Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Chapter 27


Christian de Wet, the elder of two brothers of that name, was at this
time in the prime of life, a little over forty years of age. He was a
burly middle-sized bearded man, poorly educated, but endowed with much
energy and common-sense. His military experience dated back to Majuba
Hill, and he had a large share of that curious race hatred which is
intelligible in the case of the Transvaal, but inexplicable in a
Freestater who has received no injury from the British Empire. Some
weakness of his sight compels the use of tinted spectacles, and he had
now turned these, with a pair of particularly observant eyes behind
them, upon the scattered British forces and the long exposed line of

De Wet's force was an offshoot from the army of Freestaters under De
Villiers, Olivier, and Prinsloo, which lay in the mountainous
north-east of the State. To him were committed five guns, fifteen
hundred men, and the best of the horses. Well armed, well mounted,
and operating in a country which consisted of rolling plains with
occasional fortress kopjes, his little force had everything in its
favour. There were so many tempting objects of attack lying before
him that he must have had some difficulty in knowing where to begin.
The tinted spectacles were turned first upon the isolated town of

Colvile with the Highland Brigade had come up from Ventersburg with
instructions to move onward to Heilbron, pacifying the country as he
passed. The country, however, refused to be pacified, and his march
from Ventersburg to Lindley was harassed by snipers every mile of the
way. Finding that De Wet and his men were close upon him, he did not
linger at Lindley, but passed on to his destination, his entire march
of 126 miles costing him sixty-three casualties, of which nine were
fatal. It was a difficult and dangerous march, especially for the
handful of Eastern Province Horse, upon whom fell all the mounted
work. By evil fortune a force of five hundred Yeomanry, the 18th
battalion, including the Duke of Cambridge's Own and the Irish
companies, had been sent from Kroonstad to join Colvile at Lindley.
Colonel Spragge was in command. On May 27th this body of horsemen
reached their destination only to find that Colvile had already
abandoned it. They appear to have determined to halt for a day in
Lindley, and then follow Colvile to Heilbron. Within a few hours of
their entering the town they were fiercely attacked by De Wet.

Colonel Spragge seems to have acted for the best. Under a heavy fire
he caused his troopers to fall back upon his transport, which had been
left at a point a few miles out upon the Kroonstad Road, where three
defensible kopjes sheltered a valley in which the cattle and horses
could be herded. A stream ran through it. There were all the materials
there for a stand which would have brought glory to the British
arms. The men were of peculiarly fine quality, many of them from the
public schools and from the universities, and if any would fight to
the death these with their sporting spirit and their high sense of
honour might have been expected to do so.

They had the stronger motive for holding out, as they had taken steps
to convey word of their difficulty to Colvile and to Methuen. The
former continued his march to Heilbron, and it is hard to blame him for
doing so, but Methuen on hearing the message, which was conveyed to
him at great personal peril by Corporal Hankey of the Yeomanry, pushed
on instantly with the utmost energy, though he arrived too late to
prevent, or even to repair, a disaster. It must be remembered that
Colvile was under orders to reach Heilbron on a certain date, that he
was himself fighting his way, and that the force which he was asked to
relieve was much more mobile than his own. His cavalry at that date
consisted of 100 men of the Eastern Province Horse.

