Now I pass on to Colenso, where, in a short time some lively work was to be done, and, in passing, I must try to put the reader in a position to see the situation as it really was. Do not be frightened, however, for I am not going to give you long descriptions of positions or battles in the future, but will confine myself to relating just what I think will prove most interesting and nothing more. If my life depended upon it, I could not write even an approximately correct history of the war; and I am sure that no one else could do it, because the military operations were spread over such a large extent of country. Of course the London Times has published a correct history of the war, and so has Conan Doyle written and published a correct history of the war; the only time that a great newspaper and a popular novelist ever competed in the art of fiction. Both won.
During the Battle of Modderspruit, General Lucas Meyer fell sick and went home. No one wished him to die, but no one was sorry that he had to go home. He was as hopelessly incompetent to command as either General Erasmus or General Schnlk Burger, and that is saying a great deal. The gods were with us now, sure enough, for Louis Botha, a private, was made a general in Meyer's place. Botha was young, about thirty-five, energetic, brave, a quick and able soldier, and he at once put himself to work. He made the Boers dig trenches in the hills and along the river bank in front of Colenso, and built stone walls for protection, for he knew that Buller would come with a strong force and many cannon. Certain it was that a big battle was to be fought at Colenso, because Ladysmith must be relieved. The Tugela wound along at the base of the hills, and beyond it was an open plain over which Buller must come. Botha was now ready for any army that might show itself. The railway bridge and the wagon road-crossing were just in front of his line of trenches, and there the heavy fighting must take place.
Buller with about 35,000 men and ninety-six cannon finally came into view, camped at the little towns of Chieveley and Frere, about six or seven miles away, and from there sent out his reconnoitring parties.
The Boers " laid low and said nothing," not a rifle or cannon was fired, and all was as silent as the grave.
On December 15th, General Buller made up his mind to relieve Ladysmith, as, apparently, there was no obstacle in his way. He moved out his forces in beautiful battle-array, brought his cannon into position and opened fire upon all the hills. If there were really any Boers in those hills his heavy lyddite shells would soon make them shift and abandon those parts. Soon the earth seemed to be hi a tremble, gravel and stones were whizzing through the air, and the roaring of the bursting shells on the hills and mountains in the rear was simply terrific and deafening, yet the Boers "laid low and said nothing." Soon the English became convinced that there was no enemy in the hills or along the river banks, so all the cannon ceased firing and a deadly silence reigned as the English-Irish regiments with steady step advanced toward the river. When within easy range, the silent Boers along the river banks raised their mausers, made them sing in unerring tones, and, at the same time, Captain Pretorius roared from the hills his pompom and cannon to make complete the scene of death and destruction. Soon the plain of Colenso was strewn with dead and wounded Irish Tommies, and at the very time when the battle was raging at its highest pitch, ambulances in great numbers rushed into the field, apparently to assist the unfortunate, but, in fact, to stop the Boers in their deadly work. Screened by these ambulances, twelve Armstrong cannon came into the field, but the quick eye of Captain Pretorius detected them, and at once he sent some shells that landed among them. These then scattered and fled for safety and exposed the twelve cannon to the Boer and his mauser. Artillery men and artillery horses were quickly shot down and the guns rendered useless. Rescuing parties made bold attempts to save the guns, but the Boer and his mauser mowed them down. Here it was that Lieutenant Roberts, a son of Lord Roberts, an English politician and financier, bravely met his death.
Now the British began to fall back, and about 200 Boers and Irish boys rushed across the river, seized ten of the guns (two had been rescued), Colonel Bullock and a good bunch of prisoners, and recrossed the river, landing in safety within their own lines. Strange to say, all this was accomplished right under the eyes of the whole British force, without any resistance being offered. They all evidently felt sick, had had enough and wanted to go home, and they did, without delay or ceremony return to their homes in Chieveley and Frere.
