Print

Upon arrival at Fort Edward on Sunday morning, we learned that a convoy had arrived the previous day from Pietersburg, in charge of Lieutenant Neel--just in time to assist Captain Taylor and the few men who had been left in driving back a strong force of Boers who had come up close to the fort. There had been some sharp fighting, one Carbineer had been wounded, and several horses shot. It was here that Captain Taylor shot a Kaffir for refusing to give him information regarding the movements of the Boers, for which act later on he was tried and acquitted.

Lieutenant Neel remained at the fort for some days, and upon his return to Pietersburg was accompanied by Lieutenant Picton, who reported to the commanding officer and also to the commandant the whole of the facts regarding the shooting of Visser. No action was taken, not even a notice or message was sent intimating that such practices were to be discontinued. This tended to convince me that the orders and the interpretation of the orders regarding prisoners as transmitted to me by Lieutenant Morant were authentic, and that such proceedings were not only permitted, but were approved of by the headquarters authorities.

After our return to the fort, it was decided to send a small detachment of the Carbineers to occupy and work round Reuter's Mission Station. I asked Lieutenant Morant to send me in charge, but he ultimately sent Lieutenant Hannam, as he said I was not sufficiently acquainted with the district. He added that in a month he would recall Hannam and send me in his place.

Lieutenant Hannam captured a large number of prisoners and sent them in to Fort Edward. I can explain here how those infamous rumours gained currency as to the shooting of children by the Carbineers. A patrol of Lieutenant Hannam's men were out making a reconnaissance, when they suddenly came upon a Boer laager and opened fire. They heard women and children screathing, and ceased firing. Upon taking the laager they found that a child had been shot and two little girls slightly wounded,

I afterwards escorted these prisoners to Pietersburg, and in conversation with the parents of the children they told me that they in no way reproached Lieutenant Hannam or his men for what had happened; they were themselves to blame for running away from their waggons when called upon to surrender. This is the only foundation for the wicked reports as to the wholesale shooting of women and children by the Carbineers.

The day following Lieutenant Hannam's departure to the Mission Station, which was the 22nd August, a report reached Fort Edward that eight prisoners were being brought in. On the following morning Lieutenant Morant came to me and requested me to accompany him on patrol.

A patrol subsequently set out, consisting of Lieutenants Morant, Handcock, and myself, Sergeant-Major Hammett (who had gone out with me to the Spelonken), and two troopers. We first called at the office of Captain Taylor. Morant dismounted and had a private interview with that officer; I was not informed as to the nature of it. I was not then on intimate terms with Lieutenant Morant; I had only met him for the first time a fortnight previously as my superior officer, and had recognised him as such, and during that fortnight I had been frequently away from the fort.

We went on, and Morant said that it was his intention to have the prisoners shot. Both myself and Sergeant-Major Hammett asked Morant if he was sure he was doing right. He replied that he was quite justified in shooting the Boers; he had his orders, and he would rely upon us to obey him. I also afterwards remonstrated with him for having the prisoners brought in and shot so close to the fort, but he said it was a matter of indifference where they were shot.

We met the patrol with the prisoners about six miles out. Mo-rant at once took charge, and instructed the escort to go on ahead as advance guard. The prisoners were ordered to inspan and trek on to the fort. I rode on in front of the waggon, and I did not see any civilian speak to the prisoners as we were passing the mission hospital. When we had trekked on about three miles Morant stopped the waggon, called the men off the road, and questioned them. Upon his asking, "Have you any more information to give?" they were shot. One of them, a big, powerful Dutchman, made a rush at me and seized the end of my rifle, with the intention of taking it and shooting me, but I simplified matters by pulling the trigger and shooting him. I never had any qualms of conscience for having done so, as he was recognised by Le-deboer, the intelligence agent, as a most notorious scoundrel who had previously threatened to shoot him, and was the head of a band of marauders. By just escaping death in this tragedy I was afterwards sentenced to suffer death.

I went on with the men, and we took with us the waggon and belongings, which we handed over to Captain Taylor. I then went on to the fort. Morant and Handcock remained behind to make arrangements for the burial of the bodies. About an hour afterwards Morant came in; a few minutes later he noticed a hooded buggy drawn by a pair of mules coming along the road at the foot of the fort, and going in the direction of Pietersburg. He immediately jumped on a horse, and rode down to see who it was, as no one was allowed to travel about the country without first getting permission to do so. When he returned he informed me that it was a missionary from Potgeiter's Rust returning home, and that he held a pass signed by Captain Taylor. Morant said that he had advised the missionary to wait until a convoy returned to Pietersburg, but he decided that he would go on alone. Morant then went away to see Captain Taylor. In the meantime Lieutenant Hand-cock returned, had his breakfast, and also went away again.

