[Footnote 111: See maps Nos. 3 and 6.]
[Sidenote: Early days in Ladysmith, Oct. 11th to 19th.]
During the time (Oct. 12th-Oct. 26th, 1899) occupied by the episode of the Dundee detachment, including the action of Rietfontein fought to assist it in retreat, much had happened elsewhere.
[Sidenote: Oct. 16th.]
[Sidenote: Oct. 17th.]
[Sidenote: Oct. 18th.]
[Sidenote: Oct. 19th.]
Sir G. White arrived in Ladysmith on the 11th October. On the 12th telegraphic communication by Harrismith entirely ceased, and the mail train from that town failed to arrive. Early on the 12th a telegram from a post of observation of Natal Carbineers at Acton Homes gave information that a strong column of Boers, with four miles of train, was on the march through Tintwa Pass, the head of it being already across the border; furthermore, that there seemed to be an advance guard concealed in Van Reenen's Pass. Sir G. White prepared to strike instantly; but a British detachment which reached Dewdrop next day saw the Boer vanguard, halted in the mouth of Tintwa Pass, and as previously described (p. 123) returned to Ladysmith. A cavalry reconnaissance in the same direction on the 16th found that the commandos had not stirred and, though Olivier's Hoek, Bezuidenhout's, Tintwa and Van Reenen's Passes were all occupied, the country east of them was as clear of the enemy as heretofore. There appeared an unaccountable hesitation amongst the Free Staters. Rumours of disagreement, and even of actual hostilities between the commandos, reached the British camp. They were not altogether groundless, and Sir G. White, utilising the respite, set himself to consider how his field force might be turned into a garrison, and his place of rest into a fortress, should it be necessary, as now seemed likely, to stand a siege in Ladysmith. A complete scheme of defence was drawn up on the 16th, and a mobile column organised for instant service in any quarter. But, whilst the real enemy lay idle on the west, rumour, working in his favour far to the southward, troubled the British general and robbed him of troops he could ill spare. On the 17th a telegram from the Governor of Natal announced that there was evidence of a contemplated Boer raid viâ Zululand upon Pietermaritzburg and Durban, and asked for reinforcements for the defenceless capital. They were promptly sent, and quitted Ladysmith just as the Free Staters in the mountains received with much discussion the order to cross the frontier. Before dawn of the 18th all the commandos were on the move down the defiles, the men of Bethlehem in Olivier's Hoek Pass, of Heilbron in Bezuidenhout's, of Kroonstad in Tintwa, of Winburg in Van Reenen's, of Harrismith in De Beer's, of Vrede in Müller's. By 8 a.m. Acton Homes was in the hands of 3,000 Boers, and shortly after, west of Bester's station, a piquet of the Natal Carbineers was sharply attacked by the Harrismith commando, and forced to retire with loss. The Boers then occupied Bester's station, where they halted for the night. The news of this rapid development caused a great stir in Ladysmith. As early as the 15th Sir George White had decided upon the evacuation of the camp, which lay outside the town, but hitherto no orders had been issued to this effect. All the 18th the work of removing the troops and stores from the camp to the town defences previously selected was pushed on with such despatch, that by 10 p.m. these were well manned. The Pietermaritzburg column, which had reached Colenso, was ordered back to Onderbrook. Next day the General rode around Ladysmith, re-adjusting with great care the line of defence selected on the 16th. Instructions were then sent to Wolseley-Jenkins to resume his march to Pietermaritzburg, the Imperial Light Horse alone being taken from the column and brought back into Ladysmith.
[Footnote 112: 5th Lancers, 19th Hussars, M.I., 1st King's (Liverpool) regiment.]
[Footnote 113: On the 15th the Intelligence estimate of the Free State forces in the Drakensberg was as follows:--Olivier's Hoek, 3,000; Tintwa, 1,000; Van Reenen's, 1,200, with 15 guns; Nelson's Kop, 3,500, with detachments in the passes to the north. Total, 11,000 men.]
[Footnote 114: Telegram No. 30 of 18th October, 1899, Ladysmith. Sir G. White to Secretary of State.]
