Ramah's Spring--Belmont--In touch with the Boers--Jagersfontein--Nieuwoudt turns North--On his track--Camp at Abraham's Kraal--Description of ground--Boers rush the piquet--The defence of the camp--The Colonel's charge--The Boers retire--Next morning.

The Sussex column, which was working in conjunction with Col. Western and Major Driscoll, reached Luckhoff on the 11th of January without having come across the Boers. It then crossed into Cape Colony, going by Ramah's Spring to Witteput. The sight of a farm, cultivated, and occupied by friendly people, was a strange one. The owner of Ramah's Spring in particular was most hospitable.

On the 15th the column camped at Belmont. A terrific thunderstorm in the evening struck some trees in the camp, but did no damage. A patrol of fifty men under Major Gilbert got into touch next day with 300 Boers moving south: these Boers turned east, and the column accordingly followed them back into the Orange River Colony, and reached Luckhoff on the 18th, after a long trek.

On the following day the Boers were only 10 miles off; but the horses of the column were too done to move until the evening. At Liebenbergspan a number of mules and horses, taken with Hamilton's transport, were recovered. It was necessary now to draw fresh supplies; Col. du Moulin accordingly went to Jagersfontein on the 22nd and drew supplies from Vlakfontein. Over 10,000 rounds of mixed ammunition were destroyed, which had been found in the town, sunk in a flooded mine.

The Boers (three commandos under Nieuwoudt) had turned north, and the column started after them on the 23rd. The Riet River was crossed at Jagersfontein Drift on the 24th, and Witdam was reached on the 26th. On the following day Col. du Moulin got again into touch with the Boers. The column had started at 5 a.m., and, while it was halted for breakfast, four men were seen by Capt. Beale, the Intelligence Officer, leaving a farm some miles off. Capt. Griffin was sent out with his company to reconnoitre, and came upon the spoor of a large party. Mounting a high kopje, he saw the four join a large laager of some 400 Boers, with spare horses, cattle and three Cape carts, which was on the move. The column followed, passed through the Boers' camp at De Dam, and by the evening arrived at a drift over the Riet River. This drift lay under the farm of Abraham's Kraal, and here the column bivouacked. The Boers, expecting them to take a different route, had crossed the River a few miles lower down, and were waiting on the further bank.

At Abraham's Kraal, the farm houses are at the open end of a semi-circle some 200 yards in diameter, formed by a low ridge that rises here and there into small kopjes covered with large stones. Beyond the buildings and facing the semi-circle is a garden with a stone wall. Standing with one's back to the garden and buildings, on the right is a large stone kraal, divided into several compartments. In front is the highest part of the ridge, beyond which the ground drops very quickly to the Riet River. On the left, the ridge ends in a conical rocky mound, with a small kraal at its foot. On the outside of this mound a donga leads up from the river, and curls in towards the farm.

The horse lines were placed across the semi-circle, parallel to the garden wall. On the river side of them, the officers' valises were laid out. The Colonel and his staff slept in the farm house, which was at the end of the ridge near the largest Kraal. The pom-pom was at the foot of the conical mound, on the road that here entered the semi-circle. The transport was along the garden wall, to the right rear of the horse lines.

Three piquets were put out, one of them on the highest part of the ridge, looking towards the river and drift. It will be convenient to call this the camp piquet. The river could not be actually seen from this piquet, owing to the rapid drop of the ground. The two other piquets were placed upon small kopjes, one to the right of the camp piquet outside the semi-circle, and one in rear of the garden. The men in camp, done up with many days of continuous trekking, turned in.

At about 1 a.m. a Sergeant got up to put the nose-bag on his horse, as a patrol was to go across the river at 3. As he was walking back to his place, he heard a shot fired on the piquet, and shouted "Stand to!" Almost immediately a tremendous fire was opened upon the centre of the camp. The men woke to hear shouts and yells of "Come on you Bob-a-days"--"Vorwatz Burghers"--and to see through the misty moonlight (for the night was cloudy) swarms of dark figures topping the crest of the piquet within 200 yards of them, and rushing down the slope, firing from their hips. Nieuwoudt, after being chased so far by the column, was striking back at last.

The Boers had been forced into action. Col. Western with his column was closing in upon them from the west, Major Driscoll was coming up from the south. If they were to avoid facing a combination of columns, it was necessary to attack one of them at once. Col. du Moulin was close on their heels, and his force was numerically inferior.[24]

Nieuwoudt therefore planned this night attack, entrusting the execution of it to Commandant Theunissen.

The attacking Boers had crossed a drift, worked up the river bed (out of sight) till they were below the camp piquet, crept up the steep hillside, and then rushed the sentry and piquet, killing two men and having two men killed--one of them the owner of the farm. They then started firing down into the camp, while some rushed across the saddle to their left and occupied a large kraal, and others began to work along the ridge to their right. One or two ran straight down the slope.

