Hurried Preparations for War--The Reserves
Mobilised--Enthusiasm of the British Public--Strength
of the Forces in Natal and Cape Colony--Strength of
the Enemy--The Attack Delayed--Disposition of the
Boer Forces--Positions of the British at Dundee and
Ladysmith--Battle of Dundee--Symons wounded--Storming
of Talana Hill--The Treacherous White Flag--Yule's
March--Battle of Elandslaagte--British and Boer
Losses--"Remember Majuba!"--Action at Rietfontein--The
Boer Tactics--White decides to hold Ladysmith.
[Sidenote: Hurried preparations for war.]
The Transvaal ultimatum for the moment united all Englishmen. No one
was found to suggest the idea of surrender to such monstrous and
treasonable demands. The calling out of the reserves began amidst
an excitement which has never been paralleled in our day. Time,
unfortunately, was required to get the troop-ships ready, for the
Admiralty had not been given a fair chance. Time was also required for
the collection of transport, without which no army can move. Horses,
mules, tinned meat and food of all kinds, had to be purchased hurriedly
in every direction. The sense of public anxiety was augmented by the
knowledge that the army sent out could not be in South Africa, ready
for work, within six weeks from the date when mobilisation began. And
very much might happen in that time.
[Illustration: ARMOURED TRAIN FIRED UPON BY THE BOERS.
This train was attacked by the Boers near Spyfontein, October 15.
An attack on a similar train three days earlier, at Kraaipan, near
Mafeking, was the first overt act of war.]
[Sidenote: The Reserves mobilised.]
Yet there was outward calm. The reservists answered the call like
Englishmen; like men, that is to say, who know a painful duty lies
before them and will do it. Scarcely one was missing when the time
given them to rejoin had elapsed. Deserters, who had shipped for
America, of their own free will came back to fight the Boers. Men rose
from beds of sickness that they might serve with the old colours and
not betray the confidence reposed in them. There was no exultation, no
desire to fight for fighting's sake, only a calm determination to end
the twenty years' purgatory of misrule in the Transvaal by coming to
the aid of brother Englishmen.
[Sidenote: [OCT. 1899.]
[Sidenote: Enthusiasm of the British public.]
The nation, too, began to feel that it had a solemn duty to its
soldiers. Vast crowds followed the reservists to the points of
mobilisation; eyes were dim at the thought of the sacrifice these brave
men were making. For they were going to adventure "life and love and
youth for the great prize of death in battle," at their country's call.
They were exchanging, many of them, comfort and comparative ease for
the hunger and rain and cold of the dreary bivouac, for the toilsome
march beneath the burning sun of the veldt, for torture by wounds, and
death in its most terrifying forms. They were leaving behind them women
and children who looked to them for daily bread. Yet they came with a
single heart; came cheerfully, and gave to their country all that they
had to give as the choicest offering of their love and devotion.
[Photo by Elliott & Fry.
LADY RANDOLPH CHURCHILL,
née Miss Jennie Jerome. Of American parentage; she is the mother of
two sons, one of whom, Mr. Winston Churchill, was recently a prisoner
in Pretoria, having displayed conspicuous bravery in a small fight at
which he was present as a newspaper correspondent. Lady Randolph was
instrumental in organising the hospital ship Maine as a token of
American brotherhood with Great Britain.]
[Photo by Gregory.
MISS NORMAN AND NURSING SISTERS ON BOARD THE S.S. "TROJAN."]
[Photo by Gregory.
DEPARTURE OF THE 1st BATTALION, RIFLE BRIGADE: H.R.H. THE DUKE OF
CONNAUGHT LIGHTING THE MEN'S CIGARETTES.]
[Sidenote: OCT. 1899.] Hospital Ships and Relief Funds.]
Those who at home and in ease were to reap the fruits of their love
and devotion responded to the best of their power. Employers announced
that they would pay half wages to the women and children whose
bread-winners had been called away; enormous funds were raised to
support the widowed and the fatherless of those who should fall, and
to keep in comfort the families of the soldiers. Workmen subscribed
their shillings; the well-to-do their guineas; the rich their thousands
of pounds. The most intensely national of poets, Mr. Rudyard Kipling,
appealed in touching verse to the nation's heart. In answer to his
appeal women sent their rings, children their pence, and the poor and
humble gifts in kind. No names were published; the giving was simple
and unostentatious, and therefore all the nobler. Thus our soldiers
were made to feel that they went forth to battle with the nation's love
and with its fervent prayers.
[Photo by W. & D. Downey, Ebury Street.
THE "PRINCESS OF PITY."
The latest photograph of H. R. H. the Princess of Wales in Drawing-room
[Illustration: THE "PRINCESS OF WALES" HOSPITAL SHIP; FORMERLY THE
"MIDNIGHT SUN" EXCURSION STEAMER.
