Through the men's prison at Waterval — Lieut. Nesbit —a miraculous tunnel — the hospital — a dysart man—an M.P.'s son—the "rust en orde" committee — the famous telegram — waiting for Roberts —a curious luncheon - party — Mr Leigh Wood as dictator — I obtain my freedom, with permission to remain in Pretoria — my long - lost diary — in danger of my life — rumours of a reverse — the Boer guns go eastward — a French reporter as guard — Lord Cecil Manners — I cable to London again—looting—De Souza's bad cheque—the latest Boer issue at a discount—a government " besluit " from Middelburg — Louis Botha announces a victory —strange rumours — a messenger from the British forces—the " rust en orde " committee dismissed— Louis Botha and co. assume the reins of office— I go up secretly to my old prison — warnings of danger—the British fail to cut the wires properly —their conversation listened to in Pretoria — a warrant issued for my arrest — a lady spy — I protest—the Boer idea of " parole "—Smuts' honour— an amusing incident — Colonel Blake — B 136, 5th Dragoon Guards—his prognostication of the future
May 30.—It would have been unlike rue had I not wished to explore every nook and cranny which had played a part in this war. I had seen victory at Pieters Hill, and been present at the relief of Ladysmith. I had shared defeat and surrender in the Orange Free State, after a previous capture and escape. I had ridden through Basutoland, and tasted the hospitality of Maseru—the second Mafeking, as I call it. I had seen the Boer prisoners of war at Simonstown, and learnt what it was to be a prisoner myself; and having been confined first at the racecourse and then at Chancery House, it was but natural that I should evince a desire to inquire into the circumstances and treatment of the non-commissioned officers and men at Waterval. I was therefore up at five this morning, and, after a cup of cocoa, I started with Lieut. Nesbit on a round of the camp, escorted by the commandant—De Wacht.
Before I go any further, I would wish to acknowledge Lieut. Nesbit's kindness and hospitality to me. As already said, he has been a prisoner since October 13, when the armoured train was wrecked at Kraipan, on its return to Mafeking. With fifteen men Lieut. Nesbit fought for six hours against about 1500 Boers, and was twice severely wounded. When he arrived here he preferred to remain with his men at Waterval, rather than occupy the officers' prison — a preference which must be looked on as an act of great self - denial and magnanimity. He is an East London man, and was a member of the Frontier Field Force under Major-General Baden-Powell.
On our tour of inspection we passed through a turnstile, to find the camp quarters divided into four long parallel streets, the " houses " of which were formed by long lean-to galvanised iron sheds, open at one side, and at one time without an article of furniture within them. The men had to lie on the bare ground with the two rugs they were then allowed. As I saw it yesterday, however, nearly all the men had makeshift beds formed of a wooden frame and sacking, but some had been compelled to use mother earth, owing to the absence of wood and the necessity of making a lire! Poor chaps I they were in a very ragged condition, and their threadbare clothing and pinched, gaunt, dirty faces were soon explained by the condition of the camp. They had had no meat since the 26th, but Mr Wood had just sent up four bullocks (not a great meal for 4000). Still, they were in high spirits over the good news, and I think would have lived on air had necessity arisen till the British arrived. The streets were all named—at least I saw one called Gloucester Street, which I supposed was- an indication of where the Gloucesters lived. The water-supply was good and sufficient, though the latrines were anything but conducive to proper health. In another field to which they had access was a pond through which fresh water ran continuously, thus affording the men, who made it, every opportunity for cleanliness, and the field itself has been the scene of many a cricket match and game of football. Round the whole was a barbed-wire entanglement, similar to that at Chancery House (though without the inner netting); but notwithstanding this, and the fact that there have been some 200 guards and two Maxims to keep them in, no fewer than 110 have escaped at one time or another!
