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Chapter 31


Leaving De Wet in the Ficksburg mountains, where he lurked until after
the opening of the New Year, the story of the scattered operations in
the Transvaal may now be carried down to the same point -- a story
comprising many skirmishes and one considerable engagement, but so
devoid of any central thread that it is difficult to know how to
approach it. From Lichtenburg to Komati, a distance of four hundred
miles, there was sporadic warfare everywhere, attacks upon scattered
posts, usually beaten off but occasionally successful, attacks upon
convoys, attacks upon railway trains, attacks upon anything and
everything which could harass the invaders. Each General in his own
district had his own work of repression to perform, and so we had best
trace the doings of each up to the end of the year 1900.

Lord Methuen after his pursuit of De Wet in August had gone to
Mafeking to refit. From that point, with a force which contained a
large proportion of yeomanry and of Australian bushmen, he conducted a
long series of operations in the difficult and important district
which lies between Rustenburg, Lichtenburg, and Zeerust. Several
strong and mobile Boer commandos with guns moved about in it, and an
energetic though not very deadly warfare raged between Lemmer, Snyman,
and De la Rey on the one side, and the troops of Methuen, Douglas,
Broadwood, and Lord Errol upon the other. Methuen moved about
incessantly through the broken country, winning small skirmishes and
suffering the indignity of continual sniping. From time to time he
captured stores, wagons, and small bodies of prisoners. Early in
October he and Douglas had successes. On the 15th Broadwood was
engaged. On the 20th there was a convoy action. On the 25th Methuen
had a success and twenty-eight prisoners. On November 9th he
surprised Snyman and took thirty prisoners. On the 10th he got a
pom-pom. Early in this month Douglas separated from Methuen, and
marched south from Zeerust through Ventersdorp to Klerksdorp, passing
over a country which had been hardly touched before, and arriving at
his goal with much cattle and some prisoners. Towards the end of the
month a considerable stock of provisions were conveyed to Zeerust, and
a garrison left to hold that town so as to release Methuen's column
for service elsewhere.

Hart's sphere of action was originaUy round Potchefstroom. On
September 9th he made a fine forced march to surprise this town, which
bad been left some time before with an entirely inadequate garrison to
fall into the hands of the enemy. His infantry covered thirty-six and
his cavalry fifty-four miles in fifteen hours. The operation was a
complete success, the town with eighty Boers falling into his hands
with little opposition. On September 30th Hart returned to
Krugersdorp, where, save for one skirmish upon the Gatsrand on
November 22nd, he appears to have had no actual fighting to do during
the remainder of the year.

After the clearing of the eastern border of the Transvaal by the
movement of Pole-Carew along the railway line, and of Buller aided by
Ian Hamilton in the mountainous country to the north of it, there were
no operations of importance in this district. A guard was kept upon
the frontier to prevent the return of refugees and the smuggling of
ammunition, while General Kitchener, the brother of the Sirdar, broke
up a few small Boer laagers in the neighbourhood of
Lydenburg. Smith-Dorrien guarded the line at Belfast, and on two
occasions, November 1st and November 6th, he made aggressive movements
against the enemy. The first, which was a surprise executed in
concert with Colonel Spens of the Shropshires, was frustrated by a
severe blizzard, which prevented the troops from pushing home their
success. The second was a two days' expedition, which met with a
spirited opposition, and demands a fuller notice.

This was made from Belfast, and the force, which consisted of about
fourteen hundred men, advanced south to the Komati River. The
infantry were Suffolks and Shropshires, the cavalry Canadians and 5th
Lancers, with two Canadian guns and four of the 84th battery. All day
the Boer snipers clung to the column, as they had done to French's
cavalry in the same district. Mere route marches without a very
definite and adequate objective appear to be rather exasperating than
overawing, for so long as the column is moving onwards the most timid
farmer may be tempted into long-range fire from the flanks or rear.
The river was reached and the Boers driven from a position which they
had taken up, but their signal fires brought mounted riflemen from
every farm, and the retreat of the troops was pressed as they returned
to Belfast. There was all the material for a South African Lexington.
The most difficult of military operations, the covering of a
detachment from a numerous and aggressive enemy, was admirably carried
out by the Canadian gunners and dragoons under the command of Colonel
Lessard. So severe was the pressure that sixteen of the latter were
for a time in the hands of the enemy, who attempted something in the
nature of a charge upon the steadfast rearguard. The movement was
repulsed, and the total Boer loss would appear to have been
considerable, since two of their leaders, Commandant Henry Prinsloo
and General Joachim Fourie, were killed, while General Johann Grobler
was wounded. If the rank and file suffered in proportion the losses
must have been severe. The British casualties in the two days amounted
to eight killed and thirty wounded, a small total when the arduous
nature of the service is considered. The Canadians and the
Shropshires seem to have borne off the honours of these trying

