15100. The question arose whether you could carry out an advance through the Free State, which was your intention and wish, and you had under the circumstances to abandon it?
I never abandoned it.
15101. Well, you had to abandon it in the meantime, at all events?
Temporarily; the enemy had used their initiative and had got much nearer the sea than I thought they ought to be allowed to get, and to my mind the dominant factor in the consideration of any military situation in South Africa at that moment was the extreme importance of preventing the Boers from obtaining a seaport. I cannot say that my information was good, but that was my information, and that was also my feeling, and I felt that as they had deprived us of the garrison of Natal and had in hand besides a force that was amply sufficient to overrun South Natal, it was of the first importance to save South Natal, not from sentimental reasons, but as a military object of paramount importance.
15102. That caused you to go yourself, and to divert your force to Natal?
Yes. I have shown in the paragraph we are discussing that what was present in my mind was that my main objective would always be wherever the largest force of the enemy was, that the war would have to he ended by fighting; and, therefore, as there were more men be fight there that was the place to go to.
15103. Your intention was to resume, so soon as you were able, the advance through the Free State again?
My intention was to resume the original plan, and to commence the advance through the Free State as soon as I had a free hand to do so, as soon as, having sufficiently secured my flank in Natal, I was able to come back and begin the advance of the war. The calculations on which my departure from England had been based had been upset by the enemy; they were not in Natal when I left England, and they had come into Natal, and that altered the situation temporarily.
15104. But at the same time you had to take Kimberley into account?
I had to take Kimberley into account because I knew of my own knowledge the immense importance that the natives attached to Kimberley. The following is a telegram from the De Beers Directors, Kimberley, to the High Commissioner, Cape Town, dated October 31st:—“We hope with the arrival of General Buller measures will be taken for the immediate relief of this place. Our information, which is reliable, gives not more than 2,000 to 3,000 Boers between this place and Orange River, and in our opinion we could already have been relieved without risk by the present force in Cape Colony. We have a very limited supply of coal, and when it is done we must close down the works, which will cause serious trouble amongst our 10,000 savages in our compounds, who are now kept quiet by being kept at work. If we discharge them, and send them home, they are sure to be driven back to the town by the Boers, which must lead to heavy loss of life. As to the question of food supply, though well provided with some things, we have only nine days’ tinned meat in case cattle are taken by the Boers, which, of course, is probable. We do not know the reasons which have delayed our relief, hut we think your Excellency ought to weigh the risks caused by delay to this place with its 30,000 inhabitants, 10,000 of whom are raw savages. Now that the General has arrived we respectfully request to be informed as to the policy to be adopted regarding our relief, so as to enable us to take our own steps in case relief is refused. We are sending this by special messenger to Orange River, and will await your reply.” Telegrams much to the same effect came from the other magnates at Kimberley.
15105. (Sir George Taubman-Goldie.) Wore they ever more explicit as to what the steps might be?
I never asked them.
15106. (Viscount Esher.) What did you understand by that expression at the time?
I understood that to be a threat to surrender.
15107. Did you discuss it with Sir Alfred Milner?
15108. Was that the view he also took?
Well, he thought so. he felt very much the state of Kimberley, and he was most anxious that I should take immediate steps for its relief. I was rather unwilling to do so, and I telegraphed to the officer who was commanding at Kimberley, who sent me a more reassuring telegram, but he said in it that he was of opinion that it depended upon whether the Town Guard would stand the strain of trench work; and I gathered, reading between the lines, that that rather hinted at the same sort of condition of affairs that was expressed, as I understood, by this telegram which I have read, and I thought the two together sufficiently serious to make me take a much greater risk than I liked taking by sending a detached expedition to, at any rate, get near Kimberley.
15109. (Chairman.) You say that was from Colonel Kekewich?
15110. Have you got his telegram?
His telegram was that he was fairly well off, and that he was not afraid of Kimberley being taken at all so long as the Town Guard did not got worn out by duty, or words to that effect.
15111. (Sir George Taubman-Goldie.) Was there any more definite suggestion of surrender made at that time?
Well, I was given the impression such a suggestion had been received, but I cannot say more than that; I did not see it.
15112 (Chairman.) What you proposed to do in the case of Kimberley, I understand, was not to establish yourself along the frontier up to Kimberley, but to send a force to the town to carry off the non-combatants, and leave it to make its defence by itself`?
