he time had now come for the great combined movement which was to sweep the main Boer army off the line of the Delagoa railway, cut its source of supplies, and follow it into that remote and mountainous Lydenburg district which had always been proclaimed as the last refuge of the burghers. Before entering upon this most difficult of all his advances Lord Roberts waited until the cavalry and mounted infantry were well mounted again. Then, when all was ready, the first step in this last stage of the campaign was taken by General Buller, who moved his army of Natal veterans off the railway line and advanced to a position from which he could threaten the flank and rear of Botha if he held his ground against Lord Roberts. Buller’s cavalry had been reinforced by the arrival of Strathcona’s Horse, a fine body of Canadian troopers, whose services had been presented to the nation by the public-spirited nobleman whose name they bore. They were distinguished by their fine physique, and by the lassoes, cowboy stirrups, and large spurs of the North-Western plains.
It was in the first week of July that Clery joined hands with the Heidelberg garrison, while Coke with the 10th Brigade cleared the right flank of the railway by an expedition as far as Amersfoort. On July 6th the [402/403] Natal communications were restored, and on the 7th Buller was able to come through to Pretoria and confer with the Commander-in-Chief. A Boer force with heavy guns still hung about the line, and several small skirmishes were fought between Vlakfontein and Greylingstad in order to drive it away. By the middle of July the immediate vicinity of the railway was clear save for some small marauding parties who endeavoured to tamper with the rails and the bridges. Up to the end of the month the whole of the Natal army remained strung along the line of communications from Heidelberg to Standerton, waiting for the collection of forage and transport to enable them to march north against Botha’s position.
On August 8th Buller’s troops advanced to the northeast from Paardekop, pushing a weak Boer force with live guns in front of them. At the cost of twenty-five wounded, principally of the 60th Rifles, the enemy was cleared off, and the town of Amersfoort was occupied. On the 13th, moving on the same line, and meeting with very slight opposition, Buller took possession of Ermelo. His advance was having a good effect upon the district, for on the 12th the Standerton commando, which numbered 182 men, surrendered to Clery. On the 15th, still skirmishing, Buller’s men were at Twyfelaar, and had taken possession of Carolina. Here and there a distant horseman riding over the olive-coloured hills showed how closely and incessantly he was watched; but, save for a little sniping upon his flanks, there was no fighting. He was coming now within touch of French’s cavalry, operating from Middelburg, and on the 14th heliographic communication was established with Gordon’s Brigade.
Buller’s column had come nearer to its friends, but it [493/494] was also nearer to the inain body of Boers who were waiting in that very rugged piece of country which Hes between Belfast in the west and Machadodorp in the east. From this rocky stronghold they had thrown out mobile bodies to harass the British advance from the south, and every day brought Buller into closer touch with these advance guards of the enemy. On August 2lst he had moved eight miles nearer to Belfast, French operating upon his left flank. Here he found the Boers in considerable numbers, but he pushed them northward with his cavalry, mounted infantry, and artillery, losing between thirty and forty killed and wounded, the greater part from the ranks of the 18th Hussars and the Gordon Highlanders. This march brought him within fifteen miles of Belfast, which lay due north of him. At the same time Pole-Carew with the central column of Lord Roberts’s force had advanced along the railway line, and on August 24th he occupied Belfast with little resistance. He found, however, that the enemy were holding the formidable ridges which lie between that place and Dalmanutha, and that they showed every sign of giving battle, presenting a firm front to Buller on the south as well as to Roberts’s army on the west.
On the 23rd some successes attended their efforts to check the advance from the south. During the day Buller had advanced steadily, though under incessant fire. The evening found him only six miles to the south of Dalmanutha, the centre of the Boer position. By some misfortune, however, after dark two companies of the Liverpool Regiment found themselves isolated from their comrades and exposed to a very heavy fire. They had pushed forward too far, and were very near to being surrounded and destroyed. There were fifty-six casualties in their ranks, and thirty-two, including their [494/495] wounded captain, were taken. The total losses in the day were 121.
