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    Chapter 13

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    Chapter 14
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    Monday, October 30th, 1899, is not a date which can be looked back to
    with satisfaction by any Briton. In a scrambling and ill-managed
    action we had lost our detached left wing almost to a man, while our
    right had been hustled with no great loss but with some ignominy into
    Ladysmith. Our guns had been outshot, our infantry checked, and our
    cavalry paralysed. Eight hundred prisoners may seem no great loss when
    compared with a Sedan, or even with an Ulm; but such matters are
    comparative, and the force which laid down its arms at Nicholson's Nek
    is the largest British force which has surrendered since the days of
    our great grandfathers, when the egregious Duke of York commanded in

    Sir George White was now confronted with the certainty of an
    investment, an event for which apparently no preparation had been
    made, since with an open railway behind him so many useless mouths had
    been permitted to remain in the town. Ladysmith lies in a hollow and
    is dominated by a ring of hills, some near and some distant. The near
    ones were in our hands, but no attempt had been made in the early days
    of the war to fortify and hold Bulwana, Lombard's Kop, and the other
    positions from which the town might be shelled. Whether these might or
    might not have been successfully held has been much disputed by
    military men, the balance of opinion being that Bulwana, at least,
    which has a water-supply of its own, might have been retained. This
    question, however, was already academic, as the outer hills were in
    the hands of the enemy. As it was, the inner line -- Caesar's Camp,
    Wagon Hill, Rifleman's Post, and round to Helpmakaar Hill -- made a
    perimeter of fourteen miles, and the difficulty of retaining so
    extensive a line goes far to exonerate General White, not only for
    abandoning the outer hills, but also for retaining his cavalry in the

    After the battle of Ladysmith and the retreat of the British, the
    Boers in their deliberate but effective fashion set about the
    investment of the town, while the British commander accepted the same
    as inevitable, content if he could stem and hold back from the colony
    the threatened flood of invasion. On Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday,
    and Friday the commandoes gradually closed in upon the south and east,
    harassed by some cavalry operations and reconnaissances upon our part,
    the effect of which was much exaggerated by the press. On Thursday,
    November 2nd, the last train escaped under a brisk fire, the
    passengers upon the wrong side of the seats. At 2 P.M. on the same day
    the telegraph line was cut, and the lonely town settled herself
    somberly down to the task of holding off the exultant Boers until the
    day-supposed to be imminent -- when the relieving army should appear from
    among the labyrinth of mountains which lay to the south of them. Some
    there were who, knowing both the enemy and the mountains, felt a cold
    chill within their hearts as they asked themselves how an army was to
    come through, but the greater number, from General to private, trusted
    implicitly in the valour of their comrades and in the luck of the
    British Army.

    One example of that historical luck was ever before their eyes in the
    shape of those invaluable naval guns which had arrived so dramatically
    at the very crisis of the fight, in time to check the monster on
    Pepworth Hill and to cover the retreat of the army. But for them the
    besieged must have lain impotent under the muzzles of the huge
    Creusots. But in spite of the naive claims put forward by the Boers
    to some special Providence -- a process which a friendly German critic
    described as 'commandeering the Almighty' -- it is certain that in a very
    peculiar degree, in the early months of this war there came again and
    again a happy chance, or a merciful interposition, which saved the
    British from disaster. Now in this first week of November, when every
    hill, north and south and east and west, flashed and smoked, and the
    great 96-pound shells groaned and screamed over the town, it was to
    the long thin 4·7's and to the hearty bearded men who worked them,
    that soldiers and townsfolk looked for help. These guns of Lambton's,
    supplemented by two old-fashioned 6·3 howitzers manned by survivors
    from No.10 Mountain Battery, did all that was possible to keep down
    the fire of the heavy Boer guns. If they could not save, they could at
    least hit back, and punishment is not so bad to bear when one is
    giving as well as receiving.

    By the end of the first week of November the Boers had established
    their circle of fire. On the east of the town, broken by the loops of
    the Klip River, is a broad green plain, some miles in extent, which
    furnished grazing ground for the horses and cattle of the
    besieged. Beyond it rises into a long flat-topped hill the famous
    Bulwana, upon which lay one great Creusot and several smaller guns.
    To the north, on Pepworth Hill, was another Creusot, and between the
    two were the Boer batteries upon Lombard's Kop. The British naval guns
    were placed upon this side, for, as the open loop formed by the river
    lies at this end, it is the part of the defences which is most liable
    to assault. From thence all round the west down to Besters in the
    south was a continuous series of hills, each crowned with Boer guns,
    which, if they could not harm the distant town, were at least
    effective in holding the garrison to its lines. So formidable were
    these positions that, amid much outspoken criticism, it has never been
    suggested that White would have been justified with a limited garrison
    in incurring the heavy loss of life which must have followed an
    attempt to force them.

    The first few days of the siege were clouded by the death of
    Lieutenant Egerton of the 'Powerful,' one of the most promising
    officers in the Navy. One leg and the other foot were carried off, as
    he lay upon the sandbag parapet watching the effect of our fire.
    'There's an end of my cricket,' said the gallant sportsman, and he was
    carried to the rear with a cigar between his clenched teeth.