[Footnote 115: Strength: 19th Hussars, one field battery, five squadrons Imperial Light Horse (raised at Maritzburg in Sept. 1899), seven companies Liverpool regiment, half-battalion 2nd King's Royal Rifles, under Brigadier-General C. B. H. Wolseley-Jenkins. The other half of the latter battalion was already in Maritzburg.]
[Footnote 116: The whole of Wolseley-Jenkins' column eventually returned to Ladysmith during the night of 22nd-23rd October.]
[Sidenote: Kock Oct. 19th and night of Oct. 19th-20th seizes Elandslaagte station.]
Meanwhile, the Boer General, Kock, having arrived on the summit of the Biggarsberg on the 19th, promptly pushed patrols down the southern slopes. Field Cornet Potgieter, the leader of one of these, pressing on in company with a party of Viljoen's men, under Field Cornet Pienaar, dashed into Elandslaagte station, some twenty miles southward, and attacked and captured a supply train which was steaming through the station on its way to Glencoe. Potgieter at once sent back word to Kock, who, replying with the order: "Hold on to the trains at any cost, I am following with the whole detachment," marched all night, and joined his lieutenant near the looted train at break of day on the 20th.
[Sidenote: French moves out Oct. 20th, but is recalled.]
News of the event was quickly received at Headquarters. At 11 a.m. on the 20th Major-General J. D. P. French, who had only arrived at 5 a.m. that morning, left Ladysmith with the 5th Lancers, the Natal Mounted Rifles and Natal Carbineers, and a battery Royal Field artillery, to ascertain the situation at Elandslaagte. An infantry brigade, under Colonel Ian Hamilton, moved out in support. But whilst they were on the march, the Free Staters at Bester's became so active that Sir George White, fearing an attack whilst part of his force was absent, sent orders to check the reconnaissance before it was half completed, and by sunset French was back in Ladysmith, having seen nothing but the German commando, Kock's screen.
[Sidenote: Encouraged by news of Talana.]
[Sidenote: White, Oct. 21st, sends French out again to Elandslaagte.]
[Sidenote: French retakes station.]
[Sidenote: but falls back.]
By this time news of the victory at Talana had come in. Its partial extent not fully understood at first, it not only lifted a load from the General's mind, but showed him where he too could strike a blow. The commandos at Elandslaagte, yesterday dangerous from their position on Symons' line of retreat, were to-day in peril themselves, and he determined to give them no time to remove into safety. At 4 a.m. on the 21st French was again on the move towards Elandslaagte with five squadrons (338 men) Imperial Light Horse and the Natal Field artillery. At 6 a.m. a half battalion (330 men) of the 1st Manchester regiment, with Railway and Royal engineer detachments, followed by rail, preceded by the armoured train manned by one company of the same battalion. Moving along the Newcastle road, French made straight for the high ground south-west of Elandslaagte station, and at 7 a.m. his advance and right flank guards (Imperial Light Horse) came in touch with the enemy, the former south of the collieries, the latter on the open veld some four miles south of the railway. As the mist lifted, parties of Boers were seen all about the station and colliery buildings, and over the undulating veld, and it was observed that most of these, on sighting the British scouts, drew back upon a group of kopjes situated about a mile south-east of the station. French immediately ordered up the Natal battery on to a flat hillock which rose between the railway and the Newcastle road, south-east of Woodcote farm, and at 8 a.m. a shot from the 7-pounders, sighted at 1,900 yards, crashed into the tin out-buildings of the station. A crowd of Boers swarmed out at the explosion and with them some of the British captured in the train the day before, the former galloping for the kopjes, the latter making for the protection of their countrymen at the battery. At the same time a squadron of the Imperial Light Horse galloped for the station in extended files, captured the Boer guard, and released the station and colliery officials who were there in durance. But in a few moments shells from the group of kopjes beyond the station began to fall into the battery, one smashing an ammunition wagon. The gunners attempted in vain to reply; their pieces were outranged by over 500 yards, and at 8.15, on the arrival of the infantry near at hand, they fell back leaving the wagon derelict. At 8.30 a.m. French withdrew to a point four miles south of Woodcote farm, and from here sent a report to Sir George White, informing him that about 400 Boers with three guns were before him on a prepared position, and asking for support. The enemy's artillery continued to shell the troops, and French, after questioning the prisoners and the released Britons, and examining more closely, came to the conclusion that there were from 800 to 1,000 Boers in front of him. When parties of the enemy began to appear also upon Jonono's Kop to the north-west he judged it prudent to withdraw his weak detachment still further, and by 11.30 a.m. was back nearly at the Modder Spruit. On the way he fell in with a reinforcement from Ladysmith consisting of one squadron 5th Lancers, one squadron 5th Dragoon Guards, and the 42nd battery Field artillery, all under Colonel Coxhead, R.A., and with these he retraced his steps to the Modder Spruit siding, where a halt was called.
