August 10—September 28
Paget’s Brigade had been ordered to the Transvaal, the General having been appointed to the command of the military district extending from Pretoria due north to Pietersburg. The Battery was, it is believed, to have been drafted into some other brigade, bat, owing to the General’s personal intervention, and to oar own immense satisfaction, we were retained under his command. He had our confidence, and he let us repeatedly know that we had his. He had won our affection too, and those two things together mean an infinity in war.
Por the rest, after our hard campaigning, we were tough, fit, and cheerful, if somewhat ragged and unkempt, like every one else. We were, however, about twenty men short of our fall complement, through wounds and sickness, and it was gratifying, therefore, to receive at Smalldeel the draft of fresh men sent out from England, whose names are given on pages 20 and 21.
Very pale and clean they looked beside our seasoned selves; but the African sun and the rude veldt life soon made us all alike.
An accumulation of mails reached us here from Bloemfontein, and were a great solace during the two days’ journey in open trucks to Pretoria. It should be mentioned here that we had become adepts in entraining and detraining the Battery, and in the care of horses during a railway journey. The latter duty is no easy one, when no proper horse-boxes are available, and closed vans have to be used. To climb into one of these by a little window to put on nose-bags is an experience not easily forgotten by the adventurous driver who is told off for it. It means a struggle for existence among a reeking crush of hungry animals, with the risk of a nasty kick or stamp, and the certainty of semi-asphyxiation.
At Pretoria, on the 15th, we were inspected by Lord Roberts at headquarters. A nice question arose as to whether, with a due regard to public propriety, this function could possibly take place by daylight, owing to the condition of the men’s breeches. This was decided to be false prudery, however; and in the fierce light of a mid-day sun, rags and all, we unblushingly marched past the Commander-in-Chief. Then we went out of the city to a camping ground, which long usage had made as tainted and unhealthy as many of those at Bloemfontein. Happily we had only one night of it, for by the afternoon of the next day the Brigade had collected, and we started north, roughly following the line of the Pretoria-Pietersburg Railway.
To understand the operations that were beginning, it must be explained that Lord Roberts was just now launching his great movement against the east, towards Middelburg and Komati Poort—a movement co-operated in by Buller from Natal and the south, and ending in large captures of men and material on the Portuguese frontier. General Paget’s role was to make a diversion to the north, in order to cover the grand advance, and hold in check two substantial forces under Generals Grobler and Erasmus, who were using Pietersburg, an important town 130 miles from Pretoria, as their base. Incidentally, he was to clear the whole country to the north, burning farms, collecting cattle, and generally harrying the enemy. But he was not to court serious engagements, Lord Roberts not wishing to risk the possibility of a reverse on this side, which would compel him to detach reinforcements from his main army. It was this need for caution that, had we known it, was the cause of a good deal of seemingly meaningless trekking in the near future.
It all seems natural enough now, but to us who had had no news of the outside world for seven weeks, and had not yet begun to realise what a protracted period of guerilla warfare was before the British Army, it seemed strange that the very outskirts of the captured capital, not to mention the outlying districts, should be infested with organised bodies of Boers. Yet so it was; for the very evening we marched ont we had a pitiable story from a picket, of horses stolen in the night, and on the succeeding days we were in constant touch with the enemy.
On the first night (August 16) we had a foretaste of hardships to come in the non-arrival of the transport waggons, which had stuck in a spruit, and the necessity of going to bed without food or blankets. The lack of blankets was not so serious a matter as it would have been in the Orange River Colony, for a decisive change of climate had accompanied our transference to the Transvaal. The nights were still cold, but not with the stringent frosts we had been accustomed to, and the days were now often oppressively hot. The weather remained consistently fine till the end. A much more alarming hitch was that by some oversight we had attached ourselves to the wrong column; but this error was corrected the next morning by a backward march to Paget’s column, in company with which we passed through the range of hills encircling Pretoria, by way of a defile called Wonderboom Poort, where there was a girth-deep river to ford. Here we entered the southern fringe of the * bash- veldt,’ a strange region of long yellow grass, low scrub, and woods of varying extent and density; a parched, waterless country at this season, and, from its natural features, extremely difficult to manoeuvre in.
