Lord Methuen takes charge of the Western
Campaign--Reconnaissance towards Belmont--Heavy loss
of officers--Lord Methuen reinforced--Advance to
Fincham's Farm--British victory at Belmont--Chaplain
Hill's bravery--Contraventions of usages of war--Boers
retreat--Frontal attack criticised--Lord Methuen
congratulates the troops.
Early in November the situation at Kimberley began to cause some
uneasiness in South Africa. The town was one of considerable size; the
food supplies in it were not large in proportion to its population;
its fighting resources and garrison were limited; and it lay in an
extremely exposed position. The fall of Kimberley would have a most
unfavourable effect upon the disloyal Dutch of Cape Colony, and would
place vast financial resources, in the shape of the diamond mines,
in the hands of the Boers. But if a British relief force succeeded
in fighting its way to Kimberley, and if it could protect the
seventy-seven miles of railway communication to Orange River Station in
its rear, it would be excellently placed for an invasion of either the
Free State or the Transvaal.
[Illustration: MAP SHOWING LORD METHUEN'S ADVANCE FOR THE RELIEF OF
The spots marked ⚔, are the scenes of battles; the dotted line is the
boundary of the Orange Free State.]
[Sidenote: Lord Methuen takes charge of the Western Campaign.]
On November 10, Lieutenant-General Lord Methuen, the Commander of
the First Division, landed at Capetown and received instructions to
organise a flying column for the relief of the diamond city. Lord
Methuen was an officer of distinguished service, though this was the
first time that he had held an independent command with a large body of
troops. He had fought in the Ashantee and Egyptian Wars, and in 1884-5
had raised a body of horse when the Bechuanaland dispute seemed likely
to cause trouble. He was a man of energy and intense self-confidence,
fond of sententious maxims, reputed a good tactician. In appearance he
was tall and big-framed, with a slight stoop. In action he displayed
all the bravery and coolness of the typical British officer.
[Sidenote: NOV. 10, 1899] _The British Base at De Aar._]
The base for his column had been, before his arrival, established at De
Aar, where thousands upon thousands of tons of biscuit, meal, forage
and ammunition had been accumulated in readiness for his advance.
Mules by the thousand and ox waggons by the score followed the stores.
There was a time when General Buller himself was expected to take
charge of the western field of war, and at De Aar a superb tent, an
iron bathroom, and a sumptuous kitchen with a fine battery of culinary
accessories were prepared for him. But the needs of Natal distracted
him and he never came.
[Illustration: BLUEJACKETS, IN KHAKI, AT SIMONSTOWN, STARTING FOR THE
These are some of the men who fought so valiantly at Graspan. Seamen
strongly object to the khaki jackets, which fit closely around the
neck; a very disagreeable change from the loose-fitting naval jackets.]
In charge of the camp and the stores were 800 of the Yorkshire Light
Infantry, an old muzzle-loading 9-pounder, a Hotchkiss 6-pounder, and
150 men of the Engineers and Army Service Corps. When the garrison was
withdrawn from Naauwpoort, these were reinforced by nine 15-pounder
field-guns of the Field Artillery and 400 of the Berkshire Regiment.
The force at the Orange River bridge, sixty miles to the north, which
was now in touch with the enemy, was also strengthened till it mustered
about 2,500 men, composed of the 9th Lancers, Rimington's Guides--a
regiment of horse raised in Cape Colony--the Northumberland Fusiliers,
the Royal Munster Fusiliers, nine guns of the Field Artillery, and an
[Illustration: THE DOCKS, CAPE TOWN, November 18, 1899.
Showing transports in the bay and harbour; so many large vessels had
never before been seen in Table Bay. The covered jetty is known as
"The South Arm," and is where all the troops disembarked. Trains ran
alongside, and went direct from the docks to the front.]
[Illustration: LANDING MULES AT PORT ELIZABETH.
Great numbers of mules, purchased in South America and elsewhere, were
conveyed in special vessels to South Africa for transport purposes.]
