When Lord Roberts desired to sum up the character of the soldiers whom he had led, he declared that they had behaved like gentlemen. I believe that statement to be no exaggeration, and I think that when the bitter animosities of warfare have subsided, it will be acknowledged by the Boers themselves that it is true. They have had some unsavoury work to do—for guerilla warfare brings much in its train which is hateful—but officers and men have ameliorated and softened the asperities of warfare wherever it has been possible to do so. Their character has been most foully attacked by politicians at home, and by the ignorant or malevolent abroad. Let us examine the evidence.
There were many military attachés present with our Army. Have any of them reported against the discipline of our soldiers? So far as their reports are known, nothing of the sort has been alleged. Captain Slocum, the American representative, writes from Bloemfontein:
'The British have been too merciful, and I believe, had a more rigorous course been adopted when the Army first entered this capital and the enemy thoroughly stampeded, the war would have been materially shortened.'
The French military attaché said: 'What I admire most in this campaign is the conduct of your soldiers. Here they are trekking and fighting daily in an uninteresting country, scorched by day, cold by night, without drink, without women. Any other soldiers in Europe would have mutinied long ago.'
There were several foreign war-correspondents with our army. Of these the only Frenchman, M. Carrère of the 'Matin' was an ardent pro-Boer. Read his book, 'En pleine Epopée.' He is bitter against our policy and our politicians. His eyes are very keenly open for flaws in our Army. But from cover to cover he has nothing but praise for the devoted Tommy and his chivalrous officer.
Three American correspondents were there—there may have been more, but three I knew. These were Messrs. Julian Ralph, James Barnes, and Unger. The first two were much impressed by the humanity and discipline of the British troops, though Mr. Ralph was, I believe, like Captain Slocum, of the opinion that it was occasionally pushed too far. Mr. Unger's published impressions of the war confirm the same idea.
Here, then, is practical unanimity among all the impartial witnesses. On the opinions of our own correspondents I will not dwell. I have the advantage of knowing nearly all of them, and though among them are several gentlemen who have a chivalrous and idealistic sympathy for the Boers, I cannot recollect that I have ever once heard one of them record a single instance where they had been shocked by the conduct of a soldier.
I may, perhaps, be permitted to add my own testimony. I went to South Africa with great sympathy for the individual Boer, and with a belief that I should find soldiers in the field very different from soldiers in peace. I was three months in Bloemfontein when there were from ten to thirty thousand men encamped round the town. During that time I only once saw a man drunk. I never saw a man drunk during the short time that I was in Pretoria and Johannesburg. I once heard of a soldier striking a Boer. It was because the man had refused to raise his hat at the burial of the soldier's comrade. I not only never saw any outrage, but in many confidential talks with officers I never heard of one. I saw twenty Boer prisoners within five minutes of their capture. The soldiers were giving them cigarettes. Only two assaults on women came to my ears while I was in Africa. In each case the culprit was a Kaffir, and the deed was promptly avenged by the British Army.
Miss Hobhouse has mixed with a great number of refugees, many of whom are naturally very bitter against us. She is not reticent as to the tales which they told her. Not one of them all has a story of outrage. One woman, she says, was kicked by a drunken soldier, for which, she adds, he was punished.
An inmate of the Springfontein Refugee Camp, Mr. Maltman, of Philippolis, writes: 'All the Boer women here speak in the highest terms of the treatment they have received at the hands of soldiers.'
Here is the testimony of a burgher's wife, Mrs. Van Niekirk:
'Will you kindly allow me to give my testimony to the kindly treatment of the Dutch women and children by the British troops? As the wife of a Transvaal burgher, I have lived in Krugersdorp since 1897, until three weeks ago. The town was taken in June last, and since then there has always been a fairly large force of men in, or quite near it; indeed, on several occasions the numbers have amounted to ten thousand, or more, and have been of many different regiments, English, Scotch, Irish, and Colonial.
'At such times the streets and the few shops open were thronged with soldiers, while, even when the town was quietest, there were always numbers of them about. The women were at first afraid, but they very soon discovered that they could move about as freely as in ordinary times, without fear of any annoyance. During the whole six months I never saw or heard of a single instance where a woman was treated with the slightest disrespect; the bearing of both officers and men was invariably deferential to all women, and kindly to children.