Colonel Spragge's men had held their own for the first three days of
their investment, during which they had been simply exposed to a
long-range rifle fire which inflicted no very serious loss upon
them. Their principal defence consisted of a stone kraal about twenty
yards square, which sheltered them from rifle bullets, but must
obviously be a perfect death-trap in the not improbable event of the
Boers sending for artillery. The spirit of the troopers was
admirable. Several dashing sorties were carried out under the
leadership of Captain Humby and Lord Longford. The latter was a
particularly dashing business, ending in a bayonet charge which
cleared a neighbouring ridge. Early in the siege the gallant Keith
met his end. On the fourth day the Boers brought up five guns. One
would have thought that during so long a time as three days it would
have been possible for the officer in command to make such
preparations against this obvious possibility as were so successfully
taken at a later stage of the war by the handful who garrisoned
Ladybrand. Surely in this period, even without engineers, it would
not have been hard to construct such trenches as the Boers have again
and again opposed to our own artillery. But the preparations which
were made proved to be quite inadequate. One of the two smaller kopjes
was carried, and the garrison fled to the other. This also was
compelled to surrender, and finally the main kopje also hoisted the
white flag. No blame can rest upon the men, for their presence there
at all is a sufficient proof of their public spirit and their
gallantry. But the lessons of the war seem to have been imperfectly
learned, especially that very certain lesson that shell fire in a
close formation is insupportable, while in an open formation with a
little cover it can never compel surrender. The casualty lists (80
killed and wounded out of a force of 470) show that the Yeomanry took
considerable punishment before surrendering, but do not permit us to
call the defence desperate or heroic. It is only fair to add that
Colonel Spragge was acquitted of all blame by a court of inquiry,
which agreed, however, that the surrender was premature, and
attributed it to the unauthorised hoisting of a white flag upon one of
the detached kopjes. With regard to the subsequent controversy as to
whether General Colvile might have returned to the relief of the
Yeomanry, it is impossible to see how that General could have acted in
any other way than he did.

Some explanation is needed of Lord Methuen's appearance upon the
central scene of warfare, his division having, when last described,
been at Boshof, not far from Kimberley, where early in April he fought
the successful action which led to the death of Villebois. Thence he
proceeded along the Vaal and then south to Kroonstad, arriving there
on May 28th. He had with him the 9th Brigade (Douglas's), which
contained the troops which had started with him for the relief of
Kimberley six months before. These were the Northumberland Fusiliers,
Loyal North Lancashires, Northamptons, and Yorkshire Light Infantry.
With him also were the Munsters, Lord Chesham's Yeomanry (five
companies), with the 4th and 37th batteries, two howitzers and two
pom-poms. His total force was about 6,000 men. On arriving at
Kroonstad he was given the task of relieving Heilbron, where Colvile,
with the Highland Brigade, some Colonial horse, Lovat's Scouts, two
naval guns, and the 5th battery, were short of food and ammunition.
The more urgent message from the Yeomen at Lindley, however, took him
on a fruitless journey to that town on June 1st. So vigorous was the
pursuit of the Yeomanry that the leading squadrons, consisting of
South Notts Hussars and Sherwood Rangers, actually cut into the Boer
convoy and might have rescued the prisoners had they been supported.
As it was they were recalled, and had to fight their way back to
Lindley with some loss, including Colonel Rolleston, the commander,
who was badly wounded. A garrison was left under Paget, and the rest
of the force pursued its original mission to Heilbron, arriving there
on June 7th, when the Highlanders had been reduced to quarter
rations. 'The Salvation Army' was the nickname by which they expressed
their gratitude to the relieving force.

A previous convoy sent to the same destination had less good fortune.
On June 1st fifty-five wagons started from the railway line to reach
Heilbron. The escort consisted of one hundred and sixty details
belonging to Highland regiments without any guns, Captain Corballis in
command. But the gentleman with the tinted glasses was waiting on the
way. 'I have twelve hundred men and five guns. Surrender at once!'
Such was the message which reached the escort, and in their
defenceless condition there was nothing for it but to comply. Thus
one disaster leads to another, for, had the Yeomanry held out at
Lindley, De Wet would not on June 4th have laid hands upon our wagons;
and had he not recruited his supplies from our wagons it is doubtful
if he could have made his attack upon Roodeval. This was the next
point upon which he turned his attention.

