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Chapter 18

THE SIEGE AND RELIEF OF KIMBERLEY


It has already been narrated how, upon the arrival of the army corps
from England, the greater part was drafted to Natal, while some went
to the western side, and started under Lord Methuen upon the perilous
enterprise of the relief of Kimberley. It has also been hown how,
after three expensive victories, Lord Methuen's force met with a
paralysing reverse, and was compelled to remain inactive within twenty
miles of the town which they had come to succour. Before describe how
that succour did eventual]y arrive, some attention must be paid to the
incidents which had occurred within the city.

'I am directed to assure you that there is no reason for apprehending
that Kimberley or any part of the colony either is, or in any
contemplated event will be, in danger of attack. Mr. Schreiner is of
opinion that your fears are groundless and your anticipations in the
matter entirely without foundation.' Such is the official reply to the
remonstrance of the inhabitants, when, with the shadow of war dark
upon them, they appealed for help. It is fortunate, however, that a
progressive British town has usually the capacity for doing things for
itself without the intervention of officials. Kimberley was
particularly lucky in being the centre of the wealthy and alert De
Beers Company, which had laid in sufficient ammunition and supplies to
prevent the town from being helpless in the presence of the enemy. But
the cannon were popguns, firing a 7-pound shell for a short range, and
the garrison contained only seven hundred regulars, while the
remainder were mostly untrained miners and artisans. Among them,
however, there was a sprinkling of dangerous men from the northern
wars, and all were nerved by a knowledge that the ground which they
defended was essential to the Empire. Ladysmith was no more than any
other strategic position, but Kimberley was unique, the centre of the
richest tract of ground for its size in the whole world. Its loss
would have been a heavy blow to the British cause, and an enormous
encouragement to the Boers.

On October 12th, several hours after the expiration of Kruger's
ultimatum, Cecil Rhodes threw himself into Kimberley. This remarkable
man, who stood for the future of South Africa as clearly as the Dopper
Boer stood for its past, had, both in features and in character, some
traits which may, without extravagance, be called Napoleonic. The
restless energy, the fertility of resource, the attention to detail,
the wide sweep of mind, the power of terse comment -- all these recall
the great emperor. So did the simplicity of private life in the midst
of excessive wealth. And so finally did a want of scruple where an
ambition was to be furthered, shown, for example, in that enormous
donation to the Irish party by which he made a bid for their
parliamentary support, and in the story of the Jameson raid. A certain
cynicism of mind and a grim humour complete the parallel. But Rhodes
was a Napoleon of peace. The consolidation of South Africa under the
freest and most progressive form of government was the large object on
which he had expended his energies and his fortune but the development
of the country in every conceivable respect, from the building of a
railway to the importation of a pedigree bull, engaged his unremitting
attention.

It was on October 15th that the fifty thousand inhabitants of
Kimberley first heard the voice of war. It rose and fell in a
succession of horrible screams and groans which travelled far over the
veldt, and the outlying farmers marvelled at the dreadful clamour from
the sirens and the hooters of the great mines. Those who have endured
all -- the rifle, the cannon, and the hunger -- have said that those
wild whoops from the sirens were what had tried their nerve the most.

The Boers in scattered bands of horsemen were thick around the town,
and had blocked the railroad. They raided cattle upon the outskirts,
but made no attempt to rush the defence. The garrison, who, civilian
and military, approached four thousand in number, lay close in rifle
pit and redoubt waiting for an attack which never came. The perimeter
to be defended was about eight miles, but the heaps of tailings made
admirable fortifications, and the town had none of those inconvenient
heights around it which had been such bad neighbours to
Ladysmith. Picturesque surroundings are not favourable to defence.

On October 24th the garrison, finding that no attack was made,
determined upon a reconnaissance. The mounted force, upon which most
of the work and of the loss fell, consisted of the Diamond Fields
Horse, a small aumber of Cape Police, a company of Mounted Infantry,
and a body called the Kimberley Light Horse. With two hundred and
seventy volunteers from this force Major Scott-Turner, a redoubtable
fighter, felt his way the north until he came in touch with the
Boers. The latter, who were much superior in numbers, manoeuvred to
cut him off, but the arrival of two companies of the North Lancashire
Regiment turned the scale in our favour. We lost three killed and
twenty-one wounded in the skirmish. The Boer loss is unknown, but
their commander Botha was slain.

