Horses, mules and men arrive from America - The author and Major Pretorius make a long ride with despatches - An exciting trip.
Now I come to the month of March, during which but little was done except in Cape Colony and de la Key's district of the Western Transvaal. General Louis Botha was at Ermelo and the various commands were in their respective districts on the high veldt. The English did not come out because enough mules and horses had not yet arrived from America.
We all had a quiet but good time lying in laager, smoking our pipes and growing fat on mealie pap (ordinary corn meal mush) and fresh beef. In the Free State General De Wet had a few little skirmishes and a few of his commandos had a brush with the enemy, but little or no damage was done. It seemed that the peace confab between Lord Kitchener and General Botha in the latter part of February had a soothing and quieting effect on everybody. In Cape Colony, General Kritsinger, Commandants Malan, Fouche, Hertzog and George Brand were going at a lively pace in many of the districts. They seemed to continue to have their own way and keep the English on the constant jump, and captured many prisoners. All of them supplied themselves and men with at least two horses each, and the English were kind enough to give them plenty of ammunition. So the Boers in Cape Colony had no reason to complain. In the western division of the Transvaal, General de la Key's commandos had some pretty hard fights. The general attacked Lichtenburg and gave the English a good pounding. Had not reinforcements arrived just in time,he wouldhavehad the town and the English garrison. But as it was, he was forced to retire. One of his commandos near Klerksdorp attacked the English and forced them to retire. Near Kaffir Kraal General de la Rey had another fight, and although the English suffered severely, they were too many for him and captured his guns. The lieutenant in charge of the artillery was not to blame, however, for he was deceived by one of those Anglo-Africans who came to him and told him that General de la Rey wished the guns. Having obeyed he found himself and guns in the hands of the English. As this AngloAfrican was evidently a burgher, the lieutenant thought nothing about it further than to obey instructions. Damn all Anglos, whether Americans, Boers, German, French or whatever then* nationality.
Along the line of the Magaliesburg Mountains a few shots were daily exchanged between the English and the Boers, the English in the forts and the Boers in the foothills, but no actual fighting took place. General Beyers in the north was inactive, too, after he and General Plumer had had some hot fights, when the latter came to occupy the little town of Pietersburg, 180 miles north of Pretoria.
General Beyers had but a small command, but he kept General Plumer's force busy throwing up earthworks and preparing all sorts of defences. General Beyers placed his headquarters between Pietersburg and Pretoria and not far from the railway line, that he might continue to trouble the big force at Pietersburg.
Now I come to the month of April, when sufficient horses, mules and men had arrived from the United States of America for Lord Kitchener to put sixty-three mobile columns in the field, so the reader may be sure that the Boers had to make use of all of their natural wits to outwit the English. They did well, covered themselves with glory and again put the great English army to shame. The reader must remember at this time the actual fighting Boers numbered very nearly 30,000 men and no more. There were also on the farms several thousand women and old men, non-combatants, and children. I hope this will be remembered, for now comes the most interesting and marvelous part of the war.
During the next twelve months, the wonderful fighting qualities of the real fighting Boer came out and astonished the world, while the English army by its pitiful stupidity and un worthiness, becomes immortalized in the history of a fast declining and degenerated Empire. General Ben Viljoen and " Fighting Bill, " General Muller, learned that a large convoy was leaving Machadadorp on the Delagoa railway line for Lydenburg, where there was a large English command. They resolved to try to take it, and with nearly 500 fine soldiers and determined men they left their laager, marched about thirty miles and concealed themselves near the main road to Lydenburg. At last, after waiting a day and a night, the convoy with six or seven hundred escort came in sight, and all the boys gazed at it with eager eyes. Nearer and nearer it came, till it came too near and the boys could not wait any longer. Off they went for it, fired a few shots, the escort fled, and the boys brought back about 100 loaded wagons with them. I tell you, the Tommies don't like the looks of the Boers when they come fast, and they put themselves out of danger as quickly as their horses can take them. Once again the English have supplied the Johannesburg commando with food, clothing and ammunition. General Chris. Botha in the Vryheid district, like General Viljoen and General Muller, helps himself to a convoy that plentifully supplies him with all that is necessary in the way of food, clothing and ammunition, but the escort were all fortunate enough to escape.
