15200. Did he not include it in the whole course of operations?
Certainly at the time my impression was that he was driven into Ladysmith. That day, by the Ladysmith garrison, was known as Black Monday. They never expected it. He was driven into Ladysmith, and there he was able to make a stand. But I do not think for a moment that on the morning of that day, when he went out, he had any idea that the right thing was to hold a defensive position at Ladysmith. He must have been driven into Ladysmith, or he would never have been ignorant of the fate of his detachment at Nicholson’s Nek.
15201-2. Not on the day when he fought the battle of Ladysmith?
No, because otherwise he would not have gone out. He had to get back to Ladysmith, on his own showing, to protect Ladysmith. Surely he would have protected it before he went out if he intended to hold it.
(Chairman). It is not for me to criticise strategy or tactics; but I understand the letter that you yourself have read to say that he considered it his duty to strike out, but to hold Ladysmith—that that was the summary of the letter.
15203. (Sir Frederick Darley.) In that letter you will find that he says: “ I have made Ladysmith very strong ”?
Yes, he says that. I was not talking—it would not be right for me to talk—-about what Sir George White intended. I am merely talking about the plans I made according to what I understood.
15204. (Chairman.) It is suggested to me that it is, as you say, unsatisfactory to have merely extracts; perhaps you would put that letter in. We need not trouble you to read it all?
I think you have it already in the printed book. I only want to explain that with regard to making my plan of attack on Ladysmith I had to take certain matters into consideration, and one of the matters that I had to take into consideration was that I considered, and I thought on good grounds, that Sir George White had been driven into Ladysmith, and that I had nothing from him at the time that gave me any reason to suspect the contrary.
15205. I only wanted to bring out exactly what your idea was at the time, because that is essential for our forming a conclusion. I will simply put it to you that that was the position which you were under the impression prevailed—that Sir George White’s force had been driven into Ladysmith, and that you had to regulate your conduct of affairs in accordance with that situation?
I say that my impression was that he was driven into Ladysmith, and therefore I should not be justified in ordering him into the field for now active operations unless I was prepared to join hands with him at the same time. Then the rest of this section I think stands; unless there is any question that you wish to ask, I have nothing to add.
15206. Down to where, do you meant “ Change of Plans,” you were dealing with.
15207. You mention at the beginning of that section, “ Change of Plans,” that the action of Magersfontein influenced your plans?
It did. I wrote at once and telegraphed to the Secretary of State for War, and told him so, explaining how I considered that that action, coupled at the same moment with General Gatacre’s want of success at Stormberg—for these two checks were almost at the same moment—made me feel that I should not be justified in taking so great risk as I was proposing to take if I marched round by Potgieter’s Drift.
15208. Was that simply on the ground of the encouragement that those events gave to the Boers?
It was on the ground that my two other forces in the field had been brought to a standstill, both of them.
15209. The other two?
The other two, and therefore I was brought to a standstill, too, and my state was very parlous. All the time I had the responsibility of South Natal on my shoulders; I had to consider South Natal, and an expedition by Potgieter's Drift was a risk; it was in sight the whole way from the hills; we were moving under the hills the whole way and almost in shot. And with regard to what I have quoted in that first paragraph in “ Change of Plans,” I should like to say that my telegram to General Forestier-Walker was in the nature of a testamentary disposition. I telegraphed to him, and told him that the time had come to take up defensive positions. I was going into action the next day, and guns and rifle fire carry a long way. I might have been killed, and had I been killed, and the attack failed at Colenso, the proper thing for him to have done at that moment would certainly have been to have taken up a defensive position.
15210. But you put it to the Secretary of State that whether you succeeded or failed, that would have been the proper thing to do?
You are coming to that telegram presently. I should like to deal with that telegram when you come to it, if I may.
15211. Is it not at the same time?
No. I told the Secretary of State that it would be better to lose Ladysmith than throw up Natal.
15212. (Viscount Usher.) That is the 13th, the next day. According to your statement in this section “ Change of Plans,” you received the news of Magersfontein on the 12th?
Yes, and I changed my plans really almost directly.
15213. (Chairman.) And on the 13th you telegraphed to the Secretary of State that whether you succeeded or failed, the time had come, both in Natal and Cape Colony, to stand on the defensive until the winter?
