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Chapter 32

THE SECOND INVASION OF CAPE COLONY

(DECEMBER 1900-APRIL 1901)


During the whole war the task of the British had been made very much
more difficult by the openly expressed sympathy with the Boers from
the political association known as the Afrikander Bond, which either
inspired or represented the views which prevailed among the great
majority of the Dutch inhabitants of Cape Colony. How strong was this
rebel impulse may be gauged by the fact that in some of the border
districts no less than ninety per cent. of the voters joined the Boer
invaders upon the occasion of their first entrance into the Colony.
It is not pretended that these men suffered from any political
grievances whatever, and their action is to be ascribed partly to a
natural sympathy with their northern kinsmen, and partly to racial
ambition and to personal dislike to their British neighbours. The
liberal British policy towards the natives had especially alienated
the Dutch, and had made as well-marked a line of cleavage in South
Africa as the slave question had done in the States of the Union.

With the turn of the war the discontent in Cape Colony became less
obtrusive, if not less acute, but in the later months of the year 1900
it increased to a degree which became dangerous. The fact of the
farm-burning in the conquered countries, and the fiction of outrages
by the Brjtish troops, raised a storm of indignation. The annexation
of the Republics, meaning the final disappearance of any Dutch flag
from South Africa, was a racial humiliation which was bitterly
resented. The Dutch papers became very violent, and the farmers much
excited. The agitation culminated in a conference at Worcester upon
December 6th, at which some thousands of delegates were present. It is
suggestive of the Imperial nature of the struggle that the assembly of
Dutch Afrikanders was carried out under the muzzles of Canadian
artillery, and closely watched by Australian cavalry. Had violent
words transformed themselves into deeds, all was ready for the crisis.

Fortunately the good sense of the assembly prevailed, and the
agitation, though bitter, remained within those wide limits which a
British constitution permits. Three resolutions were passed, one
asking that the war be ended, a second that the independence of the
Republics be restored, and a third protesting against the actions of
Sir Alfred Milner. A deputation which carried these to the Governor
received a courteous but an uncompromising reply. Sir Alfred Milner
pointed out that the Home Government, all the great Colonies, and half
the Cape were unanimous in their policy, and that it was folly to
imagine that it could be reversed on account of a local agitation. All
were agreed in the desire to end the war, but the last way of bringing
this aboutwas by encouraging desperate men to go on fighting in a
hopeless cause. Such was the general nature of the Governor's reply,
which was, as might be expected, entirely endorsed by the British
Government and people.

Had De Wet, in the operations which have already been described,
evaded Charles Kiox and crossed the Orange River, his entrance into
the Colony would have been synchronous with the congress at Worcester,
and the situation would have become more acute. This peril was
fortunately averted. The agitation in the Colony suggested to the
Boer leaders, however, that here was an untouched recruiting ground,
and that small mobile invading parties might gather strength and
become formidable. It was obvious, also, that by enlarging the field
of operations the difficulties of the British Commander-in-chief would
be very much increased, and the pressure upon the Boer guerillas in
the Republics relaxed. Therefore, in spite of De Wet's failure to
penetrate the Colony, several smaller bands under less-known leaders
were despatched over the Orange River. With the help of the
information and the supplies furnished by the local farmers, these
bands wandered for many months over the great expanse of the Colony,
taking refuge, when hard pressed, among the mountain ranges. They
moved swiftly about, obtaining remounts from their friends, and
avoiding everything in the nature of an action, save when the odds
were overwhelmingly in their favour. Numerous small posts or patrols
cut off, many skirmishes, and one or two railway smashes were the
fruits of this invasion, which lasted till the end of the war, and
kept the Colony in an extreme state of unrest during that period. A
short account must be given here of the movement and exploits of these
hostile bands, avoiding, as far as possible, that catalogue of obscure
'fonteins' and 'kops' which mark their progress.

