So utter, and for the time being so ludicrously complete, was the collapse of our adversaries' defence, that on that first night within the Transvaal border we lay down to rest on the open veldt without any slightest shelter, but also without any slightest fear, save only the fear of catching cold; and slept as undisturbed as though we had been slumbering amid hoar-frost and heather on the famous Fox Hills near Aldershot. On that particular Sunday night our tentless camp was visited by ten or twelve degrees of frost, so that when the morning dawned my wraps were as hoary as the hair of their owner is ever likely to become.
[Sidenote: An elaborate night toilet.]
But then as the night, so must the nightdress be; and my personal toilet was arranged in the following tasteful fashion. Every garment worn during the heat of the day was of course worn throughout the chilly night, including boots; for at that season of the year we regularly went to bed with our boots on. Indeed the often footsore men were expressly forbidden to take them off at night, lest a possible night attack should find them in that important respect unready. Over the tunic was put a sweater, and over that a greatcoat, with a hideous woollen helmet as a crown of glory for the head, and a regulation blanket wrapped round the waist and legs. Then on the least rugged bit of ground within reach a waterproof sheet was spread, and on that was planted the "bag blanket," into which I carefully crept, having first thrown over it an old mackintosh as some small protection from the heavy evening dew and the early morning frost. So whether the ground proved rough as a nutmeg-grater or ribbed like a gridiron, I soon said good-night to the blushing stars above me and to the acres of slumbering soldiers all around. After that, few of us were in fit condition to judge whether there were ten degrees of frost or twelve till five o'clock next morning, when we sat on the whitened ground to breakfast by starlight. At that unkindly hour the least acute observer of Nature's varying moods could not fail to note that a midwinter dawn five thousand feet above the sea-level can even in South Africa be bitingly severe.
[Sidenote: Capturing Clapham Junction.]
After two more days of heavy marching we found abundant and beautiful spar stones springing up out of the barren veldt, as in my native Cornwall; and we needed no seer to assure us that the vast and invaluable mining area of Johannesburg was close at hand. Presently we passed one big set of mining machinery after another, each with its huge heap of mine refuse. If only some clotted cream had been purchasable at one of the wayside houses, or a dainty pasty had anywhere appeared in sight, I could almost have fancied myself close to Camborne.
Instead, however, of marching straight towards Johannesburg, we suddenly pounced on Elandsfontein, the most supremely important railway junction in all South Africa--its Clapham Junction--and following swiftly in the footsteps of Henry's mounted infantry took its defenders delightfully by surprise. The Gordons on our far left had about a hundred casualties, and the C.I.V.'s on our right, fighting valiantly, were also hard hit, but the Guards escaped unscathed. Shots enough, however, were fired to lead us to expect a serious fight, and to necessitate a further exhausting march of five or six miles, out and back, amid the mine heaps lying just beyond the junction. Fortunately, the fight proved no fight, but only a further flight; though the end of a specially heavy day's task brought with it, none the less, an abounding recompense. Whilst most of the Boers precipitately vanished, those unable to get away gave themselves up as prisoners of war, and thus without further effort we secured a position of vast strategic importance, including the terminus of the railway line leading to Natal; but it was also the terminus of the long line from Johannesburg and the regions beyond; so that there was now no way of escape for any of the rolling stock thereon. It might peradventure be destroyed before the troops could rescue it, but got away for the further service of the Boers it could not be. Among other acquisitions we captured at Elandsfontein a capitally equipped hospital train, hundreds of railway trucks laden more or less with valuable stores, and half a dozen locomotives with full head of steam on; so that had we arrived a little less suddenly, locomotives, trains and empty trucks would all have eluded our grasp and got safely to Pretoria. It was indeed an invaluable haul, especially for haulage purposes, and we had tramped 130 miles in the course of a single week to secure it!
[Sidenote: Dear diet and dangerous.]
Long after dark, weary and footsore and famished, we stumbled back three miles to our chosen camping ground. Since the previous evening some of the Scots Guards had managed to secure only a hasty drink of coffee, so they told me, as their sole rations for the four-and-twenty hours; but they seemed as happy as they were hungry, like men proudly conscious that they had done a good day's work that brought them, so they fondly supposed, perceptibly nearer home. Assisted by many an undesirable expletive, they staggered and darkly groped their way over some of the very roughest ground we had thus far been required to traverse; they got repeatedly entangled in a profusion of barbed wire; scrambled into deep railway ditches, then scrambled out again; till at last they reached their appointed resting-place, and in dead darkness proceeded as best they could to cook their dinners.
