THE general advance to the relief of Ladysmith commenced under the direction of General Buller, on Nov. 28th.
From Frere a successful reconnaissance in force was made to Colenso, where the main force of the enemy was.
At 4 a.m. our troops stood to arms, but the morning wore on without anything exciting happening.
The Natal Royal Rifles and the Durban Light Infantry, with two guns of the Natal Field Artillery, went out before breakfast on the right side of the railway pointing towards Colenso. The Border Battalion
and the 66th Battery of Field Artillery were on the left of the railway, with mounted infantry, both flanks reconnoitring. Shots were exchanged by the advance patrols and the artillery placed several shells among the enemy, who retired. Brigadier-General Hildyard was in command, and Colonel Lord Dundonald commanded the cavalry.
" When riding across country," says a correspondent, " I visited Williams's farm, and found that it had been raided by the Boers in the same ruthless manner as other places. The contents of every room had been wantonly destroyed, and every piece of furniture smashed. From the numberless mealie cobs which were lying about it was evident that a Boer commando had camped there and their commissariat must be bare. I also saw some newly-made graves, and from inquiries among the Kaffirs ascertained that three Boers had been buried on Sunday morning.
" Further on I found that James Rolfe's homestead had been turned inside out. Beds, mattresses, and furniture had been completely wrecked, and not one of the many evidences of refinement which could be traced in the household had been spared. Indeed nothing of any value had been left. Even the outside of the farm-buildings had been damaged. The iron had been torn from the roof of a new building and used to shelter separate parties of Boers from the rain, showing that a large commando must have rested there during the rainy weather.
" I followed up the spoor and found that the enemy had retreated along the right side of the railway towards Chieveley Station. I then crossed the line and looked at the wreck of the armoured train. Two trucks were still on the rails. One of them, which contained the platelayers' tools, was completely turned over, the wheels being uppermost. The enemyCs shell fire had broken the axle, and this had evidently caused the 'accident. I could see no signs that the lines had been tampered with. One armoured waggon lay on its side, and the other was upright. Both were riddled with artillery fire. There were two graves alongside the railway bearing an inscription in memory of the fallen soldiers.
"The Border Battalion is camped near here. The mounted infantry have made a fine haul of cattle, recapturing 450 head besides 500 sheep."
At the beginning of December, General Joubert, being indisposed, arrived at Volksrust for medical attention, and Gen. Schalk Burgher took command of the Natal Boer force, which blew up the bridge at Colenso to stop our supplies to Ladysmith. Communication was established between Frere Camp and Ladysmith by heliography and the electric searchlight, the latter causing much consternation in the Boer camp near Colenso.
In many places they had cut the telegraph line.
Up to now the Boers had suffered severely. At Belmont, 81 of their dead were accounted for, and before Ladysmith, to Nov. 8th, 800 were killed and wounded.
Gen. Sir F. Clery arrived at Frere camp on Dec. 2nd, and assumed command of the division.
On Thursday night, Dec. 7th, a brilliant and successful sortie was made from Ladysmith by six hundred irregular cavalry, under the command of General Sir Archibald Hunter, of whose loyal support Sir G. White afterwards spoke most warmly. The Boers on Lombard's Kop were taken completely by surprise, and bolted in a panic, leaving three heavy guns at the mercy of the British, who blew them up with gun cotton. Our troops, having captured a Maxim, returned to camp with the loss of only one man killed and three wounded. Another sortie was made at the same time by a squadron of Hussars, who did considerable damage to the Boer camp, without sustaining any loss.
The Tugela Fight.
At dawn on Dec. 15th, a front attack by the British was made in the Colenso*"plain against the Commandos of Schalk Burgher and Pretorius, whose forces extended five miles in entrenched positions on the hills.
The attack was ordered at two points. On the left General Hart's brigade, with two batteries in support, was to seize Bridle Drift, a mile and a-half above Colenso. In the centre General Hildyard's brigade was to attack the bridge.
Our batteries, especially the naval six 40-pounders, opened a heavy fire on Fort Wylie. The Boers' guns did not reply till the batteries on General Hildyard's right opened at 1300yds., when a tremendous duel began.
At seven o'clock the Dublins led General Hart's attack in an absolutely open plain under a front and enfilading fire, the drift being the apex of a horseshoe curve of the river, the banks of which were lined by Boers well entrenched.
Shell fire was opened by the Boers in three directions, that from a big gun on a ridge above the plain being the worst, but eventually it was silenced by the naval battery.
Through a terrific fire the Dublins gained the river, though not opposite the drift, and several men who attempted to cross were drowned. They were within 400yds of a Kaffir kraal, fortified by sandbags, which formed the main position of the Boers for the defence of the drift. Then came an order for the retirement, when our loss was extremely heavy. The Connaughts lost heavily, being caught by the shrapnel fire before they were able to deploy.
A force of about 400 Boers was now seen to be moving to the east to help to resist the centre attack.
