Ch 3: Defeat at Dundee and the Siege of Ladysmith

General Koch, keeper of the executive minutes with the right wing of Joubert’s army, had moved down the Biggarsberg Pass to cut communications between Penn-Symons and White, and on October 19th occupied Elandslaagte station, sixteen miles beyond Ladysmith. The Dundee express had just arrived when the advance guard under Veldt Cornet Pienaar entered the village. The burghers galloped into the depot to seize the train, and swarmed over the tracks, but the engineer sprang to the foot-plate, and amid a warm fusillade the express ploughed through its captors and away to Dundee, leaving Noel, the guard, and several astonished passengers on the platform. The station-master managed to telegraph Ladysmith that the station was captured, before he was detected, narrowly escaping summary execution for his temerity.
   Greatly enraged, the Boers made prisoners of every one in the vicinity, and turning the points to a siding, cleared the signal for the local train taking stock and provisions to Dundee. The engineer ran his train unsuspectingly over the switch, and ere he could reverse the lever Boers were swarming on board, and he was bound and imprisoned. A number of horses and cattle en route for Penn-Symons were captured, and the freight cars systematically looted.
   The Boer vanguard took possession of Elandslaagte during the afternoon. The column, 1,900 strong, was formed by the Krugersdorp and Johannesburg commandoes, the latter including the Hollander Vrywilliger Corps. Attached were 300 Free Staters and a German contingent 80 strong under Colonel Schiel, with three guns and an ambulance under Visser. The Johannesburg commando under Dr. Coster, a talented Holland lawyer, and De Witt Hamer, an ex-Netherland officer, represented the education and culture of the Transvaal: it comprised the officials and professional men of the republic, significantly the vast majority of foreign birth. Officers with Koch were his son, Judge Koch, notorious in the Edgar case, Landdrost Mare of Boksburg, the public prosecutor Von Leggelo, Count Zipplein, Ben Viljoen, Bodenstein of Krugersdorp fame, Pretorius, Vander-Welde, and many other prominent officials.
   The force first rounded up the British subjects in the vicinity. Mr. Harris, the manager of the Elandslaagte mines, anticipating the advance, had buried his blasting-powder and ammunition. With Mr. Innes, the proprietor, and forty mine workers he was made prisoner and the cash of the mine commandeered. The prisoners were placed in the charge of Pienaar, who said that the people in Natal had fled as though the Boers were barbarians. "He hoped they would prove to the contrary." In the evening, captors and captives held an impromptu smoking concert in the hotel parlour. Many of the burghers were drunk and fought among themselves, but if there was little discipline in their ranks there was an individuality that acted for a general purpose of defence, and guards were posted and pickets thrown out with the regularity of a trained force.
   On the following morning, after Koch had selected the most advantageous positions in the vicinity, he opened an examination of all prisoners, which he conducted with gravity while devouring mutton chops in his fingers, smoking his pipe, and expectorating between mouthfuls. The burghers amused themselves during the afternoon by dressing up in British uniforms captured on the train. Many of them had been drinking heavily from looted liquor, and some strove to pick a quarrel with the unarmed prisoners. Pienaar intervened, and calling in a guard of more sober burghers kept the threatening roisterers outside. In the midst of the carousal a patrol galloped in shouting, "Rooineks are coming!" In five minutes every Boer had saddled up and the commando was riding over the veldt to the selected position. But the attack did not develop.
   When Koch had severed communications between Dundee and Ladysmith he had forgotten that a wire also ran via Helpmaaker to Maritzburg, and Penn-Symons was thus able to inform White of his victory and the force blocking direct communications. General French, who had only arrived from England on the previous day, was at once sent out from Ladysmith to make a reconnaissance in force. In a pouring rain the mud had severely retarded his artillery and infantry, but the cavalry advanced to the flag station at Modder Spruit, where they sighted the enemy at Elandslaagte. As the day was advancing a squadron of the 5th Lancers pushed forward alone to reconnoitre. They surprised and captured a Boer outpost, and having located the enemy fell back; and the whole force returned to Ladysmith.
   On the following morning, Saturday, October 21st, scouts again announced the approach of the British, and the commandoes, rudely awakened by a couple of shells, thundered half-dressed to the kopjes some distance from the railroad, leaving their British prisoners in the village with a small guard, which a squadron of Light Horse later surprised and forced to change roles.
   General French had moved out at daybreak to make a further reconnaissance, with a company of the Manchesters in an armoured train, the Imperial Light Horse and Natal volunteer battery moving by road to support. Finding Elandslaagte strongly occupied, the battery came into action on the edge of a tableland overlooking the settlement. But the Boers manned their guns with surprising rapidity, and the two ranging shots of the German gunners under Captain Schultz plumped right into the Colonials. A team was doubled up, a limber smashed, and the puny Natal 7-pounders were outranged and forced to withdraw. Shells also fell round the train, while a strong force of the enemy appeared in the rear, making strenuous efforts to tear up the line. They were dispersed, however, by a rapid advance of the Light Horse, and train and guns retired to Modder Spruit. As General French took a final survey of the position, a projectile was neatly dropped into the midst of the staff, but a tardy time-fuse burst the shell after it was imbedded, and dirt was vomited in place of shrapnel bullets.
   At Modder Spruit, the telegraph wire was tapped, and French was soon connected with White, who promised to send reinforcements immediately to attack the enemy. At midday Colonel King arrived at the front with the 5th Lancers. The 21st and 42nd Field Batteries galloped out with augmented teams, and a squadron of 5th Dragoons and the Natal mounted volunteers. Escorted by the armoured train, half-battalions of the Manchester and Devonshire regiments arrived by rail. Later, half of the Gordon Highlanders and the remainder of the Devons detrained.