Yes; those two telegrams were, as I say, in the nature of a testamentary disposition. I was going into action, and I thought it the right thing to say. If I was killed it covered General Forestier- Walker, and if I was not killed I could have made a new plan the next day, and considered what I would do. But, practically, I had in Cape Colony, and I should, if I had succeeded in Natal also, have taken up defensive positions to organise the force there. The men had been thrown out of their ships, in consequence of the great pressure, into the battle-field; they were not quite fully equipped. I had not nearly as many mounted men raised as I hoped for, and I fully intended to mount a great many more infantry, which I did afterwards. All those measures there had been no time for. I had only had just a month and a half really of almost continuous fighting in three theatres of war to keep back the Boers—in which we succeeded. Lord Methuen, after Magersfontein was, by the 16th, established in a position in which he could remain. General Gatacre and General French were both fairly comfortable, and I hoped to be in the same position in Natal; and then I should have had time to look round.
15214. You said, I think, that you wished to refer to a telegram to the Secretary of State P
No, I do not. I thought you were speaking of a later telegram at the moment when I said that. The telegram I referred to was my No. 79, of the 13th of December.
15,215. (Viscount Esher.) To whom?
To the Secretary of State for War.
15216. (Chairman.) Yes, No. 79 cipher; we have that?
The last paragraph is the point to which I refer in my summary, where I said: “ The enemy had the initiative, and has used it well. We have staying power, and must now use that.” At that moment I was doubtful whether Lord Methuen would have to withdraw or not, and it as qualified by me in my telegram, “ If Methuen goes back to the Orange River the enemy probably will press their invasion of Cape Colony, and it will have to be our policy to delay the enemy, and wait till winter comes.” I mean that I did not actually recommend the Secretary of State at that moment unconditionally that we should take up defensive positions, but my telegram to General Forestier-Walker, and my sort of advice was founded on a possibility. The possibility to General Forestier-Walker was that I might be killed, and the possibility to the Secretary of State was that Lord Methuen might not be able to remain at Modder.
15217. (Viscount Esher.) But on the 12th had your movement actually commenced to march to Potgieter’s Drift before you received the news of Magersfontein?
General Barton had gone to Chieveley.
15218. That was in connection with your original movement?
Yes. I had not moved at all to the westward; nobody had moved to the west; General Barton had gone forward with my retaining force, but the other people were concentrated at Frere.
15219. Still, all your orders were issued for that movement?
Yes, and Sir George White was advised, and everything was settled.
15220. It was to have commenced actually on that day?
15221. (Chairman.) In that telegram you did not say anything about losing Ladysmith?
It is in the letter I think, in the despatch written on the same day; the despatch of the 13th; in the middle of the letter you will see, “ From my point of view it would be better.”
15222. But when the telegram was received there was nothing before the Secretary of State to show, except from the context, that that meant losing Ladysmith?
No, I should never telegraph to the Secretary of State that I thought I was going to fail.
15223. But you had it distinctly before you, as your letter shows, at that time that if you failed you contemplated the loss of Ladysmith as the best way out of the situation?
I fully appreciated the enormous difficulties of the task in front of me. I do not believe there is a more difficult piece of ground in the world than the piece I had to force, and I was fully cognisant of the very great difficulty I had, and that I was taking a very considerable risk in which I might not be successful. I also had in my mind, as my letter shows, though I did not say it in my telegram (I never send that sort of tiring in a telegram except for a very special reason) that I did think it was quite possible that if I failed I might not be able to get into Ladysmith in time to relieve it.
15224. (Viscount Esher.) Is that phrase which you quoted about its being bettor to lose Ladysmith in your despatch to the Secretary of State of the 13th of December?
Yes, just in the middle of it: and in that despatch I gave him what I believed at the moment was an absolutely truthful representation of my own mind. I was by no means quite confident, but I thought I was doing the best I could while fighting; and in the last paragraph of that letter, too, I say the same thing.
15225. (Chairman.) I understand that one of your reasons for not taking the direction which you eventually took, or perhaps your principal reason, was that your men were raw?
That was one of my reasons for not going by Hlangwane Hill.
15226. And yet that was the way you eventually went?
Yes. It meant four days’ rather difficult bush-fighting before we got to a position where we could do anything.