Meanwhile, as the men of the Queen's Royal West Surrey Regiment, the leading battalion of Hildyard's force, were advancing, the 15th and 76th Batteries, on his right, came within 800yds. range.
The guns worked splendidly, but the enemy's rifle fire was too much for them.
Almost all the officers were wounded, including Colonel Long, and so many horses were killed that the men were forced to abandon ten guns.
The Queen's were now almost entirely deprived of the support of artillery and were exposed upon the plain, across which they advanced under a hail of rifle and shell fire. By a series of short rushes they reached the wooded banks of the Tugela, and disappeared from view. They got within 800yds. of the Boers, but the enemy were entirely sheltered in an unassailable position across the river round the valley.
The Queen's held the position for half an hour before a retirement was ordered. The Devons, supporting the Queen's, sent a company and a-half to their assistance, and almost silenced the batteries.
On the extreme right Thorneycroft's Imperial Light Horse and the Natal Carbineers, with the police, a mounted company of the 6oth Rifles, and some of the South African Light Horse, under Lord Dundonald, about 1000 strong, made a gallant attack upon the extremely strong position of Halangwane Hill, which is upon this side of the river, where was placed the Boer battery which caused so much damage and wrecked our batteries.
They advanced up the narrow valley, at the head of which large numbers of Boers were hidden. The advance was stopped by a party of Boers, who outflanked them, and the force retired under a heavy fire.
The main naval battery in the centre of our line directly before Colenso, firing lyddite shells at 4000yds. range, did tremendous damage in the trenches, one shot knocking the whole of one end of Fort Wylie into a shapeless heap.
The dongas afforded such perfect cover that it was impossible to estimate the numbers of the Boers. When the Volunteers had been forced to retire, and the ambulance parties arrived to attend to the wounded, the Boers ceased firing, and came out of their cover in the dongas in thousands.
The ill-fated 66th and 14th Batteries were caught in a trap. Directly they unlimbered they were met with a deadly fire from a concealed trench, and were also raked with shell fire. The killed and wounded men and horses had terrible injuries. After the " retire" was sounded the Boers swarmed across the river in hundreds. They rifled the bodies of our killed and wounded. They took Colonel Hunt prisoner when he was lying on a stretcher. The enemy could be seen all the rest of the day burying their dead. Their loss in killed and wounded was estimated at over 2,000.
On the average there were sixty empty cartridges around every one of our dead—that is to say, every man fired his rifle with courage and determination until the last, even when completely isolated from companionship; and there were a number of instances in which two comrades had fought and died together far from the main body of their regiment.
From beginning to end of the trying struggle the Royal Dublin Fusiliers fought with all the martial ardour of their race. One Dublin man endeavouring, badly wounded, to make his way from the field, was overtaken by a Boer, who called upon him to surrender. The Irishman, weak as he was, turned, and with his last remaining strength managed to bayonet his would-be captor.
The Dublin Fusiliers struck the River Tugela above the proper ford for which they were making. They at once dashed into the stream, in their burning eagerness to get across first, with the sad result that about twenty of them were carried away by the swift current and drowned.
After the battle the Boers swarmed across the field. Many of them swam the river Tugela with nothing on them but their shirts. They found our Natal Volunteer ambulance bearers at work searching for the wounded. The Boers shot dead one of these bearers, and wounded three others out of sheer brutality. They threatened the others with death, and forbade them to touch anything.
Later in the day, after an armistice had been arranged, the Boers were busy burying their dead. The bodies were for the most part interred in the trenches which the Boers had used so effectively during the battle.
We had eleven ambulances working for 24 hours. All our wounded were sent south to Pietermaritzburg, and ultimately the more serious cases were forwarded to the coast.
Lieutenant Roberts (the General's son) was killed and buried on the Sunday afternoon at a beautiful spot near the station, with solemn and imposing ceremony.
Sir R. Buller himself had a skin cut on the body from a spent bullet.
Many instances of heroism are recorded on the part of men and officers belonging to all regiments engaged in the battle. Lieutenant Ponsonby, of Thorneycroft's, was carrying a wounded man, when the latter received a fresh and mortal wound. The Boers then fired on Lieutenant Ponsonby, who was slightly wounded, but escaped after shooting a Boer dead at close quarters. He received an ovation when he reached the camp.
The force of the enemy opposed to us was believed to number from twelve to fourteen thousand. With such entrenched positions as they occupied, and with a danger-ous high-banked river like the Tugela running between the defensive and attacking parties, the Boers had a distinctly overwhelming advantage from tactical or strategical standpoints. Their positions were unique.
" Cannon to right of them, cannon to left of them, thundered and volleyed;" but help was at hand for the beleaguered town.