Commandant Grobler ran against a large column of English five times his number, gave them a good short fight and then retreated as rapidly as he could. General Louis Botha and General Chris. Botha attacked a column 3,000 strong at Spitz Kop near Ermelo and kept these 3,000 Tommies moving lively all day. I really believe the English cavalry would do well if so many of them did not fall off when at a swift pace, and if they would not stampede and every man run for his life because a shell exploded near them. Here I saw over 600 cavalry put to flight by one shell from a French gun so directed by Major Pretorius that it struck and exploded in their midst. Major Pretorius had about twenty men with him, but the 600 Tommies had not lost any Boer guns and were not looking for any. As this body of 600 cavalry fled, several troopers fell off their horses and followed their fast flying comrades on foot. If the cavalry of other European countries is as bad as the English cavalry, my advice to them is to fight shy of the American cavalry if it comes to a fight. This column intended to camp near Ermelo, but concluded that it was too warm for them and went several miles towards Carolina before going into camp.
Now there was a rest in this part of the world for about two weeks, and then, like a swarm of bees, the English columns fairly covered the whole high veldt, fifteen columns having shown up at one time. This was on the 29th of the month, so I will wait until the next month, May, to tell all that happened.
On this very day Major Pretorius, Gustave Preller and myself started on a round trip of 480 miles to the Western Transvaal with despatches for General de la Rey. We saw something, and before I forget it I must tell our experience. It was a perilous journey, but we felt confident that we would deliver the despatches and return to General Louis Botha with the replies. With a cart and four mules driven by a Pondo Kaffir, Kleinveld by name, two pack horses, and three riding horses, we started. On arriving at Olifantsfontein, about twenty miles from the Johannesburg-Pretoria railway line, we learned that it would be impossible to keep the cart with us because the English had every crossing so well guarded.
We decided to leave it, its Kaffir driver and the young burgher, Van Rensberg, and go ahead with the two pack horses. Young Van Rensberg, a brave and noble boy, was instructed to await our return, but if the English should show up before we did, he was to use his own judgment and save himself, cart and mules. Off we went, and on reaching a ridge about nine miles from the railway line we stopped, brought out our field glasses and found that the English were numerous all along the line. But we must pass through, and that was all there was to it; so we decided to pass the line very near to Olifantsfontein, because the English wouldn't think for a moment that any Boers would dare to take such desperate chances. We waited till the sun was down. It was the 3rd of May and the full moon came up in all her glory just as the sun dropped below the horizon. It seemed to us that it was as light as day, but go we must, and we did go. At about eight o'clock p. m. Major Pretorius said, "There is a line," and there it was. Cautiously we approached it, then crossed it and smiled a heavenly smile as we looked at the Tommies 600 yards away at the station, smoking, telling jokes and laughing by their camp fires. They had no guards out, and we passed by them without interruption, not seeing any trouble ahead. We rode on for a mile, stopped and rested our horses for fifteen minutes and then went on our way to the six-mile-spruit near Pretoria. We rode till one o'clock a. m. and we knew that we were near the Pretoria-Rustenberg main road, so we decided to stop, sleep until daylight and then hasten to Schurweburg, a farm settlement just twelve miles west of Pretoria. We hobbled our horses and went to sleep on the dry grass.
Just at daylight Major Pretorius stirred us up, and we caught, saddled and packed our horses and travelled at a gallop, because we were very near the English forts on the hill between us and Pretoria. Just as the sun rose we were crossing an arroya (a spruit), and Preller discovered a long canvas bag, well filled, by the roadside. It bore the name of one of Kitchener's scouts and had evidently fallen from a wagon during the night. The numerous horse and wagon tracks convinced us that we were very near an English command and therefore we must proceed very cautiously.