Her Royal Highness, ever to the front in the cause of suffering
humanity, has taken the keenest and most earnest interest in the
fitting-up of this hospital ship towards the cost of which she has made
a large private grant of funds.]
[Photo by Gregory.
THE ALEXANDRA WARD ON BOARD THE "PRINCESS OF WALES" HOSPITAL SHIP.]
Nor were these schemes all. The Princess of Wales--Princess of Pity she
has rightly been called--at the head of the Red Cross Society, with
private effort, equipped hospitals and hospital ships; Lady Randolph
Churchill, widow of a man who loved England, who strove for honest
reform, and whose name will not soon be forgotten, of American birth
herself, raised, with the aid of other American ladies in London, a
fund for a hospital ship; Lady White, the wife of the British general
in Natal, collected a great sum to furnish the soldiers of the heroic
Natal Field Force with Christmas gifts; every steamer carried away
to the Cape presents of provisions, dainties, clothing, tobacco and
cigarettes, for the men fighting in the field. From the Queen on her
throne to the peasant in his cottage all gave liberally. The flood
gates of generosity were opened; a universal impulse of patriotism
moved the nation.
[Sidenote: [OCT. 1899.]
[Sidenote: Strength of the forces in Natal and Cape Colony.]
Meantime in South Africa the situation was one of the utmost peril.
The Transvaal had originally intended to despatch its ultimatum on
September 17 or 18, and then to begin the war. At this date none of
the reinforcements from England or from India had arrived. The British
troops available were four battalions of infantry, two regiments of
cavalry, three batteries of field artillery, and one mountain battery
in Natal, under the orders of Major-General Sir Penn Symons, a total of
about 5,000 men and 18 guns. In Cape Colony were only two-and-a-half
battalions, or 2,000 men all told, under General Sir F. Walker.
 A battalion of infantry numbers from 800 to 1010 men. A regiment of
cavalry is 480 men. A battery of artillery has 6 guns and 180 men. The
guns are: in field artillery, 15-pounders (i.e., they fire a shell
weighing 15 lb.); in horse artillery, 12-pounders; and in mountain
[Photo Window & Grove.
GENERAL SIR GEORGE STEWART WHITE.
Born 1835; son of J. R. White, Esq., of Whitehall, co. Antrim; educated
at Sandhurst; entered the Army, 1853; served in Indian Mutiny; captain,
1863; Major, 1873; was in the Afghan War of 1878-80, and present at the
occupation of Kabul, and in the expedition to Maidan, Sharpur; Military
Secretary to Viceroy of India; Lieut.-Colonel, Gordon Highlanders,
1881; Colonel, 1885; Assistant Adjutant and Quartermaster-General
in Egypt; commanded a brigade in Burmah, 1885-86 (for which service
he was promoted Major-General, and thanked by Indian Government),
and an expedition into Zhob; Commander-in-Chief in India, 1893-8;
Quartermaster-General to the Forces, 1898.]
[Photo by Gunn & Stuart.
[Sidenote: Strength of the Enemy.]
Against these the Transvaal alone could put into the field 40,000 or
50,000 men with 70 or 80 guns. The Orange Free State could dispose of
10,000 to 15,000 men with 30 or more guns. Thus, if the Boer forces
had advanced in the third week of September, they could unquestionably
have swept the British out of Natal, and have made themselves masters
of the whole of northern Cape Colony. With the fighting qualities which
they have since displayed, they must have surrounded and captured the
diminutive British detachments which kept vigil close to the frontiers
of a formidable military power. Why, then, was the attack delayed?
[Photo by Gregory.
OFF TO THE WAR!
Bidding farewell to the Army Service Corps at Southampton.]
[Sidenote: The attack delayed.]
[Sidenote: OCT. 1899.] The Boer Forces Mobilised.]
In the first place the Orange Free State was not at that date ready to
throw in its lot with the Transvaal. It had no quarrel whatever with
England, and many Englishmen lived happily within its borders. Only a
prodigal use of Mr. Kruger's secret service funds, and the desperate
exertions of the Free State President, Mr. Steyn, obtained the consent
of its Volksraad to the war. Moreover, when that consent had been
obtained its armaments were incomplete. Ammunition was wanting; and
so, reluctantly, all movement was postponed by the plotters against
the British Empire till the first day of October. Even then, it was
calculated, it would be easy to sweep the "rooineks" into the sea,
as but few of the Indian troops would have arrived. By October 1 the
Transvaal completed its mobilisation, and was ready to attack. It was
expected that the first Boer victory would be followed by a tremendous
uprising of the Cape Dutch, the disloyal of whom had been armed and
were in constant correspondence with Pretoria.
[Photo by R. Stanley & Co.
Widow of General Symons, and promoter of a fund for the widows and
orphans of soldiers.]
[Photo by R. Stanley & Co.
GENERAL SIR W. PENN SYMONS,
Who fell in the assault on the Boer position commanding Dundee.]