One of the " shows" was the miraculously-dug tunnel by wdiich the prisoners had planned their escape. It was about six feet wide, and high enough to permit a man to crawl through on hands and knees. Started inside one of the sheds, it emerged near the spot at which a Maxim was placed—the idea being to seize the gun when opportunity occurred and turn it on the guards! The greatest ingenuity had been displayed in disposing of the earth—most of it being used in making walls on to the lean-to sheds, though at first the earth was laid evenly along the interior, thus raising the floor imperceptibly a few inches above the " street" level. It was probably the walls which had aroused suspicion and caused the Boers to ask for the officers' assistance. The night they had selected to escape was the one after we arrived, and I am only sorry their plan was frustrated, now that 900 of them have been cruelly removed by the Transvaal Government to Machadodorp.
During my round I had a look in at the hospital, but was sorry to see 228 inmates, though most of them were not serious eases. There had, however, been fifty-six deaths at Waterval, two of which occurred during the past twenty-four hours. The arrangements at the hospital were so improved that one might almost have wondered at the stories one heard of them in the early part of the year, but there is little doubt that Mr Wood succeeded by extraordinary efforts in putting the hospital on a proper basis with the money so generously placed at his disposal by the British sympathisers. Nor should I omit a word of thanks to Mr De Souza, whose voice was repeatedly heard in the furtherance of this good work, and to Dr von Gernet, a Russian, who was latterly appointed by the Boer authorities to superintend the hospital, and who successfully demanded and received the wherewithal for the proper treatment of the inmates.
I met a man called Thomson in the 1st Royal Scots, who introduced himself as being a native of my own home at Dysart, and reminded me of my having subscribed to some Highland gathering in Kirkcaldy! Mr Bailey, son of the M.P., was also there—one of the Imperial Yeomanry prisoners; and a real note of fellow-sympathy was touched by a New Zealand sergeant, who asked if he or his men could do anything for the comfort of the officers.
At half-jjast eight I hired a cart and pair of horses and hurried back to Pretoria, having received a message that Lord Roberts was hourly expected. I reached the Natal Bank about 10 a.m., after a two hours' drive, where I surrendered to my parole, but the American consul did not turn up. Mr Wood, however, was equal to every occasion, and we sought out the " authorities that were," who styled themselves the " Rust en Orde" Committee, and whose offices were in Church Square. I met Burgomaster Potgieter, Judge Gregorowski, Mr Samuel Marks, and other peacefully expectant burghers. The first thing was to get my parole renewed, or I might have been ordered back to my cage, which was the last place I meant to return to! This was granted, and then I asked permission to send the now famous telegram, pointing out to the committee what an amount of good it would do them if it were shown they had done their best to preserve law and order. If premature, the telegram was at least valuable in that it disclosed the fact that " no resistance " was intended, and that the expensively built forts would take no part in the defence of Pretoria. It also announced " the departure of Kruger and the appointment of a ' Rust en Orde' Committee"; and so certain were the authorities that Lord Roberts would enter the town that day, that Messrs De Souza and Potgieter had attired themselves in their best clothes, and had the carriage harnessed in preparation for a drive " outside" in order to hand over the keys, a ceremony I was to be privileged to attend!
The sending of the telegram was the next move, and Leigh Wood and I went over to the post-office with the initialled message, and there interviewed Mr Sprawsen, the postmaster. A little douceur to the clerk, a little quiet conversation in a back room between Leigh Wood and Sprawsen, a little ticking of the machine, and my duty to the ' Daily Mail' was fulfilled. The only doubt I had was as to whether the telegram would be "tapped" by Kruger's censors at Middelburg, but the clerk assured me he had sent it by a direct line via Barberton.
All this time the sound of cannon could be plainly heard to the south, and fighting was reported at Irene, the next station, about ten miles south. Having received an invitation to lunch at the Club — tempora mutantur — with the " Rust en Orde" Committee under the segis of the genial "Sammy" Marks, Leigh Wood and I betook ourselves to this comfortable little building. There we found Sauer, an objectionable person and brother of the Bond man, De Souza looking nervous and worried, Potgieter a really charming old fellow, and Loveday, the progressive member for Barber-ton in the Transvaal Raad. To my dying day I shall never forget that luncheon-party, where I, "a prisoner on parole," was the guest of my quondam custodians!
The committee announced that they had been formed to protect life and property.
