March to Swinks Pan--Advance of Ninth Brigade--Battle
of Enslin--Bombardment of the Boer
position--Reinforcements sent for--The Bluejackets
and Marines take the kopje--British losses--The Queen
congratulates the Naval Brigade--Boer losses--Lack
of water at Enslin--Lord Methuen's address to
the troops--March to Klokfontein--Lord Methuen's
available forces--The Boers in force at the Modder
River--Disposition of troops--Scene of the battle--Boer
preparations--Battle of the Modder--The torture of
thirst--Sleep during battle--Arrival of an additional
Field Battery--Attempts to cross the river--Retreat
of the Boers--Comparison of British and Boer
losses--British artillery fire--Characteristics of the
fighting--The Boers fire on the Red Cross--Conduct of
the Free Staters impugned--Kruger's remonstrances.

 [Sidenote: March to Swinks Pan.]

The night of the 23rd and morning of the 24th were spent in camp near
Thomas' Farm while the Engineers, supported by the armoured train,
repaired the railway line. In the afternoon of the 24th the camp was
struck and the force marched seven miles north to Swinks Pan, over the
waterless veldt, leaving the 1st Scots Guards and two companies of
Munster Fusiliers--who had come up from Orange River--to hold Belmont
station, in the neighbourhood of which there was still a small Boer
force 500 strong. This day the armoured train had a brush with the
Boers, in which three officers and men were killed or wounded. At
Swinks Pan there was a good water supply, and there the column halted.
Away to the east rose kopjes, which, the scouts had ascertained, were
held by Boers. The enemy's strength, however, could only be guessed
at; it was placed at 400 men. Events showed very plainly that this was
a ludicrous underestimate. The Boers had closely dogged the column,
though rarely or never seen. At Swinks Pan traces of their presence and
smouldering camp fires were discovered, showing that their scouts had
been close at hand.

[Sidenote: [NOV. 25, 1899.]

That night the column received orders to be under arms at dawn, when a
move was to be made for Graspan, where was the enemy's position. The
Boer force being believed insignificant, only the Ninth Brigade, with
the artillery, cavalry and mounted infantry would, it was thought, be
required. The Guards were accordingly left with the baggage--they had
done the hardest work at Belmont and had fully earned the right to a
rest--and were directed to march north to Enslin, which was to be the
next halting point.


[Sidenote: Advance of the Ninth Brigade.]

Soon after 6 a.m. of the 25th, the Ninth Brigade found itself in
front of the Boer position. This lay along a line of low but steep
hills; upon the extreme left, connected with these hills by a long,
grassy ridge, was a small, stony kopje, which is thus described by
Colonel Verner: "Five hundred yards from the kopje's summit the
plain rose gradually, and scattered boulders were to be seen. Two
hundred yards nearer, the slope steepened and the boulders were more
numerous. Another hundred and fifty yards and the slope became almost
a precipice--a mass of rock and scree--and could only be climbed on
hands and knees in many places. Here and there were vertical patches
of cliff; everywhere rocks and boulders gave fine cover." Here, it was
afterwards discovered, was posted the old guard of the Boer force--a
party of 300 Transvaalers, but recently arrived from Kimberley. The
enemy's strength was actually between 2,000 and 3,000, with one
heavy gun, five field guns, a Maxim 1-pounder automatic--the dreaded
"Pom-Pom" which Lord Methuen's men were now to face for the first
time--and a rifle-calibre Maxim. The Boers were under the command of
General Delarey; they appear to have been a different force from that
which had fought at Belmont.


[Sidenote: Battle of Enslin.]

[Sidenote: Bombardment of the Boer position.]

[Sidenote: NOV. 25, 1899.] Trying to Silence an Unseen Gun.]

In consequence of the heavy loss which he had sustained in storming
the kopjes at Belmont without full artillery preparation, Lord Methuen
brought up his field batteries and two naval guns, and opened the
battle by a prolonged bombardment of the Boer position. Already, about
6 a.m., the enemy had fired the first shot at a party of Rimington's
Scouts who ventured within range. The field-guns began their work at
a range of 2,500 yards, and then closed in to 1,500. The naval guns
opened at 5,000 yards and closed to 2,800. The Boers vigorously replied
with their guns, but as these were scattered and not massed together,
as they furthermore fired smokeless powder, and were in some cases
posted just behind the crest of the ridge, they were almost impossible
to locate. Indeed, in this battle, as in the Belmont action, the
enemy's invisibility was nerve-shaking. There were no masses of men
to be seen and made into targets; no gleaming array of guns invited a
deluge of projectiles. But for the crackling roar and the quick, heavy
banging of the "Pom-Pom" and the field-guns, but for the flashes of
fire from the rifles, the line of kopjes might have been the haunt of
only the little "dikkopf" and the great South African vulture.

The feature of the artillery fight was a duel between the "Pom-Pom"
and the 18th Field Battery. "The Boer gun," says Mr. Julian Ralph,
the brilliant correspondent of the Daily Mail, "was never seen, and
the man who served it never once saw us. His piece was hidden beyond
the ridge on the further slope, and a comrade gave him his range and
direction. For a long time this gunner devoted his attention to one
of the field batteries. Next he attacked the black mass made by their
horses and limbers. Later he paid his respects to the naval gun and its
crew. He never achieved perfect excellence, for he did no damage to
any British gun; he killed but two horses in the field, and he wounded
but five of our men altogether. And yet he got his range so quickly
and well, and he was so persistent and so wholly invisible, that our
men set their teeth in grim determination to destroy him. They had
for a target nothing but the thin smoke which rose over his gun, but
into that little floating cloud they planted shot and shell, until at
the end of the day they had given out 210 rounds, if I remember the
extraordinary figure correctly. All the other Boer guns were silenced
before this one was, and at twenty minutes to ten this was silenced and
every gun of the enemy was speechless."

[Illustration: NO. 1 BASE HOSPITAL, WYNBERG.

Where our wounded officers are nursed.]

