15300. Then now shall we go on?
If you please.
15301. We come now to the point of your summary, which is headed, “Events of the 15th December,” and I take it that this is the account that you wish us to accept from you of those events, and I do not know that I have any question which I wish to put to you with regard to them; do you want to amplify them?
There are only two matters which I want to be sure that I have made clear. I hope I have practically made it clear that I never attacked on the 15th at all. I have been accused of having done so and it has been said that every military man condemned the execution of that attack. But I made no attack. I stopped at the very earliest moment in the morning every General from moving, and no attack was made on Colenso at all on the 15th of December. I have tried to make that clear here.
15302. You stopped the movements as soon as you discovered the position?
My left Brigade moved too soon, contrary to my orders. I did not succeed in stopping it, but withdrew it at once. But no other troops, except some artillery that got into the wrong place, moved forward at all for any purpose of any attack. And if I have not made that clear I should like to read General Hildyard’s view who commanded the 2nd Brigade, the attacking column; three or four words from his own account of what happened.
15303. Very well?
I have here the autograph report of General Hildyard of the action of his Brigade on the 15th of December, and these are the very few lines that I want to read: “ The orders received were to seize the kopjes north of Colenso when the bombardment had made itself sufficiently felt. Before this moment arrived the Commander- in-Chief informed me that owing to the loss of the guns the attack could not be carried out to-day and that the retirement of the Artillery was to be covered by the 2nd Brigade. The 2nd Queen’s and 2nd Devons were informed accordingly, and directed to cover its retirement, the former west of the railway, the latter east of it, taking care not to be involved more than could be helped in an engagement with the enemy.” I only wanted just to read that to show that there was no attack at all (the word retirement in General Hildyard’s letter should have been “ withdrawal ”), and that the only military action that I directed that day was a series of attempts to recover some guns which had been taken into a position into which, in my opinion, they ought never to have been taken.
15304. (Viscount Esher.) Had you intended to attack?
Fully. I had given all my orders the day before.
15305. (Sir George Taubman-Goldie.) I think you ought to have an opportunity of giving your reasons with regard to those guns, why you say it was equally impossible to prevent their withdrawal by the enemy, and which you say you would be glad to give?
I offer myself rather more to be cross-examined. It is difficult to fight against a man of straw; that is my position really. I state it as a fact, and I have seen a certain amount of fighting. The guns went down into a place where they were within 300 yards of cover, which was in the occupation of the enemy, and within 1,200 yards of a fortified hill which was held by the enemy. The fire from that hill, principally from the hill, as I was given to understand at the time, but also from the bushes, the cover, disabled the guns by either killing or wounding the whole of their men, and I was not informed of it by the officer in charge until he had abandoned his guns. I got down to the nearest place I could, with anything like safety, approach behind the guns, which was a large donga, and from there I directed certain endeavours to retrieve the guns. But they were absolutely in the open. The first two we got away; I do not think the Boers realised what we were doing; the men while under fire managed to hook two on to the limbers I sent out, and brought them back; but the horses and men of the other two limbers I sent forward were shot down and either killed or wounded. At any rate, they did not come back, and when a further attempt was made later in the day the limbers only got half way; there was nobody with the guns to hook on; they were entirely abandoned. I was about 800 yards behind them, I suppose, and the bushes in front of them at the edge of the river were less than 300 yards from them. Those bushes later on were occupied, but at that time they were in possession of the enemy, and though, of course, I could have pushed forward and got to the river, and having got to the river I might possibly have managed to get live horses or men up to the guns to draw them back, yet the whole of the time the guns would be under fire from the entrenchments on the top of Port Wylie, which commanded the plateau we were on by about 150 feet, and looked down upon everything. I believe myself that it was absolutely impossible.
15306. I wished rather to direct your attention to the last few lines of the last paragraph in your statement. You are aware that it has been said that if it was impossible for us to get the guns away, it might have been made equally impossible for the Boers to take them away?
Yes; but I do not think that it has been said by anybody who has seen the place. Of course, anybody here may say it. I do not think that anybody who had seen the place could have said it. I know some German, wrote an article in a magazine and said that we could have held the donga. But from the donga you could not see the guns. My men were very much exhausted that day by want of water; there was no water at all on the ground they were fighting on, and I was very much impressed, I admit, afterwards by their exhaustion. They were very ready to fight, but they went to sleep, and anybody who witnessed the trouble that I had to get men out of the donga to make the efforts which they did make to get the guns back would have, I think, entirely agreed with me, as did all the officers who were present. General Clery agreed with me, and at the time he was there with me, that it was impossible by any means that we had, without a very heavy loss of life, to have kept near enough to the guns—that is to say, in sight of the guns, within range, without unduly exposing the men—in order to get the guns back. And if I had left it to the night I should have left a very considerable portion of my force (and my force at the time was none too great to defend Natal, which was my principal object) exposed the whole of that afternoon under fire from Fort Wylie and the hills on the other side of Colenso, which looked' down upon the plains we were on; they would have had to remain there the whole of the day under fire from Boers concealed in very safe positions. What would they have done in the night? There were more Boers there than I had men, and they would have come across the river—there was nothing to prevent them—and we should have had a rough and tumble on the banks of the Tugela, in which I fully believe we should have been worsted. I do not think it was possible. I do not believe any living man could have got those guns away. I do not think so. Of course I could have kept the guns under our fire, but there was no use in that if I could not withdraw them, and I could not.