The announcement was all very well, but how were they going to carry it out? Intentions were admirable, but their intentions lacked resource and fertility! And once again the vein of humour was distinctly noticeable in this tragic termination to a great struggle. Here the firm, brave, straightforward, resourceful man of tact was wanting, and certainly the departed Government had placed their deputies in as difficult a position as could well be imagined. Remember that the previous night President Kruger, Mr Reitz, Mr Schalk Burger, Mr Bredelle, &c, had slunk away from danger with one million pounds sterling in hard cash; and remember that a decision had been arrived at not to defend the capital, but to surrender it with the greatest expedition. But who were they to surrender to? It was indeed a case of "Hurry up, Lord Roberts” And through it all I noticed the fear of riot and the terror of murder among the exasperated burghers.
There was only one thing apparent (oh, how I wish W. S. Gilbert or R. Marshall had been there!)—a desire on the committee's part " to be good and do what they were told." Mr Wood dictated, and Mr Wood was obeyed. Mr Wood was consulted, and Mr Wood gave his opinion. I think the Executive must have gone to bed that night with a prayer "for Roberts's arrival the next morning."
During the afternoon I found my way into the Raadzaal, and on such good terms was I with the Executive that, in lieu of my liberation " on parole," my liberation " with permission to remain in Pretoria " was substituted. Progress in my day's work might certainly be reported. Having entered the Raadzaal, I thought it quite worth having a look round, and here and there a little firmness resulted in my long-lost diary being restored to me, and several letters and papers which had been detained handed over for the benefit of my quondam prison companions.
Having shaken hands with nearly every Hollander, German, and foreigner of any importance in this tottering town, I thought it time to look up my quarters in the Grand Hotel, where rooms had been secured for me. I passed through Church Square, but not without noticing many scowls and overhearing covert remarks at my khaki uniform. The American consul paid me a visit, and advised me to remain indoors, as he had been warned that my life would be jeopardised if I came into too close contact with the exasperated section of the fighting burghers. I followed his advice reluctantly, and amused myself as the evening drew on watching an excited crowd of Boers galloping hither and thither through Church Square. Suddenly a message was brought to me that the British had suffered a reverse near Johannesburg, and Lord Roberts's arrival must certainly be delayed. The news was alarming, but I confess I did not entirely believe it, and was much reassured by the rumble of cannon at ten o'clock at night which announced the departure eastward of two pom-poms and several fifteen-pounders that had just arrived by rail from the south. And then I slept.
May 31 to June 3. — I slump these four days into one, for the whirl of events which have taken place has likened my brain to the waters of Seylla and Charybdis, and if the result shows a heterogeneous conglomeration of thought and incident, T beg you excuse me, for no one in Pretoria seems responsible for his actions. Where shall I begin? The end is close at hand, an end to a tragedy which strongly represents an irritating burlesque. I think I shall begin and work backwards.
It is midday on Sunday morning, June 3rd, and Lord Cecil Manners and I are sitting writing, while a reporter of the ' Liberte' and ' Ecole de France ' is guarding the passage outside! He is a Frenchman with an ugly ferrety face and black oily hair, hardly of medium height, and with terror and hunger equally depicted on his face. He has just informed us that he came from Johannesburg about a fortnight ago, and being penniless, has been enrolled as a special policeman in Pretoria at 5s. a - day, which (" Wonderful! " he says) he has been paid so far. He looks upon us as two wild beasts, yet Lord Cecil Manners is only a harmless ' Morning Post' correspondent, captured on Tuesday near Germiston, and we are sharing a sitting-room and living on the best, while the finishing touches are being put on this romantic yet Gilbertian drama. " How is it we are being guarded?" you ask. I will go back a little further and tell you.
After the warning that my life was in danger if I showed myself in the streets, I confined myself to my room, to patiently await Lord Roberts's arrival and watch the ever - changing scenes in Church Square. I succeeded in getting my prison clothes, personal property, kodak, and papers brought down from Chancery House, and I also got permission to cable again to the ' Daily Mail' the latest news. The following is a copy of my second cable:—
Rosslyn. 'Daily Mail,' London.