    On November 3rd a strong cavalry reconnaissance was pushed down the
    Colenso road to ascertain the force which the enemy had in that
    direction. Colonel Brocklehurst took with him the 18th and 19th
    Hussars, the 5th Lancers and the 5th Dragoon Guards, with the Light
    Horse and the Natal Volunteers. Some desultory fighting ensued which
    achieved no end, and was chiefly remarkable for the excellent
    behaviour of the Colonials, who showed that they were the equals of
    the Regulars in gallantry and their superiors in the tactics which
    such a country requires. The death of Major Taunton, Captain Knapp,
    and young Brabant, the son of the General who did such good service at
    a later stage of the war, was a heavy price to pay for the knowledge
    that the Boers were in considerable strength to the south.

    By the end of this week the town had already settled down to the
    routine of the siege. General Joubert, with the chivalry which had
    always distinguished him, had permitted the garrison to send out the
    non-combatants to a place called Intombi Camp (promptly named
    Funkersdorp by the facetious) where they were safe from the shells,
    though the burden of their support still fell of course upon the
    much-tried commissariat. The hale and male of the townsfolk refused
    for the most part to avoid the common danger, and clung tenaciously to
    their shot-torn village. Fortunately the river has worn down its
    banks until it runs through a deep channel, in the sides of which it
    was found to be possible to hollow out caves which were practically
    bomb-proof. Here for some months the townsfolk led a troglodytic
    existence, returning to their homes upon that much appreciated seventh
    day of rest which was granted to them by their Sabbatarian besiegers.

    The perimeter of the defence had been divided off so that each corps
    might be responsible for its own section. To the south was the
    Manchester Regiment upon the hill called Cæsar's Camp. Between
    Lombard's Kop and the town, on the north-east, were the Devons. To
    the north, at what seemed the vulnerable point, were the Rifle
    Brigade, the Rifles, and the remains of the 18th Hussars. To the west
    were the 5th Lancers, 19th Hussars, and 5th Dragoon Guards. The rest
    of the force was encamped round the outskirts of the town.

    There appears to have been some idea in the Boer mind that the mere
    fact that they held a dominant position over the town would soon
    necessitate the surrender of the army. At the end of a week they had
    realised, however, just as the British had, that a siege lay before
    both. Their fire upon the town was heavy but not deadly, though it
    became more effective as the weeks went on. Their practice at a range
    of five miles was exceedingly accurate. At the same time their
    riflemen became more venturesome, and on Tuesday, November 7th, they
    made a half-hearted attack upon the Manchesters' position on the
    south, which was driven back without difficulty. On the 9th, however,
    their attempt was of a more serious and sustained character. It began
    with a heavy shell-fire and with a demonstration of rifle-fire from
    every side, which had for its object the prevention of reinforcements
    for the true point of danger, which again was Cæsar's Camp at the
    south. It is evident that the Boers had from the beginning made up
    their minds that here lay the key of the position, as the two serious
    attacks-that of November 9th and that of January 6th-were directed
    upon this point.

    The Manchesters at Cæsar's Camp had been reinforced by the 1st
    battalion 60th Rifles, who held the prolongation of the same ridge,
    which is called Waggon Hill. With the dawn it was found that the Boer
    riflemen were within eight hundred yards, and from then till evening a
    constant fire was maintained upon the hill. The Boer, however, save
    when the odds are all in his favour, is not, in spite of his
    considerable personal bravery, at his best in attack. His racial
    traditions, depending upon the necessity for economy of human life,
    are all opposed to it. As a consequence two regiments well posted were
    able to hold them off all day with a loss which did not exceed thirty
    killed and wounded, while the enemy, exposed to the shrapnel of the
    42nd battery, as well as the rifle-fire of the infantry, must have
    suffered very much more severely. The result of the action was a
    well-grounded belief that in daylight there was very little chance of
    the Boers being able to carry the lines. As the date was that of the
    Prince of Wales's birthday, a salute of twenty-one shotted naval guns
    wound up a successful day.

    The failure of the attempt upon Ladysmith seems to have convinced the
    enemy that a waiting game, in which hunger, shell-fire, and disease
    were their allies, would be surer and less expensive than an open
    assault. From their distant hilltops they continued to plague the
    town, while garrison and citizens sat grimly patient, and learned to
    endure if not to enjoy the crash of the 96-pound shells, and the
    patter of shrapnel upon their corrugated-iron roofs. The supplies were
    adequate, and the besieged were fortunate in the presence of a
    first-class organiser, Colonel Ward of Islington fame, who with the
    assistance of Colonel Stoneman systematised the collection and issue
    of all the food, civil and military, so as to stretch it to its
    utmost. With rain overhead and mud underfoot, chafing at their own
    idleness and humiliated by their own position1 the soldiers waited
    through the weary weeks for the relief which never came. On some days
    there was more shell-fire, on some less; on some there was sniping, on
    some none; on some they sent a little feeler of cavalry and guns out
    of the town, on most they lay still -- such were the ups and downs of
    life in Ladysmith. The inevitable siege paper, 'The Ladysmith Lyre,'
    appeared, and did something to relieve the monotony by the
    exasperation of its jokes. Night, morning, and noon the shells rained
    upon the town until the most timid learned fatalism if not bravery.
    The crash of the percussion, and the strange musical tang of the
    shrapnel sounded ever in their ears. With their glasses the garrison
    could see the gay frocks and parasols of the Boer ladies who had come
    down by train to see the torture of the doomed town.