But on October 1 good fortune once more intervened to save our empire.
The Transvaal commandoes had assembled, but transport and commissariat
were so defective that the Boers were in danger of starvation. The
want of rain, too, had left the veldt bare and dry, without grass
or sustenance for horses and cattle. It would, therefore, be almost
impossible without commissariat for men and beasts to subsist. Delay
was thus forced upon the Boers. The transport arrangements were
improved, while the commandoes watched eagerly for the first rains, due
in early October, which were to be the signal of action for them, and
of slaughter for the hapless British soldiery.
[Photo by Gregory.
GOOD BYE, DADDY!
A Pipe-Major of the Scots Guards starting for the front.]
[Sidenote: Disposition of the Boer forces.]
[Sidenote: [OCT. 1899.]
The main Boer forces threatened Natal, which colony, from its
passionate loyalty to the mother country, was peculiarly odious to Mr.
Kruger. The Transvaalers were assembled, 15,000 to 20,000 strong, at
Zandspruit, just across the frontier of the extreme northern angle of
Natal; the Free Staters, 10,000 or more strong, were to the west of the
many passes which cross the Drakensberg range, threatening the whole
north of the colony. The lie of the frontier hereabouts gave the enemy
great advantages. Natal sends up a narrow wedge-shaped strip of country
between the Free State and the Transvaal. From Ladysmith, at its base,
to the most northerly point, this wedge is 50 miles long. How to defend
the wedge with a small force was the British problem. If a force were
placed at the northernmost point it would be liable to be cut off
and surrounded by the Free Staters crossing the passes and seizing
positions in its rear, while the Transvaalers attacked in front. If
stationed farther south the same risk remained, though it would be
easier to retire. If the whole wedge were abandoned the political
effect would be disastrous.
[Illustration: LAING'S NEK.
The "Nek" is the ridge between the two hills; it was the scene of a
battle in 1881, and over it the Boers swarmed into Natal in 1899.]
[Illustration: ELANDSLAAGTE: THE SCENE OF THE BATTLE.]
[Sidenote: Positions of the British at Dundee and Ladysmith.]
Before the landing of the reinforcements, receiving news of the secret
Boer conspiracy to invade the colony, General Sir Penn Symons, in
command in Natal, decided to abandon the extreme north of the wedge,
where lie the ill-omened battlefields of Laing's Nek, Majuba, and
the Ingogo, and to place as large a force as he could spare at the
small town of Dundee, 35 miles from Ladysmith and connected with it
by railway. When the reinforcements from India arrived in the first
week of October, and General White took over the command in Natal,
this detachment was strengthened, and the main force established at
Ladysmith. The Dundee force, under Symons, was 4,600 strong with 18
guns; the Ladysmith division, under White, numbered about 7,500 men
with 24 guns. The latter was reinforced by Natal troops and volunteers
in the first ten days of war, till on October 20 it may have reached
9,000. Meantime, this weak little army remained almost unconscious of
the storm which was about to burst upon it, for the opinion generally
held by British officers was that, owing to his bad transport and
defective organisation, the enemy would not be able to move south for
The railway on the left runs to Pretoria; that on the right to Dundee.]
[Sidenote: OCT. 19, 20, 1899.] The Campaign Opens.]
The early days of the war in Natal encouraged this belief. On October
12 the Boers seized Laing's Nek and began crossing the Drakensberg in
small parties. A few shots were exchanged between the scouts on either
side, but there was no real fighting. No one fancied that Dundee was in
any danger; on the 16th, a correspondent wrote from Ladysmith that the
enemy was expected to remain inactive. Nor were any great precautions
taken by General Symons. His officers reconnoitred from time to time;
patrols and pickets were out; the main force lay in a valley dominated
by lofty hills, some point on which he meant to occupy when the
approach of the enemy made it necessary. As he could not know from what
quarter the enemy would come, this central position was perhaps the
best that could be assumed. There was little ammunition at Dundee, and
the place was entirely dependent for most things, including supplies,
upon its communications with Ladysmith.
[Photo by H. Nicholls.
NATAL CARBINEERS LEAVING LADYSMITH FOR THE FRONTIER.]
The Boers, perfectly informed of the British position, and directed
by skilful strategists, had really determined to attack this Dundee
force with the greater part of their army. The Johannesburg commando,
2,000 strong, under General Kock, opened operations by moving south
from Laing's Nek, and on October 19 seized a position at Elandslaagte,
astride of the railway between Dundee and Ladysmith. A train laden with
supplies was captured by the Boers. The 20th was fixed by Generals
Joubert and Meyer for the annihilation of General Symons' force. Meyer
was to attack from the east with 7,000 men, Joubert from the north-west
with 17,000. On the night of the 19th, Meyer's men seized Talana Hill,
a precipitous height to the east of and overlooking the British camp at
Dundee. They placed several guns in position there. At 2·30 a.m. of the
20th a British picket was driven in. The night was dark and misty; as
the dawn spread over the grey hills, out of the mist came the boom of
a heavy gun, and a shell dropped plump in the middle of the astonished
[Sidenote: Battle of Dundee.]
