Went out with Gen. and some of staff close to Acton Homes. Sent on the day before horses and half the escort to Clydesdale Farm beyond Dewdrop. About 20 miles to where we went, unfortunately very hazy or one would have had a good view of Van Reevens and the other passes. A squadron of 13th Hussars scouted in front of us from Clydesdale, no Boers were seen.
Rode out with Gen. to Dundonald's camp, had lunch there.
Re. Sir R.B's wording of recommendation etc, for V.C.'s at Colenso:~
What suggested the thought to me to have a try for the guns was this; I was riding a few yards behind Sir R. along the back donga (where the drivers and horses were) when I heard Sir R. saying to the men "For God's sake come out men etc". So I went up to him and said "What do you want Sir" and he said "I want to try and get some of those guns away", so Gerard and self rode our horses into the donga and got some men out as described before.
Mr Proctor Long (M.P.) told me in 1910 when lunching with him that Botha had told him he wanted us to cross at Colenso and expected to envelope us and give us a crushing defeat; but some Boers started firing and spoilt his place.
White-Thompson's account (in my war book) is most interesting as showing what happened actually with the guns.
Apparently they considered they had got the fire from Fort Wylie well under, but the non-appearance of the infantry and the running out of ammunition decided the commanding officers to take shelter in a donga close to until they came up, when the attack could be renewed.
Started from Ladysmith almost due East to Sundays River and bivouaced on river bank; the dust something dreadful at times, couldn't see a yard in front of me. (This was when we caught up the supply column). (20 miles)
Crossed Sundays River and marched to just beyond Washbank River, country very rough going for about 4 miles after S.River and then flat, good going; bivouacced about 1 mile past Washbank; Boers driven back from Kopjes 3 miles to front and left flank; saw them firing the grass under the Berg. (10 miles)
Marched to Vercuaates Farm, no opposition; saw Boers standing on skyline of Berg and looked as if digging a gun pit so was sent off to tell Col. Parsons to get a 4.7 ready to fire in case gun opened on us who were well within range, also huge armoury of supply column. (9m)
In charge of our baggage, had breakfast at 5.45 and got packed up soon as possible expecting to be fired at; got away at 6.45 and went some distance away to the right and stopped with baggage till orders to move came. At 8 a Boer gun opened fire and dropped some shells close to where our bivouac had been at the farm, so lucky we got out as mules are inclined to stampede.
I went up to top of a Kopje and had a good view of 1 brigade (Hamilton's) of Gen. Clery's division advancing to attack a high hill which was entry on to the Biggarsberg; infantry arrived at top without opposition. Dundonald's irregulars went round to the right and climbed up in front and also A Battery R.H.A.; Bethune's M.I., who had been operating away from us since Feb 12th. Greytown and Pomeroy way, also came up and Boers evacuated their trenches and took up a position just South of Helpmakaar and had a pom pom and a high velocity Krupp in position which fired on them; a very successful day as we got a footing on the Biggarsberg by a flank march and with the loss of 3 men wounded, (late note - 10 men). Bivouac about 2 miles down from the road from the top; 2 4.7's and 4 12 pdrs manned by R.G.A. were got into position in the evening. (10m)
Started out at daybreak and rode up to top of Biggarsberg, a beautiful cool morning, and was much struck with the difference of scene, the ground being a beautiful grassy flat, without the eternal ant heap dotted about, and one could see for miles; a certain amount of woods dotted about, almost like some of the Salisbury Plain country; below one saw the unending hills and Kopjes; now we have got into a country more suitable for fighting and one that cavalry can act in. We found that the Boers had evacuated the position which they had held against us the evening before so the whole force moved forward. At Helpsmakaar I went into a house which the Boers had been using as a hospital; found nothing in it except a lot of newspapers, mostly Le Petit Blau and a few "Standard and Diggers News", the former copy which I got had long and amusing anti-English accounts of the war and a little map of Helpmakaar road, curious coincidence; the other paper made light of their retirement from Brandfort. About a mile further on we came across Dundonald who reported the enemy were holding a ridge about 5000 yards further on, so off the cavalry and A Battery went and the battery came into action while part of the cavalry worked round, but the Boers fled and now commenced a pursuit which went on for some 12 miles or more. The enemy had fired all the grass and when we got to the top of the ridge one saw the whole country one mass of smouldering grass and smoke; luckily the grass was short or we couldn't have moved on, as it was it sheltered the enemy from view or we should have bagged a lot. They retired very well, taking up positions as they went; the S.A.L.H. found themselves fired at once at 150 yards, not seeing the enemy for the smoke. We got to Beith and found 2 Boer women in a house on the road with their children who hadn't managed to get away; one of them was a most villainous looking woman and her children filthy dirty. About 2 miles further on we came across the battery in action and Dundonald was told to go on about 3 miles and we came back to bivouaac at Kamp's Farm near Beith. At about 4.30 we heard guns firing further on which turned out to be Boer guns near Fort Pine.