'Last July a detachment of Gordon Highlanders was camped on the veldt for a week in front of my house, which stands almost alone on the outskirts of the town. My husband was away during the time, and I was alone with my young children. The nearest camp-fires were not a dozen yards from my gate, yet I never experienced the least annoyance, nor missed from my ground even so much as a stick of wood.
'I could multiply instances, but after this little need be said; if I had not seen it I could not have believed that a victorious army would behave with such humanity and consideration in the territory of a people even then in arms against them; and if they behave so in Krugersdorp—a place mind you, where during the last six months their doings could not be openly criticised—is it likely that their conduct in other places will be so entirely different?—I am, &c.'
This is the testimony of a woman. Here it is from a man's point of view—an old burgher who had very special opportunities for studying the conduct of British troops:
'Allow me to state here, once for all, that throughout the entire war all the English officers—and a great many of all ranks came to see us—treated us with the greatest kindness and courtesy. They knew, too, that I was a burgher, and that I had several sons who were doing their duty in fighting for the independence of our country.
'I return once more to the conduct of "Tommy Atkins." We saw numbers of convoys, some of which were more than sixteen kilometres long, bringing a great many Boer prisoners and their families to Pretoria. Tommy was everywhere, watching the wagons, marching without a word in clouds of dust, frequently in mud to the ankle, never rough towards women or children, as has been so often repeated. We have heard the contrary stated by our tried friends and by our own children.
'During halts, Tommy was the best and readiest creature imaginable; he got the water boiled, laid himself out to attend to the children in a thousand ways, and comforted the broken-hearted mothers. His hand was ready with help for every invalid. At our farm he helped of his own free will in saving a drowning beast, or in removing a fat pig that had been killed, sometimes even in rounding-in cattle that had strayed out of bounds, and so on, giving help in a thousand ways. For all that he wanted no reward. Rewards he refused altogether simply because it was good-feeling which made him do these things.
'Sir, these are indisputable facts, which I have repeated as accurately as I could, leaving your readers to draw their own conclusions.
'Old Burgher of the Transvaal.
'Rustenburg, Transvaal: July 1901.'
A long and curious letter appears in the 'Suisse Liberale' from a young Swiss who spent the whole time of the war upon a farm in the Thabanchu district of the Orange Free State. It is very impartial in its judgments, and remarks, among other things—talking of the life of the local garrison:
'They make frequent visits, send out invitations, and organise picnics. In the town they get up charity concerts, balls, sports, and horse-races. It is a curious thing that the English, even when they are at war, cannot live without their usual sports, and the conquered do not show the slightest repugnance to joining the victors in their games or to mixing in society with them.'
Is this consistent with stories of military brutality? It appears to be a very modified hell which is loose in that portion of Africa.
Mr. and Mrs. Osborn Howe were the directors of the Camp Soldiers' Homes in South Africa. They have seen as much of the army in South Africa as most people, and have looked at it with critical eyes. Here are some of their conclusions:
'Neither we nor our staff, scattered between De Aar and Pretoria, have ever heard of a single case of outrage or ill-treatment. One and all indignantly denied the accusations against our soldiers, and have given us many instances of great kindness shown by the troops towards helpless women and children.
'We ourselves saw nothing which we could not tell to a gathering of schoolgirls.
'When living in the Orange River Colony we were in the midst of the farm-burning district, and witnessed Lord Roberts's efforts to spare the people suffering by issuing warning proclamations. We saw how the officers waited till the farmers had had time to digest these repeated warnings, and then with what reluctance both officers and men went to carry out the work of destruction, but we never heard of a case where there had not first been some overt act on the part of the enemy.
'A story of reported outrage at a Dutch mission-house in the slums of a large town was found after personal investigation to have been anything but an outrage as the result proved. The young soldiers who entered the house when the door was opened in answer to their knock, withdrew after they had discovered that the ladies who occupied the house were missionaries, nor had anything been removed or injured. But the garbled story, with its misuse of the word "outrage," reached a district in Cape Colony where it did no little mischief in fanning the flames of animosity and rebellion. Thus the reported "outrage" was not even a common assault.