Thus General Symons was taken completely by surprise. But in this
emergency he showed a courage and a decision which were above all
praise. As the day broke he put his breakfastless, hungry men into line
of battle and sent out his three field batteries to respond to the
enemy's artillery fire, which now grew very galling. Along the ridge of
Talana Hill, through the thick, wet mist, the Boers could be at times
made out. So long as they remained there our position was untenable.
They must be dislodged, and dislodged at whatever cost.
[Illustration: ROYAL DUBLIN FUSILIERS MARCHING OUT OF LADYSMITH FOR
[Sidenote: OCT. 20, 1899.]
From the British camp the ground for some distance sloped down to a
river bed; then followed a short stretch of gently rising ground, and
at the foot of Talana Hill a narrow belt of wood. This passed, the
real ascent began. Halfway up the hill and just at the point where the
declivity steepened almost to a precipice ran a stone wall, parallel
to the ridge. The Boer position was one of extreme strength. It gave
their picked shots excellent cover, and enabled their rifles and cannon
to sweep with the deadliest effect the slopes below, over which the
British must advance.
While the Dublins, King's Rifles, and Irish Fusiliers went forward to
the river bed, the British artillery cannonaded the ridge at a range of
2,000 yards. The Boer guns, after a two hours' duel, either withdrew or
were silenced; the moment for the infantry assault had come. And what
an assault! to be delivered by three battalions, with present for duty
not more than 2,000 men, upon a seemingly impregnable position, held by
5,000 marksmen whose fame had filled the world.
In extended order, with the British guns firing furiously over their
heads, the three battalions went forward. They reached the wood under
a terrible fire from the heights above; in the wood men began to drop
under the rain of bullets. The Royal Irish Fusiliers and King's Rifles
lost their formation amidst the trees and undergrowth, which spread
confusion and gave no shelter from the pitiless Mausers of the enemy.
Yet the line did not halt. Slowly it gained ground, passed out of the
upper edge of the wood, and began to cross the Aceldama between it and
[Illustration: PLAN OF THE BATTLE OF DUNDEE.
October 20, 1899.]
[Sidenote: Symons wounded.]
All the morning General Symons had exposed himself with perfect
indifference to death. He was everywhere, conspicuous by reason of
the lancer with a red flag who followed him to mark his position for
his aide-de-camps. He rode to the lower edge of the wood to tell his
men that they must take the hill, to encourage them by his presence,
and to give them that praise which only the bravest of the brave can
bestow in battle with effect. "You are fine fellows," he shouted to
them. Just after he had spoken, as he was galloping back, he was struck
by a bullet in the groin and mortally wounded. So long as he could
he concealed his wound; then, as his strength failed, he fell or was
lifted from his horse and was carried off the field, calm and confident
to the last. He sent a message to his men that the wound was but
slight, and that he would soon be with them again.
[Illustration: BOER BURGHERS LEAVING JOHANNESBURG FOR THE FRONT.]
[Sidenote: OCT. 20, 1899.] The Battle of Dundee.]
[Sidenote: Storming of Talana Hill.]
At 10 o'clock the tide of the British advance had surged up to the
stone wall. Under shelter of this there was a prolonged halt while
the artillery bombardment of the ridge continued. Yet so heavy was
the Boer rifle fire that it was death to leave the shelter of the
wall. About 12, however, there came a lull, and instantly the British
line dashed forward with drums beating, bugles sounding, and officers
in advance. This was the most perilous stage of the combat, for, as
our infantry painfully won its way up the last ascent, the British
artillery had perforce to cease its fire. Under a terrific rain of
bullets the thin brown line worked slowly forward towards the flaming
ridge; for the last time the bugles sounded; bayonets were fixed; and
with fierce cheers the top was won. Here fell Colonel Gunning and
Captain Pechell, in front of their men, as soldiers and Englishmen
should fall. The Boers did not wait to meet the last charge. As the
hill was crowned they galloped off, leaving 100 dead and wounded behind
them, and two flags.
[Illustration: F. C. Dickinson.] [From a Sketch made on the spot.
STORMING OF TALANA HILL.]
[Sidenote: The treacherous white flag.]
The guns had moved up; the enemy were below us and before us, open
to the swift massacre which well-handled artillery can inflict upon
demoralised masses of men. But the guns did not open; the enemy had
hoisted the white flag, and by this shameful ruse covered the retreat.
