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Title: The Defence of Duffer's Drift
Author: Swinton, Ernest Dunlop, 1868-1951
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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       *       *       *       *       *

VOL. I.            April, 1905            No. 4.



MAJOR WM. P. EVANS, A.A.G., _Editor_


Entered July 5, 1904, at the Post Office at Washington, D.C.,
as second-class matter, under act of March 3, 1879. Copyright,
1904, by the U.S. Infantry Association. All rights reserved.



Major-General J.C. BATES, U.S. Army.

Lieutenant-Colonel JAS. S. PETTIT, U.S. Infantry.
_Assistant Adjutant-General._

_Secretary and Treasurer._
Captain BENJAMIN ALVORD, General Staff.

_Executive Council._
Lieutenant-Colonel JAMES S. PETTIT, U.S. Infantry, A.A.G.
Major WM. P. EVANS, U.S. Infantry, A.A.G.
Major JOHN S. MALLORY, 12th Infantry, G.S.
Captain BENJAMIN ALVORD, 25th Infantry, G.S.
Captain H.C. HALE, 15th Infantry, G.S.
Captain C.H. MUIR, 2d Infantry, G.S.
Captain FRANK MCINTYRE, 19th Infantry, G.S.
Captain D.E. NOLAN, 30th Infantry, G.S.





Upon an evening after a long and tiring trek, I arrived at Dreamdorp.
The local atmosphere, combined with a heavy meal, are responsible for
the following nightmare, consisting of a series of dreams. To make the
sequence of the whole intelligible, it is necessary to explain that,
though the scene of each vision was the same, yet by some curious
mental process I had no recollection of the place whatsoever. In each
dream the locality was totally new to me, and I had an entirely fresh
detachment. Thus I had not the great advantage of working over
familiar ground. One thing, and one only, was carried on from dream to
dream, and that was the vivid recollection of the general lessons
previously learnt. These finally produced success.

The whole series of dreams, however, remained in my memory as a
connected whole when I awoke.


    "Any fool can get into a hole."--_Old Chinese proverb._

    "If left to you, for defence make spades."--_Bridge Maxim._

I felt lonely, and not a little sad, as I stood on the bank of the
river near Duffer's Drift and watched the red dust haze, raised by the
southward departing column in the distance, turn slowly into gold as
it hung in the afternoon sunlight. It was just three o'clock, and here
I was on the banks of the Silliaasvogel river, left behind by my
column with a party of fifty N.C.O.'s and men to hold the drift. It
was an important ford, because it was the only one across which
wheeled traffic could pass for some miles up or down the river.

[Illustration: MAP OF DUFFER'S DRIFT.]

The river was a sluggish stream, not now in flood, crawling along at
the very bottom of its bed between steep banks which were almost
vertical, or at any rate too steep for wagons everywhere except at the
drift itself. The banks from the river edge to their tops and some
distance outwards were covered with dense thorn and other bushes,
which formed a screen impenetrable to the sight. They were also broken
by small ravines and holes, where the earth had been eaten away by the
river when in flood, and were consequently very rough.

Some two thousand odd yards north of the drift was a flat-topped,
rocky mountain, and about a mile to the northeast appeared the usual
sugar-loaf kopje, covered with bushes and boulders--steep on the
south, but gently falling to the north; this had a farm on the near
side of it. About a thousand yards south of the drift was a convex and
smooth hill, somewhat like an inverted basin, sparsely sown with small
boulders, and with a Kaffir kraal, consisting of a few grass and mud
huts on top. Between the river and the hills on the north the ground
consisted of open and almost level veldt; on the south bank the veldt
was more undulating, and equally open. The whole place was covered
with ant-hills.

My orders were--to hold Duffer's Drift at all costs. That I should
probably be visited by some column within three or four days' time.
That I might possibly be attacked before that time, but that this was
very unlikely, as no enemy were known to be within a hundred miles.
That the enemy had guns.

It all seemed plain enough except that the true inwardness of the last
piece of information did not strike me at the time. Though in company
with fifty "good men and true," it certainly made me feel somewhat
lonely and marooned to be left out there comparatively alone on the
boundless veldt; but the chance of an attack filled me, and, I am
quite sure, my men with martial ardor; and at last here was the chance
I had so often longed for. This was my first "show," my first
independent command, and I was determined to carry out my orders to
the bitter end. I was young and inexperienced, it is true, but I had
passed all my examinations with fair success; my men were a good
willing lot, with the traditions of a glorious regiment to uphold, and
would, I knew, do all I should require of them. We were also well
supplied with ammunition and rations; and had a number of picks,
shovels and sandbags, etc., which I confess had been rather forced on

As I turned towards my gallant little detachment, visions of a bloody
and desperate fight crossed my mind--a fight to the last cartridge,
and then an appeal to cold steel, with ultimate victory--and---- But
a discreet cough at my elbow brought me back to realities, and warned
me that my color-sergeant was waiting for orders.

After a moment's consideration, I decided to pitch my small camp on a
spot just south of the drift, because it was slightly rising ground,
which I knew should be chosen for a camp whenever possible. It was,
moreover, quite close to the drift, which was also in its favor, for,
as everyone knows, if you are told off to guard anything, you mount a
guard quite close to it, and place a sentry, if possible, standing on
top of it. The place picked out by me also had the river circling
round three sides of it in a regular horseshoe bend, which formed a
kind of ditch, or, as the book says, "a natural obstacle." I was
indeed lucky to have such an ideal place close at hand; nothing could
have been more suitable.

I came to the conclusion that, as the enemy were not within a hundred
miles, there would be no need to place the camp in a state of defence
till the following day. Besides, the men were tired after their long
trek, and it would be quite as much as they could do comfortably to
arrange nice and shipshape all the stores and tools, which had been
dumped down anyhow in a heap, pitch the camp, and get their teas
before dark.

Between you and me, I was really relieved to be able to put off my
defensive measures till the morrow, because I was a wee bit puzzled as
to what to do. In fact, the more I thought, the more puzzled I grew.
The only "measures of defence" I could recall for the moment were, how
to tie "a thumb or overhand knot," and how long it takes to cut down
an apple tree of six inches' diameter. Unluckily neither of these
useful facts seemed quite to apply. Now, if they had given me a job
like fighting the battle of Waterloo, or Sedan, or Bull Run, I knew
all about that, as I had crammed it up and been examined in it, too. I
also knew how to take up a position for a division, or even an army
corps, but the stupid little subaltern's game of the defence of a
drift with a small detachment was, curiously enough, most perplexing.
I had never really considered such a thing. However, in the light of
my habitual dealings with army corps, it would, no doubt, be
child's-play after a little thought.

Having issued my immediate orders accordingly, I decided to explore
the neighborhood, but was for a moment puzzled as to which direction I
should take; for, having no horse, I could not possibly get all round
before dark. After a little thought, it flashed across my mind that
obviously I should go to the north. The bulk of the enemy being away
to the north, that, of course, must be the _front_. I knew naturally
that there must be a front, because in all the schemes I had had to
prepare, or the exams I had undergone, there was always a front,
or--"the place where the enemies come from." How often, also, had I
not had trouble in getting out of a dull sentry which his "front" and
what his "beat" was. The north, then, being my front, the east and
west were my flanks, where there might possibly be enemies, and the
south was my _rear_, where naturally there were none.

I settled these knotty points to my satisfaction, and off I trudged,
with my field-glasses and, of course, my kodak, directing my steps
towards the Dutch farm, with gleaming white walls, nestling under the
kopje to the northeast. It was quite a snug little farm for South
Africa, surrounded by blue gums and fruit trees. About a quarter of a
mile from the farm I was met by the owner, Mr. Andreas Brink, a tame
or surrendered Boer farmer, and his two sons, Piet and Gert. Such a
nice man, too, with a pleasant face and long beard. He would insist on
calling me "captain," and as any correction might have confused him, I
did not think it worth while to make any, and after all I wasn't so
very far from my "company." The three of them positively bristled with
dog's-eared and dirty passes from every provost marshal in South
Africa, which they insisted on showing me. I had not thought of
asking for them, and was much impressed; to have so many they must be
special men. They escorted me to the farm, where the guid wife and
several daughters met us, and gave me a drink of milk, which was most
acceptable after my long and dusty trek. The whole family appeared
either to speak or to understand English, and we had a very friendly
chat, during the course of which I gathered that there were no Boer
commandoes anywhere within miles; that the whole family cordially
hoped that there never would be again, and that Brink was really a
most loyal Briton, and had been much against the war, but had been
forced to go on commando with his two sons. Their loyalty was evident,
because there was an oleograph of the Queen on the wall, and one of
the numerous flappers was playing our National anthem on the harmonium
as I entered.

The farmer and the boys took a great interest in all my personal gear,
especially a brand-new pair of latest-pattern field-glasses, which
they tried with much delight, and many exclamations of "Allermachtig."
They evidently appreciated them extremely, but could not imagine any
use for my kodak in war-time, even after I had taken a family group.
Funny, simple fellows! They asked and got permission from me to sell
milk, eggs, and butter in the camp, and I strolled on my way
congratulating myself on the good turn I was thus able to do myself
and detachment, none of whom had even smelt such luxuries for weeks.

