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Chapter 34


The African winter extends roughly from April to September, and as the
grass during that period would be withered on the veldt, the mobility
of the Boer commandos must be very much impaired. It was recognised
therefore that if the British would avoid another year of war it could
only be done by making good use of the months which lay before
them. For this reason Lord Kitchener had called for the considerable
reinforcements which have been already mentioned, but on the other
hand he was forced to lose many thousands of his veteran Yeomanry,
Australians, and Canadians, whose term of service was at an end. The
volunteer companies of the infantry returned also to England, and so
did nine militia battalions, whose place was taken however by an equal
number of new-comers.

The British position was very much strengthened during the winter by
the adoption of the block-house system. These were small square or
hexagonal buildings, made of stone up to nine feet with corrugated
iron above it. They were loopholed for musketry fire and held from six
to thirty men. These little forts were dotted along the railways at
points not more than 2,000 yards apart, and when supplemented by a
system of armoured trains they made it no easy matter for the Boers to
tamper with or to cross the lines. So effective did these prove that
their use was extended to the more dangerous portions of the country,
and lines were pushed through the Magaliesberg district to form a
chain of posts between Krugersdorp and Rustenburg. In the Orange
River Colony and on the northern lines of the Cape Colony the same
system was extensively applied. I will now attempt to describe the
more important operations of the winter, beginning with the incursion
of Plumer into the untrodden ground to the north.

At this period of the war the British forces had overrun, if they had
not subdued, the whole of the Orange River Colony and every part of
the Transvaal which is south of the Mafeking-Pretoria-Komati line.
Through this great tract of country there was not a vilage and hardly
a farmhouse which had not seen the invaders. But in the north there
remained a vast district, two hundred miles long and three hundred
broad, which had hardly been touched by the war. It is a wild
country, scrub-covered, antelope-haunted plains rising into desolate
hills, but there are many kloofs and valleys with rich water meadows
and lush grazings, which formed natural granaries and depots for the
enemy. Here the Boer government continued to exist, and here,
screened by their mountains, they were able to organise the
continuation of the struggle. It was evident that there could be no
end to the war until these last centres of resistance had been broken

The british forces had advanced as far north as Rustenburg in the
west, Pienaar in the centre, and Lydenburg in the east, but here they
had halted, unwilling to go farther until their conquests had been
made good behind them. A General might well pause before plunging his
troops into that vast and rugged district, when an active foe and an
exposed line of communication lay for many hundreds of miles to the
south of them. But Lord Kitchener with characteristic patience waited
for the right hour to come, and then with equally characteristic
audacity played swiftly and boldly for his stake. De Wet, impotent
for the moment, had been hunted back over the Orange River. French had
harried the burghers in the South-east Transvaal, and the main force
of the enemy was known to be on that side of the seat of war. The
north was exposed, and with one long, straight lunge to the heart,
Pietersburg might be transfixed.

There could only be one direction for the advance, and that must be
along the Pretoria-Pietersburg railroad. This is the only line of
rails which leads to the north, and as it was known to be in working
order (the Boers were running a bi-weekly service from Pietersburg to
Warm Baths), it was hoped that a swift advance might seize it before
any extensive damage could be done. With this object a small but very
mobile force rapidly assembled at the end of March at Pienaar River,
which was the British rail-head forty miles north of Pretoria and a
hundred and thirty from Pietersburg. This column consisted of the
Bushveldt Carbineers, the 4th Imperial Bushmen's Corps, and the 6th
New Zealand contingent. With them were the 18th battery R.F.A., and
three pom-poms. A detachment of the invaluable mounted Sappers rode
with the force, and two infantry regiments, the 2nd Gordons and the
Northamptons, were detached to garrison the more vulnerable places
upon the line of advance.

Upon March 29th the untiring Plumer, called off from the chase of De
Wet, was loosed upon this fresh line, and broke swiftly away to the
north. The complete success of his undertaking has obscured our
estimate of its danger, but it was no light task to advance so great a
distance into a bitterly hostile country with a fighting force of
2,000 rifles. As an enterprise it was in many ways not unlike Mahon's
dash on Mafeking, but without any friendly force with which to join
hands at the end. However from the beginning all went well. On the
30th the force had reached Warm Baths, where a great isolated hotel
already marks the site of what will be a rich and fashionable spa. On
April 1st the Australian scouts rode into Nylstroom, fifty more miles
upon their way. There had been sufficient sniping to enliven the
journey, but nothing which could be caled an action. Gleaning up
prisoners and refugees as they went, with the railway engineers
working like bees behind them, the force still swept unchecked upon
its way. On April 5th Piet Potgeitersrust was entered, another
fifty-mile stage, and on the morning of the 8th the British vanguard
rode into Pietersburg. Kitchener's judgment and Plumer's energy had
met with their reward.