Yes, it had half a battalion there, a half battalion of the Loyal Lancashires, and I intended to put in a battalion, and the other half of that battalion, making two battalions, and the Admiral had given me some long range Naval guns, which could have met any guns the Boers could have brought against them, and I thought the place would be absolutely comfortable. We were to remove 8,000 or 9.000 natives, and to leave the place. Really, it would have been an advantage to me, from the military point of view, and they would have been quite comfortable.
15113. Was it not a difficult operation to remove a large number of non-combatants? It would have had to be done in the face of the enemy?
If you once got through into the town the enemy would have been gone on that side, and these men would all have walked out ; they were all natives, and could walk 40 or 50 miles a day with great ease. I did not think many of the women would have cared to come away, and they would have been perfectly safe with the long range guns.
15114. You mean by the non-combatants, chiefly the natives?
The natives; the only possible danger was that there might have been some sort of native emeute (resistance) which, owing to their numbers, might have been serious.
15115. Looking to the earlier evidence, supposing they had been dispersed sufficiently to allow an advance into the town, might they not have prevented a retreat?
I do not think so. The Boers are curious people; they fight well and are very mobile, but they are quicker at getting away than any soldiers the world has ever seen, and if they had been defeated sufficiently to be driven away from that side of the town I do not think they would have come back at all.
15116. And it was necessary to clear that southern side of the town of the Boers?
Yes, it was necessary to get into the town.
15117. Because you speak here, I think, of Lord Methuen having sufficient transport and supplies to enable him to leave the railway?
15118. And that rather led me to suppose that it meant, to go round the flank of the enemy without dispersing them necessarily?
Well, I was quite confident, in my own mind, that no Boers would ever stand if we had our troops on each side of them, and the only position I knew of at all, or could hear of when I was at Cape Town, was a position there called the Spyfontein position, which, I fancy, was very much what they called afterwards Magersfontein; and I thought that if he got across the Modder and formed a bridge-head there while he was repairing the bridge and getting his railway forward, if he had moved to his right he would without much trouble have caught anybody who was opposing him between hi» two forces. I did not at that time believe for a moment that Cronje would have got south of Kimberley before he reached Kimberley, nor did he.
15119. You were not taking into consideration the circumstances as they actually developed?
No, I had from the people in Kimberley a definite statement that they knew it could be relied on that there were not more than 4,000 or 6,000 men at the most between us and them.
15120. I think it was less than that—2,000 or 3,000?
One of them said 4,000 to 5,000; they gave very small figures, and they were all Free Staters, who were not very keen on fighting until Cronje came down. Cronje came 220 miles while Methuen did not get 50, and I did not expect that.
15121. And that altered the conditions?
It made it much more difficult for Lord Methuen.
15122. Would that have altered your scheme of operations if you had foreseen that?
No, I think not. I did alter my scheme of operations because of it, and I at once—when I found he was, if I may use the expression, stuck up by the people in front of him—altered my scheme of operations, and proposed to get into the Free State from where he was, and to turn out the people who were stopping him at the same time; in fact, the plan of campaign which was eventually adopted by Lord Roberts.
15123. There was a proposal to make a railway?
It was accompanied by a proposal to make a railway; that was part of it.
15124. I meant to have asked one question about martial law: some difficulties arose in consequence of not being able to enforce commandeering in Cape Colony?
There were immense difficulties in carrying on military operations; it was not exactly a difficulty in not being able to enforce commandeering, but if you cut the fence of an ostrich enclosure and were moving troops across, if it happened to be a Dutchman he came and objected, and threatened an action at law; and everything connected with the initiation of military operations was harassed and rendered difficult by our not having at the time fighting rights. All along the northern frontier of Cape Colony they are mostly Dutch districts, and they managed to give us a good deal of trouble. With military law, and security from threats of police, and so forth, we should have been able to get on much more simply. Sir Alfred Milner did not see his way to do it, and I did not particularly press it, but I was very anxious to get out of Cape Town itself the immense number of Boer spies, Boer propagandists, and people who had been sent down there, partly as spies, and partly to try and promote disaffection. There was a very dangerous man in Cape Town whom I should have liked to get out, and the only way to get him out was either by military law or by the course I proposed. Lord Milner thought he was not justified in doing it by the situation of the moment, and it was not done.
15125. You found it very difficult to keep your plans secret, I suppose, under the circumstances?
Yes; I was fairly lucky, but I never told anybody anything; otherwise it was almost impossible. There were three languages there, and you never knew whom you were talking to.
