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Title: My Reminiscences of the Anglo-Boer War
Author: Viljoen, Ben J. (Ben Johannis), 1868-1917
Language: English
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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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[Transcriber's note: Obvious printer's errors have been corrected, all
other inconsistencies are as in the original. The author's spelling
has been maintained.

Page 453: The sentence "which [missing word] consider it as still
improper to disclose." has been changed to "which I consider as still
improper to disclose."

Bolded text is marked with =.]



[Illustration: General Ben Viljoen and his Secretary (Mr. J.
Visser).]



               MY REMINISCENCES OF THE ANGLO-BOER WAR


                                 BY

                         GENERAL BEN VILJOEN


   (ASSISTANT COMMANDANT-GENERAL OF THE TRANSVAAL BURGHER FORCES
      AND MEMBER FOR JOHANNESBURG IN THE TRANSVAAL VOLKSRAAD)


                  Maps from Drawings by P. Van Breda



                               LONDON:
                       HOOD, DOUGLAS, & HOWARD,
                       11, CLIFFORD'S INN, E.C.
                                1902.



PREFACE.


General Ben Viljoen, while engaged on this work, requested me to write
a short introduction to it. This request I gladly comply with.

General Viljoen was a prisoner-of-war at Broadbottom Camp, St. Helena,
where, after two years' service in South Africa, I was stationed with
my regiment. It was at the General's further request that I conveyed
this work to Europe for publication.

The qualities which particularly endeared this brave and justly-famous
Boer officer to us were his straightforwardness and unostentatious
manner, his truthfulness, and the utter absence of affectation that
distinguishes him. I am certain that he has written his simple
narrative with candour and impartiality, and I feel equally certain,
from what I know of him, that this most popular of our late opponents
has reviewed the exciting episodes of the War with an honesty, an
intelligence, and a humour which many previous publications on the War
have lacked.

During his stay at St. Helena I became deeply attached to General
Viljoen; and in conclusion I trust that this work, which entailed many
hours of labour, will yield him a handsome recompense.

                         THEODORE BRINCKMAN, C.B.
                                 _Colonel Commanding_,
                          _3rd, The Buffs (East Kent Regt.)_

  Tarbert,
    Loch Fyne,
      Scotland.
                                       _September, 1902_



INDEX TO CONTENTS.


                                                         Page
    PREFACE BY COL. THEODORE BRINCKMAN, C.B.                5

    THE AUTHOR TO THE READER                                9

    CHAPTER

          I. THE WAR CLOUDS GATHER                         19

         II. AND THE WAR STORM BREAKS                      24

        III. THE INVASION OF NATAL                         30

         IV. DEFEATED AT ELANDSLAAGTE                      40

          V. PURSUED BY THE LANCERS                        44

         VI. RISKING JOUBERT'S ANGER                       59

        VII. THE BOER GENERAL'S SUPERSTITIONS              68

       VIII. "GREAT POWERS" TO INTERVENE                   72

         IX. COLENSO AND SPION KOP FIGHTS                  78

          X. THE BATTLE OF VAALKRANTZ                      88

         XI. THE TURN OF THE TIDE                         100

        XII. THE GREAT BOER RETREAT                       110

       XIII. DRIVEN FROM THE BIGGARSBERGEN                124

        XIV. DISPIRITED AND DEMORALISED                   133

         XV. OCCUPATION OF PRETORIA                       145

        XVI. BATTLE OF DONKERHOEK ("DIAMOND HILL")        150

       XVII. I BECOME A GENERAL                           161

      XVIII. OUR CAMP BURNED OUT                          175

        XIX. BATTLE OF BERGENDAL (MACHADODORP)            181

         XX. TWO THOUSAND BRITISH PRISONERS RELEASED      185

        XXI. A GOVERNMENT IN FLIGHT                       193

       XXII. AN IGNOMINIOUS DISPERSAL                     204

      XXIII. A DREARY TREK THROUGH FEVERLAND              212

        XIV. PAINS AND PLEASURES OF COMMANDEERING         237

        XXV. PUNISHING THE PRO-BRITISH                    246

       XXVI. BATTLE OF RHENOSTERKOP                       258

      XXVII. THE SECOND CHRISTMAS AT WAR                  278

     XXVIII. CAPTURE OF "LADY ROBERTS"                    285

       XXIX. A DISMAL "HAPPY NEW YEAR"                    302

        XXX. GENERAL ATTACK ON BRITISH FORTS              307

       XXXI. A "BLUFF" AND A BATTLE                       322

      XXXII. EXECUTION OF A TRAITOR                       333

     XXXIII. IN A TIGHT CORNER                            339

      XXXIV. ELUDING THE BRITISH CORDON                   348

       XXXV. BOER GOVERNMENT'S NARROW ESCAPE              358

      XXXVI. A GOVERNMENT ON HORSEBACK                    377

     XXXVII. BLOWING UP AN ARMOURED TRAIN                 382

    XXXVIII. TRAPPING PRO-BRITISH BOERS                   388

      XXXIX. BRUTAL KAFFIRS' MURDER TRAIL                 402

         XL. CAPTURING A FREEBOOTER'S LAIR                411

        XLI. AMBUSHING THE HUSSARS                        416

       XLII. I TALK WITH GENERAL BLOOD                    421

      XLIII. MRS. BOTHA'S BABY AND THE "TOMMY"            425

       XLIV. THE LAST CHRISTMAS OF THE WAR                435

        XLV. MY LAST DAYS ON THE VELDT                    442

       XLVI. I AM AMBUSHED AND CAPTURED                   449

      XLVII. SHIPPED TO ST. HELENA                        462

     XLVIII. LIFE IN BONAPARTE'S PRISON                   471

       XLIX. HOW WE BLEW UP AND CAPTURED TRAINS           485

          L. HOW WE FED AND CLOTHED COMMANDOS             496

         LI. OUR FRIEND THE ENEMY                         506

        LII. THE FIGHTING BOER AND HIS OFFICER            515

             APPENDIX                                     523



THE AUTHOR TO THE READER.


In offering my readers my reminiscences of the late War, I feel that
it is necessary to ask their indulgence and to plead extenuating
circumstances for many obvious shortcomings.

It should be pointed out that the preparation of this work was
attended with many difficulties and disabilities, of which the
following were only a few:--

     (1) This is my first attempt at writing a book, and as a
     simple Afrikander I lay no claim to any literary ability.

     (2) When captured by the British forces I was deprived of
     all my notes, and have been compelled to consult and depend
     largely upon my memory for my facts and data. I would wish
     to add, however, that the notes and minutiæ they took from
     me referred only to events and incidents covering six months
     of the War. Twice before my capture, various diaries I had
     compiled fell into British hands; and on a third occasion,
     when our camp at Dalmanutha was burned out by a
     "grass-fire," other notes were destroyed.

     (3) I wrote this book while a prisoner-of-war, fettered, as
     it were, by the strong chains with which a British "parole"
     is circumscribed. I was, so to say, bound hand and foot, and
     always made to feel sensibly the humiliating position to
     which we, as prisoners-of-war on this island, were reduced.
     Our unhappy lot was rendered unnecessarily unpleasant by the
     insulting treatment offered us by Colonel Price, who
     appeared to me an excellent prototype of Napoleon's
     custodian, Sir Hudson Lowe. One has only to read Lord
     Rosebery's work, "The Last Phase of Napoleon," to realise
     the insults and indignities Sir Hudson Lowe heaped upon a
     gallant enemy.

We Boers experienced similar treatment from our custodian, Colonel
Price, who appeared to be possessed with the very demon of distrust
and who conjured up about us the same fantastic and mythical plans of
escape as Sir Hudson Lowe attributed to Napoleon. It is to his absurd
suspicions about our safe custody that I trace the bitterly offensive
regulations enforced on us.

While engaged upon this work, Colonel Price could have pounced down
upon me at any moment, and, having discovered the manuscript, would
certainly have promptly pronounced the writing of it in conflict with
the terms of my "parole."

I have striven as far as possible to refrain from criticism, except
when compelled to do so, and to give a coherent story, so that the
reader may easily follow the episodes I have sketched. I have also
endeavoured to be impartial, or, at least, so impartial as an erring
human being can be who has just quitted the bloody battlefields of a
bitter struggle.

But the sword is still wet, and the wound is not yet healed.

I would assure my readers that it has not been without hesitation that
I launch this work upon the world. There have been many amateur and
professional writers who have preceded me in overloading the reading
public with what purport to be "true histories" of the War. But having
been approached by friends to add my little effort to the ponderous
tomes of War literature, I have written down that which I saw with my
own eyes, and that which I personally experienced. If seeing is
believing, the reader may lend credence to my recital of every
incident I have herein recounted.

During the last stages of the struggle, when we were isolated from the
outside world, we read in newspapers and other printed matter captured
from the British so many romantic and fabulous stories about
ourselves, that we were sometimes in doubt whether people in Europe
and elsewhere would really believe that we were ordinary human beings
and not legendary monsters. On these occasions I read circumstantial
reports of my death, and once a long, and by no means flattering,
obituary (extending over several columns of a newspaper) in which I
was compared to Garibaldi, "Jack the Ripper," and Aguinaldo. On
another occasion I learned from British newspapers of my capture,
conviction, and execution in the Cape Colony for wearing the insignia
of the Red Cross. I read that I had been brought before a military
court at De Aar and sentenced to be shot, and what was worse, the
sentence was duly confirmed and carried out. A very lurid picture was
drawn of the execution. Bound to a chair, and placed near my open
grave, I had met my doom with "rare stoicism and fortitude." "At
last," concluded my amiable biographer, "this scoundrel, robber, and
guerilla leader, Viljoen, has been safely removed, and will trouble
the British Army no longer." I also learned with mingled feelings of
amazement and pride that, being imprisoned at Mafeking at the
commencement of hostilities, General Baden-Powell had kindly
exchanged me for Lady Sarah Wilson.

To be honest, none of the above-mentioned reports were strictly
accurate. I can assure the reader that I was never killed in action or
executed at De Aar, I was never in Mafeking or any other prison in my
life (save here at St. Helena), nor was I in the Cape Colony during
the War. I never masqueraded with a Red Cross, and I was never
exchanged for Lady Sarah Wilson. Her ladyship's friends would have
found me a very poor exchange.

It is also quite inaccurate and unfair to describe me as a "thief" and
"a scoundrel". It was, indeed, not an heroic thing to do, seeing that
the chivalrous gentlemen of the South African Press who employed the
epithets were safely beyond my view and reach, and I had no chance of
correcting their quite erroneous impressions. I could neither refute
nor defend myself against their infamous libels, and for the rest, my
friend "Mr. Atkins" kept us all exceedingly busy.

That which is left of Ben Viljoen after the several "coups de grace"
in the field and the tragic execution at De Aar, still "pans" out at a
fairly robust young person--quite an ordinary young fellow, indeed,
thirty-four years of age, of middle height and build. Somewhere in the
Marais Quartier of Paris--where the French Huguenots came from--there
was an ancestral Viljoen from whom I am descended. In the War just
concluded I played no great part of my own seeking. I met many
compatriots who were better soldiers than myself; but on occasions I
was happily of some small service to my Cause and to my people.

The chapters I append are, like myself, simple in form. If I have
become notorious it is not my fault; it is the fault of the newspaper
paragraphist, the snap-shooter, and the autograph fiend; and in these
pages I have endeavoured, as far as possible, to leave the stage to
more prominent actors, merely offering myself as guide to the many
battlefields on which we have waged our unhappy struggle.

I shall not disappoint the reader by promising him sensational or
thrilling episodes. He will find none such in these pages; he will
find only a naked and unembellished story.

                         BEN J. VILJOEN.
                    (_Assistant Commandant-General
                      of the Republican Forces._)

  St. Helena,
                                   _June, 1902_



[Illustration: 8 Maps of Nicholsons Nek & Modderspruit, Monte Christo,
Colenso, Spioen Kop, Vaalkrantz, Pieter's Hill, Stromberg and
Abramskraal.]



MY REMINISCENCES

OF THE

ANGLO-BOER WAR



CHAPTER I.

THE WAR CLOUDS GATHER.


In 1895 the political clouds gathered thickly and grew threatening.
They were unmistakable in their portent. War was meant, and we heard
the martial thunder rumbling over our heads.

The storm broke in the shape of an invasion from Rhodesia on our
Western frontiers, a raid planned by soldiers of a friendly power.

However one may endeavour to argue the chief cause of the South
African war to other issues, it remains an irrebuttable fact that the
Jameson Raid was primarily responsible for the hostilities which
eventually took place between Great Britain and the Boer Republics.

Mr. Rhodes, the sponsor and _deus ex machinâ_ of the Raid, could not
agree with Mr. Paul Kruger, and had failed in his efforts to establish
friendly relations with him. Mr. Kruger, quite as stubborn and
ambitious as Mr. Rhodes, placed no faith in the latter's amiable
proposals, and the result was that fierce hatred was engendered
between the two Gideons, a racial rancour spreading to fanatical
lengths.

Dr. Jameson's stupid raid is now a matter of history; but from that
fateful New Year's Day of 1896 we Boers date the terrible trials and
sufferings to which our poor country has been exposed. To that
mischievous incident, indeed, we directly trace the struggle now
terminated.

This invasion, which was synchronous with an armed rebellion at
Johannesburg, was followed by the arrest and imprisonment of the
so-called gold magnates of the Witwatersrand. Whether these
exceedingly wealthy but extremely degenerate sons of Albion and
Germania deserved the death sentence pronounced upon their leaders at
Pretoria for high treason it is not for me to judge.

I do recall, however, what an appeal for mercy there went up, how
piteously the Transvaal Government was petitioned and supplicated, and
finally moved "to forgive and forget." The same faction who now press
so obdurately for "no mercy" upon the Colonial Afrikanders who joined
us, then supplicated all the Boer gods for forgiveness.

Meantime the Republic was plagued by the rinderpest scourge, which
wrought untold havoc throughout the country. This scourge was preceded
by the dynamite disaster at Vrededorp (near Johannesburg) and the
railway disaster at Glencoe in Natal. It was succeeded by a smallpox
epidemic, which, in spite of medical efforts, grew from sporadic to
epidemic and visited all classes of the Rand, exacting victims
wherever it travelled. During the same period difficulties occurred in
Swaziland necessitating the despatch of a strong commando to the
disaffected district and the maintenance of a garrison at Bremersdorp.
The following year hostilities were commenced against the Magato
tribe in the north of the Republic.

After an expensive expedition, lasting six months, the rebellion was
quelled. There was little doubt that the administration of unfaithful
native commissioners was in part responsible for the difficulties, but
there is less doubt that external influences also contributed to the
rebellion. This is not the time, however, to tear open old wounds.

Mr. Rhodes has disappeared from the stage for ever; he died as he had
lived. His relentless enemy Mr. Kruger, who was pulling the strings at
the other end, is still alive. Perhaps the old man may be spared to
see the end of the bloody drama; it was undoubtedly he and Mr. Rhodes
who played the leading parts in the prologue.

Which of these two "Big Men" took the greatest share in bringing about
the Disaster which has drenched South Africa with blood and draped it
in mourning, it would be improper for me at this period to suggest.
Mr. Rhodes has been summoned before a Higher Tribunal; Mr. Kruger has
still to come up for judgment before the people whose fate, and very
existence as a nation, are, at the time of writing, wavering in the
balance.

We have been at one another's throats, and for this we have to thank
our "statesmen." It is to be hoped that our leaders of the future will
attach more value to human lives, and that Boer and Briton will be
enabled to live amicably side by side.

A calm and statesmanlike government by men free from ambition and
racial rancour, by men of unblemished reputation, will be the only
means of pacifying South Africa and keeping South Africa pacified.



CHAPTER II.

AND THE WAR STORM BREAKS.


It was during a desultory discussion of an ordinary sessions of the
Second Volksraad, in which I represented Johannesburg, that one day in
September, 1899--to be precise, the afternoon of the 28th--the
messenger of the House came to me with a note, and whispered, "A
message from General Joubert, Sir; it is urgent, and the General says
it requires your immediate attention."

I broke the seal of the envelope with some trepidation. I guessed its
contents, and a few of my colleagues in the Chamber hung over me
almost speechless with excitement, whispering curiously, "Jong, is dit
fout?"--"Is this correct. Is it war?"

Everybody knew, of course, that we were in for a supreme crisis, that
the relations between Great Britain and our Republic were strained to
the bursting point, that bitter diplomatic notes had been exchanged
between the governments of the two countries for months past, and that
a collision, an armed collision, was sooner or later inevitable.

Being "Fighting-Commandant" of the Witwatersrand goldfields, and,
therefore, an officer of the Transvaal army, my movements on that day
excited great interest among my colleagues in the Chamber. After
reading General Joubert's note I said, as calmly as possible: "Yes,
the die is cast; I am leaving for the Natal frontier. Good-bye. I must
now quit the house. Who knows, perhaps for ever!"

General Joubert's mandate was couched as follows:--

     "You are hereby ordered to proceed with the Johannesburg
     commando to Volksrust to-morrow, Friday evening, at 8
     o'clock. Your field cornets have already received
     instructions to commandeer the required number of burghers
     and the necessary horses, waggons, and equipment.
     Instructions have also been given for the necessary railway
     conveyances to be held ready. Further instructions will
     reach you."

Previous to my departure next morning I made a hurried call at
Commandant-General Joubert's offices. The ante-chamber leading to the
Generalissimo's "sanctum-sanctorum" was crowded with brilliantly-uniformed
officers of our State Artillery, and it was only by dint of using my
elbows very vigorously that I gained admission to my chief-in-command.

The old General seemed to feel keenly the gravity of the situation. He
looked careworn and troubled: "Good-morning, Commandant," he said;
"aren't you away yet?"

I explained that I was on my way to the railway station, but I thought
before I left I'd like to see him about one or two things.

"Well, go on, what is it?" General Joubert enquired, petulantly.

"I want to know, General Joubert," I said, "whether England has
declared war against us, or whether we are taking the lead. And
another thing, what sort of general have I to report myself to at
Volksrust?"

The old warrior, without looking up or immediately answering me, drew
various cryptic and hieroglyphic pothooks and figures on the paper
before him. Then he suddenly lifted his eyes and pierced me with a
look, at which I quailed and trembled.

He said very slowly: "Look here; there is as yet no declaration of
war, and hostilities have not yet commenced. You and my other officers
should understand that very clearly, because possibly the differences
between ourselves and Great Britain may still be settled. We are only
going to occupy our frontiers because England's attitude is extremely
provocative, and if England see that we are fully prepared and that we
do not fear her threats, she will perhaps be wise in time and
reconsider the situation. We also want to place ourselves in a
position to prevent and quell a repetition of the Jameson Raid with
more force than we exerted in 1896."

An hour afterwards I was on board a train travelling to Johannesburg
in the company of General Piet Cronje and his faithful wife. General
Cronje told me that he was proceeding to the western districts of the
Republic to take up the command of the Potchefstroom and Lichtenburg
burghers. His instructions, he said, were to protect the Western
frontier.

I left General Cronje at Johannesburg on the 29th September, 1899, and
never saw him again until I met him at St. Helena nearly two and a
half years afterwards, on the 25th March, 1902. When I last saw him we
greeted each other as free men, as free and independent legislators
and officers of a free Republic. We fought for our rights to live as a
nation.

Now I meet the veteran Cronje a broken old man, captive like myself,
far away from our homes and our country.

Then and Now!

Then we went abroad free and freedom-loving men, burning with
patriotism. Our wives and our women-folk watched us go; full of sorrow
and anxiety, but satisfied that we were going abroad in our country's
cause.

And Now!

Two promising and prosperous Republics wrecked, their fair homesteads
destroyed, their people in mourning, and thousands of innocent women
and children the victims of a cruel war.

There is scarcely an Afrikander family without an unhealable wound.
Everywhere the traces of the bloody struggle; and, alas, most poignant
and distressing fact of all, burghers who fought side by side with us
in the earlier stages of the struggle are now to be found in the ranks
of the enemy.

These wretched men, ignoring their solemn duty, left their companions
in the lurch without sense of shame or respect for the braves who fell
fighting for their land and people.

Oh, day of judgment! The Afrikander nation will yet avenge your
treachery.



CHAPTER III.

THE INVASION OF NATAL.


After taking leave of my friend Cronje at Johannesburg Station, my
first duty was to visit my various field cornets. About four o'clock
that afternoon I found my commando was as nearly ready as could be
expected. When I say ready, I mean ready on paper only, as later
experience showed. My three field cornets were required to equip 900
mounted men with waggons and provisions, and of course they had _carte
blanche_ to commandeer. Only fully enfranchised burghers of the South
African Republic were liable to be commandeered, and in Johannesburg
town there was an extraordinary conglomeration of cosmopolitans
amenable to this gentle process of enlistment.

It would take up too much time to adequately describe the excitement
of Johannesburg on this memorable day. Thousands of Uitlanders were
flying from their homes, contenting themselves, in their hurry to get
away, to stand in Kaffir or coal trucks and to expose themselves
cheerfully to the fierce sun, and other elements. The streets were
palpitating with burghers ready to proceed to the frontier that night,
and with refugees speeding to the stations. Everybody was in a state
of intense feeling. One was half-hearted, another cheerful, and a
third thirsting for blood, while many of my men were under the
influence of alcohol.

When it was known that I had arrived in the town my room in the North
Western Hotel was besieged. I was approached by all sorts of people
pleading exemption from commando duty. One Boer said he knew that his
solemn duty was to fight for his country and his freedom, but he would
rather decline. Another declared that he could not desert his family;
while yet another came forward with a story that of his four horses,
three had been commandeered, and that these horses were his only means
of subsistence. A fourth complained that his waggons and mules had
been clandestinely (although officially) removed. Many malingerers
suddenly discovered acute symptoms of heart disease and brought
easily-obtained doctor's certificates, assuring me that tragic
consequences would attend their exposure in the field. Ladies came to
me pleading exemption for their husbands, sisters for brothers,
mothers for sons, all offering plausible reasons why their loved ones
should be exempted from commando duty. It was very difficult to deal
with all these clamorous visitors. I was much in the position of King
Solomon, though lacking his wisdom. But I would venture to say that
his ancient majesty himself would have been perplexed had he been in
my place. It is necessary that the reader should know that the main
part of the population was composed of all nationalities and lacked
every element of Boer discipline.

On the evening of the 29th of September, I left with the Johannesburg
commando in two trains. Two-thirds of my men had no personal
acquaintance with me, and at the departure there was some difficulty
because of this. One burgher came into my private compartment
uninvited. He evidently forgot his proper place, and when I suggested
to him that the compartment was private and reserved for officers, he
told me to go to the devil, and I was compelled to remove him somewhat
precipitately from the carriage. This same man was afterwards one of
my most trustworthy scouts.

The following afternoon we reached Standerton, where I received
telegraphic instructions from General Joubert to join my commando to
that of Captain Schiel, who was in charge of the German Corps, and to
place myself under the supreme command of Jan Kock, a member of the
Executive Council, who had been appointed a general by the Government.

We soon discovered that quite one-third of the horses we had taken
with us were untrained for the serious business of fighting, and also
that many of the new burghers of foreign nationality had not the
slightest idea how to ride. Our first parade, or "Wapenschouwing"
gave food for much hilarity. Here one saw horses waltzing and jumping,
while over there a rider was biting the sand, and towards evening the
doctors had several patients. It may be stated that although not
perfectly equipped in the matter of ambulances, we had three
physicians with us, Doctors Visser, Marais, and Shaw. Our spiritual
welfare was being looked after by the Reverends Nel and Martins, but
not for long, as both these gentlemen quickly found that commando life
was unpleasant and left us spiritually to ourselves, even as the
European Powers left us politically. But I venture to state that no
member of my commando really felt acutely the loss of the theological
gentlemen who primarily accompanied us.

[Illustration: The Capture of the Train at Elandslaagte.]

On the following day General Kock and a large staff arrived at the
laager, and, together with the German Corps, we trekked to Paardekop
and Klip River, in the Orange Free State, where we were to occupy
Botha's Pass. My convoy comprised about a hundred carts, mostly drawn
by mules, and it was amusing to see the variety of provisions my
worthy field-cornets had gathered together. There were three full
waggons of lime-juice and other unnecessary articles which I caused to
be unloaded at the first halting-place to make room for more
serviceable provisions. It should be mentioned that of my three
field-cornets only one, the late Piet Joubert of Jeppestown, actually
accompanied my commando. The others sent substitutes, perhaps because
they did not like to expose themselves to the change of air. We rested
some days at the Klip River, in the Orange Free State, and from thence
I was sent with a small escort of burghers by our General to
Harrismith to meet a number of Free State officers. After travelling
two days I came upon Chief Free State Commandant Prinsloo, who
afterwards deserted, and other officers. The object of my mission was
to organise communications with these officers. On the 11th of
October, having returned to my commando, we received a report that our
Government had despatched the Ultimatum to England, and that the time
specified for the reply to that document had elapsed. Hostilities had
begun.

We received orders to invade Natal, and crossed the frontier that very
evening. I, with a patrol of 50 men, had not crossed the frontier very
far when one of my scouts rode up with the report that a large British
force was in sight on the other side of the River Ingogo. I said to
myself at the time: "If this be true the British have rushed up fairly
quickly, and the fat will be in the fire very soon."

We then broke into scattered formation and carefully proceeded into
Natal. After much reconnoitring and concealment, however, we soon
discovered that the "large English force" was only a herd of cattle
belonging to friendly Boers, and that the camp consisted of two tents
occupied by some Englishmen and Kaffirs who were mending a defective
bridge. We also came across a cart drawn by four bullocks belonging to
a Natal farmer, and I believe this was the first plunder we captured
in Natal. The Englishman, who said he knew nothing about any war,
received a pass to proceed with his servants to the English lines,
and he left with the admonition to in future read the newspapers and
learn when war was imminent. Next day our entire commando was well
into Natal. The continuous rain and cold of the Drakenbergen rendered
our first experience of veldt life, if not unbearable, very
discouraging. We numbered a fairly large commando, as Commandant J.
Lombard, commanding the Hollander corps, had also joined us. Close by
Newcastle we encountered a large number of commandos, and a general
council of war was held under the presidency of Commandant General
Joubert. It was here decided that Generals Lukas Meyer and Dijl
Erasmus should take Dundee, which an English garrison held, while our
commandos under General Kock were instructed to occupy the Biggarburg
Pass. Preceded by scouts we wound our way in that direction, leaving
all our unnecessary baggage in the shape of provisions and ammunition
waggons at Newcastle.

One of my acting field-cornets and the field-cornets of the German
commando, prompted by goodness knows what, pressed forward south,
actually reaching the railway station at Elandslaagte. A goods train
was just steaming into the station, and it was captured by these
foolhardy young Moltkes. I was much dissatisfied with this action, and
sent a messenger ordering them to retire after having destroyed the
railway. On the same night I received instructions from General Kock
to proceed with two hundred men and a cannon to Elandslaagte, and I
also learned that Captain Schiel and his German Corps had left in the
same direction.

Imagine, we had gone further than had actually been decided at the
council of war, and we pressed forward still further without any
attempt being made to keep in touch with the other commandos on our
left and right. Seeing the inexpediency of this move, I went to the
General in command and expressed my objections to it. But General Kock
was firmly decided on the point, and said, "Go along, my boy." We
reached Elandslaagte at midnight; it was raining very heavily. After
scrambling for positions in the darkness, although I had already
sufficiently seen that the lie of the land suggested no strategic
operations, we retired to rest. Two days later occurred the fateful
battle.



CHAPTER IV.

DEFEATED AT ELANDSLAAGTE.


In the grey dawn of the 21st of October a number of scouts I had
despatched overnight in the direction of Ladysmith returned with the
tidings that "the khakis were coming." "Where are they, and how many
are there of them?" I asked. "Commandant," the chief scout replied, "I
don't know much about these things, but I should think that the
English number quite a thousand mounted men, and they have guns, and
they have already passed Modderspruit." To us amateur soldiers this
report was by no means reassuring, and I confess I hoped fervently
that the English might stay away for some little time longer.

It was at sunrise that the first shot I heard in this war was fired.
Presently the men we dreaded were visible on the ridges of hills south
of the little red railway station at Elandslaagte. Some of my men
hailed the coming fight with delight; others, more experienced in the
art of war, turned deadly pale. That is how the Boers felt in their
first battle. The awkward way in which many of my men sought cover,
demonstrated at once how inexperienced in warfare we youngsters were.
We started with our guns and tried a little experimental shooting. The
second and third shots appeared to be effective; at any rate, as far
as we could judge, they seemed to disturb the equanimity of the
advancing troops. I saw an ammunition cart deprived of its team and
generally smashed.

The British guns appeared to be of very small calibre indeed.
Certainly they failed to reach us, and all the harm they did was to
send a shell through a Boer ambulance within the range of fire. This
shot was, I afterwards ascertained, purely accidental. When the
British found that we too, strange to say, had guns, and, what is
more, knew how to use them, they retired towards Ladysmith. But this
was merely a ruse; they had gone back to fetch more. Still, though it
was a ruse, we were cleverly deceived by it, and while we were
off-saddling and preparing the mid-day meal they were arranging a new
and more formidable attack. From the Modderspruit siding they were
pouring troops brought down by rail, and although we had a splendid
chance of shelling the newcomers from the high kopje we occupied,
General Kock, who was in supreme command of our corps, for some reason
which has never been explained, refused to permit us to fire upon
them. I went to General Kock and pleaded with him, but he was adamant.
This was a bitter disappointment to me, but I consoled myself with the
thought that the General was much older than myself, and had been
fighting since he was a baby. I therefore presumed he knew better.
Possibly if we younger commanders had had more authority in the
earlier stages of the war, and had had less to deal with arrogant and
stupid old men, we should have reached Durban and Cape Town.

I must here again confess that none of my men displayed any of the
martial determination with which they had so buoyantly proceeded from
Johannesburg. To put it bluntly, some of them were "footing" it and
the English cavalry, taking advantage of this, were rapidly
outflanking them. The British tactics were plain enough. General
French had placed his infantry in the centre with three field
batteries (fifteen pounders), while his cavalry, with Maxims,
encompassed our right and left. He was forming a crescent, with the
obvious purpose of turning our position with his right and left wing.
When charging at the close of the attack the cavalry, which consisted
mainly of lancers, were on both our flanks, and completely prevented
our retreat. It was not easy to estimate the number of our assailant's
forces. Judging roughly, I calculated they numbered between 5,000 and
6,000, while we were 800 all told, and our artillery consisted merely
of two Nordenfeldt guns with shell, and no grape shot.

The British certainly meant business that day. It was the baptismal
fire of the Imperial Light Horse, a corps principally composed of
Johannesburgers, who were politically and racially our bitter enemies.
And what was more unfortunate, our guns were so much exposed that
they were soon silenced. For a long time we did our best to keep our
opponents at bay, but they came in crushing numbers, and speedily dead
and maimed burghers covered the veldt. Then the Gordon Highlanders and
the other infantry detachments commenced to storm our positions. We
got them well within the range of our rifle fire, and made our
presence felt; but they kept pushing on with splendid determination
and indomitable pluck, though their ranks were being decimated before
our very eyes.

This was the first, as it was the last time in the War that I heard a
British band playing to cheer attacking "Tommies." I believe it used
to be a British war custom to rouse martial instincts with lively
music, but something must have gone wrong with the works in this War,
there must have occurred a rift in the lute, for ever after this first
battle of Elandslaagte the British abandoned flags, banners, and bands
and other quite unnecessary furniture.

About half an hour before sunset, the enemy had come up close to our
positions and on all sides a terrible battle raged. To keep them back
was now completely out of the question. They had forced their way
between a kloof, and while rushing up with my men towards them, my
rifle was smashed by a bullet. A wounded burgher handed me his and I
joined Field-Cornet Peter Joubert who, with seven other burghers, was
defending the kloof. We poured a heavy fire into the British, but they
were not to be shaken off. Again and again they rushed up in
irresistible strength, gallantly encouraged by their brave officers.
Poor Field-Cornet Joubert perished at this point.

When the sun had set and the awful scene was enveloped in darkness
there was a dreadful spectacle of maimed Germans, Hollanders,
Frenchmen, Irishmen, Americans, and Boers lying on the veldt. The
groans of the wounded were heartrending; the dead could no longer
speak. Another charge, and the British, encouraged by their success,
had taken our last position, guns and all. My only resource now was to
flee, and the battle of Elandslaagte was a thing of the past.



CHAPTER V.

PURSUED BY THE LANCERS.


Another last look at the bloody scene. It was very hard to have to
beat an ignominious retreat, but it was harder still to have to go
without being able to attend to one's wounded comrades, who were
piteously crying aloud for help. To have to leave them in the hands of
the enemy was exceedingly distressing to me. But there was no other
course open, and fleeing, I hoped I might "live to fight another day."
I got away, accompanied by Fourie and my Kaffir servant. "Let us go,"
I said, "perhaps we shall be able to fall in with some more burghers
round here and have another shot at them." Behind us the British
lancers were shouting "Stop, stop, halt you ---- Boers!" They fired
briskly at us, but our little ponies responded gamely to the spur and,
aided by the darkness, we rode on safely. Still the lancers did not
abandon the chase, and followed us for a long distance. From time to
time we could hear the pitiful cries and entreaties of burghers who
were being "finished off," but we could see nothing. My man and I had
fleet horses in good condition, those of the pursuing lancers were big
and clumsy.

My adjutant, Piet Fourie, however, was not so fortunate as myself. He
was overtaken and made a prisoner. Revolvers were being promiscuously
fired at us, and at times the distance between us and our pursuers
grew smaller. We could plainly hear them shouting "Stop, or I'll shoot
you," or "Halt, you damned Boer, or I'll run my lance through your
blessed body."

We really had no time to take much notice of these pretty compliments.
It was a race for life and freedom. Looking round furtively once more
I could distinguish my pursuers; I could see their long assegais; I
could hear the snorting of their unwieldy horses, the clattering of
their swords. These unpleasant combinations were enough to strike
terror into the heart of any ordinary man.

Everything now depended upon the fleetness and staying power of my
sturdy little Boer pony, Blesman. He remained my faithful friend long
after he had got me out of this scrape; he was shot, poor little chap,
the day when they made me a prisoner. Poor Blesman, to you I owe my
life! Blesman was plainly in league against all that was British; from
the first he displayed Anglophobia of a most acute character. He has
served me in good stead, and now lies buried, faithful little heart,
in a Lydenburg ditch.

In my retreat Sunday River had to be crossed. It was deep, but deep or
not, we had to get through it. We were going at such a pace that we
nearly tumbled down the banks. The precipice must have been very
steep; all I remember is finding myself in the water with Blesman by
my side. The poor chap had got stuck with his four legs in the drift
sand. I managed to liberate him, and after a lot of scrambling and
struggling and wading through the four foot stream, I got to the other
side. On the opposite bank the British were still firing. I therefore
decided to lie low in the water, hoping to delude them into thinking I
was killed or drowned. My stratagem was successful. I heard one of my
pursuers say, "We've finished him," and with a few more pyrotechnic
farewells they retraced their steps towards Ladysmith.

On the other side, however, more horsemen came in pursuit.
Unquestionably the British, fired by their splendid success, were
following up their victory with great vigour, and again I was
compelled to hide in the long grass into which my native servant, with
Ethiopian instinct, had already crept. While I was travelling along on
foot my man had rescued my horse from the muddy banks of the river.

When all was said and done I had escaped with a good wetting. Now for
Newcastle. I had still my rifle, revolver, and cartridges left to me;
my field-glass I had lost, probably in the river. Water there was
plenty, but food I had none. The track to Newcastle to a stranger,
such as I was in that part of the country, was difficult to discover.
To add to my perplexities I did not know what had happened at Dundee,
where I had been told a strong British garrison was in occupation.
Therefore, in straying in that direction I ran the risk of being
captured.

Finally, however, I came upon a kaffir kraal. I was curtly hailed in
the kaffir language, and upon my asking my swarthy friends to show me
the road, half a dozen natives, armed with assegais, appeared on the
scene. I clasped my revolver, as their attitude seemed suspicious.
After they had inspected me closely, one of the elders of the
community said: "You is one of dem Boers vat runs avay? We look on and
you got dum dum to-day. Now we hold you, we take you English
magistrate near Ladysmith." But I know my kaffir, and I sized up this
black Englishman instantly. "The fact is," I said, "I'm trekking with
a commando of 500 men, and we are doing a bit of scouting round your
kraal. If you will show me the way to the Biggersbergen I will give
you 5s. on account." My amiable and dusky friend insisted on 7s. 6d.,
but after I had intimated that if he did not accept 5s. I should
certainly burn his entire outfit, slaughter all his women and kill all
his cattle, he acquiesced. A young Zulu was deputed as my guide, but I
had to use my fists and make pretty play with my revolver, and
generally hint at a sudden death, or he would have left me in the
lurch. He muttered to himself for some time, and suddenly terminated
his soliloquy by turning on his heels and disappearing in the
darkness.

The light of a lantern presently showed a railway station, which I
rightly guessed to be Waschbank. Here two Englishmen, probably railway
officials, came up to me, accompanied by my treacherous guide. The
latter had obviously been good enough to warn the officials at the
station of my approach, but luckily they were unarmed. One of them
said, "You've lost your way, it appears," to which I replied, "Oh, no,
indeed; I'm on the right track I think." "But," he persisted, "you
won't find any of your people here now; you've been cut to pieces at
Elandslaagte and Lukas Meyer's and Erasmus's forces round Dundee have
been crushed. You had better come along with me to Ladysmith. I
promise you decent treatment." I took care not to get in between them,
and, remaining at a little distance, said, revolver in hand, "Thanks
very much, it's awfully good of you. I have no business to transact in
Ladysmith for the moment and will now continue my journey.
Good-night." "No, no, no, wait a minute," returned the man who had
spoken first, "you know you can't pass here." "We shall see about
that," I said. They rushed upon me, but ere they could overpower me I
had levelled my revolver. The first speaker tried to disarm me, but I
shook him off and shot him. He fell, and as far I know, or could see,
was not fatally wounded. The other man, thinking discretion the better
part of valour, disappeared in the darkness, and my unfaithful guide
had edged away as soon as he saw the glint of my gun.

My adventures on that terrible night were, however, not to end with
this mild diversion. About an hour after daybreak, I came upon a barn
upon which the legend "Post Office Savings Bank" was inscribed. A big
Newfoundland dog lay on the threshold, and although he wagged his tail
in a not unfriendly manner, he did not seem disposed to take any
special notice of me. There was a passage between the barn and some
stables at the back and I went down to prospect the latter. What luck
if there had been a horse for me there! Of course I should only have
wanted to borrow it, but there was a big iron padlock on the door,
though inside the stables I heard the movements of an animal. A horse
meant to me just then considerably more than three kingdoms to King
Richard. For the first time in my life I did some delicate burglary
and housebreaking to boot. But the English declare that all is fair in
love and war, and they ought to know.

I discovered an iron bar, which enabled me to wrench off the lock from
the stable door, and, having got so far with my burglarious
performance, I entered cautiously, and I may say nervously. Creeping
up to the manger I fumbled about till I caught hold of a strap to
which the animal was tied, cut the strap through and led the horse
away. I was wondering why it went so slowly and that I had almost to
drag the poor creature along. Once outside I found to my utter disgust
that my spoil was a venerable and decrepit donkey. Disappointed and
disheartened, I abandoned my booty, leaving that ancient mule brooding
meditatively outside the stable door and clearly wondering why he had
been selected for a midnight excursion. But there was no time to
explain or apologise, and as the mule clearly could not carry me as
fast as my own legs, I left him to his meditations.

At dawn, when the first rays of the sun lit up the Biggersbergen in
all their grotesque beauty, I realised for the first time where I was,
and found that I was considerably more than 12 miles from
Elandslaagte, the fateful scene of yesterday. Tired out, half-starved
and as disconsolate as the donkey in the stable, I sat myself on an
anthill. For 24 hours I had been foodless, and was now quite
exhausted. I fell into a reverie; all the past day's adventures passed
graphically before my eyes as in a kaleidoscope; all the horrors and
carnage of the battle, the misery of my maimed comrades, who only
yesterday had answered the battle-cry full of vigour and youth, the
pathos of the dead who, cut down in the prime of their life and
buoyant health, lay yonder on the veldt, far away from wives and
daughters and friends for ever more.

While in a brown study on this anthill, 30 men on horseback suddenly
dashed up towards me from the direction of Elandslaagte. I threw myself
flat on my face, seeking the anthill as cover, prepared to sell my life
dearly should they prove to be Englishmen. As soon as they observed me
they halted, and sent one of their number up to me. Evidently they knew
not whether I was friend or foe, for they reconnoitred my prostrate form
behind the anthill with great circumspection and caution; but I speedily
recognised comrades-in-arms. I think the long tail which is peculiar to
the Basuto pony enabled me to identify them as such, and one friend, who
was their outpost, brought me a reserve horse, and what was even better,
had extracted from his saddle-bag a tin of welcome bully beef to stay
my gnawing hunger. But they brought sad tidings, these good friends.
Slain on the battlefield lay Assistant-Commandant J. C. Bodenstein and
Major Hall, of the Johannesburg Town Council, two of my bravest
officers, whose loss I still regret.

We rode on slowly, and all along the road we fell in with groups of
burghers. There was no question that our ranks were demoralised and
heartsick. Commandant-General Joubert had made Dannhauser Station his
headquarters and thither we wended our way. But though we approached
our general with hearts weighed down with sorrow, so strange and
complex a character is the Boers', that by the time we reached him we
had gathered together 120 stragglers, and had recovered our spirits
and our courage. I enjoyed a most refreshing rest on an unoccupied
farm and sent a messenger to Joubert asking him for an appointment for
the following morning to hand in my report of the ill-fated battle.
The messenger, however, brought back a verbal answer that the General
was exceedingly angry and had sent no reply. On retiring that night I
found my left leg injured in several places by splinters of shell and
stone. My garments had to be soaked in water to remove them, but after
I had carefully cleaned my wounds they very soon healed.

The next morning I waited on the Commandant-General. He received me
very coldly, and before I could venture a word said reproachfully:
"Why didn't you obey orders and stop this side of the Biggarsbergen,
as the Council of War decided you should do?" He followed up the
reproach with a series of questions: "Where's your general?" "How many
men have you lost?" "How many English have you killed?" I said
deferentially: "Well, General, you know I am not to be bullied like
this. You know you placed me in a subordinate position under the
command of General Kock, and now you lay all the blame for yesterday's
disaster on my shoulders. However, I am sorry to say General Kock is
wounded and in British hands. I don't know how many men we have lost;
I suppose about 30 or 40 killed and approximately 100 wounded. The
British must have lost considerably more, but I am not making any
estimate."

The grey-bearded generalissimo cooled a little and spoke more kindly,
although he gave me to understand he did not think much of the
Johannesburg commando. I replied that they had been fighting very
pluckily, and that by retiring they hoped to retrieve their fortunes
some other day. "H'm," returned the General, "some of your burghers
have made so masterly a retreat that they have already got to
Newcastle, and I have just wired Field-Cornet Pienaar, who is in
charge, that I should suggest to him to wait a little there, as I
propose sending him some railway carriages to enable him to retreat
still further. As for those Germans and Hollanders with you, they may
go to Johannesburg; I won't have them here any more."

"General," I protested, "this is not quite fair. These people have
volunteered to fight for, and with us; we cannot blame them in this
matter. It is most unfortunate that Elandslaagte should have been
lost, but as far as I can see there was no help for it." The old
General appeared lost in thought; he seemed to take but little notice
of what I said. Finally he looked up and fixed his small glittering
eyes upon me as if he wished to read my most inmost thoughts.

"Yes," he said, "I know all about that. At Dundee things have gone
just as badly. Lukas Meyer made a feeble attack, and Erasmus left him
in the lurch. The two were to charge simultaneously, but Erasmus
failed him at a critical moment, which means a loss of 130 men killed
and wounded, and Lukas Meyer in retreat across the Buffalo River. And
now Elandslaagte on the top of all! All this owing to the disobedience
and negligence of my chief officers."

The old man spoke in this strain for some time, until I grew tired and
left. But just as I was on the point of proceeding from his tent, he
said: "Look here, Commandant, reorganise your commando as quickly as
you can, and report to me as soon as you are ready." He also gave me
permission to incorporate in the reorganised commando various
Hollander and German stragglers who were loafing round about, although
he seemed to entertain an irradicable prejudice against the Dutch and
German corps.

The Commandant of the Hollander corps, Volksraad Member Lombard, came
out of the battle unscathed; his captain, Mr. B. J. Verselewel de Witt
Hamer, had been made a prisoner; the Commandant of the German corps,
Captain A. Schiel, fell wounded into British hands, while among the
officers who were killed in action I should mention Dr. H. J. Coster,
the bravest Hollander the Transvaal ever saw, the most brilliant
member of the Pretoria Bar, who laid down his life because in a stupid
moment Kruger had taunted him and his compatriots with cowardice.



CHAPTER VI.

RISKING JOUBERT'S ANGER.


After the above unpleasant but fairly successful interview with our
Commander-in-Chief, I left the men I had gathered round me in charge
of a field-cornet, and proceeded by train to Newcastle to collect the
scattered remnants of my burghers, and to obtain mules and waggons for
my convoy. For, as I have previously stated, it was at Newcastle we
had left all our commissariat-waggons and draught cattle under a
strong escort. On arrival I summoned the burghers together, and
addressing them in a few words, pointed out that we should, so soon as
possible, resume the march, in order to reach the fighting line
without delay, and there retrieve the pride and honour of our
commando.

"Our beloved country," I said, "as well as our dead, wounded and
missing comrades, require us not to lose courage at this first
reverse, but to continue the righteous struggle even against
overwhelming odds," and so on, in this strain.

I honestly cannot understand why we should have been charged with
cowardice at the battle of Elandslaagte, although many of us seemed to
apprehend that this would be the case. We had made a good fight of it,
but overwhelmed by an organised force of disciplined men, eight or ten
times our number, we had been vanquished, and the British were the
first to admit that we had manfully and honourably defended our
positions. To put a wrong construction on our defeat was a libel on
all who had bravely fought the fight, and I resented it. There are
such things as the fortunes of war, and as only one side can win, it
cannot always be the same. However, I soon discovered that a small
number of our burghers did not seem inclined to join in the
prolongation of the struggle. To have forced them to rejoin us would
have served no purpose, so I thought the best policy would be to send
them home on furlough until they had recovered their spirits and
their courage. No doubt the scorn and derision to which they would be
subjected by their wives and sisters would soon induce them to take up
arms again and to fulfil the duties their country required. I
therefore requested those who had neither the courage nor the
inclination to return to the front to fall out, and about thirty men
fell back, bowing their heads in shame. They were jeered at and
chaffed by their fellows, the majority of whom had elected to proceed.
But the shock of Elandslaagte had been too much for the weaker
brethren, who seemed deaf to every argument, and only wanted to go
home. I gave each of these a pass to proceed by rail to Johannesburg,
which read as follows:--

     "Permit..................................... to go to
     Johannesburg on account of cowardice, at Government's
     expense."

They put the permit in their pockets without suspecting its contents,
and departed with their kit to the station to catch the first
available train.

The reader will now have formed an idea of the disastrous moral effect
of this defeat, and the subsequent difficulty of getting a commando up
to its original fighting strength. But in spite of this I am proud to
say that by far the greater number of the Johannesburgers were
gathered round me and prepared to march to meet the enemy once more.

My trap and all its contents had been captured by the enemy at
Elandslaagte, and I found it necessary to obtain new outfits, &c., at
Newcastle. This was no easy matter, as some of the storekeepers had
moved the greater part of their goods to a safer place, while some
commandos had appropriated most of the remainder. What was left had
been commandeered by Mr. J. Moodie, a favourite of General Joubert,
who was posing there as Resident Justice of the Peace; and he did not
feel inclined to let any of these goods out of his possession. By
alternately buying and looting, or in other words stealing, I managed
to get an outfit by the next morning, and at break of day we left for
Dannhauser Station, arriving there the same evening without further
noteworthy incident.

Next day, when the Johannesburg corps turned out, we numbered 485
mounted men, all fully equipped. On arrival at Glencoe Station I
received a telegram from General Joubert informing me that he had
defeated the enemy at Nicholson's Nek near Ladysmith that day (October
30, 1899) taking 1,300 prisoners, who would arrive at Glencoe the
following morning. He desired me to conduct them to Pretoria under a
strong escort. What a flattering order! To conduct prisoners-of-war,
taken by other burghers! Were we then fit for nothing but police duty?

However, orders have to be obeyed, so I sent one of my officers with
40 men to take the prisoners to Pretoria, and reported to the
Commandant-General by telegram that his order had been executed, also
asking for instructions as to where I was to proceed with my commando.
The reply I received was as follows:--

"Pitch your camp near Dundee, and maintain law and order in the
Province, also aid the Justice of the Peace in forwarding captured
goods, ammunition, provisions, etc., to Pretoria, and see that you are
not attacked a second time."

This was more than flesh and blood could bear; more than a "white man"
could stand. It was not less than a personal insult, which I deeply
resented. Evidently my chief had resolved to keep us in the
background; he would not trust our commando in the fighting line. In
short, he would not keep his word and give us another chance to recoup
our losses.

I had, however, made up my mind, and ordered the commando to march to
Ladysmith. If the General would not have me at the front I should
cease to be an officer. And, although I had no friends of influence
who could help me I resolved to take the bull by the horns, and leave
the rest to fate.

On the 1st November, 1899, we reached the main army near Ladysmith,
and I went at once to tell General Joubert in person that my men
wanted to fight, and not to play policemen in the rear of the army.
Having given the order to dismount I proceeded to Joubert's tent,
walked in with as much boldness as I could muster, and saluted the
General, who was fortunately alone. I at once opened my case, telling
him how unfair it was to keep us in the rear, and that the burghers
were loudly protesting against such treatment. This plea was generally
used throughout the campaign when an officer required something to be
granted him. At first the old General was very wrathful. He said I had
disobeyed his orders and that he had a mind to have me shot for breach
of discipline. However, after much storming in his fine bass voice, he
grew calmer, and in stentorian tones ordered me for the time being to
join General Schalk Burger, who was operating near Lombard's Kop in
the siege of Ladysmith.

That same evening I arrived there with my commando and reported myself
to Lieut-General Burger. One of his adjutants, Mr. Joachim Fourie, who
distinguished himself afterwards on repeated occasions and was killed
in action near his house in the Carolina district, showed me a place
to laager in. We pitched our tents on the same spot where a few days
before Generals White and French had been defeated, and there awaited
developments.

At this place the British, during the battle of Nicholson's Nek, had
hidden a large quantity of rifle and gun ammunition in a hole in the
ground, covering it up with grass, which gave it the appearance of a
heap of rubbish. One of the burghers who feared this would be
injurious to the health of our men in camp, set the grass on fire, and
this soon penetrated to the ammunition. A tremendous explosion
occurred, and it seemed as if there were a real battle in progress.
From all sides burghers dashed up on horseback to learn where the
fighting was taking place. General Joubert sent an adjutant to enquire
whether the Johannesburgers were now killing each other for a change,
and why I could not keep my men under better control. I asked this
gentleman to be kind enough to see for himself what was taking place,
and to tell the Commandant-General that I could manage well enough to
keep my men in order, but could not be aware of the exact spot where
the enemy had chosen to hide their ammunition.

Meanwhile, it became daily more evident to me how greatly Joubert
depreciated my commando, and that we would have to behave very well
and fight very bravely to regain his favour. Other commandos also
seemed to have no better opinion, and spoke of us as the laager which
had to run at Elandslaagte, forgetting how even General Meyer's huge
commando had been obliged to retreat in the greatest confusion at
Dundee. If all the details of this Dundee engagement were published it
would be discovered that it was a Boer disaster only second to that of
Elandslaagte.

We were now, however, at any rate at the front. I sent out my outposts
and fixed my positions, which were very far from good; but I decided
to make no complaints. We had resolved to do our very best to
vindicate our honour, and to prove that our accusers had no reason to
call us either cowards or good-for-nothings.



CHAPTER VII.

THE BOER GENERAL'S SUPERSTITIONS.


A few days after we had arrived before Ladysmith we joined an
expedition to reconnoitre the British entrenchments, and my commando
was ordered near some forts on the north-westerly side of the town.
Both small and large artillery were being fired from each side. We
approached within 800 paces of a fort; it was broad daylight and the
enemy could therefore see us distinctly, knew the exact range, and
received us with a perfect hailstorm of fire. Our only chance was to
seek cover behind kopjes and in ditches, for on any Boer showing his
head the bullets whistled round his ears. Here two of my burghers were
severely wounded, and we had some considerable trouble to get them
through the firing line to our ambulance. At last, late in the
afternoon, came the order to retire, and we retired after having
achieved nothing.

I fail to this day to see the use of this reconnoitring, but at
Ladysmith everything was equally mysterious and perplexing. It was
perhaps that my knowledge of military matters was too limited to
understand the subtle manoeuvres of those days. But I have made up my
mind not to criticise our leader's military strategy, though I must
say at this juncture that the whole siege of Ladysmith and the manner
in which the besieged garrison was ineffectually pounded at with our
big guns for several months, seem to me an unfathomable mystery,
which, owing to Joubert's untimely death, will never be explained
satisfactorily. But I venture to describe Joubert's policy outside
Ladysmith as stupid and primitive, and in another chapter I shall
again refer to it.

