In all operations up to this point Lumsden’s Horse, with Loch’s Horse and companies of the West Riding and Oxfordshire Light Infantry, forming the 8th Mounted Infantry Regiment, under Colonel Ross, had, with other corps of Colonel Henry’s brigade, been so actively engaged scouting ahead of the main column with which Lord Roberts moved, that they had neither time nor opportunity to know what was being done by other divisions of the army. It is necessary, therefore, to explain briefly here the general dispositions for an advance on Pretoria at the moment when Lord Roberts crossed Vaal River into Transvaal territory. Since they marched out of Kroonstad the troops, whose advance was most direct—following the line of railway with slight divergences—had covered just a hundred miles in four days. Mounted troops, being employed to reconnoitre on each flank and keep up communications along their front, almost doubled that distance. In face of such a rapid advance the Boer commandos which had dispersed after their evacuation of Kroonstad found a difficulty in concentrating for the defence of any strategic points. They were evidently puzzled by the sudden mobility of British forces, and, what with Methuen marching for the west, French’s Cavalry making a dash for the drifts at Parys and Reitzburg, as if Potchefstroom were their objective, the main column pushing along beside the railway for Viljoen’s Drift, and Ian Hamilton marching as if for Engelbrecht’s Drift on the Heilbron-Heidelberg road, the Boer commandants could not agree as to which point would most likely be threatened first or at which they might make a stand with the greatest chance of success. Hasty preparations were made by them with a view to checking General Ian Hamilton, whom they credited with a design on Heidelberg and the Eastern railways. Possibly that, combined with a great movement in force upon the junctions outside Johannesburg, might have been the shortest way to end the war, because, as we know now, the Boer Generals attached very little importance to the defence of their big towns, while they realised fully all the strategical advantages of free communication between Pretoria and the eastern districts; and President Kruger especially was anxious to keep open a line by which prominent members of his Administration might be able to get away with a sufficient store of bullion for private and political uses at the last moment. The defenders of Engelbrecht’s Drift, however, waited in vain watching the trap they had laid for General Ian Hamilton. His line of march had been suddenly changed by orders from Lord Roberts, and, instead of crossing the Vaal where he was expected, east of Vereeniging, he had made a rapid march westward to strike the river between General French’s Cavalry and the main body, leaving our right flank to be guarded by General Gordon with the 3rd Cavalry Brigade. With regard to all this and the ceremony at Viljoen’s Drift, when Lord Roberts proclaimed the annexation of Orange Free State to the British Crown, Lumsden’s Horse knew nothing at the time. Content with their own share of the good work that had been accomplished, they were consoling themselves by the prospect of at least one day’s well-earned rest for men and horses. But that good fortune was not to be theirs after all. Colonel Lumsden, continuing his official record, explains how these pleasant hopes were dashed:
The 27th dawned, the horses were turned out to graze, leave was given for men to go into town, and general cleaning up began, when suddenly at 10.30 A.M. we had an order to move at once to help the 3rd Cavalry Brigade under General Gordon, who was reported to be in a tight corner to the north-east. Horses were caught, saddles put on, and we were away by 11, with no rations for man or horse. The rest of the brigade joined in four miles further on. All proceeded with every precaution through a difficult bit of trappy country, arriving about 4.30 P.M. at the drift where General Gordon was supposed to be stuck up. There no signs of him could be seen, so we made tracks back to a point four miles north of Vereeniging, where we were to have joined our column, when it camped there that night. We struggled on until, our horses giving out, the whole brigade bivouacked at 8 P.M., having put behind us some seven miles of our return journey, and having done quite twenty-five miles. Lieutenant Neville, with a guide, was sent in to headquarters for instructions, and returned at 3 A.M. with the order that our brigade was to come on at once and resume its position in front of the headquarters, leading the army. By 4 A.M. we were away again in the bitter frosty cold, leading our starved horses, the sun rising as we waded a nasty drift over the Klip. We reached our place in the advance guard at 7, in the nick of time, just as all had begun to move off, and were at once pushed on three miles at a trot ahead of everything, fighting being expected at the notorious Klip River position. No Boers, however, were seen. The country was ablaze with the burning veldt, which the Boers had set fire to systematically as they went, and the Klip River was gained without a shot. There were sounds of heavy fighting, however, in the hills on our left, where French and Hamilton were forcing back the enemy on Johannesburg.
