Lord Brooke — events in Pretoria — courts of inquiry — a want of forethought — the ' imperialist ' and the press censor — Burnham — cut off from the outside world—need of rest—hope for the future.
June 12.—The great review of 15,000 troops in Church Square was hardly a matter of the past when General French's column arrived from the west. There was almost a feeling of regret that the man who had done so much in the campaign should not have been represented in the memorable spectacle, and that Baden - Powell, too, should have been an absentee; but then there must always be some one left to do the dirty work of watching the slim Boer—else were we in a worse plight than we are! In this connection our entry into Pretoria was looked upon as the end of the war to such an extent that report had it that Louis Botha, in the general excitement and confusion, had himself been a quiet spectator of the review. Est-ce possible? What was my astonishment to find my young nephew, Brooke, acting as extra galloper to General French! The boy is only just seventeen years of age, but such was his enthusiasm and enterprise that, authorities or no authorities, examination or no examination, he not only found his way to the front, but has also done remarkably well.
Event has followed event in quick succession. Lord Roberts has inspected and said a kindly word to each of the officers who were lately prisoners of war; courts of inquiry are sitting to formally inquire into the cause of our respective captures; the men have been removed from Waterval to a camp inside the precincts of the town; I have attempted to start a newspaper, and have been prevented by the press censor. Burnham, the famous scout, has been seriously injured during his last reconnaissance, and is lying uncomplainingly on his back in a comfortable house; poor Neil llaig, of the Inniskilling Dragoons, is dangerously ill with enteric fever; General Maxwell lias been appointed governor of the town, and Major Poore (of cricket and polo fame) provost - marshal; and though hundreds of Boers are daily riding into the town to hand over their arms and take the oath of neutrality, a big battle is raging in the neighbourhood of Hatherley and Eerste Fabrieken. As I must touch on one or two of these subjects, I will begin with the courts of inquiry, which are merely waste of time and necessary to keep up the old-fashioned red-tape system of military procedure.
It is unnecessary, moreover it is undesirable, at this juncture to censure or reprove those who have suffered already from long imprisonment. Only two or three days ago an officer, whose name shall be unwritten, committed suicide after he had stood the formal trial. I do not suggest that the deed was due to harsh treatment, as he had shown signs of melancholy during his incarceration. Another officer, lately a brother - prisoner of mine, was also insulted after he had been before the court, not by the members themselves, but by an officer of high rank, who should have known better. Turning for a moment to the removal of the men from Waterval, no provision had been made for their reception in the town. They were marched fourteen miles, and had scarcely a blanket to keep them warm during the night, when the spacious and magnificent artillery barracks could easily have been utilised for their convenience. They were not likely to groan at rejoining their old comrades, but many of the latter would willingly have cooked them a supper in readiness for their arrival had the forethought of the officials given them timely warning.
Regarding the proposed newspaper, Cecil Manners and I had planned it all out while still prisoners in the Boer hands. Its name was the ' Imperialist,' its motto that of the Transvaal, " Eendracht maakt macht" (Union is strength). It was to be printed in Dutch as well as English, for which a special interpreter had been engaged, and the staff and plant of the now defunct ' Volksstem' had been taken over temporarily. Its contents included a moderate, well - considered, and carefully discussed leading article on the situation, a description of the entry into Johannesburg, and a similar article on the surrender of Pretoria from both inside and out. Poetry, too, found a corner. The addresses of the various officials, very necessary in the first days of chaos, were given, and Lord Roberts's proclamation was also included. Among those who were assisting us with the first number were Mr Prevost Battersby of the ' Morning Post' and Mr Nissen of the ' Cape Times.' The press censor, Lord Stanley, rightly deserves the distinction he has achieved among correspondents as the " press suppressor." He seemed to be the king instead of the commander-in-chief! As a matter of course, I went to obtain his permission to start the paper. Lord Cecil Manners and I were the two last correspondents who should have made such a request, in such extraordinary bad odour did we seem to be with him. He promptly refused, giving me to understand that no paper could be started without the consent of the " chief." Nothing daunted, I started off for the British Residency in Sunnyside, where Lord Roberts saw me for a moment in the presence of Captain Lay cock and the Duke of Westminster. " You must see the press censor about that," Lord Roberts said. I explained that I had done so, and been refused on the ground that he must first be consulted. Lord Roberts asked me a few questions as to its nature, &c., and whether I intended making the paper a permanent one. My reply to the latter question was, "That depends on you, sir, and on the reception it gets from its readers." " Very good," said the chief; "I have no objection." Away I went delighted. I thought it my duty to inform the press censor of Lord Roberts's consent, and on my return to the hotel at once wrote him a note to that effect, at the same time giving him the title of the paper and assuring him that a copy would be submitted to him before publication. Next day, while I was at press, Major Cochrane, who was assisting the provost - marshal, came in and regretted having to serve me with an order forbidding the publication. He told me, or I might possibly only have guessed it, that Lord Stanley had come into the provost-marshal's office very angry and demanded the issue of this order. I had no recourse but to acquiesce. It is worthy of note that on tackling Lord Stanley that afternoon he denied having been the cause of the newspaper's suppression; but a letter from Lord Roberts informing me that I must submit to the press censor's order gave me no hope of finding any further occupation in Pretoria.[ Lord Stanley himself started a paper on June 26—just a fortnight after I left!]