After another fortnight or so, we were ordered away to guard another
position to the south-west of Ladysmith, as the Free State commando
under Commandant Nel, and, unless I am mistaken, under Field-Cornet
Christian de Wet (afterwards the world-famous chief Commander of the
Orange Free State, and of whom all Afrikanders are justly proud), had
to go to Cape Colony.

Here I was under the command of Dijl Erasmus, who was then General and
a favourite of General Joubert. We had plenty of work given us.
Trenches had to be dug and forts had to be constructed and remodelled.
At this time an expedition ventured to Estcourt, under General Louis
Botha, who replaced General L. Meyer, sent home on sick leave. My
commando joined the expedition under Field-Cornet J. Kock, who
afterwards caused me a lot of trouble.

I can say but little of this expedition to Estcourt, save that the
Commander-in-Chief accompanied it. But for his being with us, I am
convinced that General Botha would have pushed on at least as far as
Pietermaritzburg, for the English were at that time quite unable to
stop our progress. But after we got to Estcourt, practically
unopposed, Joubert, though our burghers had been victorious in battle
after battle, ordered us to retreat. The only explanation General
Joubert ever vouchsafed about the recall of this expedition was that
in a heavy thunderstorm which had been raging for two nights near
Estcourt, two Boers had been struck by lightning, which, according to
his doctrine, was an infallible sign from the Almighty that the
commandos were to proceed no further. It seems incredible that in
these enlightened days we should find such a man in command of an
army; it is, nevertheless, a fact that the loss of two burghers
induced our Commandant-General to recall victorious commandos who were
carrying all before them. The English at Pietermaritzburg, and even at
Durban, were trembling lest we should push forward to the coast,
knowing full well that in no wise could they have arrested our
progress. And what an improvement in our position this would have
meant! As it was, our retirement encouraged the British to push
forward their fighting line so far as Chieveley Station, near the
Tugela river, and the commandos had to take up a position in the
"randjes," on the westerly banks of the Tugela.



CHAPTER VIII.

THE "GREAT POWERS" TO INTERVENE.


During the retreat of our army to the frontier of the Transvaal
Republic nothing of importance occurred. Here again confusion reigned
supreme, and none of the commandos were over-anxious to form
rearguards. Our Hollander Railway Company made a point of placing a
respectful distance between her rolling-stock and the enemy, and,
anxious to lose as few carriages as possible, raised innumerable
difficulties when asked to transport our men, provisions and
ammunition. Our generals had meantime proceeded to Laing's Nek by rail
to seek new positions, and there was no one to maintain order and
discipline.

About 150 Natal Afrikanders who had joined our commandos when these
under the late General Joubert occupied the districts about Newcastle
and Ladysmith, now found themselves in an awkward position. They
elected to come with us, accompanied by their families and live stock,
and they offered a most heartrending spectacle. Long rows of carts and
wagons wended their way wearily along the road to Laing's Nek. Women
in tears, with their children and infants in arms, cast reproachful
glances at us as being the cause of their misery. Others occupied
themselves more usefully in driving their cattle. Altogether it was a
scene the like of which I hope never to see again.

The Natal kaffirs now had an opportunity of displaying their hatred
towards the Boers. As soon as we had left a farm and its male
inhabitants had gone, they swooped down on the place and wrought havoc
and ruin, plundering and looting to their utmost carrying capacity.
Some even assaulted women and children, and the most awful atrocities
were committed. I attach more blame to the whites who encouraged these
plundering bands, especially some of the Imperial troops and Natal
men in military service. Not understanding the bestial nature of the
kaffirs, they used them to help carry out their work of destruction,
and although they gave them no actual orders to molest the people,
they took no proper steps of preventing this.

When our commando passed through Newcastle, we found the place almost
entirely deserted, excepting for a few British subjects who had taken
an oath of neutrality to the Boers.

I regret to have to state that during our retreat a number of
irresponsible persons set fire to the Government buildings in that
town. It is said that an Italian officer burned a public hall on no
reasonable pretext; certainly he never received orders to that effect.
As may be expected of an invading army, some of our burgher patrols
and other isolated bodies of troops looted and destroyed a number of
houses which had been temporarily deserted. But with the exception of
these few cases, I can state that no outrages were committed by us in
Natal, and no property was needlessly destroyed.

On our arrival at Laing's Nek a Council of War was immediately held to
decide our future plans.

We now found ourselves once more on the old battlefields of 1880 and
1881, where Boer and Briton had met 20 years before to decide by trial
of arms who should be master of the S. A. Republic. Traces of that
desperate struggle were still plainly visible, and the historic height
of Majuba stood there, an isolated sentinel, recalling to us the
battle in which the unfortunate Colley lost both the day and his life.

I was told off to take up a position in the Nek where the wagon-road
runs to the east across the railway-tunnel, and here we made
preparations for digging trenches and placing our guns. Soon after we
had completed our entrenchments we once more saw the enemy. They were
lying at Schuinshoogte on the Ingogo, and had sent a mounted corps
with two guns to the Nek. Although we had no idea of the enemy's
strength, we were fully prepared to meet the attack; the Pretoria,
Lydenburg and other laagers were posted to the left on the summit of
Majuba Hill, and other commandos held good positions on the east. But
the enemy evidently thought that we had fled all the way back to
Pretoria, and not expecting to find the Nek occupied, advanced quite
unconcerned. We fired a few volleys at them, which caused them to halt
in considerable surprise, and, replying with a little artillery fire,
they quickly returned to Schuinshoogte. We had, however, to be on our
guard both day and night. It was bitterly cold at the time and a
strong easterly wind was blowing.

Next day something occurred which afforded a change to the monotony of
our situation, namely, the arrival from Pretoria of Mr. John Lombaard,
member of the First Volksraad for Bethel. He asked permission to
address us and informed us that we need only hold out another
fortnight, for news from Europe had reached them to the effect that
the Great Powers had decided to put an end to the War. This
communication emanating from such a semi-official source was believed
by a certain number of our men, but I think it did very little to
brighten up the spirits of the majority, or arouse them from the
lethargy into which they seemed to have fallen. A fortnight passed,
and a month, without us hearing anything further of this expected
intervention, and I have never been able to discover on whose
authority and by whose orders Mr. Lombaard made to us that remarkable
communication.

Meantime, General Buller did not seem at all anxious to attack us,
perhaps fearing a repetition of the "accidents" on the Tugela; or
possibly he thought that our position was too strong. For some reason,
therefore, Laing's Nek was never attacked, and Buller afterwards,
having made a huge "detour," broke through Botha's Pass. Meanwhile,
Lord Roberts and his forces were marching without opposition through
the Orange Free State, and I was ordered to proceed to Vereeniging
with my commando. We left Laing's Nek on the 19th of May, and
proceeded to the Free State frontier by rail.



CHAPTER IX.

COLENSO AND SPION KOP FIGHTS.


Eight days after my commando had been stationed in my new position
under General Erasmus, I received instructions to march to
Potgietersdrift, on the Upper Tugela, near Spion Kop, and there to put
myself at Andries Cronje's disposal. This gentleman was then a general
in the Orange Free State Army, and although a very venerable looking
person, was not very successful as a commander. Up to the 14th of
December, 1899, no noteworthy incident took place, and nothing was
done but a little desultory scouting along the Tugela, and the digging
of trenches.

At last came the welcome order summoning us to action; and we were
bidden to march on Colenso Heights with 200 men to fill up the ranks,
as a fight was imminent. We left under General Cronje and arrived the
next morning at daybreak, and a few hours after began the battle now
known to the world as the Battle of Colenso (15th December, 1899).

I afterwards heard that the commandos under General Cronje were to
cross the river and attack the enemy's left flank. This did not
happen, as the greatest confusion prevailed owing to the various
contradictory orders given by the generals. For instance, I myself
received four contradictory orders from four generals within the space
of ten minutes. I, however, took the initiative in moving my men up to
the river to attempt the capture of a battery of guns on the enemy's
left flank which had been left unprotected, as was the case with the
ten guns which fell into our hands later in the day. I had approached
within 1,400 paces of the enemy, and my burghers were following close
behind me when an adjutant from General Botha (accompanied by a
gentleman named C. Fourie, who was then also parading as a general)
galloped up to us and ordered us at once to join the Ermelo commando,
which was said to be too weak to resist the attacks of the enemy. We
hurried thither as quickly as we could round the rear of the fighting
line, where we were obliged to off-saddle and walk up to the position
of the Ermelo burghers. This was no easy task; the battle was now in
full swing, and the enemy's shells were bursting in dozens around us,
and in the burning sun we had to run some miles.

When we arrived at our destination Mr. Fourie (the pseudo general) and
his adjutant could nowhere be found. As to the Ermelo burghers, they
said they were quite comfortable, and had asked for no assistance.

Not a single shell had reached them, for a clump of aloe trees stood a
hundred yards away, which the English presumably had taken for Boers,
judging by the terrific bombardment these trees were being subjected
to.

[Illustration: Along the Tugela--Coming suddenly upon an English
Outpost.]

By this time the attack was repulsed, and General Buller was in full
retreat to Chieveley, though our commando had been unable to take an
active part in the fighting, at which we were greatly disappointed.
It is much to be regretted that the retreat of the enemy was not
followed up at once. Had this been done, the campaign in Natal would
have taken an entirely different aspect, and very probably would have
been attended by a more favourable conclusion. I consider myself far
from a prophet, but this I know; and if we had then and on subsequent
occasions followed up our successes, the result of the Campaign would
have been far more satisfactory to us.

After I had assisted in bringing away through the river the guns we
had taken, and seen to other matters which required my immediate
attention, I was ordered to remain with the Ermelo commando at
Colenso, near Toomdrift, and to await there further instructions.

A few weeks of inactivity followed, the English sending us each day a
few samples of their shells from their 4·7 Naval guns. Unfortunately,
our guns were of much smaller calibre, and we could send them no
suitable reply. As a rule we would lie in the trenches, and a burgher
would be on the look-out. So soon as he saw the flash of an English
gun, he would cry out; "There's a shell," and we then sought cover, so
that the enemy seldom succeeded in harming us.

One day one of these big shells fell amongst a group of fourteen
burghers who were at dinner. The shell struck a sharp rock, which it
splintered into fragments, and was emitting its yellow lyddite; but,
fortunately, the fuse refused to burn, and the shell did not explode,
so we had a narrow escape that day from a small catastrophe.

My laager had been at Potgietersdrift all this time, and for the time
being we were deprived of our tents. We were not sorry, therefore,
when we were ordered to leave Colenso and to return to our camp.

A few days after we were told off to take up a position at the
junction of the Little and the Big Tugela, between Spion Kop and
Colenso. Here we celebrated our first Christmas in the field; our
friends at Johannesburg had sent us a quantity of presents by means of
a friend, Attorney Raaff, comprising cakes, cigars, cigarettes,
tobacco and other luxuries. Along this part of the Tugela we found a
fair quantity of vegetables, and poultry, and as their respective
owners had fled we were unable to pay for what we had. We were
obliged, therefore, to "borrow" all these things for the banquet
befitting to the occasion.

But General Buller had not quite finished with us yet. He marched on
Spion Kop, but with the exception of a feint attack nothing of
importance happened then. One day I went across the river with a
patrol to discover what the enemy was doing, when we suddenly came
across nine English spies, who fled as soon as they saw us. We
galloped after them, trying to cut them off from the main body, which
was at a little distance away from us, and would no doubt have
overtaken them, but, riding at a breakneck speed over a mountain
ridge, we found ourselves suddenly confronted with a strong English
mounted corps, apparently engaged in drilling. We were only 500 paces
away from them, and we jumped off our horses, and opened fire. But
there were only a dozen of us, and the enemy soon began sending us a
few shells, and prepared to attack us with their whole force. About a
hundred mounted men, with horses in the best of condition, set off to
pursue us.

We were obliged to ride back by the same path we had come by, which
was fortunate for us, as we knew the way and could ride through
crevices and dongas without any hesitation. In this way we soon gave
our pursuers the slip.

Buller's forces seemed at first to have the intention of forcing their
way through near Potgietersdrift, and they took possession of all the
"randts" on their side of the river, causing us to strengthen the
position on our side. We thus had to shift our commando again to
Potgietersdrift, where we soon had the enemy's Naval guns playing on
our positions. This continued day and night for a whole week.

It seemed as if General Buller were determined to annihilate all the
Boers with his lyddite shells, so as to enable the soldiers to walk at
their leisure to the release of Ladysmith. Certainly we suffered
considerably from lyddite fumes.

The British next made a feint attack near Potgietersdrift, advancing
with a great clamour till they had come within 2,000 paces of us,
where they occupied various "randts" and kopjes, always under cover of
their artillery. Once they came a little too close to our positions,
and we suddenly opened fire on them. The result was that their
ambulance waggons were seen to become very busy driving backwards and
forwards.

This "feint," however, was only made in order to divert our attention,
while Buller was concentrating his troops and guns on Spion Kop. The
ruse succeeded to a large extent, and on the 21st January the
memorable battle of Spion Kop (near the Upper Tugela) began.

General Warren, who, I believe, was in command here, had ordered
another "feint" attack from the extreme right wing. General Cronje and
the Free Staters had taken up a position at Spion Kop, assisted by the
commandos of General Erasmus and Schalk Burger.

The fight lasted the whole of that day and the next, and became more
and more fierce. Luckily General Botha appeared on the scene in time,
and re-arranged matters so well and with so much energy that the enemy
found itself well employed, and was kept in check at all points.

I had been ordered to defend the position at Potgietersdrift, but the
fighting round Spion Kop became so serious that I was obliged to send
up a field cornet with his men as a reinforcement, which was soon
followed by a second contingent, making altogether 200 Johannesburgers
in the fight, of whom nine were killed and 18 wounded. The enemy had
reached the top of the "kop" on the evening of the second day of the
fight, not, however, without having sustained considerable losses. At
this juncture one of our generals felt so disheartened that he sent
away his carts, and himself left the battlefield.

But General Botha kept his ground like a man, surrounded by the
faithful little band who had already borne the brunt of this important
battle. And one can imagine our delight when next morning we found
that the English had retreated, leaving that immense battlefield,
strewn with hundreds of dead and wounded, in our hands.

"What made them leave so suddenly last night," was the question we
asked each other then, and which remains unanswered to this day.

General Warren has stated that the cause of his departure was the want
of water, but I can hardly credit that statement, as water could be
obtained all the way to the top of Spion Kop; and even had it been
wanting it is not likely that after a sacrifice of 1,200 to 1,300
lives the position would have been abandoned on this account alone.
Our victory was undoubtedly a fluke.



CHAPTER X.

THE BATTLE OF VAALKRANTZ.


Soon after his defeat at Spion Kop, General Buller, moved by the
earnest entreaties for help from Ladysmith, and pressed by Lord
Roberts, attempted a third time to break through our lines. This time
my position had to bear the onslaught of his whole forces. For some
days it had been clear to me what the enemy intended to do, but I
wired in vain to the Commander-in-Chief to send me reinforcements, and
I was left to defend a front, one and a half miles in length, with
about 400 men. After many requests I at last moved General Joubert to
send me one of the guns known as "Long Toms," which was placed at the
rear of our position, and enabled us to command the Vaalkrantz, or, as
we called it, "Pontdrift" kopjes. But instead of the required
reinforcements, the Commander sent a telegram to General Meyer to
Colenso, telling him to come and speak to me, and to put some heart
into me, for it seemed, he said, "as if I had lost faith."

General Meyer came, and I explained to him how matters stood, and that
I should not be able to check the enormous attacking force with my
commando alone. The British were at this time only 7,000 paces away
from us. The required assistance, however, never came, although I told
the General that a faith strong enough to move Majuba Hill would be of
no avail without a sufficient number of men.

Early in the morning of the 5th February, 1900, my position was
heavily bombarded, and before the sun had risen four of my burghers
had been put _hors de combat_. The enemy had placed their naval guns
on the outskirts of the wood known as "Zwartkop" so as to be able to
command our position from an elevation of about 400 feet. I happened
to be on the right flank with ninety-five burghers and a pom-pom; my
assistant, Commandant Jaapie du Preez, commanding the left flank.

The assailants threw two pontoon bridges across the river and troops
kept pouring over from 10 o'clock in the morning. The whole of the
guns' fire was now concentrated on my position; and although we
answered with a well-directed fire, they charged time after time.

The number of my fighting men was rapidly diminishing. I may say this
was the heaviest bombardment I witnessed during the whole of the
campaign. It seemed to me as if all the guns of the British army were
being fired at us.

Their big lyddite guns sent over huge shells, which mowed down all the
trees on the kopje, while about fifty field pieces were incessantly
barking away from a shorter range. Conan Doyle, in his book, "The
Great Boer War," states that the British had concentrated no less than
seventy-three guns on that kopje. In vain I implored the nearest
Generals for reinforcements and requested our artillery in Heaven's
name to aim at the enemy's guns. At last, however, "Long Tom"
commenced operations, but the artillerymen in charge had omitted to
put the powder in a safe place and it was soon struck by a lyddite
shell which set the whole of it on fire. This compelled us to send to
the head laager near Ladysmith for a fresh supply of powder.

On looking about me to see how my burghers were getting on I found
that many around me had been killed and others were wounded. The
clothes of the latter were burnt and they cried out for help in great
agony.

Our pom-pom had long since been silenced by the enemy, and thirty of
my burghers had been put out of the fight. The enemy's infantry was
advancing nearer and nearer and there was not much time left to think.
I knelt down behind a kopje, along with some of the men, and we kept
firing away at 400 paces, but although we sent a good many to eternal
rest, the fire of the few burghers who were left was too weak to stem
the onslaught of those overwhelming numbers.

A lyddite shell suddenly burst over our very heads. Four burghers with
me were blown to pieces and my rifle was smashed. It seemed to me as
if a huge cauldron of boiling fat had burst over us and for some
minutes I must have lost consciousness. A mouthful of brandy and water
(which I always carried with me) was given me and restored me
somewhat, and when I opened my eyes I saw the enemy climbing the kopje
on three sides of us, some of them only a hundred paces away from me.

I ordered my men to fall back and took charge of the pom-pom, and we
then retired under a heavy rifle and gun fire. Some English writers
have made much ado about the way in which our pom-pom was saved, but
it was nothing out of the ordinary. Of the 95 burghers with me 29 had
been killed, 24 wounded.

When I had a few minutes rest I felt a piercing pain in my head, and
the blood began to pour from my nose and ears.

We had taken up another position at 1,700 paces, and fired our pom-pom
at the enemy, who now occupied our position of a few minutes before.
Our other guns were being fired as well, which gave the British an
exciting quarter of an hour. On the right and left of the positions
taken by them our burghers were still in possession of the "randten";
to the right Jaapie du Preez, with the loss of only four wounded, kept
his ground with the rest of my commando.

The next morning the fight was renewed, and our "Long Tom" now took
the lead in the cannon-concert, and seemed to make himself very
unpleasant to the enemy.

The whole day was mainly a battle of big guns. My headache grew
unbearable, and I was very feverish. General Botha had meanwhile
arrived with reinforcements, and towards evening things took a better
turn.

But I was temporarily done for, and again lost consciousness, and was
taken to the ambulance. Dr. Shaw did his best, I hear, for me; but I
was unconscious for several days, and when I revived the doctor told
me I had a slight fracture of the skull caused by the bursting of a
shell. The injuries, however, could not have been very serious for ten
days after I was able to leave my bed. I then heard that the night I
had been taken to the hospital, the British had once more been forced
to retire across the Tugela, and early in the morning of the 7th of
February our burghers were again in possession of the kopje
"Vaalkrantz," round which such a fierce fight had waged and for the
possession of which so much blood had been spilled.

So far as I could gather from the English official reports they lost
about 400 men, while our dead and wounded numbered only sixty-two.

Taking into consideration the determination with which General Buller
had attacked us, and how dearly he had paid for this third abortive
attempt, the retreat of his troops remains as much of a mystery to me
as that at Spion Kop.

Our "Long Tom" was a decided success, and had proved itself to be
exceedingly useful.

The Battle of "Vaalkrantz" kopje was to me and to the Johannesburg
commando undoubtedly the most important and the fiercest fight in this
war, and although one point in our positions was taken, I think that
on the whole I may be proud of our defence. About two-thirds of its
defenders were killed or wounded before the enemy took that spot, and
all who afterwards visited the kopje where our struggle had taken
place had to admit that unmistakable evidence showed it to be one of
the hottest fights of the Natal campaign. All the trees were torn up
or smashed by shells, great blocks of rock had been splintered and
were stained yellow by the lyddite; mutilated bodies were lying
everywhere--Briton and Boer side by side; for during the short time
"Vaalkrantz" had been in their possession the English had not had an
opportunity of burying the bodies of friends or foe.

I think I may quote a few paragraphs of what Dr. Doyle says in his
book about this engagement:--

     "The artillery-fire (the "Zwartkop" guns and other
     batteries) was then hurriedly aimed at the isolated
     "Vaalkrantz" (the real object of the attack), and had a
     terrific effect. It is doubtful whether ever before a
     position has been exposed to such an awful bombardment. The
     weight of the ammunition fired by some of the cannon was
     greater than that of an entire German battery during the
     Franco-Prussian war."

Prince Kraft describes the 4 and 6-pounders as mere toys compared with
machine Howitzer and 4·7 guns.

Dr. Doyle, however, is not sure about the effect of these powerful
guns, for he says:--

     "Although the rims of the kopje were being pounded by
     lyddite and other bombs it is doubtful whether this terrific
     fire did much damage among the enemy, as seven English
     officers and 70 men were lying dead on the kopje against
     only a few Boers, who were found to have been wounded."

Of the pom-pom, which I succeeded in saving from the enemy's hands,
the same writer says:--

     "It was during this attack that something happened of a more
     picturesque and romantic nature than is usually the case in
     modern warfare; here it was not a question of combatants and
     guns being invisible or the destruction of a great mass of
     people. In this case it concerns a Boer gun, cut off by the
     British troops, which all of a sudden came out of its
     hiding-place and scampered away like a frightened hare from
     his lair. It fled from the danger as fast as the mules' legs
     would take it, nearly overturning, and jolting and knocking
     against the rocks, while the driver bent forward as far as
     he could to protect himself from the shower of bullets which
     were whistling round his ears in all directions. British
     shells to the right of him, shells to the left of him
     bursting and spluttering, lyddite shrapnel fuming and
     fizzing and making the splinters fly. But over the "randtje"
     the gun disappeared, and in a few minutes after it was in
     position again, and dealing death and destruction amongst
     the British assailants."

While I was under treatment in Dr. Shaw's ambulance I was honoured by
a visit from General Joubert, who came to compliment me on what he
called the splendid defence of Vaalkrantz, and to express his regret
at the heavy loss sustained by our commando. I heard from Dr. Shaw
that after the battle the groans and cries of the wounded burghers
could be heard in the immediate neighbourhood of the English outposts.
Some burghers volunteered to go, under cover of the darkness, to see
if they could save these wounded men. They cautiously crept up to the
foot of the kopjes, from where they could plainly see the English
sentinels, and a little further down found in a ditch two of our
wounded, named Brand and Liebenberg; the first had an arm and a leg
smashed, the latter had a bullet in his thigh.

One can imagine what a terrible plight they were in after laying there
for two nights and a day, exposed to the night's severe cold and the
day's scorching sun. Their wounds were already decomposing, and the
odour was most objectionable.

The two unfortunate men were at once carried to the laager and
attended to with greatest care. Poor Liebenberg died of his wounds
soon after. Brand, the youngest son of the late President Brand, of
the Orange Free State, soon recovered, if I remember rightly.

At the risk of incurring the displeasure of a great number of people
by adding the following statement to my description of the battle of
Vaalkrantz, I feel bound to state that Commandant-General Joubert,
after our successes at Colenso, Spion Kop, and Vaalkrantz, asked the
two State Presidents, Kruger and Steyn, to consider the urgency of
making peace overtures to the English Government. He pointed out that
the Republics had no doubt reached the summit of their glory in the
War. The proposal read as follows: That the Republican troops should
at once evacuate British territory, compensation to be given for the
damage to property, etc., inflicted by our commandos, against which
the British Government was to guarantee that the Republics should be
spared from any further incursions or attacks from British troops, and
to waive its claim of Suzerainty; and that the British Government
should undertake not to interfere with the internal affairs and legal
procedure of the two Republics, and grant general amnesty to the
colonial rebels.

Commander-in-Chief Joubert defended these proposals by pointing out
that England was at that moment in difficulties, and had suffered
repeated serious defeats. The opportunity should be taken, urged the
General.

He was supported by several officers, but other Boer leaders contended
that Natal, originally Boer territory, should never again be ceded to
the enemy. As we heard nothing more of these proposals, I suppose the
two State Presidents rejected them.



CHAPTER XI.

THE TURN OF THE TIDE.


After the English forces had retreated from Vaalkrantz across the
Tugela, a patrol of my commando under my faithful adjutant, J. Du
Preez, who had taken my place for the time being, succeeded in
surprising a troop of fifty Lancers, of the 17th regiment, I believe,
near Zwartkop, east of the Tugela, and making them prisoners after a
short skirmish. Among these men, who were afterwards sent to Pretoria,
was a certain Lieutenant Thurlington. It was a strange sight to see
our patrol coming back with their victims, each Boer brandishing a
captured lance.

Being still in the hospital in feeble health without any prospect of a
speedy recovery, I took the doctor's advice and went home to
Rondepoort, near Krugersdorp, where my family was staying at the
time, and there, thanks to the careful treatment of my kind doctor and
the tender care of my wife I soon recovered my strength.

On the 25th of February I received a communication from my commando to
the effect that General Buller had once more concentrated his forces
on Colenso and that heavy fighting was going on. The same evening I
also had a telegram from President Kruger, urging me to rejoin my
commando so soon as health would allow, for affairs seemed to have
taken a critical turn. The enemy appeared to mean business this time,
and our commando had already been compelled to evacuate some very
important positions, one of which was Pieter's Heights.

Then the news came from Cape Colony that General Piet Cronje had been
surrounded at Paardeberg, and that as he stubbornly refused to abandon
his convoy and retreat, he would soon be compelled by a superior force
to surrender.

The next morning I was in a fast train to Natal, accompanied by my
faithful adjutant, Rokzak. My other adjutant, Du Preez, had meantime
been ordered to take a reinforcement of 150 men to Pieter's Heights,
and was soon engaged in a desperate struggle in the locality situated
between the Krugersdorpers' and the Middleburgers' positions. The
situation was generally considered very serious when I arrived near
the head laager at Modderspruit late in the evening of the 27th of
February, unaware of the unfavourable turn things had taken during the
day at Paardeberg, in the Cape Colony, and on the Tugela. We rode on
that night to my laager at Potgietersdrift, but having to go by a
roundabout way it took us till early next morning before we reached
our destination. The first thing I saw on my arrival was a cart
containing ten wounded men, who had just been brought in from the
fighting line, all yellow with lyddite.

Field-cornet P. van der Byl, who came fresh from the fight near
Pieter's Heights, told me that these burghers had been wounded there.
I asked them what had happened and how matters stood. "Ah,
Commandant," he replied, "things are in a very bad way! Commandant Du
Preez and myself were called to Pieter's Heights three days ago, as
the enemy wanted to force their way through. We were in a very awkward
position, the enemy storming us again and again; but we held our own,
and fired on the soldiers at 50 paces. The English, however, directed
an uninterrupted gun fire at our commandos, and wrought great havoc.
Early Sunday morning the other side asked for a truce to enable them
to bury their dead who were lying too close to our positions to be got
at during the fighting. Many of their wounded were lying there as
well, and the air was rent during 24 hours with their agonised groans,
which were awful to hear. We, therefore, granted an armistice till 6
o'clock in the evening." (This curiously coincided in time with Lord
Roberts' refusal to General Piet Cronje at Paardeberg to bury his
dead).

"The enemy," continued the field-cornet, "broke through several
positions, and while we were being fired at by the troops which were
advancing on us, we were attacked on our left flank and in the rear.
Assistant-Commandant Du Preez, and Field-Cornet Mostert, were both
severely wounded, but are now in safe hands. Besides these, 42 of our
burghers were killed, wounded, or taken prisoners; we could only bring
16 of our wounded with us. The Krugersdorpers, too, have suffered
severely. The enemy has pushed through, and I suppose my burghers are
now taking up a position in the "randten" near Onderbroekspruit."

Here was a nice state of things! When I had left my commando 15 days
previously, we had had heavy losses in the battle of Vaalkrantz, and
now again my burghers had been badly cut up. We had lost over 100 men
in one month.

But there was no time to lose in lamenting over these matters, for I
had just received information that General P. Cronje had been taken
prisoner with 4,000 men. The next report was to the effect that the
enemy was breaking through near Onderbroekspruit, and that some
burghers were retiring past Ladysmith. I was still in telegraphic
communication with the head laager, and at once wired to the
Commandant-General for instructions. The answer was:--

     "Send your carts back to Modderspruit (our headquarters) and
     hold the position with your mounted commandos."

The position indicated was on the Upper Tugela, on a line with
Colenso. My laager was about 20 miles away from the head laager; the
enemy had passed through Onderbroekspruit, and was pushing on with all
possible speed to relieve Ladysmith, so that I now stood in an oblique
line with the enemy's rear. I sent out my carts to the south-west,
going round Ladysmith in the direction of Modderspruit. One of my
scouts reported to me that the Free State commandos which had been
besieging Ladysmith to the south, had all gone in the direction of Van
Reenen's Pass; another brought the information that the enemy had been
seen to approach the village, and that a great force of cavalry was
making straight for us.

General Joubert's instructions were therefore inexplicable to me, and
if I had carried them out I would probably have been cut off by the
enemy. My burghers were also getting restless, and asked me why, while
all the other commandos were retiring, we did not move. Cronje's
surrender had had a most disheartening effect on them; there was, in
fact, quite a panic among them. I mounted a high kopje from which I
could see the whole Orange Free State army, followed by a long line of
quite 500 carts and a lot of cattle, in full retreat, and enveloped in
great clouds of red dust. To the right of Ladysmith I also noticed a
similar melancholy procession. On turning round, I saw the English in
vast numbers approaching very cautiously, so slowly, in fact, that it
would take some time before they could reach us. Another and great
force was rushing up behind them, also in the direction of Ladysmith.

It must have been a race for the Distinguished Service Order or the
Victoria Cross to be won by the one who was first to enter Ladysmith.
We knew that the British infantry, aided by the artillery, had paved
the way for relief, and I noticed the Irish Fusiliers on this
occasion, as always, in the van. But Lord Dundonald rushed in and was
proclaimed the hero of the occasion.

Before concluding this chapter I should like to refer to a few
incidents which happened during the Siege of Ladysmith. It is
unnecessary to give a detailed description of the destruction of "Long
Tom" at Lombardskop or the blowing up of another gun west of
Ladysmith, belonging to the Pretoria Commando. The other side have
written enough about this, and made enough capital out of them; and
many a D.S.O. and V.C. has been awarded on account of them.

Alas, I can put forward nothing to lessen our dishonour. As regards
the "Long Tom" which was blown up, this was a piece of pure treachery,
and a shocking piece of neglect, Commandant Weilbach, who ought to
have defended this gun with the whole of his Heidelberg Commando, was
unfaithful to his charge. The Heidelbergers, however, under a better
officer, subsequently proved themselves excellent soldiers. A certain
Major Erasmus was also to blame. He was continually under the
influence of some beverage which could not be described as "aqua
pura"; and we, therefore, expected little from him. But although the
planning and the execution of the scheme to blow up "Long Tom" was a
clever piece of work, the British wasted time and opportunity amusing
themselves in cutting out on the gun the letters "R.A." (Royal
Artillery), and the effect of the explosion was only to injure part of
the barrel. After a little operation in the workshops of the
Netherlands South African Railway Company at Pretoria under the
direction of Mr. Uggla, our gun-doctor, "Long Tom's" mouth was healed
and he could spit fire again as well as before. As to the blowing up
of the howitzer shortly after, I will say the incident reflected no
credit on General Erasmus, as he ought to have been warned by what
happened near Lombardskop, and to have taken proper precautions not to
give a group of starving and suffering soldiers an opportunity of
penetrating his lines and advancing right up to his guns.

Both incidents will be an ugly blot on the history of this war, and I
am sorry to say the two Boer officers have never received condign
punishment. They should, at any rate, have been called before the
Commandant-General to explain their conduct.

The storming of Platrand (Cæsar's Camp), south-east of Ladysmith, on
the 6th of January, 1900, also turned out badly for many reasons. The
attack was not properly conducted owing to a jealousy amongst some of
the generals, and there was not proper co-operation.

The burghers who took part in the assault and captured several forts
did some splendid work, which they might well be proud of, but they
were not seconded as they should have been. The enemy knew that if
they lost Platrand, Ladysmith would have to surrender; they therefore
defended every inch of ground, with the result that our men were
finally compelled to give way. And, for our pains, we sustained an
enormous loss in men, which did not improve in any way the broken
spirit of our burghers.



CHAPTER XII.

THE GREAT BOER RETREAT.


There was clearly no help for it, we had to retreat. I gave orders to
saddle up and to follow the example of the other commandos, reporting
the fact to the Commandant-General. An answer came--not from
Modderspruit this time, but from the station beyond Elandslaagte--that
a general retreat had been ordered, most of the commandos having
already passed Ladysmith, and that General Joubert had gone in advance
to Glencoe. At dusk I left the Tugela positions which we had so
successfully held for a considerable time, where we had arrested the
enemy from marching to the relief of Ladysmith, and where so many
comrades had sacrificed their lives for their country and their
people.

It was a sad sight to see the commandos retreating in utter chaos and
disorder in all directions. I asked many officers what instructions
they had received, but nobody seemed to know what the orders actually
were; their only idea seemed to be to get away as quickly as possible.

Finally, at 9 o'clock in the evening we reached Klip River, where a
strange scene was taking place. The banks were crowded with hundreds
of mounted men, carts and cattle mingled in utter confusion amongst
the guns, all awaiting their turn to cross. With an infinite amount of
trouble the carts were all got over one at a time. After a few
minutes' rest I decided on consulting my officers, that we should
cross the river with our men by another drift further up the stream,
our example being followed by a number of other commandos.

I should point out here that in retreating we were going to the left,
and therefore in perilous proximity to Ladysmith. The commandos which
had been investing the town were all gone; and Buller's troops had
already reached it from the eastern side, and there was really
nothing to prevent the enemy from turning our rear, which had perforce
to pass Ladysmith on its way from the Tugela. When we had finally got
through the drift late that evening, a rumour reached us that the
British were in possession of Modderspruit, and so far as that road
was concerned, our retreat was effectually cut off.

Shortly before the War, however, the English had made a new road which
followed the course of the Klip River up to the Drakensbergen, and
then led through the Biggarsbergen to Newcastle. This road was, I
believe, made for military purposes; but it was very useful to us, and
our wagons were safely got away by it.

Commandant D. Joubert, of the Carolina Commando, then sent a message
asking for reinforcements for the Pretoria laager, situated to the
north-west of Ladysmith. It was a dark night and the rain was pouring
down in torrents, which rendered it very difficult to get the
necessary burghers together for this purpose.

I managed, however, to induce a sufficient number of men to come
together, and we rode back; but on nearing the Pretoria Laager, I
found to my dismay that there were only 22 of us left. What was to be
done? This handful of men was of very little use; yet to return would
have been cowardly, and besides, in the meantime our laager would have
gone on, and would now be several hours' riding ahead of us. I sent
some burghers in advance to see what was happening to the Pretoria
Laager. It seemed strange to me that the place should still be in the
hands of our men, seeing that all the other commandos had long since
retired. After waiting fully an hour, our scouts came back with the
information that the laager was full of English soldiers, and that
they had been able to hear them quarrelling about the booty left
behind by the burghers.

It was now two o'clock in the morning. Our Pretoria comrades were
apparently safe, and considerably relieved we decided to ride to
Elandslaagte which my men would by that time have surely reached. Our
carts were sooner or later bound to arrive there, inasmuch as they
were in charge of a field-cornet known to us as one of our best
"retreat officers." I think it was splendid policy under the
circumstances to appoint such a gentleman to such a task; I felt sure
that the enemy would never overtake him and capture his carts. We
followed the main road, which was fortunately not held by the enemy,
as had been reported to us. On the way we encountered several carts
and waggons which had been cast away by the owners for fear of being
caught up by the pursuing troops. Of course the rumour that this road
was in possession of the English was false, but it increased the panic
among the burghers. Not only carts had been left behind, but, as we
found in places, sacks of flour, tins of coffee, mattresses and other
jettison, thrown out of the carts to lighten their burden.

On nearing Elandslaagte we caught up the rear of the fleeing
commandos. Here we learned that Generals Botha and Meyer were still
behind us with their commandos, near Lombardsdorp. We off-saddled,
exhausted and half starving. Luckily, some of the provisions of our
commissariat, which had been stored here during the Ladysmith
investment, had not been carried away. But, to our disgust, we found
that the Commissariat-Commissioner had set fire to the whole of it, so
we had to appease our hunger by picking half-burned potatoes out of a
fire.

At 7 o'clock next morning General Botha and his men arrived at
Elandslaagte and off-saddled in hopes of getting something to eat.
They were also doomed to disappointment. Such wanton destruction of
God's bounty was loudly condemned, and had Mr. Pretorius, the
Commissioner of Stores, not been discreet enough to make himself
scarce, he would no doubt have been subjected to a severe
"sjamboking." Later in the day a council of war was held, and it was
decided that we should all stay there for the day, in order to stop
the enemy if they should pursue us. Meantime we would allow the
convoys an opportunity of getting to the other side of the Sunday
River.

The British must have been so overjoyed at the relief of Ladysmith
that Generals Buller and White did not think it necessary to pursue
us, at any rate for some time, a consideration for which we were
profoundly grateful. Methinks General Buller must have felt that he
had paid a big price for the relief of Ladysmith, for it must have
cost him many more lives than he had relieved. But in that place were
a few Jingos (Natal Jingos) who had to be released, I suppose, at any
costs.

My burghers and I had neither cooking utensils nor food, and were
anxious to push forward and find our convoys; for we had not as yet
learned to live without carts and commissariat. At dusk the
generals--I have no idea who they were--ordered us to hold the
"randjes" south of the Sunday River till the following day, and that
no burghers were to cross the river. This order did not seem to please
the majority, but the Generals had put a guard near the bridge, with
instructions to shoot any burghers and their horses should they try to
get to the other side; so they had perforce, to remain where they
were. Now I had only 22 men under my command, and I did not think
these would make an appreciable difference to our fighting force, so I
said to myself: "To-night we shall have a little game with the
generals for once."

We rode towards the bridge, and of course the guard there threatened
to fire on us if we did not go back immediately. My adjutant, however,
rode up and said: "Stand back, you ----! This is Commandant Viljoen,
who has been ordered to hurry up a patrol at ----" (mentioning some
place a few miles away) "which is in imminent danger of being
captured."

The guards, quite satisfied, stepped back and favoured us with a
military salute as we rode by. When we had been riding a little way I
heard someone ask them what "people" they were who had passed over the
bridge, and I caught the words: "Now you will see that they will all
want to cross."

I do not contend I was quite right in acting in this insubordinate
manner, but we strongly objected to being put under the guard of other
commandos by some one irresponsible general. I went on that night
till we reached the Biggarsbergen, and next day sent out scouts in the
direction of the Drakensbergen to inquire for the scattered remains of
my commando. The mountains were covered with cattle from the laagers
about Glencoe Station. The Boers there were cooking food, shoeing
their horses, or repairing their clothes; in fact, they were very
comfortable and very busy. They remarked: "There are many more
burghers yonder with the General; we are quite sure of that." ... "The
Commandant-General is near Glencoe and will stop the retreating men."

In short, as was continually happening in the War, everything was left
to chance and the Almighty. Luckily General Botha had deemed it his
duty to form a rearguard and cover our retreat; otherwise the English
would have captured a large number of laagers, and many burghers whose
horses were done up. But, whereas we had too little discipline, the
English had evidently too much. It is not for me to say why General
Buller did not have us followed up; but it seems that the British
lost a splendid chance.

Some days went by without anything of note happening. My scouts
returned on the third day and reported that my commando and its laager
had safely got through, and could be expected the next day. Meanwhile
I had procured some provisions at Glencoe, and for the time being we
had nothing to complain about.

I was very much amused next day to receive by despatch-rider a copy of
a telegram from Glencoe sent by General Joubert to General Prinsloo at
Harrismith (Orange Free State) asking for information regarding
several missing commandos and officers, amongst whom my name appeared,
while the telegram also contained the startling news that my commando
had been reported cut up at Klip River and that I had been killed in
action! This was the second time that I was killed, but one eventually
gets used to that sort of thing.

I sent, by the despatch-rider, this reply:--

"I and my commando are very much alive!" Adding: "Tell the General we
want four slaughter oxen."

The following day I received orders to attend a council of war which
was to be held at Glencoe Station. The principal object of this
gathering was to discuss further plans of operation, to decide as to
where our next positions were to be taken, and where the new fighting
line would be formed.

[Illustration: General Joubert opening a Council of War with Prayer.]

We all met at the appointed time in a big unoccupied hall near Glencoe
Station, where General Joubert opened the last council that he was to
conduct in this world. Over 50 officers were present and the interest
was very keen for several reasons. In the first place we all desired
some official information about the fate of General Cronje and his
burghers at Paardeburg, and in the second place some expected to hear
something definite about the intervention of which so much had been
said and written of late. In fact many thought that Russia, France,
Germany or the United States of America would surely intervene so soon
as the fortunes of war began to turn against us. My personal opinion
was stated just before the war at a public meeting, held in
Johannesburg, where I said: "If we are driven to war we must not rely
for deliverance on foreign powers, but on God and the Mauser."

Some officers thought we ought to retire to our frontiers as far as
Laing's Nek, and it was generally believed that this proposal would be
adopted. According to our custom General Joubert opened the council
with an address, in which he described the situation in its details.
It was evident that our Commandant-General was very low-spirited and
melancholy, and was suffering greatly from that painful internal
complaint which was so soon to put an end to his career.

No less than eleven assisting commandants and fighting generals were
present, and yet not one could say who was next in command to General
Joubert. I spoke to some friends about the irregularities which
occurred during our retreat from Ladysmith: how all the generals were
absent except Botha and Meyer, while the latter was on far from good
terms with General Joubert since the unfortunate attack on Platrand.
This was undoubtedly due to the want of co-operation on the part of
the various generals, and I resolved if possible, to bring our army
into a closer union. I therefore proposed a motion:--

     "That all the generals be asked to resign, with the
     exception of one assistant commandant-general and one
     fighting general."

Commandant Engelbrecht had promised to second my proposal, but when it
was read out his courage failed him. The motion, moreover, was not
very well received, and when it was put to the vote I found that I
stood alone, even my seconder having forsaken me. As soon as an
opportunity presented itself I asked General Joubert who was to be
second in command. My question was not answered directly, but egged on
by my colleagues, I asked whether General Botha would be next in
command. To this he replied: "Yes, that is what I understand--."

And if I am not mistaken, this was the first announcement of the
important fact that Botha was to lead us in future.

Much more was said and much arranged; some of the commandos were to go
to Cape Colony and attempt to check the progress of Lord Roberts, who
was marching steadily north after Cronje's surrender. Finally each
officer had some position assigned to him in the mountain-chain we
call the Biggarsbergen. I was placed under General Meyer at
Vantondersnek, near Pomeroy, and we left at once for our destination.
From this place a pass leads through the Biggarsbergen, about 18 miles
from Glencoe Station.



CHAPTER XIII.

DRIVEN FROM THE BIGGARSBERGEN.


We spent the next few weeks in entrenching and fortifying our new
positions. General Botha had left with some men for the Orange Free
State which Lord Roberts, having relieved Kimberley, was marching
through. General Joubert died about this time at Pretoria, having been
twenty-one years Commandant-General of the South African Republic. He
was without doubt one of the most prominent figures in the South
African drama.

General Botha now took up the chief command and soon proved himself to
be worthy of holding the reins. He enjoyed the confidence and esteem
of our whole army, a very important advantage under our trying
circumstances.

Assisted by De Wet he was soon engaged in organizing the commandos in
the Orange Free State, and in attempting to make some sort of a stand
against the British, who were now marching through the country in
overwhelming numbers. In this Republic the burghers had been under the
command of the aged General Prinsloo, who now, however, had become so
downhearted that the supreme command was taken from him and given to
General De Wet. Prinsloo surrendered soon after, in doing which he did
his people his greatest service; it was, however, unfortunate that he
should have succeeded in leading with him 900 burghers into the hands
of the enemy.

In the Biggarsbergen we had nothing to do but to sleep and eat and
drink. On two separate occasions, however, we were ordered to join
others in attacking the enemy's camp at Elandslaagte. This was done
with much ado, but I would rather say nothing about the way in which
the attacks were directed. It suffices to say that both failed
miserably, and we were forced to retire considerably quicker than we
had come.

Our generals, meantime, were very busy issuing innumerable circulars
to the different commandos. It is impossible for me to remember the
contents of all these curious manifestos, but one read as follows:--

     "A roll-call of all burghers is to be taken daily; weekly
     reports are to be sent to headquarters of each separate
     commando, and the minimum number of burghers making up a
     field-cornetship is therein to be stated. Every 15 men
     forming a field-cornetship are to be under a corporal; and
     these corporals are to hold a roll-call every day, and to
     send in weekly detailed reports of their men to the
     Field-Cornet and Commandant, who in his turn must report to
     the General."

Another lengthy circular had full instructions and regulations for the
granting of "leave" to burghers, an intricate arrangement which gave
officers a considerable amount of trouble. The scheme was known as the
"furlough system," and was an effort to introduce a show of
organisation into the weighty matter of granting leave of absence. It
failed, however, completely to have its desired effect. It provided
that one-tenth of each commando should be granted furlough for a
fortnight, and then return to allow another tenth part to go in its
turn. In a case of sick leave, a doctor's certificate was required,
which had to bear the counter-signature of the field-cornet; its
possessor was then allowed to go home instead of to the hospital.
Further, a percentage of the farmers were allowed from time to time to
go home and attend to pressing matters of their farms, such as
harvesting, shearing sheep, etc. Men were chosen by the farmers to go
and attend to matters not only for themselves but for other farmers in
their districts as well. The net result of all this was that when
everybody who could on some pretext or other obtain furlough had done
so, about a third of each commando was missing. My burghers who were
mostly men from the Witwatersrand Goldfields, could of course obtain
no leave for farming purposes; and great dissatisfaction prevailed. I
was inundated with complaints about their unfair treatment in this
respect and only settled matters with considerable trouble.

I agree that this matter had to be regulated somehow, and I do not
blame the authorities for their inability to cope with the
difficulty. It seemed a great pity, however, that the commandos should
be weakened so much and that the fighting spirit should be destroyed
in this fashion. Of course it was our first big war and our
arrangements were naturally of a very primitive character.

It was the beginning of May before our friends the enemy at Ladysmith
and Elandslaagte began to show some signs of activity. We discovered
unmistakable signs that some big forward movement was in progress, but
we could not discover on which point the attack was to be directed.
Buller and his men were marching on the road along Vantondersnek, and
I scented heavy fighting for us again. I gathered a strong patrol and
started out to reconnoitre the position. We found that the enemy had
pitched their camp past Waschbank in great force, and were sending out
detachments in an easterly direction. From this I concluded that they
did not propose going through Vantondersnek, but that they intended to
attack our left flank at Helpmakaar. This seemed to me, at any rate,
to be General Buller's safest plan.

Helpmakaar was east of my position; it is a little village elbowed in
a pass in the Biggarsbergen. By taking this point one could hold the
key to our entire extended line of defence, as was subsequently only
too clearly shown. I pointed this out to some of our generals, but a
commandant's opinion did not weigh much just then; nor was any notice
taken of a similar warning from Commandant Christian Botha, who held a
position close to mine with the Swaziland burghers.

We had repeated skirmishes with the English outposts during our
scouting expeditions, and on one occasion we suddenly encountered a
score of men of the South African Light Horse.

We noticed them in a "donk" (a hollow place) thickly covered with
trees and bushes, but not before we were right amongst them. It
appears they mistook us for Englishmen, while we thought at first they
were members of Colonel Blake's Irish Brigade. Many of them shook
hands with us, and a burgher named Vivian Cogell asked them in Dutch:
"How are you, boys?"

To which an Englishman, who understood a little Dutch, answered: "Oh,
all right; where do you come from?"

Vivian replied: "From Viljoen's commando; we are scouting."

Then the Englishman discovered who we were, but Vivian gave the man no
time for reflection. Riding up to him, he asked: "What regiment do you
belong to?"

"To the South African Light Horse," answered the Englishman.

"Hands up!" retorted Vivian, and the English-Afrikander threw down his
gun and put up his hands.

"Hands up! Hands up!" was the cry now universally heard, and although
a few escaped, the majority were disarmed and made prisoners. It had
been made a rule that when a burgher captured a British soldier he
should be allowed to conduct him to Pretoria, where he could then
obtain a few days' leave to visit his family. This did much to
encourage our burghers to make prisoners, although many lost their
lives in attempting to do so.

The next day, General Buller marched on Helpmakaar, passing close to
our position. We fired a few shots from our Creusot gun, and had
several light skirmishes. The enemy, however, concentrated the fire of
a few batteries on us, and our guns were soon silenced.

General L. Meyer had arrived with some reinforcements close to
Helpmakaar, but the position had never been strengthened, and the sole
defending force consisted of the Piet Retief burghers, known as the
"Piet Retreaters," together with a small German corps. The result was
easy to predict. The attack was made, and we lost the position without
seriously attempting to defend it. Buller was now, therefore, in
possession of the key to the Boer position in Natal, a position which
we had occupied for two months--and could therefore, have fortified to
perfection--and whose strategic importance should have been known in
its smallest details. I think our generals, who had a sufficient force
at their disposal, of which the mobility has become world-famed,
should have been able to prevent such a fiasco as our occupation of
the splendid line of defence in the Biggarsbergen turned out to be.

Here, for the first time in the war, General Buller utilised his
success, and followed up our men as they were retreating on Dundee. He
descended by the main waggon track from Helpmakaar, and drove the
commandos like sheep before him. I myself was obliged to move away in
hot haste and join the general retreat. Once or twice our men
attempted to make a stand, but with little success.

When we reached Dundee the enemy gradually slackened off pursuit, and
at dark we were clear of them. Satisfied with their previous day's
success, and sadly hampered by their enormous convoys, the English now
allowed us to move on at our leisure.



CHAPTER XIV.

DISPIRITED AND DEMORALISED.


Our first intention was to proceed to Vereeniging, there to join
General Botha's forces. At Klip River Station, that preceding
Vereeniging, I was ordered, however, to leave my carts behind and
proceed with my men to Vaalbank, as the enemy were advancing with
forced marches, and had compelled all the other commandos to fall back
on Vereeniging.

On our way we met groups of retreating burghers, each of whom gave us
a different version of the position. Some said that the enemy had
already swept past Vereeniging, others that they could not now be
stopped until they reached Johannesburg. Further on, we had the good
fortune to encounter General Botha and his staff. The General ordered
me to take up a position at the Gatsrand, near the Nek at
Pharaohsfontein, as the British, having split their forces up into two
parts, would send one portion to cross the Vaal River at Lindeque's
Drift, whilst the other detachments would follow the railway past
Vereeniging. Generals Lemmer and Grobler were already posted at the
Gatsrand to obstruct the enemy's progress.

I asked General Botha how we stood. He sighed, and answered: "If only
the burghers would fight we could stop them easily enough; but I
cannot get a single burgher to start fighting. I hope their running
mood will soon change into a fighting mood. You keep your spirits up,
and let us do our duty."

"All right, General," I answered, and we shook hands heartily.

We rode on through the evening and at midnight halted at a farm to
give our horses rest and fodder. The owner of the farm was absent on
duty, and his family had been left behind. On our approach the
women-folk, mistaking us for Englishmen, were terrified out of their
wits. Remembering the atrocities and horrors committed in Natal on the
advance of the Imperial troops, they awaited the coming of the
English with the greatest terror. On the approach of the enemy many
women and children forsook their homes and wandered about in caves and
woods for days, exposed to every privation and inclemency of the
weather, and to the attacks of wandering bands of plundering kaffirs.

Mrs. van der Merwe, whom we met here, was exceedingly kind to us, and
gave us plenty of fodder for our horses. We purchased some sheep, and
slaughtered them and enjoyed a good meal before sunrise; and each one
of us bore away a good-sized piece of mutton as provisions for the
future.

Our scouts, whom we had despatched over night, informed us that
Generals Lemmer and Grobler had taken up their stand to the right of
Pharaohsfontein in the Gatsrand, and that the English were approaching
in enormous force.