In the second week of October, General French, with three brigades of
cavalry (Dickson's, Gordon's, and Mahon's), started for a
cross-country ride from Machadodorp. Three brigades may seem an
imposing force, but the actual numbers did not exceed two strong
regiments, or about 1,500 sabres in all. A wing of the Suffolk
Regiment went with them. On October 13th Mahon's brigade met with a
sharp resistance, and lost ten killed and twenty-nine wounded. On the
14th the force entered Carolina. On the 16th they lost six killed and
twenty wounded, and from the day that they started until they reached
Heidelberg on the 27th there was never a day that they could shake
themselves clear of their attendant snipers. The total losses of the
force were about ninety killed and wounded, but they brought in sixty
prisoners and a large quantity of cattle and stores. The march had at
least the effect of making it clear that the passage of a column of
troops encumbered with baggage through a hostile country is an
inefficient means for quelling a popular resistance. Light and mobile
parties acting from a central depôt were in future to be employed,
with greater hopes of success.

Some appreciable proportion of the British losses during this phase of
the war arose from railway accidents caused by the persistent
tampering with the lines. In the first ten days of October there were
four such mishaps, in which two Sappers, twenty-three of the Guards
(Coldstreams), and eighteen of the 66th battery were killed or
wounded. On the last occasion, which occurred on October 10th near
Vlakfontein, the reinforcements who came to aid the sufferers were
themselves waylaid, and lost twenty, mostly of the Rifle Brigade,
killed, wounded, or prisoners. Hardly a day elapsed that the line was
not cut at some point. The bringing of supplies was complicated by
the fact that the Boer women and children were coming more and more
into refugee camps, where they had to be fed by the British, and the
strange spectacle was frequently seen of Boer snipers killing or
wounding the drivers and stokers of the very trains which were
bringing up food upon which Boer families were dependent for their
lives. Considering that these tactics were continued for over a year,
and that they resulted in the death or mutilation of many hundreds of
British officers and men, it is really inexplicable that the British
authorities did not employ the means used by all armies under such
circumstances -- which is to place hostages upon the trains. A
truckload of Boers behind every engine would have stopped the practice
for ever. Again and again in this war the British have fought with
the gloves when their opponents used their knuckles.

We will pass now to a consideration of the doings of General Paget,
who was operating to the north and north-east of Pretoria with a force
which consisted of two regiments of infantry, about a thousand
horsemen, and twelve guns. His mounted men were under the command of
Plumer. In the early part of November this force had been withdrawn
from Warm Baths and had fllen back upon Pienaar's River, where it had
continual skirmishes with the enemy. Towards the end of November,
news having reached Pretoria that the enemy under Erasmus and Viljoen
were present in force at a place called Rhenoster Kop, which is about
twenty miles north of the Delagoa Railway line and fifty miles
north-east of the capital, it was arranged that Paget should attack
them from the south, while Lyttelton from Middelburg should endeavour
to get behind them. The force with which Paget started upon this
enterprise was not a very formidable one. He had for mounted troops
some Queensland, South Australian, New Zealand, and Tasmanian Bushmen,
together with the York, Montgomery, and Warwick Yeomanry. His
infantry were the 1st West Riding regiment and four companies of the
Munsters. His guns were the 7th and 38th batteries, with two naval
quick-firing twelve-pounders and some smaller pieces. The total could
not have exceeded some two thousand men. Here, as at other times, it
is noticeable that in spite of the two hundred thousand soldiers whom
the British kept in the field, the lines of communication absorbed so
many that at the actual point of contact they were seldom superior and
often inferior in numbers to the enemy. The opening of the Natal and
Delagoa lines though valuable in many ways, had been an additional
drain. Where every culvert needs its picket and every bridge its
company, the guardianship of many hundreds of miles of rail is no
light matter.

