New bridge over the Modder--Lord Methuen
reinforced--British communications
threatened--Position of Magersfontein--Boer
defences--Boer methods--Difficulty of relieving
Kimberley--Skirmishing--Lord Methuen's plans--Choice of
Sunday--Disposition of troops--Attack on Magersfontein
kopjes--General Wauchope's premonitions--Night
march--Boers open fire--Demoralisation of Highland
regiments--Accounts of the fighting--General Wauchope's
death--Collapse of Highland Brigade--Artillery
support--Reinforcements--Heroism on the field--Protest
against Lord Methuen's orders--Artillery cover
Highlanders' retreat--Incidents of the battle--British
retirement to Modder River--British losses--Cronje's
account--Criticism of Lord Methuen's tactics--Burial of
General Wauchope.



Showing the khaki aprons worn to hide the kilts.]


[Photo by Elliott & Fry.


Commands the 1st Brigade (Guards) of the South African Field Force.
He was born in 1852, educated at Eton, and entered the Grenadiers in
1870. Was Aide-de-Camp to the General commanding at the Cape, 1880-83;
served in the Soudan Expedition of 1884; the Nile Expedition (D.A.A.G.
Intelligence Department), 1884-5; and with the Egyptian Frontier
Force, 1885-6, as Chief of the Intelligence Department. He saw service
in Burma in 1893, and in the same year was sent to Uganda as Acting
Commissioner, and the following year commanded the Unyoro Expedition.
Major-General 1898; in command of Infantry Brigade at Gibraltar 1899.]

[Sidenote: New bridge over the Modder.]

[Sidenote: DEC. 2-10, 1899.] Lord Methuen's Army Reinforced.]

[Sidenote: Lord Methuen reinforced.]

[Sidenote: [DEC. 7, 1899.]

The day after the battle the British column cleansed and occupied the
Boer camp, and the Engineers set to work to replace the railway bridge
over the Modder. So seriously had the iron girders been damaged that
it was necessary to build a new timber bridge, diverting the railway.
The work was by no means easy, as the Modder is liable to rise eight
feet in a few hours, after the heavy thunderstorms which prevail in the
country, so that the new bridge had to be of great strength, while,
as the river banks are high, deep cuttings had to be excavated on
either side. Yet so skilful and energetic were the railway engineers
that by December 7 trains were able to cross to the British camp, and
tents, supplies, and heavy baggage were sent forward to the troops. A
pontoon bridge had been completed some days earlier, thus securing
communications with the south. At the same time the search-light with
Lord Methuen's army began nightly to exchange signals with Kimberley.
Far away to the north, as the night fell, a beam of light struck the
sky from the besieged city and spent its strength in the flickering
dots and dashes of the Morse code. The welcome news came that all was
well, and that the city was secure behind massive earthworks. While
the army waited, to rest the men and give time for the arrival of
reinforcements, supplies, and ammunition, it was joined by a regiment
of Lancers (the 12th), the G battery of Horse Artillery, one long
naval 4·7-inch gun, and four Highland battalions--the 2nd Seaforths,
1st Highland Light Infantry, 1st Gordons, and 2nd Royal Highlanders or
Black Watch. Last of all, to complete its artillery, came one battery
of 5-inch howitzers, firing 50-lb. shell. Thus, deducting all losses,
Lord Methuen had 11,000 infantry, 850 cavalry and mounted infantry,
and 750 artillery with thirty guns, not counting the naval weapons. On
the line of communications were half the Northampton battalion and some
small detachments from other regiments.

[Illustration: F. J. Waugh.] [After a photo.


[Sidenote: British communications threatened.]

The last reinforcements arrived from Orange River on December 10. Three
days earlier an unpleasant incident showed how easy for an active enemy
would be the interruption of Lord Methuen's line of communications.
Early on the morning of December 7, a detachment of Northamptons, who
had been left to hold the railway at Enslin, close to the scene of Lord
Methuen's victory of Graspan, heard two loud explosions. A scout was
sent out to ascertain the cause, but as the grey light of dawn gave
place to clear day, the origin of the explosions was manifest. A force
of the enemy from Jacobsdal, 1,500 strong, with three guns, was seen
to be in position to the east of the railway and close to it. The line
to the north had been broken and a culvert destroyed. Fortunately, the
Boers had not yet cut the telegraph wire, and just before they did so,
a message was despatched to Modder River camp announcing the enemy's
presence and appealing for help. At once Lord Methuen despatched
the 62nd Field Battery, the 12th Lancers, and half a battalion of
Highlanders to aid the hard-pressed Northamptons.


[Photo by W. J. Johnston, Banchory.


[Sidenote: DEC. 7, 1899.] Advantageous Position of the Enemy.]

The Northamptons numbered 200, 140 of whom were posted in a small fort
which had been constructed at Enslin round the station; the other
sixty were upon a kopje near the fort and commanding it. The British
force, though without artillery and grievously outnumbered, held its
own bravely in face of the heavy Boer shell and rifle fire. At last,
about noon, the 62nd Battery arrived and opened fire, and the Boers
fell back, leaving on the field five dead, among whom was an officer in
the uniform of the Free State artillery. The British losses were two
dangerously and nine slightly wounded. General Prinsloo is known to
have been in command of the Boers; his object is believed to have been
the capture of the howitzer battery, the departure of which from Orange
River Station for the north was known to the enemy.


The white ensign (having a red St. George's cross and the Union in
the corner) is used by Her Majesty's ships; transports fly the blue
ensign with the golden anchor of the Admiralty. The Transvaal flag has
three horizontal stripes, red, white, and blue, with a green vertical
stripe next the staff. The Free State flag is (or rather was) the
only flag of any state having orange as one of its colours; it was
striped alternately orange and white, with red, white, and blue stripes
occupying the first quarter.]

The railway was rapidly repaired and communications reopened. The
troops holding it were greatly strengthened by the arrival of the
Canadian and Australian regiments at Belmont, thus rendering any
further attempts to break the line impossible for a small force.

[Sidenote: Position of Magersfontein.]

During the pause, the enemy's position north of Modder River was
reconnoitred. It was found that the Boers had retreated only some five
or six miles from Modder River, to a line of heights fifteen miles
long, which ran in a semi-circle, with Merton Siding as its centre.
On the left this line of heights descended in a gentle, grassy slope,
covered with thick brushwood and heavily entrenched, to the River
Modder, and so could not be turned. Through the centre of the position
passed the railway line to Kimberley, between two strongly entrenched
kopjes. Away on the enemy's right were yet more kopjes, and to the
rear of the main Boer position was a second series of entrenchments at
Spytfontein. The key to the whole line of works was Magersfontein, a
high hill or group of hills near the Boer centre and to the east of the
railway. The strength of the Boers was only vaguely known. The guesses
of the scouts and the reports of friendly Kaffirs placed it at anything
from 10,000 to 25,000 men. Though considerable reinforcements had been
received from Natal before the battle, it is probable that it did
not much exceed the former figure. Even so, it was equal or superior
in strength to Lord Methuen's division, and had all the advantage of
a strong position, yet further reinforced by skilfully constructed


[Sidenote: [Dec. 6, 7, 1899.]

[Sidenote: Boer defences.]

Guided by the lessons of the previous battles the Boers had thrown
up their main lines of trenches at the foot of the hills, not on the
slopes or summits. Near Magersfontein they had utilised a long, dry
watercourse, which gave the most admirable protection, and which was
further strengthened by trenches and earthworks. In front these works,
as at the Modder, were hidden from view by the cacti and brushwood,
which thickly covered the level ground. The trenches were deep enough
to give ample shelter to men standing upright; bomb-proofs had been
excavated, in which the men lining the defences could obtain perfect
security during the artillery bombardment--the only thing feared by
the Boers; finally, a high wire fence, by some lucky chance for the
Boers, already existed, running along the front of the works, about 300
or 400 yards away, so as to hold assailants under fire and hamper the
action of the British cavalry. This was supplemented by several lines
of barbed-wire entanglement. The Boer guns were skilfully posted on
the heights, as previous experience had shown that, if placed in the
trenches, they drew the British fire where it was most destructive.
Amongst them were one or two long-range 6-inch Creusots, several field
guns, and a number of "Pom-Poms."