'It may be said that our love for the soldiers has warped our judgment. We would say we love God, and we love truth more than the honour of our soldiers. If there was another side we should not hide it.'
So much for the general facts. But it is notoriously difficult to prove a negative. Let us turn then to particular instances which have been raked together, and see what can be made of them. One of them occurred early in the war, when it was stated that there had been two assaults upon women in Northern Natal. Here are the lies duly nailed to the counter.
The Vicar of Dundee, Colony of Natal, on being requested by the Bishop of Natal to inquire into the truth of a statement that four women of a family near Dundee, named Bester, were outraged by English soldiers, reported that he had had an interview with the father-in-law of Bester, Jacobus Maritz, who is one of the most influential farmers in the district. Maritz said to him:
'Well, Mr. Bailey, you do right in coming to me, for our family (Mrs. Bester is his daughter) is the only family of Bester in the district, and you can say from me, that the story is nothing but a pack of lies.'
The other case, alleged at Dundee, furnished no names. The only thing specified was that one of the men was in the uniform of a Highlander. The Vicar replies to this: 'As you are aware, no Highland regiment has been stationed at Dundee during the war.'
The weapons of slander were blunted by the fact that about May 1900 the Transvaal Government, wishing to allay the fears of the women in the farms, published an announcement in the 'Volksstem' advising every burgher to leave his family upon the farms as the enemy were treating women and children with the utmost consideration and respect. We know that both President Kruger and General Botha acted up to this advice by leaving their own wives under our protection while they carried on their campaign against us. At the very instant that Kruger was falsely stating at Marseilles that we were making war on women and children, his own infirm wife was being so sedulously guarded by British soldiers that the passer-by was not even allowed to stare curiously at the windows or to photograph the house.
There was a lull in the campaign of calumny which was made up for by the whole-hearted effort of M. van Broekhuizen. This man was a minister in Pretoria, and, like most of the Dutch ministers, a red-hot politician. Having given his parole to restrain his sentiments, he was found to be still preaching inflammatory political sermons; so he was advised to leave, and given a passage gratis to Europe. He signalised his arrival by an article printed in the 'Independence Belge,' declaring among other statements that 30 per cent. of the Boer women had been ruined by the British troops. Such a statement from such a source raised a feeling of horror in Europe, and one of deep anger and incredulity on the side of those who knew the British Army. The letter was forwarded to Pretoria for investigation, and elicited the following unofficial comments from M. Constançon, the former Swiss Consul in that city, who had been present during the whole British occupation:
'I am more than astonished, I am disgusted, that a Lausanne paper should print such abominable and filthy lies.
'The whole article from the beginning to the end is nothing but a pack of lies, and the writer, a minister of the Gospel, of all men, ought to know better than to perjure himself and his office in the way he does.
'I have lived for the last eighteen years in or around Pretoria, and know almost every Boer family in the district. The two names mentioned by Broekhuizen of women assaulted by the troops are quite unknown to me, and are certainly not Boer names.
'Ever since the entry of the troops in the Transvaal, I have travelled constantly through the whole of Pretoria district and part of the Waterberg. I have often put up at Boer houses for the night, and stopped at all houses on my road on my business. In most of these houses the men were away fighting against the British; women and children alone were to be found on the farms. Nowhere and in no instance have I heard a single word of complaint against the troops; here and there a few fowls were missing and fencing poles pulled out for firewood; but this can only be expected from troops on the march. On the other hand, the women could not say enough in praise of the soldiers, and their behaviour towards their sex. Whenever a camp was established close to the homestead, the officers have always had a picket placed round the house for the object of preventing all pilfering, and the women, rich or poor, have everywhere been treated as ladies.
'Why the Boer women were so unanimous in their praises is because they were far from expecting such treatment at the hands of the victors.
'Our town is divided into wards, and every woman and child has been fed whenever they were without support, and in one ward we have actually five hundred of these receiving rations from the British Government, although in most cases the men are still fighting. In the towns the behaviour of the troops has been, admirable, all canteens have been closed, and in the last six months I have only seen two cases of drunkenness amongst soldiers.