Ladysmith was being shelled daily, out of sheer wantonness apparently, yet reports agreed that the Free State Boers had taken the alarm at the threatened advance of Lord Methuen and General Gatacre upon Bloemfontein, and were on the move. Thousands of them, with waggons and other camp equipage, were trekking through Van Reenan's Pass. The Free Staters feared evidently that when Ladysmith had been relieved the British troops would invade their country from this side. Consequently Van Reenan's and all other passes were elaborately fortified and strongly held.
The Creusot gun on Pepworth Hill was dismantled by the naval gun, also a Howitzer on another hill, but the enemy brought down two more large calibre guns, placing one at 4000yds. against the western defences. With this gun our own battery was able to cope, but another new gun was well placed. We thus had now in position against us three Creusot 6in. guns, four 4-7 Howitzers, two batteries of high velocity, long-range field guns, several mountain and automatic guns.
Then came to England the first news of the approach of relief.
From General Buller to Secretary of State for War.
Frere Camp, December 7. Have established, by energy of Captain Cayzer, communication with Sir George White by heliograph.
All the troops in the Ladysmith camp passed a merry Christmas. They were greatly delighted with the kind and thoughtful message from the Queen Empress.
The enemy gave us a quiet day. They did not shell us much, and the slight bombardment had no effect.
But on the 27th of Dec. a train of six waggons which were conveying provisions to the Boers was captured and taken into Frere camp. The stores were consigned by some of the Natal Dutch.
On the last day of 1899, General Joubert preached to the burghers on liberty, having a large congregation in his camp facing Ladysmith. On New Year's morning some confectionery was sent " with the season's greetings" into the besieged town by means of shells. It is said that these shells were afterwards sold at from 30s. to £5 as souvenirs.
The same day was observed by General French in attacking the Boers at Colesberg; and by Colonel Pilcher, of the Bedfordshire regiment, in defeating the enemy at Sunnyside, 30 miles north-west of Belmont. Afterwards he relieved Douglas from rebel Dutchmen, Major Gen. Babington's cavalry assisting.
On Wednesday, Jan. 10th, Lord Dundonald, at the head of the Cavalry Brigade, started from Frere Camp in the early morning, and after marching twenty-four miles in a north-westerly direction occupied a strong position dominating Potgieter's Drift, on the Upper Tugela.
Lord Dundonald made hasty defences to still further strengthen his position. Subsequently a column of infantry followed on the same line of march, taking up another position of strength in close proximity to the ferry.
Scouts were thrown over the river, and at daybreak next morning, General Lyttelton's brigade, with some Howitzers, marched out from the camp, and crossed at Potgieter's Drift.
Though the river was high, some of the infantry succeeded in fording the stream at the drift, whilst the cable pontoon was also largely used for the transport of men and material. The Howitzers and some naval guns, manned by the Naval brigade, were quickly brought into position upon a kopje known as Mount Alice. They opened fire immediately, and throughout the whole of the day they shelled the whole length of the Boer position, which was plainly discernible about five miles north of the drift. Up to this hour, however, not a single Boer gun had replied to our cannonade.
Whilst this movement was developing at Potgieter's Drift, General Sir Charles Warren with his division successfully crossed the river by another drift six miles higher up.
A further Skirmish at Tugela.
At daybreak on Saturday, Jan. 20th, General Buller's forces attacked the Boer positions north of the Tugela, and the battle which ensued did not cease until seven o'clock in the evening.
General Clery, with part of Sir Charles Warren's column, from Acton Homes, commenced operations by an assault on the enemy's right. A terrific bombardment was maintained, but it was not until two o'clock that the Boers made any reply. Under cover of the guns the infantry at length attacked, and gradually forcing the Boers back, swarmed over the ridges which they had held. The enemy rallied, and, with great courage, attempted to hold a second position, but broke and fled before the heavy fire which the British brought to bear from guns and rifles. At the end of the day the British were face to face with the enemy's main position, upon which a furious cannonade was directed. During the day eleven officers and 279 non-commissioned officers and men were wounded.
Meanwhile General Lyttelton attacked the Boers west of Potgieter's Drift. A Howitzer Brigade and two naval guns had been posted on the north bank of the river, and the movement was further supported by naval guns from the plateau on the south bank and from Mount Alice. The Boers soon became demoralised under the heavy fire, and the British were able to operate with field artillery. It was not until the infantry had been pushed forward, however, that the Boers employed their guns, and it was then ascertained that they had only one Maxim, a Nordenfelt, and a 7-pounder. All three were quickly silenced. The object of General Lyttelton's movement was to prevent the Boers from concentrating their force upon General Warren's column.
General Warren resumed the attack next day, and again forced the enemy to retire from three positions, the British advancing frequently in face of a heavy fire. His troops were engaged all day, and at nine o'clock at night General Buller reported that he had advanced a couple of miles.
The Attempt on Spion Kop.
