The second period of the siege of Ladysmith had ended in disappointment and gloom. Not only had Buller's repulse at Colenso put an end to all immediate hope of relief, but White was doubtful whether any further attempt at relief would ever be made. He knew nothing of the decision of Her Majesty's Government, and Buller's telegrams were not encouraging. To add to the darkness of the situation, (he had received news of the reverses at Stormberg and Maagersfontein. And, finally, he had now begun to feel serious anxiety not only about the increase of sickness in the garrison, but also about the food supply. The two things were closely connected. Though the men's ration was still sufficient to keep them from serious suffering, it was not too large or varied, and the effects of a restricted diet were beginning to show. The discouragement of hope deferred, too, was sure to make matters worse, and White had been obliged to inform the garrison on the 17th December that they "must not expect relief as early as had been anticipated." It was altogether a somewhat cheerless prospect.
But a ray of light was soon to come. On the same day — the 17th December — Buller, who had received the telegram conveying the decision of Her Majesty's Government, sent a cipher message to White :—
No. 97, December 17th.—Fifth Division just arriving at the Cape. Have telegraphed for it to come on at once. It will make me strong enough to try Potgieter's. How long can you hang on ?
This message was received by White on the 18th December. He replied at once :—
No. 34p, December 18th.—Your 97 cipher of yesterday received and understood. Delighted to get it. I have provisions for men for 6 weeks, and I have confidence in holding] this place for that time, but bombardment becomes more trying. I had 22 casualties this morning from one shell? Enteric and dysentery increasing very rapidly. I can get on well for 3 weeks, keeping even horses moderately fit. If you wish to wait for siege-guns, it is worth waiting a little: to dominate and overwhelm the enemy's guns. Bring every' heavy gun, naval and others, you can get. Water will be difficulty as regards occupying a position near Tugela river from which you can maintain continued attack. Could youi arrange pipes, pumping station, or reservoir ?
It is perhaps unnecessary to point out that the occupation of a position near the Tugela by no means implied the possibility of using the river water. That was under the command of the Boer fire at close range, and was therefore not available to the British. It was, to use Sir Frederick Maurice's simile, the moat of the Boer fortress.
Throughout the month of December, one of the hottest months of the hot South African summer, sickness had been increasing fast in Ladysmith, and during the last fortnight of the year the increase became alarming. It was now, White has recorded, his "chief source of anxiety." On the 15th of December the number of sick was 874; on the 31st it was 1558, or, according to Maurice, 1650. Thus more than a tenth of the original force was now inefficient, and of course this implied that the health of the remainder was being lowered. Every possible effort was made by Colonel Ward to improve and supplement the untempting rations of beef and bread, and all concerned did their best to keep up the spirits of the men by sports of various kinds. Cricket and football matches were played under fire from the long-range Creusot guns, the Boer gunners on Bulwana looking on through their glasses, and showing at times a sporting interest in the amusements of the troops, but at times sending a heavy shell to break up any considerable gathering. Concerts and other entertainments were held, and after sunset the brave women of Ladysmith sang and played as though there were no danger of their houses being shattered about them. But in spite of all, the garrison began to lose health fast, and the enemy knew it only too well.
They seemed to know everything, and among other things they knew precisely the position of the General's headquarters. The little house he occupied on the slope of " Convent Hill" was more or less sheltered, but several times the Boer gunners had dropped their shells very near it, and on the 21st December they succeeded in hitting it. As White lay in his room ill with fever a large shell burst in the next room, shattering the wall and furniture, but luckily killing no one.
Unfortunately [writes Lieut. - Colonel Gore] it landed among the " English stores" and the liquor, and it pains one even to think of the sad destruction of good drink and stores at such a time! They are more sought after than anything else at present.
A rough sketch of " General Sir George White's Quarters," showing the effect of the shell, may be worth reproducing here.
The Boer gunners did more damage than this. During the last fortnight of the year their artillery, which now numbered more than twenty pieces, " continued to bombard daily, and with increasing effect." Considering the number of shells poured into the British position, the loss of life was not so great as might have been expected; but at times it was serious. On the 18th of December a single shell from Bulwana killed four men, and wounded seven men and twelve horses. On the 22nd December another shell killed nine men and wounded three. On the 27th December another killed or wounded eleven officers and men. So it went on; the tale of killed and wounded gradually mounting up until it had become considerable; and though both troops and civilian population learnt to regard the bombardment with little concern, yet it was not a thing to be despised, for it circumscribed the limits of available camping grounds and caused inconvenience in many other respects.