15227. And when you say that your men were raw. what do you mean by that?
That they were only just off Ship, and had never had any fighting; most of them had never had a Shot fired at them.
15228. But they were part of the Army Corps, were they not?
But the Army Corps had never been shot at.
15229. I suppose that would happen to an Army Corps in any case when it goes into action?
But if the General knows it he cannot take the same risk as he can with men who know all about being shot at.
15230. Is that the position in which you represent that we are: that the first Army Corps is to be regarded as raw troops, with which a general is not justified in taking an action of this kind?
You may have a very good hunter in your stable, but if he has never had a gallop you would not take him out for a long day’s hunting. A horse may be a very good hunter, but if he is raw at his work he would not be fit to go a long day, and it is the same thing with a man. If he has never been shot at, and the company have never been 'accustomed to the stress of war, they are not the same valuable fighting machine that they become afterwards; undoubtedly they are not.
15231. That stands to reason, but I want to know whether in your opinion a General is not justified in taking the first Army Corps of the British Army into an action such as was contemplated in that case?
I do not think that any general is justified in taking any troops into a place where he does not think they will win. I did not think my troops wore fit to go into, bush-fighting. It is a most difficult thing, of course; it requires an immense amount of individual resolution ; the men are away from their officers, and they require to have a certain amount of knowledge of combat before they are much good in a bush.
15232. The word “ fit ” covers tire whole of my question. The troops were not “ fit ” then?
In my opinion my chances of winning with them were not great; that is, not “ fit ” from my point of view.
15233. Was that in consequence of their want of training?
In consequence of its having been impossible to train them.
15234. It would be impossible to train them, do you say?
I think so; you cannot simulate a bullet—nobody has ever been able to do so; I wish they could, but you cannot simulate the effect of bullets on a man. The only way to get your men in fighting order is to get them into action first of all if you can, where you can see what they are doing. Then you eventually encourage some and Check others, and tell them what to do, and in that way they become warriors. But to take officers and men suddenly into the most difficult sort of fighting you can find anywhere, which is bush-fighting, I would not do it, I confess, at any time.
15235. (Viscount Esher.) Was your proposed march to Potgieter’s Drift in the nature of a training gallop?
No, my march to Potgieter’s Drift was through open country. It was in the nature to a certain degree of this—it taught the men to march at any rate. They had had no marching—they had been nearly a month on board ship.
15236. (Chairman.) Then we should be in this same position in any case in which we had to land an army to carry on operations in the bush?
There is hardly a conceivable condition where you would make war in which it would be necessary for the General to force bush fighting on the day after landing; there are very few places at any rate.
15237. Is it only with regard to bush-fighting that you make that observation?
Yes. In bush-fighting you cannot see your men.
15238. And is it a want of individual initiative that you complain of?
No, I do not want to say it is any fault of anybody. Bush-fighting is the most difficult thing; I have had a good deal of it to do, and I know how difficult it is. The men get away; you lose them, they lose their direction, they go the wrong way, and there is very great difficulty. I have always heard, and I believe it, that the battle of Konigraatz would have been over very much sooner than it was if it had not been that such a very large portion of the German Army was engulphed in the wood on the Austrian right.
15239. But is it not part of the condition of modern warfare that the private soldier, the non-commissioned officer, and the subaltern all require to have greater individuality than they used to have?
Certainly it is, most decidedly so; we do not get enough training to give our men much individuality; that unfortunately is true. But I can hardly conceive any amount of training that would make me anxious as a commander to land my troops off ship and take them suddenly into bush-fighting. I should like to know a little more of them first.
15240. (Sir George Taubman-Goldie.) When you ultimately moved by Monte Cristo and Hlangwane Hill, did they do well then?
They did very well; the West Surrey and the Hi tie (???) Brigade were the whole day in the bush, and they really did very well.
15241. (Sir John Edge.) I suppose that, even with the best troops, if they were inexperienced in bush-fighting, you would prefer to keep them out of it; it has nothing to do with the courage of the men?
Yes, I have always found that it makes the greatest demand upon officers, non-commissioned officers, and men of any sort of fighting you can conceive of, whatever the training and character of the troops.