[Footnote 117: Telegraphic communication by Greytown was still intact.]
[Footnote 118: See map No. 3. Orders were to "clear the neighbourhood of Elandslaagte of the enemy and cover the reconstruction of the railway and telegraphic lines."]
[Footnote 119: Another squadron, 5th Lancers, supported from Pepworth Hill by a company of the 1st Devonshire regiment, turned aside when four miles out to watch the Free Staters towards Bester's.]
[Sidenote: He asks for reinforcements and orders.]
It was now evident to General French that an action of great importance could be fought or avoided before nightfall. At noon, therefore, he communicated with Sir George White, and, after informing him of his own and the enemy's situations, and the best line of attack, stated that in his opinion the numbers required would be three battalions of infantry, two batteries, and more cavalry than he had at the moment. He would await instructions. They came with promptitude; for Sir G. White had determined to ruin this commando, and sweep it from Yule's communications, before it could separate. "The enemy must be beaten, and driven off," he wrote to French. "Time of great importance." Within a quarter of an hour of the receipt of the above message, French had promulgated his orders; within half an hour, at 1.30 p.m., before the arrival of the reinforcements, the advance upon the kopjes had begun.
[Sidenote: The ground held by Boers.]
Running south-east, with its northern extremity about a mile from the station, the ground held by the enemy covered some 4,000 yards from flank to flank, and consisted of four boulder-strewn kopjes. That nearest the station was steep and rocky, its top 200 yards broad and sloping rearwards; next and somewhat retired from the general line, 700 yards distant, on the far side of a deep cup scored with dongas, arose one of those singular isosceles triangular eminences of which South Africa almost alone possesses the mould. A Nek, carrying the roadway to a farm behind, separated this from the main feature 500 yards away. This was a bluff and precipitous hill, thatched here and there with long grasses on its northern face, on its eastern sloping easily down to the veld which rolled in rounded waves towards Ladysmith. Its summit was almost flat, a bouldered plateau, 400 yards long by 200 wide, falling in rocky spurs to the river a mile and a half in rear, and slanting at its southern extremity into a broad and broken Nek. This climbed again 2,000 yards away up to the last kopje of the position, whose top, also flat, swung first south, then sharply west, to merge finally into the grassy rises which approached almost to Modder Spruit. Though the general elevation was no more than some 300 feet from the ground level, so bare was the terrain about its base, that the insignificant hills presented a formidable face to the south-west. Across the railway, some six miles to the north-west, Jonono's Kop looked over these low ridges, and threw great spurs, dotted with Kaffir villages, down into the undulating prairie which rolled between them. On one of these spurs, which came down to the Newcastle road, 100 men of the German commando, under Schiel, had, on the retirement of the British, taken post, supported on an underfeature close to the eastward by Field Cornet Joubert's Johannesburgers, and Vrede men (100) under De Jager. The rest of the commandos occupied the main feature above described, the remainder of the Germans the kopje nearest the station, strong skirmishing parties being thrown out, under Field Cornet Pienaar, along the uplands which ran out southward in front of their left flank. Slightly retired from the forward crest of the main hill were posted the two guns, below and behind the right of which, beside the roadway creeping between the bluff and the tall triangular kopje, the laager had been pitched on a flat of sun-baked mud.
[Sidenote: French attacks at once.]
[Sidenote: The infantry reinforcements arrive.]
