On August 10th, shortly after our arrival with the prisoners-of-war at Sabi, and while I was still discussing with Lord Kitchener the incident related in the previous chapter, General Muller sent word to me from Olifant's River, where I had left him with my men, that he had been attacked by General W. Kitchener three days after I had left him. It appears that his sentries were surprised and cut off from the commandos, these being divided into different camps.
The burghers who were farthest away, the Middelburg and Johannesburg men, had, contrary to my instructions, pitched camp on the Blood River, near Rooikraal, and were suddenly and unexpectedly attacked by the enemy at about two o'clock in the afternoon, whilst their horses were grazing in the veldt. Some horses were caught in time and some burghers offered a little resistance, firing at a short range, several men being killed on both sides. The confusion, however, was indescribable, horses, cattle, burghers and soldiers being all mixed up together. A pom-pom, together with its team of mules and harness, and most of the carts and saddles, were captured by the enemy. Our officers could not induce the men to make a determined stand until they had retired to the Mazeppa Drift, on the Olifant's River. Here General Muller arrived in the night with some reinforcements and awaited the enemy, who duly appeared next morning with a division of the 18th and 19th Hussars, and, encouraged by the previous day's success, charged our men with a well-directed fire which wrought havoc in their ranks. The gallant Hussars were repulsed in one place, and, at another, Major Davies (or Davis) and 20 men were made prisoners. At last some guns and reinforcements reached the enemy, and our burghers wisely retired, going as far as Eland's River, near the "Double Drifts," where they rested.
On the third day General W. Kitchener had discovered our whereabouts, and our sentries gave us warning that the enemy was approaching through the bushes, raising great clouds of dust. While the waggons were being got ready the burghers marched out, and awaited the English in a convenient spot between two kopjes. The latter rode on unsuspectingly two by two, and when about 100 had been allowed to pass, our men rushed out, calling, "Hands up!" and, catching hold of their horses' bridles, disarmed about 30 men. This caused an immediate panic, and most of the Hussars fled (closely pursued by our burghers, who shot 10 or 12 of them). The Hussars left behind a Colt-Maxim and a heliograph for our usage. The ground was overgrown here with a prickly, thorny bush, which made it difficult for our foes to escape, and about 20 more were overtaken and caught, several having been dragged from their horses by protruding branches, and with their face and hands badly injured by thorns, whilst their clothes were half torn off their bodies.
Meanwhile the enemy continued to fire on us whilst retreating, and thus succeeded in wounding several of their own people. This running fight lasted until late in the evening, when the burghers slackened off their pursuit and returned, their losses being only one killed, Lieut. D. Smit, of the Johannesburg Police. The enemy's losses were considerable, although one could not estimate the exact number, as the dead were scattered over a large tract of ground and hidden amongst the bushes, rendering it difficult to find them. Weeks afterwards, when we returned over the same ground, we still found some bodies lying about the bush, and gave them decent burial.
Our burghers were now once more in possession of 100 fresh horses and saddles, whilst their pom-pom was replaced by a Colt-Maxim. General W. Kitchener now left us alone for a while, for which relief we were very thankful, and fell back on the railway line. The respite, however, was short-lived; soon fresh columns were seen coming up from Middelburg and Pretoria, and we were again attacked, some fighting taking place mostly on our old battlefields. General Muller repeatedly succeeded in tearing up the railway line and destroying trains with provisions, whilst I had the good fortune of capturing a commissariat train, near Modelane, on the Delagoa Bay line; but, as I could not remove the goods, I was forced to burn the whole lot. A train, apparently with reinforcements, was also blown up, the engine and carriages going up in the air with fine effect.