SOON after the Impanza fight, reinforcements in the shape of the Umvoti Mounted Rifles, four guns of Natal Field Artillery, and four companies of the Durban Light Infantry went up to join in the hunt for Bambata. The police moved off at dawn, skirting the hills in the direction of Keate's Drift, overlooking the Impanza Valley, but found no trace of the rebels, and returned to camp at dusk. It was during this expedition that the mutilated remains of Sergeant Brown were discovered.
On the 8th April the police were under orders to join Colonel Leuchars' force, but as it was persistently stated that the rebels had gone over the border into Zululand, permission was obtained to join in the chase after him there. Great difficulty was experienced in getting across the Tugela, at Middle Drift. The water was low, but the bed of the river consisted of huge boulders, round which the wagons had to be drawn, the whole of the track being covered either with stones or soft sand. There were two wagons, each drawn by ten mules, and one drawn by sixteen oxen. So laborious was the task of crossing this place that the men were hauling, pushing, and moving stones the whole day before the three vehicles were got to the other side, and the party bivouacked on the bank of the river. There news was received from a storekeeper that the rebels had passed, going into Zululand the previous day ; and the police also met a party of civilians who had been after the rebels and missed them. The most enthusiastic of this crowd was a one-legged man whose misfortune in no way deterred him in the chase. He rode with the point of his wooden leg stuck in a jam tin instead of a stirrup iron.
The next day Fanefili's store, south of the main road between Eshowe and Nkandhla, was reached, and there the detachment were met by Troopers Smyley and Cartwright, who had ridden from Nkandhla through the forest to deliver a message from the district officer to the effect that the forest road was unsafe, as many natives had been seen in the district. Having delivered their message, and stayed the night there, Smyley and Cartwright went back to their station by the road concerning which they had given the warning.
Colonel Mansel decided to take another route Galloway's road to Nkandhla, sending the wagons round by Eshowe and Melmoth. The march was a long and tiring one, over mountainous country, the police being accompanied by nearly a hundred of the Zululand Police on foot. The Colonel was informed that Sikananda's tribe, which was in a state of rebellion, might attack the party at any moment, but the troopers pushed on as rapidly as possible, and it was dark when they reached the Nkandhla gaol, both men and beasts being exhausted. There had been great uneasiness amongst the garrison there, and the advent of the police was greeted with cheers from the Zululand Mounted Rifles, who were stationed there to the number of about a hundred. With the total force now in the gaol yard the laager was safe even if every impi in Zululand had hurled itself against the solid walls ; but the natives were not so foolish as to try the experiment.
The horses were picketed in the yard, and the cells were occupied by thirty women and children. Incidentally, a son was born to Mrs. Charles M'Kenzie in the gaol. It was a boy, and was promptly known as " Bambata M'Kenzie."
Pickets outside the laager had an exciting time, for rumours of coming attacks were constant. So difficult was it to follow the movements of the enemy that practically every day even the friendly chiefs brought in news that an impi not far away was going to make an attack at dawn. Naturally such warnings could not be disregarded, and many a sleepy trooper cursed the friendly natives when he had to roll out at some unearthly hour only to find that nothing had happened.
There was a barbed wire entanglement round the gaol, and the troopers slept by the side of the trenches just within the wire, the orders being that as soon as an alarm was given the men were to enter the trenches. One night when it was raining hard, a shot was heard, waking everybody up. The outlying pickets were at once called in some of them did not need any calling and everybody stood to arms for hours. Nothing happened, however, and later it leaked out that the shot had been accidentally fired by one of the native police. Scares of this kind were continually occurring.
In the middle of April a number of civilians working on gold mines in the district, wishing to join in the excitement of warfare, asked permission to picket Signal Hill. This was granted, and the change enabled stronger patrols of police to go out. The}* nearly always found natives on the edge of the Nkandhla forest, evidently placed there to watch the movements of the force encamped in the gaol.
Bambata was reported on the 23rd April to be in the vicinity of Qudeni Hill, so Colonel Mansel set out with every available man at ten o'clock at night. No rations were carried, as it was not expected the men would be away very long, but the march was kept up intermittently all that night. The force, having failed to round up the rebels, returned to the laager at six p.m., having been out for twenty hours. Some of the horses were knocked up, and the troopers, who had had nothing to eat since they went out, were ravenous.
