" The flags unfurl ! Beat loud the drums, Shout out the victor's song ! At last the day of triumph comes, For which we've waited long." J. S. DUNN.

As the New Year began to dawn the Boers realised that they would never take Ladysmith with their shell fire, which seemed to make very little impression. They consequently decided to make a determined attack upon the town, to force a way in. It was to be their supreme and final effort, and in planning it they fully expected they would be victorious. The day chosen for the attack was Saturday, January 6th.

During the early hours of the morning they crept quietly up the slopes of a long ridge which lay to the south of Ladysmith. The eastern extremity of this ridge was called Caesar's Camp, and the western extremity Wagon Hill. At half-past three, as streaks of daylight were appearing in the sky, they reached one of the British pickets. On being challenged the Boers replied " Friends," and immediately fired a volley into the picket, shooting them all down. They now advanced rapidly to the top of the ridge, and occupied some of the British trenches, shooting down the soldiers, who were greatly outnumbered— the Boer force consisting of about 5,000 men. A hot fight now became general all along the ridge, the Boers showing most unwonted bravery. A stubborn resistance was, however, made by the troops who had been bivouacking on the ridge. The Imperial Light Horse, in the early morning, seeing that Lieutenant Walker's Hotchkiss detachment was in danger, made a most brilliant charge, driving back the enemy with their clubbed guns. Reinforcements soon arrived from General White, and the battle began to rage with terrific fury. The Gordon Highlanders made two magnificent charges among the enemy, doing great execution.

The heat during the day was intense, but at four o'clock in the afternoon a most violent storm of hail and lightning burst over the battlefield, followed by torrents of rain, almost hiding the combatants from each other. General I an Hamilton decided to take advantage of this circumstance, and ordered the Devons to charge the enemy, who were still holding a position on Wagon Hill. Filling the magazines of their rifles and fixing their bayonets they charged forward, regardless of the drenching rain and the shower of Mauser bullets. The Boers, seeing they could not check the impetuous rush, turned and fled— jumping, tumbling, and scrambling down the boulder-covered sides of the hill. At the opposite end of the ridge they were also driven to take shelter in some dongas, from which they managed to retreat under cover of darkness towards the neutral ground at 'Ndomba Spruit Camp.

On the northern side of Ladysmith an attack had also been made towards Observation Hill, which was occupied by the Gloucestershire, Leicestershire, and Liverpool Regiments, but here the enemy were easily repulsed, losing about 50 men.

At Caesar's Camp the firing was kept up until eight o'clock, the fight having lasted about sixteen hours. The day had been full of stirring incidents of courage and bravery, of which it is impossible to give detailed accounts. The Imperial Light Horse had been most conspicuous during the day, being in the hottest of the fight. Of their ten officers, eight were wounded; and one of the troopers was found wounded in seven places in the body and with five wounds in the head, and, strange to say, he was not dead.

The battlefield on the following day presented a most ghastly sight, the dismembered and mangled bodies of many of the Boers testifying to the destructive powers of the British artillery fire. The Boer losses were very heavy, being about 400 killed and 600 wounded, including Commandants De Villiers and Wessels. The British loss was 149 killed and 271 wounded. Lord Ava, who was attached to the Staff, was shot in the head on Wagon Hill—the wound proving fatal.

It had been a hard and most stubborn fight, but Ladysmith was saved. The enemy had failed to force an entrance, and had been beaten back with heavy loss. It put new life into the town and garrison, and gave them something to talk of with glowing hearts for many days to come. Congratulations were heliographed into Ladysmith to Sir George White, through General Buller, from all quarters. Her Majesty, Queen Victoria, sent a gracious message, congratulating him and the gallant troops on their brave defence. On the following Monday evening an impressive Thanksgiving Service was held by the Ven. Archdeacon Barker, at which Sir George White and Staff were present.

An armistice was asked for by the Boers on Monday, to enable them to bury their dead. This was granted. They had learnt such a lesson from this attack on the British lines that they never again attempted to enter Lady-smith ; although it is probable that if they had made another such severe attack towards the end of the siege they would have been successful, for the besieged garrison was greatly diminished through death and sickness, and the remainder were gradually becoming weaker through semi-starvation.