With an editorial desire to link the separate operations into one chain, I may here describe from personal experience what happened away on that left flank where French and Hamilton were hotly engaged with the outposts of a Boer force, whose object in holding the high kopjes between Gatsrand and Klipriviersberg was obviously to force upon us a wider flanking movement, by which the western columns would be further separated from the main body and thus unable to co-operate with it effectively. It is improbable that Louis Botha had any hope of being able to defeat the British forces in detail by delivering a counter-stroke on each column in turn. It is far more likely that his idea even at that period was to lengthen out the British line of communications as far as possible, thus weakening it by attenuation and making it more vulnerable to attacks by small raiding parties. Co-operating with him was Christian De Wet, to whom such a plan would have been sure to commend itself as offering a chance for numbers of Free-Staters to slip through the girdle that was gradually closing about them, re-cross the Vaal, and harass their enemies on ground where local knowledge would give them every advantage.
On this supposition the resistance offered to General French some twenty-five miles north-west of Vereeniging had peculiar interest for me, because I watched the operations there with some foreknowledge of the probable Boer tactics gained in a curious way. Four days earlier I had breakfasted at a farm next to Christian De Wet’s, not far from Rodewal station. The farmer invited myself and a companion into his house, above which a white flag was flying, and when told that this was our Queen’s birthday he produced a bottle of whisky with which to drink to Her Majesty’s health, which we did readily enough, although he declined to join us. There was no unfriendliness or want of hospitality in that, and, indeed, we should have mistrusted the man if he had put on a pretence of loyalty because he had been induced to hoist the white flag as an emblem of neutrality. There were no troops at that moment nearer than Lumsden’s Horse, who could be seen on the sky-line about four miles westward, moving towards Vredefort Road Station.
From that direction presently came a young Boer well mounted but unarmed. His wary movements at first seemed to indicate that he had no desire to be seen by our troops, but our host explained that the road took many turns and twists which might puzzle a stranger. The horseman was evidently not well pleased to find Englishmen at the farm, but this we, being somewhat vain, attributed to jealousy, seeing that the youth and our host’s comely daughter were exchanging glances in which there might have been a world of other meaning, though we suspected it not. We knew instinctively that they were not quite strangers, but there were no signs of friendly recognition in our presence. After a brief conversation, carried on between the young man and the farmer aside, though neither of us could have understood the taal they talked, our host came forward and explained that his neighbour was simply riding from one farm to another, where the family had all surrendered and obtained their permits to live in peace. There was nothing to be done then except shake hands and part, but the next day my Basuto servant, who, having lived in Johannesburg, had a wholesome dread of Boer sjamboks, gave me a full interpretation of what he had overheard the young man say in that neighbourly talk with our burgher friend. The burden of it was that this guileless youth, Ferreira by name, had been sent by Christian De Wet to let everybody know why the Free State commandos were retiring with Botha’s Transvaalers instead of defending their own homesteads. It was only to lure the English on to destruction, and Christian De Wet promised that he would slip back again in a day or two to Rodewal and play Old Harry with the invaders.
Up to the time of joining General French’s force in the afternoon of May 28 I had regarded this as a vain boast. A closer study of Boer tactics, however, was enough to show what they were playing for, and I watched with some apprehension our Cavalry moving westward in vain attempts to outflank the mobile Boers, who were galloping from kopje to kopje on one side of a vast dam fringed by treacherous mires which French’s squadrons could not cross. Ian Hamilton meanwhile conformed to this movement without getting touch of the enemy or drawing near to their stronghold, which was obviously on the frowning crest of Klipriviersberg (shortened by the Boers colloquially to Riviersberg).
