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    Chapter 34

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    Chapter 35
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    THE WINTER CAMPAIGN (APRIL-SEPTEMBER, 1901)

    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
    up.

    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
    reader.

    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
    detachment.

    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.

    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
    comrades.

    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
    flame.

    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.
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    Chapter 35
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