The invasion was conducted by two main bodies, which shed off numerous
small raiding parties. Of these two, one operated on the western side
of the Colony, reaching the sea-coast in the Clanwilliam district, and
attaining a point which is less than a hundred miles from Cape Town.
The other penetrated even more deeply down the centre of the Colony,
reaching almost to the sea in the Mossel Bay direction. Yet the
incursion, although so far-reaching, had small effect, since the
invaders held nothing save the ground on which they stood, and won
their way, not by victory, but by the avoidance of danger. Some
recruits were won to their cause, but they do not seem at that time to
have been more than a few hundreds in number, and to have been drawn
for the most part from the classes of the community which had least to
lose and least to offer.

The Western Boers were commanded by Judge Hertzog of the Free State,
having with him Brand, the son of the former president, and about
twelve hundred well-mounted men. Crossing the Orange Biver at Sand
Drift, north of Colesberg, upon December 16th, they paused at
Kameelfontein to gather up a small post of thirty yeomen and guardsmen
under Lieutenant Fletcher, the wellknown oar. Meeting with a stout
resistance, and learning that British forces were already converging
upon them, they abandoned the attack, and turning away from Colesberg
they headed west, cutting the railway line twenty miles to the north
of De Aar. On the 22nd they occupied Britstown, which is eighty miles
inside the border, and on the same day they captured a small body of
yeomanry who had been following them. These prisoners were released
again some days later. Taking a sweep round towards Prieska and
Strydenburg, they pushed south again. At the end of the year
Hertzog's column was 150 miles deep in the Colony, sweeping through
the barren and thinly-inhabited western lands, heading apparently for
Fraserburg and Beaufort West.

The second column was commanded by Kritzinger, a burgher of Zastron,
in the Orange River Colony. His force was about 800 strong. Crossing
the border at Rhenoster Hoek upon December 16th, they pushed for
Burghersdorp, but were headed off by a British column. Passing through
Venterstad, they made for Steynsberg, fighting two indecisive
skirmishes with small British forces. The end of the year saw them
crossing the rail road at Sherburne, north of Rosmead Junction, where
they captured a train as they passed, containing some Colonial
troops. At this time they were a hundred miles inside the Colony, and
nearly three hundred from Hertzog's western column.

In the meantime Lord Kitchener, who had descended for a few days to De
Aar, had shown great energy in organising small mobile columns which
should follow and, if possible, destroy the invaders. Martial law was
proclaimed in the parts of the Colony affected, and as the invaders
came further south the utmost enthusiasm was shown by the loyalists,
who formed themselves everywhere into town guards. The existing
Colonial regiments, such as Brabant's, the Imperial and South African
Light Horse - Thorneycroft's, Rimington's, and the others -- had
already been brought up to strength again, and now two new regiments
were added, Kitchener's Bodyguard and Kitchener's Fighting Scouts, the
latter being raised by Johann Colenbrander, who had made a name for
himself in the Rhodesian wars. At this period of the war between
twenty and thirty thousand Cape colonists were under arms. Many of
these were untrained levies, but they possessed the martial spirit of
the race, and they set free more seasoned troops for other duties.

It will be most convenient and least obscure to follow the movements
of the western force (Hertzog's), and afterwards to consider those of
the eastern (Kritzinger's). The opening of the year saw the mobile
column of Free Staters 150 miles over the border, pushing swiftly
south over the barren surface of the Karoo. It is a country of
scattered farms and scanty population; desolate plains curving upwards
until they rise into still more desolate mountain ranges. Moving in a
very loose formation over a wide front, the Boers swept southwards.
On or about January 4th they took possession of the small town of
Calvinia, which remained their headquarters for more than a
month. From this point their roving bands made their way as far as the
seacoast in the Clanwilliam direction, for they expected at Lanmbert's
Bay to meet with a vessel with mercenaries and guns from Europe. They
pushed their outposts also as far as Sutherland and Beaufort West in
the south. On January 15th strange horsemen were seen hovering about
the line at Touws River, and the citizens of Cape Town learned with
amazement that the war had been carried to within a hundred miles of
their own doors.