On the night of Jan. 23rd, Sir Charles Warren seized Spion Kop, but found it very difficult to hold. The boundary of the plateau was too large, and the water supply was very deficient. The crests were held throughout Wednesday against severe attacks and heavy shell fire. The 2nd Cameronians, the 3rd King's Royal Rifles, the 2nd Lancashire Fusiliers, the 2nd Middlesex, and Thorneycroft's Mounted Infantry were specially mentioned for gallantry. On the night of the 24th-25th the officer in command of the summit decided to abandon the position, and did so before daylight on the 25th.
" The highest point of Spion Kop—a scene glorious as well as disastrous for the British army—is probably 3,500ft. from the base. It runs at right angles to the main range of hills along the Upper Tugela. On the eastern side the mountain faces Mount Alice and Potgieter's Drift, standing at right angles to the Boer central position and Lyttelton's advanced position. The southern point descends in abrupt steps to the lower line of kopjes on the western side opposite the right outposts of Warren's force. It is inaccessibly steep, until a point where the nek joins the kop to the main range. Then there is a gentle slope, which admits of easy access to the summit."
The nek was strongly held by the Boers, who also occupied a heavy spur parallel with the kop, where the enemy, concealed in no fewer than thirty-five rifle pits, were enabled to bring to bear upon our men a damaging cross-fire.
Our men were able to occupy the further end of this tableland, where the ridge descended to another flat, which was again succeeded by a round stony eminence, held by the Boers in great strength. The ridge held by our own men faced a number of strong little kopjes at all angles, whence the Boers sent a concentrated fire from their rifles, supported by a Maxim and Nordenfeldt and a big long-range gun.
What with the rifles and the machine guns and the big guns, the summit was converted into a perfect hell.
The disaster to our forces at this place—1,600 casualties—led to despatches which caused discussion both- in Parliament and press. Warren was found another post, and a colonel was sent home on half-pay.
Advance of the Relief Column.
The Relief Column concentrated at Chieveley. From there it moved forward once more, on the 14th of Feb., against Hussar Hill, facing HIangwani. Not more than a thousand of the enemy attempted to arrest the advance, but the sight of the entrenchments across the three miles separating HIangwani from Monte Christo supported the presumption that they were waiting for us on these hills, amongst the ravines, in the trees, and amid the rocks. Accordingly, all our Artillery, strengthened by two more 5in. siege guns from Modder River, and a 6in. Naval service gun from the Terrible, directed their fire on these hills and trenches and hiding places. For two days lyddite and shrapnel were rained on them, and not until Saturday the 17th, was General Buller's contemplated movement on Monte Christo made apparent.
On that day Generals Lyttelton, Hildyard and Barton, set out on the march for Monte Christo. They were preceded by the Mounted Infantry, under Lord Dundonald, who cleared the eastern side of the southern end of the range, in order to pave the way for the Infantry, by gaining secure possession of the first point of the Nek separating it from the second and highest peak. He was in time to prevent a body of Boers from gaining the Nek. General Lyttelton's and General Hildyard's brigades successfully occupied the peak, General Barton, with his Fusiliers, remaining to the left of its base. A battery of Field Artillery, which had been run up half way to the crest, began, on Sunday morning to shell the opposite peak; while the line of guns, extending on the left for a mile and a half to Hussar Hill, launched a perfect tornado of missiles along their front, HIangwani and Green Hill, standing out on the right, close to the second peak of Monte Christo, and the latter itself were raked by lyddite,
On the morning of February 18th, Hildyard's brigade advanced to storm the seemingly impregnable northern peak of Monte Christo, and Barton's to rush the trenches and eschanzed fastness of Green Hill. The Royal West Surreys were given the honour of leading the way, being posted on the right, with the Scots Fusiliers on the left.
It was at half-past twelve that the sound of cheers from Monte Christo, borne to those below amid the sibilant shriek of shells, told that the Surreys had won the coveted peak. The position being carried, the Boer guns and Maxim automatic turned on those of our men who exposed themselves in charging forward through the bush on the crest after the retreating enemy, several of the Queen's being laid low in their eagerness to complete the conquest. An hour after Monte Christo was ours, there was a flash of steel against the verdant background of Green Hill, and half an hour later another cheer borne upon the breeze, and 'the appearance of line after line of khaki-clad figures on the summit of the hill, told us that the second position was in our hands.
The peak and Green Hill marked the' limit of the advance on Sunday. In the afternoon General Buller rode on to Green Hill and inspected the position. As a result, the Fusiliers moved on HIangwani, and easily captured it. A company of Thorneycroft's Mounted Infantry got under the hill and found the Boers hastily' evacuating it. The occupation was completed by the Fusiliers. Three camps, full of provisions, blankets, and all the paraphernalia of Boer life, along with many thousand rounds of Mauser ammunition and 2000 Maxim automatic shells, fell into the hands of our troops.