15307. (Sir Frederick Darley.) At any rate, you were of opinion they could only have been regained at such a loss of life as would have been unpardonable?
I think so ; they had been deserted. Let it be understood, it was not as if they had men with them. If I could have sent limbers up and had one live man to hook in, there might possibly have been a chance; but if you send limbers up the men dismounting to hook in are such a mark—and there must have been at least 300 rifles firing at them, and firing at them with a plunging bullet at about 1,200 yards range.
15308. (Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal.) You say here in your Statement that shortly after the return of the officer you had sent to Long’s Brigade Division the guns ceased firing?
15309. Was the account that he gave to you on his return of the actual position of the batteries at that time correct?
It was not correct; he told me that the guns were comfortable. I went to the only place whence I could see the whole of the ground from which I intended to have directed the attack, and the guns went beyond the position that I allotted to them; they were out of my sight, so that I merely saw them go down, and when I saw them go down I sent out after them, thinking that they had gone much too close, and the officer came back and said the guns were all right; but they were not all right.
15310. Then you do not consider that he carried out your orders correctly?
15312. You say that you hoped thereby to elicit from the Government a definite opinion as to the course which they judged it expedient for you to pursue?
15313. You thought it was for the Government, then, to express an opinion upon that matter?
The Government had elected that it should be ; they had interfered with me.
15314. By expressing a preference for Kimberley?
By sending orders who was to command in the sphere of my operations. I considered that that was a very strong step for them to take, especially as it was in direct opposition to my definitely-expressed opinion. The question of the relative importance of Kimberley and Natal was a question which had been discussed very much between me and Sir Alfred Milner before I left the Cape, and I was well aware that our views were not entirely in accordance. I thought then, and I think now, that the Government were acting upon advice which was not mine, and that in the action which they were taking with regard to officers under my command, they were influenced by considerations for Kimberley which were different from those which I myself entertained at the time. I thought, therefore, that it was really a political question more than a military question. It was perfectly immaterial to me whether I fought at Kimberley or at Ladysmith. For reasons which were not very easy to be expressed, but which had considerable weight with me, I considered it was more important from a military point of view to fight at Ladysmith. But I did not then, and I do not now, consider that those considerations were strong enough to have over-ridden strong political considerations.
15315. But the result of the fighting on the 15th, so far as your policy was concerned, was to bring you to the position which you were describing to us yesterday, and which you put forward on the 13th, that you must let Ladysmith go and take up a defensible position?
The expression “ let Ladysmith go ” is a military expression; it does not mean “ let Ladysmith fall.”
15316. What does it mean exactly?
It means removing yourself from immediate touch with the place. Oddly enough, exactly the same expression was used to me a short time before by General Clery. When I first sent him to Natal he said, “Let Estcourt go.” I did not wish to do so, and he did not; but “ let go ” does not mean “ let fall." There were 12,000 men in Ladysmith.
15317. But it meant to stop the operations for its relief?
To suspend the operations for its relief—just so.
15318. That is the meaning of the expression?
That is the meaning of the expression. It is a well understood expression. I think every soldier really understands it. I am sure
Sir Henry Norman would say the same thing—that “let go” does not at all mean “let fall.”
(Sir Henry Norman.) Certainly.
15319. (Chairman.) Then you were to take up a definite position until you got further reinforcements?
Until I got further reinforcements, or until (which I confess I did not anticipate) it might have been possible to have gone round by Kimberley and come across very much by the same line by which Lord Roberts afterwards thought he would be able to do it.
I want you to notice that just below what you have read I say, “ I therefore laid before them my opinion from a military standpoint as to the measures best fitted to meet the situation.” The situation there was the situation, of course, that they had created.
I had not a single available man in hand at the moment except the Fifth Division, and they had, I thought, ordered the Fifth Division up to the Modder.
15320. (Viscount Esher.) What exactly prompted your telegram of the 15th December to the Government? I thought I understood you to say that the Government had decided not to reinforce you but to send a force to Kimberley, to send the Fifth Division there? Is that so?
Yes. Before I attacked at Ladysmith the Government had committed my only reserves to the relief of Kimberley.