15242. They do not quite know where they are going, and you do not know where they are gone?
No, you do not know where they are, and you cannot communicate with or control them.
15243. (Viscount Esher.) Your criticism would not apply only to British troops; you would say the same of any troops?
15244. All untried troops?
15245. (Sir John Edge.) The difficulty is that they do not know where they are going, and you do not know where they are?
That is it. All the drill control disappears by reason of the bush. The men are turned loose, that is what it comes to, and unless they are exceedingly handy and accustomed to fight by themselves, they are liable to get in the wrong direction, and fire in a panic, and all sorts of things.
15246. (Viscount Esher.) On that question of the Chairman’s, you came to the conclusion, then, at that time, that the line of advance which you ultimately took was the most difficult of the four, did you not?
Yes, I came to the conclusion that the line of advance I first tried was a very much easier one than the line of advance by Hlangwane Hill. The line of advance by Potgieter’s Drift was recommended to me by those whom I was bound to trust, as being easier; but it was not, and if I had then known the line of advance by Potgieter’s Drift as well as I did after I bad been fighting there, I should never have gone there.
15247. (Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal.) In such a case as that which you speak of, would you say that the former mode of life, the intelligence and experience of Colonial troops come into play, and that they are the more useful?
Yes, Colonial troops in the sense of backwoodsmen.
15248. Yes, those who have been accustomed to the bush?
Yes. I do not think that Colonial troops taken out of Colonial towns would be any better than our troops would have been in the bush; but, of course, backwoodsmen and men accustomed to fight for their own hand would have been better.
15249. (Sir John Jackson.) And in a case where a man has to rely more upon his own resources you would expect to get a better result if you had your troops from a slightly higher level than they are recruited from at present, would you not?
But really our troops are very good. I do not think we have any right to fall foul of them.
15250. Not as regards their courage, of course?
You only want to give them a little shooting. I have been in fights with both the Army and the Navy, and I have nothing to complain of in the men. They want practice in being shot at. When they have had that they are very good.
15251. Yes; but in that particular kind of bush-fighting that you are speaking of, the intelligence of the man comes in a little more, does it not, when he is left all to himself?
Yes, it does.
15252. I am not suggesting that the British soldier is not a plucky man; but my suggestion is whether in a case of that kind you do not think that the material might be got from a rather better class of man than the recruits mostly come from now, and whether that might not be an advantage?
Yes, it might. But you sometimes find in the most uneducated men a real genius for war—a “ hunter’s instinct,” in fact.
15253. (Viscount Esher.) You say that you found the advance by Potgieter’s Drift more difficult than you expected?
15254. And ultimately, did you find the advance by Hlangwane Hill easier than you expected?
No, I think not. It was very difficult. The men really fought very well indeed for fourteen days and almost fourteen nights without stopping. They never let go anything that we had got, but we only got it almost by inches at one time. The Boers themselves and the German officers who were with the Boers at the top of Spion Kop told my officers that it was absolutely impossible to get into Ladysmith. It was not impossible, because we did it; but I assure you the difficulties were very, very great—the sheer fighting. We were under the hill the whole way. As they fell back every position they occupied commanded the one we had just taken.
15255. When you ultimately advanced by Hlangwane Hill do you consider that the Boer force was weaker than it would have been at the time you would have attacked it before?
I consider that at Spion Kop and Vaal Krantz I disposed of their very best educated men.
15256. Had not the advance also through the Orange Free State weakened the force.
No, I think not. I think it had very little effect.
15257. (Sir George Taubman-Goldie.) As regards the maps that you had for that chain of mountains, were they sufficient for your purposes?
The only map I had I had created. This (producing the same) is the map we had. There was no map of that country.
15258. I mean, for forming your ideas was it sufficient?
Yes, it is not a bad map; it is an inch to a mile. I had it made in Maritzburg.
15259. Before you got up there?
Yes. Before I got to Frere.
15260. Hid it prove sufficient?
Yes, I think it did.
15261. It was fairly accurate?
I got it compiled from all the different farm surveys and made into a map of a scale of one inch to a mile. That was the map we used until we got on to what is called Grant’s map.
15262. So that we cannot say that any misfortune occurred from want of maps?
No, I think not. There were no minor surveys. Spion Kop, for instance, in this map is in the wrong place; but I think it was good enough to fight by.