   The cavalry found strong Boer pickets on a long ridge running almost due east and west beyond Modder Spruit, but after desultory skirmishing these outposts fell back. At 3 pm. the infantry advanced over a hill to the right of the railroad, the artillery and cavalry passing round on either flank. Beyond, a green sloping valley led up to a long hogs-back, steep and rocky, with a mass of boulders piled indescribably at the base, and a stubborn succession of rock-strewn ridges on the frowning face. As the British appeared on the high ground the flash of the opening guns revealed the main position of the enemy, who were entrenched on a rounded eminence rising from the extremity of the hogs-back, and along the nek that joined with a succeeding kopje, also strongly occupied. The position was ideal for the Boer system of defence. A frontal attack could be met by frontal and oblique fire, and the difficult approaches to both flanks were commanded, the broken kopjes on the right, and the rock-strewn ridge of the hog’s-back along which any turning movement on the left flank must come.
   On the extreme left the Lancers, Light Horse, and Natal volunteers had cleared out a flanking party of Boers skulking behind a wall, and then became engaged with the Free State commando with Maxims, which were soon silenced by carbine fire, the party retiring half-heartedly, one of their deserters saying that they were commandeered in an unwilling war, and did not mean to fight a traditional friend for Kruger and Steyn. This commando did nothing further to aid their Transvaal brothers. The Boer artillery then commenced to shell the deploying infantry, until the 21st Battery galloped into action, and after sustaining some loss in a duel of seven minutes duration, silenced the guns at 2,800 yards. The 42nd Battery also heavily shelled the position preparatory to the infantry attack. A heavy thunder-storm was raging during the initial evolutions, and since the evening promised to come in early gloom, the artillery preliminaries were curtailed to enable the infantry assault before dark.
   The Lancers, Light Horse, and Natal volunteers with their battery, covered the right flank, where the Manchester, supported by the Gordons, clambered up the hogs-back to advance down the ridge on the flank. The Devons moved against the direct front, with the Dragoons and volunteers on the extreme left. Sir George White arrived on the field at 4 pm. but magnanimously refused to take over the command from his subordinate, and the honours of the day rest with French. The infantry were under the personal direction of Colonel Ian Hamilton, a survivor of Majuba.
   The British guns had pounded the enemy heavily with shrapnel, and the plucky attempts of the German gunners to reopen were unsuccessful; but the shower of shells did not apparently lessen the terrific rifle fire that was poured into the valley. At 4.45 the Devons advanced in extended order, meeting a withering fire with great steadiness as they pressed over the broken ground. Major Park extended three companies into a firing line of 500 yards, about 1000 yards from, the enemy. They obtained some shelter among the sun-baked ant-hills in places, and "dead ground" saved two companies from annihilation.
   The Boers missed the red coats of the British army and found the new fangled khaki a difficult target, but their bullets swept a large zone. Major Currie with the reserves threw men rapidly forward to replace casualties, and then augmented the firing line, which crept slowly to within 800 yards of the enemy. Meanwhile the Manchesters and Gordons had succeeded in scrambling up the hogs-back. They were joined by the Highlander Light Horse, who voluntarily dismounted and joined in the charge. Many of these men had settled permanently in the Republic, and had lost their all when expelled by Kruger; theirs indeed was a fight for home and liberty, in the country of their adoption, while wives and children were homeless and destitute.
   Though these forces were at first covered by a dip leading to the main plateau, a withering fire swept the entire length of the ridge as they poured over the boulders on the crest. A thousand yards beyond them rose a high prominence, the "mamelon," an objective that commanded every step of the advance along the hilltop. In face of that fire, with their path strewn with rocks slippery with rain and hail, and successive barbed fences barring the way, a superior force was to be assaulted in an entrenched position. Many young soldier’s faces blanched, but there was no hesitation. For sentimental reasons, the Highlanders had retained their sporrans and kilts, which made them a distinct mark for the enemy: sentiment contributed many widows and orphans to the banks and braes of Scotland ere the day was done. At first the Gordons were in support, but owing to the irregularity of the ground to be traversed, regiments and companies became mixed and the movement evolved into a retarded but eager race forward. Scrambling, slipping, crouching, from rock to rock, firing individually or in volleys of mutual agreement, Gordons, Manchesters, and Light Horse fought their way on. Men were swept away as they clambered across the ridges, but the others went over the prostrate bodies. The Tommies now were fighting mad, and, paying little heed to the dead and wounded, they pressed recklessly onward; the courage and individuality of the soldier was in the ascendent and was not found wanting.
   Two-thirds of the distance passed; two-thirds of the officers down. A stout barbed fence checked the advance, where the Boers stood up fearlessly and blazed into the serried mass of men, but dropped to cover again as the obstacle was surmounted and the uncontrollable wave of khaki swept toward them. Of the Gordons, Colonel Cunningham and Major Wright went down early in the fight, and of the other officers, but four were left to lead the regiment toward the finish, and two of these, subalterns, were wounded. The Manchesters had lost their colonel and many officers and men. Colonel Scott-Chisholme of the Light Horse was next wounded; raising himself to cheer on his men, he sank again with two bullets in his brain. Major Sampson, the ex-reformist, and eight other volunteer officers had also fallen at this juncture. But the depleted forces were close in now, and fixed bayonets.