The Boer commando had evacuated the town and no serious opposition was
made to the British entry. The most effective resistance came from a
single schoolmaster, who, in a moment of irrational frenzy or of
patriotic exaltation, shot down three of the invaders before he met
his own death. Some rolling stock, one small gun, and something under
a hundred prisoners were the trophies of the capture, but the Boer
arsenal and the printing press were destroyed, and the Government sped
off in a couple of Cape carts in search of some new capital.
Pietersburg was principally valuable as a base from which a sweeping
movement might be made from the north at the same moment as one from
the south-east. A glance at the map will show that a force moving from
this point in conjunction with another from Lydenburg might form the
two crooked claws of a crab to enclose a great space of country, in
which smaller columns might collect whatever was to be found. Without
an instant of unnecessary delay the dispositions were made, and no
fewer than eight columns slipped upon the chase. It will be best to
continue to follow the movements of Plumer's force, and then to give
some account of the little armies which were operating from the south,
with the results of their enterprise.

It was known that Viljoen and a number of Boers were within the
district which lies north of the line in the Middelburg district. An
impenetrable bush-veldt had offered them a shelter from which they
made their constant sallies to wreck a train or to attack a post. This
area was now to be systematically cleared up. The first thing was to
stop the northern line of retreat. The Oliphant River forms a loop in
that direction, and as it is a considerable stream, it would, if
securely held, prevent any escape upon that side. With this object
Plumer, on April 14th, the sixth day after his occupation of
Pietersburg, struck east from that town and trekked over the veldt,
through the formidable Chunies Pass, and so to the north bank of the
Oliphant, picking up thirty or forty Boer prisoners upom the way. His
route lay through a fertile country dotted with native kraals. Having
reached the river which marked the line which he was to hold, Plumer,
upon April 17th, spread his force over many miles, so as to block the
principal drifts. The flashes of his helio were answered by flash
after flash from many points upon the southern horizon. What these
other forces were, and whence they came, must now be made clear to the

General Bindon Blood, a successful soldier, had confirmed in the
Transvaal a reputation which he had won on the northern frontier of
India. He and General Elliot were two of the late comers who had been
spared from the great Eastern dependency to take the places of some of
those Generals who had returned to England for a well-earned rest. He
had distinguished himself by his systematic and effective guardianship
of the Delagoa railway line, and he was now selected for the supreme
control of the columns which were to advance from the south and sweep
the Roos-Senekal district. There were seven of them, which were
arranged as follows:

Two columns started from Middelburg under Beatson and Benson, which
might be called the left wings of the movement. The object of
Beatson's column was to hold the drifts of the Crocodile River, while
Benson's was to seize the neighbouring hills called the
Bothasberg. This it was hoped would pin the Boers from the west, while
Kitchener from Lydenburg advanced from the east in three separate
columns. Pulteney and Douglas would move up from Belfast in the
centre, with Dulstoom for their objective. It was the familiar drag
net of French, but facing north instead of south.

On April 13th the southern columns were started, but already the
British preparations had alarmed the Boers, and Botha, with his main
commandos, had slipped south across the line into that very district
from which he had been so recently driven. Viljoen's commando still
remained to the north, and the British troops, pouring in from every
side, converged rapidly upon it. The success of the operations was
considerable, though not complete. The Tantesberg, which had been the
rallying-point of the Boers, was occupied, and Roos-Senekal, their
latest capital, was taken, with their State papers and
treasure. Viljoen, with a number of followers, slipped through between
the columns, but the greater part of the burghers, dashing furiously
about like a shoal of fish when they become conscious of the net, were
taken by one or other of the columns. A hundred of the Boksburg
commando surrendered en masae, fifty more were taken at Roos-Senekal;
forty-one of the formidable Zarps with Schroeder, their leader, were
captured in the north by the gallantry and wit of a young Australian
officer named Reid; sixty more were hunted down by the indefatigable
Vialls, leader of the Bushmen. From all parts of the district came the
same story of captures and surrenders.

Knowing, however, that Botha and Viljoen had slipped through to the
south of the railway line, Lord Kitchener determined to rapidly
transfer the scene of the operations to that side. At the end of
April, after a fortnight's work, during which this large district was
cropped, but by no means shaved, the troops turned south again. The
results of the operation had been eleven hundred prisoners, almost the
same number as French had taken in the south-east, together with a
broken Krupp, a pom-pom, and the remains of the big naval gun taken
from us at Helvetia.