Being alone, and far from my supplies, I slept supperless that night in a deserted Boer store, for the sake of such shelter as a wall and roof might give from a keen icy wind that swept in gusts through the broken windows. I had neither overcoat nor blanket, and saw nothing to lie on but a filthy floor or the bare laths of a rickety iron bedstead. I chose the latter. Having been in the saddle from 5 in the morning until 10 at night, with the exception of necessary halts for my horse to graze, I was soon oblivious to the discomfort of that rude couch, and, for all I knew, my pillow might have been softest down instead of hard saddle-flaps. But long before daybreak the cravings of a hunger that had only been tantalised by coffee and biscuit twenty-four hours earlier awoke me to a consciousness that my limbs were aching with cold and sore from the chafing of those sharp-edged laths. Striking a light, I looked at the little thermometer attached to my wallet, and found that it registered ten degrees of frost. More sleep was not to be thought of, so I groped through the darkness to a stall only less draughty than the store I had slept in, found my horse shivering there, rubbed him down with a wisp of straw, by way of restoring his circulation and my own, and waited for the dawn. Then I found my way across vleis and spruits to where General Ian Hamilton’s force was moving off through dense mists from Cyferfontein to attack the Boer position on Riviersberg. When the rising sun dispelled those mists the Gordons and City Imperial Volunteers were spread out in thin lines stretching fan-like across a segment of the veldt, and so they went on hour after hour without finding any sign of Boers. The pangs of hunger being all-potent, I rode off in search of a farm, hoping also to come across another British column within a few miles. After an hour or more I was gladdened by the sight of Haartebeestefontein Farm standing in the midst of green mealie-patches and belted about by eucalyptus trees—the very picture of peace. At that moment four Boers drove out from the farm-yard in a well-horsed Cape cart, but made no sign at sight of me except by driving the faster. They needn’t have been in such a hurry to get away from an unarmed and famished Englishman, who had not one comrade within miles. But luckily they didn’t know.
Though French’s Cavalry had been at the farm a day before me and ransacked the Veldt-Cornet’s deserted house, in search of any documents that might have been left there, ducks were swimming in a pond close by and fowls cackling about the sheds from which some Kaffirs presently appeared. To my request, for bread or eggs or milk they had but one answer, ‘Ikona.’ The sight of a loaded revolver might have produced some effect, but, having none, I dismounted and made a systematic search. If food in any shape was there it must have been very cleverly hidden. Finding not so much as a bundle of oat-hay for my horse to nibble at, I rode on across ridge and hollow another five miles or so, and then came upon a little dorp or hamlet, from which all the inhabitants except a Dutch schoolmaster and his wife had disappeared. They declared that not a scrap of food had been left behind. But the good vrau gave me a cup of excellent coffee, and with thanks for the best of hospitality, which gives all it can, I jogged along another league or two, following the straight road towards Johannesburg and expecting every minute to fall in with the rearguard of a column going that way. All the while I had not seen a single soldier or the trace of an iron-shod hoof that was not at least a day old. The unmistakable marks of ‘ammunition’ boots were not there, and neither horse nor man had left footprints on tracks where the morning’s thaw had softened them. At last from a rugged ridge I saw smoke curling up from houses among the trees that marked the course of a river some two miles ahead. Not caring much by that time whether Britons or Boers might be in those houses, I rode straight for the nearest of them, which turned out to be a farm in the barn of which I saw much forage.
Evidently none of our mounted troops had been there, but it was too late to think of turning back. That, in all probability, would have brought a Mauser bullet whistling about my ears. ‘Bluff’ was the only game to play in such circumstances, so I called to a Kaffir servant, told him to fetch forage for my horse, and then swaggered towards the house as if I had been a Staff officer with a whole regiment at my back. On the stoep a bearded Boer met me. He had been lying prone on ground where rhenoster bushes grew. Their burrs were still sticking to his serge jacket, the left elbow of which was stained by the red earth on which it had rested, and his right thumb was black with a coating of burnt melinite. I saw it all as he raised one hand in a sort of half-military salute, and extended the other to welcome me, and in that moment I knew he had just come down from Riviersberg heights for lunch in the intervals of fighting. So, still playing an assumed part, I asked what weapons he had, and he brought me a well-worn Martini-Henry; but that was not what I wanted. After some show of misunderstanding the Boer brought his wife, who talked English fluently enough, and when I had explained to her the awful consequences of concealing arms or ammunition from a British officer, holding plenary powers of punishment, there was no necessity for saying any more. Without even waiting for my words to be interpreted, her husband went out and came back with a Mauser rifle, the fouling of which was still moist round its breech-chamber, and a bandolier half full of cartridges. These I took charge of, not knowing what I should do with them if a Boer commando happened to come that way. As to British troops—well, at any rate, I had no hesitation in assuring the Boer that his household would be safe from them. I did not think it necessary to add that none would be likely to come anywhere near him. In return for my leniency (save the mark!) he suggested something that had been in my mind all the while, and thereupon his good wife brought a deliciously white loaf and milk that was fragrant in its freshness. She was sorry that they ‘had nothing better to offer.’ Nothing better! Heavens, how sweet it tasted! Yet I was restrained from eating or drinking much by the thought that any show of my famished state would give me away. It was difficult to parry all questions concerning the number of troops I had with me, so I said that my men must have found a lot of arms to collect or they would have been there sooner. Upon that the Boer volunteered information as to the number of rifles which could possibly be in farms or cottages round about. All this information I noted down ostentatiously, wondering as I did so how on earth I should get out of the hole into which circumstances were thrusting me deeper and deeper.