I have related this incident at some length, not so much as a personal grievance, to which I am already hardened, as to show the nature of the man who controlled the post and telegraph wires, and put every impediment in the way of the press, who are, to say the least of it, the representatives of the British public. Nor am I the only one to grieve, for, with few exceptions, each correspondent can tell his own tale of woe.
Turning to a more pleasant subject, I must touch on the great services rendered to Lord Roberts by the famous American scout, Burn-ham. It was bad luck for him getting rolled on by his horse just before the surrender of Pretoria, after he had escaped a close-range Boer volley. His story, told me while lying patiently on his back, content with his promotion from subaltern to captain, with which Lord Roberts had rewarded him for his services, was as follows. He had ridden round by the east of Pretoria to destroy the railway line, when he found himself within a few paces of a Boer patrol. " Hands up," they shouted, but believing little in their skill as short-range shooters, Burnham galloped past them in the dusk, at the same time throwing himself over the far side of his pony. Six times was his pony hit, but the plucky beast carried its burden out of danger, and then rolled over on its rider—stone dead. The muscles of Burn-ham's stomach were much injured, but he crawled to the line and gallantly carried out his mission. It was next day before he was brought into Pretoria. He is one of the most charmingly modest Americans I have ever met. His feat of living two days in an ant-bear hole with the Boers " on top of him " was only one of his many exciting adventures during the war.
Since the entry of the British troops into Pretoria 2300 rifles have been stacked in a week, but a large proportion no doubt represent those found in Government buildings or in the houses of non-combatants. The sight before the Raadzaal each morning as the Boers swarmed round the entrance, completely smothering the small detachment of troops on guard, was well worth seeing, though the free-and-easy method of distributing passes made me wonder if the British believed as much as one-half of what the burghers told them. After Generals Carew, Hamilton, and French had gone east to do battle with the threatening Botha, there certainly seemed more Boers in the town than British, and I doubt not that our leniency will cause us some little trouble in the near future, from my knowledge of the cunning and treachery of the slim Boers, many of whom purposely gave up their arms in order to obtain information for their fighting brothers in the field. All this time we are cut off from the outside world, both by rail and telegraph—truly a curious position for a victorious army! Lord Kitchener has gone south to see if he can set to rights the mischief of De Wet, and reorganise the distribution of troops on the lines of communication, and prevent any more convoys being snapped up. These comparatively trivial losses are more serious than they would appear on first sight, and there is little doubt that the hurried yet magnificent march of our troops on Johannesburg and Pretoria has left our communications' generals either unequal to or unprepared for the task of checkmating the great mobility of the Orange Free State commandos, especially that of my friend De Wet.
I am not quite sure if life in this beleaguered city, after a term of excitement and imprisonment, is conducive to either sanity or wealth, for the rush and bustle, added to the exorbitant demands on a limited purse for hotel accommodation, are likely to leave me brainless and penniless. Pretoria is like London in the height of the season, without, of course, the frocks and furbelows; and possibly the return to old England will find too many of the latter's fair wearers to restore an equilibrium wellnigh upset by the events of the past six months. But as there is nothing left for me to do here, I shall risk falling between two stools, and steal away by the first available truck as soon as the line is reopened. If with regret I leave behind me a host of friends, I shall carry with me the most cherished memories of my life; but the very system of greeting, the perpetual repetition of my own adventures, and the ever-varied descriptions of those I shall forsake, have grown so wearisome that the quiet of a home is necessary to counteract their effect.
News just reaches me that the line to Bloemfontein will be open to-morrow; and there also come the sad tidings of poor young Cavendish's death, with whom I had only shaken hands three days ago. And Airlie is dead too, and Seymour Fortescue's brother! One wonders why a God above allows a dopper king to still further redden a country's soil in so forlorn a cause. Vengeance, we cry! But vengeance is not ours! And now that Pretoria is ours, now that the vanquishing of the Transvaal and Orange Free State is practically a fait accompli, let us set ourselves to the task of ruling our new possessions as they should be ruled, with firmness and dignity, tempered with justice and mercy. Let us not be dictators but conciliators, and from sadness and sorrow will spring triumph and joy, and the greatness of Britain will once more be displayed before the greedy, jealous, and cunning eyes of the whole world.
" Lives of great men all remind us We can make our lives sublime, And, departing, leave behind us Footprints on the sands of time."
One word in conclusion: Major - General Baden - Powell, who is unmistakably popular among the Boer section, would make a splendid and acceptable governor of our new possession.