It was determined that Plumer's advance upon Pietersburg should not be
a mere raid, but that steps should be taken to secure all that he had
gained, and to hold the lines of communication. With this object the
2nd Gordon Highianders and the 2nd Wiltshires were pushed up along the
railroad, followed by Kitchener's Fighting Scouts. These troops
garrisoned Pietersburg and took possession of Chunies Poort, and other
strategic positions. They also furnished escorts for the convoys
which supplied Plumer on the Oliphant River, and they carried out some
spirited operations themselves in the neighbourhood of Pietersburg.
Grenfell, who commanded the force, broke up several laagers, and
captured a number of prisoners, operations in which he was much
assisted by Colenbrander and his men. Finally the last of the great
Creusot guns, the formidable Long Toms, was found mounted near
Haenertsburg. It was the same piece which had in succession scourged
Mafeking and Kimberley. The huge gun, driven to bay, showed its
powers by opening an effective fire at ten thousand yards. The
British galloped in upon it, the Boer riflemen were driven off, and
the gun was blown up by its faithful gunners. So by suicide died the
last of that iron brood, the four sinister brothers who had wrought
much mischief in South Africa. They and their lesson will live in the
history of modern artillery.

The sweeping of the Roos-Senekal district being over, Plumer left his
post upon the River of the Elephants, a name which, like Rhenoster,
Zeekoe, Kameelfontein, Leeuw Kop, Tigerfontein, Elands River, and so
many more, serves as a memorial to the great mammals which once
covered the land. On April 28th the force turned south, and on May
4th they had reached the railroad at Eerstefabrieken close to
Pretoria. They had come in touch with a small Boer force upon the way,
and the indefatigable Vialls hounded them for eighty miles, and tore
away the tail of their convoy with thirty prisoners. The main force
had left Pretoria on horseback on March 28th, and found themselves
back once again upon foot on May 5th. They had something to show,
however, for the loss of their horses, since they had covered a
circular march of 400 miles, had captured some hundreds of the enemy,
and had broken up their last organised capital. From first to last it
was a most useful and well-managed expedition.

It is the more to be regretted that General Blood was recalled from
his northern trek before it had attained its full results, because
those operations to which he turned did not offer him any great
opportunities for success. Withdrawing from the north of the railway
with his columns, he at once started upon a sweep of that portion of
the country which forms an angle between the Delagoa line and the
Swazi frontier -- the Barberton district. But again the two big fish,
Viljoen and Botha, had slipped away, and the usual collection of
sprats was left in the net. The sprats count also, however, and every
week now telegrams were reaching England from Lord Kitchener which
showed that from three to five hundred more burghers had fallen into
our hands. Although the public might begin to look upon the war as
interminable, it had become evident to the thoughtful observer that it
was now a mathematical question, and that a date could already be
predicted by which the whole Boer population would have passed into
the power of the British.

Among the numerous small British columns which were at work in
different parts of the country, in the latter half of May, there was
one under General Dixon which was operating in the neighbourhood of
the Magaliesberg Range. This locality has never been a fortunate one
for the British arms. The country is peculiarly mountainous and
broken, and it was held by the veteran De la Rey and a numerous body
of irreconcilable Boers. Here in July we had encountered a check at
Uitval's Nek, in December Clements had met a more severe one at
Nooitgedacht, while shortly afterwards Cunningham had been repulsed at
Middelfontein, and the Light Horse cut up at Naauwpoort. After such
experiences one would have thought that no column which was not of
overmastering strength would have been sent into this dangerous
region, but General Dixon had as a matter of fact by no means a strong
force with him. With 1,600 men and a battery he was despatched upon a
quest after some hidden guns which were said to have been buried in
those parts.

On May 26th Dixon's force, consisting of Derbyshires, King's Own
Scottish Borderers, Imperial Yeomanry, Scottish Horse, and six guns
(four of 8th R.F.A. and two of 28th R.F.A.), broke camp at Naauwpoort
and moved to the west. On the 28th they found themselves at a place
called Vlakfontein, immediately south of Oliphant's Nek. On that day
there were indications that there were a good many Boers in the
neighbourhood. Dixon left a guard over his canip and then sallied out
in search of the buried guns. His force was divided into three parts,
the left column under Major Chance consisting of two guns of the 28th
R.F.A., 230 of the Yeomanry, and one company of the Derbys. The centre
comprised two guns (8th R.F.A.), one howitzer, two companies of the
Scottish Borderers and one of the Derbys; while the right was made up
of two guns (8th R.F.A.), 200 Scottish Horse, and two companies of
Borderers. Having ascertained that the guns were not there, the force
about midday was returning to the camp, when the storm broke suddenly
and fiercely upon the rearguard.