   In desperation the Boers pumped their red-hot Mausers at point-blank range and cried in English, "Retire!" A treacherous bugle also sounded the order, and the panting soldiers halted irresolute in the confusion of the battle and the gathering darkness. The last note was faulty, but the men were wavering and the enemy’s fire was redoubled. "Charge! Charge! For God’s sake, charge!" shouted Major Deime of the Gordons, springing into the lead and sinking limply, shot through the heart. Drum-major Laurence dashing forward sounded the charge and rally; Pipe-major Dunbar striding over the rocks skirling the Gordon pibroch. They soon fell, but the troops had rallied, and with a loud cheer the first position was rushed.
   Advocate Coster was killed as he attempted to gather his Hollanders, and other Boer leaders fearlessly exposed themselves, exhorting the burghers to stand; but nothing could stay the onslaught of the British. A line of devoted burghers fired to the last, but they were flung back before the charge like tennis-balls, and there was no rebound.
   The Devons’ bugles in the valley were now ringing cheerily, their long checked impetuosity was loosed, and with fixed bayonets they dashed up the front of the position. Pandemonium reigned for a minute. There was a rush of kilt and khaki; the enemy on the mamelon resisted stoutly, but amid the rattle of their magazine fire, rallying cries in Taal, British cheers of exultation and the yells and screams of the wounded, the Devons closed in on the front, and the flanking battalions swept the Boers from the nek with bullet and bayonet. F Company, under Lieutenant Field, went straight at the guns. Three gunners sprang to their pieces and prepared to fire into the British ranks as the Hollanders turned and fled down the hill. One fell before Field’s revolver as these devoted soldiers of fortune loaded, another was shot as he prepared to fire, and the third was bayonetted as the Devons swept in.
   Struggling, stumbling down the hillside, the Boers fled pell-mell, some screaming with terror in their mad efforts to escape the cold steel. Their horses were tethered in the laager below, and as the seething mass of burghers ran toward them the slaughter would have been terrible had the British disregarded the white flag. Highlanders and Manchesters had swept down toward the laager to complete the rout, on the hill other companies were refilling their emptied magazines to mow down the fugitives, when a large white flag was hoisted over the wagons. Dozens of Boers also were holding up their hands, and another flag waved frantically on the further kopje. From tents behind which the horses were tethered, a Red Cross flag was displayed. Significantly the enemy had screened their means of retreat by the Geneva Convention.
   Daylight now faded rapidly, but the cavalry who had been champing impatiently on the flanks had ridden round the hill when they heard the cheers of victory, and a rush of horsemen through the gathering night told them their turn had come. As the Boers galloped madly toward Wesset’s Nek, from the reverse of the captured position a clatter of hoofs and scabbards burst on their frightened ears. They turned and fired as they rode, but the heavier British cavalry bore them to the earth, going through and through the disorganised ranks with lance and sabre until the commandoes were scattered and the rout complete.
   Daylight now faded rapidly, but the cavalry who had been champing impatiently on the flanks had ridden round the hill when they heard the cheers of victory, and a rush of horsemen through the gathering night told them their turn had come. As the Boers galloped madly toward Wesset’s Nek, from the reverse of the captured position a clatter of hoofs and scabbards burst on their frightened ears. They turned and fired as they rode, but the heavier British cavalry bore them to the earth, going through and through the disorganised ranks with lance and sabre until the commandoes were scattered and the rout complete.
   Pitch darkness reigned on the battlefield when the bugles sounded the rally, and company officers vainly strove to collect their forces. "All hands search for wounded!" The worn-out soldiers responded with alacrity. Groans and cries for help, in English and Taal, arose in the darkness. The soldiers, from breathing out threats, curses and slaughter against the Boers, became their Good Samaritans. "Majuba avenged!" had been their cheer of victory, and now by tending the wounded enemy they heaped coals of fire on the race who in 1881 had left the British wounded to die on the veldt. The British "Tommy," to those who know him, is like a big-hearted, rough, generous schoolboy. His solicitation for his wounded foe, the foe whose pluck he had now learned to respect, is a touching tribute to the British private.
   On a hillside Bennet Burleigh, and Henry Nevinson, the war correspondents, found old General Koch mortally wounded. A mattress was at once sent, and as he was too ill to be moved, a tarpaulin was rigged over him. Nearby lay his son, Judge Koch, and Count Zipplein, sorely wounded. De Jong, of the Educational Department, and Dr. Coster were among the killed. Joubert’s grand-nephew and many of the prominent officials were wounded severely. Sixty-four dead Boers were found on the hill; the cavalry charge accounted for as many more. Three hundred prisoners were taken, including the ex-German officer Schiel, Von Leggelo, the detective De Villiers, Dewithaker, De Witt Hamer, Figulus, young Cronje, Findall, Wagner, and many other notables. Of these prisoners one third were wounded. The aggregate British loss was 247, the officers in large proportion. The Gordons headed the list with a loss of 26 per cent rank and file, but 78 per cent of the regimental officers had fallen.
   The worn-out troops formed a bivouac in the Boer laager, where wagon-loads of loot from North Natal were recaptured, with the arms and equipment of an entire commando. The night was bitterly cold, and a heavy rain turned the ground into a swamp. But pouches and blankets were cheerfully relinquished for the wounded, Boer and Briton, and four Highlanders were lifted from the solitary fire, sustained by ration boxes, because four Boers, wounded by shrapnel, "needed it worse than us." Fresh water was scarce also, and generous "Tommy" moved among the wounded enemy with "All I’ve got left, chum!" and many gave up the chance to rest, and generously aided Dr. Davies and his assistants in caring for the wounded. Many of these lay among the rocks undiscovered until daylight, some unfortunately to perish from exposure. All the wounded were taken to Ladysmith, accommodation being found for them in the town hall, the churches, and in tents on the cricket ground. The Boer prisoners were sent by train to Durban, and thence shipped to Cape Town.