15321. Can you refer be the telegrams in which you suggested that the Fifth Division should come to you?
I did not suggest that the Fifth Division should come to me. I suggested that Lord Methuen should be left in command on the Modder.
15322. But I really want to understand it. I want to get really the broad issue. It was not, you say, your failure at Colenso which solely induced you to send that telegram of the 15th of December, No. 87, to the Secretary of State?
Not at all.
15323. Then it was something else. I want to get exactly at what it was?
As I said yesterday, my proposal to take up defensible positions was to a certain degree in the nature of a testamentary disposition, in case anything happened to me.
15324. I quite understand that?
At the time I had only one free Division; they were the only reinforcements I had. There were no other troops on the sea at that time, nor at that time had the Sixth Division embarked; so that there was, at any rate, the whole journey from .England between me and any further reinforcements at that moment. Accordingly, I had to consider what I had better do, should I attack Ladysmith again, or should I do what I thought would be a rather easy way of getting a certain amount of advantage against the Boers—should I attack Kimberley.
15325. Should you leave Natal and go round to the Cape?
15326. Yes, you yourself?
I did not like to leave Natal. The reason I have given influenced me. I thought—and I honestly believe now from the after events that I thought rightly—that had I left Natal it would have encouraged the Boors to attack Ladysmith, and Ladysmith might have been taken, and, therefore, although I believe that from an abstract military point of view it would have been the right thing for me to have jumped at once into the train and gone to Kimberley, made a diversion, relieved Kimberley, and come back again, I did not like to do it because I did not like to leave Natal. Therefore, if I stayed in Natal, I wanted, and I wanted immediately, a Division.
I had, I thought, to overcome a preconceived opinion on the part of the Government, namely, that they attached more importance to the relief of Kimberley than they did to the relief of Ladysmith.
15327. But you see, in your telegram of the 15th you do not suggest to the Government, or tell the Government that you wanted to go to Kimberley?
I do not; and I purposely did not.
15328. But if I had received that telegram, I do not think I should have gathered from it that your wish was to go to Kimberley, unless you sent some other communication to Lord Wolseley, or someone else, which would throw light upon the situation?
I perfectly admit that; for I did not want to go to Kimberley, and I have told you why. But I ask you to consider my position. I was in the position of a man who had never been consulted at all, whose advice had never been taken, and whose advice had usually been rather curtly, not very politely, refused. I have shown you that it was only by the accident of my friendship with the Prime Minister’s Private Secretary that Sir G. White obtained in time nearly half the force that he had in Natal. I have shown you that the Secretary of State so little realised the value of time in war, that he deferred mobilisation, against my advice, for a whole week at a most critical moment. The only difference in my treatment by the Government in England and in South Africa was that in South Africa instead of ignoring me they interfered with me. I had to intervene, as I have told you, to: protect my Officers from being superseded, immediately upon any miscarriage, against my wishes and without knowledge or examination of the circumstances. And now, the Government had interfered by committing the Fifth Division to the relief of Kimberley without so much as a reference to me. The principal adviser of the Government during all previous operations had been the High Commissioner at Cape Town, whom I knew to be committed to the very policy with which I. disagreed. Time was too precious to be wasted in argument or discussion. My telegram, as I have said, laid before the Government my opinion as to the measures best fitted to meet the situation they had created by their interference. They might have reasons of paramount importance for that interference or they might not; they had not vouchsafed me information. They might have realised the consequences that would flow from that interference if I failed at Colenso and be prepared to accept them, or they might not. Experience had shown me that it was useless for me to tender advice to the Secretary of State for War, for I had already for six weeks been suffering from his neglect of my advice. My only alternative was to present to him strongly the situation created by his interference. If that interference was based upon paramount considerations of policy, it might be right that he should prevail; if it were not, I was pretty confident that he would abandon it very speedily, as in fact he did.
15329. Then what reply did you expect to get?
I expected the exact reply that I got, “Use the troops,” and I immediately acknowledged it, “Thank you very much, exactly what I wanted.”
15330. It did not occur to you, of course, at that time that that telegram might very well give to Lord Lansdowne and the Government, and subsequently give to the public, a wrong impression of what your state of mind, was at the time?
It did not occur to me at the time, and it did not occur to me that there ever would be people who would endeavour to interpret a telegram addressed to the Secretary of State for War, under one set of conditions, by the light of telegrams addressed to an officer in command of a fortress! in, the field under a totally different set of conditions.
15331. (Sir George Taubman-Goldie.) Then the Royal Commission may be of some value?
I am very glad that there is a Royal Commission; it may be of great value.
15332. (Viscount Esher.) It has given you, at any rate, the opportunity of interpreting that telegram, which, to a certain extent, has misled people, as you are aware?
