Warren's Divisions cross the Tugela--The enemy entrenching--The
artillery and transport cross--A long delay--Spion
Kop bombarded--Lyttelton's feigned attack--The
cavalry seize Acton Homes--Desultory movements
before Spion Kop--Change of plan--Advance on the
left ordered--Capture of Three-tree Hill and Bastion
Hill--Death of Major Childe--Assault ordered and
countermanded--Lyttelton's advance--Warren telegraphs
for howitzers--Rumoured relief of Ladysmith--Another
day of little progress--Pathetic humour--Assault
ordered and postponed--Another council of war--Warren
reinforced--The storming force--Ascent of Spion
Kop--A Boer picket surprised--The storming force
halts too soon--Tardy reinforcements--Botha
determines to recapture the hill--Positions of the
opposing forces--The Boers bombard the British
position--Woodgate wounded--Thorneycroft put in
command--A frightful struggle--Lack of artillery
support--Boer attempts to rush the position--The
King's Royal Rifles storm a ridge--Desperate
straits--Confusion of commands--Thorneycroft determines
to withdraw--Scene on the hill after the battle--Losses
in the action--The retreat--Causes of the defeat.


[Sidenote: Warren's Divisions cross the Tugela.]

[Sidenote: [JAN. 16-17, 1900.]

All through the night of January 16-17 General Lyttelton's Brigade
was crossing the Tugela at Potgieter's Drift, fording the river or
ferrying over in the pontoons and ferry-boat. Before dawn the six
5-inch howitzers had followed the infantry and taken their post in
the line of kopjes, at One Tree Hill, the foremost point which the
British advance had reached. Meantime, General Hildyard with the
Second Brigade, to impress the Boers with the belief that the main
attack would be delivered from the east, and to divert attention
from the west, had deployed his men and made as if to cross at
Skiet's Drift. But, as night wore on, he too, had stolen off towards
Trichardt's Drift, ten miles to the west, whither in eager haste all
Sir Charles Warren's force was marching. Three brigades of infantry,
six batteries of artillery, and almost all the cavalry and mounted
infantry were concentrating upon this point. Rain fell in torrents,
hampering the movement and delaying the transport; yet before dawn the
combatants were in place and ready to begin. "It was not possible,"
says Mr. Churchill, "to stand unmoved and watch the ceaseless living
stream--miles of stern-looking men, marching in fours so quickly that
they often had to run to keep up, of artillery, ammunition columns,
supply columns, baggage, slaughter-cattle, thirty great pontoons,
white-hooded, red-crossed ambulance waggons, all the accessories of an
army hurrying forward under cover of night--and before them a guiding
star, the red gleam of war." The march through the mud, however,
had wearied the men; still more so the alternations of running and
halting, which showed that the staff, from unfamiliarity with the
work of handling and moving large bodies of troops, had made faulty
arrangements. And thus, when in the small hours of the early morning
the column, anxious for action, looked down upon the river, and up
across it at the solemn precipices of Spion Kop beyond, nothing
happened. Perhaps the pontoons to bridge the stream had dropped behind
on the muddy roads; perhaps the general thought it inexpedient to
launch weary troops forthwith against the enemy. But to the men the
delay seemed exasperating; they knew that they would pay dearly for it
with their lives and that they had made haste in vain, since the Boers
were to be allowed time to extend their lines yet further to the west,
once more compelling a frontal attack.


[Photo by Middlebrook.


[Sidenote: The enemy entrenching.]

[Sidenote: JAN. 17, 1900.] Warren's Divisions Cross the Tugela.]

The night and the early hours of the day passed in inactivity. On the
hills opposite the Boers were already at their work of raising stone
breastworks and laboriously digging and blasting entrenchments, while
hour after hour reinforcements poured in. To the Boer the spade was a
weapon only one degree less useful than the rifle. Our soldiers, taught
to despise cover and untrained in the use of entrenchments, watched
with mingled contempt and apprehension these proceedings of the enemy,
and, as line after line of defences showed faintly on the green and
brown surface of the hills, wondered at the measured deliberation of
their own generals, contrasting strangely as it did with the furious
energy of the men opposed to them. At last, about 8 a.m. of January 17,
the crossing began. A patrol of Light Horse rode down to the river; the
Devons and West Yorkshires followed; the field batteries on the heights
overlooking the drift drew up in line and prepared to open; from the
right through the morning air came the thunder of the howitzers and the
heavy thud of the naval guns on Spearman's Hill, telling that General
Lyttelton was already in action. The uproar of battle re-echoed through
this remote mountain land and reverberated in the lonely eyries of
Taba Myama. Thick wet mist still enveloped the hill-tops and gave the
country an air of eeriness and mystery; it lifted only towards mid-day
as the sun's rays dispelled it. The West Yorkshires were the first to
cross, ferried over in pontoons; the engineers set to work to build two
bridges, both above the drift, the one of pontoons and the other of
trestles. The first was completed in a couple of hours. The work was
scarcely interrupted by the Boers. A handful of snipers fired a few
shots at the British covering party of infantry and killed a soldier of
the Devons, but beyond this the enemy showed no disposition to harass
the attacking force, although, had they done so, there is little doubt
that they could have inflicted considerable loss. Their unwillingness
to leave cover, on this as on many other occasions during the campaign
in Natal, permitted operations to be carried on with comparative
safety, which a more enterprising enemy could have rendered highly
dangerous, or even disastrous. With the Boers it was an object to risk
as little as possible their lives and limbs; on our side the error was
quite in the opposite direction.


A. J. Gough.]


Several men and horses were swept away by the current in the crossing
of Wagon Drift, and one trooper was drowned in spite of Captain
Tremayne's gallant attempt to rescue him.]

The British field batteries opened fire and searched the north bank of
the river with a storm of shrapnel, while the infantry discharged a
few volleys. There was no return of their fire by the Boers, and the
cannonade died away.

[Sidenote: The artillery and transport cross.]

[Sidenote: [JAN. 17-18, 1900.]

After the West Yorkshires and Devons, General Hart's Irish Brigade
streamed across the river and marched to a bivouac on the further bank.
The cavalry and mounted infantry had to use a difficult and dangerous
ford, known as Wagon Drift, a mile lower down the stream. Owing to the
swiftness of the current, which runs here at something like ten miles
an hour, there were some misadventures; several men were swept away,
and were with difficulty rescued by their comrades; one unfortunate
trooper of the 13th Hussars was drowned although every effort was
made to rescue him. It now only remained to pass the artillery, the
transport, and the waggons of the column across, but this proved by far
the most tedious and troublesome part of the operation. Nearly 500
ox and mule-waggons, in addition to ambulances, guns, and ammunition
waggons, were sent over. The work occupied all the afternoon and
evening of the 17th and the morning of the 18th. The rest of General
Hildyard's Brigade and the whole of General Woodgate's Brigade had
already joined the battalions which were bivouacking without tents on
the north of the stream. The army was across and ready to strike a
blow when its transport would permit, halted in a land which was an
earthly paradise--"a country of arable soil and splendid pasture, where
brown-clad doves emit plaintive love songs, of twittering tomtits and
green-plumaged sunbirds, of huge, gray-coated secretary birds and gaudy
butterflies that would gladden the heart of the entomologist."


Was born in Natal some thirty-six years ago, and settled down in the
Transvaal when he had nearly reached man's estate. He does not come of
a fighting stock, but has hitherto been known as a successful farmer.
In the early days of the war, however, he showed such conspicuous
military ability that he was, upon Joubert's death, and despite his
comparative youth, elected Commandant General of the Boer forces. He
is fairly well educated for a Boer, and talks English fluently when
he pleases. He is married to a lady of Irish descent, whose maiden
name was Emmet, and who claims relationship to Thomas Addis Emmet, the
United Irish leader of 1798, and to Robert Emmet, executed for high
treason in 1803.]

[Sidenote: A long delay.]

The afternoon and evening of the 17th passed in inactivity so far as
the infantry and artillery were concerned. Only a few shots were fired
by the artillery to disconcert the Boers. There was much questioning
in the British camp as to the reason for the long delay, since to the
men rapid movement seemed essential for success against the enemy. The
Boers could be seen everywhere, well out of range, at work upon the
lines of defences on the hills and kopjes. The British army was sitting
still and giving General Botha--who was now in command of the Boers
at this point--ample time to concentrate his forces and make all his
dispositions. The wait at Potgieter's was easy to explain, for that
had not been the point chosen for the decisive attack. But the wait
after crossing at Trichardt's Drift admitted of no such simple excuse.
Everything depended upon celerity. The facts were that General Warren
did not venture to leave his baggage in charge of a small rearguard and
to push on along the Boer front, and that the crossing of such a river
as the Tugela, with its high banks, awkward approaches, and difficult
fords, was necessarily a slow and troublesome work, giving the enemy
abundance of opportunity to gather men and oppose a determined

[Sidenote: Spion Kop bombarded. Lyttelton's feigned attack.]

[Sidenote: JAN. 18, 1900.] A British Ambuscade.]

On the 18th General Lyttelton's Brigade advanced in widely extended
order from One Tree Hill--as the chief of the kopjes near Potgieter's
Drift was named--towards the Boer lines, supported by the fire of the
naval guns and howitzers. The shells searched the eastern face of Spion
Kop, which had been assiduously bombarded on the previous day, causing
the Boers, as they themselves admitted, heavy losses, and interrupting
communication between their camps and laagers. Clouds, now yellow and
green with the fumes of lyddite, now brown with the dust which its
explosion threw up, flecked the slopes of the hills. But the enemy
made no reply whatever. The great war balloon rose slowly into the
air near One Tree Hill, and the officer in the car signalled that he
could see the Boers lining their entrenchments, but could discover no
guns. Thereupon the British infantry--the Scottish Rifles on the left,
the 3rd King's Royal Rifles in the centre, and the 1st Rifle Brigade
on the right--pushed forward in a convex line, making all possible
use of cover. The object was to draw the enemy, to distract their
attention from Sir Charles Warren, and to discover their positions. But
they obstinately refused to be drawn; instinctively they had divined
our purpose. Only from the hill on the British right front, known as
Brakfontein, came a few shots which wounded two men. A second line of
kopjes, one mile in advance of One Tree Hill, was reached and gained
without incident, and there the brigade halted till night, and then
under cover of darkness fell back.


An officer of the Scottish Rifles explaining to his men the
dispositions of the enemy.]

[Sidenote: The cavalry seize Acton Homes.]

[Sidenote: [JAN. 18-19, 1900.]