A great opportunity was lost. Worse still was to follow. The 18th
Hussars and mounted infantry had been despatched to work round the
enemy's flank; in attempting this a squadron of cavalry and most of the
mounted infantry were surrounded by overwhelming forces of Boers and
captured. Thus, though the British infantry had fought gloriously, and
given freely of its life-blood, the success was an almost fruitless
one. The victory did, indeed, save the British force from annihilation,
and showed what Britons, well led, could do; beyond that it had no
results. It was purchased, too, at a great price. Forty-seven British
dead and 221 wounded strewed the slopes of Talana; 208 of the flanking
cavalry and mounted infantry were missing or prisoners.
[Sidenote: [OCT. 20-24, 1899.]
[Sidenote: Yule's march.]
The battle won, ammunition for another fight was wanting. Ladysmith was
cut off; on the 21st Joubert showed in force to the north, and two big
40-pounders, to which the British had nothing that could effectively
reply, began to bombard the camp. A new position was taken up to the
south of Dundee, out of range of the enemy's big guns. Hence, on the
22nd, General Yule, who had succeeded to the command after General
Symons' fall, hearing of the victory of Elandslaagte, marched with a
detachment to intercept the flying Boers. The task was too serious a
one for his small force, and he had to return. So dangerous was his
position growing hour by hour, that late that evening he determined
to retreat. The night was rainy and misty; at 9 p.m. he marched out
with all his transport, abandoning his camp and his wounded, even
the stricken Sir Penn Symons, and set his face for Beith. He was not
molested; on the 23rd, with beating hearts, the little brigade of
Britishers, now only 4,000 strong, crossed the difficult pass through
the Biggersberg, where a single handful of Boers might well have barred
all passage, and brought about a terrible disaster: the pass, however,
was unguarded. Thereafter the way was plain. On the 24th Sir George
White's guns were heard; next day the advance of the column gained
touch with the main British force. On this day General Symons died
in the enemy's hands, and was buried sadly at night by a small body
of Englishmen and English sympathisers in Dundee. A message from our
gracious Queen and well-won promotion came too late for his dying ears.
[Illustration: R. Caton Woodville.] [From photo taken on the
GORDONS ADVANCING AT ELANDSLAAGTE.]
The retreat of the Dundee force was admirably conceived and well
executed. Yet it is impossible to deny that the gravest risks were
run by hanging on to a very exposed position with a small force. Had
the Boers shown their wonted activity, the detachment must have been
destroyed or captured. It owed its escape to gallant fighting and good
[Sidenote: OCT. 20,21, 1899.] Operations at Elandslaagte.]
While these things had been happening at Dundee, General White, at
Ladysmith, had not been inactive. Much of his attention had been
occupied by the Orange Free State commandoes, which showed in great
strength, perpetually threatening Ladysmith and the route to Colenso,
but always retreating when any attempt was made to bring them to
battle. This was good strategy, and an essential part of the campaign
for the capture of Dundee and its garrison. On the 19th the arrival
of a small force of the enemy at Elandslaagte and the capture of a
train at the station there became known. A previous train, which was
actually standing in the station when the Boers arrived on the scene,
escaped through the daring and presence of mind of the engine-driver,
who turned on full steam and dashed through the enemy towards Dundee,
before they could bring guns to bear.
On the 20th General French went out towards Elandslaagte with a few
mounted infantry and some cavalry, supported by two battalions, to
reconnoitre. As the troops moved off, far away from the north-east came
the dull booming of the cannon, which told of battle raging at Dundee.
The day was so rainy and misty that little could be ascertained. The
British troops fell back in the afternoon, and heard the cheering news
of a great victory at Dundee.
[Illustration: PLAN OF THE BATTLE OF ELANDSLAAGTE.]
[Sidenote: Battle of Elandslaagte.]
On the 21st General French once more left Ladysmith, very early. He had
with him the Imperial Light Horse, raised from the British Outlanders,
six guns of the Natal Artillery, and 400 of the Manchester regiment
in a train. An armoured train accompanied the cavalry. Elandslaagte
was very cautiously approached, but towards 8·30 a.m. the enemy came
into sight. The Boers were riding about on the small plain in which
Elandslaagte is situated; their main position was on a long, rocky
ridge which dropped at the northern end to a "nek" or pass, where
could be discerned their camp. Beyond this again was a small detached
hill. Just behind the camp rose a high, conical mountain, on which
breastworks of stone could be made out, dominating the whole position.
Black figures could be seen all along the sky-line of the ridge,
indicating that the enemy was in force.
REMOVING THE WOUNDED AFTER THE BATTLE OF ELANDSLAAGTE.
This operation had to be performed in a pouring rain and in almost
The Natal Artillery opened the battle by directing a fire upon the
railway station. At once the Boers replied. Two shells, beautifully
aimed, fell right amongst the British guns, putting one ammunition
waggon out of action. Our weapons were old and feeble 7-pounders, the
Boer guns long-range quick-firing 14-pounders--the weapons lost in the
shameful Raid, and now by strange retribution pointed against the brave
men who had to pay for the deplorable mistakes of the past. Nothing
but withdrawal could have saved the Natal Artillery. The guns fell
back and the British force hastened out of range, while General French
telegraphed instantly for reinforcements.