Major Gilbert, sleeping in the officers' line, woke up to see a dark giant come bounding down the hill, shouting "Hands up." The Major dashed across to the small kraal at the foot of the conical mound, and, finding Lieut. Thorne there, sent him to the garden wall to get men who had taken cover there up on to the mound. Colour-Sergt. Weston was already going up, shouting "Come on, chaps, come on!"; he was killed on the top, by a bullet in the head, before he could fire. Major Gilbert and Thorne, with Lieuts. Crawley-Boevey, Bond, and Paget, continued working men up onto this ridge, getting a steady fire to bear in the direction of the Boers, and driving back those who were attempting to work along the ridge.

Captain Harrington, who, with his pom-pom, was at the foot of the mound, hid the gun under a tarpaulin, and then disposed his men to check any attempt to creep up the donga from the River. Thorne took a party to search this donga, but the Boers made no flank attack.

The men behind the garden wall had also by this time developed a steady fire, aiming at the flashes on the ridge. Neither side realised how very small the area of operations was, and the firing was mostly high; still a hail of bullets swept the horse lines. In a small sheet of corrugated iron found there afterwards, were seventeen bullet holes; ninety horses were killed.

The Colonel, sleeping in the farmhouse, woke at the first onset. Shouting "My God, they're in the camp," he dashed up the ridge behind the farm.

Lieut. Ashworth, signalling officer to the column, and 2nd Lieut. Leachman, staff officer, ran up there too, the Colonel calling out to Ashworth "Look after this end."

Men were worked up to the ridge from the garden wall, Captain Beale bringing across several parties, and here too a steady fire was gradually developed. The noise of the firing and the shouting and yelling was infernal.

The Colonel had collected a little knot of men, and with them had cleared, with the bayonet, the compartments of the large Kraal, one after the other. The Boers still clung to the further side of it. The Colonel now determined on a charge along the lower edge of the kraal; shouting "All who have boots follow me" (a shout that could only be heard by the men close to him), he dashed along the lower wall of the kraal. The moment he cleared the corner he fell, shot through the heart and leg; two of the men following him were mortally wounded.

This charge appears to have shaken the Boers' nerves. They were making no progress; they held one side of the camp, and had certainly done a great deal of damage to the horses; but the British were firmly established on the other, and, far from being on the run, were taking the offensive. At any rate, shortly after the Colonel's charge, a whistle sounded loudly several times from the piquet which the Boers had first rushed: it was then about 2 a.m.

A curious hush fell on the camp; yells and firing ceased as if by common consent, and for a moment their was absolute silence. Then a shout rose from the British side--"They're off"--and heavy firing again broke out. The whistle was Theunissen's signal for the Boers to retire. This they did as suddenly and as quickly as they had come. Back from the Kraal wall--back over the piquet--back down the hill and over the drift they went: and in a few minutes the only Boers in camp were the two they had left dead behind them.

It was not at once realized that the Boers had altogether gone. The survivors of the camp piquet shouted to the men below to stop firing. Major Gilbert learned of Col. du Moulin's death, and assumed command. Fresh piquets were sent out, and all prepared to meet another attack. None, however, was made. The groans of the wounded horses had been painful to hear during the night, and as soon as it got light these were slaughtered with revolvers. When this task was finished, more than 120 dead horses and mules lay about the camp. They were piled literally in heaps.

It was now possible to make up the list of casualties. Besides the Colonel, two Sergeants (Col. Sergt. Weston and Sergt. Green) and four men were dead, and nine men wounded, of whom one died very shortly.[25]

At half past seven, all the available men paraded, Captain Montrésor read the burial service, and the Last Post was sounded over the grave of the man to whose initiative and energy the column owed its existence, and who had died most gallantly in its defence. It sounded, too, over the men who had followed him to his death, and over two of the enemy who had paid the forfeit.[26]


[24] Nieuwoudt had three commandos with him, making a total of about 400 men. Col. du Moulin had about 300, with a pom-pom.

[25] The casualties were as follows:--

    KILLED-- Lt.-Col. du Moulin. C.-Sgt. A. Weston.  G Co. Sgt. C. Green. B Co. Pte. W. Covington.  D Co.  T. Hill.  D Co.  R. Pimm.  E Co.  G. Tomlin.   F Co.

    DIED OF WOUNDS-- Pte. A. Brackpool.  A Co.  J. Clarke C Co. Pte. B Gaston. E Co. T. Light. E Co.

    WOUNDED-- Sgt. E. Simmins.  Vol. Pte. G. Langley.  D Co. Dr. S. Sproston.  D Co. Pte. T. Bostock.  F Co.  J. Coles. F Co.  A. Cox. F Co.

[26] It is interesting to notice that after this Nieuwoudt's opinion of night attacks was that they were not worth while, and he declared himself against them in the future. This was learned from prisoners, and also from some correspondence between him and Cdt. Erasmus, which was subsequently found. The latter was urging a night attack upon Nieuwoudt, saying that although they had been unable to capture the camp at Abraham's Kraal, still they had killed many horses.