   The moral effect of the costly victory of Elandslaagte was great. From henceforth the Boer learned to respect the British soldier, having proved the fallacy of his contempt engendered at Majuba and Krugersdorp. But the battle gained little material benefit, since De Wet’s command moved in and occupied the town two days later, and fired on the burial party sent with Inspector Petley to inter the British and Boer dead, driving them back to Ladysmith. Boer character is complex; hospital corps, burial detail, all are rooineks, and as such must be destroyed, is the argument of the average farmer. But after a strong protest by the prisoner Judge Koch to Joubert, the interments were allowed.
   The object of the attack at Elandslaagte to reopen communications with Dundee and relieve pressure on that side was but partly accomplished; but the trend of events in Natal proved how shamefully ignorant were the British authorities as to the military strength and preparation of the republics. The mobilisation of troops at Dundee, so near the border, had furnished a plausible excuse to the Transvaal for declaring war. Strategically the position was of small importance, and its communications were menaced from the Drakensberg passes the moment the Free State threw in its lot with the Transvaal. The coal fields were of value to the colony, but so greatly had the initiative of the enemy been underrated that even the victories of Talana Hill and Elandslaagte failed to justify the maintenance of the position.
   While General French was assailing Elandslaagte, and the Dundee forces were resting after their victory, the main Boer forces for which Meyer should have waited before risking assault, closed in. In the afternoon a 40-pounder commenced to shell the camp from the hills north of Dundee. General Yule, who had succeeded Penn-Symons, despatched the field batteries to reply to the gun, but other pieces of heavy calibre were turned against them, and they accomplished little in the unequal duel.
   At sunset the troops occupied a position beyond the town prepared to withstand a night attack, but they returned to camp at daybreak, where they received the cheering news of the Elandslaagte victory. General Yule at once sent his cavalry to intercept fugitives moving down the Ladysmith road. The Hussars became engaged, however, with a fresh column, and retired as the Boers again began to shell the camp and town, Erasmus and Vegan had now joined Joubert, and scouts reported the enemy in force and closing on Dundee on all sides. The inhabitants had fled to Rowan’s farm, remembering Boer outrages in the previous war, and since 12,000 Boers were now menacing 3,000 British, Penn-Symons, who was rapidly sinking, advised Yule to endeavour to save the command from annihilation by retiring to Ladysmith, leaving him and the wounded behind.
   It was finally determined that we should retreat by a circuitous route via Beith, and under cover of the night our full force evacuated camp, leaving only lighted candles in the empty tents, and camp-fires blazing to mislead the Boers. The Rifles, under Major Campbell, acted as the advance guard, Colonel Dartnell of the Natal police guiding the troops. By continuous marching we reached the entrance of the Waschbank Pass, through which the road crosses the Biggarsberg Range on Monday afternoon. The enemy was known to be in the vicinity, and surprise here meant annihilation. A spy had been caught heliographing at Inyiti, but apparently his message miscarried, and after a short halt a second night march brought the force safely through the defile to the Waschbank River, where the exhausted troops bivouacked for rest on Tuesday morning.
   Joubert did not discover that Yule had withdrawn through his faulty picket lines, until midday on Monday. He then detached a large force to cut off the British column in the Biggarsberg. Though his advance was retarded by worn-out infantry and transport, the mobile burghers failed to overtake Yule, until our force had reached the open country beyond. Here the Boers showed their traditional hatred of fighting out of cover, and did not attempt an attack.
   Keen anxiety prevailed in Ladysmith for Yule’s force. Scouts having reported a strong commando again occupying Elandslaagte. On Tuesday October 24th, White moved out toward Modder Spruit, intending to bivouac near the cross-roads to facilitate Yule’s retirement. His force, an infantry brigade, the 2nd King’s Royal Rifles, Devons, Gloucesters, and Liverpools, supported by the 42nd and 53rd Field and 10th Mountain Batteries, the 5th Lancers, 19th Hussars, Imperial Light Horse, and Natal Rifles, 4500 in all, halted at Modder Spruit at 8 am. The enemy developed in force at Rietfontein, however, menacing the direct road to Dundee, and the Beith route on the line of Yule’s march. They disclosed their main position on Mattowan Hoek by dropping shells into a resting battery on the Newcastle road.
   The British gunners rapidly came into action beyond the railroad, and though well-ranged shell from the hill inflicted some loss on the artillery and cavalry, the Boer guns were soon pounded into silence. The enemy presented an irregular front on the steep sides of the Tinta Inyoni and Mattowan Hoek, along the connecting nek, and among the broken kopjes and ridges at the base of the hills. The old-fashioned farmers of the Heidelberg and Potchefstroom commandoes under De Wet, had discarded the Mauser with contempt, crediting the new-fangled rifle with the previous defeats. Crouching behind the innumerable boulders over the wide hillsides, with unerring Martini-Henrys, they sustained an effective individual fire, making a difficult and extended target despite the smoke from their cartridges.
   With the batteries the Liverpools and Gloucesters advanced in extended order against a high ridge facing the hills, driving back the enemy from the outlying positions. The Devons were in support, the Rifles moving over to the left flank, where the Light-Horse were heavily engaged early in the battle. The regular cavalry cleared a commando, waiting to assail the British rear guard, out of the valley on the right and forced them back to Mattowan, the 53rd battery heavily shelling the fugitives as they retired across the open. The irrepressible Colonials on the extreme flank by Modder Spruit station drove in the enemy on that side. This combined attack caused a general concentration of the burghers on their main position on the higher slopes of the two eminences, and on a kopje rising from the nek that connected them. Here they commanded the entire British line from an unassailable position, but they were severely restricted by the continuous shower of shrapnel from the ridge below.