[Sidenote: [NOV. 10, 1899.]
The main British camp lay to the south of the river and of the red
iron bridge which spans its muddy waters. To the north the bridge head
was entrenched and held by a small detachment. Away to the north and
east and west stretched the monotonous veldt covered with sage-green
brushwood, its surface broken here and there by abruptly-rising, stony
[Sidenote: Reconnaissance towards Belmont.]
The first encounter with the enemy in this quarter took place on
November 10. On this day a reconnaissance was carried out to the
north-west by a small column under Colonel Gough, 700 strong, composed
mostly of mounted men--cavalry and infantry--and having with it one
field battery. The column left Orange River on the 9th, and, pushing
forward, located a Boer position on a long semicircular ridge, nine
miles to the east of Belmont. Attempts were successfully made to compel
the enemy to disclose the extent of his position and the strength of
his force. For that purpose two squadrons of Lancers threatened the
enemy's left, and 200 mounted infantry his right, while the artillery
opened fire. The enemy replied but feebly. Then the mounted infantry
pushed rapidly forward, hoping to get behind the Boers and cut off
their retreat. More troops were signalled for to Orange River, and at
once all the men remaining in camp were entrained and sent forward.
[Illustration: THE NUCLEUS OF A GREAT MILITARY DEPOT. ORANGE RIVER CAMP
IN THE EARLY DAYS OF THE WAR.]
Unfortunately, the mounted infantry in their movement failed to make
out a small party of Boers, ensconced behind good cover, and came
under an unexpected and terrible fire, which in a few moments killed
Colonel Keith-Falconer, mortally wounded Lieutenant Wood, and hit two
other officers and two privates. The attempt to outflank the Boers had
to be immediately abandoned--and it was well that it was abandoned.
Colonel Gough supposed he had before him only 700 men and one gun under
Commandant Vandermerwe. Much uncertainty prevailed all through the
war as to the Boer numbers, but it is probable that the force opposed
to him was at least twice and possibly three times as strong as he
[Illustration: BOER POLICE AT THE FRONT.
Armed with Mausers and cook-pot.]
[Sidenote: Heavy loss of officers.]
[Sidenote: NOV. 10-20, 1899.] _Lord Methuen Ready to Move._]
The heavy loss in officers on this occasion struck the last blow at
the system of distinguishing officers from men by their equipment and
uniform. Though officers and men alike wore khaki, the officers'
buttons were polished till they shone like jewels, whereas the men were
forbidden to polish any part of their equipment; the officers carried
swords with gleaming silver hilts, whilst the men had their rifles
carefully dulled. It followed that the officer was discernible at a
great distance, and the Boers, with very correct military instinct,
made use of this fact to pick them off. A certain number of the best
shots with good field-glasses were detailed for this purpose. In acting
thus the Boers were in no way transgressing the customs of war. In
the great Continental armies instructions are given to the best shots
to aim at the officers, as by the loss of its leaders the best force
in the world is speedily paralysed. Henceforward in all the British
columns the officer was to carry a rifle and to dress exactly like the
men. This measure had immediate effect, considerably reducing the high
proportion of loss in the commissioned ranks, though from the nature
of things the officer, being in front of his men, must always be more
exposed than they.
[Illustration: CHILDREN OF THE EMPIRE.
The native question has always been a bone of contention between the
British and the Boers; the latter regard the Kaffirs as mere chattels,
whilst our own rule secures for the natives of Africa, as of all
other parts of our world-empire, the elementary rights of liberty and
[_Photo by Van Hospen._
THREE GENERATIONS AT THE WAR.
Boys of fifteen and sixteen, as well as many grey-bearded men, are
found in the ranks of the Boers. Their method of fighting makes drill
to a large extent superfluous; anybody who can shoot can fight under
[Sidenote: Lord Methuen reinforced.]
[Sidenote: [NOV. 20, 1899.]
