Johannesburg--Pretoria--An abortive conference--The entry and march past--The people--The town--Irene--Botha again fails to appear.

A few miles march on the 30th May cleared us from the scene of the battle of the day before and brought us into one of the mining suburbs of Johannesburg, Florida, where we camped in the midst of mining shafts and engine houses. Some few of the pumps were going, clearing out the water, but the majority of the mines were shut down and in charge of the Kaffir Mines Police; no damage had been done to any of them that we could see.

On the 31st of May the following Divisional Order was published:--

The G.O.C. has much pleasure in publishing the following extract from a letter just received from Lord Roberts:--

"I am delighted at your successes and grieved beyond measure at your poor fellows being without proper rations; a trainful shall go on to you to-day. I expect to get the notice that Johannesburg surrenders this morning, and we shall then march into the town. I wish your column, which has done so much to gain possession of it, could be with us."

Two days we rested after our heavy day's work on the 29th, but we changed our camp to a new spot, more to the north and closer to the town. This was Bramfontein, and we were allowed to go into the town and inspect it, and make such purchases as we could.

Lord Roberts wired to the War Office on the 30th of May as follows:--

"The brunt of the fighting yesterday fell on Ian Hamilton's column. I had sent him, as already mentioned, to work round to the west of Johannesburg in support of French's cavalry, which was directed to go to the north, near the road leading to Pretoria. I have not heard from French yet, but Hamilton, in a report which has just reached me, states that about one o'clock in the afternoon he found his way blocked by the enemy strongly posted on some kopjes and ridges three miles south of the Rand. They had two heavy guns, some held guns and Pom-poms.

"Hamilton at once attacked. The right was led by the Gordons, who after capturing one extremity of the ridge, wheeled round and worked along it until after dark, clearing it of the enemy, who fought most obstinately. The City Imperial Volunteers led on the other flank and would not be denied, but the chief share in the action, as in the casualties, fell to the Gordons, whose gallant advance excited the admiration of all.

"Hamilton speaks in high terms of praise of the manner in which Bruce Hamilton and Spens of the Shropshire Light Infantry handled the men under Smith-Dorrien's direction."

Johannesburg is a fine town, a long way superior to Pretoria or Bloemfontein: it owes its sudden rise and wonderful growth to its situation on the Witwatersrand and to the enormous development of the mining industries within the last few years.

No doubt when all the shops are open and the streets filled with the usual well-dressed crowd, it must make a fine appearance. When we first entered the town it looked quite desolate, with the magnificent plate glass windows boarded up and the doors covered with corrugated iron, evidently in anticipation of severe rioting and looting. Johannesburg has a most magnificent town railway station at the Park, with waiting rooms and offices, all of ornamental brick, mahogany and plate glass, fitted up in the most gorgeous style with silk curtains, marble floors and decorated ceilings. This is where the millionaires condescend to embark on the train, when they think of honouring one or other of the South African cities with their presence. The contrast between the elaborate Park station and the hovels that serve for stations at Elandsfontein and Bramfontein, is too absurd for words.

On Sunday, the 2nd of June, we were off again at seven o'clock; and the next day found us still heading off towards the north-west of Pretoria, apparently with the intention of circling round, and descending on the capital from the north or north-west. However, while we were on the march, our direction was changed, and we came back on our tracks, having received orders to march straight on Pretoria. When this order was passed by the mounted officers, there was a certain amount of excitement, naturally, as Pretoria was our goal and destination. The band struck up a march and there was a scene of much enthusiasm, one regiment in particular cheering madly, and some individuals producing Union Jacks, which they flourished with all their might.

So on we went, and about three o'clock reached the shelter of the hills outside Pretoria. The 19th Brigade went up the hills a little way, and the rest of us lay down and waited to see if we were wanted. Some of the men fell out and wandered away to the reverse flank, but quickly came running back, as bullets were dropping over the hills, apparently fired at long range and considerable elevation. Indeed, a couple of the City Imperial Volunteers were hit by these spent bullets. Later, the Brigade camped close by, and in the dark, to our astonishment, we found, alongside of us, some of the Sussex Yeomanry; and then we heard of the unfortunate accident to the Duke of Norfolk, which precluded his taking any further part in active operations, and which, unfortunately, prevented our seeing him either.

The 5th of June was the great day of the campaign, culminating in the withdrawal of the enemy and the entry of the victorious troops into his capital.