I do not think it has misled people except in cases where it has been designedly misrepresented. You must remember that that telegram has been published by people who, when they published it, absolutely refused to publish the fact that it was consequent upon an order that they had sent, and who refused to publish the acknowledgment that I sent of it.
15333. (Sir George Taubman-Goldie.) With reference to the maps of which you spoke yesterday, did your map show a Drift over the Tugela where General Hart advanced to?
Yes, it did.
15334. Did you find it to be correct?
I think it was approximately correct. He went the wrong way, he advanced towards the wrong place, but the Drift was there. I never went -down to it myself, but I had very good information at that time from a, member of the Natal Government who was the head of my Intelligence Department, Mr. T. K. Murray, who had been living most of his life south of Ladysmith, and knew every drift and almost everything.
15335. You are aware that people on the spot who live there declare that there is no Drift there?
I go further to prove that there was a Drift, because I advanced General Lyttelton’s Brigade on seeing what I thought was a hostile movement being made; and I have since that seen in the Times a statement made by Commandant Edwards, and have had from, a friend of mine in Natal a statement that Commandant Edwards made to him, who assured him that if it had not been for the advance of General Lyttelton’s Brigade, 2,000 Boers were going to- have attacked General Hart’s Brigade in flank by that Drift, and Commandant Edwards’ expression was “by the Drift that the British had missed.” It was what is called a bridle drift, you know.
15336. (Chairman-) Then shall we pass on to “ Events of the 16th to 18th December,” in which you go in detail through the communications which passed at that time between yourself and the Secretary of State, and also between yourself and Sir George White in Ladysmith. I might just say that we have before us a copy from trio War Office of the Siege Correspondence, which I believe includes all the communications that passed between yourself and Sir George White?
I do not know whether that correspondence is placed in series.
115337. Yes, it is by dates?
Does it give the numbers of the telegrams?
18338. Yes. Would you like to look at it (handing the same to the Witness)?
I only want to point out that I was given some extracts by the War Office which I was directed, if I dealt with them at all, to publish as a whole, and from those telegrams as given to me the numbers had all been eliminated. I am always particular in telegraphing to number my telegrams, and if the numbers are left out and the order of telegrams is inverted what can happen is, and what really did happen to me was, that a very false impression may be given to the public by later telegrams being put in front of earlier ones.
15339. I mentioned that we have the telegrams before us because it might save you going through them in detail. We have all these telegrams?
The only point with regard to those telegrams to which I attach the slightest importance really is the fact that one telegram which I was ordered to publish is not in the shape in which I sent it. and that the following telegram, which conveyed a very different impression from what was sought to. be conveyed by the publication that was made, was not published. My No. 92 was followed by my No. 93, and my No. 92, of which rather a strong point was made, was not published as I sent it, but published as it was said to have been deciphered. I have given it in the narrative as I sent it.
16340. (Sir John Edge.) What is the date of that?
The 16th of December.
15341. (Sir George Taubman-Goldie.) It is quoted in a series before us?
Exactly, but those are wrong—that is the point. In all the telegrams that I was ordered to publish (and I protested against publishing them wrongly) I was told to publish them textually as they were given to me, and to some of mine were given the dates on which I sent them and to others were given the dates on which Sir George White received them. As regards that particular telegram, No. 92, the date of the receipt by Sir George White, the 17th, is given, but I sent it on the 16th. My original telegram gave its own date, as I think all my telegrams did, but the War Office left the dates out. I have given the reference to it at the bottom of my Statement,
153442. (Chairman.) We do not seem to have that?
That is what I am afraid of.
15344. Would you like to look at this document again (handing the paper to the Witness)?
That is it, you see; that is what was done. No. 88 was published and hung on to No. 92, but as a matter of fact No. 88 was answered by Sir George White long before he received No. 92. This was not fair—that is all.
(there is a glitch here. I deleted the duplication of 15344 and 15344 and 15343 have been reversed in sequence)
15343. Would you like to look at this document again (handing the paper to the Witness)?
That is it, you see; that is what was done. No. 88 was published and hung on to No. 92, but as a matter of fact No. 88 was answered by Sir George White long before he received No. 92. This was not fair—that is all.
15344. Will you read your No. 92P
15345. (Sir George Taubman Goldie.) Are you confident of the date being the 16th, because in their correction note they say it was the 17th again?
I am absolutely confident. A clerk brought me No. 88, which I thought was an important telegram. I had had it repeated by the signaller and sent back to me, and he brought me the signaller’s returned telegram. I wanted to alter it. You will see in that series of telegrams that in no two telegrams did Sir George White ever give me the same period for which his supplies could last. I said in the original telegram “ How long ”; I wanted to alter it to “ how many days.” I was on my horse at the time, and I gave the clerk instructions to strike out the words “ how long ” and put in “ how many days.” By mistake too many groups seem to have been struck out. I may say I never saw the telegram until after I got to England.