15126. You have written here as to the general situation on the 22nd November?
A telegram of mine has been quoted as approving of General White staying at Ladysmith. I merely want to call the attention of the Commission to the fact that that telegram of mine was sent in reply to a telegram from him, in which he said he could not leave it. It is in my statement as follows: “ A few hours later I received a further telegram from Sir George White, saying that he could not withdraw from Ladysmith, and that he sent a single battalion to guard the bridge at Colenso as the best step that he could take for the protection of Natal.” When he sent me that telegram I replied that he had better stay at Ladysmith; there was nothing else I could reply.
15127. Did he not send that battalion to guard the bridge at Colenso in consequence of representations to him that he should send some force there?
Not from me; I made no representation to him at all except that I wanted to get his cavalry out.
15128. If there was a telegram from the Commander-in-Chief drawing his attention to the necessity of guarding Colenso, that would account for his action in that matter, would it not?
I do not think it would at all. The Commander-in-Chief was seven thousand miles away, and could not possibly know what he ought to do. The Commander-in-Chief tried to help, but there was no idea of his suggestions being orders. he had a telegram from the Commander-in-Chief, I know, because I wrote it myself, suggesting that Glencoe was a very unfavourable position, but he left the troops there.
15139. You say it was not in answer to any telegram from you, but there was a telegram drawing his attention to the necessity or desirability of guarding the bridge at Colenso, and this was the step which he took in consequence?
There may have been a telegram, but I never heard of it until now, and, of course, I know nothing more about it, but what he did was absolutely impossible. Colenso was in a pit, and he put the Dublin Fusiliers there and some Volunteers, and General Murray immediately removed them, and very properly, I think, because they could not have defended themselves there.
15130. (Sir Henry Norman.) This was the telegram he received from Lord Wolseley: “ I do not wish in any way to hamper your discretion, but personally I am anxious about the safety of Colenso Bridge.” Upon which he sent the Dublin Fusiliers and a Natal Battery, apparently rather unwillingly?
He telegraphed home at the time that he had sent the Dublin Fusiliers to Colenso as all he could do to save Natal, or for the protection of Natal. Shall I read the telegram he sent home?
15131. (Chairman.) Yes, what is the date?
31st October. “ No. 109a.—With reference to your 200 of today, hitherto I have considered that the interests of the Colony south of this required me to hit out. Yesterday’s fight shows me. that there is risk and limit to this. I wired Natal Governor yesterday that I would send the Royal Dublin Fusiliers to guard the bridge at Colenso as best step I could take for the protection of the Colony. I intend to contain as many Boers as I can round Ladysmith, and I believe they will not go south without making an attempt on Ladysmith. The Boers have established themselves in very strong positions in the hills west, north, and east of Ladysmith ; each man has one or two ponies; they live on the country, and their mobility gives them great advantage. They resent intrusion so much that it is impossible to ascertain their numbers. They say themselves that they will attack. Ladysmith is strongly entrenched, but the lines are not continuous; the perimeter is so large that Boers could exercise their usual tactics. Our men want rest from fighting, but I have the greatest confidence in holding the Boers for as long as necessary. I could not now withdraw from it. I think it will be a good plan to send some of the Fleet to Durban to keep the public confident there.” That is what he sent to me; he said he could not withdraw, and I then said he was right to stay there, but I did not approve of his staying there.
15132. But it is not the case that he represented that sending the one battalion to Colenso was all he was doing for the safety of the Colony, because he says, in his telegram just quoted, that by staying at Ladysmith he hoped to contain the Boers, and prevent them going further south?
I was reading what he said himself: “ I wired Natal Governor yesterday that I would send the Royal Dublin Fusiliers to guard the bridge at Colenso as best step I could take for the protection of the colony.” Those are his own words.
15133. Yes, but that has to be read in connection with the rest of the telegram?
Well, I know, not at that time on the 31st, but three days later, that he had been driven into Ladysmith.
15134. Without going into that just now, I only say that you must not pick out one sentence from a telegram and represent it as the whole of what he was doing for the protection of the colony?
When he says that he would contain as many Boers as he could, and that they would not go south without attacking him?
I merely took the telegram as I read it, and I read it that he could not leave Ladysmith; he did not send out the cavalry I wanted, but he sent out one regiment. He should have sent out more. After all, a stationary force can contain no more of the enemy than those who choose to stay round it, and at that time, contrary to his belief, they were actually moving south and invading South Natal.
15136. You said you hoped you would have had all the cavalry out of Ladysmith?
15137. Do you think that the force in Ladysmith would have been capable of defending the place without the cavalry?
Yes, I think they would have defended it much more easily. The cavalry really did nothing, except on the 6th of January, when they were brought into action.