Greatly to our surprise the people, who seemed mostly Dutch or of Dutch relationship, received us like those in the Orange Free State towns, with demonstrative kindness; and in many a case brought out their last loaf as a most welcome gift to the just then almost ravenous soldiery. Every scrap of available provisions was eagerly bought up, and here as elsewhere honestly paid for, often at prices that seemed far from honest. Months after at this very place I learned that eggs were being sold at from ten to fifteen shillings a dozen, and fowls at seven shillings a-piece!
An Australian correspondent of the London Times declares that as it was with us, so was it with the troops that he accompanied. About the very time we reached this Germiston Junction, his men, he says, were practically starving; and any other army in the world would have commandeered whatever food came in its way. He was with Rundle's Brigade, "the starving Eighth" as they were well called, seeing that for a while they were rationed on one and a half biscuits a day. Yet they gave Mr Stead's "ill-treated women" two shillings a loaf for bread that sixpence would have well paid for, and no one was allowed to bring foodstuffs away from any farmhouse without getting a written receipt from the vendor. If the military police caught a ragged Leinster packing a chicken down his trouser leg through a big hole in the seat, and he could not show a receipt for the bird, away went the man's purchase to the nearest Field Hospital. To this same representative of the Press the wife of a farmer still out fighting our troops naïvely said, "For goodness sake do keep those wicked Colonials away; I am terrified of them" (he was himself a Colonial)--"but I am so glad when the English come; they pay me so well." That was the experience of almost all who had anything to sell, alike in town and country; and this particular Frau confessed to having made a profit of ten clear pounds in a single week out of the bread sold to the British soldiers. It is said, however, that in some cases when they asked for bread our men got a bullet. Around many a farmstead there hovered far worse dangers than the danger of being fleeced.
[Sidenote: No wages but the Sjambok.]
At Elandsfontein an almost frantic welcome was awarded us by the crowds of Kaffirs that eagerly watched our coming. As we marched through their Location almost the only darkie I spoke to happened to be a well-dressed intelligent Wesleyan, who said to me, "Good Boss, we are truly glad that you have come; for the last seven months the Boers have made us work without any wages except the sjambok across our backs." It is only fair to add that the burghers on commando during those same seven months were supposed to receive no wages; and the Kaffirs, who were commandeered for various kinds of service in connection with the war, could scarcely expect the Boer Government to deal more generously with them. From the very beginning, however, the Kaffirs in the Transvaal were often made to feel that their condition was near akin to that of slaves. The clauses in the Sand River Convention which were intended to be the Magna Charta of their liberties proved a delusion and a snare. Recent years, however, have effected immense improvements in their relative position and importance. Since the mines were opened their labour has been keenly competed for, and a more considerate feeling concerning them pervades all classes; but they are still regarded by many of their masters as having no actual rights either in Church or State. So when a victorious English army appeared upon the scene they fondly thought the day of their full emancipation had dawned, and in wildly excited accents they shouted as we passed, "=Victoria! Victoria!=" Whereupon our scarcely less excited lads in responsive shouts replied, "=Pretoria! Pretoria!="
Surely never was the inner meaning and significance of a great historic event more aptly voiced. The natives beheld in the advent of English rule the promise of ampler liberty and enlightenment under Victoria the Good; but the hearts of the soldiers were set on the speedy capture of Pretoria, as the crowning outcome of all their toil, and their probable turning-point towards home. Well said both! Pretoria! Victoria!
[Sidenote: The Gold Mines.]
Lord Roberts' rapid march rescued from impending destruction the costly machinery and shafting of the Witwaterrand gold mines, in which capital to the extent of many millions had been sunk, and out of which many hundreds of millions are likely to be dug. By some strange freak of nature this lofty ridge, lying about 6000 feet above the sea level, and forming a narrow gold-bearing bed over a hundred miles long, is by universal confession the richest treasure-house the ransackers of the whole earth have yet brought to light. "The wealth of Ormuz or of Ind," immortalised by Milton's most majestic epic, the wealth of the Rand completely eclipses, and nothing imagined in the glowing pages of the "Arabian Nights" rivals in solid worth the sober realities now being unearthed along this uninviting ridge. It fortunately was not in the power of the Boer Government to carry off this as yet ungarnered treasure, or it would certainly have shared the fate of the cart-loads of gold in bar and coin with which President Kruger decamped from Pretoria; but it is beyond all controversy that many of that Government's officials favoured the proposal to wreck, as far as dynamite could, both the machinery and mines in mere wanton revenge on the hated Outlanders that mainly owned them. That policy was thwarted by the swiftfootedness of the troops, and by the tactfulness of Commandant Krause, through whose arranging Johannesburg was peacefully surrendered; but who now, by some strange irony of fate, lies a felon in an English jail!