There had been some sniping during the whole morning, but no
indications of the determined attack which was about to be delivered.
The force in retiring upon the camp had become divided, and the
rearguard consisted of the small column under Major Chance which had
originally formed the left wing. A veldt fire was raging on one flank
of this rearguard, and through the veil of smoke a body of five
hundred Boers charged suddenly home with magnificent gallantry upon
the guns. We have few records of a more dashing or of a more
successful action in the whole course of the war. So rapid was it that
hardly any time elapsed between the glimpse of the first dark figures
galloping through the haze and the thunder of their hoofs as they
dashed in among the gunners. The Yeomanry were driven back and many of
them shot down. The charge of the mounted Boers was supported by a
very heavy fire from a covermg party, and the gun-detachments were
killed or wounded almost to a man. The lieutenant in charge and the
sergeant were both upon the ground. So far as it is possible to
reconstruct the action from the confused accounts of excited
eye-witnesses and from the exceedingly obscure official report of
General Dixon, there was no longer any resistance round the guns,
which were at once turned by their captors upon the nearest British

The company of infantry which had helped to escort the guns proved
however to be worthy representatives of that historic branch of the
British service. They were northerners, men of Derbyshire and
Nottingham, the same counties which had furnished the brave militia
who had taken their punishment so gamely at Roodeval. Though hustled
and broken they re-formed and clung doggedly to their task, firing at
the groups of Boers who surrounded the guns. At the same time word
had been sent of their pressing need to the Scotch Borderers and the
Scottish Horse, who came swarming across the valley to the succour of
their comrades. Dixon had brought two guns and a howitzer into
action, which subdued the fire of the two captured pieces, and the
infantry, Derbys and Borderers, swept over the position, retaking the
two guns and shooting down those of the enemy who tried to stand. The
greater number vanished into the smoke, which veiled their retreat as
it had their advance. Forty-one of them were left dead upon the
ground. Six officers and fifty men killed with about a hundred and
twenty wounded made up the British losses, to which two guns would
certainly have been added but for the gallant counter-attack of the
infantry. With Dargai and Vlakfontein to their credit the Derbys have
green laurels upon their war-worn colours. They share them on this
occasion with the Scottish Borderers, whose volunteer company carried
itself as stoutly as the regulars.

How is such an action to be summed up? To Kemp, the young Boer leader,
and his men belongs the credit of the capture of the guns; to the
British that of their recapture and of the final possession of the
field. The British loss was probably somewhat higher than that of the
Boers, but upon the other hand there could be no question as to which
side could afford loss the better. The Briton could be replaced, but
there were no reserves behind the fighting line of the Boers.

There is one subject which cannot be ignored in discussing this
battle, however repugnant it may be. That is the shooting of some of
the British wounded who lay round the guns. There is no question at
all about the fact, which is attested by many independent witnesses.
There is reason to hope that some of the murderers paid for their
crimes with their lives before the battle was over. It is pleasant to
add that there is at least one witness to the fact that Boer officers
interfered with threats to prevent some of these outrages. It is
unfair to tarnish the whole Boer nation and cause on account of a few
irresponsible villains, who would be disowned by their own decent
comrades. Very many -- too many -- British soldiers have known by
experience what it is to fall into the hands of the enemy, and it must
be confessed that on the whole they have been dealt with in no
ungenerous spirit, while the British treatment of the Boers has been
unexampled in all military history for its generosity and
humanity. That so fair a tale should be darkened by such ruffianly
outrages is indeed deplorable, but the incident is too well
authenticated to be left unrecorded in any detailed account of the
campaign. General Dixon, finding the Boers very numerous all round
him, and being hampered by his wounded, fell back upon Naauwpoort,
which he reached on June 1st.

In May, Sir Bindon Blood, having returned to the line to refit, made
yet another cast through that thrice-harried belt of country which
contains Ermelo, Bethel, and Carolina, in which Botha, Viljoen, and
the fighting Boers had now concentrated. Working over the blackened
veldt he swung round in the Barberton direction, and afterwards made a
westerly drive in conjunction with small columns commanded by Walter
Kitchener, Douglas, and Campbell of the Rifles, while Colville,
Garnett, and Bullock co-operated from the Natal line. Again the
results were disappointing when compared with the power of the
instrument employed. On July 5th he reached Springs, near
Johannesburg, with a considerable amount of stock, but with no great
number of prisoners. The elusive Botha had slipped away to the south
and was reported upon the Zululand border, while Viljoen had succeeded
in crossing the Delagoa line and winning back to his old lair in the
district north of Middelburg, from which he had been evicted in
April. The commandos were like those pertinacious flies which buzz
upwards when a hand approaches them, but only to settle again in the
same place. One could but try to make the place less attractive than