15263. On 'the whole, you did not suffer seriously for want of a better map?
No, I do not think so. But with a better map we should have got our ranges more quickly.
15264. (Sir Frederick Darley.) At the time you attacked Hlangwane Hill do you not think that the Boers were very much shaken by your three previous attacks?
I attacked practically new commandoes. Nearly all the fighting at Spion Kop was against Free Staters, with a certain number of what might be called the permanent army of the Transvaal, namely, Johannesburg and Pretoria Police; but there were very few Transvaalers who came into action against us beyond the police. At Hlangwane Hill the people who were opposed to us were entirely Transvaalers.
15265. Who were not opposed to you before?
They had not 'been. They had no doubt been in support.
15266. But in point of fact, so far as the opposition was concerned, they were fresh divisions?
Yes, quite fresh..
15267. Reserves for the former divisions?
They were the men who were holding the positions that we had not attacked. They were told off all round Ladysmith. I sent home a Boer map which I found, and every position had a different commando attached to it. The Free State commandos were on the west, be that as the men we attacked on Spion Kop came from the west, our fighting there was principally against Free Staters.
15268. Do you not think that their morale must have been somewhat shaken by the previous attacks and the losses?
I think it must very much. At the same time they stood very well at Pieter’s Hill—extremely well.
15269. But still, you think their moral was affected?
Yes, I think so. They could not stand constant fighting, and we could. If we had not gone on fighting we never should have got in.
15270. Even though your men had been as well trained and accustomed to fighting as when they did attack at Hlangwane Hill, and in the supposition there had been no previous attacks, do you not think that your task would have been a much more difficult one than it was?
Yes, I think it would have been very much more difficult for that reason, and also for the reason that on the 15th of December I had not force enough really to justify me in going by Hlangwane Hill. I had an extra division when I tried it, but at that time I had not that extra division.
Wednesday, 18th February, 1908.
The Right Hon. The Earl of ELGIN AND KINCARDINE, K.G., G.C.S.I., G.C.I.E. (Chairman).
The Right -Honourable The Viscount ESHER, K.C.B., K.C.V.O.
The Right Honourable The Lord STRATHCONA AND MOUNT ROYAL, G.C.M.G.
The Right Honourable Sir GEORGE DASHWOOD TAUBMAN-G OLDIE, K.C.M.G.
Field-Marshal Sir HENRY WYLIE NORMAN, G.C.B., G.C.M.G., C.I.E.
The Hon. Sir FREDERICK MATTHEW DARLEY, G.C.M.G.
Admiral Sir JOHN OMMANNEY HOPKINS, G.C.B.
Sir JOHN EDGE.
Sir JOHN JACKSON.
BERNARD H. HOLLAND, ESQ. (Secretory).
General The Right Hon. Sir REDVERS BULLER, V.C., G.C.B., G.C.M.G., recalled and further examined.
Colonel The Hon. Sir F. W. STOPFORD, K.C.M.G., C.B., Military Secretary to the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, South Africa (Sir Redvers Buller), was also in attendance.
15271. (Chairman.) When we left off yesterday we had just finished the section of your statement headed “ Change of Plans ”?
I want, if I might be allowed, to make three points in my evidence yesterday a little clearer than I think I did. if there was any doubt about them.
The first two, perhaps, are small points, and they relate more to attacks made upon me than to anything that actually affects the Commission, but it might be said against me that in my narrative I have slurred over an accusation that was made against me, which was that I had not, when I arrived at the Cape, advised the Government to send reinforcements quickly enough. I do not know whether any member of the Commission has heard that said ; but when I arrived at the Cape it was not very easy at first to ascertain the exact military situation. It was very evident to me that the authorities at the Cape had been taken by surprise by the suddenness and the severity of the enemy’s attack. In the files of newspapers that were given to me on arrival I found Mr. Rhodes the day before he left Cape Town had expressed his certainty that the Boers would not fight; and in the interview that I had on the second day with Mr. Schreiner, who impressed me as a very loyal, honest man, he gave me to understand that he could not help thinking that there was some error altogether in anticipating any invasion of Cape Colony. He wrote, as I have said, to Mr. Steyn protesting against it; and I did not think I was justified in asking for a further Division until I saw what result that letter had. On the day, which I think was the 10th November, when I received Mr. Steyn’s answer from Mr. Schreiner, I at once telegraphed direct to the Government for the next Division. That is the point with regard to reinforcements.
