1st & 2nd February
Seedy with chill or something
'A' Battery R.H.A. arrived
During the last few days a road has been made for taking guns to the top of SwartzKop, a kidney - shaped high hill on our right and South of the river, and 6 naval 12 prs, 2 13 prs and a mountain battery were on the summit on the morning of the 5th, the day the General fixed on to make another attack; this time the idea was to take Vaal Krantz to our right front which seemed to be the key of the situation in so far that the main trenches across the Ladysmith Road and opposite Potgeister's could be enfiladed from there it was thought. Swajdtzkop is a kidney shaped mountain about two miles long with very steep and rough sides, it runs practically West - Easterly and has the Tugela running alongside it for a little way. The North side faced the Boer position and Vaal Krantz is opposite the Easterly end; there is only one main road running at the bottom of the North side along which, after passing over the flats under Spearman's Hill, supplies etc. could come up. Wynne's brigade occupied the Kopje in front of and the enemy's side of Potgieter's Drift and Clery's and Warren's divisions moved from their camp behind Spearman's. Clery's division moved later to the right, crossing a back-bend (from SwartzKop) over a pontoon bridge to the bottom of Swartzkop at the North East corner and Lyttleton's brigade went on crossing another bend of the river by pontoon and going left-handed attacked Vaalkrantz after a furious bombardment from our guns.
Our guns on the plain by the Kopjes at Potgieter's were under heavy fire from 2 Long Toms of the enemy's on Spion Kop and were very heavily shelled on limbering up to come over to their right. Lyttleton succeeded in getting to the top of Vaal Krantz, and about half way along it by the evening.
A'Court was sent up to find out and report on the situation and on coming down he said it was an awkward place and absolutely impossible for artillery to get to without previous preparation. We saw Boers this day place a pom pom in position out of an ambulance.
On the 6th a whole crowd of baggage, cavalry and infantry were on the side of Swartzkop, a very good mark for a hidden Long Tom which the enemy had on a mountain on our right flank. Dornkloof, which began firing at it, one shell bursting within 15 yards of the General, who seems to like putting his position under shell fire, very unpleasant. Heavy fighting began early in the morning and the enemy got what seemed to be from us, a nasty cross fire of guns on Lyttleton's men; they however made progress along the hill and took the whole of it, but at 4 pm. a determined counter-attack was made on one corner by the Boers and the front line there began to retire but were all right, our second line coming up; later in the evening a pontoon having been built just under the front of Vaal Krantz as looked at by us, Gen. Hildyard's brigade was sent up to replace Gen. Lyttleton's. On the 7th Long Tom dropped a shell into our bivuaac soon after we had left it to sit on the hill and continued making it very uncomfortable. During the day enfilade fire was brought on Hildyard and Vaal Krantz was rendered bad to hold and it was found that the country beyond did not offer much inducement to go on, so in the evening it was decided to evacuate. Hildyard's brigade came down at night and on the morning of the 8th the whole force had to move back along the one narrow road along Swartzkop about which I must confess to having grave fears, however they only fired their long range gun on the right at us which even if well directed might have caused great damage and havoc enfilading troops in fours as it did; the night before it showed it could range us all the way by putting a shell into the hospital right on the left of Swartzkop; I think we got out of a very ugly trap very luckily. Our loss taking Vaal Krantz about 300 killed and wounded. We marched on to Springfield Bridge and had the Little Tugela to bathe in which was one of the nicest things I've met with in the Campaign, we stayed there next day and marched to Chieveley on the 10th where we camped till the 14th, on which day we marched forward to occupy Hussar Hill and this we did with little opposition. Our headquarters were taken up just behind the 5" guns which fired at Hlangwane and that side; it seems to me a most curious thing but here was a prominent knoll with no cover, signallers put on it, everyone standing or sitting on the skyline, messengers and officers coming up to the General, taken up as the Headquarters; very naturally 2 concealed guns of the enemy opened up on it and so again we had to sit doing nothing under a nasty shell fire. Gen. Lyttleton's division(Clery sick) had occupied the right of Hussar Hill down to the Blaaukrantz River on the 15th and the weather being so hot they remained on the 16th; we still sat on the prominence and as I expected one. shell wounded one of us (Corporal Jenner (our Colonial orderly) and another man) bursting within 10 yards of us and must have just passed over the General's head. We remained here the rest of the day and in the evening moved to bivouaac to our right , close to Lyttleton. On the 17th he moved forward to attack Cingolo Mountain our guns being very well placed and giving the Boer trenches a tremendous shelling; by the evening Lyttleton's division was halfway up Hildyard's Brigade on the right and Norcott's (Lyttleton's) on the left with Barton again on his left in the plain; Wynne (Woodgate's) brigade was left at Hussar Hill and Hart at Chieveley. On 18th Cingolo was taken.
Dundonald having gone round to the right with Irregular Cavalry, and the troops proceeded along Monte Cristo; Boers were seen riding away down the other end of Monte Cristo; in the evening Barton attacked the Green Hill to West of Monte Cristo and took it. Went forward in the evening with General and found we had captured a Boer laager, a few ponies and a good deal of ammunition in trenches. Thus Hlangwane was outflanked and made untenable to the enemy. On the 19th our men pushed forward towards Hlangwane which was occupied by our troops at the Southerly end and we could see the enemy trekking away having crossed the river to the North on the road towards Ladysmith; it began to be thought by some that they were clearing altogether. On the 19th it was found that enemy had evacuated Hlangwane entirely leaving tents (mostly taken at Dundee), plenty of ammunition, grain etc. In the evening we moved our bivouaac to the foot of Hlangwane very adjacent to where shells were coming. Intelligence Dept. reported Boers going away North and only fighting a rearguard action.