'We are quite a little Swiss colony here, and I don't know one of my countrymen who would not endorse every word of my statement.
'Many may have sympathies with the Boers, but in all justice they will always give credit to the British troops and their officers for the humane way this war is carried on, and for the splendid way in which Tommy Atkins behaves himself.'
With this was printed in the 'Gazette de Lausanne,' which instituted the inquiry, a letter from Mr. Gray, Presbyterian minister in Pretoria, which says:
'A few days ago I received an extract from your issue of November 17 last entitled "La Civilisation Anglaise en Afrique." It consisted mainly of a letter over the signature of H. D. van Broekhuizen (not Broesehuizen as printed), Boer pastor of Pretoria. Allow me, sir, to assure you that the wholesale statements with regard to the atrocities of British soldiers contained in that letter are a tissue of falsehoods, and constitute an unfounded calumny which it would be difficult to parallel in the annals of warfare. It is difficult to conceive the motives that actuate the writer, but that they have been violent enough to make him absolutely reckless as to facts, is evident.
'When I got the article from your paper I immediately went out to make inquiry as to what possible foundation there was for the charges hurled so wildly at the British soldier. Having lived in Pretoria for the last eleven years I am acquainted with many of the local Boers. Those of them whom I questioned assured me that they had never known a case in which British soldiers had outraged a woman. One case was rumoured, but had never been substantiated, and was regarded as very doubtful. Let it be granted that some solitary cases of rudeness may have occurred, that would not be surprising under the circumstances. Still it would not furnish a ground for the libelling of a whole army. The astonishing fact is, however, that in this country one only hears of the surprise everywhere felt that the British soldier has been so self-restrained and deferential towards women.'
To this M. van Broekhuizen's feeble reply was that there was no ex-consul of the name of Constançon in Pretoria. The 'Gazette de Lausanne' then pointed out that the gentleman was well known, that he had acted in that capacity for many years, and added that if M. van Broekhuizen was so ill-informed upon so simple a matter, it was not likely that he was very correct upon other more contentious ones. Thus again a false coin was nailed to the counter, but only after it had circulated so widely that many who had passed it would never know that it was proved to be base metal. Incredible as it may seem, the infamous falsehood was repeated in 1902 by a Dr. Vallentin, in the 'Deutsche Rundschau,' from which it was copied into other leading German papers without any reference to its previous disproof in 1901.
Now we will turn for a moment to the evidence of Miss Alice Bron, the devoted Belgian nurse, who served on both sides during the war and has therefore a fair standard of comparison. Here are a few sentences from her reports:
'I have so often heard it said and repeated that the British soldiers are the dregs of London and the scum of the criminal classes, that their conduct astounded me.'
This is the opinion of a lady who spent two years in the service of humanity on the veldt.
Here are one or two other sidelights from Miss Bron:
'How grateful and respectful they all are! I go to the hospital at night without the slightest fear, and when a sentry hears my reply, "Sister," to his challenge, he always humbly begs my pardon.
'I have seen the last of them and their affectionate attentions, their respect, and their confidence. On this head I could relate many instances of exquisite feeling on the part of these poor soldiers.
'A wounded English soldier was speaking of Cronje. "Ah, sister," said he, "I am glad that we have made so many prisoners."
'"Why?" I asked, fearing to hear words of hatred.
'"Oh," he said, "I was glad to hear it because I know that they at least would be neither wounded nor killed. They will not leave wife nor children, neither will they suffer what we are suffering."'
She describes how she met General Wavell:
'"You see I have come to protect you," he said.
'We smiled and bowed, and I thought, "I know your soldiers too well, General. We don't need any protection."'
But war may have brutalised the combatants, and so it is of interest to have Nurse Bron's impressions at the end of 1901. She gives her conversation with a Boer:
'"All that I have to say to you is that what you did down there has never been seen in any other war. Never in any country in the world has such a dastardly act been committed as the shooting of one who goes to meet the white flag."
'Very pale, the chief, a true "gentleman" fifty-three years old, and the father of eleven children, answered, "You are right, sister."