For six weeks from now we performed the most labyrinthine wanderings—marching and counter-marching—sometimes by day, sometimes, in response to a sudden alarm, by night; generally without a glimmering of the end aimed at, and never with a good stand-up fight like those we had had in the Orange River Colony. Every one in the army had some such period to put up with, and we were no worse off than many thousands of others at that very time. None the less, it was a very tiresome, as well as a very toilsome business; and one thing it strongly suggests is that, as far as is prudently possible, every individual in a force should be given an intelligent notion of what he is doing, and why. Much apparently aimless exertion then is proved to have its significance and value; and spirits are proportionately higher.
Ten miles out from the Poort we had a brush with the enemy, who fired on us, from several miles away, with a great 40-pounder gun of position. Its huge lumbering projectiles, dropping about with deafening explosions in our close neighbourhood, were very disconcerting; but cover behind a steep kopje was found, and they soon hurtled harmlessly overhead. One of our sections came into action, but the range was hopeless. There was some desultory skirmishing to the front, and a party of guileless Yeomanry, who found a deserted farm and improved the occasion by dining there, were surrounded and captured.
On the 19th, feeling our way slowly forward, we arrived at Waterval, and saw the great barbed-wire cage in which some thousands of British prisoners were kept by the Boers. It stands close to a moderately deep river, where the Battery enjoyed the first bathe it had had since leaving Bloemfontein.
For the next four days (till August 24) we marched by way of Pienaar’s River Station (two gutted houses and a blown-up railway-bridge) to Warmbad, which is seventy miles from Pretoria. On the way there were several little skirmishes with harassing parties of the enemy, and constant vigilance was needed owing to the thick thorny scrub through which we had to advance. Some Yeomanry were wounded, and we once or twice fired a few shells at retreating Boers, but there was no serious resistance. It was in country like this that the care our officers had taken in training ground-scouts bore its full fruit, though it had often before, and notably in the ambush episode at Barkin Kop, had excellent results. The topic deserves a special word, because probably more attention was given to this minor branch of artillery training than is usual in batteries. Five men were permanently told off for the duty, and others were occasionally pressed into the service as well. These men, besides having to forage, find watering-places, and so on, were accustomed to help in the choice of positions for action, to observe the front during action, to ride ahead on the march, giving warning of obstacles and pointing ont the shortest and easiest way, and, lastly, in progress like this, through dense cover, to keep touch with the escort, and generally act as eyes for that vulnerable and delicate machine, a battery of artillery. Theoretically, most of this latter duty belongs to the mounted troops; but it is infinitely wiser and safer to supplement this by spontaneous work from within the battery.
On the way we were joined by Baden-Powell and his mounted column, which pushed on ahead of us to Nylstrom, a village on a range of hills some distance north of Warmbad.
This, it is believed, was in excess of Lord Roberts’s intentions, and was accountable for some spasmodic marching and counter-marching on our part, to support threatened communications. The 22nd was a day typical of this period: reveille at three A.M., bivouac at one o’clock after a long march; off again at three in the afternoon in response to a sudden call; an advance of a few hundred yards, and then a two hours’ expectant holt; then a return to camp; and at 10.30 P.M. another sudden alarm and a night march till 3.30 A.M., leading to nothing.
Another night march brought us, on the morning of the 25th, to Warmbad, a curious little settlement built round some hot springs in the middle of the bush, and consisting of a long row of tin bath-houses, an hotel, and a station. After a few days here, we were attached to a flying column under Colonel (now General) Plumer, and after doubling back to Pienaar’s River, struck off twenty-five miles to the east of the line to Eland’s River, where the Rhodesians and Australians who were with us made a smart capture of a Boer laager, with quantities of rifles, stores and cattle, and some fifty prisoners.
In the midst of this small triumph, came a message from General Paget to hurry back to Warmbad, where he was being besieged by Grobler with a number of big guns brought from Pietersburg. Back we hastened (September 3), covering the forty-five miles in thirty hours, took our share in the defence for two days, but on the evening of the second (September 6) were despatched on another expedition, under Colonel Hickman, which led us for the fourth time over the road to Pienaar’s River, and again by night and with elaborate precautions for secrecy and silence. This time we went further up the line to Haman’s Kraal, where the right section was detached to march direct to Waterval, and the left diverged to the west with Colonel Hickman, reaching Zoutpan, and then circling back to Waterval. It was well that the Boers were not present in force during this excursion, for, owing to the density of the bush, at one time the column’s various units were rather astray, the Colonel’s whereabouts was unknown, and our own escort lost us for an hour. The expedition, as far as could be seen, had no results.