15138. Do you think they were only brought into action on the 6th of January?
I learned that was the only day they had anything to do; they were used on the 1st or 2nd of November, but they went back again. I understood they were coming out, but they came to Onderbrook, and went back again. Beyond that I do not think the cavalry did anything.
15139. Do you represent that they were not used for the general purposes of the siege?
As cavalry, no, they were not.
15140. As a cavalry force in the field, probably not, as they were inside of a perimeter; but if it is the case that the perimeter was so large that it could not be defended by the force without the cavalry, the cavalry were used probably inside?
I do not think that the cavalry held any portion of the perimeter. It is not a question I expected to be asked, and I do not know it, and I would rather not put down anything with regard to it. I understood you to ask me whether I was right in trying to get out the cavalry, and I think I was, but that is all I say.
15141. You do not want to argue it?
No, I do not know, I do not pretend to argue it. I have no doubt he did what he thought best; I accepted the position that he could not let the cavalry go.
15142. As to the arrival at Durban, have you anything to add there as to the preparations or plans?
No, I do not think so. With regard to Sir George White’s telegram of the 30th November, it was sent in reply to my first attempt to send him a signal by flashlight on the clouds, and he only appeared to have seen a very small portion of that signal. Apart from the fact that the statement as to his food differed from any other statement he sent me at any other time, I attached great importance to the telegram, because I took it as a positive instruction to me that he could give me very little assistance in my advance, and, secondly, that he was in some way surrounded by spies from whose espionage he could not escape. I therefore took that as a lesson which ought to affect my future correspondence with him.
15143. Is that what you are referring to where he says: "The enemy learns every plan of operations I form, and I cannot discover source. I have locked up or banished every suspect, but still have undoubted evidence of betrayal ”?
Yes, that is what he says.
15144. But surely it was his duty to let you know that, in order that the communications between you might be regulated accordingly?
It was his duty to let me know that, and it was my duty to make a note of it.
15145. Did you carry that so far as not to make any communications with him afterwards?
I think I told him every single movement that I was going to make, fully, but I never discussed movements with him afterwards. I gave him all the military information that it was necessary for him to have, fully and in good time, as my telegrams will show, but I took it as a hint that for some reason or another he did not consider his office was a safe one. I could read it in no other way. I gave him far more information about my plans than he gave me about his.
15146. You have just told us the state of matters you found in the Cape, and that you were surrounded by people by whom you could never tell that your words might not be made use of; was not he referring to very much the same set of circumstances?
Well, he went very much further than I found any necessity for; he said, “ Every plan of operations I form ”—it was not a question of his orders being known, but it was a question of the plans he formed himself apparently. I thought it a very important telegram, and that is all I can say; it affected me very much. This is the telegram: “ Hay or grazing is a difficulty; I have 35 days' supply of this at reduced ration . . . enemy learns every plan of operations I form, and I cannot discover source. I have locked up or banished every suspect, but still have undoubted evidence of betrayal. Native deserters from enemy and our native scouts report the enemy much disheartened,” etc. It struck me as‘ being a very important warning to me; I could see no other object of it.
15147. It affected your communication with him not so far as to prevent you from informing him of plans, but from discussing operations before you had made the plans?
Yes, it prevented me discussing anything with him; that is all. For instance, I will read my answer, in which I said to him on the 4th December: “ I shall have concentrated four brigades of infantry, five batteries of artillery, one regiment of cavalry, 1,000 mounted Volunteers, by 6th December, and shall attack. I cannot yet say which route, but will communicate with you in several cipher messages before I advance.”
15148. (Sir George Taubman-Goldie ) I do not quite understand how this question has arisen; what course did you actually take in
dealing with Sir George White after that? What was your position in consequence of this telegram?
In consequence of that telegram I never concerted beforehand in any action with Sir George White. I told him that I was going to do a given thing, and I think in every case I did that, but as a rule I told him one day and I almost invariably altered it the day afterwards. In raising this question I am not alluding to anything connected with the statement that has been put about in the Press that I told Sir George White I was to attack on the 17th and attacked on the l?oth; that is quite a separate question altogether, and has nothing to do with it. The whole of my correspondence and the whole of my arrangements with Sir George White were affected by my knowledge of this telegram, and in consequence of it I probably took him less into my confidence than I did any other General who served under me during the time I was in South Africa.
15149. You restricted yourself rather to telling him the conclusion at which you had arrived without concerting from day to day the steps by which you had arrived at that conclusion?
That is it exactly.
