The Great Boer War
Arthur Conan Doyle

Part 2 out of 11

varied from 25,000 to 35,000 men. Mr. J. B. Robinson, a personal
friend of President Kruger's and a man who had spent much of his
life among the Boers, considered the latter estimate to be too
high. The calculation had no assured basis to start from. A very
scattered and isolated population, among whom large families were
the rule, is a most difficult thing to estimate. Some reckoned from
the supposed natural increase during eighteen years, but the figure
given at that date was itself an assumption. Others took their
calculation from the number of voters in the last presidential
election: but no one could tell how many abstentions there had
been, and the fighting age is five years earlier than the voting
age in the republics. We recognise now that all calculations were
far below the true figure. It is probable, however, that the
information of the British Intelligence Department was not far
wrong. According to this the fighting strength of the Transvaal
alone was 32,000 men, and of the Orange Free State 22,000. With
mercenaries and rebels from the colonies they would amount to 60,
000, while a considerable rising of the Cape Dutch would bring them
up to 100,000. In artillery they were known to have about a hundred
guns, many of them (and the fact will need much explaining) more
modern and powerful than any which we could bring against them. Of
the quality of this large force there is no need to speak. The men
were brave, hardy, and fired with a strange religious enthusiasm.
They were all of the seventeenth century, except their rifles.
Mounted upon their hardy little ponies, they possessed a mobility
which practically doubled their numbers and made it an
impossibility ever to outflank them. As marksmen they were supreme.
Add to this that they had the advantage of acting upon internal
lines with shorter and safer communications, and one gathers how
formidable a task lay before the soldiers of the empire. When we
turn from such an enumeration of their strength to contemplate the
12,000 men, split into two detachments, who awaited them in Natal,
we may recognise that, far from bewailing our disasters, we should
rather congratulate ourselves upon our escape from losing that
great province which, situated as it is between Britain, India, and
Australia, must be regarded as the very keystone of the imperial

At the risk of a tedious but very essential digression, something
must be said here as to the motives with which the Boers had for
many years been quietly preparing for war. That the Jameson raid
was not the cause is certain, though it probably, by putting the
Boer Government into a strong position, had a great effect in
accelerating matters. What had been done secretly and slowly could
be done more swiftly and openly when so plausible an excuse could
be given for it. As a matter of fact, the preparations were long
antecedent to the raid. The building of the forts at Pretoria and
Johannesburg was begun nearly two years before that wretched
incursion, and the importation of arms was going on apace. In that
very year, 1895, a considerable sum was spent in military

But if it was not the raid, and if the Boers had no reason to fear
the British Government, with whom the Transvaal might have been as
friendly as the Orange Free State had been for forty years, why
then should they arm? It was a difficult question, and one in
answering which we find ourselves in a region of conjecture and
suspicion rather than of ascertained fact. But the fairest and most
unbiased of historians must confess that there is a large body of
evidence to show that into the heads of some of the Dutch leaders,
both in the northern republics and in the Cape, there had entered
the conception of a single Dutch commonwealth, extending from Cape
Town to the Zambesi, in which flag, speech, and law should all be
Dutch. It is in this aspiration that many shrewd and well-informed
judges see the true inner meaning of this persistent arming, of the
constant hostility, of the forming of ties between the two
republics (one of whom had been reconstituted and made a sovereign
independent State by our own act), and finally of that intriguing
which endeavoured to poison the affection and allegiance of our own
Dutch colonists, who had no political grievances whatever. They all
aimed at one end, and that end was the final expulsion of British
power from South Africa and the formation of a single great Dutch
republic. The large sum spent by the Transvaal in secret service
money--a larger sum, I believe, than that which is spent by the
whole British Empire--would give some idea of the subterranean
influences at work. An army of emissaries, agents, and spies,
whatever their mission, were certainly spread over the British
colonies. Newspapers were subsidised also, and considerable sums
spent upon the press in France and Germany.

In the very nature of things a huge conspiracy of this sort to
substitute Dutch for British rule in South Africa is not a matter
which can be easily and definitely proved. Such questions are not
discussed in public documents, and men are sounded before being
taken into the confidence of the conspirators. But there is plenty
of evidence of the individual ambition of prominent and
representative men in this direction, and it is hard to believe
that what many wanted individually was not striven for
collectively, especially when we see how the course of events did
actually work towards the end which they indicated. Mr. J.P.
FitzPatrick, in 'The Transvaal from Within'--a book to which all
subsequent writers upon the subject must acknowledge their
obligations--narrates how in 1896 he was approached by Mr. D.P.
Graaff, formerly a member of the Cape Legislative Council and a
very prominent Afrikander Bondsman, with the proposition that Great
Britain should be pushed out of South Africa. The same politician
made the same proposal to Mr. Beit. Compare with this the following
statement of Mr. Theodore Schreiner, the brother of the Prime
Minister of the Cape:

'I met Mr. Reitz, then a judge of the Orange Free State, in
Bloemfontein between seventeen and eighteen years ago, shortly
after the retrocession of the Transvaal, and when he was busy
establishing the Afrikander Bond. It must be patent to every one
that at that time, at all events, England and its Government had no
intention of taking away the independence of the Transvaal, for she
had just "magnanimously" granted the same; no intention of making
war on the republics, for she had just made peace; no intention to
seize the Rand gold fields, for they were not yet discovered. At
that time, then, I met Mr. Reitz, and he did his best to get me to
become a member of his Afrikander Bond, but, after studying its
constitution and programme, I refused to do so, whereupon the
following colloquy in substance took place between us, which has
been indelibly imprinted on my mind ever since:

'REITZ: Why do you refuse? Is the object of getting the people to
take an interest in political matters not a good one?

'MYSELF: Yes, it is; but I seem to see plainly here between the
lines of this constitution much more ultimately aimed at than that.

'REITZ: What?

'MYSELF: I see quite clearly that the ultimate object aimed at is
the overthrow of the British power and the expulsion of the British
flag from South Africa.

'REITZ (with his pleasant conscious smile, as of one whose secret
thought and purpose had been discovered, and who was not altogether
displeased that such was the case): Well, what if it is so?

'MYSELF: You don't suppose, do you, that that flag is going to
disappear from South Africa without a tremendous struggle and

'REITZ (with the same pleasant self-conscious, self satisfied, and
yet semi-apologetic smile): Well, I suppose not; but even so, what
of that?

'MYSELF: Only this, that when that struggle takes place you and I
will be on opposite sides; and what is more, the God who was on the
side of the Transvaal in the late war, because it had right on its
side will be on the side of England, because He must view with
abhorrence any plotting and scheming to overthrow her power and
position in South Africa, which have been ordained by Him.

'REITZ: We'll see.

'Thus the conversation ended, but during the seventeen years that
have elapsed I have watched the propaganda for the overthrow of
British power in South Africa being ceaselessly spread by every
possible means--the press, the pulpit, the platform, the schools,
the colleges, the Legislature--until it has culminated in the
present war, of which Mr. Reitz and his co-workers are the origin
and the cause. Believe me, the day on which F.W. Reitz sat down to
pen his ultimatum to Great Britain was the proudest and happiest
moment of his life, and one which had for long years been looked
forward to by him with eager longing and expectation.'

Compare with these utterances of a Dutch politician of the Cape,
and of a Dutch politician of the Orange Free State, the following
passage from a speech delivered by Kruger at Bloemfontein in the
year 1887:

'I think it too soon to speak of a United South Africa under one
flag. Which flag was it to be? The Queen of England would object to
having her flag hauled down, and we, the burghers of the Transvaal,
object to hauling ours down. What is to be done? We are now small
and of little importance, but we are growing, and are preparing the
way to take our place among the great nations of the world.'

'The dream of our life,' said another, 'is a union of the States of
South Africa, and this has to come from within, not from without.
When that is accomplished, South Africa will be great.'

Always the same theory from all quarters of Dutch thought, to be
followed by many signs that the idea was being prepared for in
practice. I repeat that the fairest and most unbiased historian
cannot dismiss the conspiracy as a myth.

And to this one may retort, why should they not conspire? Why
should they not have their own views as to the future of South
Africa? Why should they not endeavour to have one universal flag
and one common speech? Why should they not win over our colonists,
if they can, and push us into the sea? I see no reason why they
should not. Let them try if they will. And let us try to prevent
them. But let us have an end of talk about British aggression, of
capitalist designs upon the gold fields, of the wrongs of a
pastoral people, and all the other veils which have been used to
cover the issue. Let those who talk about British designs upon the
republics turn their attention for a moment to the evidence which
there is for republican designs upon the colonies. Let them reflect
that in the one system all white men are equal, and that on the
other the minority of one race has persecuted the majority of the
other, and let them consider under which the truest freedom lies,
which stands for universal liberty and which for reaction and
racial hatred. Let them ponder and answer all this before they
determine where their sympathies lie.

Leaving these wider questions of politics, and dismissing for the
time those military considerations which were soon to be of such
vital moment, we may now return to the course of events in the
diplomatic struggle between the Government of the Transvaal and the
Colonial Office. On September 8th, as already narrated, a final
message was sent to Pretoria, which stated the minimum terms which
the British Government could accept as being a fair concession to
her subjects in the Transvaal. A definite answer was demanded, and
the nation waited with sombre patience for the reply.

There were few illusions in this country as to the difficulties of
a Transvaal war. It was clearly seen that little honour and immense
vexation were in store for us. The first Boer war still smarted in
our minds, and we knew the prowess of the indomitable burghers. But
our people, if gloomy, were none the less resolute, for that
national instinct which is beyond the wisdom of statesmen had borne
it in upon them that this was no local quarrel, but one upon which
the whole existence of the empire hung. The cohesion of that empire
was to be tested. Men had emptied their glasses to it in time of
peace. Was it a meaningless pouring of wine, or were they ready to
pour their hearts' blood also in time of war? Had we really founded
a series of disconnected nations, with no common sentiment or
interest, or was the empire an organic whole, as ready to thrill
with one emotion or to harden into one resolve as are the several
States of the Union? That was the question at issue, and much of
the future history of the world was at stake upon the answer.

Already there were indications that the colonies appreciated the
fact that the contention was no affair of the mother country alone,
but that she was upholding the rights of the empire as a whole, and
might fairly look to them to support her in any quarrel which might
arise from it. As early as July 11th, Queensland, the fiery and
semitropical, had offered a contingent of mounted infantry with
machine guns; New Zealand, Western Australia, Tasmania, Victoria,
New South Wales, and South Australia followed in the order named.
Canada, with the strong but more deliberate spirit of the north,
was the last to speak, but spoke the more firmly for the delay. Her
citizens were the least concerned of any, for Australians were many
in South Africa but Canadians few. None the less, she cheerfully
took her share of the common burden, and grew the readier and the
cheerier as that burden came to weigh more heavily. From all the
men of many hues who make up the British Empire, from Hindoo
Rajahs, from West African Houssas, from Malay police, from Western
Indians, there came offers of service. But this was to be a white
man's war, and if the British could not work out their own
salvation then it were well that empire should pass from such a
race. The magnificent Indian army of 150,000 soldiers, many of them
seasoned veterans, was for the same reason left untouched. England
has claimed no credit or consideration for such abstention, but an
irresponsible writer may well ask how many of those foreign critics
whose respect for our public morality appears to be as limited as
their knowledge of our principles and history would have advocated
such self denial had their own countries been placed in the same

On September 18th the official reply of the Boer Government to the
message sent from the Cabinet Council was published in London. In
manner it was unbending and unconciliatory; in substance, it was a
complete rejection of all the British demands. It refused to
recommend or propose to the Raad the five years' franchise and the
other measures which had been defined as the minimum which the Home
Government could accept as a fair measure of justice towards the
Uitlanders. The suggestion that the debates of the Raad should be
bilingual, as they have been in the Cape Colony and in Canada, was
absolutely waived aside. The British Government had stated in their
last dispatch that if the reply should be negative or inconclusive
they reserved to themselves the right to 'reconsider the situation
de novo and to formulate their own proposals for a final
settlement.' The reply had been both negative and inconclusive, and
on September 22nd a council met to determine what the next message
should be. It was short and firm, but so planned as not to shut the
door upon peace. Its purport was that the British Government
expressed deep regret at the rejection of the moderate proposals
which had been submitted in their last dispatch, and that now, in
accordance with their promise, they would shortly put forward their
own plans for a settlement. The message was not an ultimatum, but
it foreshadowed an ultimatum in the future.