15346. Which, No. 92?
Yes, my No. 92. I did not pay any attention to it. It was meant to be a verbal correction. I put into the end of it the remark about the ciphers because at that very moment I had received a letter from the person who sent me my best information telling me that they were satisfied that the Boers had got a certain number of cipher or code telegrams over which the deciphering had been written, and, therefore, those groups they would have been able to read in future.
15347. (Chairman.) I think it would 'be better that you should give us the actual text of No. 92?
The actual text of No. 92 is on page 20—my No. 92 cipher of the 16th December.
15348. It is all there?
Yes, that is the telegram: “My message, No. 88 cipher. Groups 3I to 43 were correctly sent, but in place of them and of first number of 44 GROUP read as follows, I How many days can you hold out? ’ Also add to end of message, ‘ Whatever happens recollect to burn your cipher and decipher and code bocks and any deciphered messages.’ ” It is a stupid telegram; it is not a telegram that I ought to have sent, but it was sent in the hurry, and I never knew anything about it until I got to England, as no acknowledgment of it was ever received. Sir George White never acknowledged it. He acknowledged No. 88, but when I was given the chance of publishing his acknowledgment, and did so, I was not allowed to complete it by showing that he acknowledged No. 88 only. He said, “Your No. 88 of to-day received ” ; he did not refer to No. 92.
15349. I think that appears in the telegrams?
Yes, but it did not appear in what the War Office gave me to publish.
15350. But it appears new?
Yes, confidentially to you, but it has not appeared in public.
15351. (Viscount Esher.) It is No. 92 which you speak of when you say it is a stupid telegram?
Yes, I followed it by No. 93.
15352. (Chairman.) No. 93 is the one on the next page?
Yes; No. 92 in the way it was published was published rather to give colour to the fact that in No. 88 I had suggested to Sir George White he ought to surrender, and it was published, no doubt, for that reason, but if they had also published No. 93 I do not think it would have been possible for anybody to have given it that meaning.
15353. (Sir George Taubman-Goldie.) Would you explain that?
’My No. 93 was, “ I find I cannot take Colenso, and I cannot stay in force near there as there is no water, but I am leaving there as large a force as I can to help you; but recollect that in this weather my infantry cannot be depended on to march more than ten miles a day. Can you suggest anything for me to do? I think in about three weeks from now I could take Colenso, but I can never get to Onderbrook.” No man would have sent that who had the moment before ordered the man to consider the possibilities of surrender.
I ask too is it common sense to suppose that a General ordering an Officer to surrender would do so covertly by elimination of words from a previous order? No Officer would think of obeying without question such an order so conveyed. That telegram No. 93, as you have it, is not my original telegram; it is one of those which have been altered.
15354. Do you mean that if your second telegram had been published as you sent it, it would have explained No. 88?
Yes, if No. 93 had been published.
15355. And that it would have explained it in such a way -that it would have been clear that you did not mean Sir George White to surrender?
What I mean is that by putting my No. 92 in this paper as a note to No. 88, it is fairer than it was; but what was published before by the War Office was my No. 92 given in extenso, as it was assumed to have altered No. 88, the original telegram in the words in which I sent it not being given.
15356. Of course, we only want to give you an opportunity of making any explanation which you wish, but the question which will always arise is this: what is the meaning of those words: “ After which I suggest your firing away as much ammunition as you can and making the best terms you can ”?
The meaning of those words was this: I was face to face with a man who had a better force theoretically, a more experienced force, and a larger available force to help himself than I had to help him. In his telegrams he had thrown the whole onus of his relief upon me; he could not come out, he could not go large and could only help me in a particular hole, the most difficult place to get to. As I say, the onus of his relief was thrown upon me, and practically he had got into Ladysmith and was directing me, as he did then and afterwards, to bring the whole forces of the Empire to get him out. I am satisfied in my own mind that if I had been in Ladysmith with that force I could have come out any morning or evening that I wished to from Wagon Hill and along the line of the watershed; there is a very interesting watershed there. I happen to know Ladysmith very well myself. In 188I I selected Ladysmith as a defensible position against the Boers, who had at that time no guns; and therefore I knew the country. From Wagon Hill it comes round, you turn at the end of Besters Spruit and come on to the next high hill and then you go down a little at the top of Onderbrook and come out at Groblers on the top of the hill, so that the whole way out of Ladysmith he would have had strong artillery positions to take up and help his attack as he came along. There could have been no difficulty whatever in getting out of Ladysmith provided he could be received at the bottom of the hill, where I hoped to be able to receive him. And that is what I expected to be able to do for him. I did consider that Sir George White was a man who would never give up Ladysmith if he could possibly keep it, but I did not consider that he had much initiative for active fighting, and I thought that the most effective lever I could employ to move him would be the waming that unless he could offer me active assistance he might possibly have to surrender. At any rate I think I may claim that he felt it so, because in his reply to my No. 88 you notice he introduced a subject that I never mentioned. He says, “I cannot cut my way out to you.” It is put in the paper you have given me “ I fear could not cut my way to you.” He brings that in. I do not wish to say anything against Sir George White, but if I have to defend myself I have to tell the truth It will be found later on that when Sir George White came to the conclusion that I should not be able to help him he did then offer to try and cut his way out, but not till then (that was about the 28th of January, as I have mentioned further on), although at that time he had only 7,000 men whom he could put in the field. At the time when I asked him to suggest how he could do something to help me he had over 12,000 men, and he suggested nothing.