After an uneventful round, I directed my steps back towards the thin
blue threads of smoke, rising vertically in the still air, which alone
showed the position of my little post, and as I walked the
peacefulness of the whole scene impressed me. The landscape lay bathed
in the warm light of the setting sun, whose parting rays tinged most
strongly the various heights within view, and the hush of approaching
evening was only broken by the distant lowing of oxen, and by the
indistinct and cheerful hum of the camp, which gradually grew louder
as I approached. I strolled along in quite a pleasant frame of mind,
meditating over the rather curious names which Mr. Brink had given me
for the surrounding features of the landscape. The kopje above his
farm was called Incidentamba, the flat-topped mountain some two miles
to the north was called Regret Table Mountain, and the gently rising
hill close to the drift on the south of the river was called Waschout
Hill. Everything was going on well, and the men were at their teas
when I got back. The nice Dutchman, with his apostolic face, and the
lanky Piet and Gert, were already there, surrounded by a swarm of men,
to whom they were selling their wares at exorbitant rates. The three
of them strolled about the camp, showing great interest in everything,
asking most intelligent questions about the British forces and the
general position of affairs, and seemed really relieved to have a
strong British post near. They did not even take offence when some of
the rougher men called them "blarsted Dutchmen," and refused to
converse with them, or buy their "skoff." About dusk they left, with
many promises to return with a fresh supply on the morrow.

After writing out my orders for next day--one of which was for digging
some trenches round the camp, an operation which I knew my men, as
becomes good British soldiers, disliked very much, and regarded as
fatigues--I saw the two guards mounted, one at the drift, and the
other some little way down the river, each furnishing one sentry on
the river bank.

When all had turned in, and the camp was quite silent, it was almost
comforting to hear the half-hourly cry of the sentries--"Number
one--all is well;" "Number two--all is well." By this sound I was able
to locate them, and knew they were at their proper posts. On going
round sentries about midnight, I was pleased to find that they were
both alert, and that, as it was a cold night, each guard had built a
bonfire, silhouetted in the cheerful blaze of which stood the
sentry--a clear-cut monument to all round that here was a British
sentry fully on the _qui-vive_. After impressing them with their
orders, the extent of their "beat," and the direction of their
"front," etc., I turned in. The fires they had built, besides being a
comfort to themselves, were also useful to me, because twice during
the night when I looked out I could, without leaving my tent, plainly
see them at their posts. I finally fell asleep, and dreamt of being
decorated with a crossbelt made of V.C.'s and D.S.O.'s and of wearing
red tabs all down my back.

       *       *       *       *       *

I was suddenly awoken, about the grey of dawn, by a hoarse cry--"Halt!
who goes----" cut short by the unmistakable "plip-plop" of a Mauser
rifle. Before I was off my valise, the reports of Mausers rang around
the camp from every side; these, mingled with the smack of the bullets
as they hit the ground and stripped the "zipzip" of the leaden hail
through the tents, and the curses and groans of men who were hit as
they lay or stumbled about trying to get out, made a hellish din.
There was some wild shooting in return from my men, but it was all
over in a moment, and as I managed to wriggle out of my tent the whole
place was swarming with bearded men, shooting into the heaving canvas.
At that moment I must have been clubbed on the head, for I knew no
more until I found myself seated on an empty case having my head,
which was dripping with blood, tied up by one of my men.

       *       *       *       *       *

Our losses were ten men killed, including both sentries, and
twenty-one wounded; the Boers, one killed and two wounded.

       *       *       *       *       *

Later on, as, at the order of the not ill-natured but very frowzy Boer
commandant, I was gloomily taking off the saucy warm spotted waistcoat
knitted for me by my sister, I noticed our friends of the previous
evening in very animated and friendly conversation with the burghers,
and "Pappa" was, curiously enough, carrying a rifle and bandolier and
my new field-glasses. He was laughing and pointing towards something
lying on the ground, through which he finally put his foot. This, to
my horror, I recognized as my unhappy camera. Here, I suppose, my mind
must have slightly wandered, for I found myself repeating some Latin
lines, once my favorite imposition, but forgotten since my

    "Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes----"

when suddenly the voice of the field cornet broke into my musing with
"Your breeches, too, captain."

       *       *       *       *       *

Trekking all that day on foot, sockless, and in the boots of another,
I had much to think of besides my throbbing head. The sight of the
long Boer convoy with guns, which had succeeded so easily in crossing
the drift _I_ was to have held, was a continual reminder of my
failure, and of my responsibility for the dreadful losses to my poor
detachment. I gradually gathered from the Boers what I had already
partially guessed, namely, that they had been fetched and guided all
round our camp by friend Brink, had surrounded it in the dark,
crawling about in the bush on the river bank, and had carefully marked
down our two poor sentries. These they had at once shot on the alarm
being given, and had then rushed the camp from the dense cover on
three sides. Towards evening my head got worse, and its rhythmic
throbbing seemed gradually to take a meaning, and hammered out the
following lessons, the result of much pondering on my failure:

1. Do not put off taking your measures of defence till the morrow, as
this is more important than the comfort of your men or the shipshape
arrangement of your camp. Choose the position of your camp mainly with
reference to your defence.

2. Do not in war-time show stray men of the enemy's breed all over
your camp, be they never so kind and full of butter, and do not be
hypnotized, by numerous "passes," at once to confide in them.

3. Do not let your sentries advertise their position to the whole
world, including the enemy, by standing in the full glare of a fire,
and making much noise every half hour.

4. Do not, if avoidable, be in tents when bullets are ripping through
them: at such times a hole in the ground is worth many tents.

After these lessons had been dinned into my soul millions and millions
of times, so that I could never forget them, a strange thing came to
pass--there was a kaleidoscopic change. I had another dream.


    "And what did ye look they should compass? Warcraft learnt in a breath,
    Knowledge unto occasion at the first far view of Death?"--KIPLING.

I suddenly found myself dumped down at Duffer's Drift with the same
orders as already detailed, and an equal detachment composed of
entirely different men. As before, and on every subsequent occasion, I
had ample stores, ammunition, and tools. My position was precisely
similar to my former one, with this important exception, running
through my brain were _four_ lessons.

As soon as I received my orders, therefore, I began to make out my
plan of operations without wasting any time over the landscape, the
setting sun, or the departing column, which, having off-loaded all our
stores, soon vanished. I was determined to carry out all the lessons I
had learnt as well as I knew how.

To prevent any strangers, friendly or otherwise, from coming into my
position and spying out the elaborate defences I was going to make, I
sent out at once two examining posts of one N.C.O. and three men each,
one to the top of Waschout Hill, and the other some 1,000 yards out on
the veldt to the north of the drift. Their orders were to watch the
surrounding country, and give the alarm in the event of the approach
of any body of men whatever (Boers were, of course, improbable, but
still just possible), and also to stop any individuals, friendly or
not, from coming anywhere near camp, and to shoot at once on
non-compliance with the order to halt. If the new-comers had any
provisions to sell, these were to be sent in with a list by one of the
guard, who would return with the money, but the strangers were not to
be allowed nearer the camp on any account.

Having thus arranged a safeguard against spies, I proceeded to choose
a camping-ground. I chose the site already described in my former
dream, and for the same reasons, which still appealed to me. So long
as I was entrenched, it appeared the best place around. We started
making our trenches as soon as I had marked off a nice squarish little
enclosure which would about contain our small camp. Though, of
course, the north was the front, I thought, having a camp, it would be
best to have an all-round defence as a sort of obstacle. The majority
of the men were told off to dig, which they did not relish, a few
being detailed to pitch camp and prepare tea. As the length of trench
was rather great for the available number of diggers, and the soil was
hard, we were only able by dark, by which time the men were quite done
up by their hard day, to make quite a low parapet and shallow trench.
Still, we were "entrenched," which was the great thing, and the trench
was all round our camp, so we were well prepared, even should we be
attacked during the night or early next morning, which was out of the

During this time one or two strangers had approached the guard of the
north from a farm under Incidentamba. As they had eggs and butter,
etc., to sell, these were brought in as arranged for. The man sent in
with the stuff reported that the elder of the Dutchmen was a most
pleasant man, and had sent me a present of a pat of butter and some
eggs, with his compliments, and would I allow him to come in and speak
to me. However, not being such a fool as to allow him in my defences,
I went out instead, in case he had any information. His only
information was that there were no Boers anywhere near. He was an old
man, but though he had a museum of "passes," I was not to be
chloroformed by them into confidence. As he seemed friendly, and
possibly loyal, I walked part of the way back to his farm with him, in
order to look around. At dark the two examining posts came in, and two
guards were mounted close by the object I was to watch, namely, the
drift, at the same places as in my previous dream. This time, however,
there was no half-hourly shouting, nor were there any fires, and the
sentries had orders not to challenge but to shoot any person they
might see outside camp at once. They were placed standing down the
river bank, just high enough to see over the top, and were thus not
unnecessarily exposed. Teas had been eaten, and all fires put out at
dusk, and after dark all turned in, but in the trenches instead of in
tents. After going round sentries to see everything snug for the
night, I lay down myself with a sense of having done my duty, and
neglected no possible precaution for our safety.