On November 4th Commandant Wessels formally summoned the town, and it
is asserted that he gave Colonel Kekewich leave to send out the women
and children. That officer has been blamed for not taking advantage
of the permission -- or at the least for not communicating it to the
civil authorities. As a matter of fact the charge rests upon a
misapprehension. In Wessels' letter a distinction is made between
Africander and English women, the former being offered an asylum in
his camp. This offer was made known, and half a dozen persons took
advantage of it. The suggestion, however, in the case of the English
carried with it no promise that they would be conveyed to Orange
River, and a compliance with it would have put them as helpless
hostages into the hands of the enemy. As to not publishing the message
it is not usual to publish such official documents, but the offer was
shown to Mr. Rhodes, who concurred in the impossibility of accepting
it.

It is difficult to allude to this subject without touching upon the
painful but notorious fact that there existed during the siege
considerable friction between the military authorities and a section
of the civilians, of whom Mr. Rhodes was chief. Among other
characteristics Rhodes bore any form of restraint very badly, and
chafed mightily when unable to do a thing in the exact way which he
considered best. He may have been a Napoleon of peace, but his warmest
friends could never describe him as a Napoleon of war, for his
military forecasts have been erroneous, and the management of the
Jameson fiasco certainly inspired no confidence in the judgment of any
one concerned. That his intentions were of the best, and that he had
the good of the Empire at heart, may be freely granted; but that these
motives should lead him to cabal against, and even to threaten, the
military governor, or that he should attempt to force Lord Roberts's
hand in a military operation, was most deplorable. Every credit may
be given to him for all his aid to the military -- he gave with a good
grace what the garrison would otherwise have had to commandeer -- but
it is a fact that the town would bave been more united, and therefore
stronger, without his presence. Colonel Kekewich and his chief staff
officer, Major O'Meara, were as much plagued by intrigue within as by
the Boers without.

On November 7th the bombardment of the town commenced from nine
9-pounder guns to which the artillery of the garrison could give no
adequate reply. The result, however, of a fortnight's fire, during
which seven hundred shells were discharged, was the loss of two
non-combatants. The question of food was recognised as being of more
importance than the enemy's fire. An early relief appeared probable,
however, as the advance of Methuen's force was already known. One
pound of bread, two ounces of sugar, and half a pound of meat were
allowed per head. It was only on the small children that the scarcity
of milk told with tragic effect. At Ladysmith, at Mafeking, and at
Kimberley hundreds of these innocents were sacrificed.

November 25th was a red-letter day with the garrison, who made a
sortie under the impression that Methuen was not far off, and that
they were assisting his operations. The attack was made upon one of
the Boer positions by a force consisting of a detachment of the Light
Horse and of the Cape Police, and their work was brilliantly
successful. The actual storming of the redoubt was carried out by
some forty men, of whom but four were killed. They brought back
thirty-three prisoners as a proof of their victory, but the Boer gun,
as usual, escaped us. In this brilliant affair Scott-Turner was
wounded, which did not prevent him, only three days later, from
leading another sortie, which was as disastrous as the first had been
successful. Save under very exceptional circumstances it is in modern
warfare long odds always upon the defence, and the garrison would
probably have been better advised had they refrained from attacking
the fortifications of their enemy -- a truth which Baden-Powell
learned also at Game Tree Hill. As it was, after a temporary success
the British were blown back by the fierce Mauser fire, and lost the
indomitable Scott-Turner, with twenty-one of his brave companions
killed and twenty-eight wounded, all belongmg to the colonial corps.
The Empire may reflect with pride that the people in whose cause
mainly they fought showed themselves by their gallantry and their
devotion worthy of any sacrifice which has been made.