Says an officer in command of one section (two guns) of the 18th Field
Battery:--"I had a warm time of it, from a quick-firing gun, firing
one-inch common shell, but luckily all the rounds (about 100) fell
just about 100 yards beyond my guns. We didn't get a scratch. In the
meantime I plugged away at the right hand line of kopjes, but couldn't
for the life of me see where their cursed little gun was."


[Photo by Fyne, Capetown.


[Sidenote: [NOV. 25, 1899.]

[Sidenote: Reinforcements sent for.]

Noting the intensity of the artillery and rifle fire, and receiving
reports that a fresh commando of the enemy was advancing from the
north-east and threatening his rear, Lord Methuen came to the
conclusion that the Boer force before him was far stronger than 400.
Accordingly he heliographed orders back to Belmont to the battalion of
Coldstreams and to the Guards' Brigade, now on their march to Enslin,
for them to hasten immediately to his help.

[Illustration: Drawn by J. H. Thornely. A LANCER AT THE "CHARGE."]

The British artillery fire soon appeared to get the Boer fire under.
From the first the enemy had wasted ammunition at absurd ranges upon
our guns with but little effect, seeming more intent on fancy shooting
than upon doing any real damage. To all who watched the bombardment of
the kopjes it appeared impossible that any living thing could be left
upon them. A perfect hailstorm of shrapnel descended upon the stony
slopes, yet, as was afterwards discovered, with but inconsiderable
effect. The Boers had for the most part fallen back from the slopes
which faced our guns to the other side of the ridge, where they lay
behind the boulders in almost complete security.


[Photo by Knight, Aldershot.


A brief sketch of General French's career is given on p. 30 of this
work. He was in command of the forces which routed the Boers at
Elandslaagte; left Ladysmith by the last train which succeeded in
getting out of that town before it was invested; took up the command of
the forces operating in the Colesberg district, November 10, 1899; led
the cavalry division which effected the relief of Kimberley, under Lord
Roberts's orders, February 15, 1900, and helped to enclose Cronje and
compel his surrender, February 27. He has since taken an active part in
the operations around Bloemfontein and Wepener. He has the advantage of
leading that arm--cavalry--which is able to meet the enemy on something
like equal terms; but his operations have been crowned with an amount
of success which marks him out as a specially able commander.]

[Sidenote: [NOV. 25, 1899.]

About 7 a.m. the infantry began to work forward under cover of the
artillery fire, to assault the isolated kopje upon the left of the Boer
position. The Boer right was merely watched by five companies of the
Northumberlands; the Yorkshire Light Infantry, marines and seamen of
the Naval Brigade, and North Lancashires were concentrated against the
kopje. The Naval Brigade led the storming force, extended in a single
line, each man six paces apart from his neighbour on either hand. "As
the line passed me," writes Colonel Verner, "I noted how each hard,
clean-cut face was from time to time anxiously turned towards the
directing flank, so as to satisfy each individual that the interval
and dressing were properly kept.... No better kept line ever went
forward to death or glory." As they began the ascent, advancing by
brief rushes in very open order, the hill suddenly appeared to swarm
with enemies; from the crest, from behind every boulder, poured a
murderous fire. The naval officers of the brigade still carried swords
and could be readily distinguished; they were the target of every Boer
rifle. "In the breathing time between the rushes of the assailants,"
says Colonel Verner, "one conspicuous figure was to be seen standing
erect, and marking the station taken up by the Naval Brigade. This
was their commanding officer, Captain Prothero, R.N., a man of great
stature and immense physique, who elected thus to stand leaning on
his walking-stick while his men, lying prone, gathered breath for
another rush.... Eventually the inevitable occurred and he was seen
to drop, happily only wounded and out of action for a time." It was
at this point that Commander Ethelston of the Powerful was hit
half-a-dozen times and killed, and that Major Plumbe of the Marines,
who was gallantly leading in front of his men, closely followed into
the storm of battle by his little terrier, staggered, shouting to his
superb soldiers not to mind him, but to advance. He never rose again.
There too fell Captain Senior, side by side with his field officer. So
terrible was the fire, so annihilating its effects upon the Brigade,
which had drawn into closer and closer order as the hill steepened and
the space narrowed, that the order was given to retire upon the last


[Photo by Symonds.


Of H.M.S. Doris. Wounded in action at the battle of Enslin.]


[Photo by Symonds.


Of H.M.S. Powerful. Killed in action at the battle of Enslin.]


The detachment is here represented marching out of Simonstown on its
way to the front. The officer in khaki walking alone is Capt. Senior,
who was killed in the battle of Enslin (perhaps better known as the
battle of Graspan).]

[Sidenote: NOV. 25, 1899.] "Take that Kopje, and be Hanged to it!"]

[Sidenote: The Bluejackets and Marines take the kopje.]

For a moment it seemed as though the attack had failed. But the
artillery poured its fire upon the crest of the ridge with more
vehemence than ever; and up the slopes in very open order, firing and
cheering, came the Yorkshire Light Infantry to the support of the
hard-pressed Naval Brigade, while the Loyal North Lancashires and
Northumberlands, too, were sweeping forward upon the line of heights
held by the Boers. Once more the seamen and marines pressed upward at
an order from the wounded Captain Prothero: "Men of the Naval Brigade,
advance at the double; take that kopje and be hanged to it." Full in
the front of them was Midshipman Huddart of the Doris, who even in
that band of heroes won a name for conspicuous and amazing bravery.
At the bottom of the hill he had fallen hit in the arm; halfway up he
was shot through the leg; yet staggering forward he reached the summit
of the blood-stained slope, where, shot once more, in the stomach, he
breathed forth his young life. Thus died the officers of the Royal
Navy. For the last few yards of the advance the Boers could no longer
fire with safety upon their assailants. Their very position became
disadvantageous as the slopes were so steep that they had to stand
up to see their assailants, and in the deluge of shrapnel and rifle
bullets which beat upon the summit, this was almost certain death.
Lieutenant Taylor of the 2nd Yorkshire Light Infantry and Lieutenant
Jones of the Marines, the last in spite of a bullet in his thigh, were
the first into the Boer entrenchments at the top. They were closely
followed, and the kopje was won.


F.J. Waugh.]


His little terrier followed him up the hill and kept watch by him for
hours after he had been mortally wounded, until he was picked up by the

[Sidenote: [NOV. 25, 1899.]