By nine in the morning we had taken up our positions, and at noon the
enemy came in sight. Our commando had been considerably reduced, as
many burghers, finding themselves near their homes, had applied for
twenty-four hours' leave, which had been granted in order to allow
them to arrange matters before the advance of the English on their
farms made it impossible. A few also had deserted for the time being,
unable to resist the temptation of visiting their families in the
neighbourhood.

Some old burghers approached us and hailed us with the usual "Morning,
boys! Which commando do you belong to?"

"Viljoen's."

"We would like to see your Commandant," they answered.

Presenting myself, I asked: "Who are you, and where do you come from,
and where are you going to?"

They answered: "We are scouts of General Lemmer and we came to see who
is holding this position."

"But surely General Lemmer knows that I am here?"

[Illustration: A Surprise.--Coyell Meeting the Imperial Light Horse.]

"Very probably," they replied, "but we wanted to know for ourselves;
we thought we might find some of our friends amongst you. You come
from Natal, don't you?"

"Yes," I answered sadly. "We have come to reinforce the others, but I
fear we can be of little use. It seems to me that it will be here as
it was in Natal; all running and no fighting."

"Alas!" they said, "the Free Staters will not remain in one position,
and we must admit the Transvaalers are also very disheartened.
However, if the British once cross our frontiers you will find that
the burghers will fight to the bitter end."

Consoled by this pretty promise we made up our minds to do our best,
but our outposts presently brought word that the British were bearing
to the right and nearing General Grobler's position, and had passed
round that of General Lemmer. Whilst they attacked General Grobler's
we attacked their flank, but we could not do much damage, as we were
without guns. Soon after the enemy directed a heavy artillery fire on
us, to which we, being on flat ground, found ourselves dangerously
exposed.

Towards evening the enemy were in possession of General Grobler's
position, and were passing over the Gatsrand, leaving us behind. I
ordered my commando to fall back on Klipriversberg, while I rode away
with some adjutants to attempt to put myself in communication with the
other commandos.

The night was dark and cloudy, which rendered it somewhat difficult
for us to move about in safety. We occasionally fell into ditches and
trenches, and had much trouble with barbed wire. However, we finally
fell in with General Lemmer's rearguard, who informed us that the
enemy, after having overcome the feeble resistance of General Grobler,
had proceeded north, and all the burghers were retreating in haste
before them.

We rode on past the enemy to find General Grobler and what his plans
were. We rode quite close to the English camp, as we knew that they
seldom posted sentries far from their tents. On this occasion,
however, they had placed a guard in an old "klipkraal," for them a
prodigious distance from their camp, and a "Tommy" hailed us from the
darkness.--

"Halt, who goes there?"

I replied "Friend," whereupon the guileless soldier answered:

"Pass, friend, all's well."

I had my doubts, however. He might be a Boer outpost anxious to
ascertain if we were Englishmen. Afraid to ride into ambush of my own
men, I called out in Dutch:

"Whose men are you?"

The Tommy lost his temper at being kept awake so long and retorted
testily, "I can't understand your beastly Dutch; come here and be
recognized." But we did not wait for identification, and I rode off
shouting back "Thanks, my compliments to General French, and tell him
that his outposts are asleep."

This was too much for the "Tommy" and his friends, who answered with a
volley of rifle fire, which was taken up by the whole line of British
outposts. No harm was done, however, and we soon rode out of range. I
gave up looking for General Grobler, and on the following morning
rejoined my men at Klipriversberg.

It was by no means easy to find out the exact position of affairs.
Our scouts reported that the enemy's left wing, having broken through
General Grobler's position, were now marching along Van Wijk's Rust. I
could, however, obtain no definite information regarding the right
wing, nor could I discover the General under whose orders I was to
place myself. General Lemmer, moreover, was suffering from an acute
disease of the kidneys, which had compelled him to hand over his
command to Commandant Gravett, who had proved himself an excellent
officer.

General Grobler had lost the majority of his men, or what was more
likely the case, they had lost him. He declared that he was unaware of
General Botha's or Mr. Kruger's plans, and that it was absurd to keep
running away, but he clearly did not feel equal to any more fighting,
although he had not the moral courage to openly say so. From this
point this gentleman did no further service to his country, and was
shortly afterwards dismissed. The reader will now gather an idea of
the enormous change which had come over our troops. Six months before
they had been cheerful and gay, confident of the ultimate success of
their cause; now they were downhearted and in the lowest of spirits. I
must admit that in this our officers were no exception.

Those were dark days for us. Now began the real fighting, and this
under the most difficult and distressing circumstances; and I think
that if our leaders could have had a glimpse of the difficulties and
hardships that were before us, they would not have had the courage to
proceed any further in the struggle.

Early next morning (the 29th May, 1900) we reached Klipspruit, and
found there several other commandos placed in extended order all the
way up to Doornkop.

Amongst them was that of General De la Rey, who had come from the
Western frontier of our Republic, and that of General Snyman, whom I
regard as the real defender and reliever of Mafeking, for he was
afraid to attack a garrison of 1,000 men with twice that number of
burghers.

Before having had time to properly fortify our position we were
attacked on the right flank by General French's cavalry, while the
left flank had to resist a strong opposing force of cavalry. Both
attacks were successfully repulsed, as well as a third in the centre
of our fighting line.

The British now marched on Doornkop, their real object of attack being
our extreme right wing, but they made a feint on our left. Our line of
defence was very extended and weakened by the removal of a body of men
who had been sent to Natal Spruit to stop the other body of the enemy
from forcing its way along the railway line and cutting off our
retreat to Pretoria.

The battle lasted till sunset, and was especially fierce on our right,
where the Krugersdorpers stood. Early in the evening our right wing
had to yield to an overwhelming force, and during the night all the
commandos had to fall back. My commando, which should have consisted
of about 450 men, only numbered 65 during this engagement; our losses
were two men killed. I was also slightly wounded in the thigh by a
piece of shell, but I had no time to attend such matters, as we had
to retire in haste, and the wound soon healed.

The next day our forces were again in full retreat to Pretoria, where
I understood we were to make a desperate stand. About seven o'clock we
passed through Fordsburg, a suburb of Johannesburg.

We had been warned not to enter Johannesburg, as Dr. Krause, who had
taken from me the command of the town, had already surrendered it to
Lord Roberts, who might shell it if he found commandos were there. Our
larger commissariat had proceeded to Pretoria, but we wanted several
articles of food, and strange to say the commissariat official at
Johannesburg would not give us anything for fear of incurring Lord
Roberts' displeasure!

I was very angry; the enemy were not actually in possession of the
town, and I therefore should have been consulted in the matter; but
these irresponsible officials even refused to grant us the necessaries
of life!

At this time there was a strong movement on foot to blow up the
principal mines about Johannesburg, and an irresponsible young person
named Antonie Kock had placed himself at the head of a confederacy
with this object in view. But thanks to the explicit orders of General
L. Botha, which were faithfully carried out by Dr. Krause, Kock's plan
was fortunately frustrated, and I fully agree with Botha that it would
have been most impolitic to have allowed this destruction. I often
wished afterwards, however, that the British military authorities had
shown as much consideration for our property.

We had to have food in any case, and as the official hesitated to
supply us we helped ourselves from the Government Stores, and
proceeded to the capital. The roads to Pretoria were crowded with men,
guns, and vehicles of every description, and despondency and despair
were plainly visible on every human face.



CHAPTER XV.

OCCUPATION OF PRETORIA.


The enemy naturally profited by our confusion to pursue us more
closely than before. The prospect before us was a sad one, and we
asked ourselves, "What is to be the end of all this, and what is to
become of our poor people? Shall we be able to prolong the struggle,
and for how long?"

But no prolongation of the struggle appeared to have entered into our
enemy's minds, who evidently thought that the War had now come upon
its last stage, and they were as elated as we were downhearted. They
made certain that the Boer was completely vanquished, and his
resistance effectually put an end to. At this juncture Conan Doyle,
after pointing out what glorious liberty and progress would fall to
the Boers' lot under the British flag, wrote:--

     "When that is learned it may happen that they will come to
     date a happier life and a wider liberty from that 5th of
     June which saw the symbol of their nation pass for ever from
     the ensigns of the world."

Thus, not only did Lord Roberts announce to the world that "the War
was now practically over," but Conan Doyle did not hesitate to say the
same in more eloquent style.

How England utterly under-estimated the determination of the Boers,
subsequent events have plainly proved. It is equally plain that we
ourselves did not know the strength of our resolution, when one takes
into account the pessimism and despair that weighed us down in those
dark days; and as the Union Jack was flying over our Government
buildings we might have exclaimed:--"England, we do not know our
strength, but you know it still less!"

Nearly all the commandos were now in the neighbourhood of Pretoria,
General Botha forming a rearguard, and we determined to defend the
capital as well as we could. But at this juncture some Boer officer
was said to have received a communication from the Government,
informing us that they had decided not to defend the town. A cyclist
was taking this communication round to the different commandos, but
the Commandant-General did not seem to be aware of it, and we tried in
vain to find him so as to discover what his plans were. The greatest
confusion naturally prevailed, and as all the generals gave different
orders, no one knew what was going to be done. I believe General Botha
intended to concentrate the troops round Pretoria, and there offer
some sort of resistance to the triumphant forces of the enemy, and we
had all understood that the capital would be defended to the last; but
this communication altered the position considerably. Shortly
afterwards all the Boer officers met at Irene Estate, near Pretoria,
in a council of war, and were there informed that the Government had
already forsaken the town, leaving a few "feather-bed patriots" to
formally surrender the town to the English.

I thought this decision of easy surrender ridiculous and
inexplicable, and many officers joined me in loud condemnation of it.
I do not remember exactly all that happened at the time, but I know a
telegram arrived from the Commandant-General saying that a crowd had
broken open the Commissariat Buildings in Pretoria and were looting
them. An adjutant was sent into Pretoria to spread an alarm that the
English were entering the town, and this had the effect of driving all
the looters out of it. Some of my own men were engaged in these
predatory operations, and I did not see them again until three days
after.

The English approached Pretoria very cautiously, and directed some big
naval guns on our forts built round the town, to which we replied for
some time with our guns from the "randten," south-west of the town;
but our officers were unable to offer any organised resistance, and
thus on the 5th of June, 1900, the capital of the South African
Republic fell with little ado into the enemy's hands. Bloemfontein,
the capital of the Orange Free State, had months before suffered the
same fate, and thousands of Free Staters had surrendered to the
English as they marched from Bloemfontein to the Transvaal. Happily,
however, in the Free State President Steyn and General De Wet were
still wide awake and Lord Roberts very soon discovered that his long
lines of communication were a source of great trouble and anxiety to
him. The commandos, meanwhile, were reorganised; the buried Mausers
and ammunition were once more resurrected, and soon it became clear
that the Orange Free State was far from conquered.

The fall of Pretoria, indeed, was but a sham victory for the enemy. A
number of officials of the Government remained behind there and
surrendered, together with a number of burghers, amongst these
faint-hearted brethren being even members of the Volksraad and men who
had played a prominent part in the Republic's history; while to the
everlasting shame of them and their race, a number of other Boers
entered at once into the English service and henceforth used their
rifles to shoot at and maim their own fellow-countrymen.



CHAPTER XVI.

BATTLE OF DONKERHOEK ("DIAMOND HILL").


Our first and best positions were now obviously the kopjes which
stretched from Donkerhoek past Waterval and Wonderboompoort. This
chain of mountains runs for about 12 miles E. and N.E. of Pretoria,
and our positions here would cut off all the roads of any importance
to Pietersburg, Middelburg, as well as the Delagoa Bay railway. We
therefore posted ourselves along this range, General De la Rey forming
the right flank, some of our other fighting generals occupying the
centre, whilst Commandant-General Botha himself took command of the
left flank.

On the 11th of June, 1900, Lord Roberts approached with a force of
28,000 to 30,000 men and about 100 guns, in order, as the official
despatches had it, "to clear the Boers from the neighbourhood of
Pretoria." Their right and left flanks were composed of cavalry,
whilst the centre was formed of infantry regiments; their big guns
were placed in good positions and their field pieces were evenly
distributed amongst the different army divisions.

Towards sunset they began booming away at our whole 13 miles of
defence. Our artillery answered their fire from all points with
excellent results, and when night fell the enemy retired a little with
considerable losses.

The battle was renewed again next day, the enemy attempting to turn
our right with a strong flanking movement, but was completely
repulsed. Meanwhile I at Donkerpoort proper had the privilege of being
left unmolested for several hours. The object of this soon became
apparent. A little cart drawn by two horses and bearing a white flag
came down the road from Pretoria. From it descended two persons,
Messrs. Koos Smit, our Railway Commissioner and Mr. J. F. de Beer,
Chief Inspector of Offices, both high officials of the South African
Republic. I called out to them from a distance.

"Halt, you cannot pass. What do you want?"

Smit said, "I want to see Botha and President Kruger. Dr. Scholtz is
also with us. We are sent by Lord Roberts."

I answered Mr. Smit that traitors were not admitted on our premises,
and that he would have to stay where he was. Turning to some burghers
who were standing near I gave instructions that the fellows were to be
detained.

Mr. Smit now began to "sing small," and turning deadly pale, asked in
a tremulous voice if there were any chance of seeing Botha.

"Your request," I replied, "will be forwarded." Which was done.

An hour passed before General Botha sent word that he was coming.
Meanwhile the battle continued raging fiercely, and a good many
lyddite bombs were straying our way. The "white-flaggists" appeared to
be very anxious to know if the General would be long in coming, and if
their flag could not be hoisted in a more conspicuous place. The
burghers guarding them pointed out, however, that the bombs came from
their own British friends.

After a while General Botha rode up. He offered a far from cordial
welcome to the deputation.

Dr. Scholtz produced a piece of paper and said Lord Roberts had sent
him to enquire why Botha insisted on more unnecessary bloodshed, and
why he did not come in to make peace, and that sort of thing.

Botha asked if Scholtz held an authoritative letter or document from
the English general, to which the Doctor replied in the negative.

Smit now suggested that he should be allowed to see Mr. Kruger, but
Botha declared, with considerable emphasis, "Look here, your conduct
is nothing less than execrable, and I shall not allow you to see Mr.
Kruger. You are a couple of contemptible scoundrels, and as for Dr.
Scholtz, his certificate looks rather dubious. You will go back and
give the following message to Lord Roberts:--

     "That this is not the first time messages of this
     description are sent to me in an unofficial manner; that
     these overtures have also sometimes been made in an
     insulting form, but always equally unofficially. I have to
     express my surprise at such tactics on the part of a man in
     Lord Roberts' position. His Lordship may think that our
     country is lost to us, but I shall do my duty towards it all
     the same. They can shoot me for it or imprison me, or banish
     me, but my principles and my character they cannot assail."

One could plainly see that the conscience-stricken messengers winced
under the reproach. Not another word was said, and the noble trio
turned on their heels and took their white flag back to Pretoria.

Whether Botha was right in allowing these "hands-uppers" to return, is
a question I do not care to discuss, but many burghers had their own
opinion about it. Still, if they had been detained by us and shot for
high treason, what would not have been said by those who did not
hesitate to send our own unfaithful burghers to us to induce us to
surrender.

I cannot say whether Lord Roberts was personally responsible for the
sending of these messengers, but that such action was extremely
improper no one can deny. It was a specially stupendous piece of
impudence on the part of these men, J. S. Smit and J. F. de Beer,
burghers both, and highly placed officials of the S. A. Republic. They
had thrown down their arms and sworn allegiance to an enemy, thereby
committing high treason in the fullest sense of the word. They now
came through the fighting lines of their former comrades to ascertain
from the commanders of the republican army why the whole nation did
not follow their example, why they would not surrender their liberty
and very existence as a people and commit the most despicable act
known to mankind.

"Pretoria was in British hands!" As if, forsooth, the existence of our
nationality began and ended in Pretoria! Pretoria was after all only a
village where "patriots" of the Smit and de Beer stamp had for years
been fattening on State funds, and, having filled their pockets by
means of questionable practices, had helped to damage the reputation
of a young and virile nation.

Not only had they enjoyed the spoils of high office in the State
Service offices, to which a fabulous remuneration was attached, but
they belonged to the Boer aristocracy, members of honourable families
whose high birth and qualities had secured for them preference over
thousands of other men and the unlimited confidence of the Head of
State. Little wonder these gentlemen regarded the fall of Pretoria as
the end of the war!

The battle continued the whole day; it was fiercest on our left flank,
where General French and his cavalry charged the positions of the
Ermelo and Bethel burghers again and again, each time to be repulsed
with heavy losses. Once the lancers attacked so valiantly that a
hand-to-hand fight ensued. The commandant of the Bethel burghers
afterwards told me that during the charge his kaffir servant got among
the lancers and called upon them to "Hands up!" The unsophisticated
native had heard so much about "hands up," and "hands-uppers," that he
thought the entire English language consisted of those two simple
words, and when one lancer shouted to him "Hands up," he echoed "Hands
up." The British cavalryman thrust his lance through the nigger's
arm, still shouting "Hands up," the black man retreating, also
vociferously shrieking "Hands up, boss; hands up!"

When his master asked him why he had shouted "Hands up" so
persistently though he was running away, he answered: "Ah, boss, me
hear every day people say, 'Hands up;' now me think this means kaffir
'Soebat' (to beg). I thought it mean, 'Leave off, please,' but the
more I shouted 'Hands up' English boss prod me with his assegai all
the same."

On our right General De la Rey had an equally awkward position; the
British here also made several determined attempts to turn his flank,
but were repulsed each time. Once during an attack on our right, their
convoy came so close to our position that our artillery and our
Mausers were enabled to pour such a fire into them that the mules
drawing the carts careered about the veldt at random, and the greatest
confusion ensued. British mules were "pro-Boer" throughout the War.
The ground, however, was not favourable for our operations, and we
failed to avail ourselves of the general chaos. Towards the evening of
the second day General Tobias Smuts made an unpardonable blunder in
falling back with his commandos. There was no necessity for the
retreat; but it served to show the British that there was a weak point
in our armoury. Indeed, the following day the attack in force was made
upon this point. The British had meantime continued pouring in
reinforcements, men as well as guns.

About two o clock in the afternoon Smuts applied urgently for
reinforcements, and I was ordered by the Commandant-General to go to
his position. A ride of a mile and a half brought us near Smuts; our
horses were put behind a "randje," the enemy's bullets and shells
meantime flying over their heads without doing much harm. We then
hurried up on foot to the fighting line, but before we could reach the
position General Smuts and his burghers had left it. At first I was
rather in the dark as to what it all meant until we discovered that
the British had won Smuts' position, and from it were firing upon us.
We fell down flat behind the nearest "klips" and returned the fire,
but were at a disadvantage, since the British were above us. I never
heard where General Smuts and his burghers finally got to. On our left
we had Commandant Kemp with the Krugersdorpers; on the right
Field-Cornet Koen Brits. The British tried alternately to get through
between one of my neighbours and myself, but we succeeded,
notwithstanding their fierce onslaught, in turning them back each
time. All we could do, however, was to hold our own till dark. Then
orders were given to "inspan" all our carts and other conveyances as
the commandos would all have to retire.

I do not know the extent of the British losses in that engagement. My
friend Conan Doyle wisely says nothing about them, but we knew they
had suffered very severely indeed. Our losses were not heavy; but we
had to regret the death of brave Field-Cornet Roelf Jansen and some
other plucky burghers. Dr. Doyle, referring to the engagement, says:

"'The two days' prolonged struggle (Diamond Hill) showed that there
was still plenty of fight in the burghers. Lord Roberts had not routed
them," etc.

Thus ended the battle of Donkerhoek, and next day our commandos were
falling back to the north.



CHAPTER XVII.

I BECOME A GENERAL.


In our retreat northwards the English did not pursue us. They
contented themselves by fortifying the position we had evacuated
between Donkerhoek and Wonderboompoort. Meantime our commandos
proceeded along the Delagoa Bay Railway until we reached Balmoral
Station, while other little divisions of ours were at Rhenosterkop,
north of Bronkhorst Spruit.

I may state that this general retreat knocked the spirit out of some
of our weaker brethren. Hundreds of Boers rode into Pretoria with the
white flag suspended from their Mauser barrels. In Pretoria there were
many prominent burghers who had readily accepted the new conditions,
and these were employed by the British to induce other Boers within
reach, by manner of all sorts of specious promises, to lay down their
arms. Many more western district Boers quietly returned to their
homes. Luckily, the Boer loves his Mauser too well to part with it,
except on compulsion, and although the majority of these western Boers
handed in their weapons, some retained them.

They retained their weapons by burying them, pacifying the confiding
British officer in charge of the district by handing in rusty and
obsolete Martini-Henris or a venerable blunderbuss which nobody had
used since ancestral Boer shot lions with it in the mediæval days of
the first great trek. The buried Mausers came in very useful
afterwards.

About this time General Buller entered the Republic from the Natal
side, and marched with his force through the southern districts of
Wakkerstroom, Standerton, and Ermelo. Hundreds of burghers remained on
their farms and handed their weapons to the British. In some
districts, for instance, at Standerton, the commandant and two out of
his three field-cornets surrendered. Thus, not only were some
commandos without officers, but others entirely disappeared from our
army. Still, at the psychological moment a Joshua would appear, and
save the situation, as, for instance, in the Standerton district,
where Assistant-Field-Cornet Brits led a forlorn hope and saved a
whole commando from extinction. The greatest mischief was done by many
of our landdrosts, who, after having surrendered, sent out
communications to officers and burghers exhorting them to come in.

The majority of our Boer officers, however, remained faithful to their
vow, though since the country was partly occupied by the British it
was difficult to get in touch with the Commandant-General or the
Government, and the general demoralisation prevented many officers
from asserting their authority.

Generals Sarel Oosthuizen and H. L. Lemmer, both now deceased, were
sent to the north of Pretoria, to collect the burghers from the
western districts, and to generally rehabilitate their commandos. They
were followed by Assistant-Commandant General J. H. De la Rey and
State Attorney Smuts (our legal adviser). It was at this point,
indeed, that the supreme command of the western districts was assumed
by General De la Rey, who, on his way to the north, attacked and
defeated an English garrison at Selatsnek.

The "reorganisation" of our depleted commandos proceeded very well;
about 95 per cent. of the fighting Boers rejoined, and speedily the
commandos in the western districts had grown to about 7,000 men.

But just a few weeks after his arrival in the West Krugersdorp
district, poor, plucky Sarel Oosthuizen was severely wounded in the
battle of Dwarsvlei, and died of his wounds some time after.

General H. Lemmer, a promising soldier, whom we could ill spare, was
killed soon after while storming Lichtenburg under General De la Rey,
an engagement in which we did not succeed. We had much trouble in
replacing these two brave generals, whose names will live for all time
in the history of the Boer Republics.

It is hardly necessary to dwell on the splendid work done by
Assistant-Commandant-General De la Rey in the western districts.
Commandant-General Botha was also hard worked at this stage, and was
severely taxed reorganising his commandos and filling up the
lamentable vacancies caused by the deaths of Lemmer and Oosthuizen.

I have already pointed out that General De la Rey had taken with him
the remainder of the burghers from the western districts. The
following commandos were now left to us:--Krugersdorp and Germiston,
respectively, under the then Commandants J. Kemp and C. Gravett, and
the Johannesburg police, with some smaller commandos under the four
fighting generals, Douthwaith, Snyman (of Mafeking fame), Liebenberg,
and Du Toit. The last four generals were "sent home" and their
burghers with those of Krugersdorp, Germiston, Johannesburg, Boksburg
and the Mounted Police, were placed under my command, while I myself
was promoted to the rank of General. I had now under me 1,200 men, all
told--a very fair force.

I can hardly describe my feelings on hearing of my promotion to such a
responsible position. For the first time during the War I felt a sort
of trepidation. I had all sorts of misgivings; how should I be able
to properly guard the interests of such a great commando? Had I a
right to do so? Would the burghers be satisfied? It was all very well
to say that they would have to be satisfied, but if they had shown
signs of dissatisfaction I should have felt bound to resign. I am not
in the habit of blinking at facts; they are stern things. What was to
become of me if I had to tender my resignation? I was eager and rash,
like most young officers, for although the prospects of our cause were
not brilliant and our army had suffered some serious reverses, I still
had implicit faith in the future, and above all, in the justice of the
cause for which we were fighting. And I knew, moreover, that the
burghers we now had left with us were determined and firm.

There was only one way open to me: to take the bull by the horns. I
thought it my duty to go the round of all the commandos, call the
burghers together, tell them I had been appointed, ask them their
opinion on the appointment, and give them some particulars of the new
organisation.

I went to the Krugersdorp Commando first. All went well, and the
burghers comprising the force received me very cordially. There was a
lot of questioning and explanations; one of the commandants was so
moved by my address that he requested those who were present to
conclude the meeting by singing Psalm 134, verse 3, after which he
exhorted his fellow burghers in an impassioned speech to be obedient
and determined.

The worst of it was that he asked me to wind up by offering a prayer.
I felt as if I would gladly have welcomed the earth opening beneath
me. I had never been in such a predicament before. To refuse, to have
pleaded exoneration from this solemn duty, would have been fatal, for
a Boer general is expected, amongst other things, to conduct all
proceedings of a religious character. And not only Boer generals are
required to do this thing, but all subordinate officers, and an
officer who cannot offer a suitable prayer generally receives a hint
that he is not worthy of his position. In these matters the burghers
are backed up by the parsons.

There was, therefore, no help for it; I felt like a stranger in
Jerusalem, and resolved to mumble a bit of a prayer as well as I
could. I need not say it was short, but I doubt very much whether it
was appropriate, for all sorts of thoughts passed through my head, and
I felt as if all the bees in this world were buzzing about my ears. Of
course I had to shut my eyes; I knew that. But I had, moreover, to
screw them up, for I knew that everybody was watching me. I closed my
eyes very tightly, and presently there came a welcome "Amen."

My old commando was now obliged to find a new commandant and I had to
take leave of them in that capacity. I was pleased to find the
officers and men were sorry to lose me as their commandant, but they
said they were proud of the distinction that had been conferred upon
me. Commandant F. Pienaar, who took my place, had soon to resign on
account of some rather serious irregularities. My younger brother, W.
J. Viljoen, who, at the time of writing, is, I believe, still in this
position, replaced him.

At the end of June my commandos marched from Balmoral to near
Donkerhoek in order to get in touch with the British. Only a few
outpost skirmishes took place.

My burghers captured half a score of Australians near Van der Merwe
Station, and three days afterwards three Johannesburgers were
surprised near Pienaarspoort. As far as our information went the
Donkerhoek Kopjes were in possession of General Pole-Carew, and on our
left General Hutton, with a strong mounted force, was operating near
Zwavelpoort and Tigerspoort. We had some sharp fighting with this
force for a couple of days, and had to call in reinforcements from the
Middelburg and Boksburg commandos.

The fighting line by this time had widely extended and was at least
sixty miles in length; on my right I had General D. Erasmus with the
Pretoria commando, and farther still to the right, nearer the
Pietersburg railway, the Waterberg and Zoutpansberg commandos were
positioned. General Pole-Carew tried to rush us several times with his
cavalry, but had to retire each time. Commandant-General Botha finally
directed us to attack General Hutton's position, and I realised what
this involved. It would be the first fight I had to direct as a
fighting general. Much would depend on the issue, and I fully
understood that my influence with, and my prestige among, the burghers
in the future was absolutely at stake.

General Hutton's main force was encamped in a "donk" at the very top
of the randt, almost equidistant from Tigerspoort, Zwavelpoort and
Bapsfontein. Encircling his laager was another chain of "randten"
entirely occupied and fortified, and we soon realised what a large and
entrenched stretch of ground it was. The Commandant-General,
accompanied by the French, Dutch, American and Russian attachés, would
follow the attack from a high point and keep in touch with me by means
of a heliograph, thus enabling Botha to keep well posted about the
course of the battle, and to send instructions if required.

During the night of the 13th of July we marched in the following
order: On the right were the Johannesburg and Germiston commandos; in
the centre the Krugersdorp and the Johannesburg Police; and on the
left the Boksburg and Middelburg commandos. At daybreak I ordered a
general storming of the enemy's entrenchments. I placed a Krupp gun
and a Creusot on the left flank, another Krupp and some pom-poms to
the right, while I had an English 15-pounder (an Armstrong) mounted in
the centre. Several positions were taken by storm with little or no
fighting. It was my right flank which met with the only stubborn
resistance from a strongly fortified point occupied by a company of
Australians.

Soon after this position was in our possession, and we had taken 32
prisoners, with a captain and a lieutenant. When Commandant Gravett
had taken the first trenches we were stubbornly opposed in a position
defended by the Irish Fusiliers, who were fighting with great
determination. Our burghers charged right into the trenches; and a
hand-to-hand combat ensued. The butt-ends of the guns were freely
used, and lumps of rock were thrown about. We made a few prisoners and
took a pom-pom, which, to my deep regret, on reinforcements with guns
coming up to the enemy, we had to abandon, with a loss of five men.
Meanwhile, the Krugersdorpers and Johannesburg Police had succeeded in
occupying other positions and making several prisoners, while half a
dozen dead and wounded were left on the field.

The ground was so exposed that my left wing could not storm the
enemy's main force, especially as his outposts had noticed our march
before sunrise and had brought up a battery of guns, and in this flat
field a charge would have cost too many lives.

We landed several shells into the enemy's laager, and if we had been
able to get nearer he would certainly have been compelled to run.

When darkness supervened we retired to our base with a loss of two
killed and seven wounded; whereas 45 prisoners and 20 horses with
saddles and accoutrements were evidence that we had inflicted a severe
loss upon the enemy. So far as I know, the Commandant-General was
satisfied with my work. On the day after the fight I met an attaché.
He spoke in French, of which language I know nothing. My Gallic
friend then tried to get on in English, and congratulated me in the
following terms with the result of the fight: "I congratuly very much
you, le Général; we think you good man of war." It was the first time
I had bulked in anyone's opinion as largely as a battleship; but I
suppose his intentions were good enough.

A few days afterwards Lord Roberts sent a hundred women and children
down the line to Van der Merwe Station, despite Botha's vehement
protests. It fell to my lot to receive these unfortunates, and to send
them on by rail to Barberton, where they could find a home. I shall
not go into a question which is still _sub judice_; nor is it my
present purpose to discuss the fairness and unfairness of the war
methods employed against us. I leave that to abler men. I shall only
add that these waifs were in a pitiful position, as they had been
driven from their homes and stripped of pretty nearly everything they
possessed.

Towards the end of July Carrington marched his force to Rustenburg,
and thence past Wonderboompoort, while another force proceeded from
Olifantsfontein in the direction of Witbank Station. We were,
therefore, threatened on both sides and obliged to fall back on
Machadodorp.



CHAPTER XVIII.

OUR CAMP BURNED OUT.


The beginning of August saw my commandos falling back on Machadodorp.
Those of Erasmus and Grobler remained where they were for the time
being, until the latter was discharged for some reason or other and
replaced by Attorney Beyers. General Erasmus suffered rather worse,
for he was deprived of his rank as a general and reduced to the level
of a commandant on account of want of activity.

Our retreat to Machadodorp was very much like previous experiences of
the kind; we were continually expecting to be cut off from the railway
by flanking movements and this we had to prevent because we had placed
one of our big guns on the rails in an armour-clad railway carriage.
The enemy took care to keep out of rifle range, and the big gun was
an element of strength we could ill afford to lose. Besides, our
Government were now moving about on the railway line near Machadodorp,
and we had to check the enemy at all hazards from stealing a march on
us. Both at Witbank Station and near Middelburg and Pan Stations we
had skirmishes, but not important enough to describe in detail.

After several unsuccessful attempts, the Boer Artillery at last
managed to fire the big gun without a platform. It was tedious work,
however, as "Long Tom" was exceedingly heavy, and it usually took
twenty men to serve it. The mouth was raised from the "kastion" by
means of a pulley, and the former taken away; then and not till then
could the gunner properly get the range. The carriage vacuum sucking
apparatus had to be well fixed in hard ground to prevent recoil.

The enemy repeatedly sent a mounted squad to try and take this gun,
and then there was hard fighting.

[Illustration: Fight With General Hutton at Olifantsfontein.]

One day while we were manoeuvring with the "Long Tom," the veldt burst
into flames, and the wind swept them along in our direction like
lightning. Near the gun were some loads of shells and gunpowder, and
we had to set all hands at work to save them. While we were doing this
the enemy fired two pom-poms at us from about 3,000 yards, vastly to
our inconvenience.

As my commando formed a sort of centre for the remainder,
Commandant-General Botha was, as a rule, in our immediate
neighbourhood, which made my task much easier, our generalissimo
taking the command in person on several occasions, if required, and
assisting in every possible way.

The enemy pursued us right up to Wonderfontein Station (the first
station south-west of Belfast), about 15 miles from Dalmanutha or
Bergendal, and waited there for Buller's army to arrive from the Natal
frontier.

We occupied the "randten" between Belfast and Machadodorp, and waited
events. While we were resting there Lord Roberts sent us 250 families
from Pretoria and Johannesburg in open trucks, notwithstanding the
bitterly cold weather and the continual gusts of wind and snow. One
can picture to oneself the deplorable condition we found these women
and children in.

But, with all this misery, we still found them full of enthusiasm,
especially when the trucks in which they had to be sent on down the
line were covered with Transvaal and Free State flags. They sang our
National Anthem as if they had not a care in the world.

Many burghers found their families amongst these exiles, and some
heartrending scenes were witnessed. Luckily the railway to Barberton
was still in our possession, and at Belfast the families were taken
over from the British authorities, to be sent to Barberton direct.
While this was being done near Belfast under my direction, the
unpleasant news came that our camp was entirely destroyed by a grass
fire.

The Commandant-General and myself had set up our camp near Dalmanutha
Station. It consisted of twelve tents and six carts. This was Botha's
headquarters, as well as of his staff and mine. When we came to the
spot that night we found everything burned save the iron tyres of the
waggon wheels, so that the clothes we had on were all we had left us.
All my notes had perished, as well as other documents of value. I was
thus deprived of the few indispensable things which had remained to
me, for at Elandslaagte my "kit" had also fallen into the hands of the
British. The grass had been set on fire by a kaffir to the windward of
the camp. The wind had turned everything into a sea of fire in less
than no time, and the attempts at stamping out the flames had been of
no avail. One man gave us a cart, another a tent; and the harbour at
Delagoa Bay being still open (although the Portuguese had become far
from friendly towards us after the recent British victories) we
managed to get the more urgent things we wanted. Within a few days we
had established a sort of small camp near to headquarters.

We had plenty to do at this time--building fortresses and digging
trenches for the guns. This of course ought to have been done when we
were still at Donkerhoek by officers the Commandant-General had sent
to Machadodorp for the purpose. We had made forts for our "Long Toms,"
which were so well hidden from view behind a rand that the enemy had
not discovered them, although a tunnel would have been necessary in
order to enable us to use them in shelling the enemy. We were
therefore obliged to set to work again, and the old trenches were
abandoned. The holes may surprise our posterity, by the way, as a
display of the splendid architectural abilities of their ancestors.



CHAPTER XIX.

BATTLE OF BERGENDAL (MACHADODORP).


Let us pass on to the 21st of August, 1900. Buller's army had by this
time effected a junction with that of Lord Roberts' between
Wonderfontein and Komati River. The commandos under Generals Piet
Viljoen and Joachim Fourie had now joined us, and taken up a position
on our left, from Rooikraal to Komati Bridge. The enemy's numbers were
estimated at 60,000, with about 130 guns, including twelve 4·7 naval
guns, in addition to the necessary Maxims.

We had about 4,000 men at the most with six Maxims and about thirteen
guns of various sizes. Our extreme left was first attacked by the
enemy while they took possession of Belfast and Monument Hill, a
little eastward, thereby threatening the whole of our fighting lines.
My commandos were stationed to the right and left of the railway and
partly round Monument Hill. Fighting had been going on at intervals
all day long, between my burghers and the enemy's outposts. The
fighting on our left wing lasted till late in the afternoon, when the
enemy was repulsed with heavy losses; while a company of infantry
which had pushed on too far during the fighting, through some
misunderstanding or something of that sort, were cut off and captured
by the Bethel burghers.

The attack was renewed the next morning, several positions being
assailed in turn, while an uninterrupted gunfire was kept up. General
Duller was commanding the enemy's right flank and General French was
in charge of the left. We were able to resist all attacks and the
battle went on for six days without a decisive result. The enemy had
tried to break through nearly every weak point in our fighting line
and found out that the key to all our positions existed in a prominent
"randje" to the right of the railway. This point was being defended by
our brave Johannesburg police, while on the right were the
Krugersdorpers and Johannesburgers and to the left the burghers from
Germiston. Thus we had another "Spion Kop" fight for six long days.
The Boers held their ground with determination, and many charges were
repulsed by the burghers with great bravery. But the English were not
to be discouraged by the loss of many valiant soldiers and any failure
to dislodge the Boers from the "klip-kopjes." They were admirably
resolute; but then they were backed up by a superior force of soldiers
and artillery.

On the morning of the 27th of August the enemy were obviously bent on
concentrating their main force on this "randje." There were naval guns
shelling it from different directions, while batteries of field-pieces
pounded away incessantly. The "randje" was enveloped by a cloud of
smoke and dust. The British Infantry charged under cover of the guns,
but the Police and burghers made a brave resistance. The booming of
cannon went on without intermission, and the storming was repeated by
regiment upon regiment. Our gallant Lieutenant Pohlman was killed in
this action, and Commandant Philip Oosthuizen was wounded while
fighting manfully against overwhelming odds at the head of his
burghers. An hour before sunset the position fell into the hands of
the enemy. Our loss was heavy--two officers, 18 men killed or wounded,
and 20 missing.

Thus ended one of the fiercest fights of the war. With the exception
of the battle of Vaalkrantz (on the Tugela) our commandos had been
exposed to the heaviest and most persistent bombardment they had yet
experienced. It was by directing an uninterrupted rifle fire from all
sides on the lost "randje" that we kept the enemy employed and
prevented them from pushing on any farther that evening.

At last came the final order for all to retire via Machadodorp.



CHAPTER XX.

TWO THOUSAND BRITISH PRISONERS RELEASED.


After the battle of Bergendal there was another retreat. Our
Government, which had fled from Machadodorp to Waterval Station, had
now reached Nelspruit, three stations further down the line, still
"attended," shall I say, by a group of Boer officials and members of
the Volksraad, who preferred the shelter of Mr. Kruger's fugitive
skirts to any active fighting. There were also hovering about this
party half a dozen Hebraic persons of extremely questionable
character, one of whom had secured a contract for smuggling in clothes
from Delagoa Bay; and another one to supply coffee and sugar to the
commandos. As a rule, some official or other made a nice little
commission out of these transactions, and many burghers and officers
expressed their displeasure and disgust at these matters; but so it
was, and so it remained. That same night we marched from Machadodorp
to Helvetia, where we halted while a commando was appointed to guard
the railway at Waterval Boven.

The next morning a big cloud of dust arose. "_De Engelse kom_" (the
English are coming) was the cry. And come they did, in overwhelming
numbers. We fired our cannon at their advance guard, which had already
passed Machadodorp: but the British main force stayed there for the
day, and a little outpost skirmishing of no consequence occurred.

A portion of the British forces appeared to go from Belfast via
Dullstroom to Lydenburg, these operations being only feebly resisted.
Our commandos were now parcelled out by the Commandant-General, who
followed a path over the Crocodile River bridge with his own section,
which was pursued by a strong force of Buller's.

I was ordered to go down the mountain in charge of a number of
Helvetia burghers to try and reach the railway, which I was to defend
at all hazards. General Smuts, with the remnant of our men went
further south towards the road leading to Barberton. Early the next
morning we were attacked and again obliged to fall back. That night we
stayed at Nooitgedacht.

The Boer position at and near Nooitgedacht was unique. Here was a
great camp in which 2,000 English prisoners-of-war were confined, but
in the confusion the majority of their Boer guards had fled to
Nelspruit. I found only 15 burghers armed with Martini-Henry rifles
left to look after 2,000 prisoners. Save for "Tommy" being such a
helpless individual when he has nobody to give him orders and to think
for him, these 2,000 men might have become a great source of danger to
us had they had the sense to disarm their fifteen custodians (and what
was there to prevent them doing so?) and to destroy the railway, they
would have been able not only to have deprived my commando of
provisions and ammunition, but also to have captured a "Long Tom."
There was, moreover, a large quantity of victuals, rifles, and
ammunition lying about the station, of which nobody appeared to take
any notice. Of the crowd of officials who stuck so very faithfully to
the fugitive Government there was not one who took the trouble to look
after these stores and munitions.

On arrival I telegraphed to the Government to enquire what was to be
done with the British prisoners-of-war. The answer was: "You had
better let them be where they are until the enemy force you to
evacuate, when you will leave them plenty of food."

This meant that there would be more D.S.O's or V.C's handed out, for
the first "Tommies" to arrive at the prisoners' camp would be hailed
as deliverers, and half of them would be certain of distinctions.

I was also extremely dissatisfied with the way the prisoners had been
lodged, and so would any officer in our fighting line have been had he
seen their condition and accommodation. But those who have never been
in a fight and who had only performed the "heroic" duty of _guarding_
prisoners-of-war, did not know what humanity meant to an enemy who had
fallen into their hands.

So what was I to do?

To disobey the Government's orders was impossible. I accordingly
resolved to notify the prisoners that, "for military reasons," it
would be impossible to keep them in confinement any longer.

The next morning I mustered them outside the camp, and they were told
that they had ceased to be prisoners-of-war, at which they seemed to
be very much amazed. I was obliged to go and speak formally to some of
them; they could scarcely credit that they were free men and could go
back to their own people. It was really pleasant to hear them cheer,
and to see how pleased they were. A great crowd of them positively
mobbed me to shake hands with them, crying, "Thank you, sir; God bless
you, sir." One of their senior officers was ordered to take charge of
them, while a white-flag message was sent to General Pole-Carew to
send for these fine fellows restored to freedom, and to despatch an
ambulance for the sick and wounded. My messenger, however, did not
succeed in delivering the letter, as the scouts of the British
advance-guard were exceedingly drunk, and shot at him; so that the
prisoners-of-war had to go out and introduce themselves. I believe
they were compelled to overpower their own scouts.

Ten days afterwards an English doctor and a lieutenant of the 17th
Lancers came to us, bringing a mule laden with medical appliances and
food. The English medico, Dr. Ailward, succeeded, moreover, in getting
through our lines without my express permission.

Next morning I accompanied an ambulance train to transport the wounded
British to the charge of the British agent at Delagoa Bay. Outside
Nooitgedacht I found four military doctors with a field ambulance.

"Does this officer belong to the Red Cross?" I asked.

"No," was the answer, "he is only with us quite unofficially as a
sympathetic friend."

"I regret," said I, "that I cannot allow this thing; you have come
through our lines without my permission; this officer no doubt is a
spy."

I wired at once for instructions, which, when received read: "That as
a protest against the action of the English officers who stopped three
of our ambulances, and since this officer has passed through our lines
without permission, you are to stop the ambulance and dispatch the
doctors and their staff, as well as the wounded to Lourenco Marques."

The doctors were very angry and protested vehemently against the
order, which, however, was irrevocable. And thus the whole party,
including the Lancers' doctor, were sent to Lourenco Marques that very
day. The nearest English General was informed of the whole incident,
and he sent a very unpleasant message the next day, of which I
remember the following phrases:--

"The action which you have taken in this matter is contrary to the
rules of civilised warfare, and will alter entirely the conditions
upon which the War was carried on up to the present," etc.

After I had sent my first note we found, on inspection, some
Lee-Metford cartridges and an unexploded bomb in the ambulance vans.
This fact alone would have justified the retention of the ambulance.

This was intimated again in our reply to General Pole-Carew, and I
wrote, _inter alia_: "_Re_ the threat contained in your letter of the
... I may say I am sorry to find such a remark coming from your side,
and I can assure you that whatever may happen my Government,
commandants, and burghers are firmly resolved to continue the War on
our side in the same civilised and humane manner as it has hitherto
been conducted."

This was the end of our correspondence in regard to this subject, and
nothing further happened, save that the English very shortly
afterwards recovered five out of the eight ambulances we had retained.



CHAPTER XXI.

A GOVERNMENT IN FLIGHT.


About this time President Steyn arrived from the Orange Free State and
had joined President Kruger, and the plan of campaign for the future
was schemed. It was also decided that Mr. Schalk Burger should assume
the acting Presidentship, since Mr. Kruger's advanced age and feeble
health did not permit his risking the hardships attendant on a warlike
life on the veldt.

It was decided Mr. Kruger should go to Europe and Messrs. Steyn and
Burger should move about with their respective commandos. They were
younger men and the railway, would soon have to be abandoned.

We spent the first weeks of September at Godwan River and Nooitgedacht
Station, near the Delagoa Bay railway, and had a fairly quiet time of
it. General Buller had meanwhile pushed on with his forces via
Lydenburg in the direction of Spitskop and the Sabi, on which General
Botha had been compelled to concentrate himself after falling back,
fighting steadily, while General French threatened Barberton.

I had expected Pole-Carew to force me off the railway line along which
we held some rather strong positions, and I intended to offer a stout
resistance. But the English general left me severely alone, went over
Dwaalheuvel by an abandoned wagon-track, and crossed the plateau of
the mountains, probably to try and cut us off through the pass near
Duivelskantoor. I tried hard, with the aid of 150 burghers, to thwart
his plans and we had some fighting. But the locality was against us,
and the enemy with their great force of infantry and with the help of
their guns forced us to retire.

About the 11th of September I was ordered to fall back along the
railway, via Duivelskantoor and Nelspruit Station, since General
Buller was threatening Nelspruit in the direction of Spitskop, while
General French, with a great force, was nearing Barberton. It appeared
extremely likely that we should be surrounded very soon. We marched
through the Godwan River and over the colossal mountain near
Duivelskantoor, destroying the railway bridges behind us. The road we
followed was swamped by the heavy rains and nearly impassable. Carts
were continually being upset, breakdowns were frequent, and our guns
often stuck in the swampy ground. To make matters worse, a burgher on
horseback arrived about midnight to tell us that Buller's column had
taken Nelspruit Station, and cut off our means of retreat. Yet we had
to pass Nelspruit; there was no help for it. I gave instructions for
the waggons and carts (numbering over a hundred), to push on as
quickly as possible, and sent out a strong mounted advance guard to
escort them.

I myself went out scouting with some burghers, for I wanted to find
out before daybreak whether Nelspruit was really in the hands of the
enemy or not. In that case our carts and guns would have to be
destroyed or hidden, while the commando would have to escape along
the footpaths. We crept up to the station, and just at dawn, when we
were only a hundred paces away from it, a great fire burst out,
accompanied by occasional loud reports. This somewhat reassured me. I
soon found our own people to be in possession burning things, and the
detonations were obviously not caused by the bursting of shells fired
from field-pieces. On sending two of my adjutants--Rokzak and Koos
Nel--to the station to obtain further details, they soon came back to
report that there was nobody there except a nervous old Dutchman. The
burgher, who had told me Nelspruit was in the hands of the enemy, must
have dreamt it.

The conflagration I found was caused by a quantity of "kastions" and
ammunition-waggons which had been set afire on the previous day, while
the explosions emanated from the shells which had been left among
their contents.

The enemy's advance guard had pushed on to Shamoham and Sapthorpe,
about 12 miles from the railway, enabling the whole of my commando to
pass. We arrived at Nelspruit by eight o'clock. That day we rested and
discussed future operations, feeling that our prospects seemed to grow
worse every day.

The station presented a sad spectacle. Many trucks loaded with
victuals, engines, and burst gun-carriages--everything had been left
behind at the mercy of the first-comer, while a large number of
kaffirs were plundering and stealing. Only the day before the
Government had had its seat there, and how desolate and distressing
the sight was now! The traces of a fugitive Government were
unmistakable. Whatever might have been our optimism before, however
little inclination the burghers might have felt to surrender, however
great the firmness of the officers, and their resolve to keep the
beloved "Vierkleur" flying, scenes like those at Nooitgedacht, and
again at Nelspruit, were enough to make even the strongest and most
energetic lose all courage. Many men could not keep back their tears
at the disastrous spectacle, as they thought of the future of our
country and of those who had been true to her to the last.

Kaffirs, as I said, had been making sad havoc among the provisions,
clothes and ammunition, and I ordered them to be driven away. Amongst
the many railway-waggons I found some loaded with clothes the fighting
burghers had in vain and incessantly been asking for, also cannon and
cases of rifle ammunition. We also came across a great quantity of
things belonging to our famous medical commission, sweets, beverages,
etc. The suspicion which had existed for some considerable time
against this commission was, therefore, justified. There was even a
carriage which had been used by some of its members, beautifully
decorated, with every possible comfort and luxury, one compartment
being filled with bottles of champagne and valuable wines. My
officers, who were no saints, saw that our men were well provided for
out of these. The remainder of the good things was shifted on to a
siding, where about twenty engines were kept. By great good luck the
Government commissariat stock, consisting of some thousands of sheep,
and even some horses, had also been left behind. But we were not
cheered.

Among the many questions asked regarding this sad state of affairs was
one put by an old burger:

"Dat is nou die plan, want zooals zaken hier lyk, dan heeft die boel
in wanhoop gevlug." ("Is that the plan, then? For from what I can see
of it, they have all fled in despair.")

I answered, "Perhaps they were frightened away, Oom."

"Ja," he said, "but look, General, it seems to me as if our members of
the Government do not intend to continue the war. You can see this by
the way they have now left everything behind for the second time."

"No, old Oom," I replied, "we should not take any notice of this. Our
people are wrestling among the waves of a stormy ocean; the gale is
strong, and the little boat seems upon the point of capsizing, but, it
has not gone down as yet. Now and then the boat is dashed against the
rocks and the splinters fly, but the faithful sailors never lose
heart. If they were to do that the dinghy would soon go under, and the
crew would disappear for ever. It would be the last page of their
history, and their children would be strangers in their own country.
You understand, Oom?"

"Yes, General, but I shall not forget to settle up, for I myself and
others with me have had enough of this, and the War has opened our
eyes."

"All right, old man." I rejoined, "nobody can prevent you
surrendering, but I have now plenty of work to do; so get along."

[Illustration: My Talk with Erasmus (Non-Combatant).]

Burghers of different commandos who had strayed--some on
purpose--passed us here in groups of two or ten or more. Some of them
were going to their own districts, right through the English lines,
others were looking for their cattle, which they had allowed to stray
in order to evade the enemy. I could only tell them that the veldt
between Nelspruit and Barberton up to Avoca, was, so far as I had been
able to discover, full of cattle and waggons belonging to farmers
who now had no chance of escaping. Everybody wanted some information
from the General.

About half a score of burghers with bridle horses then came up. There
was one old burgher among them with a long beard, a great veldt hat,
and armed with a Mauser which seemed hardly to have been used. He
carried two belts with a good stock of cartridges, a revolver, and a
_tamaai_ (long sjambok). This veteran strode up in grand martial style
to where I was sitting having something to eat. As he approached he
looked brave enough to rout the whole British army.

"Dag!" (Good morning.) "Are you the General?" asked the old man.

"Yes, I have the honour of being called so. Are you a field-marshal, a
Texas Jack, or what?"

"My name is Erasmus, from the Pretoria district," he replied, "and my
nine comrades and myself, with my family and cattle, have gone into
the bush. I saw them all running away, the Government and all. You are
close to the Portuguese border, and my mates and I want to know what
your plans are."

"Well," Mr. Erasmus, I returned, "what you say is almost true; but as
you say you and your comrades have been hiding in the bush with your
cattle and your wives, I should like to know if you have ever tried to
oppose the enemy yet, and also what is your right to speak like this."

"Well, I had to flee with my cattle, for you have to live on that as
well as I."

"Right," said I; "what do you want, for I do not feel inclined to talk
any longer."

"I want to know," he replied, "if you intend to retire, and if there
is any chance of making peace. If not, we will go straight away to
Buller, and 'hands-up,' then we shall save all our property."

"Well, my friend," I remarked, "our Government and the
Commandant-General are the people who have to conclude peace, and it
is not for you or me, when our family and cattle are in danger, to
surrender to the enemy, which means turning traitor to your own
people."

"Well, yes; good-bye, General, we are moving on now."

I sent a message to our outposts to watch these fellows, and to see if
they really were going over to the enemy. And, as it happened, that
same night my Boers came to camp with the Mausers and horses Erasmus
and his party had abandoned. They had gone over to Buller.

The above is but an instance illustrating what often came under my
notice during the latter period of my command. This sort of burgher,
it turned out, invariably belonged to a class that never meant to
fight. In many cases we could do better without them, for it was
always these people who wanted to know exactly what was "on the
cards," and whenever things turned out unpleasantly, they only misled
and discouraged others. Obviously, we were better off without them.



CHAPTER XXII.

AN IGNOMINIOUS DISPERSAL.


Commandant-General Botha, who was then invalided at Hector's Spruit
Station, now sent word that we were to join him there without delay.
He said I could send part of the commando by train, but the railway
arrangements were now all disturbed, and everything was in a muddle.
As nothing could be relied on in the way of transport, the greater
number of the men and most of the draught beasts had to "trek."