Showing its inner tube C, on which is shrunk first an outer tube B,
then the jacket A. The breech-ring--the projecting portion at the
back--serves both to give additional strength to the breech and for the
attachment of the hydraulic buffers which take up the "recoil."]

[Sidenote: Boer methods.]

An American who visited their position thus describes their plan of
defence at this point:--"The Boers know how to select their ground
and use it with the greatest judgment. They are confident now that
Methuen cannot pass them without losing half his army. Their new mode
of fighting is to put great numbers of their best shots, armed with
Mausers and using smokeless powder, out on the flats in rifle shelters.
On the sky-line of the hills they post their Martini-Henry men with
the old black powder cartridges. The latter are to draw the artillery
fire, while the Mauser men in front are to shoot down the English
infantry and cavalry at closer quarters. All the men have the greatest
confidence in Cronje. He did not believe that the English would attack
him for some time after the Modder fight, but declared that, when they
did, the more men they brought the greater their loss would be."


Partly in section, showing the hydraulic buffers and the apparatus
for raising and lowering the muzzle. This weapon can be fired at an
elevation of forty-five degrees; it is intended to throw its shell high
into the air so that it shall fall within the enemy's earthworks or
other defences.]

[Sidenote: Difficulty of relieving Kimberley.]

[Sidenote: DEC. 6-9, 1899.] No Alternative to a Frontal Attack.]

Lord Methuen had positive orders to relieve Kimberley, and the
execution of these grew harder with each day's delay. The enemy's
position was steadily strengthened; fresh works were pushed out;
reinforcements were called up from all quarters, as the Boers laid
enormous stress upon the capture of the diamond city with Mr. Rhodes
inside it. There was no obvious way round; to march off to the west and
endeavour to turn the Boer right would have led the column through a
waterless country, and have left the enemy free to throw their whole
force upon the British line of communications, thus fatally severing
Lord Methuen from his base. To march to the east, in the direction
of Jacobsdal, would have meant once more crossing the Modder in the
face of a highly mobile enemy, who could move two miles to the British
one--in other words, a repetition of the Modder River battle. There was
only sufficient transport to carry five days' supplies, so that no wide
detour was possible. The last course remained--a desperate course as
it proved--to take the bull by the horns and assault the Boer position
full in the front.


These entanglements conduced greatly to the defeat of the Highland
Brigade. The photograph was taken after the position had been abandoned
by the Boers.]

[Sidenote: Skirmishing.]

[Sidenote: [DEC. 9, 10, 1899.]

On December 6 there was skirmishing between the Boer outposts and
the British scouts, two of Rimington's "Tigers" being captured by
the enemy and two Lancers wounded. On the 7th Lieutenant Tristram,
of the newly arrived 12th Lancers, was so unlucky as to be badly
wounded and taken prisoner when on patrol. On the 9th an artillery
reconnaissance was undertaken; it began with an ineffective bombardment
of the Magersfontein hills by the 4·7-inch gun. At the same time the
cavalry moved out towards the gap of almost level ground between
Magersfontein and the Modder and drew a scattering fire, while the
horse artillery battery fired a few rounds at a distance of 6,000 yards
from the Boer works without producing the slightest impression. With
wise self-restraint the Boers avoided disclosing their position, and
the reconnaissance taught the staff little or nothing. The greatest
difficulty all through Lord Methuen's brief but fierce campaign was to
locate the enemy exactly. And in no case could this be accomplished
till battle had been joined and the main attack delivered.


[From a private photo, supplied by Mr. T. Kemp, Dalkeith.


Entered the Navy in 1859 as midshipman on board the St. George. Six
years later he entered the Army; served in the Ashanti War, 1873-4, the
Egyptian War of 1882, and the Nile Expedition of 1884-5. Commanded the
First Brigade at Omdurman and Khartoum, 1898, and the Highland Brigade
at Magersfontein, 1899, where he was killed.]

[Sidenote: Lord Methuen's plans.]

Next day, Sunday, the 10th, Lord Methuen made his plans. That evening
the Boer trenches were to be bombarded for two hours just before
sunset. During the night the Highland Brigade, under Major-General
Wauchope, was to march out and at dawn deliver an assault upon the
Magersfontein kopjes. In this terrible enterprise it was to be
supported by the Guards' Brigade and the whole strength of the British
artillery. The plan was kept absolutely secret and no one outside the
staff could more than conjecture what was in hand.


[Sidenote: DEC. 10, 1899.] Sunday Selected for the Bombardment.]

[Sidenote: Choice of Sunday.]

On Sunday there was Church Parade, the troops assembling for divine
service in full marching order upon the open veldt. It was a dramatic
scene, which came vividly back to many memories when the bloody work
of the following night and day had stretched so many of the worshippers
lifeless upon the veldt. It seems unfortunate that Lord Methuen should
have chosen Sunday for the beginning of the attack, seeing that, by
a tacit understanding between the two opposed armies, this day was
considered one of peace and rest. Putting Sabbatarian prejudices
aside--and they must, as all men would allow, have at times to yield to
real military necessities--it may be doubted if there was any necessity
on this occasion which enjoined the immediate delivery of the attack.
To have postponed it by twenty-four hours would have done no man any
harm and would have spared the nation the sorrow of learning that many
Boers had been killed by lyddite shells while engaged in prayer and
worship. Just as after the battle of Bull Run, in the American Civil
War, a popular explanation of the Northern defeat was that the Northern
generals had desecrated the Sabbath by attacking on that day and had
provoked the anger of God, so in England there were some who attributed
the British repulse at Magersfontein to this profanation of a holy day.

[Illustration: 1. Lieut. A. S. Grant. 2. Capt. Hon. J. F. T.
Cumming-Bruce (killed). 3. Lieut. W. P. Nunnerley. 4. Major P. J. C.
Livingston. 5. Lieut. H. C. W. Berthon (killed). 6. Capt. C. Eykyn.
7. Lieut. S. A. Innes (wounded). 8. Capt. E. J. Elton (killed). 9.
Lieut. N. N. Ramsay (killed). 10. Lt.-Col. Coode (killed). 11. Capt. W.
Macfarlane, Adjt. (killed).


[Sidenote: Disposition of troops.]

[Sidenote: [DEC. 10, 1899.]

[Sidenote: Attack on Magersfontein kopjes.]

On Sunday afternoon the last preparations were made. Messages had been
flashed to Kimberley to convey the welcome news that the arrival of
the column might be expected at any moment; trains were ready to bring
away refugees from the diamond city; everyone was alert and confident.
At 2 p.m., without kit, but with half-a-days' rations, the force moved
out to battle. First went the Lancers, then the Highlanders with the
five batteries of guns and howitzers, and last of all the Guards'
Brigade, who followed at sunset. The Ninth Brigade, composed of the
Yorkshiremen, Northumberlands, Northamptons, and Lancashires, had the
task of guarding the camp. The column struck out to the north-east,
deployed its guns, and opened a tremendous fire with lyddite shells
and shrapnel upon the Magersfontein kopjes. "The lyddite explosions,"
writes Mr. Whigham, the Morning Post correspondent, "began along
the top of the Magersfontein ridge, each shell throwing up a cloud of
wreckage like a gigantic mushroom suddenly springing from the hill top,
while the shrapnel of the field and horse batteries searched every nook
and cranny of the rocks." Some of the earlier shells fell amidst a
number of Boers assembled for prayer and are said to have killed forty,
but after this there was little loss, for the reason that there was no
enemy on the kopjes. The Boers were lining the trenches at the foot of
the hills, where they were in perfect safety, as the artillery made no
effort to search these works, which were, indeed, quite invisible. In
consequence, they were able to watch this terrific bombardment with the
same interest and amusement as if it had been a firework display. Not
a shot did they fire in reply, and their calculated silence speedily
produced an impression in the British Army that they either had
abandoned or would at nightfall abandon their lines.