In the meantime, upon September 21st the Raad of the Orange Free
State had met, and it became more and more evident that this
republic, with whom we had no possible quarrel, but, on the
contrary, for whom we had a great deal of friendship and
admiration, intended to throw in its weight against Great Britain.
Some time before, an offensive and defensive alliance had been
concluded between the two States, which must, until the secret
history of these events comes to be written, appear to have been a
singularly rash and unprofitable bargain for the smaller one. She
had nothing to fear from Great Britain, since she had been
voluntarily turned into an independent republic by her and had
lived in peace with her for forty years. Her laws were as liberal
as our own. But by this suicidal treaty she agreed to share the
fortunes of a State which was deliberately courting war by its
persistently unfriendly attitude, and whose reactionary and narrow
legislation would, one might imagine, have alienated the sympathy
of her progressive neighbour. There may have been ambitions like
those already quoted from the report of Dr. Reitz's conversation,
or there may have been a complete hallucination as to the
comparative strength of the two combatants and the probable future
of South Africa; but however that may be, the treaty was made, and
the time had come to test how far it would hold.

The tone of President Steyn at the meeting of the Raad, and the
support which he received from the majority of his burghers, showed
unmistakably that the two republics would act as one. In his
opening speech Steyn declared uncompromisingly against the British
contention, and declared that his State was bound to the Transvaal
by everything which was near and dear. Among the obvious military
precautions which could no longer be neglected by the British
Government was the sending of some small force to protect the long
and exposed line of railway which lies just outside the Transvaal
border from Kimberley to Rhodesia. Sir Alfred Milner communicated
with President Steyn as to this movement of troops, pointing out
that it was in no way directed against the Free State. Sir Alfred
Milner added that the Imperial Government was still hopeful of a
friendly settlement with the Transvaal, but if this hope were
disappointed they looked to the Orange Free State to preserve
strict neutrality and to prevent military intervention by any of
its citizens. They undertook that in that case the integrity of the
Free State frontier would be strictly preserved. Finally, he stated
that there was absolutely no cause to disturb the good relations
between the Free State and Great Britain, since we were animated by
the most friendly intentions towards them. To this the President
returned a somewhat ungracious answer, to the effect that he
disapproved of our action towards the Transvaal, and that he
regretted the movement of troops, which would be considered a
menace by the burghers. A subsequent resolution of the Free State
Raad, ending with the words, 'Come what may, the Free State will
honestly and faithfully fulfill its obligations towards the
Transvaal by virtue of the political alliance existing between the
two republics,' showed how impossible it was that this country,
formed by ourselves and without a shadow of a cause of quarrel with
us, could be saved from being drawn into the whirlpool. Everywhere,
from over both borders, came the news of martial preparations.
Already at the end of September troops and armed burghers were
gathering upon the frontier, and the most incredulous were
beginning at last to understand that the shadow of a great war was
really falling across them. Artillery, war munitions, and stores
were being accumulated at Volksrust upon the Natal border, showing
where the storm might be expected to break. On the last day of
September, twenty-six military trains were reported to have left
Pretoria and Johannesburg for that point. At the same time news
came of a concentration at Malmani, upon the Bechuanaland border,
threatening the railway line and the British town of Mafeking, a
name destined before long to be familiar to the world.

On October 3rd there occurred what was in truth an act of war,
although the British Government, patient to the verge of weakness,
refused to regard it as such, and continued to draw up their final
state paper. The mail train from the Transvaal to Cape Town was
stopped at Vereeniging, and the week's shipment of gold for
England, amounting to about half a million pounds, was taken by the
Boer Government. In a debate at Cape Town upon the same day the
Africander Minister of the Interior admitted that as many as 404
trucks had passed from the Government line over the frontier and
had not been returned. Taken in conjunction with the passage of
arms and cartridges through the Cape to Pretoria and Bloemfontein,
this incident aroused the deepest indignation among the Colonial
English and the British public, which was increased by the reports
of the difficulty which border towns, such as Kimberley and
Vryburg, had had in getting cannon for their own defence. The Raads
had been dissolved, and the old President's last words had been a
statement that war was certain, and a stern invocation of the Lord
as final arbiter. England was ready less obtrusively but no less
heartily to refer the quarrel to the same dread Judge.

On October 2nd President Steyn informed Sir Alfred Milner that he
had deemed it necessary to call out the Free State burghers--that
is, to mobilise his forces. Sir A. Milner wrote regretting these
preparations, and declaring that he did not yet despair of peace,
for he was sure that any reasonable proposal would be favourably
considered by her Majesty's Government. Steyn's reply was that
there was no use in negotiating unless the stream of British
reinforcements ceased coming into South Africa. As our forces were
still in a great minority, it was impossible to stop the
reinforcements, so the correspondence led to nothing. On October
7th the army reserves for the First Army Corps were called out in
Great Britain and other signs shown that it had been determined to
send a considerable force to South Africa. Parliament was also
summoned that the formal national assent might be gained for those
grave measures which were evidently pending.

It was on October 9th that the somewhat leisurely proceedings of
the British Colonial Office were brought to a head by the arrival
of an unexpected and audacious ultimatum from the Boer Government.
In contests of wit, as of arms, it must be confessed that the laugh
has been usually upon the side of our simple and pastoral South
African neighbours. The present instance was no exception to the
rule. While our Government was cautiously and patiently leading up
to an ultimatum, our opponent suddenly played the very card which
we were preparing to lay upon the table. The document was very firm
and explicit, but the terms in which it was drawn were so
impossible that it was evidently framed with the deliberate purpose
of forcing an immediate war. It demanded that the troops upon the
borders of the republic should be instantly withdrawn, that all
reinforcements which had arrived within the last year should leave
South Africa, and that those who were now upon the sea should be
sent back without being landed. Failing a satisfactory answer
within forty-eight hours, 'the Transvaal Government will with great
regret be compelled to regard the action of her Majesty's
Government as a formal declaration of war, for the consequences of
which it will not hold itself responsible.' The audacious message
was received throughout the empire with a mixture of derision and
anger. The answer was dispatched next day through Sir Alfred

'10th October.--Her Majesty's Government have received with great
regret the peremptory demands of the Government of the South
African Republic, conveyed in your telegram of the 9th October. You
will inform the Government of the South African Republic in reply
that the conditions demanded by the Government of the South African
Republic are such as her Majesty's Government deem it impossible to

And so we have come to the end of the long road, past the battle of
the pens and the wrangling of tongues, to the arbitration of the
Lee-Metford and the Mauser. It was pitiable that it should come to
this. These people were as near akin to us as any race which is not
our own. They were of the same Frisian stock which peopled our own
shores. In habit of mind, in religion, in respect for law, they
were as ourselves. Brave, too, they were, and hospitable, with
those sporting instincts which are dear to the Anglo-Celtic race.
There was no people in the world who had more qualities which we
might admire, and not the least of them was that love of
independence which it is our proudest boast that we have encouraged
in others as well as exercised ourselves. And yet we had come to
this pass, that there was no room in all vast South Africa for both
of us. We cannot hold ourselves blameless in the matter. 'The evil
that men do lives after them,' and it has been told in this small
superficial sketch where we have erred in the past in South Africa.
On our hands, too, is the Jameson raid, carried out by Englishmen
and led by officers who held the Queen's Commission; to us, also,
the blame of the shuffling, half-hearted inquiry into that most
unjustifiable business. These are matches which helped to set the
great blaze alight, and it is we who held them. But the fagots
which proved to be so inflammable, they were not of our setting.
They were the wrongs done to half the community, the settled
resolution of the minority to tax and vex the majority, the
determination of a people who had lived two generations in a
country to claim that country entirely for themselves. Behind them
all there may have been the Dutch ambition to dominate South
Africa. It was no petty object for which Britain fought. When a
nation struggles uncomplainingly through months of disaster she may
claim to have proved her conviction of the justice and necessity of
the struggle. Should Dutch ideas or English ideas of government
prevail throughout that huge country? The one means freedom for a
single race, the other means equal rights to all white men beneath
one common law. What each means to the coloured races let history
declare. This was the main issue to be determined from the instant
that the clock struck five upon the afternoon of Wednesday, October
the eleventh, eighteen hundred and ninety-nine. That moment marked
the opening of a war destined to determine the fate of South
Africa, to work great changes in the British Empire, to seriously
affect the future history of the world, and incidentally to alter
many of our views as to the art of war. It is the story of this war
which, with limited material but with much aspiration to care and
candour, I shall now endeavour to tell.



It was on the morning of October 12th, amid cold and mist, that the
Boer camps at Sandspruit and Volksrust broke up, and the burghers
rode to the war. Some twelve thousand of them, all mounted, with
two batteries of eight Krupp guns each, were the invading force
from the north, which hoped later to be joined by the Freestaters
and by a contingent of Germans and Transvaalers who were to cross
the Free State border. It was an hour before dawn that the guns
started, and the riflemen followed close behind the last limber, so
that the first light of day fell upon the black sinuous line
winding down between the hills. A spectator upon the occasion says
of them: 'Their faces were a study. For the most part the
expression worn was one of determination and bulldog pertinacity.
No sign of fear there, nor of wavering. Whatever else may be laid
to the charge of the Boer, it may never truthfully be said that he
is a coward or a man unworthy of the Briton's steel.' The words
were written early in the campaign, and the whole empire will
endorse them to-day. Could we have such men as willing
fellow-citizens, they are worth more than all the gold mines of
their country.

This main Transvaal body consisted of the commando of Pretoria,
which comprised 1800 men, and those of Heidelberg, Middelburg,
Krugersdorp, Standerton, Wakkerstroom, and Ermelo, with the State
Artillery, an excellent and highly organised body who were provided
with the best guns that have ever been brought on to a battlefield.
Besides their sixteen Krupps, they dragged with them two heavy
six-inch Creusot guns, which were destined to have a very important
effect in the earlier part of the campaign. In addition to these
native forces there were a certain number of European auxiliaries.
The greater part of the German corps were with the Free State
forces, but a few hundred came down from the north. There was a
Hollander corps of about two hundred and fifty and an Irish--or
perhaps more properly an Irish-American-corps of the same number,
who rode under the green flag and the harp.

The men might, by all accounts, be divided into two very different
types. There were the town Boers, smartened and perhaps a little
enervated by prosperity and civilisation, men of business and
professional men, more alert and quicker than their rustic
comrades. These men spoke English rather than Dutch, and indeed
there were many men of English descent among them. But the others,
the most formidable both in their numbers and in their primitive
qualities, were the back-veld Boers, the sunburned, tangle-haired,
full-bearded farmers, the men of the Bible and the rifle, imbued
with the traditions of their own guerrilla warfare. These were
perhaps the finest natural warriors upon earth, marksmen, hunters,
accustomed to hard fare and a harder couch. They were rough in
their ways and speech, but, in spite of many calumnies and some few
unpleasant truths, they might compare with most disciplined armies
in their humanity and their desire to observe the usages of war.

A few words here as to the man who led this singular host. Piet
Joubert was a Cape Colonist by birth--a fellow countryman, like
Kruger himself, of those whom the narrow laws of his new country
persisted in regarding as outside the pale. He came from that
French Huguenot blood which has strengthened and refined every race
which it has touched, and from it he derived a chivalry and
generosity which made him respected and liked even by his
opponents. In many native broils and in the British campaign of
1881 he had shown himself a capable leader. His record in standing
out for the independence of the Transvaal was a very consistent
one, for he had not accepted office under the British, as Kruger
had done, but had remained always an irreconcilable. Tall and
burly, with hard grey eyes and a grim mouth half hidden by his
bushy beard, he was a fine type of the men whom he led. He was now
in his sixty-fifth year, and the fire of his youth had, as some of
the burghers urged, died down within him; but he was experienced,
crafty, and warwise, never dashing and never brilliant, but slow,
steady, solid, and inexorable.