At length, on November 20, the organisation of Lord Methuen's column
was complete and all was ready for a start. It was composed almost
wholly of infantry, and that the very finest in the British Army.
Its brigades were two in number--the Ninth and the Guards. The Ninth
Brigade, under Major-General Fetherstonhaugh, comprised the 1st
Northumberland Fusiliers--the famous "Fighting Fifth," who for eighteen
months had had but a fortnight in bed, continually facing privations in
Crete, in the Sudan, and wherever campaigning was to be done--the 2nd
Yorkshire Light Infantry, the 2nd Northampton Regiment--with terrible
memories of Majuba--and half the 1st Loyal North Lancashire. The Guards
Brigade, under Major-General Colvile, was made up of four Guards
battalions, magnificent in appearance and physique, as gallant in
action as well conducted in the barracks of the Empire's capital--the
1st and 2nd Coldstreams, the 3rd Grenadiers, and the 1st Scots Guards.
All the battalions of this brigade were at full strength, or if
anything over strength, so that Lord Methuen's total force of infantry
mustered about 7,500 men.
To support this superb infantry there should have been artillery
galore; to cover its movements cavalry and mounted infantry without
stint. But whereas forty guns were about the right proportion, in the
light of all experience, for the division, its guns were only twelve
in number, of the 18th and 75th Field Batteries. To these were added
four long 12-pounders, in charge of a small naval brigade, composed of
seamen and marines from the ships on the Cape Station, and commanded
by Flag-Captain Prothero, of H.M.S. Doris. The consequences of this
inadequate supply of artillery will be seen at every turn. The heroic
infantry had to be flung upon the entrenched positions of unshaken
enemies, and had to sustain heavy losses. A great price was paid in
British blood for the deficient equipment of our army.
[_Photo by Hughes & Mullins._
Who was severely wounded through the shoulder at Belmont, was in
command of the 9th Brigade at that battle, having been transferred from
Lieut.-Colonel (half pay) of the King's Royal Rifles. He went through
the Zulu War of 1879, and was in the Nile Expedition of 1884-5. He
joined the service in 1867, and was appointed to the 31st Regiment. In
1863 he joined the 60th Rifles, and eventually commanded that regiment.
After his wound at Belmont, his command was transferred to General
[_Photo by H. W. Barnett, Park Side._
GENERAL POLE-CAREW, C.B.,
Was specially referred to by Lord Methuen for his services at the
passage of the Modder River. His command of the 2nd Battalion
Coldstream Guards only terminated last year; he had entered that
regiment as Ensign in 1869. During the Second Afghan War he acted as
A.D.C. to Lord Roberts; and to H.R.H. the Duke of Connaught in the
Expedition against Arabi Pasha. He went through the Burmese War of
1886, and for his gallant conduct was awarded the C.B.]
Of mounted men there were a hundred or so of Rimington's Scouts, two
squadrons of the 9th Lancers, and some companies of mounted infantry.
In all they may have totalled 500 men. Yet in the European proportion
more like 1,500 cavalry were required, with a couple of batteries of
horse artillery. Of horse artillery there was none at all, nor was
there a single howitzer with the column. These facts, evident to all,
raised in the minds of a few sinister doubts as to the future success
of the column, which doubts were only too painfully justified by
events. It was clear from the start that no victory could be followed
up, and no decisive blow inflicted. Yet here as elsewhere the generals
and the men anticipated swift and certain success. The Boers before
them were believed to be weak in numbers, ill-organised, and of low
fighting capacity. The rapid advance to Kimberley would, it was
thought, be scarcely contested.
[_Photo by Cribb._
The "Doris," the flagship of Rear-Admiral Harris at the Cape, supplied
the commander and some of the men who fought under Lord Methuen, and in
the Admiral's cabin Cronje was confined after his surrender.]
