COLENSO, Monday, February 26th, 1900. Monte Christo commands Hlangwana Hill; Hlangwana commands the kopjes on the north bank of the Tugela at Colenso. Here is a sort of perfect military syllogism. When the Boers saw that we had captured the first, they were logical enough not to dispute the second and the third. They abandoned them. Hlangwana was certainly worth occupying, because it offered first-rate gun positions. The Colenso kopjes had next to be considered. Were they worth occupying? They offered no useful gun positions, and they lay out of our obvious line of march along the hills. Need they be occupied for our own security? Back to the logic, and see that the Boers thought them untenable. Why, then, fortify them against attack when the Boers thought them not even worth defence? Now for the illogical fact. We occupied them. They lie below the great green-backed monster, Grobler’s Kloof Hill. They are commanded by it. After occupying Hlangwana the army screwed sharp round the northern slopes of it to the west and dropped downwards to the river (which here flows from south to north) and the insignificant kopjes on the other side. It entered a shell-trap. We seemed to be loth to forsake our habit of looking heavenwards for the Boers. On the evening of Monday, February 19th, two companies of the Rifle Composite Battalion, under Major Stuart-Wortley, entered Colenso, and slept there. The next morning they made room for General Hart’s brigade, which sat in the village and was sniped by some Boers fearfully remaining in the kopjes just across the river. Then Thorneycroft’s mounted infantry crossed the river, took the kopjes easily enough, and in the evening Colenso station was puffing with trains once again. All Tuesday and Wednesday the rival armies bandied shells, as it were, backwards and forwards across the river. Our transport was being brought forward and clustered about Hlangwana. Imagine yourself seated on a commanding kopje somewhere on the field of battle on this or on any similar day of desultory fighting, and you are at once the overhearer of the following conversation :— SCENE :—Two or three correspondents, some signalmen with heliographs and flags, and some officers and men, whose battalion is posted in reserve near by, are watching the fighting from the commanding kopje. The Boers are distributing shells impartially amongst our amply conspicuous battalions and transport. The shells whizz overhead. The men sit behind rocks, but keep rearing themselves up to get a better view. Our guns incessantly bombard hills where the enemy is invisible. A correspondent climbs to the top of the kopje and sits on the sky-line sketching the position. He lights a cigarette, not without conscious effrontery. An Officer. I don’t believe there are any Boers there. Another Officer. I don’t either. Wish they’d let us go forward. I’m sick of this sitting about. 1st Private Soldier. Here’s one coming! (A shell sings overhead. The men all duck behind rocks. The shell had passed already, but no matter. These men would walk through the smoke of a bursting shell in an attack without blinking. But a shell in unprofessional moments is another matter. Still, they mind shells so little that you wonder why they invariably duck their heads. Three men walking on road behind kopje fall flat. The shell has already burst near a mule train four hundred yards away. The sound sings on as though the shell were still in the air. All the men behind the rocks bob up, and the three men on the road pick themselves up, roaring with laughter.) All. There it is! (Every one looks where the shell has burst). 2nd Private Soldier. They can’t shoot for nuts! 1st P.S. Can’t they! That’s all! You should jest ’ave seen------ 3rd P.S. (with superior knowledge). But they aren’t Boers what’s firing. They’re Frenchmen and Germans. 2nd P.S. And Irish. You might say we ain’t fighting the Boers at all. We’re fighting the ’ole world. (A salvo is fired from our howitzers I) 1st P.S. My word! Ain’t we giving ’em socks up there! I should think they’re getting pretty well fed up with them things. Several Voices. ’Ere’s another! (A shell sings overhead and plumps down among some waggons. Nearly all the men stand up to see what has happened?) Officer. Keep your heads down there! 1st P.S. Do you think they’ll give us a bit ’ere? 2nd P.S. You wait! 3rd P.S. We must ’ave silenced most of their guns by now. 2nd P.S. We’ve blown two of ’em right up in the air to-day. 3rd P.S. Ah! Perhaps they won’t be able to fire any more soon. 1st P.S. The Boers is getting more dis’eartened every day. There’s ’undreds deserting and going to their ’omes. Why, they’ve got nothing to eat, only mealies and little bits of dried-up beef! 3rd P.S. ’Ow do you know? 1st P.S. I read it in the papers. An Officer. Keep down there! (The sound of a Boer shell enforces the command.) A Colonial Waggon-driver. I always said they were cowards—the Boers. You see—one beating and they’ll all clear. They can’t stand up. Why don’t they come out and fight? They daren’t come into the open. A Correspondent. They seem to manage it pretty well as it is. The Colonial. I’ve lived here ten years and I know the Boers, and I tell you they’re cowards. Corespondent. All right! (Our bombardment grows in strength.) 