with his three regiments 1/Gordons, Royal Scots and (space left by author) on the right, with Brocklehurst's cavalry protecting our right flank and rear and Kitchener's Brigade Gordons, Dundonald and 60th Leicesters, on the left with Dundonald's cavalry on left rear and flank. By about 4 pm we had driven Boers off top, Algy King's (20th) battery doing very good work and also Rouse with his pom poms; unfortunately a very heavy cloud came over and one could not see, but it lifted for a moment and one saw Boers going for all they were worth, and a heavy fire was opened on them; the position took a sudden and deep drop in rear and then a gradual rise comparatively. We saw them put men up to move their Long Tom about midday but the 5 inch were not very enterprising in firing at it. Ian Hamilton's lot seemed to me to be handled very well and he seems a good chap; dined with us last night. Dreadfully cold night.
Ian Hamilton returned to Machadadorp so we are left to go on with the 60th and Gordons only with 2 5inch, 2 12pdrs and 53rd battery and irregular cavalry under Dundonald, not quite a command for a General, a Lt. General and a Major General, which we have got, and I expect it will be a case of too many cooks etc, besides of course Dundonald and his cavalry, Brocklehurst remaining at Lydenberg. Started on at about 8 and after going some way to the skyline of gently sloping ground were met with a very heavy pom pom fire in the middle of which we of course got. A battery came up and fired at the place it was thought to be and got heavily shelled, 2 men hit and 8 horses; after a bit we got on to the edge of the Manchberg (8700ft) and there below us was the Boer convoy trekking across our front below. The colt guns (6) all came into action and men fired rifles ad lib at it. The R.H.A. was then brought up, (alas we hadn't a single 12pdr or 5inch up), and fired at it but couldn't reach. It was over 7000 yards off! The S.A.L.H. and Strathcona's and M.I. all went down the road towards it, an awful road cut out of the side of the mountain, but they got stopped at bottom by Boer rearguard.
Most of baggage didn't get in 'til the early hours of morning as only one road and very bad and steep in places, very trying for them who didn't get blankets as freezing.
One of the guides tells me that he lives close to here, that he has frequently known the Berg covered with snow at this time of year and seen Kaffirs sled from coll; it's certainly the highest (8700) point I've ever been; the Drakensberg range again. The infantry started down the hill about 8am and also the 12pdrs and soon after they debouched below, a Long Tom opened on them from beyond the Devil's Knuckles and continued firing with common shell and did no damage, also a high velocity and a pom pom. The 2 5inch guns had been got up early in the morning and had been firing at the tail end of the convoy; they then turned on to the Long Tom; the men of the Long Toms and also the other guns for that matter also dig deep trenches for themselves and run in as soon as the report of a gun goes off so are practically safe and I have never seen a Boer fire his gun absolutely in the open. The Gordons went forward and got to within about 4000 yards of the gun and the 53rd battery was taken down to a good position partly flanking Long Tom and it could get on to it with shrapnel so it seemed we had the gun in our grasp, but unfortunately the General had given orders for the 5inch to come down the hill so that when the Boers began to take the Long Tom away it only had the field battery at a difficult range to fire at it whereas the 5inch absolutely commanded it where it was, and also all the way up the road and my opinion is it was a fatal and stupid thing to do and it was most tantalising to see their annoying gun wend its way slowly off into safety; while it was so doing the General and General Littleton all worried, the battery and the 12 pndrs. firing at it so that they layed very badly and the General then said they shot very badly; no wonder! It's perfectly fatal the way some senior officers meddle with this sort of things. Strathcona's went forward and got as far as the bend in the road and were held there but they got 3 or 4 Boers. Another Long Tom began firing at them from below with shrapnel. We went forward beyond the Devil's Knuckles and saw the Boers again trekking below the road off the Manchburg; all down is perfectly awful and quite impossible for going up with heavily laden wagons. Bivouac about 1| miles our side of Devil's Knuckles. I saw about 60 Boers during day go off to the right.