The cavalry bivouacced about 3 or 4 miles in front of us where they could get water; the horses were pretty beat. Ten men were wounded. Gough (16th Lancers) in Command of the composite M.l. had been working on the Boer left all day and succeeded in capturing 5 wagons and trains, apparently the only baggage with them, the rest having been sent through Dundee the day before. (14 m).
Started out at daylight and marched to Dundee without opposition. Near Fort Pine the country is very rough and the road goes down a steep hill and if the Boers had stood there it would have been a very awkward place. We got into Dundee at 10.15, the few inhabitants left being very pleased to see us; they say the Boers had gone through the evening before and seemed to be in a great hurry and state of demoralisation. Dundee not a bad little place and the houses seem much nicer than the Ladysmith houses; they were all in a beastly state having been occupied by Boers. The collieries had had their machinery broken but it was antiquated I hear. From all we can learn the enemy were in such a hurry they have not done much damage to the line (Find my information wrong); their last train from Glencoe went about 5 am and the telegraph clerk left post office here at 7 am, thus ending the reign of the " Z.A.R." there. Six and half months since Talana and retreat of poor Penn Symons' column under . Rather a contrast of marches. We bivouacced on the cycle race track. (15m)
Temperature early this morning 39 F., very nice and fresh. Hildyard got to Wessels Nek on the evening of 14th with his division having occupied Kidoda as we marched on. General and selves and HQ Staff marched to Glencoe and bivouacced near railway station; a large Boer laager must have been here, ground very foul and many flies. Went some miles along road South towards Washbank, came across a wagon with some ammunition on it, some Mausers and shells like what was fired at us at Hussar Hill.
Marched to Dannhaus and bivouacced near railway station. Several rehabs coming in to surrender. (13m)
Troops started about 3.30 am and we started at 4.45am for Newcastle.. Very cold misty morning just like November in England till about 8.45 when we got to the top of some hills above Newcstle from which one could see Majuba in the distance. The railway bridge over the Ingagona 3 spans blown up, evidently by a man who wrote his name in large letters, close to where the charge would be on one of the girders, thus "H.A.Wilson 15/5/1900". Probably a Britisher. A few inhabitants left at Newcastle who cheered as we came in and a "ladee" stood bowing wearing a body of union jack stripes, rather funny. We took up quarters at the house of a Mr Watts and bivouacced in the garden. (23m)
General and some of his staff went to Ingago, found Boers occupying Laing's Nek.
Dew drops frozen on the back of my looking glass this morning. Dundonald is near Majuba; our brigade at Ingago. Climate quite nice and refreshing now but sun still too strong.
Rode with General to see Gen. Clery at Ingago and Lord Dundonald at farm beyond river, then went on to outposts under Inkwelo; saw Boers on Majuba, lining Laing's Nek and also on Pongwane, a very strong position. There is plenty of grass round Newcastle except where Boers have burnt.
Went with Gen. to Ingagona bridge, first train got there today. Gen. Lyttleton's division arrived there and Gen. Hillyard's here.
Flag of truce sent out from Clery pointing out that new line cut off by Roberts at Elansfontein and our occupying Utrecht? it seemed pity to shed further bloodshed. Answer came back 31st to say letter sent on to Botha.