During this interval of inactivity and demonstrations the mounted men
under Lord Dundonald had been employed on more serious work. While Sir
Charles Warren was collecting his baggage and transport, and moving his
infantry force slowly a couple of miles northward, under the shadow of
Spion Kop, the cavalry and mounted infantry rode six miles up the road
to the north-west to the hamlet of Acton Homes. About mid-day a small
force of Boers was made out, also moving west, and Major Graham of the
Natal Carbineers, with 350 men of that body, of the Imperial Light
Horse, and of the King's Royal Rifles' Mounted Infantry, was permitted
to snare it if he could. He pushed forward rapidly, unobserved by the
enemy, and seized a point commanding the road, where his men lay in
ambush and waited. The Boers with unusual carelessness had sent out
a German to scout, who reported that the way was clear. They came on
unsuspectingly, and, but for a carbineer who fired before orders had
been given, would have been destroyed to a man. As it was, at 300
yards range, they received a deadly volley and at once broke and ran
over the smooth, open plain, some to the nearest kopje, others, more
daring, across the veldt towards the Boer camps some miles away. The
party which had taken refuge in the kopje was speedily surrounded, and
an attempt was made--and abandoned when the Boer fire showed that it
must cause unnecessary loss--to rush the position with the bayonet.
"We got within fifty yards of the Dutchmen," said one of the King's
Royal Rifles, "but it was too hot to go further." So the storming
force retired, and a steady rifle fire was directed upon the kopje
to bring the Boers to their senses. Once they showed the white flag
without ceasing their fire, but the British troops had been warned what
to expect, and paid no attention. Then a second time the white flag
fluttered up and the shooting of the Boers stopped; with difficulty
the British officers checked their indignant men. Several of the
enemy rose and held up their hands; the kopje was taken. Twenty-four
unwounded Boers were made prisoners, and, in addition to these, eight
were found badly wounded. Ten more lay dead on the kopje, among them
Field-Cornet de Mentz of Heilbron, who, though badly wounded at the
beginning of the fight, had continued firing till he bled to death.
Besides these losses, the party of Boers which had made its escape
eastwards had also suffered to the extent of fifteen or twenty killed
and wounded. The British casualties were only four--two men shot
through the head and killed, and an officer and a private wounded. The
affair, however, had no serious results and no strategical importance,
though it showed that our Colonials were fully a match for the Boers in
wiliness. To the Natal Carbineers the credit belongs.


No sooner had the enemy surrendered, than the British soldiers vied
with each other in striving to comfort and succour the Boer wounded.
The soldiers crowded round them, "covering them up with blankets or
mackintoshes, propping their heads with saddles for pillows, and giving
them water and biscuits from their bottles and haversacks. In an
instant anger had changed to pity. The desire to kill was gone," wrote
Mr. Churchill. The British mounted troops were ordered to return after
their success, as the news had been heliographed from Ladysmith that
a large force of Boers was moving with guns to cut them off, and they
were beyond the reach of infantry support. Thus the original intention
of seizing the Boer line of communications to the Drakensberg was
abandoned without further effort.

[Sidenote: Desultory movements before Spion Kop.]

On the 19th, in very leisurely manner, Sir Charles Warren began his
infantry movement along the western foot of Spion Kop. That height was
the pivot upon which the Boer centre rested; its slopes and precipices
parted the two wings of the British army--the right wing under General
Lyttelton at Potgieter's, watching the eastern face of the great
mountain, the left wing, five miles away, watching the western face
and endeavouring to work round it without delivering a frontal attack
upon the works which crowned its ridges. The artillery vigorously
shelled the Boer lines; the naval guns from Spearman's Hill enfiladed
the eastern ridge of Spion Kop, and two brigades of British infantry
in skirmishing formation pushed forward up the rocky slopes and ridges
in the direction of Spion Kop, at once to guard the baggage from
molestation and to occupy the enemy.


[Photo by Gregory.


A few facts concerning Sir Charles Warren's career are given below the
small portrait on page 215. He was appointed by Lord Roberts (April
26, 1900) Military Governor of Griqualand West "while that part of the
country is in a disturbed condition."]

[Sidenote: [JAN. 19, 1900.]

The transport was forwarded to Venter's Laager, an advance of
four whole miles in the day, while the mildest kind of long-range
fighting proceeded, and the troops wondered whether "make haste
slowly"--"slowly" in this case being at the pace of the snail--was wise
tactics. On the right of the British troops the Boers looked down from
the hills--it might seem with ironical contempt--upon the half-hearted,
purposeless moves of the great army below. They were active enough in
ever extending their lines of defence to the north-east, whatever the
British were doing. Yet, prudently guarding against possibilities,
their heavy waggons were already on the road to the Free State and
the Transvaal. Sir George White, they argued, might well break in
upon their retreat if General Buller's army gained any success. In
the afternoon the action slowly relaxed its vigour; the steady and
continued rifle and cannon fire gave place to desultory sniping, and
the troops bivouacked in their aerial perches among the rocky ridges.

POTGIETER'S DRIFT. (See page 268.)]

[Sidenote: Change of plan.]

[Sidenote: JAN. 19, 1900.] Frontal Attack to be Made.]

"In war," says the great Prussian organiser of victory, Scharnhorst,
"what the general does matters little. Everything depends upon the
unity of action and vigour with which he does it." And so it was no
very reassuring symptom when, after reaching Venter's Laager, Sir
Charles Warren assembled the generals, the staff, and the commanders
of the artillery and engineers, and pointed out to them that there
were two lines of advance--the one devious and round-about, by way of
Acton Homes, the other passing up by Fair View and the centre of the
Boer position to the western side of Spion Kop, at a point where the
summit of the ridge dropped considerably. To move by Acton Homes, he
urged, was impossible, as his food and provisions would not permit of
it. To take waggons up the Fair View road would necessitate sending
all the transport back to the south of the Tugela and capturing the
enemy's positions by a frontal attack, the men marching with three
or four days' provisions in their haversacks. The assembled generals
acquiesced; and thus, in spite of a general order, which is said
to have been issued by General Buller at the beginning of the flank
movement, to the effect that there would be "no turning back from the
relief of Ladysmith," the original flank movement was abandoned. A
message was sent to General Buller couched in the following terms:--

"Sent 7·54 p.m. Received 8·15 p.m.
"Left Flank, 19th January.
"To the Chief of the Staff,

"I find there are only two roads by which we could possibly get from
Trichardt's Drift to Potgieter's, on the north of the Tugela, one by
Acton Homes, the other by Fair View and Rosalie; the first I reject as
too long, the second is a very difficult road for a large number of
waggons, unless the enemy is thoroughly cleared out. I am, therefore,
going to adopt some special arrangements which will involve my stay
at Venter's Laager for two or three days. I will send in for further
supplies and report progress.--WARREN."

It will be observed that it did not in clear language state that a
frontal assault was to be substituted for the flanking movement, yet it
contained enough to tell the Commander-in-Chief in Natal that a radical
change of policy was purposed. Sir Redvers Buller appears to have
offered no objection. He answered to the effect that further supplies
would be sent.


[Sidenote: [JAN. 19-20, 1900.]

It would be supposed that this discovery might have been made by a
personal reconnaissance two days earlier, as soon as General Warren's
troops had effected their passage at Trichardt's Drift. The saving of
these two days might well have meant the difference between victory and
defeat. Even if the maps were bad--and General Buller described the
march as a march "into an unknown country," while it is a fact that
Spion Kop was not shown in the sketch of the country round Ladysmith,
issued by the Intelligence Department--an examination of the lie of
the land by the generals must have disclosed on the 17th what does
not appear to have been realised till the evening of the 19th. The
desperate straits of Ladysmith rendered prompt and rapid action of
the most vital importance. Yet two days were spent in bringing the
transport across, and then in making the discovery that it was the most
dangerous encumbrance and had better have been left on the south side
of the Tugela.

[Illustration: F. C. Dickinson.] [After a sketch by a British


In this sketch the Boer position is along the crests of the hills.
Halfway up the hill near the centre the British are seen advancing;
on the nearer hill are two batteries of Royal Artillery, and the
Lancasters and Lancashire Fusiliers "sniping"; in the foreground the
ambulances. In the actual battle little or no smoke was to be seen;
it has been exaggerated in the sketch in order to make the positions

[Sidenote: Advance on the left ordered.]

On the 19th there had been nothing more than long-range skirmishing
in which the British losses were comparatively small. On the 20th it
was determined to force the attack. Accordingly, on the night of the
19th, General Warren instructed General Clery, with General Hart's and
General Woodgate's Brigades, and the six field batteries, to push the
advance on the extreme left, against the enemy's positions on the long
ridge which ran down from Spion Kop to the north-east. The ground over
which the British troops were to advance is described as a succession
of ridges, intersected at right angles by watercourses, cutting deep
gorges in the mountain side, and thus sundering and separating the
attacking force. Of shelter there was little or none; the advance had
to be made from ridge to ridge, always under the fire of the vigilant



[Photo by Bartlett, Shrewsbury.



Alec Ball.]


[Sidenote: JAN. 19-20, 1900.] Capture of Three Tree Hill.]

[Sidenote: Capture of Three Tree Hill and Bastion Hill.]

[Sidenote: [JAN. 20, 1900.]

During the night of the 19-20th a forward move was made. General
Woodgate pushed out from the British camp and seized Three Tree
Hill--a bastion jutting out from the north-western flank of Spion
Kop. The Boers offered no resistance. The hill was the centre of a
vast amphitheatre, crowned on all sides by Boer entrenchments; and
though far below the crests which towered above it, it was the best
artillery position that could be found, and here three of the British
field batteries were planted. When day broke, the battle opened with
the usual bombardment on the part of the field guns, the naval guns
from Spearman's Hill and the howitzers from Potgieter's shelling the
Boer position on Spion Kop from the other side. All day "the hills
crashed with guns and rattled with musketry. At a little distance you
might have supposed," writes Mr. Atkins, "that the resonant noises came
from some haunted mountain, for the hills looked sleepy, and peaceful,
and deserted, and there seemed to be no reason for all these strange
sounds--the bark of field guns, the crackle of musketry, the rapping of
Vickers-Maxims, and the tat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat of Maxims." All day the
thin straggling lines of British infantry pushed slowly forward--almost
invisible upon the slopes of the hills--but in spite of splendid
efforts the progress was painfully slow. The advance was made at first
by small scattered parties of men, quickly following each other and
using all the cover that could be found, hurrying from kopje to kopje.
Then in heavier masses the main body of the infantry followed. General
Hildyard's Brigade was on the left, General Hart's in the centre, and
General Woodgate's on the right. On the extreme left were the cavalry
and mounted infantry, who accomplished the one great feat of the
day--the capture of Bastion Hill.


[From a sketch on the spot by F. A. Stewart.


