The Fourth Crossing of the Tugela below the Tugela Cataract, February 26—The Battle of Pieter’s Hill—Barton’s Hill—Railway Hill—Hart’s Hill—The work of the cavalry brigades on February 27—Lord Dundonald’s entry into Ladysmith.
From an early hour on the morning of February 26 the whole of General Buller’s army was busy in taking up new positions. All the guns, with the exception of the 73rd Battery Royal Field Artillery, were ranged in line above the eastern banks of the river facing the enemy’s position. The strength of our artillery was as follows: Four 5-inch Royal Garrison Artillery guns, four naval 47 guns, eight naval 12-pounders, six 5-inch howitzers, thirty-six Royal Field Artillery guns, six Royal Horse Artillery guns, six mountain battery guns—a formidable display, giving a sum total of seventy guns south of the Tugela, not including the long-range guns at Chieveley. The infantry were disposed as follows: Coke’s Tenth Brigade held Colenso and the kopjes west and north of Fort Wylie; Hildyard’s English Brigade held the low kopjes on the extreme left of the line; Hart’s Irish Brigade and two battalions of Norcott’s Brigade held the slopes of Hart’s Hill and the river gorge beside this hill; Barton’s Fusilier Brigade and Kitchener’s Lancashire Brigade, with the two remaining battalions of Norcott’s Brigade, had crossed the river to the Hlangwane plateau; the 1st Border Regiment joined the main body from Chieveley; Dundonald’s Irregular Cavalry Brigade took up a position on the Nek between Monte Cristo and Cingolo. At daylight the Rifle Reserve Battalion received orders to join their brigade on the Hlangwane plateau. They were the last regiment to cross the pontoon, which was shortly afterwards taken up.
Immediately after crossing I had an investigation made relating to the loss of my medical panniers in the river the night before, and accompanied a party of men to search the stream. About a mile lower down we succeeded in finding and rescuing one, which, after a thorough overhauling and drying of its contents in the sun, proved to be little the worse for submersion. I then wired to Chieveley for another to replace the lost one, and received it in a few hours.
Throughout the day our artillery kept up a slow bombardment of the enemy’s position; this was done to enable every battery and every gun to get the exact ranges of all targets. These latter were systematically named on a rough map supplied to each battery—a most important arrangement, as will be seen later on. The following telegram was received from Her Majesty the Queen by Sir Redvers Buller, and communicated by him to the troops: 'I have heard with the deepest concern of the heavy losses sustained by my brave Irish soldiers. I desire to express my sympathy and my admiration of the splendid fighting qualities which they have exhibited throughout these trying operations.'
Sir Redvers Buller sent the following reply to Her Majesty: 'Sir Redvers Buller has, on the part of the Irish Brigade, to thank the Queen for her gracious telegram of sympathy and encouragement.’
Her Majesty’s sympathetic message showed the troops that the eyes of the nation were on them; it proved a connecting-link between the whole army on the eve of a great battle, and added an extra fillip to their already intense desire for victory.
Some movements of the enemy near the Klip River were observed during the day; a certain number were seen moving across the drifts of this river, evidently with the intention of extending their left flank. The long-range naval guns in Ladysmith dropped some shells among another party of Boers, who were attempting to form a bridge or drift across the Klip River higher up, south of Bulwana, and prevented them from carrying out this work. The Royal Engineers also worked hard at the new road down to the Tugela below the cataract, and had it completed by 6 p.m.
The dawn of February 27, the anniversary of Majuba, broke cloudy. Almost before the dark outlines of the Pieter’s range of hills were evident, our artillery opened the day’s work, battery after battery sending their messengers of death—lyddite and shrapnel—to herald in the day—a day never to be forgotten in the annals of this war.
General Buller’s plan of attack was as follows: He had noted that the troops on Hart's Hill, who were occupying the post taken at such loss by the Irish Brigade on the 23rd and 24th, gave him such a position in front of the enemy’s left that, should he be able to make him retain his strong post on their right, above Onderbrook and Langerwachte Spruits, under the belief that we would attack them there, and at the same time if a crossing could be made over the Tugela north and east of Hart’s Hill, our troops, who had now crossed, would be able to turn the enemy’s left, and drive him from all his positions before he had time to send reinforcements to his now threatened left flank.
I have already shown how General Buller moved this attacking force and his artillery across the river on the 25th and 26th; and it is now necessary, in order to understand the Battle of Pieter’s Hill, to describe the position taken up by all the troops engaged, I shall merely indicate the posts occupied by the artillery and those of the infantry who acted as a retaining and defending body, leaving over until the actual description of the battle the disposition of the attacking force.
On our left Coke's Tenth Brigade occupied the kopjes north and west of Colenso; he was supported by the 73rd Battery Royal Field Artillery behind him, and the heavy naval guns at Chieveley (one 6-inch, three 47’s, and two 12-pounders); these guns covered our left flank as well as the Colenso-Ladysmith road, and the deep kloofs and dongas on each side of it by which any force could approach on our left. In continuation of General Coke's right, the hills around the Onderbrook and Langerwachte Spruits were held by the Royal Fusiliers and Royal Welch Fusiliers of the Sixth Brigade; also the 2nd Devons, 2nd West Surreys, two companies 2nd West Yorks, and two companies 2nd East Surreys, of the Second Brigade, with four companies 2nd Scottish Rifles of the Fourth Brigade under General Hildyard.
On General Hildyard’s right, the lower positions taken by the Irish Brigade on the 23rd and 24th were still occupied by the 1st Durham Light Infantry, 1st Rifle Brigade, six companies 2nd East Surrey, and four companies 2nd Scottish Rifles, under Brigadier Norcott; the Connaught Rangers, Royal Inniskillings, and Imperial Light Infantry, under General Hart.
Our artillery on the eastern side of the Tugela were placed as follows: On the high crest of the northern spur of Hlangwane, arranged in two tiers, were the 64th and 17th Batteries Royal Field Artillery, two naval 47-inch guns, and four naval 12-pounder quick-firing guns. On the western spurs of Hlangwane the 28th and 78th Batteries Royal Field Artillery, both of the latter supporting the infantry over Onder-brook and Langerwachte Spruits, the 28th Battery facing west up the former, and the 78th Battery facing northward up the Langerwachte Spruit. East of the 78th Battery were the 7th Battery Royal Field Artillery, then four guns of the 4th Mountain Battery, then 'A' Battery Royal Horse Artillery; on an eminence called Green Hill the 19th Battery Royal Field Artillery, and behind and under cover of this hill the 61 st Howitzer Battery. Behind the last-named battery, on a height called Fuzzy Hill, were the four 5-inch guns of the 16th Company Royal Garrison Artillery and 63rd Battery Royal Field Artillery.
On our extreme right lay Monte Cristo, and high up on its northern slopes two mountain battery guns were mounted, while behind these along the crest line were four long-range naval 12-pounders. These long-range guns could enfilade, and even take in reverse, some of the enemy’s trenches on Barton’s Hill. There was in all a battery of seventy-six guns spread over a front of over four and a half miles, not including the six long-range guns at Chieveley and a number of smaller fry—Maxims and Colts—amongst the infantry. The whole southern banks of the Tugela, from the point just opposite to where the Onderbrook Spruit joins that river to as far as the northern limit of Monte Cristo, were lined by the Border Regiment and the Rifle Reserve Battalion; Monte Cristo and our right flank were likewise lined by the Irregular Cavalry Brigade, under Lord Dundonald. The latter took up their position at 6.30 am.