       *       *       *       *       *

Just before dawn much the same happened as already described in my
first dream, except that the ball was started by a shot without
challenge from one of our sentries at something moving among the bush,
which resulted in close range fire opening onto us from all sides.
This time we were not rushed, but a perfect hail of bullets whistled
in from every direction--from in front of each trench, along each
trench, and from behind each trench, and over and through our parapet.
It was sufficient to put a hand or head up to have a dozen bullets
through and all round it, and the strange part was, we saw no one. As
the detachment wag plaintively remarked, we could have seen lots of
Boers, "if wasn't for the bushes in between."

After vainly trying until bright daylight to see the enemy in order to
do some damage in return, so many men were hit, and the position
seemed so utterly hopeless, that I had to hoist the white flag. We had
by then twenty-four men killed and six wounded. As soon as the white
flag went up the Boers ceased firing at once, and stood up; every bush
and ant-hill up to 100 yards' range seemed to have hid a Boer behind
it. This close range explained the marvelous accuracy of their
shooting, and the great proportion of our killed (who were nearly all
shot through the head) to our wounded.

As we were collecting ourselves preparatory to marching off, there
were one or two things which struck me; one was that the Dutchman who
had presented me with eggs and butter was in earnest confabulation
with the Boer commandant, who was calling him "Oom" most
affectionately. I also noticed that all the male Kaffirs from the
neighboring kraal had been fetched and impressed to assist in getting
the Boer guns and wagons across the drift and to load up our captured
gear, and generally do odd and dirty jobs. These same Kaffirs did
their work with amazing alacrity, and looked as if they enjoyed it;
there was no "backchat" when an order was given--usually by friend

Again, as I trudged with blistered feet that livelong day, did I
think over my failure. It seemed so strange, I had done all I knew,
and yet, here we were, ignominiously captured, twenty-four of us
killed, and the Boers over the drift. "Ah, B.F., my boy," I thought,
"there must be a few more lessons to be learnt besides those you
already know," and in order to find out what these were, I pondered
deeply over the details of the fight.

How the Boers must have known of our position, and how they had
managed to get close up all round within snapshooting range without
being discovered. What a tremendous advantage they had had in shooting
from among the bushes on the bank, where they could not be seen, over
us who had to show up over a parapet every time we looked for an
enemy, and show up, moreover, just in the very place where every Boer
expected us to, and was watching. There seemed to be some fault in the
position. How the bullets seemed sometimes to come through the
parapet, and how those that passed over one side hit the men defending
the other side in the back. How on the whole that "natural obstacle,"
the river bed, seemed to be more of a disadvantage than a protection.

Eventually the following lessons framed themselves in my head--some of
them quite new, some of them supplementing those four I had already

5. With modern rifles, to guard a drift or locality does _not_
necessitate sitting on top of it (as if it could be picked up and
carried away), unless the locality is suitable to hold for other and
defensive reasons. It may even be much better to take up your
defensive position some way from the spot, and so away from concealed
ground, which enables the enemy to crawl up to very close range,
concealed and unperceived, and to fire from cover which hides them
even when shooting. It would be better, if possible, to have the enemy
in the open, or to have what is called a clear "field of fire."

A non-bullet proof parapet or shelter which is visible serves merely
to attract bullets instead of keeping them out--the proof-thickness
can be easily tested practically.

When fired at by an enemy at close range from nearly all round, a low
parapet and shallow trench are not of much use, as what bullets do
not hit the defenders on one side hit those on another.

6. It is _not_ enough to keep strange men of the enemy's breed away
from your actual defences, letting them go free to warn their friends
of your existence and whereabouts--even though they do not know the
details of your defences. It would be very much better to gather in
all such strangers and kindly, but firmly, to take care of them, so
that they should not be under temptation to impart any knowledge they
may have obtained. "Another way," as the cookery book says, more
economical in lives, would be as follows: Gather and warmly greet a
sufficiency of strangers. Stuff well with chestnuts as to the large
force about to join you in a few hours; garnish with corroborative
detail, and season according to taste with whiskey or tobacco. This
will very likely be sufficient for the nearest commando. Probable
cost--some heavy and glib lying, but no lives will be expended.

7. It is not business to allow lazy black men (even though they be
brothers and neutrals) to sit and pick their teeth outside their
kraals whilst tired white men are breaking their hearts trying to do
heavy labor in short time. It is more the duty of a Christian soldier
to teach the dusky neutral the dignity of labor, and to keep him under
guard, to prevent his going away to talk about it.

By the time the above lessons had been well burnt into my brain,
beyond all chance of forgetfulness, a strange thing happened--I had a
fresh dream.


    "So when we take tea with a few guns, o' course you will know
      what to do--hoo! hoo!"--KIPLING.

I was at Duffer's Drift on a similar sunny afternoon and under
precisely similar conditions, except that I now had _seven_ lessons
running through my mind.

I at once sent out two patrols, each of one N.C.O. and three men, one
to the north and one to the south. They were to visit all neighboring
farms and kraals and bring in all able-bodied Dutchmen and boys and
male Kaffirs--by persuasion if possible, but by force if necessary.
This would prevent the news of our arrival being carried around to any
adjacent commandoes, and would also assist to solve the labor
question. A small guard was mounted on the top of Waschout Hill as a

I decided that as the drift could not get up and run away, it was not
necessary to take up my post or position quite close to it, especially
as such a position would be under close rifle fire from the river
bank, to which the approaches were quite concealed, and which gave
excellent cover. The very worst place for such a position seemed to be
anywhere within the horseshoe bend of the river, as this would allow
an enemy practically to surround it. My choice, therefore, fell on a
spot to which the ground gently rose from the river bank some 700 to
800 yards south of the drift. Here I arranged to dig a trench roughly
facing the front (north) which thus would have about 800 yards clear
ground on its front. We started to make a trench about fifty yards
long for my fifty men, according to the usual rule.

Some little time after beginning, the patrols came in, having
collected three Dutchmen and two boys, and about thirteen Kaffirs. The
former, the leader of whom seemed a man of education and some
importance, were at first inclined to protest when they were given
tools to dig trenches for themselves, showed bundles of "passes," and
talked very big about complaining to the General, and even as to a
question in the "House" about our brutality. This momentarily
staggered me, as I could not help wondering what might happen to poor
B.F. if the member for Upper Tooting should raise the point; but
Westminster was far away, and I hardened my heart. Finally they had
the humor to see the force of the argument, that it was, after all,
necessary, for their own health, as they would otherwise be out in the
open veldt, should the post be attacked.

The Kaffirs served as a welcome relief to my men as they got tired.
They also dug a separate hole for themselves on one side of and behind
our trench, in a small ravine.

By evening we had quite a decent trench dug--the parapet was about
two feet six inches thick at the top, and was quite bullet-proof, as I
tested it. Our trench was not all in one straight line, but in two
portions, broken back at a slight angle, so as to get a more divergent
fire [rather cunning of me], though each half was of course as
straight as I could get it.

It was astonishing what difficulty I had to get the men to dig in a
nice straight line. I was particular as to this point, because I once
heard a certain captain severely "told off" at manoeuvres by a very
senior officer for having his trenches "out of dressing." No one could
tell whether some "brass hat" might not come around and inspect us
next day, so it was as well to be prepared for anything.

At dusk the guard on Waschout Hill, for whom a trench had also been
dug, was relieved and increased to six men, and after teas and giving
out the orders for the next day, we all "turned in" in our trenches.
The tents were not pitched, as we were not going to occupy them, and
it was no good merely showing up our position. A guard was mounted
over our prisoners, or rather "guests," and furnished one sentry to
watch over them.

Before falling asleep I ran over my seven lessons, and it seemed to me
I had left nothing undone which could possibly help towards success.
We were entrenched, had a good bullet-proof defence, all our rations
and ammunition close at hand in the trenches, and water-bottles
filled. It was with a contented feeling of having done everything
right and of being quite "the little white-haired boy" that I
gradually dozed off.

Next morning dawned brightly and uneventfully, and we had about an
hour's work improving details of our trenches before breakfasts were
ready. Just as breakfast was over, the sentry on Waschout Hill
reported a cloud of dust away to the north, by Regret Table Mountain.
This was caused by a large party of men mounted with wheeled transport
of some sort. They were most probably the enemy, and seemed to be
trekking in all innocence of our presence for the drift.

What a "scoop," I thought, if they come on quite unsuspecting, and
cross the drift in a lump without discerning our position. I shall
lie low, let the advanced party go past without a shot, and wait until
the main body gets over this side within close range, and then open
magazine fire into the thick of them. Yes, it will be just when they
reach that broken ant-hill about 400 yards away that I shall give the
word "Fire!"

However, it was not to be. After a short time the enemy halted,
apparently for consideration. The advanced men seemed to have a
consultation, and then gradually approached Incidentamba farm with
much caution. Two or three women ran out and waved, whereupon these
men galloped up to the farm at once. What passed, of course, we could
not tell, but evidently the women gave information as to our arrival
and position, because the effect was electrical. The advanced Boers
split up into two main parties, one riding towards the river a long
way to the east, and another going similarly to the west. One man
galloped back with the information obtained to the main body, which
became all bustle, and started off with their wagons behind
Incidentamba, when they were lost to sight. Of course, they were all
well out of range, and as we were quite ready, the only thing to do
was to wait till they came out in the open within range, and then to
shoot them down.