Bastion Hill, like Three Tree Hill, ran out at right angles from the
main range of Spion Kop. By Lord Dundonald's order the South African
Light Horse under Major Childe were sent to examine it, and if they
did not find it strongly held, to seize it. They extended, approached
under a heavy fire from the Boers at over 7,000 yards--a range at which
British field artillery is useless--and climbed in open order its
steep, almost precipitous sides. A private named Tobin led them all.
Alert and agile, he bounded up the slopes, and reached the summit ten
minutes before the rest of his comrades. All watched him, expecting
every instant to see him fall, but he found only a picket of Boers,
who fled at his appearance. Turning round, he waved his helmet on his
rifle, and the Light Horse rushed up and occupied the hill. There was
something ominous in the ease with which it had been taken, and the
Boer reason for leaving it unfortified was soon manifest.


[Photo by Caney.


Killed at Venter's Spruit (see page 275).]

[Sidenote: JAN. 20, 1900.] Bravery of the Irish Brigade.]

[Sidenote: Death of Major Childe.]

Behind it rose a crescent-shaped ridge, hardly visible from below,
but which was now seen to command it. The top of Bastion Hill itself
was bare of shelter, and upon it from this further crest was poured
a murderous fire--shrapnel and rifle. Towards evening Major Childe
was struck and killed by a well-timed shrapnel, which laid low six
of his brave troopers. Upon him, in the days before the battle, the
presentiment of death had sat heavily. He had asked the night before
that on his grave should be placed this epitaph, with its words of
eternal hope and consolation: "'Is it well with the child?' And she
answered: 'It is well.'" His wish was fulfilled. Beneath Bastion Hill
he lies to-day, and on the cross which marks his grave these simple
words are carved. Around him, on the solemn hills, within sight of his
resting-place, sleep the valiant comrades who in these sorrowful days
of defeat laid down their lives for their country. And his epitaph is


R. Caton Woodville.]


[Sidenote: Assault ordered and countermanded.]

[Sidenote: [JAN. 20, 1900.]

Nearer Sir Charles Warren's centre the Irish Brigade under General
Hart displayed all its usual and reckless valour. The men went forward
with dash and fury, eager to wipe out old scores, and, had they been
given a free hand, might have secured then the success which a month
later their efforts and self-sacrifice achieved. Upon them the Boer
artillery opened with great effect, the Pom-Poms and captured British
15-pounders from Colenso maintaining a rapid fire. The guns were hard
to locate, and so were not easily silenced by the British batteries.
There fell Captain Hensley, who had fought all through the war, in
Natal, at Dundee, at Farquhar's Farm, and at Colenso--a man greatly
beloved. Towards the middle of the afternoon it was determined to
press home the assault on the enemy's position. The British batteries
accordingly redoubled their fire; the grass along the amphitheatre of
hills took fire, and great clouds of smoke rose, blowing down upon the
Boer marksmen. But for some reason or other, not for the first time,
the generals changed their minds. The assault was countermanded, and
the troops fell back a very little from the most advanced positions.
As the evening wore on, General Hildyard extended his left to Bastion
Hill, driving back a small Boer commando, and sent a force of infantry
to relieve the South African Light Horse. With darkness the firing died
down, and the troops had again to bivouac on the bare mountain sides.
The day had been one of scorching heat, and to it, as is not unusual
at high altitudes, succeeded a night of bitter cold. The British
casualties in General Warren's force from the arrival at Trichardt's
Drift to the evening of the 20th were 34 killed, 293 wounded, and
2 missing, so that the losses were fast mounting up. What were the
enemy's casualties it is impossible to say, but by their own accounts
they suffered heavily from our shell fire. The Boers claimed a victory,
and asserted that General Botha had checked the British advance. Nor
were they altogether wrong, since we could show only the most trivial
advantage gained. The one point in our favour was that the British
casualties could be replaced, whereas the Boer casualties could not.
Throughout the day the conduct of the civilian stretcher-bearers
excited the most unstinted admiration and praise. They went forward
stolidly to the very firing line, and could be seen bending over the
dead and succouring and removing the wounded with faithful devotion and
superb coolness amidst the hail of bullets and shells. The Boers fired
on them with the utmost impartiality, for the enemy either could not
or would not see the red-cross badge. Not a few of the bearers were
themselves killed or wounded.


The conduct of the day's fighting provoked some bitter, perhaps
intemperate, complaints of the British generals' tactics. It was said
of one of the Brigade Commanders that "he took personal command of the
York and Lancaster and the South Lancashire regiments, and ordered a
futile bayonet charge at an enemy nearly fifteen hundred yards away.
This attracted such heavy fire that the two regiments sought shelter
and declined to follow their officers another yard."


[Photo by Chas. Knight.


Major-General A. FitzRoy Hart, C.B., commanding the 5th Brigade of the
10th Division.]

[Sidenote: JAN. 20-21, 1900.] Ineffectiveness of the British Guns.]

[Sidenote: Lyttelton's advance.]

On the afternoon of the 20th, to support Sir Charles Warren's attack,
General Lyttelton advanced directly upon the Boer trenches which lined
the eastern slope of Spion Kop and the southern slope of Brakfontein.
This was a totally distinct movement from Sir Charles Warren's, and was
directed from Potgieter's Drift. The howitzers and naval guns aided the
infantry with their fire. At the same time Bethune's Mounted Infantry
were ordered to move along the river to the east; they speedily came
into contact with the enemy in strong force, and as their orders were
to do nothing more than demonstrate, retired. But the presence of the
enemy in strength in this quarter, close to Skiet's Drift, seriously
menaced the British line of communications. Meantime, General Lyttelton
pushed up to within 1500 yards of the main Boer entrenchments, and
after long-range firing slowly fell back, with two killed and fifteen
wounded or missing.

[Illustration: [Photo by Barnett.



[Sidenote: Warren telegraphs for howitzers.]

[Sidenote: [JAN. 21, 1900.]

On January 21 Sir Charles Warren renewed the engagement on the left.
The day again opened with an artillery bombardment conducted by the
six field batteries. But though the guns fired thousands of shells
they produced little effect. Being so far below the level of the Boer
trenches, they could not direct their fire to advantage, and they
failed to silence the enemy's works or to overpower the Boer artillery.
This latter could use its range to advantage, while good positions for
the British guns could not be found. Three Tree Hill--the trees on
which had already vanished--was too far off for the capacity of our
15-pounders; on the steep slopes where the infantry were fighting it
was impossible from the nature of things to handle artillery. Howitzers
alone could do the work, and there were but six howitzers in General
Buller's whole army, and all these at Potgieter's Drift with General
Lyttelton. For them Sir Charles Warren telegraphed, but to move them
from One Tree Hill to Three Tree Hill over mountains and along bad
roads was necessarily the work of some time. Four were sent and arrived
early in the morning of the 22nd.

[Sidenote: Rumoured relief of Ladysmith.]

All the morning of the 21st the advance continued in the centre and
on the extreme left, where Generals Hildyard and Hart were engaged.
The Boers were massing in this quarter, and two batteries had to be
moved from the British right to the left to give additional support
to the troops. As on the previous day, General Hart's Irishmen were
again foremost in battle--"perched on the edge of an almost precipitous
hill"--and suffered heavily. The men were gladdened and roused to the
most desperate efforts by a rumour which ran along the line, to the
accompaniment of cheering, that Ladysmith had been relieved by Lord
Dundonald's cavalry while the enemy's attention was occupied by the
infantry attack. Like other rumours this story was absurd; it needed
little reflection to show that if the mounted men had not been able to
remain at Acton Homes without fear of being surrounded, they could not
have pushed through the very heart of the Boer position with waggons
and stores. Their arrival in Ladysmith without supplies would have been
only a serious embarrassment for the garrison; to move with a heavy
train of transport under the Boer trenches was almost impossible.


A curious fact, which illustrates the difference between British and
Colonial methods of fighting, was observed on this day. A squadron
of South African Light Horse held a kopje all day under heavy fire,
but, by carefully taking cover, without losing a man. Near at hand two
companies of British regulars held a hill under much the same fire,
and, untrained in the art of concealing themselves, lost no less than
twenty men.

[Illustration: Frank Dadd, R.I., and S. T. Dadd.] [After a sketch
made on the spot.


[Sidenote: [JAN. 21, 1900.]

The fighting on the 21st precisely resembled that of the 20th. Ground
was gained, but so slowly that it became evident the advance to
Ladysmith at this rate would be the affair not of weeks but of months.
Bastion Hill, captured on the previous day, had to be abandoned, as it
was found shelterless and useless. Its loss was of no importance.
And if the advanced Boer line of trenches was taken, with considerable
loss, behind it showed a second line at a distance which varied from
400 to 1,000 yards, composed of earth redoubts, stone breastworks or
schanzes, and deep trenches blasted or hewn with pickaxes and crowbars
in the friable rocks. These defences gave ample cover; the artillery
could not properly reach them; rifle fire made no impression upon
them; and in front of them stretched a smooth, grassy slope forming
a superb glacis. The text-books were useless; theory gave little
help, for it had been anticipated that artillery would so shake the
defenders' nerves as to destroy the accuracy of the enemy's fire and
render assault possible. But whenever an attempt was made to rush the
Boer positions, the enemy showed in the most unpleasant fashion that
their nerves were not shaken and their fire was as well aimed as ever.
Undoubtedly it would have been possible, with such superb troops as the
seasoned veterans of Colenso, to storm the Boer line, but only with
the heaviest losses. What prevented the attempt being made was the
fear that behind this second system of defences might lie a third, and
behind that again a fourth, so as to render the effort unavailing. Yet
there were voices raised for this desperate and determined course, and
a bold general might well have decided upon it, as likely to prove less
bloody and less trying in the end than these days of protracted and
ineffectual skirmishing.


[Sidenote: Another day of little progress.]

The painful fact was that Sir Charles Warren's army was assaulting a
fortress of immense strength held by splendid soldiers--assaulting,
too, without the assistance of an overpowering artillery and long-range
field guns. No effort was spared by the brigadiers and subordinate
officers. General Hart, sword in hand, was in his usual place, the
van; the bravest of men, he sent his staff to cover, that the risks
he faced might not be theirs. But the hopelessness of the work was
slowly dawning upon everyone. At the close of the day, when the firing
ceased, the army had again to mourn grievous losses. Twenty-four were
killed, 223 wounded, and four missing, yet practically nothing had been
accomplished beyond a display of splendid courage and endurance. Once
more the troops bivouacked amongst the rocks, but it was evident that
their efforts could not be indefinitely repeated.

[Sidenote: Pathetic humour.]

[Sidenote: JAN. 21-22, 1900.] Buller holds Councils of War.]