'"And since we talk of these things," I said, "I will say that I understand very well that you are defending your country, but what I do not excuse is your lying as you do about these English."
'"We repeat what we are told."
'"No," I said, "you all of you lie, and you know that you are lying, with the Bible on your knees and invoking the name of God, and, thanks to your lies, all Europe believes that the English army is composed of assassins and thieves. You see how they treat you here!"'
She proceeds to show how they were treated. The patients, it may be observed, were not Boer combatants but Cape rebels, liable to instant execution. This is the diet after operations:
'For eight, or ten days, the patient has champagne of the choicest French brands (her italics), in considerable quantity, then old cognac, and finally port, stout, or ale at choice, with five or six eggs a day beaten up in brandy and milk, arriving at last at a complete diet of which I, though perfectly well, could not have absorbed the half.'
'This,' she says, 'is another instance of the "ferocity" with which, according to the European press, the English butchers have conducted the war.'
The Sisters of Nazareth in South Africa are a body who are above political or racial prejudice. Here are the published words of the Mother Superior:
'I receive letters by every mail, but a word that would imply the least shadow of reproach on the conduct of the soldiers has never been written. As for the British soldier in general, our sisters in various parts of the colony, who have come a great deal in contact with the military of all ranks, state that they can never say enough of their courtesy, politeness, and good behaviour at all times.'
These are not the impressions which the Boer agents, with their command of secret-service money and their influence on the European press, have given to the world. A constant stream of misrepresentations and lies have poisoned the mind of Europe and have made a deep and enduring breach between ourselves and our German kinsmen.
The British troops have been accused of shooting women. It is wonderful that many women have not been shot, for it has not been unusual for farmhouses to be defended by the men when there were women within. As a matter of fact, however, very few cases have occurred where a woman has been injured. One amazon was killed in the fighting line, rifle in hand, outside Ladysmith. A second victim furnished the famous Eloff myth, which gave material for many cartoons and editorials. The accusation was that in cold blood we had shot Kruger's niece, and a Berlin morning paper told the story, with many artistic embellishments, as follows:
'As the Boer saw his wife down, just able to raise herself, he made an attempt to run to her assistance, but the inhumans held him fast. The officer assured him that she was shot through the temples and must anyhow die, and they left her therefore lying. In the evening he heard his name called. It was his wife who still lived after twelve hours' agony. When they reached Rustenburg she was dead. This woman was Frau Eloff, Kruger's niece. In addition to the sympathy for the loss Kruger has suffered, this report will renew the bitter feeling of all against the brutality of English warfare.'
This story was dished up in many ways by many papers. Here is Lord Kitchener's plain account of the matter:
'No woman of that name has been killed, but the report may refer to the death of a Mrs. Vandermerve, who unfortunately was killed at a farmhouse from which her husband was firing. Mrs. Vandermerve is a sister-in-law of Eloff. The death of a woman from a stray bullet is greatly to be regretted, but it appears clear that her husband was responsible for the fighting which caused the accident.'
So perished another myth. I observe, however, now (Christmas 1901), a continental journalist describing an interview with Kruger says, 'he wore mourning on account of his niece who died of a gun-shot.' Might not his wife's death possibly account for the mourning?
And yet another invention which is destined to the same fate, is the story that at the skirmish of Graspan, near Reitz, upon June 6, the British used the Boer women as cover, a subject which also afforded excellent material for the caricaturists of the Fatherland. The picture of rows of charming Boer maidens chained in the open with bloodthirsty soldiers crouching behind them was too alluring for the tender-hearted artist. Nothing was wanting for a perfect cartoon—except the original fact. Here is the report as it appeared in a German paper:
'When the English on June 6 were attacked by the Boers, they ordered the women and children to leave the wagons. Placing these in front of the soldiers, they shot beneath the women's arms upon the approaching Boers. Eight women and two children fell through the Boers' fire. When the Boers saw this they stopped firing. Yelling like wild beasts, they broke through the soldiers' lines, beating to death the Tommies like mad dogs with the butt ends of their rifles.'