1st P.S. They must ’ave lost terrible ’eavy to-day. 2nd P.S. You bet they ’ave. They say the effects of lyddite is ’orrible. An Officer. Why the deuce do the gunners keep on firing at the side of that hill? You can see there isn’t anybody there. Another Officer. They like firing at South Africa. (A party of infantry reconnoitres tip to base of hills at which gunners are firing. Sound oj musketry pops out. It swells to a heavy rattle. Reconnoitrers are seen falling back under hot fire. Night falls.) I imagine that Sir Redvers Buller’s reason for leaving the hills, turning west, and crossing the river near Colenso was that he thought it would be more difficult to bridge the river elsewhere. On the afternoon of Wednesday, February 21st, the pontoons were floated on the river, swung nose to stream, jerked and strained at their moorings, and were stationary at regular intervals like a line of deployed infantry. The planks were laid across and the infantry began to walk over. The Somersets and Middlesex—of General Talbot Coke’s brigade—and the Lancaster Regiment were the first over. Once again we had crossed the Tugela. Already it was evening. The battalions marched up to the slopes of Grobler’s Kloof Hill, partly to reconnoitre, partly to attract the enemy’s attention while the rest of the army filled the low land about the river. They did not advance far, but the bullets spat among them. Some field guns were hurried across the bridge; the limbers seemed to fall in halves, the horses drew back, and in a moment there were six guns squatting in a row and pointing their noses up in the air. Shrapnel spattered among the bushes which cling to the side of Grobler’s. The Boers must have been there, but we could see no one. When dark came the Somersets alone had lost nearly a hundred men. A pretty rear-guard action on the part of the Boers certainly! Thursday was the ninth day of the fighting and the first serious day in the shell-trap. Two naval guns and a battery of howitzers were placed on a neck which joined the two kopjes just across the pontoon bridge. A howitzer fired and waited. The answer came. A shell buzzed down somewhere from the skies, and a geyser shot up in front of the battery. All our guns leaped to the rescue and fumed back. It was a comprehensive bombardment when we prepared to attack the kopjes on our front which were not yet ours and probed the recesses of Grobler’s on our left flank. It is said that we silenced some Boer guns. That means that the Boer gunners walked away from their guns for a time when the ground began to rock under their feet; but the guns were not hurt, and their tongues were loosed again soon enough. At 1.30 p.m. the infantry stirred on their kopjes, stood up, twinkled into formations, and faced their front. Lines drew across the kopjes, and edged more and more across till they were perfectly deployed. Then they started over a broken sea of country. It was like all advances of British infantry, steady and unquestioning. I remember one deep trough in this frozen sea, where the shells fell again and again. The road lay through it, and guns and ammunition trains must all pass that way. The shells seemed to come regularly, and you could almost calculate where the moving column would be punctuated with death. Once an officer riding a horse was on the spot when the shell came. The ground sprang up round him. It was shrapnel this time. He had been cantering. Now he stopped, soothed his horse in the dust, and then no longer cantered but walked with measured dignity, for his men marched behind him. The South Lancashires were in the firing line, then came the Lancasters, the 3rd 60th Rifles, and the Rifle Composite Battalion; and Coke’s and Hildyard’s brigades—indeed all the infantry, were couched in readiness behind, straining to be forward. On pitched the skirmishing lines up and down over the rugged sea of kopjes, now hidden in troughs now rising on crests. It was useless to count the waves. The last one reached was a long green-back, a mile long, which rolled and tumbled in smaller fragments up to the base of the high hills. The infantry lay down on the back of this hill, and you would have said that they had perfect cover; holding parties had been shed on the kopjes along all the line of the advance. The Boers wait till you think it is all over and then they begin. Some of their riflemen must have crept round the west shoulder of the long-backed kopje on the back of which our men were lying, for the bullet-driven dust jumped about them where they lay. The men could not lie flat enough to the hill. They laid their heads behind insignificant stones. What an irony in this rock-strewn country! Where was the fire coming from? Most of it probably from the high slopes of Grobler’s, which now lay all along our left flank; and accordingly the fifteen-pounders drubbed and flayed the bushes with shrapnel. On all the kopjes we were losing men. The East Surreys were ordered forward to reinforce the 6oth Rifles, and they helped them with such spirit to maintain the passive strife—the business, you might say, of using the flesh of men to resist the bullets of the enemy—that they were praised afterwards by the general and thanked by the 60th Rifles. In the night the Boers moved their guns about near the clouds, and on Friday, February 23rd the shell-trap was complete. The missiles sang down from their eyries with the note of swans flying high overhead at night. The pastoral gunners fired with notable accuracy and impartiality. Not a kopje but had its infantry, bivouacked in square patches, as is the way of British infantry, and not a kopje but got its shell. Now one came squarely into a patch, and—miracle of miracles!