A few incidents may be chosen from the many reported by the chroniclers
of this arduous day to show the spirit of our troops and the
tragi-comic humours of the battlefield. A lad of nineteen, says Mr.
Churchill, sat behind shelter in the Irish Brigade's firing line.
"His right trouser leg was soaked with blood. I asked him whether he
was wounded. 'No, sir; it's only blood from an officer's head,' he
answered, and went on munching his biscuit." Two soldiers sat side by
side in one of the lulls of firing, the one eating biscuit, the other
flicking stones at him. Something struck the eater a sharp blow on the
neck, and he turned angrily to the other man. "What did you throw that
stone at me for?" "I didn't throw it." "Liar!" And the two were ready
to fight, when the red stain showed that the second spoke the truth. It
was a bullet. A private was seen trudging into the firing line with a
puppy under his arm. Did he wish for companionship in the loneliness of
a modern battle, where each man has to stand or fall by himself?


Alec Ball.]


[Sidenote: Assault ordered and postponed.]

On the 22nd General Coke's Brigade marched to reinforce General Warren,
from Potgieter's Drift; the howitzers arrived, and two on each flank
began to fire, while the infantry held the ground already won and made
no more effort to advance. There was, all this and the following day,
a desultory engagement in which no advantage was gained by the British
troops. Early on the 22nd General Buller rode over to see what progress
had been made. A council of war was held, and it was decided that the
last hope of success was to storm Spion Kop. To reach this decision
had taken nearly a week--a week of useless marching, counter-marching,
and bloodshed for the army, a week of starvation and agonised suspense
for Ladysmith. The orders were issued to General Coke to assault Spion
Kop that night with his Brigade. The General, however, objected most
strongly--and with good reason, after Stormberg and Magersfontein--to
making such an attack over ground which he did not know and had not
personally reconnoitred. In response to his objections Sir Charles
Warren postponed the attempt till the night of January 23.


These bullets have a coating of metallic oxide, which could not fail
to poison any wounds they might make. It is perhaps not necessary to
suppose they were intentionally poisoned, but the use of bullets in
such condition shows a callous and criminal disregard of the laws of
civilised warfare.]

[Sidenote: [Jan. 23, 1900.]

[Sidenote: Another council of war.]

The morning of this day a fresh council of war was held, though
councils of war have ever been considered the refuge of the irresolute.
General Buller--Commander-in-Chief of the Natal army--"pointed out"
that for four days Sir Charles Warren "had kept his men continuously
exposed to shell and rifle fire, perched on the edge of an almost
precipitous hill; that the position admitted of no second line, and
the supports were massed close behind the firing line in indefensible
formations," and that "it was too dangerous a situation to be
prolonged." But the Commander-in-Chief gave no orders; he only told
his subordinate either to attack or withdraw, and shrank from the
responsibility of making the decision himself. To use his own phrase,
he still "advocated" a turning movement by the left. But finally he
assented to the storming of Spion Kop--it was the second time this
question had been debated--though he thought General Woodgate better
suited for the work, inasmuch as General Coke was still lame from a
broken leg.


[Photo by the Absent Minded Beggar Corps.


This battalion greatly distinguished itself under General Woodgate
in the "week of battles" leading up to the attack on Spion Kop, and
furnished the largest contingent for that bloody battle.]

[Sidenote: Warren reinforced.]

[Sidenote: JAN. 23, 1900.] The British Silently Ascend Spion Kop.]

Throughout this day the troops were exposed to a heavy shell fire,
which, without causing many casualties, was yet exceedingly galling,
and it grew hourly clearer and clearer that there were no other
alternatives but General Buller's "withdraw or assault." Steps were
taken to prepare for the attack on Spion Kop. Careful reconnaissances
were made, and the Imperial Light Infantry and other reinforcements
were added to Sir Charles Warren's command. From Chieveley, where
General Barton's Brigade had exchanged long-range fire with the Boers
on the 19th and 23rd, two battalions were withdrawn and added to
General Lyttelton's Brigade. In this direction nothing of importance
had happened. On the 19th a picket of South African Light Horse, while
scouting along the Tugela to the west of Colenso, had been ambushed by
the Boers and six men captured; on the 23rd a patrol near Hlangwane had
been surprised, but was able to make its escape. It was clear, however,
that the enemy were in no great strength at Colenso, so that the two
battalions left at Chieveley were ample to hold the rail-head. It is
now known that General Joubert expected the main attack at Potgieter's
Drift, and had concentrated most of his men opposite this point,
leaving his left at Colenso and his right beyond Spion Kop, towards
Acton Homes, excessively weak. On the Spion Kop side, according to
Boer accounts, General Botha had but 2,000 men. The Boers persistently
understated their real force, but it is possible that their strength in
this quarter did not exceed 4,000.

[Sidenote: The storming force.]

At six in the evening the storming force paraded. It was composed of
eight companies of the 2nd Lancashire Fusiliers, six companies of
the 2nd Royal Lancaster, two companies of the 1st South Lancashire,
190 dismounted men of Thorneycroft's Mounted Infantry, and half of
the 17th Company of Royal Engineers--in all about 1,800 men. The
officers--General Woodgate himself--carried rifles. The orders were the
usual ones for night attack--no firing, but attack with the bayonet.
The night was favourable--intensely dark with a fine rain--but if
this concealed the approach of the forlorn hope from the enemy, it
added greatly to the difficulty of climbing the precipitous mountain.
Before the foot of the height was reached it was 10 o'clock. The
ground traversed up to this point had been rough in the extreme, steep
hillocks alternating with deep-cut watercourses and mimosa copses. Over
these the men blundered in the dark, taking every precaution to hide
their movements from the Boers. Smoking and talking were forbidden;
the little force picked its way in silence. All was still but for the
fitful sputtering of the rifle fire exchanged between the outposts,
which echoed in the mountain hollows on the left. The cannon on Three
Tree Hill were silent; the bivouacs and positions of the two combatant
armies were veiled in darkness. Only from Three Tree Hill came the
gleam of lanterns--the signals telling the column that all was well.


[Photo by Bassano.


Edward Robert Prevost Woodgate, C.B., C.M.G., was a son of the Rector
of Belbroughton, Worcestershire. Born 1845; entered the Army as ensign
in the 4th (King's Own Royal Lancaster) regiment in 1865; served
with the Abyssinian Expedition against King Theodore, 1868; in the
Ashanti War of 1873-74; on the staff in the Zulu War of 1878-9, when
he obtained the Brevet of Major; served as staff officer in the West
Indies, 1880-5, and as regimental officer in India, 1885-89; promoted
Lieut.-Col., 1893; C.B., 1856; and Colonel, 1897; appointed to command
the Regimental District of the Kings Own at Lancaster, September,
1897; raised the West African Frontier Regiment in Sierra Leone, and
suppressed the native rebellion, 1898-9; invalided home and made
C.M.G., and given command of Leicestershire district. In December,
1899, he was appointed to the command of the Ninth Brigade in South
Africa; he led the assault on Spion Kop, and was killed while defending
the position gained upon that hill, January 24, 1900.]

[Sidenote: Ascent of Spion Kop.]

[Sidenote: [JAN. 23, 1900.]

At this point began the real ascent of the mountain by an exceedingly
steep and narrow path, which worked up the almost precipitous slopes.
After a short halt, General Woodgate and Colonel Blomfield led the way,
in front of the Lancashire Fusiliers, and the whole force in Indian
file moved upwards with the utmost caution. The mountain side abounded
in boulders and brushwood, offering the best of cover for the enemy;
there were many points where the track, which was at best only a goat
path, ran along narrow ledges with a sheer drop on the outside, and
here a single determined enemy might have caused heavy loss and even
defeated the assault. Along this difficult and tedious route crawled
the infantry in light marching order, expecting each moment to hear
among the rocks the crack of the Boer rifles. But no sound or cry of
alarm came, and, shrouded in obscurity, the forlorn hope slowly neared
the shoulder where was known to be one of the "mauvais pas" of the
mountain. Hereabouts a large white spaniel suddenly emerged from the
darkness, and discovery seemed certain. Yet the animal came quietly up,
and allowed a soldier to catch it, when it was promptly led to the rear.


[Photo by Caney.



Lieut.-Colonel A. W. Thorneycroft, in command of Mounted Infantry in
South Africa, was born in 1859. He was originally in the Militia;
joined the Royal Scots Fusiliers in 1879; fought in the Zulu campaign,
and in the Transvaal War of 1881, when he defended Pretoria; was
appointed Deputy Assistant Adjutant-General in Natal in September,
1899, and formed the regiment of Irregulars which did service at
Colenso and Spion Kop. Colonel Thorneycroft is a brave and daring
leader and a great sportsman, and has trained his men to be excellent

[Sidenote: JAN. 24, 1900.] The Attacking Force Challenged.]

Those who have clambered among our British hills--and better those
who know the Alps--will realise some of the perplexities of this
night ascent. At times the path was lost, and was recovered with
difficulty; no lantern could be used in awkward places, and the men
had simply to trust to luck and to the fidelity of the guides, helping
each other at every turn, and giving a hand at the points where the
way was dangerous. General Woodgate, who was in bad health and had
constantly to be assisted, was always in the very forefront. Progress
was necessarily slow, and the greatest care had to be taken to prevent
the men losing touch of each other. When the shoulder of the mountain
was reached, Colonel Thorneycroft deployed his men to the left, while
General Woodgate, with the Lancashire Fusiliers, took post in line on
the right. The most critical moment of the assault had come.

[Illustration: A. Pearse.] [After a sketch by Ernest Prater.


[Sidenote: [JAN. 24, 1900.]

[Sidenote: A Boer picket surprised.]

It was now half-past three of the morning of January 24--a day
hereafter to be one of dark memory in the British army. Impenetrable
blackness shrouded the summit of the mountain; a thick, wet mist
encompassed it, and hid from the sight of the expectant officers and
men the details of the strange new land upon which the forlorn hope had
debouched. It could be felt rather than seen that the shoulder opened
out to a plateau, which rose steadily towards the north, but how far it
extended was not known. From below it had appeared only a narrow ridge,
bounded on all sides, except that from which the night assault had been
delivered, by sheer precipices, and the utmost caution had to be used
in the obscurity, as at each step an abyss might open before the feet
of the advancing line. In the preternatural stillness which prevailed
upon the mountain top there was no token of the enemy's presence. No
outposts had been encountered; the only sign of life visible was when
from time to time the mist lifted, and far below and behind the lights
of Three Tree Hill could be discerned twinkling in the darkness. The
land seemed to lie lapped in sleep. And then suddenly the looked-for
challenge came. Out of the mist sounded the shrill cry of a man in
mortal terror. It said in Dutch, "Halt! Who goes there?" Instantly
General Woodgate answered "Waterloo!" There was the flash of many
rifles, a rush, a scuffle, and the Lancashire Fusiliers were among the
Boers. It was only a weak picket, ten or fifteen men strong; the Boer
sentry was bayoneted at once; half-a-dozen others who had taken refuge
behind a stone wall were surrounded, and, though they made a gallant
stand, were overborne by numbers. In this fight Colonel À Court, of
General Buller's staff, had a narrow escape. Closing with one of the
enemy, he tried to use his Mauser pistol, but in this critical moment
found the safety catch was set, and had to snatch up a great stone,
with which he felled his opponent.


