14963. (Chairman.) You have been good enough to prepare for us a summary of evidence as to your operations, and, if you have no objection, we will take that as the answer to the first question in your evidence, and then proceed to ask any questions which we may have, or to hear any comments you may desire to submit with regard to any part of it as we go through it; will that suit you?— Quite so.

[See Q14964]


In June, 1899, I was summoned from Aldershot by Lord Lansdowne, who told me that, in the event of the war in South Africa, I had been selected to hold the command-in-chief. After submitting to him what seemed to me a preferable arrangement, I accepted the command, and we proceeded to discuss the question of the military policy to be pursued. I maintained that the only practicable route was that through the Orange Free State. He declined even to discuss this. Ultimately, we agreed that one Army Corps, a Cavalry Division, and seven battalions for the lines of communication would be a sufficient force, if the object of the Government were merely to attack the Transvaal; but I added that to leave the Orange Free State out of account was, to my mind, impossible. After leaving Lord Lansdowne, I saw the Commander-in-Chief at the War Office, gave him a summary of my remarks, and received from him a promise of every assistance that he could afford. I begged both Lord Lansdowne and Lord Wolseley to recollect that I was not in the same position as Lord Wolseley when he organised the Egyptian Expedition of 1882, for he was then the Adjutant-General, and had the whole of the War Office at his back, whereas I was fully employed with my work at Aldershot.

[See Q14970.  See appendix]


I heard no more of warlike preparations till the 3rd of July, when I was summoned by telegram from Devonshire to London. There Lord Lansdowne informed me that he had under consideration a proposal to send out to South Africa one Division of infantry and one Brigade of cavalry. I asked whither these troops were to be sent, and with what object. I found there was no definite object, but that it was considered desirable to send some troops to some part of South Africa. After discussing the matter with him at some length, I went to the War Office to see Lord Wolseley; but, finding that he had left the office, I sent him a memorandum, now dated 6th July, 1899, summarising the views which I had expressed to Lord Lansdowne. Herein I summed up my conclusions in the following words:

[See Q14986]

“ My view is that any operations against Pretoria should be commenced in the following sequence :

1. “Strengthen the Cape Colony and Natal garrisons to the extent that local authority now think sufficient to protect those colonies.”
2. “ Make up your mind as to the route, and definitely as to the attitude to be adopted towards the Orange Free State.”
3. “ Commence the formation of magazines on the intended line of route, and the mobilisation of the active force.”
4. “ Send out this fighting force.”

The proposal to send out these 10,000 men came to nothing. I pressed hard at this time, and afterwards, that our Colonies might be garrisoned in accordance with a proper scheme of defence. I urged this again and again, but without success.

[See Q14993]


From that date to the 15th August affairs went on but slowly at the War Office. No Council of War was held; no plan of campaign was adopted; no regular military preparations were undertaken. In the middle of August I heard that all preparations for War in South Africa entailing expenditure had been stopped, and that the Secretary of State for War had gone to Ireland. Mr. Balfour, during his absence, came to the War Office and had an interview with Mr. Wyndham and Lord Wolseley. I also heard that it was believed that an Ultimatum was to be sent to the Transvaal on the 11th September.

[See Appendix and Q14995 and Q14996]


The condition of affairs seemed to me to be alarming, for the intelligence given in the newspapers made it impossible to believe that war could be avoided. Not knowing what else to do, I approached the private secretary to Lord Salisbury. He came down next day to Aldershot, when I presented my views to him in such a light that he thought it his duty to lay them before Lord Salisbury on the following morning. I drew up a short unofficial memorandum, dated the 3rd September, arguing to the conclusion that the time had come for the diplomatic authorities to consult the military authorities. On the 5th, I heard that Lord Salisbury desired my views on the military situation. These I set forth in a memorandum addressed to the Commander-in-Chief of 5th September, 1899.

