ALARMS AND EXCURSIONS—BOER SCOUTING—A RECONNAISSANCE TO CROCODILE RIVER—FAREWELL TO COLONEL ROSS
Lumsden’s Horse found their duties on lines of communication not all uneventful, and had on occasions some adventures more exciting than the incidents of a patrol to Pretoria or Elandsfontein or Johannesburg, though that had to be conducted with proper precautions against possible surprises from Boer raiders who were always on the prowl within a few miles of our outpost lines, but rarely to be seen. Emboldened by the inaction of British troops in Pretoria and by some successes which Christian De Wet had achieved down Rodewal way, where he captured and burnt a train containing mail-bags with precious letters for Lumsden’s Horse, the enemy began to press on every weak point they could find. They evinced especially a desire to get possession of the mines near Springs, being not only bent on wanton destruction, but also impelled thereto by the fact that Supply officers there had been gathering stores of forage from the country round about. Apart from its position in the centre of a district richly mineralised, Springs was of considerable strategic importance as a stronghold for the protection of the railway junction at Elandsfontein, to which its commanding kopjes, if strongly held, were a formidable flanking defence. Nothing but the belief that Botha’s forces had been so scattered and demoralised by defeat at Diamond Hill as to be incapable of great offensive movements could have induced the military authorities to neglect an adequate defence of Springs. The Boers seemed to realise its importance more than we did, and if they had brought artillery to bear upon it the safety of Johannesburg might have been seriously threatened. Fortunately, however, either Botha’s irresolution or divided counsels among his colleagues led to the abandonment of such enterprises after one or two attempts which were frustrated by General Hutton and Colonel Henry, whose Mounted Infantry reconnaissances at this juncture were characterised by great skill. Nevertheless, some strong Boer commandos were persistent in their attempts to get a footing at Springs, so that Lumsden’s Horse had to reinforce other corps of the 8th Mounted Infantry and take their full share of outpost work, in which they were frequently harassed by the enemy. Some interesting details of this phase are furnished by troopers whose letters were published in the Indian newspapers. One correspondent writes to the ‘Indian Daily News,’ dating from Springs, July 14:
You will see from the above that we have been moved again, and I fancy we shall be kept on the go now for some time to come, as both we and our horses have had a long rest and are quite fit again.
It was rather a bore getting shifted out of our comfortable quarters at Kalfontein, but now that the wrench is over I fancy most of us are glad to be on the march once more, as life there was beginning to get just a trifle monotonous and humdrum.
About a week previous to our leaving Kalfontein No. 3 Section B Company, who had been left at Irene with A Company, were sent to garrison Zurfontein, a few miles down the line, and we joined them there, the whole of us then marching to this place, which is the terminus of a branch of the main line running eastward, and is situated about twenty-five miles from Johannesburg. I should have mentioned that we left a few of our men at Kalfontein to help to garrison the place until further orders. We stayed at Elandsfontein and Boksburg on the way here, and the men who had been through such exciting scenes so recently in these places naturally took a great interest in them and ‘fought their battles o’er again.’
We have had rather an exciting time of it on two occasions since being quartered here. On the 11th inst. we sent out a patrol of six men under Captain Chamney, and just as they got to the top of a bit of rising ground they found themselves within a few hundred yards of an approaching body of the enemy, who no sooner saw our men than they let ’em have it with their Mausers. There was nothing for it but to turn and get away as quickly as possible, and this the patrol did, managing once again to elude the bullets. The Boers followed, but soon gave up the game, as it was only a few miles from the town, and they evidently did not consider it good enough to venture too close. On getting out of range and up to the next rise our patrol halted and sent a man back to report matters to Colonel Ross, and, after staying out about an hour to see if there were any more signs of the enemy, they returned to camp. A larger patrol was sent out during the day, but saw no signs of Boers, these gentry evidently having returned to the adjacent hills. A small farmhouse, from behind which our men were shot at, was burnt down; but this did not have much effect, as another of our patrols was fired on two days afterwards near the same place, and this time we were not so fortunate, as Private Walton, of No. 3 Section B Company, was shot through the right thigh and got another bullet through his hat, just shaving his skull. He managed to ride into camp with the others, but will have a long spell in hospital, I fancy. His wound was dressed as soon as he got into camp, and next day he was sent on to Johannesburg.