On August 25th it was evident that important events were at hand, for on that date Lord Roberts arrived at Belfast and held a conference with Buller, French, and Pole-Carew. The general communicated his plans to his three heutenants, and on the 26th and following days the fruits of the interview were seen in a succession of rapid manoeuvres which drove the Boers out of this, the strongest position which they had held since they left the banks of the Tugela.
The advance of Lord Roberts was made, as his wont is, with two widespread wings, and a central body to connect them. Such a movement leaves the enemy in doubt as to which flank will really be attacked, while if he denudes his centre in order to strengthen both flanks there is the chance of a frontal advance which might cut him in two. French with two cavalry brigades formed the left advance, Pole-Carew the centre, and Buller the right, the whole operations extending over thirty miles of infamous country. It is probable that Lord Roberts had reckoned that the Boer right was likely to be their strongest position, since if it were turned it would cut off their retreat upon Lydenburg, so his own main attack was directed upon their left. This was carried out by General Buller on August 26th and 27th.
On the first day the movement upon Buller' s part consisted in a very deliberate reconnaissance of and closing in upon the enemy’s position, his troops bivouacking upon the ground which they had won. On the second, finding that all further progress was barred by the strong ridge of Bergendal, he prepared his attack carefully with artillery and then let loose his infantry upon [495/496] it. It was a gallant feat of arms upon either side. The Boer position was held by a detachment of the Johannesburg Police, who may have been bullies in peace, but were certainly heroes in war. The attack was carried out across an open glacis by the 2nd Rifle Brigade, supported by the Inniskilling Fusiliers, the men of Pieter’s Hill. Through a deadly fire the gallant infantry swept over the position, though Metcalfe, the brave colonel of the Rifles, with eight other officers, and seventy men were killed or wounded. A pom-pom and twenty prisoners, including the commander of the police, were the trophies of the day. An outwork of the Boer position had been carried, and the rumour of defeat and disaster had already spread through their ranks. Braver men than the burghers have never lived, but they had reached the limits of human endurance, and a long experience of defeat in the field had weakened their nerve and lessened their morale. They were no longer men of the same fibre as those who had crept up to the trenches of Spion Kop, or faced the lean warriors of Ladysmith on that grim January morning at Caesar’s Camp. Dutch tenacity would not allow them to surrender, and yet they realised how hopeless was the fight in which they were engaged. Nearly fifteen thousand of their best men were prisoners, ten thousand at the least had returned to their farms and taken the oath. Another ten had been killed, wounded, or incapacitated. Most of the European mercenaries had left; they held only the ultimate corner of their own country, they had lost their grip upon the railway line, and their supply of stores and of ammunition was dwindling. To such a pass had eleven months of war reduced that formidable army who had so confidently advanced to the conquest of South Africa. [496/497]
While Buller had estabHshed himself firmly upon the left of the Boer position, Pole-Carew had moved forward to the north of the railway line, and French had advanced as far as Swart Kopjes upon the Boer right. These operations on August 26th and 27th were met with some resistance and entailed a loss of forty or fifty killed and wounded; but it soon became evident that the punishment which they had received at Bergendal had taken the fight out of the Boers, and that this formidable position was to be abandoned as the others had been. On the 28th the burghers were retreating, and Machadodorp, where Kruger had sat so long in his railway carriage, protesting that he would eventually move west and not east, was occupied by Buller. French, moving on a more northerly route, entered Watervalonder with his cavalry upon the same date, driving a small Boer force before him. Amid rain and mist the British columns were pushing rapidly forwards, but still the burghers held together, and still their artillery was uncaptured. The retirement was swift, but it was not yet a rout.
On the 30th the British cavalry were within touch of Nooitgedacht, and saw a glad sight in a long trail of ragged men who were hurrying in their direction along the railway line. They were the British prisoners, eighteen hundred in number, half of whom had been brought from Waterval when Pretoria was captured, while the other half represented the men who had been sent from the south by Be Wet, or from the west by Delarey. Much allowance must be made for the treatment of prisoners by a belligerent who is himself short of food, but nothing can excuse the harshness which the Boers showed to the Colonials who fell into their power, or the callous neglect of the sick prisoners at Waterval [497/498] It is a humiliating but an interesting fact that from first to last no less than seven thousand of our men passed into their power, all of whom were now recovered save some sixty officers, who had been carried off by them in their flight.