If our position was a long one, that occupied by the enemy was very much longer. It may be described as consisting of three long curves, the first curve extending from beyond the Colenso-Ladysmith road on the west, and running, with its concavity facing us, to the western side of Hart’s Hill. This curve passes over Grobelar’s Kloof and Onderbrook Mountain, and has been already described. Continuous with this, the second curve commenced on the east of Hart’s Hill, with its convexity facing us, ending on the western slopes of Barton’s Hill. The third curve began west of Barton’s Hill, passing in an irregular manner round our right to the north and west of Monte Cristo; its concavity faced our right flank. Its importance was more imaginary than real, as it was the only part of the Boer position which was not entrenched. It was the middle curve, lying in the centre of the enemy’s position, that became the battlefield of the day. It consisted of three well-defined, heavily-fortified hills, known as Barton’s Hill, Railway Hill, and Hart’s Hill, from right (or west) to left (or east) respectively, these three hills being in the vicinity of Pieter’s Station, giving to the day’s engagement the name of the Battle of Pieter’s Hill.
General Buller’s plan of attack was explained early in the morning to all concerned, and was as follows:
The infantry on the north of the Tugela were to hold their positions. The enemy’s centre was to be assaulted by a direct infantry attack, first on Barton’s Hill, and then on Railway Hill and Hart’s Hill, in such a way as to turn his left flank. This attacking party was under General Warren, and was to comprise the following troops: 1st Royal Irish Fusiliers, 2nd Royal Scots Fusiliers, 2nd Royal Dublin Fusiliers, under General Barton, to assault Barton’s Hill; the 2nd Royal Lancasters, 2nd West Yorks, 1st South Lancashires, and 1st York and Lancaster Regiment (which had arrived from Chieveley), under Brigadier Kitchener, to assault Railway Hill.
The 1st Durham Light Infantry, 1st Rifle Brigade, 2nd East Surreys, and a half-battalion of the 2nd Scottish Rifles, under Brigadier Norcott, with the Connaught Rangers, Royal Inniskillings, and Imperial Light Infantry, under General Hart, were to assault Hart’s Hill.
Barton’s Hill was to be attacked first, then Railway Hill, and finally Hart’s Hill. The artillery bombardment commenced at dawn, and increased in intensity during the morning. The long line of riflemen lining the southern banks of the river, with whom were all the available machine-guns, also kept up a heavy fire to suppress sniping, and, what was more particular, to prevent the enemy from watching the movements of the attacking party on their way across the river; it also hindered any of the former from occupying the lower parts of the hill about to be attacked: for to do this, they would have had to cross a bullet-swept zone. This method of preparing an infantry advance by well-directed long-range rifle-fire was decidedly effective. The men were sitting under cover of rocks, with their rifles elevated at an angle of about forty-five degrees; many of them were not discharging their weapons from the shoulder. The range was from 2,500 to over 3,000 yards, and the object was just to make the bullets 'skim' the sky-line. Next day, when walking over the plain behind the hills, I was struck with the number of dead animals and the quantity of bullets lying about. Such a fire as this must have considerably harassed the enemy.
By 10.30 a.m. the new pontoon bridge at the back of Hart's Hill was ready for the attacking party to cross. At this moment General Buller received a 'Clear the line’ telegram from Lord Roberts, announcing the surrender of General Cronje at Paarde-berg. The good news was at once communicated to the troops, and as each regiment heard it, cheer after cheer re-echoed through the morning air. The thought of bringing off a double event on Majuba Day gave a further impetus to the enthusiasm of the troops.
General Barton's party was the first to cross the pontoon, where some wag in the Royal Engineers had erected a signpost with a hand painted on it pointing north, and 'To Ladysmith' inscribed in capitals alongside. This was the subject of much cheerful comment for the men as they passed by. Barton's Brigade, having crossed, turned to the right, and were marched down the river-bed. The advance was very slow, as all had to walk in single file, there being no path, and their course was strewn with rocks overhung by steep and rugged cliffs. In many places men had to wade knee-deep in the rapids, the reserve ammunition on mules and the signalling apparatus accompanying them in this fashion. Arrived at the foot of Barton's Hill, they had a considerable delay, to permit the tail of their column to arrive. Rest was not ill-timed, as they had now to ascend an almost precipitous cliff of about 500 feet, and then to assault and carry the hill-tops.
It was 12.30 before the upward advance was made. The Scots Fusiliers were on the right, the Irish Fusiliers on the left, with the Dublin Fusiliers in support As the brigade went on to the attack, they came under a heavy enfilade of pom-pom and Creusot . fire from the enemy’s left. The summit of Barton’s Hill consisted of three distinct kopjes. That on the left was taken at the first rush by the Irish Fusiliers with admirable precision; the whole brigade advanced against the next, and here, while crossing the open ground between the kopjes, the Irish lost 2 officers and 14 men killed, and 6 officers and 70 men wounded, out of a total of three companies. Notwithstanding this heavy loss, the assaulting force drove the enemy from their post. The third or northern knoll on Barton’s Hill was for some reason not simultaneously attacked. During the delay the enemy had been reinforced at that place, and soon opened a deadly fire, causing many more casualties among our men. The Dublin Fusiliers advanced against this obstacle, and with a dashing bayonet charge carried the position. They paid a heavy toll for their daring, losing some sixty men.
Private Kelly, of the Dublins, showed conspicuous gallantry in going forward under a heavy fire to carry away a wounded officer; he also brought up and distributed ammunition to the firing line from the rear. Sergeant-Major John Steele, 2nd Scottish Fusiliers, under a heavy cross-fire, built up a stone sangar round his Commanding Officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Carr, who lay wounded, and protected him until he was removed. Sergeant Taylor, Lance-Corporal Shields, and Private Farr, of the same regiment, were also mentioned for conspicuous gallantry in this affair. Lance-Corporal O’Neill, 2nd Royal Irish Fusiliers, after much courageous conduct, was shot down by the enemy. His body was found beside a dead Boer, whom he had transfixed with his bayonet.
At about 3 p.m. Brigadier Kitchener’s Brigade, which had been resting on the slopes over the riverbed below Railway Hill, advanced to the attack of this hill. Railway Hill is separated from Barton’s Hill by a deep ravine, studded with boulders and thick bush. Along the eastern side the railway to Pieter’s Station winds through deep cuttings. Hart’s Hill lies on its west, being separated by a long Nek lined with trenches.
Kitchener’s Brigade, after scrambling up an almost precipitous rocky cliff, the crest of which, about 400 feet from the river-bed, crosses open ground, afforded an excellent field of fire for the enemy occupying the summits of the hill and the railway cuttings. The advance was made on a very wide front, the Royal Lancasters on the left, and the West Yorks and South Lancashires on the right, the York and Lancaster Regiment acting as supports.
General Kitchener then ordered a direct assault.
The West Yorks, diverting slightly to their right, made for the railway cutting, which was strongly held by a party of Boers with a pom-pom and a Maxim. The Royal Lancaster Regiment were to attack the Nek, but through some mistake this regiment, seeing the strongly-fortified position of Hart's Hill on their left, from which they were being severely raked by the enemy’s fire, turned half-left, and went straight at it with the bayonet. General Kitchener at once remedied the mistake, and directed the South Lancashires to fill the central gap, which had been left open. During the delay thus caused the West Yorks had got round to the railway cutting, and poured in a heavy fire on the Boer left flank, dislodging the enemy from the ravine and capturing their Maxim.