On the 1st of January 1900, White received a heliograph message informing him that Buller meant to make before long his second attempt to relieve Ladysmith, this time from the westward. Buller's intention was to start from Frere on the railway line about the 6th January, by which time he hoped the 5th division would have arrived. The message closed with the words :—
I will inform you later of my exact date of departure from here, and will endeavour to keep you informed of my movements, but my telegraph line may be cut.
This was cheering news, and White received it with great pleasure. He replied:—
If you will trust me with further details of your plan, I hope to be able to assist you in the later stages of your advance on Ladysmith; but to do this effectually, I should require to know on which line or lines you intend to force passage of Tugela.
Buller answered on the 2nd January that he proposed to cross the river at Potgieter's.
I expect a stiff fight when crossing the river, possibly a fight at the place I camp, between river and Lancer's Kop, and another fight there. If you can recommend me any better point of attack than Lancer's Kop, please do so. As troops are not arriving up to time, I doubt if I can start until the 8 th January. I calculate it will take me seven days to reach Lancer's Kop.
White replied on the same day :—
As you intend crossing Tugela river at Potgieter's, Lancer's Hill becomes an essential point on your line of advance. If you can keep me informed of your progress, I can help you by attacking Lancer's Hill from north when you attack it from south-west. Communication by signalling from hill above Potgieter's should be easy. Do not hurry on date of starting on our account if recently arrived troops need rest, as I am' quite confident of holding my own here.
White's confidence was soon to be severely tested. Whether the details of Buller's plan had become known to the Boers it is impossible to say, but they doubtless knew or guessed that reinforcements were coming to him, and that a fresh attack upon the line of the Tugela would not be long delayed. They must have felt that time was against them, and that unless they could do something to improve their position, it was likely to become more precarious as the days went on. Hitherto, after the abortive attack upon Ladysmith of the 9th November, they had shrunk from any further attempt of the kind, though the matter had been more than once discussed in their' war councils. Now they discussed it again, and came to the conclusion that they must harden their hearts and make one determined attempt to carry Ladysmith by assault. It was an operation foreign to their usual methods of waging war, and to the cautious spirit of their Commander-in-Chief, Joubert; but on this occasion the party of action prevailed, and on the 5th of January the necessary orders were issued. The Boer plan was excellent. Very early on the morning of the 6th January a picked force of four thousand men, half from the Transvaal and half Free Staters, were to make a sudden assault in the darkness upon the most exposed, and at the same time the most important part of the British defences, known as Caesar's Camp, while feints were made at various other parts to keep the garrison employed. If the assault succeeded, the victorious force would be established in a position from which it would be very difficult to dislodge them, and one which would make Ladysmith practically untenable.
Sir Frederick Maurice has explained in his ' History of the War ' the great importance of that position.
From the earliest days of the investment [he writes], the Boers, with that unerring tactical eye which distinguished them, had marked the Caesar's Camp-Wagon Hill plateau as the key of the British defences. Such it was indeed. Situated no more than 3000 yards from the centre of Ladysmith, with a command of 600 feet, it not only dominates the town itself within extreme rifle range, but, if lost, would have rendered impossible the occupation of every other position without exception. For there is none which it does not overlook from flank to rear within field artillery range.
Sir George White, it is true, would hardly have admitted the entire correctness of this description. He believed that even if the plateau had been lost he could have fallen back upon, and held "for some time," an inner position which he had prepared—an "inner citadel," as General Hunter called it. But, White said, the enemy would have been able in that case to inflict upon him very heavy losses. It seems clear that at best his continued tenure of Ladysmith would then have been a very difficult, if not a desperate undertaking.
The sketch annexed shows roughly the features and situation of the plateau or ridge, for it was not one plateau. Forming the south-eastern heel of the Ladysmith horse-shoe, it runs almost due east and west for a distance of about two miles and a quarter. It consists of two separate heights of unequal length, joined by a nek. The eastern and larger of these, called Caesar's Camp, is a flat-topped hill nearly two miles long, and from eight hundred to a thousand yards in breadth. Wagon Hill, much shorter and narrower than Caesar's Camp, but slightly higher, forms the rest of the ridge. Wagon Hill itself consists of two knolls : one, the eastern, being the larger of the two; the other, generally known as Wagon Point, forming the actual end of the ridge. Both Caesar's Camp and Wagon Hill faced southward, over " Bester's Valley," a deep valley, the sides of which were covered with boulders and scrub, and were in part hidden by salients and ravines from the sight of troops holding the ridge. An attacking force coming up in the darkness out of Bester's Valley had to face a rough climb, but might hope to get near the crest of the ridge at various points without detection. It might also hope to overlap both the eastern and-: western points of the ridge.