This is one of the coldest places we have struck so far, and early morning patrols and night pickets are consequently more unpopular than ever. There is one great consolation, however, and that is we can get good and cheap draught beer here; this is a luxury we have not indulged in for ages, so, needless to say, the thirsty ones are having a great time.
The special correspondent of the ‘Englishman’ treats one of the incidents above referred to in a lighter vein:
In the middle of July our detachment at Springs, where there had been a good deal of desultory fighting, had some fun for their money. They went out patrolling one day, a dozen or so strong. A farmhouse loomed in the distance, and as the magnetic pole draws the needle so did this innocent, nestling farm draw the patrol. If you live on biscuits for a month you develop a craving for bread. Same with everybody, from General down to mule-drivers. It would be side on the part of Lumsden’s Horse to hold aloof from any popular taste, and as one leary-nosed tea planter said he smelt dough, the patrol rode for that farmhouse, animated by the noble sentiment that the devil might take the hindmost. But this time the devil nearly copped the leader, for the Boers opened at short range from stone walls near the farmhouse. A patrol’s duty being to locate the enemy, and not to die valorously or otherwise, our men turned tail, thought of their misdeeds, and streaked for home. Unluckily C.F. Walton, of B Company, bestrode an Argentine which feared neither Boer nor bullet. The brute wouldn’t budge under the fire, and Walton received a hail of lead all to himself. One bullet struck his hat, cutting the bottom of the crack—our squashed Cashmere ones—clean away, shedding his hair in a way that no brushing will alter, for it shaved a line clean along his scalp. Just as he got his horse on the move he was struck again, in the thigh, but managed to gallop away without further mishap. Examination proved that the bullet had gone right through the upper part of his leg, inflicting a severe but not dangerous wound. Walton is now in hospital and doing well.
Fuller details and a more consecutive narrative of other events are given by a correspondent of the ‘Madras Daily Mail,’ who writes:
Our duties are not only to guard the station and railway line and patrol the country, but also to furnish observation posts, whose duty it is to report the movements of any bodies of men they may see; the patrols also demanding the production of passes from anyone—native or white man—whom they may meet. The Boers are not far off, and life is not without its excitement; for on two occasions our patrols have been fired on, once getting a particularly hot reception and being chased for a considerable distance. One man in particular had a narrow escape when the enemy—who were lying in wait for the patrol—suddenly charged down over the top of a neighbouring ridge. He was in the middle of a small copse ahead of his companions and did not see the Boers, who galloped round on each flank of the wood, and, dismounting just this side of it, commenced firing at the rest of the patrol. Hearing the rifles so close, he attempted to return, and found, on getting to the edge of the wood, that he was cut off by a line of men along a wire fence, who fortunately were so busy firing that they did not see him. He eventually made a dash for it from the upper end of the wood, coming out behind the Boers and making a long detour. Of course, directly he got clear of the wood he was seen and became a target for all their rifles, but he got safely away.
During a prolonged stay in a place like this we manage to make ourselves very comfortable. In the vicinity of Kaalfontein the farmhouses were for the most part deserted and had been left just as they stood. From these farmhouses we are always allowed to help ourselves to useful and non-valuable articles, such as cooking utensils and eatables; so what with chickens, ducks, &c., while the live-stock held out, and most excellent mutton issued as rations, not to mention an occasional porker (bought from the Kaffirs) or haunch of venison (shot by one of the officers), our larder was well stocked, while extras in the way of groceries could be obtained from an enterprising Jew storekeeper, who would drive round with his stores. Then, too, bivouacs and shelters of all sorts can be rigged up, and very welcome they were at the time, as during June and the beginning of July the cold was intense.