15273. (Sir George Taubman-Goldie.) On that might I ask a question which I intended to have asked you yesterday. The point, to my mind, that wants explaining more clearly is this: You told us yesterday that when you went to Natal it was with a view of saving Natal, but that your scheme of advancing from Cape Colony up through Bloemfontein remained unchanged; you intended to take it up at a later date?
15274. To do that would have involved reinforcements, surely.
If you diverted a large portion of your force to Natal would it not have required reinforcements from England to carry out the ultimate scheme of advancing up through Bloemfontein. That struck me yesterday in hearing your evidence on that point?
I will read the telegram I sent when I did ask for reinforcements.
15275. (Chairman.) What is the date of it?
The 10th of November. I had asked on the 4th of November that a Division might be prepared, but I said, “Do not take up shipping until you hear from me again.” On the 10th the Secretary of State telegraphed to me: “ Division is being prepared, but we cannot venture to take up shipping without knowing for certain whether it will be wanted. This can be left open as long as you please, but provision of ships, particularly horse transport, takes time. Can you now say by what date you will want the troops? ”
I telegraphed the same day (my No. 27), “ Your No. 12 (that was the telegram that I was answering. The defence of Ladysmith seems to have so thoroughly checked the advance of enemy that I have some grounds for hoping that successful relief of Kimberley and Ladysmith may end opposition; on the other hand, reliable Dutch here predict guerilla warfare for certainty. I think, therefore, I ought to have another Division as soon as possible. My great want at present is mounted men. I am raising as many as I can, and should like as soon as possible a few good special-service officers, not above the rank of captain, for service with them— Infantry men for choice.” That was on the 10th. As soon as I really had time to look round I asked for a Division; I think I did that as quickly as I could.
15276. (Chairman.) What is the next point?
The next point is a point that hangs on to an answer that I gave to a question which Lord Strathcona asked me yesterday. He asked me whether I did not think mounted men were specially necessary, and I said Yes, and, as that telegram shows, I did think so. But I had forgotten at the moment that there has been several times public discussion on a telegram I have never seen, which was supposed to have told the Colonies that Infantry were preferred. Very indirectly, I was mixed up with that telegram, and I should like to explain the circumstances.
15277. If you please?
I was sitting one day on a Committee at the War Office when I was told that the Secretary of State wanted to see me. I went into his room, and he had in his hands a paper (I think it was about the end of the first week in October ; I am almost sure it was in October), and he told me that he had received from the Colonial Office an offer to send Colonial troops. A conversation ensued as to them. I was not shown the paper, and was not given any accurate figures, and it was rather a casual conversation, but I gathered that the point in his mind at that moment was what he should pay them. I further gathered that his intention was to accept men from the Colonies, but to say that the English Government would only pay them at the rate they paid their own soldiers. At that time I was looking forward to arriving at the Cape and finding myself in a hornets’ nest, and the only card I had in any sense up my sleeve was my conviction that the action of the Boers, if they did go to war, would drive out of the Transvaal, out of Johannesburg especially, and also partly out of the Free State, a very large number of very useful fighting Englishmen, who would probably be rather bitter, and most likely be immediately anxious to take up arms against the Boers. I had always calculated that they would give me a force of from 8,000 to 10,000 men, which would be a very effective mounted force. I had at the time also in my own mind calculated that I should have enough saddlery, and I did not want to mention this idea to Lord Lansdowne. The price in South Africa for mounted men had formerly always been, 5s. a day, and I did not believe myself that I should get these men under 5s. I wanted to pay them 5s. a day, and, to avoid being tied to a less sum for the Colonial mounted men, I told Lord Lansdowne that so far as I was concerned I should be quite satisfied if he would take all the Infantry that the Colonies would send, but that I did not think there was any necessity for taking a very small detached force of Cavalry. My idea was that all the Colonists could ride, and that I could mount them and turn them into Mounted Infantry and pay them all alike, 5s. a day. I have only gone into that explanation because it meets the point that has been raised.