[Sidenote: NOV. 20-21, 1899.] _Nearing the Enemy._]
The column was, in consequence, to march in the lightest possible
order. Baggage and stores were cut down; officers were to have no
tents; Lord Methuen himself was to set the example of sleeping in his
cloak in the open; the men were loaded as lightly as possible. The
regiments marched without bugle or drum, as it was feared that the
sound of these instruments would give information of movements to the
At midnight of the 20th-21st, the column stood to arms, 9,000 strong,
waiting the order to advance. Lord Methuen had always been a great
believer in night marches and night attacks upon the enemy, and on
this campaign seized the first opportunity of putting his ideas into
execution. Then for hours the column waited under the star-lit sky. At
two the moon rose, but still no order came. The serpent-like array of
men, horses and guns waited, silent, immobile--waited impatiently. At
last, soon after 2·30, the long-looked-for order arrived. The Guards'
Brigade, with the cavalry and artillery, strode off through the scented
night; as day was breaking over the kopjes to the east, the Ninth
[Sidenote: Advance to Fincham's Farm.]
The first day's march was a short one of nine miles to Fincham's
Farm or Witteputts, half way between Orange River and Belmont. Yet,
though short, it tried the men severely. As the sun rose the heat grew
tropical, and water there was none till Fincham's Farm was reached. The
line of route lay across the undulating, thirsty veldt, sand-floored,
overgrown with brown scrub, along the foot of perpetual kopjes. Nothing
was seen of the enemy, yet the Boer scouts dogged the column and noted
its every movement.
[Illustration: A NOTED SCOUT.
Sergeant Cunningham, of Rimington's "Tigers." They are so called from
the fact of their wearing a piece of tiger skin around the hat.]
At Fincham's Farm the column halted for the night, and next day marched
to Belmont. Here it was known that the enemy would be found and a
battle fought. While the infantry marched into camp, Lord Methuen
pushed forward with the two batteries of artillery and the naval guns,
and carefully examined the Boer position.
[_Photo by Gregory._
HIS MOTHER'S FAREWELL.
A soldier of the Scots Guards ordered on active service.]
[Sidenote: [NOV. 21-23, 1899.]
Some miles to the east of the railway rose a line of kopjes running
north-west and south-east--to the north known as Table Hill, in the
centre as Gun Hill, and to the south afterwards called Fryer's Kopje.
These were held by the Boers. Behind rose a second and loftier line of
heights, broken in the centre by a deep "nek" or pass, in which was
known to be the Boer laager. This line of heights was defended by stone
breastworks, and was also held by the enemy. The key to it was Mont
Blanc, to the south-east of the nek.
Lord Methuen took every precaution to prevent the enemy from guessing
the proximity of his 9,000 men. Only the artillery moved forward, and
in a futile way shelled the foremost line of kopjes. Our guns were,
as in every battle of the war, outranged by the enemy's artillery.
A big weapon in the hands of the Boers made superb shooting, and
had the projectiles and fuses been good, would have inflicted heavy
loss. As things were, there were only two men wounded in the British
force, whereas the enemy had six killed or wounded. The latter figure,
however, must be entirely conjectural.
The infantry in camp, meanwhile, received orders to march out at 1·30
a.m. of the next day, the 23rd, to deliver an attack upon the enemy at
dawn. This was the first occasion upon which most of the men had ever
been engaged. So far they had faced only discomfort; now they were to
confront mutilation, pain, and sudden death. They were to learn what
war was: "It was not play. It was not pleasure. It was not sport under
the greenwood tree, but a savage encounter with desperate adversaries,
who dealt death and grievous wounds with impartial hands." Yet these
thoughts depressed and saddened few in the camp; rather, perhaps, the
excitement tended to raise their spirits. From general to private all
looked forward to the breaking of the day and the coming of the moment
when the flower of the British Army should measure its strength against
the detested Boer.