As a result of this memorandum, the Cabinet decided to send to India for a force of 5,500 men, which was the only organised body of troops that we could put in the field at the moment, without dislocating the whole of our mobilisation arrangements. On learning this, I at once wrote to the Secretary of State for War, pointing out that a Commander would be wanted in Natal when those reinforcements should arrive, and adding that, from the military point of view, it would be wise to make provision at once for a further force in Natal. He replied by return of post, saying that he did not see how, in the face of the decision of the Cabinet, the War Office could be expected to do more at that moment. Matters again drifted, and, apparently, the Government received news that the military situation was becoming less acute, for, on the 14th September, on learning that the Officer Commanding at Cape Town had made contracts for 1,000 mules more than were immediately required, the War Office directed that the contract for the excess number should be cancelled, and compensation paid to the contractor.

[See Appendix and Q15005, Q15006, Q15012, Q15294]

Minute of 24th September, Regarding Route to he Adopted

From the first moment of my appointment in the middle of June, I had on every possible occasion urged upon the Secretary of State for War that it was mere self-deception to imagine that we could undertake an expedition against the Transvaal alone, leaving the Orange Free State out of account. On the 23rd September, Lord Lansdowne asked me to place upon paper my reasons for attaching so much importance to the adoption of the route through the Orange Free State for invasion of the Transvaal. Accordingly I sent him a memorandum on the subject, dated 24th September. Herein I set forth, among other matters, that, owing to the configuration of the Natal frontier, an advance upon Pretoria by Natal would mean a flank march of 200 miles across the front of a doubtful friend, and, possibly, a concealed enemy. I added that the Orange Free State was open country, containing a good quantity of supplies, and that an advance through it would give us every chance of disposing of the Orange Free State first and settling with the Transvaal alone afterwards.

[See Q15007]


The Cabinet met on the 29th September; and I was afterwards told by Lord Lansdowne that at this meeting the Government had decided to adopt the route by the Orange Free State, and to proceed with all military preparations excepting the mobilisation of the men. On the 30th therefore I wrote to Lord Lansdowne that further delay in the provision of troops would be to incur a very dangerous risk, and pressed for the immediate despatch of the reinforcements by the best ships that could be obtained. “ I think,” I said, “that if they delay the despatch of troops the Government will be incurring a very grave responsibility.” In reply Lord Lansdowne professed himself unable to call out the Reserves, or in other words to mobilise, before the 7th of October. I reckoned from this date that the earliest embarkation of troops would take place about the 22nd October, and that the Army Corps would be assembled at Cape Colony by 22nd December. I therefore urged that I should start for South Africa by the first steamer on the 7th October; but eventually the 14th was fixed as the date of my departure, and on the 9th I was gazetted Commander-in-Chief of the expedition. Before sailing I received two telegrams. One from Sir George White, of 3rd October, deprecated any weakening of the force in Natal and further hinted that a strong cavalry force sent through Van Reenen’s Pass could threaten both the Orange Free State and the Transvaal. In reply the Commander-in-Chief informed him, at my request, that any advance of cavalry through Van Reenen’s Pass until it should be strongly held by our infantry would be unwise, adding that any misfortune to our arms now would be peculiarly unfortunate, and that the Glencoe position was not a very safe one with the force of infantry at that time in Natal. I had from the very first protested as strongly as possible against the occupation of Glencoe. Another telegram of 4th October, from the General Officer Commanding at Cape Town, reported that he had stationed a half battalion at each of the following places: Kimberley, Orange River, De Aar Junction, Naauwpoort, and Molteno. On the 9th October the two Republics presented an ultimatum, and on the 11th invaded British territory.

[See Q15024]