15150. (Chairman). If he did not mean what you supposed it was rather unfortunate?
Yes, but what else could he mean? He sent that telegram in response to a portion of a telegram that he had seen flashed on the sky. On the 7th December I opened heliographic communication with him, and I then repeated that same telegram of which he had seen a portion, thinking I might elicit a further or some other answer, and he simply acknowledged it; he did not make any other remark, and did not repeat his former telegram that had come out by messenger, and which I had acknowledged. As he merely acknowledged it without making any further remark, I thought he confirmed his former telegram.
15151. You also said just now, in commenting on this telegram, that it made a statement about provisions which was quite different to any other; what did you mean by that?
No other telegram gave the amount of hay or grazing, or the amount of provisions for his garrison at the same figure, or anything very near the figure, he gave in that telegram. I do not attach any importance to it; it is merely an incidental effect of the telegram; it was once read out in the House of Commons, or I should not have spoken about it at all, but it is the actual fact that no other telegram which he sent gave at that particular time the same period for which he had food.
15152. He did give you subsequently the full details of his provisions?
Yes, I think he did; I got a great many telegrams from him. Practically what happened was that as the siege went on and his relief was put off his powers of lasting extended.
15153. That means to say that instead of calculating at full rations he was calculating at diminished rations?
He continued reducing the daily ration, I imagine.
15154. Would not that account for some difference, possibly, in the amounts?
I do not think in that telegram. I do not think the point is worth elaborating; I do not want to make the least attack on Sir George White, and I think he did his very best. I would not have referred to that at all only I wanted to emphasise the fact that his statement as to undoubted evidence of betrayal did to some extent make me adopt towards him less openness of information than I should otherwise have done.
15165. I do not want to raise any point of controversy either, but you did not mention another point in connection with this telegram which I should like to put a question about. You said it also indicated that he would not be able to co-operate with you; how , do you find that from the telegram?
He said he could only help me by Onderbrook or Colenso.
15156. Not in this telegram : “ With regard to road of advance towards Ladysmith, I could give most help to a force coming via Onderbrook Hotel or Springfield, but enemy is making his positions on that side stronger daily ”?
That is what I mean.
15157. But he also went on to say: “If force south of Tugela can effect junction with me I believe effect will be immediate and decisive—at present cannot go large, as I am completely invested, and must reserve myself for one or two big efforts to co-operate with relief force.” Does not that mean he was quite willing to make one or two big efforts to co-operate?
Quite so. I hoped he would make a big effort, but he rather restricted me. Onderbrook and Springfield, as far as he was concerned, meant the same road for an entrance into Ladysmith; the road coming up from Springfield through Acton Homes, and the road coming from Maritzburg join in the Onderbrook Flat, and therefore by whichever way I elected to come, I had to get into the Onderbrook Flat before he could help me much, and the big effort would be there. In fact, I was to be actually attacking the very lines of circumvallation by which he was contained before he was prepared to offer me any assistance. I could draw no other inference from the expression “ cannot go large.”
15158. He says, “ I could give most help,” but he does not shut out the idea surely in that telegram that if you had suggested any other way he would have been perfectly willing to assist you to the utmost of his power?
No, but the telegrams tended that way, and that was the impression left on my mind. One of the reasons that made me give up the first advance by Hlangwane was the fact that going that way he did not hold out any hope of giving me much assistance, nor do I think he could have.
15159. If you agree that he could not, that is another matter, but you think he was willing to do anything he could to strike out
Yes, he was certainly willing to do anything he thought he could do.
16160. (Sir Henry Norman.) I fancy you are quite convinced that your policy in moving your headquarters from Cape Town to Natal was right and necessary under the circumstances
I think it was. I do not think myself that I could possibly have done my duty if I had not moved.
15161. And do you think if you had not gone the whole territory would probably have been ravaged by the Boers, General White being shut up in Ladysmith?
Yes, I think we saved Maritzburg by only a very few hours.
15162. You made some observations about the cavalry not being very useful inside Ladysmith; did you hear that, considering the large perimeter of the defences, portions of it were very weakly held, and the cavalry were intended to be used as a sort of reserve, and could much more rapidly than infantry get to the support of the weakly held positions?
Yes; that opens the whole question of holding Ladysmith, which is a matter which I really do not wish to discuss. I was not there, and it is not my business to criticise Sir George White, and I would rather not discuss it; not that I have anything to say against him in any way; but unless you have definitely formed your own mind, and are able to say “ I would put so many men into this place, and if they had been on the spot they could have defended such an area,” I do not think you are justified in discussing a scheme of defence. Sir George White informed me when I got to Ladysmith that he thought he was right to keep the cavalry, as they formed his main reserve, for he had two sides practically on which he was exposed to attack, and the cavalry could go from one side to the other quicker than infantry, and there was a good deal in that.