HIangwani had been turned into a fortress. Trenches and wails covered every point of approach, and the constitution of the hill itself, a mass of huge rocks piled in every conceivable shape, afforded absolutely safe cover even from lyddite. The rank and file of the Boers, judging from the evidences on every hand, lived in the roughest manner, though, apparently, there was no lack of provisions. Having seized HIangwani, and with Colenso only 3000 yards due east, General Hart's brigade, which until then had held Chieveley, while the Lancashire brigade covered the left flank at Hussar Hill, received orders to advance. Meanwhile the fighting line between HIangwani and Monte Christo had pushed the enemy back considerably, although on the morning of Tuesday, the 20th, they were well behind the alignment of Colenso, and continued to oppose our advance with a field piece and a Maxim automatic, as well as rifle fire.
Tuesday saw Colenso ours, and the same evening a squadron of Thorneycroft's Mounted Infantry forded the river under fire from the kopjes on the northern bank." The whole of the regiment crossed the next morning, and seized the kopjes directly facing Grobler's Kloof, and having Fort Wylie and the railway and road bridges in the rear. The Boers retired precipitately on to Grobler's Kloof, leaving their camps and all their belongings,—bibles, papers, clothing, cartridges, cases, and sacks of provisions, tobacco, rifles, cooking utensils, even two boxes of splendid apples from Pretoria. Most of the quarters were simply made of sheets of galvanised iron laid against the wall of the fortifications. All were filthy and evil-smelling. In the dongas near the river, where chambers had been dug out, pools of stagnant water made the places breeding dens of enteric fever.
Nothing could exceed, however, the great strength of the position. Trenches ran everywhere, enfilading all possible points of attack. Boulder-covered kopjes, strengthened, where the guns had been placed, with thick walls, a hundred yards or more. It was done magnificently. There was no time or opportunity afforded to sandbag the bridge, and a good many men were hit there, but still the stream of men never halted on the way. They filed on, now moving across an open space, now hugging the river bank, until one by one they passed from comparative shelter into the zone of fire. Here many a good soldier fell in that bullet-swept rush to the rendezvous, where only the men of the Brigade had time to breathe in safety. The Inniskillings alone lost 38 killed and wounded.
At last, by 5.0 p.m., the battalions were massed under fire. Once they were ready, no time was lost in making the advance. The moment the enemy sighted the Irish climbing the hill, they opened a rattling fusillade, to which the advanced and supporting lines replied. Up, up they climbed, taking advantage of the still fairly abundant cover, until the last ledge was gained. The stern part of the work only now began. With rifles at the "ready," and cool as ever, the Inniskillings leaped over the last boulder, and rushed for the railway line. There, in getting through or over a wire fence, the Boer bullets found their victims, but over the line and through the fence at the other side the Infantry dashed, and, with a cheer, rushed up the precipitous angle of the hill at the -first trench.
Up to now the Boers, who had been watching the sheet of flame from the Naval guns on the south side of the river, and ducking into the trench while the lyddite shells exploded, had been coolly standing up between the discharges and firing down on the advancing Infantry. When, however, they saw that nothing could stop that magnificent charge, and the bayonets seemed already at their breasts, they stood irresolute for a moment, then ran from the trench, and bolted up the hill for dear life. With another cheer the Inniskillings rushed at the trench, passed it, and, with a recklessness that immediately became all too fatal, dashed after the hurrying foe, and attempted to rush the next entrenchment. But that splendid charge was met by a hail of bullets, literally sweeping the face of the incline. Officers and men went down before the blasting shower like, corn before the sickle, and yet they kept on and on, till human courage could do no more, and they turned— what was left of that gallant band—and retreated to the trench they had already won, and to the protection of the railway line below. As they went many fell to rise no more, or, later, when the moon came out, and a man, not altogether wounded to the death, staggered to his feet and essayed to reach his comrades, he was shot down like a dog.
The morning light found their comrades exposed to another ordeal. Up to nine a. m., they held their own, as Irishmen can, and then, as if the Boers were determined to wipe them out, a rush was made on the trench from the kloof. They were forced to give way a little, but they knew that their duty was to keep that hill for the Queen, and, firing steadily and true, they made the Boers turn tail and once more seek the cover of their rocks and schanzes.
The labour involved in making Colenso impregnable to a frontal attack, was immense. The trenches ran right to the river banks, so that any attempt to ford the Tugela, even at its lowest, would have been met by so vigilant an enemy with an unerring fire.
The new line of Colenso and the kopjes north of the village being in our possession, and General Buller, apparently not caring to risk passing the Tugela on his immediate front, where the kopjes rise precipitously on either side, suddenly, on the morning of Wednesday, the 21st, sent the pontoon train through an opening in the centre of the HIangwani range, and bridging the Tugela north of Fort Wylie, launched the Dorsets, Middlesex, and Somersets at the kopjes forming the continuation, along the railway and the river, of those held on the left by Thorneycroft's Mounted Infantry. The Artillery followed, and other Brigades, excepting such as were necessary to maintain the hold on HIangwani, rapidly debouched through the hills westward, on the line of the new advance.