Colenso occupied by our troops. Everything seemed pretty quiet(a bad sign in Boers) and towards noon a pontoon bridge was thrown over Tugela about 1| miles North of Fort Wylie and troops commenced to cross; Thorneycroft in meantime had occupied Fort Wylie and Kopjes north of it. Went with General down to Tugela to see place for bridges and got fired on by guns from our right somewhere. In the afternoon troops crossed except Barton's Brigade left on Hlangwane and a battalion on Monte Cristo; the two naval 12 prs which had a very good commanding position had been brought down the day before. I thought it a pity to leave our right which seemed to be the first time we had got anywhere that the enemy did not outflank us. Moved our bivouac close to Tugela east of Colenso and close to where our guns got lost; galloped round there in evening to look at place; about 15 dead carcasses of horses lying there.
When I see this place it strikes me as very lucky we did not get across Colenso day, I believe we should have been wiped out with Hlangwane untaken and the place absolutely commanded all round.
Began to fight northward along railway and went with Trotter and General to a Kopje forward; was sent to find Sir C. Warren (who could not be found anywhere) and fetched him up walking along the railway in front of a brigade and not very far from firing line, lots of bullets flying about.
All went out early and stayed on battlefield all day and in the evening moved our bivouac forward (only 1 mile) but where shells fell and a few bullets came over.
At dawn again to battlefield and General took up headquarters on to a small Kopje in front where there was a damnable shell fire and several men wounded; 3 general including G.O.C. and 1 divisional general were sitting here, I thought very unnecessary and quite wrong, lucky shrapnel might have had the lot; Hart attacked.
Went to same place and had same experience; eleven days continuous fighting and feel perfectly sick of it and very fagged and done. All these days on an awfull tea in my waterbottle generally.
Armistice made to bury dead and get wounded in lying between the 2 forces who were only about 3 or 400 yards apart in our place; poor fellows, they had been there 24 hours or more. This hardly looks like a rearguard action. Average killed and wounded I believe 100 a day. 4 naval guns sent back to Monte Cristo and all artillery except for battery brought back over bridge on to Hlangwane.
Out all day, dead tired, riding first to Monte Cristo and then over Hlangwane and got back about 4.30 and tried to sleep but too tired. From 14th to 20th did not manage to get a bath of any sort, in fact very little water even to wash one's hands or face. A great deal of the ammunition found consisted of expanding bullets which made dreadful wounds one doctor told me, and others had been dipped in some green poisonous looking stuff like "verdigris".
Hot sun and very trying; it's quite hot. Following guns were in position on Hlangwane - 4 4.7 Lyddite R.H.A. battery, 6 field batteries, 4 12 pdr naval, howitzer battery; 4 mountain guns, 4 5" with R.G.A. detachments; 4 12 pdr naval and 2 mountain guns were on Monte Cristo; 1 field battery was down in the plain to the left of Hlangwane. A good many of the field guns had got worn out and 1 battery entirely replaced with others. Last night the Boers opened a heavy fire all round; place for a position was chosen over the river directly under the north of Hlangwane, a very steep approach to it on both sides, but fairly well under cover. Talbot Coke's brigade now was holding our left flank along the ridges from Colenso running to North, Hildyard with 2 regiments on his right, then Hart still holding position which he had gained with large loss; there remained to be taken two high and strong hills to our front which looked a most uncompromising undertaking. I may mention that about 40 shells fell into the place we had our bivouac where we were for 3 nights below Hlangwane, but during the daytime when we were out fighting; if they had burst well it would have been very awkward for our servants and horses.
MAJUBA DAY. Yesterday the trenches and kloofs and dongas were all well bombarded by the guns. Today we started off at daylight from our bivouac on the plain and took up our position at naval guns on the left; the pontoon was thrown over the river at chosen spot; at about 9 o'clock the following wire came from Lord Roberts, "Have captured Cronje and all his following at daybreak today, he is now a prisoner in my camp, will let you know numbers later, hope that Her Majesty's Govt, will consider the event satisfactory occuring as it does on the anniversary of Majuba". Was sent with orders to tell them begin attack and told several the news of Cronje.
At 9.30 Barton's brigade crossed the pontoon and went to the right along the river bank some distance and in due course began to ascend Pieters Hill from the right flank when a simply tremendous bombardment was kept up on the trenches, then I saw them arrive at the summit apparently with no opposition; then Kitchener's brigade supported by Norcott's began to mount the centre hill under cover of the same hellish fire from guns and they too arrived at the top and took some of the trenches at the point of the bayonet and capturing about 50 prisoners. Barton's men met with a good deal of opposition further along the hill but eventually cleared it losing about 180. About 4.30 pm I was sent to tell Dundonald to take his cavalry (Irregulars) down to the pontoon and also the horse battery and one field with view of following enemy who now were clearing; but Dundonald's men being far away from their horses and Dundonald himself not visible, as usual, anywhere (tho1 I gave order to Byng instead), it was late before he moved and Sir R. finding road so difficult for artillery to get up on other side sent them back when they had got down there, thus ended the anniversary of Majuba Day, the enemy defeated in both colonies.
Went over bridge early to Sir C. Warren and everything seemed quiet; day taken up with getting the guns over. Saw the Boer prisoners, for the most part a blackguard looking lot. The whole cavalry was ordered over bridge, Lyttleton reported no enemy in front of him. We went forward to Kitchener's hill in centre and saw the Irregular cavalry working in plain; enemy seen going away but on the left suddenly beyond Pieter's Station heavy fire was opened on S.A.L.H., evidently a few of enemy's rearguard. The Kopje from which this fire was opened was afterwards occupied by our cavalry. We bivouaced that night in a most pestilential spot above the river on the Pieter's side.