At Crocodile Gat Station the situation was no better than at
Nelspruit, and the same might be said of Kaapmuiden. Many of the
engine drivers, and many of the burghers even, who were helping in
destroying the barrels of spirits at the stations, were so excited (as
they put it) through the fumes of the drink, that the strangest
things were happening. Heavily-laden trains were going at the rate of
40 miles an hour. A terrible collision had happened between two trains
going in different directions, several burghers and animals being
killed. Striplings were shooting from the trains at whatever game they
saw, or fancied they saw, along the line, and many mishaps resulted.
These things did not tend to improve matters.

It was not so much that the officers had lost control over their men.
It seemed as if the Evil Spirit had been let loose and was doing his
very best to encourage the people to riotous enjoyment.

Hector's Spruit is the last station but one before you come to the
Portuguese frontier, and about seventeen miles from Ressano Garcia.
Here every commando stopped intending of course to push on to the
north and then to cross the mountains near Lydenburg in a westerly
direction. The day when I arrived at Hector's Spruit, President Steyn,
attended by an escort of 100 men, went away by the same route.
Meanwhile General Buller was encamped at Glyn's mines near Spitskop
and the Sabi River, which enabled him to command the mountain pass
near Mac Mac and Belvedere without the slightest trouble, and to block
the roads along which we meant to proceed. Although the late
Commandant (afterwards fighting General) Gravett occupied one of the
passes with a small commando, he was himself in constant danger of
being cut off from Lydenburg by a flank movement. On the 16th of
September, 1900, an incident occurred which is difficult to describe
adequately. Hector Spruit is one of the many unattractive stations
along the Delegoa Bay railway situated between the great Crocodile
river and dreary black "kopjes" or "randjes" with branches of the Cape
mountains intervening and the "Low Veldts," better known as the
"Boschveldt." This is a locality almost filled with black holly
bushes, where you can only see the sky overhead and the spot of ground
you are standing on. In September the "boschveldt" is usually dry and
withered and the scorching heat makes the surroundings seem more
lugubrious and inhospitable than ever.

The station was crowded with railway carriages loaded up with all
sorts of goods, and innumerable passenger carriages, and the platform
and adjoining places filled with agitated people. Some were packing
up, others unpacking, and some, again, were looting. The majority
were, however, wandering about aimlessly. They did not know what was
happening; what ought to be done or would be done; and the only
exceptions were the officers, who were busily engaged in providing
themselves and their burghers with provisions and ammunition.

I now had to perform one of the most unpleasant duties I have ever
known: that of calling the burghers together and telling them that
those who had no horses were to go by train to Komati Poort, there to
join General Jan Coetser. Those who had horses were to report
themselves to me the next morning, and get away with me through the
low fields.

Some burghers exclaimed: "We are now thrown over, left in the 'lurch,'
because we have not got horses; that is not fair."

Others said they would be satisfied if I went with them, for they did
not know General Coetser.

Commandant-General Botha did not see his way to let me go to Komati
Poort, as he could not spare me and the other commandos. Those of the
men who had to walk the distance complained very bitterly, and their
complaints were well-founded. I did my best to persuade and pacify
them all, and some of them were crying like babies when we parted.

Komati Poort was, of course, the last station, and if the enemy were
to drive them any further they would have to cross the Portuguese
border, and to surrender to the Portuguese; or they could try to
escape through Swaziland (as several hundreds did afterwards) or along
the Lebombo mountains, via Leydsdorp. But if they took the latter
route then they might just as well have stayed with me in the first
place. It was along this road that General Coetser afterwards fled
with a small body of burghers, when the enemy, according to
expectations, marched on Komati Poort, and met with no resistance,
though there were over 1800 there of our men with guns.

A certain Pienaar, who arrogated unto himself the rank of a general on
Portuguese territory, fled with 800 men over the frontier. These,
however, were disarmed and sent to Lisbon.

The end of the struggle was ignominious, as many a burgher had feared;
and to this day I pity the men who, at Hector's Spruit, had to go to
Komati Poort much against their will.

Fortunately they had the time and presence of mind to blow up the
"Long Tom" and other guns before going; but a tremendous lot of
provisions and ammunition must have fallen into the hands of the
enemy.

At Hector's Spruit half a score of cannon of different calibre had
been blown up, and many things buried which may be found some day by
our progeny. Our carts were all ready loaded, and we were prepared to
march next morning into the desert and take leave of our stores. How
would we get on now? Where would we get our food, cut off as we were
from the railway, and, consequently, from all imports and supplies?
These questions and many others crossed our minds, but nobody could
answer them.

Our convoys were ready waiting, and the following morning we trekked
into the Hinterland Desert, saying farewell to commissariats and
stores.

The prospect was melancholy enough. By leaving Hector's Spruit we were
isolating ourselves from the outer world, which meant that Europe and
civilisation generally could only be informed of our doings through
English channels.

Once again our hopes were centred in our God and our Mausers.

Dr. Conan Doyle says about this stage of the war:--

     "The most incredulous must have recognised as he looked at
     the heap of splintered and shattered gunmetal (at Hector's
     Spruit) that the long War was at last drawing to a close."

And here I am, writing these pages seventeen months later, and the War
is not over yet. But Dr. Doyle is not a prophet, and cannot be
reproached for a miscalculation of this character, for if I, and many
with me, had been asked at the time what we thought of the future, we
might have been as wide of the mark as Dr. Doyle himself.



CHAPTER XXIII.

A DREARY TREK THROUGH FEVERLAND.


The 18th of September, 1900, found us trekking along an old disused
road in a northerly direction. We made a curious procession, an
endless retinue of carts, waggons, guns, mounted men, "voetgangers"
nearly three miles long. The Boers walking comprised 150 burghers
without horses, who refused to surrender to the Portuguese, and who
had now joined the trek on foot. Of the 1,500 mounted Boers 500
possessed horses which were in such a parlous condition that they
could not be ridden. The draught cattle were mostly poor and weak, and
the waggons carrying provisions and ammunition, as also those
conveying the guns, could only be urged along with great difficulty.
In the last few months our cattle and horses had been worked hard
nearly every day, and had to be kept close to our positions.

During the season the veldt in the Transvaal is in the very worst
condition, and the animals are then poorer than at any other period.
We had, moreover, the very worst of luck, kept as we were in the
coldest parts of the country from June till September, and the rains
had fallen later than usual. There was, therefore, scarcely any food
for the poor creatures, and hardly any grass. The bushveldt through
which we were now trekking was scorched by an intolerable heat,
aggravated by drought, and the temperature in the daytime was so
unbearable that we could only trek during the night.

Water was very scarce, and most of the wells which, according to old
hunters with us, yielded splendid supplies, were found to be dried up.
The veldt being burned out there was not a blade of grass to be seen,
and we had great trouble in keeping our animals alive. From time to
time we came across itinerant kaffir tribes from whom we obtained
handfuls of salt or sugar, or a pailful of mealies, and by these
means we managed to save our cattle and horses.

When we had got through the Crocodile River the trek was arranged in a
sort of military formation enabling us to defend ourselves, had we
been attacked. The British were already in possession of the railway
up to Kaapmuiden and we had to be prepared for pursuit; and really
pursuit by the British seemed feasible and probable from along the
Ohrigstad River towards Olifant's Nek and thence along the Olifant's
River.

Our original plan was to cross the Sabi, along the Meritsjani River,
over the mountains near Mac Mac, through Erasmus or Gowyn's Pass and
across Pilgrim's Rest, where we might speedily have reached healthier
veldt and better climatic conditions. President Steyn had passed there
three days previously, but when our advance guard reached the foot of
the high mountains, near Mac Mac, the late General Gravett sent word
that General Buller with his force was marching from Spitskop along
the mountain plateau and that it would be difficult for us to get
ahead of him and into the mountains. The road, which was washed away,
was very steep and difficult and contained abrupt deviations so that
we could only proceed at a snail's pace.

Commandant-General Botha then sent instructions to me to take my
commando along the foot of the mountains, via Leydsdorp, while he with
his staff and the members of the Government would proceed across the
mountains near Mac Mac. General Gravett was detailed to keep Buller's
advance guard busy, and he succeeded admirably.

I think it was here that the British lost a fine chance of making a
big haul. General Buller could have blocked us at any of the mountain
roads near Mac Mac, and could also have swooped down upon us near
Gowyn's Pass and Belvedere. At the time of which I write Buller was
lying not 14 miles away at Spitskop. Two days after he actually
occupied the passes, but just too late to turn the two Governments and
the Commandant-General. It might be said that they could in any case
have, like myself, escaped along the foot of the mountains via
Leydsdorp to Tabina and Pietersburg, but had the way out been blocked
to them near Mac Mac, our Government and generalissimo would have been
compelled to trek for at least three weeks in the low veldt before
they could have reached Pietersburg, during which time all the other
commandos would have been out of touch with the chief Boer military
strategists and commanders, and would not have known what had become
of their military leaders or of their Government. This would have been
a very undesirable state of affairs, and would very likely have borne
the most serious consequences to us. The British, moreover, could have
occupied Pietersburg without much trouble by cutting off our progress
in the low veldt, and barring our way across the Sabini and at Agatha.
This coup could indeed have been effected by a small British force. In
the mountains they would, moreover, have found a healthy climate,
while we should have been left in the sickly districts of the low
veldt. And had we been compelled to stay there for two months we would
have been forced to surrender, for about the middle of October the
disease among our horses increased and so serious was the epidemic
that none but salted horses survived. The enteric fever would also
have wrought havoc amongst us.

Another problem was whether all this would not have put an end to the
war; we still had generals left, and strong commandos, and it was, of
course, very likely that a great number of Boers driven to desperation
would have broken through, although two-thirds of our horses were not
fit for a bold dash. Perhaps fifteen hundred out of the two thousand
Boers would have made good their escape, but in any case large numbers
of wagons, guns, etc. would have fallen into the British hands and our
leaders might have been captured as well. The moral effect would have
caused many other burghers from the other commandos to have lost heart
and this at a moment, too, when they already required much
encouragement.

This was my view of the situation, and I think Lord Roberts, or
whoever was responsible, lost a splendid opportunity.

As regards my commando at the foot of the Mauch Mountains we turned
right about and I took temporary leave of Louis Botha. It was a very
affecting parting; Botha pressed my hand, saying, "Farewell, brother;
I hope we shall get through all right. God bless you. Let me hear from
you soon and frequently."

That night we encamped at Boschbokrand, where we found a store
unoccupied, and a house probably belonging to English refugees, for
shop and dwelling had been burgled and looted. After our big laager
had been arranged, Boer fashion, and the camp fire threw its lurid
light against the weird dark outline of the woods, the Boers grouped
themselves over the veldt. Some who had walked twenty miles that day
fell down exhausted.

I made the round of the laager, and I am bound to say that in spite of
the trying circumstances, my burghers were in fairly cheerful spirits.

I discussed the immediate prospects with the officers, and arranged
for a different commando to be placed in the advance guard each day
and a different field-cornet in the rear. Boers conversant with the
locality were detailed to ride ahead and to scout and reconnoitre for
water.

When I returned that night to my waggon the evening meal was ready,
but for the first time in my life I could eat nothing. I felt too
dejected. My cook, Jan Smith, and my messmates were curious to know
the reason I did not "wade in," for they always admired my ferocious
appetite.

It had been a tiring day, and I pretended I was not well; and soon
afterwards I lay down to rest.

I had been sitting up the previous evening till late in the night, and
was therefore in hopes of dropping off to sleep. But whatever I
tried--counting the stars, closing my eyes and doing my best to think
of nothing--it was all in vain.

Insurmountable difficulties presented themselves to me. I had ventured
into an unhealthy, deserted, and worst of all, unknown part of the
country with only 2,000 men. I was told we should have to cover 300
miles of this enteric-stricken country.

The burghers without horses were suffering terribly from the killing
heat, and many were attacked by typhoid and malarial fever through
having to drink a lot of bad water; these enemies would soon decimate
our commando and reduce its strength to a minimum. And for four or
five weeks we should be isolated from the Commandant-General and from
all white men.

Was I a coward, then, to lie there, dejected and even frightened? I
asked myself. Surely, to think nothing of taking part in a fierce
battle, to be able to see blood being shed like water, to play with
life and death, one could not be without some courage? And yet I did
not seem to have any pluck left in me here where there did not seem to
be much danger.

These and many similar thoughts came into my head while I was trying
to force myself to sleep, and I told myself not to waver, to keep a
cool head and a stout heart, and to manfully go on to the end in order
to reach the goal we had so long kept in view.

Ah, well, do not let anybody expect a general to be a hero, and
nothing else, at all times; let us remember that "A man's a man for a'
that," and even a fighting man may have his moments of weakness and
fear.

The next morning, about four o'clock, our little force woke up again.
The cool morning air made it bearable for man and beast to trek. This,
however, only lasted till seven o'clock, when the sun was already
scorching, without the slightest sign of a breeze. It became most
oppressive, and we were scarcely able to breathe.

The road had not been used for twenty or thirty years, and big trees
were growing in our path, and had to be cut down at times. The dry
ground, now cut up by the horses' hoofs, was turned into dust by the
many wheels, great clouds flying all round us, high up in the air,
covering everything and everybody with a thick layer of ashy-grey
powder.

About nine o'clock we reached Zand River, where we found some good
water, and stayed till dusk. We exchanged some mealies against salt
and other necessaries with some kaffirs who were living near by the
water. Their diminutive, deformed stature was another proof of the
miserable climate obtaining there.

There was much big game here; wild beasts, "hartebeest," "rooiboks"
(sometimes in groups of from five to twenty at a time), and at night
we heard the roaring of lions and the howling of wolves. Even by day
lions were encountered. Now, one of the weakest points, perhaps the
weakest, of an Afrikander is his being unable to refrain from shooting
when he sees game, whether such be prohibited or not. From every
commando burghers had been sent out to do shooting for our
commissariat, but a good many had slipped away, so that hundreds of
them were soon hunting about in the thickly-grown woods. The
consequence was that, whenever a group of them discovered game, it
seemed as if a real battle were going on, several persons often being
wounded, and many cattle killed. We made rules and regulations, and
even inflicted punishments which did some good, but could not check
the wild hunting instincts altogether, it being difficult to find out
in the dark bush who had been the culprits.

Meanwhile the trek went on very slowly. On the seventh day we reached
Blyde River, where we had one of the loveliest views of the whole
"boschveldt." The river, which has its source near Pilgrim's Rest and
runs into the great Olifant's River near the Lomboba, owes its name to
trekker pioneers, who, being out hunting in the good old times, had
been looking for water for days, and when nearly perishing from
thirst, had suddenly discovered this river, and called it Blyde (or
"Glad") River. The stream at the spot we crossed is about 40 feet
wide, and the water as pure as crystal. The even bed is covered with
white gravel, and along both banks are splendid high trees. The whole
laager could outspan under their shade, and it was a delightful,
refreshing sensation to find oneself protected from the burning sun.
We all drank of the delicious water, which we had seldom found in such
abundance, and we also availed ourselves of it to bathe and wash our
clothes.

In the afternoon a burgher, whose name I had better not mention, came
running up to us with his clothes torn to tatters, and his hat and gun
gone. He presented a curious picture. I heard the burghers jeer and
chaff him as he approached, and called out to him: "What on earth have
you been up to? It looks as if you had seen old Nick with a mask on."

The affrighted Boer's dishevelled hair stood on end and he shook with
fear.

He gasped: "Goodness gracious, General, I am nearly dead. I had gone
for a stroll to do a bit of hunting like, and had shot a lion who ran
away into some brushwood. I knew the animal had received a mortal
wound, and ran after it. But I could only see a yard or so ahead
through the thick undergrowth, and was following the bloodstained
track. Seeing the animal I put down my gun and was stepping over the
trunk of an old tree; but just as I put my foot down, lo! I saw a
terrible monster standing with one paw on the beast's chest. Oh, my
eye! I thought my last hour had come, for the lion looked so hard at
me, and he roared so awfully. By jove, General, if this had been an
Englishman I should just have "hands-upped," you bet! But I veered
round and went down bang on my nose. My rifle, my hat, my all, I
abandoned in that battle, and for all the riches of England, I would
not go back. General, you may punish me for losing my rifle, but I
won't go back to that place for anything or anybody."

I asked him what the lion had done then, but he knew nothing more.
Another burgher who stood by, remarked: "I think it was a dog this
chap saw. He came running up to me so terrified that he would not have
known his own mother. If I had asked him at that moment he would not
have been able to remember his own name."

The poor fellow was roused to indignation, and offered to go with the
whole commando and show them the lion's trail. But there was no time
for that, and the hero had a bad time of it, for everybody was teasing
and chaffing him, and henceforth he was called the "Terror of the
Vaal."

We should have liked to have lingered a few days near that splendid
and wholesome stream. We wanted a rest badly enough, but it was not
advisable on account of the fever, which is almost invariably the
penalty for sleeping near a river in the low veldt. One of the
regulations of our commando forbade the officers and men to spend the
night by the side of any water or low spot. It would also have been
fatal to the horses, for sickness amongst them and fever always
coincide. But they did not always keep to the letter of these
instructions. The burghers, especially those who had been walking, or
arriving at a river, would always quickly undress and jump into the
water, after which some of them would fall asleep on the banks or have
a rest under the trees. Both were unhealthy and dangerous luxuries.
Many burghers who had been out hunting or had been sent out
provisioning, stayed by the riverside till the morning, since they
could dispense with their kit in this warm climate. They often were
without food for twenty-four hours, unless we happened to trek along
the spot where they were resting. To pass the night in these
treacherous parts on an empty stomach was enough to give anybody the
fever.

When we moved on from Blyde River many draught beasts were exhausted
through want of food, and we were obliged to leave half a dozen carts
behind. This caused a lot of trouble as we had to transfer all the
things to other vehicles, and field-cornets did not like to take up
the goods belonging to other field-cornets' burghers, the cattle being
in such a weak condition that it made every man think of his own
division. No doubt the burghers were very kind to their animals, but
they sometimes carried it too far, and the superior officers had often
to interfere.

The distance from Blyde River to the next stopping place could not be
covered in one day, and we should have no water the next; not a very
pleasant prospect. The great clouds of dust through which we were
marching overnight and the scorching heat in the daytime made us all
long for water to drink and to clean ourselves. So when the order
came from the laager commandants: "Outspan! No water to-day, my boys,
you will have to be careful with the water on the carts. We shall be
near some stream to-morrow evening," they were bitterly disappointed.

When we got near the water the following day eight burghers were
reported to be suffering badly from the typhoid fever, five of them
belonging to the men who were walking. We had a very insufficient
supply of ambulance waggons. I had omitted to procure a great number
of these indispensable vehicles on leaving Hector's Spruit, for there
had been so many things to look after. We were lucky to have with us
brave Dr. Manning, of the Russian Ambulance, who rendered us such
excellent assistance, and we have every reason to be thankful to H.M.
the Czarina of Russia for sending him out. Dr. Manning had the
patients placed in waggons, which had been put at his disposal for
this purpose, but notwithstanding his skilled and careful treatment,
one of my men died the following day, while the number of those who
were seriously ill rose to fifteen. The symptoms of this fatal illness
are: headache and a numb feeling in all the limbs, accompanied by an
unusually high temperature very often rising to 104 and 106 degrees
during the first 24 hours, with the blood running from the patient's
nose and ears, which is an ominous sign. At other times the first
symptom is what is commonly called "cold shivers."

We proceeded slowly until we came to the Nagout River, where the
monotony and dreariness of a trek through the "boschveldt" were
somewhat relieved by the spectacle of a wide stream of good water,
with a luxurious vegetation along the banks. It was a most pleasant
and refreshing sight to behold. For some distance along the banks some
grass was found, to which the half-starved animals were soon devoting
their attention. It was the sort of sweet grass the hunters call
"buffalo-grass," and which is considered splendid food for cattle. We
pitched our camp on a hill about one mile from the river, and as our
draught-beasts were in want of a thorough rest we remained there for a
few days. We had been obliged to drive along some hundreds of oxen,
mules, and horses, as they had been unfit to be harnessed for days,
and had several times been obliged to leave those behind that were
emaciated and exhausted.

From the Nagout River we had to go right up to the Olifant's River, a
distance of about 20 miles, which took us three days. The track led
all along through the immense bush-plain which extends from the high
Mauch Mountains in the west to the Lebombo Mountains in the east; and
yet one could only see a few paces ahead during all these days, and
the only thing we could discern was the summit of some mountain on the
westerly or easterly horizon, and even the tops of the Mauch and
Lebombo Mountains one could only see by standing on the top of a
loaded waggon, and with the aid of a field-glass. This thickly-wooded
region included nearly one-third of the Transvaal, and is uninhabited,
the white men fearing the unhealthy climate, while only some miserable
little kaffir tribes were found about there, the bulk being the
undisputed territory of the wild animals.

The Olifant's River, which we had to cross, is over 100 feet wide. The
old track leading down to it, was so thickly covered with trees and
undergrowth that we had to cut a path through it. The banks of the
river were not very high, thus enabling us to make a drift without
much trouble. The bed was rocky, and the water pretty shallow, and
towards the afternoon the whole commando had crossed. Here again we
were obliged to rest our cattle for a few days, during which we had to
fulfil the melancholy duty of burying two of our burghers who had died
of fever. It was a very sad loss and we were very much affected,
especially as one left a young wife and two little children, living at
Barberton. The other one was a young colonial Afrikander who had left
his parents in the Cradock district (Cape Colony) to fight for our
cause. We could not help thinking how intensely sad it was to lose
one's life on the banks of this river, far from one's home, from
relatives and friends, without a last grasp of the hand of those who
were nearest and dearest.

The Transvaaler's last words were:--

     "Be sure to tell my wife I am dying cheerfully, with a
     clear conscience; that I have given my life for the welfare
     of my Fatherland."

We had now to leave some draught cattle and horses behind every day,
and the number of those who were obliged to walk was continually
increasing, till there were several hundred.

Near Sabini, the first river we came to after leaving Leydsdorp we
secured twenty-four mules which were of very great use to us under the
circumstances. But the difficulty was how to distribute them amongst
the field-cornets. The men all said they wanted them very urgently,
and at once found the cattle belonging to each cart to be too thin and
too weak to move. Yet the twenty-four could only be put into two
carts, and I had to solve the difficulty by asserting my authority.

It was no easy task to get over the Agatha Mountains and we had to
rest for the day near the big Letaba, especially as we had to give the
whole file of carts, guns, etc., a chance of forming up again. Here we
succeeded in buying some loads of mealies, which were a real God-send
to our half-starved horses. I also managed to hire some teams of oxen
from Boers who had taken up a position with their cattle along the
Letaba, which enabled us to get our carts out of the Hartbosch
Mountains as far as practicable. The task would have been too
fatiguing for our cattle. It took us two days before we were out of
these mountains, when we camped out on the splendid "plateau" of the
Koutboschbergen, where the climate was wholesome and pleasant.

Here, after having passed a whole month in the wilderness of the low
veldt, with its destructive climate, it was as though we began a new
life, as if we had come back to civilisation. We again saw white men's
dwellings, cultivated green fields, flocks of grazing sheep, and herds
of sleek cows.

The inhabitants of the country were not a little surprised, not to say
alarmed, to find, early one Sunday morning, a big laager occupying the
plateau. A Boer laager always looks twice as large as it really is
when seen from a little distance. Some Boer lads presently came up to
ask us whether we were friends or enemies, for in these distant parts
people were not kept informed of what happened elsewhere.

"A general," said a woman, who paid us a visit in a trap, "is a thing
we have all been longing to see. I have called to hear some news, and
whether you would like to buy some oats; but I tell you straight I am
not going to take "blue-backs" (Government notes), and if you people
buy my oats you will have to pay in gold."

A burgher answered her: "There is the General, under that cart;
'tante' had better go to him."

Of course I had heard the whole conversation, but thought the woman
had been joking. The good lady came up to my cart, putting her cap a
little on one side, probably to favour us with a peep at her beauty.

"Good morning. Where is that General Viljoen; they say he is here?"

I thought to myself: "I wonder what this charming Delilah of fifty
summers wants," and got up and shook hands with her, saying: "I am
that General. What can I do for 'tante'?"

"No, but I never! Are you the General? You don't look a bit like one;
I thought a General looked 'baing' (much) different from what you are
like."

Much amused by all this I asked: "What's the matter with me, then,
'tante'?"

"Nay, but cousin (meaning myself) looks like a youngster. I have heard
so much of you, I expected to see an old man with a long beard."

I had had enough of this comedy, and not feeling inclined to waste any
more civilities on this innocent daughter of Mother Eve, I asked her
about the oats.

I sent an adjutant to have a look at her stock and to buy what we
wanted, and the prim dame spared me the rest of her criticism.

We now heard that Pietersburg and Warmbad were still held by the
Boers, and the road was therefore clear. We marched from here via
Haenertsburg, a little village on the Houtboschbergrand, and the seat
of some officials of the Boer Mining Department, for in this
neighbourhood gold mines existed, which in time of peace give
employment to hundreds of miners.

Luckily, there was also a hospital at Haenertsburg, where we could
leave half a dozen fever patients, under the careful treatment of an
Irish doctor named Kavanagh, assisted by the tender care of a daughter
of the local justice of the peace, whose name, I am sorry to say, I
have forgotten.

About the 19th of October, 1900, we arrived at Pietersburg, our place
of destination.



CHAPTER XXIV.

PAINS AND PLEASURES OF COMMANDEERING.


We found Pietersburg to be quite republican, all the officials, from
high to low, in their proper places in the offices, and the
"Vierkleur" flying from the Government buildings. The railway to
Warmbad was also in Boer hands. At Warmbad were General Beyers and his
burghers and those of the Waterberg district. Although we had no coals
left, this did not prevent us from running a train with a sufficient
number of carriages from Pietersburg to Warmbad twice a week. We used
wood instead, this being found in great quantities in this part of the
country.

Of course, it took some time to get steam up, and we had to put in
more wood all the time, while the boilers continually threatened to
run dry. We only had two engines, one of which was mostly laid up for
repairs. The other one served to keep the commandos at Warmbad
provided with food, etc.

The Pietersburgers also had kept up telegraphic communication, and we
were delighted to hear that clothes and boots could be got in the
town, as we had to replace our own, which had got dreadfully torn and
worn out on the "trek" through the "boschveldt." Each commandant did
his best to get the necessary things together for his burghers, and my
quarters were the centre of great activity from the early morning to
late in the evening, persons who had had their goods commandeered
applying to the General and lodging complaints.

After we had been at Pietersburg for eight days, a delay which seemed
so many months to me, I had really had too much of it. The complaints
were generally introduced by remarks about how much the complainants'
ancestors had done for the country at Boomplaats, Majuba, etc., etc.,
and how unfairly they were now being treated by having their only
horses, or mules, or their carriages, or saddles commandeered.

The worst of it was, that they all had to be coaxed, either with a
long sermon, pointing out to them what an honour and distinction it
was to be thus selected to do their duty to their country and their
people, or by giving them money if no appeal to their generous
feelings would avail; sometimes by using strong language to the timid
ones, telling them it would have to be, whether they liked it or not.

Anyhow we got a hundred fine horses together at the cost of a good
many imprecations. The complainants may be divided into the following
categories:--

1st. Those who really believed they had some cause of complaint.

2nd. Those who did not feel inclined to part with anything without
receiving the full value in cash--whose patriotism began and ended
with money.

3rd. Those who had Anglophile tendencies and thought it an abomination
to part with anything to a commando (these were the worst to deal
with, for they wore a mask, and we often did not know whether we had
got hold of the Evil One's tail or an angel's pinions), and

4th. Those who were complaining without reason. These were, as a rule,
burghers who did not care to fight, and who remained at home under all
sorts of pretexts.

The complaints from females consisted of three classes:--

1st. The patriotic ones who did all they could--sensible ladies as
they were--to help us and to encourage our burghers, but who wanted
the things we had commandeered for their own use.

2nd. The women without any national sympathy--a tiresome species, who
forget their sex, and burst into vituperation if they could not get
their way; and

3rd. The women with English sympathies, carefully hidden behind a mask
of pro-Boer expressions.

The pity of it was that you could not see it written on their
foreheads which category they belonged to, and although one could soon
find out what their ideas were, one had to be careful in expressing a
decided opinion about them, as there was a risk of being prosecuted
for libel.

I myself always preferred an outspoken complaint. I could always cut
up roughly refer him to martial law, and gruffly answer, "It will have
to be like this, or you will have to do it!" And if that did not
satisfy him I had him sent away. But the most difficult case was when
the complaint was stammered under a copious flood of tears, although
not supported by any arguments worth listening to.

There were a good many foreign subjects at Pietersburg but they were
mostly British, and these persons, who also had some of their horses,
etc., commandeered, were a great source of trouble, for many Boer
officers and burghers treated them without any ceremony, simply taking
away what they wanted for their commandos. I did not at all agree with
this way of doing things, for so long as a foreign subject, though an
Englishman, is allowed to remain within the fighting lines, he has a
right to protection and fairness, and no difference ought to be made
between him and the burghers who stay at home, when there is any
fighting to be done.

From Pietersburg we went to Nylstroom, a village on the railway to
which I had been summoned by telegram by the Commandant-General, who
had arrived there on his way to the westerly districts, this being the
first I had heard of him after we had parted at the foot of the
Mauchberg, near Mac Mac.

I travelled by rail, accompanied by one of my commandants. The way
they managed to keep up steam was delightfully primitive. We did not,
indeed, fly along the rails, yet we very often went at the rate of
nine miles an hour!

When our supply of wood got exhausted, we would just stop the train,
or the train would stop itself, and the passengers were politely
requested to get out and take a hand at cutting down trees and
carrying wood. This had a delicious flavour of the old time stage
coach about it, when first, second, and third class passengers
travelled in the same compartment, although the prices of the
different classes varied considerably. When a coach came to the foot
of a mountain the travellers would, however, soon find out where the
difference between the classes lay, for the driver would order all
first-class passengers to keep their seats, second-class passengers to
get out and walk, and third-class passengers to get out and push.

We got to our destination, however, although the chances seemed to
have been against it. I myself had laid any odds against ever arriving
alive.

At Nylstroom we found President Steyn and suite, who had just arrived,
causing a great stir in this sleepy little village, which had now
become a frontier village of the territory in which we still held
sway.

A great popular meeting was held, which President Steyn opened with a
manly speech, followed by a no less stirring one from our
Commandant-General, both exhorting the burghers to do their duty
towards their country and towards themselves by remaining faithful to
the Cause, as the very existence of our nation depended on it.

In the afternoon the officers met in an empty hall of the hotel at
Nylstroom to hold a Council of War, under the direction of the
Commandant-General.

Plans were discussed and arrangements made for the future. I was to
march at once from Pietersburg to the north-westerly part of the
Pretoria district, and on to Witnek, which would bring us back to our
old battle-grounds. The state of the commandos, I was told, in those
parts was very sad. The commandant of the Boksburg Commando had
mysteriously fallen into the enemy's hands, and with his treacherous
assistance nearly the whole commando had been captured as well. The
Pretoria Commando had nearly shared this melancholy fate.

That same night we travelled to Pietersburg. After we had passed
Yzerberg the train seemed to be going more and more slowly, till we
came to a dead stop. The engine had broken down, and all we could do
was to get out and walk the rest of the way. In a few hours' time, to
our great joy, the second, and the only other train from Pietersburg
there was, came up.

After having convinced the engine-driver that he had to obey the
General's orders, he complied with our request to take us to
Pietersburg, and at last, after a lot of trouble, we arrived the
following day. Our cattle and horses were now sufficiently rested and
in good condition. The commandos have been provided with the things
they most urgently needed, and ordered to be ready within two days.



CHAPTER XXV.

PUNISHING THE PRO-BRITISH.


During the first days of November, 1900, we went from Pietersburg to
Witnek, about nineteen miles north of Bronkhorst Spruit, in the
Pretoria district. We had enjoyed a fortnight's rest, which had
especially benefited our horses, and our circumstances were much more
favourable in every respect when we left Pietersburg than when we had
entered it.

The Krugersdorp Commando had been sent to its own district, from
Pietersburg via Warmbad and Rustenburg, under Commandant Jan Kemp, in
order to be placed under General De la Rey's command. Most of the
burghers preferred being always in their own districts, even though
the villages scattered about were in the enemy's hands, the greater
part of the homesteads burnt down and the farms destroyed, and nearly
all the families had been placed in British Concentration Camps; and
if the commanding officers would not allow the burghers to go to their
own districts they would simply desert, one after the other, to join
the commando nearest their districts.

I do not think there is another nation so fondly attached to their
home and its neighbourhood, even though the houses be in ruins and the
farms destroyed. Still the Boer feels attracted to it, and when he has
at last succeeded in reaching it, you will often find him sit down
disconsolately among the ruins or wandering about in the vicinity.

It was better, therefore, to keep our men somewhere near their
districts, for even from a strategical point of view they were better
there, knowing every nook and cranny, which enabled them to find
exactly where to hide in case of danger. Even in the dark they were
able to tell, after scouting, which way the enemy would be coming.
This especially gave a commando the necessary self-reliance, which is
of such great importance in battle. It has also been found during the
latter part of the War to be easier for a burgher to get provisions in
his own district than in others, notwithstanding the destruction
caused by the enemy.

Commandant Muller, of the Boksburg Commando, one of those who were
lucky enough to escape the danger of being caught through the
half-heartedness of the previous commandant (Dirksen), and had taken
his place, arrived at Warmbad almost the same moment. He proceeded via
Yzerberg and joined us at Klipplaatdrift near Zebedelestad.

I had allowed a field-cornet's company, consisting of Colonial
Afrikanders, to accompany President Steyn to the Orange Free State,
which meant a reduction of my force of 350 men, including the
Krugersdorpers. But the junction with the Boksburg burghers, numbering
about 200 men, somewhat made up for it.

We went along the Olifant's River, by Israelskop and Crocodile Hill,
to the spot where the Eland's River runs into the Olifant's River, and
thence direct to Witnek through Giftspruit.

The grass, after the heavy rains, was in good condition and yielded
plenty of food for our quadrupeds. Strange to say, nothing worth
recording occurred during this "trek" of about 95 miles. About the
middle of November we camped near the "Albert" silver mines, south of
Witnek.

Commandant Erasmus was still in this part of the country with the
remainder of the Pretoria Commando. Divided into three or four smaller
groups, they watched in the neighbourhood of the railway, from
Donkerhoek till close to Wilgeriver Station, and whenever the enemy
moved out, the men on watch gave warning and all fled with their
families and cattle into the "boschveldt" along Witnek.

It was these tactics which enabled the British Press to state that the
Generals Plumer and Paget had a brilliant victory over Erasmus the
previous month; for, with the exception of a few abandoned carts at
Zusterhoek, they could certainly not have seen anything of Erasmus and
his commando except a cloud of dust on the road from Witnek to the
"boschveldt."

I had instructions to reorganise the commandos in these regions and to
see that law and order were maintained. The reorganisation was a
difficult work, for the burghers were divided amongst themselves.

Some wanted a different commando, while others wanted to keep to
Erasmus, who was formerly general and who had been my superior, round
Ladysmith. He, one of the wealthiest and most influential burghers in
the Pretoria district, did not seem inclined to carry out my
instructions, and altogether he could not get accustomed to the
altered conditions. I did all I could in the matter, but, so far as
the Pretoria Commando was concerned, the result of my efforts was not
very satisfactory. Nor did the generals who tried the same thing after
me get on with the reorganisation while Erasmus remained in control as
an officer. A dangerous element, which he and his clique tolerated,
was formed by some families (Schalkwyk and others) who, after having
surrendered to the enemy, were allowed to remain on their holdings,
with their cattle, and to go on farming as if nothing had happened.
They generally lived near the railway between our sentry stations and
those of the enemy. These "voluntarily disarmed ones," as we called
them, had got passes from the enemy, allowing them free access to the
British camps, and in accordance with one of Lord Roberts'
proclamations, their duty, on seeing any Boers or commandos, was, to
notify this at once to the nearest English picket, and also to
communicate all information received about the Boers. All this was on
penalty of having their houses burnt down and their cattle and
property confiscated. Sometimes a brother or other relative of these
"hands-uppers" would call on them. The son of one of them was adjutant
to Commandant Erasmus, and shared his tent with him, while the
adjutant often visited his parents during the night and sometimes by
day; the consequence being that the English always knew exactly what
was going on in our district. This situation could not be allowed to
go on, and I instructed one of my officers to have all these suspected
families placed behind our commandos. Any male persons who had
surrendered to the enemy out of cowardice were arrested.

Most of them were court-martialled for high treason and desertion, and
giving up their arms, and fifteen were imprisoned in a school building
at Rhenosterkop, which had been turned into a gaol for the purpose.
The court consisted of a presiding officer selected from the
commandants by the General, and of four members, two of whom had been
chosen by the General and the President, and two by the burghers.

In the absence of our "Staats-procureur," a lawyer was appointed
public prosecutor.

Before the trial commenced the President was sworn by the General and
the other four members by the President. The usual criminal procedure
was followed, and each sentence was submitted for the General's
ratification.

The court could decree capital punishment, in which case there could
be an appeal to the Government.

There were other courts, constituted by the latter, but as they were
moving about almost every day, they were not always available, and
recourse had then to be taken to the court-martial.

The fifteen prisoners were tried in Rhenosterkop churchyard. The trial
lasted several days, and I do not remember all the particulars of the
various sentences, which differed from two and a half to five years'
imprisonment, I believe with the option of a fine. The only prison we
could send them to was at Pietersburg, and there they went.

The arresting and punishing of these people caused a great sensation
in the different commandos.

It seems incredible, but it is a fact that many members of these
traitors' families were very indignant about my action in the matter,
even sending me anonymous letters in which they threatened to shoot
me.

Although there was less treason after the conviction of these fifteen
worthies had taken place, there always remained an easy channel in the
shape of correspondence between burghers from the commandos and their
relatives within the English fighting lines, carried by kaffir
runners. This could not be stopped so easily.

On the 19th of November, 1900, I attacked the enemy on the railway
simultaneously at Balmoral and Wilgeriver, and soon found that the
British had heard of our plan beforehand.

Commandant Muller, who was cautiously creeping up to the enemy at
Wilgeriver with some of his burghers, and a Krupp gun, met with a
determined resistance early in the morning. He succeeded, indeed, in
taking a few small forts, but the station was too strongly fortified,
and the enemy used two 15-pounders in one of the forts with such
precision as to soon hit our Krupp gun, which had to be cleared out of
the fighting line.

The burghers, who had taken the small forts in the early morning, were
obliged to stop there till they could get away under protection of the
darkness, with three men wounded. We did not find out the enemy's
losses.

We were equally unfortunate near Balmoral Station, where I personally
led the attack.

At daybreak I ordered a fortress to be stormed, expecting to capture a
gun, which would enable us to fire on the station from there, and
then storm it. In fact we occupied the fort with little trouble,
taking a captain and 32 men prisoners, besides inflicting a loss of
several killed and wounded, while a score more escaped. These all
belonged to the "Buffs," the same regiment which now takes part in
watching us at St. Helena. But, on the whole, we were disappointed,
not finding a gun in the fort, which was situated to the west of the
station. Two divisions of burghers with a 15-pounder and a pom-pom
were approaching the station from north and east, while a commando,
under Field-Cornet Duvenhage, which had been called upon to strengthen
the attack, was to occupy an important position in the south before
the enemy could take it up, for during the night it was still
unoccupied.

Our 15-pounder, one of the guns we had captured from the English,
fired six shells on the enemy at the station, when it burst, while the
pom-pom after having sent some bombs through the station buildings,
also jammed. We tried to storm over the bare ground between our
position and the strongly barricaded and fortified station, and the
enemy would no doubt have been forced to surrender if they had not
realised that something had gone wrong with us, our guns being silent,
and Field-Cornet Duvenhage and his burghers not turning up from the
south. The British, who had taken an important position from which
they could cover us with their fire, sent us some lyddite shells from
a howitzer in the station fort. Although there was a good shower of
them, yet the lyddite-squirt sent the shells at such a slow pace, that
we could quietly watch them coming and get under cover in time and
therefore they did very little harm.

At eight o'clock we were forced to fall back, for although we had
destroyed the railway and telegraphic communications in several places
over night, the latter were repaired in the afternoon, and the enemy's
reinforcements poured in from Pretoria as well as from Middelburg. I
observed all this through my glass from the position I had taken up on
a high point near the Douglas coal mines.

Amongst the prisoners we had made in the morning was a captain of the
"Buffs," whose collar stars had been stripped off for some reason, the
marks showing they had only recently been removed. At that time there
were no orders to keep officers as prisoners-of-war, and this captain
was therefore sent back to Balmoral with the other "Tommies," after we
had relieved them of their weapons and other things which we were in
want of. I read afterwards, in an English newspaper, that this captain
had taken the stars off in order to save himself from the "cruelties
of the Boers."

This, I considered, an unjust and undeserved libel.



CHAPTER XXVI.

BATTLE OF RHENOSTERKOP.


On the 27th of November, 1900, our scouts reported that a force of the
enemy was marching from the direction of Pretoria, and proceeding
along Zustershoek. I sent out Commandant Muller with a strong patrol,
while I placed the laager in a safe position, in the ridge of kopjes
running from Rhenosterkop some miles to the north. This is the place,
about 15 miles to the north-east of Bronkhorst Spruit, where Colonel
Anstruther with the 94th regiment was attacked in 1881 by the Boers
and thoroughly defeated. Rhenosterkop is a splendid position, rising
several hundred feet above the neighbouring heights, and can be seen
from a great distance. Towards the south and south-east this kopje is
cut off from the Kliprandts (known by the name of Suikerboschplaats)
by a deep circular cleft called Rhenosterpoort.

On the opposite side of this cleft the so-called "banks" form a
"plateau" about the same height as the Rhenosterkop, with some smaller
plateaux, at a lesser altitude, towards the Wilge River. These
plateaux form a crescent running from south-east to north of the
Rhenosterkop. Only one road leading out of the "bank" near Blackwood
Camp and crossing them near Goun, gives access to this crescent. On
the west side is a great gap up to Zustershoek, only interrupted by
some "randjes," or ridges, near the Albert silver mines and the row of
kopjes on which I had now taken up a position.

The enemy's force had been estimated at 5,000 men, mostly mounted,
who, quite against their usual tactics, charged us so soon as they
noticed us. Muller had to fall back again and again. The enemy under
General Paget, pursued us as if we were a lot of game, and it soon
became apparent that they had made up their mind to catch us this
time. I sent our carts into the forest along Poortjesnek to
Roodelaager, and made a stand in the kopjes near Rhenosterkop.

On the 28th--the next day--General Paget pitched his camp near our
positions, shelling us with some batteries of field guns till dusk.
The same evening I received information that a force under General
Lyttelton had marched from Middelburg and arrived near Blackwood Camp.
This meant that our way near Gourjsberg had been cut off. All we could
do was to keep the road along Poortjesnek well defended, for if the
enemy were to succeed in blocking that as well, we would be in a trap
and be entirely cut up.

There was General Paget against us to the west, to the south there was
Rhenosterkop with no way out, and General Lyttelton to the east, while
to the north there was only one road, running between high chains and
deep clefts. If General Paget were to make a flanking movement
threatening the road to the north, I should have been obliged to
retire in hot haste, but we were in hopes the General would not think
of this. General Lyttelton only needed to advance another mile, right
up to the first "randts" of the mountain near Blackwood Camp, for his
guns to command our whole position, and to make it impossible for us
to hold it. I had, however, a field-cornet's company between him and
my burghers, with instructions to resist as long as possible, and to
prevent our being attacked from behind, which plan succeeded, as luck
would have it. My Krupp and pom-pom guns had been repaired, or rather,
patched up, though the former had only been fired fourteen times when
it was done up.

I placed the Johannesburgers on the left, the Police in the centre,
and the Boksburgers on the right. As I have already pointed out, these
positions were situated in a row of small kopjes strewn with big
"klips," while the assailant would have to charge over a bare "bult,"
and we should not be able to see each other before they were at 60 to
150 paces distant.

Next morning, when the day dawned, the watchmen gave the alarm, the
warning we knew so well, "The Khakis are coming!" The horses were all
put out of range of the bullets behind the "randts." I rode about
with my officers in front of our positions, thus being able to
overlook the whole ground, just at daybreak.

It gave me a turn when I suddenly saw the gigantic army of "Khakis"
right in front of us, slowly approaching, in grand formation, regiment
upon regiment, deploying systematically, in proper fighting order, and
my anxiety was mingled with admiration at the splendid discipline of
the adversary. This, then, was the first act in the bloody drama which
would be played for the next fifteen hours. The enemy came straight up
to us, and had obviously been carefully reconnoitring our positions.

General Paget seemed to have been spoiling for a fight, for it did not
look as if he simply meant to threaten our only outlet. His heavy
ordnance was in position near his camp, behind the soldiers, and was
firing at us over their heads, while some 15-pounders were divided
amongst the different regiments. The thought of being involved in such
an unequal struggle weighed heavily on my mind. Facing me were from
four to five thousand soldiers, well equipped, well disciplined,
backed up by a strong artillery; just behind me my men, 500 at the
outside, with some patched-up guns, almost too shaky for firing
purposes.

But I could rely on at least 90 per cent. of my burghers being
splendid shots, each man knowing how to economise his store of
ammunition, while their hearts beat warmly for the Cause they were
fighting.

The battle was opened by our Krupp gun, from which they had orders to
fire the fourteen shells we had at our disposal, and then "run." The
enemy's heavy guns soon answered from the second ridge. When it was
broad daylight the enemy tried his first charge on the Johannesburg
position, over which my brother had the command, and approached in
skirmishing order. They charged right up to seventy paces, when our
men fired for the first time, so that we could not very well have
missed our aim at so short a distance, in addition to which the
assailants' outline was just showing against the sky-line as he was
going over the last ridge. Only two volleys and all the Khakis were
flat on the ground, some dead, others wounded, while those who had not
been hit were obliged to lie down as flat as a pancake.

The enemy's field-pieces were out of our sight behind the ridge which
the enemy had to pass in charging, and they went on firing without any
intermission. Half an hour later the position of the Johannesburg
Police, under the late Lieutenant D. Smith, was stormed again, this
time the British being assisted by two field-pieces which they had
brought up with them in the ranks and which were to be used as soon as
the soldiers were under fire. They came to within a hundred paces. One
of these guns, I think, I saw put up, but before they could get the
range it had to be removed into safety, for the attacking soldiers
fared equally badly here as on our left flank.

Then, after a little hesitation, they tried the attack on our right
flank again, when Commandant Muller and the Boksburgers and some
Pretoria burghers, under Field-Cornet Opperman held the position, but
with the same fatal result to the attackers. Our fifteen-pounder,
after having been fired a few times, had given out, while our pom-pom
could only be used from time to time after the artilleryman had
righted it.

I had a heliograph post near the left-hand position, one near the
centre and the one belonging to my staff on our extreme right. I
remained near this, expecting a flank movement by General Paget after
his front attacks had failed. From this coign of vantage I was able to
overlook the whole of the fighting ground, besides which I was in
constant touch with my officers, and could tell them all the enemy's
movements.

About 10 o'clock they charged again, and so far as I could see with a
fresh regiment. We allowed them to come up very closely again and once
more our deadly Mauser fire mowed them down, compelling those who went
scot-free to go down flat on the ground, while during this charge some
who had been obliged to drop down, now jumped up and ran away. If I
remember rightly, it was during this charge that a brave officer, who
had one of his legs smashed, leant on a gun or his sword, and kept on
giving his orders, cheering the soldiers and telling them to charge
on. While in this position, a second bullet struck him, and he fell
mortally wounded. We afterwards heard it was a certain Colonel Lloyd
of the West Riding Regiment. A few months after, on passing over this
same battlefield, we laid a wreath of flowers on his grave, with a
card, bearing the inscription: "In honour of a brave enemy."

General Paget seemed resolved to take our positions, whatever the
sacrifice of human lives might be. If he succeeded at last, at this
rate, he might find half a score of wounded burghers and, if his
cavalry hurried up, perhaps a number of burghers with horses in bad
condition, but nothing more.

Whereas, if he had made a flanking movement, he might have attained
his end, perhaps without losing a single man.

Pride or stupidity must have induced him not to change his tactics.
Nothing daunted by the repeated failures in the morning, our
assailant charged again, now one position and then another, trying to
get their field-pieces in position, but each time without success. At
their wits' end, the enemy tried another dodge, bringing his guns
right up to our position under cover of some Red Cross waggons. The
officer who perceived this, reported to me by heliograph, asking for
instructions. I answered: 'If a Red Cross waggon enters the fighting
lines during the battle, it is there on its own responsibility.'
Besides, General Paget, under protection of the white flag, might have
asked any moment or an hour, or longer, to carry away his many
unfortunate wounded, who were lying between two fires in the burning
sun.

When the Red Cross waggon was found to be in the line of fire, it was
put right-about face, while some guns remained behind to fire shrapnel
at us from a short distance. They could only fire one or two shots,
for our burghers soon put out of action the artillerists who were
serving them. Towards the afternoon some of my burghers began to run
short of ammunition, I had a field-cornet's force in reserve, from
which five to ten men were sent to the position from time to time, and
this cheered the burghers up again.

The same attacking tactics were persisted in by General Paget all day
long, although they were a complete failure. When the sun disappeared
behind the Magaliesbergs, the enemy made a final, in fact, a desperate
effort to take our positions, the guns booming along while we were
enveloped by clouds of dust thrown up by the shells.

The soldiers charged, brave as lions, and crept closer to our
positions than they had done during the day.

But it seemed as if Fate were favouring us, for our 15-pounder had
just got ready, sending his shells into the enemy's lines in rapid
succession, and finding the range most beautifully. The pom-pom
too--which we could only get to fire one or two shells all day long,
owing to the gunner having to potter about for two or three hours
after each shot to try and repair it--to our great surprise suddenly
commenced booming away, and the two pieces--I was going to say the
"mysterious" pieces--poured a stream of murderous steel into the
assailants, which made them waver and then retire, leaving many
comrades behind.

On our side only two burghers were killed, while 22 were wounded. The
exact loss of the enemy was difficult to estimate. It must, however,
have amounted to some hundreds.

Again night spread a dark veil over one of the most bloody dramas of
this war. After the cessation of hostilities, I called my officers
together and considered our position. We had not lost an inch of
ground that day, while the enemy had gained nothing. On the contrary,
they had suffered a serious repulse at our hands. But our ammunition
was getting scarce, our waggons, with provisions, were 18 miles away.
All we had in our positions was mealies and raw meat, and the burghers
had no chance of cooking them. We therefore decided, as we had no
particular interest in keeping these positions, to fall back that
night on Poortjesnek, which was a "half-way house" between the place
we were leaving and our carts, from which we should be able to draw
our provisions and reserve ammunition.

We therefore allowed General Paget to occupy these positions without
more ado.

I have tried to describe this battle as minutely as possible in order
to show that incompetence of generals was not always on our side only.

I have seen from the report of the British Commander-in-Chief,
published in the newspapers, that this battle had been a most
successful and brilliant victory, gained by General Paget. People will
say, perhaps, that it was silly on my part to evacuate the positions,
and that I should have gone on defending them the next day. Well, in
the old days this would have been done by European generals, but no
doubt they were fighting under different circumstances. They were not
faced by a force ten times their own strength; not restricted to a
limited quantity of ammunition; nor were they in want of proper food
or reinforcements. The nearest Boer commando was at Warmbad, about 60
miles distant. Besides, there was no necessity, either for military
or strategical reasons, for us to cling to these positions. It had
already become our policy to fight whenever we could, and to retire
when we could not hold on any longer. The Government had decided that
the War should be continued and it was the duty of every general to
manoeuvre so as to prolong it. We had no reserve troops, so my motto
was: "Kill as many of the enemy as you possibly can, but see you do
not expose your own men, for we cannot spare a single one."

On the 30th of November, the day after the fight, I was with a patrol
on the first "randts," north-east of Rhenosterkop, just as the sun
rose, and had a splendid view of the whole battlefield of the previous
day. I saw the enemy's scouts, cautiously approaching the evacuated
positions, and concluded from the precautions they were taking that
they did not know we had left overnight. Indeed, very shortly after I
saw the Khakis storming and occupying the kopjes. How great must have
been their astonishment and disappointment on finding those positions
deserted, for the possession of which they had shed so much blood. A
number of ambulance waggons were brought up and were moving backwards
and forwards on the battlefield, taking the wounded to the hospital
camp, which must have assumed colossal proportions. Ditches were seen
to be dug, in which the killed soldiers were buried. A troop of
kaffirs carried the bodies, as far as I could distinguish, and I could
distinctly see some heaps of khaki-coloured forms near the graves.

[Illustration: Battle of Rhenosterkop--How Colonel Lloyd died.]

As the battlefield looked now, it was a sad spectacle. Death and
mutilation, sorrow and misery, were the traces yesterday's fight had
left behind. How sad, I thought, that civilised nations should thus
try to annihilate one another. The repeated brave charges made by
General Paget's soldiers, notwithstanding our deadly fire, had won our
greatest admiration for the enemy, and many a burgher sighed even
during the battle. What a pity such plucky fellows should have to be
led on to destruction like so many sheep to the butcher's block!