[Illustration: F. J. Waugh.] [After a sketch on the spot by W. B.
Wollen, R.I.


[Sidenote: General Wauchope's premonitions.]

[Sidenote: DEC. 10-11, 1899.] Disheartening Conditions of the Night

At 6·45 p.m. darkness came on and the bombardment ceased. The evening
was gloomy and the sky heavily overcast, yet a fitful moon showed
through the clouds. The troops bivouacked where they had stood
during the bombardment, the Highlanders directly to the south of
Magersfontein, the Guards on the right, and the batteries in place,
ready to open fire at the ranges which they now well knew. A hasty
meal was made of biscuit and bully beef. Silence was maintained and no
one might raise his voice above a whisper; no fires were allowed; even
pipes could not be lighted. In rear of the infantry Lord Methuen gave
General Wauchope his last orders; then the Major-General instructed
his battalion commanders as to what was to be done. It was noted by
many after that sad night that for days before the Major-General had
seemed to forebode his swiftly coming end. His very look bore the
"reflection of death." In every campaign in which he had fought he
had been wounded; now, it was said, he knew that he was fated to die.
Yet, like a brave and proud soldier, he never spoke of these things.
He was reported to have strongly protested to Lord Methuen against
the night attack, and more especially against the order to march
in quarter column, though on rough ground at night this was a not
unreasonable disposition. Be this as it may, there were no witnesses at
the interview, and the story can only be founded upon vague conjecture.
It was also said that he had remarked to an intimate friend upon the
nature of his instructions, which seemed to him at once too vague in
their indication of the enemy's position and too precise in prescribing
the formation to be adopted. There is certainly a concurrence of
evidence that the General was rendered uneasy by his orders and
anticipated the worst results.

[Sidenote: Night march.]

The night march was to begin at 12·30, the Brigade in quarter column,
which means that the eight companies of each battalion were to be
in eight lines, one behind the other and six paces apart. The four
battalions also were behind each other, so that the front of the mass
of men was but one company, or about 100 men, shoulder to shoulder, and
the depth thirty-two ranks. Thus, half-a-dozen men might be stricken
down by a single bullet and a hundred killed by one shrapnel skilfully
timed. The reason for the closeness of the formation was the difficulty
of keeping the men together in the darkness. Ropes were to be used
to enable the troops to maintain their order. On nearing the enemy's
position at 3·25 a.m., or just before daybreak, the Black Watch was to
deploy on the right to the east of Magersfontein, the Seaforths next
to them, and then the Argyll and Sutherlands, with the Highland Light
Infantry in reserve. The three leading battalions were to extend,
placing each of them two companies in the firing line, two in support,
and four in reserve.


A group of Boers, some of whom are in the act of pressing the clips of
five cartridges each into the magazines of their rifles.]

The men--even the company officers--knew nothing of what was intended
beyond the fact that they were to march out, and, as they supposed,
attack the kopjes. They were given no food before they started and
had nothing with them but their emergency ration. Some of them, no
doubt, were nervous and highly wrought, with the natural anxiety of
men going into battle for the first time against a redoubtable enemy,
and thus it was that two rifles were accidentally discharged just
before the brigade began its eventful march. About 1 a.m. the head of
the column began to move off like a phantom host into the impenetrable
darkness. The young moon had set and the obscurity was intense. About
half-an-hour after the march began, the night turned from sweltering
heat to intense cold and simultaneously a torrential rain descended
as a violent thunderstorm broke over the troops. The flashes of
lightning were vivid and incessant; they affected the compasses which
Major Benson, guiding the column, carried, one in each hand, and the
resulting uncertainty delayed the advance. Moreover, the apparently
level veldt was found upon closer acquaintance to be full of pitfalls
in the darkness. At every moment men stumbled over ant-hills, or
boulders, or caught in the six-feet-high Vaal bushes which covered the

Soaked through, chilled to the bone, sleepless, breakfastless, and
weary, the Highlanders continued their advance, and each minute the
night seemed to the men's anxious eyes to grow blacker. The ground had
not been carefully reconnoitred beforehand, although it is a recognised
rule that night attacks must only be made over country which has been
thoroughly examined by the staff; so that it was difficult to avoid
some confusion. On the extreme right could now be seen the flashing of
a light; its meaning no one understood, but this much was certain, that
it was not shown by a Britisher. It caused a feeling of apprehension,
as it revealed that someone amongst the enemy was aware of the march
and was following it. On the British left, far ahead in the enemy's
position, showed an answering light. It burnt brightly and steadily,
and the men watched it with fascinated curiosity. They did not know
that at 2 o'clock that morning the enemy had manned the trenches, and
was now only waiting their approach to begin the slaughter.

[Illustrations: SHELTER TRENCHES.

These diagrams show how some of the Boer trenches would look if cut
through. Examples of both kinds were found at Magersfontein. The
British in the besieged towns used similar protections. Often sandbags
were added for further protection.]


[Sidenote: DEC. 11, 1899.] The Highlanders Taken by Surprise.]

[Sidenote: Boers open fire.]

The brigade, still in its close formation, was nearing the foot of the
hills, which could dimly be made out looming through the darkness.
The Black Watch, in the front of the column, were, unfortunately, in
great confusion, having encountered first a high, wire fence, difficult
to negotiate, and then a particularly dense and tangled patch of
brushwood, in passing through which they were unable to avoid making
much noise and losing their formation. This may have delayed the
deployment, but if the statement of one of General Wauchope's staff can
be believed, neither the staff itself nor the officers of the brigade
had any distinct knowledge of the enemy's position, or knew that there
were trenches in front of the Highlanders. Be this as it may, already
Major Benson had suggested to General Wauchope that, as the hour was
nearly 4 o'clock, and the day was already beginning to break, it
was time to open out. The General had, it would seem, misunderstood
his orders and supposed that he was to maintain close formation up
to a point near to the enemy's lines. It is alleged, with doubtful
truthfulness, that again and again he exclaimed, "This is madness!" At
last, however, he determined to extend his brigade. The madness, if
madness of others it was, had gone far enough. As the Seaforths worked
round the thicket to the right and regained touch of the Black Watch,
the order to extend was given to the four battalions. But just as the
order was issued and before it had been executed, the bright light
ahead on the left went out, and at that instant a single rifle was


[Barnett, Photo.


[Sidenote: Demoralisation of Highland Regiments.]

This was the signal for a deadly volley from the Boers. To the
amazement of the Highlanders the ground just in front of them seemed to
burst into a sheet of flame, not 100 yards away. As a matter of fact
the distance was 400 yards or a little more, but in the semi-darkness
of the dawn, now at last breaking over the hills, and in the
bewilderment of the complete surprise, the enemy seemed much nearer.
The fire was such as troops in close order had never before in history
experienced. From the magazine rifles of the Boers poured a continuous
stream of lead upon the struggling, confused mass of British soldiers,
"packed like sardines." The disorder was terrible; in the darkness the
men could not discern their officers or sergeants and knew not whom to
obey or how and where to rally. All manner of cries and orders were
heard: "Lie down!" "Extend!" "Fix bayonets!" "Charge!" "Retire!" "No,
Forward!" Two companies did charge, but, stung by the hail of bullets
from in front and fired into also by the excited men behind, had to
fall back. The fatal order "Retire," pronounced by some unauthorised
person, was repeated and caught up. It accorded with the dictates of
instinct and of panic fear, and a great part of the Black Watch bolted
back in the wildest disorder, breaking the ranks of the Seaforths and
throwing them also into dire confusion.

[Sidenote: Accounts of the fighting.]

[Sidenote: [DEC. 11, 1899.]