General Louis Botha had now fought his first battle, won an easy victory and destroyed British prestige, and that, too, with a loss of but six men killed and a small number wounded. I don't know what the English loss was, and I don't believe the English know either, for it was only last September or October that Mr. Chamberlain, in answer to a question on the subject made by a Scotch member, staled that the list of the dead in South Africa was not yet completed. It is barely possible that Mr. Chamberlain is still waiting for his missing thousands to show up. Sure it is, St. Peter has completed the list, and when Chamberlain and Milner follow up Rhodes, no doubt each will be supplied with certified rolls of the names of their thousands of victims in South Africa. I can see a very warm future ahead for the South African Trinity. After all was over, the British sent a wail to the remotest part of the civilized world, to the effect that the Boers had deliberately fired upon the red cross ambulance, in utter disregard of the rules of the Geneva Convention. Those ambulances were rushed into the immediate line of fire in order to stop the Boers from shooting down the English soldiers, and, at the same time, to serve as a screen for the two batteries in reaching their coveted position. The infamous game was detected, a shell scattered and put to flight the ambulances, the Tommies continued to fall, and ten guns of the two batteries being now completely exposed and within easy mauser range, were quickly captured. Yes, Mr. Englishman, as you cannot fight honorably and win, you must resort to infamous methods and manufacture excuses for failure out of deliberate falsehoods. Had your little game succeeded, the batteries reached their coveted position and proved disastrous to the Boer forces, it would never have occurred to you to mention this ambulance incident.
General Botha having granted General Duller all the time he wished for to care for his thousands of dead and wounded, the Boers returned to their pipes and coffee, their usual daily services and their peaceful way of camp lif e,without its once occurring to them that their deeds, on that day, had made them known, respected and honored throughout the civilized world.
Of course this does not include the British Government in London, Silly Billy of Germany or the English Government in Washington, D. C. The fifty Irish boys who went down for the day and were in the very hottest of the fight, and Avho particularly distinguished themselves by being among the very first to seize the English cannon, now returned to camp at Modderspruit; but they were so restless and jubilant that it was plain that something must be done to pacify them, so it was suggested that we arrange for some sports, as Christmas was very near at hand. This suggestion hit just the right place with all of them, and it was decided to have horse races, athletic sports and some kind of a banquet too. Christmas day was to be the day, and the boys went to the different commandos, invited all who had fast horses to come and try their luck, and all who felt that they could run, jump, throw heavy weights, etc. Nor did they fail to tell every one that all would have an opportunity to take a smack at Irish cooking. Every thing went beautifully, a half-mile track was prepared, plenty of food was cooked, and all was in readiness when Christmas day came.
Boers with fast horses from all the commandos were there. Athletes representing all commandos ; generals, commandants and veldtcornets were there; young ladies and old ones, too, from Pretoria, Johannesburg, Dundee and other towns, were entertained by the Irish boys. All gazed in admiration at the colors that waved to and fro with the breeze, for they saw the Vierkleur, the Green Flag with the Harp, the Star and Stripes, the Tricolor of France, and the German and Holland flags that floated over the Irish camp.
It was a day of jubilee without a queen, a day for brave and patriotic hearts to assemble, a day for a liberty-loving and God-fearing people to rejoice and be merry. It was not a day for a titled figurehead, not a day for dissolute lords, not a day for an unscrupulous Colonial Secretary, a weak, High Commissioner of South Africa, or the moneyed rascals of Kimberley. For them the day must smell of rottenness, and therefore be celebrated in London. With one horse the Irish boys easily won hi all the races, while the Boers captured nearly all the prizes in athletics. The Irish, however, played an English trick in the races on the unsuspecting Boers. By the art of commandeering, they had possessed themselves of a good race horse in Pretoria, and it was this horse that so easily took all the prizes. The sports having come to an end, all went to camp and enjoyed the Irish boys' meats, cakes, pies, etc., but it was a painfully dry banquet. Several cases of liquid refreshments had been ordered and they had arrived at Modderspruit, but some thirsty party had appropriated and removed all of them before the Irish boys arrived at the station, so we had to use coffee as a substitute.
Now, coffee is all right, and it is wet, but that little something is missing in it that puts such a delightful tingle into the blood. I felt sorely disappointed because it was Christmas day, the boys had distinguished themselves only a few days before, and I fondly hoped to give them a drink or two, their guests a drink or two, and besides I wanted a drink or two myself. Having feasted, all joined and sang first, God save Ireland, then the Volkslied of the Transvaal and that of the Orange Free State, and then, after giving three cheers for the Irish boys and Ireland, all, happy and satisfied, dispersed and returned to their respective camps to attend evening services. During that whole afternoon, I confess that I felt nervous, for there was a large crowd of men, women and children assembled in the camp, and I was afraid every moment that I should hear a big lyddite shell come whizzing over from Ladysmith. I was happily disappointed, however, and felt much relieved after the people had dispersed.