The army had out-marched its transport, and that night the men had
little or nothing to eat. They filled their water bottles, left
behind their great-coats, and, some time later than the appointed
hour, marched silently forth into the darkness in one long line, the
Northumberland Fusiliers on the left, the Northamptons and Yorkshires
in the centre, and the Guards on the right. No words were spoken; no
sounds made; yet now and again the creaking of the waggons startled
the soft night air and gave more audible warning than a multitude of
talking men. Again, when the railway was crossed, the wire fence had to
be cut away with an axe, as it seems that our troops were not equipped
with wire-cutters. This made a tremendous noise and might have been
heard miles away; so that the enemy could not but have been very well
aware of the advance of the British.
[_Photo by J. E. Bluton, Capetown._
Tommy can fish for sticklebacks with as much zest--and as little
art--in South African waters as in the fountain in Bushey Park or the
Thames at Hammersmith.]
[Illustration: _F.J. Waugh._] [_After a Stereo-Photo from life by
Underwood & Underwood. Copyrighted 1900._
The lonely sentinel on the wide veldt experiences many a nerve-shaking
terror in the still night hours, knowing as he does that he is
surrounded by subtle foes, accustomed to find sufficient shelter in any
scrap of scrub or stone.]
[Sidenote: [NOV. 23, 1899.]
And now over the kopjes before the British Army broke the untimely
day. The land lay silent, and, as the line pushed forward, the little
"dikkopfs" rose from the veldt with their melancholy cry. All chance of
surprise had gone. Dawn had come and found the British troops not close
upon the enemy's position, but some distance away. That distance would
have to be crossed in daylight under a murderous fire. The men advanced
in open order to assault the first line of kopjes, where as yet no sign
whatever of the enemy could be discovered. "A death-like silence," says
Mr. Kinnear, the Central News correspondent with the column, "hung over
all. Nothing was to be heard but the swish, swish, in measured cadence
of the soldiery as they brushed through the low bush. An order was
issued by the commanders of battalions to 'Withhold fire and attack
with the bayonet.' ... And still the Boers were silent in their
trenches and our artillery refrained from speaking out."
Puzzling as was the silence of the Boers, the silence of the British
artillery was still more curious. The soldier in his attacks likes to
hear the roar of his own guns; it gives him moral courage and a sense
of support. He dislikes an enemy who awaits his onset in absolute
silence and withholds fire till the last moment. Upon the kopjes no
enemy could be discerned; the hills seemed so many huge lifeless
stone-heaps, tenanted only by scorpions and lizards.
[Illustration: _F. Dadd, R.I._] [_From a Sketch by a British Officer._
THE BATTLE OF BELMONT.]
The line of infantry reached the foot of the kopjes and began the
ascent, each man four paces from his neighbour, without supports or
reserves. At this instant the slopes burst into flame, and a strange,
unearthly crackling and sputtering ran along the front of the advancing
soldiers. "You could see nothing but men dropping all round you,"
writes a private in the Scots Guards. This fire at close ranges should
have been annihilating, and yet, as a matter of hard fact, not very
many men went down. The Boers seemed to be nervous and alarmed at the
steady and determined approach of our infantry; after the first few
rounds they shot most indifferently and failed to use their splendid
opportunity. They had almost complete shelter behind great boulders and
stone walls, whereas our troops had to scale on hands and knees the
steep and stony slopes. In the assault the Grenadiers, who were in too
close formation, suffered most.
[Sidenote: British victory at Belmont.]
[Sidenote: NOV. 23, 1899.] _Incidents of the Battle._]
The British troops with a roar of cheering reached the summit of the
kopjes and used their bayonets upon the Boers, whom they caught amidst
the boulders. Here fell Private St. John, a famous boxer, in hand-grips
with the enemy. Writes a brother private of his battalion:--"At the
battle of Belmont we fought hand to hand. I was just behind David St.
John when he was shot. He stuck his bayonet right through a Boer and
could not get it out again. He tried to throw the man over his shoulder
to get him off, and then another Boer came up and shot him through
the head. Then another of our men put his bayonet through that Boer's
heart." But the main body of the enemy had already discreetly retired.