The minutes seemed to crawl--five, then ten minutes passed with no
further sign of the enemy. Suddenly, "Beg pardon, sir; I think I see
somethink on top of that kop-je on the fur side yonder." One of the
men drew my attention to a few specks which looked like wagons moving
about on the flatish shoulder of Incidentamba. Whilst I was focussing
my glasses there was a "boom" from the hill, followed by a sharp
report and a puff of smoke up in the air quite close by, then the
sound as of heavy rain pattering down some two hundred feet in front
of the trench, each drop raising its own little cloud of dust. This,
of course, called forth the time-honored remarks of "What ho, she
bumps!" and "Now we shan't be long," which proved only too true. I was
aghast--I had quite forgotten the possibility of guns being used
against me, though, had I remembered their existence, I do not know
with my then knowledge, what difference it would have made to my
defensive measures. As there was some little uneasiness among my men,
I, quite cheerful in the security of our nice trench with the thick
bullet-proof parapet, at once shouted out, "It's all right, men; keep
under cover, and they can't touch us." A moment later there was a
second boom, the shell whistled over our heads, and the hillside some
way behind the trench was spattered with bullets.

By this time we were crouching as close as possible to the parapet,
which, though it had seemed only quite a short time before so
complete, now suddenly felt most woefully inadequate, with those
beastly shells dropping their bullets down from the sky. Another boom.
This time the shell burst well, and the whole ground in front of the
trench was covered with bullets, one man being hit. At this moment
rifle fire began on Waschout Hill, but no bullets came our way. Almost
immediately another shot followed which showered bullets all over us;
a few more men were hit, whose groans were unpleasant to listen to.
Tools were seized, and men began frantically to try and dig themselves
deeper into the hard earth, as our trench seemed to give no more
protection from the dropping bullets than a saucer would from a storm
of rain--but it was too late. We could not sink into the earth fast
enough. The Boers had got the range of the trench to a nicety, and the
shells burst over us now with a horrible methodic precision. Several
men were hit, and there was no reason why the enemy should cease to
rain shrapnel over us until we were all killed. As we were absolutely
powerless to do anything, I put up the white flag. All I could do was
to thank Providence that the enemy had no quick-firing field guns, or,
though "we had not been long," we should have been blotted out before
we could have hoisted it.

As soon as the gun-fire ceased, I was greatly surprised to find that
no party of Boers came down from their artillery position on
Incidentamba to take our surrender, but within three minutes some
fifty Boers galloped up from the river bank on the east and the west,
and a few more came up from the south round Waschout Hill. The guard
on Waschout Hill, which had done a certain amount of damage to the
enemy, had two men wounded by rifle fire. Not a single shell had come
near them, though they were close to the Kaffir huts, which were plain

       *       *       *       *       *

What an anti-climax the reality had been from the pleasurable
anticipations of the early morn, when I had first sighted the Boers.

Of course, the women on the farm had betrayed us, but it was difficult
to make out why the Boers had at first halted and begun to be
suspicious before they had seen the women at the farm. What could they
have discovered? I failed entirely to solve this mystery.

During the day's trek the following lessons slowly evolved themselves,
and were stored in my mind in addition to those already learnt:

8. When collecting the friendly stranger and his sons in order to
prevent their taking information to the enemy of your existence and
whereabouts, if you are wishful for a "surprise packet," do not forget
also to gather his wife and his daughter, his manservant and his
maidservant (who also have tongues), and his ox and his ass (which may
possibly serve the enemy). Of course, if they are very numerous or
very far off, this is impossible; only do not then hope to surprise
the enemy.

9. Do not forget that, if guns are going to be used against you, a
shallow trench with a low parapet some way from it is worse than
useless, even though the parapet be bullet-proof ten times over. The
trench gives the gunners an object to lay on, and gives no protection
from shrapnel. Against well-aimed long-range artillery fire it would
be better to scatter the defenders in the open, hidden in grass and
bushes, or behind stones or ant-hills, than to keep them huddled in
such a trench. With your men scattered around you can safely let the
enemy fill your trench to the brim with shrapnel bullets.

10. Though to stop a shrapnel bullet much less actual thickness of
earth is necessary than to stop a rifle bullet, yet this earth must be
in the right place. For protection you must be able to get right
close under the cover. As narrow a trench as possible, with the sides
and inside of the parapet as steep as they will stand, will give you
the best chance. To hollow out the bottom of the trench sides to give
extra room will be even better, because the open top of the trench can
be kept the less wide. The more like a mere slit the open top of the
trench is, the fewer shrapnel bullets will get in. While chewing over
these lessons learnt from bitter experience, I had yet another dream.


    "O wad some power the giftie gie us,
      To see oursels as others see us!"

Again did I find myself facing the same problem, this time with _ten_
lessons to guide me. I started off by sending out patrols, as
described in my last dream, but their orders were slightly different.
All human beings were to be brought into our post, and any animals
which could be of use to the enemy were to be shot, as we had no place
for them.

For my defensive post I chose the position already described in my
last dream, which seemed very suitable, for the reasons already given.
We consequently dug a trench similar in plan to that already
described, but, as I feared the possibility of guns being used against
us, it was of a very different section. In plan it faced north
generally, and was slightly broken forward to the front, each half
being quite straight. In section it was about three feet six inches
deep, with a parapet about twelve inches high in front of it; we made
the trench as narrow as possible at the top compatible with free
movement. Each man hollowed out the under part of the trench to suit
himself, and made his own portion of the parapet to suit his height.
The parapet was about two feet six inches thick at the top and quite
steep inside, being built up of pieces of broken ant-heap, which were
nearly as hard as stone.

The patrols returned shortly with their bag of a few men, women, and
children. The women indulged in much useless abuse, and refused to
obey orders, taking the matter less philosophically than their
mankind. Here was evidently an opportunity of making use of the short
training I had once had as A.D.C. I tried it. I treated the ladies
with tons of "tact" in my suavest manner, and repeated the only Dutch
words of comfort I knew--"Al zal recht kom"--but to no purpose. They
had not been brought up to appreciate tact; in fact, they were not
taking any. I turned regretfully round to the color-sergeant, winked
solemnly and officially, and seeing an answering but respectful quiver
in his left eyelid, said:



"Which do you think is the best way of setting alight to a farm?"

"Well, sir, some prefer the large bedstead and straw, but I think the
'armonium and a little kerosene in one corner is as neat as anything."

There was no need for more--the ladies quite understood this sort of
tact; the trouble was over.

The Dutchmen and Kaffirs were at once started digging shelters for
themselves and the women and children. The latter were placed
together, and were put into a small ravine not far from the trench, as
it was necessary to place them in a really deep trench, firstly to
keep them safe, and secondly to prevent their waving or signalling to
the enemy. The existence of this ravine, therefore, saved much
digging, as it only required some hollowing out at the bottom and a
little excavation to suit admirably.

All dug with a will, and by night the shelters for the women and
children and men prisoners, and the firing trench, were nearly done.
All arrangements for the guards and sentries were the same as those
described in the last dream, and after seeing everything was all
correct and the ladies provided with tents to crawl under (they had
their own blankets), I went to sleep with a feeling of well-earned

At daybreak next morning, as there were no signs of any enemy, we
continued to improve our trench, altering the depth and alignment
where necessary, each man suiting the size of the trench to his own
legs. In the end the trench really looked quite neat, with the fresh
red earth contrasting with the yellow of the veldt. As one of my
reservists remarked, it only wanted an edging of oyster shells or
ginger-beer bottles to be like his little "broccoli patch" at home.
Upon these important details and breakfast a good two hours had been
spent, when a force was reported to the north in the same position as
described in the previous dream. It advanced in the same manner,
except, of course, the advance men were met by no one at the farm.
When I saw this, I could not help patting myself on the back and
smiling at the Dutch ladies in the pit, who only scowled at me in
return, and (whisper) spat!

The advanced party of the enemy came on, scouting carefully and
stalking the farm as they came. As they appeared quite unwarned, I was
wondering if I should be able to surprise them, all innocent of our
presence, with a close-range volley, and then magazine fire into their
midst, when suddenly one man stopped and the others gathered round
him. This was when they were some 1,800 yards away, about on a level
with the end of Incidentamba. They had evidently seen something and
sniffed danger, for there was a short palaver and much pointing. A
messenger then galloped back to the main body, which turned off behind
Incidentamba with its wagons, etc. A small number, including a man on
a white horse, rode off in a vague way to the west. The object of this
move I could not quite see. They appeared to have a vehicle with them
of some sort. The advanced party split up as already described. As all
were still at long range, we could only wait.

Very shortly "boom" went a gun from the top of Incidentamba, and a
shrapnel shell burst not far from us. A second and third followed,
after which they soon picked up our range exactly, and the shell began
to burst all about us; however, we were quite snug and happy in our
nice deep trench, where we contentedly crouched. The waste of good and
valuable shrapnel shell by the enemy was the cause of much amusement
to the men, who were in great spirits, and, as one of them remarked,
were "as cosy as cockroaches in a crack." At the expenditure of many
shells two men only were hit--in the legs.

After a time the guns ceased fire, and we at once manned the parapet
and stood up to repel an attack, but we could see no Boers, though the
air began at once to whistle and hum with bullets. Nearly all these
seemed to come from the river-bank in front, to the north and
north-east, and kept the parapet one continual spirt of dust as they
smacked into it. All we could do was to fire by sound at various
likely bushes on the river-bank, and this we did with the greatest
possible diligence, but no visible result.