The following day orders came for the police to move to Fort Yolland, together with the Zululand Police. The transport again made the tour via Melmoth and Eshowe. A quantity of rifles and some ammunition were taken to Melmoth, where about 1 60 people were huddled together in the greatest discomfort, and constantly alarmed by native scares. The transport out-spanned a few miles beyond Eshowe, and at dusk Sergeant Neville was sent out to them from Eshowe to state that two miles away a chief was arming and would attack the transport at night. As there were only five men, one of whom was unarmed, escorting the wagons, a fight would have been more exciting than successful, but reinforcements, consisting of a hundred mounted men and infantry, were sent out at midnight.
No attack was made, and it was discovered later that there had been an assembly of natives. These had gathered together to attend a wedding. They passed near the transport the next day, peacefully enough, but the police had been kept on the qui vive all night.
The main body of the police, which went to Fort Yolland by the Galloway road, had an equally exciting trip. Passing along the edge of the bush, they encamped on the top of a very high hill ; and at dusk the forms of many Zulus were seen watching in the distance. There was no water either for the men or horses that night, and both were parched after the long and tiring march. The animals were ringed together, and as there seemed every prospect of an attack at any moment, sleep was out of the question. Every trooper spent the night, wide awake, sitting back on his saddle which was lying on the ground, wondering from which direction the rush would come and when he would next see water. The only thing they had had to eat was bully beef. They munched it in melancholy silence on the top of the hill, and this salt-saturated substance, when eaten alone, produces an amazing thirst. The rumour was spread in the night that there was a stream a quarter of a mile away, and a few of the men, entirely disregarding the danger of being assegaied, or the penalties incurred by leaving the camp, crept away. Though they did not admit having gone to the stream, there is no doubt whatever that they did, in spite of the risk of death.
It was later shown that a large impi was going to make an attack, and heavy loss of life was averted by Colonel Mansel's decision to make a quick dash towards Fort Yolland when the first streaks of dawn appeared. With all speed the horses were saddled and hastened down the hill, at the bottom of which there was a spruit. Both the troopers and their animals were longing for water, but strict orders were given that no stop was to be made for a drink as the spruit was forded. With the stream running up to their knees the horses struggled to get their heads down to it, but had to be urged straight through to the other bank.
The trek to Fort Yolland was accomplished so quickly that the natives lost sight of the detachment, who reached their destination without being fired on. The discomforts there, however, were considerable. All the men were put on half rations, and they had to sleep in tiers on a steep hill. It was almost impossible for a man not to press on the trooper sleeping just beneath him, and occasionally a weary individual, losing his balance, began to roll down over his comrades. A few acid comments would be made at such moments, for the men were not in too good a temper, and gradually they would fall off to sleep until a similar incident occurred again.
The chief Mfungela remained loyal, and he arranged to signal by means of a fire when he expected to be attacked. On the night of the 2nd May the signal was made, and the police hurried out to his kraal, only to find that the alarm was groundless. They returned to camp just as the Zululand Police arrived from Eshowe.
At three o'clock on the morning of the 5th May a strong force, consisting of 175 Natal Police, 100 Zululand native police, 90 Naval Corps, 30 Natal Mounted Rifles, and 50 dismounted men of the Durban Light Infantry, moved off in the direction of the Nkandhla forest. Behind them marched 600 loyal natives, chiefly men of Mfungela 's tribe. At the top of the Komo Hill the mounted troops off-saddled for about an hour and a half, and then the march was continued along the road past Domville's store, which had been looted, until they came to a path leading to Cetewayo's grave.
A few hundred yards from the track there was a Government forester's hut, and this was filled with rebels, who waited until the Zululand Police, under Inspector Fairlie, were well within range, and then opened fire on them. The shooting only lasted a minute or so, the rebels leaving their shelter and bolting into the forest. One man of the native police only was wounded.
The force soon reached open country again, and descended the Bobe Ridge, leading down to the Insuzi River. The slope was very steep in places, and while the Natal Police were dismounted and leading their horses in single file, a body of several hundred natives, who had been lying in wait with Bambata behind a small eminence, charged down on the advance guard of the Natal Mounted Rifles and the native police. The rifles there were only about half a dozen of them there came back at a gallop, with the enemy almost on top of them. The moment the mounted men cleared the front the enemy rushed straight at the native police, who stood their ground magnificently, and in a few seconds had the foe in check. The Natal Police hurried up, and for a little while there was a sharp exchange of shots. Lead fell like hail in the ranks of the enemy, until they broke and, leaving a hundred dead on the ground, fled down the ridges on either side.