   The Devons were sent forward to augment the firing line, and while the mountain guns shelled the riflemen swarming among the boulders on Mattowan, the 53rd battery raked the kopje and lower ridges, the 42nd partially silencing a terrific but individual rifle fire from the tall summit of Tinta Inyoni.
   An assault on such an extensive position was beyond question for White’s slender forces. Even had the single brigade successfully stormed the mountainous eminences, the enemy, while leaving enough men to sustain a stout resistance, could have detached a force sufficient to menace the guns and break communications with Ladysmith until the waiting Free Staters had advanced from their passes against the town. The operations also were planned only to clear the road and act as a diversion to cover Yule’s retreat. For some unexplained reason, however, taking advantage of the slackened firing, the Gloucesters swept beyond the ridge into the open. They instantly became the target for every Boer rifle in range, and were forced to fall back to cover, leaving Colonel Wilford and a tenth of their number on the field. The medical staff, though exposed to continuous fire from the indiscriminating enemy, then brought in the wounded successfully, the Hindu stretcher bearers behaving with conspicuous gallantry.
   Despite recent rains, the veldt was lit by bursting shrapnel and burned fiercely at midday. Boer resistance then gradually subsided. But under cover of the smoke a large force was attempting to work round the extreme flank to cut off White from Ladysmith, and only the watchfulness of the Colonials saved the British from an awkward development. The Volunteers, recalled hurriedly from the Spruit, cantered round sharply, and covered by a ridge on the southern end of the valley outflanked the flankers and opened with carbine and Maxim. Assisted by the Rifles they drove the enemy back to Tinta Inyoni, while the Liverpools and Devons extended, encompassing the front and flanks with a thin line.

The Devons Charge

   After the failure of their counter manoeuvre, parties of the enemy were seen retiring, however. Their fire was gradually reduced to the crackling of resolute sharpshooters hiding in the rocks, until at 2.30 resistance ended and the fight flickered out. White, having received definite news of Yule, then withdrew his forces, and occupied salient points along the line of retreat of the Dundee column. Through faulty communications, the Volunteers were left on the extreme flank and were heavily engaged by the baffled but by no means defeated enemy. They extricated themselves with difficulty and retired on Ladysmith.
   After practically continuous service night and day from the opening of Friday morning’s fight at Dundee, our worn-out force was preparing to bivouac on the Waschbank River, when we heard the guns open at Rietfontein. The mounted troops were at once despatched to attempt to take the Boers in rear, but another squadron of the diminished Hussars was cut off and surrounded, though after continuous fighting they finally reached Ladysmith. Unfortunately, a heavy storm had swelled the Sunday River to a torrent that the column could not cross. During the enforced halt the commandoes retiring from the Rietfontein engagement passed perilously close to, but without discovering Yule’s camp, where the column lay sleeping beneath the torrent of the opened heavens. The British pickets wisely held their fire, for the force was in no condition for a pitched battle. On Wednesday the flood had subsided, and the column crossed the river with the loss of a single wagon; and again marching the entire night to get beyond the mysterious enemy, Yule’s advance guard was soon in touch with the Border Rifles. The rest of our line of march was covered, and we reached Ladysmith on Thursday morning.
   Yule’s march will go down to history. Without a square meal we had fought on Friday, marched and skirmished on Saturday, passed the night and Sunday under arms, marched all Sunday night, all day on Monday, with but a short rest before another march through Monday night and well into Tuesday morning. Then part of the force had operated against the enemy toward Rietfontein, others performing continuous picket duty during the stormy bivouac on Tuesday night, when fires could not be lighted. The column had come straight on through the last thirty-four miles of mud all day on Wednesday and through Wednesday night well into Thursday morning, when we reached Ladysmith.
   The soggy soil of South Africa had caked round feet and legs, adding pounds in weight to each step, retarded a hundredfold by the suction of the slough through which they marched. No wonder the men moved into town dejectedly, until the frantic cheers of soldier and civilian threw spirit into the lagging bodies and fire into the bloodshot eyes. Their heads were then thrown proudly up, their steps became regular and brisk, and they swung into camp as though on CO’s parade. Their brother "Tommies" stood by, eager to help, and as the "dismiss" rang out, rifles and equipment were seized, and the haggard, mud-caked men were dragged off by their delighted comrades to a hearty breakfast. But most were too tired to eat; they soon dropped on the ground in sheer weariness, the garrison scraping the mud from the hidden putties and removing chafing boots from feet raw as beef with much marching.
   Not until midday on Monday, had the Boers discovered that Dundee was evacuated. During the morning, despite the flag, they dropped shell into the field hospital among the abandoned wounded. Erasmus had been told that the captured wounded of Meyer’s force had been dragged behind the British guns. He was surprised to find them in cots side by side with the wounded soldiers he had so brutally shelled. At midday an armed party galloped into the town, abusing the few townspeople who had remained, and seizing horses and anything that took their individual fancy. Mrs. Weir, one of the Red Cross nurses, was brutally kicked by one truculent brute.
   Later in the day a more disciplined detachment under Zuderberg arrived and hoisted the flag over the court house. The field cornet assured the inhabitants that all property would be respected, but he must commandeer provisions for his force. This also included the liquor from the stores; the burghers were soon tipsy and out of hand, and a general looting of the town started. The contents of houses and stores were thrown out into the road, each man loading his horse with what he needed. Weighed down with plunder they retired at sunset, passing the hospital jeering and cursing the English.
