Colonel Count Villebois-Mareuil—Birth and Career—Joins the Transvaal army—His services and death at Boshof—How the Boer armies were served by two Frenchmen—Satisfaction for Fashoda
The number of foreign volunteers who rendered service to the Boer armies, and the military value of such aid, have been greatly exaggerated in the English press. The purpose of this exaggeration was obvious from the beginning. British pride and prestige were hurt at the ludicrous failure of the boastful predictions about only a two months' campaign being required to dictate England's terms to President Kruger at Pretoria. Then it was seen that the astounding reverses experienced by superior British forces in the early stages of the campaign offered unmitigated satisfaction almost to every nation, in the same way that a good licking received by a big bully at the hands of a small antagonist delights every right-thinking onlooker. All this made the Jingo papers utilize the resources of fiction to explain these defeats, as they had already resorted to falsehoods in order to provoke the war. " We are not fighting the Boers, but all Europe," was the modest view of some Government organs, while others declared that " hundreds" of Continental officers and artillery experts had gone to South Africa before the outbreak of hostilities to prepare the Transvaal forces for the conflict against Great Britain.
I made a special study of the foreign volunteer element while in the Transvaal and Orange Free State, and I can, therefore, speak with first-hand information upon one of the most interesting phases of the war. I have already dealt generally with the disputed point as to the number of men of Uitlander and foreign extraction who volunteered to fight for the Republics, and I will attempt in this and the following chapter to give a brief account of each corps, together with some particulars of the actual services rendered by them in the field.
The most prominent, and by far the ablest, European officer who fought with the Federals was Colonel Count Villebois-Mareuil, whom I had the honor of meeting shortly after my arrival at Kroonstad. I found him to be a man of fifty or thereabouts, of medium height, strongly built, with a strangely fascinating face. The forehead was high, the eyes light blue, deep-set and penetrating in their glance, and overhung by finely-marked eyebrows; the nose was well formed, with large nostrils, and the mouth was almost concealed by a prominent, whitish mustache extending across the face; all combining to impart a handsome and distinged expression to a most magnetic personality. There was the impress of a nobility conferred by nature upon the man and his manner which did more than his rank or record to win for him on the instant an observer's favorable judgment. In demeanor and speech he possessed all the charm of a chivalrous soldier without the least suspicion of any motive, except of the highest purpose, animating his unselfish devotion to the cause which he had espoused. He spoke with the greatest contempt of England's objects in provoking the war, and considered that British officers had shown an astounding incapacity in each branch of the military service—infantry, cavalry, and artillery—throughout the whole campaign.
Count Georges de Villebois-Mareuil was born at Nantes of an old Breton family some fifty-two years ago. At the age of nine he was placed under the Jesuit Father Olivaint, at the noted College of Vaugirard. He graduated as Bachelor of Arts at the age of sixteen, and, being intended for a military career by his parents, he entered upon the preparatory studies necessary for admission to the College of St. Cyr. From all accounts he was a spirited student of his profession, and a leader in all athletic and manly exercises during his probation, and had no difficulty in acquiring the knowledge and proficiency which saw him leave the famous military academy in 1868 with the epaulets of a Sous-Lieutenant.
His first military duty was rendered in Cochin China, whither he had been sent largely in obedience to his own desire for travel and adventure. After a brief service with the Colonial forces, he was selected as aide-de-camp by his uncle, Rear-Admiral Cornulier, then in command of the French Squadron in Eastern waters. Shortly afterward war between France and Germany was declared, and Villebois at once demanded to be allowed to go home. The admiral refused his permission, and the young lieutenant grew desperate at the thought that France was in deadly combat with a formidable foe while he was only a distant spectator of the conflict. One day, on seeing a French mail steamer ready to sail for- Marseilles, he bluntly told his uncle that he would be passenger for France on board of that ship, and a consent which could no longer be refused was reluctantly given, Villebois leaving on the boat without five minutes' preparation.
