" Love thou thy land, with love far-brought From out the storied Past, and used Within the Present, but transfused Thro' future time by power of thought." TENNYSON.
The reader has, up to the present, has been following carefully the operations of the main army of the Federal forces, and also of Sir George White's Field Force, as well as of the Relief Column under General Sir Redvers Buller ; but there are many other incidents of interest in connection with the war which occurred in Natal, and which should be related. As previously stated, a force of about 80 of the Umvoti Mounted Rifles, under Major Leuchars, was stationed at Tugela Ferry, to guard the main road from Dundee to Greytown. Although they had a comparatively uneventful time, the work performed by them was of the greatest importance, for they were a check upon raiding parties 'trying to enter Umvoti County. On November 23rd they were attacked, from the north side of the river, by a force of Boers, 200 strong, but after a plucky fight drove them off, only losing one man wounded, the enemy's loss being unknown. This party of Boers had taken possession of the village of Helpmakaar, and then come on to Pomeroy, where they had looted every building, and burnt down the gaol, post-office, hotel, and sundry other buildings ; but, as stated, they were checked at the Tugela River from continuing their depredations further south.
In the middle of February this small force of U.M.R. was strengthened by the arrival of Bethune's Mounted Infantry, 500 strong, the object being to effectively patrol Umvoti County and cut off, if possible, Boers who were retreating from Ladysmith.
Another portion of the Umvoti Mounted Rifles, under Captain Landsberg, patrolled the southern border of Natal to check any native rising which might occur.
It will be thus seen that the Natal Volunteers rendered most effective service to the military authorities and to their country. Both in Ladysmith, with the Relief Column, and in other parts of Natal they had done their duty nobly and well. On September 2gth, just before the outbreak of war, they had responded promptly, gladly and unquestioningly to the call to arms, seeing that their homeland was threatened. There were approximately 2,000 of them, and it is almost a certainty that without their aid the Colony of Natal would have been overrun by the enemy before the arrival of the Army Corps from England. The thanks, therefore, not only of Natal, but of the whole Empire, are due to the Natal Volunteers.
It is another matter for congratulation that, while the white races of South Africa were engaged in this deadly struggle, the natives were kept from rising in conflict, either among themselves or against their white neighbours. It is well known that they have an innate liking for war and bloodshed, and it is a surprising fact that they remained such passive onlookers. It is to be hoped, however, that when the present conflict has ceased their martial spirit will not have been so excited as to plunge South Africa into another war.
In connection with the plan of military operations, on the outbreak of war, some critics have stated that it was an unwise action of Sir George White to attempt to hold Dundee against the invaders; but slowly evolving events point to a Providential Hand guiding him in this matter. Admitting that it was an unwise action, the whole of Natal would probably have fallen into the hands of the enemy if Dundee had not been held for a time, as it was. The reverse of the Boer commando at Dundee on October 2Oth, and the complete rout of the enemy at Eland's Laagte on the following day must have upset their plan of operations considerably, and delayed the investment of Ladysmith for at least a week. During that week a large portion of the Indian contingent of troops arrived in Ladysmith ; and only three days before the investment the naval guns with their ammunition entered Ladysmith, just in time to check the Boer artillery which was playing havoc among the retreating British troops at the battle of Lombaard's Kop.
Had these naval guns not been available in Ladysmith during the siege, the enemy's artillery would have approached to much closer range, and the British casualties from shell fire would have been far more numerous. It is even probable that the town would have been captured ; and on the fall of Ladysmith, early in November, the whole of Natal would have been overrun by the enemy. The holding of Dundee, therefore, under the circumstances, was the wisest thing to do.
The sincere thanks of all colonists are also due to the High Commissioner, Sir Alfred Milner, who has not wavered in his policy throughout the trying times both before and during the war. Natal, having acquiesced entirely with the Imperial policy, and having helped to the best of her ability to carry out that policy, has suffered considerably. Her homes have been devastated, her sons have fallen on the battlefield, and in many other ways she has suffered; but she now rejoices because she trusts that peace will soon be restored—not peace of an ephemeral nature, but peace which will abide, the foundation being on a sound basis, namely, the British Empire.
The Dutch farmers and British colonists have ever lived peaceably side by side, the relationships between them being most cordial, and as soon as the war-clouds are entirely dispersed this peace will be again restored and the former friendships renewed. The Pretorian Oligarchy, labouring under a false idea as to the relative strength of its own and that of the British army, sought to establish Dutch supremacy in South Africa. In the initial stages of the war it annexed large tracts of British territory. On November 10, 1899, Commandant-General P. J. Joubert issued a proclamation to the effect that the northern portion of Natal had been annexed to the South African Republic. Soon, however, were the Boer hopes blasted, for they had speedily to relinquish the newly acquired territory, and also to suffer for their foolhardy exploit.
Zululand, also, which had a short while previously been annexed to Natal, suffered from the Boer invasion. At the commencement of the war a Boer commando entered at the north and looted to a large extent; and during February another large commando entered on the east and captured the Nkutu Magistracy, taking the magistrate and neighbouring inhabitants prisoners. This commando, proceeding onward, also captured the Nkandhla Magistracy, the magistrate, however, having fled. It now became evident to the military authorities and the Natal Government that Eshowe, the late capital of Zululand, was in danger. A corps of 500 men, called the "Colonial Scouts," was therefore quickly despatched to Zululand, as well as a number of Bluejackets with naval guns from Durban. Soon after the arrival of these the Boers withdrew, vacating the magistracies which they had occupied.
The amount of Relief work and hospital visiting done in Natal during the war was very great. To the ladies of Natal is the chief praise due, for they were untiring in their efforts to relieve the destitute refugees and to alleviate as much as possible the sufferings of the sick and wounded. All the hospitals and certain of the public buildings of Durban and Pietermaritzburg were crowded with the latter. Hospital ships at the wharf in Durban also accommodated a large number of the wounded. To all these places large donations of fruit, vegetables, and flowers were sent. Clothes, such as pyjamas, shirts, &c., were made in large quantities, by organised societies of ladies, and also distributed among the hospitals. Ladies also visited the hospitals daily, distributing gifts among the inmates, and writing letters for them to their relatives. In this way many a despondent " Tommy" was cheered, and his period of suffering brightened by the presence of loving hands and hearts.
The farming industry in Natal, during the war, was practically at a standstill. Fortunately for the military the summer of 1899-1900 was an exceptionally dry one, but the continued drought was the cause of great loss to the farmers. Many of them were, however, enabled to partially compensate for this by selling what horses they could spare to the military for remounts. Others, who were the owners of waggons and oxen, hired them to the Army Service for transport purposes. The whole of the inhabitants of Natal suffered to a greater or less extent, the prices of all food-stuffs having increased considerably, owing to the increased population. Coal was also very scarce, on account of the enemy having cut off the mines. Previous to the war coal could be bought at £1 per ton, but during the war the price was from £5 to £7 a ton.
The revenue of Natal also suffered to a very great extent. The customs revenue was exceedingly small, and the Natal Government Railway receipts, which enter the Treasury, were greatly diminished owing to the goods traffic with Johannesburg being suspended, and also to the cessation of coal traffic. The upkeep of the volunteers was also a serious item, amounting to over £80,000 per month.
It will be seen, then, that Natal suffered severely during the war, and that she had to bear the brunt of the invasion of the Federal forces. But she now rejoices that her sons have been able to stand on the battlefield side by side with the other forces of Queen Victoria to repel the common foe. She is proud to belong to the great British Empire, which during the past few months has shown to the world its power ; and she feels that the relationship between herself and the mother country is closer than it ever was. Her prayer will ever be : God save the Queen.