About one and a half miles to our right was the little farm settlement behind a ridge, and from the great column of black smoke that was rising in the air we concluded that the English must be there, engaged in a fight against the women and children and burning their homes. We turned to our right and went down the arroya and when at a distance of 400 yards, Major Pretorius, who was in front, leaped from his horse. Preller and I followed suit. About 500 yards to his left Major Pretorius discovered fifteen mounted English on a small ridge facing him. Near the arroya was a small clump of bush and in it we concealed our five horses as best we could. The Major and Preller crawled up a hill about sixty yards away to try and find out where the camp was, while I was to stay with the horses and keep an eye on the smoke. In a few moments I discovered between us and the smoking farm settlement, at a distance of about 800 yards, some 400 cavalrymen, all dismounted. The major had also discovered them and traveled back to tell me.
We now realized that we were in a bad box, and that it looked as if there was no hope to escape* for should we try to go back towards Pretoria we would be discovered and driven into that town and captured. In a few minutes the 400 cavalry mounted their horses and came up the arroya towards us, crossed it about 300 yards below us, passed about the same distance to our left and finally dismounted in the road just where a few minutes before we had picked up the bag. They were now about 400 yards from us and in plain view. Suddenly they mounted their horses, formed a semi-circle around us, in line of skirmishers, and began to fire, but in an opposite direction to us. Another 100 cavalry came up the arroya from the burning houses, driving some sheep, and passed behind us no more than seventy-five yards away. We heard distinctly all they said about burning and plundering the farmhouses. The firing became general all about usThen we knew that some Boers had attacked the English, yet there was no possible chance for us to escape as far as we could see.
We all shook hands, and swore that we would not surrender, and having concealed the few valuables we had, we waited for the English to discover us. Should they kill us they would get nothing bat our horses, and as a last resort we were going to mount our horses and run for our lives. The fight lasted till 10.30 a. m., about three and one half hours, and then the English formed columns, took their wagons and cannon and started for Pretoria. They had gone about 800 yards when they halted and dismounted. We did not like this, so we mounted our horses, rode down the arroya about 300 yards till we came to the wagon road that led to the farm settlement, and then put spurs and were away at full gallop. The English stood with their necks stretched like a flock of geese and gazed intently at us, but never fired a shot. We passed near five Boers in a kopje who were about firing on us, but seeing our pack horses they refrained. They could not understand how we could be Boers and come from the English lines, yet they knew that none but Boers had pack horses.
On reaching the farm settlement we found the houses were not burnt, but the barns and all food supplies were destroyed and hundreds of women and children left to starve. The object of this was to force the women and children to go to Pretoria and ask for supplies of food. Lord Kitchener would then send them to one of his prison camps for women andjchildren,and cable to London that some 200 women and children from Schurweburg had come to him as refugees, seeking his protection, as all were in a starving condition. The Boers who had been fighting the English soon came in and reported their morning's work. We knew every one of them personally and were glad to see them again. When the fight began only six of the 110 men had horses, but when it ended they had nineteen more and six mules and one wagon loaded with supplies which they had captured from the English. With the mules they could now mount thirty-one of the 110 men.
During the fight a little fifteen-year-old boy by the name of Pretorius had walked about three miles to a point from which he could see if there were any more English coming from any quarter. He remained too long, and when lie saw the English columns returning to Pretoria, it was too late for him to run and save himself. He had no idea that the English engaged in the fight intended to return to Pretoria so soon.
He followed the Boer instinct to save himself, and he crawled into an ant-bear hole about forty yards from the road and pulled his rifle with him. The whole column passed him by and when he could no longer hear the horses' feet beating the road, he ventured to peep out and see his position. He saw one man coming at a gallop about a half a mile away and he knew this man belonged to the column that had passed by, so he lay low and watched the lone trooper. When the trooper was about forty yards away little Pretorius jumped out of the hole, threw his rifle into position and called out, "Hands upl" The trooper was an English sergeant and thought at first that the little boy was joking, but soon saw that he was in earnest, and at once surrendered. Little Pretorius made him lay down his rifle, ammunition, and so forth, and then started him on his way on foot. After the trooper had gone about 100 yards the little boy with two rifles, plenty of ammunition and a fine horse, bridle and saddle, went cantering away to the farm settlements. On his arrival he was the hero of the hour, and every one, men, women and children, congratulated him on his pluck and good soldier sense. Now thirty-two of the 110 men were mounted.