On landing at Marseilles he found that the third Empire had fallen, and that whatever Government existed in France was located at Bordeaux. He proceeded at once to that city, demanded instant employment at the front, and in a few days' time found himself at the head of a company of young recruits, attached to the command of General Pourcet, to join whose forces he immediately started for Blois. At the battle of Blois, where the Germans were strongly posted behind street barricades, Villebois, in heading a bayonet charge for which he was specially selected by the general, so distinguished himself by coolness and conspicuous bravery in rescuing some guns and in capturing an important position that he was made captain, and decorated with the Cross of the Legion of Honor on the field of battle. He had been severely wounded in leading the dashing charge which cleared the enemy from behind the barricades, but fought on until the day was won, when he had to be carried from the battle-field to hospital. The day following, an armistice was signed, and the war was terminated. The heroic young captain's victory was, in fact, the final action of the war. He was at this time only twenty-three years old. He served subsequently in Algiers, and took part in the Kroumirie expedition, when he again earned distinction for combined courage and capacity. He was very popular with the men of his various commands, and had the unique honor of being the youngest colonel in the French Army in his time.
Dissatisfied with the conduct of the various War Ministers of changing Governments, by whom he believed the French Army was being ruined, he resigned active service, retaining his rank as colonel. He dropped the sword to take up the pen, and soon established another reputation as a clear and convincing writer in " Le Revue des Deux-Mondes," " Le Correspondent," " La Plume et L'Epee," and in various pamphlets, on topics such as the Russian Army, Russia and England in Asia, Organization of the Higher Commands in the French Army, Organization of Colonial Troops, Military Tradition and Vitality, Courts-Martial, Gallieni and Madagascar, the Centenary of Napoleon's Expedition to Egypt, The Sorrows of Spain, As Others See Us, The Colonial Achievements of the Third Republic, Our French Military Institutions and their Future, etc. He attended the re-trial of Captain Dreyfus at Bennes, and wrote his reflections upon that complicated case for " L'Action Francaise."
On the outbreak of war in South Africa he offered his services to the Boers, an offer which was readily accepted by Dr. Leyds, and, after committing his only child to the care of his brother, Viscount de Villebois-Mareuil, he sailed for Lourenzo Marquez, and reached Pretoria on the 1st of December, 1899.
By this time the English war correspondents had succeeded in placing " hundreds " of French, German, Russian, and other military officers and experts at the heads of Boer commandoes and in charge of Boer artillery, and had relegated rustic burgher generals to the background in the direction of such operations as had exhibited British troops flying from Dundee and surrendering by the thousand at Nicholson's Nek. Rumor had, however, reached the truth in the person of Villebois-Mareuil. There was soon woven around his attractive personality a legendary romance which represented him as the minister of poetic justice in the task of avenging Fashoda. He had reorganized the whole Boer plan of campaign, had planned the battle of Magersfontein, had actually commanded the burghers at Colenso, and was the military genius who was instrumental in making the Tugela a name of everlasting memory and of no little disgrace in British military annals. This was what the British press were saying of him in preference to admitting that their ablest generals and best troops were being beaten by Dutch farmers at the head of civilian fighters.
After staying a few days in Pretoria, where he had been shown very marked attention, Villebois left for Natal to pay his respects to General Joubert. He arrived in front of Ladysmith about the 7th of December, and was cordially welcomed by the old Commandant-General, who at once boasted of his own Breton ancestry and French blood. Villebois was not favorably impressed by Joubert. He saw in the head of the Boer army a candidate for the Presidency, a powerful politician, a man with a party, rather than a soldier conscious of the responsibility involved in the direction of a force of 30,000 men engaged in a campaign against a huge Empire. He was probably more influenced in the formation of this view by his experiences of political generals in France than by Joubert's actual military shortcomings. In any case, the old man's nonchalant manners, his want of touch with the fighting commandoes in the South, and a seeming fatalistic dependence upon chance rather than upon aggressive and intelligent activity, disillusioned the expert military mind of the accomplished soldier, and caused him to form an opinion of Joubert's unfitness for the task he had in hand which subsequent intercourse and events turned into a permanent conviction.