At that moment, as luck would have it, two West Australians of the 4th Regiment M.I. turned up, and, leaving them to collect the arms of which such careful note had been made, and to eat the remnants of my unfinished meal I mounted to ride off in quest of their main body, taking care, however, to command proper protection for the house in which I had been so hospitably entertained. ‘Well played,’ said one, with much outward show of respect, as he produced a bottle of brandy from the ample pocket of his ‘coat British warm,’ and offered me a nip. I saw that he, at any rate, understood the game. At Eikenhof Drift I found the main body which turned out to be no more than a patrol. Its appearance drew fire from the Boers, who were apparently holding that road into Johannesburg strongly. They began to show in groups of twenty and thirty on kopjes where no sign of them had been seen before, and were evidently meditating a movement by which the drift might have been outflanked. To prevent this Major Pilkington, who was in command, detached some men from his scanty force to hold two smaller fords, and in a short time there were several casualties from rifle fire at short range. Just then we could hear the roar of guns where General Ian Hamilton was attacking miles away on the left. Hard pressed, yet determined to hold on where he was, Major Pilkington had not a galloper whom he could send with a message to his divisional General, Pole-Carew. I volunteered to carry it, and started for a ride of twenty miles across unknown country, making sure that I should hit off some column within that distance. But all the troops under the immediate command of Lord Roberts had been following the line of railway—where their front was cleared by the 8th Mounted Infantry, with which were Lumsden’s Horse and other regiments of Colonel Henry’s brigade—in a turning movement, the extent of which will be appreciated after perusal of the preceding narrative. I had ridden a distance that would have measured nearly thirty miles from point to point without seeing more than a small patrol of British troops. That night, or early the next morning, when Major Pilkington had withdrawn his small force, a thousand Free State Boers crossed Eikenhof Drift and got in rear of the British columns to rejoin De Wet. Meanwhile, with French or Hamilton on the west, and in advance of the main body on the east, deeds were being done that sealed the fate of Johannesburg and Pretoria. Lumsden’s Horse took a full share of honours that day, though their Colonel does not descant upon these at great length in his official report, but contents himself with the following record:
On the 29th we marched at 5.30, expecting to arrive after ten miles at Natal Spruit, where fighting was certain. Our maps and information were, however, wrong, for we found ourselves most unexpectedly in sight of the place with the smoke of the train leaving the station.
We were sent to endeavour to cut it off as it wound about the kopjes, and had a very exciting gallop of three miles, blowing up the railway behind the train. Again we pushed on to try and cut her off at the next big bend, but again were too late, and ran into the fire of a party covering the retreat of the train.
We then took up a position commanding the railroad, while under Colonel Ross’s orders a party of five men was sent to block the line at any cost. This very dangerous task was given to Lieutenant Pugh and the undermentioned men, who carried it out with great determination and coolness: Privates Turner, Were, Dagge, and Parks.
An officer of high rank, whose opportunities of knowing what happened give especial value to his testimony, says:
On May 29 the 8th Mounted Infantry were ordered to move from Klip Drift to cut the Natal Railway line, the Springs line (the main line north of Elandsfontein), and the telegraph wires at important points. When near the junction of Natal and Free State lines we saw a train-load of burghers from Natal passing northwards to where, beyond the junction, the railway runs from a broad valley into one of several converging kopjes through a deep cutting in the steep and rugged hillside. With the object of heading off that train as it slackened speed on a stiff gradient, Lumsden’s Horse made a great gallop up the valley towards a point where it narrows to a neck, from which the hills rise abruptly on each side. Their course for two or three miles was over rough ground parallel to the railway and nearly midway between it and a branch of Natal Spruit. They were unable, however, to arrive in time, and the Boers, detraining, occupied a kopje just above the railway cutting, the gorge and banks of which they could command from the ridge above and from a ganger’s hut, which they also held in force. Thus they had the railway between them and Lumsden’s Horse, and seemed in a good position for sweeping all approaches to it by an effective rifle fire. Lumsden’s Horse dismounted in the hollow and advanced against that kopje.