Meanwhile, General Lyttelton's columns had not got any nearer, and it
appeared to us that he had only made a display to confuse us, and with
the object of inducing us to flee in face of their overwhelming
strength.

On the 1st of December General Paget sent a strong mounted force to
meet us, and we had a short, sharp fight, without very great loss on
either side.

This column camped at Langkloof, near our positions, compelling us to
graze and water our horses at the bottom of the "neck" in the woods,
where horse-sickness was prevalent. We were, therefore, very soon
obliged to move.

About this time I received a report to the effect that a number of
women and children were wandering about near Rhenosterkop along the
Wilge River. Their houses had been burnt by order of General Paget,
and we were asked to protect these unfortunate people.

Some burghers offered to ride out at night time to try and find them,
and the next morning they brought several families into our camp. The
husbands of these poor sufferers were on duty in the neighbourhood, so
that they were now enabled to do the needful for their wives and
children. I put some questions to some of the women, from which it
appeared that although they had besought the English not to burn their
clothes and food, yet this had been done. Some Australians and
Canadians, who had been present, had done their best to save some of
the food and clothes, and these Colonials had shown them much
consideration in every respect, but, the women added, a gang of
kaffirs, who were ordered to cause this destruction, were behaving in
the most barbarous and cruel manner, and were under no control by the
British soldiers.

I felt bound to protest against these scandalous acts of vandalism,
and sent two of my adjutants to the English camp next day with a note
of about the following tenour:--

     "To GENERAL PAGET, _commanding H.M's. forces at
     Rhenosterkop_.

     "It is my painful duty to bring under your Honour's notice
     the cruel way in which the troops under your command are
     acting in ill-treating defenceless women and children. Not
     only their homes, but also their food and clothes, are being
     burnt. These poor creatures were left in the open veldt, at
     the mercy of the kaffirs, and would have died of starvation
     and exhaustion but for our assistance. This way of treating
     these unfortunate people is undoubtedly against the rules of
     civilised warfare, and I beg to emphasise that the
     responsibility for this cruelty will be entirely yours. You
     may rest assured that a similar treatment of our families
     will not shorten the duration of the War, but that, on the
     contrary, such barbarities will force the burghers to
     prolong the struggle and to fight on with more bitterness
     and determination than ever."

The two despatch carriers whom I sent to the British General under a
white flag were taken for spies, and however much they tried to
establish their identity, General Paget was not to be convinced, and
had them arrested, detaining them for three days. Their horses were
used every day by the English officers, which I consider far from
gentlemanly. On the third day my two adjutants were again taken before
the general, and cross-examined, but no evidence could be found
against their being bona-fide messengers. Paget told them that my
despatch was all nonsense, and did not give them the right to enter
his lines under the white flag, adding, while he handed them a letter
addressed to me:

"You can go now; tell your General that if he likes to fight I shall
be pleased to meet him at any time in the open. You have killed some
of my Red Cross people, but I know it was done by those 'damned'
unscrupulous Johannesburgers. Tell them I shall pay them for this!"

Before my adjutants left, a certain Captain ---- said to one of them:

"I say, what do your people think of the fight?"

"Which fight do you mean?" asked the adjutant.

"The fight here," returned the captain.

"Oh," remarked the adjutant, "we think it was rather a mismanagement."
To which the captain replied: "By Jove! you are not the only people
who think so."

The contents of General Paget's letter were short and rough; "The
responsibility for the suffering of women and children rests on the
shoulders of those who blindly continue the helpless struggle," etc.,
etc.

I may say here that this was the first time in this War the English
officers treated my despatch riders under the white flag in such a
manner, giving me at the same time such a discourteous answer.

No doubt we have had generals acting like this on our side, and I
admit that we did not always stand on etiquette.

As already stated, part of the enemy's forces were camping out near
Poortjesnek, so close by that we had to shift our laager and commando
to a more healthy part on account of the horse-sickness. The enemy
installed a permanent occupation at Rhenosterkop, and we moved into
the Lydenberg district, where we knew we should find some wholesome
"veldt" on the Steenkamps Mountains. We went through the forest near
Maleemskop via Roodekraal, to the foot of Bothasberg, where we had a
few weeks' rest.



CHAPTER XXVII.

THE SECOND CHRISTMAS AT WAR.


The veldt was in splendid condition at the foot of Bothasberg, where
we had pitched our camp. We found mealies and cattle left everywhere.
The enemy did not know where we really were, and could not, therefore,
bother us for the time being. Our Government was at Tautesberg, about
12 miles north of Bothasberg, and we received a visit from
Acting-President Burger, who brought with him the latest news from
Europe, and the reports from the other commandos. Mr. Burger said he
was sorry we had to leave the Pretoria district, but he could
understand our horses would have all been killed by the sickness if we
had stopped at Poortjesnek. As regards the Battle of Rhenosterkop, he
expressed the Government's satisfaction with the result.

On the 16th of December we celebrated Dingaan's Day in a solemn
manner. Pastor J. Louw, who had faithfully accompanied us during these
fatiguing months of retreats and adversity, delivered a most
impressive address, describing our position. Several officers also
spoke, and I myself had a go at it, although I kept to politics. In
the afternoon the burghers had sports, consisting of races on foot and
on horseback. The prizes were got together by means of small
contributions from the officers. All went well, without any mishaps,
and it was unanimously voted to have been very entertaining.

It was a peculiar sight--taking into consideration the
circumstances--to see these people on the "veldt" feasting and of good
cheer, each trying to amuse the other, under the fluttering
"Vierkleur"--the only one we possessed--but the look of which
gladdened the hearts of many assisting at this celebration in the
wilderness. How could we have been in a truly festive mood without
the sight of that beloved banner, which it had cost so many
sacrifices to protect, and to save which so much Afrikander blood had
been shed.

And in many of us the thought suggested itself: "O, Vierkleur of our
Transvaal, how much longer shall we be allowed to see you unfurled?
How long, O Lord, will a stream of tears and blood have to flow before
we are again the undisputed masters of our little Republic, scarcely
visible on the world's map? For how long will our adored Vierkleur be
allowed to remain floating over the heads of our persecuted nation,
whose blood has stained and soaked your colours for some generations?
We hope and trust that so sure as the sun shall rise in the east and
set in the west, so surely may this our flag, now wrapped in sorry
mourning, soon flutter aloft again in all its glory, over the country
on which Nature lavishes her most wondrous treasures."

The Afrikander character may be called peculiar in many respects. In
moments of reverse, when the future seems dark, one can easily trace
its pessimistic tendencies. But once his comrades buried, the wounded
attended to, and a moment's rest left him by the enemy, the cheerful
part of the Boer nature prevails, and he is full of fun and sport. If
anybody, in a sermon or in a speech, try to impress on him the
seriousness of the situation, pointing out how our ancestors have
suffered and how we have to follow in their steps, our hero of
yesterday, the jolly lad who was laughing boisterously and joking a
minute ago, is seen to melt, and the tears start in his eyes. I am now
referring to the true Afrikander. Of course, there are many calling
themselves Afrikanders who during this War have proved themselves to
be the scum of the nation. I wish to keep them distinguished from the
true, from the noble men belonging to this nationality of whom I shall
be proud as long as I live, no matter what the result of the War may
be.

Our laagers were not in a very satisfactory position, more as regards
our safety than the question of health, sickness being expected to
make itself felt only later in the year.

We therefore decided to "trek" another 10 miles, to the east of
Witpoort, through Korfsnek, to the Steenkampsbergen, in order to pitch
or camp at Windhoek. Windhoek (wind-corner) was an appropriate name,
the breezes blowing there at times with unrelenting fury.

Here we celebrated Christmas of 1900, but we sorely missed the many
presents our friends and lady acquaintances sent us from Johannesburg
on the previous festival, and which had made last year's Christmas on
the Tugela such a success.

No flour, sugar or coffee, no spirits or cigars to brighten up our
festive board. This sort of thing belonged to the luxuries which had
long ceased to come our way, and we had to look pleasant on
mealie-porridge and meat, varied by meat and mealie-porridge.

Yet many groups of burghers were seen to be amusing themselves at all
sorts of games; or you found a pastor leading divine service and
exhorting the burghers. Thus we kept our second Christmas in the
field.

About this time the commandos from the Lydenburg district (where we
now were) as well as those from the northern part of Middelburg, were
placed under my command, and I was occupied for several days in
reorganising the new arrivals. The fact of the railway being almost
incessantly in the hands of the enemy, and the road from Machadodorp
to Lydenburg also blocked by them (the latter being occupied in
several places by large or small garrisons) compelled us to place a
great number of outposts to guard against continual attacks and to
report whenever some of the columns, which were always moving about,
were approaching.

The spot where our laagers were now situated was only 13 miles from
Belfast and Bergendal, between which two places General
Smith-Dorrien's strong force was posted; while a little distance
behind Lydenburg was General Walter Kitchener with an equally strong
garrison. We were, therefore, obliged to be continually on the alert,
not relaxing our watchfulness for one single moment. One or two
burghers were still deserting from time to time, aggravating their
shameful behaviour by informing the enemy of our movements, which
often caused a well-arranged plan to fail. We knew this was simply
owing to these very dangerous traitors.

The State Artillerymen, who had now been deprived of their guns, were
transformed into a mounted corps of 85 men, under Majors Wolmarans and
Pretorius, and placed under my command for the time being.

It was now time we should assume the offensive, before the enemy
attacked us. I therefore went out scouting for some days, with several
of my officers, in order to ascertain the enemy's positions and to find
out their weakest spot. My task was getting too arduous, and I decided
to promote Commandant Muller to the rank of a fighting-general. He
turned out to be an active and reliable assistant.



CHAPTER XXVIII.

CAPTURE OF "LADY ROBERTS."


After I had carefully reconnoitred the enemy's positions, I resolved,
after consulting my fighting-general, Muller, to attack the Helvetia
garrison, one of the enemy's fortifications or camps between Lydenburg
and Machadodorp. Those fortifications served to protect the railway
road from Machadodorp Station to Lydenburg, along which their convoys
went twice a week to provision Lydenburg village. Helvetia is situated
three miles east of Machadodorp, four miles west of Watervalboven
Station, where a garrison was stationed, and about three miles south
of a camp near Zwartkoppies. It was only protected on the north side.
Although it was difficult to approach this side on account of a
mountainous rand through which the Crocodile River runs, yet this was
the only road to take. It led across Witrand or Bakenkop; the
commandos were therefore obliged to follow it, and had to do this at
night time, for if they had passed the Bakenkop by day they would have
exposed themselves to the enemy's artillery fire from the Machadodorp
and Zwartkoppies garrisons.

During the night of the 28th of December 1900, we marched from
Windhoek, past Dullstroom, up to the neighbourhood of Bakenkop, where
we halted and divided the commandos for the attack, which was to be
made in about the following order:--

Fighting-General Muller was to trek with 150 men along the convoy-road
between Helvetia and Zwartkoppies up to Watervalboven, keeping his
movements concealed from the adversary. Commandant W. Viljoen (my
brother), would approach the northerly and southerly parts of Helvetia
within a few hundred paces, with part of the Johannesburgers and
Johannesburg Police. This commando numbered 200 men.

In order to be able to storm the different forts almost
simultaneously we were all to move at 3.30 a.m., and I gave the men a
password, in order to prevent confusion and the possibility of our
hitting one another in the general charge. There being several forts
and trenches to take the burghers were to shout "Hurrah!" as loudly as
they could in taking each fort, which would show us it was captured,
and at the same time encourage the others. Two of our most valiant
field-cornets, P. Myburgh and J. Cevonia, an Italian Afrikander, were
sent to the left, past Helvetia, with 120 men, to attack Zwartkoppies
the moment we were to storm Helvetia, while I kept in reserve the
State Artillerists and a field-cornet's posse of Lydenburgers to the
right of the latter place, near Machadodorp, which would enable me to
stop any reinforcements sent to the other side from that place or from
Belfast. For if the British were to send any cavalry from there they
would be able to turn our rear, and by marching up as soon as they
heard the first report of firing at Helvetia, they would be in a
position to cut me up with the whole of my commando. I only suggest
the possibility of it, and cannot make out why it was not attempted. I
can only be thankful to the British officers for omitting to do this.

I had taken up a position, with some of my adjutants, between the
commandos as arranged, and stood waiting, watch in hand, for the
moment the first shot should be fired. My men all knew their places
and their duties, but unfortunately a heavy fog rose at about 2
o'clock, which made the two field-cornets who were to attack the
Zwartkoppies lose their way and the chance of reaching their
destination before daybreak.

I received the news of this failure at 3.20, _i.e._, ten minutes
before the appointed time of action. A bad beginning, I thought, and
these last ten minutes seemed many hours to me.

I struck a match every moment, under cover of my macintosh, to see if
it were yet half past three. Another minute and it would soon be
decided whether I should be the vanquished or the victor. How many
burghers, who were now marching so eagerly to charge the enemy in his
trenches, would be missed from our ranks to-morrow? It is these
moments of tension which make an officer's hair turn grey. The
relation between our burgher and his officers is so entirely different
from that which exists between the British officer and his men or
between these ranks perhaps in any other standing army. We are all
friends. The life of each individual burgher in our army is highly
valued by his officer and is only sacrificed at the very highest
price. We regret the loss of a simple burgher as much as that of the
highest in rank. And it was the distress and worry of seeing these
lives lost, which made me ponder before the battle.

Suddenly one of my adjutants called out: "I hear some shouting. What
may this be?"

I threw my waterproof over my head and struck a match, then cried: "It
is time, my lads!" And in a few seconds a chain of fire flamed up
round the forts, immediately followed by the rattling and crackling of
the burghers' Mausers. The enemy was not slow in returning our fire.

It is not easy to adequately render the impression a battle in the
dark makes. Each time a shot is fired you see a flash of fire several
yards long, and where about 500 or 600 rifles are being fired at a
short distance from you, it makes one think of a gigantic display of
fireworks.

Although it was still dusk, I could easily follow the course of the
fight. The defenders' firing slackened in several places, to subside
entirely in others, while from the direction of the other reports and
flashes, our men were obviously closing up, drawing tighter the ring
round the enemy.

So far, according to my scouts, no stir had been made from Belfast,
which encouraged me to inform the officers that we were not being cut
off. At daybreak only a few shots were falling, and when the fog
cleared up I found Helvetia to be in our hands.

General Muller reported that his part of the attack had been
successfully accomplished, and that a 4·7 naval gun had been found in
the great fortress. I gave orders to fetch this gun out of the fort
without delay, to take away the prisoners we had made and as much of
the commissariat as we could manage to carry, and to burn the
remainder.

Towards the evening we were fired at by two guns at Zwartkoppies,
making it very difficult for us to get the provisions away.

A great quantity of rum and other spirits was found among the enemy's
commissariat, and as soon as the British soldiers made prisoners were
disarmed, they ran up to it, filled their flasks, and drank so freely
that about thirty of them were soon unable to walk. Their bad example
was followed by several burghers, and many a man who had not been
given to drinking used this opportunity to imbibe a good quantity,
making it very difficult for us to keep things in order.

About 60 men of the garrison had been killed or wounded, and their
commanding officer had received some injuries, but fortunately there
was a doctor there who at once attended to these cases. On our side we
had five men killed and seven wounded--the brave Lieutenant Nortje and
Corporal J. Coetzee being amongst them.

A small fort, situated between the others, had been overlooked,
through a misunderstanding, and a score of soldiers who were
garrisoning it had been forgotten and omitted to be disarmed.

An undisciplined commando is not easily managed at times. It takes all
the officers' tact and shrewdness to get all the captured goods--like
arms, ammunition, provisions, &c.--transported, especially when drink
is found in a captured camp.

When we discussed the victory afterwards, it became quite clear that
our tactics in storming the enemy's positions on the east and south
sides had been pregnant of excellent results, for the English were not
at all prepared at these points, though they had been on their guard
to the north. In fact it had been very trying work to force them to
surrender there. The officer in command, who was subsequently
discharged from the British Army, had done his best, but he was
wounded in the head at the beginning of the fight, and so far as I
could ascertain there had been nobody to take his place. Three
lieutenants were surprised in their beds and made prisoners-of-war.
In the big fort where we found the naval gun, a captain of the
garrison's artillery was in command. This fortress had been stormed,
as already stated, from the side on which the attack had not been
expected and the captain had not had an opportunity of firing many
shots from his revolver, when he was wounded in the arm and compelled
to surrender to the burghers who rushed up. Two hundred and fifty
prisoners, including four officers, were made, the majority belonging
to the Liverpool regiment and the 18th regiment of Hussars. They were
all taken to our laager.

We succeeded in bringing away the captured gun in perfect order, also
some waggons. Unfortunately the cart with the projectiles or shell,
stuck in the morass and had to be left behind.

I gave orders to have a gun which we had left with the reserve
burghers at Bakenkop, brought up, to open fire on the two pieces which
were firing at us from Zwartkoppies, and to cover our movements while
we were taking away the prisoners-of-war and the captured stores. I
was in hopes of getting an opportunity of releasing the carts which
stuck. But Fate was against us. A heavy hailstorm accompanied by
thunder and lightning, fiercer than I have ever witnessed in South
Africa before, broke over our heads. Several times the lightning
struck the ground around us, and the weather became so alarming that
the drunken "Tommies" began to talk about their souls, and further
efforts to save the carts had to be abandoned.

Whoever may have been the officer in command at Zwartkoppies he really
deserved a D.S.O., which he obtained, too.

What that order really means I wot not, but I know that an English
soldier is quite prepared to risk his life to deserve one, and as the
decoration itself cannot be very expensive, it pays the British
Government to be very liberal with it. A Boer would be satisfied with
nothing less than promotion as a reward for heroism.

When the storm subsided we went on. It was a remarkable sight--a long
procession of "Tommies," burghers, carts, and the naval gun, 18 feet
long, an elephantine one when compared with our small guns.

It struck me again on this occasion what little bad feeling there was
really between Boer and Briton, and how they both fight simply to do
their duty as soldiers. As I rode along the stream of men I noticed
several groups of burghers and soldiers sitting together along the
road, eating from one tin of jam and dividing their loaf between them,
and drinking out of the same field flask.

I remember some snatches of conversation I overheard:--

     TOMMY: By Jove, but you fellows gave us jip. If you had come
     a little later you wouldn't have got us so easy, you know.

     BURGHER: Never mind, Tommy, we got you. I suppose next time
     you will get us. Fortunes of war, you know. Have some more,
     old boy. Oh, I say, here is the general coming.

     TOMMY: Who's he? Du Wyte or Viljohn?

And then as I passed them the whole group would salute very civilly.

We stopped at Dullstroom that night, where we found some lodgings for
the captured British officers. We were sorry one of the Englishmen
had not been given time to dress himself properly, for we had a very
scanty stock of clothes, and it was difficult to find him some.

The next morning I found half a dozen prisoners-of-war had sustained
slight flesh wounds during the fight, and I sent them on a trolley to
Belfast with a dispatch to General Smith-Dorrien, informing him that
four of his officers and 250 men were in our hands, that they would be
well looked after, and that I now sent back the slightly wounded who
had been taken away by mistake.

I will try to give the concluding sentence of my communication as far
as I remember it, and also the reply to it. I may add that the words
"The Lady Roberts" had been chiselled on the naval gun, and that many
persons had just been expelled from Pretoria and other places as being
considered "undesirables."

My letter wound up as follows:--

     "I have been obliged to expel "The Lady Roberts" from
     Helvetia, this lady being an "undesirable" inhabitant of
     that place. I am glad to inform you that she seems quite at
     home in her new surroundings, and pleased with the change of
     company."

To which General Smith-Dorrien replied:

     "As the lady you refer to is not accustomed to sleep in the
     open air, I would recommend you to try flannel next to the
     skin."

I had been instructed to keep the officers we had taken prisoners
until further orders, and these four were therefore lodged in an empty
building near Roos Senekal under a guard. The Boers had christened
this place "Ceylon," but the officers dubbed it "the house beautiful"
on account of its utter want of attractiveness.

They were allowed to write to their relatives and friends, to receive
letters, and food and clothes, which were usually sent through our
lines under the white flag. The company was soon augmented by the
arrivals of many other British officers who were taken prisoners from
time to time.

The 250 captured rank and file were given up to the British
authorities at Middelburg some days after, for military reasons.

"The Lady Roberts" was the first and so far the last big gun taken
from the English, and we are proud to say that never during this War,
notwithstanding all our vicissitudes and reverses, have the British
succeeded in taking one of our big guns.

One might call this bragging, but that is not my intention and I do
not think I am given to boasting. We only relate it as one of the most
remarkable incidents of the War, and as a fact which we may recall
with satisfaction.

As already related, the cart with the shells for "The Lady Roberts"
had to be left behind after the battle. Nothing would have given us
greater pleasure than to send some shells from "Her Ladyship" into the
Belfast camp on the last day of 1900, with the "Compliments of the
Season." Not of course, in order to cause any destruction, but simply
as a New Year's greeting. We would have sent them close by like the
Americans in Mark Twain's book: "Not right in it, you know, but close
by or near it." Only the shells were wanting, for with the gun were 50
charged "hulzen" and a case of cordite "schokbuizen."

We tried to make a shell from an empty "Long Tom" one, by cutting the
latter down, for the "Long Toms" shells were of greater calibre, and
after having it filled with four pom-pom bullets, some cordite etc.,
we made it tight with copper wire, and soldered the whole together.

But when the shell was fired it burst a few steps away from the mouth
of the cannon, and we had to abandon all hope of ever hearing a shout
from the distinguished "Lady's" throat.

It was stowed away safely in the neighbourhood of Tautesberg and
guarded by a group of cattle-farmers, or rather "bush-lancers," as
they were afterwards called, in case we should get hold of the proper
shells some day or other.

In connection with the attack on Helvetia I should like to quote the
following lines, written by one of our poetasters, State-Secretary Mr.
F. W. Reitz, in the field, although the translation will hardly give
an adequate idea of the peculiar treatment of the subject:--

    "Hurrah for General Muller, hurrah for Ben Viljoen,
    They went for 'Lady Roberts' and caught her very soon.
    They caught her at Helvetia, great was Helvetia's fall!
    Come up and see 'The Lady,' you Ooms and Tantes all.

    It was a Christmas present (they made a splendid haul),
    And sent 'The Lady Roberts,' a present to Oom Paul.
    It cheered the poor Bush-lancers, it cheered the 'trek boers' all,
    It made them gladly answer to freedom's battle call.

    Lord Roberts gave up fighting, he did not care a rap,
    But left his dear old 'Lady,' who's fond of mealie-pap.
    Of our dear wives and children he burned the happy homes,
    He likes to worry Tantes but fears the sturdy Ooms.

    But his old 'Lady Roberts' (the lyddite-spitting gun),
    He sent her to Helvetia to cheer the garrison;
    He thought she would be safe there, in old Smith-Dorrien's care;
    To leave the kopjes' shelter the Boers would never dare.

    Well done, Johannesburgers, Boksburgers, and police,
    Don't give them any quarter, don't give them any peace;
    Before the sleepy "Tommies" could get their stockings on,
    The forts were stormed and taken, and all the burghers gone.

    We took 300 soldiers, provisions, and their guns,
    And of their ammunition we captured many tons.
    'This is guerilla warfare,' says Mr. Chamberlain,
    But those we have bowled over will never fight again.

    Let Roberts of Kandahar, and Kitchener of Khartoum,
    Let Buller of Colenso make all their cannon boom.
    They may mow down the kaffirs, with shield and assegai,
    But on his trusty Mauser the burgher can rely.

    For now the white man's fighting, these heroes dare not stay,
    Lord Kitchener's in Pretoria, the others ran away.
    Lord Roberts _can't_ beat burghers, although he _Can_dahar,
    The Lords are at a distance, the Generals few and far!

    They may annex and conquer, have conquered and annexed,
    Yet when the Mauser rattles the British are perplexed.
    Stand firm then, Afrikanders, prolong the glorious fight,
    Unfurl the good old 'Vierkleur.' Stand firm, for right is might!

    What though the sky be clouded, what though the light be gone;
    The day will dawn to-morrow, the sun will shine anon;
    And though in evil moments a hero's hand may fail,
    The strong will be confounded and right will yet prevail!"



CHAPTER XXIX.

A DISMAL "HAPPY NEW YEAR."


This is the 31st of December, 1900, two days after the victory gained
by our burghers over the English troops at Helvetia, at the same time
the last day of the year, or, as they call it, "New Year's Eve"; which
is celebrated in our country with great enjoyment. The members of each
family used to meet on that day, sometimes coming from all parts of
the country. If this could not be done they would invite their most
intimate friends to come and see the Old Year out--to "ring out the
old, and ring in the new," for "Auld Lang Syne." This was one of the
most festive days for everybody in South Africa. On the 31st of
December, 1899, we had had to give up our time-honoured custom, there
being no chance of joining in the friendly gathering at home, most of
us having been at the front since the beginning of October, 1899,
while our commandos were still in the very centre of Natal or in the
northern part of Cape Colony; Ladysmith, Kimberley, and Mafeking were
still besieged, and on the 15th of December the great victory of
Colenso over the English Army had been won.

It is true that even then we were far from our beloved friends, but
those who had not been made prisoners were still in direct
communication with those who were near and dear to them. And although
we were unable to pass the great day in the family circle, yet we
could send our best wishes by letter or by wire. We had then hoped it
would be the last time we should have to spend the last day of the
year under such distressing circumstances, trusting the war would soon
be over.

Now 365 days had gone by--long, dreary, weary days of incessant
struggle; and again our expectations had not been realised, and our
hopes were deferred. We were not to have the privilege of celebrating
"the Old and the New" with our people as we had so fervently wished
the previous year on the Tugela.

The day would pass under far more depressing circumstances. In many
homes the members of the family we left behind would be prevented from
being in a festive mood, thinking as they were of the country's
position, while mourning the dead, and pre-occupied with the fate of the
wounded, of those who were missing, or known to be prisoners-of-war.

It was night-time, and everybody was under the depression of the
present serious situation. Is it necessary to say that we were all
absorbed in our thoughts, reviewing the incidents of the past year?
Need we say that everyone of us was thinking with sadness of our many
defeats, of the misery suffered on the battlefields, of our dead and
wounded and imprisoned comrades; how we had been compelled to give up
Ladysmith, Kimberley, and Mafeking, and how the principal towns of our
Republics, Bloemfontein and Pretoria, where our beloved flag had been
flying for so many long years, over an independent people, were now in
the hands of the enemy? Need we say we were thinking that night more
than ever of our many relatives who had sacrificed their blood and
treasure in this melancholy War for the good Cause; of our wives and
children, who did not know what had become of us, and whom most of us
had not seen for the last eight months. Were they still alive? Should
we ever see them alive? Such were the terrible thoughts passing
through our minds as we silently sat round the fires that evening.

Nor did anything tend to relieve the sombre monotony. This time we
should not have a chance of receiving some little things to cheer us
up and remind us that our dearest friends had thought of us. Our fare
would that day be the eternal meat and mealies--mealies and meat.

But why call to mind all these sombre memories of the past? Sufficient
unto the day it seems was the evil thereof. Why sum up the misery of a
whole year's struggles? And thus we "celebrated" New Year's Eve of
1900, till we found our consolation in that greatest of blessings to a
tired-out man--a refreshing sleep.

But no sooner had we risen next morning than the cheerful
compliments: "A Happy New Year!" or "My best wishes for the New Year"
rang in our ears. We were all obviously trying to lay stress on the
possible blessings of the future, so as to make each other forget the
past, but I am afraid we did not expect the fulfilment of half of what
we wished.

For well we knew how bad things were all round, how many dark clouds
were hanging over our heads, and how very few bright spots were
visible on the political horizon.



CHAPTER XXX.

GENERAL ATTACK ON BRITISH FORTS.


My presence was requested on the 3rd of January, 1901, by the
Commandant-General at a Council of War, which was to be held two days
after at Hoetspruit, some miles east of Middelburg. General Botha
would be there with his staff, and a small escort would take him from
Ermelo over the railway through the enemy's lines. My commandos were
to hold themselves in readiness. There was no doubt in my mind as to
there being some great schemes on the cards, and that the next day we
should have plenty to do, for the Commandant-General would not come
all that way unless something important was on. And why should my
commandos have to keep themselves in readiness?

On the morning of the 5th I went to the place of destination, which
we reached at 11 o'clock, to find the Commandant-General and suite had
already arrived. General Botha had been riding all night long in order
to get through the enemy's lines, and had been resting in the shadow
of a tree at Hoetspruit. The meeting of his adjutants and mine was
rather boisterous, and woke him up, whereupon he rose immediately and
came up to me with his usual genial smile. We had often been together
for many months in the War, and the relations between us had been very
cordial. I therefore do not hesitate to call him a bosom-friend, with
due respect to his Honour as my chief.

"Hullo, old brother, how are you?" was Botha's welcome.

"Good morning, General, thank you, how are you?" I replied.

My high appreciation of, and respect for his position, made me refrain
from calling him Louis, although we did not differ much in age, and
were on intimate terms.

"I must congratulate you upon your successful attack on Helvetia. You
made a nice job of it," he said. "I hope you had a pleasant New
Year's Eve. But," he went on, "I am sorry in one way, for the enemy
will be on his guard now, and we may not succeed in the execution of
the plans we are going to discuss to-day, and which concern those very
districts."

"I am sorry, General," I replied, "but of course I know nothing of
those plans."

"Well," rejoined the Commandant-General, "we will try anyhow, and hope
for the best."

An hour later we met in council. Louis Botha briefly explained how he
had gone with General Christian Botha and Tobias Smuts, with 1,200
men, to Komatiboven, between Carolina and Belfast, where they had left
the commandos to cross the line in order to meet the officers who were
to the north of it with the object of going into the details of a
combined attack on the enemy's camps.

All were agreed and so it was decided that the attack would be made
during the night of the 7th of January, at midnight, the enemy's
positions being stormed simultaneously.

The attack was to be made in the following way: The Commandant-General
and General C. Botha along with F. Smuts, would attack on the southern
side of the garrisons, in the following places: Pan Station,
Wonderfontein Station, Belfast Camp and Station, Dalmanutha and
Machadodorp, while I was to attack these places from the north. The
commandos would be divided so as to have a field-cornet's force charge
at each place.

I must say that I had considerable difficulty in trying to make a
little go a long way in dividing my small force along such a long line
of camps, but the majority were in favour of this "frittering-away"
policy, and so it had to be done.

The enemy's strength in different places was not easy to ascertain. I
knew the strongest garrison at Belfast numbered over 2,500 men, and
this place was to be made the chief point of attack, although the
Machadodorp garrison was pretty strong too. The distance along which
the simultaneous attack was to be made was about 22 miles and there
were at least seven points to be stormed, viz., Pan Station,
Wonderfontein, Belfast Village, Monument Hill (near Belfast), the coal
mines (near Belfast), Dalmanutha Station and Machadodorp. A big
programme, no doubt.

I can only, of course, give a description of the incidents on my side
of the railway line, for the blockhouses and the forts provided with
guns, which had been built along the railway, separated us entirely
from the commandos to the south. The communication between both sides
of the railway could be only kept up at night time and with a great
amount of trouble, by means of despatch-carriers. We, therefore, did
not even know how the attacking-parties on the southern side had been
distributed. All we knew was, that any place which was to be attacked
from the north would also be stormed from the south at the same time,
except the coal mine west of Belfast, occupied by Lieutenant Marshall
with half a section of the Gloucester Regiment, which we were to
attack separately, as it was situated some distance north of the
railway line.

I arranged my plans as follows: Commandant Trichardt, with two
field-cornets posses of Middelburgers and one of Germiston burghers,
were to attack Pan and Wonderfontein; the State Artillery would go for
the coal mine; the Lydenburgers look after Dalmanutha and Machadodorp;
while General Muller with the Johannesburgers and Boksburgers would
devote their attention to Monument Hill.

I should personally attack Belfast Village, with a detachment of
police, passing between the coal mine and Monument Hill. My attack
could only, of course, be commenced after that on the latter two
places had turned out successfully, as otherwise I should most likely
have my retreat cut off.

[Illustration: Gen. Viljoen meeting Gen. Botha at Hoedspruit, near
Middleburg.]

In the evening of the 7th of January all the commandos marched, for
the enemy would have been able to see us from a distance on this flat
ground if we had started in the daytime, and would have fired at us
with their 4·7 guns, one of which we knew to be at Belfast. We had to
cover a distance of 15 miles between dusk and midnight. There was
therefore no time to be lost, for a commando moves very slowly at
night time if there is any danger in front. If the danger comes
from the rear, things very often move quicker than is good for the
horses. Then the men have to be kept together, and the guides are
followed up closely, for if any burghers were to lag behind and the
chain be broken, 20 or 30 of them might stray which would deprive us
of their services.

It was one of those nights, known in the Steenkamp Mountains as "dirty
nights," very dark, with a piercing easterly wind, which blew an
incessant, fine, misty rain into our faces. About nine o'clock the
mist changed into heavy rains, and we were soon drenched to the skin,
for very few of us wore rainproof cloaks.

At ten the rain left off, but a thick fog prevented us from seeing
anything in front of us, while the cold easterly wind had numbed our
limbs, almost making them stiff. Some of the burghers had therefore to
be taken up by the ambulance in order to have their circulation
restored by means of some medicine or artificial treatment. The
impenetrable darkness made it very difficult to get on, as we were
obliged to keep contact by means of despatch-riders; for, as already
stated, I had to wait with the police for the result of the attack on
the two positions to the right and left of me.

Exactly at midnight all had arrived at the place of destination.
Unfortunately the wind was roaring so loudly as to prevent any firing
being heard even at a hundred paces distant.

The positions near Monument Hill and the coal mine were attacked
simultaneously, but unfortunately our artillerymen could not
distinctly see the trenches on account of the darkness, and they
charged right past them, and had to turn back when they became aware
of the fact, by which time the enemy had found out what was up, and
allowed their assailants to come close up to them (it was a round fort
about five feet high with a trench round it), and received them with a
tremendous volley. The artillerymen, however, charged away pluckily,
and before they had reached the wall four were killed and nine
wounded. The enemy shot fiercely and aimed well.

Our brave boys stormed away, and soon some of them jumped over the
wall and a hand-to-hand combat ensued. The commanding officer of the
fortress, Lieutenant Marshall, was severely wounded in the leg, which
fact must have had a great influence on the course of the fight, for
he surrendered soon after. Some soldiers managed to escape, some were
killed, about 10 wounded, and 25 were taken prisoners. No less than
five artillerymen were killed and 13 wounded, amongst the latter being
the valiant Lieutenant Coetsee who afterwards was cruelly murdered by
kaffirs near Roos Senekal. The defenders as well as the assailants had
behaved excellently.

Near Monument Hill, at some distance from the position, the burghers'
horses were left behind, and the men marched up in scattered order, in
the shape of a crescent. When we arrived at the enemy's outposts they
had formed up at 100 paces from the forts, but in the dark the
soldiers did not see us till we almost ran into them. There was no
time to waste words. Fortunately, they surrendered without making any
defence, which made our task much lighter, for if one shot had been
fired, the garrison of the forts would have been informed of our
approach. Only at 20 paces distance from the forts near the Monument
(there were four of them), we were greeted with the usual "Halt, who
goes there." After this had been repeated three times without our
taking any notice, and as we kept coming closer, the soldiers fired
from all the forts. Only now could we see how they were situated. We
found them to be surrounded by a barbed wire fence which was so strong
and thick that some burghers were soon entangled in it, but most of
them got over it.

The first fort was taken after a short but sharp defence, the usual
"hurrah" of the burghers jumping into the fort was, like a whisper of
hope in the dark, an encouragement to the remainder of the storming
burghers, who now soon took the other forts, not without having met
with a stout resistance. Many burghers were killed, amongst whom the
brave Field-Cornet John Ceronie, and many were wounded.

It had looked at first as if the enemy did not mean to give in, but
we could not go back, and "onward" was the watchword. In several
instances there was a struggle at a few paces' distance, only the wall
of the fort intervening between the burghers and the soldiers. The
burghers cried: "Hands up, you devils," but the soldiers replied: "Hy
kona," a kaffir expression which means "shan't."

"Jump over the walls, my men!" shouted my officers, and at last they
were in the forts: not, of course, without the loss of many valuable
lives. A "melée" now followed; the English struck about with their
guns and with their fists, and several burghers lay on the ground
wrestling with the soldiers. One "Tommy" wanted to thrust a bayonet
through a Boer, but was caught from behind by one of the latter's
comrades, and knocked down and a general hand-to-hand fight ensued, a
rolling over and over, till one of the parties was exhausted,
disarmed, wounded, or killed. One of the English captains (Vosburry)
and 40 soldiers were found dead or wounded, several having been
pierced by their own bayonets.

Some burghers had been knocked senseless with the butt-end of a rifle
in the struggle with the enemy.

This carnage had lasted for twenty minutes, during which the result
had been decided in our favour, and a "hurrah," full of glory and
thankfulness, came from the throats of some hundreds of burghers. We
had won the day, and 81 prisoners-of-war had been made, including two
officers--Captain Milner and Lieutenant Dease--both brave defenders of
England's flag.

They belonged to the Royal Irish Regiment, of which all Britons should
be proud.

In the captured forts we found a Maxim, in perfect order, 20 boxes of
ammunition, and other things, besides provisions, also a quantity of
spirits, which was, however, at once destroyed, to the disappointment
of many burghers.

We now pushed on to Belfast village, but found every cliff and ditch
occupied. All efforts to get in touch with the commandos which meant
to attack the village from the south were without avail. Besides, we
did not hear a single shot fired, and did not know what had become of
the attack from the south. In intense darkness we were firing at each
other from time to time, so that it was not advisable to continue our
operations under the circumstances, and at daybreak I told all my
commandos to desist.

The attacks on Wonderfontein, Pan Station, Dalmanutha, and Machadodorp
had failed.

I afterwards received a report from the commandos on the other side of
the line, that, owing to the dark night, their attacks, although they
were made with deliberation and great bravery, had all been
unsuccessful. They had repeatedly missed the forts and had shot at one
another.

General Christian Botha had succeeded in capturing some of the enemy's
outposts, and in pushing on had come across a detachment of Gordon
Highlanders and been obliged to retire with a loss of 40 killed and
wounded.

We found, therefore, these forts in the hands of the soldiers, who, in
my opinion, belonged to the best regiments of the English army.

The guests of our Government, at "the house beautiful" near Roos
Senekal were thus added to by two gentlemen, Captain Milner and
Lieutenant Dease, and they were my prisoners-of-war for four months,
during which time I found Captain Milner one of the most worthy
British officers whom it had been my privilege to meet in this War.
Not only in his manly appearance, but especially by his noble
character he stood head and shoulders above his fellow-officers.

Lieutenant Dease bore a very good character but was young and
inexperienced. For several reasons I am pleased to be able to make
publicly these statements.

The soldiers we had made prisoners during this fight, as well as those
we took at Helvetia, were given up to the British officers a few days
afterwards, as we were not in a position to feed them properly, and it
would not be humane or fair to keep the soldiers who had the
misfortune of falling into our hands without proper food. This, of
course, was a very unsatisfactory state of affairs, for we had to
fight fiercely, valuable lives had to be sacrificed, every nerve had
to be strained to force the enemy to surrender, and to take his
positions; and then, when we had captured them, the soldiers were
merely disarmed and sent back to the English lines after a little
while, only to find them fighting against us once more in a few days.

The Boers asked, "Why are not these "Tommies" required to take the
oath before being liberated not to fight against us again?" I believe
this would have been against the rules of civilised warfare, and we
did not think it chivalrous to ask a man who was a prisoner to take an
oath in return for his release.

A prisoner-of-war has no freedom of action, and might have promised
under the circumstances what he would not have done if he had been a
free man.



CHAPTER XXXI.

A "BLUFF" AND A BATTLE.


The last days of February, 1901, were very trying for our commandos on
the "Hoogeveld," south of the railway. General French, assisted by
half a dozen other generals, with a force of 60,000 men, crossed the
"Hoogeveld," between the Natal border and the Delagoa Railway, driving
all the burghers and cattle before him, continually closer to the
Swazi frontier, in order to strike a "final blow" there.

These operations the English called "The Great Sweep of February,
1901."

Commandant-General Botha sent word that he was in a bad plight on the
"Hoogeveld," the enemy having concentrated all his available troops
upon him. I was asked to divert their attention as much as possible by
repeated attacks on the railway line, and to worry them everywhere.

To attack the fortified entrenchments in these parts, where we had
only just been taking the offensive, causing the enemy to be on his
guard, would not have been advisable. I therefore decided to make a
feint attack on Belfast.

One night we moved with all the burghers who had horses, about 15
carts, waggons, and other vehicles, guns and pom-pom, to a high
"bult," near the "Pannetjes." When the sun rose the next morning we
were in full sight of the enemy at Belfast, from which we were about
ten miles away.

Here our commando was split into two parts, and the mounted men spread
about in groups of fifty men each, with carts scattered everywhere
among the ranks. We slowly approached Belfast in this order. Our
commando numbered about 800 men, and considering the way we were
distributed, this would look three times as many. We halted several
times, and the heliographers, who were posted everywhere in sight of
the enemy, made as much fuss as possible. Scouts were riding about
everywhere, making a great display by dashing about all over the
place, from one group of burghers to another. After we had waited
again for some little time we moved on, and thus the comedy lasted
till sunset; in fact, we had got within range of the enemy's guns. We
had received information from Belfast to the effect that General
French had taken all the guns with him to Belfast, leaving only a few
of small calibre, which could not reach us until we were at about
4,000 yards from the fort. Our pom-pom and our 15-pounder were divided
between the two divisions, and the officers had orders to fire a few
shots on Belfast at sunset. We could see all day long how the English
near Monument Hill were making ditches round the village and putting
up barbed wire fences.

Trains were running backwards and forwards between Belfast and the
nearest stations, probably to bring up reinforcements.

At twilight we were still marching, and by the light of the last rays
of the sun we fired our two valuable field-pieces simultaneously, as
arranged. I could not see where the shells were falling, but we heard
them bursting, and consoled ourselves with the idea that they must
have struck in near the enemy. Each piece sent half a dozen shells,
and some volleys were fired from a few rifles at intervals. We thought
the enemy would be sure to take this last movement for a general
attack. What he really did think, there is no saying. As the burghers
put it, "We are trying to make them frightened, but the thing to know
is, did they get frightened?" For this concluded our programme for the
day, and we retired for the night, leaving the enemy in doubt as to
whether we meant to give him any further trouble, yet without any
apology for having disturbed his rest.

The result of this bloodless fight was _nil_ in wounded and killed on
both sides.

On the 12th of February, 1901, the first death-sentence on a traitor
on our side was about to be carried out, when suddenly our outposts
round Belfast were attacked by a strong British column under General
Walter Kitchener. When the report was brought to our laager, all the
burghers went to the rescue, in order to keep the enemy as far from
the laager as possible, and beat them back. Meanwhile the outposts
retired fighting all the while. We took up the most favourable
positions we could and waited. The enemy did not come up close to us
that evening, but camped out on a round hill between Dullstroom and
Belfast and we could distinctly see how the soldiers were all busy
digging ditches and trenches round the camp and putting up barbed wire
enclosures. They were very likely afraid of a night attack and did not
forget the old saying about being "wise in time."

Near the spot where their camp was situated were several roads leading
in different directions which left us in doubt as to which way they
intended to go, and whether they wanted to attack us, or were on their
way to Witpoort-Lydenburg.

The next morning, at sunset, the enemy broke up his camp and made a
stir. First came a dense mass of mounted men, who after having gone
about a few hundred paces, split up into two divisions. One portion
moved in a westerly direction, the other to the north, slowly
followed by a long file, or as they say in Afrikander "gedermte" (gut)
of waggons and carts which, of course, formed the convoy. Companies of
infantry, with guns, marched between the vehicles.

I came to the conclusion that they intended to attack from two sides,
and therefore ordered the ranks to scatter. General Muller, with part
of the burghers, went in advance of the enemy's left flank and, as the
English spread out their ranks, we did the same.

At about 9 a.m. our outposts near the right flank of the English were
already in touch with the enemy, and rifle-fire was heard at
intervals.

I still had the old 15-pounder, but the stock of ammunition had gone
down considerably and the same may be said of the pom-pom of
Rhenosterkop fame. We fired some shots from the 15-pounder at a
division of cavalry at the foot of a kopje. Our worthy artillery
sergeant swore he had hit them right in the centre, but even with my
strong spy-glass I could not see the shells burst, although I admit
the enemy showed a little respect for them, which may be concluded
from the fact that they at once mounted their horses and looked for
cover.

A British soldier is much more in awe of a shell than a Boer is, and
the enemy's movements are therefore not always a criterion of our
getting the range. We had, moreover, only some ordinary grenades left,
some of which would not burst, as the "schokbuizen" were defective,
and we could not be sure of their doing any harm.

The other side had some howitzers, which began to spit about lyddite
indiscriminately. They also had some quick-firing guns of a small
calibre, which, however, did not carry particularly far. But they were
a great nuisance, as they would go for isolated burghers without being
at all economical with their ammunition.

Meanwhile, the enemy's left reached right up to Schoonpoort, where
some burghers, who held good positions, were able to fight them. This
caused continual collisions with our outposts. Here, also, the
assailants had two 15-pounder Armstrong's, which fired at any moving
target, and hardly ever desisted, now on one or two burghers who
showed themselves, then on a tree, or an anthill, or a protruding
rock. They thus succeeded in keeping up a deafening cannonade, which
would have made one think there was a terrific fight going on, instead
of which it was a very harmless bombardment.

It did no more harm than at the English manoeuvres, although it was no
doubt a brilliant demonstration, a sort of performance to show the
British Lion's prowess. I could not see the practical use of it,
though.

It was only on the enemy's right wing that we got near enough to feel
some of the effect of the artillery's gigantic efforts, which here
forced us to some sharp but innocent little fights between the
outposts. At about 4 o'clock in the afternoon, the British cavalry
stormed our left, which was in command of General Muller. We soon
repulsed them, however. Half an hour after we saw the enemy's carts go
back.

I sent a heliographic message to General Muller, with whom I had kept
in close contact, to the effect that they were moving away their carts
and that we ought to try and charge them on all points as well as we
could.

"All right," he answered; "shall we start at once?" I flashed back
"Yes," and ordered a general charge.

The burghers now appeared all along the extended fighting line.

The enemy's guns, which were just ready to be moved, were again placed
in position and opened fire, but our men charged everywhere, a sort of
action which General Kitchener did not seem to like, for his soldiers
began to flee with their guns, and a general confusion ensued. Some of
these guns were still being fired at the Boers but the latter stormed
away determinedly. The British lost many killed and wounded.

The cavalry fled in such a hurry as to leave the infantry as the only
protection of the guns, and although these men also beat a retreat
they, at least, did it while fighting.

I do not think I overstate the case by declaring that General Walter
Kitchener owed it to the stubborn defence of his infantry that his
carts were not captured by us that day.

Their ambulance, in charge of Dr. Mathews and four assistants, and
some wounded fell into our hands, and were afterwards sent back.

We pursued the enemy as well as we could, but about nine miles from
Belfast, towards which the retreating enemy was marching, the forts
opened fire on us from a 4·7 naval gun and they got the range so well
that lyddite shells were soon bursting about our ears.

We were now in the open, quite exposed and in sight of the Belfast
forts. Two of our burghers were wounded here.

Field-Cornet Jaapie Kriege, who was afterwards killed, with about 35
burghers, was trying to cut off the enemy from a "spruit"-drift; the
attack was a very brave one, but our men ventured too far, and would
all have been captured had not the other side been so much in a hurry
to get away from us. Luckily, too, another field-cornet realised the
situation, and kept the enemy well under fire, thus attracting
Kriege's attention, who now got out of this scrape.

When night fell we left the enemy alone, and went back to our laager.
The next morning the outposts reported that the would-be assailants
were all gone.

How much this farce had cost General Kitchener we could not tell with
certainty. An English officer told me afterwards he had been in the
fight, and that their loss there had been 52 dead and wounded,
including some officers. He also informed me that their object that
day had been to dislodge us. If that is so, I pity the soldiers who
were told to do this work.

Our losses were two burghers wounded, as already stated.



CHAPTER XXXII.

EXECUTION OF A TRAITOR.


As briefly referred to in the last chapter, there occurred in the
early part of February, 1901, what I always regard as one of the most
unpleasant incidents of the whole Campaign, and which even now I
cannot record without awakening the most painful recollections. I
refer to the summary execution of a traitor in our ranks, and inasmuch
as a great deal has been written of this tragic episode, I venture to
state the particulars of it in full. The facts of the case are as
follows:--

At this period of the War, as well as subsequently, much harm was done
to our cause by various burghers who surrendered to the enemy, and
who, actuated by the most sordid motives, assisted the British in
every possible way against us. Some of these treacherous Boers
occasionally fell into our hands, and were tried by court martial for
high treason; but however damning the evidence brought against them
they usually managed to escape with some light punishment. On some
occasions sentence of death was passed on them, but it was invariably
commuted to imprisonment for life, and as we had great difficulty in
keeping such prisoners, they generally succeeded, sooner or later, in
making their escape. This mistaken leniency was the cause of much
dissatisfaction in our ranks, which deeply resented that these
betrayers of their country should escape scot-free.

About this time a society was formed at Pretoria, chiefly composed of
surrendered burghers, called the "Peace Committee," but better known
to us as the "Hands-uppers." Its members surreptitiously circulated
pamphlets and circulars amongst our troops, advising them to surrender
and join the enemy. The impartial reader will doubtless agree that
such a state of things was not to be tolerated. Imagine, for example,
that English officers and soldiers circulated similar communications
amongst the Imperial troops! Would such proceedings have been
tolerated?

The chairman of this society was a man by the name of Meyer De Kock,
who had belonged to a Steenkampsberg field-cornet's force and had
deserted to the enemy. He was the man who first suggested to the
British authorities the scheme of placing the Boer women and children
in Concentration Camps--a system which resulted in so much misery and
suffering--and he maintained that this would be the most effective way
of forcing the Boers to surrender, arguing that no burgher would
continue to fight when once his family was in British hands.

One day a kaffir, bearing a white flag, brought a letter from this
person's wife addressed to one of my field-cornets, informing him that
her husband, Mr. De Kock, wished to meet him and discuss with him the
advisability of surrendering with his men to the enemy. My
field-cornet, however, was sufficiently sensible and loyal to send no
reply.

And so it occurred that one morning Mr. De Kock, doubtlessly thinking
that he would escape punishment as easily as others had before him,
had the audacity to ride coolly into our outposts. He was promptly
arrested and incarcerated in Roos Senekal Gaol, this village being at
the time in our possession. Soon afterwards he was tried by
court-martial, and on the face of the most damning evidence, and on
perusal of a host of incriminating documents found in his possession,
was condemned to death.

[Illustration: Execution of a Traitor.]

About a fortnight later a waggon drove up to our laager at Windhoek,
carrying Lieutenant De Hart, accompanied by a member of President
Burger's bodyguard, some armed burghers, and the condemned man De
Kock. They halted at my tent, and the officer handed me an order from
our Government, bearing the President's ratification of the sentence
of death, and instructing me to carry it out within 24 hours. Needless
to say I was much grieved to receive this order, but as it had to be
obeyed I thought the sooner it was done the better for all concerned.
So then and there on the veldt I approached the condemned man, and
said:--

"Mr. De Kock, the Government has confirmed the sentence of death
passed on you, and it is my painful duty to inform you that this
sentence will be carried out to-morrow evening. If you have any
request to make or if you wish to write to your family you will now
have an opportunity of doing so."

At this he turned deadly pale, and some minutes passed before he had
recovered from his emotion. He then expressed a wish to write to his
family, and was conducted, under escort, to a tent, where writing
materials were placed before him. He wrote a long communication to his
wife, which we sent to the nearest British officers to forward to its
destination. He also wrote me a letter thanking me for my "kind
treatment," and requested me to forward the letter to his wife. Later
on spiritual consolation was offered and administered to him by our
pastor.

Next day, as related in the previous chapter, we were attacked by a
detachment of General Kitchener's force from Belfast. This kept me
busy all day, and I delegated two of my subaltern officers to carry
out the execution. At dusk the condemned man was blindfolded and
conducted to the side of an open grave, where twelve burghers fired a
volley, and death was instantaneous. I am told that De Kock met his
fate with considerable fortitude.

So far as I am aware, this was the first Boer "execution" in our
history. I afterwards read accounts of it in the English press, in
which it was described as murder, but I emphatically repudiate this
description of a wholly justifiable act. The crime was a serious one,
and the punishment was well deserved, and I have no doubt that the
same fate would have awaited any English soldier guilty of a similar
offence. It seems a great pity, however, that no war can take place
without these melancholy incidents.



CHAPTER XXXIII.

IN A TIGHT CORNER.


It was now March, 1901. For some time our burghers had been
complaining of inactivity, and the weary and monotonous existence was
gradually beginning to pall on them. But it became evident that April
would be an eventful month, as the enemy had determined not to suffer
our presence in these parts any longer. A huge movement, therefore,
was being set on foot to surround us and capture the whole commando
_en bloc_.