Started off down the hill again, could see a few Boers on skyline all round, but no wagons on the Neloprint road as expected, found afterwards they were going away on Pilgrim's Rest road. The infantry got fired on from front when they got on flat and momentarily checked and I was sent forward to tell Col. Strele of Strathconas to push forward on a high hill on left and so turn the few Boers who were standing; by time I got to him right in front found he had done so and saw a few Boers on Spitz Kop just in front also further on 3 wagons and several oxen trekking towards Komatipoort. Arrived close to Spitz Kop at about 2.30, and bivouac ordered to be in valley, chancing as usual enemy bringing a gun up to shell us. Went up to hill in front of one I had been on in morning and there got the grandest view I've seen in South Africa. Saw, about 10 miles off, Boer laager and Long Tom trekking to Pilgrim's Rest, also another 5 miles further on, should estimate numbers at 2,000. Fine country this, would grow anything and there is gold about, a gold mine (Glynn Lydenberg) just about 6 miles from us. The variety of flowers growing is wonderful. Forgot to say we got about 15 tons of sugar, flour and rice and coffee on the 9th; here at the gold mine we found stored about 100 tons of ditto and 300 boxes small arms ammunition, mostly Martini Henry which we send for tomorrow.
Hear Kruger went thro' to Pilgrim's Rest on 9th. The idea was to move a little South to block roads from Nelspruit, evidently General changed his mind and ordered things already started to stop, then went up Spitz Kop in search water, not much found so 2 companies and 2 guns left here and guns etc on their way up ordered back again, rather useless expenditure of energy! Col.Parsons and staff dined; hear now Kruger supposed to be at KaapMaiden! also our mails captured near Badfontein leading to outbursts on General's part of raillery against R.E. presumably because staff officer who brought news belongs to that corps, reminded me of way he went for me at Ladysmith on the R.A. as a means of exploding temper. Glad to hear mail not bagged, only some telegraph stores and sappers. Remained same place.
Intelligence says Kruger, Steyn, L.Botha and Reitz all at Kaap Maiden. Went up Spitz Kop yesterday with Trotter and coming back an enormous cloud of locusts came over us; perfect myriads of them.
Intelligence says Boers not gone to Pilgrim's Rest but to Belvedere where the General believes they are in cul de sac and bet they aren't! Hear Kruger has gone Komati Poort. French has got to Barberton, found and released 28 officers and about 56 men, collared about 40 engines and large supplies.
A few surrenderers have come in last few days. Mail of 11th Aug arrived safe yesterday. Dull work this, nearly a week since we got here.
A few surrendered Boers being allowed to trek their cattle back to their farms; Col. Parsons asked one yesterday "how did you manage to get away from your commando?" "Well you see" answered the Boer "I look after other peoples as well who are on commando and besides I've not a good shot and my friend with me is very delicate and I was only used in the hospital"; Thus we make war! I hear for certain we'd all hoped and thought not today that the General goes on North towards Belvedere where Botha's or now Viljoen's army is, with what idea I cannot conceive as we are numerically only about 3000 or about same as Boers! They have 3 Long Toms, we only 2 5", which gun for gun are not their equal. If we manage to drive them, to what purpose? We hold the roads here; we certainly cannot expect to defeat and capture them, so with what object? Are we to trek to Leydsdorp and get into a hole? I trust not but it seems to me a curious move. I heard the General the other day send a telegram to say Boers had retreated in a "mob", all the same they seem to me to have fought good rearguard actions and certainly kept us from taking waggons or Long Toms or anything but what was stored. I wonder if Lord Roberts really knows true facts and thinks we have nothing to run our heads against. It seems to me a very strange thing and certainly contrary to the spirit of decentralisation recently preached at house by people in high places, now on the spot here, that a full General commanding Natal army which is scattered so far down as Newearth, should go right away from it with a matter of 3000 men when there is a capable Lt. General here with 2 Maj. Generals besides, instead of being somewhere central, as there is or may be to look after; apart from it being a trifle ignominious to the Lt. General (Lyttleton) and putting him altogether in a false position; what a strange thing it is people never practise what they preach, even in this very serious business of war but sometimes put personal consideration before others; perhaps a touch of obstinacy.
Still here and I suppose Comm. in Chief of Natal Army is going on commanding this "large" force; Gen Kitchener who went down to Nelspruit returned yesterday, says Lord Roberts goes home at once and Lord Kitchener going to India; fear we are in the cart, goodness knows when we shall get home, never I suppose, if we only keep going to command the various little forces which go out, rather sickening. Heat intense and most trying, feel perfect rag.
