AFTER the relief of Ladysmith, the various detachments of the Natal Police were very much scattered, and it is impossible to give a connected account of their doings during the rest of that war.
There were about 60 men at Nongoma, with two Maxim guns, defending the laager that had been formed round the court house, and still farther north there were small detachments at Ubombo, Gwaliweni, and Ingwavuma.
The force at Gwaliweni consisted of 17 men of the Zululand Police under a sergeant and two European police. The Boers had established a post within half a mile of this station, close to the Swaziland Border. Instructions had been issued to the Zululand officials that no offensive measures were to be taken against the Boers, and the natives were told to take no part in the operations, as this was entirely a quarrel between the white men.
In October 1889, the Swaziland commando, numbering 200 men, ascended the Lebombo Mountains at Gwaliweni. Having anticipated this invasion, the police had retired to Ingwavuma to defend the magistracy, where there were 10 Europeans and 25 of the Zululand Police. Acting on instructions from the Natal Government, the force evacuated their position, and retired to Nongoma to join the field force detachment under Inspector Marshall. The Ingwavuma men returned to their station the following May, reoccupying it without opposition ; but while the magistrate was absent, a small party of Boers attacked the court-house. They were driven off with the loss of one man and two horses.
As soon as the war was declared the detachment at Nondweni moved to Nqutu, where the magistrate, Mr. C. F. Hignett, had under him 9 of the Natal Police, 50 Zululand Police, and about 8 civilians.
There was a Boer commando near Nqutu, and on the 30th January 1900 Trooper Wevell was sent with a letter to the Commandant stating that the magistrate would not hold himself responsible for the natives if the Boers entered the district. The commando appeared on the following morning, being about 400 strong, and sent a messenger, under the protection of the white flag, calling upon the garrison to surrender. The magistrate refused, and the cash in his safe was buried in a garden, where it remained until the officials returned some months later. As soon as the firing started it was seen that the position was hopeless. The enemy soon got the range with their pom-pom, and a shell came flying into the court-room. The Government had instructed the magistrate not to defend the post against a strong force, and so a white flag was hoisted. The native police, always keen for a fight, were very much annoyed at this. Some of them refused to lay down their arms and escaped into a plantation not far away.
The police and other officials spent that night as prisoners in their own gaol cells, and on the following morning were mounted on broken-down steeds which took a dozen hours to get to Helpmakaar. From there, the prisoners were sent by ox-wagons to Dundee, and they completed their journey to Pretoria in a sealed meat truck, in which there was very little ventilation. They were taken in horse-boxes to Waterfall, where Trooper Collins contracted enteric fever and died. These prisoners were released the following June by General French's column, and the police remained in Pretoria on duty until railway communication with Natal was re-established.
Three troopers of the Natal Police, named Williams, G. B. Moor, and A. Date, took part in a daring encounter near Nqutu in 1901. They decided to seize some of the Boers' cattle, after hearing that it was the intention of the enemy to cross from Babanango Hill to Isandhlwana to loot cattle belonging to an Englishman who lived near there. Having been joined by three other men, the trio of police set out at night on their horses, but when they got to Salutshana Hill a kafir stopped them and said there was a Boer commando numbering 50 men just beyond the top of the hill.
Making a detour, they got to the summit, and saw the Dutchmen not far away, saddling up and moving slowly along the side of Salutshana, in half sections. There were only half a dozen men on the top of the hill, but they could not resist the temptation to have a shot. Taking steady aim, they emptied their magazines, and demoralized the enemy for a time, killing six of them. As soon as the magazines of the attacking party were empty the Boers realized that there were very few Britishers there, and they charged up the hill. The police and their comrades leaped on their horses and galloped for their lives. Williams had a narrow escape, falling with his horse into a deep donga, but in some extraordinary way both he and his mount avoided injury, and, climbing out of the hole, got away.
The only colonial mounted troops remaining in the vicinity of Dundee after the disbandment of the Natal Volunteer Brigade were the Natal Police, under Inspector Marshall, and the volunteer composite regiment. On the I3th December 1900 a convoy of 60 wagons was sent out in the direction of Vryheid, under a strong escort, which included 64 Natal Police with two Maxim guns. When they were approaching Scheeper's Nek, Inspector Marshall noticed some one taking cover in the distance, and immediately gave the men under him the order to gallop to a depression. They had just time to dismount and lie down when a heavy fire was opened on them at a range of about six hundred yards, but only three horses were shot. The fire was returned, and Trooper Aldwinkle went back, through a hail of bullets, with a message to Major Wing of the Royal Field Artillery to shell the position. This was done, and the enemy's fire slackened, whereupon the police advanced in successive rushes to a stony kopje. The enemy retreated in two bodies, one making towards Nondweni and the other towards Blood River Poort. Sub-Inspector Ottley's police Maxim section came in contact with the rear-guard of the enemy, and the Boers, firing as they rode away, killed several horses.
After Colonel Dartnell and his men got away from Ladysmith, that officer took command of the Volunteer Brigade, he still being Commandant of volunteers. They took part in the capture of Helpmakaar, but saw no more fighting during the war.
General Buller reorganized his columns for his advance northwards, and the command of his bodyguard of police was now undertaken by Sub-Inspector Abraham. This escort was in action at Alleman's Nek on the i ith June, the fight leading to the evacuation of Laing's Nek by the Boers, and enabling Colonel Dartnell, with the Volunteer Brigade, to enter Charlestown without opposition. A diary was kept by the police during General Buller's advance, but this unfortunately has been lost. The men, however, were with the General at all the actions in which he participated, including Amersfort, Geluk, Bergendaal (where Sub-Inspector Abraham acted as A.D.C. to General Duller), Machadosdorp, Witcliffe, Lydenburg, Mauchberg, Devil's Knuckles, and Kruger's Post, and remained with him until he returned to Natal.
Early in January one of the columns formed for operations in the eastern Transvaal, consisting of 2600 men and nine guns, was commanded by Brigadier-General Dartnell. Several non-commissioned officers and men of the police were attached to the brigade, including Inspector Clarke, as intelligence officer, Sub-Inspector Abraham, who acted as A. B.C., and Sergeant Newson, who was senior non-commissioned officer of signallers. The object was to sweep the eastern Transvaal from the Delagoa Bay line to the Zululand border ; and a column started from Springs on the 28th January with a convoy of 450 vehicles. Heavy rains fell on some days, and supplies failed altogether for awhile owing to wagons that were expected from Utrecht being hung up in Elandsberg, the men being dependent entirely on food they could capture from the burghers. No commissariat supplies reached the column either, from the igth January until the i$th March, and during the greater portion of that time the horses were almost without rations. General Dartnell crossed the Intombi River and reached Vryheid, after which he marched to Louwsberg, to make a sweeping movement towards Zululand. The column travelled to Utrecht, Newcastle, and Charlestown, where General Dartnell handed over the command to Colonel Bullock.