Since cabling yesterday there is reported British repulse between here and Elandsfontein. Johannesburg was handed over this morning, 31st. Hardly expect British before Saturday. Church Square presents excited scene of burghers and guns entering and going out in all directions. Looting commenced, but committee working hard quell disturbance. Government issued besluit yesterday from Middelburg commandeering all money and securities from banks here, but committee appointed yesterday decline to carry out order, and are supported. Have got my release and allowed to remain here. American consul and Leigh Wood doing good work.
Whether these cables ever reached Lorengo Marques I do not know, but I was assured by the telegraph people, whose douceurs were getting terribly exhausting, that both had gone through. Mr Wood, Mr Woolley Dodd, Mr Marks, and Mr De Souza paid me frequent visits, and I gathered from them that Lord Roberts's presence was the only thing they required, and they hoped his arrival would not be delayed. Meanwhile a special police force had been organised by the Committee which I have already alluded to, but these at first proved powerless to arrest the looting of the Government stores. The roof was torn down on Thursday, and individuals with barrows and carts were seen rushing in all directions with their spoil, while the sound of shots was evidence that blood was being shed. The town was all the time full of burghers and excited mercenaries, and riot seemed imminent, when the "Rust en Orde" police set to work. They did their duty uncommonly well, and though five lives were lost, the majority of the loot was recovered, and held under strong guard in the Square.
It was during this time of excitement that De Souza rushed up to me, and to my intense amusement showed me a cheque to himself from the Government on the National Bank (which he explained was only one of many). There was no need for his explanation, for I was cognisant already that not only were the National Bank coffers already denuded of their uttermost " ticky," and that President Kruger had taken the last million with him, but that the latest issue of "greenbacks" was being discounted in the streets at 50% to curiosity hunters. He told me the rage against the President was unbounded, and he himself was despatching a telegram to Oom Paul in none too delicate language! Just after this came a Government besluit from Middel-burg to commandeer all the money and securities from the private banks here, which the Provisional Government refused to carry out; though, fearing an attempt might be made to " rush" them, they were immediately closed and barricaded, and the inmates supplied with the wherewithal for resistance. The night, however, passed peacefully enough, and next morning- the Commandant-General, Louis Botha, addressed the burghers from the Raadzaal steps (next to the Grand Hotel). He told them to" be of good cheer, and announced a decisive victory in the neighbourhood of Johannesburg, in which he had taken 700 prisoners, but being unable to hold them, had liberated them on parole!
That same morning Lord Cecil Manners of the 'Morning Post' and Mr O'Donoghue of the 'Daily Chronicle,' with an officer of the lGth Lancers and Captain M'Ewan of the Intelligence Department, were brought in. After being temporarily accommodated in the night cells " for drunks," the two correspondents were brought before the authorities, and advised, though they were free men, to go to the officers' quarters for their own personal safety, it being impossible to put them back " through the lines." So thither they went, and late that evening both came down from the prison and paid me a visit. Rumours were thick, and the last was that French was killed, Roberts surrounded, his lines of communication cut, and Kroonstad in the Boer hands, with innumerable prisoners! Johannesburg had, however, been handed over that morning at ten o'clock without resistance! The Boers were going through the town in hundreds with their cannon in an easterly direction, and I learnt that Eerste Fabrieken was their destination, and that they had decided to take up a formidable position in that neighbourhood, and give battle if the British tried to enter the town from that side. I had made all arrangements for despatching a messenger through the Boer lines to Lord Roberts, to inform him of what I knew, when my brother correspondents walked in and asked me to do what I could in that direction, and to let Lord Roberts know that the town itself would not be defended. They themselves, being on parole, could not move in the matter.
That night a totally different complexion of affairs was apparent when Louis Botha, with Erasmus and Lucas Meyer, remained for three hours in close conclave with the Burgomaster and De Souza, and in telegraphic communication with the new seat of government at Machadodorp. The result was that, as Commandant-General, Louis Botha assumed the reins of office, and for " fear of the finger of scorn " decided to make a last stand south and east of Pretoria, and guard both these approaches. If their position was turned they were going to cut the communications and retire on Middelburg, and leave the town itself unmolested. Furthermore, the already appointed Committee were discharged, their resolutions cancelled, and Mr Schutte (the landrost), Mr Siedermann, and Mr Sandberg, appointed in their place, with Mr Smuts (the attorney) as legal adviser to Louis Botha. All this time messages were brought me that my arrest was imminent, and one or two did not hesitate to say I should be shot if I showed my nose outside. I was further advised to go back to the officers' quarters. But I had no desire for this, and believed it was only a scare, so decided to remain where I was to see and hear all that was going on.