It began with a night attack on a field-cornet's force posted at
Kruger's Post, north of Lydenburg, and here the enemy succeeded in
capturing 35 men and a quantity of "impedimenta;" the field-cornet in
question, although warned in time, having taken no proper
precautions. By the middle of April the enemy's forward movement was
in full swing. General Plumer came from Pietersburg, General Walter
Kitchener from Lydenburg, and General Barber from Middelburg. They
approached us in six different directions, altogether a force of
25,000 men, and the whole under the supreme command of General Sir
Bindon Blood.

No escape was available for us through Secoekuniland on the north, as
the natives here, since the British had occupied their territory, were
avowedly hostile to us. To escape, therefore, we would have to break
through the enemy's lines and also to cross the railway, which was
closely guarded.

The enemy were advancing slowly from various directions. All our roads
were carefully guarded, and the cordon was gradually tightening around
us. We were repeatedly attacked, now on this side, now on that, the
British being clearly anxious to discover our position and our
strength. In a sharp skirmish with a column from Lydenburg my faithful
Fighting-General Muller was severely wounded in his shoulder, and a
commando of Lydenburgers had been isolated from me and driven by the
enemy along Waterfal River up to Steelpoort, where they encountered
hostile tribes of kaffirs. The commandant of the corps after a short
defence was obliged to destroy his guns, forsake his baggage, and
escape with his burghers in small groups into the mountains.

Our position was growing more critical, but I resolved to make a stand
before abandoning our carts and waggons, although there seemed little
hope of being able to save anything. In fact the situation was
extremely perilous. As far as I could see we were entirely hemmed in,
all the roads were blocked, my best officer wounded, I had barely 900
men with me, and our stock of ammunition was very limited.

I have omitted to mention that early in April, when we first got an
inkling of this move I had liberated all the British officers whom I
had kept as prisoners at Middelburg, and thus saved the British
authorities many a D.S.O. which would otherwise have been claimed by
their rescuers.

The British around us were now posted as follows: At Diepkloof on the
Tautesberg to the north-west of us; at Roodekraal, between Tautesberg
and Bothasberg, to the west of us; at Koebold, under Roodehoogte; at
Windhoek, to the east of us; at Oshoek, to the north-east; and to the
north of us between Magneetshoogte and Klip Spruit. We were positioned
on Mapochsberg near Roos Senekal, about midway between Tautesberg and
Steenkampsberg. We had carts, waggons, two field-pieces, and a
Colt-Maxim.

We speedily discovered that we should have to leave our baggage and
guns, and rely mainly on our horses and rifles. We had placed our
hospitals as well as we could, one in an empty school-building at
Mapochsberg with 10 wounded, under the care of Dr. Manning; the other,
our only field-hospital, at Schoonpoort, under the supervision of Dr.
H. Neethling. Whether these poor wounded Boers would have to be
abandoned to the enemy, was a question which perplexed us
considerably. If so, we should have been reduced to only one
physician, Dr. Leitz, a young German who might get through with a
pack-horse. Many officers and men, however, had lost all hope of
escape.

It was about the 20th of April when the British approached so close
that we had to fight all day to maintain our positions. I gave orders
that same night that we should burn our waggons, destroy our guns with
dynamite, and make a dash through the enemy's lines, those burghers
who had no horses to mount the mules of the convoy. Hereupon about 100
burghers and an officer coolly informed me that they had had enough
fighting, and preferred to surrender. I was at that time powerless to
prevent them doing so, so I took away all their horses and ammunition,
at which they did not seem very pleased. Before dusk our camp was a
scene of wild confusion. Waggons and carts were burning fiercely,
dynamite was being exploded, and horseless burghers were attempting to
break in the mules which were to serve them as mounts. Meanwhile a
skirmish was going on between our outposts and those of the enemy.

It was a strange procession that left Mapochsberg that night in our
dash through the British lines. Many Boers rode mules, whilst many
more had no saddles, and no small number were trudging along on foot,
carrying their rifles and blankets on their shoulders. My scouts had
reported that the best way to get through was on the southern side
along Steelpoort, about a quarter of a mile from the enemy's camp at
Bothasberg. But even should we succeed in breaking through the cordon
around us, we still had to cross the line at Wondersfontein before
daybreak, so as not to get caught between the enemy's troops and the
blockhouses.

About 100 scouts, who formed our advance-guard, soon encountered the
enemy's sentries. They turned to the right, then turned to the left;
but everywhere the inquisitive "Tommies" kept asking: "Who goes
there?" Not being over anxious to satisfy their curiosity, they sent
round word at once for us to lie low, and we started very carefully
exploring the neighbourhood. But there seemed no way out of the mess.
We might have attacked some weak point and thus forced our way
through, but it was still four or five hours' ride to the railway
line, and with our poor mounts we should have been caught and
captured. Besides which the enemy might have warned the blockhouse
garrisons, in which case we should have been caught between two fires.

No; we wanted to get through without being discovered, and seeing that
this was that night hopeless, I consulted my officers and decided to
return to our deserted camp, where we could take up our original
positions without the enemy being aware of our nocturnal excursion.

Next morning the rising sun found us back in our old positions. We
despatched scouts in all directions as usual, so as to make the enemy
believe that we intended to remain there permanently, and we put
ourselves on our guard, ready to repel an attack at any point on the
shortest notice.

But the enemy were much too cautious, and evidently thought they had
us safely in their hands. They amused themselves by destroying every
living thing, and burned the houses and the crops. The whole veldt
all round was black, everything seemed in mourning, the only relief
from this dull monotony of colour being that afforded by the
innumerable specks of khaki all around us. I believe I said there were
25,000 men there, but it now seemed to me as if there were almost
double that number.

We had to wait until darkness set in before making a second attempt at
escape. The day seemed interminable. Many burghers were loudly
grumbling, and even some officers were openly declaring that all this
had been done on purpose. Of course, these offensive remarks were
pointed at me. At last the situation became too serious. I could only
gather together a few officers to oppose an attack from the enemy on
the eastern side, and something had to be done to prevent a general
mutiny. I therefore ordered a burgher who seemed loudest in his
complaints to receive 15 lashes with a sjambok, and I placed a
field-cornet under arrest. After this the grumblers remained sullenly
silent.

The only loophole in the enemy's lines seemed to be in the direction
of Pietersburg on the portion held by General Plumer, who seemed far
too busy capturing cattle and sheep from the "bush-lancers" to
surround us closely. We therefore decided to take our chance there and
move away as quickly as possible in that direction, and then to bear
to the left, where we expected to find the enemy least watchful.
Shortly before sunset I despatched 100 mounted men to ride openly in
the opposite direction to that which we intended to take, so as to
divert the enemy's attention from our scene of operations, and sat
down to wait for darkness.



CHAPTER XXXIV.

ELUDING THE BRITISH CORDON.


"The shades of eve were falling fast" as we moved cautiously away from
Mapochsberg and proceeded through Landdrift, Steelpoort, and the
Tautesberg. At 3 o'clock in the morning we halted in a hollow place
where we would not be observed, yet we were still a mile and a half
from the enemy's cordon. Our position was now more critical than ever;
for should the enemy discover our departure, and General Plumer hurry
up towards us that morning, we should have little chance of escape.

During the day I was obliged to call all the burghers together, and to
earnestly address them concerning the happenings of the previous day.
I told them to tell me candidly if they had lost faith in me, or if
they had any reason not to trust me implicitly, as I would not
tolerate the way in which they had behaved the day before. I added:--

"If you cannot see your way clear to obey implicitly my commands, to
be true to me, and to believe that I am true to you, I shall at once
leave you, and you can appoint someone else to look after you. We are
by no means out of the wood yet, and it is now more than ever
necessary that we should be able to trust one another to the fullest
extent. Therefore, I ask those who have lost confidence in me, or have
any objection to my leading them, to stand out."

No one stirred. Other officers and burghers next rose and spoke,
assuring me that all the rebels had deserted the previous night, and
that all the men with me would be true and faithful. Then Pastor J.
Louw addressed the burghers very earnestly, pointing out to them the
offensive way in which some of them had spoken of their superior
officers, and that in the present difficult circumstances it was
absolutely necessary that there should be no disintegration and
discord amongst ourselves. I think all these perorations had a very
salutary effect. But such were the difficulties that we officers had
to contend with at the hands of undisciplined men who held exaggerated
notions of freedom of action and of speech, and I was not the only
Boer officer who suffered in this respect.

About two in the afternoon I gave the order to saddle up, as it was
necessary to start before sunset in order to be able to cross the
Olifant's River before daybreak, so that the enemy should not overtake
us should they notice us. We dismounted and led our horses, for we had
discovered that the English could not distinguish between a body of
men leading their horses and a troop of cattle, so long as the horses
were all kept close together. All the hills around us were covered
with cattle captured from our "bush-lancers," and therefore our
passage was unnoticed.

We followed an old waggon track along the Buffelskloof, where a road
leads from Tautesberg to Blood River. The stream runs between Botha's
and Tautesbergen, and flows into the Olifant's River near Mazeppa
Drift. It is called Blood River on account of the horrible massacre
which took place there many years before, when the Swazi kaffirs
murdered a whole kaffir tribe without distinction of age or sex,
literally turning the river red with blood.

Towards evening we reached the foot of the mountains, and moved in a
north-westerly direction past Makleerewskop. We got through the
English lines without any difficulty along some footpaths, but our
progress was very slow, as we had to proceed in Indian file, and we
had to stop frequently to see that no one was left behind. The country
was thickly wooded, and frequently the baggage on the pack-horses
became entangled with branches of trees, and had to be disentangled
and pulled off the horses' backs, which also caused considerable
delay.

It was 3 o'clock in the morning before we reached the Olifant's River,
at a spot which was once a footpath drift, but was now washed away and
overgrown with trees and shrubs, making it very difficult to find the
right spot to cross. Our only guide who knew the way had not been
there for 15 years, but recognised the place by some high trees which
rose above the others. We had considerable difficulty in crossing, the
water reaching to our horses' saddles, and the banks being very steep.
By the time we had all forded the sun had risen. All the other drifts
on the river were occupied by the enemy, our scouts reporting that
Mazeppa Drift, three miles down stream, was entrenched by a strong
English force, as was the case with Kalkfontein Drift, a little higher
up. I suppose this drift was not known to them, and thus had been left
unguarded.

[Illustration: Crossing Railway Line Northward (Between Balmoral and
Brugspruit Stations).]

Having got through we rode in a northerly direction until about 9
o'clock in the morning, and not until then were we sure of being clear
of the enemy's clutches. But there was a danger that the English had
noticed our absence and had followed us up. I therefore sent out
scouts on the high kopjes in the neighbourhood, and not until these
had reported all clear did we take the risk of off-saddling. You can
imagine how thankful we were after having been in the saddle for over
19 hours, and I believe our poor animals were no less thankful for
a rest.

We had not slept for three consecutive nights, and soon the whole
commando, with the exception of the sentries, were fast asleep. Few of
us thought of food, for our fatigue and drowsiness were greater than
our hunger. But we could only sleep for two hours, for we were much
too close to the enemy, and we wished to make them lose scent of us
entirely.

The burghers grumbled a good deal at being awakened and ordered to
saddle up, but we moved on nevertheless. I sent some men to enquire at
a kaffir kraal for the way to Pietersburg, and although I had no
intention of going in that direction, I knew that the kaffirs, so soon
as we had gone, would report to the nearest British camp that they had
met a commando of Boers going there. Kaffirs would do this with the
hope of reward, which they often received in the shape of spirituous
liquor. We proceeded all that day in the direction of Pietersburg
until just before sunset we came to a small stream. Here we stopped
for an hour and then went on again, this time, however, to the left
in a southerly direction through the bush to Poortjesnek near
Rhenosterkop, where a little time before the fight with General
Paget's force had taken place. We had to hurry through the bush, as
horse-sickness was prevalent here and we still had a long way before
us. It was midnight before we reached the foot of the Poortjesnek.

Here my officers informed me that two young burghers had become insane
through fatigue and want of sleep, and that several, while asleep in
their saddles had been pulled off their horses by low branches and
severely injured. Yet we had to get through the Nek and get to the
plateau before I could allow any rest. I went and had a look at the
demented men. They looked as if intoxicated and were very violent. All
our men and horses were utterly exhausted, but we pushed on and at
last reached the plateau, where, to everybody's great delight, we
rested for the whole day. The demented men would not sleep, but I had
luckily some opium pills with me and I gave each man one of them, so
that they got calmer, and, dropping off to sleep, afterwards
recovered.

My scouts reported next day that a strong English patrol had followed
us up, but that otherwise it was "all serene." We pushed on through
Langkloof over our old fighting ground near Rhenosterkop, then through
the Wilge River near Gousdenberg up to Blackwood Camp, about nine
miles north of Balmoral Station. Here we stayed a few days to allow
our animals to rest and recover from their hardships, and then moved
on across the railway to the Bethel and Ermelo districts. Here the
enemy was much less active, and we should have an opportunity of being
left undisturbed for a little time. But we lost 40 of our horses, who
had caught the dreaded horse-sickness whilst passing through the bush
country.

On the second day of our stay at Blackwood Camp I sent 150 men under
Commandants Groenwald and Viljoen through the Banks, via Staghoek, to
attack the enemy's camp near Wagendrift on the Olifant's River. This
was a detachment of the force which had been surrounding us. We
discovered that they were still trying to find us, and that the patrol
which had followed us were not aware of our having got away. It
appears that they only discovered this several days afterwards, and
great must have been the good general's surprise when they found that
the birds had flown and their great laid schemes had failed.

My 150 men approached the enemy's camp early in the morning, and when
at a short range began pouring in a deadly rifle fire on the western
side. The British soldiers, who were not dreaming of an attack, ran to
and fro in wild disorder. Our burghers, however, ceased firing when
they saw that there were many women and children in the camp, but the
enemy began soon to pour out a rifle and gun fire, and our men were
obliged to carry on the fight.

After a few days' absence they returned to our camp and reported to me
that "they had frightened the English out of their wits, for they
thought we were to the east at Roos Senekal, whereas we turned up from
the west."

Of course the British speedily discovered where we were, and came
marching up from Poortjesnek in great force. But we sent out a patrol
to meet them, and the latter by passing them west of Rhenosterkop
effectually misled them, and we were left undisturbed at Blackwood
Camp.

This left us time to prepare for crossing the railway; so I despatched
scouts south to see how matters stood, and bade them return the next
day. We knew that a number of small commandos were located on the
south side of the railway, but to effect a junction was a difficult
matter, and we would risk getting trapped between the columns if we
moved at random. The railway and all the roads were closely guarded,
and great care was being taken to prevent any communication between
the burghers on either side of the line.



CHAPTER XXXV.

BOER GOVERNMENT'S NARROW ESCAPE.


During the first week of May, 1901, we split up into two sections, and
left Blackwood Camp early in the evening. General Muller took one
section over the railway line near Brugspruit, whilst I took the other
section across near Balmoral Station. We naturally kept as far from
the blockhouses as possible, quietly cut the barbed-wire fences
stretched all along the line, and succeeded in crossing it without a
shot being fired. To split up into two sections was a necessary
precaution, first because it would have taken the whole commando too
long to cross the line at one point, and secondly, we made more sure
of getting at least one section across. Further, had the enemy
encountered one of the sections they would probably have concluded
that that was our whole force.

We halted about six miles from the railway-line, as it was now 2
o'clock in the morning. I ordered a general dismount, and we were at
last able to light up our pipes, which we had been afraid of doing in
the neighbourhood of the railway for fear of the lights being seen by
the enemy. The men sat round in groups, and smoked and chatted
cheerfully. We passed the rest of the night here, and with the
exception of the sentinels on duty, all were able to enjoy a
refreshing sleep, lying down, however, with their unsaddled horses by
their side, and the bridles in their hands--a most necessary and
useful precaution. Together with my adjutant, Nel, I made the round of
the sentries, sitting a few moments with each to cheer them up and
keep them awake; for there is nothing to which I object more than to
be surprised by the enemy, when asleep.

The few hours of rest afforded us passed very quickly, and at the
first glimmer of dawn I ordered the men to be called. This is simply
done by the officers calling "Opzâal, opzâal" (saddle-up) in loud
tones. When it was light enough to look round us we had the
satisfaction of seeing that all was quiet and that no troops were in
the immediate neighbourhood. We made for a place called Kroomdraai,
about halfway between Heidelberg and Middelburg, where we knew there
were some mealies left; and although we should be between the enemy's
camps there, I felt there would be no danger of being disturbed or
surprised.

I also sent a report to the Commandant-General, who was at that time
with the Government near Ermelo, and described to him all that had
happened. I received a reply some days later, requesting me to leave
my commando at Kroomdraai and proceed to see him, as an important
Council of War was to be held between the various generals and the
Government.

Four days later I arrived at Begin der Lijn ("beginning of the line")
on the Vaal River, south-east of Ermelo, accompanied by three of my
adjutants, and reported myself to the Commandant-General.

Simultaneously with my arrival there came two British columns,
commanded by our old friend Colonel Bullock, whose acquaintance we had
previously made at Colenso. They came apparently with the idea of
chasing us, possibly thinking to catch us. This was far from pleasant
for me. I had been riding post-haste for four days, and I and my horse
were very tired and worn out. However, there was no help for it. I had
barely time to salute the members of the Government, and to exchange a
few words with General Botha, when we had to "quit." For eight days we
wandered round with Colonel Bullock at our heels, always remaining,
however, in the same neighbourhood. This officer's tactics in trying
to capture us were childishly simple. During the day there would be
skirmishes between the enemy and General Botha's men, but each evening
the former would, by retiring, attempt to lull us into a sense of
security. But as soon as the sun had set, they would turn right about
face, return full speed to where they had left us, and there would
surround us carefully during the night, gallantly attacking us in the
morning and fully expecting to capture the whole Boer Government and
at least half a dozen generals. This was a distinct nuisance, but the
tactics of this worthy officer were so simple that we very soon
discovered them. Accordingly, every evening we would make a fine
pretence of pitching our camp for the night; but so soon as darkness
had set in, we would take the precaution of moving some 10 or 15 miles
further on. Next morning Colonel Bullock, who had been carefully
"surrounding" us all night, would find that we were unaccountably
absent. Much annoyed at this, he would then send his "flying" columns
running after us. This went on for several days, until finally, as we
expected, his horses were tired out, and I believe he was then removed
to some other garrison, having been considered a failure as a
"Boer-stalker." No doubt he did his best, but he nevertheless managed
his business very clumsily.

Not until nine days after my arrival at this perambulating seat of
Government did we have an opportunity of snatching a few hours' rest.
We were now at a spot called Immegratie, between Ermelo and
Wakkerstroom. Here a meeting was held by the Executive Council, and
attended by the Commandant-General, General Jan Smuts, General C.
Botha, and myself. General T. Smuts could not be present, as he was
busy keeping Colonel Bullock amused.

At this meeting we discussed the general situation, and decided to
send a letter to President Steyn, but our communication afterwards
fell into the enemy's hands. In accordance with this letter, President
Steyn and Generals De Wet and De la Rey joined our Government, and a
meeting was held later on.

The day after this meeting at Immegratie I took leave of my friends
and began the journey in a more leisurely fashion back to my commando
at Kroomdraai, via Ermelo and Bethel. The Acting-President had made me
a present of a cart and four mules, as they pitied us for having had
to burn all our vehicles in escaping from Roos Senekal. We were thus
once more seated in a cart, which added considerably to the dignity
of our staff. How long I should continue to be possessed of this means
of transport depended, of course, entirely on the enemy. My old
coloured groom "Mooiroos," who followed behind leading my horse,
evidently thought the same, for he remarked naïvely: "Baas, the
English will soon fix us in another corner; had we not better throw
the cart away?"

We drove into Ermelo that afternoon. The dread east wind was blowing
hard and raising great clouds of dust around us. The village had been
occupied about half a dozen times by the enemy and each time looted,
plundered, and evacuated, and was now again in our possession. At
least, the English had left it the day before, and a Landdrost had
placed himself in charge; a little Hollander with a pointed nose and
small, glittering eyes, who between each sentence that he spoke rolled
round those little eyes of his, carefully scanning the neighbouring
hills for any sign of the English. The only other person of importance
in the town was a worthy predicant, who evidently had not had his hair
cut since the commencement of the War, and who had great difficulty
in keeping his little black wide-awake on his head. He seemed very
proud of his abundant locks.

There were also a few families in the place belonging to the Red Cross
staff and in charge of the local hospitals. One of my adjutants was
seriously indisposed, and it was whilst hunting for a chemist in order
to obtain medicine that I came into contact with the town's sparse
population. I found the dispensary closed, the proprietor having
departed with the English, and the Landdrost, fearing to get himself
into trouble, was not inclined to open it. He grew very excited when
we liberally helped ourselves to the medicines, and made himself
unpleasant. So we gave him clearly to understand that his presence was
not required in that immediate neighbourhood.

Our cart was standing waiting for us in the High Street, and during
our absence a lady had appeared on the verandah of a house and had
sent a servant to enquire who we were. When we reappeared laden with
our booty she graciously invited us to come in. She was a Mrs. P. de
Jager and belonged to the Red Cross Society. She asked us to stay and
have some dinner, which was then being prepared. Imagine what a luxury
for us to be once more in a house, to be addressed by a lady and to be
served with a bountiful repast! Our clothes were in a ragged and
dilapidated condition and we presented a very unkempt appearance,
which did not make us feel quite at our ease. Still the good lady with
great tact soon put us quite at home.

We partook of a delicious meal, which we shall not easily forget. I
cannot remember what the menu was, and I am not quite sure whether it
would compare favourably with a first-class café dinner, but I never
enjoyed a meal more in my existence, and possibly never shall.

After dinner the lady related to us how on the previous day, when the
British entered the village, there were in her house three
convalescent burghers, who could, however, neither ride nor walk. With
tears in her eyes she told us how an English doctor and an officer
had come there, and kicking open the doors of her neatly-kept house,
had entered it, followed by a crowd of soldiers, who had helped
themselves to most of the knives, forks, and other utensils. She tried
to explain to the doctor that she had wounded men in the house, but he
was too conceited and arrogant to listen to her protestations.
Fortunately for them the men were not discovered, for the English, on
leaving the village, took with them all our wounded, and even our
doctor. With a proud smile she now produced this trio, who, not
knowing whether we were friend or foe, were at first very much
frightened.

I sympathised with the lady with respect to the harsh treatment she
had received the previous day, and thanking her for her great
kindness, warned her not to keep armed burghers in her house, as this
was against the Geneva Convention.

We told her what great pleasure it was for us to meet a lady, as all
our women having been placed in Concentration Camps, we had only had
the society of our fellow-burghers. Before leaving she grasped our
hands, and with tears in her eyes wished us God speed:--"Good-bye, my
friends! May God reward your efforts on behalf of your country.
General, be of good cheer; for however dark the future may seem, be
sure that the Almighty will provide for you!" I can scarcely be dubbed
sentimental, yet the genuine expressions of this good lady, coupled
perhaps with her excellent dinner, did much to put us into better
spirits, and somehow the future did not seem now quite so dark and
terrible as we were previously inclined to believe.

We soon resumed our journey, and that night arrived at a farm
belonging to a certain Venter. We knew that here some houses had
escaped the general destruction and we found that a dwelling house was
still standing and that the Venter family were occupying it. It was
not our practice to pass the night near inhabited houses, as that
might have got the people in trouble with the enemy, but having
off-saddled, I sent up an adjutant to the house to see if he could
purchase a few eggs and milk for our sick companions. He speedily
returned followed by the lady of the house in a very excited
condition:--

"Are you the General?" she asked.

"I have that honour," I replied. "What is the matter?"

"There is much the matter," she retorted loudly. "I will have nothing
to do with you or your people. You are nothing but a band of brigands
and scoundrels, and you must leave my farm immediately. All
respectable people have long since surrendered, and it is only such
people as you who continue the War, while you personally are one of
the ringleaders of these rebels."

"Tut, tut," I said, "where is your husband?"

"My husband is where all respectable people ought to be; with the
English, of course."

"'Hands-uppers,' is that it?" answered my men in chorus, even Mooiroos
the native joining in. "You deserve the D.S.O.," I said, "and if we
meet the English we will mention it to them. Now go back to your house
before these rebels and brigands give you your deserts."

She continued to pour out a flood of insults and imprecations on
myself, the other generals, and the Government, and finally went away
still muttering to herself. I could scarcely help comparing this
patriotic lady to the one in Ermelo who had treated us so kindly. I
encountered many more such incidents, and only mention these two in
order to show the different views held at that time by our women on
these matters, but in justice to our women-folk I should add that this
kind were only a small minority.

It was a bitterly cold night. Our blankets were very thin, and the
wind continually scattered our fire and gave us little opportunity of
warming ourselves. There was no food for the horses except the grass.
We haltered them close together, and each of us took it in turn to
keep a watch, as we ran the risk at any moment of being surprised by
the enemy, and as many in that district had turned traitors, we had to
redouble our precautions. During the whole cold night I slept but
little, and I fervently wished for the day to come, and felt
exceedingly thankful when the sun arose and it got a little warmer.

Proceeding, we crossed the ridges east of Bethel, and as this village
came in sight my groom Mooiroos exclaimed: "There are a lot of Khakis
there, Baas."

I halted, and with my field-glasses could see distinctly the enemy's
force, which was coming from Bethel in our direction, their scouts
being visible everywhere to the right and left of the ridges. While we
were still discussing what to do, the field-cornet of the district, a
certain Jan Davel, dashed up with a score of burghers between us and
the British. He informed me that the enemy's forces were coming from
Brugspruit, and that he had scattered his burghers in all directions
to prevent them organizing any resistance. The enemy's guns were now
firing at us, and although the range was a long one the ridges in
which we found ourselves were quite bare, and afforded us no cover.

We were therefore obliged to wheel to our right, and, proceeding to
Klein Spionkop, we passed round the enemy along Vaalkop and
Wilmansrust.

At Steenkoolspruit I met some burghers, who told me that the enemy had
marched from Springs, near Boksburg, and were making straight for our
commando at Kroomdraai. We managed to reach that place in the evening
just in time to warn our men and be off. I left a section of my men
behind to obstruct the advance of the enemy, whom they met the
following day, but finding the force too strong were obliged to
retire, and I do not know exactly where they got to. At this time
there were no less than nine of the enemy's columns in that district,
and they all tried their level best to catch the Boers, but as the
Boers also tried their best not to get caught, I am afraid the English
were often disappointed. Here the reader will, perhaps, remark that it
was not very brave to run away in this fashion, but one should also
take our circumstances into consideration.

No sooner did we attack one column than we were attacked in our turn
by a couple more, and had then considerable difficulty in effecting
our escape. The enemy, moreover, had every advantage of us. They had
plenty of guns, and could cut our ranks to pieces before we could
approach sufficiently near to do any damage with our rifles; they far
surpassed us in numerical strength; they had a constant supply of
fresh horses--some of us had no horses at all; they had continual
reinforcements; their troops were well fed, better equipped, and
altogether in better condition. Small wonder, therefore, that the War
had become a one-sided affair.

On the 20th of May, 1901, I seized an opportunity of attacking General
Plumer on his way from Bethel to Standerton.

We had effected a junction with Commandant Mears and charged the
enemy, and but for their having with them a number of Boer families we
would have succeeded in capturing their whole laager. We had already
succeeded in driving their infantry away from the waggons containing
these families, when their infantry rushed in between and opened fire
on us at 200 paces. We could do nothing else but return this fire,
although it was quite possible that in doing so we wounded one or two
of our own women and children. These kept waving their handkerchiefs
to warn us not to fire, but it was impossible to resist the infantry's
volleys without shooting. Meanwhile the cavalry replaced their guns
behind the women's waggons and fired on us from that coign of vantage.

Here we took 25 prisoners, 4,000 sheep and 10 horses. Our losses were
two killed and nine wounded. The enemy left several dead and wounded
on the field, as well as two doctors and an ambulance belonging to the
Queensland Imperial Bushmen, which we sent back together with the
prisoners we had taken.

On this occasion the English were spared a great defeat by having
women and children in their laager, and no doubt for the sake of
safety they kept these with them as long as possible. I do not
insinuate that this was generally the case, and I am sure that Lord
Kitchener or any other responsible commanding officer would loudly
have condemned such tactics; but the fact remains that these
unpleasant incidents occasionally took place.

About the beginning of June, 1901 (I find it difficult to be accurate
without the aid of my notes) another violent effort was made to
capture the members of the Government and the Commandant-General.
Colonel Benson now appeared as the new "Boer-stalker," and after
making several unsuccessful attempts to surround them almost captured
the Government in the mountains between Piet Retief and Spitskop. Just
as Colonel Benson thought he had them safe and was slowly but surely
weaving his net around them--I believe this was at Halhangapase--the
members of the Government left their carriages, and packing the most
necessary articles and documents on their horses escaped in the night
along a footpath which the enemy had kindly left unguarded and passed
right through the British lines in the direction of Ermelo. On the
following day the English, on closing their cordon, found, as they
usually did, naught but the burned remains of some vehicles and a few
lame mules.

Together with the late General Spruit, who happened to be in that
neighbourhood, I had been asked to march with a small commando to the
assistance of the Government and the Commandant-General and we had
started at once, only hearing when well on our way that they had
succeeded in escaping.

We proceeded as far as the Bankop, not knowing where to find them, and
it was no easy matter to look for them amongst the British columns.



CHAPTER XXXVI.

A GOVERNMENT ON HORSEBACK.


For ten days we searched the neighbourhood, and finally met one of the
Commandant-General's despatch-riders, who informed me of their
whereabouts, which they were obliged to keep secret for fear of
treachery. We met the whole party on William Smeet's farm near the
Vaal River, every man on horseback or on a mule, without a solitary
cart or waggon. It was a very strange sight to see the whole Transvaal
Government on horseback. Some had not yet got used to this method of
governing, and they had great trouble with their luggage, which was
continually being dropped on the road.

General Spruit and myself undertook to escort the Executive Council
through the Ermelo district, past Bethel to Standerton, where they
were to meet the members of the Orange Free State Government. I had
now with me only 100 men, under Field-Cornet R. D. Young; the
remainder I had left behind near Bethel in charge of General Muller
and Commandants Viljoen and Groenwald, with instructions to keep on
the alert and to fall on any column that ventured a little ahead of
the others.

It was whilst on my way back to them that a burgher brought me a
report from General Muller, informing me that the previous night,
assisted by Commandants W. Viljoen and Groenwald, he had with 130 men
stormed one of the enemy's camps at Wilmansrust, capturing the whole
after a short resistance on the enemy's part, but sustaining a loss of
six killed and some wounded. The camp had been under the command of
Colonel Morris, and its garrison numbered 450 men belonging to the 5th
Victorian Mounted Rifles. About 60 of these were killed and wounded,
and the remainder were disarmed and released. Our haul consisted of
two pom-poms, carts and waggons with teams in harness, and about 300
horses, the most miserable collection of animals I have ever seen.
Here we also captured a well-known burgher, whose name, I believe, was
Trotsky, and who was fighting with the enemy against us. He was
brought before a court-martial, tried for high treason, and sentenced
to death, which sentence was afterwards carried out.

Our Government received about this time a communication from General
Brits, that the members of the Orange Free State Government had
reached Blankop, north of Standerton, and would await us at Waterval.
We hurried thither, and reached it in the evening of the 20th of June,
1901. Here we found President Steyn and Generals De Wet, De la Rey,
and Hertzog, with an escort of 150 men. It was very pleasant to meet
these great leaders again, and still more pleasing was the cordiality
with which they received us. We sat round our fires all that night
relating to each other our various adventures. Some which caused great
fun and amusement, and some which brought tears even to the eyes of
the hardened warrior. General De Wet was then suffering acutely from
rheumatism, but he showed scarcely any trace of his complaint, and was
as cheerful as the rest of us.

Next day we parted, each going separately on our way. We had decided
what each of us was to do, and under this agreement I was to return to
the Lydenburg and Middelburg districts, where we had already had such
a narrow escape. I confess I did not care much about this, but we had
to obey the Commandant-General, and there was an end of it. Meanwhile,
reports came in that on the other side of the railway the burghers who
had been left behind were surrendering day by day, and that a
field-cornet was engaged in negotiations with the enemy about a
general laying down of arms. I at once despatched General Muller there
to put an end to this.

We now prepared once more to cross the railway line, which was guarded
more carefully than ever, and no one dared to cross with a conveyance
of any description. We had, however, become possessed of a laager--a
score of waggons and two pom-poms--and I determined to take these
carts and guns across with me, for my men valued them all the more for
having been captured. They were, in fact, as sweet to us as stolen
kisses, although I have had no very large experience of the latter
commodity.



CHAPTER XXXVII.

BLOWING UP AN ARMOURED TRAIN.


We approached the line between Balmoral and Brugspruit, coming as
close to it as was possible with regard to safety, and we stopped in a
"dunk" (hollow place) intending to remain there until dusk before
attempting to cross. The blockhouses were only 1,000 yards distant
from each other, and in order to take our waggons across there was but
one thing to be done, namely, to storm two blockhouses, overpower
their garrisons, and take our convoy across between these two.
Fortunately there were no obstacles here in the shape of embankments
or excavations, the line being level with the veldt. We moved on in
the evening (the 27th of June), the moon shining brightly, which was
very unfortunate for us, as the enemy would see us and hear us long
before we came within range. I had arranged that Commandant Groenwald
was to storm the blockhouse on the right, and Commandant W. Viljoen
that to the left, each with 75 men. We halted about 1,000 paces from
the line, and here the sections left their horses behind and marched
in scattered order towards the blockhouses. The enemy had been warned
by telephone that morning of our vicinity, and all the pickets and
outposts along the line were on the "qui vive." When 150 yards from
the blockhouses the garrison opened fire on our men, and a hail of
Lee-Metford bullets spread over a distance of about four miles, the
British soldiers firing from within the blockhouses and from behind
mounds of earth. The blockhouse attacked by Commandant Viljoen offered
the most determined resistance for about twenty minutes, but our men
thrust their rifles through the loopholes of the blockhouses and fired
within, calling out "hands-up" all the time, whilst the "Tommies"
within retorted, "You haven't V.M.R.'s to deal with this time!"
However, we soon made it too hot for them and their boasting was
exchanged into cries of mercy, but not before three of our men had
been killed and several wounded. The "Tommies" now shouted: "We
surrender, Sir; for God's sake stop firing." My brave field-cornet, G.
Mybergh, who was closest to the blockhouses, answered: "All right
then, come out." The "Tommies" answered: "Right, we are coming," and
we ceased firing.

Field-Cornet Mybergh now stepped up to the entrance of the fort, but
when he reached it a shot was fired from the inside and he fell
mortally wounded in the stomach. At the same time the soldiers ran out
holding up their hands. Our burghers were enraged beyond measure at
this act of treachery, but the sergeant and the men swore by all that
was sacred that it had been an accident, and that a gun had gone off
spontaneously whilst being thrown down. The soldier who admitted
firing the fatal shot was crying like a baby and kissing the hands of
his victim. We held a short consultation amongst the officers and
decided to accept his explanation of the affair. I was much upset,
however, by this loss of one of the bravest officers I have ever
known.

Meanwhile the fight at the other blockhouse continued. Commandant
Groenwald afterwards informed me that he had approached the blockhouse
and found it built of rock; it was, in fact, a fortified ganger's
house built by the Netherlands South Africa Railway Company. He did
not see any way of taking the place; many of his men had fallen, and
an armoured train with a search-light was approaching from Brugspruit.
On the other side of the blockhouse we found a ditch about three feet
deep and two feet wide. Hastily filling this up we let the carts go
over. As the fifth one had got across and the sixth was standing on
the lines, the armoured train came dashing at full speed in our midst.
We had had no dynamite to blow up the line, and although we fired on
the train, it steamed right up to where we were crossing, smashing a
team of mules and splitting us up into two sections. Turning the
search-light on us, the enemy opened fire on us with rifles, Maxims
and guns firing grape-shot. Commandant Groenwald had to retire along
the unconquered blockhouse, and managed somehow to get through. The
majority of the burghers had already crossed and fled, whilst the
remainder hurried back with a pom-pom and the other carts. I did not
expect that the train would come so close to us, and was seated on my
horse close to the surrendered blockhouse when it pulled up abruptly
not four paces from me. The search-light made the surroundings as
light as day, and revealed the strange spectacle of the burghers, on
foot and on horseback, fleeing in all directions and accompanied by
cattle and waggons, whilst many dead lay on the veldt. However, we
saved everything with the exception of a waggon and two carts, one of
which unfortunately was my own. Thus for the fourth time in the war I
lost all my worldly belongings, my clothes, my rugs, my food, my
money.

My two commandants were now south of the line with half the men,
whilst I was north of it with the other half. We buried our dead next
morning and that evening I sent a message to the remainder of the
commandos, telling them to cross the line at Uitkijk Station,
south-west of Middelburg, whilst Captain Hindon was to lay a mine
under the line near the station to blow up any armoured train coming
down. Here we managed to get the rest of our laager over without much
trouble. The "Tommies" fired furiously from the blockhouses and our
friend the armoured train was seen approaching from Middelburg,
whistling a friendly warning to us. It came full speed as before, but
only got to the spot where the mine had been laid for it. There was a
loud explosion; something went up in the air and then the shrill
whistle stopped and all was silent.

The next morning we were all once more camped together at Rooihoogte.



CHAPTER XXXVIII.

TRAPPING PRO-BRITISH BOERS.


In the month of July, 1901, we found ourselves once more on the scene
of our former struggles, and were joined here by General Muller, who
had completed his mission south of the railway. This district having
been scoured for three weeks by thirty thousand English soldiers, who
had carefully removed and destroyed everything living or dead, one can
imagine the conditions under which we had to exist. No doubt from a
strategical point of view the enemy could not be expected to do
otherwise than devastate the country, but what grieved us most was the
great amount of suffering this entailed to our women and children.
Often the waggons in which these were being carried to imprisonment
in the Concentration Camps were upset by the unskilful driving of the
soldiers or their kaffir servants, and many women and children were
injured in this way.

Moreover, a certain Mrs. Lindeque was killed by an English bullet near
Roos Senekal, the soldiers saying that she had passed through the
outposts against instructions. Small wonder, therefore, that many of
our women-folk fled with their children at the enemy's approach,
leaving all their worldly possessions behind to fall a prey to the
general destruction. We often came across such families in the
greatest distress, some having taken shelter in caves, and others
living in huts roughly constructed of half-burnt corrugated iron
amongst the charred ruins of their former happy homes. The sufferings
of our half-clad and hungry burghers were small compared to the misery
and privations of these poor creatures. Their husbands and other
relations, however, made provision for them to the best of their
ability, and these families were, in spite of all, comparatively
happy, so long as they were able to remain amongst their own people.

Our commandos were now fairly exhausted, and our horses needed a rest
very badly, the wanderings of the previous few weeks having reduced
them to a miserable condition. I therefore left General Muller near
the cobalt mines on the Upper Olifant's River, just by the waggon
drift, whilst I departed with 100 men and a pom-pom to Witpoort and
Windhoek, there to collect my scattered burghers and reorganise my
diminished commando, as well as to look after our food supplies. At
Witpoort the burghers who had been under the late Field-Cornet Kruge,
and had escaped the enemy's sweeping movements, had repaired the mill
which the English had blown up, and this was now working as well as
before. A good stock of mealies had been buried there, and had
remained undiscovered, and we were very thankful to the "bush-lancers"
for this bounty.

Still, things were not altogether "honey." Matters were rather in a
critical state, as treachery was rampant, and many burghers were
riding to and fro to the enemy and arranging to surrender, the
faithful division being powerless to prevent them. We had to act with
great firmness and determination to put a stop to these tendencies and
within a week of our arrival half a dozen persons had been
incarcerated in Roos Senekal gaol under a charge of high treason.
Moreover we effected a radical change in leadership, discharging old
and war-sick officers and placing younger and more energetic men in
command.

Several families here were causing considerable trouble. When first
the enemy had passed through their district they had had no
opportunity of surrendering with their cattle. But when the English
returned, they had attempted to go to the enemy's camp at Belfast,
taking all their cattle and moveables with them. At this the loyal
burghers were furious and threatened to confiscate all their cattle
and goods. Seeing this, these families, whom I shall call the
Steenkamps, had desisted from their attempt to go over to the enemy
and had taken up their abode in a church at Dullstroom, the only
building which had not been destroyed, although the windows, doors
and pulpit had long disappeared. Here they quietly awaited an
opportunity of surrendering to the enemy, whose camp at Belfast was
only 10 or 12 miles distant. We were very anxious that their cattle
and sheep, of which they had a large number, should not go to the
enemy, but we could bring no charge of treachery home to them, as they
were very smooth-tongued scoundrels and always swore fealty to us.

I have mentioned this as an example of the dangerous elements with
which we had to contend amongst our own people, and to show how low a
Boer may sink when once he has decided to forego his most sacred
duties and turn against his own countrymen the weapon he had lately
used in their defence. Such men were luckily in the minority. Yet I
often came across cases where fathers fought against their own sons,
and brother against brother. I cannot help considering that it was far
from noble on the part of our enemy to employ such traitors to their
country and to form such bodies of scoundrels as the National Scouts.

Amongst all this worry of reorganising our commandos and weeding out
the traitors we were allowed little rest by the enemy, and once we
suddenly found them marching up from Helvetia in our direction. A
smart body of men, chiefly composed of Lydenburg and Middelburg men,
and under the command of a newly-appointed officer, Captain Du Toit,
went to meet the enemy between Bakendorp and Dullstroom. Here ensued a
fierce fight, where we lost some men, but succeeded in arresting the
enemy's progress. The fight, however, was renewed the next day, and
the British having received strong reinforcements our burghers were
forced to retire, the enemy remaining at a place near the "Pannetjes,"
three miles from Dullstroom.

The English camp was now close to our friends, the Steenkamps, who
were anxiously waiting an opportunity to become "hands-uppers." They
had, of course, left off fighting long ago, one complaining that he
had a disease of the kidneys, another that he suffered from some other
complaint. They would sit on the kopjes and watch the fighting and the
various manoeuvres, congratulating each other when the enemy
approached a little nearer to them.

I will now ask the reader's indulgence to describe one of our little
practical jokes enacted at Dullstroom Church, which was characteristic
of many other similar incidents in the Campaign. It will be seen how
these would-be "hands-uppers" were caught in a little trap prepared by
some officers of my staff.

My three adjutants, Bester, Redelinghuisen, and J. Viljoen, carefully
dressed in as much "khaki" as they could collect, and parading
respectively as Colonels Bullock, "Jack," and "Cooper," all of His
Majesty's forces, proceeded one fine evening to Dullstroom Church, to
ascertain if the Steenkamps would agree to surrender and fight under
the British flag. They arrived there about 9 p.m., and finding that
the inmates had all gone to sleep, loudly knocked at the door. This
was opened by a certain youthful Mr. Van der Nest, who was staying in
the church for the night with his brother. J. Viljoen, alias "Cooper,"
and acting as interpreter between the pseudo-English and the renegade
Boers, addressed the young man in this fashion:--

"Good evening! Is Mr. Steenkamp in? Here is a British officer who
wishes to see him and his brother-in-law."

Van der Nest turned pale, and hurried inside, and stammering, "Oom
Jan, there are some people at the door," woke up his brother and both
decamped out of the back door. Steenkamp's brother-in-law, however,
whom I will call Roux, soon made his appearance and bowing cringingly,
said with a smile:--

"Good evening, gentlemen; good evening."

The self-styled Colonel Bullock, addressing "Cooper," the interpreter,
said: "Tell Mr. Roux that we have information that he and his brother
wish to surrender."

As soon as "Cooper" began to interpret, Roux answered in broken
English, "Yes, sir, you are quite right; myself and my brother-in-law
have been waiting twelve months for an opportunity to surrender, and
we are so thankful now that we are able to do so."

"Colonel Bullock": "Very well, then; call your people out!"

Roux bowed low, and ran back into the church, presently issuing with
three comrades, who all threw down their arms and made abeyance.

_The "Colonel":_ "Are these men able to speak English?"

_Roux:_ "No, sir."

_The "Colonel":_ "Ask them if they are willing to surrender
voluntarily to His Majesty the King of Great Britain?"

The burghers, in chorus: "Yes, sir; thank you very much. We are so
pleased that you have come at last. We have wished to surrender for a
long time, but the Boers would not let us get through. We have not
fought against you, sir."

_The "Colonel":_ "Very well; now deliver up all your arms."

And whilst the pseudo-colonel pretended to be busy making notes the
burghers brought out their Mausers and cartridge-belts, handing them
over to the masquerading "Tommies."

Roux next said to the "Colonel": "Please, sir, may I keep this
revolver? There are a few Hollanders in the hut yonder who said they
would shoot me if I surrendered; and you know, sir, that it is these
Hollanders who urge the Boers to fight and prolong the War. Why don't
you go and catch them? I will show you where they are."

Resisting an impulse to put a bullet through the traitor's head, the
"Colonel" answered briefly: "Very well, keep your revolver. I will
catch the Hollanders early to-morrow."

_Roux:_ "Be careful, sir; Ben Viljoen is over there with a commando
and a pom-pom."

_The "Colonel"_ (haughtily): "Be at ease; my column will soon be round
him and he will not escape this time."

The women-folk now came out to join the party. They clapped their
hands in joy and invited the "Colonel" and his men to come in and have
some coffee.

The "Colonel" graciously returned thanks. Meanwhile a woman had
whispered to Roux: "I hope these are not Ben Viljoen's people making
fools of us."

"Nonsense," he answered, "Can't you see that this is a very superior
British officer?" Whereat the whole company further expressed their
delight at seeing them.

The "Colonel" now spoke: "Mr. Roux, we will take your cattle and sheep
with us for safety. Kindly lend us a servant to help drive them along.
Will you show us to-morrow where the Boers are?"

_Mr. Roux:_ "Certainly, sir, but you must not take me into dangerous
places, please."

_The "Colonel":_ "Very well; I will send the waggons to fetch your
women-folk in the morning."

Roux gathered together his cattle and said: "I hope you and I shall
have a whiskey together in your camp to-morrow."

The "Colonel" answered: "I shall be pleased to see you," and asked
them if they had any money or valuables they wished taken care of. But
the Boers, true to the saying, "Touch a Boer's heart rather than his
purse," answered in chorus: "Thank you, but we have put all that
carefully away where no Boer will find it."

They all bid the "Colonel" good-bye, the "Tommies" exchanging some
familiarities with the women till these screamed with laughter, and
then the "Colonel" and his commando of two men remounted their big
clumsy English horses and rode proudly away. But pride comes before a
fall, and they had not proceeded many yards when the "Colonel's"
horse, stumbling over a bundle of barbed wire, fell, and threw his
rider to the ground. Just as he had nearly exhausted the Dutch
vocabulary of imprecations, the Steenkamps, who fortunately had not
heard him, came to his assistance and with many expressions of
sympathy helped him on his horse, Roux carefully wiping his leggings
clean with his handkerchief. After proceeding a little further the
"Tommies" asked their "Colonel" what he meant by that acrobatic
performance. Whereat the "Colonel" answered: "That was a very
fortunate accident; the Steenkamps are now convinced that we are
English by the clumsy manner I rode."

The next morning my three adjutants arrived in camp carrying four new
Mausers and 100 cartridges each, and driving about 300 sheep and a
nice pony. The same morning I sent Field-Cornet Young to arrest the
brave quartette of burghers. He found everything packed in readiness
to depart to the English camp, and they were anxiously awaiting
Colonel Bullock's promised waggons.

It was, of course, a fine "tableau" when the curtain rose on the
farce, disclosing in the place of the expected English rescuers a
burgher officer with a broad smile on his face. They were, of course,
profuse in their apologies and excuses. They declared that they had
been surrounded by hundreds of the enemy who had placed their rifles
to their breasts, forcing them to surrender. One of them was now in so
pitiable a condition of fear that he showed the field-cornet a score
of certificates from doctors and quacks of all sorts, declaring him to
be suffering from every imaginable disease, and the field-cornet was
moved to leave him behind. The other three were placed under arrest,
court-martialled and sentenced to three months' hard labour, and to
have all their goods confiscated.

Two days later the English occupied Dullstroom, and the pseudo-invalid
and the women, minus their belongings, were taken care of by the
enemy, as they had wished.



CHAPTER XXXIX.

BRUTAL KAFFIRS' MURDER TRAIL.


At Windhoek we were again attacked by an English column. The reader
will probably be getting weary of these continual attacks, and I
hasten to assure him that we were far more weary than he can ever
grow. On the first day of the fight we succeeded in forcing back the
enemy, but on the second day, the fortunes of war were changed and
after a fierce fight, in which I had the misfortune to lose a brave
young burgher named Botha, we gave up arguing the matter with our foes
and retired.

The enemy followed us up very closely, and although I used the sjambok
freely amongst my men I could not persuade them, not even by this
ungentle method, to make a stand against their foes, and as we passed
Witpoort the enemy's cavalry with two guns was close at our heels.

Not until the burghers had reached Maagschuur, between the Bothas and
Tautesbergen, would they condescend to make a stand and check the
enemy's advance. Here after a short but sharp engagement, we forced
them to return to Witpoort, where they pitched camp.

Our mill, which I have previously mentioned as being an important
source of our food supply, was again burned to the ground.

Our commandos returned to Olifant's River and at the cobalt mine near
there joined those who had remained behind under General Muller. The
enemy, however, who seemed determined, if possible, to obliterate us
from the earth's surface, discovered our whereabouts about the middle
of July, and attacked us in overwhelming numbers. We had taken up a
position on the "Randts," and offered as much resistance as we could.
The enemy poured into us a heavy shell fire from their howitzers and
15-pounders, while their infantry charged both our extreme flanks.
After losing many men, a battalion of Highlanders succeeded in
turning our left flank, and once having gained this advantage, and
aided by their superior numbers, the enemy were able to take up
position after position, and finally rendered it impossible to offer
any further resistance. Late in the afternoon, with a loss of five
wounded and one man killed--an Irish-American, named Wilson--we
retired through the Olifant's River, near Mazeppa Drift, the enemy
staying the night at Wagendrift, about three miles further up the
stream. The following morning they forded the river, and proceeded
through Poortjesnek and Donkerhoek, to Pretoria, thus allowing us a
little breathing space. I now despatched some reliable burghers to
report our various movements to the Commandant-General, and to bring
news of the other commandos. It was three weeks before these men
returned, for they had on several occasions been prevented from
crossing the railway line, and they finally only succeeded in doing so
under great difficulties. They reported that the English on the high
veldt were very active and numerous.

About the middle of July I left General Muller to take a rest with the
commando, and accompanied by half a score of adjutants and despatch
riders, proceeded to Pilgrimsrust in the Lydenburg district to visit
the commandos there, and allay as much as I could the dissatisfaction
caused by my reorganisation.

At Zwagerhoek, a kloof some 12 miles south of Lydenburg, through which
the waggon track leads from Lydenburg to Dullstroom, I found a
field-cornet with about 57 men. Having discussed the situation with
them and explained matters, they were all satisfied.

Here I appointed as field-cornet a young man of 23 years of age, a
certain J. S. Schoenman, who distinguished himself subsequently by his
gallant behaviour.

We had barely completed our arrangements when we were again attacked
by one of the enemy's columns from Lydenburg. At first we successfully
defended ourselves, but at last were compelled to give way.

I do not believe we caused the enemy any considerable losses, but we
had no casualties. The same night we proceeded through the enemy's
line to Houtboschloop, five miles east of Lydenburg, where a small
commando was situated, and having to proceed a very roundabout way, we
covered that night no less than 40 miles.

Another meeting of all burghers north of Lydenburg was now convened,
to be held at a ruined hotel some 12 miles west of Nelspruit Station,
which might have been considered the centre of all the commandos in
that district. I found that these were divided into two parties, one
of which was dissatisfied with the new order of things I had arranged
and desired to re-instate their old officers, while the other was
quite pleased with my arrangements. The latter party was commanded by
Mr. Piet Moll, whom I had appointed commandant instead of Mr. D.
Schoeman, who formerly used to occupy that position. At the gathering
I explained matters to them and tried to persuade the burghers to be
content with their new commandants. It was evident, however, that many
were not to be satisfied and that they were not to be expected to work
harmoniously together. I therefore decided to let both commandants
keep their positions and to let the men follow whichever one they
chose, and I took the first opportunity of making an attack on the
enemy so as to test the efficiency of these two bodies.

Taking the two commandos with their respective two commandants in an
easterly direction to Wit River, we camped there for a few days and
scouted for the enemy on the Delagoa Bay Railway, so as to find out
the best spot to attack. We had just decided to attack Crocodilpoort
Station in the evening of the 1st August, when our scouts reported
that the English, who had held the fort at M'pisana's Stad, between
our laager in Wit River and Leydsdorp, were moving in the direction of
Komati Poort with a great quantity of captured cattle.