Besides this northern army there were two other bodies of burghers
converging upon Natal. One, consisting of the commandoes from
Utrecht and the Swaziland districts, had gathered at Vryheid on the
flank of the British position at Dundee. The other, much larger,
not less probably than six or seven thousand men, were the
contingent from the Free State and a Transvaal corps, together with
Schiel's Germans, who were making their way through the various
passes, the Tintwa Pass, and Van Reenen's Pass, which lead through
the grim range of the Drakensberg and open out upon the more
fertile plains of Western Natal. The total force may have been
something between twenty and thirty thousand men. By all accounts
they were of an astonishingly high heart, convinced that a path of
easy victory lay before them, and that nothing could bar their way
to the sea. If the British commanders underrated their opponents,
there is ample evidence that the mistake was reciprocal.

A few words now as to the disposition of the British forces,
concerning which it must be borne in mind that Sir George White,
though in actual command, had only been a few days in the country
before war was declared, so that the arrangements fell to General
Penn Symons, aided or hampered by the advice of the local political
authorities. The main position was at Ladysmith, but an advance
post was strongly held at Glencoe, which is five miles from the
station of Dundee and forty from Ladysmith. The reason for this
dangerous division of force was to secure each end of the
Biggarsberg section of the railway, and also to cover the important
collieries of that district. The positions chosen seem in each case
to show that the British commander was not aware of the number and
power of the Boer guns, for each was equally defensible against
rifle fire and vulnerable to an artillery attack. In the case of
Glencoe it was particularly evident that guns upon the hills above
would, as they did, render the position untenable. This outlying
post was held by the 1st Leicester Regiment, the 2nd Dublin
Fusiliers, and the first battalion of Rifles, with the 18th
Hussars, three companies of mounted infantry, and three batteries
of field artillery, the 13th, 67th, and 69th. The 1st Royal Irish
Fusiliers were on their way to reinforce it, and arrived before the
first action. Altogether the Glencoe camp contained some four
thousand men.

The main body of the army remained at Ladysmith. These consisted of
the 1st Devons, the 1st Liverpools, and the 2nd Gordon Highlanders,
with the 1st Gloucesters, the 2nd King's Royal Rifles, and the 2nd
Rifle Brigade, reinforced later by the Manchesters. The cavalry
included the 5th Dragoon Guards, the 5th Lancers, a detachment of
19th Hussars, the Natal Carabineers, the Natal Mounted Police, and
the Border Mounted Rifles, reinforced later by the Imperial Light
Horse, a fine body of men raised principally among the refugees
from the Rand. For artillery there were the 21st, 42nd, and 53rd
batteries of field artillery, and No. 10 Mountain Battery, with the
Natal Field Artillery, the guns of which were too light to be of
service, and the 23rd Company of Royal Engineers. The whole force,
some eight or nine thousand strong, was under the immediate command
of Sir George White, with Sir Archibald Hunter, fresh from the
Soudan, General French, and General Ian Hamilton as his

The first shock of the Boers, then, must fall upon 4000 men. If
these could be overwhelmed, there were 8000 more to be defeated or
masked. Then what was there between them and the sea? Some
detachments of local volunteers, the Durban Light Infantry at
Colenso, and the Natal Royal Rifles, with some naval volunteers at
Estcourt. With the power of the Boers and their mobility it is
inexplicable how the colony was saved. We are of the same blood,
the Boers and we, and we show it in our failings. Over-confidence
on our part gave them the chance, and over-confidence on theirs
prevented them from instantly availing themselves of it. It passed,
never to come again.

The outbreak of war was upon October 11th. On the 12th the Boer
forces crossed the frontier both on the north and on the west. On
the 13th they occupied Charlestown at the top angle of Natal. On
the 15th they had reached Newcastle, a larger town some fifteen
miles inside the border. Watchers from the houses saw six miles of
canvas-tilted bullock wagons winding down the passes, and learned
that this was not a raid but an invasion. At the same date news
reached the British headquarters of an advance from the western
passes, and of a movement from the Buffalo River on the east. On
the 13th Sir George White had made a reconnaissance in force, but
had not come in touch with the enemy. On the 15th six of the Natal
Police were surrounded and captured at one of the drifts of the
Buffalo River. On the 18th our cavalry patrols came into touch with
the Boer scouts at Acton Homes and Besters Station, these being the
voortrekkers of the Orange Free State force. On the 18th also a
detachment was reported from Hadders Spruit, seven miles north of
Glencoe Camp. The cloud was drifting up, and it could not be long
before it would burst.

Two days later, on the early morning of October 20th, the forces
came at last into collision. At half-past three in the morning,
well before daylight, the mounted infantry picket at the junction
of the roads from Landmans and Vants Drifts was fired into by the
Doornberg commando, and retired upon its supports. Two companies of
the Dublin Fusiliers were sent out, and at five o'clock on a fine
but misty morning the whole of Symons's force was under arms with
the knowledge that the Boers were pushing boldly towards them. The
khaki-clad lines of fighting men stood in their long thin ranks
staring up at the curves of the saddle-back hills to the north and
east of them, and straining their eyes to catch a glimpse of the
enemy. Why these same saddle-back hills were not occupied by our
own people is, it must be confessed, an insoluble mystery. In a
hollow on one flank were the 18th Hussars and the mounted infantry.
On the other were the eighteen motionless guns, limbered up and
ready, the horses fidgeting and stamping in the raw morning air.

And then suddenly--could that be they? An officer with a telescope
stared intently and pointed. Another and another turned a steady
field glass towards the same place. And then the men could see
also, and a little murmur of interest ran down the ranks.

A long sloping hill--Talana Hill--olive-green in hue, was
stretching away in front of them. At the summit it rose into a
rounded crest. The mist was clearing, and the curve was
hard-outlined against the limpid blue of the morning sky. On this,
some two and a half miles or three miles off, a little group of
black dots had appeared. The clear edge of the skyline had become
serrated with moving figures. They clustered into a knot, then
opened again, and then--

There had been no smoke, but there came a long crescendo hoot,
rising into a shrill wail. The shell hummed over the soldiers like
a great bee, and sloshed into soft earth behind them. Then
another--and yet another--and yet another. But there was no time to
heed them, for there was the hillside and there the enemy. So at it
again with the good old murderous obsolete heroic tactics of the
British tradition! There are times when, in spite of science and
book-lore, the best plan is the boldest plan, and it is well to fly
straight at your enemy's throat, facing the chance that your
strength may fail before you can grasp it. The cavalry moved off
round the enemy's left flank. The guns dashed to the front,
unlimbered, and opened fire. The infantry were moved round in the
direction of Sandspruit, passing through the little town of Dundee,
where the women and children came to the doors and windows to cheer
them. It was thought that the hill was more accessible from that
side. The Leicesters and one field battery--the 67th--were left
behind to protect the camp and to watch the Newcastle Road upon the
west. At seven in the morning all was ready for the assault.

Two military facts of importance had already been disclosed. One
was that the Boer percussion-shells were useless in soft ground, as
hardly any of them exploded; the other that the Boer guns could
outrange our ordinary fifteen-pounder field gun, which had been the
one thing perhaps in the whole British equipment upon which we were
prepared to pin our faith. The two batteries, the 13th and the
69th, were moved nearer, first to 3000, and then at last to 2300
yards, at which range they quickly dominated the guns upon the
hill. Other guns had opened from another crest to the east of
Talana, but these also were mastered by the fire of the 13th
Battery. At 7.30 the infantry were ordered to advance, which they
did in open order, extended to ten paces. The Dublin Fusiliers
formed the first line, the Rifles the second, and the Irish
Fusiliers the third.

The first thousand yards of the advance were over open grassland,
where the range was long, and the yellow brown of the khaki blended
with the withered veld. There were few casualties until the wood
was reached, which lay halfway up the long slope of the hill. It
was a plantation of larches, some hundreds of yards across and
nearly as many deep. On the left side of this wood--that is, the
left side to the advancing troops--there stretched a long nullah or
hollow, which ran perpendicularly to the hill, and served rather as
a conductor of bullets than as a cover. So severe was the fire at
this point that both in the wood and in the nullah the troops lay
down to avoid it. An officer of Irish Fusiliers has narrated how in
trying to cut the straps from a fallen private a razor lent him for
that purpose by a wounded sergeant was instantly shot out of his
hand. The gallant Symons, who had refused to dismount, was shot
through the stomach and fell from his horse mortally wounded. With
an excessive gallantry, he had not only attracted the enemy's fire
by retaining his horse, but he had been accompanied throughout the
action by an orderly bearing a red pennon. 'Have they got the hill?
Have they got the hill?' was his one eternal question as they
carried him dripping to the rear. It was at the edge of the wood
that Colonel Sherston met his end.

From now onwards it was as much a soldiers' battle as Inkermann. In
the shelter of the wood the more eager of the three battalions had
pressed to the front until the fringe of the trees was lined by men
from all of them. The difficulty of distinguishing particular
regiments where all were clad alike made it impossible in the heat
of action to keep any sort of formation. So hot was the fire that
for the time the advance was brought to a standstill, but the 69th
battery, firing shrapnel at a range of 1400 yards, subdued the
rifle fire, and about half-past eleven the infantry were able to
push on once more.

Above the wood there was an open space some hundreds of yards
across, bounded by a rough stone wall built for herding cattle. A
second wall ran at right angles to this down towards the wood. An
enfilading rifle fire had been sweeping across this open space, but
the wall in front does not appear to have been occupied by the
enemy, who held the kopje above it. To avoid the cross fire the
soldiers ran in single file under the shelter of the wall, which
covered them to the right, and so reached the other wall across
their front. Here there was a second long delay, the men dribbling
up from below, and firing over the top of the wall and between the
chinks of the stones. The Dublin Fusiliers, through being in a more
difficult position, had been unable to get up as quickly as the
others, and most of the hard-breathing excited men who crowded
under the wall were of the Rifles and of the Irish Fusiliers. The
air was so full of bullets that it seemed impossible to live upon
the other side of this shelter. Two hundred yards intervened
between the wall and the crest of the kopje. And yet the kopje had
to be cleared if the battle were to be won.

Out of the huddled line of crouching men an officer sprang
shouting, and a score of soldiers vaulted over the wall and
followed at his heels. It was Captain Connor, of the Irish
Fusiliers, but his personal magnetism carried up with him some of
the Rifles as well as men of his own command. He and half his
little forlorn hope were struck down--he, alas! to die the same
night--but there were other leaders as brave to take his place.
'Forrard away, men, forrard away!' cried Nugent, of the Rifles.
Three bullets struck him, but he continued to drag himself up the
boulder-studded hill. Others followed, and others, from all sides
they came running, the crouching, yelling, khaki-clad figures, and
the supports rushed up from the rear. For a time they were beaten
down by their own shrapnel striking into them from behind, which is
an amazing thing when one considers that the range was under 2000
yards. It was here, between the wall and the summit, that Colonel
Gunning, of the Rifles, and many other brave men met their end,
some by our own bullets and some by those of the enemy; but the
Boers thinned away in front of them, and the anxious onlookers from
the plain below saw the waving helmets on the crest, and learned at
last that all was well.

But it was, it must be confessed, a Pyrrhic victory. We had our
hill, but what else had we? The guns which had been silenced by our
fire had been removed from the kopje. The commando which seized the
hill was that of Lucas Meyer, and it is computed that he had with
him about 4000 men. This figure includes those under the command of
Erasmus, who made halfhearted demonstrations against the British
flank. If the shirkers be eliminated, it is probable that there
were not more than a thousand actual combatants upon the hill. Of
this number about fifty were killed and a hundred wounded. The
British loss at Talana Hill itself was 41 killed and 180 wounded,
but among the killed were many whom the army could ill spare. The
gallant but optimistic Symons, Gunning of the Rifles, Sherston,
Connor, Hambro, and many other brave men died that day. The loss of
officers was out of all proportion to that of the men.