He left Joubert's laager for the Tugela, and reached General Botha's camp on the 13th of December, a fact which completely disposes of the English theory that the battle of Colenso, on the 15th of that month, was fought upon Villebois' plans and suggestions. As a matter of fact he did not see Botha until the following day, when Buller's guns had commenced to bombard the positions in which the Boer general had already determined to meet and fight his antagonist. On the morning of the battle, as already related, he rode in an excited manner up to Botha, pointing to the enemy in actual motion across the plain, and anxiously exclaiming, " Where are your men, General? The enemy is about to attack." He soon learned that he had a man nearer to his own conception of an ideal Boer general in the young farmer than in the old commandant; and his confidence in and admiration of Botha increased with the progress of the campaign along the now famous river banks.
He reconnoitered the whole line of positions at the Tugela at Botha's express request, and expressed the opinion that it would require a force of 50,000 men to man properly and hold successfully so extensive a line of defensive ground. In his report to the Boer general he advised the seizure and occupation of Mounts Alice and Zwartskop, south of the river, near Potgieter's Drift, as positions which the enemy would probably make the pivots of their next attempt to reach Ladysmith. His advice was not acted upon, and within four days of the giving of it Buller's naval guns were firing from the two identical hills upon the burgher lines across the river.
Previous to this he had revisited the head laager at Ladysmith, and had made himself acquainted with the disposition of General White's forces, and the weak points in the English plan of defensive positions facing Joubert's lines of investment. He submitted a scheme for an attack upon the garrison, which he backed with a, strong expression of opinion in favor of a determined assault without delay. Joubert hesitated, delayed, vacillated, and Villebois returned to Colenso. Finally Joubert was induced to give his consent to the proposal, and I have related in the chapter on Ladysmith how near the plan was to being successful on the 0th of January. Villebois accompanied the Utrecht burghers, who rode from Colenso to take part in the storming of the Platrand, and was a spectator of the fight at Caesar's Camp during the progress of the general attack on the Platrand. He asserted afterward that suggestions which would have averted the blunders made in the carrying out of the plan of attack were disregarded in its execution; otherwise, the assault would have been successful.
He remained with Botha until the middle of January, when he left Natal to visit Cronje's army at Magersfontein, rightly divining that the west was soon to witness the great act of the war. This was his first visit to the scene of the battle which had been fought and won on the 11th of December, and the credit for the planning of which had been given to him by British papers. Cronje's military knowledge, as seen in the superior construction of his entrenchments and in the discipline of his camp, impressed Villebois very favorably. He was not slow, however, to recognize the autocratic manner and incurable obstinacy of the old Lion of Potchefstroom. He found him as polite and as grateful as Joubert for proffered suggestions, but even more slow and more proudly reluctant in the acceptance of any extraneous advice. This fatalistic stubbornness and Old Testament military pride filled him with forebodings of evil, as he saw clearly that the masterful inactivity which relied entirely upon this spirit and on defensive action would spell ruin to the small Federal armies in the end. He visited the forces in front of Kimberley, and was warmly welcomed by Generals Ferreira, Du Toit, and Kolbe, who treated him with marked respect, and showed more disposition to follow his advice than the officers with larger commands had exhibited. He was admitted to their kriegraads, and acted generally while in the lines there as military adviser to General Du Toit. After reconnoitering the whole of the English positions he prepared a plan for the delivery of an , assault upon the city, which was fully discussed and agreed upon at a Council of War, the assault to be delivered after the arrival of the Long Tom which had been damaged at Ladysmith and repaired by Leon and Grunberg. General Cronje, however, was demanding the big Creusot for his own position at Magersfontein, and on the score of a quarrel among the generals over the possession of " Tom " came Du Toit's final refusal to assent to the projected assault. Villebois offered to lead an attach with fifty men, but could obtain 20 no sanction for his proposal. He left the lines in front of Kimberley for Bloemfontein, where, after an interview with President Steyn in which he forcibly expressed his fears of the consequences of Cronje's resolution to remain at Magersfontein in the face of Lord Roberts' obvious plans, he went to Colesberg to visit General De la Rey. He remained only a few days in Cape Colony. He formed a very high opinion of De la Rey's natural military ability, followed him to Bloemfontein when the news of Cronje's surrender
arrived, and fought under him at Poplars Grove and Abram's Kraal- and remained with his commando until the Federal generals abandoned the Free State capital and retreated to the hills around Brand-fort.