The Nek against which the South Lancashires had advanced was also strongly held. For a short time the progress of this regiment was impeded; then on the left of one of the Boer trenches appeared a small, eager party of glittering bayonets. A little force, not more than a dozen men, had worked its way round the Boer flank. A charge, a rush, in which Colonel McCarthy O’Leary fell while gallantly leading his regiment, and the situation was saved. Second Lieutenant C. H. Marsh, of the same regiment, notwithstanding that a wound which he had received at Spion Kop had broken out and was bleeding, behaved in a gallant manner after his company commander was wounded-encouraging his men, who were exposed to a heavy shrapnel, machine-gun, and rifle fire. Private Bridgehouse, of the 1st South Lancashire, proved himself worthy of mention for his great coolness and resource on the same occasion.
The crest of Railway Hill had yet to be gained; on it our lyddite and shrapnel were still bursting. To advance seemed like courting death from the enemy’s bullets, which rebounded like hail from a concrete slab, throwing up puffs of red dust. Over the sangars at the top, silhouetted against the evening sky—for it was now close to five o’clock—could be discerned the slouch hats and moving rifles of the enemy. Our artillery were still pounding these latter; lyddite and shrapnel were bursting simultaneously among them. Showers of rock, earth, and splinters were falling on all sides. Never did Brother Boer hold his ground with greater personal peril than on this day. If the attack was superb, the defence was heroic.
What were our men to do? To stay where they were without cover and in the open was foolhardy; to retreat was disgrace; to proceed was exposure, not only to the enemy’s fire, but to that of our own guns. The question was soon answered. A general advance with fixed bayonets was ordered. It matters little to historians to know which regiment gained the summit first; they all claimed the honour. Let them do so, for where all are good it is invidious to pick and choose.
When the West Yorks had reached the crest, and while they had to run the risk of a severe fire, not only from the enemy, but also from our own gunners, who mistook them for the foe as they sprang to the sky-line, some of the regiment placed their helmets on their bayonets and waved them at our artillery. This action, though offering an aim to the Boer marksmen, was seen by our gunners, who ceased firing. Cheer after cheer fell on our ears, and we knew that Railway Hill was ours. Our men could now be seen kneeling on the summit and firing after the retreating Boers, who could also be made out as they hastened towards Pieter’s Station. Barton’s Brigade also gave them a few parting volleys, as a good 'send-off.’
During the attack on Railway Hill, General Kitchener reports that Sergeant J. Miller, 1st York and Lancaster Regiment, did excellent work under his own personal observation. His Maxim had to endure a heavy fire, but he never slacked off or made a mistake, and its coming into action on our right rendered advance possible.
The capture of Hart’s Hill alone remains to be described. When the Royal Lancaster Regiment, through some mistake, left their own brigade and turned their attention to this hill, General Hart’s and Colonel Norcott’s Brigades simultaneously advanced from their position. The Durhams, on our left front, who still held the trenches captured by the Inniskillings on the 23rd, had the advantage of a useful start on the trenches and sangars, whose possession by the Boers had cost the Irishmen so dearly on that black but glorious Friday evening.
The slopes of Hart’s Hill were alive with the active figures of the infantry. Assaulted on three sides by three separate bodies of troops, supported by an artillery fire of seventy guns, was it any wonder that some of the Boers, about sixty in number, ran like hunted rats from their trenches? A tall man, a huge fellow in a dark jersey, was seen to go out boldly and try to rally them. Returning, he sprang on the top of a sangar, and while in the act of emptying his magazine into the advancing infantry, a 50-pound lyddite shell burst right upon him. Thus vanished the last defender of Hart’s Hill!
The infantry now occupied the crest line, and, having put up their sights, poured a heavy fire into the fleeing Boers. The artillery increased their range and did likewise. Many of the enemy held up their hands as a token of surrender, and were made prisoners. The majority retired in the direction of Pieter's Station, some slowly and sulkily, keeping up a long-range fire from every suitable place, and fired on by the infantry from the crests of Railway and Barton's Hills, as well as pursued by the vicious bursting of long-range shrapnel.
About 5.30 p.m. Dundonald got orders to escort three batteries of artillery across the Tugela with all the men that he could collect, and thus assist Sir Charles Warren in pounding the enemy; but his force was stopped at the pontoon by Sir Redvers Buller in person, who considered it too late for anything further to be done that night in the rocky and broken country into which the enemy were retiring. Two pom-poms and two Creusots were firing from the direction of Doom Kloof on our left, and other guns from some distant point on our right. The position of these, invisible all day, was now betrayed by their flickering flashes in the dark.
A counter-attack being expected from the right of Barton’s Hill, where a considerable body of the foe had collected, the cavalry were sent back to our right flank on Monte Cristo to strengthen that place. It was well that this Boer rear-guard was not disregarded, for they soon opened a heavy fire on the Scots Fusiliers from the most northern kopje of Barton’s Hill, inflicting heavy loss. I was on this hill assisting in the removal of the wounded when the firing commenced. We all took cover. I lay down among some rocks alongside the infantry, and suddenly felt what I thought was the flick of a whip on the back of my thigh. It was something a little more serious, and fortunately Lieutenant H. B. Onraet, R.A.M.C., the medical officer attached to the Scots Fusiliers, promptly came to my assistance. He bandaged me up and returned to the top of the hill. Not ten minutes afterwards, as I was taking a rest preparatory to going down the hill, Lieutenant Onraet was shot and carried back to me. He was dead! Such was the ending of a young life—his first campaign, and not a year in the service. He had succoured a brother officer one moment, and the next he was himself brought back to the same place for similar aid. As I lay still, with my wound smarting and my limbs stiff, I could not help thinking of war and its chances, when ’one is taken and another left.'
Something white moving in a bush close by made me almost start, so tired did I feel and so strained were my nerves. At first it seemed to be a handkerchief, but as it moved again I thought it was a chicken, for I had seen the men carrying some, which they had found ‘straying' in the Boer laager close by. It moved again, and I saw it was a dog. I whistled; it came up wagging its tail, and we made friends. I spoke to it in English, but it did not heed me; I then tried Dutch, and it understood. It was a Boer dog— a white spaniel spotted with dark liver patches. It wore a collar bearing its owner’s name and the Transvaal arms. It was very tired, and evidently very hungry. It had lost its master—probably he was dead; anyhow, it nestled to me, and licked first my face and then the bandage on my damaged limb. I made up my mind to foster it. That dog has been with me ever since. It followed me on foot for close on 500 miles, through all four colonies of South Africa, and it is now under my parental roof—at home.