15163. That was a consideration which might have made him unwilling to part with his cavalry?
I assented the moment he wished to keep the cavalry; I asked for them, but he said he wished to keep them, and I assented. I thought that as he had to keep the place he ought to decide it, and I did not take the least exception to his decision.
(After a short adjournment.)
15164. (Sir George Taubman-Goldie.) You mention the fact that on your arrival in Cape Colony the bridges had all been taken by the Boers, except the Orange River Bridge?
Yes, except one.
15165. I only want to ask you this one question. You had, of course, no responsibility for that; they had been taken before you arrived; but from a military point of view would it not have been advantageous to have taken precautions to have blown up those bridges before the Boers seized them?
I think not. I do not believe that anybody in England expected the war to begin with an invasion of Cape Colony; and as I have reason to know, when I got there, it was not anticipated by the Boer sympathisers themselves. In fact, Mr. Schreiner told me that he thought it unfair of them to invade the Colony. I do not think it would have been right or desirable in any case to have destroyed, the bridges. We had to get over one of the bridges eventually, and it would have been a great deal of trouble to us to have to re-create it. And I do not think there was any moment in Cape Colony in which we had a chance of destroying a bridge before it was crossed. Part of the proposition of the 10,000 men contemplated, I think, at one time in England, that they should guard the bridges, but my idea was that if we did guard the bridges we merely put out a bait for the Boers, who would have been more likely to have come out and destroyed them. I think also that as a rule, if you want to make an advance you should be very careful what you destroy.
15166. As a matter of fact, in war if you allow the enemy to seize a bridge he takes good care, does he not, to destroy it before he goes away?
Yes, to prevent your being able to go over it.
15167. And as a matter of fact the Boers did destroy all the bridges before they retired?
I believe they did.
15168. And that being the case, might it not have been advantageous to have destroyed the bridges before they advanced?
But ours was not a case of retirement; we were not there. I doubt if we could have had a party of troops at the bridges at that moment without danger to the party, and without danger of provoking war.
15169. I was not referring to a military party, but to arrangements which might have been made for destroying the bridge by other means?
Had I been out there I should have deprecated it.
15170. (Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal.) One word more about the bridges. Do you think that you had the means of rapidly repairing the bridges there?
The Boers, I believe, had.
15171. No, I mean our men?
I had tried in England beforehand to provide means for repairing both those bridges, and I believe the material was actually at the time in the Colony.
15172. Do you not think it would have been a great advantage to have had a gang of men. accustomed to work with wooden structures like bridges, such as they have in America, in the United States, and Canada so as to be able rapidly to repair the communication across rivers?
I raised that question in England, and I remember very well what you have done yourself, and also what we did, as you will remember in the Red River Expedition. I found that for dealing with squared timber the men that we had were quite sufficient. You can make a trestle with squared timber, and specially made ironwork for gripping the cross-pieces in a very short space of time. In point of fact, every bridge that we did repair during the war was always repaired first of all by means of wooden trestle bridges, made of the particular scantling provided for that purpose.
15173. But the workmen had not the same experience as those constantly occupied in that work. For instance, they have men for that express purpose on the different railways throughout the whole of America, so that in a very short time they are able to connect again?
We had a certain number of those men at the Cape, and I formed a corps of them almost immediately; they were mostly Americans and Canadians; people employed as engineers at some of the mines, and accustomed to put the different scantling stuff in the mines, and make the woodwork of the mines; they were made into a repairing gang, and were used for that purpose. I think that on railway repairs—and I speak of my knowledge in Natal, certainly from Ladysmith to Newcastle—they did the work extraordinarily quickly, and no change of men could have done it quicker.
15174. On the whole you think there was no unnecessary loss of time
None, I think, at all.
15175. None that could have been prevented?
15176. (Chairman.) We have now got to page 6 of your statement—the situation in Cape Colony. That states succinctly the situation; and I think the only question I want to put about it is with regard to what you say at the bottom of the page, where you state that a message has been received from General Forestier- Walker to the effect that Mr. Rhodes had signified through the High Commissioner his objections to your design for clearing non- combatants out of Kimberley?
Shall I read the two telegrams?