At Springs, the terminus of a branch line from Elandsfontein Junction through Boksburg, together with four companies of the 8th Mounted Infantry and the Canadians, we remained six days. Here the Boers were rather closer than they had been at Kaalfontein, and it was the rule rather than the exception for the patrols to be fired on. One morning our patrol was shot at from a farmhouse flying a white flag, the advance scouts being only 150 yards distant; one of them, Trooper Walton (Mysore and Coorg Rifles), received a bullet through his thigh and another right through the crown of his hat, actually cutting the hair along the top of his head, but he managed to get away without further injury. On receiving the news Colonel Ross immediately sent out a strong patrol with a pom-pom and burnt the house to the ground, but saw nothing of the enemy, who are always careful not to interfere with a strong patrol, their plan being to allow a small party to approach their ambush and then suddenly open fire, hoping to empty a few saddles. Fortunately, however, it is not easy to hit a man on horseback at an unknown range or else the Boers are uncommonly bad shots, for our patrols have now been fired upon on seven or eight different occasions at comparatively close range and only one man has been hit. One afternoon a party of Boers, about thirty in number, were seen by the look-out man coming down to a Kaffir kraal, about three miles out. Lumsden’s Horse were ordered to saddle up immediately and give chase. The Boers, however, did not wait. They had evidently come down to get mealies from the Kaffirs, as we found some bags they had dropped in their haste.
In these operations Lumsden’s Horse learned a great deal about the tricks and methods of Boer scouts, and soon began to realise that these could best be met by bringing all a shikarri’s varied experiences into play. In reality the wily Boers do not send out patrols, according to our interpretation of that word. When any considerable number of them are seen together, it may be taken for granted that their scouts have previously done all the work expected of them, or that they are off somewhere in another direction, acting as a screen for some more important movement. When watching a hostile force, with a view to aggressive tactics or defensive measures, the Boers hardly ever show themselves. If caught by chance on the move, they either halt where they are and lie down or steal away one by one to the nearest cover, knowing perfectly well that any large body moving can be seen a long distance off, while separate figures become almost invisible dots on the vast plain and attract no attention from people whose eyesight is less keen than a Kaffir’s. Once concealed from view, they are careful not to show themselves again on the sky-line, or on a sunlit slope, where their shadows would betray them. From hunting wild game they have learned to pursue the tactics of an antelope or a haartebeeste in eluding a vigilant enemy. As a herd of deer, browsing peacefully in some hollow, leaves a trusty sentinel on the nearest hill to keep watch, so Boers tell off one of their number for a similar duty, and he, like the sentinel buck, remains motionless beside a tree or stone, invisible himself, but allowing no movement on the plain to escape his watchful eye. The man on whom this task falls is generally a veteran trained by long experience to a knowledge of the veldt and the habits of every being, man or beast, frequenting it. By the actions of horses or cattle on the pastures, not less than by the hurried movement of more timid wild animals or birds, he knows whether they have been disturbed by anything unusual. Then he stoops down to listen, and his ears are so sensitive by long practice that he can distinguish the rumble of wheels or tread of marching men miles off, though the sound comes to him no louder than the whisper of wind among dry grass. And a bird on the wing, or animal scuttling through the undergrowth, will warn him at once of approaching foes.