We had struck an acute line north-east from Chieveley, then worked back on another acute line north-west, finally striking west for two miles or more. We were then on the course of the Tugela and the railway line to Ladysmith, nearly half-way between Colenso and Pieter's Stations. The fighting that followed our appearance at the Tugela under the kopjes had now lasted, with slight intermission, for six days.
On Wednesday, the three regiments just named became heavily engaged with the enemy ensconced at the base and up the eastern face of Grobler's Kloof, losing in killed and wounded nearly 200 officers and men. It appeared we were engaged by the whole Boer Army. As the troops massed across the river under the kopjes the enemy brought the guns from Grobler's Kloof and the kopjes ahead of us to bear on them.
A continuous and exceptionally heavy rifle-fire on Thursday betokened the arrival of considerable Boer reinforcements; it is stated, indeed, that 3,000 Boers arrived that day from the Ladysmith base, and armed with rapid-firing Mausers, were disposed in trench after trench, crowning the heights, and always commanding our advance.
It was only then, when this determined attack had been repulsed by those weary men, that General Hildyard's battalions came upon the scene, to be greeted with a ringing cheer. The Durham Light Infantry relieved the Inniskillings in the trench, and the heroes of the day passed on to get that rest they so sorely needed.
While the Durhams and others of General Lyttelton's battalions held the hill, and on the previous day, while the Irish brigade was fighting so magnificently, the battle raged on the left. The Colonel of the Welsh Fusiliers was amongst the officers of note who died there for his country.
On Sunday, from four a.m. to four p.m., the silence of the holy day was unbroken by the noise of battle. General Hart, at the instance of the Commander-in-Chief, had requested a truce, which was granted, in order to bury the dead and recover the wounded.
The calm of Sunday evening was broken at half-past nine by one of those sudden and furious outbreaks of rifle fire which had been recurrent night after night. The roll of the firing passed from left to right of the position, and it lasted for twenty minutes. Next morning it transpired that the enemy's searchlight—the only one he had left—had been pluckily rendered useless by Captain Phillips and eight Bluejackets, who had only been discovered after their daring work had been accomplished.
Only Ten Miles from our Goal!
Sir Redvers Buller's plan of advance was now made clear. It was to hug the railway and river, storming kopje after kopje running parallel with these to past Pieter's Station, until we came to the point where the HIangwani Range dips into the Tugela facing Bulwana, and somewhat to the left front of Ladysmith. The forward movement so far had embraced the capture of the kopjes up to Railway Hill, near to Pieter's Station, and we were holding these, and preparing to push our advance north from HIangwani, whither General Buller had gone to direct the operations.
The Lancashire brigade, under Colonel Wynne, started at two p.m. on Thursday, the 22nd, to take possession of the kopjes up to Onderbrook Spruit. The Royal Lancaster led the way, with the south Lancashire following. The moment they deployed from the shelter of the ridges on the left, and resolutely advanced, they came under the range of the Boer guns and Maxim automatics. The fire came both from front and Grobler's Kloof. Our guns covered the advance in one continuous roar, but were unable to silence the enemy's artillery. The gallant Lancasters marched on unconcernedly, passed over one ridge, and advanced on the objective kopje, only to meet a hot fusillade coming from the front and left.
The Boers stuck to the kopje until our fellows were within less than one hundred yards, but the resolute advance sorely tried their nerve, and only a very few remained to stand the charge. Our men, running for a few minutes out of ammunition, had to lie under the Krantz until supplies had been passed forward, when, with the King's Royal Rifles reinforcing, they rushed the crest just in time to see the Boers run into the trees and dongas under Grobler's Kloof. Only one Boer remained to be bayoneted, while another was shot within four yards of the position.
The story of the storming of Railway Hill comes next. The passage of the Irish Brigade along a bullet-swept path from Platelayers' House at Onderbrook Spruit, and the charge of the Inniskillings, with their brothers in arms, up Railway Hill, must rank as one of the finest incidents in their history. Railway Hill rises from the Tugela a mile from Platelayers' House. It is triangular in shape, with one angle pointing towards the river. It rises from the latter in a series of jagged, boulder-strewn kopjes, until three hundred feet or so above the Tugela. A kloof, through which the railway passes upwards on its way to Pieter's Station, separates the last jagged ledge from the hill proper. From the last kopje or ledge, and immediately on the other side of the line, the main part of the hill rises abruptly, almost precipitously, with a sharp edge running back in a north-westerly direction for several hundred yards. The base of this north-westerly line of hill makes up a kloof thick with thorn trees, and this kloof recedes round the left end of the hill to the rear, where the enemy's force, under Commandant Dupreez, had its quarters, while a little further to the rear is still another kloof, in which the enemy's Creusots were mounted.
Along the beginning of the sharp edge referred to, a long trench was cut, and right ahead, as the hill ran still upwards on an incline for 300 yards or so, were other trenches, until the hill terminated in a crest crowded with commanding fortifications.
