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THE BATTLE OF BOSHOF


Against the  misfortunes of Koorn Spruit and Reddersburg we would place one brilliant victory-a victory gained by Lord Methuen at Boshof, mainly through the smartness, bravery, and unspeakable steadiness of the Imperial Yeomanry, who were under  fire for the first time, and the splendid dash of the Kimberley Corps, whose experiences during the siege had lifted them almost to the rank of veterans.

It may be remembered that Lord Methuen at the end of February took up the  post of Administrator of the Kimberley district, which extends as far south as the Orange River, subsequently leaving Colonel Kekewich in command of the local forces. The General commenced active operations on the western  frontier,. for the purpose of clearing the country of rebellious obstructions,. and protecting the lines of communication with the north.

At Boshof there was concentrated a comparatively large army, composed of two batteries of  artillery, about 6ooo infantry, and 1000 mounted infantry, which were massing together to march to Kroonstadt, where they expected eventually to take their place as the left wing of the main army. The town itself presented a  desolate aspect, all the Dutchmen being absent on commando under Commandant Duplessis, and being in force on the Vaal River, some miles distant.

Lord Methuen hearing that a detachment of the enemy was moving along the Jacobsdal  road, and threatening his communications, ordered Colonel Peakman to effect its capture. As a result of this order a most successful fight took place, some five miles east of Boshof, on the 5th of April.

Taking part in the action  were two companies of the Bucks Yeomanry, one of the Berks Yeomanry, one company of the Sherwood Rangers, one of the Yorkshire Yeomanry, and also the Kimberley Mounted Volunteers. With these was the Fourth Battery R.F.A.

The  Imperial Yeomanry under Lord Chesham on this occasion had their first chance of distinguishing themselves and seized it, behaving, as some one who looked on said, "like veteran troops." The affair began in haste. A  Yeomanry patrol suddenly discovered the enemy and announced his near approach. There was a rush. "To horse! to horse ! "sang out the troopers keen for action. Their steeds were grazing, but in less than thirty minutes  every man was careering off to duty. The Boers, some sixty-eight in number, were tenanting a kopje and round their lair the troops disposed themselves, Lord Scarborough's Squadron of Yeomanry to left, and the Kimberley Mounted  Corps to right. The rest of the Yeomanry attacked from the front, occupying two small kopjes some fourteen hundred yards distant from the enemy. These promptly greeted them with a persistent fusillade. Then the right flank slowly  began to creep up, taking advantage of cover as nature had provided, while the front marched across the open. This advance of the troops was masterly, though no cover was available till the base of the kopje occupied by the enemy  was reached. Method and coolness were displayed to a great extent, and to these qualities was due the day's success. For three and a half hours the operations lasted, the men closing gradually in, and finally surrounding the kopje  and storming it. The surrounding process, both by the Yeomanry and the Kimberley Porce, was carried on with amazing skill and coolness till the moment came for which all were panting. The Yeomanry then fixed bayonets and charged. A  rush, a flash of steel, and then surrender. The Boers hoisted a white flag! but even as they did so their comrades poured deadly bullets on our advancing men. Captain Williams of the "Imperials," who was gallantly in  advance of his comrades, dropped, shot dead in the very hour of victory. There was small consolation in the fact that the murderer was instantly slain by an avenging hand.

At this time the men had gained the hill and were within  seventy yards of the Boer trenches. But the Boers, notwithstanding their display of the white flag1 continued to blaze with their rifles till a Yeomanry officer shouted that he would continue to fire unless the enemy threw down.  their rifles and put up their hands. This threat brought the cowards to their senses. They obeyed, and the position was gained with a rousing, ringing cheer. Then came the sad part of triumph, the collection of the gallant dead and  the succour of the wounded. Among the first were three, Captains Williams and Boyle, and Sergeant Patrick Campbell. The enemy's dead and wounded numbered fourteen, while our wounded numbered seven.