If the Boers want to lay an ambush they do not set about it in a clumsy fashion, but with due foresight, calculating all the chances. Far in advance of the trap thus prepared they will probably have posted some men among the rocks of a kopje, or preferably in a dry donga between high banks that effectually conceal any movement. These advanced scouts never show themselves or fire a shot when the prey for which their comrades are waiting approaches. They simply allow it to pass, and then perhaps will be heard a whistle like that of some wild bird, the lowing of cattle that cannot be seen, or other sound familiar enough but conveying no particular meaning at the moment. Yet in all probability it is a preconcerted signal from the foremost scouts to others within hearing, who pass on the message, so that every movement of the coming patrol or column is known to the Boers waiting in ambush for it. Thus many mishaps have occurred in a way that nobody could account for, and by practising similar methods Lumsden’s Horse at length became a match for their enemy at the same game. Other lessons than those learned at Springs were, however, needed to perfect them in the craft on which the safety of an army may sometimes depend. One such experience fell to their share in a reconnaissance towards Crocodile River, which Colonel Lumsden describes in a letter to the executive committee of Lumsden’s Horse:
A few days after the despatch of my previous letter, Colonel Ross, with a detachment of my own corps and the greater part of the 8th Mounted Infantry, collected at Irene under instructions to proceed to Pretoria. While we were still in camp there orders came from headquarters to patrol the country to the west and north-west as far as the Crocodile River. On receiving the above orders, Colonel Ross, accompanied by myself, Captain Taylor, and a small patrol of the Oxfords under Lieut. Percy Smith, went out to reconnoitre the country. Captain Clifford, of ours, had already proceeded early in the day (July 20) with a patrol of fifteen men in the same direction. Overtaking this party about noon, Colonel Ross ordered Captain Clifford to push on and ascertain that the ground was clear of the enemy as far as the river. Colonel Ross’s party then returned to Irene. Late in the evening Captain Clifford’s patrol came back and reported that his party had been ambuscaded before reaching the river, and had had to make the best of their way out of a tight place on jaded horses at the best speed they could, leaving two of their number, Privates Bearne and Cayley, in the hands of the enemy. Captain Clifford estimated the enemy’s strength at 300, and reported that as far as he could ascertain they were laagered in a strong natural position near Six Mile Spruit, commanding a perfect view of its valley. Not being quite satisfied with the information, Colonel Ross ordered him to proceed again next day with a patrol of thirty. Captain Sidey accompanied him. The task was a difficult and dangerous one, for, although the first twelve miles were clear of the enemy and comparatively open, the last eight miles of the journey led down the valley of Six Mile Spruit, with high hills to the right and lower ones to the left, the enemy’s laager being situated about half-way down on the right. The Boers had thus the option of stopping the patrol on the way down, or cutting it off on the return journey. The reconnoitring party could reach the Crocodile River in comparative safety by advancing along the higher ground to the left of the valley and holding the commanding posts as far as numbers permitted. But as this course failed to draw out the Boers, it was useless as a method of discovering their strength and whereabouts. Captain Clifford therefore effected a compromise, reached the river as above described, and when about half-way through the valley on the return journey turned off in the direction of the Boer laager, leaving Sergeant Mitchell and four men in observation on high ground to cover his advance. As soon as he and his party were well down to the Spruit, the Boers rushed out in large numbers, forcing them to retreat in haste towards the covering party, who were unable to fire, as they could not distinguish friend from foe. The whole patrol, being outnumbered by ten to one, with their line of retreat threatened, had no choice but to escape as best they could in an easterly direction. Three men were taken prisoners through their horses being exhausted. Sergeant Mitchell’s party, finding itself cut off, escaped in a southerly direction, and reached Johannesburg in safety next day. The patrol that night came back nine short. It turned out that three had been taken prisoners, and the remaining six arrived in camp from various directions the following day. The three prisoners returned three days later, having been treated with great kindness by the Boers, who only took their horses, rifles, and accoutrements, and were evidently much amused by the way in which our patrols were sent out every day to face almost certain capture or death in accordance with orders. They considered this patrol as very useful to supply them with the necessaries of warfare, and treated the whole thing as a huge joke. During the retreat on the first of these two patrols Private Graham did very good work. When Cayley’s horse had fallen and then run away, Graham made him hold his stirrup to expedite his flight on foot, and offered to take turn and turn about riding and running with him. It became evident that they could not both get away, so Graham, taking Cayley’s rifle and catching his horse afterwards, brought both animals and rifles out of action, saving them from the hands of the enemy and earning the commendation of the Colonel on his arrival in camp. On the 22nd Colonel Ross’s Irene command was ordered to start at two hours’ notice for Pretoria viâ Swartzkop. He complied, camping at Swartzkop for the night, and reaching the camp by the Pretoria Racecourse next day.