On September 1st Lord Roberts showed his sense of the decisive nature of these recent operations by publishing the proclamation which had been issued as early as July 4th, by which the Transvaal became a portion of the British Empire. On the same day General Buller, who had ceased to advance to the east and retraced his steps as far as Helvetia, began his northerly movement in the direction of Lydenburg, which is nearly fifty miles to the north of the railway line. On that date his force made a march of fourteen miles, which brought them over the Crocodile River to Badfontein. Here, on September 2nd, Buller found that the indomitable Botha was still turning back upon him, for he was faced by so heavy a shell fire, coming from so formidable a position, that he had to be content to wait in front of it until some other column should outflank it. The days of unnecessary frontal attacks were for ever over, and his force, though ready for anything which might be asked of it, had gone through a good deal in the recent operations. Since August 21st they had been under fire almost every day, and their losses, though never great on anyone occasion, amounted in the aggregate during that time to 365. They had crossed the Tugela, they had relieved Ladysmith, they had forced Laing’s Nek, and now it was to them that the honour had fallen of following the enemy into this last fastness. Whatever criticism may be directed against some episodes in the Natal campaign, it must never be forgotten that to Buller and to his men have fallen the hardest tasks of the war, and that these [498/499] tasks have always in the end been successful!}^ carried out.
On September 3rd Lord Roberts, finding how strong a position faced Buller, despatched Ian Hamilton with a force to turn it upon the right. Brocklehurst’s brigade of cavalry joined Hamilton in his advance. On the 4th he was within signalling distance of Buller, and on the edge of the Boer position. The flanking movement had the usual effect, and the burghers once again abandoned their ridges. On the 6th Lydenburg had been occupied by the British cavalry. The Boers had split into two parties, the larger one with the guns falling back upon Kruger’s Post, and the others retiring to Pilgrim’s Best — both of them places the names of which seem to bear a relation to the peripatetic President. Amid cloud-girt peaks and hardly passable ravines the two long- enduring armies still wrestled for the final mastery.
To the north-east of Lydenburg, between that town and Spitzkop, there is a formidable ridge called the Mauchberg, and here again the enemy were found to be standing at bay. They were even better than their word, for they had always said that they would make their last stand at Lydenburg, and now they were making one beyond it. But the resistance was weakening. Even this fine position could not be held against the rush of the three regiments, the Devons, the Royal Irish, and the Royal Scots, who were let loose upon it. Mountain mists saved the defeated burghers from a close pursuit, but the hills were carried. The British losses on this day, September 8th, were thirteen killed and twenty-five wounded; but of these thirty-eight no less than half were accounted for by one of those strange malignant freaks which can neither be foreseen nor prevented. A shrapnel shell, fired at an incredible distance, burst right over the [497/498] Volunteer Company of the Gordons who were marching in column. Nineteen men fell, but it is worth recording that, smitten so suddenly and so terribly, the gallant Volunteers continued to advance as steadily as before this misfortune befell them. On the 9th Buller was still pushing forward to Spitzkop, his guns and the 1st Rifles overpowering a weak rearguard resistance of the Boers. On the 10th he had reached Klipgat, which is halfway between the Mauchberg and Spitzkop. So close was the pursuit that the Boers, as they streamed through the passes, flung thirteen of their ammunition wagons over the cliffs to prevent them from falling into the hands of the British horsemen. Finally demoralised after their magnificent struggle of eleven months the burghers were now a beaten and disorderly rabble flying wildly to the eastward, and only held together by the knowledge that in their desperate situation there was more comfort and safety in numbers. The war was swiftly approaching its close. On the 15th Buller occupied Spitzkop in the north, capturing a quantity of stores, while on the 14th French took Barberton in the south, releasing all the remaining British prisoners and taking possession of forty locomotives, which do not appear to have been injured by the enemy. Meanwhile Pole-Carew had worked along the railway line, and had occupied Kaapmuiden, which was the junction where the Barberton line joins that to Lourenzo Marques.