Captain Cecil Boyle was shot  through the temple within eighty yards of the Boer position while gallantly leading his men. He was a soldier to the core, one who, merely from a sense of patriotic responsibility, was among the first to leap to his country's call,  and who threw into his work so much energy, zeal, and grave purpose that the atmosphere of the camp made him feel at the end of a week as if, to use his own words, "I had done nothing but soldiering all my life." He, at  the invitation of his old chum, Colonel Douglas Haig, began work at Colesberg "to watch the cavalry operations." There he had what he thought the supreme good luck to be appointed galloper to General French. After the  relief of Kimberley and the capture of Cronje he went to the Cape to meet the Oxford-shire Yeomanry, and with them gallantly advanced to meet his fate-the first Yeomanry officer in this history of ours to fall in action.

At the  dose of the fight the clouds which had been lowering over the position like a pall of purple suddenly burst. Torrents descended, saturating the heated troops and sopping the ground whereon lay the maimed and slain. With thunder  bellowing and lightning splitting the skies, with an accompaniment of deluge and darkness, the troops and their prisoners found their way to camp.

Under cover of the obscurity some of the latter made a wild endeavour to escape,  but the Yeomanry were too proud of their "bag" to allow a single one to get free, and finally had the satisfaction of seeing their bedraggled prize lodged in jail;

Lord Methuen commanded, and expressed himself much  gratified with the success of the operations, with the courage and coolness and method with which all his orders were carried out. Colonel Peakman, of Kimberley fame, who had already accomplished a quite unusual record of fighting,  displayed an immense amount of talent in the field, and his corps, in every way worthy of him, cut off the enemy's retreat with remarkable skill. So much indeed, that the Boers complained of the slimness of the troops who, by  apparently retiring hurriedly, drew them within range of the British volleys! Our troops were pitting themselves now against no unruly or uninitiated barbarians, for the hostile force was under the command of the notable Frenchman,  Colonel de Villebois-Mareuil. This gallant officer was killed by shrapnel from the 4th Field Battery Royal Field Artillery before the display of the white flag by the Boers. He was accompanied by many of his compatriots, who were  taken prisoners. The force indeed was mainly cosmopolitan, it being composed of Hollanders, Frenchmen, Germans, and Russians, three Boers only belonging to the commando. Not a man of the enemy escaped. Eight were killed, six  wounded, and fifty-four polyglot prisoners, with sixty horses and their baggage, were brought into camp. Two guns were also captured.

The courage and dash of the Imperial Yeomanry was eulogised on all sides, even by the  Colonials, who hitherto had been somewhat disposed to look down on their brother Volunteers from civilised and inexperienced England. The magnificent spirit which inspired one and all, the grit displayed by the wounded, and their  selflabnegation were the subject of much comment. A Colonial trooper, writing home his applause, said: "Where all behaved so well it is almost invidious to mention any one in particular, but as an instance of the fine spirit  which animated them, I would mention two whose names I have ascertained, Sergeant-Major Coles, of the Bucks Yeomanry, and Throgmorton, a trooper in the Oxfords. These two continued in action after being wounded, the former with a  bullet through the shoulder, and the latter with a gunshot wound in the head, and sooner than crowd the ambulance they rode in afterwards, twelve miles in the darkness, through one of the worst thunder-storms it has been my lot to  witness. What they must have suffered in the state they were in they alone know."

From all accounts the French colonel who fell was entirely confident of success. Before the engagements he sent an invitation to his  compatriots to join his force. He thought he had discovered the flaws in the Boer armour, and was bent on giving the Federals an object lesson in how to defeat and scatter the British. He also issued a manifesto addressed to the  French legions, the translation of which ran thus

To the Legionaries, who have known me as their comrade.-Officers, Non-commissioned Officers, and Men,-I know that you have not forgotten me, and we understand each other, and  therefore I appeal to you. There is here in front of the Vaal a people whom it is desired to rob of its rights, its properties, and its liberty in order to satisfy some capitalists by its downfall. The blood that runs in the veins  of this people is in part French blood. France, thereidic, owes to it some striking manifestation of help. Ah, well ! You are the men whom a soldier's temperament, apart from a]l the great obligations of nationality, has gathered  under this people's flag, and may that flag bring with it the best of fortune I To me you are the finished type of a troop that attacks and knows not retreat."

He also wrote to the Parisians

"The Dutch are splendid at  defence, but they cannot follow up a defeat and crush the enemy, which the French legionaries would be able to do some and I will receive you here; and I promise you that very few days shall elapse before we will show the world the  mettle of which the French legionaries are made."