Whilst the Boers were making this daring raid a force consisting of
several mobile columns was being organised by General Settle to arrest
and finally to repel the western invasion. The larger body was under
the command of Colonel De Lisle, an oficer who brought to the
operations of war the same energy and thoroughness with which he had
made the polo team of an infantry regiment the champions of the whole
British Army. His troops consisted of the 6th Mounted Infantry, the
New South Wales Mounted Infantry, the Irish Yeomanry, a section of R
battery R.H.A., and a pom-pom. With this small but mobile and hardy
force he threw himself in front of Hertzog's line of advance. On
January 13th be occupied Piquetburg, eighty miles south of the Boer
headquarters. On the 23rd he was at Clanwilliam, fifty miles
south-~vest of them. To his right were three other small British
columns under Bethune, Thorneycroft, and Henniker, the latter resting
upon the railway at Matjesfontein, and the whole line extending over
120 miles -- barring the southern path to the invaders.

Though Hertzog at Calvinia and De Lisle at Clanwilliam were only fifty
miles apart, the intervening country is among the most broken and
mountainous in South Africa. Between the two points, and nearer to De
Lisle than to Hertzog, flows the Doorn River. The Boers advancing
from Calvinia came into touch with the British scouts at this point,
and drove them in upon January 21st. On the 28th De Lisle, having
been reinforced by Bethune's column, was able at last to take the
initiative. Bethune's force consisted mainly of Colonials, and
included Kitchener's Fighting Scouts, the Cape Mounted Police, Cape
Mounted Rifles, Brabant's Horse, and the Diamond Field Horse. At the
end of January the united forces of Bethune and of De Lisle advanced
upon Calvinia. The difficulties lay rather in the impassable country
than in the resistance of an enemy who was determined to refuse
battle. On February 6th, after a fine march, De Lisle and his men took
possession of Calvinia, which had been abandoned by the Boers. It is
painful to add that during the month that they had held the town they
appear to have behaved with great harshness, especially to the
kaffirs. The flogging and shooting of a coloured man named Esan forms
one more incident in the dark story of the Boer and his relations to
the native.

The British were now sweeping north on a very extended front.
Colenbrander had occupied Van Rhyns Dorp, to the east of Calvinia,
while Bethune's force was operating to the west of it. De Lisle hardly
halted at Calvinia, but pushed onwards to Williston, covering
seventy-two miles of broken country in forty-eight hours, one of the
most amazing performances of the war. Quick as he was, the Boers were
quicker still, and during his northward march he does not appear to
have actually come into contact with them. Their line of retreat lay
through Carnarvon, and upon February 22nd they crossed the railway
line to the north of De Aar, and joined upon February 26th the new
invading force under De Wet, who had now crossed the Orange River. De
Lisle, who had passed over five hundred miles of barren country since
he advanced from Piquetburg, made for the railway at Victoria West,
and was despatched from that place on February 22nd to the scene of
action in the north. From all parts Boer and Briton were concentrating
in their effort to aid or to repel the inroad of the famous guerilla.

Before describing this attempt it would be well to trace the progress
of the eastern invasion (Kritzinger's), a movement which may be
treated rapidly, since it led to no particular military result at that
time, though it lasted long after Hertzog's force had been finally
dissipated. Several small columns, those of Williams, Byng, Grenfell,
and Lowe, all under the direction of Haig, were organised to drive
back these commandos; but so nimble were the invaders, so vast the
distances and so broken the country, that it was seldom that the
forces came into contact. The operations were conducted over a portion
of the Colony which is strongly Dutch in sympathy, and the enemy,
though they do not appear to have obtained any large number of
recruits, were able to gather stores, horses, and information wherever
they went.