In about a quarter of an hour we had had five men shot through the
head, the most exposed part. The mere raising of a head to fire seemed
to be absolutely fatal, as it had on a former occasion when we were
attempting to fire at close range over a parapet against the enemy
concealed. I saw two poor fellows trying to build up a pitiful little
kind of house of cards with stones and pieces of anthill through which
to fire. This was as conspicuous as a chimney-pot on top of the
parapet, and was at once shot to powder before they had even used it,
but not before it had suggested to me the remedy for this state of
affairs. Of course, we wanted in such a case "head cover" and
"loopholes." As usual, I was wise after the event, for we had no
chance of making them then, even had we not been otherwise harassed.
Suddenly the noise of firing became much more intense, but with the
smack of the bullets striking the earth all round quite close it was
not easy to tell from which direction this fresh firing came. At the
same time the men seemed to be dropping much oftener, and I was
impressing them with the necessity of keeping up a brisker fire to the
front, when I noticed a bullet hit _our_ side of the parapet.

It then became clear, the enemy must evidently have got into the donga
behind us (to which I paid no attention, as it was to the rear), and
were shooting us in the back as we stood up to our parapet.

This, I thought, must be what is called being "taken in _reverse_,"
and it was.

By the time I had gathered what was happening, about a dozen more men
had been bowled over. I then ordered the whole lot to take cover in
the trench, and only pop up to take a shot to the front or rear. But
no more could be done by us towards the rear than to the front. The
conditions were the same--no Boers to be seen. At this moment two of
the guard from Waschout Hill started to run in to our trench, and a
terrific fusillade was opened on to them, the bullets kicking up the
dust all round them as they ran. One poor fellow was dropped, but the
other managed to reach our trench and fall into it. He too was badly
hit, but just had the strength to gasp out that except himself and the
man who had started with him, all the guard on Waschout Hill had been
killed or wounded, and that the Boers were gradually working their way
up to the top. This was indeed cheering.

So hot was the fire now that no one could raise his head above ground
without being shot, and by crouching down altogether and not
attempting to aim, but merely firing our rifles over the edge of the
trench, we remained for a short time without casualties. This respite,
however, was short, for the men in the right half of the trench began
to drop unaccountably whilst they were sitting well under cover, and
not exposing themselves at all. I gradually discovered the cause of
this. Some snipers must have reached the top of Waschout Hill, and
were shooting straight down our right half trench. As the bullets
snicked in thicker and thicker, it was plain the number of snipers was
being increased.

This, I thought, must be being "_enfiladed_ from a flank." It was so.

Without any order, we had all instinctively vacated the right half of
our trench and crowded into the left half, which by great good luck
could not be enfiladed from any point on the south side of the river,
nor indeed by rifle-fire from anywhere, as, owing to the ground, its
prolongation on the right was up above ground into the open air, and
to the left did not touch ground for some 3,000 yards away on the
veldt on the north bank.

Though we were huddled together quite helpless like rats in a trap,
still it was in a small degree comforting to think that, short of
charging the enemy could do nothing. For that we fixed bayonets and
grimly waited. If they did make an assault, we had bayonets, and they
had not, and we could sell our lives very dearly in a rough-and-tumble.

Alas! I was again deceived. There was to be no chance of close
quarters and cold steel, for suddenly we heard, far away out on the
veldt to the north, a sound as of some one beating a tin tray, and a
covey of little shells whistled into the ground close by the trench;
two of these burst on touching the ground. Right out of rifle-range,
away on the open veldt on the north, I saw a party of Boers, with a
white horse and a vehicle. Then I knew. But how had they managed to
hit off so well the right spot to go to to enfilade our trench before
they even knew where we were?

Pompom pompompom again, and the little steel devils ploughed their way
into the middle of us in our shell-trap, mangling seven men. I at once
diagnosed the position with great professional acumen--we were now
_enfiladed_ from _both_ flanks, but the knowledge was acquired too
late to help us, for--

    "We lay bare as the paunch of the purser's sow,
        To the hail of the Nordenfeldt."

This was the last straw; there was nothing left but surrender or
entire annihilation at long range. I surrendered.

Boers, as usual, sprang up from all round. We had fought for three
hours, and had twenty-five killed and seventeen wounded. Of these,
seven only had been hit by the shrapnel and rifle-fire from the
_front_. All the rest had been killed or hit from the _flanks_, where
there should be few enemies, or the _rear_, where there should be
none! This fact convinced me that my preconceived notions as to the
_front_, and its danger relative to the other points of the compass,
needed considerable modification. All my cherished ideas were being
ruthlessly swept away, and I was plunged into a sea of doubt, groping
for _something_ certain or fixed to lay hold of. Could Longfellow,
when he wrote that immortal line, "Things are not what they seem,"
ever have been in my position?

The survivors were naturally a little disheartened at their total
discomfiture, when all had started so well with them in their "crack."
This expressed itself in different ways. As one man said to a
corporal, who was plugging a hole in his ear with a bit of rag--

"Somethink sickening, I call it, this enfilading racket; you never
know which way it will take yer. I'm fairly fed up." To which the
gloomy reply, "Enfiladed? Of course we've been enfiladed. This 'ere
trench should have been wiggled about a bit, and then there would not
have been quite so much of it. Yes, wiggled about--that's what it
should have been." To which chipped in a third, "Yes, and somethink to
keep the blighters from shooting us in the back wouldn't 'ave done us
much 'arm, anyway."

There were evidently more things in _earth_ than I had hitherto dreamt
of in my philosophy!

       *       *       *       *       *

As we trekked away to the north under a detached guard of Boers, many
little points such as the above sank into my soul, but I could not for
some time solve the mystery of why we had not succeeded in surprising
the enemy. There were no men, women, children, or Kaffirs who knew of
our arrival, who could have warned them. How did they spot our
presence so soon, as they evidently must have done when they stopped
and consulted in the morning? It was not until passing Incidentamba,
as I casually happened to look round and survey the scene of the fight
from the enemy's point of view, that I discovered the simple answer to
the riddle. There on the smooth yellow slope of the veldt just south
of the drift was a brownish-red streak, as plain as the Long Man of
Wilmington on the dear old Sussex downs, which positively shrieked
aloud, "Hi! hi! hi!--this way for the British defence." I then grimly
smiled to think of myself sitting like a "slick Alick" in that poster
of a trench and expecting to surprise anybody!

Besides having been enfiladed and also taken in reverse, we had again
found ourselves at a disadvantage as compared with the concealed enemy
shooting at close range, from having to show up at a fixed place in
order to fire.

Eventually I collected the following lessons:

11. For a small isolated post and an active enemy, there are no
_flanks_, no _rear_, or, to put it otherwise, it is _front all round_.

12. Beware of being taken in _reverse_; take care, when placing and
making your defences, that when you are engaged in shooting the enemy
to the front of your trench, his pal cannot sneak up and shoot you in
the back.

13. Beware of being _enfiladed_. It is nasty from one flank--far worse
from both flanks.

Remember, also, that though you may arrange matters so that you cannot
be enfiladed by rifle-fire, yet you may be open to it from long range,
by means of gun or pompom fire. There are few straight trenches that
cannot be enfiladed from somewhere, if the enemy can only get there.
You can sometimes prevent being enfiladed by so placing your trench
that no one can get into prolongation of it to fire down it, or you
can "wiggle" it about in many ways, so that it is not straight, or
make "traverses" across it, or dig separate trenches for every two or
three men.

14. Do not have your trench near rising ground over which you cannot
see, and which you cannot hold.

15. Do not huddle all your men together in a small trench like sheep
in a pen. Give them air.

16. As once before--cover from sight is often worth more than cover
from bullets.

For close shooting from a non-concealed trench, _head cover_ with
_loopholes_ is an advantage. This should be bullet-proof and not be
conspicuously on the top of the parapet, so as to draw fire, or it
will be far more dangerous than having none.

17. To surprise the enemy is a great advantage.

18. If you wish to obtain this advantage, _conceal_ your position.
Though for promotion it may be sound to advertise your position, for
defence it is not.

19. To test the concealment or otherwise of your position, look at it
from the enemy's point of view.


    "A trifling sum of misery
    New added to the foot of thy account."

    "Jack Frost looked forth one still clear night,
    And he said, 'Now I shall be out of sight;
    So over the valley and over the height
      In silence I'll take my way.'"

Again I faced the same task with a fresh mind and fresh hopes, all
that remained with me of my former attempts being _nineteen_ lessons.

Having detailed the two patrols and the guard on Waschout Hill as
already described, I spent some twenty minutes--whilst the stores,
etc., were being arranged--in walking about to choose a position to
hold in the light of my nineteen lessons.

I came to the conclusion that it was not any good being near the top
of a hill and yet not _at_ the top. I would make my post on the top of
Waschout Hill, where I could not be overlooked from any place within
rifle-range, and where I should, I believed, have "command." I was not
quite certain what "command" meant, but I knew it was important--it
says so in the book; besides, in all the manoeuvres I had attended
and tactical schemes I had seen, the "defence" always held a position
on top of a hill or ridge. My duty was plain: Waschout Hill seemed the
only place which did not contravene any of the nineteen lessons I had
learnt, and up it I walked. As I stood near one of the huts, I got an
excellent view of the drift and its southern approach just over the
bulge of the hill, and a clear view of the river further east and
west. I thought at first I would demolish the few grass and matting
huts which, with some empty kerosene tins and heaps of bones and
_débris_, formed the Kaffir kraal, but on consideration I decided to
play cunning, and that this same innocent-looking Kaffir kraal would
materially assist me to hide my defences. I made out my plan of
operations in detail, and we had soon conveyed all our stores up to
the top of the hill, and started work.