    The Boers were sufficiently numerous, aided by their strong positions
    and excellent artillery, to mask the Ladysmith force and to sweep on
    at once to the conquest of Natal. Had they done so it is hard to see
    what could have prevented them from riding their horses down to salt
    water. A few odds and ends, half battalions and local volunteers,
    stood between them and Durban. But here, as on the Orange River, a
    singular paralysis seems to have struck them. When the road lay clear
    before them the first transports of the army corps were hardly past
    St. Vincent, but before they had made up their mind to take that road
    the harbour of Durban was packed with our shipping and ten thousand
    men had thrown themselves across their path.

    For a moment we may leave the fortunes of Ladysmith to follow this
    southerly movement of the Boers. Within two days of the investment of
    the town they had swung round their left flank and attacked Colenso,
    twelve miles south, shelling the Durban Light Infantry out of their
    post with a long-range fire. The British fell back twenty-seven miles
    and concentrated at Estcourt, leaving the all-important Colenso
    railway-bridge in the hands of the enemy. From this onwards they held
    the north of the Tugela, and many a widow wore crepe before we got our
    grip upon it once more. Never was there a more critical week in the
    war, but having got Colenso the Boers did little more. They formally
    annexed the whole of Northern Natal to the Orange Free State -- a
    dangerous precedent when the tables should be turned. With amazing
    assurance the burghers pegged out farms for themselves and sent for
    their people to occupy these newly won estates.

    On November 5th the Boers had remained so inert that the British
    returned in small force to Colenso and removed some stores -- which
    seems to suggest that the original retirement was premature. Four days
    passed in inactivity -- four precious days for us -- and on the
    evening of the fourth, November 9th, the watchers on the signal
    station at Table Mountain saw the smoke of a great steamer coming past
    Robben Island. It was the 'Roslin Castle' with the first of the
    reinforcements. Within the week the 'Moor,' 'Yorkshire,' 'Aurania,'
    'Hawarden Castle,' 'Gascon,' Armenian,' 'Oriental,' and a fleet of
    others had passed for Durban with 15,000 men. Once again the command
    of the sea had saved the Empire.

    But, now that it was too late, the Boers suddenly took the initiative,
    and in dramatic fashion. North of Estcourt, where General Hildyard was
    being daily reinforced from the sea, there are two small townlets, or
    at least geographical (and railway) points. Frere is about ten miles
    north of Estcourt, and Chieveley is five miles north of that and about
    as far to the south of Colenso. On November 15th an armoured train
    was despatched from Estcourt to see what was going on up the
    line. Already one disaster had befallen us in this campaign on account
    of these clumsy contrivances, and a heavier one was now to confirm the
    opinion that, acting alone, they are totally inadmissible. As a means
    of carrying artillery for a force operating upon either flank of them,
    with an assured retreat behind, there may be a place for them in
    modern war, but as a method of scouting they appear to be the most
    inefficient and also the most expensive that has ever been
    invented. An intelligent horseman would gather more information, be
    less visible, and retain some freedom as to route. After our
    experience the armoured train may steam out of military history.

    The train contained ninety Dublin Fusiliers, eighty Durban Volunteers,
    and ten sailors, with a naval 7-pounder gun. Captain Haldane of the
    Gordons, Lieutenant Frankland (Dublin Fusiliers), and Winston
    Churchill, the well-known correspondent, accompanied the
    expedition. What might have been foreseen occurred. The train steamed
    into the advancing Boer army, was fired upon, tried to escape, found
    the rails blocked behind it, and upset. Dublins and Durbans were shot
    helplessly out of their trucks, under a heavy fire. A railway accident
    is a nervous thing, and so is an ambuscade, but the combination of the
    two must be appalling. Yet there were brave hearts which rose to the
    occasion. Haldane and Frankland rallied the troops, and Churchill the
    engine-driver. The engine was disentangled and sent on with its cab
    full of wounded. Churchill, who had escaped upon it, came gallantly
    back to share the fate of his comrades. The dazed shaken soldiers
    continued a futile resistance for some time, but there was neither
    help nor escape and nothing for them but surrender. The most Spartan
    military critic cannot blame them. A few slipped away besides those
    who escaped upon the engine. Our losses were two killed, twenty
    wounded, and about eighty taken. It is remarkable that of the three
    leaders both Haldane and Churchill succeeded in escaping from

    A double tide of armed men was now pouring into Southern Natal. From
    below, trainload after trainload of British regulars were coming up to
    the danger point, feted and cheered at every station. Lonely
    farmhouses near the line hung out their Union Jacks, and the folk on
    the stoep heard the roar of the choruses as the great trains swung
    upon their way. From above the Boers were flooding down, as Churchill
    saw them, dour, resolute, riding silently through the rain, or
    chanting hymns round their camp fires -- brave honest farmers, but
    standing unconsciously for mediævalism and corruption, even as our
    rough-tongued Tommies stood for civilisation, progress, and equal
    rights for all men.