The display to unprejudiced onlookers was distinctly poor, however, and the example of strategy set by the gallant Gaul scarcely served to demonstrate astounding military  genius.

The Colonel's plan of campaign was nevertheless most carefully made out, as a document which subsequently fell into Lord Methuen's hands served to show. Very dramatic sounds the orders for the movements on April 4, as  translated by the correspondent of the Daily Telegraph

"To-night the detachment of the raid will attack Boshof and follow its route, under the favour of a surprise and the prevailing darkness. For this purpose, the following  dispositions will he observed: The column will set off at four o'clock in the afternoon, with the detachment of Boers under Field-Cornet Daniel, in such a manner as just to reach Boshof by night. At a certain point the detachment  will divide, and will reach their respective places of assembly to the east and west of the town. Boshof is situated in a plain, and is flanked by certain kopjes, of which the importance and distance from the town are reported as  follows: to the north, two naked kopjes, weakly guarded, and a good distance from the town. Between them passes the Hoopstadt-Boshof road. To the east, on the road to Kimberley, which it commands, one kopje, which is not gauarded  by the enemy. Upon this the Boers will take up their position. Finally, to the south-east of the town, and exactly opposite to it, there is a kopje, where the English have an outpost of fifty men. On the summit of this is formed a  small parapet of stones, about half the height of a man. This will form part of the attack reserved for the detachment of the raid.

"The Hoopstadt and Kimberley roads cross in the interior of the town.

"The plan of  attack will be carried out under the following conditions: At eleven o'clock in the evening, the Boers under Field-Cornet Daniell will be in position on the Kopje C, and the telegraph wire on the Kimberley road will be cut by them.  At the same time, the raiding party will assemble behind the Kopje E, situated two kilometres from the town. The horses and the Scotch cart will there await the final operations, as well as the native servants, if there are any.  One man will be left behind with each team of six horses. Commandant Saeremburg and Lieutenant de Breda will, before the departure, choose these men, the importance of whose mission will be readily understood, since upon their  vigilance will depend the safety of the expedition in the event of retreat. The group left behind will be under the orders of Nicohet. The men will remain standing at the head of the horses, which will be saddled and bridled, the  cart boys at the head of the mules, all ready harnessed.

"At half-past eleven, the attacking party will march in three e'chelons, twenty metres apart, the centre in the van. The centre 6chelon, under the special direction of  the General, will be formed by the French platoon. The centre 6chelon, commanded by Commandant Saerembturg, will consist of one half of the Dutch, and the left, under Lieutenant Bock, of the other half. Furthermore, the men who  have been in the habit of messing together in groups will appoint a leader, from whom they will on no account separate nor get out of touch. When these groups do not exist, or exceed ten in number, the leaders of the party will  break them up and form parties of six or eight, and appoint a head of the group. The General will see these heads of groups at three o'clock in his camp, to give them instructions further than can be detailed here.

"In the  approaching march the commandants will give their orders in a low voice, and the men will be ranged in line, so that they can see the heads of groups and lie down instantly. It is of importance, also, to watch the investigations of  the search-light, if the English have one at Boshof which has not yet been ascertained. The moment the ray is turned towards the e'chelon, the leader will make his group lie down, and the march will not be resumed until the light  is turned away. At the rise of Kopje D, a halt will be made behind the cemetery, and the Saeremburg e'chelon will carry the kopje by assault and will occupy it. From there it will hold . . . the two kraals Z Z, where the English  encamped in the market-place in Boshof itself could make the first attempt at resistance. In no case, for an easily understood reason, will it fire upon the town. Firing, moreover, can only be carried out by volleys discharged by  word of command given by the head of each group.

"Continuing their march, the two other echelons will pass a well behind the kraals, and will attack the English camp outside the town. In this effect, the French 6chelon,  after firing two volleys, will advance at the charge, with the cry 'Transvaal and Free State!' and will thus complete the panic. As there are no bayonets, the rifles will be kept loaded and carried under the arms at the position of  the charge. After having crossed the camp from the east to the south, the rout will be accomplished by firing. Lieutenant Bock's echelon will remain under the orders of the General, as a reserve, should the Boers placed on the  Kimberley road on the kopje C have to deal with the fugitives. He could also render assistance, if the enemy issuing from Boshof should endeavour to turn the attack. He would then be informed of this eventuality by Field-Cornet  Coleman, who will cover the left of the attack in such a manner as to observe all that may be menaced. For this purpose, the Afrikanders will conform to the general movement of the march of approach, and retire as soon as the  attack begins on the west of the English camp to a distance suitable for observation.