The accounts of the soldiers who fought give a vivid picture of that
terrible scene. "The whole of the hillside was lit up with the most
damnable discharge of rifles that anyone can possibly imagine," says
a colour-sergeant of the Black Watch. "They seemed to be formed up in
tiers all up the hillside, and were pouring magazine fire into us at
a terrific rate. Then came all sorts of shouts--'Lie down!' 'Charge!'
'Extend!' and of the whole brigade there was only the front rank of
'A' Company of ours that could have used their rifles, as everybody
else was straight in rear of them. Well, two companies in front did
charge, but were stopped by barbed wire fences and entanglements
fifteen yards from the trenches and mostly shot down. Others broke
to right and left or retired, and after waiting about a minute for
a bullet to hit me, as it appeared impossible to escape one, and as
it did not arrive, I thought perhaps it was advisable to go with the
remainder. With proper handling we could have cleared the Boers out
in two hours; as it was, we were taken into a butcher's shop and left

A Seaforth Highlander says:--"When we started to extend they opened
fire on us, and such a hailstorm of bullets I don't want to experience
again. It was seen that someone had blundered. We were fairly at their
mercy; we were in the wrong position and had to retire. And what a
rabble--bullets in thousands coming after us; men falling right and
left. We rallied up in line and made one effort, and stuck to it,
advancing and firing all the time."

"It was not fighting, it was simply suicide. Men were hung on the wire
like crows and were riddled with bullets," says another soldier. "Our
hearts were broken after the reception we got at the start."

One of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders writes:--"We were just
thinking that the Boers had retired, and were about 100 yards from
their trenches when we were greeted with a storm of bullets from
thousands of men, and the whole brigade fled for their lives. The men's
hearts were broken at the start, and they were like children all the
day. Men were advancing and retiring by themselves trying to fight,
but there were no officers to do the leading so we could expect to do


Carried by every soldier in his haversack and produced at every
inspection. It was the only food available for the men in exposed
positions at Magersfontein.]

"We got the word to retire," wrote a private of the Black Watch, "and
while we were doing so the bullets were flying like hailstones all
round us. It was a miracle how I escaped. I got my rifle blown out of
my hand, and a bullet through my helmet, and another grazed my leg,
taking away a bit of my spat. I never witnessed such a horrible sight
in my life. General Wauchope was shot at the beginning when we charged.
When he saw the mistake that happened, he said, 'Rally round, Black
Watch; it is not my fault,' and fell riddled with bullets. We formed up
again, and advanced to about 200 yards from the hill, and lay down and
kept up firing."



Edward Read.]


[Sidenote: [DEC. 11, 1899.]

But no letter shows better the powerlessness of the men than this
from a Highland Light Infantry man:--"What could we do? It was dark;
the men did not know where they were. Somebody shouted 'Retire!' and
we did--well, not a retire, but a stampede; 4,000 men like a flock
of sheep running for dear life. Had we opened out in attacking or
skirmishing order, we could have rushed the trenches, but in the
formation we were in we were helpless. After they rallied they had not
the heart to fight after being led into a trap at the start; but we
stood it wonderfully well, although only a half-hearted affair."


[Illustration: CREUSOT 15-CM. (6-INCH) GUN.

As used by the Boers from the hill top at Magersfontein, and outside
Ladysmith and Mafeking.]

[Sidenote: General Wauchope's death.]

[Sidenote: DEC. 11, 1899.] The Limit of Endurance Passed.]

Amongst the very earliest victims of the murderous fusillade is said to
have been the noble and devoted General Wauchope. His body was found
well in advance, riddled with bullets. That he ever uttered the words
attributed to him, "Don't blame me, my lads, it was not my fault," is
not to be believed. The story circulated in camp after the battle, but
like so many camp legends seems to have no solid foundation. It was
alien to the fallen General's character; alien to his high sense of
discipline and to his pride as a British soldier. As he had silently
obeyed and executed an order which he may well have feared would prove
to be disastrous, so he went silently and uncomplainingly to his death,
leaving posterity to do his memory justice. As to the time and manner
of his death there is some dispute. Many declared that he fell at the
first murderous volley; but one private asserts that he lay down with
those of the Black Watch who did not bolt, and after some little time
determined to go back to the remnant of his brigade, further towards
the rear. He was begged not to do so, but rose with four others and was
almost instantly killed.

[Sidenote: Collapse of the Highland Brigade.]

Those who have read of "heroism," of "fearlessness of death," and all
the popular phrases which describe the bearing of the soldier on the
field of battle, may deem the true story, which we have given above,
ignominious and dishonourable to the Highland Brigade. Yet when the
truth is told, such incidents happen on every battlefield, and the best
and bravest men are subject to sudden collapse under the conditions
that this brigade had to encounter. At dawn it is a physical fact
that the intellectual force known as morale is at its feeblest. The
men were hungry, drenched, cold, confused, surprised, exposed to a
more than decimating fire. Death had come suddenly amongst them at an
unexpected moment, with all the awful and heart-rending sights of the
battlefield. On every side were dead, and dying, and wounded men--a
chaos, a babel of cries dominated by the furious rattle of the Boer
musketry. The inevitable happened, and the men, without leaders or
guidance, went back instead of forward. There are limits to devotion
and self-sacrifice.


[Photo by Horsburgh, Edinburgh.


Some particulars of his career are given beneath the equestrian
portrait on page 178.]

[Sidenote: [DEC. 11, 1899.]

Nor did the Black Watch fall back far. The men, in spite of the
terrible shaking they had received, were speedily rallied; they lay
down a thousand yards or more from the enemy's position, and opened a
spasmodic fire upon the Boers. The Seaforths rallied, too, and advanced
by rushes, drawing close to certain outlying Boer rifle pits. They
lost heavily. Officers and men, to quote the letter of an officer who
led the rushes, "were bowled over like rabbits." Some of the Black
Watch, who had not retired but had advanced in spite of the Boer fire,
actually reached and entered the enemy's trenches, but, unsupported,
were made prisoners. In all, of that famous and gallant regiment, about
one fourth fell at the first deadly volley from the Boers. In the two
leading companies, 200 strong, three-fourths were shot down. A chaplain
in the ranks, who was knocked down in the rush to the rear, declared
that the panic was awful, but that there lived no men who would have
done otherwise than they did.

[Sidenote: Artillery support.]

The two other Highland battalions, though greatly confused and involved
in the sudden panic, did not suffer as severely, being further to the
rear. They were likewise rallied. Things were in this posture: the
attack had hopelessly failed, and the ground before the shattered
Highland Brigade was strewn with killed and wounded, many of the latter
destined to receive wound after wound under the cruel fire when it
grew light enough to see more plainly. At once, with a crash and a
roar, came a lyddite shell, aimed from the 4·7 at the enemy's position,
bringing the Highlanders welcome news that they were no longer to fight
unsupported. Then followed the din of the thirty British howitzers
and field guns, bombarding the Boer trenches might and main to take
the pressure off the Scotsmen. Their much-needed aid was not without
effect. It was no longer possible for the Boers to fire with complete
impunity, and though the Highlanders could not retreat or move without
drawing a storm of bullets, they no longer lost heavily. Like the
British troops at the Modder River, they lay flat on the ground behind
what cover they could find. Yet their trials were by no means at an
end. To have to remain prostrate, motionless, without food or water for
sixteen weary hours till twilight fell, under a tropical sun, in sight
of their own wounded, to whom little or no help or comfort could be
given, was a dismaying prospect for men who had already endured so much.

[Illustration: Frank Craig.] [After a photograph.


General Wauchope was temporarily buried near his men at Magersfontein.
His body was afterwards exhumed and carried by rail to Matjesfontein,
in Cape Colony, where it was buried with military honours in a
beautiful cemetery four miles from the railway station. A picture of
the start from Matjesfontein station is given on page 172.]

[Sidenote: Reinforcements.]

[Sidenote: DEC. 11, 1899.] Magnificent Conduct of the Artillery.]