15357. Just one question about that suggested movement. Would he not, in the earlier part of his march, have been under a flanking fire from Bulwana?
I thought myself that he could have formed his troops in that large sort of pan after you come through Ladysmith beside Middle Hill, just at the extreme west end of Wagon Hill. He would then have been on the Nek, and then if he had kept round he would have been out of shot practically from Lancers Kop, and I think it would have been a very long range from Bulwana. And he had two Naval guns against the one on Bulwana, and could have, as he did afterwards, put one on the top of Caesar’s Camp, where it remained to the end of the siege.
15358. (Chairman.) But in your telegram of the 1st November, which you quoted a little time ago, you said that you admitted that he could not withdraw from Ladysmith?
At that time; there were only 1,000 men in Natal on that day. I was there with 20,000 men at this time; that is a very great difference. He could not withdraw from Ladysmith alone, but he could have come out of Ladysmith to meet me. And at that time he was hampered with sick and wounded, whereas at this time they were all made neutral in the Intombi Camp.
15359. Still that means that he could have made a movement out with his troops to meet you, but could not have taken either his non-combatants or his stores out?
But his non-combatants would have been perfectly safe; the Boers did not kill the non-combatants, and if he had joined me we should have defeated the Boers the next day. There is an enormous difference between a man withdrawing from a place without any assistance whatever and a man retiring from a difficult position in the field. I wanted him to retire from Ladysmith. I would not have cared what happened to Ladysmith if I got him out. He might have left all his guns behind and it would not have mattered. I did suggest to him the point that he might fire away all his ammunition; that was all part of the original idea. The truth is that I did not want to order him out as long as he said he could not come; but if he had given me the slightest chance—there were at that moment two or three, I think, perhaps risky operations, that I would willingly have undertaken to help him out. But he gave me no chance of helping him out; he met everything with a non-possumus.
15360. Please understand that I am not arguing the point; I am only trying to make clear what you meant?
I also do not want to argue it. I only want to make it quite clear; that was my point, that short of positively ordering him I did everything I could to induce him to do something.
15361. But the movement which you suggested was a movement for his troops which were fit to take the field to join you, but to abandon for a time at any rate the position of Ladysmith, to be occupied by the Boers if they chose to walk into it?
Nothing would have pleased me more than to have got the Boers into Ladysmith. The possession of Ladysmith was of no use to anybody. It was of use to Sir George White to protect himself, but it was of no strategical value as long as there were no troops to bar us. It did not close the passages of the Tugela in any way; it was 16 miles from the Tugela.
15362. I am not going into the question of strategy, but the Boers would then have walked in and taken possession of the place and you would have had to make operations which might not have taken place in Ladysmith itself, but you would have had to make operations afterwards to drive them back?
I had to make those operations in any case in order to get to Sir George White.
15363. But if he had made the movement which you suggested?
If he had made the movement which I suggest he would have helped me to get to him, and that was the very thing he did not seem inclined to do.
15364. But still it would have been capable of being represented as a fall of Ladysmith in the first place?
No, I do not think so. When two forces are in the field and are separated by the enemy, and those two forces succeed, after a battle, in effecting a junction, they most decidedly are not supposed to have contributed to the fall of anything; they have gained a great success.
16365. But still if one of the forces is in a town and has abandoned the town, and that town is occupied by the enemy, you speak of it as an abandonment of that place to the enemy?
A few tin houses—a village; but I deny that if we had met, Ladysmith would have been occupied by the Boers. We should then have been on the hills, and they could not have got in.
15366. (Sir George Taubman-Goldie.) But if Sir George White had been successful in such a movement as you suggested, that would have cleared the Boer trenches at Colenso, and you would have had no difficulty whatever in advancing?
No, certainly not. I should have had 32,000 men to command instead of 20,000, and if I had succeeded in gaining such an enormous success over the Boers there is no doubt whatever in my mind that in a very few days we should have had them out of Natal.