President Steyn told me in Kroonstad that, "had Cronje followed the advice which was given him by Villebois-Mareuil after he had inspected our lines at Magersfontein he would have reached Bloemfontein before the English, and have saved himself and us the disaster of Paardeberg”
Following the fall of Bloemfontein, Villebois, tired of offering advice which was generally disregarded, resolved to form a regiment of disciplined men out of the various bodies of foreign volunteers scattered among the Federal armies. All were willing to serve under him—Germans, Russians, Hollanders, Italians, Americans, Irish-Americans, and French—and his spirits rose at the prospect of having a body of European soldiers under his command with whom he could do the kind of work which found little favor with the Federals at that time—attacking the enemy, harassing his lines of communication, and charging with bayonets when opportunity should offer. Both Governments approved of his plan, and the rank of Acting General was conferred upon him.
He selected his staff from the officers in command of the small bodies into which the foreign volunteers were divided. Colonel Maximoff, Captain Lorentz, Baron Von Wrangel, Lieutenants Beineke, De Breda, Gallopaud, and Smorenberg being so chosen.
While his regiment was being recruited and volunteers were arriving at his camp at Kroonstad to join his command, he intimated to President Steyn a wish to carry out some work which he had planned, and the execution of which would not brook of delay. He asked for and obtained a carload of dynamite, and with only 85 men—comprising 30 Frenchmen, with two lieutenants, 30 Hollanders, and the balance made up of various nationalities— he left Kroonstad at midnight on the 26th of March, for an unknown destination.
President Steyn alone knew that he had gone west to Hoopstad, but where he was to proceed from thence, and what to do, he had not confided to a single one of his officers or friends.
Two days after Villebois left Kroonstad, Baron Van Dedem arrived from France with despatches, and on a mission from the Count's friends. It being important that the letters from home should be delivered without delay, President Steyn wired to Hoopstad and arranged that Villebois was to meet the visitors from Europe at a wayside store, midway between the two towns. He was found there on the evening of the 30th of March, and was urged to return at once to France and endeavor to organize a European intervention; or, failing this, to band together 2,000 or 3,000 ex-legionnaires whom he had served with in Algiers, and sail openly, in a French ship, which would be provided, from Marseilles to Delagoa Bay. The view was strongly put before him that the moral and military effects of Cronje's surrender, coupled with the continued increase of the English forces, would render the operations of such a small foreign legion as he could organize out of difficult materials, of comparative little value against overwhelming odds. It was urged that the political effect of his presence in France, in the work of organizing European assistance, with his acquired knowledge of the Boer people and familiarity with their splendid fighting, would, on the contrary, be of enormous importance, and would far outweigh any help which he and his regiment could possibly render in the field. The true state of Continental feeling was explained to him; the growing militant indig-nation of the peoples at the naked baseness of the British in the war; the unity of German and French opinion in favor of the Boer cause; and, especially, the strong current of popular hostility against England which was running through the public life of his own country. He listened with a keen, interested attention to all that was thus urged, and replied slowly and decisively:
" Had this proposal been placed before me six weeks ago, I would have acted upon it. Now it is impossible. The Boers have met with a first, but a vital, reverse. Cronje's surrender means the defeat of the Republics. The war will be over in July. I could do nothing in Europe within that time, as the journey is very long. Moreover, the Boers, as you will learn, are a suspicious people. They are very liable to misunderstand the actions of their best friends. They would not comprehend my going away now, so soon after the great misfortune of Paardeberg. I might be thought capable of leaving them when their prospects are clouded with the shadow of the enemy's first real triumph over them in the field. No; I came to offer my services to these people. They have won my affectionate admiration. They are half French in origin, and with them I shall remain to the end."
And in this fatal decision ended the hopes and the labors of the mission from France.