[Photo by Middlebrook.


[Sidenote: The storming force halts too soon.]

This brush with the Boers took place a little south of the real summit,
at a point where stood a grove of mimosa bushes, and where there was
fair cover. But from this point onward no difficulty was encountered;
the slope relented; the ridge opened out into one of those table-lands
which are a feature of South African mountain scenery. Breathless and
weary, the men pushed forward without any opposition, their movements
veiled in the mist through which the first grey light of dawn was
now breaking. They stood upon "a fog-bound island in the air." The
plateau, 400 yards wide, seemed to trend away interminably to the
north-east. And here the first great mistake, as after events proved,
was committed. Instead of pushing on to the uttermost extremity of the
summit, the forlorn hope halted about 5 a.m. at a Boer trench which was
captured without episode. Possibly the troops, wearied by their seven
hours' climb in the darkness, were incapable of any further desperate
effort. They must needs be prepared to maintain their position
throughout the day--a day which might well be one of the fiercest
fighting--and so rest was essential.

Some attempt was made to provide cover while the mist still veiled the
mountain top. Yet, by reason of this very mist, the exact position of
the enemy could not be ascertained or the defences constructed where
they were most needed. The surface of the hill was not favourable to
entrenching; it was of rock, friable indeed, but not to be cut with
spades, and the covering of earth was of the thinnest. Perhaps the
weariness of the infantry and the want of sufficient entrenching tools
would have precluded the construction of serious defences even had the
ground been wholly favourable. The men were in no condition to set to
work as navvies. All these things must be remembered when it is asked
why the troops did not entrench themselves. Here, as at Majuba, the
omission was fatal; here, as there, the same explanation will suffice
for the neglect of so obvious a precaution. What trenches were made
were only scratched in the thin soil, a few inches deep, and though
serviceable enough against rifle fire, were utterly ineffectual against
artillery. Stones to build breastworks were wanting; there were many
boulders on the summit, but these were too large to be moved. The Boer
works were remodelled as well as was possible under the circumstances.
This done, the little force waited for the lifting of the mist, when
the ordeal of battle would begin, and when for the first time the exact
situation could be discerned.


The photograph was taken outside Ladysmith; guns and gunners were
removed to Spion Kop when Warren developed his attack.]


[From a photograph taken at Newcastle Station.


[Sidenote: JAN. 24, 1900.] The Attacking Force not Promptly

[Sidenote: Tardy reinforcements.]

[Sidenote: [JAN. 24, 1900.]

Far below, the main body of the British army had heard the rattle of
the Boer outposts' first volley and the sound of cheering, succeeded
by silence, which told that the summit was won. As the dawn broke they
prepared for another day of battle, supposing that this achievement
would be followed by a general assault upon the enemy's positions. But
reinforcements were not promptly sent to join the forlorn hope in its
cloudland. No attempt was made to push artillery up to its support;
the mountain battery, which was with the army for this special work,
was not sent forward--and it is possible that its weak short-range
pieces firing smoke-producing powder would have been only a source
of embarrassment and loss. The way was so steep that it was doubted
whether heavier guns could be sent up. Already there was evident that
same want of energy and determination to conquer at all costs which
had exerted such a detrimental influence on the fighting of the past
week. From out of the mist could now be heard the occasional crack of
rifles, indicating that the outposts on the mountain were exchanging
shots. It was clear that the enemy had not fallen back, but was, on
the contrary, prepared to dispute the very possession of Spion Kop.

[Sidenote: Botha determines to recapture the hill.]

Meantime, the remnants of the Boer picket had reached General Botha's
headquarters and given the alarm. With quick decision and judgment,
which proved his capacity, the General ordered that the mountain should
be recaptured at all costs. It was the key of the position, unlocking
the door to Ladysmith. Through the mist horsemen sped to the camps of
the commandos, bidding them ride hard to the rescue. From all points
the Boers began to stream along the ridges which meet at Spion Kop,
and prepared to assault in their turn, encouraged by President Steyn,
who was present upon the field in person. Their cannon, four Krupps
or Creusot weapons, one at least of heavy calibre, and four or five
"Pom-Poms" were trained in readiness for the mist to lift, to shower
death and destruction upon the forlorn hope. A party of forty men
worked forward along the ridge, and, even before the sun dispersed the
clouds, opened a sniping fire.


[From a photograph.


[Sidenote: Positions of the opposing forces.]

[Sidenote: JAN. 24, 1900. The Boers Bombard Spion Kop.]

As the sun came through the mist, bringing the certainty of a fiercely
hot day, the British garrison could at last perceive the real
situation. The summit of Spion Kop had been but half occupied; the
northern end was in the hands of the Boers, who held a trench upon
it. Moreover, the table-land on the summit sloped down to the north,
and lay open to the enemy's fire from kopjes, rising from the long
mountain ridge, which surrounded it on three sides. The ridge forked
at Spion Kop, whose summit thus formed a projecting natural bastion;
one line of heights ran up to the north-west in the direction of Acton
Homes--the line of heights which Sir Charles Warren's infantry had
assailed day after day--another ran due eastward, prolonging the Boer
positions in front of Potgieter's Drift. The British force on Spion Kop
was thus most critically placed. It had no guns, yet it was exposed
in the closest of formations to gun fire; reinforcements could only
reach it by a long and arduous climb, whereas the Boers, by pushing
their men along the ridges which they held, could arrive comparatively
fresh; it could be attacked from every side except the south by a
converging and enfilading fire; its cover was all but useless, for it
was now seen that the trenches faced in the wrong direction. Added
to this there was the curious want of attention to detail which had
neglected the laying of a field telegraph so as to connect the summit
with headquarters; a want of oil for signal lamps; and a paucity in the
numbers of heliograph-operators and flag-signallers with the forlorn
hope. This neglect of the means of communication disastrously affected
the operations at every turn. Generals Warren and Buller did not know
what was happening on the summit, and never went there to see. The
British artillery, if report can be believed, fired repeatedly on the
British troops, through inadvertence and ignorance of the precise
positions occupied. Finally, when uncertainty as to who was in command
on the mountain arose, it could not be immediately solved by an appeal
to headquarters.


F. J. Waugh.]


This drawing is based on a Boer photograph taken on the spot
immediately after the battle. The concentrated fire of the enemy was so
terribly effective that our men were compelled to shelter themselves
behind the dead bodies of their comrades.]

[Sidenote: The Boers bombard the British position.]

From the British position on Three Tree Hill a breathless watch had
been kept on the clouds that veiled the summit. As the fleecy whiteness
was dispersed about 8 o'clock, the roll of musketry began. At the same
time the artillery opened fire, the naval guns shelling two precipitous
kopjes which rose just to the east of Spion Kop, while the field guns
on Three Tree Hill thundered at the western ridge. The Boer guns had
already broken silence and commenced a furious bombardment of Spion
Kop, raining shells upon General Woodgate's force. Simultaneously the
Boer marksmen in small parties poured in a deadly rifle fire from
the kopjes on the three sides of Spion Kop; they began, too, to work
towards the British trenches, taking all possible advantage of cover.
All the early morning men were pouring in, and the assailants grew
steadily in strength. The crackling of the rifles swelled into a heavy
and continuous roar, and upon the portion of the mountain held by the
British, shell, 94 lb., 15 lb., 12 lb., and 1 lb. in weight, fell at
the rate of seven to ten a minute, throwing up dense clouds of dust,
blowing human beings into unrecognisable fragments, inflicting the most
ghastly wounds, terrifying those whom they did not slay. A cyclone
of death had smitten the summit. No words can describe the appalling
uproar and confusion; all around the thunder of the guns and the
incessant roar of rifles; on the summit clouds of dust and the yells
and oaths of the combatants; the groans of the wounded; the shrieks of
the dying--man slaying man with every terrible circumstance that the
imagination can picture.

[Sidenote: [JAN. 24, 1900.]

[Sidenote: Woodgate wounded.]

Under the stress of this terrible fire the British infantry held firm,
Thorneycroft's volunteers on the left, Blomfield's Lancashire Fusiliers
on the right. If a man showed his head or lifted his arm he was as
good as out of the battle; so deadly, so overwhelming was the Boer
fire, that he was sure to be hit. From the summit already trickled a
steady stream of men towards the rear--towards the point where among
the mimosas a hospital had begun its merciful work. With the wounded
were a few unwounded--stragglers and skulkers--but not many. The
British soldier in these dreadful moments is rarely untrue to the call
of duty. He was at a grave disadvantage, for the rifle with which he
was armed was awkward to load lying down; the Boer weapon with its clip
holding five cartridges could be charged easily in a second or two. It
may be that this was a trifle, but none the less the defect made its
presence felt. So fierce, so breathless was the battle that no one had
time for thought. From general to private on the summit the one concern
was to hold the ground, to beat back the enemy, who came on like
demons, to fling the dead from the trenches, and to remove the wounded.
Here, as in the earlier battles of the war, there were some wonderful
escapes. Colonel Thorneycroft, a man of great stature and extraordinary
personal courage, was always upright among his men--always a mark for
the enemy's bullets, which tore and riddled his clothing, but, strange
to say, left him unharmed. General Woodgate had set a splendid example,
walking coolly to and fro till, some time before 10 a.m., he was struck
in the eye, while watching through his glass the effect of the British
fire, and mortally wounded. He was borne off the field murmuring, "Let
me alone! Let me alone!"

"It was as though hell had been let loose," was the concise description
of a wounded officer. From below the sight was dreadful enough. "I
saw three shells strike a certain trench within a minute," writes Mr.
Atkins; "each struck it full in the face, and the brown dust rose and
drifted away with the white smoke. The trench was toothed against the
sky like a saw--made, I supposed, of sharp rocks built into a rampart.
Another shell struck it, and then--heavens!--the trench rose up and
moved forward. The trench was men; the teeth against the sky were men.
They ran forward bending their bodies into a curve, as men do when they
run under a heavy fire; they looked like a cornfield with a heavy wind
sweeping over it from behind.... They flickered up, fleeted rapidly and
silently across the sky, and flickered down into the rocks without the
appearance of either a substantial beginning or end to the movement."

[Illustration: H. M. Paget.] [From a sketch made on the spot.


Bringing down wounded men from Spion Kop.]

[Sidenote: JAN. 24, 1900.] Confusion of Commands.]

[Sidenote: Thorneycroft put in command.]