On Friday morning reports of some truth reached us that Lord Roberts's advance column was only nine miles this side of Johannesburg, and the main force some way south of Zuurfon-tein, or twenty-three miles off. It was quite apparent that it must still be a matter of a day or two before he would arrive. Primed with this information, I left the hotel by a back door, and drove up to Chancery House with Mr Leigh Wood and Lord Cecil Manners; and while the former doled out the Government allowance of £25, I had the opportunity of a long chat with my late fellow-prisoners. It was when we came out that the commandant of the officers' prison (who has shown us marked civility since the President's departure) told Mr Wood to advise me to keep indoors, that it was quite common talk in the town I was going to be arrested, and that my life was in considerable danger. We got back, however, in safety, although an attempt to steal our horses from our cab was with difficulty frustrated—those in private stables, in the tram-cars, and in any vehicle, having long ago been openly stolen in the streets; and it was that evening, just as I had intended sending Lord Roberts another messenger, that some one came into town and brought us news that he had crossed the Boer lines at Six-Miles Spruit, and was under the impression that Pretoria had been evacuated! So this daring messenger took back all the information there was, but chiefly we advised him to beg Lord Roberts to see his wires were properly cut. Will you believe it, that at this end, listening to his every word, the telephone officials at Johannesburg were heard to say: " Can't you get Kroonstad? " " I must have Kroonstad." " Kroonstad, are you there?" This, no doubt, gave rise to the rumour that Lord Roberts's line of communication had been cut. Moreover, his message to England was distinctly heard when he announced his occupation of Johannesburg, and was immediately followed by the hurried exclamation of surprise by the Johannesburg clerk, " Good God! they're listening to us at Pretoria." What I write has been vouched for, and is perfectly true.
Lord Cecil Manners having walked up to the officers' quarters to lunch, the American consul called. While he was sitting with me four armed guards appeared, and one walked in and apparently thought he had come to the wrong room; though Mr Hay remarked, " I thought there was going to be trouble, and that they'd come for you!" He had hardly left me when Mr Schlomer (the proprietor) introduced a very civil, cunning-looking man, with a white paper in his hand, who informed me he had come for me with an order from Mr Smuts, the State attorney. So mischief ivas brewing! Lord Cecil Manners and Mr O'Donoghue were also mentioned on the paper.
Without any sign of annoyance or discomfort I got my hat, and telling the proprietor to accompany me, I ordered the detective to take me to Mr Smuts's office. As I closed and locked my window and door, I saw two women grinning at me from the balcony. They were secret spies in the pay of the police! I knew that. One I had been warned against — she was a Russian, and a Boer General's friend—and I was determined to have my say when the day of reckoning arrived! Out by the back door to avoid any unpleasantness and because it was the nearest way, and then we found Smuts's office closed, so it was suggested I should go and see the lieutenant of police. Nothing loth, I followed my guard, who was affable in the extreme, and apparently knew no reason for my arrest; and then Du Toit (the big lieutenant of police I had met and disliked the day of my arrival in Pretoria) saluted me (what was coming over him?), and introduced me to some other official. I asked what was wanted. They said they knew of the order of arrest, but not its cause, and I suggested I should go back to my room, have my lunch, and remain there till Smuts could see me. This seemed to meet their views, and back I came, having meanwhile, in answer to their inquiries, told them that Lord Cecil Manners had gone to lunch at the officers' prison. "Oh, that is all right!" they said; "he will be detained there!" Imagine my astonishment on finding Manners here on my return, entry to the prison having been firmly but courteously refused him unless he wished to remain! Meanwhile I had sent for the American consul and Mr Wood. The latter arrived, got on the telephone with the State attorney, and arranged a meeting with Manners and myself at 2.30. There it was explained to us that our safety was endangered, and that Louis Botha had issued the order for that reason; that De Souza & Co. had no right to give me my release, but that if we did not wish to go back to Chancery House he would accept our " paroles" to remain in our rooms at the hotel. We could go over the border if we wished, but we could not be put through the lines! Vainly we protested that we were free men and correspondents, and that there was no charge against us! Mr Smuts's sole desire was to keep us safe from danger! So back we went, quite satisfied. In a short time a Hollander, who spoke French, appeared with an order from Smuts, declaring us prisoners of war (!) confined to our rooms, and to be guarded by six armed police! The word " parole" is not understood in this country, and but for the annoyance it caused the hotel proprietor we should not have cared, but rather sympathised with our protectors, who stood rifle in hand in the dark draughty passage. The American consul remonstrated, but considering that two of our sentries are Italians and a third the French reporter I have already alluded to, there is a delightful and humorous side to the whole situation. If it were not that Smuts was so small and insignificant. I should have liked to kick him!