   Within, General Penn-Symons was slowly dying. Practically a prisoner, separated from the command he had led to victory, humiliated by the Boer manifestations that stirred the soldier spirit living undaunted in the maimed, suffering body, his last moments were of pathetic interest. At home the whole country was applauding his gallant fight; he lay dying in the enemy’s hands. As the sun was setting, with the cries of the burghers ringing in his ears, the brave soldier died as he had lived.
   When the looters disappeared a guard of stolid old burghers took charge of the town, a magistrate was appointed, and order enforced. Penn-Symons was buried next morning in the little English churchyard. The Rev. Mr. Bagley held a short service, but "not a drum was heard, nor a funeral note; not a soldier discharged a farewell shot." The body, shrouded in a Union Jack that had escaped the enemy’s notice, had but few mourners, medical officers and civilians, and a few respectful burghers, but a nation’s sympathy has gone out to that lonely grave in Africa, and though little he knows it, the laurels of a nation’s gratitude rest on the tomb. A touch of empathy makes the world akin; brave old Joubert, when he found a cabled message from Lady Symons among the General’s papers, at once sent a despatch expressing his sympathy to the widow.
   In the afternoon the residue of Meyer’s defeated force returned to the town, bursting with revenge for their defeat of Friday. The Boer town guard was impotent, the looting of the stores was completed; the burghers drank up a quantity of liquor they discovered, and assumed so threatening an attitude that the few English who had remained in the houses, left the town. Some of these were captured, and after a rough mauling and the suggestion of summary execution to save trouble, they were dragged off as spies to General Meyer, who was camped several miles away. He at once set them at liberty with apologies. But loyalists of Dutch extraction who refused to join the Boer forces were held as traitors. One family, the Van Liebenbergs, noted for their loyalty, were seized on their farm, which was looted and wrecked. The father and the son of fifteen were first flogged, then sent to Pretoria. The wife and daughters were placed in their wagon and isolated in the centre of the Boer commando, closely guarded night and day, the girls being frequently insulted. They were then turned adrift without food, leaving amid a shower of stones with notice from the commandant to clear to the British soldiers, whose mistresses they were only fit to become. They joined over three hundred fugitives, many of them women and children, who had fled from Dundee as the Boers approached. Travelling in constant rain and without food or shelter, they suffered terribly on the long tramp to Ladysmith, though they were not molested by the Boer patrols. Some, however, perished from hunger on the way, and many were saved from absolute starvation by British scouting parties, who cheerfully gave up their scanty rations.
   Having failed in his objective at Dundee, Joubert led his entire force toward Ladysmith, the Free State commandoes pouring from the passes to assist in the investment. General White found his now augmented command too worn to strike an immediate blow at the enemy. He has been severely blamed for not using his cavalry more at this juncture, but men and horses were utterly exhausted, and required at least a few hours rest. On October 27th, he attempted to draw a Transvaal commando located at Lombard’s Kop, but the enemy who held Dewaal’s farm were not engaged until nearly sunset. He bivouacked to renew the attack at daybreak; but the Boers withdrew in the night, under Joubert’s explicit orders not to risk further battle until the forces were completely mobilised. On the 28th, General French made a reconnaissance in force toward Mount Bulwhana, which in everyday parlance means that he marched out to surprise the enemy, and finding the attack impractical, withdrew with information more or less useful.
   On Sunday the 29th, Major Heath from a balloon located the enemy busily entrenching on Pepworth Hill, placing guns on its flat summit to bombard Ladysmith. Reconnaissance showed that fresh commandoes had occupied other hills in the vicinity. In their stupendous ignorance of Boer resources, the authorities had not dreamed of the complete investment of Ladysmith, and they had little numerical conception of the invading forces. During the afternoon the famous "Long Tom" commenced to shell the town, and White determined to assault the position at daybreak, hoping with his entire force to repeat his previous successes.

Long Tom in position above Ladysmith

   Scouts having reported a wide gap between the Transvaalers at Pepworth and the Free Staters, Colonel Carletori with the 1st Gloucesters, 1st Royal Irish Fusiliers, and 10th Mountain Battery was despatched on Sunday night to pass between the two forces in the darkness, and hold a hill from which the Boer line of retreat would be threatened and the Free Staters kept from the left flank of the main column. With Major Adye of the staff, the little column marched out at 10 pm. and silently wended its way in the darkness. All went well until midnight, when the force was passing through a narrow rocky defile near their objective. Huge boulders here suddenly crashed down the hillside among the infantry.
   The order for absolute silence on the march was obeyed, however; the column halted, and the command to lie down was passed in whispers along the line. The halt deceived the Boer outposts on the cliffs above, and mounting their horses they rode recklessly down the steep hillside, blundering right into the ammunition mules. With shouts of terror they spurred their way through and disappeared in the night ere a shot could be fired, but startled by the sudden disturbance two mules reared and broke loose from their native drivers. Most of these usually plucky Cape boys dropped their reins and bolted, and in the indescribable fear that sometimes dominates the animal breast, battery and ammunition mules burst away in a sudden wild stampede, carrying the guns, shells, and rifle ammunition with them. The officers, after quieting their men, admitted the advisability of retiring; but since this would have left White’s left unprotected, hazarding the success of his attack, they finally decided to go on and do what they could. The force without guns or reserve ammunition moved over toward Nicholson’s Nek, and seized a flat-topped hill and ridge, which they rudely strengthened with rough breastworks before daybreak.