The battle was as good as lost, for one third of Lord Methuen's little
army had been stricken down or so demoralised in the brief minutes
of the night attack, that little could henceforth be expected of it.
To assault the unbroken enemy in the full light of day was a course
which could hold forth no promise of success, and which must have
involved enormous losses. To withdraw the Highland Brigade was equally
impossible. The only plan that could be followed was to bombard the
enemy's position assiduously, holding the ground already won, in
the hope that the Boers might here, as at Modder River, be cowed by
British stubbornness and decide upon an eventual retreat. Lord Methuen
reinforced the shaken Highlanders by two battalions of Coldstreams on
the right; the two other Guards' battalions were held ready to give
support, the Grenadiers on the right and the Scots Guards on the left.
The 9th Lancers, the 12th Lancers, the mounted infantry, and G Battery
of Horse Artillery pushed in on the extreme right and attempted a
turning movement. They were at once very hotly engaged.


[Photo by Milne, Aboyne.

HIGHLANDERS AT BALMORAL, September 29, 1899.

The 2nd Battalion of the Seaforth Highlanders, which lost heavily at
Magersfontein, had greatly distinguished itself in the Afghan War and
the Chitral and Black Mountain Expeditions. Last September Her Majesty
presented the battalion with new colours at Balmoral. The Queen, in
doing so, said to Colonel Hughes-Hallett: "I rejoice to be able once
more to present new colours to this distinguished regiment, in which I
take an especial interest from its being associated with my dear son
the Duke of Albany." The old colours are deposited for safe keeping at
Balmoral. A week or two before Her Majesty had presented new colours to
the Gordons.]

[Sidenote: [DEC. 11, 1899.]

The three field batteries--18th, 62nd, and 75th--which had so
distinguished themselves at Modder River, here also proved the
salvation of the British column. But for their devoted efforts and the
superb conduct of G Horse Battery, the repulse might well have been
converted into a complete disaster. The field guns opened at a range
of about 2,000 yards, and, as the morning advanced, gallantly pushed
forward to a point only 1,200 yards from the Boer trenches, where they
were without cover and exposed to the enemy's rifle fire. G Battery
had simultaneously closed in to 1,500 yards, and the big howitzers to
something under 3,000. At first the Boer artillery seemed inclined
to engage in a duel with the British guns, but after forty or fifty
rounds it ceased its fire. Our weapons were left free to sweep the
sides of the kopjes and the closely-lined but invisible trenches with
shrapnel. It is not probable that they inflicted heavy losses; the
enemy was much too well covered for that. But they absolutely prevented
any counter attack during the critical hours of the morning; they shook
the accuracy of the Boer fire; they gave Lord Methuen time to make
fresh dispositions; and they cheered and encouraged the Highlanders in
the fighting line by the sense of moral support which their furious
racket caused. The calm intrepidity of the gunners especially attracted
the wonder and admiration of all on the battlefield, and, strange
to say, despite their exposed position and proximity to the enemy,
they suffered only the most insignificant losses. The horse artillery
at first came in for a heavy shelling, but not a driver moved or
dismounted. The sergeant-major walked coolly to and fro inspecting the
formation and harness, as if he were on parade.

Over the battlefield hovered the great war balloon which had but
recently arrived, and from the car the movements of the enemy to the
rear and on either side of the Magersfontein position could be at times
discerned. A steady stream of reinforcements was made out coming from
Spytfontein and the extreme right of the Boer lines, and there were
signs that the enemy was, in his turn, preparing a flanking attack
against the British right. Only the steadiness of the Guards and the
accuracy of their fire foiled this purpose. To increase the pressure
upon the enemy's centre, Lord Methuen about noon sent forward the
Gordons to the help of the Highlanders. The Gordons had but recently
arrived and had been held back, in consequence, to guard the supply
train. They extended and pushed into the fight in separate half
battalions, under a vigorous fire.


The long grave on the left is that of the Black Watch. In front, the
single graves of officers killed at the battles of Magersfontein and
Spytfontein. General Wauchope was originally buried here (see note to
illustration on page 188).]


[Sidenote: DEC. 11, 1899.] No Food, no Water.]

The wounded of the Highlanders, lying close to the Boer trenches, were
able to see a good deal of the enemy's movements. One of the Boers, a
German in appearance, attracted great attention. Faultlessly dressed,
with patent leather boots, and a cigar in his mouth, he was seen
walking among the ant hills, alternately using field glasses and rifle,
and picking off the British officers. The volleys and individual fire
of our men failed to bring him down. He seemed to bear a charmed life.


Here again, as at Modder River, as the sun rose higher and higher and
the heat grew intense, the men suffered agonies of thirst. The water
bottles had long since been emptied. "The troops," wrote a Black Watch
private, "were dying for want of food and water. The sun had risen
about eight o'clock, and we lay there getting our legs burned and
blistered--frightened to move, as the bullets were flying all around."
Great, however, as were the torments of the whole and uninjured, even
more terrible were those of the wounded lying out at the very front,
close to the Boer trenches, and far beyond the reach of aid from the
stretcher companies and ambulances. Yet the restraint of the stricken
men was wonderful. The wounded, says Mr. Ralph, did not writhe or
groan. Only one or two dying men cried for the doctor or begged to be
killed. Others exclaimed in a low voice, "Oh, dear, dear, dear!" All
wanted water and cigarettes. They accepted their lot with a sad and
noble resignation. Many had been hit with expanding bullets, which, in
defiance of the conventions of war, the Boers only too often employed.
These described the sensation thus: "You feel," they said, "exactly as
if you had received a powerful shock from an electric battery, and then
comes a blow as if your foot (or arm, or whatever part it might be),
was crushed by a tremendous mallet." The Mauser bullets, where they did
not hit the bone, merely produced a stinging, burning sensation.

[Sidenote: [DEC. 11, 1899.]

[Sidenote: Heroism on the field.]

Many gallant efforts were made by the medical officers and others to
succour the wounded. Lieutenant Douglas, of the Black Watch, under a
tremendous fire, advanced and attended to Captain Gordon, who was badly
wounded, and to others of the Gordons. Band-Sergeant Hoare, of the
Seaforths, was equally conspicuous for his coolness and daring. He,
unaided, carried a wounded officer on his back 800 yards to the rear.
Here, as elsewhere, the stretcher bearers distinguished themselves
by their calm disregard of death. Among the many noble deeds of this
terrible day, that of Major Lambton, of the Coldstreams, deserves to be
recorded. He refused to allow the bearers to carry him, when wounded,
off the field, because this would have drawn upon them a heavy fire and
would have imperilled their lives. In consequence, he was left upon the
ground thirty-seven hours without food or water.


[Sidenote: Protest against Lord Methuen's orders.]

From which the Highland Brigade were shot down. From a photograph taken
after their evacuation by the Boers.]


[Sidenote: DEC. 11, 1899.] The Highlanders Give Way again.]

Meantime, the Gordons and the Guards were gaining ground considerably;
the Guards even got near enough to catch a sight of the enemy in
their trenches now and then, and to observe that from time to time
they refreshed themselves from the gin bottles, which were always
found in great plenty in the captured Boer positions. Soon after one,
Lord Methuen sent orders to the Highlanders to hold their position
till nightfall, when the Guards and the Gordons were to assault the
trenches at the point of the bayonet. The difficulty of sending
instructions to the fighting line upon the modern battlefield is shown
by the fact that Lieutenant Cuthbert, the bearer of Lord Methuen's
message, received a volley from the Boers, which killed his horse and
riddled his accoutrements, fortunately without touching him. The order
had been given in the teeth of the vigorous protests of one of the
Guards' Colonels, who pointed out to Lord Methuen the hopelessness of
undertaking such an enterprise with weary, hungry men, and without any
adequate support. It was not that he or his men were afraid, but that
one brigade had already been shattered, so that the virtual destruction
of another must mean the complete ruin of the column--perhaps even
its envelopment at Modder River camp, with the most disastrous
consequences. Were Magersfontein taken, the second Boer position
remained to be dealt with. Thus there was nothing to be gained by
adopting the desperate course of imperilling the safety of the whole
division upon another night assault.