    The invading force, the numbers of which could not have exceeded some
    few thousands, formidable only for their mobility, lapped round the
    more powerful but less active force at Estcourt, and struck behind it
    at its communications. There was for a day or two some discussion as
    to a further retreat, but Hildyard, strengthened by the advice and
    presence of Colonel Long, determined to hold his ground. On November
    21st the raiding Boers were as far south as Nottingham Road, a point
    thirty miles south of Estcourt and only forty miles north of the
    considerable city of Pietermaritzburg. The situation was
    serious. Either the invaders must be stopped, or the second largest
    town in the colony would be in their hands. From all sides came tales
    of plundered farms and broken households. Some at least of the
    raiders behaved with wanton brutality. Smashed pianos, shattered
    pictures, slaughtered stock, and vile inscriptions, all exhibit a
    predatory and violent side to the paradoxical Boer
    character.[Footnote: More than once I have heard the farmers in the
    Free State acknowledge that the ruin which had come upon them was a
    just retribution for the excesses of Natal.]

    The next British post behind Hildyard's at Estcourt was Barton's upon
    the Mooi River, thirty miles to the south. Upon this the Boers made a
    half-hearted attempt, but Joubert had begun to realise the strength of
    the British reinforcements and the impossibility with the numbers at
    his disposal of investing a succession of British posts. He ordered
    Botha to withdraw from Mooi River and begin his northerly trek.

    The turning-point of the Boer invasion of Natal was marked, though we
    cannot claim that it was caused, by the action of Willow Grange. This
    was fought by Hildyard and Walter Kitchener in command of the Estcourt
    garrison, against about 2,000 of the invaders under Louis Botha. The
    troops engaged were the East and West Surreys (four companies of the
    latter), the West Yorkshires, the Durban Light Infantry, No.7 battery
    R.F.A., two naval guns, and some hundreds of Colonial Horse.

    The enemy being observed to have a gun upon a hill within striking
    distance of Estcourt, this force set out on November 22nd to make a
    night attack and to endeavour to capture it. The hill was taken
    without difficulty, but it was found that the gun had been removed. A
    severe counter-attack was made at daylight by the Boers, and the
    troops were compelled with no great loss and less glory to return to
    the town. The Surreys and the Yorkshires behaved very well, but were
    placed in a difficult position and were badly supported by the
    artillery. Martyn's Mounted Infantry covered the retirement with
    great gallantry, but the skirmish ended in a British loss of fourteen
    killed and fifty wounded or missing, which was certainly more than
    that of the Boers. From this indecisive action of Willow Grange the
    Boer invasion receded until General Buller, coming to the front on
    November 27th, found that the enemy was once more occupying the line
    of the Tugela. He himself moved up to Frere, where he devoted his
    time and energies to the collection of that force with which he has
    destined, after three failures, to make his way into Ladysmith.

    One unexpected and little known result of the Boer expedition into
    Southern Natal was that their leader, the chivalrous Joubert, injured
    himself through his horse stumbling, and was physically incapacitated
    for the remainder of the campaign. He returned almost immediately to
    Pretoria, leaving the command of the Tugela in the hands of Louis

    Leaving Buller to organise his army at Frere, and the Boer commanders
    to draw their screen of formidable defences along the Tugela, we will
    return once more to the fortunes of the unhappy town round which the
    interest of the world, and possibly the destiny of the Empire, were
    centering. It is very certain that had Ladysmith fallen, and twelve
    thousand British soldiers with a million pounds' worth of stores
    fallen into the hands of the invaders, we should have been faced with
    the alternative of abandoning the struggle, or of reconquering South
    Africa from Cape Town northwards. South Africa is the keystone of the
    Empire, and for the instant Ladysmith was the keystone of South
    Africa. But the courage of the troops who held the shell-torn townlet,
    and the confidence of the public who watched them, never faltered for
    an instant.