On September 11th an incident had occurred which must have shown the most credulous believer in Boer prowess that their cause was indeed lost. On that date Paul Kruger, a refugee from the country which he had ruined, arrived at Lourenzo Marques, abandoning his beaten commandoes and his deluded burghers, How much had happened since those distant days when as [498/499] a little herdsboy he had walked behind the bullocks on the great northward trek! How piteous this ending to all his strivings and his plottings! A life which might have closed amid the reverence of a nation and the admiration of the world was destined to finish in exile, impotent and undignified. Strange thoughts must have come to him during those hours of flight, memories of his virile and turbulent youth, of the first settlement of those great lands, of wild wars where his hand was heavy upon the natives, of the triumphant days of the war of independence, when England seemed to recoil from the rifles of the burghers. And then the years of prosperity, the years when the simple farmer found himself among the great ones of the earth, his name a household word in Europe, his State rich and powerful, his coffers filled with the spoil of the poor drudges who worked so hard and paid taxes so readily. Those were his great days, the days when he hardened his heart against their appeals for justice and looked beyond his own borders to his kinsmen in the hope of a South Africa which should be all his own. And now what had come of it all? A handful of faithful attendants, and a fugitive old man, clutching in his flight at his papers and his moneybags. The last of the oldworld Puritans, he departed poring over his well-thumbed Bible, and proclaiming that the troubles of his country arose, not from his own narrow and corrupt administration, but from some departure on the part of his fellow burghers from the stricter tenets of the dopper sect. So Paul Kruger passed out from the active history of the world.
Whilst the main army of Botha had been hustled out of their position at Machadodorp and scattered at Lydenburg and at Barberton, a number of other isolated [499/500] events had occurred at different points of the seat of war, each of which deserves some mention. The chief of these was a sudden and short-lived revival of the war in the Orange River Colony, where the band of Olivier was still wandering in the north-eastern districts. Hunter, moving northwards after the capitulation of Prinsloo at Fouriesburg, came into contact on August 15th with this force near Heilbron, and had forty casualties, mainly of the Highland Light Infantry, in a brisk engagement. For a time the British seemed to have completely lost touch with Olivier, who suddenly on August 24th struck at a small detachment of Imperial Yeomanry under Colonel Ridley who were reconnoitring near Winburg. The troopers made a gallant defence and held out until next day, when they were relieved and the enemy driven away. Ridley’s defence with two hundred and fifty men against one thousand Boers with two guns was an excellent performance. His casualties amounted to thirty men. Nothing daunted by his failure, Olivier turned upon the town of Winburg and attempted to regain it, but was defeated again and scattered, he and his three sons being taken. The result is said to have been due to the gallantry and craft of a handful of the Queenstown Volunteers, who laid an ambuscade in a donga, and disarmed the Boers as they passed, after the pattern of Sanna’s Post. By this action one of the most daring and resourceful of the Dutch leaders fell into the hands of the British. Joubert dead, Cronje taken, Villebois dead, Olivier taken, Kruger fled, there only remained De Wet, Botha, Delarey, and Grobler of all the leaders who had taken the field.