The troops actually holding this long position on the night of the 5th January were very few for its size, far too few to occupy, if they could have made, anything like a continuous line of entrenchments. On Caesar's Camp were the 1st Battalion of the Manchester Regiment, under Colonel Curran, a battery of field artillery, the 42nd, a naval detachment with a 12-pr. gun, and a detachment of Natal Naval Volunteers with a Hotchkiss. On Wagon Hill were three companies of the 2nd King's Royal Rifles under Major Gore Browne, and two weak squadrons, together not 80 men, of the Imperial Light' Horse. In all, there were probably not 1500 men on the ridge. The defences crowning the heights on the morning of the 6th January were not of imposing strength. On both heights the northern or inner crest of the ridge, which is slightly higher than the southern, had been chosen for the "line of resistance." The southern or outer crest formed the "line of observation." That is to say, that in case of serious attack the fighting line would lie along the northern crest, having in its front a flat, or comparatively flat, field of fire, varying in breadth from 1000 yards on Caesar's Camp to less than 300 yards on Wagon Hill. The steep and half-hidden slopes of Bester's Valley would be watched by piquets, but the field of fire there from the southern crest was not good, and moreover, any Boer force which succeeded in reaching the southern crest would be on the flank of troops holding it. The northern,^ crest therefore seemed the better line for the fenders to hold. Accordingly the piquets lining the outer crest were sheltered only by sangars, the main defences lying farther back. Thus on Caesar's Camp the Manchester Regiment had two semi-enclosed and two enclosed works. The former contained the supports to the piquets; the latter, which were of considerable strength, stood upon the line of resistance. Pits and emplacements sheltered the guns. On Wagon Hill the sangars for the piquets were backed by a redoubt called the Crow's Nest, which formed the headquarters of the three companies of Rifles, and further west by two smaller works, which were held by the two squadrons Imperial Light. Horse.
It happened that on the morning of the 6th January the small force holding this line of defences had been temporarily increased. It had been White's intention to place three of his heavy naval pieces, two 12-pdrs. and a 4'7-in. gun, on Wagon Point; and. after dark on the 5th, Lieutenant Digby Jones of the Royal Engineers, with 33 sappers, arrived to carry out the necessary work, while a little later the 47-in. gun was brought to the northern foot'1 of the hill, escorted by two naval officers and 13. bluejackets, and 170 men of the Gordon Highlanders. There it remained until its emplacement should be ready.
The sappers went on with their work all through the night, with the help of a detachment of 50 men from the Manchester Regiment, who had been sent over from Caesar's Camp, and about 2.30 a.m. all was nearly finished. The night had been quiet, and, shortly before, an officer of the Imperial Light Horse, who had patrolled to within a short distance of one of the Boer positions, had returned with the report that nothing was stirring in the enemy's lines. The fatigue party of the Manchester, their work done, left for Caesar's Camp.
Ten minutes later, at 2.40 a.m., a piquet of the Imperial Light Horse heard sounds of movement in the ravine below their sangar; a sentry challenged, and, receiving no reply, fired. Instantly there was a crash of musketry from the darkness, and the Light Horse supports running up were met by a heavy fire from a body of Boers who had reached the crest of the hill. Several men fell. Almost at the same moment Jones and his sappers found themselves under fire at close range. The surprise was complete, and in the desperate fighting which followed the British losses were severe. The Free Staters swarmed over the crest from many points at once, and pressed the attack with such resolution that for a time it seemed as if Wagon Hill must be lost. The defenders fought fiercely, but their fire was overpowered, and small parties which tried to charge with the bayonet were shot down before they reached the enemy. One party of the Boers even worked round the western point of the hill and came upon the 4'7-in. gun, which was still lying in its waggon at the foot of the slope. They were beaten off by the guard, but they were actually in rear of the British line. Thus, after an hour from the beginning of the attack, at 3.45 a.m., as day-began to break, the whole position was enveloped in a confusion of musketry; the defenders, who were in many parts intermingled with, or actually in advance of the enemy, finding themselves attacked from so many directions at once, that no man knew whether to meet with the bayonet the Boers close upon him, or to reply to the rifles of those more distant.
