When we had been at Doornberg for one day the Vrede Commando arrived and joined us. We now became a comparatively strong force, consisting of about 2000 men.
On the following day some men were sent from each of the commandos to assist Commandant Hasebroek, who had since the previous day been engaging about 150 of the English. These English had marched out of Winburg with two Maxims, and had taken up a position at the house of Mr. le Roux, not far from Doornberg towards the south-west.
Without being ordered, a large number of burghers left the laager on the following day to go and join the fight; and when I with several others arrived at the house of General Andries Cronje, I met numbers of them returning. They said there were already too many engaged against the English at le Roux's farm, and that they had been ordered to proceed to the Ventersburg road to oppose a possible reinforcement from that village, which had meanwhile been reoccupied by the enemy. As had been suspected, a number of the enemy had in reality advanced from that direction to help their friends, but they turned back when they saw our men, not, however, without burning down some houses on their way. From the east the burghers of Vrede also made their appearance, and pursued these troops; but when the enemy began to fire shrapnel at them, they ceased the pursuit and returned to the laager.
The English on the farm of le Roux had meanwhile been harassed by our men during the whole day both in a poplar-grove and around the farmhouse. We had two guns and a Maxim there, and with these they were bombarded continually. They were also within reach of our rifles. Our men approached the enemy in some cases to within three hundred yards, and so it came about that on our side four were killed and seven wounded. In the evening the matter was given up, and all our men retired to Laaispruit. Commandant Hasebroek had treated our burghers very kindly, and his house was not far from where the fight took place, and there his wife had provided many with food and a cup of coffee. Every burgher was full of praise for him.
The following day was Sunday, the 26th of August. Divine service was held at several places; and at nightfall 800 men marched out, with the object of taking Winburg, whilst the laager proceeded a little towards the south.
Commandant Hasebroek sent one of his sons to guide the burghers, whilst he marched on the town from another direction. Unfortunately these men delayed too long at a place where they went to sleep for a while. They arrived at their destination when it was already broad daylight. This was the reason that the whole thing turned out a miserable failure. On this account also the guns could not be properly posted. As was to be foreseen, our men were expected by the English, who were in good positions; and it frequently happened that our men were nearly surrounded, and had to retire. Here General Olivier was captured. He rode into a party of the enemy, and so little was he aware how matters stood that he took them for our people.
"Hands up!" they cried.
He laughed, thinking it a joke on the part of his own men. But it was no joke, and Commandant Olivier had to lay down his arms. Commandant van Tender was with him, and was already disarmed, when he set spurs to his horse and raced away. A bullet cut through his sleeve, but he escaped to tell of the sad occurrence. The burghers returned in confusion to the laager, followed by small numbers of the enemy. The whole affair was a fiasco, and Winburg was not taken.
The enemy could do no more than drive our men back to the laager; but they avenged themselves for what had taken place at le Roux's farm, by burning down Commandant Hasebroek's house.
When we started in the afternoon clouds were rising in the west, and the thunder rolled. No rain, however, fell, but it was a sign that the worst of the cold weather was past and that spring had come. The sky remained clouded, and two days later, when we approached the little Vet River, it rained hard and continuously. The ground was soaked, and two months later, when we came along there as a mounted commando, we could still see the tracks our waggons now made in the mud.
During this week some waggons loaded with meal, coffee, sugar, sweets, and brandy were captured by our men. On the banks of the little Vet River the different articles were distributed to the men. Some Commandants acted, with regard to the brandy, in a sensible manner; others, not. In one instance the men drank immoderately, dipping pannikins into buckets which had been filled with brandy. General Fourie came upon one sad spectacle of drunkenness, and there and then poured all the liquor on the ground.
On Friday evening we had advanced as far as Allandale. Here it was resolved to rest a while, and a committee of officers went on ahead to select a suitable place at the foot of Korannaberg where the several commandos might encamp. On Saturday morning each commando went to the spot assigned it. How pleasant it was to trek onward after the rain. The showers had already had effect upon the veld, and the tender blades of grass were making their appearance. Everywhere one saw signs that Nature had once more awakened from her winter sleep, and it was delightful to gaze on the fresh green, on the branches of the willows and the soft pink of the peach blossoms. And irresistibly our hearts too were filled with a strong desire that thus too, after the winter of our discontent, the national life of our poor people might once more revive.
We were all encamped somewhat to the west of Korannaberg, and rejoiced at the thought that we, for a time at least, would no longer have to undertake endless night marches. But these pleasant thoughts could not be indulged in by all. Already some burghers out of every commando had been ordered to proceed that very evening with General Fourie to Ladybrand, for the purpose of taking that town.
Early on the 2nd September, after having ridden the whole night, the burghers attacked Ladybrand. The troops lying in garrison there immediately retreated to Lelyhoek, a beautifully cultivated rocky kloof near to the town. Without delay a heavy bombardment was opened upon the English, and kept up through the whole of the day with the two guns which General Fourie had taken with him. At nine o'clock General Visser was already inside the town—being the first of our officers who entered it, and at eleven o'clock some of our men captured horses and cattle and stormed the enemy to within six hundred yards. Somewhat later on twelve men advanced to within a few yards of the positions of the English; but had to retire not only on account of the enemy's severe fire, but also because some Krupp shells were being fired at them by our own gunners, who mistook them for English. During the day positions on all sides were taken up nearer to the enemy, behind the rocks above Lelyhoek, and behind the stone walls of the gardens in the town. A continual fire was kept up on both sides. The English also kept firing without intermission into the town, and some of us were hit there. Amongst others, one burgher was killed in the street near to the church. At nightfall the enemy had been driven out of Lelyhoek, and had sought shelter amongst the rocks a little higher up.
The same kind of fighting was kept up on Monday and Tuesday. A perpetual sound of rifle firing filled the air, overpowered every now and then by the roar of a Krupp shell that would make the rocks re-echo somewhere in Lelyhoek.
I arrived on the scene on the evening of the third day, and then I learnt that everything had to be abandoned, and that our people were preparing to retire at eight o'clock; the enemy might be forced to surrender within two or three days, but this could not occur before the arrival of a reinforcement which was advancing from Newberry's Mill. It was also feared that assistance might come from Ficksburg. I had therefore only an hour and a half at my disposal to visit my brother-in-law and his family. I walked quickly to the parsonage, got some information there regarding my wife, and then left the town along with the burghers.
Although the English garrison was not forced to surrender, our men had taken the town, and held it for three days. Our wants also had been provided for. As much clothing and food had been taken out of the town as could be carried away, and although General Fourie could not return completely victorious, he had no reason to be dissatisfied with the result of his expedition. We had, during the three days, to lament the loss of four killed and five wounded. What the English loss was we could not learn.
Well satisfied, we returned to the laager; but yet there was one thing that displeased me: it was that goods belonging to private persons had been taken. Of course, I do not refer to what was taken by the Government as the lawful prize of war; but to the spiders and horses belonging to individuals taken in the town. My feeling on this matter was so strong that I considered it my duty two days later, when a Council of War was held, to request the officers to see to it that their own resolutions and orders concerning this should be carried out.