The Boers with their agile little ponies could wait till the stormers
were close upon them, and then leap upon their steeds and gallop off to
their fresh position in the rear, thus baulking our soldiers of their
prey at the very moment when against any other enemy the battle would
have been gained. There was not cavalry or horse artillery to drive
home the blow and keep the foe "on the run." And thus the fight had to
be fought over and over again.
Halting on the summit, to give time for the artillery, which had
now been ordered to open fire on the high ground beyond the line of
kopjes, to do its work, the infantry re-formed, while a heavy shrapnel
fire was poured in upon the enemy's second position. The Boer guns
responded vigorously, but without doing much harm. An artillery duel
of an hour-and-a-half's duration followed, yet it cannot be said that
any full or complete preparation for the assault was achieved by the
British guns. They were too few in number, and they fired for too short
a time. About 5·45 a.m. the advance was resumed.
[Sidenote: Chaplain Hill's bravery.]
This time the fighting was harder and the men suffered more. The Ninth
Brigade lost its general, Fetherstonhaugh, wounded while leading. He
had cantered up and down his fighting line attended by his staff, and
so doing drew a severe fire from the enemy upon his men, who could not
reply from fear of hitting him. At last a soldier in the ranks shouted
in humorous indignation, says Mr. Kinnear, "---- thee! Get thee to----,
and let's fire!" Mont Blanc was stormed by the 1st Coldstreams with
splendid dash, while the Northamptons and Northumberlands attacked
a high ridge to the south of it. Here Chaplain Hill, of the Ninth
Brigade, covered himself with honour. He followed the fighting line
and administered the last consolation of the Sacrament to the dying,
standing erect where no man dared to show himself amidst the hail of
bullets. It was a noble and inspiring picture; the fallen soldier prone
in the grip of death; the priest upright and serene; around on every
side the tumult of battle and the rush of the storming line. "Get
down," shouted an officer to the chaplain; "you have no right to risk
your life." "This is my place and I am doing my special business," was
the answer. And the bullets left him unscathed.
DAVID ST. JOHN KILLED WHILE BAYONETTING A BOER.]
[Sidenote: Contraventions of usages of war.]
[Sidenote: [NOV. 23, 1899.]
As the ridge of the second position was gained, the Boers once more
took to flight, carrying with them, for the most part, their killed and
wounded. A few small parties were, however, cut off and made prisoners.
At this juncture there was the usual and apparently inevitable abuse
of the white flag. One was raised when the British storming line was
only fifty yards away. Our men at once ceased fire, whereupon a shot
was fired at our men by one of the party which had raised the white
flag. Nor was this an isolated incident. Colonel Crabbe, of the 3rd
Grenadiers, and Lieutenant Willoughby were slightly wounded by men
who fired upon them under cover of the white flag; Mr. Knight, the
gallant correspondent of the Morning Post, was shot in the arm with an
explosive bullet in the same manner. But even more horrible treachery
was displayed by a wounded Boer to Lieutenant Blundell. That officer
stooped to give his disabled enemy a drink of water, when the Boer shot
him, inflicting a mortal wound.
While the storming of the second ridge was proceeding, the Naval
Brigade rendered valuable aid by shelling the enemy's position at
1,800 yards. The field artillery, too, poured in a heavy fire. Nothing
was more admirable than the manner in which the British infantry went
forward under a perfect tempest of bullets and carried one after
another of the Boer lines of defence with never a check. The men
cheered at each rush; as they mounted the slopes, through the crackle
of the musketry came, from the rear, the stirring tunes of a regimental
band. It was the Scots Guards' band, stationed well behind the firing
line, the only one that played its regiment into action.