An incident which occurred immediately after the action did much to
rob the British of the fruits of the victory. Artillery had pushed
up the moment that the hill was carried, and had unlimbered on
Smith's Nek between the two hills, from which the enemy, in broken
groups of 50 and 100, could be seen streaming away. A fairer chance
for the use of shrapnel has never been. But at this instant there
ran from an old iron church on the reverse side of the hill, which
had been used all day as a Boer hospital, a man with a white flag.
It is probable that the action was in good faith, and that it was
simply intended to claim a protection for the ambulance party which
followed him. But the too confiding gunner in command appears to
have thought that an armistice had been declared, and held his hand
during those precious minutes which might have turned a defeat into
a rout. The chance passed, never to return. The double error of
firing into our own advance and of failing to fire into the enemy's
retreat makes the battle one which cannot be looked back to with
satisfaction by our gunners.

In the meantime some miles away another train of events had led to
a complete disaster to our small cavalry force--a disaster which
robbed our dearly bought infantry victory of much of its
importance. That action alone was undoubtedly a victorious one, but
the net result of the day's fighting cannot be said to have been
certainly in our favour. It was Wellington who asserted that his
cavalry always got him into scrapes, and the whole of British
military history might furnish examples of what he meant. Here
again our cavalry got into trouble. Suffice it for the civilian to
chronicle the fact, and leave it to the military critic to portion
out the blame.

One company of mounted infantry (that of the Rifles) had been told
off to form an escort for the guns. The rest of the mounted
infantry with part of the 18th Hussars (Colonel Moller) had moved
round the right flank until they reached the right rear of the
enemy. Such a movement, had Lucas Meyer been the only opponent,
would have been above criticism; but knowing, as we did, that there
were several commandoes converging upon Glencoe it was obviously
taking a very grave and certain risk to allow the cavalry to wander
too far from support. They were soon entangled in broken country
and attacked by superior numbers of the Boers. There was a time
when they might have exerted an important influence upon the action
by attacking the Boer ponies behind the hills, but the opportunity
was allowed to pass. An attempt was made to get back to the army,
and a series of defensive positions were held to cover the retreat,
but the enemy's fire became too hot to allow them to be retained.
Every route save one appeared to be blocked, so the horsemen took
this, which led them into the heart of a second commando of the
enemy. Finding no way through, the force took up a defensive
position, part of them in a farm and part on a kopje which
overlooked it.

The party consisted of two troops of Hussars, one company of
mounted infantry of the Dublin Fusiliers, and one section of the
mounted infantry of the Rifles--about two hundred men in all. They
were subjected to a hot fire for some hours, many being killed and
wounded. Guns were brought up, and fired shell into the farmhouse.
At 4.30 the force, being in a perfectly hopeless position, laid
down their arms. Their ammunition was gone, many of their horses
had stampeded, and they were hemmed in by very superior numbers, so
that no slightest slur can rest upon the survivors for their
decision to surrender, though the movements which brought them to
such a pass are more open to criticism. They were the vanguard of
that considerable body of humiliated and bitter-hearted men who
were to assemble at the capital of our brave and crafty enemy. The
remainder of the 18th Hussars, who under Major Knox had been
detached from the main force and sent across the Boer rear,
underwent a somewhat similar experience, but succeeded in
extricating themselves with a loss of six killed and ten wounded.
Their efforts were by no means lost, as they engaged the attention
of a considerable body of Boers during the day and were able to
bring some prisoners back with them.

The battle of Talana Hill was a tactical victory but a strategic
defeat. It was a crude frontal attack without any attempt at even a
feint of flanking, but the valour of the troops, from general to
private, carried it through. The force was in a position so
radically false that the only use which they could make of a
victory was to cover their own retreat. From all points Boer
commandoes were converging upon it, and already it was understood
that the guns at their command were heavier than any which could be
placed against them. This was made more clear on October 21st, the
day after the battle, when the force, having withdrawn overnight
from the useless hill which they had captured, moved across to a
fresh position on the far side of the railway. At four in the
afternoon a very heavy gun opened from a distant hill, altogether
beyond the extreme range of our artillery, and plumped shell after
shell into our camp. It was the first appearance of the great
Creusot. An officer with several men of the Leicesters, and some of
our few remaining cavalry, were bit. The position was clearly
impossible, so at two in the morning of the 22nd the whole force
was moved to a point to the south of the town of Dundee. On the
same day a reconnaissance was made in the direction of Glencoe
Station, but the passes were found to be strongly occupied, and the
little army marched back again to its original position. The
command had fallen to Colonel Yule, who justly considered that his
men were dangerously and uselessly exposed, and that his correct
strategy was to fall back, if it were still possible, and join the
main body at Ladysmith, even at the cost of abandoning the two
hundred sick and wounded who lay with General Symons in the
hospital at Dundee. It was a painful necessity, but no one who
studies the situation can have any doubt of its wisdom. The retreat
was no easy task, a march by road of some sixty or seventy miles
through a very rough country with an enemy pressing on every side.
Its successful completion without any loss or any demoralisation of
the troops is perhaps as fine a military exploit as any of our
early victories. Through the energetic and loyal co-operation of
Sir George White, who fought the actions of Elandslaagte and of
Rietfontein in order to keep the way open for them, and owing
mainly to the skillful guidance of Colonel Dartnell, of the Natal
Police, they succeeded in their critical manoeuvre. On October 23rd
they were at Beith, on the 24th at Waselibank Spruit, on the 25th
at Sunday River, and next morning they marched, sodden with rain,
plastered with mud, dog-tired, but in the best of spirits, into
Ladysmith amid the cheers of their comrades. A battle, six days
without settled sleep, four days without a proper meal, winding up
with a single march of thirty-two miles over heavy ground and
through a pelting rain storm--that was the record of the Dundee
column. They had fought and won, they had striven and toiled to the
utmost capacity of manhood, and the end of it all was that they had
reached the spot which they should never have left. But their
endurance could not be lost--no worthy deed is ever lost. Like the
light division, when they marched their fifty odd unbroken miles to
be present at Talavera, they leave a memory and a standard behind
them which is more important than success. It is by the tradition
of such sufferings and such endurance that others in other days are
nerved to do the like.



While the Glencoe force had struck furiously at the army of Lucas
Meyer, and had afterwards by hard marching disengaged itself from
the numerous dangers which threatened it, its comrades at Ladysmith
had loyally co-operated in drawing off the attention of the enemy
and keeping the line of retreat open.

On October 20th--the same day as the Battle of Talana Hill--the
line was cut by the Boers at a point nearly midway between Dundee
and Ladysmith. A small body of horsemen were the forerunners of a
considerable commando, composed of Freestaters, Transvaalers, and
Germans, who had advanced into Natal through Botha's Pass under the
command of General Koch. They had with them the two
Maxim-Nordenfelds which had been captured from the Jameson raiders,
and were now destined to return once more to British hands. Colonel
Schiel, the German artillerist, had charge of these guns.

On the evening of that day General French, with a strong
reconnoitering party, including the Natal Carabineers, the 5th
Lancers, and the 21st battery, had defined the enemy's position.
Next morning (the 21st) he returned, but either the enemy had been
reinforced during the night or he had underrated them the day
before, for the force which he took with him was too weak for any
serious attack. He had one battery of the Natal artillery, with
their little seven-pounder popguns, five squadrons of the Imperial
Horse, and, in the train which slowly accompanied his advance, half
a battalion of the Manchester Regiment. Elated by the news of
Talana Hill, and anxious to emulate their brothers of Dundee, the
little force moved out of Ladysmith in the early morning.

Some at least of the men were animated by feelings such as seldom
find a place in the breast of the British soldier as he marches
into battle. A sense of duty, a belief in the justice of his cause,
a love for his regiment and for his country, these are the common
incentives of every soldier. But to the men of the Imperial Light
Horse, recruited as they were from among the British refugees of
the Rand, there was added a burning sense of injustice, and in many
cases a bitter hatred against the men whose rule had weighed so
heavily upon them. In this singular corps the ranks were full of
wealthy men and men of education, who, driven from their peaceful
vocations in Johannesburg, were bent upon fighting their way back
to them again. A most unmerited slur had been cast upon their
courage in connection with the Jameson raid--a slur which they and
other similar corps have washed out for ever in their own blood and
that of their enemy. Chisholm, a fiery little Lancer, was in
command, with Karri Davis and Wools-Sampson, the two stalwarts who
had preferred Pretoria Gaol to the favours of Kruger, as his
majors. The troopers were on fire at the news that a cartel had
arrived in Ladysmith the night before, purporting to come from the
Johannesburg Boers and Hollanders, asking what uniform the Light
Horse wore, as they were anxious to meet them in battle. These men
were fellow townsmen and knew each other well. They need not have
troubled about the uniform, for before evening the Light Horse were
near enough for them to know their faces.

It was about eight o'clock on a bright summer morning that the
small force came in contact with a few scattered Boer outposts, who
retired, firing, before the advance of the Imperial Light Horse. As
they fell back the green and white tents of the invaders came into
view upon the russet-coloured hillside of Elandslaagte. Down at the
red brick railway station the Boers could be seen swarming out of
the buildings in which they had spent the night. The little Natal
guns, firing with obsolete black powder, threw a few shells into
the station, one of which, it is said, penetrated a Boer ambulance
which could not be seen by the gunners. The accident was to be
regretted, but as no patients could have been in the ambulance the
mischance was not a serious one.

But the busy, smoky little seven-pounder guns were soon to meet
their master. Away up on the distant hillside, a long thousand
yards beyond their own furthest range, there was a sudden bright
flash. No smoke, only the throb of flame, and then the long
sibilant scream of the shell, and the thud as it buried itself in
the ground under a limber. Such judgment of range would have
delighted the most martinet of inspectors at Okehampton. Bang came
another, and another, and another, right into the heart of the
battery. The six little guns lay back at their extremest angle, and
all barked together in impotent fury. Another shell pitched over
them, and the officer in command lowered his field-glass in despair
as he saw his own shells bursting far short upon the hillside.
Jameson's defeat does not seem to have been due to any defect in
his artillery. French, peering and pondering, soon came to the
conclusion that there were too many Boers for him, and that if
those fifteen-pounders desired target practice they should find
some other mark than the Natal Field Artillery. A few curt orders,
and his whole force was making its way to the rear. There, out of
range of those perilous guns, they halted, the telegraph wire was
cut, a telephone attachment was made, and French whispered his
troubles into the sympathetic ear of Ladysmith. He did not whisper
in vain. What he had to say was that where he had expected a few
hundred riflemen he found something like two thousand, and that
where he expected no guns he found two very excellent ones. The
reply was that by road and by rail as many men as could be spared
were on their way to join him.

Soon they began to drop in, those useful reinforcements--first the
Devons, quiet, business-like, reliable; then the Gordons, dashing,
fiery, brilliant. Two squadrons of the 5th Lancers, the 42nd R.F.A.,
the 21st R.F.A., another squadron of Lancers, a squadron of the
5th Dragoon Guards--French began to feel that he was strong enough
for the task in front of him. He had a decided superiority of
numbers and of guns. But the others were on their favourite
defensive on a hill. It would be a fair fight and a deadly one.

It was late after noon before the advance began. It was hard, among
those billowing hills, to make out the exact limits of the enemy's
position. All that was certain was that they were there, and that
we meant having them out if it were humanly possible. 'The enemy
are there,' said Ian Hamilton to his infantry; 'I hope you will
shift them out before sunset--in fact I know you will.' The men
cheered and laughed. In long open lines they advanced across the
veld, while the thunder of the two batteries behind them told the
Boer gunners that it was their turn now to know what it was to be

The idea was to take the position by a front and a flank attack,
but there seems to have been some difficulty in determining which
was the front and which the flank. In fact, it was only by trying
that one could know. General White with his staff had arrived from
Ladysmith, but refused to take the command out of French's hands.
It is typical of White's chivalrous spirit that within ten days he
refused to identify himself with a victory when it was within his
right to do so, and took the whole responsibility for a disaster at
which he was not present. Now he rode amid the shells and watched
the able dispositions of his lieutenant.