The Boers suffered heavily in their turn, but not so heavily, as they
were in open formation, with better shelter, and out of sight of the
British gunners. They had not to face the fearful shell fire which made
of the British position a veritable shambles. As they gained ground and
were able to enfilade one of our most advanced trenches, the situation
grew more and more critical. Colonel Crofton, of the Royal Lancasters,
upon whom the command had now devolved by seniority--General Woodgate
having fallen--was greatly alarmed. Towards 10 o'clock he heliographed
to headquarters this startling message: "Reinforce at once or all lost.
General dead." It was clear that a crisis had arrived demanding every
effort. Sir Charles Warren replied by ordering up General Coke with
the 2nd Middlesex, 2nd Dorsetshires, and Imperial Light Infantry--the
last a volunteer battalion raised at Durban, which was now to have
its terrible baptism of fire--and by a message that Colonel Crofton
must hold out to the last and must not think of surrender. But Colonel
Crofton's words had roused the uneasiness of General Buller, who from
Spearman's Hill was watching the battle. Apparently unaware that
General Coke was on the way up, he telegraphed to Sir Charles Warren at
Three Tree Hill--"Unless you put some really good, hard-fighting man in
command on the top, you will lose the hill. I suggest Thorneycroft."
General Warren complied with his Commander-in-Chief's "suggestion."
Colonel Thorneycroft was appointed to command, "with local rank of
Brigadier-General." Thus the confusion was made worse, as half the
men on the top and most of those on their way up were unaware of this
change. It was as at Sedan, where, in the space of a few hours, there
were three commanders, with fatal results.


[From a photograph.


General Warren was having a slight wound bound up when the photograph
was taken.]

Besides the Middlesex Regiment, the Dorsets, and the Imperial Light
Infantry, who had earlier in the morning moved up to the head of
the valley dividing Three Tree Hill from Spion Kop, and who were
now sent up to the actual summit of Spion Kop, other help had been
despatched. With a soldierly intuition which did him infinite credit,
General Lyttelton at Potgieter's Drift had seized the extremity of the
emergency and had directed the 2nd Scottish Rifles to cross at Kaffir's
Drift, above Potgieter's, and advance up the southern slope of the
mountain. Yet, as the distance to be covered was great, it was not till
late in the afternoon that they reached the scene of action. Further to
the left Generals Hart and Hildyard made as though they, too, intended
to assault the positions opposed to them, and had they been permitted
so to do, it is certain that much of the pressure would have been taken
off the forlorn hope on Spion Kop. However, a sharp fire was exchanged
with the Boers, and then these two brigades fell to watching and
waiting, unable to aid their comrades who were fighting for dear life
on that grim summit. They could see the human anthill on the sky-line
in confusion; tiny figures running to and fro; other figures with the
gesture of command rallying the rout and restoring order. Instinctively
they realised the tremendous gravity of the struggle.


R. Caton Woodville.]


It was not until the night of the 24th that an attempt was made to get
guns to the top of the hill. It was then too late; the hill had been
abandoned, and the shattered remnants of the British force were already


[Photo by Wyrall & Son, Aldershot.


John Talbot Coke was educated at Harrow; entered the Army as 2nd
Lieutenant in the 21st Foot in 1859, and was transferred to the 25th
Foot (afterwards named the King's Own Scottish Borderers) in 1860;
Captain, 1866; Major, 1879; Lieutenant-Colonel, 1885; Colonel, 1889;
was put on half-pay, 1898. He served with the Suakin Field Force in
1888 during the investment of Suakin; was present in the engagement
of Gemaizah; served in the operations on the Sudan frontier in 1889;
was appointed senior officer at Mauritius in 1898, with local rank of
Major-General, and left there to command the 10th Brigade of the South
African Field Force, 1899.]

[Sidenote: JAN. 24, 1900.] Thorneycroft allows no Surrender.]

[Sidenote: A frightful struggle.]

[Sidenote: [JAN. 24, 1900.]

As the morning wore on, the fight on the summit grew fiercer and
fiercer. Fresh troops were continually arriving, for in the daylight
the climb was not so excessively difficult, till the small space was
packed with men. Just before the first reinforcements came up there was
a moment when disaster was narrowly avoided. The British force in
one of the outlying trenches was demoralised by its losses and by the
fire. About twenty men threw up their hands and shouted that they would
surrender to the Boers not a hundred yards away. On this, says Mr.
Winston Churchill, Colonel Thorneycroft dashed to the spot. "The Boers
advancing to take the prisoners--as at Nicholson's Nek--were scarcely
thirty yards away. Thorneycroft shouted to the Boer leader: 'You may go
to----! I command on this hill and allow no surrender. Go on with your
firing.' Which latter they did with terrible effect, killing many. The
survivors, with the rest of the firing line, fled 200 yards," but then
were rallied and regained the lost ground. It was owned by the Boers
themselves after the battle that the British soldiers had "fought with
desperate bravery and died like men." Despite the disadvantage of the
ground, despite the tremendous bombardment, they could not and would
not be forced back. The heaps of dead grew higher; an awful breastwork
of corpses was built to shelter the living; the trickle of wounded to
the rear became a stream; but the fight flickered to and fro and the
summit was still held.

[Sidenote: Lack of artillery support.]

From the shoulder of the hill by the mimosas, where the maimed men
crowded in a heart-rending throng round the dressing station, the
reinforcements emerged upon that bare plateau of death. There were now
the best part of 5,000 men, crowded into an area of little over three
acres. But no guns came, though all looked long and eagerly for them.
A couple of "Pom-Poms," a pair of 15-pounders, would have restored
confidence by their roar. But there were no "Pom-Poms" with the army,
and the artillery officers could not undertake to move their guns up
to the height by the precipitous track. It only remained to suffer and
die. In that atmosphere, thick with the fumes of cordite, of melinite,
and of the powder in bursting shells, suffocating with smoke and dust
and heat, the burning thirst of the battlefield laid its parching grip
upon the throats of the combatants, and men cried and screamed for
water. Yet water there was none, or, if there had been, there was no
time to seek it, and no chance of carrying it alive into the firing
line. Units were now commingled, companies confounded with companies,
battalions with battalions; so many officers were down that there were
few to lead and inspire the men in the fighting line. About 2 p.m. a
white flag was raised over part of the British trenches, and 150 of
the 2nd Lancashire Fusiliers under Captain Freeth surrendered. In this
battalion the losses of officers had been terrible, and the consequent
demoralisation great. Among those who fell was the ill-fated son of
Hicks Pasha, Captain Hicks. Blown to pieces by a shell, while bravely
leading his men, no trace of him could be found, and his fate was for
months uncertain.


F. J. Waugh.]


[Sidenote: JAN. 24, 1900.] An Officer's Experiences in the Battle.]

[Sidenote: Boer attempts to rush the position.]

The rifle fire of the British troops was so shaken by the hail of
shells, that the Boers were able repeatedly to close, and were only
driven back time after time by desperate bayonet charges. They had
set their hearts upon repeating Majuba, and capturing or driving back
in utter rout the British troops. Again and again their leaders called
upon our men to surrender, and were received each time with derisive
shouts, though some small parties raised the white flag. They asserted,
indeed, that our officers slashed the men with swords to make them
fight--a story which is disproved by the fact that, like the men, the
officers carried rifles; and they further accused us of firing upon
those who had been made prisoners. There may have been such incidents,
but not through any set purpose or with the fixed deliberation which
attended their own too frequent breaches of the laws of war.


Fired at Spion Kop and not exploded. Presented by the finder to
President Kruger.]

[Illustration: CAPTAIN HICKS.

Killed at Spion Kop. Was the son of Hicks Pasha, the unfortunate
General who, with all his forces, was massacred in the Soudan, Nov.


Partly based, by permission, on the map in Mr. Winston Churchill's
"London to Ladysmith via Pretoria."]

[Sidenote: [JAN. 24, 1900.]

The personal story of a wounded officer of the 2nd Middlesex is
worthy of repetition, as it gives a clear account of the afternoon's
battle. "I crawled," he says, "a little way with half my company, and
then brought up others in the same manner. The men of the different
regiments already on the hill were mixed up, and ours met the same
fate. It was impossible, under the circumstances, to keep regimental
control. One unit merged into another; one officer gave directions
to this or that unit, or to another battalion. I saw some tents on
the far side of the hill to our front, and knowing the enemy must be
there, opened with volleys at 1,800 yards, when we saw a puff of smoke,
indicating that one of the Boer guns had just fired. We lay prone,
and could only venture a volley now and again, firing independently
at times when the shower of bullets seemed to fall away, and the
shells did not appear likely to land specially amongst us. Everywhere,
however, it was practically the same deadly smash of shells, mangling
and killing all about us. The only troops actually close to me then
were a party of the Lancashire Fusiliers inside a schanze, F Company
of the Middlesex, and a mixed company of other troops on the left
front. A good many shells from the big guns burst near us, and a
lance-corporal of the Fusiliers was killed. The only point I could see
rifle fire proceeding from was a trench, the third, I believe, occupied
by our troops on the right, and looking towards Spearman's.

"Presently I heard a great deal of shouting from this trench, in
which were about fifty men. They were calling for reinforcements, and
shouting, 'The Boers are coming up.' Two or three minutes afterwards, I
saw a party of about forty Boers walking towards the trench. They came
up quite coolly; most of them had their rifles slung, and all, so far
as I could observe, had their hands up. Our men in the trench--they
were Fusiliers--were then standing up also, with their hands up, and
shouting, 'The Boers are giving in, the Boers are giving in.' I did
not know what to think, but ordered a company of my regiment to fix
bayonets. We waited to see what would happen. Just then, when the
Boers were close to the trench, someone--whether an enemy or one of
our men--fired a shot. In an instant there was a general stampede, or
rather a mêlée, my men rushing from their position and charging,
while the Boers fired at the men in the trench, knocking several back
into it dead. Previous to this, a Boer came towards me saying, 'I won't
hurt you.' He looked frightened, and threw down his rifle. Immediately
afterwards a Boer fired, and there was a frightful muddle. I fired
at one Boer, and then another passed. We were fighting hand to hand.
I shot the Boer and he dropped, clinging, however, to his rifle as
he fell, and covering me most carefully. He fired, and I fell like a
rabbit, the bullet going in just over and grazing the left lung. I lay
where I fell until midnight. Subsequent to my being hit, parties of
Boers passed twice over me, trying on the same trick, holding up their
hands, as if they were asking for quarter. But our men refused to be
taken in again, and fired, killing or driving them back." Thus it would
seem that the Boers were guilty of acts even more questionable than
those with which they charged our men.


Early in the afternoon the Scottish Rifles arrived, and were at once
thrown into the firing line. They served to defeat the last determined
Boer attempt to rush the position, replacing the shattered fragments
of the Lancashire Regiments. At the same time mules came up with a
supply of ammunition, which had been running low, and with a certain
amount of water, which was served out to the wounded. The most critical
moment had passed, though the murderous shell fire still continued. So
determined were the Boer rushes that at times the enemy came within
thirty yards. Yet, as the day went on, and the sun began to sink,
ground was distinctly gained.