[Sidenote: [OCT. 21, 1899.]
A couple of hours later these began to come up. First arrived the 5th
Lancers and two batteries of field artillery, tearing along with double
teams at a gallop. Then came Colonel Ian Hamilton, who had fought and
received more than one wound in the struggle with the Boers in 1881. He
brought with him the rest of the Manchesters and 1,200 Devonshires and
Gordon Highlanders. This gave General French a total of 2,000 infantry,
480 artillery, and about 800 cavalry; he was now able to return and
resume the attack.
The two British field batteries opened a furious fire on the Boer guns,
which were located on the top of the long ridge; the British cavalry
pushed round to the left and right of the Boer position; the British
infantry, in open formation--Gordons and Manchesters on the right,
dismounted men of the Imperial Light Horse in the centre, and Devons on
the left--prepared to advance to the assault when the cannon had done
their work. It was to be Talana Hill over again, but this time with a
weaker Boer force.
The enemy's guns were fought with the most obstinate courage; shrapnel
constantly burst amidst them: three times their gunners fell back and
each time returned to their work. The roar of the artillery duel filled
the air, yet in spite of all its sound and fury, the loss of life on
either side was as yet small.
[Illustration: Max Cowper.] [After a photograph.
LANDING AT CAPETOWN OF COMMANDANT PRETORIUS, WOUNDED AND CAPTURED AT
The day was advancing, and if the position was to be carried before
night fell, the stormers must advance, though the British artillery
preparation was still far from complete. As the hours wore on, General
French sent in his infantry to the assault. A thunderstorm raged over
the scene of carnage as the line went forward, adding to the grandeur
of the spectacle. The British advance across the plain under a fearful
fire was splendidly conducted; the Devons were as steady as on parade,
firing volleys from time to time and always slowly gaining ground, till
they reached the foot of the final steep ascent which led to the summit
of the ridge. Men were dropping every moment; the Mauser bullets sang
through the air thick as swarms of bees, while in front the crest of
the ridge glowed with the perpetual rifle fire of the enemy against the
inky blackness of the storm-clouds.
[Sidenote: OCT. 21, 1899.] The First British Victory of the War.]
On the right, the Gordons, Manchesters, and Light Horse were also
pushing forward. With a roar of cheering they gained the top of the
ridge, living and dead and dying in one compact mass. The air rang with
tumultuous shouts; the bugles sounded the charge, for the Gordons had
yet to storm their way along the ridge under a withering stream of lead
which poured from an eminence at its further end; Colonel Ian Hamilton
was playing his last card. But the Gordons, after a brief check, swept
on along the ridge, tearing down or cutting the barbed wire fences
which in half-a-dozen places intersected it. Each fence, each stop,
meant death to many gallant men. At last, however, the Boer guns were
gained; the Devons too came pouring up the hill, and a torrent of
British soldiery swept exultant upon the last Boer remnants.
CHARGE OF THE LANCERS AFTER THE BATTLE OF ELANDSLAAGTE.]
The men at the enemy's guns were bayonetted, and some volleys were
poured in upon the host of fugitives tearing down the other side of the
hill. A few unwounded and many wounded prisoners were taken.
But as the enemy fled in the falling darkness, the Lancers and Light
Horse rode at them. From the nature of things they could give no
mercy. The terrible steel spears did their work amongst the yelling,
panic-stricken fugitives; the Light Horse, too, had much to avenge--the
murder of Edgar and innumerable shameful outrages in the past--and they
avenged it. It was a complete and decisive victory, the first that had
been gained in the war.
[Sidenote: British and Boer losses.]
[Sidenote: [OCT. 21, 1899.]
The British losses were heavy, considering that less than 3,000 men
had been engaged on our side. Fifty-five were killed and 199 wounded,
the Gordons suffering most severely. One-third of the half-battalion
engaged was left upon the ground, and fourteen officers, amongst whom
was their colonel, were killed or wounded. The Imperial Light Horse
also lost their colonel, Scott-Chisholm, shot three times in quick
succession as he reached the top of the ridge. Major Sampson, who had
fought the Boers before, and suffered for the honour of an Englishman
long years of imprisonment in Pretoria Jail, now poured out his blood
once more for his country. What the enemy's loss was it is impossible
to say; 65 Boers were buried by the British on the ridge, at least 50
were killed by the Lancers, and as many more may have been removed
before the assault. In killed alone the Boers must have lost 150. Two
hundred prisoners, mostly wounded, were taken, and probably 200 wounded
were removed. The Johannesburg commando, about 2,000 strong, was
completely broken up.
[Photo by Lambert Weston, Folkestone.
MAJOR-GENERAL J. D. P. FRENCH.
Born in 1852. Served in the Militia, but joined the 8th Hussars as
Lieutenant in Feb. 1874, and changed to the 19th Hussars in March.