About half-past three the action had fairly begun. In front of the
advancing British there lay a rolling hill, topped by a further
one. The lower hill was not defended, and the infantry, breaking
from column of companies into open order, advanced over it. Beyond
was a broad grassy valley which led up to the main position, a long
kopje flanked by a small sugar-loaf one Behind the green slope
which led to the ridge of death an ominous and terrible cloud was
driving up, casting its black shadow over the combatants. There was
the stillness which goes before some great convulsion of nature.
The men pressed on in silence, the soft thudding of their feet and
the rattle of their sidearms filling the air with a low and
continuous murmur. An additional solemnity was given to the attack
by that huge black cloud which hung before them.

The British guns had opened at a range of 4400 yards, and now
against the swarthy background there came the quick smokeless
twinkle of the Boer reply. It was an unequal fight, but gallantly
sustained. A shot and another to find the range; then a wreath of
smoke from a bursting shell exactly where the guns had been,
followed by another and another. Overmatched, the two Boer pieces
relapsed into a sulky silence, broken now and again by short spurts
of frenzied activity. The British batteries turned their attention
away from them, and began to search the ridge with shrapnel and
prepare the way for the advancing infantry.

The scheme was that the Devonshires should hold the enemy in front
while the main attack from the left flank was carried out by the
Gordons, the Manchesters, and the Imperial Light Horse. The words
'front' and 'flank,' however, cease to have any meaning with so
mobile and elastic a force, and the attack which was intended to
come from the left became really a frontal one, while the Devons
found themselves upon the right flank of the Boers. At the moment
of the final advance the great black cloud had burst, and a torrent
of rain lashed into the faces of the men. Slipping and sliding upon
the wet grass, they advanced to the assault.

And now amid the hissing of the rain there came the fuller, more
menacing whine of the Mauser bullets, and the ridge rattled from
end to end with the rifle fire. Men fell fast, but their comrades
pressed hotly on. There was a long way to go, for the summit of the
position was nearly 800 feet above the level of the railway. The
hillside, which had appeared to be one slope, was really a
succession of undulations, so that the advancing infantry
alternately dipped into shelter and emerged into a hail of bullets.
The line of advance was dotted with khaki-clad figures, some still
in death, some writhing in their agony. Amid the litter of bodies a
major of the Gordons, shot through the leg, sat philosophically
smoking his pipe. Plucky little Chisholm, Colonel of the Imperials,
had fallen with two mortal wounds as he dashed forward waving a
coloured sash in the air. So long was the advance and so trying the
hill that the men sank panting upon the ground, and took their
breath before making another rush. As at Talana Hill, regimental
formation was largely gone, and men of the Manchesters, Gordons,
and Imperial Light Horse surged upwards in one long ragged fringe,
Scotchman, Englishman, and British Africander keeping pace in that
race of death. And now at last they began to see their enemy. Here
and there among the boulders in front of them there was the glimpse
of a slouched hat, or a peep at a flushed bearded face which
drooped over a rifle barrel. There was a pause, and then with a
fresh impulse the wave of men gathered themselves together and
flung themselves forward. Dark figures sprang up from the rocks in
front. Some held up their rifles in token of surrender. Some ran
with heads sunk between their shoulders, jumping and ducking among
the rocks. The panting breathless climbers were on the edge of the
plateau. There were the two guns which had flashed so brightly,
silenced now, with a litter of dead gunners around them and one
wounded officer standing by a trail. A small body of the Boers
still resisted. Their appearance horrified some of our men. 'They
were dressed in black frock coats and looked like a lot of rather
seedy business men,' said a spectator. 'It seemed like murder to
kill them.' Some surrendered, and some fought to the death where
they stood. Their leader Koch, an old gentleman with a white beard,
lay amidst the rocks, wounded in three places. He was treated with
all courtesy and attention, but died in Ladysmith Hospital some
days afterwards.

In the meanwhile the Devonshire Regiment had waited until the
attack had developed and had then charged the hill upon the flank,
while the artillery moved up until it was within 2000 yards of the
enemy's position. The Devons met with a less fierce resistance than
the others, and swept up to the summit in time to head off some of
the fugitives. The whole of our infantry were now upon the ridge.

But even so these dour fighters were not beaten. They clung
desperately to the further edges of the plateau, firing from behind
the rocks. There had been a race for the nearest gun between an
officer of the Manchesters and a drummer sergeant of the Gordons.
The officer won, and sprang in triumph on to the piece. Men of all
regiments swarmed round yelling and cheering, when upon their
astonished ears there sounded the 'Cease fire' and then the
'Retire.' It was incredible, and yet it pealed out again,
unmistakable in its urgency. With the instinct of discipline the
men were slowly falling back. And then the truth of it came upon
the minds of some of them. The crafty enemy had learned our bugle
calls. 'Retire be damned! shrieked a little bugler, and blew the
'Advance' with all the breath that the hillside had left him. The
men, who had retired a hundred yards and uncovered the guns,
flooded back over the plateau, and in the Boer camp which lay
beneath it a white flag showed that the game was up. A squadron of
the 5th Lancers and of the 5th Dragoon Guards, under Colonel Gore
of the latter regiment, had prowled round the base of the hill, and
in the fading light they charged through and through the retreating
Boers, killing several, and making from twenty to thirty prisoners.
It was one of the very few occasions in the war where the mounted
Briton overtook the mounted Boer.

'What price Majuba?' was the cry raised by some of the infantry as
they dashed up to the enemy's position, and the action may indeed
be said to have been in some respects the converse of that famous
fight. It is true that there were many more British at Elandslaagte
than Boers at Majuba, but then the defending force was much more
numerous also, and the British had no guns there. It is true, also,
that Majuba is very much more precipitous than Elandslaagte, but
then every practical soldier knows that it is easier to defend a
moderate glacis than an abrupt slope, which gives cover under its
boulders to the attacker while the defender has to crane his head
over the edge to look down. On the whole, this brilliant little
action may be said to have restored things to their true
proportion, and to have shown that, brave as the Boers undoubtedly
are, there is no military feat within their power which is not
equally possible to the British soldier. Talana Hill and
Elandslaagte, fought on successive days, were each of them as
gallant an exploit as Majuba.

We had more to show for our victory than for the previous one at
Dundee. Two Maxim-Nordenfeld guns, whose efficiency had been
painfully evident during the action, were a welcome addition to our
artillery. Two hundred and fifty Boers were killed and wounded and
about two hundred taken prisoners, the loss falling most heavily
upon the Johannesburgers, the Germans, and the Hollanders. General
Koch, Dr. Coster, Colonel Schiel, Pretorius, and other well-known
Transvaalers fell into our hands. Our own casualty list consisted
of 41 killed and 220 wounded, much the same number as at Talana
Hill, the heaviest losses falling upon the Gordon Highlanders and
the Imperial Light Horse.

In the hollow where the Boer tents had stood, amid the laagered
wagons of the vanquished, under a murky sky and a constant drizzle
of rain, the victors spent the night. Sleep was out of the
question, for all night the fatigue parties were searching the
hillside and the wounded were being carried in. Camp-fires were lit
and soldiers and prisoners crowded round them, and it is pleasant
to recall that the warmest corner and the best of their rude fare
were always reserved for the downcast Dutchmen, while words of rude
praise and sympathy softened the pain of defeat. It is the memory
of such things which may in happier days be more potent than all
the wisdom of statesmen in welding our two races into one.

Having cleared the Boer force from the line of the railway, it is
evident that General White could not continue to garrison the
point, as he was aware that considerable forces were moving from
the north, and his first duty was the security of Ladysmith. Early
next morning (October 22nd), therefore, his weary but victorious
troops returned to the town. Once there he learned, no doubt, that
General Yule had no intention of using the broken railway for his
retreat, but that he intended to come in a circuitous fashion by
road. White's problem was to hold tight to the town and at the same
time to strike hard at any northern force so as to prevent them
from interfering with Yule's retreat. It was in the furtherance of
this scheme that he fought upon October 24th the action of
Rietfontein, an engagement slight in itself, but important on
account of the clear road which was secured for the weary forces
retiring from Dundee.

The army from the Free State, of which the commando vanquished at
Elandslaagte was the vanguard, had been slowly and steadily
debouching from the passes, and working south and eastwards to cut
the line between Dundee and Ladysmith. It was White's intention to
prevent them from crossing the Newcastle Road, and for this purpose
he sallied out of Ladysmith on Tuesday the 24th, having with him
two regiments of cavalry, the 5th Lancers and the 19th Hussars, the
42nd and 53rd field batteries with the 10th mountain battery, four
infantry regiments, the Devons, Liverpools, Gloucesters, and 2nd
King's Royal Rifles, the Imperial Light Horse, and the Natal
Volunteers--some four thousand men in all.

The enemy were found to be in possession of a line of hills within
seven miles of Ladysmith, the most conspicuous of which is called
Tinta Inyoni. It was no part of General White's plan to attempt to
drive him from this position--it is not wise generalship to fight
always upon ground of the enemy's choosing--but it was important to
hold him where he was, and to engage his attention during this last
day of the march of the retreating column. For this purpose, since
no direct attack was intended, the guns were of more importance
than the infantry--and indeed the infantry should, one might
imagine, have been used solely as an escort for the artillery. A
desultory and inconclusive action ensued which continued from nine
in the morning until half-past one in the afternoon. A
well-directed fire of the Boer guns from the hills was dominated
and controlled by our field artillery, while the advance of their
riflemen was restrained by shrapnel. The enemy's guns were more
easily marked down than at Elandslaagte, as they used black powder.
The ranges varied from three to four thousand yards. Our losses in
the whole action would have been insignificant had it not happened
that the Gloucester Regiment advanced somewhat incautiously into
the open and was caught in a cross fire of musketry which struck
down Colonel Wilford and fifty of his officers and men. Within four
days Colonel Dick-Cunyngham, of the Gordons, Colonel Chisholm, of
the Light Horse, Colonel Gunning, of the Rifles, and now Colonel
Wilford, of the Gloucesters, had all fallen at the head of their
regiments. In the afternoon General White, having accomplished his
purpose and secured the safety of the Dundee column while
traversing the dangerous Biggarsberg passes, withdrew his force to
Ladysmith. We have no means of ascertaining the losses of the
Boers, but they were probably slight. On our side we lost 109
killed and wounded, of which only 13 cases were fatal. Of this
total 64 belonged to the Gloucesters and 25 to the troops raised in
Natal. Next day, as already narrated, the whole British army was
re-assembled once more at Ladysmith, and the campaign was to enter
upon a new phase.

At the end of this first vigorous week of hostilities it is
interesting to sum up the net result. The strategical advantage had
lain with the Boers. They had made our position at Dundee untenable
and had driven us back to Ladysmith. They had the country and the
railway for the northern quarter of the colony in their possession.
They had killed and wounded between six and seven hundred of our
men, and they had captured some two hundred of our cavalry, while
we had been compelled at Dundee to leave considerable stores and
our wounded, including General Penn Symons, who actually died while
a prisoner in their hands. On the other hand, the tactical
advantages lay with us. We had twice driven them from their
positions, and captured two of their guns. We had taken two hundred
prisoners. and had probably killed and wounded as many as we had
lost. On the whole, the honours of that week's fighting in Natal
may be said to have been fairly equal--which is more than we could
claim for many a weary week to come.