In the early morning of November 29th Paget's men came in contact with
the enemy, who were in some force upon an admirable position. A ridge
for their centre, a flanking kopje for their cross fire, and a grass
glacis for the approach-it was an ideal Boer battlefield. The
colonials and the yeomanry under Plumer on the left, and Hickman on
the right, pushed in upon them, until it was evident that they meant
to hold their ground. Their advance being checked by a very severe
fire, the horsemen dismounted and took such cover as they could.
Paget's original idea had been a turning movement, but the Boers were
the more numerous body, and it was impossible for the smaller British
force to find their flanks, for they extended over at least seven
miles. The infantry were moved up into the centre, therefore, between
the wings of dismounted horsemen, and the guns were brought up to
cover the advance. The country was ill-suited, however, to the use of
artillery, and it was only possible to use an indirect fire from under
a curve of the grass land. The guns made good practice, however, one
section of the 38th battery being in action all day within 800 yards
of the Boer line, and putting themselves out of action after 300
rounds by the destruction of their own rifling. Once over the curve
every yard of the veldt was commanded by the hidden riflemen. The
infantry advanced, but could make no headway against the deadly fire
which met them. By short rushes the attack managed to get within 300
yards of the enemy, and there it stuck. On the right the Munsters
carried a detached kopje which was in front of them, but could do
little to aid the main attack. Nothing could have exceeded the
tenacity of the Yorkshiremen and the New-Zealanders, who were
immediately to their left. Though unable to advance they refused to
retire, and indeed they were in a position from which a retirement
would have been a serious operation. Colonel Lloyd of the West
Ridings was hit in three places and killed. Five out of six officers
of the New Zealand corps were struck down. There were no reserves to
give a fresh impetus to the attack, and the thin scattered line,
behind bullet-spotted stones or anthills, could but hold its own while
the sun sank slowly upon a day which will not be forgotten by those
who endured it. The Boers were reinforced in the afternoon, and the
pressure became so severe that the field guns were retired with much
difficulty. Many of the infantry had shot away all their cartridges
and were helpless. Just one year before British soldiers had lain
under similar circumstances on the plain which leads to Modder River,
and now on a smaller scale the very same drama was being enacted.
Gradually the violet haze of evening deepened into darkness, and the
incessant rattle of the rifle fire died away on either side. Again, as
at Modder River, the British infantry still lay in their position,
determined to take no backward step, and again the Boers stole away in
the night, leaving the ridge which they had defended so well. A
hundred killed and wounded was the price paid by the British for that
line of rock studded hills -- a heavier proportion of losses than had
befallen Lord Methuen in the corresponding action. Of the Boer losses
there was as usual no means of judging, but several grave.mounds,
newly dug, showed that they also had something to deplore. Their
retreat, however, was not due to exhaustion, but to the demonstration
which Lyttelton had been able to make in their rear. The gunners and
the infantry had all done well in a most trying action, but by common
consent it was with the men from New Zealand that the honours lay. It
was no empty compliment when Sir Alfred Milner telegraphed to the
Premier of New Zealand his congratulations upon the distinguished
behaviour of his fellow countrymen.

>From this time onwards there was nothing of importance in this part of
the seat of war.

It is necessary now to turn from the north-east to the north-west of
Pretoria, where the presence of De la Rey and the cover afforded by
the Magaliesberg mountains had kept alive the Boer resistance. Very
rugged lines of hill, alternating with fertile valleys, afforded a
succession of forts and of granaries to the army which held them. To
General Clements' column had been committed the task of clearing this
difficult piece of country. His force fluctuated in numbers, but does
not appear at any time to have consisted of more than three thousand
men, which comprised the Border Regiment, the Yorkshire Light
Infantry, the second Northumberland Fusiliers, mounted infantry,
yeomanry, the 8th R.F.A., P battery R.H.A., and one heavy gun. With
this small army he moved about the district, breaking up Boer bands,
capturing supplies, and bringing in refugees. On November 13th he was
at Krugersdorp, the southern extremity of his beat. On the 24th he
was moving north again, and found himself as he approached the hills
in the presence of a force of Boers with cannon. This was the
redoubtable De la Rey, who sometimes operated in Methuen's country to
the north of the Magaliesberg, and sometimes to the south. He had now
apparently fixed upon Clements as his definite opponent. De la Rey was
numerically inferior, and Clements had no difficulty in this first
encounter in forcing him back with some loss. On November 26th
Clements was back at Krugersdorp again with cattle and prisoners. In
the early days of December he was moving northwards once more, where a
serious disaster awaited him. Before narrating the circumstances
connected with the Battle of Nooitgedacht there is one incident which
occurred in this same region which should be recounted.

This consists of the determined attack made by a party of De la Rey's
men, upon December 3rd, on a convoy which was proceeding from Pretoria
to Rustenburg, and had got as far as Buffel's Hoek. The convoy was a
very large one, consisting of 150 wagons, which covered about three
miles upon the march. It was guarded by two companies of the West
Yorkshires, two guns of the 75th battery, and a handful of the
Victoria Mounted Rifles. The escort appears entirely inadequate when
it is remembered that these stores, which were of great value, were
being taken through a country which was known to be infested by the
enemy. What might have been foreseen occurred. Five hundred Boers
suddenly rode down upon the helpless line of wagons and took
possession of them. The escort rallied, however, upon a kopje, and,
though attacked all day, succeeded in holding their own until help
arrived. They prevented the Boers from destroying or carrying off as
much of the convoy as was under their guns, but the rest was looted
and burned. The incident was a most unfortunate one, as it supplied
the enemy with a large quantity of stores, of which they were badly in
need. It was the more irritating as it was freely rumoured that a Boer
attack was pending; and there is evidence that a remonstrance was
addressed from the convoy before it left Rietfontein to the General of
the district, pointing out the danger to which it was exposed. The
result was the loss of 120 wagons and of more than half the escort.
The severity of the little action and the hardihood of the defence are
indicated by the fact that the small body who held the kopje lost
fifteen killed and twenty-two wounded, the gunners losing nine out of
fifteen. A relieving force appeared at the close of the action, but no
vigorous pursuit was attempted, although the weather was wet and the
Boers had actually carried away sixty loaded wagons, which could only
go very slowly. It must be confessed that from its feckless start to
its spiritless finish the story of the Buffel's Hoek convoy is not a
pleasant one to tell.