Two miles beyond Roodeval station there is a well-marked kopje by the
railway line, with other hills some distance to the right and the
left.. A militia regiment, the 4th Derbyshire, had been sent up to
occupy this post. There were rumours of Boers on the line, and Major
Haig, who with one thousand details of various regiments commanded at
railhead, had been attacked on June 6th but had beaten off his
assailants. De Wet, acting sometimes in company with, and sometimes
independcntly of, his lieutenant Nel, passed down the line looking fur
some easier prey, and on the night of June 7th came upon the militia
regiment, which was encamped in a position which could be complet~y
commanded by artillery. It is not true that they had neglected to
occupy the kopje under which they lay, for two companies had been
posted upon it. But there seems to have been no thought of imminent
danger, and the regiment had pitched its tents and gone very
comfortably to sleep without a thought of the gentleman in the tinted
glasses. In the middle of the night he was upon them with a hissing
sleet of bullets. At the first dawn the guns opened and the shells
began to burst among them. It was a horrible ordeal for raw
troops. The men were miners and agricultural labourers,who had never
seen more bloodshed than a cut finger in their lives. They had been
four months in the country, but their life had been a picnic, as the
luxury of their baggage shows. Now in an instant the picnic was
ended, and in the grey cold dawn war was upon them -- grim war with
the whine of bullets, the screams of pain, the crash of shell, the
horrible rending and riving of body and limb. In desperate straits,
which would have tried the oldest soldiers, the brave miners did
well. They never from the beginning had a chance save to show how
gamely they could take punishment, but that at least they did.
Bullets were coming from all sides at once and yet no enemy was
visible. They lined one side of the embankment, and they were shot in
the back. They lined the other, and were again shot in the back.
Baird-Douglas, the Colonel, vowed to shoot the man who should raise
the white flag, and he fell dead himself before he saw the hated
emblem. But it had to come. A hundred and forty of the men were
down, many of them suffering from the horrible wounds which shell
inflicts. The place was a shambles. Then the flag went up and the
Boers at last became visible. Outnumbered, outgeneralled, and without
guns, there is no shadow of stain upon the good name of the one
militia regiment which was ever seriously engaged during the war.
Their position was hopeless from the first, and they came out of it
with death, mutilation, and honour.

Two miles south of the Rhenoster kopje stands Roodeval station, in
which, on that June morning, there stood a train containing the mails
for the army, a supply of great-coats, and a truck full of enormous
shells. A number of details of various sorts, a hundred or more, had
alighted from the train, twenty of them Post-office volunteers, some
of the Pioneer Railway corps, a few Shropshires, and other waifs and
strays. To them in the early morning came the gentleman with the
tinted glasses, his hands still red with the blood of the Derbies. 'I
have fourteen hundred men and four guns. Surrender!' said the
messenger. But it is not in nature for a postman to give up his
postbag without a struggle. 'Never!' cried the valiant postmen. But
shell after shell battered the corrugated-iron buildings about their
ears, and it was not possible for them to answer the guns which were
smashing the life out of them. There was no help for it but to
surrender. De Wet added samples of the British volunteer and of the
British regular to his bag of militia. The station and train were
burned down, the great-coats looted, the big shells exploded, and the
mails burned. The latter was the one unsportsmanlike action which can
up to that date be laid to De Wet's charge. Forty thousand men to the
north of him could forego their coats and their food, but they yearned
greatly for those home letters, charred fragments of which are still
blowing about the veldt. [Footnote: Fragments continually met the eye
which must have afforded curious reading for the victors. 'I hope you
have killed all those Boers by now,' was the beginning of one letter
which I could not help observing.]

For three days De Wet held the line, and during all that time he
worked his wicked will upon it. For miles and miles it was wrecked
with most scientific completeness. The Rhenoster bridge was
destroyed. So, for the second time, was the Roodeval bridge. The rails
were blown upwards with dynamite until they looked like an unfinished
line to heaven. De Wet's heavy hand was everywhere. Not a
telegraph-post remained standing within ten miles. His headquarters
continued to be the kopje at Roodeval.