On September 2nd another commando of Free State Boers under Fourie emerged from the mountain country on the Basuto border, and fell upon Ladybrand, [502/503] which was held by a feeble garrison consisting of one company of the Worcester regiment and forty-three men of the Wiltshire Yeomanry. The Boers, who had several guns with them, appear to have been the same force which had been repulsed at Winburg. Major White, a gallant marine, whose fighting qualities do not seem to have deteriorated with his distance from salt water, had arranged his defences upon a hill, after the Wepener model, and held his own most stoutly. So great was the disparity of the forces that for days acute anxiety was felt lest another of those humiliating surrenders should interrupt the record of victories, and encourage the Boers to further resistance. The point was distant, and it was some time before relief could reach them. But the dusky chiefs, who from their native mountains looked down on the military drama which was played so close to their frontier, were again, as on the Jammersberg, to see the Boer attack beaten back by the constancy of the British defence. The thin line of soldiers, 150 of them covering a mile and a half of ground, endured a heavy shell and rifle fire with unshaken resolution, repulsed every attempt of the burghers, and held the flag flying until relieved by the forces under White and Bruce Hamilton. In this march to the relief Hamilton’s infantry covered eighty miles in four and a half days. Lean and hard, inured to warfare, and far from every temptation of wine or women, the British troops at this stage of the campaign were in such training, and marched so splendidly, that the infantry was often very little slower than the cavalry. Methuen’s fine performance in pursuit of De Wet, where Douglas’s infantry did sixty-six miles in seventy-five hours, the City Imperial Volunteers covering 224 miles in fourteen days, with a single forced march of thirty miles [503/504] in seventeen hours, the Shropshires' forty-three miles in thirty-two hours, Bruce Hamilton’s march recorded above, and many other fine efforts serve to show the spirit and endurance of the troops.
In spite of the defeat at Winburg and the repulse at Ladybrand, there still remained a fair number of broken and desperate men in the Free State who held out among the difficult country of the east. A party of these came across in the middle of September and endeavoured to cut the railway near Brandfort.>/p>
General Hector Macdonald. Mortimer Menpes. Watercolor. Click on image to enlarge it.
They were pursued and broken up by Macdonald, who, much aided in his operations by the band of scouts which Lord Lovat had brought with him from Scotland, took several prisoners and a large number of wagons and of oxen. A party of these Boers attacked a small post of sixteen Yeomanry under Lieutenant Slater at Bultfontein, but were held at bay until relief came from Brandfort.
At two other points the Boer and British forces were in contact during these operations. One was to the immediate north of Pretoria, where Grobler’s commando was faced by Paget’s brigade. On August 18th the Boers were forced with some loss out of Hornies Nek, which is ten miles to the north of the capital. On the 22nd a more important skirmish took place at Renaar’s River, in the same direction, between Baden-Powell’s men, who had come thither in pursuit of De Wet, and Grobler’s band. The advance guards of the two forces galloped into each other, and for once Boer and Briton looked down the muzzles of each other’s rifles. The gallant Rhodesian Kegiment, which had done such splendid service during the war, suffered most heavily. Colonel Spreckley and four others were killed, and six or seven wounded. The Boers were broken, however, and fled, leaving twenty-five prisoners to the victors. Baden-Powell [504/505] and Paget pushed forwards as far as Nylstroom, but finding themselves in wild and profitless country they returned towards Pretoria, and established the British northern posts at a place called Warm Baths. Here Paget commanded, while Baden-Powell shortly afterwards went down to Cape Town to make arrangements for taking over the police force of the conquered countries, and to receive the enthusiastic welcome of his colonial fellow-countrymen. Plumer, with a small force operating from Warm Baths, scattered a Boer commando on September 1st, capturing a few prisoners and a considerable quantity of munitions of war. On the 5th there was another skirmish in the same neighbourhood, during which the enemy attacked a kopje held by a company of Munster Fusiliers, and was driven off with loss. Many thousands of cattle were captured by the British in this part of the field of operations, and were sent into Pretoria, whence they helped to supply the army in the east.