Throughout the advance of the Naval Brigade the naval officers behaved
with the most reckless and devoted courage. "Your fellows are too
brave," said a soldier-officer of famous gallantry to a sailor-officer.
"It is utterly useless for you to go on as you do, for you will only
all get killed in this sort of warfare. I saw your officers walking
about in front of their men, even when the latter were taking cover,
just as if they were carrying on on board ship." "Did you watch the
Naval Brigade?" said Colonel Barter to a staff officer. "By Heaven, I
never saw anything so magnificent in my life."

The scene on the summit is thus described by The Times
correspondent:--"The hill-top was almost dripping with blood; not a
boulder escaped its splash of crimson, and the innumerable splinters
and chips of the ironstone blocks indicated the terrific nature of our
fire. Most of the dead or wounded Boers were carried off--thirty of the
more severely wounded were found in their hospital a quarter of a mile
away--but here and there a dead man proved that here the Transvaal had
sent its men down for the first time to meet the oncoming column."

"I shall never forget the faces of some of those who had fallen in the
final rush," says Colonel Verner, of the dead of the Naval Brigade.
"They lay about in every attitude, many with their rifles, with
bayonets fixed, tightly clutched in their hands, and in some cases
still held at the charge. There were the same hard-featured, clean-cut
faces, which but a short time before I had watched laboriously
skirmishing across the veldt, now pale in death, but with the same set
expression of being in terrible earnest to see the business through."


The enemy fled towards his right along the ridge; others mounted their
horses and made off to the north. The Lancers and Rimington's Scouts
essayed pursuit, but hurrying after the enemy had to pass between two
seemingly untenanted kopjes. As the mounted men drew near to these, the
slopes burst into flame and a sheet of lead checked the pursuit. The
force which thus suddenly intervened was afterwards believed to have
been a detachment of Transvaalers under General Cronje, whose coming
Delarey was awaiting. The cavalry were too exhausted to follow up. "For
the second time," wrote Lord Methuen, "I longed for a Cavalry Brigade
and Horse Artillery Battery to let me reap the fruits of a hard-fought
action." Had he been able to launch a strong force of mounted men
upon the enemy, the Boer guns must have been captured, the Boer army
destroyed, and the relief of Kimberley without further fighting might
well have been assured. There would then have been no Modder River, no
Magersfontein. As it was, all that could be done was for the artillery
to shell the fugitives at long range.

The deadliness of the Boer fire is seen in the heavy losses of the
Naval Brigade and in the fact that most of those who reached the summit
of the kopje unwounded had bullets through their clothes or equipment.
A marine officer had his water bottle and revolver shot away, his
leather belt cut, and the magazine of his rifle carried off by a
bullet, but escaped injury himself.


[Sidenote: NOV. 25, 1899.] Losses at Enslin.]

[Sidenote: British losses.]

[Sidenote: The Queen congratulates the Naval Brigade.]

The British losses were sixteen officers and men killed, 169 wounded,
of whom four died of their wounds, and nine missing. The Naval Brigade
was by far the heaviest sufferer, as it lost no less than 101 officers
and men, out of a total of 365 on the field. The Marines left nearly
half their strength upon the ground, the "Blue Marines" or Marine
Artillery being the hardest hit of all, with twenty-six killed and
wounded out of a strength of fifty-seven. Yet men questioned whether
it was wise to use up the magnificent personnel of the fleet in such
attacks, when this personnel is none too strong, and when it takes
years to train seamen. After the battle the Brigade was deservedly
thanked by the Queen. "The Queen desires," ran her telegram, "that you
will convey to the Naval Brigade who were present at the action of
Graspan, Her Majesty's congratulations on their gallant conduct, and at
the same time express the Queen's regret at the losses sustained by the


[Photo by Cribb, Southsea.


[Sidenote: Boer losses.]

The Boer losses in the action can only be guessed at. Twenty-one dead
were found on the field and buried; thirty wounded Boers were captured
in the enemy's hospital, and a few unwounded men were also taken. Among
the prisoners was Mr. Jeppe, a Transvaal millionaire, and Commandant
Rissik. In all, the enemy's casualties probably exceeded our own,
and may be placed at from 200 to 240. The Jacobsdal commando, 180
strong, alone lost forty-six men killed and wounded. Here, as before
at Belmont, there was the same violation of the white flag, with,
superadded, gross misuse of the red cross flag.

[Sidenote: Lack of water at Enslin.]

[Sidenote: [NOV. 25, 26, 1899.]

From the battle, which was known officially by the name of Enslin,
though it had occurred near the tiny village of Graspan, the army
marched to Enslin and there bivouacked. There was little or no water,
and this added greatly to the suffering of the troops after the
morning's terrible fight under a sweltering sun. The men crowded round
the locomotives and offered immense sums--a whole year's pay--for a
cup of water from the tenders, but in vain. The engine-drivers had
received the strictest orders on no account to part with their water.
One soldier was seen lying flat under a steam pipe, striving to catch
in his mouth the scanty drops. Nor was there any too much food. Nothing
beyond the service rations had been able to keep pace with the column.
The men had to do without the little canteen luxuries which add so
much to the pleasure of a soldier's life. The officers had to fare
upon bully beef and compressed vegetables, despite the champagne and
delicacies which the thoughtful mess caterers had brought out from
England only to be stacked in mountainous piles at De Aar.


[Sidenote: Lord Methuen's address to the troops.]

At Enslin Lord Methuen addressed his troops upon the morning after
the battle. He congratulated them upon the work they had done, and
expressed his appreciation of their gallant endurance of hardship. The
work was the severest encountered by the British Army for many a long
day. They had, in front of them, an enemy to whom they could not afford
to give one point, whose tactics had been excellent, and whose courage
he recognised and admired. When called upon to fight for his country,
he preferred to fight against such a foe--a foe worthy of his steel. He
hoped that he and his men had gained each other's confidence, and that
they would all do their duty as Englishmen should do.


[Photo by R. W. Paul.


The water is drawn up by means of a chain of buckets passing over a
wheel which is actuated by a windmill.]