On the 14th October I sailed with my Staff from Southampton; and at this point I think I may most conveniently set forth tho broad principles upon which I proposed to base my conduct of the war. In the first place, it was evident that the war would be of the kind which is described by General Jomini as a national war. In such wars, it may be remarked, he predicts in a striking passage the failure of tho invader as inevitable. Secondly, it would be a war against a civilised enemy, in an uncivilised country —in a country, that is to say, where civilised man had so far done little to subdue Nature to himself, and could undo that little with small difficulty. Thirdly, we had to deal with young communities, planted in an enormous territory. Tho characteristics of such communities are always the same. The population is widely scattered. The man who makes his home in the wilderness claims to do that which is right in his own eyes; and, though the law may be obeyed, it cannot be enforced. Redress of injury is sought, not in legal process, but in retaliation. There is no highly organised machinery of administration, and the influence and authority of the central Government are of narrow range and of trifling weight. Moreover, time has not yet glorified the seat of Government with a halo of sentiment. To every man his own home is the capital. Hence there is no commanding centre by the occupation of which the whole country or even a whole district can be brought into subjection; no vital spot at which a single blow can be struck that will paralyse every member of the body. There are living organisms which can be divided into a multitude of fragments without destroying the individual life of each fragment. As a whole, the organism has ceased to be, but as a multitude of parts its vitality is unimpaired; and if its life is to be wholly extinguished, every fragment must he separately destroyed. With such organisms these communities have much in common. This lesson is written large in our past military history. The experience of the American War of Independence shows that the mere occupation of provincial capitals in such a country is of little furtherance to the work of conquest. General Howe’s capture of New York and its outworks, after several successful actions and severe loss inflicted on the enemy, gained him no territory (outside the line of his outposts; his capture of Philadelphia effected little more; General Clinton’s capture of Charlestown, together with the whole of its garrison, little more. Experience of the same war goes also to show that the neutrality of the inhabitants in such circumstances can only be secured by protecting them against the intimidation of their countrymen. New Jersey abounded in oaths and professions of loyalty, when General Howe pursued Washington through the province, and while his line of posts stood safe on the Delaware; but the whole population turned against the British when that line was broken by a sudden attack of Washington. So, too, the very men who had been armed by Lord Cornwallis for the protection of South Carolina, turned against him directly that he moved his troops to meet the advance of an American army from North Carolina.

In the face of such lessons, it was plain to me that the war could only be carried to a successful conclusion by the actual conquest of every armed man in the field; and this task promised to be doubly difficult owing to the extreme mobility of the enemy. It seemed to me, therefore, that the best chance of success, until our troops should have been trained to a novel style of warfare, was to allow the Boers, if possible, to take up some tactical position, and strive to crush them by sheer weight of numbers. But in any case, I was convinced that my true objective was the enemy’s force in the field, wherever it might be, and that any purely strategical movement undertaken, except in obedience to this guiding principle, would be a mere flourish in the air.

One advantage we did indeed possess, namely, that the Boers wore divided into two distinct and independent States, which in the past had not lived together on tho most friendly terms. This division it seemed to me politic to widen to the utmost; and to this end I designed (see Memorandum of 24th September) to crush the Orange Free State completely before dealing with the Transvaal. I was the more powerfully impelled towards this course by the example of Lord Cornwallis’s campaign in the Carolinas; when, though he did indeed fight his way successfully from Charlestown into Virginia, he merely squandered his troops in unprofitable victories, and accomplished less than nothing. In fact, he was like a man who tries to arrest the flow of a river by walking through it. Such a man may, indeed, stem its force where he stands, but let him move where lie(?) will, the waters always close before and behind and around him.

There existed another internal division within the Transvaal itself. A line drawn (roughly speaking) north and south through Pretoria marks a line of cleavage between the inhabitants. To the east of that line the people were pastoralists by occupation and followers of Joubert in politics. To the west of that line they wore agriculturists by occupation and followers of Kroger in politics. Thus there was between the two a conflict of interests and a conflict of political opinion; and the gulf between them was widened by the fact that the eastern inhabitants, being far superior in wealth, enlightenment, and education, regarded those of the west with no little contempt. Of this division also I hoped to take advantage.

On the 17th October I arrived at Madeira, where I received telegrams from Sir George White and General Walker to the effect that the forces of the two Republics were converging towards Dundee and Ladysmith. General Forestier-Walker also reported from Cape Town that Mafeking and Kimberley were isolated, and that he was taking steps to strengthen the garrison at Orange River Bridge. While approving General Walker’s dispositions, I urged him not to risk much at Naauwpoort or Molteno until he felt himself to be in sufficient strength.