There was still considerable effervescence in the western districts of the Transvaal, and a force of cavalry, including some of the 3rd Brigade and of the Colonial Division, met with fierce opposition at the end of August on their journey from Zeerust to Krugersdorp. A succession of small skirmishes and snipings cost them no less than sixty casualties. Lord Methuen’s force, after its long marches and arduous work, arrived at Mafeking on August 28th for the purpose of refitting. Since his departure from Boshof on May 14th his men had been marching with hardly a rest, and he had during that time fought fourteen engagements. He was oft' upon the war-path once more, with fresh horses and renewed energy, on September 8th, and on the 9th, with the co-operation of General Douglas, he scattered a [505/506] Boer force at Malopo, capturing thirty prisoners and a great quantity of stores. On the 14th he ran down a convoy and regained one of the Colenso guns and much ammunition. On the 20th he again made large captures. If in the early phases of the war the Boers had given Paul Methuen some evil hours, he was certainly getting his own hack again. At the same time Clements was despatched from Pretoria with a small mohile force for the purpose of clearing the Eustenhurg and Krugersdorp districts, which had always heen storm centres. These two forces, of Methuen and of Clements, moved through the country, sweeping the scattered Boer hands before them, and hunting them down until they dispersed. At Kekepoort and at Hekspoort Clements fought successful skirmishes, losing at the latter action Lieutenant Stanley of the Yeomanry, the Somersetshire cricketer, who showed, as so many have done, how close is the connection between the good sportsman and the good soldier. On the 12th Douglas took thirty-nine prisoners near Lichtenburg. On the 18th Rundle captured a gun at Bronkhorstfontein. Hart at Potchefstroom, Hildyard in the Utrecht district, Macdonald in the Orange Kiver Colony, everywhere the British generals were busily stamping out the last embers of what had been so terrible a conflagration.
Much trouble but no great damage was inflicted upon the British during this last stage of the war by the incessant attacks upon the lines of railway by roving bands of Boers. The actual interruption of traffic was of little consequence, for the assiduous sappers with their gangs of Basuto labourers were always at hand to repair the break. But the loss of stores, and occasionally of lives, was more serious. Hardly a day passed that the stokers and drivers were not made targets of by snipers among [506/507] the kopjes and occasionally a train was entirely destroyed. Chief among these raiders was the wild Theron, who led a band which contained men of all nations — the same gang who had already, as narrated, held up a train in the Orange River Colony, On August 31st he derailed another at Klip River to the south of Johannesburg, blowing up the engine and burning thirteen trucks. Almost at the same time a train was captured near Kroonstad, which appeared to indicate that the great De Wet was back in his old hunting-grounds. On the same day the line was cut at Standerton. A few days later, however, the impunity with which these feats had been performed was broken, for in a similar venture near Krugersdorp the dashing Theron and several of his associates lost their lives.
Two other small actions performed at this period of the war demand a passing notice before we reach the final debacle. One was a smart engagement near Kraai Railway Station, in which Major Brooke of the Sappers with a hundred men attacked a superior Boer force upon a kopje and drove them off with loss — a feat which it is safe to say he could not have accomplished six months earlier. The other was the fine defence made by 125 of the Canadian Mounted Rifles, who, while guarding the railway, were attacked by a considerable Boer force with two guns. They proved once more, as Ladybrand and Elands River had shown, that with provisions, cartridges, and brains, the smallest force can successfully hold its own if it confines itself to the defensive.
And now the Boer cause was visibly tottering to its [507/508] fall. The flight of the President had accelerated that process of disintegration which had already set in. Botha resigned his command, which was taken over by Viljoen, a man who had distinguished himself by his virulence in politics before the war. Lord Roberts had issued an extremely judicious proclamation, in which he pointed out the uselessness of further resistance, declared that guerilla warfare would be ruthlessly suppressed, and informed the burghers that no less than fifteen thousand of their fellow-countrymen were in his hands as prisoners, and that none of these could be released until the last rifle had been laid down. From all sides in the third week of September the British forces were converging on Komatipoort, the frontier town. Already wild figures, stained and tattered after nearly a year of warfare, were walking the streets of Louren^o Marques, gazed at with wonder and some distrust by the Portuguese inhabitants. The exiled burghers moodily pacing the streets saw their exiled President seated in his corner of the Governor’s verandah, the well-known curved pipe still dangling from his mouth, the Bible by his chair. Day by day the number of these refugees increased. On September 17th special trains were arriving crammed with the homeless burghers, and with the mercenaries of many nations — French, German, Irish-American, and Russian — all anxious to make their way home. By the 19th no less than seven hundred had passed over.