In the meantime, at the other end of the ridge, the Transvaal men had made their attack also. It was delayed for some time after the attack of the Free Staters, and it was not pressed home with such resolution; but it came from an unexpected quarter, and was for the moment completely successful. The Boers told off to attack Caesar's Camp had chosen for their point of assault the extreme eastern extremity of the ridge—the heel of the horseshoe. Stealing in the darkness round the left of the Manchester Regiment, they climbed the slope, which is here fairly easy, and, reaching the crest, poured a sudden volley at short range into the nearest piquet, from its left rear. The piquet was surprised in a hopeless position and suffered severely. For some reason the Transvaal men did not push their advantage by an immediate advance, and though their fire increased in strength they seemed for the moment satisfied to hold the ground they had gained.
Nevertheless, as day dawned, the situation was sufficiently serious. The enemy, it is true, had not in their first rush swept the defenders off the ridge, or captured the main defences; but they had established themselves on the southern crest of the ridge at several points, had inflicted considerable losses, and had got round both extremities of the long weakly-held position.
When the news of the attack was brought to Sir George White at about 3 a.m. by his Military Secretary, Beauchamp Duff, he was in bed at " Christopher's," the house to which he had moved after the partial destruction on the 21st December of his former quarters. The attack of fever from which he had then been suffering had passed off, and since Christmas he had been in good health. It is fortunate that the 6th of January found him well and full of energy, for he had a long and trying day's work before him. Beauchamp Duff was followed immediately by the Chief of the Staff, General Hunter, and White issued orders for the rapid despatch of reinforcements to the points attacked. The whole of the Imperial Light Horse remaining in reserve at Ladysmith was to go at once to Wagon Hill, and the 2nd Gordon Highlanders to Caesar's Camp. Half an hour later the Headquarters of the 1st and 2nd King's Royal Rifles were also ordered to move out, and four companies of each battalion were soon on the way.
These arrangements having been made, White dressed and came down from his house to one occupied by the Headquarters Staff, in the verandah of which was the central telephone connected with every part of the defences. It was then daylight.
In the verandah of this house, or in the plot of ground in front of it, White remained until the fighting was over, and here he was joined at times by his cavalry general, Brocklehurst, by Hedworth Lambton, commanding the naval detachment, and others.
Meanwhile Colonel Ian Hamilton, in whose section of the defences lay the position attacked, had already collected three companies of the Gordons, two of which he took with him to Wagon Hill, sending the third to reinforce the Manchester Regiment on; Caesar's Camp. The rest of the battalion, under Lieutenant-Colonel Dick-Cunyngham, V.C., marched out shortly afterwards from their camp at the southwest corner of Ladysmith. Some of the enemy's bullets, passing over the ridge, were now dropping into the ground behind it, and one of these mortally wounded Dick-Cunyngham as he rode at the head of his men.
The first of the reinforcements arrived at about 5 a.m. These were the Imperial Light Horse, and the three companies of Gordon Highlanders brought up by Ian Hamilton. The Light Horse, who had ridden out fast, joined what was left of their two squadrons in the fighting line on Wagon Hill, and one company of the Gordons marched straight upon, and pushed back, the Boers who had come in on the left flank of the Manchester piquet. A few mounted infantry of the 1st (King's) Liverpool Regiment also joined the Manchester, and the Boers at the eastern end of the ridge were then held. Soon afterwards they were more than held, for although daylight had enabled the Boer guns to open upon the plateau with effect from various directions, it also allowed the British artillery to come into action; and the 53rd battery, under Major Abdy, moving out fast from Ladysmith towards Caesar's Camp, so roughly handled the Boers on the hill and their supports below, that they began to give way. The Gordons then charged with the bayonet, and cleared the eastern crest of the ridge.
At the same time the 21st battery, under Major Blewitt, also trotted out from Ladysmith, and moving to the western end of the ridge, shelled the ground below it, and prevented the Boers turning Wagon Hill from this side.