Major-General French moved forward quickly without waiting for the reinforcements from Ladysmith. A squadron 5th Dragoon Guards under Major St. J. C. Gore on the west of the railway, and one of the 5th Lancers on the east, each covering two miles, scouted in front of the batteries and Imperial Light Horse, the 1st Manchester following slowly in the train. The Lancers were first in touch with the enemy, their progress being checked at 2 p.m. by Pienaar's piquets posted, as already described, on the low ridge running parallel to the railway, the ridge, indeed, which General French had selected as the springboard for his attack. A gun, opening from the hills behind, supported the skirmishers: the Lancer squadron had to retire. But Colonel Scott Chisholme quickly brought up four squadrons Imperial Light Horse, which, pressing forward in squadron-column with extended files, with the 5th Lancer squadron on the right, stormed the ridge and cleared it. The crest thus secured, the Manchester detrained under its cover at 2.30 p.m. about three miles south-west of Elandslaagte. Ten minutes later they were joined by a half-battalion 2nd Gordon Highlanders and seven companies of the 1st Devonshire regiment, who formed up on the veld in brigade-line of quarter-columns, facing north-east, Devonshire on the right, Manchester on the left. Before starting, the 7th brigade was addressed in inspiriting terms by its commander, Colonel Ian Hamilton. The Manchester led the way, heading for the ridge occupied by the Imperial Light Horse, with two companies covering 500 yards in front line; the Devonshire supported, and the Highlanders marched in reserve. As the brigade began to move, a burst of musketry from across the railway to the north told that the squadron of the 5th Dragoon Guards had run into the enemy on the lower spurs of Jonono's Kop. So strong did the opposition there appear that the 42nd and 21st batteries, with a squadron 5th Lancers which had just escorted the guns from Ladysmith, were despatched to the spot in support. A few shrapnel from the 42nd battery sufficed to silence the Mausers, and the artillery recrossed the railway, the 5th Dragoon Guards also receiving an order to come in. The artillery were then ordered to go on at once and open against the main position. On their way to the front they passed the marching infantry, whose directions were now somewhat altered; for whilst the Manchester in the van still pushed eastwards for Scott Chisholme's captured ridge, the Devonshire, diverging half left from this line, now led upon the enemy's right flank, and behind, in the ever increasing interval thus created between the two battalions, the Gordon Highlanders were extending in reserve.
[Sidenote: Sir George arrives and approves.]
[Sidenote: The Boer guns are silenced.]
Whilst the advance was in progress Sir G. White, who had ridden fast from Ladysmith, arrived upon the field, escorted by a troop of Natal Mounted Rifles. Recognising the excellence of General French's plans and arrangements, he remained only as a spectator, leaving to his subordinate complete control of the battle. A few moments later, at 4 p.m., the British guns came into action in front of the infantry at a range of 4,400 yards. The enemy replied, shells bursting in the 21st battery. So rapid a bombardment was at once delivered against the hill that, after firing twenty rounds, all of which fell among the guns, the Boer gunners fled from their pieces. Then the artillery, changing their target continually, searched all the top with shrapnel. The 1st Devonshire regiment, pushing west of the rise to a point 800 yards north of the batteries, lay down on a front of 500 yards. At 3.30 p.m. this battalion had received an order to move, when the artillery preparation should cease, right across the open grass plain which separated them from the enemy, and to hold him to his defences.
[Sidenote: Manchester with Gordons assail left.]
[Sidenote: Devonshire pin right.]
