Chieveley Camp, December 13, 1899
AT length the real forward movement for the relief of Ladysmith has commenced. General Sir Redvers Buller, V.C., commands in person. He is leading a force of 22,000 men, or thereabouts, to the help of Sir George White and those shut up with him. General Buller, by means of the electric searchlight signals, duly notified the Ladysmith garrison a few days ago that the advance and attack would be begun by a heavy bombardment of the Boer works erected upon the north of the Tugela. Yesterday (Tuesday), at daybreak, Major-General Barton's Union Fusilier Brigade occupied Chieveley —or, rather, the low ridges north of that railway-siding village. Barton's 6th Brigade includes the Royal Fusiliers, Scottish Fusiliers, Royal Welsh Fusiliers, and the Irish Fusiliers. They quitted Frere before dawn and marched out eight miles to the new spot selected for encampment. Silently, in the dark, they got just so much nearer to Colenso and Ladysmith. With them proceeded a force of Colonial Cavalry, about iooo strong, three field batteries, and a number of naval guns—12-pounders—and two 4.7 cannon under Captain Jones, of Her Majesty's ship Forte. It was confidently expected that the enemy would hasten to resist any attempt of our troops to settle down at Chieveley. Their big guns had previously shelled our reconnoitring cavalry at ranges much south of the place fixed upon for the new encampment General Buller rode out very early and joined the advance column under Major-General Barton. To the surprise of many and the chagrin of some the Boers made no sign, and in no wise interfered with the operations of our troops. Without molestation from their cannon or rifles, the soldiers pitched their tents and the gunners posted their batteries, protecting them by temporary earthworks. The tents were raised behind a long low ridge, which screened the camp to some extent from the eyes of the enemy, looking down from Grobler's Kloof and the other ranges bordering the northern side of the Tugela, west of Colenso.
For a score of miles to east and west of Colenso the Boers have established posts and raised defences of various kinds—stone walls, trenches, and little emplacements for cannon. They watched us from valley and hilltop, but not a shot or shell did they vouchsafe to interfere with the purpose of the General, but left us severely alone. Doubtless their wish was to keep secret the exact location of their rows of terraced trenches and batteries until our troops advanced to storm the ridges. Nay, they had even left the Tugela road bridge apparently intact, inviting our use of the structure, though they had blown up the railway girder bridge to the east of it. The bombardment of the Tugela heights was to have been begun at 9 a.m. at latest; but, the Boers showing no disposition to engage, it was found best to let well alone, and get things put to rights before beginning our cannonade. To test the strength of their determination to keep quiet until we attacked, cavalry and infantry were sent into the open, the troopers going down almost to the river bank. But these tactics failed to induce the wily Boers to disclose their strength and plan. The column, therefore, continued to make its position as secure as possible before beginning the bombardment of the enemy with lyddite and shrapnel. In the forenoon General Buller rode back to Frere, and the opening of the bombardment was postponed, provided circumstances did not rule otherwise, until this morning. Last night more troops, cavalry, guns, and infantry marched forward from Frere, some to join Barton's column, others to make a reconnaissance and demonstration to the westward, to Potgeiter s Drift, near Springfield. The Boers are to be kept, if possible, on tenter-hooks, running hither and thither to defend the river drifts for a day or so, until we are ready to break through and seize the north banks of the Tugela. With flash of flame, deep roar and thud, as the outburst of a volcano, at 6.40 this morning the big naval guns, the long 47-pounders, began the bombardment Lyddite shell after shell was sent hurtling among the enemy's works, causing those lying hidden, who escaped uninjured from the violent explosions, to bob out like rabbits from their holes and scamper rearward. For all their cunning, we had found out exactly where their guns and trenches were, just as we also knew that the roadway bridge was undermined with dynamite and connected by electric wires ready to be blown into the air if our troops had been foolish enough to attempt to pass across before we cut the connecting wires. The 12-pounders manned by the bluejackets soon joined in the attack, and the Boers could be seen gathering upon the ridges, beyond range of shell-fire, watching the effect of our cannonading. General Buller remained in Frere Camp, busily completing his arrangements for the change of camps, which takes place to-night The General and Staff leave probably for Springfield at 4 a.m. As for the remainder of the guns and the Regular Cavalry—the "Royals" (ist Dragoons) and the 13th Hussars—they set out this afternoon from Frere to assist in the impending turning movement. The country beyond the Tugelas is "open going," via Acton Homes, straight into Ladysmith. It is hoped that they will be able to effect a junction with Sir George White, and operate upon the flank and rear of the Free State Boers, cutting off their line of retreat to Van Reenan's and the passes through the " Berg" south of Harrismith.
It was found that, great as is the range of the naval 4.7 gun, the enemy standing upon Grobler's Kloof could not be reached, even at ranges over that for which the weapon is sighted. A party of thirty or forty Boers, to the east of Colenso, who took shelter under the Tugela bank, dashed out and galloped away uphill when a shell burst in the river-bed near them. At 10.15 a.m. the order was given to cease firing, and the bombardment was concluded for the day. Shortly thereafter small groups of Boers ventured down from their eeries to see what damage the shells had done, and to assist wounded friends. One of the trenches was partially destroyed, a Boer gun was knocked over, and a tent was blown into rags by our fire. During the time the action was proceeding at Chieveley, there was the echo of the bombardment going on at Ladysmith. To-day most of the firing seemed to be done by our own people, who had brisked up greatly since the arrival of General Buller and the promise of speedy relief. As late as the night of the 10th, 500 of the 60th (the K.R.R.), under Lieut.-Colonel Metcalfe, made a night attack upon one of the Boer positions. The Rifles succeeded in getting hold of a 47-pounder howitzer, which has a great range, and breaking it up with dynamite, Lieutenant Digby Jones, R.E., superintending that part of the achievement The enemy tried to cut off the retreat of the Rifles, but, using their bayonets, they broke a way through. Our losses were one officer and ten men killed, and about forty wounded. It is stated that the Boers lost much more heavily in both attacks.