[Sidenote: JAN. 24, 1900.] Lyttelton's Attempt to Divert the Enemy.]

[Sidenote: The King's Royal Rifles storm a ridge.]

A second move of General Lyttelton's unquestionably contributed to the
repulse of the Boers. Again, of his own initiative, he sent his finest
battalion, the 3rd King's Royal Rifles, to assail the eastern face
of Spion Kop. They marched by way of Kaffir's Drift, direct upon two
precipitous kopjes which rose from the ridge a mile or so from the main
summit, the left half battalion upon the western, and the right half
battalion upon the eastern kopje. The resolute skill with which they
went forward is described as the most splendid feat of the day. The
Boer trenches succeeded one another, line after line, along the slope
of the ridge; line after line they were carried with swift rushes.
Repeated charges with the bayonet were made, but the enemy always fell
back before coming to hand-grips. The attention of the Boers being
mainly concentrated upon Spion Kop, the Rifles were not opposed with
the fierceness that might have been expected; yet their advance was by
no means bloodless. They left on the field some seventy or eighty men,
but about 5 p.m. they effected a lodgment on the crest, and stormed
the two kopjes. At this point, unhappily, they began to suffer from
the fire of the British artillery on Three Tree Hill, which, unaware
of their success, burst several shrapnel over them. Their position was
isolated--between them and Spion Kop intervened a deep valley--and it
was difficult to support them fully. They were, therefore, recalled
from the heights they had won as evening drew on. They fell sullenly
back, indignant at being called off just when it seemed to them that
success was within their grasp; yet, in the light of after events, it
was fortunate that they were not left at their post of peril. "We were
wild at getting the order to retire after getting right up to the top,"
writes one of the King's Royal Rifles. "We had to come down again in
the dark, nearly breaking our necks, falling over rocks and down into
deep holes. I did not get back to our camp till 6 o'clock the next
morning. I had been sitting all night with a chap that had got wounded,
but I had to leave him in the morning, or I should have got captured by
the Boers."


Col. Buchanan Riddell, commanding, sits in the centre of the group,
with the Adjutant, C. W. Wilson, on his right. Colonel Buchanan Riddell
was killed on January 24.]

[Sidenote: [JAN. 24, 1900.]

[Sidenote: Desperate straits.]

Throughout the afternoon few messages and few signals had come from the
summit of Spion Kop. The heliographs were shattered by the Boer fire;
the flag signallers were struck down by the hail of bullets. Heliograms
from Sir Charles Warren asking what the situation was remained
unanswered. It was even doubtful whether General Coke or Colonel
Thorneycroft was in command. Some time in the afternoon a report came
in from General Coke couched in the most ominous terms. It stated that
unless the British artillery could silence the Boer guns, it would
be impossible for the force to endure another day on the summit, and
described the situation as most critical. The report was fully borne
out by the personal information of the war correspondent, Mr. Winston
Churchill, who had made his way to the top, passing on his climb some
hundreds of wounded or dying men. "Streams of wounded," he wrote,
"met us and obstructed our path. Men were staggering along alone, or
supported by comrades, or crawling on hands and knees, or carried on
stretchers. Corpses lay here and there.... There was, moreover, a small
but steady leakage of unwounded men of all corps. Some of these cursed
and swore. Others were utterly exhausted, and fell on the hillside in
stupor. Others, again, seemed drunk, though they had had no liquor.
Scores were sleeping heavily.... We were so profoundly impressed by the
spectacle and situation that we resolved to go and tell Sir Charles
Warren what we had seen.... One thing was quite clear--unless good and
efficient cover could be made during the night, and unless guns could
be dragged to the summit of the hill to match the Boer artillery, the
infantry could not, perhaps would not, endure another day. The human
machine will not stand certain strains for long."

[Illustration: THE HELIOGRAPH.

The photograph represents the heliographs signallers in the besieged
town of Ladysmith communicating with Buller's relief column.]


Frank Craig.]


[Sidenote: Confusion of commands.]

[Sidenote: [JAN. 24, 1900.]

News so disquieting proved the need for the most determined
effort--even for the presence of General Warren in person upon the
mountain, when all doubts as to who was in command would have been set
at rest, and the dispirited troops reassured by the presence of their
real leader. Instead of going, General Warren signalled to General
Coke to withdraw all but two battalions from the summit, placing the
men thus withdrawn under what shelter the southern slope afforded, and
directed General Coke to come in person and confer with him. General
Coke, unaware that Colonel Thorneycroft had been appointed to command,
handed over his charge to Colonel Hill of the 2nd Middlesex, as Colonel
Crofton, the next officer in point of seniority, had already been
wounded. Thus was confusion worse confounded, and the uncertainty as
to who was really in command further increased. There was no one in
authority; no officer of high rank was there to reorganise the defence
and cheer the men; no general to think of the future as well as of the
moment. Colonel Thorneycroft, who was actually directing the fighting
line, where his conduct was superb, could spare not a moment from the
vehemence of the conflict. Worst of all, he did not know that at last
guns and sandbags were coming up, with a large number of engineers to
complete the entrenchments.


[Photo by Sir W. Armstrong, Whitworth & Co.


Showing how the gun itself takes to pieces. The wheels can also be
quickly taken off the carriage for transportation, as shown in the
illustration on page 249.]


[Photo by Miell & Ridley, Bournemouth.


Photographed on their return to England.]

[Illustration: A. Forestier.] [After a sketch by Fred. Villiers.


[Sidenote: JAN. 24, 1900.] Victory Hangs in the Balance.]

It is said by Mr. Churchill that the artillery officers when questioned
as to the practicability of moving guns up to the summit, replied
that it was impossible, and that even if the guns could be got there
they would be shot to pieces. Lieutenant James, of the Royal Navy,
however, the officer in charge of the naval guns, replied that he
could go anywhere, or at least make the attempt. Accordingly, two of
his 12-pounders and the Mountain Battery were ordered to leave for the
top. It is Mr. Churchill's opinion that the path was impracticable
for field guns, and, as we have often seen, the British mountain guns
were of such a pattern and so short-ranged that they could have done
nothing against the Boer Krupps, Creusots, and "Pom-Poms." So that,
after all, little was lost by failing to send up guns earlier. The
movement of the guns did not begin till darkness was closing down. The
crackle of rifles still proceeded from the summit of Spion Kop, but the
heavy, incessant bombardment had now abated. Truth to tell, the Boers
were in the most grievous discouragement. If we had suffered, they had
suffered too. All their artillery fire had failed visibly to shake our
soldiers' grip on the hill; from the rear of their firing line, as from
ours, there was a procession of unwounded but faint-hearted men. Their
numbers were less than ours, and their men were worn out with incessant
fighting. As night fell, the signs of an imminent retreat were clearly
manifest to observers in the Boer rear, at Ladysmith. The garrison made
no effort to harry the enemy or precipitate the decision; weakened by
hunger, it could only watch from a distance the terrific contest on
which its fate hinged--watch and pray. As hour followed hour, it saw
shell and shrapnel burst; saw the scurry of tiny figures on the summit
of Spion Kop; saw, too, the victorious advance of the Rifles; saw the
flight of large parties of Boers, north-westwards and northwards. And
then darkness descended upon the doubtful field. But the Boers were
in a mind for flight--so much was certain. Some hundreds of their
men, as their surgeons afterwards owned, had been killed or wounded,
and these hundreds could never be replaced. In fact, that moment had
arrived which comes in all stubbornly contested conflicts, when the
men on each side feel themselves beaten, and when all depends upon the
general. The Boers had Louis Botha--young, brave, active, a born leader
of men--who had held a small band steady through the evening, and had
even succeeded in bringing up reinforcements. The British troops had
no one but Colonel Thorneycroft, and he, weary with twenty-four hours
of terrible conflict, appalled by the manner in which the force on the
summit had melted and suffered in the struggle, unconscious that the
enemy was equally hard hit, and with no knowledge that help was at
hand, was in no condition to reach a cool and balanced judgment.

[Sidenote: [JAN. 24-25, 1900.]

[Sidenote: Thorneycroft determines to withdraw.]

In the darkness the firing continued, but intermittently. Straggling
and skulking had increased; the trickle to the rear had swelled to a
stream; there were even stories of panic and flight, which were eagerly
caught up by the Boers from demoralised prisoners. But Mr. Churchill,
who a second time visited the position in the darkness, tells us that
the mass of the infantry were determined to hold on to the last.
Already, however, the fatal decision had been reached. On his own
authority, and in despite of the vigorous protests of Colonel Hill,
Colonel Thorneycroft had determined to withdraw, though his orders
were to hold the position to the last. He could not communicate with
Generals Buller and Warren or receive the instructions which, had they
only been present in person, they would undoubtedly have given. There
was no oil for the signal lamps, a sad instance of the fatal result
of the want of that attention to detail which has always marked the
great commanders. It added irony to the event that the British Staff
down below, in utter ignorance of what was proceeding above--and since
the morning no Staff officer had appeared on the summit--was making
arrangements for a general assault all along the line, as the retreat
began. Many of the wounded had to be abandoned when the shattered
companies and battalions, covered by a strong rearguard, withdrew
through the darkness, and stole down the precipitous path. One of the
bloodiest, certainly the most terrible, of the battles of the war had
reached its end.

[Illustration: R. B. M. Paxton.] [After a sketch by Ernest Prater.


The Boers at first refused to allow the British Volunteer Ambulance
men to carry off the wounded. Major Wright, who had been wounded at
Elandslaagte and was now serving under the Red Cross, persisted in his
demand, claiming his right under the Geneva Convention, and finally
carried his point in a personal interview with Commandant Botha.]

[Sidenote: Scene on the hill after the battle.]

[Sidenote: JAN. 25, 1900.] Boer Estimates of Comparative Losses.]

Dawn broke upon the summit, and parties of Boers stole forward to
renew the weary assault. But the place was tenanted only by the dead
and dying--a vast charnel-house testifying gloriously to the devoted
heroism of the resistance. Two hundred British corpses, many torn by
shells and dismembered beyond recognition, lay upon the mountain top,
and beside them lay many burghers in their last long sleep. "In some
of the trenches and parts of the kopje where the fire was hottest,"
writes a Boer correspondent, "bodies were actually entangled, as if the
dying men had clutched each other in the death struggle, the spirit of
battle in their souls as they sped from earth. On all sides were mute
evidences of the desperate nature of the battle. Dozens of stones were
spattered with blood, and empty Lee-Metford shells lay about everywhere
by the bucketful, testifying that the English had spent an enormous
amount of ammunition. Many cartridge belts were found entirely empty."
In one trench, raked steadily by the Boer fire, sixty bodies lay within
a hundred feet. And all about was the strange pathetic litter of the
battlefield; letters and papers, testaments, battered helmets, broken
firearms. Here and there the long grass had caught fire, burning mules
and men.