    December 8th was marked by a gallant exploit on the part of the
    beleaguered garrison. Not a whisper had transpired of the coming
    sortie, and a quarter of an hour before the start officers engaged had
    no idea of it. 0 SI SIC OMNIA! At ten o'clock a band of men slipped
    out of the town. There were six hundred of them, all irregulars, drawn
    from the Imperial Light Horse, the Natal Carabineers, and the Border
    Mounted Rifles, under the command of Hunter, youngest and most dashing
    of British Generals. Edwardes and Boyston were the subcommanders. The
    men had no knowledge of where they were going or what they had to do,
    but they crept silently along under a drifting sky, with peeps of a
    quarter moon, over a mimosa-shadowed plain. At last in front of them
    there loomed a dark mass -- it was Gun Hill, from which one of the
    great Creusots had plagued them. A strong support (four hundred men)
    was left at the base of the hill, and the others, one hundred
    Imperials, one hundred Borders and Carabineers, ten Sappers, crept
    upwards with Major Henderson as guide. A Dutch outpost challenged, but
    was satisfied by a Dutch-speaking Carabineer. Higher and higher the
    men crept, the silence broken only by the occasional slip of a stone
    or the rustle of their own breathing. Most of them had left their
    boots below. Even in the darkness they kept some formation, and the
    right wing curved forward to outflank the defence. Suddenly a Mauser
    crack and a spurt of flame-then another and another! 'Come on, boys!
    Fix bayonets!' yelled Karri Davies. There were no bayonets, but that
    was a detail. At the word the gunners were off, and there in the
    darkness in front of the storming party loomed the enormous gun,
    gigantic in that uncertain light. Out with the huge breech-block! Wrap
    the long lean muzzle round with a collar of gun-cotton! Keep the guard
    upon the run until the work is done! Hunter stood by with a night
    light in his hand until the charge was in position, and then, with a
    crash which brought both armies from their tents, the huge tube reared
    up on its mountings and toppled backwards into the pit. A howitzer
    lurked beside it, and this also was blown into ruin. The attendant
    Maxim was dragged back by the exultant captors, who reached the town
    amid shoutings and laughter with the first break of day. One man
    wounded, the gallant Henderson, is the cheap price for the
    best-planned and most dashing exploit of the war. Secrecy in
    conception, vigour in execution -- they are the root ideas of the
    soldier's craft. So easily was the enterprise carried out, and so
    defective the Boer watch, that it is probable that if all the guns had
    been simultaneously attacked the Boers might have found themselves
    without a single piece of ordnance in the morning.[Footnote: The
    destruction of the Creusot was not as complete as was hoped. It was
    taken back to Pretoria, three feet were sawn off the muzzle, and a new
    breech-block provided. The gun was then sent to Kimberley, and it was
    the heavy cannon which arrived late in the history of that siege and
    caused considerable consternation among the inhabitants.]

    On the same morning (December 9th) a cavalry reconnaissance was pushed
    in the direction of Pepworth Hill. The object no doubt was to
    ascertain whether the enemy were still present in force, and the
    terrific roll of the Mausers answered it in the affirmative. Two
    killed and twenty wounded was the price which we paid for the
    information. There had been three such reconnaissances in the five
    weeks of the siege, and it is difficult to see what advantage they
    gave or how they are to be justified. Far be it for the civilian to
    dogmatise upon such matters, but one can repeat, and to the best of
    one's judgment endorse, the opinion of the vast majority of officers.

    There were heart burnings among the Regulars that the colonial troops
    should have gone in front of them, so their martial jealousy was
    allayed three nights later by the same task being given to them. Four
    companies of the 2nd Rifle Brigade were the troops chosen, with a few
    sappers and gunners, the whole under the command of Colonel Metcalfe
    of the same battalion. A single gun, the 4·7 howitzer upon Surprise
    Hill, was the objective. Again there was the stealthy advance through
    the darkness, again the support was left at the bottom of the hill,
    again the two companies carefully ascended, again there was the
    challenge, the rush, the flight, and the gun was in the hands of the

    Here and only here the story varies. For some reason the fuse used for
    the guncotton was defective, and half an hour elapsed before the
    explosion destroyed the howitzer. When it came it came very
    thoroughly, but it was a weary time in coming. Then our men descended
    the hill, but the Boers were already crowding in upon them from either
    side. The English cries of the soldiers were answered in English by
    the Boers, and slouch hat or helmet dimly seen in the mirk was the
    only badge of friend or foe. A singular letter is extant from young
    Reitz (the son of the Transvaal secretary), who was present. According
    to his account there were but eight Boers present, but assertion or
    contradiction equally valueless in the darkness of such a night, and
    there are some obvious discrepancies in his statement. 'We fired among
    them,' says Reitz. 'They stopped and all cried out "Rifle Brigade."
    Then one of them said "Charge!" One officer, Captain Paley, advanced,
    though he had two bullet wounds already. Joubert gave him another shot
    and he fell on the top of us. Four Englishmen got hold of Jan Luttig
    and struck him on the head with their rifles and stabbed him in the
    stomach with a bayonet. He seized two of them by the throat and
    shouted "Help, boys!" His two nearest comrades shot two of them, and
    the other two bolted. Then the English came up in numbers, about eight
    hundred, along the footpath' (there were two hundred on the hill, but
    the exaggeration is pardonable in the darkness), 'and we lay as quiet
    as mice along the bank. Farther on the English killed three of our men
    with bayonets and wounded two. In the morning we found Captain Paley
    and twenty-two of them killed and wounded.' It seems evident that
    Reitz means that his own little party were eight men, and not that
    that represented the force which intercepted the retiring
    riflemen. Within his own knowledge five of his countrymen were killed
    in the scuffle, so the total loss was probably considerable. Our own
    casualties were eleven dead, forty-three wounded, and six prisoners,
    but the price was not excessive for the howitzer and for the MORALE
    which arises from such exploits. Had it not been for that unfortunate
    fuse, the second success might have been as bloodless as the first.
    'I am sorry,' said a sympathetic correspondent to the stricken
    Paley. 'But we got the gun,' Paley whispered, and he spoke for the

    Amid the shell-fire, the scanty rations, the enteric and the
    dysentery, one ray of comfort had always brightened the
    garrison. Buller was only twelve miles away -- they could hear his
    guns -- and when his advance came in earnest their sufferings would be
    at an end. But now in an instant this single light was shut off and
    the true nature of their situation was revealed to them. Buller had
    indeed moved... but backwards. He had been defeated at Colenso, and
    the siege was not ending but beginning. With heavier hearts but
    undiminished resolution the army and the townsfolk settled down to the
    long, dour struggle. The exultant enemy replaced their shattered guns
    and drew their lines closer still round the stricken town.