Upon the return of the patrols with their prisoners, the Dutchmen and
"boys" were told off to dig for themselves and their females. The
Kaffirs of the kraal we had impressed to assist at once.

My arrangements were as follows: All round the huts on the hill-top,
and close to them we dug some ten short lengths of deep firing-trench,
curved in plan, and each long enough to hold five men. These trenches
had extremely low parapets, really only serving as rifle-rests, some
of the excavated earth being heaped up _behind_ the trenches to the
height of a foot or so, the remainder being dealt with as described
later. In most cases the parapets were provided with grooves to fire
through at ground-level, the parapet on each side being high enough to
just protect the head. As with the background the men's heads were not
really visible, it was unnecessary to provide proper loopholes, which
would have necessitated also the use of new sandbags, which would be
rather conspicuous and troublesome to conceal. When the men using
these trenches were firing, their heads would be just above the level
of the ground. These firing-trenches having been got well under way,
the communication trenches were started. These were to be narrow and
deep, leading from one trench to the next, and also leading from each
trench back to four of the huts, which were to be arranged as follows,
to allow of men to fire standing up without being seen. Round the
inside of the walls of these huts part of the excavated earth, of
which there was ample, would be built up with sand bags, piece of
anthill, stones, etc., to a height that a man can fire over, about
four and a half feet, and to a thickness of some two and a half feet
at the top, and loopholes, which would be quite invisible, cut through
the hut sides above this parapet. There was room in each hut for three
men to fire. In three of them I meant to place my best shots, to act
as snipers, as they would have a more favorable position than the men
in the trenches below, and the fourth was a conning tower for myself.
All the tents and stores were stacked inside one of the huts out of

That evening, in spite of the hardness of the work, which caused much
grousing among my men, we had got the firing trenches complete, but
the others were not finished--they were only half the necessary depth.
The earth-walls inside the huts were also not quite completed. The
Kaffirs and Dutch had deep pits, as before, in three of the huts.
Ammunition and rations were distributed round the trenches the last
thing before we turned in. I also had all water-bottles and every
vessel that would hold water, such as empty tins, Kaffir gourds, and
cooking-pots, filled and distributed in case of a long and protracted
fight. Having issued orders as to the necessity for the greatest
secrecy in not giving away our position should Boers turn up early
next morning, I went to sleep with confidence. We had, anyhow, a very
good position, and though our communications were not quite perfect,
these we could soon improve if we had any time to ourselves the next

Next morning broke; no enemy in sight. This was excellent, and before
daylight we were hard at it, finishing the work still undone. By this
time the men had fully entered into the spirit of the thing, and were
quite keen on surprising Brother Boer if possible. While the digging
was proceeding, the "dixies" were being boiled for the breakfasts
inside four grass-screens, some of which we found lying about, so as
to show nothing but some very natural smoke above the kraal. I picked
out one or two of my smartest N.C.O.'s, and instructed them to walk
down the hill in different directions to the river-bank and try if
they could see the heads of the men in the firing trenches against the
sky. If so, the heaps of earth, tins, bones, grass-screens, etc.,
should be re-arranged so as to give a background to every man's head.

To review the place generally, I and my orderly walked off some
half-mile to the north of the river. As we were going some distance,
we doffed our helmets and wrapped ourselves in two beautiful orange
and magenta striped blankets, borrowed from our Kaffir lady guests, in
case any stray Boer should be lurking around, as he might be
interested to see two "khakis" wandering about on the veldt. It was
awkward trying to walk with our rifles hidden under our blankets, and,
moreover, every two minutes we had to look around to see if the sentry
at the camp had signalled any enemy in sight. This was to be done by
raising a pole on the highest hut. The result of our work was
splendid. We saw a Kaffir kraal on a hill, and to us "it was nothing
more." There were the heaps of _débris_ usually round a kraal, looking
most natural, but no heads were visible, and no trenches. There was
only one fault, and that was that a few thoughtless men began, as we
looked, to spread their brown army blankets out in the sun on top of
the huts and on the veldt. To the veriest new chum these square blots,
like squares of brown sticking-plaster all around the kraal, would
have betokened something unusual. To remedy this before it was too
late I hastened back.

After we had done our breakfasts, and some three hours after dawn, the
sentry in one of the huts reported a force to the north. We could do
nothing but wait and hope; everything was ready, and every man knew
what to do. No head was to be raised nor a rifle to be fired until I
whistled from my conning-tower; then every man would pop up and empty
his magazine into any of the enemy in range. If we were shelled the
men in the huts could at once drop into the deep trenches and be safe.
Standing in my "conning-tower," from the loopholes of which I could
see the drift, I thought over the possibilities before us. With great
luck perhaps the Boer scouts would pass us on either side, and so
allow us to lie low for the main body. With a view to seeing exactly
how far I would let the latter come before opening fire, and to
marking the exact spot when it would be best to give the word, I got
down into the firing-trenches facing the drift and the road south to
see how matters appeared from the level of the rifles. To my intense
horror, I found that from these trenches neither the drift nor the
road on the near bank of the river, until it got a long way south of
Waschout Hill, _could be seen_! The bulging convexity of the hill hid
all this; it must be _dead ground_! It was. The very spot where I
could best catch the enemy, where they _must_ pass, was not under my
fire! At most, the northern loopholes of the conning tower and one
other hut alone could give fire on the drift. How I cursed my
stupidity! However, it was no good. I could not now start digging
fresh trenches further down the hill; it would betray our whole
position at once. I determined to make the best of it, and _if_ we
were not discovered by the scouts, to open fire on the main body when
they were just on the other side of the river bunched up on the bank,
waiting for those in front. Here we could fire on them; but it would
be at a much longer range than I had intended. It was really a stroke
of luck that I had discovered this serious fault, for otherwise we
might have let the bulk of the enemy cross the drift without
discovering the little fact of the dead ground till too late. I
reflected, also (though it was not much consolation), that I had erred
in good company, for how often had I not seen a "brass-hat" ride along
on horseback, and from that height fix the exact position for trenches
in which the rifles would be little above the ground. These trenches,
however, had not been put to the test of actual use. My error was not
going to escape in the same way.

Meanwhile the enemy's scouts had advanced in much the same way as
detailed before, except that after coming past Incidentamba Farm they
had not halted suspiciously, but came on in small groups or clumps.
They crossed the river in several places and examined the bushy banks
most carefully, but finding no "khakis" there, they evidently
suspected none on the open veldt beyond them, for they advanced "any
way" without care. Several of the clumps joined together, and came on
chatting in one body of some thirty men. Would they examine the kraal,
or would they pass on? My heart beat. The little hill we were on
would, unluckily, be certain to prove an attraction for them, because
it was an excellent vantage ground whence to scan the horizon to the
south, and to signal back to the main body to the north. The kraal was
also a suitable place to off-saddle for a few minutes while the main
body came up to the drift, and it meant possibly a fire, and therefore
a cup of coffee. They rode up towards it laughing, chatting, and
smoking, quite unsuspecting. We uttered no sound. Our Dutch and Kaffir
guests uttered no sound either, for in their pits was a man with a
rifle alongside them. At last they halted a moment some 250 yards away
on the northeast, where the slope of the hill was more gradual and
showed them all up. A few dismounted, the rest started again straight
towards us. It was not magnificent, but it was war. I whistled.

       *       *       *       *       *

About ten of them succeeded in galloping off, also some loose horses;
five or six of them on the ground threw up their hands and came into
the post. On the ground there remained a mass of kicking horses and
dead or groaning men. The other parties of scouts to east and west had
at once galloped back to the river, where they dismounted under cover
and began to pepper us. Anyway, we had done _something_.

As soon as our immediate enemy were disposed of, we opened fire on the
main body some 1,500 yards away, who had at once halted and opened
out. To these we did a good deal of damage, causing great confusion,
which was comforting to watch. The Boer in command of the main body
must have gathered that the river-bed was clear, for he made a very
bold move; he drove the whole of the wagons, etc., straight on as fast
as possible over the odd 400 yards to the river and down the drift
into the river-bed, where they were safe from our fire. Their losses
must have been heavy over this short distance, for they had to abandon
two of their wagons on the way to the river. This was done under cover
of the fire from a large number of riflemen, who had at once galloped
up to the river-bank, dismounted, and opened fire at us, and also of
two guns and a pompom, which had immediately been driven a short
distance back and then outwards to the east and west. It was really
the best thing he could have done, and if he had only known that we
could not fire on the ground to the south of the drift, he might have
come straight on with a rush.

We had so far scored; but now ensued a period of stalemate. We were
being fired at from the river-bank on the north, and from anthills,
etc., pretty well all round, and were also under the intermittent
shell-fire from the two guns. They made most excellent practice at the
huts, which were soon knocked to bits, but not till they had well
served their turn. Some of the new white sandbags from inside the huts
were scattered out in full view of the enemy, and it was instructive
to see what a splendid target they made for rifle-fire, and how often
they were hit. They must have drawn a lot of fire away from the actual
trenches. Until the Boers discovered that they could advance south
from the drift without being under rifle-fire from our position, they
were held up.