Again the siege settled down to a monotonous record of decreasing
rations and of expectation. On December 10 there came a sign of hope
from the outside world. Far on the southern horizon a little golden
speck shimmered against the blue African sky. It was Methuen's balloon
gleaming in the sunshine. Next morning the low grumble of distant
cannon was the sweetest of music to the listening citizens. But days
passed without further news, and it was not for more than a week that
they learned of the bloody repulse of Magersfontein, and that help was
once more indefinitely postponed. Helio graphic communication had
been opened with the relieving army, and it is on record that the
first message flashed through from the south was a question about the
number of a horse. With inconceivable stupidity this has been cited as
an example of military levity and incapacity. Of course the object of
the question was a test as to whether they were really in
communication with the garrison. It must be confessed that the town
seems to have contained some very querulous and unreasonable people.

The New Year found the beleaguered city reduced to a quarter of a
pound of meat per head, while the health of the inhabitants began to
break down under their confinement. Their interest, however, was
keenly aroused by the attempt made in the De Beers workshops to build
a gun which might reach their opponents. This remarkable piece of
ordnance, constructed by an American named Labram by the help of tools
manufactured for the purpose and of books found in the town, took the
shape eventually of a 28 lb. rifled gun, which proved to be a most
efficient piece of artillery. With grim humour, Mr. Rhodes's
compliments had been inscribed upon the shells -- a fair retort in
view of the openly expressed threat of the enemy that in case of his
capture they would carry him in a cage to Pretoria.

The Boers, though held off for a time by this unexpected piece of
ordnance, prepared a terrible answer to it. On February 7th an
enormous gun, throwing a 96 lb. shell, opened from Kamfersdam, which
is four miles from the centre of the town. The shells, following the
evil precedent of the Germans in 1870, were fired not at the forts,
but into the thickly populated city. Day and night these huge missiles
exploded, shattering the houses and occasionally killing or maiming
the occupants. Some thousands of the women and children were conveyed
down the mines, wbere, in the electric-lighted tunnels, they lay in
comfort and safety. One surprising revenge the Boers had, for by an
extraordinary chance one of the few men killed by their gun was the
ingenious Labram who had constructed the 28-pounder. By an even more
singular chance, Leon, who was responsible for bringing the big Boer
gun, was struck immediately afterwards by a long-range rifle-shot from
the garrison.

The historian must be content to give a tame account of the siege of
Kimberley, for the thing itself was tame. Indeed 'siege' is a
misnomer, for it was rather an investment or a blockade. Such as it
was, however, the inhabitants became very restless under it, and
though there were never any prospects of surrender the utmost
impatience began to be manifested at the protracted delay on the part
of the relief force. It was not till later that it was understood how
cunningly Kimberley had been used as a bait to hold the enemy until
final preparations had been made for his destruction.

And at last the great day came. It is on record how dramatic was the
meeting between the mounted outposts of the defenders and the advance
guard of the relievers, whose advent seems to have been equally
unexpected by friend and foe. A skirmish was in progress on February
15th between a party of the Kimberley Light Horse and of the Boers,
when a new body of horsemen, unrecognised by either side, appeared
upon the plain and opened fire upon the enemy. One of the strangers
rode up to the patrol. 'What the dickens does K.L.H. mean on your
shoulder-strap?' he asked. 'It means Kimberley Light Horse. Who are
you?' 'I am one of the New-Zealanders.' Macaulay in his wildest
dream of the future of the much-quoted New-Zealander never pictured
him as heading a rescue force for the relief of a British town in the
heart of Africa.

The population had assembled to watch the mighty cloud of dust which
rolled along the south-eastern horizon. What was it which swept
westwards within its reddish heart? Hopeful and yet fearful they saw
the huge bank draw nearer and nearer. An assault from the whole of
Cronje's army was the thought which passed through many a mind. And
then the dust-cloud thinned, a mighty host of horsemen spurred out
from it, and in the extended far-flung ranks the glint of spearheads
and the gleam of scabbards told of the Hussars and Lancers, while
denser banks on either flank marked the position of the whirling
guns. Wearied and spent with a hundred miles' ride the dusty riders
and the panting, dripping horses took fresh heart as they saw the
broad city before them, and swept with martial rattle and jingle
towards the cheering crowds. Amid shouts and tears French rode into
Kimberley while his troopers encamped outside the town.