On June 10th two British forces were converging upon the point of
danger. One was Methuen's, from Heilbron. The other was a small
force consisting of the Shropshires, the South Wales Borderers, and a
battery which had come south with Lord Kitchener. The energetic Chief
of the Staff was always sent by Lord Roberts to the point where a
strong man was needed, and it was seldom that he failed to justify his
mission. Lord Methuen, however, was the first to arrive, and at once
attacked De Wet, who moved swiftly away to the eastward. With a
tendency to exaggeration, which has been too common during the war,
the affair was described as a victory. It was really a strategic and
almost bloodless move upon the part of the Boers. It is not the
business of guerillas to fight pitched battles. Methuen pushed for
the south, having been informed that Kroonstad had been
captured. Finding this to be untrue, he turned again to the eastward
in search of De Wet.

That wily and indefatigable man was not long out of our ken. On June
14th he appeared once more at Rhenoster, where the construction
trains, under the famous Girouard, were working furiously at the
repair of the damage which he had already done. This time the guard
was sufficient to beat him off, and he vanished again to the eastward.
He succeeded, however, in doing some harm, and very nearly captured
Lord Kitchener himself. A permanent post had been established at
Rhenoster under the charge of Colonel Spens of the Shropshires, with
his own regiment and several guns. Smith-Dorrien, one of the youngest
and most energetic of the divisional commanders, had at the same time
undertaken the supervision and patrolling of the line.

An attack had at this period been made by a cormmando of some hundred
Boers at the Sand River to the south of Kroonstad, where there is a
most important bridge. The attempt was frustrated by the Royal
Lancaster regiment and the Railway Pioneer regiment, helped by some
mounted infantry and Yeomanry. The fight was for a time a brisk one,
and the Pioneers, upon whom the brunt of it fell, behaved with great
steadiness. The skirmish is principally remarkable for the death of
Major Seymour of the Pioneers, a noble American, who gave his services
and at last his life for what, in the face of all slander and
misrepresentation, he knew to be the cause of justice and of liberty.

It was hoped now, after all these precautions, that the last had been
seen of the gentleman with the tinted glasses, but on June 21st he was
back in his old haunts once more. Honing Spruit Station, about midway
between Kroonstad and Roodeval, was the scene of his new raid. On
that date his men appeared suddenly as a train waited in the station,
and ripped up the rails on either side of it. There were no guns at
this point, and the only available troops were three hundred of the
prisoners from Pretoria, armed with Martini-Henry rifles and obsolete
ammunition. A good man was in command, however -- the same Colonel
Bullock of the Devons who had distinguished himself at Colenso -- and
every tattered, half-starved wastrel was nerved by a recollection of
the humiliations which he had already endured. For seven hours they
lay helpless under the shell-fire, but their constancy was rewarded by
the arrival of Colonel Brookfield with 300 Yeomanry and four guns of
the 17th R.F.A., followed in the evening by a larger force from the
south. The Boers fled, but left some of their number behind them;
while of the British, Major Hobbs and four men were killed and
nineteen wounded. This defence of three hundred half-armed men
against seven hundred Boer riflemen, with three guns firing shell and
shrapnel, was a very good performance. The same body of burghers
immediately afterwards attacked a post held by Colonel Evans with two
companies of the Shropshires and fifty Canadians. They were again
beaten back with loss, the Canadians under Inglis especially
distinguishing themselves by their desperate resistance in an exposed

All these attacks, irritating and destructive as they were, were not
able to hinder the general progress of the war. After the battle of
Diamond Hill the captured position was occupied by the mounted
infantry, while the rest of the forces returned to their camps round
Pretoria, there to await the much-needed remounts. At other parts of
the seat of war the British cordon was being drawn more tightly round
the Boer forces. Buller had come as far as Standerton, and Ian
Hamilton, in the last week of June, had occupied Heidelberg. A week
afterwards the two forces were able to join hands, and so to
completely cut off the Free State from the Transvaal armies. Hamilton
in these operations had the misfortune to break his collar-bone, and
for a time the command of his division passed to Hunter -- the one
man, perhaps, whom the army would regard as an adequate successor.