Would they discover it? As they had ridden all round us by now, well
out of range, they must know all about us and our isolation.

After dark, by which time we had one man killed and two wounded, the
firing died away into a continuous but desultory rifle-fire, with an
occasional dropping shell from the guns. Under cover of dark, I tried
to guard the drift and dead ground to the south of it, by men standing
up and firing at that level, but towards midnight I was forced to
withdraw them into the trenches, after several casualties, as the
enemy then apparently woke up and kept up a furious rifle-fire upon us
for over an hour. During this time the guns went through some
mysterious evolutions. At first we got it very hot from the north,
where the guns had been all along. Then suddenly a gun was opened on
us away from the southwest, and we were shelled for a short time from
both sides. After a little the shelling on the north ceased, and
continued from the southwest only for twenty minutes. After this the
guns ceased, and the rifle-fire also gradually died away.

When day dawned not a living soul was to be seen; there were the dead
men, horses, and the deserted wagons. I feared a trap, but gradually
came to the conclusion the Boers had retired. After a little we
discovered the river-bed was deserted as well, but the Boers had not
retired. They had discovered the dead ground, and under the mutually
supporting fire of their guns, which had kept us to our trenches, had
all _crossed the drift_ and trekked south.

True, we were not captured, and had very few losses, and had severely
mauled the enemy, _but_ they had crossed the drift. It must have
evidently been of great importance to them to go on, or they would
have attempted to capture us, as they were about 500 to our 50.

I had failed in my duty.

During the next few hours we buried the dead, tended the wounded, and
took some well-earned rest, and I had ample leisure to consider my
failure and the causes. The lessons I derived from the fight were:

20. Beware of convex hills and _dead ground_. Especially take care to
have some place where the enemy _must_ come under your fire. Choose
the exact position of your firing-trenches, with your eye at the level
of the men who will eventually use them.

21. A hill may not, after all, though it has "command," be the best
place to hold necessarily.

22. A conspicuous "bluff" trench may cause the enemy to waste much
ammunition, and draw fire away from the actual defences.

In addition to these lessons, another little matter on my mind was
what my colonel would say at my failure.

Lying on my back, looking up at the sky, I was trying to get a few
winks of sleep myself before we started to improve our defences
against a possible further attack, but it was no use, sleep evaded me.

The clear blue vault of heaven was suddenly overcast by clouds, which
gradually assumed the frowning face of my colonel. "_What?_ You mean
to say, Mr. Forethought, the Boers have _crossed_?" But, luckily for
me, before more could be said, the face began slowly to fade away like
that of the Cheshire Puss in "Alice in Wonderland," leaving nothing
but the awful frown across the sky. This too finally dissolved, and
the whole scene changed. I had another dream.


    "Sweet are the uses of adversity."

Once more was I fated to essay the task of defending Duffer's Drift.
This time I had twenty-two lessons below my belt to help me out, and
in the oblivion of my dream I was saved that sense of monotony which
by now may possibly have overtaken you, "gentle reader."

After sending out the patrols, and placing a guard on Waschout Hill,
as already described, and whilst the stores were being collected, I
considered deeply what position I should take up, and walked up to the
top of Waschout Hill to spy out the land. On the top I found a Kaffir
kraal, which I saw would assist me much to concealment should I
decide to hold this hill. This I was very inclined to do, but after a
few minutes' trial of the shape of the ground, with the help of some
men walking about down below, and my eyes a little above
ground-level--I found that its convexity was such that, to see and
fire on the drift and the approach on the south side, I should have to
abandon the top of the hill, and so the friendly concealment of the
Kaffir huts, and take up a position on the open hillside some way
down. This was, of course, quite feasible, especially if I held a
position at the top of the hill as well, near the huts on the east and
southeast sides; but, as it would be impossible to really conceal
ourselves on the bare hillside, it meant giving up all idea of
surprising the enemy, which I wished to do. I must, therefore, find
some other place which would lend itself to easy and good concealment,
and also have the drift or its approaches under close rifle-fire. But
where to find such a place?

As I stood deep in thought, considering this knotty problem, an idea
gently wormed itself into my mind, which I at once threw out again as
being absurd and out of the question. This idea was--to hold the river
bed and banks on each side of the drift! To give up all idea of
command, and, instead of seeking the nearest high ground, which comes
as natural to the student of tactics as rushing for a tree does to a
squirrel, to take the lowest ground, even though it should be all
among thick cover, instead of being nicely in the open.

No, it was absolutely revolutionary, and against every canon I had
ever read or heard of; it was evidently the freak of a sorely tried
and worried brain. I would none of it, and I put it firmly from me.
But the more I argued to myself the absurdity of it, the more this
idea obtained possession of me. The more I said it was impossible, the
more allurements were spread before me in its favor, until each of my
conscientious objections was enmeshed and smothered in a network of
specious reasons as to the advantages of the proposal.

I resisted, I struggled, but finally fell to temptation, dressed up in
the plausible guise of reason. I would hold the river-bed.

The advantages I thus hoped to obtain were--

Perfect concealment and cover from sight.

Trenches and protection against both rifle and gun fire practically
ready made.

Communications under good cover.

The enemy would be out in the open veldt except along the river-bank,
where we, being in position first, would still have the advantage.

Plentiful water-supply at hand.

True, there were a few dead animals near the drift, and the tainted
air seemed to hang heavy over the river-bed, but the carcasses could
be quickly buried under the steep banks, and, after all, one could not
expect _every_ luxury.

As our clear field of fire, which in the north was only bounded by the
range of our rifles, was on the south limited by Waschout Hill, a
suitable position for the enemy to occupy, I decided to hold the top
of it as well as the river-bed. All I could spare for this would be
two N.C.O.'s and eight men, who would be able to defend the south side
of the hill, the north being under our fire from the river-bank.

Having detailed this party, I gave my instructions for the work, which
was soon started. In about a couple of hours the patrols returned with
their prisoners, which were dealt with as before.

For the post on Waschout Hill, the scheme was that the trenches should
be concealed much in the same way as described in the last dream, but
great care should be taken that no one in the post should be exposed
to rifle-fire from our main position in the river. I did not wish the
fire of the main body to be in any degree hampered by a fear of
hitting the men on Waschout Hill, especially at night. If we knew it
was not possible to hit them, we could shoot freely all over the hill.
This detachment was to have a double lot of water-bottles, besides
every available receptacle collected in the kraal, filled with water,
in anticipation of a prolonged struggle.

The general idea for the main defensive position was to hold both
sides of the river, improving the existing steep banks and ravines
into rifle-pits to contain from one to four men. These could, with
very little work, be made to give cover from all sides. As such a
large amount of the work was already done for us, we were enabled to
dig many more of these pits than the exact number required for our
party. Pathways leading between these were to be cut into the bank, so
that we should be able to shift about from one position to another.
Besides the advantage this would give us in the way of moving about,
according as we wished to fire, it also meant that we should probably
be able to mislead the enemy as to our numbers--which, by such
shifting tactics might, for a time at least, be much exaggerated. The
pits for fire to the north and south were nearly all so placed as to
allow the occupants to fire at ground-level over the veldt. They were
placed well among the bushes, only just sufficient scrub being cut
away to allow a man to see all round, without exposing the position of
his trench. On each side of the river, just by the drift, were some
"spoil" heaps of earth, excavated from the road ramp. These stood some
five or six feet above the general level, and were as rough as the
banks in outline. These heaps were large enough to allow of a few pits
being made on them, which had the extra advantage of height. In some
of the pits, to give head-cover, loopholes of sandbags were made,
though in most cases this was not needed, owing to the concealment of
the bushes. I found it was necessary to examine personally every
loophole, and correct the numerous mistakes made in their
construction. Some had the new clean sandbags exposed to full view,
thus serving as mere whited sepulchres to their occupants, others were
equally conspicuous from their absurd cock-shy appearance, others were
not bullet-proof, whilst others again would allow of shooting in one
direction, or into the ground at a few yards' range, or up into the
blue sky. As I corrected all these faults I thought that loopholes not
made under supervision might prove rather a snare.

The result was, in the way of concealment, splendid. From these pits
with our heads at ground-level we could see quite clearly out on to
the veldt beyond, either from under the thicker part of the bushes or
even through those which were close to our eyes. From the open, on the
other hand, we were quite invisible, even from 300 yards' distance,
and would have been more so had we had the whiskers of the "brethren."
It was quite evident to me that these same whiskers were a wise
provision of nature for this very purpose and part of her universal
scheme of protective mimicry.

The numerous small dongas and rifts lent themselves readily to
flanking fire, and in many places the vertical banks required no
cutting in order to give ideal protection against even artillery. In
others, the sides of the crooked waterways had to be merely scooped
out a little, or a shelf cut to stand upon.