Clements, having made his way once more to the Magaliesberg range, had
pitched his camp at a place called Nooitgedacht -- not to be confused
with the post upon the Delagoa Railway at which the British prisoners
had been confined. Here, in the very shadow of the mountain, he
halted for five days, during which, with the usual insouciance of
British commanders, he does not seem to have troubled himself with any
entrenching. He knew, no doubt, that he was too strong for his
opponent De la Rey, but what he did not know, but might have feared,
was that a second Boer force might appear suddenly upon the scene and
join with De la Rey in order to crush him. This second Boer force was
that of Commandant Beyers from Warm Baths. By a sudden and skilful
movement the two united, and fell like a thunderbolt upon the British
column, which was weakened by the absence of the Border Regiment. The
result was such a reverse as the British bad not sustained since
Sanna's Post -- a reverse which showed that, though no regular Boer
army might exist, still a sudden coalition of scattered bands could at
any time produce a force which would be dangerous to any British
column which might be taken at a disadvantage. We had thought that
the days of battles in this war were over, but an action which showed
a missing and casualty roll of 550 proved that in this, as in so many
other things, we were mistaken.

As already stated, the camp of Clements lay under a precipitous cliff,
upon the summit of which he had placed four companies of the 2nd
Northumberland Fusiliers. This strong post was a thousand feet higher
than the camp. Below lay the main body of the force, two more
companies of fusiliers, four of Yorkshire Light Infantry, the 2nd
Mounted Infantry, Kitchener's Horse, yeomanry, and the artillery. The
latter consisted of one heavy naval gun, four guns of the 8th R.F.A.,
and P battery R.H.A. The whole force amounted to about fifteen hundred

It was just at the first break of dawn -- the hour of fate in South
African warfare -- that the battle began. The mounted infantry post
between the camp and the mountains were aware of moving figures in
front of them. In the dim light they could discern that they were
clothed in grey, and that they wore the broad-brimmed hats and
feathers of some of our own irregular corps. They challenged, and the
answer was a shattering volley, instantly returned by the survivors of
the picket. So hot was the Boer attack that before help could come
every man save one of the picket was on the ground. The sole survivor,
Daley of the Dublins, took no backward step, but continued to steadily
load and fire until help came from the awakened camp. There followed
a savage conflict at point blank-range. The mounted infantry men,
rushing half clad to the support of their comrades, were confronted by
an ever-thickening swarm of Boer riflemen, who had already, by working
round on the flank, established their favourite cross fire. Legge, the
leader of the mounted infantry, a hard little Egyptian veteran, was
shot through the head, and his men lay thick around him. For some
minutes it was as hot a corner as any in the war. But Clements himself
had appeared upon the scene, and his cool gallantry turned the tide of
fight. An extension of the line checked the cross fire, and gave the
British in turn a flanking position. Gradually the Boer riflemen were
pushed back, until at last they broke and fled for their horses in the
rear. A small body were cut off, many of whom were killed and wounded,
while a few were taken prisoners.

This stiff fight of an hour had ended in a complete repulse of the
attack, though at a considerable cost. Both Boers and British had lost
heavily. Nearly all the staff were killed or wounded, though General
Clements had come through untouched. Fifty or sixty of both sides had
fallen. But it was noted as an ominous fact that in spite of shell
fire the Boers still lingered upon the western flank. Were they
coming on again? They showed no signs of it. And yet they waited in
groups, and looked up towards the beetling crags above them. What were
they waiting for? The sudden crash of a murderous Mauser fire upon
the summit, with the rolling volleys of the British infantry, supplied
the answer.

Only now must it have been clear to Clements that he was not dealing
merely with some spasmodic attack from his old enemy De la Rey, but
that this was a largely conceived movement, in which a force at least
double the strength of his own had suddenly been concentrated upon
him. His camp was still menaced by the men whom he had repulsed, and
he could not weaken it by sending reinforcements up the hill. But the
roar of the musketry was rising louder and louder. It was becoming
clearer that there was the main attack. It was a Majuba-Hill action
up yonder, a thick swarm of skirmishers closing in from many sides
upon a central band of soldiers. But the fusiliers were hopelessly
outnumbered, and this rock fighting is that above all others in which
the Boer has an advantage over the regular. A helio on the hill cried
for help. The losses were heavy, it said, and the assailants
numerous. The Boers closed swiftly in upon the flanks, and the
fusiliers were no match for their assailants. Till the very climax
the helio still cried that they were being overpowered, and it is said
that even while working it the soldier in charge was hurled over the
cliff by the onrush of the victorious Boers.