Captain 1880. Major 1883. Served in the Nile Expedition in 1884-5, and
accompanied Sir H. Stewart's column in the attempt to rescue Gordon
at Khartoum. Lt.-Colonel, 1885. Colonel, 1889. In command of Cavalry
Division in South Africa with rank of Lt.-General, 1899; won the
victory of Elandslaagte, Major-General 1900 (in recognition of his
services in relieving Kimberley).]
[Sidenote: "Remember Majuba!"]
As a feat of arms on the British part the victory was a wonderful one.
Words can scarcely give an idea of the strength of the Boer position.
"Remember Majuba!" shouted the victorious troops, and it was Majuba
over again, but with the difference that this time it was the Boers who
were beaten. They fought bravely, but it is sad to relate that there
were many instances of the most discreditable savagery on their part.
A burgher deliberately shot two wounded British soldiers, when several
Britishers came on him at his bloody work. He dropped on his knees and
cried for mercy, but got what he deserved. A Gordon officer was killed
by a Boer to whom he gave quarter. Another Boer showed a white flag and
then emptied a revolver into the approaching Britishers, who were off
[Illustration: FUNERAL OF THE BOER GENERAL KOCH AT PRETORIA.]
[Illustration: BOER PRISONERS ON BOARD H.M.S. PENELOPE AT SIMONSTOWN.]
[Sidenote: OCT. 21, 1899.] After the Battle.]
Amongst the wounded Boers were many men of note in the Transvaal.
General Koch was wounded, and his son, Judge Koch, who had acquitted
the murderers of the British subject, Edgar, at Johannesburg some
months before, was killed. Colonel Schiel, a German officer who had
directed the Boer artillery and had in the past been guilty of inhuman
atrocities to the natives, was severely wounded.
Night fell before the battle was over. The rain still poured down, the
wind was bitterly cold; and the agony endured by the wounded, lying out
on that stony mountain without shelter, food and water, was terrible.
With all the expedition that was possible in the inky darkness the
field of battle was searched for living men. The badly wounded were
carried down the slopes to the enemy's captured camp; the slightly hurt
gathered, Boers and Englishmen, round the camp fires. Our men gave the
best places--the snuggest corners, if there could be any snug corners
in the open on such a night as that--to their enemies.
[Photo by G. Lynch.
GENERAL YULE'S MARCH.
From a photograph taken at a drift on the road.]
With daylight General French's force marched back to Ladysmith. Among
the prizes of the battle were the train, officers and correspondents,
captured by the Boers on the 19th.
[S. H. Vedder.
ABUSE OF THE WHITE FLAG BY THE BOERS AT ELANDSLAAGTE.]
During the later stages of the action General White had been present.
Yet with knight-like generosity he refused to take over the command
or to assume for himself any credit. His despatch gave the glory to
General French alone.
[Sidenote: Action of Rietfontein.]
[Sidenote: [OCT. 24, 1899.]
A day later, on October 23, the Boers were once more at Elandslaagte,
this time in very great force. Fearing that they would work across the
railway and cut off General Yule's retreat, General White determined
to occupy their attention. Early on the 24th 3,000 infantry, four
batteries of artillery, and 1,500 cavalry and mounted infantry moved
out from Ladysmith. Ten miles had been covered, and the British force
was still five miles from Elandslaagte, when the Boers were found
several thousand strong in a formidable position along a ridge near
Rietfontein, on the little stream known as Modder Spruit. On two lofty
eminences, Matawana's Kop and Jonono's Kop, they had artillery. Their
skirmishers were driven in, and our guns at once unlimbered and opened
a hot fire, which was as warmly returned. Attempts were made by the
British to work round the enemy's flank, but this, with the small
number of men available, was quite impossible.
[Illustration: BRITISH WARSHIPS AT SIMONSTOWN THE DAY AFTER THE BATTLE
Flags were run up to the mastheads in honour of the British victory.]
[Illustration: PLAN OF THE ACTION AT RIETFONTEIN.]
[Illustration: MAP OF GENERAL YULE'S MARCH FROM DUNDEE TO LADYSMITH.]
The enemy in turn endeavoured to achieve the same manœuvre against our
forces, and the attempt was not repulsed without difficulty or loss.
The firing was very heavy, yet the British troops, it was noticed,
shot as steadily and as accurately as the Boers, showing how vast an
improvement had been effected in the training of our army since the
dark days of 1881. As for the Boer artillery, its aim was magnificent,
but its projectiles were bad. The British infantry, covering the
British gunners, suffered heavily. The Gloucesters, in the forefront of
the battle, lost their colonel and 63 men killed, wounded, or missing.