Such was the position the Inniskillings, with companies of the Royal Dublins, Connaught Rangers, and Imperial Light Infantry, were expected to storm against some of the finest defensive marksmen in the world. Almost the whole of the left face of Railway Hill, ascending steeply from the kloof, rose clear from the river. Between the river and the kloof there is a wide open space, sufficient to manoeuvre a Brigade.
The Boers on Railway Hill, as well as those on the kopjes on our left, were able to keep their comrades in full view, and every man of the Irish Brigade, who crossed the open space west of Platelayers' House to join the rendezvous under the first jagged kopje or ledge constituting the commencement of Railway Hill, carried his life in his hands. Yet each of them, with rifle at the trail, passed out from Platelayers' House to run the gauntlet of death without being able to fire a shot in* return. He had at least half a mile to go before he reached the rendezvous, and bullets sought him at every step.
The conduct of the Colonial troops was the theme of general admiration. Once again they have proved themselves the finest Infantry in the world. They drove the enemy in front of them for nearly three miles, clearing them out of a succession of trenches, ridges, and kopjes fortified with schanzes.
In one trench, which had been dug across the road at Pieter's, fourteen men were shot, and among the dead were found a girl of eighteen and a woman of seventy. A boy of eleven, with a bandolier slung over his shoulder, was wounded in the arm and taken charge of by our ambulance men.
Over fifty wounded Boers were removed to the field hospital, and their dead were lying everywhere. The bombardment to which they had been exposed was terrific in its intensity. Thirty-six of our shells had fallen within a radius of one hundred yards.
The big Naval guns opened fire at 2,300 yards — a range at which there is practically no trajectory — and their projectiles literally ripped the Boer defences to pieces. The enemy, as they retreated, were seen to be carrying with them numbers of their wounded
Their camps were full of provisions, and littered with saddles, stores, and immense quantities of ammunition. Amongst the personal effects left behind were numbers of watches.
A visitor to the trenches at Colenso after the conquest says, they were in places full of dead horses and mules, and hundreds of vultures feeding on them. The sides of the hills were torn up by the shells.
When some of the Colonials gained an eminence that commanded a view of Ladysmith, they were naturally excited. As it was now sundown (when there is no twilight) there was a brief debate among the officers whether to advance further that night, and when the order was given to go ahead, the men went ahead like mad, going down the hill helter-skelter, and as one writer said, it required some vigorous " swearing" from those privileged ir this particular to get the men into decent order in the plain.
The Triumphant Entry.
The relief column had been in the "open" for 14 days, fighting day and night. They had slept often in wet clothes on damp ground; had not washed for weeks and, according to orders, which applied generally to the campaign, had not shaved since entering the field. Their appearance therefore was not exactly those of conquerors, when they marched into Ladysmith. But the garrison smartened up to receive them cheerily, with polished gaiters, clean khaki, and spotless helmets. Still, what a sorry spectacle they presented.
As a private wrote—" They looked starved, hunted, almost worked to death; their eyes sunk back in their heads, cheeks hollow, and their necks all fallen away. Men I knew in Aldershot six months ago, I could not recognise." And no wonder. For sometime the garrison had been on a quarter rations, a biscuit and a quarter, 3 oz. of mealie meal and poor horse flesh. When a soldier was killed his kit was sold, a biscuit fetching 2s. 6d., a stick of tobacco from 5s. to £2.
The first sight of the British troops was gained when it was nearly dark, but the people thronged about the drift where the coming column has to cross the river. Lord Dundonald, who was at their head, was welcomed by General Brocklehurst. When his name was heard the cheering was louder than ever, for he was well known in connection with his daring leadership of the Irregular Horse. The troops with him were composed of the Imperial Light Horse, the Natal Carbineers, the Natal Mounted Rifles, and Police, a hundred and seventy all told.
Sir George White, on his way to meet the troops, was hemmed in by a cheering crowd of soldiers and civilians, to whom he spoke as follows:—" Men, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your support and help, which I shall acknowledge to the end of my life. It hurt me to cut down your rations, but I promise I will not do so again. Thank God we have kept the flag flying."
Louder cheers than ever were followed by the singing of " God Save the Queen."
General Buller made his "public entry" into the town quite unexpectedly an hour before noon on March 2nd. Sir George White rode out to receive him on the Helpmakaar road. The two Generals were cheered as they rode through the main street into the town, but there was no crowd to make a great demonstration.
Addresses were, however, presented by the Mayor both to General Buller and General White at the Convent, where Sir Redvers established his headquarters.
Large convoys of supplies were sent forward promptly, with medical comforts, and Ladysmith's sorest needs were thereby speedily relieved.
Some of the shops were found shut up, and others stockless. Wreckage was on every hand, and the pinched faces of many in the crowd told of semi-starvation. When relieved the food stores had only four days' rations left.