We stopped here for three days to rest ourselves and horses and to have new shoes put on the horses, for we had to pass through a very rocky country. We learned that the English forts were very numerous between us and General de la Rey, and that it would be difficult to pass them by without being captured, but we must take the chance. Here we first met the famous Boer Spy, Captain Naude, a young man about twenty-three years old. In due time I will tell all about him and his marvelous spy system in Pretoria and Johannesburg. While hi this farm settlement he and a few boys went into Pretoria every night and brought out a good bunch of the officers' horses, bridles and saddles, so that by the time we said good-bye to all and started on our long journey, seventy of the 110 men were mounted. We arrived at this farm settlement on May 4th and left on the 7th, passed near Krugersdorp, saw the English camps about there and went down through Heckpoort.
We were now about three miles from Nooitgedacht where General de la Rey and General Beyers had taken General Clement's camp and killed, wounded and taken prisoners 800 of his men. Ahead of us we could see a long line of English forts, so we knew that there must be Boers in the Magaliesburg just opposite to them. We moved cautiously and kept our eyes on the forts. When nearly opposite to them and about 5,000 yards distant, we found some Boers, and I tell you we felt much relieved. The English had spent the previous day trying to shell them out, but had signally failed. We could not learn just where General de la Rey was, but they knew he was somewhere near Mafeking on the western border. We remained here for the night and learned that the English had forts everywhere in front, and that we must be very careful.
In the early morning we started to run the gauntlet and pass the forts. Each rode about two hundred yards behind the other for about an hour an a half and then we found ourselves out of danger. Not a shot was fired at us, yet we were directly under them and not 3,000 yards away. We crossed a small mountain and were then in a great, wide rolling prairie, with Ventersdorp about five hours' ride to the left.
The many English graves we daily passed showed that heavy fighting had taken place along the whole line of the Magielesberg. On reaching a tall ridge we could see immense forts on all high prominences in our front, and we were much puzzled as to how we could safely pass them. We would stop and use our glasses frequently, because we were on risky ground. There was one large fort that was directly in our way, and we could not see how we could possibly pass it without going at full speed, and our horses were too tired to do this. We slowly approached till within a thousand yards of this place, when we dismounted, sat down to rest and made the best possible use of our glasses. We had excellent glasses, and for one hour there was not a second passed without at least one of us having the glasses nailed on that fort. It was about noon time, and to save us we could not see the slightest sign of life about the fort. We concluded there was no one in it and we decided to take our chances and ride by it. We guessed right, and at a kraal near by the Kaffirs told us that the English had left the fort the day before. This fort would accommodate about 1,000 men, so we knew that many English were prowling about somewhere and that we must keep a sharp lookout. We moved on rapidly, passed many of the forts, but were not delayed by any of them. Our horses were very tired and so were we, when we reached one of General de la Key's commandos on May 10th. We felt relieved, for now we were sure that the despatches would be delivered and we could take a long rest. We were told that General de la Rey was at Mafeking, but would return in two or three days. In due time we learned that he had returned and that he was with his laager about six miles away. We went to see him, and there we found with him one of his bravest and most dashing fighters, General Kemp. We delivered the despatches, he wrote his replies, and in one hour was gone to see one of his commandos twenty-five miles away, to get matters in readiness for a fight. He had one horse, worth about twenty dollars, a mackintosh, a revolver and a pair of glasses. With him was his son and Secretary Ferrera. He eats with his burghers, shares their blankets and carries practically no staff. He makes every man fight.
Within an hour after his departure a most important despatch arrived from General De Wet telling him that he must come at once and see him in the Free State, for it was on a serious matter that they must act. The despatch was forwarded to the general in haste. We remained here a few days with General Kemp to give our horses a good rest for the return journey. We had bread to eat and it was the first we had tasted for many months. At night, General de la Key had the ground plowed, the corn planted, and the wheat sowed, so that he always had plenty of everything to eat in the way of bread, mealie pap, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, Irish, etc.