15278. (Sir Frederick Darley.) Do you remember which of the Colonies it was that came under your notice then?
I do not think Lord Lansdowne mentioned them at all.
15279. Because, as regards the Australian Colonies, as perhaps you are aware, the first contingents that went out, certainly from New South Wales, and I think from the other Australian Colonies, went at the expense of the Colonial Government; there was no question of Imperial pay?
Unluckily for me the Australians did not come under my command at all, and I do not know the conditions under which they went. I only wanted rather not to pretend that I had not cognisance of that telegram. I wanted to be open in fact.
15280. (Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal.) It was not that you considered that mounted men would not be useful or required, but that you thought you could get a sufficient body of men in South Africa?
As a matter of fact the composition of the expedition was not mine, but I did expect that on my arrival at the Cape I should want mounted men immediately, and that my need might be urgent; and I thought therefore that it was better for me to take what I could get in the Colony at the moment (these other Colonies’ troops were only at that time being thought of), and that later on if the War assumed greater proportions I should be able to make more at leisure arrangements for troops from those Colonies.
15281. Could you have foreseen the turn that things took you would certainly have desired more mounted men sent out at once?
I should certainly.
15282. And as soon as you had an opportunity of forming mounted corps you did so. You did ask for them afterwards?
The day I landed I began to create mounted men.
15283. Only you were deficient in mounted men to begin with?
15284. Greatly deficient?
15285. (Chairman.) Is there any other point?
The third point that I rather wanted to explain was the question (I do not know what impression I left upon the Commission) as to my views of the position of Ladysmith, because it is rather of importance to me. I have this morning put together the telegrams, references to telegrams, and the extracts from them, from which I formed my opinion, and in looking over the book I found that I had quite forgotten that Lord Wolseley had formed at home exactly the same opinion that I had, that is to say that if Sir George White went into Ladysmith it would not definitely tend to the protection of Natal. May I just read those selections?
On the 28th of October Sir George White telegraphed to me, “Natal requires earliest reinforcements possible; will do all my means admit of to conquer enemy.” I can give you, if you like, the numbers of his telegrams I am quoting from.
15287. (Sir Frederick Darley.) The dates, I think, will be useful?
That is No. 122, 28th of October.
15288. (Chairman.) Are these telegrams to you?
Yes. From Sir George White.
15289. To you?
15290. I do not think we have them?
I understood that they were all printed. I can read it all, I have it here.
15291. We have the telegrams that begin on the 26th of November, but I do not think we have the earlier ones?
Then perhaps I had better read the whole of it. “ No. 122, 28th October, from Sir George White. Have a very strong force in front of me with many guns. Natal Colony requires earliest reinforcements possible. Troops here very heavy work, especially cavalry. I will do all my means admit of to conquer enemy. Very short of staff and officers. Hunter indispensable.” On the 30th October he telegraphed to me an account of what has since been known as Nicholson’s Nek, and he wound up that telegram by saying, “After being in action several hours I withdrew the troops and returned unmolested to cantonments. The enemy are in great numbers.” On the 1st November I telegraphed to him and said, “ Please telegraph me accurate description of your view of the situation. I doubt if the Boers will ever attack you if entrenched. Hitherto you have gone out to attack them. Can you not entrench and wait events? No reinforcements can reach you for at least 14 days.” On the same date I had also asked General Hunter for a report, and he reported on the 1st of November, “Boers are superior to General White in numbers, mobility, and long range artillery. I think they will shortly interrupt railway and telegraph; that General White can defend himself against capture; that you should, if possible, guard intact the bridges at Colenso and Estcourt, and defend the passages of the Tugela River till you can relieve White.” Then on the 31st October Sir George White telegraphed to me, “I wired Natal Governor yesterday that I would send the Royal Dublin Fusiliers to guard the bridge at Colenso as the best step I could take for protection of 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.” Then he went on to reply to my telegram. He said, “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 as long as is necessary. I could not now withdraw from it.” And on the same day, the 31st October, I received from London a telegram from Lord Wolseley, in which he said (that will be in the London telegrams), “ Issue whatever order you deem best to White, who is now one of your Generals. Telegram from White leads me to fancy he means to hold on and allow himself to be besieged in Ladysmith. Is he wise to do this, which would place all Natal at the mercy of the enemy? ” Then Sir George White wrote me the letter which I referred to yesterday, of the 31st October, of which I think you have a copy, and in that letter there is one reference that I did not read yesterday that I saw afterwards. He said when he retired, “ I had to think of Ladysmith, and I knew I could drive them off, 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.” And at the end of his letter he said, “ Yesterday when I recognised that I could not break up the enemy around us in the field, I sent the Dublin Fusiliers and 6 Natal Guns to Colenso to try and close that road south to the Boers in case they ignored Ladysmith. I think they would stick to us.” And then he sent out a message by pigeon, which we got on the 9th of November, in which he said, “Enemy have long range guns all round us, but it is impossible to ascertain the strength in which he holds his different positions. We calculate his circle must be over 20 miles. Our position is also very extended, about 1I miles to enable us to retain Artillery position, which, if lost would make Ladysmith untenable. This curtails our force for offensive operations without great risk to Ladysmith.”