When last mentioned Kritzinger's men had crossed the railway north of
Rosmead on December 30th, and held up a train containing some Colonial
troops. From then onwards a part of them remained in the Middelburg
and Graaf-Reinet districts, while part moved towards the south. On
January 11th there was a sharp skirmish near Murraysburg, in which
Byng's column was engaged, at the cost of twenty casualties, all of
Brabant's or the South African Light Horse. On the 16th a very rapid
movement towards the south began. On that date Boers appeared at
Aberdeen, and on the 18th at Willowmore, having covered seventy miles
in two days. Their long, thin line was shredded out over 150 miles,
and from Maraisburg, in the north, to Uniondale, which is only thirty
miles from the coast, there was rumour of their presence. In this
wild district and in that of Oudtshoorn the Boer vanguard flitted in
and out of the hills, Haig's column striving hard to bring them to an
action. So well-informed were the invaders that they were always able
to avoid the British concentrations, while if a British outpost or
patrol was left exposed it was fortunate if it escaped disaster. On
February 6th a small body of twenty-five of the 7th King's Dragoon
Guards and of the West Australians, under Captain Oliver, were
overwhelmed at Klipplaat, after a very fine defence, in which they
held their own against 200 Boers for eight hours, and lost nearly
fifty per cent. of their number. On the 12th a patrol of yeomanry was
surprised and taken near Willowmore.

The coming of De Wet had evidently been the signal for all the Boer
raiders to concentrate, for in the second week of February Kritzinger
also began to fall back, as Hertzog had done in the west, followed
closely by the British columns. He did not, however, actually join De
Wet, and his evacuation of the country was never complete, as was the
case with Hertzog's force. On the 19th Kritzinger was at Bethesda,
with Gorringe and Lowe at his heels. On the 23rd an important railway
bridge at Fish River, north of Cradock, was attacked, but the attempt
was foiled by the resistance of a handful of Cape Police and
Lancasters. On March 6th a party of Boers occupied the village of
Pearston, capturing a few rifles and some ammunition. On the same
date there was a skirmish between Colonel Parsons's column and a party
of the enemy to the north of Aberdeen. The main body of the invading
force appears to have been lurking in this neighbourhood, as they were
able upon April 7th to cut off a strong British patrol, consisting of
a hundred Lancers and Yeomanry, seventy-five of whom remained as
temporary prisoners in the hands of the enemy. With this success we
may for the time leave Kritzinger and his lieutenant, Scheepers, who
commanded that portion of his force which had penetrated to the south
of the Colony.

The two invasions which have been here described, that of Hertzog in
the west and of Kritzinger in the midlands, would appear in themselves
to be unimportant military operations, since they were carried out by
small bodies of men whose policy was rather to avoid than to overcome
resistance. Their importance, however, is due to the fact that they
were really the forerunners of a more important incursion upon the
part of De Wet. The object of these two bands of raiders was to spy
out the land, so that on the arival of the main body all might be
ready for that general rising of their kinsmen in the Colony which was
the last chance, not of winning, but of prolonging the war. It must
be confessed that, however much their reason might approve of the
Government under which they lived, the sentiment of the Cape Dutch had
been cruelly, though unavoidably, hurt in the course of the war. The
appearance of so popular a leader as De Wet with a few thousand
veterans in the very heart of their country might have stretched their
patience to the breaking-point. Inflamed, as they were, by that
racial hatred which had always smouldered, and had now been fanned
into a blaze by the speeches of their leaders and by the fictions of
their newspapers, they were ripe for mischief, while they had before
their eyes an object-lesson of the impotence of our military system in
those small bands who had kept the country in a ferment for so
long. All was propitious, therefore, for the attempt which Steyn and
De Wet were about to make to carry the war into the enemy's country.

