ON the day following the attack on the Mahlabatini magistracy, General Dartnell's column, which had been taken over by Colonel Bullock, moved to the neighbourhood of Blauw Kop on the Vaal River, round which it wandered for some weeks, making unsuccessful efforts to capture small bodies of Boers who moved about very rapidly, and continually sent very sarcastic heliograph messages.
A small number of the enemy were taken near Amersfort, and others were captured while sleeping on the banks of the Vaal. Several men were shot by the enemy during the first ten days, and on two occasions the troops were shelled. A combined movement was made under General Sir Bindon Blood, and for some time both the police and their horses, besides the rest of the force, were on half rations. About sixty oxen were lost within twenty-four hours through poverty and exhaustion, the animals being kept eight or nine hours in the yoke during each trek. A grass fire swept through the camp at Ermelo, and left many of the men in a disastrous plight. There were several nights of intense frost, and heavy rains towards the end of May caused such heavy losses amongst the transport animals that the rate of progress was reduced to one mile a day. The horses and oxen were given five days' rest at Standerton, after which the men went south to Rolfontein, and then on to Wakkerstroom to pick up more supplies, returning again to Standerton, where the command was taken over by Brigadier-General Spens.
General Dartnell had been offered another command, and the police went down to Pietermaritzburg to join him, but there it was found that the Government desired him to remain in the colony during the visit of the Duke and Duchess of York (the present King and Queen).
Elaborate arrangements were made to ensure the safety of the Royal party, 400 of the police being amongst those who guarded the railway from Durban to Pietermaritzburg. Every culvert bridge, cutting, station, and road-crossing was kept under observation, and in spite of this the train ran over a horse near the Umsindusi Station. After the pilot train had passed the animal broke loose from a platelayer's cottage in the darkness and got on to the track just as the Royal train approached.
Before leaving, the Duke asked a number of questions concerning the Natal Police, in which he evinced great interest. He remarked that they were the best dressed body of khaki-clad men that he had ever seen.
On the 27th August General Dartnell took command of the Imperial Light Horse Brigade, to which were attached a body of the Natal Police. The brigade marched up to Harrismith near the border of the Free State, and from there took a large convoy of provisions for Bethlehem. All the natives having been evicted from their kraals on the route, no information was available concerning the movements of the enemy ; but while the transport was crossing the Eland's River, about 400 Boers charged down upon the advance guard, retiring when the Imperial Light Horse dashed up. Slight opposition was offered on one or two of the following days, and the column marched into Bethlehem on the 8th September.
From there a combined movement was made in the Brandwater Basin, the enemy again coming in contact with the column on the i8th September.
As it was reported that the Boers intended making a raid into Natal from the north, the column marched back to Harrismith, being in touch with the enemy almost the whole way. At Harrismith it was learnt that 1500 Boers were moving down into Natal by way of the Nkandhla district in Zululand. General Dartnell was ordered to take the 2nd Imperial Light Horse to the Zululand border, which he did, going by train from Harrismith to Pietermaritzburg. Just after he had started, the Boers attacked the Mounted Infantry of the Dublin Fusiliers at Itala Mountain, near Nkandhla. The British force lost 80 men, but were unmolested by the enemy on the following morning while retiring to Nkandhla. Not far away, at Fort Prospect, a strong body of Boers attacked the British garrison. The Zululand native police assisted in the defence, which was successful.
On the 29th September Sub-Inspector Mansel was ordered to take a convoy of 36 wagons from Melmoth to Fort Prospect, with an escort of 20 members of the Zululand native police. The convoy started shortly after midnight, the road being reported clear, but before long they were attacked by the Boers. Resistance was impossible with such a small escort, and all the wagons were lost. Sub-inspector Mansel was taken prisoner, but the native police managed to escape. The following day, on their own initiative, they attempted to recover the convoy, but the task was too much for them. Five of the Zululand Police were killed in the first attack, and two fell when they attempted to re-take the wagons. Later in the day the sub-inspector was released, and he got back to Melmoth on foot.
At this time another detachment of Natal Police was constantly patrolling and searching the farms in the Babanango district and a portion of the Vryheid district, sometimes by themselves and sometimes with the 5th Mounted Infantry, there being several small skirmishes. A post was established at Emtonjaneni, and there a considerable number of police remained for over a year until peace was declared.
At the close of September 1901, General Dartnell, with his staff and a number of police, left Pietermaritzburg for Eshowe,and overtook the column which had been ordered for Melmoth ; but as the invasion of the colony by the Boers had been defeated, the troops returned to Harrismith, over a week's march by road.
In the middle of December the Imperial Light Horse Brigade, under General Dartnell, arrived at Eland's River, where it was stated that General De Wet was at Kafir Kop with 400 men, other commandoes near bringing the strength of the enemy up to 1 200. The men under General Dartnell were ordered to Wit Klip, sixty miles away, each man carrying four days' rations. When they got there it was reported by natives that De Wet had left the Kop the previous evening, with the intention of attacking a convoy at Eland's River. General Dartnell decided to follow them, and the next day a surrendered burgher informed him that the Boers were going to attack his troops at the Langberg with seven commandoes. As they approached Tiger Kloof the advance-guard, which consisted of Imperial Light Horse, was heavily fired upon, and a field gun also opened fire on the brigade, but the shells failed to explode, and did no damage. The column closed up and was threatened on the left by a party of Boers, upon whom a pom-pom was directed. The firing lasted for about an hour, and then most of the enemy drew off in the direction of the Langberg, and worked round to the rear, where they attacked Colonel Briggs' regiment of the Imperial Light Horse, which lost four officers and had seven or eight men wounded. In the middle of the afternoon the Boers retired and the brigade bivouacked near Tiger Kloof.
Few records are left of the doings of other branches of the force during the war. Some officers were detailed for service with the Utrecht Vryheid Mounted Police, which did duty in those districts until peace was declared. Non-commissioned officers and troopers were attached to various columns, where their services as guides were exceedingly useful. In the few maps that were available, little was shown besides the main roads, the paths not being indicated at all ; and as it was necessary on many occasions to avoid the main roads, the police had to lead the troops along kafir tracks. They also acted as interpreters and signallers.
A good deal of disappointment was created amongst the police on account of the fact that though many of them were in the field until the close of the war, only one or two, attached to General Dartnell's Staff, received the King's Medal. The conditions laid down for this decoration were that men must have completed eighteen months' service in the field, some portion of which must have been outside the colony in the year 1902, and that they must have been under the command of a General Officer. The medal was given to the Cape Police and the Cape Volunteers ; and the volunteer staff in Natal also received it, although they did not complete eighteen months' service, and saw no service after September 1 90 1 . The detachment under Sub-Inspector Hamilton at Emtonjaneni were actually encamped within the Transvaal border, but the General Officer Commanding in Pretoria contended that these men were not under a General Officer. A great deal of correspondence passed on the subject of the medals, but without avail.