   Two hours before dawn, the main columns left Ladysmith. Under General Hamilton, the 7th Brigade, comprising the 1st Devons, 1st Manchesters, 2nd Gordons, and the newly arrived 2nd Rifle Brigade, which detrained from Maritzburg and marched straight to battle, moved against Pepworth Hill with three field batteries and the Light Horse. The right column, under Colonel Grimwood, comprising the 1st Leicesters, 1st Rifles, 2nd Dublin Fusiliers, and 1st Liverpools with three field batteries, and the Natal volunteer battery, moved toward Farquhar’s Farm. The cavalry brigade, under General French, and the mounted infantry operated on the extreme right flank.
   The Boer "Long Tom" opened the fight by dropping a shell in the main column, on the Newcastle road. The heavy Creusot 40-pounder had been mounted on Pepworth Hill with stupendous difficulty. It was guarded only by a small commando under De Wet, and the Irish-American corps, commanded by Colonel Blake. With this corps was the fiery Major McBride, who ran for Member of Parliament in his borough while he was in Africa bearing arms against his own country. This motley band of adventurers provided Dr. Leyds with a cue for his assertion that three thousand Americans and "thousands" of Irishmen were fighting to uphold the Transvaal flag. Their impetuous invitation to battle nearly cost them dearly. The picket that had blundered on Carleton’s column had reported an immense force of British toward Nicholson’s Nek, which caused a general diversion of the Boers from Pepworth. But for the arrival of Meyer’s force on the right, depleted by their defeat at Talana and subsequent desertions, but burning to retrieve their lost prestige, the 7th. Brigade would have ousted the Boer-Irish force from the heights and captured the most famous gun of the Republic.
   The artillery came into action and raked the crest, driving the gunners from their piece, and wounding Blake, while the infantry drove the Boers gradually back against the base of the hill. Several times "Long Tom" re-opened only to be silenced by the puny field-guns below, and his hours seemed numbered as the infantry closed in. Heavy firing at Nicholson Nek showed that Carleton was covering the left, as arranged, and De Wet’s burghers and the alien corps looked with dismay at the troops advancing against them, and their main force engaged elsewhere.
   The British right had found the enemy at Farquhar’s farm, when Meyer’s column was augmented by an eight-gun battery of artillery. The guns rapidly came into action and, covered by successive kopjes, the Boer riflemen opened at deadly range on Grimwood’s left flank. The Manchesters were at once detached from the centre to reinforce the right, but at this juncture other commandoes moved from the direction of Lombard’s Kop against Grimwood’s right, and he was almost enveloped. French’s cavalry brigade was operating far on the right, and dismounting his troopers he edged in, meeting this advance with carbine fire; but the squadrons were almost cut off from their horses, and Hamilton, leaving only one battery to shell Pepworth, was obliged to move his force over from the centre to avert disaster. By accidental strategy, of which their leaders had promptly taken advantage, the Boers had been enabled to deliver effective counter attacks; their rapid change of front and the timely arrival of reinforcements negatived the entire British plan. Other commandoes now closed in with Maxims and an automatic quick-firer, and Grimwood’s brigade, greatly outnumbered, was forced to retire across the open, the batteries and Hamilton’s brigade covering the movement.
   Another practical lesson of the overwhelming number of the invading Boers was learned when a despatch was delivered to White announcing that a force of the enemy with artillery was menacing Ladysmith from the north. The commandoes that had been led toward Bell’s Spruit, by the exaggerated reports of Carleton’s column, had assisted in overwhelming this small and handicapped command, and under cover of the main action had advanced against the Ladysmith outposts. Reluctantly White gave the order for a general retreat, the enemy pressing close the moment the infantry fell back.
   The artillery pluckily held their ground under a terrific fire from rifles and machine and field guns, while the advance battalions retired doggedly through the intervals between the batteries. But circling round the kopjes surrounding the valley, the mobile riflemen pressed forward on the British flanks, delivering a heavy enfilade fire. It was first fight for most of them, and with impetuosity stirred by the British retirement, and beautifully covered by their guns on the surrounding hills, they ran the tired regiments hard.
   Colonel Coxhead then saved the day with the guns. The 13th and 53rd batteries galloped forward through a shower of projectiles, and faced annihilation to cover the retreat. It was not for nothing that the 13th had been called the model battery that was "fit to go anywhere and fit to do anything," with the 53rd running it a dead heat for bravery. Steadily, as though on parade, the gunners hammered the Boer pursuit until the burghers were checked. The vicious Tickers-Maxim, however, was turned against the gunners’ flank and sent a rapid stream of one-pound shells among the guns until it was fought and temporarily silenced by a subdivision of the 53rd.
   At this juncture Joubert’s entire army had closed in to harass the British retirement, but the two light field batteries faced them and checked them until the column was safe, and then retired alternately, one unlimbering and opening fire while the other fell back to a position behind it. As the men of the 53rd started in turn to retire, a gun was overturned in a ditch, the team being piled up indescribably. Lieutenant Higgins and the surviving gunners extricated the drivers, unhitched and untangled the team, and righted the gun, bringing it up safely at a gallop amid the cheers of their comrades. The enemy, covered by a hedge, crawled in close, and delivered a severe fire during the operation.
   The nature of the ground enabled the Boers to follow the retiring columns at easy rifle range without becoming endangered by the fire of their own artillery. But news of the defeat had already reached Ladysmith, where the naval contingent from HMS "Terrible" had just detrained from Durban with two naval quick firers which had been placed on field mountings, hurriedly but effectively constructed by Captain Scott. Lieutenant Egerton, unable to obtain transportation for the guns, rigged dragropes, and his men hauled the heavy pieces to meet the force and cover their retirement. As the column wound over the rising ground leading into Ladysmith, the heavy Boer guns again opened accurately, the first shot blowing an ambulance and its occupants to pieces. But to the surprise of the Boers, religiously supplied with information respecting the army by disloyal Natal Dutch, successive shells from guns that ranged their own, rapidly silenced "Long Tom," scoring at least one success in the day of failure.