He went on to the painful topic of the abuse of the white flag and
red-cross flag, describing as dastardly the conduct of the enemy in
firing on ambulance waggons, the shooting of a British officer by a
wounded Boer, and the use of Dum-Dum bullets; but he refused to believe
that these acts were characteristic of the enemy. He would give them
credit, until he was convinced to the contrary, that they, like the
British, wished to fight "fair and square."


[Sidenote: NOV. 26-28, 1899.] Advance to Modder River.]

[Sidenote: March to Klokfontein.]

From Enslin the division marched to Klokfontein, only eight miles from
Modder River. The railway and telegraph were repaired as the column
advanced. At Klokfontein the army suffered the usual torments for want
of water. The muddy water of the stagnant pools, which were the only
source of supply discovered, was eagerly drunk by the heavy-laden,
thirsty men. Word was passed that there would be plenty of the precious
fluid next morning at the Modder River, but for only too many in the
British column that moment of supreme satisfaction when raging thirst
is quenched was never to come.

[Illustration: AN OBJECTION TO WORK.

The loading of a number of pack-mules is apt to be trying to the temper
and even to the muscles.]

So the column encamped with orders to march at dawn and breakfast on
the Modder. Lord Methuen, his staff, even the British scouts, had been
deceived by rumours artfully spread to the effect that the enemy would
make no stand before Spytfontein, some miles beyond the Modder River.
A reconnaissance on the 27th revealed no sign of the enemy. "There
was," says Mr. Kinnear, "an absurd contempt for the enemy on the part
of the Headquarters Staff, and an indifference most pronounced as to
his whereabouts and strength. At Graspan Lord Methuen expected a brush
with 800 Boers. He encountered over 3,000 of the enemy. But this taught
no lesson, until we became almost like the courtiers of King Louis,
who neither learned anything nor forgot anything." Yet, in justice to
a much-criticised general, it should be remembered that Lord Methuen
on the afternoon of the 27th personally examined Modder River bridge,
and rode within 300 yards of what afterwards proved to be the Boer
position. The enemy did not stir or move; no shots were fired; and no
sign whatever of the presence of 8,000 or 9,000 men could be detected.

[Sidenote: Lord Methuen's available forces.]

At Klokfontein Lord Methuen was reinforced by a fine Highland
battalion, the 1st Argyll and Sutherlands. Deducting all losses he had
now 8,000 infantry, 400 cavalry and mounted infantry, and 300 artillery
with twelve guns. At Belmont, in his rear was the 62nd Field Battery
with six more guns. It will be seen that the column still remained
pitifully weak in two essential components of an army--cavalry and


[Stereo-Photo by Underwood & Underwood. Copyright 1900.


The drum-head makes a very fair writing table.]

[Sidenote: [NOV. 28, 1899.]

[Sidenote: The Boers in force at the Modder River.]

At dawn of November 28th the division got under arms and cheerfully
marched off to disperse the handful of demoralised fugitives who were,
it was reported, all that would be encountered at Modder River. From
the Modder it was to bend eastwards to Jacobsdal and come in upon the
flank of the Boers at Spytfontein. The early morning air was clear
and cold, but the breakfastless men marched joyously down the gentle
slopes, eight miles long, towards the eagerly desired water. A few
minutes of skirmishing was the most that anyone expected. Yet early
in the morning--seemingly while the division was on the march--Lord
Methuen received disquieting news. This was to the effect that the
Boers were in great force at the Modder. Still he felt no great
anxiety; he had been told that the Riet and Modder Rivers were fordable
everywhere, and therefore he thought that he could easily outflank
the enemy and drive them from their positions. He does not appear to
have communicated the news to his subordinate generals and battalion
commanders. Indeed, so free from care was he, that he gave his cook
orders to get his breakfast ready as his line of men neared the Modder
River. Still, the approach to the river was made in very open order and
no reasonable precaution was neglected.


The Modder, a little above the bridge, is the favourite resort of the
jaded Kimberley folk for picnics and boating.]

[Sidenote: Disposition of troops.]

The disposition of the British troops was as follows:--On the right
was the Guards' Brigade, with the Scots Guards, Grenadiers, and 2nd
Coldstreams in line from right to left, and the 1st Coldstreams
following in support. On the left was the Ninth Brigade, under
Major-General Pole-Carew, composed of the Northumberland Fusiliers,
Yorkshires, and North Lancashires in line from right to left, with the
Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders in support. The two field batteries
were on the right, where also were the Lancers and mounted infantry.
To the rear were the transport and ammunition waggons in charge of the


[Re-drawn from a photograph.


Commanded the Boers in the beginning of the investment of Kimberley,
subsequently at Magersfontein and Paardeberg, where he surrendered
together with 4,000 men to Lord Roberts. Cronje is a man of 65 years of
age, who has always been a bitter enemy of England. In 1881 he was in
command at the siege of Potchefstroom, where he behaved with terrible
cruelty and unfairness to the garrison, which eventually surrendered
to him, with the honours of war, on March 21, although an armistice
had been in force since the 6th, of which Cronje had kept them in
ignorance. It was to him also that Dr. Jameson surrendered on January
1, 1896.]


The standing army of the Orange Free State, commanded by Major
Albrecht, who sits near the centre of the front row in the photograph,
in a light uniform braided across the front.]

[Sidenote: NOV. 28, 1899.] General Cronje Commands the Boers.]

[Sidenote: [NOV. 28, 1899.]

[Sidenote: Scene of the battle.]

About the centre of the British front was the railway to Kimberley,
which crosses the Modder upon an iron bridge. That bridge had been
entirely destroyed by the Boers, and culverts on the line two miles
to the south of the river had been blown up, thereby rendering it
impossible for the armoured train with Lord Methuen's column to
approach. Half-a-mile to the east of the railway bridge was the
confluence of the Riet and Modder Rivers, the Riet coming in from
the south-east and the Modder from the north-east. As far as the
confluence, the width of the bed of the Riet is about 300 yards; below
the confluence the stream, now known as the Modder, flows in a bed 400
to 500 yards wide. Two miles below the railway bridge a dam had been
erected to make a sheet of water for pleasure seekers from Kimberley,
and the banks of the river were thickly covered with trees and
brushwood. In this sylvan scene straggled a village consisting mainly
of hotels, built of corrugated iron, stone, brick, adobe, and mud. In
spite of Lord Methuen's information as to the fordability of the river,
there were only three drifts--one over the Riet on the extreme British
right; the other in the centre close to the railway bridge, and the
third on the left just below the dam.