Captain Clifford, in an official report of the incident to Colonel Lumsden, does full justice to Trooper Graham’s conduct in the following words:
When about two miles from Crocodile River, while I was questioning a farmer, the enemy suddenly opened fire on us from a ridge in front, between 300 and 400 yards distant. I was with the scouts when this happened. We galloped back to the rest of the patrol, which only consisted of a total of nine troopers, and before we could take up any position the fire began to come from three sides, so I gave the order to retire as fast as possible to avoid being surrounded. In the retreat, under a heavy fire, Trooper Cayley, one of the scouts, was thrown from his horse, whereupon Trooper Graham, with great gallantry, stayed behind and gave Cayley a ride on his own horse, running by his side, and then mounting and Cayley running. The rest of the patrol being scattered, and the ground much broken, these two were not missed for some time. After some distance had been traversed, the Boers were getting so close, and the fire so hot, that it would have been impossible for both to escape. Trooper Cayley thereupon flung himself into a small ditch and Trooper Graham made off, not, however, without bringing Cayley’s rifle. On the way to rejoin the patrol, and still under fire, he came across a riderless horse of another of the party, and brought it safely back with Cayley’s rifle. The patrol then, observing him coming, turned to his support, and the Boers discontinued the pursuit.
For his gallant behaviour on this occasion Trooper Graham was recommended by Colonel Lumsden for the Victoria Cross; but instead of that coveted decoration he subsequently received the Distinguished Conduct Medal.
The talented correspondent of the ‘Englishman’ writes as follows of the same affair:
One morning a patrol set forth to spy the land, an officer and eleven men. They rode west for fifteen miles and entered the hills aforesaid, their object being to reach the junction of Six Mile Spruit with the Crocodile River. The way being purely cross-country it was a difficult matter to locate their destination, and seeing a farmhouse at the top of a valley the patrol made for it with the object of being directed. The valley traversed was some thousand yards wide from ridge to ridge. At the far end was the farmhouse, and beyond a low hill. Down the middle of the valley ran a spruit between high banks, forming a donga deep and wide enough to cover mounted men. The path running up the valley crossed the donga 600 yards from the farmhouse. Our fellows trotted up to the farmhouse, some tackling the lady of the house, and the others the Boer himself, who was spotted on the road a little way off. The good lady was a bit nervous, and rather hastily volunteered the information that the Boers had all gone away. Though never dreaming of their presence so near, this aroused the suspicions of the man to whom the remark was made, and he went up to the farmer, and roughly demanded where the Boers were. The question rather startled him, and from his manner it became evident that Boers were about, though he swore they had left the night before.
Thereupon the patrol, in open order, advanced across the rising to the right, with Bearne, Graham, and Cayley in front. A wire fence obstructed the way, and it was a moot point whether to go round by a gate to the left or to use the wire-cutters. This fence was eighty yards from the top of the ridge, to which it ran parallel. The cutting of the fence saved the lives of the men mentioned. Hardly were they through the opening than a heavy fire was opened on them at a range of fifty yards. The rest of the party being a hundred yards behind, not yet up to the fence, Cayley, Bearne, and Graham whipped round, and made for the cutting, which was luckily immediately behind them. If they had gone round by the gate to the left they would have had to stand fire getting to the gate, and then run the gauntlet all the way back. As it was they got safely through the cutting and legged it after the rest, the party making straight down the valley for the donga already described. As the distance between the Boers and the donga was only 800 yards, it can be imagined how hot the fire was. Extraordinary to relate, not a man was touched during the brief but dangerous interval which elapsed between leaving the wire fence and reaching the donga. Arrived there a new foe sprang upon the unlucky patrol.