—no harm was done; or perhaps in a similar case the doctor ran to the smoke and called up the hill to where the officers sat that two men had their legs off. Once a single shrapnel killed eight men. Another shell fell among some officers at tea, and when the confusion drifted away only a coat lay on the ground gored and worried as by a wild animal. Other shells were fired at the pontoon bridge, others skimmed over a kopje where guns were and fell in the hospital camp. Two tents were hit, and the hospital was put further back. Sometimes shrapnel fell among loose horses, and the animals started back at this strange snake in the grass, but seeing nothing more went on feeding peacefully. Then came another shrapnel, and a horse lay kicking on the ground and two others limped off head to knee as though they were knee-haltered. Animals are a vital and necessary place in which to wound your enemy; but— heavens!—it is horrible. The Colenso kopjes gave a curiously faithful notion of Boer habits of defence. The south sides of them had belonged to the shells of our naval guns; the north sides had belonged to the Boers. The Boers had built themselves rabbit warrens in which they might live serenely. While the south side, had smoked with countless bombardments the Boers had smoked on the other side in their bomb-proof dens. I found a cavern in which was an iron bedstead. The kopjes were littered with the remains of slaughtered animals and nauseous filth. But the Boers had not lived badly either. The stories about mealie pap and little of that to eat were the merest nonsense, told by the flattering tongues of prisoners and Kaffirs. Here were sardines, tinned meats, dried fruits, ham, potatoes, onions. A letter was found from a field-cornet, desiring that another field-cornet should use his influence to see that the first field-cornet’s commando should have a share of the fresh mutton which had just come into the laager, as the whole commando earnestly wished for a change from the long monotony of fresh beef. There was a profusion of letters on the ground. In scarcely one was there anything but indirect mention of the war. Say you picked one up at random in a little schantz where the earth was worn smooth and concave by the body of the man who had lain there day in day out—a man who had probably tempered his boredom by reading this same letter hundreds of times. Jan writes to Stoffel : “Dear Brother,—God has been pleased to spare me. I hope it is also well with you. I have news from our home. The farm is well, and the corn is becoming good, and the Kaffirs are working as well as can be expected, but Klaas needs flogging. We have had much rain here. Christian and Jacobus hope you continue to be well. May God spare you till we meet, brother.—Your affectionate Jan.” Some women’s clothes were lying about the place. But with it all the impression that prevailed on one’s mind was that of filth. Here was a camp belonging to a nation of strong stomachs. On Friday, February 23rd, the shelling and the sniping had no cessation. It was the tenth consecutive day of fighting. Each new day of fighting the sense of weariness grew in geometrical progression. The sense on my part was merely vicarious. The infantry were now lying out at nights without even their greatcoats. And all Thursday night the musketry had continued, sometimes just popping, sometimes swelling to a cataract of sound. The relentlessness of the thing struck into one’s soul as something horrible. What was this swaying tumult, lasting all through a black night in which none could see his hand in front of him? Probably blind firing, prompted by the suspicion of one man and nervously courted and acted on by others, till miles of trenches were set flashing at nothing. It was 1.30 p.m. on Friday when the infantry swung out to a new attack. Hart’s brigade was off along the river and the railway. Railway Hill on our right front was to be attacked—a sort of twin hill with a neck joining the two humps. On the humps were conspicuous trenches, but there were trenches on the neck too. It was a high hill, higher than anything we were holding; it was quite one of the Boer ramparts—a strategical hill that lay between us and Ladysmith. Now for it. It was a bad-looking business, but we must have that hill. The infantry moved under the bank of the river, then they came to a place where they must climb up the bank and cross a railway