The motives which inspired this doubly unfortunate refusal were above question. They were worthy of a high-minded, chivalrous soldier, morally afraid of having the sincerity of his ardent sympathies subjected to the ordeal of suspicion, and the unkind Fates determined the rest, to the great injury of the Boer cause, and to the permanent loss of the French nation.
As he could not be persuaded to return to Europe to organize a Continental intervention, and, if necessary, a really effective French legion, he was induced to address a manifesto to the legionnaires who had served under him in Algiers. To this suggestion he readily assented, and wrote the following appeal:
"To the Legionnaires Who Have Known Me!
" Comrades, Officers, Non-commissioned officers, and Soldiers—I know that you have not forgotten me. You have been in my memory and affection. We understand each other, and, therefore, I address this appeal to you.
" There lies beyond the Vaal River a brave people, small in numbers, who are threatened with the deprivation of their liberties, their rights, and their belongings, in order that greedy and grasping capitalists may prosper.
" These people in a large proportion have French blood running in their veins. France, therefore, owes them, in their hour of need, a striking manifestation of its assistance.
" Comrades! Your natural temperament, your true soldierly instincts, impelled you to range yourselves beneath the flag of France, even without the impulse of national obligation, and it is to you I look for the aid which is due from France to a kindred race manfully fighting against overwhelming numbers for the preservation of its independence.
"You have remained to me the perfect type of troops, always ready and eager for attack without a moment's self-consideration; troops without rivals in impetuosity for an assault.
" Such soldiers trained to these methods are wanting here. We have unrivaled shooters for a deadly defense. We do not possess the disciplined force necessary to complete a victory when the enemy has been repulsed or beaten; troops to rush in and deliver a crushing blow.
" Comrades! Come to me. You'll find your colonel as ready to lead you as you have known him always to be, and your coming will give him that supreme satisfaction in fighting this just cause which your absence from his side on the field of battle has alone denied him, the honor of leading you within striking distance of the enemy.
" Group yourselves according to military rules. Leave France as citizens traveling for their own purposes. I will receive you here, and I promise you that very few days will elapse before we shall show the world the mettle of which the French Legionnaire is made.
"Kroonstad, March 30, 1900."
The general, attended by a solitary guide, rode back to Hoopstad on the following day, and rejoined his small force at Driefontein. No one knew his plan or ultimate objective. He was anxious to know what the enemy's strength was near Boshof, and marched in that direction after being informed that the English in that town numbered only 300. The help of a body of 200 men who were in laager north of Driefontein was promised him at Hoopstad. Later and more accurate information represented the English as being in much greater force on his front; but this seems to have been disregarded by him as an invention by the burghers who were reluctant to accompany him. He was warned after this not to proceed, and the Boers who had promised him refused to go with his little band. Nothing, however, would deter him from advancing to where Fate had reserved for him a soldier's death and grave. The troop rode forward, and halted for the evening at the bottom of a small wooded kopje, to which he had been led by two guides procured at Hoopstad. After a while, on asking for the guides, he was told they had vanished! He then saw he had been betrayed and led into a trap. Before he had time to realize the full gravity of the situation, British troops were observed at a distance in the act of surrounding the position where the volunteers had intended to bivouac for the night. The general at once disposed of his men in two sections, placing the Hollanders on one ridge and the Frenchmen, with himself among them, on the wooded kopje. Sangars were hastily erected, such as the nature of the ground offered, and the attack was awaited.
Accounts of what followed vary in their details, but all reports agree that the example of Villebois in his coolness and utter disregard of danger stimulated the little troop to keep up a contest for over three hours with Lord Methuen's 3,000 or 4,000 troops and six guns. The Hollanders, on seeing the utter hopelessness of the situation, surrendered by laying down their arms. Villebois scornfully refused to make any such appeal to a British force, and he sternly rebuked all suggestion of surrender around where he stood. The fight continued, shells exploding against the positions on which the little legion loyally remained with the general. Suddenly a portion of a shell struck him in the head, and he was instantly killed, falling dead without a word. The English now rushed the kopje, and the seventy survivors were taken prisoner. Three French volunteers besides the general were killed, while ten others were wounded; the enemy losing about as many.