Some of the Dublin Fusiliers were now rushing by. I recognised their accents as they came up. They were charging along with fixed bayonets on their way to reinforce the Scots Fusiliers. What they took me for I do not know, but one huge, hulking fellow evidently suspected me to be a crouching Boer, and drew back for a lunge. I shouted at him, and, with the observation, 'Right! be aisy, now!’ he passed on and disappeared. Seeing that this was no place for me, I got up, and made my way slowly and stiffly down the hill, leading my newly-annexed dog on the end of a piece of bandage. At the pontoon I got a lift back to Sir Charles Warren’s camp near Monte Cristo. Here there were close on 100 Boer prisoners. A wretched, dejected lot they looked—some, old men with patriarchal beards, aquiline noses and cadaverous, pinched cheeks; others still boys, with smooth, round, yellow, shining faces and oval eyes, all clothed in ragged, patched civilian clothes, slouch hats with dirty coloured bands round them, different colours denoting different commandos. Some were talking to the ‘Tommies,’ others were getting their injuries dressed. One haggard, middle-aged burgher who was near me was waiting his turn to get a wound in his thigh dressed. A long, ragged splinter of shell, partly covered with khaki-coloured paint, protruded from his wound through his breeches. His face, hands and clothes were stained a canary yellow from a lyddite shell which had burst near him. Small, dry, hard droplets of the half-burnt explosive hung from the threads of his tom garments and from his singed hair. I brought him a tin of bovril, and asked if I could dress his wound. He was rather silent and surly at first, but soon thawed, and entered into conversation with me. 'Such a day,' he said, 'and such a slaughter'. Our cause is lost; let me die.’ He told me that he alone was left alive from the occupants of one trench on the left of Barton’s Hill above the ravine. A 47 naval shell dropped into the trench, and on exploding it blew all the occupants save himself into eternity. The sangar in front and a tree beside it were utterly demolished. Questioned by me on the effects of lyddite, he said it was useless, that unless one burst in an enclosed place it was hardly so destructive as common shell. Earlier in the campaign. the burghers were afraid of it. He had been in all the engagements in Natal, and did not fear it more than common shell. Shrapnel was much more to be dreaded; the bullets came down so straight that there was no taking cover from it. Questioned as to his opinion on the fumes of lyddite, he said they were different in their action on different individuals. Some they made exhilaratingly drunk. For the moment such a man became absolutely reckless; his nerves were so stimulated that he felt equal to almost any deed. On others the fumes had a different effect, making them sick. He often saw men vomit who were in close proximity to a bursting lyddite shell. The explosion made most people deaf, and gave them besides a severe headache. Both of these last effects he was now suffering from himself. I had afterwards an opportunity of verifying his remarks with regard to nausea, headache, and deafness among our own men. A sergeant of the Royal Lancaster Regiment told me that a lyddite shell burst within a few feet of him. The explosion knocked him off his feet. He was at first dazed, and then vomited. His khaki was stained yellow, he was rendered deaf, and had a headache for twenty-four hours afterwards.
Our casualties were not heavy, considering that the line of advance was an almost frontal one of nearly three miles, being 63 killed, 417 wounded, 28 missing — total 508. They were, at any rate, much less than they would have been were it not for the admirable manner in which the artillery, under Colonel Parsons and Captain Jones, R.N., was served. It is certain that the enemy suffered much more severely. Also it must be remembered that before the infantry advanced to the attack of their respective hills along the Tugela, Dundonald’s Brigade and some infantry, with a large number of machine guns, had got into the rocky ground on the south bank of the river, whence the latter kept up a terrific fire on the opposite slopes and enabled the infantry to deploy along the river-bed and advance almost to the first crest line without serious opposition. The firing of our men and the answering discharge of the Boers, which lasted for hours, echoed and reechoed in the narrow valley of the Tugela, and made an indescribable din, something like the roar of an angry sea on a rocky coast.
A well-known Boer in Pretoria acknowledged that Pieter’s was to them the most expensive fight of the whole war. Our burial-parties interred more than 100 of their dead, and about 90 were taken prisoners; 40 wounded were left on the field, all probably too badly injured for the enemy to remove them. They had, however, taken with them no less than 300 of their wounded. The gain on our side was immense, for it annihilated the strength of the enemy’s hold of the country south of Ladysmith, practically raising the siege, and sent the great majority of Botha’s burghers on the run; the Free Staters, at any rate, scuttled that night for the Berg. This fine achievement did much to compensate the troops for the disappointments of Colenso, Spion Kop, and Vaal Krantz; for though they had never lost heart in their work, they were yet suffering from the effects of continuous fighting, bad water, preserved rations, and want of sleep and proper clothes. They had followed their leader, General Buller, never questioning, never doubting, even through the dark, dark days of Colenso and Spion Kop, and they were prepared to follow him anywhere and at any time. Never was a General more confidently looked up to through adversity than was our Natal Chief. He sought it not, but the feeling came spontaneously from every heart. Crippled as he was for want of maps, having for months to face a position impregnable to his force, he never flinched at a check, but resolutely returned for a fresh attack. Critics have said—and let them say it—that the progress of the Natal Army was slow; but let them visit the ground and consider its nature, as well as our material and the responsibility for loss of life in forcing these positions. If they will but weigh, too, what a defeat of the relieving force would have meant, not only to Ladysmith, but to the Empire, it is highly probable their opinions will change.
The nineteenth anniversary of Majuba proved a day of compensation for General Buller’s army in Natal, as well as for their comrades with Lord Roberts in the Free State; and the history of the South African War will contain no more glorious record than the week’s fighting which culminated in the Battle of Pieter’s Hill. It has been also asserted that the Boers were disheartened before this battle by the news of Cronje’s disaster at Paardeberg, and this had warned them that they must draw in from Natal. But General Buller’s army, once Monte Cristo had been seized, once the riddle of the Tugela had been solved, would inevitably have forced their way in triumph to Ladysmith, Cronje or no Cronje.
After their evening meal, well satisfied with the day’s work, the men sat in groups round the bivouac-fires, singing such songs as ‘Soldiers of the Queen,' etc., to the accompaniment of heavy Mauser rifle-firing in the Boer lines near Ladysmith. The cause of the latter was unknown, and has since been ascribed to panic.
Although the Pieter’s position was now in our hands, it was expected that General Buller could not avoid another action before getting into Ladysmith. Bulwana Mountain, that evil neighbour which had worked such damage on Ladysmith with its Long Toms, still confronted us, and west of this, running east, were several chains of kopjes, extending to the high hills of Doom Kloof on our left. These, though not of any considerable height, formed a pretty formidable position, as to reach them the army would have to pass over the Nelthorpe plain, which was devoid of cover. General Buller determined to reconnoitre these hills during the day and rest his army, and to attack Bulwana on March 1. A helio message was sent into Ladysmith stating that he had beaten the enemy thoroughly, and that he was sending his cavalry on to reconnoitre.
At daybreak on the morning of the 28th Buller’s cavalry, consisting of two independent brigades—the 1st Cavalry Brigade, Royal Dragoons, 13th Hussars, and 'A’ Battery R.H.A. under Brigadier-General Burn-Murdoch, and the 2nd Cavalry Brigade, mostly irregulars, under Lord Dundonald—received orders to reconnoitre the enemy. The latter brigade consisted of T.M.I. under Colonel Thorneycroft; S.A.L.H. under Colonel Byng, and the Composite Mounted Infantry under Major Gough, the last-named regiment about 300 strong, including Natal Carbineers, Natal Police, King’s Royal Rifles, Dublin Fusiliers, and Imperial Light Horse. The fighting on the Tugela had, however, so reduced Dundonald’s force that the total muster of all his regiments was on this morning not more than some 1,000 men. Before the sun rose he sent on three officers, patrols of Thorneycroft's, in advance, to get in touch with the enemy in the Pieter’s direction. U nfortunately, a heavy waggon broke down the pontoon just after these patrols had passed over, and it took an hour to mend the breach and get the remainder of the brigade through. On emerging from the picket lines, ’s patrols reported that the enemy were in the rocky ground by Pieter’s Station, and in the scrub towards the Klip River. Lord Dundonald sent some of the South African Light Horse towards the Klip River, and advanced the brigade, which came under hot fire about half a mile from the outpost line, towards Pieter’s Station, several horses of Thorneycroft’s Mounted Infantry, who were leading, galloping back riderless. The brigade was now formed up under cover of some rising ground. While Captain Arthur Hill, M.P.’s, battery of machine-guns played upon the rocky ridges in front where the enemy was posted, General Lyttelton’s Division and some artillery were sent in support to the railway-line, and they marched unopposed along it and the Boer road to the position captured on the previous day. Arriving at Pieter’s railway-station, where a train of about twenty trucks was found, they were shelled by a small gun and a pom-pom from a low hill to the westward. The 63rd Battery came into action on the Nek between Hart's and Railway Hills, and cleared the kopjes of the few snipers that remained.