bridge over a spruit which is a tributary of the Tugela. A Boer “pom-pom” was trained on the bridge. The thin brown line of bent, hurrying figures unreeled itself across the span. The bridge was hard to hit and the scattering shells splashed in the river beyond. A few burst on the water and flirted the spray about. It was a pretty and harmless entertainment. Soon the infantry deployed and moved across an open piece of land. The foot of Railway Hill was reached. A party was formed to storm the hill. There were the Inniskilling Fusiliers, four companies of the Dublins, and four companies of the Connaughts. And now it was evening. You know those clear, rare evenings when there is a wonderful light along the lower skies—a light clearer than the broadest sunlight, although dusk already comes upon you. It was one of those evenings. Every tooth in the jagged stone trenches on Railway Hill showed black and hard and clearly cut against the sky. Field guns and naval guns on the northernmost of the long, trailing spurs of Hlangwana were flinging shrapnel and lyddite at these trenches. Sometimes three shells struck at once, and a mixture of trench and shell and earth, and perhaps of men, would fly up in black fragments against the sky. The Boers stood in their deep trenches—for some they were perpendicular coffins—and peeped over at the attackers. The Inniskillings advanced; it was time for the Boers to fire; it was now or never, shells or no shells. The Boers drew themselves up in the trenches, their heads bobbed against the sky. They watched the flashes on the Hlangwana spur and ducked to the shells. Still the Inniskillings, the Dublins, and the Connaughts came on. And now followed the most frantic battle-piece that I have ever seen. Night soon snatched it away, but for the time it lasted it was a frenzy, a nightmare. Boer heads and elbows shot up and down, up and down; the defenders were aiming, firing, and ducking; and all the trenches danced madly against the sky. The first few thin lines of the Inniskillings sank down like cut grass. Their places refilled; still the attackers came on. Two or three Boers stood up on the trenches; and now all forgot to duck. Some one in the trenches appeared to be handing up loaded rifles. Still the attackers hurried on and fell or staggered forward over the stony ground, and the dusk received them on the brown hillside long before the trenches on the sky were blotted out. The attackers reached what they had believed was the highest point, and behold there was another point—the real crest— four hundred yards further. There always is. Thus men learn geography in South Africa with their lives. It was impossible to reach the top. The attackers sullenly retired some way down the hill and built themselves a stonework. There they stayed till the morning and made another attack—useless! The most damaging fire had for a long time been coming from the flanks. This might be swamped by reinforcements. But where were the reinforcements? The party on the hill were expecting two and a half battalions. It was seven o’clock in the morning now and not a sign of them coming. What was to be done? The colonel of the Inniskillings—Colonel Thackray, who had argued with some Boers at the battle of Colenso when they proclaimed him a prisoner, and ingeniously convinced them that they were making a mistake—was dead. Both his majors were dead. A captain commanded the regiment. What was to be done? It was decided to retire, and that none too soon. The exultant and pressing enemy opened a heavier cross-fire than ever, and harried the retirement home to its last step. Lieut.-Colonel Sitwell, of the Dublins, was one of the last officers to start down the hill; he was trying to make the retirement even steadier than it was. He was as deliberate now as ever; and when a bullet (one of several that touched him) hit him fatally, it found him a ready sacrifice to a refinement of military appearances. The night before, General Hart had said that the manner of Sitwell’s advance with two companies of the Dublins had given a fillip to the whole attack. Thus died one of the two (I think) survivors from that handful of officers who went through the four years’ fighting of the Uganda rising. General Hart did not renew the attack that day, but some of the Durhams were sent up to reoccupy the stonework made during Friday night. They could live there with precautions, and that was all. They shared their shelter with dead and dying men. Further up the hill the bodies lay thicker. The bullets kept up an assiduous traffic above them. All day I 'sat on a high rocky place above a cascade of the Tugela, and looked down on to the foot of Railway Hill, which begins to rise immediately across the river. In the river above the cascade was a platform of black and dripping rocks, half exposed, and the cascade seemed like the receding of the tide from a rocky coast. Above the rocks was a slight foot-bridge built by the Boers, and our men passed to and fro on it all day. They did not pass unconsidered; I could see the bullets snatching up the water. I could see the bodies lying on Railway