Signs of the Relief Column were now eagerly looked for. On January 24th the lyddite shells were seen bursting on Spion Kop, but, as already related, General Buller did not force a passage that way, and, on receipt of the news of his reverse, the men's rations, which had been reduced in December, were still further reduced.

Provisions were becoming very scarce. In January the flour was finished, and bread was made of mealie meal mixed with starch; and, as a delicacy for the officers' mess, blancmanges were made with starch, violet-powder, etc. A factory was also started for dealing with horse-meat, from which a great number of sausages were turned out, and greatly relished by the civilians and soldiers alike. A product, similar to Bovril, was also manufactured, which was called " Chevril." Butter disappeared entirely early in the siege, and fats of all sorts were eagerly sought for, hair-oil being used by some in their culinary operations. The absence of tobacco also was a great hardship to the smokers. Many would dry their tea-leaves, and after rubbing the juice of a certain herb on them would roll them up in cigarette form and smoke them. At an auction sale, which was held every alternate evening at the latter end of the siege, the prices fetched for articles of diet were enormous, of which the following will give a fair idea:—



£  s  d


1 lb bottle of jam

1 11 0


1 packet of cigarettes (4d)

1 5 0


50 cigars

9 5 0


1 tin of condensed milk

0 10 0


1 doz eggs

2 8 0


1 glass jelly

0 18 0


1 bottle of brandy

7 0 0

A case of whisky was also raffled for the sum of £145.

The hospitals became crowded, and only severe cases could be admitted. The medicines and invalid foods ran out, and milk was only obtainable in very small quantities from the few cows left. The doctors and nurses worked most heroically, but were unable to cope with the immense labour necessary. At one time no fewer than fifteen doctors were down with fever and dysentery ; and the brave nurses were often walking about the wards with their respective temperatures as high as 102°. On some days there were as many as twenty-eight deaths ; and at the close of the siege there were over six hundred graves at the 'Ndomba Spruit Camp alone, without reckoning those in the town.

Truly, it was a terrible siege, and gallant was the defence made by those brave British soldiers and Natal Volunteers. They were rewarded at last for their perseverance, for the long-looked-for Relief Column arrived, and the siege was raised.

It was towards the close of the day on Wednesday, February 28th, that horsemen were seen galloping towards Ladysmith from the direction of Umbulwana, and the report soon spread about the town that they were British soldiers. Sir George White and Staff immediately rode out to welcome them, followed by a great number of the civilians and soldiers. On their arrival at the bridge over the river they met the approaching horsemen, who proved to be a force of 300 men composed of Natal Carbineers, Imperial Light Horse, and Natal Mounted Police. A prolonged scene of enthusiasm now ensued, so great was the excitement of both the relieved and the relievers. Strong men broke down, weeping tears of joy, and women cried with excitement and gladness. It was six o'clock exactly that this took place, and as dusk came on the grey-haired General, standing there surrounded by his Staff, addressed the crowd before him. He was visibly affected by this scene of enthusiasm, but managed in a few words to thank the people of Ladysmith for their loyalty and assistance rendered to him during the trying months of the siege.

The relief had come as a great surprise, for only on the previous day the rations had been still further reduced, the inhabitants thinking that this betokened a further delay in the relief of the town. Now their joy was unbounded; they seemed to forget all the hardships they had undergone, and were filled with gladness at the relief. The siege had lasted four months—from November 2, 1899, to February 28, 1900. If it had lasted longer the privations would have been terrible. " Starvation rations " would have been served out in a few days, and the whole of the sick would have succumbed, nourishment being unobtainable. The relief was just in-time!

On the following day the streets of Ladysmith were again alive with people, as there was now no shelling to fear. The Imperial Light Horse had ridden out in the early morning to Umbulwana, and they could now be seen standing on top of the hill signalling that the enemy had gone. During the morning General Buller rode unexpectedly into Ladysmith and met Sir George White in one of the streets. They greeted each other most cordially, and also congratulated one another on their respective successes of resisting and repulsing the foe.

On Saturday, March 3rd, at noon, General Buller's Relief Column marched through Ladysmith. Sir George White and Staff stood at the Town Hall while the men marched past, regiment after regiment. It took three hours for the whole column to pass, and many were the cheers which rang out, prompted by the joyful hearts of the relieved inhabitants of the town. During the afternoon the inhabitants presented Sir George White with an illuminated address, as an expression of thankfulness and appreciation for his goodness to them during the siege.