The fight of the mounted infantry men had been at half-past four. At
six the attack upon the hill had developed, and Clements in response
to those frantic flashes of light had sent up a hundred men of the
yeomanry, from the Fife and Devon squadrons, as a reinforcement. To
climb a precipitous thousand feet with rifle, bandolier, and spurs, is
no easy feat, yet that roar of battle above them heartened them upon
their way. But in spite of all their efforts they were only in time
to share the general disaster. The head of the line of hard-breathing
yeomen reached the plateau just as the Boers, sweeping over the
remnants of the Northumberland Fusiliers, reached the brink of the
cliff. One by one the yeomen darted over the edge, and endeavoured to
find some cover in the face of an infernal point-blank fire. Captain
Mudie of the staff, who went first, was shot down. So was Purvis of
the Fifes, who followed him. The others, springing over their bodies,
rushed for a small trench, and tried to restore the fight. Lieutenant
Campbell, a gallant young fellow, was shot dead as he rallied his men.
Of twenty-seven of the Fifeshires upon the hill six were killed and
eleven wounded. The statistics of the Devons are equally heroic.
Those yeomen who had not yet reached the crest were in a perfectly
impossible position, as the Boers were firing from complete cover
right down upon them. There was no alternative for them but surrender.
By seven o'clock every British soldier upon the hill, yeoman or
fusilier, had been killed, wounded, or taken. It is not true that the
supply of csrtridges ran out, and the fusiliers, with the ill-luck
which has pursued the 2nd battalion, were outnumbered and outfought by
better skirmishers than themselves.

Seldom has a General found himself in a more trying position than
Clements, or extricated himself more honourably. Not only had he lost
nearly half his force, but his camp was no longer tenable, and his
whole army was commanded by the fringe of deadly rifles upon the
cliff. From the berg to the camp was from 800 to 1,000 yards, and a
sleet of bullets whistled down upon it. How severe was the fire may
be gauged from the fact that the little pet monkey belonging to the
yeomanry -- a small enough object -- was hit three times, though he
lived to survive as a battle-scarred veteran. Those wounded in the
early action found themselves in a terrible position, laid out in the
open under a withering fire, 'like helpless Aunt Sallies,' as one of
them described it. 'We must get a red flag up, or we shall be blown
off the face of the earth,' says the same correspondent, a corporal of
the Ceylon Mounted Infantry. 'We had a pillow-case, but no red paint.
Then we saw what would do instead, so they made the upright with my
blood, and the horizontal with Paul's.' It is pleasant to add that
this grim flag was respected by the Boers. Bullocks and mules fell in
heaps, and it was evident that the question was not whether the battle
could be restored, but whether the guns could be saved. Leaving a
fringe of yeomen, mounted infantry, and Kitchener's Horse to stave off
the Boers, who were already descending by the same steep kloof up
which the yeomen had climbed, the General bent all his efforts to
getting the big naval gun out of danger. Only six oxen were left out
of a team of forty, and so desperate did the situation appear that
twice dynamite was placed beneath the gun to destroy it. Each time,
however, the General intervened, and at last, under a stimulating rain
of pom-pom shells, the great cannon lurched slowly forward, quickening
its pace as the men pulled on the drag-ropes, and the six oxen broke
into a wheezy canter. Its retreat was covered by the smaller guns
which rained shrapnel upon the crest of the hill, and upon the Boers
who were descending to the camp. Once the big gun was out of danger,
the others limbered up and followed, their rear still covered by the
staunch mounted infantry, with whom rest all the honours of the
battle. Cookson and Brooks with 250 men stood for hours between
Clements and absolute disaster. The camp was abandoned as it stood,
and all the stores, four hundred picketed horses, and, most serious of
all, two wagons of ammunition, fell into the hands of the victors. To
have saved all his guns, however, after the destruction of half his
force by an active enemy far superior to him in numbers and in
mobility, was a feat which goes far to condone the disaster, and to
increase rather than to impair the confidence which his troops feel in
General Clements. Having retreated for a couple of miles he turned his
big gun round upon the hill, which is called Yeomanry Hill, and opened
fire upon the camp, which was being looted by swarms of Boers. So
bold a face did he present that he was able to remain with his
crippled force upon Yeomanry Hill from about nine until four in the
afternoon, and no attack was pressed home, though he lay under both
shell and rifle fire all day. At four in the afternoon he began his
retreat, which did not cease till he had reached Rietfontein, twenty
miles off, at six o'clock upon the following morning. His weary men
had been working for twenty-six hours, and actually fighting for
fourteen, but the bitterness of defeat was alleviated by the feeling
that every man, from the General downwards, had done all that was
possible, and that there was every prospect of their having a chance
before long of getting their own back.

