It had been extremely warm all the time we spent on the sand plains, and on the day that we crossed the railway line the heat was intense. In the evening a dark mass of clouds rose to the west. Lightning flashed from them, and we heard rolling in the distance. The burghers had to make preparations against the rain which would certainly fall. Blankets were spread on the ground, and those who possessed them spread their small canvas tents, remnants of those supplied them by the Government in the beginning of the war. Some had small patrol tents. As far as our party was concerned, we five crowded into a small Carbineer's tent intended for two. There we passed the night, half sitting, half lying, listening to the beating of the rain without. When we arose the following morning our limbs were so cramped that it seemed as if old age had suddenly overtaken us during the night.—Nothing causes more discomfort to a horse-commando than rain.
During this week we travelled a very short distance.
Towards the end of the week we were on the farm of Isaac Cronje. His wife and her sister showed great kindness to the men, and I was very glad to take refuge from the rain under her roof on Saturday night.
That evening—27th of October—General Botha went to the railway line with a number of burghers. Early in the morning he surprised the enemy in their camp at Ventersburg Road Station, and 120 soldiers were disarmed. While these soldiers were laying down their arms, one of them seized his rifle and fired on the burghers, wounding Assistant Commandant Jan Meyer in the arm and hand, and Burgher Nortje in the hand.
Just at this juncture a train was captured, and our men were busy taking from it what they needed and setting it on fire when an armoured train with a cannon bore down on them. The burghers were compelled to leave everything and to retreat in hot haste. Two other burghers were also wounded. I bandaged them, but as the wounds appeared to me to be rather serious I requested the General to call in the aid of Doctor Snijman of Ventersburg. The doctor was good enough to come, attended to the wounded men, and instructed me how to treat them further. The patients remained under my care until later on they got assistance from medical men.
The following day there was a report that the English were moving out from their camp. We rode out in the direction where they were said to be, but it proved to be a false alarm. However, it was seen that they were making such movements that General Botha deemed it necessary to order the whole commando to take up a position for the night, and the waggons were ordered southward early in the morning. Our burghers accordingly took positions on a ridge. When day broke they observed that the British were on the same ridge. What their object was we did not know.
The day was ushered in by a tremendous fire of small arms, and in between came the thunder of the British guns. A raking fire from both sides was kept up for half an hour, and our men managed to put the gunners of one of the cannon out of action. Unfortunately our right wing was in danger of being surrounded, and had to retire, with the result that the General could not profit from the success that had been gained on the left. Here again the positions had to be abandoned. On we went, without being followed up, to Paddafontein.
The burghers spent a very unpleasant time there. On the second day after we came it began to rain at sundown. Showers fell steadily for two nights and a day. What discomfort a mounted commando has to suffer while it rains. Some of the men have tents, only a few have carts, the rest, the majority, must manage as best they could. They get wet through from the drops falling from above, and when they lie down the water flows in below. And then there are the horses seeking shelter behind the carts and tents, treading mud puddles all over the camp. On the morning after the first night the General saw that the commando could not remain thus in the rain, and he ordered the officers to seek shelter for the burghers on the neighbouring farms. I had already found refuge in the house of Mr. Potgieter, and during the bad weather I passed a pleasant time with the books of Mr. Fairclough, the schoolmaster there. Our wounded also found shelter here.
At this place I found that there were six or seven families of fugitives from the burnt-down houses. Amongst them there was a woman who had recently given birth to a child in the open veld, when along with other women she sought shelter, after her house was burnt. On Monday the burghers reassembled; General Botha had meanwhile been about everywhere in the neighbourhood. He had seen many burnt-down houses. They also showed me a notice signed by General Bruce-Hamilton, which had been posted on the houses that had been destroyed; General Bruce-Hamilton said in this notice that he had "partially" burnt the town Ventersburg and also the farms in the neighbourhood, because the Boers had made attacks upon the railway. The "Boer women," so ran this notice further, "should apply to the Boer commandants for food, who will supply them, unless they wish to see them starve!"
In the evening we proceeded to Lools Spruit where at one glance I saw no less than six burnt-down houses.
The following day, the 6th of November, I went with General Botha to Ventersburg. It was sad to pass through the burnt-down part of the town, and to see the houses roofless, and with gaping doors and windows.—And what effect had it all?
The burning of the town and the farmhouses near the railway did not stop the burghers from attacking the lines of communication of the English. Our people would not in this way be forced into submission. Even upon the women this action had not the effect which the enemy contemplated. I met several of them in the town, they were calm and resigned under their severe sufferings, and told me that they had, on the evening before the fire, held a prayer-meeting, and that they had been supported and consoled by God in a wonderful manner. The period of the forcible removement of our women into concentration camps had not yet come, and now there were many women at Ventersburg requiring support. For this purpose, General Botha had sheep and wheat sent to them. He left them in charge of Mr. Albert Williams. They could not have been intrusted into better hands. He was an honest and energetic man, and possessed, moreover, a heart ever open to the weak and suffering; unfortunately he was killed in a fight a few months after. I felt his death very keenly, and it is now a sad consolation to me to have been able to speak of his fine, unselfish character.
We remained in the neighbourhood of Ventersburg until the following Sunday, when I held service for the women there; and in the afternoon we went on our way, with the object—although that was as yet unknown to the burghers—of proceeding to the Cape Colony. Some days before we began our journey our company was temporarily broken up by the departure of General de Villiers to the district of Harrismith. As he was suffering from an internal complaint, which made it difficult for him to ride on horseback, he went away to fetch his waggonette. I then attached myself to Assistant Commandant Jan Meyer. We had heard towards the end of the week of what had happened to General de Wet at Bothasville. This did not tend to cheer us, but at the same time we were not discouraged. Not only had every tendency to the despair which had taken possession of us at Nauwpoort disappeared, but we had also in General Botha a leader who inspired his men. I have never seen him show any signs of despondency, and the burghers had faith in him. We began, then, to move southwards. We proceeded with the greatest speed, and on Wednesday evening, the 14th of November, camped at the farm of Mr. Hans Bormann at Korannaberg.
President Steyn and General de Wet had, after the occurrence at Bothasville, also travelled south, and arrived where we were that same evening. Before retiring for the night I met the President. He had much to tell about his adventures in the Transvaal, and of his remarkable escape at Bothasville. I admired his courage and cheerfulness, and thought of how much we should be indebted to him, if ever God should see fit to grant us our Independence.