I have no idea of their subsequent movements, for being tired out I went to my bungalow, and slept until lunch time. I lunched alone, which was not unusual, but Morant and Handcock returned in the evening for dinner. During this repast the guard reported that rockets were being sent up in the direction of Bristow's farm, about one mile away. Morant took them for distress signals, and ordered the troops to stand to arms. Within twenty minutes a patrol of forty mounted men had the farm-house surrounded, but, much to the chagrin of Morant, it was found that the "signals" were a few rockets that had been thoughtlessly let off to amuse the children at the farm.

Nearly a week later, I, with Lieutenant Morant, was at Captain Taylor's office, when a neighbour came in and said there was a rumour abroad that a missionary had been killed on the road at Bandolier Kopjes, about 15 miles from Fort Edward, the most dangerous spot on the road to Pietersburg. I at once volunteered to take out a patrol and investigate. I was not permitted to go as far as Bandolier Kopjes, but was sent with half a dozen men to a farm-house five miles out to get what information I could, and was given orders by Lieutenant Morant not to go any further. Upon arrival at the farm I could glean nothing. I had all the natives brought up and questioned, but they did not know anything. I then went along the road to several kraals, but could get no news; I met a native post-boy with the mails from Pietersburg, and questioned him, but he knew nothing and had seen nothing along the road.

I then returned to the Fort, and on the way back met Taylor and Morant. I informed them of my inability to get any further information, and expressed to them my opinion that it was only a Kaffir yarn.

Two days later, however, Lieutenant Handcock was sent out to Bandolier Kopjes with a strong patrol to make a further search, and discovered the body of the missionary, his buggy, and his mules, some distance off the road. There was every indication that he had met his death by foul play. He had been shot in the breast, probably whilst sitting in his buggy; the mules, taking fright, had galloped off the road, throwing the missionary out as they travelled along. The buggy was found jammed between some trees and a telegraph post, with the pole broken. The mules had freed themselves, and were feeding about harnessed together. Lieutenant Handcock made arrangements for the burial of the missionary, and returned to the Fort, taking the mules with him.

Much of my work while at Fort Edward consisted of escorting convoys with prisoners and refugees, who were being sent into the concentration camps at Pietersburg. I took them half way, and then handed them over to a patrol sent out from Pietersburg. During these trips I came in contact with many of the "Boers of the Veldt," or the Dopper class. I would often take a cup of coffee with them, and as many of them could speak a little English, they would pour out all their troubles to me. The women folk were eager to learn all about the refugee camp, asking would they be provided with food and clothing, and would the "Englisher" "give them schoens for the kinder?" This is the class of people that predominates in South Africa, and in my opinion there must be generations of purging, educating, and civilising before they will be capable of taking part in national life. They appear habitually to shun water, and never undress; as they go to bed, so they get up again—dirty, untidy, and unwashed.

On one of these trips I became acquainted with a Dutchman who was employed by us as a transport rider. He had been fighting for his country at the outbreak of the war, but, tiring of it, had surrendered, and was afterwards employed by the Army Service Corps. In recounting his experience, he said that when he was first called out on commando he thought the war would only last a couple of months, as they would soon drive every Englishman out of the country. When leaving home he had promised his children that when he returned he would take them back a "little Englisher," which they could keep in a box, and feed on mealies and oats.

After the first great reverses, this man and many more would have surrendered but for the lying statements made to them by their predikants and commandants, who would harangue them from a trek waggon with statements that thousands of English had been repulsed and driven into the sea; that foreign powers had sent assistance and had already landed; that the Boers' homes had been desolated, and that their wives and daughters in the refugee camps were being outraged, and distributed amongst the soldiers with their daily issue of rations. The effect of these speeches was to make the men fight on more doggedly and bitterly than ever, and it is not wonderful that the rules and customs of civilised war were sometimes departed from.

The same man also told me that Kruger owed him £500 for the time he had been fighting with the Boers, and for the use of his waggon and oxen, and he asked me if I thought the English Government would pay him this amount.

Much has been said and written regarding the concentration camps and their management. I was in personal contact with some of the people who went into them, and I am certain that these, at least, were never as well off before as when there. It was stated that unsanitary conditions existed, and I can sympathise with the people who tried to make those conditions better. The task would be, I think, an impossible one, as most of the camp inmates had lived all their lives without even knowing what sanitation or cleanliness meant. Perhaps the mortality amongst children was greater in the camps than on the farms, especially if an epidemic of measles or diphtheria occurred, as the children mixed more with each other, and it would be difficult to isolate all cases; or perhaps there were more opportunities for a death to excite attention than there would be on a farm far out on the veldt. The majority of the inmates looked upon camp-life as a picnic. A few who had lived a sort of gipsy life previously were discontented, and anxious to start roving again; otherwise there was no cause for complaint.

Parent Category: Books
Category: Witton: Scapegoats of the Empire
Hits: 123