From the left of the hill behind the farmhouse, and at the point where the left ridge forming the valley joined this hill, another lot of Boers opened a heavy enfilade fire at a thousand yards’ range. Their sanctuary was a sanctuary no longer, and again the patrol fled, this time straight for the opening in the hills by which they had entered. Meantime the second lot of Boers kept up a brisk fusillade, many of them mounting horses and galloping along the ridge parallel with the flying patrol. As our men had travelled some twenty miles, their horses were pretty beaten, so that the Boers, in light order, had no difficulty in catching up and taking pot shots at short range. Shortly after leaving the donga, Cayley’s horse fell heavily, and got away from his fallen rider. Thereupon Graham pulled up, gave Cayley his stirrup, and the latter ran until exhausted. Graham then very gallantly insisted upon Cayley riding while Graham ran. When beaten, Graham mounted again and Cayley ran. At this point the Boers had got close up and were pouring in a hot fire, and, the situation endangering both men, Cayley, who was much exhausted, let go, insisting on Graham leaving him, hoping himself to escape the Boers by hiding among the rocks. Near the same place Bearne’s horse stopped, dead beat. Bearne got off and ran until done, when he, too, took cover from the Boers, who were close at his heels peppering for all they were worth.
By this time the remainder of the patrol, headed by Captain Clifford, who was in charge, had got well away, and they eventually returned to camp late at night, having had to walk most of the way back, as their horses were too done to carry them. But Cayley and Bearne never had a chance, for the Boers had never lost sight of them. They were quickly routed out of their cover, and having dropped their arms when running, defenceless, they had to surrender to overwhelming numbers. The Boers explained to them what had happened on their side, and it would seem to be only by a bit of luck that the whole patrol was not captured. Right behind the low hill at the back of the farmhouse was a laager, where a number of Boers were encamped. Five, they said, though there must have been quadruple the number, Boers had gone over to the farmhouse already mentioned half an hour before the patrol appeared. Failing to find forage there, they had proceeded up the hill with the intention of crossing into the next valley to visit another farmhouse. When on the sky line they spotted our patrol advancing. The Boers immediately lay low to watch what happened. Realising that the patrol was riding into the lion’s mouth, they meant to keep doggo until the party was close up, and consequently far away from the only point of escape—viz., the road by which it had come. When close up they would open fire, warning at the same time their own camp over the hill scarce a mile away. Luckily for us, their camp proved slow to hear, else the main body of Boers would have rushed for the donga and regularly trapped the crowd. As it was our men had reached the donga before the laager had awakened to the situation.
Cayley and Bearne were kindly treated but marched about unmercifully, eventually reaching the main Boer laager at Commando Nek, where a short time previously the Lincolns and Scots Greys had come to such terrible grief. There the unhappy pair were released to struggle twenty miles into Pretoria as best they might.
Shortly after the adventurous descent on the Crocodile River fastnesses, which I have already described, a second and larger patrol, with Captain Clifford again in command, set forth to avenge the disasters of the first. As I have a particular regard for my personal safety, and believing the neighbourhood accursed, I found it convenient to be otherwise occupied at the moment when patrol No. 2 started. And subsequent events proved me wiser than my generation. Not being present at what happened, I cannot, of course, tell exactly how it came about. Nor could I piece the twenty different accounts given me into a satisfactory whole, for the very good reason that no two of the stories afterwards told me would fit in. However, it would appear that it happened somewhat thus.