We last saw De Wet when, after a long chase, he had been headed back
from the Orange River, and, winnining clear from Knox's pursuit, had
in the third week of December passed successfully through the British
cordon between Thabanchu and Ladybrand. Thence he made his way to
Senekal, and proceeded, in spite of the shaking which he had had, to
recruit and recuperate in the amazing way which a Boer army has.
There is no force so easy to drive and so difficult to destroy. The
British columns still kept in touch with De Wet, but found it
impossible to bring him to an action in the difficult district to
which he had withdrawn. His force had split up into numerous smaller
bodies, capable of reuniting at a signal from their leader. These
scattered bodies, mobile as ever, vanished if seriously attacked,
while keenly on the alert to pounce upon any British force which might
be overpowered before assistance could arrive. Such an opportunity
came to the commando led by Philip Botha, and the result was another
petty reverse to the British arms.

Upon January 3rd Colonel White's small column was pushing north, in
co-operation with those of Knox, Pilcher, and the others. Upon that
date it had reached a point just north of Lindley, a district which
has never been a fortunate one for the invaders. A patrol of
Kitchener' s newly raised bodyguard, under Colonel Laing, 120 strong,
was sent forward to reconnoitre upon the road from Lindley to Reitz.

The scouting appears to have been negligently done, there being only
two men out upon each flank. The little force walked into one of those
horse-shoe positions which the Boers love, and learned by a sudden
volley from a kraal upon their right that the enemy was present in
strength. On attempting to withdraw it was instantly evident that the
Boers were on all sides and in the rear with a force which numbered at
least five to one. The camp of the main column was only four miles
away, however, and the bodyguard, having sent messages of their
precarious position, did all they could to make a defence until help
could reach them. Colonel Laing had fallen, shot through the heart,
but found a gallant successor in young Nairne, the adjutant. Part of
the force had thrown themselves, under Nairne and Milne, into a donga,
which gave some shelter from the sleet of bullets. The others, under
Captain Butters, held on to a ruined kraal. The Boers pushed the
attack very rapidly, however, and were soon able with their superior
numbers to send a raking fire down the donga, which made it a perfect
death-trap. Still hoping that the laggard reinforcements would come
up, the survivors held desperately on; but both in the kraal and in
the donga their numbers were from minute to minute diminishing. There
was no formal surrender and no white flag, for, when fifty per
cent. of the British were down, the Boers closed in swiftly and rushed
the position. Philip Botha, the brother of the commandant, who led the
Boers, behaved with courtesy and humanity to the survivors; but many
of the wounds were inflicted with those horrible explosive and
expansive missiles, the use of which among civilised combatants should
now and always be a capital offence. To disable one's adversary is a
painful necessity of warfare, but nothing can excuse the wilful
mutilation and torture which is inflicted by these brutal devices.

'How many of you are there?' asked Botha. 'A hundred,' said an
officer. 'It is not true. There are one hundred and twenty. I
counted you as you came along.' The answer of the Boer leader shows
how carefully the small force had been nursed until it was in an
impossible position. The margin was a narrow one, however, for within
fifteen minutes of the disaster White's guns were at work. There may
be some question as to whether the rescuing force could have come
sooner, but there can be none as to the resistance of the bodyguard.
They held out to the last cartridge. Colonel Laing and three officers
with sixteen men were killed, four officers and twenty-two men were
wounded. The high proportion of fatal casualties can only be explained
by the deadly character of the Boer bullets. Hardly a single horse of
the bodyguard was left unwounded, and the profit to the victors, since
they were unable to carry away their prisoners, lay entirely in the
captured rifles. It is worthy of record that the British wounded were
despatched to Heilbron without guard through the Boer forces. That
they arrived there unmolested is due to the forbearance of the enemy
and to the tact and energy of Surgeon-Captain Porter, who commanded
the convoy.

Encouraged by this small success, and stimulated by the news that
Hertzog and Kritzinger had succeeded in penetrating the Colony without
disaster, De Wet now prepared to follow them. British scouts to the
north of Kroonstad reported horsemen riding south and east, sometimes
alone, sometimes in small parties They were recruits going to swell
the forces of De Wet. On January 23rd five hundred men crossed the
line, journeying in the same direction. Before the end of the month,
having gathered together about 2,500 men with fresh horses at the
Doornberg, twenty miles north of Winburg, the Boer leader was ready
for one of his lightning treks once more. On January 28th he broke
south through the British net, which appears to have had more meshes
than cord. Passing the Bloemfontein-Ladybrand line at Israel Poort he
swept southwards, with British columns still wearily trailing behind
him, like honest bulldogs panting after a greyhound.