From Waterval, on the 12th, we started off on another flying raid, this time under General Paget himself, who had, by orders of Lord Roberts, evacuated Warmbad, then his extreme northern outpost. (By a singular comedy of errors, Grobler had on his side also decided to raise the siege, with the strange result that Boers and British withdrew their forces on the same night, both using infinite care to conceal their retirement by enjoining silence and forbidding lights.)
The present trek was westward to Hebron and the Crocodile River, and was more successful than the last, for cattle were captured, farms burnt, and prisoners taken. We returned with our booty to Waterval on the 18th, and spent two days there, while rumours of a return home, which had been in the air for some time, grew more definite.
Before they came true, however, there was one more arduous trek before us, to the east, by way of a change, where Erasmus, another Boer General afoot in these regions, was thought to be striking away with a view to cutting Lord Roberts’s communications with Komati Poort. It was now arranged that Plumer, from Pienaar’s River, should fall upon him from the north, and that Paget, from Waterval, should cut off his retreat on the south.
We began (Sept. 21) with the usual silent night march, for the affair was to be a surprise, and followed it by another trek on the next day lasting from three A.M. to three P.M., one of the hardest and hottest days we ever went through. An amusing incident occurred after we had camped, for scouts came galloping in to say that a force with guns was approaching on the left, and had fired on them. We turned out our guns instantly, all agog, tired as we were, to strike a blow at the elusive enemy after these weeks of abortive meanderings. Alas, for our hopes 1 The force sighted turned out to be Plumer’s, which had made its junction with us a day too soon, and had, it appeared, also taken us for Boers, and had sent forward its guns, the Canadian Artillery, with deadly intent. Happily the mutual misunderstanding was dissipated bloodlessly.
Proceeding in company, the columns collected vast quantities of cattle and sheep, hut did not come into touch with Erasmus till they reached Lybrand’s Kraal, a wonderfully rich and picturesque little spot, with streams and waving com and blooming orchards—a delicious oasis in the arid bush. Here General Paget opened negotiations with Erasmus for a surrender of the latter’s force, in view of the flight of Kruger and the general collapse of the Boer arms. Erasmus replied that he could not accept the British view of the situation, and would like an interview with Botha, his Commander-in-Chief. This was granted, and he and General Paget left for Pretoria, while a sort of partial armistice was arranged.
It was now, at midnight on September 26, that the Battery received orders to go back to Pretoria, and thence home, with the whole of the C.I.V. Starting on the morning of the 27th, we marched the thirty miles to Waterval almost without stopping, and on the 28th were drawn up to take farewell of General Paget, who had returned that far from Pretoria. He addressed us as follows:
'Major McMicking, Officers, Non-commissioned Officers, and Men:
'Lord Roberts has decided to send you home, and I have come to say good-bye and to express my regret at having to part with you. We have been together now for some months, and have had rough times, but in its many engagements your Battery has always done its work well. Before my promotion I commanded a battalion, and I know what a heart-breaking thing it is to lead gallant fellows np a strong position unsupported by artillery; and I made up my mind that, if ever I had a separate command, I would never advance infantry without an artillery support. I was fortunate enough to have your Battery with me, and it is very gratifying to know that everything we attempted has been successful. Owing to the excellent practice made by your guns, you have the satisfaction of knowing that you have been the cause of great saving of lives to the Infantry, and, at times, the Cavalry. I am sorry to lose you; and I shall miss you very much. There is more hard work to be done, and you cannot realise what it is to me to lose a body of men whom I knew I could always rely upon. There are many episodes, some of which will remain a lasting memory to me. One in particular I might refer to, when, two days after leaving Lindley, two companies of Munster Fusiliers came unexpectedly under heavy rifle-fire at short range [The ambush affair at Barkin Kop, July 8], your guns coming smartly into action dispersed the enemy with a few well-directed shrapnel. It was one of the smartest pieces of work I have ever seen. On another occasion, outside Bethlehem (I forget the name of the place), in a rear-guard action with de Wet, you advanced under a heavy cross-fire of shrapnel, and rendered splendid service by silencing two guns and smashing a third. On that day not a single life was lost on our side. On still another occasion, outside Bethlehem, under heavy shellfire from five guns in a strong position, the steadiness with which your guns were served would have done credit to the finest troops in the Empire. There are other incidents that I might mention, but these three occur to me specially at the moment. You are returning home to receive a hearty welcome, which you undoubtedly deserve; and I hope you will sometimes think of me, as I certainly shall of you; and now you can tell your friends what I think of you. I wish you a safe and a pleasant voyage. Good-bye.’