Our first plan was therefore abandoned and I ordered 50 burghers of
each commando to attack this column at M'pisana's fort at once, as
they had done far too much harm to be allowed to get away unmolested.
They were a group of men called "Steinacker's Horse," a corps formed
of all the desperadoes and vagabonds to be scraped together from
isolated places in the north, including kaffir storekeepers,
smugglers, spies, and scoundrels of every description, the whole
commanded by a character of the name of ----. Who or what this
gentleman was I have never been able to discover, but judging by his
work and by the men under him, he must have been a second Musolino.
This corps had its headquarters at Komati Poort, under Major
Steinacker, to whom was probably entrusted the task of guarding the
Portuguese frontier, and he must have been given _carte blanche_ as
regards his mode of operation.

From all accounts the primary occupation of this corps appeared to be
looting, and the kaffirs attached to it were used for scouting,
fighting, and worse. Many families in the northern part of Lydenburg
had been attacked in lonely spots, and on one occasion the white men
on one of these marauding expeditions had allowed the kaffirs to
murder ten defenceless people with their assegais and hatchets,
capturing their cattle and other property. In like manner were
massacred the relatives of Commandants Lombard, Vermaak, Rudolf and
Stoltz, and doubtless many others who were not reported to me. The
reader will now understand my anxiety to put some check on these
lawless brigands. The instructions to the commando which I had sent
out, and which would reach M'pisana's in two days, were briefly to
take the fort and afterwards do as circumstances dictated. If my men
failed they would have the desperadoes pursue them on their swift
horses, and all the kaffir tribes would conspire against us, so that
none would escape on our side. A kaffir was generally understood to be
a neutral person in this War, and unless found armed within our lines,
with no reasonable excuse for his presence, we generally left him
alone. They were, however, largely used as spies against us, keeping
to their kraals in the daytime and issuing forth at night to ascertain
our position and strength. They also made good guides for the English
troops, who often had not the faintest idea of the country in which
they were. It must not be forgotten that when a kaffir is given a
rifle he at once falls a prey to his brutal instincts, and his only
amusement henceforth becomes to kill without distinction of age,
colour, or sex. Several hundreds of such natives, led by white men,
were roaming about in this district, and all that was captured,
plundered or stolen was equally divided among them, 25 per cent. being
first deducted for the British Government.

I have indulged in this digression in order to describe another phase
with which we had to contend in our struggle for existence. I have
reason to believe, however, that the British Commander-in-Chief, for
whom I have always had the greatest respect, was not at that time
aware of the remarkable character of these operations, carried on as
they were in the most remote parts of the country; and there is no
doubt that had he been aware of their true character he would have
speedily brought these miscreants to justice.



CHAPTER XL.

CAPTURING A FREEBOOTER'S LAIR.


Early in the morning of the 6th of August, as the breaking dawn was
tinting the tops of the Lebombo Mountains with its purple dye and the
first rays of the rising sun shed its golden rays over the sombre
bushveldt, the commando under Commandants Moll and Schoeman were
slowly approaching the dreaded M'pisana's fort. When within a few
hundred paces of it they left the horses behind and slowly crept up to
it in scattered order; for as none of us knew the arrangement or
construction of the place, it had been arranged to advance very
cautiously and to charge suddenly on the blowing of a whistle. Nothing
was stirring in the fort as we approached, and we began to think that
the garrison had departed; but when barely 70 yards from it the
officers noticed some forms moving about in the trenches, which
encompassed it. The whistle was blown and the burghers charged, a
cheer rising from a hundred throats. Volley after volley was
discharged from the trenches, but our burghers rushed steadily on,
jumped into the trenches themselves and drove the defenders into the
fort through secret passages. The English now began firing on us
through loopholes in the walls and several of our men had fallen, when
Commandant Moll shouted, "Jump over the wall!" A group of burghers
rushed at the 12-foot wall, and attempted to scale it; but a heavy
fire was directed on them and seven burghers, including the valiant
Commandant Moll, fell severely wounded. Nothing daunted, Captain
Malan, who was next in command of the division, urged his men to go
on, and most of them succeeded in jumping into the fort, where, after
a desperate resistance, in which Captain ----, their leader, fell
mortally wounded, the whole band surrendered to us. Our losses were
six burghers killed, whilst Commandant Moll and 12 others were
severely wounded. The burghers found one white man killed in the
fort, and two wounded, whilst a score of kaffirs lay wounded and dead.
We took 24 white prisoners and about 50 kaffirs. I repeat that the
whites were the lowest specimens of humanity that one can possibly
imagine.

Hardly was the fight over and our prisoners disarmed when a sentry we
had posted on the wall called out:

"Look out, there is a kaffir commando coming!"

It was, in fact, a strong kaffir commando, headed by the chief
M'pisana himself, who had come to the rescue of his friends of
Steinacker's Horse. They opened fire on us at about 100 yards, and the
burghers promptly returned their greeting, bowling over a fair number
of them, at which the remainder retired.

Alongside the fort were about 20 small huts, in which we found a
number of kaffir girls. On being asked who they were, they repeated
that they were the "missuses" of the white soldiers. Inside the
captured fort we found many useful articles, and the official books
of this band. They contained systematic entries of what had been
plundered, looted and stolen on their marauding expeditions and showed
how they had been divided amongst themselves, deducting 25 per cent.
for the British Government.

A long and extensive correspondence now took place about this matter
between myself and Lord Kitchener. I wished first to know whether the
gang was a recognised part of the British Army, as otherwise I should
have to treat them as ordinary brigands. After some delay Lord
Kitchener answered that they were a part of His Majesty's Army. I then
wished to know if he would undertake to try the men for their
misdeeds, but this was refused. This correspondence ultimately led to
a meeting between General Bindon Blood and myself, which was held at
Lydenburg on the 27th August, 1901.

The captured kaffirs were tried by court-martial and each punished
according to his deserts. The 24 Englishmen were handed over to the
enemy, after having given their word of honour not to return to their
barbarous life. How far this promise was kept I do not know; but from
the impression they made upon me I do not think they had much idea of
what honour meant. The captured cattle which we had hoped to find at
the fort had been sent away to Komati Poort a few days before our
attack and according to their "books" it must have numbered about
4,000 heads. Another section of this notorious corps met with a like
fate about this time at Bremersdorp in Swaziland. They did not there
offer such a determined resistance, and the Ermelo burghers captured
two good Colt-Maxims and two loads of ammunition probably intended for
Swaziland natives.



CHAPTER XLI.

AMBUSHING THE HUSSARS.


On August 10th, shortly after our arrival with the prisoners-of-war at
Sabi, and while I was still discussing with Lord Kitchener the
incident related in the previous chapter, General Muller sent word to
me from Olifant's River, where I had left him with my men, that he had
been attacked by General W. Kitchener three days after I had left him.
It appears that his sentries were surprised and cut off from the
commandos, these being divided into different camps.

The burghers who were farthest away, the Middelburg and Johannesburg
men, had, contrary to my instructions, pitched camp on the Blood
River, near Rooikraal, and were suddenly and unexpectedly attacked by
the enemy at about two o'clock in the afternoon, whilst their horses
were grazing in the veldt. Some horses were caught in time and some
burghers offered a little resistance, firing at a short range, several
men being killed on both sides. The confusion, however, was
indescribable, horses, cattle, burghers and soldiers being all mixed
up together. A pom-pom, together with its team of mules and harness,
and most of the carts and saddles, were captured by the enemy. Our
officers could not induce the men to make a determined stand until
they had retired to the Mazeppa Drift, on the Olifant's River. Here
General Muller arrived in the night with some reinforcements and
awaited the enemy, who duly appeared next morning with a division of
the 18th and 19th Hussars, and, encouraged by the previous day's
success, charged our men with a well-directed fire which wrought havoc
in their ranks. The gallant Hussars were repulsed in one place, and,
at another, Major Davies (or Davis) and 20 men were made prisoners. At
last some guns and reinforcements reached the enemy, and our burghers
wisely retired, going as far as Eland's River, near the "Double
Drifts," where they rested.

On the third day General W. Kitchener had discovered our whereabouts,
and our sentries gave us warning that the enemy was approaching
through the bushes, raising great clouds of dust. While the waggons
were being got ready the burghers marched out, and awaited the English
in a convenient spot between two kopjes. The latter rode on
unsuspectingly two by two, and when about 100 had been allowed to
pass, our men rushed out, calling, "Hands up!" and, catching hold of
their horses' bridles, disarmed about 30 men. This caused an immediate
panic, and most of the Hussars fled (closely pursued by our burghers,
who shot 10 or 12 of them). The Hussars left behind a Colt-Maxim and a
heliograph for our usage. The ground was overgrown here with a
prickly, thorny bush, which made it difficult for our foes to escape,
and about 20 more were overtaken and caught, several having been
dragged from their horses by protruding branches, and with their face
and hands badly injured by thorns, whilst their clothes were half
torn off their bodies.

Meanwhile the enemy continued to fire on us whilst retreating, and
thus succeeded in wounding several of their own people. This running
fight lasted until late in the evening, when the burghers slackened
off their pursuit and returned, their losses being only one killed,
Lieut. D. Smit, of the Johannesburg Police. The enemy's losses were
considerable, although one could not estimate the exact number, as the
dead were scattered over a large tract of ground and hidden amongst
the bushes, rendering it difficult to find them. Weeks afterwards,
when we returned over the same ground, we still found some bodies
lying about the bush, and gave them decent burial.

Our burghers were now once more in possession of 100 fresh horses and
saddles, whilst their pom-pom was replaced by a Colt-Maxim. General W.
Kitchener now left us alone for a while, for which relief we were very
thankful, and fell back on the railway line. The respite, however, was
short-lived; soon fresh columns were seen coming up from Middelburg
and Pretoria, and we were again attacked, some fighting taking place
mostly on our old battlefields. General Muller repeatedly succeeded in
tearing up the railway line and destroying trains with provisions,
whilst I had the good fortune of capturing a commissariat train, near
Modelane, on the Delagoa Bay line; but, as I could not remove the
goods, I was forced to burn the whole lot. A train, apparently with
reinforcements, was also blown up, the engine and carriages going up
in the air with fine effect.



CHAPTER XLII.

I TALK WITH GENERAL BLOOD.


About the end of August, 1901, I met General Sir Bindon Blood at
Lydenburg by appointment. We had arranged to discuss several momentous
questions there, as we made little progress by correspondence. In the
first place, we accused the English of employing barbarous kaffir
tribes against us; in the second place, of abusing the usage of the
white flag by repeatedly sending officers through our lines with
seditious proclamations which we would not recognise, and we could
only obey our own Government and not theirs; in the third place, we
complained of their sending our women with similar proclamations to us
from the Concentration Camps and making them solemnly promise to do
all that they could to induce their husbands to surrender and thus
regain their liberty. This we considered was a rather mean device on
the part of our powerful enemy. There was also other minor questions
to discuss with regard to the Red Cross.

I went into the English line accompanied by my adjutants, Nel and
Bedeluighuis, and my secretary, Lieutenant W. Malan. At Potloodspruit,
four miles from Lydenburg, I met General Blood's chief staff officer,
who conducted us to him. At the entrance of the village a guard of
honour had been placed and received us with military honours. I could
not understand the meaning of all this fuss, especially as the streets
through which we passed were lined with all sorts of spectators, and
to my great discomfort I found myself the chief object of this
interest. On every side I heard the question asked, "Which is
Viljoen?" and, on my being pointed out, I often caught the
disappointed answer, "Is that him?" "By Jove, he looks just like other
people." They had evidently expected to see a new specimen of mankind.

In the middle of the village we halted before a small, neat house,
which I was told was General Blood's headquarters. The General himself
met us on the threshold; a well-proportioned, kindly-looking man about
50 years of age, evidently a genuine soldier and an Irishman, as I
soon detected by his speech. He received us very courteously, and as I
had little time at my disposal, we at once entered into our
discussion. It would serve little purpose to set down all the details
of our interview, especially as nothing final was decided, since
whatever the General said was subject to Lord Kitchener's approval,
whilst I myself had to submit everything to my Commandant-General.
General Blood promised, however, to stop sending out the women with
their proclamations, and also the officers on similar missions, and
the Red Cross question was also satisfactorily settled. The kaffir
question, however, was left unsettled, although General Blood promised
to warn the kaffir tribes round Lydenburg not to interfere in the War
and not to leave the immediate vicinity of their kraals. (Only the
night before two burghers named Swart had been murdered at Doornkoek
by some kaffirs, who pretended to have done this by order of the
English). The interview lasted about an hour, and besides us two,
Colonel Curran and my secretary, Lieutenant Malan, were present.
General Blood and his staff conducted us as far as Potloodspruit,
where we took leave. The white flag was replaced by the rifle, and we
returned to our respective duties.

[Illustration: Going in under the White Flag to a Conference with
General Blood at Lydenburg.]



CHAPTER XLIII.

MRS. BOTHA'S BABY AND THE "TOMMY."


In September, 1901, after having organized the commandos north of
Lydenburg, I went back with my suite to join my burghers at Olifant's
River, which I reached at the beginning of September. The enemy had
left General Muller alone after the affair with the Hussars. Reports
were coming in from across the railway informing us that much fighting
was going on in the Orange Free State and Cape Colony, and that the
burghers were holding their own. This was very satisfactory news to
us, especially as we had not received any tidings for over a month. I
again sent in a report to our Commandant-General relating my
adventures.

We had much difficulty in getting the necessary food for the
commandos, the enemy having repeatedly crossed the country between
Roos Senekal, Middelburg, and Rhenosterkop, destroying and ravaging
everything. I therefore resolved to split up my forces, the corps
known by the name of the "Rond Commando" taking one portion through
the enemy's lines to Pilgrimsrust, North of Lydenburg, where food was
still abundant. Fighting-General Muller was left behind with the
Boksburg Police and the Middelburg Commando, the Johannesburg corps
going with me to Pilgrim's Rest, where I had my temporary
headquarters. We had plenty of mealies in this district and also
enough cattle to kill, so that we could manage to subsist on these
provisions. We had long since dispensed with tents, but the rains in
the mountain regions of Pilgrim's Rest and the Sabi had compelled us
to find the burghers shelter. At the alluvial diggings at Pilgrim's
Rest we found a great quantity of galvanized iron plates and deals,
which, when cut into smaller pieces, could be used for building. We
found a convenient spot in the mountains between Pilgrim's Rest and
Kruger's Post, where some hundreds of iron or zinc huts were soon
erected, affording excellent cover for the burghers.

Patrols were continually sent out round Lydenburg, and whenever
possible we attacked the enemy, keeping him well occupied. We
succeeded in getting near his outposts from time to time and
occasionally capturing some cattle. This seemed to be very galling to
the English, and towards the end of September we found they were
receiving reinforcements at Lydenburg. This had soon become a
considerable force, in fact in November they crossed the Spekboom
River in great numbers, and at Kruger's Post came upon our outposts,
when there was some fighting. The enemy did not go any further that
night. The following day we had to leave these positions and the other
side took them and camped there. Next day they moved along Ohrigstad
River with a strong mounted force and a good many empty waggons,
evidently to collect the women-folk in that place. I had to proceed by
a circuitous route in order to get ahead of the enemy. The road led
across a steep mountain and through thickly grown kloofs, which
prevented us from reaching the enemy until they had burnt all the
houses, destroyed the seed plants, and loaded the families on their
carts, after which they withdrew to the camp at Kruger's Post. We at
once charged the enemy's rearguard, and a heavy fight followed, which,
however, was of short duration. The English fled, leaving some dead
and wounded behind, also some dozens of helmets and "putties" which
had got entangled in the trees. We also captured a waggon loaded with
provisions and things that had been looted, such as women's clothes
and rugs, a case of Lee-Metford ammunition and a number of uniforms.
Some days after the enemy tried to get through to Pilgrim's Rest, but
had to retire before our rifle fire. They managed, however, to get to
Roosenkrans, where a fight of only some minutes ensued, when they
retired to Kruger's Post. They only stopped there for a few days,
marching back to Lydenburg at night time just when we had carefully
planned a night attack. We destroyed the Spekboom River bridge shortly
after, thus preventing the enemy's return from Lydenburg to Kruger's
Post in a single night. Although there is a drift through the river
it cannot be passed in the dark without danger, especially with guns
and carts, without which no English column will march. Every fortnight
I personally proceeded with my adjutants through the enemy's lines
near Lydenburg to see how the commando in the South were getting on
and to arrange matters.

The month of November, 1901, passed without any remarkable incidents.
We organized some expeditions to the Delagoa Bay Railway, but without
much success, and during one of these the burghers succeeded in laying
a mine near Hector's Spruit Station during the night. They were lying
in ambush next day waiting for a train to come along when a "Tommy"
went down the line and noticed some traces of the ground having been
disturbed which roused his suspicions. He saw the mine and took the
dynamite out. Two burghers who were lying in the long grass shouted
"Hands up." Tommy threw his rifle down and with his hands up in the
air ran up to the burghers saying, before they could speak, "I say,
did you hear the news that Mrs. Botha gave birth to a son in Europe?"

They could not help laughing, and the "Tommy," looking very innocent,
answered:

"I am not telling you a fib."

One of the burghers coaxed him by telling him they did not doubt his
word, only the family news had come so prematurely.

"Well," returned "Tommy," "Oi thought you blokes would be interested
in your boss's family, that's why I spoke."

The courteous soldier was sent back with instructions to get some
better clothes, for those he had on his back were all torn and dirty
and they were not worth taking.

The expedition was now a failure, for the enemy had been warned and
the sentries were doubled along the line.

In December, 1901, we tried an attack on a British convoy between
Lydenburg and Machadodorp. I took a mounted commando and arrived at
Schvemones Cleft after four days' marching through the Sabinek via
Cham Sham, an arduous task, as we had to go over the mountains and
through some rivers. Some of my officers went out scouting in order
to find the best place for an attack on the convoy. The enemy's
blockhouses were found to be so close together on the road along which
the convoy had to pass as to make it very difficult to get at it. But
having come such a long way nobody liked to go back without having at
least made an effort. We therefore marched during the night and found
some hiding places along the road where we waited, ready to charge
anything coming along. At dawn next day I found the locality to be
very little suitable for the purpose we had in view, but if we were
now to move the enemy would notice our presence from the blockhouses.
We would, therefore, either have to lie low till dusk or make an
attack after all. We had already captured several of the enemy's
spies, whom we kept prisoners so as not to be betrayed. Towards the
afternoon the convoy came by and we charged on horseback. The English,
who must have seen us coming, were ready to receive our charge and
poured a heavy fire into us from ditches and trenches and holes in the
ground. We managed to dislodge the enemy's outerflanks and to make
several prisoners, but could not reach the carts on account of the
heavy fire from a regiment of infantry escorting the waggons. I
thought the taking of the convoy would cost more lives than it was
worth, and gave orders to cease firing. We lost my brave adjutant,
Jaapie Oliver, while Captain Giel Joubert and another burgher were
wounded. On the other side Captain Merriman and ten men were wounded.
I do not know how many killed he had.

We went back to Schoeman's Kloof the same day, where we buried our
comrades and attended to the wounded. The blockhouses and garrisons
along the convoy road were now fortified with entrenchments and guns,
and we had to abandon our plan of further attacks. It was raining fast
all the time we were out on this expedition, which caused us serious
discomfort. We had very few waterproofs, and, all the houses in the
district having been burnt down, there was no shelter for man or
beast. We slowly retired on Pilgrim's Rest, having to cross several
swollen rivers.

On our arrival at Sabi I received the sad tidings that four burghers
named Stoltz had been cruelly murdered by kaffirs at Witriver.
Commandant Du Toit had gone there with a patrol and found the bodies
in a shocking condition, plundered and cut to pieces with assegais,
and, according to the trace, the murderers had come from Nelspruit
Station.

Another report came from General Muller at Steenkampsberg. He informed
me that he had stormed a camp during the night of the 16th December,
but had been forced to retire after a fierce fight, losing 25 killed
and wounded, amongst whom was the valiant Field-Cornet J. J. Kriege.
The enemy's losses were also very heavy, being 31 killed and wounded,
including Major Hudson.

It should not be imagined that we had to put up with very primitive
arrangements in every respect. Where we were now stationed, to the
north of Lydenburg, we even had telephonic communication between
Spitskop and Doornhoek, with call-offices at Sabi and Pilgrim's Rest.
The latter place is in the centre of the diggers' population here,
and a moderate-sized village. There are a few hundred houses in it,
and it is situated 30 miles north-east of Lydenburg. Here are the
oldest goldfields known in South Africa, having been discovered in
1876. This village had so far been permanently in our possession.
General Buller had been there with his force in 1900 but had not
caused any damage, and the enemy had not returned since. The mines and
big stamp-batteries were protected by us and kept in order by neutral
persons under the management of Mr. Alex. Marshall. We established a
hospital there under the supervision of Dr. A. Neethling. About forty
families were still in residence and there was enough food, although
it was only simple fare and not of great variety. Yet people seemed to
be very happy and contented so long as they were allowed to live among
their own people.



CHAPTER XLIV.

THE LAST CHRISTMAS OF THE WAR.


December, 1901, passed without any important incident. We only had a
few insignificant outpost skirmishes with the British garrison at
Witklip to the south of Lydenburg. Both belligerents in this district
attempted to annoy each other as much as possible by blowing up each
other's mills and storehouses. Two of the more adventurous spirits
amongst my scouts, by name Jordaan and Mellema, succeeded in blowing
up a mill in the Lydenburg district used by the British for grinding
corn, and the enemy very soon retaliated by blowing up one of our
mills at Pilgrim's Rest. As the Germans say, "_Alle gute dingen sind
drei_." Several such experiences and the occasional capture of small
droves of British cattle were all the incidents worth mentioning. It
was in this comparatively quiet manner that the third year of our
campaign came to a termination. The War was still raging and our lot
was hard, but we did not murmur. We decided rather to extract as much
pleasure and amusement out of the Christmas festivities as the
extraordinary circumstances in which we found ourselves rendered
possible.

The British for the time being desisted from troubling us, and our
stock and horses being in excellent condition, we arranged to hold a
sort of gymkhana on Christmas Day. In the sportive festivities of the
day many interesting events took place. Perhaps the most noteworthy of
these were a mule race, for which nine competitors entered, and a
ladies' race, in which six fair pedestrians took part. The spectacle
of nine burly, bearded Boers urging their asinine steeds to top speed
by shout and spur provoked quite as much honest laughter as any
theatrical farce ever excited. We on the grand stand were but a shaggy
and shabby audience, but we were in excellent spirits and cheered with
tremendous gusto the enterprising jockey who won this remarkable
"Derby." Shabby as we were, we subscribed £115 in prizes. After the
sports I have just described the company retired to a little tin
church at Pilgrim's Rest, and there made merry by singing hymns and
songs round a little Christmas tree.

Later in the evening a magic-lantern, which we had captured from the
British, was brought into play, and with this we regaled 90 of our
juvenile guests. The building was crowded and the utmost enthusiasm
reigned. The ceremony was opened by the singing of hymns and the
making of speeches, a harmonium adding largely to the enjoyment of the
evening. I felt somewhat nervous when called upon to address the
gathering, for the children were accompanied by their mothers, and
these stared at me with expectant eyes as if they would say, "See, the
General is about to speak; his words are sure to be full of wisdom." I
endeavoured to display great coolness, and I do not think I failed
very markedly as an extemporaneous orator. I was helped very
considerably in the speechmaking part of the programme by my good
friends the Rev. Neethling and Mr. W. Barter, of Lydenburg. I have not
now the slightest idea of what I spoke about except that I
congratulated the little ones and their mothers on being preserved
from the Concentration Camps, where so many of their friends were
confined.

I have mentioned that there were young ladies with us who participated
in the races. These were some whom the British had kindly omitted to
place in the Concentration Camps, and it was remarkable to see how
soon certain youthful and handsome burghers entered into amorous
relations with these young ladies, and matters developed so quickly
that I was soon confronted with a very curious problem. We had no
marriage officers handy, and I, as General, had not been armed with
any special authority to act as such. Two blushing heroes came to me
one morning accompanied by clinging, timorous young ladies, and
declared that they had decided that since I was their General I had
full authority to marry them. I was taken aback by this request, and
asked, "Don't you think, young fellows, that under the circumstances
you had better wait a little till after the termination of the war?"
"Yes," they admitted, "perhaps it would be more prudent, General, but
we have been waiting three years already!"

In General De la Rey's Commando, which comprised burghers from eight
large districts, it had been found necessary to appoint marriage
officers, and quite a large number of marriages were contracted. I
mention this to show how diversified are the duties of the Boer
general in war-time, and what sort of strange offices he is sometimes
called upon to perform.

It will be seen from what I have said that occasionally the dark
horizon of our veldt life was lit up by the bright sunshine of the
lighter elements of life. At most times our outlook was gloomy enough,
and our hearts were heavily weighed down by cares. I often found my
thoughts involuntarily turning to those who had so long and so
faithfully stood shoulder to shoulder with me through all the
vicissitudes of war, fighting for what we regarded as our holy right,
to obtain which we were prepared to sacrifice our lives and our all.
Unconsciously I recalled on this Christmas Day the words of General
Joubert addressed to us outside Ladysmith in 1899: "Happy the
Africander who shall not survive the termination of this War." Time
will show, if it have not already shown, the wisdom of General
Joubert's words.

Just about this time rumours of various kinds were spread abroad. From
several sources we heard daily that the War was about to end, that the
English had evacuated the country because their funds were exhausted,
that Russia and France had intervened, and that Lord Kitchener had
been captured by De Wet and liberated on condition that he and his
troops left South Africa immediately. It was even said that General
Botha had received an invitation from the British Government to come
and arrange a Peace on "independence" lines.

Nobody will doubt that we on the veldt were desperately anxious to
hear the glad tidings of Peace. We were weary of the fierce struggle,
and we impatiently awaited the time when the Commandant-General and
the Government should order us to sheathe the sword.

But the night of the Old Year left us engaged in the fierce conflict
of hostilities, and the dawn of the New Year found us still enveloped
in the clouds of war--clouds whose blackness was relieved by no silver
lining.



CHAPTER XLV.

MY LAST DAYS ON THE VELDT.


The first month of 1902 found the storm of death and destruction still
unabated, and the prospect appeared as dark as at the commencement of
the previous year. Our hand, however, was on the plough, and there was
no looking back. My instructions were, "Go forward and persevere."

To the south of Lydenburg, where a section of my commando under
General Muller was operating, the enemy kept us very busy, for they
had one or more columns engaged. We, to the north of Lydenburg, had a
much calmer time of it than our brethren to the south of that place,
for there the British were pursuing their policy of exhausting our
people with unsparing hand. I attribute the fact that we in the north
were left comparatively undisturbed to the mountainous nature of the
country. It would have been impossible for the British to have
captured us or to have invaded our mountain recesses successfully
without a tremendous force, and, obviously, the British had no such
force at their disposal. Probably also the British had some respect
for the prowess of my commando. An English officer afterwards told me
in all seriousness that the British Intelligence Department had
information that I was prowling round to the north of Lydenburg with
4,000 men and two cannons, and that my men were so splendidly
fortified that our position was unconquerable. Of course, it was not
in my interest to enlighten him upon the point. I was a
prisoner-of-war when this amusing information was given me, and I
simply answered: "Yes, your intelligence officers are very smart
fellows." The officer then inquired, with an assumption of candour and
innocence, whether it was really a fact that we had still cannon in
the field. To this I retorted: "What would you think if I put a
similar question to a British officer who had fallen into my hands?"
At this he bit his thumb and stammered: "I beg your pardon; I did not
mean to--er--insult you." He was quite a young chap this, a conceited
puppy, affecting the "haw-haw," which seems to be epidemic in the
British Army. His hair was parted down the centre, in the manner so
popular among certain British officers, and this style of
hair-dressing came to be described by the Boers as "middel-paadje"
(middle-path). As a matter of fact, my men only numbered as many
hundreds as the thousands attributed to me by the British. As for
cannons, they simply existed in the imagination of the British
Intelligence Department.

Affairs were daily growing more critical. Since the beginning of the
year we had made several attempts at destroying the Delagoa Bay
Railway, but the British had constructed so formidable a network of
barbed wire, and their blockhouses were so close together and strongly
garrisoned, that hitherto our attempts had been abortive. The line
was also protected by a large number of armoured trains.

In consequence of our ill-success in this enterprise, we turned our
attention to other directions. We reconnoitred the British garrisons
in the Lydenburg district with the object of striking at their weakest
point. A number of my officers and men proceeded under cover of
darkness right through the British outposts, and gained the Lydenburg
village by crawling on their hands and knees. On their return journey
they were challenged and fired on several times, and managed only with
difficulty to return to camp unhurt. The object of the reconnaissance
was, however, accomplished. They reported to me that the village was
encompassed with barbed wire, and that a number of blockhouses had
been built round it, and also that various large houses of the village
had been barricaded and were strongly occupied. My two professional
scouts, Jordaan and Mellema, had also reconnoitred the village from
another direction, and had brought back confirmatory information and
the news that Lydenburg was occupied by about 2,000 British soldiers,
consisting of the Manchester Regiment and the First Royal Irish,
together with a corps of "hands-uppers" under the notorious Harber.
Three other Boer spies scouting about the forts on the Crocodile
Heights also brought in discouraging reports.

At the Council of War which then took place, and over which I
presided, these reports were discussed, and we agreed to attack the
two blockhouses nearest the village, and thereafter to storm the
village itself. I should mention that it was necessary for us to
capture the blockhouses before attempting to take the village itself,
for had we left them intact we should have run the danger of having
our retreat cut off.

The attack was to take place next night, and as we approached the
British lines on horseback, between Spekboom River and Potloodspruit,
we dismounted, and proceeded cautiously on foot. One of the objective
blockhouses was on the waggon path to the north of the village, and
the other was 1,000 yards to the east of Potloodspruit. Field-Cornet
Young, accompanied by Jordaan and Mellema, crept up to within 10 feet
of one of these blockhouses, and brought me a report that the barbed
wire network which surrounded it rendered an assault an impossible
task in the darkness. Separating my commando of 150 men into two
bodies, I placed them on either side of the blockhouse, sending, in
the meanwhile, four men to cut down the wire fences. These men had
instructions to give us a signal when they had achieved this object,
so that we could then proceed to storm the fort. It would have been
sacrificing many in vain to have attempted to proceed without
effecting the preliminary operation of fence cutting, since, if we had
stormed a blockhouse without first removing the wire, we should have
become entangled in the fences and have offered splendid targets to
the enemy at a very short range, and our losses would, without doubt,
have been considerable.

My fence-cutters stuck doggedly to their task despite the fact that
they were being fired upon by the sentries on guard. It was a long
and weary business, but we patiently waited, lying on the ground.
Towards 2 o'clock in the morning the officer in command of the
wire-cutters returned to us, stating that they had accomplished their
object in cutting the first wire barrier, but had come across another
which it would require several hours to cut through. The sentries had,
in the meantime, grown unpleasantly vigilant, and were now frequently
firing on our men. They were often so close that at one time, in the
darkness, they might have knocked up against the Boers who were
cutting their fences.

It being very nearly 3 o'clock, it appeared to me that the attempt
would be ineffectual owing to the approach of daylight, and we were
forced to retire before the rays of the rising sun lit the heavens and
exposed us to the well-aimed fire of the British. I therefore
resolved, after consulting my officers, to retire quietly, and to
renew my attempt a week later at another point. We returned to camp
much disappointed, but consoled ourselves with the hope that success
would attend our next efforts.



CHAPTER XLVI.

I AM AMBUSHED AND CAPTURED.


I may say that the barbed wire fences by which the blockhouses were
encompassed, constituted very formidable obstacles to our attacks. Our
men were comparatively few, and we could not afford to lose any of
them in futile attempts to capture strongly garrisoned British forts.
Moreover, there were many other ways of inflicting damage on the enemy
that did not lay us open to so much danger.

Heavy and continuous rains had been experienced for some time, and the
rivers and spruits were greatly swollen. The whole of the Lydenburg
district, in which we were operating, was besides enveloped in a thick
mist, and both these causes rendered reconnoitring very difficult and
perilous, as we never knew how near the enemy's patrols might be.

About the 15th of January, 1902, I obtained information that our
Government were being chased all over the country, and had now
encamped at Windhoek near Dullstroom, to the south of Lydenburg. At
the same time I received an order from Acting-President Schalk Burger,
stating that he wished to see me. This latter intelligence was very
acceptable, for I was anxious to renew acquaintance with the
President, and with a personal friend of mine, Mr. J. C. Krojk, who
was attached to the Field Government. Therefore, on receiving this
instruction, I set out from Pilgrim's Rest accompanied by Adjutants
Nel, Coetzee, Bester, and Potgieter, for the place where the
Government were encamped. I little expected as I rode along that this
would be my last and most fateful expedition.

I calculated that I should be away eight days, and, wishing to be
present at any active operations that might be conducted, I
instructed my brother, whom I left in charge of my forces, to make no
attack during my absence. After leaving Pilgrim's Rest, I and my
companions rode briskly forth along the path past Dornbock, Roodekrans
and Kruger's Post. We encamped at the latter place at night-fall. Next
day we again set out, and having succeeded in passing the British
forts and blockhouses to the north of Lydenburg, we came upon the
Spekboom River. This river was so swollen by the recent rains that no
fording was possible, and we were only able to cross by making our
horses swim. At one o'clock we reached Koodekraus, and off-saddled
there. This place is about 15 miles to the west of Lydenburg. At dawn
the next day, after having reconnoitred the country in the
neighbourhood, we proceeded cautiously in the direction of
Steenkampsberg until we were meet by messengers, who told us precisely
where our Government was to be found. That evening we found our
locomotive Administration encamped at Mopochsburgen, to which place
they had retreated before a hostile column, which was operating from
Belfast.

The greetings that were exchanged were of the heartiest character, and
we sat chatting round the camp fires far into the night. That we had
much to talk about and many stories to relate of the vicissitudes of
war needs no saying. I personally received the very lamentable tidings
that my sister, her husband, and three of their children had died in
the Concentration Camp at Pietersburg.

Two days after we arrived, the Government received a report from
General Muller stating that two hostile columns were approaching. We
had not long to wait. The enemy attacked us in the afternoon, but did
not succeed in driving us from our position. We were not, however, in
a position to sustain a long battle, owing to scarcity of ammunition.
Many of our burghers had only five cartridges left and some had not
even one. Therefore, that same night--I think it was the 21st of
January although I had lost count of dates--the Government, whom I
accompanied, departed and proceeded to the Kloof Oshoek, between
Dullstroom and Lydenburg. The weather was very unpropitious, rain
falling in torrents, and as may be understood, we were in a sad
plight. We were protected by nothing except our mackintoshes, and
greatly envied a member of the party who was the proud possessor of a
small piece of canvas.

It had been decided that the Government should proceed on the 25th of
January from Oshoek to Pilgrim's Rest, but the information that the
British were not pressing their pursuit, caused them to give up this
project, for it was thought advisable to await the enemy's next move.
I should here mention that the further the Government were chased, the
more difficult they found it to keep up communications with the
Commandant-General and the Orange Free State Government. With the
latter, however, despatches were being exchanged concerning very
important matters which I consider as still improper to disclose. The
Government having determined not to proceed, I decided to bid
farewell, and to proceed with my attendants on the way to Pilgrim's
Rest.

Accordingly, on the 25th of January, we left the Government at Oshoek
and rode along to Zwagerhoek, where we remained till sundown. We were
now nearing the enemy's country, and so, having carefully reconnoitred
the ground, we set forth cautiously at dusk. Two young Boers, who were
also on the road to Pilgrim's Rest, had meanwhile joined us, and,
including my kaffir servant, our party comprised eight persons. We
soon passed the fateful spot where Commandant Schoenman had been
captured in the early part of the War, and forded the Spekboom River.

I am not superstitious, but I must confess that somehow or other I
experienced considerable disquietude about this time, and felt cold
shivers running down my back. We were just approaching Bloomplaats,
which is about two and half miles to the west of Lydenburg, when we
observed something moving. A deadly silence enveloped the country,
and the brightly-shining moon gave a weird appearance to the moving
objects in the distance which had attracted our attention. Our
suspicions were aroused and we went in pursuit, but soon lost sight of
the object of our quest. We discovered afterwards that our suspicions
were well-founded, and that the moving objects were kaffir spies, who
returned to the British lines and reported our approach. Having failed
in this enterprise we returned to the road, I riding in advance with
Adjutant Bester, the others following. Presently we approached a deep
spruit, and having dismounted, we were cautiously leading our horses
down the steep bank, when suddenly we found ourselves the centre of a
perfect storm of bullets. We were completely taken by surprise, and
almost before we realised what had happened, we found ourselves
confronted by two rows of British soldiery, who shouted "Hands up,"
and fired simultaneously. Bullets whistled in every direction. The
first volley laid my horse low, and I found myself on the ground half
stunned. When I recovered somewhat and lifted my head, I discovered
myself surrounded, but the dust and the flash of firing prevented me
from seeing much of what occurred. It seemed hopeless to attempt
escape, and I cried excitedly that I was ready to surrender. So loud,
however, was the noise of shouting that my cries were drowned. One
soldier viciously pressed his gun against my breast as if about to
shoot me, but thrusting the barrel away, I said in English that I saw
no chance of escape, that I did not defend myself, and there was no
reason therefore why he should kill me. While I was talking he again
drove his rifle against me, and I, having grasped it firmly, a very
animated argument took place, for he strongly resented my grasping his
gun. Outstretching my hand I asked "Tommy" to help me up, and this he
did. I afterwards learned that the name of my assailant was Patrick,
and that he belonged to the Irish Rifles.

[Illustration: My Capture.]

Four or five soldiers now took charge of me, and at my request
consented to conduct me to an officer. Just as they were about to
lead me away, however, they all fell flat upon their chests, and
directed their fire at an object, which turned out later to be a bush.
I very soon discovered that the "Tommies" were not very circumspect in
their fire, and I sought safety by lying on the ground. Having
discovered the innocent nature of their target, my guards conducted me
before one of their officers, a young man named Walsh, who seemed to
belong to the British Intelligence Department. This officer enquired,
"Well, what is it?" I answered him in his own language, "My name is
Viljoen, and not wishing to be plundered by your soldiers, I desire to
place myself under the protection of an officer." He was quite a minor
officer this Mr. Walsh, but he said kindly, "All right, it is rather a
lucky haul, sir; you look quite cool, are you hurt?" I replied that I
was not hurt, though it was a miracle that I was still alive, for a
bullet had struck my chest, and would have penetrated had my
pocket-book not stopped it. The fact was, that my pocket-book had
served the providential service of the proverbial bible or pack of
cards. Bester was with me, and not seeing my other adjutants, I
enquired what had become of them. Walsh did not reply at once, and one
of the "Tommies" standing close by said, "Both killed, sor." This
information was a terrible blow to me.

Major Orr, of the Royal Irish Regiment, was in charge of the force
that had captured me, and presently I was taken before him. He greeted
me most courteously and said, "I believe we are old friends, General
Viljoen; at least you captured some of my comrades in that regrettable
affair at Belfast." I was greatly touched by Major Orr's kindness, and
asked that I might see those of my men who had been killed. He
immediately consented, and led me a few paces aside. My gaze was soon
arrested by a heartrending spectacle. There on the ground lay the two
lifeless forms of my brave and faithful adjutants, Jacobus Nel and L.
Jordaan. As I bent over their prostrate bodies my eyes grew dim with
the sad tears of my great bereavement. Major Orr stood uncovered by
my side, touched by my deep emotion and paying homage to the brave
dead. "These men were heroes," I said to him with broken voice. "They
followed me because they loved me, and they fearlessly risked their
lives for me several times." The good Major was full of sympathy, and
made provision for the decent burial of my poor comrades at Lydenburg.

Bester and I were now conducted under an escort of 150 soldiers with
fixed bayonets to the village, which was two and a half miles off. We
reached Lydenburg very wet and gloomy, after having waded through a
drift whose waters reached up to our armpits. Major Orr did his best
to console us both with refreshment and kind words.

Our procession was presently joined by an officer of the British
Intelligence Department, and this gentleman told me that he knew of
the approach of my party, and that the chief object of the British in
attacking us was to capture our itinerant Government, who they
learned were to accompany us. He was very anxious to know where the
Government was, and whether it was intended that they should pass that
way. But I answered his queries by telling him that it was quite
unworthy of a gentleman to put such questions to me, and to attempt to
exploit my most unfortunate position.

Arriving at the village, I was treated with great courtesy, and was
introduced by Major Orr to Colonel Guinness, the commanding officer.
Colonel Guinness declared that he regarded it as an honour to have a
man of my rank as a prisoner-of-war, and that we had fought so
frequently that we were quite old friends. I thanked him for his
compliment, expressing, however, my regret that we had renewed
acquaintance under such unfortunate circumstances.

"That is the fortune of war," said the Colonel. "You have nothing to
be ashamed of, General." We were treated very well by our captors, and
were given accommodation in the apartments of my old friend Captain
Milner, who now filled the office of Provost-Marshal. My meeting with
this gentleman was very cordial, and we sat up till nearly daybreak
relating our different adventures since we had last met at Roos
Senekal, where the worthy Captain was made prisoner by me. He assured
me that his regiment entertained the highest respect for me and my
burghers, and that they appreciated the fact that we had fought fairly
and gallantly and had well-treated our prisoners-of-war. Bester and I
remained under Milner's care throughout our stay at Lydenburg, and I
shall always remember with gratitude the kindness extended me by the
officers of the Royal Irish Regiment.



CHAPTER XLVII.

SHIPPED TO ST. HELENA.


We were kept at Lydenburg until about the 30th of January, 1902, and
during our stay there I obtained leave to write a letter to my
burghers. In this I acquainted them and my brother with what had
occurred, and exhorted them to keep up their hearts and persevere.
Although kindly treated at Lydenberg, I cannot adequately describe the
feeling of disappointment and sorrow which my enforced inaction caused
me. I would have given anything to have been able to return to my
commando, and felt that I would rather have been killed than have
fallen into the enemy's hands. Being thus rendered impotent I could
but curse my fate.

Friendships which are formed on the veldt are strong indeed, and the
men who have lived together through all the vicissitudes of war for
twenty-eight months--through sunshine and rain, happiness and sorrow,
prosperity and adversity--become attached one to another with lasting
affections. My sufferings hit me very keenly. Besides the sadness
which separation from my companions caused me, I acutely felt my
position as, having been before in the habit of commanding and of
being obeyed by others, I was now subject to the humiliation of having
to obey the orders of British privates.

We prisoners were conveyed from Lydenburg to Machadodorp under the
charge of Colonel Urenston, of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders,
with an escort of 2,000 men. I was at a loss to know why so large a
force should have been sent to guard me, but this seemingly
exaggerated precaution was soon explained when I was told that Lord
Kitchener had given special orders that great care was to be taken to
prevent my commando from rescuing me. I must say that there was not
much chance of that occurring. Colonel Urenston was a very courteous
soldier, and treated me as well as could be expected.

Reaching Machadodorp four days later, I was handed over at Dalmanutha
Station to Captain Pearson, a staff officer, who subsequently
conducted me and my fellow prisoners to Pretoria. Some days after my
arrival there I was taken before Lord Kitchener, and was received very
courteously by him at his office. My interview with this great General
lasted about half an hour. The Commander-in-Chief of the British Army
in South Africa impressed me as being a real soldier, a man possessed
of a strong will not marred by arrogance.

I did not know what the British military authorities proposed to do
with me, and felt quite indifferent as to the matter. At dawn on the
third day after my arrival I was awakened by a soldier and informed
that I was to be taken to the station. The train was in readiness when
I arrived, and the officer in charge invited me to take a seat in his
compartment. I was then told that we were to proceed to Durban, but no
information was given me as to my ultimate destination.

On the train we prisoners were treated with great courtesy, but on
reaching Durban a different experience awaited us. Here I was placed
under the charge of Colonel Ellet, a very irascible person. This
Colonel greeted me with the information that he was quite delighted
that I had been captured. He repeated this gratuitous insult three
times, and, my patience being exhausted, I asked him to be kind enough
to tell me where he was instructed to convey me, and not to cause me
unnecessary pain by his taunts. He apologised lamely and told me that
I was to proceed on board ship. This very much surprised me, and I
remarked that I had already been taken from home and hearth 500 miles.
This ill-tempered creature then lent back arrogantly in his armchair,
puffing at his cigar, and said: "Well, ah, you are banished, don't you
know. You are to be sent to St. Helena, or as we call it, 'The Rock.'
You will shortly embark. It is a large ship you are going in; it is
called--ah, let me see, oh, yes, the _Britannica_. I will proceed to
the station and order your kit, and in the meantime you must sign this
parole and report yourself forthwith at the docks." I said in Dutch,
which the Colonel did not understand, "Lord deliver me from this evil
person."

On arriving on board ship I found several other Boer prisoners-of-war,
amongst them my old friend Erasmus, who masqueraded as a general in
the early stages of the War. Never having been before upon the sea I
was soon in the throes of _mal de mer_, and the prospect was certainly
not encouraging. There was no help for it, however. Colonel Curtis, of
the Royal Artillery, who was in charge of the troops on board, was a
very polite and pleasant person, and very welcome after that
extraordinary creature, Ellet. We were provided with good cabins and
the food was excellent. Before leaving the Bay General Lyttelton
visited me and showed himself very friendly. I soon found out that
Mrs. Lyttelton was proceeding on the same boat to England. My company
must have been rather unattractive, seeing that I was only well for
one day during the whole voyage.

The steamer was ordered to call at Cape Town, and when we neared this
port the guard kept over us was strengthened. An officer remained with
us continually and counted us every two hours to make sure that none
of us had escaped. One day two young Boers conspired to make a fool
of the officer, and concealed themselves in the lavatory. Their
absence was discovered the next time we were counted, and the officer
in charge, in a great state of perturbation, demanded of us what had
become of them. We took up the joke at once, and replied that they had
gone on shore to be shaved and would return at 7 o'clock. This
entirely took his breath away. But the absurdity of the situation so
got the better of us that we burst out into ironical laughter, and
finally set our custodian at ease by producing the two fugitives. We
were punished for our little joke, however, by having our paroles
withdrawn.

On the 19th of February the ship, with its sorrowful freight, steamed
away from Cape Town. We prisoners, assembled on the upper deck, bade a
very sorrowful farewell to the shores of our dear Fatherland. Long and
sadly did we gaze upon the fast receding land from which we expected
to be alienated for ever. Notwithstanding our depressing
circumstances, however, we attempted pluckily to keep up our spirits,
and with laughter and frivolity to cheer each other. Most of us had
never been on a ship before, and only one of our number had ever
voyaged away from South Africa. Ours was a very cheerless prospect,
for, although we did not know our exact fate, banishment for life
loomed over us. The ship's officers were urbanity itself, and did
everything in their power for our comfort. I shall always remember
their kindness, but it would have required much more than human effort
to have made our voyage enjoyable owing to the fact that we suffered
so intensely from sea-sickness.

After a very cheerless and discomforting voyage, we dropped anchor on
the 24th of February in St. Helena Harbour. "The Rock" rose out of the
ocean, bare and rugged, and imprisonment upon it offered a gloomy
prospect. No animal was visible, and foliage was wanting, I never saw
a less attractive place than Jamestown, the port at which we landed.
The houses seemed to be tumbling over one another in a "kloof." We
were all gloomily impressed, and somebody near me said, "This will be
our living graves." I answered, "No wonder that Napoleon broke his
heart upon this God-forsaken rock." I must confess that the feeling
grew upon us that we were to be treated as ordinary criminals, since
only murderers and dangerous people are banished to such places to be
forgotten by mankind.

An English officer came to me and asked what I thought of the Island.
My feelings got the better of me, and I replied--"It seems a suitable
place for England's felons, but it is very spiteful of England to
deport here men whose only crime has been to fight for their country.
It would have been much more merciful to have killed us at once than
to make us drag out an existence in a manner so dreary."

We were soon taken ashore by boats to Jamestown, and there learned to
our great disgust that we were all to be put in quarantine for bubonic
plague, and to be isolated at Lemon Valley, a valley in which I
afterwards found that lemons were conspicuous by their absence. No
greenery was to be seen in this desolate place. While our debarkation
was proceeding one of the boats capsized, but, happily, everybody
escaped with nothing worse than a ducking.

Quarantine regulations were enforced for six days at Lemon Valley. The
accommodation was very inadequate, and our culinary utensils, though
not primitive, were very bad, the food being such as might have been
the portion of criminals.

Luckily for us a British Censor named Baron von Ahlenfeldt, and a
doctor named Casey had accompanied us, and owing to their
instrumentality we were allowed better food and treatment. At the end
of our detention in the quarantine camp some of our number were
removed to Broadbottom Camp, while the others were quartered at
Deadwood Camp. Lieutenant Bathurst, who now assumed the position of
our custodian, was a good prototype of friend Ellet at Durban, and he
was at pains to treat us as felons rather than as prisoners-of-war.



CHAPTER XLVIII.

LIFE IN BONAPARTE'S PRISON.


In order to reach Broadbottom Camp we had to ascend a remarkably rocky
cliff named "Jacob's Ladder," the face of which was cut into a
multitudinous series of steps. Having reached the summit we found a
pleasing view of the Island opened before us. We now discovered that
St. Helena was not the totally-barren rock we had at first been led to
suppose. Patches of trees and greenery met our gaze, and in the midst
of a carefully-cultivated plantation we espied a beautiful house, the
habitation of the Governor of the Island. On our way we encountered a
party of our fellow-prisoners, who, having been guilty of
insubordination, were being taken to the dreary fort at High Knoll for
punishment. Amongst these unfortunates we recognised several friends,
but were not permitted to talk to them.

At sundown our destination was reached at Broadbottom Camp, which is
situated under High Peak. Before us stretched a large space enclosed
by four encirclements of barbed wire containing the tents and houses
which formed the temporary homes of the prisoners-of-war. Sentries
were posted at every hundred paces. There were 2,000 prisoners
stationed here, and as they wandered aimlessly round they forcibly
reminded me of the Israelites in exile.

On entering the camp I was received by the commandant, Colonel Wright,
a typical Briton, who made no pleasant impression upon me. I shall not
be querulous, although the Colonel very bluntly notified to me that he
had no instructions but to treat me in the same manner as the ordinary
prisoners, and added that as my name had appeared in the list of Boer
officers who were sentenced to banishment, he doubted whether I was
entitled even to the treatment accorded to the ordinary
prisoners-of-war. However, a tent was erected for me, and I and my
companions in adversity were given beds and culinary utensils. My bed
consisted of two khaki blankets and a waterproof sheet, and my kitchen
utensils comprised a pot, a washing basin, a pail, two enamelled
plates, two large mugs, and a spoon. This is a complete inventory of
the articles with which I was provided. I and the prisoners who had
accompanied me had not tasted food throughout the whole day, and we
would have gone supperless to bed had it not been that some
compassionate brother prisoners ministered to our inner needs by
providing us with some bully beef and bread, which, though but a
frugal meal, was very welcome to us.

Camp life of the kind I now experienced was wearisome indeed. There
was nothing to do, and we tried to while away the time by singing
psalms and songs. At night the camp and its environments were rendered
almost as bright as day by the glaring light of huge naphtha flares
and by large search-lights which played round, making attempts at
escape hopeless. It appeared to me that the search-lights were
continually being turned in my direction, and I can assure you that I
wished these glaring abominations at Hades. The buzzing and roaring
noise given forth by the naphtha lamps, the monotonous chanting of the
prisoners, the perpetual "All's well" of the sentries, and the
intermingling notes of the bugle calls suffused the air with their
distracting sounds and made me feel as if my head were in a maëlstrom.
The bugler was so amiable a person that he always made it a point of
standing close to my tent when launching forth to the world his
shrieking calls. Happily I became acclimatised to my distasteful
surroundings, or I fear I should have soon graduated as a patient for
a lunatic asylum.

I unhappily became at an early date acquainted with Colonel Price,
commanding the troops on the Island. I shall never forget his
demeanour towards me, for from the first his attitude was arrogant,
cruel, and generally unbearable. He refused me parole, and declined to
give me a pass beyond the confines of the camp. The unreasonableness
of this hard treatment will be seen when it is remembered that not the
slightest possibility of escape from the Island existed. The close
confinement began to play havoc with my health, and I was in the fair
way to the hospital, when a friendly doctor intervened and restored me
to health once more. The rigid discipline and the stern regulations
that were enforced can only be likened to what is experienced in
monastic life. The "red-tape" curse prevailed everywhere.

Subsequently Colonel Price modified his tone towards me and allowed me
parole. He was also gracious enough to permit me and some companions
to occupy a little house 400 paces from the camp. This was a very
agreeable change, for now we were no longer subjected to the harsh
treatment of the "Tommies." Our little residence rejoiced in the
pleasantly-floral name of the "Myrtle Grove," and was rented by us
from an old coloured lady who vigorously insisted upon the punctual
payment of the rent, and drew our special attention to the fact that
plucking pears in the garden was strictly prohibited.