To know how this bolt was prepared and how launched, the narrative
must go back to the beginning of the month. At that period Methuen and
his men were still faced by Cronje and his entrenched forces, who, in
spite of occasional bombardments, held their position between
Kimberley and the relieving army. French, having handed over the
operations at Colesberg to Clements, had gone down to Cape Town to
confer with Roberts and Kitchener. Thence they all three made their
way to the Modder River, which was evidently about to be the base of a
more largely conceived series of operations than any which had yet
been undertaken,

In order to draw the Boer attention away from the thunderbolt which
was about to fall upon their left flank, a strong demonstration ending
in a brisk action was made early in February upon the extreme right of
Cronje's position. The force, consisting of the Highland Brigade, two
squadrons of the 9th Lancers, No.7 Co. Royal Engineers, and the 62nd
Battery, was under the command of the famous Hector Macdonald.
'Fighting Mac' as he was called by his men, had joined his regiment as
a private, and had worked through the grades of corporal, sergeant,
captain, major, and colonel, until now, still in the prime of his
manhood, he found himself riding at the bead of a brigade. A bony,
craggy Scotsman, with a square fighting head and a bulldog jaw, he had
conquered the exclusiveness and routine of the British service by the
same dogged qualities which made him formidable to Dervish and to
Boer. With a cool brain, a steady nerve, and a proud heart, he is an
ideal leader of infantry, and those who saw him manoeuvre his brigade
in the crisis of the battle of Omdurman speak of it as the one great
memory which they carried back from the engagement. On the field of
battle he turns to the speech of his childhood, the jagged, rasping,
homely words which brace the nerves of the northern soldier. This was
the man who had come from India to take the place of poor Wauchope,
and to put fresh heart into the gallant but sorely stricken brigade.

The four regiments which composed the infantry of the force -- the
Black Watch, the Argyll and Sutherlands, the Seaforths, and the
Highland Light Infantry -- left Lord Methuen's camp on Saturday,
February 3rd, and halted at Fraser's Drift, passing on next day to
Koodoosberg. The day was very hot, and the going very heavy, and many
men fell out, some never to return. The drift (or ford) was found,
however, to be undefended, and was seized by Macdonald, who, after
pitching camp on the south side of the river, sent out strong parties
across the drift to seize and entrench the Koodoosberg and some
adjacent kopjes which, lying some three-quarters of a mile to the
north-west of the drift formed the key of the position. A few Boer
scouts were seen hurrying with the news of his coming to the head
laager.

The effect of these messages was evident by Tuesday (February 6th),
when the Boers were seen to be assembling upon the north bank. By next
morning they were there in considerable numbers, and began an attack
upon a crest held by the Seaforths. Macdonald threw two companies of
the Black Watch and two of the Highland Light Infantry into the
fight. The Boers made excellent practice with a 7-pounder mountain
gun, and their rifle fire, considering the good cover which our men
had, was very deadly. Poor Tait, of the Black Watch, good sportsman
and gallant soldier, with one wound hardly healed upon his person, was
hit again. 'They've got me this time,' were his dying words. Blair,
of the Seaforths, had his carotid cut by a shrapnel bullet, and lay
for hours while the men of his company took turns to squeeze the
artery. But our artillery silenced the Boer gun, and our infantry
easily held their riflemen. Babington with the cavalry brigade arrived
from the camp about 1.30, moving along the north bank of the river. In
spite of the fact that men and horses were weary from a tiring march,
it was hoped by Macdonald's force that they would work round the Boers
and make an attempt to capture either them or their gun. But the
horsemen seem not to have realised the position of the parties, or
that possibility of bringing off a considerable coup, so the action
came to a tame conclusion, the Boers retiring unpursued from their
attack. On Thursday, February 8th, they were found to have withdrawn,
and on the same evening our own force was recalled, to the surprise
and disappointment of the public at home, who had not realised that in
directing their attention to their right flank the column had already
produced the effect upon the enemy for which they had been sent. They
could not be left there, as they were needed for those great
operations which were pending. It was on the 9th that the brigade
returned; on the 10th they were congratulated by Lord Roberts in
person; and on the 11th those new dispositions were made which were
destined not only to relieve Kimberley, but to inflict a blow upon the
Boer cause from which it was never able to recover.