Before following him upon this new venture it is necessary to say a
few words about that peace movement in the Boer States to which some
allusion has already been made. On December 20th Lord Kitchener had
issued a proclamation which was intended to have the effect of
affording protection to those burghers who desired to cease fighting,
but who were unable to do so without incurring the enmity of their
irreconcilable brethren. 'It is hereby notified,' said the document,
'to all burghers that if after this date they voluntarily surrender
they will be allowed to live with their families in Government laagers
until such time as the guerilla warfare now being carried on will
admit of their returning safely to their homes. All stock and
property brought in at the time of the surrender of such burghers will
be respected and paid for if requisitioned.' This wise and liberal
offer was sedulously concealed from their men by the leaders of the
fighting commandos, but was largely taken advantage of by those Boers
to whom it was conveyed. Boer refugee camps were formed at Pretoria,
Johannesburg, Kroonstad, Bloemfontein, Warrenton; and other points, to
which by degrees the whole civil population came to be transferred.
It was the reconcentrado system of Cuba over again, with the essential
difference that the guests of the British Government were well fed and
well treated during their detention. Within a few months the camps had
50,000 inmates.

It was natural that some of these people, having experienced the
amenity of British rule, and being convinced of the hopelessness of
the struggle, should desire to convey their feelings to their friends
and relations in the field. Both in the Transvaal and in the Orange
River Colony Peace Committees were formed, which endeavoured to
persuade their countrymen to bow to the inevitable. A remarkable
letter was published from Piet de Wet, a man who had fought bravely
for the Boer cause, to his brother, the famous general. 'Which is
better for the Republics,' he asked, 'to continue the struggle and run
the risk of total ruin as a nation, or to submit? Could we for a
moment think of taking back the country if it were offered to us, with
thousands of people to be supported by a Government which has not a
farthing?... Put passionate feeling aside for a moment and use
common-sense, and you will then agree with me that the best thing for
the people and the country is to give in, to be loyal to the new
government, and to get responsible government... Should the war
continue a few months longer the nation will become so poor that they
will be the working class in the country, and disappear as a nation in
the future... The British are convinced that they have conquered the
land and its people, and consider the matter ended, and they only try
to treat magnanimously those who are continuing the struggle in order
to prevent unnecessary bloodshed.'

Such were the sentiments of those of the burghers who were in favour
of peace. Their eyes had been opened and their bitterness was
transferred from the British Government to those individual Britons
who, partly from idealism and partly from party passion, had
encouraged them to their undoing. But their attempt to convey their
feelings to their countrymen in the field ended in tragedy. Two of
their number, Morgendaal and Wessels, who had journeyed to De Wet's
camp, were condemned to death by order of that leader. In the case of
Morgendaal the execution actually took place, and seems to have been
attended by brutal circumstances, the man having been thrashed with a
sjambok before being put to death. The circumstances are still
surrounded by such obscurity that it is impossible to say whether the
message of the peace envoys was to the General himself or to the men
under his command. In the former case the man was murdered. In the
latter the Boer leader was within his rights, though the rights may
have been harshly construed and brutally enforced.