English officers admitted to some of the prisoners that they had been informed of the strength of Villebois' force and of the direction of his march after he had left Hoopstad; confirming the general belief which obtained among the Boer laagers that the legion had been the victim of some one's treachery.
This ending of the general's scheme of a European legion and of his own career made a deep impression on the burghers. They had a profound respect for him personally, and were grateful for his earnest efforts to give them all the help in his power. The Boer officers saw clearly that he was wedded to European ideas of warfare, in a country and under conditions where these ideas did not always apply, and this fact, coupled with a stranger's ignorance of the Boer language and of the regions which were the theater of operations, made it impossible for him to give all the assistance which he was passionately desirous of rendering to a cause that had won his heart.
Much surprise has been expressed by those who knew of his customary careful and even cautious disposition that he should have erred so much in judgment and tact in venturing towards where he ought to have known that large forces of the enemy must be located. This view, however, has been taken without fully considering the part which treachery had played in the catastrophe of the 6th of April, and in ignorance of his actual plans and intentions. The most far-seeing of human judgments are not proof against the mysterious agencies of fate nor the accidents of fortune, and the true French spirit and heroic resolve which he proudly exhibited, to die as a soldier rather than live as an English prisoner, will more than redeem in the national recollection of Frenchmen, and in the grateful memory of the Boer generation, the incautious action which led to the death of Villebois-Mareuil.
The following documents speak with two English voices of the memorable death thus recorded:
" Boshof, May 10, 1900. " Mademoiselle—1 am forwarding you a photograph of a marble stone which I have placed in the churchyard at Boshof in memory of your father. I hope I have found the ring he wore, and if it proves to be so it shall also be sent to you. I could not place your father's body in a Boman Catholic churchyard, as I feel sure you would have wished, but the funeral rites were carried out by M. le Comte de Breda, and military honors were accorded to the colonel. AVe all regret the death of an accomplished and gallant soldier, but he preferred death to becoming a prisoner. Let me convey to you my sympathy and the sympathy of my comrades in your sorrow. Very truly,
" Methuen", Lt.-Gen., Cmdg. 5th Division."
"The Daily News," October 30, 1900. "The shell which killed General de Villebois-Mareuil near Boshof has been mounted as a trophy in an ebony case, and is to be presented to Lord Galway and the officers of the Sherwood Bangers, Imperial Yeomanry, to commemorate their first engagement. It is now on view at Macmichael's 42 South Audley street, AV., London."
On the eve of my departure from Pretoria I received the following message from General Botha:
" Yan Hoofed Commandant-General Botha, Standerton.
" Aan Michael Davitt, Pretoria. " When are you leaving and what will be your address in Europe? I would very much like to send you a letter for Mademoiselle de Villebois-Mareuil, which I should be glad if you would deliver personally. Please reply to Standerton."
When the reply reached Standerton the general had left for the Free State to meet the advance of Lord Roberts' army.
Messrs. Grunberg and Leon
In 1895 a young Frenchman, by name Leon Grunberg, a graduate of L'Ecole Centrale of Paris, was sent to South Africa by the great French firm of Schnieder and Co. as their representative. This famous company was the manufacturer of mining machinery of all kinds, as well as the makers of the celebrated Creusot guns and other artillery. Leon Grunberg's mission to Johannesburg was entirely pacific, in being confined to the sale of material required in the working of the Rand mines. In December of that year the Jameson Raid occurred, revealing, in its naked purpose of deliberate plunder under the protection of the British flag, an English design to grab the mines and to annex the Republic to the Empire. The Transvaal Executive saw at once the necessity for arming the
Republic against the eventuality of a greater raid than Jameson's, and two batteries of artillery were ordered in 1897 from the Creusot works in France.
With these guns there came to Pretoria M. Sam Leon, a schoolfellow of Grunberg's, also an engineer, and on taking stock of the situation Leon and Grunberg formed themselves into a firm of military engineers, and offered their services to the Boer Government. They were readily accepted.