The British losses at the battle of Nooitgedacht amounted to 60
killed, 180 wounded, and 315 prisoners, all of whom were delivered up
a few days later at Rustenburg. Of the Boer losses it is, as usual,
impossible to speak with confidence, but all the evidence points to
their actual casualties being as heavy as those of the British. There
was the long struggle at the camp in which they were heavily punished,
the fight on the mountain, where they exposed themselves with unusual
recklessness, and the final shelling from shrapnel and from lyddite.
All accounts agree that their attack was more open than usual. 'They
were mowed down in twenties that day, but it had no effect. They
stood like fanatics,' says one who fought against them. From first to
last their conduct was most gallant, and great credit is due to their
leaders for the skilful sudden concentration by which they threw their
whole strength upon the exposed force. Some eighty miles separate Warm
Baths from Nooitgedacht, and it seems strange that our Intelligence
Department should have remained in ignorance of so large a movement.

General Broadwood's 2nd Cavalry Brigade had been stationed to the
north of Magaliesberg, some twelve miles westward of Clements, and
formed the next link in the long chain of British forces. Broadwood
does not appear, however, to have appreciated the importance of the
engagement, and made no energetic movement to take part in it. If
Colvile is open to the charge of having been slow to 'march upon the
cannon' at Sanna's Post, it might be urged that Broadwood in turn
showed some want of energy and judgment upon this occasion. On the
morning of the 13th his force could hear the heavy firing to the
eastward, and could even see the shells bursting on the top of the
Magaliesberg. It was but ten or twelve miles distant, and, as his
Elswick guns have a range of nearly five, a very small advance would
have enabled him to make a demonstration against the flank of the
Boers, and so to relieve the pressure upon Clements. It is true that
his force was not large, but it was exceptionally mobile. Whatever the
reasons, no effective advance was made by Broadwood. On hearing the
result he fell back upon Rustenburg, the nearest British post, his
small force being dangerously isolated.

Those who expected that General Clements would get his own back had
not long to wait. In a few days he was in the field again. The
remains of his former force had, however, been sent into Pretoria to
refit, and nothing remained of it save the 8th R.F.A. and the
indomitable cow-gun still pocked with the bullets of Nooitgedacht. He
had also F battery R.H.A., the Inniskillings, the Border regiment, and
a force of mounted infantry under Alderson. More important than all,
however, was the co-operation of General French, who came out from
Pretoria to assist in the operations. On the 19th, only six days after
his defeat, Clements found himself on the very same spot fighting some
at least of the very same men. This time, however, there was no
element of surprise, and the British were able to approach the task
with deliberation and method. The result was that both upon the 19th
and 20th the Boers were shelled out of successive positions with
considerable loss, and driven altogether away from that part of the
Magaliesberg. Shortly afterwards General Clements was recalled to
Pretoria, to take over the command of the 7th Division, General Tucker
having been appointed to the military command of Bloemfontein in the
place of the gallant Hunter, who, to the regret of the whole army, was
invalided home. General Cunningham henceforward commanded the column
which Clements had led back to the Magaliesberg.

Upon November 13th the first of a series of attacks was made upon the
posts along the Delagoa Railway line. These were the work of
Viljoen's commando, who, moving swiftly from the north, threw
themselves upon the small garrisons of Balmoral and of Wilge River,
stations which are about six miles apart. At the former was a
detachment of the Buffs, and at the latter of the Royal Fusiliers.
The attack was well delivered, but in each instance was beaten back
with heavy loss to the assailants. A picket of the Buffs was captured
at the first rush, and the detachment lost six killed and nine
wounded. No impression was made upon the position, however, and the
double attack seems to have cost the Boers a large number of