A thousand yards south-east of the Devonshire, beyond the batteries, the Manchester had halted near the crest at the point of its curve northward, and this curve they were ordered to follow until it brought them upon the opposed left flank. A mile in rear, still, therefore, in the plain below, the Gordon Highlanders halted, and orders came to them to support the Manchester at the next stage. At 4.30 p.m. the infantry rose and moved forward. On the left the Devonshire, with three companies covering some 600 yards in front, and four companies in reserve, in column, with 50 paces distance between the single ranks, steered upon the tall cone which marked the right-centre of the Boers. Their march led them at first downhill into the broad bowl which lay below the foot of the kopjes, a hollow as smooth as a meadow but for the infrequent ant-hills. Shrapnel began from the first to burst over the battalion, but the soldiers pressed steadily onward until, at a point some 1,200 yards from the enemy, severe rifle-fire began to play upon them, and they were halted to reply to it. Their section volleys soon beat heavily about the Boer right, and pinned the burghers to their sangars. A little later, the Devonshire firing line, now stiffened by the supports, advanced again down the bullet-swept slope and gained a shallow donga about 850 yards from the crest. Here Major C. W. Park disposed his battalion for a musketry fight. He had carried out the first part of his orders, and it was necessary now to await the development of the attack in progress against the other flank. With some loss, therefore, the Devonshire lay within close range of the hostile lines. So briskly, however, did they engage them, that the attention of a great part of the Boer force was drawn to that direction, and for a time the simultaneous movement against the other flank proceeded almost unnoticed. The Manchester, indeed, during the early portion of their advance, were not easily to be seen from the Boers' left. Skilfully led, they made their way with two companies extended in the firing line, over broken ground under the crest of the ridge, and only some shells, aimed at the artillery, dropped amongst them. Out of sight on the right the Imperial Light Horse and the squadron 5th Lancers worked ahead on a parallel route, having drawn towards the outer flank on the infantry coming up to them. In rear the Gordon Highlanders, inclining to the right, followed in support of the Manchester, in echelon of companies at 60 paces interval, the companies marching in column of sections. A brisk shell fire assailed this battalion as it crossed the rear of the batteries, but, like the Manchester, the Highlanders for a time escaped the notice of the Boer riflemen, and they pushed on with trifling loss.
[Sidenote: Guns silence Boer artillery.]
Thus by 4.30 p.m. the whole British force, 3,500 men in all, was in motion, and Coxhead, during the temporary silence of the enemy's artillery, ordered his command to support more closely. As the batteries limbered up, the Boers re-opened and followed them with shells. Only one horse fell, however, and the British guns, moving swiftly between the Devonshire and Manchester regiments, were shortly in action again three quarters of a mile nearer to the front. Under their rapid rounds at 3,200 yards the hostile gunners relapsed immediately and finally into silence.
[Sidenote: Difficulties of approach to Boer left.]
In approaching the occupied zone the cavalry on the right were first closely engaged. A screen of skirmishers still lay out before the Boer left, and these, as they fell back slowly, had an easy target in the mounted men, who were working over ground of great difficulty. Then the Manchester, emerging from their covered way, found themselves upon the crest of a smooth and open plateau, which, sloping downwards for 200 yards from them almost imperceptibly, was traversed by a wire fence, beyond which stony outcrops again gave promise of shelter. As the foremost soldiers showed above the fringe of stones at the crest line, a sudden rush of bullets drummed upon the sun-dried level in front of them, and the men, in obedience to an order, dropped again behind the protecting stones to reply. As they did so, some of the officers of the Manchester, leaving their men in the security of the rocks, ran through the storm of lead and severed the wires obstructing advance. But the line was as yet too weak for a forward dash.
[Sidenote: The attack on Boer left.]
For a quarter of an hour the Manchester lay where they were, with frequent casualties, but using their weapons so vigorously that soon the Boers on their front, an advanced party of Lombard's commando, gave back in spite of their leader's efforts to hold them, and at 5.20 p.m. the Manchester poured from the stones after them. They were closely followed by the Gordon, who, though under cover below them, had suffered somewhat from the shots grazing the edge of the plateau. At their appearance heavy musketry burst from the kopjes 1,200 yards ahead. The soldiers were in a moment at the wire fence. This obstacle, only partially destroyed, had been taken as a known range by the Boer marksmen, and so accurate therefore was their shooting that soon there was scarce a strand unrent by the bullets. In the crowding which ensued many men fell amongst the now dangling wires, some pushed through, and some could find no gap. Though the front of the brigade thus became broken and confused, the advance continued uninterruptedly. Now Lieut.-Colonel W. H. Dick-Cunyngham sent the Gordon Highlanders forward into the gaps opening in the lines of the Manchester, some to the left, some to the right, some wherever they could find room. The Imperial Light Horse, who had been contending every foot of their progress with the cloud of skirmishers retiring slowly before them, here joined on to the right of the Gordon. Once at the edge of the ridge, from which, as the troops rushed forward, a detached party of Boers fell back, still shooting bitterly, the brigade found itself facing due north, and the Boer left flank lay exposed.
[Sidenote: Gore, dashing in, halts on Boer right rear.]
