An Irish boy's strategy - His sad death - Cavalry far superior to infantry.
In another part of the high veldt, about 300 Australians ventured out on a little side trip from the column. I think a Colonel Beaston was in command of them, though I am not sure about it ; but it makes no difference, for the Australians were there, and ready for business.
"Fighting Bill," General Muller, was near by also. He took 150 of the Johannesburg boys, among them being Sergeant Mike Halley, Jim French, Sergeant Joe Wade, Mike Hanafin, Joe Kennedy, John McGlew, Dick Hunt, Jerry O'Leary and Captain McCullum, of the Irish Brigade. With these he made a night ride, slipped up to the Australians as they were sitting and telling stories about their camp fires, and took them all in before they could realize what had happened. With them he took two pom-poms also, and some 300 horses, saddles, bridles, arid as many rifles and plenty of ammunition. The last I saw of the Australians they were still trying to explain just how it happened. General Muller was very kind to them, and having taken possession of all they had, turned them loose and advised them to go home to their mothers.
A little incident happened just at the right moment to save many lives, and good little Mike Hanafin was the hero. The Boers having charged into the midst of the Australians, of course all were pretty well mixed. Mike Hanafin, it so happened, ran upon the Australian bugler, and an idea struck him at once which when brought into play made him a little hero. He threw his rifle into the bugler's face, and told him to sound "Cease Firing," or he would blow his head off. The bugler promptly obeyed, and, of course, all the Australians ceased firing at once. The major in command ran up to the bugler, swore at him, and ordered him to sound, at once, the "Commence Firing," not knowing that Mike Hanafin had relieved the bugler of his bugle as soon as the "Cease Firing" had been sounded. While the major was swearing at the bugler, Joe Wade or Mike Halley, I have forgotten which, rammed the muzzle of his rifle against the major's stomach, and told him that he could have all the fight he wished. The major, in an awful tremble, threw up his hands and said "No, no, no, I don't want to fight any more."
General Ben Viljoen on joining General Muller and the Johannesburg Commando, decided to recross the railway line near Balmoral, and operate north of Middleburg. He approached the line in the evening, and decided to capture some blockhouses in order that he might be able to take over his cannon and wagons. He took the two blockhouses, and about half his commando crossed, but the wagons and cannon were stopped by re-enforcements arriving from Balmoral. It was within ten feet of one of these blockhouses that the brave and reckless little Mike Hanafin lost his life. From a hole in the ground under the blockhouse a To ramie fired and killed Mike, who fell within four feet of the muzzle of the Tommie's rifle. Plucky Dick Hunt, on seeing Mike on the ground, went to his assistance, believing that he had been wounded. On reaching Mike he spoke to him but received no answer, so he knew that little Mike was dead. Hunt stooped down to pick him up, and as he did so, the Tommie fired up from the hole and the flash caught Dick in the face. The bullet grazed his forehead and pierced his hat. Joe Wade and Joe Kennedy, who were near by, came to Dick's relief, and the three carried Mike's body a few yards away, and then returned to the blockhouse. They now knew about these holes, and they crept up to one of them, slipped the muzzle of their rifles just over the edge of the hole, without the Tommie knowing it ; they fired and the Tommie fell dead. This frightened the other Tommies who were watching at other holes, and the blockhouse was surrendered. The brave little Mike was dead, however, and those Irish boys to-day mourn his death. Mike, after the war had begun, walked from Beira, over 500 miles distance, to Delagoa Bay, and then worked his way into the Transvaal, and joined the Irish Brigade. He was very modest and quiet, but a reckless little enthusiast when it came to a fight with the English. A tenor drum that he had captured months previously, and the bugle, are in the hands of the Irish boys, but they have not yet decided what they will do with them. Hallowed is the little plot of ground where he lies buried, for there lies the remains of a true Irish patriot and lover of liberty. A week after this first attempt to cross, another was made, but this time General Viljoen called Captain Jack Hindon, the great train wrecker, to his assistance. Jack laid his mines along the railway line, and when all was ready the commando, guns and wagons advanced. On Hearing the line they were discovered from the blockhouses, and firing began. This brought the armored train down upon them. This on reaching Jack Hindon's dynamite mines, was blown sky high and completely destroyed. General Viljoen, his guns and commando now easily crossed, and Captain Jack returned to his little commando near Middleburg. General Spruit, that good man who was afterwards killed, and who saved the Irish Brigade at Brandfort, tried to have a fight with an English column near Heidleburg, but his horses proved to be too slow, and the English, after a hot race, succeeded in escaping and reaching the protection of that well fortified little town.
Many other early morning skirmishes took place, but we always hurried away as soon as we emptied a few of the English saddles. Our force was so small, as compared to the English, that we had to run ; but we always put in some effective bullets before we put in our spurs.
Right here, before I forget it, I must answer the charge that the English constantly made against us, that Boers would never stand, but fire a few shots and run away. General De Wet answered, and to the point, "Yes," he says, "we shoot and run away, and that is the reason why so many English are killed, and so few Boers." The fact is, that if ten Englishmen happen to fall upon one poor Boer, such is their courage, that they will never let up till they have beaten him almost to death ; whereas, if three Boers fall upon ten Englishmen, and take them in, (as they invariably will) the Englishmen will say, "You acted basely in attacking us in overwhelming numbers."
This just about explains the difference between an Englishman and a Boer in an open fight, and this great difference is just what is going to free South Africa of English rule in the near future. When I think of this and Chamberlain's visit to South Africa, I often wonder if he does not sleep with that eyeglass well fastened in his eye, that he may see what is going on about him in hours of danger. He is scared, all right.
In the Free State, General De Wet has been in trouble again, but he was not worrying about it. Near Reitz, a little town not far from the Vaal River, a huge column fell upon him, and a fight was the result. He was punched about considerably but he can well say, "You should see the other fellow." The huge column was knocked out, put to flight, its wagons, thousands of sheep and cattle captured, and, besides, General De Wet had the pleasure of disarming a lot of prisoners and telling them to go home and learn how to play soldier. There was also some fighting south of Bloemfontein, with little damage to either side, but in Cape Colony all was ablaze. General Kritsinger captured two toy: is, some wagons, prisoners and a large quantity of ammunition. Commandant Malan had been equally as energetic on the southern part, while Commandants Lotter, Latigan, Fouche, Wessels and others were creating much trouble and excitement in their districts.
There was more actual fighting in Cape Colony than in any other place. Had the commandant generals of the Transvaal and Free State been there with their commandos, it is almost certain that the whole Cape would have rebelled.
In the Western Transvaal, General de la Rey took advantage of the cold weather to recuperate his horses. In the north General Beyers likewise remained quiet. During the winter season, the Boers in the Free State and Transvaal must keep passive if possible, otherwise they would lose all their horses and thereby be unable to carry on the war. Infantry is of little or no use in war, when opposed to cavalry. All other things being equal, that army which is strongest in cavalry should carry off all the honors of battle. Modern guns and arms make it imperative that an army be able to move quickly and change position with such rapidity as to cover a mile in five minutes. Infantry can't do this. Even in a mountainous country, cavalry will, man for man, easily defeat infantry. No one realizes this more than the Boers, and that is the reason why they always look after their horses first and then themselves.
During July, the Boers remained inactive, and were but little annoyed by the English. It was frightfully cold at night, and of course one had to be on the move every night, but the English, who were all about us, seemed to dread the cold as much as ourselves. General Smuts and Commandant Ben Bouwers had now entered Cape Colony and joined with General Kritsinger and his excellent staff of commandants. General Kritsinger took in a few trains and captured some provisions, while his commandants amused themselves in daily skirmishes with the English.