Sir George White had now reunited his force, and found himself in
command of a formidable little army some twelve thousand in number.
His cavalry included the 5th Lancers, the 5th Dragoons, part of the
18th and the whole of the 19th Hussars, the Natal Carabineers, the
Border Rifles, some mounted infantry, and the Imperial Light Horse.
Among his infantry were the Royal Irish Fusiliers, the Dublin
Fusiliers, and the King's Royal Rifles, fresh from the ascent of
Talana Hill, the Gordons, the Manchesters, and the Devons who had
been blooded at Elandslaagte, the Leicesters, the Liverpools, the
2nd battalion of the King's Royal Rifles, the 2nd Rifle Brigade,
and the Gloucesters, who had been so roughly treated at
Rietfontein. He had six batteries of excellent field artillery--the
13th, 21st, 42nd, 53rd, 67th, 69th, and No. 10 Mountain Battery of
screw guns. No general could have asked for a more compact and
workmanlike little force.

It had been recognised by the British General from the beginning
that his tactics must be defensive, since he was largely
outnumbered and since also any considerable mishap to his force
would expose the whole colony of Natal to destruction. The actions
of Elandslaagte and Rietfontein were forced upon him in order to
disengage his compromised detachment, but now there was no longer
any reason why he should assume the offensive. He knew that away
out on the Atlantic a trail of transports which already extended
from the Channel to Cape de Verde were hourly drawing nearer to him
with the army corps from England. In a fortnight or less the first
of them would be at Durban. It was his game, therefore, to keep his
army intact, and to let those throbbing engines and whirling
propellers do the work of the empire. Had he entrenched himself up
to his nose and waited, it would have paid him best in the end.

But so tame and inglorious a policy is impossible to a fighting
soldier. He could not with his splendid force permit himself to be
shut in without an action. What policy demands honour may forbid.
On October 27th there were already Boers and rumours of Boers on
every side of him. Joubert with his main body was moving across
from Dundee. The Freestaters were to the north and west. Their
combined numbers were uncertain, but at least it was already proved
that they were far more numerous and also more formidable than had
been anticipated. We had had a taste of their artillery also, and
the pleasant delusion that it would be a mere useless encumbrance
to a Boer force had vanished for ever. It was a grave thing to
leave the town in order to give battle, for the mobile enemy might
swing round and seize it behind us. Nevertheless White determined
to make the venture.

On the 29th the enemy were visibly converging upon the town. From a
high hill within rifleshot of the houses a watcher could see no
fewer than six Boer camps to the east and north. French, with his
cavalry, pushed out feelers, and coasted along the edge of the
advancing host. His report warned White that if he would strike
before all the scattered bands were united he must do so at once.
The wounded were sent down to Pietermaritzburg, and it would bear
explanation why the non-combatants did not accompany them. On the
evening of the same day Joubert in person was said to be only six
miles off, and a party of his men cut the water supply of the town.
The Klip, however, a fair-sized river, runs through Ladysmith, so
that there was no danger of thirst. The British had inflated and
sent up a balloon, to the amazement of the back-veld Boers; its
report confirmed the fact that the enemy was in force in front of
and around them.

On the night of the 29th General White detached two of his best
regiments, the Irish Fusiliers and the Gloucesters, with No. 10
Mountain Battery, to advance under cover of the darkness and to
seize and hold a long ridge called Nicholson's Nek, which lay about
six miles to the north of Ladysmith. Having determined to give
battle on the next day, his object was to protect his left wing
against those Freestaters who were still moving from the north and
west, and also to keep a pass open by which his cavalry might
pursue the Boer fugitives in case of a British victory. This small
detached column numbered about a thousand men--whose fate will be
afterwards narrated.

At five o'clock on the morning of the 30th the Boers, who had
already developed a perfect genius for hauling heavy cannon up the
most difficult heights, opened fire from one of the hills which lie
to the north of the town. Before the shot was fired, the forces of
the British had already streamed out of Ladysmith to test the
strength of the invaders.

White's army was divided into three columns. On the extreme left,
quite isolated from the others, was the small Nicholson's Nek
detachment under the command of Colonel Carleton of the Fusiliers
(one of three gallant brothers each of whom commands a British
regiment). With him was Major Adye of the staff. On the right
British flank Colonel Grimwood commanded a brigade composed of the
1st and 2nd battalions of the King's Royal Rifles, the Leicesters,
the Liverpools, and the Royal Dublin Fusiliers. In the centre
Colonel Ian Hamilton commanded the Devons, the Gordons, the
Manchesters, and the 2nd battalion of the Rifle Brigade, which
marched direct into the battle from the train which had brought
them from Durban. Six batteries of artillery were massed in the
centre under Colonel Downing. French with the cavalry and mounted
infantry was on the extreme right, but found little opportunity for
the use of the mounted arm that day.

The Boer position, so far as it could be seen, was a formidable
one. Their centre lay upon one of the spurs of Signal Hill, about
three miles from the town. Here they had two forty-pounders and
three other lighter guns, but their artillery strength developed
both in numbers and in weight of metal as the day wore on. Of their
dispositions little could be seen. An observer looking westward
might discern with his glass sprays of mounted riflemen galloping
here and there over the downs, and possibly small groups where the
gunners stood by their guns, or the leaders gazed down at that town
which they were destined to have in view for such a weary while. On
the dun-coloured plains before the town, the long thin lines, with
an occasional shifting sparkle of steel, showed where Hamilton's
and Grimwood's infantry were advancing. In the clear cold air of an
African morning every detail could be seen, down to the distant
smoke of a train toiling up the heavy grades which lead from Frere
over the Colenso Bridge to Ladysmith.

The scrambling, inconsequential, unsatisfactory action which ensued
is as difficult to describe as it must have been to direct. The
Boer front covered some seven or eight miles, with kopjes, like
chains of fortresses, between. They formed a huge semicircle of
which our advance was the chord, and they were able from this
position to pour in a converging artillery fire which grew steadily
hotter as the day advanced. In the early part of the day our
forty-two guns, working furiously, though with a want of accuracy
which may be due to those errors of refraction which are said to be
common in the limpid air of the veld, preserved their superiority.
There appears to have been a want of concentration about our fire,
and at some periods of the action each particular battery was
firing at some different point of the Boer half-circle. Sometimes
for an hour on end the Boer reply would die away altogether, only
to break out with augmented violence, and with an accuracy which
increased our respect for their training. Huge shells--the largest
that ever burst upon a battlefield--hurled from distances which
were unattainable by our fifteen-pounders, enveloped our batteries
in smoke and flame. One enormous Creusot gun on Pepworth Hill threw
a 96-pound shell a distance of four miles, and several 40-pound
howitzers outweighted our field guns. And on the same day on which
we were so roughly taught how large the guns were which labour and
good will could haul on to the field of battle, we learned also
that our enemy--to the disgrace of our Board of Ordnance be it
recorded--was more in touch with modern invention than we were, and
could show us not only the largest, but also the smallest, shell
which had yet been used. Would that it had been our officials
instead of our gunners who heard the devilish little one-pound
shells of the Vickers-Maxim automatic gun, exploding with a
continuous string of crackings and bangings, like a huge cracker,
in their faces and about their ears!

Up to seven o'clock our infantry had shown no disposition to press
the attack, for with so huge a position in front of them, and so
many hills which were held by the enemy, it was difficult to know
what line of advance should be taken, or whether the attack should
not be converted into a mere reconnaissance. Shortly after that
hour, however, the Boers decided the question by themselves
developing a vigorous movement upon Grimwood and the right flank.
With field guns, Maxims, and rifle fire, they closed rapidly in
upon him. The centre column was drafted off, regiment by regiment,
to reinforce the right. The Gordons, Devons, Manchesters, and three
batteries were sent over to Grimwood's relief, and the 5th Lancers,
acting as infantry, assisted him to hold on.

At nine o'clock there was a lull, but it was evident that fresh
commandoes and fresh guns were continually streaming into the
firing line. The engagement opened again with redoubled violence,
and Grimwood's three advanced battalions fell back, abandoning the
ridge which they had held for five hours. The reason for this
withdrawal was not that they could not continue to hold their
position, but it was that a message had just reached Sir George
White from Colonel Knox, commanding in Ladysmith, to the effect
that it looked as if the enemy was about to rush the town from the
other side. Crossing the open in some disorder, they lost heavily,
and would have done so more had not the 13th Field Battery,
followed after an interval by the 53rd, dashed forward, firing
shrapnel at short ranges, in order to cover the retreat of the
infantry. Amid the bursting of the huge 96-pound shells, and the
snapping of the vicious little automatic one-pounders, with a
cross-fire of rifles as well, Abdy's and Dawkins' gallant batteries
swung round their muzzles, and hit back right and left, flashing
and blazing, amid their litter of dead horses and men. So severe
was the fire that the guns were obscured by the dust knocked up by
the little shells of the automatic gun. Then, when their work was
done and the retiring infantry had straggled over the ridge, the
covering guns whirled and bounded after them. So many horses had
fallen that two pieces were left until the teams could be brought
back for them, which was successfully done through the gallantry of
Captain Thwaites. The action of these batteries was one of the few
gleams of light in a not too brilliant day's work. With splendid
coolness and courage they helped each other by alternate
retirements after the retreating infantry had passed them. The 21st
Battery (Blewitt's) also distinguished itself by its staunchness in
covering the retirement of the cavalry, while the 42nd (Goulburn's)
suffered the heaviest losses of any. On the whole, such honours as
fell to our lot were mainly with the gunners.

White must have been now uneasy for his position, and it had become
apparent that his only course was to fall back and concentrate upon
the town. His left flank was up in the air, and the sound of
distant firing, wafted over five miles of broken country, was the
only message which arrived from them. His right had been pushed
back, and, most dangerous of all, his centre had ceased to exist,
for only the 2nd Rifle Brigade remained there. What would happen if
the enemy burst rudely through and pushed straight for the town? It
was the more possible, as the Boer artillery had now proved itself
to be far heavier than ours. That terrible 96-pounder, serenely
safe and out of range, was plumping its great projectiles into the
masses of retiring troops. The men had had little sleep and little
food, and this unanswerable fire was an ordeal for a force which is
retreating. A retirement may very rapidly become a rout under such
circumstances. It was with some misgivings that the officers saw
their men quicken their pace and glance back over their shoulders
at the whine and screech of the shell. They were still some miles
from home, and the plain was open. What could be done to give them
some relief?

And at that very moment there came the opportune and unexpected
answer. That plume of engine smoke which the watcher had observed
in the morning had drawn nearer and nearer, as the heavy train came
puffing and creaking up the steep inclines. Then, almost before it
had drawn up at the Ladysmith siding, there had sprung from it a
crowd of merry bearded fellows, with ready hands and strange sea
cries, pulling and hauling, with rope and purchase to get out the
long slim guns which they had lashed on the trucks. Singular
carriages were there, specially invented by Captain Percy Scott,
and labouring and straining, they worked furiously to get the
12-pounder quick-firers into action. Then at last it was done, and
the long tubes swept upwards to the angle at which they might hope
to reach that monster on the hill at the horizon. Two of them
craned their long inquisitive necks up and exchanged repartees with
the big Creusot. And so it was that the weary and dispirited
British troops heard a crash which was louder and sharper than that
of their field guns, and saw far away upon the distant hill a great
spurt of smoke and flame to show where the shell had struck.
Another and another and another--and then they were troubled no
more. Captain Hedworth Lambton and his men had saved the situation.
The masterful gun had met its own master and sank into silence,
while the somewhat bedraggled field force came trailing back into
Ladysmith, leaving three hundred of their number behind them. It
was a high price to pay, but other misfortunes were in store for us
which made the retirement of the morning seem insignificant.

In the meantime we may follow the unhappy fortunes of the small
column which had, as already described, been sent out by Sir George
White in order, if possible, to prevent the junction of the two
Boer armies, and at the same time to threaten the right wing of the
main force, which was advancing from the direction of Dundee, Sir
George White throughout the campaign consistently displayed one
quality which is a charming one in an individual, but may be
dangerous in a commander. He was a confirmed optimist. Perhaps his
heart might have failed him in the dark days to come had he not
been so. But whether one considers the non-destruction of the
Newcastle Railway, the acquiescence in the occupation of Dundee,
the retention of the non combatants in Ladysmith until it was too
late to get rid of their useless mouths, or the failure to make any
serious preparations for the defence of the town until his troops
were beaten back into it, we see always the same evidence of a man
who habitually hopes that all will go well, and is in consequence
remiss in making preparations for their going ill. But unhappily in
every one of these instances they did go ill, though the slowness
of the Boers enabled us, both at Dundee and at Ladysmith, to escape
what might have been disaster.