Both flanks of the ridge seemed now, about 6 a.m., fairly secure, but on the summit the fighting was fierce; and throughout the early hours of the morning White, who was in close touch by telephone with every phase of the action, continued to receive urgent demands for further reinforcements. Before long he had sent forward the whole of his reserve of infantry, and nothing but his cavalry remained. It was an anxious time, for it must be remembered that although the main attack of the enemy was upon the southern ridge, they were threatening other parts of the defences, and it was possible that their feints might at any moment turn into something more serious. Indeed General Hunter, in his evidence before the Royal Commission, says that " two very determined attacks " were made on points other than the southern ridge. But the pressure of the main attack had to be met, and somewhere about eight o'clock White decided that he must put in his cavalry also. Three squadrons of the 5 th Lancers and two of the 19th Hussars were sent to Caesar's Camp, and the 18th Hussars to Wagon Hill. At 9.30 there was nothing left, and White, who had some time before informed Buller by heliogram of the attack, now sent a message :—
Attack continues, and enemy been reinforced from south. All my reserves are in action. I think enemy must have weakened his force in front of you.
He had done all he could do himself, and perhaps hoped that Buller might be able to create a diversion by an attempt on the Tugela.
Buller did in fact make a demonstration in front of Colenso, and bombarded the Boer line of trenches, but they were found to be fully manned, and ho attack was delivered.
In truth, though White and his staff at the Headquarters House could not know it, the most critical moment of the attack was already over. Much hard fighting had yet to be done ; but the Boers on the crest of the ridge, who had failed to rush in the darkness the weakly-held defences, could hardly hope to take them by daylight, when the defenders had been reinforced, unless they received strong reinforcements themselves. And such reinforcements were not forthcoming. Parties of men from the Boer supports no doubt came up at times throughout the day to feed the attack, but a large proportion showed no signs of a desire to help their comrades in the fighting line. They lay inactive under cover, many of them on the other side of Bester's Valley, and the brave men on the crest gradually recognised that they had been abandoned to their fate. They went on fighting doggedly, but they made no progress, and at about eleven o'clock, both on Caesar's Camp and on Wagon Hill, their deadly close - range rifle fire from the boulders and folds of the hill-tops began to decrease in volume. The Boer generals, watching the progress of the fight from the summit of Bulwana, probably felt that their great attack had failed.
Nevertheless, the struggle was by no means at an end. At about 12.30 a small party of Free Staters, led by Commandant de Villiers and Field Cornet de Jagers, suddenly rose to their feet and made a rush across the crest line of Wagon Point. Some infantrymen lying in front of them, taken by surprise, gave ground; and for a moment it seemed as if the knoll would be lost. Luckily the Boers who followed de Villiers were few in number. As it was, they swept across the hill-top, and reached a point where Colonel Ian Hamilton himself had just arrived, but there they were stopped. Digby Jones of the Engineers, who was lying close by under a tarpaulin shelter, seized a rifle and running out to meet them shot de Villiers dead. De Jagers was also killed. Then Jones, accompanied by Second Lieutenant Denniss and his sappers, with a few of the Light Horse and Bluejackets, charged down the rest of the assailants, and once more cleared the hill-top. Soon afterwards two squadrons of the 18th Hussars came up the northern slope from the rear, with the infantrymen who had retired, and fell into line with the party under Digby Jones. The success, however, was only momentary. Digby Jones was killed by a bullet in the throat; Denniss, going to his assistance, was also killed, and the restored front line was again hard pressed, for the enemy's rifle fire now increased in volume, and the Boer artillery poured in a heavy fire from the surrounding heights. All along Wagon Hill the British held on to their positions, but could not drive off the enemy or master their fire. Two hours after de Villiers had made his rush and been killed the fight was still undecided.
White had fully expected a renewal of the attack; and now, having long ago put in all his reserves, he felt that the fate of Ladysmith was trembling in the balance. At 3.15 he sent off to Buller the short: message which thrilled England—a message which, was not received until the next day : " Attack renewed, very hard pressed."
It was then found possible to send to the critical point some men of the 5th Lancers, 19th Hussars, and 5th Dragoon Guards, who had been employed elsewhere, and the dismounted troopers came into the fighting line about 3.30 p.m., just as a heavy storm broke over the field. For the next hour and a half the fight went on, in drenching rain, at a very short., range, neither side being able to do more than hold its; own. Besides the Imperial Light Horse, who had throughout been " the backbone of the defence," to use the words of Ian Hamilton, there were now on Wagon Hill squadrons from no less than four cavalry-regiments. White may well have been thankful that day that, when he, decided to hold Ladysmith, he acted upon his own judgment and kept his cavalry with him.
