I had hardly arrived in President Steyn's laager when I heard of a proclamation issued by him, in consultation with the Council of War, dated the 2nd of November 1901, whereby it was made lawful that boys of fourteen years old, when their physical condition and health permitted, should be "commandeered."
It was as if a sword had pierced my heart when I heard of this proclamation. Our Government had signalled that the Fatherland expected not only every man, but also every child to do his duty.
It was at this time, perhaps in consequence of this proclamation, that the English began to tear away little boys from their mothers, and not only those of fourteen and over, but also those under that age; even children of eight were mercilessly dragged away.
Immediately after I had joined the President his laager proceeded in the direction of Lindley. We had now an opportunity of visiting our hospital under the charge of Dr. Fourie, at the farm of Mr. David Malan. Then we went in the direction of Senekal to meet General Kritzinger, who had been driven over the border of the Cape Colony by General French, and was now staying in the Free State to let his horses rest a while. On Sunday, the 3rd of November, we held service, near Biddulphsberg, on the farm of Mr. Leendert Muller, and there General Kritzinger was also present. The President then resolved to be at Little Clocolan on the following Sunday, to address the colonists under Kritzinger on the occasion of divine service being held. This took place at the farm of Mrs. Bornman. On our way thither something occurred which caused some uneasiness to the President and the members of the Executive Council. General de Wet sent a report after him, stating that a letter had arrived from the Transvaal, and he asked President Steyn to fix a place where the Executive Council could meet for the purpose of considering that letter. The President fixed on the house of Christoffel de Jager at Sand River, and rode back twelve miles to that spot.
The letter in question asked whether we should not again try to enter into negotiations with the British Government, and to make a proposal for Peace. The Transvaal Government proposed that as a basis of negotiation there might be discussed such points as equal rights for the Dutch and English languages, religious liberty, costs of the war, an offensive and defensive alliance as far as South Africa was concerned, etc.
President Steyn replied on behalf of the Executive Council, that in his reply to Lord Kitchener he had already proposed to negotiate upon the condition that the Republics should retain their independence, and that the result was well known. Further, he said that he could not discuss all the points suggested by the Transvaal Government seriatim, but if there was to be a proposal for an offensive or defensive alliance with England, then we might as well recall the Deputation from Europe.