Dundonald's Brigade, having driven the enemy back again, advanced and took up their ground behind a crest which overlooked a Boer laager. This camp was full of Boers, who presently emerged in a dense column, and were coming straight towards the brigade, when the machine-guns, which had in the meantime been brought on, again opened upon them, emptying many saddles, and scattering the column to both flanks. Bum-Murdoch's Regular Cavalry with 'A' Battery Royal Horse Artillery now proceeded to the right towards the southern slopes of Bulwana, where they found the enemy strongly posted in a very rugged country, with three guns, which shelled the 13th Hussars heavily. Both cavalry brigades were now spread out—Bum-Murdoch in the open country on the right, and Dundonald's without artillery in the hills on the left—the enemy playing on both brigades with his artillery whenever opportunity offered. Under Bulwana ran a road, and along this numbers of waggons and several hundred mounted Boers could be seen. It was thought that these were only moving to Bulwana preparatory to taking up another position.
Over Ladysmith floated a balloon. Had we known what its occupants saw, the Boer retreat might, by a combined advance of infantry guns, and mounted men, have been turned into a complete rout It appears that the garrison of the town were depressed at not hearing our heavy guns in the morning; they thought that the relief force had again retired When the balloon went up, the aeronaut, Captain Tilney, saw our infantry occupying Pieter’s position, observed the cavalry reconnoitring, and then noted that the Boers were in retreat along the road east of Bulwana; finally he saw that a gin had been raised over Long Tom of Bulwana, preparatory to removing that gun. He then gave Ladysmith the good news that 'the enemy were off at last'. Unfortunately, from our position south of Bulwana, we could not see what was taking place on the north side, as the mountain, a very high one, intervened.
In the meanwhile Dundonald’s Brigade had pushed on and were occupying some kopjes preparatory to another forward move. Just then occurred an incident which may be worth relating. Captain Bottomley, commanding the squadron of Imperial Light Horse, came to Lord Dundonald and reminded him of a promise that if it were in his power to grant the request, his squadron should lead the advance on Ladysmith. This promise had been given months before in conversation, and as a tribute to the brave conduct of the Imperial Light Horse in Natal. Lord Dundonald complied at once, though, if he had not given his word, he would have again sent out Thorneycroft’s Mounted Infantry to act as the advance, a duty which that splendid regiment was well able to undertake, it being his invariable custom to keep the lead in the hands of one regiment for the whole day whenever possible. He therefore arranged with Captain Bottomley, of the Imperial Light Horse, to scout the hill in front, if possible, with his men. Lord Dundonald then saw Major Gough, commanding the Composite Regiment, and, having told him what he had done, said that his regiment was to do the scouting for the brigade, the Imperial Light Horse and the Natal Carbineers forming the advanced squadrons. Having made these arrangements, the brigade was moved in an easterly direction in order to get on better ground, but, as shell-fire soon opened from the eastward side, he did not go further in that direction, having no guns with him, but changed his course again northward.
It appears that a Boer council of war had been held the night before, and that a general retreat to the Biggarsberg had been determined on by a majority. This decision was not unanimous; Louis Botha, Erasmus, and Lukas Meyer entreated the other Commandants to hold their ground. It appears that General Joubert, who was at Modder Spruit, north of Ladysmith, with 10,000 men, had been appealed to for reinforcements, and had refused to send any, notwithstanding that Botha’s men had now been continuously fighting for weeks. After the Krijgsraad had decided to withdraw the remnants of the Boer forces south of Ladysmith, their departure was so rapid and their line of retreat so well concealed by Bulwana from the relieving force, that it was impossible for the British to be aware that a general retreat was in progress. The enemy had little trouble in removing what was left during the night of the 27th and dawn of the 28th; the bulk of their heavy transport and their laagers south of Bulwana had been broken up and removed in their first panic, after the capture of Monte Cristo and Hlangwane on February 20 and 24.
The Boer is quick at noting the proper time for retreat, and, once he has made up his mind to effect this purpose, he is not slow in acting upon it. This has always been one of the chief characteristics of his tactics. There have, it is true, been one or two exceptions to this rule, namely, Elandslaagte and Bergendal; on both these occasions retreat was put off till too late, and the enemy suffered for their tardiness. At the same time it must be remembered that the bravest and best Boers always covered retrograde movements, and in such a country as Natal, with endless defensive positions, a pursuit, unless carried out with a force large enough to enable turning movements, would have been barren of any practical result.
I gather, from information given by prisoners and local residents at the time, that, although the Boer council of war decided on a general retirement, this resolve was not communicated to the burghers; nevertheless, they took their own initiative and retreated without orders in two main lines, one force, with half a dozen guns [This information I received from a local farmer, through whose yard the guns passed] towards Van Reenan’s Pass on the west, the other towards Glencoe on the north. Meyer and Botha are stated to have been the last to leave the positions they had defended so long, and they are said to have decided to return and renew the fight after having secured food for their men and horses at Modder Spruit. That this account is erroneous was afterwards proved from the state of their laager, where a large amount of food and fodder abandoned by them in their retreat was found by the Ladysmith garrison and eagerly consumed. When Botha and his force, we are told, arrived at Modder Spruit, they found that Joubert and his 10,000 men had fled north, and had carried with them every ounce of sustenance. It was a bitter disappointment to the fugitives, but there was nothing to be done except to travel in the direction of the scent of food, and the journey led the dejected, disappointed, starved Generals and burghers north over the Biggarsberg Mountains, where provisions could be secured.
It has been suggested that the cavalry on the Bulwana side might have rushed the Boer rear-guard and captured their guns; but to anyone who has seen the ground over which such action would have had to be attempted, the reasons for its non-performance are obvious. The Boer line of retreat to the north, as may be traced on the map facing p. 199, was along a road over the Klip River and south-east of Bulwana. The river has a nasty, uneven bed, and is spanned only by a wooden foot-bridge. The road up the acclivity is very steep and rugged, and the base of the mountain itself is a network of dongas, very suitable for ambuscade.
While the cavalry were engaged with the enemy’s rear-guard, the infantry were inactive, resting for the most part on the hills which had been captured the day before. In the Boer trenches many items of interest met our eyes. Thousands and thousands of rounds of the enemy’s ammunition lay everywhere, abandoned in their flight. As it was believed that they had buried several of their guns, the troops occupied their time in closely searching the trenches, some of which had been filled in with earth by the fugitives in burying their dead before the arrival of our men. In one place, the soil being accidentally removed from two Boer graves with crosses and inscriptions while our men were digging fresh ones, many thousand rounds of split-nosed and flat-nosed ammunition were discovered.
Evidence was also found of the presence of Boer women on the battlefield during the recent operations. This is said to be accounted for by the fact that some 400 women proceeded thither to join their husbands on Majuba Day. It has, however, been stated by newspaper correspondents with the Boers that during the fighting on the Tugela not only were several women present as spectators, but some actually took an active part in the fighting.
I will record two instances of this combative instinct which may be of interest Both I heard from the Boers themselves. The first is of Mrs. Otto Krantz, wife of a professional hunter, who obtained the sanction of the Government to join a commando, and accompanied her husband in the field through nearly the whole of Natal. She was in the battle of Elands-laagte and in all the fighting along the Tugela, and afterwards went to the scene of action in the Free State. Another Boer woman, Mrs. Helena Herbst Wagner, of Zeerust, spent five months in the trenches. Her husband went on commando at the commencement of the war, leaving her at home with a baby. The child died in January, and the mother donned her husband’s clothing, obtained a rifle and bandolier, and went off to join him. Failing to find him, she joined Commandant Ben Viljoen’s forces, and went through Spion Kop, Vaal Krantz, and Pieter’s Hill. Later she heard her husband lay wounded at Johannesburg Hospital, and she left the army temporarily to nurse him. That her husband recovered from his wound is borne out by the fact that many months afterwards I obtained at Pretoria a portrait of the happy pair (both in male attire) armed with rifles and bandoliers.