In one of these deeper ravines two tents, which, being below
ground-level, were quite invisible, were pitched for the women and
children, and small caves cut for them in case of a bombardment. The
position extended for a length of some 150 yards on each side of the
drift along both banks of the river, and at its extremities, where an
attack was most to be feared, pits were dug down the river-banks and
across the dry river-bed. These also were concealed as well as
possible. The flanks or ends were, of course, our greatest danger, for
it was from here we might expect to be rushed, and not from the open
veldt. I was undecided for some time as to whether to clear a "field
of fire" along the river-banks or not, as I had no wish to give away
our presence by any suspicious nudity of the banks at each end of our
position. I finally decided, in order to prevent this, to clear the
scrub for as great a range as possible from the ends of the position,
everywhere below the ground-level, and also on the level ground,
except for a good fringe just on the edges of the banks. This fringe I
thought would be sufficient to hide the clearance to any one not very
close. I now blessed the man who had left us some cutting tools.
Whilst all this was being carried out, I paced out some ranges to the
north and south, and these we marked by a few empty tins placed on
ant-heaps, etc.

At dusk, when we had nearly all the pits finished and some of the
clearance done, tents and gear were hidden, ammunition and rations
distributed to all, and orders in case of an attack given out. As I
could not be everywhere, I had to rely on the outlying groups of men
fully understanding my aims beforehand, and acting on their "own." To
prevent our chance of a close-range volley into the enemy being spoilt
by some over-zealous or jumpy man opening fire at long range, I gave
orders that fire was to be held as long as possible, and that no man
was to fire a shot until firing had already commenced elsewhere (which
sounded rather Irish), or my whistle sounded. This was unless the
enemy were so close to him that further silence was useless. Firing
having once started, every man was to blaze away at any enemy within
range as judged by our range marks. Finally, we turned in to our pits
for the night with some complacency, each eight men furnishing their
own sentry.

We had about three hours next morning before any enemy were reported
from Waschout Hill (the pre-arranged signal for this was the raising
of a pole from one of the huts). This time was employed in perfecting
our defences in various ways. We managed to clear away the scrub in
the dry river-bed and banks for some 200 yards beyond our line of pits
on each side, and actually attained to the refinement of an
"obstacle;" for at the extremity of this clearance a sort of _abatis_
entanglement was made with the wire from an adjacent fence which the
men had discovered. During the morning I visited the post on Waschout
Hill, found everything correct, and took the opportunity of showing
the detachment the exact limits of our position in the river-bed, and
explained what we were going to do. After about three hours' work,
"Somebody in sight" was signalled, and we soon after saw from our
position a cloud of dust away to the north. This force, which proved
to be a commando, approached as already described in the last dream;
all we could do meanwhile was to sit tight in concealment. Their
scouts came on in clumps of twos and threes which extended over some
mile of front, the centre of the line heading for the drift. As the
scouts got closer, the natural impulse to make for the easiest
crossing place was obeyed by two or three of the parties on each side
of the one approaching the drift, and they inclined inwards and joined
forces with it. This was evidently the largest party we could hope to
surprise, and we accordingly lay for it. When about 300 yards away,
the "brethren" stopped rather suspiciously. This was too much for
some man on the east side, who let fly, and the air was rent by the
rattle as we emptied our magazines, killing five of this special
scouting party and two from other groups further out on either side.
We continued to fire at the scouts as they galloped back, dropping two
more, and also at the column which was about a mile away, but afforded
a splendid target till it opened out.

In a very few moments our position was being shelled by three guns,
but with the only result, as far as we were concerned, of having one
man wounded by shell-fire, though the firing went on slowly till dark.
To be accurate, I should say the river was being shelled, our position
incidentally, for shells were bursting along the river for some half
mile. The Boers were evidently quite at sea as regards the extent of
our position and strength, and wasted many shells. We noticed much
galloping of men away to the east and west, out of range, and guessed
that these were parties who intended to strike the river at some
distance away, and gradually work along the bed, in order probably to
get into close range during the night.

We exchanged a few shots during the night along the river bed, and not
much was done on either side, though of course we were on the _qui
vive_ all the time; but it was not till near one in the morning that
Waschout Hill had an inning.

As I had hoped, the fact that we held the kraal had not been spotted
by the enemy, and a large body of them, crawling up the south side of
the hill in order to get a good fire on to us in the river, struck a
snag in the shape of a close-range volley from our detachment. As the
night was not very dark, in the panic following the first volley our
men were able (as I learnt afterwards) to stand right up and shoot at
the surprised burghers bolting down the hill. However, their panic did
not last long, to judge by the sound, for after the first volley from
our Lee-Metfords and the subsequent minute's independent firing, the
reports of our rifles were soon mingled with the softer reports of the
Mausers, and we shortly observed flashes on our side of Waschout Hill.
As these could not be our men, we knew the enemy were endeavoring to
surround the detachment. We knew the ranges fairly well, and though,
as we could not see our sights, the shooting was rather guesswork, we
soon put a stop to this manoeuvre by firing a small volley from
three or four rifles at each flash on the hill-side. So the night
passed without much incident.

During the dark we had taken the opportunity cunningly to place some
new white sandbags (which I had found among the stores) in full view
at some little distance from our actual trenches and pits. Some men
had even gone further, and added a helmet here and a coat there
peeping over the top. This ruse had been postponed until our position
was discovered, so as not to betray our presence, but after the
fighting had begun no harm was done by it. Next morning it was quite a
pleasure to see the very accurate shooting made by "Brother" at these
sandbags, as betokened by the little spurts of dust.

During this day the veldt to the north and south was deserted by the
enemy except at out-of-range distance, but a continuous sniping fire
was kept up along the river-banks on each side. The Boer guns were
shifted--one to the top of Incidentamba and one to the east and west
in order to enfilade the river bank--but, owing to our good cover, we
escaped with two killed and three wounded. The enemy did not shell
quite such a length of river this time. I confidently expected an
attack along the river bank that night, and slightly strengthened my
flanks, even at the risk of dangerously denuding the north bank. I was
not disappointed.

Under cover of the dark, the enemy came up to within, perhaps, 600
yards on the open veldt on the north and round the edges of Waschout
Hill, on the south, and kept up a furious fire, probably to distract
our attention, whilst the guns shelled us for about an hour. As soon
as the gun-fire ceased they tried to rush us along the river-bed east
and west, but owing to the _abatis_ and the holes in the ground, and
the fact that it was not a very dark night, they were unsuccessful.
However, it was touch and go, and a few of the Boers did succeed in
getting into our position only to be bayoneted. Luckily the enemy did
not know our strength, or rather our weakness, or they would have
persisted in their attempt and succeeded; as it was, they must have
lost 20 or 30 men killed and wounded.

Next morning, with so many men out of my original 40 out of action
(not to include Waschout Hill, whose losses I did not know), matters
seemed to be serious, and I was greatly afraid that another night
would be the end of us. I was pleased to see that the detachment on
Waschout Hill had still got its tail well up, for they had hoisted a
red rag at the masthead. True, this was not the national flag,
probably only a mere handkerchief, but it was not white. The day wore
on with intermittent shelling and sniping, and we all felt that the
enemy must have by now guessed our weakness, and were saving
themselves for another night attack, relying upon our being tired out.
We did our best to snatch a little sleep by turns during the day, and
I did all I could to keep the spirits of the little force up by saying
that relief could not be very far off. But it was with a gloomy
desperation at best that we saw the day wear on and morning turn into

The Boer guns had not been firing for some two hours, and the silence
was just beginning to get irritating and mysterious, when the booming
of guns in the distance aroused us to the highest pitch of excitement.
We were saved! We could not say what guns these were--they might be
British or Boer--but, any way, it proved the neighborhood of another
force. All faces lighted up, for somehow the welcome sound at once
drew the tired feeling out of us.

In order to prevent any chance of the fresh force missing our
whereabouts, I collected a few men and at once started to fire some
good old British volleys into the scrub, "Ready--present--fire," which
were not to be mistaken. Shortly afterwards we heard musketry in the
distance, and saw a cloud of dust to the northeast. We were relieved!

       *       *       *       *       *

Our total losses were 11 killed and 15 wounded; but we had held the
drift, and so enabled a victory to be won. I need not here touch upon
the well-known and far-reaching results of the holding of Duffer's
Drift, of the prevention thereby of Boer guns, ammunition, and
reinforcements reaching one of their sorely pressed forces at a
critical moment, and the ensuing victory gained by our side. It is
now, of course, all public knowledge that this was the turning-point
in the war, though we, the humble instruments, did not know what vital
results hung upon our action.

That evening the relieving force halted at the drift, and, after
burying the dead, we spent some time examining the lairs of the Boer
snipers, the men collecting bits of shell and cartridge-cases as
mementoes--only to be thrown away at once. We found some 25 dead and
partially buried Boers, to whom we gave burial.

That night I did not trek, but lay down (in my own breeches and
spotted waistcoat). As the smoke from the "prime segar," presented to
me by my Colonel, was eddying in spirals over my head, these gradually
changed into clouds of rosy glory, and I heard brass bands in the
distance playing a familiar air: "See the Conquering Hero comes," it
was they were playing.

I felt a tap on my shoulder, and heard a gentle voice say, "Arise, Sir
Backsight Forethought;" but in a trice my dream of bliss was
shattered--the gentle voice changed into the well-known croak of my
servant. "Time to pack your kit on the wagon, sir. Corfy's been up
some time now, sir." I was still in stinking old Dreamdorp.

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    | Typographical errors corrected in text:                   |
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    | Page 166: maneuvers replaced with manoeuvres              |
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