This was the only time during the rebellion that the police were present when the Zulus charged in open country in the daylight, nor did they make more than one or two charges in the daylight all through the war. Their confidence on this occasion was due to a statement made by their witch-doctor, when he went through the ceremony of preparing them for battle, to the effect that his " medicine " would turn all the white men's bullets into water the moment they left the muzzle of the rifle. They were extremely valiant until they discovered that the bullets that were flying amongst them were very real ; and then their courage oozed and they fled, Bambata with them. He was seen flying over the top of a hill on a white horse.
A large number of Zulus were on the surrounding heights watching the skirmish, and judging by the manner in which they were seen moving through the forest, they had not anticipated the force going down the Bobe Ridge, but had thought they would keep on the main road to Nkandhla, where an attack had been contemplated. It was quite clear that the troops were surrounded, because there was a good deal of sniping from every direction, particularly at the rear, where the Durban Light Infantry were firing for some time.
The enemy were not pursued, and, having cleared their front, the men turned towards Fort Yolland. They crossed a stream which flows into the Insuzi, and after many of them had had a refreshing draught a number of dead Zulus were discovered in the water. These were evidently men who, having been wounded, had crawled away to die.
While everybody was crowded into the stream it was noticed that the natives were coming down the hills. They advanced in twos and threes until they got within range, and then started sniping. The rear-guard, which was now composed of Natal Police, fired back, and the Zulus disappeared for a time. It had been decided to bivouac for the night, but the position was so unsafe that, though everybody was thoroughly exhausted, and night had come on, the order was given to march back to Fort Yolland a dozen miles away. The infantrymen were almost in a state of collapse after the day's hard work, and most of the mounted men gave up their horses to those who had none.
While one spruit was being crossed two troopers, who were the last men in the rear-guard, had an experience which was somewhat unnerving. The path down to the stream was narrow, the men being hemmed in by bush until they could only go two abreast. The long procession took a tremendous time to get over the spruit, and while the men were crossing the two troopers had the unenviable task of standing alone at the top of the path leading down to the drift, with bayonets fixed. There was no room for any one else, so the rest of the rear-guard went on and were a score yards away awaiting their turn to get over the spruit. Meanwhile the Zulus crept up unseen and unheard, until the two men heard the peculiar guttural war-cry quite close to them in the trees, and a shot was fired. Fortunately it missed. All the time they remained at their post the two men knew that the natives might get through the bush on to the path leading to the spruit, and cut them off hopelessly. The sniping was kept up with painful regularity. One Zulu appeared to have a '303 rifle. They could hear him moving about in the bush, and distinguished the crack of his weapon from that of the other old elephant guns and muzzle-loaders when he fired. The two troopers were particularly pleased when the moment came for them to hurry on after the rest of the rear-guard.
At a donga a little farther on the dozen Natal Police, who still constituted the rear-guard, came upon a Maxim pack-horse, with two or three men trying to readjust its burden. The little body of police helped them, all the time dropping farther and farther behind the procession. The delay lasted ten minutes or a quarter of an hour, and they had no idea how far off the main body were, for there was dead silence, save for the crackling of a kraal which had been set on fire. As the flames shot up the party in the donga found themselves in a brilliant glare, giving the snipers an excellent opportunity to practise shooting. One or two of the police were sitting on a rock, and a rustling was noticed in the bush. It was the native with the '303 rifle, and for a few tense moments he could be heard making his way nearer and nearer. At last a crack rang out, and a bullet struck a rock within a foot of the place where Trooper Scott was sitting. His companions remember fragments of his hasty remarks to this day. 15 When the Maxim was readjusted they hurried up the hill on the other side of the donga, and endeavoured to get in touch with the column. The pack-horse, however, was exhausted, and two or three of the police had to push it up the steep slope, although they were thoroughly tired themselves. This further reduced the strength of the rear-guard, which struggled on till the foot of a large hill leading to Fanefili's store was reached, and here the straggling end of the main body was overtaken. That last wearisome climb seemed unending, and had an impi rushed down, nothing could have saved the men, for they were beaten. There were still four miles to tramp to Fort Yolland from the store, and nobody needed rocking to sleep when they got back to camp.