It is unnecessary for me to criticise such a state of affairs as is here related; I am quite content to leave the reader to draw his own conclusions. I should, however, like to record that when Louis Botha became Commandant-General he strictly forbade all women visiting the laagers, and few, if any, took part in the engagements for some time thereafter.
When I arrived at the infantry bivouacs on Pieter’s Hill about mid-day on my pony, I found the men still busy burying the dead. In one long trench alone on Barton’s Hill a non-commissioned officer pointed out a heap of ninety-eight dead Boers, who were being searched for the identification cards supplied by the Red Cross Society. Dozens of Mauser rifles lay about, many of which had been smashed in order to render them useless. Close by I met the medical officer of the South African Light Horse—an Irishman, Major Keenan—and he asked me to accompany him towards Nelthorpe Station, which was only some three miles on, to see a wounded man. As we neared the spot, I noticed a Red Cross flag flying. Thinking it was one of our dressing-stations, I rode over, leavings Major Keenan to look after his case. The station was deserted; no sign of any medical occupant was left. On the floor, strewn about and also in boxes, lay quantities of little lumps of a dark, chocolate-coloured, waxy matter. I picked up a piece of this, and found on examination it was dynamite. I went out and closely examined the Red Cross flag; it was not a British one. Hauling it down, as it had no right to be flying, I re-entered the station and examined the place more closely than before for signs of any recent medical inhabitants. Had a Boer doctor used it for a dressing-station, he must have left about the paper covering of his dressings or bits of the dressings themselves. None were to be found. It was truly a curious place for a Red Cross flag to be flying. I reported the presence of the dynamite to a Staff officer, who had a guard placed there to avoid accidents.
During the afternoon, Dr. Krieger, General Lukas Meyer’s Staff Surgeon, came into our lines with several ambulance-waggons to take away the enemy’s wounded. He, however, took only some twenty-seven of the less serious cases. As to this visit, Mr. Hillegas relates [With the Boer Forces,’ by H. C. Hillegas (Methuen)]: 'General Warren produced a Dum-Dum bullet which had been found on a dead Boer, and, showing it to Dr. Krieger, asked him why the Boers used a variety of cartridge which was not sanctioned by the rules of cjvilized warfare. Dr. Krieger took the cartridge in his hand, and, after examining it, returned it to Sir Charles, with the remark that it was a British Lee-Metford Dum-Dum. General Warren seemed to be greatly nonplussed when several of his officers confirmed the physician’s statement, and informed him that a large stock of Dum-Dum cartridges had been acquired by the Boers at Dundee. It is an undeniable fact that the Boers captured thousands of rounds of Dum-Dum bullets which bore the broad arrow of the British Army, and used them in subsequent battles.’ From this statement Mr. Hillegas would wish us to believe that the Boers retained all the bullets captured at Dundee for use, and no others. The implication is too absurd in face of the fact that such bullets would not fit the Mauser rifle, though the missiles which inflicted the hideous lacerated wounds found on many of our soldiers were fired from those guns. The contention, therefore, that the bullets were British and were fired from Boer rifles is an impudent attempt to explain away the case. The Dum-Dum bullets captured by the Boers after the evacuation of Dundee by the British were left in camp because their use had been prohibited by the British Commanding Officer. They had been brought there by the lately-arrived Indian contingent, and since then it had been clearly laid down in Army Orders to all troops disembarking in South Africa that no Dum-Dum bullets were to be landed, and none were [Concerning the Dum-Dum bullet story I always hold that much confusion arose from the expansive bullets being called by the name of the factory. Every bullet made in Dum-Dum, whether before or after the condemnation of the expansive one, had Dum-Dum printed on the paper cover, and might easily be called a Dum-Dum bullet, though it were in reality no more expansive than an unadulterated Mauser]. While it was impossible for the Boers to use Dum-Dum bullets in their Mauser rifles, they used many varieties of expanding Mauser ammunition. Mr. Hillegas acknowledges: ‘It was an easy matter, however, for the Boers to convert their ordinary Mauser ammunition cartridges into Dum-Dum by simply cutting off the point of the bullet, and this was occasionally done.’
Another writer from the Boer side, who was himself fighting with the enemy during the campaign, and calls himself an ‘ex-Lieutenant of General de Villebois-Mareuil' in a work entitled 'Ten Months in the Field with the Boers' treating of the subject of expansive bullets, states that they were used by the Boers, and adds: ‘ he story that the Boers only used those they had captured from the English is quite inadmissible, for the Mauser rifles, which were used exclusively in the Transvaal, were largely provided with them. I will try to describe the patterns chiefly used: (1) Section in the nickel casing, leaving the extremity of the leaden bullet exposed; the lead, getting very hot, emerges partly from the casing, flattens at die slightest resistance, and expands. (2) Four longitudinal sections in the nickel casing allow the bullet to flatten at the moment of contact, and to exude the lead through the apertures/ Because of its importance, I have discussed this matter at some length; it has on several occasions been the subject of questions in the House of Commons. The horrible nature of the wounds caused by expanding bullets has been already sufficiently described.
It is now necessary to return to the doings of the cavalry, Dundonald’s Brigade having just cleared the Boers out of their laager on the west or hilly side, Burn-Murdoch’s Brigade being on Nelthorpe Plain in the Bulwana direction.
About 3 p.m. Lord Dundonald received a message to the effect that the Imperial Light Horse patrol which had been sent scouting to the front had got on the ridge. He at once pushed the leading regiment on to the hill, supporting with the whole brigade. By alternately seizing positions in front and supporting and still pushing on, a rapid advance was now made until the foot of the great flat-topped hill south of Intombi, some six miles from Ladysmith, was reached. When the brigade came up it was getting late. One regiment was short of food owing to the non-arrival of some supply-waggons , the path up the hill was rocky and so bad that the horses could only be led up in single file; moreover, as there had not been time to scout thoroughly, it was doubtful how far the enemy were from both flanks. Lord Dundonald therefore made up his mind not to risk the whole brigade by taking it on, as in the event of disaster the army would practically lose all its mounted rifle regiments, so he determined to go on himself with the leading regiment, sending back with deep regret, to a position he had selected, the remainder of his splendid brigade of South African Light Horse and Thorneycroft’s Mounted Infantry, who had since early morning been fighting to get within reach of the wished-for goal, and had, as events turned out, seen the last shot fired. These arrangements took time, so it was some little while before Lord Dundonald and Major Birdwood, his Staff officer, Lieutenant Clowes, his A.D.C., Mr. Winston Churchill, and a few orderlies, commenced their six-mile gallop. As they turned the last ridge the corrugated-zinc roofs of the low-lying town of Ladysmith, surrounded by the evening fog rising from the intervening marshy plain, came in sight. A little further there fell upon the ear a British challenge from the pickets near Intombi Spruit of 'Halt! who goes there?’ and at 6 p.m. on February 28 Ladysmith was relieved.
Those who took part in this memorable ride will never forget the scene that presented itself.