"By George! A British infantryman is a plucky chap!" wrote an artillery
officer of this stage of the battle. "The bullets were coming quite
thick enough for us where we were, so you can tell what it was like for
them climbing those hills. I believe our fire helped the Coldstreams a
lot in driving out the Boers; anyhow, they have written to thank us for
having lessened much their losses. After the place was taken the Boers
were off down the other side like lightning and away. We went round to
the right flank of the hills and saw them a long way off on another
range of hills. Eventually we started back to camp about 10·30 a.m. and
watered horses, arriving back about 1·30. The left flank was carried in
much the same way. Altogether, it was rather a good battle. The place
we attacked is, I believe, called Kaffirs' Kop. We were in action, I
suppose, about an hour. I was surprised at not feeling more alarmed; as
a matter of fact, one has too much to think about."
_F. J. Waugh._]
CHAPLAIN HILL'S ACT OF DEVOTION.
Administering the Sacrament to a dying soldier under heavy fire.]
After the second position of the enemy had been stormed, yet a third
was captured by the Guards, covered by the heavy fire of the artillery.
This terminated the fighting.
[Illustration: _F. Dadd, R.I._] [_From a sketch by a British Officer._
BOERS SURPRISED ON A KOPJE AT BELMONT BY THE GRENADIER GUARDS.]
[Sidenote: [NOV. 23, 1899.]
[Sidenote: Boers retreat.]
About 6 a.m. the enemy was in full retreat and the battle was won. It
remained to follow up the victory, but unhappily the Lancers were too
few and too exhausted with their hard work to inflict much damage. It
has since been asserted by Boer prisoners taken at Paardeberg that all
their guns might have been captured. They expressed contempt for our
cavalry, but perhaps they did not understand the difficulties which
it had to face. Be this as it may, the Boers were able to get away,
leaving behind them, however, sixty-four waggons and a large quantity
of ammunition. The waggons were destroyed and the ammunition exploded
by Lord Methuen. Eighty-three Boers were said to have been killed and
twenty wounded, and about thirty unwounded prisoners were taken. Among
these were a German commandant of artillery and six field cornets.
[Illustration: _J. Finnemore, R.B.A._] [_After a sketch on the spot._
THE NEW SOUTH WALES LANCERS' BAPTISM OF FIRE.
The New South Wales Lancers first saw active service at Belmont, where
they covered the retirement of the 9th Lancers, who, in attempting to
cut off a number of Boers, were in turn pursued by them.]
The British losses were heavy considering the immense numerical
advantage which Lord Methuen possessed, and of which little use was
made. Fifty-three officers and men were killed and 245 wounded, of
whom twenty-two died of their wounds. The scene after the battle was a
very sad and terrible one. It is thus described by Mr. Kinnear:--"The
Boer rifles appeared to have got in chiefly in the abdomen and lower
limbs. The khaki was dyed so deeply with crimson that some of the dead
and wounded must have received more than half-a-dozen shots. Indeed,
it was frequently discovered through the campaign, notably in the case
of officers, that they had been hit five or six times. This proves, I
think, that in spite of the order removing badges and other marks of
rank, the keen-eyed enemy is able to spot and pot his man."
[Sidenote: NOV. 23, 1899.] _Frontal Attack not Intended._]
The dead lay tranquil as if overcome by Death's twin brother Sleep.
Silence came upon the victorious soldiery as they turned their gaze
upon these sad victims of the conflict, who had offered up the last
and greatest sacrifice that man can make. The wounded, too, were
silent. Few complained; they bore their pain with stoicism, or even
made light of their wounds. Lieutenant Russell, with his face streaming
blood, maintained that he had nothing more than a scratch. The
ambulance corps and bearers moved to and fro amongst them, bandaging
the wounds, administering relief, and preparing them for passage down
to Wynberg, whither all the less serious cases were despatched by the
[Illustration: REMOVING THE DEAD.]
[Sidenote: Frontal attack criticised.]
From the first the wisdom of "taking the bull by the horns," or
attacking full in front the Boer positions, was questioned in England.