It was evident now to the British commanders that there would be no
peace and no safety for their communications while an undefeated army
of seven or eight thousand men, under such leaders as De Wet and
Olivier, was lurking amid the hills which flanked their railroad. A
determined effort was made, therefore, to clear up that corner of the
country. Having closed the only line of escape by the junction of Ian
Hamilton and of Buller, the attention of six separate bodies of troops
was concentrated upon the stalwart Freestaters. These were the
divisions of Rundle and of Brabant from the south, the brigade of
Clements on their extreme left, the garrison of Lindley under Paget,
the garrison of Heilbron under Macdonald, and, most formidable of all,
a detachment under Hunter which was moving from the north. A crisis
was evidently approaching.

The nearest Free State town of importance still untaken was Bethlehem
-- a singular name to connect with the operations of war. The country
on the south of it forbade an advance by Rundle or Brabant, but it was
more accessible from the west. The first operation of the British
consisted, therefore, in massing sufficient troops to be able to
advance from this side. This was done by effecting a junction between
Clements from Senekal, and Paget who commanded at Lindley, which was
carried out upon July 1st near the latter place. Clements encountered
some opposition, but besides his excellent infantry regiments, the
Royal Irish, Worcesters, Wiltshires, and Bedfords, he had with him the
2nd Brabant's Horse, with yeomanry, mounted infantry, two 5-in. guns,
and the 8th B.F.A. Aided by a demonstration on the part of Grenfell
and of Brabant, he pushed his way through after three days of
continual skirmish.

On getting into touch with Clements, Paget sallied out from Lindley,
leaving the Buffs behind to garrison the town. He had with him
Brookfield's mounted brigade one thousand strong, eight guns, and two
fine battalions of infantry, the Munster Fusiliers and the Yorkshire
Light Infantry. On July 3rd he found near Leeuw Kop a considerable
force of Boers with three guns opposed to him, Clements being at that
time too far off upon the flank to assist him. Four guns of the 38th
R.F.A. (Major Oldfield) and two belonging to the City Volunteers came
into action. The Royal Artillery guns appear to have been exposed to a
very severe fire, and the losses were so heavy that for a time they
could not be served. The escort was inadequate, insufficiently
advanced, and badly handled, for the Boer riflemen were able, by
creeping up a donga, to get right into the 38th battery, and the
gallant major, with Lieutenant Belcher, was killed in the defence of
the guns. Captain FitzGerald, the only other officer present, was
wounded in two places, and twenty men were struck down, with nearly
all the horses of one section. Captain Marks, who was brigade-major
of Colonel Brookfield's Yeomanry, with the help of Lieut. Keevil Davis
and the 15th I.Y. came to the rescue of the disorganised and almost
annihilated section. At the same time the C.I.V. guns were in
imminent danger, but were energetically covered by Captain Budworth,
adjutant of the battery. Soon, however, the infantry, Munster
Fusiliers, and Yorkshire Light Infantry, which had been carrying out a
turning movement, came into action, and the position was taken. The
force moved onwards, and on July 6th they were in front of Bethlehem.

The place is surrounded by hills, and the enemy was found strongly
posted. Clements's force was now on the left and Paget's on the right.
>From both sides an attempt was made to turn the Boer flanks, but they
were found to be very wide and strong. All day a long-range action
was kept up while Clements felt his way in the hope of coming upon
some weak spot in the position, but in the evening a direct attack was
made by Paget's two infantry regiments upon the right, which gave the
British a footing on the Boer position. The Munster Fusiliers and the
Yorkshire Light Infantry lost forty killed and wounded, including four
officers, in this gallant affair, the heavier loss and the greater
honour going to the men of Munster.