We had been told that the "Myrtle Grove" was haunted by ghosts, but
the ghosts, if any there were, must have been pro-Boers, since they
never disturbed us. But though we had no ghostly visitors we certainly
had some of another kind. The house was perfectly infested by
particularly large and bold rats. These thieving rodents, not
satisfied with robbing our larder, had the audacity to sup off our
fingers and ears while we were asleep. We waged vigorous war against
the vermin, and after considerable difficulty managed to get the
residence exclusively to ourselves. With the addition of some
furniture, with which Colonel Wright was good enough to provide us, we
made our house so comfortable that we felt ourselves almost in a
position to invite the Governor to dinner.

Our landlady, Mrs. Joshua, was the proud possessor of several donkeys,
which were turned loose in our garden, and a large number of fowls. I
may say that Mrs. Joshua was very ill-advised in keeping her fowls so
near our house, for our cook, who had been trained in commando, was
unable to resist the temptation of appropriating eggs. It did not,
however, take our landlady long to find out what was happening, and we
were informed that it was very much more Christianlike to purchase
eggs. We took the hint, and adopted as far as we could Christianlike
methods, though we found it extremely difficult to subscribe to all
the principles of Christianity practised by the Islanders.

We whiled away the time by taking daily walks, and, by making
excursions to the house at Longwood tenanted by Napoleon Bonaparte for
six and a half years, and to the grave where his remains were interred
for 19 years. I noticed that both places were being preserved and kept
in order by the French Government. We used to sit by the little
fountain, where the great French warrior so frequently sat, and read.
We were permitted to drink a glass of water from this historical
spring.

At Deadwood Camp 4,000 of my compatriots were confined. Some had been
there for over two years, and I could not help admiring their
discipline. It is not for me to criticise the entirely unnecessary
restrictions to which these unfortunate prisoners were subjected, but
I will point out that the severity practised towards helpless
prisoners by armed soldiers created feelings of great bitterness. It
was a stupid policy to pursue and perhaps fateful.

The military authorities were entirely unacquainted with the character
and mannerisms of the Boers, and were advised in this connection by
so-called "Cape" or "English" Afrikanders, who bear an ineradicable
hatred to the Boers, and who always did their utmost to cause the
prisoners to be treated with humiliation and contempt. Happily a
number of English officers whom I met on the Island saw that we were
not so black as we had been painted. Most of the officers who acted as
our custodians here had come direct from England and knew nothing of
South Africa. One of these gentlemen confessed to me that when he
left London for St. Helena he had a sort of idea that he was to be
placed in charge of a troop of wild barbarians, and that he had been
quite agreeably disappointed. He declared, indeed, that he had found
that the Afrikander in some respects was superior to men of his own
nation.

It was undoubtedly a sad error for England to send officers to look
after us, who, not having had any experience of South African warfare,
were entirely ignorant of our idiosyncrasies and manners. The result
of placing these inexperienced men as our guards was that one
misunderstanding followed upon another, and that unnecessarily
rigorous regulations were promulgated to preserve discipline and
order. This treatment had the effect of nourishing within our bosoms
hatred and bitterness.

Not being desirous of having to undergo incarceration with my
insubordinate fellow-prisoners at High Knoll Fort, I carefully
refrained from being unruly, and practised an orderly and amiable
demeanour.

On one occasion I ventured to approach Colonel Price with a view to
obtaining some amelioration in our treatment, and some remission of
the rigorous regulations meted out to us. After keeping me waiting
half an hour he came out of his office to meet me, but instead of
extending a greeting he stared at me with ill-concealed amazement,
probably expecting that I should jump up and salute him. I, however,
merely rose and nodded, and enquired if I had the honour of addressing
Colonel Price. He answered stiffly, "Yes, what do you want?" It was
greatly disconcerting to be thus unceremoniously and discourteously
greeted, and having explained my mission, I withdrew and took care to
fight shy of this arrogant soldier in future.

I may say that our little party at "Myrtle Grove" was a few weeks
later augmented by the arrival of Vaal Piet Uys and Landdrost T.
Kelly.

We had in the meantime improved our acquaintance with Colonel Wright,
who always treated us with cordiality and kindness, and allowed us
frequently the privilege of spending pleasant afternoons at his house.
Mrs. Wright was a charming hostess, and did everything in her power to
lessen the feeling of humiliation with which we regarded our sad
plight.

I should perhaps mention that St. Helena boasts of some elegant
society. A few years before our confinement the Zulu chief, Dinizulu,
was banished within the rocky bounds of this island prison. This son
of Cain had during his detention here been invited to all the
fashionable parties and dances, and had been honoured with an
invitation to the Governor's house. He was fêted at dinners and public
festivities--but of course it must be remembered that Dinizulu was a
kaffir and we were only Boers. Fancy, my Afrikander brothers, a
self-respecting English young lady consenting to dance with this
uncivilised kaffir! Imagine, they allowed him to dine at the same
table, and to drive in the same carriage with them! I do not know how
this information strikes my readers, but I must say that when the
Governor of the Island, an elderly gentleman named Sterndale, with 35
years of the Indian Civil Service behind him, informed me that such
had been the case, I was rendered speechless.

I would not have it supposed, however, that we prisoners had any
special ambition to attend balls and dinners, for we were not in the
mood for festivities, and even had we desired we could hardly with
propriety have appeared at these elegant boards and gatherings dressed
in our shabby apparel.

A number of the prisoners received permission from the authorities to
pursue the various crafts and employments with which they were
conversant, at the small daily wage of between sixpence and a
shilling. This pay was a ridiculously small remuneration for the large
amount of work which the men executed. A great diversity of trades
were represented by us prisoners. One was a mason, another a farmer, a
third an apothecary, while a fourth was a goldsmith, and so far did we
go that one man was appointed caterer for the St. Helena Club.

Months had now passed since I had been first brought a captive to this
island prison, and it approached the middle of May. Persistent though
rather vague reports about Peace continually reached us, but owing to
the strictness of the censors, who had an exaggerated idea of their
duties, any news from outside came to our anxious ears in very small
pieces, and gave us a very meagre idea of what was happening in South
Africa and other places outside. That we were all praying earnestly
for Peace needs no telling, especially if I may mention that some of
my comrades had been incarcerated on the island for two years and
eight months. I cannot adequately tell how wearisome their long exile
was to them.

Just before I was liberated from confinement, our old antagonists, the
3rd Battalion of "Buffs," under Colonel Brinckman, were detailed to
the Island. This regiment had seen two years of active service in
South Africa, and they were, therefore, soldiers who did not hold
their enemies in contempt.

I do not feel at this time, in view of the present tension of affairs,
able to pursue my account further; but if encouraged by a sympathetic
public to supplement this effort by a more detailed description of my
imprisonment at St. Helena, I may in the near future again seek their
indulgence.

Meanwhile, I take what I hope will prove but a temporary leave of my
readers, with the following explanatory details and critical comments
on the general characteristics of the War.



CHAPTER XLIX.

HOW WE BLEW UP AND CAPTURED TRAINS.


Looking at the matter superficially it seems a very barbarous thing to
derail and destroy trains with dynamite, but this was the only course
left open to us, since large military stores were being continually
brought in by the British from the coast. We honestly regretted that,
owing to the derailment and destruction of trains, drivers, stokers,
and often innocent passengers were launched into eternity. War is at
best a cruel and illogical way of settling disputes, and the measures
which the belligerent parties are sometimes compelled to take are of
such a character that sentimentality does not enter into any of the
calculations of the contending parties.

It should not be necessary to assure my readers that we acted entirely
within our rights in derailing and destroying trains. This was the
only means we had of breaking the British lines of communication and
of interrupting the conveyance of British troops and food.

Moreover, we were more than justified in any act of train-derailment
that we committed, by the instructions of Lord Wolseley as expressed
in his handbook. In that well-known publication this distinguished
soldier actually prescribes the use of dynamite, and even suggests the
manner in which it may be employed to the best advantage. But although
this train-wrecking was in every degree justifiable, I can assure the
reader that we regarded it as a very unpalatable duty. I remember that
when Lord Kitchener complained to me about the destruction of a
certain train, I sent him a reply to the following effect:--

     "That the blowing up and destroying of trains was as
     distasteful to me as I hoped the burning of our houses was
     to his Excellency; and that when we derailed trains we
     entered upon the task with hearts quite as heavy as those
     which I presumed weighed down his troops when they deported
     our women and children from their homes to the Concentration
     Camps."

I shall now describe how we went to work in the matter of capturing
trains. That this is not so easy a task as appears to be supposed I
shall endeavour to show. Perhaps the best way to exemplify our method
of procedure would be to describe a particular instance which occurred
in March, 1901, between Belfast and Wonderfontein on the Delagoa Bay
Railway. The two stations are approximately 12 miles apart. At either
station a garrison had been established, and these were provided with
two or three cannons and two armoured trains, which latter were held
in readiness to proceed to any place within their immediate sphere of
action when anything irregular occurred on the line. They were used
besides to carry reinforcements and stores when needed. The armoured
train was indeed a very important factor in the British military
tactics, and one we had to take fully into account. The railway
between these two stations was also guarded by blockhouses. Every
morning the British soldiers carefully inspected their particular
section of the railway before trains were despatched in any direction.
The peril of running trains at night was speedily recognised, and of
those that attempted the journey very few indeed escaped capture. On
the particular occasion when the incident I am about to relate took
place, we were encamped at Steenkampsbergen, enjoying a little
remission from the arduous work in which we had been engaged. But we
were not idle, and a field-cornetcy of approximately a hundred men was
detailed to attempt the capture of a train. I personally reconnoitred
the line, and sent a field-cornet with instructions to lay a mine at
the most favourable spot for the distasteful operation we were about
to perform.

Our _modus operandi_ was to take a Martini-Henri rifle and saw off
four inches before and behind the magazine, and then to so file the
trigger guard that the trigger was left exposed. Two of the most
intelligent burghers were despatched over night with this mutilated
rifle and a packet of dynamite to the spot chosen for the mine, while
two other burghers kept guard.

Special precautions were taken to prevent footmarks being traced by
the British patrols, the burghers walking for a considerable distance
on the rails. The mine was prepared by carefully removing the stones
from underneath the rails and as cautiously replacing them to again
fill up the hole after the instruments of destruction had been
adjusted. The trigger was placed in contact with the dynamite, and
just enough above ground to be affected by the weight of the
locomotive, but so little exposed as to be passed unnoticed. All
surplus stones were carried off in a bag and great care was taken to
conceal all traces of the mine. Gingerly and cautiously and without
leaving any trace of their visit, the burghers now returned to their
field-cornet and reported that all was in order. The field-cornetcy
took up its position behind a small hill about a mile from the
railway, and the men concealed themselves and their horses so
ingeniously that their presence was not even suspected by the
occupants of the blockhouse close by. According to our information the
first train that was to pass next morning was the mail train carrying
the European mails, and the prospect of capturing some newspapers and
thus obtaining news of the outside world, from which we had been
isolated for several months, filled us with pleasant expectation. I
especially instructed the field-cornet to obtain newspapers, and to
capture as much food and clothing as possible. It being the custom of
the British garrisons to send scouts along the railway each day to
examine the line, the next morning the track was as usual
microscopically inspected, but the scouts failed to discover the trap
which we had laid.

Two outpost burghers lay at the top of the hill in the grass, and from
their coign of vantage they had a clear view of the railway line.

Ten o'clock in the morning arriving without a train appearing, my men
began to grumble. In the excitement of this adventure they had omitted
to prepare any food, and they were not now allowed to make fires,
because the smoke evolved in culinary operations would have been
immediately noticed by the enemy's outpost. We had therefore to remain
hungry, or our well-laid plans would have been frustrated. Time passed
on, and at 2 o'clock in the afternoon there were still no traces of
the expected train. Our horses were saddled up and had been without
food since the previous afternoon, and the poor animals also began to
show their displeasure by whinnying and stamping their hoofs on the
ground. The enemy's scouts had already inspected the line three or
four times either by going over it on foot or by using a trolley.

The afternoon was well advanced, and fears were growing in our minds
that the mine had been discovered. I should say that it was Sunday
afternoon, and that the mine had been laid on Saturday night. This
train-wrecking scheme of ours was contrary to the practices of our
nation, who regard all such acts on Sunday as a desecration of the
Sabbath, but here I will again apply an English precept, "The better
the day the better the deed."

About four o'clock my outposts notified to me the approach of smoke,
and shortly afterwards we beheld a train coming along. Every man of us
mounted his horse, and we sat calmly in the saddle to observe the
execution of our plan. We held our breaths. Perhaps the British had
detected the mine and removed it, with the result that all our travail
would be in vain; or they might possibly have sent a large force of
soldiers with cannon on the train to give us a "good hiding" to boot.
We watched breathlessly the progress of the train as it rapidly
approached the fatal spot, and our hearts thumped wildly as we waited
to see the success or failure of our enterprise. We had not long to
wait, for with a tremendous shock the mine exploded, overturning the
engine, and bringing the train to a standstill.

We now proceeded to storm the train, but I saw the danger of advancing
in a mass and shouted to my men to go carefully and spread out. When
we were about 500 feet from the train the British fired a volley at
us, but in so doing they merely displayed by their firing that there
were not many riflemen on the train, and that those that there were
shot badly and at random. Thus shown the weakness of the enemy, we
stormed with renewed vigour, and on arriving at about a hundred yards
distance we dismounted. The defenders did not face our fire long
before displaying the white flag. I stopped fire at once and the
train was ours.

It was Lieutenant Crossby, of the Remount Department, who waved the
white flag, and he now surrendered with about 20 "Tommies."

Among the occupants of the train was an old major, and on his saying
that he was very sick, and was on his way to the hospital, we
immediately apologised for having disturbed him and for the delay
which our little operation had caused him. There were eight sacks of
European mail in the train and these we seized. We liberated the
"Tommies" after disarming them. The Lieutenant in charge was the sole
person detained as a prisoner-of-war, and he was added to six other
British officers who were vegetating under our charge. Only a part of
the train could be destroyed by us, as one section was occupied by
women and children who were being transported to the Concentration
Camps.

On the following morning the field-cornet brought me the papers and
said with a smile, "You see I have brought you what you required,
General." I was overjoyed to obtain tidings from the outside world.
The letters were distributed about the laager, and there was abundance
of reading matter. I felt rather sorry for the "Tommies" who were
being thus mercilessly robbed of their letters, but I consoled myself
with the thought that our plight was quite as bad as theirs, for we
Boers had had no communication from any members of our families for
twelve months, and we felt justified in making the "Tommies" share our
misfortune. The Boers did not, however, get much satisfaction out of
other men's epistles, and even those who could read English gave up
the operation after having perused one or two, and threw away the
sackfuls of letters with disappointed faces.

The capture of this train was our second success. Shortly before we
had seized a train near Pan Station and had obtained a splendid haul.
This particular train was carrying Christmas presents for the British
soldiers, and we found a miscellaneous assortment of cakes, puddings
and other delicacies. It was very amusing that we should be
celebrating Christmas with cakes and puddings which had been intended
for our opponents.

A few weeks after we had captured the train carrying the European
mails we made another attempt at train wrecking, this time at
Wonderfontein Station. All, too, went well on this occasion until we
charged, and the British opened fire upon us with cannon. We were not
favoured this time by any sort of cover, but had to attack over open
ground, exposing ourselves to the heavy fire of the guns and the
fusillade of a hundred British riflemen. We had chanced this time upon
an armoured train, and the trucks which bore the cannon had remained
uninjured. The nut was rather too hard for us to crack, and failing to
take the train by storm, we were compelled to retire, after having
sustained the loss of three men, of whom one was my brave adjutant,
Vivian Cogell. From what I have said I think my readers will agree
that the capturing of a train is not always a "cake and ale"
operation.



CHAPTER L.

HOW WE FED AND CLOTHED COMMANDOS.


As early as March, 1901, we experienced the difficulty of adequately
providing our commandos with the necessities of life. So far back as
September, 1900, we had said good-bye at Hector's Spruit to our
commissariat, and thence, no organized supplies existing, it may very
well be imagined that the task of feeding the Boers was one of the
most serious, and I may say disquieting, questions with which we had
to deal. We were cut off from the world, and there was no means of
importing stores. Of course the men who had been previously engaged on
commissariat duty were enlisted in the fighting ranks so soon as they
became available. From this date we had to feed ourselves on quite a
different system. Each commandant looked after his own men and
appointed two or three Boers whose special duty it was to ride round
for provisions. It must not be supposed that we commandeered stores
without signing receipts, and the storekeeper who supplied us was
provided with an acknowledgment, countersigned by field-cornet,
commandant, and general. On producing this document to our Government
the holder received probably one-third of the amount in cash and the
balance in Government notes, better known as "blue-backs." By this
time a large portion of the Republic had been occupied by the British,
all food-stuffs had been removed or destroyed, and most of the cattle
had been captured. In consequence, everything in the shape of food
became very scarce. Flour, coffee, sugar, &c., were now regarded as
delicacies remembered from the far-away past. The salt supplies were
especially low, and we feared that without salt we would not be able
to live, or if we did manage to exist, that we might bring upon
ourselves an epidemic of disease. Our fears in this respect were
increased by the opinions expressed by our doctors, and we viewed our
situation with considerable disquietude. Happily, as experience
proved, our apprehensions were not in the least justified, for during
the ten months that preceded my capture my burghers lived entirely
without salt, and were at the time that I fell into the hands of the
British as healthy as could be desired.

Existing as we did solely on mealies and meat, potatoes and other
vegetables which we might chance upon were regarded as luxuries
indeed. Though it may appear strange it is nevertheless a fact that we
were always fortunate enough to obtain adequate supplies of mealies
and meat. We ground our mealies in coffee mills if no other mills were
available. Mealie pap is cooked in a simple fashion, and occasionally
boiling hot pots of it have fallen into the hands of the British. The
British soldiers were not much better off than we were, for they were
limited to bully-beef and "clinkers," though they frequently
supplemented their larder by stores from Boer farms, such as fowls,
pigs, &c., and had salt, sugar, and coffee in abundance. Their
culinary utensils were not nearly so primitive as circumstances had
reduced ours to.

Many Boers did nothing but roam round with their cattle, and I confess
that on many occasions they excited my admiration by the "slim" manner
in which they evaded capture. Boers of this description were dubbed
"bush-lancers," because they always sought the thickest bushes for
sanctuary. These "bush-lancers" were of three kinds: There were some
who sought by running away with their cattle to escape commando duty,
others who hoped by retaining their cattle to obtain a large profit on
them after the War was over, while others were so attached to their
cattle that they would as lief have lost their own lives as have
suffered their cattle to be taken. All three classes of "bush-lancers"
contrived to supply us with adequate stores of food. Often, however,
it was a difficult task to get the supplies out of them. When we asked
them to sell us cattle we were frequently met by the reply that we had
already taken their best cattle, that the British had taken some, and
that the little they had left they could not do without. Of course
we were not hindered in our purpose of obtaining food by such a reply,
and we had sometimes to resort to force. We frequently gave these
"bush-lancers" notice when danger threatened, but in most instances
they were the first to discover danger, and gave us information as to
the movements of the British.

Everybody knows that it is a sore trial for the Boer to live without
coffee, but this national beverage disappeared entirely from our menu,
and its loss was only partly replaced by the "mealie coffee" which we
set about preparing. The process was a very simple one. As soon as we
off-saddled a hundred coffee mills were set to work. The mealie was
roasted over a fire and afterwards treated in a similar manner to that
by which the coffee bean is prepared. This "mealie coffee" made a very
palatable drink, especially as we were frequently able to obtain milk
to mix with it.

We generally roasted our meat on the coals, as we found that without
salt meat was most palatable when treated in this way. This is
explained by the fact that the ashes of the fire contain a certain
saline quality. We obtained mealies in all sorts of extraordinary
ways. Sometimes we harvested it ourselves, but more often we found
quantities hidden in caves or kraals. Mealies were also purchased from
the natives. Every general did all that was possible to sow in the
district in which he was operating, for the soil is very fruitful. We
very seldom lacked mealies, although the British frequently destroyed
the crops we had been growing. There can be no doubt that when an
Afrikander feels hungry he will find something to eat.

I have already mentioned that sometimes when the British swooped down
upon us they carried away our culinary utensils, and a question may
arise in the minds of my readers as to how we obtained others to
replace them. Well, we were not particular in this connection. We
found empty tea cans and empty bully-beef tins, and by manipulating
barbed wire we speedily converted these crude materials into
serviceable culinary implements. We preferred the tar cans because
the beef tins often came to pieces after the solder with which they
are fastened had been subjected to the heat of the fire. I remember
that one day our parson gave as much as five shillings for an empty
tar can.

Several British convoys fell into our hands, but the food we found on
them consisted usually of bully-beef and "clinkers," things which only
dire necessity drove us Boers to eat. Sometimes to our great chagrin
we discovered that all our fighting to capture a convoy was only
rewarded by the sight of empty trucks or ones loaded with hay and
fodder. If perchance we were fortunate enough to capture a camp or a
fort we contented ourselves with removing such coffee and sugar as we
could carry away on our pack mules.

The clothing question was very perplexing. Whenever we were able to
obtain it we bought canvas and converted it into trousers. Sheep skins
we tanned and employed either for the purpose of making clothes or for
patching. The hides of cattle and of horses that had died of disease
were also tanned and employed for the making of boots. I may point out
that no horse was specially slaughtered for this purpose or for the
purpose of food. It was only General Baden-Powell and General White
who slaughtered their horses to make sausages. Our best clothing
supply, however, came from the British Army. Forgive me for saying so;
I do not intend to be sarcastic. When we captured a convoy or a fort
we always obtained a supply of clothes. At the beginning of the War we
Boers had a strong prejudice against any garment which even faintly
resembled khaki, but afterwards we grew indifferent and accepted khaki
quite as readily as any other material. We generally compelled our
prisoners to exchange clothes with us, and often derived much
amusement from the disgusted look of the sensitive Briton as he walked
away in the clothes of a ragged Boer. Imagine the spectacle! A dandy
English soldier, clean shaven, with a monocle adorning one eye, his
head covered with an old war-worn slouch hat of broad brim, and his
body with ragged jacket and trousers patched with sheep-skin or yarn.

I may say that none of this systematic plundering occurred in my
presence. But such things were certainly done, and, after all, who can
blame a ragged burgher for resorting to this means, however much to be
deprecated, of clothing himself. Remember that the poor Boers were
prepared to pay double the value of a suit of clothes, and were, so to
speak, cut off from the world, while the British soldier had simply to
go back to camp to obtain a new outfit. "Necessity knows no law."

In concluding this chapter I must mention that the lack of matches was
very sensibly felt. And when our stock of matches was exhausted we had
to resort to the old-fashioned tinder-box and flint and steel. We
found this expedient a very poor substitute for the lucifer match, but
it was certainly better than nothing at all. Personally I experienced
the greatest difficulty in getting fire from a flint and steel, and to
do it generally took me quite twice as long as it took anybody else,
and I bruised my hands considerably. This latter, however, is an
experience to which every amateur is liable, and I was never much more
than an amateur at anything.



CHAPTER LI.

OUR FRIEND THE ENEMY.


In venturing on a judgment of the British soldier, from a military
point of view, I may be told that only the man who has had a military
training is competent to express an opinion upon the individual
capacity of a soldier, be he Boer or Briton. That may be true, as long
as people only go theoretically to work; but after my two and a half
years of practical experience, my military friends may be gracious
enough to allow me to express my simple opinion concerning this
important factor, which is undoubtedly fundamental to the efficiency
of any army. At the same time I promise to be as impartial in my
judgment of the Boer as of the Briton as a fighter, or, at least, as
impartial as can be expected from a fallible Boer.

As an officer in the Boer army I encountered the British soldier in
many capacities and in many circumstances. The officer of the regular
British troops was always prepared to notify that he had no high
opinion of the officers of the irregular troops. At the same time the
volunteer officer was equally ready to heartily reciprocate the
compliment when it was passed upon him by the regular. To be honest, I
must say that I specifically give preference to the regular officer,
whom I regard as having more initiative, and as being more practical
and less artificial than his colleague, the irregular Imperial
officer. As regards courage I saw little to choose between them. I
certainly can draw no great distinction, since I have never been in a
position to fight on the same side as they.

Generally speaking, I consider the British officer a very brave man,
though I do think he sometimes is guilty of excess in that
respect--that is to say, that he goes impractically to work, and, the
young officer especially, is driven by ambition to do desperate and
stupid things. To this foolhardiness may be largely attributed the
heavy losses in officers suffered by the British Army in the War.

Since I fell into British hands I have found the officers to whom I
had been opposed on the battlefield treat me with the utmost
magnanimity. After having been in personal contact with a considerable
number of officers of various regiments I must plainly say that the
British officer is to be encountered in only two species: He is either
a gentleman or--the other. The officer of the first species is
prepared to be charitable to his antagonists, and generally assumes an
attitude of dignity and humanity; whereas the latter possesses all the
attributes of the idiot, and is not only detestable in the eyes of his
antagonists, but is also despised by his own _entourage_.

There have been unfortunate British officers in this War, and there
have been occasions when a disaster to the British has been
immediately attributed to the acts or the tactics of the commanding
officer. In this connection I will cite the regrettable instance of
General Gatacre at Stormberg. I do not think this reverse is to be
attributable to stupidity, or indiscretion, or cowardice.

There is a great deal of luck attached to any adventure in the field,
and ill-luck had pursued General Gatacre persistently. But undoubtedly
where bad luck pursues a commander on more than one occasion it is not
only expedient but necessary to dismiss such an officer, because his
troops lose confidence in him, and their spirit is undermined. It has
occurred in this War that incapable officers with good men and much
luck have performed wonders.

The British soldier, or "Tommy," who draws a very poor daily pay, for
which he has to perform a tremendous lot of work, is, if not the most
capable fighter, the most willing in all circumstances to offer
himself as a sacrifice at the altar of duty, or of what he considers
his duty, to his country. But if "Tommy" by any accident be asked to
deviate from the usual routine in which he has been trained, he is a
thoroughly helpless creature. This helplessness, in my opinion, is
caused by exaggerated discipline, and by the system under which
"Tommy" is not allowed to think for himself or to take care of
himself, and this individual helplessness has undoubtedly been one of
the shortcomings of the British soldier during the War. As regards the
fortitude of the ordinary British soldier, I must repeat what I have
already said--that he is a courageous, willing and faithful warrior,
and that it is to his fidelity and patriotism that the British Army
may attribute its success. I believe this to be a truism which will
defy even criticism.

There are, of course, exceptions to the courageous "Tommy." If I were
to draw any comparison between the nationalities, I would say that of
the soldiers with whom I was brought into contact on the battlefield,
the Irishmen and the Scotsmen were better fighting men than the
others. In regard to British soldiers generally, I would remark that,
if they could add good shooting and ability to judge distances to
their courage, then they would be perhaps perfect soldiers, and
certainly be doubly dangerous to their foes.

Taken as a whole "Tommy" is a very warm-hearted fellow, though as
regards humanity some distinction must be drawn between the regular
soldier and the enlisted volunteer, for the latter is less humane than
the former. This was too clearly shown by his conduct in the
transporting of women and children and in the plundering of
prisoners-of-war. But nevertheless "Tommy," generally speaking,
whether regular or irregular, was sympathetic with regard to our
wounded, and showed great kindness of heart to a maimed opponent.

I consider that the British infantry bore the brunt of the fighting of
this War, especially in its earlier stages. Where the cavalryman
failed to break through our lines the infantryman stepped in and paved
the way for him. We found we could always better stand an attack from
cavalry than from infantry, for this latter, advancing as it did in
scattered formation, was much less visible to our marksmen. When
advancing to the attack the British foot soldiers were wont to crawl
along on their faces, seeking cover whenever that was available; thus
advancing, and especially when they were supported by artillery, these
men proved very difficult indeed to repulse. In my opinion a
cavalryman has no chance against a good marksman when this latter
occupies a good position and is able to await attack. The British
cavalry horses are such stupendous creatures that given a good rifle
and a keen eye it is difficult for one to miss them. They certainly
make most excellent targets. It is my firm opinion that for usefulness
the cavalryman cannot be compared to the mounted infantryman. Indeed,
my experience during the last 14 months of my active participation in
the War taught me that the British mounted infantry was a very hard
nut to crack. Of course everything depended upon the quality of the
man and the horse. A good rifleman and a horseman, especially if he
were able to fire when mounted, was a very formidable foe. As for
horses, I may say that I do not wonder that the great unwieldy horses
for which the British cavalrymen have such a predilection cannot be
compared to the Basuto ponies with which we went to work. The African
pony has, in fact proved itself to be the only useful horse during the
campaign. The British cavalryman might have used elephants with almost
as much advantage as their colossal horses. Further, in my opinion,
the cavalrymen might just as well be discontinued as a branch of an
army, for there can be no doubt that the infantry, artillery, and
mounted infantry will be the only really useful and, indeed,
practicable soldiers of the future.

While I was writing the above a book was placed in my hand written by
Count Sternberg, with an introduction from the pen of Lieut-Colonel
Henderson. I doubt very much whether Colonel Henderson read the
manuscript of the Count's book before penning his introduction, for I
cannot suppose that he holds such small-minded and fantastic ideas
regarding South Africa as the Count expresses. In this memorable work
some extraordinary tales are told of the galloping and trotting feats
of the Basuto ponies. The confession that the Count makes that he did
not care upon which side he fought so long as he fought is indeed
extraordinary. That he ever fought at all the Boer officers who knew
him strongly doubt, and none of them will wonder that the Count's
bitterest experience in South Africa was that on one occasion some
naughty German ambulance people deprived him of a box of lager-beer.
This and other amateurs have already overwhelmed the reading public
with so much so-called criticism about this War, that I venture upon
delicate ground in offering my opinion. I will confine myself to
commenting upon what I saw and I know personally, for I know nothing
about the topography of Europe and I am not acquainted either with the
composition of the European armies or with their manner of fighting.



CHAPTER LII.

THE FIGHTING BOER AND HIS OFFICER.


There is great difference between the relations of a Boer officer to
his following and the relation of a European officer to his men, for
while in the former case no social distinction between the two exists,
in the latter the officers and men are drawn from two distinct
branches of society. The Boers in their normal state are independent
farmers differing only in wealth. One Boer might be the possessor of
perhaps ten farms and be worth a quarter of a million, while another
might be but a poor "bywoner" and not worth a hundred pence, yet the
two men would occupy the same rank in time of war.

Immediately martial law is promulgated the entire Boer adult male
population is amenable for military service. In the ranks of a
commando one finds men of every profession, from the advocate and
doctor to the blacksmith and plumber. From these ranks the officers
are chosen, and a man who one day is but an ordinary soldier might be
the next promoted to the rank of field-cornet or commandant, and might
possibly in a few days attain the position of a General.

The officer and the men that follow him have in most cases been drawn
from the same district, and they know one another personally. If,
therefore, a Boer falls in battle, whatever be his rank, his loss is
keenly felt by his comrades in arms, for they, having known him of
old, lose a personal friend by his death.

The Boer officers can be divided into two classes--the brave and the
cowardly. The brave officer fights whenever he gets the chance,
whereas his chicken-hearted brother always waits for orders and makes
elaborate plans to escape fighting. It is quite easy in the Boer Army
to succeed in the course adopted by the latter class, and it not
infrequently occurred that the Boers preferred this class of officer
to his more reckless comrade, for they argued--"We like to serve
under him because he will keep us out of danger." And just as the
officers could be divided so could the men.

In this campaign it was noticeable that during the last stages of the
struggle the younger officers replaced the older ones. Many of these
latter got tired of the War and surrendered to the British, others
were removed from their commands as being too old-fashioned in their
methods and incapable of adapting themselves to the altered
circumstances. Moreover, we found that the younger officers were more
industrious, more mischievous, and more reckless. Of course, when I
speak of the young Boer officers I do not intend to convey the idea of
children of seventeen to twenty years of age, such as I have sometimes
encountered among the junior officers of the British Army.

The life training of the burghers in horsemanship and musketry stood
them in good stead. I may say that a Boer even early in life is a good
horseman and marksman. He does not shoot without purpose for he can
generally estimate at a glance the distance at which he is shooting,
and he has been taught economy in the use of ammunition. The burgher
knows perfectly well how valuable to him is his horse, and he is thus
constrained to use his knowledge in carefully tending it; moreover,
considerable affection exists, in many instances, between the master
and his beast.

Taken all round the Boer is a brave man, but his attitude on the
battlefield is influenced very largely by the character of his
officer. And being brave, the Boer is, in the main, sympathetic
towards prisoners-of-war, and especially towards such as are wounded.
Possessing bravery and humanity the Boer has besides what the British
"Tommy Atkins" lacks, the power of initiative. The death of an officer
does not throw the ranks of a Boer commando into chaos, for everybody
knows how to proceed. It must not be supposed, however, that the death
of an officer does not exercise a certain amount of demoralising
influence. What I wish to impress is that the members of a commando
can act independently of the officer and can exercise their own
judgment.

As regards the fortitude of the Boers, I can best illustrate it by
pointing to the fact that it frequently happened that having been
repulsed with loss one day we attacked our conqueror with better
success the next. We often assumed the aggressive when a favourable
opportunity offered itself, and did not always wait to be shot at.
Frequently we held out for hours notwithstanding severe punishment.

I think even the bitterest of our enemies will allow that the Boers
who remained faithful to their country to the last were animated with
noble principles. Were it not that so many of my compatriots lacked
that which is so largely characteristic of the British soldier, the
quality of patriotism and the intense desire to uphold the traditions
of his nationality, I would ask what people in the world would have
been able to conquer the Afrikander? I say this with great
deliberation, and I do not believe that any impartial compatriot will
attempt to deny the truth of the statement.

The question suggests itself how would the English have fared had
they been placed in a plight similar to that to which we found
ourselves reduced? Supposing that we Boers had taken London and other
large towns, and had driven the English people before us and compelled
them to hide in the mountains with nothing upon which to subsist but
mealie pap and meat without salt, with only worn and rent clothes as a
covering, their houses burnt, and their women and children placed in
Concentration Camps in the hands of the enemy. How would the English
have acted under such circumstances? Would they not have surrendered
to the conqueror? However that may be, one thing is certain, that the
patriotism of a nation is only to be learned when put to such a severe
test as this.

In his book, "The Great Boer War," Dr. Conan Doyle has, on the whole,
gained the admiration of the Afrikanders by his moderate language. But
here and there, where he has been carried away by his English
sympathies to use bitter and libellous language with respect to the
Boers, that admiration has been changed into contempt. Dr. Conan Doyle
attempts to defend the British Army by abusing the Boers. Abuse is
not argument. To prove that Van der Merwe is a thief does not
exonerate Brown from the crime of theft if he have been stealing.

The author describes the shooting of Lieutenant Neumeyer, for refusing
to surrender and for attempting to escape from his captors as murder,
and the shooting of kaffir spies it also glibly described as murder;
whereas, the incident at Frederickstad, where a number of Boers were
shot dead by the British because they continued firing after hoisting
the white flag, is justified by him. Of course, the execution of
Scheepers is also justified by the author. I object to such things
appearing in a book, because they must tend to sow anew the seeds of
dissension, hate and bitterness, and these have been planted
sufficiently deep without being nurtured by Dr. Conan Doyle. Neither
Boer nor Briton can speak impartially on this question, and both would
be better employed in attempting to find out the virtues rather than
the vices in one another's characters.

Whoever in the future governs South Africa, the two races must live
together, and when the day of Peace arrives and the sword is sheathed,
let us hold out our hands to each other like men, forgetting the past
and remembering the motto--

  ="Both Nations have Done their Duty."=



APPENDIX.

_Some Correspondence between the British and Boer Military Officials._


                                   Lyndenburg,
                                       _20th August, 1901_.

ASSISTANT COMMANDANT-GENERAL B. J. VILJOEN.

SIR,

I have the honour to enclose herewith a copy of a communication
received from Lord Kitchener. _Begins_:--With reference to your letter
of the 10th August on the subject of employment of natives, I have the
honour to inform you, as I have already informed Commandant-General
Botha, that natives are employed by me as scouts and as police in
native districts, especially in the low country, where white men, if
not by long residence inured to the climate, suffer much from fever.

I would point out to you that in numerous cases armed natives have
been employed by the burgher forces, particularly in the commando of
General Beyers, and that armed natives have frequently been found in
the commandos fighting against us. I do not wish to bring the native
population of the country into this quarrel between British and Boers.

I have invariably told the natives that, although I could not forbid
their defending themselves if attacked by burghers, they were on no
account to attack. I am convinced that but for the strict orders which
I have issued on this subject, the hatred engendered by the wholesale
slaughter of unarmed natives by the burghers during this War would
have led to a native rising, with deplorable results to the Boer race.

It must also be within your knowledge that most of the rifles in
possession of M'pisana's natives were sold to them by men of your own
commando when moving from Hector's Spruit to Pietersburg last year.

In answer to your questions regarding the British prisoners now in
your hands, the persons named are enlisted soldiers in His Majesty's
Army, and have been acting under my orders. They should be treated as
prisoners-of-war.--_Ends._

  I have the honour to be, Sir,
         Your obedient servant,
                           A. CURRAN,
                        _Lieutenant-Colonel
                      Commanding Lydenburg_.


                                        _23rd July, 1901._

TO HIS EXCELLENCY LORD KITCHENER,
  _Commander-in-Chief of His Majesty's Troops in South Africa, Pretoria._

YOUR EXCELLENCY,

I am compelled to emphatically protest against the methods of your
officers. Last April your Excellency's brother, General W. Kitchener,
took our ambulance veldt-hospital, near Roos Senekal, and only after
much trouble were a number of the vehicles restored to us. On that
occasion, General W. Kitchener refused to return to me the slaughter
oxen belonging to the field-hospital, saying that we could steal such
oxen from the kaffirs. In consequence of those acts, my wounded were
rendered without food, and robbed of means of transportation.

Now, again, a column of your troops, which was proceeding on the 9th
or 10th inst. from Machadodorp across Witpoort, attacked a Red Cross
hospital occupied by sick women and children, notwithstanding the
patients were in charge of a certificated nurse, named Mrs. W. Botha.
One of your officers, misled by a former burgher, who is now
treacherously fighting against his own people, declared that the Red
Cross was not genuine, and burned all the buildings and food found
therein, placed the patients on open trucks, and removed them.

The first night of their deportation the sick patients and nurses
slept in a camp at Steelpoortdrift, under the trolley waggons and in
the bitter cold, and although the women and children were lamenting
and weeping the entire night, their complaints were not listened to. I
have declarations testifying to the most inhuman, heartless, and cruel
maltreatment committed towards helpless women and children on this
occasion.

Probably, your Excellency knows nothing about these incidents, and as
regards the _bona-fides_ of our ambulances, I wish to point out to you
that British officers depend largely on the assertions of kaffirs, and
especially on the allegations of traitors, and on the slightest
provocation ignore the rights of the Red Cross.

The column referred to also burned, and plundered and destroyed many
houses at Steenkampsberg, Witpoort and many other places, without
there being one single shot fired in the neighbourhood by our
burghers. And all this was allowed to occur in spite of your
Excellency's promises at the meeting of the Commandant-General Botha
at Middelburg.

Latterly, it has often occurred that British ambulances have fallen
into my hands. At Bethel, three doctors and an ambulance attached to
General Plumer's force fell into my hands. Near Vaalkop, Major
Morris's ambulance, and near Belfast an ambulance, attached to your
brother's forces, were in my power, but I always regarded and treated
ambulances flying the Red Cross as neutral and humane institutions,
and I even liberated the soldiers employed to attend your wounded.

And not a single one of these doctors or attendants was provided with
a certificate, and I have invariably accepted their word that they
were legally attached to the Red Cross. But what is the attitude of
the British officers towards us?

I trust your Excellency will give me a satisfactory reply to these
complaints, and issue orders to remedy them.

  I am,

      Your Excellency's most obedient servant,

                                          B. J. VILJOEN.

                               _Assistant Commandant-General._


                                   District Lydenburg,
                                        _8th September, 1901_.

TO HIS EXCELLENCY, LORD KITCHENER,
  _Commanding the British Troops in South Africa, Pretoria_.

YOUR EXCELLENCY,

I have the honour to acknowledge receipt of your Excellency's letter
to General Blood, dated Pretoria, 31st of August, from which I
understand that your Excellency essays to justify the use of the white
flag for the dissemination of proclamations through our lines, in
connection with which your Excellency offers arguments which I do not
hesitate to say are utterly untenable.

Firstly, it is asserted by your Excellency that the sending of these
documents addressed to individuals is justified under the white flag;
secondly, that your Excellency considers it your Excellency's duty to
render us conversant with the contents of your Excellency's
proclamations in order that we shall be informed what our fate shall
be after the 15th September next, &c., &c., &c.

With regard to the first argument introduced, I regret that I must
dispute your Excellency's contention that this is legal, and I am
assured that an impartial court would declare it as illegal. I enclose
herewith the copy of a letter from General W. Kitchener, dated 1st
September last, in answer to a complaint of my _locum tenens_,
"Fighting"-General Muller, with respect to the taking and removing by
the said General W. Kitchener's troops of our ambulance and hospital
attendants, from which letter it will appear that General Kitchener
considers the sending of a white flag despatch concerning important
and serious irregularities as "trivial communications." How am I to
understand British officers?

Your Excellency thinks that it is permissible to employ the white flag
to send pernicious and misleading proclamations within our lines,
whereas General W. Kitchener warns us not to employ the white flag
when we are compelled to complain concerning the British Army where
the latter removes and robs us of our ambulances, as occurred in
connection with the ambulance of Dr. Neethling, which was removed to
Middelburg, and after being relieved of food, medical instruments, a
number of vehicles, eight mules, and 10 oxen, was sent back.

With regard to the second matter, your Excellency, I should say,
appears to display as keen an interest in our ultimate fate as
Messrs. Dillon and Labouchere, and, if I possessed any prophetic
faculty, I should probably be better able to appreciate your
Excellency's interest in ourselves.

In the letter referred to above, your Excellency mentions a letter
sent to his Honour, Commandant-General Botha, in which your Excellency
asserts that certain murders committed by us filled the British public
with horror, and that these murders provoked Mr. Chamberlain's remark
"that the acts of the Boers justified the description of marauding
ruffianisms." I cannot believe such acts have been committed by us or
ours with the knowledge of our officers, or that any such acts will be
committed. It is, of course, impossible for me to discuss this matter
further, as I am ignorant of the circumstances.

With reference to your Excellency's contention that the destruction of
our enemy's railway lines is unjustifiable, I can only say that such
action is not only regarded as legal by all military authorities, but
that in a handbook published by Sir Garnet Wolseley circumstantial
instructions are given in this connection for interrupting hostile
supplies. As your Excellency rightly remarks, we, as soldiers, must
take the rough with the smooth, and not complain petulantly when in
certain cases a less gentle treatment is dealt out. Military
operations, such as the blowing up of railway lines, are as unpleasant
to us as I hope the destruction of our houses, the burning of our
food, and the deportation of our families may be to your Excellency.

  I have the honour to be,
               Your Excellency's obedient servant,
                                            B. J. VILJOEN,

                                   _Assistant Commandant-General,
                                     Transvaal Burgher Forces._


                                   District Lydenburg,
                                        _21st September, 1901_.

TO HIS HONOUR GENERAL SIR BINDON BLOOD, _Middelburg_.

YOUR HONOUR,

I am compelled to protest against the methods of one of your columns,
which during the past week has been operating round about Roos
Senekal, and which has burnt and destroyed the food of a number of
families which it did not deport. This is surely a most inhuman
action, inasmuch that the families mentioned are now in a destitute
position. The families in question are those of Mr. Hans Grobler of
Klip River, and others at Tondeldoos. I should also like to know why
Dr. Manning and his ambulance and wounded have been removed from
Tondeldoos, notwithstanding former assurances that the Red Cross
should be regarded as neutral and left unmolested.

  I have the honour to be,
              Your Honour's obedient servant,

                                    B. J. VILJOEN.
                           _Assistant Commandant-General._


                                   Head Quarters, Pretoria,
                                        _26th October, 1901_.

TO GENERAL BEN VILJOEN.

SIR,

I have the honour to acknowledge receipt of your letter of the 8th of
October, in which you complain of attacks upon your burghers, and the
families and the property of your burghers, by kaffirs. You specify
two particular incidents in your letter:--

     (_a_) The incident at Wit River on the 22nd September, 1901.

     (_b_) The burning and plundering of homesteads at Ohrigstad.

I have investigated both cases and find that the facts are as
follows:--

     (_a_) In the first case a small body of mounted troops in
     charge of an officer attempted to capture a number of Boer
     waggons near Wit River on the 22nd September. A fight took
     place, and during the battle a band of kaffirs, of whose
     proximity His Majesty's troops had no knowledge, approached
     from another direction and commenced shooting on the
     burghers. This being observed, His Majesty's troops were
     withdrawn in order to avert any appearance of co-operation
     with the kaffirs, and a report in connection with the
     incident was immediately sent in.

     (_b_) In the second case Colonel Parke, the commanding
     officer of His Majesty's troops in the district named,
     reports that there is no foundation for the report supplied
     to you. On the 3rd of September all families in Ohrigstad
     district were removed by him. Harber's burgher commando was
     present, but took no part in the operation. On this occasion
     it was reported by a Boer woman that a number of kaffirs had
     appeared there the day previous and had plundered the
     village of Ohrigstad, but the kaffirs were acting
     independently of His Majesty's troops, and no further
     information as regards the matter is available except the
     report as stated above.

In conclusion, I think that it is not improbable that kaffirs have
made attacks in the districts named by you, but I can only attribute
these attacks to the action of your own burghers, _i.e._, to the
shooting and robbing of kaffirs, and the enmity thereby awakened among
the kaffirs by such maltreatment. While at the same time they (the
burghers) have supplied the kaffirs, by manner of sale, of weapons and
ammunition wherewith the attacks were made concerning which you
complain. I emphatically deny that they (the kaffirs) were armed or
incited by His Majesty's troops.

  I have the honour to be,
                 Your obedient servant,

                                        KITCHENER,
                                 _Commander-in-Chief in
                                      South Africa_.


                                   District Lydenburg,
                                        _6th November, 1901._

TO HIS EXCELLENCY LORD KITCHENER,
  _Commander-in-Chief of His Majesty's Forces in South Africa._

YOUR EXCELLENCY,--

I have the honour to acknowledge the receipt of your Excellency's
letter of the 26th October, containing a denial of certain acts
committed by armed kaffirs in the neighbourhood of Wit River and
Ohrigstad.

With respect to the first incident, _i.e._, that at Wit River, I can
only say that it appeared to us not only strange, but even improbable
that a band of armed kaffirs could attack simultaneously, and in
evident harmony with His Majesty's troops, and that neither party
should have any cognisance of the other's presence.

If it were the first occasion that His Majesty's troops had acted in
conjunction and with the assistance of kaffirs to make raids on the
burghers, then His Excellency's explanation would be feasible.

But, alas, our bitter experience in this War is otherwise. I shall,
therefore, be causing your Excellency no surprise if I contend that
your Excellency's explanation is untenable. As to what occurred at
Ohrigstad, I adhere to what I said, and to my letter of the 8th of
October, and I regret to observe that Colonel Parke misled your
Excellency by giving you an inaccurate account of the true facts.

To assist Colonel Parke's memory I may state that the same night he
left Lydenburg on his way to Kruger's Post, the Boer, Harber, with his
band of traitors, proceeded through Klipkloof and across
Joubertshoogte, accompanied by 100 armed kaffirs, and passed
Field-Cornet Zwart's farm at Uitkomst, where the plundering of Boer
families and homesteads was commenced. This was done at the explicit
instructions and in the presence of the said Harber.

The same afternoon Harber was met by the forces under Colonel Parke,
at Rustplaats, whence they conjointly withdrew to Kruger's Post Nek.

The next morning Colonel Parke once more proceeded to Ohrigstad, where
our families were again plundered and deported, and the homesteads
raided and burned.

Accordingly, only the last paragraph of Colonel Parke's report is
correct; and if your Excellency would take the trouble to question
and examine the families now in your hands--as requested in my former
letter--your Excellency would easily ascertain the true facts.

Since I construe from your Excellency's letter that Harber and his
corps are recognised as attached to His Majesty's forces, His
Majesty's officers must be held responsible for the acts of the said
Harber and his kaffir hordes.

It is not to be assumed that Harber and his corps, all armed, and
attired in khaki, only accompanied His Majesty's Army as spectators or
military attachés.

In conclusion, I observe that your Excellency repeats the allegation
that kaffirs are promiscuously shot, robbed, and maltreated by our
burghers, and that arms have been sold to the kaffirs by our burghers;
and that you trace the hostile attitude of the kaffirs towards us to
these causes.

As regards the hostile attitude of the kaffir races I can refer your
Excellency to a letter from his Honour, General Louis Botha, on the
same subject, wherein it is notified, _inter alia_, that prior to the
arrival of British troops in these districts, and in Swaziland, the
kaffir races, without exception, maintained a pacific attitude, a fact
which speaks for itself.

I must again repeat that the allegation that burghers sold arms to
the kaffirs is, so far as I know, untrue, and that this is merely one
of the many baseless accusations which have emanated from traitors and
unscrupulous individuals, and are offered by them as "important
information" to the British officers.

That kaffirs were provided by His Majesty's officers with arms can be
proved by intercepted documents, and I enclose herewith an extract
from the diary of Sergeant Buchanan, of Steinacker's Horse, from which
your Excellency will perceive that Lieutenant Gray, an officer of His
Majesty's Army, did personally supply kaffirs with arms and
ammunition.

  I have the honour to be,
                 Your Excellency's obedient servant,
                                            B. J. VILJOEN.
                                  _Assistant Commandant-General._


                                   District of Lydenburg,
                                        _7th November, 1901._

THE OFFICER COMMANDING LYDENBURG,

DEAR SIR,--

I shall be obliged by your bringing the following to the attention of
Lord Kitchener, namely, that on 29th October last the residence of a
certain D. Coetzee, on the Vrischgewaard Farm, in this district, was
surrounded during the night of that day, or approximately at that
time, by His Majesty's troops, assisted by a number of kaffirs and
traitors, and that only the youth Abraham Coetzee, occupied the house,
and that this youth, while attempting to escape, was shot through the
stomach. Coetzee was, furthermore, left in a shed, and robbed of all
his personal goods, and even his clothes.

The following day I found him still alive, but he died shortly after.
He declared that in the presence of white British troops he had been
robbed, knocked about, and kicked by armed kaffirs. I know beforehand
that the officer responsible for this noble and civilised act will
attempt to pervert the truth, because I am assured that His Excellency
cannot sanction this method of warfare. But this case is personally
known to me, and in my opinion, the declaration of a dying man is
worthy of credit.

  I have the honour to be,

               Your very obedient servant,

                                       B. J. VILJOEN.


                                   On the Veldt,
                                        _11th November, 1901._

TO HIS EXCELLENCY THE MARQUIS OF SALISBURY,
  _Prime Minister of His British Majesty's Government_.

YOUR EXCELLENCY,

Whereas His Honour the Commandant-General, and other commanding
officers, have already more than once, without any result, protested
to the Commanding Officer of your Forces in South Africa against the
employment of savage aborigines in this War, and notwithstanding that
we have repeatedly assured your military authorities here that on our
side every effort is being made to keep kaffirs entirely outside this
War, this Government is of opinion that it is its duty to earnestly
and solemnly protest to your Government, as we hereby do, and at the
same time to point out and direct its attention to the horrible and
cruel consequences of this manner of warfare.

Former protests sent in to your military authorities here in this
connection have met with the reply that such kaffirs were only
employed as unarmed scouts, though we have proof that they actually
fight against us, and pursue their destructive methods while in the
ranks of your forces, and as isolated commandos directed by British
officers.

These kaffirs, being ignorant of the rules of civilised warfare, have
not hesitated on various occasions and even in the presence of your
troops, to kill prisoners-of-war in a barbarous fashion. This is only
one of the evil consequences resulting from the employment of
barbarians in war, because it has also occurred that defenceless women
and children have been made prisoners by these wild ruffians, and
removed to kaffir kraals for detention until they were handed over to
the British military authorities.

This Government is prepared, in case the above allegations are denied,
to send your Excellency a large number of sworn declarations
confirming the facts.

  We have the honour to be,
              Your Excellency's most obedient servants,

                                   S. W. BURGER
                           (_Acting State President_).

                                   F. W. REITZ
                           (_Acting State Secretary_).


                              Army Headquarters, Pretoria, South Africa.
                                        _1st December, 1901._

SIR,

I observe from a communication which his Honour Schalk Burger has
requested me to forward to Lord Salisbury, and which I have so
forwarded, that his Government complains of the treatment of the women
and children in the camps which we have established for their
reception.

Everything has been done which the conditions of a state of war
allowed to provide for the well-being of the women and children; but
as you complain of that treatment and must, therefore, be in a
position to provide for them, I have the honour to inform you that all
women and children at present in our camps who are willing to leave
will be sent to your care, and I shall be happy to be informed where
you desire that they should be handed over to you.

I have addressed a reply to His Honour Schalk Burger in the above
sense.

  I have the honour to be, Sir,
                      Your obedient servant,

                                        KITCHENER,
                             _General Commanding-in-Chief,
                                      South Africa_.



TO GENERAL C. DE WET.



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