Sir George White has so nobly and frankly taken upon himself the
blame of Nicholson's Nek that an impartial historian must rather
regard his self-condemnation as having been excessive. The
immediate causes of the failure were undoubtedly the results of
pure ill-fortune, and depended on things outside his control. But
it is evident that the strategic plan which would justify the
presence of this column at Nicholson's Nek was based upon the
supposition that the main army won their action at Lombard's Kop.
In that case White might swing round his right and pin the Boers
between himself and Nicholson's Nek. In any case he could then
re-unite with his isolated wing. But if he should lose his
battle--what then? What was to become of this detachment five miles
up in the air? How was it to be extricated? The gallant Irishman
seems to have waved aside the very idea of defeat. An assurance
was, it is reported, given to the leaders of the column that by
eleven o'clock next morning they would be relieved. So they would
if White had won his action. But--

The force chosen to operate independently consisted of four and a
half companies of the Gloucester regiment, six companies of the
Royal Irish Fusiliers, and No. 10 Mountain Battery of six
seven-pounder screw-guns. They were both old soldier regiments from
India, and the Fusiliers had shown only ten days before at Talana
Hill the stuff of which they were made. Colonel Carleton, of the
Fusiliers, to whose exertions much of the success of the retreat
from Dundee was due, commanded the column, with Major Adye as staff
officer. On the night of Sunday, October 29th, they tramped out of
Ladysmith, a thousand men, none better in the army. Little they
thought, as they exchanged a jest or two with the outlying pickets,
that they were seeing the last of their own armed countrymen for
many a weary month.

The road was irregular and the night was moonless. On either side
the black loom of the hills bulked vaguely through the darkness.
The column tramped stolidly along, the Fusiliers in front, the guns
and Gloucesters behind. Several times a short halt was called to
make sure of the bearings. At last, in the black cold hours which
come between midnight and morning, the column swung to the left out
of the road. In front of them, hardly visible, stretched a long
black kopje. It was the very Nicholson's Nek which they had come to
occupy. Carleton and Adye must have heaved a sigh of relief as they
realised that they had actually struck it. The force was but two
hundred yards from the position, and all had gone without a hitch.
And yet in those two hundred yards there came an incident which
decided the fate both of their enterprise and of themselves.

Out of the darkness there blundered and rattled five horsemen,
their horses galloping, the loose stones flying around them. In the
dim light they were gone as soon as seen. Whence coming, whither
going, no one knows, nor is it certain whether it was design or
ignorance or panic which sent them riding so wildly through the
darkness. Somebody fired. A sergeant of the Fusiliers took the
bullet through his hand. Some one else shouted to fix bayonets. The
mules which carried the spare ammunition kicked and reared. There
was no question of treachery, for they were led by our own men, but
to hold two frightened mules, one with either hand, is a feat for a
Hercules. They lashed and tossed and bucked themselves loose, and
an instant afterwards were flying helter skelter through the
column. Nearly all the mules caught the panic. In vain the men held
on to their heads. In the mad rush they were galloped over and
knocked down by the torrent of frightened creatures. In the gloom
of that early hour the men must have thought that they were charged
by cavalry. The column was dashed out of all military order as
effectively as if a regiment of dragoons had ridden over them. When
the cyclone had passed, and the men had with many a muttered curse
gathered themselves into their ranks once more, they realised how
grave was the misfortune which had befallen them. There, where
those mad hoofs still rattled in the distance, were their spare
cartridges, their shells, and their cannon. A mountain gun is not
drawn upon wheels, but is carried in adjustable parts upon
mule-back. A wheel had gone south, a trail east, a chase west. Some
of the cartridges were strewn upon the road. Most were on their way
back to Ladysmith. There was nothing for it but to face this new
situation and to determine what should be done.

It has been often and naturally asked, why did not Colonel Carleton
make his way back at once upon the loss of his guns and ammunition,
while it was still dark? One or two considerations are evident. In
the first place, it is natural to a good soldier to endeavour to
retrieve a situation rather than to abandon his enterprise. His
prudence, did he not do so, might become the subject of public
commendation, but might also provoke some private comment. A
soldier's training is to take chances, and to do the best he can
with the material at his disposal. Again, Colonel Carleton and
Major Adye knew the general plan of the battle which would be
raging within a very few hours, and they quite understood that by
withdrawing they would expose General White's left flank to attack
from the forces (consisting, as we know now, of the Orange
Freestaters and of the Johannesburg Police) who were coming from
the north and west. He hoped to be relieved by eleven, and he
believed that, come what might, he could hold out until then. These
are the most obvious of the considerations which induced Colonel
Carleton to determine to carry out so far as he could the programme
which had been laid down for him and his command. He marched up the
hill and occupied the position.

His heart, however, must have sunk when he examined it. It was very
large--too large to be effectively occupied by the force which he
commanded. The length was about a mile and the breadth four hundred
yards. Shaped roughly like the sole of a boot, it was only the heel
end which he could hope to hold. Other hills all round offered
cover for Boer riflemen. Nothing daunted, however, he set his men
to work at once building sangars with the loose stones. With the
full dawn and the first snapping of Boer Mausers from the hills
around they had thrown up some sort of rude defences which they
might hope to hold until help should come.

But how could help come when there was no means by which they could
let White know the plight in which they found themselves? They had
brought a heliograph with them, but it was on the back of one of
those accursed mules. The Boers were thick around them, and they
could not send a messenger. An attempt was made to convert a
polished biscuit tin into a heliograph, but with poor success. A
Kaffir was dispatched with promises of a heavy bribe, but he passed
out of history. And there in the clear cold morning air the balloon
hung to the south of them where the first distant thunder of
White's guns was beginning to sound. If only they could attract the
attention of that balloon! Vainly they wagged flags at it. Serene
and unresponsive it brooded over the distant battle.

And now the Boers were thickening round them on every side.
Christian de Wet, a name soon to be a household word, marshaled the
Boer attack, which was soon strengthened by the arrival of Van Dam
and his Police. At five o'clock the fire began, at six it was warm,
at seven warmer still. Two companies of the Gloucesters lined a
sangar on the tread of the sole, to prevent any one getting too
near to the heel. A fresh detachment of Boers, firing from a range
of nearly one thousand yards, took this defence in the rear.
Bullets fell among the men, and smacked up against the stone
breastwork. The two companies were withdrawn, and lost heavily in
the open as they crossed it. An incessant rattle and crackle of
rifle fire came from all round, drawing very slowly but steadily
nearer. Now and then the whisk of a dark figure from one boulder to
another was all that ever was seen of the attackers. The British
fired slowly and steadily, for every cartridge counted, but the
cover of the Boers was so cleverly taken that it was seldom that
there was much to aim at. 'All you could ever see,' says one who
was present, 'were the barrels of the rifles.' There was time for
thought in that long morning, and to some of the men it may have
occurred what preparation for such fighting had they ever had in
the mechanical exercises of the parade ground, or the shooting of
an annual bagful of cartridges at exposed targets at a measured
range. It is the warfare of Nicholson's Nek, not that of Laffan's
Plain, which has to be learned in the future.

During those weary hours lying on the bullet-swept hill and
listening to the eternal hissing in the air and clicking on the
rocks, the British soldiers could see the fight which raged to the
south of them. It was not a cheering sight, and Carleton and Adye
with their gallant comrades must have felt their hearts grow
heavier as they watched. The Boers' shells bursting among the
British batteries, the British shells bursting short of their
opponents. The Long Toms laid at an angle of forty-five plumped
their huge shells into the British guns at a range where the latter
would not dream of unlimbering. And then gradually the rifle fire
died away also, crackling more faintly as White withdrew to
Ladysmith. At eleven o'clock Carleton's column recognised that it
had been left to its fate. As early as nine a heliogram had been
sent to them to retire as the opportunity served, but to leave the
hill was certainly to court annihilation.

The men had then been under fire for six hours, and with their
losses mounting and their cartridges dwindling, all hope had faded
from their minds. But still for another hour, and yet another, and
yet another, they held doggedly on. Nine and a half hours they
clung to that pile of stones. The Fusiliers were still exhausted
from the effect of their march from Glencoe and their incessant
work since. Many fell asleep behind the boulders. Some sat doggedly
with their useless rifles and empty pouches beside them. Some
picked cartridges off their dead comrades. What were they fighting
for? It was hopeless, and they knew it. But always there was the
honour of the flag, the glory of the regiment, the hatred of a
proud and brave man to acknowledge defeat. And yet it had to come.
There were some in that force who were ready for the reputation of
the British army, and for the sake of an example of military
virtue, to die stolidly where they stood, or to lead the
'Faugh-a-ballagh' boys, or the gallant 28th, in one last
death-charge with empty rifles against the unseen enemy. They may
have been right, these stalwarts. Leonidas and his three hundred
did more for the Spartan cause by their memory than by their living
valour. Man passes like the brown leaves, but the tradition of a
nation lives on like the oak that sheds them--and the passing of
the leaves is nothing if the bole be the sounder for it. But a
counsel of perfection is easy at a study table. There are other
things to be said--the responsibility of officers for the lives of
their men, the hope that they may yet be of service to their
country. All was weighed, all was thought of, and so at last the
white flag went up. The officer who hoisted it could see no one
unhurt save himself, for all in his sangar were hit, and the others
were so placed that he was under the impression that they had
withdrawn altogether. Whether this hoisting of the flag necessarily
compromised the whole force is a difficult question, but the Boers
instantly left their cover, and the men in the sangars behind, some
of whom had not been so seriously engaged, were ordered by their
officers to desist from firing. In an instant the victorious Boers
were among them.

It was not, as I have been told by those who were there, a sight
which one would wish to have seen or care now to dwell upon.
Haggard officers cracked their sword-blades and cursed the day that
they had been born. Privates sobbed with their stained faces buried
in their hands. Of all tests of discipline that ever they had
stood, the hardest to many was to conform to all that the cursed
flapping handkerchief meant to them. 'Father, father, we had rather
have died,' cried the Fusiliers to their priest. Gallant hearts,
ill paid, ill thanked, how poorly do the successful of the world
compare with their unselfish loyalty and devotion!

But the sting of contumely or insult was not added to their
misfortunes. There is a fellowship of brave men which rises above
the feuds of nations, and may at last go far, we hope, to heal
them. From every rock there rose a Boer--strange, grotesque figures
many of them--walnut-brown and shaggy-bearded, and swarmed on to
the hill. No term of triumph or reproach came from their lips. 'You
will not say now that the young Boer cannot shoot,' was the
harshest word which the least restrained of them made use of.
Between one and two hundred dead and wounded were scattered over
the hill. Those who were within reach of human help received all
that could be given. Captain Rice, of the Fusiliers, was carried
wounded down the hill on the back of one giant, and he has narrated
how the man refused the gold piece which was offered him. Some
asked the soldiers for their embroidered waist-belts as souvenirs
of the day. They will for generations remain as the most precious
ornaments of some colonial farmhouse. Then the victors gathered
together and sang psalms, not jubilant but sad and quavering. The
prisoners, in a downcast column, weary, spent, and unkempt, filed
off to the Boer laager at Waschbank, there to take train for
Pretoria. And at Ladysmith a bugler of Fusiliers, his arm bound,
the marks of battle on his dress and person, burst in upon the camp
with the news that two veteran regiments had covered the flank of
White's retreating army, but at the cost of their own annihilation.