The centre of the position was still held, and on the morning of July
7th Clements gave instructions to the colonel of the Royal Irish to
storm it if the occasion should seem favourable. Such an order to
such a regiment means that the occasion will seem favourable. Up they
went in three extended lines, dropping forty or fifty on the way, but
arriving breathless and enthusiastic upon the crest of the ridge.
Below them, upon the further side, lay the village of Bethlehem. On
the slopes beyond hundreds of horsemen were retreating, and a gun was
being hurriedly dragged into the town. For a moment it seemed as if
nothing had been left as a trophy, but suddenly a keen-eyed sergeant
raised a cheer, which was taken up again and again until it resounded
over the veldt. Under the crest, lying on its side with a broken
wheel, was a gun -- one of the 15-pounders of Stormberg which it was a
point of honour to regain once more. Many a time had the gunners been
friends in need to the infantry. Now it was the turn of the infantry
to do something in exchange. That evening Clements had occupied
Bethlehem, and one more of their towns had passed out of the hands of
the Freestaters.

A word now as to that force under General Hunter which was closing in
from the north. The gallant and energetic Hamilton, lean, aquiline,
and tireless, had, as already stated, broken his collar-bone at
Heidelberg, and it was as his lieutenant that Hunter was leading these
troops out of the Transvaal into the Orange River Colony. Most of his
infantry was left behind at Heidelberg, but he took with him
Broadwood's cavalry (two brigades) and Bruce Hamilton's 21st infantry
brigade, with Ridley's mounted infantry, some seven thousand men in
all. On the 2nd of July this force reached Frankfort in the north of
the Free State without resistance, and on July 3rd they were joined
there by Macdonald's force from Heilbron, so that Hunter found himself
with over eleven thousand men under his command. Here was an
instrument with which surely the COUP DE GRACE could be given to the
dying State. Passing south, still without meeting serious resistance,
Hunter occupied Reitz, and finally sent on Broadwood's cavalry to
Bethlehem, where on July 8th they joined Paget and Clements.

The net was now in position, and about to be drawn tight, but at this
last moment the biggest fish of all dashed furiously out from it.
Leaving the main Free State force in a hopeless position behind him,
De Wet, with fifteen hundred well-mounted men and five guns, broke
through Slabbert's Nek between Bethlehem and Ficksburg, and made
swiftly for the north-west, closely followed by Paget's and
Broadwood's cavalry. It was on July 16th that he made his dash for
freedom. On the 19th Little, with the 3rd Cavalry Brigade, had come
into touch with him near Lindley. De Wet shook himself clear, and
with splendid audacity cut the railway once more to the north of
Honing Spruit, gathering up a train as he passed, and taking two
hundred details prisoners. On July 22nd De Wet was at Vredefort,
still closely followed by Broadwood, Ridley, and Little, who gleaned
his wagons and his stragglers. Thence he threw himself into the hilly
country some miles to the south of the Vaal River, where he lurked for
a week or more while Lord Kitchener came south to direct the
operations which would, as it was hoped, lead to a surrender.

Leaving the indomitable guerilla in his hiding-place, the narrative
must return to that drawing of the net which still continued in spite
of the escape of this one important fish. On all sides the British
forces had drawn closer, and they were both more numerous and more
formidable in quality. It was evident now that by a rapid advance
from Bethlehem in the direction of the Basuto border all Boers to the
north of Ficksburg would be hemmed in. On July 22nd the columns were
moving. On that date Paget moved out of Bethlehem, and Rundle took a
step forward from Ficksburg. Bruce Hamilton had already, at the cost
of twenty Cameron Highlanders, got a grip upon a bastion of that rocky
country in which the enemy lurked. On the 23rd Hunter's force was
held by the Boers at the strong pass of Retief's Nek, but on the 24th
they were compelled to abandon it, as the capture of Slabbert's Nek by
Clements threatened their rear. This latter pass was fortified most
elaborately. It was attacked upon the 23rd by Brabant's Horse and the
Royal Irish without success. Later in the day two companies of the
Wiltshire Regiment were also brought to a standstill, but retained a
position until nightfall within stone-throw of the Boer lines, though
a single company had lost 17 killed and wounded. Part of the Royal
Irish remained also close to the enemy's trenches. Under cover of
darkness, Clements sent four companies of the Royal Irish and two of
the Wiltshires under Colonel Guinness to make a flanking movement
along the crest of the heights. These six companies completely
surprised the enemy, and caused them to hurriedly evacuate the
position. Their night march was performed under great difficulties,
the men crawling on hands and knees along a rocky path with a drop of
400 feet upon one side. But their exertions were greatly rewarded.
Upon the success of their turning movement depended the fall of
Slabbert's Nek. Betief's Nek was untenable if we held Slabbert's Nek,
and if both were in our hands the retreat of Prinsloo was cut off.