Another incident calling for some mention was the determined attack
made by the Boers upon the town of Vryheid, in the extreme south-east
of the Transvaal near the Natal border. Throughout November this
district had been much disturbed, and the small British garrison had
evacuated the town and taken up a position on the adjacent hills.
Upon December 11th the Boers attempted to carry the trenches. The
garrison of the town appears to have consisted of the 2nd Royal
Lancaster regiment, some five hundred strong, a party of the
Lancashire Fusiliers, 150 strong, and fifty men of the Royal Garrison
Artillery, with a small body of mounted infantry. They held a hill
about half a mile north of the town, and commanding it. The attack,
which was a surprise in the middle of the night, broke upon the
pickets of the British, who held their own in a way which may have
been injudicious but was certainly heroic. Instead of falling back
when seriously attacked, the young officers in charge of these
outposts refused to move, and were speedily under such a fire that it
was impossible to reinforce them. There were four outposts, under
Woodgate, Theobald, Lippert, and Mangles. The attack at 2.15 on a cold
dark morning began at the post held by Woodgate, the Boers coming
hand-to-hand before they were detected. Woodgate, who was unarmed at
the instant, seized a hammer, and rushed at the nearest Boer, but was
struck by two bullets and killed. His post was dispersed or taken.
Theobald and Lippert, warned by the firing, held on behind their
sangars, and were ready for the storm which burst over them. Lippert
was unhappily killed, and his ten men all hit or taken, but young
Theobald held his own under a heavy fire for twelve hours. Mangles
also, the gallant son of a gallant father, held his post all day with
the utmost tenacity. The troops in the trenches behind were never
seriously pressed, thanks to the desperate resistance of the outposts,
but Colonel Gawne of the Lancasters was unfortunately killed. Towards
evening the Boers abandoned the attack, leaving fourteen of their
number dead upon the ground, from which it may be guessed that their
total casualties were not less than a hundred. The British losses
were three officers and five men killed, twenty-two men wounded, and
thirty men with one officer missing -- the latter being the survivors
of those outposts which were overwhelmed by the Boer advance.

A few incidents stand out among the daily bulletins of snipings,
skirmishes, and endless marchings which make the dull chronicle of
these, the last months of the year 1900. These must be enumerated
without any attempt at connecting them. The first is the
longdrawn-out siege or investment of Schweizer-Renecke. This small
village stands upon the Harts River, on the western border of the
Transvaal. It is not easy to understand why the one party should
desire to hold, or the other to attack, a position so insignificant.
>From August 19th onwards it was defended by a garrison of 250 men,
under the very capable command of Colonel Chamier, who handled a small
business in a way which marks him as a leader. The Boer force, which
varied in numbers from five hundred to a thousand, never ventured to
push home an attack, for Chamier, fresh from the experience of
Kimberley, had taken such precautions that his defences were
formidable, if not impregnable. Late in September a relieving force
under Colonel Settle threw fresh supplies into the town, but when he
passed on upon his endless march the enemy closed in once more, and
the siege was renewed. It lasted for several months, until a column
withdrew the garrison and abandoned the position.

Of all the British detachments, the two which worked hardest and
marched furthest during this period of the war was the 21st Brigade
(Derbysbires, Sussex, and Camerons) under General Bruce Hamilton, and
the column under Settle, which operated down the western border of the
Orange River Colony, and worked round and round with such pertinacity
that it was familiarly known as Settle's Imperial Circus. Much hard
and disagreeable work, far more repugnant to the soldier than the
actual dangers of war, fell to the lot of Bruce Hamilton and his men.
With Kroonstad as their centre they were continually working through
the dangerous Lindley and Heilbron districts, returning to the railway
line only to start again immediately upon a fresh quest. It was work
for mounted police, not for infantry soldiers, but what they were
given to do they did to the best of their ability. Settle's men had a
similar thankless task. From the neighbourhood of Kimberley he marched
in November with his small column down the border of the Orange River
Colony, capturing supplies and bringing in refugees. He fought one
brisk action with Hertzog's commando at Kloof, and then, making his
way across the colony, struck the railway line again at Edenburg on
December 7th, with a train of prisoners and cattle.

Rundle also had put in much hard work in his efforts to control the
difficult district in the north-east of the Colony which had been
committed to his care. He traversed in November from north to south
the same country which he had already so painfully traversed from
south to north. With occasional small actions he moved about from
Vrede to Reitz, and so to Bethlehem and Harrismith. On him, as on all
other commanders, the vicious system of placing small garrisons in the
various towns imposed a constant responsibility lest they should be
starved or overwhelmed.