    A record of the siege onwards until the break of the New Year centres
    upon the sordid details of the sick returns and of the price of
    food. Fifty on one day, seventy on the next, passed under the hands of
    the overworked and devoted doctors. Fifteen hundred, and later two
    thousand, of the garrison were down. The air was poisoned by foul
    sewage and dark with obscene flies. They speckled the scanty food.
    Eggs were already a shilling each, cigarettes sixpence, whisky five
    pounds a bottle: a city more free from gluttony and drunkenness has
    never been seen.

    Shell-fire has shown itself in this war to be an excellent ordeal for
    those who desire martial excitement with a minimum of danger. But now
    and again some black chance guides a bomb -- one in five thousand
    perhaps -- to a most tragic issue. Such a deadly missile falling
    among Boers near Kimberley is said to have slain nine and wounded
    seventeen. In Ladysmith too there are days to be marked in red when
    the gunner shot better than he knew. One shell on December 17th killed
    six men (Natal Carabineers), wounded three, and destroyed fourteen
    horses. The grisly fact has been recorded that five separate human
    legs lay upon the ground. On December 22nd another tragic shot killed
    five and wounded twelve of the Devons. On the same day four officers
    of the 5th Lancers (including the Colonel) and one sergeant were
    wounded -- a most disastrous day. A little later it was again the
    turn of the Devons, who lost one officer killed and ten wounded.
    Christmas set in amid misery, hunger, and disease, the more piteous
    for the grim attempts to amuse the children and live up to the joyous
    season, when the present of Santa Claus was too often a 96-pound
    shell. On the top of all other troubles it was now known that the
    heavy ammunition was running short and must be husbanded for
    emergencies. There was no surcease, however, in the constant hail
    which fell upon the town. Two or three hundred shells were a not
    unusual daily allowance.

    The monotonous bombardment with which the New Year had commenced was
    soon to be varied by a most gallant and spirit-stirring clash of arms.
    On January 6th the Boers delivered their great assault upon Ladysmith
    -- an onfall so gallantly made and gallantly met that it deserves to
    rank among the classic fights of British military history. It is a
    tale which neither side need be ashamed to tell. Honour to the sturdy
    infantry who held their grip so long, and honour also to the rough men
    of the veldt, who, led by untrained civilians, stretched us to the
    utmost capacity of our endurance.

    It may be that the Boers wished once for all to have done at all costs
    with the constant menace to their rear, or it may be that the
    deliberate preparations of Buller for his second advance had alarmed
    them, and that they realised that they must act quickly if they were
    to act at all. At any rate, early in the New Year a most determined
    attack was decided upon. The storming party consisted of some
    hundreds of picked volunteers from the Heidelberg (Transvaal) and
    Harrismith (Free State) contingents, led by de Villiers. They were
    supported by several thousand riflemen, who might secure their success
    or cover their retreat. Eighteen heavy guns had been trained upon the
    long ridge, one end of which has been called Cæsar's Camp and the
    other Waggon Hill. This hill, three miles long, lay to the south of
    the town, and the Boers had early recognised it as being the most
    vulnerable point, for it was against it that their attack of November
    9th had been directed. Now, after two months, they were about to renew
    the attempt with greater resolution against less robust opponents. At
    twelve o'clock our scouts heard the sounds of the chanting of hymns in
    the Boer camps. At two in the morning crowds of barefooted men were
    clustering round the base of the ridge, and threading their way, rifle
    in hand, among the mimosa-bushes and scattered boulders which cover
    the slope of the hill. Some working parties were moving guns into
    position, and the noise of their labour helped to drown the sound of
    the Boer advance. Both at Cæsar's Camp, the east end of the ridge, and
    at Waggon Hill, the west end (the points being, I repeat, three miles
    apart), the attack came as a complete surprise. The outposts were
    shot or driven in, and the stormers were on the ridge almost as soon
    as their presence was detected. The line of rocks blazed with the
    flash of their guns.

    Cæsar's Camp was garrisoned by one sturdy regiment, the Manchesters,
    aided by a Colt automatic gun. The defence bad been arranged in the
    form of small sangars, each held by from ten to twenty men. Some few
    of these were rushed in the darkness, but the Lancashire men pulled
    themselves together and held on strenuously to those which remained.
    The crash of musketry woke the sleeping town, and the streets
    resounded with the shouting of the officers and the rattling of arms
    as the men mustered in the darkness and hurried to the points of

    Three companies of the Gordons had been left near Cæsar's Camp, and
    these, under Captain Carnegie, threw themselves into the
    struggle. Four other companies of Gordons came up in support from the
    town, losing upon the way their splendid colonel, Dick-Cunyngham, who
    was killed by a chance shot at three thousand yards, on this his first
    appearance since he had recovered from his wounds at
    Elandslaagte. Later four companies of the Rifle Brigade were thrown
    into the firing line, and a total of two and a half infantry
    battalions held that end of the position. It was not a man too
    much. With the dawn of day it could be seen that the Boers held the
    southern and we the northern slopes, while the narrow plateau between
    formed a bloody debatable ground. Along a front of a quarter of a
    mile fierce eyes glared and rifle barrels flashed from behind every
    rock, and the long fight swayed a little back or a little forward with
    each upward heave of the stormers or rally of the soldiers. For hours
    the combatants were so near that a stone or a taunt could be thrown
    from one to the other. Some scattered sangars still held their own,
    though the Boers had passed them. One such, manned by fourteen
    privates of the Manchester Regiment, remained untaken, but had only
    two defenders left at the end of the bloody day.