On January 29th, in the act of breaking south, De Wet's force, or a
portion of it, had a sharp brush with a small British column (Crewe's)
at Tabaksberg, which lies about forty miles north-east of
Bloemfontein; This small force, seven hundred strong, found itself
suddenly in the presence of a very superior body of the enemy, and had
some difficulty in extricating itself. A pom-pom was lost in this
affair. Crewe fell back upon Knox, and the combined columns made for
Bloemfontein, whence they could use the rails for their transport. De
Wet meanwhile moved south as far as Smithfield, and then, detaching
several small bodies to divert the attention of the British, he struck
due west, and crossed the track between Springfontein and
Jagersfontein road, capturing the usual supply train as he passed. On
February 9th he had reached Philippolis, well ahead of the British
pursuit, and spent a day or two in making his final arrangements
before carrying the war over the border. His force consisted at this
time of nearly 8,000 men, with two 15-pounders, one pom-pom, and one
maxim. The garrisons of all the towns in the southwest of the Orange
River Colony had been removed in accordance with the policy of
concentration, so De Wet found himself for the moment in a friendly
country.

The British, realising how serious a situation might arise should De
Wet succeed in penetrating the Colony and in joining Hertzog and
Kritzinger, made every effort both to head him off and to bar his
return. General Lyttelton at Naauwpoort directed the operations, and
the possession of the railway line enabled him to concentrate his
columns rapidly at the point of danger. On February 11th De Wet forded
the Orange River at Zand Drift, and found himself once more upon
British territory. Lyttelton's plan of campaign appears to have been
to allow De Wet to come some distance south, and then to hold him in
front by De Lisle's force, while a number of small mobile columns
under Plumer, Crabbe, Henniker, Bethune, Haig, and Thorneycroft should
shepherd him behind. On crossing, De Wet at once moved westwards,
where, upon February 12th, Plumer's column, consisting of the
Queensland Mounted Infantry, the Imperial Bushmen, and part of the
King's Dragoon Guards, came into touch with his rearguard. All day
upon the 13th and 14th, amid terrific rain, Plumer's hardy troopers
followed close upon the enemy, gleaning a few ammunition wagons, a
maxim, and some prisoners. The invaders crossed the railway line near
Houtnek, to the north of De Aar, in the early hours of the 15th,
moving upon a front of six or eight miles. Two armoured trains from
the north and the south closed in upon him as he passed, Plumer still
thundered in his rear, and a small column under Crabbe came pressing
from the south. This sturdy Colonel of Grenadiers had already been
wounded four times in the war, so that he might be excused if he felt
some personal as well as patriotic reasons for pushing a relentless
pursuit. On crossing the railroad De Wet turned furiously upon his
pursuers, and, taking an excellent position upon a line of kopjes
rising out of the huge expanse of the Karoo, he fought a stubborn
rearguard action in order to give time for his convoy to get ahead. He
was hustled off the hills, however, the Australian Bushmen with great
dash carrying the central kopje, and the guns driving the invaders to
the westward. Leaving all his wagons and his reserve ammunition behind
him, the guerilla chief struck north-west, moving with great
swiftness, but never succeeding in shaking off Plumer's pursuit. The
weather continued, however, to be atrocious, rain and hail falling
with such violence that the horses could hardly be induced to face it.
For a week the two sodden, sleepless, mud-splashed little armies swept
onwards over the Karoo. De Wet passed northwards through Strydenburg,
past Hopetown, and so to the Orange River, which was found to be too
swollen with the rains to permit of his crossing. Here upon the 23rd,
after a march of forty-five miles on end, Plumer ran into him once
more, and captured with very little fighting a fifteen-pounder, a
pom-pom, and close on to a hundred prisoners. Slipping away to the
east, De Wet upon February 24th crossed the railroad again between
Krankuil and Orange River Station, with Thorneycroft's column hard
upon his heels. The Boer leader was now more anxious to escape from
the Colony than ever he had been to enter it, and he rushed
distractedly from point to point, endeavouring to find a ford over the
great turbid river which cut him off from his own country. Here he was
joined by Hertzog's commando with a number of invaluable spare
horses. It is said also that he had been able to get remounts in the
Hopetown district, which had not been cleared -- an omission for
which, it is to be hoped, someone has been held responsible. The Boer
ponies, used to the succulent grasses of the veldt, could make nothing
of the rank Karoo, and had so fallen away that an enormous advantage
should have rested with the pursuers had ill luck and bad management
not combined to enable the invaders to renew their mobility at the
very moment when Plumer's horses were dropping dead under their
riders.