On the 22nd of May we started back on the same route by which we had come. Two days after leaving General Kemp we heard heavy cannonading,as if some one had attacked somebody else. We were sure that General Kemp had a hand in it, because he was always looking for a fight and he was in that direction. We passed back through the English lines without any trouble whatever, and arrived at the farm settlements we had left on the 7th of May, on June 2nd. Seventy of the 110 men were mounted when we left and on our return the entire number was mounted and they had some forty horses to spare.
Veldtcornet Pretorius and Veldtcornet Jones were in command and both were brave, energetic and daring commanders. We remained here till June 7th to rest ourselves and horses and try to find out what had happened on the high veldt since we left. All we could learn was that it was covered with English camps and that Bapsfontein, just across the railway line, was still free of English. This was good news to us, for we left our cart and mules at Olifantsfontein, just six miles further on than Bapsfontein. Captain Naude, the famous spy, and six other men joined us to go to the high veldt. They had helped to rid all the stables at Pretoria of the English officers' horses, bridles, and saddles and now they are seeking new fields for adventure.
We started about three o'clock in the afternoon of June 7th, in order that we might be near the railway line before sundown. There was no moon now, and as it was cloudy, heavy weather, the night was sure to be very dark. Veldtcornet Jones went with us a part of the way to be sure that we would strike the line at the safest place to cross. Night came and we made for the line. It was so dark we had to keep in touch almost, or otherwise we would be separated and lose each other. To make bad matters worse, a slow rain set in and we could not tell whether we were going north, south, east or west. I remember one laughable incident which I must tell about, for it will require only half a dozen words. We had been wading through cornfields, reeds, muddy spruits and so forth for some time, but were getting along all right when we suddenly heard a most terrible splash. Oom Koos Bosch, horse and all, had suddenly disappeared in a deep pool of water that the rest of us had by mere luck escaped. We dragged him out, and after half an hour's hard work managed to get his horse out too. The banks were very steep and quite high. When La Blanche, his son-in-law, heard Oom Koos' voice, he rushed back to his assistance and in he went too, so we had to drag him out. It was a laughable affair, but both were so mad that one would have to take his life in his hand if he dared to give an audible smile.
We went on and rambled for hours trying to find the railway line. About nine o'clock all the large flash lights at various stations began to work. It was a sudden change from pitch darkness to almost broad daylight. We at once saw that we were very near the line and had the English opened their eyes they would have at once seen that we were near it. We had to hurry now, for the flash lights were playing all about us and we could see the entire line from Pretoria to Johannesburg. Soon we reached the line near Kalfontein station, and cut some thirty or forty barbed wires, the field telegraph and main wires, then crossed some deep ditches, then the railway track, then some more deep ditches, and then cut thirty or forty more barbed wires and were free to go our way, and be assured that we lost no time in going, for we were within five hundred yards of a big camp at the station. Soon we were as "safe as the people in Piccadilly," but having passed over a ridge, we were enveloped in pitch darkness again and the rain was still falling. We stopped and rested ourselves and horses for an hour, at one o'clock. in the morning. Then we started again, but had no light except that reflected on the clouds behind or by the numerous flash lights, so we rambled and rambled in search of Bapsfontein, where we would strike a big road that would lead us straight and right. Just at early dawn in the morning we saw several specks of fire and some one cried out, " Look out! there is something in front. Don't you see the fire in their pipes?" Some laughed at the remark and some of us didn't, and when we had ridden twenty yards further out rang the cry "Who comes there?" and it was "Who comes there?" along a very long line. It was no laughing matter now, and like a lightning flash we whirled about, put the spurs in and away \ve went at a full gallop regardless of the awful darkness. We remained together, made a wide circuit, and having galloped for about a mile, we stopped on top of a ridge to await until there was more light.
We did not know where we were, and we must find out. Sure we were that an English camp was near us, but where are we? When there was a little more light we saw a farm house about a half mile away, and two of the Boer boys rode to find out just where we were.