Nevertheless, later on enough mischief of this type was done to demonstrate how deadly a blow a few desperate men might have dealt at the chief industry of South Africa; and concerning it Sir Alfred Milner wrote as follows:--
Fortunately the damage done to the mines has not been large relatively to the vast total amount of the fixed capital sunk in them. The mining area is excessively difficult to guard against purely predatory attacks having no military purpose, because it is, so to speak, "all length and no breadth," one long thin line stretching across the country from east to west for many miles. Still, garrisoned as Johannesburg now is, it is only possible successfully to attack a few points in it. Of the raids hitherto made, and they have been fairly numerous, only one resulted in any serious damage. In that instance the injury done to the single mine attacked amounted to £200,000, and it is estimated that the mine is put out of working for two years. This mine is only one out of a hundred, and is not by any means one of the most important. These facts may afford some indication of the ruin which might have been inflicted, not only on the Transvaal and all South Africa, but on many European interests, if that general destruction of mine works which was contemplated just before our occupation of Johannesburg had been carried out. However serious in some respects may have been the military consequences of our rapid advance to Johannesburg, South Africa owes more than is commonly recognised to that brilliant dash put forward by which the vast mining apparatus, the foundation of all her wealth, was saved from the ruin threatening it.
That this wonderful discovery of wealth was indirectly the main cause of the war is undeniable. But for the gold the children of "Oden the Goer," whose ever restless spirit has sent them round the globe, would never have found their way in any large numbers to the Transvaal. There would have been no overmastering Outlander element, no incurable race competitions and quarrels, no unendurable wrongs to redress; the Boer Republic might again have become bankrupt, or broken up into rival chieftaincies as of old, but it could not have become a menace to Great Britain, and would never have rallied the whole Empire to repel its assault on the Empire. It is too usually with blood that gold is bought!
[Sidenote: The Soldiers' share.]
The war was practically the purchase price of this prodigious wealth, but it effected no transfer in the ownership. It may have in part to provide for the expenses of the war, but it is not claimed by the British Government as part of the spoils of war; and when Local Government is granted it will still be included in local assets. The capitalists, colonists and Kaffirs who live and thrive through the mines will thrive yet more as the result of juster laws, ample security, and a more honest administration; but the soldiers whose heroism brought to pass the change profit nothing by it. The niggers driving our carts were paid £4 a month, while the khaki men who did the actual fighting were required to content themselves with anything over about fifteen pence a day.
When Cortez, with his accompanying Spaniards, discovered Mexico, he sent word to its ruler, Montezuma, that his men were suffering from a peculiar form of heart disease which only gold could cure; so he desired him of his royal bounty to send them gold and still more gold. In the end those Spanish leeches drained the country dry; though when convoying their treasure across the sea no small portion of it was seized by English warships, and shared as loot among the captors. After the treasure ship Hermione had thus been secured off Cadiz by the Actæan and the Favorite, each captain received £65,000 as prize-money (so Fitchett tells us); each lieutenant, £13,000; each petty officer, £2000; and each seaman, £500. Our fighting men and officers found in the Transvaal vastly ampler wealth, but no such luck and no such loot. Well would it be, however, if these mining Directorates when about to declare their next dividends should bethink them generously of the widows and orphans of those whose valour and strong-footedness rescued their mines from imminent plunder and destruction.
[Sidenote: The Golden City.]