The close of the dramatic struggle was now at hand. About four o'clock in the afternoon, feeling that the enemy must at all costs be driven off the ridge before nightfall, and having no reserves left, White determined as a last effort to withdraw some men from another part of the defences, and the Headquarters of the 1st Devon Regiment received orders to march .at once for Wagon Hill. At five o'clock three companies (5 officers and 184 men, under Major Park), marching rapidly, had reached the foot of the hill, and Park reported his arrival to Ian Hamilton. He was ordered to turn out, with a bayonet charge, the Boers occupying the southern crest. Forming up his men in a small depression behind the northern crest, Park told them to fix bayonets, and after explaining to his officers exactly what was to be done, ordered the charge. Then he led them over the northern crest, and the three companies, forming line as they came into the open—for there had been no room to do so before—went with a cheer at the enemy. It was a proof of the discipline and steadiness of this fine regiment that, being told as they ran forward to change direction to the right, they " responded as if at exercise," and, coolly swinging up their left, fell into their exact direction before charging home. As they made their final rush there burst over them a sudden storm of thunder and hail, while from the rocks in their front, only a hundred and thirty yards away, the enemy's fire blazed in a fierce volley. But though in crossing this interval an officer and forty men went down, the rush was not checked, and the enemy did not await the bayonets. Springing to their feet they fled down into the valley below them, and the hill was finally cleared.
The Devons had yet to suffer some loss from the fire of the enemy's covering troops. Two more officers were killed and one severely wounded before darkness fell, so that Park alone remained out of the five who had led the charge ; but the work had been done. The enemy, now thoroughly beaten, fled into Bester's Valley from all parts of the ridge; and the British, lining the southern crest, slew many of them in the ravines, which the three hours' storm had turned into rushing torrents.
The numbers engaged in this day's fighting were not large, and the total losses were not much more than 1000. The British casualties amounted to 424, including 17 officers and 158 non-commissioned officers and men killed or mortally wounded. The Boers, being the assailants and unsuccessful, for once suffered more than their enemy, and certainly lost from 500 to 700 men. In the present day such losses seem insignificant ; but the effect of the fight was out of all proportion to the casualty lists. The Boers were thoroughly disheartened by their failure, and never again attempted to take Ladysmith by assault. Not only had the attack been beaten off", but the conduct of the Burghers had shown that, for lack of soldierly discipline, they were incapable of any attack on, a large scale. Many of the men who were to form the assaulting columns had never left their camps; and, of those who did so, only a small proportion joined in the gallant attempts to rush the crests. It was not their method of fighting, and the bravest of them were forced to recognise that for the future they must rely upon other means for the reduction of the town.
The following extract from White's long letter to his wife, written during the early part of January, gives some further details of the siege, and of the action of the 6th :—
4th Jany. 1900.
I wrote last on the 16 th December. About that time we had a bad disappointment in Sir Eedvers' reverse at Colenso on the 15th. I don't know the story'of it even yet, so I wont criticise, but we had all hoped he would get through to us & enable us to take a more active part in the campaign. Since that time I have been seedy. I got fever, which I think was intimately connected with liver, & I could not get right. My head felt like splitting. I was lying on my bed not able to raise it off the pillow when a shell from the big gun on Bulwana hit the house & carried away the room next to mine. Sir Henry Rawlinson had a narrow escape. The shell carried away the chair in which he had been sitting a few minutes before.
Our house was knocked to pieces, & we have had to shift the Head Quarters to another house, where I go for meals, but I have taken up my abode at a nice new house on a hill which is exposed to shell fire, but so far the Boers have not got information that I am living in it, and it is not regularly aimed at.
Some of their spies have been asking where I have gone to, as they know they knocked my house down. . . .
I was terribly sorry to hear that Freddy Roberts had been killed near Colenso on the 15th Deer, while bravely attempting to retake our guns which were lost on that day. . . . My force here is terribly reduced in efficiency by disease, & there is more enteric & dysentery every day. I have before me now our sick report of one month ago. The total sick & wounded then was 436. To-day the total is 1578. A month ago (1st Deer.) there were 29 cases of enteric fever, to-day there are 506; besides 285 not yet diagnosed. On the 1st Deer, we had only "76 cases of dysentery, to-day we have 588. . . .
The Boers occasionally treat us to a specimen of Dutch humour—e.g., about Christmas they fired a plugged shell into our lines which, when dug out, proved to be full of plum pudding & had cut on it the united flags of the South African Republics and the following: " With the compliments of the season." . . .