Hill. Some lay under the soldier’s strip of yellow waterproof sheet, just as they had been left by the comrades who would risk more than a Boer flanking fire to linger behind and perform a cherished act of sentiment. At least once I plainly saw a man move up there; he was trying to crawl down the hill under that dangerously low roof of bullets. And one man actually did urge himself with hands and feet down the hill on his back, but it took him from morning to night to do it. Others lay quite still all day, and yet there was life in many of those yellow limp heaps, and I wondered which were dead men and which alive. Was it impossible to help them? Let a man just show himself and he was not disposed to argue at that moment about the accuracy of Boer fire. Why, even our artillery could not afford to let the hill alone that day, but must beat down the fire with shells, and when the shelling ceased, the musketry flared up again, as flames do when the beaters cease their work. In the morning the wounded lay in the heat, and in the afternoon—which was perhaps better —in the rain. It was real South African rain, threshing off the whole top skin of the country; and when it had lasted half an hour the land was changed as a negative is developed under the chemicals; unsuspected roads gleamed on the brown hills where nothing had been before, and tracks and fibres were discovered and displayed as clearly as in ice which has begun to thaw. Wounded men, dripping bundles, were being carried to hospitals at the rear; the bearers themselves were small cascades of water. “Which is the way to the Sixth Brigade?” “I don’t know; but it’s somewhere back there, about two miles.” And so on and on for two miles the reeling, lopsided bearers sustaining the weight, went over the shiny mud. The rain had ceased before I got back to my camp; men who had hugged to themselves chips of dry wood were lighting their evening fires, and on all the kopjes began to sit under quiet panoplies of blue smoke. It was a cool, still night, and the stars were out; but the rain had not washed away the memory of that hill as 1 saw it between two fires. A charming fellow sat outside my tent and sang cheery snatches on a banjo, which made one of the most violent assaults on my feelings that I can call to mind. That was the end of the eleventh consecutive day of fighting. Nearly all Sunday there was an armistice. Sixty bodies were buried on Railway Hill. British soldiers and Boers came out of their trenches and talked amiably together—a proceeding which seems natural enough when you have conquered the vulgar superstition that soldiers and politicians are at deadly enmity as private persons. The exultant enemy was inclined indulgently to admit that, on the whole, he had had a rough time. But General Lyttelton was far too humorous to accept the indulgence. “A rough time?” said he, to two Boers. “Yes —I suppose so. But for us, of course, it is nothing. We are used to it, and we are well paid for it. This is what we are paid for. This is the life we lead always—you understand.” “Great God!” said the listening Boers. “Why not?” went on the General. “This is our life whether we are at Aldershot, or in India, or wherever we are. We are just beginning to settle down to this campaign.” It was a general who spoke. The Boers stared at him. “Great God!” they said again, reduced to simplicity. I met a highly intelligent Englishman on this day of armistice who farms a large piece of country in the Transvaal. He turned away with a sigh after talking to some Boer elders. “It is delightful,” said he, “to chat with these people again after the stupidity of an English camp.” “You like the Boers, then?” I asked. “I miss their little jokes,” he said; “they are never without their little jokes.” “You are anxious to be back?” “Rather!” “Then you didn’t approve of this war?” “I was pining for it for years.” “But why?” “Because it was not possible to live any longer with the Boers as things were.” Apparently we have to adjust a racial relationship of an unduly fantastical character. On Railway Hill the officers had bloodshot eyes and voices that trailed with weariness. I understood that we had knocked our heads against a hard wall; the officers did not disguise their belief in its hardness; with the same trailing voices they told me how some of the wounded had lain thirty-six hours on Railway Hill. I said to myself, If the Boers were fighting a rear-guard action after Monte Christo they have now been encouraged to bring their whole force back. They are on the old hills again—merely a little further east—and we stand in the old relationship to them.” And in that moment I fell into a chasm of despair. I did not know then that it had been decided to leave the shell-trap and get back on to the hills that strike into the west from Monte Christo. Nor did I understand even then the indomitable qualities, the instant power of renewing their spirits with each new plan, possessed by British infantry. Now I know the truth—that when our soldiers have failed, and failed, and failed again they are not further from success than they were at the beginning.