Before Vujoen's force made its way over the line it had its revenge
for the long harrying it had undergone by a well-managed night attack,
in which it surprised and defeated a portion of Colonel Beatson's
column at a place called Wilmansrust, due south of Middelburg, and
between that town and Bethel. Beatson had divided his force, and this
section consisted of 850 of the 5th Victorian Mounted Rifles, with
thirty gunners and two pom-poms, the whole under the command of Major
Morris. Viljoen's force trekking north towards the line came upon
this detachment upon June 12th. The British were aware of the
presence of the enemy, but do not appear to have posted any extra
outposts or taken any special precautions. Long months of commando
chasing had imbued them too much with the idea that these were
fugitive sheep, and not fierce and wily wolves, whom they were
endeavouring to catch. It is said that 700 yards separated the four
pickets. With that fine eye for detail which the Boer leaders possess,
they had started a veldt fire upon the west of the camp and then
attacked from the east, so that they were themselves invisible while
their enemies were silhouetted against the light. Creeping up between
the pickets, the Boers were not seen until they opened fire at
point-blank range upon the sleeping men. The rifles were stacked --
another noxious military tradition -- and many of the troopers were
shot down while they rushed for their weapons. Surprised out of their
sleep and unable to distinguish their antagonists, the brave
Australians did as well as any troops could have done who were placed
in so impossible a position. Captain Watson, the officer in charge of
the pom-poms, was shot down, and it proved to be impossible to bring
the guns into action. Within five minutes the Victorians had lost
twenty killed and forty wounded, when the survivors surrendered. It is
pleasant to add that they were very well treated by the victors, but
the high-spirited colonials felt their reverse most bitterly. 'It is
the worst thing that ever happened to Australia!' says one in the
letter in which he describes it. The actual number of Boers who
rushed the camp was only 180, but 400 more had formed a cordon round
it. To Viljoen and his lieutenant Muller great credit must be given
for this well-managed affair, which gave them a fresh supply of stores
and clothing at a time when they were hard pressed for both. These
same Boer officers had led the attack upon Helvetia where the 4.7 gun
was taken. The victors succeeded in getting away with all their
trophies, and having temporarily taken one of the blockhouses on the
railway near Brugspruit, they crossed the line in safety and returned,
as already said, to their old quarters in the north, which had been
harried but not denuded by the operations of General Blood.

It would take a volume to catalogue, and a library to entirely
describe the movements and doings of the very large number of British
columns which operated over the Transvaal and the Orange River Colony
during this cold-weather campaign. If the same columns and the same
leaders were consistently working in the same districts, some system
of narrative might enable the reader to follow their fortunes, but
they were, as a matter of fact, rapidly transferred from one side of
the field of action to another in accordance with the concentrations
of the enemy. The total number of columns amounted to at least sixty,
which varied in number from two hundred to two thousand, and seldom
hunted alone. Could their movements be marked in red upon a chart,
the whole of that huge district would be criss-crossed, from Taungs to
Komati and from Touws River to Pietersburg, with the track of our
weary but indomitable soldiers.

Without attempting to enter into details which would be unbecoming to
the modesty of a single volume, one may indicate what the other more
important groupings were during the course of these months, and which
were the columns that took part in them. Of French's drive in the
south-east, and of Blood's incursion into the Roos-Senekal district
some account has been given, and of his subsequent sweeping of the
south. At the same period Babington, Dixon, and Rawlinson were
co-operating in the Klerksdorp district, though the former officer
transferred his services suddenly to Blood's combination, and
afterwards to Elliot's column in the north of Orange River Colony.
Williams and Fetherstonhaugh came later to strengthen this Klerksdorp
district, in which, after the clearing of the Magaliesberg, De la Rey
had united his forces to those of Smuts. This very important work of
getting a firm hold upon the Magaliesberg was accomplished in July by
Barton, Allenby, Kekewich, and Lord Basing, who penetrated into the
wild country and established blockhouses and small forts in very much
the same way as Cumberland and Wade in 1746 held down the
Highlands. The British position was much strengthened by the firm grip
obtained of this formidable stronghold of the enemy, which was
dangerous not only on account of its extreme strength, but also of its
proximity to the centres of population and of wealth.

De la Rey, as already stated, had gone down to the Klerksdorp
district, whence, for a time at least, he seems to have passed over
into the north of the Orange River Colony. The British pressure at
Klerksdorp had become severe, and thither in May came the
indefatigable Methuen, whom we last traced to Warrenton. From this
point on May 1st he railed his troops to Mafeking, whence he trekked
to Lichtenburg, and south as far as his old fighting ground of
Haartebeestefontein, having one skirmish upon the way and capturing a
Boer gun. Thence he returned to Mafeking, where he had to bid adieu to
those veteran Yeomanry who had been his comrades on so many a weary
march. It was not their fortune to be present at any of the larger
battles of the war, but few bodies of troops have returned to England
with a finer record of hard and useful service.