15177. If you please?
The first is: “From the General, Cape Town. No. 564. 10th December. Kekewich puts numbers to leave Kimberley: Whites, 8,000; natives, 13,000. Numbers to remain: Garrison, 5,500; civilians, 5,000; natives, 3,000. I wired to Methuen numbers of civilians and natives to remain, especially the former were larger than can be conveniently rationed, and that I should endeavour to effect a reduction. Rhodes has since informed High Commissioner he considers proposals for defence inadequate, and asks sanction to enrol 2,000 volunteers in the Colony at the expense of De Beers. Unless this is done, and supplies of coal and dynamite forwarded, De Beers must be closed, and white men dismissed. Methuen will, in conjunction with Kekewich, deal with situation, and I have informed High Commissioner that the forwarding of coal and dynamite would unduly delay Methuen, and that the supply could not be maintained.” I replied to that on the same day that I received the telegram as follows:—“Code No. 0184. 10th December. Your No. 564. In dealing with Kimberley we must put De Beers out of the question. Tell Methuen that he and Kekewich are to decide on the minimum garrison required to maintain defence on the assumption that we shall occupy Bloemfontein on the 30th January at latest. All we have to do is to keep the Union Jack flying over South Africa, and I trust Methuen and Kekewich to help me to do that without favour to any particular set of capitalists. If while doing that we can without inconvenience help De Beers let us do so, but I imagine the general situation in Cape Colony will immediately demand attention, and consequently the return of Methuen’s troops, so do not be misled by sympathy for De Beers’ directors, but get all non-combatants out that you can. We cannot keep the railway open, but will reopen it as soon as we can safely do so.”
15178. I notice that in the first telegram the number of whites was put at 8,000?
15179. I only mention that because I thought in your previous evidence you said that the chief people to come out were natives?
I thought so, and I did not intend to bring anything like that number out. But that is what it came to; we said we would reopen the railway, and there would be no trouble of getting them out. The railway got across the Modder directly the Modder Bridge was completed, very soon after Magersfontein, if not at the same moment.
15180. Then the operations which Lord Methuen had to conduct, as it turned out from these telegrams, would have involved not only taking out 13,000 natives but 8,000 whites?
Yes; it meant running a few more trains, but that was all. He had to keep the line open in any case.
16181. That was part of the operations that you had in view; that he should keep the line open to get these non-combatants out?
Yes, while he got out what he had to get out of Kimberley he was to keep the line open, and I did not anticipate that he would have any great difficulty in doing that.
16182. And that was on the assumption that in Kimberley they had only to deal with 2,000 or 3,000 Boers, as you told us before?
I do not want to belittle Lord Methuen’s work. He had a very serious work to do, and he did it very well. At that time, as you will find I say later it was a desperate situation, and I had to do the best I could.
15183. I am only bringing out exactly what your instructions to Lord Methuen were;, and what the intention of those instructions was. That, I think, you have now fully explained?
15184. As it turned out he had to fight Magersfontein in order to clear the railway?
Yes, and that I always expected he would have to do. I called it, before he went up, Spytfontein, but it is the same place—Magersfontein. He had to fight there to clear the railway.
15185. That was a necessary part of his operations?
15186. I do not know whether you desire to say anything about Delagoa Bay?
Nothing. I thought I ought not to leave it out, but I quite see that the Government must have had great difficulty.
15187. (discount Esher.) Did you discuss the question of Delagoa Bay with the Secretary of State for War before you left England?
So far as regards a base went I did, and he told me that Delagoa Bay was out of the question. There were several proposals that I discussed at the first meeting that I had with the Secretary of State in June. I discussed four routes with him—the route by Fort Salisbury, by Beira, the route by Delagoa Bay, the route by Kimberley, and the route by Natal. I discussed all those four routes with him.
15188. (Sir George Taubman-Goldie.) Did you also discuss with regard to Delagoa Bay the introduction of arms by Delagoa Bay?
Yes. I proposed at first that we should send a subsidiary expedition by that route; in fact, the expedition that eventually went by Beira.
15189. (Viscount Esher.) Did you discuss that question as to Delagoa Bay with Lord Lansdowne? You urged it in November, you say
I urged it the moment I arrived in Cape Colony as the one card I had to play. The Boers having already invaded, and got their whole force, so far as I could understand, practically into the field as against Cape Colony and Natal, I thought that the closing of Delagoa Bay would probably prevent their putting more men into the field; but the moment I arrived in Cape Colony I learned the power of the Boers to put many more men in the field than I had reason to believe they could when I was in England.