Meanwhile Gore, reinforced by a squadron 5th Lancers, had moved out yet further to the left, cutting in between the Boer main body and Schiel's Germans, so that the latter only saved themselves by a circuitous gallop behind Woodcote farm, not drawing rein until they arrived in rear of the left of the main position. Gore then gained a secure foothold near the colliery 1,700 yards from the enemy's right rear. Here he concealed his squadrons, and awaiting the development of the infantry attack, watched the rear face of the enemy's kopjes for signs of a break away.
[Sidenote: The position is captured.]
Strengthened by the arrival of Schiel, the Boer left poured their bullets chiefly upon that portion of the line occupied by the right companies of the Gordon Highlanders and the Imperial Light Horse. Below the fence the ground sloped gently downward to the foot of the kopjes, where it again rose more steeply to the summit, some 350 yards distant. Down the incline the firing line went rapidly, for the most part by rushes of sections, carried out independently, yet with great dash and unanimity. But the slope was exposed throughout, and there were many casualties. About 5.30 p.m. the line of battle had arrived at the foot of the kopjes; then, swinging slightly towards the left, so as to envelop still more the flank of the enemy above, all supports and reserves being now absorbed, it began to make head upwards, still by short rushes. It was now nearly dark; rain burst down on them in a torrent: the men, breathless from their eager pace, began to slacken somewhat in their difficult progress up the hill-sides. At this moment Colonel Hamilton, who had previously ridden to where the Devonshire still held fast the Boer right with their volleys, hurried back to the main attack. He at once ordered the "charge" to be sounded, and running to the front, himself led the last onset. The Devonshire simultaneously leaped from the donga where they had lain more than an hour, and, advancing by companies from the right, reached the base of the final kopje. For an instant they halted to gain breath and fix bayonets, then, coming to the charge, assaulted the portion before them, and carried it without a check, four companies swinging to the left against the northernmost kopje, and three moving straight upon the main hill whereon stood the enemy's artillery. Here, as occurred all along the Boer line, though many fled at the sound of the charge, many stood and continued shooting at the troops until the latter were within twenty yards of them. Below the main crest a bitter contest was also maintained, for as at Talana, many Boers, seeing the soldiers determined to win the summit, pressed forward to oppose them, and lay firing behind the rocks until their assailants were almost upon them. Some acting thus were made prisoners; some escaped to the rear at the last moment; many were shot down as they ran. The assault poured on unchecked, the two guns falling to the converging Devonshire. At 5.55 p.m. the infantry held all the upper part of the hill.
[Sidenote: Gore attacks the flying Boers.]
By that time the cavalry, lying in wait at Elandslaagte, had already dealt their blow. A quarter of an hour before the infantry gained the crest the majority of the defenders had begun to vacate the summit, and, descending to the open ground behind, streamed raggedly across the front, many within five hundred yards, of the concealed troopers. The light was failing rapidly, and with it the chance of action. Though the crowd in the loose disorder of retreat seemed to offer an indefinite object for a charge, there was no likelihood of a better whilst sufficient light remained. At 5.30 p.m. Gore gave the word and pushed out eastwards with a squadron of the 5th Lancers on the right of his line, and one of the 5th Dragoon Guards on the left, both in extended files. The ground was difficult, boulders strewed the surface, and a series of dongas, intersecting it at all angles, seriously impeded progress. These obstacles once cleared, the cavalry moved on rapidly and, topping a slight rise, came suddenly into full view of the foremost Boers, some 300 in number, who were riding slowly northward away from the ridges all but captured behind them. The charge was instantly delivered, and the Boer retirement was dashed to pieces in all directions. Then, having traversed completely the zone of retreat, the cavalry were rallied and reformed into line. The gallop had carried the squadrons more than a mile and a half from their starting-place, and the intervening space was again covered by the enemy, now in full flight from the kopjes. Once more, therefore, the troopers charged, and, scouring in loose order back over the same ground, cleared it of the enemy, and drew rein with many prisoners near Elandslaagte, just as the last gleam of light died and gave place to darkness.
[Sidenote: A Boer rally after "cease fire."]