It was asked why did not Lord Methuen, with quite three men to the
enemy's one, surround them, or only make a demonstration in front while
delivering his real attack from the flank. Again, if he determined
to attack in front, it was questioned why he did not make a greater
use of his artillery, instead of flinging his superb infantry upon an
intact and entrenched enemy. By a fuller artillery preparation, it was
said, many lives might have been saved, and not impossibly the Boers
might have been dislodged with infinitesimal British losses. Some of
these doubts have not yet been answered, but from Lord Methuen's own
despatches it is clear that the frontal attack was not of his planning.
He meant to fall upon the enemy's flank, but here, as at Stormberg, a
succession of accidents prevented the general's original intentions
from being carried out, and rendered the task of the infantry very much
harder. In attacking, at all costs, when it was evident that the Boers
were on the alert, and when the intended flank movement had failed,
Lord Methuen wished to show the enemy that the British soldier was
morally his superior; that no position of whatever strength could stop
the British Army, and that an invisible foe, raining death upon our men
in the open, was no terror.
[Illustration: MAUSER CARTRIDGE.
The charge is of "smokeless powder" (hornified nitro-cellulose).]
[Illustration: LEE-ENFIELD CARTRIDGE.
Charged with cordite (nitro-glycerine and guncotton).]
[Illustration: DIAGRAM SHOWING THE "RIFLING" OF A LEE-ENFIELD RIFLE.
The spiral grooves cause the bullet to rotate rapidly on leaving
the barrel. The twist of the rifling in a Mauser runs the opposite
way; this latter weapon weighs nearly ¾ lb. less than the British
(Lee-Enfield) pattern, and the bullet leaves the muzzle at a velocity
of 2,034 feet per second as against 2,000 feet, the speed in the case
of the Lee-Enfield.]
[Sidenote: [NOV. 23, 1899.]
The moral effect upon the Boers was, in fact, considerable, though not,
perhaps, so great as the British staff at the time supposed. A prisoner
told the British soldiers that the Boers believed in their ability
to hold their position against all the armies of the world. They had
expected the arrival of General Cronje with four or five thousand
Transvaalers from Mafeking, and were greatly incensed at his failure to
put in an appearance. Official Boer accounts stated that twelve Boers
only were killed and forty wounded.
After its baptism in blood the British division marched back to camp,
leaving behind it the battlefield over which the great vultures were
already wheeling slowly, having gathered swiftly and strangely from all
quarters. In camp Lord Methuen delivered to it a brief, soldierly, and
[Sidenote: Lord Methuen congratulates the troops.]
"Comrades," he said, "I congratulate you on the complete success
achieved by you this morning. The ground over which we have had to
fight presents exceptional difficulties, and we had as an enemy a past
master in the tactics of mounted infantry. With troops such as you are,
a commander can have no fear as to the result.
[Illustration: GRAVES OF THE SOLDIERS KILLED AT BELMONT.
Erected by the Duke of Edinburgh's Own Volunteer Rifles.]
"There is a sad side, and you and I are thinking as much of those
who have died for the honour of their country, and of those who are
suffering, as we are thinking of our victory."
[Illustration: SLEEPING OUT ON THE VELDT.
How our soldiers make themselves comfortable--when they can.]
And not they alone were thinking of the dead and the wounded. When
it became known in London that the Guards' brigade was likely to go
into action, large and anxious crowds began to assemble about the War
Office in Pall Mall, and to besiege the lobby where the casualty lists
are usually posted. Not for many years had scenes so sad and pathetic
been witnessed in that temple of official routine. Many of the men
had friends and relatives in London, and thus the capital was moved
by a stronger personal interest than in the case of regiments whose
headquarters are in the provinces.
The misuse of the white flag and the fact that not a few of his men
had been wounded with "dum-dum" or expansive bullets drew from Lord
Methuen a dignified letter of protest which he addressed to the Boer
commander, but which unfortunately did not have the effect of stopping
the practices complained of.
[Illustration: ARRIVAL OF A TRAINLOAD OF WOUNDED BOERS AT PRETORIA.]