No sooner, however, had Methuen laid down one weapon than he snatched
up another. Having refitted his men and collected some of the more
efficient of the new Yeomanry, he was off once more for a three weeks'
circular tour in the direction of Zeerust. It is difficult to believe
that the oldest inhabitant could have known more of the western side
of the Transvaal, for there was hardly a track which he had not
traversed or a kopje from which he had not been sniped. Early in
August he had made a fresh start from Mafeking, dividing his force
into two columns, the command of the second being given to Von Donop.
Having joined hands with Fetherstonhaugh, he moved through the
south-west and finally halted at Klerksdorp. The harried Boers moved
a hundred miles north to Rustenburg, followed by Methuen,
Fetherstonhaugh, Hamilton, Kekewich, and Allenby, who found the
commandos of De la Rey and Kemp to be scattering in front of them and
hiding in the kloofs and dongas, whence in the early days of September
no less than two hundred were extracted. On September 6th and 8th
Methuen engaged the main body of De la Rey in the valley of the Great
Marico River which lies to the north-west of Rustenburg. In these two
actions he pushed the Boers in front of him with a loss of eighteen
killed and forty-one prisoners, but the fighting was severe, and
fifteen of his men were killed and thirty wounded before the position
had been carried. The losses were almost entirely among the newly
raised Yeomanry, who had already shown on several occasions that,
having shed their weaker members and had some experience of the field,
they were now worthy to take their place beside their veteran

The only other important operation undertaken by the British columns
in the Transvaal during this period was in the north, where Beyers and
his men were still harried by Grenfell, Colenbrander, and Wilson. A
considerable proportion of the prisoners which figured in the weekly
lists came from this quarter. On May 30th there was a notable action,
the truth of which was much debated but finally established, in which
Kitchener's Scouts under Wilson surprised and defeated a Boer force
under Pretorius, killing and wounding several, and taking forty
prisoners. On July 1st Grenfell took nearly a hundred of Beyers' men
with a considerable convoy. North, south, east, and west the tale was
ever the same, but so long as Botha, De la Rey, Steyn, and De Wet
remained uncaptured, the embers might still at any instant leap into a

It only remains to complete this synopsis of the movements of columns
within the Transvaal that I should add that after the conclusion of
Blood's movement in July, several of his columns continued to clear
the country and to harass Viljoen in the Lydenburg and Dulstroom
districts. Park, Kitchener, Spens, Beatson, and Benson were all busy
at this work, never succeeding in forcing more than a skirmish, but
continually whittling away wagons, horses, and men from that nucleus
of resistance which the Boer leaders still held together.

Though much hampered by the want of forage for their horses, the Boers
were ever watchful for an opportunity to strike back, and the long
list of minor successes gained by the British was occasionally
interrupted by a petty reverse. Such a one befell the small body of
South African Constabulary stationed near Vereeniging, who encountered
upon July 13th a strong force of Boers supposed to be the main
commando of De Wet. The Constabulary behaved with great gallantry but
were hopelessly outnumbered, and lost their seven-pounder gun, four
killed, six wounded, and twenty-four prisoners. Another small reverse
occurred at a far distant point of the seat of war, for the irregular
corps known as Steinacker's Horse was driven from its position at
Bremersdorp in Swaziland upon July 24th, and had to fall back sixteen
miles, with a loss of ten casualties and thirty prisoners. Thus in
the heart of a native state the two great white races of South Africa
were to be seen locked in a desperate conflict. However unavoidable,
the sight was certainly one to be deplored.

To the Boer credit, or discredit, are also to be placed those repeated
train wreckings, which cost the British during this campaign the lives
and limbs of many brave soldiers who were worthy of some less ignoble
fate. It is true that the laws of war sanction such enterprises, but
there is something indiscriminate in the results which is repelent to
humanity, and which appears to justify the most energetic measures to
prevent them. Women, children, and sick must all travel by these
trains and are exposed to a common danger, while the assailants enjoy
a safety which renders their exploit a peculiarly inglorious one. Two
Boers, Trichardt and Hindon, the one a youth of twenty-two, the other
a man of British birth, distinguished, or disgraced, themselves by
this unsavoury work upon the Delagoa line, but with the extension of
the blockhouse system the attempts became less successful. There was
one, however, upon the northern line near Naboomspruit which cost the
lives of Lieutenant Best and eight Gordon Highlanders, while ten were
wounded. The party of Gordons continued to resist after the smash,
and were killed or wounded to a man. The painful incident is
brightened by such an example of military virtue, and by the naive
reply of the last survivor, who on being questioned why he continued
to fight until he was shot down, answered with fine simplicity,
'Because I am a Gordon Highlander.'

Another train disaster of an even more tragic character occurred near
Waterval, fifteen miles north of Pretoria, upon the last day of
August. The explosion of a mine wrecked the train, and a hundred
Boers who lined the banks of the cutting opened fire upon the derailed
carriages. Colonel Vandeleur, an officer of great promise, was killed
and twenty men, chiefly of the West Riding regiment, were shot. Nurse
Page was also among the wounded. It was after this fatal affair that
the regulation of carrying Boer hostages upon the trains was at last
carried out.