The Boer force was now so scattered that, in spite of the advent of
Hertzog, De Wet had fewer men with him than when he entered the
Colony. Several hundreds had been taken prisoners, many had deserted,
and a few had been killed. It was hoped now that the whole force
might be captured, and Thorneycroft's, Crabbe's, Henniker's, and other
columns were closing swiftly in upon him, while the swollen river
still barred his retreat. There was a sudden drop in the flood,
however; one ford became passable, and over it, upon the last day of
February, De Wet and his bedraggled, dispirited commando escaped to
their own country. There was still a sting in his tail, however; for
upon that very day a portion of his force succeeded in capturing sixty
and killing or wounding twenty of Colenbrander's new regiment,
Kitchener's Fighting Scouts. On the other hand, De Wet was finally
relieved upon the same day of all care upon the score of his guns, as
the last of them was most gallantly captured by Captain Dallimore and
fifteen Victorians, who at the same time brought in thirty-three Boer
prisoners. The net result of De Wet's invasion was that he gained
nothing, and that he lost about four thousand horses, all his guns,
all his convoy, and some three hundred of his men.

Once safely in his own country again, the guerilla chief pursued his
way northwards with his usual celerity and success. The moment that
it was certain that De Wet had escaped, the indefatigable Plumer,
wiry, tenacious man, had been sent off by train to Springfontein,
while Bethune's column followed direct. This latter force crossed the
Orange River bridge and marched upon Luckhoff and Fauresmith. At the
latter town they overtook Plumer, who was again hard upon the heels of
De Wet. Together they ran him across the Riet River and north to
Petrusburg, until they gave it up as hopeless upon finding that, with
only fifty followers, he had crossed the Modder River at Abram's
Kraal. There they abandoned the chase and fell back upon Bloemfontein
to refit and prepare for a fresh effort to run down their elusive
enemy.

While Plumer and Bethune were following upon the track of De Wet until
he left them behind at the Modder, Lyttelton was using the numerous
columns which were ready to his hand in effecting a drive up the
south-eastern section of the Orange Biver Colony. It was disheartening
to remember that all this large stretch of country had from April to
November been as peaceful and almost as prosperous as Kent or
Yorkshire. Now the intrusion of the guerilla bands, and the pressure
put by them upon the farmers, had raised the whole country once again,
and the work of pacification had to be set about once more, with
harsher measures than before. A continuous barrier of barbed-wire
fencing had been erected from Bloemfontein to the Basuto border, a
distance of eighty miles, and this was now strongly held by British
posts. From the south Bruce Hamilton, Hickman, Thorneycroft, and Haig
swept upwards, stripping the country as they went in the same way that
French had done in the Eastern Transvaal, while Pilcher's column
waited to the north of the barbed-wire barrier. It was known that
Fourie, with a considerable commando, was lurking in this district,
but he and his men slipped at night between the British columns and
escaped. Pilcher, Bethune, and Byng were able, however, to send in
200 prisoners and very great numbers of cattle. On April 10th Monro,
with Bethune's Mounted Infantry, captured eighty fighting Boers near
Dewetsdorp, and sixty more were taken by a night attack at Boschberg.
There is no striking victory to record in these operations, but they
were an important part of that process of attrition which was wearing
the Boers out and helping to bring the war to an end. Terrible it is
to see that barren countryside, and to think of the depths of misery
to which the once flourishing and happy Orange Free State had fallen,
through joining in a quarrel with a nation which bore it nothing but
sincere friendship and goodwill. With nothing to gain and everything
to lose, the part played by the Orange Free State in this South
African drama is one of the most inconceivable things in history.
Never has a nation so deliberately and so causelessly committed
suicide.

Arthur Conan Doyle