The party started out at daybreak, and reached the scene of the previous disaster in good time in the morning. Needless to say, the Boers were on the look-out this time, and so soon as the patrol hove in sight made their dispositions. With a wariness born of experience there was no venturing into the valley. The party spread over the ridge along which the Boers had followed them on the first occasion, and advanced in skirmishing order with scouts in front smelling out every nook and cranny. And so they came, as they say in racing parlance, right along the ridge until close up to the farmhouse. All the time the Boers in force were happily contemplating these operations from the opposite ridge, which they had selected as being the one not likely to be scouted. As the ridge ran into the hill behind the farmhouse it became necessary, if any act of retribution was to be performed on the farmer, to diverge from that line of advance and make for the farmhouse. This was done, and of course brought the patrol into closer order. At the farmhouse one of its occupants handed a note to Captain Clifford. It was from the farmer, and ran, ‘Am going down the road to kill a pig for a neighbour. Will be back in a few minutes.’ And then the band began to play. From the hill in front and the ridge on the right the Mausers spoke out their unwelcome messages in a continuous stream, till it seemed as if the blue sky above must crack for the noise. Round whipped the patrol and in went the spurs, Captain Clifford leading his men down the valley that seemed as if it must spell death for the whole party. There were 200 Boers in all firing at an average range of 800 yards for a distance of two miles. Several horses were shot, several fell, some stopped from exhaustion; but there was no way of getting out except along the road which ran parallel to the ridge occupied by the enemy. The rocky going on the other ridge precluded a retreat over its inhospitable sides, besides which it was commanded on both slopes from the hill behind the farmhouse.
That night at Irene the return of the patrol was anxiously awaited. It seemed a strange thing, to many marvellous, that no man had a mark on him, and this shows again what extraordinarily bad shooting the Boers are capable of at moving bodies, and particularly when they are not certain if another and concealed movement is not being conducted on their rear. Of the party sent on the expedition one by one continued to arrive back, some late the same night, some during the next day, some even the day after, until at last the lot were accounted for. Three of the unlucky patrol had trekked for Johannesburg, and advised us by telegraph of their safety. Another struck the railway at Kaalfontein. And so they straggled in, weary, hungry, and dirty. Several were taken prisoners, but treated kindly enough, one attention in particular being much appreciated. That was a stomach warmer of peach brandy before they were set free for their march back to Irene. Rather an insulting message given the released ones was to the effect that the Boers would have coffee ready next time we came.
After these events Colonel Lumsden’s request for more active employment than his corps could find on lines of communication was granted, and the sequel is described by a correspondent of the ‘Madras Mail’:
We left Springs on July 16th, expecting to join General Hutton, who, we heard, had had a severe engagement with heavy casualties, and was in want of more mounted troops. However, after a night at Kaalfontein we moved on to Irene, which place is the headquarters of the 8th Mounted Infantry, now on communications between Johannesburg and Pretoria. We remained at Irene a week, during which time we had some half-dozen men taken prisoners owing to their horses giving out when being pursued by the Boers, who were always lying in wait for our patrols. We were exceedingly fortunate in having nobody hit on these occasions. The prisoners were in every case released, their rifles and horses, of course, being taken from them. Apparently the Boers now find prisoners an encumbrance.