The true circumstances of the action so far as they can be collected are as follows: Early on June 6 Major Sladen, with 200 mounted infantry, ran down a Boer convoy of 100 wagons. He took forty-five male prisoners, and the wagons were full of women and children. He halted his men and waited for the main British force (De Lisle's) to come up. While he was waiting he was fiercely attacked by a large body of Boers, five or six hundred, under De Wet. The British threw themselves into a Kaffir kraal and made a desperate resistance. The long train of wagons with the women still in them extended from this village right across the plain, and the Boers used them as cover in skirmishing up to the village. The result was that the women and children were under a double fire from either side. One woman and two children appear to have been hit, though whether by Boer or Briton it must have been difficult to determine. The convoy and the prisoners remained eventually in the hands of the British. It will be seen then that it is as just to say that the Boers used their women as cover for their advance as the British for their defence. Probably in the heat of the action both sides thought more of the wagons than of what was inside them.
These, with one case at Middelburg, where in a night attack of the Boers one or two inmates of the refugee camp are said to have been accidentally hit, form the only known instances in the war. And yet so well known a paper as the German 'Kladderadatsch' is not ashamed to publish a picture of a ruined farm with dead women strewed round it, and the male child hanging from the branch of a tree. The 'Kladderadatsch' has a reputation as a comic paper, but there should be some limits to its facetiousness.
In his pamphlet on 'Methods of Barbarism,' Mr. Stead has recently produced a chapter called 'A Glimpse of the Hellish Panorama,' in which he deals with the evidence at the Spoelstra trial. Spoelstra was a Hollander who, having sworn an oath of neutrality, afterwards despatched a letter to a Dutch newspaper without submitting it to a censor, in which he made libellous attacks upon the British Army. He was tried for the offence and sentenced to a fine of 100l., his imprisonment being remitted. In the course of the trial he called a number of witnesses for the purpose of supporting his charges against the troops, and it is on their evidence that Mr. Stead dilates under the characteristic headline given above.
Mr. Stead begins his indictment by a paragraph which speaks for itself: 'It is a cant cry with many persons, by no means confined to those who have advocated the war, that the British Army has spent two years in the South African Republics without a single case of impropriety being proved against a single soldier. I should be very glad to believe it; but there is Rudyard Kipling's familiar saying that Tommy Atkins is no plaster saint, but a single man in barracks, or, in this case, a single man in camp, remarkably like other human beings. We all know him at home. There is not one father of a family in the House or on the London Press who would allow his servant girl to remain out all night on a public common in England in time of profound peace in the company of a score of soldiers. If he did, he would feel that he had exposed the girl to the loss of her character. This is not merely admitted, but acted upon by all decent people who live in garrison towns or in the neighbourhood of barracks. Why, then, should they suppose that when the same men are released from all the restraints of civilisation, and sent forth to burn, destroy, and loot at their own sweet will and pleasure, they will suddenly undergo so complete a transformation as to scrupulously respect the wives and daughters of the enemy? It is very unpopular to say this, and I already hear in advance the shrieks of execration of those who will declare that I am calumniating the gallant soldiers who are spending their lives in the defence of the interests of the Empire. But I do not say a word against our soldiers. I only say that they are men.'
'It is an unpleasant fact, but it has got to be faced like other facts. No war can be conducted—and this war has not been conducted—without exposing multitudes of women, married and single, to the worst extremities of outrage. It is an inevitable incident of war. It is one of the normal phenomena of the military Inferno. It is absolutely impossible to attempt any comparative or quantitative estimate of the number of women who have suffered wrong at the hands of our troops.'
Was ever such an argument adduced in this world upon a serious matter! When stripped of its rhetoric it amounts to this, '250,000 men have committed outrages. How do I prove it? Because they are 250,000 men, and therefore must commit outrages.' Putting all chivalry, sense of duty, and every higher consideration upon one side, is Mr. Stead not aware that if a soldier had done such a thing and if his victim could have pointed him out, the man's life would be measured by the time that was needed to collect a military court to try him? Is there a soldier who does not know this? Is there a Boer who does not know it? It is the one offence for which there would be no possible forgiveness. Are the Boers so meek-spirited a race that they have no desire for vengeance? Would any officer take the responsibility of not reporting a man who was accused of such a crime? Where, then, are the lists of the men who must have suffered if this cruel accusation were true? There are no such lists, because such things have never occurred.