At dawn on September 22nd a half-hearted attempt was made by the commando of Erasmus to attack Elands River Station, but it was beaten back by the garrison. While it was going on Paget fell upon the camp which Erasmus had left behind him, and captured his stores. From all over the country, from Plumer’s [508/509] Bushmen, from Barton at Krugersdorp, from the Colonials at Heilbron, from Clements on the west, came the same reports of clwindlmg resistance and of the abandoning of cattle, arms, and ammunition.
On September 24th came the last chapter in the campaign in the Eastern Transvaal, when at eight in the morning Pole-Carew and his Guardsmen occupied Komatipoort. They had made desperate marches, one of them through thick bush, where they went for nineteen miles without water, but nothing could shake the cheery gallantry of the men. To them fell the honour, an honour well deserved by their splendid work throughout the whole campaign, of entering and occupying the ultimate point which the Boers could hold. Resistance had been threatened and prepared for, but the grim silent advance of that veteran infantry took the heart out of the defence. With hardly a shot fired the town was occupied. The bridge which would enable the troops to receive their supplies from Lourenco Marques was still intact. General Piennaar and the greater part of his force, amounting to over two thousand men, had crossed the frontier and had been taken down to Delagoa Bay, where they met the respect and attention which brave men in misfortune deserve. Small bands had slipped away to the north and the south, but they were insignificant in numbers and depressed in spirit. The hunting of them down becomes a matter for the mounted policeman rather than part of an organised campaign.
One find of the utmost importance was made at Komatipoort, and at Hector Spruit on the Crocodile Elver. That excellent artillery which had fought so gallant a fight against our own more numerous guns, was found destroyed and abandoned. Pole-Carew at Komatipoort got one Long Tom (96 lb.) Creusot,1 and one[509/510] smaller gun. Ian Hamilton at Hector Spruit found the remains of many guns, "which included two of our horse artillery twelve-pounders, two large Creusot guns, two Krupps, one Vickers-Maxim quick firer, two pompoms, and four mountain guns. The most incredulous must have recognised, as he looked at that heap of splintered and shattered gun-metal, that the long war had at last drawn to a close.
The Creusot Long Tom in in action during the siege of Mafeking. Source: Wikipedia. Click on image to enlarge it.
And so at this very point I may stop the chronicle of these doings — a chronicle which has necessarily grown less complete, and possibly less accurate, as the events have come more closely up to date. The sins of commission may be few, but those of omission are many. There is still to be told the story of the suppression of the scattered bands of Boer warriors, of the fate of De Wet, of the clearing of the north-eastern part of the Orange River Colony, and of the final suppression of a form of warfare which was approaching every week more closely to brigandage and even to murder. My time and my space forbid the inclusion of these last incidents, which could have no bearing upon the ultimate result.
The Maxim 37mm. Pom Pom — invented and rejected by the British, used with devastating effectiveness against them by the Boers. This one captured from Cronje’s forces had a bulletproof shield. Click on image to enlarge it.
So at last, after nearly a year of fighting, ended the strange war which it has been my task to chronicle. Between forty and fifty thousand dead, wounded, or invalids in the official returns show how serious was the task which fell to the British Empire. That it was borne without a murmur is surely evidence enough how deep was the conviction of the nation that the war was not only just but essential — that the possession of South Africa and the unity of the Empire were at stake. Could it be shown, or were it even remotely possible, that ministers had incurred so immense a responsibility, and entailed such tremendous sacrifices upon their [510/511] people, without adequate cause, is it not certain that, the task once done, an explosion of rage from the deceived and the bereaved would have driven them for ever from public life? Among high and low, in England, in Scotland, in Ireland, in the great Colonies, how many high hopes had been crushed, how often the soldier son had gone forth and never returned, or come back maimed and stricken in the pride of his youth! Everywhere was the voice of pity and of sorrow, but nowhere that of reproach. By an unprecedented effort upwards of a million pounds were subscribed by private benevolence to alleviate the lot of those who had suffered, but at no time was it suggested that their fate should lead us to reconsider the policy which had caused it. The deepest instincts of the nation told it that it must fight and win, or for ever abdicate its position in the world.