The Boers generally give us a quiet day on Sunday. They are very religious people, and we see them moving from point to point to collect for public worship on Sundays. However they keep a very close look-out on us & open fire with their guns if they see anything like new works being made or movements of troops. Some of our young officers took advantage of the quiet & safety of Sunday afternoon to play polo. The Boers entered a protest against this desecration of the Sabbath by opening fire on them. . . .
We were attacked by the Transvaal & Free State forces on the morning of the 6 th, and after a very obstinate fight, which lasted from half-past 2 in the morning till half-past seven at night, we defeated them everywhere with great loss. I will not go into the details of the fight. The correspondents will tell you all that happened & probably a great deal more. . . .
Johnny Hamilton was in command where the principal attack was made & did invaluable service. Everybody under him is full of his praises, & I have reported on him in the highest terms. The Boers have, I believe, been very heavily hit, & they cannot stand loss as we do. They entered upon this war under the impression that they were going to kill all of us without being killed themselves. . . .
Some of the Boers showed most determined bravery. An old man, one of their leaders, stalked up a steep hillside & with a few followers put their rifles over the parapet of one of our works & shot some of the officers & men in it dead, including Major Miller-Wallnutt of the Gordons. These Boers were, 1 believe, all killed, but they drove our people back for a time. When we handed over the dead to the Boers next morning (Sunday, 7th), as each succeeding hero was brought down—they were heroes—the Boers wrung their hands & owned that we had killed their best. Our losses in officers were as usual very great: 14 killed during the action & 25 wounded. Poor Colonel Dick-Cunyngham had a most unlucky wound from quite a stray bullet just as the 92nd were moving from their camp to reinforce. . . .
On Sunday morning I went to visit him & found him in Mrs Mallet's house. I thought him looking very bad & evidently in great pain, but his voice was strong. I persuaded him to consent to go to Intombi, & promised him he should have the privacy of his own tent there. He took a bad turn in the afternoon . . . and was dead in an hour. He was a fine brave soldier, and his loss will be very heavily felt in the Gordons. Miller-Wallnutt, too, was a most popular & valuable officer. . . .
Lord Ava has been here en amateur, & has been acting on Ian Hamilton's staff. The latter sent him on a message on Saturday morning, & as he was peering over a stone to note the enemy's position he was struck by a bullet in the head. I fear there is no chance of his recovery.
I signalled to Buller that Ava had been very dangerously wounded, as I thought it would be right to prepare Lord Dufferin. Ava is one of the bravest of the brave, and has, I believe, enjoyed being in the thick of everything. . . .
It is a month to-day since I commenced this letter, & Sir E. Buller is still coming. I hope he will be here before the-9th of next month. The only effect of the approach of his, force we have yet felt is that we have been receiving many shells from the Field Battery guns captured at Colenso on the 10th December. . . .
12th Jany. 1900.
I know that Buller is now advancing with a force which I estimate at near 30,000 men to attempt to cross the Tugela & relieve Ladysmith. I only wish I could help him, but my force is terribly reduced, principally by loss of officers injj action. I could not leave a garrison sufficiently strong to' defend Ladysmith and move out to help him with more than 3000 men. Even if I abandoned Ladysmith altogether H would not march out with 8000 men, & the Boers would' follow me up with at least this number, & as they all ride-they could get round me. I would also have to deal with the"1, enemy in front of me. . . .
I have therefore to play what to me is the painful part of sitting quietly in Ladysmith awaiting the success of Buller's force. If he is repulsed again we shall be in a bad way. %£ dread to think of what the effect on our Cause will be ifcj Ladysmith is reduced by famine or taken by assault. TheS Boers have spent their chief force on the Conquest of Natal. Ladysmith has so far held them. If they take Ladysmith with its garrison & guns it will be a blow that it will be very difficult for our Empire to recover from. . . .
So ended the third period of the siege. The Boers had been beaten off in their attempt to take Ladysmith by assault, and had no desire to try again. If Ladysmith was ever to fall now it must fall from
starvation. Even so, its fall would no doubt have been a heavy blow to the Empire,—a blow struck too late. England had been given time to put out her strength, and the end was certain. But White did not know all that was being done, nor how great the effect of his victory had been; while the effect upon his own force of the increasing sickness, and of their losses in action, had been serious. He felt that Ladysmith had very nearly fallen on the 6th. He entered upon the last phase of the siege determined indeed to hold out to the utmost, but in no spirit of elation.