[Photo by Russell.


The premier Marquis of England, killed at Magersfontein.]

And now the continual crackle of the rifle fire, which had somewhat
abated for the last two hours, suddenly swelled in volume. Away in
the front rose dense clouds of dust as from the march of a large body
of men. At first it was thought that the movement proceeded from the
Boers; but the painful truth was soon revealed. The Highland Brigade
had given way once more. Threatened with a flank attack by the enemy,
under a heavy cross fire, the shaken, thirst-tortured infantry could
hold its ground no longer. Colonel Hughes-Hallett, whom the death of
his senior officers had left in command, saw the plight of his men and
gave the order to retire. "Back they came," says the Morning Post
correspondent, "in a wave that no officer could stop. From a point of
vantage on the Horse Artillery hill one could see them swarming like
bees over the veldt till they were almost out of range, and the guns
were left out in the open with no one to support them. It was, perhaps,
the most unpleasant sight that a British soldier of to-day has ever


[Sidenote: Artillery cover Highlanders' retreat.]

This group of men represents as marvellous a series of escapes from
death as can well be imagined. The man sitting on the left of the
picture, Corporal Williams, was wounded by a Mauser bullet, which
entered beneath the left eye, passed through the palate and mouth, and
out at the root of the neck. Standing by him is Private Aitchison (A.
& S. Highlanders), shot through the forehead an inch above the brow,
the bullet passing clean through the head. Next to him is Private Carr
(R.H.A.), shot in the middle of the neck, the ball passing through
the mouth, concussing the spine. Standing on the right of the picture
is Corporal McKenzie; in his case the bullet entered the left armpit,
passed through the lung, and emerged just below the heart; he was shot
again in the abdomen, the bullet emerging on the left side of the
heart. Sitting on the right is Private Boughton (1st Border Regiment),
shot through the nose and left tonsil, the bullet passing through the
skull and out at the back of the head. All are perfectly recovered
except Private Carr, who experiences some loss of power in the right
arm. In the centre is Surgeon Harris, who took charge of these
convalescents on board the Umbria which brought them home.]

Colonel Hughes-Hallett's intention was only to fall back a short
distance and not thus to leave the guns exposed; but the disheartened
men were difficult to control. As the Highlanders fell back, the Boer
fire became furiously rapid, and only the tempests of shrapnel from the
British field guns prevented the casualties from mounting to enormous
figures. Some of our guns actually got off not less than two rounds
apiece in the minute. Yet, in spite of this all-important aid, the
Highlanders suffered severely and had many casualties. The Gordons were
left in an exposed position when the Highlanders fell back, and many of
them were carried away in the retirement and thus were involved in the
confusion. A few, however, stubbornly held their ground and rendered
inestimable service. Their commanding officer, Colonel Downman, was
mortally wounded, and was gallantly carried by Captain Towse towards
the rear.

[Sidenote: [DEC. 11, 1899.]

[Sidenote: Incidents of the battle.]

The retreat of the Highlanders left the artillery in a position of
the extremest peril. A single bold dash on the part of the Boers, and
the guns, it seemed to many, must have been lost. They were now far
in advance of the infantry line and quite without support. Yet the
Boers would not venture out of their trenches and trust themselves
upon the open ground, and so the opportunity was lost. Only the small
Scandinavian contingent, seventy men strong, pushed boldly forward and
seized a kopje on the right. But here it was steadily received by the
Guards; a murderous rifle fire was poured into it, and of its seventy
men, but fourteen escaped unhurt and were taken prisoners. The others
were killed or wounded by the rifle fire and shrapnel. At this moment
a corporal of the Seaforths, who had been taken prisoner, disarmed,
and placed in one of the advanced Boer trenches, under guard of an
armed man, escaped. He snatched up his bayonet, attacked the Boer, and
disarmed him in return, carrying off his Mauser and bandolier. With
these trophies he safely regained his comrades.


To protect the guns, the Scots Guards were sent forward, and vigorous
efforts were made to rally the shaken Highlanders. Major Ewart rode
up with a message from Lord Methuen that all he asked was for the
men to hold their ground till nightfall. Staff officers, officers,
sergeants, and corporals set a fine example, reminding the heart-broken
débris of what had been the day before the best fighting brigade in
the British Army, of the call of duty and honour. The pipers wailed
sorrowfully in their effort to stir the men by the sound of the martial
notes to which they had often marched to glory. Major Milton, though
he had received three bullets and was mortally wounded, was among
those who distinguished themselves in the effort to encourage the
Highlanders. "Men," he said, "you are not conquered, but repulsed."
And it is to the credit of the men that, after the fearful surprise
of the night attack, after the long ordeal of the terrible morning,
they rallied once more, once more went back to face death and torture,
and took ground close to the guns, where with difficulty they found
some shelter from the bullets of the Boers. "Whoever," says a German
officer, writing of Mars-la-Tour, "has been in so murderous a conflict
as this will know what moral force, what confidence in one's own
efficiency are requisite for such conduct at a time when nothing
remains of a brigade but paper numbers. This force of will is needed in
an army that is determined to conquer."

[Sidenote: DEC. 11, 1899.] The Boers Checked on our Right.]

Throughout these tragical events, as in the earlier part of the day,
the conduct of the artillery had been beyond all praise. Exposed
to every shot the gunners stood firm, even when the troops before
them were melting away under the trials of battle. Their magnificent
behaviour saved the British Army from a great disaster, for, had they
wavered, had they even relented their impetuous fire, Lord Methuen's
force must have been riven in two. Magnificent, too, was the conduct
of the Coldstreams. They, also, stood like a rock in the rout, though
their position was one of great danger. It was at this time that Major
the Marquis of Winchester fell dead, "displaying an almost reckless
courage." But a few days before, not far from the very spot on which
he died, he had jestingly spoken of his rumoured fall in the battle of
the Modder River. And now death had claimed him. Throughout the day he
had insisted upon walking to and fro along the firing line, instructing
the men as to where they were to aim their fire. Bullets rained around
him; several passed through his helmet and his clothes, but he seemed
to bear a charmed life. The fatal shot pierced his spine.


Edward Read.]


[Sidenote: [DEC. 11, 1899.]

The fight still grew in fierceness and intensity, though the second
crisis had passed when the Boers failed to take advantage of the
confusion of the Highlanders. Away on the left, General Pole-Carew,
with the greater part of the Ninth Brigade, was demonstrating along
the railway line and feeling the enemy's right to discover if it could
be turned, as had been done at Modder River. But these efforts were
unsuccessful; the line of entrenchments continued interminably far to
the west, and was clearly held by the enemy in sufficient force to
render an assault hopeless. Away on the right, the Boers seemed to be
developing an attack and could be seen from the balloon concentrating
for an advance. Hereabouts there was a considerable gap in the British
line between the Grenadiers, on the right of the Coldstreams, and some
companies of Yorkshire Light Infantry, who held a drift across the
Modder and who were supporting the two Lancer regiments and the mounted
infantry. The Yorkshiremen, however, met and defeated the Boer effort.
With trivial loss they stormed a ridge held by the enemy, close to the
river, and repulsed the counterstroke with a coolness and valour for
which they received well-merited praise from Lord Methuen. In this
brisk encounter they fired no less than 22,000 rounds. The Yorkshire
Mounted Infantry had already begun to bring in the wounded on this
flank and were far away from support when they were vigorously attacked
by the Boers. Here Sergeant Casson, Lance-Corporal Bennett, and Private
Mawhood did fine service, kneeling down in the open and by a steady
and continuous fire checking the enemy. The Lancers' Maxims, too, were

The afternoon was now declining, and it was evident to all, except to a
few who took the Boer movement towards the British right for a retreat,
that the battle was lost beyond hope. But the Guards would none the
less have been sent in at dusk had not a fresh misfortune come as a
blessing in disguise. Suddenly, after a prolonged silence since the
early morning, the Boer artillery began to fire shell and shrapnel at
the British guns. Just behind these guns were placed the sad remnants
of the Highlanders--a dispirited mass of men in close order. One or two
projectiles came shrieking amongst them, whereupon, suddenly and as if
at the word of command, the men of the brigade once more precipitately
retired, turning their backs upon the enemy and pouring in complete
disorder past Lord Methuen's flag. This was the crowning touch--the
culminating disaster. There now remained no troops whatever to support
the Guards; for the Ninth Brigade would be needed to guard the flanks
and the camp.