On the 22nd we moved to Pretoria, camping three miles outside the town. Pretoria is prettily situated in a hollow surrounded by hills. These hills to the south-west, and about ten miles out, sheltered a number of Boers, and on the 27th we set out on a reconnaissance to find out something about them. The force, under Brigadier-General Hickman, consisted of the 2nd, 6th, 7th, and 8th Mounted Infantry Regiments, a battery of Field Artillery, and a battalion of Infantry (the Cornwalls). We saw nothing of the enemy until evening, when the advance guard came into touch and exchanged shots with the enemy’s scouts, who retired. The next morning we had scarcely started when we heard the now familiar double thud of the Mauser, and found that the Oxford Company of the 8th Mounted Infantry were engaged. It was a very different country from what we had been used to, and it did not suit us nearly so well. We were in a valley with steep hills on either side, the slopes of which were covered with loose stones and rocks of every size and shape, which made the going almost impossible for horses and very trying for the men. The pom-poms came into action close on our left and shelled a steep kopje opposite for some time; meanwhile, a brisk rifle fire was being kept up by the Mounted Infantry on our left. At the end of about an hour the General had apparently found out all he wanted to know, for the order to retire came, the 8th Mounted Infantry to act as rearguard. Lumsden’s were deputed to guard the left flank, which we did, retiring by alternate companies along the top of the range of kopjes, while the Infantry and guns moved along the valley. The enemy followed in a half-hearted way, but were easily kept in check by the pom-poms, which dropped shells into them whenever they showed themselves in any numbers. Beyond firing at a few of their scouts, we (i.e., Lumsden’s) saw nothing of them. The casualties had been slight, the Oxford Company 8th Mounted Infantry having one man killed and one wounded. An officer’s charger hit was all the damage done to Lumsden’s Horse.
On the 27th General Ian Hamilton’s division, consisting of General Bruce Hamilton’s, General Mahon’s, and General Hickman’s brigades, marched into Pretoria. Lord Roberts and his Staff, with General Ian Hamilton on his right and Lord Kitchener on his left, took up his position in the market square while the troops marched past, cheering him as they went. The same day we heard the good news that 5,000 of the enemy had surrendered to General Hunter.
More active service, however, meant for Lumsden’s Horse a transfer to some other column, and the time had thus come when they were to bid farewell to Colonel Ross, under whom they had served for four months, and from their comrades of the 8th Mounted Infantry, with whom they had marched and fought in many actions. Colonel Lumsden expressed the feeling of all ranks in his parting words to Colonel Ross, which were full of appreciation for the many kindnesses shown by that gallant commander towards Lumsden’s Horse. What Colonel Ross thought of the corps and its officers may be gathered from the regimental order acknowledging their services, and from a letter in which Colonel Ross writes as follows:
Lumsden’s Horse joined the 8th Corps M.I. about the middle of April 1900, and served with the corps till the end of July, when they were transferred to General Mahon’s command. This was probably the most completely equipped ‘unit’ that joined the forces in South Africa during the war—a well-organised regimental transport, of Indian pattern, a complete regimental hospital and veterinary establishment, and every ‘necessary’ of life for man and beast for a campaign in almost any country.
The personnel of the corps was in keeping with everything else. Colonel Lumsden, though not an experienced campaigner when he first arrived on active service, was a capable organiser, and had the natural gift of commanding the respect and cheerful obedience of all who served under him, and he soon qualified as a competent leader under fire. He was ably supported by a well-selected body of officers and non-commissioned officers; and there was an evident determination among all ranks that the representatives of the Indian Auxiliary Forces should justify their selection by the Indian public. The ‘rank-and-file’ was composed of gentlemen who had been used to the comparative luxury of an Indian planter’s life, and who were untrained in cooking for themselves and attending to their horses. But they soon adapted themselves to the situation, and cheerfully took their share of all the work of Regular soldiers, and with such success that an experienced officer like General Hutton expressed his admiration of the manner in which they did it.
The ‘fighting’ capacity of Lumsden’s Horse cannot be entirely estimated from the gaps in their ranks. They were, as a result of their training in civil life, more ‘self-reliant’ than the rank-and-file of our Regular Army, and the looser formations they were consequently able to adopt account in a great measure for their comparatively small losses. The opinion formed of the corps by the Commander-in-Chief can be gathered from the great number of distinctions, promotions, and commissions in the Regular Army which were conferred on those who remained. The time-honoured maxim, ‘Blood will tell,’ was never better exemplified than in this corps, and, should it be my lot ever again to command troops in the field, I ask for no better fortune than to have a similar body to Lumsden’s Horse.
Late Lieutenant-Colonel Commanding 8th Corps M.I.