As the morning wore on there was difficulty in preventing what had been
intended only for a skirmish growing into a furious pitched battle. At
last, about 1 p.m., the welcome news arrived that General Yule's column
was near enough to be safe. It had heard the roar of the firing, and
was hurrying towards the field to co-operate. Keeping in touch with
Yule, General White withdrew his men and marched back to Ladysmith. The
British loss was heavy, considering that this was little more than a
skirmish, and that no assault on the enemy's position was delivered: 12
were killed, 104 wounded, and 2 missing. The Boers, probably, suffered
to about the same extent.
[Sidenote: OCT. 27, 1899.] Exposed Situation of Ladysmith.]
Three days passed before further operations were undertaken. General
Yule's men were wearied with hard marching: General White's with
continuous marching, counter-marching, and fighting, and rest had to
be given to the infantry. The enemy used the time to bring down troops
from the north; Joubert's thousands and his powerful artillery took
post round the north and east of Ladysmith; other thousands from the
Free State continued the line of investment to the west and south. On
the 27th they showed with men and guns near Pieter's, on the railway
between Ladysmith and Colenso, with the obvious intention of cutting
General White's communications with the rear. Only the efforts of
General French with the British cavalry kept them back.
[Illustration: SLOPES OF INTINTANYONE.]
[Illustration: ROYAL DUBLIN FUSILIERS AT THE FOOT OF INTINTANYONE THE
DAY BEFORE THE BATTLE.]
[Sidenote: The Boer tactics.]
The Boer strategy was of archaic simplicity, but great effectiveness;
it aimed at enveloping the British forces, in small detachments,
entrenching Boer commandoes round the British camps, bringing up
artillery of the heaviest possible calibre, and then inviting attack.
The Boers themselves rarely assaulted. They had infinite patience,
and, when once the British were shut in, waited for time and hunger to
accomplish the required object.
The town of Ladysmith was badly situated for defensive purposes. It was
dominated by two high hills which rose the one to the north-east and
the other to the east, known as Lombard's Kop and Bulwana Mountain,
four or five miles distant. To the rear of the town was the Klip River,
which was fordable except during heavy rains. Here centred the roads
and railways from the Transvaal, from the Free State, and from eastern
and southern Natal. Here also great quantities of stores and ammunition
had been accumulated, in readiness for a forward move. The distance by
railway from Pietermaritzburg, the capital of Natal, was 119 miles;
from Durban, the real British base, 189 miles.
[Illustration: GENERAL SIR GEORGE WHITE UNDER FIRE AT ELANDSLAAGTE.]
[Sidenote: [OCT. 27, 1899.]
[Sidenote: White decides to hold Ladysmith.]
General White had now to arrive at a most critical decision. He had to
determine whether he should hold on to Ladysmith or abandon the place
and fall slowly back. It was already clear that the Boers were far
stronger than anyone in the British army had supposed. They had heavy
artillery, with which the British force was utterly unprovided, and
even their field-guns had on occasion outranged ours. They had fought
splendidly; after each battle and each British victory it was said that
the "moral effect" would be enormous, yet, nevertheless, the Boers
always advanced, and appeared to come up smiling. Moreover, certain
circumstances had taken the edge off our victories. After Dundee the
Boers had captured a great part of our cavalry; and Yule's retreat
left them all our wounded of that battle. After Elandslaagte had come
Rietfontein, in which they had fully held their own. They had overrun
the northern wedge of Natal, and were confident of driving the British
into the sea.
[Illustration: NEWCASTLE, NATAL.
This little town, near the Transvaal border, was abandoned by the
British when concentrating at Dundee and Ladysmith. The late Mr.
Escombe, formerly Premier of Natal, was staying here, and was one of
the last to leave.]
[Illustration: FORT AMIEL, NEWCASTLE.]
No substantial help could be expected for three weeks; the only
reinforcements immediately available were the Border Regiment and the
Rifle Brigade, at the most 1,600 men, which were landing at Durban
on their way from Europe. But if General White fell back the moral
effect would be very bad, and the difficulty of preventing the enemy
from overrunning the centre of Natal and plundering the loyalists very
great; moreover, the vast accumulation of British stores and ammunition
at Ladysmith would have to be either destroyed or abandoned if our army
[Illustration: HOLLANDERS IN POSSESSION AT FORT AMIEL, NEWCASTLE.
These Hollanders must not be confused with the Boers; they are natives
of Holland in the pay of the Transvaal Government. The photograph shows
a party of them in occupation of Fort Amiel, after the abandonment of
Newcastle by the British.]
General White, therefore, decided to hold the town. He had now under
his orders about 12,000 men and 48 guns--36 15-pounders of the field
artillery and 12 7-and 9-pounders of little value. Of the total force
about 2,400 were mounted men. Against these the Boers had from 25,000
to 30,000 men and a large number of guns. They were, to a man, mounted,
and good horsemen; many of them knew the country; all were accustomed
to the peculiar warfare which the terrain in South Africa renders
[Illustration: A SUNDAY SERVICE IN LADYSMITH.]