Small, brown, and wrinkled, with puckered eyes and alert manner, Lord
Roberts in spite of his sixty-seven years preserves the figure and
energy of youth. The active open-air life of India keeps men fit for
the saddle when in England they would only sit their club armchairs,
and it is hard for any one who sees the wiry figure and brisk step of
Lord Roberts to realise that he has spent forty-one years of
soldiering in what used to be regarded as an unhealthy climate. He
had carried into late life the habit of martial exercise, and a
Russian traveller has left it on record that the sight which surprised
him most in India was to see the veteran commander of the army ride
forth with his spear and carry off the peg with the skill of a
practised trooper. In his early youth he had shown in the Mutiny that
he possessed the fighting energy of the soldier to a remarkable
degree, but it was only in the Afghan War of 1880 that he had an
opportunity of proving that he had rarer and more valuable gifts, the
power of swift resolution and determined execution. At the crisis of
the war he and his army disappeared entirely from the public ken only
to emerge dramatically as victors at a point three hundred miles
distant from where they had vanished.

It is not only as a soldier, but as a man, that Lord Roberts possesses
some remarkable characteristics. He has in a supreme degree that
magnetic quality which draws not merely the respect but the love of
those who know him. In Chaucer's phrase, he is a very perfect gentle
knight. Soldiers and regimental officers have for him a feeling of
personal affection such as the unemotional British Army has never had
for any leader in the course of our history. His chivalrous courtesy,
his unerring tact, his kindly nature, his unselfish and untiring
devotion to their interests have all endeared him to those rough loyal
natures, who would follow him with as much confidence and devotion as
the GROGNARDS of the Guard had in the case of the Great Emperor. There
were some who feared that in Roberts's case, as in so many more, the
donga and kopje of South Africa might form the grave and headstone of
a military reputation, but far from this being so he consistently
showed a wide sweep of strategy and a power of conceiving the effect
of scattered movements over a great extent of country which have
surprised his warmest admirers. In the second week of February his
dispositions were ready, and there followed the swift series of blows
which brought the Boers upon their knees. Of these we shall only
describe here the exploits of the fine force of cavalry which, after a
ride of a hundred miles, broke out of the heart of that reddish
dustcloud and swept the Boer besiegers away from hard-pressed
Kimberley.

In order to strike unexpectedly, Lord Roberts had not only made a
strong demonstration at Koodoosdrift, at the other end of the Boer
line, but he had withdrawn his main force some forty miles south,
taking them down by rail to Belmont and Enslin with such secrecy that
even commanding officers had no idea whither the troops were going.
The cavalry which had come from French's command at Colesberg had
already reached the rendezvous, travelling by road to Naauwpoort, and
thence by train. This force consisted of the Carabineers, New South
Wales Lancers, Inniskillings, composite regiment of Household Cavalry,
10th Hussars, with some mounted infantry and two batteries of Horse
Artillery, making a force of nearly three thousand sabres. To this
were added the 9th and 12th Lancers from Modder River, the 16th
Lancers from India, the Scots Greys, which had been patrolling Orange
River from the beginning of the war, Rimington's Scouts, and two
brigades of mounted infantry under Colonels Ridley and Hannay. The
force under this latter officer had a severe skirmish on its way to
the rendezvous and lost fifty or sixty in killed, wounded, and
missing. Five other batteries of Horse Artillery were added to the
force, making seven in all, with a pontoon section of Royal Engineers.
The total number of men was about five thousand. By the night of
Sunday, February 11th, this formidable force had concentrated at
Ramdam, twenty miles north-east of Belmont, and was ready to
advance. At two in the morning of Monday, February 12th, the start was
made, and the long sinuous line of night-riders moved off over the
shadowy veldt, the beat of twenty thousand hoofs, the clank of steel,
and the rumble of gunwheels and tumbrils swelling into a deep low roar
like the surge upon the shingle.