[Photo by Cribb.


The impossibility of using this mode of communication was one of the
minor causes of the loss of Spion Kop. (See page 297.)]

Even the Boers themselves were strangely moved by the evidence of
the heroism with which their as heroic attacks had been encountered.
Yet, in their usual fashion, they were not content with the victory
which they had achieved, but must needs fall to magnifying it by
misrepresenting alike the British losses and their own. They professed
to have buried 620 dead on Spion Kop and placed our total loss in
killed at 1,000. Mr. Webster Davis, an American official, who had
been mysteriously converted to Krugerism at Pretoria, went over the
battlefield and pretended to have counted 400 British dead, even after
the 620 had been buried. Which, it may be said, only served to show
that American politicians do not always tell the truth. Their own
killed the Boer official version placed at 51, their wounded at 123,
and this, they said, was the "heaviest loss yet sustained by our forces
in any engagement." The pretty effort of fiction deceived no one.
Though they were elated--and justly elated--at their great success, it
is well known that the feeling of satisfaction passed when the losses
were counted. One man, Louis Botha, had won the day; had the British
army possessed its Botha, what might it not have achieved, asked even
the plain burghers. And the time was coming when the British army
should find a Botha--and a greater than Botha--a general who had skill
to plan, faith to inspire, and capacity unflinchingly to execute.


One of many sad processions which merged into one long train at the
foot of the hill.]

[Sidenote: [JAN. 25, 1900.]

The Boers placed the strength of the force which assaulted Spion Kop at
half that of the total number of British left dead upon the field. That
is to say, they pretended that 100 or 150 men dislodged between 4,000
and 5,000 British infantry, who, by even the Boer accounts, displayed
remarkable bravery. It is needless to comment upon the story. Were it
true, every officer and man who returned from Spion Kop deserved to
be condemned as a coward. The evidence is strong that the Boers were
numbered, not by the fifty or the hundred, but by thousands. They made
their supreme effort in this quarter, and it succeeded. A word of
reproach is due for the ghoulish and horrible photographs of the field
of battle which the Boer generals allowed to be taken, and which the
Boer Government permitted to be paraded in the shops of Pretoria and


1. Lieut. Otto (wounded).
2. The Hon. J. L. H. Petre (killed).
3. Capt. Knappe (wounded).
4. Lieut. Bosomworth.
5. ----
6. Lieut. Prettijohn.
7. Dr. Bensusan.
8. Lieut. Steer.
9. ----
10. Quartermaster Clipman.
11. Lieut. Brown (wounded).
12. Lieut. Martins (wounded).
13. Capt. Bettington (wounded).
14. Col. Thorneycroft.
15. Capt. Morris.
16. Lieut. Sargent.
17. Capt. Hendry.
18. Lieut. Flower-Ellis (missing).
19. Lieut. Jenkins (killed).
20. Lieut. Baldwin (wounded).

right, and commencing with the back row.)]

[Sidenote: Losses in the action.]

It is difficult to ascertain exactly what were the losses on this
terrible day. The official return lumped together the casualties
for the week of battles, which amounted to 27 officers and 245 men
killed, 53 officers and 1,050 men wounded, and 7 officers and 351 men
missing. The vast proportion of the missing were prisoners, but a few
were among the killed. Of the men lost, about 200 were killed and
about 500 wounded on Spion Kop. By far the heaviest sufferers were the
companies of Thorneycroft's Mounted Infantry, which fought with such
blind devotion on that blood-stained summit. They went up 194 strong;
they returned with only 72 unwounded men. The 2nd Lancashire Fusiliers
out of a total of 800 had to mourn a loss of 250, but of these many
were prisoners. The Imperial Light Infantry, whose first battle this
was, out of 850 men lost 31 killed and 91 wounded or missing. It is
typical of the complete disorganisation which the fight produced that
the one battalion, the Scottish Rifles, which preserved the best order,
could muster only 270 out of 800 men at the foot of the mountain. The
reason was, not that its losses were especially heavy, but that in the
darkness and confusion no formation could be maintained.

[Sidenote: JAN. 25, 1900.] Stories of the Wounded.]

The patience, the valour of the common soldier throughout the week,
fully merited General Buller's epithet of "splendid." "The men,"
writes Mr. Treves, the distinguished surgeon with the army, "were
much exhausted by the hardships they had undergone. In many instances
they had not had their clothes off for a week or ten days. They had
slept in the open without great-coats, and had been reduced to the
minimum in the matter of rations. The nights were cold, and there was
on nearly every night a heavy dew. Fortunately, there was little or no
rain. The want of sleep and the long waiting upon the hill had told
upon them severely. There is no doubt also that the incessant shell
fire must have proved a terrible strain. Some of the men, although
severely wounded, were found asleep upon their stretchers when brought
in. Many were absolutely exhausted and worn out independently of their
wounds. In spite of all their hardships, the wounded men behaved as
splendidly as they always have done. They never complained. They were
quite touching in their unselfishness and in their anxiety 'not to
give trouble.' One poor fellow had been shot in the face by a piece of
shell, which had carried away his left eye, the left upper jaw with
the corresponding part of the cheek, and had left a hideous cavity at
the bottom of which his tongue was exposed. He had been lying hours on
the hill. He was unable to speak, and as soon as he was landed at the
hospital he made signs that he wanted to write. Pencil and paper were
given him, and it was supposed he wished to ask for something, but he
merely wrote, 'Did we win?' No one had the heart to tell him the truth."


J. Greig.]


Whilst the Boers treated our wounded with tenderness they did not
hesitate to turn out the pockets of the dead and dying.]

[Sidenote: [JAN. 25, 1900.]

There were many striking instances of gallantry. Captain Murray, of
the Scottish Rifles, though wounded in four places, essayed to lead a
charge on the Boer trenches, and so doing was shot dead. Captain the
Hon. J. H. Petre, of Thorneycroft's, displayed throughout the most
determined valour; twice wounded, he remained in his place and was
killed. Sergeant Mason, of Thorneycroft's, a crack shot, engaged in a
terrible contest with three Boers. One he knocked over at his first
shot, the second he mortally wounded, the third saw him and took cover
before he could fire again. Five bullets passed through his helmet;
others tore his clothes; one at last struck his right shoulder. He
changed his rifle to his left shoulder and finally hit his adversary.
The Boer fell forward with his head over a boulder, and Mason crawled
away to have his wound dressed. In the dressing station on the brow of
the hill the army doctors displayed their wonted bravery under fire.
One man at least was killed in the surgeon's hands; others were wounded
afresh while they were being bandaged.

Among the strange incidents of the day was this, which is vouched
for by Mr. Burleigh. While the Boers were attacking the Lancashire
Fusiliers, a man in khaki, who looked like an officer, suddenly
appeared in one of the British trenches and ordered those holding it
to move out of it, as they were of no use where they were. Several
obeyed, when they found that he was leading them towards a strong
force of Boers among the rocks. "They are friends," said the supposed
officer, as the men hesitated. But, fortunately, a private, who had his
suspicions aroused, challenged the man in khaki, and, when he could
give no satisfactory explanation of his presence, bayonetted him.
Nearly all the British party were thereupon shot down.


[Photo by Colour-Sergeant Morris.


Non commissioned officers transferred to the new 3rd Battalion
Middlesex Regiment at Woolwich.]

[Sidenote: The retreat.]

When morning came, Generals Buller and Warren learnt to their surprise
and consternation that the position had been abandoned. General
Buller's first intimation of the true situation was when a naval
officer on Mount Alice gazed through the naval telescope and saw that
there were only Boers and ambulance men upon the summit. The general
seemed to have grown suddenly older; he looked wearied and depressed.
Forthwith he rode out to Trichardt's Drift and at last assumed command.
A general retreat was ordered upon the spot; all the troops were to
withdraw to the south of the Tugela as soon as the baggage could be
moved across.

Fresh from a reverse more disastrous than that of Colenso, the army
was yet able to retire unmolested; the bridges themselves were taken
to pieces for future use, General Buller being the last man across. On
the morning of the 27th the enemy dropped a few shells into the river
without effect, and the turning movement was a thing of the past.

[Sidenote: JAN. 25-27, 1900.] The Army Recrosses the Tugela.]

In his telegraphic report, General Buller especially praised the
conduct of the Scottish Rifles, King's Royal Rifles, Lancashire
Fusiliers, and 2nd Middlesex. He pointed, too, with a satisfaction
which caused deep uneasiness at home, because it seemed to show that
the British Army was in very truth a beaten force and had been on
the very edge of disaster, to the ease with which the 20,000 British
soldiers had been withdrawn to the south of the river.

[Sidenote: Causes of the defeat.]

The causes of the defeat were many. In the first place must be set
a faulty military system. The Boers, observes Mr. Churchill, would
have placed 300 men on Spion Kop, who, by taking cover and shooting
carefully among the rocks, would have suffered but little from the
artillery fire. The British generals massed first 2,000, and then 5,000
men upon the height--a target for every shell. The failure to construct
serviceable entrenchments has already been noticed, and in some degree
explained, but it is possible that if the British infantry had been
regularly trained to the use of the spade, the difficulties would have
been overcome. The fog was an element by no means favourable to our
success; it prevented the troops from seeing where to advance, and gave
the enemy time to rally and collect. The breakdown of all organisation
and organising power at the close of a day of desperate and prolonged
conflict is not altogether to be wondered at.

"If at sundown the defence of the summit had been taken regularly in
hand, entrenchments laid out, gun emplacements prepared, the dead
removed, the wounded collected, and, in fact, the whole place brought
under regular military command, and careful arrangements made for the
supply of water and food to the scattered fighting line, the hill would
have been held, I am sure," wrote General Buller. "As this was not done
I think Colonel Thorneycroft exercised a wise discretion."

In his despatch, covering and commenting upon the various reports, Lord
Roberts gave the final and well-balanced judgment of a great soldier.
He held that General Buller's original plan for a turning movement had
been well conceived and had every probability of success if only it
had been executed. He blamed, for the failure upon Spion Kop, General
Buller, because of his "disinclination to assert his authority and
see that what he thought best was done"; Sir C. Warren, because of
his "errors of judgment" and "want of administrative capacity," and
because he had not himself visited the summit in the hours of crisis;
and Colonel Thorneycroft, because of his "unwarrantable and needless
assumption of responsibility." But the nation will not forget that
while the gravest mistakes were made, they were made by generals who
were brave, patriotic Englishmen, under the stress and anxiety of
conflict. It is painful to have to record the fact that the man who was
probably least to blame was the one singled out for punishment. Colonel
Crofton was retired from his command, because of the brief message he
had signalled to headquarters announcing the dangerous position on
Spion Kop. Some months later, after the publication of the despatches,
Sir C. Warren was recalled from Natal and given an administrative post
in Griqualand West.