It was, however, necessary to destroy the line, and the Engineer officer who accompanied the force for the purpose of blowing up the line was not handy. Lieutenant Pugh, with four men, then volunteered to get into the cutting at its deepest point and either block or break it. As the Boers were holding the ganger’s hut close to this point, it was a warm corner! However, Pugh and his party reached the line. The four men covered his further advance from the edge of the embankment whilst he descended into the cutting. Having nothing wherewith to break the line, he effectually blocked it with a number of huge boulders—quite sufficient to stop any train passing through. This occupied some time, and his covering party were pretty busy with the Boers at the hut, who were at first inclined to run in on him. But as one or two of them paid dearly for their temerity, their efforts ceased, so that Pugh and his party were enabled to retreat from their little picnic without loss. Pugh is now a D.S.O.
It was a long and hard day that 29th of May; the 8th Mounted Infantry were under fire from 7 A.M. till 9 P.M. Lumsden’s Horse were among the few troops in at the finish on the hill north of Elandsfontein, where the parting duel was fought with the Boers as they retreated. All the lines were cut. The consequent bag was fourteen engines and over 400 waggons—not a bad day’s work. Even Lord Kitchener is reported to have ‘smiled’ when he heard the news.
This incident is described with further detail in a private letter by Lieutenant Pugh, who, modestly minimising his own share in a very hazardous enterprise, writes:
Yesterday our orders were to take Elandsfontein, cut the wires and blow up the railway, and to do the same at Germiston. The first excitement began at Elsburg, where we saw a train going out of the station. Seeing it was on the move, we sent some men to try to cut it off, but it went back up an angle like the Darjiling train. There was another angle, and we galloped about three miles to that part, but the train was too fast and went round a kopje, where its occupants evidently got out and opened fire on us. If we had known the line we would have got that train easily by going to the left instead of to the right. While we were dismounted and firing an order came for six men to rush for the line and try to block it. The Colonel passed on for the six men at the end to go. It happened to be partly my section and partly No. 4. One man could not find his horse, so I went off with four men and galloped right up to the railway and under the embankment. It was held by a fairly strong picket, who luckily did not fire till we were under cover. I put two men on to fire at that picket, of which three were hit—the range was only about fifty yards—and the other two on to about 100 on our left front 200 or 300 yards off. We were also fired at from a kopje on our right. The picket presently cleared, and I made a rush for the line: it was in a cutting and out of the fire. I rolled some boulders on the lines, and on getting back found a pretty hot fire had opened on us from behind: it turned out to be one of our own Maxims. We mounted and galloped back without a scratch.
Colonel Ross’s orders then were to push on and support the 4th Mounted Infantry, who held a kopje on our right. Here we lay for two hours, our position overlooking the Boksburg railway station, supported by two Colt guns from Ross’s Battery, which kept up a steady fire in answer to the enemy’s shells and bullets until their retirement. We then continued the turning movement to the right and took possession of the station, halting there for a few minutes to re-form, while the Royal Engineer Company attached to us for the purpose blew up the line at this point. One of our sailors, Private Dexter, swarming up the telegraph post, cut all communication with Springs. At the time we and a company of Compton’s Horse were the only troops up, and, being reinforced by two companies of the 4th Mounted Infantry, which were placed under my orders, we were told to proceed with all speed due west to blow up the Pretoria line, which we should find four miles on. We succeeded in doing this, but too late to cut off one train, which just evaded us, our horses being too done to go faster than a modest trot. We again halted a few minutes, facing a long kopje in front of us.
Colonel Lumsden adds:
While the Royal Engineer Company were busy blowing up the railway at this point, Captain Rutherfoord on the left, with our scouts, with his usual keenness soon came in touch with those of the enemy, and a brisk fire ensued on both sides, Captain Rutherfoord holding his position until I was able to reinforce him on his right flank. Colonel Ross soon hurried up further reinforcements on his left, which enabled us to hold the kopje and forced the enemy to fall back on the convoy they were covering. As night was approaching, pursuit with our tired horses was utterly hopeless, and we were ordered to move to our left and encamp at Germiston, which lay in the hollow behind us. This, being the junction of railway lines that branch off in several directions, was the key of the Boer position. Our day’s movements had, however, been very successful, and Colonel Henry issued a brigade order next morning saying he had been congratulated by the Commander-in-Chief on the day’s work; while Colonel Ross was also congratulated on the prominent part taken by his corps, which resulted in the capture of fourteen engines and a large quantity of rolling-stock. This was very pleasant news to us, but the work was telling its tale on the horses, who were dead beat and fast tumbling to pieces from overwork and want of food. Our casualty was fortunately only one during the day—namely, Private J.D. Bewsher, who was shot through the knee while we were engaging the enemy opposite Boksburg.