[Sidenote: Boer preparations.]

Unknown to Lord Methuen, the Boers had made the most elaborate
preparations to meet his force. General Cronje was in command of the
Boers, and had with him from 8,000 to 10,000 men, one half of whom were
Transvaalers. Entrenchments had been constructed for five miles along
both banks of the river. They were masked by shrubs and brushwood, and
even the best field-glass could not detect their outline. On the Boer
right were the Free Staters under Delarey; on the left the Transvaalers
under Cronje. On the north bank of the river were stationed seven field
guns, with one heavy gun--probably a 100-pounder--on high ground, about
two miles back. On the tongue of land between the Riet and Modder,
ready to enfilade the British, were a "Pom-Pom" and two field guns,
whilst several Maxims and machine guns were scattered along the enemy's

[Illustration: MAJOR ALBRECHT.

In command of the Free State Artillery at Modder River.]

[Sidenote: NOV. 28, 1899.] The Battle of the Modder.]

[Sidenote: Battle of the Modder.]

The artillery and mounted troops were in advance of the British line.
The first glimpse of the enemy was gained about 6·30 a.m., when a body
of 500 mounted Boers was made out away on the right. They rode rapidly
towards the enemy's left, at once drawing the cavalry and mounted men
in pursuit. Then a Boer gun on the British right opened fire. So far
there had been no sign of life west of the junction of the Riet and the
Modder, and it was thought that the village was not held by the enemy.

The British 18th and 75th Field Batteries at once unlimbered on the
right and opened fire at an extreme range of about 4,500 yards. The
Boer artillery on the eastern half of the enemy's position replied,
but very languidly. Here, as before at Belmont and Graspan, it was
most difficult to locate the hostile guns. They were not massed, but
scattered singly, in strongly entrenched and well-masked gun-pits, so
that the only sign of their presence was a flash and faint film of
blue-white smoke, which instantly dissolved into the air. For some time
this long-range skirmish continued; then, gradually, the Boer guns
seemed to be silenced by the British shrapnel, and it was thought that
a small rearguard in the British front was falling back under cover of
the desultory cannonade.


[From a sketch by a British Officer.


Accordingly, the Guards received orders to develop their advance.
Neglected by the enemy's artillery they pushed rapidly forward and
reached a point only about 800 yards from the enemy's trenches,
descending the smooth, grassy slope, which led gently down to the
river. Far away to the left a thin, long line of khaki-clad men pressed
forward, the Ninth Brigade following the example of the Guards. The
enemy's plan, it was afterwards learnt from prisoners, was to permit
the British troops to approach within 400 yards, and then to open on
them from ambush an annihilating fire. But this design was foiled by
the clumsy nervousness of the Free Staters in the trenches to the south
of the river. When they saw the British troops only 800 yards off them,
they held that the enemy was quite near enough, and in defiance of
their orders opened a terrific fire.

[Sidenote: [NOV. 28, 1899.]

Along the whole extent of the Boer front ran an appalling crackling
uproar, above which could plainly be heard the terrible pom-pom-pom of
the Maxim. The effects of this fire were amazing; the leading ranks
fell to the earth in an instant, killed or wounded. The Scots Guards'
Maxim detachment was annihilated in half-a-dozen shots by the Maxim
1-pounder; the sergeant in charge was killed, and every man with the
gun was placed hors de combat. Staggered by the sudden fury and
intensity of the fire, which seemed to deliver a continuous sheet of
missiles, the soldiers of the Guards and the Ninth Brigade found that
they could no longer advance. They scorned the cowardly alternative of
retreating, and as the only other course left to them, threw themselves
prone on the ground.

[Illustration: Plan of the Battle of MODDER RIVER]

The same course was followed by the men in every part of the field,
simultaneously, as if by instinct. From the wide extent and vehemence
of the fire, it was clear that the British were confronted by a
great force, and that a desperate action must be fought before the
eagerly longed for water could be reached. It was simply impossible to
extricate the British army, the battle having once been joined in this
manner. No flank attack could be delivered where almost every man was
engaged with the enemy directly before him. Lord Methuen found himself
for the second time committed to a struggle which he had not planned,
and could do little or nothing but trust to his superb soldiers
wearing the enemy down. He telegraphed at once to Belmont for the 62nd
Field Battery to march with all possible speed to his assistance, and
directed two companies of Munster Fusiliers to entrain and advance to
the battlefield. This done, he turned to the control of the battle.

[Illustration: THE MODDER RIVER.

Showing the banks with their lining of bushes, from behind which the
Boers opened a murderous fire upon the British at 800 yards.]


[Sidenote: NOV. 28, 1899.] Sufferings of the Troops.]

The two British batteries on the field pushed in upon the centre
of the Boer position, and at a range of about 2,000 yards began to
deliver a storm of shrapnel upon the village and the Boer trenches. The
whereabouts of these had to be guessed, for there was still no sign of
the enemy. The battlefield appeared empty of men--the British soldiers
prostrate on the ground, the Boers artfully concealed; and few who
fought through that long day in our ranks saw even a single opponent.
The men fired at what they thought was the enemy's position, fired at
the flash of the guns, fired at the quarter from which came the heavy
hammering of the big Maxim. That, even so, they shot to some purpose
was known when after the battle the shield of the Maxim was found
splashed gray with British bullets.

[Sidenote: The torture of thirst.]