The news of the relief of Ladysmith was telegraphed over the Colony of Natal at about half-past nine o'clock on Thursday morning, March 1st, and the excitement and enthusiasm displayed by all in the towns is simply indescribable. The populace may be said to have gone mad with joy. Business was suspended for the day. The following day was observed as a day of thanksgiving, Divine service being held in many of the churches. Processions also paraded the principal streets. The towns had never before presented such an appearance of gaiety; bunting was displayed everywhere; the various bells pealed forth a joyous chorus in honour of the occasion ; steam whistles screeched; people cheered ; and the guns from the warships in Durban sent forth a Royal Salute. People's hearts were bursting with joy. Many a mother, wife, and sweetheart throughout the Colony shed tears of gratitude at the joyful news, to think that the dear one was safe, that the horrid nightmare which had been hanging over her so long was now removed. But many other hearts were sad, for they knew that their loved ones would never return, having either fallen on the battlefield in the defence of their home and country, or become victims of disease.

We will now return to Ladysmith, where. we left Tommy Atkins rejoicing over the relief. On Thursday morning, March 1st, finding that the Boers were in full retreat, many parties of famishing soldiers made off for the Boer laagers to search for provisions. As they approached, the few remaining Boers retreated as far as possible after the flying commandoes, leaving their camps just as they stood. The soldiers found plenty of food, and it is needless to say that they had the best fare they had enjoyed for many a day. Ammunition of all kinds was lying about in large quantities, much of it being of the sorts condemned for usage in civilised warfare. Whole cases of Mauser cartridges were found with verdigrissed bullets, others with soft-nosed and expanding bullets, while some had explosive bullets. Many of the verdigrissed bullets appeared to have been used; for, lying about the tents were bandoliers filled with them ; and this accounted for the frequent cases of blood-poisoning which occurred among the wounded British soldiers.

The Boer camps were in a most insanitary condition, and it is a matter of surprise that there was not more sickness among the enemy. They had been very skilful, however, in fortifying the laagers, the earthworks being most extensive, and the barbed-wire entanglements very ingeniously placed.

Signs of devastation on the farms around Ladysmith were evident on all sides. As they had done in the Estcourt districts, so they had done here—ruthlessly looting and destroying everything they could lay their hands on. At Eland's Laagte, beyond which they had now retreated five or six miles, two stores and the railway station had been burnt to the ground. At the coal-mine the winding machinery and electric light plant had been blown up with dynamite. Along the railway line from Lady-smith to Eland's Laagte and on to Sunday's River every bridge and culvert had also been blown up, and all the damage that their hasty retreat admitted of had been done.

Many of the farms in this district, to the north of Ladysmith, had belonged to Dutchmen, but they were nearly all vacant, for the owners, having thrown in their lot—as rebels—with the invaders, had retreated with them, taking their waggons, live-stock, and families with them.

General Buller now followed up the retreating Boers as far as Sunday's River, where it was found that they intended making a stand on the north side of the river, in a long range of hills called the Biggarsberg. No hostilities occurred, however, for some weeks, for General Buller's Relief Column needed a well-earned rest after the almost continuous fighting of two and a half months; and Sir George White's force required good feeding and judicious exercise before they would be strong enough to again meet the foe in battle.

A large portion of the forces was, however, soon withdrawn and despatched by train, and then by ship, to the Orange Free State, to assist Lord Roberts in protecting the Lines of Communication between Bloemfontein, which he had occupied, and the base in Cape 'Colony. Fighting in Natal was therefore practically finished, General Buller's remaining force simply keeping in touch with the enemy's movements and preventing any advance, while the main column under Lord Roberts pushed on through the Orange Free State towards Pretoria.

Ten weeks were thus spent watching the Boers in the Biggarsberg, the monotony of which was only varied by the occasional sniping between the outposts of the rival armies. In was on May 10th that a forward movement was made by General Buller— the whole force moving simultaneously on the enemy. The Boers were, however, too disheartened to make any vigorous resistance, and a panic set in amongst them, for they fled precipitately from the advancing army.

On May 15th General Buller triumphantly entered Dundee, which had been in the hands of the enemy for nearly seven months. Newcastle was also entered on May 17th, the Boers having fled out of Natal, leaving her borders once more in a state of peace, after having devastated so much of her fair territory.