At the end of a fortnight of actual hostilities in Natal the
situation of the Boer army was such as to seriously alarm the
public at home, and to cause an almost universal chorus of
ill-natured delight from the press of all European nations. Whether
the reason was hatred of ourselves, or the sporting instinct which
backs the smaller against the larger, or the influence of the
ubiquitous Dr. Leyds and his secret service fund, it is certain
that the continental papers have never been so unanimous as in
their premature rejoicings over what, with an extraordinary want of
proportion, and ignorance of our national character, they imagined
to be a damaging blow to the British Empire. France, Russia,
Austria, and Germany were equally venomous against us, nor can the
visit of the German Emperor, though a courteous and timely action
in itself, entirely atone for the senseless bitterness of the press
of the Fatherland. Great Britain was roused out of her habitual
apathy and disregard for foreign opinion by this chorus of
execration, and braced herself for a greater effort in consequence.
She was cheered by the sympathy of her friends in the United
States, and by the good wishes of the smaller nations of Europe,
notably of Italy, Denmark, Greece, Turkey, and Hungary.

The exact position at the end of this fortnight of hard slogging
was that a quarter of the colony of Natal and a hundred miles of
railway were in the hands of the enemy. Five distinct actions had
been fought, none of them perhaps coming within the fair meaning of
a battle. Of these one had been a distinct British victory, two had
been indecisive, one had been unfortunate, and one had been a
positive disaster. We had lost about twelve hundred prisoners and a
battery of small guns. The Boers had lost two fine guns and three
hundred prisoners. Twelve thousand British troops had been shut up
in Ladysmith, and there was no serious force between the invaders
and the sea. Only in those distant transports, where the grimy
stokers shoveled and strove, were there hopes for the safety of
Natal and the honour of the Empire. In Cape Colony the loyalists
waited with bated breath, knowing well that there was nothing to
check a Free State invasion, and that if it came no bounds could be
placed upon how far it might advance, or what effect it might have
upon the Dutch population.

Leaving Ladysmith now apparently within the grasp of the Boers, who
had settled down deliberately to the work of throttling it, the
narrative must pass to the western side of the seat of war, and
give a consecutive account of the events which began with the siege
of Kimberley and led to the ineffectual efforts of Lord Methuen's
column to relieve it.

On the declaration of war two important movements had been made by
the Boers upon the west. One was the advance of a considerable body
under the formidable Cronje to attack Mafeking, an enterprise which
demands a chapter of its own. The other was the investment of
Kimberley by a force which consisted principally of Freestaters
under the command of Wessels and Botha. The place was defended by
Colonel Kekewich, aided by the advice and help of Mr. Cecil Rhodes,
who had gallantly thrown himself into the town by one of the last
trains which reached it. As the founder and director of the great
De Beers diamond mines he desired to be with his people in the hour
of their need, and it was through his initiative that the town had
been provided with the rifles and cannon with which to sustain the

The troops which Colonel Kekewich had at his disposal consisted of
four companies of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment (his own
regiment), with some Royal Engineers, a mountain battery, and two
machine guns. In addition there were the extremely spirited and
capable local forces, a hundred and twenty men of the Cape Police,
two thousand Volunteers, a body of Kimberley Light Horse, and a
battery of light seven-pounder guns. There were also eight Maxims
which were mounted upon the huge mounds of debris which surrounded
the mines and formed most efficient fortresses.

A small reinforcement of police had, under tragic circumstances,
reached the town. Vryburg, the capital of British Bechuanaland,
lies 145 miles to the north of Kimberley. The town has strong Dutch
sympathies, and on the news of the approach of a Boer force with
artillery it was evident that it could not be held. Scott, the
commandant of police, made some attempt to organise a defence, but
having no artillery and finding little sympathy, he was compelled
to abandon his charge to the invaders. The gallant Scott rode south
with his troopers, and in his humiliation and grief at his
inability to preserve his post he blew out his brains upon the
journey. Vryburg was immediately occupied by the Boers, and British
Bechuanaland was formally annexed to the South African Republic.
This policy of the instant annexation of all territories invaded
was habitually carried out by the enemy, with the idea that British
subjects who joined them would in this way be shielded from the
consequences of treason. Meanwhile several thousand Freestaters and
Transvaalers with artillery had assembled round Kimberley, and all
news of the town was cut off. Its relief was one of the first tasks
which presented itself to the inpouring army corps. The obvious
base of such a movement must be Orange River, and there and at De
Aar the stores for the advance began to be accumulated. At the
latter place especially, which is the chief railway junction in the
north of the colony, enormous masses of provisions, ammunition, and
fodder were collected, with thousands of mules which the long arm
of the British Government had rounded up from many parts of the
world. The guard over these costly and essential supplies seems to
have been a dangerously weak one. Between Orange River and De Aar,
which are sixty miles apart, there were the 9th Lancers, the Royal
Munsters, the 2nd King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, and the 1st
Northumberland Fusiliers, under three thousand men in all, with two
million pounds' worth of stores and the Free State frontier within
a ride of them. Verily if we have something to deplore in this war
we have much also to be thankful for.

Up to the end of October the situation was so dangerous that it is
really inexplicable that no advantage was taken of it by the enemy.
Our main force was concentrated to defend the Orange River railway
bridge, which was so essential for our advance upon Kimberley. This
left only a single regiment without guns for the defence of De Aar
and the valuable stores. A fairer mark for a dashing leader and a
raid of mounted riflemen was never seen. The chance passed,
however, as so many others of the Boers' had done. Early in
November Colesberg and Naauwpoort were abandoned by our small
detachments, who concentrated at De Aar. The Berkshires joined the
Yorkshire Light Infantry, and nine field guns arrived also. General
Wood worked hard at the fortifying of the surrounding kopjes, until
within a week the place had been made tolerably secure.

The first collision between the opposing forces at this part of the
seat of war was upon November 10th, when Colonel Gough of the 9th
Lancers made a reconnaissance from Orange River to the north with
two squadrons of his own regiment, the mounted infantry of the
Northumberland Fusiliers, the Royal Munsters, and the North
Lancashires, with a battery of field artillery. To the east of
Belmont, about fifteen miles off, he came on a detachment of the
enemy with a gun. To make out the Boer position the mounted
infantry galloped round one of their flanks, and in doing so passed
close to a kopje which was occupied by sharpshooters. A deadly fire
crackled suddenly out from among the boulders. Of six men hit four
were officers, showing how cool were the marksmen and how dangerous
those dress distinctions which will probably disappear hence
forwards upon the field of battle. Colonel Keith-Falconer of the
Northumberlands, who had earned distinction in the Soudan, was shot
dead. So was Wood of the North Lancashires. Hall and Bevan of the
Northumberlands were wounded. An advance by train of the troops in
camp drove back the Boers and extricated our small force from what
might have proved a serious position, for the enemy in superior
numbers were working round their wings. The troops returned to camp
without any good object having been attained, but that must be the
necessary fate of many a cavalry reconnaissance.

On November 12th Lord Methuen arrived at Orange River and proceeded
to organise the column which was to advance to the relief of
Kimberley. General Methuen had had some previous South African
experience when in 1885 he had commanded a large body of irregular
horse in Bechuanaland. His reputation was that of a gallant
fearless soldier. He was not yet fifty-five years of age.

The force which gradually assembled at Orange River was formidable
rather from its quality than from its numbers. It included a
brigade of Guards (the 1st Scots Guards, 3rd Grenadiers, and 1st
and 2nd Coldstreams), the 2nd Yorkshire Light Infantry, the 2nd
Northamptons, the 1st Northumberlands, and a wing of the North
Lancashires whose comrades were holding out at Kimberley, with a
naval brigade of seamen gunners and marines. For cavalry he had the
9th Lancers, with detachments of mounted infantry, and for
artillery the 75th and 18th Batteries R.F.A.

Extreme mobility was aimed at in the column, and neither tents nor
comforts of any sort were permitted to officers or men--no light
matter in a climate where a tropical day is followed by an arctic
night. At daybreak on November 22nd the force, numbering about
eight thousand men, set off upon its eventful journey. The distance
to Kimberley was not more than sixty miles, and it is probable that
there was not one man in the force who imagined how long that march
would take or how grim the experiences would be which awaited them
on the way. At the dawn of Wednesday, November 22nd, Lord Methuen
moved forward until he came into touch with the Boer position at
Belmont. It was surveyed that evening by Colonel Willoughby Verner,
and every disposition made to attack it in the morning.

The force of the Boers was much inferior to our own, some two or
three thousand in all, but the natural strength of their position
made it a difficult one to carry, while it could not be left behind
us as a menace to our line of communications. A double row of steep
hills lay across the road to Kimberley, and it was along the
ridges, snuggling closely among the boulders, that our enemy was
waiting for us. In their weeks of preparation they had constructed
elaborate shelter pits in which they could lie in comparative
safety while they swept all the level ground around with their
rifle fire. Mr. Ralph, the American correspondent, whose letters
were among the most vivid of the war, has described these lairs,
littered with straw and the debris of food, isolated from each
other, and each containing its grim and formidable occupant. 'The
eyries of birds of prey' is the phrase with which he brings them
home to us. In these, with nothing visible but their peering eyes
and the barrels of their rifles, the Boer marksmen crouched, and
munched their biltong and their mealies as the day broke upon the
morning of the 23rd. With the light their enemy was upon them.

It was a soldiers' battle in the good old primeval British style,
an Alma on a small scale and against deadlier weapons. The troops
advanced in grim silence against the savage-looking,
rock-sprinkled, crag-topped position which confronted them. They
were in a fierce humour, for they had not breakfasted, and military
history from Agincourt to Talavera shows that want of food wakens a
dangerous spirit among British troops. A Northumberland Fusilier
exploded into words which expressed the gruffness of his comrades.
As a too energetic staff officer pranced before their line he
roared in his rough North-country tongue, 'Domn thee! Get thee to
hell, and let's fire!' In the golden light of the rising sun the
men set their teeth and dashed up the hills, scrambling, falling,
cheering, swearing, gallant men, gallantly led, their one thought
to close with that grim bristle of rifle-barrels which fringed the
rocks above them.

Lord Methuen's intention had been an attack from front and from
flank, but whether from the Grenadiers losing their bearings, or
from the mobility of the Boers, which made a flank attack an
impossibility, it is certain that all became frontal. The battle
resolved itself into a number of isolated actions in which the
various kopjes were rushed by different British regiments, always
with success and always with loss. The honours of the fight, as
tested by the grim record of the casualty returns, lay with the
Grenadiers, the Coldstreams, the Northumberlands, and the Scots
Guards. The brave Guardsmen lay thickly on the slopes, but their
comrades crowned the heights. The Boers held on desperately and
fired their rifles in the very faces of the stormers. One young
officer had his jaw blown to pieces by a rifle which almost touched
him. Another, Blundell of the Guards, was shot dead by a wounded
desperado to whom he was offering his water-bottle. At one point a
white flag was waved by the defenders, on which the British left
cover, only to be met by a volley. It was there that Mr. E. F.
Knight, of the 'Morning Post,' became the victim of a double abuse
of the usages of war, since his wound, from which he lost his right
arm, was from an explosive bullet. The man who raised the flag was
captured, and it says much for the humanity of British soldiers
that he was not bayoneted upon the spot. Yet it is not fair to
blame a whole people for the misdeeds of a few, and it is probable
that the men who descended to such devices, or who deliberately
fired upon our ambulances, were as much execrated by their own
comrades as by ourselves.

The victory was an expensive one, for fifty killed and two hundred
wounded lay upon the hillside, and, like so many of our skirmishes
with the Boers, it led to small material results. Their losses
appear to have been much about the same as ours, and we captured
some fifty prisoners, whom the soldiers regarded with the utmost
interest. They were a sullen slouching crowd rudely clad, and they
represented probably the poorest of the burghers, who now, as in
the middle ages, suffer most in battle, since a long purse means a
good horse. Most of the enemy galloped very comfortably away after
the action, leaving a fringe of sharpshooters among the kopjes to
hold back our pursuing cavalry. The want of horsemen and the want
of horse artillery are the two reasons which Lord Methuen gives why
the defeat was not converted into a rout. As it was, the feelings


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