The Boers approached the war with the firm conviction of ultimate success. Hence the impossible ultimatum, the invasion, the wanton manner in which the Orange Free State joined in the quarrel. Their papers made no secret of their sentiments. But we were almost as much mistaken in our estimate of the gravity of our task. Our statesmen, our military authorities, our press, and our public equally underrated it. Now that it is over we see how mighty was the enterprise, to conquer 50,000 formidable mounted warriors operating in their own country many hundreds of miles from the sea, and six thousand from the centre of our power. When on the top of these difficulties we had to contend also with pestilence in our own army the undertaking does indeed seem the most formidable that we have ever attempted. But it was done, and so thoroughly done that there are hopes that it will never need to be done [511/512] again. Through dark days which brought out the virtues of our race as nothing has done in our generation we struggled grimly on until the light had fully broken once again. And of all gifts that God has given to Britain there is none to compare with those days of sorrow, for it was in them that the nation was assured of its unity and learned for all time that blood is stronger to bind than salt water is to part. The only difference in the point of view of the Briton from Britain and the Briton from the ends of the earth, was that the latter with the energy of youth was more whole-souled in the Imperial cause. Who has seen that army and can forget it — its spirit, its picturesqueness — above all, what it stands for in the future history of the world? Cowboys from the vast plains of the North-West, gentlemen who ride hard with the Quorn or the Belvoir, gillies from the Sutherland deer forests, bushmen from the back blocks of Australia, exquisites of the Raleigh Club or the Bachelor’s, hard men from Ontario, dandy sportsmen from India and Ceylon, the horsemen of New Zealand, the wiry South African irregulars — these are the reserves whose existence was chronicled in no blue-book, and whose appearance came as a shock to the pedant soldiers of the Continent who had sneered so long at our little army, since long years of peace have caused them to forget its exploits. On the plains of South Africa, in common danger and in common privation, the blood brotherhood of the Empire was sealed.
And what, after all, is to be the end of the task? Will the brave but ignorant and prejudiced men who have fought us so valiantly accept the ordeal by battle which they demanded, or will they lie brooding until the day when other perils shall have come to draw away the attention of the Empire, and enable them to strike once more for [512/513] revenge and for independence? The answer may perhaps depend upon the temperament of him who answers it, but for my own part I have high hopes for the future. We shall never have anything but active hatred, or at the best sulky acquiescence, from the present or perhaps from the next generation of Boers. But time and self-government, with the settled order and vested interests which will spring up under British rule, will all combine to make a party which will be averse from any violent separation from the Empire. As helots so fine a race could never be reconciled, but as equal fellow-citizens they may come at last, when the tragedies of the past are softened by distance, to blend themselves with us, and to invigorate us by their robust and primitive virtues. In the great commercial activity which must follow the war the old burghers, seriously thinned by the long struggle, will, in the Transvaal at least, find themselves very soon in a minority. With every year this minority will increase, until at last, even without the aid of the imperial forces, the loyal inhabitants will be strong enough to hold the others in check. There will be a strict registration of rifles and horses, a limit to the supply of cartridges, and a complete stoppage, of course, of all possible munitions of war. Under such circumstances, with a powerful police force, severe laws against treason, and immediate deportation of all undesirable foreigners, it should not be hard to secure the Transvaal. Indeed, in a very few years I should expect to find it the most British of all the South African States. The Orange Piiver Colony may give more trouble, for, unless there should come mineral discoveries, it is hard to see what can prevent that district from remaining exclusively Dutch. In any system of franchise founded upon population it will, however, be [513/514] the weakest factor among the four confederated South African States. But in the end we must reap as we sow. If we are worthy of the trust it will be left to us. If we are unworthy of it it will be taken away. Kruger’s downfall should teach us that it is not rifles but Justice which is the title-deed of a nation. The British flag under our best administrators will mean clean government, honest laws, liberty and equality to all men. So long as it continues to do so we shall hold South Africa. When, out of fear or sloth or greed, we fall from that ideal, we may know that we are stricken with that disease which has killed every great empire which has gone before us.
Created 20 December 2013