I do not want to labour that point any more. I only want rather to let the Commission understand that, though I do not in the least deny that Sir George White may have had strategical ideas in going into Ladysmith, the impression which those telegrams gave me (and equally gave Lord Wolseley) was that he was driven into Ladysmith, and practically as an Army in the field his power was gone, and that the only advantage he was to me was that as he defended Ladysmith he did automatically, undoubtedly, contain a certain number of Boers.
15292. (Sir Frederick Darley.) You answered the Commander-in- Chief’s telegram to you on the 31st October, in which he says, "Telegram from White leads me to fancy that he wants to hold on and allow himself to be besieged in Ladysmith,” on the 1st November?
I answered it the same day, I think.
15293. On the 1st November?
Yes, I suggested to White that Colenso and line Tugela offered promising position, but he has selected Ladysmith, Which he says is strongly entrenched, and whence he could not now withdraw.
I suspect he is right in this. His supplies are there; if he sent them back in advance he might be isolated without them; and vice versa he might lose them. His men also must want rest badly.
I have arranged with Admiralty to protect Durban; Maritzburg is at present indefensible.”
15294. (Sir George Taubman-Goldie.) On that point there is one matter that I think you ought to have an opportunity of explaining. We have not the notes of yesterday’s evidence before us yet, but if my memory serves me right (you will correct me if I am wrong) you told us that you had instructed or advised, either before you started from England or from Madeira, that stores should be poured into Ladysmith as rapidly as possible. Do you remember saying that yesterday?
I think you rather misunderstood me. I did that in England at the time that General Symons moved the force to Glencoe. I went up to London and opposed it by every possible means in my power. I pointed out to Lord Lansdowne that it was like stretching out your arm to have your hand cut off; that a small force like that could do no good. I then went to Lord Wolseley and said that at any rate Glencoe ought to be fortified, and should have at least 60 days’ provisions, as I was perfectly certain that in the event of the Boers ever invading, Glencoe would be isolated; and a telegram, which I daresay I could turn up in the War Office Book (but I have no reference to it here) was then sent, asking what provisions wore at Glencoe. The answer was rather a peculiar one ; that there were only six days’ and no need for more, because it could be supplied by the railway. My conviction that the railway would be cut was the very thing that made me wish for more supplies than the six days’. And then, I think at my instance. Lord Wolseley sent a telegram out in which he said that every isolated post was to have at least 60 days’. That order affected Ladysmith, and therefore Ladysmith had the 60 days’. That is what I mean.
15295. That is as far as you went?
15296. I thought I understood you yesterday to say (you can always correct it on the notes if you went too far, or I may go wrong) that a telegram was sent instructing them to pour stores into Ladysmith as fast as possible?
15297. (Chairman.) You do not want to pursue that point further than you have stated it?
15298. Because, as you are aware, we have had an opportunity of hearing the views on the strategical positions from Lord Wolseley and from Lord Roberts, but we accept them as views expressed by those authorities on the strategical position, and we accept yours in the same way?
I do not want really to give any views on the strategical position.
I only wanted to make it clear that I had grounds upon which to base my opinion (which I thought you rather questioned yesterday) that I was justified in thinking that I could not count much on the Ladysmith garrison.
15299. I understand your views; do not take it as accepting them?
I do not want you to do more.