15190. (.Chairman.) We now come to the point at which you began your operations for the relief of Ladysmith. I do not know whether you wish to go through those in detail in any way?
I do not think so. I have tried to put them as shortly and clearly as I can, and if the Commission have any doubt on any point I shall be very glad if anybody will ask me any question.
15191. Subject to that, you do not wish to amplify the statement: the statement is full and complete?
With regard to that I should like perhaps to say one thing. I have been found fault with in the Press because I told Sir George White that I should attack probably on the 17th December, whereas I attacked on the 15th. I merely want to state that that was a mere ordinary precaution. I had to get across the Tugela, which was sure to take me a whole day, and I did not gather from the telegrams that passed between me and Sir George White, or from my knowledge of the country and the Boers, that there was the least advantage to be gained—whereas on the other hand there would have been immense risk to have been run—by ordering Sir George White out of Ladysmith into the field at a time when I could not possibly join hands with him. I thought that his situation in Ladysmith was one in which he had gone to Ladysmith for his own protection, and from the telegrams he sent me I gathered that he was not prepared to come out of Ladysmith except to join hands with me, and therefore I should have been utterly wrong from any military point of view if I had ordered him out of Ladysmith, or had done anything to encourage him to come out of Ladysmith until I was across the Tugela, and in a position to make some sort of effort to meet him. Consequently my operation of crossing the Tugela was to be on the 15th, and the 17th was the day on which I told him I expected him to fight with me, and that was the day on which, in the ordinary course, if I had got across, I should have fought. I only want to make that point clear.
15192. I do not know whether you used the words advisedly, but you said that Sir George White went into Ladysmith, you thought, for his own protection?
15193. He occupied Ladysmith as a part of the general policy, did he not?
I do not think so. I had no information to that effect at the time; in fact, that is contrary to my information; and I gathered from General French, with whom I discussed the point, that that was not so. I gathered from General French and from general information that I acquired that Sir George White had been driven into Ladysmith, and I read his letter to me of the 31st of October as rather meant to convey to me that impression. Perhaps he has given you that letter?
15194. What letter are you referring to?
I am referring to a letter of the 31st of October that was brought out of Ladysmith to me from; Sir George White by General French,
15195. No, we have not had that?
It is a long letter, describing the action of the 30th. Shall I read the whole letter? I do not like reading extracts of anybody’s letters.
15196. (Sir George Taubman-Goldie.) Are there not some paragraphs that refer to the particular point?
(Chairman.) I do not think you need read a long narrative; we have had it in many forms?
He Says: “ The result of yesterday’s fighting between the Helpmakaar and Newcastle roads was disappointing. I may commence by saying that many of my staff were opposed to my taking the field, and thought I ought to wait to strike until the enemy was close into us; but I had got all the troops in Natal Colony, and I did not consider myself justified in allowing myself to be shut in closer, and I determined to strike out.” he goes on: “I planned an attack yesterday.”
15197. And describes the attack?
He merely goes on to say that the attack did not come off as he intended, and that the position he intended to attack was evacuated.
“ As soon as I could realise the situation I saw that our force was being rather pressed. All the infantry were in action and French’s cavalry; I reinforced French by two cavalry regiments.” And he goes on, “ But our men could not get forward, they were holding their own, but some of our regiments did not care to go on, and I became anxious as to how the affair was to end. The enemy, as usual, were creeping towards our flank, and I was constantly receiving accounts of the appearance of fresh bodies. Even if the Boers had been driven out they would probably have ridden back in groups to another further back. I felt that the longer this state of things lasted the greater the danger to us. I had to think of Ladysmith. I knew that I could drive them off then, but feared I might not be able to do so later, as the men were played out and short of water. I therefore made arrangements in the rear and withdrew. Considering all things, it was very well done, and our troops were not molested by the enemy.” Then he goes on again, “ I think we have taught him greater respect for our soldiers, but I cannot, I fear, go on striking out so frequently. They are making entrenchments at long distances and trying to keep us in—I hope they will stick to us and not press the Colony lower down.” I gathered from that letter, of which I have only quoted parts, that Sir George White was driven in, and General French confirmed me in that opinion.
15198. The last passage that you have quoted surely shows that he intended to hold Ladysmith, and that that was his object; because he said: “I hope that they will continue,” I think the message was, “ to stick to us ”?
On the same day that he wrote that he telegraphed to me and said that he could not get out of Ladysmith. Of course he intended to hold it.
15199. But he deliberately took up the position that it was necessary to hold Ladysmith, even at the risk of being shut in?
He never told me so.