    With the coming of the light the 53rd Field Battery, the one which had
    already done so admirably at Lombard's Kop, again deserved well of its
    country. It was impossible to get behind the Boers and fire straight
    at their position, so every shell fired bad to skim over the heads of
    our own men upon the ridge and so pitch upon tho reverse slope. Yet
    so accurate was the fire, carried on under an incessant rain of shells
    from the big Dutch gun on Bulwana, that not one shot miscarried and
    that Major Abdy and his men succeeded in sweeping the further slope
    without loss to our own fighting line. Exactly the same feat was
    equally well performed at the other end of the position by Major
    Blewitt's 21st Battery, which was exposed to an even more searching
    fire than the 53rd. Any one who has seen the iron endurance of
    British gunners and marvelled at the answering shot which flashes out
    through the very dust of the enemy's exploding shell, will understand
    how fine must have been the spectacle of these two batteries working
    in the open, with the ground round them sharded with
    splinters. Eye-witnesses have left it upon record that the sight of
    Major Blewitt strolling up and down among his guns, and turning over
    with his toe the last fallen section of iron, was one of the most
    vivid and stirring impressions which they carried from The fight.
    Here also it was that the gallant Sergeant Bosley, his arm and his leg
    stricken off by a Boer shell, cried to his comrades to roll his body
    off the trail and go on working the gun.

    At the same time as -- or rather earlier than -- the onslaught upon
    Caesar's Camp a similar attack had been made with secrecy and
    determination upon the western end of the position called Waggon Hill.
    The barefooted Boers burst suddenly with a roll of rifle-fire into the
    little garrison of Imperial Light Horse and Sappers who held the
    position. Mathias of the former, Digby-Jones and Dennis of the
    latter, showed that 'two in the morning' courage which Napoleon rated
    as the highest of military virtues. They and their men were surprised
    but not disconcerted, and stood desperately to a slogging match at the
    closest quarters. Seventeen Sappers were down out of thirty, and more
    than half the little body of irregulars. This end of the position was
    feebly fortified, and it is surprising that so experienced and sound a
    soldier as Ian Hamilton should have left it so. The defence had no
    marked advantage as compared with the attack, neither trench, sangar,
    nor wire entanglement, and in numbers they were immensely
    inferior. Two companies of the 60th Rifles and a small body of the
    ubiquitous Gordons happened to be upon the hill and threw themselves
    into the fray, but they were unable to turn the tide. Of thirty-three
    Gordons under Lieutenant MacNaughten thirty were wounded.[Footnote:
    The Gordons and the Sappers were there that morning to re-escort one
    of Lambton's 4·7 guns, which was to be mounted there. Ten seamen were
    with the gun, and lost three of their number in the defence.] As our
    men retired under the shelter of the northern slope they were
    reinforced by another hundred and fifty Gordons under the stalwart
    Miller-Wallnutt, a man cast in the mould of a Berserk Viking. To
    their aid also came two hundred of the Imperial Light Horse, burning
    to assist their comrades. Another half-battalion of Rifles came with
    them. At each end of the long ridge the situation at the dawn of day
    was almost identical. In each the stormers had seized one side, but
    were brought to a stand by the defenders upon the other, while the
    British guns fired over the heads of their own infantry to rake the
    further slope.

    It was on the Waggon Hill side, however, that the Boer exertions were
    most continuous and strenuous and our own resistance most desperate.
    There fought the gallant de Villiers, while Ian Hamilton rallied the
    defenders and led them in repeated rushes against the enemy's line.
    Continually reinforced from below, the Boers fought with extraordinary
    resolution. Never will any one who witnessed that Homeric contest
    question the valour of our foes. It was a murderous business on both
    sides. Edwardes of the Light Horse was struck down. In a
    gun-emplacement a strange encounter took place at point-blank range
    between a group of Boers and of Britons. De Villiers of the Free State
    shot Miller-Wallnut dead, Ian Hamilton fired at de Villiers with his
    revolver and missed him. Young Albrecht of the Light Horse shot de
    Villiers. A Boer named de Jaeger shot Albrecht. Digby-Jones of the
    Sappers shot de Jaeger. Only a few minutes later the gallant lad, who
    had already won fame enough for a veteran, was himself mortally
    wounded, and Dennis, his comrade in arms and in glory, fell by his

    There has been no better fighting in our time than that upon Waggon
    Hill on that January morning, and no better fighters than the Imperial
    Light Horsemen who formed the centre of the defence. Here, as at
    Elandslaagte, they proved themselves worthy to stand in line with the
    crack regiments of the British army.