Very early in the morning, De Lisle's Mounted Infantry had pushed on into the town from the position gained by them the previous evening, and, meeting with no opposition, had demanded its surrender, but were received by Commandant Botha with a request for an armistice and a conference. This was of course agreed to by Lord Roberts, and nine o'clock was the hour fixed for the meeting. Towards that hour, therefore, all the troops who had marched with the 19th and 21st Brigades under General Ian Hamilton, were entering the pass which wound through the hills into the valley of Pretoria. This pass was quite two miles in length, and the surrounding country was composed of a succession of low, broken hills, which, if they had been held by a determined enemy, would have given us considerable trouble to capture. It has always been a marvel why the Boers did not defend Pretoria, surrounded, as it is, by a network of hills, topped by several strong forts built, I suppose, for that purpose; but probably the fact was that they would have been unable to get their big guns dragged up and mounted in sufficient time to oppose our advance, and therefore thought it wise not to risk them. Undoubtedly, Lord Roberts' rapid advance, or rather his dash from Bloemfontein to Pretoria, will be recorded in history as one of the remarkable military achievements of the century; and the breathless rapidity with which his movements were planned and executed had possibly paralysed the Boer commanders, and influenced their decision to sacrifice Pretoria, and to fall back to the east on the railway, as this would leave open a convenient line of retreat and an easy means of departure, whenever necessary, for Mr. Kruger and the foreign mercenaries, through Komati Poort and Delagoa Bay.

About nine o'clock, the hills opened out, and a mass of buildings could be seen in the dim distance: this was Pretoria, and, forming up on a low hill, a mile or two closer in, we were enabled to have a long look at the town about which we had heard so much of late years.

Between us and the town, and among a multitude of iron-roofed houses, was the famous race-course where so many of our unfortunate prisoners had been confined: we could just distinguish with our glasses the big enclosure with its high fence of corrugated iron, but it was too dim and misty at that hour of the morning for us to make out much more.

Nine o'clock came but no Commandant Botha, and no signs of him, or of anyone else. We were all ready for a durbar or a conference, formed up in three sides of a hollow square, and everyone who could raise a kodak had produced it and pushed himself up into a prominent position, ready to take snapshots of the celebrities. And so we waited for an hour, speculating idly as to the cause of the commandant's non-appearance, and inclining to the belief that he was merely bluffing, to gain time to get his guns away; whether he was or not we have never heard, but it was a very suspicious circumstance that he played a similar game on another occasion, and caused us to wait two days, which would have been valuable time to us had we been able to advance.

Eventually the troops moved on, and camped to the west of the town and just outside the notorious race-course, where merely a few sick prisoners were now left, the majority having been moved some time previously to Waterval; while the officers had been confined in the Model School and other places in the town. On our approach, these officers, over a hundred in number, had succeeded in bouncing the few of their guards who still remained, and had effected their escape. They came and reported themselves to Lord Roberts, who afterwards inspected them on parade and congratulated them on obtaining their freedom.

The Brigade paraded in the early afternoon and formed up to march through the streets of the capital; the Derbyshire were leading, as it was their turn, and, headed by their band, they moved off in column of route; we followed, what was left of our band showing the way, and after us came the Camerons and then the C.I.V.

The streets were crammed with troops, as the Mounted Infantry and their baggage were passing along with us, and moving to their camp on the other side of the town; but when we approached the centre of the city they branched off to the left. The Guards' Brigade had preceded us and had left a number of men to keep the ground clear, as we entered on to the square. There, facing the Union Jack, floating (never again to be removed) proudly on the Town Hall, sat Lord Roberts on his charger, surrounded by the officers of his staff; while on the other side of the square, stood a dense, sullen mass of people--a few British subjects, but mostly foreigners who had business interests in Pretoria, with many women and children. What impressed us most was their silence: many of the women were in tears, and most of the men glared at us with anything but friendly glances. And so we passed on, saluting Lord Roberts, and meeting General Kelly's friendly glance, and marched away down the principal street, named Kerk or Church Street.

In a prominent position behind Lord Roberts, and surrounded by a mass of scaffolding, was a pedestal, where work had been carried on to erect a statue of the President of the Transvaal Republic. That pedestal, destined to remain unfilled, stood there, a monument of disappointed ambition.

Down Church Street we went for half a mile, swung off to the right, and returned by a parallel road to our camping ground, passing the Electric Lighting Company's tall chimney, where the enterprising mechanics had, with much danger and trouble, hoisted the British flag at the summit, and stood at their gate cheering us as we went by; one of the few marks of enthusiasm with which we were greeted.