Two rivers, the Riet and the Modder, intervened between French and
Kimberley. By daylight on the 12th the head of his force had reached
Waterval Drift, which was found to be defended by a body of Boers with
a gun. Leaving a small detachment to hold them, French passed his men
over Dekiel's Drift, higher up the stream, and swept the enemy out of
his position. This considerable force of Boers had come from
Jacobsdal, and were just too late to get into position to resist the
crossing. Had we been ten minutes later, the matter would have been
much more serious. At the cost of a very small loss he held both
sides of the ford, but it was not until midniglit that the whole long
column was brought across, and bivouacked upon the northern bank. In
the morning the strength of the force was enormously increased by the
arrival of one more horseman. It was Roberts himself, who had ridden
over to give the men a send-off, and the sight of his wiry erect
figure and mahogany face sent them full of fire and confidence upon
their way.

But the march of this second day (February 13th) was a military
operation of some difficulty. Thirty long waterless miles had to be
done before they could reach the Modder, and it was possible that even
then they might have to fight an action before winning the drift. The
weather was very hot, and through the long day the sun beat down from
an unclouded sky, while the soldiers were only shaded by the dust-bank
in which they rode. A broad arid plain, swelling into stony hills,
surrounded them on every side. Here and there in the extreme
distance, mounted figures moved over the vast expanse -- Boer scouts
who marked in amazement the advance of this great array. Once or
twice these men gathered together, and a sputter of rifle fire broke
out upon our left flank, but the great tide swept on and carried them
with it. Often in this desolate land the herds of mottled springbok
and of grey rekbok could be seen sweeping over the plain, or stopping
with that curiosity upon which the hunter trades, to stare at the
unwonted spectacle.

So all day they rode, hussars, dragoons, and lancers, over the
withered veldt, until men and horses drooped with the heat and the
exertion. A front of nearly two miles was kept, the regiments moving
two abreast in open order; and the sight of this magnificent cloud of
horsemen sweeping over the great barren plain was a glorious one. The
veldt had caught fire upon the right, and a black cloud of smoke with
a lurid heart to it covered the flank. The beat of the sun from above
and the swelter of dust from below were overpowering. Gun horses fell
in the traces and died of pure exhaustion. The men, parched and
silent, but cheerful, strained their eyes to pierce the continual
mirage which played over the horizon, and to catch the first glimpse
of the Modder. At last, as the sun began to slope down to the west, a
thin line of green was discerned, the bushes which skirt the banks of
that ill-favoured stream. With renewed heart the cavalry pushed on
and made for the drift, while Major Rimington, to whom the onerous
duty of guiding the force had been entrusted, gave a sigh of relief as
he saw that he had indeed struck the very point at which he had aimed.

The essential thing in the movements had been speed -- to reach each
point before the enemy could concentrate to oppose them. Upon this it
depended whether they would find five hundred or five thousand waiting
on the further bank. It must have been with anxious eyes that French
watched his first regiment ride down to Klip Drift. If the Boers
should have had notice of his coming and have transferred some of
their 40-pounders, he might lose heavily before he forced the stream.
But this time, at last, he had completely outmanoeuvred them. He came
with the news of his coming, and Broadwood with the 12th Lancers
rushed the drift. The small Boer force saved itself by flight, and the
camp, the wagons, and the supplies remained with the victors. On the
night of the 13th he had secured the passage of the Modder, and up to
the early morning the horses and the guns were splashing through its
coffee-coloured waters.

French's force had now come level to the main position of the Boers,
but had struck it upon the extreme left wing. The extreme right wing,
thanks to the Koodoosdrift demonstration, was fifty miles off, and
this line was naturally very thinly held, save only at the central
position of Magersfontein. Cronje. could not denude this central
position, for he saw Methuen still waiting in front of him, and in any
case Klip Drift is twenty-five miles from Magersfontein. But the Boer
left wing, though scattered, gathered into some sort of cohesion on
Wednesday (February 14th), and made an effort to check the victorious
progress of the cavalry. It was necessary on this day to rest at Klip
Drift, until Kelly-Kenny should come up with the infantry to hold what
had been gained. All day the small bodies of Boers came riding in and
taking up positions between the column and its objective.