The year and the century ended by a small reverse to the British arms
in the Transvaal. This consisted in the capture of a post at Helvetia
defended by a detachment of the Liverpool Regiment and by a 4.7
gun. Lydenburg, being seventy miles off the railway line, had a chain
of posts connecting it with the junction at Machadodorp. These posts
were seven in number, ten miles apart, each defended by 250 men. Of
these Helvetia was the second. The key of the position was a strongly
fortified hill about three-quarters of a mile from the headquarter
camp, and commanding it. This post was held by Captain Kirke with
forty garrison artillery to work the big gun, and seventy Liverpool
infantry. In spite of the barbed-wire entanglements, the Boers most
gallantly rushed this position, and their advance was so rapid, or the
garrison so slow, that the place was carried with hardly a shot fired.
Major Cotton, who commanded the main lines, found himself deprived in
an instant of nearly half his force and fiercely attacked by a
victorious and exultant enemy. His position was much too extended for
the small force at his disposal, and the line of trenches was pierced
and enfiladed at many points. It must be acknowledged that the
defences were badly devised -- little barbed wire, frail walls, large
loopholes, and the outposts so near the trenches that the assailants
could reach them as quickly as the supports. With the dawn Cotton's
position was serious, if not desperate. He was not only surrounded,
but was commanded from Gun Hill. Perhaps it would have been wiser if,
after being wounded, he had handed over the command to Jones, his
junior officer. A stricken man's judgement can never be so sound as
that of the hale. However that may be, he came to the conclusion that
the position w~s untenable, and that it was best to prevent further
loss of life. Fifty of the Liverpools were killed and wounded, 200
taken. No ammunition of the gun was captured, but the Boers were able
to get safely away with this humiliating evidence of their victory.
One post, under Captain Wilkinson with forty men, held out with
success, and harassed the enemy in their retreat. As at Dewetsdorp
and at Nooitgedacht. the Boers were unable to retain their prisoners,
so that the substantial fruits of their enterprise were small, but it
forms none the less one more of those incidents which may cause us to
respect our enemy and to be critical towards ourselves.[Footnote:
Considering that Major Stapelton Cotton was himself wounded in three
places during the action (one of these wounds being in the head), he
has had hard measure in being deprived of his commission by a
court-martial which sat eight months after the event. It is to be
earnestly hoped that there may be sowe revision of this severe

In the last few months of the year some of those corps which had
served their time or which were needed elsewhere were allowed to leave
the seat of war. By the middle of November the three different corps
of the City Imperial Volunteers, the two Canadian contingents,
Lumsden's Horse, the Composite Regiment of Guards, six hundred
Australians, A battery R.H.A., and the volunteer companies of the
regular regiments, were all homeward bound. This loss of several
thousand veteran troops before the war was over was to be deplored,
and though unavoidable in the case of volunteer contingents, it is
difficult to explain where regular troops are concerned. Early in the
new year the Government was compelled to send out strong
reinforcements to take their place.

Early in December Lord Roberts also left the country, to take over the
duties of Commander-in-Chief. High as his reputation stood when, in
January, he landed at Cape Town, it is safe to say that it had been
immensely enhanced when, ten months later, he saw from the
quarter-deck of the 'Canada' the Table Mountain growing dimmer in the
distance. He found a series of disconnected operations, in which we
were uniformly worsted. He speedily converted them into a series of
connected operations in which we were almost uniformly successful.
Proceeding to the front at the beginiung of February, within a
fortnight he had relieved Kimberley, within a month he had destroyed
Cronje's force, and within six weeks he was in Bloemfontein. Then,
after a six weeks' halt which could not possibly have been shortened,
he made another of his tiger leaps, and within a month had occupied
Johannesburg and Pretoria. From that moment the issue of the campaign
was finally settled, and though a third leap was needed, which carried
him to Komatipoort, and though brave and obstinate men might still
struggle against their destiny, he had done what was essential, and
the rest, however difficult, was only the detail of the campaign. A
kindly gentleman, as well as a great soldier, his nature revolted from
all harshness, and a worse man might. have been a better leader in the
last hopeless phases of the war. He remembered, no doubt, how Grant
had given Lee's army their horses, but Lee at the time had been
thoroughly beaten, and his men had laid down their arms. A similar
boon to the partially conquered Boers led to very different results,
and the prolongation of the war is largely due to this act of
clemency. At the same time political and military considerations were
opposed to each other upon the point, and his moral position in the
use of harsher measures is the stronger since a policy of conciliation
had been tried and failed. Lord Roberts returned to London with the
respect and love of his soldiers and of his fellow-countrymen. A
passage from his farewell address to his troops may show the qualities
which endeared him to them

'The service which the South African Force has performed is, I venture
to think, unique in the annals of war, inasmuch as it has been
absolutely almost incessant for a whole year, in some cases for more
than a year. There has been no rest, no days off to recruit, no going
into winter quarters, as in other campaigns which have extended over a
long period. For months together, in fierce heat, in biting cold, in
pouring rain, you, my comrades, have marched and fought without halt,
and bivouacked without shelter from the elements. You frequently have
had to continue marching with your clothes in rags and your boots
without soles, time being of such consequence that it was impossible
for you to remain long enough in one place to refit. When not engaged
in actual battle you have been continually shot at from behind kopjes
by invisible enemies to whom every inch of the country was familiar,
and who, from the peculiar nature of the country, were able to inflict
severe punishment while perfectly safe themselves. You have forced
your way through dense jungles, over precipitous mountains, through
and over which with infinite manual labour you have had to drag heavy
guns and ox-wagons. You have covered with almost incredible speed
enormous distances, and that often on very short supplies of food. You
have endured the sufferings inevitable in war to sick and wounded men
far from the base, without a murmur and even with cheerfulness.'

The words reflect honour both upon the troops addressed and upon the
man who addressed them. From the middle of December 1900 Lord
Kitchener took over the control of the campaign.

Arthur Conan Doyle