That address made us very proud, and deepened the regret with which we parted from the speaker. We cheered him with all our might, and then went on our way to Pretoria, where we joined the camp of the C.I.V. Infantry and Mounted Infantry, so that, at the eleventh hour, and for the first time, the three branches of the C.I.V. regiment were united under one command. General Paget went back to his Brigade for the same sort of weary but necessary work which was to last for a year and a half longer before the two provinces were finally conquered and peace declared.
We had only just enough of it to know how intensely weary it was, and how lucky we were to be quit of it. Nobody dreamed at the time that it would last so long, and indeed there was a general feeling abroad, strengthened by the over-sanguine estimates of those in authority, that the end was near, and that it was merely a question of which troops should be recalled first. In any case it would be affectation to say that we were not heartily glad to be going home, though we became more sceptical as to the imminence of peace as we travelled down the 1,000 miles of line to Capetown, and saw entrenched stations and heard ceaseless rumours of war. But we' never heard a whisper of envy at our good fortune from the various troops we passed, sick as they were of the war. All of us have felt since that we might well have stayed longer to share their labour, and that we received more than our due share of the honour and glory.
The whole Regiment embarked on the * Aurania’ on October 7 and landed in England on the 29th. What a magnificent welcome it received from the great City which sent it forth, is fresh in the memories of all.
Of members of the H.A.C. in the Battery:
Major McMicking was mentioned in despatches, made a Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George, and was granted the honorary rank of Major in the Army.
Captain Budworth was mentioned in despatches, and received the Brevet of Major.
Lieutenant Lowe was mentioned in despatches, made a Companion of the D.S.O., and was granted the honorary rank of Lieutenant in the Army.
Lieutenant Bayley was mentioned in despatches and granted the honorary rank of Lieutenant in the Army.
Lieutenant Duncan was mentioned in despatches and granted the honorary rank of Lieutenant in the Army.
Sergeants Dixon, Taylor, and Wood were mentioned in despatches and received the Distinguished Conduct Medal.
Sergeant Abraham, Bombardier Chambers, and Driver Ward were mentioned in despatches.
The following afterwards obtained Commissions in Regular Regiments:
Corporal Elam (Lieut, in 68th Batt. R.F.A.).
Gunner Trapp (Lieut. Royal Irish Regiment).
Driver McDougall (Lieut. 3rd Hussars).
Driver Tremearne [Died of enteric on April 14,1902] (Lieut. 5th Batt. Royal Warwickshire Regiment).
The following afterwards served, with Commissions, in the Imperial Yeomanry:
Corporal Clifford, as Captain.
Sergeant Wood as Lieutenant
Gunner Lorimer as Lieutenant
Driver J. W. Chambers as Lieutenant
Driver Storer as Lieutenant
Driver Ward [Killed in action on February 5,1902] as Lieutenant
Driver McDougall [Transferred afterwards to the 3rd Hussar] as Lieutenant
Gunner W. S. Herbert afterwards served as a Lieutenant in Marshall’s Horse.
The following served afterwards, without Commissions, in the Imperial Yeomanry:
Driver Mordin, as Sergeant.
Driver H. V. Ramsey, as Trooper.
Eight men were invalided home.
Gunner Dyson (1st City of Lon. Vol. Art.) died in hospital at Pretoria, October 1900.
For further individual details see Chapter XII. and the Appendix.
The following is an extract from the official resume of the evidence given by Major-Genera A. H. Paget, before the War Commission, on February 25,1903:
'General Paget stated his views as to the shooting and marching capacity, and the horsemanship and horsemastership of the troops, and referred to the high standard of the C.I.V. Battery.’