This was a "Hands-uppers" farm, and he was at home. He told them that we had just passed Bapsfontein, where there were camped about 2,000 English, and advised us to move rapidly for the reason that a detachment might be on the ridge in a few minutes. Fools we were, but we never thought about the fellow being a "Hands-upper," otherwise we would have taken him and his two good horses that were feeding near by us. At Bapsfontein we had actually passed between the main camp and the guards, and that is why they did not fire at us.
We now went on for three miles, for we knew now just where we were, and on reaching Kaffir Kraal, where there were plenty of mealies (corn) we stopped, unsaddled and bought a good feed for all our horses. While here we saw the English scouts on the ridge behind us and they saw us too, but made no move to disturb us. After an hour's rest, we saddled up and rode towards Olifantsfontein where we had left our cart and mules. When within a mile of this place we took up a gallop and when within a thousand yards we saw a lot of fellows preparing to fight. We came down to a walk , and the burghers who had prepared to fight saw that we were burghers too. We found here General Piet Viljoen, but not our cart and mules. Many and great changes had taken place along the scene since we had left it on May 3rd. No one had the slightest idea where General Botha or our cart and mules were, but all could tell us that the whole high veldt was fairly alive with English camps.
We remained here for the night and most of the following day, for our horses had been under the saddle for nineteen hours and necessarily they were exceedingly tired as well as ourselves. In the afternoon of the following day we boldly struck out on the high veldt to see what there was to be seen. On the llth of June we came on some of the boys of the Bethel commando who told us that "Fighting Bill," General Muller, with 150 of the Johannesburg boys had just taken in an Australian camp about five miles away and captured over 300 men, two pom-poms, with 4,000 shells and some 400 horses. This was good news, and it was correct, too, and the Australians have not done much bragging since. They had not the slightest idea where General Botha was, but told us to look out, for the Englishmen were here, there, and so forth, pointing out to us the different directions of the English camps.
We went ahead towards Tritchardtfontein, which was near Bethel, and at night we came suddenly upon Commandant Hears and his men. Here was a spunky little commandant who had wrecked many trains and done his part towards worrying the English. He did not know where General Botha was, nor had he seen or heard of our cart and mules.
We camped with Mears for the night, and early next morning started out towards Bethel, but on seeing a lot of sheep that had just been killed, we changed our direction for Blauwkop, because the slaughtered sheep showed us that the English were in front. We reached the vicinity of Blauwkop just before sundown, and to our great surprise a Boer commando, too. A greater surprise was still in store for us, for on reaching the camp there was General Britz, another brave and capable officer, with his commando, President Steyn, General De Wet and General Hertzog, of the Free State, and our good old friend whom we had left some three weeks back, General de la Rey. It is unnecessary to say that we were delighted, yes, overjoyed, at our good luck, and as we all knew one another well, the reader may be assured that we spent a few hours most pleasantly.
I must here mention that General de la Rey and I each really first made out what the other was. During our short conversation three weeks back I had told him that certain conditions prevailed in another section and that to me matters looked serious. I went on and explained everything to him, but he could not but feel that I must be mistaken. Now we met again, and the first thing he said to me was " You were right, and we are here to correct and put things right. " I had always distrusted the Acting President, Schalk Burger, and I had told General de la Rey so and given my reasons. I might as well finish up with this meeting before I take up the thread of happenings in April.
On the following day, June 19th, the Free State and Transvaal Governments were to meet at Waterfall, about twenty miles from Standerton and about six miles from a large English camp. Now we would see General Louis Botha, whom we had been seeking, and all the big bugs at one and the same tune. It was just after sundown that all saddled up and started for Waterfall, where we arrived late at night and soundly slept.
About ten o'clock the next day we saw a long string of carts hi the distance, and that was the approaching Transvaal Government. Soon they arrived and there was a general handshaking all around. Major Pretorius gave General de la Key's replies to General Botha, although General de la Rey was there himself. In addition to these there were present, Acting President Schalk Burger, Secretary of State Reitz, General Ben Viljoen, General Smuts, President Steyn, General De Wet, General Hertzog, Commandant Ben Bouwers, a fine young officer, Major Pretorius and myself, and about 200 burghers. The burghers knew that something had gone wrong, otherwise President Steyn would not have taken the desperate chance of passing through so many English lines and crossing a well guarded railway line. In crossing this line the English poured a heavy fire into them and exploded a dynamite mine that had been carefully laid, but fortunately President Steyn and his men were clear of it by about thirty yards when the explosion took place.