   Not until nightfall did Ladysmith learn of the fate of the devoted regiments which had faced certain disaster rather than jeopardise the success of the planned attack. After an anxious night, daybreak had revealed an overwhelming force of the enemy closing in on them. Unfortunately the position on the nek that Carleton had seized in the darkness, was commanded by neighbouring hills, and a dropping fire soon raged around the Gloucesters and Irish from an unseen foe lurking among the rocks above and beyond them. For a time the fire was returned, but ammunition was soon exhausted. The little force was entirely surrounded, and though the rapidly thinning ranks waited with fixed bayonets, expecting relief from the centre, the location of the firing soon apprised them of White’s retirement. Dead and wounded were piled up inside the ineffectual shelters, but the men grimly held their ground, and the old Boer subterfuge of sounding "Retire!" to lure them into the open, failed to draw.
   Then word was passed along the line that the white flag was raised and the force was to surrender; and Boers rapidly rode toward the position, signalling the men to lay down their rifles. There was a yell of defiance from the soldiers. The Gloucesters and Fusiliers fought together at Waterloo; the latter were the celebrated troops who had "cleared the way" in many combats, and officers and men shouted that they would not surrender. But the leading burghers pointed to a low spur in the centre, jutting from the nek; the white flag was certainly waving, by order, the officers supposed, and it was their duty to order their men to lay down their arms. For once, though, their orders were not obeyed, and even the unarmed gunners of the stampeded battery seized rifles from dead men and prepared to help resist with the bayonet. But the subalterns entreated their companions not to violate the flag, and to obey orders. Some officers snatched guns from their men and threw them to the ground, and finally reason prevailed. Several officers broke their swords, and as the Boers closed in, the men flung themselves on the ground, cursing and weeping. They were made prisoners by Commandant Steenekamp, their wounded being treated with every consideration. Sleiman escorted the captured men to Pretoria. It subsequently transpired that the flag had been raised by a wounded sergeant of the Gloucesters, who with ten men had survived a party holding an outlying and exposed position. Unable to move, and believing from the cessation of the firing above them that they were abandoned, they tied a handkerchief to a rifle which was stuck upright by the bayonet in the ground before their breastwork; and greatly surprised were they to hear the shouts of their comrades above them when the Boer volleys stopped. Further resistance, however, would have entailed useless slaughter, but officers and men stoutly claim, "We did not surrender, we were surrendered," and there is no discredit to those concerned.
   Despite the signal victories of Dundee, Elandslaagte, and the success at Rietfontein, White now found the enemy closing in on all sides in a strength that the colonial authorities had little dreamed of. The awakening of Pepworth Hill had cost heavily in killed, wounded, and missing, and but for the urgent representations of the Colonial Government to hold Ladysmith at all costs, White would have fallen back across the Tugela to await reinforcements.
   During the siege of Badajoz in 1812, Lieutenant Harry Smith saved the honour of a beautiful, young Spanish countess. The age of chivalry was not then dead and the sequel to the romance is that the young officer became one of the few successful administrators in South Africa, and Lady Smith, who followed her husband through his adventurous career, shared his popularity. Hence, Harrismith in the Free State and Ladysmith in Natal. The latter settlement, which, has since grown into an important town, was built on the flat ground sloping down to the Klip River. Enclosed and commanded on three sides by a horse-shoe of hills, it proved an ideal place for Boer investment. But General White immediately prepared for defence, sending out most of his women and children to Maritzburg, expecting at least to be able to sustain communications along the railroad to Durban.
   De Botha’s forces join Joubert’s and there are now more than 20000 Boer investing Ladysmith. General White still believes he can win but, by numbers alone, his ambition is doomed to failure; Ladysmith will fall. This places Burleigh, Nevinson, myself and the other press-men in the city on the horns of a dilemma; stay to follow the defence and become trapped, or leave today and try to make Cape Town. The decision is made for us, however, when General White orders that that the wounded should leave, but civilians and non-combatants must stay. A blood-stained leg bandage becomes my ticket out and as the "Long Toms" begin to pound the city, I leave on what must be one of the last trains for Cape Town.
   On November 2nd, General French with cavalry and artillery made a sortie toward Besters, shelling the Boers out of a laager. Much more of this sort of work might have been done by surprising isolated commandoes and by night attacks, but after Nicholson’s Nek, White was naturally cautious. The troops also were engaged on heavy fatigue and garrison duty, being chiefly occupied in building defences for the town. Had the natives been hired or even impressed, as a military necessity, with good pay, black labour might have accomplished much of this work. Indigent natives afterwards had to be fed, and no great difficulty stood in the way of their employment, as in Kimberley and Mafeking, leaving the troops free for military purposes. Close investment was not expected, however, until farmers from the South flocked into Ladysmith with stories of wanton outrage and plunder, and it dawned on the little garrison that they were being hemmed in. The cordon grew tighter, and on the 4th, the enemy was seen hovering in the vicinity of Colenso, where the line crosses the Tugela. General French left on the armoured train for Durban that morning to arrange for reinforcements, and the cars were shelled ineffectually. Later in the day the small garrison holding Colenso was attacked and driven south, the rails were torn up, hills in the vicinity closely occupied, and despite two desperate and successful sorties, the isolation of Ladysmith, with its garrison of ten thousand men, was completed on the following day.

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