After the British infantrymen threw themselves down, their losses were
singularly small. Fortunately the soldiers had left their great coats
with the baggage, for these, being dark in colour, would have shown up
against the brown surface of the veldt and the dingy hue of the khaki,
and so have drawn the enemy's fire. At first some officers attempted
to stand up and lead their men forward, but such attempts immediately
drew a perfect storm of bullets. One brave sergeant who endeavoured
to lead a rush was hit half-a-dozen times. The men suffered agonies
from thirst and want of food and the intense heat of the sun. As the
morning went on the heat rose to 110°, and the sun's rays scorched and
blistered the bare legs of the Highlanders in the most painful manner.
If a breath of wind blew to relieve them, it would ruffle their kilts
and instantly draw the enemy's fire with deadly effect. The few drops
of tepid muddy water in the water bottles were speedily exhausted. In
their frantic eagerness to drink, men would rise, though they knew
this meant certain death or wounds, and would attempt to crawl to the
water carts in the rear. In this manner the Coldstreams lost many men,
till it was realised that to bring the carts near the rear was a cruel
and irresistible temptation. As for the wounded, they had to lie and
suffer if they could not crawl back to the rear. The bearer companies
displayed the utmost devotion, yet they lost so heavily that they could
not show themselves within the bullet-swept zone where lay most of the
wounded. Nor could ammunition be sent to the firing line; after one
or two attempts the men in front had to be left entirely to their own


[After a sketch by Mr. Fred Villiers


The sketch represents some of the men who dashed across the zone of
fire, drawing water for their comrades. Many of them were shot down by
Boers specially told off for the purpose, long before they could reach
the firing-line again.]

[Sidenote: [NOV. 28, 1899.]

So hot was the fire, so keen the enemy's watch upon the surface of
the plain that the slightest movement attracted a rain of bullets.
An officer put up his hand; in a moment a storm of projectiles
whistled over him. He did not repeat the experiment. "If one asked a
comrade for a drink of water," says Mr. Ralph, the correspondent of
the Daily Mail, "he saw the bottle or the hand that was passing it
pierced by a Dum-dum or with a 1-pounder Nordenfelt shell. Or if he
raised his head to writhe in his pain he felt his helmet shot away.
From the rear ammunition carriers and stretcher bearers walked boldly
forward until, the moment they were within range, a sheet, a torrent
of bullets and small shells raked the air as jets of water spurt from
a flower-sprinkler. But that image is too faint, for the jets were all
whistling or shrieking, throwing up fountains of red sand, exploding
in hundreds of detonations like echoes of the guns that spewed them.
At this, down upon their bellies dropped the stretcher bearers and
the cartridge carriers, and there they lay for hours, never rising or
attempting to rise without loosening this torrent anew." The Maxim
shells rushing through the air "like so many jets of steam released
from the highest pressure, and singing like little steam whistles," had
great moral effect. One, landing between an unhappy soldier's legs,
shattered both his thighs. Yet, speaking generally, the moral effect
was greater far than the material.

Among the other torments which were patiently endured, not the least
were the ants which sallied forth in thousands and bit and stung the
soldiers, when the many ant hills dotted over the plain were broken up
by the enemy's artillery.


Stereo-photo by Underwood & Underwood. Copyright 1900.


The Commandants who fought under Cronje at Modder River, Magersfontein,
and Paardeberg; from a photograph taken after their capture by Lord


J. H. Thornely.]


[Sidenote: Sleep during battle.]

[Sidenote: [NOV. 28, 1899.]

[Sidenote: Arrival of an additional field-battery.]

Hour after hour the fierce, monotonous battle continued, while the
pitiless sun waxed higher and higher, and at last began to decline.
Always the British field artillery kept its position in the open,
its gunners working like demons to save their comrades and shake the
enemy's nerves. Always the tempests of bullets passed, for the most
part innocuous, over the prone infantry. Always the enemy's rifles
crackled and his guns pounded and banged. As the day went on the
extreme tension and anxiety yielded to utter lassitude. The nerves
could accept no fresh impression, and in the infernal uproar whole
ranks were seen sleeping peacefully. Some were even killed or wounded
as they slept. As time went on and our men could make no advance and
gain no ground, matters began to look more serious. Would twelve
guns ever be able to dominate and silence the fire of so strongly
entrenched an enemy? To outward appearances but little impression had
been made. The Boer guns often seemed to have been silenced, but after
intervals of quietude would always reappear and open in another place.
Yet the persistent roar of guns behind them cheered and reassured
the British infantry, and the persistent rain of shrapnel, though no
one in our army knew it, was beginning to weaken the resolution of
the Free Staters in the foremost trenches. About noon, it is said,
some were shot by their own side for attempting to bolt. And now, as
the afternoon wore on, came much-needed help. The 62nd Field Battery,
after a twenty-five miles' march, in which four of the horses had
fallen dead, dashed upon the field and opened on the Boer left. Says
an officer of the battery:--"Things were looking very black when Lord
Methuen came up to our Colonel and asked him to send his batteries
up closer (we were then 1,500 yards from the Boer trenches, and you
must understand that a rifle carries 2,500 yards). Our Colonel did. We
then advanced up past our own infantry, and came into action about 900
yards off, closer than artillery had ever taken up position before.
After severe loss on our side we managed to silence the Boer guns. The
order was then given to retire, and we got out of range and were on the
point of congratulating ourselves on being so lucky, when up rode an
orderly giving us instructions to go and relieve the Guards. Our Major
advanced.... We took up our position 800 yards from the Boer trenches,
and, by Jove! the Boers let us have a fearful reception. Before I
got my horses out they shot one of my drivers and two horses ... and
brought down my own horse. We then got my gun round on the enemy, when
one of my gunners was shot through the brain and fell at my feet.
Another of my gunners was shot whilst bringing up shell, and I began to
feel queer.... At last we had a look in, and our shells began to tell;
we were firing six rounds a minute, and were at it until it was too
dark to fire any more."


Edward Read.]


[Sidenote: Attempts to cross the river.]

[Sidenote: NOV. 28, 1899.] The River Crossed by Highlanders and

Lord Methuen had ridden over in the afternoon from the right to the
left. On the right a desperate attempt to cross the Riet and get at
the enemy had just failed. Colonel Codrington had led a party of
Coldstreams, twenty-four men strong, across the river, but they missed
the ford and had to swim for it. When they reached the other side they
found themselves unsupported and exposed to a concentrated fire, so
that there was nothing for it but retreat. Two of the party were all
but drowned, when the others, unfastening their putties, made long
lines of them and threw them to the exhausted men. It is pleasant to
relate that all of this brave little band regained the British lines.

