The Camp, Kimberley,
September 28th, 1899.
This usually dull and dirty mining station has now been occupied by a small detachment of British troops. The force arrived here from the camp at Orange River within the week, and include the 1st Loyal North Lancashire, with its usual complement of machine guns, No. 1 Section of the 7th Field Company of Royal Engineers, 23rd Company of Garrison Artillery with 2·5 seven-pound muzzle-loaders on mountain carriages (which are almost useless and certainly obsolete weapons), an organised Army Medical Staff, and a transport most indifferently equipped if it be intended for immediate and prolonged field service. Yet it is claimed that nothing has been omitted which could make this force an imposing factor in the chance of attack to which, from its exposed situation, the hapless Kimberley is threatened. The Loyal Lancashire Regiment is in full strength, but the battalions have been divided between the positions here and the camp just south of the Orange River. It is, of course, doubtful whether much be gained by splitting up our forces along the border into small units, but at the present juncture, when so few troops be in the colony, this policy is receiving its own justification. We are all urgently hoping for the arrival of troops, since if there were a general advance of the Dutch troops, a contingency not by any means altogether remote, upon any one of these well-defined but indifferently manned places, the task of maintaining the advanced lines would be a severe strain upon the efforts of the very limited number of men that are available at each point. It is surely only within the limits of the British Empire that a frontier line over 1,500 miles in extent would be kept absolutely without any defensive measures; while it is Boer activity during the past few weeks that has induced the Colonial authorities to adopt their present precautions. Our troops are now more or less efficiently prepared at certain points along this Western boundary, and, if no order has yet come for their mobilisation, the steps necessary to effect it have all been completed. At Kimberley, in the few days which have elapsed, wonders in the preparation of the town's defences have been worked, and the alarm which caused so much panic there before the arrival of the soldiers has now, in part, subsided.
For many hours before the arrival of the troops at Kimberley crowds of interested spectators besieged the railway station and thronged the dusty thoroughfares of the town. The Imperial men detrained very smartly to the sound of the bugle, off-loading the guns and ammunition to the plaudits and delights of an admiring crowd. The actual detraining took place at the Beaconsfield siding, two miles from Kimberley, the men not making their camp in the town until the next morning. For the time the transport was stored in the goods sheds, and the troops arranged to bivouac beside the railway. The traffic manager had prepared fires and boiling water before the men came, so that soon after their arrival they were all served with dinner. The detailing of guards, posting of sentries, and other evolutions incidental to open camp, permitted Kimberley to indulge its taste for military pomp and vanities. Imperial troops have not been here since two squadrons of the 11th Hussars passed through from Mashonaland in November, 1890, and the presence of the troops has inspired the townfolk with a magnificent appreciation of the gallant men who have come up for their protection. It is hoped that special means will be taken to interest the troops in the few hours which they have free from work. At present all attention is being devoted to the construction of the defences of the town, to the formation of adequate volunteer assistance, to the arrangement of a complete system of alarm and rallying spots. Lieut.-Colonel Kekewich, in command of the Imperial camp here, is anxious to assist the people in rifle practice and field-firing; while the Diamond Fields Artillery and the De Beers Artillery are to be called out for temporary service in conjunction with the Imperial Artillery.
The rumour that a Boer force is within the vicinity of Kimberley has done much to assist in the speedy formation of local forces, and now that the train mules and private bullock teams have been requisitioned for the Imperial service, there is much solemn speculation upon the date of hostilities. The fact is that no one here can, with any certainty, predict an hour. A shot anywhere will set the borderside aflame. Moreover, the Boers are daily growing more impudent. At Borderside, where the frontiers are barely eighty yards apart, a field cornet and his men, who are patrolling their side of the line, greet the pickets of the Cape Police who are stationed there with exulting menaces and much display of rifles. But if the Dutch be thirsting in this fashion for our blood, people at home can rest confident in the fact that there will be no holding back upon the part of our men once the fun begins. Seldom has such a determined and ferocious spirit animated any British force as that one which is now stimulating the troops in South Africa. Every man is sick of the Cabinet's delay, but they find consolation in the fact that the slow movement of the Ministerial machine is undertaken to avoid any precipitation of the crisis before the forces to be engaged have arrived upon the scene. Then it is every man's ambition to take his own share in "whopping" Kruger.