Shifted camp to east of Spitz Kop and presume we shall shortly start on our way North, seems to me a rotten move from any point of view and haven't met anyone yet who can explain it except that road back to Lydenberg via Pilgrim's Rest is supposed to be better than other but I hear it isn't, curious to see; in any case it is miles further, besides we had troops back towards Manchburg and only baggage for 2 regiments of infantry, Strathcona, 1 battery Artillery would have had to return all the way, the rest were already on their journey so to speak. Besides which it is quite on cards the Boers may be holding good position on the road and if we are unable to drive them, besides costing life, things would look very awkward. The. infantry soldiers are out of boots in many cases.
Conway is arriving back from Nelspruit with 6 days supply, we had them 6 days ago and if move was to have been made should think it better to have done it then instead of wearing out men's boots and tiring arrivals for nothing. As it is our cavalry has moved to Labu R. drift, and most others here, the Manchburg being evacuated and re-occupied by certain amount of Boers.
Move to Labu R. drift. Many scorpions and a few snakes round this country. All round her quite a fine country and seems to be rich in gold; the land mostly belongs to gold mining companies.
Move at daylight, saw a few Boer outposts falling back and met with no opposition for some way. When we got to where road bends to the left towards Burghers Pass and Pilgrims Rest we saw Boers trekking right away North on Belvedere Road, about 700 of them with wagons and 2 guns, they offered no resistance, but firing began on our left front and eventually our M.I. got stick there in front of Burghers Pass, a very formidable position and unassailable except from left. (Badly handled by "Bimbash Stewart", men put on open slope to be shot at!). The R.H.A. came into action but it was very difficult to make out where firing came from. The Devons were sent up on the left and scaled the heights very well and at about 3.30 got on top of mountain on the left of pass; a very lucky thing for us the Boers were only few here as if they had held it with 600 to 1000 men I doubt very much if we could have taken it without incurring very large loss, if at all. Our baggage had to be brought down into a sort of basin under the Pass and would have been in a very nasty place if Boers had had guns, they only fired one, a pom pom that, could only fire one shot at a time. The country quite grand all round., great mountains, some falling perpendicularly down 1000 ft and over. We sat by the H.A. guns while Boers sniped which was a little useless I thought and a trifle dangerous, as certain little whisperings announced!
Started out at 5.30am and everything was started up pass, very steep. The horse artillery had great trouble in getting up, our generous far-seeing Government not yet having supplied them with the proper horse gun; they still have the old 12pdr; also trailers don't pull up hill like ours. Looked on at baggage till dark and went down hill on other side about 3 miles where our camp was. The baggage didn't get up to top of hill till about 10pm. Our advanced people got into Pilgrim's Rest about 6 miles on, and were sniped at there.
Started 5.30 and went along road to Pomerkraus, snipers reported about but we weren't shot at. Went as far as Camp there and then went into Pilgrim's Rest; (Road to Pomerkraus has no less than 9 drifts to get over, luckily no rain or couldn't have done it), gold mines all about and they say they are good; the workings round Pomerkraus belong to Transvaal Gold Mining Co. Commandeered 3 bottles of champagne from a former belligerent called Steyn and had lunch in hotel. The cavalry were sent in early morning up road or path running straight west on to Dorwhoek and they there turned North and turned about 50 Boers out of an unassailable position from us, at the top of very steep pass leading up from Pomerkraus to top of mountains; they collared about 3000 sheep, some cattle and 2 prisoners; a very good move as it made our road clear, the only one we could bring traffic up, very mountainous country. Steyn, expressly, was in Pilgrim's Rest on 22nd and a photo was shown us of him and about 10 other truculent-looking Boers which had been taken there. Gravett, who commanded this lot of Boers, left last night; they are apparently going to Obeigstaat en route North. Howard marches out of Lydenberg today I believe (did not do so Stopsford said) through Kruger's Post towards us.
Started daylight and went up to top of mountain, about 5 miles, very steep and a deuce of a pull for guns and baggage. Very nice and fresh on top and grand scenery. I really am beginning to think the chance of going home is looming nearer.
Stayed same place to give animals a rest, they are pretty well done, very lucky no rain "till now" though it looked very like it last night; we should have been hung up if there had been, and only about 2 days supplies left. I consider we have been extraordinarily lucky to have got here and cannot conceive why the risk of this march should have been run, nothing to gain and a great deal to lose. Air quite charming up here which is between 7000 and 8000 ft high.