On the left several attempts had been made by the Ninth Brigade,
splendidly led by General Pole-Carew, to cross the river, the approach
to which had been secured by the Yorkshires and Lancashires. These two
battalions stormed a farmhouse and a kraal just to the south of the
dam, though the Boers were present in force. Several of the enemy were
bayoneted in the mêlée about the house. Further to the left a line of
low kopjes was captured at the point of the bayonet, and the British
left was firmly based on the river.

[Illustration: H. M. Paget.] [After a photo by R. Thiele.


The photograph represents some of Lord Methuen's men crossing the
river after the battle. On the left is the dam by which the Yorkshires
crossed under a heavy fire and obtained a temporary footing on the
north bank of the river.]

The first attempt to cross was made by the Yorkshiremen, a few of whom
pushed into the stream above the dam. They were led by Lord Methuen in
person. But the fire was too hot for anything to live under it, and
the detachment was driven back with heavy loss, Lord Methuen himself
receiving a painful flesh wound which compelled him to hand over the
command. Next, a company of the Highlanders forded or swam the river
and reached the further bank, where, on the following day, five of the
bravest were found dead in the enemy's trenches. The others were driven
back. Once more General Pole-Carew led the brave Yorkshiremen forward,
this time to the dam that crossed the river. Here, under a heavy fire,
the men one by one made their way along a rickety iron bar in the water
just over the sluices, clinging to the uprights in which slid the
sluice gates. One by one, in spite of the fire, they gained the other
side, where gradually 400 men formed up--a band of heroes--and began
to push forward along the north bank to take the enemy in the flank.
General Pole-Carew sent for reinforcements. Colonel Northcott, of the
staff, was directed by Lord Methuen to bring them up, but, before
he could reach General Pole-Carew, fell mortally wounded by a shell
splinter in the neck.

[Sidenote: [NOV. 28, 1899.]

[Sidenote: Retreat of the Boers.]

Unfortunately, the success of this flanking movement was not generally
known, and the Yorkshiremen were taken for Boers, so that our troops
and batteries, as well as the enemy's, fired upon them. This compelled
them to fall back, but their mere appearance on the north bank had
finally upset the equanimity of the Free Staters. These had no
confidence in themselves or in their leaders; many of them were for the
first time under fire, and the fearful sights of the battlefield shook
their equilibrium. Most terrible of all was a tall red-bearded Boer
who had been wounded fearfully by a shell, and walked to and fro, his
whole face one mass of blood, his eyes torn out, calling frantically
to his comrades. At 2 p.m. a large number of the enemy were seen to
ride off towards Jacobsdal; at 4·0 there was something resembling a
general stampede. The fugitives retired along the deep river bed, and
thus their flight escaped the notice of the British column, else the
attack might have been pushed, when there is every reason to think
a great victory would have been obtained and the enemy's artillery
captured. But the most advanced companies of the Guards' Brigade had
no ammunition left and none could be sent them; moreover, as it was
impossible for a mounted man to show himself within 1,500 yards from
the Boer trenches, no orders could be given. It was, therefore, decided
to move three battalions of the Guards under cover of night across the
river to the left and to storm the position, and till nightfall to rest
content with what had been won.

As evening drew on and the sun sank, the long duel ceased, after eight
hours of continual firing, with only two short intervals of abatement.
At this point, unknown to the British, the remainder of the enemy
precipitately retreated, leaving behind them their guns and many of
their wounded. Late in the night they mustered up courage to return and
remove all that they had left. The British, for their part, bivouacked
on the field, the men sleeping where they had fought. The night was
bitterly cold after the sweltering heat of the day, and this, in the
absence of their great-coats, caused the men great suffering.

When morning came, eight shots from the naval 12-pounders gave the
signal for a forward move. The scouts and patrols, however, on
cautiously advancing towards the Boer lines, found them abandoned. The
British army then pushed rapidly across and seized the position vacated
by the enemy--victors in one of the strangest battles of modern times.


[Photo by Lock & Whitfield.


Mortally wounded at the Battle of Modder River while bringing up
reinforcements for General Pole-Carew.]


[Photo by S. Cribb, Southsea.


Detachment of Royal Marines from H.M.S. Powerful who took part in the
battles of Belmont, Enslin or Graspan, Modder River, and Magersfontein
(except two, who were shut up in Ladysmith). All these men were


Allan Stewart.]


[Sidenote: [NOV. 28, 1899.]

[Sidenote: Comparison of British and Boer losses.]

In view of the terrific nature of the Boer fire the British losses were
by no means heavy. Four officers and sixty-six men were killed, twenty
officers and 393 men were wounded, of whom thirty-one died of their
wounds, and two were missing--it is to be feared drowned in valiant
efforts to cross the river. This made a total of 485 casualties in
a total force which at the close of the battle mustered over 9,000.
Therefore the British losses were a little over five per cent. It is
impossible to do more than guess at the Boer casualties; probably they
were much less than ours, inasmuch as the enemy was the defending force
and quite invisible; sixty killed and 300 wounded will be about the
truth. It was said, indeed, by prisoners and non-combatants that the
Boers lost 160 in killed alone, but this figure is wholly conjectural
and very untrustworthy. Their official accounts only acknowledged the
loss of seventeen killed and wounded among the Transvaalers, which was
certainly an absurd underestimate. The son of the Boer General Delarey
was among those placed hors de combat.



[Sidenote: NOV. 28, 1899.] No Flanking Movement Possible.]

Though the battle of the Modder River was not in any sense a great
victory, it was a victory extremely creditable to the stubbornness
and fighting qualities of the British soldier and to the resolute
determination of the much decried British general. To dislodge from
the strongest possible entrenchments a force which was at least equal,
and perhaps superior in strength, to the British division, which was
composed of brave, self-reliant marksmen, mounted, and so without fear
for their line of retreat, and which was in artillery quite as strong
as Lord Methuen, was a most brilliant feat of arms.


[Photo by H. C. Shelley.