[Photo by Lafayette.


Served in the Afghan War of 1879-80; accompanied Sir F. (now Lord)
Roberts on his march to Cabul, and was present at the battle of
Kandahar; served in the Boer War of 1881; at Majuba his bravery won his
life at the hands of the enemy; he was Garrison-Adjutant at Assiout
(Upper Egypt) in 1885, and was in the Sudan during the operations of
1888-91. In 1896 he took command of the 2nd Infantry Brigade under Sir
H. (now Lord) Kitchener, and in 1897-8 commanded Egyptian brigades,
being present at the battles of the Atbara and of Khartoum. He was
appointed an aide-de-camp to the Queen in 1898. While acting as
Brigadier-General commanding at Umballa (India), he was summoned to
take command of the Highland Brigade, under Lord Methuen, in succession
to General Wauchope. The appointment of "Fighting Mac," as he is
called, was hailed with satisfaction by the Brigade.]

[Sidenote: [DEC. 11-12, 1899.]

Lord Methuen now determined to cling stubbornly to his position, in the
hope that here, as at Modder River, the enemy might retire during the
night. Accordingly, though the infantry and artillery fell back from
the most advanced positions, there was no general retreat. The whole
force bivouacked on the field. The night, like its predecessor, was
bitterly cold. It was again impossible to remove the wounded from the
ground before the Boer trenches. Only a very few had been brought in
by the devoted efforts of the medical staff and the stretcher bearers.
The others had to spend a cruel night, tortured by cold, after the
sufferings caused by the fierce heat of the day. Many officers and men
were twenty, thirty, even thirty-six hours upon the ground, without
food or water and with wounds undressed. Further to the rear the
wounded were carefully attended to and sent back to camp during the

[Sidenote: British retirement to Modder River.]

With day, the artillery recommenced its fire. The men of the Guards
during the night had entrenched their position and were in good
spirits, ready even for an assault upon the Boer lines in broad
daylight. Meantime, Lord Methuen scrutinised the Boer trenches and
received the reports of his Intelligence Department. Everything showed
that the enemy still held their position. General Colvile was for
continuing the battle, to wear the Boers down, but the other officers
were all for a retirement, and it was evident that what the whole force
could not effect upon December 11, was out of the question for it on
the 12th, with quite one third its strength for all practical purposes
eliminated. During the night the supply train had fallen back to the
old camp, and now a general retirement was ordered. The moment the
Boers observed that the British force was retreating, they opened a
hot fire from all their guns. But the range was long and the effects
of the fire insignificant; it did not shake or demoralise the British
infantry, who slowly and steadily, as if on parade, marched back the
three miles to Modder River camp, defeated but not disgraced.


Alec Ball.]


[Sidenote: DEC. 12, 1899.] Losses of the Highland Brigade.]

Very early in the morning, a flag of truce had come in from the Boers
requesting Lord Methuen to remove the British wounded who were lying
close to the trenches, in the most urgent need of medical help. The
motive of this message was kindly and humane, and it should be said
that the enemy had treated the Highlanders with tenderness, giving
them food and water and roughly bandaging their wounds. The ambulances
at once pushed in, drivers and stretcher-bearers being blindfolded by
the Boers, who streamed out of their trenches to watch the operations.
"They were," says Mr. Ralph, "courteous, helpful, and respectful. By
not one word did they give offence." Yet two regrettable incidents
occurred. The first was that one of the ambulance men was found
to have a revolver, and was seized and made prisoner by the Boers,
despite his explanations and expostulations. The other was that the
naval 4·7 opened fire suddenly upon the trenches. The officer in
charge was unaware of the flag of truce, and saw, as he supposed, the
Boers issuing for an attack upon our men. Fortunately, his shots had
no effect and soon ceased, but the Boers were so incensed at what
they considered treachery, that they opened a hot fire upon the Horse
Artillery near them. The Horse Artillery made no reply, and, seeing
this, the Boers also ceased fire.

[Sidenote: British losses.]

Thus the battle had been fought and had issued in a complete check to
Lord Methuen's division. The Highland Brigade had temporarily ceased to
exist as a fighting force; its shaken and demoralised soldiers needed
to be strengthened by rest and drafts of fresh men before they could
again be sent into action. "I do not hesitate to admit that for months
after Mars-la-Tour," says a German officer, who had passed through an
ordeal as terrible as that to which the Highland Brigade was subjected,
"the effects of the fire remained on my nerves. Troops that have to
undergo anything of the kind are demoralised for a long time--not
only rank and file, but officers as well." The subtle force known as
morale, which is the mark of the good soldier, had been exhausted by
the nervous strain of that night and day of continuous fighting.


F. J. Waugh.]


The British stretcher-bearers, during the truce at Magersfontein, were
not allowed to see the Boer defences; they were led along the lines

The losses of the Brigade were, in detail, as follows, according to Mr.

Killed. Wounded. Missing Total.
Staff 1 2 0 3
2nd Black Watch 73 208 73 354
2nd Seaforths 48 141 8 197
1st Highland Light Infantry 15 77 3 95
1st Argyll and Sutherlands 26 61 19 106
--- --- --- ---
163 489 103 755
--- --- --- ---

[Sidenote: [DEC. 12, 1899.]

As each battalion would not muster more than 750 or 800 men present
and fit for duty, it follows that about one fourth of the Brigade was
put out of action. The Black Watch was by far the worst sufferer;
it lost nearly half its strength, the Seaforths about one quarter,
and the other two battalions each about one eighth. The Boers took
sixty-nine unwounded prisoners of the Brigade--a gallant little party,
which had actually fought its way into their trenches, and had there
been overwhelmed by numbers. They captured ten wounded men and buried
fifteen whose names are not known. Of the prisoners they had taken, no
less than forty-two were, through some error, reported to have been
killed; their relatives were notified accordingly, and it was not till
some weeks afterwards that the mistake was corrected, and that these
men, so to say, came back from the dead.

The rest of the British forces engaged lost but lightly. They had 17
killed, 105 wounded, and 10 missing. The total list of casualties, as
officially issued, is not in entire agreement with Mr. Ralph's figures,
but places the loss at 171 killed, 692 wounded, and 107 missing, a
total of 970, or not far from one tenth of the force engaged. As to the
Boer losses there was really no information. Stories went round the
camp to the effect that the slaughter wrought by the lyddite shells
and shrapnel had been awful, whole commandos being "wiped out." But as
the Boer trenches were in sandy soil where the lyddite shells would
do little damage, and as the gunners had great difficulty in locating
their exact whereabouts, it is most improbable that the enemy suffered
heavily. Three or four hundred killed, wounded, and prisoners would be
a fair approximation to their casualties.


H. M. Paget.]


Many incidents such as that here depicted, in which a British soldier
is lighting the pipe of a wounded and helpless Boer, have occurred
in the hospitals, and not a few on the field of battle itself. A
nurse relates how two men, a Briton and a Boer, both fresh from the
operating-table, lay side by side eyeing each other; how Tommy pulled a
couple of cigarettes, which had been given him, from under his pillow
and handed one to his wounded enemy, and how both men, under the stress
of pain and mutual commiseration, burst into tears. On another occasion
a wounded Boer, lying on the hot hillside, offered his water-bottle to
a wounded Englishman, who in return shared his ration of bread with the

[Sidenote: Cronje's account.]

Cronje's official account of the battle rendered full justice to the
bravery and determination of the British troops. It was as follows,
and it will be seen that it was comparatively accurate, though it just
doubled the British losses:--

[Sidenote: DEC. 12, 1899.] Cronje's Account of the Battle.]