Next morning the advance was resumed, the column being still forty
miles from Kimberley with the enemy in unknown force between. Some
four miles out French came upon their position, two hills with a long
low nek between, from which came a brisk rifle fire supported by
artillery. But French was not only not to be stopped, but could not
even be retarded. Disregarding the Boer fire completely the cavalry
swept in wave after wave over the low nek, and so round the base of
the hills. The Boer riflemen upon the kopjes must have seen a
magnificent military spectacle as regiment after regiment, the 9th
Lancers leading, all in very open order, swept across the plain at a
gallop, and so passed over the nek. A few score horses and half as
many men were left behind them, but forty or fifty Boers were cut down
in the pursuit. It appears to have been one of the very few occasions
during the campaign when that obsolete and absurd weapon the sword was
anything but a dead weight to its bearer.

And now the force had a straight run in before it, for it had outpaced
any further force of Boers which may have been advancing from the
direction of Magersfontein. The horses, which had come a hundred miles
in four days with insufficient food and water, were so done that it
was no uncommon sight to see the trooper not only walking to ease his
horse, but carrying part of his monstrous weight of saddle gear. But
in spite of fatigue the force pressed on until in the afternoon a
distant view was seen, across the reddish plain, of the brick houses
and corrugated roofs of Kimberley. The Boer besiegers cleared off in
front of it, and that night (February 15th) the relieving column
camped on the plain two miles away, while French and his staff rode in
to the rescued city.

The war was a cruel one for the cavalry, who were handicapped
throughout by the nature of the country and by the tactics of the
enemy. They are certainly the branch of the service which had least
opportunity for distinction. The work of scouting and patrolling is
the most dangerous which a soldier can undertake, and yet from its
very nature it can find no chronicler. The war correspondent, like
Providence, is always with the big battalions, and there never was a
campaign in which there was more unrecorded heroism, the heroism of
the picket and of the vedette which finds its way into no newspaper
paragraph. But in the larger operations of the war it is difficult to
say that cavalry, as cavalry, have justified their existence. In the
opinion of many the tendency of the future will be to convert the
whole force into mounted infantry. How little is required to turn our
troopers into excellent foot soldiers was shown at Magersfontein,
where the 12th Lancers, dismounted by the command of their colonel,
Lord Airlie, held back the threatened flank attack all the morning. A
little training in taking cover, leggings instead of boots, and a
rifle instead of a carbine would give us a formidable force of twenty
thousand men who could do all that our cavalry does, and a great deal
more besides. It is undoubtedly possible on many occasions in this
war, at Colesberg, at Diamond Hill, to say 'Here our cavalry did
well.' They are brave men on good horses, and they may be expected to
do well. But the champion of the cavalry cause must point out the
occasions where the cavalry did something which could not have been
done by the same number of equally brave and equally well-mounted
infantry. Only then will the existence of the cavalry be justified.
The lesson both of the South African and of the American civil war is
that the light horseman who is trained to fight on foot is the type of
the future.

A few more words as a sequel to this short sketch of the siege and
relief of Kimberley. Considerable surprise has been expressed that the
great gun at Kamfersdam, a piece which must have weighed many tons and
could not have been moved by bullock teams at a rate of more than two
or three miles an hour, should have eluded our cavalry. It is indeed
a surprising circumstance, and yet it was due to no inertia on the
part of our leaders, but rather to one of the finest examples of Boer
tenacity in the whole course of the war. The instant that Kekewich
was sure of relief he mustered every available man and sent him out to
endeavour to get the gun. It had already been removed, and its
retreat was covered by the strong position of Dronfield, which was
held both by riflemen and by light artillery. Finding himself unable
to force it, Murray, the commander of the detachment, remained in
front of it. Next morning (Friday) at three o'clock the weary men and
horses of two of French's higades were afoot with the same object. But
still the Boers were obstinately holding on to Dronfield, and still
their position was too strong to force, and too extended to get round
with exhausted horses. It was not until the night after that the Boers
abandoned their excellent rearguard action, leaving one light gun in
the hands of the Cape Police, but having gained such a start for their
heavy one that French, who had other and more important objects in
view, could not attempt to follow it.

Arthur Conan Doyle