The square in the centre of the town contains the most important buildings, the Town Hall and the Raadzaal being large and lofty modern erections; a large hotel, three banks and several minor buildings complete the list. In Church Street are numerous splendid shops, which then showed signs of trouble, most of them being blocked up with corrugated iron, which, in compliment to the troops, as heralding the approach of safety, the owners were commencing to remove as we went by. The rest of the town, which is well laid out, with broad streets running at right angles and planted with trees, consists of smaller shops and native stores, or of private residences--many of the latter built in the Indian style, with broad verandahs and large compounds, well planted and laid out. Further out to the west of the town are the suburban residences of the wealthier townspeople, in great contrast to the humble-looking dwelling of the President, which we passed on our way before we entered the square. Mrs. Kruger was still residing in the, to her, now lonely house, upon which an officer's guard had been mounted to ensure proper respect being paid to the old lady Cleanliness was not a great point of the housekeeping, as may be understood from the fact that the sergeant of the guard was compelled to go and buy a bottle of Keating's Powder and some other disinfectant, the whole of which he had to sprinkle in the room allotted to the men as a guardroom, before it could be lived in.

We only stayed a day and a half in Pretoria, as on the 6th of June we were sent by half battalions to Irene, about 12 miles off, the first party moving at three o'clock in the afternoon and the others some hours later. The road winds for the first few miles, through a pass in the hills, in and out among dusty rocks, and then opens out on to the usual interminable veldt. Irene cannot be seen until the traveller is close upon it, as it lies in a fold of the ground; but it is not much worth seeing, anyhow, consisting merely of the railway station buildings, and some cement works. There is, however, a very successful irrigation farm in the neighbourhood.

Captain Maguire joined us here from England, looking very cheery, and full of keenness and eagerness to see some of the show before it was all over.

Lord Roberts issued a special Army Order in Pretoria which may be of some interest; it ran as follows:--

  Extract from Army Orders, 7th June, 1900.

    "In congratulating the British Army in South Africa on the occupation of Johannesburg and Pretoria, the one being the principal town and the other the capital of the Transvaal, and also on the relief of Mafeking after an heroic defence of over 200 days, the F.M.C. in chief desires to place on record his high appreciation of the gallantry and endurance displayed by the troops, both those who have taken part in the advance across the Vaal River, and those who have been employed on the less arduous duty of protecting the line of communication through the Orange River Colony. After the force reached Bloemfontein on the 13th March it was necessary to halt there for a certain period. Through railway communication with Cape Colony had to be restored before supplies and necessaries of all kinds could be got from the base. The rapid advance from the Modder River, and the want of forage en route, had told heavily on the horses of the Cavalry, Artillery and Mounted Infantry, and the transport mules and oxen, and to replace these casualties a considerable number of animals had to be provided. Throughout the six weeks the Army halted at Bloemfontein, the enemy showed considerable activity especially in the south-eastern portion of the Orange River Colony; but by the beginning of May, everything was in readiness for a further advance into the enemy's country, and on the 2nd of that month active operations again commenced. On the 12th May, Kroonstad, where Mr. Steyn had established the so-called Government of the Orange Free State, was entered. On the 17th May Mafeking was relieved. On the 31st May Johannesburg was occupied, and on the 5th June the British flag waved over Pretoria. During these thirty-five days the main body of the force marched 300 miles, including fifteen days' halt, and engaged the enemy on six different occasions. The column under Lieut.-Gen. Ian Hamilton marched 400 miles in forty-five days, including ten days' halt. It was engaged with the enemy twenty-eight times.

    "The flying column under Colonel B. Mahon, which relieved Mafeking, marched at the rate of 15 miles a day for fourteen consecutive days, and successfully accomplished its object, despite the determined opposition offered by the enemy. During the recent operations, the sudden variations in temperature between the warm sun in the daytime, and the bitter cold at night, have been peculiarly trying to the troops, and owing to the necessity for rapid movement, the soldiers have frequently had to bivouac after long and trying marches without firewood and with scanty rations.

    "The cheerful spirit with which difficulties have been overcome and hardships disregarded, are deserving of the highest praise, and in thanking all ranks for their successful efforts to attain the objects in view, Lord Roberts is proud to think that the soldiers under his command have worthily upheld the traditions of Her Majesty's Army, in fighting, in marching, and in the admirable discipline which has been maintained through a period of no ordinary trial and difficulty."

We moved off, after a day's halt, in a north easterly direction, but halted on the 9th and 10th of June, when it was said that Botha, the Boer Commander in Chief, was arranging a Conference, which, however, seemingly fell through.[6]


[6] As to these abortive conferences, it was subsequently learnt from Boers on Gen. Ben Viljoen's staff that after the fall of Pretoria Botha urgently advised President Kruger to make peace on any terms he could, on the ground that the farms of the Transvaal had not yet suffered from the war, the issue of which was no longer doubtful. Kruger was persuaded, and the conference arranged; but at the critical moment De Wet brought President Steyn up to Waterval, and they insisted that the war, by which the Free State had already suffered so much, should be continued.--ED.

Parent Category: Books
Category: Du Moulin: Two years on trek
Hits: 2055