It has been already stated that part of Lord Kitchener's policy of
concentration lay in his scheme for gathering the civil population
into camps along the lines of communication. The reasons for this,
both military and humanitarian, were overwhelming. Experience had
proved that the men if left at liberty were liable to be persuaded or
coerced by the fighting Boers into breaking their parole and rejoining
the commandos. As to the women and children, they could not be left
upon the farms in a denuded country. That the Boers in the field had
no doubts as to the good treatment of these people was shown by the
fact that they repeatedly left their families in the way of the
columns so that they might be conveyed to the camps. Some
consternation was caused in England by a report of Miss Hobhouse,
which called public attention to the very high rate of mortality in
some of these camps, but examination showed that this was not due to
anything insanitary in their situation or arrangement, but to a severe
epidemic of measles which had swept away a large number of the
children. A fund was started in London to give additional comforts to
these people, though there is reason to believe that their general
condition was superior to that of the Uitlander refugees, who still
waited permission to return to their homes. By the end of July there
were no fewer than sixty thousand inmates of the camps in the
Transvaal alone, and half as many in the Orange River Colony. So great
was the difficulty in providing the supplies for so large a number
that it became more and more evident that some at least of the camps
must be moved down to the sea coast.

Passing to the Orange River Colony we find that during this winter
period the same British tactics had been met by the same constant
evasions on the part of the dwindling commandos. The Colony had been
divided into four military districts: that of Bloemfontein, which was
given to Charles Knox, that of Lyttelton at Springfontein, that of
Rundle at Harrismith, and that of Elliot in the north. The latter was
infinitely the most important, and Elliot, the warden of the northern
marches, had under him during the greater part of the winter a mobile
force of about 6,000 men, Commanded by such experienced officers as
Broadwood, De Lisle, and Bethune. Later in the year Spens, Bullock,
Plumer, and Rimington were all sent into the Orange River Colony to
help to stamp out the resistance. Numerous skirmishes and snipings
were reported from all parts of the country, but a constant stream of
prisoners and of surrenders assured the soldiers that, in spite of the
difficulty of the country and the obstinacy of the enemy, the term of
their labours was rapidly approaching.

In all the petty and yet necessary operations of these columns, two
incidents demand more than a mere mention. The first was a
hard-fought skirmish in which some of Elliot's horsemen were engaged
upon June 6th. His column had trekked during the month of May from
Kroonstad to Harrismith, and then turning north found itself upon that
date near the hamlet of Reitz. Major Sladen with 200 Mounted
Infantry, when detached from the main body, came upon the track of a
Boer convoy and ran it down. Over a hundred vehicles with forty-five
prisoners were the fruits of their enterprise. Well satisfied with
his morning's work, the British leader despatched a party of his men
to convey the news to De Lisle, who was behind, while he established
himself with his loot and his prisoners in a convenient kraal. Thence
they had an excellent view of a large body of horsemen approaching
them with scouts, flankers, and all military precautions. One
warm-hearted officer seems actually to have sallied out to meet his
comrades, and it was not till his greeting of them took the extreme
form of handing over his rifle that the suspicion of danger entered
the heads of his companions. But if there was some lack of wit there
was none of heart in Sladen and his men. With forty-five Boers to hold
down, and 500 under Fourie, De Wet, and De la Rey around them, the
little band made rapid preparation for a desperate resistance: the
prisoners were laid upon their faces, the men knocked loopholes in the
mud walls of the kraal, and a blunt soldierly answer was returned to
the demand for surrender.

But it was a desperate business. The attackers were five to one, and
the five were soldiers of De Wet, the hard-bitten veterans of a
hundred encounters. The captured wagons in a long double row
stretched out over the plain, and under this cover the Dutchmen
swarmed up to the kraal. But the men who faced them were veterans
also, and the defence made up for the disparity of numbers. With fine
courage the Boers made their way up to the village, and established
themselves in the outlying huts, but the Mounted Infantry clung
desperately to their position. Out of the few officers present
Findlay was shot through the head, Moir and Cameron through the heart,
and Strong through the stomach. It was a Waggon Hill upon a small
scale, two dour lines of skirmishers emptying their rifles into each
other at point-blank range. Once more, as at Bothaville, the British
Mounted Infantry proved that when it came to a dogged pelting match
they could stand punishment longer than their enemy. They suffered
terribly. Fifty-one out of the little force were on the ground, and
the survivors were not much more numerous than their prisoners. To
the 1st Gordons, the 2nd Bedfords, the South Australians, and the New
South Welsh men belongs the honour of this magnificent defence. For
four hours the fierce battle raged, until at last the parched and
powder-stained survivors breathed a prayer of thanks as they saw on
the southern horizon the vanguard of De Lisle riding furiously to the
rescue. For the last hour, since they had despaired of carrying the
kraal, the Boers had busied themselves in removing their convoy; but
now, for the second time in one day, the drivers found British rifles
pointed at their heads, and the oxen were turned once more and brought
back to those who had fought so hard to hold them. Twenty-eight
killed and twenty-six wounded were the losses in this desperate
affair. Of the Boers seventeen were left dead in front of the kraal,
and the forty-five had not escaped from the bulldog grip which held
them. There seems for some reason to have been no effective pursuit
of the Boers, and the British column held on its way to Kroonstad.