15367. (Viscount Esher.) But, having that very strong opinion, and knowing all the ground, as you did there, you do not seem ever to have directly telegraphed to Sir George White to come out of Ladysmith, as you say he should have done?
I never did because, as I say, I fully intended to do so the moment I was over the Tugela within reach of Ladysmith. If I could have made on the 15th the lodgment that I expected to make in the corner of the river there, I had my telegram absolutely composed in my head in every single detail to send to him. But I have never ordered, except under great stress, any officer under my command to take a military step which he considered beyond his powers.
15368. But then, in this case, you did not ask Sir George White directly, in so many words, “Can you or can you not come out of Ladysmith? ” There is no telegram which shows that; there is only your obscure telegram, if I may say so, which has been so misinterpreted according to you?
I admit the criticism, but I can only say that I should do it again with the same man. He told me he could not come out of Ladysmith ; he told me so definitely from the beginning. The very day I arrived in Natal he met me by a telegram practically to that effect, that he could help me only very little and only when I got close to Ladysmith.
15369. (Sir Frederick Darley.) I see that in his telegram of the 18th December, in answer to yours of the 17th, Sir George White stated distinctly, “ Your messages were previously confident, and I had made preparations to fight towards Onderbrook, and could still do so if you had Colenso ”?
Yes, he could have done so. I thought he could, and I meant to have ordered him to do so. But he had never told me of his preparations.
15370-1. And further on in the same telegram he says, “Meantime I will do all I can to maintain an active defence, and will co-operate with you to the extent of my power if you advance again ”?
Yes, that he was able to' co-operate later, and if I had Colenso— that is the. whole thing. Colenso, as Sir George White and I understood it, was always the north bank of the river, and not the south bank. If I could have got across the river, I am perfectly certain he could have come out. But what I have rather got at the bottom of my mind at the present moment is, that I have been attacked because I told him I should want him on the 17th and did not ask him to fight on the 15th. I gather that he rather made a point of that himself. But that very telegram to which you have called my attention proves that I was right. I had to get to Colenso —the north side of the river—before he could do anything,
15372. You see that telegram is in answer to one of yours of the 17th, in which you say, “I think in about three weeks from now I could take Colenso, but I can never get to Onderbrook,” and he says, “ Your messages were previously confident, and I had made preparations to fight towards Onderbrook, and could still do so if you had Colenso ”?
Yes, I always thought he could. No doubt throughout my mind Colenso was the key of the position. If I could have got across and established myself on the 15th, I have no doubt that I should have had Sir George White out on the 17th—none whatever.
15373. (Viscount Esher.) I suppose you see now that your telegram of the 15th December, which you sent to the Secretary of State, was misunderstood from your point of view. If it had not been, you never would have received the telegram of the 18th of December in reply?
I do not think it was misunderstood. I think it was thoroughly well understood. It was differently interpreted when many months afterwards they received my telegram to Sir George White which they at the time had no knowledge of.
15374. No, but it led directly to the telegram of the 18th December, which was the telegram in which they announced to you the appointment of Lord Roberts?
Did it? That I do not know anything about. That I do not profess to know. But if you read through the telegram of the 17th (I have not got it here in this series) you will see that I got directly what I wanted. I certainly at that time should have been very glad to give up any command for the sake of the Empire to get what I then wanted. Pray do not think I have the slightest grievance at being superseded by Lord Roberts. I had as much as any one man could do in Natal, and more than was enough for me. I have nothing to complain of.
15375. (Chairman.) Have you brought out the points that you wish to bring out now about that telegram?
I have nothing to add.
15376. (Sir John Edge.) Read in any way that it is possible to read your heliogram No. 88 of the 16th of December, could it be read to mean that Sir George White should surrender before the very last moment, before everything was done?
I do not think it could.
15377. I do not think so either?
I do not honestly think it could; I know I wrote it with extreme care; it was not a very easy telegram to write. I did feel at the time that it was of enormous importance to me to get rid of the incubus of Ladysmith, and that if I could have got Sir George White out at any price, at any sacrifice, I should have done so. I did think I was using words that would spur him on to give me some idea of what he could do. He said in his later telegram that he was making arrangements to fight towards Onderbrook, but he had never told me so, and he had full information from me of the force I was coming with and what I was going to do.
15378. But even without your explanation, which I think fully explains why you worded the heliogram in that way, I cannot see how it could be read as a suggestion that he should make any surrender before the very last moment—-until after the last moment?
I am very much obliged to you for saying that. I can truly say that that is my impression also.
15379. (Sir John Jackson.) You referred to a telegram in the print that we have before us, which you say is not a correct rendering of the telegram as you sent it; will you be good enough to read the telegram as sent by you? What is the number in the print of the telegram?