"To facilitate recognition the brim of the hats will be covered with a white handkerchief.

"The meagreness of our information does  not permit of even an approximate estimate of the English force. The forces in Boshof seem, however, to be between 300 and 400 men. Whatever happens, the assailants should remember that their moral superiority is overwhelming, and  even in the event of retreat, they can easily, covered by the darkness, regain their horses and retire from Boshof without risk."

In view of these magnificent preliminaries, one may look with-out vanity at the celerity and  completeness of the British operations which were rewarded with victory. The Frenchman's ,-Programme makes a quaint contrast to the terse description of a quartermaster-sergeant of the Imperial Yeomanry, who thus sketched the  events of the 5th of April

"We received orders to turn out as soon as possible; we were soon all bustle, caught and saddled our horses, and off we went post-haste. One of our patrols had been shot in the night by a foraging  party of Boers. We trotted off for about two hours, and then caught them out-spanned at the bottom of a kopje. We dismounted and got on some more kopjes close by and began exchanging shots. Then we mounted again, and half of us  went round to their right and half to the left to cut off their retreat; and our artillery, of which three guns had followed us, began to shell them in front. When we had got well round them we dismounted again and advanced to the  attack, taking cover. Then, after a few volleys, ran up about twenty yards; then a few more volleys, and up again until we were within about a hundred and fifty yards, when we made a rush for it with fixed bayonets. About seventy  yards from the top there was a large wire fence. We had to clamber through, and then, when we were about fifty yards away, they came out and surrendered. There were thirteen of them killed, and we had fifty-four prisoners, amongst  them General de Villebois-Mareuil and four or five more Frenchmen. They had a cart with them full of ammunition and dynamite, so they were evidently on some foray to blow some bridge or other up. They were stationed on two kopjes.  The one our own lot went against was on the right. Most of their bullets fell short whilst we were advancing, and when we made our final rush they went over us. About twenty of them escaped before we reached them. It was about five  o'clock when the fight was over, and we commenced a twelve-mile march to camp about 5.45. After going about two miles it came on dark, and we had a very heavy thunder-storm all the way to camp, which we reached about ten o'clock  last night, wet to the skin."

The blow so deftly and quickly struck at the marauding parties of the Boers was valuable from many points of view. It served to restore confidence in Lord Methuen's leadership-confidence which  had been considerably shattered by the disaster of Majersfontein-and it helped to suppress a tendency to raiding in the west of Cape Colony. So complete a success could not but have a sobering effect on the rebels, and give them  pause in their mad career of hostility.

On the 7th of April, at dawn, Lord Methuen marched ten miles on the Hoopstadt Road to Zwartkopjesfontein Farm without opposition. On the 8th he proceeded further, but finally, by Lord  Roberts's orders, retraced his steps to Zwartkopjes. On the 10th, at daybreak, two flying columns started forth-General Douglas to south-east and east of the camp, Colonel Mahon (commanding Kimberley Mounted Corps) from Boshof  towards Kimberley. Colonel Mahon's movements, on which the relief of Mafeking was depending, must be taken in detail later on. Lord Methuen operated in this district till the 17th of May, when he moved to Hoopstadt and brought his  force within the zone of the main operations. On the 21st he proceeded to Kroonstadt.

In the Kimberley district the First Division had been rearranged as follows

Lieutenant-General Lord Methuen. 9th Brigade (Major-General C. W.  H.Douglas).-1st Northumberland Fusiliers, 1st Loyal North Lancashire, 2nd

Northamptonshire, 2nd Yorkshire Light Infantry. 20th Brigade (Major-General A. H. Paget).-Composed of Militia Battalions, 4th, 20th, and 44th

Field Batteries; 37th Howitzer Battery. Brigade Imperial Yeomanry (Colonel

Lord Chesham).-1st Battalion, 3rd Battalion, 5th Battalion, 10th Battalion.

Cape Police, Diamond Fields Horse, Part Kimberley Light Horse, Diamond Fields Artillery.