"Having received large reinforcements, and his army having rested since
November 28, Lord Methuen advanced against General Cronje's army, which
occupied a position extending for many miles on both sides of the
railway. The fighting was opened by a heavy cannonading at four in the
morning, under cover of which dense masses of infantry moved towards
our position. They were received with a heavy, steady fire, which
repulsed the advance before the English had come within measurable
distance. A second attack met the same fate. The bravery of the English
was wonderful against the hail of Mauser bullets that met them. About
this time the corps of Scandinavians, who had a great record for
reckless courage, charged. They were cut off on a scrub-covered kopje,
and lost several killed and wounded and many were taken prisoners. In
the afternoon all the British reserves were brought into the attack,
which was delivered with sublime courage. The plains north of the
Modder River were black with the forces deployed for the charge. But no
courage could break through the Boer defences, and late in the day the
British retreated to the Modder River, leaving the ground covered with
their dead and dying.

"Exclusive of the losses suffered by the Scandinavians, of whom
eighteen were killed and forty-three wounded and taken prisoners, the
Boer loss was insignificant. The English loss in killed and wounded
is calculated to be 2,000. Prisoners we have taken say that the Black
Watch was quite cut up."



F. J. Waugh.]


Lieut. Riley, of the Yorkshire Light Infantry, with a sergeant and
two or three privates, made a desperate stand on the extreme right of
the British position at Magersfontein, with the object of rescuing a
wounded comrade. It afterwards turned out that by this gallant conduct
they had contributed materially to the foiling of the Boer attempt to
outflank the British.]

[Sidenote: [DEC. 12, 1899.]

"But I shall never forgive myself, nor would you if you had seen the
poor British mowed down at Magersfontein," wrote an English traitor
present with the Free State forces, to his father. "But not a man
did I fire at. That I made up my mind not to do.... You should see
our entrenchments, for we burrow under the ground, and never get hit.
Millions of pounds must have been shot away by the English gunners,
and you, father, will have to pay for all the waste. It made me laugh
to see the firing hour after hour and not one of our men hit. The
English all start their engagements like that. They fire two days, and
as they always follow the same childish plan we know they will not
attack until after a day or two's bombardment. Then we come out of our
burrows and simply shoot them down like deer. But I have not stained
myself with English blood, and don't mean to.... It makes me proud of
my fellow countrymen, and the good-class Boers regret having to kill
such plucky fellows as they come along to their death. Like the Battle
of Balaclava, it is not war, but it is magnificent. Poor chaps; I am
sure they can never see us. One whole day of hard fighting we never
showed ourselves, and I see by the papers that hundreds of English were
killed, and especially the Scotsmen. Our loss was trifling. You cannot
hit men with rocks protecting them all round, and who are underground
when the cannons fire."


One of the many defensive works thrown up by Lord Methuen after the
battle of Modder River.]

"Nothing," says Lord Methuen, in his official despatch, "could exceed
the conduct of the troops from the time of the failure of the attack
at daybreak. There was not the slightest confusion, though the fight
was carried on under as hard conditions as one could imagine, for the
men had been on the move from midnight and were suffering terribly
from thirst.... The attack failed; the inclement weather was against
success; the men in the Highland Brigade were ready enough to rally,
but the paucity of officers and non-commissioned officers rendered this
no easy matter. I attach no blame to this splendid Brigade."

[Sidenote: Criticism of Lord Methuen's tactics.]

[Sidenote: DEC. 12, 1899.] Lord Methuen addresses the Highlanders.]

In the camp the battle gave rise to much indignant comment upon the
manner and disposition of the night attack. It was pointed out that
such attacks are exceptionally perilous when made upon a vigilant,
well-armed enemy, behind trenches and entanglements. It was asserted
that every precaution required by the rules of military science had
been disregarded; the ground had not been accurately and carefully
reconnoitred; the exact location of the Boer trenches had not been
ascertained. The march in close order up to the enemy's position
was, indeed, defended by some as being both the natural formation
for such a movement by night and the formation sanctioned by the
drill book. But the experience of Lord Methuen's brief campaign
had at least shown that open order could be used on a fairly fine
night, and if the terrible weather of the night of December 10-11
rendered a night march impracticable, it was said that the attempt
ought to have been postponed to some more favourable opportunity. The
strongly-held opinion was that General Wauchope, an officer famous for
his carefulness and attention to detail, had religiously carried out
his instructions. But the official despatch clearly proves him to have
deployed long after the hour which had been fixed in conversation with
Lord Methuen.


This photograph, although not of recent date, is interesting because it
includes, besides the President, several men whose names have become
familiar during the war.]

Shortly after the battle Lord Methuen made a somewhat infelicitous
speech. Addressing the men of the Highland Brigade, he sympathised with
them over the heavy losses they had sustained. "The advance," he said,
"was executed exactly to the time and place that I had given orders
for, and we were within an ace of carrying the position in a short and
decisive engagement. Everything depended upon one word; that word was
'Forward!'" No doubt there was this much in what he said, that had the
Highlanders dashed at the trenches when they received the first fatal
volley, they would have captured the position. But the General must be
a judge of human nature and must know exactly what he can expect of his
troops. The Highland Brigade was not composed of automata, and a strain
had been imposed upon the nerves of the men which it was quite beyond
their power to resist.


[Photo by Staff-Sergt. Ryan.


An orderly of the R.A.M.C. using a burning-glass to light his pipe.]

[Sidenote: [DEC. 12, 1899]

Among the few Boer prisoners taken in this engagement was a double-dyed
traitor and thief named Greener. This man, a Sergeant-Major of the
Royal Engineers, had been detected in wholesale theft at Aldershot.
Deserting the colours and betraying the country which had given him
birth, he fled to South Africa and took service with the Boers. So far
as we can discover, the extraordinary leniency of the British suffered
this rogue to retain his life. By any other nation he would have been
summarily executed under the orders of a drum-head court martial.

After the action the chaplain of the Highland Brigade gave the dead
Highlanders the solemn rites of Christian burial. He went to and fro
among the enemy, who received him with an honourable regard when he
came to inquire after the wounded and missing. "He told me," says Mr.
Ralph, "that there were Englishmen, Irishmen, and Scotchmen among them,
as well as the mercenary Germans and Scandinavians, serving for a gold
krüger a day--which is to say, a pound sterling Dutch.... Everybody
was courteous." And though they blindfolded the bearers and ambulance
men, they did not fear his presence, open eyed, in their midst, nor
did they put him under oath as to what he might reveal or hide. Their
confidence, it need scarcely be said, was in no way abused.

[Sidenote: Burial of General Wauchope.]

With the men he had so valiantly led was buried the fallen General.
The piper wailed "Lochaber no more" as they bore him and his stubborn
countrymen from the battlefield to the fast-growing burial ground near
Modder River town, where lie the bravest of the brave. "There," says
the Daily News correspondent, "moved with slow and solemn tread
all that remained of the Highland Brigade. In front of them walked
the chaplain with bared head, dressed in his robes of office; then
came the pipers with their pipes, sixteen in all, and behind them,
with arms reversed, moved the Highlanders, dressed in all the regalia
of their regiments, and in the midst the dead General borne by four
of his comrades." The sad impressiveness of the funeral service was
deepened by the circumstance that away to the north stood the defiant
enemy--that round the grave were gathered, in battle-torn uniforms, the
men who had faced the storm of bullets and borne the brunt of the fatal
assault, only to win the bitterness of defeat. The bright hopes with
which they had set out had been shattered and, it might be said, were
buried in this grave with the fallen General. Man had proposed; God had


[After a Sketch by Mr. Fred Villiers.


This trench, which was in an advanced position, was stormed and
captured by the Highlanders. All its defenders, forty-seven in number,
fell to their bayonets.]


General Sir F. W. E. Forestier-Walker, commanding lines of
communication, inspecting Volunteers on Green Point Common; Capetown
Highlanders marching past.]