One amusing little anecdote I must tell of our big fat Italian guard. If my French is not correct or if the word " voir" should have a prefix to make the story a good one you must forgive me. He came the night after he was stationed to watch us, and knocked at my door. In his best French he said: " Ayez la bonte, monsieur, de garder mon fusil. Je veux sortir voir ma femme. Je retournerai a minuit." " Certainement," I said, and he left me, his prisoner, in charge of his rifle, during which Colonel Blake and another man came in, but tactfully said nothing, or saw nothing. Then the guard returned, and I handed him back his rifle. Such is humour in war.
The rooms I occupied were always used by Dr Leyds when he was in Pretoria, so it was not unnatural that Colonel Blake of the Irish-American Brigade should also find his way in! Such was the case, and for the last three days we saw a good deal of the man who strongly objects to the word "notorious" being prefixed to his name. Whatever there may be against him, his face belies his character. It is one of those strong open countenances, with clear blue eyes, which must attract whomsoever he meets. He is slightly bald on the top of the head, with curly grey-brown hair, now grown quite long and hanging back almost over his neck. Dressed in a black coat, breeches, and long boots, the only ornament he wears is a piece of green ribbon halved with the American colours in his black felt hat. To one hand is always attached a sjambok, with which he frequently emphasises his strong yet straightforward language. It is to the wounded arm (his right) that the sjambok hangs—wounded, I believe, by a piece of shell near Ladysmith. Half wild, yet gentle—bold, fearless buccaneer, yet full of intelligence—well read, well educated, but soured and changed by some misfortune—whose home is nowhere —whose language is his own, yet every one else's — who could with gentleness be led by a bit of thread—Colonel Blake is the type of adventurer one reads of in a novel, yet never expects to meet; and I confess to almost a feeling of admiration for the man whose only reason for fighting is want of occupation and a hatred for Rhodes.
I might tell you of many an interesting conversation I had with him,—how he glanced over the picture papers with delight, and recounted his thrilling life during the war, and how he said he had heard a price had been put upon his head! He told me he would light to the end, and was riding a horse marked 5 D. G., B 13G, which he took at Ladysmith, and which is also branded with the letters J. H. Colonel Blake's idea was that the war would last for months, and that we would never capture the mountain strongholds near Lydenburg, to which the Boers would retire, without our losing 30,000 men! There they had food for two years and plenty of ammunition to carry on the war. He spoke in highest terms of the pluck of the British soldier, but wondered at the close formations in which we attacked, and our lack of dash in not following up our victories. He had only 140 men left, and did not believe that 3000 Boers would remain fighting after Pretoria was taken; but 3000 could hold the positions they were going to take up! You will wonder at it, but I hope I may some day meet this man again. He was born in America in 1856, and of course "Labby" could tell you as much about him as I can. His favourite author is Carlyle, and only standard works will he read—"Never a novel," he said. He came for the last time on Monday morning, June 4, to say good-bye, and brought us a bottle of whisky as a token of friendship; and when he said he might not be back that night, that he was going out " a lawng way" to meet the enemy, I knew the British were at hand, and that it meant a retreat of the Boer forces. I break off here, for my head is still dizzy with the rapidity of revolution through which these few days have been passed, and in the next chapter you will read of the surrender of Pretoria.