Owing to the pace we had travelled and the hilly nature of the country, our Maxim gun under Captain Holmes, with its escort, had not come into camp when we retired to bed. The men, as on many previous occasions, had to turn in without food, and their horses were in the same plight.
In another action, on the 30th, north of Germiston, Trooper Elwes, son of the Archdeacon of Madras, was wounded by a bullet through the ankle and Trooper Radford had his horse shot in two places.
Describing Trooper Preston’s adventurous ride with despatches and his readiness of resource in a difficult situation, another correspondent writes:
Eight men of Lumsden’s Horse in charge of Sergeant Macnamara were sent out in a big patrol under Captain Harris, 1st West Riding M.I., with orders to take the Johannesburg Waterworks. Captain Harris paraded his sixty men, and chose two of Lumsden’s Horse as his orderlies. We then rode down the kopjes to the plain below, Compton’s Horse firing over our heads at the Boers all the time. As we went down we met Trooper Elwes, No. 2 Section, B Company, being brought in wounded through the ankle when on patrol with Lieutenant Pugh. About a mile away there was a farmhouse under the kopje which was held by the Boers; some Australians with us rushed the place, and captured three Boers and a waggon of ammunition. After marching about an hour, firing every now and then and being fired at, we got to the Waterworks on a hill towering above Johannesburg. The fort is on another hill half a mile away. It seemed as if trenches had been dug for us round the Waterworks, high banks of gravel perfectly protecting us. Trooper Preston, of Lumsden’s Horse, was sent back to Germiston with a despatch saying the Waterworks were occupied; he was to make the shortest possible cut, and gallop all the way. This orderly had a very exciting adventure. His shortest road lay through the outskirts of Johannesburg. When riding through these streets he saw several Boers peeping out of their houses, and at one place they actually tried to stop him. He galloped through them, however; they then shouted out to know if the English were in Johannesburg yet, and he answered that they were, knowing that if he said no he would as likely as not be shot at. They then asked where he was going to, and he said Pretoria. Thus it was that a man of Lumsden’s Horse was the first, or one of the first, to enter Johannesburg. A little further the orderly met two Kaffirs who could talk English, and who told him that among the rocks on a small kopje on the left of the road was an armed Boer waiting to shoot him. The orderly was puzzled what to do, as he could see no Boer behind the rocks; however, he dismounted and advanced on foot towards the kopje, leading his horse behind him. Having got within speaking distance of the rocks and still seeing no Boer, he put his rifle to his shoulder and pointed it at the biggest rock, shouting out, ‘Hands up, or I fire!’ Immediately two arms were seen above the rock, the order ‘Hold up your rifle’ was obeyed at once, and the orderly found he had captured the Boer. About a mile further on he met some Australians, and having to gallop with the despatch he handed the prisoner over to them, taking with him the rifle and ammunition. Alas! at the door of the Colonel’s tent whom should he meet but Lord Kitchener himself, who, seeing the orderly had two rifles, commandeered one. Meanwhile the Boers kept up a continuous fire at the Waterworks. However, several Englishmen and young ladies had climbed up the hill at the back and brought food and drink for the first of their countrymen whom they had seen—several of them, while Tommy ate and drank, firing away with the soldiers’ rifles at the fort. In the evening Preston brought the message to retire to camp, which was done in a very orderly fashion, the patrol arriving back soon after dark with the total casualties of three men wounded, having spent the most or one of the most exciting and agreeable days in the whole campaign.
Colonel Lumsden describes other incidents in the following passage:
A party of West Riding Regiment’s Mounted Infantry scouting on our left did not get off so easily, for seeing some men in khaki and helmets to their front they mistook them for friends, and, getting within speaking distance, were much surprised to find their morning’s greetings met with a summons to surrender. Their immediate attempt at flight resulted in two casualties—one wounded and taken prisoner, the other, although wounded, getting back to camp. Firing then became general on our right, where the 3rd Cavalry Brigade was on outpost duty, and we were hastily summoned to saddle up and reinforce them. We arrived in time to witness an artillery duel, the Boers retiring slowly under the fire of the Cavalry pom-poms. The morning’s work, however, resulted badly for them, they having had sixteen casualties, which were attended to by our medical officer, Captain Powell, who was luckily on the spot.