Soon the council of war assembled and the secret leaked out. Acting President Schalk Burger and General Botha had written a state letter to President Steyn praying for a general surrender. That is the gist of the whole long letter. The council of war smashed that proposal into smithereens, and deprived all generals and acting presidents of the power to discuss peace terms with the English without the consent and presence of President Steyn, General De Wet and General de la Rey. I feel to this day that Acting President Schalk Burger was directly responsible for that state letter to President Steyn, yet I cannot understand General Botha giving his sanction to it by allowing his name to be coupled with that of Schalk Burger. Secretary Reitz in his official position had to sign it, but he was the most disgusted man I ever saw. Like President Steyn, General De Wet and General de la Rey, Secretary Reitz was as staunch a patriot as ever breathed, and one that would never say die, no matter what the conditions might be. He was game during the war, and as game as ever when the war came to an end.
Here were the two Governments with no more than 200 men, in the very midst of thousands of English, holding a confab on the open prairie within six miles of a large English camp, and not one present in the least concerned, except Schalk Burger, who, I think, was pretty nervous. The English are wonderful soldiers, for they knew that the two Governments were near them and they never made the slightest effort to take them in.
All business having been finished and matters corrected and put right, President Steyn, General De Wet and General de la Rey started back to run the gauntlet and join their respective commands. Major Pretorius and I, on learning that General Smuts and Commandant Ben Bouwers were going with a good commando into Cape Colony, tried for permission to go with them, but were not allowed, much to our disappointment.
I will now return to my story of the April events in all parts. I have made quite a long side trip which may not prove to be of interest to the reader, but I assure him that had he been with us at the end of April he would have been equally interest ed with ourselves. As it was at the very end of April that the fifteen English columns suddenly invaded the high veldt, I will leave them till the first of May and go into the Free State. But little was done of any account, a little skirmishing here and a little there and not much more, for the English were making preparations for cornering and taking in the slippery De Wet once more.
In the Colony things were more than lively. General George Brand had captured a column and frightened two or three others half to death. General Kritsinger by his dash had made the English believe that there must be no less than 50,000 Boers in Cape Colony. Commandants Fouche, Scheepers, Malan and others were daily fighting in the different districts and captured several convoys. In fact, Cape Colony was truly in a state of war, and the Boers were in possession of the country. Lord Roberts was in possession of his $500,000 and his earldom, so he was not worrying, but General French was walking the floor day and night, for he realized that affairs in Cape Colony were very dark, and the position of the English in great jeopardy. Not a day passed without fighting during the month, and it was certain that fighting would continue for many months to come, for the Boer officers were superior to the English commanders and could lead them a song-and-dance wherever they pleased. In the Western Transvaal the English had made several attempts to corner General de la Rey, but he was not to be cornered. Near Klerksdorp there was some fighting when a large force of English pounced on General Smuts and deprived him of one cannon.
The English reported this as a great victory, and I will tell you why. They think far more of losing one cannon than they do of losing 10,000 Tommies, for they consider Tommies as cheaply made in England as the Germans could manufacture them, while cannon are expensive in all countries.
Throughout the month troops were constantly shifting about in the Western Transvaal, but nothing really occurred worthy of note, as no change had taken place at Zeerust, where the English were still penned in. Far away in the north General Plumer at Pietersburg, and the English force in the East at Komati Poort by a combined action tried to clear the whole country between them of Boers. Their task was easy, because there were no Boers in those parts, except some women and children. Their homes and their possessions were burnt and destroyed and they themselves were sent to concentration camps.
The English spent considerable time in arming the Kaffirs and giving them the necessary instructions for their murderous work. Chief Secockuni and his strong force, the worst Kaffirs in the country, had already been armed by the English and were near Lydenburg on the one side and Rosenekal on the other. These very Kaffirs murdered many men, women, and children with those English guns and ammunition, but further on I will go into the details of this dirtiest and most barbarous work of the English army.