Meanwhile there had occurred an anxious moment for the infantry, victorious along the summit of the kopjes. Pressing forward from the captured crest in pursuit, and firing fast, the soldiers were some distance down the gentle reverse slope when a white flag was seen to be waving from the conical kopje above the laager, and Colonel Hamilton, believing it to signify a general capitulation, ordered the "cease fire" to be sounded. Suddenly a body of some fifty Boers charged boldly uphill against that section in which were the right company of the Gordon Highlanders and the Imperial Light Horse, and, seizing a small spur within twenty yards of the crest, turned their rifles upon the surprised troops. For a moment there was some confusion. The soldiers were scattered; some were continuing the pursuit, some were seeking their units; many were resting; the cross fire which thus assailed them was severe and accurate.
[Sidenote: The enemy is swept off.]
But the effect of this counter-attack was but momentary. Once more the "advance" was sounded, and that part of the line, rallied by the voice and example of Colonel Hamilton himself, surged forward again, and tumbled the last remnant of the enemy down the reverse slopes. During this incident some of the Imperial Light Horse on the extreme right, swinging round the enemy's left, surrounded a farmhouse which had been the rallying point of the above counter-attack, and, after a sharp encounter, stormed it, capturing twenty-one prisoners.
[Footnote 120: For conspicuous gallantry in rallying their men for this advance the following officers received the Victoria Cross:--Captain M. F. M. Meiklejohn, Gordon Highlanders, whose wound on the occasion deprived him of an arm, and Captains C. H. Mullins and R. Johnstone, of the Imperial Light Horse. Sergt.-Major W. Robertson, Gordon Highlanders, was also awarded the Victoria Cross.]
[Sidenote: Effect of the action.]
Thus terminated an action of which there can be no greater praise than that it was swiftly planned, carried out with determination, and that its complete success was gained exactly as designed. That success, moreover, was of more than local importance. Kock's hold upon the communications of Dundee had been of the briefest. He himself was a prisoner, mortally wounded, in British hands, and his force, rushing headlong back to Newcastle from the battlefield, upon which it had left over two hundred killed and wounded, nearly two hundred prisoners, two guns and a complete laager, carried despondency into the Boer Headquarters, so recently alarmed at the rebuff of Talana. Moreover, the battle did more than clear Yule's rear; it also safeguarded his front, by persuading Erasmus, already timorous upon Impati, to cling to his mountain, at a time when Yule's exhausted battalions were in no condition to resist the attack of 5,000 fresh enemies.
[Sidenote: French is recalled to Ladysmith.]
It formed no part of Sir G. White's plan to keep the ground that had been won. The position of Elandslaagte was useless alike for observation, defence, or offence. Even had it been of value, the presence of the Free State army upon its flank rendered the occupation of it too hazardous in the view of a General already impressed by the dangers of detachments. Throughout the day, indeed, the Free Staters themselves had been reminding him of these dangers. As early as 11 a.m. the piquets to the west of Ladysmith had reported significant developments about Van Reenen's Pass, and these, as the day wore on, became so threatening that at 5.30 p.m. General Hunter despatched a message to Sir G. White, who was at that time still at Elandslaagte, informing him that there was a hostile advance upon Ladysmith from Bester's station. It was necessary, therefore, to recall French at once, and at 9 p.m. he was so instructed by telephone.
[Sidenote: Bivouacs on ground night 21st-22nd.]
At 11 p.m. General French issued orders for the return to Ladysmith on the morrow, and the troops bivouacked on the field, the infantry upon the kopjes, the cavalry about the station. The day's losses amounted to 263 officers and men killed and wounded.
[Footnote 121: For detailed casualties, etc., see Appendix 6.]
[Sidenote: All back in Ladysmith, Oct. 22/99.]
At 3 a.m. on the 22nd the three batteries, the 5th Lancers and the Natal Mounted Rifles left by road for Ladysmith, the loaded ambulance train quitting the station at the same time. From that hour onwards the trains, bearing the soldiers, steamed away from the battlefield, the last to leave by rail being a portion of the Manchester escorting forty prisoners. They were detained until 3.20 p.m. The 5th Dragoon Guards, who had reconnoitred northward, followed last of all by road, and by evening the position was empty.
[Footnote 122: This corps had remained as escort to the Natal Field artillery, and as support to Gore's cavalry, throughout the action.]