General Joubert's reluctance to embark in any large scheme of armaments was overcome by the more apprehensive and more alert members of the Executive, backed by warnings from Europe, and Mauser and Lee-Metford rifles, with additional artillery, were bought in England and on the Continent in 1897-98. Forts were constructed round Pretoria, and one to dominate Johannesburg; three being built under the direction of Colonel Schiel, and the Fort Daspoortrand, to the west of the capital, by Grunberg and Leon.
When war was declared in 1899, it became the task of the two Frenchmen to instruct the Staats Artillery officers in the use of the large and small ordnance which, chiefly on their advice, the Boer Executive had acquired, and Sam Leon became an indispensable adjunct to the gunnery staff of Joubert's army. He organized the service for each piece, taught the artillerists how best to place their guns where positions were to be held, and to build scientifically-constructed protection for the less mobile pieces required for siege purposes. All the guns employed round Ladysmith were so fixed under his superintendence; platforms were erected on his plans, and all other needful details attended to as he advised.
He accompanied Pretorius and Wolmarans in the charge of Botha's guns during part of the Tugela campaign, and arranged the positions held by the five pieces which did such execution against the English at Colenso. He went from the Tugela to the siege of Kimberley to erect the platform for the "Long Tom" which had been " knocked out" at Ladysmith in the midnight sortie of the British, as related; the huge gun having been fully repaired subsequently at Pretoria by Grunberg and himself.
It was on the 12th of February, 1900, while engaged in sighting this gun during a duel with the Kimberley artillery, that a bullet struck him in the head and maimed him for life. His eye was destroyed, and he was compelled to return to France.
Meanwhile, as far back as November, the store of artillery ammunition ordered by Joubert before the commencement of hostilities was running out, owing to the enormous waste occasioned by the sieges of Ladysmith, Mafeking, and Kimberley; operations which did not enter into Boer calculations when the original orders were being placed. The situation was most alarming, as no further supply of shells for Creusots, howitzers, or pom-poms could be imported, and Joubert was confronted with the appalling prospect of a famine in projectiles, and the consequent uselessness of all his artillery.
At this critical juncture President Kruger's wisdom and foresight in preserving the dynamite monopoly for the Transvaal was fully realized, when Grunberg assured the Government that cordite and all kinds of smokeless ammunition could be made at the factory at Modderfontein. A terrible fear was thus dispelled, and those who had doubted the old President's wisdom in resisting Mr. Chamberlain's audacious demand for the abolition of the explosives' monopoly, now rendered a grateful tribute of admiration to the prescience of Oom Paul.
Two foundries owned by Begbie and by Wright and Co. in Johannesburg, which were used for the making and repairing of mining machinery, were at once commandeered by the Government, and Grunberg set to work to turn these places into ammunition factories. His difficulties were enormous, in the want of proper machinery, tools, and molds, but especially in skilled mechanics. Nothing, however, seemed impossible to the resourceful engineer, who had thrown a warm French heart into the work of serving a people who were largely French in their origin, and, with the exercise of untiring industry, marvelous skill, and a creative enthusiasm, all difficulties were fought down. By the end of November, 1899, Grunberg had already despatched his first 1,000 shells from Johannesburg to the front. Smokeless powder and other explosives were supplied from the State factory, and the workshops of the city of sinister omen were soon enabled to turn out better projectiles for all the guns than those which had been imported from Europe.
Five hundred hands, mostly Italians, with French, Austrian, and a few American workmen added, were gradually instructed by Grunberg, and so efficient did he render his men and means in supplying the Federal artillery with ammunition that 1,000 shells per day were finished during the six months from November, 1899, to May, 1900. Shells for the English Armstrong guns, taken at Colenso and elsewhere, and for the Maxim-Nordenfelts, were produced as required; the supply being continued for the Free State forces as well as for those of the Transvaal.