    Through the long day the fight maintained its equilibrium along the
    summit of the ridge, swaying a little that way or this, but never
    amounting to a repulse of the stormers or to a rout of the
    defenders. So intermixed were the combatants that a wounded man more
    than once found himself a rest for the rifles of his enemies. One
    unfortunate soldier in this position received six more bullets from
    his own comrades in their efforts to reach the deadly rifleman behind
    him. At four o'clock a huge bank of clouds which had towered upwards
    unheeded by the struggling men burst suddenly into a terrific
    thunderstorm with vivid lightnings and lashing rain. It is curious
    that the British victory at Elandslaagte was heralded by just such
    another storm. Up on the bullet-swept hill the long fringes of
    fighting men took no more heed of the elements than would two
    bulldogs who have each other by the throat. Up the greasy hillside,
    foul with mud and with blood, came the Boer reserves, and up the
    northern slope came our own reserve, the Devon Regiment, fit
    representatives of that virile county. Admirably led by Park, their
    gallant Colonel, the Devons swept the Boers before them, and the
    Rifles, Gordons, and Light Horse joined in the wild charge which
    finally cleared the ridge.

    But the end was not yet. The Boer had taken a risk over this venture,
    and now he had to pay the stakes. Down the hill he passed, crouching,
    darting, but the spruits behind him were turned into swirling streams,
    and as he hesitated for an instant upon the brink the relentless sleet
    of bullets came from behind. Many were swept away down the gorges and
    into the Klip River, never again to be accounted for in the lists of
    their field-cornet. The majority splashed through, found their horses
    in their shelter, and galloped off across the great Bulwana Plain, as
    fairly beaten in as fair a fight as ever brave men were yet.

    The cheers of victory as the Devons swept the ridge had heartened the
    weary men upon Cæsar's Camp to a similar effort. Manchesters, Gordons,
    and Rifles, aided by the fire of two batteries, cleared the
    long-debated position. Wet, cold, weary, and without food for
    twenty-six hours, the bedraggled Tommies stood yelling and waving,
    amid the litter of dead and of dying.

    It was a near thing. Had the ridge fallen the town must have followed,
    and history perhaps have been changed. In the old stiff-rank Majuba
    days we should have been swept in an hour from the position. But the
    wily man behind the rock was now to find an equally wily man in front
    of him. The soldier had at last learned something of the craft of the
    hunter. He clung to his shelter, he dwelled on his aim, he ignored his
    dressings, he laid aside the eighteenth-century traditions of his
    pigtailed ancestor, and he hit the Boers harder than they had been hit
    yet. No return may ever come to us of their losses on that occasion;
    80 dead bodies were returned to them from the ridge alone, while the
    slopes, the dongas, and the river each had its own separate tale. No
    possible estimate can make it less than three hundred killed and
    wounded, while many place it at a much higher figure. Our own
    casualties were very serious and the proportion of dead to wounded
    unusually high, owing to the fact that the greater part of the wounds
    were necessarily of the head. In killed we lost 13 officers, 135
    men. In wounded 28 officers, 244 men -- a total of 420, Lord Ava, the
    honoured Son of an honoured father, the fiery Dick-Cunyngham, stalwart
    Miller-Wallnutt, the brave boy sappers Digby-Jones and Dennis, Adams
    and Packman of the Light Horse, the chivalrous Lafone -- we had to
    mourn quality as well as numbers. The grim test of the casualty
    returns shows that it was to the Imperial Light Horse (ten officers
    down, and the regiment commanded by a junior captain), the
    Manchesters, the Gordons, the Devons, and the 2nd Rifle Brigade that
    the honours of the day are due.

    In the course of the day two attacks had been made upon other points
    of the British position, the one on Observation Hill on the north, the
    other on the Helpmakaar position on the east. Of these the latter was
    never pushed home and was an obvious feint, but in the case of the
    other it was not until Schutte, their commander, and forty or fifty
    men had been killed and wounded, that the stormers abandoned their
    attempt. At every point the assailants found the same scattered but
    impenetrable fringe of riflemen, and the same energetic batteries
    waiting for them.

    Throughout the Empire the course of this great struggle was watched
    with the keenest solicitude and with all that painful emotion which
    springs from impotent sympathy. By heliogram to Buller, and so to the
    farthest ends of that great body whose nerves are the telegraphic
    wires, there came the announcement of the attack. Then after an
    interval of hours came 'everywhere repulsed, but fighting continues.'
    Then, 'Attack continues. Enemy reinforced from the south.' Then
    'Attack renewed. Very hard pressed.' There the messages ended for the
    day, leaving the Empire black with apprehension. The darkest forecasts
    and most dreary anticipations were indulged by the most temperate and
    best-informed London papers. For the first time the very suggestion
    that the campaign might be above our strength was made to the
    public. And then at last there came the official news of the repulse
    of the assault. Far away at Ladysmith, the weary men and their sorely
    tried officers gathered to return thanks to God for His manifold
    mercies, but in London also hearts were stricken solemn by the
    greatness of the crisis, and lips long unused to prayer joined in the
    devotions of the absent warriors.
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    Chapter 14
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