The second incident which stands out amid the dreary chronicle of
hustlings and snipings is the surprise visit paid by Broadwood with a
small British column to the town of Reitz upon July 11th, which
resulted in the capture of nearly every member of the late government
of the Free State, save only the one man whom they particularly
wanted. The column consisted of 200 yeomen, 200 of the 7th Dragoon
Guards, and two guns. Starting at 11 P.M., the raiders rode hard all
night and broke with the dawn upon the sleeping village. Racing into
the main street, they secured the startled Boers as they rushed from
the houses. It is easy to criticise such an operation from a
distance, and to overlook the practical difficulties in the way, but
on the face of it it seems a pity that the holes had not been stopped
before the ferret was sent in. A picket at the farther end of the
street would have barred Steyn's escape. As it was, he flung himself
upon his horse and galloped half-clad out of the town. Sergeant Cobb
of the Dragoons snapped a rifle at close quarters upon him, but the
cold of the night had frozen the oil on the striker and the Cartridge
hung fire. On such trifles do the large events of history turn! Two
Boer generals, two commandants, Steyn's brother, his secretary, and
several other officials were among the nine-and-twenty prisoners. The
treasury was also captured, but it is feared that the Yeomen and
Dragoons will not be much the richer from their share of the contents.

Save these two incidents, the fight at Reitz and the capture of a
portion of Steyn's government at the same place, the winter's
campaign furnished little which was of importance, though a great deal
of very hard and very useful work was done by the various columns
under the direction of the governors of the four military
districts. In the south General Bruce Hamilton made two sweeps, one
from the railway line to the western frontier, and the second from the
south and east in the direction of Petrusburg. The result of the two
operations was about 300 prisoners. At the same time Monro and
Hickman re-cleared the already twice-cleared districts of Rouxville and
Smithfield. The country in the east of the Colony was verging now upon
the state which Grant described in the Shenandoah Valley: 'A crow,'
said he, 'must carry his own rations when he flies across it.'

In the middle district General Charles Knox, with the columns of
Pine-Coffin, Thorneycroft, Pilcher, and Henry, were engaged in the
same sort of work with the same sort of results.

The most vigorous operations fell to the lot of Generak Elliot, who
worked over the northern and north-eastern district, which still
contained a large number of fighting burghers. In May and June Elliot
moved across to Vrede and afterwards down the eastern frontier of the
Colony, joining hands at last with Rundle at Harrismith. He then
worked his way back to Kroonstad through Reitz and Lindley. It was on
this journey that Sladen's Mounted Infantry had the sharp experience
which has been already narrated. Western's column, working
independently, co-operated with Elliot in this clearing of the
north-east. In August there were very large captures by Broadwood's
force, which had attained considerable mobility, ninety miles being
covered by it on one occasion in two days.

Of General Rundle there is little to be said, as he was kept busy in
exploring the rough country in his own district -- the same district
which had been the scene of the operations against Prinsloo and the
Fouriesburg surrender. Into this district Kritzinger and his men
trekked after they were driven from the Colony in July, and many small
skirmishes and snipings among the mountains showed that the Boer
resistance was still alive.

July and August were occupied in the Orange River Colony by energetic
operations of Spens' and Rimington's columns in the midland districts,
and by a considerable drive to the north-eastern corner, which was
shared by three columns under Elliot and two under Plumer, with one
under Henry and several smaller bodies. A considerable number of
prisoners and a large amount of stock were the result of the movement,
but it was very evident that there was a waste of energy in the
employment of such forces for such an end. The time appeared to be
approaching when a strong force of military police stationed
permanently in each district might prove a more efficient
instrument. One interesting development of this phase of the war was
the enrolment of a burgher police among the Boers who had
surrendered. These men -- well paid, well mounted, and well armed --
were an efficient addition to the British forces. The movement spread
until before the end of the war there were several thousand burghers
under such well-known officers as Celliers, Villonel, and young
Cronje, fighting against their own guerilla countrymen. Who, in 1899,
could have prophesied such a phenomenon as that!

Lord Kitchener's proclamation issued upon August 9th marked one more
turn in the screw upon the part of the British authorities. By it the
burghers were warned that those who had not laid down their arms by
September 15th would in the case of the leaders be banished, and in
the case of the burghers be compelled to support their families in the
refugee camps. As many of the fighting burghers were men of no
substance, the latter threat did not affect them much, but the other,
though it had little result at the time, may be useful for the
exclusion of firebrands during the period of reconstruction. Some
increase was noticeable in the number of surrenders after the
proclamation, but on the whole it had not the result which was
expected, and its expediency is very open to question. This date may
be said to mark the conclusion of the winter campaign and the opening
of a new phase in the struggle.

Arthur Conan Doyle