At every opening of the hills the British guns were thundering, and
the heads of British columns were appearing on every height. The
Highland Brigade had fairly established themselves over the Boer
position, though not without hard fighting, in which a hundred men of
the Highland Light Infantry had been killed and wounded. The
Seaforths and the Sussex had also gripped the positions in front of
them, and taken some punishment in doing so. The outworks of the
great mountain fortress were all taken, and on July 26th the British
columns were converging on Fouriesburg, while Naauwpoort on the line
of retreat was held by Macdonald. It was only a matter of time now
with the Boers.

On the 28th Clements was still advancing, and contracting still
further the space which was occupied by our stubborn foe. He found
himself faced by the stiff position of Slaapkrantz, and a hot little
action was needed before the Boers could be dislodged. The fighting
fell upon Brabant's Horse, the Royal Irish, and the Wiltshires. Three
companies of the latter seized a farm upon the enemy's left, but lost
ten men in doing so, while their gallant colonel, Carter, was severely
wounded in two places. The Wiltshires, who were excellently handled
by Captain Bolton, held on to the farm and were reinforced there by a
handful of the Scots Guards. In the night the position was abandoned
by the Boers, and the advance swept onwards. On all sides the
pressure was becoming unendurable. The burghers in the valley below
could see all day the twinkle of British heliographs from every hill,
while at night the constant flash of signals told of the sleepless
vigilance which hemmed them in. Upon July 29th, Prinsloo sent in a
request for an armistice, which was refused. Later in the day he
despatched a messenger with the white flag to Hunter, with an
announcement of his unconditional surrender.

On July 30th the motley army which had held the British off so long
emerged from among the mountains. But it soon became evident that in
speaking for all Prinsloo had gone beyond his powers. Discipline was
low and individualism high in the Boer army. Every man might repudiate
the decision of his commandant, as every man might repudiate the white
flag of his comrade. On the first day no more than eleven hundred men
of the Ficksburg and Ladybrand commandos, with fifteen hundred horses
and two guns, were surrendered. next day seven hundred and fifty more
men came in with eight hundred horses, and by August 6th the total of
the prisoners had mounted to four thousand one hundred and fifty with
three guns, two of which were our own. But Olivier, with fifteen
hundred men and several guns, broke away from the captured force and
escaped through the hills. Of this incident General Hunter, an
honourable soldier, remarks in his official report: 'I regard it as a
dishonourable breach of faith upon the part of General Olivier, for
which I hold him personally responsible. He admitted that he knew that
General Prinsloo had included him in the unconditional surrender.' It
is strange that, on Olivier's capture shortly afterwards, he was not
court-martialled for this breach of the rules of war, but that
good-natured giant, the Empire, is quick -- too quick, perhaps -- to
let byegones be byegones. On August 4th Harrismith surrendered to
Macdonald, and thus was secured the opening of the Van Reenen's Pass
and the end of the Natal system of railways. This was of the very
first importance, as the utmost difficulty had been found in supplying
so large a body of troops so far from the Cape base. In a day the
base was shifted to Durban, and the distance shortened by two-thirds,
while the army came to be on the railway instead of a hundred miles
from it. This great success assured Lord Roberts's communications from
serious attack, and was of the utmost importance in enabling him to
consolidate his position at Pretoria.

Arthur Conan Doyle