As the Neutral Camp of Intombi was passed, men who could hardly stand were supporting others almost as weak. All were cheering, and many eyes streaming with tears. One poor fellow, hardly realizing that the enemy had been really beaten, said, ‘You are violating the neutrality of Intombi' But on and on the relief force galloped, passing Indians and Kaffirs who were mad with joy, until at the outpost lines Lord Dundonald stopped to send a message to Sir Redvers Buller of Ladysmith's relief. As the welcome news spread to the town a mighty cheer arose and travelled from regiment to regiment. There was a rush from all sides to the Klip River, which divides the flat from the town. At the drift over the river General Brockle-hurst met Lord Dundonald, followed by a great concourse of hurrahing and cheering men; some were even crying, and in the twilight looked ghastly pale and thin.
In the meanwhile the advanced squadrons of Gough's Regiment of Natal Carbineers under Major Mackenzie and Imperial Light Horse under Captain Bottomley were filing into the town. General Sir George White, with his Staff, promptly left headquarters to meet the relieving force, whom he met in the principal thoroughfare. Women and children were seen weeping with excitement and gladness. As General White turned back with the party to headquarters, he received an ovation from the great gathering, which now filled the streets.
At the post-office the General stopped in response to the cheers, and endeavoured to address the crowd. Struggling with emotion aroused by the prevailing enthusiasm, he could hardly make himself heard. He concluded his short address to the townspeople with the words: 'I want heartily to thank you for the very great assistance you have given me during this trying time.' Three cheers were now given for General White, Lady White, General Hunter, the Staff, and the crew of the Powerful, causing a temporary interruption, and General White then continued: 'This is indeed a happy moment I thank God our flag has been upheld.' Renewed enthusiasm greeted this sentence, and cheers were raised, first for the Queen and then for the Prince of Wales. All then sang 'God save the Queen' The General now called for cheers for Sir Redvers Buller. This was followed by prolonged cheering and the singing of 'He’s a jolly good fellow'. Silence being obtained, Sir George White again spoke, saying: 'It has gone to the bottom of my heart to have to cut down your rations, but I promise I will not do it again'. This was responded to with laughter and cheers, amid which Sir George White and his Staff moved off to headquarters. The General then entertained Lord Dundonald and his Staff to dinner.
It appears that Lord Dundonald’s entry came as a complete surprise to the garrison. It had been reported on the preceding night that rations would be reduced, and the reduction actually took effect from the following morning. This was regarded as an augury of further delay on the part of the relieving force, and caused a little despondency among the garrison; but it is always the darkest hour that precedes the dawn, for soon came the news by helio from General Buller of his decisive victory over the enemy, and the garrison stood to arms. Sir George White ordered a nominal roll of the number of men in the garrison fit to go out and fight to be supplied him by units, and the total was found to be very small. The desperate straits of the besieged can hardly be realized. An English clergyman who was in constant contact with the Boers states that the hill over which Dundonald’s Brigade came had been evacuated by mistake, and that after we had passed into Ladysmith the Boers returned and held a council of war as to whether a final assault upon the town should be delivered during the night, but it was resolved not to attempt it. Whether that be so or not is not clear, but it is certain the enemy were aware of the enfeebled state of the garrison.
From the Ladysmith balloon, Waggon Hill, and other eminences, the enemy were seen in full retreat on mule-waggons and other vehicles, and thousands of mounted Boers were seen travelling to the west towards Van Reenan’s. The field-guns endeavoured to shell them, but the range was too far. Great activity was also visible on the east, especially on Bulwana, where the naval men through their glasses saw a huge ‘gin' being erected over their old acquaintance, Long Tom. The object of this was manifest: the enemy were about to attempt to remove the gun, but the ‘handy man' did his best to frustrate the design. Shell after shell was sent in rapid succession through the air by the latter, and one of the 47 guns which had been recently mounted on Caesar's Camp joined in the exciting fray. There was no need now to spare the scanty ammunition, which had been running short, and every gun that could range any of the enemy strove to wipe out old scores. Bursting shells followed the careering Boers wherever moving figures could be seen in range. Many magnificent shots are on record. One specially true shell struck the emplacement of Long Tom right at the muzzle of the gun. When the dust and smoke had cleared away, the 1 gin ' was seen to have been knocked over. It was again set up, but another shell from a naval 12-pounder shattered it and the hopes of the enemy at the same time, for no further attempt was made during daylight to remove it. The Boers' heavy artillery took no part in the fray; Long Tom, Silent Susan, and Weary Willie maintained a discreet silence, as their only chance of safety lay in flight About 7.45 p.m., when Sir George White’s outpost reports came in, he again heliographed to Sir Redvers Buller the gist of them, giving positions evacuated and positions still held by the enemy. When darkness fell a terrific thunderstorm raged over the town and surrounding hills; rain poured in torrents for hours during the inky blackness of the night, which was relieved only by incessant lightning and the flashes of what was now a desultory bombardment by the big naval guns. While Ladysmith had shelter for its troops, General Buller’s force had to lie out in the open without tents, exposed to the full fury of the storm on Nelthorpe Plain. But the end had been achieved, and no one grumbled.
As Sir George White was not sure that the enemy had left all their positions round Ladysmith, he had during the night made careful inquiries among the regiments for a roll of the men capable of a five-miles march, with the possibility of a fight at the end. But so run down were the garrison from want of food that, though many volunteered, only 2,000 out of the entire garrison were considered fit. Colonel W. G. Knox, with selected men from the 1st Liverpools, 1st Devons, 2nd Gordons, 5th Dragoons, 19th Hussars, and the 53rd and 67th Batteries Royal Field Artillery, was ordered to move out along the Newcastle Road.
This small force of almost exhausted men and skeleton horses advanced first against Long Hill and Pepworth Hill, which they occupied without opposition; the cavalry then, having reconnoitred Limit Hill, sent back word for the artillery, who advanced and took up a position on the north-east slope, and shelled several ox-waggons which were being urged northward. Major Abdy’s Battery, the 53rd, then moved to a spur overlooking Modder Spruit Station, where the Boers were busy loading up some trains. Our artillery now opened fire on some kopjes in the direction of the railway-station, and on a large Boer camp in the vicinity, and the infantry, who were extended along the front of Pep worth and Long Hill, aided with a continuous rifle-fire. While this was going on, the enemy opened a heavy rifle-fire from Pepworth Hill, which completely enfiladed the whole force. Our infantry were too exhausted to capture this position, but the artillery turned their guns on the hill and subdued the fire. About this time a loud explosion was heard, following the departure of the last train from Modder Spruit Station. This train had stopped on the far side of the spruit. The bridge over the spruit was blown into the air, and the train, having waited until the man who had lighted the fuse was on board, steamed away north out of sight among the hills. Both men and horses were too weak for active pursuit; the former could hardly carry their rifles, and many of the animals fell dead from sheer exhaustion. After some desultory long-range fire, during which Colonel Pickwoad was shot through the thigh, the last Boer disappeared, and the column returned to Ladysmith. Our casualties were two officers and six men wounded. The gain was little beyond forcing the enemy to leave their camps behind with stores of food and ammunition. This excursion by the long-suffering garrison of Ladysmith is worthy of record, as an effort of courageous endurance on the part of men whose energies and strength had been well-nigh exhausted by long privation and hunger.
On the same morning—March 1—before the sun rose, Lord Dundonald mustered the force with which he had entered the town on the previous evening in order to rejoin his brigade, taking with him the Assistant-Adjutant-General of the Ladysmith force. Sir Henry Rawlinson, entrusted with a message to Sir Redvers Buller from Sir George White. A small party of Captain Bottomley’s Imperial Light Horse also proceeded to scout Bulwana and look for Long Tom, which had been on the hill at sunset the previous evening. Two squadrons of Natal Carbineers under Colonel Royston also went some way with Dundonald until he branched off in a westerly direction to rejoin his brigade, which had received orders to cover the west or left flank, left front, and left rear of the army. Dundonald sent away towards Van Reenan’s a few squadrons, which were able to effect some good in causing the enemy to abandon waggons, etc., but Sir Redvers Buller did not consider it advisable to give orders for a general pursuit of the enemy.