As soon as he could get away, Sir Geo. White proceeded to Durban, en route for London, suffering from fever; and when he reached England he had a triumphal entry wherever he went.
Losses of the Garrison.
The garrison, which had for four months defended Ladysmith with such staunchness and devotion, had become only the shadow of the force that was compelled to retire before the Boers after the battle of Lombard's Kop, on October 30th.
On "Mournful Monday" Sir George White commanded 558 officers and 13,760 men. Ten days later, his force had shrunk to 498 officers and 12,556 men—the rest were either killed or missing.
Since the investment we lost, in action, 16 officers and 162 men; the casual bombardment killed 35 officers and men, and wounded 20 officers and 168 men; 47 officers and 360 men—of whom 94 have since died—were wounded in action; and disease accounted for 476 more—a figure that implies a greater loss of life, and permanent injury to health, than in all the battles, assaults, and sorties from Talana Hill down to the date of relief. Enteric fever, low fever, and dysentery had been rampant; the direct outcome of bad water, privation, and the fetid dust arising from a town crowded with 21,000 half-starved inhabitants.
Although the actual mortality remained low until the middle of January, and disease was not really virulent, the general health of the troops suffered severely from the want of good nourishing food and of essential comforts. As many as 8,424 passed through the hospitals, and the daily average under treatment ranged from 1,500 to 2,000. There were 1,710 cases of enteric fever alone.
In February, the Army Medical Corps buried 500 men in a patch of ground near the camp.
Until the middle of December, food was fairly plentiful. The rations consisted of one pound of beef, one pound of bread, four ounces of mealies, four ounces of sugar, and 'one-third of an ounce of tea. Beyond this, prices were prohibitive, and luxuries only for the rich. Eggs sold at thirty-six shillings a dozen, chickens at from twenty to thirty shillings, and tobacco at two sovereigns the pound. The repulse at Colenso was followed by a reduction of rations, and when the Relief Column recrossed the Tugela after the battle of Spion Kop, there were shorter commons yet. The three-quarters of a pound of trek ox was converted into half a pound of horse-flesh, and the three-quarters of a pound of bread to half a pound of biscuit, supplemented by only one ounce of sugar and a third of an ounce of tea.
The once dashing Cavalry Brigade had practically ceased to exist. At the beginning of the year it had 5,500 horses and 4,500 mules. Before the end of January it could feed only 1,100 horses. The remainder had either been converted into joints, soups, or sausages, or been left to forage for themselves. The poor emaciated animals, mere phantoms of horses, were among the most painful sights of the whole siege.
A list of 1,109 casualties—129 killed, 939 wounded, and 41 missing—the losses sustained by Sir Redvers Buller in the engagements between the 16th and 27th February, on the march from Colenso to Ladysmith, was the principal item of war news a day or so after.
A summary of the losses in General Buller's leading battles was as follows:—
Killed. Wounded. Missing.
Potgieter's Drift ..............29…...338…………5
Spion Kop .....................305…..1,077…….347
Hlangwane, Pieters, &c......160….1,222…..…48
Total ………………..................... 4,655
General Buller remained in command of the garrison, and the dispersion of the enemy gave him leisure to recruit his forces and rehabitate them, as well as for the town to be repaired. But by the' beginning of April the Boers returned to the Biggarsberg, about 40 miles away, and began shelling Sunday's River camp, and there were Boers again on the right of Mattawana. All around Elandslaagte the trenches were occupied by our infantry ready for an advance, and our guns commanded all approaches. The strongest Boer force was for a time towards Glencoe Pass and the Newcastle Road. The divisions attacked were, Clery's, Warren's, and Dundonald's, whose line extended for five miles towards Job's Kop.
The enemy opened fire at 8 a.m., one day with a 100-pounder, 15-pounders, and a "pom-pom." One of the men of the East Surreys was killed and another wounded. Then, when the 4-7 gun from H. M. S. Philomel replied, the Boers turned their attention to the bluejackets, two of whom were killed and another wounded. The naval guns frustrated a daring attempt to get between the British troops and their base at Ladysmith. Commander Botha on the Biggarsberg heights, some 3,000 or 4,000 ft. above sea level, had at one time a force extending for fifteen miles—from Jonono's Kop to a copje commanding Sunday's river bridge and our right. For a month the Boers were raiding and looting, occasionally exchanging shots with our outposts, and spying for information; yet their movements appeared simply to be for the purpose of checking an advance upon Pretoria.
Regarding this spying business, upon which the Intelligence Department depends for information as to the enemy's tactics, some experts have asserted that there has been more failure on our part in this respect than in any other.As the winter approached the Boers found the hills too cold and sought the friendship of Kaffirs in the plain, demanding both fodder and the hut tax, though in Natal. If the blacks were not content, they had the option of moving beyond Sunday's river. A special war tax was demanded on all property in the Transvaal, to be paid in three months.