The cart has been hacked to pieces with bayonets to make a flat surface
to carry the wounded.]

[Sidenote: British artillery fire.]

The British artillery especially distinguished itself by the rapidity
and accuracy of its fire. Yet there were times when a quicker-firing
gun would have been invaluable, especially in preparing for the rushes
across the river. As it was, the four naval guns fired 514 rounds; the
18th Battery no less than 1,100; the 75th 900; and the 62nd, which
came late, 500. In all, 3,000 projectiles of twelve and fifteen pounds
weight were poured upon the Boer trenches.

Lord Methuen has been blamed for failing to attempt a flanking attack,
when he did discover the real strength and position of the enemy.
But, as we have seen, the discovery was made too late to permit of
the withdrawal of any considerable force, and the confusion caused
by such a movement might well have been seized by the enemy for a
counter-attack. Three times during the battle the young bloods among
the Transvaalers pressed Cronje to permit them to deliver such an
attack, believing that our men were demoralised. Three times he refused.


[Sidenote: Characteristics of the fighting.]

[Sidenote: [NOV. 28, 1899.]

What rendered the battle so severe an ordeal to the nerves was the new
conditions under which it was fought. Tempests of bullets suddenly
descended--no one could say from what quarter. Throughout, the enemy
was invisible even to the best field glasses, and this more than
anything filled the soldiery with despair of coming to hand-grips--the
one kind of battle for which they had been taught to prepare. The new
weapons, especially the 1-pounder Maxim, created a terrible impression.
In short, the British troops were tried upon this eventful day in
the rudest manner. Unhappily, the battle produced a feeling of deep
depression in Lord Methuen's army, where the soldiers did not realise
how much they had achieved. If a rapid advance on the 29th had been
possible, it is certain that Cronje and his army would have been driven
back helter-skelter. But the mischief of undertaking a difficult
campaign with inadequate forces now manifested itself. No large body of
reinforcements was available to carry Lord Methuen's division forward
with a rush. There was no cavalry brigade, no horse artillery battery
to turn the enemy's entrenchments. Moreover the batteries with the
column had not sufficient ammunition for another action, and a halt
was imperatively needed to replenish limbers and waggons from the
none-too-extensive supplies at the base. In the days of delay which
followed the battle, all the results of the victory were lost.


An examination of the Boer trenches revealed the terrible effectiveness
of the British artillery fire. The walls and roofs of the houses in
the village were wrecked; iron outbuildings were so perforated with
rifle and shrapnel bullets that they resembled gigantic colanders; the
enemy's trenches were ploughed up by the shells and bullets. About
fifty dead Boers were found on the field, either lying where they had
fallen or hastily buried. Their trenches were full of all kinds of
débris; amidst thousands and thousands of expended cartridges were
rifles, bandoliers, bottles of Bass, mackintoshes, and odds and ends of
equipment. Hundreds of riderless horses galloped over the field. They
were captured by privates and sold for a few shillings or a handful of

[Sidenote: The Boers fire on the Red Cross.]

There were many abuses of the customs of war. The Boers fired upon
stretcher bearers and trained their "Pom-Pom" upon the ambulances.
They employed expanding bullets, and are said, though the story wants
corroboration, to have placed one of their guns in a place where it was
sheltered by the red cross flag, flying over a neighbouring hospital,
and to have removed a Maxim in an ambulance.

[Sidenote: Conduct of the Free Staters impugned.]

The conduct of the Free Staters in the battle roused the fierce
resentment of Cronje and the Transvaalers. But for these recreants,
they said, the British Army must have been driven back. They
communicated to President Kruger the news of their allies' cowardice,
and he in turn complained to Mr. Steyn in these terms:--


[Photo by Gregory.

[Sidenote: Kruger's remonstrances.]

[Sidenote: DEC. 2, 1899.] Exhortations of the Presidents.]

"It was with regret that we learned that only about 1,000 men of the
Free State fought in the last battle, and that many of the others
remained in their camps, while their brothers resisted, and even
defeated, their enemy. I should not be performing my duty were I not
to impress upon you all the fact that such behaviour can only lead
to disastrous results for our liberty as a people, and may have most
unfortunate results for our brothers in the strife.

"I must, therefore, impress upon each and everyone that it is his
especial duty to obey the officers in command, and that the officers
should accompany the burghers throughout the battles. If we act in this
way, I have no doubt but that the God of our fathers, and our God, will
not forsake us, but give us the victory. So let not one be found out of
his place at the next engagement. Let each one be found taking his part
in the strife. We must remember that we are fighting for all that is
dear to us."



On December 2, Mr. Steyn came in person to Jacobsdal to ply his
reluctant burghers with exhortations. He brought with him a special
message from Mr. Kruger, in which the Transvaal President expressed his
own wish to come to the front and fight. "My age," he said, "does not
permit me to join my sons, otherwise I should have been at the front
by this time. Your Honour's directions and advice must be before them
continuously. For the decisive struggle is fast approaching which is
to prove whether or not we shall surrender the country. By no means
must we give up the country, even if it costs us half of our men. Your
Honour must impress upon the officers and burghers that they must
resist to the death. In the name of the Lord, with this determination,
and with a prayerful attack, I have confidence that we shall secure the
victory. For Christ has said, 'Whosoever would keep his life shall lose
it, but whosoever would lose it for truth's sake shall keep it.'"

With Mr. Fischer, President Steyn addressed the men and visited the


Fig. 1 is a percussion fuze, for exploding a shell on coming in contact
with any solid object. The steel needle A forces the copper washer B
against the detonating composition C, exploding the pistol powder D,
thus firing the charge in the shell through the aperture E. Figs. 2 and
3 represent the exterior and interior of a time-fuze; it is prepared
for use by loosening the cap A, and turning the dome B until the index
C is set at the required number of seconds, when the cap is again
tightened. The safety pins D D are then withdrawn by means of the cords
F F attached to their heads. On being fired, the centrifugal motion
causes the detonating pellet, released by the removal of the safety
pins, to press against a steel needle, which fires it and thus sets
light to the quickmatch. The fuze composition runs round the channel
marked G, behind the index, which regulates the amount to be burnt
before exploding the charge.]