I did not hurry to leave Kimberley; but the place where the diamonds come from, the least admirable of any town on earth, is no longer essential to my existence. It has neither charm nor elegance, and it is sufficiently irregular in its construction to be the most barbarous example of architecture in South Africa. It greets the traveller enveloped in the haze of heat, and it bids him farewell through a cloud of sand. But if one has once imagined what the appearance of the mining town may be, let him give it a wide berth. It is a conglomerate jumble of tin houses with dusty streets dedicated to modern industry, and palpitating with the mere mechanical energy of native labour.
Kimberley, however, was a convenient immediate base between Orange River and Mafeking. Around these two places rumour was spreading a well-woven net of probabilities, intimate yet inherently impossible. War, bloody and fierce, was alternately looming large in the horizon just above their situations, so for the moment I tarried, watching the approach of impending battle from afar off. It was a fine feeling, the constant thrill caused by the mere vividness of martial rumours. They came from Buluwayo in the North, they came from Cape Town in the South, they were brought daily from Bloemfontein; and if they gave infinite zest to the passing hours, it was but the happenings of the hour that they were doomed to be misbelieved. To listen to the gossip and rumours of Headquarters at once became the most serious interest which our life contained just now. Spies are seen everywhere. Within the shade of every shadow there is said to lurk a Boer secret service agent, and, as a consequence, the attitude of the public is one in which each figuratively lays a grimy finger to his nose and breathes blasphemies in whispers to his confiding friend. The spy mania which swept through France but a few weeks ago has appeared here, endowed with magnificent vitality. At Mafeking it has dominated both the military and the public, and, as an illustration, I append the official notice, on page 46, in which many of these gentry are warned from the town by Lord Edward Cecil, Chief Staff Officer to Colonel Baden-Powell.
There are in town to-day nine
known spies. They are hereby
warned to leave before 12 noon to-morrow
or they will be apprehended.
E. H. CECIL, Major,
7th Oct., 1899.
THE NOTICE TO SPIES ISSUED BY COL. BADEN-POWELL.
Kimberley has not yet gone so far as this notice, but a similar step is in serious consideration, and the notice will soon be promulgated. What with spies, war scares, reports of Boer invasion, and of active hostilities having commenced, the Western border is living in a seethe of excitement, and appreciating the crisis with but doubtful enjoyment, and many signs of such indisputable terror. Kimberley has called forth its volunteers, who in name are glorious, but in utility uncertain. The Town Guard, after fortifying itself with much Dutch courage, has taken unto itself a weapon of precision of which it knows nothing. Infantry and musketry drill have not existed for the town of diamonds; they are for the Cape Police, for the Mounted Rifles, for Imperial troops; but for those who are regular in their mining, but irregular in their drill, there is none of it. These heroes shake with terror in private, but they gnash their teeth with impotent valour in public; at heart they are rank cowards, for the most part leaving to the few decently spirited the duties of volunteer defence, and to the soldiery and constabulary the rigours of the coming battle.
Nothing perhaps has been so discreditable as the hurried flight of men from these towns which are within the area of possible hostilities. It is perhaps different where they belong to the Transvaal, but one would expect Englishmen, who have seen their womenfolk to places of security, to proffer such service as could be turned to account in these hours of emergency. It is an unpleasant fact to reflect upon that the leaders of the general panic and consequent exodus from these towns are mostly Britishers. From sheer force of numbers the white-feathered brigade merits solicitous contempt.
Such is Kimberley in the passing hour, and as I waited there to see whether the rumours would crystallise into actualities, the word was passed round that three commandos of the Boers were concentrating upon Mafeking. Heavens! how the specials skittled! By horse and on foot, by cab and cart, they dashed to the station. Lord! and the train had gone some hours! But, with the instinct of true war-dogs, they fled in special expresses to the scene where attack was threatened. They might have crawled from Kimberley to Mafeking on hands and knees, for Boers may camp and Boers may trek, but war is still afar off. Had we not travelled in such haste, the journey might have proved of interest, but impatience made the time speed quickly, and the frontier posts upon the road went by unnoticed. Just now these frontier stations are of public interest. At Fourteen Streams, at Borderside, at Vryburg, Boer commandos have laagered within a few yards of the frontier fence, and since human nature is ever prone to politeness, it has become the daily fashion for Boer and Britisher to swear at one another across the intervening wires. John Bosman, a Borderside notoriety, implicated in a late rising of the natives against Imperial authority, is in command of one hundred and fifty "cherubs," as the Boer captain dubs his gallant band. Matutinal and nocturnal greetings have enabled the two forces to become acquainted with one another, and it is held to be a sporting thing for men, from either force, to invade each other's territory, inviting blasphemies and creating some excitement, since at Borderside the friendly relations between the two countries be altogether gainsaid.