It is No. 28 in the print. As sent by me it was as follows: “ No. 93 Cypher, 17th December.—I find I cannot take Colenso, and I cannot stay in force near it, as there is no water, but I am leaving there as large a force as I can supply with water. I will do anything I can to help you; but recollect that in this weather my Infantry cannot be depended on,” and then the rest is as it is in the print. That is the difference. I may say that at that time I was supplying the force I had at Colenso with water by train from Estcourt, and I had to make all those arrangements for that water supply on this very 16th. I may also mention that although, for some reason of which I am quite unaware, the War Office asked Sir George White for all his correspondence with me, they did not do me the honour of asking me for my correspondence with Sir George White, so that that print is only a one-sided document. I have never had a single question or inquiry of any sort, kind, or description addressed to me by the War Office with regard to my operations in Natal or anything connected with them.
16380. (Sir George Taubman-Goldie.) From the time you came home?
From the time I left England, practically—not one single question has been addressed to me on any one of these matters which have been talked about and spoken about in the House, where statements have been made that were quite untrue, I hope from ignorance, because if they had asked me I could have told them at once that they were untrue.
15381. (Sir John Edge.) Was No. 28 a heliogram or a telegram?
Every one of these is a heliogram.
15382. Then No. 28, which is before us and which purports to give your No. 93, was their reading of the heliogram?
I take it that it is their deciphering. Those errors do happen.
15383. And before it was published it was not corrected by reading your original, which was kept?
No reference has over been made to me for the original document.
15384. May I ask you just one more question? Have you gone through this part of the correspondence that we are referring to, between the 26th of November, 1899, and the 28th February, 1900, and compared it with your own copies?
I have never seen it until this moment.
15385. Then, as a matter of fact, you cannot say whether it correctly represents your copies?
15386. Nor, I suppose, can you say whether it correctly represents heliograms that ever reached you?
No, I cannot.
15387. You cannot say whether the heliograms which are put down here as from Sir George White ever reached you?
No, I cannot.
15388. (Chairman.) I thought you said that they were all repeated?
15389. Yours were repeated to you, and I suppose Sir George White’s were repeated to him?
I am not sure. I rather doubt it; but that would not have been within my knowledge.
15390. When a heliogram is repeated, that is pretty clear evidence, is it not, that it has been received?
It is absolute proof that it has been received. I do not think they were all repeated. I have in original here everything as I received it, or as I deciphered it. I do rather hope (because I feel it is not quite fair to me) that the Commission will take notice of the fact that I have never had a reference of any sort or kind addressed to me for copies of my telegrams, or with regard to any action that I took, or for an explanation of any telegrams that I sent.
15391. If we ask you for them you have no objection to putting in your telegrams for our information?
None whatever, if I can get somebody to copy them.
15392. We can get them copied?
I ought to say that I had scarcely looked at my books of telegrams until a fortnight ago.
15393. Then, if we have finished with that head, the next one is “ Policy projected for Cape Colony.” Is there anything that you want to add with regard to that?
I want to call attention to the second paragraph beginning “ On the 24th December I received a telegram from Lord Roberts.” I should like to read the telegram, because, no doubt Lord Roberts had forgotten that telegram at the time when he gave his evidence, of which you referred a portion to me. In that evidence which you sent to me he said that from the very first, in fact I think he said from 1897, he had always considered that an advance through Kimberley was the proper line to follow. But in this telegram, which was his only instruction to me, he distinctly gave me instructions that he was intending to advance by the central line, according to the original plan of campaign.
15394. Are you referring to his telegram of the 23rd of December?
15395. Which you received on the 24th?
Yes, that is the one.
15396. And what is the point in it on which you rely—it is a long telegram?
It is the first sentence of all. “ So far as I can see at present, the best way I can co-operate with you on my arrival in South Africa will be by carrying out the original plan of campaign, an advance in force through the Orange Free State.” That was his instruction to me, and later on his instructions with regard to Lord Methuen were to the same effect. I only mention the point because it was on that telegram that I based the arrangements I made to have everything ready for his reception; and when on his arrival he complained of the disposition of transport, and so forth, I do not think we could have been blamed at all because the transport was arranged with a view to the plan of campaign which he had given me, and Which was a different plan of campaign from that which he has given you.
15397. What did you interpret “the original plan of campaign” to be?
An advance through Bloemfontein by Bethulie : that was the plan of campaign when I left England. He says here “ An advance in force through the Orange Free State,” and that was the only way he could have got by that railway.
15398. But did you have a distinct plan of campaign presented to you before you left England?
I presented one to the Government, which I understood was accepted, that I was to go through the Orange Free State and march through Bloemfontein. Bloemfontein was taken as an indication of the direction.
15399. That was not consistent with an advance such as that which Lord Roberts made afterwards. Could you not bring it under the original plan of campaign?
No, distinctly not. He advanced by a different line of railway.