Now we come to the month of May, and a very lively one, too. General Ben Viljoen and General Muller crossed the railway line near Balmoral Station, and left the six pursuing columns all to themselves north of the railway line. They had simply left one large army to run up against another stronger still, for there were fifteen columns on the high veldt bent on capturing the Government, General Botha and all the high veldt burghers. All these columns practically distinguished themselves by their puerile tactics. Not only did all the burghers easily evade them, but two or three trek wagons with women and children escaped being captured. Of course all the old men and women who remained in the few farm houses still standing were captured and taken away. Then off to London would go a flaming report of so many burghers, horses and cattle being captured.
The English would enter all the good farm houses, tear up the floors, and dig, dig, dig in search of money and jewelry that might be buried under the floor. Having satisfied themselves, they would then burn and destroy everything. At the end of this month there was not a farm house standing on the high veldt.
We had the great pleasure of seeing about 600 cavalry charge a farm house. We had never before seen such a daring, reckless charge, and there was not a man among that 600 that did not eminently win the V. C. We had read of the charge of the 600 at Balaclava, and in imagination had often tried to draw the picture so glowingly painted by one of England's poet laureates ; but this would sink into insignificance and pass into oblivion if only the charge of the 600 on the farm house filled with women and children could have been witnessed and depicted by some such realistic and blood-curdling poet as Alfred Austin or Rudyard Kipling. The one would never again have to describe in patriotic rhyme Jameson's raid, nor would the other have to live in " Barroom " ballads, for so delightfully red would the words that each could have drawn from his imagination have been, that they could have painted in thrilling phrases a picture so bloody and hair raising as to immortalize them. I cannot describe this charge. It was too much for me, but we seemed to hear the command, " Chargel " and on they came, every horse with distended nostrils and wild, glaring eyes doing his best, not one man dropping from the pace, not one faltering, all surely determined to do or die. And in another moment the farm house is taken together with its occupants, women and children, who filled the doors and windows. In another minute all were driven from the house, the floors torn up, search for money and jewelry made, then the oil spread and the house consumed in flames.
But, you ask me where the blood is to come from ? I will tell you. Those brave men set to work and killed over one hundred chickens, ducks and geese, several pigs, some calves and 2,000 sheep which they drove into the sheep kraal and killed with the bayonet. They were two and three deep, and that great mass of butchered sheep were rising and falling in different parts for many days, for many were still alive buried under others and slowly dying.
I had seen much of the bloody work of the Apache Indians far away in Arizona, but I had never seen anything that could possibly compare in down right cruelty to this piece of savagery on the part of the English soldiers. The prisoners of war in the way of women and children were now marched off and driven to the murderous concentration camps, and a stirring report of the daring charge made to London, the bloody end being omitted. This famous column now joined with the fourteen others and all began to chase the several Boer commandos who were scattered about the veldt. Remember that the high veldt is a high plateau without rocks or mountains, and it is practically impossible for any command to conceal itself from the English. General Louis Botha and the Government were many times surrounded and cornered, but at picking up time, they were not present.
The various columns continued to follow them from place to place during the month, but no fighting men were lost. Quite a number of women and children were captured and sent to the concentration camps and invariably reported as so many burghers.
I now leave the English and Boers moving to and fro in all directions till the end of the month, and when all the high veldt is reported as swept clean of Boer commandos. Just before the end of the month General Ben Viljoen with Commandant Mears attacked General Plumer near Bethel and were prevented from taking in his column by the captured women and children being so placed that the Boers could not fire without killing some of them. This was a most cowardly piece of business, but it enabled General Plumer to rescue his men, with the exception of some thirty who were taken prisoners. These could not succeed in getting themselves behind the women and children without taking serious risk of being shot. General Plumer was satisfied to leave also a few horses and several thousand sheep which he had hoped to take with him to Standerton. No doubt some of those brave and chivalrous men who fought behind those Boer women and children were recommended for the V. C. and received it, such is the inclination of the British officer to report imaginary daring deeds in all engagements in which he may participate.