Leading up to the events of the trial, Mr. Stead curdles our blood by talking of the eleven women who stood up upon oath to testify to the ill-treatment which they had received at the hands of our troops. Taken with the context, the casual reader would naturally imagine that these eleven women were all complaining of some sexual ill-usage. In the very next sentence he talks about 'such horrible and shameful incidents.' But on examination it proves that eight out of the eleven cases have nothing sexual or, indeed, in many of them, anything criminal in their character. One is, that a coffin was dug up to see if there were arms in it. On this occasion the search was a failure, though it has before now been a success. Another was that the bed of a sick woman was searched—without any suggestion of indelicacy. Two others, that women had been confined while on the trek in wagons. 'The soldiers did not bother the woman during or after the confinement. They did not peep into the wagon,' said the witness. These are the trivialities which Mr. Stead tries to bluff us into classifying as 'horrible and shameful incidents.'
But there were three alleged cases of assault upon women. One of them is laid to the charge of a certain Mr. E——n, of the Intelligence Department. Now, the use of Mr. and the description 'Intelligence Department' make it very doubtful whether this man could be called a member of the British Army at all. The inference is that he was a civilian, and further, that he was a Dutch civilian. British names which will fit E——n are not common, while the Dutch name Esselen or Enslin is extremely so. 'I have never been to the Intelligence Department to find out whether he really belonged to that Department,' said the woman. She adds that E——n acted as an interpreter. Surely, then, he must have been a Dutchman. In that case, why is his name the only name which is disguised? Is it not a little suggestive?
The second case was that of Mrs. Gouws, whose unfortunate experience was communicated to Pastor van Broekhuizen, and had such an effect upon him as to cause him to declare that 30 per cent. of the women of the country had been ruined. Mrs. Gouws certainly appears by her own account to have been very roughly treated, though she does not assert that her assailant went to the last extremity—or, indeed, that he did more than use coarse terms in his conversation. The husband in his evidence says: 'I have seen a great deal of soldiers, and they behaved well, and I could speak well of them.' He added that a British officer had taken his wife's deposition, and that both the Provost-Marshal and the Military Governor were interesting themselves in the case. Though no actual assault was committed, it is to be hoped that the man who was rude to a helpless woman will sooner or later be identified and punished.
There remains one case, that of Mrs. Botha of Rustenburg, which, if her account is corroborated, is as bad as it could be. The mystery of the case lies in the fact that by her own account a British force was encamped close by, and yet that neither she nor her husband made the complaint which would have brought most summary punishment upon the criminal. This could not have been from a shrinking from publicity, since she was ready to tell the story in Court. There is not the least indication who this solitary soldier may have been, and even the date was unknown to the complainant. What can be done in such a case? The President of the court-martial, with a burst of indignation which shows that he at least does not share Mr. Stead's views upon the frequency of such crimes in South Africa, cried: 'If such a most awful thing happened to a woman, would it not be the first thing for a man to do to rush out and bring the guilty man to justice? He ought to risk his life for that. There was no reason for him to be frightened. We English are not a barbarous nation.' The husband, however, had taken no steps. We may be very sure that the case still engages the earnest attention of our Provost-Marshal, and that the man, if he exists, will sooner or later form an object-lesson upon discipline and humanity to the nearest garrison. Such was the Spoelstra trial. Mr. Stead talks fluently of the charges made, but deliberately omits the essential fact that after a patient hearing not one of them was substantiated.
I cannot end the chapter better than with the words of the Rev. P. S. Bosman, head of the Dutch Reformed Church at Pretoria:
'Not a single case of criminal assault or rape by non-commissioned officers or men of the British Army in Pretoria on Boer women has come to my knowledge. I asked several gentlemen in turn about this point and their testimony is the same as mine.'
But Mr. Stead says that it must be so because there are 250,000 men in Africa. Could the perversion of argument go further? Which are we to believe, our enemy upon the spot or the journalist in London?