At the first streak of dawn, the still, black mass of Lombard’s Kop, crowned with mist, was reached; Bulwana was at the time obscured by light, billowy clouds. As the day dawned these disappeared, and the Boer tents and shelters on the eastern and southern slopes of the mountain that had held Ladysmith in its toils for four months became visible. As no trace of the enemy was to be seen, and not a shot was fired, the party pushed on to the crest line, which was found to be unoccupied. Ladysmith could now at last enjoy the inspiriting sight of the Imperial Light Horse on the summit of the hill. The remains of a large Boer laager, fifty tents, quantities of gun and rifle ammunition, food, cigars and tobacco, and some livestock, were all the troops secured; the Boer guns had been removed, and nought remained of Long Tom save its platform and 'gin’; a fine telescope and a searchlight must, however, be mentioned.
Some other small forces had pushed out from Ladysmith to the Boer camps seen at Bell’s Farm and Surprise Hill to the north, and End Hill to the west, and met with similar results. No Boers, no guns, and nothing of importance to capture, save a few cattle, a little ammunition, and a certain amount of food-supplies. At Bester’s Farm a small party of the Natal Police had a brush with the enemy, losing one of their men killed and another wounded.
Shortly after daylight I visited Intombi Hospital, which lay under Bulwana. I had put a few tins of tobacco and some eatables in the saddle-bags of my pony for distribution on arrival. The hospital was situated on the banks of the Klip River, and after a somewhat tedious passage through a network of dongas and thick, thorny mimosa-bush the white canvas of the tortoise-shaped tents came in view. As I was the first arrival of the relieving force in that pest-stricken camp, I got a very cordial reception from all sides. Notwithstanding the barren and grassless nature of the ground between the tents, I was struck by the remarkable cleanliness everywhere observable. After a conversation with the medical officers, with some of whom I had had previous personal acquaintance, I took a walk round the wards. There were about 800 patients; the features and limbs of one and all showed unmistakably what the ravages of disease and starvation will produce. Thin, gaunt, haggard men—living skeletons —met my eyes everywhere, some in beds, others seated, others crawling rather than walking; listless, claw-fingered beings in ragged hospital clothes, whose only signs of life seemed centred in their eyes—large, round, glistening eyes, set off by pinched, cadaverous, bearded faces. Such was Intombi. The medical staff themselves looked almost as bad: one of them, whom I had known as a stout, well-groomed man about town at home, had now a pale, emaciated face, his tattered khaki hanging in folds about a wasted frame; he appeared rather a subject for medical aid than one fit to administer it. He pointed out what seemed to me to be a small forest of short white stakes, glistening in the morning sun, between the hospital and Bulwana. I asked him what it was. 'It’s the graves of 1,600 men,' he said, 'the victims of enteric, dysentery, and wounds.' I shuddered. My few pounds of tobacco and other things did not go far, they were as a drop in the ocean; still, a few got a pipeful. I saw thrifty men mixing the tobacco with pinches of cut grass or leaves, to stretch their smoke.
As 1 was anxious to get on to have a look at the town itself, 1 mounted my pony and made off. A gallop over some two miles of fiat plain, and 1 forded the Klip River and was in Ladysmith—at last Again the barren nature of the ground impressed me—dry, hard, caked clay, no grass, no herbage, the few trees and bushes covered with red dust, hiding the verdure of their leaves. Squalid, dusty streets, barricaded houses with broken windows, shops with shutters up; one with a signboard, 'Luncheons and Dinners at any Hour,' seemed rather a mockery in a besieged town. Any of my readers who have seen a sea-swept rock, barren of vegetation, the home only of sea-birds, and covered with their offal, will find a simile to Ladysmith after its four months' siege. Many of the buildings were absolutely empty; some showed signs of shell damage; here a large hole in the masonry, there a corrugated-zinc roof, with the sun shining through many small round holes, each the size of a florin, produced by shrapnel. The clock-tower of the town-hall showed a large gap in its side, just as if some monster had taken a bite out of it—so one did, Long Tom of Bulwana—for the clock was gone. Other strange and weird sights met my eye everywhere, even on this my first visit—for example, the strange underground shelters in the banks of the Klip River, where the race again became dwellers in caves, tunnelled out in rabbit fashion. The very inhabitants seem strange; talk to a man, and he edges round; he does not like to turn his back on Bulwana; it has been his wont for a good while back to keep an open eye on this unwelcome landmark; he expects to see that white column of smoke rise, which is to him as the cry 'Footsack!' [Taal for 'Clear out!'] is to the Boer dog.
I heard on arrival that General Buller was expected in the afternoon, and that an escort of mounted troops had been sent out to meet him. These failed, however, in their object, as he did not come by the expected route, but took Intombi’s Hospital on his way before visiting the town. The care of his troops, especially the comfort of his sick and wounded, had ever been a characteristic of General Buller in this campaign. He entered the lately-besieged town about twelve o’clock, accompanied by a small personal escort. Some of his cavalry, who had come by the main-road, had distracted the attention of the garrison and civil inhabitants then lining the streets, and the General’s arrival was not expected so soon. News of it, however, soon spread, and General White and his Staff went out to receive him. The meeting was most cordial, the people contributing by the warmth of their enthusiasm, cheering him all along the route to the convent, where he had an interview with General White. One hour after his entry into Ladysmith the war correspondents of the public press were able to telegraph home from Ladysmith (via helio on Bulwana) a full account of the proceedings, thus showing how smartly our Telegraph Department had laid their wires. The first message to be sent was to Her late Majesty the Queen, announcing the relief of the town. Her Majesty sent the following reply to Sir Redvers Buller: 'Thank God for news you have telegraphed to me; congratulate you and all under you with all my heart.— V.R.I.'
On March 3 General Buller published the following address to the Natal Field Force in Army Orders:
'Soldiers of Natal,
‘The relief of Ladysmith unites two forces, both of which have, during the last four months, striven with conspicuous gallantry and splendid determination to maintain the honour of their Queen and country.
‘ The garrison of Ladysmith have during four months held their position against every attack with complete success, and endured many privations with admirable fortitude.
‘ The relieving force has had to force its way through an unknown country across an unfordable river and over almost inaccessible heights, in the face of a fully prepared, well-armed, and tenacious enemy. By the exhibition of the truest courage, the courage which burns steadily as well as flashes brilliantly, it has accomplished its object and added a glorious page to the history of the British Empire.
'Ladysmith has been relieved Sailors [The strength of the Naval Brigade under Captain Jones, R.N., was 39 officers and 403 men of the Royal Navy, and 2 officers and 50 men of the Natal Naval Volunteers. Their guns included one 6-inch, two 4'7's on travelling carriages, two 4'7’s on platform mountings, one 4'7 on a railway truck, and eighteen 12-pounders on travelling carriages. During the relief operations the 4'7's fired 4,000, and the twelve-pounders 12,000 rounds of ammunition] and soldiers, colonials and homebreds, have done this, united by the one desire, inspired by one patriotism.
‘The G.O.C congratulates both forces on the martial qualities which they have shown; he thanks them for their determined efforts, and desires to offer his sincere sympathy to the relations and friends of those good soldiers and gallant comrades who have fallen in the fight.