Johannesburg, which we entered unopposed on May 31st, though it covers an enormous area and contains several fine buildings, is only fourteen years old, and consequently is still very largely in the corrugated iron stage of development which is always unlovely, and in this case proved specially so. Many of the houses were deserted, most of the stores were roughly barricaded, and there were signs not a few of recent violence and wholesale theft, at which none need wonder. Long before the war broke out there was presented to President Kruger and his Raad a petition for redress of grievances signed, as already stated, by adult male Outlanders that are said to have outnumbered the total Boer male population at that time of the whole Transvaal. Most of those who signed were resident on the Rand; and as soon as war hove in sight these "undesirables" were hurried across the border, leaving behind them in many cases well-furnished houses and well-stocked shops. More than ten thousand of them took up arms in defence of the Empire, and what befell their property is best told by the one Wesleyan minister who was privileged to remain all the time in the town, was the first to greet me when with the Guards I marched into the Market Square, and soon after established our first Wesleyan Soldiers' Home in the Transvaal. He, the Rev. S. L. Morris, on that point writes as follows:--
President Kruger proclaimed Sunday, May 27th, and the two following days, as days of humiliation and prayer. Notices to this effect were sent to officials and ministers, and doubtless there were many who devoutly followed the directions. The conduct of one large section of the Dutch people of Johannesburg was, however, very strange. In Johannesburg, as in Pretoria, the last ten years have seen the development of special locations where the lowest class of Dutch people reside. For the most part these are the families of landless Boers. Until recent years they lived as squatters on the farms of their more thrifty compatriots. Their life then was one of progressive degradation. Under the Kruger policy hundreds of such families were encouraged to settle in the neighbourhood of the towns. Plots of ground were given them, and there they built rough shanties, and formed communities which were a South African counterpart to the submerged tenth of England. There was this difference, that these bywoners became a great strength to the Kruger party. The males of sixteen years of age and upwards had all the privileges which were denied to the most influential of the Uitlanders. It was the votes of Vrededorp, the poor Dutch quarter, that decided the representation of Johannesburg in the Volksraad. On the days of humiliation and prayer, when the army under Lord Roberts was within twenty miles of Johannesburg, the families of these poor burghers broke into the commissariat stores of their own Government, into the food depôts from which doles had been distributed, and into private stores; taking away to their homes, goods, clothing and provisions of all sorts. Those who witnessed the invasion of the great goods sheds where the Republican commissariat had its headquarters say that the people defied the officials, daring them to shoot them. I met many of these people returning to their homes laden with spoils. Sometimes there was a wheelbarrow heaped up with sacks of flour, or tins of biscuits, or preserved meat. Men, women, children and Kaffir "boys" trudged along with similar articles, or with bundles of boots and clothing. Dr Krause, the commandant, did his best to secure order and to repress looting, but he lacked the reliable agents who alone could have controlled the people. This sort of thing was going on on Monday and Tuesday, May 28th and 29th. But for the astonishing marches by which Lord Roberts paralysed opposition, and which enabled him to summon the town to surrender on the Wednesday morning, it is hard to say what limit could have been put to the disorder. In all probability the dangerous section of the large Continental element in the population would have broken out into crime. Looting had hitherto been confined to the property which was left unprotected, and few unoccupied houses had not been ransacked; but had the British occupation been delayed a few days the consequences would have been disastrous.
[Sidenote: Astonishing the Natives.]
As on that Thursday morning we tramped steadily from Germiston to Johannesburg we were greatly surprised to find near each successive mine crowds of natives all with apparently well oiled faces that literally shone in the sunlight; but natives of every conceivable shade of sableness, and in some cases of almost every permissible approach to nudity. They were for the most part what are called "raw Kaffirs"; and as we were astonished at their numbers after so many months of war and consequent stoppage of work, so were they also astonished at our numbers, and confided to our native minister their wonder at finding there were so many Englishmen in all the world as they that day saw upon the Rand. It was a vitally important object lesson that by this time has made its beneficent influence felt among all the tribes of the South African sub-continent.
About noon, so Mr Morris told me, a company of Lancers came into the open space in front of the Court-house, and formed a hollow square around the flagstaff. Not long after Lord Roberts with his Staff, and Commandant Krause, rode into the square; then the Vierkleur slid down the staff, and instantly after up went Lady Roberts' little silken Union Jack. The British flag floated at last over this essentially British town, the sure pledge as we hope of honest government and of equal rights alike for Briton and for Boer. It was two o'clock before the Guards' Brigade reached this saluting point, but till nearly midnight one continuous stream of men and horses, of guns and ambulances, passed through the streets to their respective camping grounds. These well fagged troops by their fitness, even more than by their numbers, astonished many an onlooker who was by no means a "raw Kaffir"; and one old Dutchman expressed the thought of many minds when he said, "You seem able to turn out soldiers by machinery, all of the same age!"
My excellent host of that red-letter day adds: "It is intensely gratifying to be able, after the lapse of more than nine months, to give our soldiers the same good name that was so well deserved then. To deny that there had been any offences would be ridiculous; but the absence of serious crime, and more particularly of gross offences, must be acknowledged to confer upon our South African army a unique distinction." That witness is true!