This work, which had saved the Federal armies from finding all their artillery without ammunition early in the conflict, was not carried on without attracting the malevolent attention of British citizens and partisans who had been permitted, under various pretexts and guises, to remain in Johannesburg and Pretoria during the whole period of the war, under the futile obligation of an oath of allegiance. In January a Reuter's message from Lourenzo Marquez reported in some detail " the complete destruction of Begbie's foundry " by dynamite, the deed being attributed to anti-Boer action. The news was only a too previous anticipation of events, as no explosion took place at that time. The plot had miscarried, probably owing to imperfect preparations. This circumstance naturally alarmed M. Grunberg, who demanded a better surveillance of the works for the protection of the employees; but, strange to relate, very little was done to satisfy his request, the plea being that all the burghers were at the front fighting.
In addition to the numerous spies who were disguised under protective callings, there were scores of families of English and Colonial citizenship allowed to stay in Johannesburg all through the war, partly owing to the necessity of working those mines which the Government had commandeered in order to obtain from their operations money with which to prosecute the war. There were few burghers available for this labor, and many potential enemies of sinister and unscrupulous reputation remained, in consequence, as actual residents in the city upon which the Boer armies were dependent for their entire artillery ammunition. All these had sworn an oath of neutrality after war had been declared, but oaths lie with light moral obligation upon consciences absolved of such trifles by the inherent righteousness which always vindicates the acts of a certain class of Englishmen when engaged in the beneficent work of teaching other peoples the blessings of British rule to the destruction of their own.
M. Grunberg called Commandant Shutte's attention to these facts, and to the absence of all intelligent inspection of houses in Marshall street, opposite Begbie's foundry, all to no purpose. So, about five in the afternoon of April 24, an explosion which shook the whole of Johannesburg occurred at the shell factory, and it was thought that the entire place was destroyed. The authors of the fell deed had not, however, killed M. Grunberg, as they had succeeded in killing a number of poor Italian working men, who were blown to atoms in the explosion. Experts in explosives estimated that 1,000 pounds of djoiamite must have been used to do the damage which followed, and to dig a huge pit twenty feet deep in the ground where the main force of the dynamite had expended itself. No dynamite had been stored by Grunberg or the Government in or near the foundry. The agency of destruction had been placed by the plotters from time to time in an empty house opposite the works, and had been carried there after dark from some of the mines in which English agents, disguised and designated as "Americans," were employed. A storage of powder which stood between the empty house and the main yard of Begbie's works was blown up as a result of the fire caused by the dynamite explosion, and the theory advanced against the charge of direct English agency attempted to attribute to the effect of the powder explosion the cause and explanation of the main disaster.
M. Grunberg had a miraculous escape, being at the time in the office, which was only about 200 feet from where the house which had been used by the dynamitards had stood, and receiving only a few bruises from falling timber. The whole foundry and buildings appeared to be in ruins, save the stone walls of the sheds and the machinery. These had withstood the terrific shock, and inside of one week this wonder-working Frenchman had overcome all the difficulties and discouragement caused by the explosion and the killing of so many of his workmen, and was again turning out an ample supply of ammunition for the guns. And so the work continued until Lord Roberts' army, in its advance on Johannesburg at the end of May, forced one of the truest heroes of the Boer war to lay down his task and to take his seat in the last (Boer) train which left Pretoria for Lourenzo Marquez.
M. Grunberg can, if he wishes, console himself with the reflection that he, at any rate, has very amply avenged Fashoda. After Cronje's surrender, while depression had sent thousands of Boers from the laagers to their homes, the Boer artillery remained in thefront line keeping the enemy at a distance until the patriotism of the Boer women had compelled husbands and sons and brothers to shoulder their Mausers again and quit their farms in defense of these homes and of Transvaal independence. Grunberg's work in that improvised factory in Johannesburg had enabled the fighting burghers to hold the field until the combative spirit which had been discouraged by the calamity of Paardeberg had returned again to the people; and thus the memorable campaign of De Wet, De la Rey, Botha, Hertzog, Brand, Viljoen, and others may be said to have grown out of the labors of a single Frenchman's genius and devotion—as well as the cost in taxes, lives, injury, and prestige which it has entailed upon the hereditary enemy of France.