We then returned to camp, and shortly afterwards Captain Holmes came in with his Maxim gun, reporting that he had lost two of his scouting party, Privates Cary-Barnard and G.I. Watson, whom he had sent out in advance while journeying to rejoin us in the early morning. A few hours afterwards the missing men came into camp, stating that having been informed that our men were in front they had ridden confidingly into a body of about fifty men dressed like our own troops in khaki, thinking they were friends, but were suddenly disillusioned by being ordered to surrender. Under the conditions attempting to escape on their worn-out horses was out of the question, and they had no option but to deliver up their arms. They were cross-questioned as to our strength and the likely duration of the war. Private Watson, in reply to the latter question, told the General that he considered fighting would be over in a few days, a reply that seemed to cause much amusement. They were then offered the choice of remaining as prisoners or giving their word of honour that they would fight no more during this war. They chose the latter, thinking the end was very near.
Next morning, June 1, our orders were to march on Johannesburg, six miles distant, which we reached unopposed in time to see the Union Jack hoisted over the Fort, which had been divested of all its guns except a few rendered useless. We then marched some five miles north of the city, and camped for two days. On the morning of the 3rd we marched twelve miles towards Pretoria, meeting no resistance, but again losing touch with our Maxim, which, being unable to follow us across country, had to stick to the road, and which we were destined not to see for several days.
So Lumsden’s Horse had gratified one desire on which their hearts were set for many months. Their brigade had led the fighting line practically into Johannesburg, and when the Union Jack was hoisted over its public buildings they cared nothing for the ceremonial parades, but were only anxious to take the lead again in a march on Pretoria. With soldier-like brevity Colonel Lumsden’s chronicle sums up the operations of an eventful day:
On June 4 we advanced to Six Mile Spruit, again being the foremost corps of the leading brigade, all anticipating a heavy fight in front of us, as the spruit was said to be our enemy’s last position and likely therefore to be desperately contested. These prognostications were not, however, realised. Careful reconnaissance showed that there were no Boers at the spruit. We then proceeded leisurely up the chain of hills beyond it, concluding they were not held, but with every precaution against the unexpected. It was not until midday that we came in touch with the enemy, who opened on the 4th Mounted Infantry on our right with shell fire. We were then pushed forward to take a commanding kopje, and got a smart peppering from a few snipers hidden in the rocks on our left flank, but had no casualties, though the bullets were falling thickly among us as we crossed the open.
It now became evident that the enemy’s main position was on our left, and I was ordered to occupy a ridge about one mile distant in that direction, opposite a steep kopje about 1,000 yards off held by the Boers. Here they were beautifully entrenched and kept up a steady fire on our line, which we returned with interest, until aid arrived in the shape of three fifteen-pounders on the right, two pom-poms on our left, and three Colt guns in the centre. These searched the ridge for some hours without dislodging the Boers, whose trenches must have been admirably constructed, as a move on our part from one rock to another was sufficient to draw a hail of bullets, while we were unable to spot a single Boer.
Here Private Charles E. Stuart was wounded by a bullet through the ankle, but was unable to be removed from the firing line until the fire slackened late in the afternoon, when a kind friend carried him down on his back to the ambulance tonga at the foot of the hill.
At about 4 P.M. the enemy’s fire began to dwindle, and eventually ceased altogether, and just as we meditated leaving our ridge to cross over to theirs our Infantry became visible, advancing from westward along the ridge which the enemy had occupied, while to our right front, some two miles off, more British Infantry appeared on the sky line, showing that the Boer position had been quitted. At this period our Brigadier’s orders came for us to retire from the kopje and make our bivouac for the night somewhere on the plain below.
June 5 was the day on which we reached the goal we had been struggling for. Pretoria at last, not fighting our way in, as anticipated by everybody, but forming a peaceful procession, with our baggage behind us, news having arrived that the Governor had surrendered the town late the previous night.
We were not allowed to halt, but just passed through the city and out to Irene, a station ten miles south of Pretoria and on the Johannesburg line, which we at present occupy, the whole corps protecting the rail from Pretoria to Johannesburg.
Hindustani for ‘fowls.’—ED.
Hindustani for ‘orders.’—ED.
Hindustani for ‘blunder.’—ED.
See Appendix IV.—ED.